From the Second Vatican Council (1965) to the Pan Orthodox Council (2016)

Holy and Great Council Logo

                 Holy and Great Council Logo

Signposts on the Way to Crete [1]

by Protopresbyter Peter Heers

It is an overused but necessary cliché to state that the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Oecumenical Councils. It is more essential to state that the Orthodox Church not only held and lived through those Councils, it also lives daily by the words spoken by the Holy Apostles in that first of all Church Councils in Jerusalem: it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (Acts 15:28); first to the Holy Spirit and then to the Apostles, and all the successors of the Apostles. This theanthropic way of being, which began in earnest in council on the day of Pentecost, is integral to, irremovable from, the life of the Orthodox Church and of Orthodox Christians.

It is the implication of this reality, or rather the absence of evidence thereof among those at the highest levels of the Church, which makes my presentation to you tonight all the more difficult, even painful.

The Orthodox Church stands just weeks away from the long awaited “Great and Holy Council,” which will convene in Crete on the Feast of Pentecost. This Council is unique in the history of the Church for the length of time it has been under preparation, but also for another first: the degree to which its preparatory meetings, organization and certain of its texts have, under the influence of a council of the heterodox, the Second Vatican Council, diverted from the Orthodox way.

This is the reason that, immediately upon the publication of the pre-synodical texts, a wave of objections arose on a pan-Orthodox level. Certain among the more fanatical enthusiasts of ecumenism have attempted to downplay the serious and studied critiques which have been levelled against the pre-synodical texts and the Council itself asserting the criticism is coming from “extremists” and “fanatics” who are “against the council,” have no respect for the conciliar system or an ecclesiastical ethos. These critics neglect the fact that objections to the ecclesiologically abysmal texts have been expressed on a pan-Orthodox level by:

  1. Professors of Theology from Orthodox Theological Schools.
  2. Monastic Brotherhoods, including the Holy Community of Mt. Athos, monasteries in Moldavia, which have also ceased commemoration of their chief hierarch because he accepted, under pressure from the Patriarch of Moscow, the pre-synodical texts, and monasteries in Greece, Georgia and Bulgaria have expressed sharp disagreement.
  3. Dozens of bishops from throughout the Orthodox world have expressed their categorical opposition to the texts as they presently stand. Among these are more than twenty hierarchs from the Church of Greece which have issued forceful statements opposing aspects not only of the pre-synodical texts but also the Council itself, some of which have, for reasons of conscience, declined to participate. In the much-embattled Orthodox Church of the Ukraine, the exceptionally beloved and highly honoured Bishop Longin ceased commemoration of the Patriarch of Russia after he pushed through the Holy Synod acceptance of the pre-synodical texts.
  4. Finally, but most importantly, the Holy Synods of Local Churches, such as the Church of Cyprus, have expressed sharp criticism of aspects of the pre-synodical texts. The hierarchy of the Church of Greece will meet next week to consider the objections of many hierarchs and publish either their rejection of the texts or recommendations for substantial changes. The Holy Synods of the Churches of Bulgaria and Georgia, in spite of intense external pressure exerted against them, have issued unanimous decisions which reject aspects of the pre-synodical texts. And the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has issued an extensive and well-documented critique of the pre-synodical texts along the same lines as the Local Churches mentioned above.

Hence, in our examination of the Council we do not stand alone but join a large and growing segment of the Orthodox hierarchy and clergy who are calling attention to serious problems with the Council and the texts hierarchs are being asked to endorse.

Let us now turn our attention to the matter at hand. In our analysis we will revisit a number of historical and theological “signposts” the Church has passed on its way to Crete, after which we believe the following will be clear: the way of the Pan Orthodox Council does not resemble the theanthropic way of the Apostles; and the ecclesiology the Council is being asked to embrace has never been recognized as “good to the Holy Spirit” or to the preceding successors of the Apostles, the Holy Fathers.

Signposts on The Way of the Pan Orthodox Council

1. The Beginning

The Second Vatican Council was announced by Pope John XXIII on January 25, 1959, and held 178 meetings in the autumn of four successive years. The first gathering was on October 11, 1962, and the last on December 8, 1965.

The first Pan Orthodox Conference, which was called in order to begin preparations for Pan-Orthodox Council, took place in 1961, just three years after the announcement of the Second Vatican Council by the Pope and one year before its commencement.

While today, “it is, in the final analysis, impossible to ascertain for certain which side influenced the other,” [2] that the two councils began in earnest together and the Orthodox side regularly compares its work to Vatican II is undoubtedly a signpost of significance.

2. Methodological Similarities

Although it may be contested that the Patriarchate, in calling the First Pan Orthodox Conference in Rhodes, was reacting to the calling of the Second Vatican Council, what is quite clear is that the methodology adopted in Rhodes and henceforth, was wholly taken from Vatican II. Indeed, it is undisputed in ecumenical circles that the organizers of the Pan Orthodox Council had as their model for the pre-synodical committees and the functioning of the Council itself the modus operandi of the Second Vatican Council.

This is the second signpost on the way to Crete which alerts us to a foreign source of inspiration for the Council.

As researcher Maria Brun, a Roman Catholic specialist on the Pan-Orthodox Council at the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Center in Chambessy, has written: “it is well known that the way in which the Second Vatican Council was carried served as the prototype for the work of the preparatory commission of the Pan Orthodox Council” and that “the Orthodox Church . . . had recourse to the Second Vatican Council for its inspiration.” [3]

Roman Catholic researchers of the Second Vatican Council and the Pan Orthodox Council are not alone in reaching this conclusion. The great Professor of Dogmatics and Saint of the Church, Justin Popovich likewise came to this conclusion. Far from praising matters, St Justin Popovich, in his 1976 memorandum to the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, saw in this approach to convening and organizing the Council a sure sign of its alienation from Orthodox Tradition and pledge of its falsity.

He wrote:

“In reality, all of this manifests and underscores not only the usual lack of consistency, but also an obvious incapacity and failure to understand the nature of Orthodoxy on the part of those who at the present time, in the current situation, and in such a manner would impose their “Council” on the Orthodox Churches – an ignorance and inability to feel or to comprehend what a true ecumenical council has meant and always means for the Orthodox Church and for the pleroma of its faithful who bear the name of Christ. For if they sensed and realized this, they would first of all know that never in the history and life of the Orthodox Church has a single council, not to mention such an exceptional, grace-filled event (like Pentecost itself) as an ecumenical council, sought and invented topics in this artificial way for its work and sessions; – never have there been summoned such conferences, congresses, pro-synods, and other artificial gatherings, unknown to the Orthodox conciliar tradition, and in reality borrowed from Western organizations alien to the Church of Christ.” [4]

3. Common Aims with the Second Vatican Council

A third signpost which alerts us that the Pan Orthodox Council is not following the Holy Fathers is the stated purpose of the Council. Imitating totally the Second Vatican Council, it shares with it the raison d’être for its calling: renovation or “renewal” of the internal life and organization of the Church. Like Vatican II, the Pan-Orthodox Council is being called not to confront dogmatic error, as has every previous universal council, but to renovate and re-organize the Church.

In an article dating back from when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was still a Metropolitan, in the journal The National Catholic Reporter, the Patriarch said the following, revealing his intentions for the Pan Orthodox Council:

“Our aims are the same an John’s (Pope John XXIII): to update the Church and promote Christian unity… The Council will also signify the opening of the Orthodox Church to non-Christian religions, to humanity as a whole. This means a new attitude toward Islam, toward Buddhism, toward contemporary culture, toward aspirations for brotherhood free from racial discrimination…in other words, it will mark the end of twelve centuries of isolation of the Orthodox Church.” [5]

4. “Free From Dogmatism”

Moreover, as has been stressed, this is – like Vatican II – a “non-dogmatic” council at which dogmas are not to be removed from the “storehouse,” as Patriarch Athenagoras is famously quoted as saying. [6] With this similarity with Vatican II we have arrived at the forth signpost on our way to Crete.

The First Pan Orthodox Pre-Concilar Conference in 1976 (to which St. Justin wrote in response) decided, perhaps inspired by the example of Vatican II (which the Pope wanted “free from dogmatism”), to not directly address the dogmas and the canons of the Church, but nonetheless to make decisions of a theological and ecclesiological (i.e. essentially dogmatic) nature based upon them. [7]

Thus, we have a double-minded, mixed-message coming from the organizers: one the one hand it is a “non-dogmatic” council (unheard of) and yet, on the other hand, decisions made will be of a theological and ecclesiological nature.

In effect, this sends a message to the faithful, not only to the laymen but also to clergy, even bishops, which mollifies them and neutralizes vigilance. It is as if to say: “nothing to see here, keep calm and move along,” when in actuality there is a new ecclesiology, a new dogmatic teaching as to what constitutes the Church, being expressed and sanctioned.

Contrast this with the approach of the Holy Fathers, both to the need to “dogmatize” in order to confront schism and heresy (there is no shortage of either in our day!) and to the purpose of the Oecumenical Council.

St. Justin explains:

“Historical reality is perfectly clear: the holy Councils of the Holy Fathers, summoned by God, always, always had before them one, or at the most, two or three questions set before them by the extreme gravity of great heresies and schisms that distorted the Orthodox Faith, tore asunder the Church and seriously placed in danger the salvation of human souls, the salvation of the Orthodox people of God, and of the entire creation of God. Therefore, the ecumenical councils always had a Christological, soteriological, ecclesiological character, which means that their sole and central topic – their Good News – was always the God-Man Jesus Christ and our salvation in Him, our deification in Him.”

The irony and tragedy of the matter lies in the fact that we are faced with “the extreme gravity of a great heresy” which has distorted the Orthodox Faith and is tearing asunder the Church and even depriving many of salvation. This heresy is, of course, the pan-heresy of the new ecumenist ecclesiology which denies the Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity and Apostolicity of the Church. Instead of following Vatican II in embracing this new anti-ecclesiology a council should be called in order to decisively denounce it and clearly proclaim anew the diachronic patristic vision of the Body of Christ.

5. Support of the Ecumenical Movement

In direct opposition to such an appropriate and Orthodox response to syncretistic ecumenism, the Pan Orthodox Council is once again in harmony and in step with Vatican II in not only a positive assessment of ecumenism but continued and deepening participation in the movement. This alignment is the fifth signpost on our way to a proper understanding of the coming Council.

In spite of the fact that Orthodox participation in ecumenism has always been, and is today, a cause of division among Orthodox Christians, that two Local Orthodox Churches have long removed themselves from the World Council of Churches and that many bishops and clergy have consistently called for an end to continued compromise and humiliation of the Orthodox in that body, the organizers of the Council and drafters of its texts are unperturbed and unwavering in their support and promotion of it.

6. The Dominant Role Played by Academic Theologians

The sixth signpost which one can observe on the way Crete is the predominant role of academic theologians in the formation of the texts under consideration.

Following the example of Vatican II, the texts of the Pan-Orthodox Council have been prepared by a committee of academically trained theologians and hierarchs, sent as representatives of the Local Churches.

With regard to the Vatican’s council, it is widely recognized that the academic theologians “were the engineers of the massive reforms that were initiated at Vatican II.” [8] Their contribution “was remarkable. . . . The bishops of Vatican II were aware of the importance of the theologians.” [9] The Council extended official acceptance to their decades of work for the renovation of theology, and in particular, of ecclesiology.[10]

With regard to the Pan Orthodox Council, something very similar is at work. The entire pleroma of the Church – laity, monastics, clergy and even hierarchs and even the hierarchy of the Local Churches – have largely been left out of the process. A small group of academic theologians have been the guiding hand which has shaped the texts to be submitted for ratification in Crete.

Indicative of the limited participation of hierarchs, not to mention monastics or clergy, is the fact that the final texts, although approved in committee in October of last year, were not made known to the hierarchs and faithful until late January of 2016. This, however, did not preclude select academic theologians in Thessaloniki and Athens from gaining access to the final texts and presenting papers on them in December.

While the domination of academic theologians in the West, at the Second Vatican Council cannot be considered either a break with past practice or particularly problematic (indeed it is hailed as a great and positive contribution), for the Orthodox, for whom a theologian is one who prays, to have academic theologians guiding the bishops is an apostasy from Orthodox epistemology and a sign that Barlaamism has once again raised its deluded head. We must not forget that at every turn in the history of the Councils at which orthodoxy was proclaimed “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit” and to ascetic bishops – not to philosophizing scholastics who had no relation to neptic (νηπτική) theology and practice.

Ecclesiological Convergence: Following Vatican II, not the Holy Fathers

Let us now turn our attention to the essence of Pan Orthodox Council and in particular to the convergence one can observe with respect to the two councils’ approach to ecclesiological-dogmatic matters.

To begin with, one is struck with the convergence, or rather, total identification with regard to the stance taken on the various heresies. The texts of the Second Vatican Council, and those of the Pan Orthodox Council, make no reference at all to heresies or delusions, as if the spirit of delusion is no longer at work in our day. [11] The Fathers in every age and at every Local and Ecumenical Council had this one basic task: the awakening of the ecclesiastical conscience. They took care to direct the attention of the fullness of the Church to the adulteration and corruption of the Revelation of the Gospel from “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29), from those “speaking perverse things” (Acts 20:30), from “false prophets” (2 Pet. 2:1), and from “damnable heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). Both the Second Vatican Council and the Pan Orthodox Council stand opposite this established apostolic, patristic and synodical practice of the Church: they name no delusion, no heresy, no falsification of ecclesiastical teaching and life! On the contrary, in the proposed texts of the Pan Orthodox Council, and in particular, in the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church to the Rest of the Christian World,” heretical diversions from the teaching of the Fathers and Ecumenical Councils are characterized as simply “traditional theological differences” and “possible new disagreements” (§ 11), which the Orthodox Church and the heterodox are called upon to “overcome”! The influence here of the Second Vatican Council and its Decree on Ecumenism is obvious![12]

Secondly, the Pan Orthodox Council, following the Second Vatican Council and moving within “new circumstances” (§ 4) in which supposedly heresies do not exist, took the unprecedented initiative to officially invite to be present as “observers” at the Council, heterodox “representatives of Christian Churches or Confessions, with which the Orthodox Church conducts Bi-Lateral Dialogues, as well as from other Christian organizations.” [13] Never, in the two-thousand year history of the Church, have heterodox “observers” representing heresies which have been condemned by Ecumenical Councils and the ecclesiastical conscience been present at a local or Ecumenical Council. This novel idea of having “observers” was only introduced 50 years ago at the papal council, the Second Vatican Council. A Pan Orthodox Council, however, should not have as its model papal practices, methods and measures.

Another characteristic similarity between the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Pan Orthodox Council is the use of ambiguous and questionable terminology which allows for varied or even opposing interpretations.

The most famous of such contested phrases from the Second Vatican Council is found in the dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium where a decisive change was made to the definition of the Church.

In order to be consistent with a new view of the separated churches, Lumen Gentium dropped an absolute and exclusive identity between the Church of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church, as had been traditionally asserted. [14] The preparatory commission to the council in its opening session of 1962 had made the following statements in the schema De Ecclesia: “The Roman Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ . . . and only the one that is Roman Catholic has the right to be called Church.” [15]

This simple identification of the Church of Christ with the Roman Catholic Church, which had also been repeatedly stated in papal encyclicals [16] . . . was replaced with the statement that “the Church of Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church.” [17]

Not long ago, fifty years after the council, the head of ecumenical relations at the Vatican, Cardinal Kasper, was forced to admit that “the interpretation of [subsists in] amounts to ‘Desideratum’ [something still desired] and includes amphoteric elements which accept twofold interpretations; it is at once inclusive and exclusive.” [18]

Hence, it is not without reason, then, that many speak of a double standard and a duplicitous stance on the part of the authors of the Council’s texts. It cannot be an accident that the Second Vatican Council, especially in the texts of Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio, is claimed as the source for both those who advance an “exclusive” ecclesiology and those who advance an “inclusive” ecclesiology. For, as a leading ecumenist professor in Thessaloniki has written, “they use the same sources, but come to entirely different conclusions.” [19]

Allow me to provide another example from the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Although Lumen Gentium established new criteria for participation in the Church, even a new view of the Church itself, it did not discard the traditional view of the unity of the Church either; it simply no longer applies it to non–Roman Catholics. In Lumen Gentium, the two views follow one after another.

Hence, full participation in the unity of the Church, for Roman Catholics, is described in article 14 of Lumen Gentium. Immediately following this, in article 15, we read of the unity in Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the mysteries of the Church— the “multiple internal links” that establish the separated brethren in an incomplete communion.

In accord with this twofold unity, Rome continues to view itself as the only “concrete manifestation” of the Church—the Church willed by Christ—while non–Roman Catholic churches are churches only in a diminished way (see UR 3d and e).

However, strangely, no matter how “weakened” or “wounded” (See Dominus Iesus) they are supposed to be, these churches are said to have fully legitimate mysteries. [20] Fully united with Christ, their unity with and in the Church is, nonetheless, imperfect. Such a state, hitherto unheard of, is stated but left unexplained. Whatever may be lacking, they are a part of the Church. Schismatics and heretics can be united to Christ and become members of the Body of Christ without, however, being members of the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox are all a part of the One Church, even if at varying degrees of fullness.

As Fr. Francis Sullivan writes, summing up the image of the universal Church of Christ created by the new ecclesiology:

One can think of the universal Church as a communion, at various levels of fullness, of bodies that are more or less fully churches. . . . It is a real communion, realized at various degrees of density or fullness, of bodies, all of which, though some more fully than others, have a truly ecclesial character. [21]

It is crucial to keep this idea of the Church in mind when I will read from the pre-synodical draft text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.” In the warped ecumenical ecclesiological double-speak of post-Vatican II ecumenism, the mere identification of the Orthodox Church with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church does not preclude the simultaneous recognition of other Churches as possessing an “ecclesial nature” or even as being “more or less fully churches.” Such an unorthodox reading is, of course, quite likely when the text makes particular references to heterodox confessions as “churches.”

Before we examine the relevant portions of the Pan Orthodox Council texts and the ecclesiological convergence observed therein, allow me to pause and share with you a personal anecdote to throw our subject into relief.

Lest we think that the texts of the Council are rather insignificant and any possible ambiguity in them will play a minor role in the future life of the Church, listen to the following plea I received from a thoughtful Roman Catholic observer.

He wrote:

“To my friends in the Orthodox Christian Church, take extreme care for this Great and Holy Synod…otherwise it will be to Orthodoxy what Vatican II was to the [Roman] Catholic Church of the 1960’s. That is, because of the ambiguity of language of the documents of the Council it was the catalyst for the Apostasy we now face in the West… Most especially it is responsible for the false witness of our hierarchy up to and including this current Pope. Be vigilant, strong, and Faithful to Christ and His Church. Don’t let what happened … as a result of Vatican II, despite the best efforts of some clergy and laity, happen to the [Orthodox] Church. The few who remain Faithful within [our] Church have derisively been labelled “traditional” Catholics …their pre-Vatican II faith and practice is now openly mocked by the main body of the Novus Ordo, (or New Order of the Conciliar Church) and we have been and are increasingly marginalized in our services and fellowship with other [Roman] Catholics. I pray that you remain always faithful to the Orthodox, traditions, doctrines and Dogmas.

Note the order of things according to this observer:

The ambiguity of the texts are seen as the catalyst:

1. for apostasy
2. enabling of a false witness from some hierarchs
3. and a marginalization of the faithful

Let us now turn to the relevant portions of the most problematic text submitted to the Council, “Relations of the Orthodox Church to the rest of the Christian World” to see the same ambiguity at work as in the texts of the Second Vatican Council.

As has already been pointed out by venerable hierarchs and theologians, including Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktou and Professor Demetrios Tselingides, this pre-synodical text displays recurrent theological ambiguity, inconsistency and contradiction.

In the first article it proclaims the ecclesiastical self-identity of the Orthodox Church, considering Her to be the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” In article six, however, a contradictory statement is made, that the “the Orthodox Church recognizes the historic existence of other Christian Churches and Confessions not in communion with Her.”

The question arises: If the Church is “One”, as we confess in the Symbol of Faith, as is commemorated in article 1 this text, then what is meant by referring to other Christian “Churches” in a text purported to express Orthodox ecclesiology?

As Professor Tselingides has written, “Considering things from a dogmatic perspective it is not possible to speak about a plurality of “Churches” with different dogmas, and this, indeed, with regard to many different theological issues. Consequently, as long as these “Churches” remain firm in the erroneous beliefs of their faith, there is no theological justification to grant them ecclesial recognition —and this officially —outside of the “‘One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.’”

In a dogmatic text of this nature it should be obvious that the term “Church” must be used strictly in accordance with the Orthodox meaning of the word, so as to exclude any possible misinterpretation. Given the unorthodox ecclesiological paradigm of post-Vatican II ecumenism, which we alluded to earlier, there is sufficient basis for the hierarchs of the Local Churches to reject this draft text on relations with the Heterodox.

In this same article (#6), we find another instance of serious theological ambiguity and contradiction. At the outset we read that “According to the ontological nature of the Church, it is impossible for [Her] unity to be shattered.” At the end, however, it is written that, by Her participation in the Ecumenical Movement, the Orthodox Church has as its “objective aim the paving of the way which leads toward unity.”

This particular instance of ambiguity and contradiction reminds one of articles 14 and 15 in Lumen Gentium, mentioned earlier, where two opposing visions of the Church are presented successively.

In this instance, the unity of the Church is initially acknowledged as a given, only to be followed by the idea that unity is what is still being sought. Again, to quote Professor Tselingides: “What type of unity of Churches is being sought in the context of the Ecumenical Movement? Does it perhaps mean the return of Western Christians to the ONE and only Church? Such a meaning, though, does not emerge either in the letter or the spirit of the entire text. On the contrary, indeed, the impression is given that there exists a long-established division in the Church and that the prospects of the [Ecumenical] dialogues focus on the disrupted unity of the Church.”

Our final example is the theological confusion caused by the ambiguity in article 20, which reads:

“The prospects of the theological dialogues of the Orthodox Church with the other Christian Churches and Confessions shall always be determined on the basis of Her canonical criteria of the already established ecclesiastical tradition (canon seven of the Second Ecumenical Council and canon 95 of the Quinisext Council).”

Why were these canons cited? These canons address the reception of specific heretics that had demonstrated their desire to join the Orthodox Church. However, as Professor Tselingides has pointed out, “it is apparent from the letter and spirit of the text, as judged from a theological perspective, that there is no discussion whatsoever of the return of the heterodox to the Orthodox Church, the only Church.”

So, why are these canons cited as basis for our theological dialogues with the Heterodox? The answer supplied by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktou and Professor Tselingides is that the aim of this article (#20) is to subtly insert so-called “baptismal theology” through the “back door” into the Council’s texts. Given the great ambiguity of the text, one may think that our answer is based solely upon our deductions. Rather, we were led to this conclusion based upon on the initial explanations given by leading ecumenist theologians Professor Tsompanides of the Theological School of Thessaloniki and Metropolitan Chrysostom of Messenia.

The recent reply of Metropolitan Chrysostom to our original criticisms presents us with another opportunity to show that the academic theologians in service of the Pan Orthodox Council are, like their predecessors at Vatican II, adept in the art of double speak.

Metropolitan Chrysostom, in his memorandum to the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church of Greece [22] regarding the text in question refers to article 20 and angrily insists that in no way is it related to “baptismal theology.”

Metropolitan Chrysostom, having sharply dismissed his critics as “theologically inept” for suggesting any adoption of “baptismal theology” on his part, then writes the following: “The ‘kat’oikonomian’ reception of the heterodox by the Orthodox Church, either by confession of faith or by Chrismation, implies the ‘kat’oikonomian’ acceptance of their baptism as valid and real, not, however, of all of the other mysteries or the particular Confession…”

This is, in fact, a fairly accurate description of “baptismal theology” which the Metropolitan insists he rejects. The Metropolitan could easily be mistaken as describing the common baptism theory of Vatican II, which views non-Roman Catholic baptism not only as preserving the form but as also communicating the reality of the mystery. His words also remind one of the uniquely Augustinian principle that heretics had the sacramentum (sign) but not the res sacramenti (the reality it conveys), with the decisive difference that the Metropolitan rather holds that they had both the sacramentum, or τύπος, and the res sacramentum, or reality of the τύπος.

In any case, what is clear is that Metropolitan Chrysostom and all who may hold that a valid and real baptism exists outside the Church – including the drafters of the pre-synodical text – cannot be mistaken for presenting the Orthodox teaching which refuses to divide Christ, refuses, that is, to separate the Mysteries, since Christ is all in all and every Mystery is an expression of the One Mystery, Who is Christ. Simply put, there can be no acceptance, even ‘kat’oikonomian’, of partial initiation or participation in the One Christ. For the Orthodox, an authentic Mystery takes place within the bounds of the One Church with full, not partial, fidelity to the faith and practice of the Church.

All of the foregoing (and much more which could be cited) supports the statement made by the Abbot and brothers of Karakalou Monastery on Mt. Athos concerning the texts of the Great and Holy Council, namely, that the pre-synodical texts are “ambiguous and allow for interpretations which divert from Orthodox dogma.”

In conclusion allow me to bring to your attention the following judgements made forty years ago by two ecclesiastical men of exceptional insight and discernment of the spirits of this age.

The first, Fr. Seraphim Rose, was at the time but a monk writing from the wilderness of northern California, far from the pre-synodical commissions and committees. Yet, his judgement has withstood the test of time and comes to confirm for us that little has changed from the first to the last with regard to the Council:

He writes in 1976:

“Measured by the sober standard of unchanging, Patristic Orthodoxy, the preparations for an “eighth Ecumenical Council” (now termed Pan-Orthodox Council) are exposed as un-Orthodox, lacking in seriousness, and profoundly unpastoral and irresponsible. Such a Council is a project rooted not in Orthodox wisdom and in heartfelt concern for the salvation of souls, but rather in the “spirit of the times”; it is intended to please, not God, but the world, and in particular the heterodox world. Judging from the experience of the Vatican Council and its effect on Roman Catholicism, such a Council, if it is held, will produce profound disorders and anarchy in the Orthodox world…the proposed “Ecumenical Council,” on the basis of the preparations that have hitherto been made for it, cannot be anything but another “robber council,’ a betrayal of Christ and His Church.”[23]

Writing about the same time (1976) and in total agreement, the great dogmatician and Confessor of the Faith, Saint Justin Popovich pleaded with his hierarchy to abstain not only from the preparations but from the Council itself, foreseeing the most bitter fruits from its convening:

“My conscience once more obliges me to turn with insistence and beseeching to the Holy Council of Bishops of the martyred Serbian Church: let our Serbian Church abstain from participating in the preparations for the “ecumenical council,” indeed from participating in the council itself. For should this council, God forbid, actually come to pass, only one kind of result can be expected from it: schisms, heresies and the loss of many souls. Considering the question from the point of view of the apostolic and patristic and historical experience of the Church, such a council, instead of healing, will but open up new wounds in the body of the Church and inflict upon her new problems and new misfortunes.” [24]

Reverend Fathers, beloved in Christ,

This powerful prophetic voice of the great Confessor of our Faith, Saint Justin, remains today, after forty years, exceptionally relevant and authentic. The events of the last four decades have only confirmed the right judgement of the Saint. Moreover, all that has been presented to you tonight, namely,

· the beginning and the methodology of the Council,

· the insistent avoidance of discussion of the dogmatic challenges facing the Church (including ecumenism),

· the absence of experiential (true) theologians,

· the characterization of heresy as “Churches”, the invitation of the leaders of the heresies to be present as “observers”,

· the recognition of the baptism (and by extension other mysteries) of heretical confessions, as well as their “ecclesial nature”,

confirms the apprehensions of many that the Pan Orthodox Council does not fulfil the presuppositions to be received in the ecclesiastical consciousness as “following the Holy Fathers.”

On the contrary, as we have shown above, the Council has been decisively influenced by the ecclesiological positions and practices of the Vatican and, on this account, tends toward being received by the Faithful as merely “following the Second Vatican Council.”

[1] This lecture was delivered to the Diakideio Institute for the Education of the People in Patra, Greece, May 18, 2016.

[2] «Το ποιός, σε τελική ανάλυση, επηρέασε ποιόν, σήμερα δεν είναι πλέον δυνατόν να διαπιστωθεί.» (Maria Brun, «O αντίκτυπος της Β′ Βατικάνειας Συνόδου στην Όρθόδοξη Εκκλησία», στο περιοδικό Θεολογία, Τόμος 86, Τεύχος 2, Απρίλιος – Ιούνιος 2015).
[3] Brun, «O αντίκτυπος της Β′ Βατικάνειας Συνόδου στην Όρθόδοξη Εκκλησία».

[4] See:

[5] Council Coming for Orthodox”, interview by Desmond O’Grady, The National Catholic Reporter, in the January 21, 1977 edition. See also:

[6] This also reminds one of the famous expression of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, himself responsible for calling the first Pan-Orthodox preparatory meetings: “The age of dogma has passed” (a statement by Patriarch Athenagoras; see Akropolis [29 June 1963]) and “Dogmas are the power of the Church, her wealth, and for this reason we keep our wealth in a vault. But this in no way impedes us from minting a new coinage with the other Churches: ‘the coinage of love….’” (Declared after the meeting between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI (Jerusalem, January 6, 1964).)

[7] «H Α ΠΠΔ αποφάσισε το 1976 να αφήσει αμετάβλητα τα δόγματα και τους κανόνες…και να λάβει, επί τη βάσει αυτών, θεολογικής και εκκλησιολογικής φύσεως αποφάσει» (Maria Brun).

[8] Swidler, Leonard, ‘The Context: Breaking Reform by Breaking Theologians and Religious,’ in The Church in Anguish: Has the Vatican Betrayed Vatican II?, ed. by Hans Kung and Swidler, ἔκδ. Harper and Row, San Francisco 1987, σσ. 189-192 (σ. 189), ὅπως ἀναφέρεται στὸν Gabriel, Yves Congar’s Vision, σ. 57

[9] Congar, Yves, Le Theologien dans l’Eglise aujourd’hui, σ. 12, as quoted in Gabriel, Yves Congar’s Vision, σ. 57

[10] Βλ: Mettepenningen, Nouvelle Théologie. «[Ἡ ἐπιρροή τους, ὅπως μποροῦμε νὰ δοῦμε ἀπὸ τὶς acta τῆς Συνόδου καὶ τὰ ποικίλα Συνοδικὰ ἡμερολόγια, ἀποδείχθηκε ἐξόχως σημαντικὴ» (σ. 6). Βλ. ἐπίσης: Guarino, Thomas G., Foundations of Systematic Theology. ἔκδ. T&T Clark, New York 2005), σ. 288

[11] The Third Pan Orthodox Conference (Chambessy 1986) did not dare to adopt the phrase “heterodox Christians.” According to the minutes of the meeting, Metropolitan George of Mt. Lebanon stated: “I was ready to suggest the term “heterodox Christians”, but perhaps we are able to find an even more moderate expression.” The president of the meeting, Metropolitan Chrysostom of Myron, responded: “Let us avoid using the term “heterodox.”! (Συνοδικά ΙΧ, σ. 251).

[12] See Unitatis Redintegratio § 3,4 and Protopresbyter Peter Heers, The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II (Uncut Mountain Press, 2015), 271-76.

[13] According to the decision of the Primates (Jan. 21-28, 2016) the following will be invited to be present as representatives: 1) two from the Roman Catholic Church, 2) one from the Coptic Church, 3) one from the Ethiopian Church, 4) one from the Armenian Church, 5) one from the Catholicos of Cilicia, 6) one from the Syro-Jacobite Church, 7) one from the Anglican Church, 8) the Archbishop of the Old Catholics of the Union of Utrecht, 9) one from the worldwide Lutheran Federation, 10) the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches and the Head of the Faith and Order Commission, 11) the President of the European Council of Churches, 12) the General Secretary of the Middle Eastern Council of Churches, and 13) the President of the Council of the Evangelical Church of Germany.

[14] The official explanation given to the bishops by the Theological Commission to explain this change shows that it was made to agree with the new consideration of the non–Roman Catholic mysteries and communions as such. The Commission said the change was made “so that the expression might better agree with the affirmation about the ecclesial elements which are found elsewhere.” Sullivan, Francis A., S.J. “The Significance of the Vatican II Declaration that the Church of Christ ‘Subsists in’ the Roman Catholic Church.” In René Latourelle, editor, Vatican II: Assessment and Perspectives, Twenty-five Years After (1962– 1987). Volume 2. New York: Paulist Press, 1989, 274.

[15] Sullivan, Significance, 273.

[16] For example, Pope Pius XII, in both Mystici Corporis (1943) and Humani generis (1950), made it very clear that the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church of Christ, and the Roman Catholic Church were one and the same thing.

[17] Lumen Gentium 8.

[18] Τσομπανίδης, Στυλιανός Χ. [Tsombanidis, Stylianos X.]. Η Διακήρυξη “Dominus Iesus” και η Οικουμενική Σημασία της [The declaration “Dominus Iesus” and its ecumenical meaning]. Πουρναρά: Θεσσαλονίκη, 2003, 122– 23.

[19] Τσομπανίδης, Ἡ Διακήρυξη Dominus Iesus, 82.

[20] This is apparent, for example, in UR 15a: “through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in each of these [Orthodox] Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature.”

[21] Sullivan, “The Significance of the Vatican II Declaration that the Church of Christ ‘Subsists in’ the Roman Catholic Church,” 283 (emphasis added). Likewise, according to I. Spiteri, “[ from a reading of the encyclical UUS] a new image of the Church emerges, a Church which is constituted by a communion of Churches, in which, in some way, all Christian Churches belong.” Ἰ. Σπιτέρης, “Ἡ Καθολική Ἐκκλησία καὶ οἱ ἄλλες χριστιανικές Ἐκκλησίες” [The Catholic Church and the other Christian Churches], Θ. Κοντίδης (ἐπιμ.), (Ὁ Καθολικισμος, Ἀθήνα 2000), 246.

[22] See:

[23] The Orthodox Word, Nov.-Dec. 1976 (71), 184-195 (

[24] Ορθόδοξος Τύπος, 304/10.2.1978, σ. 4. In English:

On Monotonic and Polyphonic Chant

athos_chantBishop Chrysostomos
 Former Archbishop and Metropolitan Emeritus of Etna

It is well known that in 1846, Patriarch Anthimos VI, who between 1845 and 1873 served three non-consecutive terms on the Ecumenical Throne, issued an encyclical, together with his Bishops, in November of that year, decrying and disallowing the introduction of polyphonic singing in four parts (tetraphony) into the Greek Orthodox Church. A document purported to be the text of this official encyclical has been in circulation for some time and has been variously translated into English. The most common and widespread English translation of it appears under the title, “An Official Condemnation of Four-Part Harmony: An Encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” It is fairly adequately translated, though with a few imprecise and awkward exceptions. The document vigorously maintains that Byzantine chant, or monotonic singing, was handed down by the Fathers of the Church and that the introduction of secular music, and specifically tetraphonic singing, into the solemnity of Orthodox worship violates canonical prescriptions against innovations in what is established ecclesiastical tradition. It concludes with an appeal propter fidem to guard the traditions of the Church and to accept, by way of abolishing the innovation of tetraphony, the counsel of the Patriarch and his Synod, so as to enjoy continuing ecclesiastical praise and accolades.

In fact, the document in question is not an official synodal condemnation of four-part harmony; nor is it an official synodal encyclical. It is, rather, simply a letter of exhortation. The misleading title appended to both the Greek and English texts of the document, identifying it as a “condemnation of four-part harmony” and calling it a “Patriarchal encyclical,” is taken from the title of an article (dubbed a chronicle) in the famous monthly Orthodox publication, Kιβωτός, or The Ark (defunct since 1955), in which the celebrated defender of Byzantine music and Iconography, Photios Kontoglou, often published. The article, written by Alexander Pa- pademetriou, is entitled, “Over a Hundred Years Ago: An Official Condemnation of Tetraphony,” and features a reprint of, and comments on, the exhortatory letter. The reproduction of this untitled letter (as Papademetriou correctly identifies it), is directed to “the Most devout Priests, most holy Hieromonks, most noble dignitaries, most valued merchants, and all other blessed Christians constituting the Orthodox community of Capella in Vienna” [translation mine], and is dated November 5, 1846 (Old Style). It was prompted by a decision of the Orthodox Greeks in Vienna to ban traditional monophonic singing and replace it with western polyphonic music. Constantine Cavarnos sums up this innovation as follows:

“Four-part harmony, which the Russians took from the Western Church, was introduced in certain Greek churches in the nineteenth century. The first to introduce it in a Greek church were the Greeks of Vienna. In 1844, these people officially abolished Byzantine chanting and introduced four-part harmony into the two Greek Orthodox churches of Vienna. Afterwards, four-part harmony was introduced in Pest, Baden, Alexandria, Athens, and elsewhere”.

The aforementioned letter of exhortation was not, again, an official condemnation of tetraphony as such. While certainly judging four-part singing to be inappropriate for Church use, it was an admonition (note the phrase “we paternally advise you”) to reverse or rescind the decision of the Greek community in Vienna to cease using traditional Greek Orthodox chant. This becomes quite clear when one expertly examines the complex history of Byzantine chant… The Vienna Greek community’s innovation did not spread to other Greek communities in Europe because it had suddenly given voice to a new idea. Deviations from the strictest canons of Byzantine music were already known elsewhere in the Greek diaspora, and polyphony made its debut in Vienna as early as 1808, with the introduction of instruction in tetraphonic singing. This corresponded to an equally strong, if less studied, movement towards polyphony among the influential Greeks of Trieste. It was the precipitous proscription of the use of traditional Byzantine chant on the part of the Greek community in Vienna—and this in manifestly disrespectful and supercilious written exchanges with the Patriarchate, expressing patently anserine arguments against Byzantine music in favor of the putatively more sophisticated music of the West—that so roused the attention of Constantinople and triggered the letter in question.

The notion that, in reaction to some hitherto unknown assault against the monolithic use of ancient Byzantine chant, the Patriarchate suddenly issued an encyclical, on November 5, 1846, universally condemning, urbi et orbi, the use of four-part harmony throughout the Orthodox Church is simply not the case. This is a myth created by the confusion of the letter of November 5, as we shall see, with an actual Patriarchal proclamation on tetraphony in the same month. This is an important point, since the Patriarch’s exhortatory letter must be understood in the context of the specific events and exchanges that led to its promulgation. Constantinople’s official comments on four-part harmony, while related to the exchanges with the Greek community in Vienna, have a different and broader etiology, rationale, and aim, and thus they must be separately evaluated. Once again, the letter directed specifically to the Viennese Greeks had an undeniable pastoral tone and implored the two Orthodox communities there to return to and preserve the traditions of the Greek Church, thus maintaining the unity of Greeks beyond its borders with a nation that had only sixteen years earlier been recognized by the London Protocol as a sovereign state, after a long and bloody war of independence against the Ottoman Empire. The official proclamation on tetraphony, while certainly a reaction to ecclesiastical innovation among the Greeks in Europe, was a more nuanced statement than it may seem; it also addressed other concerns of the Œcumenical Patriarchate by way of the issue of innovation in Church singing.

The official proclamation on tetraphony by the Patriarchate in Constantinople—and I have a copy of the original before me— is entitled: Ἐγκύκλιος Πατριαρχικὴ καὶ Συνοδικὴ Ἐπιστολή: Kα- ταργοῦσα καὶ ἀπaγορεύουσα τὴν καινοτόμον εἴσαξιν καὶ χρῆσιν τῆς καινοφανοῦς τετραφώνου μουσικῆς ἐν ταῖς ἱεραῖς ἀκολου- θίαις τῶν ἁπανταχοῦ ὀρθοδόξων [sic] Ἐκκλησιῶν (A patriarchal and synodal encyclical letter: Rescinding and forbidding the innovative introduction and usage of the newly appeared tetraphonic music in the sacred services of orthodox churches everywhere”). The title page indicates that it is produced under the “care and supervision” (προνοίᾳ καὶ φροντίδι) of “His All-Holiness, Œc- umenical Patriarch Lord Lord Anthimos and the Holy and Sacred Synod.” The title page on the ten-page pamphlet indicates that it is “From the Press of the Nation at the Patriarchate in Constantinople,” and the publication is dated November (Kατὰ Nοέμβριον) 1846. I have translated the word “καταργοῦσα” as “rescinding”— one of its uses—instead of “abolishing,” thereby emphasizing that it, like the letter of November 5, 1846, is in part a direct nullification of the egregious proscription, by the Greeks in Vienna, of the use of Byzantine music in their two Churches. At the same time, it effectively underscores the fact that this official encyclical from the Patriarchate is not some Taliban-like condemnation in vacuo of polyphony, as various individuals, not a few overly zealous, have made it out to be, and particularly by associating it with the letter of exhortation issued to the Viennese Greek communities.

…[H]aving looked, now, at the more immediate and primary historical context of the 1846 letter to the Greek community in Vienna and the Patriarchal Encyclical on Byzantine chanting and Orthodox Church singing, allow me to make some more gen- eral remarks about chanting and psalmody. In the first three centuries of Christian monasticism, which came to influence much of our Orthodox worship, chanting was, if not discouraged, at least thought to be a distraction in spiritual life. The desert Fathers, for instance, who were more given to reading the Psalms than to singing them, were especially suspicious of ornate hymns or complex chants. In stark form, their admonitions against psalmody can be seen in the following excerpt from the Evergetinos, directed by Abba Pambo, a fourth-century Saint, to one of his disciples, who had heard what may well have been some primitive psalmodic counterpart of future asmatic Church services. His words are striking:

“The days are coming upon us when monks will abandon the strong food given to them by the Holy Spirit and chase after songs and melodies. . . . [M]onks have not come into this desert in order to inflate their minds, while standing in the presence of God, with the singing of Psalms…”

This trend was not a dominant one, obviously. However, it lingers in the Orthodox understanding of hymnography. St. John Chrysostomos, for example, calls our tongues the strings of a spiritual lyre, calling us to mortify the flesh and create a harmony of mind and soul, in order to create a spiritual melody. In so doing he calls us to “spiritualize” our Church music and to connect it to the inner life and what the Hesychasts would call the harmony of the body with the noetic quality and of bodily speech and song with the inner voice of mystical knowing. It is thus only natural that there lingers in the Orthodox world a suspicion of the secularized music of what it sees as the humanistic West. A fair-minded observer must live with this fact, factoring it into any consideration of proclamations like that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on tetraphony in 1846, neither understating nor overstating it.

Let me conclude by saying that I am unapologetic about my strong preference for Byzantine music, when properly, piously, and skillfully chanted by a humble Cantor with a good voice and the self-effacing demeanor famously attributed to St. John Koukouzeles. It subdues the emotions and enhances the spiritual faculties. I also immensely like traditional Slavic ecclesiastical music, including some that is sung polyphonically with worshipful piety, well, and without the flourish of the opera. The latter, I believe, appeals more greatly to the emotions, but the emotions, when cleansed and properly directed, can also bring us into basic spiritual intercourse with God. Nor do I argue that both kinds of music have no place in the concert hall, if respectfully presented. In the end, whatever music we sing, it must first adorn the Eucharistic celebration, which is central to all Church services, play an accessory rôle in its cel- ebration, and complement the “otherly” that dominates the Church’s sacred space. If operatic performances in Church can thwart that divine aim, so can arrogant Cantors, thinking themselves anything more than servants to the Liturgy and its priestly celebrants.

Likewise, if intransigence in resisting a moderate, intelligent view of the primacy of certain traditions of Church music can prove harmful to Holy Tradition, so can insistence on such traditions, when spawned by phyletism, narrow-mindedness, and an abuse of the historical context in which the Church lives. I thus advocate a use of multiple traditions, covered by the light of what is spiritually fruitful and respectful of the enduring standard. (A Few Remarks About Byzantine Chant as the Unique Standard of Orthodox Church Singing, Orthodox Tradition: Volume XXXIII, Number 1)

On the Mystery of Lawlessness

1SR14__56007.1429296344.900.900Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina 1934-1982

St. Paul mentions the Apostasy, in 2 Thessalonians, he gives a second name for this movement or process. He calls it the “mystery of iniquity,” the “mystery of lawlessness.” He says the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, preparing for Antichrist, who is the “man of lawlessness.” As we look around in our twentieth century civilization, the word “lawlessness” or “anarchy” is perhaps the chief characteristic which identifies it.

…In the realm of moral teaching, it is quite noticeable, especially in the last twenty years or so, how lawlessness has become the norm. And even people in high positions within the clergy in various denominations of Catholics and Protestants, and so forth, are sometimes quite willing to justify all kinds of things which were previously considered immoral. Now there is considered something of a new morality, “situation ethics,” and so forth.

Solzhenitsyn mentions specifically in his Harvard lecture what happened in New York City three years ago when the electricity was cut off. He said: “The center of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin. Your social system must be quite unstable and unhealthy”. . . . Forty years ago in America, if the lights went out, people would have helped each other out, lit candles, and so forth. Now, instead, they go and break windows, loot, take everything they can get for themselves, kill people and get away with whatever they think they can get away with. Something has changed in a short time.

All this is a sign of what St. Paul calls the “mystery of lawlessness.” It is a mystery because a mystery is something which is not fully revealed in this world; it is something which comes from the other world. And the “mystery of righteousness” is the whole story of how Christ came from heaven and tried to save us. The mystery of lawlessness is the opposite: it is some kind of mystery coming up from hell, which breaks into this world and changes this world. Therefore, this mystery of lawlessness or anarchy is preparing for the coming of the man of lawlessness, who is Antichrist.

Even in politics and government– which make no sense at all unless you have the idea of order-this idea of lawlessness is entering in… (Signs of the End Times)

On Unity in Secular Unessentials

229365.bDr. Constantine Cavarnos 1918-2011

As far as various Protestant denominations are concerned, in view of the fact that they are very divided with respect to doctrines — there being as many Protestant “Faiths” as there are, so to speak, individual Protestants — “union” for them cannot consist in union in one and the same Christian Faith, but only in united activity in the pursuit of certain goals of a secular nature. This is why they keep postponing an answer to the request made by traditionalist Orthodox Christians for a clear, unambiguous definition of the term “union of the Churches”. They say, “Let us first seek unity, that is, united action, in the secular realm, and after this we can proceed to discussions of “union” in the Faith.

This approach obviously ignores Christ’s injunction: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat. 6:33). The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom of secular aims and values, but a Kingdom of spiritual Truth. For as Christ again says, “Ye shall know the Truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John. 8:32).

Father Florovsky has made a very apt remark on this approach in his book Ecumenism: A Doctrinal Approach. He says: “Would it not be an absurd situation, if Christians could have been at one in secular unessentials and still at variance in essentials? Would it not have suggested that all doctrinal or confessional disagreements were of no vital importance whatever? (Ecumenism Examined: A Concise Analytical Discussion of the Contemporary Ecumenical Movement, p. 61)

On Celebrating in Various Languages

Pazardjik Ss. Cyril Methodius Monument

Pazardjik Ss. Cyril Methodius Monument

Patriarch of Antioch Theodore Balsamon ca. 12th cent.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, states, “Or is God the God of Jews only and not also of Gentiles? Yes, of Gentiles also.” (Rom. 3:29) At any rate, those who are Orthodox in all things, even if they might be wholly bereft of Greek speech, shall celebrate in their own language with precise copies of the customary holy prayers translated from liturgical books with well-copied Greek letters. (The Sixty-Six Canonical Questions, Response to Question 6)

St. Basil the Great on Headcoverings

Basil the GreatSt. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

[W]omen, who forget the fear of God and scorn the everlasting fire, on that day when they were supposed to be sitting in their homes in remembrance of the resurrection, reflecting on that day when the heavens will be opened and the Judge will appear to us out of the heavens, as well as the trumpets of God, and the resurrection of the dead, and the just judgment, and the repayment to each according to his deeds… instead of pondering these things in their mind, purifying their hearts of wicked thoughts, washing away their past sins with tears, and preparing themselves to meet Christ on that great Day of His Appearing, instead of doing these things they shook off their yoke of slavery to Christ, ripped the veils of modesty from their heads, despised God, despised His angels, acted shamelessly at the sight of every male, tousling their hair, dragging their garments in trains and at the same time tinkling with their feet… (Isa. 3:16 LXX) (On Fasting and Feasts [Popular Patristic Series Book 50, (Kindle Locations 1990-1998]. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition)

[N]o man ought to pray or prophesy with his head covered; and no woman with uncovered head. (Moralia, Rule 56)

On Fr. Florovsky in Pop Culture

Tall and gaunt, he would appear in the long black cassock of an Orthodox priest on the Princeton campus. The erudite undergraduates, considerably more flexible in their dress, styled him“the Grand Inquisitor” —a fitting title, given his tendency to project a sense of doctrinal authority. At Princeton, the staff of the Firestone Library christened Florovsky a “patron saint of photocopying” for the countless hours he spent at the copy machine. Apparently his photocopying talent was so well known that he even became an inspiration for the 1976 Super Bowl commercial of the Xerox Corporation, featuring a monk busily copying medieval manuscripts (*). In this way, unawares, Florovsky contributed to raising the American advertising industry to a higher level of intellectual sophistication. (Gavrilyuk, Paul L. 2013-12-19. Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance [Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology] pp. 8-9. Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition)

(*) as reported by John W. Barker, “An Addendum”to John V. A. Fine, “Father Georges Florovsky in America,” in J. W. Barker (ed.), Pioneers of Byzantine Studies in America (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 2002), 123.

On Orthodox Arts and Holy Tradition

Hagia Sophia Imperial Gate Mosaic from wikimedia commons

Schemamonk Father Constantine (Cavarnos) 1918-2011

Everything is organically related. About the Church’s arts, for example… iconography addresses itself to our sense of sight, while music addresses itself to our sense of hearing, but both seek to express the same essence, the Orthodox Faith. Architecture has its own tradition, particularly recognizable in the dome, in the round arch, and by the surfaces that are used for the wall paintings, which other kinds of architecture, such as the Gothic, do not provide. The architecture of the Orthodox church is a very important element of the totality; in other words, all of these arts are organically interrelated, though using different media. The iconography, hymnody, music, and architecture of the Byzantine tradition are trying to convey the same thing. They have the same point of origin: they all spring from and are used to communicate the Orthodox Faith and make it apprehensible to the believer through the senses. Thus, you can see the organic unity of the fine arts of Orthodoxy. You can also see it in the appearance of the priest, the monk, the form of the prayers, and the Liturgy. All of these things are organically related to one another. If you say that traditional iconography is not essential, or the traditional music is secondary and can be replaced with organs or violins, while still retaining Orthodoxy—that’s not so! When you eliminate these things, what’s left? Soon you’ll begin toning down the dogmas because of minimalism or relativism. The Greeks have a word for this: xephtisma, “unravelment.” Your pants are torn in one place, you let that go, then the tear spreads out. If you don’t patch it up in time, it will spread more and more, and the whole garment then falls to pieces. So you have to mend it. If you don’t take the time to repair any kind of break from the Tradition, then the whole thing begins to fall apart. And that’s what has happened to much of the Orthodox world. It’s falling apart in this way, saying: This does not matter, that is not essential, that’s unimportant, that’s a convention, and so forth. (Unwavering Fidelity to Holy Tradition)



On Understanding the Divine Services

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite 1749-1809

[B]eware, brethren, the thought which the devil implants in some and which says: ‘you are unlettered and unlearned and do not understand what is said in church and so why do you submit to the Church in all things?’ You are answered, brethren, by an abba in the ‘Sayings of the Desert Fathers’, who tells you: ‘It may be that you do not understand what is said in church, but the devil does and quakes and fears and flees. I mean that you, too, even if you do not understand all the words spoken in church, you will understand a lot of them and benefit from them’. And I would add this: if you go often to church and hear divine words, the continuation of this is that, in time, you will understand what you – earlier – did not, as Chrysostom says, because God, seeing your willingness, will open your mind and illumine you to understand. (Χρηστοήθεια τῶν Χριστιανῶν, Rigopoulos Publications, Thessaloniki 1999, p. 305, footnote) 

On Secular Takeovers of the Church

St. Vladimir the Great ca. 958-1015

If anyone breaks my rule, whether he be my son or a servant, or anyone of my race or one of the boyars, and interferes in the ecclesiastical affairs of the Metropolitan, which I gave into the hands of the Metropolitan, and of the Church, and of the bishops in all the cities in accordance with the Canons, he will be judged and punished. If anyone tries to seize the judgment of the Church, he will be deprived of the name of Christian, and may all such be cursed by the Holy Fathers. (quoted V. Moss, “Church and State in Kievan Rus’. excerpted from Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), Russkaia Ideologia (The Russian Ideology), St. Petersburg, 1992, pp. 83-84)

On Orthodoxy and Black Americans

“The United States of America, after many years of union and peace, after gigantic material and moral development, are separated into two hostile camps. The Northern States, guided by true reason and evangelical principles, persistently seek the abolition of the slavery of the blacks. The Southern States, blinded by a badly understood material interest, obstinately and anti-Christianly seek the perpetuation of slavery. This war of ideas and physical interests is prosecuted to desperation. Bloody battles are delivered, but victory until the present is doubtful, and the return of peace does not seem near. But if we cast a careful eye upon the wonderful events of this age, we shall be inclined to believe that those who contend so nobly for the most unquestionable and humane rights, will, God helping them, reach the object of their desires.” (The Oriental Star)

Morgan traveled to Constantinople with a letter from the Philadelphia Greek community, which supported his ordination and also said that if he failed to establish a Black Orthodox parish, he was welcome to serve as their assistant pastor. So Morgan arrived in Istanbul, and he was interviewed by Metropolitan Joachim of Pelagoneia, one of the few bishops of the Patriarchate who knew English. Metropolitan Joachim recommended that Morgan be baptized, chrismated, ordained, and then sent back to America to “carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.” And so, in August, Morgan was baptized in front of three thousand people, and on the Feast of the Dormition, he was ordained a priest. He took the name “Father Raphael” in place of Robert. The Ecumenical Patriarchate sent him back to America with vestments, liturgical books, a cross, and twenty pounds sterling. He was given the right to hear confessions, but the Holy Synod denied his request for an antimension and Holy Chrism.

  • St. Nikolai Velimirovich preached in English at a Black church in Harlem in the 1920’s:

Metropolitan Amphilochius (Radovich):His sense of apostolic responsibility for all people and all nations can be explained. It is a fact that he was nearly the first [Orthodox] Christian bishop who preached Christ, in English, in the 20s of the twentieth century, to African Americans in Manhattan, New York [at St.Phillip’s Church in Harlem]. (The Theanthropic Ethos of Holy Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich. [kindle version])

Archbishop Iakovos would later explain that it was an obligation to speak up that led him to Selma: “We have fought oppressive and repressive political regimes, based on Christian principles, for centuries… A Christian must cry out in indignation against all persecution. That’s what made me walk with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. We are all responsible, and must continue to speak out.”

On Orthodox Russia

Met. Anthony on Mt. Athos in 1920

Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky 1863-1936

Russia is identified properly as an organism, as a people, as a powerful idea flowering through history. But what is our people in history and in its present circumstances? Is it an ethnic community? No. Russians define themselves before all else as a religious community, as a ecclesial community, which includes even Georgians and Greeks who are unable to speak the Russian language.

…It is clear that our people consider their spiritual forefathers not the ancient Russians, but the Greek Christians, and their enemies are our enemies. (Fr. J. Strickland, The Making of Holy Russia: The Orthodox Church and Russian Nationalism Before the Revolution pp. 129, 132)

On the Customs of the Italians

St. Meletios Galesiotes lived from ca. 1209-1286. He is known as Homologetes (the Confessor) because of his adamant resistance to the church union between Constantinople and Rome manufactured by Michael VIII Palaiologos at the Second Council of Lyons (1272-1274). St. Meletios compared the Emperor to Julian the Apostate and, like St. Maximus the Confessor, was imprisoned, exiled and had his tongue cut out. Between 1276 and 1280 he wrote a poem in political verse that was intended to present all of the essentials of the Orthodox faith in a single “gathering”. This article includes an edition and translation of Logos 3, part 1, “Against the Italians or Against the Latins”. An extensive commentary places the text within a large group of lists of Latin “errors” or “heresies”.

On the Idol of Caring What People Think

icon from Damascene Gallery

St. Ephrem the Syrian ca. 306-373

I have made shame an idol for myself…

A man’s neighbor has become his god: every moment he seeks to please him;

if he does wrong, he feels shame before him, if he does him an injury, he is afraid;

or if he does him some good, then he has spoiled that good by his thirst for praise.

Such a man has become an abject slave in all these ways.

The Good One gave us freedom, but we have reduced this to slavery.

May we exchange, for Your lordship, this overlord we have made for ourselves! (Hymns on Paradise, Hymn VII.31)

On Secularism, the Church and Family Life

Fr. Peter Heers

The Reverend Fr. Peter Heers, who received his doctorate from Aristotle University, Thessaloniki and has several children of his own, speaks from both personal experience and broad study on some of the most important issues in the Church today–spiritual life and salvation of the family in an age of secularism.

h/t to Ad Orientem


On the Dikerion and the Trikerion

Met. Hilarion of Volokolamsk

Special items of the hierarchical service are the dikerion and the trikerion. These are two hand-held, ornamental candlesticks in which two (dikerion) or three (trikerion) candles are placed. The use of the dikerion and trikerion at the patriarchal liturgy began in the twelfth century. [1] Originally these candlesticks were ascribed only to kings and patriarchs (and not to all bishops) as they were perceived as attributes reflecting the dignity of teaching. This is mentioned in the twelfth century by Theodore Balsamon, the patriarch of Antioch, who insisted that the right to bless the faithful with candlesticks belonged to kings, patriarchs, autocephalous archbishops of Bulgaria and Cyprus, and also a few metropolitans to whom the kings had given this right. [2]

Later the dikerion and trikerion came to be used by all hierarchs at church services. The trikerion is interpreted symbolically as an indication of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, while dikerion indicates the two natures of Jesus Christ. [3] Candles placed in the trikerion and dikerion may be connected at the top in such a way that a single flame is formed. A more common style has crossing candles whose top ends are directed in different directions. [4]

[1] Jacob, “Le chandelier a trois branches de l’eveque Pantoleon: A propos de l’inscription de Geroges de Gallipoli,” Bolletino della Badia greca di Grottaferata 53 (1999), 187-199.

[2]Theodore Balsamon Reflections, PG 138, 1016D-11017C.

[3]Simeon of Thessalonica Concerning the Holy Temple 59, 61. PG 155, 721BC.

[4] Deacon Mikhail Zheltov, “Dikirion” in Orthodox Encyclopedia, vol. 14, 693.

On Orthodox Temples and Holy Space

The House of God: A Consecrated Temple and a Consecrated People

Fr. Josiah Trenham speaks about the connection between the consecration of the church building and the consecration of people; in addition to addressing the abandonment of the theology of holy space by Roman Catholics post-Vat II and historically by Protestants. Length: 55:22

On the Sakkos and the Mitre

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

The Sakkos

The sakkos, from the Hebrew sakk meaning “sackcloth” was part of the emperor’s wardrobe in Byzantium. This garment had no sleeves and was donned over the head and buttoned on the sides. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, emperors began to give sakkos as a gift to patriarchs in Constantinople. Patriarchs often wore the sakkos only on Christmas, Pascha, and Pentecost. Several bishops began to wear the sakkos in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but the phelonion continued to be the traditional hierarchical vestment. [1] By this time the sakkos had a acquired short sleeves. Saint Gregory Palamas, the archbishop of Thessalonica, is depicted on icons wearing the omophorion and sakkos with short sleeves. Many Greek bishops began to wear the sakkos in the sixteenth century. By that time the sleeves of the sakkos had become longer, yet shorter than the sleeves of the sticharion.

It is difficult to determine exactly when bells first appeared on the sakkos. It is evident, however that they serve as a reminder of the bells worn by Aaron on his robe, that their sound “will be heard when Aaron is serving as a priest, entering and leaving the holy place before the Lord” (Ex. 28:30). Bells produce a ringing sound whenever the bishop moves around the church.

The sakkos first appeared in Russia no later than the fourteenth century as a liturgical vestment of Moscow’s metropolitans. The sakkos of Metropolitan Peter (1308-1326) is preserved to this day. It was sewn in 1322 from light-blue satin material on which crosses in circles are woven with gold. Both “large” and “small” sakkos survives from Metropolitan Photius (1409-1431). They are distinguished by their unusual richness of surface embroidery. After the establishment of the patriarchate in 1589, the sakkos became the vestment of Moscow’s patriarchs. The sakkos was worn in the seventeenth century by metropolitans and some archbishops. In 1705 it was established that all hierarchs of the Russian Church must wear the sakkos.

The Mitre

St. Cyril in ancient Alexandrian mitre

The mitre was not an attribute of the hierarch’s vestments during the earliest days. The scholar Aleksei Dmitrievsky believes “this adornment for the bishop’s head was made an article of their rank fairly recently”. He wrote that “nothing but a complete silence is maintained regarding the mitre in all ancient and later services for consecrating not only a bishop, but also a metropolitan and even a patriarch, which includes Greek, south-Slavic, and also our Slavonic-Russian service books, hand-written as well as printed and even those used in the practice of serving in the East and in Russia”. [2]

Although it is a relatively new phenomenon that the mitre is attributed to every bishop, the use of the mitre by individual hierarchs reaches back to deep antiquity. The origin of the mitre is found in the turban, the liturgical headdress of the Old Testament high priests. Saint John Chrysostom refers to the mitre is this very context. [3] There are numerous testimonies of the mitre as an attribute of the Alexandrian patriarchs. Saints Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria are often depicted in ancient frescoes wearing white hats having black crosses. It was the custom of the Alexandrian patriarchs to wear such mitres. During the time of Saint Simeon of Thessalonica (fifteenth century), many other bishops in the East wore mitres, but traditionally it was still considered an attribute primarily of the Alexandrian patriarch. To the question, “Why do bishops and priests, with the exception of the Alexandrian patriarch, serve with uncovered heads and why is it better to serve with an uncovered head,” Saint Simeon of Thessalonica answered:

All eastern hierarchs and priests, with the exception of the Alexandrian (patriarch), conduct the sacred serving with uncovered heads… But, perhaps, somebody will ask whether it is not irreverent that the Alexandrian patriarch covers his head with the sacred covering (Gr. hieron epikalymma) as do countless others in accordance with ancient tradition? I do not ask this, for those who act in this way (and it serves as a justification) act according to the most ancient, or more accurately – “most lawful” [4] – tradition. Actually, the “lawful” [5] high priest wore on his head a turban (Gr. kidarin), which is called a mitre (Gr. mitran), as bishops who wear it like to call it. Perhaps they have it as the likeness of the image of the crown of thorns of the Master and King – which was on his head. [6]

In the sixteenth century, when the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem celebrated the divine services together, only the Alexandrian patriarch wore a mitre. A Russian envoy present at the service in Constantinople in 1585 bore witness to this fact. [7] Performing the service alone, the patriarch of Constantinople donned a mitre shaped like a king’s crown. The mitre may have been a gift from one of the Byzantine emperors to the Constantinopolitan patriarch. Another possibility is that the patriarch of Constantinople began to wear the mitre after the fall of Byzantine Empire. “For Greek national self-love it was completely natural, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, to place the crown of the emperors, who no longer existed, on the head its ecumenical patriarch, the chief and single guardian of the interests of Orthodoxy and the nationality itself in the entire Muslim east.” [8] Gradually the patriarch of Constantinople passed the crown-shaped mitre down to other Greek bishops.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, only the patriarch wore a mitre during a cathedral service in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Russian traveler Arseny Sukhanov was present at the service on Holy Friday and was a witness to this fact:

Every metropolitan wore a sakkos, and all were without caps. [9] Furthermore, nobody wore a cap anywhere, except for the patriarch. They have no caps and never had any. The metropolitan of Nazareth, having a worn-out hat, humbly asked the sovereign if he might deign to order a new one made, and the bishop of Nazareth, when he had arrived, gave this sovereign’s cap to the patriarch as well as a sakkos. And from the beginning there were no caps in Nazareth and at the present time they will not wear them. And it is said that the patriarch, receiving it, pawned it. And while he was with us the metropolitan of Nazareth did not wear a cap when serving both with and without the patriarch. [10]

In 1642 the sovereign Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich presented a mitre to the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai which is preserved to this day in the monastery’s skevofilakia (room where the holy vessles are kept). It measures 20.5 cm (8.1 inches) in height, has a cross on top, and is adorned with eight icons, pearls, and precious stones. Another mitre, prepared in 1636 and presented to the monastery by Christians from the town of Yannin, has a height of 25.5 cm (10 inches). It is a magnificent work made of bronze and finished with precious stones, pearls, numerous icons, and depictions of cherubim. A third mitre, given to the monastery by “Protosyngellos” Nicephorus of Crete in 1678, has a height of 20.5 cm (8.1 inches) and besides precious stones and pearls, it is adorned with polychrome enamel.

Russian Old Rite Hierarchal Mitre

Originally the liturgical headdress of Russian hierarchs was the kukol (a rounded klobuk). Beginning in the fifteenth century, the mitre emerged in the service of Russian hierarchs, when it had the appearance of a prince’s hat. They were decorated with embroidery and precious stones and were sometimes lined with fur on the bottom. The Russian mitre-cap differed in shape from the crown-shaped Byzantine mitres. For this reason, the latter caused bewilderment for connoisseurs of church rituals. One such connoisseur who was present during the service of the patriarch of Jerusalem Theophan in Moscow in 1619 observed, “The cap he was wearing was without a border on black velvet… like a gilded crown with stones planted and with no depictions of saints, but on the top is placed a cross and on the sides four cherubim and seraphim.” [11] In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Greek hierarchs were pleased to receive Russian mitre-caps from Russian tsars, metropolitans, and patriarchs, but they did not use them but rather pawned them or refashioned them. Russian mitre-caps with sable linings did not conform to the eastern climate. [12]

The crown-shaped mitre appeared in Russia in the seventeenth century when it was adopted from Greek hierarchs by Patriarch Nikon in 1653. [13] All hierarchs in Russia began wearing mitres of that style. Mitres were also given to some archimandrites. This was made permissible by the decree of Peter the Great in 1705. In 1786 Catherine the Great awarded a mitre to her spiritual father, Archpriest John Pamphilov, and beginning in 1797, by the decree of Tsar Pavel I, the mitre came to be awarded to deserving archpriests as a mark of special distinction.

In contrast to the Greek Church in which all mitres are topped with a cross, two types are used in the Russian Church – with and without a cross. Originally the mitre with a cross appertained to the patriarchs of Moscow. In 1686 the right to wear a mitre with a cross was extended to the metropolitan of Kiev. Later, all metropolitans received this right while all archbishops, bishops, and archpriests as well as archimandrites and mitred archpriests wore the mitre without a cross. At the end of the of the 1980s, during the patriarchate of Patriarch Pimen, the Holy Synod established, in accordance with the Greek custom, that all hierarchs of the Russian Church are to wear mitres with a cross. The mitre without a cross now is worn by archimandrites and mitred archpriests. [14] (Orthodox Christianity Vol. III, The Architecture, Icons, and Music of the Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. pp. 98-102)

[1] [St] Nicholas Cabasilas mentions the phelonion and omophorian as the basic elements of the hierarch’s vestments in the fourteenth century and does not mention the sakkos at all. See, ‘Concerning Sacred Vestments’, 3, SC 4-bis, 366.

[2] Aleksei Dmitrievsky, “Mitre, Historical-Archeological Essay,” Handbook for Rural Pastors, No. 11 (Kiev, 1903) (Reprinted in Moscow Diocesan News, No. 4-5, 2003); References for the following editions: Relations of Russia with the East, 88, 101; Proskynitarion of Arsenius Sukhanov, 82.

[3] St. John Chrysostom Concerning the Holy Priesthood 3, 4.

[4] That is to say, “of the Old Testament.”

[5] Again, this means “of the Old Testament.”

[6] Simeon of Thessalonica Concerning the Holy Temple 45. PG 155, 716D-717A.

[7] A. N. Muraviev, Relations of Russia with the East, Part 2 (St Petersburg, 1860), 149.

[8] Dmitrievsky, Mitre

[9] In the Slavic Bishop’s Service Book (Chinovnik) the mitre is called a “cap” (shapka).

[10] “Proskynitarion of Arsenius Sukhanov,” Orthodox Palestinian Collection, Edition No. 21 (vol. 7, ed. 3) (St Petersburg, 1889), 82.

[11] Readings in the Society of History and Russian Antiquities, Book 2, Part 2, 166.

[12] Dmitrievsky, Mitre. With a reference to the next publication: Relations of Russia with the East. Ch. 1, S. 88, 101. Proskynitarion of Arsenius Sukhanov, 82.

[13] Antiquities of the Russian State, Part 1, 124-132

[14] In the West the mitre acquired the shape of a pointed crown, widening from the base and becoming narrow on the top. Such pointed mitres can be seen in paintings from the Middle Ages. The mitre was worn by western bishops including Roman popes. Beginning in the fourteenth century, popes wore the tiara – an egg-shaped hat from three crowns, symbolizing the secular and spiritual power of the pope on earth and also his power over the next life. The tiara in the Roman Church was eliminated by Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) and subsequent popes have worn mitres identical to those worn by other Latin bishops.

On Adapting the Gospel to Modern Man

Fr. Georges Florovsky 1893-1979

Fit the Gospel to so-called modern man. …One is not dealing with a linear development of human thought. It goes in zig-zags. …Modern man changes so quickly it impossible to keep up. As soon as one thinks… he has adjusted himself to modern man, so-called modern man is another… of course we must speak so that the Gospel is understandable. But the ancient message will ever be the same. It is not the message which should adjust to man, but man who should adjust to the message. (Blane, Georges Florovsky, 204, n. 220.)

On Suffering Orthodoxy

St. Nikolai Velimirovich 1880-1956

It is written, “Whom God loves, He also rebukes. And beats.” That is how it is written. Merciful God beats him whom He loves. He beats him in the earthly kingdom so He can glorify him all the more in the heavenly. He beats him so he won’t attach himself to the corruption of this world, to the vain idols of human power, skill and wealth, to the passing shadows of ill scandals.

Without great beatings, Orthodoxy would not have carried God’s truth throughout the generations and darkness of ages and ages, and it would not have passed such a long obstacle track, preserving the truth and sanctity in purity. Without suffering, Orthodoxy would not have preserved its purity for even a hundred years. In the nineteen centuries of its existence, it never had one whole century of peace and freedom, without persecutions, without whippings, without enslavement, fire, fear and horror. Other faiths cannot comprehend this. Heretics don’t understand this. There is no nation in the world who has chosen the kingdom of this world as their ideal of happiness, that can now understand or comprehend what is happening… Only the clairvoyant understand this, those who ever look to the eternal and immortal Kingdom of Christ as the reality. But clairvoyance is also the daughter of suffering. (Missionary Letters: Letter 25)

On Proper Christian Worship

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

My opinion therefore is, that wherever it is possible, all those things should be abolished without hesitation, which neither have warrant in Holy Scripture, nor are found to have been appointed by councils of bishops, nor are confirmed by the practice of the universal Church, but are so infinitely various, according to the different customs of different places, that it is with difficulty, if at all, that the reasons which guided men in appointing them can be discovered. For even although nothing be found, perhaps, in which they are against the true faith; yet the Christian religion, which God in His mercy made free, appointing to her sacraments very few in number, and very easily observed, is by these burdensome ceremonies so oppressed, that the condition of the Jewish Church itself is preferable: for although they have not known the time of their freedom, they are subjected to burdens imposed by the law of God, not by the vain conceits of men. The Church of God, however, being meanwhile so constituted as to enclose much chaff and many tares, bears with many things; yet if anything be contrary to faith or to holy life, she does not approve of it either by silence or by practice. (Letters 55.34-35)

On Homosexual Acts

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination… Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things… (Lev. 18:22, 24)

For this reason (i.e. their refusal to acknowledge, thank and glorify God) God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameful acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their errors. Rom. 1:26-27)

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

…Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. (Jude 7-8)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna ca. 69-155

For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since “every lust warreth against the spirit; ” and “neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,” nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming. Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ. The virgins also must walk in a blameless and pure conscience. (Epistle to the Philippians Chap. 5)

St. Melito of Sardis died ca. 180

But thou, a person of  liberal mind, and familiar with the truth, if thou wilt properly consider these matters, commune with thine own self; and, though they should clothe thee in the garb of a woman, remember that thou art a man. (A Discourse Which Was in the Presence of Antoninus Caesar)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

For as it was in the days of Noe, they did eat and drink, they bought and sold, they married and were given in marriage, and they knew not, until Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all; as also it was in the days of Lot, they did eat and drink, they bought and sold, they planted and builded, until the time that Lot went out of Sodom; it rained fire from heaven, and destroyed them all: so shall it also be at the coming of the Son of man.” “Watch ye therefore, for ye know not in what day your Lord shall come.” [In these passages] He declares one and the same Lord, who in the times of Noah brought the deluge because of mews disobedience, and who also in the days of Lot rained fire from heaven because of the multitude of sinners among the Sodomites, and who, on account of this same disobedience and similar sins, will bring on the day of judgment at the end of time (in novissimo); on which day He declares that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that city and house which shall not receive the word of His apostles. (Against Heresies Bk. 4.36.3)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Luxury has deranged all things; it has disgraced man. A luxurious niceness seeks everything, attempts everything, forces everything, coerces nature. Men play the part of women, and women that of men, contrary to nature; women are at once wives and husbands: no passage is closed against libidinousness; and their promiscuous lechery is a public institution, and luxury is domesticated. O miserable spectacle! Horrible conduct! (The Instructor 3.3)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

The Christian [man] confines himself to the female sex. (Apology 46)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

Each generation is reminded by what it hears, that whatever has once been done may be done again. Crimes never die out by the lapse of ages; wickedness is never abolished by process of time; impiety is never buried in oblivion. Things which have now ceased to be actual deeds of vice become examples…Men are emasculated, and all the pride and vigour of their sex is effeminated in the disgrace of their enervated body; and he is most pleasing there who has most completely broken down the man into the woman. He grows into praise by virtue of his crime; and the more he is degraded, the more skilful he is considered to be. Such a one is looked upon— oh shame! And looked upon with pleasure. And what cannot such a creature suggest? He inflames the senses, he flatters the affections, he drives out the more vigorous conscience of a virtuous breast; nor is there wanting authority for the enticing abomination, that the mischief may creep upon people with a less perceptible approach.

Oh, if placed on that lofty watchtower you could gaze into the secret places— if you could open the closed doors of sleeping chambers, and recall their dark recesses to the perception of sight—you would behold things done by immodest persons which no chaste eye could look upon; you would see what even to see is a crime; you would see what people embruted with the madness of vice deny that they have done, and yet hasten to do—men with frenzied lusts rushing upon men, doing things which afford no gratification even to those who do them. (Epistle 1.8-9)

St. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311

The sober and joy-producing vine, from whose instructions, as from branches, there joyfully hang down clusters of graces, distilling love, is our Lord Jesus, who says expressly to the apostles, I am the true vine, you are the branches; and my Father is the husbandman. But the wild and death-bearing vine is the devil, who drops down fury and poison and wrath, as Moses relates, writing concerning him, Deut. 32:32-33 For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps. The inhabitants of Sodom having gathered grapes from this, were goaded on to an unnatural and fruitless desire for males. (Banquet of The Ten Virgins Bk. 5.5)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

[M]en, denying their nature, and no longer wishing to be males, put on the guise of women, under the idea that they are thus gratifying and honouring the Mother of their so-called gods. But all live along with the basest, and vie with the worst among themselves, and as Paul said, the holy minister of Christ Romans 1:26: For their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness. But acting in this and in like ways, they admit and prove that the life of their so-called gods was of the same kind. For from Zeus they have learned corruption of youth and adultery, from Aphrodite fornication, from Rhea licentiousness, from Ares murders, and from other gods other like things, which the laws punish and from which every sober man turns away. Does it then remain fit to consider them gods who do such things, instead of reckoning them, for the licentiousness of their ways, more irrational than the brutes? Is it fit to consider their worshippers human beings, instead of pitying them as more irrational than the brutes, and more soul-less than inanimate things? For had they considered the intellectual part of their soul they would not have plunged headlong into these things, nor have denied the true God, the Father of Christ. (Against the Heathen, Part 1.26)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

Now the pomp of the devil is the madness of theaters and horse-races, and hunting, and all such vanity: from which that holy man praying to be delivered says unto God, Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. Be not interested in the madness of the theatre, where thou wilt behold the wanton gestures of the players, carried on with mockeries and all unseemliness, and the frantic dancing of effeminate men (Catechetical Lectures 19.6)

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 315-403

But these speak evil of things which they naturally know not.’For they blaspheme the holiest of holy things, bestowed on us with sanctification, by turning them into dirt.

And these are the things they have ventured to say against the apostles, as the blessed Paul also says, ‘So that some dare blasphemously to report of us that we say, Let us do evil that good may come upon us; whose damnation is just.’

And how many other texts I could cite against the blasphemers! For these persons who debauch themselves with their own hands—and not just they, but the ones who consort with women too—finally get their fill of promiscuous relations with women and grow ardent for each other, men for men, ‘receiving in themselves the recompense of their error’ as the scripture says. For once they are completely ruined they congratulate each other on having received the highest rank. (Panarion 11:6-8)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

…[E]ffeminate and unmanly men, of doubtful sex, but of manifest impiety; to whom, I know not how or why, Emperors of the Romans entrusted authority over men, though their proper function was the charge of women. In this lay the power of that servant of the wicked one, that sower of tares, that forerunner of Antichrist… (Oration 21.21)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

The adulterer will be excluded from the sacrament for fifteen years. During four he will be a weeper, and during five a hearer, during four a kneeler, and for two a slander without communion…He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers. (Letter 217, Canon 58, 62)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one towards another. (Rom. 1:26-27)

All these affections then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored, than the body in diseases. But behold how here too, as in the case of the doctrines, he deprives them of excuse, by saying of the women, that they changed the natural use. For no one, he means, can say that it was by being hindered of legitimate intercourse that they came to this pass, or that it was from having no means to fulfil their desire that they were driven into this monstrous insaneness. For the changing implies possession. Which also when discoursing upon the doctrines he said, They changed the truth of God for a lie. And with regard to the men again, he shows the same thing by saying, Leaving the natural use of the woman. And in a like way with those, these he also puts out of all means of defending themselves by charging them not only that they had the means of gratification, and left that which they had, and went after another, but that having dishonored that which was natural, they ran after that which was contrary to nature. But that which is contrary to nature has in it an irksomeness and displeasingness, so that they could not fairly allege even pleasure. For genuine pleasure is that which is according to nature. But when God has left one, then all things are turned upside down. And thus not only was their doctrine Satanical, but their life too was diabolical. (Homily 4 on Romans)

Blessed Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430

[T]hose offenses which be contrary to nature are everywhere and at all times to be held in detestation and punished; such were those of the Sodomites, which should all nations commit, they should all be held guilty of the same crime by the divine law, which has not so made men that they should in that way abuse one another. For even that fellowship which should be between God and us is violated, when that same nature of which He is author is polluted by the perversity of lust. But You avenge that which men perpetrate against themselves, seeing also that when they sin against You, they do wickedly against their own souls; and iniquity gives itself the lie, either by corrupting or perverting their nature, which You have made and ordained, or by an immoderate use of things permitted, or in burning in things forbidden to that use which is against nature; Rom.1:24-29 or when convicted, raging with heart and voice against You, kicking against the pricks; Acts 9:5 or when, breaking through the pale of human society, they audaciously rejoice in private combinations or divisions, according as they have been pleased or offended. And these things are done whenever You are forsaken, O Fountain of Life, who art the only and true Creator and Ruler of the universe, and by a self-willed pride any one false thing is selected therefrom and loved. (Confessions Bk. 3.8)

St. Sabas the Sanctified ca. 439-532

[O]ur father Sabas would never allow an adolescent to live in his community who had not covered his chin with a beard, because of the snares of the evil one. Whenever he received an adolescent of immature age who wished to make his renunciation, he would welcome him and then send him to the thrice-blessed Abba Theodosius…when sending a brother to the great Abba Theodosius, as has been said, [our father Sabas] would first give him the following admonition: ‘My child, it is unsuitable, indeed harmful, for a lavra like this to contain an adolescent. This is the rule made by the ancient fathers of Scetis and transmitted to me by our great father Euthymius. For seeing me wanting to settle in his lavra when an adolescent, he sent me to the blessed Theoctisus, saying that it is out of place and harmful for an adolescent to live in a lavra. As for you, go off to Abba Theodosius, and you will obtain benefit there.’ (Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Sabas, 29)

St. Justinian the Emperor ca. 483-565

[W]e ought to abstain from all base concerns and acts — and especially does this apply to such as have gone to decay through that abominable and impious conduct deservedly hated by God. We speak of the defilement of males (de stupro masculorum) which some men sacrilegiously and impiously dare to attempt, perpetrating vile acts with other men.

For, instructed by the Holy Scriptures, we know that God brought a just judgment upon those who lived in Sodom, on account of this very madness of intercourse, so that to this very day that lands burns with inextinguishable fire. By this God teaches us, in order that by means of legislation we may avert such an untoward fate. Again, we know what the blessed Apostle says about such things, and what laws our state enacts. Wherefore it behoves all who desire to fear God to abstain from conduct so base and criminal that we do not find it committed even by brute beasts. Let those who have not taken part in such doings continue to refrain in the future. But as for those who have been consumed by this kind of disease, let them not only cease to sin in the future, but let them alos duly do penance, and fall down before God and renounce their plague [in confession] to the blessed Patriarch; let them understand the reason for this charge, and, as it is written, bring forth the fruits of repentance. (Novel 141)

St. John the Faster died ca. 595

As for intercourse of men with one another, such as practicing double masturbation, it received the stated penance of up to eighty days.

It has seemed advisable to exclude any man who has been so mad as to copulate with another man from Communion for three years, weeping and fasting, and towards evening confined to xerophagy, and doing two hundred metanies. But as for one who prefers to relax, let him fulfill the fifteen years. (Canons of St. John the Faster: 9, 18)

St. Gregory the Dialogist ca. 540-604

[I]n Genesis we read that our Lord rained fire and brimstone upon the city of Sodom: that both fire might burn them, and the stench of brimstone smother and kill them: for seeing they burnt with the unlawful love of corruptible flesh, by God’s just judgment they perished both by fire and an unsavoury smell; to the end they might know that they had, by the pleasure of their stinking life, incurred the sorrows of eternal death. (Dialogues Bk. 4, chap. 36)

What is ‘brimstone’ but the fuel of fire, which, however, so cherishes the fire, that it sends out the very foulest stench. What then do we understand by ‘brimstone,’ but carnal sin, which, while it fills the mind with wicked thoughts like a kind of ill savours, is kindling everlasting fires for it; and whilst it spreads the cloud of its stench in the lost soul, it is as it were providing against it fuel for the flames to come after. For that the ill savour of the flesh is understood by brimstone, the mere history of Holy Writ by itself hears record, which relates that the Lord ‘rained down fire and brimstone upon Sodom.’ Who, when He had determined to punish her carnal wickednesses, by the very character of the punishment marked out the stain of her guilt: since ‘brimstone’ hath stench, and fire burning; and so, forasmuch as they had been kindled to bad desires in the ill savour of the flesh, it was meet that they should perish by fire and brimstone combined; that by their just punishment they might be taught what they had done in unjust desire. And so this ‘sulphur is scattered upon the habitation’ of the wicked man, as often as the corrupt indulgence of the flesh exercises dominion within him; and whereas bad thoughts unceasingly occupy him, and forbid his bringing forth the fruit of good practice… (Moralia in Job 14.23)

St. Maximus the Confessor ca. 580-662

The fire of Sodom is poured down upon those who trample on the law of nature by abusing it. And this is the reproof of the conscience, whenever, like fire, it completely burns it. (Questions and Doubts, Question 99)

St. Barsanuphius of Gaza ca. 6th century

May the demons not weaken you so as turn your attention to a brother (to whom you are attracted), or to converse with him; but if you should happen unexpectedly to come together with him, against your desire, restrain your glance with fear and decency and do not listen attentively to his voice. And if this brother, out of ignorance, should himself begin to speak with you or sit next to you, then skillfully avoid him, but not suddenly, rather with decorum. Say to your thought: “Remember the terrible Judgment of God and the shame which will then overtake those who are attracted by these shameful passions.” Compel your thought, and you will receive help, by the prayers of the Saints, and God will have mercy on you. Do not be a child in mind, but a child in malice (1 Cor. 14:20); in mind, O brother, be perfect. Pay heed to yourself, as to how you will meet God. Amen. (Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life. Answers to Questions of Disciples, Question 255)

St. John Climacus of Sinai ca. 7th century

“Blessed are the peacemakers” [Matt. 5:9]. No one will deny this. But I have also seen enemy-makers who are blessed.

A certain two developed impure affection for one another. But one of the discerning fathers, a most experienced man, was the means whereby they came to hate each other, by setting one against the other, telling each that he was being slandered by the other. And this wise man, by human roguery, succeeded in parrying the devil’s malice and in producing hatred by which the impure affection was dissolved.

Some set aside one commandment for the sake of another commandment. I have seen young men who were attached to one another in a right spirit. Yet, in order not to offend other men’s conscience, by mutual agreement they kept apart for a time. (The Divine Ladder, Step 26)

On the Necessity of Church Buildings

St. Philaret of Moscow 1821-1867

God is omnipresent and therefore does not need churches, which are always small for Him and cannot contain him. But man is limited, and thus needs a limited revelation of God’s presence. God condescended to this need of man and deigned that this church exist, granting it the grace of His particular presence. We know of only one state of man in which he has no need of churches: the eternal life in the New Jerusalem, under a new heaven and new earth… The seer of mysteries notes a special, distinguishing feature of New Jerusalem, namely there is no church there: and I saw no church there (Rev. 21:22)… But we are not yet in the New Jerusalem, which will descend from the heavens, and therefore need a church. Belonging to creation after the Fall, our own flesh, rough and unpurified, blocks our entrance into the holy, grace-filled presence of God. This is why it is necessary for His charismatic presence to reveal Itself to us in the holy churches. The heavens– where Christ, our Light, ascended– have not yet opened up and revealed to us the radiance of His glory. Because of this we need for the time being at least a small heaven on earth, as well as light– even though it may be hidden in a mystery. We can find all this in church, through prayer, the word of God, and the sacraments. (Homilies and Speeches, 4.2-3)

Chrysostom on the Priesthood

Saint John Chrysostom 347-407 A.D.

‘When one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also; and we must bring forward those who to a large extent surpass all others, and soar as much above them in excellence of spirit as Saul overtopped the whole Hebrew nation in bodily stature: or rather far more. For in this case let me not take the height of shoulders as the standard of inquiry; but let the distinction between the pastor and his charge be as great as that between rational man and irrational creatures, not to say even greater, in as much as the risk is concerned with things of far greater importance.’ (Priesthood, Book 2:2)(6)

Understanding Orthodox Worship

Many who either do not understand or who despise the traditional/liturgical worship service of the Orthodox Church do so because, for one reason, they do not understand the very nature of worship. Christ says in Matthew 16 that nothing will prevail against the Church. This is how the Church worships: without being prevailed against by the non-Orthodox’ unbelief.

Many Evangelicals say that liturgical worship is “canned” and “dry.” Liturgical celebration is only canned and dry to those that do not involve themselves in it. The Orthodox Church worships regardless of who is and is not worshiping. It does not take a break, slow down or change its form because of one man or many men’s unbelief.

A problem with our society today is that many men have begun to fabricate their own worship service based on their lack of belief. They believe that the worship of the Church should spontaneously interact with where they are currently in their level of spirituality. There happens to be hundreds of thousands of these types of Christians in our society, today. They are completely unaware of the historical reality of the Church and how we are to worship, so they attend whichever church they feel comfortable at – usually the one that connects with their secular culture.

Most non-Christians and modern Christians are not comfortable worshiping  liturgically. The entire service seems canned to them! But it is not the service that is canned, it is the unbeliever that is canned. They are canned because they were taught not to grow and become one with the entirety of the kingdom of Christ. They are canned because someone has limited their capacity to know and give to God. A modern teacher has infiltrated their soul with doctrine and polemics that create a top-stop in their minds and hearts. 

The Orthodox Church worships regardless of how you worship; regardless of whether you worship or not! The Orthodox Church assumes a worship service for the Christian who desires to grow in Christ, to come into full communion with Him. Non-Orthodox and immature Christians should first learn about worship before they jump to conclusions about its nature. If they do jump to conclusions without being discipled they risk being lost to the spirit of contemporary “Christianity.” Contemporary Christianity’s worship is geared for the non-Christian (in the name of evangelism), therefore any non-Christian or new Christian will inherit the feeling of being whole within their service. They can indeed be filled, but in their very limited capacity. 

Orthodox worship is not what Protestants refer to as “discipleship,” or even, in many ways, “evangelism;” although both certainly do happen within the service. In discipleship the Church comes down to the new believer’s level, giving certain amounts of attention and information as the person grows: a one-on-one relationship. But worship does not involve the Church fragmenting DOWN to the catechumen’s spiritual level, it involves raising the Church UP to God. This is why the calling of the priest is so important! He is bringing us up to God, to worship and serve God – to give Him our hearts, hence the Anaphora within the Liturgy: “Priest: Lift up your hearts. People: We lift them up unto the Lord. Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is meet and right so to do.”

Saint John of San Francisco on Icons

Saint John of San Francisco

“Iconography began on the day our Lord Jesus Christ pressed a cloth to His face and imprinted His divine-human image thereon. According to tradition, Luke the Evangelist painted the image of the Mother of God; and, also according to tradition, there still exist today many icons which were painted by him. An artist, he painted not only the first icons of the Mother of God, but also those of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and, possibly, others which have not come down to us.

Icons are precisely the union between painting and those symbols and works of art which replaced icons during the time of persecution. The icon is not simply a representation, a portrait. In later times only has the bodily been represented, but an icon is still supposed to remind people of the spiritual aspect of the person depicted. An icon is an image which leads us to a Holy, God-pleasing person, or raises us up to Heaven, or evokes a feeling of repentance, of compunction, of prayer, a feeling that one must bow down before this image. The value of an icon lies in the fact that, when we approach it, we want to pray before it with reverence. If the image elicits this feeling, it is an icon.

In calling to mind the saints and their struggles, an icon does not simply represent the saint as he appeared upon the earth. No, the icon depicts his inner spiritual struggle; it portrays how he attained to that state where he is now considered an angel on earth, a heavenly man. This is precisely the manner in which the Mother of God and Jesus Christ are portrayed. Icons should depict that transcendent sanctity which permeated the saints.”

Excerpt From Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan-Feb 1980)

Byzantine Law on Homosexuality

St. Justinian the Emperor ca. 483-565

Preamble: Though we stand always in need of the kindness and goodness of God, yet is this specially the case at this time, when in various ways we have provoked him to anger on account of the multitude of our sins. And although he has warned us, and has shown us clearly what we deserve because of our offenses, yet he has acted mercifully towards us, and, awaiting our penitence has reserved his wrath for other times — for he “has no pleasure in the death of wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way an live”. Wherefore it is not right that we should all despise God’s abundant goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering kindness and, hardening our hearts and turning away from penitence, should heap upon ourselves wrath in the day of wrath. Rather, we ought to abstain from all base concerns and acts — and especially does this apply to such as have gone to decay through that abominable and impious conduct deservedly hated by God. We speak of the defilement of males (de stupro masculorum) which some men sacrilegiously and impiously dare to attempt, perpetrating vile acts with other men.

#1: For, instructed by the Holy Scriptures, we know that God brought a just judgment upon those who lived in Sodom, on account of this very madness of intercourse, so that to this very day that lands burns with inextinguishable fire. By this God teaches us, in order that by means of legislation we may avert such an untoward fate. Again, we know what the blessed Apostle says about such things, and what laws our state enacts. Wherefore it behoves all who desire to fear God to abstain from conduct so base and criminal that we do not find it committed even by brute beasts. Let those who have not taken part in such doings continue to refrain in the future. But as for those who have been consumed by this kind of disease, let them not only cease to sin in the future, but let them alos duly do penance, and fall down before God and renounce their plague [in confession] to the blessed Patriarch; let them understand the reason for this charge, and, as it is written, bring forth the fruits of repentance. So may God the merciful, in abundance of pity, deem us worthy of his blessing, that we may all give thanks to him for the salvation of the penitents, who we have now bidden [to submit themselves] in order that the magistrates too may follow up our action, [thus] reconciling to themselves God who is justly angry with us. And we also, wisely and prudently having in reverence the sacred season, entreat God the merciful that those who have been contaminated by the filth of this impious conduct may strive for penitence. Next, we proclaim to all who are conscious that they have committed any such sin, that unless they desist and, renouncing it [in confession] before the blessed Patriarch, take care for their salvation, placating God during the holy season for such impious acts, they will bring upon themselves severer penalties, even though on other counts they are held guilty of no fault. For there will be no relaxation of enquiry and correction so far as this matter is concerned, nor will they be dealt with carelessly who do not submit themselves during the time of the holy season, or who persist in such impious conduct. Lest if we are negligent we arouse God’s anger against us. If, with eyes as it were blinded, we overlook such impious and forbidden conduct, we may provoke the good God to anger and bring ruin upon all – a fate which would be deserved. (Novel 141)


On the Triumphal Hymn

Priest: Singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying…

People: Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to God in the highest.

(The Holy Anaphora, The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

The Triumphal Hymn is a combination of the angelic hymn which Isaiah heard when he received his calling as a prophet, and the hymn with which the people received the Theanthropos in the Holy City of Jerusalem ‘as He was going to His voluntary Passion’. By singing this hymn at the Divine Liturgy, we are imitating both the angels and the people of the Holy City.

On the lips of the angelic powers, the Triumphal Hymn, as they sang it round the holy throne of God, had a double significance. It was a hymn of praise to the Trinitarian God, and at the same time a prophecy: “This hymn is not only a doxology, but also a prophecy of the good things that were going to spread throughout the world…The whole earth is full of His glory… (Isa. 6:3) When was the earth filled with the glory of God? When that hymn came down from heaven to earth, and mankind on earth formed one choir with the heavenly powers, raising the same melody to God and offering a common hymn of glory.” [St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Isaiah, 6.3, P.G. 56.71] (Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy: A Commentary in the Light of the Fathers pp. 229-230)

Because of the Angels

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

1Co 11:10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

“Because of the angels.” By the angels he means righteous and virtuous men. Let her be veiled then, that she may not lead them to stumble into fornication. For the real angels in heaven see her though veiled. (Fragments: Oecumenius from Bk. III on 1 Cor. 11:10)

Diagram of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy

Diagram of the Divine Liturgy:

  • Beginning: The Liturgy starts with a blessing of the Kingdom of God, which includes the Sacred Body of Christ on earth, His Church.
  • Petitions: They are small prayers which the priest offers especially for the peace of the world, with the people responding, Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy).
  • Antiphons: These are readings from the Old Testament, especially from Psalms 102 and 145, with refrains of Christian meanings and specifically references to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Entry with the Gospel: This entry represents the ancient practice when the priest took the Gospel by the light of torches from the crypt, an underground safeguard to protect the Gospel from destruction by the pagans, bringing it up to the Church. The priest lifts up the Gospel and exclaims: “Wisdom,” which means Christ, and calls the people to worship and bow down to Christ.
  • Trisagion: A short prayer praising the Holiness of God.
  • Readings from the New Testament: (1) A part of the Book of Acts or the Epistles of the Apostles read by the reader. (2) Another section from the Gospels read by the priest. (The specific sections read are determined by the Church and are the same every year.)
  • Sermon: It is incorporated as an exhortation from the priest to the people on the Good News of salvation. (The part of the service for the Catechumens is now omitted).
  • Cherubic Hymn and Entry with the Holy Gifts: This is a procession with the yet unsanctified Species taken from the table of Preparation and brought to the Altar during which the Cherubic hymn is sung: “Let us put away all worldly care so that we may receive the King of all.” (An addition made in the 9th century)
  • Ectenia of the Oblation: They are small prayers completing “our supplications to the Lord.” To these supplications the people respond, “Grant this, O Lord.” The Prayer of Oblation is now inaudibly read by the Priest saying: “Enable us to offer to Thee gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins.”
  • A Short Creed: This is a proclamation of the Holy Trinity in connection with brotherhood. It is chanted now before the Nicaean Creed.
  • Nicene Creed: This is the concise and accurate confession of the Christian faith in 12 articles formulated by the 1st Ecumenical Synod at Nicaea in 325 A.D. (The Nicaean Creed is recited during every Liturgy, an addition made in the 9th century; prior to that time it was recited only during the Liturgy at Easter).
  • Prayer of Sanctification: It includes dialogues of excerpts from the long prayer of sanctification which is now read inaudibly by the priest and which, in fact, is the very heart of the significance of the Divine Liturgy. The dialogues start with the offering of the Oblation (the Species, Bread and Wine), continues with blessings and the actual words of the Lord, “this is my body … this is my blood,” and climax in the sanctification of the Species. Now the Bread and Wine are lifted by the priest, who exclaims, “Thine own of Thine own we offer to Thee, O Lord.” At this time, generally the people kneel, and the choir sings: “We praise thee… we give thanks to thee, O Lord.” In continuation, the priest commemorates the Saints and especially the Virgin Mary, as well as the faithful ones.
  • Petitions: These are small prayers referring to the spiritual welfare of the city, the nation, the Church and the individual.
  • Lord’s Prayer: It is recited by the people; the priest follows with the exaltation.
  • Breaking the Lamb: At this point the priest elevates the Lamb (the consecrated Bread) saying: “The Holy things for those who are holy,” and breaks it in commemoration of the actual Eucharist. Also at this time the priest pours warm water, zeon, into the Chalice, a reminiscence of the very primitive Church (see, Justin the Martyr).
  • Prayers before Holy Communion and Partaking of the Holy Gifts by the Priest: Now the doors of the Altar are generally closed and the priest partakes of the Holy Gifts separately and then combines both Elements into the Chalice; a later practice of the Church.
  • Holy Communion: Both the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Christ, combined in the Chalice, are given to the prepared faithful when the priest calls them to “draw near with reverence.” In ancient times the Holy Gifts were given to the faithful separately, first the Body and then the Cup, from which the faithful drank in turn, as is the continued practice for the clergymen today.
  • Thanksgiving Prayers: These are prayers of gratitude to Almighty God for the privilege which is given to the faithful to commune with Him.
  • Dismissal Hymn: The priest calls the people to depart with a prayer by which he asks the Lord to “save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance.” In conclusion he blesses the people, saying, “May the blessing of the Lord come upon you.” The people seal the Liturgy by responding, “Amen.” Blessed bread, antithoron, which means “instead of the Gift,” is given to all at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.                                                                       From the Greek Orthodox Church

St. Irenaeus on Calendar Schisms

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

For the controversy is not merely as regards the day, but also as regards the form itself of the fast. For some consider themselves bound to fast one day, others two days, others still more, while others [do so during] forty: the diurnal and the nocturnal hours they measure out together as their [fasting] day. And this variety among the observers [of the fasts] had not its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors, some of whom probably, being not very accurate in their observance of it, handed down to posterity the custom as it had, through simplicity or private fancy, been [introduced among them]. And yet nevertheless all these lived in peace one with another, and we also keep peace together. Thus, in fact, the difference [in observing] the fast establishes the harmony of [our common] faith. And the presbyters preceding Soter in the government of the Church which you now rule— I mean, Anicetus and Pius, Hyginus and Telesphorus, and Sixtus— did neither themselves observe it [after that fashion], nor permit those with them to do so. Notwithstanding this, those who did not keep [the feast in this way] were peacefully disposed towards those who came to them from other dioceses in which it was [so] observed although such observance was [felt] in more decided contrariety [as presented] to those who did not fall in with it; and none were ever cast out [of the Church] for this matter. On the contrary, those presbyters who preceded you, and who did not observe [this custom], sent the Eucharist to those of other dioceses who did observe it. And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points, they were at once well inclined towards each other [with regard to the matter in hand], not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this head. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always [so] observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole Church, both those who did observe [this custom] and those who did not. (Fragments From Lost Writings 3)

The Apostles ordained, that we should not judge any one in respect to meat or drink, or in regard to a feast day, or the new moons, or the sabbaths. Col. 2:16 Whence then these contentions? Whence these schisms? We keep the feast, but in the leaven of malice and wickedness, cutting in pieces the Church of God; and we preserve what belongs to its exterior, that we may cast away these better things, faith and love. We have heard from the prophetic words that these feasts and fasts are displeasing to the Lord. Isa.1:14 (ibid. 38)

Ancient Liturgy as Psychotherapy

In this article, Metropalitan Hierotheos S. Vlachos speaks of how Christianity is a type of psychotherapy; how certain liturgical aspects of the faith heal the soul and conform us into the image of Christ!

The Greek word for soul is psyche, so do not let the word psychotherapy or even psychology scare you. My intentions of using this  paradigm is not for modern reasons – to delve into the modern industry and academia of psychology, but in order to properly embrace the study and formation of the soul we must actually refer to it and the very need for a categorical study of its usage (Christianity has actually shied away from this arena, when we should be dominating it).

The psyche is the inner, non-material part of humankind. It demands cultivation and renewal through liturgical actions. When we give to God in our worship, we should anticipate the cultivation and renewal of our soul. Orthodox worship is designed to put our souls at rest, not to excite our souls and pump us up.

Orthodox worship puts us in contact with the living God and the history of this God. God’s plan pans throughout all time and we should include ourselves into this eschaton. Remember, the New Covenant did not stop at the Church of Acts, it continued throughout the First Century on, and we need to have succession from this time, not separation!

Ancient liturgy places us in ancient communion. Modern liturgy places us in modern communion. Christ’s power is in the ancient. You can be assured of this by simply opening the Bible. It is an ancient work, and liturgy is inseparable from this work. Modern liturgy (pop music and historically standardless utterance) is grown from a modern culture that is not at all theocratic or even prophetic. It is fueled by Hollywood and other secular avenues. Why would one want to offer praise through secularism? And why would one want to be cultivated through secularism?

The cultivation of our souls demands the sacred, the Holy, and the oneness of God! The Church has worked very hard over the centuries to make certain that the icons, the altar, the hymns, etc., are all palatable to the soul, able to conform us to the image of Christ. As we give to God in our worship, God gives back to us a renewed heart, ready for battle, ready for what the enemy attempts to destroy us with. If you want to do great things for Christ, you must be willing to delve into great things theologically, and the worship of the Orthodox Church is all things theological!

Orthodox Liturgy is “Bondservant” Liturgy

I love the way St. Paul describes Christians as “bondservants.” Other translations besides the NKJ use the word slave, but bondservant seems much more appropriate since it is not associated with modern slavery. To be a bondservant of Christ means that we are indeed bound to our servant-hood. We are not slaves in the modern sense of not having freedom, but we are slaves in the spiritual sense of having freedom yet under the certain care and tutelage of Christ.

When we worship God on the Lord’s Day we become bondservants to Christ through the ordained liturgy of the Church. There is indeed a difference between ordained liturgy and just good liturgy. Good liturgy is good because it looks good on paper, like a thesis. But ordained liturgy, which we shall refer to as bondservant liturgy is good because one really and truly becomes bound to it – covenantaly speaking. Bondservant liturgy is done under the succession and law of Christ’s Church-historical under the care and authority of a bishop. Some may be a little leery on the use of the bishopric here, so please allow me to explain.

[Read more…]

One Protestant’s View of Orthodoxy

“We could take a cue from Orthodoxy, whose priests stand with their backs to their congregation, leading a liturgy that is neither clever nor impassioned, but simply beautiful, like stone smoothed by centuries of rhythmic tides. It’s an austere ritual, in the sense of – there’s nothing new here; it’s sublime, in the sense of – creating a clearer view into Heaven. The priest can be any priest. Who he is, what he looks like, how he speaks, and what he thinks matter little. He hasn’t written the service that he officiates. It isn’t about him or his prowess. He’s an interchangeable functionary draped in brocaded robes, obscured by incense, and, as such, never points to himself, a flawed human, pointing ever and only to the Perfection of the Mysterious Divine. That is the role of every priest or preacher – invisibility, while making God seen.”

Thanks to Fr. John Peck for this

Does Carpet Belong in a Church?

I love this article on carpet and church. If we are the ancient Church, then we need to look, feel, and sound like it…literally.

Rip up those carpets!

by Jeffrey Tucker



Every parish struggles with acoustical problems, some because of the large space, but some because of the wholly unnecessary existence of carpet in the nave and sanctuary. Many parishes have made the huge mistake of carpeting their church space because someone on someone on some know-nothing committee thought that the carpet made the place feel warmer and friendly—like a living room—and perhaps too, someone found the echoes of children crying or hymnbooks dropping to be annoying.

Sadly, carpet is a killer of good liturgical acoustics. It wrecks the music, as singers struggle to overcome it. The readers end up sounding more didactic than profound. And even the greatest organ in the world can’t fight the sound buffer that carpet creates. All the time you spend rehearsing, and all the money paying a good organist or buying an organ, ends up as money down the carpet drain.

Elementary errors are involved in the decision. When the church is being constructed and tested for sound, it is during a time when it is empty of bodies. The decision makers stand around and note that a new carpet won’t make that much difference. Once installed, it only appears to muffle the sound of steps and things dropped. But once the place is packed with people, something new is discovered. The sound is completely dead—dead in the sense that it doesn’t move. This is not the sound of liturgy.

This is when the acoustic engineers are brought in, usually from some local firm that specializes in studio recordings or some such. What they will not tell you is that you can save the expense of massively pricey sound systems and mixing tricks simply by pulling up the carpet. They don’t tell you this because they are not in the carpet removal business. Their job is to make the existing space sound better. Sadly, this means sometimes tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, the effect of which is to make it impossible for anyone to be heard unless surrounded by microphones.

Again, this is no solution at all. Chant will never sound right. The organ becomes a complete waste. The instruments and vocal styles that work in a space like this belong more to the American Idol genre of music than sacred music. This is a true tragedy for any parish seeking to reform its liturgical program. I’m very sorry to say this, but it pretty well dooms the reform. You can chant and play Bach all you want but you will never be able to overcome the acoustic limitations.

What to do? The decision makers need to gather the courage to take action. Pull up the carpets immediately. It might leave concrete or wood or something else. It might be unsightly until the time when tile or new concrete or wood can be installed, but the mere appearance alone will call forth a donation perhaps. What’s important is that immediately the sound will be fixed, and the parish will have save untold amounts in paying the acoustic firm. Not only that: funds will be saved from future carpet cleanings, repairs, and replacements.

Much of this information I learned from Reidel and Associates, a firm that does consulting on worship spaces. I ordered their pamphlet about sound called “Acoustics in the Worship Space” by Scott R. Riedel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986). It is quite technical and very informative. Here is what he says about floors on page 17.

The floor is typically the building surface that is largest and nearest to worshipers and musicians. It is important that the floor be reflective of sound, particularly near musicians, since it provides the first opportunity for much sound energy to be reinforced. Carpet is an inappropriate floor covering in the worship space; it is acoustically counterproductive to the needs of the worshipers.

The mood of warmth and elegance that carpeting sometimes provides can also be provided with acoustically reflective flooring such as quarry tile or wood that is of warm color and high quality. The notion that the worshiper covers the floor surface, making its material composition acoustically unimportant is false. The large floor area of the worship space bas great acoustical influence. Appropriate floor materials include slate, quarry tile, sealed wood, brick, stone, ceramic tile, terrazzo, and marble.

Walk and Ceiling. Durable, hard-surfaced walls and ceiling are also essential for good acoustical reflections. The ceiling is potentially the largest uninterrupted surface and therefore should be used to reinforce tone. Large expanses of absorptive acoustical ceiling tile are to be strictly avoided. Appropriate wall or ceiling materials include hard plaster, drywall of substantial thickness, sealed woods, glazed brick, stone, med and painted concrete block, marble, and rigidly mounted wood paneling.

The construction of walls, floors, and doors should retard the transmission of noise into the space from adjoining rooms, from the outdoors, or via structure-borne paths. Sound attenuators or absorptive material may be fitted to heat and air ducts to reduce mechanical noise also.

Some may consider using absorbing materials such as carpeting or acoustical tile to suppress noise from the congregation. Noise from shuffled feet or small children is usually not as pervasive as might be feared. It is unwise to destroy the proper reverberant acoustical setting for worship in deference to highly infrequent noisy behavior.

Let me now address the issue of noise. A building in which you can hear your footsteps signals something in our imaginations. It is a special place, a place in which we are encouraged to walk carefully and stay as quiet as possible. Pops, cracks, thumbs, and sounds of all sorts coming from no particular direction is part of the ambiance of church, and its contributes to the feeling of awe.

It was some years ago that I attended a concert of organum—three voices singing early medieval liturgical music—at the National Cathedral in Washington, a vast space. There were only three small voices near the altar, and I was at the back and the people singing looked like tiny specs. Moving my foot a few inches created a noise that could be heard for 20 feet in all directions, loud enough to drown out the music. As a result, everyone sat in frozen silence, fearing even to move a muscle. This went on for more than a full hour. It was a gripping experience.

The closer we can come to creating this environment in our parishes, the holier the space will sound and feel. I’ve personally never heard an echo that is too extended for worship. It is possible I suppose but I’ve never experienced it.

One final point about Church acoustics that needs to be added here. The Introit of the Mass is not: “Please turn off your cellphones.” This line is increasingly common at the start of Mass. This really must end. Yes, it is a good thing for people to turn off cell phones but instructions to that effect are not what should be the first words one hears at the start of Mass.

And please consider that people are not dumb as sticks. Cell phones are a normal part of life now, and we are all learning to keep them off in any public lecture or event such as a worship service. These things take care of themselves over time. For someone’s cell phone to ring ends up being a warning to everyone else for the future.

The History of Iconography

Because one of the intellectual defaults of our longstanding culture seems to be that of following hard and fast rules and keeping things as simple as possible, the more theological matters of the Bible, for instance, can encounter fierce opposition as they begin to take dominion over society; especially if they involve both heaven as well as earth. The intellectual default seems to be that of creating division between heaven and earth, completely separating the visible from the invisible. But this is not what Christ taught us.

All the earth is God’s and when a priest prays over a certain part of God’s matter to be set apart for veneration, God takes dominion of that matter. God’s blessing sets apart His matter for His specified purpose. Matter matters, as we can see with Christ as well as the Apostles – remember when people were being healed from Saint Peter’s garments, for instance? God desires that the kingdom be “ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN!” Sound familiar? It should, because those are the words of Christ!

Iconography, which means “image writing,” is one of these more theological matters of the Christian life that requires more than just what the eye can see. And not only the creating of the icons, but the knowing how to use them also requires more than what the biological eye has to offer. To embrace icons we need to understand and believe how God has commanded us to actually take dominion over matter and make it God’s! When an icon is blessed it is blessed within this sphere of time and space, thus taking on the full thrust of “on earth as it is in heaven.”  

It has been supposed by many that iconography is a result of the Byzantine Empire and the so-called heretical and apostate culture of the Church from that point into the rest of Orthodox history. But iconography has been a practice that the Church has embraced since its earliest times. Although iconography escalated in the 4th century, after the Nicene Council and Constantine established the Byzantine Empire, we have evidence of pre-Nicaea icons within the catacombs, showing that iconography is not simply a result of the period of Constantine.

Saint Irenaeus (A.D. 130–202) mentions icons in his Against Heresies, condemning the improper use of icons by the Gnostics. From the earliest times of the Church images of the saints were painted by and for the Church. Icons were primarily a tool of evangelism and doctrinal proclamation, but it seems that as they began to do their job those that recognized the revelation behind the icons began to teach others that this recognition was much more than a mental discovery, but more of a spiritual awakening to the wonders that are happening within the realm of heaven itself.

St. John of Damascus wrote: “We are led by perceptible Icons to the contemplation of the divine and spiritual”  (PG 94:1261a).

This proclamation that the icons were more than what the novice eye sees began to stir much controversy. There were many western Christians that opposed such views of the icons, believing that such recognition of matter giving off such holiness was idolatrous. Western Christianity was certainly the instigator of iconoclasm (anti-icon). A western council, the Synod of Elvira (c.305) was one of the earliest movements to prohibit icons: “lest that which is worshiped and venerated be depicted on the walls.” One of the earliest iconoclastic quotes in existence would likely be the third century teaching of Tertullian, who was known to have many heretical viewpoints: “Likewise, when forbidding the similitude to be made of all things which are in heaven, and in earth, and in the waters, He declared also the reasons, as being prohibitory of all material exhibition of a latent idolatry.” (Against Marcion Bk. 2. 22) Tertullian was at one point an orthodox clergyman and gained a powerful influence in the west, so it is likely that this teaching carried much weight for future iconoclasm.   

Although some in the west had launched their attacks against iconography, the majority of the east seemed to be flourishing with icons, despite the few bishops that opposed them. The emperor Justin II (A.D. 565-578) went as far as revolutionizing Byzantine by placing the image of Christ for the first time on the coins with the inscription, “King of kings.” 

With the approval of the use of images by the Trullan Synod (A.D. 692) of the Third Council of Constantinople, the debate was joined again. In this council it was decreed that Christ was not to be depicted merely as a lamb but in human form, “so that we may perceive through it the depth of the humiliation of God the Word and be led to the remembrance of His life in the flesh, His passion and His death, and of the redemption which it brought to the world.” The use of icons began to gain more ground and within a short period, in 726 Emperor Leo III, the Syrian (717-741) initiated the fight to overthrow the sacred images of the Byzantine Empire. This is what the Church had to deal with as a monarchial ministry; the relationship with the state was primed by the Apostles and Martyrs, given flight by Constantine and the Bishops of the Nicaean Council, but not to encounter a number of violent storms such as this controversy between the iconoclasts (those opposing icons) and iconodules (those advocating icons). The effects of iconoclasm were so devastating that they can be seen as comparable to the Arian controversy and the Monophysite conflict.

At the beginning of Leo’s initiative – which is said to have been a personal vendetta of Leo, perhaps due to his Monophysite background – Leo decided to prompt a very radical act by ordering the destruction  of the icon of Christ over the bronze doors if the imperial palace. There were some women that overturned the ladder of the workers that were engaged in the desecration, which then provoked a riot with several deaths. The women were arrested and condemned to lashing, mutilation and exile.

Amidst the emperors initiatives, the patriarch of Constantinople, Germanus, began to defend iconography and stated: “In eternal memory of the life in the flesh or our Lord Jesus Christ, of His passion, of His saving death and the redemption of the world, which result from them, we have received the tradition of representing Him in His human form, that is, His visible theophany, understanding that in this way we exalt the humiliation of God the Word.” Leo eventually stopped recognizing Germanus as the patriarch and assigned the emperors chaplain as patriarch. Bishops in the west, including Gregory II of Rome, refused to recognize the new patriarch. Gregory II died and was succeeded by Gregory III who formed a synod at Rome to excommunicate the iconoclasts, anyone who refused to honor the ancient custom of the Church. This infuriated Leo, who then sent a fleet to Italy, only to be destroyed by storms.

Between 726 and 730, Saint John of Damascus, a officer of the court, who gave up his position to serve as a priest, said this in regards to the defense of iconography: “If we made an image of the invisible God, we would certainly be in error, but we do nothing of the sort, for we are not in error if we make the image of the incarnate God, who appeared on earth in the flesh, an who, in his ineffable goodness, lived with human beings and assumed the nature, quantity, shape and color of flesh.”  

After Leo died, his son, Constantine V, proceeded to the throne and called a council in 754 at Hiereia. The council was not ecumenical nor was it even attended by the Oriental bishops or the bishop of Rome. The council proclaimed that the creating and venerating of icons is to be condemned.  By summoning this council iconoclasm became the official dogma of the entire Eastern Church. Many monks, laymen and clergy railed against this and were tortured and publically beheaded, including the Patriarch Constantine in 776.

After the death of the emperor Constantine V, Leo IV ascended to the thrown. Leo married Irene, a very influential woman who at the command of Patriarch Paul began to communicate with the Roman bishop to form a council. In September 24 of 787 the council of Nicaea II was formed, meeting at the Basilica of the holy Apostles in Constantinople. Nicea II declared icon veneration to be the orthodox and iconoclasm to be condemned as a heresy, and the destruction of all iconoclastic writings is ordered. 

The second phase of the iconoclastic controversy is dated 815-843 which began with the rise of Leo V as emperor, who reverted to iconoclasm. At a council in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, in 815, Nicaea was repudiated and the decrees of the Iconolasts of 754 were declared to be the faith of the empire. But only five years later Leo V was assassinated in front of the altar of Hagia Sophia.

Leo V was replaced by Michael II who refused to allow the return of iconography or even it very discussion. A number of prominent bishops and monks joined the Patriarch and vowed to fight iconoclasm even to death itself.  Michael ordered that prominent, low-hanging icons in the Temple used for veneration be removed.  Patriarch Nicephorus refused and was deported to Asia Minor where he eventually resigned his office.

Michael’s son, Theophilus, assumed the throne in 829, and severely persecuted iconodules. He died in 842 and his power passed to his mother – due to the successor being only three years old – Theodora, who then elected an iconodule as Patriarch: Methodius. Patriarch Methodius declared sacred images to be lawful and condemned iconoclasm. Icons are lawful to this day within the Orthodox Church thanks to the struggle of these many saints. We honor their accomplishments on the first Sunday in Great Lent, Orthodox Sunday, with a procession of icons!

* All information in this article can be found in Orthodox Christianity, by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev; The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, by Leo Donald Davis; and The Orthodox Christian Church, by J.M. Hussey

Do You Really Want To Go To Heaven?

It comes as no surprise that the majority of Christians in America, according to this recent study, believe that there are multiple ways to eternal life. I agree! There are many ways to “eternal life,” but only elect Christians will be spending it with Christ. The others will be spending it in torment.

Heaven is a Christian doctrine. According to the book of Revelation, heaven is an eternal state of worship. If you do not worship the God of Abraham in this life, why in the world would you want to worship him for eternity? You wouldn’t! That is why those that do not worship on this earth will not be going to the place where all of God’s people will be worshiping for eternity. Why people think that, for instance, non-Christians, would want to worship Christ for all eternity is just plain silly.

The question we should ponder is this: What is heaven? What does it consist of? From this we can determine whether or not we will end up there.

I remember watching a Twilight Zone episode once, where a thief was shot by the police and ended up in a place where he was handed riches all day long. He began to hate the situation very quickly. In fact, it was driving him mad. He later found that he was in Hell.

I’m not suggesting that Hell is what the Twilight Zone portrays it to be, but I am suggesting that heaven is not what most people think it is, and that most people really DO NOT WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN.

If you do not want to  worship on Sunday (because this is the worship that we are referring to – not the Gnostic worship that most sectarian people think of), what makes you think that you want to go to an eternity of this sort? The worship of the Church is a glimpse of heaven. It will not be organized like it is here on earth. In heaven there will be no need for the many disciplines and organizational efforts of the Church. Worship will be a natural thing that is intertwined throughout eternity. But if you do not desire its basic element now, on Sunday, then what makes you think you will want an eternity of this sort?

I Can Just “Pray at Home”

St. John Chrysostom:

They say: ‘We can pray at home.’ Thou art deceiving thyself, O man! Of course, one can pray at home. But it is impossible to pray there as in church, where such a multitude of hearts are uplifted to God, merging into one unanimous cry. Thou wilt not be so quickly heard while praying to the Master by thyself, as when praying together with thy brethren, for here in church there is something greater than in thy room: Agreement, unanimity, the bond of love, and finally here are the prayers of the priests. The priests stand before us, then, so that the prayers of the people, being weak, would be united to their more powerful prayers and together with them ascend to heaven. The Apostle Peter was freed from prison, thanks to the common prayers offered for him…. If the Church’s prayer was so beneficial for the Apostle Peter and delivered such a pillar of the faith from prison, why, tell me, dost thou disdain its power and what kind of justification canst thou have for this. Hearken unto God Himself, Who says that the multitude of people who pray to him with fervor moves Him to have mercy. He says to the Prophet Jonah: ‘Shall I not spare Nineveh, that great city, in which dwell more than 120 thousand people.’ He did not simply mention the multitude of people but that thou mightest know that prayer together has great power.

St. John of Kronstadt adds:

Here in church is the one thing needful; here is a refuge from vanity and the storms of life; here is the calm harbor for souls seeking salvation; here is incorrupt food and drink for souls; here is the light, which enlightens every man who comes into the world; here is pure spiritual air; here is the well of living water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14); here the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed; here is the cleansing of souls. The reading and singing in church are performed in a sacred language; all Orthodox Christians must learn it, in order to comprehend the sweet sayings of their mother, who is preparing her children for heaven, for eternal life…. Here in church, a man will come to know the true nobility of his soul, the value of life and its aim or his assigned path; here he dispels the fascination of worldly vanity and worldly passions by acquiring sobriety in his soul; here he comes to know his destiny, both temporal and eternal; here he comes to know his bitter, profound fall and seduction by sin; here the Savior is to be found, ;particularly in His holy and life, creating Mysteries, and His salvation; here a man comes to know his true relationship with God and his neighbor or with his family and the society in which he lives. The church is an earthly heaven, the place where the closest union with the Divinity occurs; it is a heavenly school which prepares Christians for heavenly citizenship, teaching them about the ways of heaven, about the dwellings of heaven; it is the threshold of heaven; it is the place for common prayer, for thanksgiving, for glorifying the Triune God, Who created and preserves everything; it is unity with the angels. What is more precious and more honorable that the church? Nothing. During the divine service, as on a chart, the whole destiny of the human race is depicted, from beginning to end. The divine service is the alpha and omega of the destiny of the world and of men.

Taken from

St. John Damascene on Facing East

St. John of Damascus 676-749

It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.

Since, therefore, God is spiritual light 1 John 1:5, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness Malachi 4:2 and Dayspring , the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, you kingdoms of the earth: O sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rides upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East. Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed Genesis 2:8: and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise , which clearly is the West. So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland. Moreover the tent of Moses Leviticus 16:14 had its veil and mercy seat towards the East. Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East. Numbers 2:3 Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward. Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him. And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven Acts 1:11; as the Lord Himself said, As the lightning comes out of the East and shines even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be Matthew 24:27 .

So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten. (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. IV.12)

St. John of Kronstadt on Worshipping with the Saints

St. John of Kronstadt 1829-1908

How is it that the saints see us and our needs and hear our prayers? Let us make the following comparison: Suppose that you were transplanted to the sun and were united to it. The sun lights the whole earth with its rays, it lights every particle of the earth. In these rays you also see the earth, but you are so small in proportion to the sun, that you would form, so to say, but one ray, and there are an infinte number of such rays. By its identity with the sun this ray takes an intimate part in lighting the whole world through the sun. So also the saintly soul, having been united to God, as to it’s spiritual sun, sees, through the medium of it’s spiritual sun, which lights the whole universe, all men and the needs of those that pray.

The saints of God live even after death. Thus, I often hear in church the Mother of God singing her wonderful, heart-penetrating song which she said in the house of her cousin Elizabeth, after the Annunciation of the Archangel. At times, I hear the song of Moses; the song of Zacharias– the father of the Forerunner; that of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel; that of the Three Children; and that of Miriam. And how many holy singers of the New Testament delight until now the ear of the whole Church of God! And the Divine services itself — the sacraments, the rites? Whose spirit is there, moving and touching our hearts? That of God and of His saints. Here is a proof for you of the immortality of men’s souls. How is it that all these men have died, and yet are governing our lives after their death — they are dead and they still speak, instruct and touch us? (My Life in Christ)

Orthodoxy and Communion with the Saints

Has a passage from Saint Paul ever leaped out at you like never before? Has Saint David spoken to you in the Psalms in such a way that you will never forget? Have you been comforted by any of the Saints?

We need to be comforted by the Saints! If we do not receive comfort from them then how can we really say that we are completely a part of the Body of Christ? The Body of Christ is not just the visible but it is also the invisible, the invisible reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ speaks of in the Holy Scriptures.

One may say, “I am comforted by the Holy Spirit,” He is my comforter as Christ says! Well, that is very exciting but what is equally exciting is becoming a part of what Christ says in Matthew 16:19; that the kingdom is accessed through the Saints, the “cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 proclaims. Access to the Saints and the kingdom is essential to our wellbeing in Christ. The Saints are here for us to fellowship with, through prayer and other forms of “intercession” such as meditation, thoughts of truth, conviction and overall comfort. It is all done through the Holy Spirit of course, but without the Saints, Holy Spirit “activity” easily turns more into a facade of feminine emotionalism and just plain craziness.

The union that we have with the Saints is indeed isolated. There is a one on one relationship happening with them as we embrace them and worship with them. One reason why credit is given to the “Holy Spirit” when one encounters the truth of the Saints is because these Christians are completely unaware of the Canon of Scripture and what it means to embrace the Canon. The Canon of Scripture is a confirmation of certain writings of certain Saints…and also a confirmation of certain writings of unknown Saints. The Canon/Bible is not a unified book dropped out of the sky from the Holy Spirit. The Canon is a collection of saintly communications. If we want to participate in these communications we must be a part of the Saints that actually wrote the letters themselves, as well as the Church that harbors them.

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The Word Manifests both Phonetically and Existentially

Hebrews 13:10

“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”

After taking this verse into proper context as well as examining the Greek, you will find the meaning of the word “altar” to have a very literal meaning. Orthodox churches continue the pre-modern practice of Christianity of having altars in their sanctuaries, altars that – as the Scripture above speaks – do not allow non-believers to eat from.

This topic deserves much more attention than what I am about to give it here, but this can certainly be a fine spot to launch off of: The altar’s relation to the Word (revelation).

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Cleansing your Mind Through Icons

Icons, a part of the Christian faith that have been very misunderstood by many people, are a sure way to cleanse the mind and heal the soul! Certainly, there have been a number of abuses with the use of icons but this does not make icons unorthodox. Let’s take a look at reason, Scripture and tradition (history) to see that icons are extremely useful for the Christian walk!

First, icons have been used as early as the first century. When the Christians worshipped in the catacombs, while hiding from the emperor’s men, they drew icons on the walls. Recent discovery of some first century documents carved in metal aslo show that the Church heavily embraced icons. Icons were a part of early Church worship!

St. John of Damascus wrote, “We are led by perceptible Icons to the contemplation of the divine and spiritual”  (PG 94:1261a).  This is an important quote of one the early fathers, in that it gives solid reason for icons. Icons shape the mind! Icons do what words take many pages to do. Icons can be a very powerful and concise way of communicating the faith: through image. See what the Psalmist says about images, in general:

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St. Chrysostom on Church Music

The New Testament Church did not use instruments in their worship until well into the Middle Ages. Western culture began to use the organ in the year 666 A.D. (funny date). Its popularity gained momentum over the centuries, and after the split from the East it became the norm in the western churches.

Why did the early church not use instruments? Because we are to become natural instruments of God for worship. God says in Hebrews 13:15 that it is the “fruit of our lips” that He wishes to hear. So, yes, it is not always ideal to use instruments in worship. The society of the ancient Church was just as passionate about musical instruments as our society; drama as well! They resisted the temptation to commit what God calls syncretism, the polluting of the sacred. Here is what one of the greatest pastors to ever live has to say about this subject:

“David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody.” (Chrysostom, 347-407, Exposition of Psalms 41, (381-398 A.D.)

Be Bold, Show the Cross!

There are a variety of modern Christian churches out there that are following the paths of the cults, claiming that there is little to no symbolic nature in the Bible and that we should not use the cross as a symbol because it represents murdering Christ. My old Evangelical church used a dove instead, representing the Holy Spirit. This is fine but don’t claim that using the cross is somehow ungodly or not as effective for conversions. The Church has been using the cross for two thousand years. What makes them so inclined to suddenly halt this tradition for another more feminine solution?

We should not be fearful of using the cross to demonstrate our faith. The cross represents how Christ became man “unto death,” as Saint Paul says, and that he conquered death. It is a powerful truth that should never be hidden!

Take a look at these passages from St. Paul and how he uses the cross as a symbolic means of communicating the Gospel.

1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

1 Corinthians 1:18
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

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Why Charismatics Should become Eastern Orthodox!

There are a number of reasons why Charismatics should become eastern Orthodox; reasons such as apostolic succession, liturgical renewal and a general expansion of theology. But there are a few things about Eastern Orthodxy that are extremely “charismatic” that charismatics surprisingly have not yet embraced.

Here is how Theopedia describes the term Charismatic.

Charismatic is an umbrella term used to describe those Christians who believe that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit seen in the first century Christian Church, such as healing, miracles and “speaking in tongues,” are available to contemporary Christians and ought to be experienced and practiced today.

The word charismatic is derived from the Greek word charisma (meaning a grace or a gift) which is the term used in the Bible to describe a wide range of supernatural experiences (especially in 1 Corinthians 12-14).

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On Liturgical Collars and Vestments

There is no neutrality within the spiritual realm, and this includes the use of clerical attire and liturgical vestments. If one does not choose to wear vestments to minister in, why does he choose a suit or a polo shirt? A modern pastor may say that he is attempting to “become all things to all people,” but modern clothing simply does not do this because it does not speak theologically. And where does this philosophy end? If the majority of the culture is, for instance, wearing bathing suits, does this mean that the pastor should do the same? Or is there an actual moral standard to be met? If there is, then what should this standard be? Has the all-things-to-all-people concept really done the Church much good?

Jesus Wore Clerical Attire

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Through the Trinity or Through Jesus’ ‘Name’?

trinitysymbolChrist says in John 4:24 that those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” It is simply not enough to say you believe something but not put it into practice, especially the practice of worshiping God – the very starting point of all of our practice.

The Trinity is woven through the entire Orthodox form of worship, whereas it is not within modern worship. In fact, modern Christians do not even pray through the Trinity. The modernists believe that when Christ said “when you pray, pray in my name” he meant that to be a liturgical command; that his personal name is to be used after every prayer. They wont use the term “liturgical command” but that is essentially what they are saying when they insist on ending their prayers with “in Jesus name.”

First, the name of Christ is not Jesus but rather Yeshua, so this modern pursuit of prayer is wrong in more ways than one.  Second, when Christ said “pray in my name” he did not mean to pray using his personal name but rather he meant to pray through him – the God of the New Covenant (see Hebrews). The God of the New Covenant is Trinitarian in nature! He is not “Jesus only.” That is the heresy of Oneness Pentecostalism as well as many ancient heresies, including Modalism. When we pray, as Classical Christians, we pray through the Trinity, “IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT.”

Orthodox Christians pray through the Trinity by naming the Trinity through “the sign of the cross.” We make the sign of the cross at the end of our prayers and in many parts of the service – “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Why are modern Christians so ashamed of the Trinity? The only explanation that I can think of is that they have been conditioned by their pastors and modern traditions, because certainly neither the Scriptures nor the ancient apostolic traditions, or even reason itself, supports their mishap. I would even venture to say that it is only a matter of time that they admittedly reject the Trinity due to its “lack of Bible support.”  After all, although the Trinity is derived from the Scripture, it is a position of Creed and Modernists are not Creedal.