Thursday, November 29, 2012

What should Orthodox Christians do, when there is no parish nearby?

The Holy New Martyr Lydia of Russia

Towards the end of the inaugural show of Ancient Faith Radio's Orthodoxy Live, Fr. Evan Armetas was asked a question: what should Orthodox Christians do, if they live in an area where there are no Orthodox Churches nearby? Is it OK to go to a heterodox Church in such a case, when you are not able to go to an Orthodox parish?

Fr. Evan's answer indicated that he knew his answer would be controversial, but he said that his own pastoral response was that it was OK. He said that they should go to those churches in order to hear "the liturgy of the word" and for fellowship. You can hear the question and his answer by clicking this link, beginning at about the 55 minute mark:

I have no doubts that Fr. Evan's answer was sincere, and I am sure that he thinks it is better than any alternative. And since he was raised in the Church, I think it is partly due to a lack of time spent actually attending such heterodox churches.

I strongly disagree with Fr. Evan's answer, and for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the canons forbid us to go to Non-Orthodox houses of worship or to pray with non-Orthodox Christians or schismatics:

Canon LXV of the Apostles says: "If any clergymen, or laymen, enter a synagogue of Jews, or of heretics, to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated."

Canon IX of Laodicia says: "Concerning the fact that those belonging to the Church must not be allowed to go visiting the cemeteries or the so called martyria of any heretics, for the purpose of prayer or of cure, but, on the contrary, those who do so, if they be among the faithful, shall be excluded from communion for a time until they repent and confess their having made a mistake, when they may be readmitted to communion." 

And Canon XXXIII of Laodicia says: "One must not join in prayer with heretics or schismatics."

All of these canons have Ecumenical authority, having been approved by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils.

Sometimes the counter argument that one hears to this is that the heretics at the time of these canons were much worse than the average Protestant and Roman Catholic, but the last canon referenced says were are not to pray with heretics or schismatics. Schismatics differ from us in no theological way at all, at least in the beginning, and so any schismatic group would be a thousand times closer to the Orthodox than any Protestant or Roman Catholic.

To cite a relatively recent example from the lives of the Saints, one should consider the Holy New Martyr Lydia of Russia (you can hear a sermon on her life by clicking here). She lived during the time of the so-called "Living Church" which was a renovationist schism that was established by the Soviets, and for a time it was the "official" Church -- and the only Church allowed by the Soviets to function openly. St. Lydia's own father joined the Living Church, not out of conviction, but out of fear of persecution. St. Lydia departed from her father, and we are told that she only rarely went to Church during that time, because she would not attend the "Official Church", and the Catacomb Churches did not hold regular services. So unless she was able to attend services in a legitimate Orthodox Church she stayed home and prayed. As bad as the Living Church was, it was far closer to Orthodoxy than any Protestant or Roman Catholic church. One would be far more likely to hear something approximating the "Liturgy of the word" in such a Church. But St. Lydia refused to go.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in the oldest recorded Catechism of the Church, stated:

"And if ever thou art sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church.  For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God (for it is written, As Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and all the rest,) and is a figure and copy of Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and the mother of us all; which before was barren, but now has many children" (Catechetical Lectures 18:26).

We do not refrain from praying with heretics or schismatics because we are condemning them to hell. We refuse to pray with them because praying together implies a unity of faith that does not exist. As the Prophet Amos observed: "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3).

Aside from the canons, there are two practical reasons why I think that Fr. Evan's advice should not be followed:

1). One would not hear anything close to the "Liturgy of the word" in most Protestant or Catholic churches. What one would likely encounter would range from the absolutely heretical to the mildly heretical. If one knows what to reject and what to pay attention to, there are many heterodox clergy who have edifying things to say, but the problem is that the average Orthodox layman does not have the knowledge to know what to reject and what to listen to, and so would almost certainly be led astray by regular exposure to such preaching.

2). In the history of Orthodoxy in the United States there have been many Orthodox who did exactly what Fr. Evan suggested. Some, if they eventually found their way to an Orthodox Church remained in the Church. But in most cases, such people lost their connection with the Church... and this is all the more true of their children, who in most cases grew up thinking of themselves as belonging to the group that they were raised in.

So what should an Orthodox Christian do if there are no Orthodox Churches in their area?

First of all, they should figure out which parish is the closest, and they should try to attend there as often as they can. In our time, this is made very simple by the internet. There is a very good website called "Orthodoxy in America", where you can simply enter your zip code and find any parish that is within a certain radius:   The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North America also have a similar directory:

Secondly, when they are not able to go to the nearest parish, they should pray at home. Every Orthodox home is a little Church, and if there are no other Orthodox parishes near enough for you to attend, then this is the Church you should be attending.

You can hear the "Liturgy of the word" by serving Typika (or Obednitsa, as it is sometimes called). I regularly update this page, where one can find the text of Typika (when served in the absence of a priest) and the variable portions of Typika for Sundays and Feast days by clicking here: You can find instructions on how to do lay services, as well as other texts for that purpose by clicking here:

With the blessing of their bishop, they may also want to advertize their services. They could do so at no cost, by setting a blog and posting information about their services. They may find that there are some other Orthodox Christians in their area, and their house Church may be the beginnings of a future parish.

As Archbishop Averky (of blessed memory) observed, many Orthodox Christians have the mistaken notion that they are almost unable to pray at all without a priest; but short of the sacraments, any Orthodox Christian can -- and, in the instances we are discussing, should, to the best of their ability -- do the full cycle of services for Sundays and Feast days. See: Comments on Reader Services by Archbishop Averky,of blessed memory.

With all that is available for free on the internet these days, it is not difficult for an Orthodox Christian to at least do some regular services in their own homes, when they cannot attend a parish. And instead of setting your children up to drift into heterodoxy, you will provide them with a vivid example of the effort that one should put forth to maintain their faith in a largely non-Orthodox culture.

Update: Someone reminded me of St. Raphael (Hawaweeny)'s Pastoral Epistle to his flock, at a time when travel was much more difficult, Orthodox Churches were much fewer and farther between. Here is the most pertinent portion to this question:

"Therefore, as the official head of the Syrian Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church in North America and as one who must give account (Heb. 13:17) before the judgment seat of the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (I Pet. 2:25), that I have fed the flock of God (I Pet. 5:2), as I have been commissioned by the Holy Orthodox Church, and inasmuch as the Anglican Communion (Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA) does not differ in things vital to the well-being of the Holy Orthodox Church from some of the most errant Protestant sects, I direct all Orthodox people residing in any community not to seek or to accept the ministrations of the Sacraments and rites from any clergy excepting those of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, for the Apostolic command that the Orthodox should not commune in ecclesiastical matters with those who are not of the same household of faith (Gal. 6:10), is clear: "Any bishop, or presbyter or deacon who will pray with heretics, let him be anathematized; and if he allows them as clergymen to perform any service, let him be deposed." (Apostolic Canon 45) "Any bishop, or presbyter who accepts Baptism or the Holy Sacrifice from heretics, we order such to be deposed, for what concord hath Christ with Belial, or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" (Apostolic Canon 46)

As to members of the Holy Orthodox Church living in areas beyond the reach of Orthodox clergy, I direct that the ancient custom of our Holy Church be observed, namely, in cases of extreme necessity, that is, danger of death, children may be baptized by some pious Orthodox layman, or even by the parent of the child, by immersion three times in the names of the (Persons of the) Holy Trinity, and in case of death such baptism is valid; but, if the child should live, he must be brought to an Orthodox priest for the Sacrament of Chrismation.

In the case of the death of an Orthodox person where no priest of the Holy Orthodox Church can be had, a pious layman may read over the corpse, for the comfort of the relatives and the instruction of the persons present, Psalm 90 and Psalm 118, and add thereto the Trisagion ("Holy God, Holy Mighty," etc.). But let it be noted that as soon as possible the relative must notify some Orthodox bishop or priest and request him to serve the Liturgy and Funeral for the repose of the soul of the departed in his cathedral or parish Church.

As to Holy Matrimony, if there be any parties united in wedlock outside the pale of the holy Orthodox Church because of the remoteness of Orthodox centers from their home, I direct that as soon as possible they either invite an Orthodox priest or go to where he resides and receive from his hands the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony; otherwise they will be considered excommunicated until they submit to the Orthodox Church's rule.

I further direct that Orthodox Christians should not make it a practice to attend the services of other religious bodies, so that there be no confusion concerning the teaching or doctrines. Instead, I order that the head of each household, or a member, may read the special prayers which can be found in the Hours in the Holy Orthodox Service Book, and such other devotional books as have been set forth by the authority of the Holy Orthodox Church."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Three Homilies on the Beatitudes

 The sermon on the Mount

Here are three homilies on the Beatitudes, given on the Sunday of May 30th through June 13th, 2010.

Friday, November 23, 2012

To Judge or not to Judge

There is one passage of Scripture it seems every non-believer knows by heart, and can quote it in King James English: “Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Just about any time there is a discussion about a moral question, in which any reference is made to what the Scriptures or the teachings of the Church say on the issue, you will inevitably hear this passage cited. And when it is cited, it is almost always used to shut down any discussion of what is right and wrong, and the assumption seems to be that everyone get's to decide for themselves what they believe to be moral, and no one else has any right to challenge the conclusions of anyone else. You even hear this passage used in this way by Christians, and even Orthodox Christians. But is this a correct understanding of what Christ said?

Let's consider the immediate context of the passage:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye use, it shall be measured back to you. And why beholdest thou the speck that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the speck out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first remove the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to remove the speck out of thy brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).

St. John Chrysostom goes into a great deal of detail on the meaning of this. He begins his homily on this passage by rhetorically asking: "What then? Ought we not to blame them that sin? Because Paul also saith this selfsame thing: or rather, there too it is Christ, speaking by Paul, and saying, “Why dost thou judge thy brother? And thou, why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” (Romans 14:10) and, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” (Romans 14:4). And again, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come” (1 Corinthians 4:5).  How then doth He say elsewhere, “Reprove, rebuke, exhort,” (2 Timothy 4:2) and, “Them that sin rebuke before all?”(1 Timothy 5:20).  And Christ too to Peter, “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” and if he neglect to hear, add to thyself another also; and if not even so doth he yield, declare it to the church likewise?” (Matthew 18:15-17). And how hath He set over us so many to reprove; and not only to reprove, but also to punish? For him that hearkens to none of these, He hath commanded to be “as a heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17). And how gave He them the keys also? since if they are not to judge, they will be without authority in any matter, and in vain have they received the power to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23).  Homily 23 on the Gospel of St Matthew

St. John  then points out that no household could function, and no society could maintain order if this were taken to mean that we should exercise no judgment of any kind, and then he says:

"But if to many of the less attentive, it seem yet rather obscure [i.e., the meaning of this passage], I will endeavor to explain it from the beginning. In this place, then, as it seems at least to me, He doth not simply command us not to judge any of men’s sins, neither doth He simply forbid the doing of such a thing, but to them that are full of innumerable ills, and are trampling upon other men for trifles. And I think that certain Jews too are here hinted at, for that while they were bitter accusing their neighbors for small faults, and such as came to nothing, they were themselves insensibly committing deadly sins. Herewith towards the end also He was upbraiding them, when He said, “Ye bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, but ye will not move them with your finger” (Matthew 23:4) and, “ye pay tithe of mint and anise, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). Well then, I think that these are comprehended in His invective; that He is checking them beforehand as to those things, wherein they were hereafter to accuse His disciples. For although His disciples had been guilty of no such sin, yet in them were supposed to be offenses; as, for instance, not keeping the sabbath, eating with unwashen hands, sitting at meat with publicans; of which He saith also in another place, “Ye which strain at the gnat, and swallow the camel” ((Matthew 23:24). But yet it is also a general law that He is laying down on these matters.  And the Corinthians too Paul did not absolutely command not to judge, but not to judge their own superiors, and upon grounds that are not acknowledged; not absolutely to refrain from correcting them that sin. Neither indeed was He then rebuking all without distinction, but disciples doing so to their teachers were the object of His reproof; and they who, being guilty of innumerable sins, bring an evil report upon the guiltless. This then is the sort of thing which Christ also in this place intimated; not intimated merely, but guarded it too with a great terror, and the punishment from which no prayers can deliver."

So according to St. John Chrysostom, what Christ and St. Paul were warning against in the passages that speak of not judging is that we should not judge others over small things when we are guilty of much worse, and we should not judge when we do not have sufficient information to do so, especially when it comes to those who are in authority. However, we certainly can rebuke and reprove those who are guilty of sins, when the facts warrant it. But in our day, even saying that something is a sin is considered to be a violation of this teaching of Christ. But St. John clearly rejects that idea:

 “What then!” say you: “if one commit fornication, may I not say that fornication is a bad thing, nor at all correct him that is playing the wanton [the sexually immoral]?” Nay, correct him, but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines. For neither did Christ say, “stay not him that is sinning,” but “judge not;” that is, be not bitter in pronouncing sentence.” 

St. John defends correcting the sinner, but cautions that we should do so gently and lovingly. He does not even directly address the question of whether or not one can say that fornication is a bad thing, because he clearly considers the answer to that question to be obvious... and obviously "yes". 

He then goes on to cite more examples of what Christ actually is talking about in this passage:

"Yea, for many now do this; if they see but a monk wearing an unnecessary garment, they produce against him the law of our Lord,while they themselves are extorting without end, and defrauding men every day. If they see him but partaking rather largely of food, they become bitter accusers, while they themselves are daily drinking to excess and surfeiting: not knowing, that besides their own sins, they do hereby gather up for themselves a greater flame, and deprive themselves of every plea. For on this point, that thine own doings must be strictly inquired into, thou thyself hast first made the law, by thus sentencing those of thy neighbor. Account it not then to be a grievous thing, if thou art also thyself to undergo the same kind of trial."

So the point is that indeed, the measure you apply to others will be measured back to you, and so if you are not prepared to have the same standard applied to yourself, you should not put yourself into the position of judging others over things that you yourself are guilty, and perhaps even moreso.

And although, as St. John Chrysostom points out, St. Paul also warns against judging, in 1st Corinthians St. Paul chides the Corinthians for being too tolerance of sin in their midst, and for not judging:

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.... I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside [the Church]? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside [the Church] God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person. Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?  I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!  No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! 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 the effeminate, nor homosexuals, 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. (1st Corinthians 5:1-5;5:9-6:10).

We should judge with fear and trembling, because we will be judged by the same standard. We should not judge those matters about which we do not have sufficient information to judge. We should be hesitant to judge those who are in authority over us, and likewise we should be hesitant to judge those who are not under our authority. We should never presume to know anyone’s ultimate fate at the judgment, which belongs only to God. We should also be loving and gentle when rebuking a brother or sister about their personal sin. But we have to be clear on what sin is. And we have to obey the words of Christ and St. Paul when it comes to maintaining discipline in the Church. We often have to judge, but we must "judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

You can also listen to a sermon on this same subject by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Homily: Holiness Becometh Thy House: Having Proper Reverence for the Things of God.

"And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God" (2 Samuel 6:7).
Click here to listen

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Homily on the meaning of Thanksgiving

If you have ever wondered what it means when we say "Bless the Lord", or wondered what the word "Thanks" really means in Scripture, listen to this homily from the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 2011.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Empty House: What happens when a person or a nation abandons God?

A homily on Luke 11:23-26: "He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first."

Click here to listen.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

2013 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar, now ready for order

You can now place your orders for the 2013 St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. In addition to providing liturgical rubrics based on the Jordanville Calendar (Troitskij Pravoslavnij Russkij Kalendar), the calendar also includes a liturgical color chart, and 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: