Archive for May, 2005

A monastic, a monk or a nun (almost never “brother” or “sister”), may be called Father or Mother. On top of that, some monks may be priests (hieromonks or priest-monks) or deacons (hierodeacons). All monastics are committed to celibacy.

A reader actually chants the first reading and certain other parts of the Liturgy, may have other duties in the Church, and may be male or female, married or single.

A sub-deacon assists a priest or bishop during Liturgy, and may have other duties in the Church. May be married or single.

A deacon, who assists a priest or bishop during Liturgy and may have other duties in the Church, may be called Father Deacon. Some deacons who’ve been honored by their Church may be titled Archdeacon or Protodeacon. May marry before ordination.

A priest or presbyter, delegated by the bishop to serve Liturgy and administer a parish or perform other duties in the Church, is called Father. Some priests who’ve been honored by the Church may be titled Archpriest or Protopresbyter. May marry before ordination.

Presbytera, Matushka, Khouria, Preotasa, etc., are titles for a priest’s wife or widow, and vary according to the cultural background of the local Church, whether Greek, Russian, Arab, Romanian, etc.

In some Churches the pastor of a parish is called its rector.

Hierarch generally denotes a bishop. A hieromartyr is a martyred bishop.

Generally speaking, a bishop rules a diocese. Must be monastic, single, or widowed. In Greek Churches, Bishop So-and-So’s diocese is honorary, and he serves as an auxiliary bishop to a Metropolitan, Archbishop, or Patriarch. Non-Greek Churches also have auxiliary bishops, but also title the ruling hierarch of most actual local dioceses Bishop.

In Greek Churches a Metropolitan is the ruling hierarch of a diocese, and an Archbishop is the chief bishop of a cluster of dioceses or of a national Church.

In Slavic Churches generally, Archbishop is an honorary promotion for a bishop. In Russia, Metropolitan is too; elsewhere, he is the chief bishop of a cluster of dioceses or of a national Church.

Some national or multinational Churches’ chief bishop is called a Patriarch. Ecumenical Patriarch is the honorific title of the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul). The chief bishop of Caucasian Georgia is called Catholicos-Patriarch because his office evolved out of an ancient office of Catholicos, a chief bishop of a region.

Some Greek priests are titled proistamenos or economos. Don’t ask me why!

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One thing many Westerners know about Orthodoxy is that most of the world’s Orthodox celebrate Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord, on January 7 instead of December 25. In fact, most Orthodox in the Western world mark it on December 25.

This issue arises because most of the world’s Orthodox, ie, in the Holy Land and most of Eastern Europe, continue to use the Julian Calendar for computation of religious feasts. Since the 1700s the Gregorian Calendar, used first by Catholics, then gradually also Protestants, and later others under their influence, has run ahead of the Julian. Today they are 13 days apart. However, beginning in the 1920s, Churches representing a minority of the world’s Orthodox – but a majority of those in the Western world – adopted a Revised Julian Calendar, which for the next several thousand years(!) happens to correlate with the Gregorian.

The upshot is that Gregorian January 7 IS Julian December 25.

And this only marginally touches the issue of Orthodox Easter, Pascha! I still haven’t figured out why the West and the Orthodox often end up celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord on different dates!

Divine Energy (or Energies) is God’s activity in the universe, God’s Life. The Scholastics, medieval Western philosophers of religion, tried to approach this by translating the Greek terminology as “operations,” but as usual, it’s more than that.

Everything has energies – rocks, plants, animals, people, and God the Trinity. Even the inertia of a boulder or a blade of grass can be considered an energy. Energies are distinguishable from each other and from the thing’s essence. If I shake your hand, I am not my hand, yet I’m in some way present in that hand and that handshake nonetheless. The same with God. God creates and sustains the universe(s) by His Energies. They are distinct from His Essence, otherwise you have pantheism. Yet He is present via His Energies in a real way, just like my handshake (insofar as anything pertaining to God can be said to have anything in common with creature!).

Created things have created energies, the Uncreated has Uncreated Energies.

The Holy Trinity has one Energy or set of Energies, not three; that’s one of the ways in which the Trinity, though Three, is One. Everything with essence has energy…and God has Essence – not essences. The Trinity has One Will and One Energy or set of Energies, that’s how close the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are to each other. (So when we are told to picture the Father trying to convince the Son to go down to Earth and save humanity…that never happened!) Sometimes we speak of “the Energy of the Holy Spirit” or “the Divine Energy of the Son,” but we don’t mean these in any exclusive sense as within the Trinity.

Another way to think of energies is to realize that Christ ate, drank, and walked around, exercising His human energies…and healed and performed other miracles through His Divine Energies.

In the history of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and since, God’s Energies have often manifested as Light. As I’ve mentioned, the epitome of this is the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor. We desire and pray to see the Light or Glory of the Lord (in set prayers of the Orthodox Church) because that experience indicates a certain attunedness of OUR energies with God’s. But we don’t see it if we’re substantially enslaved by sin and the passions, lest we burn from the Divine Energies as Fire. (This is the Orthodox teaching of hell, as its opposite, as I’ve mentioned, is heaven.) So when I speak of tuning the human will to God’s, it’s similar to attuning the human energy to God’s…except insofar as energy differs from will. And that is the difference between willing to do something, and actually doing it. It stands to reason that if I never carry out my good intentions, I’ll burn for eternity when I die…not because God does anything to me, but simply my exposure to His Energies in contradiction to my own, burns instead of lights. Think of it this way: Whereas created fire lights from a distance, but burns close-up, Uncreated Light lights close-up, but burns at a distance!

Think of a marriage, where the couple become closer and closer together, and a certain harmony develops between their wills and between their energies. Harmony between OUR wills and energies, and God’s, is what we want, out of love, like a marriage. And remember, God as married to His people is a sense that goes back to the Old Testament!

This is also to point out that we creatures will never see or “contemplate” God’s Essence, only His Energies, because no creature is able to see the Creator. And “communion with God” is energetic, not essential (ie, not with regard to essence).

The best way to this is to submit oneself to the guidance of an Orthodox spiritual father or mother — “director” so to speak — with this experience, able to guide you to it too. Minimally, it’s to follow the timeless counsel of the Orthodox Church: worship, pray as Orthodox, do good, study Scripture and Tradition, partake of the Orthodox Mysteries or “sacraments,” self-discipline, fasting, etc.

And be careful, because the devil is able to mimic some manifestations of “light.” Sometimes even the Saints have been fooled. Hence guidance is required.

Every day is Memorial Day in the Orthodox Church. Almost every day at least one holy person is commemorated, and almost every day we ask at least one holy person “who has fallen asleep” to pray for us. See here. A wonderful and well-done and very informative software program can bring up similar data on your own computer without having to go online each day.

Americans often invoke the sacrifice of their soldiers in religious and political discourse, almost as if they were in some way still with us. Orthodox know that they are!

These days it’s easy to find internet coverage – try searching here – of the (ongoing) attempt to replace the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem after he may or may not have essentially signed over Church-owned Palestinian-leased land in the Old City of Jerusalem to an Israeli Jewish settler group. I have no inside information, just that Orthodoxy in the Near East is a very, very old institution, with lots of humanity and complexity and politics, good and bad. Since we don’t have an authoritarian figure, we’re more dependent on…each other. The Church is holy, but full of sinners like me. Anciently it was compared to a hospital for the sick, a place of healing full of sick people. We don’t depose Primates willy-nilly…but we can depose them in serious cases. Apparently enough of Irenaeus’ fellow bishops in the Holy Land think this a serious case. It’s all very sad and embarrassing and risks discrediting the Orthodox Gospel…or as some say, revealing how powerful the Holy Spirit is in keeping us a going concern through all these years in spite of ourselves.

Please pray for us.

By Matthew the Poor, ORTHODOX PRAYER LIFE:

In prayer, God’s personal will and ours meet. Christ’s will is sharply focused upon our own salvation, renewal, and rescue. Nothing can thwart Christ’s will for us except our failure to pray. All sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed who prayed and asked Christ to heal them are those whom he healed. Never did Christ cast out any man who believed in him and asked him. The will of Christ, which is ever present, is always willing and able to save completely all those who come to him by prayer in faith. Through prayer, our will becomes like that of Christ. Through prayer we gain his Spirit and are conformed to his will. His power thus rests upon us.

But in the first bit of advice from a priest as I considered converting, “Learn to pray as Orthodox.” And he gave me the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians, sampled here. For some other prayers, including Morning and Evening, see here.

Try it, it might change you like it did me (a little)!

The Fathers of the Eastern Church say there are three steps to the healing of the soul, labeled Purification, Illumination, and Glorification.

In Purification, we work to purge ourselves of sin and free ourselves from being dominated by our passions, and to pray. This used to be the work of just the catechumens, beginning converts to Christianity.

Illumination is when God gives you the constant memory of Him in your heart while your mind continues about its daily affairs. This is the prayer of the Holy Spirit in the heart, self-acting even without your willing it. It is a form of communion with God which may come and go, and in which Purification may continue. Baptism is still sometimes called Illumination in the Eastern Church. This is the point of the exercise of the Jesus Prayer, the repetition of, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” or of some other short prayer, at first willed, then later taken up by the Holy Spirit within you. We hope to receive this gift of God no later than the moment of our death, said to constitute in the words of St. Paul, seeing God “dimly as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). If we do, we will experience Glorification after death (see below).

Glorification (also referred to as deification, divinization, theosis, becoming God by grace, acquiring the Holy Spirit, etc.) is the vision of God’s Uncreated Divine Energies as Light, the Glory of God, the Light of Transfiguration of Mt. Tabor. Your own transfiguration. This is temporary during life, after which Purification and Illumination may continue. If we experience this, it continues (after death) for eternity as we go “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We’ll all see God’s Glory after death; for the Saints as Light, for the rest as eternally painful purifying fire…or as one priest said, “If you don’t like being with God in this life, you’ll be miserable in eternity!”

I should say that all of this is hearsay evidence for me, but my sources are good!

…is the theology and spirituality of the Fathers and Mothers of the Eastern Church! We’re deprived of it in the West! So we have to dig it up on our own. Thank God for the internet!!!

We are not as we were created by God. Whether or not the story of Adam and Eve is precise genealogy, it’s the story of God creating and humanity mucking it up.

Before they obeyed Satan rather than God, A&E were able to converse with God two-way, easily, and might also have been able to see His Glory, the Light of His Divine Energies, in some small way. They weren’t made ‘perfect,’ but perfectly capable of progressing in the Glory of God. How do we know this, just by blind faith in the Genesis text? No; also the witness, the experience, of the prophets, disciples, Church fathers and mothers, and Saints of Orthodoxy all these millenia. They all found that when they cleared themselves of sin by the Graciousness of God, and resisted the evil one — ie, followed the Orthodox Way — they too were given the constant memory of God, and the vision of His Transfiguration-Glory.

This whole witness and experience is largely forgotten in the West. But this is what’s “natural” for humanity, the way God made us, not the way we are now, mired in the effects of the First Couple’s disobedience and estrangement from God. Just because something seems natural, doesn’t mean it is. If you bought a used car and it made a funny noise, that’s not natural, it’s just how you came upon it. To restore it to its natural condition, you have to fix it, get rid of the funny noise.

So how do humans ‘get back to nature’?! By joining ourselves to the Body of Christ our God, His Orthodox Church, partaking of its mysteries (“sacraments”), praying, self-discipline, studying Scripture and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church, fasting, almsgiving and doing good, etc.

One prayer is a continuous fountain of insight and God’s Graciousness for me: the Akathist of Thanksgiving “Glory to God for all Things.” The more often I pray it — a handful of times a year — the more it becomes mine. It was penned a century or so ago by a Russian prince and bishop, but discovered in the Soviet gulag of all places. It’s actually a little sung service, but many Orthodox use akathists in their private prayer too. Pay special attention to allusions to God’s Uncreated Divine Energies, ie, references to light and transfiguration, vital in Orthodox Christianity.

OK, what’s with all these national and ethnic churches around the world and here in the West?

In brief, the Orthodox Church opposes having a strong central command entity like the Catholic Church has. Instead, the Orthodox Church is comprised of 15 commonly-recognized self-governing national or multinational Churches, each theologically equal to all the others. It’s not altogether unlike the national Churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion. (There’s an order of honorary seniority among Orthodox Churches, but we don’t need to go into that really.)

  • The Church of Constantinople (Istanbul) covers most of Turkey, and eastern Greece. Also referred to as the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an honorific going back to the first millennium.
  • The Church of Alexandria (Egypt) covers all of Africa.
  • The Church of Antioch (now based at Damascus) covers Syria, Lebanon, bordering areas of Turkey, Iraq, and Kuwait.
  • The Church of Jerusalem covers Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and the Arabian Peninsula.
  • The Church of Russia covers most of the former Soviet Union.
  • The Church of Serbia covers the former Yugoslavia.
  • The Church of Greece (based at Athens) covers western Greece.
  • The Churches of Georgia (Caucasus), Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Albania, cover their respective countries.

That brings us to North America, and by extension, the rest of the West. For the most part, ecclesiatical jurisdiction here is disputed. There is an entity called The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) that covers the U.S., Canada, and Mexico…but not alone. Also with Western dioceses are the Churches of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland. If a parish you’re looking at belongs to any of these, it’s commonly recognized as legitimate Orthodox (in the jargon, “canonical”).

What does that mean? Well, it’s like this. A priest, during Divine Liturgy, commemorates his Bishop. A diocesan Bishop commemorates his regional primate, an Archbishop or Metropolitan. If they belong to a Patriarchate, they commemorate their Patriarch. Finally, a top Bishop or Patriarch commemorates all the other top Bishops or Patriarchs by reading a list called the Diptychs. (Remember, there’s only 14 or 15 names, and I’ve heard it done quite quickly: Bartholomewofconstantinopletheodoreofalexandria ignatiusofantiochirenaiosofjerusalem…!) This is the chain that links the “canonical” Orthodox Church worldwide.

(BTW, although not all Churches list the OCA Metropolitan in their Diptychs, all acknowledge them as “canonical.” I think they just consider them as continuing under the Russian Patriarchate or something.)

Moving towards rejoining that chain via the Church of Russia is the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), with parishes throughout the West (mostly).

BTW, at this time the churches called Oriental Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian, or Monophysite, are not considered part of the Orthodox Church, but they’re said to be fairly close in theological dialogue. This includes the Armenian, Coptic, Syriac/Jacobite, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Malankara/Indian churches.

By Metropolitan NICHOLAS (Hadjinikolaou) of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, locum tenens of the diocese of Attica, Greece:

In the Protestant world ierapostoli (mission) is understood as proselytism, as an effort to persuade others to follow that which they preach as the truth. In the Orthodox tradition ierapostoli (mission) means witness and confession. It means to give the opportunity to our fellow human beings for God to speak within them, that they may go from becoming creations of God to His children and from our fellow human beings to our brothers in faith. Perhaps some of them will approach us in a spirit of proselytism [as understood above]. Let us respond by giving them a clear witness but in a phronema of love in Christ. In such an age as that in which we live, the temptation to relativize everything, to sacrifice the clarity of our confession on the altar of a worldly-minded tolerance, to call into question the divine gift of our Orthodox faith on account of a wrongly-understood ecumenistic unity, to replace the ierapostoliki (missionary) witness of the conversion of all with the ecumenist vision of universal co-existence, is more than obvious.

However, within the many opportunities presented by contemporary ideological pluralism, the blessing to submit our witness – not as intolerant persistence in crude ideas, but as magnanimous confession of personally-experienced truths, which we don’t uphold as if they are in danger, but rather confess because without them we are in danger – is exceptional great.

The key to Orthodox Christian faith and life is found in this ancient Christian quote: “God became human so humans could become God.”

In His Incarnation, Christ, by uniting Divine and human natures in his own person, lifted up human nature to Divinity.

Eastern Christianity remembers the ancient Christian teaching that although no creature can or will have contact with God’s Essence, humans might have contact with God’s Uncreated Divine Energies, the presence and activity of God in the creation. In fact, Orthodox Christianity’s call to human beings is to become “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4), the path from which our first parents strayed. We do this by attuning our will and actions to God’s, by His Graciousness made available in particular through the Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ, His Son.

The Church is not only the Body of Christ, it is His Bride, and He is our Bridegroom — imagery going straight back to the Old Testament. In a real marriage the spouses love each other and “submit to each other” (Ephesians 5:21). God submits to us, so to speak, in allowing us free will. We submit to God’s love by loving Him back and drawing close to Him in our will and actions. And as in a real marriage my spouse is most important to me, so in this one God is most important to me.

Through His Energies, God creates and sustains everything. In fact, as one provocative Orthodox writer recently put it, there are no created “laws of nature,” only God’s Uncreated Energies. [CLARIFICATION: See here.] Orthodox Saints, from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and since, have witnessed these Divine Energies as Light: “God is Light” (1 John 1:5). Hence the Transfiguration of the Lord (August 6) is a major feast of the Orthodox Church, and a major consolation is the account of a similar transfiguration of the (relatively recent) 18th-century Russian monk St. Seraphim of Sarov. (I commend the entire article, but the famous scene of the Divine Light is about two-thirds of the way down the page.)

As the St. Seraphim article points out, Orthodox experience this as “acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” We hope for this no later than the moment of our deaths. Heaven is experiencing God’s Energies (in the Spirit) as Light, and even progressing “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). However, if we’re not prepared (by God’s Graciousness) in how we live our life to see God’s Energies as Light, we will experience them as painful, eternally purifying fire.

The Divine Light is also referred to as God’s Glory, even in Hebrew shekinah. Thus, this is the experience of the Prophets and other Israelites before Christ’s Incarnation, as well as God’s People since. God withholds the vision of His Glory until we are (relatively) ready, lest we burn. We become ready by God’s Graciousness in the means He has provided, including the Mysteries (“sacraments”) of His Body the Orthodox Church, worship, prayer, self-discipline and active selfless love and virtue, resistance to sin, studying Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, etc.

You might notice this is a kind of unique approach to Christianity, even to religion in general. This is the shared heritage of all Christians, the gift to us of the Undivided Church, and of God Himself. We’re “orthodox” because we don’t mess around with this, it’s a proven track record! This is what we present to all the world. This, we confess, is the Gospel of God, “the faith that established the universe.”

In a very theological sense, Orthodoxy can be said to be the Faith of the Orthodox Church. And where may one find the Orthodox Church? Here is a pretty complete list covering the recognized worldwide Orthodox Church. Not included there is a link to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).

Orthodoxy is the truth about “life, the universe, and everything.” (Thank you Douglas Adams!)

OK, you knew I was gonna say that. But this isn’t like other groups’ truth-claims. In the language of Evangelicals, Orthodoxy is a world-view completely different from anything else in the world, especially in the West. I hope to provide some sense of that in this blog. But basically, Orthodoxy claims to see everything more clearly, more truthfully, than anything else, including Christianity that isn’t Orthodox. But rather than polemicize (too much!), I hope to show Orthodoxy in its own light.

Orthodoxy is the traditional Faith of the Near East, Eastern Europe, and vicinity. This includes Russians, Greeks, Arab Christians, Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Belarusans, Georgians (in the Caucasus) and others, as well as – beginning in the mid-1700s – Alaska Natives!

It began trickling West in the 1500s, and became a veritable flood in the 19th and 20th centuries, with migration and mission work. Today there may be as many as 7 million Eastern Orthodox in the U.S. and Canada, with more joining almost every week.

The Orthodox Church is one, in all these places, but with local self-government instead of a single worldwide center like Catholicism. We all share common faith, heritage, worship, principles, and structures, but with local variations and emphases.

We’re known for long hair, beards, services, and robes…but long hair and beards are strictly optional!