Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stump the Priest: Noah's Flood

Question: "Was the whole world actually flooded in Noah's flood, or were just parts of it flooded? Does it matter? I went back to read the story but I wonder have the translations from the Greek been lost or misinterpreted? How are we to think of the story of Noah?"

There are conservative Protestants who have laid out detailed arguments that the flood of Noah was a universal flood, and explain how it could have happened. As interesting as some of their theories are, I would not want to have my faith in God rise or fall on them.

There are also many who argue that the flood was a regional flood. In Hebrew, the word that is translated as "earth" in the flood narrative is either "eretz" (which means "land", and can mean either a local area, such as the land of Israel, or the whole earth), or "adamah" (which means "ground," or "soil") -- and so neither word necessarily suggests the entire earth is in view. In recent years this view has been bolstered by evidence of a flooding of the Black Sea area, and evidence that a very large area of land under the black sea was once inhabited by humans, and this is also relatively near to Mount Ararat, where the Bible says the Ark came to rest.

It is also noteworthy that there are flood stories in almost every culture. Sometimes this is cited to discredit the Genesis account, and to argue that the story of Noah is just one of many, but if there was a great flood that affected all of mankind, then you would expect to find such stories in every culture. In fact many of these accounts have striking parallels with the account in Genesis. For example, in addition to having flood legends, the Chinese character for a ship is a boat with eight mouths on it::

And of course, the Ark had Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives -- a total of eight persons.

Since we cannot go back in time to observe what happened, we can only look at the evidence, and speculate as to what actually happened. However, as Christians we know that the Scriptures are inspired. We know that in whatever sense the flood narrative in Genesis was intended to be taken, it is true. We should then focus on the theological, spiritual, and moral meaning of the flood narrative, and not worry about how to explain what actually happened... because, what scientists think they know about the history of the world today is not what they knew 100 years ago, and no doubt it will not be what they will know in another 100 years. These are interesting questions for scientists, and it is interesting for laymen to study these questions, but that is not what the story in Genesis is trying to teach us. We should focus on what the story means for us, as believers, and we should not feel as if we have to settle these questions to trust the Scriptures.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Stump the Priest: Prayers for the Dead on the 3rd, 9th, and 40th day

Question: Why do we pray for the dead on the 3rd, 9th, and 40th day of a person's repose, and what is the basis for the practice?

St. John Chrysostom states that the practice of praying for the dead comes from the Apostles themselves: "Not in vain did the Apostles order that remembrance should be made of the dead in the dreadful Mysteries. They know that great gain resulteth to them, great benefit; for when the whole people stands with uplifted hands, a priestly assembly, and that awful Sacrifice lies displayed, how shall we not prevail with God by our entreaties for them?" (Homily 3 on Philippians).

The Church commemorates the dead at every liturgy, and in every liturgy (that of St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. James, etc.). But there are special days of commemorating the dead, and these commemorations also go back to the Apostles.

The Apostolic Constitutions state: "Let the third day of the departed be celebrated with psalms, and lessons, and prayers, on account of Him that arose in the space of three days; and let the ninth day be celebrated in remembrance of the living, and of the departed; and the fortieth day according to the ancient pattern: for so did the people lament Moses, and the anniversary day in memorial of him. And let alms be given to the poor out of his goods for a memorial of him" (Apostolic Constitutions 8:42).

St. Symeon of Thessaloniki says that the memorial on the 3rd day is in honor of the Trinity, the 9th day memorial is in honor of the nine ranks of angels, the 40th day memorial is in honor of Christ's Ascension on the 40th day, and the annual memorial signifies that the departed lives and ins immortal in the soul (Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, The Mystery of Death, trans. Fr. Peter A. Chamberas (Athens, Greece: The Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians, 1997), p. 422f).

An old article from Orthodox Life (The Church's Prayer for the Dead, Orthodox Life, 1978, no. 1, p.16f), summarizes the Church's teaching on this question:

"We commemorate the dead on the third day firstly, because those who have departed had been baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One God in three Persons, and had kept the Orthodox faith they received at holy baptism; secondly, because they preserved the three virtues which form the foundation of our salvation, namely: faith, hope and love; thirdly, because man's being possesses three internal powers—reason, emotion and desire—by which we all have transgressed. And since man's actions manifest themselves in three ways—by deed, word, and thought—by our commemoration on the third day we entreat the Holy Trinity to forgive the departed all transgressions committed by the three above-mentioned powers and actions. When St. Macarius of Alexandria besought the angel who accompanied him in the desert to explain to him the meaning of the Church's commemoration on the third day, the angel replied to him: "When an offering is made in church on the third day, the soul of the departed receives from its guardian angel relief from the sorrow it feels as a result of the separation from the body. This it receives because glorification and offering is made in the Church of God which gives rise in it to blessed hope, for in the course of the two days the soul is permitted to roam the earth, wherever it wills, in the company of the angels that are with it. Therefore, the soul, loving the body, sometimes wanders about the house in which his body had been laid out, and thus spends two days like a bird seeking its nest. But the virtuous soul goes about those places in which it was wont to do good deeds. On the third day, He Who Himself rose from the dead on the third day commands the Christian soul, in imitation of His resurrection, to ascend to the Heavens to worship the God of all."

On the ninth day, the Holy Church offers prayers and the Bloodless Sacrifice for the departed, that his soul be accounted worthy to be numbered among the choirs of the saints through the prayers and intercession of the nine ranks of angels. St. Macarius of Alexandria, in accordance with the angel's revelation, says that after worshipping God on the third day, it is commanded to show the soul the various pleasant habitations of the saints and the beauty of Paradise. The soul considers all of this for six days, lost in wonder and glorifying the Creator of all. Contemplating all of this, it is transformed and forgets the sorrow it felt in the body. But if it is guilty of sins, at the sight of the delights of the saints it begins to grieve and reproach itself, saying: "Woe is me! How much I busied myself in vanity in that world! Enamored of the gratification of lust, I spent the greater portion of my life in carelessness and did not serve God as I should, that I too might be accounted worthy of this grace and glory. Woe is me! Poor me!" After considering all the joys of the righteous in the course of six days, it again is borne aloft by the angels to worship God.

From earliest antiquity the Holy Church has correctly and devoutly made it a rule to commemorate the departed in the course of forty days, and on the fortieth day in particular. As Christ was victorious over the devil, having spent forty days in fasting and prayer, so the Holy Church likewise, offering for the departed prayers, acts of charity and the Bloodless Sacrifice throughout the forty days, asks the Lord's grace for him to conquer the enemy, the dark prince of the air, and that he receive the Heavenly Kingdom as his inheritance. St. Macarius of Alexandria, discussing the state of man's soul after the death of the body, says: "After the second adoration, the Master of all commands that the soul be led to hell and that it be shown the places of torment there, the various parts of hell, and the diverse tortures of the wicked, in which the souls of sinners ceaselessly wail and gnash their teeth. The soul is borne about these various places of torment for thirty days, trembling lest it itself be imprisoned therein. On the fortieth day it is once again borne aloft to adore the Lord God, and it is at this time that the Judge determines the place of confinement proper to it in accordance with its deeds. This is a great day for the deceased, for it determines his portion until the Dread judgment of God, and therefore, the Holy Church correctly commands that fervent prayer be made for the dead on this day."

In additions to these days, there are days appointed throughout the Church year on which the dead are specially commemorated. That Christians have always prayed for the dead is one of the most well attested Traditions of the Church, and is found in the earliest writings of the Church, throughout the fathers, and is a practice that is also found in Judaism and Islam. Only with the advent of Protestantism do you find Christians that do not pray for the dead, but not even all Protestants reject prayers for the dead.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stump the Priest: Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Question: "What is meant by the verse in 1 Peter 4:8: " will cover a multitude of sins"?"

First, let's look at what the Fathers say about this verse:

"Then the blessed Chaeremon: There are, said he, three things which enable men to control their faults; viz., either the fear of hell or of laws even now imposed; or the hope and desire of the kingdom of heaven; or a liking for goodness itself and the love of virtue. For then we read that the fear of evil loathes contamination: "The fear of the Lord hateth evil" (Proverbs 8:13). Hope also shuts out the assaults of all faults: for "all who hope in Him shall not fail" (Psalm. 33[34]:23). Love also fears no destruction from sins, for "love never faileth" (1 Corinthians 13:8); and again: "love covers a multitude of sins"(1 Peter 4:8). And therefore the blessed Apostle confines the whole sum of salvation in the attainment of those three virtues, saying "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three" (1 Corinthians. 13:13). For faith is what makes us shun the stains of sin from fear of future judgment and punishment; hope is what withdraws our mind from present things, and despises all bodily pleasures from its expectation of heavenly rewards; love is what inflames us with keenness of heart for the love of Christ and the fruit of spiritual goodness, and makes us hate with a perfect hatred whatever is opposed to these. And these three things although they all seem to aim at one and the same end (for they incite us to abstain from things unlawful) yet they differ from each other greatly in the degrees of their excellence. For the two former belong properly to those men who in their aim at goodness have not yet acquired the love of virtue, and the third belongs specially to God and to those who have received into themselves the image and likeness of God. For He alone does the things that are good, with no fear and no thanks or reward to stir Him up, but simply from the love of goodness. For, as Solomon says, "The Lord hath made all things for Himself"(Proverbs 16:4). For under cover of His own goodness He bestows all the fulness of good things on the worthy and the unworthy because He cannot be wearied by wrongs, nor be moved by passions at the sins of men, as He ever remains perfect goodness and unchangeable in His nature" (St. John Cassian, quoting Abbot Chaeremon, Conferences 11:6:1).

"For after that grace of baptism which is common to all, and that most precious gift of martyrdom which is gained by being washed in blood, there are many fruits of penitence by which we can succeed in expiating our sins. For eternal salvation is not only promised to the bare fact of penitence, of which the blessed Apostle Peter says: "Repent and be converted that your sins may be forgiven;" and John the Baptist and the Lord Himself: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Acts 3:19; Matthew 3:2): but also by the affection of love is the weight of our sins overwhelmed: for "charity covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). In the same way also by the fruits of almsgiving a remedy is provided for our wounds, because "As water extinguishes fire, so does almsgiving extinguish sin.(Sirach. 3:33)." -St. John Cassian, quoting Abbot Pinufius, Conferences 20:8:1)

"Whoso doeth contrary to charity and contrary to brotherly love, let him not dare to glory and say that he is born of God: but whoso is in brotherly love, there are certain sins which he cannot commit, and this above all, that he should hate his brother. And how fares it with him concerning his other sins, of which it is said, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us?" Let him hear that which shall set his mind at rest from another place of Scripture; "Charity covereth a multitude of sins" (St. Augustine, Tractates on John, Homily 5:3).

“Love covers a multitude of sins,” (I Pet. 4:8). That is, for love towards one’s neighbor, God forgives the sins of the one who loves”(St. Theophan the Recluse, Letters, VI.949).

"Whose work is it to disturb, to condemn and to harm, if not that of the demons? And here we prove to be helpers of the demons in our own perdition and our neighbor's. Why is this so? Because there is no love in us! For "love will cover a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). The saints do not condemn one who sins and do not turn away from him, but suffer with him, grieve over him, make him to understand, comfort him, heal him, as a sick member, and do everything in order to save him" (Abba Dorotheus).

Love is the fulfillment of the Law. If we truly love, we will keep God's commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). Christ said "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7), and that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven (Matthew 6:14). So it is clear that if we truly love, we will be kept by that love from intentionally sinning, and because we love, God will forgive us our sins, voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown, and will show us mercy on the day of judgment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

St. Gregory Palamas on Christ's Sacrifice for our Sins

The following quotes are from St. Gregory Palamas' Sixteenth Homily, which was delivered on Holy Saturday: "About the Dispensation According to the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Gifts of Grace Granted to Those Who Truly Believe in Him." The entire homily is well worth reading, but here are some excerpts:

"Man was led into his captivity when he experienced God's wrath, this wrath being the good God's just abandonment of man. God had to be reconciled with the human race, for otherwise mankind could not be set free from the servitude. A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on high with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified and sinless priest" (Christopher Veniamin, trans. Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) p. 124).

"Christ overturned the devil through suffering and His flesh which He offered as a sacrifice to God the Father, as a pure and altogether holy victim -- how great is His gift! -- and reconciled God to our human race" (p.125).

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

NATO: Nations Against The Orthodox

15 years ago today, NATO began bombing Serbia, and eventually handed over Kosovo, the historic heartland of Serbia, to Muslim Terrorists. Prior to that, NATO sided with the Croats against the Serbs, the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs, and in Egypt it sided with the Muslim brotherhood against Coptic and Orthodox Christians, and in Syria, it has sided with Jihadists against Syrian Orthodox Christians. Now they are siding with the Uniates and Schismatics against the Orthodox in Ukraine. It is a shame that an organization that once held back communist expansion has become so clearly anti-Orthodox Christian at every turn.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Stump the Priest: The Veneration of the Cross.

Moses and Joshua bowing before the Ark

Question: How would you answer a Protestant who considered our veneration of the Cross (bowing down before it and kissing it) to be idolatry?

First we should consider whether or not bowing down before something or kissing it entails the worship of adoration that is due to God alone. If we look at the Scriptures and to Jewish custom, the answer is clearly "No."

Abraham bowed himself before the people of Hebron (Genesis 23:7, 12); Joseph’s brothers bowed before him (Genesis 42:6; 43:26, 28); and many other examples could be cited that show that bowing was an expression of respect, and bowing to idols is only objectionable because the object in question is in fact an idol, an image of a false deity. In the second commandment we are told that we cannot make an idol, nor may we bow down to them, nor may we worship them (Exodus 20:4-5). The Scriptures also make numerous references to people kissing those that they love. And in Jewish tradition, kissing holy things is a common act that pious Jews engage in several times every day. In his book, "To Pray as a Jew," Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin states:

"Kissing is a universal sign of affection.  It is an act of love, an expression of endearment, not only between man and woman, parents and children, but is also the expression of one's feelings for the ritual objects and the religious duties associated with them.

There are no religious laws that require us to kiss a ritual or holy object.  There is only the force of custom as it develops through the ages. In varying degrees kissing has become an optional commonplace among the Jews as an expression of religious devotion at the following times:

   * The tallit [prayer shawl] is kissed just before putting it on.

    * The tefillin [phylacteries] are kissed when taken them out of their bag and before replacing them in the bag.

    * The mezuzah on the doorpost is sometimes kissed upon entering or leaving a house.  It is done by touching the mezuzah with one's hand and kissing the fingers that made contact with the mezuzah.

    * The Torah is kissed when it passes by in the synagogue.  Here, too, it is often done by extending a hand to  touch the Torah mantle and then kissing the hand.  Some touch the Torah with the edge of a tallit and then kiss the tallit.

    * The Torah is also kissed before one recites the blessings over it. Here it is done by taking the edge of one's tallit or the sash that is used to tie the scroll together, touching the outside of the scroll with it, and then kissing the tallit or the sash.  Many people place the tallit or sash to the very words where the reading is about to begin.  The sages advised against doing this as it may hasten a wearing away or erasure of the letters.  At best, they recommend touching only the margin area near the line where the reading is about to begin.  In all instances, one should not touch the Torah parchment with one's bare hand.  The custom of not doing so derives from a special edict issued by the sages prohibiting such contact (Shabbat 14a: OH 147:1).

    * The curtain on the Ark (paokhet) is kissed before one opens it, or after closing it when the Torah is put away.

    * A siddur [prayer book] and [C]Humash [Jewish Bible] are kissed before putting them away.  These holy books are also kissed if they are accidentally dropped on the floor" (From To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer book and the Synagogue Service, (New York: Basic Books [Harper Collins], 1980), p.43f).

And if we look at how the Israelites treated the Ark of the Covenant, it is clear that acts of reverence towards holy things like those we show to the Cross are not at all at odds with their understanding of the Old Testament Law.

The Ark is referred to as "the Footstool" of God's feet:

"Then David the king stood up upon his feet, and said, Hear me, my brethren, and my people: As for me, I had in mine heart to build an house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had made ready for the building" (1 Chronicles 28:2).

"We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool. Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength" (131[132]:7-8).

And the Psalms specifically command us to worship (literally, bow before) the Ark:

"Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship the footstool of His feet; for He is holy" (Psalm 98[99]:5).

And we see that the Israelites in fact did bow before the Ark:

"And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the Ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads" (Joshua 7:6).

Church tradition directly connects the Cross and the Ark of the Covenant, because the Ark is the place of Atonement, and while the Ark is referred to as "the place where His feet have stood" (Psalm 131:7 lxx) and the Cross is the place were Christ's feet stood, when he made atonement for our sins.

And so there is nothing in our practice that in any way contradicts the Scriptures.

You can listen to a sermon on Psalm 98[99] that addresses this subject by clicking here.

See also: The Icon FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions about Icons).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Stump the Priest: What did Christ write on the ground?

Question: "In John 8:1-11, during the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus kneels down to write something in the sand twice, what did he write?"

Of course, the Gospel of John does not say, but some of the Fathers provide some insight on this question. For example, St. Jerome writes: "The Scribes and Pharisees kept accusing her, and kept earnestly pressing the case, for they wished to stone her to death, according to the law. "But Jesus, stooping down, began to write with his finger on the ground," the sins, to be sure, of those who were making the accusation, as well as the sins of all mortal beings, according to what is written in the prophet, "Those who depart from you shall be written in the earth" [Jeremiah 17:13] (Against the Pelagians 2:17).

St. Nikolai Velimirovich (the Serbian Chrysostom) goes into much greater detail:

"Then the legislator of morality and human conduct stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not (John 8:6). What did the Lord write in the dust? The Evangelist maintains silence concerning this and does not write of it. It was too repulsive and vile to be written in the Book of Joy. However, this has been preserved in our Holy Orthodox tradition, and it is horrible. The Lord wrote something unexpected and startling for the elders, the accusers of the sinful woman. With His finger He disclosed their secret iniquities. For these who point out others’ sins of others were experts in concealing their own sins. But it is pointless to try to hide anything from the eyes of One Who sees all.

“M (eshulam) has stolen treasures from the temple,” wrote the Lord’s finger in the dust.

“A (sher) has committed adultery with his brother’s wife;

“S (halum) has committed perjury;

“E (led) has struck his own father;

“A (marich) has committed sodomy;

“J (oel) has worshipped idols.”

And so one statement after another was written in the dust by the awesome finger of the righteous Judge. And those to whom these words referred, bending down, read what was written, with inexpressible horror. They trembled from fright, and dared not look one another in the eye. They gave no further thought to the sinful woman. They thought only of themselves and of their own death, which was written in the dust. Not a single tongue was able to move, to pronounce that troublesome and evil question, What sayest Thou? The Lord said nothing. That which is so filthy is fit to be written only in filthy dust. Another reason why the Lord wrote on the ground is even greater and more wonderful. That which is written in the dust is easily erased and removed. Christ did not want their sins to be made known to everyone. Had He desired this, He would have announced them before all the people, and would have accused them and had them stoned to death, in accordance with the law. But He, the innocent Lamb of God, did not contemplate revenge or death for those who had prepared for Him a thousand deaths, who desired His death more than everlasting life for themselves. The Lord wanted only to correct them, to make them think of themselves and their own sins. He wanted to remind them that while they carried the burden of their own transgressions, they shouldn’t be strict judges of the transgressions of others. This alone did the Lord desire. And when this was done, the dust was again smoothed over, and that which was written disappeared.

After this our great Lord arose and kindly said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:7). This was like someone taking away the weapons of his enemies and then saying, Now, shoot! The once haughty judges of the sinful woman now stood disarmed, like criminals before the Judge, speechless and rooted to the ground. But the benevolent Saviour, stooping down again, wrote on the ground (John 8:8). What did He write this time? Perhaps their other secret transgressions, so that they would not open their closed lips for a long time. Or perhaps He wrote what sort of persons the elders and leaders of the people should be like. This is not essential for us to know. The most important thing here is that by His writing in the dust He achieved three results: first, He broke and annihilated the storm which the Jewish elders had raised against Him; second, He aroused their deadened consciences in their hardened souls, if only for a short time; and third, He saved the sinful woman from death. This is apparent from the words of the Gospel: And they [the elders] who heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst (John 8:9)" (Pravmir: What Was Christ Writing on the Ground?).

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Stump the Priest: Fallen Nature / Original Sin

Question: "Is the idea of a "fallen nature" a later Western concept that was foreign to the early Fathers? If I remember correctly, I've seen prominent Orthodox theologians use the term "fallen nature". But also I think I've seen other prominent theologians say that the term is a later Western concept that was foreign to the Fathers, and that its usage is incorrect. What is your opinion on this topic?"

I think you are actually referring to the objection that some Orthodox writers have expressed to the phrase "original sin". I would hope that no one has been foolish enough to argue that human nature is not fallen. The services of the Church are full of references to our fallen nature. For example, in the service for the feast of the Ascension alone, there are several such references:

"Not being separated from the bosom of the Father, O most sweet Jesus, and having lived on earth as a man, Thou wast taken up in glory today from the Mount of Olives. And having raised our fallen nature by Thy compassion, Thou didst seat it together with the Father. Wherefore, the heavenly orders of the bodiless were amazed at the wonder and stood in awe and astonishment. They were seized with trembling and magnified Thy love for mankind. With them we on earth also glorify Thy condescension toward us, and Thine Ascension from us, entreating and saying: O Thou Who by Thine Ascension didst fill with infinite joy Thy disciples and the Theotokos who bare Thee, by their prayers deem us also worthy of the joy of Thy chosen ones, for Thy great mercy's sake" (Doxasticon at Lord, I have cried...).

"God is gone up in jubilation, the Lord with the voice of the trumpet, to raise the fallen image of Adam, and to send the Comforting Spirit to sanctify our souls" (Doxasticon at the Vespers Aposticha).

"Thou didst raise up human nature which was fallen into corruption, O Christ, and in Thine Ascension Thou didst exalt us and glorify us together with Thyself" (4th troparion of Ode III of the Canon).

"The majesty of Him Who became poor in the flesh hath been manifestly taken up above the heavens; and our fallen nature hath been honored by sitting with the Father.  Let us all make feast, and with one accord let us cry out with jubilation and clap our hands rejoicing" (8th troparion of the Ode IX of the Canon).

There is a tendency among some contemporary Orthodox writers to dismiss anything that they see as being western, and often in the process they end of dismissing important aspects of Orthodox Tradition as well. And in this case, there have been a number of Orthodox writers that have rejected the phrase "original sin." For example:

Original sin: Orthodox doctrine or heresy?, Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou

Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy

by V. Rev. Antony Hughes, M.Div
- See more at:
Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy, by V. Rev. Antony Hughes

The problem with this approach is that the phrase "original sin" was used and affirmed by the Council of Carthage, in 418 A.D., and this council was officially affirmed by the 6th and 7th Ecumenical Councils. See: Original Sin and Orthodoxy: Reflections on Carthage, and Original Sin and Ephesus: Carthage’s Influence on the East, by Nathaniel McCallum.

Fr. Michael Pomazansky lays out the Orthodox understanding of original sin in his "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology":

"By original sin is meant the sin of Adam, which was transmitted to his descendants and weighs upon them. The doctrine of original sin has great significance in the Christian world-view, because upon it rests a whole series of other dogmas.

The word of God teaches us that through Adam "all have sinned": "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12). "For who will be clean of defilement? No one, if he have lived even a single day upon earth" (Job 14:4-5, Septuagint). "For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me" (Ps. 50:5); "the seed of corruption is in me" (Evening Prayers).

The common faith of the ancient Christian Church in the existence of original sin may be seen in the Church's ancient custom of baptizing infants. The Local Council of Carthage in 252, composed of 66 bishops under the presidency of St. Cyprian, decreed the following against heretics: "Not to forbid (the baptism) of an infant who, scarcely born, has sinned in nothing apart from that which proceeds from the flesh of Adam. He has received the contagion of the ancient death through his very birth, and he comes, therefore, the more easily to the reception of the remission of sins in that it is not his own but the sins of another that are remitted." (The same thing is stated in Canon 110 of the "African Code," approved by 217 bishops at Carthage in 419 and ratified by the Council in Trullo (692) and the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787). Canon 110 ends: "On account of this rule of faith even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration" (The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Eerdmans ed., p. 497).)

This is the way in which the "Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs" defines the result of the fall into sin: "Fallen through the transgression, man became like the irrational creatures. That is, he became darkened and was deprived of perfection and dispassion. But he was not deprived of the nature and power which he had received from the All-good God. For had he been so deprived, he would have become irrational, and thus not a man. But he preserved that nature with which he had been created, and the free, living and active natural power, so that, according to nature, he might choose and do the good, and flee and turn away from evil" ("Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs," paragraph 14).

In the history of the ancient Christian Church, Pelagius and his followers denied the inheritance of sin (the heresy of Pelagianism). Pelagius affirmed that every man only repeats the sin of Adam, performing anew his own personal fall into sin, and following the example of Adam because of his own weak will. However, his nature remains the same as when it was created, innocent and pure, the same as that of the first-created Adam. Moreover, disease and death are characteristic of this nature from the creation, and are not the consequences of original sin.

Blessed Augustine stepped out against Pelagius with great power and proof. He cited (a) testimonies from Divine Revelation concerning original sin, (b) the teaching of the ancient shepherds of the Church, (c) the ancient custom of baptizing infants, and (d) the sufferings and misfortunes of men, including infants, which are a consequence of the universal and inherited sinfulness of men. However, Augustine did not escape the opposite extreme, setting forth the idea that in fallen man any independent freedom to do good has been completely annihilated, unless grace comes to his aid.

Out of this dispute in the West there subsequently were formed two tendencies, one of which was followed by Roman Catholicism, and the other by Protestantism. Roman Catholic theologians consider that the consequence of the fall was the removal from men of a supernatural gift of God's grace, after which man remained in his "natural" condition, his nature not harmed but only brought into disorder because flesh, the bodily side, has come to dominate over the spiritual side. Original sin, in this view, consists of the fact that the guilt before God of Adam and Eve has passed to all men.

The other tendency in the West sees in original sin the complete perversion of human nature and its corruption to its very depths, to its very foundations (the view accepted by Luther and Calvin). As for the newer sects of Protestantism, reacting in their turn against the extremes of Luther, they have gone as far as the complete denial of original, inherited sin.

Among the shepherds of the Eastern Church there have been no doubts concerning either the teaching of the inherited ancestral sin in general, or the consequences of this sin for fallen human nature in particular.

Orthodox theology does not accept the extreme points of Blessed Augustine's teaching; but equally foreign to it is the (later) Roman Catholic point of view, which has a very legalistic, formal character. The foundation of the Roman Catholic teaching lies in (a) an understanding of the sin of Adam as an infinitely great offense against God; (b) after this offense there followed the wrath of God; (c) the wrath of God was expressed in the removal of the supernatural gifts of God's grace; and (d) the removal of grace drew after itself the submission of the spiritual principle to the fleshly principle, and a falling deeper into sin and death. From this comes a particular view of the redemption performed by the Son of God: In order to restore the order which had been violated, it was necessary first of all to give satisfaction for the offense given to God, and by this means to remove the guilt of mankind and the punishment that weighs upon him.

The consequences of ancestral sin are accepted by Orthodox theology differently.

After his first fall, man himself departed in soul from God and became unreceptive to the grace of God which was opened to him; he ceased to listen to the divine voice addressed to him, and this led to the further deepening of sin in him.

However, God has never deprived mankind of His mercy, help, grace, and especially His chosen people; and from this people there came forth great righteous men such as Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and the later prophets. The Apostle Paul, in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, lists a whole choir of Old Testament righteous ones, saying that they are those "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11:38). All of them were perfected not without a gift from above, not without the grace of God. The book of Acts cites the words of the first martyr, Stephen, where he says of David that he "found favor (grace) before God, and desired to find a tabernacle of the God of Jacob" (Acts 7:46); that is, to build a Temple for Him. The greatest of the prophets, St. John the Forerunner, was "filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). But the Old Testament righteous ones could not escape the general lot of fallen mankind after death, remaining in the darkness of hell, until the founding of the Heavenly Church; that is, until the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ destroyed the gates of hell and opened the way into the Kingdom of Heaven.

One must not see the essence of sin — including original sin — only in the dominance of the fleshly over the spiritual, as Roman Catholic theology teaches. Many sinful inclinations, even very serious ones, have to do with qualities of a spiritual order, such as pride, which, according to the words of the Apostle, is the source, together with lust, of the general sinfulness of the world (1 John 2:15-16). Sin is also present in evil spirits who have no flesh at all. In Sacred Scripture the word "flesh" signifies a condition of not being reborn, a condition opposed to being reborn in Christ "That which it born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Of course, this is not to deny that a whole series of passions and sinful inclinations originate in bodily nature, which Sacred Scripture also shows (Romans, ch. 7).

Thus, original sin is understood by Orthodox theology as a sinful inclination which has entered into mankind and become its spiritual disease" (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, pp. 160-164).

For more on this subject, see:

Rags of Morality: Original Sin and Human Nature, Archpriest Alexander Golubov, Ph.D.

Ancestral vs. Original Sin: A False Dichotomy, by Ephrem Hugh Bensusan

Original Sin According to St. Paul, by Fr. John S. Romanides 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Stump the Priest: What do you do when you see someone else mistreated?

Question: I know that Jesus Christ teaches that we should turn the other cheek and forgive those who offend us. But, my question is, how should I, as a Christian, react when I see a friend being treated badly?  I know someone who is very elderly and her son is so distant with her.  I call her everyday because I see that she needs companionship.  She's a widow.  I visit her and talk with her, but I can't do all the things she needs because he's the legal relative.  Her heart is breaking because she sees that her son doesn't care to take time with her.  And inside, it makes me boil with anger for his negligence of his own mother.  I want so much to tell him off.  When she falls asleep in Christ, I don't know if I'll be able to hold back on telling him how much his mother was suffering because of his lack of love towards her.  

This is a complicated question that does not lend itself to simple answers.

If the son in this case was an Orthodox Christians who took his faith seriously, you could follow the steps laid out by Christ in Matthew 18:15-18:

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Even if he were a non-Orthodox Christian, you could try talking to him, and if that did not work, you could try talking to his pastor. However, if he took his faith seriously, in all likelihood, he would not be treating his mother in the manner that you describe. As St. Augustine put it: "It's your parents you see when you first open your eyes, and it is their friendship that lays down the first strands of this life. If anyone fails to honor his parents, is there anyone he will spare?" ((Sermon 9.7, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. III, Joseph T. Lienhard, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2001) p. 106)).

If, as is likely, the son is not a serious Christian of any kind, how you should approach him is a question of wisdom. It is not a question of turning the other cheek, when it is someone else's cheek that is being slapped. In fact, we are called upon by Scripture to defend the helpless: "Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17). But you should approach this situation in such a way that you will help your friend, and as much as possible, help the son to come to see his responsibilities to his mother. The time to confront him, if you confront him at all, would be to do so before your friend has passed away... and your purpose has to be to help these two people, not simply to tell him off.

What I would suggest you do is first talk to your friend to see what she would suggest. Then I would talk to other people whose opinion you respect, and who perhaps have some experience dealing with difficult situations of this sort. As Proverbs 11:14 says: "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety."

You also should pray for God's guidance. Pray that He would give you the wisdom to handle the situation properly, and pray sincerely for both the mother and the son. Then after you have sought wise counsel, and prayed for God's guidance, do what seems to be the wisest thing, and do it in a humble and loving way.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stump the Priest: Is There Anything Special About the Virgin Mary?

Question: I know a protestant who argues that there was nothing significant about the Virgin Mary, and that just about any woman who was a believer "would have been just as good a selection.” How would you reply to someone that said there was nothing special about the Virgin Mary and basically anyone else could have done what she did?

There is of course a great deal that could be said about the Tradition of the Church to contradict what this protestant said, but when arguing with protestants, the arguments that they will find most persuasive are arguments from Scripture.

I would point out, first off that he has no basis in Scripture for the assertion that any other woman would have been just as good of a selection. Scripture does not tell us explicitly why God chose the Virgin Mary, but when we see her obedience, humility, love, and long-suffering in the Gospels it is clear that she was not just a randomly chosen Jewish girl, but rather an extremely holy woman.

Secondly, there are three places in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke alone in which it is made clear that the Virgin Mary was "special":

1. The Archangel Gabriel greeted her with the words: "Rejoice, thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28). It is no small matter to be full of grace, for the Lord to be with you, and to be the most blessed of women.

2. When the Virgin Mary went to visit St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist, we are told: "And it came to pass, that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord" (Luke 1:41-45). At the sound of the Virgin Mary's voice, Elizabeth was filled the Holy Spirit. We are again told that she is the most blessed of women, she is called the mother of the Lord, and Elizabeth states that she is unworthy of the honor that the mother of her Lord should visit her. She also states that she is blessed because of her faith.

3. The Virgin Mary herself, in her Magnificat, said "...from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). So I would ask your protestant friend why, if every generation will call her blessed, he refuses to do so along with them?

Protestants do not give much credence to Tradition, but they have a harder time dismissing what the early fathers of the Church had to say, and one of the earliest was St. Ireneaus of Lyons (ca. 130 - 202 AD). St. Ireneaus grew up in Smyrna, and as a boy heard the preaching of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. In his famous work, Against Heresies, he speaks of the role that the Virgin Mary played in our salvation as the new Eve, whose obedience and faith undid the disobedience of our firth mother:

"In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise “they were both naked, and were not ashamed,” inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; so that the former ties be cancelled by the latter, that the latter may set the former again at liberty. And it has, in fact, happened that the first compact looses from the second tie, but that the second tie takes the position of the first which has been cancelled. For this reason did the Lord declare that the first should in truth be last, and the last first. And the prophet, too, indicates the same, saying, “instead of fathers, children have been born unto thee.” For the Lord, having been born “the First-begotten of the dead,” and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die. Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith" (Against Heresies 3:22:4).

So the attitude taken by your protestant friend is neither Biblical, nor consistent with the view found in the early Church.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Stump the Priest: What does John 20:17b mean?

Question: What did Christ mean when He said to St. Mary Magdalene, "...but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17b)?

The simplest and most direct answer to this is given by Blessed Theophylact: "God is indeed our Father, but only by grace. He is Christ's Father by nature. On the other hand, the Father is our God by nature; He is Christ's God in respect to his human nature alone. Only after assuming human nature can Christ say the the Father is His God." (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to John.  Fr. Christopher Stade, Trans. (House Springs, MO: Chrysostom  Press, 2007), p. 298).

Here is what some other Fathers have to say to expound on this question further:

St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote: "I will explain, then, as far as I am able: In the first place, then, though we are servants by rank and nature (for creatures are subject to their Creator), He calls us His brethren, and designates God the common Father of Himself and us; and, making humanity His own, by taking our likeness upon Him, He calls our God His God, though He is His Son by Nature; that, as we mount up to His exceeding great dignity of station by likeness to Him (for it is not because we are by nature sons of God that we are so called, for He cries in our hearts by His own Spirit, Abba, Father), so also He, since He took our form -- for He became Man, according to the Scriptures -- might have God for His God, though He was truly God by Nature, and proceeded from Him. Be not, therefore, offended, though you hear Him calling God His God, but rather contemplate His words in a teachable spirit, and attentively consider their true meaning. For He says that God is both His Father and our God; and both sayings are true. For, in very truth, the God of the universe is Christ's Father, but not ours by nature; but rather our God as our Creator and Sovereign Lord. But the Son, as it were, blending Himself with us, vouchsafes to our nature the dignity that is in a special and peculiar sense His own, calling Him That begat Him the common Father of us all; while, on the other hand, He receives into Himself, by taking upon Him our likeness, that which belonged to our nature. For He calls His Father His God, being unwilling, through His inherent love and mercy toward mankind, to dishonour our likeness that He had taken upon Himself. If, then, you choose in ignorance to cavil at this saying, and it seem intolerable to you that the Lord should say that God the Father was His God, you will then, in your perversity, be bringing a charge against the scheme for your own redemption; and when you ought to be offering up thanksgiving you will be dishonouring your Benefactor, and be foolishly objecting to the manner in which He manifested His love towards you. For if He humbled Himself, despising shame, and became a Man for your sake, on your head is the charge of humiliation, and to Him Who chose to undergo this for your sake, exceeding great is the honour due. And I am amazed that you have ears merely for the eclipse of glory (for He humbled Himself for our sake), and consider not its restoration, and, regarding only the degradation, reflect not upon the exaltation. For how was He humiliated, if you do not regard Him as perfect, as being God? And in what sense was He degraded, if you do not take into account the lofty attributes of His ineffable Nature? Therefore, when He was perfect and all-sufficient as God, He humbled Himself for your sake, transforming Himself to your likeness; and though He was high exalted as the Son of God, and of the very Essence of the Father, He degraded Himself, being mulcted of the attributes of Divine glory, so far as His Nature admitted. As therefore, now, He is at the same time God and Man, being high exalted because of His parentage (for He is God of God and truly Begotten of His Father), and also made lowly for our sake (for He became Man for us); be of a tranquil mind when you hear Him saying: I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. For it was very meet and right that, as being by Nature God and Son of God, He should call Him That begat Him His Father; and that, as being Man, even as we are men. He should call God His God" (Homilies on the Gospel of John, Book XII, chapter 1).

St. Augustine said: "He saith not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. “And my God, and your God.” Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator" (Homilies on the Gospel of John, Tractate 121:3).

St. Cyril of Jerusalem said: "But lest any one from simplicity or perverse ingenuity should suppose that Christ is but equal in honour to righteous men, from His saying, I ascend to My Father, and your Father, it is well to make this distinction beforehand, that the name of the Father is one, but the power of His operation manifold.  And Christ Himself knowing this has spoken unerringly, I go to My Father, and your Father:  not saying ‘to our Father,’ but distinguishing, and saying first what was proper to Himself, to My Father, which was by nature; then adding, and your Father, which was by adoption.  For however high the privilege we have received of saying in our prayers, Our Father, which art in heaven, yet the gift is of loving-kindness.  For we call Him Father, not as having been by nature begotten of Our Father which is in heaven; but having been transferred from servitude to sonship by the grace of the Father, through the Son and Holy Spirit, we are permitted so to speak by ineffable loving-kindness (Catechetical Lectures 7:7).

 "But the Father having begotten the Son, remained the Father and is not changed.  He begat Wisdom, yet lost not wisdom Himself; and begat Power, yet became not weak:  He begat God, but lost not His own Godhead:  and neither did He lose anything Himself by diminution or change; nor has He who was begotten any thing wanting.  Perfect is He who begat, Perfect that which was begotten:  God was He who begat, God He who was begotten; God of all Himself, yet entitling the Father His own God.  For He is not ashamed to say, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God. But lest thou shouldest think that He is in a like sense Father of the Son and of the creatures, Christ drew a distinction in what follows.  For He said not, “I ascend to our Father,” lest the creatures should be made fellows of the Only-begotten; but He said, My Father and your Father; in one way Mine, by nature; in another yours, by adoption.  And again, to my God and your God, in one way Mine, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and in another way yours, as His workmanship.  The Son of God then is Very God, ineffably begotten before all ages (for I say the same things often to you, that it may be graven upon your mind).  This also believe, that God has a Son:  but about the manner be not curious, for by searching thou wilt not find.  Exalt not thyself, lest thou fall:  think upon those things only which have been commanded thee.  Tell me first what He is who begat, and then learn that which He begat; but if thou canst not conceive the nature of Him who hath begotten, search not curiously into the manner of that which is begotten" (Catechetical Lectures 11:18-19).

We know that this text is not saying that Christ is not God, because at the very beginning of the Gospel of John, we are told that not only was the Word (Christ) with God, but that the Word was God (John 1:1). And later in the same chapter as the verse in question, St. Thomas, upon understanding that Christ was truly risen, addressed Christ, saying "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28) -- and Christ did not rebuke or correct him, but rather confirmed his statement by responding "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Levant Report:Saidnaya under rebel attack: Christian locals believe they are targets of imminent insurgent ground invasion, CNN justifies rebel assault

Source (re-posted with permission).

Levant Report’s own sources inside Syria were present in Saidnaya this week: they report that the townspeople are now sounding the alarm to the international community that Islamist rebels in the surrounding mountains are preparing a major invasion of the Christian city. The primary aim of the rebels, the inhabitants fear, is to commit “religious cleansing” against Christians – similar to what happened only months ago in nearby Maaloula. A reluctant international press is also beginning to acknowledge the potential for a genocidal event against Saidnayans, yet disinformation is already in full swing.

This past Thursday, February 6, monasteries and churches in the ancient Christian city of Saidnaya held special celebrations for the feast of St. Elian – a Syrian saint martyred in Homs in the third century. These celebrations took place despite the village being under constant rebel mortar attack – attacks that have been stepped up over the last month.

Saidnaya, which lies 25 minutes by car north of Damascus, and 40 minutes to the southwest of Maaloula, is (alongside Maaloula) Syria’s most celebrated and historic Christian city. Its scenic location at the edge of the Qalaman Mountains, its active churches and monasteries that go back to the time of Emperor Justinian, and multiple restaurants and resort hotels made it a favorite weekend getaway destination for Syrians and tourists of all backgrounds prior to the chaos of the last couple of years.

Saidnaya has, until recently, managed to stay quiet and relatively peaceful for most of the nearly three years of the Syria conflict. Its 5 active monasteries, dozens of churches, and large convent orphanage for girls, have continued life as usual as they have over the past many centuries living under multiple regimes - from the Byzantines to the Ottomans to the Ba’ath.

The mostly Orthodox Christian population tends to be presented as “pro-regime” in Western media reports – this perhaps because Syria’s most well-known political prison is located in Saidnaya. But the city’s Christian population believes that its very survival is dependent on the government checkpoints, tanks, and soldiers that protect it from the thousands of foreign-backed insurgents that are hunkered down in the surrounding Qalamon Mountains.

Unlike the very politically involved Maronites of Lebanon, Syria’s Christian population tends to keep a low-profile, and has enjoyed the historical toleration shown by the secular pan-Arab Ba’athists and socialist nationalist politicians that have led the country for much of Syria’s modern period.

Timothy Heckenlively, a Classics professor at a major central Texas university who has lived in the Saidnaya/Maaloula area, published a brief report in October titled “Saidnaya: another Maaloula in the making?”. After the initial successful insurgent entry into Maaloula, he expressed the following concern:
It appears that the Islamist opposition forces who wrecked [sic] havoc in Maaloula may be preparing for a similar assault on the equally important Christian village of Saidnaya. On Oct. 1, Fides (a site of the Vatican news network) reported that raids were now commonplace and that one man was dead after clashes the previous day.
Since October, insurgents have mounted multiple unsuccessful attempts to capture the mountaintop which overlooks Saidnaya – a strategic place from which they could destroy the city below. At the highest point of this mountain sits Cherubim Monastery – an active monastery and retreat center which has an important cultural heritage site: a church which dates to the third century. One of the tallest Christ statues in the world was recently erected on the monastery grounds - a towering 39 meters tall bronze sculpture that was years in planning with the help of Russian benefactors.

During the spring and summer months, Cherubim Monastery hosts Christian youth camps and church schools. The monks recently had to leave the monastery due to the frequent rebel incursions around the mountain; they are now sheltered in St. George Monastery in the village below.

In an October 2013 Christianity Today article entitled Latest Stop in Race for World’s Tallest Jesus Statue: War-Torn Syria, the reality of an ongoing religiocide in this historic Christian region was noted:
Saidnaya has recently faced sectarian attacks similar to Maaloula, another Aramaic-speaking pilgrimage destination just 15 miles north. In addition to displacing tens of thousands of people, the attacks have prompted 50,000 Syrian Christians to apply for citizenship in Russia, reports Interfax. “It is for the first time since the Nativity of Christ that we Christians of Qalamoun living in the villages of Saidnaya, Maara Saidnaya, Maaloula and Maaroun are under threat of banishment from our land,” reads the group’s appeal to the Russia Foreign Ministry.
The parallels between Maaloula and Saidnaya are all too evident: both are iconic Christian cities that have done their best to prevent conflict from entering their sleepy countryside environs; both contain Syrian cultural and UNESCO heritage sites valued by all Syrians; both have convent-run orphanages for girls and charitable centers and retreat centers; and both are overlooked by mountains from which rebels can wreak havoc and terror on a vulnerable population. Sadly, Maaloula now sits liquidated of its Christian inhabitants (some were kidnapped, some killed, and most fled to Damascus).

Our Lady of Saidnaya Convent and Orphanage is significantly larger than Maaloula’s St. Thekla Convent. It was the very first target of rebel insurgent attack on the city as it was struck by mortar fire back in January 2012. Note that in spite of current opposition and media claims that Saidnaya is primarily a government/military target, this first target of attack was a community of elderly nuns and young orphan girls.

We all know the story of Maaloula. A reluctant international press picked up on the terror attack after it was too late – and even then major outlets like the New York Times did their best to protect the reputation of the rebel insurgents involved in the takeover and brutal cleansing of the city’s Christian population. Maaloula was of no real strategic value to the rebel insurgents – their own actions in the aftermath of the assault testify to the fact that the town’s religious identity had everything to do with it.
Levant Report’s sources, which have a close affiliation with Maaloula’s St. Thekla Convent, confirm that the ancient monastery church and side chapels were stripped completely of their priceless religious icons, and other religious objects were urinated and defecated upon. Christian villagers who were caught in the midst of the rebel assault had their throats slit, or were shot execution style at close range.
According to Matthew Barber, Syria analyst and administrator of the hugely influential Syria Comment site, the Free Syrian Army and allied groups played a central role in the assault and takeover of Maaloula:
The video and photographic evidence available after the attack indicates that the operation was a coordinated effort between (at least) the following groups: Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Baba ‘Amr Brigades (a rebel group possibly affiliated with the SIF – Syrian Islamic Front), FSA Commandos Unit, and Soqour al-Sham.
It is important to remember that the United States and other governments officially finance and supply weapons to some of these very groups. Though the FSA continues to be sold as “moderate” – it routinely conducts joint operations with Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups. A clear dividing line between “extreme Islamists” and the FSA is a myth sold by the United States and Western governments.

The 12 abducted Maaloulan nuns and 4 young women from the orphanage are still the objects of uncertain on-and-off hostage negotiations. Shamefully, multiple Western mainstream media outlets uncritically reported opposition claims that the nuns were actually “rescued” from Syrian Army forces as a result of the rebel takeover of Maaloula. See National Public Radio’s outrageous December 20 report – Rebel Leader: Nuns Were Led To Safety, Not Seized, In Syria:
“He decided to kill you and blame us,” he recalls pleading with the sisters, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad, after a surface-to-surface missile shattered the convent’s thick wooden door on Dec. 3…
…But Abu Majid says local rebels were protecting the women from the regime shelling on an ancient Christian town.
Similar propaganda has already begun regarding the ongoing insurgent raids on Saidnaya. In a recent January 24 CNN exclusive report from Saidnaya, the CNN correspondent declared that “Cherubim Monastery is not a civilian target these days” – this because Syrian Army tanks and soldiers are protecting the monastery and the city below. Yet the report also acknowledges that most of the fighters protecting the mountaintop and monastery are simply local Christians who desire to keep the Islamic insurgents from entering. It is unbelievable that a reporter would brazenly declare that a historic Christian monastery that housed elderly monks and was home to summer youth camps is now a legitimate military target for the opposition.

A recent PressTV report, also with camera crew on the ground in Saidnaya, bothered to include an interview with one the monks affected by the rebel shelling. Fr. Isaac Zeina, part of the monastic community that inhabited Cherubim Monastery, said in the interview ”we pray to God for an end to the war.” These are hardly the words of “pro-regime militarism,” yet the CNN report branded Fr. Isaac’s monastery and home as ”not a civilian target.”

Just last week, Al Monitor online news published an in-depth report on the Saidnaya assaults. The Al Monitor article is significant in that it’s currently the only instance of a major international news outlet exposing the clear the intentions of the area’s rebel insurgents:
The city rings its bells whenever danger is imminent, as was the case when mortar shells hit the Cherubim Monastery and the Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya during the fourth attack [against the city] on Jan. 19. The city’s citizens are now “wanted” by armed militants.
Being from Saidnaya is enough reason to be killed by the militants who have suffered heavy defeats there, the most recent of which was the fourth attack. What’s more, the city’s people are also guilty of being nasara, a derogatory term used by armed groups to refer to Christians.
…“You will be next, after Maaloula,” recounts one of the city’s dignitaries.
The Al Monitor article also confirms that the orphans at Our Lady of Saidnaya are still in residence as rebel mortar shells continue to rain down. These girls are orphans with nowhere to go, and the convent is their home. The article further confirms that Al-Nusra Front is circulating a video declaring a genocidal war against all Christians.

Sadly, major media will on the whole continue to be silent about acts of genocide and religiocide committed by rebels in Syria. Some of the world’s most influential and visible reporters are close enough to events on the ground to know the truth, yet they continue to willfully distort, and commit acts of omission in their reporting.

Anne Barnard is perhaps the single most influential reporter when it comes to shaping American and world perceptions of the conflict in Syria. She is the Beirut bureau chief in charge of covering the Middle East for the New York Times. Anyone who knows her work can easily perceive that she consistently and almost exclusively relies on rebel opposition sources in her reporting.

Joshua Landis, widely regard as the foremost Syria expert in the U.S., tweeted a article on October 8 of last year that systematically took apart Anne Barnard’s NYT reporting of the first rebel attack on Maaloula. The critique included the following:
Soon the propaganda war began. The FSA posted videos to YouTube claiming that the Assad regime was shelling churches in Maaloula and started promoting them on Twitter using various aliases. This was soon followed by a video in which a wahabi-bearded “liberator” gave a tour of the supposed damage. Their efforts soon met with the desired reward. On September 10, the New York Times ran an article by Anne Barnard giving credibility to such videos and portraying public outcry about Maaloula as potential misperception. Eight days later, Lina Sinjab of the BBC used such materials to portray the whole event as an unfortunate scuffle with few deaths and no particular damage to local churches.
The article tweeted by Landis named Barnard as a propagandist attempting to cover up the crimes of the Syrian rebels. Surprisingly, in perhaps a sarcastic or playful acknowledgement of the critique, Anne Barnard  “favorited” the article on her Twitter account. This “winking” acknowledgment from Barnard lends credibility to those who say that major media institutions such as the New York Times are willfully distorting the true and full context of the Syria conflict.

Saidnaya’s Christians, and all religious and ethnic minorities currently being targeted for genocide by the Syrian rebels need true and accurate reporting of their plight now more than ever. If real and lasting peace, the goal claimed by the Geneva Conference, is ever to be established in Syria, it must begin with a realistic assessment of not just the regime’s crimes and brutalities, but of the unambiguous intention to commit genocide on the part of the rebel opposition.

Brad Hoff served as a Marine from 2000-2004 at Headquarters Battalion, Quantico. After military service he lived, studied, and traveled throughout Syria off and on from 2004-2010. He currently teaches in Texas.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Hieromartyr Peter of Krutitsa

This past Sunday was the Sunday of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and so the sermon was on the life of St. Peter of Krutitsa: Click here to listen.

Papism... any questions?

This is what a Ukrainian Choir sounds like:

This is what a Ukrainian Choir that has embraced Papism sounds like:

Any questions?

The folks at Gitmo may want to consider using the second video in an endless for enhanced interrogations.

(h/t Gabe Martini for posting the second video)

Update: It takes all the fun out of something when you have to explain it, but I had a number of people who took the above as if I was trying to make a serious argument.  This was intended to be funny, it was based on the old "This is your brain on drugs" public service announcements that began running in 1987. But to the extent that there was a serious aspect of this post, it is this: the good, the beautiful, and the true are connected. The choir in the second video is not a bad choir. It is actually a fairly good choir, doing horrible music. Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has increasingly been moving in the direction of the ugly and the bad, in direct proportion to the extent that it has moved away from the true. This does not mean that there are not good Catholic choirs, or beautiful Catholic Churches... just as most of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches officially is still true. However, the trajectory in the past 50 years has not been in a good direction.