Strangely enough, the word 'gossip' originally meant ‘godparent’ and it is connected with the word ‘sibling’. It is useful to recall, because it means that gossip comes about when people are too familiar, too close to each other. I think that in the hothouse of certain tiny convert groups, where relations are too close for comfort, this can be a problem. I have not particularly come across the problem of gossip in more ‘normal’, larger parishes.
The essence of gossip is pride, the wish to feel superior to others, it is smugness, pretentiousness, self-importance. Gossip always condemns others. Here we must distinguish between 'judging' and 'condemning'. We constantly have to judge - judges have to do it, parents have to do it, priests have to do it. The words 'Judge not that ye be not judged' refer to condemnatory, censorious, prideful judgement. When we hear harsh words about others, we should register them not in the front of our minds, but in the back of our minds. The facts in question may be true, they may not be true. They await confirmation. If people have done wrong, we should defend them, make excuses for them (but we never do this for ourselves - self-condemnation is the first baby's step in spiritual life , the beginning of humility.
In any case, even if the gossip is true, people have done wrong, they do not need condemnation from us, they have already condemned themselves, they have punished themselves and will suffer because they have already renounced the protection of God's grace in their acts and lack of repentance (if there has been no repentance). They do not therefore need condemnation, but compassion.
This last point about repentance is also often forgotten by gossipers. Their gossip is unChristian because they forget about the possibility of change, forgiveness and repentance. Thus, in their rancour, they dig up things done years before, long ago regretted and repented for. The evil of gossip comes from the possibility that the gossiper is saying things, only in order to make his own heart swell up with pride and feelings of superiority and arrogance. When we hear gossip (as is inevitable), we should always check the feelings in our hearts. What are we feeling? Superiority and the pharisaic, ‘Thank God I am not like other men?’. Or compassion and the feeling, 'Ah so and so has fallen, look how weak our human nature is, I will be the next?'. If gossip puffs us up, we should walk away, because we are losing our salvation through it.
True, we do need to know things about Church life and individuals. This is not gossip, it is factual. Our attitude to this knowledge must be dispassionate, objective, humble, compassionate. These are the litmus test questions. What is happening in our hearts, what is the effect of 'talk' there? If the effect is spiritually negative and we are losing grace, then this is 'gossip'. This is the meaning of that very important saying in the Gospels: 'Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves'. (Matt. 10,16). That sums up the Orthodox (=Christian) attitude to gossip.
Always look for motivations, the why and the how are generally much more important than the what.
I am pleased to know that you not part of any Internet forums and lists. In general they are perfidious, perhaps not by intention, but by consequence. I hope that these very brief thoughts are of some help to you.
I think the advice you have received is too undiscerning, too general. Yes, the Church does recommend that all, male and female, choose either monasticism or marriage. However, this choice does not have to made at any particular age. True, in most cases, this choice is made relatively young. But it may be God's Will for it to be made at a much later age. Some only choose in their 40s and 50s, or even later. It is wrong to make generalisations, every case is individual. For some a late decision in this matter could be foolish, for others, it could be God's Will. The important thing is that if we are living as a single person in the world, we should not be a source of temptation or sin for others.
My question is in regards to the European super state the EU. I am very concerned as I think the EU looks very much like the Soviet Union except they have replaced communism with democracy. In essence it seems that like communism, democracy is a new godless religion (ideology) but this time of the west. I have read about the problems Orthodox Christians faced during communism and I fear the same will occur under this new regime. Already the EU parliament has expressed its wishes to change the rules on Mt Athos and have basically omitted Christianity in the EU constitution. This is consistent with their previous anti-orthodox bias we have seen in Kosovo and other parts of Serbia.
What can the church do to avoid the problems faced previously in the Soviet Union and do you feel
that a clash between EU humanism and Christianity is inevitable?
Paul Subotic, Sydney, Australia
Your analysis is absolutely correct and accords with that of other Orthodox. This is not a political question, but a spiritual one.
Over the last 25 years I have consistently written against the EU, which is essentially satanic, since it is intended as a contribution to the coming Oneworld rule of Antichrist. You will find several articles on this question in my writings in the past, a representative selection can be found on the Orthodox Europe section of our website, including the latest on an Alternative European Constitution and the Seven Ages of Europe..
Satan has replaced the Soviet Union with the European Union. There is no doubt that there is already a clash between Orthodox Europe and EU humanism, between the work of Christ and the work of Antichrist, and this is symbolised by Kosovo. It is still very uncertain to what extent the spiritually healthy part of Europe (Orthodoxy) is strong enough to withstand the spiritual disease of the EU (founded on the faithless remnants of Heterodoxy). Part of Orthodox Europe, mainly in the East, not yet recovered from Communism, has fallen to post-Communist nationalism, part of it, mainly in the West, not yet recovered from post-Russsian Revolution Orthodox Apostasy, is subjugated to modernism. We who are for the Unity of Orthodox Europe are crucified between these different elements, the two thieves.
All we can do is to remain faithful to the Russian Orthodox Tradition, which is the only bulwark strong enough to resist the EU disease.
If so where is it so written? May the priest place any demands upon the confessing party such as
dropping civil litigation for damages as a part of granting absolution or may he limit and deny
future confessions or Holy Communion if the law suit is not dropped? If this is goverened by cannon
law please advise me where I may find such cannon law.
Fred George Labankoff
The role of the priest during confession to God is to be a confidential witness and give absolution. He also attempts to give advice as to how the penitent may fight against his temptations. This may include the imposition of a penance (epitimia, in Greek).
If the penitent has committed a crime against civil law, then the priest may well withold absolution and therefore communion, until such time as the penitent has committed himself by criminal confession to pay the civil price for his sin. For example, if the penitent is involved in unjust and unjustified civil litigation, he may similarly withold absolution and communion.
Canons relating to these practices can be found in the Book of Orthodox Canon Law, known as 'The Rudder', which is constantly referred to by bishops,
I am certainly not an expert on Islam and I do not know of websites on this subject. The best source is perhaps Arab Orthodox who know the situation especially well. A couple of years ago an article was written about this for Orthodox England, which it seemed appropriate to publish just after 11 September. There is also an excellent article by an Arab Orthodox in the latest issue of 'Road to Emmaus'. The Patriarchate of Antioch may be a good source for such information.
I think we have to distinguish between Islam and Muslims. And among Muslims there are Muslims who are fanatics and there are Muslims who are peace-loving. There are Muslims who venerate St Nicholas (in Turkey) and St George (in the Lebanon). Islam venerates the Mother of God (much more than the Protestants) and they are also awaiting the return of 'Jesus' and the Last Judgement (a lot of 'Christians' have lost faith in this too).
Islam is a very varied phenomenon. There are Shiites and Sunnites, Sufis and Indonesian, African, Persian and Arab Muslims. They are very different. The variety really is as diverse as Catholicism. According to a newspaper article I read recently, several English girls have become Muslim in recent years in order to escape the surrounding post-Protestant amoral culture of pubs and clubs, and their results, drunkeness and abortion. Frankly, one can understand this, just as one can agree with Muslims who consider the modern West to be decadent.
On the one hand we know from history that many Orthodox preferred the yoke of Islam to the yoke of Catholicism ('the turban rather than the skull-cap) as they cried in Greece), because the Muslims did not directly persecute Orthodox, as did the Catholics. On the other hand, of course, there are some 30,000 Orthodox New Martyrs in the Balkans, most of them killed in obedience to the Koran for their renunciation of Islam.
Like so many Non-Christian religions, Islam has positive aspects (nothing can be more negative than irreligion), but of course when put side by side with the unique and absolute revelation of the Son of God Incarnate and His Resurrection from the dead, there can be no comparison.
The concepts of 'days of obligation' and 'duty' are medieval Roman Catholic concepts and do not exist in the Orthodox Church. Although, obviously, people are encouraged to come and pray at church as often as possible, it is presumed that people come because they want to come. You cannot force people to love God or to pray, so we assume that this is voluntary. Like all the essentials of the Orthodox Faith, this does not vary from one local Orthodox Church (or 'jurisdiction', to use a secular word) to another.
I have another question about Orthodoxy, if you have time ! ..
In the Liturgy, (I think this might be a Slavic custom), why is the (unsanctified) bread and wine
given to the communicants straight after they receive communion ?
Masaki, Melbourne, Australia
I am sure you will agree that we need to judge by what is inside people, not on the outside. So we refrain from judging those who do not attend church regularly.
Our Lord is both Righteous and Merciful. Unfortunately, we human beings tend to judge ourselves by the standards of mercy and others by righteousness. This is called self-righteousness. Instead we should be merciful to others and righteous with regard to ourselves. If we condemn everyone who does not attend church regularly, then we shall end up as a sect of the chosen few and rightly be called Pharisees.
Why do people not come to church more regularly? Ultimately only God knows what is in the heart of each. Perhaps they do not come regularly because we who do go regularly are so wicked and set them no example. In that case we should certainly not condemn them, but constantly condemn ourselves. God is our only Judge and at the Last Judgement, 'many that are first will be last, many that are last will be first'.
Among the Canons of the Orthodox Church there is one which says that someone who does not receive communion three weeks running is in a state of excommunication. In Russian Church practice (this shows how decadent we have become) you cannot serve on a Parish Council if you have not confessed and received communion in the previous twelve months.
People attend Church because they want to. The Church is not an army, with military regulations and punishments for disobedience. It is the place of freedom, it is the place of the voluntary love of God. God is Love, not military orders. Nobody is converted by force. Let us not condemn others, but be patient and understanding. Let us condemn ourselves.
If we cannot save ourselves (as we know we cannot without the grace and mercy of God), it is useless (and heartless) to condemn others whom we judge not to be saving themselves. 'Judge not that ye be not judged'. 'Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy'. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul: it matters not that we constantly attend church, if we have no love. Tinkling cymbals and sounding brass. All is vanity, if there is no love.
In the Russian Church, communicants drink some wine and eat some bread after communion as an act of piety, to ensure that we have actually consumed and swallowed the Body and Blood of Christ and that nothing remains in our mouths which could involuntarily be lost, should we for example lick our lips or cough after communion.
In order to understand something of the Orthodox Christian understanding of this matter, we first have to define what we understand by the word 'Tradition', Tradition is all the collective revelations or inspirations of the Holy Spirit down the ages - as such it is eternal. It is quite different from 'traditions', that is, human customs and fashions, old and new, which change with time, they are temporary and passing.
For example, Holy Scripture is part of the Tradition, part of essential revelation, because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. On the other hand the custom of dividing the Four Gospels into chapter and verse is a human custom, which began only in the thirteenth century. It has been widely, but not universally, accepted because it is convenient, not because it is essential.
Tradition also includes the revelations in human history of the existence of the Holy Trinity and of the Incarnation, made to the Church Fathers and the early Oecumenical Councils.
The Tradition does not mean something which is dead and cannot be renewed. Because the Tradition is of the Holy Spirit, it is for ever renewed and new, for God is not old or new, but Eternal and indeed beyond eternity. If you go to Orthodox countries you will see new churches being built (for example the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in the heart of Moscow which was a mere dream 15 years ago). They are built by modern people with modern materials, but they are part of Tradition, in their forms they could have been built hundreds of years ago. In our little church in Felixstowe, most of the several hundred icons were painted within the last thirty years, yet they are still icons. No doubt they differ in some tiny respect of human style from icons painted 500 or 1,000 years ago, but they are still icons, they are part of the Tradition.
The revelation of the Incarnation means that we can make these images or icons, spiritual photographs, of the Incarnate Son of God and therefore other beings, who have taken on or possess a visible form - the angels, the Mother of God or the saints. We portray them not as fallen, but as beings generated by the Holy Spirit, we try to capture their souls in paint. This is Church iconography.
The same is true of all Church art and architecture. These are statements about the Tradition, statements which belong to the Tradition, i.e. the revelation of the Holy Spirit, things which express eternal truths.
Thus here we use a chalice set which was made seven years ago, but it looks very much like ones made 1,000 years ago. We use services to commemorate local saints which have been written within the last five years. They too are 'modern', in the sense that they are contemporary. The Orthodox composer Filatiev who died in Paris in the early 1970s set some church hymns to music; today we are singing his compositions, because we and many other churches believe that they are spiritually inspired - they belong to Tradition.
Although revelations were made by the Holy Spirit about the nature of the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ over a thousand or 1500 years ago, we keep to these revelations because they are eternally true, having been delivered to the saints. On the other hand, as regards the later part of the Nicene Creed, revelations about the Holy Spirit were made to the human understanding more recently, in the fourteenth century. And as regards the latter clauses of the Creed, about the nature of the Church and the life to come, revelations are being made and added to the Tradition now and will be made in the future and definitions will be set down by the saints of God. They will elaborate on, but not contradict, the basic framework of the Creed which we have zealously kept faith with since the fourth century, although it has cost us enormously.
In other words modern people, our contemporaries, can of course be spiritually inspired. We know that they are spiritually inspired if their inspirations are in harmony with the collective inspirations of the Holy Spirit so far, that is to say, with the Tradition. Inspiration has to be received by the Church in order to be authenticated. Thus in our church we have an icon of St Nicholas of Ochrid who was canonised last May. He is a saint, inspired by the Holy Spirit. But the revelations in no way contradict those delivered to the saints before him. He is 'modern' but he is also 'in the Tradition'.
It is exactly the same with all saints. Anyone can claim that a deceased person is a saint, but if the Church does not accept the claim, then that person is not accepted as a saint. Equally, anyone can paint something and claim it to be an icon, but if it is not accepted as such by the Church, it is not an icon. Anyone can burn a substance in church and claim it is incense, but if the mind of the Church does not accept it as such, then it is not incense which is 'agreeable'. Anyone can claim that he has had new inspirations about the Person of Christ, but if the Church does not accept the, they are not. Anyone can build a building and say that it is an Orthodox church, but if the mind of the Church does not accept it, then it is not. Any number of bishops can gather together and declare that their theological declarations have created a Church Council, but if they are not accepted as such by the mind of the Church, it is not a Church Council.
All these things have happened in history. The same is true for musical composition, for vestments, for services, for any facet of Church Architecture and Art. Art with us is spiritual, it has to be in conformity with the Church. This is because we believe that the Church is the Risen Body of Christ, transfigured by the Holy Spirit, and therefore infallible. No human-being or group of human-beings can be infallible, if they do not speak by the Spirit, confirmed by the Tradition, but the Church as a whole is infallible because the Church is the recipient of the Spirit, for She is the Body of Christ.
To conclude, 'modern' in itself is merely a style, caught in time, as is post-modern, as is pre-modern, as is the art of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s etc. The Church does not have styles, because the Church is not a living-room and a house, it is rather the living in Christ and the House of God, Eternal. On the other hand 'modern people', i.e. people born in the twentieth century, can contribute to building up the Tradition of the Church, but only insofar as they may be spiritually inspired, as were their spiritual forebears.
There is a secular and common sense saying: 'If it works, don't change it'. On a crude level, that is the nature of the Tradition. We have to recall that it is not for the Church to conform to the world, for though the Church may be in the world, She is not of this world, it is rather for the world to conform to the Church. That was the statement of the martyrs and confessors of the Church in the first three centuries of Orthodox Christianity, who conquered the Roman Empire. That was the statement of the new martyrs and confessors of Russia in the twentieth century who conquered 'the evil Empire'. It is also our statement today and we pray, if it is God's will, that the Empire of decadence which has already fallen to the new barbarians around us, will also be conquered, for we believe that the Faith of Christ is greater than all human empires, empires of the earth and empires of the mind.
My only knowledge of the chapel you mention is from the Internet. I have not been there. Since you have asked for my view, I will be frank with you. Were I a Catholic, I would be immensely worried by this Chapel, because there is no real Catholic content in it.
It lives off the myth that there are two Churches, the 'Western' and the 'Eastern'. In reality, there is only one Church, because there is only one Christ. The iconography of the Church was the same in the East and the West, as can be seen from the iconography of the First Millennium. The Chapel of the Redeemer combines in it an imitation of Orthodox iconography with the type of modern Protestant decor which Catholicism began imitating in the 1960's.
What is therefore striking about this Chapel is that the only Catholic content in it is the claim that Catholicism is above both its modern offshoot, Protestantism, and also above its rejected spiritual ancestor, the Orthodox Church, and that somehow it can unite historic and continuing Orthodox Christianity with modernistic Protestant humanism. The only Catholic content is therefore an ideological statement of power and superiority, not the living Faith of humility.
Orthodox Christianity is not art, but a way of life; it is not an ideology nor a decor. You can see that this is any Catholic imitation of Orthodox iconography because of its perfect neatness, its artificiality. In the same way I have heard recordings of Catholic choirs singing Orthodox music.You know after the first few notes that the Orthodox spirit is missing. Orthodox singing may often technically be poor quality, but it comes from the heart, it has prayer.
Catholic imitations are always technically brilliant, but do not contain the essence, being only an external and superficial imitation. It is the same with Catholic priests trained in the Russicum and also their books. Technically they are generally far better than the real Orthodox ones in terms of external knowledge and content, but they are simply not Orthodox, they do not have Orthodox reflexes and spontaneity, they do not have the heart. Orthodox can smell falsity, however good the imitation. Orthodoxy is in our blood.
To be honest, I would find a Gothic Cathedral better represents Catholicism. If this is modern Catholicism, it means that Catholicism no longer exists per se, it merely imitates others, whether modern secular Protestantism or else the historic but continuing Orthodox Church. If I were Catholic, I would be asking myself why and how Catholicism died, since it now appears to be living off perfect but spiritually empty imitations of the Orthodox Church, or else copies of the spiritually empty secularism of the modern world.
Thank you for your message. I do not know the work that you mention, but I am sure that there is much truth in it. The strange thing is that a Russian Orthodox writer of our Church (Galina Voznesenskaya) has written a book with just the opposite viewpoint, that Harry Potter is pure Satanism. And you may perhaps also know that the Synod of the Church of Greece condemned the Potter books as demonic very nearly two years ago, when I wrote that article. My viewpoint that the fundamentalists and Evangelicals in the USA are completely wrong in their condemnation of the Potter books, has brought a lot of criticism from Evangelicals (no surprise!), but I maintain my criticism of the Evangelical view.
On the other hand, my view of the lack of overt Christianity in Potter (compared to, say, Lewis), is symbolic of the dangerous spiritual vacuum in Western society (rather than the cause of it) lies between these two extreme viewpoints. Certainly, I know of individuals who have been attracted to witchcraft through the Potter books, but I believe they would have been attracted or already were attracted anyway.
The main thing is that J K Rowling is not the cause of anything, she is a symptom.
You may be interested in the other article on the site about the symbolism of Hogwarts.
HP is indeed very controversial, so I come under attack from both sides!
There was a huge and divisive debate about it at the Youth Conference of our Church in Australia last December. That is in print.
I have come to the conclusion that the divisiveness comes from the fact that the Christian symbolism (re: Inklings) in HP is either missing or else buried, i.e. not overt. Therefore, to Greek bishops, who only see witches, it is demonic. I think more subtle people can see traces or vestiges of Christian symbolism, but they are intellectuals, not Evangelical fundamentalists, and they do not affect the popular view. In this way of course, HP is therefore symbolic of Western society. In fact Christian symbolism is present in Western society, it is just not overt, it is buried beneath a thousand years of history. (See my little article on Hogwarts which appeared in December 2002).
In other words, to a large extent HP reflects what is inside people. Different people see what they want in it. Some see a good read, others see another C S Lewis, others see Satanism. I have seen this quite clearly. We have a Russian babushka here who thinks it is a marvellous fairy-tale. I have not contradicted her. On the other hand, there is a convert (crazy type) in London from a very strange background, who says HP is demonic. Well, it all depends what is in your soul.
Thank you very much for your question. It is one that I have been trying to answer for thirty years.
The conflict is between two opposing worlds:
On the one hand, there are the coldness, rationalism (and also rigidity, hypocrisy and boringness) of Anglo-Saxon Protestant-Evangelical culture - has, as you say, turned more young people away from Christianity than anything else and has led to modern indifference and atheism.
On the other hand there is Orthodox Christianity, containing in itself the fullness of Christianity, compassion and authenticity, openness and ancient tradition. Often, it is true, this is a potential rather than a reality, because Orthodoxy can be camouflaged by State nationalism and ethnicity-worship.
When we compare these two different worlds, it is clear that they have nothing in common - as you have seen.
In reality, however, there is more than one sort of Anglo-Saxon culture: Evangelicals are after all a minority.
And Orthodox culture is immensely varied, being multi-ethnic.
In actual fact, the two worlds of Anglo-Saxon culture and that of Orthodoxy are like a Venn diagram, two intersecting circles. People like myself are truly at home only in the overlapping part. Unfortunately, many people do not realise that the overlapping part does exist. It is visible when you look at past history, the first thousand years of Western Christianity. There the overlap is more or less complete in the time before both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism were invented. But it is also visible elsewhere.
The main thing is to live Orthodoxy in the context where God has put us. Orthodoxy is transfiguring if you let it transfigure. If you do not let it transfigure by being faithful to it, then you will be swallowed up by the surrounding Protestant coldness and rationalism. This is what has happened to so many immigrant Orthodox in North America, to whom you refer. They do not provide a model, because there has not been faithfulness. If you are faithful to Orthodox Christianity, it will tranfigure the culture around you. The boringness, hypocrisy, rigidity, coldness, rationalism of Protestant culture will go, and you will be left with an Orthodox culture. This is what I call 'Britishness' being transfigured by 'Englishness', or 'Sovietness' being transfigured by 'Russianness'. This is what Christ said in St Matthew's Gospel: 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you'. The righteousness of the Kingdom of God is Orthodox Christianity. Only if we put it first, will everything else fall into its rightful place.
Our situation as faithful Orthodox Christians is always on the Cross. For those of us who use the English language liturgically, our cross is to be between the ethnic Orthodox who are faithful to a national tradition and the lapsed 'Orthodox' who may use English but speak like the secular culture into which they have merged themselves. Inwardly we have everything in common with the faithful ethnic Orthodox, outwardly we have in common with the lapsed the use of English. But just because we use English, it does not mean that we too are lapsed, because we are faithful inwardly.
The taste of authentic Orthodoxy can always be sensed by Orthodox - we are spiritually fed by it. When you are spiritually fed in, in your heart, as you put it, then that is the real thing. When you hear speeches like the one you mention and see the books of all these people, you are not fed by them. The best you can get from them is a headache, from all the secular cliches they use. They have no spiritual food to give, because they have no spiritual life, only the secular life of the world around themselves, by which they have already been absorbed. Another sign that you are on the Orthodox path is also that you are persecuted. Orthodoxy is in our blood, we can smell Orthodoxy, and because of this you can also instinctively smell Non-Orthodoxy and the smell of those who have fallen away and been absorbed by the world. One Athonite monk said to a Greek who had become a Buddhist: 'Spiritually, you stink' he was right. Pray for them.
An elderly bishop of the so-called American Church, who was Russian and still had Orthodox roots (he died back in the 1970's, God rest him), said to a friend of mine the following:
The theology of Fr Alexander (Schmemann) is like French champagne.
The theology of Fr John (Meyendorff) is like fine Bordeaux.
The theology of Fr Thomas is like Coca-Cola. (What the deluded Americans call 'the real thing').
My friend said to him: 'Yes, but I am not interested in all these heterodox drinks, I want vodka'.
There is nothing more to be said.
I look forward to seeing you at the Youth Conference in Sydney in December.
I am doing a research paper about Russian Orthodox
Church, and I was wondering if you can give me a hand and help me with these questions:
What is the meaning of Bible in Russian Orthodox Church? How are the prophets important to the
Russian Orthodox Church and also to the church goers? How do Russian Orthodox people and the
Church interpret the Bible? What is the meaning of Bible to the Russian Orthodox people? And
maybe you can give me example on how the Bible is important to a person you know. Thank you so
much for your help, and I would really appreciate a prompt response.
1) What is the meaning of the Bible in the Russian Orthodox Church?
First of all I would like to say that I believe that all the answers below would in general be valid not only for Russian Orthodox, but for Orthodox Christians of all nationalities all over the world. I would also point out that these questions, as they are posed, appear to presuppose a Protestant terminology and understanding. In answering, I am therefore obliged to explain several background facts.
As Orthodox Christians we believe in the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son of God, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who became incarnate as man, is often known as ‘the Word and the Wisdom of God’. It is He, the Word of God, Who through the Holy Spirit, inspired the words of the holy Scriptures contained in the books of the Bible, to be written down.
And the Greek word for ‘books’ is ‘Vivlia’, from which we have the word ‘Bible’. It is no coincidence that this word ‘Bible’ is a Greek word. Both the Old Testament, together with the Deuterocanonical Scriptures (sometimes called ‘The Apocrypha’ by the Non-Orthodox world) and the New Testament, are composed of a large number of different books.
The oldest version of the Old Testament that we have was written in the third century B.C. in Greek. Although Christ spoke in Aramaic, it is the text of this version that Christ often quotes from in the New Testament, and not the Hebrew text of the Old Testament which was written down by the Non-Christian Jews in the tenth century A. D. Their Hebrew text is significantly different in a number of places. Similarly all the oldest original surviving texts of the New Testament are written in Greek. Generally speaking in Russian we call the corpus of all the books of the Old and New Testaments ‘Svyashchennoye Pisaniye’, in English, ‘The Holy Scriptures’.
Every day the (Orthodox) Church calendar not only has commemorations of the saints of the day but also a Gospel and Epistle extract, which are to be read by the faithful. Typically these extracts are read at morning prayers. They should inspire and guide the Orthodox Christian throughout the day. However, this is only if they are unable to go to a church where the liturgy is celebrated that day. In this case, they will be able to hear these extracts read in the context of the liturgy.
This understanding of the holy Scriptures in the context of the commemorations of the saints, morning prayers and a liturgical context, that is to say, in an Orthodox Church context, is very important for the Orthodox Church and therefore Orthodox Christians. This is because the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament were written down after the foundation of the Church.
The Orthodox Church was founded at the Coming Down of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ. The holy Scriptures of the New Testament were written down by the Church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the people of the Church many years later. As the Church is the Body of Christ, according to the holy Apostle Paul, the holy Scriptures have therefore to be understood in the context of the Church. The Church came first, before the holy Scriptures. Both, however, live by the Holy Spirit.
This is why anyone outside the Orthodox Church is not fully able to understand the Scriptures. For those outside the Church do not have the fullness of living contact with the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, nor can they be fully inspired by the Holy Spirit who penetrates, irradiates and inspires the Crucified and Risen Body of Christ, the Church. The Church alone is the Bearer of Christ and the Bearer of the Holy Spirit. The fact that Christ and the Holy Spirit are in the world at all is due only to the presence of the Church.
This also explains why the services of the Orthodox Church, especially the Divine Liturgy, are full of quotations and extracts from the holy Scriptures, both from the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) and the New Testament. Neither of these Testaments can be understood outside the Church. This indeed is why those outside the Church actually use a different version of the Old Testament to those who live by the Church. This is why church-goers also venerate the Book of Gospels in the Orthodox Church by kissing it. In their own homes the holy Scriptures occupy a special place, above all other books.
In conclusion we therefore have to understand that the holy Scriptures of the New Testament were written down many years after the foundation of the Orthodox Church by the Apostles. Church life is penetrated by the Holy Spirit, through whose inspiration the holy Scriptures were written down. However, although the holy Scriptures as the words of Christ are particularly important, they are only part of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within the Church. This inspiration is ongoing and new revelations are made to the Church by the Holy Spirit through the holy ones of God.
This whole body of revelation is called 'The Holy Tradition' ('Svyashchennoye Predaniye'). For example, if somehow all the copies of the holy Scriptures were to be lost, it would not matter for through the Holy Spirit, the Church would be able to write them down again.
2) How are the Prophets important to the Russian Orthodox Church and also to church-goers?
The Russian Orthodox Church and its church-going members are identical. The Church is formed of its church-goers.
The Holy Prophets are venerated in the Church calendar and icons of them are revered by the faithful. We believe that their prophecies are inspired by the Holy Spirit, ‘Who spake by the Prophets’, as we sing at every Divine Liturgy in the Creed (‘Simvol Very’) of the Church, which was written down in the fourth century. On the eves of the twelve Great Feasts and also during Great Lent and Holy Week, we read extracts from their Prophecies which came true in the New Testament. Our veneration for the Holy Prophets is therefore part of our veneration for the Holy Spirit. This is ongoing, because some of the prophecies from the Old Testament are still to come true.
In the New Testament there is only one Prophetic Book, known as ‘Revelation’ or ‘the Apocalypse’, written by the Holy Evangelist John the Theologian. Although many of his prophecies have already come true, we are still waiting for many other of his prophecies to take place, which they will in the coming years.
However, many other saints of God since the first century have also received the gift of prophecy from the Holy Spirit. Many were fools-for-Christ (‘yurodiviyi’) and worked to correct injustices. More recently there were many like St John of Kronstadt who predicted the Russian Revolution. Others prophesied the revival of Russia before the end of the world. One of the latest Orthodox holy men, the Romanian Elder Cleopas, who reposed in 1998, also prophesied the great changes that have taken place since 11 September. Here again we see how, in the Church through the ongoing revelations of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Prophets continue in the Church.
3) How do Russian Orthodox people and the Church interpret the Bible?
I believe that I have given an answer to this question in my answer to your first question.
4) What is the meaning of the Bible to Russian Orthodox people?
I believe that I have answered this question in my first and second answers. It is meaningless for us to separate the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox people, for the faithful form the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Notably, this understanding was explained in detail by the Russian lay theologian Alexei Khomyakov in the nineteenth century.
5) And maybe you can give me example on how the Bible is important to a person you know?
When I lived in Greece twenty-five years ago, I was privileged to meet a shepherd who had received no school education after the age of fourteen, but who had learnt the whole of the New Testament by heart. He was also able to interpret the New Testament through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When tested on his knowledge by the professors of the Athens Theological School, they could find no error or fault whatsoever in his knowledge or his interpretation. Indeed, he was educated in a way that they were not. For, and this is the most important thing of all, he lived a virtuous life.
What is most important of all for Orthodox, whether they know sections of the holy Scriptures by heart or not, is that they live the holy Scriptures, i.e, that they follow the commandments of Christ in their daily lives. However, there is nothing new in this. Many of the Church Fathers, like St John Chrysostom who compiled the most common Orthodox Eucharistic Liturgy, knew most of the holy Scriptures by heart. And traditionally, all Orthodox monastics are called on to know the Psalter by heart.
I have visited three orthodox sermons in three very different parishes (one in Aberdeen, one in Russian in Latvia and one in Estonian in Estonia) Then, last autumn, I discovered the Orthodox England website, and have followed it and the updates with great interest.
However, I feel that there is a huge divide between what you say here on the webpages and what happens during sermons. While the protestant church attempts to teach its followers something during sermons, the orthodox sermons I have been to seem to give me the impression that the dogmas and customs have a more important standing than the place for thought and ground for reflection.
I have always meant that dogmas and customs were necessary to the less well educated medieval Christians, in the sense that they provided them with something to hold unto, while the modern (or even post-modern) individual is intelligent enough to achieve insight without them. In other words, that Is 'having a religion' to follow is not necessary for being religious.
My question then would be, what difference would the following of certain preset customs make to the religious achievement?
I ask you this question, because I really admire some of the speeches and ideas presented on this webpage, but am not able to reconcile them with the experiences I have had of orthodox sermons.
Sebastian, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Forgive me if my answer is going to be a bit vague, but I find the question vague! I am struggling to step outside Orthodoxy to try and understand your viewpoint.
As you know, for Protestantism, the religion of the Word, the sermon is vital. For Orthodoxy it is the sacrament that is vital, because this is not listening to the Word of God, it is consuming the Word of God. The teachings of the Church are contained in the services, there is no need for separate books, it is enough to listen to the services and follow them and then live in Christ by partaking of the Body of Christ, which makes us members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Of course, this does not mean that we do not use books outside the Church or give explanations (which is what the sermon is).
Thought and reflection are far less important in Orthodoxy because we are not concerned with making intellectuals, but making the heart function in prayer. For us the head is secondary, it is the spirit that counts. the aim of the Church is to create holiness, not educated people; We can never understand anything if first our heart are not pure; this is why some of the greatest intellectuals in history have been atheists, while others have been believers. It is the state of the heart, the centre of our spirit, which is where it is all at. 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God', and not 'Blessed are the educated'. It is the dogmas and the customs of the Church which help us to acquire the Holy Spirit, and this is our aim. You cannot achieve insight without grace and the dogmas (which are the revelations of the Holy Spirit) and the customs of the Church (which lead us to the Holy Spirit). Here you are confusing the Orthodox Church with Catholicism - which is completely different.
I find modern and post-modern people singularly unintelligent, for they reject the commandments which can alone lead us to the divine Light. The most intelligent person I ever met was an illiterate peasant - a saint. For Orthodoxy, the saints are the most intelligent people because they are illumined in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. I strongly recommend you read 'The Triads' by St Gregory Palamas so that you can understand this, but actually the epistles of the Apostle Paul are full of the same spirit.
I hope that this will be of help to you. I am quite at a loss to understand what you mean at the end of your message by reconciling my sermons (which are simply last year's cycle of sermons in the parish here jotted down) with your experience of sermons.
May the Lord guide you through His Holy Spirit,
The Two basic dogmas -Trinity and the Two natures of Christ, the Church as a means to salvation through participation in the sacraments - still don`t go far enough to define Orthodoxy. The early fathers in their wisdom disregarded St Paul's 'justification', which the evangelicals grasped upon and the Roman equivalent of 'deo satisfactio'- what the great Alexander Schmemann continually criticises as the 'juridical' West. A legalistic relation between God and man. Blood sacrifice to appease the wrath of God. So Orthodox soteriology is radically different. The Orthodox Church and the Catholic churches are almost two religions, although with the same Saviour.
The greatest difference is in what the Catholics describe the 'SACRIFICE OF THE MASS' and the Orthodox celebrate 'THE RESURRECTION' during the Sunday Liturgia or even the weekly litourgia. Read the great Schmemann's THE EUCHARIST, a copy of which I have sent the Patriarch of Canterbury. The Orthodox present Christ as the visible creator the Word Of God, in Catholicism it is Michelangelo's Grey bearded Father- an anaethema- as God the Father is invisible, unimaged.
If you are not acquainted with Schmemann - then you are disregarding the most authoritative voice of Orthodoxy for centuries. I get the impression that you think that Orthodoxy existed in early Europe but within a juridical basis, starting with Augustine- whom the Orthodox consider as heretical - did you know that - not compatible. If Orthodoxy existed in the west within a juridical framework - justification etc. - then it was not Orthodoxy. I hear that one of the greatest Orthodox theologians in Fr Antheologie - Montenegro.
Also, if you want to read a really slandering website by an English evangelical pastor - http://www.nccg.org/FAQ011-OrthCh.html - a site by an evangelical warning against Orthodoxy to missionaries going to Eastern Europe. These English will never stop their imperialism.
Why not go on the counter attack and put him in his place -I think his name is Charles Warren.
I read the works of Fr Alexander between 1972 and 1976. In 1980, I was able to meet and speak at some length to Fr Alexander. I knew his brother, Andrei, in Paris quite well (he was a member of the Constantinople jurisdiction) and also his niece in Switzerland (an ardent member of the Church Outside Russia). I also knew one of Fr Alexander's teachers, the late Mother Seraphima of Bussy, quite well and was able to talk to her about Fr Alexander as a schoolboy. I also knew and know several people who had known Fr Alexander very well before he went to America.
Of course Fr Alexander is quite right in condemning the scholastic Latin theology imported into Russia with its whole false doctrine of the Redemption. I believe that it relates back to the whole filioque-papal theology developed during the Middle Ages. Indeed I wrote a long article on this subject in 'Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition' in 1992, called 'The Cross and the Redemption'. In that I compared text for text the almost identical parallels between the Old English preachers on the Redemption and the Eastern Fathers, and then compared them with Anselm, the Norman-imposed Italian Archbishop (not Patriarch) of Canterbury, who is the real father of scholasticism and the juridical or legalistic mentality in the West. If you read the Western Fathers, like St Ambrose of Milan, and you will see this quite clearly.
However, I do not wish to suggest that what I have said in the above article is original. The scholastic theology was never imposed in Orthodox monasteries and at the end of nineteenth century it was denounced by holy fathers. This culminated by its denunciation by the great theologian Metr Antony of Kiev, who inspired St Justin of Chelije in his denunciation. Bishop Amphilochii of Montenegro, whom I have also met and much respect, is a disciple of St Justin, as is of course our own hierarch, Archbishop Mark.
This is just the same as all those nineteenth-century Roman Catholic 'icons' of God the Father (a white bearded old man) which are so widespread in many Orthodox churches still today. As you say, they are of course heretical. Patriarch Nikon of Moscow would have burnt them. Nevertheless it is good that the academic theologians in various parts of the Orthodox Church, like the late Fr Alexander, have now at last received the words of the monastic Fathers and have ditched the old Latin scholasticism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
It is a great pity that the Roman Catholics twisted the works of the holy Apostle Paul and the Church's understanding of 'justification' and Blessed Augustine's works to try and justify their feudal redemptionism. If you wish to understand more about the Orthodox attitude to Blessed Augustine, I highly recommend the work of the late Fr Seraphim Rose and also there is an excellent article in Russian concerning the errors of Fr Michael Akzoul in this regard. (See the article by Archim. Amvrosij Pogodin in the Jordanville Pravoslavny Put' 1989. I believe that this was specially commissioned by Metr Vitaly himself).
The Teachings of the Fathers on the Holy Trinity and the two natures of Christ are sufficient for our salvation, providing that we live them out in their implications. This is the failing of Catholicism, which, though it confesses the Trinity in words, has distorted the teaching on the Holy Trinity through the filioque. The filioque distorts the understanding of the roles of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is where their false philosophy (it is not theology) of the 'satisfaction' or 'propitiation' of the Redemption comes in.
Yes, it is a great pity that the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, of all nationalities, still continue their imperialism against the Orthodox Church both in Eastern and Western Europe. We here in England are the first victims of it and we suffer far more than the Orthodox in Eastern Europe who still have some protection from the governments there and have financial means which we do not. That is why we have to fight so hard for the Resurrection of the pre-Catholic, pre-feudal Orthodox Europe of the First Millennium. That is also why we need the support of the authentic Orthodox East (and not the westernized East, with all its modernism, new calendar and what have you).
Coming from Sweden, I was delighted to find an Orthodox service proprium for Saint Ansgar, the Enlightener of all Scandinavia, on your website. He was, however, the only Orthodox saint with Swedish connection I found on this site. Perhaps that depend on my disability to use a computer correctly?
In one of your articles you mention the Swedish Princess St. Anna of Novgorod and the English missionary bishop who baptised her: St. Sigfrid of York, Husaby and Vaxjo. Will you publish their feastday propria too?
May I point at some other neglected saints in Sweden? St. Sigfrid was not the only saint of the important and intense wave of English missionary work in Sweden during the 11th century. Closely related to St. Sigfrid were: St. David of Munktorp (priest and monk), St. Eskil of Strengnes (missionary bishop and martyr) and St. Sigurd of Jamtland (missionary bishop, half forgotten in our days). They died c 1080, so the date after 1054 is a problem perhaps? They must have been sent from England many decades earlier, however, that is before 1066, and the English mission was struggling against the ambition of German missionaries with closer ties to Rome. The most obvious example of this was Osmund, the bishop of Husaby and Skara before 1060 (and the nephew of St. Sigfrid), who is buried in the cathedral of Ely (dead 1067). Since the German missionaries wanted monopoly on missionary efforts in Scandinavia Osmund was badly treated by Church officials in Germany and Rome. He was consecrated bishop in Eastern Europe. Some historians have made speculations if he had some ties with the Eastern Church.
Another now sadly forgotten saint with local cult before the reformation era (the situation very much like many Celtic saints on the British Isles) was Bertil (i. e. Bartholomew) of Blidsberg, a wealthy farmer, by the charity and piety of whom many pagans were converted to the Christian faith, and who supported the first Christian king of Sweden, Olof Skotkonung, the father of St. Anna of Novgorod. When Bertil tried to stop a pagan revolution against king Olof, led by another wealthy farmer, he was martyred. This must have occured some time after 1000 (traditionally 1008) and before 1020 AD. As far as I can see, St. Bertil must be the Proto-Martyr of Sweden, now sadly forgotten.
I wish you good luck with your important work for the Orthodox faith in Western Europe!
MJB, Jonkoping, Sweden
Our website began in January 2001. It only expanded considerably from 2002. At the end of that year we added an Orthodox Europe section. At the moment there is much to be done here, it is still very small. We are hampered by the fact that we only have our spare time and our own finances. The service (or proper - proprium in Latin) to St Sigfrid and that to St Olav of Norway will be addded soon. A Western Patericon will have appeared on the site by the end of this year, although we have been venerating them for some thirty years now and set out the principles for this several years ago. The article '10,000 saints Proclaim the Orthodox Faith' is the introduction to it. No doubt other services to Swedish saints will eventually be added - though they first have to be written, either in Swedish (best of all) or else, if this is not possible, in English. I hope a service to St Anna of Novgorod will be written too. We have her icon at church here. It comes from Russia.
The date of 1054 is that of the excommunication by Pope Leo of Rome of Patriarch Michael of Constantinople, who responded in kind. In itself it therefore has little significance. But the falling away of Christians in the West from the Orthodox Church did occur in the middle of the eleventh century. Of course some fell away before this symbolic 1054 date and others later. For example this happened later in Scandinavia and even later in Sicily. And the Schism only began in western Ukraine at the end of the sixteenth century. I am therefore personally rather positive about the post-1054 figures that you mention, all of whom are well-known to us and were born before that date. Neverthless, for anyone who lived even part of his life after 1054 we do need a bishop's blessing. And even with figures before 1054 we must still be very careful - for example figures associated with Charlemagne and figures canonized by the Papacy after 1054 for political reasons. (Edward the Confessor is a good example from England).
Some time ago I wrote an article about St Audrey of Ely and St Osmund figured in it. In a recent article by a Cambridge academic, it was speculated that he may have been been consecrated in Russia to set up a national Church in Scandivavia.
Perhaps you could write an article about the saints of Sweden in the light of Orthodox Christianity? Either in Swedish or else in English.
As part of a discussion on an Orthodox forum, there was a thread regarding 'irrelevant' canons. One of the items raised was the office of Deaconess. I need some information of where to find more info. As a young woman, I remember attending services at Novo Diveevo in Spring Valley, NY and there I encountered a nun who was serving as a deaconess. I was given to understand that it was only practiced in women's convents and never seen outside their walls. Where can I find information regarding this?
Also, I was given to understand from Bishop Mitrophan of Boston that when there are no boys or men available to serve as altar boys, that it was proper to use young pre-menstrual girls. He used to say that when he served in Morocco he would often do this. Where can I find information on this? Is there any canon allowing such a practice?
As regards sources for information on deaconesses, there is the life of St Elizabeth the New Martyr, who was very keen on restoring the order of deaconesses, and also the Book of Canons of the Orthodox Church ('The Rudder'; see especially Canon 15 of the Fourth Council, Canons 14, 40 and 48 of the Sixth Council and Canon 24 of St Basil). There are other works in Russian. I would recommend in particular the work by S. Troitsky, 'Deaconesses in the Orthodox Church', St Petersburg 1912, which has not yet been bettered. It is in Russian but must surely be in the Jordanville Library.
A number of general points can be made on Orthodox Deaconesses and female altar-servers:
First of all, it is quite untrue to say that women are not allowed into the altar. The fact is that nobody is allowed into the altar without the blessing of a bishop - therefore all those who are ordained are allowed into the altar and any others who have the blessing to do so, which is delegated from the bishop to the priest and so.
Thus, both pre-menstrual girls and post-menstrual women are allowed in the altar. The latter occurs quite normally in convents (like the nun you met), the former occurs in parishes where there are no boys. Bishop Mitrophan (whom I met in France and greatly respected) was of course absolutely right. Indeed, I have myself on specific occasions blessed girls to serve in the absence of boys. There is nothing unusual in this. If you hear any man objecting to this, he is either ignorant or else a misogynist! There is no canon about this, either for or against, but there is no need for one, since it is perfectly normal and part of the unquestioned Tradition of the Church.
Secondly, in the first centuries Orthodox deaconesses had to be of post-menstrual age. They were consecrated (not ordained) by bishops. They were also allowed into the altar, notably to take communion just like deacons do today.
Thirdly, as regards deaconesses, it has to be understood that their function was never the same as that of deacons. For example, one of their activities was helping in the prepartion of women for baptism, another visiting sick women. Indeed, the order of deaconesses as such began to die out when everyone was baptised, perhaps around the sixth century, even earlier in the West.
Today the word 'diakonissa' means a deacon's wife, and interestingly, many a deacon's wife now actually continues the functions of the deaconess, for example visiting lonely women. Where there is no deacon, it is often another lady who may in fact continue some of the deaconess' functions. (You can think of the activities of the Sisterhoods in parishes, in catechism and organizing visiting, sewing, or meals, or flowers). St Elizabeth wanted to restore the charitable functions of deaconesses in distributing food and clothes to the poor, for example. This was debated by the Synod in Moscow some six years before the Revolution. St Elizabeth was eventually justified by the bishops, despite the misunderstandings and opposition of some who thought that the concept had Protestant links.
I converted to Orthodoxy from a Protestant church in March 2002 after a long period of searching. I am absolutely convinced of the truth of Orthodox Christianity and try very hard to avoid being an eternal convert, difficult though this sometimes is. My greatest difficulty always seems to come down to the fact that the only Orthodox Church I can get to is a Greek Orthodox Church in Reading and they seem to me, frankly, to be often more Greek than Orthodox. I'm sure that this is not an uncommon experience for Western converts, but it causes both me and my wife difficulties (she is Romanian Orthodox) because Greek customs seem to be more important than the Orthodox Faith.
Finally, I can illustrate a particular point and come to my question. We have a nine month old son who we named William Stefan Vlad. We knew of no Orthodox saint with the name William but did not believe this to be a problem because in the Romanian Orthodox Church it's very common for children to be baptised, for instance, Traian-Ioan where Traian is not a saint's name but Ioan (John) is. However, our priest also did not know of any Orthodox St. William and so refused to baptise him with that name and only used Stefan Vlad at the service (incidentally my Romanian family say Vlad is also not a saint's name, but I suppose it is close enough to Vladimir). My question stems from reading articles about Western saints on your website and noticing that there is indeed an Orthodox St. Guillermo from Spain. Is he officially recognised by the Orthodox Church? If so, is it possible for our son to receive the Eucharist under the name William even though he was not baptised with this name?
I'm afraid that I'm never sure about such things, but it seems to me that it is wrong that my son be unable to receive the Eucharist under his first name because our priest refused to bend from a Greek custom that we do not share, particularly if he was in fact wrong in his objections. We do not wish to change his patron saint or anything like that - we decided that he would be St. Stephen the Great of Moldavia (Dreptcredinciosul Voievod Stefan cel Mare si Sfant, in Romanian) long before the birth, but I would like my son to be able to use his full name in Church. If you could send me any more information on St. Guillermo and any other Orthodox St. William that might exist, I would be very grateful, particularly if it will help me to show the priest that William is a valid saint's name in the Orthodox Church. Thank you very much and I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your question. Your problem has been shared by countless English people down the years, including myself, when an Archbishop of the Greek Church refused to accept the names of two of our children, Edward and Audrey. So at least you are not alone!
The problem is of course not theological, but cultural. It seems that you are in a parish which refuses to have anything to do with non-Greek culture. Frankly, you either have to accept this and outwardly become Greek, or else you have to change parishes.
I really don't think that starting a 'war' with the Greek priest is worth it. You are dealing with a Church which refused to accept the Greek 'Timothy' as an Orthodox name and imposed the unmistakably Greek name Kallistos on the individual concerned. They have done the same thing to any number of other English clergy they have ordained (for example Alban was changed to Aristobulus, Peter to Meletios etc etc). It is not really worthwhile pointing out to them that the Spanish St William of Penacorada was pre-Schism. In their mentality, he was not Greek and that's that. In the same way as they refuse the Romanian double-name custom, they also refuse to accept St Vladimir as a saint's name and use the baptismal name Basil. There are many other examples of this. At least you cannot say that they are being anti-English, because such people are so narrowly nationalistic that they are anti-Romanian, anti-Russian etc. The fact of the matter is that their Hellenism is simply anti-Orthodox. But they will not be able to understand that, because for them the only Orthodox in the world are Greek.
In their defence, I do have to say that since your son has been baptised Stefan, at present he must receive communion under his baptismal name. However, if you find a priest who agrees to a change of name to the double-name custom of Romania, all the priest has to do is to give the child communion under the new name. Deliberately and intentionally giving the Eucharist under the new name has the effect of changing the name in the sight of God. However, in this case this is not a solution because the priest in question imposes Greek culture together with Orthodoxy. So you come back to the question of changing parishes, at some point in the future presumably, since at present you cannot go anywhere else. Patience would seem to be the temporary solution. And even though we sometimes have to be patient for bad reasons, very often the patience we learn in such a way can be very good for us. Always look for the providential aspect of any negative situation!
As I have said above, either you have to accept something of their culture, and accept Stefanos, or else change parishes. In the latter case, on our website, you will find a Directory of English-speaking parishes of all jurisdictions where you might feel more at home.
Wishing you well in your search for a home in the Orthodox world,
Thank you for the question. There are no Western-rite churches in the UK and never have been. The need simply has not arisen, perhaps because of the small numbers of converts. The UK only has a fifth of the population of the US.
I have the impression that Western-rite churches only happen when a whole group, usually from Anglicanism (or Episcopalianism in the US) becomes Orthodox. One of the problems of the Western-rite is that Eastern Orthodox are not attracted to such services. Immediately you are dependent only on converts. If there are few converts, as in the UK, then you will never have enough people to form even a tiny Western-rite parish.
Then there is the problem of how the Western-rite converts integrate Orthodoxy, that is actually become Orthodox. If they are isolated from the rest of the Church, how will they learn to live an Orthodox life and worship in an Orthodox way? Again, most Western-rite parishes seem to form and then never grow, for the simple reason that they tend to get stuck in a kind of time-warp, consisting of a fairly elderly group who know one another very well and who became Orthodox at a particular time for particular reasons and as a result never evolve.
Another problem is the practical one of rite. What exactly is the Western rite? Personally, for example, after nearly twenty years, I know how to serve the Orthodox services very well, but I know nothing about Western-rite services and would not know how to serve them. In the same way, our choir-leader would have no idea how to sing them. For us who have been brought up in the Orthodox Church, whatever our nationality, the Western rite is in fact something foreign!
There is also the wider fact that Christianity is not a Western religion, but an Eastern one. Is the 'Eastern rite' really Eastern? For me, as an Englishman, there is nothing so natural as the so-called 'Eastern rite'. Maybe the problem is simply a question of habit. What seems foreign at first can be adapted to with time.
It seems to me that the real problem is that of isolation, being cut off from the mass of Americans and having had contact with the ethnic ghettos that many immigrant Orthodox form. None of that is helpful for a Western Orthodox. I think we just have to attend the church where we are most at home. However, we just have to remember that it is not any church community or parish that should be at the centre of our lives, but rather Christ. 'Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men'. Perfection exists nowhere in this world, but it does in the next. And we cannot expect perfection on this side of eternity, because we are ourselves not perfect. And although it is not good to feel completely cut off, Christians are those who are 'in the world, but not of it'. Therefore we can never completely identify with the world around us - to some extent we should feel cut off from the world.
I am not saying that personally I am against the Western rite. It is just that I can see a lot of problems of a practical nature. In any case, my opinion is irrelevant, theoretical, because it would depend on a viable group of people who wanted the Western rite contacting my bishop. It would then depend on him accepting a Western-rite parish, not on one of us priests!
I hope I have answered your question. I am sorry that I cannot be more positive. Is there no-one locally who could help you along?
The Rite of Orthodoxy is to be found in the episcopal service book (Chinovnik), since the Rite is only performed by bishops and therefore usually only in Cathedrals. Parts of the Rite have appeared here and there in Orthodox journals over the years in English, but I do not actually know of a full translation into English - but since I know few things, it may well exist. The best way to gain an understanding of this Rite is to go to your local Orthodox Cathedral on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. After all, the Rite is not meant to be read in a book, but enacted in reality. Sorry, I cannot be more helpful. It may be that someone in the OCA or in the Antiochene Diocese in the USA could be more helpful.
Having posted this answer, I found the following ::
Thank you for your question. First of all, I must say that I am not an opera buff. Although I know about Wagner and the use of his nationalism by the Nazis, I have not actually listened to a whole Wagner opera.
Logically, if we are not to listen to Wagner for his revival of German paganism, then we should certainly not listen to Stravinsky for his revival of Slav paganism. Then perhaps, we should not listen to Mozart, because he was a freemason. Then perhaps we should not listen to a whole series of composers of classical music, because they were fornicators or adulterers. Then what about pop music? Perhaps we should never enter a shop because of piped pop music. Finally, perhaps we should not talk to anyone in the street because they too may infect us with their sins. This sort of logic can take us to very extreme positions of sectarian and pharisaic pride of censorious judgementalism. Eventually we could cut ourselves off from all human activity, because we are too 'pure'.
What I am saying is that there is only one criterion for anything we do: Is this of spiritual value and help to us, or not? Will it bring us closer to God and salvation, or not?
Here we have to use our discernment. For example I met someone who had decided to be baptised into the Orthodox Church because of his reading of the Koran. This does not mean that I would recommend you read the Koran! This whole question is rather like the question about whether we should watch television or not: the answer is that if we are unable to use our discernment in using the 'off button', then we should not. If on the other hand we are wise enough to use that button, then TV can not only be harmless, but even potentially useful. It is the same question with Harry Potter books. I know a devout Russian granny who loves the books - but that is because she only sees in them fairy tales and the victory of good over evil. But if someone who was interested in the occult asked me for a blessing to read Harry Potter books, I would refuse - for the simple resaon that they could deepen the unhealthy tendency and lack of discernment of the spirits already present in that individual.
A final example. I was speaking to some young people who had seen a programme about the rock star Ozzy Osborne. They told me that seeing how decrepit this old man was, that they would never take drugs or alcohol. In other words, although I would not recommend anyone to listen to his music or watch a programme with him, God can always make good out of evil. It depends on what is inside us.
So, will listening to Wagner bring you closer to God and salvation? Only you can answer this. But if the answer is no, then do not listen to him.
And finally, in any case you should not listen to any of his or anyone else's music in Great Lent!
Thank you for your message and I do apologise for the mistake. I cannot imagine how Holy Transfiguration became Holy Trinity.
I agree with you that the Reformation was a disaster and led to further spiritual impoverishment for England, though of course the Catholicism represented by More was hardly Orthodoxy either.
To answer your question, Andrew Bobola was a Polish Jesuit who lived at the same time and in the same region as Josaphat Kuntsevich, and who also used the same techniques to persecute Orthodox as Kuntsevich. Born in Poland at the end of the sixteenth century, Bobola fanatically deprived local Orthodox of the right to have their services in churches, arresting priests and intimidating and bribing Orthodox to become Uniat, all the time allowing Jews and Tartars to practise Judaism and Islam freely. As a result of his persecution, he was finally killed by exasperated Cossacks on 10 May 1637. Although Kuntsevich was beatified almost immediately by the Catholics, the Vatican was so embarrassed by Bobola's vicious persecution of Orthodox that Bobola had to wait until 1938 even for beatification. Beforehand the Jesuits had made a deal with the Soviet authorities and imported his bones from the Soviet Union into Warsaw before conducting their ceremonies.
May God protect you all through the prayers of His holy confessor Botolph,
First congratulations on an excellent web site and on writing some first class books. Please, would it be too impudent of me to ask a question? After years of searching for a religion to practice from the age of twelve to twenty five, looking at all sorts of beliefs from Asatru to the teachings of Zarathustra, I have come full circle back to my Christian heritage to discover that what I was looking for was there all along. I fear however that I have asked too many questions in my seeking and received too many answers and now my mind is a mess with too many conflicting ideas. I need someone with a lot more knowledge of the Bible and Theology than myself to perhaps put me straight. I would ask my Priest but the whole church feels unapproachable (perhaps that's my fault) though I am not unhappy with the service. Sorry if my question is a little basic but as I return to the church I find things that I took for granted as a child I have to justify to myself as an adult. My difficulties are with the Old Testament, I find it hard to believe that the god of the Old Testament is the same god as the god of the New Testament, how can he be? I also find the Old Testament somewhat irrelevant. How would an orthodox answer to these two questions differ from a catholic one? I would like to quote from a book if I may. The book was written by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, I find this passage relates my uncertainties best.
"Although fanatically concerned about a supposed decline in moral values, Fundamentalists hold up the barbarous Old Testament as a divinely inspired account of the works of the one and only god Jehovah. Let's just have a quick look at the sort of god they are worshipping. In The Book of Genesis Jehovah destroys all living things on the Earth by flood, but somehow manages to also find the time to specifically execute one individual man for letting his semen spill on the ground when having sex. In The Book of Exodus he inflicts hideous plagues on Egypt for not letting the Israelites leave, despite the fact that it was he himself who 'hardened Pharaoh's heart'. He also kills all the firstborn Egyptian children, assists the Israelites in slaughtering an entire tribe of Amalekites, makes it allowable to beat a slave to death and, after rumors that Israelites have worshipped a rival god, orders faithful Israelites to kill their friends and relatives, leading to the death of 3000 people.
Not content with this, in The First Book of Samuel Jehovah takes vengeance on the people of Gath by giving all the men a fatal dose of haemorrhoids. In The Book of Leviticus he condones human sacrifice. In The Book of Deuteronomy he orders the Israelites to utterly destroy the people of the cities that he bequeaths to them as their 'inheritance', commanding them 'not to leave anything that breaths alive'. In The book of Numbers he orders a man to be stoned to death for the gathering of sticks for a fire on the Sabbath, and sends a plague which kills 14,700 people. He also gives the Israelites power to utterly destroy the Canaanites and exterminate the people of Og, advising with regard to capture women and children:
'Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. But keep alive for yourself all the young girls who have not known a man intimately'.
You can see why the Christian Gnostic Marcion nicknamed Jehovah 'the exterminator'. And when it's not being gruesome, the Old Testament is so culturally foreign and outdated it is just plain daft. The Book of Leviticus tells us that we must have no contact at all with a menstruating woman, but it's fine to buy slaves from neighbouring states. Eating shellfish is out, however. That's apparently an 'abomination'. The book of Deuteronomy decrees that a son who will not obey his parents is to be stoned to death by the whole town outside the city gates, so if you're male, and your dad's a Fundamentalist, and you're reading this, you're in big trouble!"
I hope you don't take offence at my question and my use of this extract but if I don't ask straight questions I wont get the right answers. I know that the writers of this extract have an agenda, but they don't have to put their points across too forcefully as the passages from the Old Testament speak for themselves. I must say that at the moment I do find the Christian Gnostics appealing but I want to be part of the established church, it just feels right, although perhaps a little culturally foreign and sterile. I know it is not your place to answer the questions of a catholic, and if you don't I can't blame you. I would like to say again that it is very far from my intention to offend you in any way with my enquiry. Thank you for giving me your time.
Sean Spencer Gregory, Bournemouth
Thank you for your message and question which seems to be based on a very simple misunderstanding.
First of all, there is only One God.
Secondly, there are many religions.
Because each religion, except the true one, is based on a human understanding of God. All of these, except the true one, contain truth confused with untruth.
I think everybody agrees about this. Where we disagree is in our definition and understanding of truth and untruth, and hence our choice of the true religion. Such a choice is usually conditioned by cultural considerations.
The human understanding of God is called 'anthropomorphism', this means seeing and understanding God not as He is, but in a human form. The Old Testament, as you point out, is full of anthropomorphisms: God takes revenge, God hardens the heart, God punishes, God kills etc etc. In other words God is seen as an Almighty Emperor, Who kills, Who destroys etc etc. Here parallels can be drawn with the primitive myths of the Ancient Greeks, who marry, rape, kill, are subject to human passions. The value of the Old Testament, at least from the Orthodox Christian viewpoint is not in these anthropomorphisms, it is in the revelations concerning the Coming of Christ. This is why the Church uses the Book of Psalms and the other Books of Prophets so much, whereas other parts are very little used or read (for example Deuteronomy, Leviticus, the ritual food laws, and the Historical Books (called Kingdoms in the Orthodox text). This is also why, for instance, the Orthodox Church has daily readings from the Scriptures which are taken not from the Old Testament, but from the Gospels and the Epistles. The 'Old' Testament is indeed old, not new.
It is unfortunate that at the Reformation the Protestants reverted to such a large extent to the Old Testament, rather like the Jews and even the Muslims. Indeed the Protestants even used the tenth century Jewish text of the Old Testament for their translation, rather than the far older (by twelve centuries) Greek translation, which, in Hebrew, was the version which Christ quoted from in the New Testament. It is not surprising to see then how the word fundamentalist is used to qualify both Protestants and Muslims. Neither is it surprising to learn that the Protestant Reformation was encouraged and even financed by Jews, especially in Holland (the same ones whose descendants later financed Cromwell's civil war). The common enemy was after all inquisitorial Catholicism. Hardly surprising either to discover that in Protestant countries they describe the West as 'Judeo-Christian'.
As Christians we should constantly make the effort not to fall back into the Old Testament, reverting to the primitive understanding of God, as a vengeful God, unforgiving, an 'eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth', which is embodied in the practices of the Israeli State today. The Great Revelation of the Son of God (the highest Revelation in the history of religion from the Christian viewpoint) is that God is Love. This was simply undreamed of in the Old Testament, where God is largely understood as the defender of the Jews. This says nothing about the nature of God, but a lot about the nature of Jewish culture. This is why the vast majority of the Jews rejected Christ, because he turned out not to be an anti-Roman ethnic freedom-fighter, but a spiritual leader. The Jews were so disappointed that they murdered Him. This is also why, if the Old Testament is to be read, it must be read with understanding. Best of all, though, read the New Testament and master that. You cannot understand the Old Testament if you do not first read it through the eyes of the New Testament. Again, the emphasis of fundamentalist Protestants is all wrong.
Here I do not wish to play the smug Christian, feeling superior to other religions. Yes, I believe that Christianity is superior. But are Christians? All Christians have spent a large part of their history falling back into the mindset of the Old Testament, making the Church into a State, killing, slaughtering, pillaging (Catholicism), turning themselves into ethnic and racist ghettos (the Orthodox), and the Protestants are no exception. I would say that the current campaign against Iraq is merely yet another crusade in the long history of Western Crusades, perhaps even 'The Last Crusade'. If you listen to the crass propaganda coming from Washington and London, we are told that a war, including the possibility of using nuclear weapons, is necessary to protect Christian Civilisation! Hear the Old Testament!
I hope you find some of these thoughts helpful,
Questions 1 and 2. On icons of the Resurrection, you will see Christ raising up Adam and Eve from Hades (Hell) with Himself. God forgave Adam and Eve for their sin, because they repented, as God forgives all who repent, that is, all who accept that they have done wrong, and then ask for and accept God's forgiveness. Adam and Eve are saints in the Orthodox Church, you will see that in icons they have halos around their heads. Adam and Eve are baptismal names. They are saints not because of their Fall (obviously), but because of their repentance.
After Christ was crucified on the Cross on Great Friday and His soul left His body, Christ went down to Hades and preached there and freed from bondage all righteous departed humanity who accepted Him. This was His activity on Great Saturday, before He returned to earth and showed living humanity the Resurrection. This is why in the Orthodox Church Saturdays are devoted to the departed, to memorial services, and to visiting the graves of those who have fallen asleep. For Saturday precedes the day of the Resurrection, the Lord's Day, Sunday (in Russian, Voskresenie, which means both Sunday and Resurrection).
There is a pious tradition, and it can be seen on many icons, that Christ was crucified on the site of Adam's burial. Golgotha, the site of the Crucifixion, actually means the place of the skull. On some icons, you can see below the Crucifixion a skull - it is adam's. Some Orthodox believe this literally and that Adam was actually buried outside the walls of Jerusalem at Golgotha, the exact spot where thousands of years later Christ was crucified. Other Orthodox believe this only in a figurative, symbolic way, for the name Adam means earth (for Adam was made out of the earth) and Christ redeemed the whole of the earth which accepted His salvation.
Question 3. Your third question is a little confusing. Orthodox tend to avoid the Catholic expression 'original sin', and use the term the Sin of Adam' (Adamov Grekh) or 'Ancestral Sin'. This is the sin which is in the world because of the first sin, which introduced sin and death. the reason why we avoid the Catholic term is because it is associated with the Catholic concept of predestination, that we are all condemned to sin. We do not believe in this in the Orthodox Church, rather we believe that we have complete freedom and can choose to sin or not to sin.
The reason why the Mother of God is so special to Orthodox is because God had wanted to become incarnate through His Son for millennia, but every girl who could have given birth to Him had been in bondage to ancestral sin: that is, the inclination towards sin and actual resulting sin, which had become 'natural' after the Fall of human nature.
In other words if Mary had not existed, we would still be waiting for the Coming of Christ (as are the Jews, who accept neither Christ nor His Mother). The Catholics, on the other hand, believe that Mary was 'released' from 'original sin' by a special intervention of God. For Orthodox, this makes God into a sort of cruel magician. Cruel because it means that He could have done this millennia before, thus saving humanity from so much suffering, but He did not. A magician, because it means that He can therefore miraculously intervene, without the co-operation of human free will, at any moment, whenever He chooses to do so.
As you are American but of English descent, I would suggest a great many poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I don't know what age your children are, but some poems by Robert Frost are accessible and also there are some of the writings by Thoreau and Hawthorne (but read under adult guidance) which can be of interest. It is a very brief answer, but I hope of help.
There are certainly no rules for this, but there are pious customs. Thus for the eucharistic liturgy, all seven lamps will always be lit and all lights should be on once the Liturgy starts after the Hours are finished. Usually all seven lamps are also lit at the Vigil Service for Sundays, although candles are often blown out during the Six Psalms at the beginning of Matins. On the other hand at week-day Vespers, Compline or Matins, especially during Great Lent, perhaps only the central three lamps will be lit. The idea is that the service or feast be celebrated in an appropriate spirit.