Wednesday, July 08, 2020

An Open Letter to Fr. Aidan Kimel regarding Universalism

An Open Letter to Fr. Aidan Kimel
regarding Universalism

by Dr. David C. Ford

June 22, 2020
St. Alban of Britain

Dear Fr. Aidan,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I do want to thank you for giving me the courtesy of letting me know ahead of time about your response to my response to Fr. Plekon’s review of David Bentley Hart’s book, That All Shall Be Saved.

And I suppose I should thank you for giving my document such close attention, despite thinking it’s “drivel”!  I guess that’s a compliment of some sort!

By way of contrast, here’s what a retired Assistant District Attorney wrote to his priest about my response to Fr. Plekon’s review:

I read Dr. David Ford’s review of the review of Hart’s book on universal salvation.
It was an excellent piece - very well written. He writes like a good lawyer.
I believe it informed me of just about everything I probably want to know about the book, and seemed to confirmed a suspicion of mine that Hart may have become too “smart” for his own good.

To address your response to my response, I’m sure we completely agree that it would be truly wonderful indeed if every single human being, and every single angelic being including every demon and even Satan himself, were to repent and beg Christ for forgiveness before the Last Judgment occurs, or even afterwards (if that proves to be possible), leaving hell utterly empty if not totally annihilated.  Those with big enough hearts may well be praying for that!  That’s the hope we all are welcome to have.

But not the certainty.  For as you well know, for all the Scripture verses and passages that might possibly be taken in a Universalist way, there are many others that strongly imply what the Church as a whole has always taught against that speculation.  And who has the authority and the certain knowledge of the future to declare unequivocally that everyone, including the Devil and all his hosts, will repent and be saved in the end?  And of those who dare to declare this as a certainty, which of them will be willing to bear all the consequences if they are mistaken – especially if they’ve misled others to the extent of their living without repentance in this life because they got convinced they could just wait and repent in the next life?

Also, I’m very sorry that you don’t seem to understand how the issue of authority is indeed at the very heart of the matter.  For no matter what any of our speculations might be, no matter how well-thought out and well-intentioned they are, if they’re not informed by, aligned with, and centered in the received Tradition of our Orthodox Church, they simply can’t be correct!  This is especially true when the issue at hand is an important one, and when it has already been decided by the Church as a whole, with virtually every Saint and Church Father and holy elder in agreement.

Either our Church, Christ’s Body, has preserved Christ’s Truth in all its fullness, or our Lord has not protected His Body from “the gates of hell” as He promised He would.  And the Spirit of Truth, Whom Christ promised would lead His Church into all the Truth, must have failed to do that very thing.

Concerning the claim that some Christians in the early centuries were apparently Universalists, if we are faithful Orthodox Christians and not crypto-Protestants, we trust our Church to have made the correct decision in eventually rejecting Universalism, even if some unknown number of Christians believed it in the early centuries.  The historical record is that the Church as a whole rejected it; and after about the middle of the 6th century it rightly disappears, under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth Who was indeed leading the Church into all Truth – as all faithful Orthodox Christians believe. 

By that same guidance of the Holy Spirit of Truth, speaking in unknown tongues and the interpretation of tongues, though apparently endorsed by St. Paul himself (1 Cor. 14), as well as the office of the traveling prophets, also dissipated and disappeared, probably by about the beginning of the third century.  And also, the early belief, held by many rigorist Christians, that repentance and restoration to the Church were not possible even after deep repentance for those having committed the worst sins – adultery, apostasy, and murder – similarly was overturned by the Church as a whole, by the end of the 4th century.

You’re asking our Church to view our Orthodox Faith “through Universalist spectacles.”  When I attempt to do so, I see very serious and potentially disastrous pastoral and intellectual problems.

For instance, concerning the pastoral repercussions of Universalism, through our Church's rejection of Universalism She has recognized it as a misleading speculation that could very well undermine our people's incentive to live a life of ongoing repentance, which is so important in our Orthodox spiritual life, and which has direct relevance for our future state in the next life.  For if I can just plan on repenting in the next life, what does it matter how dissolutely I live, or how blasphemously I think, or how recklessly I believe, in this life?  I’m surprised you don’t seem to recognize this very real danger.

Really, with the Universalist claim, where is the incentive to take the Last Judgment seriously, if it’s believed that God absolutely will save everyone from hell the moment they finally repent?  And why are the prayers and hymns of our Church, as well as the Book of Psalms, filled to overflowing with calls and entreaties for the Lord to save us and have mercy on us, if He’s going to do that anyway the moment hell gets too hot for us and we finally repent then?

And what about for people who are in deep depression and struggling to resist suicidal thoughts?  If they’ve become convinced that Universalism is true, what would stop them, in a particularly excruciating moment of temptation, to give in to the temptation and take their own life in the expectation that they’ll be able to repent and be saved in the next life?  It seems clear that it’s not without deep pastoral wisdom, based in deep experience with spiritual warfare, that our Church, in order to provide an additional incentive for those dealing with suicidal thoughts to resist them, has traditionally denied a full Christian funeral to those taking their own life.

In addition, how would it not be deleterious to people's life in the Church if they get swayed by Hart's rhetoric into doubting the wisdom and trustworthiness of the great Saints and Church Fathers through the centuries?  People might ask themselves, If the Fathers are wrong on this issue, what else might they be wrong about?  And I wonder, how can people venerate the Saints and Fathers and ask for their prayers with fullness of reverence, esteem, and confidence if they get convinced that the Fathers were wrong on such a crucial issue?

Concerning the Universalist logic itself, granted that it may very well be extremely well-intentioned, compelling, and driven by the highest of motivations, yet it remains another attempt to reduce the mysteries of the Faith to the level of human reasoning.  It’s another example, as we see with every heresy, of the human mind staggering at some aspect of the mystery of our Lord’s inscrutable Being and Providence. 

According to human reasoning and conceptualizing, it might very well be true that knowing that God is Pure, Divine Love is logically incompatible with the fact that there may well be rational beings, demons as well as human beings, created by Him yet existing in an eternal state of separation from Him because “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Such a scenario may very well not seem to us to be something our All-Loving God could ever allow.  But we can only make such a judgment according to our own very limited definitions and concepts of what God’s love must be like. 

And the very foundations of our Faith are wrapped in logically inconsistent paradox and mystery.  How can Three be One?  How can One be Three?  How can God become man?  How can a man be God?  How can our Lord be completely inaccessible to humans, and yet simultaneously be completely accessible?  How can our salvation depend entirely upon our Lord and His saving work, and also entirely upon ourselves to freely accept that work for ourselves?  How can our Church contain the perfect fullness of Truth, yet consist of members who all fall short of being perfectly filled with Truth?  These are paradoxes, antinomies, mysteries, all of which defy human logic, with which they indeed are entirely inconsistent. 

Speaking broadly, I think it reflects a Scholastic mindset to wish to reduce the mystery, the paradox, to the level of logical consistency.  But for the Orthodox, knowing our Uncreated Lord is infinitely beyond our created capacities for reasoning, infinitely beyond the reasoning capacities of even the most intellectually brilliant among us, we calmly accept the paradoxes, the antinomies, the mysteries of our Divinely-revealed Faith.  As St. Gregory Palamas says so well, “The antinomy is the touchstone of Orthodoxy.”

I think we can say that the mysteries that permeate our Faith are in a sense intended by our Lord to defy human reasoning, as one of His ways to keep us humbly reliant upon Him in all things. 

We can also be reminded of the Orthodox understanding of the difference between the apophatic and kataphatic traditions in our Orthodox theology.  As St. Dionysius the Aeropagite says so well, God is Love and yet He is also Not-Love, because His Love is both similar to human concepts of love, yet at the same time His Love is infinitely beyond our human concepts of love.

It’s indeed admirable that Universalists are so concerned to defend and protect the understanding of God as Complete and Total Love.  But in Orthodoxy, we know this already; we’re always saying, “for He is the Good God Who loves mankind.”  I’m reminded of how the erroneous and divisive Filioque clause was added to the Nicene Creed to try to reinforce the full Deity of the Son in the face of continuing Arianism in late 6th century Spain; but the Nicene Creed had already established His full Deity with the use of the word homoousios.  Similarly, the Universalist attempt to reinforce the fullness of God’s Love by removing the possibility of eternal separation from Him leads to divisiveness and confusion, and distrust of the Tradition as a whole.

And in the end, of course, despite all its emphasis on God’s Love, Universalism always boils down not to love, but to power.  As Hart says, “Insofar as we are able freely to will anything at all, therefore, it is precisely because He is making us to do so: as at once the source of all action and intentionality in rational natures and also the transcendental object of rational desire that elicits every act of mind and will towards any purposes whatsoever” (TASBS, p. 183; his emphasis).  Besides, this claim is false because it would make God the ultimate author of every evil intention, decision, and action that’s ever occurred, and we all know that He is not the originator of evil.

Universalism staggers at the idea that any human or demonic will could ever eternally override the will and desire of our All-Powerful God for every demon and every person to repent and be saved from hell.  But that’s part of the mystery – God, in His humble Love, allows this.  He always just knocks at the door of our heart (Rev. 3:20); He never pushes open that door.  It’s this humble dimension of the way God loves that Universalism doesn’t seem to understand. 

In addition, by the logic of Universalism, if it’s morally absurd, if it’s cruel, if indeed it’s evil for God to allow demons and humans to reject His love forever and hence to experience hell forever, then it must have been morally absurd and cruel and evil for Him to have created angels and humans in the first place with the capacity to reject His will for them in anything.  For every time we sin, we reject and override His will for us to live without sin; and every time we sin, we plunge ourselves into a certain kind of hell.  Pressing the logic of Universalism to a logical conclusion, how could a fully loving God allow even one of His creatures to experience any form or degree of hell even for a moment? – for that would be cruel, according to the humanistic logic of Universalism.

But in the end, who would ever think that any 21st century scholar, no matter how intellectually brilliant, is more trustworthy than St. Athanasius the Great, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Basil the Great, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. John of Damascus, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Photius the Great, St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Nicholas Cabasilas, St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, St. Silouan the Athonite, St. Paisius the Athonite, and countless other saints and elders? 

Is David Bentley Hart really living closer to God than they did?  Is he really more filled with God’s love and truth than they were?  Is it really possible that all those Saints were wrong about Universalism, and that you and David Bentley Hart are correct?  Do you really think the Head of His Church, Jesus Christ Himself, would have allowed His Church to go into error on this crucial point for all these centuries?  Has He really been waiting all this time for the truth to be finally discovered in the early 21st century by a handful of intellectuals? – with David Bentley Hart even daring to imply that all these Fathers and Saints were “moral idiots” for not believing in Universalism!

Of course, we’re all free to choose whom to trust, and whom to believe.  May we all choose wisely!

So, dear Fr. Aidan, please prayerfully consider my words, even if they are not brilliant.  And let’s all remember our Lord’s sobering words about being a stumbling block to any one of His little ones: “Better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he be drowned in the sea.”

With love and prayers,

Dr. David C. Ford
Professor of Church History
St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary
South Canaan, PA

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Reader Services for through the 9th Sunday After Pentecost

This installment covers the Sundays of Old Calendar July, which on the civil Calendar runs from July 14th through August 13th. I intend to keep these texts posted as long as there are states or English speaking countries that are still under lockdown due to the Coronavirus.

The Eves

For the Eves of the upcoming Sundays and Feasts, you could ideally do the Vigil. The fixed portions can be downloaded here:

or viewed in HTML, here:

For the Rubrics, see:

The variable portions of the service can be downloaded here (all of these would be served on the eve of their respective days). These services require two files, because these combinations do not repeat annually. In addition to the files linked for the Sundays below, you will need to use the appropriate Katavasia, which for this time period is the Katavasia of the Theotokos. Also, there are some hymns that are appointed according to which Matins Gospel is read. To find out which one is read, you need to look at the Rubrics. For those texts, you will find them here: Those hymns are usually done at the Exapostilaria and then at the Doxasticon at the Praises.

Also, the texts below do not always have the full canon for the Menaion, but you can find that here: (you will need to look up the service according to the Old Calendar (o.s.) date).

For the 6th Sunday after Pentecost / St. Sisoes the Great (July 19th n.s. / July 6th o.s.):

For the 7th Sunday after Pentecost / Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils (July 26th n.s. / July 13th o.s.):

For the 8th Sunday after Pentecost / Prophet Elijah (August 2nd n.s. / July 20th o.s.):

For the 9th Sunday after Pentecost / Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon (August 9th n.s. / July 27th o.s.):

However, if doing Vigil is too much for you at present, you could do Small Compline, and take the canon of each of the above days, and read it immediately after the Creed, and then repeat the Kontakion that is appointed after Ode 6th of  the canon after the following Trisagion.


In place of the Liturgies, you would do Typika:

For the 6th Sunday after Pentecost / St. Sisoes the Great (July 19th):

For the 7th Sunday after Pentecost / Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils (July 26th):

For the 8th Sunday after Pentecost / Prophet Elijah (August 2nd):

For the 9th Sunday after Pentecost / Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon (August 9th):

Friday, June 19, 2020

Review: The Soul's Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation

For several years I have been trying to find a good Orthodox book on biblical studies that was not just warmed over Protestant scholarship with a little Orthodoxy sprinkled on top, but I could find any such text (at least in English) until now. Dr. Mary Ford's book "The Soul's Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation," does an excellent job of explaining the Orthodox approach to scripture, in contrast to contemporary Protestant scholarship. It beautifully explains the historic approach of the Fathers of the Church to scripture, and also critically examines the origins and assumptions behind the historical-critical approach to scripture which is most common in contemporary academia.

Discovering the assumptions behind the historical-critical method played a big role in my own conversion to the Orthodox Faith, because even as a Protestant, it was apparent that these assumptions were not Christian in origin. Two texts that I think lay out this history well are "Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700," by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker; and "The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies," by Michael C. Legaspi. I would still recommend both of these books to those who want to really dig into this subject, but with far fewer pages, Dr. Ford makes a similar case, but in a way that is easier to understand for the average reader, and far more likely to actually be read by such people.

Dr. Ford goes on to explain how Orthodox Christians can make discerning use of Protestant biblical scholarship, while remaining faithful to the patristic approach to Scripture. This book is, at least to my knowledge, the best book on the scriptures currently available in English, and one I would recommend to any Orthodox Christian who wants to learn more about how to interpret the Scriptures... which should be everyone.

For more information, see:

Orthodox Biblical Interpretation and Protestant Biblical Scholarship

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Review: A Children's Catechism

The Catechesis of our children is one area that we need to work on, to be sure. Many are unsure how to do it properly, or what resources we should be using. Fr. Michael Shanbour has provided a useful text for preteens, either at home, or in Sunday Schools. The Good Samaritan: A Children's Catechism, covers the basics of the Faith, and does it in chapters short enough to keep a child's attention. It is well illustrated, and provides some instructions for activities that can be done to reinforce the lesson. It covers the questions of sin and the fall, and the remedies God has provided for us. It talks about the sacraments, as well as fasting and almsgiving. It's not the only text you will ever need to instruct your children in the faith, but it provides a good resource for children in that age group.

Your children are not going to grow up to be faithful Orthodox Christians because they are swept along by the culture to do so. The opposite is true. You have to work, and work diligently to instill the faith in your children, and this book will help.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Communion, Communion Spoons, and Irrational Fears

I recently came across a very insightful remark from a conservative writer (Denise McAllister) who was engaged in an online debate with someone over what the government should or should not be able to mandate. She wrote: "My freedom doesn’t end where your irrational fear begins." But of course the question of whether one's fears are rational or irrational is the question we have to consider.

There is unfortunately no risk free way for us to live in this world. If we were to avoid all risks, none of us would ever get into an automobile, but most of us do, because we consider that to be a manageable risk. If you drive while listening to the radio, or drinking a cup of coffee, you are adding to your risks... but these added risks are generally considered to be fairly minimal.

It is curious that while many local governments have closed churches, or severely restricted attendance, they have allowed marijuana shops and liquor stores to stay open. As a judge in Illinois recently pointed out, only 5 months ago, marijuana shops were not even legal, but they are now considered to be essential, but churches, which are protected by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution are not (at least in many states). But, apparently, some risks are worth taking -- it's just a question of what you think is important. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has said that it is not yet safe for churches to give communion to their people, when asked whether people should refrain from hooking up with strangers for sex, said:
"If you're willing to take a risk—and you know, everybody has their own tolerance for risks—you could figure out if you want to meet somebody. And it depends on the level of the interaction that you want to have.... If you're looking for a friend, sit in a room and put a mask on, and you know, chat a bit. If you want to go a little bit more intimate, well, then that's your choice regarding a risk" (Newsweek: "Dr. Fauci Says You Can Meet a Tinder Date 'If You're Willing to Take a Risk'" 4/16/20).
So it is all a matter of what your priorities are.

The question of how the various levels of government in the United States have handled the Coronavirus is something that we will probably be debating for years to come, but within the Orthodox Church, there is also an ongoing debate regarding how various bishops have handled this crisis. The bishops have responded to this crisis in various ways. Some only imposed restrictions on services in those places in which this was mandated by the local authorities; while others either restricted attendance or cancelled them altogether, regardless of government mandates being imposed or not. I have seen many who have argued that bishops who imposed such restrictions are outright heretics and apostates. But I have never heard such arguments when a parish has cancelled services because of severe weather. It may be, that as we reflect on this crisis, many bishops will regret that they overreacted. It could also have been that if this virus had proven to be as deadly as many were saying, that some bishops might have regretted under-reacting. So this is not a question of heresy, but a question of wisdom -- i.e., what was the reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. We might disagree with a bishop's decisions, but even if he judged wrongly, one has to assume his motivations were good, and that a desire to subvert the faith was not among those motivations. But what concerns me most at present, is where some bishops are headed with their responses to how we should go forward liturgically, in the wake of this virus.

We currently have bishops mandating the use of a different spoon for each communicate, and some who have instituted the practice of giving people communion in the hand (with a portion of the intincted Eucharist), all driven by the fear that giving people communion with a communion spoon, as the Church has been doing for nearly a thousand years now, might cause someone to get the virus. The question we should ask, however, is whether or not this fear is rational or irrational.

It has been pointed out that the practice of the Church in the first millennium was for people to receive communion much in the same way that Orthodox clergy still do: first with the Body of Christ in the hand, and then by receiving the Blood directly from the chalice. Why did the Church end that practice, and begin communing people with a spoon? Because people were carelessly dropping portions of the Eucharist, and because of some people taking the Eucharist home for superstitious purposes. There is little reason to believe that people in our time will be more pious and careful than people in the first millennium -- and there is plenty of evidence to assume just the opposite.

While many are appealing to the older practice as a basis for what they propose as a solution to concerns over this virus, none are actually suggesting we return to that practice, because obviously, if the laity were all partaking from a common chalice, this would not be an improvement over using a single spoon. In fact, while the spoon is dipped back into the chalice and washed in the Blood of Christ after each person is communed, this does not happen to the outside of the chalice.

Those advocating for the use of multiple, or even disposable spoons, appeal to precedents from the past for how those known to be sick with infectious diseases have been communed. But the key factor is that this is how people who were known to have an infectious disease were communed -- such methods were never used as a preventative measure. Also, when a priest is communing the sick, he normally does so with the reserved sacrament, and so the wine that is in the chalice is unconsecrated wine.*

The question I have asked many people who have advocated that such changes are necessary is very simple: Is there any evidence that anyone has ever gotten sick from receiving communion with a spoon?  There answer to this question is "no." But some people then retort that this is simply because no one has ever done a scientific study of the question, but this is not true. It is true that, to my knowledge at least, there have been no studies involving the use of communion spoons, but there have actually been several studies of people using a common chalice -- which would be more likely to be a means of transmitting disease than a communion spoon, for the aforementioned reason -- and so such studies are a good way to answer the question of whether we are dealing with rational or irrational fears.

John Sanidopoulos, in his article "Scientific Studies on the Transmission of Infectious Diseases Through Holy Communion" has pointed to 6 relevant studies done between 1943 and 1998. One study found that even under ideal circumstances (ideal for allowing transmission, that is), the use of a common chalice showed 0.001% of organisms being transferred, but when studying conditions that actually followed real world practice, no transmission could be detected. In another study, three groups of people were studied: those who go to Church and receive communion, those who go to Church but who do not receive communion, and those who do not go to Church at all. What they found was that even among those who received communion as often as daily, there was no increase in one's risk of infection. And so even if you do not believe in God, fears of getting sick because of getting a virus from a communion spoon are irrational -- and if you do believe in God, and actually believe what we confess before we receive the Eucharist (which is that the Eucharist is truly Christ's Body and Blood), then you should have nothing to worry about.

Fr. Alkiviadis C. Calivas, in his article "A Note on the Common Communion Spoon," says that he himself has no such fears, but expresses his concern for those who do:
"In my sixty-four years in the priesthood, I have consumed the chalice thousands of times after countless Divine Liturgies without fear or hesitation, as every priest does. I am not certain, however, that every faithful parishioner would do the same, if they were asked. My point is this. Holy Communion should be a source of joy, hope and strength for everyone and not a test or measure of one’s faith in God’s providential care (Matt. 4:5-7). St. Paul reminds us that the love of Christ requires that we care for all persons, whatever their situation and be sensitive and responsive to their just needs and concerns for the sake of the Gospel (1 Cor. 9: 19-23)."
I have not been a priest for even half as long, but my experience supports Fr. Alkiviadis' conclusion that there is nothing to fear. When I commune the faithful, the last mouth that I place the spoon into before handing it off to the deacon is my own (to ensure that there is nothing left of the Eucharist on the spoon), and I have not so much as had a fever since several years before I was ordained a priest. If a virus could be transmitted via a communion spoon, there should be widespread instances of priests with oral herpes (which can be spread by the use of eating utensils that have been used by someone with that virus), but as a matter of fact, there is no evidence that anyone has gotten such a virus in this way.

I can appreciate Fr. Alkiviadis' concern for people who have irrational fears, but why should we encourage such irrational fears to persist by acting in a way that communicates to those suffering from them that we believe those fears are well founded?

I am afraid that we as a society may be raising up a generation of germaphobes who will spend their lives paralyzed by such irrational fears, and be so concerned about dying from the many germs and viruses that abound in our world, that they are unable to actually live. But it is far more concerning to contemplate the message that the Church would be sending to the faithful, if we act as if receiving communion is a physically dangerous act. It is indeed spiritually dangerous to receive communion in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27-29), but which of the saints ever taught or suggested that the Eucharist could be a means of transmitting a disease? None did. In fact there is a well known episode from 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."
If someone does not really believe that the Eucharist is what we say it is, then indeed they should not receive communion, because "...he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (1 Corinthians 11:29).

Aside from all that has been said, when we speak of "risk" or "chance" as Christians, we should understand that these are simply means of referring to the many variable factors that we do not know. We, however, do not believe in a God that is a helpless observer, who fondly hopes that things will work out well for us. We believe, that if we are doing what God wants us to do, that we don't need to worry beyond that. The worst that can happen is that we will die, and go to be with Christ for all eternity. We believe that not a sparrow falls apart from the will of the Father (Matthew 10:29), and as St. Anthony of Optina said during a cholera epidemic (which killed far more people than the coronavirus is likely to):
"You should not be afraid of cholera, but of serious sins, for the scythe of death mows a person down like grass even without cholera. Therefore, place all your hope in the Lord God, without Whose will even the birds do not die, much less a person."
For more on this question, I would highly recommend the article: "A Response to "On administering Holy Communion in a Time of a Plague""

*I personally wouldn't worry about it even then, but this is perhaps why more caution is shown.

Update: You could just skip my article, and go directly to Presbytera Eugenia Constantinou's "More Dangerous than Covid-19," which says it about as well as it can be said.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Reader Services through the 5th Sunday after Pentecost

For those who prefer texts in Slavonic and Russian, the Moscow Patriarchate has been posting reader service texts for both the Vigil and Typika for Sundays and feasts, linked at the top of their official page:

For those who want texts in English, however, here is the next set of texts:

The Eves

For the Eves of the upcoming Sundays and Feasts, you could ideally do the Vigil. The fixed portions can be downloaded here:

or viewed in HTML, here:

For the Rubrics, see:

The variable portions of the service can be downloaded here (all of these would be served on the eve of their respective days):

For the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (May 31st):

For the Sunday of Pentecost (June 7th):

For the Sunday of All Saints (June 14th):

For the Sunday of All Saints of Russia (June 21st):

The rest of these services require two files, because these combinations do not repeat annually. In addition to the files linked for the Sundays below, you will need to use the appropriate Katavasia, which for this time period is the Katavasia of the Theotokos. Also, there are some hymns that are appointed according to which Matins Gospel is read. To find out which one is read, you need to look at the Rubrics. For those texts, you will find them here: Those hymns are usually done at the Exapostilaria and then at the Doxasticon at the Praises.

For the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost / Prophet Amos (June 28th):

combined with the Octoechos:

For St. John of Shanghai (Saturday, July 4th) (Octoechos text included):

For the 4th Sunday after Pentecost / Hieromartyr Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata (July 5th):

combined with the Octoechos:

For the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Tuesday, July 7th) (no Octoechos text needed for this service):

For the 5th Sunday after Pentecost / Ss. Peter and Paul (July 12th):

combined with the Octoechos:

However, if doing Vigil is too much for you at present, you could do Small Compline, and take the canon of each of the above days, and read it immediately after the Creed, and then repeat the Kontakion that is appointed after Ode 6th of  the canon after the following Trisagion.


In place of the Liturgies, you would do Typika:

For the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (May 31st):

For the Sunday of Pentecost (June 7th):

For the Sunday of All Saints (June 14th):

For the Sunday of All Saints of Russia (June 21st):

For the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost / Prophet Amos (June 28th):

For St. John of Shanghai (Saturday, July 4th):

For the 4th Sunday after Pentecost / Hieromartyr Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata (July 5th):

For the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Tuesday, July 7th):

For the 5th Sunday after Pentecost / Ss. Peter and Paul (July 12th):

Friday, May 01, 2020

Review: A New Epistle Book

Deacon Peter Gardner has previously published a Gospel Book, a Prophetologion, and a Lenten Lectionary (which consists of those parts of the Prophetologion used during Lent and Holy Week). But he has now added to these useful texts an Epistle Book, which is according to the King James Version, with only some amendments to make it conform to the Slavonic Apostol (and these are minor, and few and far between). The text also contains translations of the introductions to each book. The translation used for the prokimena and alleluia verses is the Psalter According to the Seventy, commonly known as the "Boston Psalter," and since is the most commonly used translation of the Psalter in ROCOR and to some extent in other jurisdictions as well, this makes this text especially useful for those in such parishes. The text is also well bound, and seems sturdy enough to last, and the size is just about perfect, and the size of the font is as well. A lot of work went into putting it together, and the more I have looked it over, the more I have liked it.

The text would be improved, in my opinion, with some minor editing of the KJV text to eliminate words or phrases that are particularly obscure. The margins are wide enough, however, that one can make margin notes so that a reader will make whatever amendments are considered necessary -- which is what I am in the process of doing with my copy.

Also, the black and white edition would be improved if the texts that are in a shade of gray (because in the color edition they are in red) where instead in dark bold black text, as was done by St. Tikhon's in their Apostol's black and white edition.

It is available for $60.00 (in a simple black and white text, as pictured above), or for $160.00 in a color edition (with red rubrics). The color edition makes finding the asterisks within the text a bit easier on the eyes, and so if you can afford it, that would be a better format to go with. The color edition is also printed on better quality paper. Both editions come with a dust cover, but the text itself is in a simple dark blue, with the words "Epistle Book" printed on the spine. If one could find a nice metallic cover that fits this edition, this would also be a nice touch.

In my parish, we have been using an earlier version of the St. Tikhon Apostol, and I have had to regularly print out a sheet for each Liturgy, so that the reader would read the prokimena and alleluia verses in the translation we use. This edition makes that unnecessary, and so this makes a great addition to the options that are available for English speaking Orthodox Christians -- especially for those who love the traditional form of Liturgical English in our services.

I would also recommend anyone who is interested in doing Reader Services, even if occasionally, that they get a copy of the Prophetologion, Gospel, and Epistle Book by Fr. Peter Gardner. There is really nothing else available right now that is comparable.

Update: You can see a list of suggested changes I would make to the text here:

You can do this by hand, by underling the text that needs to be amended, and writing the amended word text in the margin. If you use correction tape to white out the border before you write, this gives you more room. In some cases, it may be easier to white out the text that needs to be changed, and to write the correction over it, you just need to do so legibly, and keep the space you have in mind.

See Also: 

King James English and Orthodox Worship

Beauty and the Bible

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Reader Services Through Ascension

The Eves

For Saturday Night and the Eves of the various Feasts, you could ideally do the Vigil. The fixed portions can be downloaded here:

or viewed in HTML, here:

The variable portions of the service can be downloaded here (all of these would be served on the eve of their respective days):

For the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers (May 3rd):

For the Sunday of the Paralytic (May 10th):

For Mid-Pentecost (May 13):

For the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (May 17th):

For the Sunday of the Blind Man (May 24th) & Ss. Cyril and Methodius :

For the Apodosis of Pascha (May 26th):

For the Feast of the Ascension:

However, if doing Vigil is too much for you at present, you could do Small Compline, and take t he canon of each of the above days, and read it immediately after the Creed, and then repeat the Kontakion that is appointed after Ode 6th of  the canon after the following Trisagion.


In place of the Liturgies, you would do Typika:

For the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers (May 3rd):

For the Sunday of the Paralytic (May 10th):

For Mid-Pentecost (May 13):

For the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (May 17th):

For the Sunday of the Blind Man & Ss. Cyril and Methodius (May 24th):

For the Apodosis of Pascha (May 26th):

For the Feast of the Ascension:

Friday, April 24, 2020

Stump the Priest: The Reserved Sacrament

A Communion Set for bringing Communion to the Sick

Question: "With access to services being limited due to the Coronavirus lockdown, we have been told that we can be given communion from the Reserved Sacrament, but this is something I know almost nothing about. Is there some form of prayer or other service used when receiving communion in this way? How should I prepare or fast? Are there differences that may be applicable if one is healthy and receiving or ill? What exactly is the Reserved Sacrament? Does include the Blood or is it just the Body?"

What is the Reserved Sacrament?

The Reserved Sacrament is very similar to the Eucharist that the faithful partake of at the Presanctified Liturgy. The Presanctified Eucharist is prepared at a regular Liturgy. An additional Lamb (the Eucharistic Bread to be consecrated at the Liturgy) is prepared for each Presanctified Liturgy that will be celebrated in the coming week. Before the clergy commune, they take these Lambs, and they are intinctured, which means that the priest takes the spoon and carefully pours small amounts of the consecrated Blood on the Lamb, and then this is placed into an artophorion (αρτοφοριον, which literally means a "bread bearer").

An Artophorion similar to the one we have in our parish.

An artophorion is designed to allow the Presanctified Eucharist to dry, without it drying too much. The Reserved Sacrament is prepared in exactly the same way, but it is not immediately placed into an artophorion or a tabernacle (which is a larger container, that is normally kept on the altar year round).

A Tabernacle

How is the Reserved Sacrament Prepared

Ideally, the Reserved Sacrament is prepared on Holy Thursday (which commemorates the Mystical Supper and the Establishment of the Eucharist by Christ), but it can be prepared at any full Liturgy. The difference between preparing the Reserved Sacrament and what is done with a Presanctified Lamb, is that rather than putting the whole Lamb into an artophorion, after the Liturgy is concluded, the priest cuts this Lamb into pieces appropriate for communion people. Some priests simply leave this in a diskos that is covered, and allow it to dry in that way. Our service books tell us to heat these particles so that they are completely dry.

The service book does not spell out exactly how this is to be done, beyond saying that a brick is to be placed on the Antimins, and that the particles are to be heated over burning coals, stirred regularly, and removed from the heat, and then returned to the heat as many times as is necessary to dry them thoroughly, but without burning them.

There may be a better method of doing it than the one I came up with, but what I did was to take a tin coffee can, with the bottom removed (the can needs to be a bit wider than the brick, for the air to flow properly). I took a pair of pliers to put crimps along the top, to allow the flow of air, and then used a ceramic bowl, which with sand in the bottom of it (in order to elevate the coals), and so those parts are arranged as is seen in this picture:

I then place the bottom of a larger tin coffee can on top of that, which then allowed me to place a liturgical plate on top on top of it, which looks like this:

The liturgical plate with the Reserved Sacrament is placed on it, and stirred.

 I found doing it with about 5 minutes on, followed by 5 minutes off, and repeating this for about 30 to 40 minutes, worked well. This allowed me to use two plates, and to rotate them. The particles were constantly stirred with the liturgical spear, while over the heat.

In the Tabernacle, there is a drawer that slides out, into which these particles are to be placed. The service books say that if the material of the tabernacle is not gold or silver, it should be lined with paper. Ours is gold plated on the outside, but not inside of the drawer, and so I use a large index card, and cut it to line the drawer, and then placed these particles in it -- after, of course, allowing them to cool down and to air on a covered diskos for about a day.

How is the Reserved Sacrament Brought to People?

Normally, the Reserved Sacrament is used to commune people who are too sick to come to Church, but it is also used to commune people who cannot come to Church for other reasons. For example, it is used to bring communion to prisoners who do not have access to a liturgy in prison. There are Communion sets specifically designed for this purpose.

A communion set similar to one of the sets that we use in our parish.

These sets have a container sufficient to hold as many portions of the Eucharist as will be needed, a small spoon, and a small chalice. Often, they also have a container that can hold some communion wine. This set is further placed into a pouch of some sort that the priest can carry around his neck.

How Should Someone Prepare to Receive the Reserved Sacrament?

Normally, you should prepare in the same way that you would when you are preparing to receive communion at a regular Liturgy. If someone is sick, obviously, their ability to fast may be limited or non-existent. Also, if someone was near death, there would be no time for them to do pre-communion prayers, at least not at any great length. You should also prepare for confession.

What Happens When the Priest Arrives?

The first thing I do, is to find a sturdy table that I can place the holy things on. Often, this is the family dining table. I lay out one communion cloth on the table, and then open up the Communion Set, pour some wine into the chalice (this wine is not consecrated), and then place the portions of the Eucharist into the chalice that will be necessary to commune those present. Doing this first allows time for these portions to soak in the wine, so that they will be soft by the time Communion is given. While the wine poured into the chalice is not consecrated, the reason why there was an intincturing when preparing the Reserved Sacrament was so that both the Body and the Blood would be in the Reserved Sacrament.

I then hear the confessions of those who will be communed. Then, we use the service of "The Office When in Extreme Urgency Occasion Arises To Give Communion to a Sick Person," If there are other people present, I will ask them to hold the Communion Cloth under the chin of the person who is being communed. Communion is given to those who have prepared, the services is concluded, and then I cleanse the chalice, and put things away. Those who have communed can say the prayers of Thanksgiving right away, or after the priest leaves, but they should say it one way or another, unless they are too ill to do so. If someone is too ill to read prayers, someone can read the prayers aloud for them to hear.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Reader Services: St. Thomas Sunday and Radonitsa

For those still unable to attend services, here are some reader service options for the coming week.

For Saturday Night, you could ideally do the Vigil. The fixed portions can be downloaded here:

or viewed in HTML, here:

The variable portions of the service can be downloaded here:

However, if doing Vigil is too much for you at present, you could do Small Compline, with the Canon:

On Sunday, you can do Typika.

You can find the fixed portions here:

Or in Word Format, here:

The variable portions are posted here:

Or you can download the Typika text with everything, including the Scripture readings, here:

On Radonitsa, which this year is Tuesday, April 28th, you can do the Akathist for the Repose of the Departed:

This Akathist is also found in Volume 1 of the Book of Akathists from Holy Trinity Monastery.

And do that as part of the Rule of St. Pachomius, inserting it where the rule calls for 100 Jesus Prayers.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Holy Week at Home, Part 2

The following is a continuation of Holy Week at Home, Part 1. This concludes the most important services of Holy Week that can be done as reader services.

You will also find a lot of answers to practical questions about how to do reader services on the Reader Service Horologion Page.

On Holy Saturday morning (April 18th):

You can do the 3rd, 6th, and 9th Hour, for Holy Saturday:

Followed immediately by Typika and Vespers for Holy Saturday:

Alternatively, you could just read the Holy Saturday Old Testament Readings:

On Holy Saturday afternoon, or evening, you could read through the book of Acts, which is what is appointed by the Typikon.

At about 11:30 p.m. on Holy Saturday, you would do the Midnight Office:

The Midnight Office is the last service of the Triodion, and we then immediately begin the services of Pascha. Paschal Matins is served at approximately 12:00 a.m., April 19th:

Then you do the Paschal Hours. If you were doing what the Typikon calls for, you would do this service three times, for the 1st, 3rd, and 6th hours. In parish practice, it is usually only done once.

During Bright Week, the Paschal Hours are what we do for our morning and evening prayers. For more on how they can be sung, see:

And then, in the place of the Paschal Liturgy, we do Typika:

The above order of Typika incorporates the Festal Antiphons, and so is a bit more like the Paschal Liturgy. Fr. George Lardas has also put together the Typika according to the order found in the Slavonic Great Horologion, and he provides it in various languages, and combinations of languages:

On the Afternoon of Pascha, you can serve the Agape Vespers:

If doing the other Paschal services is too much, Typika is fairly simple, and the Paschal Hours are also short and simple, so you should at least do those services.

Update: If you prefer ePub format, some of the above services have been converted to that format, and are available here:

Update 2: The Carpatho-Russian Diocese has a document that has some useful ideas for doing Holy Week at home, especially with children. It also has some icons at the end that with a color printer could be very useful for the services:

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Holy Week at Home, Part 1

For the benefit of the many Orthodox Christians who will find themselves unable to attend Holy Week services in person, I am presenting reader service options. This is part 1. In part 2, I will post Holy Saturday Vespers, the Midnight Office for Pascha, Paschal Matins, the Paschal Hours, and Paschal Typika.

Lazarus Saturday Eve (Friday April 10th):

For those who want to do the service as it is appointed, here is the text for the Matins of Lazarus Saturday:

If you are unfamiliar with what a Kathisma is, it is a section of the Psalter. There are 20 of them, and this is a chart that explains which are done when. If you have a liturgical Psalter, these Kathismas will be properly notated.

In parish practice, instead of the 2 or 3 Kathismas that are appointed, usually, only one is done, and that Kathisma is usually abbreviated to consist of one psalm per stasis (each Kathisma having 3 of them). This is a chart with suggestions on which psalms to use, based on the tone of the week:

Technically, Holy Week does not have a tone, but what I have always done is continue with the sequence of tones through Holy Week, and so on Lazarus Saturday this year, you would use the selections for tone 1, but beginning with Palm Sunday, and through the rest of the week, it would be the selections for tone 2.

If you don't have a liturgical Psalter, or if you think your kids will not be able to make it through a longer service, you can skip the Kathismas entirely.

Also, if doing Matins is more than you want to attempt, here is Small Compline, with the Matins canon inserted, so that you can get the meat of that service, in a much shorter and more simple service:

For Lazarus Saturday morning, April 11th, here is the text of Typika:

Palm Sunday Eve (Saturday April 11th):

Here is the Vigil for Palm Sunday:

For a more simple service, here is Small Compline with the Palm Sunday canon:

For Palm Sunday morning, April 12th, here is the text of Typika:

For Palm Sunday Evening, April 12th, here is the text of Vespers:

Holy Monday Matins, served on Sunday Evening (April 12th):

For a more simple option, you could do the Akathist to the Passion of Christ, either inserting it into Small Compline, or using the Rule of St. Pachomius, and inserting it where it calls for the Jesus Prayer.

This can be done on Sunday evening, Monday evening, and Tuesday evening.

During the days of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, you could try to read all four Gospels, which is what is done according to the Typikon during the hours, or at least try to read through one of them. The reason we do this liturgically, is because it was on these days that Christ taught in the Temple. In addition to reading the Gospels yourself, you could also listen to them being read by downloading the YouVersion Bible app on your phone, which is free.

Holy Monday Vespers, served on Monday Afternoon or Evening (April 13th):

Holy Tuesday Matins, served on Monday Evening (April 13th):

Holy Tuesday Vespers, served on Tuesday Afternoon or Evening (April 14th):

Holy Wednesday Matins, served on Tuesday Evening (April 14th):

Holy Wednesday Vespers, served on Wednesday Afternoon or Evening (April 15th):

Holy Thursday Matins, served on Wednesday Evening (April 15th):

On the Thursday Morning (April 16th):

You can do the 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours:

Followed immediately by Typika and Vespers:

Alternatively, you could do the Akathist for Holy Communion, as suggested above for the Akathist to the Passion of Christ:

The Service of the Twelve Passion Gospels, served on Thursday evening (April 16th):

If you do not have a Liturgical Gospel Book, the 12 Gospel Readings are laid out here:

If doing the Matins is too much for you, I would suggest you have your family at least read through the 12 Gospel readings. You can also do the Akathist to the Cross, as indicated above:

The Royal Hours of Holy Friday, served in the morning (April 17th):

Vespers for Holy Friday, served in the afternoon (April 17th):

Holy Saturday Matins, served Friday Evening (April 17th):

The above text does not include the text of the actual Lamentations, but the Antiochian Archdiocese provides sheet music, with the text using a translation that is almost identical to what we normally use:

If that service is more than you feel capable of pulling off, you could do the Akathist to the Life Bearing Tomb, as indicated above:

Also, if you can read music, you will find a lot of sheet music for these services here:

Update: If you prefer ePub format, some of the above services have been converted to that format, and are available here:

Update 2: The Carpatho-Russian Diocese has a document that has some useful ideas for doing Holy Week at home, especially with children. It also has some icons at the end that with a color printer could be very useful for the services:

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Reader Services for the Sunday of the Fifth Week, and Annunciation

You can find the fixed and changeable parts for Typika here:

But if you would rather download this Sunday's Typika text, with everything embedded, you will find that here:

Annunciation falls on Tuesday, and Annunciation is one of the more complicated services in the Liturgy Year. If anyone wants to try to put it together, the rubrics are here:

I could also send you the texts (which require combing the Triodion supplement to the texts that normally do not change if the service falls on a weekday during lent) if you contact me.

But for most people, I would suggest that if you are unable to go to Church, on the eve of the feast (Monday night) use this text for Small Compline, which has the Annunciation Canon in it, laid out for lay use:

And then on the morning of the Feast, use this Typika text, which includes the Byzantine Festal Antiphons, which I think adds a nice touch to the service:

Next Week I will post several texts for Holy Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday.

Another service you can do, whenever you wish, but I would encourage you to do at least once with regard to the situation we are in with the Coronavirus, is a moleben to St. John of Shanghai, which is arranged as a reader service:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reader Services in the Coming Week

The fifth week of Lent, is one of the more important times during Lent. Unfortunately, many are on lockdown because of the Coronavirus, and so here are some ways to observe the more important services.

Here is Typika for Sunday, all laid out:

For  the Great Canon on Thursday, for those who are not use to doing services, I would recommend that you use the text of Small Compline: and then, right after the Creed, you would do the Great Canon. This text has the text has the text for the Great Canon on the 5th week of Lent, beginning on page 42:

For the Fifth Friday of Great Lent, we do the service of the Akathist Hymn. For those not use to doing services, I would recommend using this text, which follows the more simple Greek order of service, but is arranged as a Reader Service: