Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dialogue between a Geron (Elder) and an atheist

One morning, the holy Elder (”Geron”) Epiphanios Theodoropoulos (1930-1989) was in a conversation with 2-3 visitors at his home. One of them was an ideological atheist and a communist. Suddenly, someone from outside came rushing in, and informed them that the city of Athens had been flooded with photographs of Mao Tse Tung, with the inscription “Glory to the great Mao”. It was the day that the Chinese dictator had died.

Geron:
That’s the way things are, my child. Atheists do not exist. Only idolaters exist, who take down Christ from His throne and in His place they enthrone their own idols. We say: “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. They say: “Glory to the great Mao”. You pick and choose which one you prefer.

Atheist:
You also choose your drug, grandpa. The only difference is, that you call it Christ, others call it Allah, or Buddha, etc. etc…

Geron:
My child, Christ is not a drug. Christ is the Creator of the entire universe. He is the one Who governs everything wisely, from the multitudes of infinite galaxies, down to the minutest particles of the microcosm. He has given life to all of us. He is the One Who brought you into this world and has bestowed you with so much freedom, that you can actually doubt Him, and even deny Him.

Atheist:
Grandpa, its your right to believe in all of those things. But that doesn’t mean they are true. Do you have any proofs?

Geron:
You think all of this is just a fairy tale, don’t you?

Atheist:
Naturally.

Geron:
Do you have any proof that it is a fairy tale? Can you prove that what I believe is false?

Atheist:
……………….

Geron:
You didn’t reply, because you don’t have any proof either. Which means, you believe they are fairy tales. I spoke to you of believing, when I referred to God; you, however, although rejecting my belief, essentially believe in your faithlessness, since you cannot back it up with proofs either. However, I must tell you that my belief is not something “out of the blue”; There are certain supernatural events, upon which it is founded.

Atheist:
Just a minute! Since we are talking about believing, what would you say to Muslims or Buddhists for example? Because they also talk about believing. And they too have high moral standards. Why is your belief better than theirs?

Geron:
So! The criterion of the truth is supposedly judged by this question of yours? Because the truth is most certainly one; truths cannot be many in number. The thing is, who is the possessor of the truth? That is the major question. Hence, it is not a matter of a better or worse belief! It is a matter of the only true belief!
I agree, that other beliefs also have moral teachings. Naturally, Christianity’s moral teachings are incomparably superior. But, we do not believe in Christ because of His moral teachings. Or for His prompting to “Love one another”, or for His sermons on peace and justice, freedom and equality. We believe in Christ, because His presence on earth was accompanied by supernatural events, which was a sign that He is God.

Atheist:
Look, I also admit that Christ was an important philosopher and a great revolutionary, but let’s not make Him a God now……

Geron:
My dear child! All the great disbelievers in history were snagged by that detail. The fishbone that stuck in their throat, which they just couldn’t swallow, was exactly that: That Christ is also God.
Many of them were willing to say to God: “Don’t tell anyone that You are God incarnate; Just say that You’re an ordinary human, and we shall be more than ready to deify you. Why do You want to be an incarnate God, and not a deified human? We are willing to glorify You, to proclaim You as the greatest among men, the holiest, the most ethical, the noblest, the unsurpassable, the one and only, the unprecedented… Isn’t that enough for You ?
Ernest Renan –he was the head of the chorus of deniers- thunders out the following, with regard to Christ: “For tens of thousands of years, the world shall be uplifted through You”, and “You are the cornerstone of mankind; if one were to wrench Your name away from this world, it would be like shattering its foundations” and “the aeons shall proclaim that amongst the sons of men, never was there born anyone that could surpass You”. But this is where Renan and his likes stop. Their very next phrase is: “But a God, You are not!”
And those poor wretches cannot perceive that all of these things constitute an indescribable tragedy! Their dilemma is inevitably relentless: Either Christ is an incarnate God, in which case, He is indeed, only then, the most ethical, the holiest and noblest personage of mankind, or, He is not an incarnate God, in which case, He cannot possibly be any of these. In fact, if Christ is not God, then we are talking about the most horrible, the most atrocious and the most despicable existence in the history of mankind.

Atheist:
What did you just say ?

Geron:
Exactly what you heard! It may be a weighty statement, but it is absolutely true. And I will tell you why.
Let me ask: What did all the truly great men say about themselves, or what opinion did they have of themselves ?
The “wisest of all men”, Socrates, proclaimed that “I came to know one thing: that I know nothing”.
All the important men in the Old and New Testament, from Abraham and Moses, through to John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, characterized themselves as “earth and ashes”, “wretches”, “monstrosities”, etc…. [1]
But, strangely enough, Jesus’ attitude is quite the opposite! And I say strangely enough, because it would have been natural and logical for Him to have a similar attitude. In fact, being far superior and surpassing all others, He should have had an even lower and humbler opinion of Himself [2]. Ethically more perfect than any other, He should have surpassed everyone and anyone in self-reproach and humility, from the moment of the world’s Creation to the end of Time.
But, the exact opposite is observed!
First of all, He proclaims that He is sinless: “Who among you shall check Me for sin?” (John, 8:46). “The lord of this world is coming, and he can find nothing in Me.” (John, 14: 30)
He also pronounces very high ideas of Himself: “I am the light of the world” (John, 8, 12); “I am the path and the truth and the life” (John, 14: 6)
But, apart from these, He also projects demands of absolute dedication to His Person. He even penetrates the holiest of man’s relationships, and says: “Whomsoever loves their father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. and whomsoever loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”. (Matthew, 10: 37). “I came to turn man away, against his father, and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew, 10: 35). He even demands a life and a death of martyrdom from His disciples: “They shall deliver you to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you shall be dragged before leaders and kings for My sake…. And brother shall deliver his brother to death and the father his son, and the children shall revolt against their parents and shall put them to death…. And you shall be hated by everyone, for my namesake…. And he that shall endure to the end, he shall be saved…. Do not fear those who destroy the body….. Whomsoever shall deny Me before mankind, I too shall deny him…. Whomsoever has forfeited his soul for My sake, shall recover it.” (Matthew, 10: 17 onward)
And now I ask you: Has anyone ever dared to demand for himself the love of mankind, forsaking their very life? Has anyone ever dared to proclaim his absolute sinlessness? Has anyone ever dared to utter the words: “I am the truth”? (John, 14: 6) No-one, and nowhere! Only a God can do that. Can you imagine your Marx uttering things like that? They would take him for a lunatic and nobody would be willing to follow him!
Now, just consider, how many people sacrificed everything for Christ’s sake, even their very life, having believed in the veracity of His words regarding Himself! If His proclamations about Himself were false, Jesus would have been the most despicable character in history, for having led so many people to such a huge sacrifice! What ordinary man – no matter how great, how important, how wise he may be – would deserve such a tremendous offer and sacrifice? Well? No-one! Not unless he were God!
In other words: Any ordinary man that would demand such a sacrifice from his followers would have been the most loathsome person in history. Christ, however, both demanded it, and achieved it. Yet, despite this ‘achievement’, He was proclaimed by the very deniers of His divinity as the noblest and holiest figure in history. So, either the deniers are being illogical when they proclaim this most loathsome figure as “holiest”, or, in order to avoid any illogicality, and to rationalize the co-existence of Christ’s demands and His holiness, they must concede to accepting that Christ continues to remain the noblest and holiest figure in mankind, but, only under the condition that He is also God! Otherwise, as we said, He would be, not the holiest, but the most loathsome figure in history, being the cause of the greatest sacrifice of all ages, and in the name of a lie! Thus, Christ’s divinity is proved by His very deniers, on the basis of those very characterizations of His person!

Atheist:
What you just said is really very impressive, but it is nothing but speculation. Do you have any historical facts that would confirm His Divinity?

Geron:
I told you at the beginning, that the proofs of His Divinity are the supernatural events that took place while He was here on earth. Christ did not rest on the proclamation of the above truths alone; He certified His statements with miracles as well. He made blind people see and cripples walk; He satisfied the hunger of five thousand men and manifold numbers of women and children with only two fish and five loaves of bread; He commanded the elements of nature and they obeyed; He resurrected the dead, amongst which was Lazarus, four days after his death. But the most astounding of all his miracles was His own Resurrection.
The entire edifice of Christianity is supported on the event of the Resurrection. This is not my speculation. The Apostle Paul said it: “If Christ had not risen (from the dead), our faith would be futile”. (Corinthians I, 15: 17). If Christ is not resurrected, then everything collapses. But Christ was resurrected, which means He is the Lord of life and death, therefore God.

Atheist:
Did you see all of this? How can you believe it?

Geron:
No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.
Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it? I, as an honest man, will believe him.

Atheist:
I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology. Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?

Geron:
You said it yourself. Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.
It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.
The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1) [3]
Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.
Let’s take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected. [4]
And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow. It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high”, that they became the teachers of the universe.
The second case: Did they deceive us? Did they lie to us? But then, why would they deceive us? What would they gain by lying? Was it money? Was it status? Was it glory? For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain. The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death. And all this, for a lie? It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.
Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.
I should also stress something else here: The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments. They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one. They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another. They let the events speak for themselves.

Atheist:
Are you excluding the possibility that in Christ’s case, it was just an incident of apparent death? The other day, the newspapers had written about someone in India whom they buried and three days later they exhumed him and he was still alive.

Geron:
My poor child! I will recall the words of the blessed Augustine again: “O faithless ones, you are not actually disbelievers; indeed, you are the most gullible of all. You accept the most improbable things, and the most irrational, the most contradictory, in order to deny the miracle!”
No, my child. It was not a case of apparent death with Christ. First of all, we have the testimony of the Roman centurion, who reassured Pilate that Christ’s death was a certainty.
Then, our Gospel informs us that on the same day of His Resurrection, the Lord was seen talking with two of His disciples, walking towards Emmaus, which was more than ten kilometers away from Jerusalem.
Can you imagine someone, who could go through all the tortures that Christ underwent, and three days after His “apparent death”, spring back again? If anything, he would have to be fed chicken soup for forty days, in order to be able to open his eyes, let alone walk and talk as though nothing had happened!
As for the Hindu, bring him here to be flogged with a scourge – do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip, whose lashes each have a lead chunk or a piece of broken bone or sharp nails attached to their end – bring him here, so we can flog him, then force a crown of thorns on his head, crucify him, give him bile and vinegar to drink, then pierce his side with a spear, put him in a tomb, and then, if he comes back from the dead, then we can talk.

Atheist:
Even so, but all the testimonies that you have invoked belong to Christ’s Disciples. Is there any testimony on this matter, that doesn’t come from the circle of His Disciples? Are there any historians for example, who can certify Christ’s Resurrection? If so, then I will also believe what you say.

Geron:
You poor child! You don’t know what you’re saying now! If there had been such historians who had witnessed Christ resurrected, they would have been compelled to believe in His Resurrection and would have recorded it as believers, in which case, you would again have rejected their testimony, just like you rejected Peter’s testimony, John’s testimony, etc. How can it be possible, for someone to actually witness the Resurrection and yet, NOT become a Christian? You are asking for a roasted fowl, on a waxen skewer, that also sings! It just can’t be done !
I will remind you though – because you are asking for historians – of what I said earlier: that the only true historians are the Apostles.
Nevertheless, we do have testimony of the kind that you want; and it is by someone who didn’t belong to the circle of His Disciples: it was Paul. Paul not only wasn’t a Disciple of Christ, he actually persecuted Christ’s Church relentlessly.

Atheist:
They say that Paul suffered from sunstroke and that it was the cause of his hallucination.

Geron:
My child, if Paul was hallucinating, the thing that would have come to the surface, would have been his subconscious. And in Paul’s subconscious, the Patriarchs and the Prophets would have been top ranking. He would have hallucinated about Abraham, and Jacob and Moses, and not Jesus, whom he considered a rabble-rouser and a fraud!

Can you imagine a faithful old granny seeing Buddha or Jupiter in her dream or delirium? She would most probably see Saint Nicholas or Saint Barbara, because she believes in them.

One more thing. With Paul, we have –as Papini notes- the following miraculous phenomena: First of all, the abruptness of his conversion. Straight from faithlessness to faith. With no intermediate preparatory stage. Secondly, the steadfastness of his faith. No wavering, no doubts. And thirdly, his faith lasted for a whole lifetime. Do you believe that all these things can occur after a case of sunstroke? They can in no way be attributed to such a cause. If you can explain how, then explain it. If you can’t, then you must admit the miracle. And you must know that for a man of his time, Paul was exceptionally well-educated. He was not your average little person, who was totally clueless.

I will also add something else. We today, my child, are living in an exceptional era. We are living the miracle of Christ’s Church.

When Christ said of His Church that “the gates of Hades shall not overpower Her” (Matthew 16:18), His followers were very few in number. Almost two thousand years have passed, since that day. Empires vanished, philosophical systems were forgotten, world theories collapsed. But Christ’s Church remains indestructible, despite the continuous and dramatic persecutions it has undergone. Isn’t that a miracle?

And one final thing. In Luke’s Gospel it says that when the Holy Mother visited Elizabeth (the Baptist’s mother) after the Annunciation, she was greeted with the words: “blessed are you amongst women”. And the Holy Mother replied as follows: “My heart magnifies the Lord. Behold, from this moment on, all generations shall call me blessed” (1:48).

What was the Holy Mother at that time? She was just an obscure daughter of Nazareth. How many knew her? And yet, since that day, empresses have been forgotten, distinguished women’s names have been extinguished, the mothers and wives of great generals went into oblivion. Who remembers, or even knows, Napoleon’s mother or Alexander the Great’s mother? Almost no-one. But, millions of lips across every length and breadth of the world, throughout the ages, venerate that humble daughter of Nazareth, the “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”. Are we, or aren’t we –the people of the twentieth century– living in this day and age the verification of those words of the Holy Mother?

The exact same things are observed in a “secondary” prophecy of Christ: While He was staying at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him and poured her expensive fragrant oil over His head. Christ commented: “Amen, verily I say to you, that wherever this gospel will be preached in the world, it will also mention what this woman did, in her memory” (Matthew, 26: 13). Now, how large was His circle of followers at the time, so that one could say that they outdid themselves in order that their Master’s prophecy be fulfilled? Especially a prophecy such as this one, which, by today’s world standards, is of no importance to most people.

Are they or aren’t they miracles? If you can, explain them. But if you can’t, then admit them as such.

Atheist:
I have to admit that your arguments are pretty solid. But I would like to ask you one more thing: Don’t you think that Christ left His work unfinished? That is, unless He deserted us. I can’t imagine a God that would remain indifferent to mankind’s suffering. We are down here toiling, while He, up there, remains apathetic.

Geron:
No, my child. You aren’t right. Christ did not leave His work unfinished. On the contrary, He is the one unique case in history where a person has the certainty that His mission was accomplished, and had nothing further to do or to say.

Even the greatest of philosophers, Socrates, who discussed and taught during his whole lifetime, and towards the end composed an intricate “Apology”, would have even more to say, if he had lived.

Only Christ – in the time bracket of three years – taught what He had to teach, did what He had to do, and finally said (on the Cross): “It is finished”. Another sample of His divine perfection and authority.

As for the abandonment that you mentioned, I can understand your concern. Without Christ, the world would be a theatre of insanity. Without Christ, you cannot explain anything: why are there sorrows, why injustices, why failures, why sicknesses, why, why, why…. Thousands of monumental “why”s.

Try to understand! Man cannot approach all of these “why”s with his finite logic. It is only through Christ that everything can be explained. All these trials merely precondition us for eternity. Perhaps then, we might be honored by the Lord with a reply to some of those “why”s.

It might be worthwhile, if I read you a beautiful poem (*) from Constantine Kallinikos’ collection “Laurels and Myrtles”, with the title “Questions”:

I asked a desert father of seventy years,

whose silver strands were blown by the wind:

Tell me o father, why, on this earth,

do the light and the dark inseparably move ?

And why must they – like twins – together sprout:

the thorn and the rose, the tear and the smile?

Why, in the loveliest part of the woodland green

have scorpions and vipers concealed their nests?

Why must it be, that the tender bud,

before unfolding its fragrant bloom,

be struck by a worm in the heart of its stem,

And left to die, like a shrivelled rag ?

Why are the plow, the seed and the hands

a must for the wheat, to become our bread?

Why must everything useful, noble, divine

always be purchased with tears and our blood,

while selfishness ever rampantly reigns,

and lewdness is swallowing up the world?

And why, amongst such harmony around,

must tumult and disorder find their way?


The hermit replied, with his somber voice

and right arm pointing to the sky,

that there, beyond those clouds of gold,

the Almighty weaves a tapestry divine.

But since we are wanderers of the lower plane

We see nothing but the knots and strings below,

It is no wonder, why the mind sees wrong,

when it should always be thankful and give praise:

for the day will come, when Christians all,

with souls that ride the skies with wings,

will gaze atop God’s tapestry and see

how careful and orderly everything was!

My child, Christ never abandoned us. He is forever with us, as a helper and a supporter, until the end of time. But you will realize this, only when you become a conscientious member of His Church and be joined by Her Sacraments.



[Re-published, from the book of the Holy Recluse Monastery of the Theotokos “FROM THE LIFE AND THE TEACHING OF FATHER EPIPHANIOS”]

(*) The poem has been loosely translated, for its message only.

——————————————————————————–

R E F E R E N C E S

[1] From within sacred history, we observe how Abraham considers himself “earth and ashes” (Genesis 18: 27). Similarly Job (42: 6). The great Moses hesitates to undertake the mission of liberating the Israelites from Egypt, believing himself to be too small and inadequate for such a job: “And Moses said to God : ‘Who am I, that can go to the Pharaoh, king of Egypt,…… I am not capable……. weak voiced and stuttering, I am.” (Exodus 3: 11, 4: 10). The same is said at a later date by the Judge Gideon: “My Lord, how can I save Israel?…. for I am the youngest of my father’s house…” (Judges 6: 15). David calls himself “a dead dog, and a louse” (Kings I, 24: 15), a worm and not a man, the disgrace of mankind and the derogation of the people” (Psalms 21:27). Isaiah cries out: “woe is me, the wretched one, for I am deeply troubled, because, being a man and having impure lips, I reside amongst the people with impure lips, and yet I have looked upon the king, Lord Shabuoth with my very eyes” (Isaiah 6:5). Jeremiah laments: “O Sovereign Lord, behold, I cannot speak, for I am the younger…. Cure me my Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved. For You are my boasting.” (Jeremiah 1:6, 17:14). The three Young Men utter a confession about themselves and all of the population: “….for we have sinned and broken the law, by distancing ourselves from You, and we are sinners in everything and we did not obey Your commandments….. with a crushed soul and a humbled mind, may we be received by You…” (Daniel, Azarias’ prayer, 56 and 16).

John the Baptist, the “greatest amongst those born of woman”, confessed : “I am not the Christ. And they asked him: Who then are you? Are you Elijah? I am not. Are you the Prophet? And he replied: No. …… I am just a voice in the wilderness, crying out “straighten the path of the Lord……. I am not worthy enough, to even loosen the strap of His (Christ’s) sandal…” (John I, 20). Finally, the one and only and unprecedented Paul, considers himself a “monstrosity” and unworthy “to be called an apostle”, a “wretched person”, and “the first amongst all sinners” ( Corinthians I, 15:89, Romans 7:24, Timothy I, 1:15). But, we won’t take up any more time here…

[2] by applying the standard of: “the greater you are, the more you should humble yourself”. (Sirah, 3:18)

[3] This is precisely what is stressed in John’s Gospel: “the one who witnessed, testified” (19: 35); In other words, the one who wrote those things was the one who actually saw the soldier pierce Christ’s side with the spear, and he saw blood and water coming out of the wound.

[4] “They hesitated to prostrate themselves to Him” (Matthew 28:17). “And they (=the apostles), upon hearing that He was alive and was seen by her (=Mary Magdalene), disbelieved”. (Mark 16:13). “He derided them for their disbelief and their hard-heartedness, because they did not believe those who had seen Him risen” (Mark 16:14). “It appeared to them (=the Apostles) that their (=the myrrh-bearers’) words were like ravings (=foolishness, delirium), and they disbelieved them” (Luke 24:11). “We had hoped that He was the one who was destined to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). “If I do not see the imprint of the nails on His hands and place my finger on the imprint of the nails, and place my hand on (the wound of) His side, I shall not believe.” (=words of Doubting Thomas, John 20:25), etc.

Transcript: Thomas Dritsas

Translation by K.N.

Greek Text

(Source: http://www.oodegr.com/english/atheismos/gerwn1.htm)

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Most Deadly Sin

One of the brethren said to his Abba, "Tell us of the monks of the last times. Will they fast and pray as we do?" The Abba answered, "Whoever of them can simply make the sign of the Cross on himself will be greater than any of us."

There is a spiritual illness that is consuming the Church and it stems, not from the outside, but from the inside. This illness, this most deadly sin, is not a grand attack by some outside force intent on destroying the Church; there is no emperor or revolutionary council issuing edicts of persecution for the Christian faith. Yet the end result of this sin is just the same, or perhaps, even more deadly than any open persecution.

At the beginning of the third century A.D. the prominent North African Churchman Tertullian would write: "The Blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church."

To be a Christian in the pagan Roman Empire meant taking a risk; it meant living with the threat of betrayal and the loss of all things. Certainly, in the political and religious freedom in which we live, we no longer have the circumstances that produce martyrs for the faith. Having found that the Church was impossible to destroy overtly, Satan has now set about destroying from within that which emperors, heretics, imams and Communism could not. The method of this destruction is simply apathy: the indifference, demonstrated by so many members of the Church. It is visible in the amount of faithful who choose their mattress on Sunday over the Church pew; in parish meetings which struggle to even put together a legal quorum to conduct business; in Sunday morning sports events to which parents enthusiastically take their children; in Church School classes that enroll only a small fraction of the parish students in church events which must, of necessity, be conducted by "same people" because there is no one to relieve the burden.

This feeling of apathy, this indifference to the life of the Church and the spiritual life in general, is not a new phenomenon. We read in the Book of Revelation of the indifference that characterized the Church of the Laodiceans: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth (Rev. 3:15-16).

Many people recently have noticed a decline in the Church in the national and local level and have put an emphasis on "making converts" to fill the breach caused by the loss of membership. All of such efforts have met with only a very limited success, simply because the host congregations themselves have very often not been converted.

Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, A Russian émigré priest living in France, wrote in the 1930's:

We often mistake for religion a vague mixture of the reminisces of childhood, the sentimental emotions sometimes experienced in Church, colored eggs and cakes at Easter. How shall we succeed in awakening in our soul any sense of the way of the Cross which it must follow towards God?

Faith in Christ and devotion to the mystical Body of Christ - the Church - has always hinged on one and only one article of faith:

I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

St. John 11:25,26

This has always been the question posed by Christ to everyone in the world. Although our lips may answer "yes" to the question, our indifference to the question, much less the answer, betrays us. We are like the Apostles sleeping in the garden of Gethsemane, unaware until it is too late that the Savior is to be betrayed into the hands of men.

We have many excuses for our indifference to the Church and every pastor with any experience can recite them all by rote: we cannot attend Liturgy because we are tired from working, because of sickness or age or someone is a member that we don't like or the priest does not meet our expectations and on and on. Having become indifferent to the Church and to the question of Christ, "Do you believe this?" we enter into a prideful sophistry answering questions that we think Christ might ask and coming up with possible answers: I don't need to go to Church, I am a good person.

God is everywhere and I don't need to worship in a church. All the Church is about is money. Christ never said in the Bible that it was necessary to go to Church.

We reward ourselves in our apathy with a pathetic grace, denying the Cross of Christ and worshipping the false idol of God that we have created. This idol is agreeable and never makes demands. He congratulates our spiritual indolence and lack of repentance and helps up to feel that we are on the "path to salvation." In our delusion we mistakenly embrace him for the Christ of the Church and the Gospels.

But behind this idol that we have created for ourselves is the father of all idols - Satan, the prince of darkness, into whose kingdom we happily approach every Sunday that we choose the "holy mattress" over the "Holy Spirit.". St. Cyprian of Carthage said it perhaps the best: "He cannot have God for his father who does not have the Church for his mother."

The real truth is that it is not a lack of people that is destroying the Church. Jesus warned us that in the last times "the love of many would grow cold." It is not the size of the congregation that is important. It is the will of the congregation to "know Christ and make Him known" as was stated in the theme of a recent Diocesan Sobor. It is the desire of every member of the congregation from the pastor to the smallest child to answer "Yes, Lord I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is coming into the world" (John 11:27) to the question posed by Jesus, Do you believe this?

In the words of the Apostle Paul, "the night is far advanced the day is at hand." The Church in America, the parishes that have nourished so many spiritually, will either live overcome with the love of Christ or they will die overcome with apathy. There is no middle ground; no status quo.

No tree can survive without healthy leaves. As the leaves go, so goes the tree. If the leaves that make up a church are withered and dried out with indifference and and diseased with the spirit of "let someone else do it", that church will perish:

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. John 15:5,6.

source: http://www.acrod.org/readingroom/spirituallife/mostdeadlysin

On Tomatoes and the Spiritual Life

One of the criticisms frequently leveled against Christianity in general and the Sacred Scriptures in particular is that they reflect a by-gone era with different values and circumstances. Because many of us live in highly technological and urban societies, we feel that teachings and lessons that come to us from times dominated by primitive, agrarian societies just don't have much relevance for us today. Therefore, many modern people, who may never have encountered a live cow in person on a farm, have a hard time connecting with the parables of Jesus, which make use of many allusions to livestock and crops.

But thankfully, not all of us have totally lost contact with our roots in the soil, so to speak. While most of us do not engage in full-scale farming to make a livelihood anymore, many of us still set aside a little plot or strip of ground out back, and we try our hand at cultivating a small garden. It is heartening to learn that even a number of priests have gotten into the act. What can we learn from this dabbling in the dirt?

Probably every small-time gardener has his own specialty crop. Mine happens to be tomatoes. I specialize in an heirloom type of tomato called the "Valiant." It used to be available in greenhouses back when I was a young kid, and it was the variety planted by my parents in their backyard garden. But with all the hybrid varieties available today, the Valiant fell out of favor with commercial growers. For years, I had to do without this childhood favorite, because it was seemingly no longer available. But in recent years, I was fortunately able to obtain Valiant tomato seeds from a woman on the internet who specializes in heirloom varieties.

In order to enjoy this tasty favorite once more, I had to start from scratch. The story begins each year in the dark, cold month of March. Time to plant the seeds! This time usually coincides with the season of Great Lent, a time of spiritual growth and renewal. Those seeds are so small and so dry, one wonders if there is any life in them - just like what is happening outside. The days are short, the trees are bare, the snow is swirling around and all of nature reposes in winter's sleep, which is very reminiscent of death. But proceeding in faith, I prepare the potting soil and plant the seeds. Isn't this what happens in the spiritual realm? At our Baptism, the seed of faith is planted within us. It doesn't seem like much to start with. Indeed, the odds seem stacked against that seed of faith ever maturing and bearing fruit, especially in today's world. It is so cold and hostile to Christianity. But if we do our part, watering and nourishing the seed, providing the proper environment, we can trust God to give the growth.

And so it happens. In a couple of weeks, the tiny seedlings begin to poke through the soil. The new plants are so small and frail. The next month is extremely critical in their growth and development. Some of the seedlings don't make it. They catch a blight and perish. Youth is a critical period in the growth and development of our faith as well. It is a time of great opportunity, but it is also a time fraught with much peril. "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Parents have an awesome responsibility to insure that the seed of faith implanted in their children at their baptism has the best chance possible to grow, reach maturity and bear fruit. The task is not easy. There are many forces competing for the souls of our youth. It is so insidiously easy to get entangled in these modern blights. Something as seemingly innocent and harmless as participation in team sports can soon force a young person to have to choose between team practice and attending Sunday Divine Liturgy. Parents are rightly concerned that their children experience a well-rounded childhood. Nobody is expecting our kids to spend every waking moment in church. But God and the Church must be the center and focus of every Orthodox Christian family. Families must draw the line when any activity or pursuit begins to infringe on the Lord's Day and Divine Worship. There is nothing more beautiful than to witness a family - parents and children - not only coming to Sunday Liturgy, but also making the additional sacrifice of attending an "extra" service, such as Vespers. If children learn from their earliest years that God and the salvation of their souls are the most important things, they will think twice before neglecting these things later on in life. But if good habits and routines are not established early, it will be next to impossible to get back on track at some later time, once the world, the devil and the flesh have established their firm grip. We will indeed reap what we sow.

As the tomato seedlings continue to grow, it is time to direct some attention to the preparation of the soil outdoors. As a general rule, I plant a lot more seeds than I will ever need. As it was, I set out 44 plants this year. I gave the rest of my extra seedlings away to family and friends. Some of these people have better success with the tomatoes than others. Maybe it has something to do with the soil. There is much to be done to prepare the soil to receive the tomato plants. The ground must be tilled and the clods of clay broken up. Rocks must be removed. All this is back-breaking work, but very necessary. The soil must be properly prepared for the plants to thrive. It reminds me of the Parable of the Soils that Jesus told. "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop - a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear. Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23)

Finally, when the danger of frost is past, the plants go into the ground on Memorial Day. After being planted in the garden, the plants make phenomenal growth. If the proper nourishment and moisture is present, God continues to give the growth. This is another figure of spiritual growth. If we repent, struggle to grow spiritually and cooperate with the grace of God, we can make tremendous spiritual progress.

The growing season illustrates very clearly what Jesus was talking about in the Parable of the Soils. The summer months correspond rather well to the main part of our lives. What we do and what we fail to do during this time determines whether we will bring forth spiritual fruit or whether our good intentions will wither on the vine.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they examine the Parable of the Soils is to think that their lives resemble just one of the various soil conditions that Jesus describes. But the reality of the matter is that we oftentimes resemble different kinds of soil throughout the course of our lifetimes. And the type of soil - the condition of our souls - is very much contingent upon what we are doing, or not doing, in our lives. The good news, which is perhaps a big surprise to some people, is that we can change the situation that we are in, IF we are willing to do some hard work and cooperate with the grace that God so freely gives. Out in the tomato patch, the planting of the young tomato plants is not the end of the story. The young plants must subsequently be cared for, watered, given fertilizer and nourishment. The ground must be tilled and kept free of weeds. Fences must be set up to keep deer and other predators from decimating the crop. All of this takes time, determination, dedication and perspiration. Bringing a successful crop to fruition will not happen automatically. The same is true in our spiritual life.

In the various theologies of the Reformation, one will encounter the teaching of "once saved, always saved." According to this notion, once a person has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, he or she is saved from that moment on and cannot lose his or her salvation. Orthodoxy has no such teaching. A person experiences his or her personal spiritual rebirth at Baptism, but continues along the journey of salvation throughout the course of his or her lifetime. Each day requires a conscious and deliberate choice to "put on Christ" and follow Him faithfully. What this also means is that it is possible to turn away from Christ, remain hard-hearted and unrepentant to the end, and thereby, lose that precious salvation. But many misguided folks seem to have invented their own "Orthodox" idea of "once saved, always saved." Because they are baptized in the Orthodox Church, and their ancestral families attended a particular parish, they feel a sense of automatic "entitlement." They don't worry about attending the Divine Liturgy and the other services; they don't receive the Sacraments, and they follow the ways of the world rather than the teachings of Christ and His Holy Church. They haven't studied their faith since the last day they attended church school; and 'repentance' and 'change' are dirty words and foreign concepts to them. But because they were baptized in the church their ancestors built, everything is somehow "OK." We only have to look out in the garden to see the fallacy of this way of thinking.

If the tomato patch is untended, the soil soon becomes rocky and hard. The plants struggle to survive. If no water is provided, the plants will wither and die. If nourishment isn't given, the stalks become spindly and weak. If sunlight isn't available, the plants turn yellow and languish. If suitable barriers aren't erected, the animals come and devour the plants. If the garden is not weeded regularly, soon the weeds will take-over and crowd-out the tomato plants. These are the scenarios described by Jesus in the Parable of the Soils. Jesus tells us that similar things happen to the soil of our souls if we are not attentive. We have all seen the various types of soil in action. There are those souls which are too hard to even receive the Good News of Jesus. There are those who have no real depth to their faith and keep everything on a superficial level, adhering to the ritual forms but lacking any real spiritual substance. Perhaps the most common experience in our modern world is the competition from the thorns and weeds. Our lives are just too busy, and we allow Christ to be squeezed-out and crowded-out by the cares and concerns of this world. Finally, there are those precious few souls which are well-tended and spiritually-nourished, which produce a bountiful spiritual harvest and enter into the joy and Kingdom of their Master. This is our true goal in life. This is why we are baptized - to grow-up in Christ and produce much fruit. Anything else is a betrayal of the potential and gift given at Baptism.

If we have played by the rules and done our part, and tended the tomato patch properly, cooperating with the Lord of the Harvest, by late July we begin to enjoy the first-fruits of our labors. The first ripe tomato is always a joy to behold. It and the many others which follow make all the hard work worthwhile. Likewise, in the spiritual life, the rewards of heaven will make the sacrifices and sufferings that we must endure here on this earth pale in comparison. As St. Paul writes to the Romans: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). And as he says in another place: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9). Let us heed the words of St. Peter as we diligently tend our spiritual gardens in this life: "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:10-11). And so it seems that our "agrarian" religion is still relevant and has much to say to us after all - if we will just take the time and bother to "dig" a little bit! Enjoy the harvest!

- Very Rev. Fr. Michael C. Kabel

source: http://www.acrod.org/readingroom/spirituallife/ontomatoes

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Indian Christians - One of world's ancient Christian community

The Saint Thomas Christians are a group of Christians from the Malabar coast (now Kerala) in South India, who follow Syriac Christianity.
The different groups and denominations within the St Thomas Christians together form the Nasrani people. Their tradition goes back to the very beginnings of first century Christian thought and the seven churches that are believed to have been established by St. Thomas the Apostle.

Friday, September 25, 2009

St. Mary's Orthodox Bookstore: Meditations on a Theme

St. Mary's Orthodox Bookstore: Meditations on a Theme: "Metropolitan Anthony (Anthony Bloom) caught the imagination of countless people by his broadcasts. Their content was uncomfortable and challenging but they drew huge audiences. He then started publishing books and one of his first was was Meditations on a Theme."

St. Mary's Orthodox Bookstore: The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God

St. Mary's Orthodox Bookstore: The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God: "In the earliest centuries of faith, Christians in the deserts of Palestine and Africa sought a short prayer that could be easily repeated, in order to acquire the habit of “prayer without ceasing.” The result was The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”"

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Poor - Our Masters

by Fr. Roberto Ubertino

In January 1987, with no first and last rent money; no down payment to turn on the water or electricity; one old table and a few chairs; an icon, a Bible, and a used Horologion, St. John the Compassionate Mission opened its doors in a poor, downtown neighbourhood of Toronto.

What we wanted to do was to pray in the midst of a very troubled neighbourhood. Our hope was to learn how to live, to witness and to share the orthodox faith, especially with the poor and marginalized of society. At the time we believed that this 'orthodox' faith could be received and lived within the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Those early years were very difficult. We never knew if we would have enough money to pay the rent. A few volunteers would come to help, but most would soon leave. Yet some remained, and have stayed even to this day.

There was, and still is, no other Orthodox outreach among the poor of Toronto. Most of such work is done by Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches and we did not want to copy what was already being lived. Orthodox faith, theology and worship should colour and shape Orthodox diaconia.

Gradually a pattern of life developed centered around the Divine Services, all night vigils and vesper services in a chapel that, although only the size of a small room, was in constant use. First to come through our doors were children, then their parents, and then other adults. Many of these children are now parents themselves, and we keep in touch.

It was not until we moved to our present location that St. John the Compassionate Mission came into maturity. Eight years ago we moved 15 minutes away from our original location, to the building we now call home.

Now we are accessible to many people. The place has quadrupled in size and activity, and we have about 280 volunteers and three coordinators. The work of the Mission is understood to be a commitment to a way of life: a life of prayer, community, and compassion. We are operational seven days a week and serve over 500 meals to the hungry each week. We have a thrift store and a bakery that trains people and helps them to find work.

People come through our doors for all kinds of reasons, but they all encounter a 'Presence'. They often speak about coming in tired or depressed and being met and surrounded by Love. People speak of the Mission as a church. I believe this is not because we have a sign outside, but because they actually experience it to be so. In spite of our struggles to be an "official church", the poor have never stopped referring to the Mission as "the church".

With our move to our new location on Broadview Avenue, God also graced us with the desire to enter into full communion with the Orthodox Church. What followed were six years of much suffering for everyone. At last, God in His infinite Mercy, found a way for the Mission to be received under the Omophorion of Metropolitan Nicholas (Carphatho-Russian Diocese) just a year ago. Since that time, the work of the Mission has continued to bear much fruit. The poor who come feel it is their home and love St. John's. The Mission is also respected by many of the social service agencies of Toronto. Youth groups have started to help out, and we have conducted retreats at the Mission for them.

We live truly as a family. For example, on Wednesday, the president of the Board of Directors comes and washes dishes as she listens to people's stories. I feel honoured to be called 'father' because the people have made me truly so for them. Our work still continues to be 'interrupted' three times a day by the ringing of the bell, inviting people to come and pray.

We still have no real regular income and our accountant cannot always understand why we have not yet gone bankrupt. Professionals still try to figure out our "secret of success". When I tell them, they don't believe me, but the truth is what Mother Teresa once said, "Our business is to be faithful, not successful".

In the day-to-day living out of the Orthodox faith with simple, beautiful but often very broken people, the words spoken a few years ago by Metropolitan Nicholas ring so true: "Orthodoxy does not need more professors, but confessors". Sometimes people connect Orthodox faith only to books, lectures and videos. All these are useful and have their rightful place. Nonetheless, there is such a power 'dynamism' in the truth of the Orthodox faith, that it can be tasted and discovered only in the daily living of it. The poor and the marginalized, as promised by the Lord, are a privileged place to discover this new life (St. Cyprian, "On love of the poor"; St. John on Matthew Homily 48.9). In our chapel, the words of St. John the Compassionate are written out; they speak about the simple truth: "The poor", he says, "are our teachers and Masters, for only they can bestow upon us the Kingdom of Heaven".

The grace of the Mission is to discover the place of our individual poverty and brokenness, and to learn to receive and give compassion from that place. "Christ, Himself, identified with the hungry, the lonely, the prisoners, the loveless. We approach Him and serve Him in this life only in the poorest among us." (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, XIV Discourse 39 on Matthew 23). It is St. Maximus the Confessor who in his "Mystagogy of the Church" summarized the simple truth of what the Mission is asked to see and touch each day. "The poor man" he says, "is God"!


source: http://stsilouan.org/article/poor.html

The Church is Hierarchal

By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

The Parish and the Church

As a follow up of the storm he raised at the Tenth All American Sobor of the Russian Church by declaring that our Church is not hierarchal, Mr. Ralph M. Arkush has issued now a mimeographed pamphlet entitled Is Our Church Hierarchal? “This question,” – he says in conclusion, – “must be answered in the negative. The form of our Church is sobornal”. This conclusion is based on: a) Webster’s definition of the term “hierarchal” (pp. 1-2); b) a brief analysts of the various forms of church government since the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (pp. 2-3); c) references to the Moscow Council of 1917-18 and the Detroit Sobor of 1924.

Were the conclusion of Mr. Arkush a mere ‘private opinion’, or rather his own peculiar interpretation of Church history, ecclesiology and canon law, we could, in spite of our total disagreement with him, pay no attention to his pamphlet. But Mr. Arkush has been for a number of years a leading layman in our Church, the official Jurisconsult of the Metropolia, the Orthodox delegate to the National Council of Churches, a lawyer, who by the very nature of his profession is constantly confronted with the meaning of Orthodox tradition. All this makes his case a very serious one. And since his views are shared by many of our lay people, those especially who play an active part in the life of the Church, we seem to face a really unprecedented situation: a segment of the Church simply refuses to accept and confess a doctrine that has never been questioned. One thing is made clear by this pamphlet: the time has come for an unambiguous clarification of the whole issue.

Before we come to the pamphlet, one preliminary remark of basic importance must be made. When in the “clergy-laity controversy” the erms “government”, “administration”, “controlling authority” are used, are all those who use them aware that when applied to the Church, they must of necessity mean something different from what they mean in a purely secular context. The Church is not a secular society and, therefore, all definitions and descriptions of its life and functioning to be adequate must necessarily be transposed and adjusted to its nature. Any type of government must be adequate to the nature and the purpose of what it governs. We live in a Democracy which is a high and noble doctrine of government. But we know that the principle of Democracy (“government of the people, by the people, for the people”) is not applicable everywhere even in the secular society. It is not applicable to the Armed Forces, to the school, to the family. Is it difficult to understand the simple and trivial truth, that for much more serious reasons it is not applicable to the Church? The Church is not and has never been a democracy because the Church is not a human institution with human goals and purposes. The Church is a Divine Institution, founded not by men, but by Christ, receiving her life from God and having one specific goal: to save people by introducing them into the life of grace, forgiveness, love and truth, by uniting them to the life of Christ Himself. To be sure, the Church has a human aspect, a human dimension of her life – yet this “humanity” of the Church is not independent from her spiritual essence, from her Divine root, but embodies it, expresses it, is totally and absolutely subordinated to it. To speak of two spheres in the Church – one spiritual and the other material – as being independent from one another is to completely misunderstand the real nature of the Church, whose “Pattern” is Christ Himself, God made Man, in whom the human nature was entirely accorded to the Divine, totally expressive of the Divinity. The whole Church, in all her aspects and activities, in the totality of her life is governed primarily by Christ, who is the Head of the Church, and this is why we must emphatically reject the very idea of a “democratic Church”, however highly we value the democratic ideal for a secular society. But, for the same reason, the idea of an “autocratic” Church is equally wrong. If in the secular context “autocratic” is the only alternative to “democratic, this alternative simple does not apply to the Church – yet, this is precisely what Mr. Arkush and those who agree with him, are apparently unable to understand. The Church is hierarchal – which means, that power and authority in the Church are always related to, and proceed from, the ultimate source of its Iife – Christ Himself. Those who, by Divine appointment and consecration (Sacrament of Order) exercise this authority are not “autocrats” because they themselves must be totally and unconditionally subordinated to Christ and to His Church, to her Tradition, canons, to the whole of her Truth and Spirit. And the unique goal of their government is to keep the Church within this Truth and to assure her growth into the “full stature of Christ”. They “govern” the Church not by people’s consent, but by Divine appointment and the Church believes that in the Sacrament of Order they are granted necessary “charisms” or gifts for this government.

It is impossible to exclude anything in the Church from the sphere of this government, to say, for example, that the hierarchy is responsible for the “spiritual”, and the laity for the “material”, aspects of the Church life. As said above the Church has no other goal but salvation and spiritual edification of her members. All her activities, from the most spiritual to the most practical and material, are therefore internally shaped by this goal and ordered towards it. A “parish activity” that would not be in some degree related to the spiritual task of the Church would ipso facto be alien to the Church and to the parish, would contradict the very principle of the Church. Let us take, for example, the whole aspect of fund-raising and financial welfare of the parish, an area where the controversy on the “rights” and “responsibilities” is especially heated. Is it possible to say, as it is said so often, that this is a “material” problem and must be handled by the laity without the interference of the clergy? The very fact that money is being raised by the Church and for the Church makes this activity spiritual, for this money must be spent in accordance with the spiritual goal of the Church. But “it is our money” and “we don’t want any one to have control of it” is the usual answer. Another tragical misunderstanding, showing how radical is our misconception of our Church. The money that we gave to the Church has ceased to be our money and has become God’s money. It is neither ours, nor priest’s – it belongs to the Church and the Church does not belong to us, for we belong to the Church. The possibility of giving to the Church is not our merit, it is the greatest privilege, it makes us coworkers in Christ’s work of salvation, ministers of His purpose. Therefore the Priest who by definition is the keeper and the guide of the religious life of the Parish must necessary give the sanction to every decision concerning the use of the Church’s funds. The fear that he will use “our” money for “his” interests reveals the moral level of Orthodoxy in this country and is a shameful one. One of two things: either the Priest is the Priest, knowing who he is, trained to fulfill his ministry, sincere, enlightened and “pastoral” – the fear in this case is superfluous and must be replaced by trust. Or he is a bad Priest (and there have always been bad priests in the Church!) using his position to enrich himself, stealing the parish’s funds, lazy, ignorant, selfish. Then he betrays his function, and the Church has all possible means to depose such a Priest and to deprive him of the function which he has betrayed and falsified. But to erect the distrust into a legal system, to establish the whole life of the Church, as if it had to be “defended” against the Priests is to make the Church a mockery and to disregard her real nature.... There can be no doubt that the “controlling authority” in the Orthodox Church belongs to the hierarchy. And it should be the common goal and task of all Orthodox to assure its clergy such training and spiritual preparation that would make them capable of exercising their authority with the wisdom, the experience and the spiritual insight which are the characteristics of a good Pastor.

It is this misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the Church (spiritual which is not opposed to, but includes, the material) that constitutes the root of the monumental distortions in Mr. Arkush’s pamphlet. It is too bad Mr. Arkush does not see them. It is too bad that he is blind to the fact that his secular terminology, when applied to the Church is entirely “out of key”, false, inadequate. It is the terminology and the language of someone who can see all the “legal points”, and yet fails completely to see the religious essence of the Church.

The first of these errors is the opposition between “hierarchal” and “sobornal.” Mr. Arkush presents these terms as mutually exclusive. “Hierarchal” means “government administered in the Church by patriarchs, archbishops, bishops etc . . .” (Webster) and since in our Church “the supreme legislative, administrative and judicial authority within the Church is the Sobor” with the participation of the laity – our Church is not “hierarchal” – so runs Mr. Arkush’s argument. But it is based on a purely legal concept of the Sobor, a concept which is simply incompatible with the concept of the Church. The Sobor being the expression of the Church is itself a hierarchal organ, i. e. reflects and expresses the structure of the Church. All members of the Sobor take part in it according to their order and status in the Church: Bishops as Bishops, Priests as Priests and Laymen as Laymen. It would be absurd to think that from the moment the Sohor is convened, all its members loose their “status” in the Church and become equal “units” of an abstract government, with the majority rule as the only principle of decision.

It is obvious that the participation of the laity in the Sobor is given a false interpretation based on a false application of the “democratic” principles to the Church. Their participation means primarily the privilege given then to express their concern for the Church, to discuss together the needs of the Church, to devise better solutions for her actual problems and to take decisions insofar as they are in agreement with the Tradition and the Faith of the Church. This privilege is based on the Orthodox belief that no one in the Church is deprived of the Holy Spirit, and that to every one is given the spirit of responsibility and concern for the Church, the spirit of active membership. It is not based, however, on any juridical right that would make laity “co-governors” and “co-administrators” of the Church. The authority to decide whether this or that decision of the Sobor is in agreement with Tradition remains with the Hierarchy and it is in this sense that the Sobor is hierarchal.

The Sobor is thus the expression of the common concern for the Church of all her members and the expression also of her hierarchal structure, and this is what “sobornost” and “sobornal” mean in Orthodoxy. It is a cooperation, in which each member of the Church is given full possibility to express his views, to enrich other with his experience, to teach and to be taught, to give and to receive. The hierarchy can profit immensely from this cooperation with the laity, just as the laity can be enlightened on the various dimensions of the Church life. But all this does not mean “egalitarianism”, a transformation of hierarchy into laity and vice-versa. It is a sad fact, a tragedy indeed, that under the influence of secularism and legalism, the whole emphasis in our understanding of the Sobor activities has shifted to “decisions” and “motions” which are being considered as the main task of the Sobor, whereas its real value is in the wonderful opportunity to clarify the mind of the Church by a common discussion, by sharing the concern for the Church, by deepening the unity of all members of the Church. It is a sad fact, that instead of pervading our “secular” life with the spirit of the Church, we can think of nothing better than to transform the Church into a secular corporation with “balance of powers”, “fight for rights” and pseudo-democratic “egalitarianism.” Once more, the Sober is an hierarchal organ of the Church, submitted as such to the basic structure of the Church and valid inasmuch only as it is hierarchal.

Equally wrong is Mr. Arkush’s analysis of the lay participation in the Sobors of the past. In his opinion, the Church of the Ecumenical Councils not only changed the practice of the early Church (which was that of accepting the laity into the “synod”) but legislated in exactly the opposite direction: laity was canonically excluded from the election of Bishops and participation in Church Councils. The “early” practice was restored by the Moscow Sobor of 1917-18, and constitutes the basis for the Church in America. First, on the election of bishops: It is true that the bishops were elected by the local church. The consecration, however, which alone made them bishops was performed by the bishops – and this order expresses the ontological order of the Church. Election, i.e. suggestion, proposal, etc., comes from the people of the Church, the Sanction comes from the hierarchy, and this principle is to be applied to the whole life of the Church, in which, according to St. Ignatius of Antioch, “nothing can be done without the bishop” (i.e. without the hierarchal sanction). No canon ever condemned or forbade the election of the bishop by the people and if this was not done for a long time, the reason is purely historical and accidental, not “canonical.” It is highly desirable to restore it wherever and whenever possible, but let it be clear, that election as such is not the condition of validity for a bishop. The Apostles were not “elected” by anyone, and it is at least doubtful that St. Paul when appointing Timothy or Titus was basing his choice on a popular election. It is true that many forms and the very spirit of secular government pervaded the Church after her alliance with the Roman Empire, transforming the bishops into high officials (hence the uncanonical transfers of bishops, the idea of a “cursus honorum”, the weakening of the ties between the bishop and his church etc.), but it is also true that the best bishops and the real canonical tradition were always fighting this transformation as a distortion and called for the restoration of a true Orthodox ecciesiology.

“The canons of the Ecumenical Councils, – writes Mr. Arkush, – make no mention of the laity as sharing in Church government. On the contrary they indicate that the Bishop solely governed the Church”. I am glad that Mr. Arkush makes this clear statement and, although he tries immediately to question its relevance for us and our time, there remains the fact that our Church knows of no other canonical tradition but precisely that of the Ecumenical Councils period. The Church was governed by the Bishops because the Bishops are the ministers of Church government, and to ask whether this principle or “canon” is still binding is to ask whether the Church is still the Church. What Mr. Arkush overlooks, however, is the fact that the lay participation in shaping the life and the activities of the Church, its voice – was fully recognized, even though they took no official part in the Church councils. The great monastic movement was at its beginning a lay movement, yet it had a great impact on the whole life of the Church. Eusebius of Dorylea was a simple layman when he protested against the heretical teaching of his bishop Nestrorius. Theologians were not necessarily bishops and the tradition of “lay theology” has remained a living one even today. Participation, activity, concern for the Church, thinking, discussion – all this was never denied to the laity, on the contrary, belongs to it as its right and duty.

It was indeed a wonderful achievement of the Moscow Sobor of 1917-18 that it restored this lay participation to its full capacity and gave the laity new possibilities of cooperation with the hierarchy and creative activity in the Church, and this at a moment when the common defense of the Church became an urgent need. It brought to an end a false “clericalism”, a situation in which clergy alone constitute the active element in the Church. It clearly proclaimed the principle that all Christians are living and active members of the Church. But the Moscow Sobor did not and could not change the basic structure of the Church, as Mr. Arkush seems to interpret its decisions. By introducing the laity into the Sobor – “the supreme authority of the Church”, it did not change the status of the laity in the Church, it did not give them “rights of government”. The final sanction within the Sobor belongs to the Bishops, and this principle according to Prof. Kartashoff was the “corner stone of the whole activity of the Sohor” (A. Kartashoff, The Revolution and the Sobor of 1917-18, in “The Theological Thought”, Paris, 1942, pp. 88) – “All decisions of the plenary sessions, – writes Prof. Kartashoff, – were revised at special sessions of the Bishop’s Council; if rejected by three-fourths of the Episcopate, they were sent back to the plenary session. If not accepted by the Bishops after revisions by the Sobor, they were not to become official acts of the Sobor”. Thus, at this point Mr. Arkush’s interpretation is false. The Sobor created two organs of the Church government: the Synod of Bishops and the Supreme Church Council, and it was clearly stated that to the competence of the Synod of Bishops belong the questions concerning Doctrine, Worship, Theological Education, Ecclesiastical Government and Discipline (Decision of December 8, 1917). Finally, in the Parish statute (April 20, 1918) the government of the parish is defined as follows: “It is the duty of the Rector to have a concern for all the activities of the Parish” (Ch. V. 29). To oppose the Moscow Sobor to the earlier tradition of the Church, to see in it the beginning of a “sobornal as opposed to the hierarchal Church” is therefore a pure distortion.

Mr. Arkush’s pamphlet has one notorious merit: it crystallizes the issue of our present ecclesiastical trouble. He formulates the question and answers it in the negative. It is our absolute conviction that the Orthodox faith and the Orthodox tradition put us under obligation to answer it in the positive. The Church is hierarchal. To let these two mutually exclusive answers coexist any longer would endanger the very foundation of Orthodoxy in this country. All men, who put the Church, her Life and her Truth, above their own private and individual options, likes and dislikes, must understand the ultimate scope of this controversy, make their choice and act accordingly.

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall 1959, pp. 36-41

source: http://www.archdiocese.ca/e_resources/legislation.htm

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem

Syrian Christians of Kerala

St. Thomas one of the 12 disciples of Christ set up Christianity in Kerala as early as AD52. A short film showing the still existing similarities in customs and traditions of the Hindus and Christians of Kerala.

Kerala: Cradle of Christianity in Asia

Americans seem to find the need to send missionaries around the world to places where Christianity has been since the beginning. Perhaps what Americans should be doing is bringing Christians from Africa, India, Asia, and other places to America so that they can learn what Orthodox have known and taught since the days of Christ...the fulness of His Gospel message.

In this video, you learn more about Kerala, the cradle of Christianity in Asia, where St. Thomas came after Christ's Resurrection, and where Christianity still survives even though some Christians from the West have battled it through the ages.

Are You Prepared for the Second Coming

It is a common question put to the church, "When will we know that the second coming is upon us?" This question comes in two forms; those who want the exact time and date of the second coming, and those who want to know what signs will indicate the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As to the exact time and date, " the master of the servant will come on a day when the servant is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware,(1)" Knowing the exact time and date of the second coming, provides ease and comfort to sin and delays our need for repentance to the last week, day or hour. Yet, who is to say that we will live to see that day?

Not even the angels know when the sec ond coming will be, because we should not be robbed of the importance of our daily preparedness ˆ the essential component of Christian unity with God. The Lord shall come "like a thief in the night.(2)" In His wisdom, God the Son did not give us an exact time and date so that we may always be ready for His return, for the first coming was to save, but the second coming is to judge our individual worthiness. And so the message that the Lord wishes us to retain is "Be prepared." Repentance, confession and forgiveness of others "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," is an essential daily preparation for the second coming. Having a date stamped on the calendar allows us to delay this essential daily necessity.

The second coming is also individualized. For the second coming is when the Lord comes to me, to you, and not just to the world. Being prepared for this individual second coming is daily, for your time may be at this moment ˆ yet my time may be already passed or tomorrow, or even many days yet to come. "Be Prepared." For no time warning will be given.

Now as to those who wonder what signs will there be that indicate the second coming is drawing nearer; this is covered in great detail by St. Paul, "that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.(3)"

1. "The falling away," is the apostasy, when the multitude leaves the faith and goes away from the faith in a massive wave. A great departure from the faith into a massive movement of non-biblical based make-believe worship. Please note, these signs we speak of are to alarm us, nor to define an exact timeframe. But simply to remind us to "Be Prepared."- both individually as well as collectively.

2. The formation of the nation of Israel . Jacob was renamed Israel by God, which means "struggled with God and men and prevailed.(4) " The church is the new Israel for we struggle with God to be more with Him and we struggle with men to be less of them and we will prevail through Jesus's blood and we will prevail over the world through our struggle with God, through=2 0God and in God.

3. "The man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition who opposes and exalts himself above all that is God." This is the antichrist, the false Christ. When the true Christ comes, every eye will see him, you do need not come to him. The antichrist will use the internet, TV and technology to be known and seen by everyone. But God the Son does not need technology to be seen by all. Satan can and will perform miracles except one, he cannot raise the dead because he himself is dead, he has no life, therefore he cannot raise the dead. He will mimic Christ, and thus "exalts himself above all that is called God."

In chapter 5 of the first epistle of Thessalonians, St. Paul provides us with guidance on how to prepare ourselves for the second coming. "Pray without ceasing.(5)" If we can not praise God unceasingly then how can we handle being in the presence of God eternally? In this chapter you will find the step by step way to prepare yourself for the second coming. We need to measure ourselves? If Jesus asked us, "Come with me now." What would we say? "Please God not right now, can I h ave a little time?" Would it really matter whether now or tomorrow? Are we so bound to our daily habits, that draw us away from God, from the praise of God, from the discussion of worthiness before God, that we cannot imagine praying to God unceasingly? If so, then what would a little extra time matter? We need to break away from our daily habits We need to measure ourselves and ask what are our days are filled with? End your day with contemplation of that day. Ask yourself what do you want to rid yourself of? What do you want to carry with you for eternity? Being in the perpetual status of repentance is the very best way to "Be Prepared."

Glory be to God, Amen.

[1] Luke 12:46; [2]. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; [3].  2 Thessalonians 2: 3-4;
[4]. Genesis 32:28; [5]. 1 Thessalonians 5: 17
 
-CC Mathew Achen
  
    

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Syrian Jacobite Church Of India- A Visual Journey

51 years as a priest

The 51st anniversary of Priesthood of His Beatitude Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I, the Catholicose of India will be celebrated at Kothamangalam, on 20 September 2009. Catholicose will offer thanksgiving Holy Qurbono at Kothamangalam Marth Mariam Valiyapally (St. Mary's Cathedral).

Let us celebrate His Beatitude‚s Priesthood by praying for him, his health and for his office in the Catholicate of India.

May the prayers of the Virgin Mary and the Saints be with His Beatitude.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

St. Shenouda

Abba Shenouda the Prophet and Archimandrite (the Head of the Anchorites) (d. 466, Abib 7th) lived before, during, and after the Council of Chalcedon.



St. Shenouda is one of the greatest Saints of the Coptic Orthodox Church for a number of reasons. He is popular first and foremost for his transcendently profound asceticism and holiness which set him apart in the Church of his day to the extent that St. Cyril of Alexandria requested Abba Shenouda's company at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus 431 for the primary sake of being accompanied by one of reputable holiness. When Abba Shenouda, and his disciple Abba Vesa sought to return to Egypt with St. Cyril, the sailors of the ship refused them entry. As the ship sailed, St. Cyril witnessed St. Shenouda and St. Vesa travelling upon a cloud, and cried out saying, "Bless us, O Father and Saint, O new Elijah!"

Other unique incidents attesting to his sanctity include the prophetic witness to his birth by St. Athanasius and a monk of the Pachomian order known as St. Horesios who, upon meeting St. Shenouda's mother before St. Shenouda's birth, announced: "God bless the fruit of your womb, who will be like Amber diffusing its sweet aroma throughout the whole world". His position as Archimandrite and Abbot of the White Monastery were also prophetically witnessed. Upon visiting St. Pijol at the White Monastery as a child, St. Shenouda's father, who accompanied him, requested that St. Pijol, the Abbott of the White Monastery, bless his son. Abba Pijol refused and instead took the hand of St. Shenouda and placed it on his own head saying, "It is I who is in need of this boy's blessing, for he is a chosen vessel of Christ, who will serve Him faithfully throughout his whole life". St. Shenouda's childhood as a shepherd itself evidenced exemplary Sainthood; however, I shall leave the story of his childhood to the below links.


Saint Abba Shenouda eventually succeeded St. Abba Pijol as head of the White Monastery in the year 383 A.D. In contrast to St. Pachomious who regarded coenobitism to be the climax of monastic excellency, St. Shenouda promoted, in the practice of his monastic community, the concept of coenobitism as the means of preparing spiritually mature souls for the life of anchoritism.

St. Shenouda also acquired popularity, particularly within the Coptic Orthodox Church, on account of his socio-political activities. Abba Shenouda and the thousands of monastics under his rule did not sever themselves completely and unconditionally from the social issues that affected the nearby communities, but rather, in the true spirit of Agape Love which transcends the letter of Monastic canons and regulations, shared the sufferings of the wider Body of Christ and pursued practical means by which to assist the wider community. Thus, during the Blemmye invasion of Upper Egypt, the monastery opened its doors to the refugees and captives, providing not only spriritual comfort and divine protection, but also medical assistance to the wounded, and food to the many in hunger. Many miracles we performed at the hands of St. Shenouda during this time, including the multiplication of food to feed the many who required it.

In spite of his zealous pursuit of the hermitic life, St. Shenouda also took up the position of advocate on behalf of the oppressed Copts during the disastrous aftermath of Chalcedon. He rigorously took up the cause of the Coptic peasants forced into slavery under Byantine rule, both in the courts and before the Emperor himself. In his Spirit-led pursuit to maintain the integrity of the Orthodox spirit amongst the Copts, he helped shape and establish Coptic identity against Byzantine influence in the aftermath of Chalcedon, particularly through his most valuable contribution to Coptic literature.

source: http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,10363.0.html

The Sailor's Prayer


Rev Andew J Demotses

THE SAILOR’S PRAYER

The recent loss of the fishermen in a boating accident in the waters off Gloucester, and the dedication of the moving monument to the wives and children of fishermen lost at sea, reminded me of the simple yet eloquent prayer offered by every sailor who sets off to sea – “Keep us, our God; for your ocean is so wide and our boat is so small.”

How truly beautiful those words are. They speak to us with a special meaning precisely because we understand that they might well be uttered by each of us at some point on our sometimes difficult journey on the sea of life. We are so weak, so helpless, and yet so forgetful of our God’s loving kindness. Tossed to and fro at the mercy of circumstance, we would likely perish if He did not hold us in his providential care.

At times the challenges and difficulties of life threaten to overwhelm us. We sense our weaknesses and our inability to overcome them. The problems we face are so great and perplexing that we feel they have no solution. Our pain can be so deep that it seems to have no end. We feel like crying out to God in the words of the psalmist “I am poor and needy . . . you are my help and my deliverer.” (70:5).

It is precisely then, when the storm is strongest and at its most threatening, that we need to remember that when we call upon God and cast ourselves on Him with simple trust, we can be sure that His great power and wisdom will carry us through even the greatest tribulation and deliver us to the safe water of a calm harbor. And so, even thought we each journey in a “small boat” on a “wide ocean”, we can surely trust our God to guide and protect us even in the worst of storms. We need only ask him to keep us this day, and every day that yet remains.

source: http://www.goarch.org/resources/sermons/sermonettes/sermonettes4

The Angels


Written by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

Introduction

Through out the Holy Book, from Genesis to Revelation and in all the important events in it we read about spiritual beings called the Angels. Those Angels witnessed the creation of man, accompanied him in his glory and humiliation, in his rise and fall, in his sinfulness and righteousness. They escorted the Lord, God, along the way towards redemption.

Nature of Angels

The angels are heavenly articulate spiritual beings possessing intellect. They were created by God Almighty at the beginning of creation for glorifying the Lord, praising and ministering to him as could be inferred from God’s address to his servant Job:
“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth…? When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job.38: 4-7).

Appearance

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes the angels saying:

“Are they not all ministering spirits?” (Heb. 1:14).“Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire” (Heb. 1:7, Ps.104: 4).
It is believed that they are pure incorporeal souls. It is also believed that even though they are spirits, yet they possess gentle invisible aerial body with no ordinary human needs. “The countenance” of the angel, who rolled back the stone from the door of the Lord’s grave after his resurrection " was like lightning and his raiment white as snow"(Matt. 28-3).
Angels mentioned, however, in the Holy Book appearing with sundry bodies and various forms possess temporary bodies assumed to reassure people and encourage them to talk to them. Apostle Paul says of these bodies, " It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit….
The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (1 Cor.15-44-50).
Jesus Christ describes the Holy believers who are to inherit his eternal heavenly kingdom saying:
" But they, which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection". (Luke 20:35-36).

Number

Angels are not born. They neither marry nor are given in marriage. They do not procreate or become old, nor do they die. Their abode is heaven. They are sent as messengers to earth for ministering to mankind.
God created them in great numbers that only God Almighty knows of.
The Psalmist Said:
“The chariots of God are twenty thousand” (Ps. 68:17).
(Elisha, the prophet said to his servant who was scared when he beheld the huge number of his enemies: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6: 16-17). Daniel, the prophet said " I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: His throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him". (Dan. 7:9, 10).

Lord Jesus said to his disciple Simon Peter: " thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53). And the author of Revelation said:
“And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne …and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands; (Rev. 5:11).
Church fathers, therefore, deduced that the number of angels was so huge and it outnumbered that of human beings and all other beings over all the ages.

POWER, ABILITY, FUNCTION
Angels outdo human beings in knowledge, learning, power and ability. Due to the perfection of their nature they are capable of predicting future inevitable events.
They have extensive wisdom but are not omniscient. God alone is omniscient.

The Psalmist said in his exaltation of the Creator.
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor”. (Ps. 8: 4-5). The Psalmist addresses the angels saying:
" Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his Commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word". (Ps. 103:20).

Angels worship God, prostrate in adoration of him and keep, as it were, praising him day and night. They are always ready to fulfill his will and his Commandments. It’s through the angels that God, the invisible, gets in contact with man. “No man has seen God at anytime” (John 1:18). And God’s angels are standing before him at all times. Their faces are covered with their wings, the way they were beheld by Prophet Isaiah (Is. 6:1-4). God sends angels to our earth for taking care of the believers, meeting their needs, guarding and rescuing them from their spiritual or corporal enemies. The Psalmist addresses the believers saying " For He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone". (Ps. 91:11-13) and " the angel of the Lord encompeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them". (Ps. 34:7).

The Holy Book is full of services done by the angels to mankind in fulfillment of God’s Commands.
When God drove man out of the Garden of Eden " He placed Cherubim to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen.3: 24).
The power of angels and their authority, which is derived from God, is manifested here. “When the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it” (2Sam.24-16), and in (2king.19: 35) " the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred four score and five thousand".

The Lord God invested the angels with authority to control material elements, manage and guard them, yet God never permitted them to change Laws or Principles set by God, neither did God permit them change any procedures without His consent.
No material or human obstacles, no natural forces or laws can stand in the way of the fulfillment of tasks assigned to Angels by God. The Lord sent His angel to his servants Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and delivered them from the fiery furnace in Babylon. (Dan.3: 25-28) by making the fire have no power. God also delivered his servant Daniel from the Lions’ den “My God has sent his angel, and has shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me for as much as before him innocency was found in me”. (Dan. 6:22).

In the New Testament we read in Acts of the Apostles how the Jewish high priest and the sadducees laid their hands on the Apostles and put them in the common prison and how the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison door and brought them forth and said “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life”: (Acts 5:19:20).

When King Herod laid hand on Apostle Peter, he put him in prison and delivered him to four quatrinions of soldiers to keep him… Peter was sleeping between two soldiers bound with two chains. “And the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews…”(Acts 12:1-11).

The Guardian Angel

God’s providence and his love of mankind willed that he assign an angel for every believer to guard his soul and body and be with him from his conception in his mother’s womb until his soul departs his body, when his spirit returns to God, its creator. Some believe that the child, while still in his mother’s womb is guarded by his mother’s guarding angel. The minute the baby is born, a guarding angel is assigned to him.
The guarding angel accompanies the believer in this life and conveys his prayer to God .He intercedes with God, Almighty, for him.

The guarding angel guides the believer along paths of righteousness to fulfil God’s will and avoid thus paths of perdition. Heaven is the guardian angel’s abode. He is capable, however, of hurrying to earth in no time to accomplish his assignment .Had it been possible to attribute human emotions, such as joy and grief, to angels, we would have felt their sympathies with human beings throughout the fluctuating conditions of their life. The Lord said " Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Luke 15:10). Angels try to keep the believers away from sin. They fight evil spirits for them, and protect them from the temptations of the devil and from disasters and calamities caused by him. Angels do that by praying for the believers. Lord Jesus says: " Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; For I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:10).

The doctrine of having a guardian angel assigned for each believer was among doctrines of the old Testament thus we read about Jacob, the father of the tribes blessing the two sons of Joseph saying: “The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads” (Gen.48: 16). The author of Ecclesiastes reported " Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error:"(Eccl.5: 6).
The guardian angel remains with the believer until his soul departs his body. Angels carry the souls of the righteous, ascending with them to heaven according to the Lord’s words in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus " the beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom:" (Luke 16:22).

The angels admit virtuous spirits to paradise to join the spirits of the righteous, where they wait for the Second Coming of the Lord to be joined to their bodies and to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Some theologians suggest that the souls of evil people are usually carried, after departing their bodies, by the devils into dark places where they wait for the agony of doomsday when they will be judged and will suffer eternal punishment. Some other theologians contend saying that only good angels are entitled to carry the souls of the righteous and the evil either to heaven or to darkness.

THE APPEARANCE OF ANGELS AND THE HERALDING OF GOD’S COMMANDS AND WARNINGS
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reported:
" Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb.1: 13-14).
Throughout their ministry Angels appeared in diverse forms and conveyed Sundry messages to mankind. Three angels appeared to Abraham and they were substantial men to whom Abraham offered butter and milk and the calf, which he had dressed “and he stood by them under the tree and they did eat… and one of the angels said to him, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life: and Lo, Sarah, thy wife shall have a son” (Gen. 18:1-10) And this was fulfilled.

There came two angels to Lot…and he made them a feast and did bake unleavened bread. They ordered him to leave Sodom because God rained upon it brimstone and fire. (Gen. 19:1-3). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. (Heb.13: 2).

So interesting are the narratives that tell of the appearance of the angels to men; one of which is that in the vision of Jacob who dreamed and beheld a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven, and beheld the angels of God ascending and descending on it (Gen.28: 12), the others are the narrative of Jacob’s struggle with the angel of the Lord and Jacob’s triumph over him: and the narrative of the angel who prevented Bala’am, son of Beor from cursing those blessed by God and how the mouth of the ass of Balaam was opened.(Num. 22:23-24).

One of the significant appearances of the angels is that of Gabriel, the archangel, to Daniel, the prophet, when he told him of the future of his people annunciating the coming of Messiah, fixing the date of the coming of this great redeemer 500 years earlier (Dan. 8:16,9:21).
We know through the conversation that takes place between Gabriel, the Archangel and Daniel, the prophet, that an angel is appointed for every people and every city (Dan. 10:13,20).

Five hundred years after his appearance to Daniel, Gabriel himself appeared to Zecharia, the priest in the temple of incense and annunciated him of the birth of his son John, the Baptist. Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary as well in Nazareth and annunciated her of the divine conception of the Holy Spirit and of her giving birth to Lord Jesus, the savior, who would absolve his people of their sins.
It was Gabriel who appeared to Joseph, who was betrothed to the Virgin Mary and who ordered him to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt because Herod was seeking to kill the boy.

The angels ministered to the Lord Jesus in the wilderness after his fasting, his baptism and his temptation. The angels appeared to Lord Jesus in the garden of Gesthemani before his Passions, strengthening him.

It was an angel who rolled back the stone from the grave of the Lord and sat upon it after the Resurrection of the Lord from the dead and he annunciated the women of the Resurrection of the redeemer. (Matt. 28:2).

The angels have been and will remain forever at the service of the Saints encouraging confessors and martyrs to adhere to and be steadfast in their confession.

Ranking of Angels

Angels exist in orderly arrangement, according to standing and function. They are divided into organized groups, ranks and statuses. Based on the teachings of the Holy Bible and ecclesiastic tradition, Holy fathers had nine names given to three ranks of them: high, middle and low.
The first rank includes the Cherubim (Gen. 3:23-24), the Seraphim (Is.6: 1-4) and Thrones (Col. 1:14-16). The second rank includes angels, authorities and powers (1 Pet. 3:22) and the third rank includes soldiers, archangels and angels (1Pet.3: 22). These three ranks refer to the three Christian ranks of priesthood, which are episcopacy, priesthood and Diaconate.

In his book entitled " Al-Rutba Al-Samawiya and Al-Rutba Al-Kawniya"(Heavenly and ecclesiastic ranking) Iwannis of Dara (+860) states the following:
“Articulate beings are two: Angels and humans. Angels are spiritual and so is their priesthood, which is purely spiritual and transcends this world.
As angels undergo no change in terms of age and they do not experience youth and old age, therefore, their priesthood shall have to be static, with no increase or decrease or change. Nor do they shift from one rank to another. Human beings, however, are tied up to their ever changing body, which grows up, matures, becomes old and then dies and as such they have been granted the type of priesthood that is appropriate to them.

Names of Some Angels

In the Holy Book only four Archangels of the highest rank are mentioned:

1) Gabriel whose name means God’s mightiness and power (D: 8:6, 9:10). He
is the angel who said of himself “I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God” (Luke 1: 19). He is the Annunciator of the mystery of Incarnation and Redemption.
2) Michael (Dan. 10:13 and 21-12:1) whose name means who resembles God.
He is the Archangel who will call the dead in Christ to rise (1Thess. 4:16).
3) Raphael whose name means the light of God. (Tobias 12:19).
4) Ariel (Ezra 2- 4:10).

Wicked Angels-Falling Into Sin

Angels possess free will. They were led into temptation. Some of them committed the Sin of Rebellion and offence against God. Angels, who were steadfast in their commitment to God, Almighty, were called Holy Angels or the chosen angels because God, the omniscient, knew that they would be firm in obeying him. The other angels, however, who were disdainfully proud and rebellious, fell with their chief to Hades and were called evil angels. Their job is to fight against people ferociously, do mischief to them and tempt them. They are, Just like the good angels, organized hierarchically.
Isiah, the Prophet referred to the event of the fall of evil angels saying:
" How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, Son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I’ll be like the most High.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit". (Is. 14:12-15).

In the Epistle of Jude we read about the Lord’s punishment of rebellious angels.
“And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day”. (Jude 1:6). And Apostle Peter says:
“For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment:” (2Peter 2:4).

A great number of angels of all ranks and estates are fallen angels. Their prince is called Satan, which means a tempter, a complainer, a deceiver, and an accuser. He wanted to be equal to God according to Isiah, the Prophet (IS 14:12).
He is called Lucifer, that is the adversary, the rebellious, and insurgent. So many attributes were given to him. Some of which are Ekron’s God, Baal-zebub, who is originally the greatest God of Philistines (2Kings 1:2), the wicked, and Belial, the prince of this world, the prince that dominates the firmament.

He is a killer, a liar, the originator of Hypocrisy and the father of the serpent and the dragon.
Demons have much of what is true of angels, for they are incorporeal beings, and endowed with power, intelligence and ability, but such characteristics will turn into evil ones once the angel falls, and as such will be committed to do evil.
Evil angels hated man because he gained favor with God, who created him to be a rational being. He granted him dominance over all creatures, hence Satan’s temptation of man with the help of the serpent in the Garden of Eden and man’s fall into sin.
Ever since the fall of man into sin God put enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s soul, that is Satan. This enmity is a grace of God bestowed on man because through this enmity the evil intentions of Satan towards human kind were revealed and God declared Satan as an exposed enemy, eager to disguise in order to destroy mankind.
The war between man and Satan has never ceased. Apostle Paul says, therefore:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph.6: 12).

Number

So huge is the number of devils. They attack man in great numbers as reported in the incident of the healing of the Gadarene demoniac of whom the evil spirit was taken out by the Lord. And when the Lord asked him what his name was he answered.
“My name is Legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:8). The term legion means an army unit consisting of as many as six thousand soldiers. This refers to this one man having been the victim of six thousand demon possessions. And forthwith, the Lord gave them leave and the unclean spirits went out and entered into the herd of swine and the herd ran violently down a steep place and were choked.

Power

Devils have great fearful material and immaterial power. The difference in their power is manifested in the influence they exercise on the minds of people and in the ways of mischief and elusiveness they adopt for leading man into falling into sin and for causing destruction in the world. They differ in ranks and positions. The Lord says:
" When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first" (Luke 11:24-26). The Lord also said about one kind of demons or about demons in general: " Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21).

Devils possess power that enables them do great wonders, so that they make fire come down from heaven. (Rev. 13:13 , 16:14). Satan helps his followers- sorcerers and soothsayers and others- to do miracles and predict the future, or what we call witchcraft and divination. These activities include necromancy, which is in fact consulting Satan himself, because Satan has no authority over the soul of the dead. It is Satan who talks on behalf of the soul imitating that man depending on his previous familiarity with him. God condemns magic with all this demonic activities because it is a sin and a practice of Satan.

The power of Satan is doubled through his misleading schemes for he tries to hide and disguise beguiling men into thinking that he does not exist. Demons in fact are spiritual beings, each of whom has an existing “self”. When Jesus Christ healed those who were possessed with devils He used to command each as an individual being, and an essential self to come out of man and never return (Matt. 4:24, Marc 1:32).

The Lord triumphed over Satan when he tried to tempt him in the wilderness.
God gave us power to be triumphant in our Lord Jesus Christ and commended us to pray to the father saying " And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13). The Lord annihilated the power of Satan exercised on us by his Holy Cross. The moment we draw the sign of the Cross on our foreheads demons run away scared and frightened. The Lord says:
“I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18) and he said before His Passions: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).
These devils are to undergo everlasting agonies on doomsday. The author of Revelation saw them defeated and wrote of them saying:

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him”. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death". (Rev.12: 7-11).

Conclusion

We are surrounded by spiritual beings. They are chosen angels, who are Holy spirits and evil angels, who are evil spirits or devils and demons. The latter are our archenemies and the enemies of the entire human race.
The Apostle Paul warns us saying:
“Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast” (1 Peter 5-8).
Devils are incapable of subduing us and making us fall into sin no matter how powerful they are. They can only beguile us so that we commit sin of our own free will.

Thanks are due to God, who, out of his abundant mercy and providential care, has assigned a guarding angel, for each one of us. This angel accompanies us through out life, inspires us to be virtuous, guides us towards goodness, offers our prayers before the throne of God and intercede with God, Almighty, for us. We shall have to abide by the guidance of our guarding angel and honor him, but we shall not worship him because worship of angels is deemed a blasphemy according to Apostle Paul, who says " let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels" (Col. 2: 18).

In Revelation John fell at the feet of the angel to worship him and the angel said to him: " See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: Worship God". (Rev. 19: 10)

The Church keeps Commemoration days of some of the angels honoring them as saints. Let us, therefore, honor them, too, hoping that we would join them and be, just like them, the inheritors of Christ’s kingdom of heaven forever.

source: http://www.syrianorthodoxchurch.org/library/essays/the-angels/

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