Monday, June 30, 2014

When to Spank

The key to success for any approach to discipline is that there be consistency, and that punishment should be certain and predictable. There is not a simple answer to the question of when a parent should spank their child, but here are a few things that should be kept in mind:

1. Except in the case of the most egregious acts of defiance, a child should be warned in advance that if they cross a particular line, specific consequences will follow.

2. Where ever you draw that line, you should follow through with the threatened punishment without fail when it has been crossed.

3. You should not spank a child in the heat of anger, but should take a moment, and say the Jesus prayer before you spank them.

4. When you spank a child, it should inflict enough pain that the child will not want to cross that line a second time.

5. The older the child becomes, the less effective spanking will become, and the more you should use other forms of discipline.

One of the problems many parents have is that they threaten punishments, but too often do not follow through. Consequently, the threat is not taken seriously. Then when the parent get's really angry and frustrated, they finally spank the child... but little is gained by such an approach, because there is no way that the child could have predicted what would finally trigger a spanking.

Children will test boundaries to see if they are real boundaries or not. If you mean what you say, and are consistent, you will save yourself a lot of frustration, and you will also avoid confusing your child by your inconsistency.

A good author to read on this subject is Dr. James Dobson, and the best book to start with would be the classic "Dare to Discipline."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Spanking: What Saith the Scripture?

In a recent post on the Orthodox Christian Network, Christina Pessemier makes the case that Orthodox Christians should not spank their children. She does not address any of the Scriptures that actually talk about disciplining a child. She only cites Matthew 7:12, which says: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Here are some passages of Scripture that actually do speak directly to the question:

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24).

"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15).

"Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:13-14).

"The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame" (Proverbs 29:15).

When I cited these passages in the comments as being what the Word of the Lord had to say on the question, I ran into a sad phenomenon that I have encountered with some regularity: the scoffing of an Orthodox Christian at the idea that the words of Scripture might be of significance... particularly when they come from the Old Testament. This is not how Orthodox Christians approach Scripture, if the Fathers of the Church are any guide.

In the New Testament, St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:15-17:

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

Here he was clearly referring specifically to the Old Testament, because the New Testament was not written when St. Timothy was a child. And it says that all Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for every need a Christian might have in living a Godly life.

Let's consider what some of the great fathers of the Church have to say on these passages:

"Spare the rod and spoil the child (Proverbs 13:24). Here there is reference to the people who appear to love their children, but in fact do not; so spoiling is the result of sparing -- not of not sparing. Having children is a matter of no little import: we are responsible even for their salvation. On that reasoning Eli would not have paid a severe penalty. Whereas those who love them correct them diligently -- not casually, but diligently: since nature bids us be sparing, he makes no mention of excess. Hence he says, I instilled affection in you, not for you to harm your loved ones, but for you to care for them; so refrain from inappropriate affection" (St. John Chrysostom, Robert Charles Hill, Trans., Commentary on the Sages, Volume 2, Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 2006,  p. 133f).

"The corrections of the father who does not spare the rod is useful, that he may render his son's soul obedient to the precepts of salvation. He punishes with a rod, as we read, "I shall punish their offenses with a rod" (St. Ambrose, Letter 45, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. IX, J. Robert Wright, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2005) p. 96).

"For in another place he says that not only the servant, but also the undisdained son, must be corrected with stripes, and that with great fruits as the result; for he says, "Thou shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell;" and elsewhere he says, "He that spareth the rod hateth his son." For, give us a man who with right faith and true understanding can say with all the energy of his heart, "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God:  when shall I come and appear before God?" and for such an one there is no need of the terror of hell, to say nothing of temporal punishments or imperial laws, seeing that with him it is so indispensable a blessing to cleave unto the Lord, that he not only dreads being parted from that happiness as a heavy punishment, but can scarcely even bear delay in its attainment.  But yet, before the good sons can say they have "a desire to depart, and to be with Christ," many must first be recalled to their Lord by the stripes of temporal scourging, like evil slaves, and in some degree like good-for-nothing fugitives" (St. Augustine, Correction of the Donatists, 6:21).

"As small children who are negligent in learning become more attentive and obedient after being punished by their teacher or tutor, and as they do not listen before the lash, but, after feeling the pain of a beating, hear and respond as though their ears were just recently opened, improving also in memory, so likewise with those who neglect divine doctrine and spurn the commandments. For, after they experience God's correction and discipline, then the commandments of God which had always been known to them and always neglected are more readily received as though by ears freshly cleansed" (St. Basil the Great, Homily on the Beginning of Proverbs 5, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. IX, J. Robert Wright, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2005) p. 147).

And in the New Testament, St. Paul alludes Proverbs 3:11-12, and says:

"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Hebrews 12:6-8).

If God, who is love, deals with us this way, it obviously is not unloving for us to emulate him in how we deal with our children.

So there is really no scriptural or patristic basis for rejecting corporal punishment for children. St. Benedict, in his rule, actually called for it as a means of disciplining monks, under some circumstances.

It is only in our times, when parents often have only one or two children, and a lot more leisure time on their hands than past generations, that not spanking children could even be possible. My mother raised 5 boys... mostly, by herself (my parents divorced when I was about 6), and she did not have the time to sit and have 30 minute conversations with us every time we acted up. When you have lots of kids, you have to have swift and sure punishments when they do not behave. But even when parents have only one or two children, not spanking often results in children (particularly boys) who are out of control, and who terrorize their parents... because they were never taught to respect their parents.

I remember when I was 13, my mother gave me a whipping with a belt, and was hitting me on the legs, which I didn't think was quite fair... and by this time I was a lot bigger and stronger than she was. I took the belt away from her. However, because she had instilled a healthy fear and respect for her, she talked me into giving her that belt back, and finishing the whipping. On the other hand, I once had a woman in my office (in my secular job) who had a toddler who was the most defiant child I had ever seen. He kept acting up, and finally, she lightly tapped him on the hand to express her disapproval. He pointed back at her with anger, and shouted "That bad!" Then she asked me what she should do about her 17 year old son, who she said often beat her up. That was one problem my mother never had... not one out of five boys ever dared raise a hand against her, because she used the rod of correction with liberality, as Scripture suggests we should.

While one is free to think that they might know better than the Scriptures, and are wiser than all the generations that preceded them on how children should be raised, the decline in our culture since these modern approaches came into vogue do not indicate that these approaches have thus far been very successful. And in the schools today, when children misbehave, they are now often taken to juvenile court for matters that were once handled by a few swats on the behind. I fail to see how it more loving to put children into the criminal justice system for behaving like children always have, than it is to spank them, as saith the Scripture.

The Wisdom of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) has this to say on the matter:

"He that loveth his son causeth him oft to feel the rod, that he may have joy of him in the end. He that chastiseth his son shall profit by him, and shall boast of him among his acquaintance. He that teacheth his son will make his enemy jealous: and before his friends he shall rejoice of him. When his father dieth, yet he is as though he were not dead: for he hath left one behind him that is like himself. While he lived, he saw and rejoiced in him: and when he died, he was not grieved. He left behind him an avenger against his enemies, and one that shall requite kindness to his friends. He that maketh much of [i.e., spoils] his son shall bind up his wounds; and his bowels will be troubled at every cry. An horse not broken becometh headstrong: and a child left to himself will be wilful. Cocker [i.e. pamper] thy child, and he shall make thee afraid: play with him, and he will bring thee to heaviness. Laugh not with him, lest thou suffer with him, and lest thou gnash thy teeth in the end. Give him not liberty in youth: beat his sides while he is still young, lest becoming stubborn, he disobey thee. (And overlook not his ignorance. Bow down his neck in his youth.) Train up thy son, and work with him, lest by his looseness thou be offended" (Sirach 30:1-13).

Update: As for the often repeated claim that spanking is harmful to children, I would recommend the following article: Spare the Rod? New Research Challenges Spanking Critics.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stump the Priest: Confession

Question: "In 1 John 1:9, the apostle teaches us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. But Orthodoxy teaches us that we must confess our sins to a priest in order to be saved and forgiven. If God forgives our sins when we ask him to, pursuant to 1 John 1:9, why then the need to go to a priest? And if we are forgiven when we go to a priest, and a priest is necessary, why the need to personally ask God to forgive us?"

This question assumes that when this passage speaks of confessing our sins, that it is referring only to our confession of sins directly to God, but there is nothing in the passage that suggests that this is the case. Here is that verse in its immediate context:

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8=10).

In that context it seems more likely that it is referring to what we confess or deny to other people than that this is referring exclusively to what we confess or deny directly to God. And if we look at the other instances in the New Testament which speak of confessing sins, they all refer to confessing sins before other people. The first two instances both refer to those who were baptized by St. John the Baptist:

"Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6).

"And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mark 1:5).

In Acts, there is a similar reference to public confession, though in this case with reference to gentile converts:

"...and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver" (Acts 19:17-19).

And the fourth explicitly speaks of confessing sins "one to another" in the context of the Church:

"Confess your trespasses one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).

Furthermore, Christ in the Gospel's gave the Apostles the power to forgive, or to refrain from forgiving sins:

"And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).

This passage presupposes some manner in which the Apostles would be made aware of the sins in question. And so from Scripture, it is clear that confession of sin was made before other people, as well as to God, and that the power to forgive sins or to retain them was given to the Apostles. The Church has always taught that this power to forgive or to retain sins was passed on by the Apostles to the bishops and priests of the Church. And in the early Church, public confession of sin was in fact the norm. This is seen, for example, in St. Cyprian of Carthage's epistles. For example, in a letter to his clergy, in 250 a.d., he complained that many who had lapsed during the persecution were wrongly being admitted back into communion without confession, penance, and the absolution of the clergy:

"For although in smaller sins sinners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of communion: now with their time still unfulfilled, while persecution is still raging, while the peace of the Church itself is not yet restored, they are admitted to communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the eucharist is given to them; although it is written, “Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (St. Cyprian, Epistle IX. To the Clergy, Concerning Certain Presbyters Who Had Rashly Granted Peace to the Lapsed Before the Persecution Had Been Appeased, and Without the Privity of the Bishops, 9:2).

The practice of public confession of sin changed over time, because, due to the decline in general piety, it was recognized that mandatory public confession could be harmful. For example, if a woman confessed to committing adultery, her husband might kill her in his anger. However, nothing prevents anyone from confessing their sins in public today, it is just not a requirement of the discipline of the Church.

It should also be understood that when we confess to a priest, we are confessing to God, with the priest as a witness, as is clear from the admonition the priest gives immediately prior to the penitent making their confession:

"Behold, my child, Christ standeth here invisibly and receiveth thy confession: wherefore, be not ashamed, neither be afraid, and conceal thou nothing from me: but tell me, doubting not, all things which thou hast done: and so shalt thou have pardon from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Lo, His holy image is before us: and I am but a witness, bearing testimony before him of all things which thou dost say to me.  But if thou shalt conceal anything from me, thou shalt have the greater sin.  Take heed, therefore, lest, having come to the physician, thou depart unhealed."

We should of course confess our sins to God as soon as we become aware of them, but when we are able to do so, we should confess before a priest or bishop, and receive the forgiveness that Christ granted His Church the authority to bestow -- especially when we are aware of a serious sin that weighs heavily on our conscience.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Further Thoughts on the Ancient Faith Today Discussion: The Pope and the Patriarch

Pope Francis, preparing to execute a Judo throw on Patriarch Bartholomew

On Pentecost, I was on Ancient Faith Today, which is hosted by Kevin Allen, and was on the show along with Fr. Matthew Baker, to discuss the recent meetings of the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew. You can listen to that show by clicking here. I would have posted on this sooner, but the following day my wife and I headed to the Holy Land ourselves, for a year late 25th anniversary vacation, and we just got back early Tuesday.

Was it Fair?

I have heard some people who thought that Keven Allen was unfair, and that he gave more time to Fr. Matthew than he did to me. This is the fourth time I have been on Kevin Allen's show, and I have gotten to know him a bit by e-mail and phone conversations, and I have no doubt that Kevin was trying to be fair -- in fact he wouldn't have had me on the show at all, if he was not trying to present a balanced perspective on the question. I think Fr. Matthew did more talking than I did because this is an area of his expertise, he is a sharp and well educated man, and he had a lot of information that he was trying to convey to make his nuanced case for a balanced approach to ecumenical activities. I was more focused on bottom line practical reasons why we should be concerned about Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, and so my points were generally made in less time. Three out of four of the times Kevin has had me on his show, I have been on with another guest, and it is, I am sure, a tough job to balance two guests, phone calls, and to also keep the discussion moving. We could have spent the entire two hours going back and forth on just one issue, but Kevin kept the discussion moving, we covered a lot of ground, and I think it was a good show.

Is Fr. Matthew a Modernist or a Heretic?

I would also say that Fr. Matthew did not at all strike me as a modernist. And I only wish Patriarch Batholomew was as clear on his ecclesiology as Fr. Matthew was in this discussion. We did have a number of points of disagreement, but I think we agreed a lot more than we disagreed.

Nevertheless, there were certainly some points I would have liked to have made, some expansions on some points, and then of course there are always things that you think of after the fact that you wish you had said, and so here are some additional comments on that discussion.

Is Patriarch Bartholomew Responsible for False Impressions His Words and Actions May Leave?

Early in the show, Fr. Matthew suggested that the Ecumenical Patriarch should not be held responsible for the false impressions his actions and statements have left with both non-Orthodox and Orthodox alike. I think he is responsible... particularly when the current Ecumenical Patriarch continues to add to those false impressions, and does very little to dispel them. In fact, he seems to engage in studied ambiguity on a somewhat regular basis. Christ said in the Gospels, "light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:19-21). If the agenda that the Patriarch is pushing is good and Orthodox, I think it is reasonable to ask why he is hiding that agenda in the shadows of ambiguity. For example, what is he trying to accomplish by saying that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are the two lungs of the Body of Christ? Clearly, such statements are confusing at best.

The Prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

On the question of the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch, you can read some more detail here:

You can also read St. John (Maximovitch)'s report to the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR in 1938, "The Decline of the Ecumenical Patriarch," in which he says among other things of note:

"In sum, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in theory embracing almost the whole universe and in fact extending its authority only over several dioceses, and in other places having only a higher superficial supervision and receiving certain revenues for this, persecuted by the government at home and not supported by any governmental authority abroad: having lost its significance as a pillar of truth and having itself become a source of division, and at the same time being possessed by an exorbitant love of power -- represents a pitiful spectacle which recalls the worst periods in the history of the See of Constantinople."

Unfortunately, St. John's assessment of the decline of the EP has become all the more accurate as time has gone on. This is a real shame, because the EP could be a real source of unity, if he would simply stand clearly for the Faith, and unite the Orthodox world behind a clear and unambiguous expression of our Tradition.

Joint Prayer

On the question of joint prayer with the non-Orthodox, I wrote about this in an article entitled "What should Orthodox Christians do, when there is no parish nearby?" I mentioned on the show that when I picketed abortion clinics, I have often found myself praying next to Roman Catholics who were also praying, but that we were not joining in prayer, and then Fr. Matthew interjected that I was doing the same thing as the Ecumenical Patriarch. That interjection threw me off a bit, and when I said, "Yes, in this case..." I was referring specifically to the prayers for peace that took place in the Vatican earlier that same day. When I said that, what I had in mind was that so far as I had noticed during the service, the Patriarch did not get up to pray in that particular gathering. He only read from the prophecy of Isaiah. What I would say is that this was actually not at all like what I was referring to, because this was a scheduled prayer meeting, the Patriarch was invited to it, attended it, and participated in it. He did not get up and vocally pray, which would have made it worse, but he should not have lent his authority to an event that involved Muslim Imams, Jewish Rabbis, and Catholic clergy, joining in a prayer service together. Also, when the Patriarch met the Pope in Jerusalem, they did pray together. On other occasions, the Patriarch has prayed at pan-religious services, that involved every stripe of paganism. He has had the Pope commemorated as if he were an Orthodox bishop when the Pope has visited the Phanar. He has often blessed the faithful side by side with Roman Catholic bishops who joined him in blessing the people. There is no precedence in the history of the Orthodox Church for behavior of this sort, it raises serious questions about what the Patriarch believes about the nature of the Church, and there is really no defense for it.

Fr. Matthew mentioned St. John (Maximovitch) being present at the consecration of an Anglican bishop in Shanghai. He also alluded to St. Tikhon of Moscow who attended the consecration of an Anglican bishop in the 1920's wearing a Mantia. Wearing a Mantia is not what I would call being vested, because in a hierarchical liturgy, this is simply what a Bishop wears on his way into the Church, and on his way out. All of us who live in societies in which we are surrounded by non-Orthodox people have to deal with situations where you are invited to non-Orthodox services on special occasions. For example, I attended the funerals of both of my parents, and two of my brothers, and in each case, I declined the opportunity to participate in the actual service, but helped carry the coffin, and was present as a matter of respect. The same goes for weddings of family members. And if you had a good relationship with the local Anglicans in Shanghai, and one of them was being consecrated a bishop, you would probably feel the need to attend to show respect too. I think it was a mistake for St. Tikhon to wear his Mantia at the consecration of an Anglican bishop, but I think this came from a naivete about what Anglicanism was among many Orthodox, at that time (see for example, this article about St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn). He was not glorified as a saint because he once wore a Mantia at an Anglican service. St. Mark of Ephesus, on the other hand, was glorified in large part for his refusal to compromise with the false union of Florence.

The reason why our canons forbid us to pray with heretics, schismatics, and non-Christians, is that praying together implies a unity of faith that does not actually exist. We do not pass judgment on them. We are not saying that we are better than they are. We are simply not giving a false impression that we are in agreement, when we are not. Now there are many sticky situations that arise at times. In the Bible, we have an example of this, in 2 Kings (or 4th Kings in the LXX) chapter 5, where the Syrian commander Naaman is healed by the Prophet Elisha, and comes to believe in the God of Israel, but he presents Elisha with a pastoral problem: "In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing." Naaman was not going to the temple of Rimmon to pray for peace with his master -- he had an obligation to be there, because he was the commander of the Syrian army. And Elisha simply said "Go in peace." There are other examples that could be discussed where one might wonder what is the best way to handle it, and reasonable Orthodox Christians might reach different conclusions on how best to deal with it -- that is another question. Those situations are quite different, however, then when you intentionally put yourself into a joint prayer service, and participate fully with the non-Orthodox in a service you helped make up, such as for example occurred at the Holy Seplechre in Jerusalem, on May 25th, 2014 with the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew:

I watched this video for the first time yesterday, just a week after I was at the Holy Sepulchre myself, for the first time. Being able to venerate the place where Christ died for us, and the place where He rose from the dead was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Watching this holy place used as a backdrop for this Ecumenical theater turns my stomach.

It should also be noted that prior to the 1960's the Roman Catholics also observed this tradition, and according to their interpretation, they would allow for private joint prayer with the heterodox, so long as the prayers were Catholic, but they would not allow public joint prayer because of the confusion such things create.

In this video you can hear Pope Benedict being commemorated as if he were an Orthodox bishop at the Phanar in Constantinople, ahead of the Patriarch of Constantinople:

And unfortunately, these ecumenical dog and pony shows get much worse:

And then there's this:

And unfortunately, there is a lot more where that one came from.

Why have the Orthodox Not Established their own Pope of Rome?

I think there are two simple answers: 1) for most of the history that has elapsed since the Great Schism, this would not have been tolerated by the powers that be in Italy; and 2) if we established an Orthodox Pope of Rome, then we would presumably have to recognize him as first in the diptychs... and this would have created an unnecessary set of problems.

Intellectual Ascesis

Fr. Matthew made the point that there are certain things that one cannot learn simply by praying with their prayer rope, and spoke of an "intellectual ascesis". There are a couple of problems I have with this statement. For one, it suggests that people like St. John (Maximovitch) or the Elder Paisios were uneducated... which they were not. St. John was a seminary professor at Bitol, Serbia, before he became a bishop. The Elder Paisios did not have the same level of formal education, but the kind of education he did get as a monastic was not simply a matter of saying the Jesus Prayer. And while one would not likely learn Latin simply through the grace of the Holy Spirit, one of the Elder's level of spirituality does learn a level of spiritual discernment that is far beyond that of most of us, and so if he advises caution when it comes to "ecumenical dialogue" one would be foolish to ignore it.

This reminds me of something from the sayings of the desert fathers, regarding St. Arsenius the Great, who was one of the most educated men of his time:

"One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, "Abba Arsenius, how is that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?" He replied, "I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant" (Benedicta Ward, translator, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975, 1984 revised edition), p. 10.

Also, we should remember that on the feast of Pentecost we sing:

"Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of mankind, glory be to Thee."

If the grace of the Holy Spirit could make the fishermen supremely wise, even though they were unlearned men, then we have to believe that the Holy Spirit can still make unlearned men supremely wise. That of course does not mean that we do not value formal education. In fact, it is a blessing to the Church to have scholars of the caliber of Fr. Matthew in the Church, but having a Ph.D. does not make one a reliable guide on spiritual matters, but attaining theosis does.

Also, just as the Holy Spirit revealed to St. Peter that the time to receive the gentiles into the Church had come (Acts 10:1-48), if the "dialogue" with Rome was going in a God-pleasing direction, the Holy Spirit could and would reveal this to even "unlearned" saints.

Also, I don't think the phrase "intellectual ascesis" has any basis in the Tradition of the Church... though if I am wrong, I hope someone will show me where to find a precedence for it. I think it is generally advisable to not coin new theological phrases without very good reasons for doing so.

Liturgical Chaos in Rome

We also spoke about the liturgical decline of the Roman Catholic Church, post-Vatican II. For some of the videos I was referring to see Unfortunate Trends in the Roman Catholic Church. One further observation I would make is that the tendency to want to have rock and roll praise and worship in services that are oriented towards the youth is an example of the Roman Catholic Church emulating some of the most destructive novelties the Protestants have come up with in recent years. I remember growing up in an Evangelical Protestant Church around the time that the idea of "children's church" began to become popular. In the regular services, we sang the old hymns that Protestants had long sung... which at least have some substance to them, even if flawed. In children's church, we sang happy clappy songs that dumbed everything down (fortunately, my time spent in those kinds of services was only on rare occasion). The problem is, when children who grew up in children's church became adults, the adult services started becoming like children's church.... and that is what you now see in most protestant churches today. Give it another generation, and the kind of services you see at "World Youth Day" will become the norm in most Roman Catholic parishes.

"Ecumenist" Saints:

Fr. Matthew spoke of St. Mark of Ephesus as an "ecumenist." Now if you define being an ecumenist as anyone who is willing to sit down and talk with a heretic or a schismatic, in hopes of bringing them back into the Church, then that would be true, but that is not how most people use the term. St. Mark's words on his death bed about the Unionist Patriarch of Constantinople, with whom he broke communion because of his false union with Rome, clearly shows that he was not an ecumenist, in the more usual sense the term is used:

"Concerning the Patriarch I shall say this, lest it should perhaps occur to him to show me a certain respect at the burial of this my humble body, or to send to my grave any of his hierarchs or clergy or in general any of those in communion with him in order to take part in prayer or to join the priests invited to it from amongst us, thinking that at some time, or perhaps secretly, I had allowed communion with him. And lest my silence give occasion to those who do not know my views well and fully to suspect some kind of conciliation, I hereby state and testify before the many worthy men here present that I do not desire, in any manner and absolutely, and do not accept communion with him or with those who are with him, not in this life nor after my death, just as (I accept) neither the Union nor Latin dogmas, which he and his adherents have accepted, and for the enforcement of which he has occupied this presiding place, with the aim of overturning the true dogmas of the Church. I am absolutely convinced that the farther I stand from him and those like him, the nearer I am to God and all the saints, and to the degree that I separate myself from them am in union with the Truth and with the Holy Fathers, the Theologians of the Church; and I am likewise convinced that those who count themselves with them stand far away from the Truth and from the blessed Teachers of the Church. And for this reason I say: just as in the course of my whole life I was separated from them, so at the time of my departure, yea and after my death, I turn away from intercourse and communion with them and vow and command that none (of them) shall approach either my burial or my grave, and likewise anyone else from our side, with the aim of attempting to join and concelebrate in our Divine services; for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from us until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church" [as quoted in The Orthodox Word, June-July, 1967, pp. 103ff, emphasis added].

It is true that St. Mark went to the Council of Florence, and given that the Orthodox bishops had agreed to go, it makes sense that he would have as well, however, the results of the Council of Florence do not indicate that it was a good idea for the Orthodox generally to have agreed to go. It ended with a false union, and further division, which weakened the East Roman Empire at a crucial moment prior to its final destruction.

St. Philaret of Moscow and Grace in Other Churches

Fr. Matthew suggested that St. Philaret of Moscow "recognized grace" in other Churches. I think he had in mind his statements about valid sacraments, which we discussed on the show, and which I mention in an article on the question of "corrective" baptism. Again, if I am mistaken, I would like to see the quotes, but I don't believe he ever spoke of the grace of the Church being present in heterodox sacraments. This of course does not suggest that those who are innocently outside the Church have no relationship with God, and that all that they do for God is without meaning to Him... it just means that this is a matter we leave in God's hands, because it is outside of the Church.

The Pan-Heresy of Ecumenism

Fr. Matthew mentioned the question of the "Pan-Heresy of Ecumenism". The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has anathematized the heresy of Ecumenism as follows:

"Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!"

I suspect that Fr. Matthew would agree that anyone who would affirm what this anathema describes would be affirming a heresy. I think it is important that we speak clearly on this question, because there are, in fact, many in the ecumenical movement who do affirm precisely what is anathematized here.

See The ROCOR's Anathema Against Ecumenism, by Metropolitan Vitaly

See also The Word "Anthema" and Its Meaning," by St. John (Maximovitch)

Uniatism and the Soviets

One final point that I wanted to address was the reference made the the confiscation of Uniate churches in the Ukraine under the Soviets. No religious group in Russia suffered more under the Soviets than the Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Church was hardly calling the shots for the Soviet government. It certainly was regrettable, but hardly worthy of being compared the the official and long standing policy of forced unia on the part of the Catholic Church.


We always focus on what we disagree on, but we should remember what we agree on as well. I enjoyed the discussion, and was glad to hear Fr. Matthew Baker's clear affirmation that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I am also grateful that Ancient Faith Radio provided a platform for us to have this discussion.

For Further information, I would recommend the following pages:

Ecumenism Awareness

False Union with Rome

You can also listen to a sermon I gave on this same topic: True and False Unity.

And you can listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko's comments on this topic by clicking here.

Update: Here is a Roman Catholic assessment of the state of contemporary Roman Catholicism:

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Stump the Priest: What Does it Mean to Trust the Bishop?

Question: "What does it mean to “trust the bishop”? In Orthodoxy, the bishop is the central figure in the church. The priest is the bishop’s assistant, carrying out his will, and the people are told to follow and trust in the bishop. But we hardly know the bishop. He’ll never visit us often enough for us to develop any sense of trust based on personal interactions with him. And over the history of the church there have been some bishops who clearly were not trustworthy, in that they stole or mismanaged money, committed serious sins, or led their flocks into error. So when someone tells us to “trust our bishops”, what should we do? How can we trust them when we don’t have the first idea who they are?"

Obviously, a particular person's experience of their bishop will vary. If you were a member of a cathedral parish, you probably would get to know the bishop very well, even as a layman. But given the numbers of Orthodox Christians in the United States, there are going to be large areas of the country that are not close to such cathedrals. Fortunately, in the case of our parish, even though our bishop's cathedral is just a bit more than a thousand miles away from our parish, we have seen him visit our parish at least once each year, and he comes to our area a few more times a year on average... and so we do get a chance to hear him preach, and for him to visit with people after the services. There are dioceses in which parishes almost never see their bishops, unfortunately.

Our experience of a bishop will not only differ based on geography, but bishops have different personalities, different energy levels, and they also differ in terms of their levels of piety. If you had a bishop like St. John (Maximovitch), your experience of your bishop would be very different from those who have had some of the bishops that we have seen involved in personal scandals. But even among the twelve apostles, one of them was Judas. We should thus not be surprised to see that our bishops are human, and some of them fail in their ministry.

Regardless of how often we see our bishop, how pious he may be, or how much of a personal relationship we may or may not have with him, we owe our bishops our prayers and our obedience:

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conduct.... Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:7,17).

St. Paul also says of himself, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). We should imitate our leaders, as they follow Christ. If we see something in them that is not in accordance with Christ, we should not imitate them in that. But even if we find that they fall far short of being the kind of Christian that they should be, we still must pray for them, and obey them, unless they ask us to do something that is evil. If we have a good bishop, we should thank God. If we have a bishop who is not so good, we should pray that God would make him better.

The canons of the Church tell us that we cannot separate from our bishop simply because we see him sin, or violate the canons and traditions of the Church. We can and should make the synod that he answers to aware of his behavior, if his errors are serious enough to warrant it, but we have to allow the synod of bishops to deal with their brother bishop, in accordance with the canons. Only when a bishop preaches heresy, clearly, unambiguously, and publicly do we have grounds to separate from them. Thankfully, in most cases, our bishops are sincere and pious men, and while they are not perfect, they are not malicious. We may not always agree with their decisions, or understand the reasoning behind them, but we have to follow their instructions (except in those rare instances in which a bishop would require someone to do something that would be in clear violation of the teachings of the Church). We also have to keep in mind that bishops make decisions based on the information that they have, which we may not be privy to. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are acting in good faith, unless proven otherwise. We can also communicate to them our concerns, in a respectful manner, because we may have information that they are not privy to as well.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John wrote: “Flee from divisions, as the beginning of evils. You must all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and follow the presbyters as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no one do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop. Only that Eucharist which is under the authority of the bishop (or whomever he himself designates) is to be considered valid. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permissible either to baptize or to hold a love feast without the bishop. But whatever he approves is also pleasing to God, in order that everything you may do may be trustworthy and valid” (Smyrneans 8:1-2).

Because the Bishop cannot be in every parish in a given diocese, we have priests and deacons, who are the extension of the bishop's ministry. One of the biggest responsibilities of a bishop is to be a pastor to the pastors of his diocese. By guiding his priests and deacons, the bishop is able, through them, to guide the people in his diocese, when he is not there to do so directly, in person.

It should also be pointed out that the people also have a role in guiding the diocese, and assisting the bishop. They do this by their work in their local parish, by their attendance at general parish meetings; and they also do this through their representatives on the parish council, and through their delegates to diocesan assemblies, All-Diaspora Councils, and at All-Russian Councils. In this way, the people ensure that the finances, and organizations of their parish, and their diocese are managed in a transparent and appropriate manner. We tend to get the leadership we deserve, and so if things are not being run well, we probably need to roll up our own sleeves and get to work at helping to fix those problems -- and the more we do that, the better we will see things being run.