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Saturday, 18 November 2017

Archbishop Welby is going to Heaven

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, caused a minor stir recently when he said the following in an interview with Alastair Campbell published in GQ magazine.[1]

Campbell: 'Will you go to Heaven?'
Welby: 'Yes.'
Campbell: 'Will I go to Heaven?'
Welby: 'That's up to you.'

Although Archbishop Welby’s answers sound arrogant to Orthodox ears, they are entirely consistent with his beliefs and not just personal conceit. Welby also categorically states in the same interview that he believes in the Virgin Birth and the Divinity of Christ so he is not a liberal in the Anglican sense.

Welby’s background in the Evangelical parish Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) could explain his certainty that he is going to Heaven. HTB became famous in the 1990s for embracing the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and events there made the UK and international press:

The youthful throng buzzes with anticipation more common at a rock concert or a rugby match. After the usual scripture readings, prayers, and singing, the chairs are cleared away. Curate Nicky Gumbel prays that the Holy Spirit will come upon the congregation. Soon, a woman begins laughing. Others gradually join her with hearty belly laughs. A young worshipper falls to the floor, hands twitching. Another falls, then another and another. Within half an hour, there are bodies everywhere as supplicants sob, shake, roar like lions, and strangest of all, laugh uncontrollably.[2]

Alpha Course literature no longer mentions the Toronto Blessing, but earlier editions of the talks that accompany the course mentioned it specifically:

Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto then she said ‘Now we’ll invite the Holy Spirit to come’ and the moment she said that, one of the people there was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing … making the most incredible noise … [3]

This behaviour resembles the actions of those possessed by demons that we read about in the Gospels:  

And one of the multitude answered and said, Teacher, I have brought unto you my son, who has a dumb spirit; And wherever he takes him, he throws him down: and he foams, and gnashes with his teeth, and wastes away: and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answered him, and said, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? Bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, immediately the spirit convulsed him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming (Matt. 9:17-20).

At Pentecost, the apostles did not bark like dogs, roar like lions or writhe on the ground. On the contrary, as we hear in the service for Pentecost, ‘each one of them there present heard spoken his native tongue’. In other words, the apostles were given the gift of speaking foreign languages. 

We don’t have time in this article to discuss the Alpha Course in great detail, but the Course, and the worship at HTB are rooted in the so-called Faith Movement. This movement promotes many heretical beliefs, one of which, ‘faith in faith’, is outlined below by the Baptist pastor Dr. Nick Needham:

‘Faith’ is an independent spiritual force, a basic law of the universe. God Himself is a ‘faith God’: He created the universe by His faith. This involved God in visualising the universe in His imagination, and then speaking it into existence with ‘faith-filled words’—saying ‘Let it be’ and believing that it would be. Man also can use the same power and create his own reality. This involves visualising what you want, and then speaking it into existence with faith in your creative words (‘Positive confession’—sometimes called ‘Name it and claim it’).[4]

According to the above theory, people can ‘create’ reality by wishing it into existence. Followers of the Alpha Course, for example, invite Jesus into their life and this becomes a reality because they have ‘named it and claimed it’. This theory also explains why follows of the Alpha Course believe that they will go to Heaven.

The Alpha Course has also been criticized by Reformed Protestants for promoting ‘easy believism’ – the belief that one needs to accept Christ as Saviour but not necessarily as Lord. In other words, ‘easy believers’ can continue their lives without obeying Christ’s commandments as long as they accept Christ as Saviour. In similar fashion, the Alpha Course ignores Christ’s role as Judge and Lord in order to promote a more accessible Jesus. HTB’s own magazine describes the course as ‘fun and unthreatening - just like our Lord Himself!’ [5]

We have only quoted a small part of Welby’s interview, but it is clear that the idea he is putting forward here is not Orthodox. We cannot be saved simply by telling ourselves we are. Nor can people can save themselves solely by their own actions. This idea was condemned by the Orthodox Church in the fifth century – it is called the heresy of Pelagianism.

People who are convinced that they are going to Heaven are forgetting that we will be judged by God for our deeds on earth as Saint Paul teaches: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad’ (2.Cor. 5:10).

Christ is the Judge of All and Almighty God. Christ Himself says: ‘As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 5:30) ‘And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me' (John 8:16).

We preach Christ as Saviour and Lord Who, when He comes again in glory, will reveal the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of our hearts (cf. 1. Cor. 4:5). Christ teaches:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity (Matt. 7: 22-23).

Even though Christ is a Just Judge, the chances of us entering the Kingdom of Heaven are far from certain. Even St. Paul did not dare to say that he was already saved or going to heaven: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own’ (Phil. 3:12). In a similar vein, St. Paul likens our Christian life to an athletic race: ‘Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain (1. Cor. 9:24).

We must repent of our sins and struggle to run the race well, but we cannot earn salvation by our works. It is for reason that the Church describes our spiritual life as cooperation with the Holy Spirit. This cooperation between our works on earth and grace is called synergy. St. Paul uses the word ‘synergy’ in this context when he says: ‘We are fellow workers (synergoi) with God’ (1. Cor. 3:9).  

Salvation is not solely up to us, because as Christ says: ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15:5). However, our contribution is indispensable because, as St. James the Apostle teaches, ‘Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).

Our personal salvation is therefore not assured unless we continue to ‘fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life’ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12). Who among us can say that we are fighting this good fight as well as we should? Who among us can say that we have no sin? We cannot, therefore, declare that we will go to Heaven.

We are all sinners and we must repent, acknowledging how far we away from even beginning to keep Christ’s commandments. It is for this reason, that time and again in the services of the Orthodox Church we ask for the mercy of God. For example, in the Orthodox funeral service we chant:

I am an image of Thine ineffable glory even though I bear the wounds of sin; take compassion on Thy creature, O Master, and cleanse me by Thy loving-kindness; and grant me the desired fatherland, making me again a dweller of Paradise.

We cannot, like Archbishop Welby, say that we are going to Heaven. We acknowledge that we are sinners, but we trust in the mercy and love of God ‘Who desires that all men be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

[2] Richard Ostling, 'Laughing for the Lord'. Time Magazine. Aug 15, 1994.
[3] Talk 9 Edition 1 (2000)
[5] Alpha News Feb 1997

Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Church is the Body of Christ

By Saint John of Shanghai the Wonderworker

'Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all' (Col. 1:18, Eph.1:23). 

In the sacred Scriptures the Church is repeatedly called the Body of Christ. “Rejoice in my sufferings for you … for His body’s sake, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24), writes the holy Apostle Paul. The Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were given by Christ “for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). 

At the same time, it is into the Body and Blood of Christ that the bread and wine are changed during the Divine Liturgy, and the faithful partake of them. Thus it was instituted by Christ Himself, when at the Mystical Supper He imparted Communion unto His Apostles with the words, “Take, eat, this is My body; drink ye all from it, this is My blood of the New Testament” (Matt. 26:26-28). 

How at one and the same time can the Body of Christ be manifest both as the Church and as the Holy Mysteries? 

In the one case and in the other the designation “Body of Christ” is not used metaphorically, but in the actual meaning of the words. We believe that the Holy Mysteries, while maintaining the appearance of bread and wine, are the very Body and very Blood of Christ. We also believe and confess that Christ is the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, became a man truly and that His flesh, taken from the Virgin Mary, was actually human flesh; that in body and soul Christ was truly a man in every respect like unto us, except for sin, and that at the same time He remains true God. The Son of God’s Divine Nature was not diminished or changed when He was incarnate, neither was His human nature changed thereby, but it fully retained all its human characteristics. 

The Divinity and the humanity are united in the One Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, without change, and without blending for ever, undivided and inseparably. The Son of God was incarnate so that people might be made ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4), so that man, who had fallen into sin and death, might be freed therefrom and be made immortal.  

When we are united with Christ, we receive Divine Grace, which grants human nature the power of victory over sin and death. The Lord Jesus Christ showed people the way of victory over sin by His teaching and He grants us eternal life, making us participants in His eternal kingdom through His Resurrection. That we might receive this Divine Grace from Him, the closest possible communion with Him is indispensable. Drawing all to Himself by Divine love and uniting them to Himself, the Lord united one to another those who love Him and had come thereunto, uniting them within the One Church.

The Church is unity in Christ, the closest union with Christ for all who rightly believe in Him and love Him, the union of all of them in Christ.  This is what the Church comprises from her earthly part even to her heavenly.
The Son of God came to earth and was incarnate, to raise man to Heaven, to make him again a citizen of Paradise, restoring him again to his original condition of sinlessness and wholeness, and to unite him to Himself. 

This is achieved through the action of the Grace of God, which is imparted through the Church, but it also requires effort on the part of man himself. God saves His fallen creature through His love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also needed, and without it it is impossible for him to be saved. When it strives towards God and cleaves to the Lord in its humble love, the soul of man receives power, which cleanses it of sin, and strengthens it to battle with sin unto complete victory.
In this battle the body also participates; though it now appears to be the dwelling-place and instrument of sin, it is intended to be the instrument of righteousness and the vessel of sanctity. 

God made man, breathing a Godlike spirit into the animate body which He had first created from the earth. The body must be the instrument of the soul which is subservient to God. Through it the soul of man is manifest in the material world. Through the body and its particular members, the soul reveals its characteristics and the nature which God has given it as His image, and thus the body is a manifestation of the image of God and “our beauty is fashioned after the image of God” (verses from the Funeral Service). 

When the first-created people fell away from their Creator spiritually, the body, which hitherto had been subservient to the soul, receiving its orders through the soul, ceased to be subject unto it and began to strive to rule over it. The law of the flesh took the place of the law of God within man.
Sin, which thus cut man off from the source of life, God, also separated man himself. He lost the oneness in his soul, between soul and body, and death came upon him. The soul, no longer watered by the streams of life, could no longer impart them to the body. The body became corruptible, languidness became the portion of the soul. 

Christ came to earth to raise up the fallen image again, and to bring it back to unity with Him, Whose image it was. Uniting him with Himself, God elevated man to his original goodness in all its fullness.

Granting grace and sanctification to the soul, Christ also purified, strengthened, healed and hallowed soul and body. ‘He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit with the Lord’ (1 Cor. 6:17). The body, then, of the man united with the Lord, must be the Lord’s instrument, serving for the fulfilment of His will and being part of the Body of Christ. 

That man might be wholly sanctified, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is achieved in the Mystery of Holy Communion. The very Body and very Blood of Christ, which we partake of, become part of the great Body of Christ.

Of course, for there to be union with Christ, it is not enough simply to unite our body with the Body of Christ. The tasting of the Body of Christ becomes beneficial, when with the soul we strive towards Him and are united with Him. The reception of the Body of Christ, when spiritually we are turning aside from Him, is like the touching of Christ by those who beat Him, and scourged Him and crucified Him. Their contact with Him did not serve for their salvation or healing, but was unto condemnation. 

Those who receive Communion, though, with reverence, love and a readiness to place themselves at His service, intimately unite themselves with Him, and they become instruments of His Divine will. 

‘He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him’ (John 6:56). 

Having united himself with the Risen Lord, and through Him with the whole Ever-Existing Trinity, a man draws strength from Him unto eternal life and himself becomes immortal. 

‘As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me’ (John 6:57). 

All those who believe in Christ and are united with Him by giving themselves to Him and through the reception of the Grace of God together comprise the Church of Christ, the Head of which is Christ Himself, and those enter into Him are His members. 

Invisible to the physical eye, Christ clearly manifests Himself on earth through His Church, just as the soul of man, which is invisible, manifests itself through its body. The Church is the Body of Christ because her members are united with Christ through His Divine Mysteries, and because through her Christ acts within the world. 

We commune of the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might be members of the Body of Christ (the Church). 

This is not achieved instantaneously. The fullest abiding in the Church is the condition of victory over sin and a complete cleansing therefrom. Everything sinful to a certain degree alienates us from the Church and separates us from the Church. This is why, at confession, this prayer is read over every penitent: ‘Reconcile, and unite to Thy holy Church.’ Through repentance the Christian is cleansed; in the communion of the Holy Mysteries he is united most closely with Christ, but then again the dust of sin settles upon him and he is estranged from Christ and the Church and therefore again needs repentance and Communion. 

Right until a man’s earthly life ends, to the very departure of his soul from the body, the battle between sin and righteousness continues within him. However exalted, spiritual or moral a condition he may have reached, it is possible for him by degrees or even precipitately to fall deeply into the abyss of sin. So it is indispensable for us, at each and every communion of the holy Body and Blood of Christ, to strengthen our communion with Him and bedew ourselves with the living streams of the Grace of the Holy Spirit which flow within the Body of the Church. The importance of communing of the Holy Mysteries is demonstrated by the Life of the venerable Onouphrius the Great, to whom, along with the other hermits who dwelt in that desert, the Angels brought Holy Communion; by the venerable Mary of Egypt whose last wish, after many years of living in the desert, was to receive the Holy Mysteries; by the venerable Sabbatius of Solovki and by a host of others. It was not vainly that the Lord said: ‘Amen, Amen, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you’ (John 6:53). 

The communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is the reception within oneself of the Risen Christ, the Conqueror of death, Who grants to those who are with Him victory over sin and death.

When we preserve in ourselves the grace-filled gift of Communion, we have the pledge and presaging of the blessed life of soul and body. 

Until the very 'Day of Christ', His second Coming and Judgment of all the world, the battle between sin and righteousness will continue, both within each individual man, and among all mankind.
The earthly Church unites all those born again by way of Baptism, who have taken up the Cross of the battle with sin, and who follow the Contest-setter of that battle, Christ. The Divine Eucharist, the offering of the bloodless sacrifice and the communion thereof, sanctifies and strengthens those who participate; it makes those who taste of the Body and Blood of Christ true members of His Body, the Church. But it is only at death that a man may determine whether until his last breath he was actually a member of the Body of Christ, or whether sin prevailed within him and expelled the grace that he had received in the Holy Mysteries and which bound him to Christ. 

He who dies in grace, as a member of the earthly Church, is translated from the Church on earth to that in heaven, but he who has forsaken the earthly [Church] does not enter into the heavenly, for that part of the Church which is on earth is the road to the heavenly. 

The more a man finds himself under the action of the grace of Communion and the more closely he binds himself to Christ, the more he will inherit communion with Christ in His Kingdom which is to come.

But if sin continues to act in a man’s soul even unto death, then his body will be subject to its consequences, which bear in themselves sickness and death, and from them it will only be liberated when it decomposes after the death of that man and when it rises free of them in the General Resurrection. He who is united soul and body to Christ in this life, will be united with Him soul and body in the life to come. The grace-filled streams of the Life-creating Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ are manifest as the sources of our eternal joy in communion with the Risen Christ and in seeing His glory face to face. 

Even though sin does not completely alienate one from the race of man, nonetheless its consequences act not only upon individual people, but, through them, upon them upon the earthly activity of the whole Church. Constantly heresies, schisms and disorders appear, tearing away a portion of the faithful. From of old, breaks in commemoration between the local churches or within sections of them have agitated the Church, and in the Divine services we constantly hear prayers that such things might be cut short. 

‘We ask for concord among the Churches’, ‘the union of the Churches’ (Canon of the Resurrection, Plagal Fourth Tone), ‘that the dissension of the Churches might be set in order’ (Service of the Archangels, 8th November) ­– these and other similar petitions has the Orthodox Church offered up over the course of the centuries. On the Great Sabbath itself, before the Winding-Sheet, the Church cries out: ‘Birthgiver of Life, O most blameless and most holy Virgin: Quell every offence within our most Holy Church, blessing us with peace forever, O Good Maid’. 

Only when Christ appears in the clouds, will the tempter be trampled down and only then will all offences and temptations disappear. 

When the battle between good and evil, between life and death, is finished, then will the Church on earth be delivered into the Church Triumphant, in which “God will be all in all” (see 1 Cor. 15:28). 

In the coming Kingdom of Christ, there will be no need to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, for all those who have been deemed worthy will be in the closest bodily communion with Him and will delight in the pre-eternal light of the Life-originating Trinity, experiencing a blessedness which no tongue can describe and which our feeble minds cannot comprehend. Therefore, after the communion of the holy Mysteries of Christ at the Liturgy, in the sanctuary they always say the prayer which is sung on the paschal days, ‘O great and most sacred Pascha, Christ; O Wisdom and Word and power of God! Grant that we may partake of Thee fully in the unwaning day of Thy kingdom.’
Translated from Slova - the Homilies of St John of Shanghai, published by Russkiy Pastyr in San Francisco, in 1994.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Poppies and Remembrance Day

World War One ended at 11 a.m. on the 11th November 1918 with the signing of the Armistice that signalled the defeat of Germany. As a consequence, the 11th of November is kept as Remembrance Day on which we commemorate those members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces who have died in the service of our country. The nearest Sunday to the 11th is also kept as Remembrance Sunday which is marked by a service led by Bishop of London at the Cenotaph in London. On both days, a two-minute silence is kept at 11 a.m.

Remembrance Sunday is problematic for traditional Orthodox Christians for two reasons. Firstly, there is no provision in the services of the Orthodox Church for a two-minute silence during the Divine Liturgy. Secondly, Remembrance Sunday is essentially a Church of England service, and we should not participate in joint prayers with those who are not Orthodox. These problems however, do not mean that we cannot wear a poppy – far from it! The poppy itself is not a religious symbol and we should all wear one or at least donate to the British Legion’s Poppy Appeal that offers support both to the relatives of the fallen and also to members of the armed forces wounded in the service of our country.

The Poppy Appeal’s symbol, the red poppy, was chosen as a non-religious symbol of remembrance for those fallen in battle because it grew on the battlefields where some of most savage battles of WW1 were fought. These fields had been reduced to a sea of mud by almost continuous shelling and were littered with unburied bodies. The poppy is a symbol of hope that something beautiful can emerge from chaos and bloodshed. The poppy was not chosen because of its blood-red colour. 

It is worth noting that the poppy is a not a symbol of support for British military conflicts. Unfortunately, in recent years wearing a poppy has become a sign of support for the British military rather than symbol of remembrance for the fallen. For example, an ill-judged Poppy Appeal advert stated that we stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with our armed forces – the same phrase Tony Blair used to promise Britain’s support for the Second Iraq War.

The Early Christians honoured the Roman Emperors as St. Peter the Apostle teaches: ‘Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king’ (1 Pet. 2:17). We therefore pray for the Queen in every service of the Orthodox Church because she is our Head of State, and we honour our armed forces because they are servants of the Crown and are prepared to offer their lives in defence of our country. 

Showing respect to our military though, does not mean that we have to approve of every military conflict that they are involved in. It is not at all contradictory to wear a red poppy and at the same time campaign against ill-advised or illegal military interventions.

In addition, we, as Orthodox Christians living in the west, are in a peculiar position because Britain and the Soviet Union were on the same side in WW2. As a result, the British Government had to turn a blind eye to the crimes committed by the Soviet Communists who were directly responsible for an estimated twenty million deaths.

As a result of Communism, Orthodox Christians ended up fighting on both the Axis and Allied sides in WW2. In Greece, for example, Orthodox Christians fought the Nazis and sheltered their Jewish neighbours. In Serbia, hundreds of thousands of Serbian Orthodox men, women and children were tortured and murdered by the Fascist Ustaše in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the Balkans of Orthodox Christians and to crush the Serbs’ support for the Allies. In contrast, in the Soviet Union, many Orthodox Christians fought with the German Wehrmacht to liberate their country from the horrors of Communism.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of British military interventions, we support the Poppy Appeal because the poppy is not a political symbol, but a remembrance of sacrifice. Christ Himself said: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). The men and women that we remember by wearing a poppy died to preserve the freedoms we enjoy in the U.K. today – the most important of which, for us, is the freedom to worship freely as Orthodox Christians. This sacrifice is especially apparent today; members of the armed forces play a vital role by supporting the police in protecting us from terrorism at home in the U.K.  

There is no reason that we cannot wear a poppy on religious grounds. As Orthodox Christians we are trying to uproot evil and hatred from within our hearts, but we realize that nations sometimes have to defend themselves, and others, against tyranny. Every attempt must be made to avoid war, but sometimes war is unavoidable as Saint Philaret of New York (right) explains:

War in itself is absolutely evil, an extremely sad phenomenon and deeply contrary to the very essence of Christianity. Words cannot express how joyous it would be if people ceased to war with one another and peace reigned on earth. Sad reality speaks quite otherwise, however. Only some dreamers far removed from reality and some narrowly one-sided sectarians can pretend that war can be omitted from real life. [1]

An opposition to all war is termed ‘pacifism’. Pacifists are opposed to war in any circumstances. Saint Philaret refers to these people as ‘dreamers’. Their position is neither realistic nor Orthodox.

According to pacifists, war must be prevented at all costs by countries being nice to their enemies. It doesn’t matter if the enemy doesn’t want to be nice or is completely dedicated to evil. For example, British pacifists supported the Nazis during the 1930s. The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) joined with British fascists in proclaiming their support for Nazi Germany at the time when the Nazis were murdering thousands of disabled men, women and children and preparing the Final Solution. Their support continued even after the start of WW2. 

We are called by Christ to be peacemakers (cf. Matt. 5:9), but Christ Himself tells us that ‘ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass…’(Matt. 24:6). It is clear then, from Christ’s words that wars cannot be avoided. Genuine Orthodox peacemakers do not naively oppose all war, but strive to purify their hearts by repentance and by rooting out all malice and hatred for their neighbour. Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (cf. Matt. 5:44). Acting in this way requires an extremely high degree of spiritual strength. Nonetheless, the saints of the Orthodox Church have achieved this by their love for God and neighbour.

God gave the command ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Ex. 20:13) as one of the Ten Commandments, but He also commanded the Israelites to fight against their enemies. This verse is more accurately translated as ‘Thou shalt not murder’ which is a very different act from killing someone in warfare. We are actually called to a much higher commandment. Christ teaches: ‘You have heard that it was said to the ancients, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment’ (Matt. 5:21).

The Christian martyrs are perhaps the perfect examples of what Christ commanded and what St. Peter teaches here: ‘Do not render evil for evil, or railing for railing: but on the contrary blessing; knowing that you are unto this called, that you should inherit a blessing’ (1. Pet. 3:9). The martyrs surrendered themselves to the sword and fire for the love of God, but there are also many Orthodox saints who are remembered not only for their piety but also as leaders of their Orthodox people in wars.

For many years, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) that we mentioned above has been promoting the white poppy as an alternative to the traditional red poppy. The white poppy seems harmless enough, but it is a symbol of the wider peace movement. We have mentioned the PPU’s support of fascism during WW2. In addition, during the Cold War many other western peace organisations were simply fronts for Soviet political activities. These ‘peace’ organizations called for the disarmament of NATO forces, but were silent about the millions killed by Communism in the Soviet Union. For these pacifists, the word ‘peace’ actually meant ‘communist victory’.

Even though pacifism is not Orthodox, the taking of human life is a sin however it occurs. Even soldiers who have justifiably taken human life in battle are still called to repentance by the Church. In his 13th Canon Basil the Great states:

Our Fathers did not consider the killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defence of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that they are not clean-handed.

We mentioned above that we do not take part in Remembrance Sunday services. The Orthodox Church has Her own services of remembrance for the departed. We commemorate all departed Orthodox Christians on the Soul Sabbaths throughout the year. More specifically we commemorate those Orthodox Christians fallen in battle on the feast of the Beheading of the Forerunner.

We have mentioned praying for Orthodox Christians who have died in battles, but how do we remember non-Orthodox British and Commonwealth soldiers who have given their lives in the service of our country? 

We can pray for the non-Orthodox fallen in battle in our private prayers; the Holy Martyr Varus (right) is called upon in particular to intercede on their behalf. We can give money to charity on their behalf by supporting the Poppy Appeal. Throughout out the year we can help veterans in our parish and the wider community by visiting them and inviting them to our homes especially if they are living on their own. 

Our support for the Poppy Appeal is completely compatible with traditional Orthodoxy. We shall conclude with the some words of Saint Cyril the Enlightener of the Slavs on how we should behave as Orthodox Christians: ‘We meekly endure personal offences; but as a society, we defend each other, laying down or lives for our neighbours’.

[1] Metropolitan Philaret, The Law of God (Chilliwack: Synaxis Press) p.65

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Homily on the Prayer 'Our Father'

 By Father George Cheremetieff

We normally say this prayer by heart, quickly and without attention, and we think that this will please God! I think that such prayer only upsets our Creator. It is easy to say this prayer without attention. But if we reflect upon each petition, this will seem wrong. It is always possible to be hypocritical, but one cannot deceive God. Let us look at the petitions:
Our Father, Which art in the Heavens!

Do we really behave like children of the Great Father and God? How do we dare to call Him Father without fear and trembling?
Hallowed be Thy Name.

How can we make His holy name holy? It is only falsely that we hallow it by hypocritical words, such as the Pharisees whom we condemn used. We can only really hallow the name of the Lord with a good life and chaste thoughts. How far we are from doing this!
Thy Kingdom come.

The Kingdom of God will only come when we all live according to God. Are we really preparing the coming of the Kingdom of God by our lives?

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

In Heaven, God's will is fulfilled unflinchingly. And do we on earth really do God's will? No! We want to do our own will, and so in this prayer again we are being hypocritical.
Give us this day our daily bread.

Which means give us today that food which is indispensable for the life of the body. But then we think that this is too little. But we want a little more to spare, so that we can lay some up for the future, and not just enough for today. We do not have faith that the Lord will not abandon us, and we trust God less and less.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

This is what we read. But so that it should accord with our life in reality, we should say: 'And do not forgive us our debts, because we do not forgive our debtors.'
And lead us not into temptation.

We ask this, but we rush after temptations, like wasps after honey. Sin seems so sweet before we commit it, but afterwards we see that we are left naked before the sin. And we still have no desire to mend our ways.
But deliver us from the evil one.

We ask to be delivered from him, and from all the evil which he creates and maintains. But we ourselves do evil and want to do our neighbour evil. And in this way we serve the evil, guileful tempter. So this our petition is hypocritical as well.

Looking at it honestly, there is reason for a man to be horrified. But it is not necessary to lose hope; one cannot be freed from it straightaway. But with God's help, through His Holy Mysteries we can gradually be delivered from hypocrisy, defilement and deception.

One must only remember that by ourselves we can do nothing, and that there is nothing to be proud about. We must humbly beg God's help, and having received it bring and instill into our life one supplication after another. And each one will take much time. And God grant that we might at least fulfil some of these petitions in our life. This is exactly how the Lord's Prayer should act in our life, transfiguring that life and illumining it. This is how we should work on ourselves, honestly and unceasingly. Only do not weaken; only do not get into temptations,and do not give up under the seductions of the dark powers. They seem so deceptively beautiful and enjoyable. And so we do not wish for a moment to understand what deception, what destruction and what filth is contained in them.

We have no strength to turn to God with the heartfelt prayer, 'O Lord, be gracious unto Thy creation.' 'In our thoughts which have been taken captive,' we can find no 'word of appeal'. If we make supplication for it, then often it is only with the lips. But inside we are thinking, 'I will leave it for today; tomorrow, I will repent.' And tomorrow again there is no repentance. And if sudden death were to come, then there would be no tomorrow. Then again, sometimes with the help of God, which is never sparing, we throw off a passion. But then we must again begin the ascent of the ladder of the petitions in the Lord's Prayer. And one day of warfare follows another. And, at the end, unremarked the sunset of life draws near, and the vision that has been enlightened by the struggle perceives the quiet light of evening.

If, with the help of God, the practice of the Lord's Prayer proceeds well, then we shall begin with faith to transcend even its last petition, and experience deliverance from the evil one. O Lord, let not the enemy disturb the quiet evening of my life. And then, crossing over from this earthly boundary, we shall be able joyously to glorify the Lord with all our soul, and with faith to cry out: 'For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen'.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


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.