Archive for June, 2005

Icons are considered necessary in Orthodoxy to physically represent the Incarnation of Christ. Just as Christ became visible, kissable flesh, so we prayerfully venerate His image in worshipping Him, and those of the Saints in requesting their intercession.

Icons depict their subjects IN GLORY, not naturalistically — hence the radiant gold backgrounds in most of them. They depict them as we hope someday to be. In a sense they depict them body AND soul, and not just as hairless apes like in ‘paintings.’

BTW, do you know what a halo actually is? It’s the Uncreated Divine Energies radiating from Christ’s (2 Corinthians 4:6), or a Saint’s, face. In some icons the halo isn’t just a golden circle, but a disc of golden rays radiating from the subject’s face. For us a halo is not a hoop floating above someone’s head…that’s a bowl of oatmeal! (Remember the commercial?)

Sometimes we have relief icons, which can still depict the Divine Energies. But not statues, because in three complete dimensions, they can’t depict them. Besides, statues are too close to idols.

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is demonstrated in the Monty Python sketch “How Do You Tell a Witch?

Orthodox aren’t against logic, just its deification (in a bad sense), because ultimately it deifies humanity (again, in the bad sense).

In the West Orthodoxy has a reputation for deifying ancient pagan Greek philosophy. Actually the Orthodox continued the living development of Greek philosophy, and its use as a tool — but only a tool — in Christianity. It’s the West, in its “Rennaissance” skipping over Christian Greek thought and religious experience, that apotheosized ancient pagan Greek philosophy. The Orthodox never had angels dancing on the head of a pin….

Dormition is the Latin-English word preferred by many English-speaking Orthodox over Assumption, to describe the end of the Theotokos’ earthly life. It means “falling asleep,” ie, death.

In Roman Catholic doctrine, the Assumption of Mary refers to her body being raised to heaven by God at the end of her life. The Latin Church no longer remembers that Mary first died before being assumed into heaven, and says it doesn’t know whether she died or not, and that it’s not important. However, many Orthodox see in the related Latin doctrine of her Immaculate Conception without Original Sin, an implication that she is immortal, since death came with sin (Romans 5:12) and if she is without the Sin of the World, she never died. (We still call her immaculate, but not in the Catholic sense.)

So Orthodox use of the words Dormition or Falling Asleep in theology, parish names, or the name of the Great Feast of August 15, is often to underline that the Theotokos died, and within a couple days of her death, her tomb was found empty, her body having been glorified and reunited with her soul in heaven — as will happen to all the Saints at the end.

This is another example of how we and others use the same words but mean different things.

(PS: Some Orthodox and parishes, however, do use the word Assumption. But all of us Orthodox remain united in doctrine!)

Theotokos is Greek for “Birth-giver of God,” Orthodoxy’s main title for Mary, the Mother of God. It’s pronounced thay-oh-TOKE-os.

It began as a popular devotion in the Church of Constantinople in the early centuries of Christianity. But when they got a bishop from out of town, Nestorius, he thought it was blasphemous, and tried to stamp it out. He thought the most that could be said was that Mary was Christotokos [sic], Birthgiver of Christ. The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus overruled him, because the title Theotokos was needed theologically to uphold the Divinity of Christ; that the Virgin gave birth not just to a man named Jesus who came to be called Christ, or only to His human ‘nature,’ but to the God-Man Himself. The Council Fathers and Mothers found that Nestorius placed too much distance between Christ’s humanity and His Divinity, so that there were almost two persons in Christ, rather than “the Logos bec[o]me flesh” (John 1:14). Christ didn’t take on a human person, just human nature.

When I finally realized the implications of all this, I was horrified to conclude that all my life I had been quasi-Nestorian! Raised to hold equally Christ’s Divinity and His humanity — “fully human, fully Divine” — and to maximize each excessively. I now understand Orthodoxy to hold that the Incarnation was asymmetrical. Western so-called Low Christology, considered with little if any reference to Christ’s Divinity, is improper.

See what “Theotokos” has to do with Christ?

When I converted, I disliked abortion but felt I had to remain Pro-Choice in case of someone feeling conscientiously that abortion was indicated in their circumstance. This isn’t the same as the “Cuomo Doctrine,” ie, ‘Personally opposed but can’t impose beliefs on others.’ It has more to do with reluctant abortions. I also disliked (and still do) the absolutist rhetoric of outspoken Anti-Abortionists, and the violence and invasion of privacy some of them are prone to.

Orthodoxy is traditionally Anti-Abortion, no ifs, ands, or buts. I obviously didn’t let that stop me from converting. But as time went on, I came to feel that it was not seemly for the Christian Church to endorse allowing for abortion under any circumstances, and I came to identify myself with that personally as well.

Now I favor an Anti-Abortion amendment to the U.S. constitution. And as a political “liberal” against abortion, I also favor a social safety system under which people wouldn’t feel the need to seek abortion in the first place. IOW, “Life” doesn’t end at birth!

I still wrestle with the idea of abortion being the worst possible crime or sin. They say there’ve been 45 million abortions in the USA since Roe v. Wade, but I look at the billions killed or threatened by environmental degradation worldwide too. So I align myself with Democrats for Life.

Not to get political….

Just a heads-up that not infrequently it sounds like Orthodoxy is saying the same thing as Catholicism or Protestantism at various points. You need to dig deeper to the Orthodox meaning of what Orthodoxy is saying, from Orthodox sources. Presume (almost) nothing. The anonymous writer at Orchid Land Publications makes this point well and often.

is the name of this entirely Orthodox icon.

If she kind of looks to you like Jesus’ twin sister if he would’ve had one, you’re not far off! The “IC” and “XC” at the top are abbreviations for Iesous Christos, Jesus Christ in Greek, meant to leave no doubt as to the iconographer’s intentions. But why feminine, why the wings, and what does any of this have to do with “Stillness”?

There’s alot of theology packed into this particular icon. Some like it because it strikes them as feminist (even though it predates modern feminism by centuries!), especially when they learn about the tie-in with Sophia, Greek for Wisdom, ie, the Wisdom of God, which as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:24, is none other than Christ. The word Sophia is feminine in Greek, a tradition entirely supported by Proverbs 9:1-3, where Wisdom is said to have prepared her feast for people. For that matter, “He Hagia Hesychia,” the inscription in the bottom of the frame of this version of the icon, is also feminine; it means “Holy Stillness” (sometimes “Silence”).

This Christ-figure is also an Angel, hence the wings. Several times in the Old Testament, an Angel appears to a Prophet or Patriarch. Except that sometimes the Angel says “I AM the Lord/YHWH” (Christ is YHWH), or is identified as the Lord (Genesis 18), rather than “the Lord says.” Now, since nothing created directly reveals the Uncreated, ie God, that means at those times it wasn’t really a created angel, but GOD Godself! When the Word of God is heard, that’s the Pre-Incarnate Logos, the personal “Word of God”…one of whose Messianic titles in the Septuagint* Greek version of Isaiah 9:6 is “Angel of Great Counsel [sic].” Hence the figure in this icon is also sometimes referred to in theology as the Logos Angel. (This is also a good time to bring in the fact that the Hebrew word for the glorious appearance of God in His Uncreated Energies, Shekina, is also feminine.)

(*-The Septuagint Greek Old Testament is about a thousand years older than the Masoretic Text Hebrew on which most Christian Old Testaments used in the West today are based.)

“Stillness” comes in, in this way. The form of spiritual practice incorporating the Jesus Prayer I’ve mentioned before is called Hesychasm, from the Greek Hesychia. Whether one uses the Jesus Prayer or some other short prayer, and whether one is in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or later on in Orthodoxy, its goal is purification/self-discipline, Stillness of soul, to experience the appearance of God in Glory, W/wisdom, the revelation of God, etc….all embodied, as discussed above, by this feminine, winged Christ-figure.

God doesn’t necessarily appear in this way ever, but the icon is evocative (as well as provocative!). And since it’s based on the Incarnate Jesus Christ, it’s not at all blasphemous.

I’m not going to pretend to understand all the arguments Orthodox and Latins make about whether you say in the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit…Who proceeds from the Father,” or “from the Father and the Son” (Latin filioque, pronounced feel-ee-OH-kway). But what cinched it for me was when it was pointed out that “Who proceeds from the Father” is a direct quote from John 15:26, which does not go on to say “and the Son.” I’d never realized that as a Catholic, or even as a Protestant. You can’t beat the testimony of Christ Himself!

A book of Orthodox feast-day traditions characterizes today, the 50th day after Holy Pascha, as follows (emphasis added):

On the day corresponding to this day of salvation, the day of Pentecost, the Savior’s Apostles, who were suddenly instructed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, became possessors of the greatest wisdom and spoke clearly about heavenly doctrines. They became preachers of Truth and teachers to the whole world. From that day they began the work of their great mission, the wonderful and delectable first-fruit of which was the conversion of 3,000 souls on that very same day.

For another Orthodox take on salvation, try this!

While I was a Mennonite, I once creeped out my fellow-believers by feeling a need to pray for a Mennonite mutual acquaintance who had just died, a practice from my Catholic youth.

Orthodox don’t believe in Catholic purgatory, but we still pray for the dead because of Scripture and Tradition. Why to us is what we call a mystery – not blind faith, but less compulsion than Westerners to have everything logically explained to the last iota.

The Books of Maccabees were universally part of the Christian Bible until Martin Luther deleted them for Protestants. And in 2 Maccabees 12:38-46, Judas Maccabeus and his Jewish army pray for fallen comrades who they discovered carrying pagan amulets. In addition, there’s 1 Corinthians 15:29-30 where St. Paul alludes to baptism on behalf of the deceased. And early Christian writer Tertullian as early as A.D. 211 says the deceased were being remembered, prayed for, in Christian worship.

For further discussion, see this link, and scroll down to the answer to the questioner’s second question. The answer also discusses prayer TO the dead, including the recognized Saints (and Mary, the Mother of God or “Theotokos”).

As for venerating relics, I’m not sure I’m looking forward to my first Orthodox funeral where I may be expected to join others in kissing the deceased(!), but remember that many early Christians worshiped in catacombs and graveyards containing the relics of the faithful departed, maintaining ‘contact’ with them, so to speak, that way. And apparently Eastern Europeans don’t share the ‘modern’ Western aversion to contact with dead bodies! Furthermore, if the deceased had any share in God’s Divine Energies, that would include their bodies as well as their souls, and venerating them puts us in contact with those same Energies. And to this day Orthodox put Saints’ relics in their church altars.

How can we creatures “give glory to God”?!!

By harmonizing our will and actions with His, His Glory will literally shine forth through us, as the Uncreated Light of Mt. Tabor, His Divine Energies.

I recently gave a rather legalistic or juridical description of the Orthodox Church. (Being an ex-Catholic seminarian, that may be an occupational hazard!) Such is necessary in a world plagued by groups calling themselves Orthodox Churches that “ain’t necessarily so.”

What’s more important about the Orthodox Church than that it answers to the description I gave before, is that it’s the Body of Christ. It serves Christ in the world. The Holy Spirit of God dwells in it. It teaches and holds to Christian O/orthodoxy and has since the beginning. It’s the locus of God’s Uncreated Energies more than elsewhere in the world, and has experienced this since the beginning. It’s the Church of Martyrs. And much more.

I grew up Catholic. I spent the ’90s with the Quakers and Mennonites, but then returned to Catholicism for a few years. So I always believed the doctrine that the Holy Spirit of God, One of the Trinity, was supposed to dwell in the Church. I grew up a Vatican II Catholic, so there was an even greater emphasis on this than before the ’60s perhaps. But even after Vatican II, if push came to shove the only person we could know for sure had the Spirit was the Pope of Rome; the Council maintained the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

What hooked me about Orthodoxy was that it has always maintained a healthy, lively doctrine of the indwelling of the Spirit in the whole Body of Christ, not just one member. This was evidenced for me in the dictates of Orthodox Church leaders that were actually rejected by the faithful and monastics down through the years. It struck me that they believed this more than we did! And I thought that if the teaching is true, its true home was apparently the Orthodox Church, not the Latin Church, not even the Eastern Catholics separated from Orthodoxy.

How does Orthodoxy do this? Orthodoxy is very process-oriented; things take time in history. Even after the leaders decree something – which itself can take seemingly forever! – it still has to be “received” by the Church at large. Monastics and laity don’t resist episcopal teaching lightly, but when it seems to them the Spirit was not present when a given decision was made, they’ve been known to riot, to boycott, to organize and protest, to demand the replacement of their leaders, etc.

As some of the Orthodox Patriarchs wrote to a Pope of Rome in the 1800s, we believe the Bishops only teach the doctrine; the whole (Orthodox) Church guards the doctrine. Rome teaches that the bishops, and especially he of Rome, teach and guard, leaving no role for the faithful, ie, most of the church!

That’s not even very Scriptural. Orthodoxy sees the Church gathered at the first Pentecost, whereas Rome sees only a College of Bishops or Cardinals (leaving out the women present!), and of course a Pope.

So in short, what hooked me about Orthodoxy was its living doctrine and praxis of the Holy Spirit IN the Whole Church. Messy though it may be!

(That’s not to say we’re all instant mystics! Each of us is his or her own distance from God, in his or her own place on the path of Purification, Illumination, and Glorification. But we are to work hard for it, gradually, and hope in God’s Mercy.)

Depending on the jurisdiction, you might be received by Confession of Faith and/or Chrismation (Confirmation, more or less) if you’re already baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Otherwise it’ll be by full Baptism and Chrismation…maybe by triple immersion like John Corbet was in My Big Fat Greek Wedding!

This would follow maybe 9 months to a year – maybe more, maybe less – of classes, talking with the priest, reading and study, praying, attending parish functions, and hopefully actually CONVERTING, or becoming Orthodox, at least in a beginning sort of way. As I’ve mentioned, it’s something we hope to be about from here to forever and beyond.

The priest has final say on when you’re received into Orthodoxy, and how you’re received.