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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stump the Priest: Tattoos?


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

Update:

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:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf208.vii.xxviii.html

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.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Strange Theology of David Bentley Hart


David Bentley Hart has done a lot of good work in response to the "new atheists," and he is described as an "Orthodox theologian and philosopher," but having read his recent comments in defense of universalism, I think he would be more accurately referred to as a theologian and philosopher who happens to be a member of the Orthodox Church... because he clearly has an approach to Scripture, Tradition, and the Church that is not at all Orthodox.

I would have responded to his comments on that blog, but Fr. Aidan Kimel, the owner of the blog "Eclectic Orthodoxy," while he allowed two of my comments back in December, has deleted all of my comments ever since. The title of the blog alone is a tip-off that what is contained therein is not Orthodox is any traditional sense of the term. One of the primary themes of this blog is the promotion of the heresy of universalism.

Expressing his opinion of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, as well as St. Justinian, Dr.. Hart wrote:

"If you consult the (very dubious) records of the council, you will find something called Origenism condemned. But no authentic finding of the council condemns universalism as such."

Here we have repeated the argument that the universalism of Origen was condemned, but not universalism per se. The problem with this argument is that if universalism was OK in general, why would it be mentioned at all in the anathema's against Origen. Why not just condemn the other objectionable parts of Origen's teachings? The problem is not that the Fifth Ecumenical Council was unclear in its rejection of universalism -- the problem is that universalists will not be swayed by what the Fifth Ecumenical Council taught:

"Not that I would care if it did. That very imperial “ecumenical ” council is an embarrassment in Christian history, and I sometimes think it a mercy that such a hash was made of its promulgation that we literally do not know what was truly determined there. For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles. And the contrary claims made by a brutish imbecile Emperor are of no consequence."

So DBH not only disputes what the Fifth Ecumenical Council taught on universalism... he explicitly does not care what it taught. Contrary to the judgment of the Church, which does not number Origen among the saints or fathers of the Church, he believes he is not only both, but chief among them. And having canonized Origen, and removed the Fifth Ecumenical Council from the Seven Ecumenical Councils, he calls a great saint of the Church (St. Justinian) a "brutish imbecile."



This is not how Orthodox Christians approach such things. The Orthodox Church teaches that the Ecumenical Councils are infallible, and so such a cavilier attitude towards them is entirely alien to Orthodox thought.

Then when asked about the fact that every year, throughout the Orthodox Church, we anathematize Origen's teaching, and universalism in particular, DBH opines:

"The Synodikon is just a compendium, and at times a converses, and possesses only as much authority as what it is quoting at any point. In itself it is no more binding on the conscience of an Orthodox than the Baltimore Catechism or a Thomist manual is on the conscience of a Catholic."

The Synodikon of Orthodoxy states:

"To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of Heaven is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom of Heaven is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting, to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others, Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!"

Those who advocate for universalism argue that this is only a condemnation of Origen's universalism, not the universalism supposedly expressed by other Fathers, because they had different theological and philosophical reasons for their universalism. But that is a bit like arguing that the Church hasn't anathematized Jehovah's Witness Christology, because they have different theological reasons for denying the divinity of Christ than the Arians did. This anathema states, without equivocation, that "we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting..." and there is no indication that we would ascertain anything differently if people were universalists because they saw a documentary on the history channel, read pseudo-Isaac's writings, and agreed with it, or agreed with Origen.

Anyone who has ever had an Orthodox thought in their life knows that we believe what we say in the services of the Church (lex orandi lex credendi), and when what we say ends with "Anathema!", we mean it in no uncertain terms.

Then in response to my own comments on that blog, DBH wrote:

"Dear me, you really think [the statements taken in support of universalism by St. Gregory of Nyssa] are interpolations? That is something of a joke in scholarly circles. Especially since it would basically mean that Gregory’s whole theology, from the ground up, as unfolded in De anima et resurrectione and De hominis opificio and the Great Oration and the Psalms commentary is an interpolation. Maybe Gregory never really wrote anything (rather like the Oxfordian hyposthesis about Shakespeare)."

I did not say that those statements were interpolations. Fathers of the Church, like St. Mark of Ephesus did. But Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), makes a very different argument. He devotes an entire chapter to this subject in his book "Life After Death (Chapter 8, The restoration of all things, pp. 273-312), affirms that this heresy was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council, and goes to great lengths to make the case that St. Gregory of Nyssa did not in fact teach it, but rather taught that hell (gehenna) and its punishments are unending, and that those who attribute this teaching to him are simply failing to understand them in the context of his complete teachings on the subject. If one rejects the argument that St. Gregory of Nyssa did not teach this doctrine, that would only prove St. Gregory to be in error, because Ecumenical Councils are infallible, whereas no Church Father, as an individual, is. However, it certainly is interesting that in the one instance in which, if he was a universalist, you would expect him to put that on display, St. Gregory of Nyssa not only does not affirm universalism in his treatise on the death of unbaptized infants, but directly refutes it when speaking of Judas as an example of one who died in his sins:

"Certainly, in comparison with one who has lived all his life in sin, not only the innocent babe but even one who has never come into the world at all will be blessed. We learn as much too in the case of Judas, from the sentence pronounced upon him in the Gospels; namely, that when we think of such men, that which never existed is to be preferred to that which has existed in such sin. For, as to the latter, on account of the depth of the ingrained evil, the chastisement in the way of purgation will be extended into infinity..." (On Infants' Early Deaths).

DBH: "Something similar is true in Isaac’s case. And those two are far from being the only patristic universalists; both of the very distinct Alexandrian (including Cappadocian) and Antiochene tradition are full of them, from the days of Pantaenus to the 13th century writings of Solomon of Bostra. Goodness, there are almost overwhelming reasons to believe Gregory Nazianzen, and even Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, were so disposed (Gregory unquestionably, really)."

What he says here is simply not the case. For example, St. Cyril of Alexandria, commented on 1 Peter 3:19 as follows:

"Here Peter answers the question which some objectors have raised, namely, if the incarnation was so beneficial, why was Christ not incarnated for such a long time, given that he went to the spirits which were in prison and preached to them also? In order to deliver all those who would believe, Christ taught those who were alive on earth at the time of his incarnation, and these others acknowledged him when he appeared to them in the lower regions, and thus they too benefited from his coming. Going in his soul, he preached to those who were in hell, appearing to them as one soul to other souls. When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone. And the only-begotten Son shouted with authority to the suffering souls, according to the word of the new covenant, saying to those in chains: "Come out!" and to those in darkness: "Be enlightened." In other words, he preached to those who were in hell also, so that he might save all those who would believe in him. For both those who were alive on earth during the time of his incarnation and those who were in hell had a chance to acknowledge him. The greater part of the new covenant is beyond nature and tradition, so that while Christ was able to preach to all those who were alive at the time of his appearing and those who believed in him were blessed, so too he was able to liberate those in hell who believed and acknowledged him, by his descent there. However, the souls of those who practiced idolatry and outrageous ungodliness, as well as those who were blinded by fleshly lusts, did not have the power to see him, and they were not delivered." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2000) p. 107f).

DBH: "And, had our our Lord spoken of everlasting punishment, that would be an interesting argument. But he did not speak English, and in fact did not speak Greek; and the Greek text of Matthew 25:46 (which is the only one you can have in mind) has been read by a great many Greek-speaking and Syriac-speaking fathers, from the earliest days, as saying nothing of the sort."

First off, I don't know that it is a fact that Christ did not speak Greek, In fact, it is hardly likely that Pilate spoke Aramaic or Hebrew, and so Greek would have been the most likely language that they would spoken with each other. And secondly, I would like to see the evidence that many Greek or Syriac speaking fathers did not interpret Matthew 25:46 as speaking of eternal punishment. I doubt DBH can produce one commentary that asserted that it was not speaking of eternal punishment. The same word is used with reference to eternal life, and so if the punishment is temporal, how can he be sure that the life of the righteous is not temporal also?

St. John Chrysostom spoke Greek pretty well, and here is what he had to say about whether or not the torments of gehenna are temporal:

"There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance" (Homily 3, 2nd Thessalonians).

I think it is a safe bet that when Dr. Hart was received into the Orthodox Church, he was probably not asked to make the customary renunciations and affirmations found in the service book for the reception of converts. Had he done so, he would have been asked the following questions (among others):

"Priest: Hast thou renounced all ancient and modern heresies and false doctrines which are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Church?

Answer: I have."

"And again the Bishop saith:

Dost thou accept the Apostolical and Ecclesiastical Canons framed and established at the Seven Holy Universal and Provincial Councils, and the other traditions and ordinances of the Orthodox Church?

Answer: I do.

Bishop: Dost thou acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which hath been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, hath always held and still doth hold?

Answer: I do."

If it should turn out to be the case that God has a surprise for us, and that in the end all will be saved, failure to promote that idea will not keep it from happening. However, if it is not true, hoping it will be, no matter how hard you may hope, will not make it so. But promoting that teaching might well delude some into a false hope that will leave them eternally ashamed. And those who have enabled their delusion will have to answer for it, because as the Synodikon says of such people, "...by such teachings [they] both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others..."

For More Information:

The Hieromarty Daniel Sysoev wrote a very interesting article on this question: The Fifth Ecumenical Council and the New Origenism.

Stump the Priest: Is Universalism a Heresy?

Stump the Priest: Prayers for the Dead in the Bible and in Tradition

Holy Scripture and the Church, by the Holy New Martyr Hilarion (Troitsky)

Update:

Dr. Hart has responded to some of my points. I see now why Stephen H. Webb observed: "Hart has created one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary theology: a reluctant curmudgeon feigning weariness for being forced by so much foolishness to state the obvious. He is, it seems, our Christian Zarathustra, a bit annoyed for being called down from his mountain top, where he blissfully experiences the peak of divine unknowing, in order to correct “the rather inane anthropomorphisms that proliferate in contemporary debates on the matter, both among atheists and among certain kinds of religious believers.”

I had asked him to provide one commentary from any Church Father, on Matthew 25:46 that suggested Christ was not saying that the wicked would be punished eternally. His response was:

"...send him to fathers like Gregory of Nyssa or Isaac of Ninevah, who fully reveal how they understand such terms as “αιωνιος” or “le-alma” in the course of their expositions."

This is not what I asked for. As I figured, he cannot produce such commentary as I asked for, because there is none. I say this, not because I can claim to have read every comment from every Church Father on this subject, but because if such a comment did exist, universalists like DBH would quote it with regularity.

As for how we know what "aionios" means, we can look to the definitive lexical resource for the Greek New Testament, which is Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It discusses how words were used in ancient pagan Greek writings, how they were used in the Greek Septuagint, and what the Hebrew background of the words the translate are, it discuss the New Testament usage, and then the usage beyond the New Testament. In the entry for this word, the one word definition is simply "eternal". It points out that Plato used the related word "aion" in reference to "timeless eternity in contrast to chronos. It says of "aionios": "An adjective meaning "eternal"..." And beyond that, I think Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) knows Greek pretty well, and he takes that word in the same sense.

DBH: "The thing to recall is that, outside the Seven Councils, the licit range of theological opinion is far larger than these self-appointed rigorists know. They do not get to say whether, for instance, Evdokimov, or Olivier Clement, or Bulgakov (etc.) are less truly Orthodox than they."

So he says, but according to DBH, it doesn't matter what the Fifth Ecumenical Council says, and so in what sense is he bound by anything other than his own opinion?

And as for Bulgakov, the Russian Church condemned his sophiology as a heresy -- in fact the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR both came to that conclusion, separately..

On the subject of St. Gregory of Nyssa, DBH says:

"...he quotes a bad translation of Gregory’s De infantibus too. Fr John, read the Greek, in the Gregorii Nysseni Opera of Jaeger et al."

And then further on, he wrote:

"But, really, no citing if [sic] crucial texts in dubious translations–that must be a rule. If Gregory of Nyssa talks of Judas suffering “eis ton aiona,” then quote him as doing so, as well as the many instances where he makes clear how he understands that biblical phrase. “Unto infinity” forsooth. One of the first things to learn about Gregory is that every version of “infinite” in Greek–apeiron, aperilepton, eyc–is a privileged name for the divine nature. Die Unendlichkeit Gottes bei Gregor von Nyssa (E. Mühlenberg) might have been one of the earliest books I read on Gregory’s metaphysics, flawed though that book is."

So based on what we have read in the TDNT, a fair translation would be "into eternity," which is not much different from "into infinity".

But let's consider an example of Christ using more concrete terminology in reference to the eternality of gehenna:

"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43-48).

When Christ speaks of gehenna in these terms, he is probably alluding to Isaiah 66:24: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh"; and Judith 16:17: "Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; he will send fire and worms into their flesh; they shall weep in pain forever."

But Dr. Hart would have us believe that the worm will die, and the fire will be quenched. Should we believe him, or Christ?

Then we have St. Paul, who says: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

But Dr. Hart would have us believe that it was St. Paul who was deceived, because he believes that everyone, along with the devil and the demons, will inherit the Kingdom of God.

St. Paul also wrote: "since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

But Dr. Hart would have us believe that what St. Paul really meant was that they would punished for a really long time, and then inherit the Kingdom of God. However, St. John Chrysostom, who spoke Greek pretty well, said (as referenced above) that this clearly teaches that torments are not temporal, but eternal.

And as converts are admonished, we must "acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which hath been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, hath always held and still doth hold." And the fact that every year, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the entire Orthodox Church affirms that "we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting," we have obviously not always held, nor do we hold that the torments are temporal.

Update II:

Someone brought this chapter from St. John of Damascus' "And Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," Book II, Chapter 1:

"He created the ages Who Himself was before the ages, Whom the divine David thus addresses, From age to age Thou art [Psalm 89[90]:2]. The divine apostle also says, Through Whom He created the ages [Hebrews 1:2].

It must then be understood that the word age has various meanings, for it denotes many things. The life of each man is called an age. Again, a period of a thousand years is called an age. Again, the whole course of the present life is called an age: also the future life, the immortal life after the resurrection [Matthew 12:32; Luke 7:34], is spoken of as an age. Again, the word age is used to denote, not time nor yet a part of time as measured by the movement and course of the sun, that is to say, composed of days and nights, but the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity. For age is to things eternal just what time is to things temporal.

Seven ages of this world are spoken of, that is, from the creation of the heaven and earth till the general consummation and resurrection of men. For there is a partial consummation, viz., the death of each man: but there is also a general and complete consummation, when the general resurrection of men will come to pass. And the eighth age is the age to come.

Before the world was formed, when there was as yet no sun dividing day from night, there was not an age such as could be measured, but there was the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity. And in this sense there is but one age, and God is spoken of as αἰώνιος [eternal] and προαιώνιος [pre-eternal, or before time], for the age or æon itself is His creation. For God, Who alone is without beginning, is Himself the Creator of all things, whether age or any other existing thing. And when I say God, it is evident that I mean the Father and His Only begotten Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His all-holy Spirit, our one God.

But we speak also of ages of ages, inasmuch as the seven ages of the present world include many ages in the sense of lives of men, and the one age embraces all the ages, and the present and the future are spoken of as age of age. Further, everlasting (i.e. αἰώνιος) life and everlasting punishment prove that the age or æon to come is unending [Matthew 25:46]. For time will not be counted by days and nights even after the resurrection, but there will rather be one day with no evening, wherein the Sun of Justice will shine brightly on the just, but for the sinful there will be night profound and limitless. In what way then will the period of one thousand years be counted which, according to Origen, is required for the complete restoration? Of all the ages, therefore, the sole creator is God Who hath also created the universe and Who was before the ages.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Stump the Priest: The Woman with an Issue of Blood


Question: "I have heard conflicting interpretations about the woman with an issue of blood. On the one hand, I have heard it said that by touching the hem of Christ's garment, she was showing her obedience to the traditions regarding her ritual uncleanness. On the other hand, I have heard it said that she was boldly stepping beyond those same traditions. Which interpretation is correct?"

Most of the Church Fathers whose commentaries I have do not focus on this question, but focus on other elements of the story, but there are two Fathers who cite the example of this woman in ways that would seem to give support to both of the options presented in this question. Both of them were commenting on issues related to menstruating women -- and rather than repeat what I have said previously about what is at issue in their comments, see "A Response to "Holy Communion and Menstruation,"" as well as the references mentioned at the end of that article, for more detail.

St. Gregory the Great, in a letter to St. Augustine of Canterbury, says:

"Yet still a woman, while suffering from her accustomed sickness, ought not to be prohibited from entering the church, since the superfluity of nature cannot be imputed to her for guilt, and it is not just that she should be deprived of entrance into the church on account of what she suffers unwillingly. For we know that the woman who suffered from an issue of blood, coming humbly behind the Lord, touched the hem of his garment, and immediately her infirmity departed from her. If then one who had an issue of blood could laudably touch the Lord's garment, why should it be unlawful for one who suffers from a menstruum of blood to enter in the Lord's Church?

...Further, she ought not to be prohibited during these same days from receiving the mystery of holy communion. If, however, out of great reverence, she does not presume to receive, she is to be commended; but, if she should receive, she is not to be judged. For it is the part of good dispositions in some way to acknowledge their sins, even where there is no sin, since often without sin a thing is done which comes of sin."

On the other hand St. Dionysius of Alexandria, in his Second Canon, which was affirmed by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils, says:

"Concerning menstruous women, whether they ought to enter the temple of God while in such a state, I think it superfluous even to put the question. For, I opine, not even they themselves, being faithful and pious, would dare when in this state either to approach the Holy Table or to touch the body and blood of Christ. For not even the woman with a twelve years’ issue would come into actual contact with Him, but only with the edge of His garment, to be cured."

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain commenting on this canon, says:

"For they can recall that woman who had an issue of blood and who on account of the flux of her blood did not dare, because of her great reverence, to touch the body of Christ, but only the hem of His garment. None of them is forbidden to pray, whatever be her predicament (whether she be at home or in the narthex of the church), by imploring God and asking Him for help and salvation. One is forbidden, however, to go near the Holies of Holies, which is the same as saying to partake of the sanctified portions (i.e., the Eucharistic species) when he is not clean in soul and body, like women who are taken with their menses."

In the ancient discipline of the Church, those who were to commune stood in the nave, whereas those who were not to commune stood in the narthex. Without getting into all the details, suffice it to say that as circumstances changed, the discipline of who could stand in the nave and who was confined to the narthex (or to the outside of the Church) has changed, and so the line beyond which such people could pass has moved to the iconostasis from the doors of the nave, or the narthex.

So while these two fathers do not directly contradict each other on the interpretation of the healing of the woman with an issue of blood, they certainly do not come to all of the same conclusions. Of these two, St. Dionysius's interpretation would have to be considered the more authoritative, since it has the endorsement of the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils.

But looking at the accounts in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; and Luke 8:43-48); and also looking at the Old Testament law, and Jewish customs, there is some basis for saying she boldly went beyond the letter of the ceremonial law of Moses, and some basis for saying she only went so far out of reverence for the law. According to the letter of the law, she should not have been out of her home while in this state, and so on that point she stepped beyond the law, but several fathers point out that she dared only "touch the hem of His garment" and wished to remain hidden because she felt constrained not to go any further than that. She also did not merely have the hope that she might be healed, and thus be made clean, but was absolutely convinced of it, so she was not lightly stepping beyond the law, but because she saw taking this action as the only way she could finally be healed, and after twelve years in this state, begin to live a normal life again.

So I think the point to take away here is that we cannot always strictly adhere to the letter of the law, but we also should not step beyond it lightly. And of course for us, it is not the ceremonial law of the Old Testament that should concern us, but the pious Traditions of the Church. However, when it comes to the moral law of God, we never have license to violate it.

Three points of interest here: 

1. The "hem" of Christ's garment would likely have been one of the four tassels (Hebrew: tsitsit) which the law of Moses required Israelites to wear (Deuteronomy 22:12). You can read what Alfred Edersheim has to say about in his classic "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah" by clicking here).

2. Eusebius (who reposed about 340 a.d.) records in his Ecclesiastical History (7:18:1-4) that there was a bronze statue of Christ healing the woman with an issue of blood that was erected on the spot that the miracle occurred, which he himself had seen when he was there, and that the tradition was that this woman had commissioned this herself. This statue remained until it was removed during the time of Julian the Apostate.

3. According to Tradition, the woman with an issue of blood was St. Veronica, who also was the one who wiped the blood from Christ's face as he carried his Cross, and that the miraculous icon "Not-made-by-hands" appeared on the cloth.

St. Veronica

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Marriage, Plan B


If, as seems likely, the Supreme Court will shred the Constitution and impose Gay "Marriage" on all 50 states, here is what states could do to nullify that decision.

I have often argued that the state can't "get out of the marriage business" because the state has an interest in it, but I think I have come up with a way that the state could deal with what it has as a legitimate interest, change some labels, legally, and not have to deal with the question of gay marriage, all in one fell swoop.

Granted, it is ridiculous that the Supreme Court would force us into this position, but if they want to pretend that there is no difference between a gay relationship and a marriage, we can break it down in the law in a way that they would not be able to call discriminatory:

1. Pass a law that says that going forward, marriage will be treated as a private religious matter, that the state will no longer either license or concern itself with.

2. Create a state-wide "potential birth registry,"* that would have the same restrictions that current laws have regarding who can get married: which would include prohibited relationship (incest), age requirements, and limit this to one man and one woman. Children born from a woman in this registry would  be presumed to be the children of the man registered with her, just as it works now in a real marriage. Those registering in this registry would be affirming that they were entering into an exclusive, monogamous relationship, that is likely to produce children (i.e. is heterosexual).

3. Create a state-wide "community property partnership registry," that any 2 people, regardless of their sex, or regardless of whether or not they are in any sexual relationship can enter into.

4. When people register for the potential birth registry, give them the option of also checking a box to be included in the community property partnership registry.

5. Instead of divorce, you would terminate your registration from from the above registries; but if you could not agree on the division of property, you would have a court case to decide that matter. And if you had any children, you would have to get a child support order (which would address custody, visitation, etc.).

6. Any heterosexual marriages prior to these new laws going into effect would automatically be listed in both registries. Any homosexual "marriages" that might have happened because the courts forced the state to allow them prior to this law would automatically be added to the community property registry.

* Another name that could be used for this would be "Presumed Paternity Registry."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Stump the Priest: What is the Nous and how is it distinct from the Soul?


Question: "What do we mean by the "nous," how is it distinct from the soul, and are the Orthodox the only ones who speak about the "nous"?"

This question is complicated by the fact that the word "nous" (which is usually translated into English as "mind" has been used in different senses, at different times. The best discussion on this topic I have come across is found in Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)'s book "Orthodox Psychotherapy: The science of the Fathers" (pp. 118-156 (the title might lead you to think that this is a book about psychiatry, but it is about the healing of the soul, which is what "psychotherapy" literally means)). A shorter summary of the question can be found in an excerpt from the book "Patristic Theology," by Fr. John Romanides, which is available online: "What is the Human Nous?" Fr. John Romanides says in part:

"The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul. The Church has always considered the soul as the part of the human being that needs healing because She has seen from Hebrew tradition, from Christ Himself, and from the Apostles that in the region of the physical heart there functions something that the Fathers called the nous. In other words, the Fathers took the traditional term nous, which means both intellect (dianoia) and speech or reason (logos), and gave it a different meaning. They used nous to refer to this noetic energy that functions in the heart of every spiritually healthy person. We do not know when this change in meaning took place, because we know that some Fathers used the same word nous to refer to reason as well as to this noetic energy that descends and functions in the region of the heart.

So from this perspective, noetic activity is an activity essential to the soul. It functions in the brain as the reason; it simultaneously functions in the heart as the nous. In other words, the same organ, the nous, prays ceaselessly in the heart and simultaneously thinks about mathematical problems, for example, or anything else in the brain.

We should point out that there is a difference in terminology between St. Paul and the Fathers. What St. Paul calls the nous is the same as what the Fathers call dianoia. When the Apostle Paul says, "I will pray with the spirit,"[1 Corinthians 14:5.] he means what the Fathers mean when they say, "I will pray with the nous." And when he says, "I will pray with the nous," he means "I will pray with the intellect (dianoia)." When the Fathers use the word nous, the Apostle Paul uses the word "spirit." When he says "I will pray with the nous, I will pray with the spirit" or when he says "I will chant with the nous, I will chant with the spirit," and when he says "the Spirit of God bears witness to our spirit,"[Romans 8:16] he uses the word "spirit" to mean what the Fathers refer to as the nous. And by the word nous, he means the intellect or reason."

A few other points that Metropolitan Hierotheos makes on this subject:

  • Many Fathers use the words "nous" and "soul" interchangeably.

  • St. John of Damascus says that the nous is the purest part of the soul.

  • St. Gregory Palamas uses the word "nous" in two senses: as the whole soul, and also as the power of the soul.

  • In Scripture and in many of the Fathers there is an identification of the nous with the heart, and the terms are used interchangeably. 

  • Other Fathers use the term "nous" to refer to refer to "attention" as opposed to reasoning. And so for example, when we pray, we may be reading our prayers with our intellect, but our attention wanders. And so when one achieves the prayer of the heart, our attention (the nous) returns to the heart, and we truly pray.

Contemporary Protestants will typically only talk about the "nous" to the extent that they find references to it in in Scripture, and they generally would not spend a lot of time (if any) trying to understand what the Fathers had to say about those passages. Being influence by American pragmatism, they would also tend to see spending time focusing on the nuances of the mind, heart, and soul of a person to be of little use to the bottom line questions of how one is saved, and how we should live our lives, which they tend to see in far more simple terms, and look for far more simple answers.

If you were an Eskimo, you would speak about various forms of frozen water with subtle distinctions that would be lost on tribesmen who live near the equator, because those people don't often encounter frozen water, and so hail, snow, sleet, etc, would be seen as being pretty much the same thing. Whereas for you, ice, snow, sleet, and all the subtle variations one encounters of those things would be a pervasive reality that would never be far from your thoughts. The saints of the Church spent their lives waging spiritual warfare, and so speak about the aspects of the soul in very subtle ways, compared to those who think that if you say a prayer and ask Christ into your heart, that you are saved, and couldn't lose your salvation if you tried.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Stump the Priest: Is Universalism a Heresy?


Question: "Is the teaching that ultimately all men will be saved (the apokatastasis) a heresy, or is it an acceptable theological opinion within the bounds of Orthodoxy?"

Origen taught the heretical doctrine of the apokatastasis, that ultimately everyone, even the devil, would be saved. The Church condemned this teaching at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. The Church has ever taught this as a fact since that time. However, in recent times we have had a rebirth of this heresy, and have many who try to argue that the Fifth Ecumenical Council did not condemn this teaching.

Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Anathematize this Heresy?

To cite some examples of trustworthy theologians who state this in no uncertain terms, Fr. Michael Pomazansky wrote:

"The Church, basing itself on the word of God, acknowledges the torments of gehenna to be eternal and unending, and therefore it condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council the false teaching of the Origenists that the demons and impious people would suffer in hell only for a certain definite time, and then would be restored to their original condition of innocence (apokatastasis in Greek). The condemnation at the Universal Judgment is called in the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian the "second death" (Apoc. 20:14).

An attempt to understand the torments of gehenna in a relative sense, to understand eternity as some kind of age or period — perhaps a long one, but one still having an end — was made in antiquity, just as it is made today; this view in general denies the reality of these torments. In this attempt there are brought forward conceptions of a logical kind: the disharmony between such torments and the goodness of God is pointed out, as is the seeming disproportion between crimes that are temporal and the eternity of the punishments for sin, as well as the disharmony between these eternal punishments and the final aim of the creation of man, which is blessedness in God.

But it is not for us to define the boundaries between the unutterable mercy of God and His justice or righteousness. We know that the Lord "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4); but man is capable, through his own evil will, of rejecting the mercy of God and the means of salvation. Chrysostom, in interpreting the depiction of the Last Judgment, remarks: "When He (the Lord) spoke about the Kingdom, after saying, ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom,’ He added, ‘which is prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Matt. 25:34), but when speaking about the fire, He did not speak thus, but He added: which is ‘prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matt. 25:41). For I have prepared for you a Kingdom, but the fire I have prepared not for you but for the devil and his angels. But since you have cast your own selves into the fire, therefore accuse yourself for this" (Homily 70 on Matthew).

We have no right to understand the words of the Lord only conditionally, as a threat or as a certain pedagogical means applied by the Saviour. If we understand it this way we err, since the Saviour does not instill in us any such understanding, and we subject ourselves to God’s wrath according to the word of the Psalmist: "Why hath the ungodly one provoked God? For he hath said in his heart: He will not make enquiry" (Ps. 9:34) (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press, 1984, p. 349f).

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) devotes an entire chapter to this subject in his book "Life After Death (Chapter 8 The restoration of all things, pp. 273-312), affirms that this heresy was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council, and goes to great lengths to make the case that St. Gregory of Nyssa did not in fact teach it, but rather taught that hell (gehenna) and its punishments are unending, and that those who attribute this teaching to him are simply failing to understand them in the context of his complete teachings on the subject. If one rejects the argument that St. Gregory of Nyssa did not teach this doctrine, that would only prove St. Gregory to be in error, because Ecumenical Councils are infallible, whereas no Church Father, as an individual, is. However, it certainly is interesting that in the one instance in which, if he was a universalist, you would expect him to put that on display, St. Gregory of Nyssa not only does not affirm universalism in his treatise on the death of unbaptized infants, but directly refutes it when speaking of Judas as an example of one who died in his sins:

"Certainly, in comparison with one who has lived all his life in sin, not only the innocent babe but even one who has never come into the world at all will be blessed. We learn as much too in the case of Judas, from the sentence pronounced upon him in the Gospels; namely, that when we think of such men, that which never existed is to be preferred to that which has existed in such sin. For, as to the latter, on account of the depth of the ingrained evil, the chastisement in the way of purgation will be extended into infinity..." (On Infants' Early Deaths).

Anathemas? What Anathemas?

The advocates of Universalism try to argue that, despite the fact that the Church has consistently stated that the Fifth Ecumenical Council anathematized this heresy, that there are reasons to doubt whether the council formally issued the anathemas ascribed to it.

St. Justinian issued his anathemas against Origen before the Council, which he convoked, and the last of those anathemas is as follows:

"If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema."

The first of the Council's anathemas states:

"If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration (ἀποκατάστασις) which follows from it: let him be anathema."

Now, for the sake of argument, let's assume that there is some ambiguity about whether or not these anathemas were endorsed by that council. All one has to do to settle the question is to consider the Synodikon of Orthodoxy which is recited every year, throughout the Orthodox Church, on the Sunday of Orthodox (the first Sunday of Lent):

"To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of Heaven is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom of Heaven is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting, to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others, Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!"

Those who advocate for universalism argue that this is only a condemnation of Origen's universalism, not the universalism supposedly expressed by other Fathers, because they had different theological and philosophical reasons for their universalism. But that is a bit like arguing that the Church hasn't anathematized Jehovah's Witness Christology, because they have different theological reasons for denying the divinity of Christ than the Arians did. This anathema states, without equivocation, that "we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting..." and there is no indication that we would ascertain anything differently if people were universalists because they saw a documentary on the history channel, read pseudo-Isaac's writings, and agreed with it, or agreed with Origen.

Anyone who has ever had an Orthodox thought in their life knows that we believe what we say in the services of the Church (lex orandi lex credendi), and when what we say ends with "Anathema!", we mean it in no uncertain terms.

What Saith the Scriptures?

If one believes Christ's teachings carry any weight, He affirms the unending character of the torments of hell repeatedly:

In Mark Chapter Nine, he states that the fires of hell (gehenna) will not be quenched five times, and speaks of the worm that will not die three times:

"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43-48).

When Christ speaks of gehenna in these terms, he is probably alluding to Isaiah 66:24: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh"; and Judith 16:17: "Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; he will send fire and worms into their flesh; they shall weep in pain forever."

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ addresses the wicked (the goats) and said: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:26); and he concludes the parable by saying: "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (Matthew 25:46).

St. Paul wrote: "since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Commenting on these verses, St. John Chrysostom wrote:

"There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance" (Homily 3, 2nd Thessalonians).

Conclusion

Those who advocate for this heresy are forced to place all their weight on the supposed advocacy of a few saints of the Church, while ignoring the clear and unambiguous teachings of all the other Fathers, the Councils, the Apostles, and even Christ Himself. This is not how Orthodox Christians approach such matters. We affirm that which the Church has consistently taught -- we do not go hunting for theological exotica. And if it happens that God has a surprise for us in eternity, and that despite all the talk of the unquenchable fire and the undying worm, He will ultimately save even the devil, then we have nothing to worry about. However, if Christ, the Apostles, the vast majority of the Fathers and saints of Church, the Councils, and the Synodikon of Orthodoxy are correct, then it is a very dangerous thing to give unrepentant sinners false hope -- because those who teach such a heresy will "both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others" (the Synodikon of Orthodoxy). This is not a question of what we may wish to be true -- it is a question of what Christ, who is Himself the Truth, assures us to be true, in the most emphatic terms.

Update: Here is an interesting comment from St. Cyril of Alexandria, on 1 Peter 3:19:

"Here Peter answers the question which some objectors have raised, namely, if the incarnation was so beneficial, why was Christ not incarnated for such a long time, given that he went to the spirits which were in prison and preached to them also? In order to deliver all those who would believe, Christ taught those who were alive on earth at the time of his incarnation, and these others acknowledged him when he appeared to them in the lower regions, and thus they too benefited from his coming. Going in his soul, he preached to those who were in hell, appearing to them as one soul to other souls. When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone. And the only-begotten Son shouted with authority to the suffering souls, according to the word of the new covenant, saying to those in chains: "Come out!" and to those in darkness: "Be enlightened." In other words, he preached to those who were in hell also, so that he might save all those who would believe in him. For both those who were alive on earth during the time of his incarnation and those who were in hell had a chance to acknowledge him. The greater part of the new covenant is beyond nature and tradition, so that while Christ was able to preach to all those who were alive at the time of his appearing and those who believed in him were blessed, so too he was able to liberate those in hell who believed and acknowledged him, by his descent there. However, the souls of those who practiced idolatry and outrageous ungodliness, as well as those who were blinded by fleshly lusts, did not have the power to see him, and they were not delivered." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2000) p. 107f).



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Stump the Priest: Prayers for the Dead in the Bible and in Tradition


Question: "Where do we find any evidence that praying for the dead is a biblical? From what I have read it appears that the Bible almost says the opposite of this in Ezekiel Chapter 18. Sure, Ezekiel was talking to Israel prior to the New Covenant that we have in Christ, but it says at the start of the chapter that this came from the word of the LORD and it seems consistent with Romans 2:3-9."

What does the Bible Say?

First, let me point out that neither of the passages cited address the question of praying for the dead.

The point of Ezekiel 18 is that a son is neither saved nor condemned because of the righteousness or the sins of his father, and neither is a father saved or condemned because of his son. Also, past righteous will not save a man who falls into sin, nor will past sin condemn a man who turns from his sin. The passage is not about prayers for the dead.

The point of Romans 2:3-9 is that everyone will be judged according to his works, This has nothing to do with prayers for the dead either, unless you assume that we believe that by praying for the dead we could pray an impenitent sinner into heaven, but we do not believe that.

There are, however, passages of Scripture that do address this question. 2nd Maccabees is not in most Protestant Bibles, but it was included in the 1611 King James Bible, and has been considered to be part of Scripture by the Church since the time of the Apostles (see Canon 85 of the Holy Apostles) -- and in 2nd Maccabees 12:38-45 we find a very clear example of prayer for the dead.

In the Wisdom of Sirach (which is also listed among Scripture by the Canon 85 of the Apostles), it says: "Give graciously to all the living; do not withhold kindness even from the dead" (Sirach 7:33).

And in 2 Timothy 1:16-18, St. Paul is praying for Onesiphorus, who obviously is no longer among the living:

"The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus."

Jewish Tradition

The text from Second Maccabees that has already been cited is clear evidence that this was the Jewish custom well before the time of Christ, but is also a fact that the Jews continue to pray for the dead. So if prayers for the dead were some pagan corruption that crept into the Church, one has to wonder how it also crept into Judaism... especially when this would have to have happened before the the time of Christ.

Christian Tradition

When I first began to seriously consider becoming Orthodox, prayers for the dead were on my list of about 5 issues that had to be resolved, but it was also one of the first issues to be scratched off that list, because the evidence that the early Church prayed for the dead is far too ubiquitous to allow one to doubt it. You find it in the earliest texts of the Liturgy. You find it passing comments made by the earliest writers of the Church. You also find them in the catacombs. For example, we have the Epitaph of Abercius, Bishop of Hieropolis, who reposed in 167 A.D., in which he asks for those who read the epitaph to pray for him. When St. Augustine's pious mother was departing this life, her last request was: "Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be" (Confessions 9:27). And quotation upon quotation could be multiplied along these lines.

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, there weren't any Christians, anywhere, who did not have the custom of praying for the dead.

Conclusion

I remember hearing the story of an Anglican priest who had adamantly opposed prayers for the dead any time the issue was raised, and then after his wife's death he ceased to speak up on the matter, and was asked about it. He said that he had prayed for his wife every day, since he had met her, and could not bring himself to stop after her death. Prayer for the dead is a way the living show their love for dead. We also believe that prayers the dead are of some benefit to them, but exactly how these prayers benefit them is not something that the Church has precisely defined. If someone dies in a state of repentance, but without having had a chance to bring forth all the fruits of repentance, we believe that they are not ready to enter immediately into the presence of God, but that at some point, through the prayers of the Church, they will be. If someone dies in a state of impenitence, while our prayers are of some benefit to them, those prayers cannot make them worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. But in either case, by praying for the dead, we strengthen our own faith, and come to better entrust our loved ones to God's mercy.

Update:

For those who want further proof that the Church does not believe that those who die in a state of unrepentance, consider the folllowing:

St. John of Damascus wrote that those who have departed, unrepentant, and with "an evil life" cannot change their destination from hell to heaven by the prayers of anyone ("On Those Who Have Fallen Asleep in Faith, 21 PG 95,268BC, referenced in "The Mystery of Death," by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, p. 432. St. John Chrysostom likewise speaks of those who are where it is not possible to receive cleansing, and who are outside of the Kingdom of God, but who may receive some consolation by our prayers (Homily "On Not Mourning Bitterly Over the Dead", PG 60,888-889, referenced in "The Mystery of Death, p. 432-434),

And St. Mark of Ephesus states in his "First Homily, Refuting the Latin Chapters Concerning Purgatorial Fire":

"But we have received that even the souls which are held in hell are already given over to eternal torments, whether in actual fact and experience or in hopeless expectation of such, as can be aided and given a certain small help, although not in the sense of completely loosing them from torment or giving hope for a final deliverance. And this is shown from the words of the great Macarius the Egyptian ascetic who, finding a skull in the desert, was instructed by it concerning this by the action of Diving Power. And Basil the Great, in the prayers read at Pentecost, writes literally the following: "Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, art graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers for those who are imprisoned in hades, granting us a great hope of improvement for those who are imprisoned from the defilements which have imprisoned them, and that Thou wilt send down Thy consolation" (Third Kneeling Prayer at Vespers). But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which -- even though they have repented over them -- they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have aid, has not at all been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or -- if their sins were more serious and bind them for a longer duration -- they are kept in hades, but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard. All such ones, we affirm, are helped by the prayers and Liturgies performed for them, with the cooperation of the Divine Goodness and Love for mankind. This Divine cooperation immediately disdains and remits some sins, those committed out of human weakness, as Dionysius the Great (the Areopagite) says in the "Reflections of the Mystery of those Reposed in Faith" (in The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, VII, 7); while other sins, after a certain time, by righteous judgments it either likewise releases and forgives -- and that completely -- or lightens the responsibility for them until that final Judgment" (see "The Soul After Death", Appendix I, p. 208f).

Here also is quote from St. Symeon of Thessalonika's Liturgical commentary, about commemorations at the Proskomedia: "And there is no place here [in commemorations at the proskomedia] for unbelievers, let alone for the heterodox. "For what communion does light have with darkness?" since, scripture says, the angels will separate out the evil from the midst of the just. Therefore it is also not at all right for a priest to make a commemoration of him; neither for a heterodox, or make a commemoration of him neither for those openly sinning and unrepentant. For the offering is to their condemnation, just as it is also for the unrepentant who receive communion of the awe-inspiring mysteries, as the divine Paul says" (St. Symeon of Thessonika, The Liturgical Commentaries, edited and translated by Steven Hawkes-Teeples, (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2001), p. 232f). 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Paschal Hours (How to do them)


During Bright Week, the Paschal Hours are done in place of the usual order for Small Compline and the Midnight Office, in addition to the First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours. It is also a pious practice to do them in place of our usual morning and evening prayers (which are based on the Midnight Office, and Small Compline). If you have a Jordanville Prayer Book, you have the text of the Paschal Matins, followed by the text for the Paschal Hours (in the 4th edition, it begin on page 206). You can also find the text, arranged for use by a laymen here. And you can also listen to this audio file to learn how to sing the Paschal Hours, if you don't know how to sing the tones: http://www.saintjonah.org/podcasts/paschalhours.mp3

Singing the Paschal Hours during bright week make for an easy and joyful prayer rule, and help keep us connected with the celebration of Bright Week, if we are unable to attend services this week.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Homily for Holy Saturday by St. Epiphanius of Cyprus

The Harrowing of Hades



Homily on Holy Saturday: The Lord Descends into Hades

St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus (403 A.D.)

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him, “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by My own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the Life of the dead. Rise up, work of My hands, you who were created in My image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in My image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but I will enthrone you in Heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am Life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. “

From the Synaxarion of the Lenten Triondion and Pentecostarion, Fr. David and Mother Gabriela, eds., HDM Press, Rives Junction, MI, 1999 pp. 160-161.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

For those who might be wondering why my Facebook account has suddenly disappeared


It's because Facebook thinks drag queens should be able to use stage names like "Lil' Miss Hot Mess," but doesn't think Christian Clergy should be allowed to use anything but their legal names.

See "Stories from the Culture War Trenches" by Rod Dreher.

Update: They have done the same thing to Fr. Tryphon, who if he used his legal name (which I don't even know) would not be recognized by anyone who hasn't known him since he was kid.

Facebook has gotten too big for its britches. It's time for the users they depend on to whittle them back down to size. Refuse to advertise on Facebook until this policy is reversed.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Stump the Priest: Holy Week Without a Parish

Golgotha, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Question: "What should someone do during Holy Week if they have no parish nearby, and so cannot attend the services?"

We should of course plan ahead, and if at all possible make a way for us to be at the services of Holy Week, but of course there are many circumstances beyond one's control that might prevent them from attending some or all of these services. But as for what to do when one is in this situation, let me give the ideal answer, and then an answer for those who cannot yet deal with it in the ideal way.

Ideally...

If you learn how to do reader services, you can actually do most of the Holy Week services in a fairly full way. You can't do the sacraments without a priest or a bishop, but you can do pretty much everything else. This requires investing the time to learn how to sing the services, and also to acquire the texts, but it is time and money well spent.

For more on that, see:

The Reader Service Horologion

Practical Questions on How To Do Reader Services

Tone Tutor

Practical Tips on Building a Liturgical Library

There is also a summer course on liturgics that is offered by the Orthodox Pastoral School.

However...

If you don't know how to do reader services, here are some things you can do that are not very difficult to pull off:

For Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and Pascha, you can do Typika, which is relatively short service that has many of the elements of the Liturgy. You can get the text for Typika as well as the variable portions for those services by clicking here.

For the other days of Holy Week, you can do Akathists, which are found in the Book of Akathists from Holy Trinity Publications. Akathists are not complicated, and so you don't have to know a lot of rubrics to do them. It also doesn't take too much to learn how to sing them. For Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, you could do the Akathist to the Divine Passion of Christ. For Holy Thursday, you could do the Akathist for Holy Communion. For Holy Friday, you could do the Akathist to the Precious Cross. For Holy Saturday you could do the Akathist to the Tomb and the Resurrection of the Lord. And for Pascha (in addition to the Typika) you could do the Akathist to the Resurrection of Christ.

One of the Traditions of Holy Week is to read all for Gospels in their entirety on Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. If one is working during Holy Week, that might be difficult to pull off, but you could try to read at least one Gospel completely. And in addition to that, you can read the other appointed Scripture readings for the days of Holy Week.

For these readings, you can download Menologion 3.0 which provides the appointed readings for each day.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Response to "Holy Communion and Menstruation"

St. Dionysius of Alexandria

Fr. Ted Bobosh has written an article on a topic that comes up from time to time -- whether or not we should observe the custom of women refraining from Communion during their menstrual cycle. Curiously, Fr. Ted appeals to Apostolic Constitutions as his primary basis for rejecting this custom, but makes no mention of the Ecumenical Canons that endorse the same custom. This is curious because Canon 2 of the Quinisext Council specifically rejects the Apostolic Constitutions because it contains many impious and heretical interpolations. And in that same canon, the Holy Fathers affirmed the canons of St. Dionysius of Alexandria (who reposed in 264 AD.) as well as those of St. Timothy of Alexandria (who reposed in 384, and was one of the Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council), and in those canons, this custom is affirmed (see Canon 2 of St. Dionysius and Canon 7 of St. Timothy).

Contrary to the suggestion of the quote from the Apostolic Constitutions that Fr. Ted cited, no one believes that a women is separated from God during her menstrual cycle, cannot pray, or is deprived of the Holy Spirit. Nor does anyone teach that having a menstrual cycle is in any way sinful. Nor is the custom of women refraining from communion during this time an absolute prohibition. We do, however, have customs of ritual purity in the Orthodox Church. For example, when clergy are vesting for the liturgy, we ritually wash our hands -- not because they are physically dirty. Any clergyman with any sense has washed his hands before he comes into the Church. However, this action does remind us of our need for spiritual cleansing. If a priest cuts himself when serving the proskomedia, he must leave the altar, and not return until the bleeding has stopped. If a priest is driving and a young child runs out in front of his car, and is killed, that priest will never be allowed to serve the Liturgy again -- not because he killed the child intentionally, because he has blood on his hands, and so can no longer offer the unbloody sacrifice of the Eucharist.

With the New Testament, the Old Testament worship has been replaced by a new Liturgy (Hebrews 8:6), but this does not mean that there is no continuity between the Old and the New Covenants. Some things have been set aside completely, and other things have been retained to one degree or another. In the Old Testament we see that there was quite a bit of concern about blood, and we see that even in the New Testament this concern has not been set aside (see, for example Acts 15:23-29).

The customs that we retain have a symbolic and didactic significance, but they are not absolute. If a woman was in danger of death during her menstrual period, she would of course be communed without any hesitation, because then the didactic value of this custom would be superseded by the more immediate need to prepare the woman for her death.

Fr. Ted did not mention the oft quote epistle of St. Gregory the Great in which he said that this custom should not be obligatory, but it should be noted that he also says that if a woman wishes to observe this custom it is praiseworthy -- which is very much in contrast to the position usually taken by those who cite St. Gregory on this subject. It should also be noted that St. Gregory the Great reposed in 604 AD., and the Quinisext Council was held in 692 AD. -- and so we do not know what he would have written had he lived after the time of that Council.

If someone wishes to argue that the canons of Ss. Dionysius and Timothy of Alexandria were due to the historical conditions of the times in which they lived, and that modern sanitation have made this practice no longer necessary, at least they are attempting to take the canons seriously rather than merely dismissing them. But those who take the position that the practice has never had any justification have a serious problem in explaining how these canons could have been affirmed by an Ecumenical Council -- and beyond that, they have the problem in dealing with the Old Testament laws regarding menstruation. Do they not believe that the Mosaic Law was inspired by God? Regardless of whether one thinks we should observe the custom in question today or not, if "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 2:15-17), then these laws could not be just a matter of ancient superstition, ignorance, or misogyny.

It should also be noted that the Russian Church has recently reaffirmed this practice, in the document: On the Patricipation of the Faithful in the Eucharist, which was approved at the Synod meeting held on February 2nd - 3rd, 2015 in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

See also:

On "Ritual Impurity": In Response to Sister Vassa (Larin), by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

More to the Point: Should Nuns Light Their Icon Lamps?, By Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Churching and the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord