Obedience

25 May, 2007

True obedience is not a slavish submission to another against ones will. This sort of obedience is that of the law and unprofitable for salvation. Rather obedience is the process of becoming one mind with another. It is accepting another’s will as your own will. It is a willing submission; not forced but free. This is obedience in Christ.

Nevertheless, we must be obedient to God but we must do so willingly. To unite to God we must become of one will as He. “Not my will but Thy will.” We must die to our own desires and accept those of God as ours. Then His will be become our will and our will will be His will. He will give us whatever we desire because whatever we desire will be what He desires. Also, we will be truly free because only God is truly free. His freedom becomes ours. Obedience is freedom, dying to our will means receiving all that we desire. The unfathomable Mysteries of God!

To love God is to obey Him because love seeks the desires of the other as one’s own. Truly obeying God is to love Him because we only freely give ourselves to those we love.

As in all the Orthodox life, obedience must be incarnate. We obey God in those He has set over us. Monastics obey their superiors, children their parents, wives their husbands, citizens to rulers, laity the Bishops and the Bishops the Apostles, in the Holy Tradition by means of the Doctrines and Canons, the testimonies of God’s will.

We obey in all things because we obey God in all things. He is all in all. We obey in Christ and obey those over us as Christ. Notwithstanding the totality of obedience, obedience to those set over us is the incarnation of obedience to Christ, to God. Thus, we are not obliged to obey things that are contrary to the will of Christ. Such a command is no longer in Christ as the command is no longer an icon of Christ’s command. Nevertheless, we must not allow this as an excuse for self-will.

Obedience is free and it is never forced. Those in authority but love as Christ, who forces no-one to faith or virtue. If obedience is not given freely then it is of no benefit. One may teach and exhort but never force, otherwise one is longer exercising the authority in Christ and is in effect exercising no authority because there is no authority outside Christ.

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Standing on Sundays and Fasting on Saturdays

24 May, 2007

“20. Since there are some persons who kneel in church on Sunday and on the days of Pentecost, with a view to preserving uniformity in all parishes, it has seemed best to the holy Council for prayers to be offered to God while standing.”

Canon 20 of the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea

This Canon is repeated in Canon 90 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council with more explanation as to the reason for the Canon:

“90. We have received it canonically from our God-bearing Fathers not to bend the knee on Sundays when honoring the Resurrection of Christ, since this observation may not be clear to some of us, we are making it plain to the faithful, so that after the entrance of those in holy orders into the sacrificial altar on the evening of the Saturday in question, let none of them bend a knee until the evening of the following Sunday, when, after the entrance during the Lychnic, again bending knees, we thus begin offering our prayers to the Lord. For inasmuch as we hare received it that the night succeeding Saturday was the precursor of our Savior’s rising, we commence our hymns at this point spiritually, ending the festival by passing out of darkness into light, in order that we may hence celebrate en masse the Resurrection for a whole day and a whole night.”

Finally, I want to consider a Canon of similar import relating to Saturday:

“55. Since we have learned that those in the city of the Romans during the holy fast of Lent are fasting on the Saturdays thereof, contrary to the ecclesiastical practice handed down, it has seemed best to the holy Council for the Church of the Romans to hold rigorously the Canon saying: ‘If any Clergyman be found fasting on Sunday, or on Saturday, with the exception of one only let him be deposed from office. If, however, a layman, let him be excommunicated.'”

The way of Life in Christ is the way of the Cross. It is the ascetic way, not only for monks but also for all laity. It is the way of humility and entreating God’s mercy on bended knees and prostrating oneself before the King of Heaven, as unworthy servants. This is a constant reminder of our sins and the Holy Majesty of God.

However, on Sunday something different happens. We are to stand in joy because it is the day of Resurrection and after Pascha (Easter) until Pentecost we do the same. In fact it is forbidden to kneel on these days. It is also forbidden to fast on Saturdays and Sundays. The ascetic way is put aside. Why? I believe to remind us that although we are unworthy sinners God by His Grace has set us free; He has raised us to be sons and no longer servants. This is not something earned but something given freely. Thus, we do not bow the knee as an act of joy and as an testimony that we are saved by grace and we are sons of God; no longer the slaves of God. To bow the knee on Sunday or after Pascha is to insult the grace of God, that has set us free; it is to say that we are saved by works. This also applies to fasting on Saturday, although Lenten Saturdays also forbid meat, eggs and diary products (because of their connection to things sacrificed). We do not fast on Saturdays to again remind us that we partake of the Eucharist on Sunday as a gift of grace and not something we have earned by fasting. We do need to keep the fasts but not on Saturday, so that we are reminded of grace. It is poor teaching to say that one must only partake of the Eucharist if one fasts the day before; this denies grace and makes salvation a matter of works. The form of our prayer matters because it manifests the reality of our lives in Christ, Who was incarnate in the flesh to take us into heaven.

Nevertheless, the Christian path is the way of the Cross and we need to fast and bend the knee in prayer. Without these things we do not participate in the suffering of Christ and unite ourselves with Him. All things must be done in order.

Also, care must be exercise in these matters. Not all bending of the knee is for penance and during ordination such bending of the knee reveals another mystery. There are occasions for other exceptions also but overall the Tradition of the Church is to bend the knee in prayer and to fast but not on Saturday and Sunday as we participate freely in the Grace of God in the joy of the resurrection. Note also, that although it is not formally forbidden to kneel on Saturdays in Holy Tradition, some keep this custom.


Mixed “Marriages”

20 May, 2007

Let no Orthodox man be allowed to contract a marriage with a heretical woman, nor moreover let any Orthodox woman be married to a heretical man. But if it should be discovered that any such thing is done by any one of the Christians, no matter who, let the marriage be deemed void, and let the lawless marriage tie be dissolved. For it is not right to mix things immiscible, nor to let a wolf get tangled up with a sheep, and the lot of sinners get tangled up with the portion of Christ. If, therefore, anyone violates the rules we have made let him be excommunicated. But in case persons who happen to be still in the state of unbelief and to be not yet admitted to the fold of the Orthodox have joined themselves to each other by lawful marriage, then and in that event, the one of them having chosen the good start by running to the light of truth, while the other, on the contrary, has been held down by the bond of delusion for having failed to welcome the choice of gazing at the divine rays (whether it be that an unbelieving woman has looked with favor upon a man who is a believer, or vice versa an unbelieving man upon a woman who is a believer), let them not be separated, in accordance with the divine Apostle: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbeelieving wife by the husband” (1 Cor. 7:14).

Canon 72, Council of Trullo (Sixth Ecumenical Council)

There is a sad state of much disobedience in this matter and allowance of mixed “marriages” with those outside of the Church. Disobedience to Christ is bad enough in this matter but let us examine what is happening here and hopefully those of a right mind will be repulsed by the idea of such a marriage and never trouble the clergy to permit such a thing.

Why is my language so strong? Why have a put quotes around the word marriage? It is because once the Mystery of marriage is better understood, it will be realised that there is true marriage between someone in the Church and one outside, not in the Mystery of marriage. There is a union in the flesh but this only serves to heighten the problem.

Marriage is the Mystery of the union of Christ and His Church. The man is the icon of Christ and the woman is the icon of the Church. Their union as husband and wife is the union of Christ and the Church. They become one flesh in Christ. Each family is a small Church in Christ and thus marriage finds its place in Christ. As with all aspects of Christian life our life is in Christ and everything finds its place in Him. If it cannot then it is to be rejected from our lives because what is not in Christ is dead.

Only a baptised man in the Church can be Christ because only such a man can truly have Christ and be in Christ. Only a baptised woman in the Church can be the Church, the body of Christ because only in the Church does one become united to His body and partake of it. So the Mystery of marriage can only be fulfilled between those in the Church. To marry someone outside the Church in Christ is impossible because those outside the Church cannot fulfil their place in the Mystery of marriage and the marriage is not a true marriage in Christ but something outside him and of the flesh. (It should nevertheless be respected as marriage in that there is still a union on flesh and to avoid an excuse for adultery. Also, in respect of secular law that recognises the union.)

This is not to mention that when a believer lives as one flesh with an unbeliever then they are uniting the flesh of Christ with one unbaptised and this confers a similar burden on their soul as if the unbeliever were to dare to receive communion. Would you dare to share holy communion with heretics? Then why share your body, or rather Christ’s body with them in marriage? Such a thing should not occur.

An exception to this is when one partner comes into the saving body of the Church and the other remains outside or if one’s partner should decide later to leave the Church. In this case the faithful partner sanctifies his/her partner for the sake of the children. They should not depart because this would case many other problems but if the unbeliever decides to leave of his/her own will then so he/she should be let free. There is no true “marriage” in Christ and so no breach of the Mystery. It is a state of economy but not the fulness of the Mystery in Christ.


Eternity and Universal Salvation

20 May, 2007

While there is great hope that all men may be saved, the Church declares that Universalism is a heresy. Why is this? Cannot God save all people? Will not all change their minds when confronted with God in His fulness?

In answer to the last question, I believe that it is not a matter for our salvation to know that God is, even the demons know this, it is about loving God. This love can only be properly seen when the presence of God is not completely manifest. It is the servant who obeys his master when the master is not present is the true servant. This servant can be trusted as a son and becomes a son to the master because he shares the master’s interests as his own. Christ, although present, does not manifest Himself in the fullness of His glory that our love can be tested to be shown true and given freely; not something given by the force of His presence.

Can God save all people? Yes, if they are willing to be saved. No, if they are not. God cannot force salvation on man who is unwilling to be saved, that is to live the life of God in its fulness. If God did so man who not be free and thus would not be able to live the life of God, who is free. Man would lose salvation immediately his salvation is forced upon him. Man must be free to forever refuse salvation.

Perhaps time will heal all men? Perhaps this may be true but two issues arise. God has limited time for man on earth to a few years. He could not abide with man’s evil forever. Man’s faith must to tested in body because man is both soul and body. When man is separated from his body, he is judged because it is the life of the complete man that is tested, man in the flesh, and not man as a soul only. No this latter man can only wait for the final judgement to confirm his lot when reunited with his body on the last day. This point raises the second issue and reason against universal salvation. God lives beyond time and space and for us to share in the fulness of His life we too must live beyond time and space. Our lives will no longer be in time, our lives will no longer be subject to change. Without change there can no longer be repentance nor change of mind, so those apart from Christ will eternally remain so. There can be no salvation without time coming to an end. That is why the Saints are waiting to be perfected with all of us in the consumption of time. In an instant we will be taken up and your eternal destinies decided. If we remain in time and change we can never share the fulness of God’s life.

What of the Saint’s teaching that we go from glory to glory? Does this not imply change? In a sense it does but this must be taken in perspective. Using the analogy of a blackhole from the perspective of an external observer someone falling into the blackhole disappears almost in an instant. However, from the perspective of one falling into the blackhole the process takes almost an eternity. Thus, from the perspective of God, time ends and our reward is given in an instant. However, from the perspective of limited man, it takes and eternity to receive the eternal gift. Thus, man sees himself going from glory to glory throughout eternity constantly receiving the fulness of life in God that was given in an instant without change. The sinner suffers inversely.

So, for the possibility of the salvation of any means the potential of eternal suffering for those rejecting this salvation during their lives on earth. One is associated with the other and man must have his freedom. Salvation cannot be without the possibility of damnation. If this were so then God would have arranged it as such but He cannot deny Himself.


Church and dogma

19 May, 2007

“Every alteration in the basic creed, each subsidence in the hidden foundations of the Church, ‘which the Lord founded upon the rock of faith,’ produces sooner or later cracks of division on the ‘surface’ of the Church’s face. If dogma is falsified, whether intentionally or not, ecclesiology, both pastoral and administrative, is deformed, spiritual life is falsified an man suffers.

Ecclesiology and Christian anthropology have the same basis: Trinitarian and christological dogma. The Word is made flesh, and theology is ministered in the life of the faithful. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the theology of the Fathers who proclaimed Christ speaks about our life, which is Christ.

The hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ makes us partakers by grace in the unapproachable life which is in the Holy Trinity. And the mode of existence of God in Trinity forms also the mysterious structure of our own being ‘in the image’. Only when we are conformed to Christ, recognising Him by partaking in His Life, do we ‘regain our proper stature,’ our natural function and our freedom, as the Church and as persons. Ecclesiology and spirituality have the same basis: dogma. The Church is Christ, His body living in history. It is summarised in each of the faithful, who is the Church in miniature. The personal consciousness of each of the faithful has an ecclesial dimension, and every problem of the Church is the problem of the personal salvation of each of the faithful.

Consequently, when the heretic lays hands on the “traditional faith” he lays hands on the life of the faithful, their raison d’&ecirctre.Heresy is at once a blasphemy towards God and a curse for man. This is the reason why the entire organism and spiritual health and sensitivity of Orthodoxy has from the beginning reacted against the destructive infection of heresies.’

Archimandrite Vasileios in Hymn of Entry pgs 20-21.


Tradition and Time

19 May, 2007

A quick thought about Tradition.

The Tradition of the Church is not a merely matter of keeping ancient things alive in the Church today because the Church maintains ancient things. Rather it is because the things of Tradition are the things of God. They are Divine because the Church is Divine; it is Christ, the Body of Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Thus Tradition is the life and faith of the Church that is beyond time, it is unchanging because it is not subject to time. It transcends the history of our world and the development of time.

Thus any teaching of the development of Tradition, or doctrine, in a sense of Tradition or doctrine changing due to time is heretical because it makes the life of the Church subject to time; it makes Christ subject to time. Development in the sense of the manifestation of the Church on earth maturing into the fullness of this life is acceptable but it is not a change of the Tradition but living the Tradition more fully. Tradition is never a dead thing but it is the life of the Church. Life beyond time.


Primacy in the Church- further points

19 May, 2007

‘Again, what did St. Gregory the Great mean when he wrote that “Rome, Alexandria and Antioch are one see of Peter”? Likewise, when the patriarch of Constantinople signed the Formula of Hormisdas, he added to his signature, “We define that Old Rome and New Rome are one see of Peter”.’

The Patriarchates of Alexandra and Antioch are the centres of unity for the churches in Africa and the East respectively. They therefore manifest the Petrine principle in the context of their jurisdictional regions. So they can rightly be considered Sees of Peter in the sense of their role within their regions and also due to their history with the presence of St Peter in Antioch and of St Mark, St Peter’s disciple, in Alexandra. From the principle that the Church is one and the unity is one then both the Sees of Alexandra and Antioch are one as they are also one with Rome. There are not three centres of unity in the Church but one that is manifested completely in each of the three Sees with Rome, as the Imperial capital being the principal of these. (There is a strong parallel with Trinitarian Theology here. I believe that without a correct understanding of the Trinity it is impossible to understand the structure of the Church correctly because the same understanding of One God in three Persons is needed to understand One Church in many churches, one See of Peter in a number of Sees of Peter. The divergence of Roman Catholic and Orthodox thoughts on Church structure I believe parallel their divergence in Trinitarian theology.)

The Sees of Rome and New Rome are both the See of Rome in principle. The See of Old Rome comes first in time and New Rome is in a sense an “image” of Old Rome, like her in all aspects, although honouring her as the source. They are one very closely paralleling that the Father and the Son are one. When honour is given to the See of Rome it equally applies to New Rome. The See of Rome prevailing against the gates of Hades has continued to be true (from an Orthodox perspective) in New Rome, which after some troubles in its relatively early years has remained steadfastly orthodox, excepting a couple of short lived moments such as was suffered by Old Rome with Pope Honorius. (It is the See that is to prevail, not necessarily any particular Bishop of that See. It appears to me that the Fathers also considered that the Roman would prevail to the end of time. This hasn’t happened with the Roman Empire with Rome as its capital but it can be argued that the principle of the Empire, especially Pax Romana, has continued to this day. I think that the same defence of the Fathers could also be used in the case of the Roman See prevailing.)

On the issue of remaining in communion with the See of the Old Rome, it is true that one is required to do so, if Old Rome remains true to the Faith. She is the principle of unity for the Church, she is wholly the Church and so to break communion with her is to break communion with the Church. On the latter part this can be said of any and all of the Sees, which are all equally the whole Church, if they remain within the Faith. Breaking communion with any church in Christ is to break communion with Christ, Who is wholly present in each church. Rome, as the centre of unity for the world, carries a special significance in the issue of unity and rightly the Saints make their comments about unity with Rome. However, this assumes that Rome remains a church and in Christ, which can be broken with heresy (I believe that free-will is never overridden and any person or group of people can fall into heresy; no-one is above this.) Also, this unity is equally manifest with unity to the church of New Rome. (Note: I believe that the Patriarchs of Constantinople speak in deference to the Popes of Rome in humility similarly as the Son speaks as such of the Father without diminishing His essential equality with the Father. Nevertheless, the Patriarchs of New Rome take boldly the title “Ecumenical” even with the protestations of old Rome.)