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Nov 2 08

Patience and the Harvest

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends,

In a recent Gospel reading, we heard the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15). The Sower cast seed on the ground, and it landed in various places. Some of the seed fell to the side, and was devoured by birds.

Other seed landed on rock, grew immediately, but then lacking a source of water, choked. Still other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns choked the seed. Finally, some seed fell on good ground, and bore the Sower a rich return.

Christ compares each of these scenarios to people hearing the Gospel.

Some have the word taken away by the Devil, while others become excited and fall away at the first difficulty. Some believe the message, but are more concerned with worldly concerns. Finally, some receive the Word of God, and bring forth a harvest—but with patience.

God gives us the tools we need to produce this same harvest. We were created in his image, and he gives us his grace as nourishment for our souls. He also gives us free will—a choice in the matter—which means that how we end up responding is our own decision.

Working in a small mission such as ours, there will always be people who hear the news of the new Church, become excited, and then disappear. There will be others who come but do not commit because of their other priorities. Still others will be against us from the start. However, Christ is the Sower who planted our mission, and he is watering it with Divine grace, which we receive from the celebration of the Holy Liturgy and the preaching of the Gospel. We should not allow any distractions to take us off course; as we progress spiritually, we will ourselves bear fruit, and this includes seed which will germinate those around us in the community. As the community sees the positive impact the Church has on our life and on others, more will be inspired to join us in our work. But it will be a slow process which will require much patience. The seed that grew in the fertile ground did not appear as quickly as the seed that was on the rock, because it was more immediately exposed to the sunlight, but it grew roots which let it weather the storm.

For those who are receiving this mailing who have not yet visited the mission, I extend to you my greetings and an invitation to come to our next service. I would love to meet you and hope that you will be inspired to join with us in our worship and charitable work!

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Anastasios

Oct 21 08

Our Missions in North Carolina

by Anastasios Hudson

When I meet people from our more established parishes, they are often curious to hear about our missionary endeavors in North Carolina. Coming from parishes that have been in existence for some time, which gather to worship in full-fledged church buildings with chanters and a congregation made up of many mature Orthodox families, mostly of Greek background, with a smattering of converts, they are often surprised to hear about our work here and what life is like on the “frontiers” of Orthodoxy. With the dual aim of providing further information to our brothers and sisters in the other parishes, and increasing interest in missions so that others may become interested in entering this field, I have decided to compose a few words about our life here and experiences.

The missions in North Carolina were born out of practicality. My wife and I lived in New York when we were doing our Master’s degrees, and it was there that we found St. Markella’s Cathedral and the Old Calendar Orthodox Church. However, upon completion of our studies, we returned to North Carolina to be near our families. At this point, my wife and I had still not joined the Orthodox Church, and our distance from any Old Calendar parish made church life an ecclesiastical desert. We went to New York for the feasts, and finally in August 2006 we were baptized, even though Metropolitan Pavlos had remarked, “you have been Orthodox in your heart for a long time.”

Returning to North Carolina, we prayed about our church situation, and receiving a blessing from Metropolitan Pavlos, we began to hold Reader’s services. For those not familiar with the idea, a Reader’s service is any service that is done without a priest; the priest’s parts are removed but the majority of the service stays the same. We did Matins (Orthros) this way, and then the service of Typica, which is the Reader’s service equivalent for the Divine Liturgy.

On a weekly basis, my wife and I were joined by her brother for services, and occasionally friends or guests would accompany us. On one occasion we had ten people with us; but most weeks it was only the three of us. This continued from November 2006 until November 2007. At times it was daunting, but we never wanted to give up, because we knew that patience would pay off.

In August 2007, we were blessed to move in to a home, and we constructed a fully-functioning chapel there. Bishop Christodoulos came with Fr. Savvas and a priest from Florida and we celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in November 2007. While there was not a huge crowd, it was a reverent service which filled us with hope for the future.

Over time, with no priest, growth was not occurring, so it was decided to make me a priest so that liturgy could occur each week here. In the meantime, a blessing occurred when a family contacted me from Greenville, North Carolina, a town about 90 miles to the east of Raleigh. They had discovered the Old Calendar Church, and were willing to set up a Church in their town if a priest could be provided. Around the same time, another man in Raleigh found our mission online, and began attending services. He is now a catechumen preparing for baptism.

I was ordained deacon in April 2008, and priest in June 2008. In June the family in Greenville had a tenant move out of their rental property, and they converted it in to a Church over the next few months. I celebrated the first liturgy on September 8/21. At Vespers were eight individuals; at liturgy six. Two weeks later, we had the second liturgy, with twelve people in attendance. On the third service, many of the same people returned, and we are praying this becomes an established pattern!

Currently, I serve liturgy three Sundays a month in Raleigh, and one Sunday and two Saturdays a month in Greenville. In Raleigh, I serve in my Chapel. It’s hard to get the word out because there are concerns both on the side of those interested in attending that the service is in a home; and there are concerns on our side to advertise our address to the whole world. So we proceed cautiously, and this accounts for the slower growth in Raleigh. If ten regulars can be found, we can probably start renting a space, which may help growth. As God wills.

In order to serve in Greenville, I have to take down all the altar vessels such as the chalice, diskos, censor, antimension, bowls, and everything else, and pack it carefully. We then leave early in the morning to arrive in Greenville, which takes about an hour and a half in the car. When we arrive, we begin to set up for the service, usually the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Our chanter from Raleigh usually accompanies me, and when it’s a Sunday Presbytera comes, too. She tries to make it on Saturdays when possible though, since we all benefit from the additional fellowship.

When the service is over in Greenville, I have to carefully pack everything back up. I join in a trapeza—a festal meal—with those attending, and then we return to Raleigh. We usually are back by three o’clock. It’s a long day, but it’s work that I love doing.

Long term, the hope is that candidates will be identified that can also serve as priests. St. Paul traveled from town to town, and ordained responsible local candidates before moving on. It is my hope that the mission in Raleigh can develop to be a regional hub for southern missions, and that Greenville will produce a priestly candidate in the next few years. God will provide for us and guide us in the direction we should go.

Similar missionary work is occurring in other places. The newest two communities besides ours are Holy Mother of God in Charlottesville, Virginia, and St John (Maximovitch) in Palmer, Massachusetts. There are some other missions and mission stations (potential missions) growing elsewhere as well. For a full list, consult the directory on the diocese’s website.

This is only the beginning of our efforts, and we encourage everyone to be aware of missions. Even if you live in an established parish, you can help us with your prayers, and by sending us your friends and relatives if they live near us, are moving near us, or visiting the area. Donations of icons or other church items are always welcome. If you are in an area with no Old Calendar Orthodox Church, maybe you are being called to follow our footsteps. Contact me if this is the case and I will be glad to help you get started if the bishop blesses it. And if you are in an established parish, bring your friends and relatives to the Church; we all are responsible for growing the Body of Christ. In our lifetime, we may see an Old Calendar Orthodox Church in every state!

Sep 29 08

Introduction to Our Mission

by Anastasios Hudson

Dear Friends,

It is a great blessing and honor that we recently celebrated our first cycle of worship services at the newly formed Orthodox mission in Greenville, NC. Our inaugural liturgy was celebrated on our parish feast day: The Nativity of the Holy Theotokos.

Normally we celebrate a saint on his or her date of death, as this is the birthday into Heaven; but with Christ, the Theotokos, and John the Baptist, we celebrate their Conception, Birth, and Death. With Christ, it is because each event in his life had significance directly for our salvation, and with the Theotokos and St. John the Baptist, it is because the events in their lives point us to and serve as parallels to the events in Christ’s live.

The Virgin Mary was born to Saints Joachim and Anna who were barren; and this is a precursor to the Virgin Mary giving birth seedlessly.

From the first reading at Vespers, we see that Jacob’s ladder is a type of the Virgin Mary; she is the gate from earth to Heaven, by which God comes down to us.

We see in another reading at Vespers that the Virgin Mary is the gate through which no man has passed except the prince; who after having passed, left the gate unopened. This refers to Christ and the Virgin birth.

We read in the Scripture readings on Sunday about the snakes and Moses; the Israelites worshipped idols and as a result, God allowed poisonous snakes to bite them; they were saved when Moses put the image of a snake on a pole and they looked at it. Moses putting a snake on a pole is a type of Christ hanging on the Cross; when the Israelites put their mind on things earthly, they sunk like Peter in the water, but when their eyes were on the snake, they were “lifted up” to good health and salvation; so when we look up at the Cross, we are lifted up. This may lead to us sharing in Christ’s suffering, but now suffering and death have meaning for us and can be overcome.

I look forward to seeing at future services and sharing the Lord’s word with you.

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Anastasios

Aug 21 08

What Is a Mission Parish?

by Anastasios Hudson

When someone says the word church, the most common image is of the building in which the members gather to worship. However, not all communities, especially those starting out, are able to purchase and maintain a building and land on which to hold their services. Others may have a building but may not have a priest to serve them. Still others may have neither a priest nor a building, but are nevertheless comprised of serious people meeting together working towards this goal. All of these assemblies—whether comprised of three people or twenty—are equally valuable in the site of God; as Christ taught in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

In order to classify the type of community though, words such as parish, mission, and mission station are often used. While not universally-agreed upon terms, a parish is usually considered to be a community with a building, a full-time priest, and a certain number of families. A mission is a community that either has a full-time priest or a building, and a mission station is a place with neither priest nor building but a dedicated group of people working toward that goal.

St. Mark’s Mission has had Fr Anastasios as a priest since June 2008, and is currently meeting in a Chapel until enough people are members of the Church and moving to permanent facilities becomes a feasible option. In many ways, however, this is a great blessing, because it allows the new members to become fully integrated into the community and promotes close relations amongst one another, while working towards a common goal: the building of the physical Church building.

Aug 6 08

What Is the Orthodox Church?

by Anastasios Hudson
Christ Descending into Hades

Christ Descending into Hades

The Orthodox Church is the original Church founded by Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles were gathered and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. For many modern Christians, there is little knowledge of what happened after the Bible was completed and the last Apostle died.

A common idea is that soon after the Bible was completed, people began to misunderstand it and add their own beliefs to those found in Scripture. This led to the formation of various denominations. Seeing this division, but knowing that Christ is one, a closely-related theory proposes that therefore, as long as you believe the essentials, such as that God is a Trinity, Christ is God incarnate, and salvation is having one’s sins forgiven by Christ’s death on the Cross, you are a Christian, and that true Christians exist in each of these denominations and Churches.

Unfortunately, these widely-held theories do not hold up to the historical record. Jesus Christ left no written record of his earthly life, and the writings of the Bible were not completed until some sixty years after his death. What is most startling, however, is that there was no agreed-upon list of what books constituted the Bible until the very end of the 4th century, when a series of councils were called to decide once and for all what was to be included in Scripture. Practically speaking, this means that for almost four hundred years, there was no Bible as we know it, and what kept the Christians together then was not a book, but a body—the Church—which continued from that time on and continues today. In fact, the Church is called the “pillar and foundation of truth” by Saint Paul in his First Letter to Timothy 3:15.

It must be mentioned that there was only one Church through this time. There were false teachers and false beliefs being promoted, even in the New Testament times, but these false beliefs were rejected and if people insisted on them, they were to be avoided, so they would not cause confusion among the faithful. The Bible says: “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject” (Titus 3:10).

Any difference of belief from what was handed down from the Apostles was seen as a break from the Church and from Christ. The Apostles appointed people to follow them, who are called bishops, and this line of succession continues until today. The Orthodox Church is the only Church which has maintained completely all of the teachings of Christianity without every adding, subtracting, or changing these teachings.

What we believe has a direct impact on how we experience God and what kind of relationship we have with Him. For example, if we are driving and have a map that is wrong, we might not get where we are trying to go, but instead drive around in circles. If we believe incorrect things about God, we might never get to know Him truly. However, in the Orthodox Church, we can be sure that the priests and bishops are not making up their own ideas, but are passing down what they learned from their teachers, in a chain going all the way back to Jesus.

Why do we need to go to any Church at all, though? Besides to make sure that we understand the Bible the right way and all of the teachings of the Christian faith, we also need to participate in the life of the Church. The Church is called the Body of Christ, because in it we share in His life. In Baptism, we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). In the Church, we receive the forgiveness of sins (John 20:23), and when we receive Holy Communion, we are receiving the true Body and Blood of Christ—not just a symbol. Jesus says that if we do not receive Holy Communion, we do not have Him dwelling in us (John 6:53). It is only in the Church that we participate in these Mysteries. And by doing this, we join together as one body, breaking down the barriers that exist between people. Christianity is relational; to have a personal relationship with Christ, we need to be part of His Body.

In every time and in every place, God has shown the power of His Grace which transforms the lives of people. Those who best exemplify this are given the title of Saint. Saints are our older brothers and sisters in the faith, who watch out for us along with the Angels.

What Do I Do Next?

Finding the right Church is not like going shopping for new clothes; we don’t decide which Church to go to based on the best sermon, the most activities, or which one we simply like the most. Instead, we need to look for the Church which believes and acts the same way as the Early Christian Church. Evidence will show that this is the Orthodox Church.

The next step is for you to get into contact with an Orthodox priest and plan to visit an Orthodox parish. You should see the Church in action to get the full picture. The Orthodox Church appeals to all the senses: worship involves beautiful icons (images), incense, chanting, hearing the Bible read, and preaching. It is unlike anything you have ever experienced before!

The Orthodox Church in the United States is small, and becoming an Orthodox Christian and living an Orthodox life afterward is not an easy thing. However, the benefits are far greater than the difficulties. We know that nothing good in life comes easily, but we also know that the reward of working hard and getting ahead is very sweet. If we think this way about our careers, how much more we should think this way about our spiritual life!

Aug 1 07

St. Markella’s Reflection

by Anastasios Hudson
Exterior of the Cathedral of St. Markella

Exterior of the Cathedral of St. Markella

I really like our Cathedral, St Markella’s, in Astoria, NY. It always seems so alive, with things going on every day all day long.  One thing that is different about a church in the middle of the city is it is open all day every day for people to go and pray. You don’t get that in suburban churches as much; the local Greek (New Calendar) Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I live, is set up on a hill with trees around it for instance.  I can understand why this is, but I still love visiting New York and knowing I can go in the Church and light a candle or talk to a clergyman, monk, or nun if I need to.

Liturgy at St Markella’s is fantastic. It usually begins with Matins around 8 am.  Most people are not there yet (an unfortunate practice everywhere, I have noticed) but the service begins quietly. The psalms are recited reverently and then the hymns begin to be chanted in magnificent Byzantine style.  There are several chanters, but one in particular I am fond of, who has a rather powerful command of the chant. When he sings, I imagine that he is pounding the music, reminding it who is in control.  It is very conducive to the flow and order of the prayer to have the chanter in absolute control of the music.

My favorite part is when the bishop comes out to bless the first time during Matins. Something about him coming out with his staff and blessing, then ascending his throne. It is very moving to me.  Matins continues, and the priest reads the Gospel. He then covers his hands and his face with his vestments so that we will venerate the Gospel book but not his hand. Liturgy begins and goes on for about 2 hours.  The Cherubic hymn is sometimes upwards of 10 minutes. It is so beautiful. I once had a strong experience while praying during this time.

There is a strong fellowship after the Liturgy and the people do many projects together such as our Homeless Program.  Not everything is perfect at our Cathedral but it is a real community and I feel a true part of it. Even though I now live eight hours away and am working on a mission, whenever I visit I feel spiritually recharged and I rejoice at the chance to see my friends there.

Our diocese has a Metropolitan Council and it has members from all of the parishes and monasteries.  It was a real blessing to be at the inaugural meeting and to see the sense of common purpose.  We are working towards the same goal: maintaining and propagating the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ—the Orthodox Church.  We are people from many different areas working together for the same goal, Greeks, Americans, and Russians among others.

I am so proud to be an Orthodox Old Calendarist and I am so blessed to be a member of this wonderful Church.

Apr 26 05

The Relationship Between Sickness and Sin

by Anastasios Hudson

The question before us today is the nature of the relationship between sickness and sin in the Orthodox understanding. The Holy Bible is the first place we will turn in order to understand this relationship. The Orthodox Church also has a service, which is understood to be a sacrament, called Unction. This service includes many hymns, prayers, and scriptural references addressing this topic and therefore, in order to explain the relationship between sickness and sin, we will take a look at this service, which can be found in various places, but which is most accessible in Hapgood’s Service Book.

The first thing one realizes when approaching the topic is that the Orthodox Church is thoroughly anti-Manichean or dualist. The Manicheans preached a type of “matter is evil, spirit is good” theology that led them to forsake the body. Modern-day proponents of this theory are various New Age groups and the Christian Scientist Church, which denies suffering as a reality. The Orthodox, following Scripture, see the body and soul as intrinsically united and eternally inseparable (even though death provides a temporary rupture). Hence the Orthodox understanding sees bodily and spiritual health as intimately linked, and both are seen as being affected by sin.

The cause of the illness that prompts the faithful to approach this sacrament is assumed to be sin. Canticle III, 2nd Sedalen states: “…do thou, the same Master and Lord of all, grant healing unto thy sick servant. Show compassion, have mercy upon him (her) who hath grievously sinned.” Sin is an ontological reality that separates man from God. The paradigm of sin is of course the Fall of Adam. Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden cut him off from communion with God and he was forced to leave his entire life as he knew it. Adam had to toil on the ground and ultimately die as a result of his sin, and his son Cain killed Adam’s other son Abel. St. Paul explicitly states in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” In Corinth, some of the members of the community were even dying because they were receiving communion without discerning the body of the Lord; their sin brought about a physical death. From these examples we see that both sickness of the soul and the body arise from sin. Sin is also seen as a paralysis. In the hymn of Tone 3, we pray, “raise thou up my soul, which is cruelly paralyzed by all manner of sin.” Paralysis in the biblical worldview was often thought to stem from the parents’ sin or from the sin of the paralytic, paralysis being a retributive punishment. Therefore, sin itself is a paralysis that can only be freed by a miracle: God’s grace; we humans certainly cannot free ourselves from sin.

Despite bodily and spiritual sickness arising from Adam’s sin, they should not be seen as simply a punishment from God. Because of this estrangement from God, God in his love became incarnate as the “second Adam” to restore man to himself. Sickness and suffering on the Cross were transformed into a way for man to be united to God. Baptism is the principal way for man to be united to Christ. However, man tends to fall into sin and sickness will result even post-baptism; hence, the rites of penance and Unction exist to restore and witness to the restoration of the believer to the community. Sin separates man’s heart from others, and the sickness that results and which can progress until it visibly creates a separation between humans is really just a physical manifestation of an already-existing condition. The sacrament of Unction is a way for the followers of Christ to visibly participate in this work of reconciliation by professing their faith and asking for healing from Christ. St. James asks in the epistle read in this service:

Is any among you afflicted? Let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed any sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:10-17).

Death itself is a mercy from God because it limits suffering and sin to a finite period, and gives man a motivation to cease his behavior and return to God. Jesus Christ overcame death itself then, and to those who die to sin he gives the resurrection and new life, which is best expressed on this earth by the forgiveness of sins.

Sin breaks a relationship with God, and it is the healing of this relationship—the health of the soul—that is the primary focus of the anointing service. However, the healing of the body is not excluded, and such a healing is assumed to be an interest as well. The first Troparion of Canticle I states: “O Master, who ever makest glad the souls, and likewise also the bodies of mortal men, with the oil of loving-kindness…” The priest’s prayer at the actual time of anointing states, “Heal thou, also, thy servant, N., from the ills of body and soul which do hinder him (her).” The anointing with oil is a sign and guarantee of the mercy of God. In fact, in the original Greek text of the sacrament of Unction, there is a play on words, given that oil in Greek is eleon, and the Greek word for mercy, eleos, in the accusative form, is eleon. Through the oil is given God’s mercy. When we as Christians approach this sacramental act with faith, God’s mercy and healing are given to us. A physical healing may be granted as well, depending on God’s pleasure. When Jesus healed the paralytic who was lowered through the roof in the Gospels, he first forgave his sins, and only then cured him of his physical ailment to demonstrate that he had the authority to do so. The forgiveness of sins was the primary focus, not the physical healing, which was only granted as a sign. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus still had to die again, so we can infer from this that healings are for the purpose of teaching and manifesting God’s grace in a dramatic way. The passage with the paralytic is also instructive because he was healed by his friends’ action of lowering him down; he nowhere in the passage asks to be healed. This shows us that we as the community and Body of Christ have a strong responsibility for intercessory prayer to help one another be healed.

On a practical level, what should we as members of the Church expect the healing of the anointing service to effect? Again, the focus must be kept on a spiritual healing, while being open to physical healing. If the latter does not occur, we haven’t missed the mark. The service of Unction and the texts it quotes, especially the Epistle of James, speak of mercy, patience, endurance, and restoration. These are qualities that can be expected to be acquired by the sick person if he or she confesses his or her sins and is open to Christ prior to undergoing the sacrament—as sacraments are not magic and require our full participation and consent. Being sick separates the patient from the natural world, family, and friends, and often creates a quite negative environment. Hence, the sacrament of Unction brings God’s mercy, and should effect in us mercy towards those whom we know. A patient, especially terminal, must be careful not to let anger overcome him or her and especially must try to keep from lashing out at innocent people, especially nurses. Those around the ill person must show mercy in dealing with a quite difficult person and learn not to take such outbursts personally.

Patience is acquired in this process of showing and receiving mercy. Patience is especially required on the part of the patient who is a “go-getter” and who doesn’t like being served. A patient acceptance of being served can be given by receiving and accepting the message of the sacrament of Unction. Endurance is a virtue that also to be acquired. The strength given by God’s grace allows a person to suffer through the sickness and not curse God or fellow humans. The endurance is also needed to be able to tolerate the intense pain and alienation from self that accompanies a sickness; the patient has to learn to accept that he or she cannot move his arm, or walk, or talk, or function in the same normal way as before. Finally, restoration is to be accompanied through the anointing. Restoration is the quality of being reintegrated into the community; it’s also the quality of having sickness and death be realized for what they are, and accepting that these ailments do not cut us off from God but instead are bringing us closer to him by virtue of our accepting the Cross. The sick person is accepted as part of the Church here on earth, and if he or she does not recover, is prayed for as a member of the Church beyond this world.

Hence it is apparent that sickness and sin are related, and that sin can cause spiritual and physical ailments. The sacrament of Unction, a physical act, can be a means to restore spiritual health to the sick person, and even physical health, provided the person has disposed himself or herself to God’s mercy.

Oct 30 03

Authority in the Early Church and the Modern Church of Greece

by Anastasios Hudson

The following reflection was a seminary paper I did for my Introduction to the Canonical Tradition class, where we were to reflect on a paper by Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens (of the New Calendarist State Church of Greece) about the role of the primate in that Local Church, comparing it to what the canons themselves teach about the nature of authority in the Church, and what we know about the development of such structures historically.

The authority structure of the Orthodox Church is rooted deeply in the New Testament notion of ministry.  All authority is derived from Jesus Christ.  However, the New Testament speaks of the Church often as a household, and the one managing the local church is referred to as an episkopos—what we might anachronistically term a bishop, but which in New Testament vocabulary connotated a steward.  The requirements for a bishop were also tied to his being a good household manager and father (1 Tim. 3:1-8).

The Church is both local, as just described, but also universal, in the sense that many bishops heading local communities exist across the world.  Yet those who share the Orthodox faith maintain horizontal (geographic) and vertical (in succession of time) links to other local Orthodox communities.  As such, there exists a union of equal parts.  We speak of one Church in the Nicene Creed, and the many are collected into one, just as in the liturgy the multitude comes together to manifest the Body of Christ.  On a spiritual level Christ maintains the unity because we are all rooted in Him.  The pastoral epistles, though, recognized that sinful human nature required a shepherd of souls to maintain order, and the early Church recognized this as well.  Hence, authority structures developed in the early Church to cement the bonds of unity.  In addition to this, as the Church emerged from the underground, the problems facing it came out into the forefront and public.  Sometimes, problems surpassed the local level and affected a wider sphere of influence.  Bishops began to meet in councils (originally laymen went as well but as the distances increased, the bishop began to function as a representative), and this necessitated someone to call them together, decide the topics to be discussed, and serve as a focus for the region.  By the time of the Council of Nicea, this function was being performed by the bishops of the provincial capitals, and they were hence given the title Metropolitan.

The Church as household of God must be free to exercise the sacramental ministry; hence, clear authority structures need to be in place so that bishops do not get bogged down in petty disputes.  Apostolic 34 states that “the bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them…and do nothing of consequence without him…but neither let him do anything without the consent of all…”  A circular type of authority is envisioned here; the bishops respect the rights of the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan respects the rights of the bishops.  Antioch 9 frames this authority back into our above-discussed household vocabulary by stating that the bishops must acknowledge the concern of the Metropolitan because in the metropolis all men come to do business.  It’s a back-and-forth, dialoguing, circular, sharing of authority in order to allow for mission.  Someone needs to preside in order to maintain order, unity, communication, well-ordering of affairs, and to make sure that all are running their dioceses in the same spirit.  Again, it is the role of the Metropolitan to show concern, even if this means intervening in the local affairs (such as in II Nicea 11 to establish an administrator of a diocese) but always preserving the rights of the local bishops to perform their normal functions, such as ordaining and settling disputes (Antioch 9).

In the paper by now-Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, the role of the primate in the Church of Greece is discussed.  Archbishop Christodoulos writes that the Church of Greece has followed a Synodal structure since its Tomos of Autocephaly was granted in 1850, which was based in part on the practice of the RussianChurch at that time.  Synodal structures are existent in all Orthodox Churches and presumed in the canons (cf. Antioch 19, I Nicea 4, Carthage 50).  What is different about the situation in the Church of Greece is that the Archbishop’s primacy is deëmphasized while the Holy Synod’s collegiality is emphasized; for instance, the Holy Synod is the highest governing body, it exists in an abridged form as a Standing Synod (with rotating membership) that meets regularly to conduct business, and it is commemorated at liturgies instead of the Archbishop.  This caused considerable problems on several occasions, for instance, when members of the Holy Synod continued to meet after the Archbishop had left, and issued decisions contrary to his will.  The only remedy was for the state authority to intervene, which everyone agreed was unfortunate and needed to be corrected to avoid future repetitions.  The issue of not commemorating the primate could be considered a novelty if one examines the presuppositions of communion: the Archbishop himself argues that communion is expressed in one person, just as the Trinity’s communion is manifest in the hypostasis of the Father, and he states that Apostolic 34 ends in a Trinitarian doxology to emphasize this point.

Despite this somewhat “new” way of exercising the primacy, it does not differ substantially from the model of the canons such as Apostolic 34 and Antioch 19.  These canons leave open the mechanics of how the primacy is to be exercised while clearly articulating its existence.  The Archbishop in the Church of Greece still calls the full Holy Synod together for its annual meeting, presides over it, sets its agenda, and determines the floor for speakers.  Finally, when the Synod is not in session, he has a blessing to conduct the “day to day” affairs of the Church, and oftentimes does so even by acting decisively without the Synod’s input.  All these are aspects of care and organization that were expressed in the presuppositions to Church order and in the above-mentioned canons.

Sep 17 03

Canons Are Not Arbitrary Rules

by Anastasios Hudson

The following is a seminary mini-essay I wrote in the form of a letter for an assignment; it is not an actual piece of correspondence. The goal is to elucidate the nature of the canons. In this case, a man was denied ordination because of an impediment (certain sins bar a man from being ordained in the Orthodox Church, despite his having repented of them), and why such a concept exists.

Dear N,

I’m so sorry that the Church decided against ordaining Peter! I want to try and help you understand why. The canons are not about rules and regulations, but about Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, Jesus frequently referred to Himself as “the Truth.” He is the embodiment of what is real and authentic for human life, because He lived it perfectly. As Truth, we can say that Christ is the rule of our faith; He is that against which we measure ourselves and our deeds. “Rule” in Greek is kanon, which we describe in canonical discourse as the Canon, or the general tradition of the Church, and canons are the particular applications of the Canon; a particular way of gauging problems against the Rule developed, and each generation of the Church has received this methodology and accepted it, then applied it to its unique problems.

As such, the canonical tradition is not something which comes out of thin air but rather is something that is passed down to us and which we receive and accept as our own. Chalcedon Canon 1 states, “we have deemed it right that the canons hitherto issued by the saintly fathers at each and every synod should remain in force.” Canons ultimately reflect on the Canon, and as such “they remain unshakeable and immoveable…to these there is no addition, from these there is no subtraction” (II Nicea 1). Some of the canons come from the written texts of Scripture, and some of them come from the unwritten traditions of the Church, which are both from one source: the Word of God. St. Basil argues this in the 27th Chapter of his work, On the Holy Spirit.

The ultimate goal of having canons is salvation. The Canon is the Christian way of life, transformed through an encounter with Christ, and the canons are the results of reflecting on this and applying it to life. For example, Canon 2 of the Council of Trullo states that the Apostolic canons, “should henceforth remain firm and secure, for the healing of souls and curing of passions.” By having canons, we are not left to do whatever, but are given practical advice about what works and what does not. Christ is the eternal God-Man who is eternally the same. The experiences of mankind are also quite similar throughout the ages; this is partially an answer to your statement that “none of this applies to us today!” The Fathers of the Council of Carthage in Canon 1 approve the canons of Nicea and then argued that “keeping this forum, let these things which follow…be kept firm,” showing that they are in the same mind to speak the truth and pass down applications of the Canon.

In order to understand the process by which the Church decided as it did in regards to your husband, we need to look at the methodology of the canonical tradition. First, it is necessary to understand the “Canon particular” about the issue, in other words the teaching that exists behind the canons. If we are dealing with a marriage impediment, we need to first understand what Christian marriage is, for instance. Then the problem is examined, looking for what aspect in the situation falls short from the norm. Next, the canonical literature is consulted, which are the canons of various councils and Fathers which are given ecumenical authority in the Church (usually by other synods; c.f. Trullo Canon 2). Canons which seem unrelated may be extended to our situation as well. Finally, the Church determines whether the remedy found in the canon is an appropriate solution to the problem; sometimes the full prescription is not applied. The Church “must consider the peculiar nature of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for amendment, and thus apply a suitable remedy to the illness…” (Trullo 102). Basil Canon 3 also says that there are some matters which “do not admit of the strictest interpretation.”

The canons also exist for good order. Certain people are not ordained because of impediments which might cause scandal, or may cause the candidate spiritual harm if he were ordained. Even if your husband is a nice guy, something could return to haunt him and the Church might suffer; hence, the Church uses the canons to guide its selection of priestly candidates, as well, for good order and in order to have good models of the Christian life for others to follow. The canons are prophetic and speak against the ways of the world; I encourage you and your husband to prayerfully reflect on this and allow Christ to transform this problem into an opportunity.

In Christ,