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Apr 9 09

What Does the Word Theotokos Mean?

by Anastasios Hudson

An icon of the Holy Theotokos

You may have noticed that our Church is named Nativity of the Holy Theotokos, and you may then wonder what the word Theotokos means. Theotokos is an ancient title for the Virgin Mary, which literally means “the Birthgiver of God” or “Mother of God.” Therefore, our Church is named after the birthday of the Virgin Mary, which Orthodox Christians celebrate on September 8.

This title for the Virgin Mary has been in use by the Church from time immemorial. When it was officially recognized at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, it was universally known. The reason that this council met was because a lone bishop, Nestorius, who was the bishop of the chief city in the Roman Empire, Constantinople, had begun to preach that Mary was not Theotokos but rather Christotokos (Birthgiver of Christ or Mother of Christ). He believed that to call Mary the Mother of God implied that she was prior to or superior to God.

The problem with his theology was that it implicitly divided Jesus Christ’s human and divine natures. Jesus Christ is both a man, and God incarnate, at the same time; He is fully God and fully man. A chief consequence of this complete union is that the divine and human properties influence one another. Theologically, this is called communicatio idiomatum, or simply, the “exchange of properties.” So when Christ God raised the dead, He did it through His human voice and hands; when He cured the blind He even used His saliva. These events were emphasized in the Gospels to show that Christ is really a man, and not just a phantom or a spirit that looks like a man, but that He is really and truly human. His divinity empowered His human flesh to accomplish miracles, but it was through Christ’s human suffering and self-denial, His accepting baptism by John the Baptist, His ascending the Cross, and other events undertaken in the flesh that He accomplished our salvation and opened up His grace. His human compassion even led Him to raise His friend Lazarus from the dead.

Since Christ’s human and divine natures interacted and were united, we can say that He is one person; He was not a human that God overshadowed, or a really great person with some divine attributes; He was God Himself. By saying that Mary was only the Mother of Christ, Nestorius was dividing His humanity and divinity. How could Mary be just the mother of Jesus’ human nature, and not of the complete Jesus, who is God? This reasoning led the bishops assembled at Ephesus to proclaim that the ancient title “Birthgiver of God” or “Mother of God” is the most correct statement of faith to protect the unity of Christ as one person. Thus, we can say that Mary truly carried God in her womb.

But why honor Mary at all? We honor her because she points us to Christ, as an example of complete submission to God. When the Angel Gabriel came to her, he honored her by saying “Hail, thou who art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28). After receiving this news, she responded in complete submission: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). We call those who submitted their will to God saints, or holy ones. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they were transformed into God-bearing people. The Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, was the paradigm as she literally bore God; but we also can bear Him by our actions of faith. In every generation, holy people have followed Christ and bore Him to each succeeding generation, providing an unbroken chain of faith. In an age where we idolize actors, generals, musicians, and other famous people, we should instead turn our focus on to the saints, who by their example show us what faith in Christ can mean for our life. For this reason we honor the Virgin Mary and other saints; and to protect the unity of Christ, we call His mother Theotokos.

Apr 2 09

God Remembers Our Labors of Love

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Heb 6:9-12).

Last Saturday in Church, we heard this reading from Hebrews. From this short reading, we can discern three important themes, which form a foundation of our Christian life. These are that God does not forget our works done in love for the sake of His name; that by ministering to others we are ministering to Christ; and that we must have patience and faith until the end to inherit the reward.

The work that is required to maintain the Church is a labor of love in that it is an often thankless job which requires a great love and spirit of self-sacrifice. Some people expect the Church to be there for them when they need it, but do not otherwise frequent its services or support its activities; but the person whose work for the Church is a labor of love quietly comes and does the unglamorous work of cleaning, setting up for services, repairing a leak, and cutting the grass. All of this is done out of a desire to keep not just an institution or a building alive, but a community of believers together, to provide them with a place to gather and worship, to receive spiritual refreshment in the midst of the trials of this life. St. Paul assures us that these labors are not in vain, and that God is not unjust and does not forget them.

Apart from maintaining the physical aspects of the Church, we show our love of Christ by our ministering to others. It is in ministering to others, in this case specifically other Christians (the saints, a term that was used in a biblical sense to refer to all true believers or members of the Body of Christ) but also to strangers, that we gradually acquire the spirit of Christ, converting our broken and self-centered nature into the example of self-sacrifice and total love that He demonstrated. In fact, sometimes we have even ministered to Him directly or to angels, albeit in disguise (cf. Mat. 25:31-46, Heb. 13:2).

Finally, we must demonstrate perseverance and faithfulness in our efforts. We can’t lose hope or become tired halfway through the effort. As Christians, we are called to compete in the race, to constantly examine ourselves and make improvements. In the services of the Church, Christ is often called long-suffering. This is because not only did he suffer on the Cross, an act in and of itself an amazing act of sacrifice, but his entire life on earth was a period of suffering and self-denial, as He is God incarnate. Every act, from having to be contained in a womb for nine months, to learning how to walk, and then to travel about Israel preaching in the hot sun and face hostile crowds in some locations, was an act of self-emptying and love for us. Christ gives us the Church and is services and activities to provide instruction on how we, too, can become one with Him and then enjoy the state of restored humanity, which he demonstrated after His Resurrection, and which the Apostles acquired on the day of Pentecost.

If Christ could live on earth for over thirty years, restraining His Divine powers and glory for our sakes, we should owe him obedience. Yet our relationship with God is one of sonship; he rewards us for doing the things we should be doing anyway. Let’s be careful to constantly give thanks to God, and honor His name by ministering to others. We must be faithful and persevere. The alternative is to wither and become separated from not only God and our brothers and sisters, but also our true self. For instance, there are many people who were once Orthodox who have lost their connection to the Church and as a result have become compartmentalized and cut off from the larger community. Sometimes they had a reason to leave, whether it be a great distance to get to Church, or some bad experience that happened to them in the Church. They suffer the effects of losing the tools established for the restoration of wholeness—confession, communion, fellowship, and labors of love—often not knowing why it is that they feel the way they do. Despite this, they are still called, with us, to persevere and remain faithful, with the promise that God will remain faithful and reward them.

Faithfulness and commitment are hard things to find in modern America. The choices we make, however, ultimately decide the kind of life we will experience. No matter what the reason is that we have become stagnant or estranged from the Church, now is the time to reverse this. In a few weeks, we will celebrate the feast of Resurrection, when Christ restored all creation in Him. It was done by his accepting death, and then undoing its effects by rising and destroying its power. It was not done as an idea or act of will, but it was done “in person” by a God so loving as to come and faithfully persevere while ministering to others for over thirty years.

If you know anyone who has become estranged from Church, or you yourself feel cut off from the community, please make an effort to bring them or yourself back. The smallest effort when performed consistently and in faith will bear great fruit and be a great blessing to all.

Yours in Christ,

Father Anastasios

Apr 1 09

Four Types of Prayer

by Anastasios Hudson

Even in today’s secular world, we hear a lot about prayer. People tell each other, “I’ll pray for you” when something goes wrong. When something bad is going on in someone’s life, they may pray to God for help. Prayer for some people has become more of an exercise in positive thinking and visualization.

The Orthodox Christian Church has many beautiful prayers which developed mostly over the first eight hundred years of its existence since it was founded by Christ. Especially at a time when many were illiterate, the chants and prayers of the Church were one’s education in the faith, along with the images of Christ and the saints (icons). Even today, one finds Orthodox people who have committed large amounts of texts to memory from frequent attendance in the services.

Despite the beauty of these prayers, however, there are some that might object that these prayers are formulaic and that one is not really, “praying from the heart.” This objection, along with a criticism of the fact that some prayers are repeated many times in Orthodox worship, arises from a misunderstanding of the different types of prayer practiced by Orthodox Christians. In this essay, four major types of prayer will be outlined, to give a basic outline of the Orthodox Christian experience of prayer.

The Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy, the communion service of the Orthodox Christians, is the highest form of prayer. The service begins with petition for peace and well-being of the entire world, for the health and salvation of the Christians assembled in worship, and prayers for other intentions. This is followed by psalmody, and the readings from an Epistle and a Gospel. The homily or sermon serves as a bridge between this “liturgy of the Word” and the “liturgy of the Eucharist,” the second part of the service where the bread and wine are offered to Christ, and transformed in to His true body and blood, to be given to those receiving it that day to enable them to go out in to the world and truly make disciples of all nations. For this prayer, a priest is necessary, and it is the most commonly-attended service of the Church.

The Hours. Apart from the Divine Liturgy, there is a continuous cycle of prayer maintained across the world by Christians. These services are held at various times during the day, and accompany the worshipper in to each stage of the day and night. Vespers is the evening prayer, and Compline is a prayer said before retiring for the night. There is a midnight prayer for those inclined to rise in the night to pray, and then Matins is celebrated in the morning. Smaller hours accompany other parts of the day such as noon. While most parishes and Christians are unable to attend all of these services, they do exist and can be prayed either corporately in a Church or privately in one’s home. They are formulaic in nature, and incorporate variable or changing parts that are specific to the day and season. Especially on weekends and major feast days, at least Vespers and Matins are served, and it is during these services that many special hymns tell the story of what is being celebrated or commemorated that day. The Hours allow the Christian to intuitively understand that there is a cycle and rhythm to the day and week, which helps to ground us, especially in this age of short attention spans and hectic, ever-changing schedules.

Private prayer. Each Orthodox Christian is in turn encouraged to develop a personal rule of prayer with his or her spiritual father, usually the parish priest or another trusted priest who gives guidance and confession. The home of an Orthodox Christian is a “little Church” where Christ is honored. Therefore, whether one lives alone or in a family unit, in the morning and at night one should pray regularly for God’s blessings and in order to make progress in the spiritual life. In addition, a very special prayer, the Jesus prayer, is said in private. This prayer, which is a repetition of the formula, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” is normally prayed with a rope with beads, that helps to keep track of the number of repetitions. A certain number is done each day, to help the believer keep his or her mind focused on Christ as the center of one’s life.

Extemporaneous prayer. Finally, there is of course prayer that is offered by the believer in his or her own words, at his or her own time. This type of prayer is the form most known to non-Orthodox Christians, who are encouraged to “make the words their own” and “pray from the heart.” Orthodox Christians also engage in this type of prayer, seeking to know God’s will, offer thanksgiving to Him, repent of their sins, and intercede for the needs of their loved ones and others. Not much more needs to be said about this form of prayer, since it is such a personal and individual act, which is intrinsically understood by most people.

There is no division between the pre-formed, written prayers of the prayer books, and the extemporaneous, self-composed prayers of the faithful in private. Rather, they inform each other. A Christian learns about the proper history of salvation, relationship with God, and the associated beliefs of the Church through public prayer (an ancient statement was that that which is prayed is that which is believed). This allows the Christian to pray properly and appropriately in his own words. In turn, this intimate private prayer allows the Christian to further appreciate the public prayer of the Church and the opportunity to gather together with other believers, in fellowship. The culmination of both types of prayer is the communal celebration of the Divine Liturgy, where Christ is made truly present to those who commune, who thereby become one body.

Before finishing, we can make one comment about repetitive prayer. Some non-Orthodox cite Scripture against the practice of “vain repetitions” in prayer. They believe that repeating prayers such as the Our Father or Lord Have Mercy several times is rote and devoid of spiritual power. The Pharisees thought that by praying repeatedly, they were somehow garnering more favor with God. The Orthodox, then, are like the Pharisees for doing this, they reason.

Fortunately, this is not why we repeat prayers. We do not engage in vain repetitions for the purpose of trying to butter God up and make him more agreeable with our requests. Instead, prayers are sometimes repeated in the Church precisely because we have such short attention spans. The benefit is to us, the hope being that at least some of the prayers will “stick” in our sinful hearts. Over time, the discipline of the repetition forms the mind, and frees it from casual thoughts and distractions. The repetitions of prayer then are the construction of a scaffolding which allows for the development of the interior, in this case our interior life of prayer.

We recommend as a good prayer book the one produced by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery. It contains morning and evening prayers, Vespers and Matins, the Divine Liturgy, and additional devotional services.

Prayer Book by HTM, located off-site.

Mar 3 09

As We Begin Lent

by Anastasios Hudson

March 2 marks the beginning of Lent this year for Orthodox Christians. Lent is a period of preparation for the greatest feast of the Church year, Pascha—the Resurrection of Christ. In order to be ready to celebrate this feast, the Church guides us through the season of Lent, which is a time of fasting geared towards reordering our spiritual and physical selves.

Lent is often called a time of joyful mourning. On the surface, this sounds like an oxymoron, but it acknowledges that while we mourn our sins, we have hope thanks to Christ. God created Adam in the paradise of Eden, and gave him everything he needed in order to survive. Adam sinned against God, and was expelled from Paradise and told that he would now have to toil for his own food. Adam mourned his loss—but God already began to prepare mankind for his coming as Christ, where he would undo Adam’s sin. The culmination of this is clearly seen in the icon of the decent of Christ into Hades on Holy Saturday; while Christ rested bodily in the tomb, his soul descended into the spirit world, Hades, and released Adam and Eve along with all the righteous ones from bondage. We see Christ in the icon reaching down and pulling Adam and Even from the tomb. Thus Adam’s mourning would give way to hope. A hymn from Vespers for the Sunday before Lent illustrates this:

Adam was cast out of Paradise through eating from the tree. Seated before the gates he wept, lamenting with a pitiful voice and saying: “Woe is me, what have I suffered in my misery! I transgressed one commandment of the Master, and now I am deprived of every blessing. O most holy Paradise, planted for my sake and shut because of Eve, pray to him that made thee and fashioned me, that once more I may take pleasure in thy flowers.” Then the Savior said to him: “I desire not the loss of the creature which I fashioned, but that he should be saved and come to knowledge of the truth; and when he comes to me I will not cast him out.”

Adam’s expulsion was therefore a teaching tool that God gave him to effect his salvation since Adam had not responded to the free gift of Paradise. Lent for us is also a time of self-exile when we can reorder our lives. We are accustomed to eating too many rich foods, and being satiated; we become self-reliant. We sit down and relax to the point that we are out of shape. Fasting, a discipline involving limiting food both in type and quantity, restores our bodies and calms the passion for gluttony. It is difficult to do, and thus we are reminded of our dependence on God, who in the Garden of Eden provided Adam with all the food he would need from the trees and plants, and where he did not have to rely on hunting animals to survive.

We also exert ourselves physically by doing prostrations. A prostration is an exercise where we go down on our hands and knees before God and touch our forehead to the ground. This exercise builds humility as we remember that we are nothing in God’s sight, but also helps to fight laziness and sloth. We have longer and more services, which help to reorder our priorities, and we give alms to the poor with the money we save from not eating extravagantly. Finally, we begin Lent by asking each other for forgiveness—for if we expect God to forgive us, we must first forgive each other. All of these exercises together during Lent help to reorder our body and our soul. Adam’s act of eating a forbidden item had spiritual repercussions such as the passion for gluttony; through fasting, we can reverse this spiritual ailment and learn temperance.

Throughout the period of Lent, we will remember our sins and lament, but we will also remember that Christ loves us, and gives us this time of repentance to prepare us for the feast of Pascha. Let us take advantage of this time of self-discipline in order to become spiritually recharged.

Feb 13 09

How Do Orthodox View Non-Orthodox Religious Phenomena?

by Anastasios Hudson

For some coming to Orthodox Christianity, the conversion is a jolting experience where the difference between one’s former way of life and the Orthodox way of life becomes suddenly clear and is a stark contrast. For such converts, and for many people who were born into Orthodoxy and have never been anything else, Orthodoxy is simply true, its rituals and prayers give spiritual strength, and not much thought is given to non-Orthodox religious experiences. There are others, however, who have been religious or spiritual their entire life, and for whom Orthodoxy is the culmination of a gradual approach towards the fullness of faith.

When Orthodoxy is the last step in a long journey of gradually turning to God, the Orthodox Church’s insistence on being the one, true Church often causes one to ponder what then to make of previous spiritual experiences. Some lifelong Orthodox, not having had experience outside the Church, see spiritual non-Orthodox and often wonder if their spirituality is of the same substance as the Orthodox way.

Those of us growing up in Western Europe or America are now trained to be relativists; each culture, belief, and way of life is seen as a choice, and the logical outcome of our rights and freedom. Orthodoxy then presents itself as the true faith, and this seems rather medieval at first glace due to our upbringing. Yet relativism is an empty philosophy which in the end has not served modern man as much as he assumed it would. The belief that all religions, cultures, and practices are equal often leaves man with an empty feeling, or in a state of constant wandering. The fact that there is an alternative, a faith which claims it is the Truth, and can provide evidence that it has remained consistent since its founding by the Lord Jesus Himself two thousand years ago, is a welcome alternative to those burnt out by this empty world-view.

The average Protestant is a also a quasi-relativist by virtue of following the invisible Church theory, whereby all true believers in the Lord are part of His body, which exists wherever His name is glorified. In practice, this means that there are true Christians in various denominations, all of which disagree with one another on many points. Appeals to Billy Graham, missionaries dying for Christ in distant lands, C.S. Lewis, and charismatic faith healings almost invariably follow. In the same way, Roman Catholics will also bring forth their many saints and miracles as testimony.

We cannot remove foreign influences such as relativism so easily, however; while intellectually we come to accept the truth of the Orthodox Church, we wonder about our emotions, our feelings, and our own unique experiences. This leads us to the question: if Orthodoxy is the true faith, then what about miracles and experiences that happen in other Churches, and may have even happened to us? There are three broad possibilities as to what these experiences could be: a creation of our own minds; the work of God preparing us to receive Orthodoxy; and demonic deception.

Most experiences we have are subjective, especially religious phenomena. Mass hysteria and group suggestion can also play a role, such that groups of people can experience something together by the power of suggestion. Our past experiences, such as feelings of intense love, awe, having a powerful dream, experiencing déjà vu, and the like can often be explained with rational explanations. Christians should be careful not to ascribe supernatural origins to every feeling and thought.

Another possibility is of course that the experience did come from God. A sinner who prays in an Evangelical Church for forgiveness and accepts Christ, and then turns his life around, quite possibly did have an experience of God’s love and forgiveness despite the venue (although this must be compared to the often unmentioned revolving door—the high turnaround in many Churches where people fall away from fervor, often getting “saved” again in another Church). God is well aware that the Orthodox Church is not everywhere, and that not all people will have equal access to it at all stages of life. For some, God may allow them to draw closer to Him, and their experiences in other Churches may be part of His will. However, this must always be seen as a condescension, and not as a normal course of affairs. In other words, the Holy Spirit, who is “everywhere present and fill[s] all things” may come to someone outside the Church in order to open them up to receive the fullness of truth later. But we must also recognize that God can act in any way He wills in any place and any time.

The final possibility is that the experience is demonic. This is most visible in the extremes, when we see televangelists preaching the “Word of Faith” gospel of material richness, or extreme Charismatics rolling about on the floor writhing in ecstasy. Such blatantly anti-Christian activities are not from God. While they could be a power of the imagination, when one gets into the area of speaking in tongues and prophecy, a demonic element is often present and leads such people further and further away from the historic Church.

This leads us to the question of measuring such experiences. Is there a way one can know which of the above options any given experience was? Is it even profitable to do so? The Orthodox response might be that it is difficult to know, and is probably not profitable to investigate. A big clue though would be the outcome; as a result of any given experience, did the person come closer to God and His Church, or slip further away? Jonathan Edwards, the famous New England preacher, had ecstatic experiences which led him to become a Calvinist. Many Mormons cite a “burning in the bosom” as proof of the Book of Mormon.

For Orthodox, however, religious experiences before conversion were often steps on the path that ultimately lead them to fulfillment—and what they experienced in Orthodoxy goes far beyond the experiences of the past. Orthodoxy builds on and completes prior experiences which while good were steps, not the end in themselves. By seeing where the person ended up—in or outside the Church—and if they died outside the Church by judging whether they came closer to it in their life (for instance from paganism to Evangelicalism) are good indicators, but again are highly subjective. It is best to leave such uncertainties to God, who is a just and merciful judge.

Orthodox spiritual experiences are never separated from the True doctrine; if we are to have a relationship with Christ, we must know Him, and that means holding firm to the teachings about Him. These teachings have only been fully maintained inside the visible Church He left, which is the Orthodox Christian Church. It is within the body of believers that spiritual experiences can be shared and evaluated, especially under the guidance of a spiritual father. When an Orthodox Christian sees spiritual experiences occurring outside the bounds of the visible Church, he can appreciate God’s boundless love for all mankind, and he should pray that it is God’s grace moving inside the heart of the person to bring him to Orthodoxy. We may be able to point to prior events in our lives as the time when God moved us closer to Orthodoxy, but we must always be aware of the other possibilities for such experiences and remain vigilant. Experiences often add a feeling of confirmation to our beliefs, but we must be cautious not to base our beliefs solely off of our subjective experiences.

Feb 13 09

If Orthodoxy Is True, Why Have I Never Heard of It?

by Anastasios Hudson

As was explained in the previous article, What is the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church believes itself to be the original and true Church of Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy is not large nor is it well-known in the West, however, which often makes people wonder why they have not heard of this Church before. Much of it has to do with the events of history, and part of it is the fault of Orthodox people themselves in modern times given difficult external circumstances of adjusting to life in a new culture.

Historically, there was one united Church in both the East and the West until the late twelfth century. In the West, the most commonly known and powerful bishopric was that of Rome. In the Eastern part of the Empire, which was much more populous than the West, there were major bishoprics in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. These major bishops were given the honorific title patriarch.

The Roman Empire fell in the West in the fifth century, but it continued in the East until much later. Historians often call this the “Byzantine” Empire, although no one in that time would have thought himself a “Byzantine.” Instead, they believed themselves to be Romans and their empire to be the Roman Empire, and it continued until the Turks captured it in 1453.

Because there was a strong empire in the East with large population centers across it, ecclesiastical power did not become as centralized as in the West. With the fall of the empire in the West, the patriarch in Rome, by this time called Pope, was looked upon as the glue that kept the fabric of Western civilization together. The Pope took on thus a political and cultural role in addition to his spiritual duties. Over the centuries, this resulted in the Popes seeing themselves as above the other patriarchs. There was much back-and-forth for several hundred years, culminating in several events which ended up splitting the West from the Orthodox Catholic Church gradually between 1054 and 1204.

In 1453, the Turks conquered Constantinople and the remainder of the Roman Empire fell. This lead the Christians in the East to be mostly second-class citizens, often poor, and unable to share their faith for fear of death, with some notable exceptions. At the same time, the Western powers were in the midst Renaissance and gaining fabulous wealth and strength. Their scientific advances allowed them to travel to and conquer vast amounts of land in the New World, Africa, India, and China. In each new place, the peoples were converted to Christianity via Roman Catholicism or its offshoot, Protestantism. The Orthodox expanded in Russia and through parts of Central Asia, but they were unable to penetrate deep into the Muslim lands. This is a major reason why today there are so many more Roman Catholics than Orthodox in the West.

Turning our focus specifically to the Americas, Orthodox missionaries first came to the New World through the Russian territory of Alaska in 1794, and converted large numbers of native peoples. In 1864, the first parish for Greeks was set up in New Orleans, Louisiana. Within the next fifty years, there were parishes scattered across the United States. A large number of Catholics from Eastern Europe who were familiar with Orthodoxy became Orthodox due to the work of Alexis Toth, a converted Orthodox priest. Often, however, these parishes were seen as havens for the immigrants that came there, which accounts for the second reason that Orthodoxy is not as well known in the West.

There were throughout this time notable exceptions to the ethnic character of Orthodox parishes, and liturgical and spiritual materials were translated into English. A small number of converts were beginning to enter into the Church, and the Church began to become more outward-focused, especially as the children of the immigrants became Americanized. However, it must be remembered that Orthodoxy was still seen as a foreign religion, and oftentimes many Orthodox children left the Church to become “more American.” The lack of resources and poverty of many Orthodox resulted in many of its parishes being unable to stem the tide of this loss, although it was beginning to be supplanted by the growing numbers of converts.

Another major blow to Orthodox expansion was the fall of the Russian Empire to the Communists in 1917. The Russian Empire had been providing funding to the Orthodox in America to help it grow, and when the Empire fell, this led to a large amount of chaos as the support and communications with the home Church were cut off. This placed a great deal of stress on an already stressed-out infant Church in America.

We thus see that two primary reasons why the Orthodox Christian Church is not as well known in the West are due to the vastly superior resources of the Western Churches, and the fact that the first Orthodox peoples in America were either Native Americans living in Alaska or immigrants who were trying their best to survive and fight off the loss of their faith as the pressure to assimilate mounted on them. Fortunately, since the 1960’s, the knowledge of Orthodoxy has been increasing greatly, and the number of converts to Orthodoxy has been steadily increasing. Many priests are converts, and there are parishes made up of large numbers of converts. New missions are forming in many areas which have not seen an Orthodox Church previously, and the Internet is helping to reach people in many areas as well. Now is a great time to see Orthodoxy for yourself, and we invite you to come to join us in worship and fellowship!

Feb 4 09

A Reading List for Academically-Inclined Inquirers

by Anastasios Hudson

One of the most common questions from those looking into the Orthodox Church is, “what do I read?” While English-language resources for understanding Orthodox Christianity have thankfully increased greatly over the past forty years, they are not all of even quality. Most have a slant of one type or another, and oftentimes there are errors of fact or interpretation in the presentation.

It should also be recognized that people come to Orthodoxy for a variety of reasons. For some, the most pressing reason is that the beauty of the worship calls them in; for others the rich spiritual heritage of the Church beckons. For still others, a deep desire to find the historic and doctrinally correct Church is provoked inside them. Of course, these areas are not mutually exclusive, and true worship, true doctrine, and true spirituality are all key reasons why the Orthodox Church is the true Church. But it seems to be the case that one of these pillars usually features more prominently in one’s search than others, and for this reason, the following informal annotated bibliography has been created.

Before directly accessing Orthodoxy via Orthodox sources, it may be helpful for the inquirer to set the foundation using materials that employ a common language to most Westerner Christians. The following are a few standard works:

Henry Chadwick, The Early Church.

This is a succinct treatment of the history of the Church with copious suggestions for further reading. It will take the reader through the basic stages of the historical development of the Church. Chadwick was a famous Anglican clergyman and scholar who held appointments at both Oxford and Cambridge.

Jaroslav Pelikan, A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) and Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700).

Pelikan’s history of the development of doctrine is another standard work. Whereas Chadwick’s book focuses more on the historical events, Pelikan addresses the development of ideas. The work is academic and thorough. Pelikan was at the time a Lutheran but ended his days a member of the New Calendar Orthodox Church of America.

Now that the inquirer has a basic understanding of the history of the Church, a historical work dealing with the Orthodox Church specifically by an Orthodox author:

Timothy Ware (now Metropolitan Kallistos), The Orthodox Church.

This is the most commonly-recommended treatment of the Orthodox Church available in English. It has been through several editions. It is mostly accurate, although it would be wise to note a few deficiencies in it which can be noted in the following review.

A new crop of apologetics works have arisen as well. Converts to Orthodoxy Clark Carlton and Michael Whelton provide decent arguments for why Orthodoxy is the true Christian Church, although the reader might note certain comments and styles of writing that may seem overly polemical or off-putting. These books, while engaging and thought-provoking, are of course not written as contributions to peer-reviewed, academic scholarship, but are rather popular literature.

Clark Carlton, The Way and The Truth.

The Way is geared towards explaining Orthodoxy to Protestants while The Truth is geared towards Roman Catholics, but it may be helpful to read both in order to compare and contrast.

Michael Whelton, Two Paths: Papal Monarchy—Collegial Tradition
and Popes and Patriarchs: An Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholic Claims.

Two Paths is a general account of the trends in Roman Catholicism that led to the First Vatican Council and its declaration of papal infallibility, while Popes and Patriarchs is a modest contribution to understanding the way that some Roman Catholic apologists misrepresent Eastern Church Fathers in order to imagine that they were somehow supporters of Roman Catholic claims of papal supremacy.

Now that the inquirer has understood the major themes of Church history and has a feel for the arguments as to why Orthodoxy is the true Church of Christ from those who have embraced Orthodoxy, it will be beneficial to read two paradigm-changing books by Orthodox authors.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, The Mind of the Orthodox Church.

This book will readjust one’s whole way of thinking about Orthodoxy. It is often hard to find, but is available via interlibrary loan. Excerpts.

Vladimir Lossky, Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.

This is a classic work that shows the interlinking between doctrine and spirituality.

Jan 27 09

Doctrines and Spirituality

by Anastasios Hudson

Have you ever been unsure about some aspect of who Jesus is? Or maybe you’ve heard someone on television preach something one way that sounds different from what you have heard before? You may have even seen a film where the Church is made out to be the bad guy, covering up the truth, such as in The DaVinci Code.

Divergent views about God and division from the Church are unfortunately nothing new. St. Paul warns his followers at least two times in his letters: “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13:9) and “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (I Timothy 4:1). Keeping that in mind, we should not be too concerned when we hear these challenges to our faith, because it is something that even the earliest Christians had to deal with. Sometimes though we wonder why holding a correct doctrine or belief is important to our spiritual life in the first place.

The goal of our faith and spirituality is to have a relationship with God. Specifically, God is not an invisible force, but is a Trinity of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son—Jesus Christ—became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and revealed what it means to be God, by dying on the Cross. The love in the famous passage “for God so loved the World” refers not to an emotional feeling, but rather a state of self-emptying that culminated in Christ’s self-sacrifice of death on a Cross so that death and sin would lose their power and true life with God would be possible.

Because our relationship with God is defined in terms of a relationship with a person, it’s important to know accurately who this person is, or else the relationship will suffer. It’s like if you have an elderly aunt who cannot use the computer or phone, and you only know the details of her life through her son, who gives you frequent updates. If for some reason he reported back mistaken details, or was deceptive, you would not have an accurate picture of your aunt and her state of being. In a similar way, we have the written and oral record of Christ and his teachings, represented by the New Testament writings and the testimony of the bishops who succeeded the Apostles. Those who change the commonly-held and ancient teachings of the Church in effect obscure the Christ who is proclaimed. Such a distortion can have drastic consequences on our spiritual life, by leading us away from the path of repentance and spiritual transformation established by Christ. TV preachers proclaiming that following God will lead to financial wealth are but one example.

The surest way to avoid this pitfall is to follow the lead of those who succeeded Christ, his Apostles, and their successors, the bishops. The bishops in the Orthodox Church today can be traced back to the Apostles, and the faith they proclaimed is publicly on record. This faith is a living faith that has been transmitted from generation to generation. The Body of Christ, the Church, is not just a horizontal collection of all who believe in Christ and have been baptized in His name, but also is vertical, extending back and forward in time to all generations. This surety frees us up from following the whims of the times, in order to focus on the tried and true methods of spiritual growth practiced by Orthodox peoples of all times.

We invite you to worship with us and “plug in” to this spiritual tradition yourself!

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Anastasios

Jan 5 09

On the Truth of the Old Calendar

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year and especially a Merry Christmas! For some of you reading this bulletin, you will have already celebrated the Nativity of Our Lord on December 25 with the civil, Gregorian, or “New” Calendar, while others are among those Orthodox who celebrate the birth of Christ on January 7 with the Julian or “Old” Calendar. Some people have expressed an interest in understanding the difference between the Old and New Calendar Greek Churches, so I thought I’d take an opportunity to do so now since Christmas is the time of year when this difference is most noticeable.

It must be stated at the onset that this issue cannot be explained succinctly in a few pages, so at the end of this message I will provide some links. I am also available to answer anyone’s questions via email or telephone.

The commonly understood argument as to why the Gregorian Calendar was implemented was to fix the astronomical inaccuracy which was causing the Julian Calendar to shift by roughly one day every century. By the 16th century, the Pope’s astronomers had noticed that the equinox had shifted approximately ten days. Therefore, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII issued the bull Inter gravissimas which cut off ten days to realign the calendar with the equinox. The Pope invited the Orthodox to accept this revision, but the Orthodox rejected the change, seeing it as part of a wider program of Latin influences on the Orthodox Church. This formal statement is known as the Sigillion of 1583 and was signed by three patriarchs in the presence of various other bishops gathered in council.

The Orthodox steadfastly refused to change the Calendar since it was the Calendar that had been instituted at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and had been sanctified by use in the Church for all succeeding generations. Arguments about astronomical accuracy were not considered serious objections because the Julian Calendar was the Calendar that perfectly suited the Orthodox cycle of fasts and feasts and was an icon of time, uniting all Orthodox of all generations together in a common cycle.

Things were fine until the modern era in Greece began. An encyclical letter was issued in 1920 by the patriarchate of Constantinople entitled “To the Churches of Christ Wherever They May Be” which proposed a series of proposals for Church unity of Orthodox with non-Orthodox, the first of which was to establish a uniform Calendar. This encyclical was problematic because until this time, the Orthodox Church had consistently rejected the claims of other Churches to being part of “the” one Church of Christ, which the Orthodox Church considers itself to be. Basically, the encyclical was the first attempt to mix Orthodoxy with other Churches without first working out their differences, which was stated explicitly in the beginning of the letter. Almost no one is opposed to trying to fix the divisions among Christians, but the consistent position of the Orthodox has always been that there is only one Church of Christ, and that the other Churches have changed beliefs or practices as they broke away from the one visible Church; reunion thus must be based on a rejection of innovations and changes and not on compromises or cleverly-worded agreements that are more political than religious in nature.

This encyclical was followed by the introduction of the New Calendar in Greece in 1924, which separated the Church of Greece’s festal observances from the other Churches. Within Greece, a large minority of people refused to accept the change in calendar, although this was complicated by the fact that the Church in Greece is a State Church, and anyone who stayed on the Old Calendar would be denied state pay and in some cases there were even persecutions and arrests. At one point, priests were arrested and taken to the basement of the Archdiocese in Athens where they were clean shaven and put into laymen’s clothes and put on the street. One woman, St Catherine Routis, was even killed when she tried to defend her priest from the police, who hit her in the head with a rifle butt.

It is important to note that the Greek state took an active role in this modernization program; this was the time of conflict between the Royalists and the Venizelists, and Venizelos had an active relationship with the ambitious Meletios Metaxakis (who was at various times Archbishop of Athens, Archbishop of Cyprus, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Patriarch of Alexandria and active in America). Greece was seeking to become a modern, Western state, and Church “reform” was seen as a key part of the equation. In order to have good relations with the British, the Orthodox should become more modern, like the Anglicans, in these men’s plans, which can be clearly seen by reading their published letters to one another.

Initially, no bishops stayed on the Old Calendar, because of fear or because of confusion, or because they believed they could persuade the others to return to the traditional calendar. During this time, the priests from Mt. Athos often came to celebrate for the people who did not have priests on the Old Calendar. It is important to note that on Mt. Athos, which is universally known to be a center of Orthodoxy, almost the entire monastic population refused to accept the New Calendar or to pray with the bishops who had accepted it. They were called “non-commemorators” because they did not accept the bishops who had innovated.

By 1935, however, several bishops realized that they could no longer in good conscience serve on the New Calendar, so they returned to the Old on May 13, 1935 in front of a crowd of thousands. They ordained new bishops and formed a Synod which called itself Genuine Orthodox Christians because they followed the ancient and unchanged practices of the Church. The State immediately moved against these bishops, and some were exiled. Some were enticed to return to the New Calendar with threats and bribes. By 1955, the last Old Calendarist bishop from this original group, Metropolitan Chrysosotmos of Florina, reposed, and the Old Calendar Church was without bishops. They appealed abroad, and by the 1960’s, bishops of the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR) consented to ordain new bishops. In 1969, this was officially sealed with a document of intercommunion between the Russian bishops and the Greek Old Calendar Church.

The response of the New Calendar Church to the Old Calendar Church is usually to label it uncanonical, fanatical, old-fashioned, “basically pious but misguided,” or a joke, although there are some prominent exceptions. The problem with the label uncanonical, however, is that the Old Calendarists are the ones who have maintained the canons of the Church, by not altering the practices of the Church. As stated above, the change of the Calendar was only part of a larger program of compromise which includes less fasting, western styles of music in the Church and dress by the clergy, the drastic curtailing of confession, questioning of traditional Orthodox practices and beliefs, and praying with non-Orthodox clergy who deny central Orthodox beliefs (such as many Protestants who deny the Lord’s true presence in the Eucharist).

What we see then is basically a program by the Greek state to modernize and Westernize its population included a plan to modernize and Westernize the Orthodox Church, since it was such an integral part of the Greek kingdom. Those who stayed true to the ancient Orthodox practices were labeled as schismatics or uncanonical, while those who disobeyed previous councils and changed the teachings of the Church claimed to be the legitimate Orthodox. The majority sided with the modernizers, but this should not be taken as any sort of proof of legitimacy; the majority of people will simply go with the flow. The Old Calendarists are the smaller of the group, but they are the ones who, despite persecution at times and disdain and dismissal at other times, have preserved Orthodox practices. Given the general problems in the world today, where traditional values and Christian society are being dismissed, the traditional Orthodox practices are an important corrective, and attempts to modernize in order to “reach the modern person” have taken away this opportunity, making the Church seem no different than any other association. The Old Calendar Church maintains its stand in the hope that others will be encouraged to return to traditional Orthodox practices. We invite you to come and see for yourself what we are all about, and we are available to answer any questions you may have. If you are unsure about worshipping with us, you may also come around 11:30 on any day when a liturgy is served to meet me after liturgy.

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Anastasios

1) Sigillion of 1583:
2) Encyclical of 1920:
3) A Scientific Examination of the Orthodox Church Calendar (available for purchase:
4) Excerpt from the book Against False Union on the Calendar question:

Nov 30 08

How to Prepare for Christmas

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends in Christ,

Thanksgiving has passed, and we are now jumping into the “Holiday Season.” Even in times of economic slowdown, shopping continues, and many of us will be invited to various holiday social functions at work, or at the homes of our family and friends. This is a good time to catch up with our loved ones, but it will be a more rewarding time if we keep a few points in mind.

The first point to remember is that leading up to Christmas, Orthodox Christians begin a period of preparation which includes fasting. The general rule of fasting is no meat or animal products during the forty days before Christmas. Young children, elderly people with medical needs, and pregnant women are either exempt from fasting or have traditionally cut back on the rigors of fasting proportionate to the needs of their situation. Those new to Orthodoxy may also find it beneficial to ease into fasting gradually under the guidance of their local priest. I am available via telephone at any time to address any concerns about fasting.

Why do we fast? One reason is that the types of food we give up—animal products—are the types of food most commonly desired and which we are most likely to over-consume. It is rare that anyone will admit that they have just overindulged in broccoli, for instance. But a hamburger, or cheesy dishes, or ice cream are all things we can eat too much of—especially in the hustle-bustle leading up to Christmas. Fasting allows us to free ourselves gradually from the passion of gluttony, which slows us down, hurts our health, and reduces the time we have to pray since we sleep more when we overeat. Fasting helps us to overcome various other spiritual ailments, as Christ himself taught (Matt. 17:21).

We can also prepare for Christmas by remembering the poor among us. Here at Holy Theotokos we recently had a charity dinner to benefit the Ronald McDonald House, which assists the families of sick children who need to stay in the area for treatment long-term. We also have instituted a clothing closet to provide needy families with something to wear. If you know of a local charity that helps the poor, you can donate your time or treasure to them as well. We mustn’t forget these basic Christian practices in the hustle and bustle of our own preparations.

We should also plan to attend the liturgy as much as possible in the time leading up to, surrounding, and following Christmas, as Christmas is not a one-shot experience, but rather a cycle that we are drawn in to, which has a culmination in the Nativity liturgy, and which we then remember for twelve days, leading up to the feast of Theophany (Christ’s baptism). Please consult the calendar for when we will be having services.

I look forward to seeing you soon at liturgy and may the Lord bless you as you prepare yourself for his Birth in the flesh by fasting and charity.

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Anastasios