Friday, March 25, 2016

Stump the Priest: Communion Spoons

Question: "Doesn't the 101st canon of the Council of Trullo forbid the use of communion spoons? Why are the laity not allowed to receive communion in the hand and from the chalice, as they did at the time of the Ecumenical Councils?"

The canon in question has nothing to do with communion spoons. It addressed the practice of some people who rather than receive communion in the hand, as was the practice at that time, would make vessels of their own, and would receive communion in these vessels, thinking it was more pious than to receive it in the hand. Some may also have used these vessels to take some of the Eucharist to their homes. This practice was specifically prohibited by that canon:
"The divine Apostle loudly proclaims the man created in the image of God to be a body of Christ and a temple. Standing therefore, far above all sensible creation, and having attained to a heavenly dignity by virtue of the saving Passion, by eating and drinking Christ as a source of life, he perpetually readjusts both his eternal soul and his body and by partaking of the divine grace he is continually sanctified. So that if anyone should wish to partake of the immaculate body during the time of a Synaxis, and to become one therewith by virtue of transessence, let him form his hands into the shape of a cross, and, thus approaching, let him receive the communion of grace. For we nowise welcome those men who make certain receptacles out of gold, or any other material, to serve instead of their hand for the reception of the divine gift, demanding to take of the immaculate communion in such containers; because they prefer soulless (i.e., inanimate) matter and an inferior article to the image of God. In case, therefore, any person should be caught in the act of imparting of the immaculate communion to those offering such receptacles, let him be excommunicated, both he himself and the one offering them."
The practice of distributing the Eucharist to the laity with a spoon became the norm because of the practical issue of laity accidentally dropping particles of the Eucharist when communing. If you pay attention when people come up to kiss the Cross at the end of the liturgy, and receive the antidoron, you can't help but notice that there are almost always crumbs on the floor. We should of course make every effort to avoid this, even when it comes to antidoron, but when it comes to the Eucharist, this is an infinitely more serious problem.

The clergy still receive communion in the hand, and drink directly from the chalice -- and they have the benefit of having the Holy Table to do this over, so that if something falls, it falls on the Holy Table, and can easily be consumed. However, even in the Altar, and despite the usual care that is exercised, accidents sometimes still happen. Such things are far more likely to happen outside of the altar.

If we believe that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, we have to believe that when it makes a change, like the introduction of the use of communion spoons, there is a good reason for it. There are those who selectively advocate some ancient practice be revived because "this is how they did it in the early Church," but they usually do not advocate a return to the strict penitential system that they had in the early Church. Those who joined the early Church did so at a time when doing so could easily result in their martyrdom, and they were held to a very high standard, and so there are practices that made sense in that context that do not work so well in the context of a Church in which many people, unfortunately, grow up in the Church with a much lower level of piety.

We don't have to speculate about the results of returning to this practice in our time. We can look at what has happened in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II when they began to allow laity to receive communion in the hand. The result was not an increase of piety, but just the opposite. I know of a pious Roman Catholic who says more cockroaches receive first communion each week than people, because particles so routinely drop to the floor -- and most people do not seem to be concerned about it, either.

No less than Pope John Paul II observed:
"In some countries the practice of receiving Communion in the hand has been introduced. This practice has been requested by individual episcopal conferences and has received approval from the Apostolic See. However, cases of a deplorable lack of respect toward the eucharistic species have been reported, cases that are imputable not only to the individuals guilty of such behavior but also to the pastors of the church who have not been vigilant enough regarding the attitude of the faithful toward the Eucharist" (Dominicae Cenae 11.9).
The wisest course for us is to humbly accept the Tradition as we have received it, and to trust that what the Church has established is for our salvation.

See Also: Communion and Germs

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Stump the Priest: A Time to Keep Silence

Question: "In the Old Testament we read that there is 'a time to keep silence and a time to speak' (Ecclesiastes 3:7). What is the value of silence and quiet in a time when we are always 'plugged in'?"

This passage is actually speaking about silence in terms of when we should speak. However, your question is more focused on silence in terms of removing distractions from our life, particularly for times of spiritual focus. Both aspects are important to consider.

What Ecclesiastes is saying is that there are times when we should speak, and there are times when we should not. There are times when we can betray God by speaking, and there are times when we can betray God by our silence. When to speak or when not to speak is a question of wisdom, and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

How does one acquire the wisdom needed to make the right choices? One thing we need to do is to inform ourselves by studying the Scriptures, which contain great wisdom. We should also seek wise counsel, and we should pray for divine guidance. And then, you have to make what seems to be the wisest choice, but remaining open to the correction of others and praying that God will correct you, if you have made the wrong choice.

The Fathers say quite a bit about the virtues of silence. One good source to read on this is "The Evergetinos," which is a compilation of sayings of the desert fathers, but arranged topically, by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. In volume 2, beginning on page 353, there is a section entitled "Concerning speech and silence, how and when to make use of them, and that idle talk is a sin." Here are a few excerpts from that section:
"An Elder said: "One man thinks that he is being silent, and yet his heart is judging others; such a man is always talking. Another man talks from morning until evening and yet keeps silence; that is, he says nothing that is not beneficial."
"A brother visited a certain Elder and said to him: "Abba, give me a word, so that I may be saved." The Elder replied: "If you go to someone, do not hasten  to speak before you consider what you are going to say." Filled with compunction at this saying, the brother made a prostration and remarked: "Truly, I have read many books, but never have I come across such learning." Thus edified, he departed."
"Abba Isaiah said: "Wisdom does not consist in speaking; wisdom means knowing the time when you should speak and when to reply as necessary. Make it seem that you know nothing, although you have knowledge, so as to avoid great distress; for he who appears to have knowledge lays burdens on himself. Do no boast about your knowledge, for no one knows anything."
"An Elder sais: "If you acquire silence, do not pride yourself on having attained to virtue, but say: 'I am unworthy even to speak.'""
From St. Diadochos: "Just as, when the doors of the baths are left continually open, the heat inside is quickly driven out, so also the soul, when it wishes to say many things, even though everything that it says may be good, disperses its concentration through the door of the voice. Hence, the soul, deprived of suitable spiritual ideas, loses the strength to struggle against thoughts and babbles with anyone it encounters. Since in this way (through loquacity) the soul drives out the Holy Spirit, it cannot keep the intellect free from harmful fantasies; for the Good Spirit always flees from loquacity, which is the cause of every upset and fantasy. Timely silence is good, since it is nothing other than the mother of the wisest thoughts."
"Two brothers from Sketis wanted to visit Abba Anthony. They embarked on a boat, and with them embarked a certain Elder, whom the brothers did not know and who was likewise going to visit Abba Anthony. As they sat on the boat, the brothers discussed what the Fathers say about the Scriptures and also talked about their handiwork. The Elder was silent. After they had disembarked from the boat and reached their destination, Abba Anthony said to the brothers: "You found good company in in this Elder." Then he said to the Elder: "You had good brothers travelling with you, Abba." The Elder replied: "They are good, but their house has no door; anyone who wants to can enter the stable and untie the ass." He said this in order to show that they said whatever came into their mouths."
Here are some thoughts on the question of distractions:
"There are a number of important things that should be observed by those seeking spiritual development. One of these is physical and mental quiet (hesychia), made possible by living in a quiet place [or turning off the TV at home, the radio in the car, etc.], away from noise, confusion, and distractions. Control of talking is another. Such control helps bring about inner silence, which strengthens a person spiritually, whereas unnecessary talking does the reverse" (Anchored in God: Life, Art, and Thought on the Holy Mountain of Athos, Dr. Constantine Cavarnos).
"Silence greatly helps in spiritual life. It is good for one to practice silence for about an hour a day: to test himself, to acknowledge his passions and to fight in order to cut them off and purify his heart. It is very good if there is a quiet room in the house which gives him the feeling of a monastic cell. There, “in secret”, he is able to do his spiritual maintenance, to study, and to pray. A little spiritual study done before prayer helps greatly. The soul warms up and the mind is transported to the spiritual realm. That’s why, when a person has many distractions during the day, he should rejoice if he has ten minutes for prayer, or even two minutes to read something, so as to drive away distractions" (Excerpts from Family Life, by St. Paisios the Athonite).
We cannot avoid distractions all of the time, but we need to set aside times when we intentionally avoid them, so that we can make progress in the spiritual life. Great Lent is one tenth of the year. We should treat it as a tithe, and especially set this time apart for spiritual focus. This does mean we need to cut down the usual noise, and spend more time in prayer, more time reading the Scriptures and other spiritually edifying books, and more time in the services of the Church.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Stump the Priest: When does a Fast Begin and End?

Question: "Does a fast begin and end at the time of Vespers, or at midnight?"

While the liturgical day begins and ends at Vespers, we begin fasting no later than midnight, and we end the fast at some point after midnight, depending on whether or not there is a liturgy at which we will receive communion.

There are some who argue that we can break a fast after Vespers rather than at midnight, but consider what this would mean for Pascha. It is true that at the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday, we begin to enter into the celebration of Pascha in an anticipatory way (e.g., the liturgical colors are changed from black (or purple) to white at this service); but we do not break the fast. In fact the ecumenical canons specifically forbid breaking the fast before midnight:
"The faithful celebrating the days of the saving Passion with fasting and prayer and contrition must cease their fast about the middle hours of the night after Great Saturday, the divine Evangelists Matthew and Luke having signaled us the lateness of night, the one by adding the words “at the end of the sabbath” (Matt. 28:1) and the other by saying “very early in the morning” (Luke 24:1)" (Canon 89 of the Quinisext Council).
Also, except for infants, or those with health issues, we begin a complete fast from all food and drink from the midnight before the day of the Liturgy at which we will receive communion.

See also: 

The Importance of Fasting and its Observance Today (Draft document of the Pan-Orthodox Council, adopted by the 5th Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference in Chamb├ęsy on October 10-17, 2015)

On the Participation of the Faithful in the Eucharist (Document approved at the Hierarchal Consultation of the Russian Orthodox Church, February 2–3, 2015 in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow)

Living an Orthodox Life: Fasting

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Stump the Priest: Infant Baptism

Question: "St. Paul tells us that "as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27); and St. Peter tells us that "...baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21). How can an involuntary child "put on Christ" if they had no say in the baptism? In what sense and in what way is baptism salvific if the child is unable to answer God with a good conscience?"

What Saith the Scriptures?

The New Testament does not explicitly say anything about infant baptism, one way or the other. But St. Paul does tell us that baptism is the sign of entry into the New Covenant. He calls it both "the circumcision made without hands" and "the circumcision of Christ":
"In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:11-12).
So in the Old Testament, was circumcision limited to those who were old enough to speak for themselves and choose it, or was it mandated for infants as well? When God instituted circumcision, he specifically stated that it was mandatory for infants:
"And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:12-14).
Note that it not only states that a child should be circumcised on the eighth day, but also states that the child who is not circumcised on the eighth day "shall be cut off from his people..." Why? Because "he hath broken my covenant." A child who is eight days old cannot speak for himself. He can neither compel his parents to have him circumcised, nor does he have any power to resist it if his parents chose to have him circumcised. And yet God tells Abraham that a child who is not circumcised has broken the covenant. This is because the Scriptures do not reflect the extreme individualism of our contemporary culture. Our parents make all kinds of decisions for us. We are connected with them, and they can exercise faith on our behalf. They can also make bad choices that negatively affect us. At some point we either have to choose to continue along with those decisions, or we can choose to chart our own course, but when we are infants, this is clearly not the case.

St. Peter said in his sermon on the day of Pentecost:
"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-39).
Now one could interpret this to mean that this promise would apply to their children when they came of age at some future point, but given that he was speaking to Jews who had since the time of their father Abraham initiated their sons into the covenant through circumcision on the eighth day, unless infants were specifically excluded by the Apostles, these people would have had every reason to believe that this had a more immediate application, and that baptism was for even their infant children.

Furthermore, there are references in the New Testament to an entire household being baptized (e.g. Acts 16:33-34). While this does not prove that infants were included, there is no suggestion that they were not, and it is very likely the case that they were.


The Tradition of the Church is abundantly clear on this subject. One of the earliest Christian writers outside of the New Testament was St. Hippolytus of Rome, and when speaking of how baptisms were done, he says:
“Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them” (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [written in 215 A.D.]).
And St. Cyprian of Carthage, responding to a dispute about whether children should be baptized on the eighth day or sooner, wrote:
"But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified with in the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man" (Epistle 63:2, To Fidus, on the Baptism of Infants, written around the year 253 A.D.).
And what is very significant here is that no one was suggesting that infants should wait until they were old enough to speak for themselves -- only about whether one should wait eight days, or less.

One could multiply quotes from the Fathers on this subject, but you can find many of them here:

What are Infants Capable of?

Finally, I am not so sure that we can assume that infants have no spiritual awareness, given what we are told about St. John the Baptist in Luke chapter one. We are told that while he was still an unborn child in his mother's womb he leaped for joy when his mother greeted the Virgin Mary who was already carrying the unborn Christ in her womb:
"And it came to pass, that, when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41).
And previous to this, when the birth of St. John the Baptist was foretold to father, St. Zachariah, he was told:
"For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink [i.e., he will be a Nazarite]; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15).
This clearly indicates that St. John the Baptist had a spiritual life even as an unborn infant. While St. John the Baptist was a uniquely called and gifted person, nothing in Scripture suggests that his ability to experience the grace of God as an infant was unique to him.

For more information:

Infant Baptism in the Orthodox Church, by Fr. John Hainsworth

Is Infant Baptism Biblical?, by Robert Arakaki

R. C. Sproul (a Presbyterian Minister and Scholar): A Biblical Defense of Infant Baptism: