The Rainbow, a sign of the Covenant between God and man

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And the Lord God said to Noe, This is the sign of the covenant which I set between
me and you, and between every living creature which is with you for perpetual generations. I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of covenant between me and the earth. And it shall be when I gather clouds upon the earth, that my bow shall be seen in the cloud. And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you, and between every living soul in all flesh, and there shall no longer be water for a deluge, so as to blot out all flesh. And my bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look to remember the everlasting covenant between me and the earth, and between every living soul in all flesh, which is upon the earth. And God said to Noe, This is the sign of the covenant, which I have made between me and all flesh, which is upon the earth. Genesis 9:12-17
Rainbow2


Man is corrupt, loathsome, and foolish. He has corrupted and turned aside the things of God! In days of old, the Lord brought a flood upon the Earth. When the rains ended and the waters subsided from the land, the Lord made a covenant with man, sealing it with the bow in the heavens.

Today, man has taken this symbol of the Lord’s promise, using it to mark abomination! Man is his arrogance has forgotten the covenant with the Lord. Man has cast aside the Lord’s promise of the Rainbow, turning it from a blessing to a curse, from a sign of peace, into a symbol of false tolerance, self-love, and sin.

Today all things are permissible for man as he has seemingly destroyed God, raising up for himself instead a deity of his own fashioning. Indeed, man is corrupt, completing abominable works. Man has lost godly-knowledge. God cannot be destroyed, instead man destroy himself, slowly and generation-by-generation. Man is now held captive in the bonds of sin and the Evil one.

The words of the Psalmist ring true in our very day:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. 2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. 3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD. 5 There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous. 6 Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the LORD is his refuge. 7 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad. Psalm 14

God’s Mercy in Our Life

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God’s Mercy In our Life

To a certain respected bishop there once came a man who was in great despondency, as if weighed down by something, and he asked the bishop what he should do: his life had turned out not at all as he had wished and supposed, and in place of happiness he had total dissatisfaction and an oppressed state of soul.

The bishop listened to his complaint and, taking a sheet of paper, said: “You know, let us compile a small list of your misfortunes. Perhaps your wife has left you?”

“No, Vladika,” the man replied despondently.
“Perhaps your disobedient children have run away from home and have become drug-addicts or drunkards?”
“No, Vladika, this misfortune has not occurred to me.”
“Has your house burned down?” the bishop continued to ask, writing down the answers.

Again the man replied in the negative.
“Have you lost your job?” was the bishop’s next question; and again the man replied that he had not.

“Perhaps you have an incurable disease?” the bishop finished his questions, and on receiving a negative reply and seeing that he had exhausted the list of his possible misfortunes and catastrophes, the bishop said to him:

“Well, I advise you to return home, make your own list of the mercies God has shown you, and then return to me and we will talk.”

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Indeed, in every human society and in every individual who belongs to it there can be observed a dissatisfaction and oppressed spirit similar to this man’s, occurring as the result of a seeming disorder and failure in life.

This unhappy man came to a bishop with his complaints about life; but bishops also, it would seem, have grounds to be dissatisfied with their fate–they are swallowed up by purely administrative work in their dioceses, they have to examine unpleasant cases and quarrels, they are constantly in public, being deprived of prayerful concentration, and in worldly gossip they are subjected to judgment and often slander.

familyIf we look deeply into the life’s path of a priest, perhaps we will see there also reasons for dissatisfaction in his personal life–the frequent impossibility of being “all things to all men,” which evokes judgment on the part of his flock, while every relaxation he makes in anything immediately evokes reproaches for his lack of firmness; while his lawful strictness can push people away. ‘

And if we turn to monastics, here we too can see great difficulties. Monasticism is true loneliness, as the Greek root of this word indicates (monos, “alone”). The monk in his loneliness conducts an unceasing battle, as if with himself. His battle against human passions is greater than that waged in human society. Spiritual discipline and the strictness of obedience, even against his own will, constant labor, vigils and fasts, a constant restraining of his own will–always and in everything he is alone.

And what of laymen? Each of them is dissatisfied with something. Let us take, for example, motherhood. To be a mother is a joy, but at the same time how many cares there are, often there is no time to pray in peace or to read or to rest from daily labors; and how often a mother’s heart is grieved by family quarrels and outbursts of dissatisfaction; and how much do disobedient, careless children weigh upon a mother! And what fear she has for their lives, how upset she can be over their fate, and how many difficulties there are in their moral upbringing and their contacts with others. And to all this is added great material difficulties and the grief of illness,

So it is that a mother, or a father, or a single person could well compose a list of complaints, griefs and sorrows such as the bishop asked of the despondent man: and there is no end to this list.

But look about you, O man, and learn to value what you have been granted to have in God’s unceasing mercy towards you.

Should a bishop not rejoice? Is he not a successor of the Holy Apostles? Is he not a preserver of the Divine Truth, a proclaimer of the good tidings of Christ? And a priest, although it is true he has no life of his own, but by God’s mercy he has the whole fullness of spiritual life. He is the performer of Christ’s Mysteries; by his prayers the “mercy of peace” descends to earth, and in his heartfelt cries at the altar is invoked and made real the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Holy Gifts of the Body and Blood of Christ. Monasticism is a sacrifice and a voluntary martyrdom. But this kind, according to the testament of the Apostle Paul, more than anyone else is capable with mind and heart to enter “within the veil” (Heb. 6:19) that separates earth from heaven, Is not this the highest mercy of God?

And you who live in the world: think on what I have said. Even if there have occurred to you all those misfortunes about which the bishop asked the despondent man, by this the abyss of God’s mercy to you has not even been touched. Have you ever stopped to value the freedom which you possess? Have you rejoiced at the wondrous beauties of nature set by the Lord before you at every step?. Have you valued as you should the joy of knowing the wisdom of the sciences? Have you looked with love into the eyes of your wife or children, and have you thanked the Lord that you are one family with them, and they with you? Do you realize and understand the joy of having your own church, sanctified by prayer, and of being in the bosom of the true Church, of approaching with trembling the Mysteries of the Church, being united in them with Christ? Has the Lord not placed in your soul the grace of sincere prayer; has He not directed to you on your life’s path the deprived and offended, so that you might know the joy of heartfelt kindness in the happiness of giving alms?

There is no end to this inspiring list. But do you occupy yourself with the contemplation of God’s mercy towards you; humble-yourself more frequently, pray more from the heart, labor spiritually, and then you will ignite in your heart the true joy of Pascha, of the Resurrection of Christ.

ARCHPRIEST VALERY LUKIANOV
St. Alexander Nevsky Church, Lakewood, New Jersey

published in Orthodox America, Issue 3, Vol. 1, No. 3
September, 1980

THE CHARACTER AND PATH OF THE ORTHODOX MISSION

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THE CHARACTER AND PATH OF THE ORTHODOX MISSION

Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. St. John 4: 35·6

WHEN OUR LORD Jesus Christ began to serve the people, He called upon simple-hearted men to follow Him. Sensing with their hearts the Divine nature of the new Teacher, they abandoned everything and followed Him, becoming then, and for two thousand years to come, witnesses of His Divinity before the entire world. At the same time they began to resemble Him, His heavenly qualities reflected in them. It was this Divine love, like a holy fire, that wounded their hearts, and they could not but exuberantly proclaim His teaching of the new birth. I am come to send fire on the earth (St. Luke 12: 49), said our Lord,  and the hearts of His followers became alight with His Divine supernatural light. Think ye that I am come to give peace on earth? l tell you, Nay, but rather division (St. Luke 12: 51) , said our Lord, and His followers cut  themselves off from the world that lies in evil (I John 5: 19) to become partakers of Heaven, which already in the flesh they bad begun to experience. Follow Me, said our Lord, and His disciples followed, calling to others: Come and see our Divme Master (St. John 1: 4}, 46). And they too went and became new beings.

Such is the nature and the fervor of the Orthodox Mission. At no particular period of Church history can it be said to have attained perfection, for it has always been a prominent part of the Orthodox life,  the life in Christ. The Apostles began this mission, the Martyrs strengthened it, the Church Fathers defended it, and all Orthodox Christians throughout the centuries continue it by living and witnessing Christ. The Orthodox Church has never devised a plan nor organized an administrative apparatus for the persuasion and conversion of the heathen. The Orthodox approach has always been direct, the call to share the Church’s life of grace being most effectively preached by the life of holiness the missionary himself leads. The extraneous means used in the Western missions to attract converts are foreign to the Orthodox idea of mission.

Perhaps the most exemplary, and certainly the most far-reaching, of Orthodox missions was that of Sts. Cyril and Methody, the 9th century enlighteners of the Slavs. In modern times, almost unknown to the West, there has been the splendid and fruitful eastbound missionary movement whose leading representatives came from the famous Caves Monastery of Kiev in the early 18th century. The one who took the lead among these missionaries was Metropolitan Philothey, a great podvizhnik, though as yet uncanonized. Others followed. St Innocent of Irkutsk, who manifested sanctity so radiantly that he was the first of these men to be canonized and thus became the heavenly protector of the newly-won lands; Sts. John of Tobolsk, Sophrony of Irkutsk, and Paul of Tobolsk; not to mention many others who have not yet been canonized. Thanks to the vigorous efforts of these men, by the end of the century Orthodoxy had reached distant America, where new apostles, the equal of the earlier missionaries and in the same spirit, were revealed.

All of these men were inspired by deep fervor and faith, gifts of God which they were impelled to share with those who were still in the darkness of unbelief. The vast new territory, out of the shores of the Amur River and the Pacific, gave them ample ground for their holy activity. They had a common approach to missionary labor. They would choose the most suitable place, build a monastic type dwelling enclosed by a fence against the ways of the world, with a church which served as the center of a Christian family-like community and where was celebrated the daily round of services; and then, having the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they would open the doors to those who hungered for the Word of God. The natives would come, and soon a family of the new brothers would be strong enough to carry on by themselves; and the missionary, God’s servant, would move to more distant regions to bring to others the heaven-sent tidings of the Kingdom of God.

Today, when the Christian Gospel has reached almost the last corner of the world and modern inventions have reshaped man’s whole mode of life, the Orthodox mission remains the same. Let not the wise of this world tempt young missionary vigor to seek new, “modern” ways that promote success; there are none outside the tested Orthodox Church. True, this path is narrow, hard, and dangerous·- but it is the shortest path to the goal, which is living contact with God. All other paths lead astray, inevitably bringing both pastor and flock to complete submersion in the spirit of worldliness, to a State of spiritual sleep hidden behind a facade of activity where they only fancy to be saving their souls. The multitudes of modern sects furnish numerous examples of a claim and a desire for Christian witness that are proved inadequate by the total absence in them of genuine experience of  the spiritual life, which is, in the words of Bishop Theophan the Recluse, an entirely different world, into which no human wisdom penetrates.

It is the Orthodox mission to open a door upon this other world, to manifest the right (ortho) teaching (dox) first of all in one’s own life, and then to invite those who stand outside to come and see and, if they have the heart to accept the new birth in Christ, to partake of the life of grace within the Church that is the only preparation here below for eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. My joy, says St. Seraphim, acquire the Spirit of Peace (the Holy Spirit) and thousands around you will be saved.

Orthodox Word, November-December 1965

Prophet Daniel and Three Holy Youths

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The 17th of the month, Memory of the Holy Prophet DANIEL and of the Three Holy Young Men:
ANANIAS, AZARIAS and MISAEL

When Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, captured Jerusalem 597 years before the birth of our Lord, he went back to his distant land, taking with him Jehoiachin, King of
Judah, many of the nobles of the city, and the sacred things from the Temple of God. The eight-year-old Daniel and his three companions, all of them handsome youths of royal lineage, were among those selected for instruction in the language and literature
of the Chaldeans under the chief of the palace eunuchs, to qualify them for the King’s service. The chief eunuch gave them new names, so Daniel became known as Belteshazzar, Ananias as Shadrach, Misael as Meshach and Azarias as Abednego.
Daniel kept all the precepts of the law blamelessly even though he was living among pagans. He would not touch the food he was offered from the royal table and yet he and his companions strengthened by fasting and prayer, appeared more lively and better looking on a diet of vegetables and water than the other children of the court. God also gave them wisdom and knowledge in full measure, so that they surpassed all the learned men of the Kingdom. In addition, Daniel received the gift of interpretation of
dreams and visions.

When three years had passed, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which greatly troubled his spirit. Since his wise men and soothsayers were incapable of interpreting it, he ordered all of them to be put to the sword, including the young Israelites. But God revealed the King’s dream and its interpretation to Daniel in answer to the earnest prayer of His servants. The shining statue that Nebuchadnezzar had seen standing before him was an allegory of the course of times to come. Its golden head represented the Kingdom of the Chaldeans; its silver breast and hands, the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians which would follow after; its belly and thighs of bronze, the Hellenic Kingdom of Alexander the Great; and its iron legs, the Empire of the Romans. The stone Nebuchadnezzar had seen cut from the mountain by no human hand and which reduced to dust that great image of the pagan Empires was the figure of our Lord Jesus Christ, who took flesh at the end of time in order to establish an eternal spiritual kingdom, Holy Church, which nothing will ever be able to destroy. The King gave
thanks to the God of Daniel, whom he made. ruler over the whole of Babylonia and prefect of all the wise men of the Kingdom. The King allowed Daniel to remain at court, but he appointed his three young companions over the affairs of the province of Babylon.

Daniel’s reputation with prince and people grew yet greater when he skilfully discovered the guilt of the two lascivious elders, who falsely accused the chaste Susanna of fornication because she rejected their advances.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue of himself and commanded all the satraps, governors, councilors and magistrates of his Kingdom to fall down and worship it, when they heard the musical instruments strike up.  Notwithstanding the threats of the dreadful tyrant, the Three Young Men would not obey the impious command, and remained faithful to the worship of the one and only true God. Certain Chaldean officials, who were jealous of their high standing, seized the
opportunity of denouncing them to the King. Trembling with rage at their report, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the burning fiery furnace, which had been prepared for all who disobeyed his command, to be heated seven times more than usual, and he had the
Three Young Men cast into it. Speaking in the name of the entire Hebrew people, Ananias, Azarias and Misael addressed a prayer full of humility to God. They acknowledged the offences of their fathers, and recognized the true judgement and equity of God in the exile that He had brought upon them, in the mistreatment
they suffered at the hands of the impious King and, finally, in the torment of fire. The servants who were busied feeding the furnace were burnt by the flame which broke out from it in the very moment that the Angel of God descended and drove out the fire,
enveloping the Young Men in a cool, dewy breeze. Dancing for joy around the Angel, they changed their prayer into a hymn of thanksgiving. Having first of all invoked the thrice-holy name of the Lord, they called upon all the orders of creation to join with
them so as to praise and highly exalt the Lord for ever: Angels, heavens, elements, seasons, land, sea, mountains and animals and the sons of men, including the souls of the righteous dead. Having surveyed the whole of creation, they named themselves as the least and most humble of all, exclaiming: Praise, bless and worship the Lord, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him for ever; for He has rescued us from Hell; He has saved us from the hands of death; He has delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace!” They were forgetful of nothing that has been created and, as they danced, they gathered all things around the Word of God, mysteriously figured in human form by the Angel who had come down into the fire to save them.

Nebuchadnezzar himself, on looking into the furnace, saw and recognized the Angel, thus prefiguring the conversion of the pagans: Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of God (Dan. 3:25). Telling them to come forth, he and all his courtiers saw that the fire had been powerless to leave even the slightest smell of burning upon them. The King therefore glorified God, restored the Three Young Men to honourable positions, and decreed that anyone who blasphemed the God of Israel should be put to death.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

In the same year, Nebuchadnezzar had another terrifying dream, which Daniel alone was able to interpret by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and which was fulfilled after twelve months. In the very moment that the King was exulting in pride at the splendour of his power, God punished him, cutting him down like the tree he had seen in his dream. He became mad, was deprived of his kingship, and was driven from among men to wander in the open air with the beasts of the field, until such time as, humbled, he would confess his offence and pray to the Lord. The kingship was then restored to him for seven years.

After the death of Nebuchadnezzar (562 BC) and the troubles that followed, the kingship eventually passed to Belshazzar (548 BC). One day during a great feast, he had his guests served wine in the sacred vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. As they were drinking to the honour of their false gods, the fingers of a man’s hand suddenly appeared on the wall writing enigmatic words, which cast great fear upon the King and his guests. Once again, only Daniel was able to make the matter plain in revealing to Belshazzar that the end of his reign had come. That very night, the King was slain and Darius the Mede came to power.

Seeing that Daniel was wiser and more illustrious than all the great men of the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians, Darius appointed him first of the three presidents to whom all the satraps were accountable. The other presidents. as well as the satraps, were jealous of his favour with the King, and sought a ground of complaint against him. Knowing Daniel’s piety, they persuaded the King to decree that whoever made petition to any god or man except the King for thirty days should be cast into the lions’ den.
Unshakeable in his love for God and fidelity to the Law, Daniel continued openly to fulfill his usual rule of prayer, turning towards Jerusalem thrice a day. When his disobedience was denounced to Darius, the King was sick at heart for, although he admired Daniel’s
piety, he was constrained by his own decree to have him cast into the lions’ den. But once again God sent his Angel, who calmed the beasts. When, early next morning the remorseful King, ill anguish of spirit, had the stone slab taken from the mouth of the den, he was amazed to see Daniel sitting among the lions, which were gambolling with joy around him, whisking their tails and coming up to have their manes stroked, as though they were doing obeisance to another Adam. Darius had the Prophet taken out of the den and restored to honour, while his enemies were cast into it and devoured by the ferocious animals.

Daniel showed up the deceitfulness of idolatry to the people of Babylon by revealing the trickery of the priests of the temple of Bel, who used to go into the temple at night through an underground passage, and eat the offerings left on the idol’s table, so
that the people would believe Bel was alive. He also made plain the absurdity of worshipping a creature devoid of reason, by killing without using a weapon the dragon they worshipped as a god. But this enraged the Chaldeans who, for a second time, obliged the King to throw his favourite into the lions’ den. There Daniel was visited by the Prophet Habbakuk (Avvacum) who was miraculously transported from Judea in the twinkling of an eye, to bring him a meal and to show God’s favour towards him (cf. 2 Dec.).

As well as the ability to interpret dreams and visions, Daniel also received revelations from God about the consummation of the present age. In the first year of Belshazzar’s reign, he saw four huge beasts appear, standing for the great pagan Kingdoms that
would devour mankind. The first, which looked like a lioness, represented the Babylonian Empire; the second, resembling a bear, stood for the Empire of Persia which was to last for about 220 years; behind it came a leopard, signifying the Hellenic Empire of
Alexander the Great (336-23 Be), which was superseded before long by a fourth beast, armed with ten horns, standing for the Roman Empire.

The book of the Prophet Daniel predicts what the Apocalypse of Saint John confirms; namely, that at the end of the age, when revolutions, wars, and discord in the ten symbolic kingdoms which take their origin from the Empire-or rather from the civilization- of Rome, have brought in the reign of confusion over mankind, and iniquity has reached its culmination upon earth, then Antichrist will arise. In him will be the sum of all the malice of Satan, and by lying words and deceitful wonders, he will have
himself worshipped as God.

In a vision of the end of time, Daniel saw the throne of God approaching like a flame of fire. Under the appearance of the  Ancient of Days, clothed in white raiment shining with light, God the Father took his seat to examine the book of the conscience of
each person and to pass Judgement on the world. Whereupon the Son of man, our Lord Jesus Christ, waged the final battle against Antichrist and cast him headlong into unquenchable fire. Then the angels presented the Son of man before the throne of the Father to receive principality, power, glory and everlasting Kingship over all peoples, tribes and languages in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth in order to make manifest to the whole universe that He is the Lord, the Son of God, First-born of God before all Creation, and that in becoming the First-born from the dead (CoL 1:18) He
has restored our corrupted human nature, revealing in His Body the first-fruits of our resurrection and of our eternal glory.

In other visions concerning the times to come, God made further things clear to Daniel, especially about the tyrannical reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-64), himself a prefiguration of Antichrist, who would cause the sacrifices and worship of the Lord to
cease and would place the abomination of desolation in the Temple of God itself (Dan. 9:27). Daniel learnt from the Angel Gabriel in a vision that the people would be able to return to Jerusalem after seven weeks of years, (i.e. after forty-nine years), thereby
predicting the restoration of the worship of God in the Holy City. This was accomplished by the anointed prince Zerubbabel, and the priests Ezra and Joshua (Dan. 9:25, Ezra 3:8) and was to signify the final restoration of the whole of mankind by the true anointed one, the Lord Jesus Christ, sixty-two weeks of years later, namely
after 434 years (Dan. 9:26).

In the third year of Cyrus, King of Persia, Daniel, greatly beloved of God; was deemed worthy of the vision of the Word Himself in the likeness of a man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with pure gold. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the noise of a multitude (Dan. 10:6).
Astonished beyond measure, the Prophet fell on his face and would have expired if the Angel of the Lord; had not comforted and strengthened him before unfolding what would befall in the course of time – the wars between Alexander’s successors, and
the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes – which prefigure the final contest (at the appearance of Antichrist) of the righteous whose names are written in the Book of life.

God revealed more plainly to Daniel than to all the other prophets that at the Last Day
those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2), and that the righteous will shine like the sun in its glory. The Prophet wanted to know the times and circumstances of all
these things, but the Lord replied: Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end, until many shall be chosen, made white and cleansed by fire… But go your way till the end, take your rest, and you shall arise to receive your inheritance at the end of the days (Dan. 13:9-10,13).

Two years after the return of his people to the land of their fathers the holy Prophet died in peace at the age of eighty (c. 534-30 Be). The Three Young Men also died in peace and, according to tradition, they and Daniel were among the righteous dead who arose
at the time of the Crucifixion of Christ (Matt. 27:52-53).

THE SYNAXARION
The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church
By HIEROMONK MAKARIOS OF SIMONOS PETRA
Translated from the French by Christopher Hookway
VOLUME Two
Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady
Ormylia (Chalkidike) 1999

We Need a Little Visit from the Real Saint Nicholas

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We Need a Little Visit from the Real Saint Nicholas

St Nicholas enthroned

By Terry Mattingly

It happens in August or, at the very latest, September. You are reading the company newsletter. You turn the page and there it is in bold type—the date of the official Christmas party. Once, it was on December 23, then December 15, then December 10. It might even creep as early as December 6. Or perhaps the shock hits when your children start school and hear about plans for the Winter Solstice concert.

 

Christmas keeps expanding and morphing at the same time, spreading like an endless parking lot at a shopping mall. There may as well be teams of turkeys pulling the display-window sleighs and garlands of mistletoe and twinkle lights wrapped around the Jack-O-Lanterns.

 

And at the center of it all is the nonsectarian superman in the red-and-white suit. He’s the jolly driver on a cultural steamroller called “The Holidays,” the patron saint of a consumer-friendly creed of wonder, goodness, generosity, and vague faith. Young Mara Wilson, star of the 1994 movie Miracle on 34th Street, summed up these cultural rites: “This movie is about having faith in someone who can take care of you—like your mother, your father, or Santa Claus, or the tooth fairy, or God.”

 

Hear that? Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and God.

 

We look at the calendar and it all seems normal, because these patterns are a way of life for millions. We look at the calendar and we think that there is nothing we can do. We look at the calendar and we simply do not know what to say.

 

Perhaps we need to say: “O righteous Nicholas, in Myra you were shown forth as a holy minister fulfilling Christ’s holy Gospel: for you did lay down your life for your flock and people and, O saint, you saved the innocent from unjust death.”

 

We need help. Perhaps this is a job for St. Nicholas.

 

Dressed Like A Bishop

 

Just before dawn on the morning of December 6, my wife and I tiptoe happily through the house.

 

We know what we will find when we enter each bedroom—a pair of socks and shoes ready to receive candy, fruit, and a few simple gifts. To add our own silly wrinkle to centuries of tradition, we let our children put their shoes inside laundry baskets, which gives us extra room.

 

Nearby, there’s an icon of a bishop in red robes, with a white stole over his shoulders containing a trinity of crosses. His hair and beard are white and his face is thin, which is natural for a monk accustomed to years of fasting. His right hand is raised in blessing and he holds a golden Gospel book in his left.

 

The feast day of St. Nicholas is December 6. In the fourth century, he served as bishop of the city of Myra in Asia Minor and, for centuries, he was one of Christendom’s most beloved saints. This is not the man that we see in parades staged by merchants at Thanksgiving. The real St. Nicholas is the patron of orphans, sailors, and all who are in distress. Ironically, he also is the saint of merchants and pawnbrokers.

 

“St. Nicholas is supposed to be the very image of charity and concern for others, especially the poor,” Father Constantine White, dean of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C., once explained to me. “There is some link there to gift-giving, but nothing that resembles what has happened with Santa Claus.”

 

Children in this parish, and others with the same name, often do not connect their patron saint with the commercialized character on TV. In other churches, St. Nicholas may not be mentioned at all. For this to change, it would take concerted efforts in Orthodox homes and parishes.

 

“I can guarantee you this,” said Father Constantine, “any man in a red suit who shows up at this church around Christmas is going to be dressed like a bishop.”

 

What Happened To St. Nicholas?

 

What happened to this beloved saint? Church history indicates that Nicholas was born into wealth and apparently gave his inheritance to the poor. He was elected bishop at age 30 and was listed as a participant in the Council of Nicea. When theological debate was not enough, Nicholas is said to have punched out the heretic Arius, who argued that Jesus was not fully divine. Later, the bishop was imprisoned under the Emperor Diocletian and released under Constantine. He died on December 6,343.

 

A famous tradition is captured in an icon called the Charity of St. Nicholas, which shows him visiting a poor family at night, carrying a bag of gold. The father could not provide dowries for his daughters, which meant they could not marry. Nicholas rescued them from slavery or prostitution by dropping gold coins through a window. The gifts fell into their stockings, which had been hung up to dry.

 

The story of the white-haired saint in red robes, bringing gifts in the night, grew in popularity through the centuries especially with children.

 

The rest is history. Sailors spread the saint’s fame along the European coast and, over time, his lore blended with other legends, especially after the birth of Protestantism. The result: Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Père Noël; and many others, including Sinter Klaas, who came with the Dutch to a settlement that became the media and advertising capital of the world-New York City. Then an Episcopalian named Clement C. Moore wrote the 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” with its immortal words, “‘Twas the night before Christmas.” Then the legendary cartoonist Thomas Nast, Coca-Cola, Sears, and armies of ad agencies got hold of St. Nick.

 

Today, it’s hard to see the holy bishop in the fat, sassy, and omnipresent images of Santa Claus. It’s a struggle to link his life with the words of Christ that are read at the saint’s feast: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God; Blessed are you that hunger, for you shall be satisfied; Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. . . .”

 

Embracing The Real St. Nicholas

 

I am convinced there are two timely reasons for Holy Orthodoxy to embrace St. Nicholas again and strive to celebrate his feast day as part of what should be a quiet, reflective, penitential time of year—Nativity Lent (Advent in the West).

 

First, I think we can publicly deliver this message to our culture: “Yes, there is a St. Nicholas.” If churches put that headline on top of advertisements in local newspapers, I think people would pay attention. A search on the World Wide Web for resources about St. Nicholas will find references in the most unlikely of places, even in sites linked to Baptist churches, the Assemblies of God, and other Protestant groups. Some people are searching for their Christian roots.

 

The bottom line: We can give the man his day, calling attention to the start of a season that should set us apart from our culture. And we can tell our children the truth about the modest gift-giving traditions linked to this saint, along with telling them the stories of his unique bond with the poor. We can urge our children, during Nativity Lent, to focus on giving to others.

 

In fact, I think our churches can offer St. Nicholas as a unique and evocative figure to help us call attention to an urgent need-increased efforts to help those caught in crisis pregnancies and their children, born and unborn. He is, after all, the patron saint of endangered and distressed children. Each week of Nativity Lent, the faithful could bring diapers, baby food, blankets, clothes, and other necessities to be distributed in mission projects in the community.

 

Can you think of a more powerful, appropriate saint to serve as patron for our pro-life efforts?

 

Second, I think that we must find a way to reclaim the uniqueness of the pre-Christmas season, if we are ever going to manage to celebrate a Nativity Feast that is more than a riot of consumerism followed by bowl games and the NFL playoffs.

 

The timing may be right. For many Americans, “The Holidays” have become a nightmare, a time of spiritual whiplash when what is supposed to be a season of joy often turns into an acid bath of cynicism and failed dreams.

 

The respected church-growth researcher Lyle Schaller once told me that there are two times each year when people who rarely if ever attend church are open to stepping inside a sanctuary. As everyone knows, there are flocks of Easter Christians who choose that season to get dressed up and make their annual appearances at church. But if Easter is the season of choice for marginal Christians, Christmas is the time when unchurched people-or those who have been inactive for years-may sneak into worship.

 

Many crave true beauty in a season of tinsel and cheap sentiment. Many seek fellowship during a time of year that pours salt into the wounds of those with broken families and fading dreams. Others may survive the blitz of high-pressure advertising, shallow parties, crazed shopping, long journeys, tense family reunions, and dumb TV specials and then say, “Didn’t Christmas used to mean more than this? Where is the wonder of Christmas?”

 

The time to celebrate Christmas is in the twelve days of Christmas, not in Nativity Lent. I am convinced that if our churches openly offer a unique, holy, and sane approach to celebrating these seasons, some souls will come seeking shelter from the storm.

 

Yes, there is a St. Nicholas. He was a saint who served his Master well. Yes, he points forward to the Mother and her Holy Child and the true meaning of Christmas.

 

We have these gifts and we must share them with others.

 

 

Prof. Terry Mattingly is associate professor of mass media & religion at Palm Beach Atlantic College and a senior fellow at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes the national “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C. He is a member of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in West Palm Beach, Florida.

 

From Again Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 4, October-December, 2001, p. 4,5.

 

Hindrances to Prayer — St John of Kronstadt

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Hindrances to Prayer — St John of Kronstadt

During prayer there sometimes occur moments of deadly darkness and spiritual anguish arising from unbelief of the heart (for unbelief is darkness). Do not let your heart fail you at such moments, but remember that if the Divine light has been cut off from you, it always shines in all its splendour and greatness in God Himself, in God’s Church, in heaven and on earth, and in the material world in which “His eternal power also and divinity” are visible. Do not think that truth has failed, because truth is God Himself, and everything that exists has its foundation and reason in Him. Only your own weak, sinful and darkened heart can fail in the truth, for it cannot always bear the strength of the light of truth, and is not always capable of containing its purity, but only if it is being, or has been, purified from its sins, as the first cause of spiritual darkness. The proof of this you may find in yourself. When the light of faith or God’s truth dwells in your heart, only then is it tranquil, firm, strong, and living; but when this is cut off, then your heart becomes uneasy, weak as a reed shaken by the wind, and lifeless. Do not pay any attention to this darkness of Satan. Drive it away from your heart by making the sign of the life-giving Cross!

When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart than ten thousand words with your tongue only. When you observe that your heart is cold and prays unwillingly, stop praying and warm your heart by vividly representing to yourself either your own wickedness, your spiritual poverty, misery, and blindness, or the great benefits which God bestows every moment upon you and all mankind, especially upon Christians, and then pray slowly and fervently. If you have not time to say all the prayers, it does not matter, and you will receive incomparably greater benefit from praying fervently and not hurriedly than if you had said all your prayers hurriedly and without feeling: “I had rather speak five words with my understanding … than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

As after having unworthily communicated, so also after having prayed unworthily and coldly, our soul feels equally ill at ease. This means that God does not enter our heart, being offended at its unbelief and coldness, and allows the evil spirit to nestle in our hearts, in order to make us feel the difference between His own presence and its yoke.
Sometimes during prayer you feel a kind of estrangement from God, and despair. Do not be carried away by such a feeling; it proceeds from the Devil. Say in your heart: “I despair not of salvation, reprobate as I am; and emboldened by Thine immeasurable compassion, I come unto Thee. If there is any hope of salvation for me, if Thy loving mercy can overcome the multitude of my transgressions, be Thou my Saviour.”

When praying with people, we sometimes have to pierce through with our prayer as if it were the hardest wall – human souls, hardened and petrified by earthly passions – to penetrate the Egyptian darkness, the darkness of passions and worldly attachments. This is why it is sometimes difficult to pray. The simpler the people one prays with, the easier it is.

From A Treasury of Russian Spirituality by G.P. Fedotov

Preparing for Pascha

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Preparing ourselves for Pascha

Preparation is an essential part of Orthodox spirituality. It is for this reason that the Church has established that each major feast day be preceded by a period of fasting and spiritual preparation. The greatest feast in Christendom is the Resurrection of Christ, prayer-drawing-prayer-in-desertGreat and Holy Pascha. It is called the Feast of feasts and Festival of festivals. Since it is the greatest of feasts, the period of preparation for Pascha is the most intense. The period of ten weeks which lead to Holy Pascha is contained in a book called the Triodion. The Triodion can be divided into three different sections, the first which, commonly called the Triodion, consists of the four Sundays: 1) the Publican and the Pharisee 2) the Prodigal Son 3) the Second Coming and 4) the expulsion of Adam from Paradise.

These commemorations remind us of the message of repentance which we recently heard from St. John the Forerunner and later from Christ Himself: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The parable of the Publican and the Pharisee teaches us that true repentance cannot accompany arrogance and judgmental-ness and that, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we are taught that we have freewill, the inheritance we have received from the Father. We may squander it on loose living or we may remain close to the Father. When we decide to return to God in a contrite heart and desire only to be a servant of God and not even a son, which is our birthright, we must lift ourselves up from the mire of sin and set out on the road to return to the Father. Then, while we are still afar off, God will run out to meet us and embrace us and kiss us, then will He kill for us the fatted calf. On the other hand, those who have not fallen so far away must not begrudge our repentant brethren nor God for receiving them joyfully.

After these two Sundays the message becomes more severe. Having been taught that God is merciful, lest we take advantage of His mercy, we are reminded of the coming judgment and the eternal fate of sinners. He calls all men His brethren and requires that we also treat them thus, saying: “Inasmuch as ye have done good or evil unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (c.f. Matt. 35: 41-45). This day is called Meat-fare Sunday because it is the last day on which we are permitted to eat meat until the great day of Pascha. During the week which follows, which is called Cheese-fare week, we are permitted to eat of all foods, save meat: dairy products, fish, wine, and oil, even on Wednesday and Friday. Also, during Cheese-fare week the services gradually begin to take on a Lenten character: on Wednesday and Friday of this week, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated and Alleluia is chanted during Matins instead of God is the Lord. In this way, the Church begins to prepare us for the Great Fast, on the one hand comforting us with the consumption of all foods, save meat, and on the other hand transforming the services into Lenten ones.

On Cheese-fare Sunday, the last day before the Great Fast, we remember the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. The two themes of repentance and fasting are united in this day’s hymnography, for the first commandment God gave to Adam and Eve was to fast from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Having violated this commandment, and being cast out of Paradise, Adam sat opposite Paradise and wept. For it is only through fasting and repentance that we may attain Paradise.

On the following day, Clean Monday, the stadium of the virtues is opened, the Great Fast. Let those who wish to enter, gird themselves for the good struggle of the Fast, for those who lawfully compete shall be justly crowned.

So be it, through the prayers of our holy fathers. Amen.

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Let Us Commit Ourselves Unto Christ Our God

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The most sacred adornment of the Church is the body of the faithful. Each babe, child, young adult, adult, and elderly person in attendance is a beautiful pearl and a priceless gem.

Often, indeed very often, we hear these words in the litanies throughout our divine services. In committing ourselves to Christ our God, we fulfill the great commandment to love our God with all of our heart, our mind, our soul, nay every bit of our substance. In committing ourselves unto Christ our God, we also commit ourselves into His great and abundant mercy. What greater consolation, what greater joy, what greater blessing can there be than to rest in our Lord’s loving embrace.

One might ask, “how do we commit ourselves unto Christ?” We look at the words and teaching of those who have united themselves to Christ, the Saints. Saint John Chrysostom uttered these awesome words as he breathed his last: “Glory be to God for all things.” In all things – joys and sorrows, temptations and trials, worries and fears – let us utter these words from the depths of our heart – “Glory be to Thee O God for all things that Thou hast set in order from me.” When we place our total trust in our God, we have no fears and no worries. To quote a popular contemporary phrase, “if God leads us to it, He will lead us through it.”

Blessed is our God Who loves us without end!

Amen

On the Recent Events in Jerusalem and their Ecclesiological Underpinnings

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Beloved in Christ,

On May 25/26 of this year, the Patriarch of Constantinople met with Pope Francis to commemorate a similar meeting which took place between their predecessors 50 years prior. This of course refers to the meeting in Jerusalem in 1964 of Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras.

Many in the press refer to this event as a historic rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox to try to restore Christian unity after nearly 1,000 years of estrangement. To many Orthodox, this was an event of great concern. The meeting and subsequent lifting of the Anathema of 1054 may have started to heal “the Great Schism” as it is know to history, but it caused great estrangement within Orthodoxy. Never before has an anathema been lifted. This single act implies that the previously held erroneous belief was no longer an error, that it mystically healed itself. To some this act was symbolic, to others it signified a crowning moment to the Ecumenical movement, to which World Orthodoxy was now deeply entrenched.

The following article will further enlighten the pious and observant that the events, both recent and from 1964, are truly more than a symbolic gesture and threaten the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. What could not be won in Florence and Ferrara in a decade has slowly come to realization since 1924.

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On the Recent Events in Jerusalem and their Ecclesiological Underpinnings

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“But if,” they say, “we had devised some middle ground between the dogmas (of the Papists and the Orthodox), then thanks to this we would have united with them and accomplished our business superbly, without at all having been forced to say anything except what corresponds to custom and has been handed down (by the Fathers).” This is precisely the means by which many, from of old, have been deceived and persuaded to follow those who have led them off the steep precipice of impiety; believing that there is some middle ground between the two teachings that can reconcile obvious contradictions, they have been exposed to peril.

[St. Mark of Ephesus (+1444)]

That which is required of every Orthodox [Christian] is to pass on the good uneasiness to the heterodox, in order that they may understand that they are in delusion, so as not to falsely be at peace with their thoughts and be deprived in this life of the rich blessings of Orthodoxy and in the next life the much greater and eternal blessings of God.

[Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994)]

We observe, however, that nobody in a higher position than our own is raising his voice; and this fact constrains us to speak out, lest at the Last Judgment we should be responsible for having seen the danger of Ecumenism threaten the Church, and yet not having warned her Bishops.

[Saint Philaret of New York, the Confessor (+1985)]

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What is one to make of the recent events in Jerusalem commemorating the 50th anniversary of the meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, during which the Patriarch of Constantinople, along with the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and other hierarchs of the Patriarchate, met with the Pope of Rome to conduct joint prayer services and issue joint statements? What problems, if any, do these meetings and statements pose to us as Orthodox Christians and to our Orthodox Faith? And, what, in the final analysis, is the essential theological problem at stake here?

These are some of the questions that many faithful ask, and they deserve a thorough answer in return. This short article will attempt to provide some answers, or at least the beginnings of such answers.

Those who would see in these ecumenical gatherings an overwhelmingly positive development speak of them as “exchanges of generosity, goodwill and hope,” and “exchanges in the spirit of Christian love” which are “true expressions of the faith of the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Orthodox.” The champions of these gatherings never fail to admit that “although there are serious differences” between the Orthodox Church and Catholicism “which must not be overlooked, nevertheless our faith demands that we join together and witness to our shared Christian commitments.” This is how a well-known American Orthodox theologian referred to the Jerusalem event and I believe he is accurately repeating the general conception among supporters.

If, however, we are to understand the meaning of these events in a spiritual and theological manner, we must go beyond the tired clichés and overused platitudes and examine the underlying ecclesiology which is either being implied or being expressed by the Patriarch and his supporters during these meetings. It is quite easy, and unfortunately quite common even among Orthodox Christians, to be satisfied with the flowery language of love and reconciliation and not pay attention to the deeper significance of the theology being expressed in word and deed. If we are to avoid such a pitfall and assist others in the same, we must acquire an Orthodox mindset and judge these important matters within the Orthodox framework and criteria.

The underlying problem here that few discuss is the ecclesiological implications of  the Patriarchate and its supporters’ new view of the Church. If the Jerusalem meeting and the accompanying gatherings (such as those in Paris, Boston and Atlanta) are judged to be destructive of Church unity and to undermine the mission of the Church, it is not, of course, because of the flowery language of love and understanding incessantly used on all sides, but because they are not grounded in the Orthodox Faith, in Orthodox ecclesiology. If, however, our representatives in these meetings are not expressing an Orthodox teaching on the Church, what are they expressing?

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of previous statements by hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople one could reference in order to answer this question. Citing them is both beyond the scope of this article and unnecessary, for in remarks made by the Patriarch of Constantinople in his first speech given in Jerusalem on May 23rd, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the essence of the new ecclesiology is clearly articulated:

The One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by the “Word in the beginning,” by the one “truly with God,” and the Word “truly God”, according to the evangelist of love, unfortunately, during her engagement on earth, on account of the dominance of human weakness and of impermanence of the will of the human intellect, was divided in time. This brought about various conditions and groups, of which each claimed for itself “authenticity” and “truth.” The Truth, however, is One, Christ, and the One Church founded by Him.

Both before and after the great Schism of 1054 between East and West, our Holy Orthodox Church made attempts to overcome the differences, which originated from the beginning and for the most part from factors outside of the environs of the Church. Unfortunately, the human element dominated, and through the accumulation of “theological,” “practical,” and “social” additions the Local Churches were led into division of the unity of the Faith, into isolation, which developed occasionally into hostile polemics.

Note that the Patriarch states:

1. The One Church was divided in time.

2. That this division was the result of the dominance of human weakness. It is not stated, but it follows that this human weakness was stronger than the Divine Will for the Church He founded.

3. That the various groups, parts of the One Church, which resulted from this division each “claimed” to be the authentic and true Church. The implication here is that none of them, including the Orthodox Church, can rightfully lay claim to being exclusively the One Church.

4. And, yet, somehow, in spite of these competing groups all exclusively claiming authenticity and truth, the Church is one. Once again, it follows from all that is said that this oneness exists only outside of time, since the Church, as he said, was divided in time.

In order to gain a total picture of the new ecclesiology being presented, we should add to these views on the Church the Patriarch(ate)’s stance vis-à-vis Catholicism, which was on exhibit in both word and deed throughout the Jerusalem event. In all of the promotional material and patriarchal addresses, Catholicism—which synods of the Church and saints have for centuries now considered to be a heretical parasynagogue—is considered to be a Local Church, the Church in Rome. Likewise, the current Pope is considered to be a “contemporary successor of the early apostle [Peter] and current leader of the ancient church [of Rome].” The Patriarch has also referred to the current Pope as his brother bishop, co-responsible for the good governing of the One Church. He considers the sacraments performed by the Pope and his clerics as the self-same mysteries of the One Church. Thus it is not surprising that he views the Church as divided in history and yet somehow still one, if only outside of history.

What can we now say of this image of the Church presented by the Patriarch? We can say that:

1. It is in total harmony with the Second Vatican Council’s new ecclesiology as laid out in the conciliar documents Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio.

2. It is entirely at odds with the vision of the Church presented in relevant conciliar documents of the Orthodox Church, such as the decisions of the Council of 1484, the Patriarchal Encyclicals of 1848 and 1895, and in the writings of those Holy Fathers who have expressed the mind of the Church on the subject, such as Sts. Gregory Palamas, Nectarios of Pentapolis, Mark of Ephesus, Paisios Velichkovsky, and many others.

The Patriarch and his supporters are aligning themselves and attempting to align all of Orthodoxy with the ecclesiological line drawn during the Second Vatican Council. This new ecclesiology allows for a division of the Church “in time,” such that the Orthodox Church and Catholicism are considered “two lungs” of the One Church—yet nevertheless divided. In this ecclesiology, the universal Church includes both Catholicism and all other Christian confessions. It is supposed that the Church is a communion of bodies that are more or less churches, a communion realized at various degrees of fullness, such that one part of the Church, that under the Pope, is considered “fully” the Church, and another part of the Church, such as a Protestant confession, “imperfectly” or only “partially” the Church. Thus, this ecclesiology allows for participation in the Church’s sacraments outside of her canonical boundaries, outside of the one Eucharistic assembly, which is antithetical with a properly understood “Eucharistic ecclesiology.”

Hence, the ecclesiology expressed in word and deed by the Patriarch of Constantinople and the ecclesiology of Vatican II converge in the acceptance of a divided Church, or a Church rent asunder by the heavy hand of history. It might be characterized as ecclesiological Nestorianism, in which the Church is divided into two separate beings: on the one hand the Church in heaven, outside of time, alone true and whole; on the other, the Church, or rather “churches,” on earth, in time, deficient and relative, lost in history’s shadows, seeking to draw near to one another and to that transcendent perfection, as much as is possible in “the weakness of the impermanent human will.”

In this ecclesiology, the tumultuous and injurious divisions of human history have overcome the Church “in time.” The human nature of the Church, being divided and rent asunder, has been separated from the Theanthropic Head. This is a Church on earth deprived of its ontological nature and not “one and holy,” no longer possessing all the truth through its hypostatic union with the divine nature of the Logos.

This ecclesiology is, without doubt, at total odds with the belief and confession of the Orthodox in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Church of Christ, as the Apostle Paul supremely defined it, is His body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (τὸ σῶμα Αὐτοῦ, τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσι πληρουμένου). The fullness of Christ is identified with the Body of Christ which is, like Christ when He walked on earth in time, as Theanthropos, visible and indivisible, being marked by divine-human characteristics. As Vladimir Lossky has written, all that can be asserted or denied about Christ can equally well be applied to the Church, inasmuch as it is a theandric organism. It follows, then, that just as we could never assert that Christ is divided, neither could we countenance the Church ever being divided. (cf. 1 Cor 1:13).

The Church, it goes without saying, was founded, established, spread, and exists to this day in time (and will exist until the Second Coming, and beyond). This is so because the Church is the Theanthropic Body of the Christ, who entered into time, walked, died, rose, ascended and is to return again in time. The Church is the continuation of the Incarnation in time. And just as our Lord was seen and touched and venerated in the flesh, in time, so too does His Body, the Church, continue—united and holyin time. If we were to accept the division of the Church, we would be accepting the nullification of the Incarnation and the salvation of the world. As this new ecclesiology of a “divided church” ultimately annuls man’s salvation, it could be rightly considered as heresy.

Our belief in the unity and continuity of the Body of Christ, our confession of faith, this dogma of the Church, is based on nothing less than the divine promises of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, when he said such words as these:

“When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (Jn. 16:13).

“I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock [of faith] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18).

“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Mt 28:16).

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33).

Likewise, from the mouth of Christ, the divine Apostle Paul, we hear more promises of the indivisibility and invincibility of the Church:

“And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is His body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23).

“The house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tit 3:5).

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph 4:5).

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”(Heb 13:8).

And, from the Apostle of Love, John the Theologian, we read that it is our faith in the God-man and His divine-human Body that is invincible and victorious over the fallen spirit of this world, which is above all, a spirit of division:

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 Jn 5:4).

So, then, has not the Spirit of Truth led His Church into “all truth”? Or, are we as Orthodox only advancing a “claim” of authenticity and truth? Has He not guarded His Church so that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it? Or, has “human weakness” overcome Christ’s Body? Has He not remained with us, guiding us even until today and on to the end of time? Or, does He no longer exist as One “in time”? Has not our faith in the God-man overcome the world and the spirit of division? Or, is it, as the Patriarch supposes, that the “human element” and “human weakness” has overcome our faith and the unity of the Body of Christ?

To better understand the impossibility of both the Orthodox Church and Catholicism maintaining the identity of the One Church while being divided over matters of faith, let us look briefly at the marital union. In marriage, a man and a woman are united in Christ. There exists a three-fold unity, or a unity between two persons in a third Person. This is no mere human accord. This is a theanthropic unity, a manifestation of the mystery of the Incarnation and thus of the Church, according to the divine words of the Apostle Paul: This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:32).

All unity in the Church is theanthropic. Indeed, truly united human beings are only to be found in the Church, for in the Church alone does man put on divine-humanity (Gal 3:27), the human nature of Christ. As the fallen, unredeemed human nature is hopelessly broken and divided within itself, separated from the principle of his unity, God, man can only be united by “putting on” a new human nature, the human nature of the God-man, which takes place in the mysteries, first of which is baptism. Therefore, we are restored to unity in ourselves, between ourselves and with God only through unity with the God-man in His human nature, in His Body, the Church.

Has there been division? Has the “marriage” fallen apart? Know that first one of the two persons ceased to exist “in Christ,” fell away from Christ, and only then from the other. This human division is necessarily preceded by a break in communion with the Divine Person in which the two persons were united. Something similar can be said on the ecclesiastical plane.

The Patriarch maintains that even though “the Local Churches were led into division of the unity of the Faith” and “the One Church was divided in time,” nevertheless both the Orthodox Church and Catholicism are united to Christ and manifest this unity with Him in common sacraments. This is impossible, however, for if both were united to Christ, they would necessarily be united to one another, since they find their unity in Christ. Simply put: if we are both in Christ, we are united. If we are divided, we can’t both be in Christ. In terms of ecclesiology, this means that both can’t be “the Church.”

From the moment that one holds that the Church is divided, he can no longer hold that the members of the Church are united to the theanthropic nature of the Body of Christ. The Church that is envisioned is necessarily a merely human organism, in which the “dominance of human weakness and of [the] impermanence of the will of the human intellect” reigns and brings division.

We can also see this truth evidenced in the words of the Apostle of Love, the beloved Evangelist, John the Theologian. He states that if a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. (1 Jn 4:20). Similarly, since love unites us to God, if we say that we are united with God but divided from our brother, we do not speak the truth. Furthermore, on the ecclesiastical plane, if we say that the “churches” are both united with God but are divided between themselves, we do not speak the truth. For, if both are united to God they would also be united to one another, since unity in the Church is in and through Christ.

Based on this new teaching from the Patriarch(ate), some maintain that a “false union” has already been forged. Most dismiss this claim straightaway. It is true that the common cup, at least officially and openly, was not at stake in Jerusalem or immediately anywhere. However, a type of “false union” has undeniably been established on the level of ecclesiology. For, when the mysteries of a heterodox confession are recognized per se, as the very mysteries of the Church, and, likewise, their bishops are accepted and embraced as bishops of the One Church, then have we not already established a union with them? Have we not a union both in terms of recognizing their “ecclesiality” (i.e., the One Church in Rome) and in adopting a common confession of faith with respect to the Church?

If we recognize their baptism as the one baptism, it is inconsistent not to recognize the Eucharistic Synaxis in which their baptism is performed. And if we recognize their Eucharist as the One Body, it is both hypocritical and sinful not to establish Eucharistic communion with them immediately.

It is precisely here that the untenable nature of the Patriarchate’s stance becomes apparent. The fact that the Church has never accepted inter-communion with Catholicism witnesses not to just some tactical decision or conservative stance, but to her self-identity as the One Church and to her view of Catholicism as heresy. If this were not the case, it would be as if we are playing with the mysteries and the truth of the Gospel. As St. Mark of Ephesus famously expressed it, the “cutting off of the Latins” was precisely because the Church no longer saw their “church,” their Eucharistic assembly, as if in a mirror, as expressing the “Catholic” Church in Rome. Their identity was no longer that of the Church, but of heresy.

From all that has been written here, it should be clear that there are eternal consequences from every new departure from “the faith once delivered,” and the new ecclesiology is no exception. By ignoring the contemporary voices of the Church—from St. Justin Popovich to the Venerable Philotheos Zervakos, to the Venerable Paisios the Athonite—those who went to Jerusalem espousing the new ecclesiology are leading their unsuspecting followers out of the Church and those already outside further away from entry into the Church.

This new ecclesiology is the spiritual and theological challenge of our day to which every Orthodox Christian remains indifferent to his own peril, for it carries with it soteriological consequences. In the face of a terribly divisive and deceptive heresy, we are all called to confess Christ today, as did our ancient forbearers in the days of Arianism. Our confession of faith, however, is not only in His Person in the Incarnation, but His Person in the continuation of the Incarnation, the Church. To confess the faith today is to confess and declare the unity of His divine and human natures in His Body, the one and only Orthodox Church—unmixed, unchanged, undivided and inseparable (ἀσυγχύτωςἀτρέπτωςἀδιαιρέτωςἀχωρίστως). [Oros of the Fourth Ecumenical Council].

Kindling the Divine Spark

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After the bright and radiant feast of Pascha, many have commented that they feel a bit of a let-down. Holy Week is truly an incredible and moving week. The Divine Services are beautiful and unique, filled with beautiful hymns and emotion as we follow our Saviour to His voluntary Passion. Renewal Week is bright and jubilant, though quiet.

We may ask, how we can keep the brilliant flame of the Resurrection of our Lord burning in our hearts?
For Orthodox Christians the answer is simply this, we do not merely observe the Resurrection but we must participate in it. How else can our lives be transformed? How else can we truly say that “yesterday I was buried with Thee O Christ and today I arise in the arising”?

Here are some practical things we can do to add more fuel to keep the flame in our hearts burning with Paschal joy:

  • Attend the Divine Services during Renewal Week
  • Read the Paschal Hours twice daily, once in the morning and again in the evening.
  • Read the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John to deepen our understanding of the events we have recently witnessed.
  • Greet brothers and sisters-in-Christ with the joyful proclamation that Christ is Risen
  • Chant the hymns of the Paschal Canon or the Paschal Service, even in small parts. The words of the hymns supercede even the most majestic of man-made poetry.
  • Visit the sick, infirm, or elderly members of our communities to share with them the joy of the Resurrection. Breaking of the Paschal eggs, nibbling on Paschal breads and treats, and sharing the Paschal joy can be a wonderful form of alsmgiving.
  • Read from the Fathers concerning the Resurrection.

Christ our everlasting Pascha is arisen from the Grave!

 

Christian upbringing of children is an ascetic podvig of its own kind

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Beloved, the following article written by Saint Nikolai – a luminary of the 20th century – is a helpful reminder to each of us of the importance of bringing our children to Church at a tender young age.

As the Saint bids, bring them so that they “may assimilate the beauty of the Father’s House”.

CHILDREN IN CHURCH Children in Church

by Bishop Nicholas Velimirovic

We all know the gospel story of Christ and the children: Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them: “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:13-15). Christ’s disciples forbade parents with children to come near Him, fearing that the children will somehow disturb the Lord. They thought, as many of us do today, that children and infants are not able to assimilate spiritual things. How did Christ react to this? He became indignant. He was greatly displeased. We know that the meek and long-suffering Christ became indignant only when truth was suppressed by delusion, for instance: the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the desecration of the temple by the money-changers etc.  And the truth is certainly that which the Lord Himself teaches us: of such is the kingdom of God. And embracing the children, He placed His hands on them and blessed them. Take note when reading this short segment from the Gospel, that the children were brought to Christ, they were too young to even be led to Him, let alone come to Him by themselves. The message to Christians is clear: bring your Children to Christ, bring them to Church, baptize them, have them commune the Holy Mysteries, bring them in your arms while they are still infants, that they might with their simple five senses assimilate the beauty of the Father’s House: the holiness of the icons, the piety of the chanting, the sweet smell of incense, the taste of the prosphora, the prayerful silence of the congregation and the presence of familiar faces all gathered in communal prayer. Even the youngest children instinctively strive towards God and are more receptive than adults to goodness and Divine grace. We must nurture in them the feeling that they are in their Father’s House. That feeling will not be conceived within them of its own accord, if we do not guide them to it, if we do not bring them to Church.  Much is expected of Orthodox parents and a Christian upbringing of children is an ascetic podvig of its own kind. Part of the Christian upbringing is also teaching your child how to behave in Church. If a child quietly moves through the Church, or if a baby “sings” occasionally, it certainly does not disrupt the services, but is a part of the general atmosphere of the Church as a large family. Naturally, if there is a real disruption, such as loud crying or talking, the parent will, according to his or her own discretion, take the child out of the church or react appropriately. The easiest and most natural way to teach a child how to behave in church is by bringing them to all services, to stay with them from the beginning to the end and to teach them by our own example. We must behave in a Christian way and follow all of the Church’s commandments not only during services, but also at every moment of our lives and in every place. No man can serve two masters and our inconsistency will certainly confuse our children and sooner or later have a negative impact on them, if in Church we behave as “pious Christians” and elsewhere as “people of this world.”  And so, again: bring your children to church. No Christian is indifferent to the scene presented by a crowd of children all waiting in line to receive the Holy Mysteries: some are quiet, some unruly, some are carried in their parents’ arms, some take their first tottering steps towards the Holy Cup, having barely learned how to make the sign of the Cross and pronounce the sweet name of our Lord, while in the older ones one can already discern an adult Christian. But on each and every one of those angelic faces one can see, without exception, pure childlike joy, complete trust and staunch faith in the Divine grace they are about to receive. If it should happen, later in life, that their faith weakens, and they fall away from God and the Church due to many temptations and the immorality of today’s world, God will not abandon them, as He never abandons a person who carries deep within him the seeds of goodness. When something frightening befalls them, and they begin to recognize their own limitations and helplessness, as they reflect on the purpose of life, long forgotten memories of their Father’s House will re-awaken in them and the grace of God will once again touch their souls to take them back to the right Path, the only one which leads to salvation.

Rouse thyself from sleep Christian for the contest is at hand

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My soul, my soul,arise! Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded.
Awake then and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you,
Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

Kontakion – First Week of Great Lent

Watch therefore for ye know neither the day nor the hour…

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:  But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.  Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.  But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. Matthew 25 1-13 

Christian, rouse thyself while the day is young. Store up virtues for the day of the feast when all peoples will be gathered from the four corners of the world. On that day, Who shall speak for us? Who will be our advocate? What can we say in our defense? Use your talents wisely that you may repay what is owed.

Beloved, may our Lord grant us to be worthy to attend the wedding banquet

Hymns of Great Compline

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Beloved, entering the Great and soul-saving Lent the Church provides many beautiful hymns to help us along the lenten journey.

In the following hymn, we are assured that we are never truly alone for God is always with us,

Yea, I will put my trust in Him, and I shall be saved through Him.

In the Plagal of the 2nd tone:

God is with us; know, ye nations, and be vanquished.

For God is with us.

Give ear, even unto the utmost part of the earth.

For God is with us.

Ye that have prevailed, even ye be vanquished.

For God is with us.

For though ye should prevail again, yet again shall ye be vanquished.

For God is with us.

And whatsoever counsel ye shall take, the Lord shall bring it to nought.

For God is with us.

And whatsoever word ye speak, it shall not abide in you.

For God is with us.

And the fear of you we shall not fear, neither shall we be troubled.

For God is with us.

But we will sanctify the Lord our God, and He shall be our fear.

For God is with us.

And if I put my trust in Him, he shall be my sanctification.

For God is with us.

Yea, I will put my trust in Him, and I shall be saved through Him.

For God is with us.

Behold, I and the children which God hath given me.

For God is with us.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

For God is with us.

We that dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon us.

For God is with us.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.

For God is with us.

Whose government is come upon His shoulder.

For God is with us.

And of His peace there is no end.

For God is with us.

And His name shall be called the Angel of great counsel.

For God is with us.

Wonderful Counsellor.

For God is with us.

The mighty God, He that hath authority, the Prince of peace.

For God is with us.

The Father of the age to come.

For God is with us.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

For God is with us.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

For God is with us.

God is with us, know, ye nations, and be vanquished; for God is with us.

Finding the New Testament Church

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Editor’s note:

Beloved, to some the notion that the Orthodox Church is THE New Testament Church may seem high-minded. There is a clear lineage dating back to the Apostles, the first Bishops of the Church, and their Disciples – Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and Saint Clement of Rome. These fathers are written in the Acts of the Apostles. Since the beginning, the Presbytery (Greek for Elders) served the Church and the faithful flock.

Acts 14:23  And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

That we may know that the Church grew and existed in many places:

Romans 16:16 
Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.

Of a truth, the Orthodox has always held firm in the canon that it holds the one faith, which was celebrated everywhere, always, and by all.

The Oldest New Testament fragment. From the Gospel of St. John

Finding the New Testament Church

by Fr. Jon E. Braun

Coming off a couple of decades of heightened awareness of our need for a personal knowledge of Christ—notably evidenced through such phenomena as the Jesus Movement and the charismatic re­new­al—most thinking Christians are realizing something else is needed: the rediscovery of the historic Church.

Often, in heated reaction to dated and dead Protestant liberalism, we would hear evangelical preachers in the late sixties and early seventies say, “All you need is Jesus!” Such statements often got rave reviews, but just a little thoughtful reflection quickly showed such a simplistic religion to be shallow and unfulfilling. More and more, that kind of existential reductionism is being tempered with a renewed emphasis on the whole impact of the Incarnation, the coming in the flesh of the Son of God. There must be more to Christianity than a private, internalized in­di­vi­dual­ism. If all we needed was Jesus, why would Jesus have promised, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18)?

But our need for the Church begs a question, a crucial question. Which Church? The easy answer, of course, and a correct answer, is, “the New Testament Church.” But this isn’t A.D. 65, and we aren’t in old Jerusalem or Colosse. We are in the twentieth century and our challenge is to find the New Testament Church in our day, being sure it is historically identical to the Church of the Apostles—the one Christ Himself established.

Starting in the twentieth century with the plethora of choices available to us is difficult. For we have hundreds of denominations and sects claiming to one degree or another to be the New Testament Church. The Roman Catholic Church makes that claim based on its apostolic succession. Baptist churches are unwaveringly confident they hold to the New Testament Faith. Often a Church of Christ will have a sign outside reading, “Founded in Jerusalem, 33 A.D.,” thereby staking the claim to be the original Church. And the list goes on. Granted, many groups have maintained, or even rediscovered, important aspects of the New Testament Faith. But who is right? Or is the pluralism crowd correct—that essentially everybody is in and ties for first place?

Back to Church One

There is a predictably reliable way to tackle the problem of who is right. Rather than trying to decide which of the over 2,500 Christian groups in North America keeps the original Faith best by studying what they are like right now, we can start from the beginning of the Church itself and work our way through history to the present.

The birthday of the Church was Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the Twelve Apostles in the Upper Room. That day some 3,000 souls believed in Christ and were baptized. When the first Christian community began, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

From Jerusalem, the Faith in Christ spread throughout Judea, to Samaria (Acts 8), to Antioch and the Gentiles (Acts 13), where we find new converts and new churches throughout Asia Minor and the Roman Empire.

From the pages of the Gospels and Epistles, we learn that the Church was not simply another organization in Roman society. The Lord Jesus Christ had given the promise of the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). With the fulfillment of that promise beginning at Pentecost, the Church was founded with a status far above that of a mere institution. Saint Paul was right on target in Ephesians 2:22, where he called the Church the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” The Church was a living, dynamic organism, the living Body of Jesus Christ. She made an indelible impact in the world, and those who participated in her life in faith were personally transformed.

But we also discover in the New Testament itself that the Church had her share of problems. All was not perfection. Individuals in the Church sought to lead her off the path the Apostles had established, and they had to be dealt with along with the errors they invented. Even whole local communities lapsed on occasion and had to be called to repentance. The Church in Laodicea is a vivid example (Revelation 3). Discipline was administered for the sake of purity in the Church. But there was growth and a maturing even as the Church was attacked from within and without. The same Spirit who gave her birth gave her power for purity and correction, and she stood strong and grew until she eventually invaded the whole of the Roman Empire.

The Second Century and On

As the procession of the early Church moves from the pages of the New Testament and on into the succeeding centuries of her history, it is helpful to trace her growth and development in terms of specific categories. Therefore let us look first at a category important for all Christian people: doctrine. Did the Church maintain the truth of God as given by Christ and His Apostles? Second, what about worship? Is there a discernible way in which the people of God have offered a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to Him? Third, we will consider Church government. What sort of polity did the Church practice?

1. Doctrine: Not only did the Church begin under the teaching of the Apostles, but she was also instructed to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The Apostle Paul insisted that those matters delivered by him and his fellow Apostles, both in person and in the writings that would come to be called the New Testament, be adhered to carefully. Thus followed such appropriate warnings as “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The doctrines taught by Christ and His disciples are to be safeguarded by “the church . . . the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and are not open for re­ne­go­tia­tion.

Midway through the first century, a dispute over adherence to Old Testament laws arose in Antioch. The matter could not be settled there, and outside help was needed. The leaders of the Antiochian church, the community which had earlier dispatched Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, brought the matter to Jeru­sa­lem for consideration by the Apostles and elders there. The matter was discussed, debated, and a written decision was forthcoming.

It was James, the “brother” of the Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem, who gave the solution to the problem. This settlement, agreed to by all concerned at what is known as the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), set the pattern for the use of Church councils in the centuries ahead to settle doctrinal and moral issues that arose. Thus, in the history of the Church we find scores of such councils, and on various levels, to settle matters of dispute, and to deal with those who do not adhere to the Apostolic Faith.

In addition to this well-known controversy, the first three hundred years of Christian history were also marked by the appearance of certain heresies or false teachings, such as super-secret philosophic schemes for “insiders” only (Gnosticism), wild prophetic programs (Montanism), and grave errors regarding the three Per­sons of the Trinity (Sabellianism).

Then, in the early fourth century, a heresy with potential for Church-wide disruption appeared and was propagated by one Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. He denied the eternality of the Son of God, claiming, contrary to the Apostles’ doctrine, that the Son was a created being who came into existence at a point in time and thus was not truly God. This serious error crept through the Church like a cancer. Turmoil spread almost everywhere. To solve the problem the first Church-wide, or ecumenical, council met in Nicea in A.D. 325 to consider this doctrine. Some 318 bishops, along with many priests and deacons, rejected the new teaching of Arius and his associates and upheld the Apostles’ doctrine of Christ, confirming “there never was a time when the Son of God was not,” and issued a definition of the apostolic teaching concerning Christ in what we today call the Nicene Creed.

Between the years 325 and 787, seven such Church-wide conclaves were held, all dealing first and foremost with some specific challenge to the apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ. These are known as the Seven Ecumenical Councils, meeting in the cities of Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople.

For the first thousand years of Christian history, the entire Church, save for the heretics, embraced and defended the New Testament Apostolic Faith. There was no division. And this one Faith, preserved through all these trials, attacks, and tests, this one Apostolic Faith, was called the Orthodox Faith.

2. Worship: Doctrinal purity was tenaciously maintained. But true Christianity is far more than adherence to a set of correct beliefs alone. The life of the Church is centrally expressed in her worship or adoration of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was Jesus Himself who told the woman at the well, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the Communion service, when He took bread and wine, blessed them, and said to His disciples, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” and, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19, 20). From New Testament books such as Acts and Hebrews we know that the Church participated in Communion at least each Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 11). And also from such first- and second-century sources as the Didache and Saint Justin Martyr, we learn the Eucharist was kept at the very center of Christian worship after the death of the Apostles.

And just as the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets were read in the temple worship and the synagogue in Israel, so the Church also immediately gave high priority to the public reading of Scripture and to preach­ing in her worship, along with the eucharistic meal.

Even before the middle of the first century, Christian worship was known by the term “liturgy,” which means literally “the common work” or “the work of the people.” The early liturgy of the Church’s worship was composed of two essential parts: (1) the Liturgy of the Word, including hymns, Scripture reading, and preaching; and (2) the Liturgy of the Faithful, composed of intercessory prayers, the kiss of peace, and the Eucharist. Virtually from the beginning, it had a definable shape or form which continues to this day.

Modern Christians advocating freedom from lit­ur­gy in worship are usually shocked to learn that such spontaneity was never the practice in the ancient Church! A basic pattern or shape of Christian worship was observed from the start. And as the Church grew and matured, that structure matured as well. Hymns, Scripture readings, and prayers were intertwined in the basic foundation. A clear, purposeful procession through the year, honoring in word, song, and praise the Birth, ministry, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and marking crucial issues in Chris­tian life and experience, was forthcoming. The Chris­tian life was lived in reality in the worship of the Church. Far from being routine, the worship of the historic Church participated in the unfolding drama of the richness and mystery of the Gospel itself!

Further, specific landmarks in our salvation and walk with Christ were observed. Baptism and the anointing with oil, or chrismation, were there from Day One of the Church. Marriage, healing, confession of sin, and ordination to the ministry of the gospel were early recognized and practiced. On each of these occasions, Christians understood, in a great mystery, grace and power from God were being given to people according to the individual need of each person. The Church saw these events as holy moments in her life and called them her mysteries or sacraments.

3. Government: No one seriously questions whether the Apostles of Christ led the Church at her beginning. They had been given the commission to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19, 20) and the authority to forgive or retain sins (John 20:23). Theirs was by no means a preaching-only mission! They built the Church itself under Christ’s headship. To govern it, three definite and permanent offices, as taught in the New Testament, were in evidence.

a. The office of bishop. The Apostles themselves were the first bishops in the Church. Even before Pentecost, after Judas had turned traitor, Peter declared in applying Psalm 109:8, “his bishopric let another take” (Acts 1:20, KJV).

The word “bishopric” refers to the office of a bishop and its use obviously indicates the “job description” of the Apostles as being bishops. Some have mistakenly argued that the office of bishop was a later “human” invention. Quite to the contrary, the Apostles were the New Testament bishops, and they appointed bishops to succeed them to oversee the Church in each locality.

Occasionally, the objection is still heard that the offices of bishop and presbyter were originally identical. It is true the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the New Testament while the Apostles were present, but it was the understanding of the entire early Church that, with the death of the Apostles, the offices of bishop and presbyter were distinct. Ignatius of Antioch, consecrated bishop by A.D. 70 in the church from which Paul and Barnabas had been sent out, writes just after the turn of the century that bishops appointed by the Apostles, surrounded by their presbyters, were everywhere in the Church.

b. The office of presbyter. Elders or presbyters are mentioned very early in the life of the Church in the Book of Acts and the Epistles. It is evident that in each place a Christian community developed, elders were appointed by the Apostles to pastor the people.

As time passed, presbyters were referred to in the short form of the word as “prests,” then as “priests,” in full view of the fact that the Old Covenant priesthood had been fulfilled in Christ and that the Church is corporately a priesthood of believers. The priest was not understood as an intermediary between God and the people, nor as a dispenser of grace. It was the role of the priest to be the presence of Christ in the Christian community. And in the very capacity of being the presence of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the priest was to shepherd the flock of God.

c. The office of deacon. The third order or office in the government of the New Testament Church was that of deacon. At first the Apostles fulfilled this office themselves. But with the rapid growth of the Church, seven initial deacons were selected, as reported in Acts 6, to help carry the responsibility of service to those in need. It was one of these deacons, Saint Stephen, who became the first martyr of the Church.

Through the centuries, the deacons have not only served the material needs of the Church, but have held a key role in the liturgical life of the Church as well. Often called “the eyes and ears of the bishop,” many deacons have become priests and ultimately entered the episcopal office.

The authority of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon was not anciently understood as being apart from the people, but always from among the people. But the people of God were called to submit to those who ruled over them (Hebrews 13:17), and they were also called to give their agreement to the direction of the leaders for the Church. On a number of occasions in history, that “Amen” was not forthcoming, and the bishops of the Church took note and changed course. Later in history, many Church leaders departed from the ancient model and usurped authority for themselves. In the minds of some this brought the ancient model into question. But the problem was not in the model but in the deviation from it.

It should also be mentioned that it was out of the ministry and life of the Apostles that the people of God, the laity, were established in the Church. Far from being a herd of observers, the laity are vital in the effectiveness of the Church. They are the recipients and active users of the gifts and grace of the Spirit. Each one of the laity has a role in the life and function of the Church. Each one is to supply something to the whole (1 Corinthians 12:7). And it is the responsibility of the bishops, the priests, and the deacons to be sure that this is a reality for the laity.

The worship of the Church at the close of its first thousand years had substantially the same shape from place to place. The doctrine was the same. The whole Church confessed one creed, the same in every place, and had weathered many attacks. The government of the Church was recognizably one everywhere. And this One Church was the Orthodox Church.

After A Thousand Years—A Parting of Ways

Tensions began to mount as the first millennium was drawing to a close. They were reaching the breaking point as the second thousand years began. While numerous doctrinal, political, economic, and cultural factors began to work to separate the Church in a division that would be the East and the West, two giant issues ultimately emerged above others: (1) should one man, the pope of Rome, be considered the universal bishop of the Church? and (2) should a novel clause be added to one of the Church’s ecumenical creeds?

1. The Papacy: Among the Twelve, Saint Peter was early acknowledged as the leader. He was spokesman for the Twelve before and after Pentecost. He was the first bishop of Antioch and later bishop of Rome. No one challenged his role.

After the death of the Apostles, as leadership in the Church developed, the bishop of Rome came to be recognized as first in honor, even though all bishops were equals. But after nearly 300 years, the bishop of Rome slowly began to assume to himself a role of superiority over the others, ultimately claiming to be the only true successor to Saint Peter. The vast majority of the other bishops of the Church never questioned Rome’s primacy of honor, but they patently rejected its claim to be the universal head of the Church on earth. This claim became one of the major factors leading to the tragic split between the Western and Eastern Church which we will soon be considering.

2. The Addition to the Creed: A disagreement about the Holy Spirit also began to develop in the Church. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father? Or does He proceed from the Father and the Son?

In John 15:26, our Lord Jesus Christ asserts, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (italics mine). This is the basic statement in all of the New Testament about the Holy Spirit “proceeding,” and it is clear: He “proceeds from the Father.”

Thus when the ancient council at Constantinople in A.D. 381, during the course of its conclave, reaffirmed the Creed of Nicea (A.D. 325), it expanded that Creed to proclaim these familiar words: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-Giver, who proceeds from the Father, who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son . . . ”

But two hundred years later, at a local council in Toledo, Spain (A.D. 589), King Reccared declared that “the Holy Spirit also should be confessed by us and taught to proceed from the Father and the Son.” The King may have meant well, but he was contradicting the apostolic teaching about the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the local Spanish council agreed with his error.

Because of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures as confessed by the entire Church at Nicea and at Con­stan­tin­ople and for centuries beyond, there is no reason to believe anything other than that the Holy Spirit pro­ceeds from the Father. Period!

But centuries later, in what was looked upon by many as a largely political move, the pope of Rome unilaterally changed the wording of the universal creed of the Church. Such an independent action was bound to evoke a strong response from the Eastern bishops. They saw it as a flagrant violation of the long-established practice that no universal creed could be altered or changed apart from the corporate action of an ecumenical council. Though this change was initially re­jec­ted in both East and West, even by some of Rome’s closest neighboring bishops, the pope eventually convinced the Western bishops to capitulate to it. Although this change may appear small, the con-sequences have proven disastrous—both from a theological and an historical perspective. This issue represented a major departure from the Orthodox doctrine of the Church. It became another instrumental cause leading to the separation of the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Schism

Conflict between the Roman pope and the East mounted—especially in the West’s dealings with the Eastern bishop, or patriarch, of Constantinople. It was even asserted that the pope had the authority to decide who should be the bishop of Constantinople—something which violated historical precedent, and which no Orthodox bishop could endure. The net result of this assertion was that the Eastern Church, and in fact the entire Christian Church, was seen by the West to be under the domination of the pope.

A series of intrigues followed one upon the other as the Roman papacy began asserting an increasing degree of unilateral and often authoritarian control over the rest of the Church. Perhaps the most invidious of these political, religious, and even military intrigues, as far as the East was concerned, occurred in the year 1054. A cardinal, sent by the pope, slapped a document on the altar of the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople during the Sunday worship, excommunicating the patriarch of Constantinople from the Church!

Rome, of course, was flagrantly overstepping its bounds by this action. Some very sordid chapters of Church history were written during the next decades. Ultimately, the final consequence of these tragic events was a massive split which occurred between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. While some disagree that the West departed from the New Testament Church at this point, the reality remains that the schism was never healed.

As the centuries passed, conflict continued. Attempts at union failed and the split widened. Orthodox Christians agree that in departing from the tradition of the Church the West had deviated from historic Christianity, and in so doing, set the stage for countless other divisions which were soon to follow.

The West: Reformation and Counter-Reformation

During the succeeding centuries after A.D. 1054, the growing distinction between East and West was indelibly marked in history. The East maintained the full stream of New Testament Faith, worship, and practice. The Western or Roman Catholic Church, after its schism from the Orthodox Church, bogged down in many complex problems. Then, centuries after Rome committed itself to its unilateral spirit of doctrine and practice, another upheaval was festering—this time not next door to the East, but inside the Western gates themselves.

Though many in the West had spoken out against Roman domination and practice in earlier years, now a little-known German monk named Martin Luther launched an attack against certain Roman Catholic practices that ended up affecting world his­to­ry. His famous Ninety-Five Theses were nailed to the church door at Wittenburg in 1517. In a short time those theses were signalling the start of what came to be called in the West the Protestant Reformation. Luther sought an audience with the pope but was denied, and in 1521 he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. He had intended no break with Rome. Un-responsive to Luther’s many legitimate objections concerning the novel practices of the now-separated Western Church, Rome refused to budge or bend. The door to future unity in the West slammed shut with a resounding crash.

The protests of Luther were not unnoticed. The reforms he sought in Germany were soon accompanied by the demands of Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, John Calvin in Geneva, and hundreds of others all over Western Europe. Fueled by complex political, social, and economic factors, in addition to religious problems, the Reformation spread like a raging fire into virtually every nook and cranny of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church’s Western ecclesiastical monopoly was greatly diminished and massive division replaced its artificial unity. The ripple effect of that division continues even to our day.

If trouble on the continent were not enough, the Church of England was in the process of going its own way as well. Henry VIII, amidst his marital problems, placed himself as head of the Church of England instead of the pope of Rome. For only a few short years would the pope ever again have ascendancy in England. And the English Church itself would be shattered by great division.

As decade followed decade in the West, the many branches of Protestantism took various forms. There were even divisions that insisted they were neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic. All seemed to share a mutual dislike for the bishop of Rome and the practice of his church, and most wanted far less centralized forms of leadership. While some, such as the Lutherans and Anglicans, held on to a basic form of liturgy and sacrament, others, such as the Reformed Churches and the even more radical Anabaptists and their descendants, questioned and rejected many biblical ideas of hierarchy, sacrament, historic tradition, and other elements of historic Christian practice, no matter when and where they appeared in history, thinking they were freeing themselves of Roman Catholicism.

To this day, many sincere, modern, professing Christians will reject even the biblical data which speak of historic Christian practice, simply because they think such his­toric practices are “Roman Catholic.” To use the old adage, they “threw the baby out with the bathwater,” without even being aware of it.

Thus, while retaining in varying degrees portions of foundational Christianity, neither Protestantism nor Roman Catholicism can lay historic claim to being the true New Testament Church. In dividing from the Orthodox Church, Rome forfeited its place in the Church of the New Testament. In the divisions of the Reformation, the Protestants—as well-meaning as they might have been—failed to return to the New Testament Church.

The Orthodox Church Today

But that first Church, the Church of Peter and Paul and the Apostles, the Orthodox Church—despite persecution, political oppression, and desertion on certain of its flanks—miraculously carries on today the same Faith and life of the Church of the New Testament. Admittedly the style of Orthodoxy looks complicated to the modern Protestant eye, and understandably so. But given the historical understanding of how the Church has progressed, the simple Christ-centered Faith of the Apostles is clearly preserved in its practices, services, and even its architecture.

In Orthodoxy today, as in years gone by, the basics of Christian doctrine, worship, and government are never up for renegotiation. One cannot be an Orthodox priest, for example, and reject the divinity of Christ, His Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Ascension into heaven, and Second Coming. The Church simply has not left its course in nearly 2,000 years. It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. It is the New Testament Church. The gates of hell have not prevailed against it.

But Orthodoxy is also, in the words of one of her bishops, “the best-kept secret in America.” Though there are more than 225 million Orthodox Christians in the world today, many Americans are not familiar with the Church. In North America, the Orthodox Church until recently has been largely limited to ethnic boun­da­ries, not spreading much beyond the parishes of the committed immigrants that brought the Church to the shores of this continent.

But the Holy Spirit has continued His work, causing new people to discover this Church of the New Testament. People have begun to find Orthodox Christianity both through the writings of the early Church Fathers, and through the humble witness of Orthodox Christians. On a personal note, I am a part of a group of nearly 2,000 ex-Protestant evangelicals who were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in the spring of 1987 as the Evan­geli­cal Orthodox Mission. Orthodox student groups are springing up on a number of American campuses. The word is getting out.

What does this identity of the Orthodox Church with the New Testament Church mean as far as the other churches in Christendom are concerned? Many have retained much of the truth of Orthodox Christianity. Some pretend to be the New Testament Church but are seriously off-base, leading people far astray from Christ and the Church. Other modern churches have preserved truth in greater or lesser degree.

But groups which possess some or much of the truth are one thing; the New Testament Church is another.

What is it that’s missing in the non-Orthodox churches—even the best of them? Fullness. The fullness of the New Testament Faith is to be found only in the New Testament Church. Being in the New Testament Church doesn’t guarantee all those in it will necessarily take advantage of the fullness of the Faith. But it does guarantee the fullness is there for those who do.

For those who seriously desire the fullness of the New Testament Faith, action must be taken. There must be for these a return to the New Testament Church. Being aware of this ancient Church is not enough. In America, people have had ample opportunity to investigate and decide about the Roman Catholic faith, the Baptist, the Lutheran, and so on. Not so regarding the Orthodox Church. Let me make three specific suggestions that will provide you with a tangible means to look into Orthodox Christianity and to decide for yourself if it is not the Church for which you have searched.

1. Visit: Look up “Orthodox” or “Eastern Orthodox” in the “Church” section of your Yellow Pages. Ask for the whereabouts of the nearest Orthodox parish. Pay a visit—several visits. Meet the priest, and ask him to help you study and learn. And be prepared to be patient. Some­times a portion of the Liturgy is not in English! But the service books will help out here.

2. Read: There are a number of books and periodicals immensely helpful to people seeking to learn about the Orthodox Church. Let me mention a few: The Orthodox Church, by Timothy (Bishop Kallistos) Ware (Penguin); The Orthodox Faith, by Father Thomas Hopko (4-volume set, Orthodox Christian Publications Center); the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (several editions available); Feed My Sheep, by Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba (Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press); AGAIN Magazine (Conciliar Press).

3. Write: Conciliar Press (P.O. Box 76, Ben Lomond, CA 95005) can help put you in touch with an Orthodox church and supply you with a book list including other recommended reading. Send your name and address and a request for information.

In a day when Christians are realizing anew the centrality and importance of the Church as the Body of Christ, the doors of Orthodoxy are open wide and the invitation is extended to come and see. Examine her Faith, her worship, her history, her commitment to Christ, her love for God the Father, her communion with the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Church has kept the Faith delivered once for all to the saints for nearly two thousand years. In her walls is the fullness of the salvation which was realized when “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

by Fr. Jon E. Braun

Coming off a couple of decades of heightened awareness of our need for a personal knowledge of Christ—notably evidenced through such phenomena as the Jesus Movement and the charismatic re­new­al—most thinking Christians are realizing something else is needed: the rediscovery of the historic Church.

Often, in heated reaction to dated and dead Protestant liberalism, we would hear evangelical preachers in the late sixties and early seventies say, “All you need is Jesus!” Such statements often got rave reviews, but just a little thoughtful reflection quickly showed such a simplistic religion to be shallow and unfulfilling. More and more, that kind of existential reductionism is being tempered with a renewed emphasis on the whole impact of the Incarnation, the coming in the flesh of the Son of God. There must be more to Christianity than a private, internalized in­di­vi­dual­ism. If all we needed was Jesus, why would Jesus have promised, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18)?

But our need for the Church begs a question, a crucial question. Which Church? The easy answer, of course, and a correct answer, is, “the New Testament Church.” But this isn’t A.D. 65, and we aren’t in old Jerusalem or Colosse. We are in the twentieth century and our challenge is to find the New Testament Church in our day, being sure it is historically identical to the Church of the Apostles—the one Christ Himself established.

Starting in the twentieth century with the plethora of choices available to us is difficult. For we have hundreds of denominations and sects claiming to one degree or another to be the New Testament Church. The Roman Catholic Church makes that claim based on its apostolic succession. Baptist churches are unwaveringly confident they hold to the New Testament Faith. Often a Church of Christ will have a sign outside reading, “Founded in Jerusalem, 33 A.D.,” thereby staking the claim to be the original Church. And the list goes on. Granted, many groups have maintained, or even rediscovered, important aspects of the New Testament Faith. But who is right? Or is the pluralism crowd correct—that essentially everybody is in and ties for first place?

Back to Church One

There is a predictably reliable way to tackle the problem of who is right. Rather than trying to decide which of the over 2,500 Christian groups in North America keeps the original Faith best by studying what they are like right now, we can start from the beginning of the Church itself and work our way through history to the present.

The birthday of the Church was Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the Twelve Apostles in the Upper Room. That day some 3,000 souls believed in Christ and were baptized. When the first Christian community began, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

From Jerusalem, the Faith in Christ spread throughout Judea, to Samaria (Acts 8), to Antioch and the Gentiles (Acts 13), where we find new converts and new churches throughout Asia Minor and the Roman Empire.

From the pages of the Gospels and Epistles, we learn that the Church was not simply another organization in Roman society. The Lord Jesus Christ had given the promise of the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). With the fulfillment of that promise beginning at Pentecost, the Church was founded with a status far above that of a mere institution. Saint Paul was right on target in Ephesians 2:22, where he called the Church the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” The Church was a living, dynamic organism, the living Body of Jesus Christ. She made an indelible impact in the world, and those who participated in her life in faith were personally transformed.

But we also discover in the New Testament itself that the Church had her share of problems. All was not perfection. Individuals in the Church sought to lead her off the path the Apostles had established, and they had to be dealt with along with the errors they invented. Even whole local communities lapsed on occasion and had to be called to repentance. The Church in Laodicea is a vivid example (Revelation 3). Discipline was administered for the sake of purity in the Church. But there was growth and a maturing even as the Church was attacked from within and without. The same Spirit who gave her birth gave her power for purity and correction, and she stood strong and grew until she eventually invaded the whole of the Roman Empire.

The Second Century and On

As the procession of the early Church moves from the pages of the New Testament and on into the succeeding centuries of her history, it is helpful to trace her growth and development in terms of specific categories. Therefore let us look first at a category important for all Christian people: doctrine. Did the Church maintain the truth of God as given by Christ and His Apostles? Second, what about worship? Is there a discernible way in which the people of God have offered a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to Him? Third, we will consider Church government. What sort of polity did the Church practice?

1. Doctrine: Not only did the Church begin under the teaching of the Apostles, but she was also instructed to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The Apostle Paul insisted that those matters delivered by him and his fellow Apostles, both in person and in the writings that would come to be called the New Testament, be adhered to carefully. Thus followed such appropriate warnings as “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). The doctrines taught by Christ and His disciples are to be safeguarded by “the church . . . the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and are not open for re­ne­go­tia­tion.

Midway through the first century, a dispute over adherence to Old Testament laws arose in Antioch. The matter could not be settled there, and outside help was needed. The leaders of the Antiochian church, the community which had earlier dispatched Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, brought the matter to Jeru­sa­lem for consideration by the Apostles and elders there. The matter was discussed, debated, and a written decision was forthcoming.

It was James, the “brother” of the Lord and the first bishop of Jerusalem, who gave the solution to the problem. This settlement, agreed to by all concerned at what is known as the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), set the pattern for the use of Church councils in the centuries ahead to settle doctrinal and moral issues that arose. Thus, in the history of the Church we find scores of such councils, and on various levels, to settle matters of dispute, and to deal with those who do not adhere to the Apostolic Faith.

In addition to this well-known controversy, the first three hundred years of Christian history were also marked by the appearance of certain heresies or false teachings, such as super-secret philosophic schemes for “insiders” only (Gnosticism), wild prophetic programs (Montanism), and grave errors regarding the three Per­sons of the Trinity (Sabellianism).

Then, in the early fourth century, a heresy with potential for Church-wide disruption appeared and was propagated by one Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. He denied the eternality of the Son of God, claiming, contrary to the Apostles’ doctrine, that the Son was a created being who came into existence at a point in time and thus was not truly God. This serious error crept through the Church like a cancer. Turmoil spread almost everywhere. To solve the problem the first Church-wide, or ecumenical, council met in Nicea in A.D. 325 to consider this doctrine. Some 318 bishops, along with many priests and deacons, rejected the new teaching of Arius and his associates and upheld the Apostles’ doctrine of Christ, confirming “there never was a time when the Son of God was not,” and issued a definition of the apostolic teaching concerning Christ in what we today call the Nicene Creed.

Between the years 325 and 787, seven such Church-wide conclaves were held, all dealing first and foremost with some specific challenge to the apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ. These are known as the Seven Ecumenical Councils, meeting in the cities of Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople.

For the first thousand years of Christian history, the entire Church, save for the heretics, embraced and defended the New Testament Apostolic Faith. There was no division. And this one Faith, preserved through all these trials, attacks, and tests, this one Apostolic Faith, was called the Orthodox Faith.

2. Worship: Doctrinal purity was tenaciously maintained. But true Christianity is far more than adherence to a set of correct beliefs alone. The life of the Church is centrally expressed in her worship or adoration of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was Jesus Himself who told the woman at the well, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).

At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the Communion service, when He took bread and wine, blessed them, and said to His disciples, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” and, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19, 20). From New Testament books such as Acts and Hebrews we know that the Church participated in Communion at least each Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 11). And also from such first- and second-century sources as the Didache and Saint Justin Martyr, we learn the Eucharist was kept at the very center of Christian worship after the death of the Apostles.

And just as the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets were read in the temple worship and the synagogue in Israel, so the Church also immediately gave high priority to the public reading of Scripture and to preach­ing in her worship, along with the eucharistic meal.

Even before the middle of the first century, Christian worship was known by the term “liturgy,” which means literally “the common work” or “the work of the people.” The early liturgy of the Church’s worship was composed of two essential parts: (1) the Liturgy of the Word, including hymns, Scripture reading, and preaching; and (2) the Liturgy of the Faithful, composed of intercessory prayers, the kiss of peace, and the Eucharist. Virtually from the beginning, it had a definable shape or form which continues to this day.

Modern Christians advocating freedom from lit­ur­gy in worship are usually shocked to learn that such spontaneity was never the practice in the ancient Church! A basic pattern or shape of Christian worship was observed from the start. And as the Church grew and matured, that structure matured as well. Hymns, Scripture readings, and prayers were intertwined in the basic foundation. A clear, purposeful procession through the year, honoring in word, song, and praise the Birth, ministry, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and marking crucial issues in Chris­tian life and experience, was forthcoming. The Chris­tian life was lived in reality in the worship of the Church. Far from being routine, the worship of the historic Church participated in the unfolding drama of the richness and mystery of the Gospel itself!

Further, specific landmarks in our salvation and walk with Christ were observed. Baptism and the anointing with oil, or chrismation, were there from Day One of the Church. Marriage, healing, confession of sin, and ordination to the ministry of the gospel were early recognized and practiced. On each of these occasions, Christians understood, in a great mystery, grace and power from God were being given to people according to the individual need of each person. The Church saw these events as holy moments in her life and called them her mysteries or sacraments.

3. Government: No one seriously questions whether the Apostles of Christ led the Church at her beginning. They had been given the commission to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19, 20) and the authority to forgive or retain sins (John 20:23). Theirs was by no means a preaching-only mission! They built the Church itself under Christ’s headship. To govern it, three definite and permanent offices, as taught in the New Testament, were in evidence.

a. The office of bishop. The Apostles themselves were the first bishops in the Church. Even before Pentecost, after Judas had turned traitor, Peter declared in applying Psalm 109:8, “his bishopric let another take” (Acts 1:20, KJV).

The word “bishopric” refers to the office of a bishop and its use obviously indicates the “job description” of the Apostles as being bishops. Some have mistakenly argued that the office of bishop was a later “human” invention. Quite to the contrary, the Apostles were the New Testament bishops, and they appointed bishops to succeed them to oversee the Church in each locality.

Occasionally, the objection is still heard that the offices of bishop and presbyter were originally identical. It is true the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the New Testament while the Apostles were present, but it was the understanding of the entire early Church that, with the death of the Apostles, the offices of bishop and presbyter were distinct. Ignatius of Antioch, consecrated bishop by A.D. 70 in the church from which Paul and Barnabas had been sent out, writes just after the turn of the century that bishops appointed by the Apostles, surrounded by their presbyters, were everywhere in the Church.

b. The office of presbyter. Elders or presbyters are mentioned very early in the life of the Church in the Book of Acts and the Epistles. It is evident that in each place a Christian community developed, elders were appointed by the Apostles to pastor the people.

As time passed, presbyters were referred to in the short form of the word as “prests,” then as “priests,” in full view of the fact that the Old Covenant priesthood had been fulfilled in Christ and that the Church is corporately a priesthood of believers. The priest was not understood as an intermediary between God and the people, nor as a dispenser of grace. It was the role of the priest to be the presence of Christ in the Christian community. And in the very capacity of being the presence of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the priest was to shepherd the flock of God.

c. The office of deacon. The third order or office in the government of the New Testament Church was that of deacon. At first the Apostles fulfilled this office themselves. But with the rapid growth of the Church, seven initial deacons were selected, as reported in Acts 6, to help carry the responsibility of service to those in need. It was one of these deacons, Saint Stephen, who became the first martyr of the Church.

Through the centuries, the deacons have not only served the material needs of the Church, but have held a key role in the liturgical life of the Church as well. Often called “the eyes and ears of the bishop,” many deacons have become priests and ultimately entered the episcopal office.

The authority of the bishop, presbyter, and deacon was not anciently understood as being apart from the people, but always from among the people. But the people of God were called to submit to those who ruled over them (Hebrews 13:17), and they were also called to give their agreement to the direction of the leaders for the Church. On a number of occasions in history, that “Amen” was not forthcoming, and the bishops of the Church took note and changed course. Later in history, many Church leaders departed from the ancient model and usurped authority for themselves. In the minds of some this brought the ancient model into question. But the problem was not in the model but in the deviation from it.

It should also be mentioned that it was out of the ministry and life of the Apostles that the people of God, the laity, were established in the Church. Far from being a herd of observers, the laity are vital in the effectiveness of the Church. They are the recipients and active users of the gifts and grace of the Spirit. Each one of the laity has a role in the life and function of the Church. Each one is to supply something to the whole (1 Corinthians 12:7). And it is the responsibility of the bishops, the priests, and the deacons to be sure that this is a reality for the laity.

The worship of the Church at the close of its first thousand years had substantially the same shape from place to place. The doctrine was the same. The whole Church confessed one creed, the same in every place, and had weathered many attacks. The government of the Church was recognizably one everywhere. And this One Church was the Orthodox Church.

After A Thousand Years—A Parting of Ways

Tensions began to mount as the first millennium was drawing to a close. They were reaching the breaking point as the second thousand years began. While numerous doctrinal, political, economic, and cultural factors began to work to separate the Church in a division that would be the East and the West, two giant issues ultimately emerged above others: (1) should one man, the pope of Rome, be considered the universal bishop of the Church? and (2) should a novel clause be added to one of the Church’s ecumenical creeds?

1. The Papacy: Among the Twelve, Saint Peter was early acknowledged as the leader. He was spokesman for the Twelve before and after Pentecost. He was the first bishop of Antioch and later bishop of Rome. No one challenged his role.

After the death of the Apostles, as leadership in the Church developed, the bishop of Rome came to be recognized as first in honor, even though all bishops were equals. But after nearly 300 years, the bishop of Rome slowly began to assume to himself a role of superiority over the others, ultimately claiming to be the only true successor to Saint Peter. The vast majority of the other bishops of the Church never questioned Rome’s primacy of honor, but they patently rejected its claim to be the universal head of the Church on earth. This claim became one of the major factors leading to the tragic split between the Western and Eastern Church which we will soon be considering.

2. The Addition to the Creed: A disagreement about the Holy Spirit also began to develop in the Church. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father? Or does He proceed from the Father and the Son?

In John 15:26, our Lord Jesus Christ asserts, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (italics mine). This is the basic statement in all of the New Testament about the Holy Spirit “proceeding,” and it is clear: He “proceeds from the Father.”

Thus when the ancient council at Constantinople in A.D. 381, during the course of its conclave, reaffirmed the Creed of Nicea (A.D. 325), it expanded that Creed to proclaim these familiar words: “And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-Giver, who proceeds from the Father, who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son . . . ”

But two hundred years later, at a local council in Toledo, Spain (A.D. 589), King Reccared declared that “the Holy Spirit also should be confessed by us and taught to proceed from the Father and the Son.” The King may have meant well, but he was contradicting the apostolic teaching about the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the local Spanish council agreed with his error.

Because of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures as confessed by the entire Church at Nicea and at Con­stan­tin­ople and for centuries beyond, there is no reason to believe anything other than that the Holy Spirit pro­ceeds from the Father. Period!

But centuries later, in what was looked upon by many as a largely political move, the pope of Rome unilaterally changed the wording of the universal creed of the Church. Such an independent action was bound to evoke a strong response from the Eastern bishops. They saw it as a flagrant violation of the long-established practice that no universal creed could be altered or changed apart from the corporate action of an ecumenical council. Though this change was initially re­jec­ted in both East and West, even by some of Rome’s closest neighboring bishops, the pope eventually convinced the Western bishops to capitulate to it. Although this change may appear small, the con-sequences have proven disastrous—both from a theological and an historical perspective. This issue represented a major departure from the Orthodox doctrine of the Church. It became another instrumental cause leading to the separation of the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Schism

Conflict between the Roman pope and the East mounted—especially in the West’s dealings with the Eastern bishop, or patriarch, of Constantinople. It was even asserted that the pope had the authority to decide who should be the bishop of Constantinople—something which violated historical precedent, and which no Orthodox bishop could endure. The net result of this assertion was that the Eastern Church, and in fact the entire Christian Church, was seen by the West to be under the domination of the pope.

A series of intrigues followed one upon the other as the Roman papacy began asserting an increasing degree of unilateral and often authoritarian control over the rest of the Church. Perhaps the most invidious of these political, religious, and even military intrigues, as far as the East was concerned, occurred in the year 1054. A cardinal, sent by the pope, slapped a document on the altar of the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople during the Sunday worship, excommunicating the patriarch of Constantinople from the Church!

Rome, of course, was flagrantly overstepping its bounds by this action. Some very sordid chapters of Church history were written during the next decades. Ultimately, the final consequence of these tragic events was a massive split which occurred between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. While some disagree that the West departed from the New Testament Church at this point, the reality remains that the schism was never healed.

As the centuries passed, conflict continued. Attempts at union failed and the split widened. Orthodox Christians agree that in departing from the tradition of the Church the West had deviated from historic Christianity, and in so doing, set the stage for countless other divisions which were soon to follow.

The West: Reformation and Counter-Reformation

During the succeeding centuries after A.D. 1054, the growing distinction between East and West was indelibly marked in history. The East maintained the full stream of New Testament Faith, worship, and practice. The Western or Roman Catholic Church, after its schism from the Orthodox Church, bogged down in many complex problems. Then, centuries after Rome committed itself to its unilateral spirit of doctrine and practice, another upheaval was festering—this time not next door to the East, but inside the Western gates themselves.

Though many in the West had spoken out against Roman domination and practice in earlier years, now a little-known German monk named Martin Luther launched an attack against certain Roman Catholic practices that ended up affecting world his­to­ry. His famous Ninety-Five Theses were nailed to the church door at Wittenburg in 1517. In a short time those theses were signalling the start of what came to be called in the West the Protestant Reformation. Luther sought an audience with the pope but was denied, and in 1521 he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. He had intended no break with Rome. Un-responsive to Luther’s many legitimate objections concerning the novel practices of the now-separated Western Church, Rome refused to budge or bend. The door to future unity in the West slammed shut with a resounding crash.

The protests of Luther were not unnoticed. The reforms he sought in Germany were soon accompanied by the demands of Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, John Calvin in Geneva, and hundreds of others all over Western Europe. Fueled by complex political, social, and economic factors, in addition to religious problems, the Reformation spread like a raging fire into virtually every nook and cranny of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church’s Western ecclesiastical monopoly was greatly diminished and massive division replaced its artificial unity. The ripple effect of that division continues even to our day.

If trouble on the continent were not enough, the Church of England was in the process of going its own way as well. Henry VIII, amidst his marital problems, placed himself as head of the Church of England instead of the pope of Rome. For only a few short years would the pope ever again have ascendancy in England. And the English Church itself would be shattered by great division.

As decade followed decade in the West, the many branches of Protestantism took various forms. There were even divisions that insisted they were neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic. All seemed to share a mutual dislike for the bishop of Rome and the practice of his church, and most wanted far less centralized forms of leadership. While some, such as the Lutherans and Anglicans, held on to a basic form of liturgy and sacrament, others, such as the Reformed Churches and the even more radical Anabaptists and their descendants, questioned and rejected many biblical ideas of hierarchy, sacrament, historic tradition, and other elements of historic Christian practice, no matter when and where they appeared in history, thinking they were freeing themselves of Roman Catholicism.

To this day, many sincere, modern, professing Christians will reject even the biblical data which speak of historic Christian practice, simply because they think such his­toric practices are “Roman Catholic.” To use the old adage, they “threw the baby out with the bathwater,” without even being aware of it.

Thus, while retaining in varying degrees portions of foundational Christianity, neither Protestantism nor Roman Catholicism can lay historic claim to being the true New Testament Church. In dividing from the Orthodox Church, Rome forfeited its place in the Church of the New Testament. In the divisions of the Reformation, the Protestants—as well-meaning as they might have been—failed to return to the New Testament Church.

The Orthodox Church Today

But that first Church, the Church of Peter and Paul and the Apostles, the Orthodox Church—despite persecution, political oppression, and desertion on certain of its flanks—miraculously carries on today the same Faith and life of the Church of the New Testament. Admittedly the style of Orthodoxy looks complicated to the modern Protestant eye, and understandably so. But given the historical understanding of how the Church has progressed, the simple Christ-centered Faith of the Apostles is clearly preserved in its practices, services, and even its architecture.

In Orthodoxy today, as in years gone by, the basics of Christian doctrine, worship, and government are never up for renegotiation. One cannot be an Orthodox priest, for example, and reject the divinity of Christ, His Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Ascension into heaven, and Second Coming. The Church simply has not left its course in nearly 2,000 years. It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. It is the New Testament Church. The gates of hell have not prevailed against it.

But Orthodoxy is also, in the words of one of her bishops, “the best-kept secret in America.” Though there are more than 225 million Orthodox Christians in the world today, many Americans are not familiar with the Church. In North America, the Orthodox Church until recently has been largely limited to ethnic boun­da­ries, not spreading much beyond the parishes of the committed immigrants that brought the Church to the shores of this continent.

But the Holy Spirit has continued His work, causing new people to discover this Church of the New Testament. People have begun to find Orthodox Christianity both through the writings of the early Church Fathers, and through the humble witness of Orthodox Christians. On a personal note, I am a part of a group of nearly 2,000 ex-Protestant evangelicals who were received into the Antiochian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in the spring of 1987 as the Evan­geli­cal Orthodox Mission. Orthodox student groups are springing up on a number of American campuses. The word is getting out.

What does this identity of the Orthodox Church with the New Testament Church mean as far as the other churches in Christendom are concerned? Many have retained much of the truth of Orthodox Christianity. Some pretend to be the New Testament Church but are seriously off-base, leading people far astray from Christ and the Church. Other modern churches have preserved truth in greater or lesser degree.

But groups which possess some or much of the truth are one thing; the New Testament Church is another.

What is it that’s missing in the non-Orthodox churches—even the best of them? Fullness. The fullness of the New Testament Faith is to be found only in the New Testament Church. Being in the New Testament Church doesn’t guarantee all those in it will necessarily take advantage of the fullness of the Faith. But it does guarantee the fullness is there for those who do.

For those who seriously desire the fullness of the New Testament Faith, action must be taken. There must be for these a return to the New Testament Church. Being aware of this ancient Church is not enough. In America, people have had ample opportunity to investigate and decide about the Roman Catholic faith, the Baptist, the Lutheran, and so on. Not so regarding the Orthodox Church. Let me make three specific suggestions that will provide you with a tangible means to look into Orthodox Christianity and to decide for yourself if it is not the Church for which you have searched.

1. Visit: Look up “Orthodox” or “Eastern Orthodox” in the “Church” section of your Yellow Pages. Ask for the whereabouts of the nearest Orthodox parish. Pay a visit—several visits. Meet the priest, and ask him to help you study and learn. And be prepared to be patient. Some­times a portion of the Liturgy is not in English! But the service books will help out here.

2. Read: There are a number of books and periodicals immensely helpful to people seeking to learn about the Orthodox Church. Let me mention a few: The Orthodox Church, by Timothy (Bishop Kallistos) Ware (Penguin); The Orthodox Faith, by Father Thomas Hopko (4-volume set, Orthodox Christian Publications Center); the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (several editions available); Feed My Sheep, by Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba (Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press); AGAIN Magazine (Conciliar Press).

3. Write: Conciliar Press (P.O. Box 76, Ben Lomond, CA 95005) can help put you in touch with an Orthodox church and supply you with a book list including other recommended reading. Send your name and address and a request for information.

In a day when Christians are realizing anew the centrality and importance of the Church as the Body of Christ, the doors of Orthodoxy are open wide and the invitation is extended to come and see. Examine her Faith, her worship, her history, her commitment to Christ, her love for God the Father, her communion with the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Church has kept the Faith delivered once for all to the saints for nearly two thousand years. In her walls is the fullness of the salvation which was realized when “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

The Nativity Sermon by Saint John Chrysostom

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The Nativity Sermon by Saint John Chrysostom

December 1, 2013

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn! The angels sing! The archangels blend their voices in harmony! The cherubim resound their joyful praise! The Seraphim exalt His glory! All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein… on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice! Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He had the powers He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born ! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin… Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants; Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who was laid down His life for His sheep; Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek; Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7); Fishermen, to the Fisher of humanity; Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist; Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman; And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation! This is my pipe, my harp! And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

“Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will! “

Proof that December 25th is the actual date of Christ’s birth

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Christ’s Birth in December

In recent years, the skepticism concerning the accuracy of the December birth of Christ has increased.  More and more we hear that December is arbitrary or that it was instituted by the church without any real proof, or further still that it was chosen to challenge an established pagan celebration. After all, some say, where does it say this date in the Bible?There is ample proof, according to both historical record as well as Tradition.

Note: The date date of Christmas, December 25th, falls on Jan. 7th when calculated using the Julian calendar due to the 13 day difference. A discussion concerning the Julian calendar and so-called Revised Julian calendar is beyond the scope of this article.

Understanding The Tradition

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, provenance concerning the time of Christ’s birth can be traced to the early years of the third century.

Saint Clement of Alexandria,(c. 150-215) stating in his famous work the Stromata:

 And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day;

In the dawn of the Third Century (circa 170-240) Saint Hippolytus of Rome offers December 25th as the actual date.  This information is gleaned from the fourth book of commentary of Hippolytus on the Prophetic Book of Daniel in the passage n 4.23.3:

 For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years.  He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls.” (tr. Tom Schmidt). 

One may certainly question how the Saint derived this date. Clearly other extant writings from that time make similar claim, from which we may reason that the date was known amongst the Christians in Rome and in  the west.

There are others offering additional evidence of this date of the Nativity of our Lord. Saint Justin Martyr (100-165), lends further testimony to the existence of historical data in his noted Apology (a detailed explanation of the Christian faith addressed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius), which stated that Jesus was born at Bethlehem according the record of the census:

as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing (Apol. I, 34).

Another writer of the early Christian era was Tertullian (160-250), who wrote concerning the census:

the census of Augustus: that most faithful witness of the Lord’s nativity, kept in the archives of Rome” (Against Marcion, Bk. 4, 7).

The first of the Eastern Fathers to support to December birth date was Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), the Archbishop of Constantinople. Saint John was a prolific author whose writings on the Bible and the Christian faith are still widely read.

Saint John Chrysostom claimed the December 25th date was supported by the actual census/tax records of the Holy Family when they registered in Bethlehem. Saint John was not the only one who referred to these tax records.  As mentioned above, he had reliable sources from which to lay his claim. Further, that others refer to the similar source gives evidence that the records were in existence at that time. This is significant as it ties the date to a historic record – the event of the census, the records of which would have been available in Rome at that time.

The institution of the Feast was a new custom in the East during Saint John’s time of service and he defended it as something providential and God-pleasing. To paraphrase Saint John, this feast was no novelty:

 from Thrace to Cadiz this feast was observed rightly, since its miraculously rapid diffusion proved its genuineness.

It was not long after when Saint Gregory Nazianzen also championed the great feast in Constantinople.

On the basis of these testimonies, the evidence is difficult to dismiss concerning the antiquity of the December birth. As we see with many things in the Church, things blessed by God will not remain hidden, for as the divine Psalmist hath said:

Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonders which Thou hast wrought, and Thy thoughts there is none that shall be likened unto Thee.

THE ROMAN / PAGAN CONNECTION

Some contemporary scholars have argued that December 25th was initially set forth as a pagan festival, which was dedicated in 274 by the Roman emperor Aurelian to celebrate the birth of the Sun god,  Sol Invictus. They further claim that the Church sought to “Christianize” this pagan celebration. Looking at previous practice among the pagan Emperors, we may infer with reason that it may have been quite the contrary.  A prime example may be seen in the early 2nd century AD when the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a temple to Venus over the site of Golgotha. The early Christian author Eusebius claims, in his Life of Constantine, that the site of the Church had originally been a Christian place of veneration, but that Hadrian had deliberately covered these Christian sites with earth, and built his own temple on top, due to his hatred for Christianity.

As noted earlier, the assertion of Saint Hippolytus of Rome for a December 25th date predates the pagan celebration by approximately 60 years.

It is perfectly reasonable to accept the possibility that a pagan holiday could have been instituted to cover over a feast of the Lord.

This article was not meant to be an exhaustive study on this topic but rather a chance to provide record supporting the long held Christian Tradition for the Birth of Christ. In a time when the love of God has grown cold in the hearts of men, it is no small wonder that any still cling to this sacred Feast in its true solemnity as a joyous celebration of the salvation of mankind.

We draw nigh to Bethlehem to behold the Birth of our Saviour

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Bethlehem, the City of David, lies before us. With anxious enthusiasm we draw ever so closer to that place of our desire, to sit with the Shepherds as they worship along side the manger in the cave, offered by the Earth for a refuge for her Creator:

To the Unapproachable the Earth doth offer a small cave

How fitting, the Lamb of God should be born in the place used as a shelter for the newborn and yearling lambs. He Who shall take away the sin of the world is wrapped in swaddling bands, from His birth already foretelling the great Mystery for which He was sent into the world.

Our hearts yearn to hear the angelic voices singing glory to our God and wishing to all men, peace and goodwill. Let us follow with the shepherds in the deep of night to behold the Daystar and Son of Righteousness.

Behold the words of a luminary of our very age…

The Nativity of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4) to save the human race. And when nine months were fulfilled from the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel had appeared to the Most-holy Virgin in Nazareth, saying, Rejoice, thou that art highly favored … behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son (Luke 1:28, 31), at that time there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the people of the Roman Empire should be taxed.

In accordance with this decree, everyone had to go to his own town and be registered. That is why the righteous Joseph came with the Most-holy Virgin to Bethlehem, the city of David, for they were both of the royal lineage of David.

Since many people descended on this small town for the census, Joseph and Mary were unable to find lodging in any house, and they sought shelter in a cave which shepherds used as a sheepfold. In this cave – on the night between Saturday and Sunday, on the 25th of December- the Most holy Virgin gave birth to the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. Giving birth to Him without pain just as He was conceived without sin by the Holy Spirit and not by man, she herself wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, worshiped Him as God, and laid Him in a manger. Then the righteous Joseph drew near and worshiped Him as the Divine Fruit of the Virgin’s womb. Then the shepherds came in from the fields, directed by an angel of God, and worshiped Him as the Messiah and Savior.

The shepherds heard a multitude of God’s angels singing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14). At that time three wise men arrived from the east, led by a wondrous star, bearing their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. They worshiped Him as the King of kings, and offered Him their gifts (Matthew 2).

Thus entered the world He Whose coming was foretold by the prophets, and Who was born in the same manner in which it had been prophesied: of a Most-holy Virgin, in the town of Bethlehem, of the lineage of David according to the flesh, at the time when there was no king in Jerusalem of the lineage of Judah, but rather when Herod, a foreigner, was reigning.

After many types and prefigurings, messengers and heralds, prophets and righteous men, wise men and kings, finally He appeared, the Lord of the world and King of kings, to perform the work of the salvation of mankind, which could not be performed by His servants. To Him be eternal glory and praise! Amen.

The Prologue of Ochrid, by Saint Nikolai

Sts. Boniface the Martyr of Tarsus and Aglais the Righteous

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DECEMBER 19/ January 1
Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Wondrous is God in His Saints. Great is the love of our God for us that He ever gives us the Saints as guides and intercessors. To the faithful, it is no coincidence that we celebrate the valiant Martyr Boniface on this day.

Below, we have included the testimony of his martyrdom. On this New Year’s Day, there is much we can glean from this hagiography, perhaps the greatest is the example of repentance from the Saint. As you read, consider how the early life of the Saint and his choices in life reflect the choices of many in this day. His martyrdom is a testament, a loud proclamation of the wonders of true repentance. Through true repentance and seeking God we are empowered to face down the cruelest of situations.

Sts. Boniface and Aglais. The account of their lives was copied from: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?FSID=103583.

“The Holy Martyr Boniface was the slave of a rich young Roman woman named Aglaida and he dwelt with her in an iniquitous cohabitation. But they both felt the sting of conscience and they wanted somehow to be cleansed of their sin. And the Lord granted them the possibility to wash away their sin with their blood and to finish their life in repentance.

Aglaida learned that whoever keeps relics of the holy martyrs in the home and venerates them receives great help in gaining salvation. Under their influence, sin is diminished and virtue prevails. She arranged for Boniface to go to the East, where there was a fierce persecution against Christians, and she asked him to bring back the relics of some martyr, who would become a guide and protector for them.

As he was leaving, Boniface laughed and asked, “My lady, if I do not find any relics, and if I myself suffer for Christ, will you accept my body with reverence?” Aglaida scolded him, saying that he was setting off on a sacred mission, but he was not taking it seriously. Boniface pondered her words, and during the whole journey he thought that he was unworthy of touching the bodies of the martyrs.

Arriving at Tarsus in Cilicia, Boniface left his companions at the inn and proceeded to the city square, where they were torturing Christians. Struck by the beastly horrible torments, and seeing the faces of the holy martyrs radiant with the grace of the Lord, Boniface marveled at their courage. He embraced them and kissed their feet, asking them to pray that he might be found worthy to suffer with them.

The judge asked Boniface who he was. He replied, “I am a Christian,” and then refused to offer sacrifice to idols. They stripped him and hung him upside down, beating him so hard that the flesh fell from his body, exposing the bone. They stuck needles under his nails, and finally they poured molten tin down his throat, but by the power of the Lord he remained unharmed. The people who witnessed this miracle shouted, “Great is the God of the Christians!” Then they began to throw stones at the judge, and then they headed for the pagan temple, in order to cast down the idols.

On the following morning, when things had quieted down somewhat, the judge directed that the holy martyr be thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar, but this also caused the sufferer no harm. An angel come down from Heaven and bedewed him as he stepped into the cauldron. The tar overflowed the cauldron, splattering and burning the torturers themselves. St Boniface was then sentenced to beheading by the sword. Blood and a milky fluid flowed from his wounds. Beholding such a miracle, about 550 men believed in Christ.

St Boniface’s companions, waiting for two days at the inn for him in vain, began searching for him, thinking that he had gotten drunk somewhere. At first their search was without success, but finally they came across a man who had been an eyewitness to the martyr’s death. The man also led them to the place where the decapitated body lay. St Boniface’s companions tearfully begged his forgiveness for their unseemly thoughts about him. After they ransomed the martyr’s remains, they brought them back to Rome.

On the eve of their arrival an angel appeared to Aglaida in her sleep and told her to prepare herself to receive her former slave, now the brother and fellow-servant of the angels. Aglaida summoned the clergy, and she received the holy relics with great reverence. Then she built a church on the site of his grave and dedicated it to the holy martyr. There she enshrined his relics, glorified by numerous miracles. After distributing all her wealth to the poor, she withdrew to a monastery, where she spent fifteen years in repentance, then fell asleep in the Lord. She was buried beside St Boniface. The sins of the one were washed away by his blood, the other was purified by her tears and asceticism. Both were found worthy to appear unsullied before our Lord Jesus Christ, Who desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness and live (Ezek. 33:11).

We pray to St Boniface for deliverance from drunkenness.” (taken from: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?FSID=103583)

Apolytikion of St. Boniface in the Fourth Tone
Thy Martyr, O Lord, in his courageous contest for Thee received the prize of the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since he possessed Thy strength, he cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by his prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Thou didst offer up thyself of thine own choosing as a spotless sacrifice to Him that for thy sake, O Saint, shall soon be born of a Virgin Maid, O all-renowned and wise crown-bearer Boniface.
(The two hymns above are taken from: http://goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=344&type=saints)

Another Apolytikion of Sts. Boniface and Aglais (amateur translation)
The boast of martyrs, you followed fervently, you confessed Christ before the unfaithful valiantly, O wise Boniface, therefore as an inexhaustible treasure, O Martyr, you gave your body to the righteous Aglais, from which the world is watered with deliverance and mercy.

Concerning the Dormition of our All Holy Lady and Mother of God

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On the 15th of the month, we celebrate the DORMITION,
or the TRANSLATION to HEAVEN, of our All Glorious
Sovereign Lady, the MOTHER of GOD and EVER-VIRGIN MARY

Koimisis

When it pleased Christ our God to call His mother to Him,
He sent an angel three days beforehand, to give her this
news: Coming to her, the angel said to her who is full of
grace: “This is what your Son says: ‘The time has come to call My
mother to Me.’ Do not be afraid at this news, but rather rejoice, for
you are going to eternal life.” Welcoming this message with great
joy, the Mother of God, filled with an ardent desire to rise up to her
Son, went to the Mount of Olives to pray there in tranquillity, as she
often did. An amazing miracle was then wrought: at the moment
when the All-Holy reached the top of the hill, the trees planted there bent their branches, bowing down and glorifying the Queen of the world like reason-endowed servants.

After having prayed, the All-Holy returned home to Mount Zion. When she went into the house, it suddenly began to shake. Giving thanks to God, she had, the house-lamps lit and called together her kinsfolk and friends. She herself set everything in
order, prepared her deathbed and gave orders that all be made ready for her funeral. To the women who came at her summons, she revealed the news of her departure to heaven and, as proof, gave them the palm branch, the symbol of victory and incorruptibility, that the angel had given her. Still held by the bonds of the world, her companions heard this news with copious tears and groans,
begging the Mother of God not to leave them orphaned. She reassured
them, saying that she was indeed going to heaven but would nonetheless continue to protect both them and the whole world by her prayers. At these words, the women stopped their weeping and hastened to make the preparations. The All-Holy also told them to give the only two robes that she possessed to two poor widows who were her constant companions and friends.

She had scarcely spoken these words when the house was shaken once again by a noise like thunder, and it was filled with clouds, bearing the Apostles, assembled from the furthest parts of the world. It was thus that the whole Church, in their persons, was mystically present to celebrate the funeral of its sovereign Lady. To
the choir of the Apostles was joined that of the Hierarchs such as’ Saint Hierotheus (4 Oct.), Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (3 Oct.) and Saint Timothy (22 jan.). Their eyes full of tears, they said to the Mother of God: “If you were to stay in the world and live among us, we would, of course, have great consolation, O Lady, as
it would be as though we saw your Son and our Master. But as it is now according to His will that you are taken to heaven, we are weeping and lamenting as you see. But we rejoice at all that has been arranged for you.’ She replied: ‘O you disciples and friends of my Son and my God, do not turn my joy to sorrow but bury my body and keep it in the position that I shall take on my deathbed.'”
At these words, Saint Paul, the chosen vessel, arrived in his turn. He threw himself at the feet of the All-Holy to venerate her, and addressed this praise to her: “Rejoice, O Mother of Life and object of my preaching, for although I never saw Christ in the flesh, it is Him, in seeing you, that I believe I behold.”

After having made her last farewells to all those present, the All Immaculate
laid herself down on her deathbed, settling her body as she wished it, and offered ardent prayer to her Son for the preservation of peace in the whole world. Then, having given her blessing to the Apostles and hierarchs, she, with a smile, peacefully gave her soul, white and more resplendent than any light, into the hands of her Son and her God, who had appeared together with the Archangel
Michael and a host of angels. Her death came about with no suffering or anguish, as her childbearing had been without pain.

Peter, the leader of the Apostles, then intoned the funeral hymn and his companions took up the bier, preceded by others present who carried torches and accompanied the cortege with their chanting. SaintJohn the Theologian was at their head, holding the palm of victory in his hand and followed in silence by the crowd
of disciples. Angels could also be heard, joining their voices to those of men, so that heaven and earth were entirely filled with this threnody in honour of the sovereign Lady of the world. The air was purified by the ascending of her soul, the earth was sanctified by the burial of her body, and many of the sick recovered their health.

Not being able to bear this sight, the leaders of the Jews aroused the people and sent them to-overturn the bier bearing the life-giving body. But divine justice forestalled their dark design, and they were all struck with blindness. One of them, the priest Jephoniah, who, with greater daring, had succeeded in laying hands on the holy bier, also had his hands cut off at the elbow by the sword of divine wrath, and his severed arms hung on the bier, presenting a pitiable sight.

Brought to repentance by the punishment, Jephoniah wholeheartedly embraced the Faith; and, at a word from Peter, he was healed and became for his companions an instrument of salvation and healing. When he was given a branch of the Mother of God’s palm, he laid it on the eyes of his companions and healed, at one and the same time, their physical and spiritual blindness.

Arriving in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Apostles buried the most holy body of the Mother of God and remained there for three days, their prayers unceasingly being accompanied by angelic hymns. In conformity with a disposition of divine Providence, one of the Apostles (Thomas, according to some), was not at the funeral.

He only reached Gethsemane on the third day, and was unconsolable
at not having a last sight of the deified body of the All-Holy.
The Apostles therefore, with one accord, decided to open the tomb in order to let him venerate the holy body. When they raised the stone that closed the entrance, they were all filled with amazement on finding that the body had disappeared and that only the shroud remained, empty and keeping the shape of the body. It was an irrefutable proof of the translation to heaven of the Mother of God:
her resurrection and the ascension of her body, united again with her soul, above the skies in the close company of her Son, to be our representative and advocate before God.’ Mary, ‘daughter of Adam’ but having become truly ‘Mother of

God’ and ‘Mother of Life’ in giving birth to Him who is the Fullness of Life (cf Jn 14:6) thus passed through death. But her death was no dishonour, for, overcome by Christ, Who submitted to it by His own will for our salvation, the” condemnation of Adam became a ‘lifegiving death’ and the principle of a new existence. And the tomb of Gethsemane, as well as the Holy Sepulchre, appeared as a ‘bridal
chamber’ where the wedding feast of incorruptibility is made radiant.

It ‘was fitting, indeed, that, conforming in all things to Christ our Saviour, the most holy Virgin should follow all the paths trodden by Christ to spread sanctification throughout our nature. After having followed Him in His Passion and having ‘seen’ His Resurrection, she now had the experience of death. As soon as she was parted
from the body, her most pure soul found itself united with divine Light; and her body, having lain a short time in the earth, was soon raised by the grace of the risen Christ. This ‘Spiritual Body,’ was received into heaven as the tabernacle of God-became-Man, as the throne of God. It is the most significant part of the Body of Christ, and had often been likened by the holy Fathers as the Church itself,
the dwelling-place of God among men, the first-fruits of our future state and the source of our divinisation. Through the womb of Mary most chaste, the Mother of God, the Kingdom of heaven has been opened to us, and this is why her  translation to heaven is a cause of joy for all believers, having thus acquired a guarantee that,in her person, it is the whole of human nature, having become a Christ-bearer, that is called to abide in God.

________________________________________________________________
This feast was fixed on 15 August and made obligatory in the whole of the East by Emperor Maurice (582-6O2). The practice spread widely, thanks to the eulogies given by the holy fathers and great Church orators on this feast: 55 Andrew of Crete, john Damascene, Germanus of Constantinople, Theodore the Stoudite, Gregory Palamas, etc.’

The term ‘Assumption: that was recently adopted as dogma by the Roman Catholic
Church (1950), as a corollary to the Immaculate Conception (1854), leaves the
ambiguous question that the Mother of God, having been free of the heritage of
Adam (original sin and its consequence, death), did not die but was taken, body
and soul, to heaven.

Source: THE SYNAXARION, The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church Compiled by HIEROMONK MAKARIOS OF SIMONOS PETRA

All Church Life is a Manifestation of the Holy Spirit

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" According to the teaching of the Apostle, all Church life is a manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit; each manifestation of love, each virtue is the action of a gift of the Spirit. Everything is produced by one and the same Spirit. According to the words of the Apostle Peter, people are but stewards of the manifold grace of God. The Spirit of God has, by Its own power, penetrated the entire body of the Church and given various spiritual gifts to each of its members, making possible a new life for mankind. It unites all into one body, unifying in such a way as to instill a kind of love in the hearts on men which, in their natural state, cannot be a principle of their lives and relationships with other people."

Holy New Martyr Archbishop Ilarion (Troitsky) Christianity or the Church

Beloved, let us also ponder the words of the Holy Gospel of Saint Matthew concerning the talents bestowed upon each and everyone of us, for each of us are stewards of those talents – the gifts from God. Mark that the essential element of the gift is not in the number of talents given to each, but in how each makes it manifest:

Matthew 25:14-30
14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Let us be made worthy to hear these joyful words from our Saviour: "…Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord…."

The Thief Who Prayed Daily To the Theotokos

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The Thief Who Prayed Daily To the Theotokos


By St. Kosmas Aitolos

A man named John was defeated and he became a thief. He became the captain of a band of one hundred thieves, but he had great reverence for the Theotokos. Each morning and evening he read the service of Supplication to the Theotokos.

Wishing to save him because of the great reverence he had for the Theotokos, the gracious God sent a holy monk who was immediately captured by the thieves.

The monk said to them: "I beg you to take me to your captain because I have something to tell you for your own good."

They took him to the captain and he said: "Ask all the men to come so that I can tell you something."

The captain called them and they came. The monk said: "Aren’t there any more?"

"I have a cook," the captain replied.

"Ask him to come." But when he came, the cook was unable to look at the monk and turned his face aside.

The monk then said to the cook: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I command you to tell me who you are, who sent you, and what you are doing here."

The cook replied and said: "I’m a liar and I always speak falsely. But since you have bound me with the name of Christ, I can’t but tell you the truth. I’m the devil and I was sent by my superior to work for the captain and to wait for the day when he wouldn’t read the service of Supplication to the Theotokos to put him into hell. I have been watching him now for fourteen years and I have never found a day when he hasn’t read the service."

The monk said: "I command you in the name of the Holy Trinity to disappear and no longer tempt Christians." And immediately the devil disappeared like smoke.

The monk then taught the thieves. Some became monks, others married and did good works and were saved. This is why I advise you all, men and women, to learn the service of Supplication and to use it in your prayers. And if you wish, take the book The Salvation of Sinners, which contains the seventy miracles of the Theotokos, of which I told you one so that you might understand.

Tending the garden of our heart

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If the husbandman wishes to have a rich harvest, he must work early and late, weed and aerate, water and spray, for cultivation is beset by many dangers that threaten the harvest. He must work without ceasing, be constantly on the watch, constantly alert, constantly prepared; but, even so, the harvest ultimately depends wholly on the elements, that is, on God.
The garden that we have undertaken to tend and watch over is the field of our own heart; the harvest is eternal life.

Tito Colliander
"Way of the Ascetics"

Directions for the Orthodox faithful when no church is nearby

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In these days, called by some the "post Christian age", it is becoming increasingly difficult for the faithful to attend Orthodox services. What are the Orthodox to do? Consider the words of the Blessed Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn in hisPastoral Epistle to his flock, at a time when travel was much more difficult, Orthodox Churches were much fewer and farther between. Here is a most illuminating section of this epistle:

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

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

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

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

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

Source: http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/hawaweeny.aspx

His Grace, the Right Reverend [Saint] Raphael Hawaweeny, late Bishop of Brooklyn and head of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Catholic Mission of the Russian Church in North America, was a far-sighted leader. Called from Russia to New York in 1895, to assume charge of the growing Syrian parishes under the Russian jurisdiction over American Orthodoxy, he was elevated to the episcopate by order of the Holy Synod of Russia and was consecrated Bishop of Brooklyn and head of the Syrian Mission by Archbishop Tikhon and Bishop Innocent of Alaska on March 12, 1904. This was the first consecration of an Orthodox Catholic Bishop in the New World and Bishop Raphael was the first Orthodox prelate to spend his entire episcopate, from consecration to burial, in America

Interesting article concerning the Da Vinci Code movie/book

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I recently discovered this fascinating article. This is worth reading as it goes deeper than simply debunking this book and the falsehoods upon which is based, rather it diffuses a lot of mis-information that has been spread by such as the Jeh. Witnesses and other protestant organizations.
The author presents his argument in a Fiction vs. Facts format for easy reading…

Debunking The Da Vinci Code

http://www.stnicholaspdx.org/2007/12/01/41.debunking-the-da-vinci-code/

by Fr. Steven Tsichlis

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God

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In vain does one strive to learn if one does not strive for purity of faith and life. The heavenly world is revealed not to the learned but to the pure.
Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic "The Prologue from Ochrid"

Cellphones and prayer

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Often times writers try to capture their reader’s attention through clever wordplay, catchy subjects, and other gimmicks. I suspect not a few would see this subject and muse to themselves that Fr. Alexander is really reaching this time!

Allow me to explain…
This evening my son taught me a valuable lesson. He helped me to realize the importance of focus and attentiveness during prayer. So what does a cellphone have to do with prayer, some may ask. Well, a metaphor or parable can be an incredible instructive tool.
As my son was saying his evening prayers, I noticed that he was a bit distracted with the Lego project he is working on. It made realize how important attentiveness is. So, I tried to find a contemporary example that I could use with him to help him understand.

How many times have we been engaged in a conversation with someone when all of a sudden, you hear that blllliiiiiiing alerting the owner that they just received a text message, a new email, or even a new phone call. Isn’t it annoying when our conversation is interrupted? Don’t we feel like we are not valued? Sure, we all have been on the other side of this tale, asking our acquaintance to standy, hold on, wait while we "take this call". So, you say, but what does this have to do with prayer?

DISTRACTION! Pure and simple. How little value we feel when we are speaking to someone who is distracted. Don’t we feel like the person believes that we are less important than what is going on with their cellphone/smartphone? Are we guilty of this with our Lord? When we pray, are we easily distracted? Do other things take precedence? If our communication with God is interrupted, are we truly gaining anything? Wherever our thoughts are during prayer, this is where our heart is. .

A prayer that is wrought with distraction is a wasted opportunity! When we love someone with all of our heart, we eagerly await the next time we will see that person or the next time we speak with them! Let us seek after our Lord will all of our attention, with all of our heart, with all of our might!

The Canon of Repentance to Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Canon of Repentance to Our Lord Jesus Christ

Prior to Reading the Canon

The Seven Bow Beginning

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. (Bow)

O God, cleanse me, a sinner, and have mercy on me. (Bow)

Thou hast created me, O Lord, have mercy on me. (Bow)

Countless times have I sinned, O Lord, forgive me. (Bow)

My most holy Lady Theotokos, save me, a sinner, (Bow)

O Angel, my holy Guardian, protect me from all evil. (Bow)

Holy Apostle (or Martyr, or Holy Father) Name pray to God for me. (Bow)

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.

O Heavenly King

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of Life, come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Trisagion

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, blot out our sins; O Master, pardon our iniquities; O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Lord, have mercy. (Twelve times)

O Come, let us worship God, our King. (Bow)

O Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and God. (Bow)

O Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ himself, our King and God. (Bow)

Psalm 50

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee, that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me. For behold, Thou hast loved truth; the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom hast Thou made manifest unto me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me to hear joy and gladness; the bones that be humbled, they shall rejoice. Turn Thy face away from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and with Thy governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors Thy ways, and the ungodly shall turn back unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall rejoice in Thy righteousness. O Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise. For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it; with whole-burnt offerings Thou shalt not be pleased. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise. Do good, O Lord, in Thy good pleasure unto Sion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded. Then shalt Thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.

The Symbol of the Orthodox Faith

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man; And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried; And arose again on the third day according to the Scriptures; And ascended into the heavens, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; And shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life; Who proceedeth from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets. In One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the age to come. Amen.

Canon of Repentance to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Sixth Tone

Ode I

Irmos: When Israel walked on foot in the sea as on dry land, on seeing their pursuer Pharaoh drowned, they cried: Let us sing to God a song of victory.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: Now I, a burdened sinner, have approached Thee, my Lord and God. But I dare not raise my eyes to Heaven. I only pray, saying: Give me, O Lord, understanding, that I may weep bitterly over my deeds.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

O woe is me, a sinner! Wretched am I above all men. There is no repentance in me. Give me, O Lord, tears, that I may weep bitterly over my deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Foolish, wretched man, thou art wasting thy time in idleness! Think of thy life and turn to the Lord God, and weep bitterly over thy deeds.

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: O most pure Mother of God, look upon me, a sinner, and deliver me from the snares of the devil, and guide me to the way of repentance, that I may weep bitterly over my deeds.

Ode III

Irmos: There is none holy as Thou, O Lord my God, Who hast exalted the horn of Thy faithful, O Good One, and hast strengthened us on the rock of Thy confession.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: When the thrones are set at the dread judgment, then the deeds of all men shall be laid bare. There will be woe for sinners being sent to torment! And knowing that, my soul, repent of thine evil deeds.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The righteous will rejoice, but the sinners will weep. Then no one will be able to help us, but our deeds will condemn us. Wherefore, before the end, repent of thine evil deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Woe is me, a great sinner, who have defiled myself by my deeds and thoughts. Not a teardrop do I have, because of my hard-heartedness. But now rise from the earth, my soul, and repent of thine evil deeds.

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Behold, thy Son calleth, O Lady, and directeth us what is good. Yet I, a sinner, I always flee from the good. But do thou, O merciful one, have mercy on me, that I may repent of my evil deeds.

Sessional Hymn, Sixth Tone

I think of the terrible day and weep over my evil deeds. How shall I answer the Immortal King? With what boldness shall I, a prodigal, look at the Judge? O compassionate Father, O Only-Begotten Son, and Holy Spirit, have mercy on me.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Bound now with many fetters of sins, and inhibited by cruel passions, I flee unto thee, my salvation, and cry aloud: Help me, O Virgin, Mother of God.

Ode IV

Irmos: Christ is my power, my God and my Lord, doth the holy august Church divinely sing in godly fashion and she doth cry out with a pure mind, keeping festival in the Lord.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: Broad is the way here and convenient for indulging in pleasures, but how bitter it will be on the last day when the soul is separated from the body! Beware of these things, O man, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Why dost thou wrong the poor man? Why dost thou withhold the wage of the hired servant? Why dost thou not love thy brother? Why dost thou pursue lust and pride? Therefore, abandon these things, my soul, and repent for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

O mindless man! How long wilt thou busy thyself like a bee, collecting thy wealth? For it will soon perish like dust and ashes. But seek rather the Kingdom of God.

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: O Lady Theotokos, have mercy on me, a sinner and strengthen and keep me in virtue, lest sudden death snatch me away unprepared. And bring me, O Virgin, to the Kingdom of God.

Ode V

Irmos: With Thy divine light, O Good One, illumine the souls of them that rise early to pray to Thee with love, I pray, that they may know Thee, O Word of God, as the true God, Who recalleth us from the darkness of sin.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: Remember, wretched man, how thou art enslaved to lies, calumnies, theft, infirmities, wild beasts, on account of sins. O my sinful soul, is that what thou hast desired?

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

My members tremble, for with all of them I have done wrong: with my eyes in looking, with my ears in hearing, with my tongue in speaking evil, and by surrendering the whole of myself to Gehenna. O my sinful soul, is that what thou hast desired?

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Thou didst receive the prodigal and the thief who repented, O Saviour, and I alone have succumbed to sinful sloth and have become enslaved to evil deeds. O my sinful soul, is this what thou hast desired?

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Wonderful and speedy helper of all men, help me. Mother of God, unworthy as I am, for my sinful soul hath desired that.

Ode VI

Irmos: Beholding the sea of life surging with the tempest of temptations, I run to Thy calm haven, and cry unto Thee: Raise up my life from corruption, O Greatly-merciful One.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: I have lived my life wantonly on earth and have delivered my soul to darkness. But now I implore Thee, O merciful Lord, free me from this work of the enemy and give me the knowledge to do Thy will.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy m me.

Who doeth such things as I do? For just like a swine lying in the mud, so do I serve sin. But do Thou, O Lord, pull me out of this vileness and give me the heart to do Thy commandments.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Rise, wretched man, to God and, remembering thy sins, fall down before your Creator, weeping and groaning, for He is merciful and will grant you to know His will.

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: O Virgin Mother of God, protect me from evil visible and invisible, O immaculate one, and accept my prayers and convey them to thy Son, that He may grant me the mind to do His will.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Kontakion

O my soul, why dost thou become rich in sins? Why dost thou do the will of the devil? On what dost thou set thy hope? Cease from these things and turn to God with weeping, and cry out: O Kind-hearted Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Oikos

Think, my soul, of the bitter hour of death and the judgment day of thy God and Creator. For terrible angels will seize thee, my soul, and will lead thee into the eternal fire. And so, before thy death, repent and cry: O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Ode VII

Irmos: An Angel made the furnace sprinkle dew on the righteous youths. But the command of God consumed the Chaldeans and prevailed upon the tyrant to cry: Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: Put not thy hope, my soul, in corruptible wealth, and for what is unjustly collected. For thou dost not know to whom thou wilt leave it all. But cry aloud: O Christ our God, have mercy on me, who am unworthy.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Trust not, my soul, in health of body and quickly-passing beauty. For thou seest that the strong and the young die. But say: O Christ our God, have mercy on me, who am unworthy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Remember, my soul, eternal life and the Heavenly Kingdom prepared for the saints, and the outer darkness and the wrath of God for the evil, and cry: O Christ our God, have mercy on me, who am unworthy.

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Fall down, my soul, before the Mother of God, and pray to her; for she is the quick helper of those that repent. She entreateth the Son, Christ God, and hath mercy on me the unworthy.

Ode VIII

Irmos: From the flame Thou didst sprinkle dew upon the Saints, and didst burn the sacrifice of a righteous man which was sprinkled with water. For Thou alone, O Christ, dost do all as Thou willest. Thee we exalt unto all ages.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: How shall I not weep when I think of death? For I have seen my brother in his coffin, without glory or comeliness. What, then, am I to expect? And what do I hope for? Only grant me, O Lord, repentance before the end.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

How shall I not weep when I think of death? For I have seen my brother in his coffin, without glory or comeliness. What, then, am I to expect? And what do I hope for? Only grant me, O Lord, repentance before the end.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I believe that Thou wilt come to judge the living and the dead, and that all will stand in order, old and young, lords and princes, priests and virgins. Where shall I find myself? Therefore I cry: grant me, O Lord, repentance before the end.

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: O most pure Theotokos, accept mine unworthy prayer and preserve me from sudden death; and grant me repentance before the end.

Ode IX

Irmos: It is not possible for men to see God, on Whom the ranks of Angels dare not gaze; but through thee, O all-pure one, appeared the Word Incarnate to men, Whom magnifying with the heavenly hosts we call thee blessed.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia: Now I flee unto to you, ye Angels, Archangels, and all the heavenly hosts who stand at the throne of God: pray to your Creator that He may deliver my soul from eternal torment.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Now I turn to you with tears, holy patriarchs, kings and prophets, apostles and holy hierarchs, and all the elect of Christ: Help me at the judgment, that He may save my soul from the power of the enemy.

Glory to the Father, awl to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Now I lift my hands to you, holy martyrs, hermits, virgins, righteous ones and all the saints, who pray to the Lord for the whole world, that He may have mercy on me at the hour of my death.

Both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: O Mother of God, help me who have strong hope in thee; implore thy Son that He may place me on His right hand, unworthy as I am, when He sitteth to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

Following the Canon

Hymn to the Theotokos, Eighth Tone

It is truly meet to bless thee, the Theotokos, ever-blessed and most blameless, and Mother of our God. More honourable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, thee who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify.

Prayer after the Canon

O Master Christ God, Who hast healed my passions through Thy Passion, and hast cured my wounds through Thy wounds, grant me, who have sinned greatly against Thee, tears of compunction. Transform my body with the fragrance of Thy life-giving Body, and sweeten my soul with Thy precious Blood from the bitterness with which the foe has fed me. Lift up my down-cast mind to Thee, and take it out of the pit of perdition, for I have no repentance, I have no compunction, I have no consoling tears, which uplift children to their heritage. My mind has been darkened through earthly passions, I cannot look up to Thee in pain. I cannot warm myself with tears of love for Thee. But, O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, Treasury of good things, give me thorough repentance and a diligent heart to seek Thee; grant me Thy grace, and renew in me the likeness of Thine image. I have forsaken Thee – do then not forsake me! Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the lambs of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries, through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother and all Thy saints. Amen.

Trisagion

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, blot out our sins; O Master, pardon our iniquities; O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Lord, have mercy. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

More honourable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

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