Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bishop Peter (Loukianoff)'s remembrances of St. John of Shanghai

Bishop Peter (Louikianoff) gave this talk on December 26th, 2011 at the very end of the St. Herman's conference here in Houston: St. Herman's Conference 2011, Houston TX:

Remembrance of St. John of Shanghai

He alludes to an essay he wrote on the same subject in 1991, which you can read here:


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Handel's Messiah as an aid to Scripture Memorization

Handel's Messiah is a classic oratorio that consists almost entirely of passages of Scripture put to music. It tells the story of the two comings of Christ from the Old Testament prophecies, to the final consummation of all things. Listening to this is a great way to memorize some of the most important passages of Scripture. Most people are familiar with the Hallelujah Chorus, but that chorus has much more meaning when heard in the context of the entire composition.

The best CD version that I am familiar with is by the London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, which can be ordered here:


Here are a few examples on Youtube:

Here is a full length live recording:

Here are the actual lyrics:

Handel's Messiah George Frederic Handel (1695-1759)
Part I

(1) Overture

(2) Comfort Ye

Isaiah 40:1-3
1. Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. . . .
3. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

(3) Every Valley

Isaiah 40:4
4.Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

(4) And the Glory of the Lord

Isaiah 40:5
5. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

(5) Thus saith the Lord

Haggai 2:6,7
6. Thus saith the Lord of Hosts; Yet once, a little while and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; 7. And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come
Malachi 3:1 1. The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in:Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.

(6) But who may abide the Day of His Coming?

Malachi 3:2
2. But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire.

(7) And He shall Purify

Malachi 3:3
3. And He shall purify the sons of Levi. . . that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

(8) Behold A Virgin Shall Conceive

Isaiah 7:14 (Matthew 1:23)
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name EMMANUEL, God with us.

(9) O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion

Isaiah 40:9
9. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
Isaiah 60:1
1. Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

(10) For behold, darkness shall cover the earth

Isaiah 60:2,3
2. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. 3. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

(11) The people that walked in darkness

Isaiah 9:2 (Matthew 3:16)
2. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
For unto Us a Child is born
Isaiah 9:6
6. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

(13) Pastoral Symphony

(14) There were shepherds abiding in the field

Luke 2:8
8. There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Luke 2:9
9. And lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

(15) And the Angel said unto them

Luke 2:10,11
10. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

(16) And suddenly there was with the Angel

Luke 2:13
13. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

(17) Glory to God

Luke 2:14
14. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

(18) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion

Zechariah 9:9,10 (Matthew 21:5)
9. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee. He is the righteous Savior. . 10. . . And he shall speak peace unto the heathen.

(19) Then shall the eyes of the blind

Isaiah 35:5,6
5. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

(20) He shall feed his flock like a shepherd

Isaiah 40:11
11. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Matthew 11:28, 29 28. Come unto [Him], all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and [He shall]give you rest. 29. Take [his] yoke upon you, and learn of [Him]; for [he is] meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

(21) His yoke is easy

Matthew 11:30
30. [His] yoke is easy, and [his]burden is light.

Part II

(22) Behold the lamb of God

John 1:29
29.Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.
(23) He was despised
Isaiah 53:3
3. He is despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . . Isaiah 50:6 [He]gave [His] back to the smiters, and [His] cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: [He] hid not [His] face from shame and spitting.

(24) Surely He hath borne our griefs

Isaiah 53:4,5
4. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. . . . 5. . . He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:the chastisement of our peace was upon him,

(25) And with His stripes we are healed

Isaiah 53:5b
5. and with His stripes we are healed

(26) All we like sheep have gone astray

Isaiah 53:6
6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

(27) All they that see him laugh him to scorn

Psalm 22:7
7. All they that see [him]laugh [him] to scorn: they shoot out their lips, they shake their heads, saying:

(28) He trusted in God

Psalm 22:8 (Matthew 27:43)
8. He trusted [in God] that he would deliver him:let him deliver him, if he delight in him.

(29) Thy rebuke hath broken His heart

Psalm 69:20
20. [Thy] rebuke hath broken [his] heart; [He is] full of heaviness. [He]looked for some to have pity [on Him], but there was none; neither found [He] any to comfort [Him].

(30) Behold, and see if there be any sorrow

Lamentations 1:12
12. Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto [his] sorrow. . .

(31) He was cut off out of the land of the living

Isaiah 53:8b
8. he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of [Thy] people was He stricken.

(32) But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell

Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:27)
10. [But] thou [didst] not leave [his] soul in hell; neither [didst]thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.

(33) Lift up your heads, O ye gates

Psalm 24:7-10
7. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. 8. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. 10. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

(34) Unto which of the angels said He at any time

Hebrews 1:5 (Psalm 2:7)
5. For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?

(35) Let all the angels of God worship Him

Hebrews 1:6b
6. "Let all the angels of God worship Him."

(36) Thou art gone up on high

Psalm 68:18 (Ephesians 4:8)
18. Thou art gone up on high, Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men; yea, even for Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them.

(37) The Lord gave the word

Psalm 68:11
11. The Lord gave the word: great was the company of [the preachers].

(38) How beautiful are the feet

Romans 10:15 (Isaiah 52:7)
15. How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

(39) Their sound is gone out

Romans 10:18 (Psalm 19:4)
18. their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.

(40) Why do the nations so furiously rage together?

Psalm 2:1,2 (Acts 4:25-26)
1. Why do the heathen rage, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? 2. The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed,

(41) Let us break their bonds asunder

Psalm 2:3
3. Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.

(42) He that dwelleth in heaven

Psalm 2:4
4. He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision.

(43) Thou shalt break them

Psalm 2:9
9. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

(44) Hallelujah

Revelation 19:6
6. Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Revelation 11:15 15. . . the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. Revelation 19:16 16. . . . KING OF KINGS, LORD OF LORDS.

Part III

(45) I know that my redeemer liveth

Job 19:25, 26
25. I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand on the latter day upon the earth: 26. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. 1Corinthians 15:20
20. [For] now is Christ risen from the dead. . . the firstfruits of them that [sleep].

(46) Since by man came death

1Corinthians 15:21,22
21. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

(47) Behold I tell you a mystery

1Corinthians 15:51,52
51. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed, 52. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet;

(48) The trumpet shall sound

1Corinthians 15:52b-53
52. the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

(49) Then shall be brought to pass

1Corinthians 15:54b (Isaiah 25:8)
54. then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'

(50) O death where is thy sting?

1Corinthians 15:55-56 (Hosea 13:14)
55. O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? 56. The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

(51) But thanks be to God

1 Corinthians 15:57 57. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(52) If God be for us

Romans 8:31, 33, 34
31. If God be for us, who can be against us? 33. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.

(53) Worthy is the Lamb

Revelation 5:12, 13
12. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 13. . . . Blessing, and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homily on the Feast of the Prophet Malachi

A homily on the Feast of the Prophet Malachi, January 3/16, 2011. The sermon covers the highlights of the book of Malachi, including having a proper attitude towards worship, divorce, tithing, and the coming of the Forerunner.

Friday, December 09, 2011

2012 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar back from the printers, and ready to ship

The 2012 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar is back from the printer. For those who have pre-ordered, you should be getting your copy soon. If you want to order a copy, click here: http://stinnocentpress.com/products/liturgical_calendar.html

We have added some new features in response to feedback from last years calendar, and we have a new appendix on the celebration of Patronal Feasts.

Also, we are posting a draft translation of the Typikon sections that this appendix is based on:


The appendix boils down this information, and presents it in a chart format that should prove useful, and it also includes detailed notes.

Thursday, December 08, 2011


Homily on 2 Kings 4:1-7 & 2 Kings 6:24-7:20, Given on the feast of the Prophet Elisha, 2010.

This sermon actually began with a general introduction to who the Prophet Elisha was, and what his connection with Elijah was, but it got cut in half in the recording, and so this recording begins just after that introduction.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What does St. Paul mean by "the works of the Law"

Recently I was asked about a supposed contradiction in the writings of St. Paul.

In Romans 2:13 St. Paul says "for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified..."

However, in Galatians 2:16 he says "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified."

So is there a contradiction here? No.

A doer of the Law is one who actually fulfills the law. But the Law, and the "works of the Law" are not the same thing. St. Paul uses the phrase "the works of the law" three times in Romans, and four times in Galatians.

That St. Paul makes a distinction between the Law and "the works of the Law" is made clear in Romans 9:31f:

"Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law."

Obviously the Law of righteousness is something to attain to, and the works of the law are a means... and a means incapable of attaining the end.

But what do the Fathers say? Again we see the distinction between the moral and ceremonial law of the Old Testament, and they also emphasize the need for faith:

"Some say that if Paul is right in asserting that no one is justified by the works of the law but from faith in Christ, the patriarchs and prophets and saints who lived before Christ were imperfect. We should tell such people that those who are said not to have obtained righteousness are those who believe that they can be justified by works alone. The saints who lived long ago, however, were justified from faith in Christ, seeing that Abraham saw in advance Christ's day." - St. Jerome, Commentary on Galatians 2:16, Migne PL 26:343C-D, (quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. VIII, p. 30, emphasis added)

"The necessary commandments of the law were taught even by nature. That is, "You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor, honor your father and mother, and the rest of this kind." But the commandments about the sabbath and circumcision and lepers and menstruation and sacrifice were peculiar to the [Jewish] law, since nature taught nothing about these matters. These are what he now calls works of the law. The transgression of these is sin, yet the mere keeping of them is not the way of maintaining perfect righteousness. For these were symbols of other things. Nonetheless they were appropriate to the Jews in their due time. -Blessed Theodoret, Commentary on Galatians 2:15-16 (ACCS, NT, V. VIII, p. 31)

"Here he begins to demonstrate in what sense the grace of faith is sufficient for justification without the works of the law.... But so that this question may be carefully treated and no one may be deceived by ambiguities, we must first understand that the works of the law are twofold; for they reside partly in ceremonial ordinances and partly in morals. To the ordinances belong the circumcision of the flesh, the weekly sabbath, new moons, sacrifices and all the innumerable observances of this kind. But to morality belong "You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness" and so on. Could the apostle possibly not care whether a Christian were a murderer and adulterer or chaste and innocent, in the way that he does not care whether he is circumcised or uncircumcised in the flesh? He therefore is specially concerned with the works that consist in ceremonial ordinances, although he indicates that the others are sometimes bound up with them. But near the end of the letter he deals separately with those works that consist in morals, and he does this briefly, but he speaks at greater length regarding the [ceremonial] works... For nothing so terrifies the mind as a ceremonial ordinance that is not understood. But when it is understood it produces spiritual joy and is celebrated gladly and in due season. It is read and treated only with a spiritual sweetness. Now every sacrament, once understood in this way, is applied either to the contemplation of truth or to good morals. The contemplation of truth is found in the love of God alone, good morals in the love of God and the neighbor, and on these two precepts depend the whole Law and the Prophets." -St. Augustine, Commentary on Galatians 3:2, Migne PL 35:2117, (ACCS, NT, V. VIII, p. 36, emphasis added).

What St. Paul means by the "works of the Law" is the attempt to be justified by works, and in particular by the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, and his point is that we are not saved by works alone, our works must be joined to faith, and that the ceremonial law of the Old Testament is not obligatory for New Testament believers. He does not for one moment suggest that the Moral Law is optional, or that one may violate it with indifference and expect to be saved. Christ said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). And St. John said "He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4).

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lutheran Satire

Some of these videos are incredibly funny....

Just three examples:

For more, click here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Continuing Validity of the Moral Law of the Old Testament

One of the earliest heresies that the Church had to confront was the Marcionite heresy, which taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament was evil, whereas the God of the New Testament was good. Consequently Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament, as well as much of the New Testament. The Church decisively rejected Marcion's view, and emphatically affirmed that the Old Testament belongs to the Church.

Since Marcion's time, echos of his disdain for the Old Testament have continued to reverberate. Recently, Lazar Puhalo, has voiced such disdain. Lazar Puhalo was a deacon in ROCOR, who was deposed in 1981. From 1981 until he was received as a "retired" bishop by the OCA, he was in a series of vagante jurisdictions where he was ordained a priest, then a bishop, and then raised to archbishop. He is referred to as a retired OCA bishop, but this gives the false impression that he was once an active OCA bishop, when in reality, he has never been an active priest or bishop of any legitimate Orthodox jurisdiction. However, now that he has the air of legitimacy about him, he has used this platform to promote all sorts of strange ideas, including his view that transgenderism is acceptable. He is a regular contributor to a pro-homosexual Facebook group, where the only views he sees a need to criticize are the views of those who defend the traditions of the Church which condemn homosexuality. It is this advocacy of moral perversion that lies behind his desire to dismiss the moral law of the Old Testament.

In this video, Lazar Puhalo claims that the moral law has been "done away with". He claims, for example, that Christ "absolutely contradicts" the law against breaking the Sabbath, but what do the Fathers say? St. John Chrysostom says "Did Christ then, it will be said, repeal a thing so highly profitable [the laws concerning the Sabbath]? Far from it; nay, He greatly enhanced it" (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 39:3). He misquotes Colossians 2:14 as saying "The manuscript of the Law has been torn up". What that passage actually says is "Blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross, and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:14-15). In Lazar Puhalo's version, the suggestion is that the text of the Law of Moses is done away with, whereas in the actual citation, it is the sentence against us that is blotted out and nailed to the cross.

Expressing his disdain for the Law, when speaking of the woman caught in adultery, he says that the law called for the woman to be stoned, but for the man to just pay a fine. The law actually called for both the man and the woman to be put to death: "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" (Leviticus 20:10).

Of course, there are differences between the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant anticipated the New Covenant, and was given to people who were at a very low level of spiritual understanding. The harsh penalties that are often found in the Old Testament law were due to this. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the law which condemned Sabbath breakers to death, said that it was "Because if the laws were to be despised even at the beginning, of course they would scarcely be observed afterwards" (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 39:3). But while the harsh and immediate penalties for the violation of the law are relaxed in the New Testament, the strictness of the laws themselves are not only not relaxed, but are rather enhanced. Just as you spank younger children, but expect less of them, and expect more of older children, without spanking them, the Old Testament dealt with the Israelites where they were, but brought them gradually to a higher level of spiritual understanding.

St. Paul states clearly the value of the Old Testament:

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

And when St. Paul speaks of "doctrine" he does not limit doctrine to abstract theological concepts, but also to question of orthopraxis (right living):

"...that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust (1 Timothy 1:9-11).

It is clear that for St. Paul, applying the moral law of the Old Testament to moral issues, such as fornication or sodomy, is entirely appropriate.

It is true that the liturgy of the New Testament has changed. We are not saved by the works of the law, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4) -- it was not possible in the Old Testament, and it is not possible in the New Testament. The saints of the Old Testament were saved by faith in Christ just as the saints of the New Testament are. The Old Covenant Ceremonies pointed forward to Christ, and our services point to the Christ that has been revealed to us. As St. Augustine put it, "The New Testament in the Old is concealed; The Old Testament in the New is revealed." "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry [liturgy], inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). But it should be pointed out that it is in the Old Testament that we first read "The Just shall live by Faith" (Habakkuk 2:4).

St. Paul never suggests that the moral law of the Old Testament is done away with, in fact he states just the opposite: "And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law" (1 Corinthians 9:20-21). And what is the Law of Christ? Lazar Puhalo answers this question by citing the two great commandments, but fails to recall that they are found in the Old Testament:

"And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deuteronomy 6:5).

"...thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18).

There are civil laws and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament that do no longer apply to us directly, though they continue to have instructive value to us. But the moral law of God is unchanging:

"For all things that, according to the Law, went before, whether in the circumcision of the flesh, or in the multitude of victims, or in the keeping of the Sabbath, testified of Christ, and foretold the grace of Christ. And He is “the end of the Law,” not by annulling, but by fulfilling its meanings. For although He is at once the Author of the old and of the new, yet He changed the symbolic rites connected with the promises, because He accomplished the promises and put an end to the announcement by the coming of the Announced. But in the matter of moral precepts, no decrees of the earlier Testament are rejected, but many of them are amplified by the Gospel teaching: so that the things which give salvation are more perfect and clearer than those which promise a Saviour" (Sermon 63:5, St. Leo the Great).

"There are two distinguishable parts in Moses' law: the religious-moral and the national-ceremonial which was closely tied with the history and way of life of the Jewish nation. The second aspect is gone into the past for Christians, that is, the national-ceremonial rules and laws, but the religious-moral laws preserve their force in Christianity. Therefore, all the ten commandments in the law of Moses are obligatory for Christians. Christianity has not altered them. On the contrary, Christianity has taught people to understand these commandments, not externally - literalistically, in the manner of blind, slavish obedience, and external fulfillment, but it has revealed the full spirit and taught the perfect and full understanding and fulfillment of them. For Christians, however, Moses' law has significance only because its central commandments (the ten which deal with love of God and neighbors) are accepted and shown forth by Christianity. We are guided in our life not by this preparatory and temporary law of Moses, but by the perfect and eternal law of Christ. St Basil the Great says, "If one who lights a lamp before himself in broad daylight seems strange, then how much stranger is one who remains in the shadow of the law of the Old Testament when the Gospel is being preached." The main distinction of the New Testament law from that of the Old Testament consists in that the Old Testament law looked at the exterior actions of man, while the New Testament law looks at the heart of man, at his inner motives. Under the Old Testament law, man submitted himself to God as a slave to his master, but under the New Testament, he strives toward submitting to Him as a son submits to a beloved father" (On the Law of God, by Metropolitan Philaret (Voskresensky), Translated by Hieromonk Varlaam Novakshonoff).

The Old Testament allowed some things due to human weakness. For example, divorce for any reason was allowed in the Old Testament. Slavery within certain bounds was allowed in the Old Testament. However, the law did not mandate either. It allowed them. In the New Testament, when Christ confronted the woman caught in adultery, he did not impose the death penalty on her. However, he did not say, "Go, it is a sin no more". He said "Go and sin no more." How did she know what was a sin and what was not a sin? She had the moral law of God to guide her. Christ did not weaken the law on the question of adultery... he enhanced it. It is more strict in the New Testament, not less. And so why would we assume that the New Testament would lessen the law on the question of Homosexuality? There is no basis for doing so... not to mention that the New Testament specifically condemns homosexuality in several places.

Monday, August 22, 2011

2012 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar

You can now place your orders for the 2012 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. In addition to providing liturgical rubrics based on the Jordanville Calendar (Troitskij Pravoslavnij Russkij Kalendar), and the liturgical color chart as with last year's calendar, this year we will be adding an appendix on the celebration of patronal feast days.

The cost is $29.95. Bookstore discounts are available based on the quantity ordered.

To order, and for more information, see: http://www.stinnocentpress.com/products/liturgical_calendar.html

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The bottom line in the current debate

There was a recent exchange on a Pro-Homosexual Facebook group that I think highlights where the rubber meets the road on the debate about homosexuality that is going on in the OCA.

A discussion was prompted by the posting of an editorial by an Antiochian priest that was attempting to be irenic on the subject, but at the same time affirmed the moral stance of the Church. Many of the people in that group found it encouraging. However, Inga Leonova, one of the founders of the group made this statement:

"I think the point of the article is crystal clear even though the author is very careful in actually NOT spelling it out. He addresses the perception that gay people are "persecuted" by the Church in being required to live celibate lives by saying that everyone is called to transform their lives by the ascetic ordeal of Christian life. This is yet again a very clever way of dismissing the question of gay companionship."

One contributor to the group then asked this question:

"?"gay companionship"? What is that, may I humbly ask? Like David and Jonathan? Not sexual? Why call it "gay"? I get so confused on what people are saying in these groups. Forgive me."

Inga has thus far ignored the question. The reason for this is simple. To come right out and say that she meant homosexuals should be allowed to have active sexual relationships with people of the same gender is clearly contrary to the moral Tradition of the Orthodox Church. If the people who hold such views would state them clearly, they would necessarily provoke their bishops to respond firmly in opposition to them. So their strategy is to hint, suggest, and question, at this point. Get the camel's nose into the tent, and allow time and cultural decay to do the rest. They know that they will not have openly homosexual clergy or the blessing of gay marriage today, but they want to start the snowball rolling. However if one needs to use deception to promote a view in the Church, that should tell you that what you are promoting is contrary to the Truth... or dishonesty would not be necessary to promote it.

I have had some experience in dealing with people who struggle with homosexuality, and I know the struggle is very real and difficult for them. I can also understand the temptation to rationalize a justification for a sin that you don't want to give up. Most of us have done it ourselves at one time or another, and just about everyone has had the temptation if they didn't succumb to it. However, while rationalizing away the clear teachings of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church may successfully fool some people, and may even allow you to fool yourself -- God is not fooled. Indeed "God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes" (Ecclesiastes 7:29). And St. Paul warns that we should "not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life (Galatians 6:7-8).

If you really believe in God, and if you really believe that the Orthodox Church is what it claims to be, than you have to be willing to submit to the teachings of the Church, even when they are hard to submit to. And all of us have some area that is hard for us, and presents us with a struggle. If we submit to the teachings of the Church and struggle, even feebly, God will honor that, and we will find grace and mercy. If we thumb our nose at the Church, and refuse correction, we have already separated ourselves spiritually from the Church.

Let us "no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" (Ephesians 4:14); but rather "seek God, and your soul shall live" (Psalm 68/69:32).

As for the legitimate desire for companionship, I think that a group of Orthodox Jews are on to something. There have have some pious Jewish men who are struggling with homosexuality, and they have some pious Jewish women who are struggling as well. They are matching them up, and encouraging them to marry each other. Each party goes into the marriage aware of the other person's struggles. Both of them obviously have the ability to be supportive and sympathetic, because they have similar struggles. And it seems to be working out pretty well so far. See: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/03/14/a-different-kind-of-gay-marriage/

No one is saying that they have to live alone. No one is saying that they have to live as celibates for the rest of their lives. They can get married, just like anyone else... to someone of the opposite sex, and hopefully someone who is understanding and supportive. But they cannot engage in sex with people of the same sex, which is inherently in contradiction to the teachings of the Church, and expect the Church to say it is "OK".

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Response to an Open Letter on Homosexuality

In response to the debate about homosexuality that is currently going on in the OCA, there is now an "Open letter to OCA Holy Synod from college students and young adults" that has been sent to the bishops of the OCA, and is making the rounds on the internet.

This letter is a classic example of the use of politically correct arguments to shut down those whom liberals disagree with, rather then deal with the actual substance of the question. This tactic is not by accident. When you can't deal with the substance of an issue, complaining about the tone of those you can't answer will do, in a pinch.

In short, the letter complains about the tone of those who say homosexuality is a sin, without unequivocally stating what the correct teaching of the Church actually is on the subject. There is no acknowledgment that statements that are morally ambiguous might be of any legitimate concern, only condemnation of those who seek to make clear what the teaching of the Church is.

The Open Letter states that "On public and easily accessible Internet postings, Orthodox clergymen -- including OCA priests -- repeat disgusting and discredited theories about the etiology of same-sex attraction; liken gay people to “old perverted men who love little boys”; tell Orthodox Christians that homosexuality “should make our stomachs turn and make us vomit”; call for “spiritual warfare” against those in the Church who advocate a more restrained pastoral approach; and accuse those who speak up for gay people of being “homosexual activists,” publicly expressing hope that they will leave the Orthodox faith."

Of course, the "more pastoral approach" is from those who openly question the historic position of the Church on the subject. The mean people are the ones that stand for the Tradition of the Church. But if you actually examine the "unpastoral" words that they have in mind, and then compare them to the 4th Homily of St. John Chrysostom on the book of Romans, you will see that St. John Chrysostom was apparently not very pastoral either.

The last line here seems to be in reference to my own words. It is hyperlinked in the original version to an article about Bishop Matthias's letter, and the first comment is my own:

"Everyone should ask their bishops to issue a similar statement… with one additional point that needs to be made very clear: clergy or laity who publicly teach contrary to the moral and dogmatic teachings of the Church — on this or any other issue — should understand that there are canonical disciplinary consequences that will be enforced for the protection of the flock. The job of a shepherd is not just to feed the sheep, but also to chase away the wolves."

Now, this is hardly an expression of hope that people who struggle with homosexuality will leave the Church. This is a very Biblical reference to the Bishop's role as a shepherd of his flock (John 10:1-16; Acts 20:28), and those who would lead the flock astray are often spoken of as "wolves" (Acts 20:29), even "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15). The Fathers of the Church likewise use such imagery. St. Gregory Nazianzus wrote:

"..the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep has not even now left us; but is present, and tends and guides, and knows his own, and is known of his own, and, though bodily invisible, is spiritually recognized, and defends his flock against the wolves, and allows no one to climb over into the fold as a robber and traitor; to pervert and steal away, by the voice of strangers, souls under the fair guidance of the truth." "Oration XVIII: On the Death of his Father."NFPF2, vol. 7, p. 255f.

St. Didymus the Blind, commenting on Acts 20:28, wrote: "...it not only says that bishops must pay heed to themselves but also to the flock that the Savior acquired by his blood. And just as he will not fall if he is attentive to himself by taking care for both the requisite virtues and his faith... so also he must take care for the flock by turning away from it the wolves who are falsely called apostles and who, being ravenous, live on the ruin of the flock.... Now he turns away these wolves, if he, established by the Holy Spirit to oversee the church, is a good shepherd" (Catena on the Acts of the Apostles 20:28, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, vol. 5, p. 254f).

Of course any verbal image can be pressed too far. Obviously, though we speak of those who would lead the flock astray as wolves, unlike actual wolves, such people can repent, and rejoin the flock as real spiritual sheep. No one wants to see anyone leave the Church, but when a heretic refuses the correction of the Church, he is ultimately caste out of the Church for the sake of the flock, as anyone who has ever listened to the services which commemorate the Holy Fathers of the 7 Ecumenical Councils would know.

The open letter continues: "Words like this can inflict grave spiritual harm, as some of us know from personal experience. Fortunately, many Orthodox Christians who struggle to acknowledge, understand, and deal with homosexual feelings are blessed to encounter wise priests and laypeople who do not resort to abstract moral formulas but counsel them as individual persons."

Apparently saying unequivocally that homosexual sex is a sin is an "abstract moral formula". We have a number of abstract moral formulas in the moral tradition of the Church, for example: "Thou shalt not murder," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Should we toss these out? Of course anytime we deal with a murderer, a thief, or an adulterer, we deal with them as individuals too, but we have to deal with them as individuals based on the "abstract moral formulas" of the Scriptures and the Traditions of the Church.

Open Letter: "Such an approach was endorsed, we believe, by the Holy Synod’s 1992 affirmations."

This letter begins with a quotation from this 1992 "affirmation":

“Men and women with homosexual feelings and emotions are to be treated with the understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy due to all human beings.”

Based on this one quote from that document, you might come away with the impression that what was affirmed by the OCA Synod in 1992 was homosexuality, but this quote is taken out of context entirely.

Let's consider the whole approach of the 1992 OCA Synod's statement on Homosexuality:

Created to know God’s divinity and power through creation, human beings have refused to acknowledge God, to honor and thank Him, and to obey his divine teachings. Through their rebellion "they became futile in their thinking and their senseless hearts were darkened" (Romans 1:21). Therefore, as the apostle Paul continues to teach, "God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error" (Romans 1:26-27).

Homosexual acts, like adulterous and incestuous behavior, are condemned in the law of Moses. Those who do these things, both men and women, are, according to God’s law of the old covenant, to be put to death (Leviticus 18:6-23;20:10-21).

According to the apostle Paul, those engaging in homosexual acts, with fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and robbers, will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Christians come from all these categories of evil doers who have, voluntarily and involuntarily, been caught up in the sin of the world. They are those who through their personal repentance and faith in Christ, their baptism and chrismation, and their participation in Holy Communion, have been "washed… sanctified… and made righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Orthodox Baptism and Chrismation Service).

Jesus teaches mercy and forgiveness for all sinners, but the Lord does not justify sin. When the Son of God pronounces divine pardon to those caught in evil he always charges the forgiven sinner to "go and sin no more" (John 8:11).

Convinced of these God-revealed truths, we offer the following affirmations and admonitions for the guidance of the faithful:

Homosexuality is to be approached as the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being. It is not to be taken as a way of living and acting for men and women made in God’s image and likeness.

Men and women with homosexual feelings and emotions are to be treated with the understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy due to all human beings.

People with homosexual tendencies are to be helped to admit these feelings to themselves and to others who will not reject or harm them. They are to seek assistance in discovering the specific causes of their homosexual orientation, and to work toward overcoming its harmful effects in their lives.

Persons struggling with homosexuality who accept the Orthodox faith and strive to fulfill the Orthodox way of life may be communicants of the Church with everyone else who believes and struggles. Those instructed and counselled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them.

Assistance is to be given to those who deal with persons of homosexual orientation in order to help them with their thoughts, feelings and actions in regard to homosexuality. Such assistance is especially necessary for parents, relatives and friends of persons with homosexual tendencies and feelings. It is certainly necessary for pastors and church workers.

So let's see here... "Homosexual acts, like adulterous and incestuous behavior, are condemned in the law of Moses. Those who do these things, both men and women, are, according to God’s law of the old covenant, to be put to death (Leviticus 18:6-23;20:10-21)." This is the more pastoral approach that these young adults wish us to adhere to? And saying that "those engaging in homosexual acts, with fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and robbers, will not inherit the kingdom of heaven" is not affirming an "abstract moral formula"?

It seems the authors of this open letter only wish to focus on the one statement that "Men and women with homosexual feelings and emotions are to be treated with the understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy due to all human beings", which I would of course also agree with, but wish to ignore the rest of the statement, including the admonition that "Those instructed and counselled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them."

Open Letter: "This is why we find the recent adoption by some in the Orthodox Church of overheated and destructive language from the current secular “culture wars” to be a dangerous departure from Orthodox pastoral tradition."

Me: What is more overheated about the recent statements that is not also found in the 1992 statement which they claim to endorse? The 1992 statement talks about unrepentant homosexuals being put to death in the Old Testament, and not inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven in the age to come. That's putting it pretty bluntly by just about any standard.

Open letter: "It is certainly not our purpose to advocate for “homosexual rights” (none of us has a “right” to salvation), to question Orthodox doctrine, or to justify sinful behavior. Nevertheless, we cannot accept that the only alternative is purging the Church of gay people who, like the rest of us, are endeavoring to live the most godly life they are able to under the guidance of a spiritual advisor. Many for whom these issues are a daily reality are also integral members of our parishes, and their absence would do injury to the Body of Christ."

Of course no one is advocating purging the Church of gay people who are striving to live a godly life. Christ said to the woman caught in adultery "Go, and sin no more" -- not "Go ahead, it is a sin no more." If they want to live a godly life, that of necessity means turning from their sin; and having people who are either mealy-mouthed about whether or not it is a sin, or who outright deny that it is a sin, does not encourage them on that path.

No one is advocating being unsympathetic or unsupportive of those who are actually struggling against homosexuality and are repentant. What is being debated here is whether or not they need to struggle or repent, or whether we just need to be more open minded and understanding, and accept them as they are, with no questions asked... and perhaps the formal blessing of the Church at some more enlightened date in the future.

And if it is not the purpose of the signers of this letter to question Orthodox doctrine, then why do they later talk about a need for a dialogue in search of the truth of the matter?

Our faith compels us to undertake an earnest search for what is true and right, under the guidance of our hierarchs, theologians, and pastors. We implore you to help nurture a spirit of respectful, loving discourse about this issue on the Internet and in our dioceses.

Do we need to undertake an earnest search for what is true and right on the question of pedophilia, spousal abuse, or drunkenness? Should our theologians, hierarchs, and pastors have a respectful dialogue to find what the Church's position is on these issues? No. We might need to talk about how to combat those sins, but there is no discussion necessary about whether or not they are sins in the first place. The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and when it comes to questions of sin, and what we need to do about it, the Church does not need to seek a truth it does not yet know -- we need to humbly submit to the Truth that the Church has always taught, and ever will teach.

I have a few questions for the signers of this open letter:

1. Do you believe that St. Paul was "unpastoral" when he instructed the Church in Corinth to excommunicate a man who was living in sexual immorality, and that they not associate with him until he repented (1 Corinthians 5)?

2. Do you agree with the teachings of St. Paul that those who are practicing homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9)?

3. If you agree that practicing homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God, why would you think being unclear about that is a more loving approach to those who struggle with that sin?

A parent sometimes has to say and do things to their children that may hurt their feelings in the short term, but are for their ultimate good. It is not loving to avoid correcting a child. In fact, the Scriptures say that that such a parent hates their children (Proverbs 13:24). They may not feel hate for their children, but the effect is just the same as if they hated their children like their worst enemy and sought to destroy them. True love always "rejoices in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6), even when the truth hurts a bit on the front end.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Sanctity of Marriage Sunday

The OCA Cathedral of Washington, D.C. has posted a resolution that they will put forth at the OCA's All-American Council this fall:

Sanctity of Marriage Sunday

WHEREAS the Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, 2000 years of Church tradition, and canon law, holds that marriage consists in the conjugal union of one man and one woman, and that authentic marriage is blessed by God as a sacrament of the Church; and Whereas neither Scripture nor Holy Tradition blesses or sanctions adultery, fornication, or a union between persons of the same sex;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Sixteenth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America strongly commends the efforts of Orthodox bishops, clergy, and laity to bear witness to the sanctity of marriage in the public arena; commits the Orthodox Church in America to continued witness and defense of the authentic marriage of one man and one woman; strongly reaffirms the Orthodox Church’s opposition to same sex marriage, and that it does so on theological and moral grounds; and stresses God’s will that marriage be a lifelong commitment, monogamous, and heterosexual;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Sunday in September falling on or after the Feast of the Conception of St. John the Baptist will be called Sanctity of Marriage Sunday and on this Sunday: an annual letter from our Metropolitan will be read in all OCA Parishes during the Divine Liturgy affirming the Orthodox understanding of marriage; and each parish priest will declare his availability to counsel individuals or couples desiring to be married or already married; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Orthodox Church stresses that all persons tempted to act contrary to the Orthodox Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, and all those who succumb to such temptations, are to be offered pastoral guidance and cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed by our Lord Jesus Christ upon all of humanity and that all persons are called by God to grow spiritually and morally toward holiness.

Why do we need this resolution?

— Our culture’s view of marriage over the last few decades has departed from a traditional Christian understanding (Scripture and teachings below), and has especially accelerated in the last two years with the advance of same-sex marriage laws. The District of Columbia and six states–Iowa, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts–have already passed same sex marriage laws. Maryland is planning on voting on it in January, 2012. Do we go and preach the Gospel to all nations or isolate ourselves?

— Some clergy and laity appear to not understand, are not familiar with, or wish to ignore the Church’s clear teaching regarding marriage, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and same sex unions. They may also ask for dialogue. Thankfully, dialogue has already been provided to us over the past 2000 years as can be clearly seen in the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

For more, click here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Bible the Church and Homosexuality: Obscurantegesis vs the Truth

When it comes to the interpretation of the Scriptures we speak of "exegesis" (which refers to bringing the correct meaning of the text out through proper interpretation) and "eisegesis" (which is reading an incorrect meaning into the text of Scripture that is not in fact there), but in the case of the recent article "Orthodox Pastoral Response in the Past to Same-Sex Behavior", written by an anonymous author we have to coin a new term to describe its peculiar approach to Scripture: "obscurantegesis" (which is the intentional obscuring of the meaning of a text or texts of Scripture). It is clear that the anonymous author is not interested in what the Church has actually taught or what the Scriptures have to say about homosexuality. The author is only interested in dismissing and obscuring them both.

The basic argument against Tradition that is put forth is that there are canons of the Church that have taught things that we no longer adhere to, and so therefore, anything goes:

Many times the Church has clearly proclaimed a standard for behavior or belief but then developed a pastoral response to accommodate changing social realities. One example of this involves the charging, or payment, of interest on loans.

Here is the argument: Sure, the Church says that this or that is inherently wrong, but that does not mean that what was inherently wrong yesterday is inherently wrong today. Everything is up for review. Anything can change.

It is certainly true that as times and circumstances change, how the Church applies principles to different situations will vary... but that does not mean that the principles are up for grabs. In the case of charging interest, the Church was opposed to charging interest... in the context of a society that had currencies that did not inflate in value (being based on things like Gold, silver, and copper that tended to either retain their value or increase in value over time), and in which individuals lent money to people without regulation, usually at exorbitant interest, and in a context in which debtors who could not pay their debts ended up in prison or being sold into slavery (and quite likely their wives and children along with them). In our current context, in which the value of our money decreases with inflation, money is lent in a regulated fashion, in a context in which people who cannot pay their debts can walk away not only without paying the debt but in many cases without losing all that they have purchased with the money they borrowed, and without any fear of jail or slavery, things are just a wee bit different. In the former context, to lend money to the average person with interest was exploitative, and could lead to their complete and utter ruin. In our current context, when a bank refuses to lend to someone because the bank doubts their ability to repay the debt, this is considered to be an injustice. Anyone lending money at no interest today will not only not have the use of their money in the mean time, but will be repaid with money that is worth less than it was when it was lent in the first place. To argue that the fact that the Church does not treat these different circumstances in the same way therefore means that gay sex may not be a sin is not an argument made by a person who desires to illuminate the truth -- it is the argument of one who willfully obscures the truth.

The same thing is true of the argument regarding Christians holding secular office. There are no canons which forbid this. There are no teachings in Scripture which present universal prohibitions against it. Only some quotes from early Christian writers which stated that in the context of a pagan Roman state which was persecuting the Church, and in which pagan worship was part of the package deal with being an official, Christians should not accept such offices. In Scripture we find many officials who were believers and commendable. And when you had Christian kingdoms there was no reason to believe that the Christians would need to employ pagans to rule over them to avoid violating some fundamental principle of the Christian Faith. Again, what we have is the willful obscuring of the truth, rather than a sincere attempt to seek it out or explain it.

The anonymous author then turns to the question of divorce, and remarriage. Rather than allowing the red herrings to further divert us from the real purpose of this article, suffice it to say that the Church's principles on those issues have not changed. Those who divorce and remarry are still penanced. Divorce is still discouraged. But as with all the canons in general that prescribe penances, the Church does not normally impose the same degree of strictness that it did in during the earliest centuries of the Church. It is also no doubt true that too many in the Church have a lax view of the seriousness of divorce, and one could question the level of economia that is given in many cases. But pastoral application of penances is one question -- principles are another. Remarriage is not inherently sinful, though it is inherently less than the ideal... which is why it is still the case that clergy may not be ordained if they have been married more than once, and clergy who are widowers are not allowed to remarry and remain clergymen.

"In terms of “gay sexuality,” the historical practice of the Church is far from what many modern people might expect it to have been. Even the Bible is not always as clear as we would like it to be. Although the epistle to the Romans clearly condemns those men who have sex with other men, in the pastoral epistles (I Timothy 1) the condemnation is of malakoi (the “soft” or “effeminate,” those who resemble insipid, weak-willed, easily beguiled women rather than those who are sexually penetrated) and not “homosexuals” as some modern English translations of the Bible read."

The anonymous author apparently did not bother to look up the Greek text of 1 Timothy 1:10. The word in that passage is not "malakoi" (effeminate) but "arsenokoitais", which is a word without a non-Jewish or non-Christian prehistory in Greek. It is a word that is derived from Leviticus 18:22 "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination." The word in the Septuagint text here for "man" is "arsenos" and the word for "lie" is "koiten" and so the term rather directly refers to a man lying with another man for the purpose of having sex, and the Scriptures clearly and unambiguously state that this is inherently evil. There is nothing about two men having sex today that has fundamentally changed between today and the time that the Scriptures were being written. To suggest that there is anything ambiguous or unclear here is simply a disingenuous attempt to obscure the truth.

Now the author attempts to muddy the waters further:

"The pastoral application of these biblical injunctions has varied considerably over time. Although many canons condemn various sexual acts it is important to see how those canons also condemn other behavior in order to see which sins are considered more serious than others."

What the anonymous author means when he speaks of pastoral application here is unclear, and that is not by accident. The principle in Scripture and Tradition is that that homosexual sex is inherently sinful. How one pastorally deals with a homosexual who acknowledges his sin, and wishes to repent of it is an entirely different question. Whether the priest will tell him that he needs to repent, or tell him that homosexuality is natural and that he can go on engaging in homosexual sex is a question of the basic moral principles of the Christian Faith. Any priest who suggests that homosexual sex is not inherently sinful, and must be repented of is in fact a heretic... a man who slams the doors of repentance in the face of sinners, and seeks the damnation of those who wishes to persuade.

The anonymous author asserts:

Meanwhile St. John the Faster suggests a penance of only 80 days for the sin of male-male sex “between the thighs,” i.e. face-to-face which he certainly considers less serious than heterosexual fornication (two years penance) or adultery (three years penance).

Here is the actual text of the 9th canon of St. John the Faster:

"As for sexual intercourse of men with one another, such as practicing double masturbation, it received the stated penance of up to eighty days."

This canon references the preceding canon, which states:

"Anyone having committed masturbation is penanced forty days, during which he must keep himself alive by xerophagy and must do one hundred metanias (prostrations) every day."

It should be noted that the canon for double masturbation is precisely twice the penance prescribed for solo masturbation because, as St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain notes: "each of these offenders is not only hurting himself, but is also hurting his brother, and this makes the sin a double sin" (The Rudder, p. 938).

Canon 18 of St. John the Faster states:

"It has seemed advisable to exclude any man who has been so mad as to copulate with another man from Communion for three years, weeping and fasting, and towards evening confined to xerophagy, and doing two hundred metanias. But as for one who prefers to take it easy, let him fulfill the fifteen years."

So where is the ambiguity here? There is none.

The anonymous author attempts to score some points for sodomy with this argument:

"Furthermore, even though a second-third marriage came to be permitted to heterosexual couples, such marriages still had a penance attached, which indicates that such marriages were more problematic for the Church than even arsenokoetia."

This is complete nonsense. As St. John indicates, the full penance for homosexual sex was 15 years... three years of weeping and fasting and 200 prostrations a day was pastoral leniency. The full penance for a second marriage is 1 or 2 years. The full penance for a third marriage is 2 or 3, but there is no mention of doing daily prostrations or strict fasting or exclusion from standing with the faithful. Thus to argue that the canons treat homosexual sex as less serious than a second or third marriage is simply based on either an astonishing degree of ignorance, or more likely, a willful desire to obscure the Truth of the matter.

The reference to the rite of Brotherhood shows the agenda of the anonymous author. He alludes to the argument of the homosexual scholar John Boswell, who sought to argue that this was some sort of same sex marriage rite, which was based on nothing other than his own imagination and specualtion. The fact that a later Patriarch found that men who had gone through this rite had in some cases used it as a cloak for their sin is hardly evidence that the Church intended to facilitate such aims... and the fact that the Church discarded this rite because of such abuses is proof positive of just the opposite.

Grasping even more desperately for straws, the anonymous author states:

Although the canonical literature is the normative source for what behavior is “allowed” or “punished,” sermons are often sources to be considered as well. It is interesting to note that virtually none of the Fathers preach on same-sex behavior, even when commenting on biblical texts that mention it.

If the anonymous author had any actual sense of what it means to be pastoral he would not find it odd at all that the saints of the Church where hesitant to discuss sodomy in their sermons. One can find even fewer references to incest and bestiality in sermons, but that does not mean that this is because the Church has an ambiguous stand on those questions -- rather it means that in a congregation mixed with men, women, and children, one has to be careful about what it said in a sermon.

The anonymous author then seeks to dismiss St. John Chrysostom with specious arguments about the ban on Jewish physicians. In the ancient world, there was no such thing as secular medicine as we know it today. Non-Christian Jewish doctors mixed their beliefs with their practice of medicine and so it was a religious issue for a Christian to go to such a doctor... but the anonymous author no doubt knows that, he simply finds it a convenient smoke screen for the moment.

St. John Chrysostom is the exegete of exegetes in the Orthodox Church, and so his homilies on Romans 1 are very significant, and no one who had ever had an Orthodox thought in their life would seriously believe that St. John's interpretation was some aberrational take on the question of homosexuality. But any doubt on the position of the Church on this question is removed when one looks at the canons embraced by the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. St. Basil's canons were affirmed specifically at the 4th, 6th, and 7th Ecumenical Councils, and his 7th canon states:

"Sodomists and bestialists and murderers and sorcerers and adulterers and idolaters deserve the same condemnation, so that whatever rule you have as regarding the others observe it also in regard to these persons. But as for those who have been for thirty years penitent for an act of impurity which they committed unwittingly, there is no ground for our doubting that we ought to admit them. Both the fact of their ignorance renders them worthy of pardon, and so do also the voluntary character of their confession, and the fact that they have been exhibiting good intentions for such a long time; for they have surrendered themselves to Satan for nearly a whole human generation, in order to be educated not to indulge in shameful acts. So bid them to be admitted without fail, especially if they have shed tears that move you to compassion, and are exhibiting a life that deserves sympathy."

His 57th Canon states:

"As for any man who uncovers his nakedness in the midst of males, he shall be allotted the time fixed for those transgressing in the act of adultery."

The canons are clear, as are the Scriptures:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals (malakoi), nor sodomites (arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

"For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due" (Romans 1:26-27).

But there are none so blind as those who will not see. The teachings of the Scriptures and of the Church are abundantly clear. Only those who choose to deny history can argue otherwise. Now if you wish to say that you simply reject the teachings of the Scriptures and the Church, at least you are being honest with yourself, but please don't patronize us by pretending these teachings are not clear.

What is also clear is that we have a small group of modernists who for whatever sentimental reasons like to dress up in Orthodox vestments, and sing some of the hymns of the Church, but who love neither truth, the Church, nor its Tradition. Our bishops need to speak up, and need to speak up clearly to rebuke such people. Today it is a small but nevertheless serious problem. Eventually, this problem will lead to division and confusion and a grand scale, if we simply hope that the problem will go away without confronting it head on. And the fact that the person promoting this nonsense, Mark Stokoe, is a member of the Metropolitan Council of the OCA, and that he has several OCA priests advancing the same homosexual agenda is something that should concern all Orthodox Christians, but especially the bishops of the OCA.

For more on the meaning of the Biblical texts related to homosexuality, see:

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert A. J. Gagnon

The Bible and the 'Gay Marriage' Question (Part 1)

The Bible and the 'Gay Marriage' Question (Part 2)

The Bible and the 'Gay Marriage' Question (Part 3)

A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality, by Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Homily for Holy Thursday, by St. John Chrysostom

Compared with some of the great spiritual "luminaries" of our own time, this may seem a bit unpastoral, but nevertheless, just as St. John has a homily for Pascha, he has a homily for Holy Thursday. Unfortunately, this homily is not heard by nearly so many people, because this service is not nearly so well attended, and it is often not read even for those who do attend... though it should be.

Homily of our Father Among the Saint, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, for Holy Thursday

O my beloved and greatly-desired brethren who have gathered in the Holy Church of God, in order to serve the Living God in holiness and righteousness, and, with fear, to partake of the holy, most-pure, and immortal, awesome Mysteries of Christ: Hearken unto me who am lowly and unworthy. For it is not I who am speaking to you and instructing you; rather the grace of the Most-holy and Life-giving Spirit; for I speak not from myself, but as I have been instructed by the divine canons, and the God-bearing Fathers, as the Church received instruction from the divine Apostles who received their wisdom from God, so do I myself speak, who am lowly and least of all. I know not your works; I consider not that which you have begun; and so, as one who fears God, I give counsel to everyone among you, whether man or woman, whether great or small, to anyone of you that may be guilty of sin, convicted by your own counsels, that first you must repent and confess your sins, that you may dare, considering yourself unworthy, to approach and touch the Divine Fire Itself. For our God is a consuming Fire, and they, therefore, who with faith and fear draw near to the God and King and Judge of us all, shall burn and scorch their sins; and It shall enlighten and sanctify their souls. But It shall burn and scorch with shame, the souls and bodies of them that draw near with unbelief. Therefore, many among you are ill and sleep in sickness, that is, many are dying unconfessed and unrepentant. And furthermore, my brethren, I beseech you, and I say: no one that swears oaths, nor a perjurer, nor a liar, nor one that finds fault with others, nor a fornicator, nor an adulterer, nor a homosexual, nor a thief, nor a drunkard, nor a blasphemer, nor one that envies his brother, nor a murderer, nor a sorcerer, nor a magician, nor a charmer, nor an enchanter, nor a robber, nor a Manichean, shall, unconfessed and unprepared, approach, touch, or draw near the dread Mysteries of Christ, for it is terrible to fall into the hands of the Living God. For the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the joints and marrow and bones, and thoughts and hearts. See, therefore, my brethren, that no one approach, unrepentant or unprepared or unworthily, to partake of His dread and most-pure Mysteries. For He Himself saith: I am He, and there is no god besides me; I kill, and I make alive; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand; for I, Myself, am King forever: to Whom is due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

See "˜The Great Book of Needs," Volume II, St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1998, pp. 332-333

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Orthodox Church on Homosexuality and Gay "Marriage"

Not surprisingly, a certain transsexual blogger who styles himself both a woman and Orthodox is unhappy with comments I have made about homosexuality. He asserts: that my position on this issue is "that not only are homosexuals sinners, they’re pariahs." This is of course completely untrue, but anyone familiar with the the hateful nonsense that is posted on his blog would know that distorting the facts and falsely accusing people are no novelty for him.

Homosexuality is a sin, but like any sin, it can be repented of. St. Paul said:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God"
(1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

That is the position of the Church on the matter. But St. Paul goes on to say:

"And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11).

So contrary to those who today claim that homosexuality is some intrinsic characteristic that defines a person, it is not. It is a sin. A person who struggles with such a sin, but does not yield to it is not a homosexual... at least not in the way the Church understands the term.

The Russian Orthodox Church has an official statement on the matter that is part of the Social Concept Document approved in the 2000 All Russian Sobor, and it states:

XII. 9. Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Church unequivocally deplore homosexual relations, seeing in them a vicious distortion of the God-created human nature.

«If a man lies with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination» (Lev. 20:13). The Bibles relates a story about a heavy punishment to which God subjected the people of Sodom (Gen. 19:1-19) precisely for the sin of sodomy. St. Paul, describing the moral condition of the Gentiles, names homosexual relations among the most «vile affections» and «fornications» defiling the human body: «Their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise the men, leaving the natural use of women, burned in their lust one towards another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet» (Rom. 1:26-27). «Be not deceived: neither effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind… shall inherit the kingdom of God», wrote the apostle to the people of corrupted Corinth (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The patristic tradition equally clearly and definitely denounces any manifestation of homosexuality. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, the works of Sts Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa and Blessed Augustine and the canon of St. John the Faster — all express the unchangeable teaching of the Church that homosexual relations are sinful and should be condemned. People involved in them have not right to be members of the clergy (Gregory the Great, Canon 7; Gregory of Nyssa, Canon 4; John the Faster, Canon 30). Addressing those who stained themselves with the sin of sodomy, the St. Maxim the Greek made this appeal: «See at yourselves, damned ones, what a foul pleasure you indulge in! Try to give up as soon as possible this most nasty and stinking pleasure of yours, to hate it and to fulminate eternally those who argue that it is innocent as enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and corrupters of His teaching. Cleanse yourselves of this blight by repentance, ardent tears, alms-giving as much as you can and pure prayer… Hate this unrighteousness with all your heart, so that you may not be sons of damnation and eternal death».

The debate on the status of the so-called sexual minorities in contemporary society tends to recognise homosexuality not as a sexual perversion but only one of the «sexual orientations» which have the equal right to public manifestation and respect. It is also argued that the homosexual drive is caused by the individual inborn predisposition. The Orthodox Church proceeds from the invariable conviction that the divinely established marital union of man and woman cannot be compared to the perverted manifestations of sexuality. She believes homosexuality to be a sinful distortion of human nature, which is overcome by spiritual effort leading to the healing and personal growth of the individual. Homosexual desires, just as other passions torturing fallen man, are healed by the Sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance, reading of Holy Scriptures and patristic writings, as well as Christian fellowship with believers who are ready to give spiritual support.

While treating people with homosexual inclinations with pastoral responsibility, the Church is resolutely against the attempts to present this sinful tendency as a «norm» and even something to be proud of and emulate. This is why the Church denounces any propaganda of homosexuality. Without denying anybody the fundamental rights to life, respect for personal dignity and participation in public affairs, the Church, however, believes that those who propagate the homosexual way of life should not be admitted to educational and other work with children and youth, nor to occupy superior posts in the army and reformatories.

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.

I agree with this position entirely. I have the greatest sympathy for people who struggle with a passion of this nature, but who recognize it to be a sin, and are striving to live the Christian life. But to tell someone that a sin is not a sin, and they have nothing to worry about when the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church says otherwise is not only unloving and unpastoral, it is heretical and a sin against the unity of the Church and the souls of those deceived by such nonsense.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Rapture

There was a movie that was done in the 1970's that gives the typical Evangelical Protestant conception of the Rapture:

For those wondering what the Orthodox view of the Rapture is, I would recommend this two part article by Sister Anastasia (now Mother Agapia) (Stephanopoulos) on the subject:

Will you meet the Lord in the "Rapture", Part I

Will you meet the Lord in the "Rapture", Part II

Many Protestants take this doctrine as a given, and are unaware that prior to the 1850's, no one had ever conceived of such a thing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

They should have listened.

The Presbyterian Church USA (the largest, but also most liberal branch of the Presbyterians in this country) ratified a change that had been proposed at their general assembly in 2010 to approve the ordination of practicing homosexuals. The change had been passed by previous general assemblies, but failed to gain the approval of a majority of the Presbyteries around the country (which are roughly equivalent to a diocese). This time, a majority has approved the change.

This is just the latest example of the ongoing slide of Protestantism as a whole towards theological and moral liberalism. It is sad to watch, because these denominations, while obviously heterodox, nevertheless did stand for basic morality, and as such had some positive influence on the culture. On the other hand, this slide has the effect of forcing those who are sincere in those denominations to reassess their theology, and in many cases it has led them into the Orthodox Church... as it did in my case.

At the general assembly last year, there was an "ecumenical" representative of the Byelorussian Orthodox Church. In this case, it was an admirable example of how we should "dialogue" with the heterodox. He thanks them for the charitable help they have provided to Byelorussia, and comes across in a kind and loving way, but nevertheless schools them on the nature of Christian morality, and why their discussion about changing their moral standards brings them further away from authentic Christianity:

This clip from the opening ceremony of their general assembly shows that they are well on the path to a paganized and truly lame version of Christianity that has lost almost all contact with real Christianity: