Friday, August 29, 2014

Stump the Priest: Why a Catechumenate?


Question: "Why does the Orthodox Church require adults who are preparing for baptism to become catechumens, and to wait before they are allowed to be baptized. This requirement does not fit the pattern of conversions in Acts. On the day of Pentecost, about the 3000 that were baptized the same day Peter preached to them (Acts 2:37-42). The Samaritans who Philip preached to were baptized when they believed (Acts 8:12). The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized the same day (Acts 8:26-39). Cornelius, a gentile, was baptized the same day after he met Peter (Acts 10:44-48). The Philippian jailer who was baptized within a few hours of believing (Acts 16:31-34). Why was there a change in practice?"

Most of the people mentioned above were people who had a a prior knowledge of Judaism. For a Jew, or a Gentile God-fearer, becoming a Christian was not entering into completely foreign territory. The only exception is the Philippian jailer, whose conversion was a rather dramatic one. However, when you have people with pagan backgrounds who became interested in Christianity, but who had no background to immediately understand it, it makes sense that the Church would normally want there to be a period of time in which such people would be instructed in the Faith prior to being admitted to the sacraments. Consider the fact that St. Paul taught that if someone partakes of the Eucharist unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-29) -- wouldn't the Church want to give a convert from paganism some time in order to come to understand what the Eucharist means, before putting them into a position in which they likely might unworthily partake of it?

As time went on the experience of the Church also confirmed the need for converts from paganism to be well instructed before being baptized, because when persecutions arose, so many of them fell away, because they were not sufficiently grounded in the Faith.

Christ gave the Apostles the power to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; John 20:23), and the Church teaches that this power was passed down through their successors, the bishops. And so even during the time of the Apostles, the Church has made decision and established standards that "seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us" (Acts 15:28). In fact, the same Church that decided which books belonged in the Bible, also decided that the catechumenate was a good idea when receiving adults converts. The length of time someone should remain a catechumen depends on their background, and also on how diligent they are in studying the Faith.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Psalm 118: Commentary, by St. Theophan the Recluse


Psalm 118: Commentary, by St. Theophan the Recluse; trans. Archpriest Gleb Wleskov; edited by Seraphim Englehardt.

Psalm 118 (119 in Protestant Bibles) is the longest chapter of the Bible, and is a unique psalm in many respects. It is an acrostic psalm (it has 22 sections, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and each section consists of 8 verses); and every verse uses one of about a dozen synonyms for God's law (testimonies, commandments, precepts, word, ways, truth, judgments, statutes, etc).

In his introduction, St. Theophan notes that St. Augustine was for a long time unable to write a commentary on this psalm: ""How often," said he, "was I asked to give its interpretation, but when I was ready to begin, I backed off, realizing that it was above my strength. For the simpler this psalm would seem to be, the deeper it actually turns out to be, and I am unable to say how profound it is. Other psalms have dark spots; this one is so clear that all one has to do is read or listen; there is nothing to interpret. And yet, getting ready to comment on it, I cannot say I will be able to do anything even now." St. Ambrose also wrote: "Other psalms contain moral issues, but they are like stars spread out in the sky; this one is like the sun, abundantly pouring forth its light at high noon."

Given that the Church has appointed this psalm to be read every day of the week (Monday through Friday) at the Midnight Office, on every Saturday at Matins, often also on the Sunday Matins, and at Funerals, the Church clearly wants us to spend time studying and meditating on this Psalm.

St. John of Shanghai, commenting on the importance of the Psalms especially drew attention to the importance of this psalm:

"Perhaps it will happen that you will die without having once in your life read in full the Psalter of David... You will die, and only then will good people read over your lifeless body this holy Psalter, which you had no time even, to open while you lived on earth! Only then, at your burial, will they sing over you the wondrously instructive, sweetly-wise-but alas, to you completely unknown-words of David: Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord... Blessed are they who search His testimonies. who keep His revelations, and seek Him with their whole heart. Do you hear: Blessed are they who search His testimonies, seek out the revelations of the Lord; and you had no time even to think of them! What will your poor soul feel then, your soul to which every word of the Psalmist, repeated by a reader or singer over your coffin, will sound as a strict reproach that you never read this sacred book?... Open now, before it is too late, this wondrous book of the Prophet King. Open it and read with attention at least this 118th Psalm, and you will involuntarily feel that your heart becomes humble, soft, that in the words of David are the words of the merit of God, and you will repeat involuntarily, many times, with sighing of heart, the verse of this Psalm: I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; seek out Thy slave, Lord!" (from his weekly diocesan bulletin (Shanghai, November 24, 1941, no. 503).

St. Theophan's commentary on this psalm is a very comprehensive (this book is 351 pages), and weaves the commentaries of the Fathers of the Church together in a masterful, and spiritually edifying way. Each verse (there are 176 verses to this psalm) is commented on in depth. The translation has been in the works for many years, and is well done. It is also nicely bound. This text is not only a great reference work, but would be suitable as daily devotional reading. The price is a bit on the high end ($40.00), but it is well worth it.

You can order a copy by clicking here.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Stump the Priest: Triple Immersion


Question: "I am not opposed to triune immersion, but I do want to question the idea that triune immersion is the ONLY way. Why isn't there a single mention of triune immersion in the New Testament? Other than the Didache, I see no explicit support for triune immersion from the writings from the first and second century. Tertullian speaks of thrice immersions as being "an ampler pledge" than what is found in Scripture. Ampler means greater. Therefore, he is saying that triune immersion is somewhat greater than what Jesus described in Matthew 28, and therefore something beyond what Christ commanded."

There is no explicit mention in the New Testament of either single or triple immersion, and so we have to look beyond the New Testament for answers here. You say "other than the Didache", as if the fact that the Didache does mention this is a small matter. The Didache is the earliest Christian writing that is not part of the New Testament, and was highly regarded in the early Church, as can be seen by its mention in St. Athanasius' famous Paschal Epistle of 367, in which he provides the earliest complete list of the New Testament canon, as the Church has received it. Most of the writings that we have from the second century are Apologetic writings, directed towards those outside of the Church. The internal teachings of the Church were still intentional left unwritten, until the time that the persecutions in the Roman Empire ceased.

The comment that you mention from Tertullian dates from about 204 a.d., and is found in his treatise "De Corona", chapter 3:

"And how long shall we draw the saw to and fro through this line, when we have an ancient practice, which by anticipation has made for us the state, i.e., of the question? If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down?  Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted. Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone, and the countenance thereafter of custom, affords us any precedent.  To deal with this matter briefly, I shall begin with baptism. When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel."

First, it should be noted that Tertullian was not writing to convince anyone that Christians should be baptized by a triple immersion -- he is arguing another point, based on Church Tradition, and cites this as an example of Church Tradition that is not found explicitly in Scripture, but which no one disputed.

Furthermore, when he speaks of the person "making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel," he is not referring to the triple immersion... because that is not a "pledge." A "pledge" is a solemn promise, and Tertullian simply notes that there are a number of promises made at baptism that you will not find explicitly required of a person being baptized in Gospels.

St. Basil the Great makes an almost identical argument 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).

Again, 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.

I would suggest you read my essay "Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds," and St. Cyprian of Carthage's treatise "On the Unity of the Church."


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Silent Holocaust: The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and What We Can Do About It


More details will be forthcoming, but on September 5th, 2014, at 7 pm, the Orthodox Clergy Association of Houston and Southeast Texas will have a meeting at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, in Houston to discuss the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. We are inviting all the members of the Orthodox, Coptic and Syriac Christian communities in the area to participate. We are also asking all the members of the congressional delegation of the Houston area to come. We will have speakers who will talking about what is going on, we will have questions and answers, and we will be talking about what we can do about it. Contact your congressman and ask them to come and participate... and if you don't know who your congressman is, or if you know, but don't know how to get in touch with them, see this web site: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

We also need volunteers to help contact members of the media. If you are interested, please e-mail Fr. John Whiteford.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stump the Priest: Near Death Experiences

Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

Question: "How does the Orthodox Church regard Shared Near Death Experiences? This is where people have a vision similar to the person dying of the white light of love and tunnels and such but return to their body. If these are found to be actual experiences how will this affect our understanding of the afterlife if at all?"

Fr. Seraphim (Rose) dealt with this question extensively in his book "The Soul After Death."

You can also read about this in several articles on Orthodoxinfo.com.

In short, these experiences do not change how we understand death, but the Tradition of the Church does shed light on how we should understand these experiences. People often misinterpret these experiences, but they are evidence that there is life beyond death.

Fr. Seraphim also cites many examples of people who report experiences of torment in their near death experiences. Those reports do not get a lot of attention, because people prefer the warm fuzzy experiences, but they are not uncommon.

So the short answer is that we should not take these experiences on face value, but compare them with the experiences of the Church, and understand them in the light of Scripture and Tradition.



Saturday, August 09, 2014

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Stump the Priest: Saved in Childbearing?


Question: "What does 1st Timothy 2:15 mean when it says that a woman shall be "saved" in child bearing? How do the Orthodox interpret that passage?"

One important thing to keep in mind here is that the word translated as "saved" has a broader meaning that is often assumed in our culture, which has been heavily influenced by Protestant thinking. It can mean "help", "deliver", "heal", etc.

As is often the case, St. John Chrysostom provides the best answer to the question:

“The woman,” he says, “being deceived was in the transgression.” What woman? Eve. Shall she then be saved by child-bearing? He does not say that, but, the race of women shall be saved. Was not it then involved in transgression? Yes, it was, still Eve transgressed, but the whole sex shall be saved, notwithstanding, “by childbearing.” And why not by their own personal virtue? For has she excluded others from this salvation? And what will be the case with virgins, with the barren, with widows who have lost their husbands, before they had children? will they perish? is there no hope for them? yet virgins are held in the highest estimation. What then does he mean to say? Some interpret his meaning thus. As what happened to the first woman occasioned the subjection of the whole sex, (for since Eve was formed second and made subject, he says, let the rest of the sex be in subjection,) so because she transgressed, the rest of the sex are also in transgression. But this is not fair reasoning; for at the creation all was the gift of God, but in this case, it is the consequence of the woman’s sin. But this is the amount of what he says. As all men died through one, because that one sinned, so the whole female race transgressed, because the woman was in the transgression. Let her not however grieve. God hath given her no small consolation, that of childbearing. And if it be said that this is of nature, so is that also of nature; for not only that which is of nature has been granted, but also the bringing up of children. “If they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”; that is, if after childbearing, they keep them in charity and purity. By these means they will have no small reward on their account, because they have trained up wrestlers for the service of Christ. By holiness he means good life, modesty, and sobriety" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on 1 Timothy).

So the reproach against the female sex that was due to Eve's deception is undone by child bearing and the bringing up of children. St. John notes that not all women have children, and so it is not that individual women are saved only if and when they give birth, but the female sex as a whole is delivered from the reproach of Eve through child birth. This is especially true of the Virgin Mary, whose obedience has undone the disobedience of Eve.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stump the Priest: Bishop Vestments with Bells

The Vestments of the Israelite High Priest

Question: Why does the bishop wear bells on his vestments?

As with much of our worship, this has its origins in the worship of the Old Testament. In the Law of Moses, God directed Moses to make the liturgical garments of Aaron, the first High Priest (ἀρχιερεύς, archiereus), as follows:

"“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord and when he comes out, that he may not die." (Exodus 28:31-35).

Since the High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies alone, the bells allowed those on the outside to at least hear the sound of the sacred actions that they could not see. The statement "that he may not die" may suggest that the ceasing of the bells would alert those outside of the holy of holies that the high priest had died. However, the way this is worded, it would more likely suggest that in some way the bells would prevent the High Priest from dying.

In the book of Ecclesiasticus (also known as the Wisdom of Sirach), it speaks of Aaron's vestments, and gives us at least one reason for the bells:

"He clothed him in perfect splendor, and strengthened him with the symbols of authority, the linen undergarments, the long robe, and the ephod. And he encircled him with pomegranates, with many golden bells all around, to send forth a sound as he walked, to make their ringing heard in the temple as a reminder to his people" (Ecclesiasticus 45:8-9).

So in what way could the bells save the High Priest from death, and also serve as a reminder to the people?

Blessed Theodoret provides the answer:

"He also clad the priests in the most comely attire to impress the people with their extraordinary appearance and to teach the priests how to beautify the soul and bedeck it with the adornment of virtue. By "undergarment" he referred to the inner, and by "outer garment" to the outer tunic. He commanded the latter be blue in color and called it "full length," because it reached to the top of the feet. To this he attached golden bells and pomegranates so that, on entering the unapproachable precincts and hearing the sound issuing from these, Aaron might celebrate the rite with reverence and call to mind him who had commanded these things and who was to receive the worship being offered" (Theodoret of Cyrus,trans. Robert C. Hill, The Questions on the Octateuch, vol. 1, On Genesis and Exodus, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2007), p. 323).


The bells were a constant reminder to the High Priest of the sacredness of his ministry, and by keeping this in mind, he would not act in an impious manner, which might lead to his death, as happened in case of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, who brought "strange fire" before the Lord, and were struck dead as a result (Leviticus 10:1-7). Likewise, the bells were a reminder to the people of the holiness of God's Temple, and the piety of the worship that God required of His ministers. And so the purpose of the bells on the vestments (specifically, his Mantia and Sakkos) of the bishop are likewise to be a constant reminder to both the bishop and the people that "Holiness becometh Thy house, O Lord, unto length of days" (Psalm 92[93]:5).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stump the Priest: Men with Long Hair


Question: How do you reconcile the Orthodox practice of clergy and monastics not cutting their hair with 1st Corinthians 11:14, which says: "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him"?

The way this verse is translated by the Revised Standard Version as "Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him". The question then is whether this verse is saying it is a dishonor to a man to have long hair, or is this verse saying something about the way a man wears his hair.

It is highly unlikely that St. Paul was objecting to men simply having hair beyond a certain length. In the Ancient world, men having long hair was not regarded as abnormal, but rather was the norm. Most men did cut their hair infrequently. For example,  we are told in Scripture of Absalom (the Son of King David who eventual led a revolt against his father): "at the end of every year he cut [his hair] because it was heavy on him—when he cut it, he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels according to the king’s standard" (2 Samuel 14:26). And Absalom's appearance was far from something that was considered to be odd or inappropriate, but on the contrary, we are told: "Now in all Israel there was no one who was praised as much as Absalom for his good looks. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him" (2 Samuel 14:25). Also, in the Old Testament, there were Nazirites, who would take a vow either for a period of time, or in some cases for life, and one of the things that being a Nazirite entailed was that they could not cut their hair while under the vow, unless they came into contact with a dead body (Numbers 6:1-21). Sampson was a Nazirite from birth, and so only had his hair cut once... when Delilah finally got him to explain the source of his strength (which was his Nazirite vow, symbolized by his uncut hair), and then cut off his hair, his strength was gone, and he was taken captive by the Philistines.

Sampson getting his hair cut by Delilah

St. John the Baptist was a Nazirite from his birth, as was made clear by the words of the Archangel Gabriel to the St. Zachariah, "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink" (Luke 1:15, abstaining from wine being another aspect of the Nazirite vow, cf. Numbers 6:2-3).

It is also fairly clear that St. Paul himself was a Nazirite. In Acts 18:18 we read: "So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow. And in Acts 21, beginning at verse 15, we read about how St. Paul participated with four other men who had "taken a vow", and made the offerings in the Temple that those who had completed a Nazirite vow would make.

St. James, the Brother of the Lord, who was also the first bishop of Jerusalem was also a lifelong Nazirite, according to St. Epiphanius (Panarion 29.4), which fits the description he is given in Eusebius's History of the Church: "He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath" (Ecclesiastical History 2:23:5).

Not only did Nazirites not cut their hair, but neither did the priests and Levites of the Old Testament "And they shall not shave their heads, nor shall they pluck off their hair" (Ezekiel 44:20 LXX).

The Old Testament practices have not continued in the Church according to the strict letter of the Law of Moses, because for one thing, since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., there was been no temple, and thus the sacrificial system of the Old Testament has entirely ceased to be. However, elements of it have survived. In with respect to cutting hair, with the exception of tonsuring, neither monastics nor clergy traditionally cut their hair.

Also, according to the universal iconographic tradition of the Church, Christ Himself, and most other saints are depicted with long hair.



And so, in light of all the evidence for long hair being a part of the Biblical and Ecclesiastical Tradition of the Church, it seems most likely that what St. Paul is referring to in this passage is to wearing one's hair in a particular way -- most likely styled in a manner customary for a woman.

See also:

Concerning the Tradition of Long Hair and Beards, by Archimandrite Luke (Murianka).

Should a pastor have long hair? (an article by a Presbyterian that is of interest).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stump the Priest: The Council of Jerusalem on the Blood of Animals


Question: "In Acts 15, while not imposing circumcision or kosher dietary laws on gentile converts, the Apostles nevertheless commanded then to abstain from the blood of animals (Acts 15:29). I have heard Orthodox Christians say that this was something that we no longer had to observe. Is that true?"

The Council of Jerusalem came about as a result of St. Peter's vision of the unclean food, the gentile Pentecost which followed that vision, and then the rapid spread of the Gospel among the gentiles in Antioch and in other places. The question was whether these converts had to become Jews, and fulfill the Old Testament laws and customs fully, or not. The decision the Apostles made was related in the following Epistle, which is found in Acts 15:23-29:

"The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,

To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:

Greetings.

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment— it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

Farewell."

Not only is there nothing in Scripture that would suggest that "these necessary things" have been set aside, but in fact there are several Ecumenical Canons that reaffirm them.

To begin with, there is Canon 63 of the Holy Apostles, which were confirmed specifically at the 4th, 6th, and 7th Ecumenical Councils:

"If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon, or anyone else on the sacerdotal list at all, eat meat in the blood of its soul, or that has been killed by a wild beast, or that has died a natural death, let him be deposed. For the Law has forbidden this. But if any layman do the same, let him be excommunicated."

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain provides the following commentary:

"Because of the fact that even God in giving the law about what may be eaten to Noah said to him: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you; even like the green herb have I given you all things. But meat in the blood of its soul shall ye not eat” (Gen. 9:3-4), in the present Canon the divine Apostles ordain that any bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or anyone else on the list of priests and clergymen, shall be deposed from office if be eat meat with blood, which is the animal’s life, meaning strangled, according to Chrysostom; or if he should eat meat killed by a wild beast—that is to say, an animal caught and killed by a wolf, say, or by a bear, or by any other such beast, or by a vulture; or if he should eat meat that has died a natural death—that is to say, a carcass that has died of itself: any clergyman, in other words, that is guilty of eating such flesh shall be deposed from office, since the Law too prohibits the eating of it,2 including both the law given to Noah, as we have said, and that given to Moses in ch. 17 of Leviticus. If, however, the one who ate it should be a layman, he shall be excommunicated.

Moreover, in the new Law of the Gospel too such things are not allowed to be eaten. For these same Apostles held a meeting and wrote to the heathen inhabitants of Antioch and of Syria and of Cilicia the following words: “It has seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us not to impose any further burden upon you, except what is necessary in these matters, to wit: to abstain from eating food offered to idols, and blood, and fornication” (Acts 15:28-29). The reason why animals killed by wild beasts or preyed upon by vultures, and those which have died a natural death or which have been strangled, are forbidden is that not all their blood has been removed, but, on the contrary, most of it remains in them, being scattered through out the veinlets of all the meat,1 from which veinlets there is no way for it to escape. Wherefore those who eat them are eating meat in the blood of its soul. Accordingly, c. LXVII of the 6th deposes any clergyman that eats blood in any manner or by any device whatever, while, on the other hand, it excommunicates a layman for doing so. Canon II of Gangra also forbids the eating of blood and strangled flesh and food offered to idols. There were various reasons why God commanded men not to eat blood. Theodoret says that blood must not be eaten on account of the fact that it is the animal’s soul. Hence when anyone eats meat without blood it is the same as though he had been eating soulless vegetable. But if he eats it with the blood it is evident that he is eating an animal’s soul. Chrysostom says that the reason for not eating the blood is that it was consecrated to be offered only to God. Or it may be that God wanted to keep men from shedding human blood and for this reason commands that they should not eat even the blood of animals, lest as a result they gradually fall into the custom of killing human beings. Adelus says that the reason why God commanded men to eat meat that is free from blood was to teach them by this not to be inhuman and bloodthirsty like the wild beasts, which eat all the animals they kill in the raw state as torn to pieces with the blood still in them, but, on the contrary, to be different from wild beasts, and as rational human beings to sacrifice the animals first by pouring out their blood, and thus to cook their meat in various ways and then eat it. For it is enough for them to become so cruel and compassionless as to slaughter the animals, but certainly they ought not to be so excessively compassionless as to eat them with their blood. Nevertheless, the main reason, and the one nearest the truth of the matter why God commanded men not to eat blood is the following. The blood has the form, or type, of man’s immaterial and uneatable and immortal soul for two reasons: first, because just as the blood of animals, both as something warmer and as something more spirituous, and as something more mobile than other liquids, is their soul but an irrational and material soul, so too is man’s soul, though immaterial and rational, and albeit not blood, as something bodyless and immaterial, yet it uses human blood as a vehicle and instrument or organ of its activities for its own reasons or needs; second, because the blood was shed for the purpose of appeasing the rational souls of human beings, as God says in Leviticus (17:11), “the soul of all flesh is the blood thereof; and I have given it unto you upon my sacrificial altar for you to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood thereof that maketh an atonement for the soul.” So whoever eats blood is eating a rational soul, whereof that blood serves as a form or type. But if he does eat it, it is plain that it is something corporeal and material, and consequently renders the soul mortal. “For if you eat this,” says Theodoret in interpreting the above saying, “you are eating a soul. For this occupies the same position as that of a rational soul, because the eating of it is called murder.” So that the Latins, and all other human beings that eat strangled meat, or meat killed by a wild beast, or meat that has died a natural death, and generally speaking meat with the blood in it, or what is the worst of all the blood alone, are sinning against a great dogma. For by so doing they are dogmatizing the rational soul to be both material and affectible like the bodies of man. For whatever occurs in the form, or type, occurs also in that which is typified, or bears reference thereto. That is the same as saying that whatever consequences result from the eating of blood will affect also the rational soul; and for this reason it was that God threatened those who eat blood with death: “Whosoever eateth it shall be cut off” (Lev. 17:14). Possibly, too, in a more mystical sense the eating of blood was prohibited in order to make it plain that just as blood should not be eaten indifferently and similarly to meat, so too the all-immaculate blood of the God-man Jesus ought not to be eaten indifferently and similarly to the other foods, but, on the contrary, with special and surpassing reverence, and with inhesitant faith. As for the fact that the blood of sacrifices had the type, or form, of the blood of Christ, that is one to which the divine Apostle is a witness, since he confirms it in all his Epistle to the Hebrews, and along with the Apostle the choir of divine Fathers do too. But as to that which Origen says in his discourse against Celsus, to the effect that we must not eat blood, in order to avoid being nourished with the food of demons (for there were some men who asserted that demons were nourished by the exhalations of blood); and also as to that which Clement of Alexandria, Origen’s teacher, asserted, to the effect that human beings ought not to eat blood, because their own flesh is irritated and stimulated with the blood—all these ideas, I say, have been placed last in order on the ground that they do not possess so much force and power."

And Canon 67 of the Quinisext Council states:

"Divine Scripture has commanded us to “abstain from blood, and strangled flesh, and fornication” (Gen. 9:3-4; Lev. ch. 17 and 18:13; Acts 15: 28-29). We therefore suitably penance those who on account of their dainty stomach eat the blood of any animal after they have rendered it eatable by some art. If, therefore, anyone from now on should attempt to eat the blood of any animal, in any way whatsoever, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman let him be excommunicated."

This is not referring to the juice that may come from a piece of meat when it is cooked, but rather to the blood which is normally drained from an animal at the time it is butchered. And so such foods as "Blood Sausage," and "Black pudding," and some wines that have blood added to them should not be consumed by an Orthodox Christian.



Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Stump the Priest: King David's Census?


Question: "Why was God so irate with David for taking a census of Israel?  Does it have anything to do with the law in Exodus 30:12 about the census offering?"

The passage in 2nd Samuel (2nd Kings in the LXX) 24, actually says that God was angry with the people of Israel: "Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah"" (2nd Samuel 24:1). Interestingly, the parallel passage in 1st Chronicles 21:1 says "Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel." Now, this is not a contradiction. We see from the book of Job, 1st Samuel 16:14, and from the Gospels that even the demons are subject to God, and can only do what God permits them to do. But the Scriptures do not specify why God was angry with the people of Israel, though given that it says that "again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel", it is likely that the Israelites were engaged in the same kinds of sins (idolatry, laxity, etc) that we see throughout the historical books of the Old Testament.

The commentary from the Fathers that I have available to me does not go into great detail, beyond simply stating that King David was lifted up in pride. Probably he wish to have a census to glory in the strength of the numbers of his people. But the history of the people of Israel should have taught him the lesson that his dear friend Jonathan had learned: "...nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

Neither the Scriptures themselves, nor the Fathers (as best as I can tell by what I have available) connect God's anger at David's census with what is commanded in Exodus 30:12-16, but Josephus does:

"NOW king David was desirous to know how many ten thousands there were of the people, but forgot the commands of Moses, who told them beforehand, that if the multitude were numbered, they should pay half a shekel to God for every head. Accordingly the king commanded Joab, the captain of his host, to go and number the whole multitude; but when he said there was no necessity for such a numeration, he was not persuaded [to countermand it], but he enjoined him to make no delay, but to go about the numbering of the Hebrews immediately" (Antiquities of the Jews 7:13:1).

You can read the rest of the story from 2nd Samuel 24 by clicking here; and you can read the parallel account in 1st Chronicles 21 by clicking here. Interestingly, the plague that God sent on the people of Israel as punishment for their sins led to the purchase of the ground upon which the Temple of Solomon was later built.






Thursday, July 03, 2014

Stump the Priest: A Hymn to the Theotokos


Question: "The last paragraph in the Akathist to the Kursk Root icon says: "...for we have no other help beside thee, no other intercessor, nor gracious comforter but thee, O Mother of God, to preserve and protect us unto the ages of ages. Amen." I have several questions here: 1). No other help beside her? What about our guardian angel and the Akathist to him? Why do we waste our time praying to him if the Theotokos is our only help and intercessor? And why do we waste our time praying to our patron saint and other saints? 2). No gracious comforter but the Theotokos? The Holy Spirit has the role of comforter (John 15:26). Does this prayer teach that no other saint or angel can comfort us? 3). We ask her to preserve and protect us unto the ages of ages. This prayer seems to imply that in the heavenly afterlife, Christians are in some sort of spiritual danger, so that we are in need of protection of the Theotokos."

You have to first consider the genre of literature you are dealing with. You are not dealing with words from a geometry textbook. You are dealing with hymns, that are poetic. Even outside of poetry, you encounter hyperbole in Scripture. For example, when Christ said "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29), the point was not that we should systematically eliminate various parts of our bodies. As St. John Chrysostom observed: "therefore He hath given these injunctions; not discoursing about our limbs; -- far from it, -- for nowhere doth He say that our flesh is to be blamed for things, but everywhere it is the evil mind that is accused. For it is not the eye that sees, but the mind and the thought. Often, for instance, we being wholly turned elsewhere, our eye sees not those who are present. So that the matter does not entirely depend upon its working. Again, had He been speaking of members of the body, He would not have said it of one eye, nor of the right eye only, but of both. For he who is offended by his right eye, most evidently will incur the same evil by his left also. Why then did He mention the right eye, and add the hand? To show thee that not of limbs is He speaking, but of them who are near unto us. Thus, “If,” saith He, “thou so lovest any one, as though he were in stead of a right eye; if thou thinkest him so profitable to thee as to esteem him in the place of a hand, and he hurts thy soul; even these do thou cut off.” And see the emphasis; for He saith not, “Withdraw from him,” but to show the fullness of the separation, “pluck it out,” saith He, “and cast it from thee” (Homily 17:3 on Matthew). So hyperbole, particularly in poetry is a perfectly legitimate way of speaking, but it has to be understood in the manner it is intended.

Also, in the Russian prayer book, at the end of the evening prayers, we say "All of my hope I place in thee, O Mother of God: keep me under thy protection." But two prayers after that, we say "My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit: O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee." Now if the first statement was meant to suggest that all of our hope was placed in the Virgin Mary, to the exclusion of having hope in anything or anyone else, then you would have a contradiction, but clearly you would not have contradictory statements set right next to one another. The point of the prayer is to say that we have complete hope in the Theotokos. And this hope is not separate from our hope in the Trinity. Thou we do not always spell it out in each and every request we make of the Mother of God, we are always asking that she help us by her prayers. As we sing in the festal antiphons, "Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Savior, save us." We do not believe that the Virgin Mary and the Saints are demigods that act independently of the Trinity. They help us by their prayers. Obviously, God does not need our prayers, or the prayers of the saints, but it evidently pleases Him that we pray to Him and that we ask others to pray for us, and for Him to work in answer to our prayers. We are told that the saints will reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:4, 6), and clearly this is not because Christ needs our help... but because it pleases Him that it be so. In 1st Samuel (1st Kings LXX) 2:30 we are told, "for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." And the Psalter tells us "Wondrous is God in His saints (Psalm 67[68]:35). God chooses to work miracles through the prayers of the saints, because they are His friends (John 15:15, James 2:23) and He wishes to honor them, because they honored Him

When this text speaks of "no other intercessor" and "no other comforter", this is an example of hyperbole. It is a poetic way of expressing our desperate need. A classic example from cinema is from the first Star Wars movie:



That did not mean that no one else was going to be of any assistance in the fight against Darth Vader. And we are certainly not suggesting that the Theotokos can help us, but God cannot. And again, when it talks about being protected and preserved unto the ages of ages, this does not mean that after we are glorified and in heaven with Christ for all eternity that we will be in the same desperate need of the prayers of the Theotokos, but it does mean that if we ever want to get there, it would be a big help to have the help and protection of her prayers.

There are many poetic statements in Scripture that are not likely to be taken literally. For example, we are told in the prophecy of Isaiah that "the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12). Mountains cannot sing, and trees do not have hands. This is poetic statement, that paints a picture, which conveys something true, but has to be understood in the sense in which it was intended.

Monday, June 30, 2014

When to Spank


The key to success for any approach to discipline is that there be consistency, and that punishment should be certain and predictable. There is not a simple answer to the question of when a parent should spank their child, but here are a few things that should be kept in mind:

1. Except in the case of the most egregious acts of defiance, a child should be warned in advance that if they cross a particular line, specific consequences will follow.

2. Where ever you draw that line, you should follow through with the threatened punishment without fail when it has been crossed.

3. You should not spank a child in the heat of anger, but should take a moment, and say the Jesus prayer before you spank them.

4. When you spank a child, it should inflict enough pain that the child will not want to cross that line a second time.

5. The older the child becomes, the less effective spanking will become, and the more you should use other forms of discipline.

One of the problems many parents have is that they threaten punishments, but too often do not follow through. Consequently, the threat is not taken seriously. Then when the parent get's really angry and frustrated, they finally spank the child... but little is gained by such an approach, because there is no way that the child could have predicted what would finally trigger a spanking.

Children will test boundaries to see if they are real boundaries or not. If you mean what you say, and are consistent, you will save yourself a lot of frustration, and you will also avoid confusing your child by your inconsistency.

A good author to read on this subject is Dr. James Dobson, and the best book to start with would be the classic "Dare to Discipline."



Saturday, June 28, 2014

Spanking: What Saith the Scripture?


In a recent post on the Orthodox Christian Network, Christina Pessemier makes the case that Orthodox Christians should not spank their children. She does not address any of the Scriptures that actually talk about disciplining a child. She only cites Matthew 7:12, which says: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Here are some passages of Scripture that actually do speak directly to the question:

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24).

"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15).

"Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:13-14).

"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame" (Proverbs 29:15).

When I cited these passages in the comments as being what the Word of the Lord had to say on the question, I ran into a sad phenomenon that I have encountered with some regularity: the scoffing of an Orthodox Christian at the idea that the words of Scripture might be of significance... particularly when they come from the Old Testament. This is not how Orthodox Christians approach Scripture, if the Fathers of the Church are any guide.

In the New Testament, St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:15-17:

"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

Here he was clearly referring specifically to the Old Testament, because the New Testament was not written when St. Timothy was a child. And it says that all Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for every need a Christian might have in living a Godly life.

Let's consider what some of the great fathers of the Church have to say on these passages:

"Spare the rod and spoil the child (Proverbs 13:24). Here there is reference to the people who appear to love their children, but in fact do not; so spoiling is the result of sparing -- not of not sparing. Having children is a matter of no little import: we are responsible even for their salvation. On that reasoning Eli would not have paid a severe penalty. Whereas those who love them correct them diligently -- not casually, but diligently: since nature bids us be sparing, he makes no mention of excess. Hence he says, I instilled affection in you, not for you to harm your loved ones, but for you to care for them; so refrain from inappropriate affection" (St. John Chrysostom, Robert Charles Hill, Trans., Commentary on the Sages, Volume 2, Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 2006,  p. 133f).

"The corrections of the father who does not spare the rob is useful, that he may render his son's soul obedient to the precepts of salvation. He punishes with a rod, as we read, "I shall punish their offenses with a rod" (St. Ambrose, Letter 45, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. IX, J. Robert Wright, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2005) p. 96).

"For in another place he says that not only the servant, but also the undisdained son, must be corrected with stripes, and that with great fruits as the result; for he says, "Thou shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell;" and elsewhere he says, "He that spareth the rod hateth his son." For, give us a man who with right faith and true understanding can say with all the energy of his heart, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God:  when shall I come and appear before God?" and for such an one there is no need of the terror of hell, to say nothing of temporal punishments or imperial laws, seeing that with him it is so indispensable a blessing to cleave unto the Lord, that he not only dreads being parted from that happiness as a heavy punishment, but can scarcely even bear delay in its attainment.  But yet, before the good sons can say they have "a desire to depart, and to be with Christ," many must first be recalled to their Lord by the stripes of temporal scourging, like evil slaves, and in some degree like good-for-nothing fugitives" (St. Augustine, Correction of the Donatists, 6:21).

"As small children who are negligent in learning become more attentive and obedient after being punished by their teacher or tutor, and as they do not listen before the lash, but, after feeling the pain of a beating, hear and respond as though their ears were just recently opened, improving also in memory, so likewise with those who neglect divine doctrine and spurn the commandments. For, after they experience God's correction and discipline, then the commandments of God which had always been known to them and always neglected are more readily received as though by ears freshly cleansed" (St. Basil the Great, Homily on the Beginning of Proverbs 5, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. IX, J. Robert Wright, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2005) p. 147).

And in the New Testament, St. Paul alludes Proverbs 3:11-12, and says:

"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Hebrews 12:6-8).

If God, who is love, deals with us this way, it obviously is not unloving for us to emulate him in how we deal with our children.

So there is really no scriptural or patristic basis for rejecting corporal punishment for children. St. Benedict, in his rule, actually called for it as a means of disciplining monks, under some circumstances.

It is only in our times, when parents often have only one or two children, and a lot more leisure time on their hands than past generations, that not spanking children could even be possible. My mother raised 5 boys... mostly, by herself (my parents divorced when I was about 6), and she did not have the time to sit and have 30 minute conversations with us every time we acted up. When you have lots of kids, you have to have swift and sure punishments when they do not behave. But even when parents have only one or two children, not spanking often results in children (particularly boys) who are out of control, and who terrorize their parents... because they were never taught to respect their parents.

I remember when I was 13, my mother gave me a whipping with a belt, and was hitting me on the legs, which I didn't think was quite fair... and by this time I was a lot bigger and stronger than she was. I took the belt away from her. However, because she had instilled a healthy fear and respect for her, she talked me into giving her that belt back, and finishing the whipping. On the other hand, I once had a woman in my office (in my secular job) who had a toddler who was the most defiant child I had ever seen. He kept acting up, and finally, she lightly tapped him on the hand to express her disapproval. He pointed back at her with anger, and shouted "That bad!" Then she asked me what she should do about her 17 year old son, who she said often beat her up. That was one problem my mother never had... not one out of five boys ever dared raise a hand against her, because she used the rod of correction with liberality, as Scripture suggests we should.

While one is free to think that they might know better than the Scriptures, and are wiser than all the generations that preceded them on how children should be raised, the decline in our culture since these modern approaches came into vogue do not indicate that these approaches have thus far been very successful. And in the schools today, when children misbehave, they are now often taken to juvenile court for matters that were once handled by a few swats on the behind. I fail to see how it more loving to put children into the criminal justice system for behaving like children always have, than it is to spank them, as saith the Scripture.

The Wisdom of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) has this to say on the matter:

"He that loveth his son causeth him oft to feel the rod, that he may have joy of him in the end. He that chastiseth his son shall profit by him, and shall boast of him among his acquaintance. He that teacheth his son will make his enemy jealous: and before his friends he shall rejoice of him. When his father dieth, yet he is as though he were not dead: for he hath left one behind him that is like himself. While he lived, he saw and rejoiced in him: and when he died, he was not grieved. He left behind him an avenger against his enemies, and one that shall requite kindness to his friends. He that maketh much of [i.e., spoils] his son shall bind up his wounds; and his bowels will be troubled at every cry. An horse not broken becometh headstrong: and a child left to himself will be wilful. Cocker [i.e. pamper] thy child, and he shall make thee afraid: play with him, and he will bring thee to heaviness. Laugh not with him, lest thou suffer with him, and lest thou gnash thy teeth in the end. Give him not liberty in youth: beat his sides while he is still young, lest becoming stubborn, he disobey thee. (And overlook not his ignorance. Bow down his neck in his youth.) Train up thy son, and work with him, lest by his looseness thou be offended" (Sirach 30:1-13).