About Me

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I am a Christian, I am an Orthodox Christian. I am a husband and a Father of 3. I am a working man and enjoy reading, writing, singing, playing music, woodworking, and being with close friends and family and sharing my faith with anyone who will listen.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Questions from an old Church of Christ Friend to an Orthodox Convert

In July of 2012, I received an email from a dear friend from the first church we were in when we first became Christians. It was a church of Christ and this man was someone I respected very highly and I still do. I do not want to post the content of the email because most of it was personal and it would not be proper for me to post the content without his permission, but I do want to say that the content was of sincere concern that we had left the church of Christ and had gone to the Orthodox Church. He sent me a list of questions and I gave a response to those questions. Unfortunately, I have not heard from him since. I was hoping for a friendly dialogue and some open discussion. I thought I would post the questions and then the answers here because it seems pertinent to this blog and I hope it helps other better understand Orthodoxy, whether in or outside of it.

What evidences have you found to be reliable and convincing that:

a.     The Holy Spirit endorsed and provided for an unbroken apostolic succession of inspired bishops, in abrogation of His earlier practice of a plurality of elders in each congregation

b.    The Holy Spirit has abrogated the priesthood of all believers and rather retained a designated order of priesthood separated from laity

c.     The Holy Spirit has abrogated the words of Jesus that no man may be called a spiritual father

d.    The Holy Spirit worked in some but not all the ecumenical councils since the passing of the apostles

e.     The Holy Spirit endorsed the Eastern council but condemned the Western church

f.     The Holy Spirit abrogated 1 Tim. 2:5 endorsing the intercessory prayer and requests to the departed saints

g.    The Holy Spirit subjugated the canon to councils

Here is my response to the questions:

There is no need to be distressed over this! We feel very much at home and our entrance into the Church has been blessing upon blessing!
I feel, though, that the reactions we get that are negative or that concern people have more to do with a misunderstanding of what the Orthodox Church is...
I appreciate your openness to this subject. Our decision was not a flippant decision and took years for us to come to this conclusion. It was a result of diligent study, prayer, and God’s intercession...
To address your first series of questions, I want to first say two things. One, my answers to these questions will be completely pointless unless you can understand the Orthodox Church with an open mind. I completely rejected Orthodoxy because I was not open to hear why the Orthodox do what they do and thought it was too "Catholic". Second, all of these questions presuppose a doctrine (which I held religiously) namely Sola Scriptura, which was developed during the Reformation in response to medieval Roman Catholic abuses. A close look at church history (which I know you know very well) will show that Christianity had never held to Sola Scriptura. Scripture and Tradition together have always been the norm for the church from the beginning. In my response, it would be necessary to pretend for a short time that this is true, and I will explain why I think this is true and convincing in my answers below:

a.     The Holy Spirit endorsed and provided for an unbroken apostolic succession of inspired bishops, in abrogation of His earlier practice of a plurality of elders in each congregation

+ Plurality of Elders vs. Bishop Jurisdiction: As for bishops, it is clear that the early church had bishops.  Unfortunately, many translations like to translate the work of the bishop as "overseeing" since there is usually a predisposition against the office.  But one cannot read I Timothy or Titus without recognizing the office of bishop.  And the bishops were set up over churches by the Apostles.  That is clear from early church history. (see Ignatius’ work Magnesians, 6-7; As you know, Ignatius is writing in the time of the Apostles, 50 to 107. Also may want to check out his epistle to Trallians) The problem is, most anti-Catholic sentiment resulted in rewriting early church history to meet presuppositions/prejudices. In addition, I don’t think the word “inspired” is the best word because it indicates that you mean “infallible” which the bishops certainly are not and would admit otherwise. In fact, they are all accountable to each other and to the diocese they are shepherds over. It is possible for a lay person to depose a bishop if there is consensus among all others concerning the bishop. 

From the beginning (from the time of the Apostles until they laid hands on future bishops), there were three offices: Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon. This is clear in church history and organized before the canon of Scripture was officially collected and canonized! Not all churches even had the pastoral epistles to refer to for chapter and verse! Presbyter simply became the word "priest" due to word evolution through time. On the other hand, the model of the Church of Christ as inherited from the restoration era is from Presbyterian and Baptist models whom had misinterpreted Scripture and were attempts to look as non-catholic as possible.

b.    The Holy Spirit has abrogated the priesthood of all believers and rather retained a designated order of priesthood separated from laity

+ Priesthood of All Believers vs. Clergy/Laity Distinction: The Holy Spirit has not abrogated the priesthood of all believers. I believe this thought is from a misunderstanding of the teachings of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church believes in the “Priesthood of all believers” but also recognizes that some are called to different roles in the church (much like there are ministers, elders, and deacons in the Church of Christ). However, the model for these roles are much more closer to the Apostolic/ biblical model of Bishop, presbyter, and deacon as opposed to the Elder, deacon, and minister (not a biblical office! Much less a pulpit minister or youth minister or outreach minister).

c.     The Holy Spirit has abrogated the words of Jesus that no man may be called a spiritual father

+ Calling a Priest Father: I want to ask an honest question. Was Jesus and the writer of the gospel thinking of Catholics when they wrote this passage? Was Catholicism and Orthodoxy being talked about here? Or did Jesus say not to call men “Teacher” and “Father” and "Rabbi"? Why do we just focus on the Father part, but ignore the Teacher part? I think a good look at the context would help with this one. This passage is from Matthew’s 23rd chapter (one of my favorites). He is speaking to the Pharisees who love to put heavy burdens on people and love to get the greatest seats and show how religious they are with their phylacteries and tassels. Jesus is making a point that these people love to be given great titles such as “Rabbi” “Father” and “Teacher”. But I believe my son has called me father and you call your dad father. And we call teachers “teacher”. If Jesus was saying what you think he is saying, then St Paul would be breaking Christ’s command (Rom. 4:11, Phil 2:22, 1 Thess. 2:11, 1 Tim 5:1). The term "father" is simply an endearment term and a way for us laity to show respect for the office. Jesus is the head of the Church.

d.    The Holy Spirit worked in some but not all the ecumenical councils since the passing of the apostles

+ The Validity of the Ecumenical Councils: The Seven Ecumenical Councils were the ones that clarified the already understood doctrines of the Trinity, the person and natures of Christ, and the canon of Scripture due to heretical teachings that were cropping up. These councils are acknowledged and believed by all Christians (maybe not the seventh entirely) as valid, and if not, they are considered heretics. Can you tell me the Holy Spirit was not at work in these councils?

e.     The Holy Spirit endorsed the Eastern council but condemned the Western church

+ Eastern Church vs. Western Church: Two issues split the East and West primarily when discussing doctrine. 1 – The declaration that the Pope has jurisdiction over all Christians and 2- The addition of the filioque clause (of which I like to say “what the filioque?!”). There were already divisions between the two culturally, but I believe we are concerned here with doctrine and theology. The East prides itself in keeping the Tradition untainted with little to no innovations. They are the true “primitive” church, which is why it may seem a bit strange to us middle class Americans living in the 21st century. But as a friend pointed out, after studying church history, Protestants and Restorationist look a little strange. The line was drawn when the West decided they were in charge (an example of councilor agreement of all the churches except Rome and the attempt to depose this bishop and resulted in excommunications). Additionally, the Roman church innovated and added that the Spirit proceeeded from the Father “and the Son” (filioque) from the already established and councilor agreement that it was complete. Since then, the West has continued to fall into heresy with doctrines like original sin, indulgences, the infallibility of the Pope, and the immaculate conception of Mary. With the Roman Catholic innovations came abuses which spawned the Reformation and led churches down yet another dark path (Calvinism, double predestination, Liberal Theology, TULIP and the list goes on). Not to mention, Sola Scriptura was supposed to be the key that brought everyone together, but now something like 30,000 (maybe more) denominations later, and here we are, wondering which one is right. When all along, the ancient church has preserved the fullness of the church. My decision was either to follow a form of Christianity that made everyone the pope (everyone interprets Scripture for themselves) or a form that made one man the pope (the infallibility of the pope). I can now only say what is the right church, not what is not the right church – but saying that, I will continue to grow in this richness and fullness we call the Orthodox church and which so many are deprived in modern attempts of Christianity.

f.     The Holy Spirit abrogated 1 Tim. 2:5 endorsing the intercessory prayer and requests to the departed saints

+ Intercessory Prayer: If you reject intercessory prayer, you would need to reject that 1- people who die in the Lord are not with the Lord and 2- we are not to intercede  for one another. Let me address the Scripture first. 1 Timothy 2:5 – The key term here is mediator. We do believe that Jesus is the one true mediator between God and man and NO ONE ELSE. A mediator is someone who brings two parties together in reconciliation. Now, to intercede is yet another word and not found in the passage of 1 Tim 2:5. If intercessory prayer is not something we should do, then you will need to cease praying on behalf of another person. When I “pray” (or a better, less confusing word “inquire”) to/of a saint (living or dead), I am simply requesting that they pray for me on my behalf as I would ask you to continue to pray for me. The only difference is, we believe that the saints are with God and that Mary is very close to Jesus. I simply ask the saints to pray for me and I don’t expect any communication from them (which is prohibited, the conjuring up of spirits and the like). So, the key difference in the use of that passage in this context is the word mediate and intercede.

g.    The Holy Spirit subjugated the canon to councils

+ Scripture and its development: Hmm, is this a trick question? J Anyway. As you know, the NT did not drop out of the sky on the day of Penticost and land in the Apostle’s hands. It was a work in progress that took at least a generation and a couple of generations to establish the final canon. There were so many different writings out there, but there was a consensus among the churches and bishops as to what was good for edification and that which was not of Apostolic origin. Many books were considered from the Shepherd of Hermas to the writings of Ignatius and other books (which found their way into our canon) almost didn’t make it, such as Revelation. In general, it was agreed, but there were people out there trying to get their particular theologies elevated and tried pushing for non-Apostolic books. This is when the Church and Tradition will need to step in. See, it was actually Tradition that helped form the canon, because, without it, we would be lost in knowing how to determine which book stays and which goes. This is clear in church history. Again, the councils did not “decide” what they wanted to put in the New Testament any more than they decided to “make up” the doctrine of the Trinity (which was also a result of Holy Tradition, btw). The Councils simply reaffirmed what the church knew all along in order to scale off the heretics.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Miracle Every Sunday

Do you experience miracles? I do, every Sunday.

Forgive me, but I can only talk about things from the perspective of what I have experienced and learned. I have an enormous respect for the Christian tradition from which I come from, namely, the church of Christ. One of the most cherished tradition in the church of Christ was the centrality of the Lord's Supper in worship. This is because it is a central message in the New Testament, in all four of the gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles of St. Paul. If there is one thing you pick up in the New Testament, it is that the Lord's Supper was significant and that the followers of Jesus partook of the Lord's Supper at least every Sunday (the Lord's Day) when they gathered.

The church of Christ made it clear in my mind that there is something significant to this institution of our Lord, but it was never made clear to me why, except that it is commanded in the Bible. I remember being taught that it is just a memorial and our Lord's Supper table made this clear by having the words inscribed on it "Do this in remembrance of me" with the emphasis on remembrance. To the church of Christ, it was a memorial as we would have a memorial for a fallen soldier, only more emphasized because it was done every Sunday. The Lord's Supper generally occurred in the middle of the worship service and started out with men going to the front and one of the men reading the Scripture (pertinent to the Lord's Supper) and saying spontaneous prayer before the dispersion of the emblems. Once that was done the men would take the plates of tiny cups of grape juice and plates of broken up matzah crackers and passed it around to everyone sitting in the congregation. Sometimes a song would be sung, sometimes silence, but it was always somber.

I remember thinking as a young Christian, who had been in seminary and had been taught that the Lord's Supper had been something different to various Christian groups through the centuries, that it had to be something more than just a memorial. Catholics believed in the literal Body and Blood of Christ known as "Transubstantiation" and the Lutherans believed that the presents of Christ was "with" the elements, "Consubstantiation". And others, such as our church, a memorial only. I also remember St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11 about partaking in the Body and the Blood in an unworthy manner and how this was causing some to "fall asleep". No, to me, I knew it was more. Fear would come over me as the plate was passed my way and I was never really certain that I was taking the emblems in a worthy manner, because (as I was taught), taking the emblems in an unworthy manner was related to my moral standing. I was never worthy, so I should never take the emblems. But I also remember thinking, "if it is just a memorial, why does it matter how I take it?"

Fast forward several years, to the years I was studying Orthodoxy and reading the Church Fathers. To the first and second century Church Fathers, it was always understood that the Lord's Supper (Eucharist) was the actual Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, even the first and second century pagans called the Christians cannibals because they spoke of eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus. It has always been understood as Jesus stated it: "This is my Body..." and "this is my blood" and:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more."
(John 6:53-66)
Clearly, from the writing of the New Testament until today, there have been Christians that have taught and affirmed the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

When I was a catechumen in the Orthodox Church, we spent that year not taking the Eucharist, as is the custom of catechumens in the Orthodox Church. This was hard since I had partaken what I thought was the Eucharist for my whole adult Christian life, every Sunday. But that year was a year to contemplate what the Eucharist really was, the True Body and Blood of Christ. The Orthodox do not take this lightly.
There is no open communion in the Orthodox. If a church goer from the outside comes in to our parish and does not believe it is the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, it could be potentially deadly for them as St. Paul points out:
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
(1 Corinthians 11:27-30 - my emphasis added)
It is not closed communion because we are saying "you are out and we are in". It is to protect the one who is taking the very Fire from Heaven that can either cleanse or destroy.
After a full year of not taking the Eucharist and it was my first time to approach the Body and Blood(on my Chrismation date), it occurred to me that I have really never received the Body and Blood of Christ. I knew this because, it is in the Divine Liturgy that the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the "gifts" and ask to make the bread and the wine the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, at which the faithful say "Amen!". This had never been done at any Lord's Supper I had been at in previous churches and is something that goes back to 1st century of the Church. So I stood in line waiting to receive the Eucharist, my arms crossed in an X, my heart pounding, and my soul light. At the moment I was given the Body and Blood of Christ, I had an experience I have never had, nor do I expect to have again. It was a mystical experience. It is very hard to explain, but I liken it to the feeling a martyr  of Christ must have when they are condemned to die and the execution is about to occur and a rush of joy fills their soul. I am not comparing myself to a martyr, please don't misunderstand. I just don't know how else to explain it. I have yet to experience this again, but the Eucharist means so much more to me now than it ever has. It is a miracle every Sunday (or every time a Divine Liturgy occurs).
The people bring the gifts of ordinary bread, made by their hands with gifts that God provides (wheat, water, and yeast) and God transforms the ordinary into the Extraordinary, the very Body and Blood of Christ! How can this be? We have no idea, it is a mystery. Much like the mystery of the Incarnation, the Trinity, a sinner repenting, the infinite God in the womb of the Theotokos, the two natures of Christ, and the Church herself.
These are all miracles in the Orthodox Church and mysteries. We cherish them, protect them, and many have died for them. Praise be to God!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bishop JOHN answers some frequently asked questions

Taken from The Word publication Volume 58 No. 5, Pg. 7

I just received the newest publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese The Word. In it was a Q & A with Bishop JOHN of some commonly asked questions. Below is the list of questions and answers that I thought were pertinent for this blog. I hope you enjoy!
Each of us has opportunities to answer questions and share our faith. Some of these opportunities come when people visit our church, others come at the water cooler at work when people talk about things that the Church provides answers for. Compiled here are some frequently asked questions. This was done to prepare for a workshop to be held in Plymouth at the New England Parish Life
Conference in 2014.
Why is your worship different from others?
Orthodox take to heart the many scripture versus about our being in this world but not of it. Our worship belongs to God’s time and place. We gather in Christ outside of time and place to join with the angels and saints gathered from the start until end of time. Together with them we hear the Gospel, share with the angels and saints and are fed at God’s altar by Christ Himself. We worship the Father in Christ by the Spirit.
Why does your church look different from others?
Our churches are appointed (decorated) this way because we are joining the angels and saints in their time and space. The icons reveal to us that the martyrs, apostles, angels, the Theotokos and Christ are present now with us as we gather to be the Church.
Icons are called windows?
Like windows, they let us see beyond our realm to understand that God and the saints are with us.
But aren’t the saints dead?
Those who are born into Christ and share His life do not die but live in Him. Many who have hearts that beat are dead while those without breath are alive.
Why do you ask saints to pray for you?
We ask them because they are alive and members of our church. Their prayers are coveted because of how close they are to God.
Don’t you know that only Jesus saves and we only need Jesus?
Yes! Only Jesus saves, and we fi nd God with the help and support of each other.
Why do you venerate Mary?
Mary is for us a great example of the Christian life. She says Yes to God and allows God to live in her. She gives birth to Christ, showing us how to reveal God to the world. She cooperates with God the way we all should. We venerate her as an example because she is a very valued member of our parish! Besides, like the saints, her prayers work.
Who started your church?
This church was established by Jesus Christ when he prepared his apostles and then sent them out after Pentecost. Since that time, we have gathered consistently around our bishops to celebrate the Eucharist and deliver the same faith for each generation.
How is the Church structured?
Ruling bishops with the help of their bishops and presbyters gather to express the whole church. They all are united by the Eucharist and the love and unity of faith they have with each other and the whole Orthodox world.
Is the bread and wine really the body and blood of Christ?
Yes. On the night that He was betrayed, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world, Jesus took “flesh bread” called “flesh” and said, “This is my flesh.” He broke it and fed it to his followers. Then He took wine, a symbol of life and cooperation between man and God, blessed it and said, “This is my life (blood),” and gave them wine to drink. Bread and wine are shown to be the body and blood of Christ, and God becomes bread and wine so that we can commune with Him. These elements participate in the gift of God feeding His people, who are already baptized and grafted into His own body.
Do you have 7 sacraments?
We have at least seven! Sacraments are God acting in our lives and sharing Himself with us using elements that we can touch and understand. God heals, feeds, blesses, delivers, joins, forgives, renews and acts in our lives and in our world.

Why is there so much moving around in the Church?
To show how we need to meet God in our lives, and how God meets us and joins Himself to us. We greet the Gospel because it brings us God. We deliver ourselves and our gifts to God and God brings us Himself in the Eucharist before sending us out to share the good news and bring others back.
So are you evangelical?
We are the Church that gathered and preserved the Good News and has lived the life it expresses.

Do you believe people are good?
We are created in God’s image and likeness. God is good, and even though we are born into a fallen world, what it means to be in God’s image is good and we are growing in his likeness. We grow through constant repentance and God’s acceptance. We are baptized to be initiated into the Church which is the body of Christ. When we live God’s life, doing ministry in Christ which is praising the Father and taking care of each other, we share in God’s life. As we detach from what is unholy or ungodly, we grow in our union with God. This union is called theosis or salvation.
Here is the link to the full publication

Friday, April 26, 2013

Iconoclasm as the Gateway Drug to Heresy (Part II)

Iconoclasm as the Gateway Drug to Idolatry

Iconoclasm is dangerous for another reason. I remember when I was in the church of Christ, I was listened to a lot of Christian talk radio. One program I listened to made me think about how easy it is to make an idol of God. It is impossible to know everything about God, but we do know what God has revealed to us about Himself. When we have a scewed view of who God is, we have created a god of own making and likeness which is no god at all. This is where iconography comes in. Icons are not simply pictures, they tell stories. They are not painted, they are written (Orthodoxy refers to writing icons, not painting icons). Everything is significant and has a teaching moment within them. What is being taught are the doctrines of the Church. That is why, in an icon, realism is not the focus. For instance, a forehead may be large, fingers may be extended, clothing of different colors, the absense of shadows, baby Jesus with a middle aged man's face, etc. All are significant and make a theological point.

This is why icons are important and help keep the faithful focussed on Truth. Icons bring the faithful to a reverence, awe, and a reflection of Truth. Iconographers are discouraged from any artistic endeavors when writing icons and approach it as a good scholor would approach the Scriptures, with prayer, fasting, and study of the Tradition. Therefore, icons are much like Scripture, in that they are the plumline for us to understand and keep us in the knowledge of who God is.

I have heard that a monk once said (and I paraphrase and forget who said it) that if God did not want us to know him through images but through our thoughts, then He would have revealed Himself in our thoughts and not in the flesh. Images effect us and can drive us to toward either sin or sanctification. 

John of Damascus

"I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God."

- St. John of Damascus

So how can iconoclast be more suseptible to idolatry than Iconophiles: Because Iconoclasts have no reference but their minds and thoughts of who God is. This requires a new thought of God everytime one thinks about God. This engages the iconoclast's in the possibility of making God in their own image at any given point. Whereas, those who support and venerate icons have an image of God that has been past down from generation to generation (Tradition says St Luke was the first to write an icon). Icons teach the faith. If icons are absent, it is harder to keep the Tradition firm. Ideas about God within Christian circles abound, and these from faithful good intentioned Sola Scriptura Christians. (Sola Scriptura is another subject, but I do want to point out that all heretics have used the Bible to back their heresy)

I hope you enjoy reading this, and I welcome comments!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn...


Life is a series of cycles. I wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch a show with my wife, go to bed, wake up, and do it all again the next day, the next day, the next day, etc. Then, there is the weekly cycle marked by the weekends, and the monthly cycle, and yearly, and so on. What a meaningless mess this seems... 

Until, Christ comes and sanctifies time. Yes, life is a series of cycles, and there is no escaping it. But what I have learned in the Orthodox faith is that time does not need to be meaningless. There are cycles in life and these cycles have been hollowed by Christ.

The Church has a series of cycles. These cycles, past down from generation to generation and inspired by the Spirit have sanctified time and makes life meaningful.

The Church gives us praying cycles for each day. These are morning prayers, mid-day prayers, and evening prayers. There are also times of prayer in the night, but I have not excelled in the ascetic practice (and not sure if I will). This originated from the Jewish custom of praying at certain hours during the day. Handed down from the Apostles, who watched and learned how to pray from Jesus, the Church through the Trinity has hollowed the days with these prayer cycles. It would be beneficial to read these prayers, memorize them, and practice them in your private prayer closet. Yes, they may seem scripted and wrote, but it should be part of us, as natural to you as it is to brush your teeth each morning and evening, a prayer should be on our lips at least three times a day. Though St. Paul would say to pray without ceasing (1Thess 5:17; Eph 6:18). The Holy Church has offered a prayer for that as well. The "Jesus Prayer" - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner" of which can be on your lips at all points of the day. The Church also offers The Hours or Daily Cycle.

There is a weekly cycle in the Orthodox faith. Every day of the week has a meaning and serves as icons of Holy Week. In particular, Saturday is Great Vespers where the "service" is dark, somber, and reflective. This is to commemorate the night that Christ was in the tomb and is the end of the 7th day, the Holy Sabbath. Sundays, of course commemorate the Holy Resurrection of Christ and is considered the 8th day of the week, the Eternal Day. The Liturgy is well lit and is the day the faithful enter into the Kingdom of God on Earth in the Divine Liturgy.

Among these cycles are the festive cycles throughout the year. The Advent (or little lent) of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas) and the Feast of all feasts, Pascha (Easter). These two great feasts are like book ends that hold the other feasts together. The year is full of feasts that point us to Christ. There is a commemoration every day. There are several saints each day that remind us that the saints are the icons of Christ. Here is a list of the Major Feasts in the Orthodox Church:

September 8 The Nativity of Mary the Theotokos
September 14 The Exaltation of the Cross
November 21 The Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple
December 25 The Nativity of Christ
January 6 The Epiphany: The Baptism of Christ
February 2 The Meeting of Christ in the Temple
March 25 The Annunciation
August 6 The Transfiguration of Christ
August 15 The Dormition of the Theotokos
According to the Spring equinox and the Jewish Passover
Palm Sunday The Entry into Jerusalem
Ascension The Ascension of Christ
Pentecost The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Christ has redeemed the day, the week, the month, the year. The only way we can find meaning in our seemingly mundane life is to enter into the liturgical life of the Church and participate with Christians around the world in the glorification of Christ. Otherwise, what are we doing with our time?

Iconoclasm as the Gateway Drug to Heresy

The Indepictable Became Depictable

Icons are by far one of the hardest hurdles for protestants who become Orthodox to overcome. I know it was difficult for me to go from no images whatsoever to images of Christ, the Theotokos, and Saints and Angels. I was taught and I observed a surface reading of the Second Commandment "Thou shall not make engraven images" (Exodus 20:4) and so images were not an option in my initial Christian experience, even though in the same book of the Bible, God commands the making of Cherubim, a bronze serpent, among other things. Not to mention, God was indepictable because He had not revealed Himself in a form as to not be depictable at the time. But of course, when Christ comes, He is the express image of God (Heb 1:3). My surface reading of the seemingly Scriptural prohibition was challenged when I was on my journey toward Orthodoxy. To get a great exposition and well done researched article on the subject of the history, use, and necessity of Holy Icons, check out this article.

But, primarily I would like to focus on an interesting danger that the article points out. As Christians, it is dangerous and walking a fine line to assert that images are forbidden. In doing so, it is a statement that God cannot be depicted. Imagine you are Marty McFly and could travel back to time of Christ. Lets say you took with you a camera. Would you be able to take a photo of Jesus? Or would He be like a vampire, who when taking His picture He would not appear in the photo? 
If you say that Jesus was so much God and only appeared as a man and that we cannot depict Him, then you are stating an ancient heresy called Docetism. This ancient heresy says that Jesus only appeared to be human but was in actuality not human. It was an emphasis on Christ's divinity, but a de-emphasis on His humanity. 

I think it is fair to assert that if we had a photo of Jesus, we would all make copies and disperse it among us all to have in our homes and churches. It is also safe to assert that we would respect this image, venerate ( doulia - not worship, latreia) the image, much like a soldier in war with an image of his wife and kids, kissing it at night before he goes to sleep.

Veneration of icons is not idolatry. There are many arguments as to why this is true (i.e. doulia vs latreia), but if I believe that I am not worshiping (latreia) the wood and paint on the icons, then I am not! It doesn't matter what anyone "thinks" I am doing. 

In honor of the upcoming feast of Lazarus being raised from the dead (known as Lazarus Saturday), I leave you with an early image of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead from the catacombs (2nd to 3rd century AD)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why I Am Orthodox (Part 3.3): Good thing for Heresies!

The First Seven Ecumenical Councils

The church that I became a Christian in taught me "No Creed but Christ", which ironically is a creed. The idea is that Creeds cause division, and this is true. As Christ says, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." (Matt. 10:34). The goal was not to divide though, the goal in creating a creed was to define once and for all what the Church has always believed and to protect the Church from error. As a result, it caused a division between Truth and Error. A far cry from the Ecumenical Movement (and not to be confused with this movement) The Seven Ecumenical Councils are what I would like to focus on.

The Ecumenical Councils were not gathered together to invent doctrine nor to pit one group's truth up against another group's truth. The Councils were gathered because of rising heresies that were up against God's Truth, not man's truth. The bottom line: these were battle fields where God and Satan were at battle and the Spirit of God prevailed in all instances.

Our Lord Jesus made it clear that the Spirit would guide his Church into all Truth (John 16:13-15). The Spirit has guided the people of God, His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, into all Truth. This means the Church has never fallen into heresy, but heresy has risen up against the Church and has sought to entice Her away from her Bride Groom. This is why the Councils emerged. Not to create its own doctrine, but because heresies arose and needed to be filtered out. This is why I say "good thing for heresies" in the title. Not because I love error, but because error made it possible for the Church to define what the Church has always believed.

What is an Ecumenical Council?

An Ecumenical Council is one where the entire Church is in agreement on a subject that is proclaimed to have been maintained from the beginning. An agreement on Tradition handed down from the Apostles. In other words, its the Church's affirmation of an already believed doctrine that has been held since Christ and His Apostles established the Church. The Orthodox Church recognizes only the first seven councils to be ecumenical and therefore are authoritative in their decrees. These Councils follow the example of the first Council in Acts 15 which dealt with how to manage the growing number of gentiles into the dominantly Jewish Church at the time.

Below is a summary of each of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (Source: Fr. Thomas Hopko's The Orthodox Faith. This is a great read to get a basic understanding of the Orthodox Church. You can read it free here http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith. My comments in red which is information gathered from orthodoxwiki.org)
The Seven Ecumenical Councils
Nicea 1325Formulated the First Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Son of God

Why? Arianism: Teaching of Arius that Christ was a created being.
Constantinople I381Formulated the Second Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Holy Spirit

Why? Pneumatomachi (Macedonian) heresie. These were "fighters against the Spirit" denying the divinity of the Spirit and understood Jesus as being of similar substance with the Father, not of the same essense.
Ephesus 431Defined Christ as the Incarnate Word of God and Mary as Theotokos

Why? Nestorianism. Teaching that the human and divine essenses of Christ were seperate and there are two persons in Jesus (divine and human). Nestorius would not say (as the Church had from the beginning) "Theotokos" (Mother of God) to refer to Mary, but Christotokos (Mother of Christ)
Chalcedon451Defined Christ as Perfect God and Perfect Man in One Person

Why? Monophysitism. Taught by Eutyches, that in Jesus, the human nature was absorbed into the divine nature
Constantinople II553Reconfirmed the Doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ

Why? Because of the re-emergence of the Arian, Nestorian, and Monophysite heresies.
Constantinople III680Affirmed the True Humanity of Jesus by insisting upon the reality of His human will and action

Why? Monothelitism ("one will"). Taught that Jesus had two natures but only one will. Orthodox believe that Christ has two wills in conjunction with his two natures.
Nicea II787Affirmed the propriety of icons as genuine expressions of the Christian Faith

Why? Iconoclasm (the distruction of religious imagery).

I hope this was interesting to you as it is and has been for me. Comments are welcome