February 24, 2013

Two Men Went Up Into the Temple to Pray

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

By St. Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

Luke 18:10-14 -- Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, "God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." I tell you, this man went down to his house counted righteous rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The Lord ceaselessly purges the passion of pride in many ways. This passion, more than any other, disturbs our thoughts, and for this reason the Lord always and everywhere teaches on this subject. Here He is purging the worst form of pride. For there are many offshoots of self-love. Presumption, arrogance, and vainglory all stem from this root. But the most destructive of all these kinds of self-love is pride, for pride is contempt of God. When a man ascribes his accomplishments to himself, and not to God, this is nothing less than denial of God and opposition to Him. Therefore, like enemy to enemy, the Lord opposes this passion which is opposed to Him, and through this parable He promises to heal it. He directs this parable towards those who trust in themselves and who do not attribute everything to God, and who, as a result, despise others. He shows that when righteousness—which is marvelous in every other respect and sets a man close to God—takes pride as its companion, it casts that man into the lowest depths and makes demonic what was God-like just a short time before.

The words of the Pharisee at first resemble the words of a grateful man. For he says, "God, I thank Thee". But the words that follow are full of foolishness. He does not say, “that Thou hast made me to depart from extortion and iniquities,” but Instead, “I thank Thee that I am not an extortioner or worker of iniquity.” He attributes this accomplishment to himself, as something done by his own strength. How can a man who knows that what he has, he has received from God, compare other men to himself unfavorably and judge them? Certainly, if a man believed that he had received as a gift good things that in truth belong to God, he would not despise other men. He would instead consider himself just as naked as his fellow men in regards to virtue, except that by the mercy of God his nakedness has been covered with a donated garment. The Pharisee is proud, ascribing his deeds to his own strength, and that is why he proceeds to condemn others. By saying that the Pharisee stood, the Lord indicates his haughtiness and lack of humility. In the same way that a humble-minded man is likewise humble in his demeanor, this Pharisee by his bearing displays his pride. Although it is also said of the publican that he stood, note what follows: "he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven," so that he was stooped in posture. But the eyes of the Pharisee, together with his heart, were lifted up to heaven in boastful exaltation. Nevertheless, the manner in which the Pharisee arranged the words of his prayer can still instruct us. First he says what he is not, and then he declares what he is. After stating, "God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are," pointing to the failings of others, then he declares his good deeds, that he fasts twice a week and gives tithes of all that he possesses. The order of his prayer shows us that we must first refrain from wickedness, and then set our hand to virtue. One must not only turn away from evil, but also do good (Ps. 33:14). It is the same for a man who wants to draw pure water from a muddy spring: only after he has cleaned out the mud can he draw pure water.

Consider this as well: the Pharisee did not say, “I thank Thee that I am not an extortioner or an adulterer, as other men are.” He could not endure even the association of his name with such vile terms, and so he uses them in the plural, casting these terms at other men, and avoiding the singular, which might associate him with sin. Having said, "I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are," by contrast he points to himself, saying, "I fast twice in the Sabbath," meaning, twice in the week, for the week was called “the Sabbath,” deriving its name from the last day of the week, the day of rest. The day of rest was called Sabbat, and the week was called Sabbata, being the plural form of Sabbat. Whence it is that mian Sabatton is the first day of the week, which we call “the Lord’s Day” (Sunday). Among the Hebrews mian means the same thing as first.

There is also a more profound explanation of this parable. Against the passion of adultery, the Pharisee boasted of his fasting, for lustful desires arise from eating and drinking to excess. By restraining his body through fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, as was the practice of the Pharisees, he kept himself far from such passions. He also resisted extortion and injustice by giving tithes of all his possessions. “I am so opposed to extortion and to wronging others,” he says, “that I give alms of everything I have.” Some believe that a simple and single tithe is prescribed by the law; but those who carefully examine the law will find three forms of tithing prescribed. You may learn this from Deuteronomy if you apply yourself diligently (Dt. 12:11,17).

So much for the Pharisee. Now we turn to the publican and observe that he is the Pharisee’s exact opposite. He stood afar off, and kept himself at a great distance, not only in physical location, but in his demeanor, in his words, and by his compunction of heart. He was ashamed to lift up his eyes to heaven, for he considered his eyes unworthy of heavenly vision because they had desired to see and enjoy the good things of earth. And he smote upon his breast, striking his heart, as it were, because of its evil designs, and awakening it because it had been sleeping. The publican said no other words than, "God be merciful to me a sinner". By doing this he went down to his house counted righteous, rather than the other. For every proud heart is unclean in the Lord’s eyes, and "the Lord resisteth the proud but He giveth grace to the humble" (Prov. 3:34, I Pet. 5:5).

But one might wonder why it is that the Pharisee is condemned for speaking a few boastful words, while Job receives a crown for speaking many such words (Job 29). The answer is that the Pharisee stood and spoke these vain words under no compulsion, and he condemned others for no reason. But with Job, his friends pressed him and bore down upon him more fiercely than did his own calamities, telling him that he was suffering these things because of his sins. Job was compelled to enumerate his good deeds, but he did so for the glory of God, and so that men would not be misled from the path of virtue. For if men came to hear that Job was suffering because what he had done was sinful, they would not act as Job had. As a result they would become haters of strangers instead of hospitable to strangers, merciless instead of merciful, and unrighteous instead of righteous; for such were the good deeds of Job. Therefore Job enumerated his virtues so that others would not be misled and harmed, and this was why he spoke as he did. Shall we not say that his words, which may seem boastful, in fact are radiant with humility? "Oh that I were as in months past," he said, "wherein God preserved me!" (Job 29:2) Do you see that he attributes everything to God and does not judge others? Instead he is judged by his friends. But condemnation rightly falls upon the Pharisee, who attributed everything to himself and not to God, and judged others for no reason whatsoever. For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled and condemned by God; and he that humbleth himself when he is condemned by others shall be exalted and counted righteous by God. The Lord is saying, “You, 0 Christian, be the first to tell your sins, so that you may be counted righteous.”

February 18, 2013

Pure Orthodoxy: A Question for Our Times

Upon his timely and historic visit to the United States, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew eloquently expounded on the relationship between Orthodox Tradition and culture in an address which he presented at his convocation and conferral of the Doctor of Divinity degree on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts on October 30, 1997. His message, titled “Pure Orthodoxy: A Question for Our Times,” addressed many crucial issues relevant to the situation of our Church in America. Below is this speech given to the students and faculty of Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology.

This gathering in mutual honor gives to our Modesty an opportunity to address, in love, a few fatherly words about the need to preserve the pure truth of Orthodoxy in this country and in our contemporary age. In America, just as in a great melting-pot, cultures and religions blend in the search for a new synthesis and faith, manufactured by man, and wrongly hope that it will unite all people around it, and will set us free from religious divisions and opposition.

First of all, we ought to assuage our fellow man, who might think that our message is one of disunity, for such is not the case. The Orthodox Church feels and lives Her catholicity as a salvific embrace of openness to all, not only for those who belong to Her or who are kindly disposed to Her, but even to Her enemies and persecutors. What is more, the Church clearly forbids Her members from every fanatical and divisive tendency. As the Church accepts all of creation as very good (the body and soul of man, the material and spiritual world), so does She accept every person, “Jew and Greek, male and female, bond and free.” Indifferent to these and all the other distinctions, She accepts all people as children of God and brethren of Her faithful members. And even if She worships God in a special and unique way, excluding the non-Orthodox from Her worship, according to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave to us the lofty and sacred Mysteries in the “Mystical” Supper, in all the rest of the life of the faithful, She does not divide them from the rest of humanity. As the author from among the first Christians characteristically wrote to Diogenetes, Christians “follow customs not belonging to the world in their raiment and way of life and living ... they believe in certain laws ... they uphold the world.”

Orthodoxy is a lived and continuously living truth. It is not a truth which is comprehended intellectually and received through some cold-hearted belief. It is truth, which is revealed to us by the incarnate Son and Logos of God, and from that time is confirmed experientially through the heart’s assurance by divine grace. It invites change in the whole mentality of the believer, which change confers substantial transformations in his inner condition as regards the world, his fellow man and his God, as in the sanctification of his behavior by grace. These changes of his condition and his life does not lead to isolation and quarrels with his fellow man, but to an abundance of joy, enthusiasm, peace, love toward all and, to employ the words of the Apostle Paul, lead to the fulfillment of his Christian vocation through the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.”

As we have said, Orthodoxy is a lived truth. This means that it is lived dogma. The Brother of God, Iakovos, writes about this in his Catholic Epistle, when he says “show me your faith by your deeds.” That is, deeds reveal belief, not as an abstract concept, but as genuine content. For of one sort are the deeds of a believing Orthodox, of another sort are the deeds in the example of Hinduism. Consequently, the deeds of Orthodox Christians reveal the careful observation which is the content of our faith. We are not speaking about sins and failings, to which we incline out of weakness; we are speaking about works in accordance with our attempts to do what is right. For example, the way of chanting in the Holy Churches reveals eloquently if the faithful give a greater significance to contrition or to aesthetic enjoyment. Likewise, the manner of iconography reveals if greater importance is given to the natural light, or to the uncreated light which illumines the saints from within; to the natural condition and natural comeliness, or to the supernatural beauty, for which we are reaching. The manner in which we arrange seating in Church manifests our right worship, or our excessive concern for comfort, and so on.

Because of this, the Orthodox Church, aside from Her basic teaching, which contains the Symbol of Faith [Creed] and the sacred Catechism, does not demand from the faithful a hair-splitting concern with Her dogmatic teaching. Rather, the Church dissuades the majority from doing so because of the danger of misinterpretation and error. However, the Church preserves the dogmatic teaching unalloyed with great care, and calls that teaching to mind, when She sees an erroneous way of life being followed, which reveals a faulty understanding about the truth, that is, a faulty understanding about the realities such as our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is Himself the Truth, or the Church, which is the Body of Christ. In these circumstances, the Church reveals by the Holy Spirit the correct dogma, the correct truth, so that She might teach the correct life and give peace to troubled souls.

Orthodox Christians who live in a country where full religious freedom reigns and where adherents of various religions live side by side, the country of the United States of America which has been so hospitable to us, constantly see various ways of living and are in danger of being beguiled by certain of them, without examining if their way of life is consonant with the Orthodox Faith. Constant vigilance and constant watchfulness are needed, especially by the shepherds, who are particularly responsible for the protection of the Orthodox inheritance of the faith. Already, many of the old and new Orthodox, who with zeal are deepening their understanding and living of the Orthodox truth, are stressing a continually expanding tendency of secularization, that is, a tendency of judging ecclesiastical subjects and problems by worldly criteria, with a debasement of ecclesiastical criteria. They are also stressing, from ignorance, a substitution of specific and general Orthodox dogmatic positions and understandings, with Protestant and Roman Catholic ones, as in the case of an overvaluation of personal opinion, indifference to dogma, and recrimination at the expense of character or practical virtue. They also stress many extraneous liturgical customs out of an ignorance of the rich symbolism of each liturgical action and its deeper meaning, with the result that they become, in certain instances, arbitrary and altered.

The subject of the quality and faithfulness of the translations of ecclesiastical and liturgical texts into English that are being used requires special attention. Already one can note that in many instances, not only are these inferior, but they are seen unconsciously introducing wrong beliefs and even heretical notions into Orthodox worship. The conveyance of subtle and precise meanings of sacred texts and of the poetical hymnology of the Orthodox Church into another language is a most difficult task. Even the best knowledge of both languages is not enough. It demands holiness of life, for only then does the translator enter into the depths of divine meanings and is able to convey them faithfully into another language. It is sufficient to observe that only Saint John Chrysostom abbreviated the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, that Saints Cyril and Methodios successfully translated sacred texts into the Slavic language, and after them, holy persons successfully translated other texts into other languages. Many of the Saints translated into new languages hitherto untranslated ecclesiastical terminology and thus enriched these languages with thousands of new foreign words from the Greek language.

The ecclesiastical language of the prototypes is poetic, lofty, rich, deep and draws those who hear it to spiritual ascents, to a place where the sacred and wondrous mystery is perfected, where the Most High Triune God is worshipped. It is not fitting that this worship be rendered prosaically into the usual everyday language, but through a subtle and exalted clarity, be rendered in such a way that the hearer is transported to another reality, to another higher world. Besides, the whole performance of liturgy aims at this mystagogical elevation to the Throne of God, before Whom the Trisagion Hymn is sung with the Cherubim. The amazement at the sacred vestments, the contrite psalmody, the fragrance of the incense, the environment of the Church decorated with sacred figures, the unique quality of the architecture - all these things transport us to the other reality, [which is] the Church. Within all this sanctity, we ought not use everyday language, which brings us down once again to earth.

We know that many will say that the meanings of the prayers, the troparia, the readings and the rest of the liturgical texts must be understood. In principle, this is correct, but that which hinders understanding is not so much the form of the language, as much as it is the lack of familiarity on the part of the hearers with the meanings of our faith. Not a single text is comprehensible without familiarity by the reader and the hearer of its content. Impoverishment not capable beyond only certain limits, will little support the understanding of a musical or medical book. That which is required for the unfamiliar is a simplified expression. In the Orthodox Church this ought to be done through preaching, through study and through similar means, and not through the enfeebling popularization of sacred texts, for its own sake. Besides, as we said, these texts call us and ought to remain invitations to ascend.

Through all of this, we do not take sides against translations. Rather, the Orthodox Church has always recommended that the people be taught the faith and worship God in their own language. We draw your attention, however, to concern over quality, dogmatic exactitude and a loftier language for translations.

Another subject, in which special attention is required, is the subject of the mixture, sometimes, of different local traditions with Orthodox Tradition. As is well known, the Orthodox Church came to America through immigrants, who brought to America at the same time their Orthodox Faith and their local or ethnic traditions. We respect these traditions and we congratulate those who make an effort to preserve them. However, we must distinguish them from the Orthodox Tradition. This has a special significance for those coming to Orthodoxy from other Confessions, who do not relate with the country of provenance of the community in which they are enrolled, for they have no obligation to follow the local traditions of the national provenance of the community, but only those of Orthodoxy. This certainly does not mean that the other members of the community are deterred in any way, rather we encourage them to preserve the traditions of their people. As regards, however, to our people we encourage them to keep the beautiful traditions of our race. This simply means that whatever traditions do not relate to Orthodoxy, but to other parts of our life, ought not to be imposed on the newcomers as a so-called part of Orthodoxy. For example, ethnic choirs of different Christian peoples ought not to be imposed as an obligation on our brethren committed to Orthodoxy of another nationality.

The offering [of this example] of our brothers and sisters brings us to another serious spiritual problem, which we ought to face. It is the problem of the suitable reception and instruction of those coming to Orthodoxy from another dogma or religion. As is known, Orthodox ecclesiastical communities were established by groups of immigrants of a certain ancestry, with the purpose of serving them and their descendants. The Orthodox Church is open to all, however, for it has pleased the Lord in these latter days that the seed of truth should bear much fruit in the hearts of many non-Orthodox, who are returning to the Mother Church. We must prepare how we are to receive them suitably. The fitting manner of their reception has many wrinkles, from problems of language to their meeting in love, from the knowledge of their peculiarities, the remains of their former beliefs and mentality, and adapting to their needs for catechism and preaching, to their correct living out of the practical consequences of being Orthodox. This issue is serious and large and will be faced henceforth more frequently. For this reason and without setting forth solutions at this time, we propose that this occupy you seriously and that it occupy you continuously.

The aforementioned do not mean that these problems exist in all the parishes, or that they have impact everywhere. However, they do comprise a cautionary note for all of us to be vigilant about. This vigilance is the command of the Lord. The Lord said “watch and pray that you enter not into temptation,” meaning surely temptations as regards the truth, which temptation is significantly more insidious. For usually, all of us notice the temptation to sin, and perchance we fall, we repent, are confessed and are restored. But if we fall into the temptation of error as regards the faith, with great difficulty can we discern it, and sometimes we remain in our error, rejecting the suggestion that we return to the correct path.

There is, therefore, a great need in these critical times, that we watch, so not to fall into the temptation of error concerning the faith, or a further course away from our faith. In this matter, the responsibility of the professors and students of this Theological School is even greater. For they have the necessary means and are able to note the stealthy insinuations which find their way into Orthodox teachings and life these days, even that which is written from a non-Orthodox perspective. It is not right for our newly-enlightened brethren, full of zeal, to point out such issues, before we have done so ourselves.

We hope that it will be a joint effort on all our parts to remove every inimical and worldly effect from our Orthodox Faith, and that the Orthodox Faith may be preserved pure and unalloyed in America. We close our talk with our heartfelt paternal and Patriarchal prayer that we see our faith be true to itself and untainted, and that those who labor in this work may have the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May His grace, and the infinite mercy of the Father, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

God Does Not Want Slaves in His Kingdom

The following encyclical was issued out of the Metropolis of Denver and written by Metropolitan Isaiah.

28 October 1998

Protocol 98-21

The Pious Pastors of the Holy Diocese of Denver

Beloved in the Lord,

The Lord does not want slaves in His Kingdom.

We are living at a time in which most people stress their total independence of all things or they prefer to come under the shelter and obedience of a charismatic leader. Few are they who follow the Christian principle of adoption as God's children.

Nowhere in the oral and written testimony of the Church does one read that a person should be totally independent of all influence which is an impossibility, nor does one find that a person should practice blind obedience to any other person.

Our Lord says, "Whoever wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24 and Mark 8:34)

Having been created in God's image, we have intellect, cognition, freedom of choice, and understanding. When the Lord invites us to deny ourselves, He does so in order for us to realize that we must first make the decision that we are not who we think we are, but that we are to seek and find Christ within us as our real selves. Once we find Christ within us and we understand and accept that we are created in His image, He then adopts us, not as slaves, but as free and loving sons and daughters (cf. Galatians 4:1-7)

For one to have a blind obedience to another, whether a lover, or a master, or a religious guru, means that such a person no longer has a free will but has turned it over to another creature.

When a Christian turns his free will over to Christ, the Lord purifies it and returns it to him so that his obedience thereafter is based only on love exercised through that free will.

When our Lord expressed His obedience to the Father by emptying Himself of His glory and becoming one of us, He did so with the exercise of His free will. Otherwise He could never have said on the Cross, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." It was His free will in obedient love to the Father that effected the Supreme Sacrifice.

Today it seems that some people will not make a move unless they check with their spiritual father in virtually everything. This phenomenon happened with certain converts to Orthodoxy some years ago when they were told where to live and where to work and how much money to contribute to the Church.

They thought that they were imitating the first Christians in the Book of Acts who held everything in common. But they did realize that the first Christians lived this way because they believed that the Lord was to return during their lifetime. Consequently these new Orthodox converts exercised a blind obedience to their religious leaders, relinquishing their free wills and their responsibility for making their own decisions regarding their families, their livelihood, and their welfare.

This spirit of blind obedience with the deadening of the free will is unfortunately being practiced among some of our people and even by some of our clergy. They will not do anything without first receiving a "blessing" from their "spiritual father." And if they have been convinced that the spiritual father is a walking saint, they will eat his unfinished food after the common meal and even consume other things which may have touched the spiritual father in some particular way. This is nothing more than idolatry. It puts God aside and constitutes the worship of His creature.

It may be that some of our people, by following the monastic rule in the outside world, feel convinced that they are becoming more spiritual. However, they are sadly mistaken; for the monastic, as a novice, is willingly obedient in order to determine if he wishes to live the life of a monastic. Once he is accepted as a monk, he must resume the use of his free will in conforming to the way of life which he has chosen. The laity, on the other hand, cannot use the monastery or the spiritual elder as one uses a horoscope, not functioning unless they receive permission.

Actually, such an attitude betrays the fact that these people do not wish to accept the responsibility of directing their own lives, and prefer to pass this responsibility on to another.

If there are members of the Diocese who have fallen into the error of negating their free will and being totally dependent on what their spiritual mentor instructs them to do, let them know that God does not want slaves in His Kingdom, but obedient children who constantly exercise their free will as sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.

With Paternal Blessings,

Metropolitan Isaiah Presiding Hierarch of the Diocese of Denver

A follow up to this encyclical was written by Metropolitan Isaiah on January 21, 1999.

The Pious Priests and Deacons
of the Holy Diocese of Denver

Beloved in the Lord,

May God's blessings enrich your priestly ministry throughout this new year.

Last Fall and specifically on October 28, 1998, I wrote an encyclical to you numbered 98-21 regarding the use of the free will and how certain individuals prefer to negate their free will and to depend solely on spiritual mentors in all things.

I am totally surprised that certain persons misinterpreted the encyclical and thought that I was criticizing our Orthodox monastics and specifically one or two of our Orthodox elders. Obviously such persons do not fully understand the English language; for if they had read my letter carefully, they would not have thought that I was critical of religious or spiritual leaders per se, whether legitimate ones or false ones.

I was clearly referring only to those followers who relax or negate their free wills. It is never a truly spiritual mentor or religious leader who relaxes his followers' free will; rather it is the followers who prefer to do this because they do not want to be responsible for their own lives. Such individuals even include priests who on occasions use religious leaders like others use a horoscope.

I am disappointed that certain individuals stated that I was critical of real spiritual leaders. They should understand that I was cautioning the clergy to make our people aware of the fact that they, the people, must continue to exercise their free will in following religious leaders, and to continue to use their free will while being obedient to such leaders or to the life style they believe will edify them.

Please read my encyclicals with care. Do not read into them, but read out of them.

With Paternal Blessings,

+Metropolitan Isaiah
Presiding Hierarch
of the Diocese of Denver

Freemasonry and Lucifer

By John Sanidopoulos

Most Christian websites make the claim that Freemasonry is Luciferian.

Many Freemasons themselves will openly proclaim they are Luciferian.

However, does being a Luciferian mean that one worships Lucifer or Satan?

Not exactly.

First of all, I want to make clear that I am not a Freemason, never was, and never will be. I have known and worked and been acquainted with many Freemasons and former Freemasons and have studied it for over 20 years (including reading Albert Pike's Morals and Dogma). When my father immigrated to America from Greece in the early 1970's, he became a Freemason in Boston to network as an electrician. After being initiated in the third degree and attending a few meetings, he stopped attending and never went back. Today I am in possession of the written material they gave him as well as his lambskin apron. My uncle with who I am close is currently an active Freemason, who wears his Masonic ring, attends regular meetings, and is mainly involved to network as he also is an electrician. We also have openly discussed on a few occasions the topic of Freemasonry. Growing up my parish priest was also a Freemason, though I only saw it in the ring he wore and never discussed it.

Having very briefly established my background with Freemasonry, I do not wish here to write a full critique or defense of Freemasonry, but only very briefly address the specific topic of Freemasonry being Luciferian. Christians and Conspiracy Theorists have written countless books against Freemasonry, and anyone that has studied Masonic material and knows Masons knows these critics are usually very wrong and demonizing of things they just don't understand. It has become just as easy to demonize Freemasons as it was Christians by the Romans in the early days of Christianity. I will address these things in time, but the way critics associate Freemasonry with the worship of Lucifer is quite ridiculous and has been circulating as a hoax since the 19th century in an attempt to lend credibility to the condemnations of Freemasonry by the Pope of the time. Wikipedia offers a good definition for the word "Lucifer":

Lucifer is the King James Version rendering of the Hebrew word הֵילֵל in Isaiah 14:12. This word, transliterated hêlēl or heylel, occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible and according to the KJV-influenced Strong's Concordance means "shining one, morning star, Lucifer". The word Lucifer is taken from the Latin Vulgate which translates הֵילֵל as lucifer, meaning "the morning star, the planet Venus" (or, as an adjective, "light-bringing"). The Septuagint renders הֵילֵל in Greek as ἑωσφόρος (heōsphoros), a name, literally "bringer of dawn", for the morning star. Kaufmann Kohler says that the Greek Septuagint translation is "Phosphoros".

Many Christian commentators have interpreted Isaiah 14:12 to refer to the fall of Satan, who before his fall was an angel of light. Yet within context, it does not refer to Satan but to a king of Babylon, though the wording can be made to allude to the fall of Satan. With this in mind, to call Satan Lucifer only makes reference to his former glory as a shining angel, and not his current state as a fallen angel of darkness. In fact, in the Latin Vulgate in II Peter 1:19 Jesus Himself is called "lucifer", for He is the true morning star.

For more on this, read:

The connection between Freemasonry and Lucifer begins with a quote from a famous Freemason of the 19th century named Albert Pike. Critics have read the following quote from his book Morals and Dogma and from this established the connection:

Lucifer, the Light-bearer! Strange and mysterious name to give to the Spirit of Darkness! Lucifer, the Son of the Morning! Is it he who bears the Light, and with its splendors intolerable, blinds feeble, sensual, or selfish souls? Doubt it not!

However, as is common among critics, this quote is always taken out of its context. In fact, when it is read in context the reader will clearly see that he is questioning the fact that Satan, who should be associated with darkness, is called "Lucifer" or a "light-bearer".

For more on this, read:

Léo Taxil (1854–1907) was the first to claim that Freemasonry is associated with worshiping Lucifer. Taxil is still often quoted by critics of Masonry in the association of it with the worship of Lucifer. Yet Taxil was exposed and he publicly announced that his claims against Freemasonry were fictitious.

For more on the Taxil Hoax, read:

To read A.E. Waite's exposure of the Taxil Hoax, read:

For a response by a Freemason regarding this topic of Freemasonry being Luciferian, read:

Thus when a Freemason calls himself a Luciferian, he only means it in the context of being a light-bearer by doing good deeds through his philanthropy. 

Much more can be said on this topic, but I will leave it at this for now.

Though Freemasons do not worship Lucifer, there are other issues with Freemasonry that it would not be prudent for Christians to be involved with it, especially clergy. For example, because Masonry is a fraternity with vows of secrecy and strong networking, it often happens that preferential treatment is given to fellow brother Freemasons over that of fellow Christians or clergymen who are not Freemasons. The other main issue with Freemasonry is that, even though it is required to believe in a monotheistic God to be a member, it also proclaims that salvation comes from doing good works alone, which is why Freemasons are such great philanthropists. Thus Freemasonry can be easily replaced with the Church, through which Christians are primarily called to do their philanthropic work and serve in their mission specifically in the name of Jesus Christ. These are the two primary reasons why I believe Orthodox Christians should not be Freemasons, and it is these two reasons primarily that have led the Church of Greece to condemn Freemasonry and prohibit Orthodox Christians, especially clergy, from joining.

February 14, 2013

A Reflection On the Last Day of My 36th Year of Life

Lord Byron was born January 22, 1788, and died at the age of thirty-six in Missolonghi, Greece on April 19, 1824, (the day after Easter Sunday) during the Greek War of Independence.

The poem below was his last, written as an entry in his journal on January 22, 1824.

On this last day of my own 36th year of life (I was born February 15, 1976), I see many parallels of thought between myself and Lord Byron at this time in our lives. It may seem odd to some for someone to reflect back on one's life at the young age of 36 in such a way as this, but as Lord Byron stood on the battlefield in Greece he realized that the love which burned within him he could not share with a lover to his delight. By the time Lord Byron reached 36, he had innumerable lovers, a spectacular failure of a marriage, and both fame and notoriety. Now he was lonely and did not want to die alone, and somewhat envious of those who had found love in their lives. Yet seeing and being moved by the heroic actions of the Greeks, he shakes himself out of his longing and desire, the thoughts of feeling sorry for himself, and perhaps his sense of failure that love had passed him by, with the thought of dying an honorable death like those around him. It is almost prophetic that Lord Byron, the great romantic and lover of many, willfully chooses here at his relative young age to die a heroic death rather than live a life of sensual pleasure so available to him. Lord Byron seems to show in this haunting poem that the determination of success in one's life is how the individual perceives it, and for him it appears to be, ironically, one of sacrifice.

On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year

By George Gordon (Lord) Byron

'TIS time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze--
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But 'tis not thus--and 'tis not here--
Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
Where glory decks the hero's bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece--she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!--unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:--up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!

Seek out--less often sought than found--
A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

Reprinted from Works. George Gordon Byron. London: John Murray, 1832.

February 12, 2013

Lightning Strikes the Vatican...Again

By John Sanidopoulos

Even though I'm currently on a break from posting, I could no longer bear to stay away when everyone seems to be having so much fun reporting on the lightning bolt that struck St. Peter's Basilica yesterday on the same day Pope Benedict announced his resignation. There are so many things reports are leaving out, that I just wanted to list a few of the things that came to my mind. Again, this is all in fun, but it may be of some interest as well.

Lightning and the Vatican have a long history. I'm not quite sure how far back that history goes, since what I am listing here is only coming from my memory with little research. Yet we do have an interesting story  about the Catholic Church and Protestant Churches and their reaction to the experiments of Benjamin Franklin with lightning and the kite in 1752 and the invention of the lightning rod. Many in those Churches at that time believed Satan, the "Prince of the Power of the Air",  was behind storms like those of thunder and lightning, and it was theorized, for example, that by placing bells above churches and ringing them during storms that it would help disperse the storms. While Pope Gregory XIII advocated "exorcising the demons" who "do stir up the clouds", with the invention of the lightning rod this theory was slowly fading. In 1766 Father Sterzinger attacked this theory amidst much opposition from the pious, saying of Franklin's lightning rod:

For his lightning-rod did what exorcisms, and holy water, and processions, and the --Agnus Dei--, and the ringing of church bells, and the rack, and the burning of witches, had failed to do. This was clearly seen, even by the poorest peasants in eastern France, when they observed that the grand spire of Strasburg Cathedral, which neither the sacredness of the place, nor the bells within it, nor the holy water and relics beneath it, could protect from frequent injuries by lightning was once and for all protected by Franklin's rod. Then came into the minds of multitudes the answer to the question which had so long exercised the leading theologians of Europe and America, namely, "Why should the Almighty strike his own consecrated temples, or suffer Satan to strike them?"

It was common before the lighting rod for churches to suffer damage during lightning storms. The Church of Rosenburg in Austria suffered destruction by lightning three times until they had enough, and 26 years after Franklin discovered the lighting rod they installed one, preventing any future damage. St. Mark's in Venice has also been struck and damaged on numerous occasions, yet when they installed a lightning rod 14 years after Franklin's discovery, it has never since been damaged. Some see in this a triumph of reason over superstition. In many ways, it is, but cynics have played on this folly to an extreme for a number of years, asking sarcastically: "Why does the Vatican need lightning rods?"

More on this can be read in Franklin's Lightning-Rod by Andrew Dickson White.

You can buy your own t-shirt here.

Eventually the Vatican did give in to the lightning rod, with two of them in Vatican proper and twelve in the whole area. With St. Peter's massive size, there is no doubt that lightning would strike it often. We actually do know of a few cases in history.

The first comes from reports during Vatican 1, on the two most important days of the sessions: December 8, 1869 and July 18, 1870. These were considered the stormiest and darkest days Rome had ever seen. On the first date was the Episcopal Voting of the new dogma of Papal Infallibility, and the second date was the Papal Proclamation of this new dogma. As the votes were taken and the proclamation read, flashes of lightning struck the Vatican and loud clasps of thunder accompanied the reading. It was also reported that a thick envelope of darkness overcame St. Peter's Basilica, to the point where the Pope found it difficult to read the Proclamation of this new dogma without the artificial light of a candle. It was interpreted at the time that this was either a condemnation of Gallicanism and liberal Catholic theology, or a divine attestation of the new dogma in the same way lightning and thunder accompanied the giving of the Law at Sinai, or it was seen as an evil omen of impending calamities to the Papacy.

To read the article from the New York Tribune that describes this from an eye-witness, see here.

Another incident of lightning striking the Vatican comes from December 22, 1938. The report for this can be seen here, and it read as follows:

During a violent thunderstorm lightning struck the Vatican Palace, smashing the windows of the loggia in the Raphael Gallery. The Pope, who was working nearby in his private library, was not affected.

With the odd coincidence of lightning striking St. Peter's on the day Pope Benedict announced his resignation, it has left many wondering, like it did during Vatican 1, whether this is a sign of condemnation, attestation, or an omen. Or maybe, like most other lightning strikes that hit churches, it is a natural event. Time can only tell for sure. While the optimist can see this as an attestation, like the people of Israel experienced at Sinai, others can equally recall Jesus saying in Luke 10:18: "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Some say occultist Eliphas Levi in the 19th century depicted the Baphomet symbol to display this biblical verse by the gestures of the Baphomet's hand, but this isn't entirely the case. Nonetheless, conspiracy theorists can have a heyday speculating on connections between Satanism and the Vatican with this event. Yet, lightning is indeed seen as a sign of judgment and coming calamities, as was seen in the 2003 movie The Core when Rome and the Vatican were destroyed by lightning:

Personally, I lean towards this being a coincidental and natural event with nothing really much behind it, except for the fact that the professional photographer who took the video and photo was at the right place at the right time to allow us to speculate and circulate good stories. My only purpose here was to inform my readers that when they see the video and photo circulating, to realize that lighting and the Vatican have a long and interesting history. Here is the video:

February 10, 2013

Enthronement Speech Of Patriarch John X of Antioch

The Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East has brought online a special website dedicated to the enthronement of His Beatitude Patriarch John X, which took place this Sunday, February 10. The site is available in English, Spanish and Arabic. Visit the website here.

We thank the Lord our God who allowed us, in the two previous months, to celebrate His appearance in the flesh as man and His manifestation as God coming to save us. After Jesus has fulfilled His plan of salvation by dying on the cross and rising from the dead, and after He ascended in the flesh to heaven from whence He had descended, sitting on the right hand of the Father, He prayed the Father to send the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of each of us. Everyone who desires this and wants the Spirit to dwell in him does this so that Jesus may appear to him, and also that he might be reminded of the Lord’s sayings and teachings. The Holy Spirit shows us Jesus Christ, at first in the Church, which is His Body and which He wanted to be “a glorious church, with neither stains, wrinkles, nor any such thing” (Eph. 5: 27). It also makes Him present in the Church through the word of His Gospel, in the Body and Blood of His Eucharist, in His meeting with His brothers who gathered in His Name, as well as in every human being - especially in the poor, the homeless and the broken hearted, in whom He accepted to dwell. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus wherever it dawns, making Him present yet veiled in all religions and all cultures.

Jesus, Emmanuel, is always present here and everywhere, present among us. He is always with us, ready to meet us. He rejoices in our joys, He revels in our holiness, and He weeps with us when we are troubled and sorrowed. He also cries when, as shepherds and flock, we neglect to live according to His teachings, and whenever our sins mar His bleeding, yet glorious face, and thus veil the world from seeing Him in His Church, and through us.

Brethren, let us on this blessed day, when the cross of shepherding the great and glorious Church of Antioch is entrusted to me, join hands that together we may live its glory and reveal it to all. This happens when we listen together to Jesus, and when we pray daily: “teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God” (Psalm 142: 10).

God is not pleased to see that the unity He wants for His people is shattered, and that His flock is divided into many factions. We, together, constitute the people of God, a charismatic people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. Each of us must realize the gifts given to him by the Spirit in the service of others. The shepherd is the first servant who sacrifices himself for his flock; he knows each of them by name, like the Good Shepherd who gave his life for all. The shepherd does not command “as if he was an autocrat” (Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Ephesians 3:1), as the great St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his letter to the people of Ephesus. The shepherd orders by love and sacrifice. He orders by the cross which he willingly climbs, as his Lord did before. He observes the talents of his flock. He recognizes the good in them to enhance it. He calls us all to participate in the Kingdom’s Design that starts here on this earth, in the Church. And then the flock should put all their resources and their powers at the service of the Church, our true mother. In this way the face of Christ will be revealed under the leadership of the bishop who steadfastly calls for love, service and “cooperation”, “For one is your Master and all ye are brethren” (Mt. 23: 8). Let us practice this brotherhood in mutual respect and rise above ourselves, as our Lord has done by loving us unto death.

God is not pleased to see His Church which is called upon to care for all —not caring enough about the poor, those little ones whom He loved, and not treating them as its priority and the priority of its institutions. Jesus desires that no one should suffer from poverty, especially when He knows that we ourselves have the necessary means and resources. Why don’t we set as our goal what St. John Chrysostom, the great shepherd from Antioch, taught us: “Do not possess anything that you have. What you have belongs to the others. It is yours and your neighbour’s as well, like the sun, the air and the earth” (Homily n. 20 on the Epistle to the Corinthians).

Jesus suffers when He sees many of us, and especially the young, drift away, leave the flock or become indifferent. Regaining them must be our utmost priority. Thus, we will rejoice at the return of the prodigal son and that he may resume his place in the work of the Church. Why don’t we seriously ponder the real reasons behind the emigration of our young? Why don’t we develop the methods of our pastoral care that we may reach them, not only with words, but through liturgical revival, and through the teaching that refocuses on the core of our tradition and liberates some of our practices from monotony? We have to find a way that enables them to touch the depths of our inspirational Liturgy, to let them inhale from it, and show them that it will open many opportunities for them to enter into God’s and their brethren’s hearts. We face the huge task of modernising the practice of our pastoral care and of our educational programs. Such a task requires the participation of the priest, the monk, the nun, and the lay men and women. The task has to be founded on the knowledge of the theologian, the specialization of the educator, and on the labor of workers in the pastoral field as well.

Indeed, our youth are the treasure of our Church. They are its ambassadors in this rapidly changing world. We want them to assume the role of ambassadors in a serious way. We want them to know that the whole Church needs their enthusiasm and commitment. It needs their readiness to consecrate their lives for a goal they want to achieve. We have to make them aware of their special role in the Church of Christ “who loved the rich young man” and was saddened by his departure. The young are rich in their modern outlook, in their passion, and in the many gifts that God bestowed upon them. We need them and urge them, through our love, to always work in the Church’s workshop and to consider themselves responsible for it along with their brothers, and especially those whom God has called upon to watch over His flock. If we love them the way Christ loves them, then our relationship with them would become one of brotherhood, love and mutual respect. In this way they will overcome every contradiction between obedience and authority and will live as the children of one family, obeying those who obey Jesus Christ. Thus, authority becomes obedience and obedience becomes a loving authority.

God is not pleased when He sees us clinging to the letter of things, emptying the letter from spirit and life. We know that the Church is alive by the Holy Spirit, and through ‘Which’, it has survived throughout history. Ecclesial Tradition is not something motionless or stagnant but a tool of salvation and a way to understand the divine sacrament. We live at a time where tradition is often rejected, and this negatively affects our youth. Our Church is concerned with the developments of our time because Jesus Christ wants it to be His witness at all times. Following up on a time like ours requires wiping off the dust that, due to our sins, has accumulated on our tradition throughout the centuries. It also requires working to reveal what is authentic in it. Modernity is a blessing that calls us to revive the fundamentals of our worship and teachings, and also to differentiate between the one Holy Tradition and the many secondary traditions and practices to which we often cling. The witness of the Church, at this age, is to discern and make choices. Modernity offers many opportunities. We must resort to the good in it to regain our people who are getting increasingly attracted by prevailing globalization. Our Church must not fear to use the methods available in our time to modernise its practices, to build bridges towards its children, and to learn to speak their language. This is what the holy fathers did when they used Greek philosophy, which was widespread in their time, to convey the message of the Gospel in a language that the people understood. We have to follow their example if we are to remain faithful in transmitting the message. The challenge lies in making the life of Jesus Christ glow in our faces, in our worship, and in all the aspects of our Church that the people may find their salvation in it. Finally, renewal is not only to modernise the texts and to make them understandable in the language of our time, but to renew the human soul and bring it closer to the face of Jesus. All its attention must be in His direction. Only then will modernisation interact with the human heart and lead to the salvation of man.

Needless to say, the Lord is saddened by the violence and killing now permeating many regions, as is now happening in Syria. We have there members of our Church who have been forced to leave their homes and towns; they have become jobless, they have lost their means of livelihood. Love is the enemy of death and of violence wherever they may come from. We have to consider the cause of the homeless as our cause and help those who suffer from this tragic situation. We have to show them our love, to consecrate ourselves to comfort them. Jesus suffers in each one of them; do we see Him in them? Shouldn’t we consecrate ourselves to serve them by donating a part of what we own to them? Shouldn’t we be ‘the administrators of divine matters’, as the great Antiochian St. Maximos the Confessor said? In this respect, we have to carry the cross of our country and to pray and work for reconciliation, brotherhood, peace, freedom and justice in our region, categorically refusing all kinds of violence and hatred.

Jesus is undoubtedly saddened when He sees some of us, shepherds and flock, behaving in a way totally strange to the spirit of His Gospel. Such behavior transforms our character and becomes a stumbling block in guiding people to imitate Jesus and espouse His ethos. Hence, we have no choice but to repent as persons and as a community, and to rely fully on God, seeking His forgiveness, and trusting that He will guide us to His path. “He who longs after God and finds his ease and comfort in Him, God can be seen in him for God is in all His creatures”, according to St. John of Damascus.

Here we appreciate the importance of a good clerical education that will provide us with shepherds who will live and behave according to God’s will, who will be committed to the mission of Priesthood and who will participate in the Church’s work. Therefore, I call our youth to approach this ecclesiastical service with humility, steadfastness and boundless love for God, remembering the Lord’s saying to Peter: “If you love me, feed my sheep” (John 21: 15). To help those priests in fulfilling their mission and succeeding in it, we ought to support them and assure them a decent life. The community has a major role to play in this regard.

The monastic movement plays a central role in the revival of the Church and in its spiritual life. We are thankful that in the past fifty years and with the help of God, we have regained in our Patriarchate, these “spiritual oases”, the monastic orders that arose in the first centuries of Christianity. We need monasteries with members who truly live brotherly communion in prayer, spiritual exercise and physical work, thus carrying us with them in their prayers. We are certain that their fervent prayers will protect the entire world and will strengthen the Church in fulfilling its mission.

Jesus wants everything among us to be performed decently, wisely, in an orderly manner and abiding by the rules. We respect our institutions and our laws, and we try to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of their proper implementation. Canons are not rigid laws. They are an expression of the life of the Church and of its relationship with its Lord. In addition, we should enable the institutions established by our ancestors, with the grace of God, to be more conscious of the challenges of the modern consumer society. These institutions should continue to inhale from our tradition and from the Spirit manifested in it. If we do that, then the dialogue with the world will become easier and our children will be better equipped to face the challenges of modernity. They will also get acquainted, without fear, with its positive aspects. The only reason for justifying the existence of an institution in the Church is to witness to Jesus and to spread His teachings in its own way, although it may have other important social and cultural roles to play as well.

Jesus wants his Church to be the light of the world, and the light should not be hidden. It should illuminate the minds and hearts of our people. We have to mobilize all our resources and activate all our brethren to serve their mother, our Antiochian church, that it may preserve its shining light ignited in the past by our Apostolic See. In this respect, we recall the important role of St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology and of the University of our Orthodox Church, the University of Balamand, in renewing the pastoral vision, in offering new possibilities, and in helping to find the right responses to the urgent challenges facing our generation, as well as our institutions.

We please the Lord when we work as shepherds and flock in strengthening the unity of the Orthodox churches, in helping them in the realisation of the awaited Great Holy Synod, and in resolving the challenges facing it. We cannot, in this respect, forget the basic role of the Church of Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As for us, in Antioch, we shall remain a bridge of communication among all, and supporters of all decisions taken by consensus of all the churches working together. We are also committed to finding solutions that will manifest the face of Jesus in His Church, for the salvation of the world, setting aside all divisive material and mundane concerns.

Jesus cries when He witnesses the divisions in the Christian world, and the distance among its members, as well as the recent weakening of ecumenical work. We have to pray with Jesus and all brothers belonging to Him, that “the unity Christ wills might grow” (John 17: 1). We must understand that this unity is a necessary condition “that the world may believe” (John 17: 21). The drifting of the people away from faith, their disinterest in God’s love, their reliance on a world without the God who created them in His own image, calling them to His likeness, and offering them a way toward deification, is disturbing. These tendencies urge us to try and instill harmony between the Eastern and Western churches and to strengthen cooperation in the fields of ministry and pastoral care. We need to encourage dialogue, to get to know each other better, and to take daring religious initiatives so that we may reach, in God’s good time, the communion in the one chalice. We may then tell those who ask about our faith: “come and see” (John 1: 46), come and see how our love for each other stems from our love for the One who loved us and gave His life for all.

God is not pleased to see co-existence with non-Christians with whom we share the same country regress and even vanish here and there for various reasons, for reasons of politics, or for fundamentalist tendencies, that have nothing to do with religion. Love does not know fear or hostility: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast… It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil…” (1 Co 13: 4-8). Love is our byword and our weapon. We, the Antiochians, are an Eastern church; its roots go deep in the history of our region. Along with our Muslim brothers, we are the sons and daughters of this good earth. God wanted us in it to witness to His Holy Name, and in it we must stay, encouraging decent and respectful co-existence, refusing all kinds of hatred, fear and arrogance. To my Muslim brothers I proclaim, we are not only partners in the land and in its destiny, for together we have built the civilization of this land and shared in the making of its culture and history. Let us therefore work together in preserving this precious heritage. We are also partners in worshipping the one God, the true God, the light of the heavens and of the earth.

We are a church and not just one confession among others. The Church includes the confession and does not deny it, but the Church is not a confession whose concerns stop at its boundaries without thinking of the others. This is so because our Lord asked us to love everyone and to seek the common good. This does not mean that we should neglect the concerns of the community that constitutes the social environment of our church. We have to care, according to an open evangelical spirit, about all its components. We continuously pray for all its members because this is how we “lead them to God” (St. Ignatius of Antioch). We want to listen to them and try to solve their problems and difficulties. We know that many of their members emigrate because they are afraid and anxious about their fate; they emigrate searching for a better life. The Church must deal seriously with these problems which are at the heart of its mission, using all available capacities, resources and endowments to help its children stay in this region. As for those who have already emigrated or are about to emigrate, the Church must find adequate ways to shepherd them abroad, in their respective Antiochian archdioceses. We must always call them to be “imitators of Christ even as He is of his Father” (St. Ignatius of Antioch: The Letter to the Philadelphians 7: 2), reminding them that they are all “fellow-travelers and God-bearers” (St. Ignatius of Antioch: The Letter to the Ephesians 9: 2). Without God and without returning to Him in total humility, all human associations are in vain, with no present and no future.

My brothers, my sons, our common concern is to please God. This is the main challenge that members of the Holy Antiochian Synod, and our archdioceses in the homeland and abroad, our sons and daughters, and all members of our Church will have to face. The Antiochian See is one and we will continue to work that it may remain united and continue to shine even brighter. Our archdioceses are and should be open to each other and should cooperate at all levels. They should be open to the other Orthodox churches, to the sister Christian churches, and to all people of good will. The goal of our Antiochian Patriarchate is to ensure that Christ is not ashamed of us. Rather, we have to stand united together in love in order to fulfill this goal. Help me to reach this goal, that our church may shine by His light and may serve as a vehicle of peace, brotherhood and cooperation. It is this goal that will ultimately salvage our deteriorating world and infuse it with meaning. We know well that this meaning is in us, but it is often hidden behind our passions and sins. I humbly and collegially call upon all our archdioceses to actively congregate and wipe off the dust of the precious jewel entrusted to them. Through joint solidarity and participation of all members of these archdioceses, we shall together bear witness to the One God who redeemed us with His precious blood, and who wants the Antiochian Church, where we were first called Christians, to recover the leading role it played in its glorious history.

February 7, 2013

Deal With The Devil

Going through some old files a few days ago, I came across a short story I wrote for my high school English class that I had not read in 20 years. In November 1993 I was a senior in high school, and in my English class we watched the movie Crossroads (1986) starring Ralph Macchio, which is loosely influenced by the old legend of Blues guitarist Robert Johnson and his infamous deal with the devil. Following the film, we were assigned to write our own story with the title "Deal With The Devil", one page in length. 

Around that time my uncle owned a rare Buick Regal Grand National that we would take to New Hampshire to race, and since it was a car I wanted for myself, I based my story on it. Also, on one occasion on our way to New Hampshire my uncle was pulled over by a police officer for speeding, and because he had a suspended license they arrested him; this also played a role in my story.

I ended up getting an A+ for the paper, with comments throughout like "Beautiful!" and "This is great!" Now I see it as a bit amateurish and funny and it sort of reads like a Twilight Zone episode with a moral twist ending, but I offer it here for fun to give my readers a glimpse of something I wrote 20 years ago before the days of the internet.

I should also mention that it was this same English teacher who later accused me of plagiarizing and gave me an "F" grade on my final paper, which was a critique of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. When I proved that I had not plagiarized, she gave me an "A+" with a note that said: "I hope one day to read your books!"

Deal With The Devil

By John Sanidopoulos

November 5, 1993

One day as I was riding my rusty old bicycle to school I beheld the most beautiful and coolest car I had ever seen in my life. It was a polished black Grand National with gold hub caps and bumpers and extra thick tires. I guess the real beauty of the car was how it remained so smooth as it accelerated down the street. I imagined myself riding in that car to school instead of riding on my old beat-up rusty bike. My heart burned with covetousness.

When I got home that day I saw that same Grand National stop in front of my house and a man getting out of the car and coming towards my house. I heard a knock on my door. I answered. It was a man dressed like a car salesman and he told me that he would give me the Grand National if only I would give him all the rights to my soul. He handed me the keys and laughed hysterically and walked away, still laughing. Taking the keys I headed for the car.

Excitedly I got in the car and put the keys in the ignition. The car drove so smoothly that you could be driving at thirty miles-per-hour and feel like you're driving at ninety miles-per-hour. Or maybe I was fooled. All of a sudden I heard a police siren behind me. I pulled over. The officer said I was driving at ninety on a thirty mile-per-hour road. The speedometer, I discovered, was set at minus sixty miles-per-hour. He then found out I had no license. After writing down the license plate number he discovered it was the President's stolen car. I got really scared. The police officer then took me to the police station and locked me up in jail. The next day I was brought to court and was found to be guilty. I was ordered six months in jail.

After being released from jail I found a job at a gas station. I worked there three years and raised fifty-thousand dollars and bought myself a Grand National better than the one I had seen three and a half years prior.

One day I saw the man who had purchased my soul and brought disaster to my life pull up to my gas tank with that same stolen car. I demanded that he give the rights of my soul back to me. He said that only if I beat him in a car race would he give me back the rights to my soul. I immediately stepped into my car and we drove to a long open road. When we came to a traffic light we both stopped.

The race was going to be only a hundred yards long. The green light came on and we both accelerated. The only thing I remember after that was the smell of burned rubber and the sight of a lot of smoke. He beat me within a matter of seconds.

I immediately died and went to Hell. I saw the man who was driving the Grand National approach me and he revealed to me that he was the devil. I immediately fell down and wept and realized that if only I had given my soul fully to God I would have been much better off in Paradise.