Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

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

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stump the Priest: Near Death Experiences

Fr. Seraphim (Rose)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Stump the Priest: Saved in Childbearing?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stump the Priest: Bishop Vestments with Bells

The Vestments of the Israelite High Priest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Theodoret provides the answer:

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

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stump the Priest: Men with Long Hair

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

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

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

Sampson getting his hair cut by Delilah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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

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

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

"The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

And Canon 67 of the Quinisext Council states:

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

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Stump the Priest: King David's Census?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Stump the Priest: A Hymn to the Theotokos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

When to Spank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Spanking: What Saith the Scripture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stump the Priest: Confession

Question: "In 1 John 1:9, the apostle teaches us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. But Orthodoxy teaches us that we must confess our sins to a priest in order to be saved and forgiven. If God forgives our sins when we ask him to, pursuant to 1 John 1:9, why then the need to go to a priest? And if we are forgiven when we go to a priest, and a priest is necessary, why the need to personally ask God to forgive us?"

This question assumes that when this passage speaks of confessing our sins, that it is referring only to our confession of sins directly to God, but there is nothing in the passage that suggests that this is the case. Here is that verse in its immediate context:

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8=10).

In that context it seems more likely that it is referring to what we confess or deny to other people than that this is referring exclusively to what we confess or deny directly to God. And if we look at the other instances in the New Testament which speak of confessing sins, they all refer to confessing sins before other people. The first two instances both refer to those who were baptized by St. John the Baptist:

"Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6).

"And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mark 1:5).

In Acts, there is a similar reference to public confession, though in this case with reference to gentile converts:

"...and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver" (Acts 19:17-19).

And the fourth explicitly speaks of confessing sins "one to another" in the context of the Church:

"Confess your trespasses one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).

Furthermore, Christ in the Gospel's gave the Apostles the power to forgive, or to refrain from forgiving sins:

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

This passage presupposes some manner in which the Apostles would be made aware of the sins in question. And so from Scripture, it is clear that confession of sin was made before other people, as well as to God, and that the power to forgive sins or to retain them was given to the Apostles. The Church has always taught that this power to forgive or to retain sins was passed on by the Apostles to the bishops and priests of the Church. And in the early Church, public confession of sin was in fact the norm. This is seen, for example, in St. Cyprian of Carthage's epistles. For example, in a letter to his clergy, in 250 a.d., he complained that many who had lapsed during the persecution were wrongly being admitted back into communion without confession, penance, and the absolution of the clergy:

"For although in smaller sins sinners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of communion: now with their time still unfulfilled, while persecution is still raging, while the peace of the Church itself is not yet restored, they are admitted to communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the eucharist is given to them; although it is written, “Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (St. Cyprian, Epistle IX. To the Clergy, Concerning Certain Presbyters Who Had Rashly Granted Peace to the Lapsed Before the Persecution Had Been Appeased, and Without the Privity of the Bishops, 9:2).

The practice of public confession of sin changed over time, because, due to the decline in general piety, it was recognized that mandatory public confession could be harmful. For example, if a woman confessed to committing adultery, her husband might kill her in his anger. However, nothing prevents anyone from confessing their sins in public today, it is just not a requirement of the discipline of the Church.

It should also be understood that when we confess to a priest, we are confessing to God, with the priest as a witness, as is clear from the admonition the priest gives immediately prior to the penitent making their confession:

"Behold, my child, Christ standeth here invisibly and receiveth thy confession: wherefore, be not ashamed, neither be afraid, and conceal thou nothing from me: but tell me, doubting not, all things which thou hast done: and so shalt thou have pardon from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Lo, His holy image is before us: and I am but a witness, bearing testimony before him of all things which thou dost say to me.  But if thou shalt conceal anything from me, thou shalt have the greater sin.  Take heed, therefore, lest, having come to the physician, thou depart unhealed."

We should of course confess our sins to God as soon as we become aware of them, but when we are able to do so, we should confess before a priest or bishop, and receive the forgiveness that Christ granted His Church the authority to bestow -- especially when we are aware of a serious sin that weighs heavily on our conscience.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

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

Pope Francis, preparing to execute a Judo throw on Patriarch Bartholomew

On Pentecost, I was on Ancient Faith Today, which is hosted by Kevin Allen, and was on the show along with Fr. Matthew Baker, to discuss the recent meetings of the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew. You can listen to that show by clicking here. I would have posted on this sooner, but the following day my wife and I headed to the Holy Land ourselves, for a year late 25th anniversary vacation, and we just got back early Tuesday.

Was it Fair?

I have heard some people who thought that Keven Allen was unfair, and that he gave more time to Fr. Matthew than he did to me. This is the fourth time I have been on Kevin Allen's show, and I have gotten to know him a bit by e-mail and phone conversations, and I have no doubt that Kevin was trying to be fair -- in fact he wouldn't have had me on the show at all, if he was not trying to present a balanced perspective on the question. I think Fr. Matthew did more talking than I did because this is an area of his expertise, he is a sharp and well educated man, and he had a lot of information that he was trying to convey to make his nuanced case for a balanced approach to ecumenical activities. I was more focused on bottom line practical reasons why we should be concerned about Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, and so my points were generally made in less time. Three out of four of the times Kevin has had me on his show, I have been on with another guest, and it is, I am sure, a tough job to balance two guests, phone calls, and to also keep the discussion moving. We could have spent the entire two hours going back and forth on just one issue, but Kevin kept the discussion moving, we covered a lot of ground, and I think it was a good show.

Is Fr. Matthew a Modernist or a Heretic?

I would also say that Fr. Matthew did not at all strike me as a modernist. And I only wish Patriarch Batholomew was as clear on his ecclesiology as Fr. Matthew was in this discussion. We did have a number of points of disagreement, but I think we agreed a lot more than we disagreed.

Nevertheless, there were certainly some points I would have like to have made, some expansions on some points, and then of course there are always things that you think of after the fact that you wish you had said, and so here are some additional comments on that discussion.

Is Patriarch Bartholomew Responsible for False Impressions His Words and Actions May Leave?

Early in the show, Fr. Matthew suggested that the Ecumenical Patriarch should not be held responsible for the false impressions his actions and statement have left with both non-Orthodox and Orthodox alike. I think he is responsible... particularly when the current Ecumenical Patriarch continues to add to those false impressions, and does very little to dispel them. In fact, he seems to engage in studied ambiguity on a somewhat regular basis. Christ said in the Gospels, "light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:19-21). If the agenda that the Patriarch is pushing is good and Orthodox, I think it is reasonable to ask why he is hiding that agenda in the shadows of ambiguity. For example, what is he trying to accomplish by saying that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are the two lungs of the Body of Christ? Clearly, such statements are confusing at best.

The Prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

On the question of the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch, you can read some more detail here:


You can also read St. John (Maximovitch)'s report to the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR in 1938, "The Decline of the Ecumenical Patriarch," in which he says among other things of note:

"In sum, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in theory embracing almost the whole universe and in fact extending its authority only over several dioceses, and in other places having only a higher superficial supervision and receiving certain revenues for this, persecuted by the government at home and not supported by any governmental authority abroad: having lost its significance as a pillar of truth and having itself become a source of division, and at the same time being possessed by an exorbitant love of power -- represents a pitiful spectacle which recalls the worst periods in the history of the See of Constantinople."

Unfortunately, St. John's assessment of the decline of the EP has become all the more accurate as time has gone on. This is a real shame, because the EP could be a real source of unity, if he would simply stand clearly for the Faith, and unite the Orthodox world behind a clear and unambiguous expression of our Tradition.

Joint Prayer

On the question of joint prayer with the non-Orthodox, I wrote about this in an article entitled "What should Orthodox Christians do, when there is no parish nearby?" I mentioned on the show that when I picketed abortion clinics, I have often found myself praying next to Roman Catholics who were also praying, but that we were not joining in prayer, and then Fr. Matthew interjected that I was doing the same thing as the Ecumenical Patriarch. That interjection threw me off a bit, and when I said, "Yes, in this case..." I was referring specifically to the prayers for peace that took place in the Vatican earlier that same day. When I said that, what I had in mind was that so far as I had noticed during the service, the Patriarch did not get up to pray in that particular gathering. He only read from the prophecy of Isaiah. What I would say is that this was actually not at all like what I was referring to, because this was a scheduled prayer meeting, the Patriarch was invited to it, attended it, and participated in it. He did not get up and vocally pray, which would have made it worse, but he should not have lent his authority to an event that involved Muslim Imams, Jewish Rabbis, and Catholic clergy, joining in a prayer service together. Also, when the Patriarch met the Pope in Jerusalem, they did pray together. On other occasions, the Patriarch has prayed at pan-religious services, that involved every stripe of paganism. He has had the Pope commemorated as if he were an Orthodox bishop when the Pope has visited the Phanar. He has often blessed the faithful side by side with Roman Catholic bishops who joined him in blessing the people. There is no precedence in the history of the Orthodox Church for behavior of this sort, it raises serious questions about what the Patriarch believes about the nature of the Church, and there is really no defense for it.

Fr. Matthew mentioned St. John (Maximovitch) being present at the consecration of an Anglican bishop in Shanghai. He also alluded to St. Tikhon of Moscow who attended the consecration of an Anglican bishop in the 1920's wearing a Mantia. Wearing a Mantia is not what I would call being vested, because in a hierarchical liturgy, this is simply what a Bishop wears on his way into the Church, and on his way out. All of us who live in societies in which we are surrounded by non-Orthodox people have to deal with situations where you are invited to non-Orthodox services on special occasions. For example, I attended the funerals of both of my parents, and two of my brothers, and in each case, I declined the opportunity to participate in the actual service, but helped carry the coffin, and was present as a matter of respect. The same goes for weddings of family members, and if you had a good relationship with the local Anglicans in Shanghai, and one of them was being consecrated a bishop, you would probably feel the need to attend to show respect too. I think it was a mistake for St. Tikhon to wear his Mantia at the consecration of an Anglican bishop, but I think this came from a naivete about what Anglicanism was among many Orthodox, at that time (see for example, this article about St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn). He was not glorified as a saint because he once wore a Mantia at an Anglican service. St. Mark of Ephesus, on the other hand, was glorified in large part for his refusal to compromise with the false union of Florence.

The reason why our canons forbid us to pray with heretics, schismatics, and non-Christians, is that praying together implies a unity of faith that does not actually exist. We do not pass judgment on them. We are not saying that we are better than they are. We are simply not giving a false impression that we are in agreement, when we are not. Now there are many sticky situations that arise at times. In the Bible, we have an example of this, in 2 Kings (or 4th Kings in the LXX) chapter 5, where the Syrian commander Naaman is healed by the Prophet Elisha, and comes to believe in the God of Israel, but he presents Elisha with a pastoral problem: "In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing." Naaman was not going to the temple of Rimmon to pray for peace with his master -- he had an obligation to be there, because he was the commander of the Syrian army. And Elisha simply said "Go in peace." There are other examples that could be discussed where one might wonder what is the best way to handle it, and reasonable Orthodox Christians might reach different conclusions on how best to deal with it -- that is another question. Those situations are quite different, however, then when you intentionally put yourself into a joint prayer service, and participate fully with the non-Orthodox in a service you helped make up, such as for example occurred at the Holy Seplechre in Jerusalem, on May 25th, 2014 with the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew:

I watched this video for the first time yesterday, just a week after I was at the Holy Sepulchre myself, for the first time. Being able to venerate the place where Christ died for us, and the place where He rose from the dead was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Watching this holy place used as a backdrop for this Ecumenical theater turns my stomach.

It should also be noted that prior to the 1960's the Roman Catholics also observed this tradition, and according to their interpretation, they would allow for private joint prayer with the heterdox, so long as the prayers were Catholic, but they would not allow public joint prayer because of the confusion such things create.

In this video you can hear Pope Benedict being commemorated as if he were an Orthodox bishop at the Phanar in Constantinople, ahead of the Patriarch of Constantinople:

And unfortunately, these ecumenical dog and pony shows get much worse:

And then there's this:

And unfortunately, there is a lot more where that one came from.

Why have the Orthodox Not Established their own Pope of Rome?

I think there are two simple answers: 1) for most of the history that has elapsed since the Great Schism, this would not have been tolerated by the powers that be in Italy; and 2) if we established an Orthodox Pope of Rome, then we would presumably have to recognize him as first in the diptychs... and this would have created an unnecessary set of problems.

Intellectual Ascesis

Fr. Matthew made the point that there are certain things that one cannot learn simply by praying with their prayer rope, and spoke of an "intellectual ascesis". There are a couple of problems I have with this statement. For one, it suggests that people like St. John (Maximovitch) or the Elder Paisios were uneducated... which they were not. St. John was a seminary professor at Bitol, Serbia, before he became a bishop. The Elder Paisios did not have the same level of formal education, but the kind of education he did get as a monastic was not simply a matter of saying the Jesus Prayer. And while one would not likely learn Latin simply through the grace of the Holy Spirit, one of the Elder's level of spirituality does learn a level of spiritual discernment that is far beyond that of most of us, and so if he advises caution when it comes to "ecumenical dialogue" one would be foolish to ignore it.

This remind me of something from the sayings of the desert fathers, regarding St. Arsenius the Great, who was one of the most educated men of his time:

"One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, "Abba Arsenius, how is that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?" He replied, "I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant" (Benedicta Ward, translator, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975, 1984 revised edition), p. 10.

Also, we should remember that on the feast of Pentecost we sing:

"Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of mankind, glory be to Thee."

If the grace of the Holy Spirit could make the fishermen supremely wise, even though they were unlearned men, then we have to believe that the Holy Spirit can still make unlearned men supremely wise. That of course does not mean that we do not value formal education. In fact, it is a blessing to the Church to have scholars of the calibre of Fr. Matthew in the Church, but having a Ph.D. does not make one a reliable guide on spiritual matters, but attaining theosis does.

Also, just as the Holy Spirit revealed to St. Peter that the time to receive the gentiles into the Church had come (Acts 10:1-48), if the "dialogue" with Rome was going in a God-pleasing direction, the Holy Spirit could and would reveal this to even "unlearned" saints.

Also, I don't think the phrase "intellectual ascesis" has any basis in the Tradition of the Church... though if I am wrong, I hope someone will show me where to find a precedence for it. I think it is generally advisable to not coin new theological phrases without very good reasons for doing so.

Liturgical Chaos in Rome

We also spoke about the liturgical decline of the Roman Catholic Church, post-Vatican II. For some of the videos I was referring to see Unfortunate Trends in the Roman Catholic Church. One further observation I would make is that the tendency to want to have rock and roll praise and worship in services that are oriented towards the youth is an example of the Roman Catholic Church emulating some of the most destructive novelties the Protestants have come up with in recent years. I remember growing up in an Evangelical Protestant Church around the time that the idea of "children's church" began to become popular. In the regular services, we sang the old hymns that Protestants had long sung... which at least have some substance to them, even if flawed. In children's church, we sang happy clappy songs that dumbed everything down (fortunately, my time spent in those kinds of services was only on rare occasion). The problem is, when children who grew up in children's church became adults, the adult services started becoming like children's church.... and that is what you now see in most protestant churches today. Give it another generation, and the kind of services you see at "World Youth Day" will become the norm in most Roman Catholic parishes.

"Ecumenist" Saints:

Fr. Matthew spoke of St. Mark of Ephesus as an "ecumenist." Now if you define being an ecumenist as anyone who is willing to sit down and talk with a heretic or a schismatic, in hopes of bringing them back into the Church, then that would be true, but that is not how most people use the term. St. Mark's words on his death bed about the Unionist Patriarch of Constantinople, with whom he broke communion because of his false union with Rome, clearly shows that he was not an ecumenist, in the more usual sense the term is used:

"Concerning the Patriarch I shall say this, lest it should perhaps occur to him to show me a certain respect at the burial of this my humble body, or to send to my grave any of his hierarchs or clergy or in general any of those in communion with him in order to take part in prayer or to join the priests invited to it from amongst us, thinking that at some time, or perhaps secretly, I had allowed communion with him. And lest my silence give occasion to those who do not know my views well and fully to suspect some kind of conciliation, I hereby state and testify before the many worthy men here present that I do not desire, in any manner and absolutely, and do not accept communion with him or with those who are with him, not in this life nor after my death, just as (I accept) neither the Union nor Latin dogmas, which he and his adherents have accepted, and for the enforcement of which he has occupied this presiding place, with the aim of overturning the true dogmas of the Church. I am absolutely convinced that the farther I stand from him and those like him, the nearer I am to God and all the saints, and to the degree that I separate myself from them am in union with the Truth and with the Holy Fathers, the Theologians of the Church; and I am likewise convinced that those who count themselves with them stand far away from the Truth and from the blessed Teachers of the Church. And for this reason I say: just as in the course of my whole life I was separated from them, so at the time of my departure, yea and after my death, I turn away from intercourse and communion with them and vow and command that none (of them) shall approach either my burial or my grave, and likewise anyone else from our side, with the aim of attempting to join and concelebrate in our Divine services; for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from us until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church" [as quoted in The Orthodox Word, June-July, 1967, pp. 103ff, emphasis added].

It is true that St. Mark went to the Council of Florence, and given that the Orthodox bishops had agreed to go, it makes sense that he would have as well, however, the results of the Council of Florence do not indicate that it was a good idea for the Orthodox generally to have agreed to go. It ended with a false union, and further division, which weakened the East Roman Empire at a crucial moment prior to its final destruction.

St. Philaret of Moscow and Grace in Other Churches

Fr. Matthew suggested that St. Philaret of Moscow "recognized grace" in other Churches. I think he had in mind his statements about valid sacraments, which we discussed on the show, and which I mention in an article on the question of "corrective" baptism. Again, if I am mistaken, I would like to see the quotes, but I don't believe he ever spoke of the grace of the Church being present in heterodox sacraments. This of course does not suggest that those who are innocently outside the Church have no relationship with God, and that all that they do for God is without meaning to Him... it just means that this is a matter we leave in God's hands, because it is outside of the Church.

The Pan-Heresy of Ecumenism

Fr. Matthew mentioned the question of the "Pan-Heresy of Ecumenism". The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has anathematized the heresy of Ecumenism as follows:

"Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!"

I suspect that Fr. Matthew would agree that anyone who would affirm what this anathema describes would be affirming a heresy. I think it is important that we speak clearly on this question, because there are, in fact, many in the ecumenical movement who do affirm precisely what is anathematized here.

See The ROCOR's Anathema Against Ecumenism, by Metropolitan Vitaly

See also The Word "Anthema" and Its Meaning," by St. John (Maximovitch)

Uniatism and the Soviets

One final point that I wanted to address was the reference made the the confiscation of Uniate churches in the Ukraine under the Soviets. No religious group in Russia suffered more under the Soviets than the Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Church was hardly calling the shots for the Soviet government. It certainly was regrettable, but hardly worthy of being compared the the official and long standing policy of forced unia on the part of the Catholic Church.


And again, we always focus on what we disagree on, but we should remember what we agree on as well. I enjoyed the discussion, and was glad to hear Fr. Matthew Baker's clear affirmation that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I am also grateful that Ancient Faith Radio provided a platform for us to have this discussion.

For Further information, I would recommend the following pages:

Ecumenism Awareness

False Union with Rome

You can also listen to a sermon I gave on this same topic: True and False Unity.

And you can listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko's comments on this topic by clicking here.

Update: Here is a Roman Catholic assessment of the state of contemporary Roman Catholicism:

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Stump the Priest: What Does it Mean to Trust the Bishop?

Question: "What does it mean to “trust the bishop”? In Orthodoxy, the bishop is the central figure in the church. The priest is the bishop’s assistant, carrying out his will, and the people are told to follow and trust in the bishop. But we hardly know the bishop. He’ll never visit us often enough for us to develop any sense of trust based on personal interactions with him. And over the history of the church there have been some bishops who clearly were not trustworthy, in that they stole or mismanaged money, committed serious sins, or led their flocks into error. So when someone tells us to “trust our bishops”, what should we do? How can we trust them when we don’t have the first idea who they are?"

Obviously, a particular person's experience of their bishop will vary. If you were a member of a cathedral parish, you probably would get to know the bishop very well, even as a layman. But given the numbers of Orthodox Christians in the United States, there are going to be large areas of the country that are not close to such cathedrals. Fortunately, in the case of our parish, even though our bishop's cathedral is just a bit more than a thousand miles away from our parish, we have seen him visit our parish at least once each year, and he comes to our area a few more times a year on average... and so we do get a chance to hear him preach, and for him to visit with people after the services. There are dioceses in which parishes almost never see their bishops, unfortunately.

Our experience of a bishop will not only differ based on geography, but bishops have different personalities, different energy levels, and they also differ in terms of their levels of piety. If you had a bishop like St. John (Maximovitch), your experience of your bishop would be very different from those who have had some of the bishops that we have seen involved in personal scandals. But even among the twelve apostles, one of them was Judas. We should thus not be surprised to see that our bishops are human, and some of them fail in their ministry.

Regardless of how often we see our bishop, how pious he may be, or how much of a personal relationship we may or may not have with him, we owe our bishops our prayers and our obedience:

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conduct.... Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:7,17).

St. Paul also says of himself, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). We should imitate our leaders, as they follow Christ. If we see something in them that is not in accordance with Christ, we should not imitate them in that. But even if we find that they fall far short of being the kind of Christian that they should be, we still must pray for them, and obey them, unless they ask us to do something that is evil. If we have a good bishop, we should thank God. If we have a bishop who is not so good, we should pray that God would make him better.

The canons of the Church tell us that we cannot separate from our bishop simply because we see him sin, or violate the canons and traditions of the Church. We can and should make the synod that he answers to aware of his behavior, if his errors are serious enough to warrant it, but we have to allow the synod of bishops to deal with their brother bishop, in accordance with the canons. Only when a bishop preaches heresy, clearly, unambiguously, and publicly do we have grounds to separate from them. Thankfully, in most cases, our bishops are sincere and pious men, and while they are not perfect, they are not malicious. We may not always agree with their decisions, or understand the reasoning behind them, but we have to follow their instructions (except in those rare instances in which a bishop would require someone to do something that would be in clear violation of the teachings of the Church). We also have to keep in mind that bishops make decisions based on the information that they have, which we may not be privy to. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are acting in good faith, unless proven otherwise. We can also communicate to them our concerns, in a respectful manner, because we may have information that they are not privy to as well.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John wrote: “Flee from divisions, as the beginning of evils. You must all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and follow the presbyters as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no one do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop. Only that Eucharist which is under the authority of the bishop (or whomever he himself designates) is to be considered valid. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permissible either to baptize or to hold a love feast without the bishop. But whatever he approves is also pleasing to God, in order that everything you may do may be trustworthy and valid” (Smyrneans 8:1-2).

Because the Bishop cannot be in every parish in a given diocese, we have priests and deacons, who are the extension of the bishop's ministry. One of the biggest responsibilities of a bishop is to be a pastor to the pastors of his diocese. By guiding his priests and deacons, the bishop is able, through them, to guide the people in his diocese, when he is not there to do so directly, in person.

It should also be pointed out that the people also have a role in guiding the diocese, and assisting the bishop. They do this by their work in their local parish, by their attendance at general parish meetings; and they also do this through their representatives on the parish council, and through their delegates to diocesan assemblies, All-Diaspora Councils, and at All-Russian Councils. In this way, the people ensure that the finances, and organizations of their parish, and their diocese are managed in a transparent and appropriate manner. We tend to get the leadership we deserve, and so if things are not being run well, we probably need to roll up our own sleeves and get to work at helping to fix those problems -- and the more we do that, the better we will see things being run.