Monday, October 17, 2016

Only an Altar Makes a Temple

"In the Old and in the New Testament the main difference between a temple and a house of worship is that the latter has no altar, which is the most important place in the temple. Dating as far back as Adam, it was pleasing to God to show His distinctive presence in the places where sacrifices were offered (cf. Gen 4:4). It was by the altar that He revealed Himself to Noah (Gen 8:20-21). He commanded that the tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon be built for offering sacrifices, and sanctified them through the manifestation of His uncreated glory in the form of a cloud (Exod. 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10). The Lord said of the Temple of Solomon: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually (1 Kings 9:3).

The Savior Himself prayed in the temple, calling it His Father's house (Jn. 2:16). Then in the New Testament Church, the holy apostles established the practice of erecting altars in churches. Here's what St. Paul says about this: We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle (Heb. 13:10). It's the same today – in the Apostolic Church the heart of a church is the altar. To this we may add that in heaven – which … is the pattern for our worship services – there is a mystical altar. St. John saw the souls of the martyrs beneath it (Rev. 6:9), and from this sacred place God reveals His will to the angels (Rev. 9:13; 16:7). The prophet Isaiah received purification from the heavenly altar: Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged (Is. 6:6-7). Yet it's precisely this all-important object that is missing in protestant houses of worship, and for this reason they cannot be called biblical churches." 

Excerpted from the fabulous little book entitled "A Protestant's Walk Through an Orthodox Church," By Priest Daniel Sysoev. pp. 13-14

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A prayer for Orthodox Christians of the Latter Times

For Daily Use

By St. Anatole (the Younger) of Optina

"Deliver me, O Lord, from the deceptions of the God-hating and evil antichrist, whose coming is at hand, and shelter me from his snares in the secret desert of Thy salvation. Grant me, O Lord, strength and courage to firmly confess Thy Most Holy Name, that I may not abandon Thee because of the devil's fear and that I may not deny Thee my Saviour and Redeemer, nor Thy Holy Church. But grant me, O Lord, cries and tears for my sins, and spare me in the hour of Thy dread judgement.    Amen"

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Emblematically Traced ...

By, St. John of Kronstadt

"In the temple, in its arrangements and parts, in the icons, in the Divine services, with the reading of the Holy Scripture, the singing, the rites, the entire Old Testament, New Testament, and Church history, the whole Divine ordering of the salvation of mankind is emblematically traced, as upon a chart, in figures and in general outlines. Grand is the spectacle of the Divine services of our Orthodox Church for those who understand it, who penetrate into its essence, its spirit, its signification, its sense!"

From: My Life in Christ, Holy Trinity Publications, p. 394.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Everything is in the Hands of God

An incident from the life of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II.

St. John of Kronstadt
The Revolution of 1905-1906 was a warning to the Russians that, if they did not return to Christ as a nation, and if they continued to work and fight against their anointed ruler, they could lose God's blessing. As St. John of Kronstadt said in 1905: “Our Tsar is a man of righteous and pious life. God sent him a heavy cross of sufferings, as to His chosen one and beloved child, as is said by the seer of the mysteries of God's judgment: As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten (Rev. 3:19). If the Russian people do not have repentance, the end of the world will be near. God will take the pious Trar from them and will send a scourge in the persons of impious, cruel, self-proclaimed rulers, who will inundated the whole land with blood and tears.” It is to the great credit of Tsar Nicholas that he was able to keep this from happening for more than ten years.

A great insight into Tsar Nicholas' character can be gained from the following incident, which occurred during one of the mstviolent moments of the aforementioned revolution. At the imperial residence at Peterhof, near the naval base of Kronstadt, which was under siege by insurrectionists, artillery shelling could be heard. Nicholas' foreign minister, Alexander Izvolsky, was giving a report to the Tsar at the time, and later recalled the following:

Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II
He listened attentively, and, as was his habit, asked questions now and then, showing his interest in the smallest detail of my report. Glance as I would in his direction, I could not detect the slightest trace of emotion in his countenance, although he knew well that it was his crown that was at stake at that moment, only a few leagues away…. When my report was finished, the Emperor remained a fe moments looking calmly out at the open window at the line of the horizon. For my part, I was oppressed by profound emotion, and could not refrain, even at the risk of infringing the rules of etiquette, from expressing my surprise at seeing him so unmoved. The Emperor did not apparently resent my observation, for he turned to me with a look which has so often been described as one of extraordinary gentleness, and replied in these few words, deeply engraved in my memory:

'If you see me calm, it is because I have the firm, the absolute conviction that the fate of Russia, my own fate, and that of my family is in the hands of God, Who has placed me where I am. Whatever happens, I will bow to His will, conscious of never having had a thought other than that of serving the country that He confided to me.'”

From: The Royal Passion-bearers of Russia, Their Life and Service. St. Herman Press, p. 13.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What Will You Choose?

A timeless message from the Archbishop Averky of Blessed Memory. May we have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Originally entitled "True Orthodoxy".

"Few people today know that the Orthodox Church is nothing less than that Church which has preserved untainted the genuine teachings of Jesus Christ, the very teachings delivered to every subsequent generation of believers. These teachings came down the centuries. from the Holy Apostles, explicated and carefully interpreted by their legitimate successors their disciples and the holy Fathers), traditioned and conserved unaltered by our Eastern Church which is alone able to prove her right to be called "the Orthodox Church."

The divine Founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, said clearly, "I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her" (St. Matt 16: 18). To the Church, He sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descended upon the Apostles, the Spirit of Truth (St. John 15:16f) Who "manifests all things" to Her and guides Her (St. John xvi, 13), protecting Her from error. Indeed, it was to declare this Truth to men that the Lord came into the cosmos, according to His own words (St. John 18:31). And Saint Paul confirms this fact in his letter to his pupil, the bishop Timothy, saying that, "the Church of the living God is the ground and pillar of the Truth" (I Tim 3:15).

The Church of Christ, the Ark of Salvation.
Because She is "the ground and pillar of the Truth," "the gates of Hell cannot prevail against Her." It follows, then, that the true Christian Church—palpably unique since Christ established but one Church—has always existed on earth and will exist to the end of time. She has received the promise of Christ, "I will be with you even unto the end of the age." Can there be the slightest doubt that the Lord refers here to the Church? Any honest and sane judgment, any act of good conscience, anyone familiar with the history of the Christian Church, the pure and unaltered moral and theological teachings of the Christian religion, must confess that there was but one true Church founded by our Lord, Jesus Christ, and that She has preserved His Truth holy and unchanged. History reveals, moreover, a traceable link of grace from the holy Apostles to their successors and to the holy Fathers. In contrast to what others have done, the Orthodox Church has never introduced novelties into Her teachings in order to "keep up with the times", to be "progressive", "not to be left at the side of the road," or to accommodate current exigencies and fashions which are always suffused with evil. The Church never conforms to the world.

Indeed not, for the Lord has said to his disciples at the Last Supper, "You are not of this world." We must hold to these words if we are to remain faithful to true Christianity—the true Church of Christ has always been, is and will always be a stranger to this world. Separated from it, she is able to transmit the divine teachings of the Lord unchanged, because that separation has kept Her unchanged, that is, like the immutable God Himself. That which the learned call "conservativism" is a principal and, perhaps, most characteristic index of the true Church.

Since the TRUTH is given to us once and for all, our task is to assimilate rather than to discover it. We are commanded to confirm ourselves and others in the Truth and thereby bring everyone to the true Faith, Orthodoxy.

Unfortunately, there have appeared in the very bosom of the Church, even among the hierarchy, opinions expressed by well-known individuals which are detrimental to Her. The desire to "march with the times" makes them fear that they will not be recognized as "cultured", "liberal" and "progressive." These modern apostates to Orthodoxy are "ashamed" to confess that our Orthodox church is precisely the Church which was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church to which appertains the great promise that "the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her," and to which He confided the plenum of divine Truth. By their deceit and false humility, by their blasphemy against the Lord, these false shepherds and those with them have been estranged from the true Church. They have given tacit expression to the idea that "the gates of Hell" have "prevailed" against the Church. In other words, these apostates say that our holy Orthodox Church is equally "at fault" for the "division of the churches" and ought now to "repent" her sins and enter into union with other "Christian churches" by means of certain concessions to them, the result being a new, indivisible church of Christ.

This is the ideology of the religious movement which has become so fashionable in our times: "The ecumenical movement" among whose number one may count Orthodox, even our clergy. For a long time, we have heard that they belong to this movement in order "to witness to the peoples of other confessions the truth of holy Orthodoxy," but it is difficult for us to believe that this statement is anything more than "throwing powder in our eyes." Their frequent theological declarations in the international press can lead us to no other conclusion than that they are traitors to the holy Truth.

As a matter of historical fact, the "ecumenical movement"—of which the WCC is the supreme organ—is an organization of purely Protestant origin. Nearly all the Orthodox Churches have joined, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia being the most notable exception.

We must understand the situation in terms of the words that "this Must take place" (St. Luke 11:9), that is, the "great apostasy" clearly predicted by the Lord (Sol 2:3-12). "it is permitted by God," as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov said almost a century ago. (Another spiritual father, Theophan the Recluse, announced with grief that the horrendous apostasy would begin within Russia.) St. Ignatius wrote: "We are helpless to arrest this apostasy. Impotent hands will have no power against it and nothing more will be required than the attempt to withhold it. The spirit of the age will reveal the apostasy. Study it, if you wish to avoid it, if you wish to escape this age and the temptation of its spirits. One can suppose, too, that the institution of the Church which has been tottering for so long will fall terribly and suddenly. Indeed, no one is able to stop or prevent it. The present means to sustain the institutional Church are borrowed from the elements of the world, things inimical to the Church, and the consequence will be only to accelerate its fall. Nevertheless, the Lord protects the elect and their limited number will be filled."

The Enemy of humanity makes every effort and uses all means to confound it. Aid comes to him through the total co-operation of all the secret and invisible heterodox, especially those priests and bishops who betray their high calling and oath, the true faith and the true Church.

Repudiation of and preservation from the apostasy which has made such enormous progress demands that we stand apart from the spirit of the age (which bears the seeds of its own destruction). If we expect to withstand the world, it is first necessary to understand it and keep sensitively in mind that in this present age all that which carries the most holy and dear name of Orthodoxy is not in fact Orthodox. Rather, it is often "A fraudulent and usurped Orthodoxy" which we must fear and eschew as if it were fire. Unlike this spurious faith, true Orthodoxy was given and must be received without novelty and nothing must be accepted as a teaching or practice of the Church which is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the dogma of the Universal Church. True Orthodoxy thinks only to serve God and to save souls and is not preoccupied with the secular and ephemeral welfare of men. True Orthodoxy is spiritual and not physical or psychological or earthly. In order to protect ourselves from "the spirit of the age" and preserve our fidelity to the true Orthodoxy, we ought firstly and with all our strength live blamelessly: A total and rigorous commitment to Christ, without deviation from the commandments of God or the laws of His holy Church ... We must be honorable and tenacious, following the right way, never deviating in order to please men or from fear that we might lose some personal advantage.

The sure path to perdition is indifference and the lack of principles which is euphemistically called "the larger view." In opposition to this "larger view" we put the "rigor of ideas" which, in modernity, it is fashionable to label "narrow" and "fanatical." To be sure, if one adopts the "modern mentality," one must consider the holy martyrs—whose blood is "the cement of the Church"—and the Church Fathers—who struggled all their lives against heretics—as nothing less than "narrow" and "fanatical." In truth, there is little difference between "the broad way" against which the Lord warned and the modern "larger view." He condemned the "broad way" as the way to "gehenna."

Of course, the idea of "gehenna" holds no fear for those "liberals" and avant-garde theologians. They may smugly "theologize" about it, but in rashly and wantonly discussing "the new ways of Orthodox theology" and acquiring a number of disciples, they give evidence that they no longer believe in the existence of Hell. This new breed of "Orthodox" are really no more than modem "scholastics."

In other words, the way of these "progressivists" is not our way. Their way is deceptive, and it is unfortunate that it is not evident to everyone. The "broader" or "larger view" alienates us from the Lord and His true Church. It is the road away from Orthodoxy. This view is sinister, maliciously invented by the Devil in order to deny us salvation. For us, however, we accept no innovations, but choose the ancient, proven way, the way in which true Christians have chosen to serve God for 2,000 years.

We choose the way of fidelity to the true Faith and not the "modern way." We choose faithfulness to the true Church with all Her canons and dogmas which have been received and confirmed by the local and universal Councils. We choose the holy customs and traditions, the spiritual riches of that faith transmitted complete and entire to us from the Holy Apostles, the Holy Fathers of the Church, and the Christian heritage of our venerable ancestors. This alone is the faith of the true Orthodox, distinct from the counterfeit "orthodoxy" invented by the Adversary. We receive only the Apostolic Faith, the Faith of the Fathers, the Orthodox Faith."

Originally published in: The Orthodox Christian Witness, wherein it appeared translated from the French in La Foi Transmise (Nov. 1968), pp. 19-22.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

With Whom Will I Be Left?

An incident from the life of Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, + Feb. 9/16

Archbp. Theophan
"Memorable also was the moment when Archbishop Theophan met with a group of clergy of the 'living church' trend and some liberal professors at the Moscow All Russian Council in 1917-1918. Between adherents of the Church order of Holy Russia and the modernist clerics the dispute never died out during the whole time of work on the Council as to whether one should conduct church life by the old course or make concessions to the spirit of the times and modernize church life.

And here the modernists politely, respectfully came to Archbishop Theophan; apparently even they felt in him a spiritual giant of Orthodoxy … 'We respect you, Vladika, we know your church wisdom … But the waves of the times flow swiftly, changing everything, changing us; one must give in to them. You, too, must give in, Vladika, to the raging waves... Otherwise with whom will you be left? You will be left alone." And Vladika Theophan's answer, in the age-old Orthodox spirit, was:

'With whom will I be left?'

'I will be with St. Vladimir the Enlightener of Russia. With Sts. Anthony and Theodosius the Wonderworkers of the Kiev Caves, with the holy Hierarchs and Wonderworkers of Moscow. With Sts. Sergius and Seraphim and with all the holy martyrs, God-pleasing monks and wonderworkers who have gloriously shone forth on Russian soil.'

But you, dear brothers, with whom will you be left if even with your great numbers you give over to the will of the waves of the times? They have already carried you to the flabbiness of Kerensky*, and soon they will carry you under the yoke of the brutal Lenin, into the claws of the red beast.' The church modernists left Vladika in silence after his reply." (The Orthodox Word, Sept.-Oct., 1969, p. 195.)

*Alexander Kerensky was a leader in the Provisional Government after the overthrow of the Monarchy in Russia. The weak willed liberal Provisional Government essentially paved the way for the Bolshevik takeover.

From: The Orthodox Word, 1969, Sep.-Oct., pp. 194-195.

Friday, April 15, 2016

What does it mean to be human? An Orthodox answer.

A brief talk presented by Fr. Zechariah at a forum entitled "Human Origins: What does it mean to be Human?" Each speaker (there were five from various backgrounds) was limited to twelve minutes. The forum was offered in conjunction with a traveling Smithsonian exhibit of the same name. 

My goal is to present, in brief, a very basic outline of the Eastern Orthodox Christian understanding of the purpose and origin of Humanity. For the most part, I will not be comparing and contrasting various theories, philosophies, ideologies, and such. I also am not presenting a scientific discourse, as it is defined and specifically classified by the modern world. Thus I will not be touching upon data, research, contrasting interpretations and disputes of various scientific theories. Such information is easily obtained elsewhere. Again my intent is to present, very basically, the Orthodox Christian understanding of human origins. Although, if we apply the word “science” in its more ancient and comprehensive context, that is the pursuit of ultimate knowledge, understanding, and principle, then my small address certainly falls within the bounds of science.

In Orthodoxy beginning is intimately tied to Telos: ultimate meaning and end goal. Christianity, throughout all time and all places, has proclaimed and confessed that all of creation has its origin from God. The sacred writings of the Faith, which may be familiar to some, open with these words, In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1). In the ancient Christian creed of Nicea, which is confessed at every Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the creation of all things by God is professed as indispensable to Christian faith, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God … through Whom all things were made … and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.” Christianity confesses that God made all things, ex nihlo, from none being; He did not manipulate and form some pre-existent matter, such as in demiurge stories. His very word called the material realm into existence. He alone is the source of all things, while remaining in His essence other than, and independent of, the created order. He is everywhere present, sustains and gives life to all things, fills all things, yet is distinct in nature and essence; He is Life Himself and depends on no other thing or entity; He is self-existing Being, while all of creation depends on Him for existence. Creation is a free act of God, in which there is no necessity. This free act of Divine fiat is the sole foundation of created life; God is intimately and personally involved in the original making and continued existence of all creation.

It is also vital to note briefly that Orthodox Christianity confesses divine revelation, that is we take our knowledge of beginning not simply and exclusively from the mutability of the “natural order” but most of all from the immutable manifestation of God Himself to His creation - He revealed to us how He created all things. In His nature God is eternal, unknowable, and incommunicable, but He has deigned to reveal and communicate Himself by His Divine grace or energy. Wholly unknowable in His essence, God fully reveals Himself in His grace; this in no way divides His nature. Revelation is the transcendent knowledge that brings cohesiveness to varied and limited earthly knowledge. Clearly God could have use a multitude of means to create, but He chose, according to His wisdom, a particular manner, and then made that manner known in basic. I will also briefly note that we see no conflict between true observational science and revelation. 

 Let's turn to the specific topic of this forum: Humanity, mankind. As with all things, Orthodoxy knows humanity to be the particular work of God. Indeed, mankind is seen as the unique craftsmanship of God, male and female He made them. God created mankind instantly, a compound being of body and soul, psychosomatic. This is the totality of human composition. Orthodoxy confesses that there was never a time when humanity was without a soul. Body and soul were created simultaneously by God, not one before and the other afterward. From the very beginning, God endowed His creature Mankind with the capacity to commune with Him, this is reflected in the Genesis account when it says, God “breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). Through our bodily aspect, taken and compounded from earthly elements, we share communion with all material creation, thus, for instance, the genetic similarity as noted in the exhibit is not at all surprising; and through the breath of God, that is the indwelling of the Spirit, mankind was gifted the capacity to commune and become a partaker in the Divine. Mankind was given a spiritual faculty, which originally was the higher governing faculty. Thus Humanity is created ultimately to be a bearer of Divine grace. Grace is not causality, but eternal property of Divine Being. In Humanity both the earthly and the heavenly come together in harmony, in one creature. A verse from a service of the Orthodox Church proclaims, “Adam, though formed of dust, shared in the higher breath of life” (Festal Menaion, Nativity canon, p. 271).

Mankind was originally created in childlike perfection and holiness. Adam and Eve were called to ascend in Divine perfection and to grow in their pristine fellowship with God. As our Tradition reveals God made intrinsic to humanity His Image and Likeness, as it says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). This does not refer to our physical form, but rather indicates the natural potential in humanity to bear God, and even more so to be fashioned in a divine manner, not according to our own powers but in synergy with God Himself. Image is the spiritual potential imprinted upon every person of humanity; likeness is the conscious actualization of grace through the virtues energizing within the one who freely chooses to communion with God.

This state of Grace Orthodoxy confesses to be the natural state of mankind. As one Orthodox theologian writes, “We know nothing of 'pure nature' to which grace is added as a supernatural gift … there is no natural or normal state since grace is implied in the act of creation itself … created beings have the faculty of being assimilated to God because such is the very object of their creation” (Lossky, Mystical Theology, pp. 101, 102). Further a revered saint, Abba Dorotheus, elaborates, “In the beginning God created man, He placed him in paradise and adorned him with every virtue, giving him the commandment not to taste of the tree … And thus he remained there in the enjoyment of Paradise: in prayer, in vision, in glory and honor, having sound senses and being in the same natural condition in which he was created. For God created man according to His own image, that is, immortal, master of himself, and adorned with every virtue” (cf. Rose: Genesis, Creation, and Early Man, p. 473). Indeed, God proclaims all of His handiwork to be “very good.” God interwove goodness into the very fabric of His creation; for God Himself is the ultimate Good. God Himself infused creation with goodness and life.

Thus, the current less than ideal state of our race and world is because we have lost our natural state of being, choosing to attempt existence without Life Himself, that is God. This state Orthodoxy calls death. Death is not limited to the ceasing of bodily function. Bodily death directly conveys the seriousness of our plight outside of our natural created state. Death ultimately is an attempt to exist without Life, without the telos established by God in the beginning, which is participation in God by grace. Death together with its energizing factor evil, are parasitical; they are spiritual maladies and pollutants which are the result of refusing the Good. Death, evil, sin, can only attempt to deform and disfigure the good that God has established. What we observe and call the natural world around us, inclusive of our human race, is, as Orthodox Christianity teaches, in a state of unnatural corruption due to a phenomenon referred to as the fall, the name given to the active choosing of death over life by mankind in the beginning and even to this day. Through conscious and willful choice, mankind desired to exist without God, seeking to be its own independent god and master. Our Creator allowed this by His permissive will, for He had given mankind the gift of self-mastery, that is freedom of will, even to choose other than the good and life. The wrong use of the gift of freedom we call sin. But choices have consequences, and the consequence of choosing death and sin is the corrupted order we see around us. Human nature itself was altered, corrupted, and it lost God's grace; the unnatural force of death was unleashed upon mankind and the world. It is this corrupted transient order that the self-described natural modern sciences observe, and to which they are subjected.

After the fall humanity was degraded to exist almost solely according to its earthly composition. The original virtues and energies of our God-given nature were twisted and misdirected almost exclusively to temporal passing pleasures. This misdirection has fragmented the original wholeness of our being. Mankind's spiritual perception became deeply damaged and infirm, because of this life was reduced to sensual existence, that is existence based primarily upon the physical senses. The image and likeness of God became corrupted and distorted. But we may observe the resonance and residual echoing of our incorrupt state in the primal mind of our race, in the indisputable tendency of humanity to long, throughout our history, for other than merely a materialistic sensual existence.

Orthodoxy teaches: it is this current corrupt state that is unnatural and abnormal to humanity's God-given created nature. Thus according to Christianity, Christ Jesus has come to restore to mankind its natural and rightful state, delivering from sin, death, and corruption, and even beyond. By taking upon Himself our nature, which had fallen and become decrepit, broken and scattered, He healed it in His Divine Person, thereby reuniting humanity with Divinity. Thus we confess Christ to be perfect Man and perfect God. In Him, we behold the perfect meaning of what it means to be human. Indeed, ancient Christian teachers frequently speak of salvation in terms of healing and therapy; the work of Christ Jesus is called the renewal of mankind. In the Christmas service, Orthodox Christians sing, “You have come, O Resurrection of the nations, to bring back the nature of mankind from its wanderings” (Festal Menaion, Nativity canon, p. 281). It should also be noted that Orthodox Christianity confesses that Christ came to save the whole of His creation, of which the center is the restoration of His creature Mankind. The nexus of all things, the source, mode of being, and end point of humanity according to Orthodox Christian revelation is God, the Divine Triple Lighted Sun of Righteousness. 

Thank you for your time and attentiveness. God bless you.