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).

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 Pravmir.ru).

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:

http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/nootherfoundation/magical-thinking-orthodox-church/

He also was recently interviewed by Fr. Chad Hatfield on the question of women's ordination, and the historic order of Deaconesses: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/svsvoices/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.

Update:

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 ("...my 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: http://www.stinnocentpress.com/products/liturgical_calendar.html

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):

http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=1210071410240

Yet another recording is found here:

http://vimeo.com/104726024

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

http://fundamentalbaptistsermons.net/sermonsLee1.htm

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 Lulu.com, 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.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stump the Priests: Patron Saints


Question: "Why do the Orthodox have patron saints?"

The Scriptures make clear how important names are, as Fr, Josiah Trenham eloquently lays out in his article: "Christian Names & Patron Saints." But not only are the names of men in Scripture of great significance, but the name of God is so important that in the Ten Commandments were are forbidden to use it in vain. The name that God revealed to Moses was "Yahweh", which means "the One Who Is." God is self existent being, and the ground of all being. The name of Jesus is derived from Yahweh, and means "Yahweh Saves." We are told by St. Paul that the Father has given Christ "a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).Proverbs 18:10  tells us that "The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." And Again, St. Paul says that "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13. So names are not just meaningless labels, but are extremely important.

Names tell us a lot about a person, and a change of name is also very significant in Scripture. For example, the patriarch Jacob's name means "usurper", because he was born grabbing the heal of his twin brother who was the first born. He went on to usurp his brothers birthright by deception, but then endured many hard years of labor for his uncle Laban in which he himself was deceived by Laban. When he came back to Canaan, and was about to face the brother whom he had wronged he has an encounter, in which he wrestles with an Angel, and is given a new name -- Israel, which means "a prince with God" or "one who prevails with God," signifying his spiritual transformation.

In the early Church, when pagans came into the Church, they usually had pagan names which had pagan meanings. They were given new names upon being baptized, to signify the new life they had received. These names were not always the names of Old Testament or New Testament saints, but often people were named for things like Christian virtues: "Faith," "Hope," "Love," "Patience," etc. People also often took on the names of feasts, like "Theophan" for Theophany, "Evangelia" for Annunciation, or "Anastasios" for the Resurrection, or Pascha. But the more common practice developed of naming those who were baptized after saints. Also, in many cases, though a saint had been given a Christian name at baptism, they continued to be known by their pagan name, and so their pagan name became a Christian name, as is the case with saints such as the Great Martyr Demetrius, St. Vladimir the Great, and his grandmother, St. Olga.

The Serbs have a unique practice. Instead of each individual having the name of a patron saint, each family has a family "Slava" or patron. The nice thing about this custom is that on the feast of a family Slava, the entire family joins in a common celebration.

Even in secular culture, people often name their children after people that they admire, and hope that their children will emulate. Christians name their children after saints because they hope that their children will emulate the virtue of the saints whose names they bear. And they also hope that their children will feel a close spiritual connection with that saint. I know an Orthodox family from a Pentecostal background, and when their children (who were still attending a Pentecostal School) were asked about their patron saints, they were told by their parents to say that they were their heavenly prayer partners... which puts it in a way Protestants can understand, but it is also pretty much on target. We especially ask our patron saints to pray for us to God.

Having a patron Saint also gives us a responsibility to especially preserve the memory of that Saint. As such, we should mark their feasts with prayer and pious celebration. This true of individuals, and it is also true of parishes that are named for saints. This is why the celebration of the Patronal Feast of a parish is considered to be a second Pascha, and should be treated as such by each member of that parish.

The Church in heaven and the Church on earth are all part of the One Church. We are united by our faith in Christ, and by prayer. We have patron saints so that we do not think of the Saints in heaven as some undefined mass of nameless faces, but as a great choir of saints who were flesh and blood, just as we are, and who help us by their prayers on the path of salvation so that we may one day join them.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Stump the Priest: Caesaropapism

The Emperor Constantine Copronymous

Question: "I have heard it argued that since the time of Constantine, the Orthodox Church has been under the thumb of the state, and has done whatever the powers that be told them to do. What would you say to those who argue that we reject that Pope, but embraces "Caesaropapism""?

If you look at the Bible, you see that there was no separation of Church and State in the Old Testament, and the Kings of Israel and Judah were not merely secular leaders, but had a role to play in the spiritual lives of their people, either for good or for evil... and those who promoted righteous are praised in Scripture, and those who led the people astray are condemned. Likewise, with the conversion of St. Constantine the Great, the emperors of the Roman and East Roman Empires played a similar role. However, the fact that the Church did not go along with the emperors when they tried to take the Church in a heretical direction is seen by the reaction of the Church to another Emperor Constantine... Constantine V, known to the Church as Constantine Copronymous. "Copronymous" was not his given name, but a name which according to tradition derived from his baptism. When he was baptized, it is said that he relieved himself in the font, and so foreshadowed the fact that he would attempt to defile the Church with his heresy. "Copronymous" means literally, "the namesake of crap." Constantine Copronymous was an Iconoclast, and he vigorously persecuted those who resisted him... and the faithful of the Church did resist him throughout his reign, and the reign of his son, Leo IV. Then after the 7th Ecumenical Council condemned the Iconoclast heresy, and after a mere 28 year respite, Iconoclasm was revived by the Emperor Leo V, but again, after another quarter century of the persecution of the Orthodox, Iconoclasm was again defeated, but this time for good. Had the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire had any concept of Caesaropapism, the Church would have embraced Iconoclasm, but instead it resisted Iconoclasm tooth and claw, until it finally triumphed over it.

The New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

Often, when charges of "Caesaropapism" are brought up, the Orthodox Church under Communism is brought up, and the claim is made that the Church was the obedient servant of the Communist authorities. This claim is belied by the fact that in just the first 9 years of Bolshevik rule, 78 bishops, 2,700 priests, 2,000 monks, and 3,400 nuns had been killed by the Communists. By the 1960s, the number of priests who had been killed was estimated to have risen to 12,000. At one time, there were an estimated 150 bishops in Soviet gulags -- and before the revolution, there were only 130 active bishops, and so this means that not only were most bishops imprisoned, but their replacements were rapidly being imprisoned (Timothy Ware [now Metropolitan Kallistos] The Orthodox Church, (London: Penguin, 1964), p. 155f). The number of laymen killed by their faith is unknown, but it is believed to be in the millions. This is hardly a story of obedient servant doing the bidding of its master. The story is a complex one, and some resisted to martyrdom, others resisted and suffered in other ways. It is certainly true that many did capitulate, but this is true of any intense persecution in the history of the Church.

As Alexei Khomiakov pointed out:

"...all Protestants are Crypto-Papists; and, indeed, it would be a very easy task to show that in their Theology (as well as philosophy) all the definitions of all the objects of creed or understanding are merely taken out of the old Latin System, though often made negative in the application. In short, if it was to be expressed in the concise language of algebra, all the West knows but one datum, a; whether it be preceded by the positive sign +, as with the Latins, or with the negative −, as with the Protestants, the a remains the same. Now, a passage to Orthodoxy seems indeed like an apostasy from the past, from its science, creed, and life. It is rushing into a new and unknown world, a bold step to take, or even to advise" (Alexei Khomiakov, Third Letter to William Palmer (This is also the quote that Metropolitan Kallistos began his classic book "The Orthodox Church")).

Because the west tends to see things either in terms of papism, or anti-papism (which is really democratized papism, i.e., every man is his own Pope), the west in inclined to want to impose some variation of the theme on the Orthodox, and so they claim we are Caesaropapists. The reality is, however, that we choose not to participate in papism of any variety. If you want to understand what Orthodoxy is, you have to understand it on its own terms, apart from papism.

For More Information:

For a fair minded history of the Russian Church under the Soviet yoke, see:

A Long Walk to Church, by Nathaniel Davis.

For more on Icons and Iconoclasm, see The Icon FAQ.

Monday, November 03, 2014

I Stand Sunday Rally Video




We had all better speak loud and clear now, while we still have the freedom to do so.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stump the Priest: Communion and Germs


Question: "We Orthodox Christians Commune with the same spoon. What about the transmission of germs and diseases? I think germs were discovered in the 17th century. Before that, illnesses were attributed to demons."

The big question here is what do we really believe about the Eucharist. If we really believe that it is the body and blood of Christ, we shouldn't worry about it.

There is an illustrative instance in the life of St. John of Shanghai:

"Vladyka's constant attention to self-mortification had its root in the fear of God, which he possessed in the tradition of the ancient Church and of Holy Russia. The following incident, told by O. Skopichenko and confirmed by many from Shanghai, well illustrates his daring, unshakable faith in Christ. "Mrs. Menshikova was bitten by a mad dog. The injections against rabies she either refused to take or took carelessly… And then she came down with this terrible disease. Bishop John found out about it and came to the dying woman. He gave her Holy Communion, but just then she began having one of the fits of this disease; she began to foam at the mouth, and at the same time she spit out the Holy Gifts which she had just received. The Holy Sacrament cannot be thrown out. So, Vladyka picked up and put in his mouth the Holy Gifts vomited by the sick woman. Those who were with him exclaimed: `Vladyka, what are you doing! Rabies is terribly contagious!' But Vladyka peacefully answered: `Nothing will happen; these are the Holy Gifts.' And indeed nothing did happen."

Even if you take the nature of the Eucharist out of the equation, scientists who have examined the question say that the risk of getting an infection from a gold or silver chalice with wine in it is very low... and they are examining those churches that have the laity drink directly from the chalice, whereas we use a spoon. Also, if illnesses could be passed on through the Eucharist, the clergy should be perpetually ill, because after everyone else has communed, they consume the rest of the gifts, but there has been no history of such things. If you are a believer, you shouldn't be concerned. If you are not a believer, you shouldn't take communion at all, because then, according to St. Paul, you may in fact become ill as a result of your unworthily partaking of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:29-31).

As for the claim that in the ancient world, they thought demons were the cause of all illnesses, this is simply not the case, as is evident from the Gospels, which always distinguishes between those who were ill and those who were demonized. If you take Matthew 8:1-16 for example, you have a leper cleansed (1-4), and there is no mention of demons. Then you have the healing of the centurion's servant (5-13), and again there is no mention of demons. Then you have the healing St. Peter's mother-in-law (14-15), who was sick with a fever, and so clearly had some sort of an infection, and yet again there is no mention of demons. In verse 16 it says that they brought to Christ many who were demonized, and he cast out the spirits with a word. In Matthew 4:24, just before the sermon on the mount, we are told "and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them." The demonized are only one category among all the others that are listed. So there is simply no basis for the statement that people in the ancient world thought that illnesses were all causes by demons.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Stump the Priest: Who or What is the Rock in Matthew 16:18?


Question: "In Matthew 16:13-19, is Jesus referring to Simon Peter being the rock upon which He will build His church, or is He referring to Himself in Simon Peter's revelation of who Jesus is? And did Jesus give all of the disciples the power to bind and loose, or just Simon Peter?"

St. John Chrysostom explains what the rock refers to in Matthew 16:18 as follows:

"What then saith Christ? "Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas." "Thus since thou hast proclaimed my Father, I too name him that begat thee;" all but saying, "As thou art son of Jonas, even so am I of my Father." Else it were superfluous to say, "Thou art Son of Jonas;" but since he had said, "Son of God," to point out that He is so Son of God, as the other son of Jonas, of the same substance with Him that begat Him, therefore He added this, "And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;" that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd. "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." "And if not against it, much more not against me. So be not troubled because thou art shortly to hear that I shall be betrayed and crucified" (Homily 52 on the Gospel of Matthew).

St. Augustine likewise says:

"And this he heard from the Lord: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” See what praises follow this faith. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” What meaneth, “Upon this rock I will build my Church”? Upon this faith; upon this that has been said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Upon this rock,” saith He, “I will build my Church” (Homily 10 on the First Epistle of St. John).

Some Fathers also say that the rock is Christ Himself, but there is not a great gap between the rock being Christ, and the rock being faith in Christ, because faith in Christ is only powerful because of the object of the faith.

There is a book by a Protestant author, William Webster, which catalogues very extensively what the Fathers had to say on this subject, if one is interested in reading further: The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock.

And as for who Christ gave the power to bind and to loose, it is helpful to look at the passages that speak about this in the King James Version, because in that version we have clear distinctions between the second person singular (thee, thou, thy) and the second person plural (ye, you, your):

Matthew 16:19: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Matthew 18:18: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

John 20:22-23: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

In the first instance, Christ was speaking directly to St. Peter, and so uses the second person singular pronoun, but in the following two instances, Christ is speaking to all of the Apostles, and likewise states that they have the power to bind and to loose, and uses the second person plural pronoun.

Update: Someone pointed out that Origen said that St. Peter was the Rock, but looking at the above referenced book by William Webster, I found the following which shows that while this is true, Origen did not believe it applied to St. Peter alone, but rather to all of the Apostles and indeed every believer:

"And perhaps that which Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” if we say it as Peter, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven shining in our heart, we too become as Peter, being pronounced blessed as he was, because that the grounds on which he was pronounced blessed apply also to us, by reason of the fact that flesh and blood have not revealed to us with regard to Jesus that He is Christ, the Son of the living God, but the Father in heaven, from the very heavens, that our citizenship may be in heaven, revealing to us the revelation which carries up to heaven those who take away every veil from the heart, and receive “the spirit of the wisdom and revelation” of God. And if we too have said like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, “Thou art Peter,” etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.

But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,”hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, “Upon this rock I will build My church”? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” be common to the others, how shall not all the things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them? For in this place these words seem to be addressed as to Peter only, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” etc.; but in the Gospel of John the Saviour having given the Holy Spirit unto the disciples by breathing upon them said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” etc. Many then will say to the Saviour, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;” but not all who say this will say it to Him, as not at all having learned it by the revelation of flesh and blood but by the Father in heaven Himself taking away the veil that lay upon their heart, in order that after this “with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord” they may speak through the Spirit of God saying concerning Him, “Lord Jesus,” and to Him, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And if any one says this to Him, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto Him but through the Father in heaven, he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was. For all bear the surname of “rock” who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual draught. But these bear the surname of the rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters. And taking occasion from these things you will say that the righteous bear the surname of Christ who is Righteousness, and the wise of Christ who is Wisdom. And so in regard to all His other names, you will apply them by way of surname to the saints; and to all such the saying of the Saviour might be spoken, “Thou art Peter,” etc., down to the words, “prevail against it.” But what is the “it”? Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the church, or is it the church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it as if the rock and the church were one and the same? This I think to be true; for neither against the rock on which Christ builds the church, nor against the church will the gates of Hades prevail; just as the way of a serpent upon a rock, according to what is written in the Proverbs, cannot be found. Now, if the gates of Hades prevail against any one, such an one cannot be a rock upon which Christ builds the church, nor the church built by Jesus upon the rock; for the rock is inaccessible to the serpent, and it is stronger than the gates of Hades which are opposing it, so that because of its strength the gates of Hades do not prevail against it; but the church, as a building of Christ who built His own house wisely upon the rock, is incapable of admitting the gates of Hades which prevail against every man who is outside the rock and the church, but have no power against it." (Origen, Commentary on Matthew 12:10-11).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

For the Houston Mayor... Here are My Sermons


As you have probably heard, the Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, has subpoenaed the sermons of several ministers in Houston, particularly those sermons that mentioned her, homosexuality, or her push to allow men who think they are women to use the ladies room if they wish. I think every clergyman in the country should respond and send her recordings or texts of their sermons.

Her e-mail is mayor@houstontx.gov

Her facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/MayorAnniseParker

Her Twitter account is here: https://twitter.com/AnniseParker

Maybe all those sermons will do her some good.

Here are some of mine:

The Inconvenient Truth about Homosexual Marriage (Romans 1:18-27)

The Empty House: what happens when a person or a nation abandons God? (Luke 11:23-26)

“As it was in the days of Noah” (Genesis 6:5-8)

Flee Sexual Immorality (1 Corinthians 5-6)

All of my other sermons for the past few years are posted here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/podcasts/sermons.htm

You can also see what I have posted on my blog on the subject, here:

http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/search/label/Gay%20Marriage

You can try to intimidate us all you like, but we still have freedom of religion and freedom of speech in this country, and we will continue to exercise those rights as we see fit.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Stump the Priest: Are Ecumenical Councils Infallible?

The Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils

Question: "Does the Orthodox Church teach that the Ecumenical Councils are infallible?"

We do not believe that everything that anyone happened to say at an Ecumenical Council is infallible, but we most certainly do believe that the canons and decrees of the Ecumenical Councils are infallible, and this is because we believe that the Church as a whole, is infallible. Individual members, and even local Churches may error, but it is not possible for the entire Church to teach that which is erroneous -- and ecumenical councils are certainly an example of what the Church as a whole teaches.

Fr. George Florovsky observed: "The teaching authority of the Ecumenical Councils is grounded in the infallibility of the Church. The ultimate "authority" is vested in the Church, which is forever the Pillar and the Foundation of Truth" (The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century).

The Patriarchal Encyclical of 1895, which was written in response to a Papal encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, in which he called for the reunion of the Orthodox Church with the Roman Church, states:

"...having recourse to the fathers and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church of the first nine centuries, we are fully persuaded that the Bishop of Rome was never considered as the supreme authority and infallible head of the Church, and that every bishop is head and president of his own particular Church, subject only to the synodical ordinances and decisions of the Church universal as being alone infallible, the Bishop of Rome being in no wise excepted from this rule, as Church history shows."

And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain states, as he begins his famous commentary on the Ecumenical Canons:

"So every ecumenical council that possesses these characteristic features is in fact the Holy and Catholic Church itself in which in the Symbol of Faith (called the Creed in English) we profess to believe. ...being infallible and sinless. For the Church, which the Ecumenical Council takes the place of as its personal representative, is a pillar and framework of the truth, according to St. Paul (I Tim. 3:15); accordingly, whatever seems right to Ecumenical Councils seems right also to the Holy Spirit of Truth: for, it says, “He shall teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said unto you” (John 14:26)" (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 157).

Canon 1 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council states, with regard to all the Ecumenical canons and decrees of the previous Councils (as well as those of local Councils and Fathers whom these Councils specifically affirmed, states:

"For those who have been allotted a sacerdotal dignity, the representations of canonical ordinances amount to testimonies and directions. Gladly accepting these, we sing to the Lord God with David, the spokesman of God, the following words: “I have delighted in the way of thy testimonies as much as in all wealth,” and “thy testimonies which thou hast commanded witness righteousness,… Thy testimonies are righteousness forever: give me understanding, and I shall live” (Ps. 119:14, 138 and 144). And if forever the prophetic voice commands us to keep the testimonies of God, and to live in them, it is plain that they remain unwavering and rigid. For Moses, too, the beholder of God, says so in the following words: “To them there is nothing to add, and from them there is nothing to remove” (Deut. 12:32). And the divine Apostle Peter, exulting in them, cries: “which things the angels would like to peep into” (I Pet. 1:12). And Paul says: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any gospel besides that which ye have received, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8). Seeing that these things are so and are attested to us, and rejoicing at them “as one that findeth great spoil” (Ps. 119:162), we welcome and embrace the divine Canons, and we corroborate the entire and rigid fiat of them that have been set forth by the renowned Apostles, who were and are trumpets of the Spirit, and those both of the six holy Ecumenical Councils and of the ones assembled regionally far the purpose of setting forth such edicts and of those of our holy Fathers. For all those men, having been guided by the light dawning out of the same Spirit, prescribed rules that are to our best interest. Accordingly, we too anathematize whomsoever they consign to anathema; and we too depose whomsoever they consign to deposition; and we too excommunicate whomsoever they consign to excommunication; and we likewise subject to a penance anyone whom they make liable to a penance. For “Let your conduct be free from avarice; being content with such things as are at hand” (Heb. 13:5), explicitly cries the divine apostle Paul, who ascended into the third heaven and heard unspeakable words (II Cor. 12:2-4)."

And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain adds two comments in his notes to his commentary on this canon:

"Note here how respectable and reverend the divine Canons are. For this holy Council, by calling them “testimonies” and “justifications,” and the like, dignifies these very same divine Canons with those title and names with which the divinely inspired and holy Bible is dignified."

And

"That is why Photius, in Title I, ch. 2, says that the third ordinance of Title II of the Novels invests the Canons of the seven Councils and their dogmas with the same authoritativeness as the divine Scriptures." (Rudder, p. 428f).

See also St. Cyprian of Carthage's Treatise on the Unity of the Church.