An Orthodox Perspective of the Last Days

The following is a sample chapter from the book Ultimate Things: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the End Times, by D.E. Englemen. Although Orthodoxy does not have an official and dogmatic position on the later times, this book provides very useful information from the Holy Fathers and Scripture.

Chapter 6

The Beginning of the Last Days

“Who places earthly kings on their thrones? He who alone sits on the throne of fire from eternity, and alone, in the true sense, rules over all creation. Authority, power, courage, and wisdom is given the Czar from the Lord to govern his subjects.”

—Saint John of Kronstadt

The prospect of Satan’s thousand-year bondage eventually ending, even though for a short while, has worried people since before it began. It has been an ominous cloud on the horizon which has loomed larger and blacker with each passing century. Though the event was distant for them, the Bible’s Prophets and Apostles described it in the direst terms: “That day is a day of wrath . . . a day of darkness and gloominess” (Zephaniah 1:15); “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1); “in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1).

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On Orthodox Monarchy and Saint Nicholas II

The battle against Tsar Nicholas II was clearly bound up with the battle against God and faith . . . He became a Martyr, having remained faithful to the Ruler of those who rule, and accepted death in the same way as the martyrs accepted it. Archbishop John Maximovitch.

Very soon after Russia accepted the seed of the Gospel (in the year 988) her soil was sanctified by the blood of martyrs. The pure young sons of Grand Duke Vladimir, Boris and Gleb, accepted death at the hands of a political assassin in order to save their people from civil war and terrible upheaval. They became sufferers for righteousness (I Peter 3:14); being conformed to the innocent suffering of Christ, they became true “Passion-Bearers.

As in the beginning of Holy Russia, so at the end: it pleased God to reveal Himself to the Russian people through the innocent suffering of Saints Boris and Gleb; now, in these latter times, He has again unveiled Himself through the purifying suffering of a Tsar, the Anointed of God and supreme Protector of Christ’s Church in Russia, Nicholas II.

Western writers do not understand Orthodox monarchy. And because America rebelled against the King of England; Americans in particular have no sympathy for the idea of Monarchy. Indeed, it is almost a sacred tradition to applaud any nation that “comes to its senses” and overthrows its king! The Tsars of Russia are viewed in this same man- centered rather than God-centered light.

But; in Orthodox Russia there once existed a society composed not of “church and state” (such as existed in medieval Europe) but of “government and priesthood”-a holy commonwealth. The Tsar was never placed outside the Church or “above the law,” but always within the Church and subject to the law of Christ. He was very much the “servant of the Gospel”: he was required to live by it and rule by it in order to be worthy of the blessings of God upon himself, his family, and his nation. Such a righteous Father to his people was the last Tsar, Nicholas II. And now, in this year of grace, 1981, in spite of more than 60 years of Marxist deception, it pleases God to reveal Nicholas and those that suffered with him, to the Church and to the whole world (if only the world will hear it!).

Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch has written: “Why was Tsar Nicholas II persecuted, slandered and killed? Because he was Tsar, Tsar by the Grace of God. He was the bearer and incarnation of the Orthodox world view that the Tsar is the servant of God, the Anointed of God, and that to Him he must give an account for the people entrusted to him by destiny…”

In Orthodox teaching, Tsar Nicholas was the last representative of lawful Christian authority in the world, the last one to restrain the mystery of iniquity (2 Thess. 2:27). (And, indeed, from the time of his martyrdom can be dated the unprecedented lawlessness, godlessness, and apostasy of this final age: the complete unleashing of the forces of darkness, which now threaten to completely engulf the world as a preparation for the reign of Antichrist.).

An Orthodox monarch receives his authority from God, but by what means and in what manner does it come to him? Authority to govern in the Name of God and perform the highest earthly ministry descends upon a Tsar in the Sacrament of Anointing, at the time of his coronation. After the crowning he is told that “this visible and material adornment of thy head is to thee a manifest sign that the King of Glory, Christ, invisibly crowneth thee.” The Anointing takes place after the reading of the Gospel in Divine Liturgy. The chief hierarch anoints the Tsar with Holy Chrism on the brow, eyes, nostrils, lips, ears, breast, and hands, saying each time: “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Thus, Nicholas II received his authority through a Sacrament. The Holy Spirit was upon him! “By rejecting the Tsar, the people blasphemed the Sacrament and trampled upon the grace of God” (Illustratted History of the Russian Peop1e).

In 1917 Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow saw in a vision the Saviour speaking to Tsar Nicholas: “You see,” said the Lord, “two cups in my hands: one is bitter for your people, and the other is sweet for you.” In the vision the Tsar begged for the bitter cup. The Saviour then took a large glowing coal from the cup and put it in the Tsar’s hands. The Tsar’s whole body then began to grow light, until he was shining like a radiant spirit. Then the vision changed to a field of flowers, in the middle of which Nicholas was distributing manna to a multitude of people. A voice spoke: “The Tsar has taken the guilt of the Russian people upon himself and the Russian people are forgiven.” Nicholas himself once said: “Perhaps an expiatory sacrifice is needed for Russia’s salvation. I will be that sacrifice. May God’s will be done!

He had a very strong sense of his destiny as an Orthodox ruler. Although he had an opportunity to flee the country with his family and seek refuge outside Russia, he and his Empress deliberately chose to stay and accept whatever awaited them. He had been born on the feast of the Prophet Job and because of this he often remarked to his advisors: “I have a secret conviction that I am destined for a terrible trial, that I shall not receive my reward on this earth.” No wonder that our Russian Bishops Abroad wrote (in 1968): “Job the Much-Suffering, on the day of whose commemoration the Tsar was born, said in his grievous suffering, concerning the day of his conception: ‘As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year” (Job 3:6). Terrible was the night of the murder of the Tsar”!

On that unspeakable night, “the prisoners were all in a deep sleep when they were awakened and ordered to dress in order to leave the city… The Imperial Family descended to the basement where the Sovereign sat down, with his ill son, on a chair in the middle of the room. The Duchesses, the doctor, and three dedicated servants were seated around him. Everyone was waiting for the signal to depart. At the executioner’s announcement (which stunned all the prisoners) of the impending execution, the Empress succeeded in crossing herself. She was killed instantly, together with the Sovereign. God spared them from hearing the groans of the Tsarevitch and the cries of the wounded Grand Duchess Anastasia. The first bullets did not bring death to the youngest ones and they were savagely killed with blows of bayonets and gun-butts and with shots at point-blank range. The most innocent and holy had suffered the greatest torture”? (Illustrated Russian History).

In the words of Fr. Dimitry Dudko, one of the first of that wave of modern confessors to speak out against the betrayal of the Church in Russia: “The Tsar is a saint and, moreover, one of the greatest saints. O great saint of Russia, Great-Martyr Nicholas, pray to God for us!”

From the website of the Eastern Diocese or ROCOR 

Building The New City: St. Basil’s Social Vision

By Paul Schroeder

In St. Gregory the Theologian’s funeral oration for St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory describes the legacy of St. Basil’s philanthropic endeavors in this way: “Go forth a little way from the city, and behold the New City, the storehouse of piety, the common treasury of the wealthy … where disease is regarded in a religious light, and disaster is thought a blessing, and sympathy is put to the test.”

St. Gregory is referring to the Basiliad, the great philanthropic foundation established by St. Basil where the poor, the diseased, orphans and the aged could receive food, shelter, and medical care free of charge from monks and nuns who lived out their monastic vocation through a life of service, working with physicians and other lay people. The New City was in many ways the culmination of St. Basil’s social vision, the fruit of a lifetime of effort to develop a more just and humane social order within the region of Caesarea, where he grew up and later served as a priest and a bishop.

The story of Basil’s life centers around two profound shifts. The first, a spiritual awakening so decisive as to be called a conversion, occurred shortly after he completed his studies at the great university at Athens. As a result of this experience, Basil chose to be baptized, a decision that in his day was often postponed until late in life. He then sold his inheritance, distributed the funds to the poor, and embarked upon a journey to see the monastic communities that were flourishing throughout Palestine, Syria, and Egypt.

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St. Paisy Velichkovsky on Demonic Activity

There is a crucial aspect of Orthodox theology that we, as “modern folk” need to concern ourselves with: the study and nature of demonic influence. All throughout the Scripture we see how Christ and the Apostles speak of us battling demons. We see Christ cast them out of people. We see Saint Paul insist, in Ephesians 6:12, that our battle is not against earthly things but against rulers of darkness (demons). He also warns us to avoid the “fiery darts” of the wicked one. Saint James warns us in James 3:14-16 that even bitterness is from demonic forces.

Our baptismal rite speaks of casting out demons through the baptism. The fathers spoke often of demonic activity. Saint Chrysostom mentions them in many of his sermons, and Saint Paisy Velichkovsky gives us a wonderful breakdown of demonic forces, as we have posted below.

We battle against demonic activity. As we will see from Saint Paisy Velichkovsky, the demons are standing by, waiting for an opportunity to pull the right puppet string, the string that we first raised up to them through our partaking with secularism and other demonic avenues. America is full of these avenues! Just turn on the TV or the radio and you will certainly be able to begin “shooting strings” up for the demons to grab hold of.

Demons need to be fed! They thrive on a symbolic life of paganism and other anti-Christ philosophies such as secularism, but they also fall by the symbolic. The fathers tell us that the simple sign of the cross wards them off. But certainly we cannot live an “unequally yoked” (as St. Paul says) anti-Christ life and expect our symbols to work on their own. That, I think, is a problem that we have in this modern society! Church on Sunday, and then secularism throughout every other day. Our rich symbolic Traditions are not just for Sunday worship, they should encompass our entire lives: How we decorate our houses, what we listen to and watch, and what we wear on our bodies.

Our iconic and festive avenues give us much to grasp on to! Other ways to conquer demonic force is to be closely connected to a spiritual father, confessing to him on a frequent basis, at least once a month. Confessing, fasting, prayer, worship, alms-giving, and giving your ear to a spiritual father scare the demons away due to the strong dose of humility it takes to accomplish this.

We will be posting more on demonic influence on the site in the future, under the Demonic Activity tab, under Early Fathers. We think you will be somewhat jolted (in a good way, of course) on how much the fathers support this reality and also how relative it is to our lives.


St. Paisy Velichkovsky  1722–1794

Pay heed to yourself, O monk, sensibly and diligently, with a vigilant mind, as to when the demons come, by what means they catch one, and by what means they themselves are vanquished. Guard yourself with great caution, because every hour you walk in the midst of passions and nets. Everywhere the passions surround one. Everywhere are set out their traps. Pay heed lest you be attracted by the enemy into his will through passions and traps. There is a great need for us, even essential for us men of flesh, to fight with the fleshless ones—one man with ten thousand enemies. Many tears, much patience, much suffering and caution, and a thousand eyes everywhere are required, for the evil spirits rise up maliciously against us like a lion. They would destroy us if we did not have the Lord with us. They have been very skilled in the art of catching men for more than seven thousand years. Without sleep, food, and rest, constantly, every hour, and by all means, they seek our perdition with every trick and with great effort. Having turned out to be powerless in one way, they think up something else. They start one thing, and contemplate yet another. And they roar about everywhere looking where they might find doors to enter and from where they might begin the battle, and, as it were, trick us into doing evil. Do you not know with whom you battle? How legions of invisible enemies surround you, and every one of them wages his own battle? They sound numberless voices, and desire to swallow up your soul. Should you not be cautious? Is it possible that having drunk your fill and given yourself over to sleep, lying down and constantly consoling yourself, that you can with all this receive salvation? If you will not be attentive to this, you will not escape their traps. We have come to struggle, as it were, stepping into the fire. If we desire to be true warriors of the King of Heaven and not false participants, then let us put far away from us every passion or other. And according to our desire and fervor they tighten their traps, for the occasion to sin belongs to us ourselves, our attachment, weakness; and let us put away from ourselves every negligence and faintheartedness and effeminate weakness, and thus we shall stand against the cunningness of the demons. Let us labor in prayers and other virtues with all fervor and power, with soul, heart, and mind, just as someone might run swiftly on a road without looking around, or as a stingy man might fast, for such is the cunningness of the evil demons. They are constantly occupied with us. Like watchmen they notice our inclinations and our desires, what we are thinking about and what we love, what we are occupied with besides these. Whatever passion they notice in us, they arouse this in us, and thus they place their nets for us. In this way, we ourselves, first of all, arouse against ourselves every passion, being ourselves the cause of it. Therefore the demons seek in us occasion that through our own inclination and desire we might the sooner be caught. They do not compel us to do what we do not desire, to do that from which our mind inclines away and our will does not agree, knowing that we will not obey them. Rather, they test us some, whether we will accept some passion or other, And according to our desire and fervor they tighten their traps, for the occasion to sin belongs to us ourselves, our attachment, weakness, and negligence. We do not cut off the beginning of every passion, but the final cause of every evil is the demons. Through the demons we fall into every sin, and no kind of evil comes to us apart from them.

Thus the demons cast us into every passion. They compel us to fall to every sin, and we are tangled in every net. By nets I mean the first thought of desires and various foul thoughts through which we bind ourselves with every passion, and fall into every sin. This is the door of demons and passions, by which they enter into us and rob our spiritual treasury. Immoderate sleep, laziness, eating not at the proper time are a cause of the entrance of demons. And having come, they first of all knock on the doors of the heart secretly, like thieves. They introduce a thought, and they notice whether there is a watchman or not, that is, they see if the thought will be received or not. If it will be received, then they begin to cause passion and arouse us to it, and they steal our spiritual treasure. If they find a watchman at the doors of the heart who is accustomed to belittle and banish their suggestions, if one turns away in mind from the first mental impulse and has one’s mind deaf and dumb to their barking and directed towards the depths of the heart and so does not at all agree with them, then to such a one they cannot do any evil, since his mind is sober. Then they begin to scheme and place various nets to catch us in passion, for example: forgetfulness, anger, foolishness, self-love, pride, love of glory, love of pleasure, overeating, gluttony, fornication, unmercifulness, anger, remembrance of wrongs, blasphemy, sorrow, brazenness, vainglory, much speaking, despondency, fearfulness, sleep, laziness, heaviness, fright, jealousy, envy, hatred, hypocrisy, deception, murmuring, unbelief, disobedience, covetousness, love of things, egotism, faintheartedness, duplicity, bitterness, ambition, and laughter. then they arouse a great storm of thoughts of fornication and blasphemy so that the ascetic might become frightened and despondent, or so that he might leave off his struggle and prayer. But if the enemies after raising all this cannot hold and take away from his struggle a firm soul and an unwavering soldier of Christ who, like a passion-bearer, has placed his foundation on the rock of faith, so that the rivers of sorrows do not cause him to waver, then they try to rob him by some seeming good, considering it more convenient under the appearance of good to introduce something of their own and in this way to deprive one of perfect virtue and struggle. Thus they try to compel us to make spiritual conversations for the sake of love, to teach men, or to sweeten the food a little for the sake of a friend or for the Feast, for they know, the deceptive ones, that Adam fell for the love of sweet things. First they begin to darken the purity of the mind and heedfulness to oneself, and by this path they suddenly throw us into the pit of sexual sins or into some other passion. If even by this way they do not cause one to waver who is sober in mind, then they arm themselves with false visions and offend and disturb him by various afflictions. A most skillful warrior lets all this go by him and regards it as nothing, as if it has no relation to him, for he knows that all this is the device of the devil.

If even thus they do not conquer, then they battle by means of highmindedness. They introduce they thought that the man is holy, saying to him secretly, “How many afflictions you have endured!” The demons, like a clever hunter, when their first means turns out to be powerless, abandon it, go away, hide themselves, and pretend to be conquered. But beware, O man, pay heed, do not be lax, for they will not depart from you until the grave. But they will prepare a great sedge and will look attentively by what means they can again begin to rise up against you, for they do not rest. When the warmth of fervor grows cold in a struggler, they then secretly, having prepared some net, come again and lay them out and try to catch him. In all the paths of virtue, the devils establish their nets and hindrances when we fulfill heedfully every deed for our salvation and not out of pleasing men, or from some other idea. But if in virtue there is hidden some kind of impurity, pride, vainglory, and highmindedness, then in such a matter the devils do not hinder us, but they even inspire us, so that we might labor without benefit. The demons strive for nothing so much as by every crafty means to steal time and make it idle. In everything that the demons do, they strive to dig three pits for us. First of all, they act against us and hinder us so that there will be no good in all our acts of virtue. In the second place, they strive so that the good will not be for the sake of God. That is, having no opportunity to bring us away from good, they make efforts through vainglory to destroy all our labors. In the third place, they praise us as if we turn out in everything to be God-pleasing. That is, being unable to confuse us by vainglory, they strive by highmindedness to destroy our labors and deprive us of rewards. Every demonic battle against us is in three forms. First, the devils darken our mind and a man becomes forgetful and dispersed in all his works. Then they introduce an idle thought, so that through it we might lose time. Finally, they bring various temptations and afflictions. Therefore, of us it is demanded that at all times we should be very sober of mind, for the enemies ceaselessly are making tricks and acting against us. If one struggles for many years, the enemy seeks a convenient time, so as in a single hour to destroy his labors. Not many men see the numberless traps, devices, and tricks of the demons. As a fleshless spirit the demon does not require rest, and through a long life he has learned to catch men. Therefore, no one can escape the tricks, the ruinous nets, and pitfalls of them, except one who remains in bodily infirmity from constant struggle, and who lives in spiritual poverty, that is, with a contrite heart and in humble thoughts. Such a one will conquer them.

Most of all, the Divine Help cooperates with us. However, in us, as we have said previously, is the beginning of all passions, attachment, weakness, and negligence, because we do not renounce in soul and thought and do not cut off the first impulse of every passion that comes. And the demons add yet more. Seek within yourself the reason for every passion, and finding it, arm yourself and dig out its root with the sword of suffering. And if you do not uproot it, again it will push out sprouts and grow. Without this means you cannot conquer passions, come to purity, and be saved. Therefore, if we desire to be saved, we must cut off the first impulse of the thought and desire of every passion. Conquer small things so as not to fall into big ones. It is evident that God allows one to be overthrown in battle by the demons or some stubborn passion because of our pride and highmindedness, when one considers himself to be holy, or strong, and trusts in himself, and exalts himself above those who are weak. Let such a one acknowledge his own infirmity, acknowledge the Help of God, and be enlightened. Let him understand that without God’s Help he can do nothing, and thus he will humble his thought. Or again, this is allowed as a chastisement for sins, so that we might repent and be more experienced in struggle. Or it is allowed for the sake of crowns of victory. However, in that in which you are conquered and from which you suffer, before all other passions you must arm yourself against it and for this use all your fervor. Every passion and suffering is conquered by undoubting faith, by labor of heart and tears, by warm fervor and quick striving to oppose the present passion. This is a high and praiseworthy struggle, as taught by the Holy Fathers. Every warfare of the demons against us comes from and is reinforced by four causes: from negligence and laziness, from self-love, from love of pleasure, and from the envy of the demons. May the Lord preserve us by His Grace from all nets of the enemy and passionate works, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Ch. XXXV from Field Flowers.

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.”

St. John Chrysostom on Abortion and Birth Control

“[I]n truth, all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [the sin of covetousness] are wearied even of their father’s old age [wishing him to die so they can inherit]; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live” (Homilies on Matthew 28:5 [A.D. 391]). – John Chrysostom

The so-called “birth control” pill – shown above – is indeed an abortifacient. It actually performs an embryonic abortion. This has been proven by medical doctors across the world. Randy Alcorn has a short article on it here.

There is what some in the west call Natural Family Planing, which is perfectly ethical and godly. It has to do with identifying the signs of a woman’s fertility. Here is information on that.

Regarding how Chrysostom ties receiving inheritances to abortion, I would say that the same thing is happening in our day but from a different angle. Many couples now would rather NOT have children so that they can enjoy the inheritance of their culture – hobbies and luxury. There are legitimate reasons for not having children but I think that the “we cannot afford them” clause is grossly abused today. What I think many people mean to say when they refer to not affording children is that they cannot afford the lifestyle of their choice if they have children.


A Snapshot Of Our Declining Western Culture

A World Split Apart — Commencement Address Delivered At Harvard University, June 8, 1978

Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn’s warning of Western decline is as relevant today as it was twenty-five years ago. [In some ways  it is even more relevant today!]

Iam sincerely happy to be here with you on the occasion of the 327th commencement of this old and illustrious university. My congratulations and best wishes to all of today’s graduates.

Harvard’s motto is “VERITAS.” Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord. Also, truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today, but I offer it as a friend, not as an adversary.

Three years ago in the United States I said certain things that were rejected and appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I said . . .

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Fr. Seraphim Rose’s Orthodox World-View

The Orthodox World-View

by Father Seraphim Rose of Platina

Before beginning my talk, a word or two on why it is important to have an Orthodox world-view, and why it is more difficult to build one today than in past centuries.


In past centuries—for example, in 19th century Russia—the Orthodox world-view was an important part of Orthodox life and was supported by the life around it. There was no need even to speak of it as a separate thing—you lived Orthodoxy in harmony with the Orthodox society around you, and you had an Orthodox world-view provided by the Church and society. In many countries the government itself confessed Orthodoxy; it was the center of public functions and the king or ruler himself was historically the first Orthodox layman with a responsibility to give a Christian example to all his subjects. Every city had Orthodox churches, and many of them had services every day, morning and evening. There were monasteries in all the great cities, in many cities, outside the cities, and in the countryside, in deserts and wildernesses. In Russia there were more than 1000 officially organized monasteries, in addition to other more unofficial groups. Monasticism was an accepted part of life. Most families, in fact, had somewhere in them a sister or brother, uncle, grandfather, cousin or someone who was a monk or a nun, in addition to all the other examples of Orthodox life: people who wandered from monastery to monastery, and fools for Christ. The whole way of life was permeated with Orthodox kinds of people, of which, of course, monasticism is the center. Orthodox customs were a part of daily life. Most books that were commonly read were Orthodox. Daily life itself was difficult for most people: they had to work hard to survive, life expectancy was not great, death was a frequent reality—all of which reinforced the Church’s teaching on the reality and nearness of the other world. Living an Orthodox life in such circumstances was really the same thing as having an Orthodox world-view, and there was little need to talk of such a thing.

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Different Theologies Involve Different Paradigms

Many times there is confusion within Orthodox and western conversation that seems to be somewhat of bandit; that is, there is a problem that swiftly and frequently snatches an important state of solitude from the minds of those discussing and even considering Orthodoxy. What seems to happen is that the western Christian presupposes paradigms that use various words found in the Bible as if they were originally written as dogma words with exclusive meanings. Many times we begin to take on these presuppositions of the western Christian without even knowing we are doing such a thing. If not caught right away within conversations, this adoption of presuppositions creates this confusion.

Within western theology certain words are capitalized on to become dominant words, thus creating particular western paradigms, whereas other paradigms such as that of Eastern Orthodoxy use less of a “capitalistic” framework and rely more on layering information – more prerequisites to reach final points of dogma, which enables Orthodoxy to cover much more ground with much deeper concentration. But it does not fit in the pocket very well! This is the harsh reality of Orthodoxy. It is not your processed and packaged Christianity that so many western people adore. Many times, with Orthodoxy, you have to literally build a relationship with people to help layer the amounts of information for them to digest. There really is no condensed Bible paradigm that offers a quick  systematic theology. Our paradigms are wide and cease from placing too much weight on language itself, presupposing the concept and very doctrine of faith. The words we use within our theology do not carry the authority as many western Christians suppose they do.

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Heresy as Intellectual Temptation

Heresy involves many temptations. But one that I wish to discuss is the temptation of intellectual simplicity! Simplicity is a double-edged sword. We need simplicity when referring to the Gospel and its theology but we need this simplicity to be orthodox. This is not “simple.” Really, the simplicity that we need is not so much simple as it is concise. There is a huge difference. When one is simple in theology one overlooks many suppositions in order to arrive at the simplistic plain. This is what heresy does! It paints a picture without prepping the canvas. The paint will not hold up under time or examination and thus peel right off. But being concise means prepping the canvas while painting the picture, a skill reserved for those with experience and calling in a particular spiritual field.

Heresy many times speaks to the undereducated and lower classes – or, simply put, people without proper resources (many times even the “educated” do not have proper resource). Heresy makes a theologian out of just about anyone, giving them quick access to “theology” through a minimal amount of study. An exception to this rule would be heresies that demand extensive linguistic studies, which seem to be primarily designed to replace the Church itself.

Heresy usually involves denying much of the Church’s teachings throughout history in order to show how some type of modern – even in the medieval sense – prophet or teacher has suddenly found the truth. They tend to imply that the Church was hiding for the past thousand or so years and this person or group has suddenly found it in the form of new doctrine and practice.

Heresy spreads very fast due to the despondent crowd that is targeted by the master heretic. These hopeless and uninformed people will eat the heresy straight from the palm of their new master’s hand, desperately panting for intellectual status. When the desperate soul is found by the heretic and proselytized to, they usually feel very enlightened and enriched, at first, believing that they have finally discovered what God has intended for them. The propositions begin to hit them very fast and hard, leading them to feel overwhelmed yet also joyful, due to the nature of what is being pitched. It is overwhelming because of many reasons but it is joyful because it has just the right amount of historical revelation – usually in the form of Bible verses – sprinkled throughout the recipe. It’s laced with truth.

These sprinkles of truth that the heresy is laced with is usually very easy to understand and speaks to the flesh in many ways. Instant supposed sanctification through knowledge is many times the culprit. The ancient heresy of Gnosticism was like this. It appealed to people because it immediately stimulated their intellect. It appeased their need for knowledge.

The Gospel does not sanctify like Gnosticism or its contemporary counterparts. The Gospel works through humility, submission, pain, and even turmoil. One must become “childlike” to receive the Gospel. After one receives it one can or may begin to exhaustively study its implications, but for the most part Gospel sanctification involves just a lot of hard work and dying to one’s self! One submits to the Church and then bathes in grace.

God said in Matthew that nothing would EVER penetrate His Church. We all know by looking at history who the Church is, but some insist that there “is more” than what the Church can immediately offer them and thus begin to revert to some sort of reformed model where the Church is being reinvented every couple years – ultimately excommunicating itself – sometimes unknowingly – from the historical Church. The Church is the safe-house for God’s elect. It is the “pillar of truth,” as St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:15. The Church will indeed let you down at times but it will never kill your soul. Only your arrogant desire for “truth” will do that.

Come and Experience the Majesty of Christ!

It is often said within Orthodoxy that modern heresy is simply ancient heresy repackaged. Those who refuse to unite with the One Holy and Apostolic Church in our day are most frequently engaging in the same heresies that separated groups from the Church in the ancient world: The hierarchy, the oral (relational) authority of revelation, the sacraments, icons, the mother of God; These are all real and genuine subjects that are crucial to our relationship with God as Orthodox Christians. Any attempt to publish doctrines against these teachings or attempt to establish a separated church in the spirit of condemning these things, is what we call heterodoxy (false teaching).

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Orthodox Church and State


Igumen Phillip Ryabykh, the Moscow Patriarchate representative at the European Union, offers a fascinating look at the Orthodox Church and society in this interview with the editor of Road to Emmaus Orthodox magazine. The first of this two-part series traces historical Orthodox Byzantine and Russian interactions with the state, while the second will focus on Church-State relations in contemporary Russia. Fr. Phillip is a graduate of Moscow State University of International Relations and the Moscow Theological Academy of St. Sergius Lavra.

Загрузить увеличенное изображение. 500 x 333 px. Размер файла 48579 b.

—Today, our topic is how the Church and society have interacted historically, and the contemporary relationship between the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church.To begin, can you tell us what percentage of the Russian population is baptized Orthodox, and of that number, how many are regular church- goers?

—We don’t have exact figures of the number of baptized people in Russia, but we do have several reliable surveys and polls that estimate from 60 to 80% identify themselves as Orthodox. The differences in these percentages are the result of answers to several questions. If the first ques­tion is simply, “Do you believe in God?,” over 90% of those asked will answer affirmatively. When they are then asked, “Are you Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or something else?” usually about 80% of those who believe say that they are Orthodox. If they are asked, “How often do you go to church?” answers vary from “I never go to church” to “I go to church once a week or more,” which could be about 70% of those who call themselves Orthodox. The number of people who regularly try to fulfill the prescriptions of the Orthodox Church for a healthy spiritual life is about 10%.

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Patriarch Krill Consecrates New Cathedral

“Magadan, September 2 (Interfax) – Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia consecrated the biggest in the Far East Orthodox church – Trinity Cathedral in Magadan.

“Kolyma is the Russian Calvary and perhaps those who tormented people on this earth, pronounced terrible words during transporting convicts “step to the right, step to the left – shooting without warning,” couldn’t imagine that a grand cathedral will be erected here,” the Patriarch said after the prayer.

He called the cathedral “a great sign showing that God’s truth is alive and none even most powerful human forces can destroy this truth” and called it a symbol of victory over evil, “faith in Christ, as for confessing Him many people were exiled here to Kolyma to become martyrs.”

Patriarch Kirill said that his father on the eve of his wedding was arrested only for chanting in amateur choir in one of St. Petersburg churches though he worked in secular job and was getting higher education.

The Primate reminded “how many human lives, means, resources were spent in vain” in atheistic years.

“And now we are terrified to see that we lack the most necessary things – good roads, high quality cars, durable houses. Where are those innumerable goods and resources? They vanished. Why? Because we built the life of our nation, our society and state without God and opposing God,” he stressed. This reminds me of… “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” – Psalm 126:1

According to him, today there appear people, including those coming to politics, who say that “we need to return to that past – life without God.”

“We answer to all these people: come to Kolyma and you’ll see what means to build life without God and, moreover, on bones of those who confessed their faith in God,” the Patriarch said.

Kolyma is the land of Stalin’s notorious prison camps.

The service lasted several hours, followed by the presentation of Russian Orthodox Church orders to regional officials and to the cathedral’s architects.

Reports had said that the cathedral’s construction started about ten years ago. Close to 900 million rubles (around 31 million dollars) have been spent on its construction since then. This money has been provided by the regional government and private donors.”

H/T to Byzantine Texas

An Orthodox Perspective on Christ’s Death and Resurrection

There are two primary ways to properly display the Christian cross. The first is with Christ on the cross, with the skull of Adam underneath His feet. In this we see both His willingness to submit as man, being the victim of sinful humanity, as well as His victory over death, that of which He died for: to conquer death’s hold on us.

The second way to properly display the Christian cross is with no Christ on it at all, implying His resurrection (victory over death).  Although, if the cross is without Christ portrays a rather dull and rather confusing theology, in my opinion, and this is why I prefer that the ‘Christless crosses’ have additional symbolic/iconic theology with them.

This leaves us with the popular Roman and Lutheran crosses that have only the crucified Christ on them, with no Theotokos, no angels, no skull, usually nothing else at all. This presents us with a very legal and juridical theology; that Christ died for the sake of the Law (sacrifice is all we see in this one).

Most all Western Christianity teaches that Christ died for the Law; that He died to take the punishment that the Law demands from us. But this is not what Christ died for. The Law, as Saint Paul says, was a tutor to show the Jews Christ, and that salvation is not from the Law.

The penal aspect of God’s Law is not the means or springboard of salvation. The Bible does not teach through the Church that the penal aspect of the Law works salvation, but only teaches this through the doctrines of man.

Saint Paul says in Philippians 2:8 that Christ obediently became man to the point of death. This is referring to his obedience to human nature and not to the Law. Christ had to experience all that we would or could experience in order to be the “ransom” and beat death’s hold on our eternal glory and communion with God.

There has never been a “covenant of works,” as some teach, and salvation was never through works, even in the Old Covenant era. Saint Paul attests to this in Romans 4, where he says that Abraham was a part of God’s Covenant not through works but through faith.

A legal transaction, as Western theology supposes, did not need to take place. In fact, it goes completely against the gospel to say that the cross was a part of a legal transaction; that God was reckoning Christ to earn salvation through works!  God was not punishing Christ on the cross to end this supposed legal transaction. Christ was fully man and fully God and living this dual nature here on earth found Jesus on the cross! Christ becomes both the victim as well as the victor through the cross, being killed yet conquering death and its stronghold.

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.

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Salvation is a Journey, Not an Event

A huge problem with modern teachings of salvation is the notion that one can be saved apart from the visible reality of God’s Church. Over the last century or so a sort of you-can-get-saved-on-your-own theology has manifested its ugly head. It is really a cultish teaching when you begin to study its premise. Granted, God uses this type of teaching to further His kingdom, but remember, God will use a Donkey if he needs to…and has done so!

The Gospel, as described by Christ, begins as a small seed and grows into the largest plant in the garden. This means that the Gospel is an organic reality of heaven on earth that is actually growing from something to something. We, as people, begin to become grafted into this organic reality as St. Paul explains in Romans 11.

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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

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?

Bishop Jonah on Consumerism and Orthodoxy

His Beatitude’s remarks were delivered at the Acton University plenary session on Thursday, June 16, in Grand Rapids, Mich. AU is a “four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society” with the aim of deepening students’ knowledge of philosophy, Christian theology and “sound economics.” This year’s event attracted more than 600 people from 70 countries across a broadly ecumenical spectrum that included Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim lecturers, students, clergy and business people.

by Metropolitan Jonah

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To Be Creedal is to Be Unified!

Many Protestant churches such as the Anglican, Reformed and Lutheran, recite the Creeds within their liturgy. But are they casting judgment on themselves for doing such a thing? Perhaps the reason why every one of these ‘unions’ of sort have fallen into the hands of liberalism is because they are indeed casting themselves into the hands of the living God…Which is grace for them, since God seems to be trying to get their attention by not allowing such movements to survive.  

What is meant by the term “Catholic” and “Universal” church within the Creed? To some in our day the term is used for describing any church that is a true church according to basic Christian standards, regardless of authority and the posture they have to the rest of the Church and her history. These groups attempt to take lingusitic authority of the words but not patristic authority. If we look at the history of the Church we find that these terms are used exclusively to describe non-schismatic churches.

The Christian faith is founded in the Creeds in that the Creeds protect the very nature of Christ and His Church. Formed out of the early Church and Councils, the Creeds were created to help ward off various heresies that were common in that day. 

The heresies that the Creeds (Nicene, Apostle’s and Athanasius) were created to protect us from are still prevalent in our day! The Creeds set forth vital dogmas of the faith that if compromised by any people, determines them to be a sect or all together heretical. The Creeds include the dogma of God as our Creator, The Trinity, the Virgin birth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of believers and the return of Christ for his Church. Each of these dogmatic pronouncements within the Creeds have protected us from the modern heresies such as liberalism and cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But there is a section in the Nicene Creed that distinguishes modern heterodox movements of today that is very important to point out:

“And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church”

What was the understanding of the “Catholic and Apostolic Church” at the time the Creeds were constructed?  You will find below a number of bishops from the early church (pre and post Nicene) describing what is meant by the term catholic. There is more than what, say, Augustine wraps up in the term, that can be found in the Athanasius Creed, as well as other patristic writings. This does not mean that each bishop is giving their personal definition of the term, but rather it means that there is much to be said about the term. It is a term that is very complex.

Augustine of Hippo

“We believe in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church; for heretics and schismatics call their own congregations churches. But heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God, and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor” (Faith and Creed 10:21 [A.D. 393]).

Cyprian of Carthage

“You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishops; and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priest of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and catholic, is not split or divided, but is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere to one another” (Letters 66[67]:8 [A.D. 253]).

Ignatius of Antioch

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chap 8 [A.D. 110]) 

St. Irenaeus

“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

A church does not adhere to the Creeds if they are not under apostolic succession, which is clearly proven in just how the term “catholic and apostolic” Church is patristically defined. “Apostolic” never meant to refer to those that have similar doctrines as the Apostles, even the doctrine of the Trinity; rather, the term Apostolic was used in patristic times when referring to proper apostolic succession of the episcopate. No Protestant Church has apostolic succession! They are not in communion with the Orthodox Church or even the Roman Church, for that matter. Orthodoxy teaches that once a bishop breaks from the unified Church he no longer has succession and is not in communion with the Body of Christ! Christ commanded that we be unified (John 17) and that we be under the authority of the apostolic lineage (Matthew 16). Splinter groups off of Rome (who is already splintered from the Orthodox Church) are not even being considered for future disucssions of union with the Church. The reason for this, is, again, they are not connected to the authority of the apostles in any way. They may have some similar doctrines, but the Church is a living organism that only operates properly if they are unified under the same spiritual authority. Doctrines here and there are not a spiritual authority. There must be relationship! The Trinity represents God as communal. The Church is to be communal and relational. The Holy Spirit Himself works through this communal effort. As Saint Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:13, Christ is not divided and so we cannot be divided. Division over doctrine that is not Creedal is schismatic and sinful, and the only way that we will ever get back to the miracles that the first millennium Church experienced is if we become united again. Schismatics distract our unity and withhold their gifts from the Church. We need those people in the Church both for our sake as well as theirs!

Orthodoxy and Culture

“State, society, culture, nature itself, are real objects of mission and not a neutral milieu in which the only task of the Church is to preserve its own inner freedom, to maintain its religious life.”

~ Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Missionary Imperative in the Orthodox Tradition

There are some very serious disconnects between the Church and the culture in our modern times. In fact, there seems to be mass confusion just as to what the Gospel does to us as ‘mere mortals’ and how these mortal bodies become victorious bodies while on earth. How do we know that we are living out a life of worship, that our ceremony is affecting our lives and that our lives are affecting others to further the Kingdom? What does this look like when it begins to happen?

From the early Church’s conviction of sharing their property and “having all things in common,” as we see in Acts Chapter Two, to our modern struggles of regaining this sense of unity in a very confused society, the goal of this article will be to attempt to sort out the rubble and bring light to this subject of Christian purpose.

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On Hedonism


1. The pursuit of pleasure.
2. The ethical theory that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life
Hedonism is a Greek term stemming from hedonistic philosophers such as Epicurus (341–270 BC). This philosophy is part of the very antithesis of the Christian life…Although there is what one Protestant pastor calls “Christian Hedonism,” which is really just finding pleasure in a sacrificial life, something quite foreign to Protestantism. Stay tuned for a comprehensive argument for the ascetic life of Orthodoxy and how it compares to hedonism. The article will embrace the meaning of culture and how Orthodox Christians are to pursue the culture but on a completely different level from the Hedonists and other non-believing and self-pursuing peoples. I hope to have the article done sometime this week, Lord willing!

Five Interesting Historical Facts About Islam

 WHILE READING about things totally unrelated to the counterjihad movement, I have occasionally come across some interesting historical facts about Islam. I was surprised to discover that Islam had a hand in many important historical events I already knew about without ever knowing Islam had anything to do with them. Here are a few of the most interesting:

1. The creation of the U.S. Marine Corps was initiated in response to Islamic warriors. The Barbary Coast pirates were following in Mohammad’s footsteps, raiding caravans (in this case, oceangoing ships), taking slaves, capturing people to hold for ransom, and demanding “protection money” from any kafirs who didn’t want to be raided. This had been going on for centuries along the North African Mediterranean coastline.

Any ships that wanted to do business in the Mediterranean were at risk. Many European countries did the easy thing and paid the protection money to the Muslims to avoid being raided, which, of course, helped fund their operations against anyone who wasn’t paying. The U.S. did not have enough military resources to protect its ships, so it paid the protection money too. This bothered Thomas Jefferson. Before he was president, when he was an ambassador to France, Jefferson had a chance to meet with an ambassador from Tripoli, and he asked why Tripoli did this. The Muslim explained it was written in the Koran.

So Thomas Jefferson did something every leader of the free world should do: He bought himself a Koran and read it. Then when he became president, he knew what he needed to do: He formed the United States Navy, created the Marine Corps, and sent them to the shores of Tripoli, where they soundly defeated the Muslim warriors.

This was the first foreign war fought by the United States. America’s victory was the beginning of the end of the “Barbary Coast Pirates.” The military aggressiveness of Islamic countries remained contained and weakened for over a century.

2. The New World was discovered because of Islam. Christopher Columbus was looking for a new trade route to the East. But why was he looking for a trade route?

During the Second Jihad, Islam invaded Central Asia and defeated Constantinople in 1453, cutting off the overland route for Europeans. Islamic armies continued their jihad northward, and conquered much of what is now Eastern Europe, until they were finally stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Read more: The Second Major Wave of Jihad: the Turks, 1071-1683.

Europe had been trading with the Far East for centuries, and their old overland route now went through territory that was hostile and dangerous to anybody but Muslims. The economy of Europe was threatened.

So, in 1492, the year Islam was finally defeated in Spain, ending Islam’s 780-year occupation, Columbus set off to find a passage to the Far East by boldly sailing West into the unknown. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

3. The .45 caliber 1911 semiautomatic pistol was created to stop Islamic warriors. From 1902 until 1913, the United States fought a war with the “Moro Warriors” in the Philippines. These Islamic warriors were named “Moros” by the Spanish. Their unstoppability was legendary. “In one instance,” writes Robert Boatman, “a Moro warrior received 14 bullet wounds in five minutes, three of which penetrated his brain, and yet he fought on.”

At the time the army was using .38 caliber guns, which were unable to stop the Moros, so in 1906, they began testing different guns to find something better. In 1911, they chose the .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol. It had enough stopping power to kill even a Moro warrior with one shot.

4. The Great Pyramid of Giza looks unfinished because of Muslims. The pyramid was once covered by a smooth, beautifully polished layer of white stone. This outer layer was removed by Muslims, who used the white stone for mosques and palaces, leaving the ancient pyramids with their somewhat unfinished appearance.

The physicist, John Zajac, wrote: “This protective covering was made up of…hard, white limestone, similar to marble but superior in hardness and in durability against the elements…The casing stones, 144,000 in all, were so brilliant that they could literally be seen from the mountains of Israel hundreds of miles away…The people of the area had viewed the pyramid and its polished stones with awe for centuries. But when a 13th century earthquake loosened some of these casing stones, the Arabs recognized a great quarry of precut stones that could be used to finish off palaces and mosques. For instance, the casing stones were used to rebuild the new city of El Kaherah plus Cairo mosques and palaces, including the Mosque of Sultan Hasan.”

Historically, this is Islamic standard operating procedure. Wherever Islam established itself throughout the world, it destroyed or defaced monuments that represented the previous (conquered) culture and replaced it with Islamic structures and mosques. Afghanistan used to be Buddhist. Turkey used to be Christian. Pakistan used to be Hindu. The former cultures and any symbols of them were annihilated and replaced by Islam.

5. The Crusades were a limp, late, defensive response to four hundred years of Islamic war against what was then largely Christian lands (the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Europe). Four of the five main centers of Christianity, including the Byzantium and Constantiople, were eventually conquered by the Islamic warriors’ relentless conquests, and the countries were forcibly converted into Islamic states. But before the Crusades, Byzantium was still fighting to defend itself, and repeatedly appealed to Rome for help.

The different nations of Europe were largely competitors with each other. They were not a united force — far from it — but the Pope thought he could unify Europeans if he made it a matter of “defending Christians,” so that’s how he made his appeal. It helped unite Europeans against a common threat, and it may have saved Europe from the forcible Islamization suffered by the nations of the Middle East, part of India, and North Africa. Read more: What About the Crusades?

Here’s another interesting historical tidbit about Islam’s influence: The defense of Europe during the Crusades was devastatingly expensive, and the Church of Rome tried many ways to raise funds. Some of these fundraising efforts were deeply offensive to Martin Luther, so he intitiated the Protestant Reformation.

Islam has had a profound impact on important historical events throughout its history, and it is still being felt today.

Reformed Christians and Orthodoxy

Here is a great new blog authored by Robert Arakaki. The blog is aimed at helping Reformed Evangelicals understand the differences of Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Book of Revelation and “Prophecy”

Surfing the “end times” websites and even watching the local billboards during this time of worldwide crises will reveal a host of arguments that we are nearing “the mark of the beast,” as well as “the rapture of the Church.” Most of these teachings come straight out of the Evangelical community and work as a fear-based hook for new converts and a message of hope and excitement for both new converts and matured parishioners. This is not to say that no type of global Antichrist or “new world order” will happen, but it is to say that it will not happen like the Evangelical say it will happen. In fact many areas in the Bible (both Christ and St. Paul state) say that in perilous times such as these many will fall from the true Gospel message to be enamored by their surroundings.

Remember, the Book of Revelation, even though written and prophesied for many events that have already past, will give us wisdom to handle situations such as the one that we are in right now. But to create a newspaper theology such as is being created is absolute heresy and we should tread very carefully when listening to this hype.

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Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel also a False Prophet?

Is Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel a false prophet like Harold Camping? See for yourself!

Evangelical/Protestant Hypocrisy

This article is from Eric Hyde, a member of the Eastern Orthodox Facebook forum. The article is quite good, hitting important points concisely and with clarity.

Confessions of a Protestant

Growing up in a Protestant’ish faith (non-denominational, charismatic), and having never been exposed to the Orthodox Church, I am now beginning to see some of the contradictions that I lived so long with. The following is a short list:

1.) We Protestants love to shout from the rooftops, “Return to traditional family values, return to traditional marriages,” etc, yet we’ve been the ones who have said for the last 500 years that tradition is bad, particularly religious tradition.

2.) We smirk at those “legalistic” folk who repeat written prayers during worship, yet we have no problem repeating written songs during worship. Indeed, we have no problem with our entire salvation revolving around a pad “sinner’s prayer” repeated after a minister.

3.) We mock those who have icons in their church believing that they are worshiping dumb idols made of wood, yet we take two sticks, make a cross, and place it at the highest pinnacle of churches and adore it just the same.

4.) We hold the Scripture above the liturgy, as if they are opposed to each other. Yet, the liturgy preceded the canonization of the New Testament. Never mind that one of the tests that the early church imposed on the various books that were to be considered for canonization was whether or not they contradicted the liturgy passed down by the Apostles.

5.) Some Evangelicals love to point out the problems associated with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism’s intermarriage of church and state, yet we are never more proud then when we make the false claim that America is a “Christian nation,” and engage in sometimes radical political activism in the name of Christ (you know, because Christ was a huge political activist).

6.) We mock the priests who walk around in robes, yet we praise pastors who drive BMW’s and flash their glistening, diamond studded, Rolex watches behind the spotlight of the pulpit.

7.) We shun the Church clergy (bishops, priests, etc.) because they claim apostolic authority (and have funny collars), yet would not dare disagree with our ordained pastors, because they…um…well, because they told us not too.

8.) We believe in a myth called “Sola Scriptura”; that Scripture alone, without tradition, is the way to know God. That is, Sola Scriptura according to either the Augustian-Calvin tradition, the Luther-Melanchthon tradition, the Seymour-Roberts-Hagin tradition, etc.

9.) We deny Mary and the Saints any room in our church services, yet we proudly proclaim that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses”. I guess that so long as the “witnesses” are an abstract bunch, if we’re not being specific as to exactly who they are, all is well.

10.) We look down our noses at the Orthodox for giving the highest priority to the Creeds of the Church in matters of dogma, yet we have untold number of factions within Protestantism over the very issues that the ancient Church debated and settled in the Creeds. The Creeds were formulated to protect the Church from heresy and division. The churches I grew up in could not care less about the Creeds and its no wonder that most of them now are wandering, isolated factions – sheep without a shepherd.

The Fools Guide the Church?

Many Protestant Christians who are anxious to escape the dreadfulness of disunity within their churches look forward to latching on to an authority in which they can rely on existentially. They want to know that the doctrinal explosion – if you will – of the Church as it began at Pentecost will be protected from what Protestantism has come to be.

Many of these Christians turn to Rome in order to embrace the Pontiff ‘s anathemas and other dogmatic ascertains. Others turn to Orthodoxy and embrace the Ecumenical councils as the Rome convert embraces the Pontiff. But this is not right of the Orthodox convert says Bishop Hilarion of the Orthodox Church. He says, “Ecumenical councils were never seen as the supreme authority in the Orthodox Church” (Orthodox Christianity, p. 61).

Orthodoxy is not a religious construct where people can place the thrust of their faith in existential values. Yes, the Church does have a corporeal and existential value, but the Church is a mere glimpse of what is really and truly going on in heaven! When one embraces Orthodoxy, they are not embracing what man says or does but what God says and does.

In Roman Catholicism the Pontiff is perceived as the voice of God; granted he as a bishop does represent the voice of God but he is not the entirety of it, in a Trinitarian sense. The Trinity is represented by the entire Church in that we are all a part of the priesthood; Not that we are all able to espouse whatever we want and expect it to manifest as truth but that we are actually able to espouse whatever we want and perhaps make fools of ourselves! The fool actually fuels the Church. That’s right; we are created in such a way that our human nature takes a certain form so as to embrace the Trinity! This is why the early Church arguments within the Councils were so important. They were protecting the way God created man in the very image of the Trinity. So it was important that they got the Trinity right by warding off the heresies surrounding the Trinity!

Since man was created in the image of the Trinity he is expected to become as the Trinity. He is expected to progress in such a way as to leave what he has learned from secular culture and to take up what he has learned from God’s Holy Church. This growth in the people of God after the image of the Trinity is crucial to the sustainability and authority of the Church.

The Orthodox Church, according to basic existential principals should not still exist, but she continues to exist. She has survived some of the most terrible onslaughts in world history and she still continues to grow.

The Orthodox Church is guided by the people as they embrace the Trinity. There is no need for one man or even a council of men to proclaim that we are in a sense still here and have the Christians submit to such a proclamation. Orthodox unity and sustainability happens “naturally” through the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Church is not proclaimed on paper for people to submit to, it is demonstrated through praxis, to be of “one mind and spirit” as Saint Paul says. The Councils of the Church with the bishopric are for correction and encouragement. They are not for replacing the people; they are the voice of the people.

The fool, in many ways, guides the Church. Believe it or not, it is important to have fools in the Church. Christ states in Matthew 13 that the Church is made up of both wheat and tares. And Saint Paul the Apostle says in 1 Cor. 25-30, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

The fools spur the Church on to glory. The fools enter the Church and they begin to mouth off in embarrassment but they grow and suddenly their foolishness becomes the very light of the Trinity; man “becoming” God. The fools both grow the Church, causing her to study and discuss, and even gather in Councils, and the fools themselves begin to grow and change, showing that God is the author of what is good.

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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“Ye are gods” – Theosis!

In the Orthodox faith salvation is likened to a journey which God has set before us to travel. And although it is somewhat of a dangerous journey, with many snares and pitfalls of the enemy, it does not leave us in despair. There is always renewal and rejuvenation through God’s Holy Trinity, via His Church and even creation itself. The loving kindness of God manifests both spiritually as well as existentially, through both the invisible as well as the visible!

In order to truly understand our salvation in Christ we must travel back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve made a choice to separate themselves from God. As Bishop Kallistos Ware says in his book The Orthodox Church(p.222), “Instead of continuing along the path marked out for him by God, he turned aside and disobeyed God. Adam’s fall consisted essentially in his disobedience of the will of God; he set up his own will against the divine will…” Bishop Ware goes on to say that because of this disobedience, a new form of existence manifested on the earth, one of disease and death.

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A Brief History of Monasticism

From pre-Nicene times to our modern times, the monastics of the Church have kept us vigilant and sober, showing us that God does indeed call modern day John the Baptists’ and Paul the Apostles’. God calls these monks to live a life of purity not merely for themselves, but for the greater health of the entire Church – men and women praying for the Church and the world, serving the Church and the world, and sacrificing for the Church and the world.

The movement of monasticism was first inspired by John the Baptist as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” – John 1:23. His very calling was prophesied by Isaiah as the forerunner to Christ; a spokesman and martyr for Christ, yes, but a monastic one at that. St. John’s life was one that was dedicated to one primary thing: meditating on the revelation of God in the purist form possible: alone, celibate, with little to no material possessions to look after; a slave to Christ! Saint John’s calling, of course, exemplified the calling of Christ, who also lived a “monastic” life; thee monastic life! Jesus’ forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12), as well as his solitary habits (e.g., Luke 4:42; 5:15-16), would become an important model for later monastic practices.

At times Jesus encouraged the renunciation of commitments to important symbols of established society: marriage (Matthew 19:12 – “Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven; the one who can accept this should accept it”), and wealth (Mark 10:21 – “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor”). He had also promoted a high level of self-denial among his followers (Mark 8:34).This was the beginnings of the New Covenant Church, formed and fashioned amongst the very highest of ethical, moral and spiritual standards ever known to man.

After John and Christ we see many others who follow the monastic calling in order to promote and grow the Kingdom of God. Saint Paul the Apostle could certainly be considered a monastic. We see that in his writings he withheld from not only the companionship of a wife but also of material gain. Saint Paul’s influence on the New Testament Church was extreme, and we can see in Acts 16:5 that from this work the Church began to gain great momentum, “being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.”

In Acts 4:32, we can see how the Church shared all things and lived a very communal life. This communal life was a natural progression likely inherited from the simple fact that in order to love one another an attitude of giving and fellowship had to manifest. It was this communal lifestyle that gave way to the later monastic communities.

As Williston Walker states in his book, A History of the Christian Church (p.154), monasticism “arose originally among the peasantry.” This early movement of Christians sought to withdraw from the populations in Egypt and Syria as well as the churches within those areas. The Church witnessed this separation and so began to sponsor the communities and becoming actual products of the monastic movements.

Known as one of the Desert Fathers, St. Anthony (250-356 A.D.) is said to be one of the first official Christian “monks.” When he was about twenty he heard the voice of God saying, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.” He did as he was commanded and sold his possessions. Anthony’s sacrifice went far beyond what most monks practice today. When Anthony was 35, he retired into the desert, where he shut himself up in an abandoned fort. Food was thrown to him over the wall and for twenty years he saw no people whatsoever.

After these years of isolation an entire colony of men gathered around his fort to follow their call to monasticism. In 305 A.D. the monks persuaded Anthony to come out to disciple them. He spent five or six years at this task and in 311 A.D., paid a visit to Alexandria to encourage the Church in persecution. He then retired deeper into the desert, where he lived alone for the rest of his life (Bonnell Spencer, Ye Are the Body, p. 62). Through a famous biography written by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Anthony’s monastic life became widely known. Athanasius portrayed Anthony as if he were a wrestler in training and so tapped both the religious fervor and the sports fever that were characteristic of the common men and women of the Eastern Empire and thus Anthony’s influence spread well beyond Egypt.

A number of monastic communities that sprang off of Anthony’s work made the point of it all to live alone, and although still connected with the Church were still very disconnected from people, including other monks. Pachomius (290-346 A.D.) went a step further, however, and arranged that the monks should work to produce their own food and clothing. This way, they were no longer dependent upon the charity that the public could spare for their sustenance, and the number of people who could adopt this cenobitical life (“life in common”) would become unlimited. After the reforms of Pachomius, the number of monasteries and monks began to increase rapidly in the East, including addition of women into the monastic fold.

In Syria, the monastic life grew with the tendency of self-denial. Simeon the Elder (390-459 A.D.) was one of the more popular examples of what was called a “Stylite,” because he spent thirty years of his life living at the top of a pillar, where he prayed and preached to those passing by.

In Cappadocia, and later in Asia Minor cenobitism became the rule. The monastic life in this region owes its progress to the efforts of Esustathis of Sebaste (300-377 A.D.) and Basil the Great of Caesarea (370-379 A.D.). Basil promoted the “philosophical life” and demanded both the love of God and neighbor. Basil also encouraged his monks to situate themselves on the edge of the cities so as to serve the general public with instruction and hospitality.

The Monastic ideal was first taught to the West by Saint Athanasius, who wrote the biography of Saint Anthony called The life of Anthony. The book was quickly translated into Latin (360 A.D.)

The earliest sign of monastic life in the West was that of Bishop Martin Tours (335-397 A.D.). Around the same time, Eusebius of Vercelli (340-371 A.D.) introduced a new monastic community which involved clergy under a special ascetical rule. This same rule was followed by Augustine of Hippo.

The constant growth of monastic communities in the West, particularly in Italy, Gaul, and Spain, led to a fifth century rule called the Rule of Benedict, which is very likely to be contributed to Benedict of Nursia (480-550 A.D.) (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church). Benedict’s members were required to renounce personal possessions and to remain in the community for life. The monks conducted a communal praise of God in a sevenfold daily office, they labored in the fields and they participated in what is known as lectio divina – the meditative study of the Scripture. They conducted a school for reading and studying of Scripture, equipped with a library. This gave way to other monasteries beginning the same ministry, eventually, reaching into the Middle Ages, resulting in the monastery as the primary institution of learning. Although the Benedictine Rule spread slowly, it was used very steadily by Pope Gregory the Great, who used its monks as missionaries, bishops and ambassadors.

Monasticism has grown today as a major influence in the Orthodox Church with thousands of monasteries around the world. It serves as an anchor in the Church for ethics and spiritual practices that would otherwise fade with those who are caught up in marital and other social affairs. The monks of the Church can in many ways be considered to be the very conscience of the Church. The daily lives of various parishioners around the world are not lived without the consideration of the monks and how they live. We know that there are many monks living a strict spiritual life for the kingdom of God, and this convicts us and gives us strength! We also reap the prayers of the monks and greatly benefit from the theological/educational resources that they create.

The So-called “Intertestamental” Period

To thoroughly understand the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ we must know the context in which the Gospel was actually formed. Certainly we must consider the fact that the prophets of the Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ and that Christ would “redeem” his people. Certainly we must consider the fact that Christ became the “perfect sacrifice” and the “new Adam,” and also, as the Prophet Isaiah says, the people of God are to experience heaven on earth where the “wolf will live with the lamb.” All of these things are important theological developments, but these and many more developments beg the question of how all this began to happen on a cultural and even existential level at the time of the second Temple (515B.C – 70 AD).

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About Orthodoxy

Orthodox Doctrine

In the years after Jesus’ Resurrection, apostles and missionaries traveled throughout the known world spreading the gospel. Soon, five major locations were established as centers for the faith: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandra, and Constantinople. In the year 1054 the Roman church broke from this united Church and five hundred years later protestant churches began breaking away from Rome. But the original church has remained united in the apostolic faith since the first century. This is Orthodoxy.

One of the tasks of the early Church was defining, and defending, an orthodox theology against the battering waves of heresies. These heresies often appeared in disputes over the nature of the Trinity, or how Jesus could be both God and Man. Church Councils were called to search the Scriptures and put into words the common faith, forming a bedrock of certainty that could stand for all ages. From this time, the Church has been called “Orthodox,” which means “right belief.” The Nicene Creed originated at the council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and is the central Orthodox statement of faith, a preeminent example of the work of the Councils. Built on the foundation of Christ and His Apostles, nothing has been added to our faith, and nothing can be added. It is complete.

Orthodox Worship

Orthodox churches still use forms of worship that were practiced in the first centuries. Our worship is based to a great extent on passages from Scriptures. We sing most of the service, joining our voices in simple harmony to ancient melodies.

Our worship is focused on God, not on our own enjoyment, fulfillment, or fellowship. We come into the presence of God with awe, aware of our fallenness and His great mercy. We seek forgiveness and rejoice in the great gift of salvation so freely giving. Orthodox worship is filled with repentance, gratitude, and unending praise.

We try, as best as we can, to make our worship beautiful. The example of Scripture shows us that God’s design for tabernacle worship (Exodus 25, 26) included gold, silver, precious stones, blue and purple cloth, embroidery, incense, bells, and anointing oil. Likewise, in Saint John’s version of heavenly worship (Revelation 4) there are precious stones, gold, thrones, crowns, white robes, crystal, and incense. From the beginning to the end of Scripture, worship is offered with as much beauty as possible. While new mission’s finances may call for simple appointments, our hearts come to worship seeking to pour out at the feet of Christ all the precious ointment we posses.

A common misconception is that awe-filled beautiful worship must be rigid, formal, and cold. Orthodox worship shatters that stereotype. The liturgy is not a performance, but an opportunity to come together as a family of faith before our beloved Father. True Orthodox worship is comfortable, warm, and joyful. It could be nothing less in His heavenly presence.

Orthodox Values

Values that are usually termed “Judeo-Christian” have never left Orthodoxy. We believe that sexual expression is a treasured gift one to be exercised only within marriage. Persons with homosexual or other extramarital sexual impulses are welcomed as fellow servants of God, receiving loving support as they make an offering to God of their chastity.

Marriage is a commitment  for life. Divorce is a very grave action, and remarriage after divorce a concession to human weakness, undertaken with repentance.

Orthodoxy has stood against abortion since the earliest days of the church. The Didache (circa A.D. 110) states, “Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.” In the midst of culture which freely practiced abortion, infanticide, and the exposure of infants, early Christians were a constant voice against violence, as the Orthodox Church continues to be today.

Caring for the poor and disadvantaged has always been a concern for the Orthodox. The strong sermons of Saint John Chrysostom, written in the forth century, bear witness to the importance of this Christian responsibility. The Church continues to see its mission in light of the whole person, body and soul.

Orthodox believers are right, left and center on many issues. But where the Scripture and witness of the early Church guide us, there is no controversy. We uphold and obey God’s will.

By Fredrica Mathewes-Green

Orthodoxy and Sovereignty (Creative Order)

In Orthodoxy, salvation is inclusive to the entire creative order. God, being sovereign, grafts us into a plan that involves much more than just concepts and ideals, but a plan that involves nature itself, everything that He intentionally created as good. The eschatological plan of salvation does not merely involve the redemption of “souls alone,” but of souls that are attached to this creation that St. Paul says in Romans is “groaning” for its redemption. The prophet Ezekiel proclaims in Ezekiel 34:25-31 how through Christ all things created will be restored. Matter itself is not irrelevant to the faith or in some way evil. Matter is subjected to Christians to take spiritual dominion over, as stated in Genesis.

When God is working His will in the world, He is causing events to come together for the sake of Christians (Romans 8:11) – ALL THINGS! God is sovereign and includes all of nature to contribute to His work. Through His mercy He even uses the neglected and abused aspects of nature to benefit us. Even those that aim to contribute to our fall can be used by God to aid our salvation.

It is a mystery on just why some submit to this divine nature and some do not. Beginning at our very conception (Psalm 139: 13) God woos us through the creative order. He does not use an invisible truth serum that calls some and not others. No, God allows man to be creative in the creative order, and this is what the Holy Spirit operates through. He uses what God has made (not exclusively, of course)! This is why it is so important to care for children within healthy environments, because a negative environment will produce a negative person; not that God cannot overcome this negativity; He can and does, but the ideal of the Gospel is to glorify God in everything, everywhere, redeeming even time itself against what is negative (Ephesians 5:16).

Each one of us has a “will” that is being formed from our very birth, and each day of our lives, from this very birth, we exercise this will toward or away from God. God surrounds us with His love, His positive energy, and waits daily for us to make conscience decisions to grow within this love, this divine nature. This is true sovereignty! The very fact that God waits on us to make decisions for Him shows us that He is patient and secure. If He were not patient and secure, He would force us to Him through what many modern Christians call (and embrace) “divine election.”

“Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone, through all creation visible and invisible, I offer veneration to the Creator and Master and Maker of all things. For the creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God, through me the moon worships God, through me the stars glorify him, through me the waters and showers of rain, the dews and all creation, venerate God and give him glory.” – St. Leontius of Cyprus

The Incarnation and Nature

When St. Paul spoke of the “New Adam” in Romans, he was not merely referring to a new covenant in a legal/juridical sense but was referring to a new covenant through a new nature, a nature that we can inherit through Christ.

St. Ephrim the Syrian wrote:

“All these changes did the Merciful One make,

Stripping off glory and putting on a body (Philippians 2:5-7);

For He had devised a way to reclothe Adam

In that glory which he had stripped off.

He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,

Corresponding to Adam’s leaves,

He put on clothes

In place of Adam’s skins;

He was baptized for Adam’s sin,

He was embalmed for Adam’s death,

He rose and raised Adam up in His glory.

Blessed is He who descended, put on Adam and ascended!”

What was first meant to be through Adam we can now have through Christ! We can now become a part of God’s entire creative order in the natural sense. We can now become natural! This is a huge help with the very basics of theology and growth in Christ for a number of reasons.

Many times when a Christian makes reference to some thing or some action that is not natural many non-patristic Christians immediately put their guard up, assuming that nature is bad due to the fall in the Garden. This thinking is not within the realm of the new covenant, rather it is without the victory of the incarnation itself and the glory that follows it in the crucifixion and resurrection.

In the everyday complications of life it is hard to make black and white ethical distinctions through the specific legality and even general equity of the Law. But a Christian can much more easily say to themselves’ “this is not natural.”

I would refrain from placing this theology within the more common category of what is known as “natural law,” since that is more of a modern thought from the West. It has generally referred to how all people, even non-believers, have the Law written on their hearts to some extent. I take issue with this modern category of thought since it many times misrepresents New Testament thought. Jeremiah and Hebrews says that God writes His Law on the hearts of the believers, not the non-believers, yet so-called natural law theology rarely makes this important distinction: that people who are in Christ have an entirely different (more powerful) sense of the Law of God.

To be natural is to live in Christ! Living naturally means walking by the Spirit, who is one with the creative order in which we live in. ‘Creative Order’ can be said to be everything that God represents, from the air that we breath to the conversations that we embark on, to the choices that we make. We live not in a spirit-only world but in a world that has both Spirit as well as matter; a world that Christ makes whole through His Incarnation.

“He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.” – St. Gregory Nazianzen

The Old Testament Canon, Law, and Eastern Orthodoxy

As discussed in the post on Marcion, the place of the Law of God in Christian theology has been a hot point amongst many believers. In the early Church the Law of God was constantly brought up to ward off the ceremonial practices of the Jews, especially regarding the Sabbath day. Many Christians insisted that the Sabbath was still to be regarded as holy. Of course, there are no Christians that believe that today, except for the Seventh Day Adventists, who by their many heretical statements about the Gospel and the Church can hardly be considered Christian.

In the Middle Ages, especially in the West, the place of the Law was so often debated because of the relationship (or lack thereof) of the Church and the State. Many Christians wanted the Church to rule the State, so they often quoted the Law of God to support the theology to do so. And while the Church was gaining momentum in this “ministry” the civil Law of God within the Old Testament was often quoted so as to support penal actions such as the death penalty for heresy and “mortal” sins such as adultery and murder.

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Video Killed the Radio Star

Modernity is both an enemy as well as an ally of the Church. I would say that it is first the enemy, though, since Christianity is an ancient faith ruled by an ancient way of life (succession of authority – Scriptures/Church), where as modernity is the very progression of society apart from spirituality.

How is modernity the enemy of the Church? Well, this is a great question and deserves at least an entire 200 page book, but in a nutshell modernity throughout history has not ceased to knock and even ram on the doors of the Church’s ceremony, her liturgy. This is how the Church is captured, first by its liturgy, hence the popular Latin phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”). The way we worship dictates the way we think on theological terms. If the worship changes, so will the overall culture of the Church. The Jews have been aware of breaching of modernity into the Covenant since the very establishment of Israel.

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On Relational Evangelism

“But if you say, “show me thy God,” I would reply, “Show me yourself and I will show you my God.” Show then, that the eyes of your soul are capable of seeing, and the ears of your heart able to hear.” St. Theophilus to Autolycus, 1.2

Proverbs 26:4 warns us not to “answer a fool according to his folly.” This means that we must be careful when responding to unbelievers, that the context must be appropriate. If they are being testy and do not really desire to know God then we should not respond as if they did, otherwise you set your own trap to fall in. They are asking you to “show” God through pure logic, which simply cannot be done. There are elements of faith and belief that must be present, even in the smallest form of a mustard seed, as Christ mentions in the Gospel. You can tell if someone has this small amount of faith merely by the context of the conversation or even posture of their voice.

God is not going to force his way into the soul of the unbeliever. Their must be some pain somewhere within this unbeliever for them to be interested in a relationship with God. When I say pain, I mean that there must be an amount of humility within the soul that allows such a conversation about God. First Peter 5:5 says that God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud. If the unbeliever could simply find just an ounce of pain in their life that they are willing to table, willing to show you, that is when the time is right; not that they will spill their guts to you; The pain itself may remain hidden in their mind but it may manifest to you in the form of listening to what you have to say about the Living God, thus “showing” themselves to you!

“Penal Substitution” and the Trinity

Here is a great comment on the last post by Maximus Scott:

“The “penalty for sin” in their view is to be seperated from the presence of God and his manifold graces and then to be tormented (tortured?) eternally in hell. How could the second Person of the Blessed Trinity be seperated, cut off and damned? This would amount to schism in the Trinity, or polytheism (two gods) or nestorianism (two persons in Christ). Some gnostics and Paul of Samasota taught that the Logos departed from Jesus on the Cross…this is grossly heretical. Instead of saving us from the devil, sin and death (Heb. 2:14 & 1 Jn. 3:8), Christ primarily saves us from His own irate Father. The Gnostics also believed that Christ saved them the cruel exacting hands of the Old Testament God of law and judgment.”

Bolder than Burning a Qur’an

God said to my Master,  “Sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” Matthew 22:44

Do you see the crescent on the cross? Do you know why it is there? I’ll tell you, it is the crescent of Islam and it is put there in some Orthodox crosses to represent Islam as the footstool of Christ (some are under the footstool). These crosses are on the tops of churches to demonstrate  Christ and His Church’s dominion. If you asked me, I would say that this is bolder than burning a Qur’an.

My Conversion to the Orthodox Church Part II

There are a number of things that have really discouraged me over the years within the Christian faith; things that I later found out to be modern in nature; Christians limiting how close one could get to the Church of the early fathers before barring them from leadership or fellowship. I have found that the path of leadership within these modern churches is filled with sinful compromise.

Many leaders in the modern church are the biggest liars I have ever seen! I have witnessed it and in some sense done it myself. It’s bred at ordination exams. These men lie about their beliefs in order to be ordained. It happens in the Evangelical faith as well as the Roman. I know right now that there are many Anglicans that are willing to lie their tails off in order to be ordained in the Roman ordinariate that they are now creating for Anglicans (these guys know that the Vatican II catechism speaks lies all over the place about Mary and about Islam).

As these people grow in the faith they will slam on the brakes if it means having to face rebuke or the loss of their leadership position. They will begin to learn the truths of the Ancient Church but will cease from embracing it fully in order to keep their flock or please their superiors. Of course they will philosophize their position of teaching within their mind, creating an apologetic, a defense for when they meet opposition. It’s really quite easy: they will take a hard turn toward rationalism in order to discredit the ancient faith. This is of course how liberalism manifests, and I would argue that liberalism began at the Reformation when men began to reject the mystical aspects of grace for scholastic constructs of rhetoric, notwithstanding Roman heresy that strayed from the early fathers; but more on that another time.

It’s never healthy to lie to yourself in order to remain “comfortable.” Some people – mainly men, but I have seen a number of women do this as well – would much rather become the popular prophet in their church affiliation than actually grow and arrive at a place of spirituality where they belong. What I mean by this is what I say frequently on this site, that Christianity is fragmented from the whole into a type of linked economy. The Church can be represented by a ladder where each denomination represents a rung in the ladder, from the least sacramental at the bottom to the most sacramental and apostolic on the top. One does not have to climb the entire ladder, of course. One can get to the top right away if they look past the disaster of much of modern history and see the “truth of the ancient.” But as modernity saturates western society through the years, more and more denominations are created…from breaking off of older denominations, thus creating these stepping-stone/rungs.

I have met a number of people that seek to climb this ladder by conversing with Christians that are on the “top rungs” and buying books from the top-rung churches, but they cease to make the move to the top, rather they hoard the information they have received in order to become a type of leader within the lower rung. Is this a noble thing to do? I often ask myself this question as I work out my own salvation. In fact, I have wrestled with that question far too often. Rather than just jumping right up to the Orthodox Church with my family, I chose to wrestle with God as Jacob wrestled, always insisting that God bless me for working so hard for Him but never really sitting back and listening to God as I should have. I kept seeking the theology of the more ancient churches and then relating it back to my family and those who I was leading in the Church. It was exciting in many ways. I could go on these theological journeys and return with a few beautiful jewels to share with my people. But it caught up to me several times.

It seems like each time I moved from one denomination to the next it was because I had feared my camp leaders catching me and saying “Hey, I know where you are getting those doctrines.” Sure, some have actually followed me on my path but the wrestling of this Prodigal Son has been way too harsh. Again, you could say that I have a hip out of joint from wrestling with God over all this. I knew it was happening. I knew I was wrestling with God each time I attempted to mesh theologies, but when you have this kind of prideful momentum it is hard to hear what God is really saying.

Some will say that it is perfectly godly for an Evangelical type to “borrow” from higher, older, denominations and churches. I disagree! You know who you are. I know some of these people personally and I know some that are popular theologians. I know of one extremely popular Anglican theologian who is constantly bringing back jewels from the Eastern Orthodox Church, rarely to give credit to them at all. I know people personally that have learned about the higher moral standards of the older more established churches such as the Eastern Orthodox and refuse to submit to them because they will lose their collar permanently (or may never get the collar they do not have but desire to have). This is sinful! God is not going to bless that kind of stubbornness. Come home! You will be blessed without the collar. Better to gain salvation than gain the whole world and lose your soul, right? Or maybe you will not lose your soul completely. Maybe you will just suffer all your life. Is that truly what you want?

What is really quite interesting about the fragmentation of Christianity is that it is so very western-driven, mainly by the supposed freedom fighters of modern America who insist on freedom to do whatever one pleases, including the capitalization of heresy, which is what modern Protestantism has come to: a big business for clergy. If there is a crack in an existing group, you had better believe that some cleaver weasel will cram him or herself into that crack and push until it opens up to a few other weasels to help begin another denomination, another rung in the already crowded ladder of western schism.

Am I wrong? Do I have my history and my theology wrong? Have I not come home by converting to Orthodoxy? I know that my moving from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy while actually explaining it as a part of growth may actually offend some, but so far I have heard no decent arguments at all. Character assassinations and name calling will always be the norm for this type of dialog. But I think there is one thing that you will notice: Eastern Orthodoxy is growing, and it is growing without your help. Maybe your crafty style of discipleship is being outmoded by the evangelistic momentum of Orthodoxy. Maybe your creative theological journeys to feed your family or church can finally come to an end and you can let your people finally get the medicine they need.

My Conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy

In case you are new here or have not noticed the change in this site, I am converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. It was not the easiest jump but as the first month has passed I can say with confidence that it is awesome!

I first made the decision to be confirmed as an Anglican based on a number of things, but what I was most interested in was the fact that I could become closer to God through the very means that Christ had described in the Holy Scriptures. I felt like I would finally be able to worship within the thrust of reverence and rich theological content, to do what Christ said to the woman at the well in John 4, “to worship in spirit and truth.” But as I grew within the Anglican faith I began to realize that worshiping in spirit and truth involves much more than just reverence and rich theology. I found my soul begging for more of something, but was not sure what it was.

As I continued to worship and study within the church, the Holy Spirit began to show me just what it was that I was lacking – the very nature of the Church and the way that the Holy Spirit Himself operates. I began to see that the Spirit operates through unity and humility of the very body of Christ, the Church. But I have not seen this within the Anglican faith. As much as I have tried, through various Anglican jurisdictions, I cannot see the unity that Christ speaks of.

Christ says in John 17 that He desires that we be unified, and the early fathers say that without unity in the Church the spirit simply cannot operate properly. In the beginning of the Church as we see in the book of Acts and all the way through the first millennium, the Church was one. The churches varied a bit in their culture but they were unified under the bishopric through the Ecumenical Councils.

As I embrace the Orthodox faith I can see and feel how God is blessing me through this act of unity, a unity not only of those in the local church now but a unity of the Church, past, present and future. There is something very powerful about worshiping under the same liturgy that some of the most godly priests and bishops in all history worshiped with; direct successors of the Apostles. It really gives new meaning to be a disciple of Christ! The liturgy itself resonates with the early Christian within you, something that I think we all need to get in touch with while living in a very modernistic and secular society. Learning Orthodox theology and worshiping with them allows one to be enraptured with the great saints of the first millennium; the surrounding icons, the incense, the majestic vestments, the people relaxed within the congregation – but not so relaxed as to become irreverent – and the unaccompanied voices of the people of God chanting praise, brings one into the entire body of Christ – past, present and future. Orthodox worship also gives one a sense of belonging throughout the week…like no other manifestation of Christianity can give. We see that in Revelation the Church triumphant is constantly worshiping. Orthodoxy finds a place in this realm. Not only is there always – due to the parishes as well as the monastics – an Orthodox worship going on somewhere within the world, like the Church triumphant, but the worship itself is “open ended.” It does not have an entrance or closing of a precession. You walk into it as if it has always been going on, because it has been. This helps create a spiritual foundation within your soul that “extends” worship to every day past Sunday. Some Protestant churches teach a concept like this but they do not put it into practice within the worship service, the very manifestation (and cause) of our theology. The Orthodox Church puts wheels on the Western term Lex orandi, lex credendi (Latin for the law of prayer is the law of belief).     

And the fact that the Orthodox can worship so majestically and sacramentally while also under a bishopric that has proven itself up to our day and has not wavered gives much confidence in Christ!

Worshiping under a “blameless” bishopric (1 Timothy 3:2) is important not only for worshipful reasons but for evangelistic reasons. My view of evangelism is to teach about how one needs to be a part of the bishopric, and how the bishopric is the very founder and keeper of the Bible (Canon). But this seems difficult to do while in the Anglican faith because the history of the Anglican bishopric leads to the apostasy of the Episcopal Church and Church of England – quite the embarrassment.

After a considerable amount of study, conversations with a local Orthodox priest, prayer, and the chance to bring my son Steffen with me to see if this unity is at work within a local Orthodox church, I came to the realization that this is it! Steffen (my son) gave me his approval ;) I know that within the Orthodox Church I can receive spiritual support for my teaching. This means that I will no longer be that guy that just doesn’t seem to fit in, the guy that teaches that “Catholic” stuff. I willingly accept being tagged as an Anglo-catholic within the Anglican Church only because I am unable to say that I am Orthodox (there really is no “Anglo-Orthodox” camp within the Anglican Church).

The Eastern Orthodox is the Church that has not wavered since the faith was handed over from the Apostles. Not everyone in the Orthodox Church is perfect but the Orthodox Church is indeed the direct historical successor of what Christ first instituted in Matthew 16, and by the grace of God I have found myself being pulled right in to it.

The Eastern Orthodox Church contains what we believe to be the most beautiful worship known to all Christendom. It is indeed different from western worship. It is much more challenging to learn and it certainly does not set a tone of entertainment (although I must admit that the incense and other liturgical acts are quite mesmerizing). The worship is sacred and holy, set apart from modernity! It is not organized like western liturgy, to have that grand entrance and escalating tone (western worship seems to have a schizophrenic tone with the overwhelming theology of ‘depravity/penitential but accompanied with an overly victorious organ or band) with a certain sense of closer at the end. The Orthodox liturgy, again, is “open ended” to demonstrate that our weekly living is to blend right in to its timeless nature. It also contains more prayers and in general much more theology than western liturgy. It is said to take several Sundays for a soul to completely absorb what it both offers and demands.

There are many other theological positions that also drew me in to the Orthodox faith, one of which is the Orthodox teaching of atonement. I have wrestled with so many different views of Christ’s atonement over the past ten years and now I feel like I have come home to the truth of the matter. The Orthodox Church teaches an atonement of victory and love, an atonement that actually deals with good and evil, the devil included. You can see more about this theology under the Salvation tab on this site.

The Bible! Yes, the Orthodox Church has the complete Bible. That’s right! The Protestant faith has stripped God’s word of many Old Testament books. Take a look at the Sola Scriptura video on the right side of the website, and look at the Bible tab of the site. After I studied the canon in Anglican seminary (funny thing is that I previously studied it in an Evangelical seminary – shows how they hide things from us) I became convinced that the Protestants were lying to me and that a large piece of God’s grace was being withheld from me!

There is one more very important theological reason for converting to Orthodoxy that I must mention, and that is the anchor of monasticism that is given to the Orthodox Church. Neither the Anglican nor the Catholic churches have such a strong influence of monasticism. This is a good thing because it models the very law of Christ and prevents the Church from swaying to a rules-based ethic and culture. Some may think that it does just the opposite but it really does not.

The monastic way is a way of solitude and peace. It is a calling that is not after seeking crowns here on earth or even in heaven, but it is a calling that gives the church substance and vigor. From the time of Constantine to our modern day, the monks of the church have kept people sober, showing Christians that God does indeed call modern day John the Baptists and Paul the Apostles. God calls these monks to live a life of purity, not for themselves, but for the greater health of the entire church – men and women praying for the church and the world, serving the Church and the world, and sacrificing for the Church and the world.  Monasticism is not just a way of life, but it is a very theology – in particular, a theology of humility within the spiritual realm, and a theology of liturgy within the earthly realm. The monastic Christian lives a life of liturgy for the purpose of humility. Upon being cultivated to this humility, the Christian begins to serve his fellow man. When Christ says that in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven, one must become “like a child,” he means that one must be humbled. This, of course, is what the law does, in part; it humbles a man to repentance. But preaching the law in all its worth is simply not enough for the church to embrace. The church must embrace a lifestyle; a calling of humility; a calling that Christ partook of. Christ was not only a “man of sorrows acquainted with grief,” (Isaiah 53:3) but he was also a man that had nowhere to “lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He fellowshipped with the downcast, he owned nothing that we know of and he remained a celibate man all his life. This is a life of utter humility. To model a life after this lifestyle and create a calling/vocation and even a theology after it must certainly be the will of our Lord!

I feel that I have come home! I also feel that I can now “come home” to the Lord; not that I want to die, of course, but I now feel like I have left the ranting and raving for a faith of healing and solitude, a faith that prepares me for heaven. I know now that after I die my five children will be as safe and secure as they can possibly be within the One Holy and Apostolic Church. I now feel confident that they can live a life for Christ without struggling with their “denomination” or group. And they can hand that faith down to their children. There will be challenges for them (and I) within the Orthodox faith, I’m sure (we are all sinners) but the challenges will be worth any pain that may seem to be upon us.

I hope this article was a blessing to you. It was certainly a blessing to write. It has been a long journey for my family and I within the ministry and we are glad to have made it this far so that our children can still benefit from the conversion and worship with us in Spirit and Truth. Please let me know if you have any questions about Orthodoxy, and if I cannot answer them for you I will find someone that can.

With Love,


Orthodoxy and Baptism

It is paradise, not sin, that reveals the true nature of man; it is to paradise and to his true nature, to his primordial vestment of glory, that man returns in Baptism. – Alexander Schmemann

The true nature of man is not that of darkness but that of light. Man and woman were created in the image of God and were through His nature, good. This state of being is what we begin to grow into after we are baptized and confirmed into the faith. Christ, as St. Paul says in Romans, is the new Adam! We begin to take on Christ, as Paul says, through this sacramental act of baptism. We begin the healing process through this “hospital” – the Church, so that we may become more and more the natural man, thus living a natural life – not natural in the strict biological sense, but natural in the original sense, in the sense of God’s image, the image of what Paul calls the heavenly man (1 Cor. 15:49).

We are now ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20, 21). We now live out Christ’s righteousness as Christ himself, the living body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual journey of salvation becomes intertwined with our brethren – be it one or many of them in our life – so that we may become reconciled with Christ, as St. Paul commands us. We become a community of salvation. We are careful not to become “unevenly yoked” (2 Cor. 6:16) with unbelievers so that our reconciliation with Christ can manifest itself completely and consistently. We are in essence, bringing back the Garden of Eden!

The Gospel involves the unification and drawing of God’s people through the redemptive act of sharing the Covenant blessings of a regained paradise (Ezekiel 36:35). In other words, life itself and the pursuit of the Gospel is not just a personal journey, it is a corporate journey. This is why we worship God in an ecclesiastical context on Sunday mornings; to demonstrate to God that we are His people, united in faith (Ephesians 4:5), and built up as a holy temple (Ephesians 2:21) within a Sacramental context: taking actual matter and redeeming it for Christ; doing as the Lord’s Prayer states, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

No Bishop, No Creed. No Creed…

 “Catholic” and “Apostolic”…To some in our day these terms are used for describing any church that is a “true” church based on Bible doctrine, regardless of authority and posture they have toward the rest of the Church and her history. But if we look at the actual history of the Church we find that these terms are used exclusively to describe non-schismatic churches, that is, churches that have not divided themselves from the Church that originated from the Apostles.

A primary source for apostolic continuity through the early Church was the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, theological statements developed from the Apostles and then formalized at the Bishops’ council of Niceae in A.D. 325. The Christian faith is founded in the Creeds in that the Creed(s) protect the very nature of Christ and His Church, including the canon of Scripture. The heresies that the Creeds (Nicene, Apostles’) were created to protect us from are still prevalent in our day. The Creeds include the dogma of God as our Creator, The Trinity, the Virgin birth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of believers and the return of Christ for His Church. Each of these dogmatic pronouncements within the Creeds have protected us from the modern heresies such as liberalism and cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. This of course is all done through the Holy Spirit, which is embodied within Christ’s body, the Church. Therefore, to be identified as one that belongs to the Church is to identify with Christ Himself. In the early Church, this identification became established by the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds! Let’s take a look at a vital section of the Apostles’ Creed that may help us understand the current crisis in Christianity.

“And we believe in one catholic and apostolic Church: we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins…”

The most obvious breach of today’s Protestant (Evangelical, Baptist, Charismatic, Non-denominational, etc.) churches is the fact that the Creed says “one baptism.” Most Protestant churches, including the modern movements such as Calvary Chapel and even the more Reformed such as Sovereign Grace, reject the baptisms of the traditional churches such as the Roman, Lutheran, Anglican, and Presbyterian churches. This rejection puts these Baptistic churches at odds with the Creed.

A more serious breach in the Creeds has to do with what we consider “catholic.” What was the understanding of the “catholic and apostolic Church” at the time the Creeds were constructed?  You will find below a number of bishops from the early Church (pre and post Nicene) describing what is meant by the term catholic. Remember that the doctrine of the Trinity as well as other orthodox doctrines is not even discussed in these passages. The reason for this is that literal separation from the Church is enough to be heretical. To leave the Church is to divide Christ and the very calling one has to eternity.

Cyprian of Carthage

“You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishops; and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priest of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and catholic, is not split or divided, but is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere to one another” (Letters 66[67]:8 [A.D. 253]).

Ignatius of Antioch

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chap 8 [A.D. 110])

Augustine of Hippo

“We believe in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church; for heretics and schismatics call their own congregations churches. But heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God, and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor” (Faith and Creed 10:21 [A.D. 393]).


“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

A church does not succeed from the Creeds if they are not under apostolic succession, which is clearly proven in just how the term “catholic and apostolic Church” is patristically defined. “Apostolic” never meant to refer to churches that have similar doctrines as the Apostles, even the doctrine of the Trinity; rather, the term apostolic was used in patristic times when referring to proper apostolic succession of the Episcopate (bishop), since they created and protected the doctrines and since the very calling of the Gospel hinges on the unity of the Church.

We must believe that the very office of bishop was indeed ordained by God to be as St. Ignatius says, “the voice of God” (Philad 7:1-2). Here, St. Ignatius is presupposing an epistemological phenomenon. He is not saying that God actually has an audible voice for the New Testament prophet as He did with Moses. He is saying that the invisible becomes visible through the bishop. The New Testament voice of God must manifest itself somehow to a point of being passed on from generation to generation. This involves nature! The natural man must take his natural abilities and begin to proclaim what God is saying through the canon of Scripture. The bishopric has been doing this for the past 2,000 years.

Regarding the Church being a part of the bishop’s pronouncements, Cyprian declares that the bishop is to do nothing without the advice of his presbyters and the consent of the people. He writes, “as well as a rule of discipline and manner of (church) life, requires that we, the bishops, with the clergy, and in the presence of the steadfast laity, should settle all matters by piously consulting together.”

According to ancient church history, in the very beginnings the Church had already recognized a bishop as the first among equals in order to contain the unity of the Church (1Corinthians 1:12). In St. Jerome’s view, as the Apostles passed away and the heretics began to prevail against the Church, distinguishing the very name and call of the Episcopacy was completely necessary. Not that it had to be invented of sort, but what already had been practiced by the likes of Christ’s disciples and their disciples needed to take on theological meaning. St. Jerome writes, “When every man began to think those whom he had baptized to be his own, and not Christ’s, it was decreed throughout the world that one chosen out of the presbyters should be set above the rest, to whom the care of the whole Church should appertain, that thus the seeds of division might be rooted out.”

It is very important to note that there has been no known dissension about the Episcopal form of government by any of the early fathers. Certainly if the Episcopes was an unbiblical form of polity there would have been a council to meet over such a thing, or at the very least, rebukes made! The early Church grappled over the most detailed of doctrines, and they held to an extremely high level of intelligence. It is simply an unintelligible ascertain to state that the immediate succession of Church government from the Apostles was meant to be anything else.

Modern forms of church leadership have proven themselves not to work and have only caused radical departures from the faith. The Roman Catholics have swung one way with the papacy; to which a small percentage of the Roman Catholic Church actually adhere to, and Protestants have swung to the other extreme by giving complete autonomy to churches, which has given rights to heretics.

To follow the ancient faith of Jesus is to follow what He has ordained through the Apostles and their successors, the early fathers. It’s proven itself for nearly 2,000 years! It’s called the Orthodox Church, a church not without dispute, but certainly a church without a terminal illness. Study her history. Talk with her people. Experience her worship. It is the apostolic Church!

Salvation Through Kingdom, Not System

Many Christians recognize John the Baptist as the prophet that once initiated the systematic call to salvation – where a person must be able to recite a prayer, then be baptized…and behold…the person is saved for eternity. But John was not giving a systematic, magic formula which required a person to jump through certain intellectual hoops to be saved.  Like Christ in much of His preaching, John was giving a rebuke to God’s Covenant people (Matthew 3:5-9). Remember, the Gospel was “to the Jew first.”

We should not be scholasticizing the rebuke that was given to God’s people in order to form a contemporary and phony ceremony (new Sacrament). Take a serious look at the New Testament and see that much of what we think to be God giving us a system to be saved was in fact God’s chosen Covenant people in need of rebuke. Salvation was not a new thing (Romans 4:3), but the New Covenant was and so John preached the New Covenant symbol of baptism to replace circumcision.  He also rebuked the Jews and commanded them to repent because they were not accepting their own Messiah and His New Covenant. He was not giving a new system, but rather, was simply rebuking as a teacher would rebuke today.

As a people (especially Americans) that are very unfamiliar with custom, ritual, ceremony, and even culture, we can easily fall into the error of scholasticizing (systematizing). When Paul and Christ said to believe, they were not giving an intellectual and systematic approach to salvation, they were rebuking and exhorting. They were rebuking the Jews so that they would stay committed to the Covenant of Abraham, and they were exhorting the Gentiles to believe through Christ to enter the Covenant. But entering the Covenant through baptism did not mean that one had to recite a prayer or make a public profession. Those who use Romans 10:10, where Paul says to “confess with the mouth,” forget that Paul was speaking about the Jews who were already Covenant people and simply needed to repent of following false teachings. He was not necessarily giving a prerequisite for baptism. St. Paul was rebuking and stating that all must believe through faith, and that it must actually manifest through their very speech; but not just once, as a new ceremony of reciting a prayer. He was simply stating that a true belief involves a life of manifestation – as the rest of the Scriptures clearly proclaim – into the life of a kingdom.

When we become “born again” (John 3:3), we are born into the Church and her kingdom. Our new birth is not a birth into a mere personal relationship as many Evangelicals say. We are birthed into a relationship with Christ through the covenant community, into the Church, into a community of life and peace with the Saints.

When the author of Hebrews gives examples of true faith (chapter11), he specifically mentions the patriarchs’ commitment to the Covenant. He does not say that Abraham repented from his sins against Sarah and is now a godly husband after his encounter with God. The author says that Abraham took a step of faith to build God’s people in a land with which he was unfamiliar (verse 12), and that he was ready to offer a faithful sacrifice to the Lord (verse 17). The writer then goes on to speak about Moses and how his step of faith was a step into the Covenant people. He does not say that Moses made the step of becoming a better, less angry man but that he made a step of commitment to the Covenant community (verse 25) despite the hardship to which it was destined as well as the tempting, luxurious life of Egypt that Moses could have had. These were examples of a demonstrated faith of Covenant community, not a demonstrated faith of a personal relationship.

The Gospel involves a movement of people here in our time and space known as the Church. The Gospel is both ecclesiastical and eschatological. It involves both the “institution” of the Church as well as the cosmos in which God has created us.

On Hell

The idea that God is an angry figure who sends those He condemns to a place called Hell, where they spend eternity in torment separated from His presence, is missing from the Bible and unknown in the early church. While Heaven and Hell are decidedly real, they are experiential conditions rather than physical places, and both exist in the presence of God. In fact, nothing exists outside the presence of God.

This is not the way traditional Western Christianity, Roman Catholic or Protestant, has envisioned the afterlife. In Western thought Hell is a location, a place where God punishes the wicked, where they are cut off from God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet this concept occurs nowhere in the Bible, and does not exist in the original languages of the Bible.

While there is no question that according to the scriptures there is torment and “gnashing of teeth” for the wicked, and glorification for the righteous, and that this judgment comes from God, these destinies are not separate destinations. The Bible indicates that everyone comes before God in the next life, and it is because of being in God’s presence that they either suffer eternally, or experience eternal joy. In other words, both the joy of heaven, and the torment of judgment, is caused by being eternally in the presence of the Almighty, the perfect and unchanging God.

This is not a new interpretation or a secret truth. It has been there all along, held by the Church from the beginning, revealed in the languages of the Scriptures, which were spoken by the Christians of the early church era. This understanding was held by nearly all Christians everywhere for the first 1000 years of the Church’s existence, and, except where influence by western theologies, continued to be held by Christians beyond Western Europe and America even up to this day (including the roughly 350 million Orthodox Christians worldwide).

When you examine in context the source words which are translated as “hell” in English language Bibles the original understanding becomes clear. You will find that “hell” is translated from four different Greek and Hebrew words. These words are not interchangeable in the original language, yet, incredibly, in English-language bibles these words are translated differently in different places to fit the translators’ theology (rather than allow the words of scripture to determine their theology). Not only did English translators dump these four very different words into one meaning, they were not even consistent with it and chose to translate these same words with different meanings in different places. It is no wonder that English readers of the Bible are confused.

If one examines what the early Church Fathers wrote about “hell” and the afterlife, it will be seen that they too understood that there is no place called hell, and that both paradise and torment came from being in God’s presence in the afterlife.

When you examine what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and what most Protestants believe about the afterlife, and compare that with the scriptures and early Church beliefs, you find large disparities. You will also find their innovative doctrines were not drawn from the Bible or historic Church doctrine, but rather from the mythology of the Middle Ages, juridical concepts, and enlightenment rationalizations, all alien to early Christian thought.

The Afterlife According to the Hebrew Scriptures

Sheol is one word sometimes translated as “Hell” in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, this word is a proper noun, that is a name or title, so properly it should not have been translated but simply transliterated, as is done with other names. The literal meaning of this Hebrew word is simply “subterranean retreat”. Sheol was not understood as a physical place since it exists in the spirit world, but it is a spiritual “place” associated with dead people. It was understood that when a person dies, their body is buried, and their soul goes to reside in Sheol. That is the fate for all people who die, both the righteous and the wicked. According to Hebrew scholars, anything more detailed is conjecture and speculation.

Sheol was translated as “hell” in a number of places where it was indicating a place for the wicked, which is consistent with western thought. But it was also translated as “grave” and as “pit” in a number of other places where it was clearly not a place of the wicked. Yet there are other Hebrew words for grave and pit, so why did it not occur to the translators that if the author wanted to mean pit or grave they would have used them? It can been seen that where Sheol fit the translators’ idea of hell as a place of torment, they interpreted it one way, as hell, and simply used the word another way if it did not, confusing those who are trying to understand the Scriptures in translation.

In historic Jewish understanding, it is the perception of the individual in Sheol that makes the difference. This same “place” called Sheol is experienced by the righteous as “gen eiden”, the Garden of Eden or Paradise, i.e. “heaven”. Moreover, Sheol is experienced by the wicked as the “fires of gehennom”, i.e. punishment or “hell”.

What is it that causes this same place to be experienced differently by the righteous and the wicked? According to the Jews (and by inheritance, the Christians as well) it is the very presence of God. Since God fills all things and dwells everywhere in the spirit world, there is nowhere apart from Him. Moreover, evil sinners, the enemies of God, experience His presence, His Shechinah glory, as punishment. Yet the righteous bask in that same glory, and experience it as the love and joy of God, as Paradise.

Consider Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who refused to worship the idol in Babylon (Daniel 3). They were thrown by King Nebuchadnezzer into the “fiery furnace” which was heated “seven times more”. The significance of “seven” is a number symbolic of the “furnace” of Heaven, the place where God dwells. The three Jews were unharmed by the fire where one “like the Son of God” was among them. However, the same flames of fire killed the king’s “most mighty” soldiers. This is an analogy to how the presence of God is light and warmth to those who love him, and pain and destruction to those who oppose him, yet it is the same “fire.”

It’s also useful to consider the ancient Greco-Roman pagan understanding of the heavens and Hades. Though it was not fundamental to Hebrew theology, the Greek view was still sometimes referenced or borrowed, because these ideas were familiar and prevalent in the culture.

The ancient pagan Greek view, later adopted by the Romans, was that heaven was a physical place up in the sky. The word for heaven is used interchangeably with the location of the objects of the sky, as in “heavenly bodies”, and for the dwelling place of the gods. That is why the Greek word for heaven and sky is the same; there was no distinction made between them in the earliest writings, but eventually they were also understood to be more as a metaphor for the spiritual heaven.

For the ancient pagan Greeks, Hades was a place, but was sometimes also personified in folk mythology. The physical place was where all humans go when they die, a site located at the center of the earth. Like Sheol, it was the final abode of all humans, but unlike Sheol, it was taken to be a geographic site, the literal “underworld” in folk mythology. It was also taken as a metaphor for the place of final rest. Hades was also sometimes taken as the name of the ruler of this place, the pagan god Hades, also known as Pluton by the Romans.

In Greco-Roman mythology Heaven was reserved only for the gods, and after death mere mortals could only hope to find a safe place in Hades to spend eternity. The early Greco-Roman Hades was a very literal and even primitive concept, compared to the Jews’ more spiritual Sheol. If a person was dead, they were in Hades, and there was no other option; only a very rare few heroes challenged the gods of the heavens and were immortalized in the stars.

The pre-Christian Greek language had thus developed in this kind of world view, both heaven and Hades as a physical and literal existence up in the sky, or down under the ground. Although these later became more metaphorical in more developed pagan writings, from this is where the universal concept of “up” for heaven or Paradise, and “down” for the place of the dead came. It is used metaphorically by both the Jews and pagans to describe mankind’s relationship with God, and so became a universal cultural concept. This is why there are so many Biblical references to God being “up” in heaven, and Sheol being “down” in the “under parts of the earth”. However, neither the Jews nor the early Christians took these ideas literally as the ancient Greeks and Romans may have, but understood “up” and “down” as spiritual rather than physical realities.

For the Jews and early Christians, even Sheol was not separated from God. Translating directly from the Greek of the Septuagint Palms 139:7 and 8 “Where can I go away from your spirit? And away from your presence, where can I flee? If I go up into heaven, you are there. If I go down into Hades, there is your presence.”

When Jewish scholars translated their scriptures into Greek in the third century BC, they used the Greek word Hades interchangeably for the Hebrew Sheol in the Septuagint. Strictly speaking, the pagan understanding was very different, but Jewish scholars adapted “Hades” for their use. It is one of many examples of changed, allegorical, or metaphorical non-Hebrew words used in the Bible borrowed from Greek pagan mythology. In the New Testament, Hades is used in a number of places as the Greek equivalent to Sheol as well.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, Sheol is translated 31 times as Hell in the King James Bible, and similarly in the Revised Standard and NRSV. In a number of other places it is translated as “grave” or “pit” and once even as “dust”. It appears the translators did not have a very consistent understanding as to what Sheol means, translating the same word differently in different places. The idea of “Hell” as a physical place of torment, apart from the presence of God, had already taken root, and the translation fit the preconception rather than the original meaning of the word.

Gehennah is another word translated as “hell”. It was known to the Jews as a physical place, a valley outside to the south of Jerusalem. It literally means in Hebrew “valley of the sons of Hennah”. Here child sacrifices were once made to the pagan god Molech. Gehennah is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6, and Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-6, and appears in many traditional extra-Biblical Jewish writings. After this area came under Jewish control a memorial fire was kept burning there. Later it became a dumping place for refuse, dead animals, and eventually prisoners’ bodies, or the bodies of the poor that were not claimed by any family. Trash fires were kept continually burning there for sanitary reasons. It was like many landfills: a smoky, foul-smelling place with carrion-eating birds circling overhead.

By the time of Jesus this place became a well known metaphor for the fate of those condemned and judged by God. Expressions like “the fiery pit” or the “fires of Gehennah” were equivalent to the unrighteous’ experience of God’s presence. Gehennah was the place where evil and sinful people ended up. In Jewish mystical writings it was believed that this place is where the final destruction of the wicked would occur at Messiah’s arrival. Because this is when the resurrection would occur, all the evil lawbreakers would be resurrected and standing in Gehennah when God reclaims the earth. In the final battle, God’s enemies, the evil ones, would be burned up, “As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God” as it says in Psalm 68. Jesus affirmed and clarified this teaching and Christians now believe this will occur on Messiah’s return.

This experience of Gehennah was used as an analogy to express what happens to those who oppose the God of the Jews. Yet even it was not a place God “sends” people. The fire itself was understood to be how the wicked experienced the Shechinah glory of God, as a burning judgment fire.

Therefore, usage of this word is interchangeable with “judgment”, and quite different than Sheol. To be forgiven of your offenses was to be rescued from “the fiery pit”, or rescued from judgment. You would still go to Sheol until the resurrection, but in glory rather than in torment.

Notice however that in English, the translators rendered Gehennah as the “valley the sons of Hennah” in some places in the scriptures and in other places as “hell,” rather than just making a direct translation of the words wherever it appears. This confuses the reader, who could get a more consistent understanding of the meaning of the word if it was rendered accurately as “Gehennah” every time, or more properly as “the Valley of the Sons of Hennah”.

There are numerous references to God’s presence being like fire in the Hebrew Scriptures. In addition, before the invention of the electric light, any reference to “light” meant “fire” in one form or another. For example, “The Lord thy God is a consuming fire” (Numbers); God “…appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush,” (Exodus); “The fire of the Lord burns among them” (Numbers); “the Lord descends upon it in fire” (Exodus); “You have refined us as silver in a fire” (Psalms); and “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire” (Psalms). These are a few of the many Old Testament references to God being perceived as fire; it was how the Jews understood humans experience God’s Shechinah glory.

No human could bear to look at the blazing holy presence of God: not Moses, who hid his face, not Abraham, not Adam or Eve after they fell from Grace. No human could look at the face of God and live to tell about it.

God is described as fire in the following verses; Gen 19:24, Ex 3:2, 9:23, 13;21-22, 19:18, Num 11:1-3, 4:24, Ne 9:12, Ps 66:10, 104:4, Is 66:15, among others places.

Another interesting word study to examine is the Hebrew words used in the Old Testament when describing how God “punishes” people in the English bibles. Ten different Hebrew words are translated as “punish” in this context, yet none carries our meaning of punishment in English. The most common word “paqad” rendered 31 times as punish, simply means “to visit” or “to remember.” The word “anash” [used 5 times] simply means “to urge” or “compel”, “chasak” [occurs 3 times] means to restrain, “avown” [used 12 times] means sin. This also implies the cost or penalty for being evil or causing offence. One interesting word translated as punish, “yakar” means to chastise, but also means “to add value” as in chastising a child makes him more valuable. There are a few others words rendered as punish, but they occur only once each. As can be seen, none of these words clearly indicates that God does the punishing. Apparently for the translators, every time God visits or remembers His people, he is “punishing” them, but that is not how Jews understand this word. Nor would Jews automatically assume that a visit from God was a bad thing, either.

This kind of translation seems attributable to a presupposition of what these words mean, and intrinsically changes the meanings of these words from the original intent. The translators’ own incorrect ideas have clouded their objectivity, an all-too-frequent occurrence with virtually all western language Bibles.

The Afterlife According to the New Testament

Jesus and the Apostles were all Jews of course, as were nearly all the members of the first Christian Church. The first Christians saw themselves as inheritors of the covenant of Abraham, and the early Church of course had no New Testament, so they naturally understood the afterlife in the terms of the Old Testament. The Gospels and all of the epistles affirm this understanding as well, when read in the original Greek.

In the Gospel story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus clearly states that they both end up in the same place, in Hades. Hades of course is used to mean the same thing as Hebrew “Sheol,” it simply means the place everyone goes when they die. In Hades they can see each other and talk to each other, although they are far off from each other. “And in Hades, he lifts up his eyes, being in torment, and sees Abraham far off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” [Luke 16:23]. All of them are in Ha rus received bad things, but now he is comforted, and you are in pain”. See how he contrasts “but now” (in death), one is comforted, the other in torment. Neither does it says that God is punishing him, he is simply “in pain” while there. They were separated by a large gulf, but it is clearly spiritual and not physical, since they are not in the physical world, for neither would the Rich Man have a physical tongue to cool with physical water from Lazarus’ physical finger. So it is a gulf that exists in the heart, a spiritual gulf that causes us to experience God’s loving presence as paradise or torment. A gulf that was not placed there by God, but rather created by the choices and actions of the sinner.

Hades is translated as hell ten times in the New Testament, but it is also translated as “grave” in 1 Cor 15:55, another point of inconsistency.

In Revelation Chapter 20, it states that Death and Hades gave up their dead, and Death and Hades are placed in the lake of fire when God reclaims the world. If the ones in Hades were judged and will be in torment for eternity “far from the Lord” as so many think, why would these same ones be released from Hades when God returns? It is because all who have died reside in “Death and Hades” until that moment, when Death and Hades can no longer exist because God is present. The “lake of fire and brimstone” into which Death and Hades is placed, in the Greek would be grammatically correct to translate as the “lake of fire and divinity”, or even “the lake of divine fire”. When Death and Hades is placed in the fiery presence of God, in the “lake of divine fire”, it is destroyed, because it is in the very presence of God, death can not exist when God is present.

It is interesting to examine the Greek word for “divine”, it is from the Greek “theion”, which could also mean “divine being”, but also means “sulfur’, or in Old English “brimstone” [lit. ‘burning stone’]. As strange as that sounds to us, it is because of the ancient understanding of the cosmic order of the nature of all things. All people in all cultures from the Near East to the West understood that there were four ‘elements’, these were: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Their nature was that Earth and Water tended to go down toward Hades, and Air and Fire tended to go up toward heaven. This could plainly be seen when the heavenly fire, lighting, would hit a living tree and burn the “life” out of it. Anyone could see that the heat from the tree would go back to heaven in the fire, and the ash that remained would go down into the ground. But there was this mysterious yellowish earth substance that behaved very differently, when placed in a fire it burn so brightly that your eyes could not bear to look at it. As it burned, it would release the heavenly substance that was trapped inside and it would rise back to heaven. Clearly, this “burning stone” was a divine substance, and as such, it was simply called “divinity. It was burned within a new temple to “purify” it before consecration, presumably when this burning stone released it’s divinity, it causes all evil things to flee from the temple, and thus was the temple readied for worship.

Yet the word ‘theion’ is translated as “brimstone” or “sulfur” in Luke 17:29, Rev. 9:17, 14:10, 20:10, 21:8, which is where ‘fire and brimstone’ comes out of heaven, but it is equally interchange with the words “divine fire”. Since this did not fit the translators’ preconceived ideas, it is rendered always as brimstone in this context.

Elsewhere in Revelation it states that the “heat comes out of heaven” and burns the enemies of God, yet does not harm the ones with God’s seal on their foreheads. So the same heat, the heat that is the very life and light that comes from God, burns the sinners, and does not harm the ones that love God.

Again, in many places God’s presence and appearance is described as fire in the New Testament as well as in the Old. Examine for example, Matt 31:10-12, 25:41, Mark 9:49, Luke 12:49, Act 7:30, 1Cor 3:15, Heb 1:7, 12:29, Rev 3:18 and in numerous other places.

Typical is the verse where John the Baptist says “I baptize you with water, but the One that comes after me will baptize you with fire”. The author of Hebrews writes that God is a consuming fire. Paul also writes that God is like the jeweler who burns gold in the fire to purify it. Jesus Himself states the he brings “fire” to the earth. That is, “divine fire”.

Everywhere in the New Testament when humans come face to face with the Transfigured Jesus they cannot look at Him: Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor, Paul on the road to Damascus– humans hid their face and fell down in fear and trembling when confronted with the revelation of Jesus as Almighty God. Old Testament figures did the same, but now, in the New Testament, it is revealed that this “holy” fire is present when Jesus reveals his nature. This is because Jesus is the incarnate God of the Old Testament.

A couple of these descriptions of the fire of God’s presence are worth examining closely. Paul writes in 1 Cor 3:13 “Every man’s work shall be made manifest…because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” In Mark 9:49 Jesus says “For everyone will be salted with fire” (interestingly, in Greek this sentence has the grammatical structure of an obvious statement of fact, similar to “for [everyone knows that] everyone will be salted with fire”). Peter repeats this idea in 2Peter 3:7 “but now, by the same Word [that is Jesus], heaven and earth are saved and kept for fire on the day of judgment, and the destruction of impious men.”

So clearly everyone experiences this fire caused by the presence of God. The Bible tells us there is no place apart from God, that he is everywhere and fills all things, so how can He create a place apart from Him? Moreover, why would He create a place just to punish the ones He says He loves unconditionally? That is not the nature of a loving God.

Since God is everywhere and fills all things, in the spirit world there is nowhere to escape from God even if you wanted to [Ps 139:7-8].

Translating 2 Thess 1:7-8 from the Greek literally, St. Paul tells the persecuted Thessalonians that they will “get relief at the revelation of the Lord Jesus coming out from heaven with His powerful angels in flames of fire”. Yet this same presence of Jesus causes the ones persecuting them to “…be punished with everlasting destruction BECAUSE OF [Gr. “apo”] the presence of the Lord, and BECAUSE OF his mighty glory” (2 Thess 1:9). Further on Paul writes in 2Thess 2:8 that “the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy by the breath [or “spirit”] of his mouth and make ineffective by the fantastic appearance of his presence”. So the mere presence of Jesus makes the “lawless one” ineffective, yet gives relief and comfort to the Thessalonians.

Unfortunately many English translations insert a word that is not there in the Greek in verse 1:9, adding the idea that the wicked will be “separated” or “cut off” from the Lord’s presence. This is a totally different meaning, and if Paul had wanted to say this he would have used the word “schizo,” which is where we get the word for “scissors” and “schizophrenia” [lit. divided-mind]. The Greek word “apo” that Paul uses here is a preposition that indicates cause or direction: “because of,” “out of,” “caused by,” “from,” etc. The word “apo” appears 442 times in the New Testament, and it is NEVER used to indicate separation, location or position. For example “Apostles” in Greek “apo-stolon” literally means “those sent out from the fleet.” The word “Apocalypse” literally means “out from cover,” i.e. to reveal, hence the Book of Revelation. Also interesting is the word “apostate” which in Greek literally means “out from standing”. If you where once in a condition to stand in God’s presence, then “fell” away, you would not be able to stand any longer; you would be “out from standing,” cowering and trying to hide from His presence.

The history of the English word “hell” is also revealing. The Old English word from which hell is derived is “helan”, which means to hide or cover, and is a verb. So at one time the English church understood that to be judged a sinner meant one would cower and want to hide in fear when in God’s presence. Unfortunately, because of the political expedience of controlling an often rebellious population, corrupt rules in the West, in collusion with corrupt clergy, and adopting ideas from non-Biblical yet popular fantasy novels such as Dante’s Inferno, corrupted the use of this word during the middle ages. Eventually turning a verb into a noun by popular usage, even if theologically insupportable from the Bible.

It is tragic that modern translators would insert the word “far from” or “cut off from” into 2 Thess 1:9, apparently because they had a preconception about what Paul was trying to say so they altered the text to fit. They added this little “clarifying” word that is not in the Greek text at all, changing the meaning and inserting their own ideas. If your preconceived idea is that Hell is a “place” that an angry God sends people away from his presence, in order to punish and hurt them, you would expect and look for ways that Scripture would support your idea.

Clearly, when you read the Bible in the original languages you learn that there is no place apart from God, and there is no place that God put you to punish you. What scripture reveals is that all eventually will be in the fiery presence of the Lord, and this presence will be either “eternal torment” or “comfort and glory”. Judgment and paradise both come from being in God’s presence.

Another word translated incorrectly as Hell appears in 2 Peter 2:4. Saint Peter is warning about the swift destruction of false prophets and false teachers. In the Greek grammar he uses an obvious statement of fact by stating “For if God did not spare the sinning angels, but rather places them down in Tartarus, reserved for [a future] judgment…..the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of trials, and to reserve the unjust until the day of judgment.” [2:9].

The word Tartarus is also a proper noun, that is a name of a place, and accordingly should not be changed into a different word, and certainly not the same word that used for Hades and Gehennah.

Tartarus originally came from Greek mythology and popular folk tales. It is the name of a prison in Hades that Zeus, after triumphing over the Titans, placed them, bound in chains to hold them for future punishment for crimes against humans. It was metaphorically seen as the place where justice was metered out in the spirit world, and this metaphor often found it’s way into Jewish apocryphal writings about the end times. Saint Peter borrows this term and uses it in exactly the same way as it was used in popular contemporary writings by both Greeks and Jews; it is a place where “sinning angels” are bound and imprisoned, awaiting a future punishment. They are bound by God to prevent them from doing further harm, and they are judged for crimes against humanity. This image is seen in the ancient icon of the Resurrection, metaphorically depicted are “dark” angels, or demons, being bound in chains under the feet of the resurrected Christ, who broke the bonds of death and rendered powerless the “sinning angels”. Remember from 2 Thessalonians, where Saint Paul writes that the power of the presence of Christ made the “lawless One” powerless, and gave comfort to the Christians, which is exactly the same idea that Saint Peter is writing about in 2 Peter 2:4 through 9.

Again the translators made an improper interpretation of this passage because of preconceived ideas about the afterlife, changing the meaning and only adding to the confusion for English speaking Christians.

Also totally absent from the scriptures is any hint that demons are tormenting sinners. This again comes from Dante’s Inferno and other pagan concepts, not from the Bible. Because any “sinning angels” in the presence of God, are also in torment, and their power is made ineffective.

The Afterlife According to the Church Fathers

After the Gospels and Epistles were composed, in the centuries before Christians decided exactly which books would be in the New Testament, many gifted believers wrote books of commentary, sermons, apologetics, and stories of martyrdom. These eloquent early Christian writers confirm the Biblical view of the afterlife and add some clarifying details.

St. Ignatious of Antioch, in the late first and early second century, describe God as the furnace that a craftsman uses to temper a sword. When a properly prepared sword is placed within the fire, it makes it stronger and the sword takes on the properties of the fire, it gives off heat and light. However, this same fire will melt and destroy a sword that was not properly prepared.

St. Isaac the Syrian in the sixth century writes “Paradise is the love of God” and he also writes “…those who are punished in Gehannah, are scourged by the scourge of love”. So the “fire” is the love of God, and we experience His love as either divine love, or as painful “scourge”.

St. Basil the Great (fourth century) points out that the Three Children thrown into the fiery furnace were unharmed by the fire, yet the same fire burned and killed the servants at the entrance to the furnace.

According to St Gregory the Theologian, God Himself is Paradise and punishment for man, since each man tastes God’s “energies” (His perceptible presence) according to the condition of his soul. St. Gregory further advises the next life will be “light for those whose mind is purified… in proportion to their degree of purity” and darkness “to those who have blinded their ruling organ [meaning the “mind”]…in proportion to their blindness…”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes about the Second Coming of Christ, “the sign of the Cross [at His returning] will be terror to His foes, but joy to His friends who have believed in Him”.

Lactantius (AD 260-330) wrote that on His return “there comes before Him an unquenchable fire”.

St. John Chrysostom (AD 344-407) wrote [in homily LXXVI] “let us clothe ourselves with spiritual fire, let us gird ourselves with its flame. No man who bears flame fears those who meet him; be it wild beast, be it man, be it snares innumerable, so long as he is armed with fire, all things stand out of his way, all things retire. The flame is intolerable, the fire can not be endured, it consumes all. With this fire let us clothe ourselves, offering up glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, honor, now and ever and world without end. Amen.”

A prayer of St. Simeon the Translator goes: “…Thou who art a fire consuming the unworthy, consume me not, O my Creator, but rather pass through all my body parts, into all my joints, my veins, my heart. Burn Thou the thorns of all my transgressions, Cleanse my soul and hallow Thou my thoughts [etc.] …that from me, every evil deed and every passion may flee as from fire…”

The Holy Orthodox Church, in keeping with Scripture and the most ancient Christian doctrine, teaches that all people come into the presence of God in the afterlife. Some will bask in joy because of that infinite love, glory, light, power, and truth that is Almighty God. Others will cower in fear and be in torment DUE TO THAT SAME PRESENCE. All the same, there will be some kind of separation or “great gulf”.

“Life” in the Orthodox Church as defined by the Fathers, is experiencing the perfect, pure and infinite love of God in ultimate harmony and intimacy for eternity, and “death” is experiencing God’s energies in torment, darkness and disharmony for eternity. It is only through Christ that we come to that place of perfect harmony, in this life, in this world. The goal of the Christian is not to get to “heaven” in the after life, but rather to come to a state of constant communion with the Holy Spirit, beginning in this life. We may bask in the presence of God’s glory here and now, and in the afterlife for eternity.

Accordingly, from ancient times icons have shown the Saints dwelling in a place filled with the golden, uncreated divine light of God. With the icon we symbolically peer through this “window” into the spirit realm infused with God’s energies. In the icon of the Heavenly Kingdom, we see Christ enthroned in the center as God Almighty, surround with the host of angels, His mother the Theotokos, and all the saints. However, at His feet you see others, also in His presence, who are being burned and tormented due to just being there, and have no escape. The larger more elaborate icons of the Resurrection show the Old Testament saints with halos looking on with joy, and others without halos on the other side of the gulf, looking on in fear and confusion, as Christ frees the captives of Death. He rescues all of humanity (represented by Adam and Eve being pulled from the tomb) and all of creation with them, from the beginning of time to the end of time.

It is not God’s intention that his love will torment us, but that will be the inevitable result of pursuing our own selfish desires instead of seeking God. When we are in harmony with God, we will bask in that presence. Yet, if we desire our own will and are in disharmony with God, we suffer in His presence. Satan is evil not just because he harms others, but because he is an angel of light who stands in the presence of God yet chooses to pursue his own selfish desires, which causes him to tremble in fear. Satan and his fallen angels, the demons, were thrown to the earth and he became the ‘god of this world’. It can be speculated that Satan and his demons are on the earth because it is the only place they can escape God’s presence, if only temporarily. This is why they will suffer for eternity after God reclaims the world at the end of this age, filling It with his presence. Then there will be nowhere to escape God, for both demons and evildoers.

So “hell” is not a “place” but rather a condition we allow ourselves to be in, not because of God’s “justice” but because of our own selfish and sinful disobedience. In other words, we put ourselves in “hell” when we do anything other than seeking God’s will. It is not that God wants to harm us; He loves us unconditionally, but torment is the result of coming into His pure presence when we are in an impure condition.

It is like spending your whole life in a cave or basement in darkness, never seeing the sun, then suddenly being thrust into bright sunshine. Your skin will burn, your eyes will burn, you will want to bury yourself under the rocks to try and escape this terrible thing pouring down on you, but there is no escape, just as described in Revelation. However, if you expose yourself to the sun regularly and often, eventually you will want nothing but to bask it the warmth and light of the sunshine. The same sunshine that torments one person brings warmth and pleasure to another. Similarly, if you get too close to the sun, you will be burned, not because the sun wants to burn you, because it is the sun’s nature.

Roman Catholic and Protestant Understanding

It is clear from the Scriptures and the Church Fathers there is no room in the afterlife for Purgatory, limbo, or any place apart from God, nor for Calvin’s idea of predestination and “divine justice”.

Neither in scripture, nor in the writings of the Saints do we see any such innovation as Purgatory or even of Hell as a place of torment apart from God.

Purgatory, according to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” article 1030-1031, is defined as the place of “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified…after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” The more purging that is necessary, the longer one must spend in purgatory. Further, in article 1032, “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead…” presumably to hasten how quickly one may complete this purging.

Built into this uniquely Roman Catholic doctrine is the assumption that in the afterlife we would experience time passing the same way we do in the physical world. This is a mistake because there are enough hints in Scripture that time as we know it does not exist in the spirit world. For example: “… one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”. (2 Peter 3:8). Also the idea that the return of Christ is immanent, in addition to the prevalent use of the word ‘eternal’ throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Revelation of St. John many scholars believe that St. John is not describing sequential events (which would be nonsensical, since the narrative jumps around so much) but the Saint is rather seeing all the events occurring simultaneously. It is like he is in a room with all this activity happening at once, and he says “then I turned and I saw…”. He is describing the sequence in which he sees the visions, but that is not necessarily in the order that the events occurred.

Even modern science tells us that time and space are connected. Without physical space [i.e. creation], there is no time.

So it is very speculative to assume that time passes outside of creation the same way it does here. No sound doctrine can be built based on this assumption.

The Orthodox believe, from Scripture and the writings of the saints, that because God is perfect he does not change. However, imperfect humanity continues to change. So when someone in an imperfect “forever changing” condition comes into God’s pure unchanging presence, it is experienced as darkness and torment. Presumably, at the time of death we lose the ability to change, since our condition will be “consolidated” by being “caught” in the pure, unchanging presence of God, which will also occur to the living at the Apocalypse. The idea of changing in Purgatory is incompatible with the timeless, changeless nature of the afterlife.

Furthermore, nowhere in the original language of the Bible does the Calvinistic idea occur of a place of “hellfire” torment, created especially by God so He can punish those he judges for eternity. Why would a God who loves us unconditionally torment us for eternity, because of an equally unbiblical notion of Divine Justice? In fact nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that it is God that punishes the sinners. If you put your hand in the fireplace, is it the fire’s intention to punish you? Or is the torment you experience caused by your own foolish action? It is merely the nature of the fire to burn your unprotected skin.

Uncreated Energies

The understanding of heaven and “punishment” [hell] in historic Christianity is inextricably linked to the biblical concept of the Uncreated Light of God. The Uncreated Energies (or “Light” the purest form of energy) are understood by the Orthodox to be the Energies of God. This Energy is the “consuming fire”, the Shechinah glory, the fire that burns gold to purify it, as St. Paul writes. It is the fire that burns the weeds left in the field, the fire that burns the pruned branches, it is the lake of divine fire, and the thirst and burning that torments the Rich Man is this same Uncreated Energy. Yet, the same fire that torments the impure gives warmth and comfort to the pure of heart.

In fact the Greek word “energeia”, and it’s various forms, appears over 30 times in the new Testament, yet it is not translated as “energy” even once in most popular English translations. It is variously rendered as operation, strong, do, in-working, effectual, be mighty in, shew forth self, and even simply dropped out of the sentence; everything except what it means. Yet, this word was well established in the Greek language in the first century. It was first used by Aristotle, some three centuries before Christ, as a noun, as “energy” in the metaphysical sense- which was borrowed in recent years in English as an engineering term. But even in a modern metaphysical sense, it is exactly as the ancient Greeks use the word, because it is the same word. Yet the translators insisted on ignoring how this word is actually used by Greek speakers and distorted it into a number of verbs and adjectives (or simply drop it from the verse), which leaves only confusion and misunderstanding for English readers.

When we are energized by the Divine Energies, we will radiate the pure Light of God. Translating directly from the Greek, Saint Paul writes to the Philippians [2:13] “For it is God who is energizing in you, according to His will and to energize for the sake of His being well-pleased.” In verse 3:21 he further writes “[Christ] who will change the appearance of our humble bodies to take on the form of the body of His glory, through the energization of his Power…” And to the Ephesians in verse 1:19 “and what exceeding greatness of his power, in us who believe, through the energization of His mighty strength, energized in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him in the right hand of Him in the heavens” So this energy “in us” changes our bodies to glory, and was the same energy that raised Christ from the dead. This energy is in fact, the Grace of God, in Eph 3:7 St. Paul writes “That I was made an attendant through the gift of the Grace of God, granted to me by the energization of his Power”.

This same Energy also has the power to heal, as St. James writes [5:16] “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed, prayers energized by a righteous one are very powerful”. This same energy comes from the “one” that restrains evil, in II Thess 2:7 St. Paul writes “For already the mysterious lawless one is only restrained now by the Energies, until he comes out of the midst of it”

Receiving this Divine Energy is the results of faith in the true God, as St. Paul tells the Thessalonians in I Thess 2:12 “…[you received] …the true Logos of God, which also energizes in you believers”. Moreover, to the Galatians he asks a rhetorical question with an obvious answer [3:5] “Indeed, would it not be in vain, if the One providing you the Spirit and the powerful Energies in you, were by works of the law, or rather by hearing in faith?”

There are many stories in the historic tradition, both ancient and relatively modern, that tell of the saints radiating light when they pray (for example St. Mary of Egypt, St. Sava, St. Mathew of Ethiopia, and others). The Light that Christ radiated on mount Tabor during the Transfiguration is this Uncreated Light, seen in Christ revealing his true nature. The halos in icons are not rings or crowns (as often wrongly represented in western religious art) but rather a sphere of light, like the sphere of light around a candle in a dark room. This light that Christ, his mother the Theotokos, the angels and saints radiate in the icon is this Uncreated Light of God.

This is the Transforming Light that “makes all things new”. Salvation is in fact this Energy assimilating us to God, “divinizing” the believers, making us “Christ-like”, through the Energization of the Power of God. When we are in perfect harmony with God, the Holy Spirit energizes within us, and we too radiate this Uncreated Light. All of the saints radiate this Light of Christ. Interestingly, in properly rendered icons none of the Apostles have halos until after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out into the Church. This event, the Pentecost, is when the Apostles were “assimilated” into divination, transforming them [literally in the Greek “metamorphoses”] into Holy beings, into “non-earthy ones” (lit. in the Greek), and when, according to Tradition, the Holy Church had begun.

The Energy is Uncreated because it existed before creation, it is the Light and Truth and the Love and the Life that IS God. When we have that Truth, Love and Life of God, than we too will radiate this Divine Light.

The ancients understood that light was the purest form of energy. This is why there are so many biblical allusions to the sun for God. The sun was the source of “pure” light, life and heat, and this created light was likened to the Uncreated Light of God, the source of Everlasting “Zoe” and “Zesty”, spiritual “life” and “heat” or more properly “vitality”. This is why the term “illuminated” is used to describe the saints who saw these “divinizing” Visions in Heaven. In fact, it is impossible to properly understand the role of Light in theology if you do not understand it from the Light-Energy perspective.

Yet, Saint Paul also cautions the Roman about this Energy in 7:5 “for when we were in the flesh, passionate for sins according to the law, the Energy in our members brings fourth the fruit of death”. And likewise he warns the Corinthians [II Cor 4:12] “For this reason it energizes death in us, though it is Life in you”. And in Hebrews 4:12 another sober warning “For the living Logos of God, and [the living] Energies, also sharper than a two edged sword, passing through, dividing both soul and spirit, joints from marrows, judging the thought and intents of the heart”. Note in this last verse in English bibles, the word “Energies” is just dropped from the text, yet the clear implication in the Greek is that the “logos” is one edge, and the “energy” is the other edge of the sword. Implying quite literally, without this Energy, one is not fully armed.

When we come face to face with this powerful Uncreated Light in an impure and sinful condition, we cower in fear and pain, for our impurities are revealed and “burned” by this illuminating Energy. Yet those who love God and want nothing but to be in constant communion with God, will strive towards purity and will bask in glory in this same Light. The same Energy that causes eternal death in the sinful, purifies and strengthens the faithful.

This is at the root of difference between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, this biblical concept of the Uncreated Energies of God. In the west, the mystery of the Divine Energies was abandoned because it could not be understood outside of the metaphysical perspective, and therefore juridical socialistic rationalism was adopted. The west continues to flounder in darkness and is unarmed against the influence of the enemies of God, and therefore continues to innovate false theologies.

Tragically, in the west a few centuries after the Great Schism (1054 AD) an innovation (i.e. heresy) developed as a result of an attempt to rationalize God’s purifying fires. Latin theologians surmised that God created a place called purgatory with purging fires to “purify” those that die with imperfect atonement, and they further rationalized that paying indulgences could buy your loved ones out of these painful purging fires faster. This rationalization also helped keep the church prosperous and coffers full.

The western ideas had its roots in Augustinian theology (who was influenced by the Greek pagan philosophers). Unfortunately Augustine could not read Greek and had to devise his own theology from imperfect Latin translations. Late in his life he recanted much of his earlier writings, an act which was ignored in the West. Both Luther and Calvin developed their own theologies from Augustine’s erroneous writings, and ignoring Augustine’s later retraction. This is how the pagan notion of a God that both punishes and rewards made its way into western Christian theologies. Another major influence was the 13th century fantasy novelist Dante, who’s political satire known as the Inferno borrowed heavily from pagan mythology and bears little resemblance to Biblical eschatology.

Some Orthodox would contend that the western God, who both claims to love us, but also would condemn us to eternal punishment, is a schizophrenic God. It is reminiscent of the abusive groom who claims to love his bride but can not stop punishing her.

Calvin further rationalized if God is all knowing, then He knows who will be saved and who will not even before they are born, so therefore He must have created some people just so He can torment them in Hell for eternity. This is the infamous “predestination” of Calvin, which makes God the author of evil. This is not Biblical and certainly not Christian. Ultimately this doctrine denies free will, the choice that all humans have to either pursue righteousness, or selfishness.

Therefore the difference in the understanding of the Uncreated Energies is not just a difference between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, it is a difference between almost all of the heterodox and the Orthodox.

In Conclusion

There is no “place” of torment, or even a “place” apart from God, because there is no “place” at all; you are outside of time and space. The “place” is actually a condition of either punishment (“hell”) or paradise (“heaven”) depending on how you experience the presence of God and His Uncreated Engergies.

Consider a person who hates God, and anything to do with religion, and has done nothing but pursued his own self-centered desires all his life. It would be far more terrifying, and painful, to spend eternity in the fiery embrace of God’s almighty and divine love with no escape, than to be far from Him.

Experiencing God’s presence and His in-filling transforming Energies in glory or in torment, as Paradise or as Punishment, is the heaven and hell of the Bible. Not something God did to us, but rather something we did to ourselves. God unconditionally pours out His love on all, WHETHER WE WANT IT OR NOT, whether we are ready for it or not, when we enter the afterlife. This is why the Gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ should be shared with all people, of all nations, in all tongues. For there is nothing to fear from God’s perfect love, since love casts out all fear.

However, it is not totally wrong to understand the after life as “type” of Heaven and Hell. Because from each individual’s perspective, it will not be perceived as the same “place”, but rather as either torment and darkness you can not escape, or as the paradise you have always longed for. For those judged, they will experience God’s presence as eternal darkness and torment. Though it is very important to keep in mind what is the cause of either of these conditions, or one could reach very wrong conclusions about the nature of God, as they have in western theologies. To misrepresent the nature of a loving God would cause one to conclude that it was God’s intention to punish his creation. Indeed, one blasphemes the reputation of the God of the Bible when you make him into an angry vengeful god that punishes His creation. The cause of the torment is the poor choices that we make, not God. If one thinks of these two different “places” as conditions that we choose to be in, rather than “compartments” God puts us in, it would be more accurate.

And it will certainly be “paradise” to finally experience His Divine Love up close and in person for those who seek it. It is all in the perception.

Such is the nature of a loving God. For God is God.

Through Baptism We Enter Salvation

In his book Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Fr. Pomazansky speaks of Baptism:

It serves as the door leading into the Kingdom of grace, or the Church, and it grants access to participation in the other Mysteries. Even before the establishment of the Mystery of Baptism, the Lord Jesus Christ in His conversation with Nicodemus indicated the absolute necessity of it for salvation: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven.” When Nicodemus expressed his perplexity, “How can a man be born when he is old?” the Saviour replied that the new birth would be accomplished by water and the Spirit: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which as born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3-6).
The passage that Pomazansky quotes is vital to Orthodox theology. Many Protestants will contend that Baptism is a mere “sign” and has no spiritual value whatsoever. But, it is very clear here that Christ is issuing Baptism as a means of entering the Covenant itself, a means of becoming born again, and that without it one cannot be saved. Paul the Apostle speaks of Baptism in this same manner when he says, “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism…”(1 Peter 3:21). Fr. Pomazansky goes on to say: Baptism is a “new birth,” and it is performed for the salvation of men (Mark 16:16). Moreover, setting forth the grace-given significance of Baptism, the Apostles in their Epistles mdicate that m it we are “sanctified,” “cleansed,” ‘justified”; that m Baptism we “die to sin” so as to walk in renewed life; we are “buried with Christ,” and we arise with Him. “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himselffor at that He might sanctifY and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (that is, Baptism with the utterance of the words instituted to accompany it) (Eph. 5 :25-26). “Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6~11). “We are buried with Him by Baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Baptism is called the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3: 5). As for the subjective side – the state of soul of the person being baptized – it is indicated by the Apostle Peter, who calls Baptism the promise of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Through Baptism at the same time one is joined to the Church.This has got to be the most concise paragraph on Baptism I have read. He does not try to over-rationalize or persuade through sophisticated apologetics, he simply teaches the Holy Scriptures. How could anyone possibly deny, after being taught these passages, that Baptism is not efficacious to Salvation? Not that Baptism gives salvation in and of itself, but that it, as Pomazansky says, is “the door” to salvation. Through Baptism we enter into the Church, and through the Church we inherit salvation.


The Cult of Puritan Fragmentation

Throughout Scripture we see the call to unity and spiritual growth for believers in Christ, yet so many Christians only grow to a certain point and then stop growing altogether and are not able to connect with the Universal Church! Many seem to be going in circles within their particular group. Why is this?

The primary reason for the stagnant growth within Christianity today lies within the structure and ideal of the Church, or lack there of. The very existence of the Protestant Church, as well as the creation of new Protestant churches, relies heavily on division (schism). From the beginning of the Reformation, churches have sprung off of the Puritan and Lutheran traditions through their personal agendas of purity. To them, the church exists only in the form of the elect (truly saved). Contrary to Orthodoxy, Puritanical Christianity does whatever it can to get a person “saved” and then weave them into the Church. But the ancient tradition is much different. We bring people into the Church in order that they may be saved. The Church, to us, is comprised of elect as well as non-elect. In Matthew 13, Christ speaks of the kingdom itself being comprised of both wheat and tares and that the refining – the ridding of the tares – will not be done until the end of the age.

The problem with this Puritanical expression of the Christian Church is that scapegoats are created to excuse the ungodliness of the tares. Rather than grasping the understanding that some people will never change and that some people take a long time to change, the Puritanical Christian runs to the closest doctrine to lay blame on it, creates a polarized doctrine to oppose it, then gathers people around these new doctrines to break off and create a “purer” Church.

When the Modernist, Puritanical Christian takes this approach they’re actually working against their original plan to help grow people and the Church abroad. The Church is designed to have a certain amount of doctrinal latitude within it. This is how the Church operated within the first millennium, before it fell into thousands of protesting pieces. The required doctrines for salvation and a good standing in the Church were very basic, based on the Trinitarian teachings expressed through preaching, prayers, the Eucharist, as well as baptism. Those that went outside of these basic structures where deemed as cults by both the bishopric, and in many cases, the state.

Unfortunately, the Church is no longer structured this way. Today, the Puritanical structure has gained much momentum and now Christians everywhere are hitting spiritual ceilings within their particular church. One of the most common ways I’ve seen this happen is when one begins to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ, and in the process of growth, they’re hindered by their pastor or other church leader because their particular denomination is FOUNDED off of being polarized from the very doctrines that the Christian is growing into. This is how many of the schisms of the Protestant Church have been formed. Beginning at the top of the food chain (Orthodoxy) each lower link of the chain has hidden themselves from those who are higher up in order to RETAIN THEIR VERY EXISTENCE! The bottom line is that Christians are not allowed to grow, lest they be excommunicated or squeezed out by their church/denomination.

I like to call these people “Capped Christians.” They are frightened to grow because if they do they will be ousted in some form or fashion by their pastor and/or congregation, which means they will also lose many of the friendships that they worked so hard to build over time. Many do grow of course, and move on to a higher call; perhaps from non-denominationalism to the Reformed faith, or from the Reformed faith to the Eastern faith, but most do not take the leap because of how difficult a transition it can be.

These Capped Christians are capped from no one else but their pastors. Not only will the pastor do everything in his power to bar the Christian from growing into the opposed doctrines but they will also hide doctrines that they know to be true simply because their denomination does not teach it.

The pastors/leaders that refuse to accept Christ’s command for unity and insist on remaining divided from the Church-historical will be held to a high standard at judgment. We should pray that they would grow out of this cultic type of structure and mindset. The structure that they have adopted is that the Church is the elect and not the baptized, and therefore the doctrine must be that of which will immediately produce “electness.” This pursuit of pragmatic doctrine is never ending and it will never work. It will only continue to create doctrine that is completely legalistic. The irony of this is that within the past 30 years, many movements have created legalistic doctrines against legalism itself. They are theologies that claim to be anti-legalistic but are nonetheless themselves legalistic, just more complex. Why does this happen? Well, because they refuse to believe that God saves through the Church. They think that doctrine in and of itself saves people, apart from the visible Church. God saves through the Church. This is what Christ says in John 3 and Matthew 16, and what St. Paul teaches throughout the Epistles. Granted, someone can be saved if they do not go through baptism and become a covenantal part of the Church, but this is the exception and not the rule of the faith.

I’m very passionate about this topic and am willing to continue to discuss it. I have been through the ranks of a variety of Protestant churches and I know for certain that many pastors today refuse to grow in their faith because they do not want to lose their primary source of income. And often times, they do not want to lose the pride of being a pastor. Many are simply liars of the faith. Inside their heart they know that there is a greater truth within the historic church but they refuse to change and so lie to themselves and to others about the Gospel and the Church. Again, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3 that these men will suffer loss in eternity. Are you one of these men? If so, be bold! Get out of your own way and stop leading people to dark valleys and dry deserts. Are you a Capped Christian, or one that is being led by one of these liars? If so, do as St. James says, and flee! You will not regret it. 

Discovery of Oldest Church?

Archaeologists have discovered what they say to be the oldest church. I’m not sure what they mean by “oldest church.” It must mean that it is the oldest church found to date.

Turning Points Of The Church

A primary reason why we named this site “Classical Christianity” is so that we could publish the richness of the first millennium of the Church, when both the eastern and western hemispheres were united in fsith. The Classical concept of the Church is to become ingrained into the teachings of these saints that the first millennium produced. There are many “modern” saints to learn from as well, but as we will discuss below, the pre- medieval era is indeed quite special to Orthodoxy. If we can understand some of the pitfalls that were encountered within the Middle Ages, perhaps we will be able to grow in Christ in a much more sustainable way, a way that involves the unity of the faith that Christ speaks of.

A lot of radical over-correction took place in the Middle Ages when many men of the Church finally got their hands on a variety of books, including the Bible. After “the Church went off its rails” in 1054 A.D. (the Church split and formed Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic), as Protestant pastor Martin Luther said, the Church began to quickly embrace a very scholastic path of spirituality. Writers such as Peter Lombard, in the 12th century and later Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, capitalized on the simple yet foundational aspects of Christianity such as Holy Communion, marriage, ordination, healing, baptism, reconciliation with Christ, as well as reconciliation with the Church. These subjects were thought to be of great importance since they had been practiced since the very inception of the New Testament Church.

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K(no)w Bishop, K(no)w Bible

Here is a link that helps us understand the fact that the bishopric is the arbitrator of truth and that the Bible, our primary repository of truth, belongs only to the Church that is under this bishopric.

From the link above we can see that there are dozens of early writings that are not in the Bible. In the first few hundred years of the New Testament Church the authority of revelation was verbally transpired by the bishops, to the priests and then to the rest of the Church. In the fourth century the bishops decided which books out of these many would be “canonized.” This Canon of early letters began to be called the Bible.

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On the Bible and Apostolic Succession


Many Modern Christians make this general type of assumption that the Bible was handed over from Christ or the Apostles themselves as some sort of gift to all mankind. But research shows us this is not the case!

The Bible is a product of the bishopric! The Bible is a result of the Church. If you do not believe in the authority of the ancient Church then you cannot believe that the Bible is the actual rule of faith. The authority of the Church is its bishopric, which no modern Christian has a part of. The ancient fathers made it very clear that if one is not under the authority of the Bishop then one is not a part of the Church. Granted, the many modern churches of today that do not have apostolic succession certainly do have the grace of God but this grace is not embraced on an “affluent” level. They have a serious defect that needs healing and remedy.

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On Understanding the Bible

There is one subject that continues to divide Christendom in our day. Few books are written on the subject, even though it was an enormous controversy with the Protestant Reformers. I am speaking of the subject of canonicity, or what many know as the Bible. I have written about the canon of Scripture under the Bible tab on this site and have downloaded a video on it that can be found on the right column of the web page. You can also look at the sub-tab “Oral Tradition” under the main Early Fathers tab.

Here are four false assumptions that I see modern Christians making in regards to how they understand the very nature of Scripture.

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History of the “Apocrypha”

“While Noah Webster, just a few years after producing his famous Dictionary of the English Language, would produce his own modern translation of the English Bible in 1833; the public remained too loyal to the King James Version for Webster’s version to have much impact. It was not really until the 1880’s that England’s own planned replacement for their King James Bible, the English Revised Version(E.R.V.) would become the first English language Bible to gain popular acceptance as a post-King James Version modern-English Bible. The widespread popularity of this modern-English translation brought with it another curious characteristic: the absence of the 14 Apocryphal books.”

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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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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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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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Salvation Not a One Time Event

As Christian do we really know how we are inheriting eternity? Most American Christians will either say that they are earning their salvation (Roman Catholic) or that they “got saved” (Protestant/Evangelical, etc.). Both are heterodox teachings! Both teachings are far too legalistic. Both teachings pump the Christian up to a level of knowledge that they simply do not really have. The Roman believes that they need to follow the simple commands of the Church and the Protestant believes the same but through a simple one time command (through the “sinner’s prayer” or through a more sophisticated concept called “justification”). The Canon of Scriptures as well as the canons of the councils do not speak of salvation through the obedience of rules but through a process of divinization; becoming a part of Christ himself and His kingdom. It is so much more of a healing process and even absorption than it is a moral or doctrinal process.

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Conversion is not Ethical but Spiritual

What really happens when someone begins to inherit the gift of salvation is that they inherit a humble state of mind that is able to either lead or follow the very body of Christ, the Church.

Christ said that the enemy would never overcome His established eternal people, the Church (Matthew 16:18). Isaiah 9 speaks of God’s eternal people as His kingdom when he says, “Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever…” The kingdom of God is comprised of God’s people and the organization of them to rule the earth through spiritual dominion.

Ever since the days of the Enlightenment, and likely even before then, Christians have equated the Gospel with some sort of ethical conversion: “I was once unethical and now I am ethical.” I am all for giving glory to God in what He does, and what He has done in the saints, this is why I like to celebrate the feast days. But to equate the Gospel to ethical conversion is a serious mistake.

Any self-help group can take a drug-addicted or other socially oppressed person off the streets and “clean up their life.” In fact, the world has a better track record, in these modern days, of doing such a thing. As a former minister to homeless and incarcerated, I witnessed much of this sort of secular rehabilitation. Many people could not decide between the rehabilitation of the Church or the rehabilitation of the cult of the state since they are both able to help.

Change in social and civil ethic is certainly a result of the Gospel taking root in a person, but it is not the essence of the Gospel. The essence of the Gospel, in regards to the change in the elect, is the change in what the new Christian worships. The new Christian is now no longer an idolater! Now, the new Christian worships the living God. But, this worship is not primarily ethical in the cultural sense. This worship that the new Christian begins to give themselves to is primarily ethical in the spiritual sense.

The new Christian is now identified with a kingdom that is reigning on earth as it is in heaven. One can only participate in the fullness of this kingdom through the Church and what she has to offer: participation of The Eucharist, Baptism, the Canon (“Bible” as presented by the Church) and the fellowship of the saints.

Please don’t misquote me. I am not saying that there is no ethical change in the new Christian. There is! But the real change is in the heart of the person. Only a person with a changed heart would want to worship every Sunday and practice this posture throughout their workweek.

One might say, “Oh, so you can just go to church on Sunday and be saved?” No, that would be the white knuckle method, and that method does not always turn a person from the world to the kingdom, but it does place them in an environment to be able to do so (assuming that there is a proper amount of teaching and discipleship).  And for that matter we really do not know which “white knuckler” will turn and which will not, so there is simply no reason to judge each other.

The temptation within the Church has been to begin to act like God, proclaiming who is and is not elect on the basis of one’s inner morality and, as we have discussed, their outward ethics. But we do not know the heart like God knows the heart. We only know what we have been given, which is the outward workings of Christ: baptism and entrance into the church. We have not been given jurisdiction as judge pertaining to social ethics but of kingdom ethics; that is a heart felt motive to participate through a prayerful and humble mind toward what Christ is doing ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

By teaching the ethical conversion doctrine, the notion that we are simply breaching modern ethics, anyone can be a Christian that lives a moral life and inserts the name of Jesus in their life.

The conversion of ones soul has everything to do with their conversion FROM autonomy TO authority – the authority that Christ has established for us. What authority did Christ establish for us? One will say, “The Holy Ghost.” The Holy Ghost through whom? Anyone and anything? This is known as the heresy of pantheism! Christ did not establish an authority that is esoteric, He established the Church as our authority.

We do not completely confirm our relationship with Christ by our own heart, our own fallen nature. We confirm our relationship with Christ through our personal state of healing IN COMBINATION WITH  the authority that He has given us: the Church. Christians are not autonomous people! We are united to Christ’s body, which is His Church.

Redemption Through All Creation

In this month’s issue of the magazine Christianity Today there is an article on “Hipster Christianity” that shows how a more historical Christianity is rising within the Evangelical church, the same church that was constructed a few decades ago through the Jesus Movement. In this Jesus Movement the  liturgy, hymns and chanting were thrown out for a pop-culture style of worship and a theology of so-called “end-times” became the thrust of the church’s zeal and passion. Evangelicals began to preach a very fervent message of converting to Jesus based on the end of the world and the “rapture” of the church. But in today’s Hipster Christianity this is changing. Here is a quote from the Christianity Today article on the new Hipster theology.

“Hipster Christianity also expresses itself theologically, through preaching that often emphasizes covenantal and “new creation” ideas and attempts to construct a more ecclesiological or community-centric view of salvation. Things like soul-winning and going to heaven are downplayed in favor of the notion that heaven will come down to earth and renew the broken creation. Thus, the world matters. It’s not a piece of rotting kindling that we will abandon for heaven one day. It’s the site of a renewed kingdom. All of this informs hipster Christianity’s attention to things like social justice, environmentalism, and the arts, because if God is building his kingdom on earth, then it all matters.”

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Dr. Wayne Grudem on Atonement

Collectively speaking, the historic pre-schism doctrine of atonement is that of Christ dying for us as a ransom and a sacrifice, a “new Adam,” so as to make living what had been lost prior to the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. We can see this throughout the Bible, including the writings of St. Paul and Christ Himself. It was not until well into the Middle Ages that Western schismatic Christians began to formulate and dogmatize the doctrine of what they call “penal substitution.”

This doctrine involves taking the salvific teachings of the Bible, as well as the Fathers, and twisting them into a legal format. Many Protestant teachers today speak as if this legal doctrine of penal substitution has always been the norm. One very popular teacher, Dr. Wayne Grudem, says this in regards to penal substitution:

“To say that God can forgive sins without requiring any penalty (in spite of the fact that throughout Scripture sin always requires the payment of a penalty) is seriously to underestimate the absolute character of the justice of God.”

Grudem is either not very studied in the Fathers or is not being very honest with himself here. On the previous page in Grudem’s book Systematic Theology, Grudem slams the historic position of Christ dying as a ransom and goes as far as stating that it is not found in Scripture and has few supporters in the history of the Church. This is so completely false! Jaroslav Pelikan, who is referred to by both Protestant and Orthodox Christians as a hallmark to historic theology, says this in regards to what is referred to as the “ransom theory”:

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On Christians Feeling Empty

Perhaps you have thought at one time that there is something missing in your life, a type of longing, but you have been unable to place your finger on it. You think that, as a Christian, this longing should eventually disappear and be filled with “knowing God” or maybe that it should be filled with some sort of ministry success, be it family, job, church or just personal accomplishments that you believe Christ has called and is calling you to.

You might have been told that this “God shaped hole” is awaiting this personal relationship with Christ via your “justification” in Christ. Or, maybe your leaders are less systematic and they choose different wording such as: “you are now guilt free.”

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On Evangelical Missionaries in Russia

 John Witte comments on overzealous Evangelicals within Russia.

“At the heart of the political struggle between Western and Eastern Christians in Russia and other portions of Eastern Europe today are sharply competing theologies of mission. Some of those missiological differences reflect more general differences in theological emphasis. Eastern Orthodox  tend to emphasize the altar over the pulpit, the liturgy over the homily, the mystery of faith over its rational disputation, the priestly office of the clergy over the devotional tasks of the litany. Western Christians generally reverse these priorities – and sometimes accuse the Orthodox of idolatry, introversion, and invasion of the believer’s personal relationship with God.[There are vast differences in the theology of mission work here.] Western Evangelicals, in particular, assume that, in order to be saved, every person must make a personal, conscious commitment to Christ – to be born again, to convert. Any person who has not been born again, or who once reborn now leads a nominal life, is a legitimate object of evangelism – regardless of whether and where a person has been baptized. The principle means of reaching that person is through proclamation of the gospel, rational demonstration of its truth, and personal exemplification of its efficacy. Any region of the world…is a “mission field” – regardless of whether the region might have another Christian church in place. Under this definition of mission, Russia and its people are prime targets of Evangelical witness.

The Russian Orthodox Church, too, believes that each person must come into a personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved.  But such a relationship with Christ comes more through birth than rebirth, and more through regular sacramental living than a one-time conversion. A person that has been born into the church has by definition started “theosis” – the process of becoming acceptable to God and ultimately coming into eternal communion with him…Proclamation of the gospel is certainly an important means of aiding the process of theosis – and is especially effective in reaching those not born or baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. But, for the Russian Orthodox, mission work is designed not to transmit rational truths, but to incorporate persons into communion with Christ and fellow believers. This theology leads the Russian Orthodox to a quite different understanding of the proper venue and object of evangelism. The territory of Russia is hardly an open “mission field” which Evangelicals are free to harvest. To the contrary, much of the territory and population of Russia are under the spiritual protectorate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Any person who has been baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church is no longer a legitimate object of evangelism – regardless of whether that person leads a nominal Christian life….Only of that person actively spurns the Orthodox Church is he or she a legitimate target of the evangelism of others.

The Patriarch [of the Orthodox Church] is not only complaining about improper methods of evangelism – the bribery, blackmail, coercion, and material inducements used by some groups; the garish carnivals, billboards, and media blitzed used by others. The Patriarch is also complaining about the improper presence of missionaries – those who have not come to aid the Orthodox Church for its own souls on its own territory. The Patriarch takes seriously the statement of St. Paul, who wrote: “It is my ambition to bring the Gospel to places where the very name of Christ has not been heard, for I do not want to build on another man’s foundation” (Rom 15:20). “

– John Witte Jr., The Local Church In A Global Era, p. 182

On Proof-text Theology

BibleOne of the biggest stumbling blocks for dispensational believers to begin to understand the more historic  view of theology is their  insistence on clinching tightly to, what I call, proof-text theology. Proof-text theology has, like all theological camps, its own hermeneutic. Its particular hermeneutic involves…yes, you guessed it, proof-texting. I’m sure you have heard, when discussing theology with your dispensational friends, how this particular theology is not found in the Bible and that particular theology is not found in the Bible and that there simply is not enough “scriptural support” for your Orthodox argument.

The modernists assume that the Bible has been written in propositional terms, as if the Apostles set out to write a New Covenant Leviticus of some sort that is completely adaptable to all future didactic arguments. There is no evidence that the Apostles had these types of intentions; to write a series of propositions for the sake of the entire future of systematic theologies. One simply cannot say, “there is no verse for you to refute my theology.” This, many times, depending on the context of the argument, assumes that the Bible is written in this propositional manner.

Proof-text theology is the theology of cut-and-paste. Verses are cut out and pasted on ones wallboard to support a particular theology, and are then placed into theological papers with parenthesise securing the verses in various places for support. But if this same artist would turn around to carefully notice all of the left over scraps of their Bible, they would notice that there is a tremendous amount of narrative with no home. This is not to say that proof-texting is somehow not necessary. On the contrary! Proof-texting is, in some cases necessary, but it is not to be used as the sole authority of the Church or the overarching rule of theology.

Without going into thesis mode I would like to state in a concise manner that the historic faith sets out to capture the entirety of the Bible and cannot be reduced to a sentence here and a sentence there from the Bible. The Bible is an exhaustive narrative of God and his covenant promises to His people. This involves a vast amount of narrative in both the Old and New Testament. One must be able to grapple with hard-to-digest facts such as Old Testament evangelism and New Testament monasticism that are clearly found in the narrative but are not necessarily concisely proposed in one sentence here or there.

Proof-text theology is certainly appealing to the novice in that it involves bite-sized nuggets rather than the full course of the Bible; all books in their entirety. How does Genesis relate to Revelation, for instance, and how is the Gospel found in the Old Testament and to what affect does it have on the New Testament people? Proof-text theology cannot answer these simple questions. A Sacramental theology can, though. sacramental theology involves God dealing with His people as a Church rather than short propositions of didactic dogmas.

Orthodox Christians are actually STILL LIVING the New Testament age. We have a succession of authority that is not so much after a new revival in the world but  after an ancient revival in the world; not that we are seeking to bring back everything old but that that we are seeking to grow from this “old” and ancient tradition as our foundation. This means that WE are the same people that God spoke of in the Old Testament (Galatians 3:7-9).

On So-called “Justification”


The term “justification” that is found in the writings of St. Paul does not have to do with ones conversion, but rather it is simply a word that Paul used to described how God’s Covenant people as a whole are justified in being the new people of God, the New Covenant people of God. One is justified for not partaking any longer with the Jews or any other religious group; he is no longer bound to the Old Covenant Law. It is really that simple! The term justification is more polemical to the Jews than it is a dogma-term that is to be used to describe a conversion or a sanctifying element in ones conversion.

We must recognize that there is a difference between the doctrine of justification via medieval scholasticism and the doctrine of justification according to St. Paul. One could easily blame the Reformers, such as Calvin and Luther, for capitalizing on the doctrine, but prior to them was the 13th century scholastics St. Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. These four medieval men certainly gave scholastic momentum for the doctrine. Before them, St. Augustine as well as St. Ambrose were keen on using philosophy to promote certain doctrines but neither of them capitalized on the word “justification” like the medieval theologians.

Now here is where it gets sticky! Prior to the medieval period, salvation was described in terms of  receiving Christ through baptism and repentance and moving from there into catechizing where one would become rooted in the faith and then become confirmed and begin to receive communion. Salvation was more about leaving one thing for another; not works based but “proof based.” As a person began to live the life within the Church and submit to her teachings and standards, that person became more and more widely recognized as a true and faithful Christian.

But then came scholasticism, where, in many ways, the Gospel changed from the good news about changing lives to the good news about changing thought. As time progressed through the ages much of the Church that was separated (Protestants, etc.) from the historic Church began to embrace a one time conversion scheme where they simply had to recite a “sinners prayer.”

Where did this sinner’s prayer notion come from? It came from the understanding that salvation itself is all wrapped up in one term and concept: Justification! Conversion began to be equated with the term justification, which became the dogma-term for God declaring an individual saved.

What modernism has done is taken these terms that St. Paul used in his writings and capitalized on them via scholasticism. So now the word justification becomes much more than just a word that St. Paul used a few times to help explain the situation of the Gospel, it becomes the sum of the Gospel itself. As Luther stated, justification is “the doctrine by which the church either stands or falls.” Calvin declared justification to be the “hinge of the Reformation.” The reason they were saying these things is because St. Paul’s word “justification” had been built up within the scholastic circles to become the all in all.

First of all, we need to remember that Jesus never used the term justification! Second, justification was not used by St. Paul as a propositional term. St. Paul did not even imply that we should use that term when evangelizing or teaching. Paul was using the term to ensure the Jews, and those associated with the Jews, that they were in the right place with God, covenantally speaking. Paul brought the Gospel into the law-court scenario so that the Gentiles could be comfortable becoming one with the Jews and that Jews could be confident that they could completely leave the part of Judaism they needed to leave to be one with the Gentiles.

St. Paul seemed to be paving a path for both Jew and Gentile. As an Evangelist, Paul’s writings were always written with the Jewish audience in mind, even when addressing the Gentiles. He did not use the term dogmatically for all situations. St. Paul was an evangelist, a polemicist. He said himself in his letter to the Corinthians that he “became all things to all people” in order to win the Jews over. In the book of Romans, where Paul uses the term, he is carefully mapping out, yes, a systematic theology, but for the particular situation at hand. The Jews were constantly interfering with the Gospel work within the Roman Empire and St. Paul, being called to heal this relational gap (1 Cor. 9:20), began writing his best proposition for the given problem.

So in one sense, St. Paul was the very first scholastic teacher. He used philosophy to promote the Gospel. But the philosophy that he used to heal the Jews to the Church and help the Church understand their relationship with the Jews is now, in our day, being used as a Church dogma to describe the Gospel itself. Many in the Church have taken the word out of context and are abusing it and even in some ways worshiping it!

When St. Paul says that we are justified by faith, he is not saying that we are to have an instantaneous experience by faith, he is saying that we justly reside within the New Covenant people of God. He says this because the Jews were uneasy about being a part of the Church because they thought they had to be a part of the Nation of Israel instead. The people that Paul was ministering to also thought that they were to maintain their covenantal status by their works, but St. Paul says in Romans, chapter 4, that our covenantal status is through faith; not that we practice ‘faithing’ but that God recognizes our faith as a mark of justice, a sign of the Covenant people. St. Paul is not giving a psychological solution that we should become converted through justification by faith; he is saying something completely different.

It is not justification that we are after, but it is Christ that we are after. A person can sit well with believing that justification is because of faith and still not become saved. To summarize what Bishop N.T. Wright says, Justification is not about how one gets into the Covenant, it is about how one is viewed by God within the Covenant.

Today’s debate on justification presupposes medieval thought. It does not take into consideration what the early church taught about salvation and ironically, it does not take into consideration the skill of philosophy and debate, the very thing that the doctrine was derived from: St. Paul’s philosophy (but not to be turned into something else). Again, Paul’s intent was for the term justification to heal Jews from their notions of covenantal standing, their personal issues that they had about the Gospel and its doctrine that insisted they leave one Covenant people for another.

What justification really is is the promise of the Covenant. In Romans, chapter 4, Paul begins by stating that not even Abraham was “justified” by works, but by faith. Paul goes on, beginning in verse 13, to describe what this justification is:

“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

When St. Paul speaks of justification he is speaking of the promise of the Covenant people. He is not speaking of a conversion experience, a point at which God says, YOU ARE NOW JUSTIFIED. As mentioned earlier, Paul is communicating to all people – because of the Jewish notion that the New Covenant Church was not in the right – that the Church is in the right. He even goes as far as saying that Abraham was indeed in the right also, but he too was in the right by faith; not because he did a work of faith (that would mean that we are saved by works) but that he simply was reckoned as faithful. Abraham was a man of the faith, again, not intellectually and physiologically speaking but more literally speaking: Abraham was a man of faith! And to reiterate, Abraham was not faithing his way to heaven but God counted him as the faithful, a man whose path was a faithful one within the Covenant; loyal not to ceremonial works as many thought but a man loyal to works bathed in faith! St. Paul needed to make this clear to the Jews so that the Jews would recognize the patriots as the true fathers of Christianity.

So when one says we are saved by faith “alone” they are missing the point of faith. We are saved “through” faith, as Paul says, not “by” faith. There is a big difference. Take away the notion that salvation is something that goes on within your head and realize that salvation, in Pauline terms, is something that happens within the Covenant and that we must live a life of faith in Christ within this Covenant.

In Romans 5:9, Paul says that we are justified by Christ’s blood. So now we are somewhat out of the intellectual formula but more clearly within the covenantal formula, because the shedding of His blood is an historical event. It does not happen again when someone converts thus calling it the point of one’s experience of justification. His blood sacrifice created a New Covenant for people to be saved. So again, Paul is speaking covenantally. Paul is not saying that we all at one point in our life become justified. He is saying that within the kingdom of Christ one is justified and from there their life is worked out; their salvation is worked out by God (Philippians 2:12).

I think a question could arise out of all this, and that would be: “If St. Paul was referring to justification as God’s declaration of one being a covenant member, then is one justified when they are baptized since baptism initiates membership to the Covenant?” The following is an interesting article by Dr. Peter Liethart as he argues that, yes, one is justified when baptized. This does not equate to salvation but it does open the door to such.

“Does baptism justify? Justification is, of course, an act of God. But that puts the question differently without deflecting it: Does baptism declare a justification for the person baptized?

At least twice, Paul makes a direction connection between baptism and justification. Having reminded the Corinthians that they had been the kind of people who do not inherit the kingdom, he goes on to remind them that they are no longer such people: “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God” (6:11). Is Paul talking about water baptism when he refers to “washing” or to some spiritual and invisible washing? I believe the former; the phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” echoes the baptismal formula of Matthew 28 and Acts, and the reference to the Spirit also links with baptismal passages (Acts 2; 1 Cor 12:12-13). This whole passage is in fact embedded in a baptismal formula: “you were washed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Note too that Paul marks the shift from what the Corinthians “were” to what they “are” by a reference to their baptism. They have become different folk by being baptized. What, though, is the relationship between the baptism and sanctification and justification? The connection here is not absolutely clear, but I suggest that sanctification and justification are two implications of the event of baptism. The pagan Corinthians have been washed-sanctified-justified by their baptism into the name of Jesus and the concommitant action of the Spirit.

Romans 6:7 is another passage where Paul links baptism and justification. He who has died, Paul writes, is “justified from sin.” And when, in context, does one die? “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (vv. 3-4). Baptism into Christ means baptism into death; those who have been baptized have been crucified with Jesus; and those who are dead in and with Jesus have been justified from sin. Here, “justify” carries the connotation of deliverance from the power of sin. Through baptism, we die to our natural solidarity and society with Adam and brought into solidarity with and the society of Jesus.”

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.