on Different Subjects
Publican and the Pharisee.
Cheesefare Sunday (St. Patriarch Tikhon, Bellavin).
Prodigal Son (Fr. Dimitri Tsakas).
Forgiveness (Father Alexander Schmemann).
1. Triumph of Orthodoxy (St Patriarch Tikhon, Belavin).
Sunday of Orthodoxy (Metropolitan Iakovos of Krinis).
2. Second Sunday of Lent.
3. Veneration of the Cross.
4. Fourth Sunday of Lent.
6. Palm Sunday.
Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem (Rev. George M. Benigsen).
"Christ is Risen from the Dead."
2. Sunday of Saint Thomas.
3. Myrrhbearing Women (Archim. Panteleimon P. Lampadarios).
4. Paralytic (Archim. Panteleimon P. Lampadarios).
5. Pride and Prejudice, the Samaritan Woman.
6. Blind Man.
6th Sunday of Pascha.
Sunday of the First Ecumenical Council (Archim. Panteleimon P. Lampadarios)
1. All Saints.
20. The Widow of Nain.
Nativity of Christ Saint Tikhon (Bellavin.
The Manger and the Cross (Archpriest George M. Benigsen).
Holy Epiphany: Obedient to God's Demands (Rev. Archpriest Michael Bar).
Theophany (Father Illtyd).
Dormition of the Holy Theotokos (Rev. George M. Benigsen).
Dormition of the Theotokos.
Elevation of the Cross (Archpriest Leonid Kolchev).
Focus on the Cross.
Jesus Christ our Lamb (Fr. John Teebagy).
The Fellowship of His Suffering (Archpriest Michael Baroudy).
Embracing our Salvation (Archpriest Steven Rogers).
Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple (Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann).
Cooperation in the Church (Saint Patriarch Tikhon, Bellavin).
"Marriage" (Archpriest James C. Meena).
The Cremation Problem Archbishop John (Shahovskoy).
Are We Living in a New Age?
"Satan, the Great Deceiver" (Timothy Evangelinidis).
The Role of Women in the Church (His Eminence Seraphim).
Conventions of Writing to a Hierarch (Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald).
Honoraria, Fees, "Treby," Emoluments, Gratuities – Money.
Church Etiquette (Fr. Dimitri Tsakas).
The Gift of Orthodoxy.
Globalization (Metropolitan Dr. Paul Yazigi of Aleppo).
1. Sundays before Lent.
Publican and the Pharisee.
As often happens in our society, people who big-note themselves are often the ones who suffer the greatest humiliation. There's a very simple correlation between how far up you put yourself and how far down you come — simply as a result of being human; simply as a result of being a human being in a fallen world.
Today's Gospel reading teaches us many things. It teaches us about attitude to prayer — on how we should pray. It teaches us about self-righteousness, and not to be self- righteous. But let's look at something else...
Two men went up to pray, One was a Pharisee, a respected member of his religious community; one who did all the right things — externally. And yet, when he stands before God, he stands before a mirror. Because, if you noticed, the Gospel says to us "and he prayed to himself thus." So he wasn't praying to God — he was justifying himself. He was justifying his own existence. He was trying to make himself look good, He was trying to convince himself that he was superior to others, and why did he do that?
Simply out of pride. Often we act like that because of low self-esteem. Often we try to convince ourselves that we are something beyond what we are, not only because of pride, but often because we don't have what is good and fruitful self-esteem.
The other man in the parable is a tax collector. Now, a tax collector in first century Palestine collected taxes for the occupying power — the Roman oppressors, Being a Jew himself, you can imagine how this man was treated. He was an outcast, The Jewish community considered him a traitor. Not to mention, that what the tax collectors would do, was that if it was their authority to collect fifty dollars for the Roman authorities, they would collect seventy from you and pocket the other twenty! So, not only did they collect for the enemy, not only did they collect from the people that oppressed your people, but they also stole from you as well!
Now, this tax collector goes up and prays; and he doesn't stand at all close to the altar, He stands far away. (You see, this man has self-esteem, but we'll talk about that later). Then he beats his breast and he wouldn't even look toward the heavens. He doesn't have to convince himself of anything because he knows who he is; and so he talks to God. And he asks God, out of the sincerity of his heart, a simple request that is intimately related to how he sees himself. He says, "Lord God, have mercy. I do these things. This is what I am. I'm fallen. I'm sinful. This is what I am."
Yet the Pharisee looks at the tax collector and says, "Lord God, thank you that I'm not like all these other people: adulterers, murderers, etc." As if this is not bad enough, he doesn't leave it at that general level, but he has to personally attack the person praying behind him. "And thank you, Lord, that I'm not like that man over there — that tax collector."
There's a two-edged sword in this story.
People walk away and say, "See why I don't go to Church? The Pharisee is like the people in Church. They fast, they pray, etc." But, Jesus doesn't say not to come to Church. He doesn't say don't pray. He doesn't say don't fast. He orders those things. Jesus is talking about the attitude with which we do all these things. The other side of this, of course, is the people who don't come to Church and are doing the same kind of things as the people who are. The attitude is the issue. "I don't need to go to Church, I don't lie, I don't steal, I don't do anything to anyone, I say my prayers" (I'd love to listen to them!), You see, hypocrisy is within and without the community. Within the group that always goes to Church, and within the group that never goes to Church. Thus, nobody is justified.
Now, people like the Pharisee may say things like: "I'm not like this tax collector," or "I'm not like the people that go to Church" or "I'm not like the people that don't go to Church."
One may wish to ask the Pharisee, what's the difference between you and the tax collector? Have you got three legs instead of two? He's got two hands, you've got two hands, He's got two legs, you've got two legs. He's got a brain, you've got a brain. He's got emotions, you've got emotions. He's got hardships, you've got hardships. Your life's a mess, his life's a mess.
But, do you know what the Pharisee's real problem was? Beyond the fact that he is talking to himself; beyond the fact that he is trying to convince himself what a great Jew he is; even beyond the fact he's judging another human being — there's something deeper. There's a raging subconscious river here. "I'm superhuman," he thinks. He's trying to convince himself that he's something beyond the human. He's trying to convince himself that he has self-esteem.
What is self-esteem? Self-esteem is to know what you are. Self-esteem is to be at peace with what you are, knowing that through prayer, through the grace of God, it is being transformed, it is being developed, it is being saved, and being made into something beautiful — and knowing that it is the grace of God that is performing this miracle in your life.
Thus, the tax collector has self-esteem — he knows what he is. He doesn't pretend he's anyone else. The Pharisee is the one with low self-esteem. Because, not only does he have to prove himself against everyone else, but he's standing before God talking to himself, trying to prove something to himself.
So, why does the tax collector have humility? Is humility walking around beating ourselves on the chest, throwing ashes over our heads, and putting ourselves down? Is that what humility is? No. If we look at the experience of the saints, none of them talked about putting yourself down. They talked about being what you are, They talked about being real. That's the aim of Orthodox Christian life — to become a human being. What a paradox! We think that we are! But, we are not yet in the image and likeness of God There's a shadow of it there, but we should be aiming to become truly human. To become honest, sincere, and genuine human beings. That's what our aim is. And what it means to have humility, is simply to know what you are.
The word "humility" comes from humus, the Latin word for "soil." "Human" is the creature that comes from the soil. Humility means to know that you are human — that you come from the soil. You don't need humility to put yourself down. Your sins will do that for you, if you're genuine.
So, to stand like the tax collector before God (but not to stand there trying to convince ourselves we're something we're not) is the hardest thing to do in life — it's easy to say, but it's the hardest thing to do. And what should you say when you stand before God? Say what the prophets of the Old Testament always said to God who called them by name, "Here I am, Lord!"
Cheesefare Sunday (St. Patriarch Tikhon, Bellavin).
Today is called "Forgiveness Sunday." It received this name from the pious Orthodox Christian custom at Vespers of asking each other's forgiveness for discourtesy and disrespect. We do so, since in the forthcoming fast we will approach the sacrament of Penance and ask the Lord to forgive our sins, which forgiveness will be granted us only if we ourselves forgive each other. "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:14-15)
Yet it is said to be extremely difficult to forgive discourtesy and to forget disrespect. Perhaps our selfish nature finds it truly difficult to forgive disrespect, even though in the words of the Holy Fathers it is easier to forgive than to seek revenge. (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk after St. John Chrysostom) Yet everything in us that is good is not accomplished easily, but with difficulty, compulsion and effort. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."(Matt. 11:12) For this reason we should not be discouraged at the difficulty of this pious act, but should rather seek the means to its fulfillment. The Holy Church offers many means towards this end, and of them we will dwell on the one which most corresponds to the forthcoming season of repentance.
"Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother." The source of forgiving our neighbors, of not judging them, is included in seeing (acknowledging) our sins. "Imagine," says a great pastor, who knows the heart of man, Father John of Kronstadt, "picture the multitude of your sins and imagine how tolerant of them is the Master of your life, while you are unwilling to forgive your neighbor even the smallest offense. Moan and bewail your foolishness, and that obstruction within you will vanish like smoke, you will think more clearly, your heart will grow calm, and through this you will learn goodness, as if not you yourself had heard the reproaches and indignities, but some other person entirely, or a shadow of yourself" (Lessons on a Life of Grace, p. 149) He who admits his sinfulness, who through experience knows the weakness of human nature and its inclination toward evil, will forgive his neighbor the more swiftly, dismissing transgressions and refraining from a haughty judgment of others' sins. Let us remember that even the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman caught in adultery to Christ were forced to depart, when their conscience spoke out, accusing them of their own sins. (John 8:9).
Unfortunately, brethren, we do not like to acknowledge our transgressions. It would seem natural and easy for a person to know his own self, his own soul and his shortcomings. This, however, is actually not so. We are ready to attend to anything but a deeper understanding of ourselves, an investigation of our sins. We examine various things with curiosity, we attentively study friends and strangers, but when faced with solitude without extraneous preoccupation even for a short while, we immediately become bored and attempt to seek amusement. For example, do we spend much time examining our own conscience even before confession? Perhaps a few minutes, and once a year at that. Casting a cursory glance at our soul, correcting some of its more glaring faults, we immediately cover it over with the veil of oblivion until next year, until our next uncomfortable exercise in boredom.
Yet we love to observe the sins of others. Not considering the beam in our own eye, we take notice of the mote in our brother's eye. (Matt. 7:3) Speaking idly to our neighbor's detriment, mocking and criticizing him are not even often considered sins but rather an innocent and amusing pastime. As if our own sins were so few! As if we had been appointed to judge others! "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy"? God. (James 4:12) "Who art thou to judge another's servant? It is before his own master that he stands or falls" (Rom. 14:4). "Thou hast no excuse, O man, whoever thou art who judgest. For wherein thou judgest another, thou dost condemn thyself. For thou who judgest dost the same things thyself" (Rom. 2:1). "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; put yourselves to the test" (2 Cor. 13:5). The pious ascetics provide a good example of this. They turned their minds to themselves, meditated on their own sins and avoided judging their neighbors at all costs.
One pious starets, noticing that his brother had committed a sin, sighed and said, "Woe is me! As he sinned today, so will I tomorrow." And the following is a story about another ascetic, Abba Moisei. A monk committed a sin. The brethren, who had assembled to decide his case, sent for Abba Moisei, but the humble starets refused to attend the council. When the rector sent for him a second time, he appeared, but in quite a striking manner. He had taken an old basket, filled it with sand and was carrying it on his back. "What does this mean?" asked the monks, catching sight of him. "See how many sins I bear behind me?" answered Moisei, pointing to the heap of sand. "I don't see them, yet I have come to pass judgment upon another."
So therefore, brethren, following the example of the ascetics, upon observing others' sins, we should consider our own sins, regard our own transgressions and not judge our brother. And should we hold anything against him, let us pardon and forgive him, that our merciful Lord may forgive us also.
Prodigal Son (Fr. Dimitri Tsakas).
What an incredibly powerful story! In only a couple of weeks we come to Lent — that period of fasting and prayer that the Church puts before us; and the next few weeks are a preparation for it.
Last week, it presented us with the story of humility (only with humility can we come close to God). This week it presents us with repentance — we need repentance to come to God. Next week it will present us with judgement — the Gospel of the Second Coming of Christ.
Humility, repentance and then coming face to face with God. This is the journey that the Church takes us on before Lent. But today Jesus teaches us with symbols, People have got a problem with symbols in Christianity. "You Orthodox always use symbols." Jesus used symbols — that's why we Orthodox use symbols. Because Jesus used metaphors, and Jesus used parables, and Jesus used symbols, We follow Jesus in using symbols — and those who accuse us of being too symbolic — let them read the scriptures and know what they're talking about.
And so today Jesus uses symbols. A father who symbolises who?..God. Two sons who symbolise who?..us. Property and wealth that symbolise what?..everything that God has to give us. Inheritance which symbolise what?.. the grace of God that has been given to us.
And the younger of the two sons goes to the father, "Give me my inheritance." Now I don't know about you but if my son came to me, while I was still alive and asked for my inheritance, I'd be very upset.
You'd think "wouldn't it be nice if you just waited till I died, at least, before you wanted to take whatever is yours anyway."
And yet this father says "if you want it, here, have it."
"What was the younger brother's problem? The inheritance was his, he was going to get it — everything the father had was for the two sons. But no, he wanted it NOW! He wanted it on his terms. He wanted it self-centredly. He wanted all the gifts without the relationship with the father. In fact, the ultimate insult to the father was what?..that he asked for his inheritance while his father was still alive. Only hate could inspire a son to do this. The ultimate self-centredness. Yet the father in today's Gospel reading gives it to him, And what does the son do? He squanders it, he goes to a foreign land and he spends all his money at the Treasury Casino, and on picking up girls at New Farm and partying; and then guess what?.. Indonesia invades Australia and there's no food, and he's got no money, and he's a long way from home.
So he finds someone and this person says "hey, listen, mate, I need someone to feed my pigs." It's a job. So here he comes, from a mansion, here he comes from wealth, here he comes from where he had everything he wanted — and he feeds pigs. And not only does he feed pigs, he lives like one. Why? Because he says "if only I could eat what these pigs eat" — that's how hungry he was. And the parallels between this man and us are phenomenal.
What does Adam and Eve do? They want their inheritance. What's the inheritance? if God is the Father then everything that God has: immortality, love, harmony, peacefulness, even an identity — all of these things He gives to us. He will gee to us. These are the things he wanted to give to Adam and Eve. These are the things He wanted to give to humanity — His own likeness, He wants people to become like Him. This scandalises a lot of non-Orthodox Christians. If the biblical teaching is nothing less, then we are all to become partakers of the divine nature, as Peter says in his Epistle: "That we are created in the image of God to achieve His likeness" — to become gods, through grace as a gift from Him. And yet we want inheritance without the relationship. Adam and Eve took their inheritance and because of their spiritual immaturity, they squandered it. They took the gifts, they tried to live by the inheritance and made a mess Of it. And so they were exiled from paradise and humanity has lived like pigs since. Because humanity continues to steal, to rape, to murder, to exploit.
Humanity continues to crush all the gifts God gave it...and itself on top! That's what it means to live like a pig. Because a pig in Jewish culture was unclean. And that's why Jesus in the parable, specifically chooses pigs. The prodigal son did the most unthinkable job for a Jew. He worked with swine, he worked with what was unclean. To show that that's how unclean he had become, to show that that's how unclean humanity has become.
And yet this guy comes to his senses. He experiences an awakening. A conversion. Something happens within him. You see, he's blessed. Because in the depth of his futile existence, he wakes up. After he's been to the Treasury Casino, after he's slept with all the prostitutes, after he's drank himself senseless, after he's smoked every drug there is on earth and injected himself with whatever is available, he still woke up — others don't. They die in that state.
He wakes up and says "hang on a sec, at Dad's place the people who are the servants, the hired servants, the slaves of the household — these people have more than enough bread to fill their stomachs. And here I am living like a pig!"
And so he comes to his senses, which means what? When he starts thinking logically, when he starts thinking rationally, when we start thinking rationally, when we start thinking logically, we turn to God. When we come to our senses, we come to our Father in heaven, and we too think "hang on a sec, God promises all these things — bread — heavenly bread — the Eucharist. He promises safety, salvation. He promises eternal life, regardless of the suffering that we go through in this world — sometimes because of the suffering we go through in this world." And the person that comes to his senses and the person who thinks rationally and logically goes to God the Father and says "Father I have sinned against you, I have sinned against heaven. I have sinned before my brothers and sisters — forgive me. If you have something in your mercy give it to me." And if you feel that it can't be done for you, well, then let me tell you what this young man is called in Greek, because "prodigal" son doesn't quite get it, O Asotos Yios — the unsaveable son, And so when we turn and when we present God with our sins and we pray " Father, I too have sinned against heaven and before you," His only response can be "Bring the fatted calf and kill it so that we can eat and rejoice," Put a ring on his or her finger. Bring a robe which symbolises the gifts, or rather the fruits, of the Holy Spirit. "Put a ring on his finger" symbolises what? ... That when we turn to God like that, He adopts us as sons, as daughters. And our inheritance is given to us on the way, through obedience and humility to the Father, who knows what to give us when for our salvation. Amen.
Forgiveness (Father Alexander Schmemann).
As once more we are about to enter the Great Lent, I would like to remind us — myself first of all, and all of you my fathers, brothers, and sisters — of the verse that we just sang, one of the stichera, and that verse says: "Let us begin Lent, the Fast, with joy."
Only yesterday we were commemorating Adam crying, lamenting at the gates of Paradise, and now every second line of the Triodion and the liturgical books of Great Lent will speak of repentance, acknowledging what dark and helpless lives we live, in which we sometimes are immersed. And yet, no one will prove to me that the general tonality of Great Lent is not that of a tremendous joy! Not what we call "joy" in this world — not just something entertaining, interesting, or amusing — but the deepest definition of joy, that joy of which Christ says: "no one will take away from you" (Jn.16:22). Why joy? What is that joy?
So many people under various influences have come to think of Lent as a kind of self-inflicted inconvenience. Very often in Lent we hear these conversations: "What do you give up for Lent?" — it goes from candy to, I don't know what. There is the idea that if we suffer enough, if we feel the hunger enough, if we try by all kinds of strong or light ascetical tools, mainly to "suffer" and be "tortured," so to speak, it would help us to "pay" for our absolution. But this is not our Orthodox faith. Lent is not a punishment. Lent is not a kind of painful medicine that helps only inasmuch as it is painful.
LENT IS A GIFT! Lent is a gift from God to us, a gift which is admirable, marvelous, one that we desire. Now a gift of what? I would say that it is a gift of the essential- that which is essential and yet which suffers most in our life because we are living lives of confusion and fragmentation, lives which constantly conceal from us the eternal, the glorious, the divine meaning of life and take away from us that which should "push" and, thus, correct and fill our life with joy. And this essential is thanksgiving: the acceptance from God of that wonderful life, as St. Peter says, ." . . created out of nothing ...," created exclusively by the love of God, for there is no other reason for us to exist; loved by Him even before we were born, we were taken into His marvelous light. Now we live and we forget. When was the last time I thought about it? But I do not forget so many little things and affairs that transform my whole life into empty noise, into a kind of traveling without knowing where.
Lent returns to me, gives back to me, this essential — the essential layer of life, Essential because it is coming from God; essential because it is revealing God. The essential time, because time again is a great, great area of sin. Because time is the time of what? Of priorities. And how often our priorities are not at all as they should be. Yet in Lent, waiting, listening, singing. . . you will see, little by little that time — broken, deviated, taking us to death and nowhere else, without any meaning. You will see that time again become expectation, become something precious. You wouldn't take one minute of it away from its purpose of pleasing God, of accepting from Him His life and returning that life to Him together with our gratitude, our wisdom, our joy, our fulfillment.
After this essential time comes the essential relationship that we have with everything in the world, a relationship which is expressed so well in out liturgical texts by the word reverence. So often, everything becomes for us an object of "utilizing," something which is "for grabs," something which "belongs" to me and to which I have a "right." Everything should be as Communion in my hands. This is the reverence of which I speak. It is the discovery that God, as Pasternak once said, was ." . . a great God of details," and that nothing in this world is outside of that divine reverence. God is reverent, but we so often are not.
So we have the essential time, the essential relationship with matter filled with reverence, and last, but not least, the rediscovery of the essential link among ourselves: the rediscovery that we belong to each other, the rediscovery, that no one has entered my life or your life without the will of God. And with that rediscovery, there is everywhere an appeal, an offering to do something for God: to help, to comfort, to transform, to take with you, with each one of you, that brother and sister of Christ. This is that essential relationship.
Essential time, essential matter, essential thought: all that is so different from what the world offers us. In the world everything is accidental. If you don't know how to "kill" time, our society is absolutely ingenious in helping you to do that. We kill time, we kill reverence, we transform communications, relationships, words, divine words into jokes and blasphemies, and sometimes just pure nonsense. There is this thirst and hunger for nothing, but external success.
Don't we understand, don't we understand, brothers and sisters, what power is given to us in the form of Lent. Lenten Spring! Lenten beginning! Lenten resurrection! And all this is given to us free. Come, listen to that prayer. Make it yours! Don't even try to think on your own; just join, just enter and rejoice! And that joy will start killing those old and painful and boring sins, because you will have that great joy which the angels heard, which the disciples experienced when they returned to Jerusalem after Christ's Ascension. It is that joy which was left with them that we nobly adopted. It is first of all the joy of knowing, the joy of having something in me which, whether I want it or not, will start transforming life in me and around me.
This last essential is the essential return to each other: this is where we begin tonight. This is what we are doing right now. For if we would think of the real sins we have committed, we would say that one of the most important is exactly the style and tonality which we maintain with each other: our complaining and criticizing. I don't think that there are cases of great and destructive hatred or assassination, or something similar. It is just that we exist as if we are completely out of each other's life, out of each other's interests, out of each other's love. Without having repaired this relationship, there is no possibility of entering into Lent. Sin — whether we call it "original" sin or "primordial" sin — has broken the unity of life in this world, it has broken time, and time has become that fragmented current which takes us into old age and death. It has broken our social relations, it has broken families. Everything is diabolos — divided and destroyed. But Christ has come into the world and said: ." . . and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32).
It is impossible to go to Christ without taking with me the essential. It is not the abandonment of everything as we go to Christ; it is finding in Him the power of that resurrection: of unity, of love, of trust, of joy, of all that which, even if it occupies some place in our life, is at the same time so minuscule. It is tragic to think that from churches, from seminaries, what comes to heaven are complaints . . . being tired, always something not going right . . . You know, sitting in my office from time to time, I am admiring people for inventing new "tragedies" every half hour.
But we are Christ's and Christ is God's, And if we had — because we know — just a little bit of that which would bring us together, we would replace all my little offenses with even a little amount of that joy. That is the forgiveness we want and ask God to give us. Because if there is a strict commandment in the Gospel, it is that commandment: "if you forgive ... your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive. . . neither will your Father forgive…" (Mt. 6:14-15). So, of course it is a necessity. But the now of that, I repeat it once more, is to be horrified by the fragmentation of our own existence, by the pettiness in our relationships, by the destruction of words, and by the abandoning of this reverence.
Now we have to forgive each other whether or not we have any explicit sins or crimes against each other. That reconciliation is another epiphany of the Church as the Kingdom of God. We are saved because we are in the Body of Christ. We are saved because we accept from Christ the world and the essential order. And finally we accept Christ when we accept each other. Everything else is a lie and hypocrisy.
So, fathers, brothers, sisters: let us forgive one another. Let us not think about why. There is enough to think about. Let us do it. Right now, in a kind of deep breath, say: "Lord, help us to forgive. Lord, renew all those relationships." What a chance is given here for love to triumph! — for unity to reflect the Divine unity and for everything essential to return as life itself. What a chance! Is the answer we give today yes or no? Are we going to that forgiveness? Are we gladly accepting it? Or is it something which we do just because it is on the calendar — today, you know, forgiveness; tomorrow, let's do. .,? No! this is the crucial moment. This is the beginning of Lent. This is our spring "repair" because reconciliation is the powerful renewal of the ruin.
So, please, for the sake of Christ: let us forgive each other. The first thing I am asking all of you, my spiritual family is to forgive me. Imagine how many temptations of laziness, of avoiding too much, and so on and so forth. What a constant defense of my own interests, health, or this or that . . . I know that I don't even have an ounce of this self-giving, self-sacrifice which is truly a true repentance, the true renewal of love.
Please forgive me and pray for me, so that what I am preaching I could first of all somehow, be it only a little bit, integrate and incarnate in my life.
1. Triumph of Orthodoxy (St Patriarch Tikhon, Belavin).
Delivered on the occasion of Orthodoxy Sunday, February 23, 1903 in the Cathedral Church of San Francisco
This Sunday, Brethren, begins the week of Orthodoxy, or the week of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, because it is today that the Holy Orthodox Church solemnly recalls its victory over the Iconoclast heresy and other heresies and gratefully remembers all who fought for the Orthodox faith in word, writing, teaching, suffering, or godly living.
Keeping the day of Orthodoxy, Orthodox people ought to remember it is their sacred duty to stand firm in their Orthodox faith and carefully to keep it. For us it is a precious treasure: in it we were born and raised; all the important events of our life are related to it, and it is ever ready to give us its help and blessing in all our needs and good undertakings, however unimportant they may seem. It supplies us with strength, good cheer and consolation, it heals, purifies and saves us. The Orthodox faith is also dear to us because it is the Faith of our Fathers. For its sake the Apostles bore pain and labored; martyrs and preachers suffered for it; champions, who were like unto the saints, shed their tears and their blood; pastors and teachers fought for it; and our ancestors stood for it, whose legacy it was that to us it should be dearer than the pupil of our eyes. And as to us, their descendants,? do we preserve the Orthodox faith, do we keep to its Gospels? Of yore, the prophet Elijah, this great worker for the glory of God, complained that the Sons of Israel have abandoned the Testament of the Lord, leaning away from it towards the gods of the heathen. Yet the Lord revealed to His prophet, that amongst the Israelites there still were seven thousand people who have not knelt before Baal (3 Kings 19). Likewise, no doubt, in our days also there are some true followers of Christ. "The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2 Timothy 2:19) We do occasionally meet sons of the Church, who are obedient to Her decrees, who honor their spiritual pastors, love the Church of God and the beauty of its exterior, who are eager to attend to its Divine Service and to lead a good life, who recognize their human failings and sincerely repent their sins. But are there many such among us? Are there not more people, "in whom the weeds of vanity and passion allow but little fruit to the influence of the Gospel, or even in whom it is altogether fruitless, who resist the truth of the Gospel, because of the increase of their sins, who renounce the gift of the Lord and repudiate the Grace of God" (a quotation from the service of Orthodoxy). "I have given birth to sons and have glorified them, yet they deny Me," said the Lord in the olden days concerning Israel. And today also there are many who were born, raised and glorified by the Lord in the Orthodox faith, yet who deny their faith, pay no attention to the teachings of the Church, do not keep its injunctions, do not listen to their spiritual pastors and remain cold towards the divine service and the Church of God. How speedily some of us lose the Orthodox faith in this country of many creeds and tribes! They begin their apostasy with things, which in their eyes have but little importance. They judge it is "old fashioned" and "not accepted amongst educated people" to observe all such customs as: praying before and after meals, or even morning and night, to wear a cross, to keep icons in their houses and to keep church holidays and fast days. They even do not stop at this, but go further: they seldom go to church and sometimes not at all, as a man has to have some rest on a Sunday (...in a saloon); they do not go to confession, they dispense with church marriage and delay baptizing their children. And in this way their ties with Orthodox faith are broken! They remember the Church on their deathbed, and some don't even do that! To excuse their apostasy they naively say: "this is not the old country, this is America, and consequently(?) it is impossible to observe all the demands of the Church." As if the word of Christ is of use for the old country only and not for the whole world. As if the Orthodox faith is not the foundation of the world. "Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel into anger" (Isaiah 1:4)
If you do not preserve the Orthodox faith and the commandments of God, the least you can do is not to humiliate your hearts by inventing false excuses for your sins! If you do not honor our customs, the least you can do is not to laugh at things you do not know or understand. If you do not accept the motherly care of the Holy Orthodox Church, the least you can do is to confess you act wrongly, that you are sinning against the Church and behave like children! If you do, the Orthodox Church may forgive you, like a loving mother, your coldness and slights, and will receive you back into her embrace, as if you were erring children.
Holding to the Orthodox faith, as to something holy, loving it with all their hearts and prizing it above all, Orthodox people ought, moreover, to endeavor to spread it amongst people of other creeds. Christ the Savior has said that "neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candle stick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house" (Matthew 5:15) The light of Orthodoxy was not lit to shine only on a small number of men. The Orthodox Church is universal; it remembers the words of its Founder: "Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Luke 16:15), "go ye therefore and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19) We ought to share our spiritual wealth, our truth, light and joy with others, who are deprived of these blessings, but often are seeking them and thirsting for them. Once "a vision appeared to Paul in the night, there stood a man from Macedonia and prayed him, saying, come over into Macedonia, and help us" (Acts 16:9) after which the apostle started for this country to preach Christ. We also hear a similar inviting voice. We live surrounded by people of alien creeds; in the sea of other religions, our Church is a small island of salvation, towards which swim some of the people, plunged in the sea of life. "Come, hurry, help," we sometimes hear from the heathen of far Alaska, and oftener from those who are our brothers in blood and once were our brothers in faith also, the Uniates. "Receive us into your community, give us one of your good pastors, send us a Priest that we might have the Divine Service performed for us of a holy day, help us to build a church, to start a school for our children, so that they do not lose in America their faith and nationality," those are the wails we often hear, especially of late.
And are we to remain deaf and insensible? God save us from such a lack of sympathy. Otherwise woe unto us, "for we have taken away the key of knowledge, we entered not in ourselves, and them that were entering in we hindered" (Luke 11:52)
But who is to work for the spread of the Orthodox faith, for the increase of the children of the Orthodox Church? Pastors and missionaries, you answer. You are right; but are they to be alone? St. Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body, and the life of a body is shared by all the members. So it ought to be in the life of the Church also. "The whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4, 16) At the beginning, not only pastors alone suffered for the faith of Christ, but lay people also, men, women and even children. Heresies were fought against by lay people as well. Likewise, the spread of Christ's faith ought to be near and precious to the heart of every Christian. In this work every member of the Church ought to take a lively and heart-felt interest. This interest may show itself in personal preaching of the Gospel of Christ.
And to our great joy, we know of such examples amongst our lay brethren. In Sitka, members of the Indian brotherhood do missionary work amongst other inhabitants of their villages. And one zealous brother took a trip to a distant village (Kilisno), and helped the local Priest very much in shielding the simple and credulous children of the Orthodox Church against alien influences, by his own explanations and persuasions. Moreover, in many places of the United States, those who have left Uniatism to join Orthodoxy point out to their friends where the truth is to be found, and dispose them to enter the Orthodox Church.
Needless to say, it is not everybody among us who has the opportunity or the faculty to preach the gospel personally. And in view of this I shall indicate to you, Brethren, what every man can do for the spread of Orthodoxy and what he ought to do. The Apostolic Epistles often disclose the fact, that when the Apostles went to distant places to preach, the faithful often helped them with their prayers and their offerings. Saint Paul sought this help of the Christians especially. Consequently we can express the interests we take in the cause of the Gospel in praying to the Lord, that He should take this holy cause under His protection, that He should give its servants the strength to do their work worthily, that He should help them to conquer difficulties and dangers, which are part of the work, that He should not allow them to grow depressed or weaken in their zeal; that He should open the hearts of the unbelieving for the hearing and acceptance of the Gospel of Christ, "that He should impart to them the word of truth, that He should unite them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; that He should confirm, increase and pacify His Church, keeping it forever invincible," we pray for all this, but mostly with lips and but seldom with the heart. Don't we often hear such remarks as these: "what is the use of these special prayers for the newly initiated? They do not exist in our time, except, perhaps, in the out of the way places of America and Asia; let them pray for such where there are any; as to our country such prayers only needlessly prolong the service which is not short by any means, as it is." Woe to our lack of wisdom! Woe to our carelessness and idleness!
Offering earnest prayers for the successful preaching of Christ, we can also show our interest by helping it materially. It was so in the primitive Church, and the Apostles lovingly accepted material help to the cause of the preaching, seeing in it an expression of Christian love and zeal. In our days, these offerings are especially needed, because for the lack of them the work often comes to a dead stop. For the lack of them preachers can not be sent out, or supported, churches can not be built or schools founded, the needy amongst the newly converted can not be helped. All this needs money and members of other religions always find a way of supplying it. Perhaps, you will say, that these people are richer than ourselves. This is true enough, but great means are accumulated by small, and if everybody amongst us gave what he could towards this purpose, we also could raise considerable means. Accordingly, do not be ashamed of the smallness of your offering. If you have much, offer all you can, but do offer, do not lose the chance of helping the cause of the conversion of your neighbors to Christ, because by so doing, in the words of St. James, "you shall save your own soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins" (5:20)
Orthodox people, in celebrating the day of Orthodoxy, you must devote yourselves to the Orthodox faith not in word or tongue only, but in deed and in truth.
Sunday of Orthodoxy (Metropolitan Iakovos of Krinis).
We gather this evening in this radiantly beautiful house of worship as we have gathered for many years now, to celebrate in all our diversity our unity in Christian Orthodoxy. We gather to celebrate the victories of the past, and to look forward to a victorious future, to a future grounded in the solid foundation of our history, in divine worship.
Indeed, we join countless Orthodox faithful throughout the world today in celebrating a uniquely eastern and Orthodox Christian victory – the restoration of the holy icons. We celebrate our shared Orthodoxia not so much in ideas or polity, but in icons, in images of divine worship and Divine Liturgy. We gaze upon our ancestors’ victory most fully as we gaze upon the holy icons that surround us, and that indeed, are enshrined within us and within all persons.
It is, we offer to you this evening, in divine worship that we recognize this truth most profoundly. Surrounded by holy icons of our Christ, the Theotokos and the saints in our churches and at our home altars, we begin to realize the vision of Genesis 1 and 2, the vision of ourselves created as icons, as images of God.
Standing within our churches, we watch as the clergy cense first the icons of our Christ and the saints, and then the very human icons of all who have gathered for divine worship. Indeed, through this offering of incense, we recognize our own potential – our own calling and destiny – to be living icons, holy icons of the living and holy God. Likewise, we learn to reverence and respect all other persons as living icons, even as we cense all persons present without distinguishing ethnicity, race, gender or any other difference.
We look upon our faith incarnate in sacred art, just as we have seen our God incarnate in human flesh. We celebrate that divine beauty which shines from holy icons and from divine worship. We recall that first, breathtakingly beautiful temple of Solomon, where by Moses’ design, golden icons of the heavenly cherubim surrounded the Ark, in the Holy of Holies. We recall that throughout biblical history, the beauty of holy icons and divine worship stood as a powerful sign and a witness of God’s blessing of material creation, and indeed, of God’s own ‘taking on flesh and dwelling in our midst.’
In our contemporary North American diaspora home we have also come to recognize other ways of ministering these same truths. Parish programming, preaching, rational comprehension, study groups, academic theology, social activism and political engagement all have a unique appeal to Christians living in these United States.
And certainly all of these things have important places in the life of the Orthodox East as well. Parish programs are valuable tools. They create opportunities for fellowship, give a sense of belonging and help strengthen Orthodox Christian identity. Motivating sermons also contribute to the edification of God’s people, as they prophetically proclaim and teach the divine Scriptures and traditions of our holy ancestors.
So too, understanding with the mind, group study and learning opportunities, as well as theological development are all good and noble endeavors. Together with countless other saints, the Three Hierarchs taught us the importance of learning by their very lives, traveling to the distant Academy of Athens to acquire formation in the literature, arts and sciences of their day. One of them, St. Basil the Great, showed us that social activism also has a critical place in our Tradition, as he advocated for mercy and justice for all before ‘the powers that be’, and did all within his means to undo the bonds of poverty and abuse in his own Cappadocian world.
Especially on this Sunday of Orthodoxy, however, we would contend that our future as Orthodox Christians is not limited to any of these preeminently North American expressions. Yes, ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ are important parts of our ancient Christian life, but the future lies more in ‘being’ – in bowing before the mystery of God-in-Trinity, in celebrating the stories of our salvation and the lives of the saints. So it is, then, that for us Orthodox believers, the future is in divine – and especially Eucharistic – worship.
A look at our Orthodox Church history shows just how true this all is. What was it that so deeply moved Prince Vladimir’s emissaries in Constantinople? Was it the rational excellence of the Byzantines? Was it the Christian activism of the Byzantines? No, though both of these were certainly present, what moved those Rus explorers was divine worship. It was holy iconography and chant, it was fragrant incense and sacred ceremony. That is what moved them to proclaim for all the generations and for all the races and for all the nations of humankind, that they ‘knew not whether they were in heaven or upon the earth’.
That vision of radiant icons and divine worship is what captured the minds and hearts of the entire Russian world, what led to the miraculous ‘conversion of the Slavs’. It was that experience within the courts of Hagia Sophia that gave birth to a family of peoples that would come to proclaim that ‘beauty shall save the world’ in our own day. Indeed it shall. Indeed, the future is in the beauty of icons and worship.
And does not the history of our Mediterranean Orthodox peoples point in the same direction? What was it that kept faithful for four hundred long years millions of Greeks and Antiochians, Armenians, Serbs and Albanians as we endured the brutal slavery of Ottoman colonial rule? Was it books and book learning? Was it parish programming and administration? Was it political involvement and maneuvering? It was none of these things. It was divine worship.
It was the power of the holy mysteries and the vision of the holy icons. Divine worship kept our Christian Orthodox identity alive. Divine worship kept our spirits buoyant in spite of daily dehumanization and martyrdom. Divine worship – in all its radiant, iconic beauty – sustained us when there was little other hope.
And it is to our final hope that our worship and icons ultimately point. Remember that the observers at Hagia Sophia spoke of not knowing whether they were ‘in heaven or on earth’. The reality is that they were in both places, for among the holy icons in worship, we experience heaven on earth – the Kingdom, the eschaton is in our midst. It is the end-time vision of Revelation 21.3, the faithful gathered ‘at the altar, before the throne of God’.
In no act of worship is this Kingdom, this eschaton more a reality than in the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist. Surrounded by the holy icons in that experience, we actually become ‘the body of Christ’. In the evangelical eloquence of St. John Chrysostom, it is when we gather in worship that ‘we are in Christ and Christ is in us.’ It is in that context of sacred beauty that, according to St. Nicholas Kavasilas the brilliant liturgical commentator, we behold ‘the entire oikonomia of the Savior signed and signified’.
Such is the case in the midst of our struggles to be in Christ, to love God and our neighbor even in a most challenging time and world. And this is why, in the words of our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos’ most recent Nativity Encyclical, the Church offers us ‘the proclaimed word, the grace of the sacraments, the icon, the symbols, and the feasts’. By such, he concludes, the Church ‘calls the faithful to a continuous struggle to… ascend and take on the divine and ineffable beauty of the virtues of Christ.’ (Nativity Encyclical, 1999)
Again, this is all realized in the Divine Liturgy, the divine ‘work of the people’. In our Eucharistic worship, we realize that ‘our communion and community is the very embodiment of Christ in the faithful. It is the renewal of the entire created cosmos. It is the seeding of our lives with ‘the life of the age to come’, a life already sensible in the living Church.’ In that unique context, heaven and earth converge. ‘That which transcends the rational meets the rational, the divine meets the human and the invisible meets the visible. All converges and dwells together in the Divine Liturgy, where the word and faith, where the symbol and the symbolized are all perfectly interwoven.’ (M. Rev. Dionysios of Drama, 1998)
This evening, we celebrate this eucharistic faith, this liturgical faith, this living faith, this restoration of icons. This faith, like our Christ, is unchanging. Yet the world around us is changing more rapidly than many of us can comprehend. The very term ‘icon’ has been appropriated and changed radically in our own computer age, often signifying an ultimately unreal, ‘virtual’ world, or an outrageously paid celebrity. The meeting place between heaven and earth has been reduced to an image to click, or to a model of popular culture. We must thus reclaim even the word ‘icon’, restoring it to its rightful and sacred identity.
Let us embrace our work of reclaiming and restoring the holy icons in our own day. Learning from our past, we are motivated to blaze a new trail in this new millennium. We will most profoundly honor our ancient roots when we allow ourselves to blossom and bear fruit in ever new ways, rooted in this rich American soil.
Recalling God’s victory in the beauty of the holy icons, we shall find creative ways to flourish our unique Orthodox vision of beauty and of divine worship for the future. Being of ‘one mind and one heart’ in all our inter-Orthodox diversity, we form a remarkable mosaic icon, a unified witness to the world around us. Especially in this season of Great Lent, with its many rich divine prayers and services, we have abundant opportunities to rekindle our worship life in Christ, to restore the icon within. Claiming our roots, let us boldly move forward, my beloved, with the sure knowledge that indeed, our destiny as images of God is even now being realized, that our future lies in the beauty of divine worship, that the life of the age to come is even now in our midst. Amen.
2. Second Sunday of Lent.
Today on the 26th day of March, the year 2000 we have come to the beginning of the second week of Lent. Today we are all gathered together to honour three separate occasions, a tri-hypostatic commemoration.
The first occasion is the Sunday of the Paralytic, which actually commemorates the twofold miracle of forgiveness and healing performed by our Lord on a certain paralysed man. It is the commemoration of the power of God working through Jesus Christ.
We may look upon the paralytic as a messenger of God, an imperfect human messenger. Nevertheless he was made complete by the power of God, and was sent home by our Lord to be a living and walking message of hope to his family and friends.
The second occasion is the commemoration of a heavenly body, a messenger of good news, the Archangel of our Lord. His name is Gabriel which in Hebrew translates as "the power" or "might of God."
Third and last (yet not least of all) is the commemoration of a Holy messenger — St. Gregory Palamas. Saint Gregory was a mere mortal filled by the wisdom and power of God. He was a vigilant contestant of the Orthodox faith, trying to keep Orthodox Christianity unpolluted by heretical doctrines. A proclaimer of the reality of the powers and energies of our God and the uncreated light which our Lord revealed at Mount Tabor.
From these three different types of mediators or messengers, we observe that God works in many different and mysterious ways. He works through His angels, he works through His Apostles and Saints — but he may also choose to work through his sinful, imperfect servants. In other words God may also work through any of us here today.
How does God work through us you may ask? We are all sinners, we are all imperfect, we are all unworthy.
Yes indeed this is true we are all unworthy, but God who has eyes everywhere can see through and beyond our sins and can penetrate our hearts.
God can also see through our false piety our empty prayers and pietistic tears. He alone knows our potential our true intentions, whether they are good or bad. He alone knows if our faith is true, or false.
Ultimately — we are all unworthy, but by the grace and power of God we may become counted worthy to serve our God.
The Church proclaims that those whom God loves He tests and chastises in order to strengthen them spiritually. The Old Testament is filled with such examples, the prime example being the chastisement of the faithful and righteous Job.
In the New Testament Saint Paul is perhaps the prime example, who proclaims that he is the first of all sinners. He initially persecuted the Church, yet God chose Him, God knew that deep inside Saint Paul was the potential to protect and proclaim the truth to all the Nations. A later example? Saint Mary of Egypt, initially she was a prostitute but was chosen by God nevertheless to become a Saint of our Church.
Today we celebrate a similar occasion where our Lord recognised and discerned the heart of the sinful paralytic. In conjunction, He also saw the faith and heard the wishes of the four loyal friends who carried the afflicted man. And with one Word, He forgave the sins of the paralytic, and with another Word, He healed him of his bodily paralysis.
But let us pause for one moment, and let us think; how is it possible that a mere mortal can forgive the sins of another mere mortal? Surely it is only God who has such authority, It is His power alone which can forgive our sins. Yes indeed God alone has this power, but they failed to realise who exactly Jesus was. This is exactly what the devil wanted the people following Jesus to believe. But Jesus perceived the deception in the hearts of the scribes, who reasoned against His actions. So Jesus revealed His true power to the unbelievers. He performed a second miracle; He made the paralytic walk. Jesus proclaims that this was done in order for them to "know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" (Mark 2:10).
Jesus the Son of Man was the righteous judge foretold by the book of Daniel the prophet. But what does the title Son of Man mean? It does not mean what most of us think it means today; that he was born by a human. Son of Man in Hebrew Ben Iysh means that He is the Son of the image and likeness of God. Son of Man in Hebrew means one that has God's authority and God's power yet appears to be human in every way.
The wise men the scribes (or as they are called today) the theologians of Jesus time knew very well that only God could do what this seemingly simple man could do. But they were deceived by their self-righteousness and pride. Satan had put up a wall against their reasoning and deceived them to think that Jesus was a blasphemer.
They could not, they dared not, open their subjective minds and look upon Jesus Christ's face to see his righteousness, his truthfulness, the true light shining from within. Instead they were scared and lacked true faith and so plotted against Him.
Let us now look more closely at this twofold miracle. One notices that not only was this paralysed man forgiven and made to walk after being healed by the power of God, he was also told by Jesus to take up his bed and go home. To lift up his bed after so many years of having lost all power to the muscles of his limbs. He was physically weak, however his faith together with the faith of his four companions and friends, who lowered him down through the roof, all contributed to this very special miracle recorded in Mark's Gospel today.
If we are saved in the last days, my brothers and sisters, it will be in Christ. If we are granted God's mercy and forgiveness it will not only be our soul which will be saved, it will also have to be our body as well. Our body must be pure so that our soul may also be pure, but more importantly our soul must be pure in order for our body to be pure. If we defile our body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, then what hope do we have of God saving our souls?
We observe then in this particular order — that sin defiles the body and that the defiled body harms the soul. We observe that Jesus Christ being pure and sinless works in the opposite way — He first cleansed the soul of the paralytic, and then He cured and revitalised the body.
This was done to show that neither fasting nor praying nor even righteous acts can forgive our sins if we do not first repent. It is almost futile to fast and pray and do all manner of righteous acts if we do not first go to confess our sins and reject our old selves in order for the power of God to empower and revitalise our degenerating limbs and souls.
Only God knows our sins and so can heal both our souls and our bodies. Holy Scripture tells us that our body will be resurrected together with our soul and will be transformed by the grace of God into a spiritual body on the day of the resurrection of the dead.
Today Saint Mark implores us to believe in the saving power of God working in this world. Today Saint Mark reminds us to believe and trust in the power of God working through His messengers, whether human, divine or angelic. Most of all my brethren, the central message we must remember today is to pray for one another and carry each others burdens as these four men did for this man. If we would just do this for each other, then assuredly all of us gathered here would be saved. And remember that it is never too late to be healed, it is never too late to repent. Arise then my beloved brethren so that we may take up our Cross daily no matter how heavy it is and follow Christ. And may God grant us all perfect health to our souls and our bodies.
3. Veneration of the Cross.
Many a time we have heard the Scriptural passage that says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends’. We can view this passage in a new light: Greater love has no one more than God who became man, Who laid down His life for His creation, and Who left behind a symbol of hope as a result of this sacrifice (the Holy Cross). Today we commemorate the middle of the season of Lent with the celebration known as ‘the veneration of the Cross'. It is on this day that we have reached a mountain of hope after travelling along the long hard road of Lent. It is this mountain of hope that offers us strength to carry on until the feast of feasts finally arrives. It is this mountain of hope upon which we can climb up and see the coming of Pascha in the distance. This mountain of hope is the Cross.
Today we venerate the Cross of Christ to not only remind ourselves of the coming of His crucifixion and Resurrection, but to gather strength from it and to thank Jesus Christ for what He did for us on the wood of the Cross. Let’s ponder on the symbol of the Cross for a moment. What a profound paradox this symbol is. An instrument that was used to kill people on becomes the instrument of salvation. It was through this instrument that Christ died, but it was also because of this instrument that Christ was able to defeat death, to rise on that first Pascha, and to open for us the gates of paradise.
On the topic of crucifixion it is a well-known fact amongst historical and medical circles that Roman crucifixion was the most cruel and painful form of execution. If you were caught on charges ranging from theft to insurrection and were crucified for it, you would be fortunate if you were dead within a few hours. This was the case with Jesus, and the two thieves who likely died by asphyxiation considering the type of crucifixion that they underwent. Sometimes the unfortunate ones hung on a cross for up to a week before death finally came. Not only would these victims starve and become exhausted but they would also attract a variety of animals and insects from the area that would slowly pick at the victims. Yet, our God was willing to undergo this cruel and humiliating form of execution for our sakes. Holy tradition relates to us that many of our Saints died by crucifixion. For example, St. Andrew the First Called was crucified on a cross that resembled the letter X, and St. Peter was crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his master.
The instrument of death that becomes the symbol of life is everywhere. It is around our necks, on top of the church, behind the altar, on top of the iconostasis, on the priest's vestments, in our homes, in our cars, on flags and coats of arms. Its even on the koliva and above grave sites as a reminder to us that because of the death on the Cross, the dearly departed can now enjoy everlasting life.
Jesus tells us that if we wish to go after Him we too must take up our cross and follow. This means that we must suffer with Him in truth and love, that we’ve got to live through the trials and tribulations that this world brings to us, and that we must endure the rejection of this world. We are rejected for being Christians, for living a Christian life, for standing before the world and saying "I believe in Jesus and follow his teachings." This means that we must put into practice the life that Christ Himself lived, the life that Christ Himself is, the life which is given to us in Christ’s name in the Church. Then will we gain the life that awaits us.
This is why we venerate the Cross of Christ, which tells us of God’s coming to us and of our return to Him, both accomplished by the way of the Cross. This is what we venerate and contemplate in the middle of great lent, the wisdom and the power of God as Christ crucified on the Cross. This symbol tells us the truth about life. It tells us of the truth and love of God for the world, and it tells us what we must do to be alive for eternal life in God’s kingdom.
Furthermore, Jesus chose this symbol so that he could outstretch his arms and embrace the whole of humanity with his love even in pain and death. If you can see the image of Christ crucified standing behind the altar you will notice that Christ is not withering in pain with a look of despair on His face as you see so often in Western religious art. However, He has a look of peace and serenity on His face exactly because he is embracing us with His love. He is triumphing over death through His death. He is saying to us 'I did this because I love you and I want you to be with me for eternity'. There is no greater love than this.
As we witness the procession with the Cross on this day and we go forth to venerate it let’s think to ourselves ‘thank you Jesus for dying on this symbol for our sakes. Thank you Jesus for leaving us this symbol of hope. Thank you Jesus for opening the gates of paradise for us with the Holy Cross'.
4. Fourth Sunday of Lent.
How much it must grieve a father or a mother to see his or her child suffering without reason. To undergo pain and confusion — for what? Where is God in our plight — we may often ask ourselves. Where is God in all this pain and confusion?
Today we arrive at the fourth week of Lent. In today’s Gospel reading we heard of a father who was on his last hope. His son was possessed by a certain spirit from childhood, which was causing his son pain and confusion. Not even Jesus’ disciples could cure the boy. He brought his son to Jesus, who upon hearing of the father’s plight became exceedingly upset at the whole crowd and expressed these strong and direct words "Oh you faithless generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you." The Child was immediately brought close to Jesus and the spirit convulsed him instantly. As we know the child was eventually healed. But at what price one may ask? The father accepted and confessed his unbelief and beseeched God with tears to make his faith complete? This is the price, the fulfilment of our faith — payed by Christ himself yet we must pray and beseech Him as well.
It is perhaps important to stress here that this miracle account nowhere refers to the spirit by any title such as demon, or devil. It is perhaps because this spirit is in reference to the spirit of this world, the enemy of Christ. It is the spirit of this generation well rooted in society, it is passed on to our children like a virus. Brethren remember these words well — it is the spirit of this generation which throws our youth about like the child with the spirit we heard earlier today. It smashes them to the ground, it throws them into the fire to be burnt, it throws them into the water to be drowned — today its drugs, alcohol, gambling, anything to distort the image and likeness of God, within them.
This spirit has a very old history going way back to primordial Man, Adam and Eve. It is firmly established and can not come out by anything — except, as our Lord instructed Moses, as our Lord instructed his disciples, as our Lord instructs us today, by beseeching God through prayer and fasting.
"Why could we not cast it out," his disciples asked their master in shame. We also must ask why can’t we cast this spirit out from our lives and our childrens lives?
Brethren, because as our Lord tells us "This kind can come out by nothing except prayer and fasting." This is the key to contrite repentance. this twofold formula which treads on the head of this serpent of old and yields our first step towards heaven — contrite repentance.
It is no coincidence then that the first and second steps of Saint John’s 30 chapter book "THE LADDER — (OF DIVINE ASCENT)" are concerned with the renunciation of this life, this world we live in and detachment from all it’s pleasures. We honour Saint John of the Ladder today as a great Saint of our church who reminds us that going to heaven is not as easy as getting into an elevator and pressing a button. On the contrary, it is a long and hazardous climb which is impossible to scale fully unless we beseech God for assistance. May God grant us all fullness of faith, peace and joy on our climb to heaven — Amen.
6. Palm Sunday.
Throughout the entire history of the known world, men have conquered other men. Rulers have conquered cities. Emperors have conquered entire nations. At times, Kings have strived to conquer the entire world. But there remains one uncharted territory that has eluded men of power all throughout history. This unconquered territory is the human heart, and its sole conqueror is Christ the king.
Today we celebrate together one of the great feasts of the Church calendar- the feast of Palm Sunday. Today we gather together to celebrate Christ’s entry into the city of Jerusalem. Today we celebrate Christ as the king who enters our own personal Jerusalem- our hearts. Today’s feast day is a momentary feast of joy and celebration, because tonight we begin the final leg of our journey towards Pascha. Our mood changes from one of joy this morning to one of solemnity, almost of sorrow this evening as we lead up to the great sacrifice that Christ performed for us on the cross.
The feast of Palm Sunday has been celebrated in our Church since the earliest days of Christianity, but the use of Palms in connection with religious celebrations goes all the way back to Old Testament times. Oddly enough Palm trees did not grow around the city of Jerusalem, and people would often buy imported Palms for religious celebrations, in particular The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated at the temple in Jerusalem. The Palm branch was used as a visual tool proclaiming the sovereignty of God as the true king of the Israelites.
With the expectation of the Messiah, and the events of Christ’s ministry on earth, word travelled quickly around Judea that Jesus was the one whom the prophets had spoken about and whom everyone was expecting. Yesterday Christ performed a miracle by raising Lazarus from the dead, the miracle that foreshadowed his glorious resurrection next Sunday. Now everyone is convinced that this is the Messiah-king who will save the Israelites. And Christ fulfils the prophecy of Zachariah, entering Jerusalem on a donkey. All of Israel is preparing to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and Christ enters also as the salvific king who will save Israel not from the tyranny of the Roman Empire, but from the curse of death through His own death and resurrection.
For Orthodox Christians around the world, we celebrate these events as they happened not only in the past, but as they also happen today. We celebrate Christ as the king who enters our hearts, our own personal Jerusalem. But is Christ able to enter? Is there room in our hearts for Christ to rule as king? Often the doors of our hearts are locked. Often Christ is unable to enter because there is already another king of the heart — ourselves. And how do we solve this problem of trying to let Christ in? How do we instil within ourselves the one thing that is missing- God?
The answer is to surrender. Surrender to the will of God. Surrender your life to the one who gave you life. We are constantly bound and held captive by the temporal things of this life. We are prisoners of our own selves, of this world, of our careers, of money, of the politicians who rule over us, we are even slaves to our own passions. The only way to find peace, to find true happiness, to experience true love is to surrender yourself to God, to make Him your king, to live in total communion with Him. And the way in which we turn our hearts from the kingdom of the self into the kingdom of God is through constant daily prayer, reflection, and meditation, frequent Holy Communion, frequent Confession, reading and understanding the Scriptures. So many people complain that they can’t find time to come to Church, they can’t find time to pray and read the Scriptures, they can’t find time to fast, or go to Confession and Holy Communion. The reason they don’t have time is that they are slaves to their own selves, to their own will. If we don’t have time for God, then why on earth should God have any time for us? But God always has time for us. He is constantly knocking at the door to our hearts, to our lives and asking to come in. Some of the Church Fathers go so far as to liken God to a crazed lover who constantly seeks to be with the one that He loves- us, and who would do absolutely anything to be with the people that He loves.
Today, as we receive our Palm branches at the end of the Divine Liturgy, let us take them to our homes and place them somewhere where we can always see them. Let the Palms remind us that Christ is the king of our families, that Christ is the king of our hearts, that Christ is the only true answer to happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our king, let us try and make time for Him in our daily life, let us be reminded that He is the one with whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritise and place Christ the king as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in such a confused and complex world. Amen.
Entrance of Our Lord into Jerusalem (Rev. George M. Benigsen).
"You were bought at a price," says the Apostle Paul regarding our salvation. (1 Cor. 6:20) During Holy Week we become witnesses to the truly enormous price at which our salvation was obtained. Several major American medical experts have just published research on what crucifixion is in general, and what tortures were endured on One who was crucified in particular – Our Lord Jesus Christ – perfect God and perfect Man.
Christ’s physical sufferings were preceded by spiritual ones which were manifested in the physical area. The Evangelist Luke, himself a physician by trade, says that during Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane, "His sweat became like great drops of blood." Physicians say that such a phenomenon is possible in a state of heightened spiritual tension, from which the blood vessels in the skin can burst open, and drops of blood, along with perspiration, can redden the face of the sufferer.
Jesus, who was given over by Pilate for execution, had to endure, as all who were sentenced to death through crucifixion, the cruelest scourging with Roman whips into which metallic balls or sharp pieces of bone were sewn. For this the prisoner’s clothes were removed, his hands were tied to a wooden post, and usually two soldiers would whip his back and legs with the aim of bringing him to semi-consciousness. After this, the soldiers would mock the prisoner.
Jesus the Man must have had a strong constitution, for otherwise it would have been difficult for Him to bear His untiring work of preaching, which involved constant and exhausting walking from place to place. However, within twelve hours, from nine o’clock in the evening on Holy Thursday to nine o’clock in the morning of Holy Friday, He endured the agonizing tension which brought on the bloody sweat in Gethsemane. He endured betrayal on the part of His dear disciple Judas, and endured a sleepless night and numerous moves from one place of His condemnation to another. And then came the scourging, with the whips cutting up the skin with bloody stripes, penetrating into the body’s muscles, and causing loss of blood and unbearable pain. And so, the soldiers start mocking this totally worn out Prisoner – they clothe Him in what looks like am imperial cloak, place a crown of thorns on His head, put a stick – a scepter – into His bound hands, spit in His face, and hit His head with a cane. Finally, they tear the cloak off Him in this way causing even more pain to His back, which is full of wounds from the scourging.
Thus, even before His crucifixion, the Lord was close to total physical exhaustion. This is why He didn’t have the strength to carry His cross to Calvary, and the help of Simon of Cyrene, who was on his way from the field, was needed.
Before His crucifixion there was an attempt to give Jesus some gall mixed with wine. This was a mild painkiller, whose aim was to prolong the agony of the crucifixion. The Lord refused to drink this concoction. He was thrown to the ground. His back and legs, torn up by the scourging, rubbed against the dirt with open wounds. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross with four-sided nails, five to seven inches long. The hands were nailed through the wrists, so that the body could not break loose from the cross. The nails went in between the main wrist bones and damaged the central nerves in the hands and feet, causing the person unbearable searing pain. Once upon the cross, the sufferer touched the rough surface of the cross with the wounds of His mangled back. The weight of the body hanging by extended arms, made breathing agonizing – not just inhalation, but exhalation as well, which explains the brevity and abruptness of the Lord’s words from the cross.
The crucified person usually died either from loss of blood, or from asphyxiation. The period from the start of the crucifixion to death could take three to four hours, and sometimes it took three to four days. To hasten the onset of death, the soldiers would break the legs of the person, which was the case with the two thieves who were crucified along with Christ. A Roman soldier pierced His side with a spear. The Gospel account regarding blood and water coming from the wound is in accordance with medical data – blood from the heart which had already stopped got mixed with moisture from the pierced lung. So worn out was the crucified Christ, so much physical and moral agony did He endure, that the divine heart stopped beating three to four hours after the crucifixion.
The American physicians, who were from the Mayo Clinic, the well-known medical research center, presented in their report much more data about crucifixion than we have room for in our brief discussion. But this is enough for an even deeper understanding of St Paul’s words, "You were bought at a price," and for us to have a sense of the whole tragic reality of Christ’s Passion, the sufferings and agony of Christ who died for us. Holy Week will take the faithful to that time when Christ died, and into those conditions that brought about God’s murder. And it will do so not simply in turns of pious recollections, but in the full reality of mystical experience – the experience which has the power to take us out of the present time, out of the "contemporary scene" and to unite us to that eternity which entered time and remained in it through the Incarnation.
And on this Sunday, as we meet the Lord coming into Jerusalem, and as we mingle our voices with the hymns of the crowd greeting Him, calling to Him "Hosanna in the highest," it is good to keep in mind how easily "Hosanna" can change into "Crucify, crucify Him"!
"Christ is Risen from the Dead."
For twenty centuries, and every year, the Christian world celebrates the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus. Christians expect this glorious event through special rituals, extensive prayers and a long period of Lent.
This Feast is referred to as Easter, because Jesus came from the East, like the sun, enlightening the world; as Passover, because by Jesus we pass from death into life; as the Resurrection, because Jesus has trampled down death and came, alive, out of the tomb.
The Church observes this momentous occasion as "The Feast of the feasts, The Season of the seasons," and calls upon us to rejoice and be happy for the light has shone in the world vanquishing the darkness of death.
The teachings of the Church, the dogmas, the doctrines, the traditions, the rituals, and all other expressions of faith might become mere rational realities and thus empty of their true meaning, empty of life. Because Jesus is the Life, the events that He experienced are but channels through which we receive this very life when and only if we make His events our own; in other words, we have to experience what Jesus experienced and then only His life becomes ours, His death becomes ours, and His Resurrection ceases to be a meaningless repetition; then only do we resurrect with Jesus. And if the Resurrection of our Saviour is not ours, the Resurrection of our own selves, why should we celebrate it? Why should we delude and deceive ourselves by pretending that the festivities of Easter alone are sufficient and capable of giving us all the spiritual benefits of the Resurrection? We know very well that the rituals—the symbols—derive their value from the meaning which they symbolize. Thus the rituals of Easter, including its annual celebration, must be observed only as both living and lived expressions of our authentic participation in the Resurrection of Christ. I have to live Christ, then when I celebrate His Resurrection I am, myself, Resurrecting with Him, because Jesus has not Resurrected once in the time: as His birth is a continual process, since the fullness of time has been achieved, in the same manner His Resurrection is occurring continuously in the time, and we can rightly and duly say that at no moment the Resurrection of Jesus is not happening as fully and authentically as it happened for the first time.
Thus the celebration of the Resurrection is not limited to one day of the year, or one day of the week (Sunday). Every day, every hour, and every moment of my life is the Resurrection of Christ in me, and my Resurrection in Jesus.
From this scope, we can realize the awesome responsibility that a Christian must assume in order to be a true Christian according to what Jesus teaches, and expects from the members of His Body.
Awesome responsibility, because—I—the flesh and the bones, the fragile creature, the finite mind and limited possibilities—I said because I am called to live the Resurrection of my Lord continually, in order to become that very light which sprung from the tomb to illuminate the whole world so every man may see it, and, by it, may share effectively the Resurrection of my Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ.
Archbishop Gibran (Ramlaoui) of Australia and New Zealand
What a precious message of personal hope and joy there is in the true realization of the Resurrection! Death has been overcome; the grave has been transformed into the gateway to Eternal Life, and we are assured of a glorious future. There is no other promise in the world that can offer the smallest fraction of the joy conferred by the Divine Presence in the experience of Easter when we are assured of our own immortality.
We human beings are so devised that we do not naturally linger long on the heights or in the depths of emotion. The memory of the most excruciating pain is gradually forgotten, nor can we recall with the same vividness as before the personalities of departed loved ones, no matter how close they were or how dear. Our joys and triumphs buoy us up for a while, but the pleasure or satisfaction they have brought us is eventually dimmed by time which brings us new experiences and new responsibilities to which we must address ourselves. Every so often we may recall hours of distress or pleasure, but we can never for long avoid the demands of the present in which we must carry on our daily existence.
The same is true of the realization of Easter. By rights it should illuminate every moment of our lives. Every Sunday's Divine Liturgy has the Resurrection as its theme, and Saint Seraphim of Sarov used the greeting "Christ is risen!" all through the year. But most of us know that our recollection is not strong enough to allow us to live the Easter message fully through every waking hour. We have the duties and responsibilities of our daily lives to engage our attention and distract us. Then too, the concept of the Resurrection overwhelms us by its very immensity, and its significance is connected somehow with the end of life while life itself demands our full attention so long as we are part of it.
The Resurrection is the doorway to fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ. This we can enjoy here and now through prayer and the Sacraments and self-sacrificing service to humanity. Our Lord expected that His disciples would enter the Kingdom here on earth by knowing Him in this world where they walked the pathway that He revealed by teaching and personal example. To follow Christ is the Resurrected Life, the Redeemed Life, the Christian Life. For those who experience this life from day to day, Easter is an event that occurs continuously. Full of confidence and hope, they walk through life close to the Risen Master. They know Him on the road to Emmaus, and in the Breaking of Bread they feel the painful wounds in His Sacred Body.
So it is that we need the annual renewal of the Easter experience lest we, caught up in the never-ending pressures of daily life, allow its significance to become hazy in our recollection. If we are trying to live in harmony with the will of our Lord and in keeping with the Easter message, we will welcome the opportunity which the Church offers us to relive the Resurrection and to break with Christ the bonds of Hades, to overcome despair, and feel new life flow through the community of the faithful as all stand again by the empty tomb to welcome the dawn of a new day.
For all its personal import, Easter is not a feast for individuals alone. It is experienced in the company of the Church and in the communion that binds us to each other in the Eucharistic Body and Blood. The Risen Lord sweeps away the barriers of self-centeredness and selfishness and unites all the children of the Heavenly Father, not merely for a moment or two of sentimental fellowship, not merely as a superficial gesture, but through dedication to the service of others. Freely we have received: freely must we give. The certain, infallible, and positive sign that we share in the Resurrection, that we live in the Kingdom, is our willingness to live for others. When our minds are alert to the desperate need of those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, when our hearts respond to the pain of friend or foe, when our hands serve to help and heal the evils of the world, we are showing that we have felt the liberating force of the empty tomb.
May Easter be for us, not just a happy annual holiday which is soon past, nor a short religious digression, but the renewal of a firm commitment to our Faith which will be evident to others as they observe our way of life. If we walk in the light of the Resurrection, Easter will renew and refresh us. Even if we have known it only as the retelling of an old story, let us have the courage this year to bow in faith to the Master who died-who suffered an ignominious death for us-and has given us life. This Easter can be the beginning of a new life as well as of a new day. The shining Figure beside the empty tomb beckons to us. For almost twenty centuries many thousands have witnessed to His power and His love. May we all be among that immortal fellowship both this year and forever!
The Empty Tomb.
by Father T.E. Ziton
Resurrection in Nature
Winter is now past! The snow is gone, and the gardener prunes his trees and vines for another harvest. Nature joyfully cries out: "Stop, look and listen for spring is here!" Yes, there is a glorious resurrection in nature. STOP! or you will tread upon the tender flowers that have just risen from the dead. LOOK! and you will see that old tree whose branches in winter resembled the long arms of a ghost, but now the tree begins to bloom with fragrant apple blossoms. LISTEN! and you will hear the singing bird so full of song that it seems he will burst his little throat. The earth sounds a note of joy and gladness. Everyone picks up the melody and intones the words: "Stop, look and listen, for there is a resurrection in nature."
In the Songs of Songs we read: "Arise, my dove and come: Winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth." (2: 10-12). Yes, the winter of Calvary is past; the storm of sorrow is gone, and Jesus the Nazarene, whose very title in Hebrew means the Flower, has appeared in glory today. Beautiful was that Flower when it took its roots in the dark cave of Bethlehem. Fragrant was that Flower when it was bruised and pinned to the Cross which became its vase: but glorious is that Flower today, for It now fully blooms never to wither away again.
Angels had announced Christ’s birth at Bethlehem, and now they would announce His Resurrection, which is the birth of the new hope of the world. Appropriate it was that Jesus should rise from the dead while it was yet dark, for He who is the Light of the World had come to dispel its darkness. Appropriate it is that Easter should be celebrated with song, for no doubt, the angels of heaven who sang at His birth at Bethlehem, burst into song at His Resurrection from the tomb in Joseph’s garden. It is appropriate that it be celebrated with flowers, for He who burst the bonds of death and snatched victory from the grave is the "Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley." (Song of Songs 2: 1).
On Good Friday bitter hate had struck down its Victim. Pharisees, Saducess, and Herodians had returned to their homes in great satisfaction that an end had been made of the troublemaker. Demons rejoiced that He whom they most feared had been incarcerated in the tomb. But instead of its being the day of victory for Christ’s enemies, Easter sunrise proclaimed their defeat, God’s angels had rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulchre and had sat upon it, giving His assurance that it should remain open, and never again be closed. The Resurrection of Christ gives joy and gladness not to one particular part of the country, but to the entire Christian world. The world stops at the tomb of Christ: it looks at the place where He was buried; it listens and hears an angel’s voice: "He is risen: He is not here. Behold the place where they buried Him."
Day of Rejoicing
Easter is the queen of feasts, the solemnity of solemnities, because the Saviour of the world had risen. Let the bells ring till the steeples reel; let the organs peal forth their loudest notes; let the flowers of spring exhale their sweetest fragrance, for this is the day the Lord has risen. Yesterday and the day before we saw Him covered with wounds: today we see Him glorified. Yesterday and the day before our hearts were sad, because He who raised people to life—was dead Himself. It is natural for a flower to die in the autumn: it is natural for the sun to go down in the evening, but when the flower withers in the summer, and when the sun grows dark at noon—that is sad. On Good Friday The Flower of Nazareth died; today It is risen in an eternal spring. A few days ago the Sun went down at noon. but now It has risen for an eternal day. The Lord has risen today, and He will die no more. Let the whole earth rejoice, for "This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24).
During the holy season of Lent our eyes were moist with tears of sorrow, but today they glitter with tears of joy. In the tears of Good Friday our eyes saw clouds of sorrow: in the tears of Easter Morning they see the rainbow. The showers of weeping eyes on Good Friday refresh the garden of our soul for Easter Day. The premature Flower of Nazareth that was plucked and crushed on Good Friday gave its sweetest fragrance on Easter morning. Our altars that were as bare as the desert, are now decorated with flowers, and the bells that were hushed as a sepulchre, now peal out the gladsome tidings of the Resurrection. On Good Friday the cruel enemies cried out to Christ: "Come down from the cross!" On Easter Morning an angel from heaven sings: "He is risen!"
On Easter day the soul of Christ returns to take possession of His body. Those sightless eyes again sparkle like jewels. Those ears are once more open to hear the sorrows of men. That Royal Blood spilt on Calvary once more flows through His veins. No purple garment of mockery is on Him now. No crown of sharp thorns disfigures His sacred brow. No blood trickles down that Holy Face which angels delight to admire. The crown of thorns is replaced by a halo of heavenly light. His disfigured Face is changed to a beauty that is rare on earth. His five wounds remain, but they are not gaping wounds; rather they are tender lips which proclaim the glory of His Divinity.
2. Sunday of Saint Thomas.
This greeting, which we use so frequently in the 40 days following Pascha every year, seems to many of us to become merely a greeting and nothing more. It becomes ‘something you do’ as a Paschal (Easter) tradition, something akin to the greeting of ‘Merry Christmas’ around the feast of the Nativity. However, let us look for a moment at what the real meaning behind this salutation is. To begin with, the whole concept of Pascha and the Resurrection of Christ is one of the most central and fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. The great Apostle Saint Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, states, "If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain … if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." In other words, if there is no Resurrection of Christ, then Christianity is the biggest lie ever told, and we, and all those that have gone before us, have to be the most gullible fools that ever walked the earth. If we choose to term ourselves as Christians, and discard or even ignore the Resurrection of Christ as some kind of myth or fairytale, then we really need to opt for a completely different religion and way of life. That is how important the event of Christ’s resurrection is to our faith and us.
Acknowledging and confessing Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah is also equated with the Resurrection and the fundamental belief of Christianity. It was man who was the first to die, but it was the God-man, the Theanthropos who died in order to raise up fallen man, and who Himself resurrected after His necessary death on a cross. So the first part of the Paschal greeting ‘Christ’ is in itself an expression of faith, of us confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Saviour, the Messiah. The second part ‘is risen’ is a confession of Christ in the here and now.
Throughout the hymns and prayers of the Orthodox Church, we always use the term ‘today’, and various other words to denote an event as happening now. For example at the end of the doxology, before the liturgy commences, we chant 'today salvation has come to the world', as if everything was happening right here and now; so too with the Resurrection of Christ. We don’t commemorate the Resurrection of Christ as something that happened nearly two thousand years ago, we celebrate the Resurrection as a timeless event that happens for us now. In fact, we celebrate Christ's Resurrection every single Sunday in the Church calendar. This is why the hymn of the small entrance, when the priest proceeds through the church holding the gospels up high, is based solely on the Resurrection, and on Sunday the book of Gospels always has the icon of the Resurrection instead of the crucifixion facing upwards. This is why we call this Sunday of St. Thomas Antipascha. This is not translated as anti-Easter, but it is the first instead of Easter- instead of the great celebration that we experienced last Sunday, that we continue to celebrate every Sunday of the year until the great celebration of the Anastasis, the Resurrection greets us again next year.
Therefore, we say Christ is risen, replied by Truly He is risen, as if His Resurrection is an immanent event in our lives. We don’t say Christ rose, or Christ has risen, as if it is a distant concept to us, but we confess the Christ who is present with us here and now.
The truth of Christ's Resurrection is becoming more and more the topic if debate among various groups of Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other Christian sects, while within the secular world the idea of Jesus rising from grave is totally disregarded as some type of myth created by the church to give a more God-like credibility to Christ. Many non-Orthodox Christians (and I use the term non-Orthodox with both upper and lower case ‘O’) are claiming forthright that Jesus never actually physically rose from the dead. They also claim that all those testimonies recorded in the New Testament of the 500 that saw Jesus after the Resurrection, as well as the 12 Disciples and the myrrhbearing women, were just ways of saying that Jesus was living on in their hearts. This is the same sort of thing you say when a loved one goes to their rest. In fact there are so many theories around from scholars who claim themselves as credible authorities that would make your head spin. Theories ranging from a conspiracy by Joseph of Arimathea to take down the body of Christ off the Cross before he had died, to the wrongful death suit where Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry his cross was accidentally crucified instead of Jesus, and has Jesus popping up 3 days later to witnesses. Moreover, who could forget the theory that all of those who saw Christ after the Resurrection had actually ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms and only thought they saw Christ who was dead and buried?
Thank God, and I say this with all of my heart, that the Orthodox Church is the last remaining bastion of the fullness of the Christian faith. This includes without any doubts, faith in the actual Resurrection of Christ, and the last remaining bastion of Christian faith where absurd theories are not thrown around as if to make a mockery of this most exceptional event in the life of Christ, and indeed in our lives. Sure enough each and every one of us at some stage in our life will be like Saint Thomas in today’s Gospel, where we will question certain things sometimes to the point of doubting. To question things about your belief is a sign of a healthy attitude toward your faith, because obviously you are not doing what so many in the Church seem to do; that is, to take their faith for granted. It actually shows that you are showing an interest in something that is an important part of you. However, don’t go out of your way seeking or justifying with signs and proofs. That is the whole experience of faith, to seek and to know within your heart that your faith is the ultimate truth, and don’t ever forget it. Let’s take the example of Saint Thomas who didn’t need to put his finger into Christ’s side, but confessed openly that Jesus is his Lord and God. Then when we have done this, we will know that it is you and I that Christ was talking about when He said, "Blessed are those have not seen and yet have believed."
by Nick Brown
3. Myrrhbearing Women (Archim. Panteleimon P. Lampadarios).
The event of Christ’s Descent from the Cross and Burial is odd and praiseworthy, because it was not looked after by His Disciples, but by two counselors of the High Court of the Jewish nation, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. The Apostle St. Peter was still in tears for his denial and the rest of the Apostles were scattered, as was foretold by their Teacher, "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (Matth. 26:31).
According to the Jewish law, "cursed is every one who is hanged on a tree" "(Gal. 3: 13). The two counselors of the High Court, moved by their philanthropic feelings for the crucified and abandoned — by — all Teacher of Nazareth, and because of their personal characters, showed readiness and courage to carry out the task. Great courage and boldness, was required, to ask to bury the body of a person who just died and who was condemned officially by the Roman Government.
The name Jesus itself, the reason of His condemnation and the way it was carried out, justify St. Mark, the Evangelist, using the term "courage," to describe the courage of St. Joseph of Arimathaea. Jesus was a deadly enemy of the Pharisees, Scribes and Saddoucees. He was condemned by the High Court of the Temple, as a blasphemer of God and an enemy of the Mosaic Law and the Jewish nation. He was sentenced to death as a traitor, as a revolutionary who attempted to stir up a revolution against the Roman suzerainty. Finally, He was condemned, because He was accused of being ambitious of kingship, an act which made Him an enemy of the Roman Emperor.
Great courage was required in order to appear before the local Governor and ask to bury, with honor, the body of such a man. The fierce crowd, the fanatic archpriests, the members of the High Court, Saddoucees, Pharisees, Scribes and Pilate’s attitude, who in public officially condemned Jesus, were the great obstacles which Joseph of Arimathaea had to surpass.
Joseph, "being a disciple of Jesus," as many other counselors, "for the fear of the Jews" (John 19: 37) remained in hiding. Because of the fear not to be cast out of the Synagogue, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus with whom Christ spoke about the spiritual renewal and salvation which men will achieve, through the Holy Sacrament of Baptism, the basis and assumption to inherit God’s Kingdom.
Two counselors, who opposed the unjust and inhuman decision of the High Court of the Temple, by which Jesus was condemned, now co-operate (? co-operate over what ?) for the descending from the Cross and the burial of the Just Teacher of Nazareth, Whom the centurion (St. Longinus) proclaimed as "the Son of God" (Matth. 27:54). Their spiritual pain led them to express their love and respect, which they had for Jesus.
Joseph took the body of Jesus down from the Cross, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, as was the custom amongst the Jews. "And he laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed" (Matth. 27:60).
Today, in the twentieth century we, the Orthodox Christians are called to confess our faith before a society which denies religion; before the indifferent politicians, the atheists idealist and philosophers, who in one way or the other turn against Jesus Christ and His Church. We are called to cover the naked from God’s Grace body of the human society.(sentence-construction is incorrect . I do not understand what you are wanting to convey. Does "body" want to be after ‘naked" ? Then, I can't work out what you mean.) We are called to spread the precious myrrh of love and alms on man’s sufferings. We are called to spread the myrrh of good works on our souls, in order that the whole man, his whole hypostasis and existence, has the fragrance of the Resurrected Christ.
My beloved friends and brethren in Christ,
Our Orthodox Church reminds us today about the heroic and courageous deed of St. Joseph of Arimathaia and Nicodemus. Let us imitate their faith and life. Today, we who live in a society with few Orthodox, ought to confess our Orthodox Faith with courage, without any hesitation and fears. We must always have in our minds the words of our Lord, who says: "Whosoever shall confess me before men, I will confess him also before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven." (Matth. 10: 32-33).
4. Paralytic (Archim. Panteleimon P. Lampadarios).
The life of the Paralytic, who waited at the sheep pool, which in Hebrew is called Bethesda, was dramatic. For thirty eight years he was paralized and abandoned. Alone, amongst so many ill people and fellow country men, waited with patiently the miraculous movement of the waters, which cured the first person to fall in. In this environment Christ meets with the paralytic. God meets with His creation. The God-man with man.
Christ approached with philanthropic intentions the Paralytic and asks him: "Do you want to be sound?" The Lord with discretion asks, in order to cure; with love He seeks, in order to save.
The Paralytic waited patiently for thirty eight whole years and his hopes were never wear down, he never disbelieved, he never drew back. He awaited, although all his friends and relatives had abandoned him. Everyone returned back to their homes, works, families, because they saw that nothing is happening. In vain they were trying to help their relative, to throw him in the pool. Meanwhile others, more advance, were healed and he remained ill. Their faith and hopes had wear away and they abandon him. The paralytic expressed his complain to Christ by saying, Lord, I have no one to assist me."
Lord, I have no one! I have no relatives! I have no friends! I haven’t any fellow man, who would like to stay with me! I remained alone, in the loneliness of my illness and my sufferings, and no one is found to offer me help!
Every day, the five galleries of the pool of Bethesda were full of crowds and invalid, but nevertheless no one was willing to share the Paralytic’s sufferings. As, today, millions of people suffer from different bodily or spiritual diseases, and all with one voice cry out: "Lord, we have no one"! Diseases, which torment man and deliver him to depression and affliction; to isolation and loneliness; and man cries out with a loud voice: "Lord, we have no one"!
Affliction and pain are interwoven with our life. Wealth and material goods do not prevent their invasion into our life. They are brought in by the malaises and sicknesses of our beloved ones. They are brought in by the ingratitutes of friends and relatives. They are brought in by the slanders and mucks. They are brought in by suspiciousness and misunderstandings. They are brought in, when our work and services are not recognized; by feelings, which were rebuted and hopes, which were never fulfilled. Affliction and pain stand before man’s life and knock the door of all. They do not know anyone or any society, conditions or positions. They do not distiguish between poor and rich, learned or illiterate.
The Paralytic of today’s Gospel reading, followed a programme of a sinful way of life. The Lord, is not satisfied to cure him. The sins of the paralytic had ruined him. It would be worthy to cure him, but under the precondition, that he will sin no more.
Sin and the prodigal way of life are the reasons of man’s different tribulations. Our moral and family sufferings have their roots in our own desires. We cause them with our own foolish behaviour and sinful deeds. And because of this reason, our Lord commended the Paralytic, "You have become well; sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you" in other words, now you have been heeled, be careful not to practice a sinful life, in order that nothing worse happens to you.
Unfortunately, although all of us know that this advice is so logical and true, we tend to violate it. We allow our pride to overrule our logic. We run the risk of participating in mischievously amusements, irrational alcoholism, paranoid smoking, unnecessary vigils when playing cards, unlawfully sexual relationships, and calamitous companies with evil men.
How many times, although we had promise, that we shall not sin, we had found ourselves in the mortal tentacles of sin? How many times, although we had the will to withstand to our sinful desires, we had from the first moments surrendered to the passions of the flesh? How many times we felt strong, but have been proven weak?
If the soul is not under God’s Grace, sin will always prevail. Sin drags and humiliates man. The Prophet David says, "If the Lord has not built the city, in vain the builders labour. If the Lord has not protected the city, in vain the guards watched all night."
When man sins, he sins with a ill will, without moral strength. Thus man, who becomes a slave to sin, is compared to an ungovernable ship, which has no helm, neither compass nor anchor. This condition makes man paralytic spiritually and bodily. At the end he is dragged to death itself. St. Paul, the Great Apostle of the Nations, says, "The bread of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). "How miserable am I’ who will deliver me from this body of death?" and he answers, "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 7:24-25), because "the grace of God is eternal life" (Rom. 6:23).
And truly, my beloved friends, sin can be overcomed only with the assistance of God’s Grace. Our Lord has assured us saying, "that without Me you can achieve nothing" (John 15:5).
My beloved friends in Christ,
Today, we cannot find the proper words to describe the theology of St. Paul who proclaimed, "God has shown His love to us, that when we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8), in order that He offers us the adoption (Gal. 4:5) and to be "inheritors of God, co-inheritors of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 8:17). Let us then struggle to shake off the paralytic sinful life and the spiritual mortification, and with the Grace of the Resurrected Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to receive the health of our soul and body; to become a whole personality in Christ; and generally for our whole life to be a doxology of God’s glory. Amen.
5. Pride and Prejudice, the Samaritan Woman.
Christ is risen! The Sunday gospel reading from two weeks ago presented us with the narrative concerning the Myrrh-bearing women who became the first people ever to witness Christ after His glorious resurrection. These women have come down to us as examples for us to live our lives with acts of love as well as witnessing Christ to others. Today’s Gospel reading again presents us with another female example, a person that our tradition refers to as equal to the Apostles, and evangelist. Her name is St. Photini, and she is also referred to as the Samaritan woman or the woman at the well.
The Gospel states that Christ momentarily rested at Jacob’s Well on His travels with the disciples and it was there that He conversed with a woman from Samaria. Before we understand the narrative in its fullness and its importance, first we must understand who these Samaritan people are. In Old Testament times, the Assyrian armies captured the northern Israelites and exiled them back to Assyria as trophies of their conquest of northern Israel (and at the same time- transplanted their own people into the region of Samaria). While in exile, these Israelites were forced to inter-marry with the pagan Assyrians- something that contravened the law that God had given Moses. They were also forced to adopt certain pagan Assyrian practices into the Jewish religion. When they were allowed to return to the region of Samaria, not only had the religion of their forefathers been desecrated, but also their pure Hebrew blood had been defiled by pagan blood. As a consequence, the inhabitants of Samaria (known as Samaritans) were considered by the Jews as traitors toward the faith, as well as being ritually unclean. Jews were not allowed to touch or even converse with Samaritans. Even the name Samaritan was used as a derogatory term aimed at those Jews who were shunned from society.
So this is what is so strange about the setting of today’s Gospel reading. Christ, a Jewish teacher or rabbi, is seen here striking up a conversation with someone who is an outcast of Jewish society, someone who is considered unclean, someone who is looked upon as being the lowest and most despised out of all the nations on the earth. And this is where the beauty of today’s Gospel narrative lies. CHRIST TRANSCENDS PREJUDICE. It was because of Christ’s conversation with this outcast of society and because of His transcendence of racial barriers, that thousands of people were converted to faith in the one true God. According to Holy Tradition, the Samaritan woman- St. Photini, went and preached Christ with her two sons and five sisters firstly to the inhabitants of Samaria, then to those in Northern Africa, and finally when they were all captured by the Romans for proclaiming the teachings of Christ, they preached to and converted those in the Roman prisons. Even the daughter of the Emperor Nero- Domnina converted from paganism to Christianity after she came into contact with Photini. Inevitably, they were all put to death under the charge of proclaiming and practicing an illegal religion. But St. Photini for us became known as equal to the Apostles and evangelist due to her great missionary activities and her desire to spread the Gospel, something that we can all emulate, and by this I mean being a missionary to those around us, even if it is through a simple brief conversation with a stranger, in the same way that Christ spoke to that stranger at the well nearly 2000 years ago.
Another important lesson that we can learn from Christ in today’s gospel is the breaking down of the barriers that divide humanity. I’m talking about one of the greatest evils that has pervaded the entire history of humanity. It is the evil of racism, and I mean exactly what I say when I call it an evil. It is evil because it is against God; it is evil because it separates us from God, because it is an un-Christian disposition. And yet, even within our own Church, most of us are guilty of it.
How many times have we had an Aboriginal person walk into our place of business and think they are going to steal something- the evil of stereotyping someone because of the colour of their skin? How many times have we said things against the Turks because of political events of the past or present? How many times have I heard people in our community say derogatory things against the Jews out of sheer ignorance? When I hear that, I take it as a personal attack on my faith, because the Holy Apostles were Jews, the Panagia was a Jew, Jesus Christ the incarnate God lived His life on earth as a Jew- a Jew who gave us the New Covenant and called us the New Israel. And the more that we continue to think like this, the more that we choose to separate or to think ourselves superior to people of different races, of different religions, of different cultures- the more we separate ourselves from God. In fact racism could be the one thing that will stop you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven.
When each and every one of us are born, whether black, white, Greek, Turk- whoever, we are born with the image of God in all of us as it states in the Old Testament book of Genesis. This ‘seed’ that God has implanted in us all gives us the ability to love one another, it gives us the ability to see good in one another, it gives us the ability to see God within one another. It’s almost like carrying around a tiny icon of Christ in our hearts. If we can’t see this image of God in others around us regardless of race, religion, or politics, then we hinder our own efforts toward salvation; we tarnish that tiny icon of Christ within our hearts with the sins of pride and selfishness.
Brothers and sisters, Christ exhorts us- begs us to treat each person that we come across in our lives as if we were dealing with Him personally. The next time that you have ill feelings toward someone because of the way they look, because of their race, because they are a different religion to you- try and imagine that the person in front of you is Christ and remember that they too have the ability to be saved. In fact it may be through you personally, through a conversation with someone who is an unbeliever that that person may be saved. Never underestimate the extent of salvation. Who out of the Greeks during the Turkish Ottoman Empire would ever have thought that a Turk could convert to Orthodoxy and be saved? But it has happened many times. We have an example in St. Ahmet who is celebrated on the 3rd of May in our Church calendar, and who was martyred by his own people for choosing Christ over the religion of his nation. And the same is said for St. Photini in today’s Gospel reading. No one in her time would ever have thought that a Samaritan would be seen conversing with a Jewish teacher, let alone converting to His way. And yet she became one of the greatest examples of an apostle in New Testament times.
The bottom line is that Christ transcends all barriers in this world that separate us, and we are all called to do the same. We are all one people on this earth- the race of humanity, under one Father- God. Our salvation will depend on the two great commandments that Christ gave us- to love God, and to love one another. Through the prayers of St. Photini the Samaritan woman, may we all come to the realisation of this and to salvation through God’s grace.
6. Blind Man.
Six months before the sacrifice on the Cross, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, on the day of the feast of the Tents, went to Jerusalem, although He knew that the leaders of the Jews were seeking to put Him to death, and He preached in the yard of the Temple. As He left the Temple, He saw a blind man sitting in a corner begging those who were passing by for some help. The Disciples ask their Teacher, ‘Lord, who sinned, he or his parents, so that he was born blind’? Christ, who knows the hearts of men answered with compassion and love. ‘Neither he sinned, nor his parents. He was born blind for God’s work to be manifested’.
Amongst the Jews there is a strong belief, that the sins of parents make their children suffer. This belief originates from the misunderstanding of God’s commandment, Who order Israel to avoid making idols, nor to worship them. In other words God foretold the people of Israel not to fall into idol worship. In case that they will disobey His commandment and will renegade from the true faith in the One God, then the punishment of their sin will be transferred on their children up to the third and fourth generation. This specific law man generalised for all sins. This the belief which the Apostles have at this moment.
The Mosaic Law, concerning personal sins, clearly states, that each individual is responsible for his sins; because neither the parents will be punished for the personal sins of their children, and likewise, nor the children for the personal sins of their parents. Each and everyone will give account for his deeds.
The man who was blind from birth was born in this condition, because it was God’s Will and not because God wanted to punish his parents. Jesus assures this saying, "Neither he sinned, nor his parents’.
At this point we must clear the follow. Today, many new born babies are born defective and misshapen, because of the sinful way of life of their parents. When parents are enslaved to alcohol and drugs; when a mother is under dangerous and unhealthy pills, or she takes medicine to abort the embryo, her own flesh and blood, in such cases the sins of the parents are charged on the children. Here, the criminal act is performed by the parents, and it is not an act of divine punishment from God.
The Disciples questioned with a pure heart, because many times in the pass they have heard their Teacher saying to the paralytic, that their sickness was caused because of their sins. This man was not only born blind, but was born without any eyes. Christ does not only gives him his sight, but creates from the mud new eyes. Here relies the great miracle! Who ever heard of such cure? Which doctor was able to give eyes to a man, who was born without eyes? Which miracle can be compare to this?
Here proves the fact, that Jesus is the same God, Who at the beginning of creation took ground of the earth and made man, and by breathing in his face, made man "a living soul." The same God here makes mud and creates new eyes, granting to the man who was born blind, his sight, which he was deprived for so many years.
Jesus Christ, the Word and Son of God, is the Light of the world. It is He, who enlightens and sanctifies our life, guiding us to do what is always right. Without Christ man lives in the darkness of ignorance. Without Christ, no matter what education one might have, no matter what riches and glory, is always under the power of sin, which darkens his whole existence.
Sin and sinful passions blind the soul’s spiritual eyes. A sinner, although has eyes and sees the daily light, remains blind and cannot see the spiritual light of the divine revelations. He who is enslaved to sinful passions, becomes a slave to sin. He deprives from himself the true freedom, which God alone offers.
To partake in the divine Gifts of God, one must draw away from the reasons which create spiritual blindness, that is sin. As long as one insists on his sinful desires, he hinders the divine enlightenment of God to enter within the temple of our soul.
We can compare sin to a dark cloud, which overshadows the face of the earth and does not allowed the radiance of the sun to pass through to enlighten and give life to the earth. Likewise, sin becomes the obstacle and blocks the divine radiance of God’s Grace to reach man’s soul. Thus sin deprives man from eternal life.
My beloved friends,
The man who was born blind in today’s Gospel, met Christ and confessed Him as being the True God. Let us follow his example; let us approach Christ and ask Him to cure our spiritual blindness. Let us ask Him, to grant us the divine Light, so that we can see the virtuous path on which we must walk on. Let us ask Him, to lift up the heavy darkness of our sinful passions, which sinks us into a unsearchable darkness. The Lord said, if the darkness which is in you is dark, how much dark is the darkness? Let us ask Him to grant us His mercy, so that through the interventions of most blessed Lady and Ever Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, and all the Saints to achieve our salvation in Christ. Amen.
6th Sunday of Pascha.
"Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see."
The last line of that opening verse of a well-known Evangelical hymn (a fairly recent recording of which was so popular it nearly reached the top of the charts) was clearly suggested by the Gospel story we have just heard, about Jesus healing a man blind from birth.
The hymn writer applies the story of the physical miracle of Jesus restoring the sight of a man born blind to Jesus healing our spiritual blindness. But this is a tradition dating back to a time long before there were any Evangelicals (except in the sense that every Christian is called to spread the good news about our Lord Jesus Christ, and so every Christian is an evangelical). It is certainly part of the Orthodox tradition. Besides commemorating the physical miracle, the hymns of the Church services also remind us that Jesus cures our spiritual blindness. For example, the kontakion that we sang a little while ago: -
"I come to you, O Christ, blind from birth in my spiritual eyes, and call to you in repentance: you are the most radiant light of those in darkness."
Indeed, the application of the Gospel story about the healing of the man blind from birth to the healing of spiritual blindness has always been part of the tradition, in both East and West.
We are all spiritually blind from time to time, even the most devout of us. For we all have our periods of doubt, the dark times in our life of faith. Jesus Christ, as both God and man — the God-Man, cures us of our spiritual blindness. For what we learn in the Gospels can only be believed through spiritual insight, by means of an inner eye (as it were). Spiritual insight is available only to those who have entered into union with the Holy Trinity. The inner eye is the gift of God, divine grace offered to us by the Holy Spirit, sent to each one of us by the Father through the Son. We enter into union with the Holy Trinity (however partially and intermittently) as members of the Church. Spiritual insight is available only to baptised Christians.
But spiritual insight, the inner eye is necessary to us. What we learn in the Gospels about Jesus Christ cannot be believed by applying human reason. In fact such notions as that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he cured a man born blind and performed other miraculous healings, and that he rose again from the dead after being crucified, are, from the world's point of view, downright unreasonable. They offend against both science and common sense (and we are hearing a lot about common sense during the General Election campaign!). Women who have never known a man do not have children. People do not rise from the dead. But we believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God become man, was born of the Virgin Mary, lived and preached on earth, was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. And that in due course he will return to this world in glory! Only spiritual insight, an inner eye, could possibly enable us to believe all this.
Historically, there have been three ways of approaching the problem of belief in the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is the Roman Catholic way. Roman Catholics may possess spiritual insight (I'm sure many do). But it is not really necessary. All that is needed is to believe an infallible Church, whose infallibility is secured by its having an infallible leader, the Pope, bishop of Rome, the successor to St Peter, who has inherited from him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. There seems to be almost no place at all for the individual conscience.
Second, since the Reformation in the West in the 15th and 16th centuries, there has been the Protestant way. According to this approach the individual conscience, private belief, is almost everything and the authority of the Church practically nothing. (There are many different kinds of Protestantism, and for some the authority of the Bible replaces that of the Church. But often the meaning of the Bible is left to individual interpretation!).
Academic research into theology and Biblical studies proliferates, as more and more scholars publish their own opinions. Theology becomes academic research rather than the expression in words of the Church's spiritual experience. In episcopal denominations the bishops more and more resemble a university theological faculty. At the extreme it almost seems as if you need a theological degree at an approved university to get into heaven!
Both these approaches are wrong because they are one-sided. Individual conscience and the authority of the Church are BOTH important, but neither is to be stressed to the exclusion of the other. The third approach is the Orthodox way, which recognises both the authority of the Church and individual conscience.
Like the Roman Catholics, Orthodoxy believes that the Church is infallible. But the Orthodox Church does not believe that any individual is infallible. Not the Ecumenical Patriarch, nor any patriarch, archbishop, bishop or anyone — however spiritual or pious. it is the Church as a whole — bishops, priests, deacons and lay people -that is infallible. The truth is what the whole Church accepts, and every member of the Church -whether belonging to the hierarchy, the clergy or the laity — is responsible for guarding the true faith. Not even ecumenical councils are infallible until their findings have been accepted by the whole Church. That is what makes them ecumenical. It is not the number of bishops attending or the number of local churches represented.
For instance, the First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicaea in 325 to fight the heresy of Arius (who believed that Jesus Christ is a created being) was not called ecumenical until the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381 — 56 years later! By that time its doctrines had been accepted by the whole Church. At the time of the First Ecumenical Council the deacon Athanasius (now one of the greatest of Orthodox saints) stood out alone against practically the whole episcopate.
One Christian — a deacon, but it could equally be a layman or laywoman -can, if need be, constitute the whole Church, the sole defender of the true doctrine handed down by the saints! It does not depend on theological training. Passing examinations does not help here at all. True doctrine is what accords with spiritual experience — that is the experience of the Church, and that of the individual within the Church. The two are inseparable, for individual spiritual experience depends on the spiritual insight we receive as members of the Church. Remember that each baptised Christian has been received into the community of the Holy Trinity. Each is guided by the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father through the Son, to the Church and to each member of it. So each shares in the spiritual experience of the Church and each is a guardian of the Church's teaching.
That has always been the teaching of the Orthodox Church, although sometimes particular hierarchs, influenced by Roman Catholic teaching, have asserted otherwise, or at least behaved as if they believed otherwise. So the Orthodox layman or laywoman is faced with a huge responsibility. He or she may have to oppose the teaching of the patriarch, the bishop or his or her own spiritual father! Nobody is infallible. As an Orthodox Christian I honour the bishop as representing Jesus Christ himself, but at the same time I realise that even nowadays some hierarchs make mistakes.
A former secretary of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius (the Anglican-Orthodox friendship association), who had become Orthodox, resigned and returned to his former role as an Anglican parish priest. He said it is a great thing to be an Orthodox layman, but in this country it is practically impossible. I don't know what made him come to that conclusion, but he was certainly right. How can a very ordinary Orthodox Christian take on the huge responsibility of being a guardian of the faith? It is impossible!
It is impossible to achieve by human effort. But remember that for God all things are possible. The God who cured the man blind from birth (who, according to some of the Church's hymns, could not even distinguish between night and day) can cure our spiritual blindness. The God who also, according to today's Apostle reading, broke the chains of Paul and Silas and enabled them to convert their jailer can provide us with the spiritual insight, the inner eye that we need. We have only to pray that he will.
Sunday of the First Ecumenical Council (Archim. Panteleimon P. Lampadarios)
Health is considered to be one of God’s most important gifts to man. Man’s body, according to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, is the temple of God. It is the living vessel of the Divinity from which the radiance of the Divine Glory shines. St. Paul teaches us saying, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own" (1 Corinth. 6:19). Whatever we have, we have it from God. Nothing belongs to man, even his own body.
Through Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, man has been freed from the chains of sin, which caused the deterioration of man’s bodily and spiritual health and in addition, brought death upon the human race.
"For you are bought with a price" (1 Corinth. 6:20). Christ bought us from the course of the Law with His own Precious Blood. Because our body and soul belong to Christ, it is our duty to live according to His Will; and furthermore, to take care of our health. Thus St. Paul concludes saying, "Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s" (1 Corinth. 6:20).
In the same and equal manner we must take care of our spiritual health. The soul is affected by our personal sins, and by heresy, which is the worst type of spiritual illness.
Every sin which man commits can be cured by repentance and the Forgiving Grace of God, which is granted through the Holy Sacrament of Holy Confession. Heresy, on the other hand, is the complete alienation of man from God. Heresy is the fruit of man’ s pride. Heresy builds up the impenetrable wall of impenitence, which prevents man to return to salvation. And although God forgives all sins committed by man, the sin of heresy is unforgivable and brings eternal punishment and condemnation upon those who insist in their heresy.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has assured us saying, "I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Matth. 12:31-32). See the Lord’s philanthropy! All sins and blasphemies He forgives, because they are the result of man’s weakness. But the sin against the Holy Spirit, He does not forgive; neither in this world, nor in the world to come.
Heresy twists the true teachings and does not respect the Word of God, Holy Scripture, Holy Apostolic Traditions, or the teachings of the theophoric and god-inspired Holy Fathers. It strives, under the influence of pride and man’s logic, to give logical answers and interpretations to the Divine Revelation, ignoring the fact that Faith does not belong to the level of "logic," but it enters into the sphere of "above logic."
Faith is something, which is not understood by simple logic; it is not the result of knowledge, nor the accomplishment of philosophy. Faith is accepted with the hope in the divine promises. St. Paul teaches us saying, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
Throughout Holy Scriptures we find the teachings which urge us to preserve the true faith. In the Book of Acts we read, "And as they (Paul and Timothy) went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and the elders which were at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4). Also very important, are the last instructions of St. Paul given to the Bishops and Presbyters of the Church of Asia Minor: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:28-30). Even our Lord and Saviour Himself warns us about the coming of pseudochrists and pseudoprophets. "For there shall arise false Christ, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matth. 24:24).
False christs, false prophets and false apostles are the heretics, who by their own will and in their own knowledge twist the truths of the Holy Gospel. They present one part of the truth, as been the whole truth.
The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, participating in the Ecumenical or local Councils, had full conscience of the responsibility that they must preserve the Truth of Divine Revelation, just as it was revealed by God and had been passed down by the Apostles and eye witnesses of His life on earth. At the same time they had to be aware for themselves and for the whole flock from any false teachings coming from heretics. They believed that they had the responsibility, not only before God, but also before their flock, and they struggled to build up and to strengthen the faithful in the true faith of Christ.
The Holy Fathers with their personal example, their teachings, their kindness, their warm zeal and self-denial gave courage to the faithful during times of persecution and tribulation. With their virtuous life and struggle for Orthodoxy, they became the athletes of Christ in the stadium of the Church.
We, the Orthodox Christians, today, honour and give gratitude to all those who struggled for Orthodoxy. Let us pray to our loving God to give us strength and faith, so that we also be able to defend the Apostolic Faith, imitating those holy men, who sacrificed even their own lives for the Truth, and became Shepherds and Teachers of the Church.
Young people who delight in sin, I'll tell you what has lately been:
A woman who was young and fair, Who died in sin and sad despair.
She'd go to frolics, dance and play, In spite of all her friends could say;
"I'll turn to God when I get old, And He will then receive my soul."
One Friday morning she took sick, Her stubborn heart began to break;
"Alas! alas! my days are spent Too late! too late for to repent."
She called her mother to her bed— Her eyes were rolling in her head—
"When I am dead remember well, Your wicked Polly screams in Hell.
"The tears are lost you shed for me, My soul is lost, I plainly see;
Oh! Mother, Mother, fare you well— My soul will soon be dragged to Hell.
"My earthly father, fare you well, My soul is lost and doomed to Hell;
The flaming wrath begins to roll, I am a lost and ruined soul."
She gnawed her tongue before she died, She rolled and groaned and screamed and cried, "Oh, must I burn for ever more, When thousand thousand years are o'er?"
At last the monster Death prevailed, Her nails turned blue, her language failed;
She closed her eyes and left the world, Poor Polly down to Hell was hurled.
It almost broke her mother's heart To see her child to Hell depart;
"My Polly, O my Polly's dead, Her soul is gone, her spirit's fled."
Alas—how did her parents mourn To think their child was dead and gone.
"Oh! is my Polly gone to hell, My grief's so great no tongue can tell."
Young people, lest this be your case, Return to God and seek His face.
Upon your knees for mercy cry, Lest you in sin like Polly die.
Oh! sinners, take the warning fair And for your dying bed prepare, Return to Jesus Christ and live, And He will life and pardon give.
Remember well your dying day, And seek salvation while you may;
Forsake your sin and follies, too, Or they will prove your overthrow.
All the poor girl did was frolic! I got this hymn from the Internet. Where else! The Pentecostal Online Hymnal. I am told this hymn was popular among children in the American Deep South in the mid-19th century (corresponding to our Victorian period). I can believe it. Children always did like the gory details. I particularly like "Her nails turned blue."
The children would have been perfectly assured they were not going to hell, of course. They went to Sunday school. The people who went to hell were the unbelievers who didn't go to Sunday school, and (perhaps even more likely) the ones who went to the wicked Roman Catholic Sunday school down the street.
It's more than a bit over the top! Yet we Orthodox Christians have something in common with the kind of Christians who wrote hymns like that. Like them, we take hell seriously. We may not speculate on what the state of permanent separation from our Creator may be like; like a fire, or like a prison or whatever. But we do take the prospect of hell seriously.
In the Western denominations nowadays hell is hardly ever mentioned. Many of the leaders don't believe in it. We Orthodox most certainly do. It is a very serious matter to disobey God, persistently, breaking oneself off from him completely.
But you don't go to hell for frolicking, or for going to the wrong church, or for singing wrong notes in the liturgy. Not even for not paying the clergy, a topic referred to in today's apostle reading. Well, bishops have been known to excommunicate whole congregations for not paying their pastors, or not paying them enough.
Today's Gospel reading tells us what kind of people go to hell. It is the kind of people who are unforgiving; people who refuse to obey Jesus' command to forgive those who offend against us "seventy times seven times." We are to forgive one another because God has forgiven us — and our offences against God far exceed anything anyone has committed against us.
Jesus' parable makes this clear. The king forgives the servant who owes him ten thousand talents. This must represent, in contemporary British money, many millions of pounds. It was far more than the man could ever hope to repay in a lifetime.
The same apples to what we owe God. It is not just a matter of our personal sins. We are participators in the enormous volume of sin accumulated by the whole of humanity through many centuries — what in the West is called Original Sin, but which Orthodox theologians prefer to call Ancestral Sin. God has forgiven us all that, and our personal sins besides, if we repent. Just as the king in the parable forgave his servant all that enormous debt.
But after the king had written off his debt, the servant in the parable encountered a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii. Well, the d of the old £ s d stood for denarius. So 100 denarii was less than 100 pence in decimal currency. When his fellow servant could not pay, the servant whose debt had been written off would not forgive him, but had him thrown into prison, and (according to some translations, anyway) into the hands of torturers, until he should pay what he owed. The king was so angry that he had the servant he had forgiven put into prison until he should repay all his debt (which means for ever, since he never could repay such an enormous sum).
Likewise, God, who has forgiven us so many sins, will punish us if we do not forgive those who sin against us. The unforgiving person, if he or she does not repent and forgive as God forgives, is the person bound for hell.
Remember, it was the scribes and Pharisees Jesus condemned in his public preaching; that is, the hypocrites, the people who were certain of their own salvation and cared nothing for anyone else. In fact they condemned the ordinary people as sinners beyond redemption. Jesus never condemned the ordinary Jewish people. He criticised the things they did wrong, but he never condemned them.
It is the unforgiving people who do not repent and change their attitude who are bound for hell. It is a wrong attitude more than wrong actions that will condemn us (wrong attitudes, anyway, lead to wrong actions). It is a terrible thing to be permanently cut off from our heavenly Father, because we refuse to obey his Son, and reject the Holy Spirit who was sent to guide us. So let us make sure we are not unforgiving people bound for hell. Let us pray that we may always be forgiving people bound for heaven.
4. Sundays after Pentecost.
1. All Saints.
Let me pose a question. What are we doing here tonight/today? Now let’s think… did I come to Church because I want to worship God… did I come to Church to have Holy Communion… did I come to Church because it’s a good place for a social gathering… did I come to Church because it’s tradition? To answer the question of what we are here for, let me first state that the whole idea of ‘Church’ is not this building that we gather. While it may be ‘a’ church, it’s not the Church. What makes up the Church is you and I, and what makes up the Church, the Body of Christ, are the millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide who gather in unity to worship the One True God.
So why do we do it? Well let’s look at the meaning of the word Church. In Greek the term for Church, when translated into English means to call out, to call out to the faithful to gather together, and to call out to the heavens and to ask for God’s mercy. Ultimately the Christian life is a calling for each and every one of us, a calling to attain what we call theosis, to attain intimacy with God, to participate in his energies. What this means ultimately is that we are called to become saints! That’s right, you and I are called to join those invisibly present with us here now, whose images we see on the walls of our Church building. Many of you are thinking now ‘how could I possibly become like Saint Nicholas or Saint George or even the greatest Saint of our Church who is the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary?’ It’s not as hard as we think. After all these people were mere body and soul just as you and I are, but they chose to dedicate their everything, body and soul to God (the sole purpose of our existence).
On the Sunday of all Saints (commemorated on 5 and 6 June), we remember those that have gone before us, who have fulfilled God’s plan for humanity here on earth, who took up that call from God to join Him, and the many who suffered greatly and died for their faith. It is on these days that we not only commemorate those saints who are well known to us, but we also commemorate those who’s names we don’t know. As is known, every single day of the year with exception to the major feast days of Christ and the Theotokos, is celebrated with the memory of a myriad of saints, with the calculation of the day being the day on which they passed over into eternal life. However, it should also be remembered that each and every person, who attains the Kingdom of Heaven, through the grace of God, is essentially a saint! Even departed loved ones have the possibility of attaining sainthood. While we don’t specifically assign the term of ‘saint’ to them, we still pray and hope that one day them, and those of us alive on this earth, will be together. For, those whom we do honour as official Saints, have been recognized at this level because we are certain that because what they had done on earth and their Christian has verify their entry into the heavenly kingdom (by the grace of God).
Today is also the day on which many who don’t actually have a known patron saint who’s name they share in our church will celebrate their name-day. On the topic of who would make a candidate for a Saint in our church, we can see from the icons on our church walls that our Saints came from all different walks of life. We have Saints who were doctors, soldiers, bishops, monks, priests, nuns, kings, queens, married couples, whole families who were killed for their faith, and we even have repentant prostitutes as saints of our church. Could you imagine for a moment the girls that solicit themselves in the most degrading manner actually becoming Saints of our church? Also, age is no barrier, and this is something that is relevant to the youth of our Church. Many of the Saints, and especially many of the martyrs, were teenagers and young children. For example, the Apostle and Evangelist Saint John the Theologian, the same one who wrote the Gospel bearing his name and the book of revelation, was only a youth of around 14 years old when he was chosen by Christ to become one of the 12 disciples. Even the Mother of God was a mere teenager, according to the tradition of the time, when she gave birth to Jesus. Furthermore, Saint Markella, was only a child when her pagan father martyred her for her faith because he wanted to use her for incestuous relations. Ultimately, through the great sufferings and tortures that the martyrs endured they were able to attain a special position in God’s kingdom, a special position in our Church, which is God’s kingdom on earth, and a special position in our hearts; the place where we need to make manifest the Kingdom of God.
Having said all of this, what are the terms and conditions for attaining sainthood. We have just noted that you don’t need to be young or old, you don’t need to be a bishop or a nun, and you certainly don’t need to walk through life trying to display actions of false piety and pretending that you wear a shinny halo around your head! Christ tells us in today's gospel how we are to become saints. This is how:
1. We must confess Christ before all people. This means that we don’t hide our faith as if it’s something to be embarrassed about. Don’t wonder what people might think if you go to Church every week. Don’t fell ashamed to make the sign of the Cross in public. Furthermore, don’t disregard the practice of praying or reading the Bible as if it’s something that either only priests or religious fanatics do. We have Orthodox Christians 2000 years of tradition, and God who loves us very much. It’s not something to hide, it is something that should make us happy and proud, and it is something that we should wish the whole world was a part of.
2. We need to place Christ and to love Christ before anyone else that we love. We need to love Christ more than our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and husbands! This is often a sore point with many Christians and it is quite a hard condition to fulfil. However, what we need to do is to focus our attention on Christ and to focus our love toward Christ. After this is done, love for one’s family members follows naturally.
3. The final point of taking up ones Cross and following Christ is interconnected with the second above. The message of Christ often creates sharp conflicts and divisions within families due to people’s unbelief and total disregard for the Creator. To carry one’s Cross to the end, the true Saint must be prepared, if absolutely necessary, to sacrifice even family relationships. The true Saint must also be prepared to endure the hardships that this world brings.
So there are three key points: confessing Christ, loving Christ above everyone else, and taking up one’s cross and following Christ.
Finally, an elderly pious monk known as the elder Paisius, who has since gone to his rest, upon visiting Australia in 1977 when he came out from Mount Athos in Greece made the following comment, "Many problems exist here in Australia, because this land has not as yet brought forth a saint." He also said, "I believe though, that even Australia, in the future, will bring forth Saints, from within so many faithful who fight the good fight here, and then things will change…" Wise words from a man who himself may one day be canonised. Who knows? Maybe one day an icon of yourself may adorn our church walls!
20. The Widow of Nain.
The story of the Widow of Nain is one of the most powerful of the Gospel stories about Jesus. As he is about to enter a city called Nain Jesus meets some men carrying the corpse of a young man who has just died. He is told that he is the only son of a widow. Moved by the widow's grief, Jesus raises the young man from the dead and restores him to his mother. The crowd standing round are terrified, but give glory to God.
There are three points to make about this story. They are not original, but are taken from a sermon preached many years ago by Father Lev Gillet, probably better known by his pseudonym "A Monk of the Eastern Church." The first thing to note is the great compassion that Jesus shows by this and other miracles. Jesus does not need to show by miracles that he is the Messiah and the Son of God (though they do have this effect as well for those who have faith). He performs miracles because he feels sorry for people. The three occasions recorded in the Gospels when Jesus raises someone from the dead certainly show this. Jesus raises the young man at Nain from the dead because of his pity for the widow. He raised Jairus' daughter from the dead because he had compassion on her parents. He raised Lazarus from the dead because he was a very dear friend, and because he felt compassion for his two sisters, Martha and Mary.
It is difficult for us to realise just what effect Jesus' action would have had on the widow of Nain. For a woman to be left with no man to support her in the agricultural communities of the Middle East in New Testament times was catastrophic. The woman in the story had lost both her husband and her only son, so that there was no one left to do the farm work. Her life would have been completely devastated.
Not that the women of that time and place were weaklings. One of their jobs was to fetch water from the well, which often involved carrying huge pitchers of water considerable distances. But the back-breaking farm work, involving long hours in the fields, was definitely a man's job.
In any case, the widow could not have inherited the land. The loss of her only son would have left her dependent on the charity of more distant relatives and neighbours. So she was indeed greatly in need of Jesus' compassion.
I turn now to the second point. This story when combined with the two other Gospel stories about Jesus raising people from the dead illustrates Jesus' absolute power over death. When he raised Jairus' daughter she had only just died. She was still on her death bed. The son of the widow of Nain had been dead some time and was being carried to the grave. Lazarus had been in the tomb four days, and no doubt his body had already started to decompose. Yet Jesus raised him too!
So however long a person has been dead Jesus can raise him. That is important for us, because besides physical death there is also spiritual death. In a fallen world we all suffer varying degrees of spiritual death from tine to time. Jesus Christ has granted us eternal life, but none of us, in our sinful state, can experience it consistently. We all suffer periods of spiritual death; some being more spiritually dead than others.
It is well expressed in an Anglican hymn dubbed the "She Bear hymn." It was called that by a writer in the "Church Times," in the 1890s when it first became popular. (344 in "Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised.") The third verse begins: -
"Can a woman's tender care cease towards the child she bare?"
The verse continues: -
"Yes, she may forgetful be, Yet will I remember thee."
(I don't really see how anyone can forget they have got children. My experience is that they jolly well won't let you!)
But the hymn writer's point is clear enough. Even when dealing the people dearest to us; even when concerned with the matters we feel most strongly about, we often turn out to be spiritually dead. But, just as our Lord Jesus Christ can raise people to physical life however long they have been dead, so he can restore us to spiritual life however spiritually dead we may be. We have only to want to be restored.
Jesus can save the worst of sinners — anyone who wants to be raised from spiritual death.
Another Western Christian hymn puts it succinctly; one popular in Evangelical circles. I mean the hymn that begins: "To God be the glory! great things he has done!" (No. 313, Methodist Hymn Book).
The second verse ends: -
"The vilest offender who truly believes That moment from Jesus a pardon receives."
We Orthodox Christians can agree with that, especially as "right belief" is part of the definition of Orthodoxy.
We come now to the third point. Have you noticed what an important part women play in all these stories about Jesus raising people from the dead? Jesus raised the young man because he had compassion on the widow, his mother. The wife of Jairus joins her tears to those of her husband. Lazarus is Jesus' very dear friend, but he is especially moved by the grief of the sisters, Martha and Mary.
We find women are also very much involved in stories about God raising people from the dead that are found outside the Gospels. (Jesus raises people from the dead because he is God. It is important to remember that it is always God who raises people from the dead. If there is a saint or a prophet involved, he is only the channel). In the Acts of the Apostles God raises Dorcas from the dead at the request of St Peter, who is moved by the grief of the group of widows. In the Old Testament God raises a widow's son at the request of Elijah, who is moved by the mother's tears. At the request of Elishah, God raised from the dead the son of the Shumamite woman who had asked Elishah to help her.
These facts are important for us too. They remind us that women as well as men have a part to play in God's scheme for salvation. This is obviously true of the Theotokos, but it is true of all women. In one of the prayers at the Sixth Hour we ask the Mother of God to intercede with Jesus for us, "for the prayer of a Mother availeth much to the goodwill of the Lord.’ Indeed, yes. But, in their degree, the prayers of ALL mothers avail much. And how often has it been said of a young man that he has been saved from a dissolute life by the love of a good woman?
In spite of what some people say these days, there are only two forms of the Christian life. Either we are called to celibacy (a small minority are called to that), or we are called to be saved in pairs — a man and a women. If we are not called to the monastic life, then, unless circumstances force us to live celibate lives in the world, it is often God's wish that we should get married and raise families.
Husband and wife, with God's grace, contribute to each other's sanctification. They help each other to grow in holiness. So there is no place for male arrogance. St Paul has a great deal to say about arrogance in today's apostle reading. Rather than boast of his spiritual experiences St Paul attributes the visions and revelations he has had to someone else. (This is an example which many distinguished Orthodox spiritual fathers have followed in their writings ever since.)
Husbands and wives contribute to each other's spiritual growth. That is what is supposed to happen. In practice, in this fallen world, because men have usually enjoyed a more powerful social and economic status than women, there has always been a great deal of male arrogance. Men have sometimes behaved tyrannically and even violently towards women, and still do. But the divine call to men and women to help each other to grow in grace has always been clear and certain.
It extends beyond the home. Each of us has a ministry to spread the Christian message to those around us. Both men and women are called upon to demonstrate the Christian way of life. And besides pursuing our own ministry each is called to support that of others; especially the ministry of the person closest to us.
5. Fixed Feasts.
Nativity of Christ Saint Tikhon (Bellavin.
"To Erect the Kingdom of God in Our Own Souls."
Christmastide breathes the spirit of peace, good will, gentle joy, and holy simplicity. The stillness of night enwraps the fields of Palestine; above them stretches the starry sky, with the brightly shining "Star of the King of Jews." The day's turmoil is hushed in Bethlehem, filled to overflowing with strangers. Not far from the town is the lonely stable which shelters the Holy Family; in a lowly manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lies the Infant, while over Him bends His Mother, with a glad smile. There too, is Joseph, the just man, in reverent contemplation of the great mystery and there are the shepherds — simple men, but pure of heart, come to worship the new-born Christ. And in the heavens above the heavenly hosts are singing: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among men" (Luke 2:14).
Peace and good will! That means an end to enmities and strife! He is born at last, the long expected, the long desired "Prince of peace, and of His peace there shall be no end" (Isaiah 11:6); for He pacifieth all things, reconcileth man with God, and with his neighbors, and with his own unquiet conscience. The Kingdom of Christ is coming — the kingdom of Peace!
And yet, nation still rises against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There the angelic hymn of peace, here — wars and rumors of wars! (Matth. 24:6). This contrast holds good to this day and is confirmed by events taking place before our eyes. Two years ago, the Tsar's mighty voice arose from the Russian throne, calling the nations to peace, inviting them to make their swords into ploughshares [Isaiah 4:4]. And what follows? Scarcely had the conference assembled at the Hague on the Russian Tsar's initiative ended its sittings, when in South Africa, war broke out between two Christian nations one of which had been represented at the conference. And a little later all the principal states of Christendom were compelled to send their armies into heathen China.
Whence cometh such inconsistency? Why have men peace on their lips and the preaching of peace, which meets everywhere with approval and sympathy, while in practice we have war — embittered war with the victors’ shouts of joy!
This inconsistency in man has long been accounted for by Apostle Paul: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:18-19). So long as sin dwelleth in our inner man, and the kingdom of God, which is righteousness, peace and joy in Holy Spirit, has not taken up its abode within us, so long it cannot abide outside of us in the community and in state, and so long shall there be dissensions and wars among men.
On the other hand, the nearer nations approach Christian ideals, the more they become permeated with the commands of Christ — the less enmity, dissension and martial ardor there is in them. We will not compare the ancient world, where each man was as a wolf against all other men (homo homini lupus est), with the Christian world where all are considered as brethren and children of the same Heavenly Father. But within this same Christian world the meeker and more pacific are those nations, who notwithstanding their external power and greatness, humbly avow their sinfulness and nothingness before Him Who is King over all the kings, and do not look down on other nations with overbearing arrogance. Such is our own Holy Russia, such is our "godfearing" Russian people. Nor is it selfdelusion or boastfulness to say so; it is a truth amply demonstrated by late events.
In present war in China, who had to endure and suffer more than Russia? Was it not the Russian boundary alone against which an outrageous attack was made by the foe? Were they not Russian railroads that were destroyed? The Russian Empire would seem to have even greater cause than the others to exact retribution and vengeance on the vanquished enemy. And yet, the very moment that the foreigners in Peking were delivered from the siege, the voice from the Russian throne is heard commanding the Russian troops to evacuate the capital of the vanquished in order to cause no complication in the negotiations for peace. Furthermore the Russians conquered an entire province of China (Manchuria); yet they have no intention of keeping it by the right of conquest, but are already inviting the Chinese government to send thither their own officers. Not thus do the other nations act. If Russia does make war, it is not with an eye to the appropriation of gold or diamond mines, or to the acquisition of seaports and coal stations, but either in self-defence (as in present war in China), or to deliver the oppressed (as in the Turkish war). After conquering a country, Russia does not exterminate the natives, but strives, on the contrary, to make them sharers in true Christian culture, as she is doing now in Asia, and for this she earns her due meed of esteem from all unprejudiced men.
If only nations would take more to heart the true Christian principles, wars among them would become more and more rare. And for this purpose it behooveth each individual to let those principles — humility, meekness, patience, and active, benevolence, sink deep into his own nature; it behooveth each of us to erect in his own soul the kingdom of God; then it will manifest itself externally also, and there shall be "peace on earth and good will among men," and the angelic hymn shall more and more often rise above the "rumors of wars."
The Manger and the Cross (Archpriest George M. Benigsen).
"The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." These words from the first chapter of St. John's Gospel describe the Nativity of Christ in its eternal and mystical meaning. The Word that was with God and was God and "all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made." The Logos, which is the Greek original for the Word, represents the essence, the reason, the wisdom, the creative power and strength, the Word through which God created the world out of nothing. When God says, "Let there be," another book, the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, speaks about it. This Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, today lies as a small defenseless child in the manger from which the animals eat, in the cave where the animals stay during stormy weather. The Word became Flesh, and this was possible only because humanity prepared for Him one of our kind, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. She became a link between God and man, between heaven and earth, between the Old and the New Testament. That is why the Church pays her such high homage, because it was from her that the Word received flesh, through her that the Word became Flesh.
And Bethlehem became a place where heaven and earth met; God and man met here face to face. The One whose generation was rooted in the eternal unity of the Holy Trinity found for Himself genealogy in time, in history, so that having been born in Bethlehem, He would be born in the human heart. As is said in St. John's Gospel: "All who received Him, He gave power to become children of God." God revealed Himself in Flesh; therefore, this event is called the Incarnation.
Andrei Rublev, the iconographer of Holy Russia, painted by his heavenly brush the icon of the Holy Trinity which contemporary theologian and thinker Father Paul Florensky, who died the death of a martyr, once said represents proof of God's existence. The three angels, the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, sit around a heavenly altar, fully immersed in a silent council concerning the pre-eternal sacrifice of Divine Love for the salvation of the world. The Lamb of God lies in a chalice on the altar. The Trinitarian decision is expressed in St. John's Gospel: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son so that all who believe in Him would not perish but would have eternal life." This is the pre-history of Christ's Nativity, the Incarnation of the Son of God as it happened in history. This is where the heavenly threads reach from the manger in Bethlehem to the eternal Kingdom of the Holy Trinity.
"He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not." For Him "there was no place at the inn" of Bethlehem, where, doubtless, there was enough room for the Roman soldiers, the enslavers of His people, Israel. There was room for those who were dressed in rich garments, for those who had enough money in their pockets to bribe the innkeeper. When the scrolls of the history of the world will be rolled up, the last words will be this sad line: "There was no place for Him at the inn."
When a child is born, they like to say that he resembles his mother. Here, for the first and only time in history, one can say that the mother resembled the child, in Whose image she was created. It happened only once in history, when there was no need to look up at heavens when the Child rested in her arms, the Virgin Mary gazed down at heaven. In the filthiest place on earth, in a stable, a perfect beauty He was born, the One who will later be led like a sheep for slaughter, was born among the sheep. The One who later called Himself the Bread of Life came from heaven‹to a place where animals came to eat.
"There was no place at the inn." But there was a place in the stable and in the manger. The inn is a place where public opinion reaches its stormy heights, the center of earthly moods, the meeting place for the people of the world, the popular ones, the achievers. The stable and the manger are the place for the despised, the rejected, the forgotten ones. If the world would truly expect the Birth of Christ, it would naturally look for Him at an inn. The stable and the manger would have been the last place they would look for Him. This is exactly why they don't find Him. The Divine is always there where only few hope to find Him.
The incarnate Son of God had to enter His own world not through the front entrance but from the back door. He was born in a manger, a cave, actually under the earth. There, He shook the earth to its foundations. He was born in a cave; therefore, all who come to Him must stoop, thus signifying their humility. The proud ones refuse to stoop, and, therefore, pass by and miss God. However, those who know how to humble their ego do stoop and enter, and suddenly find themselves not in a cave but in a new universe, where the Child sits in His mother's lap and His frail Child's fingers rule the whole world.
The Manger and the Cross are located at two poles of Christ's earthly life. He accepted the manger because there was no place for Him it the inn. He accepted the Cross because His people shouted, "He is not our king! We have no king but Caesar!" No one welcomed Him at His entry into the World, and He was rejected when leaving the world. At the beginning He lay in a manger owned by an anonymous man; at the end, in a stranger's tomb. From the very moment of His birth, He carried the Cross, the only Cross fit for a Child, the Cross of Poverty, Exile, Deprivation.
The representatives of only two classes of humanity found the newly-born Child: the simple and the wise. The first ones knew they didn't know anything, the second that they didn't know everything. Those who think that they know everything never see God. Even God doesn't have anything to say to the proud. Only a humble heart can find Him. "The Nativity of Christ our God has shown to the world the light of wisdom." Let this light of wisdom, which shown in the darkness of the night in Palestine and in the gloom of the cave of Bethlehem, shine in our hearts. "God is with us"!
Christmas will be upon us soon and I know some of you are thinking, . . . "What, again?" Yes, again! And I pray that you will celebrate many more Christmases to come. I become consciously aware of the fact that our job as Christians is to make ourselves infinitely more aware of the growing chasm between the meaning of Christmas as we understand it as Christians and as society interprets it as a secular holiday. If you don’t believe that we are truly at war with a real enemy, please read the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He points out that we war not against human enemies but against sovereignties and powers who originate the darkness in the world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens. That’s why we must rely on God’s armor, upon God’s strength in order that we might resist.
I ask you mothers and fathers, if you were in a crowd of people and someone attacked your children would it not be natural for you to stand in their defense. Is there a mother or a father who would not willingly put himself between his children and the danger that threatened those children. St. Paul is saying to you that there are dangers that are threatening you that you do not recognize, something other than automobiles running down the street or rapists or muggers or burglars or murderers, other than things that you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands. There are invisible forces that are constantly assaulting you and constantly assaulting your children.
I was interested in noting in a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor that the use of drugs among young people from religiously oriented homes was considerably less than it was among young people that had little or no religious orientation. And it wasn’t because these young people from religiously oriented homes were square. It’s simply that they were not interested. Some of them may have tried some of the less dangerous drugs and found that it wasn’t for them. They had something more basic, more profound upon which to rest their lives and that was their religious faith.
So why don’t you stand between the danger that assaults your children, the danger that you cannot see but that you know is there, and fortify your children with a whole armor of God in order that they might withstand the assault of the evil one? The only way you can do that is by being proper examples, by loving them and disciplining them as they need love and discipline, by instructing them, by walking before them as a guide walks before the untutored in an unfamiliar forest. Otherwise, your children like so many others will be statistics in a world where statistics are meaningless. They will be numbers in a computer, in a world where computers are becoming god. "And then you must accept salvation from God to be your helmet and then receive the word of God from the Spirit to use as a sword," (Ephesians; 6:17).
St. Paul sketches a fantastic graphic picture of the warfare, the constant struggle between "us" and "them," we who are the children of God and they who are the children of Satan. Acknowledge this, and call upon God for help. Make every day God’s day and every day make your life God’s life and He will come into your life, and He will change your life and He will change it every day, not just once, but every time you call upon Him. He will make your life better, a little more meaningful so that the sword of the Spirit then has some value and meaning for you and the helmet of salvation will protect you and shelter you from the assault of the evil one.
Holy Epiphany: Obedient to God's Demands (Rev. Archpriest Michael Bar).
The Orthodox Church celebrates the Baptism of our Lord on the sixth day of January every year. It is an important festival in our church because by His baptism, Jesus set the pace for us, dedicating his life and his ministry to the glory of God and the good of humanity.
The first verse in today's gospel at Liturgy begins as follows: "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him." The importance of baptism may be seen from the fact that Jesus made the trip across the country from north to south, from Galilee to Judea, to the very place where many people, yea, even thousands came to John to be baptized. Not only were the people being baptized, but what was very significant, they were confessing their sins. John's hard hitting messages got the people's consciences aroused enough to confess their sins and to seek God's forgiveness. But Jesus our Lord had no sins to confess and why should he think baptism so important that he made the long, tedious journey to receive it? Even John the Baptist himself could not understand its significance; he was struck with wonder and was reluctant to perform it. His words were, "I have need to be baptized of you and you come to me." That is, "I am unworthy of such an honor because you are more righteous and of higher rank than I am. I am unworthy to untie thy shoes for you are the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world."
But Jesus words to John give us the ideal reason why Jesus was baptized, "For thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus' mission in this world was to redeem them that were under the law so that we might receive the adoption of sons." In other words, Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose and intents of redemption, found it necessary to obey the ordinances of the church and one of these was to receive baptism from the hand of an ordained minister, the priest of the church.
Many people today find objection to many things which the church deems necessary. I know adult parents who labor under the mistaken notion that it is important to baptize infants. Others think that a person should be of age before being baptized. But these objections are groundless for several reasons. First and foremost, Jesus overruled this objection in his day. Mothers were bringing their infants to Jesus but the disciples strenuously objected on the same grounds that many in our day and time do — that young children don't understand what religion is all about. But our Lord voiced a gentle rebuke, as a matter of fact, a very revealing statement to his disciples when he said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." He went even a step further to show us how very important the child is in the sight of Christ and his church. He took a child and set him in the center and said, still directing his remarks to his disciples, "Except ye be converted and become as a child, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
No people anywhere can make progress in any field of endeavor without learning how to obey, how to submit themselves to ordinances of men. Jesus found it necessary to obey them in order to accomplish his worthy mission and in order, as were his words, "to fulfill all righteousness." Speaking of Jesus' utter humility and beautiful obedience, St. Paul said, "He humbled himself, and became obedient until death, even the death of the cross."
Read the life story of the men and the women who did the most in religion as well as in other fields, and you will discover that those who got to the top were those who knew how to obey rather than object, who knew how to discipline themselves, who took orders from others until the time came that they were in a position to give orders.
Obedience is the product of humility, and humility is a sign of greatness. Note the two persons in today's gospel who stood by the River Jordan cooperating with each other so that the act of consecration and dedication might be performed. John the Baptist who did not think he was good enough to baptize Jesus, and Jesus, who did not consider it derogatory to receive baptism from a humble minister. Yet no two men in all history had greater impact upon the lives of people than they.
John the Baptist was the last of the prophets of the Old Testament and the herald of the New Testament, whose ministry, though short-lived, paved the way to Christ. He brought about such a revival of religion that thousands of people from every corner of Palestine confessed to him and received baptism from him. What about Christ? Well, no person in all history had such stupendous influence upon men than he whose spirit, life and teachings had been, and still are, the inspiration of all men of all times and places. He redeemed and still redeems people, not by the power of his sword; you will remember he said. "They that take by the sword shall by the sword be taken, but by that matchless, obedient, penetrating spirit and words which found their way into the hearts of people during the past nineteen and half centuries, six hundred million to be exact, who call Jesus King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
It is customary that people at the beginning of the year make resolutions. The idea is splendid and commendable. Because each of us wishes to rise higher and do better in the year that has just begun than the past one. But no aim could rise higher than the desire to heed the voice of the church, to obey its commands, support its activities, give it the best that one has. There are fifty-two Sundays in the year and one of the finest resolutions I know of is to put every effort behind church attendance and come to the House of God every Sunday, unless one is providentially hindered, and to take Holy Communion at least four times a year, or what is much better, to take it on the first Sunday of every month. It would be also a very fine resolution if someone who is not in the habit of prayer, to pray both morning and night asking Divine guidance and light, to also pray for peace.
The pathway of life is lined up with obedience. And so "to fulfill all righteousness" we should follow the example of Jesus who obeyed unto death, even the death of the cross. The Heavenly Father gives a ringing testimony to Jesus at his baptism. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." And we too, you might be sure, may be considered "beloved sons and daughters" if, like Christ, our lives were steeped in obedience to the voice of God.
"By thy baptism, O Lord, in the River Jordan, worship to the Trinity hath made its appearance; for the voice of the Lord did come forth to thee with the testimony, naming thee beloved Son; and the Spirit in the likeness of a dove, confirming the truth of the word. Wherefore, O thou who didst appear and lighted the world, O Christ, glory to thee."
Theophany (Father Illtyd).
The Epiphany, or Theophany (6th January) is — after Easter and Pentecost — the greatest Feast of the Orthodox Church. Greater even than the feast of the Nativity of Christ. It commemorates the baptism of our Lord by John, the Forerunner in the Jordan and the public manifestation of the incarnate Word to the world.
The Orthodox Church commemorates only one event in our Lord's life at Epiphany: our Lord's baptism. Our Lord's first public manifestation or appearance takes place at His baptism, as father Thomas Hopko points out, for very good reason:
"Baptism is the symbol of death and resurrection; Christ came to the earth in order to die and be raised. Baptism is a symbol of repentance of sin and its forgiveness; Christ came as the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself the sin of the world in order to take it away. Baptism is a symbol of sanctification; Christ has come to sanctify the whole of creation. Baptism is a symbol, finally, of radical renewal. When one is baptized the old is over and the new has come. And Christ has appeared on earth to bring all things to an end, and to make all things new. The act of baptism, therefore, contains in symbol the entire mystery of Christ, the whole purpose of his coming." (The Winter Pascha, p.142)
At his manifestation in the Jordan, our Lord, made like us in every respect save sin, enters into the water to identify with our fallen condition in order to bring it to an end and to create us anew for life in the kingdom of God.
At the river Jordan, God reveals Himself in the person of Jesus. He is the Word of God incarnate, on Him rests the Holy Spirit from all eternity, the Father witnesses to the divinity of Christ and proclaims Him to be His only Son:
"This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17)
Jesus' baptism in the Jordan is also the first manifestation of the greatest of all mysteries, the worship of the Trinity.
This is Orthodox Christianity's unique doctrine: the worship of the Holy Trinity "one in essence and undivided." It was foreshadowed in the theophanies of the Old Covenant of Israel, for example, the visit Abraham received at the oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1) And, as Father Hopko says:
"...it was clearly made manifest in the 'final and everlasting covenant of peace' of the one true God with His people, first revealed in the Messiah's epiphany at His baptism in the Jordan. This worship stands at the heart of the celebration of the Winter Pascha in the Orthodox Church." (ibid., p.147)
This manifestation of Christ the Orthodox Church separates from all the others (birth, magi, and wedding at Cana), because on this day God reveals Himself fully: He is one in three persons. This is the mystery which allows us to call on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as one God. Nothing can be added to this vision.
This is why the word Epiphany meaning "manifestation" was replaced in the East by Theophany meaning "manifestation of God" the latter specifying and developing the meaning of the feast.
"When Thou, O Lord was baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest... O Christ our God who has appeared and enlightened the world, Glory to Thee."
Dormition of the Holy Theotokos (Rev. George M. Benigsen).
The first chapter of St. Luke's gospel contains an outstanding hymn by the holy Theotokos, which poured out of her heart in response to the salutation of her relative, the righteous Elizabeth: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." This Elizabethan prophecy, that we repeat so often in one of our most favorite prayers "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos," was followed by Mary's hymn, Mary's prayerful prophesy, which is especially important for our attention on the day of her glorious Dormition.
"And Mary said: 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.'" From her childhood her entire life was dedicated to God. Her very birth from the childless and elderly parents was a miraculous one. From her infancy her home was th e Temple, where she was presented at the age of three years, and was totally dedicated to God. The angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced the will of God, telling her that the Son of God was to be born of her. In an act of voluntary humility and lov ing obedience, she accepted on behalf of the whole of humanity this good news, this good will of God concerning her. What remained for her to say, how to begin her hymn to God which we so very often hear in our churches, if not by the glorification of God who loved her, and was loved by her - My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
The sanctity of God's name was an inseparable part of the faith and hopes of Old Testament Israel. God's name concealed in itself such a fiery force that it was forbidden to use it in vain, even to pronounce it. Its sanctity, its holiness and mystery ret ain their power in Christ's church. We bless, baptize, celebrate the sacraments in the name of God, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
"And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation," Mary continues her prayer to God. "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in Him with trembling." So said her ancestor King David in one of his early psalms. There is no fear in this, no trembling as in the humiliation of a slave. This is a fear before a mystery, the fear before a holy thing. And the Virgin Mary understands that only in such fear of God, such trembling before Him, prayerful trembling, 'generation upon generation' of His children will find His unceasing mercy.
God is a God of righteousness, and although through its whole history humanity very often bows before naked power, before might, before force, God's will concerning humanity happens on a different plane, in a different dimension. Just as the Holy Virgin s ays: "He has put down the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly." How many falls from thrones has the history of humanity seen? How completely their glory has disappeared from historical memory. Their names do not appear in the Christian calend ar, which flows over with names of the humble, of the saints elevated by God into eternal and heavenly glory. "He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." How many of those who thirst in spirit have been nurtured 'not by bre ad alone', but by the word of God? How many rich and wealthy, self-glorifying, self-exalting, the ones who advertise themselves, have been "sent away empty," have disappeared in the darkness of time?
God's covenant, God's promise has remained eternally. His covenant with Israel the chosen people, His promise according to which the church, the new Israel, has inherited the Messiah. The Messiah, the Son of God, has been sent into the world "as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever." These are the concluding words, the crowning words of the hymn of the Virgin Mary. The entire history of the Old and New Testaments of this humanity is tied together by these words. And in the c enter of this history we see the one who is full of light and holiness, from whose mouth, from whose heart flows this great and inspired glorification of the mighty providence of God concerning man: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in Go d my Saviour."
Dormition of the Theotokos.
Someone told me recently that we DO worship the Mother of God, whatever anyone says to the contrary. Likewise we worship all the saints and the icons. For, he said, the English word "worship" stands for the Greek word proskunw, which refers both to our worship of God (Greek: latreia), and the veneration or honour we offer to the Theotokos, the saints and the icons (douleia or uperdouleia).
Our word "worship" is indeed derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "weorðscip," which is the state of deserving honour, or the act of giving honour. It is used for the worship of God, but also for any kind of honour. That is why we still refer to "his worship the mayor," and call the magistrates "their worships." And there is the line in the Church of England Prayer Book marriage service, when the bridegroom says to the bride "with my body I thee worship."
However, words change their meanings. We nowadays associate the word "worship" specifically with the worship of God. The use of the word in expressions like "she worships the ground he walks on" is considered exaggerated or facetious.
So we venerate or honour the Theotokos. We do not venerate her because of anything she is in herself, but because of her part in our salvation. We honour her because of her part in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; God himself become man, the God-Man.
The Virgin Mary must indeed have been better than any human being who has ever lived to have been chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. She must have been completely free from personal sin. But we do not venerate her for that reason. We do so because if she had not agreed to become the mother of Jesus Christ our salvation would not have been possible. The Incarnation was God's act, but it depended also on the willing co-operation of the Virgin Mary — the Mother of God, Our Lady.
Look at any icon of the Theotokos (that is, a simple icon of Mary, as distinct from those commemorating events, like today's of the Dormition). She is always accompanied by, or pointing towards, her Son. So it is not possible to venerate the Mother of God without at the same time worshipping the Son of God.
In honouring the part of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, we are honouring her because of her obedience. When told she was to be the mother of God's Son, she replied, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (Luke 1.38a). Mary obeyed God, and that is what is required of all Christians. It is because of their obedience that we honour all the saints, and obedience is what is required of us.
That brings us to today's readings. Two verses in the Gospel reading make the point about the obedience of the Mother of God.
A woman in the crowd cries out: "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked." (I tend to remember the words from the King James' version read by Metropolitan Anthony in the Russian Cathedral recording of this service).
But Jesus replies: "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it." (Luke 11.27-28).
What matters is Mary's obedience. What matters is the obedience of all Christians. Mary obeyed by playing her part in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The choice of the Apostle reading is therefore appropriate. It is the famous "Christ hymn" from St Paul's letter to the Philippians, which celebrates our Lord's birth as man, death on the cross and His Resurrection.
However, apart from the two verses added at the end from the next chapter, which do refer to her, it is difficult at first sight to see what the Gospel reading has to do with the Mother of God. It is the story of Jesus' visit to the two sisters Martha and Mary.
Martha and Mary stand for the two kinds of Christian vocation — the call to the active life (or life in the world) and the call to the contemplative life (life as a monk or nun). Mary, the Mother of God, our Lady, is the model for both callings. She set the example for active life in the world by being the mother of Jesus Christ and rearing him. She was also very much a contemplative person, for whatever happened in her life and the life of her Son "she kept all these things in her heart." So the Theotokos is the pattern for all of us, whether we are called to live in the world or to enter a monastery.
The feast of the Dormition probably dates from the late fifth century (though it may be earlier). It was always celebrated in Jerusalem on the same date as now. In Egypt it was celebrated on January 18. Later it spread to other places, some choosing August 15 and some January 18. In the 7th century, however, the Byzantine Emperor Maurice decreed that the Dormition was to be celebrated everywhere on August 15, Later the Pope adopted the same date for the feast in the West, and it has been celebrated on that date in both East and West ever since.
In the West the feast is called the Assumption, for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox believe that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. There is, of course, no mention of this in the New Testament (in fact there is very little mention of the Mother of God anywhere in the New Testament). The story comes from apocryphal sources. We believe it, however, because it accords with the experience of the Church.
The Old Testament tells us that Enoch and Elijah were assumed bodily into heaven. We believe therefore that Mary, who is without personal sin and was chosen because of her goodness to be the Mother of God, must at least have been assumed, without corruption, into heaven. Indeed we believe that she has been deified -been made like God. We believe that she has already received her Resurrection body (as have other saints). As followers of Jesus Christ, we are promised that we shall all be deified, achieving the likeness as well as the image of God, and receiving Resurrection bodies (though for most of us all this will happen beyond this life). The Mother of God is therefore our example.
However, although Orthodox Christians believe in the assumption of the Theotokos, it has not been made into a doctrine of the Church (as it has in the Roman Catholic Church). That is perhaps why we do not call this feast the Assumption, but the Dormition of the Mother of God. Dormition means "falling asleep," which is of course just a metaphorical way of saying "death."
The Orthodox Church has generally avoided formulating doctrines about the Mother of God. We are required to believe only that she is the virgin mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, both God and man. But the story of Mary's assumption into heaven does indeed accord with the Church's experience, and is generally believed by Orthodox Christians. It is perhaps best summed up in one of the hymns sung at Vespers for today(it is the last idiomelon of the aposticha):
"When thou wast translated to him who was born of thee in an inexplicable way, O virgin Theotokos, there were present James, the brother of the Lord and first of the Chief Priests, and Peter, the honoured head and leader of theologians, with the rest of the divine rank of Apostles, clearly uttering divine words, praising the amazing divine mystery, the mystery of the dispensation of Christ God, and with joy preparing thy body which was the God-receiving originator of life, O most glorified one, while the most holy angels looked from on high, struck with astonishment and surprise, and saying one to another; Lift ye your gates and receive ye the mother of the Maker of heaven and earth. Let us laud with songs of praise her sanctified, noble body, which contained the Lord, invisible to us. Therefore we, too, celebrate thy memory, O all-praised one, crying; Exalt the state of Christians and save our souls." AMEN.
Elevation of the Cross (Archpriest Leonid Kolchev).
For a long time the Cross served as the instrument of a shameful punishment, exciting fear and disgust among people, but from the time that Christ sanctified it by His Blood, it became an object of pious respect and veneration for all Christians. However, this did not become universal at once. The very life-bearing Tree on which the Lord was crucified laid in the ground for many years until it was revealed to the world in a miraculous manner.
Whenever the waves of persecutions directed against Christians died down and they emerged, tormented and bloodied, from the catacombs and caves into God’s light, signing themselves with an extensive sign of the cross, then it was that Konstantine the Great, who more than once had felt the power of the Cross, decided to find the same Tree to which the Body of Christ had been nailed. His eighty-year old holy mother Helen took upon herself this sacred task. Arriving in Jerusalem she spent much time and means to discover exactly where the Cross of the Lord was hidden. She managed to establish the fact that soon after the Resurrection of Christ the Jews had deeply filled up the crag of the Lord’s tomb, since it was a living monument of their rejection of the Lord. There, covered by rocks and all sorts of refuse, was discovered the life-giving Tree of Christ with the crosses of the thieves. In order to weaken the respect of the early Christians towards the holy places, in later times the heathen had placed idols upon Golgotha, had built a temple in honor of the shameless goddess Venus. Later it was found that a certain old Jew, Judas by name, on the basis of written family traditions, knew exactly where the Cross of Christ was hidden. For a long time he did not agree to reveal his secret and only forced by hunger and poverty did he lead the Empress Helen and Patriarch Macarius to Golgotha. Pointing to the exact spot, he said : "Here you will find the Cross of your Christ."
With piety, burning with impatience, the people started to work, animated by the sweet-odour emerging from the earth at that spot. Sure enough, soon there were found three well-preserved crosses which were exactly alike by their exterior shape. It was therefore impossible to ascertain which of them was the Cross of Christ, since the board with the inscription J.N.KJ. was lying separately. The perplexity was dispersed by Patriarch Macarius who said: "If Providence did not favor the leaving of the Lord’s Cross in the ground, will it allow it to remain unknown now? Will it allow us to give honor to a robber’s cross in place of the Lord’s Cross? God Himself will show us the Cross of Our Saviour." With these words he commanded that the crosses he taken to the home of a grievously-ill woman. Here, after fervent prayer, he placed on her the crosses, one after another. The first two did not show any effect on the sick woman, but as soon as he placed on her the third cross—the ill woman immediately felt herself healed and arose from her bed. Giving praise to God, everyone unanimously recognized this wonder-working cross as the Lord’s. It was pleasing to the Providence of God to reveal new glory for the life-bearing Tree. Just at that time a dead man was being carried to burial past the house of the woman who had been healed. Filled with faith, the Patriarch, in the presence of the Empress and a great multitude of people, stopped the sorrowful procession and began to lay the crosses upon the dead man. And the same one of them which gave health to the sick woman, resurrected the dead man. to the indescribable joy of the surrounding populace. All those present could not be controlled in their desire to venerate the precious Cross and kiss it. Since this was impossible because of the tremendous gathering of people, Patriarch Macarius stood upon an elevated place, and with help raised the Cross high in the air several times so that it could, at least, be seen by all. Bowing down to the ground with piety, the people cried out : Lord, have mercy!" It is from this festive act of the raising or elevation of the life-giving Cross of the Lord that today’s feast received its name. In this glorification of Christ’s Cross, His very enemies were forced to give it veneration. Judas, with whose help the Lord’s Cross was found, received Holy Baptism with the name Cyriacus and, little by little, being elevated in the degrees of the Priesthood, later occupied the place of Patriarch of Jerusalem, and later still was made worthy of a martyr’s crown.
What is the later history of the Cross of Christ and where is it now found?
In the year 614 the Persian King (Shah) Khosroes captured Jerusalem and along with other treasures abducted the Tree of the Cross. After 15 years when the Persians were defeated, the Cross was returned. At the triumphant meeting of the returned Cross the Emperor Heraclius, himself decided to bear this treasure from the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Resurrection. At the gates of Golgotha, however, some invisible force stopped him and the more he tried the stronger was the power that held him back. Then it was revealed to the Patriarch in a vision that it was not right for the Emperor to go in such majesty and brilliance where the Saviour Himself, carrying His own Cross, went in such poverty and humiliation. The next day. having divested himself of his footwear and extravagant raiment, dressed in simple clothing, the Emperor took the Cross upon his own back and without any hindrance carried it to the Church. This was 14 September of the year 629. Later this Cross was taken apart in particles by the Faithful and today there is not, it would seem, any country where particles of this most precious sacred object is not preserved in churches and even by individuals.
And Christians of the whole world piously honor this life-bearing Tree. "It is worthy and right to venerate Christ’s Cross," says Saint Demetrius, the Metropolitan of Rostov. "for through this blessed Tree was death slain and life granted." "This sign." teaches another prelate, John Chrysostom, "both in former and present times opened closed door’s, removed the power of ill-bearing substances, made poison ineffective, and healed the mortal bites of beasts."
Come, faithful, let us bow to the Cross of the Lord lying before us and, following the example of the ancient Christians, let us say with compunction : Lord, have mercy! Through the might of the precious and life-creating Cross, save us sinners. Amen. *
Focus on the Cross.
The third Sunday of the Great Fast is the Sunday that has been marked by the Fathers of the Church to be called the "Veneration" or "Adoration" of the Holy Cross. Every year at this time the Church holds up the Cross of Christ before the eyes of the faithful in order to remind them that we are in the midst of this Lenten season and that the Church is conscientiously aware of the realities that we, being human, at this time are going to be more vulnerable to the temptations brought on by our human weakness. If we have made a resolution to abstain during the Great Fast, now is the time, at the midpoint of Great Lent, that we are most tempted to give up on our resolve. For this reason the Church raises its "banner," the Cross of Christ, and encourages us to be steadfast, to persist in our resolve to impose these disciplines upon ourselves for our own spiritual benefit and our continuing spiritual maturity. It is for this reason that I like to call this day "Encouragement Sunday."
Anyone who has played on an athletic team or served in the armed forces or participated in any sort of physical group activity understands that we need a rallying point from time to time. I remember basic training so well. We were out on some special maneuvers running through obstacle courses all day in the dust and heat, and when we were finished we were exhausted but we still had to march ten miles back to camp. At that moment, if somebody had wanted to make a wager with me that I could not possibly have marched those ten miles, he would have won the bet. But something happened. We had a platoon leader, a sergeant, a regular Army man who understood the psychology of group dynamics, at least as they applied to the armed forces. He called upon the guidon bearer who carried the company banner, put him up in front of the group and started us concentrating on the guidon and singing army marching songs. As we did so our spirits were lifted and strength began to pour through our exhausted and drained muscles. Not a single man dropped out of that ten mile march despite the fact that each of us was completely exhausted before we began.
So it is with the militant battle that the Church wages through us with the powers of darkness and the forces of this world that would bring us down to satanic levels. She raises Her banner before us and says: Rally around this banner! Sing your hymns of praises! Pray your prayers and offer up your songs of majesty to the Glory of God and let the power of the Holy Spirit surge through your veins, through your minds and your hearts! Be lifted up in strength and this will give you courage to persist in your determination to dedicate this period of time to God, whether it is by abstaining from eating flesh foods or whatever other discipline you may have imposed upon yourself.
Who is the person who, at one time or another, does not need to be encouraged to complete a task? Who is the person who has not started the task with great enthusiasm and with the conviction that the task would be accomplished yet, midway through its accomplishment, was ready to throw up his or her hands in frustration or in fatigue and simply give up? Or who is the person who has not completed a task simply because someone gave a word of encouragement . . . "go on . . . you can do it . . . I know you can and you know you can."? This is precisely what the Church is doing for us on this day. By raising the symbol of the greatest offering ever made in our behalf, the Cross of Christ, it reminds us of the sacrifice which He presented unto His Father in our behalf, and more than this it reminds us of the Resurrection which we are about to celebrate.
The troparion for this day, the hymn of praise which is sung by the choir and the chanters and the whole Church, points our attention to the Cross of Christ and then immediately draws our attention to the Resurrection which is forthcoming. This is so typical of the Orthodox Church which never dwells for long on the Crucifixion but is always directed at the joy and the promise of the Resurrection. "Before thy Cross O Christ, we bow down in worship," says the Troparion, "and thy Holy Resurrection we glorify."
Yes, we bow down before the Cross of Christ because we reverence its meaning and we understand the great oblation that it represents, that Jesus Christ as our great High Priest, offered Himself as a living sacrifice to His Father in order that you and I, once and for all, might be saved, might have the avenue of redemption if we would but give ourselves to Him.
St. Paul says, "Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from Him and find grace when we are in need of help," (Hebrews 4:16). The Lenten period preceding Holy Week is no different than any other period, long or short, in our life. It has its ups and its downs. I guess that the modern cultists would say that the "bio rhythms" are increased or decreased, and this happens to all of us. St. Paul urges us, as the Church urges us. Whenever our spirits are low let us lift up the Cross before us, remind ourselves of the great sacrifice which Christ made for us, open our Bibles and read of the examples of the Lord, reminding ourselves of the promise of our Resurrection through His Resurrection and our spirits will be lifted.
When I was a boy, if my father promised me something, if at any time I suspected that the promise was not going to be fulfilled I would become unhappy. The disappointment would be almost overwhelming. But if I was assured of the fulfillment of that promise, my spirits would soar and I would be joyful again. Well, our Heavenly Father in Christ Jesus has made promises; "Whosoever believeth in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live." "For God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten Son that the world through Him might be saved."
We, as recipients of that promise are reassured time and again through the liturgical life of the Church, but it is also necessary for us to remind ourselves of these things on a daily basis if we are not going to be immersed in the pit of depression, disappointments, cynicism and skepticism. Hold up the Cross of Christ because through it you will gaze into the empty tomb and beyond, to the Lord's Resurrection.
Jesus Christ our Lamb (Fr. John Teebagy).
‘And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said; ‘Here I am my son. ‘He said; ‘Behold; the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said; ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering my son.’ So they went both of them together." (Genesis 22:7-8)
This quote taken from the Book of Genesis illustrates how important a sacrifice, namely of a lamb was in being an offering to God. The Jews, at this time, killed or sacrificed lambs as a way of giving an offering and of cleansing themselves of their sins. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of a lamb that will come. It is foretold that a ‘lamb,’ a sacrificial lamb would in fact come. As we read in Isaiah 53, however, we see how this lamb will be treated by those who would reject it (the lamb). This lamb will bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. This lamb will be oppressed and afflicted. This lamb will be lead as a sheep to the slaughter and will not say a word on behalf of himself. This lamb will be killed even though he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth. This lamb, who was prophesied, is our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of many and was made and still is an intercessor for us sinners.
It is interesting to note, that when we prepare the communion at each and every liturgy, the words from Isaiah 53 are read when sacrificing the lamb, which will become our bloodless sacrifice.
The Old Testament prepared us for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, who will save us from eternal death. "And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding," (Jeremiah 3:15). Along this same line of preparing us for the Messiah, we read about John the Baptist, who is commonly referred to as the forerunner of Jesus. "He (John) came for the testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him," (John 1:7). John was baptizing to cleanse those who had sinned. "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’," (John 1:29). After this, Jesus wanted to be baptized but "John would have prevented him saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me’? But Jesus answered him, saying ‘Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness," (Matthew 3:14-5). Thus, Jesus, the only sinless one, is baptized, identifying Himself with sinners, whom John had baptized.
Besides being referred to as the lamb, Jesus is also described as a shepherd, who watches over his flock (mankind). Jesus is the "good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep," (John 10:11). We also know that even when we feel abandoned and alone, Jesus, the shepherd, will not flee or leave us desolate. This is so because "he who is hireling and not a shepherd whose own sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I (Jesus) am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep," (John 10:11-5). This quote is extremely important and beautiful, in the sense that it gives a real life depiction of the love that the shepherd has for his sheep, or a parent to his children. It also relates to us the passionate love God has for us. If we follow the shepherd and listen to him, he will "give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand," (John 10:28). Jesus is always faithful to us and gives us a chance for eternal life with Him, His Father, and Spirit in their Kingdom, but like Judas we have betrayed Jesus and like Peter we have denied Him. Because of these acts, Jesus was arrested and turned over to the Romans. They "stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him and platting a crown of thorns, they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him," (Matthew 27:28-31).
Jesus, Son of God the Father, suffered this humiliation for us. By His death we live, by His descent into Hades we ascend into Heaven. Jesus is our paschal lamb, our sacrifice, the true sacrifice.
"And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut," (Revelation 21:22-5).
The Fellowship of His Suffering (Archpriest Michael Baroudy).
There has never been a person in all history as misunderstood and least appreciated by people as Jesus Christ, our Lord. At least, this is my personal opinion, arrived at after mature consideration, based upon reading and studying His life story in the Four Gospels. The people among whom He lived did not enter into His spirit fully; of course, some of them had a glimmering of faith in His power and in His person, but that was short-lived. To me, He was one of the loneliest figures whose words and deeds were misconstrued. His agony must have been very great and began from the very beginning of His ministry. There is nothing, perhaps, which causes one greater grief and stabs him in the heart as the knowledge and realization that he is being misunderstood by those whom he loves to help.
I sometimes sit in the quietness of my study and try to visualize the loneliness of Jesus, because, as one who wishes to follow in His footsteps, I want to enter into His feelings, share His spirit, and thereby become more appreciative of Him who became all things to all men to bring them closer to God. I, therefore, try to have a mental picture of the gentle Savior, whose tenderness and love defy description. I follow Him mentally on His journeys through Palestine, considering myself as one of the twelve disciples, or one of the multitude that followed Him daily, watching Him as He ministers to the needs of humanity, healing a leper here, restoring the sight of a blind man there, or speaking in gentle tones about the love of the Heavenly Father to all men, irrespective of their past, their color or race. And the more I do so, I become convinced more than ever before of His transcendence, His greatness, His love and loveliness, compassion and sympathy. No, my friends, no one who has ever lived could ever measure the depth of tenderness which was his, or account for the flow of His love which was not chilled by the selfishness, cruelty and insincerity of man. His was a love that recognized no human geography or racial boundary, neither was His sympathy stymied or stifled by enmity toward Him.
During the Lenten season, we are to concern ourselves with Christ’s suffering in order that we might become fellow-sufferers with Him, learn more of the Christian way of life and so become mature Christians, growing into a full stature of godliness. St. Paul expressed it beautifully when, speaking of his Savior and ours, said, "That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering."
Taking the above statement as the basis for our sermon, we discover that it contains the central message of our holy religion, a declaration unexcelled by any of the other disciples for depth of meaning and significance. Paul here declares that, a full and mature knowledge of Jesus as Savior had two very essential requirements, a fellowship in Jesus’ suffering and the power of His resurrection.
Here we have the blueprint or the pattern toward which all who would be Christians must strive, and it is no easy pattern. As a matter of fact, it is the perfect pattern of Jesus which He revealed by His life and death. First, we have the fellowship of His suffering. How can one share in Christ’s suffering? Christ lived nearly two thousand years ago. Is it possible for one after the lapse of twenty centuries to have a taste of that? The answer is yes, for vicarious suffering, that is, to endure suffering for the sake of others is one of life’s essential principles. As a matter of fact, we begin to mature mentally and spiritually as we make it our business to bear the burden of others, either by lending a helping hand or by expressing a word of sympathy. To have a fellowship in Christ’s suffering is to identify one’s self with all humanity everywhere, the sick, the afflicted, those who are in ill health, the mentally deranged, the hungry and ill-treated. The great heart of the Father and that of our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, were big enough and compassionate enough to include all men. And so when you have the faith in God’s goodness, mercy and love, you will discover that you are in sympathy with all men, whether they are of our race and religion or not; you would love all whether friend or foe, and you would also become aware that you are in perfect accord with the principle implanted in the heart of the universe, and living becomes meaningful, zestful, beautiful and thrilling!
For a long time, the world has seemed to be coming apart. It is this fact, and not the atomic bomb, that inspires fear. People see that they are in danger because they are divided by distrust and hate. If men were to come together in permanent friendship, nobody would use the bomb and that would end our fear.
The hope for a safe and peaceful world, depends on more and more people being brought together and bound to one another by strong, permanent loyalty. The loyalty must obviously be above the level of self-interest. Therefore, it must be a loyalty to no less a program than Jesus expressed in His great teaching of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said the time would come when people would come together from all directions. Northward from the place where Jesus spoke those words lies Russia; southward, Africa; eastward, China, India, Japan, and westward are the Americas. And Christians the world over are to draw closer together in the belief that we are members of one another, all of us being the creatures of God who is the Father of all and whose love includes all of us.
Then St. Paul tells us that the knowledge of Jesus invokes "The power of His resurrection." That, of course, means creative living, striving toward maturity, mature thinking, constructive living, making progress in our Christian experiences. That, too, means forgetting past failures, disappointments, getting over our petty, selfish grudges, doing with our might what our hands find to do without complaint. The power of Christ’s resurrection could only be had by an abiding, unfaltering faith coupled with obedience to the high calling of God in Christ, seeking constantly to honor Him by life and lips.
Power for living victoriously will be supplied by the Master providing we are always ready to meet the conditions for such worthy attainments. To give Him the right-of-way in every way, to realize His presence in human affairs, to lean on Him when the storms of life blow us off our course. To witness before men that He is a God to be trusted, a Savior worthy of our loyalty, are some of the conditions for victorious living. A Christian whom God had called and whose life is concerned to recognize His leadership and lordship will always seek to glory in no material or personal attainments; he has one set purpose, to glory in God’s power, and render the homage and the loyalty to Him who died that we might live. "For me to live is Christ," said St. Paul. What a worthy life motto that is! To make Christ the center of your life, the central aim of every endeavor, and the motivating force of your personal desires would indeed be living a life at its best.
Many of us, though claiming that we are Christ’s disciples, central in our being and thinking are motives, ideas, ideals, which are anything but Christian. Our brand of Christianity does not reveal the pattern which seeks God’s glory. The center is that of self-interest. Neither God nor man are permitted to come in. We don’t wonder at the reason for defeated, unhappy, miserable lives. For only as we share in Christ’s suffering and the suffering of all men everywhere do we become aware of His loving, constraining power taking hold of the reins of our lives, gripping our hearts, illuminating our minds by the light of His divine life and thereby increase our wisdom and devotion.
At a student conference, an educated Christian Indian asked. "What does Christianity have that no other religion has?"
"Christianity has Christ," the great student body replied. Christ brought light into the world. The light of love and understanding. When you go into a dark room and press the button, the light comes on and you see where things are. A chair here, a table there, a stool over there. The relationship of these pieces of furniture is clear in the light. Likewise, when Christ came into the world, the relationship of man to man, of neighbor to neighbor, of nation to nation became clear. The heart of that relationship is love for one another and complete loyalty to Him who brought us that light.
Embracing our Salvation (Archpriest Steven Rogers).
During the recent holiday season, my wife and I eagerly awaited the return home of our two daughters and our son-in-law. Upon each of their arrivals we joyously embraced them, wrapping our arms around our loved ones who had been absent from us. How joyous it is to embrace a loved one whose arrival we have been eagerly anticipating! To hold in our arms that person we have longed for is one of life's greatest joys.
We have all felt that embrace and know its joys. Imagine for a moment what it would be like if that person we were embracing, that longed-for person so eagerly awaited, was God himself — our very life and salvation! How would it feel to embrace God?
On February 2, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This great feast, which commemorates that event at which Mary presents herself and her child in the temple for purification prayers forty days after the birth of her Son, is the culmination of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Once again, this feast reminds us of the Incarnation of God. As a man, Christ is submitting Himself to the Law that all might be fulfilled. We are confronted again with the amazing truth of the Incarnation -that God lowered Himself to become a man so that man might be lifted up out of his sin. Christ was truly a man, "like us in all respects save sin," says St. Paul.
While remaining fully God, He submits Himself to the Jewish law as a man, "For I come not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it." Upon their arrival at the temple, Mary presents the Christ Child to the Elder Simeon. It is this "meeting" that the feast celebrates. The second person of the Trinity "meets" his people as represented by Simeon, allowing mankind to embrace its creator and the author of its salvation.
Simeon knew it was his salvation he embraced and for him, life was now complete. "Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou has prepared before the face of Thy people; a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel."
How many times have we heard those words uttered in church? Countless times, no doubt, for they are uttered at every Vespers service and at the churching of infants. Perhaps we have heard them so many times that the words flow right past us.
But listen! Do you really hear what is being said? Simeon the Elder, he who originally spoke these words, certainly knew their import. In fact, Simeon is asked to explain in one of the hymns of Great Vespers preceding the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord: "Simeon, tell us: whom dost thou bear in thine arms, that thou dost rejoice so greatly in the temple? To whom dost thou cry and shout — Now I am set free, for I have seen my savior?" And Simeon responds: "This is He who was born of a Virgin: this is He, the Word, God of God, who for our sakes has taken flesh and saved man. Let us worship him." (Great Vespers sticheron.)
It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had beheld "the Lord's Christ."
Simeon knew what he beheld. Simeon knew he could now "depart in peace," for he had encountered his salvation, the source of his eternal peace. He knew once he had embraced His savior, that life was fulfilled and death was nothing to be feared. Upon meeting Christ, his joy was complete.
In Simeon, we see the response of a man who has encountered his salvation. Let us ask ourselves, what do we encounter when we enter the Temple? Who is it we expect to see? Who is it we embrace as Christ is presented to us?
Each time we enter Christ's Church, we are offered the opportunity to embrace our Savior. Through the services and the sacraments, He is a living reality, the savior of our souls, the granter of eternal peace.
Do we receive Him? Or do we allow the distractions of life to cause Him to pass by unnoticed? Simeon shows us the way — He is faithful, he is patient, he is obedient to be where he needed to be in order to embrace his salvation.
Like Simeon, let us embrace our salvation. Like Simeon, let us be at peace with God, with all men and with ourselves. God has come in the flesh and allowed us to embrace Him. So intimate is his love for us that He allows us to carry Him within us, even as Simeon carried Him in his arms. Christ is among us! "Let the choir of angels be amazed at this wonder and let us mortal men raise our voice in song, beholding the ineffable condescension of God. Aged arms now embrace Him before whom the powers of heaven tremble, He who alone loves mankind" (Orthros of the feast).
Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple (Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann).
It seems thousands of years removed from us, but it was not so very long ago that life was marked out by religious feasts. Although everyone went to church, not everyone, of course, knew the exact contents of each celebration. For many, perhaps even the majority, the feast was above all an opportunity to get a good sleep, eat well, drink and relax. And nevertheless, I think that each person felt, if not fully consciously, that something transcendent and radiant broke into life with each feast, bringing an encounter with a world of different realities, a reminder of something forgotten, of something drowned out by the routine, emptiness and weariness of daily life.
Consider the very names of the feasts: Entrance into the Temple, Nativity, Epiphany, Presentation, Transfiguration. These words alone, in their solemnity, their unrelatedness to daily life and their mysterious beauty awakened some forgotten memory, invited, pointed to something. The feast was a kind of longing sigh for a lost but beckoning beauty, a sigh for some other way of living.
Our modern world, however, has become monotonous and feastless. Even our secular holidays are unable to hide this settling ash of sadness and hopelessness, for the essence of celebration is this breaking in, this experience of being caught up into a different reality, into a world of spiritual beauty and light. If, however, this reality does not exist, if fundamentally there is nothing to celebrate, then no manner of artificial uplift will be capable of creating a feast.
Here we have the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. Its subject is very simple: a little girl is brought by her parents to the temple in Jerusalem. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this, since at that time it was a generally accepted custom and many parents brought their children to the temple as a sign of bringing them into contact with God, of giving their lives ultimate purpose and meaning, of illumining them from within through the light of higher experience.
But on this occasion, as the service for the day recounts, they lead the child to the "Holy of Holies," to the place where no one except the priests are allowed to go, the mystical inner sanctum of the temple. The girl's name is Mary. She is the future mother of Jesus Christ, the one through whom, as Christians believe, God himself came into the world to join the human race, to share its life and reveal its divine content. Are these just fairy tales? Or is something given to us and disclosed here, something directly related to our life, which perhaps cannot be expressed in everyday human speech?
Here was this magnificent, massive, solemn temple, the glory of Jerusalem. And for centuries it was only there, behind those heavy walls, that a person could come into contact with God. Now, however, the priest takes Mary by the hand, leads her into the most sacred part of the Temple and we sing that "The most pure Temple of the Savior is led into the temple of the Lord." Later in the Gospels Christ said, "destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up," but as the Evangelist added, "He spoke of the temple of His Body" (Jn 2: 19, 21).
The meaning of all these events, words and recollections is simple: from now on man himself becomes the temple. No stone temple, no altar, but man -- his soul, body and life -- is the sacred and divine heart of the world, its "holy of holies." One temple, Mary -- living and human -- is led into a temple made of stone, and from within brings to completion its significance and meaning.
With this event religion, and life even more so, undergoes a complete shift in balance. What now enters the world is a teaching that puts nothing higher than man, for God Himself takes on human form to reveal man's vocation and meaning as divine. From this moment onward man is free. Nothing stands over him, for the very world is his as a gift from God to fulfill his divine destiny.
From the moment the Virgin Mary entered "the Holy of Holies," life itself became the Temple. And when we celebrate her Entrance into the Temple, we celebrate man's divine meaning and the brightness of his high calling. These cannot be washed away or uprooted from human memory.
Cooperation in the Church (Saint Patriarch Tikhon, Bellavin).
Salutatory Address of His Grace Bishop Tikhon delivered in December 1898 in the City of San Francisco upon his accession to the Episcopal See of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands
Upon this my present first arrival among you, beloved brethren, I am reminded of the words once spoken by the Lord through the Prophet Hosea, "And I will say to that" which was not my people, ‘Thou art my people.’ And I will love her who was not loved" (2:23) These words referred to the heathen and signified that when many in Israel, God’s chosen people, did not recognize Christ, the Lord revealed Himself to those who had not sought Him (Rom. 10:20; Is. 65:1) and summoned the heathen to His Church.
In accordance with the ineffable mercy of God those heathen who inhabited the confines of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands were called to Christ’s Church. They were catechized and illumined with the light of faith in Christ by monks from Valaam, who were the first to sow here the seeds of the Gospel’s good tidings. After them their holy labors were continued by their successors, the priests and bishops of the Aleutian Islands, notably the Archpriest John Veniaminov (the future Metropolitan Innocent of Moscow) and my predecessor, the Right Reverend Nicholas, who was a man mighty in word and deed. By the will of God I in my unworthiness have also been summoned here to apostolic service, and now I also will say to that which was not my people, "Thou art my people." And I will love her who was not loved. Up until now we were strangers and did not know one another; but from now on through the Lord Himself we will become closely united in the mutual affiliation of a bishop to his flock and of a flock to its bishop. In the writings of the holy fathers this affiliation is compared to matrimony: the bishop is like a bridegroom to the flock – his bride. And as a husband loves his wife, so that he leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to her, allying himself with her and coming to live with her, so a bishop must love his flock. And as a wife obeys her husband, so the flock must obey its bishop. Thus understanding the affiliation of a bishop to his flock and being betrothed to the Aleutian flock, I left my beloved homeland, my aged mother, my friends and acquaintances dear to my heart and set off for a distant land, to you, a people whom I had not known, so that henceforth you would become my people and my beloved. From now on I will direct my thoughts and cares to you and to your benefit. From now on I will consecrate my strengths and talents to serving you. I come to you with love, brethren. I request that you also receive me with love. My love will be expressed in care and solicitude towards you, in serving you; and your love should manifest itself in obedience to me, in trusting me and in cooperation with me.
I direct these remarks on cooperation above all to my closest coworkers – the pastors of the Aleutian Church. I have come to this country for the first time, knowing little of her. But you have been laboring here for a long time before me; many of you have been assimilated into her, and others were born in her. I trust that in my impending service you will render me great assistance through your knowledge of this country and its people, that by your experience you will become my true coworkers, men of counsel and reason.
I request cooperation and collaboration not only from the priests, but also from all my beloved flock. The holy Apostle Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body in which there is not one but many members (I Cor. 12:14) each of which has not a common but a separate function (Rom. 12:4). The eye has its function, and so has the hand. Each member is indispensable and cannot do without the other. They all have care for one another, and there is no disunion in the body. (I Cor. 12:21, 25, 26) Therefore you also, my brethren, are the Body of Christ and individually members of it (I Cor. 12:27), and to each one of you has been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift, (Eph. 4:7) and it has been given in order to perfect the saints for a work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ. (Eph. 4:12) For this reason with true love you are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and fitted together, every joint adding its own strength for each separate part to work according to its function, builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:15-16) Saint John Chrysostom said, "Do not over-burden the clergy. You can do much yourselves, and you know each other better than we do." Therefore, brethren, edify each other: admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient towards all men. See that no one renders evil for evil to any man, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. (Thes. 5:14-15) And may the God of all grace, who has summoned you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, perfect you, confirm you, strengthen you and establish you. To Him be glory and majesty unto ages of ages. Amen.
"Marriage" (Archpriest James C. Meena).
From time to time it is necessary for us to discuss topical matters such as marriage as candidly as possible from a Christian perspective, especially in a society that is assaulting marriage more openly than we have ever known or experienced in the past.
The detractors from the Christian norms of marriage claim that marriage is a social imposition, that it is no longer relevant, that it is not necessary for a man and a woman to be "legally" committed to each other for the rest of their lives, that it is quite alright for them to live together without any commitment whatsoever. We of the Church consider this to be a most detrimental and spiritually degenerating outlook.
Scripture is filled with injunction after injunction against this kind of attitude and states that marriage is consecrated by God. I know of no monotheistic religion that does not exalt marriage as being a divinely instituted relationship. If mankind in its weakness corrupts that relationship or makes it less than what it is meant to be, that is not the fault of God or His Church. It is our fault because we enter into marriage without understanding fully what we ought and can do to make this relationship a happy, meaningful and successful one.
Many young people are "turned off" by the idea of marriage. One hears all sorts of excuses from them. Some, in their late twenties or early thirties, think that it is too early for them to get married. They are reluctant to enter into a responsible relationship.
Consider the alternatives: The Lord says, through St. Paul, that unmarried Christians have three alternatives; either to live a totally celibate life, dedicating their chastity and virtue to God as Paul did, to be married or, and here he emphasizes the last alternative when he says: "It is better to marry than to burn." (I Cor. 7:9) The alternatives to a consecrated marital relationship then is one of two things, either to live in chastity or, failing that, to risk damnation.
Christians must evaluate with great care these modish ideas about marriage being outdated and not relevant. God states that a man must be committed to one woman, a woman committed to one man in a lifetime relationship for specific purposes. (See Chapter 1 & 2-Genesis) Some Theologians will tell you that the purpose is to raise children to the glory of God. Others will teach that fulfillment in spiritual and physical relationships is paramount. While these things are true, it is most important, in my perspective, that a Christ-centered relationship, based on mutual faith in God that revolves around an active life in Christ Jesus is actually a living image, a microcosm of that Divine Family which God has revealed as being His creation intent.
God created man and woman and out of them issued children. Then consider that God is alluded to as Father, His Church as Mother and the members of that marriage between God and His earthly body, as spiritual children. Our human family is a mirror-image of that Divine Creation. The human father is the image of God in his family. The mother is the image of the Church in her family. The children are the image of discipleship, that loyalty of love and devotion that we are called upon to render to God.
We learn of God’s love as it is reflected by loving parents. We learn to love God as we respond to the unselfish way our parents love us. So the whole purpose of marriage is to manifest the Will of God, the compassion of God, the loving dispensation of God in our relationship with one another: husband to wife, wife to husband, parents to children, children to parents.
I get a little choked up when I hear some young men referring sarcastically to decent, God loving, well behaved and well bred young women as being "the marrying kind." All Christians should be the marrying kind or they should choose to be totally celibate. We have the freedom to choose. But when we choose the ungodly choice we are in danger of hell fire.
The Church has never condoned the idea that there is any difference in the sexual freedom of men and women, the idea that men have the right to "sow their wild oats" before they are married but women have not. No one has that right! Scriptural teachings call upon all of us to preserve ourselves intact, in chastity, in perfect holiness for the person to whom we are going to commit ourselves. And if we succumb, we fall from God.
If we parents, through our permissiveness, wink our eyes at our young men because we feel that it’s natural for men but sinful for women, and we let them go their own way without admonishing them to virtue, to chastity and to integrity, then we fail in our responsibility as parents to be the mirror-image of God’s love to our children.
No one has the right to give his or her body away prior to marriage! No one has the right to enter into marriage with the idea that somehow or other if it doesn’t work one can always cop out and get a divorce, because that’s a betrayal of God’s dispensation and God’s will. As a man who has been a counselor for 25 years, I state unhesitatively that there is no marriage in the world that cannot succeed if both husband and wife are willing to work at making that marriage happy and successful. It requires on the part of each a willingness to give unselfishly, to always consider the welfare of the other person, the happiness of the other person, always putting your spouse first and foremost in your thoughtfulness and consideration. Historically, God has desired His creation to be happy in perfection, and the requirement of His creation has always been to bring praise and glory to God.
I thank God that I have had a good and happy relationship with my wife. But that relationship did not come about by accident. My wife is a believer and I am also. Because of our active faith, I can testify to you in her behalf and in mine that over the past 30 years our love has grown stronger and more mature from year to year. This is what comes of a good Christian marriage where two people manifest their love in their actions everyday.
Then young people may grow up to say, "That’s good! That looks so good I want to try it. If my parents have enjoyed marriage so much and if my parents have made marriage such a good thing to the glory of God, then man, that’s for me."
Consider why my generation was much more willing to get married than are our children. Is it because we saw in our parents the joy our children do not see in us? Think about it!
The Cremation Problem Archbishop John (Shahovskoy).
"...And [the spirit] cast him into the fire..." (St. Mark 9:22)
As pastors we have frequently heard and continue to hear the question: "Why does the Church not bless cremation of a departed Christian's body?"
I will try to answer this as briefly as possible. Yes, the Church is against the burning of human bodies. That practice does not reflect the spirit of faith and the evangelical, biblical understanding of human worthiness.
Junk, old rags and waste are burned; but a person's body is not waste or an old rag! A believer's body has been anointed by the Holy Unction; it has received the Holy Spirit and has become God's temple, a vessel of Eternal Life. A temple can fall apart or ceased to be used for prayer, but it is not burned. Both the living and the dead body of a person who believes in the Resurrection, is a seed of the Resurrection. "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:44). Having received the Holy Spirit, having communed with the Body and Blood of Christ, that body must reverently be placed in the ground as a seed of the future age. This body cannot be hung on a tree, it cannot be given for birds to eat, it cannot be dumped into a cesspool, or be given to dogs or beasts to be torn apart, or be subject to an artificial destruction.
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19). This law must be fulfilled in all cases, simply and without craftiness, as a form of respect for the human body, returning it and the soul to God. The body's decomposition must not depend on man, but only on God, the Creator of life. Only He, the Master of the world, commands our life and our body.
A person, regardless of his wishes, could of course drown, be consumed by fire, be torn to pieces by animals, or have his body destroyed completely by some explosion. Those dying in a ship are sometimes committed to the seas. All this takes place in spite of the believing deceased's will; in this he does not sin. The sin lies int he direction of the will. In an outrage against human bodies, Hitler burned millions of bodies in crematoria. This was not a sin on the part of the persons whose bodies were destroyed: this was a testimony to their suffering. That is the whole point.
It is precisely the person's determination to direct the disposition of his body as if it was "his own property." This is where the sin of opposing God is generated, perhaps even unconsciously. A person is "God's property," in body and soul. Created by God, redeemed by Christ the Savior, the person does not belong to himself, but to God. The person is called to be a temple of the Living God in body and soul. In body, soul and spirit, the Christian is anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Only a believing person can understand where the sin of cremation lies. The sin is not in the fact of physical burning of the body, but in the false direction of the person's will to rule over God's property, which his body is. A person sins when he looks upon his life as if it belonged only to him. A rather vivid manifestation of this sinful egocentric consciousness is suicide. The instruction to have one's body cremated is a sign of a similar Divine disobedience. This leads a person to rule over his earthly life and his earthly body. In suicide, a person rules over his earthly body, ignoring the will of God.
Because of this, true Christians — as well as Jews who are faithful to their ancient Biblica belief — do not burn their bodies; believing Christians bury their bodies, which communed with the Holy Mysteries, bodies which became a part of Christ's Body, reverently and devoutly, as was the Savior's Body.
Of course, the painting and decorating of the dead body, as practiced in America, does not reflect the Christian faith and human dignity, either. People do this from a pusillanimous desire to shield themselves and others from the reality of death. Nevertheless, the vision of death is the same will of God as the vision of life! As the seed of the life to come, our body must reverently be placed in the ground. Moreover, the Churhc does this, proclaiming the Truth of the Resurrection.
Those who do not know God's will, or are indifferent to it, or are consciously opposed to it, burn their bodies. Pagans in India do this, mistakenly believing in purification, which comes from the natural form of fire, ignorant of God's Grace and in the unique human personality — and from this they believe in the cosmic cyclical migration of souls.
Symptomatic of this, the "League of Militant Godless" which was founded in Moscow shortly after the revolution, proclaimed as one of their basic aims in their cruel fight against God, the campaign for cremation of the dead. This alone shows how repulsive cremation is to the will of God.
It is necessary for believing people to rid their conscience from every theoretical and practical unbelief. It is necessary for a person living in the image of the world to come, to give his soul and body into God's hands for all time. For the kingdom of God to come is not a painful, but a complete fulfillment of God's Will.
Are We Living in a New Age?
This postindustrial, postmodern age is a time of social upheaval. In the midst of unprecedented affluence and technological progress, North Americans struggle with low self-esteem, occupational stress, familial disintegration, and increasing varieties of physiological ailments. These problems, combined with a growing distrust of organized religion, are creating a spiritual vacuum; 58 percent of respondents in a 1994 survey indicated that they feel a distinct need for spiritual growth.1 Unfortunately, many people are attempting to fill that need by adopting beliefs and practices of the New Age.
The New Age is becoming an increasingly prevalent part of American culture. Eastern studies programs in many universities have seemingly legitimized the alternative religious groups based on eastern religions. Popular music, literature, and movies frequently present a pantheistic religious worldview (see definition below) in commercially acceptable formats. The New Age currently generates more than $1 billion annually. For example, sales of books by Llewellyn, one of the premier New Age publishers, have jumped 20 percent in each of the last eight years.2Teen Witch, a how-to manual on witchcraft for teenagers, has been through four printings and sold 50,000 copies.3 These publications are just a sign of the increasing acceptance of the New Age in mainstream North America. Russell Chandler, former religion journalist for the Los Angeles Times, claims that 40 percent of Americans believe that all is God, 36 percent believe astrology is scientific, and 25 percent believe in reincarnation.4
The growing influence of the New Age movement raises several important questions: What is the New Age movement? What are some of its characteristics? Should Christians be concerned about the New Age?
What is the New Age?
It is important to note that the term "New Age Movement" is somewhat of a misnomer. There is actually no New Age Movement, because a movement usually has a core set of beliefs with an identifiable leader or leaders. The New Age may more properly be called the New Age Movements: a number of separate groups that tend to be categorized according to their differences from the mainstream world religions. This becomes particularly important when labeling a belief or practice as "New Age;" while many New Age devotees may very well adhere to the belief or practice, it is also a given that many others will not. The New Age is ultimately a collection of diverse movements that revolve around the central belief that humans are capable of shaping reality and establishing truth; the theories regarding the ways in which reality and truth can be shaped are as varied as the groups espousing them.
What Are the Characteristics of the New Age?
While understanding that the New Age is incredibly diverse, it is also possible to identify several characteristics that are common to many adherents.
Despite the fact that many New Age adherents describe God in personal terms, their god is nonetheless far from a personal being. The New Age god instead is typically a variation on the Hindu concept of "Brahma," an impersonal oneness beyond all distinctions, including personal and moral distinctions. Because Brahma is the impersonal force of existence itself, the entire universe is seen as being part of the indivisible Brahma. This belief, that God is all and all is God, is called pantheism. New Age adherents frequently use the term pantheism interchangeably with monism. When discussing God with people in the New Age, it is important to remember that monism actually refers simply to the belief that all things are of the same substance, whereas pantheism refers more explicitly to the belief that all things are in reality a single deity. Thus, to say that the New Age is pantheistic means that New Age teachers generally believe that they, their students, and all the things around them are part of the indivisible God. An example of this can be seen in the bestselling book Conversations with God, in which Neale Donald Walsch states, "The first step in finding that we are not apart from God is finding that we are not apart from each other, and until we know and realize that all of us are One, we cannot know and realize the we and God are One."5 A further example can be seen in a 1998 poll in which 23 percent of respondents believe that nature is sacred in and of itself;6 this belief frequently manifests itself in Gaia worship (i.e., worshipping the divine "Mother Earth," a single living organism of whom humanity is merely a part).
In contrast to the impersonal god of the New Age, Orthodoxy maintains that God transcends His creation, and therefore He is distinct from creation.7 Thus, while the New Age views nature as inherently sacred, Orthodoxy proclaims that nature is good because it was created by God.8 Colossians 1:16–17, one of the great biblical confessions of the deity of Jesus Christ, states the relationship of God to creation: "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist."
Members of the New Age typically believe that Jesus was a normal man who realized that he, as well as all other humans, is God. This realization, called the Christ-consciousness, is the goal to which all people are to aspire.9 Many individuals believe that Jesus achieved this realization while traveling to the Far East during the years between his bar mitzvah and his baptism, learning the esoteric secrets of the Orient from gurus in India.10 Jesus Christ is now one of the "ascended masters," an elite group of gurus who reach across the astral plane to guide humans toward realizing their Christ-consciousness.11
Orthodoxy clearly refutes the New Age view of Christ. The Bible summarizes Christ’s life from the age of twelve until beginning His ministry at 30: "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man."12 This increased favor occurred not in an ashram in India, but in the town of Nazareth in which Jesus worked as a carpenter.13 The most explicit refutation of the New Age belief that Jesus became the Christ after visiting India can be found in Luke 4:16, which explains that Jesus "came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read."14 This passage leaves little room for doubt that Jesus Christ spent the years before beginning His ministry in the province of Galilee.
Furthermore, rather than simply developing his Christ-consciousness, Jesus is uniquely the Christ. He is God, through Whom all things were made,15 and He alone is God in human flesh.16 Christians should be prepared for the New Age interpretation of Philippians 2:5–6: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Many in the New Age believe that all humans can, by having "this mind" (i.e., the Christ-consciousness) in them, become "equal with God." It is important to show such individuals the following verses in Philippians, which state that not only did Jesus humble Himself by becoming human (rather than working until He realized His divinity), but also that the Father and Son are to be worshipped by created humanity.17
As stated above, New Age teachers claim that humans are divine. The only difference between a human and "God" is that the human has not achieved his or her Christ-consciousness and realized the unlimited potential of humanity. The goal of the human life is thus to "awaken to the god who sleeps at the root of the human being."18
The Bible condemns the belief that humans are divine. The first of the Ten Commandments states, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me;"19 God clarified the meaning of this commandment when He said, "There is no god with me."20 The gods proclaimed by the New Age are created by humans and thus are "no gods."21
Many New Age adherents will attempt to prove that humans are divine by referring to the biblical passages that state, "Ye are gods."22 A look at our Lord’s use of Psalm 82:6 shows the fallacy of this interpretation. The three passages in which "ye are gods" is used are actually disapproving toward the people being addressed; these human rulers have fallen under the condemnation of God because of their unethical actions. In John 10:34 Christ is using the a fortiori argument that, if one can say of unjust rulers that "ye are gods," then it is still more appropriate to proclaim Jesus as being the unique Son of God.23 The statement "ye are gods" therefore cannot be honestly used to claim that humans are equally and fully divine.
Morality is at best underplayed in the New Age, largely because the New Age teaches that "sin" is a misconception of the Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Instead, "sin" and "evil" are simply part of the cosmic law of cause-and-effect, which both Hinduism and the New Age typically label as karma. Good and bad are cosmically balanced, with good actions resulting in positive energy, and bad actions resulting in the opposite. Because salvation is unnecessary, the New Age focuses on two basic principles:
Enlightenment: Almost all New Age adherents believe that humans must become enlightened to the fact that they are intrinsically divine (i.e., achieve Christ-consciousness).24 Thus, almost all of the practices associated with the New Age (e.g., meditation, channeling spirit guides, using crystals, creative visualization, etc.) are intended to help participants to achieve enlightenment. Once a person is enlightened, he or she will allegedly have no problems because they will realize that they are God and that the different things causing them problems are part of Maya (the Sanskrit term for the illusion that there are things apart from Brahma).
As shown above, the Bible does not support the belief that humans are divine. Furthermore, the practices used by New Age adherents to "realize their divinity" are also frequently condemned by Scripture. For example, the practice of channeling spirit guides is implicitly forbidden in the passages in which God condemns witches, mediums, and necromancers.25
Reincarnation: Many New Age practitioners believe that enlightenment is achieved over the span of many lifetimes. The lifetimes enable individuals to eradicate their bad karma through good actions, until enough positive energy has been accrued to enable the individual to attain enlightenment. Many in the New Age believe that the early Church taught reincarnation, but that the Council of Nicaea removed the Scriptures that supported the doctrine.26
In contrast to the doctrine of reincarnation, Orthodoxy has always affirmed the biblical teaching that "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."27 Sin does not result in an accrual of negative karma that must be worked off through reincarnation — sin results in death.28 If humans could attain perfection through the work of reincarnation, then salvation would no longer be through the grace of God.29 Instead of the bleak prospect of countless lives spent attempting to attain perfection without divine assistance, St. Paul assures Christians that salvation is a gift given to those "who are created in Christ Jesus."30
The claim that the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea removed the concept of reincarnation from the Bible is easily disproved. The Council, which was heavily documented, was convened to address the Arian controversy (Arians believe that Jesus Christ was created by God the Father). In a total denunciation of the Arian heresy, the Council proclaimed that Jesus Christ is "Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father." Contrary to the claims of some New Age teachers, the concept of reincarnation was not addressed at the Council of Nicaea.
Should the Church be Concerned?
The Orthodox Church, of course, will never become a New Age group. Priests will not proclaim that they are God during the middle of the Divine Liturgy, nor will parish newsletters begin printing astrological charts. Nonetheless, there are reasons for Christians to be concerned about the New Age. George Barna, president of the Barna Group, a company that surveys American religious beliefs and practices, states,
America appears to be drowning in a sea of relativistic, non-biblical theology. We are living…amidst the dilution of traditional, Bible-based Christian faith. Millions of Americans are comfortable calling themselves ‘Christian’ even though their beliefs suggest otherwise. For a majority of Americans — especially born again Christians — to reject the existence of the Holy Spirit [Barna conducted a survey in which 55 percent of Christian respondents denied the existence of the Holy Spirit], reflects either incredible ignorance of the basic teachings of Christianity, or a pick-and-choose mentality in which people only believe those teachings from the Bible which they like or understand.31
The New Age is a danger to the Church because of the ability of adherents to reinterpret Orthodox teachings and practices to support their New Age affinities.
Reinterpreting Scripture and Church History
Episcopal priest Morton Kelsey has been instrumental in reinterpreting Scripture and Church history to support the New Age. For example, he claims,
You can find most of the new age [sic] practices in the depth of Christianity…Clairvoyance and telepathy can be found in the Book of Acts…There is the ecstatic experience of speaking in tongues which gave people the same kind of experience that is described today as kundalini [an Eastern term describing the "serpent force," or universal energy, that flows through humans from the base of the spine]. We have all these things in the New Testament which modern Christianity has blocked out and ceased practicing.32
Many New Age teachers will claim that the true Christianity of the early Church was Gnosticism, which taught, among other things, that matter is evil (which the New Age implicitly teaches through its emphasis on pantheism) and salvation is gained through mastering secret teachings and practices (as can be seen in the various paths to enlightenment).33 Kelsey even claims that St. Clement of Alexandria was a Gnostic teacher;34 the support for this claim is, however, quite spurious.35 A book advocating Gnosticism as true Christianity based upon the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (a collection of pseudepigrapha and gnostic writings discovered in Egypt in 1945) called The Gnostic Gospels was a huge bestseller in this decade.
Some New Age groups already claim to be both Gnostic and Orthodox. For example, in the South, the Apostolic Orthodox Church in Boerne, TX, claims to continue the Gnostic teachings allegedly carried by St. Thomas to India.36 The Gnostic Orthodox Church, which was previously located in Oklahoma before moving to Nebraska, makes a similar claim;37 this latter group even presented itself as an Orthodox monastery to Christians in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Adopting Orthodox Spiritual Practices
Many groups are already adopting some of the elements of Orthodoxy, such as iconography, creating an atmosphere that looks Orthodox, but lacks the truth of Orthodoxy. For example, a church in Boston offers "post-contemporary worship services" in which incense is burned and electronic images of icons are flashed on screens, all while a rock band plays "grunge" music.38 The Church Universal and Triumphant creates artwork for their spiritual practices that have some artistic similarities (albeit technically inferior) to iconography, but are far removed from the spiritual significance of true icons. Some groups are now offering courses in writing icons as an exercise in creative meditation.39
Perhaps the most significant and influential area of the New Age is the human potential movement. Teachers such as Marianne Williamson (a promoter of A Course in Miracles, a book allegedly revealed by Jesus Christ), Deepak Chopra (a former assistant to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, a New Age religious group rooted in Hinduism), and others teach that people are hindered from personal success and total fulfillment only by the limitations in their minds. The message of these teachers is simple — acknowledging that you are without limits will give you limitless potential.
This message of unlimited human potential comprises the foundational message underlying countless bestselling books, sell-out workshops, appearances on such national television programs as Oprah, and even a growing number of public school curricula. The human potential movement has been particularly successful, however, in the business community. For example, AT&T, General Foods, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, and Blue Cross / Blue Shield have used personnel programs based upon Transcendental Meditation.40 Similarly, many companies in the 1970s and 1980s participated in the est (later the Forum) workshops of Werner Erhard, whose platform was the pantheistic belief that "when I get in touch with my self and you get in touch with your self, we will see the same self…Self is all there is. I mean that’s it."41
It is true that many people are either unable or unwilling to fully exert themselves in their endeavors due to fear or negative thinking. Nonetheless, the belief that humans have limitless potential is directly opposed to the Orthodox teachings regarding humanity’s dependence upon God. Christians know that fulfillment in this life, and salvation into eternal life with God, stems from the same principle stated in the blessing given by Moses to Aaron and his sons: "The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace."42
The New Age is unquestionably a major force in North American society. Because many of the core teachings of the New Age are frequently repackaged in more widely acceptable format (e.g., changing the concept of pantheism from "you are God" to "you have limitless potential"), Christians must practice discernment to know when they are confronted with a false spirituality. At the same time, the hunger for spirituality that currently exists in North America provides Christians with an excellent opportunity, using the openings that the New Age frequently provides for such a conversation, to share the gospel message with individuals who are outside the Church.
1 Barbara Kantrowitz and Patricia King, et al, "In Search of the Sacred," Newsweek, November 28 (1994)
2 Lynn Garrett and Phyllis Tickle, "IT’S A WRAP! BEA 99: Renewed Directions in Religion," Publisher’s Weekly, May 24, 1999.
3 Michael Kress, "Bewitching Readers With Pagan Lore," Publisher’s Weekly, June 14, 1999.
4 Russell Chandler, Understanding the New Age (Waco, Tx: Word, 1988), pp. 20, 130–33.
5 Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue (Charlottesville, Va: Hampton Roads Publishing,) p. 3.
6 Monica Seaberry and David E. Anderson, "Sacred Creation," Religion News Service, November 2 (1998).
7 Genesis 1:1–2:9.
8 See Psalm 104:24.
9 Helen Schucman, A Course in Miracles: Manual for Teachers (n.p.: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1975), pp. 83–84.
10 See Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Lost Years of Jesus (Livingston, Mt: Summit University Press, 1984); Shirley MacClaine, Out on a Limb (New York: Bantam Books, 1983), pp. 233–34.
11 See The Ascended Masters (Livingstone, Mt: Summit Lighthouse, n.d.).
12 Luke 2:52.
13 Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3.
14 Emphasis added.
15 John 1:1–3.
16 John 1:14.
17 Philippians 2:7–11.
18 Quoted in Maurice Smith, "New Age Movement," Interfaith Witness Belief Bulletin, May (1988), p. 2.
19 Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7.
20 Deuteronomy 32:39.
21 Jeremiah 16:20.
22 Psalm 82:6; Isaiah 41:23; John 10:34.
23 See John 10:36.
24 See Ken Keyes, Jr., Handbook to Higher Consciousness, 5th edition (Coos Bay, Or: Love Line Books, 1990), pp. 125–29.
25 See Leviticus 19:31; 20:6–8; Deuteronomy 18:10–14; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 8:19–20; John 17:17.
26 See Kenneth Ring, Heading Toward Omega (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1984), p. 158.
27 Hebrews 9:27.
28 Romans 6:23.
29 See Romans 11:6.
30 Ephesians 2:8–10.
31 George Barna, "Angels Are In — Devil & Holy Spirit Are Out," Data and Trends, April 29 (1997) [Online]. URL http://www.barna.org/PressAngels.htm.
32 Quoted in Charles H. Simpkinson, "In the Spirit of the Early Christians," Common Boundary, 10.1 (1992), p. 19.
33 See Jason Barker, "Heresies: Then and Now," [Online]. URL http://www.orthodoxstudies.org/cults/heresiesthenandnow.htm.
34 Simpkinson, p. 19.
35 See "Clement of Alexandria," The Catholic Encyclopedia [Online]. URL http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/04045a.htm.
36 Gnostic Christian Church Directory [Online]. URL http://home.sol.no/~noetic/GCCC.htm.
38 Terry Mattingly, "Worship ’99: Buy Incense Now…" July 7, 1999.
39 Jane R. McGoldrick, "Beyond Art," Common Boundary, 16.6 (1998), p. 10.
40 Gerald B. Derloshon and James B. Potter, quoted in Norman L. Geisler and J. Yutaka Amano, The Reincarnation Sensation (Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), p. 19.
41 Quoted in Stanley Doskupil and Brooks Alexander, "Est: The Philosophy of Self-Worship," SCP Journal, Winter (1981–82), p. 21.
42 Numbers 6:24–26.
"Satan, the Great Deceiver" (Timothy Evangelinidis).
When I was much younger and attending university in my home-town of Sydney (in those days a much smaller and less busy place), I was allocated a particular lecturer who prided himself on being an atheist. "Religion is something for weak people, those who cannot think or live for themselves." Arriving at his first lecture this man proudly announced that with a few premises, sub-conclusions and a watertight conclusion, he would prove beyond any doubt that God did not exist. It went something like this:
God is assumed to exist.
This God is said to be all-powerful and all loving
However, Evil also would seem to exist
Either God cannot or will not remove evil from this world
If he cannot, he is not the all-powerful one
If he will not, he is not the all loving one
Evil exists in this world
Therefore God does not exist!
This argument is in fact nonsense. However, the fact that it was used at all does reflect something of the confusion of this world and of the people who live in it.
Well, what does this have to do with our topic "Satan the Great Deceiver"? It is at the very heart of this statement. As Christian people, we know that God and evil are far more complex than this little argument can express. We know by faith and experience that God is not only real, but that he is the reason that the universe continues to exist. Sadly we cannot forget the other reality that is so ridiculously dealt with by this argument — Evil does exist, it is not imaginary or simply the result of an 'argument'.
The Macquarie Dictionary defines the word 'deceit' as:
1. "The act of practice of deceiving; concealment or perversion of the truth for the purpose of misleading; fraud; cheating."
2. "An act or device intended to deceive; a trick; stratagem."
The word 'deceive' as:
"To mislead by a false appearance or statement; delude."
This is exactly the starting point for our topic. Satan is the great deceiver because he is the greatest concealer, the mightiest perverter of truth, the ultimate misleader, and the most convincing fraud and liar. Satan's goal is two pronged. He wishes to convince us that God is neither all-powerful nor all loving, and that he, Satan, seems to be something he really is not.
I am not seeking to answer the age-old problem of evil in this world, nor will I even explain (or should I say try and explain) the existence of evil. What I wish to share with you is my feeble attempt at highlighting the work of Satan at work around and within us. This will not really be a lecture. It is an attempt to uncover Satan like we might uncover a serpent hiding beneath a rock or expose a camouflaged insect hiding in the foliage of a tree.
I cannot possibly add to the already vast writings about evil and Satan that we have from so many writers of the Church. I can however take you all through a journey of Scripture and Church texts which show how much a trickster Satan is. Satan is real and he is at work, it is this we need to keep in mind. We must remember to keep our eyes on God, and yet never to leave Satan free to cast deceit in our lives. His ultimate purpose is to keep all of us from the Kingdom of Heaven. To do this, he will use everything in his power. Be warned he is the master of disguise and the master of surprise!
I want all of you to use your imagination. I want you to imagine that you can see the spiritual world with your physical eyes. If you could look around with those now spiritual eyes you would angels and demons walking about us seeking their influence upon us. The old cartoon image of a man in the midst of making an important moral decision with a small angel on his right shoulder and a small demon on his left is not that far from spiritual reality at all.
In the Orthodox Church we are encouraged to pray a prayer to our guardian angel to guide and protect us through our daily life; see, for example, the order for 'Evening Prayers' in the book "Book of Prayers: A Selection for Orthodox Christians" from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. Likewise we are told of the influence of demons whose purpose is to deceive us — to take our attention away from God who can save us. "And this is the promise that He has promised us — eternal life" (1 John 2:25, RSV).
What of Satan in the Scriptures, what do we know of him — this Satan, the great deceiver? God created spiritual beings called angels. These beings, although having no physical aspect to their being, are nevertheless real and effectual in their work in both the spiritual realm of Heaven and this physical environment of our universe. These angels have different responsibilities and actions. In many places of the Scriptures we read of Cherubim, Seraphim, angels, archangels, Principalities, Powers, Thrones, Dominions etc. Some of the archangels are named — Uriel, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In the Scriptures, these beings are not some impersonal force simply being the expression of God at work in this world. Angels form a very real part of the history of God's work of salvation in this world. The Archangel Gabriel figures prominently in the account of the Annunciation. The acceptance of her who is to become the Theotokos is to the action of God is to be means through which God brings salvation to the fallen world.
Just as the angels are real and significant in Holy Scripture and the story of God's salvation, so too are the fallen angels, the demons and Satan himself. Evil, it would seem, has appears and takes its place in this world. We need to be careful here concerning the origin of evil. That topic is one beyond the scope of this talk this evening and certainly beyond my capacity as a member of this sinful and fallen race. Lucifer or Satan is not a story invented to explain why this world is not perfect. He is not some figure invented so that we may have a focus for discussion. Satan is a distinct spiritual being with a distinct and evil personality who works in opposition to God. The very real and personal being who is Satan is at the very heart of some important passages of Holy Scripture, and also in the writings of the Fathers of our Holy Church.
It is important for us to look at what the Holy Scriptures tell us about this figure called Satan. I will not tried to give an exhaustive 'concordance' of Biblical references to the words 'Satan' 'Devil' and 'demon'. There are, however some references that are important to understanding the nature of the Devil, and relevant to us this evening. Scripture shows us this deception that Satan tries to use upon those who claim allegiance to God.
In Jude verse 6 and 7 we read of his entry into our world:
"And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him (that is the Lord) in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."
There is a hint here of a truth we have learned from the teaching of our Church (see Revelation 12:7ff). Satan was once an Archangel — The bearer of the light before the throne of God (that can be a translation for the name Lucifer). This archangel was not content with his position in the order of the spiritual world. He desired the worship that was due only to God himself. Satan and all the angels that followed him were cast down from heaven to "deceive the whole world."
From this extract from Jude's epistle we can learn:
1. God has chained Satan and his demons. They are restricted by the power of God.
2. God will judge The Prince of evil on the last day — The Day of Judgment.
These are important truths that need to be impressed upon us. Satan and his demons are ultimately to be judged by God. The righteous of God can be deceived, but deception involves the will of he who is being deceived. If the righteous man stands firm in faith, then Satan has no hold over him!
From the Old Testament Book of Job, we read that there was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each on his day; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, "It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did continually. Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, "Whence have you come?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nought? Hast thou not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face." And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand." So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.
There are many truths we can glean even from a casual reading of this poetic and beautiful passage of Holy Scripture:
1. Job was an upright man who turned away from evil.
2. Without doubt God is the master here.
3. Though Job is a righteous man, he can still be tempted by the deceits of Satan.
4. Satan, through the evil world can inflict pain and suffering upon Job, but Job is ultimately in the hands of God.
Now we cannot make doctrine from just a couple of passages of Scripture, but these verses do illustrate clearly what God has revealed to us in his Church.
Satan has no control except the power of deceit. He seeks to lead us away from God; he tempts us to lose our focus. Like the experience of Peter, walking on the water in front of our Lord, Satan seeks to have us sink into our own raging sea of doubt and fear (see Matthew 14:25f). We sink, not because Satan defeats God who is with us, nor because of the pain and suffering of this evil world, but because we are led to believe that either God is not with us at all or that God is not what he says he is. This is deception, deception of the greatest of tricksters.
St Peter the Apostle warns, "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
Satan is truly prowling around us with his demons. He seeks to influence and deceive us even here within this Holy Church. Remember, he is not a 'roaring lion' he is 'like a roaring lion' he is only pretending to be something he is not. "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
I would like to share with you an illustration that we have all seen. It is a visual rendering of the passage of Scripture that speaks of the 'two gates' from Matthew's Gospel:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14).
There is an illustration you can buy as a small religious picture; it is a famous illustration. It is a comparison of two scenes. In one, we find a demon playing a musical instrument to accompany countless people entering into a wide gate by an equally wide and easy road. The se people walk past all sorts of buildings housing all sorts of pleasures. Sadly, even though the gate is wide and the way easy, the eventual destination is hell itself.
In the other scene there is a high wall broken only by a very narrow and low gate, and into this gate squeeze only a few people carrying their cross on their journey. The road three this gate is very difficult, with rocks and obstacles along the way. The path leads up a steep mountain. The eventual destination here is heaven and a crown of glory being presented by Christ. The relevant Scriptural passage here is "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
This picture illustrates exactly the words spoken in the Scriptural passage. Life is a journey, it tells us. We must decide which road to take. Each road is entered through a gate. One gate is wide and easy, the other is difficult and requires great effort. Each gate leads to a road, one easy and comfortable, the other hard and steep. One leads to heaven to the very person of God and reward — salvation, the other to hell and the very teeth of the person of the devil.
Look carefully at this illustration it can teach us much. The many that enter into the wide gate do so because the way is easy (requiring no real effort of life). There is music and there is song, laughter, entertainment, comfort and no lacking of physical things. The demon playing the musical instrument does so openly. He does not seek to disguise his presence or his identity.
These people belong to the world and therefore to Satan, because they have allowed themselves to be deceived. Yet this deception is no great miracle or magic. Satan does not have to play a great ruse. He merely has to offer the temptation of comfort and pleasure without God and the world will come and take it from his very hands.
I was rather troubled while doing some research for tonight's presentation. I decided to type the words 'Satan', 'Devil' and 'demon' into the search area of my Internet search engine. Match after match came up. Some of these were useful articles or commentaries on passages from Holy Scripture. Others were lectures and essays about various theories concerning the existence of evil. However, many were the web pages of Satanic Churches (so called) and organisations that sought to spread the influence of Satan. You may be surprised that these organisations practise their evil work so openly. As I said previously, Satan does not have to hide from the world, it is already given over to him. The world has rejected God and embraced Satan as the great redeemer.
The most cunning deception of Satan lies not through the wide and easy gate, but through the narrow gate. Look closely at the man (one of only a few) who is carrying his cross in fulfilment of the command of our Lord (c/f Matthew 16:24). If this man would use his physical eyes, he would see that it is impossible for him to enter this gate even without the cross he is carrying. Common sense, worldly sense would convince him that his intended lifestyle is not achievable.
Satan is at work in our minds and hearts as we contemplate this spiritual scene. He is saying to us that not only is the Christian commitment difficult it is unattainable! Satan's attack upon us as Christians is to try and deceive us into giving up the Christian struggle. As Christians we are encouraged to believe that the improbable walk up the steep path of our Christian journey is not by our own power, but by the presence and power of God (see Matthew 19:26). Satan deceives by telling us that we must rely upon ourselves, and therefore Christianity is futile.
All of us, I am sure, would claim allegiance to the resurrected and ascended Son of God. The closer one is to God and the Kingdom of heaven, the stronger and more deceitful Satan must become. In many of the spiritual writings of the Church we find accounts of Holy men and women who have been confronted with the most horrifying visions of evil.
Satan plays out his deception according to the faith and life of those that he is tempting. To some who are far from God or who do not know him at all, there are no wondrous tricks, miracles or great signs and wonders; there is no need for such things. For others who are close to God, Satan must work hard to deceive — for these he will even attempt to copy the very power and glory of God himself.
Many atheists within this world (like the university lecturer whose silly games we started with tonight) arrogantly proclaim that they are more than happy to believe in God if only someone would prove that God exists. Yet it is often these very same people who are so willing to place their lives into the practice of open evilness, of destruction or hatred.
Have you ever thought about that image of Satan that we see in advertising and in the movies, the one where he is depicted as a troublesome comical figure in a goatee beard, a red suit with horns and a pointing long tail. In his hand he holds a trident with which he pokes people in an almost amusing way. This image is ridiculous, and even we, the Christians, might see it as a harmless parody. However, the truth is that it is a depiction of Satan. He is not shown in a disguise as someone he is not. He might seem humorous and even comical, but he is still openly Satan! Satan does not have to hide from the world; he is already master of it. His deceit is an easy one.
The greatest deceit, the great victory of Satan is not that he is leading a willing world to destruction, it is that he is, sadly, often able to deceive and lead astray the Christian person who is struggling to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ (see in particular Rom 12:2). Satan deceives the Christian by convincing him to take his attention off Christ. To become doubting of the power and promises of God.
How do we resist this deceit? What is the response of the Christian person to the wiles of the Devil? Again the Holy Scriptures are clear. The two Epistles of St Peter the Apostle that are contained in the New Testament are wondrous builders of faith. In the introductory notes that we find at the beginning of the Second Epistle of Peter in the Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament and Psalms' New King James Version; Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee 1993), there is a marvellous summary of the theme of Peter's Epistles:
"Though the world disbelieves, deceives and mocks, Christians are to grow continually in holiness and virtue and pursue an entrance into 'the everlasting kingdom' which is to come."
The answer for the Christian is to continually seek God and His Kingdom; to fight the deceits of the Devil, despite the pain and suffering he can cause, with a faith founded upon the All-powerful and All-loving God.
Be reliant upon God and His holiness; be close to His Church, receive often the Sacraments that he freely offers to us. Resist evil and cling only to God.
From the Epistle of St James:
"Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you." (James 4:7-8a).
Satan can only deceive he cannot pluck us out of the hand of God, he cannot send us unwillingly from the kingdom of God. If God no longer becomes the focus of our vision and life, it is not He who has moved, it is that we have taken our gaze from him!
There are three short Homilies by St John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouthed). These addresses are not well known. They are entitled collectively as 'Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons' (as found in an English translation 'A select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church'; T & T Clarke Edinburgh 1889). The first is referred to as being "Against Those Who Say That Demons Govern Human Affairs" and the second and third "On the Power of Man to Resist the Devil." We find no graphic depiction of the battle of Armageddon (as described in the book of Revelations), no portrayal of the Devil as a figure who has the ability to secretly steal Christians away from God. No, these sermons were written to:
"... deal with errors against which Chrysostom throughout his life most strenuously contended. In an age of great depravity there seem to have been many who tried to excuse the weak resistance which they made to evil, both in themselves, and in others, by maintaining that the world (and by implication the Church) was abandoned to the dominion of devils, or to the irresistible course of fate" (emphasis is added).
St Chrysostom warns his listeners against despairing because of the power of the devil.
"For he (ie Satan) is an enemy and a foe, and it is a great security to know clearly the tactics of your enemies ... when he overcomes by deceitfulness, he does not get the better of all men ... he does not overcome ... by force, yet by deceitfulness" (Homily II-1).
Thankfully, Satan does not deceive all in the Church. The saints, many of whose icons are surrounding us, can be our examples of faith and Christian life because they can be our guides encouraging us to continue with our eyes fixed upon God — the one who brings salvation and life.
"The Devil is wicked; I grant this indeed, but he is wicked for himself not towards us if we are wary" (Homily III-1 of St John Chrysostom).
When we sin, we cannot blame Satan or another for our failing. Our sin is our own because we have committed it by the exercise of our own power and free will, or by our own lack of faith. Likewise, when one in the Church falls away from God, we cannot say that Satan's power has taken him by force away from the presence of God. God forbid that we should allocate to Satan the power that he so desperately seeks. Our sin is our own and, likewise, our falling away is our own. We fall away because Satan has convinced us, through deceit, that our place is not in the Kingdom of God.
St John Chrysostom is careful to show that Satan's deceits are many, but his intention is one. He seeks only to make us leave the presence of our loving God and to prevent us from allowing God to guide us. Satan seeks this by either convincing us that God cannot do what he has promised, by tempting us with the pleasures of this world, or by deceiving us to think that he, Satan, has power which he does not have. The power of Satan can only lead us from God if we allow him the opportunity to do so.
Some of the other great writers of the Church can be cited to give us strength against this deceit of the Devil. In these (St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 12 15) we are exhorted to see that 'in the sacrifice of Christ, the devil has been defeated'. Satan is vanquished already and, only by deceit, can he lead astray those who are in Christ; tempting them through promise of treasure, power or letting them fall into utter despair.
We are instructed elsewhere (St Ignatius' Epistle to the Smyraeans III & IV) to be firm, guarding ourselves from those who seek to influence evil upon us. Not just to turn away but even to flee from them. We must understand that Satan has enticed men and women from the beginning. It is only then that he has him in his power. However Satan is ultimately bound by the power of God. His power over man is only through delusion (see St Irenaus' Adversus Haereses). We are to keep our lives fully in God and not to fall into the temptation that the Devil puts in front of us.
In the Gospels, Christ uses the common things of life to teach the truths of God. These well-known things are weaved by him into a story that conveys God to the hearers. The spiritual writers of our Church followed the example of our Lord. In teaching their hearers many of these writers spoke of everyday things, things like grain, fields, birds, and everyday events from life. Some even used widely known stories to describe the action of Satan, for example the Fables of Aesop (also see Catechetical Sermons 21 — 24 by St Gregory of Nyssa).
Our second picture is an illustration is from one of the fables of Aesop. The fable is called THE DOG AND HIS REFLECTION. It goes something like this:
" A dog was crossing a plank bridge over a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, when he happened to see his own reflection in the water. He thought it was another dog with a piece of meat, so he let go of his own and flew at the other dog to get his piece, too. But, of course, all that happened was that he got neither, for one was only a reflection and the other was carried away by the stream."
The moral of the story is:
"Envy not your neighbours lot; and be content with what you've got."
We can apply this fable to the Church and to ourselves who see ourselves as part of it. The deceit here is the reflection that the dog saw. What he thought was real was in fact only imaginary. When applying this story to that of the human person we can ask, why do we 'bring ourselves, by own accord, into subjection to the enemy of this life?' (see Catechetical Sermons 21 — 24 by St Gregory of Nyssa). What is it that encourages us to push away eternal life to fall into sin? It is Satan the great deceiver who tempts us with the imaginary security of a life of wealth, comfort, pleasure and power — a life without God.
Satan can be seen in this story of our greedy dog, he is in the stream trying to convince the dog that even though he has all he needs, there is still more. Alas, this desire is based not on what God has given us, but on what we image we can and should have. Satan cannot offer the dog a real piece of meat; he can only reflect the image of the meat that already exists. Satan's promises of peace without God are false. He tries to convince us to take his offer by copying the things of God. However, these copies are not real, there will disappear as easily as ripples do to a reflection in a stream. Satan does not take the meat from the mouth of the dog; he does not have to. He only need convince the dog to grab at more and by doing so lose what he has already been given. He plays on the greed and pride of the dog. Greed and the constant desire to be better than those around us is a common way of the world, it is not the way of a life in Christ. The temptations of the Devil often involve what we think we should have. The grace that God has given us is enough for our needs, we should use what we have been given with thankfulness and not worry about what we do not have.
A third illustration is relevant here. It is another fable from Aesop concerning a reflection in a stream (in The Stag and the Hounds):
"A stag one autumn day came to a pond and stood admiring his reflection in the water.
'Ah' said he, 'what glorious antlers! But my slender legs make me ashamed. How ugly they are! I'd rather have none at all'.
The stag was soon distracted from his vain musings by the noise of huntsmen and their hounds. Away he flew, leaving his pursuers a vast distance behind him. But coming upon a thicket, he became entangled by his antlers. He struggled to free himself as the baying of the hounds sounded nearer and nearer.
'At last' he thought, 'If I am meant to die at the fangs of these beasts, let me face them calmly'.
But when he ceased to tremble, he found his antlers had come free.
Immediately he bounded away, delighting in his legs, which carried him far away from danger. As he ran, he thought to himself,
'Happy creature that I am! I now realise that that on which I prided myself was nearly the cause of my undoing, and that which I disliked was what saved me'.
Satan again lies within the flowing stream in this fable. Previously, we saw how Satan often deceives us into desiring what does not really exist. Here the deceit differs. Here the stag is convinced that what he has is inadequate. Previously it was pride and greed that was the downfall of the dog. Now we are reminded that vanity and extreme self-resourcefulness can be fatal. The stag knew what he wanted. However, his assessment of what was necessary or adequate for him was not right.
It is rather amazing to hear many in the Church say "I would really like to contribute more to the ministry and life of my Church, but I don't have the necessary talents to do anything." It's not a matter of my antlers being just right or my legs being too thin and scrawny, but it is often a matter of "it would be too embarrassing for me to contribute anything in my Church youth group." Perhaps it is "I would really like to say something at my youth group, but everyone would think I am stupid, or pushy."
All of us have spiritual gifts from God; they were given to us by God at our Baptism. The Church cannot function properly, especially in times of need and challenge unless all of its members use the gifts God has given them. How can we expect the Church to stand fast against a world that rejects the Kingdom of God when the very members of that Church are not completely relying upon God?
Thankfully, it is not the combined self-reliance of all the members of our Church (or our youth group for that matter) that makes us the 'Body of Christ' (I Cor 12:27). It is the power and grace of God that transforms the individual members of the Church into the functioning 'Body of Christ' in this world.
The stag allowed his own vanity and his self-judgment to cloud his opinion of himself. Satan often deceives the members of the Church into believing that even God's promises will not be fulfilled in them because they in themselves do not 'have what it takes'. It is not up to us, it is up to God!
"But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?" As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (c/f Rom 10:14-17).
Satan cannot defeat the Church that is filled with the purpose and Spirit of God. He will, however attempt to deceive those who are part of it. The Church cannot be the vehicle of God's salvation in this world if those who see themselves as belonging to that Church are not going to use what God has given them because of fear of ridicule, vanity, embarrassment or pride.
Perhaps our stag should read the verse above that mentions "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news"! In the end it is the scrawny feet that saved the stag from the fangs of the hounds. So too, it is the feet that carry the preaching and the teaching and those who are living out their faith in this world that will save us from the deception of the snapping Devil — however scrawny and ugly those feet might appear to be!
Enough for the introduction, now for the real heart of this presentation! One of the greatest dangers for those within the Church is what is called 'The New Age Movement'. Well, there is a nice red herring you might say. What has the 'New Age Movement' got to do with the deception of Satan? It certainly has nothing to do with us who are members of the Church! Or does it?
Sadly, the 'New Age Movement' in its variety of forms, has influenced all aspects of life, and even many who see themselves as members of the Church of God are so easily influenced by this great deception of Satan.
Many see the "New Age Movement" as just a way of life; living in respect of all creatures, practising non violence, being sensitive, respecting others right to believe in their particular religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The "New Age Movement" is in fact one of the greatest attempts at deception by Satan upon Christians today!
The "New Age Movement" is not simply some broad descriptive title for a range of unrelated philosophies or teachings. It is a highly organised and motivated movement that, in its least organised form, seeks to distract Christians from concentrating upon the things of God. At its most dangerous, it seeks to destroy Christian faith and replace the historical and theological Christ with a 'new' and 'more relevant' Messiah figure.
In her book "The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow — The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism," Constance Cumbey seeks to expose 'New Age' for what it is, a well organised movement. It seeks to replace established religion, particularly in the West, with a new belief system that incorporates all beliefs and religions. Although this book is not a Christian Orthodox writing, it is useful because of its well-researched material.
"According to New Age sources, the New Age Movement is a worldwide network. It consists of tens of thousands of cooperating organisations. Their primary goal or the secret behind their 'unity-in-diversity' is the formation of a 'New World Order." The Movement usually operates on the basis of a well-formulated body of underlying esoteric or occult teachings" (Constance Cumbey, 1983, 'The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow' Huntington House Inc, p 54).
The "New Age Movement" can be said to be a conglomeration of various forms and expressions of the above common ideal. On the very basic level is the sort of universalism that has never been far behind the preaching of the Christian Gospel. This is the notion that all religions are really the same and if we can cross-fertilise one to another, then we will have the perfect world of peace and harmony. It is this strand of the Movement that expresses the 'common basis' for all religions and cultures. Each one is seen as being no better or 'no more right' than the other.
The openly more organised level is a collection of very powerful organisations that work to a common ideal of preparing for a 'Messiah' who will come to redeem the world from war, pollution, hunger and every other problem besetting humankind. It is rather telling that the name this particular person is often given is "The Bearer of Light." As we saw much earlier tonight, this can be a translation of the name 'Lucifer'.
Now, I am sure many of us find such information on organised evil groups as fuel for the development of conspiracy theories, the true identity of the Anti-Christ etc. However, for Christians to use all their energy in pinpointing a particular evil work or evil person in this world can be a distraction from one's own salvation journey. That in itself can be a deception of Satan; to take our focus away from the person of God.
A far more subtle and potentially more dangerous Satanic deception lies behind the more basic unorganised expression of the "New Age Movement." It is not the expression of 'New Age' in the world that should concern us, as much as its influence within the Church of God.
Sadly we can find particular 'New Age' practices and beliefs even with many members of the Orthodox Churches. Seemingly simple activities such as reading one's stars, experimenting with the occult, using 'healing crystals', practising eastern forms of meditation and certain 'holistic medicine' practices etc are expressions of what the "New Age Movement" is encouraging. These things are destructive to one's Orthodox Christian faith precisely because they seek to take away from the uniqueness and central importance of Christ and the 'Kingdom of heaven'. Anything that can do this will also slowly but surely chip away at the prime place of importance that Christ and the Gospel has in our lives as Orthodox Christians.
I would like to quote from a recent article from the religious column of a major Australian newspaper:
"There is a recognition that we will all only ever have the chance to know the truth completely when we come together with those who are approaching the truth from completely different and even a contradictory perspective from ourselves.
"Mahatma Gandhi the great Hindu, suggested that Christ could become the Way for non-Christians, as well as Christians, if he could be unchained from the shackles of Christianity."
Now, coming from a non-Christian religion this would be bad enough, but coming from a writer who claims allegiance to the Christian Gospel, this can only be seen as part of a great Satanic deception. Sadly I have found this deluded attitude even among some Orthodox people as well!
Saints of the Holy Church have died for the uniqueness of the message of the Christian Gospel. Men and women have been tortured and led to horrible deaths because they refused to compromise what has been the unchangeable foundation of the Christian faith. The Holy Tradition of our Church is not something that we can mould, like play-do, according to what the world wishes it to be.
Constance Cumbey, in her book, uncovers a vast interconnected movement that seeks a 'New World Order'; this should not surprise us. After all the world has rejected God. What is troubling about this book, is how many Christian people pick up seemingly innocent lifestyles and activities that darken further and further the likeness of Christ within them.
Like so much of the deceptive actions of Satan, individual things or practices in themselves are not necessarily great evils. However, their effect taken together in any one particular person can compound into a serious danger to that person's spiritual life and ultimately to that person's salvation.
Many of us would remember Fr Tychon, a one time Confessor Priest-Monk from Mount Athos. We would remember a warm and wise man who is now the Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery. Fr Tychon wrote a short article entitled "The Antichrist and the Second Coming of Our Lord." This article has been translated into English, and is well worth all of us studying.
I would like to quote some of Fr Tychon's conclusions:
"The activity of the Antichrist and the beast, regardless of how much power they are allowed to have from God, will never acquire any authority over the souls of God's servants. As it was with Job '... but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it' (I Cor 10:13b).
"Only the conscious denial of Christ deprives man of salvation. No hidden action or symbol of the evil one can harm or have an influence on the believer.
Truly, Satan is the great deceiver because he portrays himself as having power and influence that he does not really have. He is the greatest trickster because he casts an image that strikes fear and despair even into the hearts of those touched by the power of God.
Satan deceives because he seems to appear where he really cannot be and he tries to tempt all people (even the saved), in venturing where they should not go.
To my university lecturer of so long ago I say, yes Satan exists and is at work. However, does that mean that God does not exist? On the contrary, the all-powerful and the all-loving God has given us all we need to resist and fight against the deceits of Satan.
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful; because your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever" (1 Peter 5:6-11).
The Role of Women in the Church (His Eminence Seraphim).
"What is the role of women, today, in our Orthodox Church."
First and foremost, women must accept Christ as their own Lord and Savior. Women who acknowledges Christ, through baptism, accept the mandate of Christ's love. She partakes in the Liturgical Life of the church. Though Holy Communion our Lord enters the soul of a woman and she becomes part of Him. She is instructed to listen to Holy Scriptures and to apply their Teachings in her daily life. She must become the light of the world, enlightening those allowed her, through good example, in the Christian way of life. She devotes her self out of love, to the service of Christ in all aspects of her personal, family and community life. Most of all, she puts on her love for Christ through her fellow man, and brings to God all those within her own family. Her first priority is to fulfil God's Divine Within her own family, her husband and her children. This then widens to the extended family: to her neighbour, to her parish community and then to the whole world. A Christian woman is today?s society, whether she works outside the home or not, is instrumental in nurturing her children. Even if she is not yet married, or has not chosen the way, a woman often serves in the society in the capacity of helping others, as a teacher, as a nurse, as doctor, as a wife, as a mother. As a wife, she cares for her husband and her children. She brings a reality of church into her home and guides her home to the church. Within her heart she understands the meaning.
"The family which prays together, stays together."
An Orthodox Christian woman through faith, finds strength to that for which the Lord has chosen her. She uses the Sacramental Life of the church to strengthen her family's faith in the Risen Lord and to practice His Commandments. She understands the necessity for Christ to be within her life, and within the life of her family and generally in all the community, large and small. Life in Orthodox Church is not a simple matter of just attending Sunday Services: and an Orthodox woman is not just someone to prepare the coffee for those who have attended the service. Orthodoxy is not wearing a big cross, nor making the elegant gesture of the sign of the
Holy Cross. Orthodoxy is not raising money for some purpose in life. These things may be an indicator of something; an act of love and piety, but without Christ love and teachings, they remain fruitless. During the times of Persecution of the Church, women proved to be true heroes of the Christian Faith. They were the silent and secret defenders of the Church. They proclaimed loudly the true faith in God confessing their faith in Christ before emperors, Kings rulers and Judges. It was women who guarded the churches and the Sacred Relics of our Faith. Putting their own lives in danger, they moved the Holy of Holies to safety, when under threat. They taught the Christians faith to their children, ever when it was dangerous to do so. This special strength which women have is the gift from Lord our God. It is a special grace granted to them by the Holy Spirit to enable them to preserve the faith.
My beloved children, As Your spiritual Father I call upon you all to be strong in your Orthodox faith. Study Orthodoxy deeply, so that you know, teach and defend it all times. Fill yourselves with the knowledge of our Orthodox faith based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Learn the Traditions of Orthodoxy, so that you may keep it unsoiled and unfilled as many holy women in the past have preserved it, for those who will follow. Fill yourselves with wisdom of God and practice Christ?s teaching. Love him and show compassion towards your neighbour. You have an important role in the Church, to pass down this Orthodox Faith to the next generation and that which will follow.
The gift of faith which you hold, is different from those of others. An Orthodox woman has the gifts of cherishing and maintaining a special precious jewels; our Orthodox Faith. Her role is not simply to sweep floors or wash windows, or bake prosphora, but to keep the attitude and the idea of Orthodoxy alive in her family and within society. Even when there is an absence of interest for Orthodoxy, women hold aloft the Spirituality of Orthodoxy. Let the Lord God bless all women and continue to strengthen them in their faith and life let the Holy Theotokos protect and instruct all women to follow Her example in life. Let the Ever Virgin Mary be the protectress of our Orthodox Faith.
In recent times, there has been much discussion concerning the role and place of women within society as well as the Church. Indeed a significant amount of criticism has been leveled against Christians by certain sectors of the Feminist movement, which claim that Christianity represses rather than liberates women. In short, the same voices accuse Christianity of being an agent of oppression and enslavement rather one of liberation and honour for women. From a historical point of view however, the opposite is the case. Let us briefly consider how Christianity acts as a force of liberation, appreciation and empowerment for women. Let us look at situation and circumstances of prior to the coming of Christianity into the world and then appreciate how revolutionary has been the historical impact of Christianity on the role and status of women. Only then, when seen in its proper historical context can one appreciate and understand how important Christianity has been in elevating the status of women. I will choose some examples from pre-Christian history. Pre-Christian society, by and large, considered women as an inferior being. In a sense she was an adequate human. It was claimed that by their very nature women did cot possess moral courage and endurance- two of the most respected virtues of ancient society. Women were viewed as natural cowards. Indeed most branches of philosophy went a step further and made that women did not possess the faculty of logic- they were by nature irrational, unreasonable and illogical. In short they too emotional! Consequently women, with rare exceptions did not receive the advantage of education and were not received into philosophical circles. Certainly they did not have any political power. Roman society, which admired courage, considered women as lacking this virtue. Consequently a women could not bring military strength. Consequent as elsewhere in the ancient world women were regarded as inferior humans.
Early Jewish society ascribed to women a deceiving and evil nature. Thus claims were made that woman were responsible for the fall of man. Consequently she was considered a natural liar and an agent of the devil. For that reason a woman was denied a right to testify in court since her word could not be trusted. Within this historical context the advent of Christianity proved to be a revolution for the cause and understanding of women as intelligent, courageous and virtuous- in effect Christianity empowered women in an unprecedented manner. Within the pages of the Gospels the female followers of Jesus are often described as courageous while the male disciples are depicted as cowardly. For instance while St. Peter denied Christ out of fear, while all other male disciples except St. John field during the crucifixion several women stood at the feet of the cross without fear. Likewise when men were locked indoors for fear of the Jews the women went out to anoint the body of Jesus.
"But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother?s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." (St. John 19.28). On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews Jesus came and stood behind them. .. (St. John 20.19). Again within the pages of the Gospel, women are considered as honest. Trustworthy and reliable faithful witnesses. Indeed the first persons to receive the news of the Resurrection of Christ and commissioned to relay to men the most important message in the annuals of history-were women (St. Mark 16). And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Gaulle; there you will see him; as he told you".... (St. Mark 16.6-7). Within Gospels women are also described as intelligent and possessing acute intellectual curiosity. Thus when the Archangels announce the future birth of the Messiah, within the lucan account, she naturally engages him in conversation and seeks to understand the precise nature of this announcement.
However when St. Paul announces in his letter to the Galatians, that there is neither male or female but both are considered equal in Christ's redemptive work, this represents from a historical perspective the most radical statement made on the status of women up to that point in the history of ideas. The message of Christianity claims that both men and women are empowered; saved and sanctified by Christ in an equal manner. In the final analysis Christianity claims both man and women equally receive the gifts and virtues bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Gender does not disqualify a Christian from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today women make enormous and significant contributions to human societies. Their nurturing rule role within the family as grandmothers, wives, mothers and daughters provide a stabilizing influence upon the structure of the family. Their contribution to social activities is also most important. Women are now familiar and indispensable aspect of the work force. Indeed as Christians, women provide the church irreplaceable assistance.
Conventions of Writing to a Hierarch (Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald).
To: Very Reverend & Reverend Clergy & Parish Secretaries
From: Bishop TIKHON
Subject: Conventions of writing to a hierarch
1. I recently got a letter from a brother bishop belonging to a neighboring archdiocese. It had apparently been issued using one of the contemporary "mail merge" methods. It requested me to appoint a layman from "my" parish and was signed off with: "Paternally yours, Bishop (X)." I've also long remembered being in the presence of the very first Orthodox hierarch I'd ever met when he received a letter. He opened it, began to read, then jumped up, waved it in the air and said, "He called me "you," that's the kind of letter we have to put up with these days from our priests!" Today I had occasion to review also a couple letters from clergy who were new to our diocese. These letters, while certainly meeting contemporary standards of courtesy for business letters, resembled correspondence of clergy not at all, much less correspondence of deacons/priests with a bishop. I know that you all want to act courteously and appropriately; moreover, I've been asked on more than one occasion by prominent lay members of our diocese to put out guidance on matters of "protocol" in general. This is one such matter.
2. You are all aware that a hierarch does not request or receive a blessing from a priest or deacon — just the opposite. So, too, is it awkward and inappropriate when a letter is addressed to a hierarch by a priest or deacon or even lay person beginning or ending (or both) with a generous blessing of the bishop, especially when the writer himself (or herself) does not ask in the time-honored way for any blessing at all from their bishop.
3. The most formal and conventional way to write a bishop is to address him in the third person and never in the second; however, there are now only a few who are aware of this custom or follow it, in America. Usually one did not start a letter with "Dear," either. The correct way was considered to be plain: "Your Beatitude (Eminence) (Grace), Most Blessed Metropolitan (Most Reverend Archbishop) (Right Reverend Bishop) (NAME)! Priests never refer to _themselves_ as "father" in their conversations with each other, although they certainly may address others as such. Likewise, no priest should inform the bishop, either in person, on the phone, or in writing, that it is "Father" so-and-so who is speaking or writing. That means it would be wildly inappropriate for a priest or deacon to call me or write to me and say, "This is Father...." or write "Yours truly, Father...." The priest or deacon is not in any respect "father" to the hierarch, while the hierarch is indeed "father" to the priest or deacon. Neither is one priest "father" to another. It should be kept in mind that bishops routinely extend the courtesy of addressing priests and deacons as "father," but this is clearly a courtesy and does not license the priest or deacon to refer to himself that way to the bishop. Priests and deacons, therefore, should refer to themselves, and sign their letters, according to their rank: Archpriest or Priest "X," Deacon "X." The laity use their Christian names in such cases and not their titles. (Likewise, a Priest conventionally would begin a letter to a fellow priest with "Dear Father," but end it with "The Priest (X).")
5. The first words of a letter from a priest, deacon, or lay person to bishop should be a request for a blessing, couched, as stated, in the 3rd person, e.g., "I request (or "humbly beg for," or "pray for," or "dare to ask for" etc.) Your (Beatitude) (Eminence) (Grace)'s blessing." The letter should likewise close with a very similar formula, the most frequently used one being this: "Requesting Your ()'s archpastoral blessings and prayers ."
6. These and other conventions were developed in the process of mankind's becoming more "humane," in treating one's fellows with courtesy and respect appropriate to their station. I might add that in very recent times it has become popular to adopt formulas with "I press Your (Eminence's, etc.) hand," or "kiss" the same and so forth; however, these formulas come from the conventions of addressing royalty and nobility, and stress, when used in the Church, a kind of lordliness with which many bishops may feel uncomfortable. I myself always avoided such formulas, but I acknowledge that they are accepted and acceptable.
Honoraria, Fees, "Treby," Emoluments, Gratuities – Money.
Orthodox Church in America
The Bishop of San Francisco and the West
Those of you who have been with me since the first days of my episcopate in 1987 know that I have characterized as "two of the most important goals of my episcopate" the fair compensation of the parish clergy and development of charity on every level of Church life within the Diocese. The topic of this Letter of Instruction relates to the first of these goals. I believe that it's obvious that a diocesan bishop (and the All-American Councils that have so vigorously addressed the topic) has this kind of goal because this is an area of church life in need of improvement. Why? Why has this become a problem and pre-occupation? We have to turn to comprehensive or even "social" histories of the Church. One may find the problems of clergy compensation considered in almost all histories of, e.g., the Russian Church written in the last two centuries. In America, the scholar Gregory Freeze has published in our lifetime two extremely informative works characterizing all the conditions of clergy life in Russia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.(1) Here is a selection from Professor Freeze's The Parish Clergy in Nineteenth Century Russia:(2)
"By the time of Nicholas' accession in 1825, the parish clergy still depended entirely upon their traditional sources of support: emoluments, holiday collections, and cultivation of parish-church land. A few churches enjoyed some other forms of support: cathedrals had small subsidies from the state, and some urban churches and small capital endowments or rent from real estate bequeathed by parishioners. In very rare instances the clergy too enjoyed fixed support—mainly in kind and known as RUGA—usually provided in lieu of land or because of the parish's small size. In most parishes, however, the clergy enjoyed no such support and had to depend on the traditional emoluments and parish land for sustenance. That support, as both Church and state authorities agreed, showed major weaknesses.
"To begin with the monetary income from emoluments was simply inadequate. The clergy themselves, in their annual written reports, often described the income from gratuities as 'scanty,' occasionally as 'average,' very rarely as 'satisfactory.' The clergy's superiors, like the bishop of Penza, confirmed such negative assessments: 'The parish clergy receive no more than one hundred rubles in the very best parishes (here) as monetary income, and on the average they receive no more than fifty rubles, or even thirty rubles, per annum.'"
Such facts are known not only to those who read, but also to those who have an acquaintance with the conditions of a generation or two ago from the anecdotes of aging clergy from, say "Kholmshchina" or Volhynia, main sources of "Metropolia" clergy or from their children. Even in America, it has taken some time for the Orthodox parishioner to realize that the parish clergy do not have any income from the state or central or diocesan church administrations, nor even their own plots of land for subsistence farming. Many alive today remember that Archpriest Leonid Turkevich (the late ever-memorable Metropolitan Leonty) and his Matushka stood in line at the soup kitchens of the Bowery during depressed times.
All the above is to make it clear that I consider it perfectly understandable, justifiable and honorable (though the conditions mandating it were deplorable) that clergy OF THOSE DISTANT TIMES AND NOW MOST FOREIGN PLACES tended (or rather were FORCED by appalling circumstances) to set minimum rates for their accomplishment of such routine, ordinary, essential, typical, customary, habitual, usual services as crownings, burials, baptisms, house-blessings, panikhidas, moliebens, etc., etc. It has to be acknowledged that in addition to these "services of need," even the Divine Liturgy, or more accurately the Memorial Divine Liturgy became subject to such "charges!"
While I know of this practice and that it may even be continued by certain, let us say, "dinosaurs" among the clergy, living in countries where the Orthodox are a somewhat economically depressed minority among Christians, I've believed and would have informed any inquirer so, that no clergy in the diocese of the West and, by and large, in the entire Orthodox Church in America, continued such practices as setting fees, suggesting fees, hinting at a certain RATE, and so forth. I've learned only recently, in the last month, as a matter of fact, that one Priest for sure, and therefore, possibly, other Priests in our Diocese, allows himself to set rates and even suggest amplified and, therefore, more remunerative services in order to augment an income I myself approved on the basis precisely of the non-existence of such a practice! This is not to be tolerated in the Diocese of the West.
I want to be very clear: What I am writing about here, please understand, is not in any way to relate to freely-arrived-at decisions of Orthodox Christians vis-a-vis a purely VOLUNTARY giving of a donation to a clergyman or to a parish treasury, AT A RATE AND FOR A CONSIDERATION DETERMINED SOLELY AND WITHOUT ANY COACHING OR SUGGESTIONS FROM SUCH CLERGY OR THOSE IN CHARGE OF PARISH TREASURIES. Income from such UNSOLICITED AND NOT-TO-BE-EXPECTED donations, remains the property of the parish clergy and such is not to be considered in setting an equitable rate of compensation or salary.
I feel very strongly on this topic. All previous policies and public utterances on the topic of clergy compensation remain in effect, including the provision that a clergyman's salary, once set and approved at the time of assignment or adjusted upward at a parish meeting or parish council meeting or by other official means, may not be adjusted downward without my stated blessing and permission. However, all these policies are null and void in any case where a clergyman is known to have adopted the stated practices of the oppressed clergy of other times and places at a time and place where even persons on WELFARE enjoy a standard of living far superior to that of most of the people alive on earth today.
In short, the Reverend and Very Reverend Clergy are forbidden to require any fee, emolument, gratuity, charge, honorarium, etc. for any prayer, collection of prayers, visitation, blessing, service, etc., and, even in the case of VOLUNTARY, unsolicited donations on the occasion of such prayer, collection of prayers, visitation, blessing, service, etc., they are forbidden to suggest, recommend, propose, hint at, provide, or otherwise make direct or indirect reference to any cash amount, rate, or schedule of payments to any individuals, parish councils or other instances.
Any questions on matters addressed in this Letter of Instruction may be addressed to the local Dean, the Diocesan Chancellor, or, in case they are unable to provide necessary guidance, to me personally.
Sending an archpastoral blessing and assuring you of my constancy in prayer for you all,
With love in Christ,
(1) THE RUSSIAN LEVITES: Parish Clergy in the Eighteenth Century. Gregory L. Freeze. Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London. 1977. And THE PARlSH CLERGY IN NINETEENTH CENTURY RUSSIA: Crisis, Reform, Counter-Reform. Princeton University Press, Princeton. 1983.
(2) Op. cit. Chapter 2: The Structure and Economics of Parish Service, p. 55.
Church Etiquette (Fr. Dimitri Tsakas).
Many times people ask me about what is "the done thing" at Church. So I decided to dedicate some space here to answering common questions like what are the different parts of the Church, when do I do my Cross, when should we be standing during services and similar questions. I hope you find the information here useful remembering of course that it acts as a guide and not simply as a list of "dos and don'ts."
Parts of the Church Building
The Church Building is divided into three parts called the Narthex, Nave and Sanctuary:
1. The Narthex is the first part where we enter, light a candle, venerate the icons and generally prepare ourselves for entrance into the Nave for worship. Here when we enter we do the sign of the Cross, light a Candle (which symbolises our acceptance of Christ as the light of the World), and kiss the icons (first the Icon of Christ and then the others). It is in the Narthex that we slow down our thoughts and begin our prayer. The Narthex is a place of preparation for our entrance into another reality, namely the Heavenly worship of the Church. If we arrive during the reading of the Bible or during any processions, we should stand still until they are finished before lighting a candle or doing anything else in the Narthex.
2. The Nave is the main middle part of the Church where the congregation gathers for worship. It represents Heaven on earth.
3. The Sanctuary, separated from the Nave by the Iconostasis, is always located toward the East because Christ, the Light of the world in symbolised by the rising sun. In the sanctuary are the Altar Table, the Proskomide (where the Gifts for Holy Communion are prepared), and the Large Crucifix reminding us of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross for our salvation. Strictly speaking, only the clergy are allowed in this area and those to whom they give a blessing to be there also.
The Church holds many services. Matins is a morning prayer service usually held before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday and other Feast Days. Vespers is an evening prayer service usually held on the eve of a feast. The most frequently attended service is the Divine Liturgy held every Sunday and major feast day throughout the year. Here at St. George we also hold the Divine Liturgy in English every Saturday Night. The Divine Liturgy is sometimes also referred to as the Divine Eucharist. The Liturgy is the Service in which we have Holy Communion. During each service the Priest stands at the Altar. He is human, a member of God's people, but vested with the authority to offer the Eucharist and lead the worship. It is the proper custom to be at Church for the beginning of the Liturgy or at least before the Epistle and Gospel Readings.
The Sign of the Cross
The Cross is the most powerful Symbol in Christianity, because Christ died on it. The proper Orthodox Cross is made by holding the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand together and resting the remaining two fingers on the palm. The three fingers together represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the remaining two on the palm represent the two natures of Christ as God and man. This is a summary of the Christian Faith. The fingers and thumb are placed first on the forehead, then the stomach, the right shoulder, then the left shoulder. (The right shoulder is touched first because the Bible teaches that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father). The motion of making the Cross should be continuous and distinct, and certainly not rushed. Sometimes a person will make the sign of the Cross and then bow and touch the floor. This is common in traditional Orthodox worship and is known as a Metania or Prostration. Touching the ground is a reminder of where we come from and where we will return, namely the earth.
When to Make the Sign of the Cross:
Whenever you feel the need
Before and after any prayers
When you enter and leave the Narthex and Nave
Before you kiss an Icon, Cross, or the Gospel Book
When you pass the Altar
When you hear any of the following phrases;
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have Mercy on Us
The words Christ, Theotokos, Panayia or Virgin Mary
The Name of a Saint
After the reading of the Epistle or Gospel
Near the end of the Creed at the phrase In One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church
Before and after the Consecration during the Divine Liturgy (when the Priest says 'Your Own of Your Own we offer You, In every way and for every Thing'. This is the point when the Priest prays with the people for God to make the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
At the end of the Lord's Prayer while the Priest says 'For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen'
Before and after receiving Holy Communion
Before receiving Antidoron (The blessed bread at the end of the service).
When to Stand, Sit or Kneel during the Divine Liturgy
Stand and Sit during the Following Times:
Stand at the beginning of the Liturgy at 'Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever...' until the end of the Great Litany at ' For to You belong all glory, power and worship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...' Sit after the Priest has finished this last phrase.
Stand when the procession with the Gospel begins (this is called the Small Entrance and symbolises the coming of Christ into the world). Stay standing until the beginning of the Epistle reading, at the beginning of which we may sit.
Stand when the Gospel is to be read, stand when you hear the Priest say ' Wisdom. Attend. Let us hear the Holy Gospel. Peace be with you all'. Stay standing after the Gospel and through the Procession with the Gifts for Holy Communion (this is called the Great Entrance and symbolises Christ coming to His Passion). We can sit after the Priest has placed the Gifts upon the Altar, when we hear him say 'Let us complete our prayer to the Lord'.
Stand when we hear the Priest say 'Commemorating our All-Holy, most pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, Theotokos and ever virgin Mary' and 'Through the mercies of Your only begotten Son with Whom You are blessed'. Kneel when you hear the Priest saying 'Your Own from Your Own we offer You in every way and for every Thing' (On Sundays and between Pascha and Pentecost it is a custom to Bow instead of kneel at this time because these are periods of celebrating the Resurrection)' Keep standing through the Creed and until the Priest says 'Having commemorated all the Saints, again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord...'
Stand for the Lord's Prayer when you hear the Priest say 'And make us worthy Master...' then the 'Our Father'. Keep standing until you hear the Priest say 'Let us attend. The Holy Things are for the Holy'
Stand when the Priest comes out with Holy Communion. While Holy Communion is being distributed some people like to keep standing out of respect for Christ's physical presence in the Eucharist while others sit. You make a choice here.
Stand when Holy Communion is finished and keep standing until the end of the Service.
Sit when the Priest is preaching.
The Priesthood in the Orthodox Church
The Clergy in the Orthodox Church are the ordained leaders of the Community. St. Paul says in the Bible that they will answer before God for the people in their care. Their responsibility is very great and they are heavily involved with the people of their community. During their ordination the people must give their approval by calling out Worthy during the Sacrament of Ordination. The community has high expectations of the clergy and generally has much love for it as well.
There are three orders within the ordained ministry of the Orthodox Church. A Deacon is the first step in ordination. The Deacon helps at services, in parishes, or may be attached as an assistant to a Bishop. He is not given authority to lead services on his own and thus he cannot officiate at the Eucharist or other Sacraments on his own. A Priest (also known as a Presbyter) is the second level in the ministry. He is vested with the authority to lead worship and officiate at all Sacraments except that of Ordination, which only a Bishop can effect. The Priest is usually assigned a Parish in which he ministers both the Word of God and the Sacraments. Like the Deacon he is allowed to marry so long as he does so before ordination. His wife, because of her special role as Mother in the community is called Presbytera. Presbytera is the feminine form of the word Presbyter, which literally translated from Greek means Elder. The Deacon's wife is called Diaconisa. The highest level of Ordination is that of the Bishop. Ultimately he carries most responsibility before God for the community. In Greek he is called Episkopo which literally translated means Overseer. All Bishops are equal in the Orthodox Church, and there is nothing like the Pope as Supreme Pontiff. For administrative reasons there are Bishops who have a title that equates to extra responsibilities, such as Archbishop or Metropolitan. Since the 7th century, Orthodox Canon Law has not allowed married men into the Episcopacy.
All clergy in the Orthodox Church can trace their ordination through the laying on of hands to the Apostles. This is called Apostolic Succession and is very important from an Orthodox point of view in safeguarding our apostolic inheritance. It is a strong Orthodox custom to show respect toward the Priest as one responsible before God for leading the community. One physical expression of this is to kiss his hand. This is an ancient custom signifying respect and love. The Church believes there is a blessing for the person who does this.
Forms of Address for Clergy
Bishops: Archbishop — Your Eminence
Bishop — Your Grace
Priests: All — Father
Priest's Wife: Presbytera
Deacons: All — Deacon
Deacon's Wife: Deaconess
Again I hope the above has been a useful guide for you. Remember when in doubt just ask !!!
The Gift of Orthodoxy.
From a Journey to Orthodoxy by Our Sister in Christ, Elizabeth Huestis
St. Paul speaks of being "an Apostle out of due time" in the sense that he did not know Jesus first-hand, and did not travel around with Jesus the way that the other Apostles did. Yet God chose him particularly to have a special and useful place in the Church. In the same way, converts are not natural inheritors of Orthodoxy in the same way as are those people born in traditionally Orthodox countries and cultures. But God takes us from all sorts of places, adopting us in a special way, making us a part of His Church in a way that we would have no natural inherited right to. (Someone born Greek or Serbian or Russian would normally inherit Orthodoxy.)
Because God has chosen to give us Orthodoxy outside of normal means, perhaps we tend to cherish it more and also to feel the obligation to share it with those who do not have the gift and also to help those who have inherited it to understand and appreciate it better. This becomes more true when in retrospect it is possible to see that our becoming Orthodox was not just a chance occurrence, not something that we stumbled into blindly by ourselves, but something that God planned out and manipulated starting many, many years before we had even the smallest idea anything was happening. Let me give you an example by telling a bit about what happened in my case. The part that I wrote to you before was rather the third act of the drama and the climax, but did not show all the careful and patient preparation that God did for so many years.
We had a most unusual parish priest during my teen years. He taught the high school religion class and gave us a thorough grounding in early Church history, and for a Catholic priest, gave an amazingly honest appraisal of the politics involved in creating the break between East and West. He also told us that the TRUTH was an absolute quantity which could stand any amount of searching, questioning and probing. He insisted that we should search, think, question everything. Also, he created a "model" parish.
People came from all over California to see us during Sunday Mass because the entire congregation could sing the Mass or make the responses in Latin if the Mass was being spoken instead of sung. This gave a clear sense of participation and involvement with the main worship service and pointed out clearly the position of primary importance of Holy Communion. Then, once a year, on the feast of the Ascension of our Lord, he placed an Iconostasis in the church and had the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom performed in a different language Greek, Slavonic, Syrian, Arabic and Aramaic. Some people were indifferent, some disliked it, but I positively loved the Liturgy right from the first time.
After finishing university, I had an opportunity to study abroad for a year. I wanted to go to Japan and was accepted to study there, but God intervened and I ended up in Sweden instead for a year. There I became fascinated by all the beautiful Russian icons in the museums and when an opportunity came to travel during the spring holidays, I travelled to Russia. On the way, we were taken to Vespers in a Russian Orthodox Church in Helsinki. Then, in Moscow, the leader of the tour had tried to arrange for us to go to the Pascha Liturgy. We trudged miles through the snow to get to one of the few open churches left there. It was an amazing experience.
We got there at about midnight. There were people everywhere, almost solid for about two blocks around the church. It was a real effort to make our way up to the church through this throng. Then we were confronted by mounted police guarding the area and a huge wrought — iron fence about 12 feet high. We were told that we should have had our passports with us in order to be admitted, so someone went back to the hotel to fetch them. The rest of us waited. Every so often, the gate would open and a few people, foreign visitors like ourselves, would leave.
We were fortunate that some of the students in our group could speak Russian so they talked with people standing around with and were told that the church was already full and there was no more room for anyone, that is why they were not permitted in. But one wing was reserved for foreign visitors, and that was where we waited. One girl in our group slipped in the gate as some visitors were let out. She held a rosary with a crucifix on it and gestured that she wanted to go in the church.
After much discussion by the 10 or so people who grabbed her, she was finally allowed in. I decided that if she could get in, perhaps I could too, and for some reason, I wanted very much to get into that church. There was nothing logical about it, it was a compulsion. The next time the gate opened, I slid in, and was grabbed even more roughly than my friend had been. They looked at the large silver cross that I was wearing and finally allowed me to enter. It was so beautiful. The chanting was unearthly.
We stood there for over three hours and finally about 4 am, left and made our way back to our hotel. The service was not finished but we just felt unable to keep standing anymore. Bright Monday, the "Intourist" guide collected us all after breakfast (the only day in Russia that we did not have boiled eggs for breakfast) and she told us that in Russia mistakes don't happen, but that it was not going to be possible for us to see the factory we were scheduled to see! Instead, there was only one thing that she could arrange at such short notice, a visit to an old monastery 50 miles outside the city.
That is how we ended up at the Holy Trinity Lavra at Zagorsk. Zagorsk, the monastery established by St. Sergius and considered by many to be the holiest place in all Russia. But of course, I didn't know that then. I only knew that it was a very beautiful, peaceful place and that the people from the town seemed extraordinarily full of faith for being in a Communist country.
A friend had picture postcards with various churches and monasteries and for some reason gave some out to the ladies standing around after the service. People seemed to materialise from everywhere and want one. In the end, she gave them all away, while the ladies stood in groups eagerly comparing and seeing which church each one had received a picture of. They seemed almost like a group of small children who had just been given lollies than ladies in their fifties and sixties. After we saw the church, a Russian lady saw that I was wearing, a cross, hurried home, and upon returning, smilingly presented me with a dark red egg.
After we returned to Sweden, my fiance and I found a small antique shop in Stockholm selling Russian icons that had been taken out of Russia by a friend of the proprietor. In this way, we acquired a beautiful 19th century icon, the "Mother of God, Joy of all who Sorrow." We had intended the purchase as an investment to be sold when we married in order to help set up house. But somehow, we could never bring ourselves to sell it.
Much later, we were told by a Russian Orthodox friend that he knew of several cases where people had bought icons as a "piece of art" or as an investment, but after living with the icon, became Orthodox.
When we came to Australia, my husband began lecturing at the university. Years later, he had a Greek young man in one of his classes providing someone for us to talk to when Robert began to ask questions about Orthodoxy. This very serious young man was just the right person to explain things because he wanted to become a priest. Christos became the nonos (godfather) for our whole family when we became Orthodox. And even though he wanted to go to Greece to study for the priesthood, things kept happening, various papers were lost, or misplaced, red tape everywhere, so that he was able to be with us for the first year after our Chrismation.
Christos finally went to Greece, completed 3 years of study for a degree in theology and became a monk on the Holy Mountain. Last year, he became a deacon. Now he is called Fr. Theonas.
When we finally began attending the Divine Liturgy at St. George's in spite of all the difficulties and spiritual confusion that I told you about in a previous letter, in a way it was like coming home, I remembered from my childhood the peace and beauty of the Liturgy and remembered "Kyrie Eleison" [Lord have mercy] and "Sie Kyrie" [to Thee, O Lord]. They stood out like bright beacons of something remembered and understood and saved as a bridge over into the fullness of Orthodoxy. Obviously, God planned everything right from the beginning, but it took about 30 years from the first experience with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom until the final conclusion of being Orthodox.
Many people might say that these were all odd, isolated, or random happenings, but I don't think so. Behind everything always the hand of God nudges and prods, like a Fisherman slowly and carefully gathering in His net until He has each one of us precisely where He wants us. His slow, patient, careful planning, the years of inexorable, diligent pursuit are almost terrifying in their intensity. It says something to us very clear and real about His love for us and His determination to save us in spite of ourselves. No wonder that Christ is portrayed sometimes in the West as the Hound of Heaven, relentlessly pursuing souls with the same unswerving determination displayed by a bloodhound after its prey.
The amazing thing is that there are so many of us and yet God goes to such trouble over each one on a very individual basis. What incredible value He must place on each of us to go to so much trouble on our account.
A text by Panhellenic Parents Union for the Protection of the Greek-Orthodox Culture, the Family and the Individual
What are the Destructive Cults?
A destructive cult is an organisation or a group, the members of which have been recruited with immoral and misleading means. The followers of such a group gradually remove the free operation of their personal thinking and judgement, through brain-washing procedures, ending up to an absolute dependence on the man who is on the top of the group hierarchy, the guru or the master. Various other groups interlace with the destructive cults, which are simply characterised as "cults" and are distinguished by how much dangerous they may become for the human personality. Some of these organisations are characterised as soul worships. Some others are mentioned as parachristian groups, new sects total religions. As a whole, they are almost placed to the New Age- syndrome as it is called and they have a common origin, that is occultism.
What is their purpose?
Their purpose is the absolute control over human beings. They use their members as unpaid workers, propagandists, money collector, and lifelong slaves. Their desire is to kill the free will. Their victims will stop at nothing. They can commit the biggest crime and tacts of terrorism, as soon as the group, with the conviction that they serve a higher goal, which is the salvation of the humankind, gives the command. They believe that they are entering a "New Age," a "Golden Age" or the "Aquarius Age. For this reason, the requirement of every such organisation is absolute, within the religious, ideological, social, even political sector.
What are the methods of proselytism?
As a rule, cults hide their true targets. They talk with inaccuracy and deceptively about themselves. They hide their true centre, which may be that of a guru or some centre of a self-styles "messiah" or "avatar." They present themselves with a Christian, philosophical, psychological or other mask, through many ways (war arts, athletic festivals, dance, music, peace movements, ecological ones, hygienic and health food centres, alternate medicine, therapy centres for drug-addicts, etc). They usually use a Christian terminology or a cosmic one with a reverse meaning. Approaching new victims can be made through an invitation for a free personality test, for a vegetarian meal, through lectures with subjects of general interest, through self-knowledge and mind control seminars etc. Some groups use the so-called "love bombing," until someone is driven to psychological, addiction. This method is particularly dangerous when someone is in the necessity to make decisions and make essential changes to his life. Then one may feel that the joining to such a group could help. Then the "attachment" created cannot be broken easily.
"Programming" of members
After the first contact with the cult, there are other procedures followed for incorporating the new victim to the organisation. These are:
the complete control over the information that is received by the victim, with the purpose to reduce the possible alternative solutions which could become the final free choice of the victim;
misleading by hiding their true purpose, their true identity, their real connections worldwide;
some kind of brain wash which prepares the victim to accept a whole dogmatic system, according to which, the whole world outside the organisation is devilish;
causation of phobia, guiltiness, and agony, that lead to the complete crushing of the victim and suggest a 'feeling' that only into the group one can be delivered from all these;
insufficient diet and fatigue, so that the individual is led to depression and psychological disintegration, bringing therefore, lack of attention and the weakening of independent critical spirit.
Results in psychosomatic health
By the engagement to such a group, the organisation's way of thinking and living becomes a second nature for the follower. Thoughts and positions that he used to have disappeared. Observations show that the victim make limited use of the language and gives stereotyped answers, has a strange behaviour, his personal thought and judgement are weakened, and also any memories of his religious life outside the cult tend to fade. Many ex-members, after their disengagement from the group, need 1-2 years in order to return to the regular everyday life, while others may suffer of psychotic disorders and remain in a situation of psychological phobia for man years. Except the psychic they may suffer of other body detriment such s herpes of every kind, up to permanent injuries caused by harmful yoga "exercises." Finally we should underline a) the suicides individual and massive ones: Jim Jones' 1000 followers in Guyana in 1979, David Coresh in 1993, Leauc Jurret in 1994 b) the individual and massive murders by Soko Asahara in Tokyo's subway during 1995 and c) various other ritual human sacrifices.
Results in the family-social environment
Participation in some organization having these characteristics has negative repercussions to the environment of the follower. Many times the victim’s family is driven to an economic overwhelming, paying his involvement quite much. In some other times, families are led to break, if the rest of the family does not want to follow the "existential" choice of its member. Family tensions happen quite often and may reach up to the murder of the father, husband, or wife if he does not give in to the desires of the victim follower, who is found in absolute dependence from the cult's leader, guru, or master. On the social level, these groups characterised as "destructive cults" have been involved in specific illegal and immoral practices. Examples are:
the ill-treatment, neglect and death of children;
the illegal emigration;
the use and drugs trafficking;
the fraud and deceit in the recruitment of members;
the illegal financial activities and the businesses with enormous profits;
the threats, harassment and blackmails of the families of the victims — and of all those who do unfavourable criticism to the cult — by pressing charges and by doing miserable and filthy acts, h) the storage and trade of arms and ammunition, i) the sexual assault and prostitution;
kidnapping or murders done or attempted;
the psychological and emotional damage. Many former members, who managed to escape, brought these charges against these practices.
Who may be trapped?
Anyone can be easily trapped. It is of no consequence whatever the education, intelligence, or will of someone might be or even his possibly superficial, dogmatic position in front of the danger of his entanglement. The danger is greater for people suffering from psychological problems, those having inspired plans for the future with a weak will, or those who feel lonely and uncertain. Also are in danger, those who are credulous and can easily be persuaded that the organisation can offer them the secret of happiness, the success, and the psychosomatic health. Also may become victims are those who are romantic, idealists and friends of utopia.
Where does proselytism take place?
Proselytism can take place in the streets, in the library, at the post office, in the military camp, in your office or home, in high schools, at demonstrations for the homeless, for the poor, the suffering people, in protests against the spread of narcotics, or against the environmental pollution. Proselytism and also occur in peace festivals, clinics and hospitals, gymnasiums, beauty salons, schools and student unions, outside classrooms, or wherever there are young people. They occur in congresses, self-improvement seminars, and educational meetings. They advertise in posters, parties, restaurants, recreational centres, stadiums, concerts, discos, in your work, in the public services (ministries, other organisations), where committed members work systematically, and inside schools. Cults have invaded the education system, and they have founded kindergartens and day nurseries. They are everywhere.
When and by whom is there danger?
The entrapping can be done at any time but mainly can happen under the following circumstances:
during the first time from being far from home and family (students, soldiers, working people);
when someone changes job or is fired;
during graduation from school or when one quits his studies;
sudden illness, the death of a beloved person, unexpected accident;
periods of change in our lives (periods of loneliness, travel-vacation, becoming older, periodic depression and disappointment).
The danger may come from anyone but especially from people who are to friendly or show interest in our preferences and our problems. From people who have simple solutions in worldwide problems. From someone who finds you "very interesting" and is aware that you have contacts, influence or even financial resources and means. From people who are offered to discuss with you "existential" problems and promote occult beliefs (reincarnation, karma, tarot, astrology, hypnotism, sorcery, spiritism, divination, and religious syncretism). >From some people who invite you to free vegetarian meals, free personality tests, self knowledge courses, personality, expansion, live retrospection, etc.
The 'New Age' scenery
These sects have taken care of everything, under the frames of the New Age syndrome, in order to prepare people properly worldwide. They have worked on it for the last 100 years and intensively for the last 15 years — so that these New Age beliefs, doctrines, symbols and practices become accepted from great parts of the Western world., A great responsibility for this preparation belongs to the Theosophical company of Helen Blavatsky and the thousands branches of Theosophy, from its foundation until today. Theosophy, a mixture of eastern religious teachings and occultism, had always the vision to subordinate the humanity into its own order, making Christianity disappear, and its only serious obstacle. Using this scenery, some international decision-making centres made sure to announce the New Age, develop, and promote its beliefs. The only presupposition was the publication and circulation of a bibliography of thousands titles in all the languages and the use of the massive media (newspapers, magazines, radio, cinema etc.). The beginning was made with discretion and went on with ‘UFO-logy’. The "science fiction," the war arts, the rock music, and it is gradually completed with the introduction of occultism as a basic part in our lives. Nowadays, few people have not read Lonisang Rampa, Casaneda, or Erich Von Deniken, those writers who introduced us into the doctrines of the New Age. Yet, the frequent and repeated newspaper articles, the advertisement of such groups, and the relative astrology horoscopes complete the whole scenery together with some terror films shown in TV after midnight. Comics or comic strips in newspapers-magazines, "role games" in computers, and monster-toys for our children.
Worldwide, parents and families-victims have become organized into groups of help and self-protection having a remarkable activity. In Greece, our organization (the Panhellenic Parents Union) cooperates with the Christian Orthodox Church of Greece in order to support families and individuals with such kind of problems.
Finally, we believe that the best method in order to help people having this kind of problems is found in our own Christian faith and in our own tradition.
Globalization (Metropolitan Dr. Paul Yazigi of Aleppo).
Table of Contents
1- Introduction: Definition — Its Beginning and Motivation
2- The Problem: Theology, Globalization and Challenges
1. Theology and Economic Globalization
2. Theology and Cultural Globalization
3. Conflict of Thought in Cultural Globalization
4. Globalization and the Future of Theology
3- The Universal and Evangelical Globalization
1. Pax Romana — Pax Americana — Pax Christiana
2. Action or Reaction
Definition — Its Beginning and Motivation
The following pages present a short research depicting an approach to make the issue of Globalization more comprehensible. What is Globalization, and what domains does it cover? What kind of role does Theology or Christian Thought play towards it? How can we examine it from a Biblical perspective? Is this a new challenge or a threat? Or could it be transformed into a tool for evangelism? How could this be so?
Globalization means, in brief, making the whole world a small village. For some it is building up an "united universal empire." Another point of view takes this word to mean overcoming the old obstacles of nationality, demography and geography, and dealing universally without limiting boundaries. It also means the freedom of communication in all domains in the world. As for the source of this world movement, it is a part of our world, North America.
In its universality, globalization depends on economy and media, using advanced technological networks that have expanded in the world without any objections or boundaries, languages or politics. It is like water running in the bosom of the earth taking its paths, unaffected with undulations on the surface.
Globalization apparently emerged as an economic necessity. It was also a tool through which advanced technologies could be introduced and improve civilizations. Advanced technologies became the only means of communication without which man or society feels "outside" the world.
Globalization, as it appears to be at first sight, is a movement resulting from the daily need of people in general to deal with an advanced, integrated and all-inclusive economy. For example, the products of any important company become instantly known and exposed for sale throughout the world. We can also estimate the benefit for the buyer and seller, and how a competitive spirit improves on quality of products and lowering prices. This need seeks to overpass languages, boundaries, nationalities and the like. The world is one market full of opportunities and open to all for shopping. The modern technological tools make this need a reality. There are no objections, rather there is a preference to shop through the internet instead of traveling long distances. Many years are not enough time to visit the shopping centers we see in few minutes on the Internet.
As a result, all peoples and nations became convinced of the necessity to go beyond the classical and limited existing economic patterns. The motive here is the optimum use of the buying power of money. So the real motive is "profit" regardless of how some may assess this motive. Commerce and economy cannot bear social, national or religious bonds any more. A product is to be sold with the best price, without any social, national or religious bonds. The condition for dealing with each other is money, and the purpose is limited to "profit or gain." Commerce, trade, and shopping do not have social or moral aspects any more.
Until now, the strongest economic forces in the world at the threshold of the New Millenium are the United States of America and Europe. North America is followed by South America along with Japan and China, the countries who are still searching for their independent identity. Europe has eliminated most of its taxes in order to build an economy with no boundaries within this continent. All these economic trends have positive economic impact on some and negative on others.
This liberal economy and free trade without any old restrictions accepted or imposed, will bring about a new way of dealing with each other, among peoples, countries or nationalities. It will not only affect their economy but also their relationships and their lives. The globalization of economy through modern technological means does not intend at all to limit those international relationships only in the field of buying and selling, for the buyer and seller are always connected to each other. The economic matters are the factors that give life its taste for man, not only in its material dimensions, but also in its spiritual one.
The acceptance of globalization as a material important necessity is not a bad matter at all. On the contrary it brings to us new developments that are worth studying and examining.
Economic globalization -which is not our main subject in this study- was the first to introduce to the world new and fast means of international communications. These means did not remain limited to commercial use, but also became the means and marketplace for trading ideas and modern exchange of ideas instead of products.
This movement was accompanied by other movements of globalization in the military field. The Russian communism that tried to reach Europe and invade the Third World and Africa did not succeed. The current situation however affirms the success of one new regime. The end of the military balance in the world and the disappearance of poles and equal powers and the appearance of one country take us back to the old history when few countries endeavored to build one empire.
The economic globalization has been used as a purpose or as a cause to globalize the empire. The economic globalization (that was used as a tool) was not separate from military and intellectual globalization.
It will be wrong if we study globalization from our angle. Military and economic and cultural powers in the world were never separate. Perhaps they always remain one a tool for the other. A separate study of one section of each of these three globalizations will not lead to a correct study of the present situation.
For large countries, the presence of military poles means contesting the economic market. At the same time, it means hindrance to religious thoughts and the like.
This economic globalization led to guided military thought and to a new and important cultural obligation. This all has no relation to buying and selling in the life of man.
2- The Problem: Theology, Globalization and Challenges
In this, it is necessary that theology intervenes, since it is the primal thought that ought to react to matters that touch upon the life of man. Its function is not to talk about economy or to guide military paths, but to define the general philosophy of every economy and military globalization and the like, so that no harm affects the life of man. Instead, its function is to be the cause of man's prosperity according to the evangelical vision of man. We cannot leave alone this blind universal power that views things in the eyes of profit and gain to control and guide the future of humanity. According to our faith, there is a purpose and a goal set for man, guiding every development in economy or other field. The mind needs to direct the ways of dealing with the needs in order to keep and preserve the human goals and worth.
In our days, the focus is on economy to the point of forgetting the importance of education. Therefore there is a great and pressing need for cultural awareness. There is a special need for theological and pastoral studies, which cares for building man's personality. Our present life is full of examples about youth who speak five languages and hold many degrees but are in need of correct ways of dealing with, listening to and respecting others, and humanness.
The scientific and technological advancement does not necessarily imply civilization! Teaching and education have long been connected together. It is regretful, however, that sometimes knowledge is connected only to technology. Scientific knowledge is a tool that magnifies man's internal civilization and education. In Sweden, for example, its citizens live an almost ideal life in terms of high levels of economy, science and health care the country provides. Life is easy, yet it has the largest number of suicide cases. Doesn't this situation make us wonder? There are important matters in our contemporary life that the economic and political globalization did not take into account. Our present situation proves to us that there are values that cannot be forgotten, such as happiness, soul, civilization, tradition, human relationships, etc.
The question is how can Orthodoxy and Theology deal with all these problems? Or is their specialty the exegesis of old and inherited texts? It is not hidden from us that Theology is for many just a science that deals with "formulae" of faith and "traditions." In the best cases Theology is to preserve the "doctrines," while for others it is the development of "Tradition!" All these are "religious" views to Theology and do not encompass it, but rather describe some of its activities. Sometimes it does so in a disfiguring way. The Tradition that we inherited from the Fathers and we preserve is "the life of man." The essence of this life in the Holy Spirit does not change, but its ways and expressions change. What we received from the Tradition is "Let Thy Kingdom come," and what changes is the tool to achieve this, in addition to the languages.
For many, religion is connected to the past, which contains some things beautiful and other things old-fashioned! For these people, globalization is a challenge to religion that resembles the matters of facing the development and underdevelopment, improvement and stagnancy. These people fall in a fallacy resembling that aforementioned about religion. The fallacy is the contradiction between Faith and Science. We often heard about their contractions, and many needed a long time to understand that each one of Faith and Science has it own field and Science after all does not negate Faith. It is as if we mean by religion, the science of myth, and by Science, the domain of truth. In reality, this is reversed for Christianity. Science is the collection of hypotheses and it can sometimes contain myths and mistakes. Those who are well rounded in Science acknowledge this. As a divine revelation, Religion, more specifically Christianity, is the truth.
Today we talk about globalization, and the Christian opinion about it falls into a similar fallacy. There are reasons for this to happen, sometimes the reasons are the "religiousness" of theologians. We hear and read most of the opinions that often seem to be aggressive, rejecting and not approving, and in best cases, very cautious towards globalization.
For theology, globalization is a natural movement, and the theological issue in this movement is the preservation of the value of man. Theology sees inevitable the scientific, economic and social development. Development occurs as a result of man having the image of God in him. The theological issue is about having every advancement for the good of humanity and for every person.
Therefore, we believe that the theological analysis of this issue is based on the following:
1. Dealing with globalization as an economic necessity for our present.
2. Mentioning its advantages
3. Making reference to its deviations. These are inevitable if the leaders of this universal potential do not carry humanism as a motive but rather just as a "benefit."
4. Presenting responsible ways to help the evolution of globalization towards spiritual perfection as a concrete instrument, taking the practical steps for this.
1. Theology and Economic Globalization
What are the principles or aspects that Theology seeks to guide and preserve? What are the inquiries of Theology about these principles and what does it say about them?
The first important issue is the value of man. This ought not to go below the place the Creator designed for man. We ought to preserve man as a person. Considering profit a reason and a goal of the universal economy is a destructive starting point at the expense of people's lives. It cares for the self-interests but does not care for human relationships. Man has a great value as "he is." Profit does not look for the value of man other than from the side of what man owns! Man is loftier than any product, and his value is the goal of all economy.
After this, it is hoped that economic globalization will bring about more job opportunities and a fair and humane distribution of gifts, with no ethnic, skin color, or religious hindrance. Here, it is inevitable to point out the information driven from some reports which say that globalization has put all the international stock exchange business in the hands of six people. Globalization is not development if the poor become poorer and rich wealthier. At that time, wealth does not become global, but people and the world becomes an arena under the tyranny of a few.
Like other matters, globalization is a two-edged sword: it can bring benefit or harm! Globalization must insure the rights of man and an honorable life to all people. It is inevitable that some of that happens and there are noteworthy attempts to do that. We, however, will not be exaggerating if we say that there is a danger rising from the many greater attempts to do the opposite. Here lies the importance of education, awareness and guidance. The most important thing is to keep the humanitarian spirit the first in the world, and that philosophy of globalization be "man" and not "force."
Overstepping national, religious, and other frameworks and the use of the technological tools lead slowly but surely to dealing with each other on the basis of profit, without taking into account the social aspects of trade and its moral and spiritual dimension. Man will be dealt with as an influential producer rather than a social person. Even if the ways of commercial and economic trade have changed, we need to keep the spirit in the new ways, whatever they are. A piece of merchandise has no spirit in itself, but what is important is how to deal with others.
Driving the universal economy from one center is not less dangerous than the absence of political or military balance. Some people or developing countries can, for some political reasons they define, extend loans to help lesser developed countries of their choice. Therefore, they can hide behind the globalization which is based on going beyond all ethnic or racial boundaries.
When profit controls the path of economy, then relationships will definitely be colored with deceit, in addition to exploitation to the level of tyranny. What is noticeable in many cases is that subjugation is the language that comes to place while the economic ways are controlled.
In the end, can economic globalization become a just way for distributing the goods of this world to all, or an exploitative way to drive all the goods of the world exclusively to some?
2. Theology and Cultural Globalization
The cultural globalization, which uses the same means of economic globalization, is not less important than the latter. It rather has more importance.
The first question we ask is, "What about customs, habits, traditions, religions and all other local art?" Contemporary man lives in the smallest village and is following, in detail, the events happening in the largest cities of the world. Man is following the development of thought, culture and even clothing. What is the future of local matters?
Will globalization respect these colors and small regions in the world? What are the reactions of the peoples and nationalities facing the rise of an all-sweeping Western civilization? What is, in essence, the awaited result from East meeting West? The old religious disputes were not differences in interpretation. The truth of faith is one, but the existence of many differing interpretations is the result of the presence of various backgrounds. The East and the West are different in many ways. What would be the product of their mixture?
Globalization, in its thought, respects languages, traditions, and all that is local, and all religions! However, what is the meaning of "respect"? Does this mean that it allows for them to remain if they can? Or does it mean that it will not attack them, but will not cease to compete against them? What is the destiny of all these cultures (and their elements such as arts, language, traditions, etc.) facing this universal civilization? It may be the norm of life that whatever is weak dies away and whatever is strong remains, according to its strength.
Are we in a "dialogue of civilizations" or "struggle of civilizations"? Or are we in an "epic of civilizations" in the ways and the mediums of globalization?
We ought to confess that opportunities are wide open for all to contribute in creating the new color of cultural globalization. Conversely, we need to say that there are beautiful, unique, rare, and very interesting colors in the world, which were not given a just and equal chance in this tough exchange. The danger here lies in allowing for the words of Karl Marx to be realized. The latter said that the general thoughts of society are the thoughts of the ruling social class, regardless of whether these thoughts are right or good. This class has the tools to spread its thought at the expense of another beauty that was not given a chance to appear.
Does cultural globalization mean that the allowance of every religion or denomination, color or art to exist is nothing but allowing one to commit suicide since the tools of life and existence for one is withdrawn from one and given to another? Is there a focus on a "respectful research" on all the beauties in the world and in each and every corner so that all may contribute equally and freely in forming a universal civilization? Or is there an allowance for all to share in a civilized combat and the result is defined by the law of the strong?
The economic and military force (the thought of the ruling class) often wins at the expense of the cultural force. Will cultural globalization be a victim or a product of military and economic globalization?
The second question we ask about cultural globalization is, "What is the destiny of the mix between East and West?"
There are important Christian characteristics that found in the East the haven and the hiding place throughout human history. Some of these characteristics are:
1. The focus on the human person and the primacy of human matters over material need. There are some habits we may call "stupid" in economic terms but have a precious "humane" value, such as generosity and forgiveness, and the like.
2. The presence of social and moral rules that are not focussed on gaining profit or self-interests, but rather give moral principles and honor their due worth.
3. Moderation through the avoidance of the western spirit of exaggeration and grandeur. If we look quickly at the arts and made a small comparison we would find that in the East man expresses himself only in his dimensions. In the West however man expresses himself in the dimensions of the glory he aspires to reach, dimensions we may call divine and not human.
What would the West say about the notions and backgrounds it became accustomed to in its own structure, not just the dogmatic notions but also the ones about life? The dogmas came affected by these backgrounds, which we list below:
1. The emphasis on law and order, to a level seen by the East as unnatural. For this reason, hierarchy, discipline, big political alliances, and the appearance of large organizations characterized the West.
2. The domination of the legalism reached a point of accepting the divine vengeance and predestination, to the contrary of the East that understood God differently, seeing in Him the idea of general forgiveness, where even the devil was forgiven.
3. The idea of self-sufficiency, independence, and the deification of the word with the absence of the spirit. Some of its manifestation is the scholasticism.
How will those two worlds fraternize peacefully together? Will the western legal loftiness accept to dialogue with the humble language of the heart and beauty that exist in the East? Or is it going to deal with it through the principles of melting and containment? Will the Western grandeur in the world of globalization accept the humble tenderness of Eastern beauty? Will the Eastern pole remain free while confronting the march of the powerful Western Mentality? Is this condition one of the clauses of the coming cultural globalization in our New Millenium? On the other side, civilizations and cultures in all its colors are based upon each people's characteristics in free mediums, and the dialogue of civilizations is a civilization. The conditions of the dialogue however are equal opportunities and the respect of each civilization.
The third question about cultural globalization is, "What is the future of the material philosophy vis-à-vis the human and spiritual needs and values?" The focus of all values on profit and the rush upon material wealth is a material philosophy, which does not respect the spiritual dimensions of man and does not allow for good grounds for the growth of these dimensions. Cultural globalization is invaded by the consuming mind at the expense of Christian values of sacrifice, charity, and the respect of others. A quick glance at the advertisements and universal television programs shows that Christian values such as love, chastity, obedience to the Divine Word, spiritual meekness, etc. have been replaced by the tools of globalization with self interest, desires and luxuries.
Our age is characterized by the dominance of the consuming mind. The globalization in the coming millenium is the result of this thought. If we do not take the necessary precautions, it will become a tool to globalize the consuming mind that does not see in the other person except the opportunities for benefit and the ways of service. It is a philosophy of love that asks for its own! In the contrary to the words of St. Paul the Apostle in his eternal hymn, "Love seeks not his own" but the good of others (1 Cor 13:4)
Can a tide such as this one retreat? Is there a place for charity, benevolence, and respect of the neighbor in the encyclopedia of the cultural globalization? This is not the consumer language and not the economic language! How will the upcoming globalization be impacted by the meanings of love and sacrifice? There is only one meaning left in it, and one issue is being propagated through education and the media and the social struggle. It is the rush upon competitive gain, "the source of life is money!"
For example, in a recent high school graduation ceremony, the brightest students delivered speeches in which they spoke words full of eloquence. They called youth to discover the future and the use of science and discoveries. The most religious one considered these technological advancements as a divine spiritual gift. None of them however mentioned the school that they were graduating from, or their village that they were raised in, or their mother and father or brothers. Their eyes were looking far away at the new and unknown, at Science for the sake of science, and not in the service of man. There is no emphasis on human or political causes. The cause is the statue of "development." We wish this always meant becoming more civilized.
We ask quick questions, not to answer or to take certain positions, but to clarify the idea and the material and horrifying present. The spirituality of a certain civilization cannot live only by "scientific advancement." This is just a strong and necessary tool in the service of a certain civilized thought!
What is the role of the political parties today in the life of people? Is it like it was in the near past? What are the aspirations of the youth to improve the social or political situation in their countries? Are there in essence any problems for researching and envisioning? The important thing may be to abandon our "country" to live in the "world." Is there any intellectual issue that is occupying the mind of the youth? Is the situation of literature acceptable today? The scientific advancement does not build a civilization. Civilizations are in essence built by human behavior and by creativity and elegance. The improvement of social relationships is always the motive of advancement. One of the Christian authors who visited Russia at the beginnings of the Communist movement said: "You are not building a new civilization…" The issue was strictly economical and material!
In a materialistic civilization there are no social dimensions greater than "We want to be happy about our life." As for a humane civilization, there is this aspiration to "grow in our life." This may not occur through passing joys and gains, but on its opposites. What do we expect from a civilization whose hero is the computer. The best of what it has is a large number of amazing products, and at first sight, the most exciting of what it has is the newest product. Our materialistic civilization is deceitful since it is based on newest products that may subsist for a few days or weeks after which it becomes obsolete. The heroes of our civilization last only for a few hours.
The ideals and values that die out are silly and corrupt. The hero that is broken after a few moments in front of the newest builds with youth and all people a stressful civilization. We have been contemporaries of the world of information technology. How much charm did this computer have! It still has charm, but the fast technological improvements have made it obsolete. Today, the computer became beautiful and stressful. It is beautiful since it is always newer, and it is stressful because of this, that is because it always becomes out-of-date.
Similarly the materialistic civilization is fragile. Its miracle fades and does not last long. It charms at first sight then immediately leads people to despair. Our civilization is charming but is founded on the principle of consumerism. It consumes first its own principles. Its basis is profit and it does not produce any heroes or causes that attract the hearts.
Can the human principles be based on consumerism or on a material philosophy? Is there more important for man than his ideals in his life, being the cause for his dreams and his happiness?
When our materialistic civilization cancels out idealism and the examples of religions and literature in order to focus on the new matters, it moves the human and ethical focus from the eternal ideals that deal with great causes, to materials that are fragile and charming, unable to attract man for more than few weeks or less.
The unending passion of man cannot be based on things with limits. The eternal that is enflamed in the heart of man with great passion and aspirations cannot live with the dimensions of "consumer goods." Where is the symbol? Where are the principles? Where are the causes? Is there no cause other than profit? Is this the issue of life, the modern life? The ideals in our advertisements are not Christian ones in general because the motive is profit and not sacrifice!
The Holy Bible does not understand the question of evil, as does philosophy. Philosophy sees that evil is in the bad incident. The Bible sees evil as in the roots of a matter. This matter is the deviation of the ideals and principles: it is lying as contrary to saying truth. This vain spirit may have begun to control our civilization's concepts and its outcome at the end of the last century, the globalization. We hope and take as our responsibility not to allow this spirit to reign in the New Millenium.
Today globalization is in need of the spirit more than the machine. It needs to care for the big universal causes more than networks and economical organizations. We mean to focus and emphasize on the role of the Church and Theology. Globalization is a deaf trend and its tools are dry machines that await the blow of the divine spirit to create a "civilization." The most important question is, "Who are they?" And from where are we to receive the prophets of the New Millenium as trumpets of the divine word in the civilization of the machine? Where are these voices that we make man the lord of civilization and its goal, and not its servant in order not to impose a new cult: "The cause of the new machine."
The need today for theology and Christian thought is greater and stronger than before. Man who is the son of this universal civilization is in great and deep thirst for the "word" and the "living water."
It is inevitable that Economic globalization will bring with it a cultural globalization. Here lies our responsibility to make out of this universal culture a modern and human language through which the spirit conquers over matter.
The responsibility of the Church today is increased for the following two reasons. First, the evolving danger of globalization is using as tools the material philosophy, a more popular and widespread tool. Second, the human thirst has become greater and in need of the spirit more than ever.
Facing this challenge, we are in a situation leading either to the globalization of faith in the economic globalization or to the christianization of the world in a correct cultural globalization. Christian and ecclesial ideals are the most needed. There is a giant without a brain, which will find the Christian apostolic thought suitable to his body.
1. Conflict of Thought in Cultural Globalization
The modern globalization has destroyed a lot of old ways of knowledge. Even though it does not take into account the literature of the East, it can be easily infused with it. This is because globalization is based on the profit and free competitions and does not have any other policy. There is today a free scientific knowledge that cannot be bound by a name or race. So the door is opened much wider for the intellectuals of the Third World countries -that were isolated before- to enter and invade the developed and giant world.
Let's observe for example the exchange of professors and students between the industrialized nations and Third World countries. In the past, students from the Third World countries used to come to the industrialized nations and their universities to study, and later return to their motherland (since they are strangers generally unaccepted to stay) to teach what they learned. Globalization today has allowed those intellectuals to remain at their respective universities since there are no other conditions than competitiveness based on profit. It is important for universities to attract all intellectuals, whoever they might be. We notice today the presence of a large number of intellectuals coming from the Third World, living and taking key positions at the largest universities. These intellectuals start to study the issues of their Third World countries, which are some of the Eastern countries. Globalization opened the doors from this side. Creativity is universal and is not based on race or religion.. Globalization is a gateway open to both influencing and being influenced.
2. Globalization and the Future of Theology
What we pointed out before is that civilization in the movement of globalization is material and consuming, therefore barren of civilized thought or reasoning. This is if no new thoughts creep in before our thoughts do. In our opinion, the form of this material and consuming globalization puts theology in front of a great challenge in one hand, and in front of large and very useful opportunities on the other.
What is the challenge for theology in the current intellectual globalization, the consuming globalization? The answer must not be fake. It is often that Christian theology falls in the trap of theory and speculation. Since it uses the mind to talk about the ways of life, it is always in danger of becoming speculative in the language of specialists, thus remaining separate from practical life. Christian thought is not an intellectual approach or theoretical science about beauty or religion. As we mentioned before, Christian theology is a medicine, a practical science of life. The consuming civilization rejects and expels everything that is not useful. Theology would be considered fake if it is based on the need of what we call the vain "Byzantine polemics." If Theology is important in life, it is the best "matter" (metaphorically) demanded in the contemporary civilization. This challenge will impose on its fake parts and outer layers to fall away. Theology will appear only in its pure form. The culture of today's man, the son of this material civilization, is not empty of intellectual theories expressed here and there in the theological fields. The question however is not, "Does God exist?" The real question is, "Is God necessary?"
The issue is not for the past polemics but for discovering the essence of life and the future! Today, more than ever, there is a great call and need for theology, as true theology and words of life.
Theology is generally studied in three levels:
1. Personal level: so that we understand the importance of God's word to each and everyone's life.
2. Ecclesial level: so that we may enrich the Church and the spiritual life of the faithful
3. Academic and Scientific level: so that we may study texts and compare them with other religions and develop the studies and publications….
The main level, the one that is not being taken care of in the world of globalization is the field of pastoral care, or the pastoral level for the life of man. It is the theology that talks about God as a servant to the life of man, and that life cannot be without God, describing God to people, revealing Him as a necessity so that they may seek Him.
This God is the one who would control the globalization of the future, if we succeed to transport Him! Globalization today does not believe in political parties or religions. It allows for the folklore and habits to exist but not as being its own color and philosophy. The universal God is the servant and lover of mankind is the only God that can exist. The universe seeks Him because it needs Him. We remember here St. Paul the Apostle in Areopagus when he shouted at the philosophers saying, "I proclaim to you the God whom you worship without knowing" (Acts 17:24)! God is Love and more universal than a "party" or an "organization." He is the ideal Father much more than the computer could ever be. He is the only God that knows, as St. Paul said, "Neither slave nor free, neither Jew or Greek, and neither male or female" (Gal 3:28)! Christianity is the divine universal voice that could not be threatened by globalization or nationalities, arts, or local languages. Surely the world even if it left God to go to materialism, (because it did not know God as a loving father) will reach Him if its search succeeds.
On the other hand, the wide spread globalization and its many sources of knowledge that reached everywhere through modern communication technologies made theology be much easily and widely in contact with other sciences. Seeking theology today as a solution to the needs of mankind pushed theologians to make it more and more pastoral and not theoretical. In our opinion, this means that we need to transcribe the theory and necessary expressions to pastoral fields. This is the form that is sought today. Theology has the responsibility to meet other practical sciences. This responsibility is at the same time an opportunity. Theology can draw from these sciences and guide them to be for the life of the world, sciences such as the environment, and social work, psychology, and the like, even the political sciences as well.
The intermarriage between these sciences and theology opens new pastoral horizons. Conversely, this intermarriage is an inevitable responsibility and not an additional option, for these sciences without real theology are lacking. The tools and methods of globalization allow for theology to do so, and even push it towards this direction. There will not be any theology that is not pastoral, because there is no need for any other kind. The need is for a law of continuity in the civilization of materialism and globalization.
The strength of theology is in its courage to dialogue. Introversion, if it exists, is a sign that the theologian is very weak inside, and speaks of "what he has." For if he believed that he is uttering the "divine word" he would have realized that the word of God is a cutting sword, as the book of Revelation pictured it, and that its does not inhibit, according to St. Paul.
It cannot be for theology, which is the science of life to speak one language and one science. Theology is the trumpet of God in all languages and through all sciences. Theology is not for expounding the Gospel but for spreading it. The evangelical theology is not the volumes that explain the verses but the theology that makes out of the Gospel the philosophy of all sciences so that the latter may serve in its greatness the Good News of the Gospel, that is the life of man in his relationship with himself, the neighbor and God. This is the civilization that ought to inhabit our world.
3 — The Universal and Evangelical Globalization
1. Pax Romana — Pax Americana — Pax Christiana
A comparative and careful historical study can easily notice the similarity that exists between the globalization of the New Millenium and the one that happened in the time of the birth of Christ and the early Church. "It came to pass in those days all the world was to register" (Luke 2:1), all the known world of that time. Alexander the Great was able to unite the entire world and he brought Greeks and established family relationship with them and put them in the East and changed the names of the cities and established new cities. He tried to unite the world in a definitive and deep way, intellectually and linguistically, militarily and also economically. The Roman world, which stood upon the ruins of the Alexandrine World, was a similar globalization. This united "universe" and this one empire contributed positively to the spreading of the Good News of Christianity in the entire world. The Apostles traveled with no hindering boundaries and on roads that connected the world together. This one empire, the globalization of that time, was in the beginning the most suitable circumstance for the "fullness of time."
At the same time, the Church paid a high price in return for accepting the cultural globalization of the universal worldly empire. In order for it to become "the religion of the empire," Christianity gave a large number of martyrs. The Roman Empire of that time allowed for the existence of various religions, in the condition that everyone should also worship "Caesar" on top of everything! And when Christianity entered the daily life of the Empire, it had to testify that what is to Caesar is from "here" and that the worship is to "God."
Globalization or the empire of that time was on one hand the best cast for evangelism. When, however, Caesar made himself god over all this empire, he imposed on the work of evangelism a high price. The Roman Empire was not without god, and thus not without a religion imposed over all religions — a universal religion! Caesar was the god of all, even if everyone had their own smaller gods. This was the condition for peace and prosperity and collaboration, the condition of globalization at that time of the Pax Romana.
What is the condition for peace and collaboration in our age, the age of Pax Americana? Is there an acceptance of all languages, religions and gods, so that we may confess one day a "new Caesar" in order to live in peace? Since it unifies all potentials and makes easy all communications, globalization is a great human development. On the contrary, if it hides within it an intellectual and religious tyranny, it will establish in humanity a new Cesarean Empire, and we will be left with a new picture of the ones depicted for us in the Book of Revelation!
Therefore, spiritual culture that needs to form the thought of the coming globalization needs to have clear and real conditions. Otherwise, the globalization in the New Millenium becomes, in essence, an intellectual oppression and a New World Empire that will have a new enthroned Caesar.
Christianity is a universal thought, and that's why globalization is suitable for it. Christian thought however distinguishes between globalization and universality. Universality is a Gospel Command: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…" (Matthew 28:19). The universality that we hope will be implemented by the coming globalization. It ought to have the following Christian universal characteristics:
1. The importance of human person, whereas in the Holy Bible everything material is for the service of man, "The Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath." This image representing man's dominance over nature is shown clearly from in the first pages of the Holy Bible, at the beginning of the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis till the last page where it describes the new Jerusalem — the city coming down from heaven. There are clear signs that in the material civilization, in our new globalization, man is marginalized in the presence of selfish goals and interests.
2. The superiority of the spirit over matter: The Holy Book emphasizes always that man is measured by his spiritual capabilities and not by his material possessions. Who is more important, a doctor, an intellectual, a priest or a rich man, even if he is ignorant? Materialism always needs to be in the service of spirituality. This is clarified in the parable of the "foolish rich man," for the goods of the world are not the life of the world!
The rush to gain profit has led to two contradictory sides killing the spirit. The first side is the existence of a group of people who work beyond their potential to the point of exhaustion, seeking more gain and to win the market, and this at the expense of the life and the spirit. On the other side there is a group of people who are unemployed, being in an unfair competitive world that leaves them on the margin of life with no work, and this also kills the spirit.
The new culture and new thought of the New Millenium ought to look at work and employment opportunities and goals not from a point of view of profit. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and looses his own soul?" (Mark 8:36).
The aforementioned words do not imply that we are putting conditions on the intellectuals of the future! We cannot put conditions on the work of these intellectuals. By the aforementioned words, however, we would like to point out the great responsibility and the unique opportunity that demands from us to christen the world instead of to globalize the faith. We ought to offer to the coming empire a Caesar who is God, loving of mankind, and ruling over all. We ought to nourish it with the open and free heavenly thought, so that this thought may care for man in his spiritual dimensions and so that man does not become a matter of consumerism.
We are in great need of a "Pauline" ministry. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, entered the body of the Roman Imperial Beast carrying a universal message. He liberated Christianity from being a national-Jewish religion to being the religion of the Gentiles in the whole world. Paul is the voice of Christianity that called and is still calling for:
1. The globalization of love and Christian ethics.
2. The globalization of the newness of man according to the image and likeness of God until everyone reaches the fullness of the stature of Christ.
3. The globalization of the civilization which is seeking to reconcile with God and renew the Creation and trampling down corruption, pain, and death.
The globalization methods are open today for the Pauline message. A quick glance at the present will unfortunately show that our work is still very insufficient. The tools of the universal education are in general not in the hands of the educators but in the use of others. Upcoming globalization cannot stay without thought! Either wheat or tares are going to be planted.
Our responsibility is great to make out of globalization the world of God, that is His Kingdom. In this world, people live together in love and in a universal spirit that respects all uniqueness and builds warm relationships (family, village) on universal spheres. Our responsibility is definitive to give the "Lord" His place, being the Master of History, instead of allowing for a "Caesar" to steeling the throne.
1. Action or Reaction
What is the reaction of the peoples and religions in the face of this universal tide that is different and mighty? In general the reactions take different forms:
1. Fundamentalism, either in religion or in race, in order to preserve the self, facing the danger of the fusion. The excessive attachment to local tradition or personal religion to the levels of fundamentalism and sometimes aggressiveness. First, on an intellectual level and later on a military level.
2. Interaction and Fusion: This is the situation of the other side. Acceptance of everything new with no reference to anything local, considering all what is universal "globalization"-advanced and important to the point of transformation and complete change. Thus there is a difference in the speed of this journey.
3. Intermixing: Acceptance of some things by all. Preservation of the habits of people while allowing for new values and habits to come in through the intermixing of the two universal and local thought. So something of intermarriage and intermixing happens, giving birth to a new civilization.
4. Dealing with preservation, that is dealing with economic globalization and the universal situation while preserving all the intellectual distinctions. For example, we can learn the English Language and deal with it, while preserving our own local language.
What defines the future of all these "Re-actions" is the depth of the civilization that people have.
As for Theology, we believe that it ought not to form a reaction, but the action itself. Christianity does not want to preserve anything other than to reach everywhere. Many religions and nationalities by nature are very conservative. Christianity, by nature, is the salt of all the earth and its message is all-inclusive.
Thus we believe that as theological institutes and all of us as the Church, we ought to focus our attention on:
1. Making Theology and Christian thought pastoral so that it may answer all human needs, clearly responding to all the questions of life, having the knowledge of the "one" united world which in needs of this theology.
2. Using the same means used in economic globalization to spread a Christian, universal and intellectual spirit.
3. Preparing intellectual teams that are specialized theologically and technically.
4. Emphasizing the seriousness and depth of the work of evangelism, and the need to offer the "Father" and the "example" to the world who searches for this, revealing Christianity through living proof. This is the color of the "team" that is specialized in theology and that controls technology. After seeing such accomplishments, will give glory to their Father in the heavens.