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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Do We Pass On Truth?

One of the most majestic glories of the Orthodox Church is her way with truth.  The church has great creeds in her quiver, which preserve the essential truths of the faith; however, she freely admits that creeds are not enough. She also has great treatises written by the spiritual fathers of the church, yet again, she admits that they are not enough. She has catechisms written by holy men, again not enough. She has confessions and concilliar definitions, great but not enough.  She even has the Holy Scriptures, essential to the truth, but alone they are not enough.  

What then is enough?  The delivery system is enough.  The Orthodox Church has through out her years put together a system of delivering the contents of all of the above on a year by year basis through its liturgical cycle.

The daily cycle is found in the book called the Horologion, and it begins at Vespers (sunset). There we find the theme of man’s gloomy darkness along with the promise of light, we find ourselves with Adam facing the gates of paradise awaiting the salvation of the world.  Then the cycle continues with compline (completeness).  The theme in this is salvation through the night of sleep (death). Followed by nocturnes (midnight) wherein we thank God for raising us from sleep (death) and ask for spiritual guidance through out our day.  Then follows Matins, where the bulk of Orthodox theology is transferred. The main theme is the exposition of the coming of the light into the world. If all of this were not enough we also have first, third, sixth, and ninth hour; each with a redemptive theme of their own.

To each daily cycle we add an eight week resurrection theme that focuses on different aspects of our redemption. This is found in the book called the Ochtoekos.

We also add a yearly cycle; wherein each day saints, martyrs, 12 high feasts, or lesser feasts are found, each full of theology, history, and piety. This cycle is found in the books called the Menaion, Triodion, & the Pentecostarion.

On special occasions, we also celebrate Akathists. These are services that are comprised of theological poetry. In addition, there are the seemingly endless mini-services of remembrances and special prayers from The Book of Needs. They contain everything from child birth to after death, and everything in between. This book is comprised of over 5 volumes: baptism, the blessing of every conceivable thing, matrimony, burial, extending all the way to memorials for the departed.  In this book, we have the cycle of human life presented before God.

It is within that delivery system that we find the contents of the creeds and councils, spiritual treatises, and the Holy Scriptures explained and applied.  This content is, for the most, part written in stone. No one person, bishop, diocese, or jurisdiction can change the content or the delivery system for the Orthodox Church. To alter this method is to stop being Orthodox.

Hence, it is the concilliar mind of the Church that interprets truth for her faithful and not any person or persons.

Consider the reading for vespers on the feast day of the presentation of the Theotokos in the temple of God. By using this passage on that feast day we are instructed by the church that the Old Testament  prophecy of Ezekiel has a spiritual meaning that the church wants us to grasp. This prophecy concerns the Theotokos, Mary the mother of our Lord. More specifically, the prophecy is about her perpetual virginity. 

Ezekiel 43:27-44:4 
‘When these days are over it shall be, on the eighth day and thereafter, that the priests shall offer your burnt offerings and your peace offerings on the altar; and I will accept you,’ says the Lord God.”  Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut.  And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.   “As for the prince, because he is the prince, he may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway, and go out the same way.”  Also He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; so I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord; and I fell on my face.                          

In addition, we have theological hymns added to the service from the Menaion:

Today is the prelude of the good will of God, of the preaching of the salvation of mankind. The Virgin appears in the Temple of God, in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all. Let us rejoice and sing to her: Rejoice, O Fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation.  
The most pure Temple of the Savior: the precious Chamber and Virgin; the sacred Treasure of the glory of God, is presented today to the house of the Lord. She brings with her the grace of the Spirit, which the angels of God do praise. Truly this woman is the Abode of Heaven. 
We magnify you, O Most Holy Virgin, Maiden chosen of God, and we honor your entry into the temple.

Can you see the majestic glory of the Orthodox Church's way with truth?  For those with eyes to see, it is glorious in our eyes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Using The Scripture Rightly

“We cannot assert that Scripture is self-sufficient; and this is not because it is incomplete, or inexact, or has any defects, but because Scripture in its very essence does not lay claim to self-sufficiency. . . . If we declare Scripture to be self-sufficient, we only expose it to subjective, arbitrary interpretation, thus cutting it away from its sacred source. Scripture is given to us in tradition. It is the vital, crystallising centre.

The Church, as the Body of Christ, stands mystically first and is fuller than Scripture. This does not limit Scripture, or cast shadows on it. But truth is revealed to us not only historically. Christ appeared and still appears before us not only in the Scriptures; He unchangeably and unceasingly reveals Himself in the Church, in His own Body.

In the times of the early Christians the Gospels were not yet written and could not be the sole source of knowledge. The Church acted according to the spirit of the Gospel, and, what is more, the Gospel came to life in the Church, in the Holy Eucharist. In the Christ of the Holy Eucharist Christians learned to know the Christ of the Gospels, and so His image became vivid to them.”

Fr. George Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, pp. 48-49

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Understanding The Old Testament


Our present difficulty with the Old Testament originates from two causes: first, our distance from the original audience, complicated by our attempt to fit their world into our contemporary socio-scientific world. Second, the apparent discontinuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Nevertheless, right from the start it must be pointed out that this problem is nothing new.

It is for reasons such as these that the church guards this earthly treasures of sacred writings we call the bible. she begins this guardianship by establishing of importance within the writings themselves  The priority is as follows: first the Gospels, then the Apostolic writings, and finally the Hebraic writings. 

Why does she guard the Hebraic writings? Because our Lord teaches us that the Old Testament speaks of the true God and of Him. The Old Testament was the daily liturgical texts used by the Lord and the Apostles, and what they used to teach the faithful about God and salvation. 

This Hebrew canon, is comprised of the Law, the prophets, the didactic books (the Psalter), and the historical books. As such, the church has accepted these books. Referring to them Saint Paul writes to Timothy:

From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
This means that if one reads the Old Testament wisely, then one will find in them the path which leads to strengthening in Christianity. 
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
However, unlike the Jews who rejected the Lord, the church followed the Lord and the Apostles and thus retained the use of the of the Greek Old Testament (LXX).  This version of the Old Testament was rejected at Jamnia (90 AD) by the Jews for anti-Christian reasons.

Not only does the church retain the whole Old Testament, but she also interprets it according to the religion found in the New Testament. Consequently, she sums up and completes the Old Testament faith with the faith of the Lord and the Apostles.

Nevertheless, it is also true that the role of the Old Testament has seen lesser use of the church than the New. Why?  Because historically it has been a challenge to get copies if it for public use. Only the Psalter has enjoyed equal use to the New Testament. It is only after the printing press that the whole bible been easily possessed.


The greatest challenge to understanding the Old Testament is the failure to grasp that it can only be properly understood in a particular light, the light that proceeds from the church. To this end we have the writings of the fathers, from them we learn that they are to be "searched" for promises, prophecies, types, and anti-types of the Lord Christ.

Understandest thou what thou readest? He replied, how can I except some man should guide me? (Acts 8:30-31).

Any other way of reading the Old Testament other than under the light of the church is like that of the Hebrews who have a veil over their understanding. Without the sunlight of the gospel they remain old and decaying, as the apostle said of them:

That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away, as the apostle expresses it (heb. 8:13).
The historical-grammatical methodology will not do! Only the prophetic and typological approach completes the proper understanding. Why?

Because the Old Testament is the shadow of good things to come (Heb. 10:1). The Lord said: they [the Old Testament scriptures] are they which testify of me.

St. Paul said:

Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their hearts: with them it remaineth untaken away in the reading of the old testament, that is to say, they are not spiritually enlightened unto faith. However, when they shall turn to the lord, the veil shall be taken away (2 Cor. 3:14-16).
 The kingdom of the chosen people of old has come to an end, the kingdom of Christ has come: the law and the prophets were until john; from henceforth the kingdom of God is proclaimed (Luke 16:16).

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazanski writes the following:
In the Patristic writings and the hymns in the church services the old and new testaments are constantly being contrasted: 

· Adam and Christ, eve and the mother of God.

· There, the earthly paradise; here, the heavenly paradise.

· Through the woman came sin; through the virgin, salvation.

· The eating of the fruit unto death; the partaking of the holy gifts unto life.

· There, the forbidden tree; here, the saving cross.

· There it is said, ye shall die the death; here, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

· There, the serpent, the deceiver; here, Gabriel, the preacher of good tidings.

· There, the woman is told, in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children; here, the women at the tomb are told, rejoice.

· The parallel is made throughout the entirety of the two testaments.

· Salvation from the flood in the ark; salvation in the church.

· The three strangers with Abraham; the gospel truth of the Holy Trinity.

· The offering of Isaac as sacrifice; the saviors’ death on the cross.

· The ladder which Jacob saw as in a dream; the mother of God, the ladder of the son of God's descent to earth.

· The sale of Joseph by his brothers; the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

· Slavery in Egypt; the spiritual slavery of mankind to the devil.

· The departure from Egypt; salvation in Christ.

· Crossing the red sea; holy baptism.

· The unconsumed bush; the perpetual virginity of the mother of god.

· The Sabbath; the day of resurrection.

· The ritual of circumcision; the mystery of baptism.

· Manna; the Lord's Supper of the New Testament.

· The law of Moses; the law of the gospel.

· Sinai; the Sermon on the Mount.

· The tabernacle; the New Testament church.

· The Ark of the Covenant; the mother of God.

· The serpent on the staff; the nailing of Christ to the cross.

· Aaron's rod which blossomed; the rebirth in Christ…

The church presents us with this kind of incomparable overview of the Old Testament in the Canon of Saint Andrew. There we learn not only the historical-grammatical meaning, but also the spiritual meaning of the Old Testament.


Without this proper ordering of the Old Testament under the light of the church, we fail to grasp the full human need for the savior. Moreover, we miss all that the lord god did to bring this salvation to us. Nor must we lose sight of the purely moral edification which the Old Testament contains. We too can profit from this edification. The church constantly places before our mind's eye the image of the three children in the Babylonian furnace.

The time would fail me, to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Sampson, and of Jephthae, of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens ... Of whom the world was not worthy: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:32-34, 38)

The main point to be understood is that in the church "everything goes in its proper place." We know the Ten Commandments, but we look at them through the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount; the gospel orders the Old Testament.

Neither the tabernacle, nor Solomon’s temple exist any more; yet we study their construction because many symbols of the New Testament are contained in their ordinances. In church we hear readings from the prophets; but they are not offered to us so that we may know the fate of the peoples who surrounded Palestine, but because in these readings prophecies are made of Christ and the events of the gospel.


Today however, there exist three groups which fail to grasp the proper order of the relationship of these sacred writings.

The first group: there is a twofold truth that cannot be set aside: the church's faith is illumined by the bible, and the bible is illumined by the one true faith of the church. Unfortunately, in recent history (15th century) we see that some loved the bible but not that light that illumines the bible's understanding. Consequently, these individuals studied the Old Testament to its minutest detail, and allowed it's three fourths volume an equal voice with the New Testament Unconstrained by the Gospels or Epistles, these reformers ended up with a Judaized faith of law, a faith where the Ten Commandments stand above Beatitudes.

The second group: this group does not make the Judaizing error but misses the spirit of the relationship of the spirit Old Testament and the New Testament they determine that it is the worship of the Old Testament that has ceased, and thus reject the historic worship passed down to the church by the Lord and the Apostles. They bring themselves under the apostolic condemnation:

Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? (Rom. 2:22)

The third group: this group for either simplistic or prejudicial reasons rejects the entire Old Testament as Hebraic, and not for the church.

The consequences of this disordering of the sacred scripture sand the sacred faith has led to the loss of dogmatic faith and the Christian ethos. It is impossible to be fed by the scripture alone without the one faith of the church to illumine it with its grace.

It is not saying too much when we assert that the massive propagation of the scriptures, and open the door to massive heresy and irreverence towards scripture.

Our task is to protect ourselves from these contemporary confusions and contestations by keeping the right ordering of the Old Testament

Saint John of Kronstadt advises:

"When you doubt in the truth of any person or any event described in holy scripture, then remember that all scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16), as the apostle says, and is therefore true, and does not contain any imaginary persons, fables, and tales, although it includes parables which everyone can see are not actual narratives, but are written in figurative language. The whole of the word of god is one, entire, indivisible truth; and if you assert that any narrative, sentence or word is untrue, then you sin against the truth of the whole of holy scripture and its primordial truth, which is god himself." (My Life in Christ, Saint John of Kronstadt, p. 70).