Saint Luke, as a child, cannot be compared to other youngsters. While other boys love to play, laugh, and run hither and thither, Luke was quiet and well-behaved, and showed himself in every activity as one with the gravity of an old man. The child also manifested sober habits and a strong love for continence and self-control.
From his earliest years he rejected rich dishes. He refrained from eating not only meat, but also cheese and eggs. Any pleasing or fattening foods were refused by him. He even gave up eating fruits. He lived only on barley bread, and vegetables and legumes with water. On Wednesday and Friday, he abstained from everything until the setting of the sun. What was most marvelous about his diet and ascesis was that he learned such strictness from no one, but was moved from within himself to avoid fatty foods and sweets which please the palate. Of his own volition, he chose those labors that mortified his flesh. Though he often went hungry, he loved the fire of abstinence which reduced to ashes the fuel of the passions.
Now on one occasion, as the divine Luke was sitting at table with his parents, they did not perceive that his shunning of foods was done by him for the sake of God and bringing his mind and body under subjection. They imagined that he did it out of childish levity and ignorance. Nevertheless, they decided to put their son to the test in the following manner. They placed meat and fish together in one pot and prepared it. The pot was then placed on the table. Luke, meanwhile, was unaware of his parents' experiment. When the father put the fish on his son's plate, the lad partook of it. Luke then began sensing in the fish the presence of meat, which heaviness had been imparted when the foods were cooked together. Luke then perceived the artifice that his parents wrought upon him. He was so saddened and grieved by the ruse that he started vomiting that which he ate. As further proof of his long-suffering and patience, he remained fasting for three days. He wept all that time, as though he had willingly committed the act. His parents, thereupon, finally understood their son's intention and aim, which they did not deem human but divine. As a result, they left him to tread his own path as God enlightened him. And despite his exacting life, Luke did not neglect showing his parents proper respect and love and obedience in his daily chores.
Saint Luke continued and increased his strict mode of abstinence and fasting throughout his life.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
God, Who by judgments known to Him chose thee from when thou wast formed,
that thou, O Luke, mightest be right well-pleasing unto Him; from the womb made thee His own and He sanctified thee; as His own true faithful servant hath He shown thee forth and hath set aright thy footsteps, ever guiding thee as the Friend of man; thou rejoicest before Him now.
From The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church - February 7.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Saint Luke, as a child, cannot be compared to other youngsters. While other boys love to play, laugh, and run hither and thither, Luke was quiet and well-behaved, and showed himself in every activity as one with the gravity of an old man. The child also manifested sober habits and a strong love for continence and self-control.
Lecture (in Greek) by Metropolitan George of Thebes at the Church of St. Nicholas in Patras. He is the current abbot of the Holy Monastery of Hosios Loukas.
The recent re-emergence of our religion is a survival of the fittest as Darwin meant it, and not as popular Darwinism meant it; so far as it meant anything. Among the innumerable muddles, which mere materialistic fashion made out of the famous theory, there was in many quarters a queer idea that the Struggle for Existence was of necessity an actual struggle between the candidates for survival; literally a cut-throat competition. There was a vague idea that the strongest creature violently crushed the others. And the notion that this was the one method of improvement came everywhere as good news to bad men; to bad rulers, to bad employers, to swindlers and sweaters and the rest. The brisk owner of a bucket-shop compared himself modestly to a mammoth, trampling down other mammoths in the primeval jungle. The business man destroyed other business men, under the extraordinary delusion that the eohippic horse had devoured other eohippic horses. The rich man suddenly discovered that it was not only convenient but cosmic to starve or pillage the poor, because pterodactyls may have used their little hands to tear each other’s eyes. Science, that nameless being, declared that the weakest must go to the wall; especially in Wall Street. There was a rapid decline and degradation in the sense of responsibility in the rich, from the merely rationalistic eighteenth century to the purely scientific nineteenth. The great Jefferson, when he reluctantly legalised slavery, said he trembled for his country, knowing that God is just. The profiteer of later times, when he legalised usury or financial trickery, was satisfied with himself; knowing that Nature is unjust.
But, however that may be (and of course the moral malady has survived scientific mistake) the people who talked thus of cannibal horses and competitive oysters, did not understand what Darwin’s thesis was. If later biologists have condemned it, it should not be condemned without being understood, widely as it has been accepted without being understood. The point of Darwinism was not that a bird with a longer beak (let us say) thrust it into other birds, and had the advantage of a duelist with a longer sword. The point of Darwinism was that the bird with the longer beak could reach worms (let us say) at the bottom of a deeper hole; that the birds who could not do so would die; and he alone would remain to found a race of long-beaked birds. Darwinism suggested that if this happened a vast number of times, in a vast series of ages, it might account for the difference between the beaks of a sparrow and a stork. But the point was that the fittest did not need to struggle against the unfit. The survivor had nothing to do except to survive, when the others could not survive. He survived because he alone had the features and organs necessary for survival. And, whatever be the truth about mammoths or monkeys, that is the exact truth about the present survival of religion. It is surviving because nothing else can survive.
Religion has returned; because all the various forms of scepticism that tried to take its place, and do its work, have by this time tied themselves into such knots that they cannot do anything. That chain of causation of which they were fond of talking seems really to have served them after the fashion of the proverbial rope; and when modern discussion gave them rope enough, they quite rapidly hanged themselves. For there is not a single one of the fashionable forms of scientific scepticism, or determinism, that does not end in stark paralysis, touching the practical conduct of human life. Take any three of the normal and necessary ideas on which civilisation and even society depend. First, let us say, a scientific man of the old normal nineteenth-century sort would remark, “We can at least have common sense, in its proper meaning of a sense of reality common to all; we can have common morals, for without them we cannot even have a community; a man must in the ordinary sense obey the law; and especially the moral law.” Then the newer sceptic, who is progressive and has gone further and fared worse, will immediately say, “Why should you worship the taboo of your particular tribe? Why should you accept prejudices that are the product of a blind herd instinct? Why is there any authority in the unanimity of a flock of frightened sheep?” Suppose the normal man falls back on the deeper argument: “I am not terrorised by the tribe; I do keep my independent judgment; I have a conscience and a light of justice within, which judges the world.” And the stronger sceptic will answer: “If the light in your body be darkness–and it is darkness because it is only in your body–what are your judgments but the incurable twist and bias of your particular heredity and accidental environment? What can we know about judgments, except that they must all be equally unjust? For they are all equally conditioned by defects and individual ignorances, all of them different and none of them distinguishable; for there exists no single man so sane and separate as to be able to distinguish them justly. Why should your conscience be any more reliable than your rotting teeth or your quite special defect of eyesight? God bless us all, one would think you believed in God!” Then perhaps the normal person will get annoyed and say rather snappishly, “At least I suppose we are men of science; there is science to appeal to and she will always answer; the evidential and experimental discovery of real things.” And the other sceptic will answer, if he has any sense of humour: “Why certainly. Sir Arthur Eddington is Science; and he will tell you that science cannot destroy religion, or even defend the multiplication table. Sir Bertram Windle was Science; and he would tell you that the scientific mind is completely satisfied in the Roman Catholic Church. For that matter. Sir Oliver Lodge was Science; and he reached by purely experimental and evidential methods to a solid belief in ghosts. But I admit that there are men of science who cannot get to a solid belief in anything; even in science; even in themselves. There is the crystalographer of Cambridge who writes in the Spectator the lucid sentence: ‘ We know that most of what we know is probably untrue.’ Does that help you on a bit, in founding your sane and solid society?”
We have of course seen just lately the most dramatic exit of great material scientists from the camp of Materialism. It was Eddington I think, who used the phrase that the universe seems to be more like a great thought than a great machine: and Dr. Whitney as reported, has declared that there is no rational description of the ultimate cosmic motion except the Will of God. But it is the perishing of the other things, at least as much as the persistence of the one thing, that has left us at last face to face with the ancient religion of our fathers. The thing once called free thought has come finally to threaten everything that is free. It denies personal freedom in denying free will and the human power of choice. It threatens civic freedom with a plague of hygienic and psychological quackeries; spreading over the land such a network of pseudo-scientific nonsense as free citizens have never yet endured in history. It is quite likely to reverse religious freedom, in the name of some barbarous nostrum or other, such as constitutes the crude and ill-cultured creed of Russia. It is perfectly capable of imposing silence and impotence from without. But there is no doubt whatever that it imposes silence and impotence from within. The whole trend of it, which began as a drive and has ended in a drift, is towards some form of the theory that a man cannot help himself; that a man cannot mend himself; above all, that a man cannot free himself. In all its novels and most of its newspaper articles it takes for granted that men are stamped and fixed in certain types of abnormality of anarchical weakness; that they are pinned and labeled in a museum of morality or immorality; or of that sort of unmorality which is more priggish than the one and more hoggish than the other. We are practically told that we might as well ask a fossil to reform itself. We are told that we are asking a stuffed bird to repent. We are all dead, and the only comfort is that we are all classified. For by this philosophy, which is the same as that of the blackest of Puritan heresies, we all died before we were born. But as it is Kismet without Allah, so also it is Calvinism without God.
The agnostics will be gratified to learn that it is entirely due to their own energy and enterprise, to their own activity in pursuing their own antics, that the world has at last tired of their antics and told them so. We have done very little against them; non nobis, Domine; the glory of their final overthrow is all their own. We have done far less than we should have done, to explain all that balance of subtlety and sanity which is meant by a Christian civilisation. Our thanks are due to those who have so generously helped us by giving a glimpse of what might be meant by a Pagan civilisation. And what is lost in that society is not so much religion as reason; the ordinary common daylight of intellectual instinct that has guided the children of men. A world in which men know that most of what they know is probably untrue cannot be dignified with the name of a sceptical world; it is simply an impotent and abject world, not attacking anything, but accepting everything while trusting nothing; accepting even its own incapacity to attack; accepting its own lack of authority to accept; doubting its very right to doubt. We are grateful for this public experiment and demonstration; it has taught us much. We did not believe that rationalists were so utterly mad until they made it quite clear to us. We did not ourselves think that the mere denial of our dogmas could end in such dehumanised and demented anarchy. It might have taken the world a long time to understand that what it had been taught to dismiss as mediaeval theology was often mere common sense; although the very term common sense, or communis sententia, was a mediaeval conception. But it took the world very little time to understand that the talk on the other side was most uncommon nonsense. It was nonsense that could not be made the basis of any common system, such as has been founded upon common sense.
“THE RETURN TO RELIGION” from THE WELL AND THE SHALLOWS, by G. K. Chesterton
Kiev, 4 February 2010, Interfax – Depictions of angels appeared in the icon of St. Mitrophan of Voronezh in the Vitovka village not far from Poltava after the icon visited a children’s camp, Ukrainian edition of the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily reports.
This small icon with St. Mitrofan’s relics was found at the cemetery in 2003. Parishioners brought it to the church and soon the halo around the saint’s head started glaring.
However, strange events have not stopped occurring. After the icon was consecrated and parishioners started venerating it as the main church shrine, many residents of the region wanted to see the wonder. Last summer, the icon was taken to the children’s camp in the village of Golovach.
“The icon was there for several days, and just before the departure, children showed me that some new elements appeared in it – a small church and an angel above the cloud,” the priest told.
St. Mitrophan died on November 23, 1703 and was buried in the Protection Cathedral of Voronezh. People say that Emperor Peter I carried his coffin. His tomb was twice opened in 1831 and 1989. When his body was found uncorrupted, the saint was canonized.
The foregoing two parables -- especially that of the Prodigal Son -- have presented to us God's extreme goodness and love for man. But lest certain persons, putting their confidence in this alone, live carelessly, squandering upon sin the time given them to work out their salvation, and death suddenly snatch them away, the most divine Fathers have appointed this day's feast commemorating Christ's impartial Second Coming, through which we bring to mind that God is not only the Friend of man, but also the most righteous Judge, Who recompenses to each according to his deeds.
It is the aim of the holy Fathers, through bringing to mind that fearful day, to rouse us from the slumber of carelessness unto the work of virtue, and to move us to love and compassion for our brethren. Besides this, even as on the coming Sunday of Cheesefare we commemorate Adam's exile from the Paradise of delight -- which exile is the beginning of life as we know it now -- it is clear that today's is reckoned the last of all feasts, because on the last day of judgment, truly, everything of this world will come to an end.
All foods, except meat and meat products, are allowed during the week that follows this Sunday.
Sermon On The Last Judgment
by St. John Maximovitch
The day of the Last Judgement! That day no one knows — only God the Father knows — but its signs are given in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse of the holy Apostle John the Theologian. Revelation speaks of the events at the end of the world and of the Last Judgement primarily in images and in a veiled manner.
However, the Holy Fathers have explained these images, and there is an authentic Church tradition that speaks clearly concerning the signs of the approach of the end, and concerning the Last Judgement. Before the end of life on earth there will be agitation, wars, civil war, hunger, earthquakes… Men will suffer from fear, will die from expectation of calamity. There will be no life, no joy of life but a tormented state of falling away from life. Nevertheless there will be a falling away not only from life, but from faith also, and “when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (St. Luke 18:8).
Men will become proud, ungrateful, rejecting Divine law. Together with the falling away from life will be a weakening of moral life. There will be an exhaustion of good and an increase of evil.
Of these times, the holy Apostle John the Theologian speaks in his God-inspired work, the Apocalypse. He says that he “was in the Spirit” when he wrote it; this means that the Holy Spirit Himself was in him, when under the form of various images, the fate of the Church and the world was opened to him, and so this is a Divine Revelation.
The Apocalypse represents the fate of the Church in the image of a woman who hides herself in the wilderness: she does not show herself in public life, as today in Russia. In public life, forces that prepare the possibility for the appearance of Antichrist will play the leading role.
Antichrist will be a man, and not the devil incarnate. “Anti” means “old,” and it also signifies “in place of” or “against.” Antichrist is a man who desires to be in place of Christ, to occupy His place and possess what Christ should possess. He desires to possess the attraction of Christ and authority over the whole world. Moreover, Antichrist will receive that authority before his destruction and the destruction of the world.
What is known of this man — Antichrist? His precise ancestry is unknown: his father is completely unknown, and his mother a foul pretended virgin. He will be a Jew of the tribe of Dan. He will be very intelligent and endowed with skill in handling people. He will be fascinating and kind. The philosopher Vladimir Soloviev worked a long time at presenting the advent and person of Antichrist. He carefully made use of all material on this question, not only Patristic, but also Muslim, and he worked out a brilliant picture.
Before the advent of Antichrist, there was a preparation in the world, the possibility of his appearance. "The mystery of iniquity doth already work" (II Thes. 2:7). The forces preparing for his appearance fight above all against the lawful Imperial authority.
The holy Apostle Paul says that Antichrist cannot be manifested until "what withholdest is taken away" (II Thes. 2:6-7). St. John Chrysostom explains that the “withholding one” is the lawful pious authority: such an authority fights with evil. For this reason the “mystery,” already at work in the world, fights with this authority; it desires a lawless authority. When the “mystery” decisively achieves that authority, nothing will hinder the appearance of Antichrist any longer.
Fascinating, intelligent, kind, he will be merciful — he will act with mercy and goodness; but not for the sake of mercy and goodness, but for the strengthening of his own authority. When he will have strengthened it to the point where the whole world acknowledges him, then he will reveal his face.
For his capital, he will choose Jerusalem, because it was here that the Savior revealed His Divine teaching and His person. It was here that the entire world was called to the blessedness of goodness and salvation. The world did not acknowledge Christ and crucified Him in Jerusalem; whereas, the whole world will acknowledge the Antichrist’s authority and Jerusalem will become the capital of the world.
Having attained the pinnacle of authority, Antichrist will demand the acknowledgement that he has attained what no earthly power had ever attained or could attain and then demand the worship of himself as a higher being, as a god.
V. Soloviev describes the character of his activity well, as “Supreme Ruler.” He will do what is pleasing to all — on the condition of being recognized as Supreme Authority. He will allow the Church to exist, permit her Divine services, promise to build magnificent churches…, on the condition that all recognize him as “Supreme Being” and worship him. Antichrist will have a personal hatred for Christ; he will see Him as a rival and look upon Him as a personal enemy. He will live by this hatred and rejoice in men’s apostasy from Christ.
Under Antichrist, there will be an immense falling away from the faith. Many bishops will change in faith and in justification will point to the brilliant situation of the Church. The search for compromise will be the characteristic disposition of men. Straight-forwardness of confession will disappear. Men will cleverly justify their fall, and gracious evil will support such a general disposition. There will be the habit of apostasy from truth and the sweetness of compromise and sin in men.
Antichrist will allow men everything, as long as they “fall down and worship him” and the whole world will submit to him. Then there will appear the two righteous men, who will fearlessly preach the faith and accuse Antichrist.
According to Church tradition, they are the two Prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah and Enoch, who did not taste of death, but will taste it now for three days, and in three days they must rise. Their death will call forth the great rejoicing of Antichrist and his servants. Their resurrection will plunge them into great confusion and terror. Then, the end of the world will come.
The Apostle Peter said that the first world was made out of water — an image of the primordial chaos, and perished by water — in the Flood. Now the world is reserved unto fire. The earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up (II Peter 3:5-7, 10). All the elements will ignite. This present world will perish in a single instant. In an instant all will be changed.
Moreover, the Sign of the Son of God, the Sign of the Cross, will appear. The whole world, having willingly submitted to Antichrist, will weep. Everything is finished forever: Antichrist killed, the end of his kingdom of warfare with Christ, the end, and one is held accountable; one must answer to the true God.
“The end of the world” signifies not the annihilation of the world, but its transformation. Everything will be transformed suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. The dead will rise in new bodies: their own, but renewed, just as the Savior rose in His own body and traces of wounds from the nails and spear were on it, yet it possessed new faculties, and in this sense it was a new body. It is not clear whether this new body will be the same as Adam was made, or whether it will be an entirely new body.
Afterward, the Lord will appear in glory on the clouds. Trumpets will sound, loud, with power! They will sound in the soul and conscience! All will become clear to the human conscience.
The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Last Judgement, relates how the Ancient of Days, the Judge sits on His throne, and before Him is a fiery stream (Daniel 7:9-10). Fire is a purifying element; it burns sin. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man, himself.
This fire will be kindled within man: seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, but others will fall into confusion, terror and despair. Thus, men will be divided instantly. The very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other, to right or to left.
The more consciously and persistently man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears: “Come unto Me, ye blessed.”
Conversely: the same words will call the fire of horror and torture to those who did not desire Him, who fled and fought or blasphemed Him during their lifetime!
The Last Judgement knows of no witnesses or written protocols! Everything is inscribed in the souls of men and these records, these “books,” are opened at the Judgement. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself.
Moreover, some will go to joy, while others — to horror.
When “the books are opened,” it will become clear that the roots of all vices lie in the human soul. Here is a drunkard or a lecher: when the body has died, some may think that sin is dead too. No! There was an inclination to sin in the soul, and that sin was sweet to the soul, and if the soul has not repented and has not freed itself of the sin, it will come to the Last Judgement with the same desire for sin. It will never satisfy that desire and in that soul there will be the suffering of hatred. It will accuse everyone and everything in its tortured condition; it will hate everyone and everything. “There will be gnashing of teeth” of powerless malice and the unquenchable fire of hatred.
A “fiery gehenna” — such is the inner fire.
“There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Such is the state of hell.
Doxastikon of Matins in Tone One
Let us go before, O brethren, and cleanse ourselves for the Queen of virtues; for behold she hath come bringing to us fortune of good deeds, quenching the uprisings of passion and reconciling the wicked to the Master. Let us welcome her, therefore, shouting to Christ God, O thou who arose from the dead, keep us uncondemned, who glorify Thee, O Thou who alone art sinless.
Kontakion in Tone One
When Thou comest, O God, upon the earth with glory, the whole world will tremble. The river of fire will bring men before Thy judgment seat, the books will be opened and the secrets disclosed. Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand on Thy right hand, Judge most righteous.
Expiation, Blood and Atonement
by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
Among the biblical concepts supporting St. Paul’s theology of atonement, one of the most important, surely, is that of expiation. What does the Apostle mean when he writes,
“God set forth [Jesus Christ] as the expiatory in His blood” (Romans 3:25)?
Although this is the only time St. Paul uses the noun hilasterion, I believe that the full context of his epistles, along with the Old Testament substratum on which they depend, provides the correct and adequate meaning of that term.
If I seem to belabor an obvious point–that we should go to the Bible for enlightenment on the subject of expiation – let me say that I do so from a sense that some readers of Holy Scripture in recent centuries either have not done so, or have done so inconsistently. They have borrowed misleading ideas from elsewhere.
In classical and Hellenistic Greek, the verb “to propitiate” (hilaskomai), when used with a personal object, normally signified the placating of some irate god or hero. It is a curious fact that since the rediscovery of ancient Greek literature in the West, beginning from the Renaissance, there has grown a strong tendency to impose this pagan meaning of “expiation” on the teaching of the Bible.
Understood in this way, Paul is presumed to teach that Jesus, in His self-sacrifice on the Cross, placated God’s wrath against sinful humanity. That is to say, the purpose of the shedding of Christ’s blood was to propitiate, to assuage an angry Father.
Let me say that this interpretation of the Apostle Paul is very erroneous and should be rejected for three reasons.
First, this picture is difficult to reconcile with Paul’s conviction that God Himself is the One who made the sacrifice. How easily we forget that the Cross did cost God something. He is the One that gave up His only-begotten Son out of love for us. It was Jesus’ Father
“who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
Sacrificial victims are expensive, and in this sacrifice the Father Himself bore the price. He gave up, unto death, that which was dearest and most precious to Him. In the death of Jesus, everything about God is love, more love, infinite love. There is not the faintest trace of divine anger in the death of Christ.
Second, in those places where Holy Scripture does speak of propitiating the anger of God, this propitiation is never linked to blood sacrifice. When biblical men are said to soften the divine wrath, it is done with prayer, as in the case of Moses on Mount Sinai, or by the offering of incense, which symbolizes prayer. Because blood sacrifice and the wrath of God are two things the Bible never joins together, I submit that authentic Christian theology should also endeavor to keep them apart.
Moreover, when the Apostle Paul does write of God’s anger, it is never in terms of appeasement but of deliverance. At the final judgment, when that divine anger, far from being placated, will consume the realm and servants of sin, Christ will deliver us from it, recognizing us as His faithful servants (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9). There will be not the slightest hint of appeasement at that point.
Third, the word hilasterion, which I have translated as the substantive “expiatory,” seems to have in Paul’s mind a more technical significance. In Hebrews 9:5, the only other place where the word appears in the New Testament, hilasterion designates the top, the cover, of the Ark of the Covenant, where the Almighty is said to throne between and above the Cherubim. In this context, the term is often translated as “mercy seat,” and it seems reasonable to think that this is the image that Paul too has in mind.
On Yom Kippur, the annual Atonement Day, the high priest sprinkled sacrificial blood on that hilasterion,
“because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions of all their sins” (Leviticus 16:16).
Therefore, by saying that God “set forth” (proetheto) Jesus as the expiatory, or “instrument of expiation,” for our sins, Paul asserts that the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the Cross fulfilled the prophetic meaning and promise of that ancient liturgical institution of Israel, reconciling mankind by the removal of the uncleanness,
“their transgressions of all their sins.”
The Cross was the supreme altar, and Good Friday was preeminently the Day of the Atonement. The removal of sins was not accomplished by a juridical act, but a liturgical act performed in great love:
“Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).
Loving both the Father and ourselves, Jesus brought the Father and ourselves together by what
He accomplished in His own body, reconciling us through the blood of His Cross.
In the Bible,
“the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11).
The victim slain in sacrifice was not the vicarious recipient of a punishment, but the symbol of the loving dedication of the life of the person making the sacrifice.
This sacrificial dedication of life is the means by which the sinner is made “at one” with God.
Such is the biblical meaning of expiation and the proper context in which to interpret Paul’s teaching on the sacrifice of Christ.
Senior Editor of Touchstone Magazine, and archpriest of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL, Fr. Patrick is, perhaps, the most erudite writer in the Orthodox Church in North America today. This article, one of his Pastoral Ponderings, was published by Orthodoxtoday.org.
[According to revisionist historians and their ilk, Islam was and is the great liberator of Africa, and Christianity was and is the great enslaver. In fact, quite the opposite is the Truth. - J.S.]
February is Black History Month. Many organizations celebrate the event, especially universities and other educational institutes. It is a good opportunity to evangelize. Some African Americans are converting from Christianity because of the waged war against Christianity. Some tell African Americans that Christianity is the white man religion who enslaved you. To make them hate Christ they told them that Christ was a European white man and Christianity is a product of the white man. We can tell the truth about these lies by telling the real history. Here is an article that you can use to share in Black History month that reveals some facts:
Roots of African Americans
By Victor Beshir
Everybody knows that African Americans came originally from Africa; however, not many people know what it means to be born and live in Africa at the time of the ancestors of African Americans. To fully understand those ancestors, we need to reveal some historical facts. Influence of the prophets who either stayed or lived in Egypt, Africa, touched the hearts and minds of Africans, such as Abraham, Israel, Jeremiah, Joseph and Moses.
Jesus and his family fled to Egypt, Africa, and lived there for four years. In fact, Jesus was born and raised in the Middle East and not Europe. In addition, all his disciples were from the Middle East, which includes many African countries. St. Mark, the writer of the second Gospel was born in Libya, Africa, and Simon the Cyrenian who bore the Cross for Jesus (Mark 15:21) was from Tunisia, Africa.
In fact, Christian churches started in Africa before a church started in Rome, Europe. In Egypt, the first theological school started in Alexandria, attracting students from all over the world. Theology, biblical studies, and Bible interpretations started in this school. Monasticism started in Egypt. The impact of Africa and Africans on Christianity is so evident.
This history left behind the names of thousands of great Africans theologians, martyrs, monks, saints, and teachers, such as Cyprian, St. Antony, Moses the hermit, Takla Haimanout, Origen, Tertullian the first of Latin theological writers, and Augustine the bishop of Hippo, North Africa.
The Christian faith mingled into every aspect of daily life of Africans. They absorbed the great pure Christian values of respect, love, peace, acceptance, forgiveness, service of the sick and the needy. It is needless to say that the first hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the needy in the world started by those African Christians. The Africans followed the Orthodox churches, enjoying a living faith and worship that were delivered by the apostles of Christ and were handed down from one generation to the next without a change.
Arriving to America, many of the ancestors of African Americans secretly met to pray their Orthodox Christian prayers in so-called “hush harbors”. Their masters prevented them from attending these meetings, fearing that the Christian teaching of equality and freedom of all men could start a revolt among the slaves against them. However, the ancestors continued to meet and to pray. As a result, many ancestors of African Americans were severely tortured, and even some died as martyrs. Silas Ezekiel and Charlotte Martin are among those who were martyred.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
See all 23 videos here.
Venerable John also practiced a life of silence and earned the gifts of prophecy and clairvoyance, for which he received the designation of prophet. His place of birth is unknown. During an 18 year period up to his death, he lived near the Elder Barsanuphius. Knowing the date of his demise and in response to Abba Elianus’ request, he postponed his death for two weeks in order to instruct him how to run the cloister.
Saints Barsanuphius’ and John’s instructions have been preserved in the form of questions and answers (over 800 +) posed by individuals of various callings — Archbishops, priests and laity.
Saint Barsanuphius instructed Abba Seridus to record all his answers without having any fear of making mistakes, as the Holy Spirit would direct him to chronicle everything correctly and in sequential order.
Once certain of the Fathers besought Saint Barsanuphius to pray that God stay His wrath and spare the world. Saint Barsanuphius wrote back that there were "three men perfect before God," whose prayers met at the throne of God and protected the whole world; to them it had been revealed that the wrath of God would not last long. These three, he said, were "John of Rome, Elias of Corinth, and another in the diocese of Jerusalem," concealing the name of the last, since it was himself.
On Prayer and Knowing the Will of God.
6. How can you be moved in prayer, reading and singing of Psalms? In prayer, the feeling comes from recollecting your sins. The praying person must bring to mind his deeds, how sinners that have committed similar sins will be judged, and the terrifying words of the Judge: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire" (Matt. 25:41).
During the uttering and singing of prayers, the feeling comes when the person compels his mind to be attentive to the words and grasp with all his soul the power that is enclosed in them. If despite this, that feeling is still absent within you, do not weaken but persevere patiently because merciful, generous and long-patient God will accept our endeavors. Always remember the Psalmist’s words: "I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry" (Psalms 40:1). Act in this way and have trust that God’s mercy will visit you.
8. How many times does one pray in order to receive advisory thoughts as to what course of action to take? If you are unable to ask an experienced elder, you then have to utter your prayer on the given subject three times. After this, examine your heart and if it leans by even a hair’s breadth — act accordingly. This type of communication is noticeable and fully understood by the heart.
8. How do you pray three times: at different intervals or all at once? Sometimes you can’t defer them. If you have spare time, pray three times over three days. But if there are urgent circumstances like that with the betrayal of Christ — where He went away three times to pray and uttered the same words each time — then use that as your guide.
8. When you intend doing a God-pleasing deed and a contrary thought opposes it, this lets you know that the intended act is truly pleasing to God. Pray and observe, whether during prayer your heart corroborates the goodness and this goodness grows and does not lessen, and accordingly, whether the opposing thought increases or not. Know that every good deed definitely has bitter opposition from the devil’s jealousy, while a good deed through prayer gains ascendancy over it. If an ostensibly good deed is implanted by the devil and then be opposed by him, — then prayer will weaken this illusory good deed, together with its illusory opposition. In this instance, it is apparent that the reason why the devil opposes the thought he himself had implanted, is to beguile us into accepting his concept as good.
8. When in thinking about something, you see confusion in your thoughts, and after calling upon God this confusion remains — even slightly — then know that what you are thinking of doing has been motivated by the deceiver. Then, under no circumstances are you to do this — because nothing is pleasing to God that is done with confusion. In a situation where there are opposing thoughts to this type of confusion, then there is no need to immediately regard the matter as evil. Examine the subject, is it good or evil — if evil, then leave it and if it’s good, carry it out and reject the confusion.
On Repentance, Temperance, Meekness, and Sorrows
23. You ask how to lay the beginnings of repentance. If you wish to begin repentance, look at the woman sinner: she washed Christ’s feet with her tears (Luke 7:38). Tears wash away the sins of every person. But a person acquires tears by internal efforts, through the diligent study of the Holy Scripture, through patience, meditation on the Last Judgment and eternal shame, and through self-denial, just as the Lord said: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mat. 16:24). To deny one’s self and to take up the cross — means to sever your own will in everything and regard yourself as nothing.
24. Regarding temperance in food and drink, the fathers teach to partake of both in lesser quantities that is required, i.e., not to fill your stomach fully. Each individual has to determine his own measure in both food and wine. Moreover, the measure of restraint is not limited to food and drink, but extends to talking, sleep, clothing and to all the senses. There must be its own measure in all of this.
27. If upon starting a conversation you realize that it is sinful — terminate it by saying: "No, we won’t talk about this," or, having remained silent for a few moments, say: "I have forgotten what I wanted to say," — and switch the conversation to a different non-sinful topic.
28. Do you wish to free yourself of sorrows and not be burdened by them? Expect bigger ones — and you will calm down. Remember Job and other Saints — what sorrows they had endured! Acquire their patience and your spirit will be consoled.
On Humility, Vile Thoughts, and Discretion
30. Let us always have recourse to humility, for the humble lies on the ground, and where would one who lies fall? Whereas a person that has ascended to a great height, can easily fall. If we changed and reformed, it is not from us but is God’s gift, for: "The Lord lifts up the humble."
30. You must regard yourself as the greatest sinner among sinners, who has done nothing worthwhile before God, and reproach yourself at all times, everywhere for everything.
31. To the question on whether we should argue with thoughts that perturb us, I will answer: Don’t argue, because the enemies precisely want this to happen, and seeing our altercation will not cease their attack. It is better if you prayed to the Lord, opening your feebleness before Him, and He will not only drive out these thoughts but will eradicate them completely.
36. It is more beneficial to humbly pose questions than to persist with your own will, because the Lord Himself helps the asker what to say — for the sake of his humility and righteousness of heart.
On Love for Your Neighbor, Mercy, and Non-Condemnation
42. Do not grow despondant in sorrows and physical labors, which you have to perform within the society, because this also means that you have laid down your soul for your brothers (1 John 3:16) — and I hope the reward will be great for this labor. Just as the Lord placed Joseph to feed his brethren during the famine in Egypt (Psalm 32:19), He placed you to serve society. I am just repeating the words of the Apostle: "You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:1).
43. When you want to do a charitable act but a thought not to give creates doubt, test your thought, and if you find it being suggested through stinginess, then give — increasing the amount that you originally intended.
45. You are troubled by thoughts that incite confusion in others and find yourself confused. Know my brother, that if somebody offends you in word or deed, that person himself will be offended one hundred times worse sometime later. Be forbearing in everything and beware of ascribing your will to anything. Examine your thoughts attentively, so that they do not infect your heart with the murderous poison of anger, and that they do not tempt you into accepting a mosquito as a camel, or a pebble for a cliff. Because then you will be like a person who has a plank in his eye yet looks at the speck in another’s.
On Hypocrisy and Teaching
53. Sometimes, silence is better than any convincing and instructive conversations. Let us utilize words in moderation, remembering: "In the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression" (Prov. 10:19). So as not to fall into conceit and self-praise, let us remember that in not practicing what we preach, we preach toward our own condemnation.
Divine and tuneful harps of the Holy Spirit's myst'ries, sounding forth sweet hymns of discernment which soothe all those in sorrows: ye moved men to cast off passion's yoke and trample upon Satan's loathsome head. Wherefore, Godlike Barsanuphius and wise John, deliver us who now cry out: Glory to Him that hath given you grace. Glory to Him that hath blessed you. Glory to Him that hath saved many through your sacred words of counsel.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
O Great Barsanuphius and John, thou marvellous Prophet, all the hidden secrets of men and God's dispensation brightly shone in the clear mirrors of your most pure hearts; and with beams of grace divine, ye cast out sin's shadows from the souls of men; O Fathers, lights of discernment, entreat the Lord for us all.
By Bishop John (Christodoulou) Kalogeraki of Amoriou
The work titled The Photian Schism of Fr. Francis Dvornik was welcomed with great enthusiasm by Byzantinists, because Photios had, by the judgments and opinions of fanatic heterodox theologians and historians, been erroneously discarded. Historians beforehand portrayed the Patriarch Photios as the cause of the schism of the Church between West and East. Thanks to this treatise, which was published in 1948, the outstanding personality and enormous worth of the great and wise Patriarch of the Orthodox Church was recognized.
That which characterizes the aforesaid work is the thorough knowledge and exhaustive examination of the sources and bibliography, as well as its methodological interpretation and the clarity of explaining its subject. It contains an index of abbreviations, anecdotes, manuscripts used by the author, three appendixes, a rich catalogue of manuscripts, an excellent bibliography, and at the end an index of names and subjects.
Having said this there are a few issues of secondary importance for which I have reservations and have another opinion on. I especially wanted to highlight the following:
1. The title of the work The Photian Schism is unfortunate and inaccurate, because the title gives the impression that in reality Patriarch Photios was the "Father of the Schism". It should be emphasized that contemporary scholarship has proven that Patriarch Photios was not the cause or motivator behind the schism of the Church. Rather Patriarch Photios is considered the Apostle of Unity for the Church. It would have been preferable for the book to have been titled either The Patriarch Photios or The Schism Between the Western and Eastern Churches.
2. The author observes that the trial of the Patriarch of Constantinople by the delegates of the Papal See of Rome proves by example the recognition of the Primacy of Authority of the Pope of Rome and the right of the Pope of Rome to judge an Ecumenical Patriarch.
3. On page 122 Fr. Dvornik writes that Patriarch Photios should not have brought up the issue of the Filioque against the Synod of 867 since the Pope of Rome found in 862 Photios' Confession that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone as Orthodox.
The above reservations or misgivings however are not meant to erase the fair spirit of the author, which is revealed throughout the entirety of the book. This should be much more honored when we consider that the same subjects, relating to the schism of the Western and Eastern Church, were often considered a slippery slope for Roman Catholic authors.
The honorable work of Fr. Dvornik is memorialized for this amazing wake-up call. I am empowered to say that it is the basis for anything regarding the study of Photios and the schism, because the sources which were used by Fr. Dvornik must be known. This work, The Photian Schism, is the result of many laborious years of work.
In conclusion, the present work of Fr. Dvornik is a work of toil and enthusiasm for which the author is worthy of praise by all.
From the book titled Analysis and Critique of the Work "The Photian Schism" Authored by Professor Francis Dvornik by Bishop John (Christodoulou) Kalogeraki of Amoriou.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Through the Apostolic Constitutions (Book VIII, ch. 42), the Church of Christ has received the custom to make commemorations for the departed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after their repose. Since many throughout the ages, because of an untimely death in a faraway place, or other adverse circumstances, have died without being deemed worthy of the appointed memorial services, the divine Fathers, being so moved in their love for man, have decreed that a common memorial be made this day for all pious Orthodox Christians who have reposed from all ages past, so that those who did not have particular memorial services may be included in this common one for all. Also, the Church of Christ teaches us that alms should be given to the poor by the departed one's kinsmen as a memorial for them.
Besides this, since we make commemoration tomorrow of the Second Coming of Christ, and since the reposed have neither been judged, nor have received their complete recompense (Acts 17:31; II Peter 2:9; Heb. 11:39-40), the Church rightly commemorates the souls today, and trusting in the boundless mercy of God, she prays Him to have mercy on sinners. Furthermore, since the commemoration is for all the reposed together, it reminds each of us of his own death, and arouses us to repentance.
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Only Creator who out of the depths of wisdom lovingly govern all things and upon all bestow what is accordingly best for them, give rest to the souls of Your servants, for they have placed their hope in You, our Author and Maker and God.
Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Give rest, O Christ, among the Saints to the souls of Your servants, where there is no pain, no sorrow, no grieving, but life everlasting.
- Reading from Greek Orthodox Church of America website
Short preview of a "A Pilgrim's Way", a documentary made about the Romanian Orthodox church. It begins with lay life in Bucharest and then travels to a monastery, and ends by meeting some of the great Romanian church fathers. It is 73 minutes long and will be released soon.
February 5, 2010
Evolution News and Views
Life arose without design or direction from any intelligent agent. Would you believe it did so in a sun-warmed ocean surface? No? Would you believe an earth-heated vent at the bottom of the same ocean? Would you believe an office microwave that hasn’t been cleaned since the Bush Administration?
The past week’s startling news of backpedaling from the “primordial soup” theory rang a bell, though I wasn’t instantly able to say whose comedy routine it put me in mind of. Hm, was it Monty Python? ScienceDaily carries the story:
"For 80 years it has been accepted that early life began in a “primordial soup” of organic molecules before evolving out of the oceans millions of years later. Today the “soup” theory has been overturned in a pioneering paper in BioEssays which claims it was the Earth's chemical energy, from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, which kick-started early life."
"Textbooks have it that life arose from organic soup and that the first cells grew by fermenting these organics to generate energy in the form of ATP. We provide a new perspective on why that old and familiar view won't work at all," said team leader Dr Nick lane from University College London. "We present the alternative that life arose from gases (H2, CO2, N2, and H2S) and that the energy for first life came from harnessing geochemical gradients created by mother Earth at a special kind of deep-sea hydrothermal vent -- one that is riddled with tiny interconnected compartments or pores."
So isn’t this interesting. A theory long held to be more or less bulletproof is suddenly rejected in favor of something rather different. I thought that kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen? Of course, the story was familiar in part because intelligent-design advocates, and others, have long pointed out inadequacies in the soup concept.
In Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer writes about how back in 1985 he came across Thaxton, Bradley and Olson’s The Mystery of Life’s Origin, which “provided a comprehensive critique of the attempts that had been made to explain how the first life had arisen from the primordial ocean, the so-called pre-biotic soup.”
The soup-spilling team writing in BioEssays concentrates on the source of energy needed to power life into existence. Was it from UV radiation, as J.B.S. Haldane theorized in 1929? Or from a hydrothermal vent? This overlooks a much trickier problem: the source not of the relevant energy but the relevant biological information. As Meyer remarks in Signature, origin-of-life scenarios that “just transfer the information problem into the chemical soup itself” fit into a “clear pattern. Every attempt to explain the origin of biological information either failed because it transferred the problem elsewhere or ‘succeeded’ only by presupposing unexplained sources of information.”
Anyway, the lame retreat from a stance previously thumped with tremendous vigor sounds Pythonesque but no, a quick Internet search reveals it’s actually from Get Smart. Along with “Missed it by that much” and “Sorry about that, Chief,” “Would you believe…” was a repeated line from the classic 1960s TV show. It always introduced Agent Maxwell Smart’s attempt to climb down from an earlier, bolder claim in favor of increasingly pitiable ones: “I happen to be an expert in karate, Judo and tempura. Would you believe that I can break eight boards with one karate chop? No? Would you believe three boards? Would you believe a loaf of bread?”
But enough nostalgia. Read the ScienceDaily article here.
February 5, 2010
Evolution News and Views
A popular Darwinian meme is that humans and chimp genomes are ninety-something percent identical. It varies a bit, but usually hovers close to 99%. The meme hides all sorts of assumptions, of course, but the take home lesson for the headline reader is plain enough: we’re almost exactly the same as chimps.
Though the 99% number has received some qualifiers, and has even been referred to as a “myth” in Science, the basic idea remains firmly entrenched in the media collective consciousness.
But evidence seems to be piling up that the similarities are not nearly what has been advertised. Geneticist Richard Buggs has reflected on this, and has even predicted “that when we have a reliable, complete chimpanzee genome, the overall similarity of the human genome will prove to be close to 70% (and very far from 99%).”
It will be interesting to see how Buggs' prediction holds up over time. If he’s right, this will be one more switch from “meme” to “myth” in the Darwinian ledger.
I should confess that I haven’t followed this debate closely, simply because I don’t think that the meme, even if true, really shows much. Here’s what I mean. Some years ago, a reporter called the Discovery Institute asking for a comment on a new study showing a 75% genetic similarity between human beings and a nematode (if I remember correctly). The reporter asked me what I thought about the discovery that we were 75% identical to a nematode. I suggested that there was a difference between our genomes being quite similar to the nematode’s, and human beings being quite similar to nematodes. That didn’t seem to connect, so I said: “Well, why doesn’t the story cause you to reassess the assumption that we’re basically identical with our DNA? If somebody told me we were 100% chemically identical with chimps, I would conclude that we must be a lot more than mere chemicals, since chimps and humans are quite different. Now since humans and nematodes are obviously quite different, while our genomes are similar, doesn’t that suggest that genetics tells us less about ourselves than we had assumed?” I'm pretty sure my comments didn’t make the story.
Friday, February 5, 2010
The last three issues of The Censer carried an article of unusual brilliance and perception. Father Jonah Mourtos, who is in charge of St. John's parish in Taiwan, shared with us his experiences and views on Chinese and Eastern society and religion after spending about two years in Taiwan. His article "Aspects of Fear in an Asian Context" (The Feeling of Fear in Chinese Society), which makes many perspicacious points about Eastern and Chinese culture and beliefs from the viewpoint of an Orthodox thinker, is like a breath of fresh air across a sea of learned and usually very polite tomes authored by Western or Christian scholars on East Asia and its traditions.
Father Jonah does not mince his words. He comes to the point and in most instances tries to call a spade a spade. The love he has for the people he is scrutinizing is evident, though, as one has to care deeply to observe deeply and feel deeply. And I, as an Asian, cannot but applaud his conclusions which are both helpful and Orthodox. We live in a missionary diocese, and in time, with thinkers like Father Jonah, hopefully the development of an Orthodox theology of mission will become more complete.
These words are written with hopes to fuel and enliven the thinking processes which have begun with Father Jonah's observations. In this issue and subsequent issues of The Censer, one would hope to see views and contributions from different people on the subject of the Orthodox message and practice and their impact on and interaction with East Asian civilization. It is written, "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom". St. Paul, unmistakably also, teaches that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free". Our task is to bring the uniqueness of the Christian message to peoples who have been following other paths so they may have the option of choosing a life and a way which is free from senseless fear. Coming to know the one true God will give us a spiritual wisdom which frees us from ignorance and fear.
Is fear unique to Chinese or East Asian civilization?
Certainly not. A conscientious consideration of the world's major religions and belief systems shows that fear is everywhere. If anything, it is less pronounced in Chinese Confucianist civilization than in some others. Nevertheless it is there. What is unique is its absence, or rather lack of a place, in Christian civilization, which incorporates Judaic and Greco-Roman elements.
Of the world's six or seven major belief systems, Christianity is the only one which teaches the banishment of fear through joy - the joy of the Resurrection, the supreme manifestation of the power of love.
And this is the main message of Orthodoxy. The Mourtos article refers to fear affecting its author upon exposure to certain manifestations of Tantric (Lamaistic) Buddhism. This is a good case in point. Next to Christianity, Buddhism is probably the most peaceful religion in the world. Experienced Asia hands never fail to observe, usually with approval, the mild, compassionate and peaceful character of the Buddhist faith and of its practitioners. Indeed, the supreme patriarch of Tantric Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetans, Mongolians and Manchus alike, is one of the distinguished winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. His patience and principled rationality in dealing with the Communist armies and authorities which have come to control his land is legendary and widely ad mired.
Yet the element of fear mentioned in the Mourtos article is real. In the Buddhist religion evil does not prevail over good, but demonic images abound in its Tantric manifestation. There are even deities that are usually identified in terrifying images of anger. In painted or crafted images, and even in religious song and dance, one is reminded of the power and presence of demons.
This helped to expose Tibetan culture to the Marxist propaganda of liberation. Standard Marxist literature to this day proclaims that Tibetans were freed from enslavement by fear and by tyrannical feudal and clerical overlords, who blinded them intellectually and sometimes physically to keep them in check.
Tantrism (the quest for religious enlightenment through the repetition of incantations) as a religious approach is not restricted to Buddhism. It originated in India, where a number of religions sprang up on the soil and foundation of Hinduism.
The Hindu sensitivity to life is shown in its encouragement of vegetarianism. Of course there could be the element of selfinterest (the Mourtos article points out that the doctrine of reincarnation, which is common to all the Hindubased religions including Buddhism, is a "cycle or terror") as clearly one would not want to have one's deceased grandmother for a meal. Nevertheless the sensitivity to all animal life is not in dispute. In spite of this, Hinduism is not without its fair share of demonic images. In fact Shiva, the Destroyer, is one of the three main deities in the Hindu pantheon. His cult enjoys a greater following than that of Brahma, the Creator deity. It is The Censer reasoned that Destruction leads to new life. It is also believed that Shiva's wife, the goddess Kali, enjoyed animal sacrifices - blood sacrifices which in the Christian religion was ended with Christ.
Most Christians do not think about the issue, but fear does occupy a place in other major religions. There could be a number of reasons for this. First we must acknowledge that fear has played a part in Christian belief. It was in fact one of the hottest subjects of theological debate in centuries past. Theologians who regarded themselves as representing the true Gospel message assailed believers who practiced good works out of fear of the fires of hell or a vengeful Judgment Day. These theologians taught that salvation came solely through faith in Christ, not through earthly good deeds that went towards pardons and remission from the punishment of hell. They said true and sincere belief in Christ (and not a hypocritical mouthing of it) would orient the person towards behavior that leads him Heavenward, away from hell. Fear of hell has no place and hell does not come into the picture. In our age, a clear understanding of soteriology might teach that while faith in Christ is indispensable for salvation, Christian belief and practice would include sensible choicemaking for the avoidance of evil and hell. The Orthodox Church, with her age-old compassion for Man and his human weaknesses, would emphasize the help and healing that God gives to man through the sacraments and forgiveness, freeing man from the guilt-ridden, fear-driven creature that he can become without the grace of Christ.
The place of fear in the non-Christian religions may reflect a difference in orientation, and a dif ference in approach. Orientation, in that Christians have always taken an affirmative attitude towards the world and Creation (a very easily perceived difference may be found in Buddhism, whose soteriology is mainly negativist or even nihilist). The positive Christian understanding of the universe may be seen in their interpretation of the Genesis account of the Creation: when God completed His work of creating the universe, it is recorded, "Behold, it was very good." Christians today often lament that the world is not in good shape, but it only proves the point: they believe it ought to be in better shape. The oftenunconscious subtext of this lament comes from the tradition that the world has deteriorated from its original mint condition, because of something Christian theologians call "the Fall."
This is why Christ God came to fix the problem, in the first place. For two thousand years, Christians have believed that the problem is smaller than the solution, because the solution is the Divine Economy, the Salvific Plan, of their God. In the Christian religion, therefore, problems have solutions, Good triumphs over Evil, and fear is replaced by joy. The same cannot be said of other religions in which, as the Mourtos article pointed out, reincarnation (and consequently the dominance of fate) is a central belief. The same cannot be said of secular systems that dismiss the supernatural (Marxism or Confucianism, for example), in which the destiny of Man is delimited by the end of earthly life, or is unknowable. The same cannot be said even of religions which may be Abrahamic in lineage, but in which the main manifestation of God is His power, but not His love.
The Christian religion also has a unique approach in its teachings. Every single one of today's major religions arose in Asia. Among them, Christianity came out of Palestine and became the dominant religion in Europe. The New Testament was written in Greek, a European language. Christian teachers and thinkers from generation to generation have always had a unique approach to the interpretation and understanding of their faith. This has a lot to do with the Greco-Roman stamp and heritage of the Christian Church, which are characterized by an attitude of rationality and enlightenment. This went hand-in-hand with the affirmative attitude of the Christian faith to the universe and Creation. For the Christian religion, the Supernatural and the Holy Mysteries are not to be feared; rather, they are to be respected and venerated as a Help to Mankind. God is good, and the lover of Mankind. God is knowable, revealing Himself as the Son of Man. God is reasonable, and the teacher of Mankind.
From its earliest days, therefore, the Christian Church understood its religion in a manner that was free from irrational fear. In the fourth century, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the dominant influence of the Hellenistic world at that time, a perfect marriage of faith and doctrinal teaching had taken place. Earlier, the pagan pantheon of Greece and Rome had run out of steam because of its amoral and shallow spiritual base, left behind by a highly developed civilization of philosophical and legal learning. This Greco-Roman philosophical and legal learning craved for something more sophisticated, which it found in the irresistible new Judao-Christian religion spreading across the Empire.
In short, when the Church grew to want to better understand herself and her teachings, Greco-Roman philosophy arrived at a point when it needed something truly profound and worthwhile to understand. It was consequently a natural marriage, and quite possibly conceived in Heaven, because its fruits have benefited Mankind to this day.
Academic theology is not enough for salvation. Read especially the ascetic Fathers. From them you will learn true theology, the right attitude of the mind and heart where God is concerned.
Pure prayer is not given to those who study a lot. In that sense, the path of academic theology is hardly effective, and can rarely lead to pure prayer.
God can touch the spirit of man and give him, directly and immediately, knowledge of Himself. There is a great difference between this knowledge and that which is acquired in theological schools. It can be very dangerous to do theology without having an existential experience of life in the spirit of Christ. One risks, in fact, turning the study of theology, especially in its apophatic forms, into a subject like philosophy or poetry. One risks adopting a false attitude, thinking oneself superior, and that is enough for perdition. In our life in Christ, it is another kind of inspiration that we must seek.
Theological science, which is taught in academic institutions and has become an intellectual specialisation open to all, does not give knowledge of God. Knowledge of God comes from life in God, which is born in the deepest place of the heart.
One can be a great scholar, with academic qualifications, and yet remain completely ignorant about the path of salvation.
Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov). Words of Life. (Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1998). Selected “Extracts from spiritual talks,” from pages 40, 41, and 42.
Egypt Restores Monastery Touting Religious Harmony
Feb 4, 2010
ZAAFARANA, Egypt – Egypt's chief archaeologist unveiled on Thursday an extensive renovation of the oldest monastery in the world, touting the work at the 1,600 year-old-site as a symbol of peaceful coexistence between the country's Muslims and Christians.
It's the message Egypt's government has been emphasizing ever since a lethal drive-by shooting at a church a month ago in a southern town: No troubles here — dismissing new worries over sectarian divisions between Egypt's mainly Muslim population and the large Christian minority.
"The announcement we are making today shows to the world how we are keen to restore the monuments of our past, whether Coptic, Jewish or Muslims," he said, referring to the dominant Christian sect in Egypt.
"The incident in Upper Egypt can happen between two brothers," said Hawass when asked if there was any connection between the Jan. 6 shooting and the timing of his announcement at the monastery. "I want everyone to forgot this incident."
Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities spent eight years and $14.5 million dollars to carry out a comprehensive restoration and conservation of the ancient monastery, situated in the rugged desert mountains near Egypt's Red Sea coast.
It was in this remote spot, at the end of the 3rd century that renowned Christian ascetic St. Anthony took up a residence in a cave, with little more than a spring and some palm trees to sustain him.
Upon his death in A.D. 356, his followers built cells and created the world's first Christian monastery, which now houses 120 monks, the burial place of four saints, and ancient church paintings dating to the Middle Ages.
Monks say the restoration and discovery of the cells of the monks sheds important light on the early years of monasticism and bolsters the country's long monastic tradition.
"For the monastery itself, this is very important, we have found a missing part of our history with this restoration, for there is nothing written about the beginning of the monastery," said Father Maximus, who oversaw the renovation.
In the government-sponsored project, workers renovated the fortress-like ancient wall surrounding the monastery, several outbuildings, and its two main churches — the 15th century Church of the Apostles and the 4th century Church of St. Anthony.
A modern sewage system was also installed for the monastery, which receives a million visitors every year.
"The monastery has become a very important retreat for spiritual relaxation for visitors, especially when they visit the cave of St. Anthony," he said.
For Hawass, the high profile director of Egypt's antiquities department, the completion of the project was an opportunity for Egypt to show its critics the depths of its tolerance.
"I believe today is important because it can answer all the questions of the people all over the world and it can show how the Muslims can stay here eight years restoring and making impressive work," he told journalists while touring the site.
The drive by shooting in the southern Egyptian town of Nag Hamadi on Jan. 6, Coptic Christmas Eve, killed six Christians and a Muslim guard, shocking Egypt's Christians and bringing widespread condemnation internationally over sectarian relations in the country.
Egyptian officials insist the shooting was a purely criminal act, without sectarian motives. Authorities categorically deny there are any problems between Muslims and Christians and say there is national unity, with all groups living in harmony.
The state often maintains that attacks against Christians, especially in poverty-ridden southern Egypt, are isolated, criminal incidents, often related to disputes between clans.
But Youssef Sidhom, the editor of the weekly Coptic newspaper Al-Watani, dismisses the government stance on the Jan. 6 attack.
"Targeting Christians coming out of church on Christmas eve, this cannot be fully a criminal affair, it is a criminal sectarian affair," he said. "We have to face for once our bitter heritage that has accumulated during the last four decades, making such hostilities more frequent than before."
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population of 79 million, complain of discrimination, saying they have insufficient representation in parliament or the security forces and that education and media don't reflect their community. They also point to restrictions requiring security officials' permission to build or even repair churches.
"When the state wants to renovate a Jewish temple, an ancient church or an ancient mosque, no one can stop the state. The problem comes when we want to renovate a church, things get tough and we have to apply to the security apparatus to approve it," Sidhom said.
Leonard Leo, the chairman of the U.S. government's Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the State Department is "very worried about increased violence against Christians in Upper Egypt."
"There are quite a number of laws in Egypt which blatantly discriminate against Christians and other religious minorities in a way that creates a climate where people don't respect Christians," he told Fox News on Jan. 28.
In its splendid isolation at the foot of mountains surrounded by the crisp desert air, the monastery seems far away from troubles elsewhere. In a sign of its turbulent past, one of the restored buildings is a tall tower only accessible by a wooden drawbridge, where the monks would take refuge during assaults by hostile Bedouin tribes in the Middle Ages.
"We are living in the same land, drinking the same water — we are Egyptians, all of us. What is going on is something not normal," said Father Maximus about the shooting in Nag Hamadi.
A fearful thing is sin, and the sorest disease of the soul is transgression, secretly cutting its sinews, and becoming also the cause of eternal fire; an evil of a man's own choosing, an offspring of the will.
For that we sin of our own free will the Prophet says plainly in a certain place: "Yet I planted you a fruitful vine, wholly true: how are you turned to bitterness, (and become) the strange vine" (Jer. 2:21)? The planting was good, the fruit coming from the will is evil; and therefore the planter is blameless, but the vine shall be burnt with fire since it was planted for good, and bore fruit unto evil of its own will. For God, according to the Preacher, "made man upright, and they have themselves sought out many inventions" (Eccl. 7:29). "For we are His workmanship," says the Apostle, "created unto good works, which God beforehand prepared, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). So then the Creator, being good, created for good works; but the creature turned of its own free will to wickedness.
Sin then is, as we have said, a fearful evil, but not incurable; fearful for him who clings to it, but easy of cure for him who by repentance puts it from him. For suppose that a man is holding fire in his hand; as long as he holds fast the live coal he is sure to be burned, but should he put away the coal, he would have cast away the flame also with it. If however any one thinks that he is not being burned when sinning, to him the Scripture says, "Shall a man wrap up fire in his bosom, and not burn his clothes" (Prov. 6:27)? For sin burns the sinews of the soul, and breaks the spiritual bones of the mind, and darkens the light of the heart.
- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Second Catechetical Lecture
Ouija boards are considered by many to be something not to be dabbled with - should these really be sold in toy stores ?
Some believe ouija boards can be used to contact the dead or to summon demons but toy stores around the world still sell them to children as young as 8. Should stores stop selling them as toys or are they as harmless as they seem ?
Ouija Board a Controversial Toy for Tots
Toys R Us is selling Ouija boards, promoting them as acceptable for children as young as eight years old.
The pink edition of the Ouija board is listed for girls eight-years-old and up while the regular version is designated for all children eight and up. Stephen Phelan, communications manager of Human Life International, checked the website and reports that the findings are disturbing.
"It is just troubling that these things are treated as casually as any other game, like Monopoly or anything else on this Toys R Us site -- and I think it's something Christians should be aware of and really not support," he states.
He further believes that Christians have an obligation to fight against it. "If you go to the comments section on the Toys R Us [web]site, you'll read comments from people who talk about being obsessed with it, talk about missing school for it, talk about the spirits they spoke to on the other side and how creepy it was," Phelan describes.
The communications manager adds that the primary groups that deny the evils of the Ouija board are the ones who deny the spirit world entirely. He goes on to say Christians have a biblical mandate.
"We're supposed to deal with the truth only," he notes. "We're supposed to have nothing to do with dark spirits. We're not supposed to dabble in anything that would compromise our souls, and that's exactly what this does."
The manufacturer of the product is Hasbro.
For an introduction on who Benjamin Creme is, I quote this section from Wikipedia along with links:
Benjamin Creme (b. Dec 5 1922 Scotland) is an artist, author, self proclaimed esotericist, and owner of Share International magazine (his regular newsletter and website).
He asserts that the second coming prophesied by many religions will come in the form of "Maitreya". Maitreya is the name Buddhists use for the future Buddha, but Creme claims that Maitreya is the teacher that all religions point towards and hope for . Other names for him, according to Creme, are the Christ, the Imam Mahdi, Krishna, and the Messiah. Creme says Maitreya is the "Avatar for the Aquarian Age" and is currently living in London.
Creme has made a number of predictions and announcement for the imminent appearance of Maitreya based on his claims of receiving telepathic messages. These have failed to come true, leading to him being considered a figure of amusement in the press.
In Internet Era, an Unwilling Lord for New Age Followers
By SCOTT JAMES
February 4, 2010
New York Times
Raj Patel’s desk sits in a dusty, cement-floored nook in his garage, just beyond a parked gray Prius, near the washer and dryer. They are humble surroundings for a god.
“It is absurd to be put in this position, when I’m just some bloke,” Mr. Patel said.
A native of London now living on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, Mr. Patel suddenly finds himself an unlikely object of worship, proclaimed the messiah Maitreya by followers of the New Age religious sect Share International.
He was raised as a Hindu and had never heard of the group. He has no desire for deification. But he may not have a choice.
Mr. Patel’s journey from ordinary person to unwilling lord is a case of having the wrong résumé at the wrong moment in history. For this is a time when human yearning to find a magical cure for the world’s woes can be harnessed to the digital age’s instant access to a vast treasure-trove of personal information.
I have known Mr. Patel for four years — he keeps an office down the hall from mine. He is charming, and as a graduate of Oxford, Cornell University and the London School of Economics, he is considered brilliant, although he is self-effacing. He readily admits to being imperfectly human.
People began to believe otherwise on Jan. 14 in London when Benjamin Creme, the leader of Share International, who is also known as the Master, proclaimed the arrival of Maitreya. The name of the deity has Buddhist roots, but in 1972, Mr. Creme prophesied the coming Maitreya as a messiah for all faiths called the World Teacher.
Mr. Creme did not name the messiah, but he revealed clues that led his devotees to fire up their search engines on a digital scavenger hunt that would lead them to The One.
About this time Mr. Patel was publicizing his new economics book, “The Value of Nothing.” With blogging, biographies and talk show appearances, the details of his life and views permeated the Internet ether. Crowds packed his readings, his book debuted on the New York Times best-seller list, and he appeared on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.
The Maitreya clues — his age (supposed to be born in 1972; Mr. Patel was), life experiences (supposed to have traveled from India to London in 1977; Mr. Patel was taken on a vacation there with his parents that year) race (supposed to be dark-skinned; Mr. Patel is Indian) and philosophies — all pointed to him. Some believe Maitreya will have a stutter. When Mr. Patel tripped over a few words when talking with Mr. Colbert, it was the final sign.
“It became a flood,” said Mr. Patel, referring to a torrent of e-mail messages that asked: “Are you The One?” He removed the contact information from his Web site, but dozens of pages, discussion groups and videos have emerged online proclaiming his holiness.
Mr. Patel has emphatically and publicly denied being Maitreya. Bad move. According to the predictions, “Maitreya will neither confirm, or will fail to confirm, he is Maitreya,” said Cher Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Share International.
Ms. Gilmore said Mr. Creme would not say if he believed Mr. Patel was the messiah.
Ben Shoucair, 24, a college student from Detroit, does not need more convincing. He said he saw Mr. Patel in a dream, and then was stunned to find a YouTube video and discover his vision was real. Last week, Mr. Shoucair and his father spent $990 on last-minute tickets to fly to San Francisco to be in Mr. Patel’s presence at a book promotion.
Reached by phone this week, Mr. Shoucair said meeting Mr. Patel had made him “happy.” He said the Maitreya evidence was irrefutable. “It puts it all on Raj Patel at this time in history.”
Mr. Shoucair seemed amazed when told that Mr. Patel did not believe he was the messiah and had never heard of Mr. Creme. “See how deep the spiritual world is,” Mr. Shoucair said.
Mr. Patel said of their pilgrimage: “It broke my heart. They’d flown all the way from Detroit.”
Share International’s beliefs are rooted in the Theosophical movement popular in Britain in the late-19th century; it later evolved into New Age beliefs, said Ted F. Peters of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Messiahs have been declared before, only to disappoint.
“It’s incredibly flattering, just for an instant,” Mr. Patel said of his unwanted status. “And then you realize what it means. People are looking for better times. Almost anything now will qualify as a portent of different times.”