Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Approaching 5th Anniversary of Reconciliation

Patriarch Alexei of Moscow, and Metropolitan Laurus

Next Sunday (February 5th n.s.) is the commemoration of the New Martyrs of Russia, and this year will mark the 5th anniversary of the reconciliation between between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia with the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia.

Here is a homily I gave on the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers, sponsored by the Orthodox Clergy Association of Southeast Texas, March 16, 2008, the day of Metropolitan Laurus repose. I had been asked to talk about the significance of the reconciliation which had happened the previous May, but the passing of one of the two persons most responsible for that taking place put things into a very different light:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: A Practical Handbook for Divine Services

I recently finished reading "A Practical Handbook for Divine Services" by Fr. Gregory Woolfenden. This is a book that is primarily written for the benefit of priests and deacons, and gets into the details of how the services are actually done on a level that you usually do not find in service books or books on the rubrics of the services. The practice it reflects is largely the same as what is typically found in ROCOR, but there are differences. The author is a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate, serving in Great Britain, and is based on material published in Russian which is published by the Moscow Patriarchate. Nevertheless, in those areas where there are differences, it is useful to be aware of other practices that are out there, and in most cases, the practices are essentially the same. This book fills a gap in the material that has been available in English. I hope that one day we will see something like this published from someone who details the practices found in ROCOR in a similar fashion, or perhaps a future edition of this book that enhances the footnotes in that direction (though the footnotes are quite extensive as it is). I found it very helpful myself, just to review some of the fine points, and where the book differs from what I have seen, it has prompted me to ask questions of other clergy to see what is normally done in their experience.

As Bishop Jerome says, when speaking of various liturgical differences, there are seven ways to do everything, and there are seven ways to do each of the seven ways. A book that detailed all of these variation might be a bit cumbersome, but at least you will find one of the seven ways laid out in detail in this book. Diversity of liturgical practice is a healthy thing, but hopefully this book will help fight differences that are just matters of sloppiness or ignorance.

Laymen who are interested in better understanding the services will also benefit from this book. The services function on many different levels, and this book will help the laity better understand a dimension of the services that often happens out of their view. A great deal of the symbolism of the services are found in the liturgical actions of the clergy, and all Orthodox Christians should seek to better understand them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

St. Innocent of Rome on the Death Penalty

St. Innocent I, Pope of Rome (ca. 405):

"It must be remembered that power was granted by God, and to avenge crime the sword was permitted; he who carries out this vengeance is God's minister (Romans 13:1-4). What motive have we for condemning a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? We uphold, therefore, what has been observed until now, in order not to alter the discipline and so that we may not appear to act contrary to God's authority." Ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum, PL 20,495.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lazar Puhalo spouts blatant heresy... again

We have already noted Lazar Puhalo's advocacy of transgenderism, homosexuality, and his hostility to the Old Testament, but now he has espoused a new heresy. In his latest video, at about the 13:00 minute mark, he states that the Bible is "a book that was written by men that was sometimes inspired by God and Sometimes not." This is an incredible statement.

St. Paul, on the other hand was of the opinion that "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 3:16-17).

One has to wonder how long the OCA will allow him to present himself as a retired OCA bishop, and thumb his nose at the Tradition of the Church.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Inerrancy of Scripture

Recently, in a lecture given by Fr. Thomas Hopko, which has been posted on Ancient Faith Radio, Fr. Thomas made an argument very similar to things I have heard him say previously. He asserted that the Bible is full of contradictions, but that this is no big deal for us as Orthodox Christians, because we don't have to worry about how to reconcile them. As an example of such contradictions -- in fact the clearest example, according to Fr. Thomas -- he pointed out that the four Gospels all have different inscriptions on the Cross of Christ. Here are what the four Gospels actually record:
"THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Mark 15:26)
And he concludes his comments on this question with the statement "So much for historical accuracy."

Does this example prove that the Bible contradicts itself or is in error? No. For one thing, if someone gives an approximate quotation of something, and another person gives a more precise quotation, and these two quotations essentially agree, but the more precise quote provides more detail, have they contradicted each other? No... they have corroborated each other.

If someone asked you to tell them about one of your parents, you would probably tell a series of stories, and in those stories there would be no doubt some quotations. The stories would probably not be in chronological order, and the quotations would probably not all be exactly verbatim. Now would it be just or fair if someone who knew that parent jumped up and called you a liar or a spreader of misinformation because your stories were not chronological, or because your quotations were approximate quotations? No. You had no intention of providing a precise chronology, or to provide a Dictaphone account. You were asked to tell what your parent was like, and you did so, selecting the most meaningful stories that communicated who they were, and providing quotes that were substantively accurate.

A parent's obituary may be true and their child's recollections may also be true. The obituary may be more precise and more strictly chronological, but the child's recollections are not less true... in fact they tell you a lot more about the person. An obituary has one purpose and the remembrances a child may share have another purpose.

The Gospels do not have the intention of providing a strict chronology, they have the intention of telling us who Jesus Christ was, what he did, and what all that means. If they fulfill that intention accurately, to hold them up to standards that they did not intend to fulfill is wherein lies the error.

Aside from all of that, we are told in two of the Gospels that the inscription on the Cross was written in three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and Latin:

"And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Luke 23:38)
"Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin" (John 19:20).

Furthermore, we are told who wrote the inscription -- Pontius Pilate (John 19:22).

Now if Pontius Pilate wrote this inscription in three languages, we can be sure that he was not equally conversant in all three languages. There would have been very little reason for him to have mastered Hebrew or Aramaic, for example. Therefore, it is quite likely that the three inscriptions were not precise translations of each other.  Gleason Archer, in his book "The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties", suggests the following texts (which I am putting in English, though he puts them in Aramaic, Latin and Greek, respectively) based on a number of factors he details:
Aramaic: This is Jesus, King of the Jews.
Latin: This is the King of The Jews
Greek: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
I cite this, not because there is any way we can be sure that this is how the inscription was actually written, but simply to point out that there are a number of plausible ways to explain the differences we find in the Gospels, and there is absolutely no basis for taking something like this, and dismissing the historical accuracy of the Gospels.

There are two basic problems with making the concession that the Scriptures contain actual errors:

1. The Fathers never make such a concession.  You will never find a single Father of the Church that concedes that there are real errors or real contradictions in the Scriptures. When they encounter things that on surface appear to be contradictions on some level, they always explain how they are not contradictory rather than concede that they are real contradictions.

2. Once you go down that road, it does not stop with inconsequential errors.  If you have followed some of the recent discussions about homosexuality that have been going on, particularly within the OCA, you will see that people are suggesting that St. Paul was a misogynist 1st century Jew, who had a limited understanding of sex in general and homosexuality in particular, and so perhaps some of his statements on the subject just got it wrong, or perhaps we was only talking about homosexuality in negative terms because he associated it with paganism. Had he only understood what a loving committed homosexual relationship could be, perhaps he might have come down differently on the question. This is the fruit of those who teach that the Scriptures are full of contradictions.

This is also a fundamental denial of the real inspiration of the Scriptures. If the Scriptures really are entirely inspired by God, then by that very fact, no error could be contained in it, because God does not err. If you allow that the Scriptures contain real err, then you are allowing that the Scriptures are not completely inspired, and then the question is, what parts are inspired, and what parts are not.

Now, we have to ask: In what sense the Scriptures are inerrant? The Scriptures contain quotes from the Devil, which are not truth, but truly quoted. There are differences between passages of Scripture that are not contradictory, but provide different details.

We believe that Scripture does not contain any error in anything that it intends to convey. I think St. Augustine put it about as well as anyone has:
"For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it" (Letter to St. Jerome, 1:3).
St. Gregory Nazianzus also wrote;
“We however, who extend the accuracy of the Spirit to the merest stroke and tittle, will never admit the impious assertion that even the smallest matters were dealt with haphazard by those who have recorded them, and have thus been borne in mind down to the present day: on the contrary, their purpose has been to supply memorials and instructions for our consideration under similar circumstances, should such befall us, and that the examples of the past might serve as rules and models, for our warning and imitation” (NPNF2-07 St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration II: In Defence of His Flight to Pontus, and His Return, After His Ordination to the Priesthood, with an Exposition of the Character of the Priestly Office , ch. 105, NPNF2, p.225).
St. John Chrysostom wrote:
"Don't worry, dearly beloved, don't think sacred Scripture ever contradicts itself, learn instead the truth of what it says, hold fast what it teaches in truth, and close your ears to those who speak against it" (Homily 4:8 on Genesis, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 56).
And commenting on the Apostle John's use of Isaiah, he wrote:
"He desires hence to establish by many proofs the unerring truth of Scripture, and that what Isaiah foretold fell not out otherwise..." (Homily 68 on the Gospel of John).
 St. Clement of Rome wrote:
"Ye have searched the scriptures, which are true, which were given through the Holy Ghost; and ye know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them" (1 Clement 45:2-3).
The Fathers would never attribute error to Scripture, but unlike the Fundamentalist Protestants, they did not feel the need to be able to explain everything in Scripture. There are questions one can ask about Scripture, particularly with reference to apparent contradictions, and affirm that the Scriptures are without error, but not claim to know with any certainty how to explain a given problem.

That the Scriptures are the inspired word of God is a faith affirmation for which we can give reasons and evidence, but which is incapable of empirical verification of falsification. And so for example, I do not have to reconcile Genesis 1-2 with the current science of the day. I can try, but since I am not inerrant, my conclusions on that may or may not be accurate. But I can confess with St. Augustine that "...if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it." The Truth of Scripture does not depend on my ability to fully comprehend it, but to be faithful to the Orthodox Tradition I must confess that the Scriptures are fully inspired, without error, and that it is I who need to be corrected by the Scriptures, rather than the Scriptures that need to be corrected by me.

Now some contemporary Orthodox writers accuse anyone who says that the Scriptures are without error of being Protestant and/or Fundamentalist. The problem with this claim is that the position these people espouse has no basis in the Orthodox Tradition, but rather is itself a position taken wholly and uncritically from Protestant Liberalism... and Protestant liberalism and Protestant fundamentalism both have much more in common with each other than either has with the Orthodox Tradition.

As St. John of Kronstadt put it:
"When you doubt the truth of any person or event described in Holy Scripture, then remember that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” as the Apostle says and is therefore true, and does not contain any imaginary persons, fables, and tales, although it includes parables, which everyone can see are not true narratives, but are written in figurative language. The whole of the word of God is single, entire, indivisible truth; and if you admit that any narrative, sentence, or word is untrue, then you sin against the truth of the whole of Holy Scripture and its primordial truth, which is God Himself. “I am the truth,” said the Lord; “Thy word is truth,” said Jesus Christ to God the Father. Thus, consider the whole of the Holy Scripture as truth; everything that is said in it has either taken place or takes place (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, trans. E. E. Goulaeff (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1994) p. 70).
I should also state that I respect Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have heard him say things that were so insightful that I have regularly quoted him to others. However, I could not disagree with him more on this question.


Here is a very interesting comment by St. Peter of Damascus from the Philokalia, Volume 3, p. 144f:

Whenever a person even slightly illumined reads the Scriptures or sings psalms he finds in them matter for contemplation and theology, one text supporting another. But he whose intellect is still unenlightened thinks that the Holy Scriptures are contradictory. Yet there is no contradiction in the Holy Scriptures: God forbid that there should be. For some texts are confirmed by others, while some were written with reference to a particular time of a particular person. Thus every word of Scripture is beyond reproach. The appearance of contradiction is due to our ignorance. We ought not to find fault with the Scriptures, but to the limit of our capacity we should attend to them as they are, and not as we would like them to be, after the manner of the Greeks and Jews. for the Greeks and Jews refused to admit that they did not understand, but out of conceit and self-satisfaction they found fault with the Scriptures and with the natural order of things, and interpreted them as they saw fit and not according to the will of God. As a result they were led into delusion and gave themselves over to every kind of evil.
The person who searches for the meaning of the Scriptures will not put forward his own opinion, bad or good; but, as St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom have said, he will take as his teacher, not the learning of this world, but Holy Scripture itself. Then if his heart is pure and God puts something unpremeditated into it, he will accept it, providing he can find confirmation for it in the Scriptures, as St. Antony the Great says. For St. Isaac says that the thoughts that enter spontaneously and without premeditation into the intellects of those pursuing a life of stillness are to be accepted; but that to investigate and then to draw one's own conclusions is an act of self-will and results in material knowledge.
This is especially the case if a person does not approach the Scriptures through the door of humility but, as St. John Chrysostom says, climbs up some other way, like a thief (cf. John 10:1), and forces them to accord with his allegorizing. For no one is more foolish than he who forces the meaning of the Scriptures or finds fault with them so as to demonstrate his own knowledge -- or, rather, his own ignorance. What kind of knowledge can result from adapting the meaning of the Scriptures to suit one's own likes and from daring to alter their words? The true sage is he who regards the text as authoritative and discovers, through the wisdom of the Spirit, the hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness.
The three great luminaries, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, are outstanding examples of this: they base themselves either on the particular text they are considering or on some other passage of Scripture. Thus no one can contradict them, for they do not adduce external support for what they say, so that it might be claimed that it was merely their own opinion, but refer directly to the text under discussion or to some other scriptural passage that sheds light on it. And in this they are right; for what they understand and expound comes from the Holy Spirit, of whose inspiration they have been found worthy. No one, therefore, should do or mentally assent to anything if its integrity is in doubt and cannot be attested from Scripture. For what is the point of rejecting something who integrity Scripture clearly attests as being in accordance with God's will, in order to do something else, whether good or not? Only passion could provoke such behaviour.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Very Most Retired "Archbishop" rants again

I've mentioned this odd man and his odd views previously. In his most recent rant on YouTube he makes a number of ridiculous statements. He begins by talking about recent examples of the abuse of women in the Islamic world, but then quickly shifts into an attack on the Scriptures and the historic Christian view of morality.

He asserts that women were not legal persons until the 1930's and were not allowed to manage their own property previously. Women in the United States gained the right to vote in 1920, with the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Most adult women gained the right to vote in the United Kingdom in 1918, and all who were 21 and older gained it in 1928. And it is simply untrue that women were not seen a legal persons prior to that time, nor is it true that they had no right to manage their own property prior to that time.

Puhalo also asserts that the treatment of women in Islamic countries -- such as the torture of a child bride whose in-laws were attempting to force her into prostitution -- was not much different than the way women were treated in the Old Testament. He asserts, for example that a woman who was raped in a city was put to death, and a woman who is raped elsewhere was charged with adultery. Here is the actual passage in question:

“If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you" (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

First of all, it should be noted that this passage does not say anything about a woman who is raped being put to death. It speaks of a woman who is betrothed to one man, but who has sex with another man in a city. The question of whether she was raped or not is the question that this law addresses, and it says that if she resists, she was being raped, and so is innocent, but if she does not resist, she was not being raped.

This is made clear by what follows those verses:

"But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter. For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her" (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).

Note that this passage says nothing about the woman being charged with adultery. It says "You shall do nothing to the young woman, because she is innocent, just as in the case of person who is innocently murdered. Now you might ask about other scenarios, such as a man you gags a woman in a city and rapes her with a knife to the throat... this law lays out some general principles, but obviously there are always exceptional cases that change the picture, and both Jewish and Christian tradition are full of discussions about such exceptions... and so there is no reason to believe that additional facts that pointed to the woman's innocence would be ignored.

What laws like these definitely accomplished is that they prevented women from being put to death when they clearly had been raped, unlike what you find in Islamic law.

Puhalo then goes on to rant in his support of transgenderism. No one has suggested that when you have people who are born with phyical abnormalities that they should be denied corrective surgery. What has been denied is the idea that a man who believes he is trapped inside a woman's body, or vice versa should have a sex change operation.

Once again, here are the conclusions of the Russian Orthodox Church on the matter:

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

Transsexuality should be distinguished from the wrong identification of the sex in one's infancy as a result of doctors' mistake caused by a pathological development of sexual characteristics. The surgical correction in this case is not a change of sex. 

One has to wonder how long the OCA will allow a "retired Archbishop" to rant publicly against the teachings of the Church and the Scriptures, without some sanction.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The other talks from the 2011 St. Herman's Conference, Houston, TX

1). The Life Beyond:A talk by Fr. Dcn. Innokenty Reichert on the Orthodox view of death,
given on 12/24/2011.

2). On the Study of Holy Scripture: A talk by Fr. John Whiteford on why and how we should study the Scriptures,given on 12/25/2011.

The handout that is mention is essentially the same as what is found here:

The Bible Gateway is here:

And the Church Fathers online can be found here:

3). Title: The History of Ss. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church in Galveston, Texas: A talk by Mimo Milosevich on the history of the second oldest Orthodox Church in the lower 28 states on the U.S., given on 12/26/2011. You also hear comments from Fr. Serge Veselinovich, the rector of the parish.

The article that Mimo Milosevich mentions is posted here:

You can see photos from the conference here: