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

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Journey To Orthodoxy Continues

Coming into Orthodoxy from classical Western Christianity is a voyage that never ceases to amaze me.  I liken it to peeling of an onion with no end. Layer by layer, new treasures manifest themselves. 

The journey begins with the realization that the very same church that was established in the book of Acts is in fact the Holy Orthodox church.  Here, one comes to understand that Orthodox Bishops, Priest, and Deacons are in the same exact lineage of the Apostles, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, St. Irenaeus, &c… Moreover,  not only are these persons in the same physical lineage, by that I mean having the a traceable set of hands laid upon them all the way back to the apostles, but that the content of the faith is the same as these early Fathers. 

It is quite an experience to discover that there is only one group of all who call themselves Christians who still believe every word of the original Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, exactly as it was written, and according to the authorial intent of the fathers who penned it. Only the Orthodox have retained the whole unadulterated truth, including the Spirit’s procession from God the Father (Jn. 15: 26  But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.).  This is just the first example of how the church that wrote the creed is the Orthodox Church that still believes it. 

As one meditates on this reality, it becomes apparent that to be part of the original church, we must waive our right to create doctrine according to our own theological conclusions, or even interpret truth on our own. Consequently, the concept of the church's unchanging concilliar mind not only becomes  real, but becomes the one necessary means to preserve truth. After discovering the concilliar mind, many doctrinal riches lost by the west can be rediscovered.

Of first importance is the doctrine of ancestral sin vs. original sin. In Orthodoxy's view of ancestral sin, we find a God who loves mankind with an unending love, rather than an angry God whose honor has been disgraced, sentenced mankind to death, and cannot wait to empty his wrath on mankind.  The doctrine of ancestral sin presents the devil as author of evil, corruption, and death. This devil was created with the freedom to choose, and he fooled mankind into choosing death and alienation from God. Therefore, it is the devil who is the author of death, rather than God, who supposedly planned all of these things from before the foundation of the world.This view supports the fact that the the Trinity has one mind and heart, both the Father and Son love mankind and are not angry with mankind. We also conclude that the Son is not appeasing an angry Father, but carrying out the Father’s will to destroy evil, corruption, and death. Legal satisfaction has no place here.

The next layer of the onion reveals that God's love is so string that he created a one story universe wherein two dimensions merge: where spiritual beings walk and move amongst the physical beings. After the ressurection there are no dead, only differing dimensions. Consequently, the role of the saints and angels take on daily importance in our lives. This truth makes a new kind of communion not only possible, but necessary for our every day existence; An existance where we live united to the heavenly realms.

If this were not enough, in the next layer,we discover that since we no longer need to be saved from God’s anger, the understanding of salvation is altogether different than in the west.  Salvation (Soter) is primarily understood by its Greek meaning- healing. Salvation is the healing of the sick, corrupt, and dead soul. 

Few have presented this better than Heirotheos Vlachos. Below he quotes and comments on the anceint view of the church:

St. Dionysios the Aeropagite sets out three stages of (soter) salvation or healing the soul, as do many other fathers after him. St. Maximus the confessor terms them practical philosophy or purification, Thoria or illumination of the nous, and initiation into the mysteries of theology or the beholding of God. These three are in reality, the purification of the heart, the illumination of the nous, and deification. The purification of the heart is called Praxis; illumination of the nous is called theoria and initiation into the mysteries of theology because, in the state man is initiated into the inexpressible knowledge and becomes a true theologian.

 The purifying order which is for beginners is the struggle for piety is closely connected with repentance; the illuminating order constitutes the first level of dispassion. It distinguishing characteristic is the knowledge of beings or vision of the inner principles of creation and those participation in the Holy Spirit. The mystical or perfecting order is that of those who are mature and made whole, those were actually theologians in the church. These are deified persons commune with the angelic powers and approach the uncreated light of God revealed him to the Spirit.

From “The Illness and Cure of The Soul”.

In short, this last layer of revelation within Orthodoxy exposes the fact that salvation (healing) is nothing less than a three step process that unfolds in the life of a peson.
1-  First is the healing of the mind by the Spirit's purification of our thoughts;
2- Then the illumination of the heart, which  enables the understanding of reality according to God,
3- Then finally, the uniting of the soul to the energies of God, which is deification, the image and likeness of God.


With this understanding, it is unimaginable to think of asking someone, "are you saved?"  Or, to think it good news to say to someone, "God is no longer angry with you".  No, God is busy saving all who will enter into His salvation (healing), and those who enter are busy being saved (healed).

In Orthodoxy we find God's good news to all is that it is possible for a person to be healed in this life and then in life that follows: purified of mind, healed of the soul, and then brought to live in constant communion with God.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Right Is Not Enough

We can define Orthodoxy in no better way than in the words of the great 18th-century Russian Father, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk -- a Saint whose fervent spirit is needed very much today by Orthodox Christians. We should read him more and practice what he teaches. St. Tikhon calls Orthodoxy "the true Christianity," and he wrote a whole book under this title. But "true Christianity" does not mean just having the right opinions about Christianity -- this is not enough to save one's soul.

St. Tikhon in his book, in the chapter on "The Gospel and Faith," says: "If someone should say that true faith is the correct holding and confession of correct dogmas, he would be telling the truth, for a believer absolutely needs the Orthodox holding and confession of dogmas. But this knowledge and confession by itself does not make a man a faithful and true Christian. The keeping and confession of Orthodox dogmas is always to be found in true faith in Christ, but the true faith of Christ is not always to be found in the confession of Orthodoxy... The knowledge of correct dogmas is in the mind, and it is often fruitless, arrogant, and proud... The true faith in Christ is in the heart, and it is fruitful, humble, patient, loving, merciful, compassionate, hungering and thirsting for righteousness; it withdraws from worldly lusts and clings to God alone, strives and seeks always for what is heavenly and eternal, struggles against every sin, and constantly seeks and begs help from God for this." And he then quotes Blessed Augustine, who teaches: "The faith of a Christian is with love; faith without love is that of the devil" ("True Christianity," ch. 287, p. 469). St. James in his Epistle tells us that "the demons also believe and tremble" (James 3:19).

St. Tikhon, therefore, gives us a start in understanding what Orthodoxy is: it is something first of all of the heart, not just the mind, something living and warm, not abstract and cold, some thing that is learned and practiced in life, not just in school.

Fr. Seraphim Rose

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What Is Sacrifice?

The Apostle Paul to the Church in Rome

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice (thusian zosan), holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (logike latreia). And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind (anakaiosieton nous), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable andperfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought tothink, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.                  Romans12:1-3

 The epistle for Saturday inthe 6th week of Pentecost is one of the densest portions of the entire New Testament.  In these three sentences there appear four phrases that are extremely difficult to translate when using word for word equivalent terms. 

 First; thusian zosan; this is usually translated as “living sacrifice.”  The term strives to convey an image of athing that is offered wholly and completely. Its goal is to present a selfsacrifice of life by relinquishing life as an offering of love to another in a two-foldway.  One way is as a burnt offering placed on the fire while it is still alive, and the other is as an offering that does not die in the process of offering, but lives as a continuous offering. Another way to convey this might be to say “present your bodies as an offering unto your death, yet live.”  Or perhaps more simply, “die to your self and live in God.”  It seems that St. Paul may just be restating the Lord’s words, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake willfind it.” Mat 10: 39.

Second: logike latreia, translated as reasonable service.  This term strives to present the reader with a kind of work or action that is done out very logical and reasonable motivation.  It may be stated as a “acting with reason,” or, “labor with all your intellect and know how”.

 Third: metamorphousthe, this is obviously the root word from which we get the English word metamorphosis.  This refers to a particular kind of transformation; it is the transformation of something lesser to something greater, of something immature to mature, from ugly to beautiful. Perhaps a helpful term here might be “beautifully transformed”.

 Fourth: anakaiosie ton nous, this phrase is perhaps the most challenging.  It speaks of a making or remaking of something old into something new.  The thing made new is the “Nous”.  Most often translated mind, however, that doesn’t really help us English speakers because we only have one word for mind.  This particular aspect addressed by the Greek with the word nous is "the eye of the soul". This is the part of a human that is capable of understanding spiritual things, particularly God. 

So then, let’s put this together:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living offering of yourself unto death; this is holy and acceptable to God when your labor is driven by your whole intellect and know how. And in this way do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed into a new and beautiful being by the renewing of the eye of the soul, so that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For this reason I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

 In other words, the apostolic command here is for all Christians to offer themselves to God by giving up their own reason, and to do so in a very specific way: by submitting our “actions” to the reasoning of the gospel. By way of this submission is the offering itself will purify the eye of our soul, the nous. Once the nous is made clear and able to see God, we will be beautifully transformed into new living creatures.

 The realities presented in today’s epistle are central to the Orthodox faith. Many Orthodox saints have echoed this truth throughout the centuries. One of my favorites comes from the "The Arena". Consider its restatment of the above verses: 

The person who fulfills the commandments of the gospel will not only be saved, but will also enter into the most intimate union with God, and become the divinely built temple of God. The Lord reveals himself to the doer of the commandments spiritually, and allows himself to be seen with the spiritual eye (nous). The person then sees the Lord in himself and in doing so is transfigured by the Holy Spirit.

The Arena- St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

The point of the passage is this, our own transfiguration into Christ-likeness is directly intertwined with the gospel actions that make up our offering. Gospel actions done out of love, create a soul that can see God.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Jesus, the divine Word of God in human flesh, comes to teach men by his presence, his words and his deeds. His disciples are sent into the world to proclaim Him and His Gospel, which means literally the “glad tidings” or the “good news” of the Kingdom of God. Those whom Jesus sends are called the apostles, which means literally “those who are sent.” The apostles are directly inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (Jn 15:26), to “make disciples of all nations” teaching them what Christ has commanded (Mt 28:19).

The early Church, we are told, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). Doctrine as a word simply means teaching or instruction. The apostles’ doctrine is the doctrine of Jesus and becomes the doctrine of the Christian Church. It is received by the disciples of every age and generation as the very doctrine of God. It is proclaimed everywhere and always as the doctrine of eternal life through which all men and the whole world are enlightened and saved.

At this point it must be mentioned that although God’s self-revelation in history through the chosen people of Israel—the revelation which culminates in the coming of Christ the Messiah—is of primary importance, it is also the doctrine of the Christian Church that all genuine strivings of men after the truth are fulfilled in Christ. Every genuine insight into the meaning of life finds its perfection in the Christian Gospel. Thus, the holy fathers of the Church taught that the yearnings of pagan religions and the wisdom of many philosophers are also capable of serving to prepare men for the doctrines of Jesus and are indeed valid and genuine ways to the one Truth of God.

In this way Christians considered certain Greek philosophers to have been enlightened by God to serve the cause of Truth and to lead men to fullness of life in God since the Word and Wisdom of God is revealed to all men and is found in all men who in the purity of their minds and hearts have been inspired by the Divine Light which enlightens every man who comes into this world. This Divine Light is the word of God, Jesus of Nazareth in human flesh, the perfection and fullness of God’s self-revelation to the world.
It cannot be overstressed that divine revelation in the Old Testament, in the Church of the New Testament, in the lives of the saints, in the wisdom of the fathers, in the beauty of creation… and most fully and perfectly in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the revelation of God Himself. God has spoken. God has acted. God has manifested Himself and continues to manifest Himself in the lives of His people.

If we want to hear God’s voice and see God’s actions of self-revelation in the world, we must purify our minds and hearts from everything that is wicked and false. We must strive to love the truth, to love one another, and to love everything in God’s good creation. According to the Orthodox faith, purification from falsehood and sin is the way to the knowledge of God. If we open ourselves to divine grace and purify ourselves from all evils, then it is certain that we will be able to interpret the scriptures properly and come into living communion with the true and living God who has revealed Himself and continues to reveal Himself to those who love Him.

Fr. Thomas Hopko

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ideas vs. Being

From Fr. Stephen Freeman's Blog...

The Christian faith is not about ideas – it is about things that are. As such, we do not need to cultivate theological systems – we need to know how to live.  Read more

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Unclean Spirits?

Readings for July 4, 2012

Romans 15:7-16 (Epistle)

7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. 8 Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, 9 and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” 10 And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” 11 And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” 12 And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”

13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 14 Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. 15 Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, 16 that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Homily on Romans 14

When then he calls Him "a Minister of the circumcision," he means this, that by having come and fulfilled the Law, and been circumcised, and born of the seed of Abraham, He undid the curse, stayed the anger of God, made also those that were to receive the promises fit for them, as being once for all freed from their alienation. To prevent then these accused persons from saying, How then came Christ to be circumcised and to keep the whole Law? He turns their argument to the opposite conclusion. For it was not that the Law might continue, but that He might put an end to it, and free thee from the curse thereof, and set thee entirely at liberty from the dominion of that Law. For it was because thou had transgressed the Law, that He fulfilled it, not that thou might fulfill it, but that He might confirm to thee the promises made unto the fathers, which the Law had caused to be suspended, by showing thee to have offended, and to be unworthy of the inheritance. And so thou also art saved by grace, since thou was cast off… So for this let us give thanks to God, and let us have our treasure always in hand, "that by patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope" (Rom. xv. 4), and enjoy the good things to come. Which God grant that we may all attain, by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ.

        St. John Chrysostom

Matthew 12:38-45 (Gospel)

38  Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

43 When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. 44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.

On The Spiritual World

In the present question the foundation is: We believe in the Church. The Church is the heavenly and earthly Body of Christ, pre-designated for the moral perfection of the members of its earthly part and for the blessed, joyful, but always active life of its ranks in its heavenly realm. The Church on earth glorifies God, unites believers, and educates them morally so that by this means it might ennoble and exalt earthly life itself — both the personal life of its own children, and the life of mankind. Its chief aim is to help them in the attainment of eternal life in God, the attainment of sanctity, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

Thus, it is essential that there be constant communion between those in the Church on earth and the heavenly Church. In the Body of Christ all its members are interactive. In the Lord, the Shepherd of the Church, there are, as it were, two flocks: the heavenly and the earthly (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, 17th century). "Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Cor. 12:26). The heavenly Church rejoices, but at the same time it sympathizes with its fellow members on earth. St. Gregory the Theologian gave to the earthly Church of his time the name of "suffering Orthodoxy"; and thus it has remained until now. This interaction is valuable and indispensible for the common aim that "we may grow up into Him in all things ... from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the building of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Covering Another's Sin

Scripture Readings for July 3, 2012

Romans 14:9-18 (Epistle)

9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written:

“As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.

Matthew 12:14-16, 22-30 (Gospel)

14 Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. 15 But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. 16 Yet He warned them not to make Him known, 22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”. 25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.


It is inevitable that we make judgments. Judgments are precisely what we are required todo from moment to moment, in order to get anything accomplished. For example, if we are sitting, and we want to stand and get something to write on, then we must judge: is it better to get this writing pad or that one? What color pen should I use? Should I write in cursive? Where should I stand to write? &c.... all of those decisions are based on judgments.  Nevertheless, there are other kinds of judgments that we are simply neither equipped nor authorized to make. In the passage above St. Paul is referring to this kind of unauthorized judgment; he specifically has in mind our judgment of the goodness or the acceptability to God of another person who is in the church. That kind of judgment belongs to God alone according to St. Paul. To thwart this temptation St. Paul says:

"So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore,
but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block
or a cause to fall in our brother’s way."

I would paraphrase St. Paul by saying, "Judging the state of another Christian's soul and standing with God is tricky business, don't do it." It is  undeniable however that there are times that it must be done, such as in cases of open sin or heresy. When it must be done then there is a process established by the church in her canons. As far as the average Christian is concerned, we should take note that the witness of the Saints has been to err towards the verdict of  “not guilty,” knowing that in the end, the Lord will judge all things.

From The Sayings of The Dessert Fathers:

A brother asked abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Stretch Out Your Hand

The Epistle reading for Monday July 2, 2012

Rom12:  4For as we have many members inone body, but all the members do not have the same function,5 so we, being many,are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another…15 Rejoicewith those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.16 Be of the samemind toward one another. Do not set your mind on highthings, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.17 Repay no one evilfor evil. Have regardfor good things in the sight of all men.18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.19 Beloved, do not avengeyourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, t “Vengeance is Mine,I will repay,” says the Lord.20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If heis thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire onhis head.”21 Do notbe overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Gospel Reading for Monday July 2, 2012

Mat 12: 9 Now when He haddeparted from there, He went into their synagogue.10 And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. Andthey asked Him, saying, “Is itlawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him.11 Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep,and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift itout? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than asheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it wasrestored as whole as the other.

Listen to a reading and commentary at http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/podup/thepath/13238


If we look to the scriptures searching not only for data, but for the renewal of our life, then we should read looking for the commands of Christ that make us new. In other words, one could conclude from this gospel reading that the Lord is teaching all who will listen when it is acceptable to do good, and that would be true.  He is telling the world that it is always a good time to do good to others.

However, there is more here. There is in this reading a command. The Lord is also telling each of us who is wounded by corruption and mortality not to hesitate at any time or for any reason tocome to the Him for (soteria)healing, rescue, and salvation from this evil age and all that occurs in it. One is a theological truth (a doctrinal abstraction), and the other is a command for us to do something in order to be saved.  The abstraction is incomplete if we fail to also take on the command to come to Him and be healed.