Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stump the Priest: Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Question: "What is meant by the verse in 1 Peter 4:8: " will cover a multitude of sins"?"

First, let's look at what the Fathers say about this verse:

"Then the blessed Chaeremon: There are, said he, three things which enable men to control their faults; viz., either the fear of hell or of laws even now imposed; or the hope and desire of the kingdom of heaven; or a liking for goodness itself and the love of virtue. For then we read that the fear of evil loathes contamination: "The fear of the Lord hateth evil" (Proverbs 8:13). Hope also shuts out the assaults of all faults: for "all who hope in Him shall not fail" (Psalm. 33[34]:23). Love also fears no destruction from sins, for "love never faileth" (1 Corinthians 13:8); and again: "love covers a multitude of sins"(1 Peter 4:8). And therefore the blessed Apostle confines the whole sum of salvation in the attainment of those three virtues, saying "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three" (1 Corinthians. 13:13). For faith is what makes us shun the stains of sin from fear of future judgment and punishment; hope is what withdraws our mind from present things, and despises all bodily pleasures from its expectation of heavenly rewards; love is what inflames us with keenness of heart for the love of Christ and the fruit of spiritual goodness, and makes us hate with a perfect hatred whatever is opposed to these. And these three things although they all seem to aim at one and the same end (for they incite us to abstain from things unlawful) yet they differ from each other greatly in the degrees of their excellence. For the two former belong properly to those men who in their aim at goodness have not yet acquired the love of virtue, and the third belongs specially to God and to those who have received into themselves the image and likeness of God. For He alone does the things that are good, with no fear and no thanks or reward to stir Him up, but simply from the love of goodness. For, as Solomon says, "The Lord hath made all things for Himself"(Proverbs 16:4). For under cover of His own goodness He bestows all the fulness of good things on the worthy and the unworthy because He cannot be wearied by wrongs, nor be moved by passions at the sins of men, as He ever remains perfect goodness and unchangeable in His nature" (St. John Cassian, quoting Abbot Chaeremon, Conferences 11:6:1).

"For after that grace of baptism which is common to all, and that most precious gift of martyrdom which is gained by being washed in blood, there are many fruits of penitence by which we can succeed in expiating our sins. For eternal salvation is not only promised to the bare fact of penitence, of which the blessed Apostle Peter says: "Repent and be converted that your sins may be forgiven;" and John the Baptist and the Lord Himself: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Acts 3:19; Matthew 3:2): but also by the affection of love is the weight of our sins overwhelmed: for "charity covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). In the same way also by the fruits of almsgiving a remedy is provided for our wounds, because "As water extinguishes fire, so does almsgiving extinguish sin.(Sirach. 3:33)." -St. John Cassian, quoting Abbot Pinufius, Conferences 20:8:1)

"Whoso doeth contrary to charity and contrary to brotherly love, let him not dare to glory and say that he is born of God: but whoso is in brotherly love, there are certain sins which he cannot commit, and this above all, that he should hate his brother. And how fares it with him concerning his other sins, of which it is said, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us?" Let him hear that which shall set his mind at rest from another place of Scripture; "Charity covereth a multitude of sins" (St. Augustine, Tractates on John, Homily 5:3).

“Love covers a multitude of sins,” (I Pet. 4:8). That is, for love towards one’s neighbor, God forgives the sins of the one who loves”(St. Theophan the Recluse, Letters, VI.949).

"Whose work is it to disturb, to condemn and to harm, if not that of the demons? And here we prove to be helpers of the demons in our own perdition and our neighbor's. Why is this so? Because there is no love in us! For "love will cover a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). The saints do not condemn one who sins and do not turn away from him, but suffer with him, grieve over him, make him to understand, comfort him, heal him, as a sick member, and do everything in order to save him" (Abba Dorotheus).

Love is the fulfillment of the Law. If we truly love, we will keep God's commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). Christ said "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7), and that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven (Matthew 6:14). So it is clear that if we truly love, we will be kept by that love from intentionally sinning, and because we love, God will forgive us our sins, voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown, and will show us mercy on the day of judgment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

St. Gregory Palamas on Christ's Sacrifice for our Sins

The following quotes are from St. Gregory Palamas' Sixteenth Homily, which was delivered on Holy Saturday: "About the Dispensation According to the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Gifts of Grace Granted to Those Who Truly Believe in Him." The entire homily is well worth reading, but here are some excerpts:

"Man was led into his captivity when he experienced God's wrath, this wrath being the good God's just abandonment of man. God had to be reconciled with the human race, for otherwise mankind could not be set free from the servitude. A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on high with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified and sinless priest" (Christopher Veniamin, trans. Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) p. 124).

"Christ overturned the devil through suffering and His flesh which He offered as a sacrifice to God the Father, as a pure and altogether holy victim -- how great is His gift! -- and reconciled God to our human race" (p.125).

"For this reason the lord patiently endured for our sake a death He was not obliged to undergo, to redeem us, who were obliged to suffer death, from servitude to the devil and death, by which I mean death both of the soul and of the body, temporary and eternal. Since He gave His blood, which was sinless and therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave us our sins, tore up the record of them on the Cross and delivered us from the Devil's tyranny (cf. Col 2:14-15)"( p. 128f)."

Monday, March 24, 2014

NATO: Nations Against The Orthodox

15 years ago today, NATO began bombing Serbia, and eventually handed over Kosovo, the historic heartland of Serbia, to Muslim Terrorists. Prior to that, NATO sided with the Croats against the Serbs, the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs, and in Egypt it sided with the Muslim brotherhood against Coptic and Orthodox Christians, and in Syria, it has sided with Jihadists against Syrian Orthodox Christians. Now they are siding with the Uniates and Schismatics against the Orthodox in Ukraine. It is a shame that an organization that once held back communist expansion has become so clearly anti-Orthodox Christian at every turn.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Stump the Priest: The Veneration of the Cross.

Moses and Joshua bowing before the Ark

Question: How would you answer a Protestant who considered our veneration of the Cross (bowing down before it and kissing it) to be idolatry?

First we should consider whether or not bowing down before something or kissing it entails the worship of adoration that is due to God alone. If we look at the Scriptures and to Jewish custom, the answer is clearly "No."

Abraham bowed himself before the people of Hebron (Genesis 23:7, 12); Joseph’s brothers bowed before him (Genesis 42:6; 43:26, 28); and many other examples could be cited that show that bowing was an expression of respect, and bowing to idols is only objectionable because the object in question is in fact an idol, an image of a false deity. In the second commandment we are told that we cannot make an idol, nor may we bow down to them, nor may we worship them (Exodus 20:4-5). The Scriptures also make numerous references to people kissing those that they love. And in Jewish tradition, kissing holy things is a common act that pious Jews engage in several times every day. In his book, "To Pray as a Jew," Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin states:

"Kissing is a universal sign of affection.  It is an act of love, an expression of endearment, not only between man and woman, parents and children, but is also the expression of one's feelings for the ritual objects and the religious duties associated with them.

There are no religious laws that require us to kiss a ritual or holy object.  There is only the force of custom as it develops through the ages. In varying degrees kissing has become an optional commonplace among the Jews as an expression of religious devotion at the following times:

   * The tallit [prayer shawl] is kissed just before putting it on.

    * The tefillin [phylacteries] are kissed when taken them out of their bag and before replacing them in the bag.

    * The mezuzah on the doorpost is sometimes kissed upon entering or leaving a house.  It is done by touching the mezuzah with one's hand and kissing the fingers that made contact with the mezuzah.

    * The Torah is kissed when it passes by in the synagogue.  Here, too, it is often done by extending a hand to  touch the Torah mantle and then kissing the hand.  Some touch the Torah with the edge of a tallit and then kiss the tallit.

    * The Torah is also kissed before one recites the blessings over it. Here it is done by taking the edge of one's tallit or the sash that is used to tie the scroll together, touching the outside of the scroll with it, and then kissing the tallit or the sash.  Many people place the tallit or sash to the very words where the reading is about to begin.  The sages advised against doing this as it may hasten a wearing away or erasure of the letters.  At best, they recommend touching only the margin area near the line where the reading is about to begin.  In all instances, one should not touch the Torah parchment with one's bare hand.  The custom of not doing so derives from a special edict issued by the sages prohibiting such contact (Shabbat 14a: OH 147:1).

    * The curtain on the Ark (paokhet) is kissed before one opens it, or after closing it when the Torah is put away.

    * A siddur [prayer book] and [C]Humash [Jewish Bible] are kissed before putting them away.  These holy books are also kissed if they are accidentally dropped on the floor" (From To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer book and the Synagogue Service, (New York: Basic Books [Harper Collins], 1980), p.43f).

And if we look at how the Israelites treated the Ark of the Covenant, it is clear that acts of reverence towards holy things like those we show to the Cross are not at all at odds with their understanding of the Old Testament Law.

The Ark is referred to as "the Footstool" of God's feet:

"Then David the king stood up upon his feet, and said, Hear me, my brethren, and my people: As for me, I had in mine heart to build an house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had made ready for the building" (1 Chronicles 28:2).

"We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool. Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength" (131[132]:7-8).

And the Psalms specifically command us to worship (literally, bow before) the Ark:

"Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship the footstool of His feet; for He is holy" (Psalm 98[99]:5).

And we see that the Israelites in fact did bow before the Ark:

"And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the Ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads" (Joshua 7:6).

Church tradition directly connects the Cross and the Ark of the Covenant, because the Ark is the place of Atonement, and while the Ark is referred to as "the place where His feet have stood" (Psalm 131:7 lxx) and the Cross is the place were Christ's feet stood, when he made atonement for our sins.

And so there is nothing in our practice that in any way contradicts the Scriptures.

You can listen to a sermon on Psalm 98[99] that addresses this subject by clicking here.

See also: The Icon FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions about Icons).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Stump the Priest: What did Christ write on the ground?

Question: "In John 8:1-11, during the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus kneels down to write something in the sand twice, what did he write?"

Of course, the Gospel of John does not say, but some of the Fathers provide some insight on this question. For example, St. Jerome writes: "The Scribes and Pharisees kept accusing her, and kept earnestly pressing the case, for they wished to stone her to death, according to the law. "But Jesus, stooping down, began to write with his finger on the ground," the sins, to be sure, of those who were making the accusation, as well as the sins of all mortal beings, according to what is written in the prophet, "Those who depart from you shall be written in the earth" [Jeremiah 17:13] (Against the Pelagians 2:17).

St. Nikolai Velimirovich (the Serbian Chrysostom) goes into much greater detail:

"Then the legislator of morality and human conduct stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not (John 8:6). What did the Lord write in the dust? The Evangelist maintains silence concerning this and does not write of it. It was too repulsive and vile to be written in the Book of Joy. However, this has been preserved in our Holy Orthodox tradition, and it is horrible. The Lord wrote something unexpected and startling for the elders, the accusers of the sinful woman. With His finger He disclosed their secret iniquities. For these who point out others’ sins of others were experts in concealing their own sins. But it is pointless to try to hide anything from the eyes of One Who sees all.

“M (eshulam) has stolen treasures from the temple,” wrote the Lord’s finger in the dust.

“A (sher) has committed adultery with his brother’s wife;

“S (halum) has committed perjury;

“E (led) has struck his own father;

“A (marich) has committed sodomy;

“J (oel) has worshipped idols.”

And so one statement after another was written in the dust by the awesome finger of the righteous Judge. And those to whom these words referred, bending down, read what was written, with inexpressible horror. They trembled from fright, and dared not look one another in the eye. They gave no further thought to the sinful woman. They thought only of themselves and of their own death, which was written in the dust. Not a single tongue was able to move, to pronounce that troublesome and evil question, What sayest Thou? The Lord said nothing. That which is so filthy is fit to be written only in filthy dust. Another reason why the Lord wrote on the ground is even greater and more wonderful. That which is written in the dust is easily erased and removed. Christ did not want their sins to be made known to everyone. Had He desired this, He would have announced them before all the people, and would have accused them and had them stoned to death, in accordance with the law. But He, the innocent Lamb of God, did not contemplate revenge or death for those who had prepared for Him a thousand deaths, who desired His death more than everlasting life for themselves. The Lord wanted only to correct them, to make them think of themselves and their own sins. He wanted to remind them that while they carried the burden of their own transgressions, they shouldn’t be strict judges of the transgressions of others. This alone did the Lord desire. And when this was done, the dust was again smoothed over, and that which was written disappeared.

After this our great Lord arose and kindly said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:7). This was like someone taking away the weapons of his enemies and then saying, Now, shoot! The once haughty judges of the sinful woman now stood disarmed, like criminals before the Judge, speechless and rooted to the ground. But the benevolent Saviour, stooping down again, wrote on the ground (John 8:8). What did He write this time? Perhaps their other secret transgressions, so that they would not open their closed lips for a long time. Or perhaps He wrote what sort of persons the elders and leaders of the people should be like. This is not essential for us to know. The most important thing here is that by His writing in the dust He achieved three results: first, He broke and annihilated the storm which the Jewish elders had raised against Him; second, He aroused their deadened consciences in their hardened souls, if only for a short time; and third, He saved the sinful woman from death. This is apparent from the words of the Gospel: And they [the elders] who heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst (John 8:9)" (Pravmir: What Was Christ Writing on the Ground?).

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Stump the Priest: Fallen Nature / Original Sin

Question: "Is the idea of a "fallen nature" a later Western concept that was foreign to the early Fathers? If I remember correctly, I've seen prominent Orthodox theologians use the term "fallen nature". But also I think I've seen other prominent theologians say that the term is a later Western concept that was foreign to the Fathers, and that its usage is incorrect. What is your opinion on this topic?"

I think you are actually referring to the objection that some Orthodox writers have expressed to the phrase "original sin". I would hope that no one has been foolish enough to argue that human nature is not fallen. The services of the Church are full of references to our fallen nature. For example, in the service for the feast of the Ascension alone, there are several such references:
"Not being separated from the bosom of the Father, O most sweet Jesus, and having lived on earth as a man, Thou wast taken up in glory today from the Mount of Olives. And having raised our fallen nature by Thy compassion, Thou didst seat it together with the Father. Wherefore, the heavenly orders of the bodiless were amazed at the wonder and stood in awe and astonishment. They were seized with trembling and magnified Thy love for mankind. With them we on earth also glorify Thy condescension toward us, and Thine Ascension from us, entreating and saying: O Thou Who by Thine Ascension didst fill with infinite joy Thy disciples and the Theotokos who bare Thee, by their prayers deem us also worthy of the joy of Thy chosen ones, for Thy great mercy's sake" (Doxasticon at Lord, I have cried...).
"God is gone up in jubilation, the Lord with the voice of the trumpet, to raise the fallen image of Adam, and to send the Comforting Spirit to sanctify our souls" (Doxasticon at the Vespers Aposticha).
"Thou didst raise up human nature which was fallen into corruption, O Christ, and in Thine Ascension Thou didst exalt us and glorify us together with Thyself" (4th troparion of Ode III of the Canon).
"The majesty of Him Who became poor in the flesh hath been manifestly taken up above the heavens; and our fallen nature hath been honored by sitting with the Father.  Let us all make feast, and with one accord let us cry out with jubilation and clap our hands rejoicing" (8th troparion of the Ode IX of the Canon).
There is a tendency among some contemporary Orthodox writers to dismiss anything that they see as being western, and often in the process they end of dismissing important aspects of Orthodox Tradition as well. And in this case, there have been a number of Orthodox writers that have rejected the phrase "original sin." For example:

Original sin: Orthodox doctrine or heresy?, Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou

Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy

by V. Rev. Antony Hughes, M.Div
- See more at:
Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy, by V. Rev. Antony Hughes

The problem with this approach is that the phrase "original sin" was used and affirmed by the Council of Carthage, in 418 A.D., and this council was officially affirmed by the 6th and 7th Ecumenical Councils. See: Original Sin and Orthodoxy: Reflections on Carthage, and Original Sin and Ephesus: Carthage’s Influence on the East, by Nathaniel McCallum.

Fr. Michael Pomazansky lays out the Orthodox understanding of original sin in his "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology":
"By original sin is meant the sin of Adam, which was transmitted to his descendants and weighs upon them. The doctrine of original sin has great significance in the Christian world-view, because upon it rests a whole series of other dogmas.
The word of God teaches us that through Adam "all have sinned": "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12). "For who will be clean of defilement? No one, if he have lived even a single day upon earth" (Job 14:4-5, Septuagint). "For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me" (Ps. 50:5); "the seed of corruption is in me" (Evening Prayers).
The common faith of the ancient Christian Church in the existence of original sin may be seen in the Church's ancient custom of baptizing infants. The Local Council of Carthage in 252, composed of 66 bishops under the presidency of St. Cyprian, decreed the following against heretics: "Not to forbid (the baptism) of an infant who, scarcely born, has sinned in nothing apart from that which proceeds from the flesh of Adam. He has received the contagion of the ancient death through his very birth, and he comes, therefore, the more easily to the reception of the remission of sins in that it is not his own but the sins of another that are remitted." (The same thing is stated in Canon 110 of the "African Code," approved by 217 bishops at Carthage in 419 and ratified by the Council in Trullo (692) and the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787). Canon 110 ends: "On account of this rule of faith even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration" (The Seven Ecumenical Councils, Eerdmans ed., p. 497).)
This is the way in which the "Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs" defines the result of the fall into sin: "Fallen through the transgression, man became like the irrational creatures. That is, he became darkened and was deprived of perfection and dispassion. But he was not deprived of the nature and power which he had received from the All-good God. For had he been so deprived, he would have become irrational, and thus not a man. But he preserved that nature with which he had been created, and the free, living and active natural power, so that, according to nature, he might choose and do the good, and flee and turn away from evil" ("Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs," paragraph 14).
In the history of the ancient Christian Church, Pelagius and his followers denied the inheritance of sin (the heresy of Pelagianism). Pelagius affirmed that every man only repeats the sin of Adam, performing anew his own personal fall into sin, and following the example of Adam because of his own weak will. However, his nature remains the same as when it was created, innocent and pure, the same as that of the first-created Adam. Moreover, disease and death are characteristic of this nature from the creation, and are not the consequences of original sin.
Blessed Augustine stepped out against Pelagius with great power and proof. He cited (a) testimonies from Divine Revelation concerning original sin, (b) the teaching of the ancient shepherds of the Church, (c) the ancient custom of baptizing infants, and (d) the sufferings and misfortunes of men, including infants, which are a consequence of the universal and inherited sinfulness of men. However, Augustine did not escape the opposite extreme, setting forth the idea that in fallen man any independent freedom to do good has been completely annihilated, unless grace comes to his aid.
Out of this dispute in the West there subsequently were formed two tendencies, one of which was followed by Roman Catholicism, and the other by Protestantism. Roman Catholic theologians consider that the consequence of the fall was the removal from men of a supernatural gift of God's grace, after which man remained in his "natural" condition, his nature not harmed but only brought into disorder because flesh, the bodily side, has come to dominate over the spiritual side. Original sin, in this view, consists of the fact that the guilt before God of Adam and Eve has passed to all men.
The other tendency in the West sees in original sin the complete perversion of human nature and its corruption to its very depths, to its very foundations (the view accepted by Luther and Calvin). As for the newer sects of Protestantism, reacting in their turn against the extremes of Luther, they have gone as far as the complete denial of original, inherited sin.
Among the shepherds of the Eastern Church there have been no doubts concerning either the teaching of the inherited ancestral sin in general, or the consequences of this sin for fallen human nature in particular.
Orthodox theology does not accept the extreme points of Blessed Augustine's teaching; but equally foreign to it is the (later) Roman Catholic point of view, which has a very legalistic, formal character. The foundation of the Roman Catholic teaching lies in (a) an understanding of the sin of Adam as an infinitely great offense against God; (b) after this offense there followed the wrath of God; (c) the wrath of God was expressed in the removal of the supernatural gifts of God's grace; and (d) the removal of grace drew after itself the submission of the spiritual principle to the fleshly principle, and a falling deeper into sin and death. From this comes a particular view of the redemption performed by the Son of God: In order to restore the order which had been violated, it was necessary first of all to give satisfaction for the offense given to God, and by this means to remove the guilt of mankind and the punishment that weighs upon him.
The consequences of ancestral sin are accepted by Orthodox theology differently.
After his first fall, man himself departed in soul from God and became unreceptive to the grace of God which was opened to him; he ceased to listen to the divine voice addressed to him, and this led to the further deepening of sin in him.
However, God has never deprived mankind of His mercy, help, grace, and especially His chosen people; and from this people there came forth great righteous men such as Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and the later prophets. The Apostle Paul, in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, lists a whole choir of Old Testament righteous ones, saying that they are those "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11:38). All of them were perfected not without a gift from above, not without the grace of God. The book of Acts cites the words of the first martyr, Stephen, where he says of David that he "found favor (grace) before God, and desired to find a tabernacle of the God of Jacob" (Acts 7:46); that is, to build a Temple for Him. The greatest of the prophets, St. John the Forerunner, was "filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). But the Old Testament righteous ones could not escape the general lot of fallen mankind after death, remaining in the darkness of hell, until the founding of the Heavenly Church; that is, until the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ destroyed the gates of hell and opened the way into the Kingdom of Heaven.
One must not see the essence of sin — including original sin — only in the dominance of the fleshly over the spiritual, as Roman Catholic theology teaches. Many sinful inclinations, even very serious ones, have to do with qualities of a spiritual order, such as pride, which, according to the words of the Apostle, is the source, together with lust, of the general sinfulness of the world (1 John 2:15-16). Sin is also present in evil spirits who have no flesh at all. In Sacred Scripture the word "flesh" signifies a condition of not being reborn, a condition opposed to being reborn in Christ "That which it born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Of course, this is not to deny that a whole series of passions and sinful inclinations originate in bodily nature, which Sacred Scripture also shows (Romans, ch. 7).
Thus, original sin is understood by Orthodox theology as a sinful inclination which has entered into mankind and become its spiritual disease" (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, pp. 160-164).
For more on this subject, see:

Rags of Morality: Original Sin and Human Nature, Archpriest Alexander Golubov, Ph.D.

Ancestral vs. Original Sin: A False Dichotomy, by Ephrem Hugh Bensusan

Original Sin According to St. Paul, by Fr. John S. Romanides