Monday, 31 December 2012

A Christian must live the life of offering to please God


"On this occasion, each of us should ask ourselves, what will I offer? A Christian must live the life of offering to please God, first offering his own heart, honesty, sincerity and love for others."
- His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Sola Scriptura isn't Sola at all...

If you believe in Sola Scriptura yet reject the Apostolic Church you are not living a purer faith but a life of hypocrisy.
The Biblical Canon was formed within Church tradition with one condition being that the text conformed with the teachings of the Apostles and their successors (as found in the Didache and Didascalia Apostolurum, as well as other early church writings.) It cannot be interpreted apart from this since this is the context in which it was formulated.
If someone is truely ‘sola Scriptura’ they have no Bible in book form, simply around 45 conflicting Gospels (many heretical and lated developments which the church rejected), hundreds of Epistles and just as many heretical gnostic, Apollonarian and Monist apocalyptic texts on their floor. If you pick up a Bible you are already conforming to the Church’s choice of Canon and their exegesis of scripture.
Sorry Sola Scriptura followers. By walking around with your leather bound KJVs you are already sinking into Tradition and accepting that big T ‘Tradition’ that your late-medieval founders claim to have rejected..

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her.


A servant can be taught submission through fear; but even he, if provoked too much, will soon seek his escape. But one's partner for life, the mother of one's children, the source of one's every joy, should never be fettered with fear and threats, but with love and patience. What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave, and not with a woman by her own free will? Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church.

 - Saint John Chrysostom 'on Marriage'

Friday, 14 December 2012

John Meyendorff "Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective" review.

I have always been a fan of Meyendorff's writing style. As a historian, he will always use comparison in his explanations, which is a great benefit for converts in the west such as myself. In his historical writings, he deals constantly with the comparison of East and West. This book on the Orthodox view of marriage continues to fit into this tradition.

The book is split into various sections covering various aspects of church history, practice, doctrinal development and aspects of married life. This is followed by an appendix containing quotes from scripture, the fathers and the Canons.

In his usual pragmatic style, Meyendorff does not make sweeping judgements on 'how to be a good Orthodox husband/wife' but simply explains the Church's approach to various issues which couples will encounter such as preparation for marriage, mixed relationships and family planning. Each of these areas are again supported with historical referencing and comparison of views, to help the reader understand things in context.
Another interesting detail on this book is that it covers many aspects of intimacy, such as the use of birth control, family planning and abortion, drawing some stark comparisons to the Roman views on these matters. Meyendorff does not skirt around these issues or tiptoe the differences but is able to explain the viewof the Orthodox Church in a way which is both accessible and easily understandable for any curious Orthodox Christian. 

The writing style of this book is also very fluid, with only 74 pages of explanation before you reach the vast appendix. The book can easily be read in a matter of hours, making it a useful short piece to read when travelling or as a quick read when you have a bit of free time.

Altogether, I would recommend it to any young Orthodox considering marriage or beginning. Serious relationship. Its easy reading style and depth of historical referencing make it easy to read. For the more Theologically minded it may seems light but is still worth the time.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Thus is the perfect Soul...


"Just as animals die if they are plunged into water, since they are of the substance of earth. And again, just as fish die if they are brought up onto the earth, because they are of the nature of water. So also birds, which find their rest in the sky, fear being hunted on the land of the earth. Thus is the perfect soul, which remains in its own nature. If it renounces its own nature, it dies immediately."

- St Isaiah of Scetis
(Another Non-Chalcedonian Saint recognised by the Eastern Orthodox)

Meyendorff on Mixed Marriages

It should be clear... that an Orthodox Priest can never bless a marriage between and Orthodox and a non-Christian. It would be obviously improper to invoke the name of Jesus Christ in the marriage service for a person who does not recognise Him as his or her Lord. Such an invocation would actually be disrespectful not only towards the Lord but towards his or her convictions (Or lack of convictions.)
- John Meyendorff

Monday, 12 November 2012

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia prays before conducting a liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as part of his visit to Palestine.

Orthodox News sites today demonstrate that the world is still messed up...

1) Roman, Jerusalemite, Syriac, Antiochian, Armenian, Russian, Greek, Constaninopolitan, Coptic Alexandrian and Greek Alexandrian Patriarchs have all spoken out about the State of the Palestinians yet American Protestant Christians still believe that all Christians have a “Biblical duty” to support Israel in their Ethnic cleansing.

2) Iran is called an extremist state yet it is more willing to rebuild Armenian Churches than “our allies” in Turkey.

3) In Egypt, cutting a Woman’s hair in an extremist attack gets you 6 months in Prison yet kidnapping them and raping them leads to a “reconciliation meeting” and the houses of the Girl’s parents being burnt down if they do not agree to let the rapist keep their daughter.

4) The largest Syrian opposition group has a Christian leader whose first demand is not to tell Extremists to stop killing Christians or make a plea for an end to the terrorism but to ask for weapons to fight the Government. Interestingly, another opposition bloc elected a Muslim Cleric as their leader today too.

Yup… The world is still messed up.

Friday, 31 August 2012

St Nerses on the Cross

"When you see the cross, know and believe that you are seeing Christ enthroned on it; when you pray before the cross, believe that you are doing so, concerning Christ Our God and not with inanimate matter.  For it is Christ who receives your proskynesis offered before the cross; and it is He who hears the supplications of your mouth and fulfills the desires of your heart, which you ask with faith.  Whoever does not honour the cross, or insults it, insults Christ Himself.
- St Nerses

The oldest and most dangerous enemy of humanity.

"The ego is the oldest and most dangerous enemy of humanity. Satan does not fight the man as fight him his "ego"..The greatest problem of mankind is the "me", Whoever triumph it inside himself is able to conquer the world and all the demons out, and he who falters infront of his ego is defeated and can succumb to any sin."

- H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Book Review: Youth of the Apocalypse and the last true rebellion by the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

Youth of the Apocalypse and the last true rebellion by the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

This book is described as “A virtual manifesto for the children of the eleventh hour” and it certainly reads as one. Discussing the world today and the cure. Having read much from Heiromonk Seraphim Rose and his writings on Orthodoxy in the modern world I was eager to get my hands on this book, as someone who entered Orthodoxy from the Metal subculture much like one of the authors, Monk John Marler. This as well as it’s connection to the well known “death to the world” zine, of which I am an avid reader, drew me to borrow it from my local priest.

The book is certainly a blessing, and pulls no punches when discussing how the world today has become a spiritual warzone, where the three Children of Nihilism (Sex, Drugs and Violence) have become encouraged as a norm for those seeking escapism from the world. At first glance it reads much like a slap in the face when you say something stupid to the wrong person, opening with the line “From the mother’s womb the newborn baby cries; and these teardrops continue to fall even unto thiseeration of youth.”

To those who prefer a standard, impersonal account of Orthodoxy, the book will certainly not appeal, but to someone like me, who appreciates the struggle that the Orthodox youth must go through to understand the place of God in today’s world it is a great change from much of the lukewarm “for academic use only” orthodox literature I have encountered. The book is split into three sections; “Our origin”, “our death” and “our resurrection”, each of these dealing with a specific topic.

“Our Origin” discusses the rise of Apathy and Nihilism through History, and the change from the peace of our beginnings with God, to the war we see around us on both the physical and metaphysical battlefields of the modern world. It is only a short section, and serves as a second introduction, covering the historical background of the war between the world and God.

This leads the writers to look at specific philosophies and “new order” which led to this tragedy in humankind, from the actions of the Emperor Nero in Rome to the works of later Philosophers which sought to end religion, calling it outdated. The development of these new moral traditions based on mankind’s lust for new meaning and experience were harmful to mankind, and eventually would lead to the escapist Philosophy which the book focuses on for the next section. The book them looks into the writings of Nietzsche, seen as the father of insanity, and how they again influenced the zeitgeist, opening the path to a humankind with the notion of the living God effectively killed by mankind who now seek nothing as they have lost their only comfort. This, according to the Youth of the Apocalypse gave rise to Generation X, the lost generation.

“Our Death” looks specifically at the world of today, where, as previously mentioned, escapism rules and the devil provides many tools for those looking for it. It looks at how people today seem to be fighting a war against God. They have decided to push far away from God, seeking to escape the world which mankind has created by losing themselves in the mind bending realities of modern culture From Drugs to Fashion to the outright grotesque. I myself am a big video game fan, but have seen many people lose themselves to this need for an escape, spending hundreds of pounds a month on the newest games, as they have no reason to associate with the world.

The book deals with the sad realities of the world. It asks why there is a necessity in the modern world to “feed the need.” It looks at how people’s lives are changed as the passions they have lived for have led them to apathy, as they cannot feel pleasure from these things now, and of course this can lead to suicide. Again, through the war against God man’s ultimate destination is death.

In the Third section the book looks at “Our Resurrection”. How is man saved? How can we know this? And what can we do to save ourselves? This is by far the largest section of the book, taking  three quarters of the page count and an in depth, but simply worded explanation of salvation and the person of Christ and the trinity. One part of this section I find extremely beautiful is its detailed summaries the lives of some of the Saints that have inspired the writers, from St. Antony of the desert, who gave up the passions of the world to become a monk in the desert, to Moses the Black, the feared thief who became a peaceful monk. It also looks at some of the modern Martyrs who have died at the hands of those influenced by the “anti-faith” mindset of the modern world such as Priest-monk Nestor, who suffered greatly at the hands of hooligans because of his faith, and was eventually murdered. These inspirational lives are sure to remind any reader that you can find the greatest of pleasures through serving your creator, rather than through giving your body to mankind.

The book ends in a fashion which I could only liken to a medical manual for medication, or even instructions for the human soul, explaining the training of the body and soul to be healthy, and reminding of what is best avoided in this minefield we live in. Finishing with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, to remind us that those that do not seek personal greatness, or rely on the suffering of others, or person hate to get by in life will inherit pleasure far beyond any worldly suffering when we leave the world.  

All in all, I feel that this book is to be highly recommended for any struggling with the world. It is mainly written for those coming from a punk or metal background in which the concept of nihilism has prevailed, but is easily understood and read by any who wish to read it.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Exploring the origins of British Christianity Conference. 14/07/2012 (Part 2)

After this was the lecture which stole the day. The lecture was by the renowned Historian Prof. Michelle Brown. As with Fr Andrew, she started by pointing out that East and West were linked by Ecumenical traditions and through the teachings of the desert fathers, emphasising that the only changes were cultural. From here, she went on to point out how far these people travelled, listing pilgrims from the British Isles who visited or had contact with visitors to the Holy Land and other Christian Centres of worship.

Later, she looked at the Archaeological evidence of this relationship between East and West, such as Byzantine Cocides and Armenian Khachkars found across the Isles. The most fascinating piece demonstrated was the vast amount of Eastern influence on design in books and coins produced in Pre-Norman Britain, from Arabic coinery to Coptic bound Psalters. Prof. Brown then treated us to a detailed look at her most recent work in the Monastery of St Catherine, which unearthed the first known Latin works in the Monastery's library, most likely produced by British scribes in the first Millennium AD. 

One thing which stood out with Prof Brown's talk was her emphasis on the connection between the Coptic tradition and British isles, especially the monastic and archeological connections.The relationship between early psalters and Coptic binding may seem trivial in age age where books are everywhere but to the people of this time an Egyptian Monk with a Psalm book demonstrated the pinnacle of scholarship and we would do well to remember how influenced the Christians of Southern Ireland were when they first encountered the Desert fathers as it is one of the major factors in the Christianisation of our Islands.
Altogether, Prof Brown's talk opened the eyes of many there to the idea that Britain was not a closed and isolated place at this time, but had plenty of contact with the rest of the Christian world, from knowledge of Indian Christians to Scribes in Sinai. 
The final talk of the day was by Metropolitan Seraphim. He spoke on the emphasis of the Christian identity in the Isles before the Norman invasion and even beyond. In order to convey this point, he spoke of the vitality of the term Romanitas in the writings of such great saints as Saint Patrick. The Archbishop emphasises this sense of Christian identity as vital at the time for the Romano-British in the Isles, speaking of how this was culturally engrained into the people, even whilst pagan Saxons looted the shores.

One interesting point brought up in his speech is that of St Gildas. Gildas was mentioned throughout the day due to his anger at the clergy and people of the Christian British Isles for their lapse in faith and austerity. Abba Seraphim pointed out in his speech that despite accusations of laziness, lust and other sins, Gildas did not at any point accuse them of Paganism. This links to the vital sense of Christian identity throughout the people, much like how there is a large nominally Christian sense of Identity in the British isles today. 
The Bishop then spoke of the importance of this Roman and Christian identity in world terms, speaking not just of patriotism as being part of the Romano-British community for those people of the time but being part of the Christian community as a whole. The example given was that of Constantine being proclaimed as Emperor for the first time in York, giving the isles a place in Roman Politics and imperial power. This sense of Christian Roman identity, with clergy and king being power brokers was vital for the people of this time and the sad point we are reminded of in the conclusion is that for many British Christians today, the King leads the Church rather than allowing for this dual identity, claiming that this is how it should be. This was another harsh reminder of how disconnected modern English Christianity is from its glorious past.

The day, on the whole, was a great experience and a rare chance to learn of how Christianity in Britain grew and flourished through external contact and internal development. The context of it from within a Greek Orthodox community also demonstrates the vitality for British Converts to the Orthodox faith to learn about their own heritage rather than giving it up for a Russian, Greek or Coptic one. This opportunity to do this, in itself, made the day a great success.

Exploring the origins of British Christianity Conference. 14/07/2012 (Part 1)

I had been looking forward to attending this conference for a long time, as it tackled that rare topic of British Christianity, something which a British convert to Orthodoxy will always sense a lack of in Orthodoxy, with its culturally foreign nature and constant struggles with Ethnophyletism. The conference had been Organised by Angelos Scott Stanway, a member of the British Navy and convert to the Greek Church. He had work exceedingly hard to prepare this event and dedicated much of his off-ship time to it.

After the introduction, Fr Chrysostom from Poole started the conference with a powerful talk on how 1066 destroyed a Cohesive and adventured nation. He looked at the structure of the politics and faith of the pre-Norman British Isles, explaining how the faith was orthodox with some indigenous elements.

He then looked at the links between the British isles and the East, including the Roman Empire, Egypt and the Holy Land. This finished by looking at the death of the indigenous Church after the Council of Synod of Whitby and final end of this Church in Scotland when its Liturgical and hierarchy fell under Norman Reforms.

Following this, we had a discussion session with Fr John Nankivell as to the definition and influence of the Indigenous Church of pre-Norman Britain and the influence of Eastern Christian thought on the Church there.

The next Lecture which caught my interest was that of Professor Paul Cavill of the University of Nottingham. He looked at Veneration of the Cross in Early British Christianity. This used archaeological sources such as the Coppergate helmet and Benty Grange Helmet to see how Christian Crosses replaced Pagan imagery on Military arms in order to invoke God's help on Christian armies of this time. This was fascinated as it showed the importance of the faith to the Saxon Kings of this time and vitality of a prayer based life, trusting in God for victory and prosperity in their kingdoms.

It compared this and collaborated the evidence to Constantine's Dream, where the cross was invoked to bring him victory at Milvern bridge, looking at the similarities of this story to Oswald's veneration of the cross in his victory in the battle of Hatfield-Chase. The talk as summarised by explaining the historical evidence for this veneration and the use of lines, showing a distinct tradition of the use of cross and its direct replacing of Pagan venerations in the Pre-Norman mindset.

After Lunch Fr Andrew Phillips led a fascinating talk which started with the line “The Centre of the Church is in Asia, Not Europe...” and caught the attention of everyone there. It focussed on the Eastern and especially Egyptian influence on the austere Monastic practices of Southern Ireland as well as the existence of an organised hierarchical and Liturgical traditions in the indigenous Church, unlike what is commonly suggested by those claiming some kind of new age 'Celtic Christianity'.  This is a common problem with Pseudo-historians, who claim some kind of almost post-modern Pagan form of Christianity existed in the Romano-Celtic British isles, when the evidence of a structured Christianity, as with any part of the Church.

He also looked at the links to the immense Ecumenical and International scope of the Church with Bishops and Monks known to have been in the isles from Armenia, Egypt, Syria, Greece and across the Eastern world including King Alfred's famous Alms giving to Christians in India. This came with the message that “there was no place for nationalism in the Early Church,” granting a stark difference to the Christianity we see in many nations today. My favourite point made was at the end when Fr Andrew pointed out what the British Church had given to the rest of the world, he did this by showing how Yury Dolgoruky, founder of Moscow, was in fact the Grantson of Harold Godwinson, the Last pre-Norman King of Britain. This gave a light hearted end to what was a deep and highly detailed talk.

Friday, 13 July 2012

He gives Himself to you...

"How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment." - St. John Chrysostom

Liberty is not the mere freedom of choice or license

"Liberty is not the mere freedom of choice or license, but the freedom to act with great love--the love of Christ. There is no freedom outside of the sphere of the Cross, which is the summit of Love." Fr Pishoy Kamel

Pagans, Christians and Muslims: Egypt in the First Millennium AD (9-10 July 2012)

Pagans, Christians and Muslims: Egypt in the First Millennium AD – The Annual International Egyptology Colloquium 2012. 

 9-10 July 2012.

Due to work based commitments I was unable to reach the first day of the conference until the 4pm break, where I met up with Metropolitan Seraphim at the Museum as well as some known Egyptologists who I have had the pleasure of meeting before. Though I missed the first two lectures, I was there in time to catch Jochem Kahl and Jane Faiers' talks on Middle Egypt.

Both talks were excellent and highly insightful, looking at monastic settlements in middle Egypt. Jochem Khal's detailed contemporary expeditions and analysis of the Gebel Asyut Al-Gharbi site but, of the two, I found Mrs Faiers' especially interesting as it used a photo diary from the last century to analyse previous knowledge of the site. This talk was met with questions and links to other research which Mrs Faiers said she would look into.

After this, we had the chance to discuss the talks with others in the museum and look around the books before heading in for Dr Gawdat Gabra's talk, which was this year's Raymond and Beverly Sackler lecture.

Dr Gabra's lecture was focussed on the connections between the Coptic mindset's link to Martyrdom and the Ancient Egyptian view of death. It looked heavily at what Coptic Christianity had inherited from its ancient ancestors, which sometimes made it sound like a polemic, but resonated at a time when Egypt is facing political uncertainty after the election of the Islamist Dr Mursi as President.

The part of this lecture which I found extremely interesting was the link between the christianisation of the Ankh and the mindset of Martyrdom. Dr Gabra looked at this with respect to the tradition of the Soldier-Saint in Coptic iconography, a topic which I have recently studied myself. This made the lecture's underlying study of the Coptic 'Church of the Martyrs' extremely interesting though somewhat out of place in an Egyptology conference.

When the lecture ended, we attended the reception which gave the guests a chance to talk and people the chance to talk to Abba seraphim about Coptic Christianity, as most were Egyptologists, so did not study the faith on its own. Having an Archbishop there to talk to helped them put Dr Gabra's talk in context and gain a further understanding of the faith behind the Copts.

On the Second day, I reached the Colloquium at 10.30, in time to hear Dr C├Ącilia Fluck speak on the discovery of a female Tomb at Antinoupolis. Though the title of the lecture leant heavily on the study of textiles (Which I expected to be very boring) it was a fascinating look at the traditions of the day. It developed into a lecture on the clothing designs of women in 5th Century Coptic Egypt, something which it is rare to have explained since the majority of women we hear about in that period our the Holy Desert Mothers or the aristocracy. 

From this, we were given three lectures on the area of Minya (Now Al-Minya) and the monastic settlements here. The first two focussed heavily on the tombs of the area. The first was by Dr. Katja Lembke, who explained the changes in burial traditions in the Necropolis of Tuna El-Gebel. The lecture looked into how the traditions became Hellenised, though his did not cover the later Christian period, only the change from the Egyptian Gods and rituals to the more Hellenic style of Roman and Greek burial with images of their Gods and Myths. 

This led smoothly on to the final two talks of the morning which were on the use of Tombs and quarry worker settlements by 4th and 5th century Anchorites and the evidence at sites across Minya which show the presence of monks. It covered the pattern of monastic settlements around cities in the area and the development of Christian communities close to abandoned cities such as Amarna which was the short lived Capital of Egypt under Akenaten. 

This final talk led to some interesting discussions and questions on the Monks who lived there such as St Ammonas who wrote to other monks in the area, instructing them in the teachings of Saint Anthony. Some of the questions and comments were far more obscure, such as a claim of Kabbalistic and Gnostic teachings by the Monks under Ammonas, which led to some sniggers by people in the audience. On the whole it was a productive session, looking at the links and marriage between the Egyptian Landscape and Christianity and explaining how it was a fertile environment for the faith to develop and grow, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

Altogether, the Colloquium was an extremely successful event and a rare chance for Coptology to take the forefront at an Egyptology event in the UK. With a demonstration of the ongoing and planned work on the somewhat forgotten monastic settlements of Early Medieval Egypt it demonstrated that the study of Christian Egypt is still alive and well, with many breakthroughs expected in the field within the next few years.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

God bless all those Tumblr folks

My Tumblr has served me well but now I am here.
God bless you and keep you all.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Copts of Medieval Dhimmitude

What is most interesting when looking at the differece between the treatment of Christians in the Middle East now and in the Medieval Era, it is important to note that a tolerant leader is not so unique as expected.

There is the obvious, Salah-ud-Din. Salah-ud-din’s life is a testament to how Coptic Christians should be treated in their home lands. Over half his court were Copts and they respected him as their ruler. There was none of this discrimination and mistrust that we see today towards them by the Muslims.

He also restored the Coptic, Greek, Syriac and Maronite heirarchs and clergy of Jerusalem in 1187. From 1099-1187 they were expelled from the city by the Crusaders after they butchered most of the inhabitants, christian and otherwise. (See john of Joinville’s account of the entry into the city)

 Later, Salah-ad-din’s successor al-Kamel Naser al-Din in fact met Francis of Assisi and invited him to preach in his court whilst the Armies of the 5th Crusade besieged one of his fortresses a few hundred miles away. historical records show this meeting in a lot of detail, explaining how Francis even tried to convert the Sultan. This very event is something which we would expect to preceed his execution by today’s stereotypes, yet Francis left as a guest and friend of the Sultan, whose court was majority Coptic Christian.

Also, previously, when Caliph Umar I took jerusalem from the Byzantines he showed great respect (though upheld the Jizya.), He was even invited to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by patriarch Sophronius but declines saying that if he prayed there, other Muslims would want to and it would endanger its status as a Christian site. He also allowed the Jews to freely worship, something which the Byzantines had not done in the city for close to 500 years.

Another classic is how the Syrian and Coptic Christian communities both supported the Caliphate on their invasions, as they faced persecution by the Byzantines for their acceptence of Cyrillian Miaphysitism as their Christology. The Syrian patriatch of the time even famously announced “Praise be to God, who delivered us from the unjust Byzantines and who put us under the rule of the just Muslim Arabs.”

The Copts, also under persecution by the Byzantines, accepted the Muslim invasion asa positive. Pope Benjamin I was still in hiding from Persecution by the Byzantines and was promised “safety and fearlessness.” By the Muslims who reported that they were impressed with his dignity as a ‘man of God’, Amr Ibn-Al-As, who led the invasion allowed him to “freely administer the affairs of his Church and people” which he could not under the Byzantines. By comparison with the last years of Byzantine rule, it was amazingly free. They could build Churches and hold liturgies without fear of persecution.

There are loads of examples of Muslim leaders accepting the Eastern Christians, especially Syrian and Egyptian as they were at war with the Greeks, so feared Byzantine Sympathies. The problem now is that history has polarised the situation. ‘Christian = West = Crusaders’ is the formula followed by uneducated members of the Muslim community in the middle east and ‘Muslim=Arab=Terrorist’ is what Christians see in the west. This leaves native communities being targetted by both for being middle eastern yet Christian.

Tragically there are also many examples of cruelty, such as the imprisonment of Patriarchs and public humiliation of Christians, so it is not all sunshine and loving. Either way, if the rulers of middle eastern nations understood how to deal with a religiously mixed community like the better of their medieval predecessors the world would be a better place.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Book Review: The Sublime life of Monasticism – HG Bishop Mettaous.

The Sublime life of Monasticism – HG Bishop Mettaous.

‘The Sublime Life of Monasticism’ is, put simply, a glimpse into modern Monasticism. The book opens up by looking into one of the biggest misunderstandings about Monasticism, asking “s Monasticism a Vocation or a duty?” discussing how someone knows whether they are called, and why some fail to fulfil this calling. The book then goes into great depth on everything from why someone would become a monk, to the importance of monasticism and even gives a detailed description of the daily life of a monk.

The book is split into section detailing what the chapter will cover. The first half of the book is dedicated to the more practical side of monasticism, covering a vast number of issues which someone may encounter on their path to the monastic life. It looks at how one becomes a monk, the difficulties they may face, how one must prepare for the monastic life and a number of other topics related to this. Every question one could have on the practical side of preparation for a monastic life is covered and everything is backed by both Scriptural detail and quotes from the desert fathers explaining the importance of it.

Once he has given us an image of the preparation and build up to a life us monastic, Bishop Mettaous moves on to look at life inside a monastery. HG Bishop Mettaous began writing this book in memorial of his 25th year as a monk in El-Souriani Monastery, so he has plenty of days to choose from. He looks at life as a notice in this section, explaining that the novice monks generally receive the hardest tasks to prepare them for the tough years of spiritual warfare ahead of them. He also uses this section to emphasise the importance of obedience to your abbot and father of confession, since obedience and humility are key virtues of the monastic life. He again provides us with a wealth of wisdom from the desert Fathers and examples of the importance of monasticism in Scripture to allow us to connect with the point of a deeper level.

In the Third section of the book we are introduced to a immensely vibrant collection of areas defining what monasticism is, all beginning with “Monasticism is a life of...” and connecting it to such concepts as prayer, contemplation and pilgrimage. As someone with only a basic academic knowledge and no experience of monasticism on a personal level, this enlightened me to no end. The pure depth of the monastic life is shown through this part of the book. We are introduced to what seems to be the single most fulfilling spiritual life that one can imagine but reminded that with this life of solitude and spiritual hunger comes a life of spiritual warfare and constant vigilance against the evil one and his tricks.

All in all ‘The sublime life of monasticism’ is a book for anyone who wants to know the depth of the monastic life and wants to read about it through the medium of one Bishop’s personal and spiritual journey rather than a flat out, objective academic text. In this book you will not learn the history of monasticism but you will learn of the life of it from those who give their lives as living Martyrs in order to continue their Spiritual warfare. You will see how Monks trace their practises to those of the Israelites in the desert and be reminded as to why the monks are seen as the Angels and guides to all men under God.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Save Eritrea event

Join and Support Save Eritrea Facebook Page

Know More the Sufferings of Christians in Eritrea here

What is Save Eritrea? It is an initiative by the Colt Crew and Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE.

An International online prayer and fast program to be conducted on July 24,25,26 for the people of Eritrea.

Why Save Eritrea? Christians are facing threat, torture, beating sexual assault and imprisonment.Click Here to know more.

How is the Prayer Conducted? Prayers will be in audio sessions and are uploaded to our youtube.

What can i do? Kindly fast on these days. At least leave your breakfast. Join us in the online prayer. Spread this news to your friends and the world. Make you social network dp’s with pic “Save Eritrea”. Write it on your wrist. Write it everywhere on email, sms ,chats and let the world know about it.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian (Review)

HG Bishop Grigoris Balakian - Armenian Golgotha
Vintage Books USA
£11.7 ( as of 23/06/12)

Armenian Golgotha is quite simply the definitive written account of the events which led to the death of close to one and a half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The book makes this somewhat controversial subject open up to the reader in a way which I have never encountered through the reading of any official records or accounts by historians. Balakian’s heart and soul are opened to the reader to tell the story of what happened to him and countless others at the time.

Speaking or writing about the Armenian Genocide has forever been a matter of walking on eggshells. The subject is, to put it simply, nearly impossible to speak on without being accused of supporting a certain side. Yet it is still the case that every April 15th Politicians in the UK, US and many other nations will make grand speeches at Memorials before pleading the case against recognition days later.

Accounts of the events which occurred nearly 100 years ago in the then Ottoman Empire are commonly heard and stated to reporters for televised specials in which we will hear a survivor or their family in a flood of tears followed by a young Turkish politician explaining how “it is not Genocide because...” but few of these have a lasting effect on readers who were not touched by the event on a personal level, as I have learn through experience when trying to teach on the subject.
This is where the account in Balakian’s book makes a difference. As a Bishop in the great City of Constantinople and deportee during the Genocide itself, Balakian is well qualified to give a definitive eyewitness account of the events leading to, of and after the genocide. The author, in doing this, opens up the reader to every emotion and thought that passed through his head during that time, with photography from the time to remind the reader that this surreal macabre event is not something from a fiction novel but the man’s life itself.

Balakian’s account opens during the build up the First World War, the then priest studying at a university in Berlin. He relays the events and change in nature of those around him as they went through the transition between wartime and peace. He examines the polarisation of the Germans as they spoke of their hatred for Russia and love of the Ottomans as well as their hostility towards the Armenians for fear of rebellion against the Turks.

He then leads us through his return to Constantinople and witness of the Ottoman deception of the Armenian people through a feigned acceptance, as well as their tragic and naive belief in this. To me, this was one of the most powerful sections as for these thirty or so pages we see the slow web of Ottoman preparation close in on the Armenian people and Balakian’s fear and apprehension of the situation  grow until the deportations finally begin.

Throughout the rest of the book we gain a stark insight into the actions of the Ottoman Military as well as various militia groups against the Armenian community from their forced marches across the Syrian Desert to the frequent massacring of the community under the direct orders of the Ottoman Government. These horrific events are made all the more harrowing through the personal and emotive language of the author constantly reminding you that he was a witness to all of it.

I would certainly recommend Balakian’s book to anyone with even a basic knowledge of the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide as it is a smoother and less dry read than many of the historical accounts of these events available to English readers. I would then recommend that they pass it on to  friend who has not read it since this is a book that cries out to be read. The Events of the Armenian Genocide are far too little known to the western which makes this book a valuable and accessible jewel filled with historical information and personal tragedy.

By Daniel Malyon

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Chalcedon and The Fathers (An Oriental Orthodox Perspective.)

 Most of the Information used in this is taken from fr Peter Farrington's Podcasts on this issue, which are found here.

One of the major issues with the Chalcedonian Definition accepted from the Tome of Leo for Non-Chalcedonian Christians is that the laneguage appears to condemn the teachings of both Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril, both known for their struggles and victories against heresies. Saint Sauel the Confessor reacts accordingly with his cries of "Excommunicated is this tome and everyone who believes in it and cursed is everyone who might change the Orthodox faith of our Holy Fathers."

So, why and how does the Tome condemn the Church fathers, and what would lead the Monk Samuel to react in such a disgraced manner when asked to acept it? The answer is quite simple; the Tome of Leo states that "It is just as impious to say that the only-begotten Son of God is from two natures before the incarnation as it is unlawful to assert that after the Word became flesh there is one nature in him” In this, it Anathematises those who speak of 'One Nature,' which was the basis of the Cyrilline Miaphysitic Christology and the Alexandrian School.

The worry of this is picked up by Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria at the Council of Chalcedon. He, after his deposition for being a followe of the Cyrilline Formula, Anathematised the council of Chalcedon in 5 sections for various issues which were not addressed. Dioscoros' second Anathema stated that "Chalcedon is anathematised because it has trampled under foot the canons and prescriptions of the Fathers." Bringing up wholey Orthodox Concerns, since the use of "two natures" was feared to be (and is still seen as) using the language of Theodore and Diodore, both who used a Christology incompatable with Cyril's.

Though these concerns were not seen as Heretical by the Chalcedonian Church, they still refused to restore or remove the Anathema on the ‘One Nature’ teaching of Dioscorus. His concerns were in fact addressed late, with the Patriarchs who had opposed Chalcedon and raised these very concerns not being invited to attendance.

Due to the confusion and Theological Protest raised by the Chalcedonian condemnation of Cyrilline Christology it took another 'Ecumenical' Council to fix the errors and misinterpretations of Leo's Tome which arose. One of the Canons from the 5th Council stated that "if anyone shall calumniate the holy Council of Chalcedon, pretending that it made use of this expression [one hypostasis] in this impious sense, and if he will not recognize rather that the Word of God is united with the flesh hypostatically, and that therefore there is but one hypostasis or one only Person, and that the holy Council of Chalcedon has professed in this sense the one Person of our Lord Jesus Christ: let him be anathema."
Regardless of the 5th Council placing Anathema on all who interpreted The Tome of Leo as using the language of Nestorianism, many EO still call OO Heretical for bringing this fear up at the council. Dioscorus was in fact Anathematised for trying to raise these concerns. So why was he so fervent to fight the language of the Tome?

By Anathematising those who refer to the incarnation as "one nature," the Tome Anathematises Athanasius and Cyril, both great thinkers of the Alexandrian School of Christology and Orthodox Church. When speaking of Christ, Saint Athanasius stated that "there is one nature of the incarnate Logos" emphasising that "Jesus isn't two natures , we kneel to one without the other , but one nature is the incarnate Logos, kneeled to him with his body one kneel" 

Saint Athanasius is a strict teacher of the 'One Nature' formula yet ardently Orthodox by the teachings and views of all in the Church. By the ruling of Chalcedon, he would also be under Anathema for his teachings.  

Saint Cyril is the key thinker here. being the great defender of Orthodoxy and man who drove Nestorius out of the Church he is certainly not a Heretic, yet by the Tome of Leo, he is. As shown here, The writings of Saint Cyril also speak of one nature, saying that "we say that the two natures united and from them one Lord and one Son is resulted as we agree by our thought but after the unification the separation to two natures is removed, we believe that there is one nature the Son as One person, one humanized and incarnated"
Cyril and the Council at Ephesus even Anathematised those who speak of Two Natures, saying “If anyone distributes between the two persons or hypostases the expressions used ... and ascribes some to him as to a man, thought of separately from the Word from God, and others, as befitting God, to him as to the Word from God the Father, let him be anathema.” So to reject the Cyrilline Formula of One Nature after the Incarnation was Anathema after the Council of Ephesus, yet to accept it was Anathema after Chalcedon. This cimply brought confusion.

In conclusion, The Oriental Orthodox Rejection of Chalcedon is not based on support for a Heresy but for support for the Church Fathers who taught the same language as those the council deposed and anathematised as heretics.

After the Council had passed this judgement on all who support the idea of one Nature, it caused a Schism which has lasted over 1500 years. In that time, the non-Chalcedonians have called the Chalcedonians Nestorian for their rejection of Cyril’s Formula and the Chalceconians have called the Non-Chalcedonians Monophysite in return. Both are misinterpretations of two clear Christological Positions.

This issue has never been fully addressed and seemingly never will. Chalcedon’s premature condemnation of those following the Alexandrian School of Christology in favour of the Chalcedonian Formula needs to be addressed . The Anathematising of a teaching followed by the Fathers has never been explained, only responded to with accusation of Heresy.

There is a justification for the Oriental Orthodox Rejection of Chalcedon and it is an Orthodox one. As Father Peter Farrington explains, these issues are important, as “reconciliation of the Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian communions still demands that they are treated seriously and eirenically by the Chalcedonians. They are often brushed aside as irrelevant, but a proper understanding of our own tradition requires that they answered.”

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Do you think we are serving the poor as we should?

Abouna Pishoy once asked his wife, "Do you think we are serving the poor as we should?"

Tasoni responded with surprise, "You always visit them and personally attend to all their needs at their homes; what more can you do?"
Not content with her response, Abouna Pishoy replied, "No. That is not enough. We must dwell amongst them as one of them. How about we sell all that we have and move into a small room of corrugated iron just like the rooms they inhabit? All we need is a bed, a table and a few chairs. After all, did our Lord serve us from His heavenly heights? No. Rather, he descended into our midst and lived as one of us. Therefore, we must live amidst the poor."

Tasoni humbly apologised to her husband, however, being unable to fulfill Abouna's noble desire in this regard, and he, with great love, respected her limitations

Monday, 28 May 2012

It was beautiful for Mary that she should speak peace...


It was beautiful for Mary that she should speak peace,

for she sowed peace for those far and near.

She was as a treasure full of peace for all mankind;

great peace was hidden in her for those who were at enmity.

She offered peace as also she had received peace,

from on high, which was for the whole world.

Peace was spoken profusely from her mouth;

it was fitting for the blessed one to proclaim it

 - Saint Jacob of Serug from his 'Homily on St Mary the Mother of God when she went to Elizabeth to see the truth which was told to her by Gabriel'.

Intercede for us who are timid and sinful men...

"You victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly for the sake of the God and Savior, you who have boldness of speech toward the Lord himself, you saints, intercede for us who are timid and sinful men, full of sloth, that the grace of Christ may come upon us, and enlighten the hearts of all of us that so we may love him."    

-St Ephrem the Syrian

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Remember the loving kindness of the Lord bestowed on you..

"Remember the loving kindness of the Lord bestowed on you and you will always lead a life of thanksgiving. Faith will grow in your heart as well as trust in God’s love and work. Your past experiences with God would encourage you in the life of faith."

 - Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of Alexandria and the Holy See of St Mark.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Do good to him

"If someone does evil to you, you should do good to him, so that by your good work you may drive out his malice."
 - Abba Pastor

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

He is babbling ceaselessly

A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent, that is, he says nothing that is not profitable. 

Abba Pimen

Monday, 14 May 2012

The assurance of men is nothing

Go to the tombs and see that the assurance of men is nothing. Why then does man who is dust indulge in vainglory? Why does he who is all stench exalt himself? Let us therefore weep for ourselves while we have time, lest, at the hour of our departure, we be found asking God for extra time to repent.

 - Saint Pachomius

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Why are the demons so frightened of you?

A brother asked Abba Isidore the priest, “Why are the demons so frightened of you?” The old man said to him, “Because, ever since the day I began practicing ascesis, I have striven to prevent anger from reaching my lips.
From the sayings of The Desert Fathers

You will only find yourselves fighting against God...

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.

Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Its happiness and its sorrow more frail than a shadow

"The enjoyment of this present life, though it seems to give delight and sweetness, is well thrust from us. At the very moment of its being it ceases to be, and for our joy repays us with sorrow sevenfold. Its happiness and its sorrow more frail than a shadow, and, like the traces of a ship passing over the sea, or a bird flying through the air, quickly disappear."

- St. John of Damascus

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Filioque, False History and Florentine Politics

So, I was reading an Article on Catholic Answers (Original is here: the other day on the catholic response to the accusation of Filioque as Heresy. It blew me away, not because it was profound, intellectually stimulating or even correct but the pure fact that it lacked historical foundation, any concept the Church History and also goes completely against the commandment "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" since it is quite simply full of innacuracies designed to make an unjustifiable point.

The question asked is asking how Roman Christians should reply to accusations of heresy over the Filioque, and answer should of course be "Ignore it, we are not part of their Church" since Rome was part of the Mutual excommunication of 1054. The person answering the question instead decides to manipulate history, which I see as quite shocking and somewhat inappropriate, especially for a man of the cloth.

He quotes Ephesus and the condemnation of all that change the Creed and the acceptence of the post-Nicean changes through the discussions at The Council of Chalcedon in 451 (Seen by Oriental Orthodox as the Last Ecumenical Council.) This is all fine in my books, they have explained that at an Ecumenical Council the Creed can be changed, since the Council works in the Spirit and if God wishes the Creed Changed, we do not argue. With this in mind, the writer tries to justify Filioque by saying "it was formed at  an Ecumenical Council... in florence, 400 years after the Schism!" Then, BOOM! All forms of issue emerge.

Quote "The Council of Florence could add "filioque" legitimately as a clarification of the manner of the Spirit's procession."

Point 1)
Filioque did not enter the Creed through Florence, it was entered into the Latin version of the Creed, since they had decided to change it for themselves only, at the Council of Toledo in 589. This is when when the Western Churches had a Non-Ecumenical Council to discuss not Ecumenical matters rather than big deals LIKE CREEDS. They decided at this point to add 'Filioque' without any discussion with the other Apostolic Patriarchs. Such a thing was seen at the time as completely unacceptable as Rome Demonstrated by labelling the Second council of Ephesus, to which the Bishop of Rome was not invited, as "A council of Robbers". 100 Years  before the Council of Toledo, during the Rule of Leo I of Rome, he denounced the filioque and conmemned anyone using this heretical Christology in the Creed. Even at that point Rome saw changing the Creed without proper Ecumenical discussion as heresy.

400 years after Rome had added this to the Creed in the West, Leo III, Pope of Rome showed a great stance against it. He condenmed the Franks from reciting this addition to the Creed and Ordered the Orthodox Creed to be written on silver tablets in their Churches so that they could not change it after his rule, saying "I, Leo, put here for love and protection of orthodox faith." This demonstraction shows that even 400 years after Toledo, Rome condemned anyone from adding this due to it not being seen as 'Orthodox' (In this context meaning 'Correct belief') Church practice.

Well before the Council in Florence there was upheaval against the use of Filioque in the West, it was not discussed Ecumenically at a council and was only adopted in the West amongst some groups. This change was never given to anywhere outside of the Roman See since it was not seen as valid, since this new heretical claim (The Spirit coming from the Son as well as the father) had not been cleared with the rest of the Church outside of Barbarian Spain and France. This is the reason for the controversy above all, since Rome had shocked the Church and claimed it could make changes to the Theological views of the Church without debating this with Eastern Bishops who, at the time, were renowned for their Theological knowledge far more than any 6th Century Western Scholar. They had effectively claimed supremacy and the right to change doctrine, which to a Modern Roman Christian is not something strange but was a shocking thing to suggest in the Pre-Schism Church.

Point 2) Was Florence an Ecumenical Council?

This is an interesting point, argued that Filioque was OK since it was accepted 1000 years later and under heavy pressure by Rome. The article fails to mention the reason for the Eastrn Bishops attending. They had made a deal with Rome for Military assistance in exchance for accepting Roman Rule. Yes, that is right.. Blackmail. Rome had long decided to let Constantinople fall if they did not come under Rome's rule and because of their eventual decision not to cave in, it did fall to the Muslims.

Under various bleeding messages and political threats by the Byzantine Emperor, many of the Greeks accepted to give Rome rule over their Churches. it was only Only St. Mark of Ephesus that rejected the union for the Greek party. The Russians, after discovering that the Byzantine Emperor and Rome were seeking this for purely political reasons, angrily rejected the union and removed any Bishops in their See that accepted it.

Florence is not seen in the East as an Ecumenical Council since it was purely political. The only reason for Orthodox Bishops attending was to kneel to Rome so that they would give the Emperor enough Soldiers to save the City. The article says that "The Eastern Orthodox originally accepted the authority of the Council of Florence, but later rejected it." This is a very simplistic analysis, the reality of it is that  Rome arrogantly told them to accept heretical Changes (As mentioned in point 1, these were not Ecumenical) in exchange for their survival much as the Arabs told Christians in the middle ages to convert to Islam or die. I am sorry for that bluntness but that is the extent and historical matter of it.  Political threats and blackmail under pain of Death do not equate to an Ecumenical Council in my books and should not in the mind of any Christian.


In Conclusion, the Filioque has never been accepted as a Church teaching in the East and, as I have shown, was not added in the same manner as any Credal or Doctrinal point accepted by the Church before the 1054 schism. The Orthodox Church sees it as heretical since it was added without the authority of the Whole Church and made unheard of changes the doctine of the trinity without any prior discussion in an Ecumenical setting. To lie and simplify the history of this in order to claim that it was not a point of issue in the west or seen as scandal in the Early Church then deny any pressure during florence, is extremely offensive to anyone with basil knowledge of history.

Could you imagine if a Muslim scholar wrote that "Many Christian knights freely converted to Islam in the Crusades, then changed their mind"? Roman Catholics would be up in arms and pointing out the warping of History. Please think about the implications of the lies spread by articles such as these, since historical knowledge is the key to understanding historical issues. Lying to justify something considered questionable for 1500 years does not show anything but lack of knowledge and will to decieve.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Orthodoxy and Salvation: Baptism and our natural progression in faith.

First a disclaimer: Any person saying that they know the exact requirements of salvation is not Orthodox, since Orthodoxy does not teach this, it teaches what the Apostles passed down to us and this is the closest we know to the Truth since these men were the Apostles of the truth himself. All I am doing in this piece is analysing a comparison between the Symbolic Baptism and Sola Fide of protestanism to orthodox Sacramental and Spiritual progression.
Many see faith alone as enough for Salvation, due to the cross, but Orthdoxy sees salvation as a process rather than a single event, which starts with Baptism.
A simple Scriptural example of this would be the Book of Acts where even though the Apostles have received the spirit and the gifts of it have been passed out to all there (including Gentiles), they still insisted that all must be baptised to receive salvation.  Rather than purely believing and having faith, an active role in the Sacramental life of the Church is a part of the process of Salvation.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:46-48)
So these people had received gifts from the spirit and certainly had Desire for Baptism since they were believers, but still required Baptism for their Salvation. Christ even stated this when he said “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16) He did into say simply faith, or faith and willingness but Faith and Baptism.
I find one problem with Western Theologies such as those arising with Protestantism and the rise of New Catholicism is this idea of Sacraments as simply symbolic and no more.  Baptism is reduced to being dunked into water and it being a symbol of renewal rather than the Sacramental act which the Apostles demanded of all during their time.  It is important to state that this pushing away from Sacramental Theology during the Reformation also applied to Communion and Marriage and to deny the importance of Baptism in Salvation Is akin to denying the Healing and Grace received through communion or sanctity of a Christian marriage.
Christ did not command "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20) as a symbol, or say “Make them love me, give a few symbolic Gestures and leave it at that” he specifically told the disciples to get them baptized and have them obey the Teachings, which included Baptism. We even see this in the Didache (1st Century text containing the Teachings of the Apostles.) Baptism has been of HUGE importance since the time of Christ and this is the way of it. Christ taught it, his apostles taught it. I do not see why they would lie.
This was of course instituted  on Christ but became a requirement for all Pentecost. Pope Shenouda states that "we should understand that the way the thief was saved is irrelevant for the Christian era since neither the Church nor the Christian Priesthood had yet been established" when we look at rare cases pre-pentecost, such as St Dismas the Good Thief.
Another concept some will have a problem with is Faith and Works. Many, when they hear of faith and works see “Faith + Works= Salvation” as though faith and works are seperate. I personally see more of a “Faith (naturally leading to) works = Salvation” since no work which is not through Love can achieve anything substantial. The Timothy quote is not the only biblical mention of this. It is a large issue so I will not go into massive detail just now. Paul in Cor.3 says:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
So indeed faith is Christ is vital. Yet he also states that:
The fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Faith which produces works is needed and the Orthodox do not deny that these works come through Faith. Saint John Cassian calls this Synergy of Faith and Works.  Salvation is laid in the life of Christ as our foundation. However, our works for him don't earn us salvation, but neither are they unimportant. There is a reward, and that reward according to the Fathers is communion with Him more fully and completely. This is why Christ says:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (Jn 14:21)
"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me. (Jn 14:23-24)
If you love Christ you will do good works, if you do not have the faith you will not. So Works come through true faith whether you do them with the goal of Salvation or through pure love. I see the statement of “Works are not needed for Salvation” as a moot point and see doing good as something a Christians should never even try to get out of. If you love Christ you WILL do good deeds anyway.  This is the Orthodox view of Faith and Works.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Icons – Depicting the visible

The word Icon comes from the Greek word ‘eikon’ meaning an image. In the Orthodox tradition Icons have a great spiritual significance and role in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.
The practice of writing Icons in the Christian tradition was founded with Saint Luke, who is believed to have written images of the Virgin Mary. Some of these Icons still exist, such as the Theotokos of Tikvin. From then, this tradition has been passed down in the Orthodox Church, as it was in the Western Church until around the 1600’s. Icons are still used today in Orthodox liturgical life and venerated as they represent the saints and Martyrs in their heavenly bodies.

Icons serve many uses in the Church and have done since the first centuries. One clearly important role of Icons is education. Met Ware said that “He who lacks learning or leisure to study works of theology has only to enter a church to see unfolded before him on the walls all the mysteries of the Christian religion.” This was a key part of Early Christianity since when few could read the Homilies of a speaker and Icons of a Church were the greatest source of Education.

Their second function is in the Liturgical Worship of the Church. Icons play prominent roles such as in procession and the sacraments. This is not in a worship based role but in representation.  When a liturgy happens it is not just a liturgy on Earth but one in Heaven, making the representation of the saints important since they are in attendance n the Divine Liturgy to receive the portion of Christ as we do on Earth. We also see this with the use of the icon of Christ in the sacrament of Confession, with our confessions addressed to Christ through his Icon, as he receives out confession alone through the priest as an Icon of Christ in himself.

Many call this Idolatry but this definition and viewpoint simply show a lack of understanding of icons and their theological importance rather than any wrongdoing on the part of Orthodoxy.
There is in fact no condemnation of iconography in its Orthodox form in the bible. They is indeed condemnation of imagery of a human interpretation of the nature of God, which is the reason I abhor some of those abominable works in Catholic Cathedrals which Show the trinity or God with a big beard, but no condemnation of Showing Christ in his earthly form as his apostles saw him. I will explain the difference in the representation of God the Father and God in the incarnation now.

The 10 commandments say that “You shall not make unto the any Graven image…” explaining that God is a “Jealous God” and therefore to make something and worship it is to take away from the worship of one God. This is completely understandable in context since there is no way in which people could understand what God looked like, making an image of God an image of a human interpretation of God. Yet Iconography after the Incarnation is acceptable for this very reason.
Before the incarnation of God in Christ, there was no image of God and no knowledge of his form and the idea of looking upon God struck fear into the people.  We know of this through the Old Testament when those who glimpsed on God knew of this radiance, as with Aaron fearing Moses due to this. They even veiled his face so that they could not witness it, showing the humility and fear of the people.

When Christ arrived, he gave God a form, so God became matter in order to appear to us, becoming God in an earthly form. He also told us not to fear his presence and welcomed people to him, a stark distinction from the veiling and fear of the face of God. Christ became matter so that we could see him and talk to him without having to fear and with this we received an image of God which is not man made but from God himself.   Paul himself referred to the veil of separation between humanity and the witness of God when he said “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.” (2 Corinthians 13:3) So Moses was told not to make Idols since they will always be of a God we cannot see, and thus false but with the Incarnation we witnessed God in his very form and thus have knowledge of this, to make an image of what we have seen is not an Idol but a witness.

John of Damascus, in verbally annihilating the arguments of the iconoclasts in the 7th Council, explains this perfectly. He says that “In times past, God, without body and form, could in no way be represented. But now, since God has appeared in the flesh and lived among men, I can depict that which is visible of God.” In portraying what God has revealed of himself to us we are not sculpting Idols but showing the people what God has shown us. If God did not want us to see this he would not have become something we can see through his revelation in Christ and would not have.

With the incarnation we have God in matter and no longer have to rely on a human interpretation of God. This in itself means that Iconography can show a true image of God without it becoming a human version and thus Idolatry. God even made an image of himself In Christ, as Saint Paul explains when he calls Christ "the image of the invisible God.” for Christ is "the image of the invisible God. To hate God being represented through a physical form is, in a way, to hate Christ. As Met. Kallistos says of Iconoclasm, to refer to icons as Idolatry “is to betray the Incarnation, by allowing no place to Christ’s humanity, to His body; it is to forget that our body as well as our soul must be saved and transfigured.”

There is also a large difference between apparent worship and veneration. John of Damascus reminds us that "under the Old Covenant God commanded images to be made: first the tabernacle, and then everything in it." Indeed God orders Moses to build the Ark and detail it with “two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.” Even detailing greatly as to the direction in which these should face. We know that the Ark was venerated for its contents but God had ordered Moses to have craftsmen design icons of heavenly beings.

The reason given in tradition that Moses was accepted in this task, apart from it being directly from God, is simply since it was not worshipped in the place of God. This is the same with Icons. John of Damascus also explains this, he says “I do not venerate the matter but I venerate the Creator of matter, Who became matter for me, Who condescended to live in matter, and Who, through matter accomplished my salvation; I do not cease to respect the matter through which my salvation is accomplished.”

To venerate an icon for what it represents is not Idolatry, unlike worshipping an item for what it is. Through icons we see the heavenly forms of Christ as well as our saints and Martyrs. Through asking the saints to pray to God for us we are not worshipping them but praising the holiness which God has bestowed upon them in the same way in which one might show respect to a priest or even kiss the Cross or Gospel book.

Through this veneration we are also inspired to holiness and to emulate those that came before us and to wish to live up to the example of another or ask them for assistance is not Idolatry.  As Saint Polycarp said to the centurion before his Martyrdom “For Him, being the Son of God, we adore, but the martyrs as disciples and imitators of the Lord we cherish as they deserve for their matchless affection towards their own King and Teacher.” There is a great difference between worship and veneration.