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Friday, 30 June 2017

The Orthodox Church


Orthodoxy means right belief or right glorification. Ortho means ‘right’ in Greek and doxa can either be translated as ‘belief’ or ‘glory.’ In other words, the Orthodox Church holds the right beliefs about God and glorifies God in the right way. Some people in other Christian groups may try to glorify God, but they do not have the correct faith and so cannot glorify Him correctly.

The Church is more than just the building that we worship in, and it is more than just a gathering of people; the Church is the Body of Christ. The Head of the Church is Christ and we are members of His Body. The word ‘member’ in this sense means a limb or a part of the body) Because the Church is the Body of Christ, it is also filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Church is also often called a vine; Christ is the stem and we are the branches that receive their food and strength from Him. It is also called a flock of sheep; we are rational (we have the ability to think) sheep and Christ is the Shepherd that keeps us safe, guides us and feeds us.

The Church began with the creation of angels and men. After the fall of Adam and Eve, throughout the Old Testament the Church continued in the persons of the holy men and women such as Abraham, Issac, Jacob & Ruth. The apostles became members of the Church at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down on them in the form of tongues of fire. The main ways we receive this grace is through the mysteries of the Church.

Grace isn’t a packet of holiness that God creates and gives us to make us good boys or girls. We can’t know God in His essence or ‘God-ness’ but we can know Him through His uncreated energies. Grace is just another word for these energies and we come to know God through His grace.

Of course, God is not limited to acting only through these mysteries. God sends forth his grace upon everyone in the world but it is only within the Orthodox Church that we can receive this grace in full — the grace that leads us to union with God. This is why the mystery of Baptism is so important because as St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain says: ’Before holy Baptism the grace of God moves a man towards good from outside, while Satan is hidden in the depths of the heart and soul. But after a man has been baptised, the demon hovers outside the heart, while grace enters inside.’[1]

It is impossible to define God or explain how God works. We need to remember that even though it is possible for us to become gods it is impossible for us to explain how this occurs. Vladimir Lossky compares this mystery with the mystery of the Incarnation: ‘We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation.’[2]
What do bishops do?
Orthodox bishops are the leaders of the Church on earth. In the Orthodox Church, bishops are called hierarchs which is a Greek word meaning ‘high priest.’ For this reason, the Orthodox Church is called hierarchal because all the different ranks are arranged in order with the hierarchs at the top.

Each bishop runs a group of churches called a diocese and any important decisions concerning the life of his diocese are made by him. However, his main role is not to make decisions, it is to shepherd his flock which are the people in his diocese.

In doing this, he must try to imitate Christ the Chief Shepherd, in loving and caring for his flock. Also, the bishop is an important teacher of the Orthodox Faith. In return, the people must show love and respect for their bishop. Although the bishop is the most important person in the diocese, the most important decisions regarding the Church as a whole are taken by all the bishops together. The highest authority in the Church is when bishops are called together from all over the world to form an Œcumenical Council.

The Orthodox Church recognizes seven Œcumenical Councils. In general, a council can be considered to be Œcumenical if it is a worldwide gathering of bishops called by an Orthodox Emperor or Empress and if the decisions of this Council are accepted over time by the faithful of the Orthodox Church.[3]

It is our duty to know as much as we can about our Orthodox Faith because we have to look after that faith. There have been many councils over the years that have looked Œcumenical but were rejected by the ordinary people. The Letter of the Orthodox Patriarchs, written in 1848, illustrates this point clearly: ‘Among us, neither Patriarchs nor Councils could ever introduce a new teaching, for the guardian of religion is the very body of the Church that is the people itself.’ So, we can see that the people are helpless without an Orthodox bishop, but a bishop who is not teaching the Orthodox Faith is helpless if he does not have the confidence of his Orthodox flock.

Excerpt from 'The Ark of Salvation: A Young Adult's Guide to the Orthodox Church'


[1] E. Kadloubovsky & G.E.H Palmer (trans.), Unseen Warfare (Oxford: A.R. Mowbray & Co. Ltd., 1978) p.153
[2]  Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. Ltd.,1991) p. 87
[3] Œcumenical is taken from the Greek word Œcumene which means ‘the world’

Thursday, 15 June 2017

New Book by Saint Edward Brotherhood

The Grace of the Spirit: A Guide to the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church

The Grace of the Spirit is an approachable guide to the theology and practice of the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church. Written by the Fathers of Saint Edward Brotherhood, the Grace of the Spirit is 273 pages in length with numerous black and white illustrations and seven full colour plates; it is also comprehensively indexed.
From the back cover:

Orthodox Christians are united to Christ, and each other in this life, through the mysteries of the Orthodox Church by which we partake of the grace of the Holy Spirit. We are fused by grace into a single body with Christ as our Head in the hope that we will dwell together with Him in eternity. Written by the Fathers of Saint Edward Brotherhood, The Grace of the Spirit is a guide to the structure and theology of the mysteries (often called sacraments) of the Orthodox Church. Drawing together numerous quotes from the Church Fathers the authors illustrate the significance of the traditions preserved in the Orthodox mysteries. 

In addition to the seven universally accepted mysteries, the authors also discuss the mysteries of burial and monastic tonsure as well as the structure of the daily services of the Orthodox Church. Particular attention has been paid to the relevance of each mystery for us today. To this end, each chapter has a Freqently Asked Questions section dealing with issues related to the theology and practice of the mysteries. In addition, subjects related to the mysteries such as cremation and medicine are discussed in dedicated chapters. 

The Grace of the Spirit approaches the practical and theological aspects of the mysteries from a traditional Orthodox Christian viewpoint. Although customs vary between national Churches and parishes, we hope that all traditionalist Orthodox Christians will find this book a useful guide.

Priced at £10.00 from the bookstall at Saint Edward's

Order from Amazon or via our website.

For bookstore discounts and all other enquries, please e-mail us:
 

info@saintedwardbrotherhood.org

Saint Edward Brotherhood,
Saint Cyprian’s Ave,
Brookwood,
Woking,
SURREY,
GU24 0BL

01483 487763


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Foundation of the Ethos of the Orthodox Church

Mercy and Love Transcend Race, Nationality, and Religious Affiliation


 “And who is my neighbour?”

a. Ideologizing a disdain for foreigners

    THE RECENT mass influx of refugees into our country, particularly from Afghanistan, has occasioned great confusion and has also demonstrated that those “Greek Orthodox” who are opposed to the new identity cards [which do not indicate one’s religious affiliation and are, for this reason, viewed by a vocal faction in Greece as an attempt by the state to undermine the Orthodox identity of the country—Trans.] and who have organized public protests over the matter, with certain laudable exceptions (such as the residents of Zakynthos), do not evidence a Christian heart and have failed to keep in mind what it means to be a Christian.

    We are not merely addressing, of course, the issue of the legal obligation of the government, which—on the basis of international conventions—is prevented from expelling any refugee who declares that he has been persecuted and that his life is likely to be in danger if he returns to his homeland.

    Nor, in addition, are we only distressed by the shamelessness of the police authorities [in violation of the foregoing international conventions—Trans.], one agency of which even went so far as to issue a deportation order to a new mother with her twenty-day-old baby...! (To go where...?)

    What is, in our view, by far more alarming is the fact that a disdain for foreigners is being turned into an ideology—in the name of Orthodox tradition, no less!—, to the unbelievable extent that a well-known clergyman has been vehemently condemned for providing free relief to hundreds of children of illegal immigrants, very few of whom are Orthodox (the majority of them being Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants), and that the following truly shocking question has been posed: “Are we going to allow a few clergy who are ignorant of our Orthodox Tradition to save their souls while they destroy Greece?”

b. Love is Christocentric

    THE ETHOS of the Orthodox Church is Christocentric.  It is the teaching of the Fathers, proclaimed in deed and word, “always, everywhere, and by all,” that the members of the Orthodox Church are called to function as the active hands of Christ.  As the eyes of Christ, which are filled with understanding.  As the attentive ears of Christ. As the heart of Christ, which is filled with love for all mankind, in all of its needs and all of its concerns, demonstrating, by their deeds, that they are members of the Body of Christ.  They are called to show this love and understanding towards mankind, not only theoretically, but also in concrete terms and in practice. For, it is precisely their bodies, through which love towards humanity is manifested in specific and practical ways, that have become members of Christ.  Love should be extended towards other people in a corporeal way, since it is in their bodies that Orthodox Christians have become, or can become, members of Christ.

The “neighbour” in the parable of the Good Samaritan is embodied in the person of our fellow man, regardless of race, nationality, or religion.

    The aim of our Lord’s astonishing reply to the question posed by the lawyer in that parable was precisely to demolish the exclusive “boundaries” of love established by the Hebrews, who regarded as their “neighbour” only those who were of the same nation and religion as themselves.

    Our Lord and God Jesus Christ, Whose Divine heart becomes our own heart through the Holy Mysteries of our Church, was, and lived as, a “refugee”: He descended from Heaven to earth, took refuge in Egypt, lived as a “stranger,” and has continued, throughout the centuries, to knock on our doors as a “stranger,” in the person of our “neighbour.”

    Now, in view of this, what racial, national, or religious “walls” are capable of preventing exuberant waves of love from pouring out of our hearts—the very heart of Christ—in all directions?

c. Saint Acacius and the Persians

    ON 9th APRIL, we celebrate the memory of Saint Acacius, who was Bishop of the Armenian city of Amida at the beginning of the fifth century.  During the war between the Romans and the Persians (421-422), the Byzantines had captured seven thousand prisoners, whom they refused to feed or to release.  So, Saint Acacius summoned his clergy and addressed the following words to them, among others: “Our God needs neither dishes nor cups, for He neither eats nor drinks.... Since our Church possesses many gold and silver vessels, which derive from the generosity of the faithful, it is our duty to ransom the prisoners with these and to feed them.  And that is what happened: the treasures were melted down, the prisoners were ransomed, given food, and sent back to their king with the necessary provisions for the return journey.  King Baranos V of Persia was so amazed by this magnanimous act of Saint Acacius that he asked to meet the most holy Hierarch in person.

d. Saint Gregory Palamas and the Turks.

    THE VERY SPLENDOUR of Christian love and “mercy”— over and above race, nationality, and religious affiliation—expresses, in addition, the “œconomy” of God, as Saint Gregory Palamas wrote to his Church flock with regard to his captivity under the Turks (March 1354-Spring 1355): “It seems to me that, because God has ordained things in such a way that Christians and Turks are intermingled, and that I am a prisoner of the Turks, that God’s Providence and the works of our Lord Jesus Christ...are being made manifest to them (the Turks) as well..., such as to be without excuse before His future and most dread Tribunal.”

    WOE TO US, if our “national identity” should continue to adulterate the Christocentrism of our Orthodox ecclesiastical ethos, which rises above nationality!

    Woe to us, if the dust of the “statistical triumph” (!) of “signatures” [on petitions submitted to the Greek government by those protesting against the new identity cards—Trans.] continues to prevent the inscription, in the hearts of Christians, of the “New Name,” which is unceasingly inscribed by the Holy Spirit and which renews our identity through the “New Commandment”: Of love for our neighbour without conditions, limits, or boundaries!

† His Eminence, Metropolitan Cyprian I of Oropos and Fili
 Tenth Sunday of St. Luke 5/18 December 2005

Source: Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIX, No. 2 (2002), pp. 7-9