Friday, October 21, 2016

Stump the Priest: Reproving a Scoffer

"He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee" (Proverbs 9:7-8).
Question: "How should we understand Proverbs 9:7-8? Are we not to reprove the scorner? Or the wicked man?"

Often people take things that are said in the book of Proverbs as if they were immutable promises of God. For example, the proverb "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6) is often cited as it was guaranteed that if you raise your children right that they would at least eventually come to a point at which they would live according to the way that they were raised. However, a proverb is a word of wisdom that is usually going to prove to be true. This does not mean that there are no exceptions. There have been righteous people who raised their children right, but nevertheless had a child who died in rebellion against God. That does not make this proverb untrue... because generally it is true. Experience shows this to be the case. But experience also shows that there are some exceptions. Children retain free will, and despite the best Christian parenting, there are some children that rebel against their upbringing, and never repent.

In this case, it is generally true that rebuking a scorner is not going to go well, because such a person is not inclined to listen to any rebuke, and generally will only heap more scorn on the person doing the rebuking, But this proverb is not a commandment. There are cases in which rebuking a scorner might be in order. But one should obviously be very cautious about it, because it is generally not a good idea.

If you had a child who was a scoffer, as a parent, it would be your duty to rebuke him. Also, there may be some opportunities to say something to a scornful person that, at that particular moment, might actually be received well. If you have such a person in your life, you should pray that God would change their heart, and provide such an opportunity, and pray that God will give you the wisdom to know what to say, and when to say it.

One other aspect of this proverb is that it is teaching us to accept correction. All of us at some point in our lives have been wicked, and inclined to scorn correction. But if we have any wisdom we should love those who justly rebuke us. And even when we receive what we think to be an unjust rebuke, we should consider what we are told, and seriously question whether there is in fact some justice to it. Often our enemies will tell us things about ourselves that our friends will not. They may even do it with malicious intentions, but a wise man can even learn from his enemies.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stump the Priest: Prostrations at the Liturgy

Question: "When are prostrations made at the Liturgy?"

We do not make prostrations at all on Sundays, with the exception being the veneration of the Cross on the third Sunday of Lent, or when the feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross or the Procession of the Cross fall on a Sunday.

We also do not make prostrations on feasts of the Lord (except for the veneration of Cross), regardless of what day they fall on.

We do make them on great feasts of the Theotokos, unless they fall on a Sunday.

During the Church Year, we stop making prostrations after the Presanctified Liturgy on Holy Wednesday, with the only exception being the veneration of the Epitaphios (Plashchanitsa) at Holy Friday Vespers, and Holy Saturday Matins. Even though the Epitaphios remains out until just before Paschal Matins (in Russian practice), prostrations are not supposed to be done when venerating it after the Matins of Holy Saturday (which is actually served Friday evening). We do not make prostrations again until the Kneeling Vespers of Pentecost.

Keeping the above in mind, at Liturgies that do not fall on Sundays or Feasts of the Lord, there are five points at which prostrations should be made:
1. At the Anaphora, the priest or bishop says "Let us give thanks unto the Lord."
2. At the end of the hymn: "We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, O Lord; and we pray unto Thee, O our God." For those in the Altar who are able to hear it, this should be done when the priest or bishop says "Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit." That prayer is traditionally said in a low voice, while the hymn is being sung, and so the people usually do not hear it said.
3. At the end of the hymn to the Theotokos at the Anaphora: "It is truly meet," or its substitute (Zadostoinik).
4. When the chalice is brought out by the deacon or priest, and he says"With the fear of God and with faith, draw nigh." The clergy do not prostrate at this time, because they do this earlier in the Altar, before they commune.
5. When the chalice is shown to the people for the last time, and the priest or bishop says "Always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages." The common practices, however, is that those who have received communion do not make a prostration at this point, and so the clergy likewise do not make a prostration.
It is also a common practice in some local traditions to make a prostration when we sing the "Our Father." However, according to Archbishop Peter, St. John of Shanghai taught that this was incorrect, because, as we say just before we sing this prayer at the Liturgy, we are asking that God would enable us "with boldness and without condemnation to dare to call upon [him] the heavenly God as Father..." And a son does not prostrate himself before his father, when he has such boldness and is not under condemnation.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Stump the Priest: Readers

The Tonsuring of a Reader

Question: "How does one become a Reader, and what does a Reader do?"

We learn a great deal about what it means to be a Reader from the admonition that the bishop gives to a Reader after he is tonsured (i.e., made a Reader):
"My son, the first degree in the Priesthood is that of Reader. It behooveth thee therefore to peruse the divine Scriptures daily, to the end that the hearers, regarding thee may receive edification; that thou in nowise shaming thine election, mayest prepare thyself for a higher degree. For by a chaste, holy and upright life thou shalt gain the favor of the God of loving-kindness, and shalt render thyself worthy of a greater ministry, through Jesus Christ our Lord: to whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen."
This tells us that the office of the Reader is the first rank of the priesthood. There are two types of clergy: minor clergy, and major clergy. Readers are tonsured, which means that rather than being ordained in the Altar, they are set apart by having some of their hair cut in the form of the Cross (as also happens at baptism, and when someone is made a monastic) and ordained in the Nave of the Church, as are Subdeacons, who are also minor clergy. The major clergy are Bishops, Priest, and Deacons.

But what it means for this to be the first rank of the priesthood is that the same basic requirements to be ordained a Priest are also required of a Reader. A reader must of course be Orthodox. He must also be a man who has not been married more than once. He must be of a good reputation. There are other possible impediments to ordination, and most of them apply equally to readers (there are different age requirements for deacons, priests, and bishops, and bishops are required to be monastics).

A Reader should also read the Scriptures daily, and be familiar enough with the texts that he reads that those who hear him are able to understand him, and be edified by his reading. In addition to that, a Reader should learn the rubrics of the services, and should learn to sing his way through the services by learning the tones, and how to use and combine the liturgical  texts at the kliros. In most parishes, there are choir directors who do most of that work at the main services, but a Reader should learn this as well, so that if he is the only person at the kliros (as can happen at some of the daily services) he will be able to read and sing all of the parts of the services that are not specific to the Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.

The admonition to the Reader that he "in nowise" shame his election means that he should be an example to others in the Church. As St. Paul admonished St. Timothy: "be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conduct, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). And a reader should do this in order to prepare himself "for a higher degree." In other words, a reader should be preparing himself for the possibility of serving in a higher rank of the clergy. Of course all Christians should try to be an example "in word, in conduct, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity," but this should be especially the case for clergy. This means a Reader should be personally pious, loving towards others, and should love the services of the Church.

Anyone who is able (and of course an Orthodox Christian) can serve the function of a Reader, when needed. And there are many people who are not tonsured as Readers who do. However, one who actually is a Reader has a duty to fill this role, and so should be zealous to prepare himself to fulfill this role, and should be eager to actually do it, being present whenever possible for the services, and making themselves available to do their duty.

If someone is interested in becoming a reader, they should speak to the priest and begin applying themselves to learning how to properly do it. Even if they are not eventually tonsured as a Reader, the knowledge they acquire is beneficial to any Orthodox Christian.

For more on what it means to be a Reader, I would recommend reading Instruction for the Church Reader as well as A Guide for Readers in the Orthodox Church, by Fr. Geoffrey Korz.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Immoral Policy of the United States Government in Syria

I feel compelled, as a Christian and as an American citizen speaking only for myself, to condemn the policy of the United States government which has been to overthrow the Syrian government by arming and funding a radical jihadist insurgency. This has fueled and exacerbated a conflict which has witnessed the deaths of nearly half of a million Syrians, produced five million refugees, seven and a half-million internally displaced people, and has brought untold misery upon many millions more who have suffered either directly or indirectly as a result of this shameful policy. [1]

I cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that our government continues, with our tax-payer dollars,  to fund and arm those who are raping, murdering, and displacing Christians (who represent about ten percent of the overall population) and other religious minorities in Syria. [2]

Our government waged a phony bombing campaign against ISIS for more than a year, with the only effect being that it made it appear that we were doing something, and provided cover for what we have clearly been up to. In fact, the end result of our government’s actions was to allow these terrorists to push further west into Syria. Our government willfully "looked the other way" because it put added pressure on the legitimate Syrian government (a United Nations member). [3] Some of the foremost academic experts in the world have repeatedly confirmed this. [4] To the extent that ISIS has been “on the run” in recent months, this is primarily due to the efforts of the Syrian Army and their allies, and not to the half-hearted actions of our government.

ISIS soon overran much of Iraq and Eastern Syria, often traveling in large convoys across open desert (which would have been easy targets for a serious bombing campaign by the world’s most powerful air force), and eventually captured historic Palmyra in Syria. This has resulted not only in the immense immediate loss of human life, and the destruction of countless communities – but also the loss of priceless artifacts and documents that are lost to future generations, forever. Ancient Christian communities, many that spoke the very language of Christ, and have existed since the time of the apostles have been destroyed. [5] We have seen the revival of slave markets, which have functioned openly in the streets of cities in Syria and Iraq.  And our government has not only done very little to put a stop to these things, but has in fact funneled arms and supplies to groups closely allied with the al-Nusra Front (which is a branch of Al Qaeda, lately calling itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and ISIS. [6] Our own government has also continued to demonize other world powers, who at the invitation of the Syrian government, are assisting in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups. Our leaders continue to keep this civil war going, instead of pursuing legitimate avenues of peace, while continuing to remain closely allied with sources of terrorist ideology like Saudi Arabia. [7]

Lest anyone think that what I am saying reflects conspiracy theories or fringe views, I would note that no less than Franklin Graham, who does charitable work on the ground in Syria, and is the son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, has been pointing out these errors in US policy in Syria for years. Like most of those who know the Christians of Syria, he opposes any attempt to overthrow the Syrian government, because this government has protected Christians and other religious minorities, and any government that would likely replace it, would see the end of Christianity in Syria. [8]

We should all call upon our leaders to stop this reckless and inhuman policy, and especially condemn any suggestion that we should bomb the Syrian Army. It is unfortunate that many civilians have suffered and died in this civil war, but the primary responsibility for that belongs to those who set this war in motion, fueled it with a steady supply of arms and supplies, and have consistently prevented efforts to bring it to a swift conclusion. [9]

We should also immediately cut off all military and financial aid to “rebel” groups, which is what fueled the rapid rise of ISIS in the first place. [10] We should end the sanctions that helped create the turmoil that laid the groundwork for this civil war.  And furthermore, the US government should provide sufficient resources to rebuild the communities that have been destroyed as a result these immoral and unjust actions. We should also all continue to pray daily for the peace of Syria and for the victims of this tragic and foolish war.

[1] Seumas Milne (June 3, 2015). Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq. The Guardian. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from

[2] BBC News, Syria's beleaguered Christians (February 25, 2015) Retrieved October 6, 2016, from

[3] In fact, Vice President Biden, speaking at Harvard University on October 2, 2014, admitted that our regional allies (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) created, armed, and funded ISIS and the other terrorist groups because they hoped to overthrow the Syrian government:

[4] See for example University of Oklahoma professor Dr. Joshua Landis in a May 2015 statement: or see Chatham House (UK) expert Hayder al-Khoei:

[5] Philip Jenkins (September 4, 2013). Syria’s Christians Risk Eradication: A post-Assad Islamist regime threatens to re-enact the Armenian genocide. The American Conservative. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from

[6] Kevin Boyd (September, 2014). Remember Those 'Moderate' Syrian Rebels That The U.S. Armed? ISIS Got Some Of Those Weapons Too. Independent Journal Review. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from

[7] Scott Shane (August 25, 2016). Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters.' New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from

[8] Newsmax Prime (September 30, 2015). Rev. Franklin Graham on how Russian airstrikes affect Christian persecution. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from Russian Orthodox Church Youtube Channel (October 29, 2015). Rev. Franklin Graham meeting with Patriarch Kirill. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from

[9] Ron Paul Liberty Report (October 6, 2016). Why Everything You Hear About Aleppo Is Wrong. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from

[10] RealClear Politics (August 10, 2015): Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise Of ISIS Was A "Willful Decision" Of US Government. Retrieved October 6, 2016, from:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Stump the Priest: A Sacrifice of Righteousness

The Prophet Nathan confronts King David with his sin.

Question: "I have often been perplexed by the last two sentences of Psalm 50. Is this thought to me a Messianic psalm? If so, I find difficulty in the culmination of the psalm being animal sacrifice. How ought we to incorporate this psalm in our daily prayers in light of this verse?"

Psalm 50 [51 in Protestant Bibles] is not really a Messianic psalm in the usual sense. It is a penitential psalm. In fact, you could say that it is THE penitential psalm We not only pray this psalm daily, but usually we pray it several times a day in the services, as well as in our private prayers.

To understand the ending, you need to keep in mind the context of the entire Psalm. We are told in the superscription that it is "a psalm of David, when Nathan the Prophet came unto him, when he went in unto Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah." We read about this in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:23. There we are told that it was "the time when kings go forth to battle" and yet, for the first time in his adult life, David the King did not go into battle with everyone else, but rather "David tarried still at Jerusalem." Then, in his idleness, one evening, being unable to sleep, David walked upon the roof of his house, "and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon." And rather than put up any resistance to this temptation, he had someone find out that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. And not allowing the fact that she was married to another man to dissuade him, he seduced her, and got her pregnant. Then hoping to cover up his sin, he called for Uriah to return to Jerusalem (who was one of his own soldiers, putting his own life on the line for his king and the nation of Israel), hoping that he would sleep with his wife, and then believe that her child was his own. But Uriah proved to be a better man than David, because he would not allow himself the comforts of home while his fellow soldiers were fighting in the field. He told David:
"The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing."
David even called for Uriah to eat with him, and he got him drunk, but even then "he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house."

Nevertheless, rather than admit his own guilt, David sent Uriah back to the battle, and wrote to Joab, his general:
"Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die."
Joab did as he was told, Uriah was killed in battle, and word was sent back to David. Then David took Bathsheba as a wife, and perhaps thought that he had gotten away with it... but he had not.

King David was, we are told "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), and "the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2 Samuel 23:1), and yet he fell into not only adultery but murder. How was this possible?

St. John Chrysostom says of this:
"And the prophet was found in adultery, the pearl in the mud. However, he did not yet understand that he had sinned; the passion ravaged him to such a great extent. Because, when the charioteer gets drunk, the chariot moves in an irregular, disorderly manner. What the charioteer is to the chariot, the soul is to the body. If the soul becomes darkened, the body rolls in the mud. As long as the charioteer stands firm, the chariot drives smoothly. However, when he becomes exhausted and is unable to hold the reins firmly, you see this very chariot in terrible danger. The exact same thing happens to man. As long as the soul is sober and vigilant, this very body remains in purity. However, when the souls is darkened, this very body rolls in mud and in lusts. Therefore, what did David do? He committed adultery; yet neither was he aware nor was he censured by anyone. This occurred in his most venerable years, so you may learn that, if you are indolent, not even old age benefits you, nor, if you are earnest, can youthful years seriously harm you. Behavior does not depend on age but on the direction of the will. Although David was twelve years old, he was a judge; his predecessors, however, who were old in years, committed adultery; and neither did old age benefit them nor youth injure this one. So you may learn that the affairs of prudence rely upon the will and do not depend on age, just remember that David was found in his venerable years falling into adultery and committing murder; and he reach such a pathetic state that we was unaware that he had sinned, because his mind, which was the charioteer, was drunk from debauchery" (The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving, 2:2:5-7, trans. Michael P. McHugh (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1998),  p. 18f).
St. John tells us, that since when a physician falls ill another physician must cure him, likewise, when one prophet fell into sin, another Prophet was sent to cure him. He did not immediately confront him, lest having his sin publicly exposed at once, he become defiant. Instead, he used a story to cause the King to pronounce judgment over himself:
"And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, "There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him." And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." And Nathan said to David, "Thou art the man!" (2 Samuel 12:1-7).
St. John Chrysostom observes:
"What did the king say? "I have sinned against the Lord." He did not say, "Who are you who censures me? Who sent you to speak with such boldness? With what daring did you prevail?" He did not say anything of the sort; rather, he perceived the sin. And what did he say? "I have sinned against the Lord." Therefore, what did Nathan say to him? "And the Lord remitted your sin." You condemned yourself; I [God] remit your sentence. You confessed prudently; you annulled the sin. You appropriated a condemnatory decision against yourself; I repeal the sentence. Can you see that what is written in Scripture was fulfilled: "Be the first one to tell of your transgressions so you may be justified" [Isaiah 43:26 LXX]? How toilsome is it to be the first one to declare the sin?" (The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving, 2:2:9, trans. Michael P. McHugh (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1998),  p. 20f).
So you find in Psalm 50 the full expression of the Prophet David's repentance. Towards the end of the psalm, we find the references to animal sacrifices. The Prophet, having come to see the depth of his sin, recognized the inadequacy of simply offering animal sacrifice to be reconciled with God:
"For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it; with whole-burnt offerings Thou shalt not be pleased. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise" (Psalm 50 [51]:16-17).
St. Augustine comments that this foresees the time when these sacrifices would be replaced by the reality that they pointed towards:
"David was living at that time when sacrifices of victim animals were offered to God, and he saw these times that were to be. Do we not perceive ourselves in these words? Those sacrifices were figurative, foretelling the One Saving Sacrifice. Not even we have been left without a Sacrifice to offer to God. For hear what he saith, having a concern for his sin, and wishing the evil thing which he hath done to be forgiven him: “If Thou hadst willed,” he saith, “sacrifice, I would have given it surely. With holocausts Thou wilt not be delighted.” Nothing shall we therefore offer? So shall we come to God? And whence shall we propitiate Him? Offer; certainly in thyself thou hast what thou mayest offer. Do not from without fetch frankincense, but say, “In me are, O God, Thy vows, which I will render of praise to Thee.” Do not from without seek cattle to slay, thou hast in thyself what thou mayest kill. “Sacrifice to God is a spirit troubled, a heart contrite and humbled God despiseth not” (ver. 17). Utterly he despiseth bull, he-goat, ram: now is not the time that these should be offered. They were offered when they indicated something, when they promised something; when the things promised come, the promises are taken away. “A heart contrite and humbled God despiseth not.” Ye know that God is high: if thou shalt have made thyself high, He will be from thee; if thou shalt have humbled thyself, He will draw near to thee" (Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm 50 [51], 21).
The psalm ends with these words:
"Do good, O Lord, in Thy good pleasure unto Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded. Then shalt Thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar" (Psalm 50[51]:18-19).
Blessed Theodoret sees in these verses not only a prophecy of the Babylonian captivity (which happened several centuries after the time of King David, and the subsequent return and restoration of Jerusalem and Temple; but also a prophecy of the coming of the Church:
"From these words we are taught more clearly that the psalm is full of prophecy: the verses bear on those compelled to dwell in Babylon, longing for liberation from slavery and bewailing the desolation of the city. They beg that the city be granted some pity and recover its former good fortune, with the ramparts repaired, and the liturgy performed according to the Law. As it is, he is saying, it is not possible for those living in foreign parts to offer to you the prescribed sacrifices, as the Law is clear about sacrificing in that city alone. But if we were to be granted the return and were to rebuild the Temple, then we would offer to you the prescribed sacrifices. Now, very applicable to them is the verse, You will open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise: theirs is the cry, "How shall we sin the Lord's song in a foreign land? [Psalm 136 [137]:4]" The conclusion of this psalm contains, however, a further prophecy as well. You see, after setting forth above the gifts of the all-holy Spirit, he went on to show the God all to be not pleased with the sacrifices according to the Law, and his prayer is for the new Zion to emerge, the heavenly Jerusalem to be built on earth, and the new way of life to be inaugurated as soon as possible, offering not irrational victims but the offering and sacrifices of righteousness, and rational and living holocausts, of which blessed Paul says, "I urge you brethren, through the mercies of God to present your bodies as living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, your rational worship [Romans 12:1]." The most divine David, you see, in so far as he had learned the obscure and hidden things of the wisdom of God, was aware that the New Testament contains the complete forgiveness of sins, and yearned for rapid and complete liberation from sins. And in his longing to attain in his own case the rapid and generous purification, he spoke these verses" (Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Psalms, 1-72, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), p. 302f).
So while this psalm is not a Messianic psalm per se, it certainly does has prophetic elements that relate to the work of the coming Messiah.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2017 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar, now ready for order

You can now place your orders for the 2017 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. In addition to providing liturgical rubrics based on the Jordanville Calendar (Troitskij Pravoslavnij Russkij Kalendar), the calendar also includes a liturgical color chart. The cost is $32.95 Bookstore discounts are available based on the quantity ordered. The Calendar can also be ordered in PDF format. All Calendars are according to the Julian Calendar. To order, and for more information, see:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist and 9/11

We do not generally celebrate the birthdays of saints. We celebrate the date of their deaths, because how we end our lives is more important than how we begin them. However, St. John the Baptist is one of the two exceptions to this rule. We celebrate both the conception and the birth of St. John as well as the Theotokos, because these two people are the holiest of the saints. St. John was, we are told in the Gospels, filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother's womb (Luke 1:15), and so he was a great saint, and the greatest of the Prophets.

Though the beheading of St. John the Baptist happened on Herod's birthday, it is the death of St. John we commemorate, not Herod's birthday, because Herod is remembered now only as a very evil and weak man..

The Herod of the Gospel we heard today is not the same as the Herod we hear about on Christmas. This was one of his sons. Herod the Great had five wives, and many children -- several of whom he had executed, and so it was said of Herod that it was safer to be Herod's pig than Herod's son. After Herod the Great died, his kingdom was divided among the surviving sons, and so Herod Antipas was made a Tetrarch, who ruled Galilee and Perea. Galilee was the most prosperous area in the Holy Land. Perea was the land along the eastern bank of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

It’s difficult to keep track of how the family was related to each other, because this was a family tree that didn’t have a lot of branches. Herod Antipas, was born of Herod's wife Malthake, and was first married to the daughter of King Aretas, a Nabatean King. Herodias was the Granddaughter of Herod the Great, whose grandmother was Mariamne the Hasmonean. She was first married to Herod Philip, another of Herod the Great Son’s, by his wife Cleopatra of Jerusalem, and so was half brother to Herod Antipas. This made Herodias both Herod Antipas’s niece, and his sister-in-law. Herodias had a daughter from Philip, named Salome -- who was both Antipas' niece, and grandniece at the same time.

At one point, Antipas and Herodias were in Rome, and he seduced her. He convinced her to divorce her husband, and promised that he would divorce his wife, and then they would be married, and they both followed through, and were married, with complete disregard to the law of God forbidding the taking of another man's wife while he still lived, and also forbidding taking one's brother's wife at all if she already had a child from the brother.

St. John the Baptist did not say “Who am I to judge”? He did not say, “It is none of my business.” He certainly did not say “Love wins!” as many in our culture today would be inclined to say. Instead he said “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife” (Mark 6:18). He did not care what Roman law said. He did not care what Antipas said the law was. He only cared what the law of God said.

This, of course, did not set well with Herodias, who resented anyone speaking the truth about her. And so finally she persuaded Herod to arrest him, and he put him into prison in the palace fortress of Machaerus, which was on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.

But what is strange is that having put this simple man into prison, "Herod feared John"(Mark 6:20). He was the man with the power. John was locked in a dungeon, and yet Herod feared him. He feared him because he was a "holy and just man" (Mark 6:20), and he no doubt feared the people, who all thought St. John was a prophet.

However, we are also told that he often went to see John, and "heard him gladly" (Mark 6:20). He was torn, because on the one hand, he had a sin he was not willing to give up – the sin of his adulterous and incestuous relationship with his brother’s wife. But on the other hand, he was drawn to the what St. John said, and to what St. John represented. Much like when we later hear of his nephew Agrippa, he was almost persuaded. When St. Paul appeared before Herod Agrippa, after hearing his testimony, he said "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28). And Antipas was almost persuaded to repent. However, "almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades. In the spiritual life, "almost" is not good enough.

So he wavered between two opinions. He would not repent, but he also would not give into the demands of his wife and put St. John to death.

Then, one day he threw himself a birthday party. We are told that "he made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee" (Mark 6:21). And then Salome, the daughter of Herodias, came in and shamelessly danced. This was not the normal behavior of a princess, but she had learned to be shameless from her mother. Antipas, who was no doubt somewhat drunk, was struck with lust for a woman who was his niece, his grandniece, and his step-daughter to boot. And he made a foolish oath: “Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee." And he then swore: "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:23). Some also think that this amounted to a marriage proposal, because normally a ruler shares half of his kingdom only with his queen. She might have asked for all sorts of riches, the possibilities were great, but instead she went and consulted with her mother, and her mother told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. And to make sure that Herod was not given an opportunity to change his made, she demanded that it be given to her on a platter, right then. Rather than renounce a foolish oath, Herod, because he feared the opinion of those who were at his party, gave in:
"And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother" (Mark 6:27-28).
Herod’s conscience troubled him. We know this because we were told at the beginning of today's reading, that when he heard of Christ, he was convinced that this was St. John the Baptist, come back from the dead (Mark 6:14-16).

We hear of Antipas one more time in the Gospels, on the night of Christ’s passion. St. Luke tells us that when Pilate heard that Christ was a Galilean, hoping to pass the buck, he sent him to Antipas, who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time.
“And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him. Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing” (Luke 23:8-9).
He would have heard Christ gladly, as he had John, but Christ did not indulge him. He performed no miracle to impress him. And one thing that this tells us is that there comes a time when God will give up a man who continues to reject the call to repentance, and leave him to go his own way. Today, is the day of salvation. Now is the appointed time (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Since Christ would not provide him with with the entertainment that he had hoped for, we are told that he and his men treated Christ with contempt and mocked him, and "arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate" (Luke 23:11). And it happened that Pilate and Herod became friends (Luke 23:12). They previously had been enemies, but became friends in their opposition to Christ.

About a decade after all of this, Antipas fell out of favor. He went to Rome, but was accused of plotting against the Emperor by his nephew Agrippa, and so lost his rule, and was sent into exile with Herodias. No one knows exactly when or how Herod and Herodias died, and this is because no one thought it important enough to record it. In St. John's Troparion, we are told "The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise..."  However, the Psalms tell us:
"Not so are the ungodly, not so; but rather they are like the chaff which the wind doth hurl away from the face of the earth. For this reason shall the ungodly not stand up in judgement, nor sinners in the council of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, and the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Psalm 1:4-6).
We celebrate another unhappy anniversary today -- the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I do not believe it is coincidental that these attacks happened on the feast of the beheading of St. John the Baptist.*

St. John of Shanghai was the founder of our cathedral in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Most parishes that are dedicated to St. John the Baptist celebrate the feast of his nativity, or the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist -- because both feasts are usually not fast days, and when a parish celebrates a patronal feast, they, of course, like to do it on a day when they can eat whatever they want. However, the feast of the beheading of St. John the Baptist is always a fast day. There is never a year in which this day is another other than a fast day. And yet St. John insisted that they dedicate their cathedral to this feast. The people tried to convince him otherwise, but he warned them that unless they chose this feast, their parish would not prosper... and being fearful to go against such a warning from such a holy man, they relented.

I know that this story was not concocted to try to connect this feast with the 9/11 attacks, because I remember hearing it long before those attacks. Prior to 9/11, people just thought it was curious. Perhaps St. John simply wanted to encourage people to fast. However, after the 9/11 attacks this story was seen in a very different light. St. John the Baptist was a preacher of repentance. He warned that the axe is already laid to the root of the tree, and any tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and caste into the fire (Matthew 3:10). This means that the axe is already in position to start hacking away at the roots, and to chop the tree down, but there is still an opportunity for repentance.

Unfortunately, I remember how after 9/11 there was an upsurge in Church attendance. People seemed to be more interested in their faith. Like Herod, they heard the preaching of the word of God gladly. But it did not last. And look at what has happened since then. Our country has redefined marriage -- the very issue that lead to St. John being beheaded -- and in a way that Herod could not even imagine. We have thrown the law of God out of the window. And now, increasingly, we see Christ mocked in our culture.

We cannot have our cake and eat it to. This is true of us as a nation, and this is true of us as individuals. We cannot serve both God and our own lusts. We cannot call ourselves Christians, and do whatever we please, contrary to God’ law. We have to choose this day whom we will serve, and we will have to live with that choice for all eternity.  Regardless of what everyone else may do, we as Orthodox Christians must say "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

*It is worth noting that the comparable terrorist attack in the United Kingdom happened on July 7th, 2005, which on the Church calendar happens to be the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Click here to listen to the audio of this sermon.

Friday, September 09, 2016

King James English and Orthodox Worship

One doesn't usually look to Orthodox Jewish sources for guidance on the kind of English that is best suited for worship, but years ago I stumbled across some very telling comments in the preface to the book "To Pray as a Jew," by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin. Commenting on his translations of the prayers his book would discuss, he says:
"I have decided to retain the use of "Thou," "Thee," and "Thy" in all passages that address themselves directly to God. The more contemporary "You" and "Your," which I had at first considered using, made me uncomfortable in some instances, although I find it difficult to explain why this should be so. The Hebrew atah (and the Yiddish du) reflect the familiar and the intimate approach to God with which I am comfortable. Still, English seems to demand, at least in some places, the more reverent "Thou" and "Thy." (To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer book and the Synagogue Service, (New York: Basic Books [Harper Collins], 1980), p. xx.).
I would argue that Rabbi Donin was right in his gut, but wrong in his explanation. It makes no sense to limit the use of "Thee" and "Thou" to God, and so he correctly senses the inconsistency of his translation choices here. He is also incorrect in his assumption that these forms are not the "intimate you" he sees in Hebrew and Yiddish. In fact, "Thou" is simply the English form of the German "Du", which is were the Yiddish pronoun comes from (English being, after all, a Germanic language).*  He is correct, however, that in English there is a need to use more traditional language when praying because we sense that the sacredness of the act requires a more reverent form of the language. Traditional English also has the added advantage of being more precise, because it allows for a distinction between the second-person singular pronoun ("thou"), and the plural ("you"), which is present in both Hebrew and Greek, and often this distinction is very important to the meaning of a text. Aside from all of that, praying "O You Who..." just doesn't work.

From time to time we hear some in the Orthodox Church arguing that English-speaking Orthodox Christians should abandon the use of "King James English" and simply use contemporary English in our translations of the Scriptures and the services. This is, however, a fairly recent phenomenon. From the time that the first modern English-speaking Orthodox Christians began translating the services (the earliest known example being in 1760), up until the 1960's, it never seems to have even occurred to anyone that they should translate the services into anything other than the traditional style of English that we find in the King James Version, and the pre-1980's editions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Even non-native English speakers followed this pattern. Nicholas Orloff, who translated a number of texts at the end of the 19th century did so, though these texts are notoriously clunky, and no longer in common use. Likewise Fr. Seraphim Nassar, published a compendium of liturgical texts in 1938 (affectionately known as the "Nassar Five Pounder") that used traditional English, and this text is still in use today, In 1906, Isabel Hapgood first published her Service Book, which was blessed by the Hieromartyr Tikhon of Moscow, and funded by the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II (who spoke English in the home with the Tsarina Alexandra (who was raised by Queen Victoria), and their children). She was an Anglican, and she clearly modeled her translation on the style of the Book of Common Prayer. This text is likewise still in use today, and was highly influential on subsequent translations of the services. More recently, the Lenten Triodion translated by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and Mother Mary is probably one of the most standard English texts in use in the Orthodox Church today, being in use in the vast majority of parishes that use English. The fact is, one cannot find a complete set of service books in English that are not in traditional English, and the obvious reason for this is because this how the English speaking Orthodox Christians generally think it ought to be, and this has been true for more than 250 years.

But some might object that this is just due to Protestant influence. The fact that this is not true is shown by the oldest Catholic translation of the Bible in English, the Douay Rheims Bible, as well as the text of the "Hail Mary" that is still in general use:
"Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
The Orthodox approach to translation has generally been a conservative one. Slavonic was never the street language of Slavic speakers. It was a high form of Slavic language, with a huge amount of created terms, using Slavic root words, and putting them together in the same way Greek theological terms were constructed. The end result was a highly elevated language which was within reach of Slavic speaking people, but was not the language of the street.

When the services were translated into Chinese and Japanese, for example, the style used was that which was used in traditional Chinese and Japanese religious practice... which was an older form of these languages.

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, the Greek of the New Testament was not really "street Greek." It is certainly in a form of Koine Greek, but it is in a Semitic style that it full of Hebraisms rooted in the Old Testament, both the Hebrew original, and the Greek Septuagint (which likewise is full of Hebraisms, see The Semitic Style of the New Testament, and Was the Bible Written in ‘Street Language’?, by Michael D. Marlowe). Furthermore, even in the Hebrew Old Testament, you find the use of intentional archaisms, not to mention the fact that Jews continued to use the Hebrew text of the Old Testament long after Hebrew ceased to be the spoken language of the people (and in fact, they continue to use it to this day).

The Orthodox Church has always taken the position that the language used in our services and translations of Scripture should be within reach of the people (which is why Christians did not just continue to use the Hebrew Old Testament, and why we have always had so many different liturgical languages in use), but the Church has not felt the need to use the language of the street, or to regularly update our translations.

This does not mean that we should never update our translations. While I would argue that when it come to the text of Scripture we should begin with the text of the King James version, I would not argue that there is no need to correct the KJV or to update it when changes to English have rendered a particular text very difficult for the average person to properly understand. One does have to learn some vocabulary and get use to some older grammatical forms, but for the most part, these are not difficult.

Traditional English is also not a dead language. It is simply a form of English used in worship and in other solemn contexts. People use this language every day in prayer, and they do so naturally. Even among those who pray extemporaneously, they are able to pray in this manner without any difficulty, nor is what they say difficult to comprehend. For an example, I would refer people to one of the many extemporaneous prayers Billy Graham gave at his evangelistic rallies:

I think we should take to heart the comments of Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, Cyprus to Dr. Kyriakos Markides:
“We must avoid addressing ourselves to God in a superficial casual way. For this reason Elder Sophrony goes so far as to say that the language we use in prayer must be different from the ordinary language of everyday usage. That is why he insisted that the language of the liturgy should not be translated into the contemporary spoken vernacular.”
“A lot of people today would strongly object to that suggestion,” I pointed out. “They demand that church services be conducted in the spoken ordinary language so that they can understand what is being said. Why did Elder Sophrony hold to such a position?”
“Elder Sophrony claimed that when we conduct the liturgy using everyday language, we lower the level of our communication with God.”
“How is that so?” I asked.
“He believed that ordinary language carries meanings and images from our daily reality that usually lack the element of holiness and purity. On the other hand, when we address ourselves to God in a language that has, as it were, an exclusive usage within the boundaries of the Ecclesia, the very words and sounds of that language evoke sacred feelings and images that facilitate communication with God. A special language that offers precise and exclusive meanings can automatically be experienced as the language of the Ecclesia. It carries greater spiritual force” (Markides, Kyriakos C., Gifts of the Desert: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality, Random House-Doubleday, NY, 2005, quoted by Nun Nectaria (McLees), in an interview with the journal "Road to Emmaus').
*It is interesting to note that when the Austrian-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber's book Ich und Du was translated into English, the title was translated as "I and Thou", rather than "I and You."

Update: I received an interesting comment from Jason Rogers: "In linguistics, using different forms of a language in certain contexts is referred to as "registers" and they exist *almost* in every language. Religious registers are very common, if not the most common, kind of register. so in a sense, humans are predisposed - or "hardwired" - to use religious registers and I think this, in part, explains why older, elevated styles of language are important to us."

For more information:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible, By Fr. John Whiteford

Liturgical Languages and Living Tradition: an Interview with Nun Nectaria (McLees)

A Linguistic Bridge to Orthodoxy In Memoriam Isabel Florence Hapgood, by Marina Ledkovsky

You can watch a pretty good documentary about the history of the King James Bible:

For more from the narrator, Adam Nicolson, see his excellent book on the subject: God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003).

Here also is a lecture on the subject by Adam Nicolson:

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