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Saturday, 14 October 2017

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Halloween

The word ‘Halloween’ means ‘holy evening'; it is easy to see from the alternative spelling ‘Hallowe’en’ that the ‘e’en’ part is a contraction of ‘evening’. The word itself derives from the Roman Catholic All Hallows’ Day (All Saints’ Day) celebrated on November 1st. All Hallows' Eve or Hallowe’en is therefore the day before All Hallows’; the day after is All Souls’ Day on which Roman Catholics pray for the souls of the dead in purgatory. Many older Halloween customs are forms of offering to bring comfort to souls suffering in purgatory.

Orthodox Christians should not participate in the celebration of Halloween. A few people argue that Halloween originates from a Celtic harvest festival, and that the custom of lighting lanterns is a Christian practice dating from medieval times designed to frighten off evil spirits. For us, all this discussion is immaterial. What the Celts or medieval Roman Catholics got up to does not affect what Halloween is today. Today’s festival is what concerns us. It does not matter if it had some harmless secular or heterodox Christian beginning.

Leaving aside all the religious aspects of Halloween for a moment, let us consider the practice of ‘trick or treat’. We are not bothered about whether trick or treat had some innocent beginning; we are only concerned with today’s version, and it’s clearly completely unchristian. Children are encouraged to roam in gangs demanding some form of payment or ‘treat’ and threatening retribution if they fail to receive it. This behaviour is actually criminal; in the UK, police now have to produce leaflets offering advice and protection to old people frightened by the abuse and damage to property that they have suffered on previous Halloweens. If ever there was a simple reason for Orthodox Christians to avoid Halloween this is it. Halloween promotes criminal behaviour and leaves the most vulnerable in our society terrified in their own homes.

Let us now consider the pseudo-religious aspects of Halloween. No Orthodox Christian should take part in any activity that honours the devil and his demonic hosts. Dressing up as devils, witches or wizards even as a joke is spiritually dangerous because we are making fun of something deeply serious. Evil is not a joke.

The celebration of Halloween has no place in an Orthodox Christian home and all invitations to Halloween parties should be refused. But what about school activities? Should parents withdraw their children from school in the run-up to Halloween if they are engaging in activities such as making lanterns etc.? Our response needs prayer and careful consideration of whether the activities are simply ‘art and craft’ or have more sinister undertones.

It is interesting to see how the festival of Halloween has developed in the UK over recent decades. In the 1980s Halloween was almost a non-event in suburban England being overshadowed by Guy Fawkes Night (now curiously named Bonfire Night). Halloween parties were more common in rural areas possibly due to the connection of traditional English harvest activities such as apple bobbing with Halloween. In the 1990s we started to see witch and wizard costumes in supermarkets replace the fireworks that families used to buy to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. Today, we still see the witch’s hats and wizard’s wands but shops also offer a whole range of devil and grim-reaper costumes; carved pumpkins have given way to glow-in-the-dark skulls.

How has this all changed so quickly? Part of the reason is, of course, financial. As long as gullible parents are willing to pay £30 for a plastic toy that a shop buys for £1.50, then shops will keep selling them. But why are these things in demand?

The answer has both spiritual and educational dimensions. People in the UK are horrendously ignorant of Christianity. People believe in God, but they do not believe in ‘religion’; they believe in angels, but not in demons; they believe in evil but not in the devil; they believe in life after death, but not in the Judgement. Halloween, therefore, is probably their only contact with spirituality in the whole year. It reinforces their ideas that there is a spiritual life outside their day-to-day existence, but it doesn’t force them into a demanding religious commitment.

In the UK at least, the major reason for this astonishing ignorance of Christian history and teaching is the complete failure of the Church of England to teach traditional Christianity. This failure stems from a lack of belief in traditional Christianity at the highest levels in the Church of England. In an anonymised questionnaire of thirty-nine Anglican bishops carried out in 1984, out of the thirty-one responses only twenty bishops believed in Christ’s resurrection either in Body or in Spirit; ten bishops (almost a third) did not believe that it was necessary for Christians to believe that Christ is God.

People are thirsting for the ‘knowledge of the truth’ (1.Tim. 2:4), but most Christians are offering these people a stone and not the Bread of Life (cf. Matt. 7:9, John 6:35). Heterodox Christians do so because they are outside the Church and do not preach the truth of the Gospel; we are doing so by our laxness in spiritual life and our lack of repentance.

We must take no part in this celebration of the forces of evil called Halloween. As well as avoiding any participation in it, let us make a renewed effort to keep the fasts, say our prayers, partake of the Mysteries of the Church and lead people outside the Body of Christ to the salvation which is found in the Orthodox Church by our example of Christian faith and love.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Come O ye faithful, let us worship the life-creating Tree

From the Works of St Theodore the Studite

(759 - 826 A.D.) 

The present day is a day of joy and gladness; for now the sign of joy itself is placed before us, the most holy Wood. O, most precious gift! This is not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as once in Eden. No, in very truth this Tree is full of grace and comely, for this Tree grants us life, and not death; it illumines us and does not cast us into gloom; it brings us into Eden and does not cast us out there from. This Tree, on which Christ was raised up, has covered the devil, who had the power of death, in shame, and it has freed the race of man from grievous servitude. This Tree is that on which, during the contest, Jesus Christ, as the most adept Champion, was wounded in the hands, the feet, His side, on which He healed the wounds of man, that is our nature which had been mercilessly smitten by the supremely pernicious serpent. This is that Wood, on which the Blood of the Master was poured out, which laid the demons low and enlightened the world.

Who does not draw nigh that he might be receive sweetness through the sight of what lies before him! The Angels themselves greet this festival with joy; the Apostles, the assembly of the Prophets, the choir of the Martyrs, the whole company of the Righteous rejoice with us, for how can it be otherwise than that they all should be filled with joy, beholding this sign of victory, whereby they themselves, emulating Jesus Christ, have conquered the power of the enemy? Even the irrational beings, being shone upon by the heavenly glory, sense within themselves a certain joy, because from the Passion of Jesus Christ upon the Cross an inheritance unto good has been imparted unto all things.

For this reason David cried out: Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship the footstool of His feet; for He is holy (Ps. 98:5), and the wise Solomon also exclaims: Blessed is the wood by which righteousness cometh (Wisdom 14:7). For this reason also the Church is manifested as having in her midst the Tree of life from Paradise, under which there is no longer a deceiving demon, but rather an Angel of the Almighty Lord abides there, who grants us access again to the burgeoning tree of the Cross. Now worship is offered up to the holy Cross, and Christ's Resurrection is proclaimed; now that Wood is honoured which imparts life to us, and the whole world is stirred up to glorification; now festival is celebrated in memory of the three-barred Cross, and the four ends of the world are called to the joy of holding festival on this day. How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel (Romans 10:15). Blessed are those eyes which behold this universal festivity, - and those lips which kiss this most precious emblem. A particular grace is granted unto all; an ever-flowing spring has been revealed, from which sanctification flows forth, and no one is barred from access to this abundant stream. It makes the pure man yet purer, and him that is defiled by the filth of vice it makes clean; he that is careless and dissipated it brings under the yoke of its teaching; he that is fierce and proud it calms; and in general each one that approaches it with a firm intention to set his life in order it does not turn away, but rather grants him the Divine grace, necessary for life and piety.

The life-creating tree of the Cross, that we behold, is medicine to the eyes of him that was deceived in Paradise by the sight of the tree that brought death. Touching that Wood with our lips and setting it before our eyes, we are set free from the taste of the tree that bore death and from contact therewith. O, great gift! How festively it is presented now! O, unspeakable blessedness! Once we experienced death through a tree, and now through the Tree we receive life; before we were deceived through the tree, now through the Tree we drive off the ancient serpent. In very truth, this is a wondrous and most glorious change! Instead of death, life has been granted us; in place of corruption, incorrupt ion; instead of dishonour, glory. And thus it is not without cause that the apostle exclaims: God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14). From the Cross there shines forth the most exalted wisdom, which shames the proud wisdom of this world and shows it to be disordered. The countless benefactions, granted us through the Cross, suppress the seeds of evil dishonour within. Even the unique appearance and form of this Tree was manifest from the very beginning of the world through great events which were its foretellers and forerunners.

Anyone, who wants to comprehend this, can see. Were Noah and his sons and their wives, and every kind of living thing, not saved from the universal flood according to the will of God through a paltry piece of wood [i.e. the Ark] (Wisdom 10:4)? And what does the staff of Joseph signify, upon the top of which the Patriarch Jacob bowed (Heb. 11:21; Gen. 47:31), if it is not an image of that life-creating Wood, before which we now bow down? Was the rod of Moses not an image of the Cross, by which he turned the water into blood and by which the illusory snakes were swallowed up? With one stroke thereof he divided the sea, and with another he reunited the waters of the sea, and thus at one and the same time he drowned the enemies and safeguarded the Chosen People. And was the rod of Aaron, which one day flowered and manifested the canonical priesthood (Numbers 17:8), not exactly the same, that is an image of the Cross?

But we should continue far too long, if we wished to number all those things which prefigured the Cross. Abraham himself prefigured it, when he laid his son upon the faggot of wood (Gen. 22:9-13). Likewise Jacob prefigured it, when he placed his hands one across the other in granting a blessing to Joseph (Gen.48:14). Preeminently, Moses in his own person made manifest the image of the Cross, when by raising his arms he put Amalek to flight (Ex. 17:11). Behold Elisseus as well, who threw a stick of wood into the waters, and with this wood drew forth the iron from the depths (4 [2] Kings 6:5-6). And it is not only in the Old Testament, but under the law of grace, that the Cross has repeatedly displayed its wondrous power in gaining victory over enemies, in expelling demons, in the healing of ailments and in countless other instances.

Do you see, beloved, what power in contained in the very sign of the Cross? Yet if there is such power in the image, then what power there must be in the prototype, the one on which Jesus was crucified! (For quite obviously, that which is most excellent in the most sublime thing of all, that is the prototype, is passed on to the images of the prototype.)

Now let us approach the Cross with joyful doxology. The Cross is riches, more precious than any other wealth. The Cross is a hazard-free haven for Christians. The Cross is the lightest of burdens, which is laid upon the shoulders of Christ's disciples. The Cross is the sweetest consolation for the souls of those who sorrow. The Cross is the reconciler and mediator between heaven and earth. By the Cross death has been put to death, and life has been returned to Adam. By the Cross we have been clothed upon with Christ, and have been divested of the old man. By the Cross we banish our enemies and calm disturbances. He who bears the Cross upon his shoulders is made an emulator of Jesus Christ and receives glory with Christ. Signing the Cross upon oneself, one dispels fear and brings back peace. He who is protected by the Cross with not be a prey to enemies, but will remain unharmed.

O Cross of Christ, most comely praise of Christians, worthy preaching of the Apostles, royal crown of the Martyrs, most precious adornment of the Prophets, most brilliant illumination of the whole world! O Cross of Christ - (I address thee as if thou wast a living being), - protect those who glorify thee with hearts aflame! Safeguard those who with faith draw near to kiss thee! Ever keep thy servants in peace and firm in faith! Grant us all to reach the joyous and radiant day of the Resurrection; ever keep us in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and dominion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

True Orthodoxy

 By the ever-Memorable 

Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, + 1976


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a matter of historical fact, the "ecumenical movement"—of which the WCC is the supreme organ—is an organization. of purely Protestant origin. Nearly all the Orthodox Churches have joined, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia being the most notable exception. Even those churches behind the "iron curtain" have joined. For some time the Russian Patriarchate resisted, flattering herself with the purity of her Orthodoxy and quite naturally viewing this movement as hostile to Orthodoxy. She has since become a member.

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

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

Repudiation of and preservation from the apostasy which has made such enormous progress demands that we stand apart from the spirit of the age (which bears the seeds of its own destruction). If we expect to withstand the world, it is first necessary to understand it and keep sensitively in mind that in this present age all that which carries the most holy and dear name of Orthodoxy is not in fact Orthodox. Rather, it is often "A fraudulent and usurped Orthodoxy" which we must fear and eschew as if it were fire. Unlike this spurious faith, true Orthodoxy was given and must be received without novelty and nothing must be accepted as a teaching or practice of the Church which is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the dogma of the Universal Church. True Orthodoxy thinks only to serve god and to save souls and is not preoccupied with the secular and ephemeral welfare of men. True Orthodoxy is spiritual and not physical or psychological or earthly. In order to protect ourselves from "the spirit of the age" and preserve our fidelity to the true Orthodoxy, we ought firstly and with all our strength live blamelessly: A total and rigorous commitment to Christ, without deviation from the commandments of God or the laws of His holy Church. At the same time, we must have no common prayer or spiritual liaison with the modern apostasy or with anything which "soils" our holy Faith, even those dissidents who call themselves "Orthodox." They will go their way and we will go ours. We must be honorable and tenacious, following the right way, never deviating in order to please men or from fear that we might lose some personal advantage.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Month of September

September is the first month of the Church Year, and contains two Great Feasts, the Birth of the Virgin and Holy Cross. We also celebrate the festival of Saint Edward's Enshrinement (1984) on Saturday 3rd/16th. 

Of course we do not know the date of the All-holy Virgin's birth, but the feast is kept on 8th/21st September, the eighth day of the New Year. This reminds us that in the beginning God created all things in six days and rested on the seventh day. The eighth day begins the New Creation. Saint Andrew of Crete referred to this feast as "the beginning of festivals, which serves as the door to grace and truth." Just as the Saviour was contained within the Virgin's womb, so the feasts of the Saviour throughout the year are contained within the cycle of services which span the Virgin's earthly life, from her Nativity to her Dormition. Of course, historically as well, the Virgin's much longer life contained that of her Divine Son.

The date of the celebration of the Holy Cross on 14th/27th of the month was appointed because the feast is attached to that of the consecration of the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem. This is an event we can date exactly. It was first celebrated on 13th September, 335 A.D. On whatever day of the week the feast falls it is kept as a fast day in remembrance of our Saviour's Passion.

In September, we also celebrate the memory of the holy Martyr Vasilissa of Nicomedia on the same day as we keep the enshrinement of St Edward. She was a nine year old girl when she was brought before the governor of Nicomedia accused of being a Christian. Seeing her youth, the governor, who was named Alexander, tried to persuade her to renounce her faith by offering certain inducements and by his kind and sweet words. When Vasilissa was not tempted by this approach, he ordered that she be beaten, and then burned on various parts of her body. When he saw Vasilissa still remained resolute, he commanded that she be put to death by being thrown into a burning furnace, but by God's dispensation she remained unharmed. Alexander then ordered that she be exposed to the wild beasts in the arena, but neither would they touch her. Seeing how a young girl was thus protected by Divine grace, Alexander's heart was enlightened, and he begged the forgiveness of the martyr, asking her prayers and declaring that he believed in her God. Vasilissa lived a few more years and died in peace. Alexander was instructed by the local Bishop and baptized and ended his earthly course in piety. St Vasilissa is an example of a number of saints, who are commemorated as martyrs even though they did not die for their faith. The sufferings that she endured and her witness before the persecutors won for her the crown of martyrdom although in this instance they did not actually kill her.

The Venerable Adamnan of Iona (6th/19th) is best known to us for his life of his renowned predecessor, St Columba of Iona. This work is still in print in an English translation and published by Penguin. St Adamnan died just over a hundred years after St Columba and so must have been one of the third or fourth generation of monks on Iona, and might well have known earlier fathers who remembered St Columba. As abbot of Iona, he visited Northumbria as an ambassador to its King Aldfrid, and thus came to know the monks of Wearmouth. He studied the differences of usages and calendar which had grown up between his native Celtic Church and the English Church, which was then following the Roman, and universal, usages. He had conversations with St Ceolfrid, and through these and his deep knowledge of the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church, he became convinced that the usages of his own Church were not sound. He tried by gentle persuasion to convince his monks at Iona of this and to have them reform their usages, but they were not to be persuaded, and being a gentle and tolerant man, Adamnan did not force them to comply. He visited communities in Ireland and there he found the Irish fathers more ready to bring their usages into line with the Church's general practice, and under his influence they adopted the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter. He returned to Iona but was still unable to persuade his monks to comply with the Roman usage, and he died within a year of his return in 704 A.D. Iona did later accept the reform which St Adamnan had urged upon it. Besides his life of St Columba, St Adamnan compiled on book on the holy places of Palestine. As far as we know he had never visited the Holy Land, but he gathered materials from a French bishop, Arculphus, who on his return from Jerusalem was driven by a storm at sea upon the shores of Britain.

The Venerable Cloud of Paris (7th/20th) was the grandson of the first Christian King of the Franks, Clovis, and his consort, St Clothilde. When Clovis died he left four sons, parting his domains among them. The second of these, Clodomir, was killed in battle with the Burgundians, and his three sons were left in the care of their saintly grandmother. In the dynastic quarrels of that period, the two eldest of these princes, aged ten and seven, were assassinated, but the third, Clodoald or Cloud, was taken to safety in Provence. There he grew up, and disdaining an earthly kingdom for the sake of the heavenly, he took up the monastic life. He lived for some years in obscurity as a hermit. Once he was approached by a beggar and, having nothing else to give him, gave him his monastic cowl. That evening when the beggar wore it as a protection against the weather, it was seen to shine with a radiance, and thus the hermitage and the sanctity of the saint were revealed. Later, St Cloud returned to Paris, where, no longer a threat to the dynastic ambitions of his uncles and cousins, he was granted a parcel of land to found a monastery. Eusebius, the bishop of Paris, ordained him to the priesthood, and there in his monastery he ended his earthly course in about 560 A.D. At the time of his death, he would not have been much above thirty-five years of age, but his virtue and purity had won for him the heavenly kingdom, whose riches he sought after having his earthly inheritance snatched from him.

Saint Cyprian of Moscow (16th/29th) was a Bulgarian by birth, and was born in 1330 A.D. As a young man he placed himself under obedience to the Venerable Theodosius, himself a disciple of the renowned hesychastic father, Saint Gregory the Sinaite. Wishing to progress further in the monastic life, he travelled to Constantinople and settled in the renowned and ancient monastery of Studion. His abilities were recognized by the Patriarch, St Philotheus. When the Patriarch was deposed in 1354, Cyprian went with him to the Holy Mountain Athos, where he was able to drink more deeply of the Palamite tradition. In 1364, Philotheus was restored to his cathedra, and he summoned Cyprian to join him in the Imperial City. At this period he was instrumental in restoring full communion between the Church of Serbia and the Œcumenical Throne, and then between his native Church of Bulgaria and Constantinople. 

At this time the Russian Church was still under the Œcumenical Patriarchate, and St Philotheus was desirous that it should remain united. However, the still pagan Prince of Lithuania, Olgerd, who held sway over parts of Western Russia was threatening to convert to Catholicism and force his Orthodox subjects to do so. To placate him and avoid a persecution of the faithful, in 1376 Philotheus consecrated Cyprian Metropolitan of Kiev, but, to ensure the subsequent unity of the Russian Church, also designated him successor of the aged St Alexis of Moscow. When St Alexis died two years later, Cyprian set out for Moscow, but was arrested being assumed to be a Lithuanian spy. He managed to return to Kiev, but political turmoil in Constantinople and in Russia prevented any resolution of the situation until in 1381, when on the initiative of Prince Dimitri Donskoy, he was recalled to Moscow. There the Prince publicly asked his forgiveness for his ill-treatment, and Saint Cyprian was installed as Metropolitan of the whole Russian Church. Shortly afterwards he was deposed and replaced by one Pimen, and it was not until 1389 that he regained his see.

Despite the political turmoil through which he lived, Saint Cyprian was able to achieve much. He laboured to correct liturgical abuses that had become prevalent in the Russian Church and corrected the service books. He translated from the original Greek a number of liturgical works, wrote a eulogy to St Peter of Moscow and glorified St Alexander Nevsky. He added to the Russian Synod icon of Orthodoxy the clauses relating to Saint Gregory Palamas' defence of Orthodoxy, and he arranged to aid to be sent to Constantinople when the people there were suffering on account of the siege of Bajazet. He died on 16th September, 1406, having dictated an address which he asked to be read at his funeral. His sacred relics were uncovered in 1472, and were enshrined in the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Moscow Kremlin.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Why do we wear a cross?

Most of us can answer this question quite simply by saying that we wear a cross because we were given a cross to wear at our baptism. The priest puts a cross around the neck of the newly-baptized in the Orthodox baptism service. We don’t have to wear this exact same cross (children are often given another one to wear in case they lose their baptismal one), but we must wear a cross. 

In the light of the recent controversy in the UK about a foster-child allegedly being made to remove her cross by her Muslim foster parents, it might be worth looking into why Orthodox Christians wear a cross and why others (even heterodox Christians) object both to wearing a cross and to making the sign of the cross.

The idea of Christians having to remove a cross is unfortunately not new. In 2006, British Airways asked a female employee to cover up the cross she was wearing, despite permitting the wearing of other visible religious symbols such as the hijab and turban. The woman, a Coptic Christian, appealed and the case ended up in the European Court of Human Rights which ruled in her favour. During the dispute the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated that it was not necessary for Christians to wear a cross and that it was merely an optional decoration.

The woman, on the other hand, argued that wearing a visible cross was an essential part of her Christian witness. Orthodox Christians, however, take a different view. It is not essential that people see our cross – most often they can’t because we wear it under our clothes. So why do we wear a cross? It is not just a decoration and it’s not necessary for us to display it.

The cross is the example of how we should live our Christian life because Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow Him (cf. Matt 16:24) Through the cross, Christ destroyed death and the power of the devil. The symbol of the cross is therefore invested with the power and grace to destroy the snares and traps of the devil which is why, as well as wearing a cross, we make the sign of the cross when we pray, when we bless our food, before starting work and in times of temptation. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the foundation of Christianity. This sacrifice occurred so that we might be reconciled to the Father through God’s surpassing love for us. It is this love that we must remember when we look on the cross.

Jews and Muslims understandably do not accept the cross because they do not believe that Christ is the Son of God. It is more surprising that some heterodox Christian groups do not accept it either. The Roman Catholic Church is superficially the closest to the Orthodox on this issue. Roman Catholics make the sign of the cross and many Catholics wear a cross. The biggest contrast with the Orthodox is that the wearing of a cross is optional for Roman Catholics – the cross is not given as part of the Roman Catholic baptism service.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are perhaps the most well known of those object to the cross, however this group cannot strictly be called Christian because they do not believe that Christ is God. Unlike Protestant Christians, they teach that Christ was not crucified on a cross but on a stake – this teaching is unknown in any Christian tradition.

Among Protestants there are many different opinions concerning the significance of the Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the relevance of the symbol of the cross today. Most (with the exception of the Lutherans) do not make the sign of the cross or even wear a cross. Most Protestant churches, although rejecting the use of a cross in worship, might have one somewhere in the building. The fish symbol has replaced the cross in newer Protestant churches.

The nearest Protestants to the Orthodox position on the cross are the Lutherans, who make the sign of the cross as taught by one of the founders of Protestantism Martin Luther (d.1546): ‘In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer’.

Strangely, some of the biggest opponents of the wearing and use of the cross in worship are Anglicans who are otherwise pretty liberal in their beliefs. In the nineteenth century the Protestant wing of the Church of England spent a small fortune prosecuting Anglican priests (and successfully getting them sent to prison) for the crime of having a cross on the altar table which was regarded as being too Roman Catholic.

The Anglican Church is not really Protestant in the sense that the Lutheran Church is; the traditional beliefs and practices of the Church of England owe more to the Puritans than the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther. The Puritans were dedicated to removing all trace of Roman Catholicism from sixteenth century England. They destroyed relics, shrines, books, vestments and persecuted anyone who dared oppose them. They could perhaps be described as the ISIS of the sixteenth century. In the newly emerging United States, Puritans arriving from England carried on in much the same fashion.

As a result of their influence, Puritan teachings began to supplant the teachings of Luther and this explains why, even today, most Protestants regard the sign of the cross as Roman Catholic and are almost frightened of making it – little knowing that one of the most important founders of Protestantism regarded it as essential.

The idea that wearing a cross is ‘Roman Catholic’ is also tied up with the modern Protestant idea of rejecting everything ‘old’ in favour of the ‘new’. Most young Protestants today would reject all the Ecumenical Councils - even if they had heard of them. Most would regard the Creed as an unnecessary invention. It is this opposition to tradition that fuels their rejection of the cross. It is strange though that the ancient Christian fish symbol is used instead of the cross in these churches. Surely, it would be more logical to accept the Creed and make the sign of the cross as Martin Luther did? The reason that Luther’s practice isn’t followed is because these modern Protestants believe that Luther himself was wrong and had deviated from the truth. For them, Christianity ended sometime in the first or second century and was only re-invigorated in the late twentieth century.

Some Evangelical Protestants reject the cross because they are not really convinced that it was necessary. For them, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is a far-off event that doesn’t really matter anymore. This idea is sometimes called ‘easy-believism’ or more properly ‘Non-Lordship Salvation’. The general idea is that one only has to believe that one is saved in order to be saved; there is no need to accept Jesus as Lord, to follow His commandments or to take up one’s cross and follow Him. This belief is quite common especially among the newer churches that have emerged over the last twenty years or so. This teaching is clearly contrary to Scripture. Saint Paul teaches that we become ‘heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him’ (Rom. 8:17).

‘Easy-believism” is also not traditionally Protestant. John Calvin, who along with Luther, was one of the most important founders of Protestantism speaks of the importance of Christians ‘bearing their cross’. The Protestants who follow Calvin’s teachings do not make the sign of the Cross, but also completely reject the idea of ‘easy-believism’. Calvin himself said:
Now, by saying that the world was crucified to him and he to the world, it is certain that Paul means the same thing, yet he wants to reinforce that we can indeed renounce this world and be separate from it, by being crucified to ourselves with regard to the world.
Some Protestants object to the symbol of the cross because it is an object of suffering and humiliation. This is a common view among Protestants whom the Orthodox literature refers to as ‘Judaizing’. In modern English we would probably refer to them as ‘Christian Zionists’. This idea is common among Protestant Fundamentalists in America and is based on the idea that the Jewish people are the chosen of God and that the State of Israel is a continuation of the Old Testament Israel. These Protestants are waiting for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the reestablishment of the Old Testament priesthood and worship including animal sacrifices.

Because they do not believe that Christ is the Son of God, it is understandable that Jewish people still regard the cross as an instrument of punishment that should not be reverenced. However, this opposition to the cross is not confined just to the Jews. Saint Paul says: ‘But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God’ (1. Cor. 23-24) Orthodox Christians venerate the cross because by being raised on It, Christ opened the way to Paradise for us again and made us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.