Friday, December 30, 2016

A Morning Prayer

By St. John of Kronstadt

"O, God! Creator and Master of the World! Mercifully protect Thy creature, adorned with Thy Godly image, in these morning hours: Let Thine eyes, millions and millions of times brighter than the rays of the sun, vivify and enlighten my soul, darkened and slain by sin. Deliver me from despondency and slothfulness, grant me joy and vigor of soul, so that with a glad heart I may praise Thy mercy, Thy holiness, Thy boundless greatness, and Thy infinite perfections, at every hour and in every place. For Thou, Lord, art my Creator and the Master of my life, and to Thee Thy reasonable creatures every hour send up glory and praise, both now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen"

From, "My Life in Christ," pg. 24.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Charismatic Movement and the Orthodox Church: the perspective of one Orthodox Priest, part 2

This article is part two in a series. 

A “Charismatic” Movement in the Early Church

In the town of Phrygia, central Asia Minor, about the year 160AD, a man named Montanus claimed to be “seized” by the Holy Spirit. He began to receive “special” messages, “speak in tongues,” prophesy, and so forth. Two women “prophetesses” soon join him: Priscilla and Maximillia.

This occurrence takes place well before the above given general date of 311AD (according to the Emerging Church scheme, when the Church allegedly enters a time of “darkness;” see part one of this series). Thus, even for a person subscribing to an Emerging Church philosophy, this incident should bear weight. It transpired when the Church, according to such thought, was still “being led by the Spirit.”

The History of the Early Church by Eusebius gives these details,There is said to be a certain village called  Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of  Asia,  a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning … Thus by artifice, or rather by such a system of wicked craft, the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient, and being unworthily honored by them, secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith. And he stirred up besides two women, and filled them with the false spirit, so that they talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely, like the person already mentioned. And the spirit pronounced them blessed as they rejoiced and gloried in him, and puffed them up by the magnitude of his promises. But sometimes he rebuked them openly in a wise and faithful manner, that he might seem to be a reprover. But those of the Phrygians that were deceived were few in number … And the arrogant spirit taught them to revile the entire universal Church under heaven, because the spirit of false prophecy received neither honor from it nor entrance into it.”1

The Montanists, based on the brief description above, experienced similar manifestation to those of the P/C movement, and the Universal Church at that time condemned it as heresy and delusion. As the Scriptures profess and caution, and as the Church indicated in Her dealings with the Montanists, not all “Charismatic” experiences are from God.

The Montanists declared that they were ushering in the age of the Holy Spirit, and with it renewed focus on prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the other gifts of the Spirit. To reject their message was, they claimed, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Montanists prophesied in the first person, something unheard of in the Old and New Testament. It appears that Montanus would say, “I, the Holy Spirit, say to you ...” Whereas the Old and New Testament prophets all spoke in this manner, “Thus says the Lord ...” (cf. Act. 21:11; Is. 8:1). They also fervently expected the immediate return of Christ, even professing to know location and date. One author states, Montanists, “Claiming to receive revelation directly from God that fulfilled and superseded the revelation given to the Apostles, Montanus emphasized direct, ecstatic, and highly emotional spiritual experiences for all believers … (they) did not claim to be messengers of God but rather claimed that God 'possessed' them and spoke directly through them.”2

I will interject here a little personal experience: first, I remember at various meetings (while I was still a Charismatic) hearing people speak in the first person “I, the Lord, say ….” Second, when I first encountered the Montanist account, even before I was Orthodox, I was struck by its similarity to what I had hence experienced. One has but a few options: either push the date when the Church enters “darkness” back before 160AD so as to disregard the response of the Church to this movement, or admit that my experiences, and their strong resemblance to Montanism, had been at best very questionable. I went with the latter option.

Further testimony of the early Church has also come down to us in a letter of one Miltaides. He duly witnesses, “But the false prophet falls into an ecstasy, in which he is without shame or fear. Beginning with purposed ignorance, he passes on, as has been stated, to involuntary madness of soul. They cannot show that one of the old or one of the new prophets was thus carried away in spirit. Neither can they boast of Agabus, or Judas, or Silas, [Acts 15:32] or the daughters of Philip, or Ammia in Philadelphia, or Quadratus, or any others not belonging to them … For the apostle thought it necessary that the prophetic gift should continue in all the Church until the final coming. But they [i.e. Montanists] cannot show it [i.e. continuity with the Universal Church]...”3

Evidently, Montanus also used his newfound power to take up large-scale collections of money. He, “named Pepuza and Tymion, small towns in Phrygia, Jerusalem, wishing to gather people to them from all directions; who appointed collectors of money; who contrived the receiving of gifts under the name of offerings; who provided salaries for those who preached his doctrine, that its teaching might prevail through gluttony."4 Obviously Christian ministers have throughout the ages received their “due wages,” in earthly terms, for their labors. What is being decried here is the turning of “ministry” into a money making racket. This was also done at Asuza though extensive mailing lists.

Based upon the available accounts regarding Montanism, the small reconstructed picture bears a remarkable similarity, most of all, to that of the Azusa Street movement, which, keep in mind, was the catalyst for the whole modern “Pentecostal” experience, and its subsequent fruit.

The early Church decisively condemned Montanism at several local councils in Asia Minor, and Bishop Zephyrius of Rome condemned it around the year 200. Although the movement lingered on for a number of years, the answer of the Christian Church was clear: such “charismatic experiences” do not have their source in God. It is false charisma. It has its origin in another spirit. The Christian Church has never known such “manifestations.”

I by no means claim that every aspect of Montanism parallels the P/C movement, but there exist sufficient similarities to cause pause, most of all in the realm of "spiritual" gifts and manifestations.

The carefully deliberated response of the early Christian Church to Montanism and its self-professed “spiritual” gifts and power should cause circumspection for the modern Christian. Are the very recent and current (one hundred years is not that long ago) claims to “spiritual” renewal and power be trusted? Have people put faith in a power, because undoubtedly there is a power involved in the P/C movement, without trying and testing it? Has much of modern Christendom failed to, as St. Paul admonishes, “Prove all things, and hold fast to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21)? Are signs and powers in and of themselves an end-all proof that something is of God? Or are we to test signs and wonders, so as to see where they lead? “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, and serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet ...” (Deut. 13:1-3).

It is no critical statement to simply say, the “Christianity” introduced by the P/C movement has a fundamentally different orientation from that of the Ancient Christian Church. Are its signs and wonders worth heeding? And is it restoring the long lost Church? Are Christians to expect a great last “revival” and the final restoration of the Church?

In the next series, I will undertake to test these claims.

1Eusebius, The History of the Church, 5.16.
2Damick, Andrew. Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, Conciliar Media Ministries. Chesterson, IN. p. 21.
3Eusebius, The History of the Church, 5.17.

4Ibid. 5. 18.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Charismatic Experience and the Orthodox Church: the perspective of one Orthodox Priest

How does a person acquire the Holy Spirit? Does the Orthodox Church believe in the gifts of the Spirit? How do they operate in the life of a believer? Now that I am Orthodox how do I process the experiences that I had while in Evangelical Charismatic groups?

These are a few of the questions that I have asked and been asked after fourteen years in the Orthodox Church, six of which I have spent as a priest. Not long ago, I had another very productive conversation with a few parishioners about "Charismatic" topics, both pertaining to the Orthodox Church and things outside of Her. This conversation became the final impetus for me to address the subject in writing. Not that I am a brilliant fellow, mind you, but I have mulled over these and like questions in my personal life and experience within the Orthodox Church.

These themes will be addressed in multiple parts. This is part one.

I am a former Evangelical Charismatic. I was raised in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, where my dad was a minister for a time. As a young boy, I remember running around the offices of the Anaheim Vineyard. I remember goofing around with John Wimber. I grew up in a "prophetic, charismatic" environment. Lonnie Frisbee, Bob Jones, Paul Cain, etc. …. Some of them I knew fairly well because of my dad's position as a minister (keep in mind this was the time of my childhood and adolescence).1 If these names mean nothing to you, don't worry about it. Suffice for you, the reader, to know that back in the day these were big names in their circles. I was supposedly part of the generation that would change the world for Jesus. It all seemed pretty exciting at the time. I spent three years in the mission field, in Kharkov, Ukraine. From there I went to Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, located at an Assemblies of God church in Brownsville, Florida. I was part of the "pioneer class." Manifestations? Check. Speaking in tongues? Check. "Slain in the Spirit?" Check. Prophetic words? Check. Dreams? Check. Visions? Check. Anyway, you get the point. My faith was a very Pentecostal and Charismatic one (for now, I am using those words in a general way, I will define them in a more specified manner through the course of this article). Shortly after I graduated from BRSM, and while in the midst of pursuing Protestant Ministry, the discovery of the Orthodox Church delightfully sidetracked me. But that is another story.

I went from an environment that valued "spontaneity in the Spirit" to liturgical worship and tradition. It seemed like two different worlds. I had a lot to process. My focus at present is to offer some of the examinations and conclusions that I have worked through and arrived at, in the hope that some may gain benefit from them.

I will focus primarily on history, method, and underlying meaning. I will strive to avoid polemics, but in such an endeavor it will be difficult to evade entirely. Let me state from the start: my goal is to address systems. I leave all persons to the judgment of God. Nonetheless, we are called to test, discern, and pass judgment, as St. John says, Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are of God (1 Jn. 4:1). Moreover, there are concrete Christian standards by which to make such judgments.

Towards an understanding of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has penetrated almost every sector of modern Christendom. From Baptists to Roman Catholics. Only in the Orthodox Church has it not found a place to grow, although it has tried to find a foothold. Christianity Today states, “A 2011 Pew Forum study showed that almost 305,000,000 people worldwide … (are) part of the charismatic movement.”2 The mindset that the movement holds has influenced much of the modern Protestant mind. In the following, I will briefly overview the historical roots of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement (referred to as P/C movement from here on for the sake of brevity). Ah, history. For many a modern it is not too horribly important. Nonetheless, we arrived where we are today by very distinctive paths. To begin to understand the Pentecostal experience, we must examine its roots and paths.

But, before we delve into history we must understand a particular principle that drives much of modern Protestantism, most of all those sectors formed by the P/C movement. Of late this mind has been called "Emerging Church" (it also has other names such as - Restorationism, Kingdom Theology, Third Wave, etc.; although there may exist surface differences the underlying essence and foundation of these philosophies are the same). I have before me notes from my BRSM days (yes, I am one of those people that save school notes), which present a basic sketch of the Emerging Church philosophy. It goes as follows: between the year 311AD and 1300AD is simply the word "Darkness." That is, the Church went into a time of captivity and darkness. 1300AD is labeled "Refreshing Starts," during this period such figures as John Huss, John Wycliffe, and others are considered the pioneers of refreshment. 1500AD – "Grace," clearly this refers to what is known as the Protestant Reformation. 1700AD – "Personal holiness and conversion." 1800AD – "Prayer and Evangelism." 1900AD – "Baptism of the Holy Spirit." 1950AD – "Charismatic." Late 1900's – "Combine them all!" The note below the diagram reads, "God is building, adding and adding, God is restoring His Church!" And with a note of surprised delight it comments, "In the 1950's and after charismatic gifts began to flow even in traditional churches." As one may already perceive, the clear conclusion is that the Church (using that word very loosely) was lost to darkness, but God stepped in and overthrew the "traditions of men" to reestablish His work. The clear implication is that most of the Church's work between roughly 300-1500AD was not of God. I remember it being explained through the analogy of a puzzle: the pieces were lost and scattered, but they are slowly being brought back together, and the result will be the restoration of the full picture. Not only will there be a complete picture, but it will even possibly surpass the original (that is the book of Acts). The notes read, "We can expect a last surge to parallel (or even surpass) the first." Clearly, there is not a substantial value for tradition in this mindset. Tradition, such a paradigm commonly holds, was the death of the early Church. It became, such a mindset maintains, the human supplement to the original power and freedom in the "Spirit" that was originally at work in the early Church but subsequently lost. The problem with such a teaching is: A) it is not in the Scriptures, nor was it taught by early Christians. I will substantiate this later on. B) It is a type of "Christian" Spiritual Evolution. It is, I would venture, influenced more by the Western European philosophy of Progress, which was developed during the "Enlightenment," than by anything else. Almost everything old is bad or out of date. The new is what we need! It is a christianized (if even possible) ubermensch. People, the church, are progressing toward the spiritual "superman." I will not at this point wander into the Scriptures that Emerging Church adherents use to substantiate their claims. I may address this later on. The focus at hand is historical formation.

The P/C movement certainly could be traced back to the "Revival Holiness" movements of the 1800's in American. I will not follow that stream at present but will focus on the visible birth of the movement at the turn of the 20th century. Two key figures will be surveyed: Charles Parham, who is called "the father of Pentecost," and William Seymour, who is considered the catalyst of Pentecost. Clearly, numerous other individuals were involved in the movement, but for the sake of expediency I have narrowed it down to two.

Charles Parham

Mr. Parham
Mr. Parham began his ministry in the healing "revivals" of the late 1800's. As with many of his time, he professed to have a deep hunger for God, and a profound desire to see the power of God. Like other figures of that period, he became disillusioned with "denominationalism." (It is an interesting sidenote that similar sentiments were expressed by both Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses. This is not to directly equate these three men, Mr. Parham clearly never denied the Divinity of Christ as did the latter two. But the reader should note that there existed a spirit of discontentment with "denominationalism" in the 1800's, and many figures arose claiming to restore "true" Christianity. All three of these men professed to be seeking a new and special coming of Christ and His Kingdom.) Mr. Parham states, " … Feeling the narrowness of sectarian churchism, I was often in conflict with the higher authorities, which eventually resulted in open rupture; and I left denominationalism forever, though suffering bitter persecution at the hands of the church … Oh, the narrowness of many who call themselves the Lord's own!" (Liardon, Robert. God's Generals, Albury Publishing, 1996. p. 115.) Through subsequent experiences, he became convinced that "there still remained a great outpouring of power for the Christians who are to close this age" (Ibid, p. 117).

Parham eventually opens a Bible school in Topeka, Kansas, and later another in Houston, Texas. At one point he gave his students an assignment to diligently study the Scriptures (with a focus on the book of Acts) for evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After three days, the account goes, all the students (forty in all) came to the same conclusion: the common manifestation of baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. Fixated on this manifestation, they resolved to pray until they received the gift of tongues. A student by the name of Agnes Ozman is reportedly the first to receive the gift. Accounts say that she spoke in Chinese. In the very early records of the P/C movement tongues are stated as being in some earthly language. Mr. Parham says that he received the gift of the Swedish tongue. I will not address here the gift of tongues and the Orthodox understanding of it, but it should be taken into account that the very early P/C movement did not claim to be speaking in unintelligible babble, but, as we will see, it soon turned into that very thing. Another striking point is that this "outpouring" takes place right at the start of the 20th century, which will be a century of unparalleled change and world upheaval. Parham then begins to preach the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the evidence of tongues. His teaching is the root of the Pentecostal doctrine of tongues as the initial sign of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Such a doctrine was unheard of in Christianity before this time. Although isolated instances of "speaking in tongues" were recorded within Protestantism before Mr. Parham's movement, his movement is responsible for its growth and even explosion in the Protestant world.

Many phenomenal stories and accounts surround the life of Mr. Parham. He sincerely saw himself as restoring the apostolic faith, "Now that they [apostolic faith tents] are generally accepted, I simply take my place among the brethren ..." (Ibid. 128). Like many other Protestant leaders before him, he was sure that God had chosen and entrusted him with a unique task. He was willing to write off his opponents as narrow and opposed to the will of God (as he proclaimed it). Ironically, in his professed desire to escape the confines of "denominationalism," he created a new denominator: Pentecostalism. Thereby perpetuating the very fracturing that he allegedly wished to heal. Mr. Parham claimed that his authority was derived from the Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit. Like most Protestants, he subscribed to "Sola Scriptura" (the teaching that the Bible alone is necessary for establishing Christian Faith). But, as most of Protestant history shows, there was significant disagreement on what the Bible supposedly simply and clearly proclaimed. It was not so clear and simple after all. Pentecostalism would have an ever-evolving body of various teachings, many times contradicting each other. Accusations of sexual immorality plagued the end of Mr. Parham's ministry.

William J. Seymour

Mr. Seymour
Mr. Seymour was an African American Baptist minister turned holiness preacher who also professed a dissatisfaction with the Christianity of his day and sought a deeper experience. He had wandered through a few denominations before he stumbled upon Mr. Parham's meetings in Houston, Texas. He attended Parham's school in Houston. Due to the segregation of the times, Mr. Seymour was not able to sit in the classroom; instead, he listened to the lectures from the hallway. One writer states, "Though Seymour did not embrace every doctrine that Parham taught, he did embrace the truth of Parham's doctrine concerning Pentecost. He soon developed his own theology from it" (Ibid. p. 143). In 1906, Seymour made his way to Los Angeles, California, where he took a pastorate job. He immediately began to preach his newly found doctrine of speaking in tongues. As with the group in Topeka, Seymour and company spent hours seeking the "baptism of the Holy Spirit." At some point, a Mr. Lee began speaking in tongues, followed by others. People ran around purportedly prophesying and preaching; others claimed miraculous healings.

The group eventually found a building at 312 Azusa Street, and thus to this day it is frequently referred to as the "Azusa Street Revival." The meetings are described as "unique:" the seating was arranged so that the participants faced one another. The music was impromptu, no hymn books were used, the meetings had no program, leaving everything to the "direction of the Spirit." When the group thought that someone was not speaking from the "Spirit," they would begin to wail and sob. In a publication called The Apostolic Faith, "Seymour announced his intention to restore 'the faith once delivered' …" (Ibid. p. 154). As with Parham, the implication is obvious: the Apostolic Faith had been lost, and these men were chosen to restore it. At Azusa Street the alleged manifestations of the "Spirit" quickly began to take on unnatural symptoms: tongues became unintelligible babble, called a "prayer language;" participants also howled, writhed, shook, wailed, were seized by fits and spasms, and so forth. Asuza Street is the fount of most manifestations that are common today in the P/C movement, and most every Pentecostal denomination, whether directly or indirectly, can trace their founding to the participants of Azusa.3

Azusa Street Mission
Very quickly the move of the "Spirit" that was to unite all true believers began to fragment into rivaling groups. At some point, Mr. Parham traveled to the Azusa Mission, and there he relates in horror what he found, "I hurried to Los Angeles, and to my utter surprise and astonishment I found conditions even worse than I anticipated … manifestations of the flesh, spiritualistic controls, saw people practicing hypnotism at the altar over candidates seeking baptism, though many were receiving the real baptism … I found hypnotic influences, familiar-spirit influences, spiritualistic influences, mesomeric influences, and all kinds of spells, spasms, falling into trances, etc." (Ibid. 157,158). He also reproached it as “spiritual power prostituted.” At least Mr. Parham had the sense to understand, "The Holy Spirit does nothing that is unnatural or unseemingly, and any strained exertion of body, mind or voice is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but of some familiar spirit, or other influence. The Holy Spirit never leads us beyond the point of self-control or the control of others, while familiar spirits of fanaticism lead us both beyond self-control and the power to help others" (Ibid. p. 158). The "father of speaking in tongues" himself denounced the work at Azusa. One would think this to be a crushing blow to Seymour and followers, but it was not. Seymour merely banned Parham from the meetings stating, "Mr. Parham … is not the leader of this movement of Azusa Mission. We thought of having him to be our leader and so stated in our paper (The Apostolic Faith), before waiting on the Lord. We can be rather hasty, especially when we are very young in the power of the Holy Spirit …" Apparently, Seymour implies that he has now surpassed Parham in an understanding of the "Power of the Spirit." The Azusa Mission disregarded Parham's criticisms and claimed to have outgrown his immature thoughts. As with ensuing groups, they saw themselves as much more enlightened and filled with the "Holy Spirit," and thus were under no obligation to obey "men." Such a claim, of course, only becomes a convenient cover for pride and arrogance.

Most of the more stable and classic Evangelical ministers of the time denounced the movement: “G. Campbell Morgan, a highly respected evangelical preacher, called the Pentecostal movement 'the last vomit of Satan,' while R. A. Torrey claimed that it was 'emphatically not of God, and [was] founded by a Sodomite.' In his book, Holiness, the False and the True, Harry Ironside in 1912 denounced the movement as 'disgusting . . . delusions and insanities' and accused their meetings as causing 'a heavy toll of lunacy and infidelity.'”4

These fiercely denounced subjective experiences are the central bedrock of "theology" for the P/C movement.

The “Pentecostal” experience began in a way that would be somewhat acceptable to some Protestants, but once it gained traction it quick revealed its true nature: one that was unveiled at Azusa. Unaccountability, bizarre manifestations, and such things, all found a happy home under the excuse of “the Spirit is leading me.” Such “freedom” is irresistible.

The Azusa Mission quickly fell into distension. Seymour's various "disciples" rose up to claim a deeper "experience of the Spirit," much as Seymour had done with Parham. Seymour ended his days with a shell of a movement, after consecutive splits and fractures only about twenty people remained with him at the original Azusa Mission.

Charismatic movement

The Charismatic movement approximately marks the point when "Pentecostal" philosophy and style began to surface in "Mainline" denominations. Before the Charismatic movement "Pentecostals" were considered "fringe groups" by many Protestant denominations. Most sources consider a Mr. Dennis Bennett as the vanguard of the charismatic movement. He was an Episcopal minister in Van Nuys, CA. In 1960 he claimed to have experienced the "baptism of the Holy Spirit." Due to the conflict that this created in his congregation, he resigned and took another Episcopal church in Seattle, WA., named St. Luke's. This community became a center point in the early charismatic movement. “In a sense, Pentecostalism was entering the mainline (the Episcopal Church, no less) and this was news. This began the mainstreaming of continualist practices (like speaking in tongues, praying for healing, etc.) that were primarily found in Pentecostal churches that, up until now, were often on the fringe of Protestantism."5 Due to this movement, Pentecostalism quickly spread through “Mainline” Protestantism, and it did not stop there. It even made its way into the Roman Catholic Church. “Though much of the belief and practice of the Charismatic Movement came directly from the Pentecostals who had been around for nearly sixty years, the mainline churches who embraced such belief avoided the 'Pentecostal' label for both cultural and theological reasons.”6

“This new 'Charismatic' movement quickly spread to other mainline denominations and, by the mid-’60s ... The movement’s visibility and networks were further strengthened by the success of the Pentecostal-leaning “Jesus People” movement among American youth in the late ’60s and ’70s. In the 1980s, a vigorous, independent network of Charismatic churches and organizations (at times described as the “Third Wave”) emerged, including churches such as the Vineyard Christian Fellowship.”7

Thus, the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements are indeed one general movement. These novel and fringe movements have, through various means, become one of the most influential mindsets in modern Protestantism.

As we move forward, an important question to ask is: did the Ancient and early Church deal with any phenomenon similar to P/C movement? The answer is yes.

Part two is forthcoming ...

Part two may be found here:
Part three may be found here:

1My father has since also come home to the Orthodox Church, where he serves as a Deacon.
3Cf. Ibid. 163


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 judgment.    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 Tsar 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 most violent 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 few 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.