Friday, July 31, 2015
Question: "What is the Orthodox Church's view of cremation?"
The Orthodox Church does not approve of cremation, because it is a desecration of the body, which is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is also rooted in a pagan worldview which does not see the body an integral part of the human person, and which rejects the Christian belief in the goodness of creation and the resurrection of the body. It is only in very recent times that cremation has re-emerged in what were once Christian cultures. Before Rome and other pagan cultures converted Christianity, cremation was commonly practiced. The revival of cremation is a sign of the re-paganization of these cultures.
Unfortunately, many Protestants have come to accept cremation in recent years. This is due to their rejection of Church Tradition, which is unambiguous on this issue, and also due generally to their view of salvation, which often sees the bodily resurrection as sort of an after-thought or an anticlimax. Often at Protestant funerals, you will hear people say that the deceased is not in the coffin but with Christ, for example. However, if a person dies in Christ, their souls will be with Christ, but until the general resurrection, their body remains a part of them that will one day be reunited with their souls (though their body will be transformed) -- and as such, the soul apart from the body is not the whole person (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). Our faith in the general resurrection is directly linked with the Resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) -- it is the Resurrection of Christ that makes our resurrection possible. Just as Christ was buried and then arose again in a glorified body, so too are we to be buried -- not cremated -- but rather, planted in the ground like a seed. As St. Paul says: "But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.... So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-45).
This, of course, does not mean that God cannot raise the dead if the body is cremated. In fact, everyone who has ever lived will be resurrected, regardless of the treatment their body received after death -- some raised to life, and some raised to the second death (Revelation 20). However, the willful destruction of the body is a desecration of the human body, a denial of the goodness and importance of the body, and ultimately a denial of our Faith.
It is for this reason that the Church does not allow a Church funeral to be performed for those who are cremated, unless it is clear that this was against the wishes of the deceased. This often happens when an Orthodox Christian has non-Orthodox relatives, and fails to plan their funeral arrangements or to make their wishes known. But some Orthodox Christians decide to be cremated out of ignorance of the Church's teaching, or in willful disregard for those teachings.
It should also be noted that our practice of venerating the relics of saints is antithetical to cremation. If cremation were generally practiced by Christians, we would have no bodily relics.
Probably the biggest reason in our times that people opt for cremation is that the cost of a proper burial has steadily risen, and most people do not plan their own funerals. And so when they die, their family is left with the choice of coming up with between an average of $7,000 to $10,000 dollars for a funeral with a burial, or the much lower costs of a cremation (between $1,500 to $4,000 dollars, depending on how elaborate the funeral is, and whether the ashes are interred or not). But planning ahead greatly eases the burden on your family, and ensure that you will be given a proper Orthodox funeral and burial. There are also ways to economize on the costs of a burial (see: "A Guide to an Orthodox Funeral," by Fr. Alexander (Reichert), as well as the book "A Christian Ending" as well as the Podcast by Deacon Mark Barna). And for those who have been active Orthodox Christians, if there is a need for others outside of the immediate family to help cover the costs, a way to meet the need will generally be found.
Cremation, by Protopresbyter George Grabbe
Decree of the Synod of Bishops of The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: "On the Question of Incineration of Bodies of the Departed In Crematoria" (August 20/September 2, 1932).
"Burial or Burning," by Protopresbyter George D. Metallinos
"Cremation: Earth Thou Art and Unto Earth Shalt Thou Return," by Fr. Victor Potapov
"Pastoral Guidelines: Church Positions Regarding the Sanctity of Human Life," by Rev. Dr. Stanley S. Harakas
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Question: "Is monarchy the only form of government man can institute that represents both the fullness of the Orthodox faith and the Incarnational reality of Christ?"
If we go back to the Old Testament, there was a time when God ruled the people of Israel through prophets and judges, such as Moses and Samuel, who were specially called by Him. Toward the end of the life of the Prophet Samuel, the people of Israel asked him to anoint a king for them, so that they could be like all the other nations, and no longer dependent on God raising up a judge to lead them, and we are told:
"But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Samuel 8:6-7).
So one could argue that the most ideal form of government is a theocracy, but as the history of Israel up to this point demonstrated, such a theocracy only worked out well for the people when they were zealous to obey God, which very often was not the case. So monarchy is perhaps the second best system of government, but not one without problems... because for monarchy to work out well, you need a king that is pious. God warned Samuel, and through Samuel, the people, of the downside of having a king:
"And [Samuel] said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles" (1 Samuel 8:11-20).
The subsequent history of Israel, and then the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah show that some kings lived up to the ideal of faithfulness to God, and functioned as icons of Christ, but more often then not, they fell short of this -- and sometimes they were more like foreshadowings of the antichrist. King David was the best example of a righteous King -- and he not only served as an image of the future Messiah, but it was from his line that the Messiah would actually come.
With the coming of Christ and the spread of the Christian Faith, there were kingdoms that became Christian, and so looking to the example of King David, the Church anointed them to rule as Christian monarchs. We have many examples of such kings that are now reckoned as saints of the Church, and when you had a pious king who was also a capable ruler, you had the best examples of Christian government we have ever seen. Unfortunately, the combination of piety and competence is something that was not invariably found in such monarchs.
So is monarchy superior to democracy? St. John of Kronstadt once observed "Hell is a democracy but heaven is a kingdom." However, we live in a representative democracy that has afforded us freedom of religion -- and we are grateful for that. But on the other hand, we have also begun to see in recent years that the problem with democracy is that it only works well for a moral people, and given fallen human nature, it can facilitate a rapid decline in morality. The 20th century, especially in the wake of the two world wars, saw the rise of democracy around the world and the rapid decline in monarchy, and in the course of just under a hundred years we have essentially seen the end of Christendom as a result.
In 2 Thessalonians, St. Paul spoke about the great falling away and the coming of the antichrist:
"Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-7).
So what is the restraining force that holds back the mystery of lawlessness, but will be taken away? St. John Chrysostom and other fathers say that this was the Roman Empire (see Homily 4 on 2 Thessalonians). Now many, especially Protestants, might be inclined to dismiss this interpretation, but consider the words of the noted Protestant New Testament scholar and theologian George Eldon Ladd:
"The traditional view has been that the restraining principle is the Roman empire and the restrainer the Emperor. This view, or a modification of it, fits best into the Pauline theology. In Romans 13:4, Paul affirms that the ruling authority (even though it be pagan Rome is "God's servant for your good"" (A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 560).
The Roman Empire is usually said by westerners to have ended in 476. The East Roman empire continued on until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. However, the Russian Empire, which continued both the religious and political tradition of Christian Rome, continued until 1917, and so it may be that this marks the beginning of the removal of this restraining force. It certainly marked the beginning of both rapid moral decline as well as a time of martyrdom which has surpassed the worst persecutions of the early Church in intensity. Of course, we cannot say for sure that the end has come until we see Christ return.
But while democracy may not be an ideal form of Christian government, since we have the right to vote, we should exercise what influence for good we can and assert our rights as citizens, as St. Paul, who was a Roman citizen, often did.
See also: The Mystery Of The Anointed Sovereigns Tsar Nicholas II & Tsarina Alexandra of Russia
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
You can read his original article here: Orthodox Fundamentalism
You can read my response here: Response to "Orthodox Fundamentalists" by George Demacopoulos
Kevin Allen invited us to talk about this subject on Ancient Faith Today, and you can listen to it here: Orthodox Fundamentalism: what is it and does it exist?
Someone posted a quote that I think well sums up the problem with Dr. Demacopoulos' use of the term "fundamentalist":
"We must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’." -Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: 2000), pg. 245.
One additional point that I would make is with regard to Dr. Demacopoulos' assertion that anyone who uses the phrase "The Fathers say..." has never read the Fathers: Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) is a highly regarded contemporary Orthodox Theologian, and you often find him using the phrase "The Fathers say..." Just googling the phrase, I found it used by St. Dorotheos of Gaza, the Elder Cleopa of Romania, and Fr. John Romanides... and I suspect many more examples could be found. Also, at one point in the discussion Fr. Demacopoulos made the statement: "the fathers believed in the birth death and resurrection of Jesus..." So apparently we can make general statements about what the Fathers believed, and so saying that they as a group would say something is not substantively different.
Also, Dr. George quoted Paul Tillich as saying that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty. It is true that we do not say that we believe something that we know empirically. A better way to look at this came from a sermon from a protestant minister who spoke about a husband and a wife sitting on a porch watching their children playing. He said that the wife knows that her husband is the father of those children. The husband believes he is the father of those children. Of course the husband's belief is only as good as his wife is trustworthy, but we believe that the Church is absolutely trustworthy... but while we can be certain to a high degree, we will only have complete empirical verification of that when we see Christ face to face.
Friday, July 10, 2015
The Philippian Jailer, before the Apostles Paul and Silas
Question: "What is needed to attain salvation? Verses such as Matthew 7:21-23 concern me greatly, and to help me along the Path, and to put my mind at ease, it would be wonderful to have a concise teaching on the subject that I could study and teach to others."
In Acts 16:25-34, we have the story of the Philippian Jailer. After the Apostles Paul and Silas, who had been imprisoned and prayed all night, there was an earthquake, the doors of the jail were opened, and their chains were loosed. The Jailer, thinking that the prisoners had escaped, and knowing that he would be put to death if that were found to be the case, drew his own sword, and was about to kill himself, when St. Paul called out to him: "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here." Then we are told that "he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." So belief was the beginning, but it did not end there, because we are then told that the Apostles "spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes [the Apostles had been beaten, before being jailed]; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." So he believed, and was baptized. At the beginning of Christ's preaching, immediately after He was baptized by St. John the Baptist, we are told "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15). And so while repentance is not explicitly mentioned in the case of the Philippian Jailer, it is certainly implied as well.
However, we cannot simply say that there is a three step process to salvation (repent, believe, be baptized). In the case of the thief on the Cross, he repented and believed, but was not baptized, and yet was most certainly saved. But the Church would also never say simply repent, believe, and be baptized, and that is all that we need to do. For one thing, true faith... works (Galatians 5:6; James 2:22-24). This is not to say that we earn our salvation, but working out our salvation does not end with baptism, that is merely the beginning. As St. Paul said, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). So we never come to a point at which we can say we are done, and can coast along from here on.
But this also does not mean that we have to be in terror that God may send us to hell because He catches us failing to perfectly meet His standards of holiness. This means we should not take our salvation lightly or for granted, but if we live a life of repentance, and are sincerely seeking to please God, we should believe that He will give us the grace and mercy to finish the race of salvation. God desires that all be saved, He is not looking for reasons to send us to hell, but rather is looking for reasons to not send us to hell.
The entire Gospel is summed up in the Jesus Prayer: "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." If we keep this on our lips, and constantly repent, we know that God will forgive us our sins, and so in this prayer we find great hope and consolation.
Stump the Priest: Imputed Righteousness
Friday, July 03, 2015
Question: "Why does the Orthodox Church not have a Bishop of Rome?"
There is no official answer to this question that I am aware of, but I think there are two reasons for this. Up until relatively recently, any Orthodox bishop who claimed that title would probably have ended in prison at the hands of the civil authorities in Italy, because they did not have anything like a first amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion. The other reasons is that if any local Church established a diocese in Rome, the canons say that this bishop would be the first in the diptychs, and this would quickly become a very divisive issue in the Church. So if there was to ever be a bishop of Rome in the Orthodox Church, I think there would first have to be pan-Orthodox agreement to establish such a see, and an agreement on how that would be understood in terms of the canons.
Thursday, July 02, 2015
One of the best books you can read on the subject of Homosexuality from a Christian perspective is "The Bible and Homosexual Practice," by Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I found the following videos which provide some of the highlights of that book in lecture format.
The Old Testament
Genesis 1 & 2:
David & Jonathan:
The New Testament
The Witness of Jesus:
The Witness of Paul:
Hermeneutical Relevance of the Bible
Sunday, June 28, 2015
This decision was hardly a shocker, in the sense that the smart money was always on it coming out this way, given that we have 4 liberal justices that never deviate from their agenda, and Anthony Kennedy has come down on the side of homosexual activism every time he has had a chance to. But now the question is where do we go from here? Politically, there are several ways that we can continue the fight, but the bigger issue for us as Orthodox Christians is how do we respond in terms of how we as Christians will deal with this new challenge individually, as families, and as a Church.
Here are some things that I think we will all need to do if we want to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church:
1. Educate yourself on the issue and be prepared to speak up on it:
You will be increasingly challenged on this, and though the polls show a majority of Americans now support gay marriage, a large percentage of those people are simply shifting with the perceived winds of the culture, fanned by the media. That means those people might be persuaded, if they actually heard the case against gay marriage made. Unfortunately, too many Christians have been afraid to make that case, for fear of being labelled a "hater." Christ never promised us that being a Christian would be popular, in fact, he promised quite the opposite... so you need to get over the fear of what unbelievers think, and stand for Christ, regardless of the consequences.
One of the best ways to educate yourself on this would be to read "The Bible and Homosexual Practice," by Dr. Robert Gagnon. Which is a book praised by two of the most highly respected Protestant Biblical Scholars of the last 50 years (Bruce Metzger and Brevard Childs).
You can get a taste of what he has to say here:
The Family Research Council has a Sunday Bulletin insert with useful information here:
They also offer an informative document that provides useful material for sermons on the subject here: http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF15F80.pdf
There are also a number of articles and videos linked here:
There is a very informative video put out by the Roman Catholic media outlet Church Militant:
We also need to be welcoming to those who struggle with homosexuality, but who wish to repent. Homosexuality is not an unpardonable sin. Our issue is with those who say homosexual sex is not sinful, not with homosexuals who recognize that this is sinful, and are seeking the grace and forgiveness of Christ.
2. You need to understand the times we are living in:
Anyone above the age of 30 has to be amazed at the rapidity with which the gay agenda has been advanced, and with the speed that transgender activism has become the new cause of the left. The Left's goal is the destruction of conservative Christianity, in any form. If you don't believe that, you need to read the recent article on the Huffington Post: "Does Legal Gay Marriage Doom Evangelical Christianity?" by Clay Farris Naff, which states towards the end:
"More than two-thirds of young Americans already accept gay marriage. As it proliferates, more will. To come out as anti-gay is already seriously not cool. Increasingly, in high schools and colleges, to be anti-gay will be like coming out as a Klansman."
Given the success rate of the left in advancing the gay agenda up until now, it would be foolish to say "That will never happen." If things continue on their present course, and if Christians continue to cower when challenged on this issue, you can bet your last money that this is exactly what will happen. Of course Klansmen still have the right to exist in the United States, but there are few jobs that they would not be fired from were they known to be such. That is the "tolerance" that they have in mind for us.
And not only will this decision lead to the end of Christian adoption agencies that refuse to allow homosexuals to adopt children, the day may well come in the not too distant future where Christians who do not toe the line on this issue will not be allowed to adopt children, and may even run the risk of having their own children removed from their homes, because leaving a child in such a "hateful environment" is deemed child abuse.
3. You need to seriously consider your options, if things continue on their present course;
There is a Chinese proverb that says "A wise rabbit has three holes." You need to start preparing your second and third hole.
Your job may be in jeopardy, and so you may need to consider what you will do if you lose it. For example, in states that already have had gay marriage, children are being taught that homosexuality is normal. If you are a school teacher, what will you do if it comes to that in your school?
If your children are in the public schools, you need to start thinking about home schooling or private Christian schools.
You also need to let your elected representatives know that they need to deal with this issue, and this needs to be more than a one time phone call or e-mail.
Democracy Is Dying; Persecution Is Coming, by Rod Dreher
Canada legalized gay marriage ten years ago -- Here's what to expect next, America
Friday, June 26, 2015
Question: "Should an Orthodox Christian make donations to the Salvation Army?"
You could certainly do a lot worse with your money than to give to the Salvation Army.
Many are unaware that the Salvation Army is actually a Protestant denomination, rather than just a charitable entity. It was founded in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth. It is part of the Wesleyan / Methodist tradition, and is theologically almost identical in belief to other Holiness denominations, such as the Nazarene Church that I grew up in. It is different from just about every other Christian group when it comes to the Sacraments. Salvationists reject all Sacraments, including baptism and the Eucharist. As their name suggests, they are structured a military model -- with clergy have the ranks of officers, and laity being the enlisted. When you join the Salvation Army, you sign the Articles of War, rather than receive baptism. Their churches are called "citadels" Another interesting feature of the Salvation Army is that married officers are required to have the same "rank" as their spouses. This is in large part due to the high level of commitment that they require of their officers, but also due to their belief that this work requires a team effort on the part of such a couple. The charitable work of the Salvation Army is impressive and admirable. I think that it would be a good idea for the Orthodox Church to encourage people to emulate much of what they do.
But to answer the question, some would argue that because they are a Protestant denomination, we should not give to them because in some traditionally Orthodox regions they have attempted to convert people to their faith. A case could also be made that since Orthodox Christians in America are a small minority, and our own charitable organizations attract a lot less general support, we should support our own charitable works and let the Protestants support the Salvation Army. On the other hand, there are things that the Salvation Army does that no Orthodox charity that I am aware of is currently doing -- for example, I know that in Houston they run a family shelter that tries to help homeless families without splitting them up. So personally, I think if you are donating to some specific purpose like that, there is nothing wrong with that.
My own mother was born in a Salvation Army hospital, and so I am glad that despite their theological shortcomings, they have in practice been such good examples to the rest of us.
Friday, June 19, 2015
Question: "If someone dies without repentance, is it possible for such a person to repent after death?"
Scripture, as explained by the Fathers of the Church, states that this is not possible.
Psalm 6:5 says: "For in death there is none that is mindful of Thee, and in hades who will confess Thee?"
Commenting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom says: "[The Prophet David is] not implying that our existence lasts only as far as this present life: perish the thought! After all, he is aware of the doctrine of the resurrection. Rather, it is that after our departure from here there would be no time for repentance. For the rich man praised God and repented, but in view of its lateness it did him no good [Luke 16:19-31]. The virgins wanted to get some oil, but no one gave any to them [Matthew 25:1-13]. So this is what this mane requests, too, for his sins to be washed away in this life so as to enjoy confidence at the tribunal of the fearsome judge" (St. John Chrysostom: Commentary on the Psalms, vol. I, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), p. 102).
St. Jerome says: "While you are still in this world, I beg of you to repent. Confess and give thanks to the Lord, for in this world only is he merciful. Here, he is able to be compassionate to the repentant, but because there he is judge, he is not merciful. Here, he is compassionate kindness; there, he is judge. Here, he reaches out his hand to the falling; there, he presides as judge" (Homily on Psalm 105, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. VII, Craig A. Blaising and Carmen S. Hardin, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2008) p. 51).
St. Gregory the Theologian says: "... it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be transmitted to the torment to come, when it is the time of chastisement, not of cleansing. For as he who remembers God here is conqueror of death (as David has most excellently sung) so the departed have not in the grave confession and restoration; for God has confined life and action to this world, and to the future the scrutiny of what has been done" (On His Father's Silence, Oration 16:7).
St. Basil the Great says: "In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not wrought for Him that gave to them, shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, —the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit. The body is not divided, part being delivered to chastisement, and part let off; for when a whole has sinned it were like the old fables, and unworthy of a righteous judge, for only the half to suffer chastisement. Nor is the soul cut in two,—that soul the whole of which possesses the sinful affection throughout, and works the wickedness in co-operation with the body. The cutting asunder, as I have observed, is the eternal separation of the soul from the Spirit. For now, although the Spirit does not suffer admixture with the unworthy, He nevertheless does seem in a manner to be present with them that have once been sealed, awaiting the salvation which follows on their conversion; but then He will be wholly cut off from the soul that has defiled His grace. For this reason “In Hades there is none that maketh confession; in death none that remembereth God,” because the help of the Spirit is no longer present" (Treatise on the Holy Spirit, 40).
Blessed Theodoret says: "For this reason I beg the privilege of enjoying the cure in the present life, since I know that no cure will then be granted those departing this life with wounds, as there is no longer any room for repentance. This was exceptionally sound thinking on the part of the divine David: it is not in death but in life that one recalls God. Likewise, confession and reform do not come to the departed in Hades: God confined life and action to this life; there, however, he conducts an evaluation of performance. And in any case this is proper to to the eighth day, giving no longer opportunity for preparation by good or bad deeds to those who have arrived at it; instead, whatever works you have sown for yourself you will have occasion to reap. For this reason he obliges you to practice repentance here, there being no practice of this kind of effort in Hades. He says, in fact, "Since the opportunity coming to me for repentance was lengthy, I am afraid death may precede your mercy, there being no room for confession there -- hence my request for your to be quick with your mercy." Then he instructs the listener that along with God's loving-kindness our effort is required, too: whether we plead weakness or confusion or God's goodness without contributing what is ours, it is of no benefit to us" (Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Psalms, 1-72, trans. Robet C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), p. 75).
St. Augustine says: ""For in death there is no one that is mindful of Thee.” He knows too that now is the time for turning unto God: for when this life shall have passed away, there remaineth but a retribution of our deserts. "But in hell who shall confess to Thee?" That rich man, of whom the Lord speaks, who saw Lazarus in rest, but bewailed himself in torments, confessed in hell, yea so as to wish even to have his brethren warned, that they might keep themselves from sin, because of the punishment which is not believed to be in hell. Although therefore to no purpose, yet he confessed that those torments had deservedly lighted upon him; since he even wished his brethren to be instructed, lest they should fall into the same" (Commentary on the Psalms 6:6).
Cassiodorus says: "This may elicit the question, why does he say that in death no-one is mindful of God, whereas then we can be made to tremble more by the imminent anger of God? But when we speak of those unmindful of God, this properly refers to the unfaithful. Isaiah said of them: For those in hell will not praise thee, nor will those who are dead bless thee. When Paul says: In the name of of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, the statement should be taken as referring only to the faithless and obstinate, who deserve to have no trust placed in their confession. So the psalmist rightly hastens to gain acquittal here, since once the sun has set nothing remains except deserved retribution. Who shall confess to thee in hell? We must mentally add "to win pardon." Compare Solomon's words on impious men: For they will say among themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, and the rest. Then too we know that the rich man who saw Lazarus settled in peace confessed his evil plight, but he was not heard praying for help because it is in this world that confession connotes also obtaining pardon. To help us realize that some distinction is being made in the words of the verse, in death means passing from life, whereas in hell means hugging the place where souls are known to endure what they have deserved. There is total denial that a confession can be made in each of these situations" (Cassiodorus: Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 1, trans. P. G. Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press,1990), p. 94f).
We find a very similar passage in Isaiah 38:18-19, which Cassiodorus references:
"For they that are in the grave shall not praise thee, neither shall the dead bless thee, neither shall they that are in Hades hope for thy mercy. The living shall bless thee, as I also do: for from this day shall I beget children, who shall declare thy righteousness."
St. Cyril of Alexandria says: "What is said in the psalm verse contains sentiments similar to this passage, "What value is there in my death if I descend into corruption? Dust will not praise you or proclaim your marvels [Psalm 29:9]." In other words, once dead, and enclosed in the gates of Hades, they will cease giving praise. Nothing further could be added to what has been achieved; instead, they will remain in the condition in which they were left, and will await the time of the general judgment. So he is saying that it is the living, with the power of doing good on receipt of benefits who will bless you, as I do" (Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. II, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008), p. 300).
So here you have all of the Three Great Hierarchs, along with two great Latin Saints, St. Cyril of Alexandria (the preeminent Father of the Third Ecumenical Council), as well as two notable patristic commentators all saying essentially the same thing: the time for repentance is in this life. If you have not repented before death, it will then be too late.
For More Information:
To see what benefits prayers for the dead have, see: Stump the Priest: Prayers for the Dead in the Bible and in Tradition.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Icon of St. John Chrysostom,
with St. Paul the Apostle
guiding him in his interpretation of his writings.
Question: "Did the Fathers teach Sola Scriptura?"
Protestant apologists in recent years have felt the sting of the argument that doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is not taught in Scripture, and so fails to meet its own criteria. So in an attempt to turn the tables on the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Apologists that have rubbed their noses in this fact, many have tried to argue that Sola Scriptura is taught by Tradition.
Before we go any further, we should make it clear what the doctrine of Sola Scriptura actually claims.
The Westminster Confession defines Sola Scriptura thusly:
“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (Westminster Confession 1:10)
So to prove that the Fathers taught Sola Scriptura, one would have to find them not only teaching that Scripture was of primary importance, authoritative, and binding on the conscience -- they would need to also find them teaching that Scripture alone was an authority binding on the conscience.
There are a number of proof-texts that are cited, but for the sake of brevity, let's look at three examples:
1. St. Irenaeus (130 - 202 a.d.):
Interestingly St. Irenaeus, is alluding here to 1 Timothy 3:15: "But if I tarry long, I write so that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth. The Scriptures are the texts of the Church.
It should be obvious, however, that nowhere does St. Ireneaus suggest that Scripture alone is the pillar and ground of our Faith. And that he did not believe in Sola Scriptura is made very clear by other things he says in the same work. For example:
"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this Faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believed these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the Tradition is one and the same. Neither do the Churches among the Germans believe otherwise or have another Tradition, nor do those among the Iberians, nor among the Celts, nor away in the East, or in Egypt, nor in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But just as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the Truth shines everywhere and enlightens all men who desire to come to a knowledge of the Truth. Nor will any of the rulers in the Churches, whatever his power of eloquence, teach otherwise, for no on is above the Teacher; nor will he who is weak in speaking subtract from the Tradition. For the Faith is one and the same, and cannot be amplified by one who is able to say much about it, nor can it be diminished by one who can say but little" [Against Heresies 1:10:2]."
"When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the Truth which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the Truth, and everyone whosoever wishes draws from her the drink of life. For she is the entrance to life, while all the rest are thieves and robbers. That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them, while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the Traditions of Truth. What then? If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches in which the Apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question? What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of Tradition, which was handed down to those whom they entrusted the Churches?" [Against Heresies 3:4:1].
Many of the heretical groups that St. Irenaeus responded to his "Against Heresies" also claimed to follow the Scriptures. And though St. Ireneaus refuted them with Scripture, he also refuted them by appealing to the Tradition of the Church, which is where the correct understanding of Scripture is to be found.
2. St. Basil the Great (330 - 379 a.d.):
“The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign.” (Basil, Moralia, 72:1)
This quote from St. Basil, taken in isolation, sounds like it might support the Protestant position, but there are two problems with this: it assumes that St. Basil would have interpreted the Scriptures apart from Tradition, or that at least, if he did, he would not have considered Tradition to be binding on his conscience while interpreting Scripture -- which is not at all stated even in this quote. But we do not have to guess at this. St. Basil left us with more than enough of his writings for us to determine what authority he gave to Tradition. In his treatise on the Holy Spirit, in which he argues that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and cites the doxology "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen." in support of that argument. He counters the objection that the doxology, though an ancient part of the universal liturgical tradition of the Church, is not found in Scripture by saying:
"Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us "in a mystery" by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay; — no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice [i.e., by triple immersion]? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed: to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents. What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all the parts of the tabernacle open to every one? The profane he stationed without the sacred barriers; the first courts he conceded to the purer; the Levites alone he judged worthy of being servants of the Deity; sacrifices and burnt offerings and the rest of the priestly functions he allotted to the priests; one chosen out of all he admitted to the shrine, and even this one not always but on only one day in the year, and of this one day a time was fixed for his entry so that he might gaze on the Holy of Holies amazed at the strangeness and novelty of the sight" (Treatise on the Holy Spirit, 66).
St. Basil is not trying to convince anyone that Christians should be baptized by a triple immersion -- he is appealing to the fact that everyone accepts this unwritten tradition to argue for authority of another unwritten tradition: the doxology. And one has to ask, how did this universally accepted Christian Tradition come to be universally accepted, if it did not come from the Apostles themselves? However, the bottom line here is the question of the authority of the Church. If you accept that the Orthodox Church is what it claims to be -- the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church established by Christ, then questions like this are easily answered.
"Scripture, though, whenever it wants to teach us something like this, gives its own interpretation, and doesn't let the listener go astray.... So, I beg you, block your ears against all distractions of that kind, and let us follow the norm of Sacred Scripture" (Homily 13:13 on Genesis, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 175).
In context, St. John was simply admonishing his hearers to interpret Scripture within the context of the rest of Scripture. No where does he suggest only Scripture is binding on the conscience, and in fact when commenting on 2 Thessalonians 2:15, he says:
""Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter" From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. Let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it Tradition? Seek no further" [Homilies on the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians 4:2].
We could go on and on, but in every case, these attempts to prove the Fathers taught Sola Scriptura fall flat.
For more information, see:
Responses to Protestant Apologists on Sola Scriptura
Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox analysis of the Protestant view of Scripture, and an explanation of the Orthodox perspective
Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, by Robert Sungenis.
Friday, June 05, 2015
Question: "Why does Orthodoxy teach that one must have perfect Nicene Christology in order to be saved, when the earliest Hebrew Christians did not have the Christology as articulated by the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon? According to Nicea, many of the earliest Hebrew Christians would be heretics, as well as several Church Fathers, since they were subordinationists. We cannot even speak of a dogma of the Trinity until the Council of Constantinople."
The Church teaches perfect Nicene Christology, but I don't believe that the Church teaches that any individual has to have a perfect understanding of that Christology in order to be saved. There are many people who lack the intellectual capacity to have a perfect understanding of Orthodox Christology or Trinitarian theology. We should certainly try to understand these things as well as we can, but being saved is not the ability to pass a pop-quiz on theology. Someone can be saved even if they have demonstrably erroneous beliefs, but erroneous beliefs can lead one off the path of salvation, which is why the Church strives to correct such people. However, it is only when someone refuses to be corrected by the Church that they cut themselves off from the Church, which is the Ark of Salvation. For more on this, I would suggest reading "Christianity or the Church?" by the New Martyr Hilarion (Troitsky).
I am not sure which Church Fathers are alleged to have been subordinationists, but prior to the Church clarifying a doctrine, you often find those in earlier times who use imprecise language, but this does not mean that they held heretical views. But even if some of them did have opinions that were later clarified to be heretical, they clearly did not reject the correction of the Church on the matter.
As for the "Hebrew Christians" that are referenced, this probably refers to the Ebionites, and they were in fact a heretical sect. Most of the early Christian centers had a very strong Jewish core during the time of the Apostles, and those Hebrew Christians remained part of the mainstream of the Church.
The word "Trinity" does not occur in the New Testament, but the doctrine is taught there. One thing that the Jews were very clear on by the time of the New Testament is that God was one (Deuteronomy 6:4). And yet in the New Testament, we are told repeatedly that Christ is God (e.g., John 1:1; John 8:58; John 20:28), and we are told to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). So clearly, the Church has always taught that God was one, in one sense; and three in another sense. The Church only defined how this was so in greater detail because it was necessary to correct heresies that arose. The Faith of the Church was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3), and so we reject the idea that our faith has changed, or been added to since the time of the Apostles. But our teachings about the faith have certainly become more precise over time, when the need to correct new heresies has made this necessary.
The earliest surviving use of the word "Trinity" (in Greek Τριάδος) is in the writings of St. Theophilus of Antioch, from a work written in about 180 a.d. (Apologia ad Autolycum 2:15). Though this is the first documented use of the term, it is used in such a way that would suggest it was not being freshly coined, and so probably was in use well before then... but in any case, the fact that the bishop of such an import center of early Christianity would use the term without any hint of it being controversial, shows that it was considered completely consistent with the faith that proceeded his time. St. Theophilus became bishop of Antioch in 169 a.d., and if we assume that he was at least 30 years old by that time, that means he would have come of age when those who knew the Apostles were still very much present in the Church.
We are not saved by having correct doctrine, or having a perfect grasp of the teachings of the Church. We are saved by grace through faith that works by love (Ephesians 2:8-10; Galatians 5:6; James 2:24). But having love does mean that we have to have the humility and love for the Church that inspires us to strive to conform ourselves to the teachings of the Church, and not think ourselves wiser than the Apostles and Fathers who have passed on the faith to us. And whether or not we ever come close to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity perfectly, if we are fully and faithfully united with the Church, the Church (which does understand this doctrine perfectly) will guide us safely along the path of salvation.
Does Doctrine Matter?
The Doctrine of the Trinity
Friday, May 29, 2015
Orthodox Clergy Association of Houston and Southeast Texas: Statement on Gay Marriage and the Houston Gay Rights Ordinance
You can read the statement by clicking here: http://orthodoxhouston.blogspot.com/2015/05/gay-marriage-and-houston-gay-rights.html
You may also be interested in this video on homosexuality by the Roman Catholic Media outlet, Church Militant:
The source is not Orthodox, but it is a great overview of how we got here, and also exposes many of the typical lies the media has been telling us.
You may also be interested in this video on homosexuality by the Roman Catholic Media outlet, Church Militant:
The source is not Orthodox, but it is a great overview of how we got here, and also exposes many of the typical lies the media has been telling us.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Question: "What does the Orthodox Church say about tattoos?"
There is no canon, at least to my knowledge that teaches Christians should not get a tattoo. However, we do find the following in the Law of Moses:
"Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:28).
Unfortunately, I do not have any patristic commentaries that address this verse, though they may be some out there. But if all we had was this verse, it could be argued that this is just a ceremonial law that no longer applies to Christians. However there are several reasons why that would be an incorrect conclusion:
1. With the exception of the Copts, Ethiopians, and Bosnian Croats, the Christian Tradition has universally rejected tattoos. And there are historical reasons why these Christian groups are an exception -- they tattoo their children with crosses so that if they are kidnapped by Moslems, they can later be identified as Christians; and given the intense level of persecution they have faced, this has also been a way of proclaiming their intention of remaining a Christian, no matter what may come (a tattoo being, by its nature, a very permanent statement). However, it is both interesting and instructive that Orthodox Christians living in the same circumstances never adopted a similar custom.
2. Most of the tattoos that people have in our culture are not modest and pious crosses designed to protect children from kidnapping or to testify to one's commitment to standing firm for Christ, but are all kinds of things that are usually frivolous at best, and often unwholesome. If you read what the Scriptures have to say about modesty, it is unlikely that the inspired writers would have spent so much time encouraging us to dress in ways that are not immodest, or draw unnecessary attention to ourselves, and yet would be O.K. with a tattoo just above the crack of your behind (just to cite one popular trend as an example).
3. St. Paul says that our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Imagine if someone took a spray paint can, and expressed themselves over the walls of a Church. We would all be shocked that someone would do such a thing, but it is no different to express yourself by defacing your body -- because you are bought with a price, and are not free to so whatever you want with your body... if indeed you are a believer.
Of course if someone already has a tattoo, it is certainly not an unpardonable sin. And when we see someone with a tattoo, we should not judge them, because they may have repented of getting that tattoo a long time ago. But those contemplating getting a tattoo should ask themselves why they want one in the first place, and they should ask whether this is really something that pleases God. Once you get a tattoo, they are not easy to get rid of, and what you think looks cool today, may not seem so cool to you in ten or twenty years.
For More Information see:
Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver on Tattoos
"On the Faith: Are tattoos permissible in the Orthodox Church?" by Fr. Gregory Naumenko
Testimony Regarding Tattoos
Here are two replies to some comments this post has received on Facebook:
In response to a comment that saw a contradiction between acknowledging that there are no canons against tattoos, but my statement that the Christian Tradition has universally rejected tattoos:
The actual practice of the Church is a testimony to the Tradition of the Church. It is not as if tattoos were a recently discovered technology, They had tattoos when Moses wrote the Law. But aside from the unique cases of the Copts and Ethiopians, Christians have universally rejected tattoos. It is only in my lifetime that having a tattoo has gone from something those on the fringes did (sailors, soldiers, and marines -- away from home; gang members, and convicts) to something that young ladies from decent homes are doing.
In response to a catechumen who has religious tattoos, and similarly questioned whether the Church really has rejected tattoos.
Not all of the Tradition of the Church has been written out in the form of canons. We generally only have canons to guard against people doing something when there are some people in the Church who are doing it. Tattoos were something that no Christians (outside of the exception I discussed) did. Until only very recently, no Christian group of any kind would have suggested that such a practice was befitting a Christian. Now, in your case, your tattoos were probably very well intentioned, but people often do things in ignorance that they should not do. As St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 11:16: "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God."
And on the authority of unwritten Traditions, consider St. Basil's words, which were specifically endorsed by the 4th, 6th, and 7th Ecumenical Councils:
In response to some who have disputed whether Christians really have historically rejected tattoos:
It is not merely coincidence that the pagan Romans, Slavs, and Germans practiced various forms of tattooing, but when Christianity was established in those areas, these practices ceased. Even the word "tattoo" demonstrates that this was not part of the Christian culture, because it is a Polynesian word, that was not in use in English prior to the 18th century, and there is no record of any tattoo artists in either England or the United States prior to the 19th century.