Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sola Scriptura--What is Meant by Scriptura

As a Lutheran, I was taught the three solas:  sola fide, sola gratia and, probably the biggest one, sola Scriptura.  Sola, alone, is such a limiting word and it compartmentalizes the faith in such a way that it is little wonder that the Reformers jettisoned so much from the historic liturgy, historic praxis and catholic faith to fit into those categories.  Of course, the Reformers, in particular the Lutherans, rather than correct the necessary abuses, came up with these three categories and then pushed the faith into them. Whatever still remained outside was to be considered an error, heresy, etc and thus was pushed out, too.  Besides the problem with the word, sola (alone), is what the Reformers thought the words fides, gratia and Scriptura meant. We'll deal with the latter here.

Frequently, Lutherans and Protestants, in general, will quote church fathers arguing that when they use the term Scriptures, they mean "Bible."  Here are a few examples:

St. Athanasius-- The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. (Against the Heathen, I:3)

St. Gregory of Nyssa--For we make Sacred Scripture the rule and the norm of every doctrine. Upon that we are obliged to fix our eyes, and we approve only whatever can be brought into harmony with the intent of these writings. (On the Soul and the Resurrection)  and   Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words. (On the Holy Trinity)

St. John Chrysostom--Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast. (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem--For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17)

These are some common "proof texts" from some of the Eastern Fathers about sola Scriptura.  To a Protestant, the word "Bible" can be be used synonymously with Scripture.  But what did Scripture mean for the early fathers?  Did it mean Bible?  It couldn't have been.  First, the concept of the Bible was unknown to the early fathers.  There wasn't even a codified "New Testament" before the 5th century or at least one that was agreed upon universally.  (Also, the Gospels were kept in their own codex, which is still preserved in the Eastern Churches called the "Evangelion" and the letters of St. Paul and St. Peter and St. Jude and St. James and St. John were kept in another codex called the "Apostolos."  During the Liturgy, the Gospel and Epistle are never read from a Bible but from the Evangelion and Apostolos, respectively.)  Even when used in the New Testament, Scripture refers exclusively to the "Old Testament."  In the Nicene Creed, the Symbol of Faith, when we confess secundum Scripturas or, in Greek, kata tas graphas, which mean "in accordance with the Scriptures" or "in fulfillment of the Scriptures" we are referring again to what is know as the Old Testament. And that is what the fathers quoted above mean by it, too.

But what did later fathers mean by Scripture?  A New Testament had been codified by then.  Did the terms Scriptura(e) or Graphi come to be synonymous linked with the term "Bible" maybe in the sixth century?  Even if we assume that it did (and I'm not conceding that point), it refutes the notion of the Reformers that the doctrine of sola Scriptura, referring to both the Old and New Testaments as the foundation of all doctrine does not hold up to historical scrutiny.  The Reformers and her modern heirs, frequently boast that their churches had returned to the church of the apostolic age. So, does Scripture mean both Old and New Testament by the middle of the first millennium?  Very hard to even come to that conclusion.

What is the basic meaning of Scripture, Scriptura, Graphi?  In Greek and Latin, it derives from the word meaning "writing."  By the middle of the first millennium, there were many writings beyond just the Old and New Testament concerning the witness to the revelation of Christ. (Aside:  Just to clarify, and I've said this many times. Word of God is a who not a what? The Word, the Logos is the God-Man (Theanthropos) Christ incarnate.  The Scriptures are a WITNESS to Him who revealed Himself).  This is from the introduction of a recent edition of St. Isaac the Syrian's Ascetical Homilies:

Saint Isaac very often writes about the reading of ‘Scripture’. In English this word has come to mean the Bible and nothing else. In Greek and Syriac, however, this is not the case. We may recall Saint Peter’s words, ‘For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21). For the Church, ‘Scripture’ refers to the writings of all holy men who were moved by the Spirit: the Prophets, Apostles, and the holy Fathers. Therefore, by ‘Scripture’ Saint Isaac means both the Bible and the writings of the holy Fathers. On a few occasions it is evident from the context that he can only be speaking of the writings of the Fathers; here to avoid confusion, we have used ‘writing.' (emphasis mine; p. 573, published by HTM, 2011)
Now,  St. Isaac the Syrian was no innovator and he is not some minor figure in Orthodoxy (Aside:  I love how certain Protestants demand that the Orthodox faithful name a church father who defends what the Orthodox believe and when such a father is produced, the Protestant retorts that such-and-such is a "minor" figure.  Pr. McCain is particularly guilty of this).  St. Isaac is a very crucial witness in Orthodox theology.  Keep in mind that he lived and wrote in what is modern day Yemen.  Though he held a Christology that was near Nestorian (name me one church father who was completely right on everything), it shows that such a tradition of thought with regards to how to identify the Scriptures as meaning Old/New Testament and the writings of the church fathers was widespread even past the oikoumene of the Eastern Roman Empire which had long lost any political or military hold on the Arabian peninsula.

Orthodox can hold to sola Scriptura, then provided that the meaning of Scriptura is not just Old and New Testaments.  Not only would we include the writings of the holy fathers, but the decrees of the ecumenical councils, the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Dialogist and St. James and even icons as Scripture (icons are "written" not painted).  Of course, I doubt seriously that any Protestant would willingly expand the meaning of Scriptura to include all those other witnesses.  Such is why Protestantism cannot be considered to be "catholic" nor the historic faith.

My thanks to Under the Dome for pointing me to this quote from the new edition of St. Isaac's homilies.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Commemoration of the Fall of New Rome

Today (well not really today. It was May 29 but on the Julian Calendar, but we'll go ahead and mark it today) Constantinople, New Rome, seat of the Roman Empire, jewel of the Bosphorus, the guardian of Orthodox Christianity finally fell to the Turks lead by Sultan Mehemet II. The year was 1453. The last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos died defending his city alongside his faithful subjects as well as Genoese and Venetians, who had long been hostile enemies to the Empire.  The Divine Liturgy celebrated at Hagia Sophia, the greatest cathedral ever built in Christendom, was interrupted by the arrival of the sultan, still on his horse and the greatest cathedral in Christendom became a mosque.  A tragic day, which lead to further tragedies.

Other churches were similarly seized and/or ransacked and/or made into mosques.  Many Orthodox faithful were sold into slavery.  The Orthodox Patriarch was forced to become less a religious figure and more of a civic authority to keep the Orthodox millet in line.  The Orthodox faith, while tolerated and not officially persecuted, was heavily regulated by the Turkish authorities and the grandiose liturgies and ceremonies associated with the great feasts of the church became more private or low-keyed affairs, no longer enjoying public recognition. 

Though the Greeks and the Balkans eventually threw off the Turkish yoke, Constantinople and the Greeks who continued to live there were under intense scrutiny.  After the fall of  the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, little had changed. It was a different store, but still the same management.  Greeks and Armenians both suffered in the genocide of 1923.  In the 1970s, following Turkey's illegal invasion (and still illegal occupation of Cyprus), many more Greeks were expelled from Constantinople leaving only a small band of 3000 or so.  They call themselves Turkish citizens and are loyal to their country, but they are second class citizens, mainly because they will not submit to Islam. 

Things seem to be looking better.  The Halki Seminary, closed since the 1970s, looks like it may reopen.  More and more church property in both the city itself and in Turkey proper can now be used for the celebration of divine liturgies.  But, much still remains to be done. 

Constantinpole may have fallen but Orthodoxy survived.  It continued to survive in the Greeks and also in the many nations they converted like the Russians who had their own 1453 in 1917 with the Bolsheviks.  Orthodoxy survived there too.  If the Orthodox Church was not the Church that Christ established on earth, then how could it not be attacked by such diabolical forces and still survive in the hearts of her faithful? 

I long when Hagia Sophia be returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that Divine Liturgies may once again be celebrated there.  But as long as there is an Ecumenical Patriarch on the throne of St. Andrew, as long as there are faithful Greek Orthodox who pray, Constantinople survives!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea

Today, the Sunday following the Ascension of our Lord, we commemorate the 318 holy fathers of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 A.D., which was convened by the Emperor, St. Constantine, to deal with the heresies of Arius once and for all.  How fitting that this commemoration should be right after the Ascension as it was Jesus Christ, the Theanthropos (God-Man) Who ascended into heaven, not some created being as Arius thought.

The hymnography for this feast is great on so many levels.  Though we contemplate the reality of our life in Christ from what He has worked for us and what has been given to us through His saints, we do not contemplate the embellishments of the Byzantine hymnographers.  Here's a prime example from the stichera at Psalm 140 at Great Vespers.

Keeping his eyes shut that he may not see light, into sin's deep pit Arius fell headlong.  His bowels were torn by a divine hook that he give up violently all his substance and his soul; and become in this wise, through his most evil purpose and his manner another Judas.  But the Council gathered in Nicae, proclaimed that Thou, O Lord, art truly the Son of God, one with the Father and the Spirit in rank.
Great, huh?  By the prayers of the fathers of the First Council of Nicaea, may we continue to be true to the Orthodox faith and fight off the heirs to Arius' heresy and may we assume eternal life.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ascension--The Forgotten Feast

It is regrettable that Ascension will always fall on a Thursday.  Many Christians simply cannot get off of work to attend the Divine Liturgy and the offices.  But, at the same time, I think most Orthodox Christians are ignorant about what this feast is really about.  We have come out of the 40 days of feasting at Pascha and Pentecost awaits. Ascension is the prophecy that Christ will send the Comforter, but it's so much more than that.

Christians lament that Christmas and Pascha have been hijacked by the secular world.  Christmas has Santa Clause and the materialism that goes with him and Pascha has the Easter Bunny and the gluttony that goes with him.  Ascension has NO secular counterpart.  And it shouldn't because Ascension is a feast day only for Christians.  There is little or nothing in it for the non-Christian.

Pascha is Christ's triumph over death.  As a result, every person, after their death, will be raised from the dead, regardless of what faith they professed or how long they have been dead.  The dead will arise, but they will also be presented before the Dread Judgment Seat of Christ.  From there, the wicked will go to their abode and the righteous will ascend to theirs to take their place at Christ's right hand, just as Christ ascended to take His place at the right hand of His Father.  Ascension is only for the Christian.

What's more is that Ascension ties directly to one of Orthodoxy's great theological truths that is proclaimed at every Orthodox liturgy and office--theosis, becoming like God.  Christ ascended into Heaven still clothed in the flesh that He assumed from the Blessed Virgin at His birth, the flesh that was beaten, bruised and tormented during His Passion.  Remember that His wounds were still present even after His Resurrection as He invited St. Thomas to put his hands into His side.  Christ ascended into Heaven with this very same flesh and deified it, made it god-like.  Before Christ's incarnation, our flesh was a detriment to salvation. Now, because of Christ's work on earth, it is our gateway to salvation.  Yes, we still war with it but as Christ assumed it, it is now healed.  "Anything unassumed is unhealed" said St. Gregory the Theologian.  Because human flesh sits at the right hand of God the Father, our flesh can be tempered and used for the glory of the heavens.  We can ascend to the heavenly place right now in our current existence.

We still await the Comforter, but let us glory in Christ's departure from this earth. It had to be done, just as the Incarnation, the Passion and Pascha as well as the events that happened to to His mother, the Theotokos.  Without Ascension, we cannot be more than what we are. Let us not forget it just because it always will happen on a Thursday.  Happy feast!

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Apology for Byzantine Chant

This article on Byzantine Chant is one of the best I've ever read.  As a chanter, I must admit I am particularly attuned to Byzantine chant for prayers in our liturgical services and rites.  However, especially in this country, more and more churches, even those not in the Slavic/Russian tradition, are using more and more Russian music because it's four part and more familiar than the esoteric and exotic melodies of the east, many of which cannot be rendered effective on any even tempered musical instrument (e.g. piano).  Frequently, I have to defend the use of Byzantine chant even for Vespers and Orthros or to weekday liturgies when a choir is simply unavailable.

People prefer the music they like and always will, but those who write off Byzantine chant are those who really have never listened to it or have heard it from people who don't know what they are doing.  Byzantine chant is not a sing-along, which is another reason why it is not liked by converts from Protestantism who are used to singing four part hymn tunes.  And those who do try to join in chanting, without having the faintest clue as to how to chant, stand out like sore thumbs.

As the article says, the various melodies were often written by the hymnographers themselves.  The link between the movement of the melodic line and the text bring out the reality that we are trying to  contemplate in our prayer.  And, unlike Gregorian chant, Byzantine chant has such a greater range when it comes to pathos.  Gregorian chant is so austere (nothing wrong with that) but a Byzantine  tone 3 is radically different from a plagal tone 2--moving from joyful to extremely somber.  There's so much more flexibility.  Lest we forget the primary goal of chanting is to convey the words we are praying.  The typewriter Russian chants of Obikhod and Kiev pale in comparison.

I know I'm in the minority and I don't care. But, again, those who knock Byzantine Chant really have never listened to it, heard it from poorly trained chanters, don't know the  musical language behind it or just prefer Russian stuff.  For me, I know that a pre-Sanctified Liturgy during Lent would not be as contemplative or prayerful if it were done in the Russian style.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Marriage Wars...A Legacy of the Protestant Reformation?

Perhaps there is a case to be made that the current "political" debate in this country regarding marriage, as to whether the state should only recognize "male-female" unions or extend that definition to persons of the same sex, whether male or female, is a natural and logical outcome from the Protestant Reformation.  At least, such is the contention of this article.

One thing that the article dances around but doesn't really go into is how the Protestants largely rejected the Sacramental nature of the Church.  Sacraments were either discarded entirely, or some were retained (usually just baptism and the Eucharist), or all were retained with some having a "lesser" status than others (i.e. the Anglican nomenclature of listing ordination, marriage, etc. as "sacramentals").   Marriage may not have always been defined strictly as a sacrament in the early church or even in the church of the first millenium, but it does have more of an ancient pedigree than what the Protestants supposed when they threw them out.

I'm not saying that Protestants don't have legitimate marriages or that they are not blessed by God, but when it is spoken of in terms that are more contractual, i.e. a listing of responsibilities and duties and such, then its inherent sacramental nature is mere afterthought.

As the Eucharist fosters direct communion with God, so marriage fosters direct communion with God.  Each spouse dies to himself for the sake of the other.  It is a martyrdom. That is why hymns to the martyrs are sung at Orthodox weddings with Sts. Procopius and Stephen invoked particularly.  The Eucharist is a sacrifice. Marriage is a sacrifice.  By joining together in a communion (especially in sex for the procreation of children) and giving of ourselves totally to one another we then commune with God.  Again, unions in Protestant churches are no less marriages and no less blessed by God, but when you remove the sacramental nature of it and make it a civil ceremony, is it any wonder that Protestant churches are the ones leading the charge to redefine marriage to include the union of same sex couples?

The irony in all of this is that the Protestants are fighting one another, within the respective denominations .  You have Presbyterians vs. Presbyterians, Methodist vs. Methodist, Episcopal vs. Episcopal, Lutheran vs. Lutheran.  Each side appeals to the Scriptures. Each side appeals to its tradition and roots.  But how can they both be right?  They can't.  The Protestant Reformation was about jettisoning the church to make man supreme.  Henry VIII wanted to be in charge of the church so that he could get his annulments for every time he grew tired of one of his wives.  Luther couldn't make peace with his own sinfulness so he invented justification by faith alone.  Protestantism is rooted in one's own interpretation.  The Church and her sacraments are relegated to a secondary place.  This is the logical outcome of the Protestant Reformation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Get Luther himself

A friend of mine found this--the Luther Insulter.  Once you go to the site, a random quote from one of Luther's many works will appear before you and do oh so much for your confidence.

Let's be honest--Luther really did like to shoot his mouth off.  He could be governed by his basest passions just as much as the next person, but how many of us take the time to write it down?  Well, maybe we just videotape it and upload it to Youtube instead.  But still, Luther was very direct and very insulting.  If more people, especially Lutherans, would read his works, I think they would be embarrassed by what was there.  St. John Chrysostom maybe went off the hook a few times, but no where near to this point of vitriol and venom.

This is not intended to be a commentary on Lutheran theology. Go to the site and have fun with it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Without our Mothers, the Faith Would Have Died

This is an inescapable conclusion:  Without mothers, the faith would have died a long time ago.  In times of persecution, of hardship or just plain ignorance or laziness, mothers have ensured that the Christian faith has been kept for another generation.

When I was going through my confirmation classes back in the 7th and 8th grades, my mother was the one who was helped me with my memory work, made sure I took good sermon notes and even helped me with my banner that hung from the wall of the church on my confirmation day back in 1990.  I may not have understood a lot (I still don't), but I think if it were not for her guidance and help, I probably would have been one who fell away and stayed away from the church.  Thankfully, that didn't happen.

So, to all our mothers, who have helped to preserve the faith for another generation despite the work of the evil one, a great thank you.  I'm sure Christ thanks you as well.  And we love you!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sts. Cyril and Methodius: Refutation of a Few Myths and a Note on Language

Today, May 11, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates the brothers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles to the Slavs.  One of the great accomplishments of the Orthodox church in its history of evangelizing was the conversion of the Slavs as well as ethnic groups that had dominion over them such as the Rus and the Bulgars.  Unfortunately, there are a few myths that surround the brothers and their mission to the Slavs, particularly with regards to language.  I will refute those.

Myth # 1:  The brothers invented the Cyrillic alphabet.  This is false.  Though the Cyrillic alphabet clearly descends from the invention of the two, the Cyrillic alphabet is actually a simplification of the Glagolithic alphabet which the brothers invented.  Cyrillic did not become prominent until about the 10th century in the Bulgar Empire.  This is an important distinction to be made particularly with the next myth.

Myth # 2:  The brothers invented a new alphabet so that the Slavs could have the Liturgy, the Scriptures and the prayers in their own language.  Whereas the Latin Church insisted that its Liturgy and prayers be always in Latin, Cyril and Methodius are heralded as the icons of Orthodox evangelization: in other cultures'  native tongue.  This is the legacy that has been conferred on Cyril and Methodius.  But this is myth.  Cyril and Methodius were NOT creating an alphabet so that the Slavs could have the prayers in their own language.  Their mission and the creation of the alphabet was to help the Slavs pray the prayers and understand the Liturgy in Greek.  The Glalgolithic alphabet was not for liturgical use.

Cyril and Methodius were well aware that the language of the church was Greek.  And this wasn't some chauvinistic or mere cultural preference.  Cyril and Methodius knew that to be a Christian was to be a Greek speaker.  Like it or not, the Church was created out of Hellenism.  The eminent theologian, Fr. Georges Florovsky readily admits that (and he's Russian!).  Christianity is inherently Greek.  Now, that is NOT to say, of course, that English speakers or Russian speakers or Arabic speakers who are Orthodox Christians are somehow less Orthodox than a Greek Orthodox Christian, but the Greek speakers do have an advantage.

I bring this up because in the Orthodox Churches of the United States there is a lot of discussion about language.  Should Orthodox Churches only use English?  Should it be half and half or should it be proportional to the congregation's own ethnic heritage?  These are questions which cannot and will not be settled by Ecumenical Council but by the individual parishes themselves.  Now, most towns that do have an Orthodox Church, have maybe only one.  If a Greek finds himself in a city with a Serbian Orthodox Church which uses very little English but mainly Slavonic and Serbian, should he have the right to say that the Serbs should change their language?  Of course not.

Many people (mainly converts) believe that Orthodoxy in America should strictly be in English.  Typical Americo-centrism.  Such converts believe that Orthodoxy in other languages is suspect, that they are clinging too much to their own culture and need to Americanize.  Those people are wrong.  Such things should be practiced and changed, if needed, organically.  The history of the Orthodox Church has proceeded by organic change.  The use of Slavonic in the Liturgy in the lands of the Slavs did not begin until the 11th century, almost two hundred years after the mission of Cyril and Methodius. And such was not done by decree of a bishop, but was an organic development largely caused by the continued disintegration of the Eastern Roman Empire and the inability of the Patriarch of Constantinople to guide churches directly in lands of his jurisdiction.

But, let us assume that every Orthodox Church in the United States uses English for everything:  Liturgies, Scripture, Prayers, Offices, etc.  Now another problem arises:  which English renderings are to be used?  Problems are inherent here, too.  And again, it is hard to get past the fact that Orthodoxy has been and always will be primarily communicated in the Greek language.  So, which translations to use and discard?

Now the argument becomes one of text.  And that is very dangerous.  We should never ever argue about the Liturgy as text.  Texts are solid, never changing.  People, naturally, will get upset if the text is changed.  I remember one time that I was reading Psalm 50 during a Holy Week Bridegroom Orthros.  The "text" I was using was not the one in the service book (which I do not like--argument for another time) because I know Psalm 50 and prayed it from the heart.  One of the parishioners was so irate with me after the service because I didn't conform to the text and, as a result, took him "out of worship" (I kid you not; his words).  If the "text" is the metric by which we measure the prayers of the church, whether in private or public, whether in the Divine Liturgy or in the Offices, then we cease to pray and focus more on reading.  And there is a natural period of time when one has to read before the reading becomes a natural function of the nous.  But to focus strictly on text and strict adherence to text removes the prayer aspect (that's one reason why I abhor service books).

Fr. Meletios Webber had an interesting suggestion.  He said that Wikipedia might actually serve as a guide.  With Wikipedia (as far as I know and this may have changed) users can alter entries (whether for better or for worse).  Why not apply the same standard with the prayers of the church?  One can make use of the prayers as he knows them and another can alter them, whether for better or for worse.  The prayers could be posted on line and altered accordingly and prayed in the churches. That is far more keeping with the organic development of Orthodox praxis than enforcing one thing on everyone else like the Latin church did. 

As we commemorate Sts. Cyril and Methodius we should remember that every Orthodox Christian should be allowed to pray in the tongue he wishes and/or is most comfortable.  But we should remember that Sts. Cyril and Methodius realized that Greek is the language of Christianity and the more people who know Greek will begin to have their nous opened to the Gospel.  But we don't read and understand the Gospel, we live the Gospel.  Such with the Liturgy: we don't read it, we live it and we pray it.  Understanding is not the means; it is the end and culminates with theosis--becoming like God.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Feast of Mid-Pentecost

At Mid-feast give Thou my thirsty soul to drink of the waters of piety;  for Thou, O Saviour, dist cry out to all:  Whosoever is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Wherefore, O Well-Spring of life, O Christ our God, glory be to Thee--Apolytikion of the Feast, plagal tone 4

As we have drunk of the new drink of Pascha and are reminded of the eternal drink that Christ promised to the Samaritan woman at the well (which is commemorated this Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Pascha), so let us prepare to drink of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom the Lord promised to His disciples, at Pentecost to be filled with the Lord and his bounty.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Third Sunday after Pascha--The Paralytic

Three weeks ago, we thundered into Pascha siging "Christ is Risen."  Two weeks ago, we had our faith strengthened even though Thomas doubted and, still, we sung "Christ is Risen."  Last week, we marveled at the heroism and courage of the myrrhbearers who risked imprisonment and even death for defying guards placed at the tomb by Pilate and we again sang out, "Christ is Risen."  Now, we have come to the third week, the healing of the Paralytic.  Is "Christ is Risen" starting to sound hollow and something done by rote without the fire we had a mere three weeks ago?

It probably doesn't help that the Gospel appointed for today's feast has nothing ostensibly to do with Christ's Resurrection and triumph over death. In fact, it takes place long before the events of Great Friday and Pascha.  It's just another one of those miracle stories, not too different from any other miracle stories that are omnipresent in the Gospels.  If we concentrate simply on Christ healing then we  it is extremely easily to be discouraged and not to realize the truth that is being proclaimed. For that, we have to focus not on Christ, but on the paralytic himself and the others afflicted at the pool of Bethesda.

Christ asks the paralytic whether he wants to be healed.  I'm surprised a sarcastic answer along the lines of "No, I'm here to work on my tan" didn't come out of the paralytic--after all he had been there for 38 years.  He didn't answer "yes" or "no," but began saying, "I have no man."  His answer is telling in that there are a number of people are there to be healed, but all are there for themselves.  It seems no one helps another.  When the pool is troubled, each man forgets his neighbor and rushes to get to the pool first.  The people by the pool are no different then from the rest of society save for their respective infirmities.  When a chance comes to get ahead, members of society trample upon one another to get that morsel, whether it is for fame, power, riches, possessions, respect, etc..  When everyone else by the pool displayed this same egoism and desire for self, it is not unexpected that the paralytic is upset that he lacks a relationship with another person to help him obtain his desire.

Being as communion. I've recently started to read Metropolitan JOHN's (Zizoulas) book Being As Communion. It is, as expected, a very involved and difficult read, but worth it.  God's very nature is such that He must commune that He must be relational.  Christ came to restore that relationship with man, but that can only happen when man starts to remove himself from his own egoistic tendencies.  Christ, the Theanthropos, genuinely loves and desires to restore a relationship with the paralytic. The paralytic may not understand it immediately, though after his healing, Christ tells Him to sin no more.  The relationship with the divine can only be kept when we remove sin from ourselves.

In the icon of the Harrowing of Hades, Christ is seen taking the hands of both Adam and Eve and pulling them out of the tombs.  He doesn't just merely say "come out" but He approaches them, touches them and guides them into His Resurrection.  Adam and Eve sinned because they forsook the relationship with God and looked only to themslves.  Such with the paralytic.  He too was consumed with self, though he seems to long for that lost relationship which prevented him from being healed. Yet, Christ touched him and guided him to healing.  This is another Resurrection story, just not as obvious.

So, let us not be lukewarm about singing "Christ is Risen."  We have only a few more weeks of it until we enter into the feast of Pentecost.  Then we'll wonder where the time went.  Christ bestows life, He bestows a relationship, He bestows Himself.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Being a Priest/Pastor is NOT Just a Job

 but apparently this woman seems to think it is.  You can read the article for yourself.  What I found most disturbing was not that this woman became an atheist (otherwise I would never sleep at night considering how many people become atheist or are currently atheists), but that she continued to serve in the role of a pastor to this Methodist congregation for years while harboring and developing her atheistic leanings.  According to the article, she did leave, but it seems to have taken her quite a long time. I guess she needed the job

And this is hardly confined to the Methodist church.  I remember reading in a book (can't remember which, sorry) about a man in seminary for the Episcopal Church.  He was miserable there, not because he had doubts about the faith since He loved it very much, hence his decision to be a priest. He was miserable because no one else at seminary had any love for the faith.  He recounted that when sitting down to dinner one evening, a few of his classmates came up to him and said: "We've finally figured out why you're having such a tough time around here. It turns out that you're the only one around here who actually believes in God!"  Think about it.  These were students who were being prepared to serve parishes in the ECUSA and the vast majority of them did not believe in God.  I wonder if their future congregations knew they were getting atheists to shepherd them to God.

I'm sure there have been many Orthodox priests who were also atheists.  I'm sure that the communists had agents infiltrate their seminaries to become priests and try to destroy the church from within.  The point I'm trying to make is that the people who knowingly harbor such beliefs have no business serving in the role of a parish priest.  Doubt is itself not sinful and it is not the enemy of faith.  The enemy of faith is indifference.  But it is incumbent that a priest retain "The Faith" whether in great supply or in need of some filling.

Let's be realistic--pastors and priests are in short supply and that cuts across all confessions of Christianity.  There's genuine job security there. But if that's your sole reason for taking on a job, that's more than a problem.  I remember a person in one of my education classes saying that the only reason he wanted to be a teacher was so that he could have the summers off.  He didn't like kids too much. He didn't really like the subject matter he was training to teach.  He basically half-assed his way through the assignments.  But he did love time off and what other job paid you to take a two month vacation?  The priesthood/pastorate is not just on a list of jobs one would consider at a job fair.

St. John Chrysostom tells us that after the Incarnation, the greatest gift that God gave to man was the priesthood.  A GIFT!  It's not something chosen; it is bestowed upon the very few and the very worthy (though I know they think themselves unworthy). It's a mystery of the Church, above all human understanding.  Priests may be paid but if you were to take into account that they are on duty 24 hours a day and must endure a lot of pain (though also a lot of joy), heartache, frustration, I think (by earthly standards) their wage is way too insufficient.  But at the center of all of that must be a faith in God.  Priests, like the rest of us, have faith in various stages.  Whereas one may be gaining in faith, another is plateauing or even sinking.  But God must be at the center since He is the one bestowing the gift.  If one refuses or cannot acknowledge that, how can he possibly be entrusted with a flock?

Again, I begrudge no one their right to be atheist, but I cannot believe that an atheist would want to be pastor or priest in a Christian faith for any other reason but to sow dissent and confusion and convince others that, like the fool who says in his heart, "there is no God."  And if someone currently serving in a role becomes an atheist, he should immediately step down.