Thursday, May 29, 2014

Stump the Priest: Heresy and Heretics

Question: "What is heresy, and who is a heretic?"

St. Philaret of Moscow, in his Catechism, defined heresy simply as "...when people mix with the doctrine of the Faith, opinions contrary to divine truth."

The term "heresy" comes from the Greek word αἵρεσις (Hairesis), which originally meant "choice," but came to mean "faction," or "sect," and then, by extension came to refer to the doctrinal error of factions in the Church and outside of the Church that centered on such false teachings.

In Scripture, we find references to "heresies" -- both in the sense of "factions," and in the sense of doctrinal error:

In 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, we see it used in the sense of "faction", but not with specific reference to doctrinal error according to both St. John Chrysostom and Blessed Theodoret: "For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." St. John Chrysostom notes, however, that what this passage says of factions would also apply to those factions characterized by doctrinal error (Homily 27 on First Corinthians).

However, in 2 Peter 2:1, we find a clear reference to "heresies" in the sense of doctrinal error: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction."

St. Ireneaus, one of the earliest Fathers of the Church, in the preface to his "Against Heresies," began with the following description of heresies and heretics:

"Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies, which, as the apostle says, “minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith,” and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive, [I have felt constrained, my dear friend, to compose the following treatise in order to expose and counteract their machinations.] These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretense of [superior] knowledge, from Him who founded and adorned the universe; as if, forsooth, they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than that God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things that are therein. By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions.... Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself" (A Cleveland Coxe, trans., Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. i, The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p 315).

The problem with heresy is not simply that someone comes to an erroneous conclusion about the Faith. The problem is that they refuse the correction of the Church, which results in those who refuse the correction of the Church ultimately being separated from the Church, along with those that they may have deluded into sharing their opinions -- a result they accept, because they choose to follow the vanity of their own minds, in their pride, rather than humbly accept the teachings of the Church.

Christ Himself laid out how disputes in the Church were to be handled:

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:15-19).

One might object at this point that Christ is simply speaking of personal sins, and not of doctrinal matters. However, St. Paul numbers heresies among the most serious works of the flesh:

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).

And aside from that, if a mere interpersonal dispute originating from some personal sin could lead to the severe remedy of someone being cut off from the Church, obviously such a remedy would apply to those who, by the error that they stubbornly spread, harm countless souls by leading them astray.

Of course those who were once in the Church, and originate a heresy bear a tremendous guilt for allowing their stubborn pride to separate themselves and others from the Church, but what about those who grow up in a heretical group, having never known the Orthodox Faith? Clearly, that is a very different matter. Such a person would only be responsible to the extent that they had opportunity to be corrected, and we as Orthodox Christians do not judge those outside the Church, because St. Paul tells us that God will judge such people (1 Corinthians 5:11-13), and so we leave that in God's hands, knowing that God will judge each man according to the light that he has been given, and that He is merciful.

So is someone who has grown up a Roman Catholic or a Protestant a heretic? Yes, and no. A person who has been raised in a heretical group is a heretic in the sense that they hold views which are manifestly heretical; however, such a person does not bear any sin for holding such views until and unless they resist being corrected with better information. A heretic in the fullest sense of the term is one who obstinately refuses to be corrected by the Church. And so when speaking of the average Roman Catholic or Protestant, while it is is true that in one sense they are heretics, it is also true that the term is taken by many to be an accusation that the person is a heretic in the fullest sense of the term, and that they are thus going to hell... and so it is usually not helpful to call people who are not Orthodox "heretics." We should generally consider them as people who simply have not had the opportunity to come to know the Orthodox Faith, and assume that they are sincere seekers of the truth.

See Also:

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

Revelation Through the Eyes of the Early Church

On Saturday, May 17th, 2014, we had Presbytera Eugenia Constantinou conduct a Seminar on the book of Revelation, entitled "Revelation Through the Eyes of the Early Church." You can read a brief biography, and which includes her impressive and extensive academic credentials by clicking here.

She gave three lectures on the topic, which you can listen to by clicking on these links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

She also joined us for the Liturgy on the following day.

And after the liturgy and lunch, she was kind enough to field questions on a variety of topics from some of our parishioners, which you can listen to here:

Questions and Answers

She also has a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, entitled Search the Scriptures, and I would encourage you to go to the oldest podcast, and listen to them all from beginning to end. These podcasts are a tremendous gift to the English speaking Church, and a labor of love on her part. She is an engaging speaker, and she knows what she is talking about. It was a blessing to have he come and visit.

You can order her translation of the Commentary of St. Andrew of Caesarea, (which includes an extensive introduction, and copious footnotes) by clicking here.

You can also order her other book Guiding to a Blessed End, by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stump the Priest: The Churching of Boys vs. the Churching of Girls

Question: What is the reason for the difference in practice of churching boys, who are taken behind the altar, and the churching of girls, who are not?

In Baptism, a person is united with Christ and His Church, and becomes a full member of the Church. The Rite of the Churching of an infant who has been baptized is the solemn act of bringing the child into the Church, and offering them to God. Baptisms are now often done inside the Nave of the Church, but historically, baptisms were either done outside (in a flowing river or lake), or in a baptistery that might be separate from the Church altogether, or which is located in the Narthex of the Church. And so, historically, after the Baptism concluded, the newly baptized was brought into the Nave for the first time.

Why is it that boys are brought into the Altar, but girls are only brought in front of the Royal Doors? Both are being offered to God, but their service to the Church in this life will be different. Fr. Victor Potapov says that boys are brought into the Altar, because this is "a sign that he may become a minister of the altar" (On the Significance of the Rite of Churching).

The fact that this has been the universal practice of the Church should be sufficient to convince us that we should accept it, and pass it on without change. However, in our times, when many seek to erase all gender distinctions, many now object to this practice as being "unfair.' And this, of course, also raises the question of having altar girls, as well as the ordination of women.

First off, it should be pointed out that there is not an absolute prohibition against women entering the altar. No one should go into the altar who does not have a blessing to do so. Normally, the altar servers are in fact all male, but in convents, nuns often serve as altar servers, as can been seen in this video which shows Greek nuns censing the Kursk Icon:

(If you click here, it will take you to the point of the video in which the censing begins -- which is done very impressively)

It is also true that there were deaconesses in the early church, who did not serve in a way identical to male deacons, but who did enter the altar.

As for the question of the ordination of women as priests, it is often argued that the long standing practice of the Church to the contrary was simply based on cultural prejudices of the day, and that perhaps it never occurred to the Apostles that women might be ordained. The problem with this line of argument is that while Israel had a male only priesthood, the Canaanites had priestesses, and so did the Greeks and Romans during the time in which the Early Church took shape. So clearly Christ and the Apostles made a conscious decision that Presbyters and Bishops would be males only. Not because women are not smart, or capable -- because obviously they are -- but because they have other roles to fill.

I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, which allowed for the ordination of women from its founding (1908). And early on, about 20% of their ministers were women, but by the time I was growing up in that denomination, I never saw a local Church that had a woman functioning as a pastor. When I was studying to be a minister, there were some women that were also preparing for ordination, but when you asked them what they wanted to do as ministers, the ones I went to school with all wanted to do things that they could have done in the Orthodox Church without having been ordained: children's ministry, music ministry, etc. So why is it that in a denomination that allowed women to be ordained as elders, that almost none of the women wanted to serve as pastors? Because being the pastor of a Church is a fatherly role. Like it or not, men and women are different, and they each have unique attributes that they bring to a parish that are necessary for a healthy and balanced community. Priests in the context of the Church play a fatherly role, and usually their wives, along with other strong women in the parish play a motherly role. Both roles are needed.

When I think of the best examples of Orthodox womanhood, I think of the Most Holy Theotokos, for one, who was never in the limelight during her life, but who is more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim. Aside from the God-man Himself, there is no other human that has ever lived that even comes close to her -- man or woman.

I also think of the Holy New-martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who was a strong woman who did great things for the Church, was loved by the people, and died a Martyr's death. She lived a life of humility and service, and was fearless in her intention to remain faithful to Christ. And while in this life she may never have entered the altar of a Church, in my parish's altar, on the Holy Table itself, there is a relic of hers that is in our Antimins, upon which we celebrate every liturgy, and without which we could not celebrate the Liturgy at all. Whether we are able to enter the Altar in this life is not nearly as important as the space we will occupy for all eternity.

One of the most important Christian virtues is humility, and one of the most important arenas to exercise that humility is when it comes to receiving the Tradition of the Church, and passing it on without change to the next generation. It is not for us to judge the Tradition of the Church -- it is for us to be judged by that Tradition. It is not for us to conform the Tradition to the fads of our time, but rather for us to conform ourselves to that Tradition, despite those fads.

Update: Fr. Andrew Damick makes a somewhat contrary case in his article: "The Churching of Infants: Reflections on Liturgics in a Pan-Orthodox World." In the comment section, he commented on this post:
"...Fr. John’s piece is basically explaining his understanding of why his church does things the way they do. But it is only one practice among several and a relatively later one and not historically normative. He does say of his church’s practice “this has been the universal practice of the Church,” but offers no evidence that that is so. The notes from Fountoules demonstrate that this is not so."
I would note however, that the notes from Fountoules, which he references, specifically state: "Today, only males are taken into the altar, baptized or not." Which shows that this has been the universal practice. Whether it has always been is another question.  And in fact, the Book of Needs, published by St. Tikhon Seminary Press states in a note:
"The pattern for entering the Altar with the infant is not stated in the Book of Needs [i.e., it is not spelled out], but it is taken from St. Simeon of Thessalonica: The Priest carried the infant (if a male) into the Altar through the south door, and, circling the Holy Table (when he reaches the east side) he inclines the infant to the Holy Table, as a sign of veneration to the Holy Table, and then, having placed the infant by one of  the icons in the Altar, near the place where is the Table of Oblation (if it be in a separate room), he takes him up from the Altar and sets him on the Ambon. But, if the infant is female, then the Priest does not bring her into the Altar, but sets his face towards one of the Icons near the Royal Gates, and then places her on the Ambon" (The Great Book of Needs," Volume I, St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1998, p. 15).
In any case, there may well have been different practices over the centuries, but the practice which we have received is in fact the practice that the entire Church had adopted, at least at some point.

See also: Stump  the Priest: The Priesthood

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Stump the Priest: The Filioque

Question: "I do not think the filioque is necessary to express orthodox theology about the Holy Spirit, nor do I think it must be said in the Creed. However, I find it difficult to believe the phrase heretical when the same or, at least, similar phrases are used by many of the fathers. How does what I've articulated about the filioque sit with Orthodoxy?"

There is much that has been written on the deeper theological problems with the filioque, but let's examine it on a more basic level. In the service for the reception of a convert from a heterodox Christian confession by Chrismation, there is the following renunciation that anyone from a Protestant or Roman Catholic background is expected to make:

The priest or bishop asks: "Dost thou renounce the false doctrine that, for the expression of the dogma touching the Procession of the Holy Spirit the declaration of our Savior Christ himself: 'who proceedeth from the Father': doth not suffice; and that the addition, of man's invention: 'and from the Son': is required?" And the answer is "I do."

The point made here is very significant. If Christ had intended to teach that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, He could easily have said so. The Fathers who wrote the Creed opted to stick with the words of Christ, but then added that the Holy Spirit is, "with the Father and the Son together," "worshipped and glorified". Had the Fathers that composed the Creed wished to teach the double procession of the Holy Spirit, they could easily have done so as well. And yet Christ taught no such thing, and neither did the Fathers who composed the Creed.

The addition of the phrase "and from the Son" (which in Latin is "filioque" appeared first in Spain, without any Ecumenical authority. The Popes of Rome resisted this addition for many centuries. Pope Leo III, went so far as to have the Creed engraved in Latin and Greek on two silver plates on the wall of St. Peter's in Rome, without the filioque..

The filioque increasing became a divisive question between the eastern and western Church, was especially a point of debate during the Photian controversy. However, in the council held at Constantinople in 879-880, which settled that dispute, and was endorsed by Rome, the Nicene Creed was affirmed without the filioque, and any changes to the Creed were anathematized:

"If anyone, however, dares to rewrite and call Rule of Faith some other exposition besides that of the sacred Symbol which has been spread abroad from above by our blessed and holy Fathers even as far as ourselves, and to snatch the authority of the confession of those divine men and impose on it his own invented phrases and put this forth as a common lesson to the faithful or to those who return from some kind of heresy, and display the audacity to falsify completely the antiquity of this sacred and venerable Horos (Rule) with illegitimate words, or additions, or subtractions, such a person should, according to the vote of the holy and Ecumenical Synods, which has been already acclaimed before us, be subjected to complete defrocking if he happens to be one of the clergymen, or be sent away with an anathema if he happens to be one of the lay people."

The Orthodox Church has always been reluctant to speak beyond what has been clearly revealed when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity. God is unknowable in His essence. We can only know God as He has revealed Himself. We know that there is only one God, but that the God exists in a Trinity of Persons. We know that the Father is the source of the Godhead, and that the Son is eternally begotten by the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. Christ Himself speaks of sending the Holy Spirit in the same verse in which he speaks of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father:

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (John 15:26).

However, the procession of the Holy Spirit refers to His eternal existence. The sending of the Holy Spirit refers to God's activity in history, for our salvation. As Blessed Theophylact says "the procession of the Holy Spirit is intrinsic to His very nature and existence, and we must interpret proceedeth to mean that the divine nature and existence of the Holy Spirit is from the Father" (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to John.  Fr. Christopher Stade, Trans. (House Springs, MO: Chrysostom  Press, 2007), p. 247).

"Filioquism confuses the persons, and destroys the proper balance between unity and diversity in the Godhead. The oneness of the deity is emphasized at the expense of His threeness; God is regarded too much in terms of abstract essence and too little in terms of concrete personality.

But this is not all. Many Orthodox feel that, as a result of the filioque, the Holy Spirit in western thought has become subordinated to the Son — if not in theory, then at any rate in practice. The west pays insufficient attention to the work of the Spirit in the world, in the Church, in the daily life of each man.

Orthodox writers also argue that these two consequences of the filioque — subordination of the Holy Spirit, over-emphasis on the unity of God — have helped to bring about a distortion in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church. Because the role of the Spirit has been neglected in the west, the Church has come to be regarded too much as an institution of this world, governed in terms of earthly power and jurisdiction. And just as in the western doctrine of God unity was stressed at the expense of diversity, so in the western conception of the Church unity has triumphed over diversity, and the result has been too great a centralization and too great an emphasis on Papal authority"  

This is why in the aforementioned service for the reception of converts, in a series of affirmations, the convert is asked:

"Dost thou believe and confess the Foundation, Head, and Great High Priest and Chief Shepherd of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Church is our Lord Jesus Christ; and that Bishops, Pastors, and Teachers are appointed by him to rule the Church; and that the Guide and Pilot of this Church is the Holy Spirit?"

If you hold a high view of the Holy Spirit, an earthly vicar is not needed. 

And so in short, the filioque may seem like an abstract question, but it is not a small matter, but rather is an extremely significant departure from the Apostolic Tradition of the Church. And it is not a matter about which Orthodox Christians are at liberty to disagree. 

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Stump the Priest: When is an Icon an Icon?

Question: "When is an icon an icon? Do all depictions of Christ, even heterodox ones, deserve respect by not throwing them in the trash? Do Church bulletins that have crosses or even icons on them need to be put in the parish burn barrel? What about the Holy Scriptures? I would never throw away a Holy Bible, but what about announcements or periodicals that quote the Divine Scriptures?"

Fr. Steven Bigham recently posted an extensive article which argues that the practice of blessing Icons is not ancient, and presents a great deal of evidence that an icon was historically considered to be worthy of veneration simply by virtue of the holy image that is depicted on that icon. However, this same article suggests that the practice of blessing icons is something that is today only questioned by a "very few".

I would say that there is certainly truth to the statement that an icon is an icon by virtue of the image that is depicted. No pious Orthodox Christian would treat an unblessed icon of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or of the Saints with disrespect. And so, I think it is a good and pious practice to burn icons that would otherwise be thrown into the trash. Personally, I also burn non-Orthodox images of Christ or the saints, rather than throw them away, because even though the image is not Orthodox, it still depicts those whom I honor. So in my home, I keep a coffee can that is for holy things that need to be burned, and when the can is full, I burn its contents. You can also bury such things. I would treat a Bible that is no longer usable the same way. However, I think texts that simply have quotes from Scripture are not quite the same thing.

We should also be careful about who we give icons to, even if not blessed. Icon greeting cards have become very popular, but if you send one to someone who is not Orthodox, and not likely to show such images proper respect, and it ends up in the trash, this is disrespectful to persons depicted by these icons.

I don't share Fr. Steven Bigham's objection to blessing icons, however. For one thing, towards the end of his article, he recognizes the utility of doing a service that would put the Church's stamp of approval on an icon, and thus make clear that the image was a proper icon, and he also recognizes the utility of recognizing the beginning of its use and veneration in the Church. Fr. Steven even provides his own rendition of the kind of services he thinks should be used.

First off, in the Russian practice (which I believe is also followed by the OCA), there is an oath of ordination that a priest takes before he is ordained, and in this oath, the candidate promises " perform all liturgical services or prayers according to the rules of the Church...." and to perform the services as "prescribed by the rubrics," and he acknowledges to never "forget that a clergyman may do nothing without the sanction of his bishop." Therefore, a priest is obligated to serve in accordance with the services sanctioned by the bishops of his local Church. And so making up services on our own, or doing or neglecting to do services based on personal opinion is forbidden.

Secondly, there is a need we feel to bless and set apart those things that will be used for our services which we see as far back as the time of the Prophet Moses, who blessed and sanctified all the elements of the Tabernacle, most of which had icons of cherubim on them (Numbers 7:1). Fr. Steven himself acknowledges this to some extent when he proposes having services that recognize the beginning of the use of an icon by the Church.

Thirdly, we bless our churches and homes every year, liberally sprinkling Holy Water on everything, especially the icons. So I don't see any reason why we would not want to sprinkle Holy Water on icons when we first begin to put them into use.

The services for the blessing of icons are beautiful, and lay out why we venerate them, and how we understand them. They are a means of receiving these icons with thanksgiving, and setting them apart for their intended use. The fact that only a few would today object to them is also a good indication that there is nothing wrong with the practice.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Kursk Icon Visit 2014

The Kursk Icon came to our Parish on the 4th Sunday of Lent

The Vigil

The Liturgy

2014 Pascha Photos

The Midnight Office

The Procession

Paschal Matins

A Video of the Censing at the First Ode

The Blessing of the Artos

The blessing of the Baskets

The Paschal Trapeza

The Agape Vespers

The Reading of the Gospel
In English



Greek and German

Mandarin Chinese




It was also read in Spanish

The Picnic

The Pinata

The End of the day