Saturday, 23 August 2014

Weeping

Abba Poeman said: "One who wishes to purify one's faults purifies them with tears; one who wishes to acquire the virtues acquires them with tears. Weeping is the way that the Scriptures and the Fathers give us, when they say: 'Weep!' Truly, there is no other way than this."

Thursday, 21 August 2014

What is a Thanksgiving Moleben?

In the last post something called the "Thanksgiving Moleben" was mentioned. I checked this up and found that this is something, I believe, that only priests and hierarchs can serve. It seems that they are services of thanksgiving, blessing of food or asking a saint for help services of prayers. Here is one I picked up on the net:

THANKSGIVING MOLEBEN
PRIEST: Glory to Holy, Consubstantial and undivided Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
READER: Amen. Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.

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.

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

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the 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. (Three times)

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 by 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.

PRIEST: For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory; of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
READER : Amen.

Lord have mercy. (12 times)

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 come, let us worship God our King.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and God.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.

PSALM 117
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the house of Israel now say that He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the house of Aaron now say that He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever. Let all that fear the Lord now say that He is good His mercy endureth for ever. Out of mine affliction I called upon the Lord, and He heard me and brought me into a broad place. The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. The Lord is my helper, and I shall look down upon mine enemies. It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to hope in the Lord than to hope in princes. All the nations compassed me round about, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off. Surrounding me they compassed me, and by name of the Lord I warded them off. They compassed me about like unto bees around a honeycomb, and they burst into flame like a fire among the thorns, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off. The Lord is my strength and my song, and He hath become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous. The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength, the right hand of the Lord hath exalted me, the right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength. I shall not die, but live, and I shall tell of the works of the Lord. With chastisement hath the Lord chastened me, but He hath not given me over unto death. Open unto me the gates of righteousness; I will enter therein and give thanks unto the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter thereat. I will give thanks unto Thee, for Thou hast heard me and art become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad therein. O Lord, save now; O Lord, send now prosperity. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. We have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. God is the Lord, and hath appeared unto us. Ordain a feast with thick boughs, even unto the horns of the altar. Thou art my God, and I will confess Thee; Thou art my God, and I will exalt Thee. I will give thanks unto Thee, for Thou hast heard me, and Thou art become my salvation. O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, His mercy endureth for ever.

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, Glory to Thee, O God (three times)

Then the Deacon recites the litany:

DEACON: In peace, let us pray to the Lord.
CHOIR: Lord have Mercy (after each petition)

For the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
For the peace of the whole world, for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.
For this holy temple, and for those who with faith, reverence, and the fear of God enter herein, let us pray to the Lord.
For the Orthodox Episcopate of the Russian Church; for our Lord, the Very Most Reverend Metropolitan (N), First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad; for our Lord, the Most Reverend (Archbishop (N) or Bishop(N)); for the venerable Priesthood, the Diaconate in Christ; for all the clergy and the people, let us pray to the Lord.
For this land, it's authorities and armed forces, let us pray to the Lord.
For the suffering (Russian) land and it's Orthodox people both in the homeland and n the diaspora, and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.
That the Lord will deliver His people from enemies both visible and invisible, and confirm in us oneness of mind, brotherly love and piety, let us pray to the Lord.
For this city, for every city and country, and the faithful that dwell therein, let us pray to the Lord.
For seasonable weather, for abundance of the fruits of the earth and for peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.
For travellers by land, by sea, and air, for the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned, and for their salvation, let us pray to Lord.

Here the special petitions are included:

That He will graciously accept this present thanksgiving and supplication of us unworthy sinners on His most heavenly altar, and in His compassion have mercy upon us, let us pray to the Lord.

That He will not despise the thanksgiving of us his unprofitable servants, which we offer with humble hearts for the benefits that we have received from Him; but that it may acceptable unto Him as sweet smelling incense, and a whole burnt offering, let us pray to the Lord.

That he will hearken now unto the voice of petition of us, His unworthy servants, and will always fulfil the good intention and desire of His faithful, as may be most expedient for them; and, in that He is bountiful, may always bestow his benefits upon us, and grant unto His holy Church and unto every faithful servant of His their petitions, let us pray to the Lord.

That he will deliver His holy Church (and His servant(s) (N)) and us all from every affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity, and from all enemies, both visible and invisible; and that He will always hedge about his faithful people with health, long life, and peace, and the host of his holy Angels, let us pray to the Lord.

Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by thy grace.

Calling to remembrance our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and all our life unto Christ our God.

Exclamation:

PRIEST: For unto Thee is due all glory, honour, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and the ages of ages.

Then:

DEACON: In the _ Tone: God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Stichos (before the choir chants the first time): O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever.

Stichos: Surrounding me they compassed me, and by the name of the Lord I warded them off.

CHOIR: God is the Lord ...

Stichos: I shall not but live, and I shall tell of the works of the Lord.

CHOIR: God is the Lord ...

Stichos: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner. this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.

CHOIR: God is the Lord ...

And the following Troparia:

FOURTH TONE
We, thine unworthy servants, O Lord, grateful for thy great benefits which Thou hast showed upon us, glorifying Thee do praise, bless, give thanks, sing, and magnify Thy loving-kindness, and with love do cry aloud unto Thee in humble submissiveness: 0 our Benefactor and Savior, glory to Thee.

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

O Master Who hast freely vouchsafed Thy benefits and gifts unto Thine unprofitable servants, zealously resorting unto Thee, we offer unto Thee thanksgiving according to our strength, and glorifying Thee as our Benefactor and Creator, we cry aloud: Glory to thee, O God most bountiful.

Now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O Theotokos, the helper of Christians, having acquired thy protection, we thy servants gratefully do cry aloud unto thee: Rejoice, most pure virgin Theotokos! And from calamities deliver thou us always by thy prayers, O thou who alone art a speedy helper in trouble.

DEACON: Let us attend .
PRIEST: Peace be unto all!
READER: And to thy spirit.
DEACON: Wisdom!
READER: The Prokeimenon in the Fourth Tone. I will sing praises unto the Lord, because He hath dealt so lovingly with me, yea I will praise the name of the Lord Most High.

Verse. My Heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.

Then the Epistle is read:

(Eph 5:8-21) For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

PRIEST: Peace be unto thee that readest.
READER: And to thy spirit
DEACON: Wisdom!
READER: The alleluia of the Gospel in the Fourth Tone:
CHOIR: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
DEACON: Wisdom, Aright! Let us hear the Holy gospel!
PRIEST: Peace be unto all.
CHOIR: And to thy spirit.
PRIEST: The reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke.
CHOIR: Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.
DEACON: Let us attend.

St. Luke 17:12-19: 12 And as (Jesus) entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

CHOIR: Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.

And immediately, the Deacon recites the following Litany:

DEACON: Have mercy upon us, 0 God, according to thy great mercy, we beseech Thee: hearken. and have mercy.
CHOIR: Lord have mercy (Thrice, after each petition)

Returning thanks with fear and trembling, as unprofitable servants unto Thy loving-kindness, 0 Lord, our Saviour and our Master, for Thy benefits which thou hast poured out abundantly upon thy servants, we fall down in worship, and offer unto thee praise as God, and fervour we do cry aloud unto thee: Deliver thou thy servants from all calamities, and in that thou art merciful fulfil thou always the desires of us all, as may be expedient for us, we diligently entreat Thee, hearken, and have mercy.

In that thou now hast mercifully hearkened unto the supplications of thy servants, O Lord, and hast manifested upon us the tender compassion of thy love for mankind, so also, in time to

come, despising us not, do thou fulfil, unto thy glory, all good desires of thy faithful people, and reveal unto us all Thy rich mercy, disregarding our iniquities, we beseech thee: hearken, and have mercy.

And may this our thanksgiving be as sweet-smelling incense, as a fat whole burnt offering before the majesty of thy glory, 0 gracious Master, and send thou down always upon thy servants, in that Thou art beneficent, Thy rich mercies and bounties; and deliver from all assaults of enemies, both visible and invisible, thy holy Church, and this city, and grant unto all thy people length of days, sinless and healthful, and increase in all virtue, we beseech thee, 0 all bountiful King: mercifully hearken, and speedily show mercy.

Exclamation:

PRIEST: Hear us, 0 God our Saviour, the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of those who are far off upon the sea; and show mercy, show mercy, 0 Master, upon us sinners, and be merciful unto us sinners, and be merciful unto us. For Thou art a merciful God who lovest mankind, and unto thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

CHOIR: Amen.
DEACON: Let us pray to the Lord!

And the priest, with all heed and devoutness, reads the following prayer, aloud:

O Lord Jesus Christ our God, the God of all mercies and bounties Whose mercy is immeasurable, and whose love for mankind is an unfathomable deep: falling down in adoration before Thy majesty, with fear and trembling, as unprofitable servants, and now humbly rendering thanks unto Thy loving-kindness for Thy benefits bestowed upon Thy Servant(s) (N), we glorify Thee, we praise Thee, we sing Thee and we magnify thee as our Lord, and Master, and Benefactor; and again falling down before Thee, we humbly thank Thee, supplicating Thy boundless and inexpressible mercy. And in that Thou hast graciously vouchsafed to accept the petitions of Thy servants and to fulfil them, so also grant that henceforth thy Holy Church and this city may be delivered from every hostile assault, and may be vouchsafed peace and tranquillity, and that increasing in true love of Thee, and in all virtues, all Thy faithful people may receive Thy benefits; and that we may ever offer thanksgiving unto Thee, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all holy, and good, and life giving Spirit, God glorified in one person; and that we may say exceeding good things and sing:

and immediately, he exclaims in a loud voice:

Glory to Thee, O God our Benefactor, unto the ages of ages.

CHOIR: Amen.

And immediately is sung the great Doxology, or the Hymn of St. Ambrose:

GREAT DOXOLOGY
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will among men. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory. O Lord, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty; O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and O Holy Spirit. O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world; have mercy on us; Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For Thou only art holy; Thou only art the Lord, O Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen. Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy Name forever, yea, forever and forever.

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our Fathers, and praised and glorified is Thy name unto the ages of ages. Amen. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes. (Three times).

Lord, thou hast been our refuge in generation and generation. I said: O Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee. O Lord, unto Thee have I fled for refuge, teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God. For in Thee is the fountain of life, in Thy light shall we see light. O continue Thy mercy unto them that know Thee.

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

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

Holy Immortal have mercy on us.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

And when it is finished:

DEACON: Wisdom!
CHOIR: 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.
PRIEST: Glory to Thee, O God, our hope, glory to Thee.
CHANTERS : Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Lord, have mercy. (thrice) Father (master), bless.
PRIEST: May Christ our God, through the intercessions of His most pure Mother, (the patron saint of the temple) , and of all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of mankind.
CHANTERS : Amen.

The end of the Service of Thanksgiving

Practical Tips for Orthodox Living

St. Pelagia the Penitent
The following "tips" are by Mother Pelagia of Lesna Convent (sent to the website Orthodoxinfo here), who prefaces them with the remark: "Orthodox families train their children from a very early age to acquire religious habits, in some of which I was myself, as a Protestant, brought up." Her first tips are:

1) Prayers are said morning and evening, either together as a family or individually.

2) A blessing (grace, we called it) is said by the head of the family before a meal, and a prayer of thanks afterwards.

3) On entering a room where there is an icon, cross yourself before it and say a brief prayer.

4) When leaving one's dwelling, make the sign of the cross over the door and pray for its protection.

5) On seeing a priest, abbot or abbess, or even when phoning them or writing to them, always ask their blessing.

6) Before going to bed, make the sign of the cross over it and pray for protection during sleep.

7) When you hear of anyone's death, immediately say a prayer for their eternal memory.

8) If discussing or planning the future say: "As God wills."

9) If you offend or hurt anyone, say as soon as possible, "Forgive me," always trying to take the blame yourself

10) If something turns out well, say "Praise be (to God)."

11) If something turns out badly, if there is pain, sickness or any kind of trouble, say "Praise be to God for all things," since God is all good and, though we might not understand the purpose of these things, undoubtedly they have been permitted by God

12) If you begin some task, say, "God help me," or if someone else' working: "May God help you," (How sad that this expression is so perverted in the modern exclamation "God help you!")

13) Cross yourself and say a brief prayer before even the shortest journey by car.

14) For a longer and more difficult journey, ask a priest to sing a Moleben, failing that, at home say the troparion and kontakion for a journey.

15) If there is a possibility of future trouble of any kind, either for yourself or for someone you care for, say an Akathist to the Mother of God.

16) When you receive a blessing after prayer, always remember to thank God; if it is a small thing, you may add a prayer of thanksgiving to your daily prayers or make an offering. For matters of greater import, ask the priest to serve the Thanksgiving Moleben. But NEVER neglect to give thanks.
Excerpts from The Shepherd: General Tips

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

On behalf of all

I would like to recommend a blog I have been following which is specially designed to answer any questions you may have about Orthodoxy. It's called "On Behalf of All" and can be accessed here. Here is the 'about us' information included on the blog:

"This is a simple blog with the express purpose of promoting the Orthodox Christian faith.

Most of the contributors to this website are converts to Orthodoxy from other religions or forms of Christianity, and all of us live in the “diaspora”—that is, in places where Orthodoxy is relatively new, and the result of both immigration and missionary efforts.

This site began several years ago as my own personal blog, where I would share thoughts and reflections from theological studies, scripture, and my conversion journey from Protestantism to the Orthodox Faith. Over the years, it has evolved in both focus and scope. I am now joined by many other people who have gone on similar-but-different journeys of faith, and the blog is richer for it.

There are many websites devoted in some way to Orthodox Christianity on the Internet. It is quite the mixed bag. In fact, there are more sites that either misrepresent or even attack Orthodoxy—under the guise, perhaps, of “scholarship” or other pretences—than there are positive, encouraging, and faithful sites representing the beauty and richness of the Orthodox faith. We hope that On Behalf of All is the latter; a place that actually embraces, celebrates, and positively promotes the Orthodox faith, in contradistinction to both heterodoxy and heresy.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Praying for the Church

"You are told to pray especially for the people, that is, for the whole body, for all its members, the family of your mother the Church; the badge of membership is your love for each other. If you pray only for yourself, you pray for yourself alone. If each one prays for himself, he receives less from God's goodness than the one who prays on behalf of others."
St. Ambrose of Milan

From Orthodox Daily Prayer
And first of all remember Your Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which You have purchased with Your precious blood. Confirm and strengthen it, enlarge and multiply it, keep it in peace, and preserve it unconquerable by the gates of hell forever. Heal the schisms of the churches, quench the ragings of the 
heathen, speedily undo and root out te growths of heresies, and bring them to naught by the power of Your Holy Spirit.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops, priests, ministers, and deacons, and the whole clergy of Your Church, which You have established to feed the flock of Your word and by their prayers have mercy upon me, and save me, a sinner.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy upon the old, the young, the needy , the orphans and the widows, and on all that are in sickness and sorrow, in distress and affliction, in oppression and captivity, in prison and confinement. More especially have mercy upon Your servants who are under persecution for Your sake and for the sake of the Orthodox Faith at the hands of heathen nations, of apostates, and of heretics: remember them, visit, strengthen, keep, and comfort them, and make haste to grant them, by Your power, relief, freedom, and deliverance.

Friday, 15 August 2014

From the Akathist Hymn to the Divine Passion of Christ

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,
Creator of Heaven and earth,
Saviour of the world,
Behold I who am unworthy
and of all men most sinful,
humbly bow the knee of my heart before
the glory of Thy majesty
and praise Thy Cross and Passion,
and offer thanksgiving to Thee,
the King and God of all,
that Thou wast pleased to bear
as man all labours and hardships,
all temptations and tortures,
that Thou mightest be our Fellow-sufferer and Helper,
and a Saviour to all of us in all our sorrows, needs, and sufferings.

I know, O all-powerful Lord, that all these things
were not necessary for Thee,
but for us men and for our salvation Thou didst endure Thy Cross and Passion
that Thou mightest redeem us from all cruel bondage to the enemy.

What, then, shall I give in return to Thee, O Lover of mankind,
for all that Thou hast suffered for me, a sinner?
I cannot say, for soul and body and all blessings come from Thee,
and all that I have is Thine, and I am Thine.
Yet I know that love is repaid only by love.
Teach me, then, to love and praise Thee.

Trusting solely in Thine infinite compassion and mercy, O Lord,
I praise Thine unspeakable patience,
I magnify Thine unutterable exhaustion,
I glorify Thy boundless mercy,
I adore Thy purest Passion,
and most lovingly kissing Thy wounds, I cry:
Have mercy on me a sinner,
and cause that Thy holy Cross may not be fruitless in me,
that I may participate here with faith in Thy sufferings
and be vouchsafed to behold also the glory of Thy Kingdom in Heaven. Amen.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Believing in God

"The ideal and ultimate form of true faith means having direct experience of God as a living reality."
Father Maximos in The Mountain of Silence

(A popular fallacy is that believing in the Creed represents...a blind faith in God). "True faith means in live with God, I am one with God. I have come to know God and therefore I know that He truly Is. God lives inside me and is victorious over death and I move forward with God....

"......when during the liturgy we recite the prayer "I believe in one God...." we try in reality to move from an intellectual faith in God to the actual vision of God. Faith becomes Love itself. The Creed actually means 'I love in a union of love with God.' This is the path of the saints. On,y then can we say that we are true Christians. This is the kind of faith that the saints possess as direct experience . Consequently they are unafraid of death, of war, of illness, or anything else in this world. They are beyond all worldly ambition, of money, fame, power, safety, and the like. Such persons transcend the idea of God and enter into the experience of God."
Ibid page 45

Monday, 11 August 2014

Keeping prayer simple

"Let all multiplicity be absent from your prayer. A single word was enough for the publican and the prodigal son to receive God's pardon. … Do not try to find exactly the right words for your prayer: how many times does the simple and monotonous stuttering of children draw the attention of their father!

Do not launch into long discourses, for if you do, your mind will be dissipated trying to find just the right words. The publican's short sentence moved God to mercy. A single word full of faith saved the thief."
John Climacus (d. 649)

Resolutions

Resolutions from Metropolitan Philaret Voznesensky, the New Confessor

1. Remember, you are a son (daughter) of the Orthodox Church.  These are not empty words.  Remember the commitment this entails.

2. Earthly life is fleeting; one is hardly aware of the swiftness of its passing. Nevertheless, this transient life determines the eternal destiny of your soul.  Do not forget this for a moment.

3. Try to live piously.  Pray to God in church, pray to God at home–fervently, with faith, trusting yourself to God’s will.  Fulfill the holy and saving precepts of the Church, her rules and commandments.  Outside the Church, outside obedience to her, there is no salvation.

4. The gift of words is one of God’s greatest gifts. It ennobles man, lifting him above all other creatures.  But how this gift is now misused by a corrupts humanity!  Safeguard this gift and learn to use it as befits a Christian.  Do not judge, do not speak idly.  Avoid, like fire, bad language and seductive conversation; do not forget the words of our Lord and Savior: By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (Mt 12:37)  Do not indulge in lying.  Holy Scripture sternly forewarns: The Lord shall destroy all them which speak a lie. (Ps 5:4)

5. Love your neighbor as yourself, according to the Lord’s commandment. Without love there is not Christianity. Remember, Christian love is SELF-SACRIFICING, and not egocentric. Do not miss an opportunity to show love and mercy.

6. Be meek, pure and modest in your thoughts, words and deeds.  Do not imitate the profligate.  Do not take their example, and avoid close acquaintance with them.  Have no unnecessary dealings with unbelievers-unbelief is infectious.  Observe meekness and propriety always and everywhere; avoid becoming contaminated by the shameless habits of todays world.

7. Fear vanity and pride; run from them. Pride caused the highest and most power angel to be cast down from heaven.  remember, ‘thou art earth and to earth shat thou return…’ Deeply humble yourself.

8. The fundamental task in life is to save one’s soul for eternity.  Keep this as the most essential task, the main concern of your life.  Woe to those whose indifference and neglect bring their souls to eternal ruination.
Source: Orthodox Heritage, Vol 7, issue 09-10, p 32

Friday, 8 August 2014

Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?

As an Evangelical the Scriptures are very important to me but I am beginning to see them from a different perspective thanks to articles like the following from Fr Bernstein entitled “Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?”  It was published by Conciliar Press/Ancient Faith Publishing can be found on the following website (click here).

It is available in booklet form, along with many other booklets on topics of Orthodox faith and practice, at http://store.ancientfaith.com/booklets/

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

I was very struck recently reading about Eastern Orthodox's etiquette rules. 'Rules' is probably not the best way to describe a set of guidelines for those unfamiliar with worship in an Orthodox Church, but do set important standards in relation to how you should appear before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Here is one such set taken from the website of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America:

In the Orthodox Church, there are a lot of customs and traditions that are important parts of our worship. Some are cultural; some are pious customs. Some are essential; some are not. From time-to-time, we need to address some of these various etiquette issues to inform our communities how we can best understand each other and work together to worship the all-holy Trinity.

Standing vs. Sitting 
The traditional posture for prayer and worship in the Orthodox Church has been to stand. In the Orthodox "old countries", there are usually no pews in the churches. Chairs or benches on the side walls are usually reserved for the elderly and infirm. In North America, we have tended to build our churches with pews, and since we have them, we need to figure out when we may sit and when we should stand. First of all, it is fully acceptable (even preferable) to stand for the entire service. If you prefer this, it would be better to find a place closer to the back or side of the church so as not to stand out or block someone's view. When should you definitely stand? Always during the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrances, the Anaphora, the distribution of Holy Communion, whenever the priest gives a blessing, and the Dismissal. In many parishes, the Divine Liturgy books in the pew have suggested times when sitting is acceptable. Follow those instructions (it's probably safer than to follow what the people are doing in the first couple of rows). When in doubt, stand. It is never wrong to stand in church.

Lighting Candles 
Lighting candles is an important part of Orthodox worship. We light them as we pray, making an offering to accompany our prayers. Orthodox typically light candles when coming into the church - and that is usually the best time to light them, but there are times when candles should not be lit. It is not proper to light candles during the Epistle or Gospel readings, during the Little or Great Entrances, the sermon, and most of the times when the faithful are standing. If you find yourself arriving to church after the Liturgy has begun, a good rule of thumb to remember is - if everyone is standing, wait until they are sitting to light a candle (unless they are sitting for the sermon, of course). Other than that it is probably all right to light a candle.

Entering the Church (Late) 
The time to arrive at church is before the service starts, but for some unknown reason, it has become the custom - or rather the bad habit - for some to come to church late. If you arrive after the Divine Liturgy begins, try to enter the church quietly - and observe what is happening. If the Epistle or Gospel is being read or the Little or Great Entrance is taking place, wait until it is finished to quickly find a seat. If Father is giving the sermon, stay in the back until he has concluded. If in doubt, check with one of the ushers to see if it is a good time to seat yourself. Try not to interrupt the Liturgy with you entrance. By the way, the best way to avoid this problem is to arrive on time - then you don't have to wonder if it's okay to come in or not. People who come late to the Liturgy should not partake of the Eucharist!

Crossing those Legs? 
In some Orthodox cultures, crossing one's legs is taboo and considered to be very disrespectful. In our North American culture, while there are no real taboos concerning crossing one's legs, we tend to cross our legs to get comfortable while sitting. Should we cross our legs in church? No. Not because it is "wrong" to ever cross legs, but rather because it is too casual - and too relaxed - for being in church. Just think about it, when you get settled in your favorite chair at home, you lean back, cross your legs, and then your mind can wander anywhere it wants to. Remember that sitting in church is a concession, not the normative way of prayer. You surely don't want to get too relaxed and let your mind wander off too much. In fact, when you do sit in church, you should sit attentively - and not too comfortably. When sitting in church, keep those feet on the floor, ready to stand at attention (which is what "Let us attend" means). Cross yourself with your fingers and hand - but don't cross your legs!

In and Out 
In and out? It's a hamburger place in LA, but shouldn't be the traffic pattern by the back door during services. On some Sundays, it almost seems like we have a revolving door in the back of the church - and it is used by both children and adults. Use the restroom before coming to church. You shouldn't need to get a drink of water during the service (especially if you are taking Communion!). Don't come to church to go to the fellowship hall - come to pray.

Leaving Before Dismissal 
Leaving church before the Dismissal - besides being rude - deprives us of a blessing. Worship has a beginning ("Blessed is the Kingdom…") and an end ("Let us depart in peace…"). To leave immediately after Communion is to treat church like a fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please. We live in a fast-paced world where we seem to be hurrying from place to place. But in God's presence, we need to make every attempt to fight this pressure to move on to the next thing on the day's agenda. We deprive ourselves of blessings by not being still and participating in God's holiness. Eat and run at McDonald's - but stay in church and thank God for his precious gifts.

Blot that Lipstick!
Have you ever looked at an icon in just the right light and seen the lip prints all over it? It's disgusting, isn't it? In fact, it's downright gross. Lipstick may look fine on lips, but it looks horrible on icons, crosses, the Communion spoon and the priest's or bishop's hand. Icons have been ruined by lipstick; and even though the cross can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates it, it just isn't considerate to others to impose your lipstick on them. What is the answer? If you insist on wearing lipstick to church, blot your lips well before venerating an icon, taking Communion, or kissing the cross or the priest's or bishop's hand. Even better, wait until after church to put it on. After all, God is not impressed with how attractive you look externally - your makeup or clothing - but how attractive you are internally, your adornment with good works and piety.

Venerating Icons 
When you enter the church, it is traditional to venerate the icons. Usually there are icons at the entrance to the church and many churches have icon stands in the front as well. When venerating (kissing) and icon, pay attention to where you kiss. It is not proper to kiss an icon in the face. You wouldn't go up and kiss the Lord or His mother on the lips, would you? You would kiss their hand, and only of they invited you would you even dare to kiss them on the cheek. Pay attention to what you are doing. When you approach and icon to venerate it, kiss the gospel, scroll, or hand cross in the hand of the person in the icon, or kiss the hand or foot of the person depicted. As you venerate and icon, show proper respect to the person depicted in the icon - the same respect you would show the person by venerating him or her in an appropriate place. And remember, blot off your lipstick before kissing.

Talking during Church 
Isn't it great to come to church and see friends and family members? But wait until coffee hour to say "Hi" to them. It just isn't appropriate to greet people and have a conversation with them during the services. Besides being disrespectful towards God, it is rude towards the other people in the church who are trying to worship. Talk to God while in church through your prayers, hymns, and thanksgiving, and to your friends in the hall afterwards.

Kiss (Don't Shake) the Priest's or Bishop's Hand 
Did you know that the proper way to greet a priest or bishop is to ask his blessing and kiss his right hand? How do you do this? Approach the priest or bishop with your right hand over your left hand and say "Father (or "Master" in the case of the bishop), bless." This is much more appropriate (and traditional) than shaking their hands. After all, the priest and bishop are not just "one of the boys." When you kiss their hands, you show respect for their office - they are the ones who "bless and sanctify" you and who offer the holy gifts on your behalf. So next time you greet your priest or bishop, don't shake his hand, ask for his blessing.

Sunday Dress 
Remember the time when people put on their "Sunday best" to go to church? In fact, dress clothes were often referred to as Sunday clothes. In some parts of the country, this is not common today. In fact, all too often, dress in church has become too casual. In all areas of our lives, we should offer Christ our best. And the same is true of our dress. We should offer Christ our 'Sunday best", not our everyday or common wear. And we should dress modestly, not in a flashy way that would bring attention to ourselves. Our dress should always be becoming of a Christian - especially at church.

Here are some specific guidelines we use in our parishes:

Children 
Only young children (under 10) should wear shorts to church - and then only dress shorts. Athletic shorts, cut-offs, and spandex shorts are never appropriate church wear (for children or adults!). Shoes or sandals should be clean and tied. No one should wear T-shirts with any kind of writing on them ("This Bud's for You!" is definitely out).

Women 
Dresses should be modest. No tank tops or dresses with only straps at the shoulders, no short skirts (mini-skirts), and no skin-tight dresses. Dresses should have backs and not be cut low in the front. If women wear pants to church, they should be dress pants (not jeans, leggings, etc.). Shorts of any type are not appropriate for church.

Men 
Men should also dress modestly. While coat and tie are not mandatory, shirts should have collars and be buttoned to the collar (the actual collar button may be left undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate). Slacks should be cleaned and pressed. Jeans (of any color) are usually too casual for church, especially ones with patches or holes. Again, shorts are not appropriate church wear.

If you're going somewhere after church where you need to dress casually, bring a change of clothing with you and change after coffee hour. Remember, use your best judgment and good taste when dressing for church. After all, you don't go to be seen by everyone else - you go to meet and worship God.

Pew Blocking
Never heard of pew blocking? It's that practice of sitting right next to the aisle so that no one else can get by to sit in the middle of the pew. Everyone has seen it. In fact, the best pew blockers come early so they can get their coveted aisle seats and then be sure that no one can get past them. The most effective form of pew blocking takes place when two people take their places at opposite ends of the pew, occupying both the center and aisle seats. This effectively eliminates anyone else from sitting on that row. There are two solutions to pew blocking. The first is to move towards the middle of the pew, leaving the aisle seats for those coming later. And for those of you who just can't handle sitting in the middle of the pew [or those with small children who may need to make a fast exit - NTK], take the outside aisle spot and graciously allow those coming after you to go past (by moving out for them so they can get by). Remember, pew blocking isn't hospitable - nor is it an efficient method of seating. So don't be selfish. Move on over towards the middle. Don't be a pew blocker.

To Cross or Not To Cross
Anyone who has looked around on a Sunday morning will notice that different people cross themselves at different times (and sometimes in different ways). To a certain extent, when to cross oneself is according to personal piety and not an issue of dogma. But there are times when it is specifically proper to cross yourself, and times when you should not. Here is a brief list of when to cross and when not to cross:

To Cross 
When you hear one of the variations of the phrase, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"; at the beginning and end of the liturgical service or your private prayers; entering or exiting the church, or when passing in front of the Holy Altar; before venerating in icon, the cross, or Gospel book.

Not to Cross 
At the chalice before or after taking Communion (you might hit the chalice with your hand); when the priest or bishop blesses saying, "Peace be to all" - bow slightly and receive the blessing; when receiving a blessing from a bishop or a priest (kissing the right hand of the bishop or priest is appropriate, but not making the sign of the cross).

Touching the Hem of Father's Garments 
Many people like to touch the hem of Father's phelonion as he goes through the congregation for the Great Entrance. This is a nice, pious custom by which you "attach" your personal prayers to the prayer of the entrance with the holy gifts. At the same time, you need to be careful neither to grab too hard and trip up the Great Entrance, nor to push people out of the way. And be sure to help your children so that they observe these guidelines as well.

Snacks for Children 
You can always tell where young children have been sitting in the church. The tell-tale signs are graham cracker crumbs, Cheerios, and animal crackers. Parents often bring snacks and a cup of fruit juice along for children during church. And for young children (0-2 years old), this is fine. But by the time children are 3-4 years old, they should be able to make it through Liturgy without eating anything, and by the time they reach seven (the age of their first confession), they should begin fasting on Sunday morning for Communion (or at least make an attempt at fasting by cutting back on the amount of breakfast and eating "fasting"-type foods - talk to your priest about this). For those children who get snacks, please don't feed them while in the line for Holy Communion (this applies to holy bread as well). They need to come to Communion without food in their mouths. And one last note: try to keep the snack mess down to a minimum. The floor shouldn't be covered with Cheerios! Chewing gum during Liturgy is a No-No for everyone!

Handling the Holy Bread 
After taking Holy Communion and at the end of the liturgy, it is traditional to eat a piece of holy bread or antidoron - the bread that was left over after Holy Communion was prepared. While antidoron is not Holy Communion, it is blessed bread and as such, should be eaten carefully so that crumbs don't fall all over the place. After taking Communion or kissing the cross at the end of the Divine Liturgy, take one piece of antidoron (you don't need four or five pieces) and when you return to your seat or get to a place where you can stop for a moment, eat the bread trying not to drop crumbs. If you want to give a piece to someone else, go ahead and take an extra piece - don't break yours in half (it produces too many crumbs). And monitor your children as they take the antidoron and teach them to eat it respectfully.

A Final Thought 
North American society in the late 20th century is rather casual in its approach to life. Don't allow this prevailing attitude to enter into your Orthodox Christian piety. There are surely a lot of other areas that could be covered here. Much of church etiquette is based on common sense and showing respect for God and others. Always remember that you are in church to worship God, the Holy Trinity. The priest says, "With the fear of God and faith and love, draw near." Let this be the way you approach all of worship. If you do, you will probably have good church etiquette.

The challenge of Orthodoxy

"Orthodoxy" - its very name, with its Chestertonian, take-no-prisoners ring, appealed to the truth-lover in me. Here was a religion that cost something, and that something was my total participation. I would have to stand up in the very presence of God and actively show Him that I worshipped Him, rather than passively sitting in a pew to receive His Word secondhand. I would have to admit to my sins and repent of them, rather than just sort of hoping they would disappear by themselves. I would have to employ every bit of intelligence God gave me just to comprehend the depth of thought reached in patristic writings. And best of all, there would be no guarantee that I would succeed. Salvation did not come automatically with Church membership."
Mary Heather Lowe from "Our hearts true home." Edited by Virginia Nieuwsma

Note: The above excerpt is taken from a book containing accounts of fourteen women's journey to orthodoxy.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The following is the testimony of an Orthodox convert, Father Barnabas of St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral (see the following website here).  Father Barnabas was a Pentecostal before joining the Orthodox Church:

From the desk of Father Barnabas
The Pentecostal church I grew up in had a profound impact on my life. The lively services, the thundering sermons, and the emotional altar calls gripped my young heart and fed my hunger for an intimate encounter with God. As a young man growing up in a Pentecostal church, I always knew I wanted to be a preacher because all the powerful men I had ever known had been men in the pulpit, and I wanted to be just like them.

In my Pentecostal church I was told that a stream is purest at its source, so what we had to do was to be like the Church in the Book of Acts. If we were going to affect our world for Jesus then we needed the same power the Early Church had, and that meant being Pentecostal. The whole purpose for our emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, lively, emotional worship services, and powerful, motivating, sermons, was to keep us motivated to win lost souls. If you weren’t witnessing, you weren’t on fire for the Lord.

I was the youth choir director and our youth group traveled around the Southeast singing and preaching the Good News. Sometimes I would give the sermon, but that had been a honor earned on the streets, since none of the young preachers were allowed to speak at church until they’d proved their mettle by preaching on the street corners. It was there that we got our first speaking experience.

Over the years, I began having difficulty dealing with those times when the level of religious excitement wasn’t at a fevered pitch. I knew I was excited about Jesus, but I began questioning whether I knew Him or not. I knew I didn’t want to go to hell. I knew I wanted to go to heaven (after all, if you’re in heaven, then you’re not in hell, right?). I knew I wanted to be a preacher, because everybody listened to the preacher. I knew I wanted to have a successful ministry (meaning a large church), but what I didn’t know is what to do when the emotions died down. All my quick and simple answers weren’t working for me so why would I think that they’d work for others. I was missing something.

It was then that I received the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do: go to college for a theological education. So, off I went to Toccoa, Georgia, where I attended a small, conservative, Evangelical Protestant, theological school. To help put myself through school, I continued doing what I had been doing in the Atlanta area; I served as a police officer in the local community. While at school, I was exposed to a depth of theology I had never imagined. Wow, this was it! Deep theology! But a lot of this theology was causing me to question my Pentecostal upbringing. I could no longer see the Christian life as one of constant emotional excitement, or ecstatic religious experiences. I had to admit that some of the doctrinal positions I once held were not entirely accurate.

I Became an Evangelical
Gradually, I became an Evangelical, committed to the classic theology of the Protestant Reformation. At least our goal was still to win the world for Christ. My time at school was wonderful. The classes were, for the most part, challenging and enlightening. I was being taught to be a scholar, to ask the right questions, and to discover the right answers. But the longer I studied the more I became convinced that something was missing! It was then that I discovered an interest in church history.
Every graduate of a Pastoral theology course of study at Toccoa Falls College had to have what was called an internship at a church. So, the last summer of my senior year I had scheduled my internship at one of the most successful churches in the Southeast, Christ Church, in Nashville, Tennessee. This church was well known for being a Pentecostal church that had successfully married Evangelical theology with Pentecostal worship.

Some of the questions I was asking were also being asked by the assistant pastor of Christ Church, Dan Scott, Jr. He and I had long discussions about this. Dan was a scholar with a Master’s degree in sociology from the University of Southern California. We would talk for hours about theology and church history.

A Dream About Orthodoxy
Dan told me about a dream he had while he was a missionary in Canada. In the dream, he was walking inside this very old church building, with marble floors and high ceilings. Inside there were pictures all over the walls and candles burning everywhere. Several old men with long white beards and dressed in black robes, were praying standing up, and he sensed, stronger than he had ever sensed, the presence of God in the place. The men were actually glowing with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and Dan said he was speechless.

All of a sudden, one of the old, bearded, men turned to him and asked: “Where have you been?”
One day Dan advised me to read The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. I started reading this book and was captured by the history of the Orthodox Church. Here was the story of what happened to the missions of St Peter and St Paul in the New Testament; the continued story of the missions to Greece, Ephesus, Antioch, Asia Minor and Jerusalem.

It was eye opening to say the least. I had been trained to see all of Christianity as a question of either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism and now I was being confronted with a third Way.

Much to my surprise, I learned that not only were there still Orthodox Christians, but that there was even a group of former Evangelicals and Charismatics who had become Orthodox. I got in touch with them and two of their leaders journeyed to Georgia to visit with me.

By the fall of 1989, I was pastoring a growing Evangelical Protestant congregation in Woodstock, Georgia called Church of the Firstborn. I was also working as a Promotions Manager at In Touch Ministries in Atlanta. This placed me deep in the Evangelical world of media and ministry. Every week my best friend, Rod Loudermilk (a former Pentecostal pastor himself), and I would meet to discuss theology and the books we were reading and invariably we would turn to the church history books we both found so interesting. In these books we discovered the Church fathers, the witness of the Holy Spirit in every age of the Church and the heroes of the Faith we began to identify as true and genuine followers of our lord Jesus. We began to be convinced that there were treasures here for us today that we desperately needed to reclaim.

I was also trying to incorporate what I was learning about the early Church into our local congregation: things like a weekly Lord’s Supper, and the weekly recitation of the Apostle’s Creed. Also, I began involving the congregation in regular responses: “Peace be with you,” “And also with you.” I imagine our Pentecostal church was the only Pentecostal church in the area with icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary behind the pulpit! As a Pentecostal, I had been taught that worship wasn’t a spectator sport. I didn’t realize till it was too late that the underlying theology behind historical Christian worship wasn’t compatible with my current theology. It was like trying to mix oil and water. It didn’t work.

Discovering the Orthodox Church
In 1992 I began to have regular discussions with those who had become Orthodox. I found myself drawn to these men and their journey. They didn’t try to persuade me they were right. They just told me about their own story.

After an invitation from one of these men, I visited an Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, Indiana to experience what we had been reading about. What we both experienced there was both overwhelming in an emotional and experiential aspect and exciting in that here was the historical perspectives I had been searching for in a modern setting.

After the service, we said our good-byes and headed back to Atlanta. For a long time neither of us said a word. There were no words. I was convinced that I had to have the theology behind the beauty that I had just experienced.

For the next several years we studied, read, experimented with different worship styles, and I preached and taught what I was learning to my people. We tried mixing Pentecostalism with a sacramental practice. We worked with our brothers and sisters who were on a similar journey. We attended weekend meetings at New Skete monastery (an Orthodox monastery) in upstate New York. We had “teaching weekends” with brothers who had started this journey years earlier. We worked hard.

I eventually had to come to grips with my own spiritual journey and my pastorate at our church in Atlanta. The breaking point came when an evangelist I had invited to our church for a series of meetings (we still called it a “revival” at that time) began praying for my folks in a prayer line and I was there praying that his prayers wouldn’t harm or deceive these dear people. That was it! I had to make a choice. I approach our church elders and spoke frankly with them about my own journey to Orthodoxy, and we agreed to make a clear message to our church about my own choices. At the end of those days of talking and praying 20 families from our church had decided to enter the Orthodox Church with me. We were all chrismated into the Church at St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church in America) in Atlanta in November of 2001. Our journey to Orthodoxy took nine years, but we were finally home.

In August 2007 my family and I moved to Boston, MA to attend seminary at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and on November 8th 2009 (a little over 8 years to the day we were received into the Church) I was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta. In March of 2010 I was ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Alexios at the same cathedral. After my graduation from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology I was assigned to my first parish – Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming, GA. Lord, be gracious to me, the sinner.

Orthodoxy attracts me precisely because of my background as a Pentecostal. Worship is very important to Pentecostals. And in Orthodoxy I have found a depth of worship that doesn’t deny my emotions, but doesn’t depend on them as well. Orthodox worship takes into account the whole person. It was said by the great Russian writer, Dostoevsky, that “beauty will save the world,” and I have found a beauty in Orthodox worship that draws me to God.

A former professor and Evangelical Protestant once said that the theology he read that had been written by Christian writers in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries (times that were suppose to be gripped in the darkness of ritualism and false teachings) were more beautiful and more powerful than most of all the conservative Protestant writers of his own day. In effect, he said that their so-called “error” was more beautiful and more powerful than his so-called “truth.”

Richness and Fullness
My journey has led me into Orthodox worship and belief. This should not lead others to think I have abandoned my desire to find the fullness of Christian faith and worship. It simply means that I no longer feel the need to reconstruct a pure church in the image of the early church. I am not certain I would be able to recognize such a Church if I encountered it. If those folks mocking Christ failed to recognize the scourged, beaten, bleeding, and crucified person hanging on the cross as the Lord of glory, would I recognize his body today? My only recourse is to trust the Holy Spirit has preserved His Church and ask that same Spirit to form me within the Church that exists today. The question of authority has been settled in my own heart by coming to the conclusion that I will give the consistent witness of the Church through the ages the benefit of the doubt in matters of faith, theology, and practice. This is what G.K. Chesterton called giving our ancestors a vote.

Nonetheless, for me, Orthodoxy offers a richness and a fullness that is timeless and yet refreshingly new. It is so vast and wide-reaching and so full of mystery that it will take more than a lifetime to fully examine it. While I am not competent to judge the hearts of others, I am convinced that there is preserved within Orthodox Christianity a foundational core of worship and faith that is fundamentally true to the Spirit and life of the New Testament. This is the faith “once, for all, delivered to the saints.”

For those who wonder whether this can be true, I refer them to the words of St. Philip the apostle:
Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

And Nathaniel said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:45-46

Fr. Barnabas is married to the former Connie Demas, and they have two daughters, Alexandra and Katerina. They live in the Cumming, GA area and are part of the Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene Greek Orthodox parish community.

Orthodox on Purpose

Monday, 4 August 2014

"An Exact Exposition... Concerning Scripture


I have been reading excerpts from "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" by St. John of Damascus and it makes fascinating reading. It was written in the late 7th or early 8th century A.D. and is full of Biblical language, quotations and allusions. But what is of particular interest to me - an evangelical contemplating becoming Orthodox - is the list of books that make up the Bible in John's day including those which are know as being from the Apocrypha and the inclusion of some of Clement's letters in the New Testament! Here is the Chapter:

BOOK IV CHAPTER XVII - Concerning Scripture.

It is one and the same God Whom both the Old and the New Testament proclaim, Who is praised and glorified in the Trinity: I am come, saith the Lord, not to destroy life law but to fulfil it. For He Himself worked out our salvation for which all Scripture and all mystery exists. And again, Search the Scriptures for they are they that testify of Me. And the Apostle says, God, Who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days

spoken unto us by His Son. Through the Holy Spirit, therefore, both the law and the prophets, the evangelists and apostles and pastors and teachers, spake.

All Scripture, then, is given by inspiration of God and is also assuredly profitable. Wherefore to search the Scriptures is a work most fair and most profitable for souls. For just as the tree planted by the channels of waters, so also the soul watered by the divine Scripture is enriched and gives fruit in its season, viz. orthodox belief, and is adorned with evergreen leafage, I mean, actions pleasing to God. For through the Holy Scriptures we are trained to action that is pleasing to God, and untroubled contemplation. For in these we find both exhortation to every virtue and dissuasion from every vice. If, therefore, we are lovers of learning, we shall also be learned in many things. For by care and toil and the grace of God the Giver, all things are accomplished. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to hint that knocketh it shall be opened. Wherefore let us knock at that very fair garden of the Scriptures, so fragrant and sweet and blooming, with its varied sounds of spiritual and divinely-inspired birds ringing all round our ears, laying hold of our hearts, comforting the mourner, pacifying the angry and filling him with joy everlasting: which sets our mind on the gold-gleaming, brilliant back of the divine dove, whose bright pinions bear up to the only-begotten Son and Heir of the Husbandman of that spiritual Vineyard and bring us through Him to the Father of Lights. But let us not knock carelessly but rather zealously and constantly: lest knocking we grow weary. For thus it will be opened to us. If we read once or twice and do not understand what we read, let us not grow weary, but let us persist, let us talk much, let us enquire. For ask thy Father, he saith, and He will shew thee: thy elders and they will tell thee. For there is not in every man that knowledge. Let us draw of the fountain of the garden perennial and purest waters springing into life eternal. Here let us luxuriate, let us revel insatiate: for the Scriptures possess inexhaustible grace. But if we are able to pluck anything profitable from outside sources, there is nothing to forbid that. Let us become tried money-dealers, heaping up the true and pure gold and discarding the spurious. Let us keep the fairest sayings but let us throw to the dogs absurd gods and strange myths: for we might prevail most mightily against them through themselves.

Observe, further, that there are two and twenty books of the Old Testament, one for each letter of the Hebrew tongue. For there are twenty-two letters of which five are double, and so they come to be twenty-seven. For the letters Caph, Mere, Nun, Pe, Sade are double. And thus the number of the books in this way is twenty-two, but is found to be twenty-seven because of the double character of five. For Ruth is joined on to Judges, and the Hebrews count them one book: the first and second books of Kings are counted one: and so are the third and fourth books of Kings: and also the first and second of Paraleipomena: and the first and second of Esdra. In this way, then, the books are collected together in four Pentateuchs and two others remain over, to form thus the canonical books. Five of them are of the Law, viz. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. This which is the code of the Law, constitutes the first Pentateuch. Then comes another Pentateuch, the so-called Grapheia, or as they are called by some, the Hagiographa, which are the following: Jesus the Son of Nave(6), Judges along with Ruth, first and second Kings, which are one book, third and fourth Kings, which are one book, and the two books of the Paraleipomena which are one book. This is the second Pentateuch. The third Pentateuch is the books in verse, viz. Job, Psalms, Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes of Solomon and the Song of Songs of Solomon. The fourth Pentateuch is the Prophetical books, viz the twelve prophets constituting one book, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. Then come the two books of Esdra made into one, and Esther(8).

There are also the Panaretus, that is the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Jesus, which was published in Hebrew by the father of Sirach, and afterwards translated into Greek by his grandson, Jesus, the Son of Sirach. These are virtuous and noble, but are not counted nor were they placed in the ark.

The New Testament contains four gospels, that according to Matthew, that according to Mark, that according to Luke, that according to John: the Acts of the Holy Apostles by Luke the Evangelist: seven catholic epistles, viz. one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude: fourteen letters of the Apostle Paul: the Revelation of John the Evangelist: the Canons of the holy apostles, by Clement.

(Note: You can buy a cheap copy for Kindle here (UK)

An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith - St. John of Damascus

Saint John of Damascus (also known as John Damascene) c. 675 or 676 – 4 December 749) was a Syrian monk and priest. Born and raised in Damascus, he died at his monastery, Mar Saba, near Jerusalem.

He was a polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, and music, he is said by some sources to have served as a Chief Administrator to the Muslim caliph of Damascus before his ordination.He wrote works expounding the Christian faith, and composed hymns which are still used both liturgically in Eastern Christian practice throughout the world. He is considered "the last of the Fathers" of the Eastern Orthodox church and is best known for his strong defence of icons.

Among his most important works is The Fount of Knowledge (also The Fount of Wisdom). It is divided into three parts:
1. Philosophical Chapters; 2. Concerning Heresy; and 3. An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. This third section of the book is known to be the most important work of John de Damascene, and a treasured antiquity of Christianity.

You can access the Complete Text here.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Ordination of women as bishops

The following is a question asked of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk on the Interfax-Religion website about the recent vote to consecrate women as bishops in the Church of England, something which is imminent in my own Church in Wales.

The General Synod of the Church of England has by a majority approved the decision to ordain women as bishops. What have you to say on this decision? 

As you know, the Orthodox Church takes a negative view of the so called women's priesthood and women's episcopate. We see in this process the rejection of the Anglican Church and a whole number of Protestant denominations of the ancient order of the Church and the following of contemporary liberal tendencies. We regret that these decisions are being taken. It is the internal affair of these confessions, there is no way we can interfere, but we can express our opinion. Of course, such steps do not bring us closer to the unity which is still spoken of at inter-Christian meetings as the goal of such meetings. They only further alienate us.

At the time when women's priesthood was introduced, the Orthodox Churches reacted negatively to this, yet nevertheless dialogue, including theological dialogue, with a number of Protestant churches continued. For example, our Church continues to hold dialogue with the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Germany and Finland, we maintain relations with the Church of England, and I hope that they will be maintained in the future. But we have to continually re-format these relations because if before we could discuss theological, ecclesiological and moral problems, now it has become all the more difficult as we are moving further and further apart and the field of co-operation is constantly becoming more narrow. We have practically removed theological and ecclesiological issues from the agenda in dialogue with the Protestant confessions. We are still capable of discussing together moral issues, but in this field there are greater and greater differences between us. The area for dialogue is becoming ever more narrow - it is the fault of our partners, and we state this with great regret.

When I was still bishop of Vienna and Austria I participated as an observer on behalf of the Russian Church in the Lambeth Conference - the conference of Anglican bishops which gathers once every ten years. At one of the round tables within the framework of the conference I was asked the question: 'Why do you speak out against the women's episcopate, if you have managed to 'swallow' the female priesthood? (Blog note: 'swallow' here does not mean acceptance as seen in the following quote from a speech given at Lambeth Palace on 9th September 2010):

The first difficulties in relation to the Church of England emerged in 1992 when its General Synod agreed to ordain women to the priesthood. The Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church came out with an official statement expressing regret and concern over this decision as contradicting the tradition of the Early Church.
Is there any principle difference?' Up until then I had never thought about this. But when the question was put so directly, I answered that there is a principle difference because the succession of ecclesiastical authority passes through the direct chain of the ordination of bishops, and this chain goes back directly to the apostles. Priests do not have apostolic succession: they receive ordination from a bishop. If from our point of view we say that a particular bishop incorrectly ordained someone, then we can at least interpret this as a mistaken decision of the bishop but does not impinge on the episcopate as such. But if within the episcopate itself there occur violations which we consider unacceptable, then for us even the theoretical possibility of the recognition of apostolic succession in this episcopate disappears. Indeed, this was one of the topics of the Orthodox-Anglican dialogue as far back as the nineteenth century when the Anglicans wanted to prove that they enjoyed apostolic succession. In the hypothetical instance of our Churches coming together this issue could arise again, but now it can no longer arise as the presence of women in the episcopate closes the door for any discussion of the topic of apostolic succession in the Anglican episcopate. This is what for us is the essential difference between the female priesthood and the female episcopate. And that is why the introduction of female bishops narrows further not only the possibility of coming together, but also the possibility of dialogue. Nonetheless, we will continue this dialogue in the hope that our voice will be heard.
01 August 2014, 15:17 
http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=interview&div=98

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Fathers on fasting

When a non-believer asks you why you fast, don’t tell him it is because of the Lord’s suffering, or because of His Cross. We do not fast for the Passion or the Cross, but for OUR SINS, because we are preparing to approach the Holy Mysteries. The Passion of Christ is not a reason for fasting or mourning, but for joy and exultation! We fast and mourn, not for the Cross or for Christ’s sufferings, but because of our own sins.
St. John Chrysostom

He who is gloomy does not believe in the mercy of God, but bases his spirituality on his own rotten ascetic achievements and seeming external improvements; he boasts in them and being overwhelmed with self-importance, measures his feelings as if with a thermometer-, the fruits of self love!
Holy New Hieromartyr Barlaam of Russia (20th C)

Prepare yourselves to be the clean wheat of Christ; perfect yourselves by your labors of fasting, struggling in humility, chastity, love and prayer. Then you will make from yourselves bread which is pleasing to the Lord.
St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk

What shall we say of the belly, the queen of passions? If you can slay it or half kill it, keep a tight hold. It has mastered me, beloved, and I serve it as a slave and a vassal. It is the colleague of the demons and the home of passions. Through it we fall, and through it we rise again, when it behaves itself.
St. Gregory of Sinai

Although we have received the power to become the children of God (cf. John 1:12), we do not actually attain this sonship unless we strip ourselves of the passions.
St. Thalassius

What do you think Church is?

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