Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stump the Priest: "Valid Sacraments"

Question: "Someone has been insisting to me that the Russian Orthodox Church recognizes the validity of the Sacraments of the Roman Church. And in fact, have since at least 1776. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev said something to this effect as well at one point, but I'm not sure I buy it, how would you respond?"

I think they probably meant to say "since at least 1666-1667, which were the dates of the a controversial council in Moscow, which condemned the Old Rite, and deposed Patriarch Nikon. That council is a topic unto itself, but the documents of that council do speak of "valid" Roman Catholic sacraments. But one can find this expression in one of the oldest Liturgical texts published in English, which is still widely used today -- the Hapgood Service Book, translated by Isabel Hapgood, with the blessing of St. Tikhon of Moscow.

Even in the Ecumenical Canons, we find provision for receiving converts from certain groups by means other than baptism, though included among those canons is the canon of St. Cyprian of Carthage that states that there is no true baptism outside of the Church. This canon was affirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in its second canon. However, that same canon also affirmed the canons of St. Basil, and his first canon, provides a bit more nuance. He agreed that the Church is under no obligation to recognize baptisms that take place outside of the Church, but states that for the sake of "economia" the Church may do so, though he also noted that in different regions, different practices prevailed when it came to how certain heretics or schismatics were received. So in terms of theological principle, we affirm that there are no sacraments, in the fullest sense, outside of the Church, but the Church does receive converts from heterodox or schismatic groups by economia -- which could mean that we chrismate them, or in some cases that we simply accept them by confession and a profession of faith. And in the Hapgood Service, there is a service provided for this very purpose.


But the question we have to ask is, what does it mean when it speaks of "valid baptism"? First off we should ask, what does true baptism do? Among other things, it unites one to the Church. But right after the above quoted heading, it says: "The power of granting absolution to such persons, and of uniting them to the Church properly devolveth on a Bishop. Nevertheless, that the converts to Orthodoxy may not be tempted to return to their heresy by reason of delay, it is wiser and more expedient that the Bishop should delegate his power, and grant his blessing therewith, to a Priest well versed in divine lore, and who is competent to instruct such a person in the articles of the Orthodox faith, and to correct his erroneous opinions." And so if a "valid baptism" outside of the Orthodox Church united one with the Church, there would not be a further need for any service to unite them to the Church, but that is precisely what this services is intended to do.

The first question the convert is asked is "Wilt thou renounce the errors and false doctrines of the Roman-Latin [or Armenian, or Lutheran, or Reformed) Confession?" and  then they are asked "Dost thou desire to enter into and abide in the communion of the Orthodox-Catholic Faith?" And after the convert is asked to renounce specifically the false teachings of their former confession, and to affirm the basic tenets of the Orthodox Faith, they are told "Enter thou into the Orthodox Church; and cast away all the errors and false doctrines wherein thou hast dwelt: and honor the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, one true and living God, the holy Trinity, one in essence and indivisible." And all of this is in the service that would be used, even for those being received by confession and profession of faith. This service makes it abundantly clear that we are uniting someone to the Church who was previously not united to the Church.

So what happens when the Church accepts a baptism that was done outside of the Church, by economia? St. Augustine compared baptism to the "military mark" which was a tattoo a soldier was given when entered the Roman Army, and it showed what commander he belonged to. St. Augustine said that such a mark could be retained by deserters (schismatics), and it could illicitly be given to those who had never been in the army, and yet unless and until such men actually joined (or rejoined) the army, those marks did not have the real significance that they should have... however if they did rejoin or join the army, the mark would not need to be redone. And so what happens when someone is received by economia is they are finally united to the Church, and their baptism is then given the real meaning of what true baptism is.

And so when we speak of "valid" Roman Catholic Sacraments, we mean that they are valid in the sense of their outward form. I have not seen any official Russian Orthodox statements that said that the Roman Catholic eucharist was "valid", and this is because we can receive a convert who was been baptized by economia, and we can even receive a Roman Catholic Priest in rank, by economia... but we could never receive the Roman Catholic eucharist by economia. This does not mean that we say that Roman Catholics are all going to hell, or that their worship and devotion to God has no meaning to God. Those things are between them and God. This is not a matter for us to pass judgment. We also pass no judgment on the souls of those outside of the Church, but we can say that at least in this life, they remain outside of the Church until and unless they are received into the Orthodox Church.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition

The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition, by Fr. Eugen J. Pentiuc.

One thing that comes across in this book is Fr. Eugen's love of Scripture. In his introduction, he speaks about how when he was growing up in Communist Romania, he first had the opportunity to read a Bible at the age of 13. The Communists limited the Church's ability to print copies of the Bible, but 1968, the Church was allowed to print 100,000 copies (for a population of 20 million people). He was able to get his hands on a copy of the Bible, and read almost the entire text in one week. Then, he says, the services of the Church came alive to him, when he was able to connect all the Scriptural references for the first time. The excitement of this 13 year old boy, who was able to secretly read the Bible still comes across in the rest of the text -- and even more so, when you hear Fr. Eugen speak.

Here are some podcasts of his talks that are well worth listening to, and I think show what I am talking about:

I suspect he is probably the favorite professor of a great many of his students.

This book was very interesting and informative. However, I would not recommend it to those who are unfamiliar with contemporary Biblical Scholarship. It is written on a scholarly level, not really as a guide to the average layman. There are a number of things that he writes that I would take issue with, but I look forward to the next two books Fr. Eugen intends to write as follow up texts to this one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Stump the Priest: How do we know what the Orthodox Church believes?

The Council of the Holy Fathers 
(various Fathers with St. Constantine the Great, holding the Nicean Creed)

Question: "How does doctrinal authority work in Orthodoxy? In a simplified form, how do I know what Orthodox believe? Less simply, what are the common sources for Orthodox when seeking to believe what the Church teaches? And how is it possible to know that certain teachings are definitely the Orthodox position, not only a possible opinion?"

There are different sources of doctrinal authority in the Orthodox Church: 1. Scripture; 2. Apostolic Tradition; 3. Ecclesiastical Tradition; and 4. the living witness of the Church.

We believe that the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant word of God, and Scripture is the core of the Orthodox Tradition. However, while we can distinguish Scripture from the rest of the Tradition, we cannot properly understand Scripture outside of the context of that Tradition.

Apostolic Tradition has its origins in Christ Himself, and is preserved in a number of different ways. For example, many aspects of Apostolic Tradition are preserved in the Ecumenical Canons. The basic elements of our worship are based on Apostolic Tradition. It is also preserved in the collective memory of the Church, and is reflected in the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

Not every canon of the Church is based directly on Scripture or Apostolic Tradition. There are also Traditions that are Ecclesiastical Traditions. The Scriptures tell us that Christ gave the Apostles the power to bind and to loose, and Apostolic Tradition tells us that this authority was passed on from the Apostles to their successors, the Bishops. When confronted with heresies or problems that are not addressed directly by Scripture or Apostolic Tradition, the Church has made decisions that are binding. The most authoritative examples of this would be the Ecumenical Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, and those local and patristic canons that those councils approved. Like the Scriptures, the Church believes that these Ecumenical Canons as well as the doctrinal statements made by these councils have an authority like Scripture, and are infallible.

While the above referenced sources of authority have greater weight, because their authority has been firmly established and universally recognized in the Church, the Church continues to have the power to bind and to loose, and so the Church makes decisions all of the time hat have authority for Orthodox Christians. For example, we cannot find in Scripture or the Ecumenical Canons a clear answer to the question of what we should make of artificial insemination, local Orthodox Churches have made statements on this question. For example, in an All-Russian Council in 2000, the Russian Church issued a document called  "The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," which addressed this question, as well as many other contemporary issues. Technically, this council would only have immediate authority over those in the Russian Orthodox Church, however, other local Churches received it favorably at the time it was issued. At some point in the future, this document may be universally received, and then have a greater level of authority than it does today, but already, Orthodox Christians outside of the Russian Church have looked to it for guidance on these issues.

It takes time for the body of the Church as a whole to come to firm conclusions about the authority of a council, or the writings of a saint. No council was had universal authority simply by virtue of it meeting with a certain number of bishops. It was only when the Church as a whole was able to reflect on such councils that they were either embraced, or rejected.

There are theological or practical matters that there is not a firm, universal answer for, and so within certain bounds, there is room for theological opinions (theologoumena) which may or may not be correct. This does not, however, mean that a person can believe whatever he wants. For example, one could have different opinions on how literally we should interpret the seven days of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, but it would be beyond the bound of acceptable opinion to suggest that the universe came into being by chance, and God did not create it.

So how does one go about acquainting themselves to what the Church teaches? You have to be Orthodox, you have to live the sacramental life of the Church, and you need to study -- study the Scriptures, the writings of the saints, the lives of the saints, and you would also do well to read good books by more contemporary authors that are recognized as good and useful texts. The longer you are Orthodox, and are actively engaged in trying to learn your faith, the more you will acquire an Orthodox mindset, and will become increasingly discerning.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Stump the Priest: The Orthodox Canon

Question: "In the Orthodox Study Bible and in other places online, I've seen a chart comparing the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox canon of Scripture. My question is from what canon of what council does Orthodoxy draw her canon of Scripture from?"

On the one hand we have a precisely defined New Testament Canon, about which there is no dispute... at least not since the 4th century. On the other hand we have an Old Testament canon that has a precisely defined core, and fairly well defined next layer, and then less clearly defined edges. So why the precision in the case of the New, but not the Old?

The New Testament Canon is fixed, largely due to the false canon of the heretic Marcion. The Old Testament canon has been less precisely defined, and so one still encounters some disagreement on the fringes of the list... though most of the books are not questioned at all. The Church simply has not felt the need to be more precise... but this can be an uncomfortable thing for some folks to deal with. However, if you have the proper understanding of Tradition, it becomes much less of an issue.

If you think of the Tradition as a target, with concentric circles, you could put the Gospels in the middle, the writings of the apostles in the in the next ring, maybe the Law of Moses, in the next, the prophets in the next, the writings in the next, the deutrocanonical books in the next, the writings of those who knew the Apostle in the next, the Ecumenical Canons in the next, etc. The only debate would be which ring to put them... and ultimately, is that the most important question? For a Protestant, this is a huge question. For the Orthodox, it is not so much, because we see Scripture as being part of Tradition, not as something separate to it, and certainly not as something opposed to it.

The term "Deuterocanon" is actually of Roman Catholic origin, but I think it is a useful term. In Russian texts, and some patristic texts, you find the phrase "non-canonical" books, but by this, the distinction is between the Hebrew canon and the books excluded by the Hebrew canon which the Church has embraced. Another term is "Readable book", which means a book can be read in Church.

Yet another term is "apocrypha", which we generally do not use with reference to these books, but Origen had some interesting comments on the origin of the the term "apocrypha." In his letter to Africanus (ANF v. IV, pp 386ff.) he was responding to the question of why he quoted from the portion of the book of Daniel which contain the story of Susanna, which is not found in the Hebrew text. Origen responded that he was not unaware of this fact, and he proceeded to defend its authenticity. His response is detailed, but let me highlight a few points:

"And, forsooth, when we notice such things we are forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our Churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books current among them, and to coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with, and free from forgery?! Are we to suppose that that providence which the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the Churches of Christ, had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died; whom, although His Son, God who is love spared not, but gave Him up for us all, that with Him He might freely give us all things? In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, "Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set." Nor do I say this because I shun the labor of investigating the Jewish Scriptures, and comparing them with ours, and noticing various readings. This, if it be not arrogant to say it, I have already to a great extent done to the best of my ability, laboring hard to get at the meaning in all the editions and various readings; while I paid particular attention to the interpretation of the Seventy, lest I might to be found to accredit any forgery to the Churches which are under heaven, and give an occasion to those who seek such a starting point for gratifying their desire to slander the common brethren, and to bring some accusation against those who shine forth in our community. And I make it my endeavor not to be ignorant of their various readings, lest in my controversies with the Jews I should quote to them what is not found in their copies, and that I may make some use of what is found there, even although it should not be in our Scriptures. For if we are so prepared for them in our discussions, they will not, as is their manner, scornfully laugh at Gentile believers for their ignorance of the true readings as they have them. So far as to the History of Susanna not being found in the Hebrew."

Skipping further on in the text we find Origen saying that the reason for many of the omissions in the Hebrew text are because the Scribes and Pharisees omitted things that made them look bad:

"The answer is, that they hid from the knowledge of the people as many of the passages which contained any scandal against the elders, rulers, and judges as they could, some of which have been preserved in the uncanonical writings (apocrypha) [which gives new meaning to the term "hidden books"]. As an example, take the story told about Isaiah, and guaranteed by the epistle to the Hebrews, which is found in none of their public books. For the author of the Epistle to the Hebrew, in speaking of the prophets, and what they suffered, says "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were slain with the sword"."

He goes on to mention that, by a tradition contained in the Apocryphal books, we know that the Prophet Isaiah was sawn in half.

The Orthodox Study Bible list of Old Testament books is based on the books included in the Greek Editions of the Scriptures, published by the Church of Greece. The Church of Greece based their decision in part on the decree of the Synod of Jerusalem:

"What Books do you call Sacred Scripture?

Following the rule of the Catholic Church, we call Sacred Scripture all those which Cyril [Lucar] collected from the Synod of Laodicea, and enumerated, adding thereto those which he foolishly, and ignorantly, or rather maliciously called Apocrypha; to wit, “The Wisdom of Solomon,” “Judith,” “Tobit,” “The History of the Dragon,” “The History of Susanna,” “The Maccabees,” and “The Wisdom of Sirach.” For we judge these also to be, with the other genuine Books of Divine Scripture, genuine parts of Scripture. For ancient custom, or rather the Catholic Church, which hath delivered to us as genuine the Sacred Gospels and the other Books of Scripture, hath undoubtedly delivered these also as parts of Scripture, and the denial of these is the rejection of those. And if, perhaps, it seemeth that not always have all been by all reckoned with the others, yet nevertheless these also have been counted and reckoned with the rest of Scripture, as well by Synods, as by how many of the most  ancient and eminent Theologians of the Catholic Church; all of which we also judge to be Canonical Books, and confess them to be Sacred Scripture.." (The Synod of Jerusalem (1672) (from the Confession of St. Dositheus).

The Synod of Jerusalem was held in large part to respond to Protestantism, and in this case, they were responding to the general Protestant position on the canon of the Old Testament, which was to adopt the Hebrew Canon, and to reject any Old Testament books not included by the Jews as "apocrypha." The Council of Jerusalem called these books canonical, not non-canonical, or deuterocanonical. However, the Greek Bible used by the OSB includes several more books, which were not mentioned by that council (see: And you will see that the Russian Bible includes some more yet. The Synod of Jerusalem did not specifically address them. The Greek Church probably included them because editions of the LXX have long included these books. The Russian Church probably also included 2nd Esdras (aka 3rd Esdras) because it was included in the canonical list found in the canons of the Holy Apostles, and is also found in the Latin Vulgate (see: Which is also why it was included among the "Apocrypha" of the original editions of  the King James Version.

Why is there no absolutely definitive list? The Church has not felt the need to create one... for the Old Testament. It did in the case of the New because of Marcion, and you do find statements, such as that of the Synod of Jerusalem which defended certain books specifically rejected by the Protestants. But for us, whether or not 2nd Esdras is canonical, deuterocanonical, or simply an appendix, reflecting a book considered to be of traditional importance, is not nearly so big of a deal. But most of the books of the Old Testament are canonical, and there is no dispute about them, and so we do have certainty, just not for every book.

If you have a Revised Standard Version or New Revised Standard Version Bible that includes the "Apocrypha," then you can look at the introduction to each of the books and see who accepts them. The Greeks do not include 2nd Esdras (note the comments below about confusion over the titles of the books of Esdras/Ezra (in the Russian Bible it is called 3rd Esdras). The Russian Bible does not include 4th Maccabees. By the way, neither 4th Maccabees nor 2nd/3rd Esdras is to be found in the Orthodox Study Bible.

Now, if you look at the Orthodox Study Bible, you will see that it has 1st Ezra and 2nd Ezra. Why they did this, and without better notes in the introduction is beyond me. What they call 1st Ezra is a deuterocanonical book, found in the Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint, but not considered deuterocanonical by the Roman Catholic Church.  In the Vulgate, and the in the King James, RSV, and NRSV Apocrypha, this book is 1st Esdras. What they call 2nd Ezra, is the book that is called "Ezra" in just about any Bible in English -- and so if you are trying to find a passage in the book of Ezra that most English speakers will have in mind, you will need to look in 2nd Ezra... but most people, who don't look closely, will probably think that 2nd Ezra is either 1st or 2nd Esdras.This is one of my complaints about the OSB: they opted to use non-standard names for many of the Old Testament books, and so they are going to confuse a lot of people who are trying to find a passage of scripture in this or that book. I also think they made a huge mistake adopting the Greek order of the books. They should have used the Vulgate order, because that is the basic order we have used in English Bibles for the past 400+ years.

For more information see:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

Biblical Canon and Interpretation

All Scripture Is Inspired by God: Thoughts on the Old Testament Canon, by Joel Kalvesmaki

Various Canons and comments on the canon of the Old Testament

Friday, January 02, 2015

Stump the Priest: Lot's Daughters

Lot and his two daughters flee the destruction of Sodom

Question: "Why did Lot offer his virgin daughters to the Sodomites? Why wasn't Lot appointed a place with the Sodomites for such a horrible offer?  As a young man I scratched my head at this passage, but now as a father I am incensed. What am I missing?" 

It is very important to understand the genre of a passage of Scripture, if you are going to interpret it properly. In this case, the genre is historical narrative, and historical narrative is always descriptive, but not always prescriptive. In other words, historical narrative tells you what happened, and what people did, but many of the things that we are told that people did are not intended as positive examples, that we should read and then "go, and do thou likewise". And this is true in many cases, even when the good characters in Scripture are involved. For example, one of King David's sons raped his half sister, and while David was angry, he really did not deal with it in any decisive way. This led to Absalom, the full brother of the woman who was raped, to plot to kill his brother, and eventually to lead a revolt against his father (2 Samuel 13:1-18:33). There is nothing in that story to suggest that David handled the rape of one of his daughters in a praiseworthy manner. In fact, it is clear that David's failure to handle this properly led to the disastrous results that followed. Furthermore, given that these events followed closely on the heels of David's sin with Bathsheba, it is clear that these events were in fulfillment of the God's judgment against David, which was pronounced by the Prophet Nathan:

"Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun’"(2 Samuel 12:10-12).

And in the case of Lot, while he is described as a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7), not all of his actions were praiseworthy either. For example, we are told earlier:

"Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly" (Genesis 13:12-13).

The statement that Lot chose to dwell near Sodom is followed by the assessment of how wicked the people of Sodom were. The next time we hear of him, he is living in Sodom (Genesis 14:12). The narrative does not come out and say that Lot should not have moved into Sodom, but that is a clear inference from the text.

The point of the story of the two angels who visited Sodom was to highlight the depravity of the city. God had told Abraham that he intended to destroy Sodom, but Abraham interceded for them, and God promised that if he could find ten righteous men there, he would not destroy the city. So two Angels went into Sodom, in the appearance of men, and when Lot saw them, he was anxious to have them stay at his home because he knew the wickedness of the city, and knew what they would do to strangers. When the men of the city, both young and old, gathered outside of Lot's home and demand that he send out the two visitors so that they could rape them, Lot was not only concerned for the two visitors, but having a middle eastern sense of hospitality, he saw the violation of his daughters as being less of a shame than the violation of two visitors that he had extended hospitality to. The point of all this is not that Lot's understanding of how hospitality should dictate one's response to such a situation. The point is that this mob of men, given the chance to rape two young women instead, preferred to rape two men. So not only were they immoral, violent, and inclined to take advantage of strangers, they preferred unnatural homosexual sex to natural (though nonetheless forced) heterosexual sex. There is nothing in the text that suggests that Lot's choice was a good one. And as a matter of fact, the two angels blinded the mob, and spared them all from their perversity, and then told Lot to take his family and to get out Sodom, because God would destroy the city, since there were no righteous people in Sodom outside of Lot's own family. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

10 Year Anniversary

This month, this blog hit 10 years.

The most popular posts to date, in reverse order are:

10. Stump the Priest: Head Coverings.

9.  So Gay Marriage Won't Impose Anything on the Rest of Us?

8.  Being Frank.

7.  Stump the Priest: Unicorns?

6.  Unfortunate Trends in the Roman Catholic Church.

5.  The Story of Sgt. MacKenzie.

4.  ROCOR and the Assembly of Bishops.

3.  Further Thoughts on the Ancient Faith Today Discussion: The Pope and the Patriarch.

2.  What should Orthodox Christians do, when there is no parish nearby?

1.  Homilies on the Lord's Prayer.

And what surprises me is that the number one post has more than 3 times the number of hits that the next most popular post has, and as best as I can tell, this is due almost exclusively to google searches.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Stump the Priest: Wearing a Cross

Question: "Is it necessary for an Orthodox Christian to always wear a Cross?"

The practice of wearing a cross is very ancient, and it is done for two reasons: 1). It is a confession of faith that we are Christians; and 2). The Cross is a weapon against evil.

In Russia, to say that someone "took off his Cross" is another way of saying that they have renounced their Christian Faith. One of the most popularly venerated saints of recent times is the soldier Evgeny Rodionov, who was captured by the Muslim Chechens during the First Chechen. He was beaten and tortured, and finally beheaded because he refused to remove his Cross.

There are some good reasons why someone might need to remove their Cross temporarily, perhaps because of some work safety issues, but aside from such exceptional circumstances, one should wear their Cross at all times.

For laymen, the wearing of the Cross is worn next to the skin, and so usually is not visible to others, but is a constant reminder to one's self of their faith. However, it can at times be seen by others, and so is also a testimony to others, as it was most clearly in the case of the New Martyr Evgeny.

On the back of most Orthodox Cross, you will find one of two texts. The most common one is "Спаси и Сохрани," which means "Save and Protect". One also sees this prayer, though usually not the entire prayer, unless the Cross is fairly large:

"Да воскреснет Бог, и расточатся врази Его, и да бежат от лица Его ненавидящии Его. Яко исчезает дым, да исчезнут; яко тает воск от лица огня, тако да погибнут беси от лица любящих Бога и знаменующихся крестным знамением, и в веселии глаголющих: радуйся, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень, прогоняяй бесы силою на тебе пропятаго Господа нашего Иисуса Христа, во ад сшедшаго и поправшаго силу диаволю, и даровавшаго нам тебе Крест Свой Честный на прогнание всякаго супостата. О, Пречестный и Животворящий Кресте Господень! Помогай ми со Святою Госпожею Девою Богородицею и со всеми святыми во веки. Аминь."

Which means:

"Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Him flee from before His face.  As smoke vanisheth, so let them vanish; as wax melteth before the fire, so let the demons perish from the presence of them that love God and who sign themselves with the sign of the Cross and say in gladness: Rejoice, most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, for Thou drivest away the demons by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ Who was crucified on thee, Who went down to hades and trampled on the power of the devil, and gave us thee, His precious Cross, for the driving away of every adversary. O most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help me together with the holy Lady Virgin Theotokos, and with all the saints, unto the ages. Amen."

This prayer begins with the words of Psalm 67[68], but go on to interpret that prayer as a prayer against our invisible enemies, the demons, who are defeated by the power of the Cross.

Wearing a Cross is not a lucky charm that would be of any benefit to an unbeliever, nor is it a guarantee that even a pious Orthodox Christian will experience no physical harm while wearing it; but for those who do wear it with faith in the power of the Cross of Christ, it is of great spiritual comfort and benefit.

For more information see:

What the Cross Means for Christians, by Professor I.M. Andreyev

The Wearing of Christian Baptismal Crosses, by Igumen Philip (Ryabykh) and Igor Ponkin

Answers to Practical Questions About The Orthodox Way of Life, No. 1 - On Wearing the Cross

Friday, December 19, 2014

Stump the Priest: The Jesus Prayer & Scripture

Question: "When Jesus was asked how we are to pray, he gave the "Our Father" prayer, and said nothing about the "Jesus Prayer." Some Orthodox writers almost give the impression that a person will not be saved without the Jesus Prayer, but Christ never taught such a thing. Why would God require a mantra from people every conscious moment of their lives? Repetitive prayers (mantras) are a Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic thing. Does not the same practice imply a common source?"

Did Christ Teach it?

Are you sure Christ did not teach us to pray the Jesus Prayer? In the Gospels we have many examples of people calling upon Christ in ways that are similar to the Jesus Prayer:

"And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us" (Matthew 9:27).

"And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil" (Matthew 15:22).

"And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David" (Matthew 20:30).

"And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (Luke 17:12-13).

But in the parable of the Public and the Pharisee, the prayer that the publican says, for which he is commended, is "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). And so unless one disputes that Christ is God, Christ did teach us to pray a prayer that is substantively similar to the Jesus Prayer.

The Name of the Lord

We are also taught in Scripture to call upon, praise, and trust in the name of the Lord:

"I will give praise unto the Lord according to His righteousness, and I will chant unto the name of the Lord Most High" (Psalm 7:18).

"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will call upon the name of the Lord our God" (Psalm 19:8).

"Blessed is the man, whose hope is in the name of the Lord Psalm" (Psalm 39:5).

"Praise the Lord, O ye servants, praise ye the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from henceforth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is to be praised" (Psalm 112:1-3).

"All the nations compassed me round about, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off. Surrounding me they compassed me, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off. They compassed me about like unto bees around a honeycomb, and they burst into flame like a fire among the thorns, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off" (Psalm 117:10-12).

"Praise ye the name of the Lord; O ye servants, praise the Lord" (Psalm 134:1).

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe" (Proverbs 18:10).

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Roman 10:13).

"And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21).

"And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17).

For more on the significance of the Jesus Prayer, and the name of Jesus, see:

The Power of the Name, by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), and On Practicing the Jesus Prayer, by St. Ignaty Brianchaninov.

So the content of the Jesus prayer is not only unobjectionable, but it is completely Biblical, in fact it is a summary of the Gospel.

Vain Repetitions?

But if the content of the Jesus Prayer is admitted to be Biblical, the next objection that is raised is usually in reference to Matthew 6:7, which says in the King James Version:

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."

So does this apply to the Jesus Prayer? No. To begin with, while the King James is general a very good translation, in this case, the translation is a bit debatable. The word behind that translation "vain repetitions" is the Greek word "battologeō" (βαττολογέω), which more precisely means "to stutter" to "babble". Some examples of contemporary translations that reflect this are:

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words" (ESV).

"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words" (RSV).

"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words" (NIV).

The Word Biblical Commentary has this to say about the meaning of this text:

"In view is the attempt to manipulate God through repetitive, perhaps even magical phrases, as the verb battalogein, "babble," and the noun polylogia, "much speaking, " suggest. Battalogein, an onomatopoetic word, is probably derived from the cognate noun meaning "stammerer" or "stutterer." The verb here, however, refers not to a speech impediment but to the repetition of meaningless syllables. Polylogia seems to have in mind vain repetition and lengthiness. They "think" (dokousin) they will be heard by means of these devices, but in this they are mistaken" (Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1-13, vol. 33a (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 147).

And Blessed Theophylact says:

"But when ye pray, do not babble as the Gentiles do." "Babbling" means praying foolishly, as when someone asks for such worldly things as fame, wealth, or victory. "Babbling" is also inarticulate, childish speech. Therefore you, O reader, must not pray foolishly, For they think that they shall be heard for their many words. It is not necessary to make long prayers, but rather short and frequent prayers, uttering few words, but persevering in prayer" (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Matthew. Fr. Christopher Stade, Trans. (House Springs, MO: Chrysostom  Press, 1992), p. 57).

And so what Christ is speaking of are prayers that meaningless... perhaps treated like magical words, which because of their repetition are intended to make God respond in some desired way. But this is not true of the Jesus Prayer.

For one thing, the words are not meaningless -- they are filed with deep meaning. And the proper use of the Jesus Prayer requires that one pray it attentively, focusing on the meaning of the words. A prayer is only vain, if you don't mean it, or if you pay no attention to what you are saying, or have no understanding of what you are saying.

Is it a Mantra?

The purpose of a mantra is for the person saying it to empty his mind of all thoughts. The purpose of the Jesus Prayer is to fill our mind with the meaning of the words, and to raise up our thoughts to God.

St. Paul teaches us to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

St. Augustine, in commenting on Psalm 37[38]:9, speaks about the meaning of unceasing prayer:

"And who observed and noticed the cause of his groaning? “All my desire is before Thee” (ver. 9). For it is not before men who cannot see the heart, but it is before Thee that all my desire is open! Let your desire be before Him; and “the Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee.” For it is thy heart’s desire that is thy prayer; and if thy desire continues uninterrupted, thy prayer continueth also. For not without a meaning did the Apostle say, “Pray without ceasing.” Are we to be “without ceasing” bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up our hands, that he says, “Pray without ceasing”? Or if it is in this sense that we say that we “pray,” this, I believe, we cannot do “without ceasing.” There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart" (St. Augustine, Commentary on the Psalms 37:14 (NPNF1 8:106-7).

This prayer of the heart is what the Jesus Prayer helps us to achieve. The words of the Jesus Prayer are not magical. There are various forms of the Jesus Prayer in use. But the words of the Jesus Prayer are Biblical, the practice is Biblical, and the purpose is also Biblical.

See also this video lecture by Metropolitan Kallistos:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

You may not be interested in Culture Wars, but Culture Wars are interested in you

There are those in the Orthodox Church who say that we should have nothing to do with the culture wars that have been raging in our culture since the 60's. They accuse conservative converts of trying to bring those culture wars into the Orthodox Church. Ironically, those who talk like this are usually the very people who actually are bringing the culture wars into the Orthodox Church by their promotion of the acceptance of homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, women's ordination, and various other liberal causes. It is not as if the Orthodox Church was full of people who thought gay marriage was a great idea until converts started showing up. In fact, the Orthodox in traditionally Orthodox countries are very conservative, and though, for example, there are not lots of Protestant converts to Orthodoxy in Russia, the Russian Church has taken a very strong and vocal position on these issues.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is not a convert from Protestantism, but he made these comments at the end of a recent concelebration with Metropolitan Tikhon of the OCA:

"The task of our Churches is to pray and work in order that the Lord would grant His mercy on the peoples of our countries, so that God’s strength would make moral basics stronger, which originate in God’s morals of the Bible, and so that the relations between our countries would strengthen based on common moral values.

That is why we endure the deviations from these God’s moral standards so painfully. The deviations take place both in the United States and other Western countries at the present time. It is a great challenge for Christian Churches. Many of them, especially Protestant organizations, fail to overcome this challenge – they follow the path of the renunciation of their own identity, refuse from moral values of the Gospel in favor of political fashion. But the Orthodox Churches cannot do this and therefore the Orthodox Churches encourage people to profess the faith. We have a right to speak about it like this here at this cathedral, because our Church has gone through decades of suffering and profession, but it has not faltered or cheated on itself.

That is why we heartily wish that the Orthodox Church in America would preserve the fidelity to Christ, His Commandments, and would be, if not very bright and strong, but still light for its people. We are aware that even the light of a small candle becomes a powerful point of reference and helps people find their way to salvation" (see “Orthodox Church is the Bridge that is Able to Unite Russian and American Peoples," translated by

This coming right on the heels of a controversy within the OCA, in which a senior priest has suggested that the Church needs to re-think its position on homosexuality, I can't help but suspect that these comments were made in reference to it.

It would be nice if we could ignore the culture wars, but the culture wars are coming after us, our Church, and our families. You can choose what you are prepared to defend, but you cannot choose who will attack what you wish to defend. Franklin Roosevelt was not "fixated" on militaristic fascism... but he spent quite a bit of his efforts and energy fighting it, because militaristic fascists were attacking the country that he, as president, was sworn to defend. Today it is pro-abortionists, pro-homosexuals, and certain varieties of feminists that are attacking the Traditions of the Orthodox Church. We didn't pick them, they picked us. We have no choice but to defend the Church and its Tradition, or to raise the rainbow flag and surrender.

We do believe that the Orthodox Church is the True Church, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, but that does not mean that large parts of it, including our own, cannot fall into heresy and error, if we are not vigilant. It has happened more than once in Church history, and there is no reason to think that we are somehow immune today.

The people of God are the guardians of piety, as the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs of 1848 (in reply to Pope Pius the IX) states. It is therefore not only permissible, but obligatory for all of the faithful, and even more so for the clergy, to oppose these attempts to infect our Church with the same heresies that have wreaked such havoc in mainline Protestant Churches, and are in the process of doing the same in the Roman Catholic Church.

For more: Fr. Lawrence Farley, in a recent podcast, made this case very eloquently, and I would encourage everyone to listen to it:

Magical Thinking in the Orthodox Church

And you can read it here:

He also was recently interviewed by Fr. Chad Hatfield on the question of women's ordination, and the historic order of Deaconesses:

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Stump the Priest: Fasting Twice a Week

The Publican and the Pharisee 

Question: "Christ gave a parable about the Pharisee and how he fasts twice a week (Luke 18:12). Why did the Orthodox adopt things Christ condemned in Scripture?"

Nowhere in that passage does it suggest that Christ condemned the Pharisee because he fasted twice a week. What is condemned is his boasting, and his judging himself to be better than the publican. In Matthew 23:23, Christ said: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." Note that while Christ clearly indicates that tithing the mint, anise, and cummin was of lesser importance than the weightier matters of the law, He nevertheless says that they should have done the former without omitting the latter... not that they should have blown off  the tithing of these things.

We begin our preparation for Lent with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, and in fact, in the following week we do not fast on Wednesday and Friday to drive home the point that humility is more important than fasting. But in that service, we clearly acknowledge that the good things that the Pharisee was doing were good in and of themselves, and worthy of emulation, but we should reject his pride:

"Let us make haste to follow the Pharisee in his virtues and to emulate the Publican in his humility, and let us hate what is wrong in each of them: foolish pride and the defilement of transgressions" (Lenten Triodion, Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, Canon at Matins, Ode 5, first troparion).

In Matthew 9:14, were are told that St. John the Baptists disciples asked Christ: "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" Christ did not use this occasion to denounce fasting. He instead explained why His disciples were not fasting at that time, by asking them the question: "Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?" But he went on to say: "...but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast." And so ever since the time of Christ's ascension into heaven fasting has been an important part of the Church's life. Fasting on Wednesday and Friday is apostolic in origin. It is recording in the Didache (8:1), which was a first century record of Apostolic Teaching.

Canon 69 of the Holy Apostles (which was affirmed by the Ecumenical Councils) states:

"If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon, or Subdeacon, or Reader, or Chanter fails to fast throughout the forty days of Holy Lent, or on Wednesday, or on Friday, let him be deposed from office. Unless he has been prevented from doing so by reason of bodily illness. If, on the other hand, a layman fail to do so, let him be excommunicated."

So clearly fasting is important, but it is important as a spiritual discipline, and is a means to an end -- not an end in itself. It teaches us to say "no" to our desires, which is a skill that comes in handy throughout our life. It is also a matter of obedience to the Church, and of entering into periods of fervent prayer with the whole Church. However, if we fast, but allow ourselves to fall into pride over it, our fasting is of no benefit. But the cure to that ailment is to humble ourselves, not to give up fasting. Indeed "Let us make haste to follow the Pharisee in his virtues and to emulate the Publican in his humility, and let us hate what is wrong in each of them: foolish pride and the defilement of transgressions"

Friday, November 28, 2014

Stump the Priest: Head Coverings

Question: "I know many believe women are supposed to cover their heads, but in many parishes, few women observe this. Also, there seems to be a difference of opinion about whether girls should have their heads covered. Is this just a matter of custom, or is there a correct practice?"

St. Paul speaks of women covering their heads when at prayer is 1st Corinthians 11:2-16, in no uncertain terms. The only dispute about this practice in the early Church was at what point in a woman's life was she to begin covering her head. Tertullian wrote about this in his treatise "On the Veiling of Virgins," which was written approximately in 204 a.d. It was the general practice that it was not obligatory for girls who had not reach puberty to cover their heads, and it was the universal practice that married women covered their heads, but some held that adult virgin women did not need to cover their heads. Tertullian argued against that position, and argued that all women should cover their heads once they had reached puberty. It has also been the custom in parts of the Church for girls of any age to have their heads covered.

It was even the practice for women to cover their heads in Protestant churches up until about the 1960's -- I remember seeing many women still observing this as a child growing up in Protestant Churches. But even today, some Protestants, many Catholics, and most Orthodox continue to observe this apostolic practice.

My opinion on this is that while it is clearly the Tradition for all women above the age of puberty to cover their heads, I think it is a good idea for Orthodox families to adopt the practice of covering the heads of younger girls as well, simply because if you do not get a young girl in the practice of covering her head in our culture, the chances that she will ever observe that practice is dramatically reduced.

In our own parish, as with a number of other issues, we ask people not to take up the task of enforcing this tradition on anyone else. We simply hope that those who do not observe this practice will be inspired by those who do, to change voluntarily. But in our culture, if we were to beat people over the head on such matters the first time they walked into the Church, there is little chance they would stick around long enough to be convinced to do anything differently.


Some people have asked why, since this same passage says men should keep their heads uncovered at prayer, clergy are allowed to wear things like skufias, kamilavkas, and mitres? The passage speaks generally about men. It does not address clergy. You find head gear for the priests in the Old Testament, also in the book of Revelation in the heavenly worship (4:4 and 4:10), and also Church tradition tells us that St. John wore a mitre during the services (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:31:3 and 5:24:2. These hats are signs of rank and honor, but even bishops are obliged to remove their mitres at the most important parts of the service. Only women keep their heads covered throughout the service, and so you could say that they have the highest award when it comes to head coverings.

For more information, see:

On Account of the Angels: Why I Cover My Head

Women’s Headcoverings

The Trouble with Head Coverings

St. John Chryostom's Homily on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stump the Priest: What is the Soul?

Question: "What is the soul?"

The word for soul in Hebrew is "nephesh," which on its most basic level means "life": "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). In this sense, any living creature has a soul (as seen by the use of the word nephesh in Genesis 1:20, 1:24, and 1:30). The word is also used to refer to a person (e.g "All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob's sons' wives, all the souls were threescore and six (Genesis 46:26)). The soul refers to the internal life of a person (" soul is troubled greatly" (Psalm 6:3). The soul also refers to that which leaves the body at death ("And it came to pass, as her soul was departing, (for she died)...(Genesis 35:18)), or in the case of the child brought back to life by Elijah, that which returns to the body ("And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived" (1 Kings 17:22). When the person dies, the soul continues to exist, but the souls of the righteous are delivered from the grave: "Yet God shall redeem my soul out of the hand of hades, when he receiveth me" (Psalm 48[49]:15).

St. John of Damascus describes the soul as follows: "The soul, accordingly, is a living essence, simple, incorporeal, invisible in its proper nature to bodily eyes, immortal, reasoning and intelligent, formless, making use of an organised body, and being the source of its powers of life, and growth, and sensation, and generation, mind being but its purest part and not in any wise alien to it; (for as the eye to the body, so is the mind to the soul); further it enjoys freedom and volition and energy, and is mutable, that is, it is given to change, because it is created. All these qualities according to nature it has received of the grace of the Creator, of which grace it has received both its being and this particular kind of nature" (On the Orthodox Faith, 2:12).

In commenting on Genesis 2;7 and 1 Corinthians 15:45, St. Gregory Palamas says  that "living soul" means "ever-living, immortal, which is to say intelligent, for the immortal is intelligent; and not only that, but also divinely blessed with Grace." (On the Holy Spirit 2:8, quoted in Orthodox Psychotherapy; The Science of the Fathers, by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), trans. Esther Williams, (Birth of the Theotokos Monastery: Levadia, Greece, 1994), p. 101).

St. Maximus the Confessor says that the soul has three powers: "a) that of nourishment and growth, b) that of imagination and instinct, and c) that of intelligence and intellection [understanding]". Plants have the first power. Animals have the first and second. Men have all three (Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), p. 106).

When we speak of our "mind," "heart," "reason," and "spirit," these are all aspects of the human soul. As fallen creatures, our soul is in need of redemption, cleansing, and healing.

The Greek word for soul is "Psyche", which is where we get the word "psychology" (the study of the soul).  There is a very good book on the Orthodox understanding of the Soul, which is cited above: Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers," by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos). However, this title is misleading to English speakers, because when we think of "Psychotherapy," we think of Sigmund Freud taking to someone on a couch, about their mother. But the word here is used in its original sense -- the healing of the soul.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2015 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar, now ready for order

You can now place your orders for the 2015 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. In addition to providing liturgical rubrics based on the Jordanville Calendar (Troitskij Pravoslavnij Russkij Kalendar), the calendar also includes a liturgical color chart. A revised and expanded appendix for the celebration of patronal feast days will be posted for free on the St. Innocent Press web site. The cost is $30.95. Bookstore discounts are available based on the quantity ordered. The Calendar can also be ordered in PDF format. The printed calendar should be delivered by approximately December 20th. The PDF version will be available close to the 1st of December. To order, and for more information, see:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Payday Someday

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, while listening to the radio, I heard one of the most striking sermons I ever heard. Despite having only heard this sermon once, it has stuck with me to such an extent that I have never been able to read the stories of Ahab, Jezebel, Naboth, the Prophet Elijah, and Jehu, without thinking about that sermon. I could still cite many of the lines from that sermon from memory several decades later.

The other day, I had reason to mention this sermon in a conversation, and then it occurred to me that if I googled some of those lines I might be able to find a recording of it, so that the person I was talking to could hear it for themselves. What I found was amazing in itself.

As it turned out, the title of the Sermon was "Payday Someday", and it was delivered by Robert Green Lee, who was a Southern Baptist preacher of a very different era. He was born in South Carolina in 1886, and passed away in 1978... fairly close to the time I first heard that sermon. It also turned out that he had not preached that sermon on only one occasion -- he had preached it 1,275 times. This sermon was famous... but back in the day before the internet. or electronic mass media, if you wanted to hear a great sermon or speech, you had to either travel to hear it repeated somewhere else, or try to get the speaker to come and repeat it in your area. He preached this sermon all over the country, and in many foreign countries. So not only can you hear this sermon on the Internet, but you can hear several versions of it... and though the content is mostly the same, each sermon has some unique elements to it as well.

What is most striking is how different his speaking style is from what you generally hear today, even in Baptist churches. He uses a lot of alliteration to keep his hearers attention. He paints vivid word pictures. He voice acts the parts of many of the characters in the stories he tells. He fills in the gaps in the story by describing what they must of been thinking or doing at various points. And the combined results are a very vivid recounting of what you find in 1st Kings chapters 21 and 22, and 2nd Kings chapter 9.

I would take issue with some of the things he says, but it is worth listening to just as an oratorical display of a bygone era, and it generally does accurately convey the main points of these passages of Scripture.

On YouTube, there are two versions:

The sound quality is a bit better in this one, but it is 20 minutes shorter, and a little less animated:

This audio version is dated from 1958, and has very good sound quality (and if you only listen to one version, this is the better one I have listened to so far):

Yet another recording is found here:

And there are several more recordings of it posted here, along with recordings of some of his other sermons:

The Prophetologion in English

Reader Peter Gardner, has produced the first (at least to my knowledge) complete Prophetologion in English St. Polycarp Press. This text uses the Boston Psalter for the prokimena. It uses the Lancelot Brenton Septuagint text, but for names of people and places, it uses the most common spelling used in English. The book is currently printed by, but the binding is well done. This is a very important text to have, especially for the Lenten readings. Every parish should have a copy, but it would also be nice for families to have in order to do the daily Old Testament readings during Lent.

You can order it by clicking here.