Saturday, 7 April 2018

Contemplation the Pascha Hymn “Thine is the Power” by HH Pope Shenouda III

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Today, I would like to talk to you about the important subject of the Passion Week. Passion Week is the holiest week of the year. And it’s good that we talk about it right now (before the start of Passion Week), so we can have an opportunity to enjoy this week spiritually. In this week, the church focuses completely on the suffering of Christ.

It does not become concerned with any other subject, but the suffering of Christ. It does not desire to think about any other matter.

Even the Psalms, it does not pray. Because some of the Psalms are about the Lord’s birth, Resurrection, Ascension and His Second Coming, and the church wants to focus solemnly on His sufferings. All the readings of the church are about the sufferings of Christ. This subject circulates in the church’s mind the entire week. In its hymns and appearance which is clothed in darkness. The front chorus is empty and the people remember that they are out of the camp.
All this, gives the idea that our minds shouldn’t wander away from the sufferings of Christ. You might have read or heard a lot about Passion Week, but I would like to talk to you about only one point: the prayer that the church has chosen to pray during the entire Passion Week. She has stopped the Psalms.

It turns out to be that the only thing the church prays is the praise that says, “Thok te ti-gowm nem pi o-ou nem pi esmo nem pi amahi sha eneh, amen… etc…” It means, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” We say these words to Christ the entire time. What does this mean?

We walk, step by step, following Christ and in every step we say in His ears, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Christ goes to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people welcome Him as a king, and we rejoice in the kingdom of Christ, saying to Him, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” And the chief priests and elders were displeased at the horde surrounding Christ, so they start to think of His death. And while they are thinking of His death, we are behind Him saying, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” After that, Christ stays a while at Bethany and we are behind Him with these same words.

Judas deals with the chief priests about His deliverance and we say to Him, the entire week, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Christ is arrested and taken to be tried and we stand with Him in court and say to Him, while He is being tried in front of Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas the high priest, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Christ is insulted, mocked, jeered and crucified and we stand under the cross and repeat the same hymn, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Throughout all the sufferings that Christ bears, the nails hammered in His hands and feet, we say, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” During the entire time, we are not occupied with anything else. So what is the meaning of this prayer and how can we benefit from it? This is what we are going to discuss.

What are behind “Thine is the power and the glory”? We want to fully understand it. In this week, my brothers and sisters, the last development occurred in the strange struggle between Christ and the Jews. In respect to suffering, Passion Week is not the only painful week in the life of Christ. His entire life on earth was full of suffering. It was written about Him that He is a man of suffering and will experience sorrow.

A life full of pain, not just a week. But, this week, it has reached its limit. It is a struggle between light and darkness. In the beginning, the darkness hated and rejected the light. People liked the darkness more than the light because their deeds were evil. Then it developed that the darkness tried to destroy the light. It evolved to the point that the darkness accused the light of the being the darkness and that it was the light. It is a struggle between the light and darkness. This struggled was evident during the service of Christ. And it is strange that, during this struggle, Christ was not in resistance. “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its sheerer is dumb; He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

This is Passion Week! Christ said to them that this is your hour and the authority of darkness. Christ was given complete authority in heaven and on the earth, but He did not use His authority against the reign of darkness. He left the darkness to take its toll and violently work what it wants. Without defense. Without resistance. Without standing against it, while He was able to. He strangely let it go. As an obedient lamb even to the slaughter. And we look at Christ while He is being led to the slaughter. And we sing in His ears this hymn, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…” Your submission to the works of evil causes you harm, anguish, insult, crucifixion and death.

This does not prevent you from being strong, praised, blessed and beloved forever and ever, amen. We know who You are – the Holy God. Christ submitted to the works of the darkness. Just like He gave Satan the freedom to tempt Him as he wishes, He gave the freedom to sinful mankind to torture Him as they wish. Even for Judas, “Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly’” (John 13:27). Do whatever you want. It might appear before the people that He was weak. But if He was, it was not ordered of Him.

In His hands was all the power, and we know that. And we sing to Him and say “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…”

Thine is the Power

When Christ was insulted in Passion Week, we say to Him, “God, we know You, You’re not a stranger to us. These people think You were weak, and that You fell in their hands. Never! We remember all Your incredible power. We remember that You have power in miracles. You have power over the diseases that You healed. Power over the devils that You cast out. And power over nature. You are He who walked on the water and calmed the storm and waves of the sea. You broke most of the natural laws. We know that You have the power and are capable.”

Power of Creation

Before this also, You had the power. The power of creation. You created a new substance in the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes. And created a new substance when You changed the water to wine. Water consists of oxygen and hydrogen, while wine contains alcohol and grape juice. Where did all this come from? A new substance was created. In the miracle of the five loaves and the two fishes a new substance was created.

In healing the eyes of the born blind, a new substance was created. You have the power of creation. Not just in these days, but from the beginning, You created all things. “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). We know who You are. You were from the beginning and You created everything. You created the people that crucified You, the hand that slapped You, and the tongue that insulted You. All things were made through You. In Your hand is the key to life and death. You are able to do anything, but You don’t wish to. Thy will be done. We know that You have the power.

Power in Holiness

We also know that You have the power in holiness. You are the only one who defeated Satan. “For she (sin) hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her” (Proverbs 7:26). You were the only one left standing, because You have the power. You are stronger than everybody, for “all have turned aside: together they have become corrupted. There is none who does good, not even one,” (Psalm 14:3) and need the glory of God. Satan was able to trick them all, but You are the only strong one who bruised the head of the serpent.

Power of Endurance

We know more than this, that You have the power of endurance. Notice that Christ was strong in His crucifixion. Strong because He bore the accusations of the wicked even though He had the power in His hands to wipe them out. Who is able to endure like the Christ? Truly, power is in endurance. There are people who are quickly shaken, angered and weakened, but Christ was strong. There are people who can’t stand one word. Their blood boils, their nerves are tense, their personality is shaken and they want to get revenge. But, Christ was strong in endurance.

He endured His servants to slap Him on the face, spit on Him and insult Him. Who of us is able to endure this? The person who’s able to is truly strong. The Bible says, I ask of you “that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1). But, who of us is able to bear? Not only this, but to bear all of this from his servants, slaves and his own creation. Can a manager or a president of a company bear that one of his employees or janitors swear at him or say something rude in front of him? To bear that one slaps him? Or to spit in his face? Who is able to bear all this?

There is no doubt that Christ was strong in endurance. His endurance was based on the power of His love. Because the person who loves is able to bear and endure. He who doesn’t love isn’t able to endure. Christ was strong in endurance. He didn’t just bear the wicked and the accusations, He also forgave them. He didn’t just forgive them, but interceded, prayed and defended them in front of the Father. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

A New Measure of Power

Christ gave us, in His crucifixion, a new measure of power. Before, a strong man was able to insult, conquer and destroy another. But, Christ gave us a new example: a strong person is he who is able to tolerate others. Strength is not in shaking and stumbling others. The true power is in being able to love, gain and save others. Peter, the disciple, didn’t understand the power in Christ. He thought that crucifixion is a sign of weakness just like many people today.

And they ask, “how can Christ be crucified?” They think that crucifixion is weakness, but Christ was strong. We observe that Christ reached the pinnacle of His power when He was hanging on the cross! The highest level of love. The highest level of giving. The highest level of endurance. No one has greater love than this: to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13). Peter didn’t understand this. That is why, when Christ said He was going to be crucified, he said “you can’t do that, O Lord!” Why did he say that? Because he didn’t understand the meaning of power. He thought that power was that Christ be a king and people worship, bow and kneel to Him.

Peter didn’t think that power was that Christ shed his blood for us. Peter didn’t understand power in another situation; when Christ was being arrested, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant. He thought that this was power and bravery. Christ told him no, concerning killing the servant, that’s easy, it’s easy to kill all these people, but power isn’t that we kill them, but bear them. That is the true power. Just like John and James the sons of Zebedee, they thought that power was that fire come down and burn the city of the Samaritans that shut it’s doors in the face of Christ.

Christ told them that that isn’t power. The power is that I bear them, have patience on them and wait until I save them. That is the true power. He said, “you do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55,56).

 Christ gave is a live, practical example of power. He didn’t explain in detail the meaning of power, but presented an example of it from a Christian point of view. Power that ascended accepted and bore the cross for the sake of others. But the person that’s shaken from one, small word is a weak person. That person can’t bear the injustice of the wicked and therefore becomes shaken quickly. When we stand in the presence of the cross, my brothers and sister, we don’t stand to weep over Christ like Mary Magdalene and the daughters of Jerusalem did or to mourn and greet Him.

We stand near the cross to glorify the cross and He who is crucified upon it and to sing to Him the lovely hymn, “Thine is the power, the glory, the blessings and the majesty forever, amen…”
We Boast in the Cross

Therefore, we boast in the cross. “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). If the cross was a sign of weakness, we wouldn’t boast in it! If the cross was a sign of weakness, we wouldn’t hang it in our churches, on top of our towers, around our necks, engraved it in our hands or took it as a theme in all our occasions.

To us, the cross is a sign of power. In it appears the power of love, self-sacrifice and endurance. Indeed, this is the true power. Many people said to Christ if you were the Son of God, or if you were powerful come down from the cross. If Christ had come down from the cross, humanity’s salvation would have been lost. He was never overcome by this false glory or the wrong meaning of power because He was strong. Expressions of glorification did not matter to Him.

Christ never thought of Himself, but of us. He didn’t care about saving Himself, but about our salvation.
Contemplation the Pascha Hymn “Thine is the Power” by HH Pope Shenouda III

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Female Ordination and Orthodox (re-posted from 2011)

In Orthodoxy, following the traditions of the Early Church fathers is just as important as following Scriptural teachings, after all, if you want to get to the spirit of an idea, the earliest understanding of it is most likely to be the least corrupted. So in knowing that the Early Church was willing to ordain people of all races (Christs apostles were not all israelites, yet he Ordained them to lead the Church after his ascendence, and they, through the holy spirit's guidence, did the same after this.) we also know to accept all ethic backgrounds into the clergy as Christ himself, and his apostles did. This was not the case with women, as there are no records of women in the early Church being ordained. therefore following the traditions of the Early church means not ordaining women.

Where does the idea of a male only clergy come from? The idea originated from the bible, and to be precise; Christ himself. The concept of female ordination is an extremely modern one, and is not down to “the male dominated society of the time,” not a sexist idea, and not designed to keep women down.  It is simple down to common sense.
One commonly mentioned factor in this is what the clergy are. The clergy are, in the Orthodox tradition, the image of Christ to the congregation.  This is why the ordination of Clergy is such an important sacrament in tradition. Going by this we need to look at what the image of Christ entails: By accounts of all Old Testament prophecy and the very revelation as recorded in the Gospels, the Christ was male. This means that the image of Christ is also a male image. To many this may also bring up the Question of race, since in the west Christ is a white male. What does this say about the Ethnicity of the "Icon of Christ"?

To answer the question, fortunately the Orthodox Church has not had to deal with this issue due to the large spread of the Church at its founding (Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Syria, Rome and Greece all being preached to at the time) and there have for the last 1700 years at least been known and universally venerated icons depicting Christ as being from all these places. An Icon of the Theotokos (St. Mary) I have in my house depicts her as Egyptian and is placed next to a Greek Christ Icon. As well as this, an Icon in our Bournemouth Church has Christ as an Ethiopian, as it was written by an Ethiopian Icon writer.

The race of Christ, at least in the Orthodox Church, has never been an issue. This is quite simple as the bible states this, as well as his gender and many details about him in the Gospels and writings of Early Christians (and Greek historians). We know was an israelite (a semite in scientific terms. His apostles themselves were of, and made priests of many from places such as Egypt, Ethiopia and Antioch (Syria), and even St paul is described as being of Egyptian Heritage( Acts 21:38 "Art not thou that Egyptian?") So race is not something to be made a big deal of, as the tradition has not come down through a specific race as a medium.

Race has sometimes been an issue in Western Churches, I have seen too many Americans with "God Loves America" "God Hates Arabs" etc... on their shirts, cars and everywhere else they can fit them to ever disagree with that. But as a white, British Born member of the Orthodox Church of Egypt (The Coptic Church) I cannot see how this could ever touch Orthodoxy, being that I have "Brothers" and "sisters" in Ethiopia, Russia, Egypt, India and most of the Mediterranean since the first centuries of the Church's existance.

This, compared to the female ordination debate is again a simple matter of Tradition. As God chose in Christ a male body to preach to mankind in, then chose male apostles from amongst his male and female followers and then they, the founders of the Church, (the apostles) ordained priests from all over. According to Tradition and Scripture this was all led by the Holy Spirit, (which they were blessed by) yet they were never led to Ordain women as priests, even when preaching in nations where other faiths did (such as the greek islands), so this is what is traditionally the way.

A second reason why in Orthodoxy a female clergy is seen as an impossibility is the very nature of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is by all accounts a Church which prides itself on the (As Bishop Kallistos Ware calls it) “unvarying practice of the Church over the past two millennia.” With this in mind, why would a Church which practices the Christianity of the Earliest Christians decide to adopt a modernist, somewhat secular outlook? We have seen the Catholics start this with Vatican II, and the protestant Churches have done this since their creation (The very name “protestant” gives off an image of someone pushing away). The fact remains that in Christianity, modernisation and secularisation are everywhere, but Orthodoxy refuses to be drawn in.

According to Fr Seraphim Rose, a Heiromonk and writer of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America, “Even Heresy has its own ‘spirituality,’ its own characteristic approach to the practical religious life.” In other words, even someone wrong may have answers; this does not mean they are right. In his book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future” he quotes the philosopher Ivan Kireyevsky, saying “An Orthodoxy Mind stands at the point where all roads cross. He carefully looks down each road and, from his unique vantage point, observes the conditions, dangers, uses, and ultimate destination of each road from a patristic viewpoint.” So in order to obtain a truly Orthodox mind one must take a road which will lead to God, and not to a peace with anything else. Not even comfort within the modern secular world is worth losing that peace with God for. We have seen monastics give up the comforts of the secular world for God, and as Christians are asked to do the same.

This concept has a great influence on the Orthodox mindset, as we are not called to change for the world around us, but to stay strong in God alone.  This is why tradition is so important to the Orthodox Church, for as so many have swayed into heresy and changed to “go with the flow” the Orthodox Church has, without apology, stuck to its guns and refused to fall into the world and all its passions. This also goes for the concept of female Ordination. We see in the Gospels how Christ picked his disciples, the 12 Apostles. Christ, actively chose men as his closest followers, though he did have female followers. These 12 were given the power to trample underfoot the power of the enemy, and understood Christ’s message, spreading it across the world, no other was given the strength to do this. From this tradition we see that Christ could have chosen women to lead his church, but instead chose men, though we do see women the deaconate in the early church.  To the non Orthodox mind this may come as placing women in an inferior, servant position, yet to  Orthodox Church it I simply the way in which God chose to organise his church.

Again to the non-orthodox mind this idea of women as the servants of the Church and men as its head would seen a bit out of touch with “modern feminist thought” but many forget the great female saints and Martyrs such as St Faith, Saint Maria and St Bebaia or even the great desert mothers and famous nuns of the Orthodox tradition whose writings and love of God have been recorded throughout time as great wisdom. Even above these is Gods greatest Human Creation, the Mother of our lord, Saint Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Many Orthodox prayers are said in her name, she is prayed for in the hours, and revered above all.

In conclusion, the place of women in the Orthodox Church is not a matter of sexism; it is a simple matter of God over man, or tradition over change. There is no “anti women” agenda in the Church as so many seem to think, as Stanley Harakas stated in his The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers book “it is not accurate to label this tradition as “anti-woman” and to charge the Church’s teaching with anti-feminist. To say this is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the purpose of the church and its primary interests.”  He goes on to explain how though many in the church have spoken out about such things as temptation and targeted women, other women have been praised for their chastity and wisdom, so to say the church is anti women because it is against certain types of behaviour from women is to call it anti-food because of fasting. These concepts are both preposterous and again miss the point. The same goes for  the idea of Sexism due to an all male clergy. If you associate following a tradition without female clergy with being ”anti female” you miss the point of that tradition.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Book Review: Theology of a Classless Society By Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios

Theology of a Classless Society
By Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios
ISBN: 0718824156
Price:  £89.95 (Amazon UK Marketplace)

I had been planning to buy and read this text for a number of years to have a further understanding of Mar Osthanasios’ political philosophy and his theological justification of it. Since in the summer I was visiting Kerala, I thought to take the opportunity to read this text since it is seen as one of his most famous works. As well as this, the text is often cited as an important English language work from the Indian Orthodox, especially with regards to concepts of social justice. With these in mind, I felt it important to read and understand.

The book is presented as an explanation of Mar Osthasios’ theory of the possibility of a classless society, demonstrated as Christian through use of theological examination with plenty of reference to the coequality of the trinity and Christ’s teachings on community. It is divided up based upon themes, from the outline of the theory, its application, to its theological justifications, with most of the book dedicated to the theological justification. Following on from this, Mar Osthasios gives a short question and answer section of the theory as well as a justification for his trinitarian terminology use which he states in the text as controversial.

Though I struggle with the premise of the book, a good strength of it is its resourcing. Mar Osthasios, having been educated under some of the most prominent Orthodox thinkers and secular philosophers of our time, puts a great deal of research into the sourcing and referencing of his work to support his theory. As well as this, the importance placed on the justification of his theory gives the book a sense of respect since regardless of your view on the theory you can sense the passion of the writer and it often draws you in. Though both of these are important points, I feel the greatest strength of this book is the writer’s awareness of the issues which people could raise with his theory. There is no sense of arrogance in the text, which is a rarity in political theology and many theological text. Mar Osthasios knows some people will scoff at the idea or at his theory’s application but wants you to know why he believes it. 

The major difficulty for me with this text lies in the theory itself and the way it is displayed. Though I admire the rigor and passion of Mar Osthasios in presenting his theory, I still feel that it is simply presented as a Christian Communism and is drawn too much on his admiration of communism as opposed to the theological and ecclesiological foundations it is claimed. An example of this comes in his ideas of application. He often compares his view to Liberation Theology and throughout the text he states his admiration for key thinkers of the movement without addressing its issues Theologically. He also states that he does not see communism as an answer since it is secular, however he then speaks in praise of Mao for being used by God as a tool to develop ideas of a classless society, comparing him to God’s use of Cyrus for the return of the Jews from exile without justifying the false equivalence here. 

The problem with this is that the Theological aspect seems to be simply a coating for the theory rather than its foundation, as demonstrated in his tracts on Jesus’ life and its links to a classless society, which would have given a perfect opportunity to evaluate the communist links in a more theological level but instead leaves them uncontrasted apart from the general “but that is secular” comment. As well as this, the Theological examples used are often vague and even risking heresy, which Mar Osthasios even admits when addressing his almost tritheistic view of trinity. To me this makes the book suffer greatly, since it slowly seems to reveal itself as less of a ‘Theology of a Classless Society’ and more of a ‘View of a Classless Society with a dash of Theology.’
Overall I would say that the text is a good one for looking at how Christian thinkers have attempted to address the issue of clearly unfair social practices and problems they have faced, however I cannot recommend it as a viable foundation to a theory of political theology since it fails to address a number of issues both theologically and politically which I feel undermine the theory and make it appear a simple communist text with a light coating of theology, one which has been seen in the past and has not seen itself aligned with the Ecclesiological or Theological standings of the Orthodox Church.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Book Review: On the Tree of the Cross: Georges Florovsky and the Patristic Doctrine of Atonement

On the Tree of the Cross: Georges Florovsky and the Patristic Doctrine of Atonement
Edited by Matthew Baker, Seraphim Danckaert and Nicholas Marinides
ISBN: 1942699093
Price: £23.02 (Amazon UK)

As an admirer of the works of Fr Georges Florovsky and the study of patristics in general, I have been eager to pick up a copy of this text for a while, a recent trip abroad gave me the opportunity to both buy and read this text through, and it was well worth the wait. It contains several great essays by prolific modern thinkers in Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism, spanning the centuries of the Early Church and Florovsky’s analysis of their thought.

As an essay collection, the book is split into different sections by different authors based on papers presented at a patristic symposium in honour of Florovsky held at  Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University in 2011. These papers each cover a specific thinker’s view on the topic of atonement, along with links between the specific text or line of thought covered and how this view was understood in the work of Florovsky. A large of the text is dedicated to the specific debate between the western substitute view of atonement and the Orthodox ontological view, however this guiding line is demonstrated throughout to be somewhat polemical and not true of patristic thought. The book ends with a collection of Florovsky’s essays, some previously unpublished, on the subject.

As mentioned at the start, I am an admirer of Florovsky’s work and so seeing many current thinkers cover and discuss his work in the text was an enjoyable treat and a reminder of the splendid work being done by Orthodox thinkers in continuing Florovsky’s own patristic studies and the incorporation of the Neo-Patristic synthesis into modern theological questions. I especially enjoyed the sections by John Behr and Khaled Anatolios on Sts Irenaeus and Athanasius, knowing how both are seminal thinkers on these saints it was good to have their views on the matter of salvation analysed at this level. The book also demonstrates the great strives made in patristic study. Overall, the text is a great piece of work, compiling the work of some of the best modern Orthodox thinkers on a difficult and often misjudged area of study, using their patristic knowledge to contextualise the question of Atonement and tackle the various approaches made.

With regards to drawbacks of this book, the only major one which comes to mind is that it often raises more questions than it answers. This is not a flaw in the writing but a general problem which I find with books based on conferences of collections of papers. An example of this comes from its principle point of discussion on the Ontological vs Substitutory view of Christ’s Crucifixion. Due to the essays being from various writers and from various perspectives it gives different answers to the same questions, leaving many readers with no definitive Orthodox view on these matters.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand the thoughts of the fathers on the matters of redemption and atonement or with an interest in the ideas and legacy of Georges Florovsky. The book is a great overview of the topic, utilising some of the major Orthodox thinkers and academic writers of this generation to tackle the question with both academic vigour and appreciation of the theological depth of the topic.