Archpastoral Message of His Beatitude Met. Jonah on Nativity ’09

To the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy,
Monastics, and Faithful of
The Orthodox Church in America

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

We rejoice in the coming of the Savior, the Advent of the Son of God into this broken world. His Nativity anticipates and prefigures His Second and Glorious Coming again in the flesh, not clothed in the swaddling bands of humility, for but a few years; but in the radiant vesture of the Kingdom to reign forever.

For us Orthodox Christians, the Nativity of Christ is the Winter Pascha, and our celebration is rooted in the liturgical life of the Church; the world’s “Xmas” hymns go on and on, oblivious, rather intentionally, to the point of the celebration. While we enjoy the worldly celebration, the family time, the gifts and giving, these are empty if we miss the central celebration itself: the services of the Nativity, culminating in receiving the Holy Mysteries. We can have Christmas without the Nativity, as does the world; but for Christians the Feast of the Nativity is Christmas!

We pray and fast to prepare ourselves for forty days before Christmas not only to be obedient to the Church, but to prepare ourselves to receive the Mystery of Communion. Will this Christmas be unto salvation, discerning and receiving His Body–that same Body born of Mary and laid in the Manger, the Son of God who has taken flesh and likened himself to us, so that He might liken us to Himself? Or do we judge ourselves, unaware or oblivious to the Mystery of Christ’s assumption of our nature. We pray and fast to open our spiritual eyes, so that we can see Christ, discern Christ, know Christ–not just as a historical figure who taught nice things, but as God who has come and will come again.

The traditional Christmas carols talk about Baby Jesus lying in the manger. Let us contemplate this mystery during this season, a mystery that at that time only His Mother really understood: that this little infant, no different than any other, would become the Savior of the world, and redeem mankind, indeed all of creation, from death. What infinite potential, the potential of a man fulfilling the Divine Likeness, and manifesting God in His flesh, was invested in that little child. Who would have thought that a child born in the most destitute poverty and anonymity would become the criterion of judgment for the whole world?

We can also contemplate this same mystery in the life of every child. Who knows what the destiny of that child will be? Who can tell if he or she will become a point of hope for the whole world? That same infinite potential, the potential for deification, the potential for a life transfigured by God, the potential for a life that will bring joy and peace, or beget such a child?

The Feast of the Nativity is not only the contemplation of God taking human flesh. It is also the great celebration of humanity, that God so loved as to become one of us, that through that One, joy and peace and salvation may be given to the whole world. Let us treasure the life of every child, who is the image of Christ born of the Virgin, and remember the great calling which he or she, and each of us, has in God. Let us also remember that the ultimate fulfillment of that calling is found in the transformation of our very flesh, in which God became incarnate, that having become man for our sake, He enables us to partake of His Divinity on that glorious day of His coming again in the flesh.

With love in the Newborn Lord,

SIGNATURE
+JONAH
Archbishop of Washington
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

Thou Shalt Not (?)

I have been studying Judaism in my History of World Religions class as of late. During my studies I have had some certain things strike me as odd.

The first of these is that classical Judaism does not stress the afterlife hardly at all (and in some sects, none). I was perplexed at first and began to think to myself “why?”

Is it perhaps because they didn’t believe in it? That can’t be the case. One only has to go to a Jewish funeral to witness the knowledge of an afterlife, or witness one of the prayers in the Merits of the Fathers to see that Jews (well of the orthodox variety at least) tend to still see that there is a life after this one.

Perhaps it is because they have no Messiah. In reality, most Jews (again with the exception of orthodox jews) don’t even believe in a literal Messiah. Many Jews today, in fact, believe that the foundation of the Modern Israeli state, with all its downfalls, constitutes the promise of the messiah.

So why is it that Christianity is so “other world” obsessed and Judaism simply is not. Perhaps it has to do with the body.

Judaism has EVERYTHING to do with the body and what is done in it. As Christians we believe it is heresy to separate the body from the soul, this is Gnosticism. So, too, with Judaism, the soul and body are thought of as inseparable. If ever there is a separation at death, that is up to G_d, but otherwise, we cannot seperate the two in our understanding of the human person.

We find this because when God gave his chosen people their law, he largely gave them a way to rule their bodies. When God created man, in bodily form, he said that it was very good. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God, in this passage, unites inseparably the human body with the human soul. He creates the whole of the human person in His image, or eikon. Thus, when he gives them the law, he gives them ways to conform theirselves, largely through the body, to the way of life.

In Leviticus there are laws on what to eat, what to drink (the law of kash rus, or kosher). There are laws about human interaction. Laws about how to treat animals. How to sacrifice. How to bathe. . . and the list goes on and on. All together there are over 600 laws in the OT directed towards the body. Heck, there are even laws about women’s interaction with others during their menstrual periods. Why is God so obsessed with the Body?! Because we are made in his image and likeness.

I believe that the degredation of the Church’s witness in the world as we see it today, whether it be Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestants, doesn’t have much to do with modernism, post-modernism, or any other ism. It has to do specifically with how man and woman have chosen to use their bodies. In short, it can be traced back to the sexual “revolution”.

The failure of the church to stand up to the world on the issues of the human body is the problem, not its ascent to modern philosophy. As Nietzsche envisioned “When the Church loses the ability to say ‘Thou shalt not’ it will  lose all authority.” When the Church gives into contraception (as the protestant churches have in full, and the orthodox seem to be moving towards, though not as fast and with limits) it loses ground in its moral authority in the world, for she is to be the physician of the human person.

This is the same problem with Homosexuality. I love homosexuals. They are beautiful creations of God. Some of my . friends are homosexuals. But, this does not mean that the Church ought to sanction their lifestyle, because she knows that the active homosexual lifestyle is not GOOD for the human person! Instead, she ought to be teaching and correcting, comforting and counseling that person to wipe off the soil that has encrusted over the image of God in them, just as all of us must work out our salvation (in the Church) with fear and trembling.

The Church is the body of Christ in the world. She is the salt, the bitter preservative which saves the world. When it attempts to become an attractive and tasty item like sugar and ceases to become salty, it looses its ability to preserve and correct.

I believe, very firmly, that the reason that there are so many divorces in the church today also has to do with this lack of preserving in the church. For instance, and getting back to the area of contraception, I see a problem with oekonomia being practiced to allow contraception to the extent which it is allowed in the American Orthodox Church. Oekonomia is applied to something that is sin, but is not easily given up. It is concession to sin, often involving a lessening of penance, in order for the weak human person to be weaned off of sin. Its purpose is primarily for addictions and a concession for human weakness. If a person can, AT ALL, resist the sin of contraception, he or she should not be sanctioned to use it, because it is not good for fostering the practice of chastity within the marital bounds. (Of course this is ultimately up to the Bishop through the Priest, but I would argue that it ought to be used much more sparingly than in current practice).

Contraception sets forth an unnatural dichotomy and usage of sex within the human marriage bonds. It allows the couple to engage in sexual activity much more than envisioned by God. This brings about an unhealthy balance within the marriage that equates the quality of the marriage with the quality of sex. The further degredation of this, which I am seeing in my own generation is the bypassing of marriage alltogether, in an effort not to get sucked into a “loveless” marriage somewhere down the road (because our understandings of that marriage have become inordinate, equating sex with relationship).

It also brings about a problem with the very nature of the conjugal act itself, in essence re-defining it. God created the female body to work in a particular way in cycles of fertility. When a couple usurps those boundaries by using contraception, which have their aim at disrupting those cycles, it allows them to act in a way unestablished by God. The Human Marriage, which God established even before the fall of man into sin as very good, ceases to be a salvific sacrament of grace to save the human person, and becomes instead an instrument of death. It becomes an institution of the hedonism of our day.

We are not called to pleasure, though God allows it for the enjoyment and fullness of the human person. The primary purpose of marriage is not pleasure, but the union of man and woman with the ultimate outcome being the procreation of the human race. Those who cannot conceive for whatever reason are not in sin, because they are fulfilling the commandment of God to “be one as I and the Father are one.” This is no fault of their own. But those who choose to contracept, in an effort to usurp the boundaries the sovereign God has placed on our personal lives (and yes, this includes financial aspects as well. See Matthew 10:29-32) are willfully choosing to disobey the Church’s teaching on that subject, choosing their own pleasure over the good order of things as established by God (not to mention that this practice will inevitably lead to the extinguishing of not only the Christian people, but the Human race if taken to its natural end, but this is another discussion in itself).  We are called to repent, and believe, and be baptized. In the sacraments of the Church there is salvation, outside there is death.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son; so that whosoever believes in Him shall enherit eternal life. […] For Christ did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it and unite it unto himself.” The restrictions of the Church on the body are not meant as empty law imposed on its members, but as the bringing about of the koinonia which exists in the body of Christ. It is for the salvation of the human person.

Think upon these things. As always I welcome your thoughts and reflections

In Christ,

Ben

Encyclical of the Holy Synod of the OCA on Marriage

russian_orthodox_weddingAs I am in the preperation for marriage, I will confess that it is one of the most important topics on my mind. I found this encyclical to be particularly beneficial, tomorrow I will try my hardest to post the pastoral initiatives which the Holy Synod prescribed.

Encyclical Letter of the Holy Synod of Bishops
of the Orthodox Church in America
on Marriage
“. . . the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:31)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We find it imperative to address you on an issue of crucial importance for the Christian life. An increasingly secularized world tends more and more to neglect the traditional biblical understanding of marriage and family. Misunderstanding freedom and proclaiming the progress of a humanity supposedly too mature, sophisticated and scientific to follow Christ’s Gospel, many have abandoned its moral demands. The consequences are plain for all to see: the family is disintegrating, legalized abortion is killing millions of unborn children, corrupt sexual behavior is rampant. The moral foundations of society are collapsing.

We, the bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, therefore proclaim anew to you, the flock entrusted to our care, the great and holy vision of marriage that is gloriously preserved and manifested in the doctrine, liturgy and canonical tradition of the Church. We do not make this proclamation in the name of an outdated conservatism or because we consider our present society intrinsically more corrupt than the past generations. We speak because we are concerned for the welfare and salvation both of you, the members of our flock, and of all men. We speak of “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes … concerning the word of life” (John 1:1). We speak because we know the Truth of the Gospel of Christ to be the eternal Truth, the one needful thing, the good portion (Luke 10:42) for all men, in all times and places.

Many – Orthodox, non-Orthodox, and even non-Christians – admire our beautiful Marriage Service. Our task is to show them the vision that this Service reveals, a vision of marriage as an icon of the Trinitarian life of God Himself, and to indicate the responsibility and commitment that this vision of marriage implies.

We therefore appeal to all of you who are responsible for the life of our parishes and for the future of our youth to make a common effort to provide appropriate guidance and help to all in matrimonial matters, both through your own personal examples of pure and upright lives and undefiled marriages and also through words of exhortation and explanation, “knowing how you ought to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6), and through programs of education.

From the Old Testament Scriptures we learn that God created man “in His own image,” “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27), and, since that beginning, “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), Man and woman are mutually complementary, and this complementarity, expressed in their union and common activity, reflects the very image and likeness of God. This spiritual basis of marriage clearly transcends, without suppressing, the fleshly union of the bodies. Fleshly relations when separated from spiritual ones are depraved; they must be woven into the pure and total love between a man and a woman united in marriage.

In the New Testament Scripture, from the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we learn that marriage is a unique and unbreakable union of husband and wife joined by God Himself: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). The Marriage Service likewise makes it clear that the bridegroom and the bride are united not by themselves, but by God: “For by Thee is the husband joined unto the wife” (Marriage Service). For this reason the Orthodox Marriage Service is devoid of any oaths or marriage vows on the part of the couple. Their desire and freely given consent are certainly necessary for the marriage, for sacraments are not acts of magic that eliminate the need for human cooperation. Yet no vow or oath can possibly join a man and a woman together in the gracious and absolute way called for in Christian marriage. The true Christian marriage is effected by God Himself. In such a union, described by St. Paul as “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32), human love and desire for companionship become a love pervaded and sanctified by divine grace: water is transformed into the good wine, as it was at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. In a Christian marriage husband and wife manifest in their own lives the union between God and His beloved people; between Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride (Ephesians 5:32). God accompanies husband and wife, bringing them into a unity which will be revealed as perfect and eternal in His Kingdom, and filling their lives with the Holy Spirit so that selfishness and division may be overcome. He sanctifies and purifies their total relationship. According to the prayers of the Marriage Service, God communicates to those being joined in unity and love, faith and oneness of mind, holiness, purity and chastity, joy and glory, and the possibility for eternal life. He unites them in body and spirit, heart and mind.

Obviously, Christian marriage will never find its ultimate fulfillment and happiness in this world. Like all things in Christ, marriage too must pass through the cross, through temptation, suffering, trial and finally death, before coming to its ultimate consummation in the Resurrection and the Kingdom of God which will come in power at the end of the ages. All this Christian couples experience as they strive to realize in their own lives the great gift given to them by God in marriage: “Thou hast set upon their heads crowns of precious stones; they asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest it them” (Psalm 21, the Prokeimenon of the Marriage Service). For those who fight the good fight as good and faithful servants, the crowns become their eternal reward as witnesses to Christ and the wedding garments are transformed into robes of salvation and eternal glory.

Marriage is the most perfect realization of love between a man and a woman: two become one. Love unites in such a way that two lives become one life in perfect harmony. This love, sanctified by God, is the great source of the happiness which is sought in marriage, and in it lies a power that transforms both those who love and those who are loved. Because of this transforming power of love, all the difficulties and defects in family life can be overcome. True love never ceases, whether in this world or in the age to come. Faithfulness and confidence must reign in marriage, for there can be no deception in love. When husband and wife are united by love, they share a common life and help each other in everything they do, for their love for each other expresses itself in mutual help and support.

Such love implies a relationship in marriage which is total in character. Husband and wife must live not for purely individual gratification, but for each other, for such is the meaning of true love. Marriage must be offered to God continually and consciously, and it must always be rooted in the life and teachings of the Church. Husband and wife can achieve their final glorification in the age to come only by self-sacrifice for the sake of one another in this life unto the glory of God. Christian marriage is a specific application of one of Christ’s fundamental teachings: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).

The greatest miracle of this divinely sanctified love of marriage is the procreation of good, fair and holy children. In the image of God who brings forth life in love, the Christian marriage, a unity in love established by God, brings forth holy and good life (1 Cor. 7:14).

The perfect marriage can only be one, single and unique. The prototype of marriage, the unity between Christ and His Church, excludes multiple marriages: Christ has only one Church; the Church has no other Christ. Even death cannot break the bond of perfect love. Therefore, the Church does not advocate second or third marriages, even for widows or widowers; rather, they are tolerated as condescension to human frailty and weakness, while fourth marriages are totally forbidden.

The crowning which takes place in the Marriage Service reveals the bridegroom and the bride to be a new community in Christ. The husband is the head of this community, as God is the head of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3) and as Christ “is the head of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23). His headship is not a power over his wife and family, but a divinely-given responsibility, to be discharged after the image of Christ, the perfect man. “. . . a man approved of God among you” (Acts 2:22). His headship is a service of love and sacrifice. He is to nourish and cherish his wife and family “as Christ does the Church” (Ephesians 5:29). The wife is the helpmate of her husband, his beloved companion for life, his source of joy and wellbeing. In Eve, the mother of life, the fullness of life was revealed, for without her Adam was alone and had no companion fit for him (Genesis 2:18). As the bearer of life in the conception of children, the wife has an immediate concern for life and its quality. It is she who gives content to the life of her husband and family: purity, kindness, peace, gentleness and the concern for others. Her true adornment is “the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).

To live up to its high calling, the Christian family must be firmly established in the Faith. Husband and wife must strive to learn more about the Faith and to accept its teachings as the law of their life. It must become for them the authority, against which all else that they read, hear or see is tested and evaluated. It is especially important that the Christian family participate in the life of the Church; by praying at home, by coming to the church services, by participating in the sacraments, by observing the Church’s fasts and feasts and by keeping her traditions. It is also important that the Christian family participate in the general life of their parish and have as friends those distinguished by a firm personal faith and purity of life.

Each Christian must seek the advice and guidance of the pastors of the Church. Especially before entering into marriage, Orthodox men and women must contact their pastor, so that he might explain the true nature of marriage in the Church and help them better to understand all the demands of a truly spiritual and moral family life. Each family likewise must continue to live under the guidance and with the help of the Church and her pastors.

With the help of God all the difficulties and misfortunes which are inevitable in life will be overcome, because what is impossible for man is possible for God. With faith in God, the husband will be truly capable of leading the family in the way of salvation toward the Kingdom of God, loving his wife and his children more than himself. With the help of God, the wife will be capable of being a source of purity, holiness and love for the entire family. And the children born for God in such a family from the beginning will be brought up as Christians. Such a family will be a beautiful model and source of faith, goodness and kindness for all those around it.

The Christian ideal of marriage and family, manhood and womanhood, is incomparably more exalted, balanced and fulfilling than those broken, one-sided or totally erroneous ideologies of today’s world which reduce the meaning of human life to the satisfaction of sexual appetites, material security, or to other such limited functions and desires. In Christ man is revealed as son and friend of God. He is able to become a member of Christ in soul and body. In the Christian marriage, he is able to achieve an eternal, unique and total union in love.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: be true men and women. Be faithful to the Christian ideal of marriage and family. Let our Christian families be united in mutual love and concern. Husbands and wives: love each other; love your children. Children: respect your parents. “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). “Mortify immorality, impurity, evil desire … on account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6).

+ IRENEY
Archbishop of New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada

+ SYLVESTER
Archbishop of Montreal and Canada
Temporary Administrator of the Church

+ JOHNArchbishop of Chicago and Minneapolis

+ JOHN
Archbishop of San Francisco and Western United States

+ NIKON
Archbishop of Brooklyn

+ KIPRIAN
Archbishop of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
Secretary of the Holy Synod

+ VALERIAN
Archbishop of Detroit and Michigan

+ THEODOSIUS
Bishop of Pittsburgh and West Virginia

+ DMITRI
Bishop of Hartford and New England

+ GREGORY
Bishop of Sitka and Alaska

+ JOASAPH
Bishop of Edmonton

+ HERMAN
Bishop of Wilkes-Barre

A Post on Original Sin

I was putting together a tretise on Original Sin and St. Augustine’s often misconstrued and slandered thoughts on the matter when I came upon this post by Razilaženje. His post is much more sucinct and to the point than mine and I would like to re-post it here for all to read. Your thoughts and comments are welcome!

In the current debate over the Orthodox view of Original Sin, one popular entry is Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy by the Very Rev. Fr. Antony Hughes, rector of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The essay was written in early 2005 at the request of one of the editors of The Journal of Psychology and Christianity, a publication of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, in order to provide an explanation of the alleged differences in the Eastern and Western doctrines of Original Sin and their bearing on pastoral practice. My purpose in this response is to take on several of what I consider to be the defects of Fr. Antony’s presentation, and to demonstrate the falsity of his artificial dichotomy between Ancestral and Original Sin. I do so not to defend Western Christianity, though I often feel compelled to since that tradition is so deeply misrepresented. Rather, what I find to be of great concern is the jettisoning of concepts that have, for the entirety of Church history, been part and parcel of Orthodox teaching, in favour of the innovations of a few recent thinkers who have been deeply influenced in significant (though certainly not in all) ways by postmodernism and Protestant Liberalism. The straightforward purpose of Ancestral Versus Original Sin (hereafter AvOS) is succinctly laid out in the Abstract of the paper:

The differences between the doctrine of Ancestral Sin—as understood in the church of the first two centuries and the present-day Orthodox Church—and the doctrine of Original Sin—developed by Augustine and his heirs in the Western Christian traditions—is explored. The impact of these two formulations on pastoral practice is investigated. It is suggested that the doctrine of ancestral sin naturally leads to a focus on human death and Divine compassion as the inheritance from Adam, while the doctrine of original sin shifts the center of attention to human guilt and Divine wrath. It is further posited that the approach of the ancient church points to a more therapeutic than juridical approach to pastoral care and counseling.

After a brief introductory anecdote, the relevance of which is to establish the point that “Love, in fact, is the heart and soul of the theology of the early Church Fathers and of the Orthodox Church”, Fr. Antony continues:

The Fathers of the Church—East and West—in the early centuries shared the same perspective: humanity longs for liberation from the tyranny of death, sin, corruption and the devil which is only possible through the Life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only the compassionate advent of God in the flesh could accomplish our salvation, because only He could conquer these enemies of humanity. It is impossible for Orthodoxy to imagine life outside the all-encompassing love and grace of the God who came Himself to rescue His fallen creation. Theology is, for the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, all about love.

Certainly, no Christian, Eastern or Western, can disagree with this. It is the central truth of the Christian faith. But then the subtle attack on the West, and the not-so-subtle attack on St. Augustine of Hippo begins:

As pervasive as the term original sin has become, it may come as a surprise to some that it was unknown in both the Eastern and Western Church until Augustine (c. 354-430). The concept may have arisen in the writings of Tertullian, but the expression seems to have appeared first in Augustine’s works. Prior to this the theologians of the early church used different terminology indicating a contrasting way of thinking about the fall, its effects and God’s response to it. The phrase the Greek Fathers used to describe the tragedy in the Garden was ancestral sin.

This is demonstrably untrue. In fact, when consulting the standard English-language Patristic anthology, the term original sin is used in Lactantius, Victorinius, Cyril of Jerusalem, and the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Nicodemus, as well as the Canons of Carthage, all before Augustine, while the term ancestral sin occurs not once in the entire series of books, which covers the first eight centuries of Church History. Now, to be fair, it must be said the the Greek terms equivalent to the Latin peccato originaliprogoniki amartia and to propatorikon amartima, terms which are useful, indeed, in showing that there is a difference between the personal act of the First Man, and the condition engendered thereby, are better translated as Ancestral Sin. The problem, however, lies in this: the sharp distinction between Original and Ancestral is not a historical distincitive of Orthodox teaching. The difference in having two Greek terms simply resolves the possible ambiguity of there being only one term in Latin (and English, for that matter). It is, at the same time, noteworthy that Fr. George Mastrantonis uses the terms Ancestral Sin and Original Sin interchangeably. The difficulty involved with Fr. Anthony’s (or, I should say, Fr. John Romanides’, on whom he relies) reassignment of meaning in the two English terms is that it is misleading, and turns into an untrue criticism of Western Christian thought by making use of that very ambiguity. AvOS continues:

Ancestral sin has a specific meaning. The Greek word for sin in this case, amartema, refers to an individual act indicating that the Eastern Fathers assigned full responsibility for the sin in the Garden to Adam and Eve alone. The word amartia, the more familiar term for sin which literally means “missing the mark”, is used to refer to the condition common to all humanity (Romanides, 2002). The Eastern Church, unlike its Western counterpart, never speaks of guilt being passed from Adam and Eve to their progeny, as did Augustine. Instead, it is posited that each person bears the guilt of his or her own sin. The question becomes, “What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt?” The Orthodox Fathers answer as one: death. (I Corinthians 15:21) “Man is born with the parasitic power of death within him,” writes Fr. Romanides (2002, p. 161). Our nature, teaches Cyril of Alexandria, became “diseased…through the sin of one” (Migne, 1857-1866a). It is not guilt that is passed on, for the Orthodox fathers; it is a condition, a disease.

The most common slander of the West made by Orthodox is that Western Christianity is committed to the notion that all mankind is condemned on the basis that the personal guilt of Adam for his personal act of transgression is transmitted to his progeny, rather than the condition of alienation from God, a corrupt heart, a propensity to act sinfully, and mortality. Once again, this is demonstrably untrue. The Roman Catholic Baltimore Catechism says:

56. What happened to Adam and Eve on account of their sin? On account of their sin Adam and Eve lost sanctifying grace, the right to heaven, and their special gifts; they became subject to death, to suffering, and to a strong inclination to evil, and they were driven from the Garden of Paradise. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. (Genesis 3:19) 57. What has happened to us on account of the sin of Adam? On account of the sin of Adam, we, his descendants, come into the world deprived of sanctifying grace and inherit his punishment, as we would have inherited his gifts had he been obedient to God. But, by the envy of the devil, death came into the world. (Wisdom 2:24) 58. What is this sin in us called? This sin in us is called original. 59. Why is this sin called original? This sin is called original because it comes down to us through our origin, or descent, from Adam. Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed unto all men because all have sinned. (Romans 5:12) 60. What are the chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through original sin? The chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through original sin are: death, suffering, ignorance, and a strong inclination to sin. 61. Is God unjust in punishing us on account of the sin of Adam? God is not unjust in punishing us on account of the sin of Adam, because original sin does not take away from us anything to which we have a strict right as human beings, but only the free gifts which God in His goodness would have bestowed on us if Adam had not sinned.

The more recent Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

III. ORIGINAL SIN Freedom put to the test 396 God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” spells this out: “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom. Man’s first sin 397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. 398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”. 399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives. 400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history. 401 After that first sin, the world is virtually inundated by sin There is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel and the universal corruption which follows in the wake of sin. Likewise, sin frequently manifests itself in the history of Israel, especially as infidelity to the God of the Covenant and as transgression of the Law of Moses. And even after Christ’s atonement, sin raises its head in countless ways among Christians. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition continually recall the presence and universality of sin in man’s history: What Revelation makes known to us is confirmed by our own experience. For when man looks into his own heart he finds that he is drawn towards what is wrong and sunk in many evils which cannot come from his good creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his source, man has also upset the relationship which should link him to his last end, and at the same time he has broken the right order that should reign within himself as well as between himself and other men and all creatures. The consequences of Adam’s sin for humanity 402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” 403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”. Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin. 404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act. 405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. 406 The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural power of free will and without the necessary help of God’s grace, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example. The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be insurmountable. The Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529)296 and at the Council of Trent (1546). A hard battle. . . 407 The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man’s situation and activity in the world. By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails “captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil”. Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals. 408 The consequences of original sin and of all men’s personal sins put the world as a whole in the sinful condition aptly described in St. John’s expression, “the sin of the world”. This expression can also refer to the negative influence exerted on people by communal situations and social structures that are the fruit of men’s sins. 409 This dramatic situation of “the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one” makes man’s life a battle: The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.

The Lutheran Augsburg Confession

says:

Article II: Of Original Sin. Also they [the Lutheran Churches] teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost. They condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.

The Reformed Belgic Confession says:

Article 15: Of Original Sin. We believe that, through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary disease, wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother’s womb, and which produceth in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof; and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind. Nor is it by any means abolished or done away by baptism; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain; notwithstanding it is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by his grace and mercy is forgiven them. Not that they should rest securely in sin, but that a sense of this corruption should make believers often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death. Wherefore we reject the error of the Pelagians, who assert that sin proceeds only from imitation.

The Reformed Heidelberg Catechism says:

Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature? Answer. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

The Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith says:

CHAPTER VI. Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof. I. Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. III. They being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation. IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. V. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin. VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

The Anglican Articles of Religion say:

IX. Of Original or Birth-Sin. Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek, phronema sarkos, (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh), is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

The Methodist Confession of Faith says:

Article VII—Sin and Free Will We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. In his own strength, without divine grace, man cannot do good works pleasing and acceptable to God. We believe, however, man influenced and empowered by the Holy Spirit is responsible in freedom to exercise his will for good.

The purpose of this long recital of Western creeds is to establish that, despite the popular presentation by Orthodox of the aforementioned incorrect characterisation of Western teaching, the reality is that the Western confessions, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, say nothing about inheriting the personal guilt of Adam’s personal act of sin, but rather concentrate on the effects of that sin, which are transmitted to the entire race of man, which forms an ontological unity with Adam – something we Orthodox also teach. The one document that discusses imputation of guilt, the Westminster Confession, does so in the context of the ontological corruption of mankind, not simply as an unconnected act of transgression by the federal head of the race. In other words, the basis of imputation is not an unjust transfer of guilt-by-association, but a reality rooted in the effect of one man’s sin on the whole race. At the same time, it should be pointed out that the language of the Orthodox in this regard has, historically, been much the same

[…]

In summary, both Eastern and Western Christianity can agree with Fr. Alexander Golubov, who writes

It can be said that while we have not inherited the guilt of Adam’s personal sin, because his sin is also of a generic nature, and because the entire human race is possessed of an essential, ontological unity, we participate in it by virtue of our participation in the human race. “The imparting of Original Sin by means of natural heredity should be understood in terms of the unity of the entire human nature, and of the homoousiotitos [i.e., coessentiality, consubstantiality] of all men, who, connected by nature, constitute one mystic whole. Inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him is rendered explicable: ‘Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption’” [St. Cyril of Alexandria].

I will include the rest of this talk in a post tomorrow. . .

By The Waters of Babylon

Several weeks ago was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This service in the Orthodox Church is an especially special one because it is the last sunday before Great and Holy Lent. The staple of this service is the inclusion of Psalm 136 (137 for Protestants) which is only sung 3 times the entire year.

This verse is quite possibly the most beautifuly poetic exposition of exile of the people of God. When we as Christians sing this song, we realize that it is ultimately fulfilled not in the exile of the Jewish people (though they certainly posess some of its meaning), but in the ultimate fulfillment of the people of the Church in exile here in this foreign land. In commemoration of this, I’d like to share with a beautiful versions of this Psalm, in Slavonic. Remember, in this Lenten season, Blessed are they that bash their passions on the rocks

View The Video Here

The above video features video footage of the Holy Passion-Bearers St. Nicolas II and his family.

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Alleluia.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. Alleluia.

For there they that had taken us captive required of us a song; and they that had carried us away required of us a hymn, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. Alleluia.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Alleluia.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Alleluia.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem as my chief joy. Alleluia.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Down with it, down with it, even to the foundation thereof. Alleluia.

O wretched daughter of Babylon, blessed is he that shall reward thee as thou hast served us. Alleluia.

Blessed is he, that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock. Alleluia.

Just as a quick side note, the Orthodox Church has always taken this passage allegorically for the bashing of our passions on the rocks, they do not sanction infanticide of Babylonian Children. . . so please go out and do the former and refrain from the latter.

Prayers of the Saints

Today I would like to touch upon prayer and the role of the saints and angels in prayer.

Often, coming from a Protestant background I was confronted by verses such as the following that seemed to “prove” that we should only pray to God.

Now, however, I can see clearly that this is not what is being said here. When approaching a passage of scripture it is important to not get caught up with particulars and see it as a puzzle to be put together. Instead the context of the passage along with the views of the Fathers of the Church need to be taken into effect.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.

It seems pretty clear to me now that when the verse references that Christ is the one mediator between God and man that St. Paul is not referring to the method to which prayers should be ascribed, but to the way that  the second person of the Holy Trinity comes to bring us to union, or theosis, with God.

The passage is speaking specifically of the blessed incarnation where Jesus who was truly and fully God, became truly and fully Man, taking on flesh to bring us back into communion with God. When viewed this way, it is much more powerful, taking on life that sustains us in faith, instead of being ammunition to be used to chastise those in “heresy”. (This is referred to as patristic theology I believe).

The rest of the Protestant argument against against praying for the intercession of the saints really falls under two categories. First there is the theological misunderstanding that praying to the saints invokes a heretical pantheistic structure where the saints are taken to be gods. This is not the case. The Orthodox Church has always condemned this view as heretical. The prayers to the saints are merely the same as if I were to ask my friend here on earth to pray to God for me. In Orthodoxy there is no chasm or canyon separating here and eternity, and anyone who claims to have evidenced some kind of act of grace in their life, as nearly all protestants do, can attest to the fact that God is indeed involved in our realm. This leads me to the other part of the argument that I feel needs to be dispelled which is simply a modern metaphysical one.

It is simply hard for us, modern and enlightened as we are, to understand that those who are dead are not dead but are indeed living (in Christ through his resurrection) and are able to not only hear us, but pray for us to God and even perhaps intervene by God’s direction in our lives. It is important to remember that we are not called biblically to a “relationship with God” simply by ourselves, but to a “relationship with God” within the context of the Church which is his body. So really, the issue of praying to the saints for intercession is not only one of metaphysics, but one of communion. If we are one body, why should the hand say to the feet I don’t need you. Why should the brain tell the foot to move left and instead it decides to more right.

To all of the saints in heaven, dearly departed yet alive with us in Christ. We ask that you would pray to God for us, asking for us to be united in faith, hope, and love for one another; that we would learn to be charitable with our neighbor and to pray for our enemies, just as you did and still do.  Pray that we may be one just as God is one, Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, acting as one body as Christ directed us, and the Spirit compells us to do. Amen

God, grant that we may have peace, loving one another, just as you have loved us. Teach us to be humble, learning your ways not ours. Allow us the strength and patience to love our enemies, and indeed to even see none as enemies but as children of God. Teach us to be charitable and kind to all, for they truly may indeed be angels among us unaware. Now Lord, we pray that your will be done, and that all men may be saved. Amen

Theology without works= Devil

“Theology without action is the theology of demons.” – St. Maximos the Confessor

“they will know that we are Christians by our LOVE. . .” -a hymn.

Recently, I have been on a journey of discovery of sorts. As many of you may know, I have had a slight obsession with things “Orthodox” since I took a Church History course. Well I received an inspiration of sorts tonight and wanted to share it with you. It was based on a reading about what the Church is. I have been reading Eastern Orthodox Theology (ed. Clendenin) and The Orthodox Church by Bishop Ware, and when the church was described as “the image of the Triune God” I could not help but be inspired to write the next part of this message. So now that that (2x? oh well. . . I digress) is set up for you and you may understand the rest of this message. . . let’s just read it shall we. . .

I think that is possible to be “Orthodox” in your belief, yet be thoroughly evil in your action. Even Satan is Orthodox in a the sense. Lucifer has been in the very presence of God Triune. Though he may try to persuade others otherwise, he has no choice to believe that God is in fact three unique persons existing perfectly as one united God. He has been witness to his own demise, the fullness of the word made flesh, who is Jesus: fully human and fully God. What I am trying to say here is this: Don’t seek to be only Orthodox, be Holy as God is Holy. For true Orthodoxy (or right belief) must also be right action, attitude, mindset, and thoughts.

The word Christian means literally “little Christ.” To be a little Christ, one must act like Christ, not just believe in Christ. So, when we focus on where we are in our spiritual journey, it is much more important to understand ourselves as “Christians” (that is our chief aim on earth is to live in Christ through the Holy Spirit, to please the Father.) If we truly search after God, the “Orthodoxy” will follow.

Basically what I am saying is this: we (I am speaking to myself here) can all be capable to search after a “orthodoxy” that is flawed all too often. If we are searching after an orthodoxy that is intellectual, we have missed the point. Theology should not be a “study of God” as is the dictionary term. Our search for Orthodoxy (in whatever form we may seek it) must be found in the life that we are called to, theosis/sanctification, or in layman’s terms, of who we are becoming in Christ. The idea of the trinity should not just be some theological concept discussed in academia, but a living belief instilled in our actions and interactions with others.