Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stump the Priest: Communion and Germs


Question: "We Orthodox Christians Commune with the same spoon. What about the transmission of germs and diseases? I think germs were discovered in the 17th century. Before that, illnesses were attributed to demons."

The big question here is what do we really believe about the Eucharist. If we really believe that it is the body and blood of Christ, we shouldn't worry about it.

There is an illustrative instance in the life of St. John of Shanghai:

"Vladyka's constant attention to self-mortification had its root in the fear of God, which he possessed in the tradition of the ancient Church and of Holy Russia. The following incident, told by O. Skopichenko and confirmed by many from Shanghai, well illustrates his daring, unshakable faith in Christ. "Mrs. Menshikova was bitten by a mad dog. The injections against rabies she either refused to take or took carelessly… And then she came down with this terrible disease. Bishop John found out about it and came to the dying woman. He gave her Holy Communion, but just then she began having one of the fits of this disease; she began to foam at the mouth, and at the same time she spit out the Holy Gifts which she had just received. The Holy Sacrament cannot be thrown out. So, Vladyka picked up and put in his mouth the Holy Gifts vomited by the sick woman. Those who were with him exclaimed: `Vladyka, what are you doing! Rabies is terribly contagious!' But Vladyka peacefully answered: `Nothing will happen; these are the Holy Gifts.' And indeed nothing did happen."

Even if you take the nature of the Eucharist out of the equation, scientists who have examined the question say that the risk of getting an infection from a gold or silver chalice with wine in it is very low... and they are examining those churches that have the laity drink directly from the chalice, whereas we use a spoon. Also, if illnesses could be passed on through the Eucharist, the clergy should be perpetually ill, because after everyone else has communed, they consume the rest of the gifts, but there has been no history of such things. If you are a believer, you shouldn't be concerned. If you are not a believer, you shouldn't take communion at all, because then, according to St. Paul, you may in fact become ill as a result of your unworthily partaking of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:29-31).

As for the claim that in the ancient world, they thought demons were the cause of all illnesses, this is simply not the case, as is evident from the Gospels, which always distinguishes between those who were ill and those who were demonized. If you take Matthew 8:1-16 for example, you have a leper cleansed (1-4), and there is no mention of demons. Then you have the healing of the centurion's servant (5-13), and again there is no mention of demons. Then you have the healing St. Peter's mother-in-law (14-15), who was sick with a fever, and so clearly had some sort of an infection, and yet again there is no mention of demons. In verse 16 it says that they brought to Christ many who were demonized, and he cast out the spirits with a word. In Matthew 4:24, just before the sermon on the mount, we are told "and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them." The demonized are only one category among all the others that are listed. So there is simply no basis for the statement that people in the ancient world thought that illnesses were all causes by demons.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Stump the Priest: Who or What is the Rock in Matthew 16:18?


Question: "In Matthew 16:13-19, is Jesus referring to Simon Peter being the rock upon which He will build His church, or is He referring to Himself in Simon Peter's revelation of who Jesus is? And did Jesus give all of the disciples the power to bind and loose, or just Simon Peter?"

St. John Chrysostom explains what the rock refers to in Matthew 16:18 as follows:

"What then saith Christ? "Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas." "Thus since thou hast proclaimed my Father, I too name him that begat thee;" all but saying, "As thou art son of Jonas, even so am I of my Father." Else it were superfluous to say, "Thou art Son of Jonas;" but since he had said, "Son of God," to point out that He is so Son of God, as the other son of Jonas, of the same substance with Him that begat Him, therefore He added this, "And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church;" that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were now on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd. "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." "And if not against it, much more not against me. So be not troubled because thou art shortly to hear that I shall be betrayed and crucified" (Homily 52 on the Gospel of Matthew).

St. Augustine likewise says:

"And this he heard from the Lord: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” See what praises follow this faith. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” What meaneth, “Upon this rock I will build my Church”? Upon this faith; upon this that has been said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Upon this rock,” saith He, “I will build my Church” (Homily 10 on the First Epistle of St. John).

Some Fathers also say that the rock is Christ Himself, but there is not a great gap between the rock being Christ, and the rock being faith in Christ, because faith in Christ is only powerful because of the object of the faith.

There is a book by a Protestant author, William Webster, which catalogues very extensively what the Fathers had to say on this subject, if one is interested in reading further: The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock.

And as for who Christ gave the power to bind and to loose, it is helpful to look at the passages that speak about this in the King James Version, because in that version we have clear distinctions between the second person singular (thee, thou, thy) and the second person plural (ye, you, your):

Matthew 16:19: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Matthew 18:18: "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."

John 20:22-23: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

In the first instance, Christ was speaking directly to St. Peter, and so uses the second person singular pronoun, but in the following two instances, Christ is speaking to all of the Apostles, and likewise states that they have the power to bind and to loose, and uses the second person plural pronoun.

Update: Someone pointed out that Origen said that St. Peter was the Rock, but looking at the above referenced book by William Webster, I found the following which shows that while this is true, Origen did not believe it applied to St. Peter alone, but rather to all of the Apostles and indeed every believer:

"And perhaps that which Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” if we say it as Peter, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven shining in our heart, we too become as Peter, being pronounced blessed as he was, because that the grounds on which he was pronounced blessed apply also to us, by reason of the fact that flesh and blood have not revealed to us with regard to Jesus that He is Christ, the Son of the living God, but the Father in heaven, from the very heavens, that our citizenship may be in heaven, revealing to us the revelation which carries up to heaven those who take away every veil from the heart, and receive “the spirit of the wisdom and revelation” of God. And if we too have said like Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, “Thou art Peter,” etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.

But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,”hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, “Upon this rock I will build My church”? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” be common to the others, how shall not all the things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them? For in this place these words seem to be addressed as to Peter only, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” etc.; but in the Gospel of John the Saviour having given the Holy Spirit unto the disciples by breathing upon them said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” etc. Many then will say to the Saviour, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;” but not all who say this will say it to Him, as not at all having learned it by the revelation of flesh and blood but by the Father in heaven Himself taking away the veil that lay upon their heart, in order that after this “with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord” they may speak through the Spirit of God saying concerning Him, “Lord Jesus,” and to Him, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And if any one says this to Him, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto Him but through the Father in heaven, he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was. For all bear the surname of “rock” who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual draught. But these bear the surname of the rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters. And taking occasion from these things you will say that the righteous bear the surname of Christ who is Righteousness, and the wise of Christ who is Wisdom. And so in regard to all His other names, you will apply them by way of surname to the saints; and to all such the saying of the Saviour might be spoken, “Thou art Peter,” etc., down to the words, “prevail against it.” But what is the “it”? Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the church, or is it the church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it as if the rock and the church were one and the same? This I think to be true; for neither against the rock on which Christ builds the church, nor against the church will the gates of Hades prevail; just as the way of a serpent upon a rock, according to what is written in the Proverbs, cannot be found. Now, if the gates of Hades prevail against any one, such an one cannot be a rock upon which Christ builds the church, nor the church built by Jesus upon the rock; for the rock is inaccessible to the serpent, and it is stronger than the gates of Hades which are opposing it, so that because of its strength the gates of Hades do not prevail against it; but the church, as a building of Christ who built His own house wisely upon the rock, is incapable of admitting the gates of Hades which prevail against every man who is outside the rock and the church, but have no power against it." (Origen, Commentary on Matthew 12:10-11).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

For the Houston Mayor... Here are My Sermons


As you have probably heard, the Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, has subpoenaed the sermons of several ministers in Houston, particularly those sermons that mentioned her, homosexuality, or her push to allow men who think they are women to use the ladies room if they wish. I think every clergyman in the country should respond and send her recordings or texts of their sermons.

Her e-mail is mayor@houstontx.gov

Her facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/MayorAnniseParker

Her Twitter account is here: https://twitter.com/AnniseParker

Maybe all those sermons will do her some good.

Here are some of mine:

The Inconvenient Truth about Homosexual Marriage (Romans 1:18-27)

The Empty House: what happens when a person or a nation abandons God? (Luke 11:23-26)

“As it was in the days of Noah” (Genesis 6:5-8)

Flee Sexual Immorality (1 Corinthians 5-6)

All of my other sermons for the past few years are posted here:

http://www.saintjonah.org/podcasts/sermons.htm

You can also see what I have posted on my blog on the subject, here:

http://fatherjohn.blogspot.com/search/label/Gay%20Marriage

You can try to intimidate us all you like, but we still have freedom of religion and freedom of speech in this country, and we will continue to exercise those rights as we see fit.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Stump the Priest: Are Ecumenical Councils Infallible?

The Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils

Question: "Does the Orthodox Church teach that the Ecumenical Councils are infallible?"

We do not believe that everything that anyone happened to say at an Ecumenical Council is infallible, but we most certainly do believe that the canons and decrees of the Ecumenical Councils are infallible, and this is because we believe that the Church as a whole, is infallible. Individual members, and even local Churches may error, but it is not possible for the entire Church to teach that which is erroneous -- and ecumenical councils are certainly an example of what the Church as a whole teaches.

Fr. George Florovsky observed: "The teaching authority of the Ecumenical Councils is grounded in the infallibility of the Church. The ultimate "authority" is vested in the Church, which is forever the Pillar and the Foundation of Truth" (The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century).

The Patriarchal Encyclical of 1895, which was written in response to a Papal encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, in which he called for the reunion of the Orthodox Church with the Roman Church, states:

"...having recourse to the fathers and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church of the first nine centuries, we are fully persuaded that the Bishop of Rome was never considered as the supreme authority and infallible head of the Church, and that every bishop is head and president of his own particular Church, subject only to the synodical ordinances and decisions of the Church universal as being alone infallible, the Bishop of Rome being in no wise excepted from this rule, as Church history shows."

And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain states, as he begins his famous commentary on the Ecumenical Canons:

"So every ecumenical council that possesses these characteristic features is in fact the Holy and Catholic Church itself in which in the Symbol of Faith (called the Creed in English) we profess to believe. ...being infallible and sinless. For the Church, which the Ecumenical Council takes the place of as its personal representative, is a pillar and framework of the truth, according to St. Paul (I Tim. 3:15); accordingly, whatever seems right to Ecumenical Councils seems right also to the Holy Spirit of Truth: for, it says, “He shall teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said unto you” (John 14:26)" (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 157).

Canon 1 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council states, with regard to all the Ecumenical canons and decrees of the previous Councils (as well as those of local Councils and Fathers whom these Councils specifically affirmed, states:

"For those who have been allotted a sacerdotal dignity, the representations of canonical ordinances amount to testimonies and directions. Gladly accepting these, we sing to the Lord God with David, the spokesman of God, the following words: “I have delighted in the way of thy testimonies as much as in all wealth,” and “thy testimonies which thou hast commanded witness righteousness,… Thy testimonies are righteousness forever: give me understanding, and I shall live” (Ps. 119:14, 138 and 144). And if forever the prophetic voice commands us to keep the testimonies of God, and to live in them, it is plain that they remain unwavering and rigid. For Moses, too, the beholder of God, says so in the following words: “To them there is nothing to add, and from them there is nothing to remove” (Deut. 12:32). And the divine Apostle Peter, exulting in them, cries: “which things the angels would like to peep into” (I Pet. 1:12). And Paul says: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any gospel besides that which ye have received, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8). Seeing that these things are so and are attested to us, and rejoicing at them “as one that findeth great spoil” (Ps. 119:162), we welcome and embrace the divine Canons, and we corroborate the entire and rigid fiat of them that have been set forth by the renowned Apostles, who were and are trumpets of the Spirit, and those both of the six holy Ecumenical Councils and of the ones assembled regionally far the purpose of setting forth such edicts and of those of our holy Fathers. For all those men, having been guided by the light dawning out of the same Spirit, prescribed rules that are to our best interest. Accordingly, we too anathematize whomsoever they consign to anathema; and we too depose whomsoever they consign to deposition; and we too excommunicate whomsoever they consign to excommunication; and we likewise subject to a penance anyone whom they make liable to a penance. For “Let your conduct be free from avarice; being content with such things as are at hand” (Heb. 13:5), explicitly cries the divine apostle Paul, who ascended into the third heaven and heard unspeakable words (II Cor. 12:2-4)."

And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain adds two comments in his notes to his commentary on this canon:

"Note here how respectable and reverend the divine Canons are. For this holy Council, by calling them “testimonies” and “justifications,” and the like, dignifies these very same divine Canons with those title and names with which the divinely inspired and holy Bible is dignified."

And

"That is why Photius, in Title I, ch. 2, says that the third ordinance of Title II of the Novels invests the Canons of the seven Councils and their dogmas with the same authoritativeness as the divine Scriptures." (Rudder, p. 428f).

See also St. Cyprian of Carthage's Treatise on the Unity of the Church.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Stump the Priest: Did the Virgin Mary Ever Sin?


Question: Did the Virgin Mary ever sin?

Protestants often argue that the Virgin Mary had to have sinned, because she says in the Magnificat "my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47), and so if God was her savior, she must have been a sinner in need of a savior. But while it is certainly true that a person drowning the sea needs a savior, a person who is prevented by someone from falling into the sea in the first place can also be said to have a savior.

There are also some early Fathers of the Church who seem to suggest that the Virgin Mary may have sinned, while there are many Fathers who state clearly that she was sinless. But it is possible that they are all right, but in different senses.

Contrary to the view of many Protestants "sin is sin" (i.e., that any sin is equally bad in the eyes of God as any other sin), the Church and the Scriptures make a clear distinction between willful and intention sins, and sins of ignorance. For an example of this distinction being made in Scripture, see Numbers 15:22-31. In that passage, it is taught that one sacrifice for the sins of ignorance of all the people was sufficient to cleanse them of such sins, but that those who sinned "with a raised hand", as the Hebrew word translated "presumptuously" in verse 30, was specifically not cleanse by such a sacrifice. So it is possible that the Virgin Mary was free from willful sins of intention, but not free from sins of ignorance.

St. John (Maximovitch) deals with this question in his treatise "The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God," in the section entitled "Zeal Not According to Knowledge", in which he takes issue with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and argues that the teaching that the Virgin Mary was completely sinless, in every sense, is contrary to Scripture and to the writings of the Fathers.

Update: For non-Orthodox readers, if you read the treatise by St. John (Maximovitch) you will see that the Orthodox Church rejects the doctrine of the immaculate conception, which teaches that the Virgin Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin. We also do not believe that original sin carries with it any guilt, but is instead an inclination toward sin... but one only acquires personal guilt when they actually commit sins.