Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is Holiness Practical Today?

By Monk Moses the Athonite

All the saints of our Church "ended their lives after a good struggle and keeping the faith".

The saints are good-conquering strugglers and undaunted confessors. They were visited by the Holy Spirit and graced. They were not just good, kind, noble, smiling, and ethical, but they were icons of Christ. They are the ones that remain always indissolubly united with Christ, who reveal to the world and lead people to Christ. The saints assure us that the gospel is feasible and practicable throughout the centuries and we can if we want strive to unite with Christ. The saints by accepting Christ in their lives unreservedly are made Christ-like, and become Christ-bearers and Christ-seers. In this way they testify, confess, preach, and present everywhere and always Him. They cannot live without Christ. For them He is everything.

Quite often we are given various opportunities to confess Christ. Sometimes we do it promptly and pleasantly, sometimes with difficulty and sometimes out of fear or shame not at all. The true believer confesses Christ always fearlessly, because they keep living in repentance and humility. He feels weak, but trusts fully in Christ and is richly strengthened. He confesses Christ Who is in him. Sometimes it is hard to confess Christ even to those very near and dear to us. Then, according to the Gospel, they become "household enemies of this man". It happens that our own people do not understand us, but shouldn't we make an attempt to discreetly talk about Christ. Or sometimes we go to the opposite end. We talk to them so much about Christ, where in the end we fatigue them, sicken them, and repress them, so they do not even want to hear about Christ. We can never push or dominate or threaten anyone, and even more our own people, to follow Christ.

Christ is freedom and love. He invites, and requires no blackmail. We are called to inspire people to love Christ. When man is self-imprisoned by the mighty "ego", suffering from selfishness, individualism, egopathy and pride, it is difficult to love others, more so God. And thus he is unable to confess in front of people. Whoever does not confess, this means that they don't have love. Whoever does not love is self-sentenced to an icy loneliness, which will begin in this life and continue to eternity. The selfish egoist feels the love of God as fire, and cannot resist it, does not want it, is bothered by it, and it burns him.

Today there are Christians who love the saints, study the lives of the saints, running to their feasts, lighting oil lamps to them, venerating their icons, building temples in their honor, as well as shrines, icons, lamps, bread, prosfora, boiled wheat and so on. There also exist those who do not love the saints, and I am not speaking about atheists, the impious and the irreligious, but those influenced by rationalism, from an intellectual modern theology, which considers all these things as sicknesses of non-theological popular piety. Unfortunately much of the Christian world has not fully realized the great value and importance of saints in our lives.

The reverence, piety and fervor of the faithful lovers of saints have not disappeared in our days. One can see and rejoice over houses full of icons, with an unwaning vigil lamp, unquenchable candle and censer; simple grandmothers speaking with tears about the wonderful presence of the saints in their lives, hoping in the intercessions of the saints and the Theotokos to save them and help them to enter into Paradise. The lovers of saints are those who seek also today real saints to be upheld and benefited. They do not create and imagine saints, nor follow those who play a god or false saints, but bow to true and genuine holiness. The lovers of saints are the finest of the congregation in the parishes. They continue the tradition, honor reverently the memories of our saints, are not easily scandalized by false saints and are not affected and ridden by ecclesiastical scandals, real or not. When found in difficult conditions, such as being under a totalitarian regime, they endure bravely, hopeful and victorious.

The saints always remain humble, because they have the certain conviction that what is good has been given from above, and are not their own spoils. So the saints can't boast about their gifts, being given by the Father of Lights. Our saints, in full consciousness of their gifts, give all glory, honor and worship to God the Gift-giver. When they are praised by people they praise the Source of all good, the All-Good God. The more God sees man humble himself, the more He blesses him and graces him, since always "to the humble He gives grace". A charismatic who uses his gifts to his own glory and gain, surely will soon lose it, and be exhibited miserably in the eyes of people he exploited. From this life he will be confused, bewildered and wretched and he will expect eternal hell.

There exists, my beloved, plenty of hidden holiness in our troubled times. Not only in life nameless, unknown, obscure monks in the deserts and monasteries, but also in the world. Spouses who endure the resignation and capricious prodigality of spouses - drunkards, night owls, worthless and indifferent. Who are not led to divorce, but endure and hope and pray and leave a good example for their children. The attitude of the mother teaches the children, she is an excellent example, an incitement to virtue. This course they will not ever forget in their lives. This heroic attitude can convert a violent husband and definitely give you the crown of patience for the long, and sometimes a life of, suffering. We have known such rare heroines of faith, who for many years lived a horrible secret and torment in silence, patience, prayer, tears, humility, trust and hope in God. How can God not grace such beautiful souls?

You see, holiness has many aspects. Those in the world will not be judged because they do not do a lot of prayer, though there are some who do more than monks. St. John Chrysostom said: the laity will be saved by almsgiving. Almsgiving shows a humble soul who knows how to love. In this wicked and challenging era, whoever is humbled, chaste, pure, honorable, honest, fair, righteous and prudent will have much in heaven.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Liturgical Cycles

The Life Cycle

Holy Baptism

Holy Chrismation

o      Holy Matrimony

o      Monastic Tonsure

§       Holy Orders


The Annual Cycle

Movable Feasts Are Based on Pascha:  Pre-Lent, Lent, Palm Sunday, Ascension, Pentecost

Fixed Feasts Are Based On Numerical Dates On The Calendar

The Great 12 Feasts of the Annual Cycle

7 Feasts of Our Lord

o      The Universal Exaltation of the Life Giving Cross- 9/14

o      The Nativity of Our Lord – 12/25

o      The Theophany (epiphany) – 1/6

o      The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem - Sunday Before Pascha

o      The ascension of Our Lord – 40 Days after Pascha

o      The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) – 50 Days after Pascha

o      The Transfiguration of Our Lord – 8/6

5 Feasts of the Theotokos

o      The Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos – 9/8

o      The Entrance of the Theotokos Into The Temple – 11/21

o      The Meeting of our Lord in the Temple – 2/2

o      The Annunciation to the Theotokos – 3/25

o      The Dormition of the Theotokos – 8/15

The Daily Cycle

Evening Services: 9th Hour, Vespers, Compline

o      The 9th Hour service actually belongs to previous day, and thus is actually part of the midday services.

o      The Liturgical Day Begins at the 12th hour or 6 pm with Vespers and then continues with services at 3 hour intervals.

o      On Saturdays and on Great Feasts, the “All Night Vigil’ may be served. The vigil is a combination of Vespers and Matins, and last from 2-4 hours at parishes, and upto all night at monasteries.
      Morning Services; Nocturns, Matins, 1st Hour

o      1st hour is usually joined to Matins.

Midday Services: 3rd Hour, 6th Hour, Divine Liturgy (Outside of Time) or Typical Psalms

o      6th Hour is usually joined to 9th Hour

Friday, May 25, 2012

Understanding the Bible Through the Church

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture. A book is not part of Scripture because of any particular theory about its dating and author- ship. Even if it could be proved, for example, that the Fourth Gospel was not actually written by John the beloved disciple of Christ, this would not alter the fact that we Orthodox accept the Fourth Gospel as Holy Scripture. Why? Because the Gospel of John is accepted by the Church and in the Church.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, and it is also the Church that tells us how Scripture is to be understood. Coming upon the Ethi- opian as he read the Old Testament in his chariot, Philip the Apostle asked him, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And the Ethio- pian answered, “How can I, unless some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30-3). We are all in the position of the Ethiopian.

The words of Scripture are not always self-explanatory. God speaks directly to the heart of each one of us as we read our Bible. Scripture reading is a personal dialogue between each one of us and Christ - but we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church. We make full use of our own personal understanding, assisted by the Spirit, we make full use of the findings of modern Biblical research, but always we submit private opinion - whether our own or that of the scholars - to the total experi- ence of the Church throughout the ages.

The Orthodox standpoint here is summed up in the question asked of a convert at the reception service used by the Russian Church: “Do you acknowledge that the Holy Scripture must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which has been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, has always held and still does hold?”

We read the Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We read as the members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. When reading Scripture, we say not “I” but “We.” We read in commu- nion with all the other members of the Body of Christ, in all parts of the world and in all generations of time. The decisive test and criterion for our understanding of what the Scripture means is the mind of the Church. The Bible is the book of the Church.

To discover this “mind of the Church,” where do we begin? Our first step is to see how Scripture is used in worship. How, in particular, are Biblical lessons chosen for reading at the different feasts? We should also consult the writings of the Church Fathers, and consider how they interpret the Bible. Our Orthodox manner of reading Scripture is in this way both liturgical and patristic. And this, as we all realize, is far from easy to do in practice, because we have at our disposal so few Orthodox commentaries on Scripture available in English, and most of the Western commentaries do not employ this liturgical and Patristic approach.

As an example of what it means to interpret Scripture in a liturgi- cal way, guided by the use made of it at Church feasts, let us look at the Old Testament lessons appointed for Vespers on the Feast of the Annunciation. They are three in number: Genesis 8:0-7; Jacob’s dream of a ladder set up from earth to heaven; Ezekiel 43:7-44:4; the prophet’s vision of the Jerusalem sanctuary, with the closed gate through which none but the Prince may pass; Proverbs 9:-: one of the great Sophianic passages in the Old Testament, beginning “Wisdom has built her house.”

These texts in the Old Testament, then, as their selection for the feast of the Virgin Mary indicates, are all to be understood as prophecies concerning the Incarnation from the Virgin. Mary is Jacob’s ladder, supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes upon entering our human world. Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while still remaining inviolate. Mary provides the house which Christ the Wisdom of God ( Cor. :4) takes as his dwelling. Exploring in this manner the choice of lessons for the various feasts, we discover layers of Biblical interpretation that are by no means obvious on a first reading.

Take as another example Vespers on Holy Saturday, the first part of the ancient Paschal Vigil. Here we have no less than fifteen Old Testament lessons. This sequence of lessons sets before us the whole scheme of sa- cred history, while at the same time underlining the deeper meaning of Christ’s Resurrection. First among the lessons is Genesis :-3, the ac- count of Creation: Christ’s Resurrection is a new Creation. The fourth lesson is the book of Jonah in its entirety, with the prophet’s three days in the belly of the whale foreshadowing Christ’s Resurrection after three days in the tomb (cf. Matthew :40). The sixth lesson recounts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites (Exodus 3:0-5:9), which anticipates the new Passover of Pascha whereby Christ passes over from death to life (cf. Corinthians 5:7; 0:-4). The final lesson is the story of the three Holy Children in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3), once more a “type” or prophecy of Christ’s rising from the tomb.

Such is the effect of reading Scripture ecclesially, in the Church and with the Church. Studying the Old Testament in this liturgical way and using the Fathers to help us, everywhere we uncover signposts pointing forward to the mystery of Christ and of His Mother. Reading the Old Testament in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the, Old - as the Church’s calendar encourages us to do - we discover the unity of Holy Scripture. One of the best ways of identifying cor- respondences between the Old and New Testaments is to use a good Biblical concordance. This can often tell us more about the meaning of Scripture than any commentary.

In Bible study groups within our parishes, it is helpful to give one per- son the special task of noting whenever a particular passage in the Old or New Testament is used for a festival or a saint’s day. We can then discuss together the reasons why each specific passage has been so cho- sen. Others in the group can be assigned to do homework among the Fathers, using for example the Biblical homilies of Saint John Chryso- stom (which have been translated into English). Christians need to acquire a patristic mind.

By Met. Kallistos Ware

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Is Tradition?

It was usual in the Ancient Church to introduce doctrinal statements by phrases like this: "Following THE HOLY FATHERS". The Decree of Chalcedon opens precisely with these very words.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council introduces its decision concerning the Holy Icons in a more elaborate way: "Following the Divinely inspired teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition of the Catholic Church." The didaskalia of the Fathers is the formal and normative term of reference.

Now, this was much more than just an "appeal to antiquity." Indeed, the Church always stresses the permanence of her faith through the ages, from the very beginning. This identity, since the Apostolic times, is the most conspicuous sign and token of right faith-always the same. Yet, "antiquity" by itself is not an adequate proof of the true faith.

The true tradition is only the tradition of truth, traditio veritatis. This tradition, according of St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and secured by, that charisma veritatis certum [secure charisma of truth], which has been "deposited" in the Church from the very beginning and has been preserved by the uninterrupted succession of episcopal ministry. "Tradition" in the Church is not a continuity of human memory, or a permanence of rites and habits. It is a living tradition—depositum juvenescens, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus. Accordingly, it cannot be counted inter mortuas regulas [among dead rules]. Ultimately, tradition is a continuity of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a continuity of Divine guidance and illumination.

"Following the Holy Fathers"… This is not a reference to some abstract tradition, in formulas and propositions. It is primarily an appeal to holy witnesses. Indeed, we appeal to the Apostles, and not just to an abstract "Apostolicity." In the similar manner do we refer to the Fathers.

The witness of the Fathers belongs, intrinsically and integrally, to the very structure of Orthodox belief. The Church is equally committed to the kerygma of the Apostles and to the dogma of the Fathers. We may quote at this point an admirable ancient hymn (probably, from the pen of St. Romanus the Melode). "Preserving the kerygma of the Apostles and the dogmas of the Fathers, the Church has sealed the one faith and wearing the tunic of truth she shapes rightly the brocade of heavenly theology and praises the great mystery of piety."

St. Gregory Palamas

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Grace of Love

The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned of God's grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us.

The Lord taught me to love my enemies. Without the grace of God we cannot love our enemies. Only the Holy Spirit teaches love, and then even devils arouse our pity because they have fallen from good, and lost humility in God.

I beseech you, put this to the test. When a man affronts you or brings dishonor on your head, or takes what is yours, or persecutes the Church, pray to the Lord, saying: "O Lord, we are all Thy creatures. Have pity on Thy servants and turn their hearts to repentance," and you will be aware of grace in your soul. To begin with, constrain your heart to love enemies, and the Lord, seeing your good will, will help you in all things, and experience itself will show you the way. But the man who thinks with malice of his enemies has not God's love within him, and does not know God.

If you will pray for your enemies, peace will come to you; but when you can love your enemies - know that a great measure of the grace of God dwells in you, though I do not say perfect grace as yet, but sufficient for salvation. Whereas if you revile your enemies, it means there is an evil spirit living in you and bringing evil thoughts into your heart, for, in the words of the Lord, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts - or good thoughts.

The good man thinks to himself in this wise: Every one who has strayed from the truth brings destruction on himself and is therefore to be pitied. But of course the man who has not learned the love of the Holy Spirit will not pray for his enemies. The man who has learned love from the Holy Spirit sorrows all his life over those who are not saved, and sheds abundant tears for the people, and the grace of God gives him strength to love his enemies.

Understand me. It is so simple. People who do not know God, or who go against Him, are to be pitied; the heart sorrows for them and the eye weeps. Both paradise and torment are clearly visible to us: We know this through the Holy Spirit. And did not the Lord Himself say, "The kingdom of God is within you"? Thus eternal life has its beginning here in this life; and it is here that we sow the seeds of eternal torment. Where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that she must humble herself and love her enemies, for there is no other way to please God.

St. Silouan

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Church is a Single Eucharistic Community

The (New Testament) phrase church in the household refers to the assembly of the faithful for the celebration of the Eucharist. If this assembly was called a church, this was because the assembly, epi to auto, for the celebration of the Eucharist was also called a church.

1 Cor 11: 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. 17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.

In contrast with the other terms used for the Church, the term church in the household was the most concrete expression of the Church, denoting the assembly of the faithful in a particular place in order to be united in the body of Christ. In consequence, the church in the household was not a third type of Church, different from the "local" or the "universal," but the local Church herself or Church of God, breaking bread at the house of one of her members.

So from an examination of the oldest texts of primitive Christianity, the Epistles of Paul, it transpires that the Eucharistic assembly was identified with the "Church of God" herself.

If we now examine those texts which are already seeing the end of the Apostolic period, such as the Revelation of John, we shall again have no difficulty in establishing the same identification of the Eucharistic assembly with the Church of God. Written characteristically "on the Lord's day," which is to say the day of the Eucharist par excellence, the Book of Revelation moves within the milieu and atmosphere of the Eucharistic assembly to such an extent that scholars studying it are faced with the problem of whether the Eucharist influenced this book or vice versa.  

Rev 1: 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."

However that may be, it should be considered that there is at least a "mutual" influence between the Book of Revelation and Eucharistic worship.  This book transports us from the Eucharist to the throne of God and from the Church on earth to the Church in heaven in such a way that we think it is one and the same reality. Indeed, the mystical identification of the Church in heaven before the throne of God with the Church on earth worshipping before the Table of the Eucharist is such as to call to mind the connection between these two aspects of the Church which only in Orthodoxy has been preserved in such depth.  Chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation, to which we shall return later, make no sense without the presupposition that the Eucharistic assembly incarnates on earth the very Church of God.

From this is becomes clear that from the first appearance of the term ekklesia there was a most profound connection, even to the point of identity, between this term and the Eucharist celebrated in each city. Each such Eucharist constituted the expression in space and time of the Church of God herself.

Met. Zizioulas, "Eucharist, Bishop, Church"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dogma vs. Opinion

Fr. Michael Pomazanski

FROM THE FIRST DAYS of her existence, the Holy Church of Christ has ceaselessly been concerned that her children, her members, should stand firm in the pure truth.

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth," writes the holy Apostle, John the Theologian (3 John 4). "I have written briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand," says the holy Apostle Peter in concluding his catholic epistle (1 Peter 5:12).

The holy Apostle Paul relates concerning himself that, having preached for fourteen years, he went to Jerusalem by revelation with Barnabas and Titus, and there he offered-especially to the most renowned citizens- the gospel which he preached, "lest by any means I should run, or bad run, in vain" (Gal. 2:2). "Instruct us in Thy path, that we may walk in Thy Truth" — is the first petition in the priestly prayers (the Prayers at Lamplighting 2) in the first Divine Service of the daily cycle, Vespers.

The true path of faith which has always been carefully preserved in the history of the Church, from of old was called straight, right, in Greek, orthos — that is, "orthodoxy." In the Psalter-from which, as we know from the history of the Christian Divine services, the Church has been inseparable from the first moment of her existence-we find such phrases as the following — "my foot hath stood in uprightness" (Ps. 26:12 [LXX-25:10]); "from before Thy face let my judgment come forth" (Ps. 17:2 [LXX-16:2]); "praise is meet for the upright" (Ps. 33:1 [LXX-32:1]); and there are others. The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to present himself before God "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing (that is, rightly cutting with a chisel, from the Greek orthotomounta) the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). In early Christian literature there is constant mention of the keeping of "the rule of faith," the "rule of truth" The very term "orthodoxy" was widely used even in the epoch before the Ecumenical Councils, then in the terminology of the Ecumenical Councils themselves, and in the Fathers of the Church both of the East and of the West.

Side by side with the straight, or right, path of faith there have always been those who thought differently (heterodoxountes, or "heterodox," in the expression of St. Ignatius the God-bearer), a world of greater or lesser errors among Christians, and sometimes even whole incorrect systems which attempted to burst into the midst of Orthodox Christians. As a result of the quest for truth there occurred divisions among Christians.

Becoming acquainted with the history of the Church, and likewise observing the contemporary world, we see that the errors which war against Orthodox Truth have appeared and do appear a) under the influence of other religions, b) under the influence of philosophy, and c) through the weakness and inclinations of fallen human nature, which seeks the rights and justifications of these weaknesses and inclinations.

Errors take root and become obstinate most frequently because of the pride of those who defend them, because of intellectual pride.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Is The Church A Concrete Body On Earth?

Does the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church exist in a concrete body on earth? This question was faced by the reformation Protestants of the 15th and 16th century. After all, one thing was abundantly evident after the reformation; the western church would never again be united.  How then could Christians continue to believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church, in light of the impending disunity? 

To answer this we must look at the new definitions created by the reformation communities.  Below is perhaps the most eloquent statement on the church according to the reformers.

The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 25:Of the Church.

This view of an invisible church was completely novel, and differed greatly from the view that was held to prior to the great schism between east and west. Below, Met. Zizioulas presents us with the view that existed from the time of the apostles, and he does so by pointing us to the apostolic scriptures.

From the book, “Bishop, Eucharist, Church” (scriptural quotations mine):

The ecclesiology of primitive Christianity was not abstract and theoretical but rather practical. As a result, not only is there no definition of the Church in the sources, but there is not even a theoretical description of her. Out of the eighty or so passages in which the term ekklesia occurs in the New Testament, fifty-seven at least have in view the Church as an assembly in a particular place. If we try to group these passages under different headings, we have the following picture:

(a) Those referring to the "Church" (singular) of a particular city;

1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia:

Colossians 4:16 Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(b) Those referring to the "Churches" (plural) of an area wider than a city, or without specifying a locality;

1 Thessalonians 2:14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,

2 Corinthians 8:1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia:

(c) Those containing the term "Church" or "Church of God" without specifying a locality;

Matthew 16:18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 18:17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

Acts 5:11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

Acts 5:11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

And (d) those containing the phrase "church in the household" (kat' oikon ekklesia).

Romans 16:5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.

1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Colossians 4:15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.

Out of these passages, only those of the third group can be connected with the Church in an abstract or theoretical sense. For most of these, however, this is merely a first impression. Passages such as 1 Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13 and Phil. 3:6, where Paul says that he persecuted the "Church of God," have in mind specifically the Church of Jerusalem, where there was a "great persecution" during which "Saul laid waste the Church."

In consequence, the term "Church" in these ancient texts normally describes the Church as a concrete reality in space.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The One Church On Earth

If one reads the New Testament, and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (by that I mean those fathers who lived in the time of the apostles and served as their direct descendants) the only treatment of the church found in their writtings is of one body united on earth.  Any other view of the church would be completely outside the teachings of the Lord, the Apostles, and those to whom they entrusted the truth.

Below is a helpful section from John Zizioulas’ book-, ‘Eucharist, Bishop, Church;” the insertion of quotations are mine.

Throughout the entire period of the first three centuries, unity was bound up at the deepest level with the faith, the prayers and the activities of the Church. St John's Gospel reflects this fact when it presents the unity of the Church as an agonized petition in the prayer of the Lord.

John 17.11 and 20 f.: "Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one even as We are one... I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." It is worth noting that St John's Gospel links the "agony" (Luke 22.4) of the prayer before the Passion with the unity of the Church as is shown by the emphatic repetition of "that they may be one".

The Acts of the Apostles expresses the same reality when they emphatically stress unity as the element characteristic of the Church's life in her first years while the existence of a "theology of unity" at a period as early as that of St Paul's Epistles cannot be interpreted otherwise than as an indication of the importance which the Church from the beginning attached to her unity.

Acts 2.44f.: "And all who believed were together (epi to auto) and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need."

During the years following apostolic times, the Church regarded her unity as a matter of constant concern and an object of vehement faith. The texts of the so-called Apostolic Fathers present the unity of the Church as an object of teaching, and something for which they struggled against every divisive force.

1 Clement: 49.5; Love joins us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love endures all things, is patient in all things. There is nothing inferior in love, nothing arrogant in love. Love has no schism, doesn’t rebel. Love does all things in harmony. By love all the chosen ones of God have been made perfect. Without love, nothing is acceptable to God.

1 Clement: 46.5-7; Why are there strifes, and angers, and dissensions and schisms and war among you? Do we not have one God and one Christ? And one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And one calling in Christ? Why do we divide and tear apart the members of Christ, and rebel against our own Body, and are coming to such a madness as to forget we are members of one another? Remember the words of the Lord Jesus.

1 Clement: 54.1-2; So, who among you is noble? Who compassionate? Who completely filled with love? Let him say, if because of me there are rebellion and strife and schisms, I will leave. I will go wherever you want, and do whatever the multitude commands. Only let the flock of Christ live in peace with the appointed elders.

Ignatius to the Philadelphians; 3.2; 6.2; For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live which is in Syria, whence I am not worthy to derive my name: for I stand in need of your united prayer in God, and your love, that the Church which is in Syria may be deemed worthy of being refreshed by your Church.  Knowing as I do that ye are full of all good, I have but briefly exhorted you in the love of Jesus Christ. Be mindful of me in your prayers, that I may attain to God; and of the Church which is in Syria, of whom I am not worthy to be called bishop. For I stand in need of your united prayer in God, and of your love, that the Church which is iaccording to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange (heretical) opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.]. Flee therefore the wicked devices and snares of the prince of this world, lest at any time being conquered (oppressed) by his artifices, ye grow weak in your love. But be ye all joined togetherwith an undivided heart.

Ignatius to the Magnesians 14.1; 13.2; 1.2; Knowing as I do that ye are full of God, I have but briefly exhorted you. Be mindful of me in your prayers, that I may attain to God; and of the Church n Syria may be deemed worthy, by your good order, of being edified in Christ.

Didache 8.4; 10.5;  Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.

Around the end of the second century, Irenaeus attempts in a work especially devoted to the subject to show that the Church was and has been preserved as one, and that unity constitutes the necessary condition for her existence. A few generations later, St Cyprian devotes a special study to the subject of church unity, while in the various creedal documents; unity early assumes the character of an article of faith.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Christian Mysticism

In our contemporary society, the word "mysticism" or "mystical" often evokes the vision of an irresolvable puzzle. It should come as no surprise therefore that the mystical is often shunned if not outrightly feared. After all, if a mystical thing is an unknowable thing, then to speak about it is to speak in ignorance, and to give oneself to ignorance is at very least dangerous.

My goal however is to define mysticism in a way that does justice to the classical Christian view, and correct our contempoary fallacy. First, I would like to give an accurate definition of the term mystical, and second I would like to address the overconfidence within our contemporary mindset that has led to the rejection of the mystical.

Mysticism Defined

A definition of mysticism that is acceptable to those who have a more ancient perspective differs considerably from that described above. The mystical is not simply that which cannot be explained, it is rather another kind of knowledge. It is a knowledge that is the result of participation. The clue that opens up mysticism to us is the concept of "paradox".

The word paradox comes to us from two Greek words, "para", meaning along with, sorrounding, or along side of, and the word "doxa", which means truth, correct, dogma, or praise. The term "paradox" puts those two concepts together, and it gives us the idea of two truths moving along side by side, but not intersecting, at least not within our field of vision.

Here is a list of just a few of these paradoxes or mysteries:God is infinite as Trinity, yet God is finite in the man Jesus Christ.God is sovereign over all, yet man freely chooses without coercion.God saves persons, yet man must save himself.The eucharist bread is real bread, yet it is the real body of Christ.

One could go, and many have gone, to great lengths to defend each of these claims, and that is fine and good, yet at the end of the day none of those explanations result in a complete intersection of these truths. The intellect cannot be the final say on these matters of paradox, there must be more. There must exist another faculty that enables us to understand paradox as mystery. The mystical tradition tells us that it this faculty is participation in a mystery with our whole being.

The Overconfident Mind

The claim that more than the mind is needed however strikes deep at the contemporary psyche. In fact, the acceptance of the inability of the mind to resolve paradoxy is a direct attack upon our present day sensitivities. We, after all, have been trained to believe that it is the proper use of our academic learning and reasoning capabilities that will enable us to sort our way through any subject.

We have been taught from early on that if we study the history, the context, the politics, and the physical science of a matter, and use all the correct rules for inquiry, can arrive at an answer to nearly every imaginable question.

Consider the contemporary approach to biblical exegesis. The accepted methodology to study the biblical text is to examine it grammatically, historically, and contextually, and then to inquire of the text by asking the standard who, what, why, where, when, and how questions, then to individually draw a conclusion. Having done this, the exegete may look at others, but mostly to see if they agree with him, because he after all, he extracted the truth by following the right steps. The problem that this fails to address is the individual's own limitations due to preconceived errors that shaped the inquiry, and his overall limitations of understanding. Not to mention that there are spiritual matters that only reveal themselves to those spiritually mature. How can one tell if a view is more mature than one's own, if we are limited to our own tools of inquiry?

Participation in Mystery strikes the contemporary mind where it is weakest because it exposes our intellectual limitations. A paradox or mystery throws us into the realm of believing and putting our trust in that which cannot be fully seen by us. In other words, it requires another kind of knowledge, one called faith.

By the way, those who tell themselves that they rely on pure reason are in delusion. The fact is that the reason that logic remain constant cannot be explained by any thing other than a mystical reality. In other words, we have no reason to believe that the laws of logic will hold from one moment to the next, unless there exists a force that created them and that can keep them from change, and while that force cannot be studied logically, logic nevertheless depends on it. Thus, logic is mystically faith dependent. In summary, the mind and its intellect is not enough.

Recovering that which was lost

Having defined mystery as the result of paradox and faith, and having pointed out the limits of logic and reason, it must be said that the only way for a person to be able to attain to the fullness of truth is not primarily by logical analysis, but rather by a kind of knowledge that is obtained by participating in mental, spiritual, and physical realities. The road to truth may begin with the intellect but it finds its fullness in the mystical. We come to the knowledge of the mystery of God, by accepting that he is beyond our knowing, and at the same time experiencing Him everywhere and in all things, especially the mysteries (sacraments) of the church. We come to the mystery of God knowing that nothing happens that is beyond his control, yet under our own control we will as He wills. We come to the knowledge of the mystery of God by the leading of others who have been mystically mature and seen what we cannot see, and by striving to live as they lived.

Christianity and salvation are a life made up of participation in the mystery of God.

We must no longer settle for a spectator or mental activity Christianity. Mystical, and classical Christianity is an activity that engages our whole being, namely the mind, the spirit, and the body.

Salvation can no longer be viewed as the acceptance of a set of facts, namely that God is no longer angry at me because Jesus has sucked up the Father's anger, but rather salvation is made of the reintegration of the human person to wholeness, uniting a person's mind, spirit, and body to such a degree that he can participate in the life of God through Christ.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Approaching Prayer

"When you turn to God in prayer, be in your thoughts as an ant, as a serpent of the earth, like a worm, like a stuttering child. Do not speak to Him something philosophical or high-sounding, but approach Him with a child's attitude" (Homily 49). Those who have acquired genuine prayer experience an ineffable poverty of the spirit when they stand before the Lord, glorify and praise Him, confess to Him, or present to Him their entreaties. They feel as if they had turned to nothing, as if they did not exist. That is natural. For when he who is in prayer experiences the fullness of the divine presence, of Life Itself, of Life abundant and unfathomable, then his own life strikes him as a tiny drop in comparison to the boundless ocean. That is what the righteous and long-suffering Job felt as he attained the height of spiritual perfection. He felt himself to be dust and ashes; he felt that he was melting and vanishing as does snow when struck by the sun's burning rays (Job 42:6). St. Isaac of Syria.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Mind and it's Games

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your nous. (Rom. 12:2) “…Nous, in particular, is a very difficult word to translate. If you just say ‘mind’, that is far too vague. In our translation of the Philokalia, we, with some hesitations, opted for the word intellect, emphasizing that it does not mean primarily the rational faculties. The nous is the spiritual vision that we all possess, though many of us have not discovered it. The nous implies a direct, intuitive appreciation of truth, where we apprehend the truth not simply as the conclusion of a reasoned argument, but we simply see that something is so. The nous is cultivated certainly through study through training our faculties, but also it is developed through prayer, through fasting, through the whole range of the Christian life. This is what we need to develop most of all as Orthodox, something higher than the reasoning brain and deeper than the emotions.”- Met. Kallistos Ware