During Holy Week, we are preparing for Pascha (Easter), the glorious Resurrection. We celebrated the joy of Palm Sunday, when the Lord came to Jerusalem in glory, and we look forward to Christ rising from the dead. For those of us who don’t attend Church frequently or read the Bible with any regularity, it’s easy to see Jesus as some type of divine life coach, or a Santa Clause type figure, helping us get what we need to make it through life and always being available to listen to our prayers when we need Him. The Jesus of our imagining is all about love, doesn’t like judgmental people, and always understands our problems and why we had to cut corners to get where we were going…
While it’s true that Jesus is loving, understanding, and always there for us, His dislike of judgementalism in us partly stems from the fact that He is ultimately the judge, and when we judge, we are taking that on ourselves instead of letting Him do it. Jesus’ love is always present, but when we reject His love by sinning, we experience His love as correction at first (like when a parent disciplines his child), then as chastisement (the tough-love approach), and finally He allows us to go away fully, at which point we are under judgment. The Holy Scriptures make this clear, and the Church chooses to read these Gospel lessons during Holy Week to drive home the point: following Christ is a relationship, a commitment, there are expectations, and we will be judged on the choices we make and how we perform.
On Holy Monday, we commemorate the withering of the fig tree:
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive (Matthew 21:18-22).
The Church hymns give an interpretation:
O brethren, let us fear the punishment of the fig tree, withered because it was unfruitful; and let us bring worthy fruits of repentance unto Christ, who grants us His great mercy (3rd Aposticha from Bridegroom Matins).
On Holy Tuesday, we commemorate the Parable of the Ten Virgins:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh (Matthew 25:1-13).
Again, the Church offers an interpretation for how we should apply this:
Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness. Beware then, O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep, lest thou be given over to death and shut out from the Kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God: through the Theotokos have mercy upon us (Dismissal Hymn of Bridegroom Matins).
Jesus is always loving, but not always nice, because if He were always “nice” like we often imagine, we would not be challenged to trust in Him alone and not ourselves, and to follow through with that faith by bearing fruit. Instead of filing away this fact in the back of our minds, or trying to synthesize it with the various other opinions we have about God, let’s go to the Bible, read it, begin attending Church regularly, and actually take things on God’s Word, instead of our opinions. Otherwise we may end up like the fig tree, or the foolish virgins.
Disclaimer: The following is a work of satire. My goal is not to make fun of the individual in question, but to illustrate a serious problem which his writings convey: sectarianism. While he certainly makes valid points here and there, the spirit of his essays overall is divisive and I believe counter-productive to the True Orthodox witness.
(RURAL SERBIA/LONDON) Prolific, ultraconservative TOC Author Vladimir Moss shocked the ecclesiastical world today by throwing his support behind a Church Union.
The well-known critic has gone on record opposing every known instance of a Church dialogue, discussion, negotiation, or union dating back to at least 1992, when the ROCOR joined communion with the True Orthodox Church of Romania. He is also known to be apprehensive about joint coffee runs between opposing jurisdictions.
“When you’re a member of the Only True Church Left on Earth—the ROCORIRIEVS—,” he starts, referring to what is commonly known as the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia Inside Russia Into England Via Serbia, “you naturally view any opposing group as Satanic Freemasons attempting to subvert the good thing you have going for you. In perhaps 1% of the cases I’ve seen, there were a few sympathetic people I would have had coffee with maybe, but definitely no inter-communion accords.” Noticing our correspondent’s raised eyebrow, he hurriedly finishes, “I’m just trying to alert the world to the dangers of infiltration by a fifth column.”
Asked about his methodology for researching and compiling his treatises, he points to a recent work against the Kallinikos-Cyprianite Union. “You have to start out with some black-and-white scripture verses—Old Testament references are a must–to set the mood.” This is followed by broad and general condemnations of errors on the part of the TOCs to establish a sense of fairness, feigned praise of allegedly good aspects of the union in question, and then a vicious dissection of the actual details, focusing primarily on hearsay, assumption, casting aspersions, and analogies to past events that may only be tangentially related.
“Framing it into political terms, and playing on Russians’ fears of Greeks trying to resurrect the Byzantine Empire in an ecclesiastical sense are the ways I like to end any such essay. Really gets people riled up.”
Our correspondent asked Moss about his own previous jurisdiction crossing, which at the last tally has seen him be a member of thirteen different True Orthodox Churches. “I’ve just been blessed to have always known to get out before the light switch goes off…you know, before Divine Grace gets switched off?”
Moss shows us his study, which is filled with copious books, articles, clippings, and computer storage devices. On his wall are his diplomas, baptismal certificates, and confessions of faith. “I don’t have one for when I joined the True Orthodox Church of Mauritania (Synod of Archbishop Hesychios). They just let me in by confession. That is how I should have known they would later turn out to be Sergianists!”
He remarks that leaving the GOC-Kallinikos was a close call, though.
“I really waited too long to leave those heretics. This will totally not sound humble, but I have to speak the truth…I think God was preserving Grace in their jurisdiction just for my sake, until I figured out for myself that it was time to move on.”
That is why news that Moss had thrown his support behind a recent Church union came as a surprise to many. The ROCORIRIEVS recently concluded negotiations with the Genuine Orthodox Church of Monaco, and are sealing their union this coming Sunday. Asked what was different about this union, Moss didn’t hesitate.
“Those heretics realized they were hopelessly compromised and that their Church was completely worthless, with no redeeming value. They asked ROCORIRIEVS bishops to not only reordain them, but to rebaptize them first, reconsecrate their Churches, rehear all their previous 20 years’ worth of confessions, and agreed to publicly burn all their theological and liturgical books, replacing them with ROCORIRIEVS-supplied materials. And pray for the Tsar-to-be-revealed in the liturgy instead of that Papist Pseudo-Prince currently usurping the throne.”
Inquiring as to whether this seemed a Church union or more rather a Church conquest, Moss became pensive. “You know? I kind of like the sound of that. Church unions are universally bad. Church conquests are how we should be phrasing these God-pleasing events going forward.”
This week, traditional Orthodox Christians rejoiced as a 30-year division ended; the Synod in Resistance united with the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece. This union is something I had prayed for and hoped would happen, but the many obstacles to it made me think that it would only be a dream. I had worried as well that maybe only part of the Synod in Resistance would unite with us, or perhaps some of our bishops would not accept the union, but in the end, all twenty-six bishops have entered into full communion with each other, forming one Synod that already has been administratively integrated.
Any historical, canonical, or dogmatic analysis of the Union would be interesting on its own merits, but as I often do on my blog, I would like to offer some reflections from a personal angle. From the beginning of my investigation into Orthodoxy around 1998, I was aware of the Old Calendarists and their positions regarding ecumenism and the Church Calendar, and I was always attracted to them; however, it would be some years before I would conclude that I also needed to become a part of the Old Calendar Church. My research at that point was primarily via the Internet, because in Raleigh, North Carolina, there were no Old Calendarists at the time.
When I moved to New York in August 2002 to study theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I began to visit various parishes of every Orthodox jurisdiction, as I was looking for my permanent Church home. I also investigated the Old Calendarist parishes in the area gradually. In addition, our seminary library had an extensive collection of periodicals, including almost every back issue of Orthodox Tradition, the journal published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, which was the English-language publishing house of the Synod in Resistance. I read them all, and got a good feel for the Synod in Resistance and its positions.
I was beginning to prepare for my thesis at seminary, and naturally I decided to do it on something related to Old Calendarists, as I had already spent so much time studying them. I remember writing to Etna and inquiring about their position vis-à-vis the so-called Synod of Milan, whose founding bishop had been a co-consecrator of Archbishop (now Metropolitan) Chrysostomos of Etna. They replied in a polite but firm way that they would not engage in inter-Old Calendar polemic and wished me well.
Next, I began to correspond with Bishop Ambrose of Methone, because I was extremely impressed by the Synod in Resistance’s missionary work in Africa. By some reports, they had as many as 40,000 faithful in Congo, DR Congo, Kenya, and various other places. We have enjoyed now a ten-year occasional correspondence, although I have not written him in the past year or so. He always provided me with information and even sent me a signed photograph of Metropolitan Cyprian one time when I requested it. While I was gradually drawing closer and closer to joining the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians, whose American hierarch at that time was Metropolitan Pavlos, I still respected the missionary activities of the Synod in Resistance.
In 2005, I moved back to North Carolina, and I heard that Archbishop Chrysostomos would be in the Washington, DC area for a few months. I began contact with him in the hopes of arranging a meeting, which did not come to fruition. However, from that time, we have corresponded from time to time, and I have enjoyed his insights on various subjects.
On August 5, 2006 (n.s.), I was baptized into the Orthodox Church by Bishop Christodoulos at St. Markella’s Cathedral, and a few months later I was assigned to a business trip in San Jose, California. I made arrangements to visit St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in Etna, California and the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, which is centered there. After flying for around eight hours with a stopover in Texas, I arrived in San Jose, rented a car, and drove six and a half hours to Etna, where I arrived seventeen hours after leaving my house. I was exhausted, but taken to the Church, where a service was in progress. Afterward, Fr. Akakios, the abbot of the monastery, took me to the refectory and served me a delicious meal.
The next morning, there were services, and afterward, I was taken to my guest quarters and a few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. A monk delivered a cappuccino on a silver platter. He also gave me some theological texts and documents to read, which I did. Finally, I was granted an hour-long audience with Archbishop Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios, where we discussed many things, including my desire to see a union between the jurisdictions. My time spent at the monastery was a great pleasure, and I enjoyed meeting other Old Calendarists outside of my own jurisdiction.
While I chose to join the Church of the GOC because I accepted its historical and canonical arguments, and eventually its ecclesiological position, I always maintained a great deal of respect for the Synod in Resistance for its theological texts, presentations, missionary work, and my personal contacts with its bishops. Seeing this union of their bishops with ours has raised my spirits greatly this week.
When people look at the Old Calendarists from the outside, they initially see various groups with lots of infighting; while it was relatively straightforward for me to go through the various claims and make a decision as to who was ultimately “right,” it was not always so easy for others, especially those living further away from any parish or institution, and as such, the divisions were more troublesome to them and certainly have kept some from joining our Church. In addition, while the division did not weaken my conviction that the Old Calendar Church is the true Church, seeing the divisions caused me a great deal of heartache. The obliteration of this division has eliminated one of the great stumbling blocks for those looking in to the Old Calendar Orthodox Church, and I rejoice in that.
The way forward is filled with great possibilities. Having so many more bishops in the Synod will make its work run more efficiently. Having more parishes and more priests will increase the number of people who are able to encounter Orthodoxy the way most people still come into contact with it: by being invited to a parish by their friends or family. Our Three Holy Hierarchs School can begin to collaborate with the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies to increase the educational opportunities available to our priestly candidates. The union with the Synod in Resistance’s sister Russian, Romanian, and Bulgarian Churches will increase the catholic witness of our faith. May the Lord be praised!
Since I haven’t posted anything new since May 2013, I wanted to take a moment to give you an update. I absolutely love writing, but there have been some other priorities that I have had to take care of that prevented me from producing anything new. I’m now living in Reston, Virginia, having relocated from Raleigh, North Carolina in July. In my limited free time, I’ve been working on some websites for people who contracted with me, and I have also been studying for some certifications at my regular job. As such, I have not posted or even written any new articles, but my mind has been swirling with ideas and I hope to have something new for this site soon.
I wish you all a Happy New Year and a blessed Old Calendar Orthodox Christmas!
Last Sunday, May 5, Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter, which we generally refer to as Pascha. Having received a kind invitation to visit my friend Fr. George Psaromatis in Maryland and stay with his family, I took Friday off and began my journey by car. There are three services that are generally served on Holy Friday in our Church, two of which are generally well-attended by the faithful: Vespers with the Unnailing from the Cross, which is generally celebrated in the early afternoon Friday, and the Matins of Holy Saturday, celebrated Friday evening by anticipation.
I couldn’t make the 1 pm Vespers service in Maryland, and I also wanted to pay a visit to my friends at St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church in Richmond, Virginia, where Fr. Nicodemos Gayle is the priest. They were having Vespers at 2 pm, so I decided to stop there on my way up to Maryland to pray with that community. It proved to be a good choice; I wasn’t rushed in my driving, and the service was fantastic. They have a beautiful building; their old building was gutted by fire, and they were able to rebuild from scratch a traditional Orthodox Church edifice a few years back.
This was also my first time back to Church since I resigned the priesthood and returned to the lay state. I was a little apprehensive, fearing the unknown, but Fr. Nicodemos told me he would take care of notifying people so there would be no surprises. When I arrived, everyone was completely welcoming, and I felt touched by their kindness. After the one hour service, which features a symbolic taking down of an icon of Christ on the Cross and wrapping Him in a burial sheet, followed by bringing out the Epitaphios, a type of burial shroud with an icon of Christ in the tomb on it, we had light refreshments, this being a strict fast day, and then I took leave of these kind Christians and continued on my way.
The journey up to Crofton, Maryland was a long one. I expected there to be traffic, but it was worse than I had expected. The Washington, DC area has some of the worst traffic in the country. What should have taken me 2 hours took me 3 hours. The Matins service at St. Nicholas Orthodox Mission in Crofton began at 6 pm, but I arrived at 6:50 pm. I feared I had missed a lot, but thankfully, the service continued on for another three and a half hours, ending at 10:30 pm. Orthodox services are blissfully long!
What does one do for four and a half hours in Church, you might ask? The entire service is chanted, with beautiful ancient melodies resonating throughout the room. The priest often comes out of the altar area in order to cense (which means to produce incense with a tool called a censer), or perform other actions. We also had a procession outdoors around the block that evening. Bible readings occur, and basically we perform a funeral service for Our Lord. Holy Week in the Orthodox Church is not a bystander event, but one which draws the worshippers into the midst of the action, not just remembering what occurred 2000 years ago, but making us a part of it anew, as we go through the journey with Christ through His Crucifixion, Burial, and Resurrection.
St. Nicholas is a mission community, which means it is just getting started, so it doesn’t have a fancy building, but it has a core group of faithful who are working hard to establish a permanent place of worship. For the meantime, they are meeting in a rented facility, which although small and makeshift, does not lack anything and is in every way as Orthodox as an established parish such as St. Seraphim’s.
After the service, I returned to Fr. George’s brother’s home, where I was treated to kind hospitality by his brother and sister-in-law. We got to sleep late, and then awoke Saturday morning in order to have another service, this time a Divine Liturgy (communion service). At this point, the priest in many local traditions changes from dark vestments to light vestments, although such is not too common in the Greek practice. There are 15 readings from the Old Testament, the most prominent being one from the Book of Daniel, where we recount the Three Youths (Shadrack, Meeshack, and Abendnago) in the furnace, and then chant a magnificent hymn called “Arise, O God!” where we celebrate Christ’s breaking the bonds of death and Hades (the realm of death, Sheol, where all the dead of the Old Testament went, regardless of whether they were good or not; no one could enter Paradise until Christ destroyed the power of Death). In some places in Greece and the Arab nations, bay leaves are thrown and chairs and other things are banged to symbolize the locks being shattered. Fr. George and the parish did not do this, not being familiar with the practice, but I hope to cross-pollinate a little by next year and see it happen there…forgive my presumption!
Holy Saturday afternoons are for rest; Fr. George and I went to lunch to discuss the recent events of my life, and he gave me encouragement and good advice. Then back to the house for rest. We returned to the Church at around 11 pm, and the Pascha service began! The moment was finally here, that we had been waiting for! The beautiful hymns of Resurrection, joyous in both content and nature, replaced the slow, somber melodies we had previously heard. The tomb is empty! Christ the Lord is risen! Orthodox Christians sing a hymn that goes like this:
“Christ is risen from the dead; by death hath He trampled down death by death, and on those in the graves, hath He bestowed life!”
It is repeated a multitude of times throughout the five hour service.
We ended around 4:30 in the morning, and then broke out the meat and dairy products—food that Orthodox Christians fast from during the 40 days of Lent and 7 days of Holy Week. Not only were we spiritually renewed, but we feel a joyous physical relief from the burdens of fasting.
Coming back to the house, I went to sleep, only to be awoken by Fr. George’s five children playing around 10:30 am. I came out and began to speak to them. They are kind, intelligent children, ranging in age between 2 and 10, and I truly enjoyed speaking with them. They are also extremely polite; they offered to help me carry my luggage to the car. I see in them the result of good parenting, and hope for the same in my own life. High expectations combined with lots of love and attention from the parents—founded in a life of prayer, of course—are the right mix to ensure well-behaved children.
A brief 30 minute service was held around 1:30 pm, and then I took leave of this pious Christian family. They were headed for the big parish barbeque (lamb is generally roasted on a spit by Greeks Pascha afternoon) owing to needing to travel back home, but even so, I left feeling fulfilled and refreshed.
As an aside, I have to mention that something ironic happened while I was there. When I was a priest doing mission work among Americans, I always saw myself as a type of bridge between the Greeks up North at the Cathedral and the converts I was baptizing in the South. Many Greeks are sensitive to their culture being preserved, and rightfully so; however, at times this goes over into issues of language in services, and there are concerns about what is going on in missions with English liturgies and people not being familiar with Greek, Greeks, and the history of the Church in Greece.
From the convert perspective, there is of course the concern that one does not need to become another culture in order to become Orthodox, and an expectation that liturgy would be in a language that they understand, and so I generally would try to show people that there is a type of generic Orthodox culture and way of life that has to be grasped in addition to the dogmatic side of things, while also showing the Greeks I know that English liturgies do not take away from their own experience of the faith. I learned some Greek and even can sing several Greek folk songs so that Greeks would know that what I was doing was in no way aimed at changing the Church they grew up with.
Well, there were a lack of Greek people who were trained in chanting this time around, so yours truly was handed the book several times in order to execute some of the chant in Greek for the benefit of those who were first-generation Greek speakers. I also was asked to read the Catechetical Homily of St. John Chrysostom in Greek after Fr. George read it in English. He is able to read Greek, but only if he practices it thoroughly, which didn’t happen owing to the hustle and bustle of the week. So the convert guy saved the day for Greek chant and readings. Funny how things work out sometimes!
I would also like to add that this was the first time in five years that I had experienced Pascha as a layman, and had been at my mission Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Orthodox Church in Greenville, North Carolina in years past. In 2012, we had 32 people there, having started in 2008 with 3 people. I always enjoyed spending Pascha there with the fine people of the parish, and while I had a blessed time in Virginia and Maryland, I truly missed my old parish community during this holy time of the year.
Having become refreshed at these two Orthodox Christian parishes, I highly recommend them to anyone in the area. St. Nicholas Mission will be getting a website soon, at which point I will update this blog post. Whether convert or cradle Orthodox, these two traditional Orthodox parishes will provide you with the means to have peace in your life and save your soul. I thank God for allowing me to worship with them last weekend.
For the sake of aiding discussions on the matter of the Toll Houses and Orthodox views on eschatology in general, I offer some excerpts from our liturgical tradition. There are more, but these are just a few I selected arbitrarily:
“Noetic roaring lions have surrounded me, seeking to carry me away and bitterly torment me. Do thou crush their teeth and jaws, O pure One, and save me” (Ode 3, Troparion 2).
“Behold, terror has come to meet me, O Sovereign Lady, and I am afraid of it. Behold, a great struggle awaits me, in which be thou unto me a helper, O Hope of my salvation” (Ode 4, “Both Now”).
“They that shall lead me hence have come, holding me on every side. But my soul shrinks back and is afraid, full of great rebelliousness, which do thou comfort, O pure One, by thine appearance” (Ode 7, “Glory”).
“O thou that gavest birth to the Lord Almighty, when I come to die, do thou banish from me the commander of the bitter toll-gatherers and ruler of the earth, that I may glorify thee unto the ages, O holy Theotokos” (Ode 8, Troparion 3).
And from another canon at the departing of the soul from the body, for those who have suffered a long time, by St. Andrew of Crete:
“Come all you that have gathered together, who have lived your lives in piety, and lament the soul bereft of the glory of God, for shameful demons are striving to enslave it” (Ode 1, Troparion 1).
“Behold, a multitude of evil spirits are standing about, holding the handwriting of my sins, and they cry out exceedingly, shamelessly seeking my lowly soul” (Ode 1, “Glory”).
“O Sovereign Lady! O Sovereign Lady! Have mercy now on my perplexed soul looking to thy protection only, and do not disdain me, O Good One, who am being given over to demons” (Ode 4, “Both now”).
“Have mercy on me, O all-holy Angels of God Almighty, and deliver me from all the evil toll-collectors, for I have no good deeds to balance my evil deeds” (Ode 7, Troparion 2).
Source: St. Tikhon’s edition of the Book of Needs (Volume III, pages 75 ff.).
On Tuesday, April 3/16, 2013, the Holy Synod of the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of America heard my petition to resign the Holy Priesthood for personal reasons, and accepted it. I have been returned to the lay state. I realize this will come as a surprise to many of you, but it was not a decision taken lightly or quickly. I remain a member of the Orthodox Church, under my diocesan bishop, His Eminence Metropolitan Pavlos. Please keep me in your prayers.
As far as this website is concerned, I intend to continue using it as an avenue to develop my writing career. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and while I am no longer a priest, hopefully I can still use my writing skills for the glory of God and His Holy Church.
Finally, I have time to write you back! I was unusually busy the past two weeks.
I’ve read a little about the Greek Orthodox Church, enough to know that there is one doctrine that might divide us: “Bible + nothing” VERSUS “Bible + church tradition”. Being Baptist, I, of course, would be on the “Bible + nothing” side of the equation. Please don’t let that separate us, brother, because it appears that we are on the same page for many, if not most, of Christian doctrine.
That is one of the issues that Baptists and other Protestants have an issue with, the idea of “Scripture versus Tradition.” I certainly can’t cover the whole topic in one or even ten emails, as entire books, websites, and seminars have been held on the topic. I find that ultimately, all of the issues between Christian denominations boil down to questions of authority.
My basic response is that it is not necessarily the case that we Orthodox believe in two sources. We ultimately believe that properly speaking, the Word of God is Jesus Christ (John 1) and as such the Bible is the “Word of God” insofar as it is a reflection of Jesus Christ and His Gospel of salvation. The Apostles, who were illumined at Pentecost, were given a vision of God and this enabled them to carry on the message of Christ with the same authority. What they experienced—exemplified by St. Paul being caught up into the third heaven, and St. John seeing the heavenly worship in Revelation—is something that is available to Christians in each generation who through God’s grace overcome the passions (and purify their “mind”, which in the New Testament is the word used to translate “nous” which actually refers to the highest faculty of the soul, the intellect, which concerns spiritual discernment).
We do admit, however, that the people who saw Christ personally and were His immediate followers, had a special charisma as Apostles to write down what they experienced and teach it. That is why we only accept the texts written by the Apostles and their immediate disciples (such as St. Mark) as Scripture (while we accept as profitable the many other writings from that time such as the Epistles of Ignatius, etc., and reject as heretical any writing which did not have as central the Crucifixion, which is why the sayings-gospels such as Thomas were rejected as false, because they presented “wisdom” divorced from the Cross of Christ).
Yet the Apostles did not just teach doctrines, they shared this experience of Pentecost with their converts. Life in Christ is not just about believing in Christ, but being sanctified as well, being totally transformed. Doctrines are like the guardrails that make our spiritual experience of Christ valid, because without proper beliefs, we are worshiping a vague “spirituality” and not the True God. Spirituality is the proof that our faith is legitimate, though, on the flip side. Those who are false teachers may appear spiritual for a time, but their flaws and faults are ultimately exposed, whereas the True Christian bears the grace of Christ in a way that is discernable to others. So one’s faith and one’s doctrine, and one’s spiritual life are wrapped up in one, not rigidly separated into categories (if you want to talk about faith vs. works, we can, but that is a separate topic for discussion. I will assuage any concern though preemptively by stating we do not believe in “works righteousness.”)
Obviously, this method of spiritual discipline was something passed down from teacher to student. And there was a context in which the Scriptures were passed down. For instance, you might know that the Bible was not given an “official table of contents” until the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (393 and 397), although St. Athanasius of Alexandria lists the New Testament books in his Paschal Letter in c. 367, and other lists existed before this time, although sometimes people disagreed on things like the Book of Hebrews. How was the list determined? In council, the bishops spoke of which books they had been taught by their preceding bishop, publicly, and of course, they mostly agreed. What had been read publicly in the Churches in common across the whole world was seen as proof of authenticity. The Church had discerned true Scripture from false, and they had done it in council. This whole 300 year process is an example to Orthodox of “Holy Tradition at work”: not another source of doctrine in addition to Scripture, but the context by which the Gospel of Jesus Christ was passed down. Scripture has a primary role, but Scripture has to be understood according to the context of the Church, in which it is born in each generation.
To sum up, the text is passed down, but how it is preached and lived is as much a part of the package as the words themselves. When the Reformers and the Roman Catholics debated “one source” versus “two sources” they were both wrong; there is only one source—Jesus Christ—and the Bible is the primary way His disciples chose to collect this message, but the way the message was communicated and contextualized is very important and authoritative. We witness now many people having commentaries on Scripture, and trying to explain what the passages meant. For Orthodox, we like to go back to the people who lived right after the Apostles, and then their successors, and then the next generation, and see how the passage in question was understood throughout all time. We don’t believe that a doctrine appearing in the 11th century, 13th century, or 18th century is valid; it has to be something that was believed by Christians from the beginning. There is no sense in which the Church “got lost” and then “found itself again.” We see the arguments between Roman Catholics and Protestants as taking two extremes to basically non-existent problems, essentially.
So basically, we believe the Scriptures are the means by which we understand the Word of God, Our Savior Jesus Christ, and the Tradition of the Church is how this message was lived from all generations until the present.
I cannot explain it better than others have already, so if you want to explore the Orthodox view further, please see the articles on this page: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/inq_tradition.aspx
I’m sure, of course, that you are not pre-Millennial or a pre-Tribulationist, but I can live with that!!!
It would be interesting to know what the Greek Orthodox Church teaches with regards to eschatology, if you can point me toward anything.
I am not familiar with all the ins and outs of Protestant views of eschatology, because when I was a Protestant, I was Lutheran, and we did not believe in a pre-Tribulation Rapture. I only became aware of this idea when I was around 16 years old. I think, though, that our view is basically that we are in the 1000 years now, because Satan was bound when Christ died on the Cross and descended into Hades (Sheol) to liberate the captives found there, before arising as victor on the 3rd day. The Church, the Body of Christ, is Heaven on Earth, a foretaste of eternity. Satan’s power is utterly limited now, such that he can only act on Christians when we give him license through falling into sin. Death is destroyed now, and is only a temporary rest, whereas in the Old Testament, even the righteous feared death, which was a guarantee of separation from God, a gloomy, shadowy, half-existence (the Psalms are full of references to this idea).
When a person dies, he is given a particular judgment, and sent to the waiting place for hell or the waiting place for heaven (because they don’t have their bodies restored yet, it is a foretaste in either case). This will ultimately be fulfilled on the day of the Last Judgment, when all people dead will be raised and with those alive at that last time, will be reunited to their bodies and given the final Judgment. Leading up to this time, will be periods of ever-increasing tribulation for the world, but Christians will not at some point get a rapture, leaving Jews to convert and fulfill the final several years. I don’t see much evidence for such a belief before the 1840’s, and references to a literal 1000 year kingdom did occur in a few Church writers in the 3rd century, but were not the consensus, and the Church ultimately sided against this teaching (called Chilianism).
I don’t have any good websites to send you to, because just as some Protestants are infected with the end-times mania of people like Hal Lindsey, we Orthodox have people who like to run with all sorts of prophecies of alleged holy people whom God allegedly revealed things to. I don’t deny that God can do that if He wants, but I am not even sure that some of the things I read on English language websites are accurate translations from the original languages. For instance, our St. Cosmas the Aitolian who lived in the 18th century allegedly predicted airplanes and telephones before the final “great war,” but people who speak Greek tell me they cannot find the actual Greek texts that are allegedly being translated. So I don’t want to send you to Orthodox websites on the topic without having first discerned whether they really represent Orthodox understandings of the End Times, and I don’t have time right now to research the issue thoroughly.
Well, I have rambled on way too long here, and I apologize for my wordiness. If you wish to respond, feel free to. I’d also love to meet you some time in person as face-to-face interactions are more fulfilling to me. You’re welcome as well to visit our Church any time, especially when we have a service on Saturday since you probably are committed to your own Church community on Sunday.
I’ve never been a big sports fan—let’s be clear on that! However, I will attend sporting events or watch them on television if family, friends, or co-workers invite me. I recognize the opportunity for social interaction that can occur during sporting events, and recognize that relationships have to be built and maintained. Not everyone likes to sit around and talk about religion and politics like I do, so a little give-and-take is necessary.
When one has children that are involved in sports, sporting events become even more important. While my daughter is not old enough for sports yet, I can see from my family, friends, and co-workers how sports can positively contribute to the family’s sense of togetherness. When parents go to their children’s sporting events, their children are happy; if the parents have to miss a game for some reason, especially if they had already committed to it, the children are generally disappointed. It’s not just about the sport itself—it’s about the dedication shown and the attention paid to the child. It’s a show of sacrifice, because children know their parents are busy, and seeing them put aside another thing they could be doing in order to attend the sporting event means a lot. We make time for the things that are important to us.
I was raised in a Christian family, and I remember as a child going to church—every Sunday. I also remember that we would go to Church during Holy Week—Thursday and Friday. We went on Christmas, too. It used to be that people who only attended church on Christmas and Easter were called “C and E Christians.” Sometimes that was a label that was thrown around judgmentally—shame on all of us who used it that way—but sometimes it was used not out of judgmentalism, but more out of concern, and even sadness, because there is so much that one loses by not regularly attending Church services. It’s as if a treasure is being offered to anyone that will take it, and yet people pass by the treasure, making excuses for why they can’t accept it (actually, I didn’t come up with that idea—it’s a parable in the Bible. I won’t tell you where it is, though, in case you feel motivated to figure it out yourself!)
Over time, I have noticed that many Christians don’t even attend Church on Christmas or Easter, let alone on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Yet these same people, when prodded, profess to be Christians. They talk about Jesus, the Bible, moral values, etc. Many of them even live a better life than I have. Yet Church attendance doesn’t seem to be on their radar screen. To them, faith in God is something they have “in their heart.” Let’s be clear again—I am not presuming to judge their relationship with God; I am only making an observation and trying to understand how we’ve come to this point.
Perhaps it’s the logical outcome of their Protestant belief system—accept Jesus in some type of personal, spiritual way, and you’re set, so Church is kind of a nice add-on but not really fundamentally necessary. You certainly couldn’t lose your salvation by missing Church, right? (Well, in my opinion, you could, but that’s a different essay topic). The problem is, it’s not just the Protestants among my family and friends that are tempted this way; many Roman Catholic friends and acquaintances are like this, and even some Orthodox, too. Hence I’m not going to delve into the theological underpinnings or try to compare and contrast Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox Churches, but rather continue to focus on the phenomenon itself and why I think it’s unfortunate. I’ll do that by tying it back to sports.
In a few years, let’s suppose my daughter takes up soccer. She begins to do the work, go to practices, train, and starts to go to games. But I never show up.
“Well honey, I love you very much. You’re always in my heart.” I think we all know that excuse would not fly. The response would likely be:
“Then why don’t you show it, Dad?”
To support our children involved in sports, we have to go to the games. It is part of the relationship. In the same way, every Sunday, Jesus is as it were playing a match: in this game, the most important game, he is defeating the Devil, Death, and Sin. It’s really quite an amazing thing, and like our children, Jesus wants us to be there to see it. He wants us to participate. Unlike our children, He doesn’t need our attention, but He does love us, and it makes Him happy when we show our love for Him in return. He also wants us to get something out of the experience—hearing Holy Scripture, receiving Holy Communion, and having fellowship with fellow Christians—which are all things that we can’t do “in our hearts.”
We go to our children’s soccer games, because we love them. If we love Jesus, let’s go to Church, too.
Recently, I traveled to my birthplace of Toledo, Ohio, to attend the funeral of my grandmother, Jane Marcy Cole. She died at the age of 88 on Monday, March 25, 2013. She is survived by her husband Ralph, three daughters, six grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and numerous extended family.
One thing that worried me was that she might have chosen to be cremated, but thankfully, this was not the case. In recent times, the number of people—including Christians—who are choosing to undergo this process instead of opting for a traditional burial is on the rise. I think this is lamentable for several reasons.
First, there is the theological reason. The Christian Church in general was against cremation from the beginning, and the Orthodox Church in contrast to most other denominations continues to ban the practice. We are not dualists; we believe that man is a body and a soul united together, not a soul imprisoned inside of a body as did the ancient pagans. It is commonplace today to hear people talk about their soul being the “real self” and the body just being a vehicle or an external container. This is paganism revived, plain and simple, and this idea is an import from Eastern religions. Christians believe in the resurrection of the body; at the end of time, our bodies will be reconstituted and rejoined to our souls, and in this restored form, we will face God in judgment. As such, we bury the dead, because their body is still a temple of the Holy Spirit; it is still a nexus of the spiritual and the physical. The soul has departed from it, but this is only temporary, and as such the body deserves our continued respect.
Second, there is the pastoral reason. We go to funerals not just for the sake of the one who died, but also for our own sake. A funeral serves as a reminder that we are next. We will all pass away at one point or another, so it is important to be ready for it. If we have not repented of various sins, let’s not wait for another day to do it. This is even more vividly experienced at the funeral of a young person who passes suddenly. Being in the presence of the deceased is a jarring but necessary experience which is diminished when he or she is instead presented in a colorful vase or jar. For this reason I am also opposed to closed-casket funerals except in cases of harsh disfigurement. My own grandmother wanted a closed-casket funeral, perhaps because she did not understand these principles, but at least we the close family were allowed to see her body during private viewing hours.
Finally, there is the psychological reason. When I was a teenager, my beloved pet dog Pipper woke up one morning and couldn’t walk anymore. She was seventeen years old—quite advanced for a dog. My father took her in to put her to sleep, and I did not go. For years since I have had recurring dreams of my dog being still alive, or being lost and then found, because I never saw her expire. In contrast, I was present when my other dog Lucy died, and had no such experience. Seeing our deceased love ones face-to-face is important for psychological closure and moving on. It is certainly hard, but it serves a vital purpose. Seeing my grandmother one last time was special for me and made me feel at peace.
I occasionally meet people who have a fear of funerals and dead people, who make comments to the effect that they would skip the funeral of someone they loved in order to just remember them in the way they were when they were alive. To be honest, this strikes me as avoidance and unhealthy, because the person is in effect pretending that a fundamental event common to all of us has not just occurred, that a relationship has not just been fundamentally altered. They also remain aloof from the rest of the family and friends who are in the grief process, and who benefit from the presence of others. Skipping the funerals of loved ones and friends does a disservice to oneself, one’s loved ones, and the deceased.
If you are a Christian and have chosen to be cremated, I strongly encourage you to rethink this choice and opt for a traditional burial, out of respect for your body, and for the sake of your loved ones!