Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: New Edition of the Gospel, KJV


It has been many years since the hardback edition of the Holoviak King James Version Gospel was available for sale, apart from being purchased along with a somewhat expense metal cover. A few years there was a Byzantine Lectionary based on the KJV available in hardback, but now that edition is only available in a softcover. Now, at long last, Reader Peter Gardner has come to the rescue.

This edition is available in two sizes: a smaller edition for $40.00 (6"x 9", with 12-point font); and a larger edition for $45.00 (8.25"x 10.75", with 14-point font), and it actually has several elements that are not in the older Holoviak edition. Based on the contents of the standard Slavonic Gospel, it contains a brief life of the four Evangelists, an extensive appendix of the Gospel readings (more extensive than is found in the Holoviak version), and the rubrics for how the Gospel readings are done throughout the year, including the "Lukan Jump." The cover is as seen in the photo above (this is the actual hardcover, not a dust jacket). For a small mission or home, it is usable as it is. The text is in standard sizes, and so could also be put into a nicer Gospel cover.

There are a few things that would improve future editions of the text. The King James text of the Gospels is remarkably easy to read, even after 400 years of changes to the English language, and so there are not a lot of obscure archaisms that are a factor, but because the King James text was done by different teams, there are some inconsistencies in the original King James, and one of them is that in the Old Testaments, the names of people and places were based on transliterations of the Hebrew (e.g., "Elijah," "Elisha," "Jeremiah"), whereas in the New Testament, the names of those same Old Testament figures are found in forms based on the Greek text, or older English usage ("Elias," "Eliseus," "Jeremy"). Also, even within the Gospels there was some inconsistency in the use of "Holy Ghost" and "Holy Spirit." The Holoviak Gospel made the decision to use the most standard form of the names of Old Testament figures in its Gospel. It also generally replaced "Holy Ghost" with "Holy Spirit", though there are some places in which it failed to do that consistently. In my opinion, these were both good decisions. In the case of the names of Old Testament figures, to the extent that Biblical literate people know anything about these figures when they are mentioned in the Gospels, they know them by the more standard form of their names in the Old Testament, where their stories are found. While "Holy Ghost" was once commonly used in English, that usage has become increasingly rare, and I think we might as well have some consistency with the form we normally use in our private prayers, and in our public services. One other thing that would improve the text would be to use red ink for the rubrics. This would of course make the text more expensive, but perhaps, since the text is a print on demand edition, a more expensive edition could be made available as an option.

Reader Peter Gardner also has plans to publish an Apostol that will likewise be based on the King James Version. In the case of the Apostol, my recommendation would be to do a little more revision of the King James text to eliminate some of the more obscure passages, because unlike the text of the Gospels, some of these readings can be very difficult for the average English speaker to understand.

This text fills an important need for English speakers, in many respects it is the first full edition of the Slavonic Gospel in English, it is sturdily bound, and very affordable. I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Stump the Priest: Self Defense


Question: "I have heard some claim that Orthodoxy does not approve of self defense or firearms specifically, specifically attacking the "take your purse and buy" a sword verse from Luke that is often used in support of armed Christian self defense. He even went so far as to say, or at least strongly imply, that Christians shouldn't kill in combat/war. So, I suppose the question is, what is the Orthodox Church's teaching regarding a Christian's right or ability to hurt or kill others in self-defense? As soldiers during war? What about defending one's family from violence?"

The passage you refer to is Luke 22:35-38:
"And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough." 
Christ is referring to when He sent out His disciples earlier (Luke 9:1-6), and they were told to not take any of these things, and indeed they had not lacked anything during that time. But now Christ is saying that they will need to take these things with them. St. Cyril of Alexandria says that Christ was warning them about the coming tribulations that the Jews would suffer, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem. Blessed Theophylact says that Christ is simply saying that the special provision they had experienced before would not continue, and that they would need to take necessary care to provide for themselves, and that they would experience times of hunger, thirst, and face many adversaries. On the previous occasion, there was no mention of swords, but now Christ says that if they do not have a sword, they should sell their outer garment, and buy one. Had this been all that Christ said, one could have easily taken this as a command that all Christians should be armed. However, when the Apostles produced two swords, Christ said "It is enough" -- which suggests that they had missed His point. It would seem, especially based on what followed when Christ was arrested, that the Apostles thought that Christ was calling on them to defend Him in some way. However, when St. Peter attempted to do just that, Christ rebuked him and said:
"Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52).
Also, had this been Christ's point, 200 hundred swords would not have been enough, but Christ was in no need of human defense:
"Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? " (Matthew 26:53-54). 
So what was Christ's point? There are a number of interpretations of the spiritual significance of buying a sword given by the Fathers, but having a small sword, or dagger, was considered a common necessity that a traveler would need, and so probably the literal sense of Christ's statement was to emphasize their need to beware of dangers, and to take necessary precautions:
"The directive to buy a sword deserves a measure of separate consideration. Lined up as it is with purse, bag, and sandals, we can eliminate at once any idea that zealot sympathies are coming to expression with the commendation of the sword. The sword is thought of as part of the equipment required for the self-sufficiency of any traveller in the Roman world. Nothing more than protection of one's person is in view." (John Nolland, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35C: Luke 18:35-24:53 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993), p. 1076).
It should also be noted that the word for "sword" here (machaira (μάχαιρα)) can refer to anything from a knife to a short sword (See Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 4, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1964-1976), p. 524ff).

There are two related but distinct questions here: 1). What does Scripture say about the private ownership of weapons? 2). What does Scripture say about using force, either in self defense, in defense of others, or as part of the military or police force?

As for the first question, there is nothing in Scripture that prohibits the private ownership of weapons. The passage in Luke 22 does not require us to own them, but it does not forbid them either.

In the Code of St. Justinian, there were restrictions on the private ownership of military grade weapons and armor, but even this did not prohibit the ownership of weapons such as staves, or knives (see Novel 85). It is true that this law was authored by a saint of the Church, but it reflected what was in the interest of the Roman state, which was to make revolts in a vast and diverse empire less likely. Rome also had a large standing army. On the other hand, in English history, the Kings of England long encouraged the practice of archery by the common people, because they did not have a large standing army, and in times of war, the skill of the average English bowman was in the interest of the state, and this necessarily required the common ownership of a very lethal weapon.

As for the second question, the use of force for Christians has long been a matter of debate because, for example, Christ taught us to turn the other cheek:
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38-39).
The question we must ask about this passage is does the Old Testament law regarding an eye for an eye relate to personal revenge, or defending ones family, faith, or homeland from attack? It in fact pertains to personal revenge. This law was actually an improvement on the usual practice of exacting many times more punishment than the original offense had inflicted on the person offended. Christ raised the bar to the next level, and said that we should not seek personal revenge at all. However, we cannot and should not turn the other cheek when the defenseless are being attacked, because it isn't our cheek to turn.

Let's take a look at some other statements from the Scriptures:
"Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked." (Psalm 81[82]:3-4).
"Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:17).
The problem is that, usually, oppressors don't stop oppressing the weak simply because we ask them nicely to do so. More often then not, force, or at least the threat of force is necessary. So do these scriptures contradict the commands of Christ? No, they refer to defending others, not to seeking revenge.

It is often asserted that Christ never used or advocated the use of force. This is simply not true.
"And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables" (John 2:15).
A scourge is not something used to gently influence someone -- it is something used to violently beat other people, so as to inflict pain, in order to violently coerce them in some way or other. Whether He actually struck anyone, or merely threatened to, we are not told, but we do know that the money changers at least believed he would have, and left expeditiously.

Saints Boris and Gleb are often cited by Orthodox pacifists as examples of the way Christians ought to respond to war. After their father, St. Vladimir, reposed, their brother sought to usurp the kingdom, and so plotted to kill them. They offered no resistance, because they did not wish to fight their brother, nor to see a bloody civil war. However, they were not facing an external enemy who was seeking the destruction or subjugation of their people, but their own brother, and so they chose the path of martyrdom. Their act of personal sacrifice was praiseworthy.

St. Alexander Nevsky faced a completely different situation, and Ss. Boris and Gleb actually played a role in his course of action. St. Alexander Nevsky faced an invasion from the heterodox Swedes, and so had to defend his people and his Faith.

Here is the Kontakion of St. Alexander Nevsky:
“As thy kinsmen Boris and Gleb appeared to thee, bringing thee help from heaven when thou didst battle against Velgar the Swede and his warriors, so now, O blessed Alexander, come to the aid of thy kinfolk, and contend thou against those who wage war against us.”
This refers to the following incident from the Life of St. Alexander Nevsky:
“But there was a miraculous omen: at dawn on July 15 [the feast of St. Vladimir] the warrior Pelgui, in Baptism Philip, saw a boat, and on it were the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb, in royal purple attire. Boris said: "Brother Gleb, let us help our kinsman Alexander." When Pelgui reported the vision to the prince, St Alexander commanded that no one should speak about the miracle. Emboldened by this, he urged the army to fight valiantly against the Swedes.”
Had St. Alexander Nevsky decided to not resist the Swedes, it would not have been a praiseworthy act, but rather a dereliction of duty. It would not have been a higher path, it would have been a sinful path. So in the lives of these saints we see the balance between turning the other cheek, and defending one's own. St. Alexander's actions were praiseworthy, and Ss. Boris and Gleb's were praiseworthy... and there is no contradiction between them because they all responded to different situations in complete accordance with the commands of Christ.

The following quote from the Russian Orthodox Church’s Social Concept Document, and the section on “War and Peace” is instructive:
“When St. Cyril Equal-to-the-Apostles was sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to preach the gospel among the Saracens, in their capital city he had to enter into a dispute about faith with Muhamaddan scholars. Among others, they asked him: 'Your God is Christ. He commanded you to pray for enemies, to do good to those who hate and persecute you and to offer the other cheek to those who hit you, but what do you actually do? If anyone offends you, you sharpen your sword and go into battle and kill. Why do you not obey your Christ?' Having heard this, St. Cyril asked his fellow-polemists: 'If there are two commandments written in one law, who will be its best respecter - the one who obeys only one commandment or the one who obeys both?' When the Hagerenes said that the best respecter of law is the one who obeys both commandments, the holy preacher continued: 'Christ is our God Who ordered us to pray for our offenders and to do good to them. He also said that no one of us can show greater love in life than he who gives his life for his friends (Jn. 15:3). That is why we generously endure offences caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbours, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds. Our Christ-loving soldiers protect our Holy Church with arms in their hands. They safeguard the sovereign in whose sacred person they respect the image of the rule of the Heavenly King. They safeguard their land because with its fall the home authority will inevitably fall too and the evangelical faith will be shaken. These are precious pledges for which soldiers should fight to the last. And if they give their lives in battlefield, the Church will include them in the community of the holy martyrs and call them intercessors before God'.”
What is true of the defense of a nation on a big scale would also be true of the defense of one's family on a smaller scale.

As for self defense in a situation in which one is in danger themselves, but in which no one else is in danger, I do not believe that Scripture forbids the use of necessary force to defend yourself from a serious assault (as opposed to a personal quarrel in which there was no real danger), but it is certainly true that it is praiseworthy to not defend yourself. It is less complicated if you do not have a family that is depending on you, and more complicated if you do. All life is sacred, and we should never take the shedding of blood, lightly, however, a husband and a father has to take care of his family. As St. Paul admonished: "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8). And this does not just mean that he needs to bring home a pay check, it also means that he needs to take care of them, and that includes their protection, and it also entails that he try to the best of his ability to continue to be able to provide for his family.

With regard specifically to the question of the private ownership of guns. There obviously is no Orthodox position, one way or the other. It is a question of wisdom, and reasonable people can disagree. I think we would all agree that if banning private gun ownership would eliminate gun crime, and if we never had cause to fear our own government, that this would be wonderful. However, it is not quite that simple, in my opinion.

I know that people in the United Kingdom and Australia generally think Americans are crazy for wanting to have private gun ownership, but I would point out to them that in both cases, they live in Island nations that do not have a 2,000 mile border with Mexico. We have been unable to stop a steady flow of drugs across that border, and we even have a huge human trafficking problem. If we had a gun ban in the United States, there would be no stopping a steady flow of illegal weapons into the hands of criminals. So we simply have a different set of circumstances.

An Orthodox Christian is free to be opposed to the private gun owndership, but it is not true that the Tradition of the Church requires anyone else to agree with them, nor does it prohibit the use of force in defense of one's country, family, or even one's person, depending on the circumstances.

For More Information, See:

A Saint for Orthodox Pacifists to Ponder

Sermon: War, Capital Punishment, and the Sixth Commandment

The Christian Faith and War, By Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky)

Friday, August 05, 2016

Stump the Priest: Fellowship with Heretics and the Grossly Immoral


Question: "What does the Church teach about having non-believers in our homes and parish Temples? 2 John 1:10, seems to suggest that we should not have anyone who professes a teaching contrary to the Trinitarian faith into our homes, or to even greet such a person. Was this message specifically for one person or one type of person? Does this chapter have anything to do with the historical practice of keeping the Creed a secret or in asking Catechumens to leave before the Creed is recited in the Liturgy? How should orthodox believers apply this teaching to our own lives?"

In addition to the passage you referenced, there are many similar passages that could be cited. For example, St. Paul wrote:
"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). 
And Christ Himself said, when speaking of an erring brother, who refused to be corrected after many attempts:
"...but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew 18:17).
But the passage that most directly addresses the question of fellowship with someone who erring is 1 Corinthians 5:11:
"But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person."
All of these passages speak of people who are in serious error, either doctrinally, or morally, and clearly, these passages teach that there are some circumstances in which we should have no fellowship with such people... but the question is, what kind of people are were talking about, and under what circumstances would this apply?

First, let's consider who it does not apply to:

1) It definitely does not apply to unbelievers, which is clear simply from looking at the two verses which precede the passage in 1 Corinthians 5:
"I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world" (1 Corinthians 5:1-10).
The point being that one could not possibly refrain from some degree of fellowship with the vast majority of the people in St. Paul's time who were unbelievers. Also, Ambrosiaster* notes:
"Paul does not forbid the Corinthians from eating with unbelievers, since he says: If an unbeliever invites you to dinner and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you" [1 Corinthians 10:27] (Ancient Christian Texts: Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians, Ambrosiaster, translated and edited by Gerald L. Bray (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2009) p. 143).
2) It arguably does not apply to those who, though once part of the Church, have fallen into sin, and who no longer make a pretense of being among the faithful. I say this based on the example of the Lord, who regularly ate with known sinners. In such cases, he was not pretending that these people were not guilty of any sin, and were already in a right relationship with God, but was reaching out to those long estranged from the faithful of Israel.

But beyond this, we have to ask how these passages might apply to heterodox Christians. On the one hand, if we treated them as if they had been Orthodox, and then departed into heresy, schism, or gross immorality, then these passages would also apply directly to them. On the other hand, some might argue that they would fall under the class of unbelievers. But there are problems with both positions. Obviously, it is not the case that they were ever Orthodox, and so they would not have the same level of responsibility as would an Orthodox Christian who departed into heresy. But we also cannot say that there is no difference between such people and pagans.

Fr. Seraphim (Rose) puts it best, in my opinion, in a letter he wrote to someone on the subject:
"In the end, I think, Father Dimitry Dudko’s attitude is the correct one: We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families. St. Innocent’s attitude to the Roman Catholics in California is a good example for us. A harsh, polemical attitude is called for only when the non-Orthodox are trying to take away our flocks or change our teachings" (Quoted in Not of This World: The Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose, pp. 757-758).
I would say much the same with regard to those who were baptized Orthodox as infants, but who have never really been Churched. Such people, unfortunately, are no more knowledgeable about the faith than any other unbeliever, and so we should want to open doors for such people, rather than close them.

So who would we applies these verses to?

These verses would certainly apply to heretics and schismatics who were Orthodox, but who have been formally cut off from the Church. They could also apply to those who are under excommunication for a serious sin... but that depends.

There are many people who fall into a serious sin, and for some period of time their parish priest places them under a penance that includes being prohibited from receiving communion, but in those cases in which the person recognizes their sin, and is submitting to the penance, there would be no need to bar them from other forms of fellowship.

It would apply to those who are prohibited from communion because of a serious sin that they refuse to repent of, and who, by their open defiance of the standards of the Church, cause scandal and disruption in the Church. This, however, is a situation that I think is fairly rare. I certainly have never had to deal with such a situation.

It is a little less clear how to handle those who are prohibited from communion because of a serious sin that they are not yet prepared to repent of, but who continue to attend the services, and do so in a way that is not disruptive. In the first several centuries of Church history, when there was very strict discipline maintained with regard to who could be in Church, such people would be excluded from attending the services, and quite possibly from fellowship in the homes of believers. However, that kind of discipline ceased to be the common practice of the Church for well over a thousand years. Under today's circumstances, I do not believe that level of strictness would be in order, for such a person. It is better for them to keep coming to Church, and we would hope that they come to repentance at some point, so they could be readmitted to communion. And it would be better for them to maintain relationships with people in the Church, so long as there was no winking at their sin, or danger of others falling into their sin with them. Of course, if one had any questions about what to do, they would need to seek the guidance of their parish priest or local bishop, who are the ones ultimately responsible for imposing discipline in the Church.

The purpose of all of these verses is the salvation of the sinner or the heretic, and the edification of the Church. It is not to adhere to the letter of the law, or to punish for punishments sake.

It is said of the Old Testament Prophets that they afflicted the comfortable, and comforted the afflicted -- and that saying, while pithy, actually has a great deal of merit to it. If you have someone who is a heretic or schismatic, seeking to divide the Church, or a careless sinner whose behavior is causing scandal to the Church, such a person would be in need of some measure of affliction, to wake them up. There would also be need for the shepherds of the Church to protect the rest of the flock. On the other hand, when you have sinners who are struggling with their sins, we should follow the example of Christ, and reach out to them with love. And when dealing with the heterodox, we have to keep in mind that with knowledge comes responsibility, and we cannot hold them to the same standards as someone who was raised in the Church and should know better. If they are not actively seeking to proselytize or divide the Church, we should nurture such relationships, because that is how many are ultimately converted.

*"Ambrosiaster" is the name given to the author of commentaries long attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan, but which most scholars believe to have been written by a later author.

For More Information:

The Use of the Term "Heretic", by Patrick Barnes

Stump the Priest: Liturgical "Fossils", by Fr. John Whiteford

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Stump the Priest: Tree of Knowledge


Question: "Why did God create the Tree of Knowledge?"
"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.... And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:8-9;15-17).
God created the Tree of Knowledge, and then commanded that out of all the trees of the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve not eat from that one tree, because for man to grow and mature, they had to be able to exercise their free will.

St. Gregory the Theologian said: "He gave Him a Law, as material for his free will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the Tree of Knowledge; not, however, because it was evil from the beginning when planted; nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to men -- let not the enemies of God wag their tongues in that direction, or imitate the serpent." In fact, St. Gregory says that had Adam and Eve obeyed the commandment, they would have been permitted to eat of it, and that the fruit "would have been good if partaken of at the proper time" (Second Oration on Easter 8).

St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote that God made man neither mortal, no immortal. He created man with the potential for both. "Even though God, in His goodness, had given them everything else, He wanted, in His justice, to give them immortal life that was to be conferred by their eating from the tree of life. Therefore, God set down for them a commandment. It was not a great commandment relative to the great reward that He had prepared form them; He withheld from them one tree, only enough for them to be under a commandment. God gave them all of Paradise so that they could be under no constraint to transgress the law.... If [Eve] had been victorious in that momentary battle, in that brief contest [the temptation of the serpent to eat of that tree], the serpent and that one who was in the serpent would [still] have received the punishment that they received, while she, together with her husband, would have eaten of the tree of life and would have lived for ever. Along with this promised life that [Adam and Eve] would have acquired, they would also have had by Justice all that had previously been given to them by Grace" (Commentary on Genesis 17:5, 18:4 The Fathers of the Church: St. Ephrem the Syrian, Selected Prose Works, trans. Edward G. Matthews, Jr, and Joseph P. Amar (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994), p. 109f).

Likewise, St. John of Damascus explains it similarly:
"When therefore He had furnished his nature with free-will, He imposed a law on him, not to taste of the tree of knowledge. Concerning this tree, we have said as much as is necessary in the chapter about Paradise, at least as much as it was in our power to say. And with this command He gave the promise that, if he should preserve the dignity of the soul by giving the victory to reason, and acknowledging his Creator and observing His command, he should share eternal blessedness and live to all eternity, proving mightier than death: but if forsooth he should subject the soul to the body, and prefer the delights of the body, comparing himself in ignorance of his true dignity to the senseless beasts, and shaking off His Creator’s yoke, and neglecting His divine injunction, he will be liable to death and corruption, and will be compelled to labor throughout a miserable life. For it was no profit to man to obtain incorruption while still untried and unproved, lest he should fall into pride and under the judgment of the devil. For through his incorruption the devil, when he had fallen as the result of his own free choice, was firmly established in wickedness, so that there was no room for repentance and no hope of change: just as, moreover, the angels also, when they had made free choice of virtue became through grace immovably rooted in goodness" (Concerning Foreknowledge and Predestination (Book 2, Chapter 30 of Exposition of the Orthodox Faith).
See Also:

Concerning Paradise (Book 2, Chapter 11 of Exposition of the Orthodox Faith), by St. John of Damascus

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stump the Priest: Degrees of Sin


Question: "I often hear sin is sin and no sin is greater than another. What's the church's stance on this particular subject?"

We see that there are degrees of sin very clearly in Scripture. For example, in Numbers 15:22-31, we are told about a general sacrifice that was offered for the unintentional sins of the people, and individuals who became aware of an unintentional sin could make an individual offering, But then it says that those who have sinned "presumptuously" (which in Hebrew literally means "with a raised hand") are not covered by these sacrifices.

You also see that different kinds of sins are dealt with very differently in the canons. Some sins can warrant very lengthy excommunications, but then when it comes to other sins, one simply needs to confess the sin, and no penance would be necessary. It would be ridiculous, for example to not recognize that there is a significant difference between mass murder, and someone briefly having an unchristian thought about another person. Of course even the most minor sins need to be repented of, and we should never excuse ourselves and ignore them, but both Scripture and Tradition recognize that not all sins are equal in their seriousness.

St. Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain explains in chapter 3 of the Exomologetarion (A Manual of Confession):

Concerning these you must know that, just as a physician is required to know what the illnesses of the body are in order to treat them, you who seek to be a Spiritual Father are obligated to know what the illnesses of the soul are, that is, sins, in order to treat them. Although the illnesses of the soul are many, they generally fall into the following three categories. Hence, you need to know which are mortal, which are pardonable and not mortal, and which are sins of omission or inaction.
1. Concerning Mortal Sins
According to Gennadios Scholarios, George Koressios, the Orthodox Confession, and Chrysanthos of Jerusalem, mortal sins are those voluntary sins which either corrupt the love for God alone, or the love for neighbor and for God, and which render again the one committing them an enemy of God and liable to the eternal death of hell. [11] Generally speaking, they are: pride, love of money, sexual immorality, envy, gluttony, anger, and despondency, or indifference. [12]
2. Concerning Pardonable Sins
Pardonable sins are those voluntary sins which do not corrupt the love for God or the love for neighbor, nor do they render the person an enemy of God and liable to eternal death, to which transgressions even the Saints are susceptible, according to the words of the Brother of God: “For in many things we all sin” (Jas. 3:2), and of John: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (l Jn. 1:8), and according to Canons 125, 126, and 127 of Carthage. These sins, according to Koressios and Chrysanthos, are: idle talk, the initial inclination and agitation of anger, the initial inclination of lust, the initial inclination of hate, a white lie, passing envy, or that which is commonly called jealousy, which is slight grief over the good fortunes of one’s neighbor, and the like. [13]
Know also, Spiritual Father, that the many sins which are generally called pardonable are not of one and the same degree, but they are of varying degrees, smaller and larger, lower and higher, and that pardonable sins and mortal sins are two extremes. For in between these extremes there are found varying degrees of sins, beginning from the pardonable ones and proceeding up to the mortal ones, which degrees were not given names by the Ancients, perhaps because they are many and varied according to the class and specific kind of sins, but could have named them if they so desired. Here we name some of them, for the benefit of clarity and for your knowledge, beginning from below: pardonable sins, those near the pardonable, those that are non-mortal, those near the non-mortal, those between the non-mortal and the mortal, those near the mortal, and finally, mortal sins. Here is an example of the sins of the incensive aspect of the soul: The initial movement of anger is pardonable; near to the pardonable is for someone to say harsh words and get hot-tempered. A non-mortal sin is to swear; near the non-mortal is for someone to strike with the hand. Between the non-mortal and the mortal is to strike with a small stick; near the mortal is to strike with a large stick, or with a knife, but not in the area of the head. A mortal sin is to murder. A similar pattern applies to the other sins. Wherefore, those sins nearer to the pardonable end are penanced lighter, while those nearer to the mortal end are more severely penanced. [14]
3. Concerning Sins of Omission
Those good works, or words, or thoughts, which are capable of being done or thought by someone, but through negligence were not done, or said, or thought, are called sins of omission, [15] and are brought forth from the mortal sin of despondency, as we have said. I know very well that these sins of omission are not considered by people as full sins, because those are few who consider it a sin if they did not perform such and such a charity when they were able to, or had the means to either give good advice to their neighbor, or to do a certain amount of prayer, or do another virtue, and did not.
But this, however, I know for certain, that God will render an account on the day of judgment concerning these. Who verifies this for us? The example of that slothful servant who had the one talent and buried it in the ground, who was judged, not because he committed any sin or injustice with it (because he who gave the talent to him took it all back, as Basil the Great says in the Introduction of The Long Rules), [16] but because being able to increase it, was negligent and did not increase it: “Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury” (Mt. 25:27). It is also verified for us by the example of the five foolish virgins who were condemned for nothing other than an absence of oil. And concerning the sinners placed at the left hand, they will be condemned, not because they committed any sin, but because they were lacking and were not merciful to their brother: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink” (Mt. 25:42). The reason that God gave to man natural strength was not in order to leave it idle and useless, without results and fruit, just as that slothful servant left the talent of the Lord idle, as we said above, but He gave it to man in order for man to put it into action, and into practice, and for it to increase, doing good with it and the commandments of the Lord, and so to be saved through this. On this account Basil the Great said: “We have already received from God the power to fulfill all the commandments given us by Him, so that we may not take our obligation in bad part, as though something quite strange and unexpected were being asked of us, and that we may not become filled with conceit, as if we were paying back something more than had been given us.” [17] And also in agreement with the above words, his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, says: “As each shall receive his wages, just as the Apostle says (1 Cor. 3:14), according to his labor, so also each shall receive punishment according to the extent of their negligence.” [18]
Those things which are also called sins of omission are those which we were able to prevent, by word or act, but did not prevent. On this account those who commit these are likewise penanced according to Canon 25 of Ancyra, Canon 71 of Basil the Great, and Canon 25 of St. John the Faster. [19]
Furthermore, Spiritual Father, you must know that the degrees of sin from the beginning until the end are twelve. The first degree is when someone does good, but not in a proper manner, mixing the good with the bad. This occurs in seven ways, as Basil the Great says, “As regards the place, the time, the person, the matter involved, or in a manner intemperate, or disorderly, or with improper dispositions.” [20] An example of a sin of the first degree is when someone performs an act of mercy, or fasts, or does some other good deed, so that he might be glorified by people. The second degree of sin is complete idleness in regard to the good. The third degree is an assault of evil. The fourth is coupling. The fifth is struggle. [21] The sixth is consent. [22] The seventh is the sin according to the intellect, according to St. Maximos, which is when a person, having consented, plans carefully to accomplish that sin which is in his intellect so as to do the deed. The eighth is the deed itself and the sinful act. The ninth is the habit of someone committing the sin often. The tenth is the addiction to sin, which with violence and force compels the person to sin voluntarily and involuntarily. The eleventh is despair, that is, hopelessness. The twelfth is suicide, namely, for a person to kill himself, while having a sound intellect, being conquered by despair. So then, Spiritual Father, you must try assiduously in every way to turn the sinner around to smaller degrees of sin and to prevent him from proceeding to the greater degrees ahead. And most of all, you must endeavor to sever him from despair, no matter in how great a degree of sin he is found. [23]
Click here to see the footnotes.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) Elected Bishop of Sacramento


The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church just approved the election of Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) as bishop.  Here is a machine translation of the Russian text.

JOURNAL № 52 
CONSIDERED the approval of the decision of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on election Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) bishop of Sacramento, Vicar of the Western American Diocese. 

Reference: 

In accordance with paragraph 17 of Chapter XI of the Constitution of the Russian Orthodox Church, the norms of the Charter apply to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in view of the Act of Canonical Communion of 17 May 2007.

In accordance with the Act of Canonical Communion of 17 May 2007: "The bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are elected by her Council of Bishops or, in cases stipulated by the Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the Synod of Bishops. The election is approved by canonical norms by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. " 
July 1, 2016 the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church elected Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) bishop of Sacramento, Vicar of the Western American Diocese. July 6, 2016, His Grace Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York Hilarion addressed to His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill with the request to approve the decision of the Holy Synod. 

RESOLVED: 
To approve the decision of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on election Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) bishop of Sacramento, Vicar of the Western American Diocese, leaving the place and time of his ordination to the discretion of the Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.
You can read about Bishop-Elect Irenei here:

https://orthodoxwiki.org/Irenaeus_(Steenberg)

Update:

There is more from the ROCOR web site on Fr. Irenei's election, and his background:

http://www.synod.com/synod/eng2016/20160718_enarhimirenei.html

Friday, July 01, 2016

Stump the Priest: The Unpardonable Sin


Question: "What is the unforgivable Sin and how do people commit it?"

Fr. Michael Pomazansky addresses this question very thoroughly in the context of his discussion of the sacrament of confession in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology:
"Holy Scripture speaks of cases or conditions when sins are not forgiven. In the word of God there is mention of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which "shall not be forgiven unto men, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Matt. 12:31-32). Likewise, it speaks of the sin unto death, for the forgiveness of which it is not commanded even to pray (1 John 5:16). Finally, the Apostle Paul instructs that "it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:4-6).
In all these cases, the reason why the forgiveness of sins is not possible is to be found in the sinners themselves, and not in the will of God; more precisely, it lies in the lack of repentance of the sinners. How can a sin be forgiven by the grace of the Holy Spirit, when blasphemy is spewed forth against this very grace? But one must believe that, even in these sins, the sinners, if they offer sincere repentance and weep over their sins, will be forgiven. "For," says St. John Chrysostom about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, "even this guilt will be remitted to those who repent. Many of those who have spewed forth blasphemies against the Spirit have subsequently come to believe, and everything was remitted to them" (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew [Homily 41]). Further, the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council speak of the possibility of forgiveness for deadly sins: "The sin unto death is when certain ones, after sinning, do not correct themselves . . . In such ones the Lord Jesus does not abide, unless they humble themselves and recover from their fall into sin. It is fitting for them once more to approach God and with contrite heart to ask for the remission of this sin and forgiveness, and not to become vainglorious over an unrighteous deed. For 'the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart'" (Ps. 33:18)" (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, trans. Fr. Serpahim (Rose), (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press, 1984), p. 289f).
St. Augustine makes the identical point in his sermon on Matthew 12:32. He says that it is not merely the act of blaspheming the Holy Spirit which is unpardonable, but refusing to repent of that blasphemy: "...even this shall be forgiven, if a right repentance follow it...But that blasphemy of the Spirit Himself, whereby in an impenitent heart resistance is made to this so great gift of God even to the end of this present life, shall not be forgiven" (Sermon 21 on the New Testament). So as long as a man lives, repentance is possible, but if he persists in rejecting the Holy Spirit, it is impossible for him to be pardoned, because there is no pardon without repentance.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Stump the Priest: Two Question on the Origins of Evil


First Question: "This concerns the origin of sin and evil. Since, as we believe, God created everything good, meaning everything created was created in the ontological state of goodness or righteousness, how did Lucifer become evil? Where did the original spark of transgression or rebellion come from? If (as I would answer it myself) it came from Lucifer's free will nature, how is it not also the case that God might also choose against His own nature? This seems to me to be a necessary question arising from our free will doctrine."

Second Question: "Did Adam and Eve know what evil was before they partook of the tree of life?  If they were innocent and didn't know anything of evil, how could they stay away from it or make an informed decision to stay away from it?"

To answer these questions we should first consider what is evil? Evil is not a substance. The Fathers tell us that evil does not "exist", per se... which is not to say that evil does not occur, but rather that evil is a choice. It is not something that God created, it is the choice of a will that is in rebellion against God.

St. Basil the Great tell us:
"Again, it is impious to say that evil has its origin from God, because naught [i.e. nothing] contrary is produced by the contrary. Life does not generate death, nor is darkness the beginning of light, nor is disease the maker of heath, but in the changes of conditions there are transitions from one condition to the contrary. In Genesis, however, each being comes forth not from its contrary, but from those of the same type. Accordingly, they say, if it is not uncreated nor created by God, whence does it have its nature? No one who is in this world will deny that evils exist. What, then, do we say? That evil is not a living and animated substance, but a condition of the soul which is opposed to virtue and which springs up in the slothful because of their falling away from good. Do not, therefore, contemplate evil from without; and do not imagine some original nature of wickedness, but let each one recognize himself as the first author of the vice that is in him" (Hexaemeron, Homily 2:4-5, The Fathers of the Church: Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, trans. Sister Agnes Clare Way, C.D.P. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1963), p 28).
St. Diadochus of Photiki says:
"Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other does not, except when we give it existence through our actions" (The Philokalia: The Complete Text, compiled by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, Vol. 1, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), p. 253).
But someone might object, doesn't Scripture tell us that God creates evil? And then they usually will cite Isaiah 45:7, which says in the King James Version: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." What could be more clear than that?

The problem is that we are talking about a translation, and so we need to consider the original word that is translated as "evil" here, (רעה / רע ra‛ / râ‛âh). According to Brown, Drivers, and Briggs, the word can mean:
1) bad, evil (adjective)
1a) bad, disagreeable, malignant
1b) bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery)
1c) evil, displeasing
1d) bad (of its kind - land, water, etc)
1e) bad (of value)
1f) worse than, worst (comparison)
1g) sad, unhappy
1h) evil (hurtful)
1i) bad, unkind (vicious in disposition)
1j) bad, evil, wicked (ethically)
1j1) in general, of persons, of thoughts
1j2) deeds, actions
2) evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity (noun masculine)
2a) evil, distress, adversity
2b) evil, injury, wrong
2c) evil (ethical)
3) evil, misery, distress, injury (noun feminine)
3a) evil, misery, distress
3b) evil, injury, wrong
3c) evil (ethical)
So how do we know what sense this word has in this particular passage?

Hebrew poetry is not based on rhymes, but rather on parallelism. There are different kinds of parallelisms, but this is a classic example of antithetical parallelism. The way antithetical parallelism works is that the first line is followed by a statement that makes an opposing point -- which is not to suggest that the first line contradicts the first, but that it makes a counter point. For example, Psalm 36[37]:9 says:
For evil-doers shall utterly perish, /
but they that wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. 
The first line, which states what the fate of evil-doers will be is contrasted by the second line, which states what the fate of those who wait on the Lord -- and those fates are the opposite of one another.

In the case of Isaiah 45:7, you have two examples of antithetical parallelism:
I form the light, / and create darkness:
I make peace, / and create evil
So just as darkness is the opposite of light, the "evil" that God creates is the opposite of peace. Given that, the obvious meaning of that word in this context is something like "calamity"... clearly not moral evil. And if you look at more modern translations, you will find that this is how they usually translate it. Furthermore, if you look at what the Fathers say about this passage, they also understand it in this sense.

So to answer the first question, Satan was not created evil. He was created good, but made the choice to rebel against God, and to do evil.

And while created beings can rebel against God, God cannot rebel against Himself. God is infinite and perfect. Scripture tells us that He is Love, Truth, Light, Good, and that it is impossible for him to lie or to sin, and so it is not possible that He could choose evil.

To answer the second question, Adam and Eve had not known evil, but they did have the power of choice, they knew what God required of them, and they knew the consequences that would follow if they did not obey God. Their knowledge was limited, but the expectations that God placed on them were also very limited, and so they had the power to choose, and it was just for God to hold them accountable for that choice.

For more information:

The God who is Silent about Evil, by Fr. Georges Massouh

The Nature and Origin of Evil According to Eastern Christian Church, by Marina Luptakova

Does God create evil? (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stump the Priest: Liturgical "Fossils"


Question: "What are we to make of parts of the Liturgy that seem to be relics from a time when the Liturgy was closed to the general public? For example: the dismissal of the catechumens: "Catechumens, depart!" "The doors! The doors!" (usually interpreted as 'close and guard the doors'). In the prayers for Communion, "I will not speak of thy Mystery to Thine enemies." I don't like the idea that these phrases are just fossils. How do we understand them today?"

Some History

The practice of dismissing the catechumens generally came to an end in the general life of the Church because most countries in which Christianity existed were almost entirely Christian, and adult converts became a rarity.

There was also a closely related penitential system, that consisted of four groups of people who were guilty of serious sins, and who had been placed under a penance for some period of time: (1) the weepers, who remained outside the church doors and asked prayers of the faithful as these passed into the church; (2) the hearers, who stood in the Narthex of the church behind the catechumens, and were dismissed with the catechumens; (3) the kneelers were allowed into the back of the Nave, but who also were also dismissed with the catechumens; and (4) the co-standers, who were allowed to stand with the faithful in the Nave and attend the entire liturgy, but not receive communion, until they were finally readmitted into communion.

The penitential system eventually came to an end as well. In the early Church, to even join the Church was an act of courage, and thus the level of commitment among the average Christian was very high, and so you could impose strict penitential discipline that might extend for decades, without it being a cause for final despair and apostasy. As time went on, such strict discipline was stronger medicine than later generations of Christians were able to benefit from.

As a result of both of these developments, instead of non-Christians being completely prevented from entering the Church, and catechumens and certain penitents being prevented from entering beyond the Narthex, the Altar area (the area behind the Iconostasis) became the one area that such people were not permitted to enter. This is true at least in general parish practice; however, in some monasteries catechumens and the heterodox are still not allowed into the Nave, and are still dismissed at the time of the dismissal of the catechumens... and so this practice, while no longer common, is actually not entirely a thing of the past.

What does the Dismissal of the Catechumens Mean for the Faithful

The dismissal of the catechumens happens after the Gospel reading, and according to the ancient practice, also after the sermon.

St. Symeon of Thessalonica says that the dismissal of the catechumens represents "the separation of the sinners from the just after the preaching of the Gospel at the end of the ages. For after the Gospel has been preached in all the world as a witness to all peoples, scripture says, "Then the end will come" (St. Symeon of Thessalonika: The Liturgical Commentaries, trans. Steven Hawkes-Teeples, (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2011), p 249).

So the point being that this dismissal should be a warning to us that the time we have to obey the Gospel message is limited, and that the day will come when we will have to give an account, and will either be taken away with the sinners, or receive the reward of the righteous.

Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy similarly says that the dismissal of the catechumens "should also be a warning to us... We, the baptized, sin frequently and often without repentance are present in the church, lacking the requisite preparation and having in our hearts hostility and envy against our fellow men. Therefore, with the solemn and threatening words, "catechumens depart," we as unworthy ones should examine ourselves closely and ponder our unworthiness, asking forgiveness from our personal enemies, often imagined, and ask the Lord God for the forgiveness of our sins with the firm resolve to do better" (The Law of God: For Study at Home and School (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1994), p. 566).

"For I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies..."

In the early Church, there was a high degree of secrecy. This was not at like the Gnostics, who had secrets that were kept even from their own members, and retained by only a select group. Christians did, however, keep many things secret from those outside of the Church. In St. Cyril of Jerusalem's catechetical lectures, he admonished his hearers to not write down what he taught them. As we have already noted, even catechumens were not allowed to remain in the Church during the Eucharistic portion of the liturgy.  But what does this prayer mean to us today, when non-Christians can attend a liturgy in its entirety, and when books about the mysteries can be read by anyone who is interested that describe the sacraments in great detail? Fr, Michael Pomazansky addresses this question in his "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology":
"This strictness with regard to the revelation of the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments) to outsiders is no longer preserved to such a degree in the Orthodox Church. The exclamation, "Catechumens depart!" before the Liturgy of the Faithful is still proclaimed, it is true, but hardly anywhere in the Orthodox world are catechumens or the non-Orthodox actually told to leave the church at this time. (In some churches they are only asked to stand in the back part of the church, in the narthex, but can still observe the service). The full point of such an action is lost in our times, when all the "secrets" of the Christian Mysteries are readily available to anyone who can read, and the text of St. Cyril's Catechetical Lectures has been published in many languages and editions. However, the great reverence which the ancient Church showed for the Christian Mysteries, carefully preserving them from the gaze of those who were merely curious, or those who, being outside the Church and uncommitted to Christianity, might easily misunderstand or mistrust them — is still kept by Orthodox Christians today who are serious about their faith. Even today we are not to "cast our pearls before swine" — to speak much of the Mysteries of the Orthodox Faith to those who are merely curious about them but do not to seek to join themselves to the Church." (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, trans. Fr. Serpahim (Rose), (Platina, CA: St. Herman Press, 1984, p. 31, footnote 12, emphasis added).
Exactly where the line should be drawn, and when exactly we are in danger of casting the pearls of our Faith before swine (Matthew 7:6) is not something for which one can lay out simply rules, but this is something that we should pray that God will give us wisdom to discern when dealing with those who are not Orthodox.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Sung Response to those hoping for an "Orthodox Vatican II"


Archdeacon John Chryssavgis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is reported to have said that he hopes the council in Crete may have an impact on Orthodoxy similar to that of Vatican II on Catholicism. Here is a sung response from Bishop Bullwinkle:


And then there's this:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Stump the Priest: The Lord's Day


Question: "Which is the Lord’s Day, Saturday or Sunday?"

For Orthodox Christians, the Sabbath remains Saturday, but the Lord's Day is Sunday, and this is abundantly clear from both Scripture and Tradition.

In the book of Acts, we are told that it was "upon the first day of the week [Sunday], when the disciples came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). Perhaps you might dismiss this as just a random occurrence, except that St. Paul speaks of "the first day of the week" as the day that the Church would come together (1 Corinthians 16:2).

In the book of Revelation, we find the first reference to "The Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10), which undoubtedly is not the Sabbath, because if the Sabbath was intended, it would have been most natural to have referred to it as such. Furthermore, the early Christian understanding the Sabbath, and the Lord's day is still reflected in the Greek names for the days of the week:
Sunday: Κυριακή (Lord's day)
Monday: Δευτέρα (Second day)
Tuesday: Τρίτη (Third day)
Wednesday: Τετάρτη (Fourth day)
Thursday: Πέμπτη (Fifth day)
Friday: Παρασκευή (Preparation day, c.f. Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14)
Saturday: Σάββατο (Sabbath)
The use of the phrase "the Lord's day" in reference to Sunday, as well as references to the fact that this was the primary day of Christian worship are well attested in the earliest writings of the Church. For example:
"And on the Lord's own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord; (In every place and at every time offer Me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, saith the Lord and My name is wonderful among the nations.)" (Didache 14:1-5, this come from a first century text that is generally considered the oldest Christian document outside of the New Testament itself).
"Moreover concerning the Sabbath likewise it is written in the Ten Commandments, in which He spake to Moses face to face on Mount Sinai; And ye shall hallow the Sabbath of the Lord with pure hands and with a pure heart. And in another place He saith; If my sons observe the Sabbath then I will bestow My mercy upon them. Of the Sabbath He speaketh in the beginning of the creation; And God made the works of His hands in six days, and He ended on the seventh day, and rested on it, and He hallowed it.... Finally He saith to them; Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot away with. Ye see what is His meaning; it is not your present Sabbaths that are acceptable [unto Me], but the Sabbath which I have made, in the which, when I have set all things at rest, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world. Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens" (Epistle of Barnabas 15:1-3, 5-9, 1st Century).
"If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny -- a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher -- if this be so, how shall we be able to live apart from Him? seeing that even the prophets, being His disciples, were expecting Him as their teacher through the Spirit. And for this cause He whom they rightly awaited, when He came, raised them from the dead" (St Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Magnesians, 9:1-2, 110 A.D.

For more citations from the early Church Fathers, see: Sunday or Saturday, from Catholic Answers.

Saturday retains its significance as the day of creation, and so liturgically we never fast strictly on Saturdays (except for Holy Saturday, and even then, a complete fast is not called for), and even during Great Lent, when we do not serve full liturgies on most days of the week, a liturgy is always appointed for Saturday and Sunday. However, for Christians, Sunday, the Lord's day, is the day of the New Creation, the day of the Resurrection, and so it supersedes Saturday as the primary day of Christian worship.,

See also: 

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, by Fr. Victor Potapov

Sermon Audio: Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy, by Fr. John Whiteford

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Lecture: Singing in Scripture

The Levite Temple Singers, leading the army of Judah

This past weekend I was invited to speak at a music conference hosted by the Patriarch Tikhon Russian American Music Institute (PaTRAM) at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA.

You can listen to the lecture by clicking here;

http://www.saintjonah.org/podcasts/lectures/patram_singinginscripture.mp3

or

http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/amvon/singing_in_scripture

Unfortunately, the audio does not include the question and answers that followed, because the questions could not be heard at all on the recording.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stump the Priest: The Prophet Elisha and the She-Bears

Relief from the Arch of Titus

Question: "What’s going on with the she-bears Elisha called up when he cursed the 42 “youths” (more likely young adults) in 2 Kings 2:23-25? Why was it two she-bears?"

It is correct that the impression that these were toddlers is a false impression, and it should be noted that the Prophet Elisha is not said to have called for the bears to attack the children, but rather to curse them. And it may well be that he was pronouncing the curses of the Covenant for those who disobey:
"And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate" (Leviticus 26:21-22).
For more on the background of this story, see "Question...wasn't Elisha very cruel when he sent those bears against those little kids who were teasing him about being bald?"

But to answer the question regarding the meaning of the two she-bears, St. Caesarius of Arles has a very interesting explanation:
"Now according to the letter, dearly beloved, we are to believe, as mentioned above, that blessed Elisha was aroused with God's zeal to correct the people, rather than moved by unwholesome anger, when he permitted the Jewish children to be torn to pieces. His purpose was not revenge but their amendment, and in this fact, too, the passion of our Lord and Savior was plainly prefigured. Just as those undisciplined children shouted to blessed Elisha, "Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead," so at the time of the passion the insane Jews with impious words shouted to Christ the true Elisha, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" What does "Go up, you baldhead" mean except: Ascend the cross on the site of Calvary? Notice further, brothers, that just as under Elisha forty-two boys were killed, so forty-two years after the passion of our Lord two bears came, Vespasian and Titus, and besieged Jerusalem. Also consider, brothers, that the siege of Jerusalem took place on the Paschal solemnity. Thus, by the just judgment of God the Jews who had assembled from all the provinces suffered the punishment they deserved, on the very days on which they had hung the true Elisha, our Lord and Savior, on the cross. Indeed, at that time, that is, in the forty-second year after the passion of our Lord, the Jews as if driven by the hand of God assembled in Jerusalem according to their custom to celebrate the Passover. We read in history that three million Jews were gathered in Jerusalem; eleven hundred thousand of them are read to have been destroyed by the sword of hunger, and one hundred thousand young men were led to Rome in triumph. For two years that city was besieged, and so great was the number of the dead who were cast out of the city that their bodies equaled the height of the walls. This destruction was prefigured by those two bears that are said to have torn to pieces forty-two boys for deriding blessed Elisha. Then was fulfilled what the prophet had said, "The boar from the forest lays it waste, and the beasts of the field feed on it [Psalm 79:14 [80:13]],"for as was indicated, after forty-two years that wicked nation received what it deserved from the two bears, Vespasian and Titus" (Sermon 127:2)  quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. V: 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Marco Conti, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2008) p. 149f).

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Stump the Priest: "The Handwriting Against Us"


Question: "What is the “handwriting against us” in Colossians 2:11-15? Is it our sins or the Law or both or neither?" 

The text, as we have it in the King James Version is as follows:
"In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it."
The key word to consider here is the word translated as "ordinances." Some have tried to use this text as if this word refered to the Old Testament Law, and then to suggest that Christ blotted out the Law, however the word in question in Greek is "δογμασιν" (the dative plural of δογμα (dogma)) from which the English word "dogma" is derived -- however, that connection with the word "dogma" is somewhat misleading. The word is used by both Philo and Josephus in reference to both philosophical principles and imperial decrees (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:231). The sense of "decree" is the sense we find this verse taken in both the Fathers and the Services of the Church. It is the handwriting of the decree that was against us, i.e. the righteous sentence of God due to us for our sins which are blotted out, and nailed to the Cross. By extrapolation, some texts speak of it more generally as the debt of our sin, but this is focusing on the penalty of the sentence against us.

St. Irenaeus: “He destroyed the handwriting of our debt and fastened it to the Cross, so that as by means of a tree we were made debtors to God, so also by means of a tree we may obtain remission of the debt.” (Against Heresies, 5:17:3).

St. John Chrysostom: "See to it that we do not again become debtors to the old contract. Christ came once; he found the certificate of our ancestral indebtedness which Adam wrote and signed. Adam contracted the debt; by our subsequent sins we increased the amount owed. In this contract are written a curse, and sin, and death and the condemnation of the law. Christ took all these away and pardoned them. St. Paul cries out and says: "The decree of our sins which was against us, he has taken it completely away, nailing it to the cross." He did not say "erasing the decree,' nor did he say "blotting it out," but "nailing it to the cross," so that no trace of it might remain. This is why he did not erase it, but tore it to pieces" (Baptismal Instructions 3:21, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. IX, Peter Gorday, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2000) p. 33

St. Ambrose of Milan: "But Christ was sold because he took our condition upon himself, not our sins themselves; he is not held to the price of sin, because he himself did not commit sin. And so he made a contract at a price for our debt, not for money for himself; he took away the debtor's bond, set aside the moneylender, freed the debtor. He alone paid what was owed by all. We ourselves were not permitted to escape from bondage. He undertook this on our behalf, so that he might drive away the slavery of the world, restore the liberty of paradise and grant new grace through the honor we received by his sharing of our nature. This by way of a mystery" (Joseph 4:19, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. IX, Peter Gorday, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2000) p. 34).

Ambrosiaster: "Having defeated the princes and powers by the death of Christ, God annulled the sentence which had been decreed against us by the sin of Adam, for just as the names of those who act well are in the book of life, so also the names of sinners are in the book of death. Therefore God annulled the sentence by which we were guilty of death both by our own sin and by that of our ancestor, having conquered death in Christ and triumphed over the devil and his puppets in his own flesh" (Ancient Christian Texts: Commentaries on Galatians -- Philemon, Ambrosiaster, translated and edited by Gerald L. Bray (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2009) p. 89).

St. Ephrem the Syrian: “At the birth of the Son the King was enrolling all men for the tribute money, that they might be debtors to Him; the King came forth to us Who blotted out our bills and wrote another bill in His own Name that He might be our debtor” (Hymns on the Nativity, 4).

St. John Cassian: "At the sixth hour the spotless victim, our Lord and Savior, was offered to the Father, and mounting the cross for the salvation of the whole world he destroyed the sins of the human race. "Despoiling principalities and powers, he delivered them over publicly [Colossians 2:15]," and he freed all of us who were subject to and burdened by the record of our unpayable debt, removing it from our midst and fixing it to the trophy of his cross [Colossians 2:14] (The Institutes, 3:3:3, trans. Boniface Ramsey, O.P. (New York, NY: The Newman Press, 2000), p. 60).

St. Gregory Palamas: "For this reason the Lord patiently endured for our sake a death He was not obliged to undergo, to redeem us, who were obliged to suffer death, from servitude to the devil and death, by which I mean death both of the soul and of the body, temporary and eternal. Since He gave His blood, which was sinless and therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave us our sins, tore up the record of them on the Cross and delivered us from the Devil's tyranny (cf. Col 2:14-15)" (Christopher Veniamin, trans. Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) p. 128f)."

"Thou hast not imitated the Harlot, O my wretched soul, who took the alabaster jar of myrrh and with tears anointed the feet of the Savior and wiped them with her hair. For this, He tore up the handwriting of her sins" (from the 9th Ode of the Great Canon).

"O God and Lord of Hosts, and Maker of all Creation, Who by the tender compassion of Thy mercy which transcendeth comprehension, didst send down Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of our race, and by His precious Cross didst tear asunder the handwriting of our sins, and thereby didst triumph over the principalities and powers of darkness: Do Thou Thyself, O Master, Lover of mankind, accept also from us sinners these prayers of thanksgiving and entreaty, and deliver us from every destructive and dark transgression, and from all enemies, both visible and invisible, that seek to do us evil. Nail down our flesh with the fear of Thee, and incline not our hearts unto words or thoughts of evil, but pierce our souls with longing for Thee, so that ever looking to Thee, and being guided by Thy Light as we behold Thee, the unapproachable and everlasting Light, we may send up unceasing praise and thanksgiving unto Thee, the Unoriginate Father, with Thine Only-begotten Son, and Thine All-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages" (The prayer at the Sixth Hour).

"O Thou who on the sixth day and in the sixth hour didst nail to the Cross Adam’s daring sin in Paradise, tear asunder also the handwriting of our sins, O Christ God, and save us" (Troparion at the Sixth Lenten Hour).