The Baptism of Jesus Christ: Uncovering Bethany beyond the Jordan
A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY THROUGH AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL DETECTIVE STORY
A DOCUMENTARY FILM
An archaeological-detective story uncovering the pieces of the ancient mystery of where Christ was baptized. Christians around the world know Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and Jerusalem where Jesus died and was resurrected, but no one knows the location of his baptism. This being one of the three holiest places of Christianity.
Where was he baptized? Why was the site lost? How was it discovered and what was found there? The remarkable story of how the actual location of Jesus’ baptism had disappeared from human memory, lost in time for almost 1000 years; And the fascinating story of its rediscovery and the ongoing excavations taking place there. Only 5% of the area has been dug until today. Who knows what else lies beneath this place and what it could reveal about Jesus Christ and the birth of Christianity.
The 53 minute documentary is concerned with the recent discovery of the baptism site of Jesus Christ in an area known as ‘Wadi al-Kharrar’ on the east bank of the river Jordan, the “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” of the Gospels. A complex of unique churches, baptismal pools and monasteries are amongst the important discoveries uncovered so far. The area, since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was a military zone and heavily mined making it impossible of access. However in 1994 after Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty, archaeologists begun their excavations...
See more @ http://www.tenthousandfilms.com/
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Orthodox Churches Keep Christ at Center of Christmas
By Cecilia Baress
January 7, 2010
Thirteen days after Dec. 25, Orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar celebrate Christmas today - minus the distractions of the secular holiday season.
"It's kind of a time when you can actually sit down and understand what's happening in the mystery of the feast," said the Rev. Don Valasek of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Scranton.
Celebrations of the Feast of the Nativity began Wednesday with vespers, he said, and will last several days past the actual feast day with services honoring the mother of God and the saints.
With no Santa and no sales, people can focus solely on the birth of Christ. It is a time when anticipation gives way to fulfillment, said the Rev. John Sorochka of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church in Mayfield.
"When it comes to the Nativity, we prepare differently than the Western world does," he said.
The preparation includes 40 days of strict fasting - no dairy, meat or eggs - which ends when members receive communion during Divine Liturgy today, he said.
"We are fasting and intensifying our spiritual life in anticipation of the birth of Christ," he said.
The liturgy also will culminate their physical preparations, including extra choir practices and church decorating. The whole atmosphere is one of change, as priests don white vestments instead of the red frocks they wore during Advent.
"Everything is completely turned upside down compared to last week," he said.
Families gathered for holy supper on Wednesday, the eve of the Feast of the Nativity, where 12 dishes were served in honor of the 12 apostles. Hay was placed underneath the tablecloth to represent the manger, and a candle at the center of the table represented Christ, the light of the world.
They will celebrate for eight days, enjoying the things they sacrificed during Advent, he said. Carolers will spread cheer door to door, visiting parishioners' homes.
Some Orthodox churches have abandoned the original Julian calendar for a revised version, which fixes Christmas on Dec. 25.
It is a more practical solution, said the Rev. John Kowalczyk of St. Michael's Orthdox Church in Jermyn, whose parish is made up of many converts. He also sees it as an opportunity.
"We have a responsibility to put Christ back into Christmas, to make Christmas less secular," he said.
St. Nicholas' has kept to the Julian calendar, honoring the traditions of the elderly parishioners, Valasek said.
"We're doing the same thing, just 13 days later," he said.
This, not even the mountain beasts can endure.
The lion alleviates his hunger with the music of roaring,
And the tree rustles when the wind approaches
And, you do not rustle neither roar nor moan,
Neither your lament nor your song through the wilderness echoed!
Tell me, are you a man? What is your name?
Will you ever want to speak with someone?
Voice, voice, voice, I am the voice; but the Word of God, He is,
To the children of Israel, I was sent to cry out:
Repent, O people, behold, He comes,
Bring forth good fruit, each according to your strength.
Behold, behold He comes; O Wonder of Wonders,
In the midst of the water, from heaven, a hidden fire!
Behold, the Lamb of God, among the wolves, walks;
Wolves, your lupine temper, in the water, cleanse!
Thirty years of silence and fasting,
Of your body, what remains; except your voice?
Your withered body is but a shadow of your voice,
Which proclaims the news: Behold, God comes to us!
Your withered body, a reed; that Herod broke
But the voice continues, continues; no one to silence it.
Whose voice is that? From whom even the centuries tremble?
A hungry lion! No, No - a man of faith.
- St. Nikolai Velimirovich
The body of Saint John the Baptist was buried in the Samaritan city of Sebaste. The holy Evangelist Luke, who went preaching Christ in various cities and towns, came to Sebaste, where they gave him the right hand of the holy Prophet John, the very hand with which he had baptized the Savior. The Evangelist Luke took it with him to his native city of Antioch.
When the Muslims seized Antioch centuries later, a deacon named Job brought the holy hand of the Forerunner from Antioch to Chalcedon by order of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959). From there, on the eve of the Theophany of the Lord, it was transferred to Constantinople (956) and kept thereafter in the royal palace. St. Nikolai Velimirovich writes in his Prologue: "It is said that every year on the feast of the saint, the bishop brought the hand of St. John before the people. Sometimes the hand appeared open and other times the hand appeared clenched. In the first case it signified a fruitful and bountiful year and, in the second case, it meant a year of unfruitfulness and famine." Initially this miracle occurred annually on the 14th of September, which is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The hand would rise at times, flexing or clenching its fingers. Becaue it was believed to predict future happiness or misfortune, many sovereigns tried to possess it as a priceless treasure, especially Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959) and his son the Emperor Romanos II (r. 959-963). This was one reason why the relic was kept in the imperial palace. The Synaxis of St. John took place in the Phorakion.*
In the year 1200, the Russian pilgrim Dobrynya, who later became St Anthony, Archbishop of Novgorod (February 10), saw the right hand of the Forerunner in the imperial palace. From the Lives of the Saints we learn that in the year 1263, during the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders, the emperor Baldwin gave one bone from the wrist of St John the Baptist to Ottonus de Cichon, who then gave it to a Cistercian abbey in France.
The right hand continued to be kept in Constantinople. And at the end of the fourteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, the holy relic was seen at Constantinople in the Peribleptos monastery by the Russian pilgrims Stephen of Novgorod, the deacon Ignatius, the cantor Alexander and the deacon Zosimus. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, sacred objects were gathered up at the the conqueror's orders and kept under lock in the Ottoman imperial treasury.
In the Lives of the Saints there is clear testimony that in the year 1484 the right hand of the Holy Forerunner was given away by the son of the Muslim sultan Bayazet to the Knights of Rhodes to gain their good will, since a dangerous rival for Bayazet, his own brother, had allied himself with them. A contemporary participant, the vice-chancellor of Rhodes, Wilhelm Gaorsan Gallo, also speaks of this event. The Knights of Rhodes, having established their base on the island of Malta (in the Mediterranean Sea), then transferred the sacred relic they had received to Malta.
When the Russian Tsar Paul I (1796-1801) became Grand Master of the Maltese Order in honor of the holy Prophet John, the right hand of the Baptist, part of the Life-Giving Cross and the Philermos Icon (October 12) of the Mother of God (from Mt Philermos on the island of Rhodes) were transferred in 1799 from the island of Malta to Russia [because of the Napoleonic threat], to the chapel at Gatchina (October 12). In the same year these sacred items were transferred into the church dedicated to the Icon of the Savior Not Made by Hands at the Winter Palace. A special service was composed for this Feast.
Portions of St. John's right hand, with which he baptised Jesus, is said to be in the possession of the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje Monastery in Montenegro, and also at the Romanian Skete of the Forerunner on Mount Athos as well. Another relic of his forearm is in a glass display case at the Seraglio (Topkapi Soray), which had been the palace of the Ottoman sultans in Constantinople following the Fall of the City.
It is not known how the portion of St. John's right hand came to be at Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos. What we do know is that somehow in the first years of the 19th century the advisor to Prussia in Constantinople, John Frangopoulos, was in possession of this relic and he adorned it with jewels. On 10 March 1802 it was brought (or returned) to Dionysiou Monastery through the efforts of its abbot, Joachim Agiostratiti. This event is commemorated annually by the Monastery on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent with an all-night vigil.
*Saint John was exceedingly venerated at Constantinople, where he had thirty-six churches and monasteries dedicated to his memory, of which the most famous was the Studios; others were Lips, the Prodromos in Petra, and in Sphorakion, etc. The Monastery of Phoverou on the Asiatic Shore of the Bosporos was also dedicated to the Forerunner. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, s.v. "John the Baptist".
See also here, here, here, here, here and here for various miracles of the hand of St. John.
Top of Skull of St. John the Baptist, with his arm and left hand, in Topakapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Front of the skull of St. John the Baptist brought from Constantinople to Amiens, France
And many other small pieces of his skull are found throughout the world...
by St. Gregory Palamas
If the death of the saints is precious (Ps. 116:15) and the just are remembered with praise (Prov. 10:7), it is even more fitting for us to commemorate John, the highest summit of holy and righteous men, by extolling him. He leapt in the womb in anticipation of the Word of God who took flesh for our sake; he was His Forerunner and went before Him as His herald, and the Lord in turn proclaimed and bore witness that John was superior to all the prophets, saints and just men down through the ages. Everything about him surpasses human speech, and the only-begotten Son of God witnessed to him and honored him, and he has no need of any tribute from us. But this does not mean that we should keep silent and fail to honor with our words, as best we can, the one whom the Scriptures refer to as "the voice" of the sublime Word (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3). On the contrary, the fact that he was proclaimed to be so great and witnessed to by Christ, the Lord of all, should move every tongue to sing his praises as much as it can. Not that we can add to his glory in any way - how could we? - but in order to pay our debt individually and together by recounting the wonders surrounding him and celebrating them in song.
The whole life of the greatest man born of woman was a supreme miracle. John was a prophet and much more than a prophet, even before he was born; and not only did his entire life transcend all wonders, but so did everything concerning him, both long before his lifetime and afterwards. The divine predictions of seers inspired by God described him as an angel rather than a man (Matt. 11:10; Exod. 23:20); Mal. 3:1), as a lampstand for the light (Jn. 5:35; Ps. 132:17), a divinely radiant star bringing in the morning (Jn. 1:8; 5:35), for he went before the Sun of Righteousness and was "the voice" of God's Word. What could be closer or more akin to God the Word than God's voice?
When the time for his conception drew near it was not a man but an angel who flew down from heaven and put an end to Zachariah's and Elizabeth's barrenness, promising that the couple who had been childless from their youth would bear a child in extreme old age. The birth of this son would, he foretold, cause much joy, as it would be for the salvation of all. "For he", said the angel, "shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias" (Lk. 1:15-17). For he shall be a virgin as Elijah was, and dwell in the desert more than he did; and he shall censure kings and queens who transgress. What puts him above Elijah, however, is that he shall be the Forerunner of God, for the Scripture says, "He shall go before Him".
Because Zacharias considered these things beyond belief, his tongue was tied. Since he did not want to announce voluntarily the child's mysterious conception, he proclaimed it against his will by being silent until he saw "the voice" of the Word coming into the light. Having been conceived with so many great promises, he was anointed as a prophet before being born and - marvellous to relate! - passed on this anointing to his mother. Like Isaiah, he was clothed in the "garment of salvation" and the "robe of righteousness" (Is. 61:10); like Elijah he anointed someone else to be a prophet in his place (1 Kgs. 19:16), and while still unborn he equalled and surpassed both prophets in their perfection, because he displayed these attributes in the presence of the Lord. Once an unborn babe's members have been formed, it can move, but does not yet have a voice, as it is not yet living in the air. When the Virgin, who was at that time carrying God within her, appeared, even though John was in the womb he did not fail to perceive God's presence and His dispensation, but extolled it, declaring the divinity through his mother's tongue (Lk. 1:42). He leapt and rejoiced within her as - what a miracle! - he received in the Holy Spirit the fullness of the age to come in his mother's womb.
Proclaiming beforehand the mystery of eternal life, the great Paul says, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). That is to say, the body will be indwelt and motivated by the supernatural power of the divine Spirit in the age to come. In the same way, John was sown and shaped in his mother's womb as a natural body, but by the mysterious anointing of the Holy Spirit while he was within her, he was shown to be a spiritual body, who leapt and rejoiced in the Spirit and made his mother a prophetess. Through her tongue he blessed God with a loud voice and declared the Virgin who was with child to be the Mother of the Lord, and he addressed her unborn Babe as the fruit of her womb, proving that she was at the same time both pregnant and a virgin (Lk. 1:41-45).
John did not merely, in the words of the Scripture, choose the good before knowing evil (Is. 7:16), but while still unborn, before knowing the world, he surpassed it. Then once he was born he delighted and amazed everyone by reason of the miraculous events surrounding him, because, it says, "The hand of the Lord was with him" (Lk. 1:66), working wonders again as it had in earlier time. His father's mouth, which had been closed because he had not believed in the child's strange conception, was opened and filled with the Holy Spirit, and he prophesied, among other things, about this his son, saying, "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto His people" (Lk. 1:76-77). Once this divine child, this living instrument of grace from his mother's womb, had been conceived, he was moved by grace to rejoice in the Holy Spirit. In the same way, after being born, he grew and waxed strong in the Spirit. As the world was unworthy of him, he dwelt continuously in desert places from his earliest years, leading a frugal life without cares or worldly concerns, a stranger to sadness, free from coarse passions and above base, material pleasure, which merely beguiles the body and its senses. He lived for God alone, beholding only God and making God his delight. It was as if he lived somewhere exalted above the earth. "And he was in the deserts", it says, "till the day of his shewing unto Israel" (Lk. 1:80).
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
At Least 7 Killed After Coptic Christmas Mass In Egypt
by The Associated Press
January 6, 2010
Three men in a car sprayed automatic gunfire into a crowd of churchgoers in southern Egyptian as they left a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas, killing at least seven people in a drive-by shooting, the church bishop and security officials said.
Egypt's Interior Ministry said the attack Wednesday just before midnight was suspected as retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town. The statement said witnesses have identified the lead attacker.
The attack took place in the town of Nag Hamadi in Qena province, about 40 miles from the famous ancient ruins of Luxor. A local security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that seven were dead and three seriously wounded.
Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hamadi Diocese told The Associated Press six male churchgoers and one security guard were killed. He said he had left St. John's church just minutes before the attack.
"A driving car swerved near me, so I took the back door. By the time I shook hands with someone at the gate, I heard the mayhem, lots of machine gun shots," he said in a telephone interview. He said he saw five bodies lying on the ground when he first looked at the site of the shooting, about 600 yards where he was.
The bishop said he was concerned about violence on the eve of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Thursday, because of previous threats following the rape of the 12-year-old girl in November.
He got a message on his mobile phone saying: "It is your turn."
"I did nothing with it. My faithful were also receiving threats in the streets, some shouting at them: 'We will not let you have festivities,"' he said.
Because of the threats, he said he ended his Christmas Mass one hour early.
He said Muslim residents of Nag Hamadi and neighboring villages rioted for five days in November and torched and damaged Christian properties in the area after the rape.
"For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas day," he said. The bishop said police have now asked him to stay at home for fear of further violence.
Qena is one of Egypt's poorest and most conservative areas.
Christians, mostly Coptic, account for about 10 percent of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population. As Islamic conservatism gains ground, Christians have increasingly complained about discrimination by the Muslim majority.
Clashes between Muslims and Christians are not uncommon in southern Egypt and in recent years have begun seeping into the capital. An Amnesty International report said sectarian attacks on the Coptic Christian community, comprising between 6 million and 8 million people in Egypt, increased in the year 2008. Sporadic clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims left eight people dead.
Vendetta killing is also common among southern Egyptians, and is usually over land or family disputes.
The bishop said he had an idea of who the attackers were, calling them "Muslim radicals."
"It is all religious now. This is a religious war about how they can finish off the Christians in Egypt," he said.
In the Jordan River, where the baptism of Christ took place, there exist a large species of fish of approximately three feet in length known as Sheatfish (Gr. Γουλιανοί) or Siluridae, a member of the Catfish family. These fish are characterized especially by their large head and six barbels which resemble cat's whiskers. They can be found in many rivers and lakes, however the Sheatfish in the Jordan bare one distinguishing characteristic that appears to have a supernatural origin.
On the head of the Sheatfish in the Jordan, if one removes the skin and observes the bone on the head, one can see a peculiar image measuring about a span. The image in the middle is in the shape of a man, on the left and right of the man there is a separation with the image of angels with wings, above the head of the man appears to be a dove with open wings, and on the two sides of the dove there appear flames coming down.
In other words, Orthodox faithful have proclaimed this strange occurrence a miracle because it depicts the baptism of Christ, and this phenomenon appears in no other fish of the same species anywhere in the world. This is exactly how the baptism of Christ is traditionally depicted in Orthodox iconography. Because the Jordan River flows into Lake Gennesaret, these fish appear there as well. Interestingly, because these fish are not kosher, Jewish fisherman do not handle or eat them but when caught they are thrown back into the Jordan.
Pious Christians consider it a great blessing to receive the skull of these Sheatfish from the Jordan River. It is a custom among them to color in with paint the image on the skull so as to make the image more clearly visible.
For another miracle of the Jordan River associated with Theophany, see here.
by St. John Chrysostom
We shall now say something about the present feast. Many celebrate the feastdays and know their designations, but the cause for which they were established they know not. Thus concerning this, that the present feast is called Theophany -- everyone knows; but what this is -- Theophany, and whether it be one thing or another, they know not. And this is shameful -- every year to celebrate the feastday and not know its reason.
First of all therefore, it is necessary to say that there is not one Theophany, but two: the one actual, which already has occurred, and the second in future, which will happen with glory at the end of the world. About this one and about the other you will hear today from Paul, who in conversing with Titus, speaks thus about the present: "The grace of God hath revealed itself, having saved all mankind, decreeing, that we reject iniquity and worldly desires, and dwell in the present age in prudence and in righteousness and piety" -- and about the future: "awaiting the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:11-13). And a prophet speaks thus about this latter: "the sun shalt turn to darkness, and the moon to blood at first, then shalt come the great and illuminating Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31). Why is not that day, on which the Lord was born, considered Theophany -- but rather this day on which He was baptised? This present day it is, on which He was baptised and sanctified the nature of water. Because on this day all, having obtained the waters, do carry it home and keep it all year, since today the waters are sanctified; and an obvious phenomenon occurs: these waters in their essence do not spoil with the passage of time, but obtained today, for one whole year and often for two or three years, they remain unharmed and fresh, and afterwards for a long time do not stop being water, just as that obtained from the fountains.
Why then is this day called Theophany? Because Christ made Himself known to all -- not then when He was born -- but then when He was baptised. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not know Him, Who He was, listen about this to John the Baptist, who says: "Amidst you standeth, Him Whom ye know not of" (Jn.1:26). And is it surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist did not know Him until that day? "And I -- said he -- knew Him not: but He that did send me to baptise with water, about This One did tell unto me: over Him that shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, This One it is Who baptiseth in the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 1:33). Thus from this it is evident, that -- there are two Theophanies, and why Christ comes at baptism and on whichever baptism He comes, about this it is necessary to say: it is therefore necessary to know both the one and equally the other. And first it is necessary to speak your love about the latter, so that we might learn about the former. There was a Jewish baptism, which cleansed from bodily impurities, but not to remove sins. Thus, whoever committed adultery, or decided on thievery, or who did some other kind of misdeed, it did not free him from guilt. But whoever touched the bones of the dead, whoever tasted food forbidden by the law, whoever approached from contamination, whoever consorted with lepers -- that one washed, and until evening was impure, and then cleansed. "Let one wash his body in pure water -- it says in the Scriptures, -- and he will be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean" (Lev 15:5, 22:4). This was not truly of sins or impurities, but since the Jews lacked perfection, then God, accomplishing it by means of this greater piety, prepared them by their beginnings for a precise observance of important things.
Thus, Jewish cleansings did not free from sins, but only from bodily impurities. Not so with ours: it is far more sublime and it manifests a great grace, whereby it sets free from sin, it cleanses the spirit and bestows the gifts of the Spirit. And the baptism of John was far more sublime than the Jewish, but less so than ours: it was like a bridge between both baptisms, leading across itself from the first to the last. Wherefore John did not give guidance for observance of bodily purifications, but together with them he exhorted and advised to be converted from vice to good deeds and to trust in the hope of salvation and the accomplishing of good deeds, rather than in different washings and purifications by water. John did not say: wash your clothes, wash your body, and ye will be pure, but what? -- "bear ye fruits worthy of repentance" (Mt 3:8). Since it was more than of the Jews, but less than ours: the baptism of John did not impart the Holy Spirit and it did not grant forgiveness by grace: it gave the commandment to repent, but it was powerless to absolve sins. Wherefore John did also say: "I baptise you with water...That One however will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11). Obviously, he did not baptise with the Spirit. But what does this mean: "with the Holy Spirit and with fire?" Call to mind that day, on which for the Apostles "there appeared disparate tongues like fire, and sat over each one of them" (Acts 2:3). And that the baptism of John did not impart the Spirit and remission of sins is evident from the following: Paul "found certain disciples, and said to them: received ye the Holy Spirit since ye have believed? They said to him: but furthermore whether it be of the Holy Spirit, we shall hear. He said to them: into what were ye baptised? They answered: into the baptism of John. Paul then said: John indeed baptised with the baptism of repentance," -- repentance, but not remission of sins; for whom did he baptise? "Having proclaimed to the people, that they should believe in the One coming after him, namely, Christ Jesus. Having heard this, they were baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus: and Paul laying his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (Acts 19:1-6). Do you see, how incomplete was the baptism of John? If the one were not incomplete, would then Paul have baptised them again, and placed his hands on them; having performed also the second, he shew the superiority of the apostolic Baptism and that the baptism of John was far less than his. Thus, from this we recognise the difference of the baptisms.
Now it is necessary to say, for whom was Christ baptised and by which baptism? Neither the former the Jewish, nor the last -- ours. Whence hath He need for remission of sins, how is this possible for Him, Who hath not any sins? "Of sin, -- it says in the Scriptures, -- worked He not, nor was there deceit found in His mouth" (1 Pet 2:22); and further, "who of you convicteth Me of Sin?" (Jn 8:46). And His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit; how might this be possible, when it in the beginning was fashioned by the Holy Spirit? And so, if His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit, and He was not subject to sins, then for whom was He baptised? But first of all it is necessary for us to recognise, by which baptism He was baptised, and then it will be clear for us. By which baptism indeed was He baptised? -- Not the Jewish, nor ours, nor John's. For whom, since thou from thine own aspect of baptism dost perceive, that He was baptised not by reason of sin and not having need of the gift of the Spirit; therefore, as we have demonstrated, this baptism was alien to the one and to the other. Hence it is evident, that He came to Jordan not for the forgiveness of sins and not for receiving the gifts of the Spirit. But so that some from those present then should not think, that He came for repentance like others, listen to how John precluded this. What he then spoke to the others then was: "Bear ye fruits worthy of repentance"; but listen what he said to Him: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" (Mt 3:8, 14). With these words he demonstrated, that Christ came to him not through that need with which people came, and that He was so far from the need to be baptised for this reason -- so much more sublime and perfectly purer than Baptism itself. For whom was He baptised, if this was done not for repentance, nor for the remission of sins, nor for receiving the gifts of the Spirit? Through the other two reasons, of which about the one the disciple speaks, and about the other He Himself spoke to John. Which reason of this baptism did John declare? Namely, that Christ should become known to the people, as Paul also mentions: "John therefore baptised with the baptism of repentance, so that through him they should believe on Him that cometh" (Acts 19:4); this was the consequence of the baptism. If John had gone to the home of each and, standing at the door, had spoken out for Christ and said: "He is the Son of God," such a testimony would have been suspicious, and this deed would have been extremely perplexing. So too, if he in advocating Christ had gone into the synagogues and witnessed to Him, this testimony of his might be suspiciously fabricated. But when all the people thronged out from all the cities to Jordan and remained on the banks of the river, and when He Himself came to be baptised and received the testimony of the Father by a voice from above and by the coming-upon of the Spirit in the form of a dove, then the testimony of John about Him was made beyond all questioning. And since he said: "and I knew Him not" (Jn 1:31), his testimony put forth is trustworthy. They were kindred after the flesh between themselves "wherefore Elizabeth, thy kinswoman, hath also conceived a son" -- said the Angel to Mary about the mother of John (Lk. 1: 36); if however the mothers were relatives, then obviously so also were the children. Thus, since they were kinsmen -- in order that it should not seem that John would testify concerning Christ because of kinship, the grace of the Spirit organised it such, that John spent all his early years in the wilderness, so that it should not seem that John had declared his testimony out of friendship or some similar reason. But John, as he was instructed of God, thus also announced about Him, wherein also he did say: "and I knew Him not." From whence didst thou find out? "He having sent me that sayeth to baptise with water, That One did tell me" What did He tell thee? "Over Him thou shalt see the Spirit descending, like to a dove, and abiding over Him, That One is baptised by the Holy Spirit" (Jn 1:32-33). Dost thou see, that the Holy Spirit did not descend as in a first time then coming down upon Him, but in order to point out that preached by His inspiration -- as though by a finger, it pointed Him out to all. For this reason He came to baptism.
And there is a second reason, about which He Himself spoke -- what exactly is it? When John said: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" -- He answered thus: "stay now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill every righteousness" (Mt 3:14-15). Dost thou see the meekness of the servant? Dost thou see the humility of the Master? What does He mean: "to fulfill every righteousness?" By righteousness is meant the fulfillment of all the commandments, as is said: "both were righteous, walking faultlessly in the commandments of the Lord" (Lk 1:6). Since fulfilling this righteousness was necessary for all people -- but no one of them kept it or fulfilled it -- Christ came then and fulfilled this righteousness.
And what righteousness is there, someone will say, in being baptised? Obedience for a prophet was righteous. As Christ was circumcised, offered sacrifice, kept the sabbath and observed the Jewish feasts, so also He added this remaining thing, that He was obedient to having been baptised by a prophet. It was the will of God then, that all should be baptised -- about which listen, as John speaks: "He having sent me to baptise with water" (Jn 1:33); so also Christ: "the publicans and the people do justify God, having been baptised with the baptism of John; the pharisees and the lawyers reject the counsel of God concerning themselves, not having been baptised by him" (Lk 7:29-30). Thus, if obedience to God constitutes righteousness, and God sent John to baptise the nation, then Christ has also fulfilled this along with all the other commandments.
Consider, that the commandments of the law is the main point of the two denarii: this -- debt, which our race has needed to pay; but we did not pay it, and we, falling under such an accusation, are embraced by death. Christ came, and finding us afflicted by it -- He paid the debt, fulfilled the necessary and seized from it those, who were not able to pay. Wherefore He does not say: "it is necessary for us to do this or that," but rather "to fulfill every righteousness." "It is for Me, being the Master, -- says He, -- proper to make payment for the needy." Such was the reason for His baptism -- wherefore they should see, that He had fulfilled all the law -- both this reason and also that, about which was spoken of before. Wherefore also the Spirit did descend as a dove: because where there is reconciliation with God -- there also is the dove. So also in the ark of Noah the dove did bring the branch of olive -- a sign of God's love of mankind and of the cessation of the flood. And now in the form of a dove, and not in a body -- this particularly deserves to be noted -- the Spirit descended, announcing the universal mercy of God and showing with it, that the spiritual man needs to be gentle, simple and innocent, as Christ also says: "Except ye be converted and become as children, ye shalt not enter into the Heavenly Kingdom" (Mt 18:3). But that ark, after the cessation of the flood, remained upon the earth; this ark, after the cessation of wrath, is taken to heaven, and now this Immaculate and Imperishable Body is situated at the right hand of the Father.
Having made mention about the Body of the Lord, I shall also say a little about this, and then the conclusion of the talk. Many now will approach the Holy Table on the occasion of the feast. But some approach not with trembling, but shoving, hitting others, blazing with anger, shouting, cursing, roughing it up with their fellows with great confusion. What, tell me, art thou troubled by, my fellow? What disturbeth thee? Do urgent affairs, for certain, summon thee? At this hour art thou particularly aware, that these affairs of thine that thou particularly rememberest, that thou art situated upon the earth, and dost thou think to mix about with people? But is it not with a soul of stone naturally to think, that in such a time thou stand upon the earth, and not exult with the Angels with whom to raise up victorious song to God? For this Christ also did describe us with eagles, saying: "where the corpse is, there are the eagles gathered" (Mt 24:28) -- so that we might have risen to heaven and soared to the heights, having ascended on the wings of the spirit; but we, like snakes, crawl upon the earth and eat dirt. Having been invited to supper, thou, although satiated before others, would not dare to leave before others while others are still reclining. But here, when the sacred doings are going on, thou at the very middle would pass by everything and leave? Is it for a worthy excuse? What excuse might it be? Judas, having communed that last evening on that final night, left hastily then as all the others were still reclining.
Here these also are in imitation of him, who leave before the final blessing! If he had not gone, then he would not have made the betrayal; if he did not leave his co-disciples, then he would not have perished; if he had not removed himself from the flock, then the wolf would not have seized and devoured him alone; if he had separated himself from the Pastor, then he would not have made himself the prey of wild beasts. Wherefore he (Judas) was with the Jews, and those (the apostles) went out with the Lord. Dost thou see, by what manner the final prayer after the offering of the sacrifice is accomplished? We should, beloved, stand forth for this, we should ponder this, fearful of the coming judgement for this. We should approach the Holy Sacrifice with great decorum, with proper piety, so as to merit us more of God's benevolence, to cleanse one's soul and to receive eternal blessings, of which may we all be worthy by the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to with Whom the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and worship now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Why do we bless houses (and almost anything else that we can sprinkle) with water?
Many years ago, when I was yet a deacon, I was visiting with some non-Orthodox friends who were inquirers into Orthodoxy (they sadly, never followed through with their interest - or even their promise to become Orthodox) and we were discussing this topic in the context of blessing their house. I look at it like this. This world, this creation, is in captivity; it is enemy held territory. The evil one, having enslaved all of creation at the fall, has laid claim to every nook and cranny of this earth. And for a while it looked as though he might be able to hold onto it. But then he reached too far and attempted to enslave the Master of All and to bind Life with the chains of death and his power was broken. But creation is still fallen, it is still contested land in the spiritual battle.
We, as Christians, are engaged in this struggle to reclaim fallen nature for the Kingdom of God. We often talk about this in terms of our own salvation, but the Church, addressing all of creation in a wholistic manner, also reaches out and reclaims a bit here and a bit there of creation in general. We do this in order that we might restore the usefulness of creation for working out our own salvation. Hence we bless anything that might help us in our salvation - and by blessing it we reclaim it for the Kingdom of God.
There are few things more vital to our lives than our homes. In our homes we pray, we work, we talk to others, we order our lives, we work out our marriages, etc. What more important place to reclaim for the Kingdom of God - or is it better to continue living in a place which is occupied by the enemy. For the most effective working out of our salvation, we must drive the enemy out of our homes, and keep him at bay by our prayers, our righteous life, and the annual sprinkling by Holy Water at Theophany.
On January 3, 2009 in the Church of Our Lady the Joy of All Who Sorrow on the Big Ordynka before the Divine Liturgy, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations Volokolamsky Archbishop Hilarion conducted a rite of reception into the Church. On this day, 31 people who had at one time fallen away from the Church were received into the Church.
The ancient tradition of reception into the Church was revived by the A.S. Khomyakov "rehabilitation center for victims of non-traditional religions, which operates at the Church of Our Lady the Joy of All Who Sorrow" in 1995. The rite of reception is held twice a year, and is conducted for people who, being baptized Orthodox, left for another faith -- those who were initiated and were given a new name, as for example, in the eastern cults; those who engaged in meditation, practiced mantric reading; practiced witchcraft or healing.
DECR Chairman congratulated those present to return to the Church of Christ, noting that people are tempted and fall into the false doctrine of the sect for various reasons, but more often just because of the weakness and cowardice. "Leaders of sects are looking for people who are weak and dependent, who can not take responsibility for their decisions. It was they who were victims of such cults. Sects are for people spiritually weak, and the Church - for the people spiritually strong" - testified Archbishop Hilarion.
Bishop stressed that the return to the Church of Christ testifies to the courage of those present, but first and foremost an act of Divine Providence.
Archbishop urged the faithful to thank God for deliverance from mistakes, to live by the Gospel law, follow the path of salvation, anywhere without displacing and without flinching, and pray to the Lord, "that he drove out of your mind the false and erroneous views that have inspired you to where you until recently stayed."
DECR Chairman reminded that Christ came to earth, "not only to teach people the truths of faith, teach them moral teachings, but primarily in order to establish His Church here."
"The Church is a spiritual home for all who wish to follow the Savior. Today, you came into this house and were united with Christ. Live so as to never lose sight of Christ, the righteousness of God. Read the Gospel, come to confession, receive the Holy Mysteries, participate in the other sacraments of the Church. Let the Church be your spiritual home, but the Lord helps on your way to salvation, the kingdom of heaven "- Bishop Hilarion called upon the audience.
Source with pictures
Iraq De-Judaizing Ezekiel's Tomb
by Hillel Fendel
Israel National News
(IsraelNN.com) Early reports that Iraq plans to retain the Jewish nature of the Tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel are apparently false. Sources in Baghdad say that the government plans to turn it into a mosque and erase all Jewish markings.
Iraq announced earlier this year that it would revamp the ancient burial site, which is located in Al-Kifl, a small town south of Baghdad. The U.S.-backed government announcement implied that its Jewish nature would continue to be emphasized.
Since then, however, reports have surfaced that the government is actually planning to build a mosque there, including removing the ancient Hebew inscriptions that adorn the site. Some reports say that all or some of the lines of Hebrew script have already been erased.
Ezekiel (Yechezkel, in Hebrew), lived in the sixth century BCE, having accompanied the exiled Judeans to Babylon. His prophecies include the Vision of the Dry Bones, as well as the future return of Jewish People to the Land of Israel even if they are not deserving (Chapter 36: 22-25). Thousands of Jews often visited the site of his tomb annually before Iraqi Jewry came to an abrupt end in the middle of the 20th century, and Moslems and Christians continue to visit it even today.
Shelomo Alfassa, Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, reports that Islamic political parties have pressured the government to remove the Jewish inscriptions. He quotes the Iraqi news agency Ur News as reporting that the writing and ornamentations “are being (or have been) removed… under the pretext of restoring the site.”
Alfassa quotes sources to the effect that Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Authority “has been pressured by Islamists to historically cleanse all evidence of a Jewish connection to Iraq - a land where Jews had lived for over a thousand years before the advent of Islam.”
Four months ago, a German-based Iraqi journalist tipped off the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel (AJAII) that plans were afoot to build a mosque on the site of Ezekiel’s Tomb. AJAII asked Dr. Jabbar Jamal al-Din, a lecturer in Jewish Thought at Kufa University in Iraq, to investigate these reports – and he said that he believes them to be untrue.
Baghdad Sources: Room for Concern
Sources in Baghdad, however, feel otherwise. Prof. Shmuel Moreh - Israel Prize Laureate in Arabic Literature and Professor Emeritus at Hebrew University of Jerusalem - told Israel National News that he had received worrisome phone calls from non-Jewish friends in Baghdad. Prof. Moreh, who serves as the Chairman of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq, said that the plans are to turn the holy site into a mosque, and “some told me that they are taking off the Hebrew inscriptions.”
Alfassa provides the following translation of the relevant report in Ur News: “The officials of the Department of Antiquities and Heritage say that their restoration programme will continue until 2011 and is designed to carry out essential maintenance and prevent the dome and roof from collapsing. But their hidden purpose, sources say, is the removal of features that emphasize a historical connection with the Jews who built the shrine and lived in the city for hundreds of years after the Babylonian exile.”
Though well over 100,000 Jews lived in Iraq a few decades ago, this number has now been decimated to no more than eight, Prof. Moreh said. “There are others,” he added, “but they barely know that they are Jews; in many cases, their parents did not tell them.”
Alfassa concludes: “Iraq - the Biblical Mesopotamia -is almost as rich in Jewish history as the Land of Israel. The tomb of the prophet Ezekiel dates back to the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE. It was there in Iraq that Abraham discovered monotheism, and it is where the prophets Ezra, Nehemiah, Nahum, Jonah and Daniel are all buried.”
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: January 5, 2010
The New York Times
Ihor Sevcenko, a leading scholar of Byzantine and Slavic history and literature who as a young man persuaded George Orwell to collaborate with him on a Ukrainian translation of “Animal Farm” for distribution to refugees, died at his home in Cambridge, Mass., on Dec. 26. He was 87.
The cause was bone cancer, said his daughter Catherine.
Mr. Sevcenko (pronounced EE-gore Shev-CHEN-ko) was unrivaled among Byzantinists for the breadth of his linguistic expertise and the variety of his interests.
Ukrainian by background and Polish by upbringing, he had command of a dozen Slavic and Western languages in their ancient, medieval and modern forms. His elegantly written essays dealt with, among other topics, late Byzantine intellectual life, early Slavic history and literature, Byzantine saints’ lives and epigraphy (inscriptions), and Byzantine-Slavic cultural relations.
Perhaps his most fascinating, if uncharacteristic, literary contribution came shortly after World War II, when he worked with Ukrainians stranded in camps in Germany for displaced persons.
In April 1946 he sent a letter to Orwell, asking his permission to translate “Animal Farm” into Ukrainian for distribution in the camps. The idea instantly appealed to Orwell, who not only refused to accept any royalties but later agreed to write a preface for the edition. It remains his most detailed, searching discussion of the book.
Ihor Ivanovic Sevcenko was born on Feb. 10, 1922, in the village of Radosc, not far from Warsaw. His parents were Ukrainian nationalists, and his father had served in the interior ministry of the short-lived independent Ukraine created after the Bolshevik revolution.
After graduating from the Adam Mickiewicz Gymnasium and Lyceum in Warsaw, where he began his studies of Greek, Latin and French, Mr. Sevcenko earned a doctorate in classical philology, ancient history and comparative linguistics from the Deutsche Karls-Universität in Prague in 1945, adding German and Czech to his store of languages.
It was on April 11, 1946, that he approached Orwell for the first time. “About the middle of February this year I had the opportunity to read ‘Animal Farm,’ ” he wrote. “I was immediately seized by the idea that a translation of the tale in Ukrainian would be of great value to my countrymen.”
Orwell agreed, and in the special preface he wrote for Mr. Sevcenko, he explained the intentions and political ideas behind “Animal Farm.” He also described the incident — the sight of a local farm boy whipping a horse — that gave him the idea of creating a fictional world in which oppressed animals rise up against their tormentors.
Orwell’s English version of the preface has been lost. It exists today as a retranslation from Mr. Sevcenko’s Ukrainian text.
Mr. Sevcenko, combining his father’s first name and his mother’s maiden name to form the pen name Ivan Cherniatyns’kyi, turned “Animal Farm” into “Kolhosp Tvaryn,” one of the first translations of the book into any foreign language. About 2,000 copies were distributed to Ukrainian readers. The remaining 1,500 copies, to Orwell’s disgust, were handed over by unwitting Americans to Soviet repatriation officers at the camps, who destroyed them immediately.
At the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, Mr. Sevcenko pursued further studies in classical philology and Byzantinology and took part in the renowned seminar in Byzantine history presided over by the great Byzantinist Henri Grégoire. In 1949 he was awarded a doctorate in philosophy and letters.
That year he came to the United States and, after teaching ancient and Byzantine history at the University of California, Berkeley, accepted a post in the department of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Michigan.
He taught from 1957 to 1965 at Columbia University, when he was named a senior scholar at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, a center of Byzantine studies in the United States.
In 1973 he joined the classics department at Harvard as the Dumbarton Oaks professor of Byzantine history and literature. He retired in 1992.
His three marriages, to Oksana Draj-Xmara, Margaret Bentley and the art historian Nancy Patterson, ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Catherine, of Alexandria, Va., he is survived by another daughter, Elisabeth, of Brooklyn, and three grandchildren.
Mr. Sevcenko once wrote that historians fell into two categories: “the brightly colored butterfly flitting about over a flower bed” and “the crawling caterpillar whose worm’s-eye view covers the expanse of a single cabbage leaf.”
He was both, a restlessly inquisitive but painstaking scholar whose wide-ranging interests embraced the cultural resurgence of late Byzantium, the literary (as opposed to documentary) qualities of Byzantine saints’ lives, the editing of Byzantine texts, and the history and culture of Ukraine, which he addressed in the book “Ukraine Between East and West” (1996).
His essay collections include “Society and Intellectual Life in Late Byzantium” (1981), “Ideology, Letters and Culture in the Byzantine World” (1982) and “Byzantium and the Slavs in Letters and Culture” (1991). At his death he had completed, after 20 years, a critical edition and translation of “The Life of Emperor Basil I,” the only secular biography in Byzantine literature.
See also this obituary that appeared the day prior to this piece in The Harvard Gazette.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
ISTANBUL - Anatolia News Agency
The ruins of the Damatrys Palace, built at the time of the Byzantine Empire, still survive in Sancaktepe in the Samandıra district of Istanbul. Sancaktepe Mayor İsmail Erdem says the palace can be uncovered through archaeological excavation and the site may turn into a nice open-air museum.
The Damatrys Palace, built in today’s Samandıra district of Istanbul by Byzantine Emperors Tiberius II and Maurikios, was the largest and most important structure outside the city. Time has challenged the structure since the 14th century and now it needs critical attention.
The palace was one of the most important structures in the Byzantine Empire considering its specific characteristics and how it was used by the empire. After the 1980s, due to population growth in the district of Samandıra, the area became disorganized and the planning did not attract attention from city officials. The palace was neglected and looted and now nears collapse.
The name of the palace comes from the Greek name “Demeter,” which was also the ancient name of Samandıra. Demeter means the “goddess of agriculture and abundance” and was also known as the “goddess” of cultivation. Rumor has it that Samandıra had an abundance of game animals, and Emperors Tiberius II and Maurikios, who were known for their interest in hunting, constructed the palace.
Byzantium’s gate opening to Anatolia
The palace was also the gate opening of Istanbul to Anatolia and a resting place for the hunter emperors.
Due to its strategic location on the road to Anatolia, the site was also used as a base for the Byzantine army. When returning from Anatolia to the capital, emperors would spend their last night there. When the emperor was staying at the palace, messengers would reach the capital the day before and the city would make preparations to welcome the sovereign.
The Damatrys Palace has been uninhabited since the 12th or 13th century. Among its ruins, the palace’s cinctures and vaults can be identified and it is estimated that it used to cover an area larger than is seen today.
Archaeological work reveals the palace
Speaking to the Anatolia News Agency, Sancaktepe Mayor İsmail Erdem said more information about the palace could be revealed through archaeological excavation and the area could be converted into a nice open-air museum after its restoration.
The mayor hopes that Damatrys Palace will be included in the 2010 European Capital of Culture program and will be an asset to the historical heritage of Istanbul. Erdem said talks were held with the Special Provincial Administration, and they have been working for a long time to bid for the restoration of the historic structure.
“The Special Provincial Administration was expected to include this area in the 2010 program and initiate a tender for its restoration. After we put this area on our agenda, we applied to the Council of Monuments to get necessary permission. We wanted to expand the area of the palace and make it a square. The structure will be confiscated, a square will open and a new living center will be established there. But the Culture and Tourism Ministry has postponed the project,” Erdem said.
The palace was built for accommodation and its surrounding area was used for defense purposes. “But some part of it is underground now. Centuries have passed and many spaces underground will be revealed if the surface is excavated. Then this place may become a very nice open-air museum,” he said.
The area of the palace ruins were declared an archaeological site during the planning of the Sancaktepe region, but the Council of Monuments widened the archaeological site and did not give permission for structuring, said Erdem.
After the new plans are implemented in January, Erdem said they would talk to the Council of Monuments again and prepare a special plan to reorganize the area as a new archaeological site.
The wildfires that broke out last August in Greece and the wildfires that had occurred in August 2007 not only caused great suffering and damage to my country, but they also proved once again how mankind degrades the environment.
So, we have decided to see whether the thought and the teachings of the Great Ecclesiastical Fathers of Eastern Christianity, especially of Basil the Great (known as Basil of Caesarea), of Gregory the Theologian (known as Gregory of Nazianzus) and of John Chrysostom, could be of any help in approaching the environment in a totally different way, so that we would be able – in the long run – to solve the huge environmental problems we’re facing today.
HOW HAVE WE COME TO SUCH AN IMPASSE AS FAR AS THE ENVIRONMENT IS CONCERNED
It would be helpful for the reader to look into the reasons first why we have reached such a crisis today and why the environment is in danger. And certainly, Christianity has played its role to that crisis. Even in the first years of its existence there were philosophical movements and heresies, which under the influence of Plato and his student Plotinus degrade matter in contrast to the spirit. The heresy of Gnosticism especially regards nature and the world as the creation of a degrading evil God. A branch of Gnosticism, Manichaeism, influenced the thought of the greatest Father of the West, of St. Augustine. And due to this influence the whole theology and philosophy to be formed in the West has been affected, making it easy thus for all those thoughts and practices which degraded the material creation and allowed for the ravaging and the degredation of it to develop.
The theologian, philosopher and mathematician Descartes, who is considered to be the precursor of orthology, accepts the material world as a perfect machine in the service of man. After Newton’s discoveries Western man is exhilarated by technological achievements and starts to realize the surrounding environment as ‘res’, meaning as a ‘thing’, which is to become a ‘guinea pig’ in his needs for consumerism and bliss!
The relationship between God and humans is stopped. Due to the Cartesian theory of Dualism, God is ousted from human life and is now considered to be a supreme perfect Being, a Great Mechanic who created the world and after that He left the world working on its own, just like a clockmaker who after he has made a clock he leaves it ticking on its own.
At the same time in the advanced countries of West Europe and of the U.S.A. people induced by Calvin’s Protestant ethics set up one of the most hideous economic systems of exploiting man and the world - Capitalism. It may sound absurd, but the foundations of the Capitalistic system were actually religious. It is based on Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, of which Luther and Calvin became fans. The doctrine of predestination refers to an aristocratic elite of faithful who have been selected by God in advance and will be saved. The visible sign they have in order to be selected for salvation by God is their wealth. Wealth and Profit never again reached such divine dimensions in the history of mankind – although it is still worshipped in our Capitalistic system, regardless of the means used to achieve it: slavery, rape of nature, or inhuman working conditions, in the so-called Third World.
THE THREE HIERARCHS’ PREACHING ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP OF MAN WITH NATURE
Contrary to what is happening in the West, in the East, when the Three Hierarchs were called to comment on the book of the Holy Scriptures, Genesis, they made a distinction between Man and Nature, which is in fact the solution to the big ecological problem. They accept the creation of both the world and man as a result of the free loving power of God the Trinity. Therefore when man looks around him, he should actually see the loving power of God everywhere, even in the tiniest things, even if they are inanimate. He then can’t abuse nature because then he refuses God’s love. In order to make this explicit let us quote a letter that Elder Joseph the Hesychast sent to one of his spiritual children:
“Listen to the wild rocks, the secret theologians, to deliver profound spiritual meaning. The voiceless theologians speak theology, the beautiful rocks and everything in nature. Everything speaks with its voice or with its non-voice. If you touch tiny grass with your hand, it speaks right away with its natural odor. 'Hey! You don’t see me, but you have hurt me!' And everything has a voice, when moving with the wind they become a harmonic musical prayer to God. And, what is to say about reptiles and birds? When the Saint sent his disciple to tell the frogs to hush, they answered: 'Be patient, until we finish Matins.'”
The harmonious relationship between man and the environment is also apparent in the instance when God assigns Adam the job of worker and protector of Paradise. And the culmination of this relationship is delivered to us when all living creatures, from birds to reptiles and beasts, are brought before him to give them a name.
The verb ‘know’, which has caused so many sufferings to nature since western spirituality interpreted it as possession and degredation of the object under investigation until it yields its secrets to us, in the Patristic Orthodox thought it is interpreted as a relationship and it is regarded as the most significant indeed since it is the same as sexual, loving making and intercourse. “And Adam knew Eve his wife”, Genesis narrates, "and she conceived, and bore Cain.” In Eastern Orthodoxy we don’t need the nomination of a special day as the International Day for the Preservation of the Environment, in order to remind us that we ought to respect the Environment, because in every Sunday Liturgy and in every celebration when the faithful take part in the Liturgy of John the Chrysostom or of Basil the Great, he/she is encouraged to experience a relationship with God, with the other humans and with the environment. This thanksgiving action the faithful does signifies the recognition of the material world as a gift and as a blessing of God’s grace and love and not as a neutral object to be possessed and exploited, to be used and abused. That’s why the divine services of the two Hierarchs mentioned above are full of sacramentals and special blessings to God for the integrity and salvation of the material creation as a whole. “Visit us, Lord, with your kindness”, Basil the Great says, “Give us favourable and beneficial winds. Deliver to us peaceful raindrops for the fruition of the ground. Bless the current year with your kindness.” Let me refer to one more blessing from the Divine Liturgy of Mark the Apostle: “Pray for good winds and for fruit to be yielded from the ground. Pray for the harmonious rise of the river waters. Pray for blessed rainfalls and for the ground seeds. Send blessed rainfalls to where they are needed. Raise the river waters in moderation by your grace. Increase the ground seeds for seed and harvest-time.”
SOLVING THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM IS NOT AN EASY TASK
Of course we are not deluded to believe that the great environmental problems are easy to solve. Great profits are at stake every day, which make the solution even harder. Civilization and the economy nowadays are based not on consumerism but on excessive consumerism of the products. Thus, our planet is plundered and depleted in order to cover this need for excessive consumerism. We are all responsible for this plight whether we believe in God or not. Unfortunately we all take measures that solve the problem only partly. We sometimes trust our governments which, however, serve the interests of those who have sponsored their election campaigns, so they enforce laws for deforestation and building construction businesses. So we see houses and cottages in the place of the trees and forests we used to see, and all these houses belong to the elite of the society, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs and so on and so forth. And other times we trust people who declare to be ecologists just in order to be elected and as a result people and organizations that have pure ecological motives are slandered. Here in Greece we cannot forget that painful incident a few years ago when an ecologist female Member of Parliament obstinately refused to withdraw her position to someone else since this decision had been taken in advance among the ecological parties. Or stop to think how the Green party – one of the greatest ecological movements in Europe – started in Germany and how it ended up.
Yet, it is true that such sickly phenomena appear in the field of the Church as well. The Abbot of the Monastery of Penteli in Greece sued the head of a non-governmental ecclesiastical organization a few years ago because they wanted to take hold of the land of the church in order to turn a green paradise into a summer resort with hotels of cement. As you all know we live in the era of the ubiquitous cement!
If we wish to save our beautiful planet we ought to follow the path that the Three Hierarchs showed. And this is none other than the path of love, of seeing the world as the creation of the free loving power of God the Trinity. If man believes in this he will force himself first and the authorities after to act in such a way that this gem called earth will be saved.
THE LETTER AN INDIAN CHIEF SENT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.
We would wish to end this article with an extract from the letter that the Indian Chief, named Suhami, sent in 1855 to the President of the U.S.A., Franklin Pearse, who had asked Suhami to sell his land:
“How can you buy and sell the sky and the warmth of the land? This idea is strange to us. The freshness of the air and the shimmering of the water are not our property. How could you possibly buy them from us? Every piece of this land is sacred for my people. Every tiny pine-needle that sparkles in the sun-rays, every sandy beach, the mist in the deep forest, every clearing in the forest, every buzzing bee, is sacred in the memory and in the experience of our people. We understand that white people do not comprehend our behavior. The white people see all places on earth identical, because they act as strangers who come during the night and violently grab anything they need from the ground. They don’t see the ground as their brother but as their enemy, so after they have conquered it they move on, leaving it behind. This greediness and voracity will certainly devour earth and only desert will be left. It hurts our eyes to see your cities. But then again, it might be due to the fact that we are a savage people, unable to understand!"
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Climategate: You should Be Steamed
Now that Copenhagen is past history, what is the next step in the man-made global warming controversy? Without question, there should be an immediate and thorough investigation of the scientific debauchery revealed by "Climategate.”
An Unhappy New Year For Climate Alarmists
Climate alarmists took some nasty blows in 2009 with the breaking of "ClimateGate," the failure to pass "cap-and-trade" legislation in the U.S., and the failure of the Copenhagen climate treaty talks in December -- and 2010 could see that streak of bad luck continue.
An Orthodox View
January 04 2010
With a flowing brown beard and black robes, the Orthodox churchman cuts a curious shape striding past strip-lit convenience stores and real estate sales rooms in noisy Dongzhimen.
It makes sense, however, that Father Denis Pozdnyaev would be walking this way, given that the Russian embassy is around the corner. On the grounds of the sprawling diplomatic compound – Beijing's largest – Pozdnyaev preaches to his flock in the newly reappointed and re-consecrated Church of the Repose of Holy Virgin.
Set amid the spacious greenery of the embassy, the church, which dates back more than a century, has recently been restored to its former glory. Cleaned and repainted, the church was being used as a garage during much of the Soviet period. Given its compact size and onion dome, its grounds resemble a village church in Crimea or Volgograd. But this is Beijing and the church hopes to give China's small Orthodox community a place to continue growing.
Pozdnyaev estimated that his Beijing flock is nearly 400 strong, and that at least 50 regularly attend Sunday service, which are usually conducted by laymen. The figure swells by several hundred more when a festival like Pashca (Orthodox Easter) occurs, even though local law forbids locals from attending services on foreign diplomatic properties.
Given Beijing's influx of Russian traders and students, the numbers filling Beijing's only functioning Orthodox church have been steady. Last year more than 300 marched as part of an Easter procession on the grounds of the Russian embassy in Beijing.
Apart from Russia and Greece, the Eastern Orthodox church has a significant following across Eastern Europe, but its following in Beijing, explained Pozdnyaev, is very international. Most are Russian "but there are even French, American and British people." Multi-national worshippers brought dyed Paschal eggs for blessing during a recent nighttime Easter procession.
Behind closed doors
The Orthodox Church emerged from an 11th century splintering of the Catholic Church when figureheads in Rome and Constantinople (today's Istanbul) fell out of favor with one another.
Orthodoxy made the front pages early this year when visiting Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin brought an army of cameramen along to witness him reopening the church stationed on the embassy's grounds, closed since the days of Khrushchev.
Some parts of the church, however, remain off limits. Local believers are typically disappointed to learn that they have to register with the embassy to get access to their church. "It's not like you can just show up and pray when you feel like it," said one frustrated believer, a native of the Siberian town Krasnaryarsk, and long-time resident of Beijing. Though she said she was actually more frustrated with the lack of regular masses.
The church's schedule can be complex, explained Pozdnyaev. There is no permanent priest in Beijing, and followers have to rely on priests like Pozdnyaev visiting Beijing to celebrate mass.
Born in Russia, Pozdnyaev was ordained 16 years ago before he moved to Hong Kong in 2002. The 39-year-old clergyman, who administers the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul Parish in Hong Kong, gives services in Russian and English when in Beijing.
Spreading the gospel
The 400 foreigners who attend services at the Church of the Repose of Holy Virgin do not make up the entire local Orthodox congregation. Some 200 Orthodox Chinese in Beijing cannot attend services because the church is located inside the Russian embassy. "I know many of them, but not all," said Pozdnyaev who even in Hong Kong has been helping reach out to believers in the capital.
Thanks to a mammoth translation project, Pozdnyaev's congregations in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland will soon have the necessary books to follow their faith. In 2008 alone, five titles were translated into Mandarin. The books are printed in Hong Kong, but they are not distributed on the Chinese mainland, "but if people buy them in Hong Kong, they can bring them back," Pozdnyaev said.
The history of Orthodox Christians in China dates back to the arrival of believers from neighboring Russia in the 17th century. The Russian Orthodox Church opened its mission in Beijing as part of an overseas effort to the Orthodox cause. Given surprisingly lean treatment by the Qing court – which didn't allow other faiths to establish missions – the church would eventually become Russia's diplomatic representation in China, positioning the grounds of its church next to the old city's east gate.
In its heyday, the Orthodox church had 300,000 believers in China (a third of them coming from Russian-ruled Manchuria) and over 200 parishes. The founding of the People's Republic of China meant that the church would come under Chinese administration, which was followed by the Sino-Soviet split, leading to the departure of foreign clerics. Soviet leaders meanwhile ordered the destruction of churches on the grounds of the USSR embassy in Beijing.
The future of orthodoxy
Though only one church has been re-built, there are three total churches in Beijing, all situated on embassy's grounds. There are other Orthodox churches in western Xinjiang (found in Yining and Urumqi), while other Orthodox strongholds can be found in Harbin and Erguna (Inner Mongolia), which have their own churches but no clergy to conduct services. The church's community in Beijing is bigger, thanks to a sizeable local Russian presence, but the congregation in Beijing is dwarfed by the number of Chinese believers in Inner Mongolia, explained Pozdnyaev.
As more and more Chinese clerics have died off or left the country, there are no bishops remaining to ordain future clergymen. An estimated 10,000 members of the Chinese Autonomous Church are searching for religious leaders.
In a bid to replace veteran Chinese Orthodox churchmen Fr Mikhail Wang and Protodeacon Evangelos Lu Yaofu, both of whom have retired, the local Orthodox community sent a dozen Chinese students to seminaries in Moscow and St Petersburg. Several have already completed their studies and returned to China.
Still laymen, the graduates are nonetheless "ready to be ordained in terms of education level and experience of religious life," explained Pozdnyaev. Some of them are working in officially opened Churches in the Chinese mainland. Pozdnyaev hoped local authorities will grant the seminarians permission to practice as priests in China. "The local Chinese community needs Chinese priests, there is no one left today."
Local Orthodox believers hope China will recognize their church among its list of officially sanctioned faiths (Catholicism and Protestantism are both currently among the five officially approved faiths, along with Buddhism, Islam and Taoism).
There has been inchoate progress, partly thanks to the efforts of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, who has aligned himself with the Orthodox Church, and with China.
In November 2009 a high-level delegation of Russian Orthodox clerics travelled to Beijing for talks with the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) which oversees religions in China. The talks are set to continue as part of an action plan to implement the Treaty on Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation between Russian and China by 2012. Accompanied by senior Russian diplomats, the Russian delegation included a Moscow-based archbishop charged with external church relations.
If Orthodoxy is recognized as an official religion there may be many more onion domes rising over China, which is home to approximately 30 million Catholics and Protestants. Preparing for a bright future, Orthodox bodies in both US and Australia raise funds to pay for Chinese translations of the Church's holy books.
It might be an imperfect arrangement, with him shuttling up from Hong Kong, but for now Pozdnyaev is very happy to once again have a church in Beijing. Emerging from Trakktir, a favourite Dongzhimen eatery of the local Russian community, and a stroll from his church, he's quietly confident of an Orthodox future for China.
[I offer this in response to a piece done by CNN on December 25 titled "Passions Over 'Prosperity Gospel': Was Jesus Wealthy?" It is not done by an Orthodox author, however the information is useful and hits at the essence of the Prosperity Gospel Heresy. - J.S.]
The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel: An Exercise in Biblical and Theological Ethics
By David Jones
Just over one hundred years ago, the renowned pastor and statesman Charles H. Spurgeon spoke these words to the then-largest congregation in all Christendom:
"I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, 'Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?' You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian."
Over the years, however, the message being preached in some of the largest churches in the world has changed. Due, in part, to the rise of several ungodly philosophies and movements, a new gospel is being taught today. This gospel has been ascribed many names, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “word of faith” movement, the “gospel of success,” the “prosperity gospel,” and “positive confession theology.”
No matter what name is used, though, the teaching is the same. Simply put, this egocentric gospel teaches that God wants believers to be materially wealthy. Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of the prosperity gospel’s most well-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word [of God], not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.”
Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray, and even demand, of God “everything from modes of transportation (cars, vans, trucks, even two-seat planes), [to] homes, furniture, and large bank accounts.” By closely examining the faulty theology and errant biblical interpretation of the teachers of this movement, this study will prove that the prosperity gospel teachings regarding the acquisition and accumulation of wealth are ethically incorrect.
The Theology of the Prosperity Gospel
“Theology is important,” wrote scholar Millard J. Erickson, “because correct doctrinal beliefs are essential to the relationship between the believer and God.” A corollary to this statement is that an incorrect theology will lead to incorrect beliefs about God, His Word, and His dealings with men. The thesis of this paper is that the prosperity gospel is constructed upon a faulty theology. Consequently, many of its doctrines, including the teachings concerning wealth, are erroneous. While it is beyond the scope of this study to examine in detail all of the specific doctrines of prosperity theology, there are four crucial areas of error relating to their teachings on wealth that may be isolated and examined. These areas are the Abrahamic covenant, the Atonement, giving, and faith.
Prosperity Theology and the Abrahamic Covenant
The theological basis of the prosperity gospel is the Abrahamic covenant. While this is good in that prosperity theologians recognize that much of Scripture is the record of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, it is bad in that they do not maintain an orthodox view of this covenant. Prosperity theologians hold an incorrect view of the inception of the Abrahamic covenant; what is more germane to the present study, however, they hold to an erroneous view concerning the application of the covenant.
Researcher Edward Pousson best stated the prosperity view on the application of the Abrahamic covenant when he wrote, “Christians are Abraham’s spiritual children and heirs to the blessings of faith.... This Abrahamic inheritance is unpacked primarily in terms of material entitlements.” In other words, according to the prosperity gospel, the primary purpose of the Abrahamic covenant was for God to bless Abraham materially. Since believers are now “Abraham’s spiritual children,” they consequently have inherited these financial blessings of the covenant.
Prosperity teacher Kenneth Copeland wrote, “Since God’s Covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!” Referring to the prosperity theology of Kenneth Hagin, author Harvey Cox wrote, “Through the crucifixion of Christ, Christians have inherited all the promises made to Abraham, and these include both spiritual and material well-being.” To support this claim, prosperity teachers such as Copeland and Hagin appeal to Gal. 3:14, which says “that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus. . . .” While it is not an understatement to say that the problems with this argument are legion, two glaring problems need to be addressed. First, in their appeal to Gal. 3:14, prosperity teachers ignore the second half of the verse, which reads, “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” In this verse Paul clearly was reminding the Galatians of the spiritual blessing of salvation, not the material blessing of wealth.
Second, prosperity teachers claim that the conduit through which believers receive Abraham’s blessings is faith. This completely ignores the orthodox understanding that the Abrahamic covenant was an unconditional covenant. That is, the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant were not contingent upon one man’s obedience. Therefore, even if the Abrahamic covenant did apply to Christians, all believers would already be experiencing the material blessings regardless of prosperity theology.
Prosperity Theology and the Atonement
A second cracked pillar upon which prosperity theology stands is that of a faulty view of the Atonement. Theologian Ken Sarles wrote that “the prosperity gospel claims that both physical healing and financial prosperity have been provided for in the Atonement.” This seems to be an accurate observation in light of teacher Kenneth Copeland’s comment that “the basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” This misunderstanding of the Atonement stems from two errors that proponents of the prosperity gospel make.
First, many who hold to prosperity theology have a fundamental misconception of the life of Christ. For example, teacher John Avanzini proclaimed that “Jesus had a nice house, a big house,” “Jesus was handling big money,” and He even “wore designer clothes.” It is easy to see how such a warped view of the life of Christ could lead to an equally warped misconception of the death of Christ.
A second error of prosperity theology, which also leads to a faulty view of the Atonement, is the misinterpretation of 2 Cor. 8:9. Without exception, this is the verse to which prosperity teachers appeal in order to support their view of the Atonement. The verse reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” This problem with this interpretation is, of course, that in this verse Paul was in no way teaching that Christ died on the cross for the purpose of increasing anyone’s net worth materially. In fact, Paul was actually teaching the exact opposite principle.
Contextually, it is clear that Paul was teaching the Corinthians that since Christ accomplished so much for them through the Atonement, then how much more ought they empty themselves of their riches in service of the Savior. This is why just five short verses later Paul would urge the Corinthians to give their wealth away to their needy brothers, writing “that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack.” Commentator Philip E. Hughes wrote of 2 Cor. 8:9, “The logic implicit in the statement of this great truth is too obvious for anyone to miss it.” Apparently, however, the champions of the prosperity gospel have indeed missed it.
Prosperity Theology and Giving
One of the most striking characteristics of the prosperity theologians is their seeming fixation with the act of giving. Students of the prosperity gospel are urged to give generously and are confronted with such pious statements as, “True prosperity is the ability to use God’s power to meet the needs of mankind in any realm of life,” and, “We have been called to finance the gospel to the world.”  While at face value these statements do indeed appear to be praiseworthy, a closer examination of the theology behind them reveals that the prosperity gospel’s emphasis on giving is built on anything but philanthropic motives. The driving force behind this emphasis on giving is what teacher Robert Tilton referred to as the “Law of Compensation.” According to this law, which is supposedly based on Mark 10:30, Christians need to give generously to others because when they do, God gives back more in return. This, in turn, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity.
As Gloria Copeland put it, “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000;... in short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.” It is evident, then, that the prosperity gospel’s doctrine of giving is built upon faulty motives. Whereas Jesus taught His disciples to “give, hoping for nothing in return,” prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give because they will get a great return. One cannot help but agree with author Edward Pousson’s observation that the stewardship of “the prosperity message is in captivity to the American dream.”
Prosperity Theology and Faith
A final area of prosperity theology that merits investigation is that of the doctrine of faith. Whereas orthodox Christianity understands faith to be “trust in the person of Jesus Christ, the truth of His teaching, and the redemptive work He accomplished at Calvary,” prosperity teachers espouse quite a different doctrine. In his book, The Laws of Prosperity, Kenneth Copeland wrote that “faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function. . . . There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function.” This is obviously a faulty, if not heretical, understanding of faith. Later in the same book Copeland wrote that “if you make up your mind . . . that you are willing to live in divine prosperity and abundance, . . . divine prosperity will come to pass in your life. You have exercised your faith.” According to prosperity theology, faith is not a theocentric act of the will, or simply trust in God; rather it is an anthropocentric spiritual force, directed at God. Indeed, any theology that views faith solely as a means to material gain rather than the acceptance of heavenly justification must be judged as faulty and inadequate.
The Biblical Interpretation of the Prosperity Gospel
As has already been demonstrated in this paper, the hermeneutics of the prosperity movement leaves much to be desired. Author Ken Sarles wrote of the prosperity teachers that their “method of interpreting the biblical text is highly subjective and arbitrary. Bible verses are quoted in abundance without attention to grammatical indicators, semantic nuances, or literary and historical context. The result is a set of ideas and principles based on distortion of textual meaning.” Indeed, a survey of the volumes of literature produced by the prosperity teachers yields numerous examples of such misinterpretations. As was the case in the theological study of this movement, an analysis of all such examples of misinterpreted texts would fall beyond the scope of this study. However, it is possible to choose one verse as an example and to examine both the prosperity gospel and orthodox interpretations of the text.
A suitable verse for this study is 3 John 2. In this verse, the Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” This verse is interpreted by prosperity teachers to mean that God wants all believers to “prosper in all things.” Furthermore, their interpretation of this verse makes clear their claim that material prosperity is inseparably linked to spiritual growth. Oral Roberts, regarded by many to be the father of the prosperity gospel movement, claimed at the beginning of his ministry, during a time of search for direction, that God miraculously led him to 3 John 2, which he understood as a revelation of the prosperity gospel.
Another faith teacher who has built his ministry around this faulty interpretation of 3 John 2 is Kenneth Copeland. Author Kenneth Kantzer noted that “Copeland misinterprets this [verse] as a universal promise,” and writer Bruce Barron remarked that “the Copelands use these words so often that they appear to be the key verse of their ministry.” A careful study of 3 John 2, however, reveals that this verse is not a carte blanche approval of prosperity gospel teachings.
Those who use 3 John 2 to support the prosperity gospel are committing two crucial errors, the first contextual and the second grammatical. First, con-textually, one is wise to note that John’s purpose in writing 3 John 2 was not to teach doctrine; it was simply to open his letter with a greeting. This is not to say that doctrine cannot be derived from a nondoctrinal passage, for all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, but it is to say that one must be sensitive to the original author’s intent. Therefore, the claim that 3 John 2 teaches the doctrine of prosperity ought to be regarded as suspect at best. Second, one is wise to note the meaning of the word “prosperity” as it occurs in this verse. The term translated “prosperity” is a form of the Greek word eujodovw. This word, which is used only four times in Scripture, does not mean to prosper in the sense of “gaining material possessions,” but rather means “to grant a prosperous expedition and expeditious journey,” or “to lead by a direct and easy way.” The wording of modern translations such as the New International Version even reflect this nuance of the word. Therefore it is evident that teachers who understand 3 John 2 to teach prosperity theology are misinterpreting the text.
Through this study of the theology and the biblical interpretation of the prosperity gospel, one may discern five clear reasons why this movement’s teachings concerning wealth are incorrect:
1. The prosperity gospel is built upon a faulty understanding of the Abrahamic covenant.
2. The prosperity gospel is built upon a faulty understanding of the Atonement.
3. The prosperity gospel is based upon a faulty understanding of the biblical tachings on giving.
4. The prosperity gospel is based upon a faulty understanding of the biblical teachings on faith.
5. The prosperity gospel, in general, has been constructed upon faulty biblical interpretation.
Aside from these five specific theological and biblical arguments against the prosperity gospel, and without even considering the practical implications of this movement, there is perhaps one general, summary reason why the prosperity gospel is a wayward gospel: its faulty view of the relationship between God and man. Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is correct, grace becomes obsolete, God becomes irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things. Whether it is the Abrahamic covenant, the Atonement, giving, faith, or the biblical interpretation of any given verse, the prosperity teacher seeks to turn the relationship between God and man into a financial quid pro quo transaction. As scholar James R. Goff noted, God is “reduced to a kind of ‘cosmic bellhop’ attending to the needs and desires of his creation.” This is a wholly inadequate and unbiblical view of the relationship between God and man and the stewardship of wealth.
Note: This article was originally published in Faith and Mission Vol 16, p. 79ff.
1  Tom Carted, ed., 2,200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 216.
2  While it is impossible to trace the prosperity gospel back to an exact starting point, there are at least three movements from which it draws its ideas. One is the experience-centered Christianity which was birthed in the mind of nineteenth-century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher and has come to fruition in the form of the twentieth-century Charismatic movement. A second philosophy that gave rise to the prosperity gospel was the “positive thinking” school of Norman Vincent Peale. Indeed, scholar Harvey Cox wrote concerning the prosperity gospel that “it owed much to the ‘positive thinking’ of the late Norman Vincent Peale.” Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995), 272. The third modern movement that has influenced the prosperity gospel is simply the “American dream,” or materialism.
3  For the purpose of this paper, the phrase “prosperity gospel” will be used.
4  Robert Tilton, God’s Word about Prosperity (Dallas, TX: Word of Faith Publications, 1983), 6.
5  David Pilgrim, “Egoism or Altruism: A Social Psychological Critique of the Prosperity Gospel of Televangelist Robert Tilton,” Journal of Religious Studies, 18.1-2 (1992): 3.
6  Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 28.
7  This important covenant is mentioned numerous times in the writings of the prosperity teachers, i.e., Gloria Copeland, God’s Willis Prosperity (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1973), 4-6; Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1974), 51; idem, Our Covenant with God (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1987), 10; Edward Pousson, Spreading the Flame (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 158; and Kenneth Copeland, The Troublemaker (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, n.d.), 6.
8  Prosperity teacher Kenneth Copeland articulated his movement’s view of the inception of the Abrahamic covenant best when he wrote that “after Adam’s fall in the Garden, God needed an avenue back into the earth;... since man was the key figure in the Fall, man had to be the key figure in the redemption, so God approached a man named Abram. He reenacted with Abram what Satan had done with Adam. . . . God offered Abram a proposition and Abram bought it.” Kenneth Copeland, Our Covenant with God, 10.
9  Pousson, 158.
10  Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity, 51.
11  Cox, 271.
12  Gal. 3:14a (NKJV).
13  Gal. 3:14b (NKJV).
14  That the Abrahamic covenant is an unconditional covenant can be demonstrated by four facts. First, the covenant ceremony in Genesis 15 was unilateral. In fact, Abraham was asleep. Second, no conditions are stated in the covenant. Third, in the restatement of the covenant in Gen. 17:7,13, and 19, the covenant is called “everlasting.” Finally, the covenant was confirmed despite Abraham’s continued disobedience and lack of faith.
15  Ken L. Sarles, “A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143 (Oct.-Dec. 1986): 339.
16  Kenneth Copeland, The Troublemaker, 6.
17  John Avanzini, “Believer’s Voice of Victory,” program on TBN, 20 January 1991. Quoted in Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993), 381.
18  Idem, “Praise the Lord,” program on TBN, 15 September 1988. Quoted in Hanegraaff, 381.
19  Avanzini, “Believer’s Voice of Victory.”
20  2 Cor. 8:9 (NKJV).
21  2 Cor. 8:14 (NKJV).
22  Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishers, 1962), 300.
23  Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity, 26.
24  Gloria Copeland, God’s Will Is Prosperity, 45.
25  Theologian Ken Sarles rightly noted that “the Law of Compensation [is] the bedrock of the prosperity movement.” Sarles, 349.
26  In Mark 10:29-30, Jesus stated, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sister or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life” (NKJV). Other verses that the “Law of Compensation” is based upon include Eccl. 11:1, 2 Cor. 9:6, and Gal. 6:7.
27  Gloria Copeland, 54.
28  Luke 10:35 (NKJV).
29  Pousson, 159.
30  J. D. Douglas, and Merrill C. Tenny, eds., The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1987), s.v. “faith.”
31  Kenneth Copeland, The Laws of Prosperity, 19.
32  Ibid.,41.
33  Sarles, 337.
34  Sarles says that this is an “often quoted verse” in the prosperity movement. Sarles, 338. Hanegraaff wrote that 3 John 2 was a “classic example” of prosperity misinterpretation. Hanegraaff, 223. Gordon Fee called 3 John 2 “the basic Scripture text of the cult of prosperity.” Gordon Fee, “The ‘Gospel’ of Prosperity,” Reformation Today 82 (Nov.-Dec. 1984): 40. Bruce Barron wrote that 3 John 2 was “the ‘Old Faithful’ of prosperity proof texts.” Bruce Barron, The Health and Wealth Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1987), 91.
35  3 John 2 (NKJV).
36  For a full account of Roberts’ miraculous revelation concerning 3 John 2, see Barron, 62.
37  Kenneth S. Kantzer, “The Cut-Rate Grace of a Health and Wealth Gospel,” Christianity Today, vol. 29, June 1985, 14.
38  Barron, 91.
39  Joseph Henry Thayer, The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1981), s.v., “eiio86w.”
40  “Dear Friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2, NIV).
41  There are numerous practical implications that arise from the prosperity gospel view on wealth. While it would take a lengthy treatise to explore and explain them all, three are important enough to be considered here. First, the prosperity gospel incorrectly implies that poverty is a sin. Teacher Robert Tilton even said that “being poor is a sin.” Robert Tilton, “Success in Life,” program on TBN, 27 December 1990, quoted in Hanegraaff, 186. Likewise, Kenneth Copeland wrote that “poverty is under the curse of the Law.” Copeland, Laws of Success, 51. Second, the prosperity gospel “appeals to the poor and the sick to put more faith in the ultimate fulfillment of their desires than in the Word of God.” Sarles, 343. Third, when the prosperity gospel does cause positive changes in a believer’s life, the prosperity teacher gets most of the credit, and when the believer does not experience prosperity, the blame is usually left upon that individual. For example, Robert Tilton offered several reasons why some believers did not experience blessings: “Individuals lacked faith, refused to follow his directions, and criticized Tilton’s ministry.” Pilgrim, 7.
42  James R. Goff, Jr., “The Faith That Claims,” Christianity Today, vol. 34, February 1990,21.