Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Fr. Meletios Webber… relates the Steps to Orthodox Christian spirituality with clarity, conviction, and appealing personal engagement. -- Fr. Thomas Hopko, author and speaker
Steps of Transformation is very simple, easy to read, and right on target about...alcoholism. -- Floyd Frantz, CAC, St. Dimitrie Addictions Treatment Center, Romania
Addictions and struggles with passions are rampant in our culture. Fr. Meletios Webber, an Orthodox priest with a doctorate in counseling, helps us to understand addiction and explores ways to overcome it. He clearly and skillfully explains the Twelve Steps of the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. In correlating the Twelve Steps with basic Orthodox theology, Fr. Mel identifies the implications for Orthodox, and for all Christians. Using examples from the life of the Orthodox Church, he shows how the Steps can be valuable resource for our own spiritual journey. With an introduction by Bishop Kallistos War."
Are you saved? A familiar question if you come from evangelical background but what does it mean to an Orthodox Christian?
Text is written and read by Molly Sabourin a freelance writer focusing on issues of family, faith, and community. She is also an Orthodox Christian, a wife, and a frenzied mother of four.
Monday, June 29, 2009
In this video you can listen and watch Metropolitan Jonah's speech to ACNA. Metropolitan Jonah, is the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, using words of humility, love, repentance, and “with open arms” calls out to the members of the Anglican Church of North America at their recent convention.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
According to today's court decision this land is now owned by the Forestry Department (a Turkish authority). The monastery lost some 34 hectares of land (136 acres). The court decided that the Forestry Department, on behalf of the Turkish State Government, now owns the land and can do whatever it wants with it. Despite the fact that the protective wall that shields the monastery staff and its guests lies on that land. The great surprise for the most of the international representatives was that the Turkish state involved itself in such a "minor" matter that is vital for a religious community and affects a historic monument.
The case against the director of the monastery foundation, Mr Kuryakos Ergün, was held in another court room; he was charged with intentionally violating the law by building the protective wall that surrounds the grounds of the monastery. This case has been postponed to 30th September.
The Turkish State Treasury Authority lost its other case against the monastery. Twelve parcels of land both inside and outside the wall of the monastery, amounting to some 24 hectares of land (96 acres) remain in the possession of the monastery, though the board of the monastery believes this decision will be appealed.
The Monastery of St. Gabriel was founded in 397 A.D. and is a great and historically important Christian symbol in the middle of Turkey; it is for the Syriac-orthodox faith what St. Peter's in Rome is for the Catholics.
The Turkish state and three village leaders are trying to expropriate land that is legally are owned by the monastery.
International interest in the case is so great that the local court authorities had to refurnish the court rooms. As in the previous trials politicians, diplomats and NGO:s where present from the entire European Union. The local and national press of Turkey were also there in force.
Rudi Sümer, one of the monastery's lawyers, said "we will appeal to Ankara and if we wont win there we will go to the European Court."
Reported by Nuri Kino
For complete coverage of the St. Gabriel Monastery case.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Holy relics are a clear anticipation of the transfigured body after universal ressurection.The very fact that the bodies of the saints are kept in a state of incorruptibility is a foretaste, an anticipation of their future incorruptibility after resurrection and after their full theosis, deification. "But we all," writes St. Paul to the Corinthians, "with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Cor.3:18).
by Fr. Josiah Trenham
In this sermon, Fr. Josiah presents an intriguing idea: What happens if Christians experience Ascension, but do not experience Pentecost.
Introduction: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
The last ten days in the Church have been unusual. In some sense we have been living between two realities. On the leave-taking of Pascha we ceased the sustained celebration of the Holy Resurrection of the Lord as well as our saying, “Christ is risen. Truly He is risen.” The next day we celebrated the Glorious Ascension of our Savior into the heavens to sit at the right hand of the Father. For these days between Ascension and Pentecost we have been in a waiting mode. We, like the Apostles of old, have been heeding our Lord’s ascension instructions to “wait in Jerusalem to be clothed with power from on high” (St. Lk. 24:49). We have been waiting for the Holy Spirit to come.
Why were the Apostles waiting?
The obvious answer to this question is that they were waiting because the Lord Jesus commanded them to tarry until Pentecost. There is, however, much more to this waiting than that. We must understand very clearly the difference between the apostles before Pentecost and after Pentecost. Something dramatic happened to them that changed them personally. They were transformed. Fear turned into martyric boldness; fishermen became the world’s teachers; doubt was replaced by mountain-moving faith. All because of Pentecost.
The Necessity of Pentecost.
Some of us do not understand the necessity of Pentecost. Pentecost is many things, and we have spoken about these realities before. Pentecost is revelation of the Holy Trinity to the world. This is why this Feast is also called “Trinity Day” in the Church. The Apostles knew the Father. They had become the disciples of the Son. And now they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is also the birthday of the New Testament Church. It is the democratization of the Spirit of God to all believers. It is the unification of all mankind, and the definitive beginning to the reversal of the chaos of the Tower of Babel. All of these things we have previously discussed, but today I wish to point out that Holy Pentecost is the evidence that Christianity is not a man-made or earthly religion. It is not a set of ethical standards. It is not for moral guidance. Christianity is a miraculous and divine communion between God and man. Christianity is the spiritualization or divination of man.
If Christianity were simply a man-made religion, even if it were the best and most beautiful man-made religion, there would be no need for the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem these days awaiting Pentecost. Why would they need to? They had for years lived in close contact with Christ, and had been His most intimate students. They could have simply begun to write and teach and pass on what they had learned. They had been fully trained, and so it is time to start training. This is how it is with every other of the world’s religions. Not so with Christianity. Christianity is not about ideas, moral guidance, ethical norms, social structures, etc.. Christianity, of course, is not free from these things, but this is not what Holy Orthodoxy is about. Holy Orthodoxy is about the coming of the Holy Spirit into man. It is about human transformation and deification, not ideas. There is no Christianity without Pentecost. Orthodoxy without the Holy Spirit is not Orthodoxy.
Many Christians tragically live between Ascension and Pentecost.
With that said is it not tragic how often we live with our Orthodoxy as a set of ideas. We think we are Orthodox because we believe certain things in our heads and were born or converted to a certain family or at a certain time. If the Apostles had remained in the state they were in between Ascension and Pentecost they would never have brought the Gospel to the world. They would never have become the great saints they did. They would never have crushed the demons like they did. They did all of these things because they were living in union with the Holy Spirit of God.
Sometimes we Orthodox evidence little proof that we are living post-Pentecost. Our faith is weak. We are bound by sins. We have little Christian joy. We read or listen to the Acts of the Apostles and think that the Apostles were living a different way of life. We pick up and read a book on the life of a particular saint and the saint’s mode of being appears to us to be foreign and almost unintelligible. Why? Because we are not living in the Holy Spirit. We are more like the fearful and doubting disciples prior to Pentecost. Others around us seem to be radiant. They endure trials with joy. They don’t worry. Why? Because they are in a dynamic relationship with the Holy Spirit. They are sincerely praying the Prayer to the Holy Spirit, “O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art in all places and filleth all things, the Treasury of Good Things and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls O Good One.” The Holy Spirit is in these ones abiding in them, cleanses them, and saving them!
Christianity without Pentecost is Empty Form!
If our Orthodox life is not permeated with the presence of the Holy Spirit it is all in vain! Consider first that the Holy Sacraments or Mysteries of the Church are all dependent completely upon the Holy Spirit. Baptism saves us because we are not born of the water alone, but of water and the Spirit (St. Jn. 3:3-5). Chrismation itself is an individual’s personal Pentecost. The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ordination is the special bequeathal of the Holy Spirit to men, and the substance of the priesthood is that priests bear the Holy Spirit in the community. This is why our Lord gathered the twelve together and breathed upon them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever’s sins you remit are remitted. Whoever’s sins you retain are retained” (St. John 20:23). Marriage is simply temporal and earthly if it is not consecrated by the Holy Spirit and bound together in His love. Holy Unction without the Holy Spirit is simply a complex skin treatment! It is the Holy Spirit in the sacred oil healing our souls and bodies! Confession is insincere and pointless unless it is a Spirit-inspired compunction and a Spirit-empowered absolution. And think of the Mystery of Mysteries and the Sacrament of Sacraments: the Holy Eucharist. The existence of the Holy Eucharist is completely dependent upon the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit Whom the priest calls down upon the Holy Table in the epiklesis: “changing them by Thy Holy Spirit.”
This liturgical reality is beautifully evidenced in many different saints’ lives, especially those saints who were bishops or priests responsible for the celebration of the eucharist. The story is told of St. Basil the Great that he had hanging over his altar a beautiful oil lamp made in the form of a golden dove. Always at the time of the transformation of the gifts the dove would begin to swing. A similar story is told about our Holy Father John of San Francisco and Shanghai. St. John would see the Holy Spirit descend as fire into the holy chalice at the epiklesis as he served liturgy. On one occasion the liturgy was delayed because St. John would not go on since he saw no fire. Wondering why he turned to his deacon and saw his face was covered over in a black cloud. Asking the deacon what was wrong the deacon confessed that he had not prepared for the liturgy properly. Once the deacon divested and left the altar the fire came and liturgy could continue.
All of the Holy Mysteries are empty forms without the Holy Spirit, and this may be said about all matters of our faith and practice. Fasting is simply dieting if it is not an attempt to acquire the Holy Spirit. It is not a coincidence that our Lord went into the desert to fast for forty days “led by the Holy Spirit” (St. Lk. 4:1). Sin is not overcome except by the Holy Spirit. He is One Who enables us to “mortify the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). We could go on and on. There is no prayer without the Holy Spirit praying in us. There is no church without the Holy Spirit. There is no Church Temple without the Holy Spirit. This is why when we erect a true church temple the bishop chrismates the altar and the temple itself. The Temple has its own Pentecost for it truly becomes not simply a functional gathering place, but the House of God and Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives there. If He does not then the Temple become a Temple of Satan (Rev. 2:9).
Our Goal is to Acquire the Holy Spirit.
In the light of truth we see then that St. Seraphim was correct when he was asked by someone, “What is the purpose of this life?”, and he answered, “The acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (St.Lk. 11:11-13). All of our Christian effort and spiritual struggle is guided toward this one thing: obtaining an increase of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to become spiritual. This is the goal of Christianity: the union of man with God by the Holy Spirit. Let us not betray the true nature of our religion by living as though Orthodoxy was about ideas, morals, etc. Nonsense. Christianity is about becoming one with the True God: by grace becoming what He is. Now some of you may be thinking, “But how do we experience Pentecost? What do I do if I feel stuck between Ascension and Pentecost?” An answer to these questions will be given in next Sunday’s homily.
Now to God the Father, and to the Ascended Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit poured forth today be all glory.Amen.
Fr. Josiah Trenham is the pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, CA.
Catholicos of India celebrates Holy Qurbono at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Paramus
On Saturday, June 20th at 9AM His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, celebrated Holy Qurbono at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Paramus, NJ. During the celebration, he ordained Mr. Markos Akash Paul to the rank of Reader (Qorouyo). His Beatitude was assisted by His Eminence Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim and several priests and deacons. The celebration was attended by the family of the new deacon and over a hundred parishioners from both the Malyaly and the Syriac communities. At the end of the celebration, all were invited to lunch offered by the family in the social hall of the Church.
We wish the new deacon every success in his new ministry. It may be for the Glory of God.
Monday, June 22, 2009
A modern-day story of orthodox “lunacy” in the Indian reservations of Canada.
Saturday night. Very few lights were on. In the Russian Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Vespers have just started. The shadowy silhouettes of the few faithful who were attending the service became more defined, as the candles were lit, one by one, in the candle stand. The iconostasis of the altar was very imposing; it was something that was carved by experienced craftsmen at the beginning of the century…….
It was my second time at Vespers, years ago… The words of the prayer “mirthful light” in Slavonic gave one a sense of inner peace and relaxation. Everything seemed to be in prayer at that moment; for the day that passed and the day that was to come. After the madness of the day, this refuge of thankfulness actually calmed the wild beasts of the mind….
In the dim, half-light I could discern a few of the profiles there: an old Russian lady with her grandchild, a tall, skinny, middle-aged man, a young girl around fifteen, a young family with their two children… and suddenly, my attention was caught by a figure near the large window. Directly below it, I made out a silhouette that was completely different to all the others. It was a fifty-year old Indian with vivid, characteristic features, and his long hair tied back in a ponytail that reached his waist. My gaze stopped upon him… What a strange figure in here… I imagined he was just a visitor.
At the end of the service, I couldn’t fight the urge. I approached him, eager to meet him.
-Yannis, I said to him in English. Welcome..
- Vladimir, he replied.
- I’m Greek. And you? I asked him.
- So am I, he replied.
I was stunned…. That was the last thing I expected to hear!
- Do you speak Greek? I asked.
He paused to think for a moment, then quoted in Greek:
- «In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God, and God was the Logos».
Just as he finished saying this phrase, he burst into laughter. I was lost for words…
- I am Indian, he said sharply. But somehow, I also feel Russian and Greek and Serbian and Romanian, because…. I’m Orthodox…..
A glimmer appeared in his eye, as it did in my heart…
This was how Vladimir and I met. His real name was Frank Natawe, before becoming orthodox and being baptized as Vladimir. I so craved to hear his life story – both out of curiosity as well as genuine interest..
Much later, we became friends. We shared many conversations and walks together, especially in his Indian village. He showed me paths and manners totally unknown to us white folks. And always simply and unpretentiously. With no trace of arrogance. When I was with him, I always had a strong sensation of tuition, and whenever I admitted this to him, he always said that all beautiful things are mutual….
That first period has become unforgettable, when I was swept away by my youthful enthusiasm and kept asking him difficult questions. He would always calmly reply:
- I don’t know – will you tell me?
Once, when I was fed up with hearing “I don’t know”, I begged him to tell me something, so, he showed some pity and said:
- Well, if you insist, I will tell you, after I ask my friend first.
He sprang up and then lay down on the ground, placing his ear to the earth.
- What are you doing? I asked.
- I am asking the earth, he said, and before I could recover from my surprise, he added somewhat hesitantly:
- Like Aliosha Karamazov.
I never again insisted on replies. I guess that with him, I was just living the surprise of a sudden lightning bolt that gives birth to gentle rain that nourishes the earth…
It has been some time now, that Vladimir has left us. His passing away – along with his will and testament – overwhelmed me. Now that the feeling of his presence – instead of fading into oblivion – appears before me every now and then, I thought I should record on paper all of his incidents, images, memories, words and expressions, in order to sketch a portrait of his presence amongst us… hopefully so that my ear will also perceive… the tumultuous silence of the mother earth of Vladimir – Karamazov to me…
He was born in the Indian reservation of Caughnawaga, just outside Montreal, where he lived all his life, to the day he died. His village numbers 5.000 Indians today. It was built by the government, next to the river, and houses the greater part of the Indians of that area. The Indians, as the only true indigenous people of America, along with the Eskimos, enjoy special privileges and treatment, due to the fact that they had ceded vast areas of their “mother earth” -as they call it- to their white brothers.
These privileges – such as not needing a passport yet enjoying state welfare – are sometimes interpreted as an intentional attempt by whites to keep the Indians uneducated – something that is observed extensively. The percentage of alcoholism is very high. The struggle for survival –as a group- is their daily concern, along with the preservation of their traditions, which they are very proud of. They are governed in a unique way, which however may have much to teach “civilized” politics and social structures.
The supreme authority is the Confederation of all the Indian tribes. There is a respect towards all of the Indian tribes. There is a respect towards the chiefs and the elders, and the elderly women of each tribe, from generation to generation. Their love and respect for each other is the foundation of the Confederation.
In the village Caughnawaga there are basically three Indian tribes. The majority however are Mohawk. The village has existed since about 1600 and comprises the main center of the Mohawk tribe. The last generations are mostly involved with steel construction and building.
«Our village», Vladimir told me, «along with other Indian reservations was turned basically into a Roman Catholic protectorate in the 18th century. The Catholic missionaries had actually tried in every way to forcefully convert our entire community. Not with love, but with a noose around the neck. They trampled on centuries-old traditions and they used other ones as springboards for their own designs. Myself, to the age of 32, had kept to the trodden path. As my mother used to say – who was an elderly tribal leader of our tribe – “By day a roman catholic for the eyes of the world and by night an Indian, for the eyes of the soul.” But at that age of 32, I couldn’t tolerate that kind of restriction, that noose that I was wearing, so I revolted in my own way… I researched our roots, I learnt all of our native tongues, I studied at white men’s universities – which, for an Indian of my generation, was a very unusual thing. For years, they had me as a traveling lecturer of comparative linguistics. Quite often, I would dishonestly play the clown at their academic games, since to them I was a rare, exotic species of bird, with a different kind of plumage. I used to compare our words with their French or English equivalents; our habits with theirs. There were times that I felt as though they were observing me like archaeologists observe fossils. To me however, those meetings alone – those cultural meetings – regardless of the response, contained joy and grief together. My revolution was still thundering, because it was muted, like the tread of a rabbit… My mother – the pillar of our community – was to me a source of wisdom and immense pain. She was my…. Indian Zosimas….”
(He took a deep breath and continued …..)
«My path to the Orthodox Church was a “secret path”, as we say in our tongue. There came a time, that I became caught in her net, and ever since then, I have been treading very discreetly, carrying a very heavy crucifix. It happened to me through linguistics. It was always the subject that impressed me most. By taking linguistics courses, I became impressed when I happened to read the lives of saints Cyril and Methodius, who are known as the Apostles of the Slavs. I was especially intrigued by the Cyrillic alphabet and the pursuant Slavonic tongue. I asked my professor if there was any chance I could listen to Slavonc being spoken. He suggested that I should visit one of the Russian churches. I rang one of them, but I heard only the answering machine. I rang the next day, and a friendly voice informed me that Vespers were held at 7in the evening, and that Sunday Service was held at 10 in the morning. I asked if I could attend. He replied of course I could. I told him I wasn’t Russian, or Orthodox. He responded that the Orthodox Liturgy was not only for the Russians or only for the Orthodox, but for all people. So, I mustered some courage and went on a Saturday evening to listen to spoken Slavonic and to meet the priest, who had spoken so pleasantly. He was a priest-monk from Mavrovouni of Serbia. His name was father Anthony… He too has passed away now…. Well, anyway, the first Saturday that I attended Orthodox Vespers in the cathedral of saints Peter and Paul, I experienced something unprecedented. Looking at the icons, listening to the melodies, observing the penance bows and the prostrations, the fragrance of the incense wafting in the atmosphere, were all reminiscent of my having discovered the “secret path”…”
«You won’t believe it, but, every now and then, I can discern parallels between the Indian traditions and Orthodox tradition. Somewhere inside me, this discovery fulfilled my Indian ethos and supplemented it. At first, I felt I was floating among the clouds. During my first liturgy, I asked if I could stay on, after the benedictions for the catechumens… They said: you may. So I sat down, like an Indian dog! Ever since then, I began to go more frequently. At first, on Sundays only, then on Saturdays, and later on, during weekdays, whenever there were important feasts. It wasn’t much later, that I noticed confession was taking place in the evening, after Vespers. It was the period of Lent. At the end, they all asked for forgiveness from the priest. He placed his stole over their head and blessed them with the sign of the cross. I stood in line, but they said:
-You can’t, you’re not Orthodox. This is a holy Sacrament.
- But our entire life is a sacrament, I said.
I pondered again, and asked them:
- So, how can I become Orthodox?
- Talk it over with the priest, they suggested.
Not much time had passed by, when I decided I wanted to become Orthodox. On the day that it was to take place, there was a snowstorm that didn’t allow me to leave the village. It was postponed, for the feast of the Induction of the Theotokos. And that’s how it finally happened…. I was given the name Vladimir.
Much later, when reminiscing over my induction into the Orthodox Church, I drew out of my memories the imposing figure of a Serb priest, who had visited our village when I was young. His appearance and his manner had left a deep impression inside me. I remember my mother having commented that:
-Now there’s someone who isn’t making propaganda with his truth…”.
Quite some time had passed, when I decided to visit him again. This time, I went with two of my friends and a little car, equipped with tape recorders and microphones, and we departed one sunny morning for his village, Caughnawaga. He had suggested that we meet at the Indians’ radio station since he had been the radio commentator for several years, and had promised us walks and conversations in their territory.
We did find him at the radio station in the village, with headphones over his ears, reading the morning prayer in each and every Indian tongue. Then in French and English. Naturally his audience did not…detect him making the orthodox sign of the cross.
We waited respectfully until he had finished…. He removed the headphones and approached us… He was more talkative than usual, and somewhat cheerier.
- What would you like me to tell you? He asked warm-heartedly. And what could you ever want to learn from me?
- Tell us whatever you want, Gregory replied. Say, for instance, something about your people, your celebrations, your mission….
- You’re going too fast, he interrupted. One thing at a time.
- Well, my people…
It took him some time to formulate his reply. He was seated in an armchair, but found it was not comfortable for him… he abandoned it and sat down on the porch with us… he preferred to be on the same level with us…
«My people are simple, just like their food. The chief of the tribe is a man, but he is elected by the council of woman-elders of the tribe. All of our group rituals take place in the “long house”. This has two doors. The men enter through the eastern door and the women from the western one. It is a simple edifice, just like most of our rituals are. In our marriages, an integral part of the ritual is the blessing of the elders. During our funerals, for both men and women, when they are carried into the long house they enter through their separate doors, but the head of the deceased always faces the east. After nine days, we prepare the funeral meal, but without salt…”
He suddenly jumped up, because the record he had selected to be played over the radio had stuck. He put on another record, made an announcement, and came back to us…
«What were we talking about? Ah, yes! The rituals. I will show you the long house, before it gets too dark… Now, about our celebrations. The entire year is a celebration (he burst out laughing). We have the mid-winter festival (four days long); we have the snow festival, the first bloom festival, the first crop – which is the berry; the festival of plenteous harvest (thanksgiving), the threshing festival (4 days), the festival of surplus, of rain and of sowing, and the cycle starts all over again.. Something like an ecclesiastic calendar of our holy earth…”
He took another deep breath and continued:
«We don’t say much, nor do we eat much; We don’t get angry often, we love what was given to us and we continuously give thanks for the bounteous gifts…»
- Do you happen to have any tobacco? He asked me.
- No, I said.
- You know, we chew our tobacco – in other words, we eat it. We don’t smoke it. When you smoke it, it turns into air, whereas if you eat it, it becomes one with you, and you bless the earth that gave it to you… Now, what else did you ask me? Ah, yes! About my mission…..
«What can I say? My people got tired of the missionaries. They have been coming here for years, mostly to take rather than to give.. They never showed any interest in what we have. They just brought on the steamroller, they flattened everything, and then they embarked on their…. evangelical sowing.
But that Serb was different. He actually gave something, with his presence…he took nothing from us, except a piece of our heart. That was what I loved, when I later read about saint Herman of Alaska and the Orthodox missionaries amongst the Eskimos… it is impossible for the mind not to make comparisons…as hard as it may try…
I still remember that Jesuit, who told me to my face that he was instructed to teach spirituality. When he left our home, my mother shook her head in disapproval, saying: “we, my child are a spiritual people, while he, even if his Christ came to him, he would sit him down to preach at Him…”.
- Are there any other orthodox amongst the Indians? Gregory asked again.
- I have met an Orthodox Eskimo in Plattsburg and one more – a very tall Mis Mac. There may be others, who I’m not aware of. But in the Indian hospital we do have a couple of Serb doctors, the Moscovitches. Real gems of people; they have a special love for our world, and they offer all their assistance.”
Lesley looked him directly in the eyes.
- Tell us if you want about that story with the Indian masks*. It was in all the newspapers and they all mentioned your name. What happened exactly ?
Vladimir sat down, cross-legged, and after taking a few minutes to think, replied:
«To us, those masks are sacred. We always keep them in the dark, and we protect them with silk material. They represent the…holy personage that we are in search of. We find it in silence, in darkness, where we also find the light of our soul. Our soul is never displayed in exhibitions, or in artificial lighting… Those who organized the exhibition have lost every sense of what is sacred, and that is why they strive to “gently” remove it from our souls also…. We love the earth, because it knows how to keep silent and be fruitful. We have learnt to humbly love it and to honor it.. It is something like Orthodoxy’s Holy Mother….since you like parallels. But, I have said too much… Let’s get up now, and I will show you my village…”
We got into the little car, and I sat in the driver’s seat. Vladimir was the co-driver. He began to show us all the landmarks:
«Here in the center of the village you can see the catholic church. It is dedicated to saint Kateri Tekekwitha, an Indian woman whom the priest proclaimed a saint. We keep her bones in this church, which perform miracles. This is a pilgrimage for the laity. Her life is as beautiful as a fairytale… To me, she was a fool in Christ… She was a grace-filled fool.. She would roll over in the snow, to purify her heart… My fellow villagers –who became Catholics- are not particularly fond of catholic propaganda, but they do show reverence to their saint; it was their pressure on the Vatican that brought on her beatification… Next to the church, there is a small museum. In there, you will find a map of the confederation, that describes in detail all of the Indian tribes, the symbols, the numbers, the places they originated from, their historical course, their languages…. Everything has become a part of the….. museum… Now turn right, here…. This is our Cultural Center. Above it, is the radio station where we met…. That is where I broadcast from… Now, during the Triodion, and afterwards, during Lent, I play a lot of western spiritual music and little by little, I include some Orthodox innuendos, but only just enough as to not be provocative. Indian spiritual music is not permitted over the radio. It is only for the “long house”. The cultural center is financially supported by the white government. The powers outside, of the “civilized” world, want to help us, but only on paper; in actual fact, they want to drown us, to humiliate us, to exhaust us – not so much us, as our souls and whatever we carry. They want to turn us into masks for museums, clowns at parties, research for archaeologists… They haven’t taken a whiff of, nor do they suspect what kind of….tobacco we prefer.”
He burst into laughter. I nearly lost control of the steering wheel…I continued to drive on, following his instructions – left- right – straight ahead etc….Until, at a bend in the road, we saw a modern but very unusually shaped structure..
«This is our school, Grade School and High School. It has a good program, I like it. It is truly Indian. Apart from the classic subjects of “white” education, we have many other lessons that are most probably unfamiliar to the whites. We don’t call them “customs” or “culture”, but “Indian ways”, “Indian paths” (the sounds of the earth), Indian dances, Indian songs and cries (like an ancient drama), Indian law, and other things. The grounds surrounding the school are sacred. We also have a “dark room”, but not for photographs… it is for the making of the….mask inside us”
- Now go straight ahead, eastward. Continue, until you find the highway. Two-three kilometers from there…
«This here is our Hospital. It is a new building and is a new idea for us. A beneficial one, I hope. It was built in 1985. Before that, we had our own medicine men, or we resorted to the white man’s hospitals. But.. they were difficult.. Most of their staff was unaccustomed to our way; it was difficult for them to look after our old folk. They have to be in our shoes, in order to understand… Many try. Besides, you can tell apart those who truly love and who can be discerned from the usual professionals….”
Vladimir Natawe was the chief of his tribe; he was their spiritual leader. It was he who recited at their funerals and their weddings – he was something like a priest for them. In the evening, he would sit cross-legged in the “long house”, listening to his people’s problems and solving them with the advice he offered. He had a judge’s role, which was one of their most powerful traditions. He was a poet and a translator, and also a philosopher. He knew their problems better than anyone else; he also knew the strict laws that governed their tribes. Those who denied their ancestral principles and became Christians were allowed to remain in the village, but were not given any office. They would have to leave the council of the wise, the elders; they would “lose their destiny” as they described it … in their own special kind of way, they would be disowned. All of this may not be of much significance for an ordinary Indian, but for a chief……
No-one in the village ever found out –until the day he died- that their chief was an Orthodox Christian. And Vladimir –who was Frank to them- lived and worked with them, for them, with the ever-present fear that they might find out. He had to be perpetually moderate, careful, flexible, otherwise his image would have been smashed inside them. He was in charge of the radio station for years, and he also worked at their cultural Center. He was considered an authority on subjects of tradition, and was unimaginably touched, whenever he found “parallels” –as he called them- in Orthodox tradition. He shared many of his experiences with us, because he couldn’t share them with his own people. What a heavy crucifix to bear….
Whenever I would see him coming out of the inner sanctum of the little orthodox church of the Sign of the Theotokos –which held services in English and French- dressed as an altar-boy and holding the candle in front of priests and bishops, I couldn’t help wondering what kind of heart that old Indian wolf had inside him, who persistently said “God knows”. And he would forever be prostrating himself on the ground, so that God would give him enlightenment to govern his people through tempests and ordeals, and to give him the strength to hold up the heavy load that was given to him, right to the end.
The years passed. Every friend that visited us in Montreal had to make the imperative trip to the Indian village and to meet Vladimir. And many of them told me that they had recorded their own experiences there.
One morning, I received a phone call in Montreal, telling me that Vladimir had passed away in his village. The question that arose in my mind was: who was going to bury him, what was to become of him? He had however left a specific, written instruction for all the rituals to be done in the Indian tradition in the “long house” and for an Orthodox priest to read benedictions over him. Naturally, the Indians had no idea what he meant by “an Orthodox priest”, but he had left a few telephone numbers too.
They did actually phone, and an Orthodox priest went and recited the funeral service before they carried Vladimir into the long house.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to attend the ritual in the long house, but a mutual friend who attended the funeral conveyed the details to me.
Two days after the funeral, that same friend, Michael, brought me the news, together with a package. He told me that he had attended the entire ritual. It was truly impressive. When they go to the long house, the Indians put on the outfits that befit their rank in the village. The ritual –which was of course in their own languages- had a particular form, much like the old, Byzantine type. At the end, the tribal chief’s testament was read out aloud, before all the tribe. In his will and testament, he mentioned where he left each of his belongings. Vladimir was 75 years old at the most. He had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He left something to every single member of his family. At one point, the Indian who was reading the will found some difficulty in reading a name – a non-Indian name- and, after grimacing a bit, he put on his glasses and pronounced the name, in a distorted kind of way: “Ya-nis Ha-ji-ni-ko-la-ou”. My friend Michael raised his hand and they gave him the package, which he in turn gave to me.
When I opened the package, I saw what was inside: it was a book, “The Divine Liturgy”, in Greek and in English, which I had given to him many years ago. Inside, on the first page, it said: “To Yanni”, and below that, in Greek: “Until we meet again – Vladimir Natawe”. I took this to be a very kind gesture on his behalf; he had in fact inserted those words before his final departure; perhaps because he had sensed that his death was near. He had written the words “Until we meet again” in Greek. Of course, the surprise did not end there; there was more to come. When I leafed through the book, I was astounded, my mouth gaping… He had translated the entire text of the liturgy into the Mohawk tongue, above the lines of the English text! Of course I can’t read Mohawk, but I am holding on to the book as a memento – this orthodox liturgy by Vladimir in Indian – the entire Liturgy of Saint John the Chrysostom… If God bestows me the honor, I may publish it one day…
Contemporary stories like this one may sound like a fairytale, because our life seems equally fleeting. And yet, these stories are filled with a never-setting light; they are modern-day testimonies of that blessed “lunacy” – that yeast, which leavens all of the dough, from the tiny church atop an Aegean islet, to the distant Indian reservations of Canada.
Until we meet again, Vladimir….Karamazov….
[Reproduced from the magazine “Synaxis” and the article by John (Yanni) Hadjinikolaou, titled “The passing of an Indian”]
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Church growth has become a buzzword in the Protestant and Evangelical
Christian world. Being ³evangelical² has tended to become a numbers game,
and a virtual cottage industry has emerged to figure out how to grow
churches. Books, seminars, research companies, seminary classes and church
growth ³experts² have developed strategies and marketing plans to reach
demographic sub-groups like ³seekers² and ³post-moderns.²
Churches often change or modify their approaches to accommodate these
demographic groups and their perceived ³needs.² I recently received an
attractive, glossy postcard from a local community church, for example,
promising Sunday services would be ³fun for the whole family!² It is now
quite common to see, as another example of this trend towards ³user
friendliness,² ³coffee bars and kiosks² inside churches, serving free latte
and crumb cake! The philosophy seems to be, ³If you want to hear the sermon,
fine! If not, come and have cake!² Church services often include elaborate,
high-tech musical presentations to connect with the MTV generation. You hear
of skits and short performances being offered &lsqauo; instead of sermons (let
alone liturgy or communion!) &lsqauo; in the attempt to create ³seeker friendly²
church environments. In the frenzy to grow the numbers, many churches are
even leaving their traditional denominations, dropping (even) the words
³Christian² and ³Church² from their names, for cooler ones like ³The Rock²
or ³The Flow.²
Obviously, these contemporary marketing strategies are not the approach the
Holy Orthodox Church should take to draw people to the ³one, holy, catholic
and apostolic church.² Becoming an Orthodox Christian is a serious
commitment to live in community with the faithful according to the apostolic
tradition, which is not subject to change in order to accommodate the needs
of our fallen culture. Choosing to become Orthodox is not a decision that
should be encouraged to be made lightly. Our tradition, our liturgy, our
rubrics, our theology, our faith must be understood and internalized. It
takes time and effort to adopt the ³mind of the Church.² As our Bishop
JOSEPH has reminded us time and again, ³Our goal must be on quality, not
But is Christ¹s call to ³Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you²
(Matthew 28:18-20), a command only to the Protestants? Are we Orthodox
Christians not especially called to present to our culture ³the faith which
was once for all delivered to the saints² (Jude 1:3)? I think the answer is
clearly yes. As our visionary Metropolitan PHILIP wrote in The WORD in 1985,
³North America is searching for the New Testament Church. North America is
searching for the Church which was born on Pentecost Day. North America is
ready and waiting for us, but are we ready for North America?²
Has progress been made since those words were written in 1985? Well, with
over 100 new Antiochian parishes formed since 1987 (with more being added
annually), tens of thousands of new Orthodox faithful, truckloads of books
and magazines published, 24/7 Orthodox Internet radio now being streamed,
our God-protected Archdiocese is certainly doing its part (or more)! Those
of us who have been catechized and received will be eternally grateful to
our beloved Metropolitan and the faithful of our Archdiocese for opening its
doors to us. I also take my hat off to the Department of Missions and
Evangelism for being a significant catalyst in bringing the Metropolitan¹s
³vision² to North America. But we can¹t rely on the Missions and Evangelism
Department alone to grow the Orthodox Church. Growth must occur by adding
from the outside (as they are doing), and by growing from the inside &lsqauo; by
local church growth.
My parish, Saint Barnabas Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa, California, as an
example, received twenty-eight adults and children into the Holy Orthodox
Church on Lazarus Saturday (2007). Last year, the parish received eighteen
catechumens. Saint Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California received
over twenty five newly-illumined in 2006 and continues to grow numerically.
There are other parishes like them across the country.
parishes like these? While there isn¹t a ³text book² for Orthodox ³church
growth² (nor should there be!), I submit there are some common factors that
exist in ³growth-oriented² parishes within our Archdiocese, factors that
make the ³soil² right for new growth. The following are some but certainly
not all of them.
Be interested in outreach & growth
Everything begins with an attitude, an interest, a desire, with prayer. If
your parish is satisfied with the status quo, that is probably what you will
get. If nothing else, pray for God¹s direction for your parish. Ask God to
show you how to be open to inquirers and converts. It¹s not about programs,
advertising or special events. It¹s about inviting people to church and
knowing what to do with them when they come! It¹s about keeping them once
they have visited.
It helps to be located near Evangelical colleges, universities or seminaries
Many of the new wave of converts coming into our parishes are from
Evangelical colleges and seminaries. I recently spoke with one graduate from
a local Evangelical college (of which we have several) and asked him what
drew him to the Eastern Orthodox faith. He said he studied the early church
fathers &lsqauo; east and west &lsqauo; and early church history in college and discovered
a different church and faith from what he had known in Evangelicalism. He
said he wanted to be part of that faith himself.
Be a welcoming community
Consider having ³greeters² at the door. Make sure visitors and inquirers
know they are welcome! Let them know they do not have to ³do² anything (kiss
icons; venerate the cross; stand during services) if they don¹t feel
comfortable. Encourage them to ask questions after services about anything
they don¹t understand. Consider having several friendly and outgoing
parishioners assigned to meet and talk to visitors if you don¹t have
greeters. I hate to say this, but I have been in too many Orthodox parishes
where &lsqauo; after Liturgy &lsqauo; no one has come forward to greet me, ask me where
I¹m from, or smile at me. Coffee klatches of parishioners and family often
form and ³newbies² stand on the sidelines, like awkward teenagers at a high
school dance. If a newcomer is standing around awkwardly, go up and
introduce yourself and bring him or her to your table. It¹s especially
important for youth to greet and welcome other youth. Invite him or her to
³hang² with your friends and talk. Encourage the entire parish to ³be on the
lookout² for newcomers and to welcome them sincerely. The key word is
sincerely. People can see a fake a mile away! At our parish we have had
several people say, ³Without so and so taking me by the hand when I first
came, I would never have come back.²
Have service texts available
Newcomers don¹t know our services. Perhaps they even have questions about
what we believe and what our faith is. They need to know what we are
praying, what we are chanting. Newcomers &lsqauo; especially from Protestant
traditions where the written text is so emphasized &lsqauo; like to follow the
services with service books; it makes them feel ³connected² and ³safe.² Keep
these books in a visible place when they enter, or hand one to someone who
looks confused by what is going on. If you do not have printed, upto- date
service books, consider making them or ordering them.
Understand the challenges converts face
I can¹t overemphasize the transition required of people visiting us, or
journeying towards us from other Christian faith traditions. You may find
what I am about to say surprising, but many of our catechumens are actively
discouraged by their Christian friends and family members from becoming
Eastern Orthodox. Misunderstanding, sectarianism and outright heresy come
into play when some inquirers express an interest in the Orthodox faith.
These inquirers need to have people in our parishes who can work through the
issues and explain to them why, for example, we venerate the Theotokos (and
what we mean when we ask her to ³save us²!), why we kiss the hand of the
priest, why we ask for the intercessions of the Saints. We can¹t rely on our
over-worked priests and deacons exclusively to address all these questions
when they come up. Ask newcomers, ³Do you have any questions about what we
do!² Or you can say, ³So you made it through your first Liturgy? Are your
feet tired (from standing)? Have any questions?² Recommend good Orthodox
books to read. Have pamphlets (Conciliar Press) available for newcomers that
address these common problems.
Are you comfortable if newcomers don¹t look like you, are of a different
race or ethnicity from you, don¹t dress like you, or make the same income as
you? Can your parish welcome the homeless, the poor, the needy, the
prisoner? We don¹t know who God is sending our way; our job is to figure out
how to welcome them, to love them, and to form them. Several years ago, Fr.
David Ogan of the national Orthodox Prison Ministry referred a
newly-released prisoner &lsqauo; who had begun Orthodox catechism in prison &lsqauo; to
our local parish. The man was released on a Wednesday afternoon and his
first stop (bless his heart!) was to our parish that night for Vespers. Our
priest met with him, warmly welcomed him, and assigned two men from our
parish to be his ³mentors.² It worked like a charm! Now that man is a
wonderful and viable part of our parish community. Over the past two to
three years we have had an influx of precious ³sub-culture² youth come to
our parish. Trust me, they don¹t look like the average Orthodox! We had to
get comfortable with tattoos (on the guys and girls!), piercings, Mohawk
haircuts, purple and bright green hair color (on the guys and girls!). But
these kids were searching for something; thank God they found it in the Holy
Orthodox Faith. Now several of them have started a vibrant ministry and
publication called ³Death to the World² which is impacting ³sub-culture²
youth all over the world. Several others have become frequent visitors to
monasteries in the area and are considering the monastic life. On the other
hand, and sadly, several new ³sub-culture² youth recently came to us, after
being told by a more ³traditional² parish (not in our Archdiocese, thank
God) they would be ³better off² going somewhere else. Lord Have Mercy!
Commit to catechize
Whether it¹s one or twenty newcomers, they need to be catechized. We have
inquirers¹ classes and catechumen classes throughout the year. Our priests
teach these classes and cover theology, history, the Creed, the sacraments,
and spiritual formation. Questions are encouraged and answered on any and
all subjects. Our catechism classes &lsqauo; when we were a small parish &lsqauo; were in
the apartment of one of our priests. Now we have them in a parish meeting
room. We also have several Bible study groups led by Orthodox laity. We are
also very fortunate in our Archdiocese to have many well-known and
knowledgeable people who are willing to speak to our catechumens. Recently,
for example, one of our catechumens sent Frederica Mathews-Green, a
well-known author, an e-mail about something she was dealing with. She was
surprised, but very grateful, when she received a quick and lengthy response
from Kh. Frederica!
Don¹t use a ³cookie cutter²
By that I mean, don¹t expect everyone to come along the same way on their
journey, in the same amount of time, or express their piety in a prescribed
way. Yes, we have customs, traditions and rubrics that (eventually) need to
be followed. But, for example, must every woman in your parish wear a head
covering? Must every newcomer do a metania when we pray, Lord Have Mercy?
Must every newcomer say his prayers from the long Russian prayer book? Must
all male newcomers grow long beards? I think you get the picture I¹m trying
to draw here. There¹s a difference between big ³T² tradition, and small ³t²
tradition. We need to know the difference and emphasize those traditions
which are necessary for their salvation. Obviously, it is the job of the
priest to determine this.
Be real. Be Orthodox.
Let¹s face it. There are plenty of easier places to be a ³Christian² than in
the Eastern Orthodox Church, if you struggle to live this faith. Most people
who visit and come back aren¹t looking for ³easy.² Many have already had
that and are looking for something deeper and more meaningful. They are
looking for ³real.² They want to meet real people, whose lives have been
transformed by the Orthodox Faith. Recently a very bright, educated, young
former Lutheran began attending our parish. He had read deeply in patristics
and asked me to have coffee with him. I expected a discussion about church
history or doctrine. But his basic questions weren¹t historical or
doctrinal. They were practical. He asked me, ³How has becoming an Orthodox
Christian changed you from the inside?² Don¹t be afraid to share your
conversion story if you are a convert, or what the faith means to you if you
were born into the Holy Orthodox Church. Welcoming ³converts² isn¹t only a
job for ³converts.² Newcomers have as much or more to learn from mature
Orthodox who have lived the faith longer than those of us who are ³eleventh
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Our Church believes that the Holy Spirit is God. He is the third Person of the Holy Trinity. He is equal to the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Son. This belief of our Church is based on both the Holy Scriptures and on Holy Tradition.
In the Old Testament it is mentioned that the Prophet Isaiah talked with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah, 6:1-10). This is confirmed when St. Paul says, "Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the Prophet to our Fathers" (Acts, 28:25). A similar passage is found in the Prophet Jeremiah. And again we have the witness of St. Paul, who confirms that "the Holy Spirit" speaks (Hebrews, 10:15-17). There are many more similar passages in the Old Testament that bear witness that the Holy Spirit is God.
In the New Testament many passages bear witness. When Christ was resurrected, He said to His Disciples, "Go you and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Mark, 16:15). Here the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father and to the Son. There is no doubt that He is God. Saint Peter categorically calls the Holy Spirit, "God" (Acts, 5:4). And St. Paul characteristically says, "Now the Lord is that Spirit" (II Corinthians, 3:17). In very many other places in the New Testament the Divinity of the Holy Spirit is revealed. It is not necessary, however, to mention them all here.
In opposing the heresy of Macedonios against the Holy Spirit, the Second Ecumenical Council, which took place at Constantinople in the year 381 A.D., produced the eighth article of the Creed, which states, ". . . and [I believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, and is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son, Who spoke through the Prophets." This is a teaching that is absolutely based on the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Pay attention to these words: "worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son." Who is worshipped and glorified? God. God alone. And so, since the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son, He is also True God.
Many opposed this Orthodox belief. In the Fourth Century, it was Macedonios and his followers. They said that the Holy Spirit is not uncreated God, as is the Father and the Son. They said that He is a creation, and therefore no different from all other created beings; no created being is God, and so the Holy Spirit cannot be God. This arbitrary opinion cannot be supported by Holy Scripture or Holy Tradition.
In our times there are others who are worse than the followers of Macedonios. The Jehovah's Witnesses deny the existence of the Holy Spirit. The worst is that they call themselves students of the Holy Scriptures. Even a brief glimpse at the Holy Scriptures would show them not only the existence of the Holy Spirit but also His Divinity.
With the use of the word spirit, The Holy Scriptures frequently refer to the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Son. Why? As Theodoritos the Compiler says, "To show us that the divine nature of the Three Persons is one and the same, spiritual and immaterial, unembodied and indescribable." And he adds, "Nevertheless, the Spirit is Holy, and only the Third Person is called the Holy Spirit."
There is much to be said in interpreting the many passages of the Holy Scriptures that refer to the Holy Spirit. However, it is not our intention to interpret all of these passages here. But we do find it necessary to look at a particular passage that is often misunderstood. St. Mark writes, "All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewithsoever they shall blaspheme. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit has never forgiveness but is in danger of eternal damnation" (Mark, 3:28-29). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin. The problem is that this passage seems to forgive blasphemy against the Son but not against the Holy Spirit. The passage can be very easily misunderstood to mean that the Holy Spirit is superior to the Son. The correct interpretation, as it is given to us by the Church Fathers, is this: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the denial by man out of hatred of God's power to save him. Even more simply, the man who does not believe that the grace of God--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--can save him, closes his heart to the actions of the Holy Spirit; he does not accept Grace. He does not proceed to repentance. He fights against the sanctifying and saving act of God. He creates within himself a sorrowful and incurable condition."Heavenly King and Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere and fill all things, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain and save, O Good One, our souls." Relieve every man of sorrowful incurable non-repentance and the denial of Your sanctifying and saving action. Make us aware of our shortcomings and sins. Grant us faith in the Trinitarian God, sincere repentance, a returning to You. Grant us the salvation of our Souls and that of all the world.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
All Orthodox Christians today believe that the Son, that is to say, Jesus Christ, is God. With a profound comprehension of soul, they repeat the words of the Creed, "I believe . . . . and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in essence with the Father, from Whom all things were made."
Orthodox Christians believe quite correctly. Their belief is supported by Holy Scripture. John the Evangelist tells us, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." In this way he calls the Son and the Word of God, God. He further informs us that the Son and Word of God existed from the Beginning, that is, before Creation, before Time. He always existed, together with the Father. He was and is inseparable from God the Father. And He is Perfectly God. St. Paul complements this by saying, "Great is the mystery of godliness--God appeared in the flesh." How? By the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, Jesus Christ. Elsewhere, St. Paul calls Christ Lord and God, Great God, Blessed God. But first St. Thomas, after Christ's Resurrection, had called Christ, "My Lord and my God."
In other places in Holy Scripture, the same Divine attributes are ascribed to Christ that are also ascribed to the Father. He is called The One Who Existed Before All Time, the All-mighty, the All-Knowing, Equal to the Father, Creator of the World.
From what we have said, from the Creed and Holy Scriptures, it becomes very clear that the Son is Perfect God as is the Father. Christ Himself teaches that "All must honour and worship the Son as they do the Father. He who does not revere the Son, does not revere the Father." In other words, he who denies the divinity of the Son, denies the divinity of the Father and, therefore, is an unbeliever.
What we have said above is the Orthodox faith. However, there are heretics. Sadly, the heretics who deny the divinity of Christ insist that they are supported in their heresy by Holy Scripture. They are the Arians of the period of the First Ecumenical Council, the Jehovah Witnesses of today, and certain Protestants.
Let us see how and why they are mistaken. In the Gospel of St. John, at the Lord's Supper, Christ says, "My Father is greater than I." What does this mean? According to the heretics it means that since Christ regards the Father as greater than Himself, He therefore is not equal to the Father and truly God. But these words of Christ refer to His human nature and not to His divine nature. As a man, Christ cannot really be equal to the Father. He is Perfect Man, but no man, no matter how perfect he may be, can be God. What we should keep in mind is that while the Son became man and took "the form of a servant," He did not cease to be God, to remain always "in the bosom of the Father." Never did He cease to be Perfect God. The real meaning of the above words of Christ, "My Father is greater than I," is that He is greater than I because you see Me now as a human being in the form of a servant; however, I remain God "in the bosom of the Father," but I will return to the Father also as human. At that time, My human nature will be granted unlimited glory.
Another passage of the New Testament that is misinterpreted by the heretics to support their deceptions is the discussion that Christ had with the wealthy young man. The young man called Him "Good Teacher," and Christ replied, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except One, that is God." Heretics ask how could the Son, Jesus Christ, be God since when the wealthy young man's question was directed to Him, He Himself accepted by His answer that He was not good, but that only God was good? Here we find again the same misinterpretation. Why? Most simply, because Christ knows that the young man sees Him as strictly human and nothing more. It is as if He were saying to the young man: "Yes, you want to seem to be clever, but at least have some respect for yourself. You know that the Perfect Good is God, and therefore you do not believe in what you are saying." Here once more Christ regards Himself as human in comparison with God, because that is how the young man perceives Him, as human only. The interpretation given by St. John Chrysostom of this passage is quite interesting, and so we will present it here. St. John Chrysostom writes, "Attend more to the Lord's answer." He did not say "No one is good except One, the Father," but rather, "No one is good except One, God." He said this so that we might understand that He is God and the Son of God, equal to and as good as God the Father." Consequently, the Lord as God is unlimited Good, All-good, as is the Father and the Holy Spirit.Lord Jesus Christ, You were and are True God, God always "in the bosom of the Father" before all ages. You accepted and received the form of a servant. You became man for our salvation and You humbled Yourself all the way to the Cross and death without ever ceasing to be the Perfect God. With all of the ways in which You endured and suffered for us, show Your compassion still and Your unlimited Love and Mercy for mankind, Your Creation. Do not forsake us who believe in You and bear Your witness. Lead us near to You. Elevate us spiritually daily. Forgive those who deny You and blaspheme You. Enlighten them to recognize You. To live and to feel the warmth of Your Love and everlasting happiness. Condemn no one. Save Your people, O Lord.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
We all know that God is called Father. It will serve us well to look at a few of the passages from the Holy Scriptures where God is called Father.
In the Old Testament the psalmist says, "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him." In another place he says again, "Father of orphans and judge of widows."
In the New Testament St. Paul says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." When His Disciples asked Christ Himself to teach them how to pray, He taught them "Our Father Who art in Heaven . . . ," and in this way He calls God Father. Again we find in the Gospel of St. John, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have ever-lasting life."
Although there exist many other passages in the Holy Scriptures that call God the Father, those that we have referred to are sufficient to convince every well-intentioned listener.
However, at this point we must clarify something. God is called Father in two senses: the moral and the doctrinal sense. God is the Father of all of us in a moral sense and meaning. This is how He is presented in the Lord's Prayer, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in many other places in the Old and in the New Testaments. He is a Father with infinite love for His creatures. A Father Who sends the sun and the rain and all His other gifts to all people. A Father Who always receives with open arms all sinners; those who have taken the wrong path; even criminals, as long as they repent. He is our Father, our Creator, and our Protector. He accepts us when we repent and reinstates us in our former glory. He is our Father because He intends us to be heirs of His Own Kingdom. For all of these reasons, He is our Father. But all of us, and the angels, too, are children of God "by grace."
This does not apply to Christ. He is not the Son of God "by grace;" He is the Son of God "by nature." He is the Son of God by His nature and substance before all ages. In many instances when Christ speaks about God as Father, He makes this same distinction. In order to understand this beyond any doubt, we have only to remember what He said to Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection: "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father, but go to my brethren and say unto them, `I ascend unto my Father and your Father and to my God and to your God.'" He did not say, I am ascending to our Father; He made the distinction. In order to avoid the error of thinking that this distinction is not important, let us point out that it was because Jesus called God His Father in a distinct and separate sense that the Pharisees sought to condemn Him. John the Evangelist says it clearly. He says that they sought to kill Him because He called God His own Father and made Himself equal to God. The Pharisees understood correctly what He was saying, but they did not want to believe it. They forgot and did not want to hear about the voice of God that was heard at Epiphany and at the Transfiguration, when, in a sense entirely distinguishing Him from others, God called Jesus Christ "His beloved Son in Whom He was well pleased."
Unfortunately, there are people today who speak very irresponsibly, having personal benefit for themselves as their standard and aim. At least they think so; actually they are working for the benefit of Satan. They are people--yes, they are Protestant Christians--who assert that they can call God Mother. This has grown out of the feminist movement, and it has no bearing upon theology or religion. We cannot find God called "Mother" anywhere in Holy Scripture or in the writings of the Holy Fathers. Those who persist in this are deceived by Satan, and they are deceiving themselves and others. They would do well to study Holy Scripture and examine their deception. By remaining deceived, they act diabolically and their reward will be eternal damnation.Our Heavenly Father, You know that we are Your children by Grace. We do not claim to be Your children by our nature. Only our Saviour, Christ, is Your Son by nature. We fervently beseech You: accept us as the Prodigal, as the Thief, as the Tax- Collector. As Peter, who denied You. Open the eyes of our mind and soul to acknowledge You as our Father by Grace and the Father of Christ by nature. Give us Your Grace abundantly, not only to acknowledge You as our Father by Grace, but also to act as Your true children and as brothers among ourselves. You have destined us to be heirs of Your Kingdom; help us to inherit it. We wish it. We seek it. We desire it. If our path is not straight, it is because Satan deceives us. Our evil self is drawn toward sin, but, Father, we do not want this to happen. We want Salvation. Save us, through Jesus Christ, our Deliverer and Saviour.
When I was young, it was always my dream to go overseas and serve the poor and needy. It seems that we are always inundated with images of the need overseas and a call of action to remedy it. It is great to be informed of the need overseas and have a desire to help. However, it is easy to get the idea that serving has to be an exotic adventure to a foreign land.
I was blessed to have been able to spend a total of 12 months in Ukraine and a couple of weeks in Romania. A few months ago, I felt like I wanted to do even more overseas traveling. However, certain circumstances prevented me from going overseas again.
Through my disappointment, God introduced me to FOCUS North America and the need in America. It was almost like a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I had always been vaguely aware of the need around me but never really took any initiative to participate in alleviating it. Now, I know that by volunteering with FOCUS North America and Reconciliation Services,one of its partner ministries, I can make a difference in some way in the lives of people in America.
I have also become more aware of the different levels of serving. Right now, my main work is office work like entering donors in the data base, research, and the average office tasks. However, this is still a form of serving. By helping Fr. Justin with the basic office tasks, I am freeing his time up to do the more important tasks of getting this ministry off the ground. When I can, I am also helping out with Reconciliation Services and their work of actively helping the poor and the needy. My volunteer office work is also helping the poor and needy because FOCUS North America can put the money that may have paid someone to do office work directly towards helping people.
In service work, all work is important. We must never get discouraged because we can't do “great things”. Any work, whether it is volunteering to sweep floors or taking out the trash, is a vital service. God looks at the heart and anything and everything that is done through love as unto Him is real service.
However, “love” is the key word when it comes to service. Service without love is nothing. The old adage, “Charity begins at home” is most definitely true. People need to learn how to first serve their family and the people with whom they interact on a daily basis first. If we can't show love and humility towards these people, how are we going to show love and humility to the “least of these”?
I encourage you to look around you and find a way to serve someone today even if that someone is a co-worker who gets on your nerves. After that, go deeper and find out whom you can serve in your community. And, yes, one person doing one small thing does makes a difference in this world and in the spiritual realm as well.
Monday, June 15, 2009
As we previously observed, it is difficult for us to understand the Holy Trinity completely. However, it is necessary to say certain things about the Holy Trinity and about the special attributes of the three Persons.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the Holy Trinity is always united. Christ in His high priestly prayer prayed for the unity of the world and gave us an example and a model: He said, "That they may be one, even as We are One" (John, 17:22). What does We mean? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
And what does this mean? Is it possible that the three Persons are really the same Person and that Person presents Himself, appropriately to the situation, as the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit? No. The Holy Trinity is one in essence and inseparable, one undivided Being. It is of one substance. The three Persons are undivided, but distinct. We must not confuse Them or separate Them. They co-inhere in one another; that is to say, One fits inside the Other. The Father fits in and is always inside the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son fits in and is always inside the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fits in and is always inside the Father and the Son. Can the human mind grasp this? No. That is why we previously said that there are things "beyond logic," above our own logic. However, just because it is beyond logic and above our own mental capacities does not mean that what has been revealed to us by God is not true. It is precisely as God has revealed it to us, because He alone knows Himself. This is seen more clearly in the words of Christ, when He said, "He that has seen Me has seen the Father. . . . I am in the Father and the Father in Me" (John, 14:9-10).
Although this is the way things are, there are nevertheless certain individual qualities of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father is unborn. The Son is born of the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Father is the beginning, but the Son is co-existent and the Holy Spirit, also. In other words, the Father did not exist before the Son and the Holy Spirit, nor is the Father superior to the other two Persons of the Holy Trinity. The three Persons are equal. This is all very difficult to comprehend with human rationality. St. John of Damascus manages to explain matters. He says that because the Son is born of the Father does not mean that He is separate, as the light is not separated from the fire. The fire gives birth to light simultaneously. That is why we cannot say that the fire existed before the light. The Son is born of the Father but simultaneously and eternally and is never separate. The same is true of the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father but simultaneously and eternally and never separated.
Let us pay attention also to this. When we say that the substance of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity is the same, we do not mean that this substance is divided. It is not cut up into three pieces, for each Person to take one piece. No. The Father is infinite, and He has all of the infinite divine substance. And the Son is infinite and has all of the infinite divine substance. And the Holy Spirit is infinite and has all of the infinite divine substance. We cannot say that the substance of the Father exists up to a certain point and that it ends there; and that from there begins the substance of the Son; and that from where the substance of the Son ends, there begins the substance of the Holy Spirit. No. That would all be heresy. Wherever the substance of the Father exists [i.e., everywhere] there exists the substance of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Wherever the Father exists [everywhere], there exists the Son and the Holy Spirit, and vice-versa. Wherever the Son exists [everywhere], the Father and the Holy Spirit exist. Wherever the Holy Spirit exists [everywhere], there exist the Father and the Son.
Such are the particular characteristics of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father is without beginning and is the beginning. The Son is co-existent with the Father, as we have previously explained, but is born of the Father simultaneously and eternally. The Holy Spirit is co-existent with the Father, but proceeds from the Father simultaneously and eternally.
Here we have to add that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, not "and from the Son" as the Roman Catholics and the Protestants say. Christ has told us this: "The Spirit of Truth that proceeds from the Father" (John, 15-26). And so the Second Ecumenical Council decreed, "[I believe in] the Holy Spirit . . . Who proceeds from the Father." The Third Ecumenical Council decreed that no one can add or delete anything from the Creed. Pope Leo III had the Creed engraved on silver plates without the addition "and from the son," and at the bottom he added, "Let him be anathematized who adds even a small jot to this Creed." However, the Roman Catholics and Protestants added "and from the Son" to the Creed, contrary to the teaching of Christ and the decision of the Second Ecumenical Council and the anathema of Pope Leo III. But they will return to the Orthodox faith.Father without beginning, Son co-existent, born of the Father, Holy Spirit co-existent and proceeding from the Father, Trinity of One Essence, Undivided, United, Inseparable, and Distinct, hear our prayer and the groaning of our souls. Keep us in our Orthodox faith. Have those who have adulterated our faith recover and return. Make them accept the complete teaching of the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Have them follow the infallible decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. Make all people become one flock under One Shepherd, Christ. Have us be one as You are, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One True God.
A rich man named Theognostus, was serving as a bodyguard in Constantinople under the Emperor Leo the Great (886-912). Among his slaves there was Andrew, a Slav by birth. He was a calm and kindhearted young man. Theognostus liked him and took care of his education. Andrew frequented the church of God, studied the Scriptures diligently and liked to read the lives of Saints. Gradually the desire to devote himself totally to God grew stronger in him and following a sign from above he took upon himself a very difficult and unusual ascetic feat of fool-for-Christ, that is he started acting as if he was insane.
Acting insane, Andrew was brought to the Saint Anastasia church to be taken care of. Saint martyr Anastasia appeared to him in a dream and encouraged him to continue his ascetic feat. So Andrew was faking madness to the extent that he was regarded hopelessly insane and they drove him away from the territory of the church. After that Saint Andrew lived in the streets of the capital going around hungry and half-naked. Most people shunned him, some would mock and beat him up. Even the beggars to whom he gave his last coins would despise him. But Saint Andrew endured all his sufferings humbly and was praying for those who hurt him.
Yet, it was not always that Andrew pretended to be insane; talking to his spiritual father or to his disciple - a wealthy young man Epiphanus - Saint Andrew would remove the mask of folly, and then his holy wisdom and extraordinary spiritual beauty would be revealed. For the life of deepest humbleness and spiritual purity, God endowed Saint Andrew with the gifts of discernment and prophecy. Epiphanus learned a lot from his saint fool-for-Christ teacher who also predicted that with time Epiphanus would become an Archbishop and a famous preacher. The prophecy came true.
Once Saint Andrew, like the Supreme Apostle Paul, was taken to the third Sky and heard the unspoken words there that cannot be heard by people (1Cor. 2:9). There he had the honor of seeing Lord Jesus Christ himself, angels and many Holy Saints, yet he was surprised not to see the Most Holy Virgin. He asked where She was and they told him that She went down to the world of many sufferings to help people and to console those in sorrow.
Some time later Saint Andrew was also blessed with the vision of Most Holy Theotokos in the Vlahern church of Constantinople. This significant event of Her appearance is commemorated during the feast of the Protection of Holy Theotokos. When Saint Andrew and Epiphanus were praying in church, all of a sudden the dome of the church seemed to be opened and Saint Andrew saw the Holy Virgin surrounded by many angels and Saints. She was praying and extending Her homophor over those in prayer. "Do you see the Sovereign Lady of all?" - Andrew asked his disciple as if he could not believe his eyes. "I do, holy father and I am awed" - said Epiphanus.
Andrew, the fool-for-Christ, went into rest at the age of 66 in the year 936. His life was described by the presbyter of Saint Sofia church, who was a spiritual father to Saint Andrew and his disciple Epiphanus.
by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery
ON THE FIRST SUNDAY of the Great Fast our Church celebrates the triumph of
Orthodoxy, the victory of true Christian teaching over all perversions and
distortions thereof&lsqauo;heresies and false teachings. On the second Sunday of
the Great Fast it is as though this triumph of Orthodoxy is repeated and
deepened in connection with the celebration of the memory of one of the
greatest pillars of Orthodoxy, the hierarch Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of
Thessalonica, who by his grace-bearing eloquence and the example of his
highly ascetic private life put to shame the teachers of falsehood who dared
reject the very essence of.Orthodoxy, the podvig of prayer and fasting,
which enlightens the human mind with the light of grace and makes it a
communicant of the divine glory.
Alas! How few people there are in our times, even among the educated, and at
times even among contemporary "theologians" and those in the ranks of the
clergy, who understand correctly what Orthodoxy is and wherein its essence
lies. They approach this question in an utterly external, formal manner and
resolve it too primitively, even naively, overlooking its depths completely
and not at all seeing the fullness of its spiritual contents.
The superficial opinion of the majority notwithstanding, Orthodoxy is not
merely another of the many "Christian confessions" now in existence, or as
it is expressed here in America "denominations." Orthodoxy is the true,
undistorted, unperverted by any human sophistry or invention, genuine
teaching of Christ in all its purity and fullness&lsqauo;the teaching of faith and
piety which is life according to the Faith.
Orthodoxy is not only the sum total of dogmas accepted as true in a purely
formal manner. It is not only theory, but practice; it is not only right
Faith, but a life which agrees in everything with this Faith. The true
Orthodox Christian is not only he who thinks in an Orthodox manner, but who
feels according to Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy, who strives to embody the
true Orthodox teaching of Christ in his life.
"The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life"&lsqauo;thus the Lord Jesus
Christ spoke to His disciples of His divine teaching (Jn. 6: 63).
Consequently, the teaching of Christ is not only abstract theory merely, cut
off from life, but spirit and life. Therefore, only he who thinks Orthodoxy,
feels Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy can be considered Orthodox in actuality.
At the same time one must realize and remember that Orthodoxy is not only
and always that which is officially called "Orthodox," for in our false and
evil times the appearance everywhere of pseudo-Orthodoxy which raises its
head and is established in the world is an extremely grievous but,
regrettably, an already unquestionable fact. This false Orthodoxy strives
fiercely to substitute itself for true Orthodoxy, as in his time Antichrist
will strive to supplant and replace Christ with himself.
Orthodoxy is not merely some type of purely earthly organization which is
headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the
Church which officially is called "Orthodox." Orthodoxy is the mystical
"Body of Christ," the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and
Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but
all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through
Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and
those who have died in the Faith and in piety.
The Orthodox Church is not any kind of "monopoly" or "business" of the
clergy as think the ignorant and those alien to the spirit of the Church. It
is not the patrimony of this or that hierarch or priest. It is the
close-knit spiritual union of all who truly believe in Christ, who strive in
a holy manner to keep the commandments of Christ with the sole aim of
inheriting that eternal blessedness which Christ the Savior has prepared for
us, and if they sin out of weakness, they sincerely repent and strive "to
bring forth fruits worthy of repentance" (St. Luke 3:8).
The Church, it is true, may not be removed completely from the world, for
people enter her who are still living on the earth, and therefore the
"earthly" element in her composition and external organization is
unavoidable; yet the less of this "earthly" element there is, the better it
will be for her eternal goals. In any case this "earthly" element should not
obscure or suppress the purely spiritual element&lsqauo;the matter of salvation of
the soul unto eternal life&lsqauo;for the sake of which the Church was both founded
The first and fundamental criterion, which we may use as a guide to
distinguish the True Church of Christ from the false Churches (of which
there are now so many!), is the fact that it has preserved the Truth intact,
undistorted by human sophistries, for according to the Word of God, "the
Church is the pillar and ground of truth" (I Tim. 3: 15), and therefore in
her there can be no falsehood. Any which in its name officially proclaims or
confirms any falsehood is already not the Church. Not only the higher
servants of the Church, but the ranks of believing laymen must shun every
falsehood, remembering the admonition of the Apostle: ''Wherefore, putting
away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25), or "Lie
not to one another" (Col. 3:9). Christians must always remember that
according to the words of Christ the Savior, lying is from the devil, who
"is a liar, and the father of lies" (St. John 8:44). And so, where there is
falsehood there is not the True Orthodox Church of Christ! There is instead
a false church which the holy visionary vividly and clearly depicted in his
Apocalypse as "a great whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the
kings of the earth have committed fornication" (Rev. 17:1-2).
Even in the Old Testament from the prophets of God we see that
unfaithfulness to the True God frequently was represented by the image of
adultery (see, for example, Ezek. 16:8-58, or 23:2-49). And it is terrifying
for us not only to speak, but even to think that in our insane days we would
have to observe not a few attempts to turn the very Church of Christ into a
"brothel,"&lsqauo;and this not only in the above figurative sense, but also in the
literal sense of this word, when it is so easy to justify oneself,
fornication and every impurity are not even considered sins! We saw an
example of this in the so-called "Living Churchmen" and "renovationists" in
our unfortunate homeland after the Revolution, and now in the person of all
the contemporary "modernists" who strive to lighten the easy yoke of Christ
(St. Matt. 11:30) for themselves and betray the entire ascetic structure of
our Holy Church, legalizing every transgression and moral impurity. To speak
here about Orthodoxy, of course, is in no way proper despite the fact that
the dogmas of the Faith remain untouched and unharmed!
True Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is alien to every dead formalism. In it
there is no blind adherence to the "letter of the law," for it is "spirit
and life." Where, from an external and purely formal point of view,
everything seems quite correct and strictly legal, this does not mean that
it is so in reality. In Orthodoxy there can be no place for Jesuitical
casuistry; the favorite dictum of worldly jurists cannot be applied: "One
may not trample upon the law&lsqauo;one must go around it."
Orthodoxy is the one and only Truth, the pure Truth, without any admixture
or the least shadow of falsehood, lie, evil or fraud.
The most essential thing in Orthodoxy is the podvig of prayer and fasting
which the Church particularly extols during the second week of the Great
Fast as the double-edged "wondrous sword" by which we strike the enemies of
our salvation&lsqauo;the dark demonic power. It is through this podvig that our
soul is illumined with grace-bearing divine light, as teaches St. Gregory
Palamas, who is triumphantly honored by the Holy Church on the second Sunday
of the Great Fast. Glorifying his sacred memory, the Church calls this
wondrous hierarch "the preacher of grace," "the beacon of the Light," "the
preacher of the divine light," "an immovable pillar for the Church."
Christ the Savior Himself stressed the great significance of the podvig of
prayer and fasting when His disciples found themselves unable to cast out
demons from an unfortunate boy who was possessed. He told them clearly,"This
kind (of demon) goeth not out save by prayer and fasting" (St. Matt. 17:21).
Interpreting this passage in the gospel narrative, our great patristic
theologian-ascetic, the hierarch Theophan the Recluse asks, "May we think
that where there is no prayer and fasting, there is a demon already?" And he
replies, "We may. Demons, when entering into a person do not always betray
their entry, but hide themselves, secretly teaching their hosts every evil
and to turn aside every good. That person may be convinced that he is doing
everything himself, while he is only carrying out the will of his enemy.
Only take up prayer and fasting and the enemy will immediately leave and
will wait elsewhere for an opportunity to return; and he really will return
if prayer and fasting are soon abandoned" (Thoughts for Each Day of the
Year, pp. 245-246).
From this a direct conclusion may be reached: where fasting and prayer are
disregarded, neglected or completely set aside, there is no trace of
Orthodoxy&lsqauo;there is the domain of demons who treat man as their own pathetic
Behold, therefore, where all contemporary "modernism" leads, which demands
"reform" in our Orthodox Church! All these liberal free thinkers and their
lackies, who strive to belittle the significance of prayer and fasting,
however much they shout and proclaim their alleged faithfulness to the
dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church, cannot be considered really
Orthodox, and have shown themselves to be apostates from Orthodoxy.
We will always remember that by itself totally formal Orthodoxy has no goal
if it does not have "spirit and life"&lsqauo;and the "spirit and life" of Orthodoxy
are first and foremost in the podvig of prayer and fasting; moreover, the
genuine fasting of which the Church teaches is understood in this instance
to be abstinence in every aspect, and not merely declining to taste
Without podvig there is altogether no true Christianity, that is to say,
Orthodoxy. See what Christ, the First Ascetic, Himself clearly says;
"Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross,
and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). The true Christian, the Orthodox Christian, is
only he who strives to emulate Christ in the bearing of the cross and is
prepared to crucify himself in the Name of Christ. The holy Apostles clearly
taught this. Thus the Apostle Peter writes: "If when you do well and suffer
for it, ye take it patiently, this is accepted with God. For even here unto
were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,
that we should follow his steps" (I Pet. 2:2-21). In precisely the same way
the holy Apostle Paul says repeatedly in his epistles that all true
Christians must be ascetics, and the ascetic labor of the Christian consists
of crucifying himself for the sake of Christ: "They that are Christians have
crucified the flesh together with the passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). A
favorite expression of St. Paul is that we must be crucified with Christ
that we might rise with Him. He puts forth this thought in a variety of his
sayings in many of his epistles.
You see, therefore, that one who loves only to spend time enjoying himself
and does not think of self-denial and self-sacrifice, but continually
wallows in every possible fleshly pleasure and delight is completely
un-Orthodox, un-Christian. Concerning this the great ascetic of Christian
antiquity, the Venerable Isaac the Syrian, taught well: "The way of God is a
daily cross. No one ascends to heaven living cooly (i.e. comfortably,
carefree, pleased with himself, without struggle). And of the cool path, we
know where it ends" (Works, p. 158). This is that "wide and broad way"
which, in the words of the Lord Himself, "leadeth to destruction" (Matt.
This then is what is Orthodoxy, or True Christianity!
From Orthodox Life, vol. 26, no. 3 (May-June, 1976), pp. 1-5.
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