Friday, December 27, 2013

Stump the Priest: Does God Have Faith?

Question: In Mark 11:22, my bible has a number next to the phrase "Have faith in God", the number indicates this phrase can be read "Have the faith of God". Years ago I heard Charismatic Bible teachers change this into, "Have the God kind of faith". They were teaching that we, the believers, were to not just have faith in God to move mountains, but we were to speak to the mountains in our lives if we wanted them to be removed. How would you respond to that? Does God have faith? Does God exercise faith?

Mark 11:22 does have unusual phrasing in it. No where else in the New Testament does πίστιν Θεοῦ appear with Θεοῦ (God) as the objective genitive (Craig E. Evans Mark 8:27- 16:20, Word Biblical Commentary vol. 34b (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 186). However, though the King James Version does have a margin notes that says that this could be translated  as "Have the faith of God," it is clear from the context in this passage as well as the rest of Scripture that God is the object of faith that this command has in view.  A truly literal translation of this command would not be "Have the faith of God," but rather "Have faith of God," but what this really means in English is that we are to have faith in God.

Often, in the New Testament, you have what are called "Hebraisms," which are phrases that are influenced by Hebrew grammar or Hebrew idioms, and Mark 11:22 is an example. We notice that foreigners speaking English often speak in ways influenced by the grammar of their native language. For example, Russians often drop "the" from a sentence because there is no definite article in Russian. And so you might have a Russian say "Give me keys", when a native English speaker would have said "Give me the keys." There are many examples of the genitive case being used in a similar way to what we find in Mark 11:22, elsewhere in the Greek New Testament.


The other passage that "Word of Faith" preachers have used to argue that God has and exercises faith is Hebrews 11:3: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." They twist the meaning of these words to suggest that God framed the universe "through faith", but the obvious meaning of this passage, is that it is through faith that we understand how God framed universe, and that he framed the universe by His word (ῥήματι Θεοῦ). St. Paul tells us, that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, we believe in things that we cannot see, and hope for things based on what we have been assured of. For God there is nothing that He cannot see, and nothing for Him to hope for that he does know for fact to be a reality. And So God is the object of Faith, but He does not need Faith, because He is not trusting in the word of anyone else with regard to anything that he otherwise does not know. However, since we did not see the universe being framed, it is only by faith, that we are able to understand that God framed them by His word. And this is not just a matter of opinion, this is the understanding that the Church has had since the time of the Apostles up to the present day.

The problem with the charismatic preachers that you mention is that they are attempting to impose on Scripture the non-Christian ideas of "New Thought" philosophy, which is connected to Christian Science, and has much more in common with Buddhism than it does with Christianity.

You can learn more about the origins of the Word of Faith Movement by watching these videos:





These videos are by a Protestant, and he says many things that we would not agree with, but he lays out the errors of the Word of Faith movement, and their history, very well.

You can also read about the origins of the Word of Faith movement in the book "A Different Gospel," by D. R. McConnell.

See also: Stump the Priest: Faith that Moves Mountains?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Duck Dynasty Controversy Exposes Problem of Biblical Illiteracy


The Duck Dynasty controversy has exposed another problem in our society: Biblical illiteracy. Phil Robertson has been criticized expressing "bigoted" or "judgmental" opinions when in fact he was directly or indirectly quoting Scripture, and it is clear from his critics that they haven't a clue that that is what he was doing. This highlights yet another advantage of using the King James Version. At least when you quote Scripture from the KJV, people are clued in that it is a quote because it is in Elizabethan English.

See also:

To Judge or not to Judge.

The Bible the Church and Homosexuality: Obscurantegesis vs the Truth

Friday, December 20, 2013

Response to a certain Pro-Communist, Transsexual blogger

A certain pro-communist transsexual blogger who from time to time feels the need to take shots at me has done so again. I usually ignore such nonsense, but a few things need to be pointed out in response to this latest post. For one, he shows a series of photos of Patriarch Kyrill with Socialist leaders, and then takes me to task for an article I wrote defending Patriarch Kyrill in particular, and the Russian Church in general. In a previous post by said transsexual blogger, I was accused of not having spoken out about the persecution of Christians in Syria... when in fact I have repeatedly, and did so in this same article. On the other hand, the pro-communist transsexual in question has refused to criticize Obama on his policies in Egypt and Syria, which have greatly contributed to the persecution of Christians in both of those countries.

Furthermore, the transsexual pro-communist blogger criticizes me for not having had an Orthodox seminary education. A good Orthodox seminary education is a beneficial thing, to be sure, but there were no Christian seminaries anywhere in the world until the 16th century. Such institutions began as part of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation. The first seminary in the Russian Church was established in 1615. So during the golden age of the Fathers, there were no seminaries.Therefore, a seminary education can hardly be said to be indispensable. I converted to Orthodoxy largely as a result of the theological education I received as a Protestant. I was acquainted with the Fathers of the Church during my studies, and took it from there. Whether or not I was qualified to be ordained a priest was up to the bishop who ordained me, and whether or not I am qualified to continue to serve a parish is up to my current bishop. "Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls" (Romans 14:4).

What the pro-communist transsexual does not do in his post is actually show how anything that I have actually said is incorrect. I am always open to correction, when it comes from people who know what they are talking about and have reason and evidence on their side.


One of my areas of study as a Protestant was missions, and one of the things I learned was that Churches that insist on a seminary education for all their clergy have chronic clerical shortages. This use to not be true of the Roman Catholic Church, but their insistence on clerical celibacy removed the family concerns out of the equation. When you have married clergy, married clergy tend to settle down and not be inclined to move... particular to areas that are not likely to result in a financial improvement for their families. So for example, if you get a man Podunk Kentucky to move to New York City to attend seminary, the chances of getting him to go back to Podunk Kentucky to serve a small parish is pretty slim... and that's if you can get him to pull up stakes in Podunk and go to New York City in the first place. So what happens is that in areas near a seminary, you have an abundance of clergy... probably more than you actually need there. But in areas far removed from those seminaries, you have shortages, and getting clergy to serve in rural areas is nearly impossible. If you actually want to grow as a Church you need to have the ability to train clergy where they are. You also need seminaries, but you need something else to get clergy to serve parishes in places like Podunk Kentucky. Fortunately, we now have good distance learning capabilities, and in ROCOR, we have established a 2 year program through the Orthodox Pastoral School of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America. It is not a correspondence program, but an internet based school that has a regular school year, class discussions, and lectures.


What is ironic is that this same pro-communist transsexual used to hold me up as an example of a good convert priest... until we had a private exchange by e-mail about welfare, and because I am not a socialist, I became an "evil" "konvertsy". The irony is, that while I have my opinions on welfare, I don't question the Orthodoxy of those who disagree with me on matters of public policy, when the Church does not have a clear teaching on the matter. And while the Church certainly does teach that we should help the poor, the Church does not teach that we have to lobby our government to raise taxes so that other people can be forced to give to government run programs for the poor... nor does it teach that we cannot do so.

One other curious thing about this post is that this pro-communist transsexual takes a shot at Fr. Tikhon (Shevkunov), who is one of the most prominent figures in the Russian Orthodox Church today, and whose website posted the article I wrote that this pro-communist transsexual is taking issue with. She points out that he also does not have an Orthodox seminary education, and then says he is one of my defenders. I would be honored if that were true, but to my knowledge he has never said or written anything about me, one way or the other. I have briefly met him on two occasions, but I doubt that the great impression those meetings made on me was reciprocated.

I am fairly confident that the vast majority of clergy in the Russian Orthodox Church in the past 80 years have not come away with a favorable impression of Communism, and there is certainly little evidence that supporting conservative Republicans was seen as being worse than a supporter of the KGB. There are martyred Russian clergy commemorated on almost every day of the year, who were killed by the Soviets, and some times the lists are lengthy... and the Russian Church is adding to the names of such clergy every year, as they research the facts of their martyrdoms.

As evidence of this, let me quote a letter Ronald Reagan wrote to our bishops, and then from their reply:

TELEGRAM OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA

          I am honored to have this opportunity to extend warm greetings to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad as you gather in Montreal.

          You deserve the highest commendation for your efforts in support of the return of religious and civil freedom to the Russian people.  Your work furthers the interests of all members of the human family, because it is inspired by faith in the Creator and by the desire for liberty that burns in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on earth.

          The values you hold aid in the preservation of your own great heritage and in the strengthening of religious principles within each nation where your Church is located.  In safeguarding the wondrous beauty and timeless grandeur of the ancient faith and culture of your motherland, you provide all mankind with the hope that this magnificent institution will one day be restored to its former place in the life of the Russian nation and people.

          You have my best wishes for your meeting and continued success in all your efforts.

                                                                   Ronald Reagan

9-11-1985

******************************************************

TELEGRAM OF THANKS TO PRESIDENT REAGAN, EPISTLE OF THE SOBOR OF BISHOPS OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD

Deeply-respected Mr. President!

          The bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, who have come from every continent to assemble in council, were deeply touched by your words of greeting and ask you to accept the expression of their gratitude.

          While we are honored by the attention you have shown us, we value still more your grasp of the situation of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian people who have suffered since 1917 under the yoke of atheistic communism.  Millions and millions of martyred clergy and faithful from different social strata appeal to our Lord, but we rarely see such profound understanding on the part of government authorities as we have encountered from you.

          In thanking you with all our heart, we pray that the Lord will preserve you in good health and strengthen you in your endeavors which have such importance for the United States and the whole world.  May the Lord confer His blessing upon you in that position in which He placed you in order to fulfill His divine will.

                                                Metropolitan Philaret

                                                President of the Sobor of Bishops

                                                of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad



                                                          Bishop Gregory,

                                                          Secretary, Sobor of Bishops

From: Orthodox Life, No. 4, 1985, p. 32f.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stump the Priest: Why do we sing "Holy is the Lord our God" after the Canon at Matins?


Question: Why does the priest or deacon say "Holy is the Lord our God" (and the accompanying verses) at the end of the 9th Ode at Matins? What is the significance of its placement at the end of the Canon at Saturday Vigil?

To give a definitive answer to this question I would want to base it on some commentaries on the meaning of the Vigil. However, I have not seen any commentaries on the Vigil that have been translated into English that discuss the significance of singing this hymn at the point in the service that it is sung. I would think that there probably are such commentaries in Greek or Russian. Perhaps someone who is familiar with them will fill me in on what they say in response to posting this question, and if they do, I will post an update. There may also be something that is in English which I have simply not read yet. What I will do is point out a few facts about this hymn, and then give you my thoughts on why it may be that it is sung when it is, but I could be off the mark on it, and so don't take it as a final answer.

The way "Holy is the Lord, our God" is sung at Sunday Matins is the Deacon intones it is a way similar to a prokimenon, and the Choir repeated sings the verse, as follows:

Deacon:  Holy is the Lord our God.

Choir:  Holy is the Lord our God.
   
Deacon:  For holy is the Lord our God.

Choir:  Holy is the Lord our God.

Deacon:   Above all peoples is our God.

Choir:  Holy is the Lord our God.

"Holy is the Lord, our God" is only sung during Sunday Matins, with two exceptions: It is sung at the Matins of Lazarus Saturday, and it is also sung on Holy Saturday. So there is something about the significance of Sunday that calls for this to be sung, and so the obvious link would be with the Resurrection. And in fact, both Lazarus Saturday and Holy Saturday are services that anticipate the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, and both services have a number of elements that are usually associated with the Sunday Services -- for example, on Lazarus Saturday, we sing "Having beheld the Resurrection," and on Holy Saturday we sing the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection. Another instance in which it is sung is at the Matins of Palm Sunday, when it is sung -- not prior to the Exapostilarion, as on Sundays -- but as the Exapostilarion. And while Palm Sunday is of course a Sunday, we do not sing any of the usual hymns of the resurrection on Palm Sunday.

So what is an Exapostilarion? According to the Festal Menaion, an exapostilarion takes its name from the Greek exapostello, "dismiss"), and so it is a hymn that we are dismissed with at Matins. And so has some special significance and is given a place of prominence during that service. The fact that this hymn functions as an exapostilarion on Palm Sunday (and also on Holy Saturday) probably indicates that when it is used just before the exapostilarion on Lazarus Saturday, and on normal Sunday services, that it is sort of a exta-exapostilarion. I also think that the fact it is the exapostilarion of Palm Sunday indicates that it is not just pointing to the Resurrection, but also to Christ's death on the Cross.

This is further indicated, in my opinion, by the Psalm from whence these verses are taken. Psalm 98 in the Septuagint (Psalm 99 in the KJV and most English versions of the Bible) focuses on the Ark of the Covenant, and the Mercy Seat, which I talk about in a sermon that you can listen to by clicking here. As I discuss in that sermon, this Psalm has verses that are used on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and so its use on that feast connect it with the Cross of Christ, and St. Gregory Palamas likewise associates the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat with the Cross, as is mentioned in that sermon.

And so it seems to me that this hymn is sung to remind us of the awesome mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, and to emphasize the sacredness of that mystery which we celebrate especially as we enter into Passion week on Palm Sunday, when we anticipate the celebration of Pascha on Lazarus Saturday and Holy Saturday, and when we celebrate Pascha each Sunday throughout the rest of the year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stump the Priest: How do you Pray for the Non-Orthodox?


Question: How do you pray for the Non-Orthodox?

We do not pray for the Non-Orthodox by name, in the services of the Church, but we can and should pray for them.

Prayers for the Living

When praying for the Non-Orthodox who are living, you can use this prayer:

"Grant, O Lord, that thy servants will be illumined with the light of the Orthodox Faith, and numbered with Thy one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church..."  and then commemorate their names.

Some use a form of the Jesus Prayer to pray for others, which could include the Non-Orthodox: "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on N."

You can also pray in your own words for the Non-Orthodox. Some think that it is wrong for Orthodox Christians to pray extemporaneously, but this is not true. The Jordanville Prayerbook specifically says, towards the end of the morning prayers:

"Then offer a brief prayer for the health and salvation of thy spiritual father, thy parents, relatives, those in authority, benefactors, and others known to thee, the ailing, or those passing through sorrows."

When we do pray extemporaneously, however, we should pray in an Orthodox manner... which we learn how to do by praying the prayers of the Church.

Prayers for the Departed

You can use this prayer, "Have mercy, O Lord, if it be possible on the souls of Thy departed servants (names), who have departed into eternal life in separation from Thy Holy Orthodox Church: unsearchable are Thy decrees. Do not account this, my prayer as a sin, but may Thy holy will be done."

This prayer is from St. Leonid of Optina, and is based on a prayer he recommended to a disciple who was in despair over the suicide of his father: "Seek out, O Lord, the lost soul of my father, if possible, have mercy! Thy judgements are unfathomable. Do not account this prayer of mine as a sin. May Thy holy will be done."

Another, more elaborate way to pray for the Non-Orthodox departed (which can be used, privately, for anyone who has departed) is The Akathist for the Repose of the Departed, which is found in The Book of Akathists," published by Holy Trinity Monastery. This is a beautiful akathists, which not only provides a means to pray for those for whom a Pannikhida cannot be done, but also brings great consolation to the one who prayers it.

For more information see:

Praying for the Non-Orthodox

How to Set Up a Personal Commemoration Book

On the Burial of the Heterodox

Will the Heterodox Be Saved?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Stump the Priest: Writing Letters to Clergy


Question: What’s the “formal” way to begin and end a letter or email to a Priest or a Bishop?

There is probably a bit more variety in how this has been done traditionally than this article suggests, but there is a useful article on the Orthodox Christian Information Center, with a lengthy excerpt from Fr. David Cownie's book "A Guide To Orthodox Life":

http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/clergy_etiquette.aspx

If you are being very formal, you would begin your letter by putting the date and the saint or feast of the day, usually justified to the right top of the beginning of the letter, but in an e-message, I think this is not necessary, though certainly not inappropriate either. As the article states, you would begin by asking for a blessing (for a bishop: "Master bless!", or for a priest ("Father bless!", or simply "Bless!"), and then begin with "Dear Vladika", or "Dear Father" or "Dear Fr. So and so". At the end of the letter, you could sign off with "Kissing your right hand, Joe Schmo," as the article suggests. You could also say, "Asking for your prayers, and kissing your right hand," or you could say "In Christ," etc.

As an aside, the book by Fr. David Cownie is very useful. I would recommend it, but only caution that he is writing from the perspective of a Greek Old Calendarist, and so he sometimes states things as being more cut and dried or uniform than they really are. However, the book has some of the most practical information I have ever ran across. For example, he talks about how to maintain an oil lamp, and how to get fasting food on an airline. It is definitely worth reading. You can get a hard copy by clicking here.  You can read it online (in pdf format) by clicking here.
 


Monday, December 02, 2013

Terrorists, backed by our government abduct 12 nuns





Terrorists, backed by the Obama administration have abducted 12 nuns from the historic convent of St. Thekla in Maaloula, Syria. Click here for more.

You can also check the Levant report for updates.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

2014 St. Innocent Liturgical Calender


2014 St. Innocent Calendars are now available for ordering. Click here for details. St. Innocent Press also sells wall calendars and pocket planners. All calendars are according to the Julian Calendar.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Stump the Priest: Is Hell the Same for Everyone?



Question: "How do you square Luke 13:1-5 with the idea that Hell is not experienced by all outside of the Church in the same way?"

Luke 13:1-5

The passage in Luke 13:1-5 really does not address  the question whether hell is experienced by every one the same. According to the commentary of Blessed Theophylact, the Galileans that were slain by Pilate were the followers of a man named Judas of Galilee, who was stirring up rebellion against Rome.

So when told about those who were killed, Christ asked the people: "Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."

His point was that unless they repented, ceased stirring up rebelling, and served God, they would all likewise perish. And then he mentioned another incident: "Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." According to Blessed Theophylact, this tower falling on the 18 at Siloam was an image of what would happen to all the people of Jerusalem when the Romans would destroy it in 70 A.D. 

Differing Degrees of Punishment

That there will be different degrees of punishment in hell is made clear by many passages of Scripture:

"And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48).

"My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (James 3:1)

"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matthew 11:21-24).

"Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:29).

Differing Degrees of Reward

The Scriptures also indicate that those who are saved will likewise receive different degrees of reward:

"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matthew 16:27).

"Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (1 Corinthians 3:8).

"Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

"And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Revelation 22:12).

Conclusion

The Gospel of John tells us that Christ is the "true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world" (John 1:9). And Christ made it clear that we will be judged according to what we have been given: "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48). So clearly, those who have been given less will be held accountable for less. So those who have never been in the Church, and who go to hell, will be judged less harshly than those who have been in the Church, had the fullness of the Faith, and yet either did nothing with it, or disregarded entirely, and lived actively wicked lives. Exactly how those differing degrees of rewards and punishments will be manifested, we cannot say. But we know for sure that on the day of judgment, no one will be able to say that anyone received an unjust punishment, but will rather say "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" (Psalms 18[19]:9).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Puhalo rants again... on Transgenderism and Intersexuality


On his Facebook page, the retired vagante Archbishop, Lazar Puhalo, has decided to attack me and attribute to me things that I have not said, in order to cover up the things that he has in fact said.

In a youtube video, dated March 18, 2011, Puhalo expressed his views that it is perfectly acceptable for those who wish to identify themselves with the opposite sex to do so, or for them to actually have a sex change operation. It is very clear from his comments that he is not speaking about those born with ambiguous genitalia, or the intersex. He is speaking about those who believe that they are men trapped in female bodies, or women trapped in male bodies. He says that it is the brain that determines one's sex, not their bodies.

This view is in complete opposition with the views expressed by the rest of the Church on this issue. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement directly addressing this matter:

"Sometimes perverted human sexuality is manifested in the form of the painful feeling of one’s belonging to the opposite sex, resulting in an attempt to change one’s sex (transsexuality). One’s desire to refuse the sex that has been given him or her by the Creator can have pernicious consequences for one’s further development. «The change of sex» through hormonal impact and surgical operation has led in many cases not to the solution of psychological problems, but to their aggravation, causing a deep inner crisis. The Church cannot approve of such a «rebellion against the Creator» and recognise as valid the artificially changed sexual affiliation. If «a change of sex» happened in a person before his or her Baptism, he or she can be admitted to this Sacrament as any other sinner, but the Church will baptise him or her as belonging to his or her sex by birth. The ordination of such a person and his or her marriage in church are inadmissible.

Transsexuality should be distinguished from the wrong identification of the sex in one’s infancy as a result of doctors’ mistake caused by a pathological development of sexual characteristics. The surgical correction in this case is not a change of sex" (The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, section XII. Problems of bioethics, sub section 9).

I have quoted this passage repeatedly, when discussing this issue, including the second paragraph that makes the distinction between transgenderism, and those who are born with some sexual ambiguity.

The idea that someone might be born with such problems is not a new discovery. Christ Himself spoke of this in Matthew 19:12:

"For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

Puhalo is now suggesting that I have somehow attacked those born with these conditions, or that I deny that such people exist. Of course both claims are false, and I suspect he knows it... which he certainly would if he bothered to read what I have said on the subject. The Church does not object to surgical corrections of such conditions, when they can be corrected. And in fact it does not object to correcting a mistaken gender assignment with subsequent surgery. But this is just a red herring, because Puhalo does not wish to deal with the fact that what he actually has advocated is completely at odds with what the Church teaches.

I am glad that the OCA was able to bring Puhalo and his follows out of the bogus jurisdictions that he has at various times been affiliated with, and bring them back into the Orthodox Church. The OCA synod of Bishops should, however, take measures to ensure that this "retired Archbishop" not spout heresy, as he has regularly done on this and several other issues.

Update: On Puhalo's Facebook page, he posted the following update:

"Let us make it abundantly clear: The doctrine of the Orthodox Church holds that sexual intercourse between people of the same gender is a sin. Moreover, the Orthodox Church will never accept, or even consider accepting, same sex marriages. This is unequivocally the doctrine of the Orthodox Church. This is not an excuse to persecute, bully or harm anyone, but it is clearly the doctrine of the Church."

Now, that sounds good enough, as far as it goes. But you will notice he states what the Church teaches, but does not express his agreement with it. And when someone posted their complaint "To continue labelling as "sin" anything that we fail to understand and incorporate to our preconceptions is a grave insult to human dignity and intelligence." Puhalo replied:"I have been forbidden by "higher ups" to express any truth about the nature of the issue, so I only express the official doctrine of the Church" (November 24 at 12:26am).

This is good news, in as much as it indicates that the Bishops of the OCA have begun to rein him in. However, it is clear that Puhalo intends to continue promoting his heretical views on human sexuality, with a wink and a nod when necessary.

Update: Puhalo recently did a radio interview, along with Frank Schaeffer in which he again stated that he is forbidden by the Synod of the OCA to speak on "certain issues". He also once again makes the false claim that there are those in the Orthodox Church who deny that there are people born with ambiguous genitalia, and other such nonsense.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sermon on Skeptical Biblical Scholarship

I recently preached two sermons on Skeptical Biblical Scholarship, which were a response to a series the History Channel's "Bible Secrets Revealed".

You can click here to listen to Part 1.

Click here, to listen to Part 2.

There is one correction that I wanted to make, and one qualification, to the first sermon:

One example that I inserted into the sermon off the cuff, made reference to Tiglath Pileser, but the Assyrian King I actually had in mind was Sargon II -- that's the danger of speaking from memory.

The qualification is to my comment that those who get Ph.D.'s needing to come up with a "new theory". It is true that to get a Ph.D. you have to produce a thesis that present new scholarship, but such scholarship would not necessary entail a particular new theory. What I meant to say was that this need to produce new scholarship encourages the development of new theories, as opposed to taking a traditional view of Scripture, and it is also true that for a biblical scholar to become noteworthy, he has to come up with some ground breaking, new approach to Scripture, or some new theory related to the authorship of part of the Bible, or a re-interpretation of biblical history.

You can also read an excellent essay by an Orthodox Biblical Scholar, Eric Jobe: A Response to the History Channel’s “Bible Secrets Revealed”.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Homiletics

Here is a lecture by Fr. Valery Lukianov (who is one of the most senior priests in ROCOR, and known to be an exceptionally good preacher) on how to prepare a good sermon:



You can listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko discuss sermon preparation and delivery here.

Here also is some wisdom from a Protestant minister -- Fred Craddock -- who is considered to be one of the greatest Protestant preachers alive today. Not everything he says would be applicable to Orthodox preaching, but there is much that does:

Sermon Preparation:



Purpose of a Sermon:



What to avoid when preaching:



Storytelling in Sermons:



On Using Humor or Emotions in Sermons:



You may also want to look at the Preacher's Institute web page (an Orthodox Website):

http://preachersinstitute.com/


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stump the Priest: How Can God Forgive Those Who Have Committed Horrible Crimes?


Question: "You have said that some people will receive mercy in the final judgment while others will receive justice.  But, what if those that have wronged you are forgiven? Won’t you not receive justice, then?  And, what about your own forgiveness and those you have transgressed against – will they not receive justice? Real justice is a restoration of the victim. And, that could be retributive as opposed to restitution or some other such thing, but not just any retribution is okay in such a transaction.  It is not enough that “they suffered, too”. They have to suffer a precise measure of consequences for abusing you while you are vindicated and made whole again. So how can a person who has harmed another be saved and receive mercy if perfect justice is done in the final judgment?”


I will answer your question with quotations from a portion of the greatest novel ever written: The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoyevsky (a devout Orthodox Christian, and one might say... a great lay theologian):

In the novel, you have three brothers. Ivan, the second oldest brother, is an atheist, while the youngest brother Alexei (Alyosha) is a novice monk, and a pious believer. In one conversation, Ivan presents his brother with a problem along the lines of your question. He tells a story, which in fact was based on an actual incident:

*****

“One picture, only one more, because it's so curious, so characteristic, and I have only just read it in some collection of Russian antiquities. I've forgotten the name. I must look it up. It was in the darkest days of serfdom at the beginning of the century, and long live the Liberator of the People! There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men—somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then—who, retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that they've earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects. There were such men then. So our general, settled on his property of two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and domineers over his poor neighbors as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has kennels of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys—all mounted, and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the general's favorite hound. ‘Why is my favorite dog lame?’ He is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog's paw. ‘So you did it.’ The general looked the child up and down. ‘Take him.’ He was taken—taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It's a gloomy, cold, foggy autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry.... ‘Make him run,’ commands the general. ‘Run! run!’ shout the dog-boys. The boy runs.... ‘At him!’ yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother's eyes!... I believe the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. Well—what did he deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!”

[After a bit of back and forth, Ivan closes with this argument:]

“Listen! I took the case of children only to make my case clearer. Of the other tears of humanity with which the earth is soaked from its crust to its center, I will say nothing. I have narrowed my subject on purpose. I am a bug, and I recognize in all humility that I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is. Men are themselves to blame, I suppose; they were given paradise, they wanted freedom, and stole fire from heaven, though they knew they would become unhappy, so there is no need to pity them. With my pitiful, earthly, Euclidian understanding, all I know is that there is suffering and that there are none guilty; that cause follows effect, simply and directly; that everything flows and finds its level—but that's only Euclidian nonsense, I know that, and I can't consent to live by it! What comfort is it to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect simply and directly, and that I know it?—I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely I haven't suffered, simply that I, my crimes and my sufferings, may manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else. I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when every one suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That's a question I can't answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I've only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It's beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers' crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn't grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old. Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be, when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can't accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child's torturer, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ but I don't want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It's not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It's not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don't want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don't want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother's heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don't want harmony. From love for humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket.”

“That's rebellion,” murmured Alyosha, looking down.

“Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,” said Ivan earnestly. “One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you—answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”

“No, I wouldn't consent,” said Alyosha softly.

“And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?”

“No, I can't admit it. Brother,” said Alyosha suddenly, with flashing eyes, “you said just now, is there a being in the whole world who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? But there is a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud, ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!’ ”

*****

Christ was the greatest of innocent sufferers, and he has the power to forgive, even those who have committed the most horrible of crimes. The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) makes clear that the debts that men owe to one another for their offenses are relatively minor in comparison with the debt we owe God. God is our creator, and to Him we owe our very existence, and yet we sin against Him. Our fellow men are finite creatures, and while we sin against each other, the degree of the offense is small because we are not offending our great benefactor, but fellow creatures. It is our Creator that we owe the real debt to, and it is He that has the power to forgive great sinners, and also the power to not only make those who have suffered whole, but to bestow upon them infinite blessings that even they do not deserve.

So those who repent of their sins, and accept God's forgiveness and grace will receive mercy on the day of judgment. Those reject God's grace will get God's justice on the day of judgment. No one will receive injustice on the day of judgment.

The Prayer Rule of St. Pachomius



St. Ignatii Brianchaninov writes in his book on the Jesus Prayer: "An angel of God taught St. Pachomius the Great a rule of prayer for the vast community of monks dependent on him. The monks under the spiritual direction of St. Pachomius had to perform the rule every day. Only those who had attained perfection and the unceasing prayer connected with it were freed from the obligation to perform the rule. The rule taught by the angel consisted of the Trisagion, the Lord's prayer, Psalm 50, the Symbol of Faith (Creed) and one hundred Jesus Prayers. In the rule, the Prayer of Jesus is spoken of like the Lord's Prayer, that is, as prayers generally known and in general use."

You can find the text of the rule of St. Pachomius by clicking here.

This prayer rule consists of prayers that an Orthodox Christian should commit to memory, and the rule itself is simple, and easily memorized. One great advantage to memorizing this prayer rule is that if you are ever without a prayer book, you can use this prayer rule in the place of your morning or evening prayers. You can easily do this prayer rule while driving too, and so if your schedule makes it difficult to do either your morning or evening prayers, you can do this prayer rule while on your way to or from work or school.




Friday, November 15, 2013

Stump the Priest: Is Marriage Eternal?

Ss. Peter and Febronia

Question: Does not the Church teach that the marriage bond is indissoluble and eternal, like the bond between Christ and His Church?

Without a doubt, there is no marriage in heaven in the same sense that it exists in this life. The Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, presented Christ with an argument that they thought showed the absudity of the resurrect. They presented the case of a woman who was married to 7 brothers in a row, but each died without fathering any children by her, and then finally the woman died also. And so they asked Christ "Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her" (Matthew 22:28).

Christ's response was to say: "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:29-30).

The fathers say that we have marriage and procreation in this life because we have death, but in the life to come, where there is no death, there is no need for procreation, and therefore no marriage. For example, St. John of Damascus, speaking of the resurrection says:

"For they will be, says the Lord, as the angels of God [Mark 12:25]: there will no longer be marriage nor procreation of children. The divine apostle, in truth, says, For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, Who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like His glorious body [Philippians 3:20-21]: not meaning change into another form (God forbid!), but rather the change from corruption into incorruption" (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4:27).

But the question remains, will there remain some bond of relationship between a husband and a wife that will continue on beyond the grave? We cannot definitively answer that question, though perhaps the lives of Ss. Peter and Febronia of Murom give us some reason to believe that such a bond does continue in some sense. This couple, who are held up as examples of Christian marital love, both took monastic tonsure before they reposed, but had expressed their wish that they be buried together. Though separated, they reposed within minutes of one another. Because of their monastic tonsure many thought that this was inappropriate to bury them together, and their funerals were to be held in two different Churches. However, their coffins were found empty, but rather their bodies were found together in the tomb St. Peter had intended for them. Their bodies were taken back to their respective coffins, but when this happened again, no one dared separate them again.

See also St. John Chrysostom's Letter to a Young Widow.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Stump the Priest: What does Baptism do?


Question. "As a former Evangelical, I have a question. Where do many protestants get the idea that baptism is “only an outward expression of an inward change”?"

Roman Catholics and Anglicans have historically used the phrase "outward sign of an inward grace" to describe the sacraments, but by this expression, Roman Catholics certainly have not wished to suggest that the sacraments are "only" outward forms that have no direct connection to the inward grace that they signify. Most Protestants only accept two sacraments: baptism, and communion (some, such as the Salvation Army, reject all sacraments -- including baptism), and many of those Protestants believe that these sacraments are "only" outward expressions. They believe that we are saved by "faith alone" and that baptism is merely a public profession of that faith, and the first act of obedience of a Christian... but they do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation.

As a consequence, it is not uncommon in some Protestant denominations to find people who have never been baptized, and yet consider themselves Christians. I know that when I was attending Southern Nazarene University, in my New Testament Theology class, the professor made a point of asking if anyone in the class had not been baptized, when he got to the point in the course in which Baptism was discussed... and invariably, there would be one or two students who were studying for the ministry, and yet had never been baptized. He would tell them to see him after class, so that he could make the arrangements for them to be baptized.

One does not find such a laissez faire view of Baptism in the New Testament. St. Peter speaks of Ark of Noah, and how it saved Noah and his family as a type (foreshadowing) of Baptism: "There is also an antitype [that which is forshadowed by the type] which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21). This text, read in its context (3:18-22) states that just as the Ark of Noah saved those who were in it, so does Baptism now save us.

The reason why many Protestant traditions took the position that Baptism was only an outward profession of faith is in reaction to the view of many careless Christians who falsely believed that they would be saved simply by virtue of their having been baptized. And such an erroneous view does need to be corrected, but not by denying the clear teachings of Scripture, and the unbroken Tradition of the Church on the matter. Baptism is the portal into the Ark of the Church. However, if someone does not remain in the Ark, they will not benefit by having entered that portal, but will in fact face the greater judgment.

You could think of being baptized as being analogous to having health insurance. When you have health insurance, you have the right to go and see your doctor and receive the treatment that you need. However, if someone has health insurance, but never uses it, that health insurance does them absolutely no good. Likewise, being baptized brings you into the Church, where you have all the sacraments and instruction in righteousness that the Church has to offer, but if you are baptized, but separate yourself from the Church by not bothering to avail yourself of the grace that if to be found there, your baptism has done you no good.

Now, some may ask, does this mean that if someone is not baptized, they cannot be saved? No. One can cite exceptional examples such as the wise thief on the Cross who "stole paradise" "in single moment," or to martyrs who embraced the Christian Faith and were killed before they could be baptized. However, the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church make it clear that baptism is the normal means by which we should enter the Church, and ultimately enter paradise.

It should be pointed out that there are some Protestants, such as Lutherans and members of the "Campbellite" Church of Christ that do affirm that Baptism actually plays a necessary role in our salvation, and so is not something that one could ignore, and still be considered a Christian.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stump the Priest: Imputed Righteousness



Question: What is the Orthodox understanding of "imputed righteousness" in contrast with the Calvinist view?

The Protestant reformers made much of their doctrine of justification by faith alone. We agree that justification is by faith... just not that it is by faith alone.

What do we mean by "justification"? When Christians speak of being justified by God, we mean that we, who were once sinners, are made righteous by God. One important way that we differ from these Reformers (though not all Protestants) is that we believe that we are not simply declared to be righteous in a purely legal manner, but we are made righteous, and are then to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We believe that if we become unrighteous, by living in unrepentant sin, we cease to be just in the sight of God. To remain justified, we must live a life of repentance, and a life in which the righteousness of God is lived out in our lives.

The Reformers often quote St. Paul's statements from the Epistle to the Romans:

"For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:3-5).

And so, we are told, the Patriarch Abraham's faith was credited to him for righteousness, and so they argue we are saved by faith alone.

However, St. Paul goes on to cite specific examples of Abraham's faith

"Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:18-25).

In his Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul also says:

"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:17-19).

And St. James wrote in his Epistle:

"But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only [or, "alone," Greek "monon"] (James 2:20-24).

St. James sites the same example of Abraham's faith regard the promise that by his son Isaac, the promise that God made to him would be fulfilled, and he uses the very same quotation from Genesis 15:6 ("And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness"), and says that we are justified by works. So did St. Paul and St. James contradict one another? No, St. Paul does not argue that we are saved by "faith alone", and St. James does not argue that we are saved by works alone. It is interesting to note that in the entirety of Scripture, the words "faith" and "alone" appear together in only in the passage from St. James. In fact, St. James says that Faith and works, work together: "Do you see that faith was working together [synergei] with his works, and by works faith was made perfect [or completed]" (James 2:22). St. Paul does not contradict this, but in fact confirms it when he commands us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).

And the Scriptures make it abundantly clearly that we cannot simply be declared righteous, but live as sinners:

"But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die" (Ezekiel 18:24).

"Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth. When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it" (Ezekiel 33:12-13)

St. Nicholas Cabasilas wrote:

"There is an element which derives from God, and another which derives from our own zeal. The one is entirely His work, the other involves striving on our part. However, the latter is our contribution only to the extent that we submit to His grace and do not surrender the treasure nor extinguish the torch when it has been lighted. By this I mean that we contribute nothing which is either hostile to the life or produces death. It is to this that all human good and every virtue leads, that no one should draw the sword against himself, nor flee from happiness, nor toss the crowns of victory from off his head" (The Life in Christ, trans. by Carmino J. DeCatanzaro, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), pp. 48-49).

In the Morning Prayers found in the Jordanville Prayer Book, we find in 8th prayer:

"O my plenteously-merciful and all-merciful God, Lord Jesus Christ, through Thy great love Thou didst come down and become incarnate so that Thou mightest save all. And again, O Saviour, save me by Thy grace, I pray Thee. For if Thou shouldst save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift, but rather a duty; yea, Thou who art great in compassion and ineffable in mercy. "For he that believeth in me," Thou hast said, O my Christ, "shall live and never see death." If then, faith in Thee saveth the desperate, behold, I believe, save me, for Thou art my God and Creator. Let faith instead of works be imputed to me, O my God, for Thou wilt find no works which could justify me. But may my faith suffice instead of all works..."

But note carefully: this faith is not separated from works, for the prayer concludes:

"...Vouchsafe me, O Lord, to love Thee now as fervently as I once loved sin itself, and also to work for Thee without idleness, diligently, as I worked before for deceptive Satan. But supremely shall I work for Thee, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen" (Prayer Book, 4th ed., (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2011), pp. p. 23f.).

In short, the Orthodox Church strongly affirms that which is clearly taught in Holy Scripture: that we are saved by grace through faith—but not by faith alone.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

He who would Valiant Be, by John Bunyan


The book, The Pilgrim's Progress is one of the most influential books ever written in English. You find allusions to it throughout the rest of English literature, though in our own illiterate times, fewer and fewer people have any clue of what these allusions refer to. The author, John Bunyan, wrote a hymn in part 2 of his famous book, and here are the lyrics, along with a youtube version of the original hymn (a much revised version of it is more commonly used in the Anglican Church):


1. Who would true valour see,    
Let him come hither;    
One here will constant be,    
Come wind, come weather    
There’s no discouragement    
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent    
To be a pilgrim.    
   
2. Whoso beset him round    
With dismal stories,    
Do but themselves confound;    
His strength the more is.    
No lion can him fright,    
He’ll with a giant fight,    
But he will have a right    
To be a pilgrim.    
   
3. Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,    
Can daunt his spirit;    
He knows he at the end    
Shall life inherit.    
Then fancies fly away,    
He’ll fear not what men say,    
He’ll labour night and day    
To be a pilgrim.   

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pictures from our Patronal Feast Day

Our patronal feast is on October 20th, and this also was our 15th anniversary as a parish. We usually have Bishop Peter come at least once a year, but this is the first time he was able to be with us on the actual day of our patronal feast.


The greeting of the Bishop


The vesting of the Bishop

The trio singing "Eis polla eti despota!"


The Icon of St. Jonah

Fr. David Companik


 

The Ordination of Fr. Beningo Pardo

Axios!




Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stump the Priest: Does God Know the Future?


Question: "Does God knows the future?"

The short answer to this question is of course, "Yes". The Prophet Isaiah cited this fact as one of the unique attributes of God:

"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isaiah 46:9-10).

There are two issues that are raised with regard to the question of God's foreknowledge: 1). Does this mean that all things are predetermined by God? 2). Why then does God allow evil to happen, when He foresees it?

Before we get to those two questions, however, we should consider the question of how God knows the future. Does He know the future because He makes it happen in a particular way? According to Orthodox theology, He knows the future because He is uncircumscribed, i.e., He is not limited by time or space. The Wisdom of Sirach says "His gaze spans all the ages; to Him there is nothing unexpected" (Ecclesiasticus 39:20). God sees the future, because He is not limited, is already in the future, and at the same time transcends time.

As for the claim that foreknowledge requires that God determine all things, there is no logical reason why this is so. Furthermore, the fact is that the Church has always rejected any notion of determinism. St. John of Damascus wrote, in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith:

"We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue. So that predestination is the work of the divine command based on foreknowledge. But on the other hand God predetermines those things which are not within our power in accordance with His foreknowledge. For already God in His foreknowledge has prejudged all things in accordance with His goodness and justice" (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 2:30).

For more on this issue, see "Dialogue on Free Will and Determinism."

With regard to the question of why, if God knows the future, He does not prevent evil is essentially the same question you would have to ask even if God did not know the future, because one doesn't have to know the future to know that people with evil intentions will likely accomplish evil, if they are allowed to proceed with their plans unhindered. But in both cases, God would have to regularly violate our free will to prevent us from doing evil.

For more on that issue, see "The Problem of evil".

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Stump the Priest: The Virgin Mary's "Sister," Mary the Wife of Cleopas


Question: "Did the Virgin Mary have a sister? Wasn't She the only child of St. Joachim and St. Ann? However, in the Gospel of St. John, it says "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25).

If John 19:25 intended to make a distinction between "his mother's sister" and "Mary the wife of Cleopas" there would almost certainly be another "and" separating them in Greek, but there is not:

"ειστηκεισαν δε παρα τω σταυρω του ιησου η μητηρ αυτου και η αδελφη της μητρος αυτου μαρια η του κλωπα και μαρια η μαγδαληνη."

You don't find any Church Father interpreting this text as suggesting anything other than that the sister in question is Mary the wife of Cleopas.

This question plays an important role in the question of who the "brothers of the Lord" are, and whether the Virgin Mary was ever virgin, or whether she had other children by St. Joseph.

One of the key passages brought up by Protestants that reject the Tradition of the Church on this issue is  Matthew 1:25: "And [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."

First of all we must remember that the Bible was not written in English. The word translated "till" in this verse is the same word translated "until" (or "unto" in the KJV) in Matthew 28:20: "...And behold I am with you always, even until the end of the age." If we follow the logic of the Protestant argument in the first chapter of Matthew, we have to conclude that Christ will not be with us after the end of the present age. Also even in English, when we say "Joe refused to repent till the day he died," we obviously do not mean to suggest that he did repent afterwards. The point of this verse is plain. It leaves no room for doubting that Christ was not the result of relations between the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph—it says nothing about what happened thereafter, one way or the other.

St. Jerome wrote a very detailed treatise on this subject that one can find in several readily available translations—it is titled "The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary". Not only was this view held universally in the Early Church, but the Early Reformers all believed it. as did John Wesley.

Nowhere in the NT does it say that the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph ever moved beyond betrothal. The Bible speaks of St. Joseph's "espoused" wife even when she was "great with child" (Luke 2:5) —but never mentions a marriage happening thereafter. In Jewish culture, a betrothal gave a couple all the responsibilities of marriage, but none of the privileges. Once betrothed, one could only break the betrothal with a divorce. Nevertheless, the couple was not permitted to have marital relations until after the public celebration of the marriage.

Protestants often assume that the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary is designed to  glorify to the Virgin Mary, and not God. But the doctrine is actually important because it highlights the  uniqueness and holiness of her Son. Consider the following verse:

"Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut." (Ezekiel 44:2).

This has always been interpreted by the Fathers of the Church to be a typological reference to the Virgin Mary and the Incarnation. When we consider that God took flesh from the Virgin's womb, it is not difficult to imagine that this womb would remain virgin. If God would not allow men to pass through an earthly gate because God had entered in by it, how much more would this be necessary when speaking of the womb by which God became man?

Why then did the Virgin need St. Joseph? That question is valid even if one believes she had other children later -- why did she need St. Joseph to give birth to Christ. The answer is obvious: virgins do not as a rule give birth, and Christ would likely have grown up an orphan had he been born to a single mother, because she would have been stoned to death as an adulteress. Of course God could have constantly intervened to protect her and her Son, but that is not normally how God operates in history.

But Protestants object: "Mary had other children. James is called The Lord's brother. The brothers and sisters who came for Jesus while he was teaching are not cousins as Catholic's claim, like there is no Greek word for cousin." There is a Greek word for "cousin," but there is no Aramaic word for "cousin," and this is the language Christ and the Apostles spoke. In Aramaic (and also Arabic) if you want to precisely refer to a cousin, you would have to say "the son of my uncle," or "the daughter of my aunt". But such circumlocutions do not roll off the tongue, if, for example, you are calling out to your cousins "Hey, sons-of-my-uncle! Come here!" So instead, in Aramaic, the word "brother" or "sister" can be used in reference to kinsmen.

It is extremely unlikely that the Virgin Mary had another sister from the same parents who was also named Mary (John 19:25). And so clearly the term "sister" is being used in some broader sense. What is also very interesting is that this Mary, who is not Christ's mother but who also just happens to be the Virgin Mary's sister, also happens to have kids with the same names as Christ's brothers. See: Matt 27:56, Mark 15:40, 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 19:25. The Matthew account has Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Mark has Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses. John has "his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas". All accounts mention Mary Magdalene separately and Matthew mentions the mother of the sons of Zebedee (who could not also be married to Clopas). This suggests that Mary the wife of Clopas, who is Mary's sister, is the mother of James and Joses, etc.

The Apostle James, the Son of Alpheaus is not necessarily the same as James the less. They are not connected in the Gospels, though this connection is possible. James the less was the son of Cleopas, but, it is possible that "Cleopas" is a variant Hellenized transliteration of the Aramaic name "Chalphi".

Then we have the very early testimony of Hegesippus who states plainly that the brethren of the Lord were the Children of St. Joseph's brother Cleopas and his wife Mary. .

"After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and the disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions, with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive), to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with once consent pronounced Symeon, the Son of Cleopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention [note the Gospels only list Symeon as one of the Brother's of the Lord], to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Savior. For Hegesippus records that Cleopas was a brother of Joseph" ((Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 3:11) note: Hegesippus was a 2nd Century Palestinian Jew. Eusebius preserves one of the few fragments left of his works, since he had access to the great library of Ceasarea and of Alexandria—the contents of which were mostly lost later).

"Some of these heretics, forsooth, laid an information against Symeon the son of Clopas, as being of the family of David, and a Christian. And on these charges he suffered martrydom when he was 120 years old, in the reign of Trajan Caesar, when Atticus was Consular legate in Syria. And it so happened, says the same writer, that, while inquiry was then being made for those belonging to the royal tribe of the Jews, the accusers themselves were convicted of belonging to it. With show of reason it could be said that Symeon was one of those who actually saw and heard the Lord, on the ground of his great age, and also because the Scripture of the Gospels makes mention of Mary the [wife] of Clopas, who, as our narrative has shown already, was his father. The same historian mentions others also, of the family of one of the reputed brothers of the Savior, named Judas, as having survived until this same reign, after the testimony they bore for the faith of Christ in the time of Domitian, as already recorded. He writes as follows: They came, then, and took the presidency of every church, as witnesses for Christ, and as being of the kindred of the Lord. And after profound peace had been established in every church they remained down to the reign of Trajan Caesar: that is, until the time then he who was sprung from an uncle of the Lord, the aforementioned Symeon son of Clopas, was informed against by various heresies, and subjected to an accusation like the rest, and for the same cause, before the legate Atticus; and while suffering outrage during many days, he bore testimony for Christ: so that all, including the legate himself were astonished above measure that a man 120 years old should have been able to endure such torments. He was finally condemned to be crucified...." [St. Hegesippus [who reposed 170 ad], Fragments from his five books of commentaries on the acts of the Church, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 8, p 762]