Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christ teaches us Obedience ( Part 1 ) - St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite

Jesus Christ, the Lord and God of all, to Whom every creature and all of creation submit, remained obedient to His parents. This is truly remarkable!
But if we carefully consider the persons whom He obeyed, the duration of His submission, and the extent of His obedience, we will stand awestruck before the unsurpassed and unparalleled obedience displayed by Christ.
The Lord’s obedience was extraordinary, firstly, on account of the people to whom He submitted Himself. Indeed, it would have sufficed if the
Lord obeyed only His Most-holy mother; for she was His biological mother who conceived Him from her immaculate flesh, who carried Him for nine entire months in her womb, and who later nurtured Him with her milk.
Consequently, He had a mandatory obligation to obey her, not only because He was her genuine and true Son, but also because He was the Law-giver Himself Who had commanded the following:
“Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you, and your days may be long upon the good land” (Ex. 20:12); “Hear my son, the instruction of your father, and do not reject the laws of your mother” (Pr. 1:9); “He who honors his father atones for his sins; and he who honors his mother is like one who stores up treasure. He who honors his father will be gladdened by his own children, and when he prayed, he will be heard. He who honors his father will have a long life, and he who obeys the Lord will give rest to his mother; and he will serve his parents as his masters.
Honor your father and mother in word and deed, that a blessing may come upon you from him” (Sir. 3:6).
The Lord, however, chose to be obedient even to Righteous Joseph, despite the fact that He was neither required nor obligated to do so. Joseph was not Christ’s true, biological father; the Lord Jesus was not Joseph’s genuine, natural son. Joseph’s fatherhood and Christ’s sonship were both a portrayal, not an actuality. Their father-son relationship was assumed to be and referred to as true kinship, but in essence it was not real. 

Despite this, the Lord desiring to display an extraordinary level of obedience submitted Himself indiscriminately and listened not only to His true mother but also to His supposed father Joseph, as if he was His real father. This is why St. Luke the Evangelist stated :
“Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and subjected Himself to them” (Lk. 2:51).


Monday, November 28, 2016

A paralyzed boy healed by St. John the Russian

St. John the Russian, depicted with St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. John of Kronstadt 

In one of the two children's hospitals of Athens, a mother lied at the head of her child day and night. She brought the child from Patras, because the child's chronic affliction, paralysis of the lower extremities, had worsened in the last few days...

One evening, while the sun was setting, and the last few sunbeams lit up the hospital room, the mother remembered how she would go to a chapel of the Panagia high above Patras, and prayed, lighting the vigil lamps, sometimes with her husband, other times with her children. Her nous was fixed on that chapel. She prayed noetically: “My Panagia, my sweetest Mother who feels our pain, help my child. My Panagia, send me a Saint, look at my poor child, how in his life, he is struggling to stand on his feet. Help, my poor little boy.”

“Mother,” the child said, “who are you talking to?”

“My Georgie, remember when you read in your church book how our Lord lived in Palestine, and healed demoniacs, opened the eyes of the blind, lifted up Paralytics and made them to walk, and raised the dead? Tell him, my Georgie, and He will hear you, my good boy, tell Christouli to make you well.”

The helpless child, with his innocent gaze, looked at his mother, and at the sun which was setting. He looked on high towards the heavens.

That midnight, George saw a dream of a beautiful horseman, on a glorious horse. He stopped before him and said:

“Get up, Georgie, jump up on my horse!”

“But I am a paralytic, my feet don't move and hold me up.” he replied.

“Give me your hand, Georgie, get up on my horse. I am St. John from Russia, and our Lord sent me to bring you His grace and His healing power!"

The child, half awake, then awoke his mother, who picked him up so that he wouldn't fall out of bed.

“Mother, hold me, St. John from Russia told me to get up.”

In the morning when the night resident told the professor that the paralyzed child from Patras began walking that night, went with a hammer in hand, checked the child's reflexes, and plucked his feet with a sharp instrument, and he saw that his body was functioning normally.

“Go,” said the professor, “God had something to do with you."

(8/17/77 – from the book “Life and new miracles of the Venerable John the Russian”, by Priest Ioannis Vernezou, 1999


St. Luke the Surgeon on Holy Water

"Drink Holy Water, the more often, the better. It is the best and most effective medicine. I'm not saying this as a priest, I'm saying it as a doctor, from my medical experience."

St. Luke the Surgeon, Archbishop of Simferopol

Friday, November 25, 2016

Striving towards God ( St. Macarius the Great )

Whoever strives towards God and really wants to become Christ’s follower must follow Him, endeavoring to improve himself and become a new person, not retaining anything within oneself that is peculiar to the ancient person — for it is said:" if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation."

St. Macarius the Great

Do not envy sinful people - Salvation of Sinners

  Animals, such as cows, that are raised in order to be slaughtered and butchered are allowed to graze and eat freely, and they are fed to be fattened. Conversely, animals that will be used for work or provide some service to man are trained, disciplined, and kept an a strict diet. This is what God does as well. He allows malicious people in this present life to grow fat as they indulge in carnal pleasures and sinful enjoyments because
such unfortunate people will finally end up in eternal Hell.

On the contrary, He tests and disciplines virtuous and righteous people in order to keep them in His heavenly mansion forever. Fruit-bearing trees that yield a crop and produce a bountiful harvest are pruned, they are sprayed with pesticides, and have
heavy weights attached to the end of their branches, which bend and pull the branches
downward. All these harsh measures, however,
are conducive to the tree bringing forth fruit.

Conversely, trees that do not produce fruit and are of no value to man are neither pruned nor clipped like fruit-bearing trees. However, once such trees grow and reach maturity, they are cut down,
completely uprooted from the ground, and subsequently used as firewood. This is what happens with man in this world as well. Virtuous people who produce useful and good works receive sorrows and lashes, whereas the
Righteous Judge does not punish evil and sinful people here because He is waiting to consume them eventually in the fire of Hell.

The prosperity and good fortune of ungodly people is actually a severe misfortune! For when such people observe nothing bad happening to them and that they are not punished in any way, they shamelessly and impudently proceed to carry out even greater sins and worse crimes.

Furthermore, when such a person remains
undisciplined, it is a sign that he will be punished and condemned, because the enemy does not disturb or assault his own friends. Thus it is apparent, just as we have illustrated above, that the more God loves someone, the more He allows one
temporarily, and for the time being, to experience discipline that is beneficial and ultimately life
-saving for the soul.

from The Salvation of Sinners

Monday, November 21, 2016

Theotokos: She is “the bridge by which God descended,” and again, “she who conducts those of earth to Heaven...

So, the Lord Jesus gives us this possibility to unite with God and return to the primary purpose which God ordained for man.
Therefore He is described in Holy Scripture as the way, the door, the good shepherd, the life, the resurrection, the light. He is the new Adam who rights the wrong of the first Adam.
The first Adam separated us from God with his disobedience and his egotism. With His love and His obedience to the Father, obedience unto death, to “death on the cross,” the second Adam, Christ, brings us back once more to God. Once again He orients our freedom towards God, so that by offering Him our freedom, we unite with Him.

The work of the new Adam pre-supposes the work of the new Eve, the Panagia who put right the wrong done by the old Eve. Eve drove Adam to disobedience.The new Eve, the Panagia, contributes to the incarnation of the new Adam who will guide the human race towards obedience to God. Therefore, as the first human person who achieved Theosis –in an exceptional and, of course unrepeatable, way– the Lady Theotokos played a role in our salvation which was not only fundamental, but both necessary and irreplaceable.

According to St. Nicholas Cabasilas, the great
14th century theologian, if the Panagia, in her obedience, had not offered her freedom to God, had she not said “yes” to God– God would not have been able to incarnate. Once God had given freedom to man, He would not have been able to violate His gift, so He would not have been able to incarnate if there had not been such a pure, all-holy, immaculate psyche as the Theotokos, who would offer her freedom, her will, all of herself totally to God so as to draw Him towards herself and towards us.
We owe so much to Panagia. This is why our
Church honours and venerates the Theotokos so much, so that St. Gregory Palamas, summarising Patristic theology, says that our Panagia holds the second place after the Holy Trinity;that she is god after God, the boundary between the created and the uncreated. “She leads those being saved,” according to another fine expression by a theologian of our Church. Recently St.Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, the steadfast luminary and teacher of the Church, pointed out that the angelic ranks themselves are illumined by the light they receive from the Panagia.

Therefore, she is praised by our Church as “more honourable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim.”
The incarnation of the Logos and the Theosis
of man are the great mystery of our Faith and Theology.
Our Orthodox Church lives this every day with its Mysteries, with its hymns, with its icons, with its whole life. Even the architecture of an Orthodox Church witnesses to this. The great dome of the churches, on which the Pantocrator is painted, symbolises the descent of Heaven to earth; it tells us that the Lord “bent down the Heavens and descended.” The Evangelist St.John writes that God became man “and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
So, we represent the Theotokos in the apse of the altar to show that God comes to earth and to men through her, because He became man through the Theotokos. She is “the bridge by which God descended,” and again, “she who conducts those of earth to Heaven,” the Platytera of the Heavens, the space of the uncontainable,who contained the uncontainable God within herself for our salvation.
To continue, our Churches show deified men; those who became gods by Grace because God became man. In our Orthodox Churches we can picture not only the incarnate God, Christ, and His immaculate Mother the Lady Theotokos,but we also show the saints around and below the Pantocrator; on all the walls of the Church we paint the results of God’s incarnation: sainted and deified men.

Thus, when we enter an Orthodox Church and see the beautiful holy icons, this is an immediate experience through which we learn what God’s plan is for man; what is the purpose of our life.
Everything in the Church talks to us about the incarnation of God and the Theosis of man.


The Most Holy Theotokos - According to Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain - Presented in San Francisco, October 6, 2012 by CZ

Your eminence Archbishop Kyrill,

Holy Fathers, Deacons, monastics, guardians of Our Myrrh streaming Virgin Nectary, brothers and sisters, Christ and His Mother are in our midst.

Our Most Holy Mother will always be with us because, although totally unworthy, we belong to the generations of Christians who call her blessed. Our presence here at Our Lady Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral, with St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco, continues to fulfill the prophetic words of her magnificent ode, after the Annunciation: “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!” And even though we belong among the most sinful generations of Christians, her miraculous and ever so fragrant presence among us validates and justifies the early melodist of our holy Church: “During Birth you preserved your Virginity and after your Dormition you did not abandon the world O Theotokos.”

What could be greater proof for this truth! For the past five years, she has blessed us with the paradisiacal myrrh of her Son. She anoints us with the heavenly fragrance of the Holy Trinity, the oil of gladness, according to the 45th Messianic psalm of King David. Yes, we can boast in the Lord, His Mother and our Mother Church, the pillar and foundation of the Truth! Only in Orthodoxy do we taste Paradise in this Life! We see, smell, taste, touch, and live the majesties of God with our body and soul! Emmanuel, God with us! At the same time, we are saddened by the orphanage of millions of non-Orthodox Christians around us, because they have never truly felt the warm embrace of such a majestic mother—the sweet kiss of our celestial mother. The myrrh, pouring from this icon that our impure lips come in contact with, is the sweet kiss of our Glykofilousa—the sweet kissing ever Virgin Mother.

The holy Virgin’s distant forefather David, the prophet and king, beautifully captures what we have been experiencing not only this weekend, but for the last five years with her miraculous myrrh steaming presence. Approximately 3060 years ago, he wrote about the majesties of the Messiah, His Bride the Church, and the Theotokos—the Virgin Mary—because our Virgin Mother is synonymous with the Church—and I quote:

“Therefore God, your God has anointed you with the elaion aggaliaseos, with the oil of gladness, more than your companions.”

What a stunning prophecy about the hidden mystery—hidden before all ages! Oil is material, and anointing can only take place in the physical world! A spirit cannot be anointed with oil! What God can be anointed? The God Who would be betrothed to His physical creation. The God Who would assume a physical body, in time. Therefore “God, your God has anointed you” … refers to the human nature of Christ.

The devil hid this verse from Arius and his contemporaries who fought the divinity of Christ. Remember, the Triune God addressed Jesus Christ as God approximately 3060 years ago! The next verse is equally astounding… “All your garments are scented with myrrh, aloes and cassia… All your garments are perfumed with Myrrh…” This is a phenomenal prophesy about the companions of Christ: the Virgin Mary, first and foremost, and all the Holy Virgins that she will lead to the palace of the king, according to the same psalm. We all have been sanctified and covered our spiritual nakedness with the garment called Christ! For as many of you have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ, according to Saint Paul. Adam and Eve were clothed with a God-woven garment, an immaterial garment, the garment of the Uncreated light… But after their tragic disobedience, they lost that fragrant garment, and they were dressed with the skins of dead animals. They lost the fragrance of Paradise, and they chose the stench of death and corruption…Our predecessors’ ill use of the gift of free will removed God from the center of their lives, so to speak… Yet, the love and the longing of the Hypostatic Wisdom was to live with men… One of the titles of Christ in the Old Testament is the Wisdom of God. “I the Wisdom (with capital W) was beside Him as a Master craftsman, and my delight was with the sons of men…” we read in the eighth chapter of Proverbs.

I am not giving out verses anymore… this is a good way to get some of you to read that whole Chapter.

Several weeks ago I was speaking at one of your parishes, The Holy Apostles in Beltsville Maryland and we had a most pleasant surprise … Metropolitan Ilarion stopped by to visit and stayed for the presentation. I protested and tried to convince him to teach, but I was unsuccessful. I was stunned by his simplicity and humility…With such leadership, it is no wonder God is blessing you with miraculous icons…I tried again to persuade him to speak after my talk, and he said very few words. Yet he was the real teacher that evening. He taught all of us by his simplicity and humility. May God grant him and all your hierarchs many years! One of his comments that evening was that we Orthodox are lazy in reading the Scriptures… So I thought from now on it would be a good idea to provide (only) the chapter, and those who love the word of God enough, will read through the chapter to locate the verse.

So, the delight of the Wisdom—Proverbs, Chapter Eight—was to wear garments and live with the sons of men. This was the kat’evdokian—the prior or primary will of God. God created the entire Universe through His Master Craftsman, Wisdom—His Word and beautified it to share His love with us.

The rebellion of Adam and Eve left the Wisdom homeless. Sin, death, and corruption insulated nature from God. He needed to borrow His initial physical garments from this physical world, but there were none compatible with the brilliant purity of God. According to St. Gregory of Thessaloniki, God cannot touch anything unclean, and the fall made the world unclean. The garments of man were full of blood, treachery, and evil.

According to the church Fathers and St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, the Incarnation of God was independent of the fall. The Wisdom would incarnate regardless of the fall. The ultimate purpose of man is to reach theosis, and this could not take place without the hypostatic (personal) union of the two natures of Christ. Thus, the prior or primary will of God was to incarnate and live with His creation. The delight of the Wisdom was to live with the sons of men.

His foreknowledge of the fall pre-eternally worked out a few minor adjustments. My elder and teacher, Athanasios Mitilinaios, calls this the concessionary or secondary will of God. This is extremely important especially for those converts who may struggle with the western doctrine of predestination. The foreknowledge of God does not contradict the concept of man’s free will. God predestines with His primary will but He economizes—He mends—the bad choices of man’s free will with His Secondary will. For example, the primary will of God was for Adam and Eve to stay in the garden without sin, then mankind would increase and multiply in an angelic manner.

In view of the fall, however, in view of that tragic ancestral sin, God’s foreknowledge pre-installed a sort of a safety net called gender, or marriage. So marriage between a man and a woman is that safety net that safeguards man from the inherited consequences of that early fall. Virginity and purity were the primary will of God, the state of His Kingdom. Marriage is certainly blessed by God, but it is His secondary will, and as such, it will not exist in the Kingdom of God where only His primary will shall prevail.

While preparing these lines, I glanced through the first chapters of Genesis and at the end of every creating day, God used the refrain: and God saw that it was good. He does this for all natural creation but not for mankind.

There we read: So God created man in His own image; male and female He created them. Here the refrain and God saw that it was good is missing.

At the end of the same Chapter, however, we read: Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. This very good, according to St. Nicodemos, who often quotes Saint Gregory Palamas and Saint Maximos the Confessor, includes the contribution of our Most Holy Virgin. Her amazing virtue and purity would work in a synergistic action with God to reverse Adam’s fall. Her words Let it be done to me according to your will would repair Adam’s ill will. God had His eyes on her and through her the renewal of man when He said everything was indeed very good.

The sin perpetuated by Adam and his descendants made the Wisdom homeless, incapable of acquiring His garments, His human nature. He needed a House according to the ninth chapter of Proverbs: Wisdom has built her house. She has hewn out Her seven pillar. …The house and real Temple of the Wisdom was Mary of Nazareth. Wisdom needed a sinless virgin to cloth Himself, so He could give birth to His Bride, the Church, to establish Her with the seven pillars—the sacraments of the Church—and to cry out: Come, eat of my Bread and drink of the wine I have mixed with water!... That water is the Zeon that our altar boys carry to the liturgist priest.

None of these mysteries could take place without the Let it be done according to your will of our Fragrant Virgin.

Please forgive me if I exhausted some of you with this lengthy and perhaps too theological introduction, but this knowledge will help us somewhat understand our saints’ preoccupation with, admiration, and adoration of the person of the Most Holy Theotokos. … The Great Gregory, the second theologian of our Church, sharply warns Kleidonios and all his followers past and contemporary: “Anyone who does not call Mary Theotokos— Birthgiver of God—is separated from divinity—he is godless…” very strong language from this otherwise very sensitive and most meek theologian.

Rightfully then and most befittingly, Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain concludes that only one person in human history surpassed the spiritual height of even the angelic world. According to this holy Father, all creatures communed “only of God’s energy, while our Lady received in herself, hypostatically, the second person of the Holy Trinity, ending up mainly and truly Theotokos … setting to prove that according to the volition and foreknowledge of God, the Theotokos was the most purposeful and utmost end of the entire creation.”

Naturally, the teaching of St. Nicodemos echoes the holy patristic teaching on the most Holy Theotokos, the teaching of the Church. The Saint’s most fervent eros of soul for the most Holy Theotokos is parallel to the deep love and the deep piety all holy Fathers felt towards the venerable person of the Mother of the Lord. Moreover, this is axiomatic in the area of Orthodox hagiologion: One cannot be a saint without first being a lover of the Mother of God. The theology of the Theotokos of Saint Nicodemos is the result of the profound piety, love, and personal experience of the Saint, who lived and was in constant occupation with her name. According to the verbal tradition of his contemporary monks, the Most Holy Theotokos would often appear to him and tell him: “I bless you, my child Nicodemos, and strengthen you to write.”

Of course, all the saints (precisely because they were saints) with their strong spiritual vision discerned that the Most Holy Theotokos drew the love of God, and she became very beloved and desired of the only desired One because of her universal holiness. However, even the Saints confess their complete inability to approach, even partially, the bottomless ocean of the mystery of her ever virginity. Basil of Seleucia writes relatedly, “How can I dare to investigate the virginal ocean and depth of the great mystery, unless you O Theotokos teach me, the inexperienced swimmer that I am, to cast off the old man corrupted from the deception of desire?”

Saint Nicodemos’ great love for the person of the most Holy Theotokos drove him to be insatiably occupied with her name, with the blessedness, and with all the majesties which the Mighty One did for her (Luke 1:49).

The saint wrote in his Theotokarion, which includes 2450 hymns to the Virgin, full of contrition and read in our monasteries daily, “[from all the creatures] she only from birth became by disposition completely unmoved towards evil. She had forever put to death the passionate inclinations of the three parts of soul [noetic, appetitive, and irascible] for she gave birth to the Creator of all and (to) a man crucified in the flesh.” In the interpretation of the Ninth Ode, Saint Nicodemos continues to develop his theology of the superior worth of the Theotokos compared to the rest of the created world of people and angels, “The Virgin Mary, with her ultra supernatural purity in all her life and especially during the period of the twelve years in the Holy of Holies, was deemed worthy to become Mother of the Son and Word of God Himself.”

And the Saint continues, “Who else was more theoretical* and capable to transverse into the mysteries of heaven more so than the Theotokos; no one, from the ranks of Angels or men more than her, understood the majesties of God.”

Yet in our recent theology, especially in the academic area where the Protestant influence has been intense, we may hear the expression “the first after the One” distinguishing the intellectual and theological profundity of the “mouth of Christ” of the Apostle Paul. The Apostle of the Gentiles certainly was a vessel of grace, a chosen vessel, a tireless servant of the Word.

But the holy living Tradition which saves the Church from this sort of intellectual theologians through the centuries, singles out one theologian par excellence who is “higher than the heavens and purer than the rays of the sun” according to St. Nicodemos, who summarizes the universal consciousness of the Fathers of the Church by attempting to appraise the unrepeatable and forever unique person of the Theotokos. As St. Nicodemos expounded in his confession of faith, in Orthodox theology “the first after the One” is our Virgin Mother, and the Orthodox views of the Kollivades (Saint Nicodemos, Saint Makarios of Corinth, and Athanasios Parios) stressing the need for continuous holy Communion and concerning the performing of memorials on the appointed day of Saturday and not Sunday created storms in the souls of the 18th century “zealot and uneducated monks of the Holy Mountain” resulting in him being slandered with rage for twenty-two years.

The sacred community of the Holy Mountain, naturally, justified and acquitted the Saint from this unsacred war, whose cause was a daring hypothesis in the footnotes of his newly published book, Unseen Warfare, which said, “With every right the Holy Triune God, enjoyed and greatly rejoiced before the ages foreknowing according to His divine knowledge, the Ever Virgin Mary. Because it is the opinion of certain theologians that if we were to assume that all the nine ranks of angels would be torn down from the heavens and would become demons, if all of the people from the ages would become evil and all go to hell … With all of this, all these evils compared to the Theotokos’ fullness of holiness would not be able to sadden God, because the Lady Theotokos alone would be able to please Him in all and for all. …she alone loved Him above all, because she alone obeyed His will, above all, and because she alone was capable and receptive of all those natural, optional, and supernatural gifts—which God distributed to all creation …”

All these gifts of the Most Holy Theotokos are listed in the content of his interpretation of the Ninth Ode where the insatiable longing of the Saint is poured out, “Oh most sweet in person and in name Mariam, what passion is this that I feel in myself? I cannot get enough of the praises of your majesties! For the more I praise them all, the more I desire them, my longing is forever kindled, and my desire becomes insatiable …”

In the passage “for He looked upon the humility of His handmaiden,” Saint Nicodemos underlines the depth of our Virgin’s humility and footnotes, “The Theotokos did not only have the depth of humility rooted in her heart, but as from a spring springing forth, it flooded all the external members of her all pure body …” In her whole demeanor, in her movements, in her words, and in all her inner character and appearance, her humility shone like the sun … Generally speaking, the presence of the Lady Theotokos radiated so much divine grace and respect, that, whoever first gazed upon her, received in his soul such reverence and compunction … even from that initial glance one knew—merely from her external character—that she truly is the Mother of God …

St. Dionysius the Areopagite, like all the saints, had great love for Christ, his Lord. When he was informed that Christ’s all pure Mother was still alive, he travelled from Athens to meet her. When he first gazed upon her divine countenance and her amazing and royal beauty, not to mention all the angels who were encircling her as a queen, he was dumbfounded… finally upon hearing the godly words of her all pure mouth, he was amazed and awestruck, confessing that her physical character and appearance alone proclaimed her to be the Mother of God.”

The Lady fully possessed the God-woven garment of humility. Although she was chosen to be the true Mother of God and queen of all creatures visible and invisible, she addressed herself as the slave of the Lord at the annunciation of Archangel Gabriel with the most natural ease. The more a soul is purified and perfected, the more she feels her weakness and unworthiness. Such was the depth of the Ever Virgin’s humility that she considered herself unworthy to be the servant of the Virgin of Isaiah, who would give birth to the Messiah according to our host, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (Isaiah, 7:14). Also some teachers consider “that the Virgin, out of her great and unparalleled humility, did not reveal the annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to her betrothed Joseph, so that she might not seem boasting and proud, but she left God to inform him from above.”

Some of the personal majesties of the Theotokos are her relative sinlessness and her personal struggle. According to Saint Gregory of Thessaloniki, as a little child, the Theotokos in the Holy of Holies invented the “noetic action” and was the inventress of noetic prayer and noetic hesychasm, “for through the return of the nous to the heart and everlasting prayer, she was elevated above each form and shape and thus constructed a new path to heaven—noetic silence—through which she ascended above all creatures and envisioned the glory of God more perfectly than Moses, saw divine grace which cannot be captured by the senses, but is a most graceful spectacle of angels, monks, and of pure souls.”

St. Nicodemos in his book Garden of Graces continues with the “majesties that the mighty One has done for her”:

1. God foreknew her and fore chose her before all creation to serve in the mystery hidden before all ages.

She is the distillation of all seventy-seven generations of the righteous, before and after the law, from Adam all the way to Righteous Joachim according to Saint Basil the Great.

2. She is the acrostic of every prophet and the beginning of all the prophecies beginning in Genesis.

3. She is the mother of Grace before the time of grace.

4. He has made her wider than the heavens for having contained the Uncontainable God in her womb.

5. The majesty of all majesties was the supernatural conception of God the Word, Who did not grow in her womb according to the common laws of developmental biology. Saint Basil teaches in his Christmas homily that “the Infant formed itself instantly and not by small divisions [of cells and blastomeres]…” The saint is suggesting that in the absence of gametes and ova, there was a different kind of development, not so different from that of the Old Adam. The Master crafting Wisdom fashioned the Old Adam out of clay. Once again, 2000 years ago the same Master-crafting Wisdom fashioned His garment, His human nature from the all pure blood of the Virgin, and the King of all was seen for the first time by the Archangel Gabriel during the Annunciation according to the Theotokion of the first tone, “While Gabriel was saying rejoice to you oh Virgin, at the sound of the voice the Master of all was incarnating. … The Virgin carried the tiny Infant which continued to grow naturally for nine months without any birth pains and without any feeling of weight or exhaustion.

6. Finally, she gave birth to the One through Whom all was made without any change and corruption. She preserved and maintained her virginity during this supernatural birth and for the rest of her life, since she was totally devoted to the primary will of God, which preordained virginity. In the absence of this crystal clear patristic Orthodox theology, our non-orthodox Christian neighbors struggle with the brothers of Jesus for centuries now and very recently have slipped to the sad point of ascribing carnal thoughts and even a marriage to the Son of God, Whom they obviously no longer accept as One with the Trinity. This is nothing other than the spirit of the Antichrist according to Saint John the Divine. The Orthodox position is that the hypostatic union of the two natures made Jesus totally immune to any worldly desires and temptations. Jesus was the only true man who never deviated from the perfect will of God as the Father proclaimed during Epiphany and Holy Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased.”

According to Saint Nicodemos, the Lady Theotokos continued her personal struggle after her Son’s Resurrection and Ascension, “The Lady Theotokos strove honorably to also struggle after the Ascension of her Son, with fasting, prayers, prostrations, and with every kind of ascetic struggle …”

In the passage of the ode “and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior” the Saint summarizes the Church’s teaching on the Theotokos’ relative sinlessness. He Who would save the world from its sins also saved the Theotokos from the ancestral sin, because although the Theotokos was higher than every voluntary sin, forgivable and mortal … she was, however, subject to the ancestral Sin until the Annunciation. Then she was cleansed of this through the coming of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Nicodemos places her ever-virginity, Resurrection, Translation, and Ascension in the Kingdom of the Heavens, in the supernatural majesties of the Theotokos.

Saint Nicodemos in his book, Garden of Graces, includes Saint Augustine’s testimony on the Theotokos’ inconceivable worth, “If the great Creator God, Who brought everything into being from non being, was able to make more perfect creatures, of course, He was able by being Almighty; three things, however, God Himself could not do more perfectly: the humanity of Christ, the birth-Giving worthiness of the ever Virgin Mary, and the everlasting glory of the Blessed ones.”

In the light of the above, we cannot agree with the opinion of some theologians in the Orthodox sphere who claim that the Virgin’s mediation or intercession, as they hasten to call it, does not differ essentially from the intercession of other saints. It is known that a few decades ago, the Tradition of the Church of Christ which prays “Most Holy Theotokos save us” was doubted. Only God, they say, saves. The All Holy Virgin Mary can only intercede like every saint. Certainly, the Church prays “by the intercessions of the Theotokos, Savior save us” but also chants “and I have you as a mediatrix towards the philanthropic God,” and since our Lady is “More Honorable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim,”—“the Saint greater than saints,”—“God after God,” all this implies that her intercession—her mediation—is incomparably higher than that of the saints and angels.

It seems the danger of rationalism and humanism continues to lurk in the Orthodox world today. This danger was much greater in the age of Saint Nicodemos because the Orthodox lands were impoverished by the enslavement to the Ottoman Turks. The “saved” missionaries of Protestantism “were running rampant in the forsaken vineyard of Balkan Orthodoxy attempting to save the Orthodox.” Perhaps this is why Saint Nicodemos puts forth an excellent argumentation for the superior mediation—intercession—of the Virgin Mother to her Son and God. The Saint begins his apology from the inspired canon of Pentecost “…look, he argues,… the melodist did not say that the Virgin gave or granted, or another such word, but that she lent flesh to the Creator of all, she gave a loan to the Word of the Father… This implies that the Theotokos, through such a loan, made the Son of God a debtor to herself.” The Saint further elaborates that this was a loan of a different type and irrelevant to the “external” loans of money and objects which are usually returned with interest in the commercial world. The loan to the “All-crafting Wisdom of God” was inner and everlasting, and with no prospect of repayment. The hypostatic union of Christ is irrevocable since God the Word will be endlessly united with the human nature (a loan from the All Holy Virgin Mary) because this presence of human nature makes him the ontological Mediator between Creator and creature, God and man. Without the presence of human nature, the “impossibility of the Old Testament Moses to see God” would be prevailing until today. As a result, those various heretics who set the boundary for the work of Christ’s salvation at Golgotha and those who argue that the body of Christ dissipated during the Ascension are delirious! Far be it! Saint Nicodemos would say, who further theologizes: “What can we conclude from this? Since the Son of God is permanently indebted to His Mother, for this reason first He needed to glorify her with all the Godbefitting glories and honors unknown to another creature; secondly, since the loan He received from her is endless, He must now endlessly fulfill the petitions and requests of His Mother…”

And the Theotokofilos Nicodemos continues, “Did you ever see such glory, my beloved? Did you see the majesties of the Virgin? Hasten to her with piety and faith and your prayer requests in all matters of salvation will be answered.”

Your Eminence, the love and compassion of the Queen of heavens knows no boundaries according to this wonderful story from St. Cosmas the Aetolian.

According to St. Cosmas, a certain Christian named John surrendered to the evil path of thievery. He became the captain of a band of an hundred thieves, but he also had great reverence for the Mother of God, which he probably inherited from his pious home. He never failed to pray the salutations to our all holy Mother, morning and night.

Soon enough, the mercy of God, through the intercession of the Panagia, the all holy Virgin enlightened a holy ascetic to visit this band of robbers and preach to them the word of salvation. He convinced the captain, John, to summon all his followers, and the clairvoyant ascetic saw that one was missing. “Who is missing?” he asked. Indeed, the cook was missing. The ascetic requested his presence, and this cook upon his arrival refused to look at the man of God in the face. The holy ascetic ordered this strange cook: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to tell us your name and where you come from…” He replied, “I am the master of lies…but now that you have bound me with the Name of Christ I am forced to tell the truth… I am a demon and my master sent me here to serve Captain John, eagerly waiting for that first day that he would skip his prayers to the Mother of God, so I can take his soul straight to hell. I have been here for fourteen years and he has never omitted his ‘Rejoice Bride Unwedded’!”

The ascetic distanced the demon to the other side of the world, and then he evangelized the thieves who showed exemplary repentance. Some became monks, and some were married and lived very pious lives.

Your Eminence, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this story beautifully exemplifies the love of our Lord and His mother for every sinner. There is nothing more precious to the Lord on this earth than a few drops of tears from a contrite heart. Even one tear of true repentance outweighs a ton of good works done in the absence of repentance.


Your Eminence, the par excellence theological title, which renders the All Holy Virgin Mary’s position in Orthodox theology, is Theotokos. The term Theotokos goes directly to the heart of the Christological dogma and, due to this, it was natural for it to be contested by a number of heretics, who distorted different aspects of the Christological doctrine and the hypostatic union of God the Word. In the Church’s conscience, the Theotokos is classified as the “bulwark of faith” and as an unshakable term, it comprises a formidable fortress against all Christological heresies. In the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, the name Theotokos is unbreakably associated with the soteriological consequence of the name Theanthropos, and the Theotokos, as a term and as a person was, and remains throughout the centuries the anchor of salvation “of those who kiss her venerable icon.” Alongside the title of Theotokos, the Fathers and teachers of the Church validated the title ever Virgin Mary in the Fifth Ecumenical Counsel in the Ninth Canon, formulating the correct faith about Christ, “incarnated of the holy glorious Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary” as the Liturgy of the Sacred Chrysostom preserves till today.

The multitude of prophecies, depictions, types, and symbols of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Old Testament proclaim the unrepeatable person of the All Holy Virgin Mary, truly making her the “ladder, bridge, and gate” of mankind’s salvation. In his work “Eortodromion” Saint Nicodemos conducts comprehensive commentaries interpreting the hymnographers and melodists throughout the centuries who “borrowed” from the prophetic word for the interweaving of their hymns for the Mother of God. Extending the theology of the Fathers, Saint Nicodemos declares that the “center, end and purpose of the whole law, all the sayings and enigmas of the prophets is the Theotokos herself, and before her, God the Word Who incarnated from her.” Like other Theotokos-loving Saints, Nicodemos used a large part of his writings to express his insatiable longing for the “incomprehensible miracle” of the Mother of God.

Interpreting the Ninth Ode, St. Nicodemos theologizes on the superior worth of the Most Holy Theotokos vis-à-vis the other creatures. The Theotokos exceeds every creature in purity, brilliance, simplicity, inexpressible longing, and perfect obedience to the will of God. So the gifts of the Theotokos make her “full of grace” before the Annunciation and Mother of grace before the time of grace, Pentecost. With the “behold the handmaid of the Lord” the all holy Virgin Mary was cleansed of the Adamian stain and “became spotless and undefiled” to serve the mystery of “rebirth” lending her all pure blood to the new Adam.

The indwelling of Christ in the virginal womb of the Theotokos graced her and deified her to an incomparable degree in relation to any other creature and, according to Fr. Athanasios Mitilinaios, He made her the ontological mediatrix between the human race and the new Adam, her Son, although this may sound excessive to some.

The Most Holy Theotokos certainly saves because according to the davidic psalm, she is the Queen who is standing at the right of the King, her Son, Who sits “at the right of the Father” in the kingdom of the heavens.

Most Holy Theotokos protect us, shield us, and save us from the fiery darts of the evil one through the prayers of our holy Hierarchs. Amen.

Written (in Greek) by C. Zalalas

Translated by Fr. Nicholas Palis

Edited by Eliades/Zalalas/Reznic

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Young Children in the Orthodox Church

               Preparing for Sunday Liturgy

On Sunday morning, the family should get up in a timely manner, so that all can be properly prepared to go to Church. Large families sometimes find it difficult to have all the children washed, dressed, and brushed in time without a lot of nagging, arguing, and rushing around frantically trying to attend to last minute details. A little organization can go a long way toward a serene beginning to this holy day. First of all, have each child's church clothes laid out the night before, already inspected by a parent so that there will be no last minute arguments about inappropriate, mismatched, stained or torn apparel. Children four years old and older can certainly dress themselves. Older siblings can help the younger ones.

Good grooming is important, both from a spiritual and a psychological standpoint. Dress a child in playclothes and he will be prepared to play. This was once a guiding principle behind school dress codes and is a reason that many public schools nowadays are requiring uniforms. Little boys should wear suits to Church, just as the men do (or should). It is not necessary to spend a fortune. A hand-me-down or a thrift shop bargain will suffice as well a new suit to fix the idea in the child's mind that he is wearing special clothing to a special place where he is expected to act like a man. Not only will the suit serve to instill in him a sense of dignity, but it will also restrict his movements somewhat so that sloppy, casual behavior is rendered far more difficult. Dress shoes go with a suit. Not only do tennis shoes look ridiculous on someone attired properly for Church, but they contradict the message (which should be reinforced constantly) that Church is not a place to play.

Little girls should wear nice dresses and dress shoes. Even from infancy, their heads should be covered. Some people who are misinformed about Orthodox tradition may try to tell you that girls do not need to wear a scarf or hat until they are twelve. Perhaps this has become confused with the age children are usually confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church or they think that the head covering somehow signals to the community that the girl will soon be available for marriage.

Whatever the source of the misconception, it has no basis in Orthodox tradition whatsoever. Girls and women should arrive at Church with their heads covered, stand throughout the service with their heads covered, and leave Church the same way. This is done for spiritual purposes concerning modesty and humility. Therefore, do not be misled into believing that the headcovering needs to be worn only when confessing or communing (another popular myth).

Girls, no matter what age, should NEVER wear pants to Church (or anywhere else, for that matter). It is easy to fall to the mistaken idea that toddlers should be exempt from such a rule. Yes, they are cute and they crawl around on the floor but little girls are not puppies. They will grow up to be women, hopefully women worthy of praise and emulation. It is much better to train a child correctly from a very young age than to impose something suddenly at an arbitrary stage of maturity. The very fact that it is arbitrary and based on personal opinion rather than any teaching of the Church will create feelings of rebellion in the child for which you may have difficulty finding an adequate response. In any case, if your concern is primarily that the weather is cold, have the child wear leggings or tights under her dress.

Boys and girls should be clean and their hair brushed. Even a very small child experiences anticipation and a sense of awe about an event for which they are being so carefully prepared. When a child is allowed to go to Church looking unkempt, dressed in whatever assortment of clothes that came to hand that morning, that child will look and feel like an afterthought - someone who had to be dragged along when the parents wanted to go to Church. No one should expect an "afterthought" to be terribly thrilled about the idea of attending services or to be very cooperative when he gets there. Another important aspect to be considered is that, fair or not, the child will judged by the adults at Church according to his or her appearance and treated accordingly. Warm approval and compliments from adults other than his parents can have a very positive and encouraging effect on a small child. He will not receive any such attention if it does not appear that even his parents think enough of him to do more than toss some wrinkled clothes at him in the morning.

The tone of parental expectations and familial participation can be set during communion prayers before the family even leaves for Church. As at all prayer times in the icon corner, the children should be expected to stand quietly and reverently. Even very small children should be with their parents at this time because even if they do not understand the words of the prayers, they do understand the serious attitude of the parents. This will help to accustom them to particular behavior whenever prayer is being said, thus preparing them to be quiet and attentive in Church. Children who are old enough to read should be allowed to read some of the communion prayers. This will help them to understand that, as they mature, they will be expected to take on some of the responsibilities of adults. Spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally they will respond with enthusiasm to this invitation to become a contributing member of the family Church.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Theology of Christian Marriage

Marriage: an Orthodox view
The Orthodox Church understands marriage as a holy mystery (sacrament); the union of two human persons, one male and the other female, as a sign of the love of Christ for the Church, fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. There can be no such thing as a homosexual marriage.[1]

1 Introduction

Christian theologians do not seem to have paid very much attention to marriage in the past. There have not been such clearly worked out dogmatic definitions for marriages as there have been, for example, in Christology.

In Christology, however, until the First Ecumenical Council (Nicaea, 325) there were also not such clearly articulated dogmas concerning the nature of Christ. It was only when the divinity of Christ was questioned by Arius that the need was felt for a clearer statement, and it was one of our own African bishops, St Athanasius the Great, who helped to formulate the Nicene Creed that was produced by the council. And it took several more councils before we had the doctrinal statement, the Symbol of Faith we have today.

As in the time of Arius and Athanasius, the nature of marriage is being questioned today, and so there needs to be a more carefully-worded and clearly worked out statement of the theology of marriage. This paper is not such a statement. This paper is merely an attempt to draw together some strands of what the Orthodox Church has taught about marriage up till now.

2 The theology of marriage

The Orthodox Church’s understanding of marriage is primarily ontological and sacramental, not juridical.

The Orthodox sacrament of holy matrimony does not carry the meaning of a legal contract. By considering the institution of marriage as a legal contract, one begins the process of transforming the whole sacrament into a juridical issue, and transforming the Church into a mundane legislator.

Consequently, it eliminates the principles of love and grace which make love grow immeasurably. It also emphasizes the concept of ownership, which is encompassed in the concept of contract.

Though marriage often has a legal and juridical aspect, that is not the starting point for a discussion of what marriage is.

2.1 The anthropology of marriage

The starting point for understanding marriage can be seen in Mark 10:27, when the Pharisees came to our Lord Jesus Christ and asked him about the lawfulness of divorce. In other words, it was a juridical and legal question. But Jesus does not answer the question in a juridical and legal manner, but rather in an ontological one: “But from the beginning God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ was referring to two passages from the beginning of Genesis. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:27) and “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:23-24).

According to the Scriptures, therefore, God did not start by making an individual, but a community, a marriage. “It is not good for man to be alone” so God made man male and female. There is a Zulu proverb that illustrates this: Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu — a person is a person because of people.[2]

In making man male and female, God deliberately creates sexuality. The author of Genesis knew the difference between a cow and a bull, but did not see fit to mention this sexual difference when describing the creation of cattle. This is because man can debase sexuality in a way that cattle cannot. Man can treat sexuality as something alien and hostile, as an invention of demons, as many gnostics did. It is also noteworthy that having made the sexual distinction in man at creation, God makes no other distinction. There is no distinction between Greek man and Jewish man, black man and white man. There is only man, male and female.

Male and female are not interchangeable. There is a unity and a difference; male man is incomplete without female man; female man is incomplete without male man. Western culture tends to deride and devalue this complementarity and the need for community. There was a saying that was common a few years back that illustrates this: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. This rejects the idea of “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”. Denying the complementarity, however, is like saying that having two left feet is the same as having a left foot and a right foot.

In all this we are considering marriage from an ontological and anthropological point of view. This is what human beings are. This is what God made man to be; not alone, but longing for the other, different yet the same.

In human history, marriage has taken many forms. In some societies there have been polygamous marriages, and polygamy has been seen as normal. This has very often been caused by the mode of production. When economic circumstances change, the pattern of marriage changes. But in discussing creation the authors of Genesis, even though they themselves lived in polygamous societies, described the ideal of marriage, the God-intended form of marriage, as the marriage of one male person with one female person.

2.2 Marriage as a sacrament

The anthropological and ontological view of marriage looks at what marriage is, as a human institution. There have been various laws and customs in different societies that have applied to marriage. But the legal and social dimensions of marriage do not determine what marriage is.

What of Christian marriage? Or a specifically Christian understanding of marriage?

We do not even remember today that marriage is, as everything else in “this world,” a fallen and distorted marriage, and that it needs not to be blessed and “solemnized” – after a rehearsal and with the help of the photographer – but restored. This restoration, furthermore, is in Christ and this means His life, death resurrection and ascension to heaven, in the pentecostal inauguration of the “new eon,” in the Church as the sacrament of all this. Needless to say, this restoration infinitely transcends the idea of the “Christian family,” and gives marriage cosmic and universal dimensions (Schmemann 1982:82).

The Christian understanding of marriage, therefore, is primarily in relation to the Eucharist, which is the sacrament of all these things. In the early Church there was no separate marriage ceremony. Married couples brought their life together into the Church by participating together in the Eucharist. The development of a separate marriage service is basically an extension of this.

2.2.1 The marriage service

The Orthodox marriage service is in two parts: the Betrothal and the Crowning.

The Betrothal, in which the main feature is the exchange of rings, normally takes place in the narthex of the temple. It represents the natural marriage, marriage as a human institution, Even in Western Christian marriage rites, in the past the custom was for marriage to take place at the church door or porch.

The prayers mention the betrothal of Isaac and Rebecca, and the priest, after blessing the rings, makes the sign of the cross over each of the parties three times, saying that “The servant of God N is betrothed to the servant of God M, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The priest then puts the bride’s ring on the bridegroom’s right hand, and the bridegroom’s ring on the bride’s right hand.

This concludes the betrothal. Unlike Western marriage services, there is no exchange of vows, no legal contact that is ended by death “till death us do part”.

The priest then leads the couple into the nave of the church, to the singing of a psalm, and the crowning service takes place in front of the royal doors, with more prayers. The crowns are placed on the heads of the bridegroom and bride, and, in some traditions, exchanged between them either by the priest or by the best man.

The crowning expresses the distinctively Christian and sacramental aspect of marriage. The priest says “Crown them with glory and honour”, which recalls Psalm 8, and also Hebrews 2, in which the Psalm is quoted. This refers to fallen man restored to fellowship with God in Christ, and restored to rightful dominion over the earth. The couple are to be king and queen to each other, and their life together is to be a witness (martyria) to the kingdom of God, a little kingdom, and a little church, a cell of the Body of Christ. And so the crowns are also martyrs crowns, and this is referred to in the song that is sung as they circle the analogion three times anticlockwise:

Rejoice O Isaiah, a virgin is with child

And shall bear a Son Emmanuel

He is both God and man

And Orient is his name.

Magnifying him, we call the virgin blessed.

O holy martyrs

Who fought the good fight

and have received your crowns

entreat the Lord God

that he will have mercy upon our souls.

Glory to Thee, O Christ God

The apostles’ boast, the martyrs’ joy

Whose preaching was the consubstantial Trinity.

Christian marriage, therefore, is to be a sign and a witness of the restoration of marriage, and of mankind and all creation from their fallen state, and to be restored to fellowship and communion with God. The love of the married couple for each other must overflow as a witness of the love of God. So Christian marriage, as expressed in the crowning, is to transform the fallen human institution of marriage itself, and also to participate in the transformation of the fallen world.

The marriage is not simply between the couple themselves, but there is a third person present, Christ Himself. If their life together is to be a “little church”, then it cannot be without Christ who said “without me you can do nothing”. So everything in the service is done in threes: the rings and crowns are blessed three times, and the Dance of Isaiah is a triple circling of the analogion. And their marriage is a preaching without words, a preaching whose content, like that of the apostles and martyrs, is the consubstantial Trinity.

One of the primary features of their witness (martyria) will be that if God blesses them with children, they will bring up their children in the knowledge and fear of the Lord.

Holy Matrimony is a sacrament indeed, because through marriage the Kingdom of God becomes a living experience, in the midst of the Eucharistic community. In the Body of Christ the husband and wife can become the flesh of each other in a way unique to the measure of the unity of Christ and His Church. Sacramental marriage is like other marriages, but it does not belong to this world in its content and experience. Holy matrimony is a testimony to God and a way toward theosis, a way toward eternity (Fr. Michel Najim).

Fr Alexander Schmemann (1982:88) also points out what marriage is not:

We can now understand that its true meaning is not that it merely gives a religious “sanction” to marriage and family life, reinforces with supernatural grace the natural family virtues. Its meaning is that by taking the “natural” marriage into “the great mystery of Christ and the Church,” the sacrament of matrimony gives marriage a new meaning; it transforms, in fact, not only marriage as such, but all human love…

For the Christian, natural does not mean either self-sufficient – a “nice little family” – or merely insufficient, and to be, therefore, strengthened and completed by the addition of the “supernatural.” The natural man thirsts and hungers for fulfillment and redemption. This thirst and hunger is the vestibule of the Kingdom: both beginning and exile.

2.3 Marriage, virginity and celibacy

We have seen that the sexual distinction in man is one made by God in creation. God made man male and female, and sexuality is therefore not something intrinsically evil. But, like many other things, it has been debased, abused, and distorted since the Fall.

One of the ways in which sexuality has been abused is by idolising it, by turning it into a little god, and then claiming that anything and everything that impedes or hinders the acting on any sexual urge is bad. For Christians, such a belief is an error, as is the opposite error (propounded by many Gnostics) that sexuality and sexual urges are bad in themselves.

For this reason Orthodox Christians practise fasting on certain days and seasons, restraining not just sexual urges, but restraining other bodily appetites as well. Fasting is, of course, primarily the abstention from food, or certain kinds of food. According to Genesis 3, it was failure to abstain from certain kinds of food that led to the Fall in the first place.

In addition to saying that a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, our Lord Jesus Christ also said that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30). And so there are those whom God calls to forgo the blessings of marriage, and to live the angelic life on earth. And this too is a witness; a witness that we do not need to be slaves to our bodily desires, that sex or food are not the last word in human fulfilment.

Thus for Orthodox Christians marriage and monasticism go together. Marriage and monasticism are two different ways of manifesting the mystery of our communion with Christ.

As one monk put it, the monasteries are the lungs of the church. The world is enemy-occupied territory, enveloped in a mantle of pollution. But Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. But in order to participate in that work of salvation the Church needs to be able to breathe the pure air of heaven, and so we need monasteries as the lungs. But we also need to descend into the muck and pollution in order to be able to participate in Christ’s saving work.

In both of these ways, however, we cannot expect unbroken success in this world. Some marriages fail, and end in divorce. Some that do not end in divorce are nonetheless marred by the adultery of one or both partners, or by violence or cruelty. As Schmemann (1982:89) puts it,

This is what the marriage crowns express: that here is the beginning of a small kingdom which can be something like the true Kingdom. The chance will be lost, perhaps even in one night; but at this moment it is still an open possibility. Yet even when it has been lost, and lost again a thousand times, still if two people stay together, they are in a real sense king and queen to each other. And after forty odd years, Adam can still turn and see Eve standing beside him, in a unity with himself that in some small way at least proclaims the love of God’s Kingdom.

And so too with monasteries. One monk said that monastic life was not for the faint-hearted, because more people went to hell from monasteries than from anywhere else. It was so easy for a monk to lose his nipsis (watchfulness) and to fall into sin.

3 Legal and social dimensions of marriage

It should be clear by now that in the Orthodox view marriage is not primarily a legal contract, and the ontological and sacramental meaning is far more significant. Nevertheless, marriage does have legal and social dimensions, and these may or may not be compatible with the Church’s understanding of marriage.

3.1 The social dimension of marriage

The sacramental dimension of marriage is not something that the Orthodox Church would wish those who are not members of the Church to follow, though there have at times been problems with this. In the past, for example, the Greek government would not recognise the marriage of Greek citizens unless it was performed by an Orthodox priest, even if both were atheists.

But natural marriage is something given by God to the whole human race. It may be fallen, but even in its damaged form it can, through human love, reflect something of God’s love.

In South Africa, however, this natural marriage suffered almost irreparable damage from the ideology of apartheid and its implementation. Migratory labour and influx control meant that in many areas 90 percent of first babies were born to unmarried mothers. And the effects are felt even today, years after the end of apartheid. A large proportion of those coming to baptism from non-Orthodox families do not know who their fathers were. Even from the point of view of African traditional religion, they cannot venerate their ancestors, because they have no idea who those ancestors were. Thus the very concept of marriage is alien to many people in our country.

3.2 The legal dimension of marriage

The Constitutional Court of South Africa found in Minister of Home Affairs vs Fourie & Bonthuys (CCT 60/04) that by restricting marriage to couples of different sexes, the Marriage Act and the common law definition of marriage infringed the constitutional rights of those who wished to marry someone of the same sex.

In its judgement the Court referred to Discussion Paper 104 of the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC), which had suggested three possible alternatives:

1. Amending the Common Law definition of marriage and the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples.

2. Separating the civil and religious elements of marriage so that the Marriage Act will only regulate the civil aspects of marriage.

3. Providing a “marriage-like” alternative of civil unions with the same legal consequences of marriage.

Before being heard in the Constitutional Court the matter was heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), where Farlam JA pointed out, in a minority judgement, that in the Roman Empire marriage was not a concern of the State at all and even after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire this did not change.

One way of avoiding the difficulties arising from conflicting understandings of marriage might be to combine proposals 2 and 3 of the South African Law Reform commission in the light of the observations of Farlam JA and repeal the Marriage Act altogether, and for marriage to cease to be a concern of the State.

As the State registers commercial partnerships, it could replace the Marriage Act with legislation for the registration of social and domestic partnerships, which could include, but not be limited to marriage, regardless of what form such partnerships might take. Such partnerships could have similar legal consequences to those of marriage today, and clarify the legal rights and responsibilities of partners (I have said more about this here: Notes from underground: The State should get out of the marriage business).

4 Conclusion

The Orthodox Church believes that marriage is intrinsically and ontologically based on the union of two human beings, one male and the other female. Though this has become distorted in human society as a result of the fall, the aim of Christian sacramental marriage is to express and make present the promise of its restoration. Natural marriage has the potential of being restored in this way, as shown in the dual rite of Betrothal and Crowning.

There is, however, no way that a “marriage” between two persons of the same sex can be seen in this way. In the view of the Church such a union is not a marriage at all.

5 Bibliography

Schmemann, Alexander. 1982. For the life of the world: sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press

[1] In this paper I refer to “homosexual marriage”, and not “gay marriage”. While “homosexual” can refer to sexual orientation, in the phrase “homosexual marriage” it refers to the sex of the parties, whereas “gay” in this context refers to sexual orientation. While in Orthodox theology there can be no such thing as homosexual marriage, there is no legal or theological obstacle to gay marriage, and I know of no country where there has been. A gay person can marry someone of the opposite sex, who may or may not themselves be gay, and that has often happened.

[2] English-speaking Orthodox Christians are also uneasy about the current trend to use the word “man” to refer exclusively to male persons. There is no other word in English that expresses the notion of the human person in community. Most other languages have two words where English has only one. Greek has anthropos and aner, Zulu has umuntu and indoda, Russian has chelovek and muzhchina; but English has to make do with man and man for both meanings. The worldview of Western individualism means that Western people feel no loss in this, but it goes against Orthodox anthropology, which makes a distinction between the individual and the person. The individual is isolated, a person is in community and relationship with others and with God. Some recent translations have fallen into this error. One translation of the Symbol of Faith has changed “for us men and our salvation” to “for us and for our salvation”. The omission of tous anthropous is at least as great an error as the addition of the Filioque and opens the way to interpreting it as “for us Greeks and our salvation” (or Serbs, or Russians, or any other ethnic group one happens to belong to).



Why do we judge our neighbors? ( St. Seraphim of Sarov )

Why do we judge our neighbors? Because we are not trying to get to know ourselves. Someone busy trying to understand himself has no time to notice the shortcomings of others. 
 Judge yourself — and you will stop judging others. 
 Judge a poor deed, but do not judge the doer. It is necessary to consider yourself the most sinful of all, and to forgive your neighbor every poor deed.

 One must hate only the devil, who tempted him. It can happen that someone might appear to be doing something bad to us, but in reality, because of the doer's good intentions, it is a good deed. Besides, the door of penitence is always open, and it is not known who will enter it sooner — you, "the judge," or the one judged by you.

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Monday, November 7, 2016

Atheism is a mental disorder ( St. Nektarios )

Atheism is a mental disorder: it is a terrible ailment of the soul that is difficult to cure. Atheism is a passion that severely oppresses whomever it seizes.
It holds in store many misfortunes for its captive, and becomes harmful not only for him but also
for others who come into contact with him.

Atheism denies the existence of God.
It denies that there is a divine Creator of the universe. It denies God’s providence, His wisdom, His goodness, and, in general, His divine qualities. Atheism teaches a falsehood to its followers and contrives false theories concerning the creation of the universe. It professes, as Pythia upon a tripod, that the creation is an outcome of chance, that it is perpetuated and preserved through purposeless,
random interactions, that its splendor transpired spontaneously over time, and that the harmony, grace, and beauty witnessed in nature are inherent
attributes of natural laws. Atheism detracts from God, Whom it has denied, His divine characteristics, and, instead, bestows them and His creative power to lifeless and feeble matter.

Atheism freely proclaims matter to be the cause of all things, and it deifies matter in order to deny the existence of a superior Being, of a supreme, creative Spirit Who cares for and sustains all things.
On account of disbelief, matter becomes the only true entity; whereas the spirit becomes non-existent.

For atheism, the spirit and the soul are egotistical inventions of man, concocted to satisfy his vainglory. Atheism denies man’s spiritual nature. It drags man down from the lofty height where he has been placed by the Creator’s power and grace, and lowers him amongst the rank of irrational animals, which he accepts as ancestors of his distinguished and noblelineage. Atheism does all this in order to bear witness to the words of the Psalm:
“Man, being in honor, did not understand; he is
compared to the mindless animals, and is become like unto them” (Ps. 48:20).

Atheism detracts faith, hope, and love from the
world, these life-giving sources of true happiness for man, it expels God’s righteousness from the world, and denies the existence of God’s providence and succor.

Atheism accepts the laws that exist in nature, yet denies Him Who has appointed these laws. Atheism seeks to lead man to an imaginary happiness; however, it abandons and deserts him in the middle of nowhere, in the valley of lamentation, barren of all heavenly goods, void of consolation from above, empty of spiritual strength, bereft of the power of moral virtue, and stripped of the only indispensable provisions upon the earth: faith, hope, and love.

Atheism condemns poor man to perdition and leaves him standing alone as prey amidst life’s difficulties. Having removed love from within man, atheism subsequently deprives him of the love from others, and it isolates him from family, relatives, and friends.

Atheism displaces any hope of a better future and  replaces it with despair.
Atheism is awful! It is the worst of all spiritual illnesses!

This tripod was a bronze altar at Delphi, in ancient Greece, upon which the priestess of Apollo named
Pythia sat to utter oracles.

St. Nektarios

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." ( St. Nektarios of Aegina )

It is evident that unbelief is an evil offspring of an evil heart; for the guileless and pure heart everywhere discovers God, everywhere discerns Him, and always unhesitatingly believes in His existence. When the man of pure heart looks at the World of Nature, that is, at the sky, the earth, and the sea and at all things in them, and observes the systems constituting them, the infinite multitude of stars of heaven, the innumerable multitudes of birds and quadrupeds and every kind of animal of the earth, the variety of plants on it, the abundance of fish in the sea, he is immediately amazed and exclaims with the Prophet David: "How great are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom Thou made them all." Such a man, impelled by his pure heart, discovers God also in the World of Grace of the Church, from which the evil man is far removed. The man of pure heart believes in the Church, admires her spiritual system, discovers God in the Mysteria, in the heights of the theology, in the light of the Divine revelations, in the truths of the teachings, in the commandments of the Law, in the achievements of the Saints, in the very good deed, in every perfect gift, and in general in the whole of the creation. Justly then did the Lord say in His Beatitudes of those possessing purity of the heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The soul is the best church of God, ( Saint Silouan the Athonite )

For prayer we have been given churches, in which services are conducted according to books, but you cannot take a church with you, and even books are not always available, whereas internal prayer is with you always and in all places. Holy rites are performed in churches in the presence of the Holy Spirit, but the soul is the best church of God, and whoever prays in the soul knows the world as his church. But this is not for everyone.

Saint Silouan the Athonite

We cannot serve two masters ( part 3 )

The second reason that “no one can serve two masters”is due to the fact that God’s law is diametrically opposed to the laws of the secular
world. What does God’s law command us first and foremost? To love every person like ourselves , to love even our enemies and to do good to those
who harm us. The laws of the worldly society, on the other hand, teach us that it is acceptable to hate them who wrong us, that it is logical to seek
revenge, and that there is nothing wrong with being ungrateful toward our benefactors. God commands us to show compassion to the poor and needy, to help them, and to be charitable to them. 

The world, on the other hand, advises us that we are not obligated to help others,and it recommends that we hoard and save our money, in order to use it for our own personal enjoyment alone. God commands us to speak the truth; the world, on the other hand, hates nothing more than the truth. This is why Christ states, “the Spirit of truth, which the world is not able to receive, because it neither sees it nor recognizes it” (Jn. 14:17). 
 Instead of speaking truthfully, the world likes to flatter, to gossip, to criticize, and to defame. God wants us to be humble, to trust and hope in Him, to live with purity, to dress modestly, to endure difficulties with patience and thanksgiving, to exercise temperance and abstinence, to fast, to pray. The world promotes the contrary: it incites us to be self-confident and trust in ourselves, to boast in our beauty and accomplishments, to dress fashionably, to delight in sexual immorality, to complain, to demand our rights, to blame others for our problems, to fulfill our physical desires, and to enjoy all the sensual pleasures of this present life.
This is why the law of God is the narrow path of virtue leading to the Kingdom of Heaven; whereas the law of the world is the wide road of sin leading to eternal Hell.Who can actually keep two laws that are so different and serve two masters who are so opposed to each other? Absolutely no one!
“No one can serve two masters.”
There is no middle ground. It is impossible for
someone to please both masters. It is either one or the other. Neither the wisest genius nor the greatest and holiest saint will ever find a way to please both masters simultaneously.
Since this is how things are my fellow Christians, what are we to do?
Which of the two masters should we serve? God or the world? If we are destined to live on this earth forever without ever dying, then fine: Let us
enslave ourselves to the world and enjoy everything it has to offer. If, however, we are mortal and will end up dying one day, if this
present world is transient:
“For the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31) states the Apostle Paul, if we are mere sojourners on this planet and our homeland is in Heaven:
“For here we have no continuing city, but we
seek the one to come” (Hb. 13:14, Ph. 3:20)
, if God alone is our master and Father, if during our baptism we pledged an allegiance to Christ and vowed to remain His faithful servants, and if we will give an account to Him for all our actions and sins when we die, then let us choose to serve God “with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength.”
Oh you treacherous and deceitful world! Let them who do not believe in the crucified Christ and who do not hope in any other Paradise serve you and
enjoy you. We who believe in Christ, however, will serve Him in this life, so that we may reign along with Him in His Heavenly Kingdom in the next life.

Elias Miniatis, bishop of Kerniki and Kalavryta


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Prayer is the daughter of the fulfilment of the Gospel commandments, and is at the same time the mother of all the virtues, according to the general opinion of the Holy Fathers. ( Saint Ignaty Brianchaninov )

Prayer is the daughter of the fulfilment of the Gospel commandments, and is at the same time the mother of all the virtues, according to the general opinion of the Holy Fathers. Prayer produces virtues from the union of the human spirit with the Spirit of the Lord. The virtues which produce prayer differ from the virtues which prayer produces; the former are of the soul, the latter—of the spirit. Prayer is primarily the fulfilment of the first and chief commandment of those two, commandments in which are concentrated the Law, the Prophets and the Gospel.  It is impossible for a person to turn with all his thought, with all his strength and with all his being towards God, except by the action of prayer, when it rises from the dead and, by the power of grace, comes to life as if it received a soul.

Prayer is the mirror of the monk's progress.  By examining his prayer a monk discerns whether he has attained salvation or is still in distress on the troubled sea of the passions outside the sacred harbour. As a guide to such discernment he has the divinely inspired David who, talking prayerfully to God, said:
By this I know that Thou delightest in me,
that my enemy does not triumph over me.
And because of my innocence Thou hast helped me
and secured me in Thy presence for ever.

This means: I have learned, O Lord, that Thou hast shown me kindness and hast taken me to Thyself on account of my constant and victorious rejection, by the power of prayer, of all enemy thoughts, images and feelings. This kindness of God to man appears when a person feels kindness and mercy towards all his neighbours and forgives all offenders.

Prayer should be a monk's chief task. It should be the centre and heart of all his activities. By means of prayer a monk clings to the Lord in the closest manner and is united in one spirit with the Lord.  From his very entry into the monastery, it is essential to learn to pray properly, so that in prayer and by means of prayer he may work out his salvation. Regularity, progress and proficiency  in prayer are opposed by our corrupt nature and by the fallen angels who strive their utmost to keep us in their slavery, in the fallen state of aversion from God which is common to men and fallen angels.

Selections from The Arena


Saint Ignaty (Brianchaninov)