Posts Tagged ‘Fathers of the Church’

Uncreated Star of Bethlehem

Five years ago I alluded to this, but I’ve just seen concise discussion of it from no less than the Father of the Church St. John Chrysostom, and from certain Old Testament prophecies ‘in its Light.’

It also makes me think of how some non-Orthodox “got saved” by God….  The Apolytikion (a hymn) given on this page brings home the point.  The Magi are commemorated as Saints on Dec. 25.  (Recall that Orthodoxy commemorates the Magi’s Adoration of the Incarnate YHWH not on Jan. 6 but at Christmas; our Great Feast of Theophany [Epiphany] focuses on His Baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Forerunner [Baptist].)  OrthodoxWiki mentions the memory of their eventual baptism by St. Thomas the Apostle to the Indo-Iranians, and service to The Church as Bishops.

What about the mentions of an angel?  Readers of this blog may recall our discussions of the uncreated Logos-Angel from many Old Testament theophanies … highlighted in the writings of Greek-American theologian Fr. John S. Romanides (†2001) … so this need not be a problem, especially because Orthodoxy reminds us that the Divine Hypostatic Logos is not circumscribed by His Incarnation, ie, not ‘completely contained’ in or limited by His Human Body.  Could He appear as Infant and “Angel” at the same time?  Unusual perhaps, but I don’t see why not, although I must confess I haven’t seen this explicitly discussed anywhere yet.

One Web source I read said Western European pagans, even before Christianization, appreciated this, as it were their ‘cameo’ appearance at the very beginning of Christianity’s New Testament.  Similarly, I can say that even as a blond Western Catholic child here in the States, I was fascinated by and appreciated my family’s small wood-and-hay(?) Nativity set featuring non-Mediterranean-looking “kings”: a blond, an African, and an East Asian!*  I also read that extracanonical accounts ‘internationalizing’ them are quite old indeed.  Well, they do “represent the Gentiles,” and foreshadow many more of our ancestors’ conversions to the Faith….  For some reason I thought of the “White” one as some aged King of England — I didn’t know then that that title and State didn’t exist during Christ’s life on Earth!

I couldn’t leave this off without a plug for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s “Christmas Star” (or another picture of it).  One night during college, around 1985-86, I was driving around town lost (though sober)** and someone told me I almost knocked it down or something!  It sits atop Wyandotte Hill/South Mountain, one of Penna.’s many long, skinny, relatively-low,*** ridge-like mountains, that divides the Lehigh Valley from the main Philadelphia area, as well as from my undergraduate school campus just south of Bethlehem.

And, twelve “kings”?  Catholic priest / sociologist / novelist Andrew Greeley’s Russian (Orthodox) lay student / artist / mystic / beauty / love interest in his 1997 Christmas / spiritual classic Star Bright! (available here) alludes to a 12-magi tradition, without many details except to say something I haven’t encountered personally in Orthodoxy yet, that “We Russians know there were 12 kings” (or words to that effect).  But an English translation of the apocryphal Syriac Revelation of the Magi has recently come out, and it names twelve.  Furthermore, if one Amazon reviewer reports correctly, if you have any Western European ancestry, you may have one or more Magi in your family tree.  How’s that for Gentile foreshadowing?!  Other reviews lead me to doctrinal caution about the Revelation [Apocalypse??] of the Magi, but also hint (seemingly unknowingly) at o/Orthodox Uncreated Energies Theology perhaps.  But some of the kings named by the Armenian reviewer have names or associations I might have encountered a long time ago while tracing my Norman Irish ancestors (Hibernicized McCoogs) into traditional medieval West European royal and noble genealogies … the kind today’s experts say are dubious, but were part of our cultures for most of the last thousand years if not longer … and geneticists now say we might all share in some way.  (Something like some Assyrian kings back there too, being Semites, traditionally then Kin of God!)  (This is another review I saw of it, from a Catholic perspective.)

PS: Many Years to Fr. Greeley!  Glad to see he’s doing better some!  Thank God!

(*–The one with the wind-up music box playing “Silent Night.”)

(**–If you can read and comprehend this without getting a headache, you’re a better driver than I was!)

(***–Compared to, say, the Adirondacks, or the Rockies.)

Short reflection inspired by St. Theophan the Recluse is here.

(Theophan, sometimes called Theophanes [the original Greek version of his name], was a 19th-century bishop in Russia who retired early from the active episcopate – hence “recluse” – and became an incredible spiritual father and writer!  A real latter-day Father of the Church.  He even wrote an acclaimed book on how to raise children!  And he was glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate at its Council in 1988, its first chance in 70 years, under glasnost in the waning days of Communist rule; for this reason, older printed references to him might not say “Saint.”)

From one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (presumably Gregory the Theologian, aka Nazianzen), honored East and West, courtesy of the masthead at http://www.palamas.info/:

Not to everyone, friends, does it belong to philosophize about God, not to everyone; the subject is not so cheap and low. And, I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

From Saint Symeon the New Theologian, one of the key Fathers of the Church (his feast is commemorated this Sunday 12 October, and two hymns of his feast are here):

Our holy fathers have renounced all other spiritual work and concentrated wholly on this one doing, that is, on guarding the heart,* convinced that, through this practice, they would easily attain every other virtue, whereas without it not a single virtue can be firmly established(Emphasis added.)

(*–NB: In the Author’s Prologue, in the second paragraph, I believe the phrase “it is not anthropocentric but the anthropocentric” should read “it is not anthropocentric but theanthropocentric,” ie, centered on the Theanthropos, the God-Man — Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, Theos and Anthropos, God and Human.  One might also say “Christocentric.”

NB2: The online text from Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS’ Orthodox Psychotherapy linked to is not the entire book, which you might wish to buy or borrow [or steal?! Just kidding.].

NB3: This work is not to be confused with this one of Russian provenance, which I have not yet read through.

NB4: Metr. Hierotheos may well be a living Father of the Church.  At least as of 1994 he was spiritual father to “a vast number” of people, especially in Greece, but also worldwide, even through “a treatment network” of “the more spiritually healthy” of his spiritual children.  Since ’95 he’s been an active Ruling Hierarch of a diocese in Greece northwest of Athens [on this page he’s spelled Ierotheos, without the H].  As you can see, they have quite a few dioceses over there … where they’re called Metropolises, as with most Greek / Hellenic jurisdictions.)

I know nothing about the recent controversy over this, referenced at the beginning of this article from St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania (anonymous), and was surprised to hear about it.  But this article seems to address it well, briefly, and Orthodoxly.  It also highlights the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Patristic writings that is possible unless one is steeped ever more deeply in Orthodoxy’s Patristic, Holy Tradition, ie, not just historic prooftexts (or even Scriptural for that matter), but the Tradition in its fullness, including the Liturgy and its hymns and prayers, the spiritual and ascetic struggle to receive God’s Gift, and even how Orthodoxy has and has not made use of non-canonical (“apocryphal”) scriptures and related writings.  For its taste of this, I highly recommend the article even if you already don’t question the sinlessness of the Theotokos.

(I would only add to the piece, to clarify it, that at no time did Mary lose her free will.  She was probably sorely tempted!)

Says an Antiochian Orthodox bookstore owner in Wichita, Kansas,* in this 2002 Publishers Weekly roundup / preview of then-new Orthodox books entering the mainstream book market (in English in the United States).

(*–For the record, home of 5 Orthodox churches, visible at orthodoxyinamerica.org.)

The main meaning of the Greek verb baptizo, from which the English word baptism is ultimately derived (as Mr. Portokalos advised us!), is to dip, as in water.

Christianity as such didn’t invent the practice of dipping converts in water.  The Old Testament Church sometimes baptized proselytes, and so did some other Near Eastern religions.  But dipping quickly became a hallmark of Christianity.  The Lord was baptized by the Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist, John, and very early, Christians commemorated this on a yearly basis, along with the Lord’s other “manifestations,” on the Great Feast of the Theophany, January 6.  The Gospel According to St. John the Theologian 3:22, 4:1-2 indicates that the Lord Himself and/or His disciples baptized followers very early.  Water imagery is frequent in the Gospels.  And of course, the Lord commanded his Apostles to ‘make students [disciples] of all nations, dipping them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ which they did, as the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles attest.

However, I haven’t made a study of it, but I have never seen a depiction, East or West, of the Lord’s Baptism by John, in which He seemed completely immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John.  (That might be hard to draw or paint.)  Usually what seems to be going on is that the Lord, or both He and John, are standing in the river, partially immersed, with John pouring water over the Lord’s head.  Today Orthodox Judaism requires total immersion for some mikvah bath-taking, including for conversion to the faith.  Something similar is reflected in Orthodox Christian theology, East and, originally, West, from very early on, including in the canonical Epistles.  The most profound o/Orthodox theology around Christian Baptism is actually uniting the convert to Christ’s Death, Burial, and Resurrection from the Dead, as the Holy Apostle Paul is well-known to point out (see Romans 6).  The early Fathers of the Church discuss how triple-immersion Baptism mimics burial in the ground and resurrection from the dead – done three times, once for each day the Lord spent in the tomb; or for His (1) Death, (2) Burial, and (3) Resurrection from the Dead; and of course for (1) the Father, (2) the Son, and (3) the Holy Spirit, as He commanded.  In fact some Christian sects baptized by single-immersion, and this was condemned by Ecumenical Councils as “baptism only into His Death,” as if not also into His Burial and Resurrection from the Dead.  Thus, even now, the unbaptized enter Orthodox Christianity by triple immersion.

Theologically, Orthodox Baptism unites you to the Lord’s Death, Burial, and Resurrection from the Dead – the Mystery of our Salvation.  In this way, you are united energetically – in His Energies, but not His imparticipable Essence – to Him, becoming a member of His Body, His Orthodox Church, just like His hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouth and nose, as St. Paul says repeatedly.  God’s All-Holy Spirit, of course, is “everywhere present, filling all things,” as Orthodox pray constantly in the prayer “O Heavenly King.”  But especially in Christ’s Body, whether during His three years on Earth, now in Heaven, or in His Body on Earth the Orthodox Church since Pentecost.  So it is as a member of Christ’s Body that you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you too after Baptism and the sealing with the Holy Spirit, Chrismation (“confirmation”), immediately after Baptism.  Thus is Adam and Eve’s sin, the Ancestral Sin, removed from you – through your “death,” “resurrection from the dead,” union with Christ Himself “who knew no sin,” and filling with His Divine Spirit.

Somehow much of this has been lost in Western Christian tradition, where baptism became associated only formalistically with water, washing, joining the church, and salvation, as exemplified by the old Catholic Encyclopedia article.  By which I mean that they may sometimes still say the words in the homily or in spiritual journals or theological essays, but as someone who studied for both Latin and Protestant ministries, I can say they lack the resonance that they have in an Orthodox Church that baptizes by immersion.  As the CE points out, non-immersion Baptism was (and still is, in Orthodoxy) always considered permissible in unusual circumstances – unavailability of sufficient water, illness or decrepitude, disability, maybe even a perceived need for secrecy in situations of persecution.  But according to this source (scroll to bottom), baptism by pouring became the usual method in the West just on the eve of the Protestant Reformation.  I am unable to find out why it did so even in the case of infants – the most common candidates for baptism – who should be pretty easy to dip!  But I have a theory: In what might be called ‘standing immersion,’ as with depictions of the Lord, water was poured over the candidate’s head – in o/Orthodox Christianity, perhaps evoking His Burial at least by completely covering the body with some water, even after the fashion of throwing dirt on the grave.  Now if the association of Baptism with Christ’s Burial and Resurrection from the Dead was essentially lost in the West, you were left with pouring water over the head without standing in water, a theology mostly of (merely) washing (ie, “washing away Original Sin”), and from there, the degradation of the rite and its associations in faith and practice, until you reach a point where a slightly-revived Immersion practice (post-Vatican II) is feared by some Latins as threatening the theology of the sacrament!  You even have the obsession of some Western schools of theology – Latin and Protestant, for and against – with the question of ‘how little is required to have a “valid baptism”?’, leading to exhaustive, contrived discussions of sprinkling, smudging, use of sand, baptism by a nonbeliever, even baptizing in utero, and all the other s/Scholastic excesses that never had any significant place in actual Western Christian life.  I don’t have specific historical information regarding how the association with Christ’s Burial and Resurrection from the Dead were essentially lost, except to cite the general erosion of o/Orthodox t/Theology in the West, especially after the final real loss of Communion by the West with the rest of the Church dated at AD 1054.  (Celt that I am, I’m developing a renewed appreciation for just how “dark” the “Dark Ages,” a Western phenomenon,* really became – tragically.  Why would God allow that?)

Under Western influence, some Orthodox dioceses (and apparently most Byzantine-Rite Eastern Catholics) temporarily adopted Baptism by Pouring as their main method in the 16-1800s, but I believe most if not all Orthodox now normally use some form of Immersion again.  There is some discussion about how to receive converts to Orthodoxy who have been previously baptized by various methods in Heterodox Christianity, and it has varied somewhat historically from time to time, from place to place, and from Heterodox church to Heterodox church, but I believe the most common method, at least in the United States now, is by Chrismation – as I was received into the Greek Archdiocese of America in 2002 – not seeing an absolute need for a fresh Orthodox Baptism given the situation here.  (It’s actually more complex than that, and I don’t have a firm grip on it myself, but this is the decision of our Bishops and Synods, whose responsibility it is.  Greek Orthodox Metropolitan ISAIAH of Denver, who I am under the impression is quite the theologian, discusses this pastorally in a couple letters to his clergy in 2000 here and here.  The Archdiocese also advises me that it’s technically on a case-by-case basis.)

(*–Remember that only in the West did the true Empire of the Romans fall in the middle of the first Christian millennium.  It lived on in the East for another 1,000 years, with civilization, urbanity, literacy, science, etc.  Constantinople was the world’s largest city outside China!)

From Eusebius, Oration of Constantine 12:

[D]octrine was entrusted to wise people. The truths they communicated could then be kept carefully and with pure consciences by their households. Then true, steadfast obedience to God’s commands could be established and produce boldness in the face of death. Such boldness comes from a pure faith and genuine holiness before God. Those who are armed like this can withstand the world’s storms…. They boldly overcome the greatest terrors and are considered worthy of a crown of glory. People like this don’t accept praise but know full well that God gave them the power to endure and to fulfill His commands zealously. Such people will always be remembered and will receive everlasting honor.*

(*–Hence the Orthodox prayer at death, “Memory eternal” — referring to the memory of God.)

What follows is an extended quote (from pp. 9-10) from Women and Men in the Church, a 1980 work/study by a committee of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). I’m still wrestling with all its implications, myself, but thought I’d offer it here as an example of an Orthodox approach to questions and issues:

Sacraments and Saints, Councils and Canons

The Holy Tradition of the Church is rooted and grounded in the Holy Scriptures and is thoroughly shaped by biblical words and images. It is expressed in the Church’s liturgical worship and sacramental rites, as well as in her ecumenical councils and canons, the writings of her fathers and the lives of her saints. It is expressed also in her sacred art, particularly the holy icons.

Of particular relevance to the issue of women and men in the Church are the following specific sources:

  1. The sacramental rituals, particularly those dealing with baptism, churching and marriage.
  2. The more than one hundred canons of the ecumenical councils which deal specifically with men and women in the Church.
  3. The writings of the Church fathers, particularly Clement of Alexandria, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and most especially Saint John Chrysostom.
  4. The liturgical services, particularly of the conception and nativity of John [t]he Baptist and the Virgin Mary; the Annunciation; the Nativity of Christ, the Presentation of Christ to the Temple; the Entrance of Mary to the Temple; the Dormition of Mary and many services to the saints, especially saintly women.
  5. The lives of the saints, particularly the women saints. The lives and acts of women martyrs and missionaries, as well as the women ascetics and married saints, especially those who bear the title “equal to the apostles.”
  6. The holy icons, particularly the icons of the Virgin Mary, [of] the liturgical festivals mentioned above, and [of] the women saints.

In these sources, and in these sources alone, are to be found the basic, essential and final revelation of the truth of God about women and men in the Church [emphasis in original]. All other sources are additional, and are to be judged and interpreted in the light of these sources, which means in the light of Christ and the Holy Spirit, as this light shines forth from God in the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church. This does not mean that the findings of “modern science” — biological, sociological, psychological, medical, political, economic [–] are unimportant and valueless. It means rather that they are subject to examination in the light of God’s revelation in Christ, the Spirit and the Church. It means that they are always limited and partial, and that they may sometimes simply be wrong; not “science” at all, but merely the opinions of persons who voluntarily or involuntarily are blinded by ignorance or evil. (See Romans 1:18ff). The final word in every instance belongs to the Word Himself, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God who remains the Lord and Master of all creation in the Church which is his body, “the pillar and the bulwark of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:15).

(Polished and expanded a little on 18 January 2008.)

How can Orthodoxy possibly dovetail with liberal Roman Catholicism?

  • Collegiality and conciliarity; no Papal Infallibility. While the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has some very supportive supporters, he’s really not supposed to be a worldwide ecclesiastical autocrat, merely “first among equals” among the bishops of the Orthodox Church, permanent chairman if you will. The Primates of Orthodoxy’s regional and national Synods wield alot of influence therein – some of it comes from being effectively CEOs of denominations – but they can still be challenged, even driven from power ‘from below,’ as recently happened with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and a few years ago with a Greek Archbishop of America. And as far as “faith and morals” go, we place our trust in Holy Tradition, not the decrees of individual Patriarchs.
  • Spirituality. See my early posts about God’s Uncreated Divine Energies, Light, etc.
  • Contraception. You’re supposed to talk it over with your priest, but it’s not the automatic sentence of mortal sin and eternal damnation like it is in the RCC … though some disagree, and are free to.
  • A sense of Church History. We’re not afraid to find out that our Patriarchs’ posts evolved, or that monks and laity overruled some Church Councils. Actually Church history is often liberating!
  • Deaconesses. See here.
  • Collaborative ministry. From the parish to the ecumenical council, priests and bishops are within their churches, not above them. Laity and lower clergy, even lay theologians, have always had a key role in the life of the Church. In some jurisdictions they even help select bishops, primates,* and patriarchs (as seen in 2007 in Romania), did anciently, sometimes since then, and may do so more again soon, for instance in the Moscow Patriarchate, whose 1917-1918 council authorized the practice as represented now in The Orthodox Church in America (OCA). (*–The Archbishop of Cyprus’ election has a very “American” feel, with campaigning, the equivalent of primaries, the election of an Electoral College, controversy, secular media coverage….)
  • Liturgy. It may be long, but it’s great, beautiful, magnificent, etc. etc.!
  • ‘Physical’ worship. All five senses adore the Lord in Orthodox worship; the whole body is involved, even more than in the Mass.
  • Real theology. Like I’ve said before, theology has really fallen apart in the West; some trace it all the way back to Augustine of Hippo. I’ve had 9 years of parochial school, 5 years of minor seminary and novitiate, 4 years with a minor in Theology, 6 years of grad school in Western theology … and still, every time I read Orthodox Theology, it’s a revelation!
  • Art and architecture. There’s nothing like Orthodox icons and churches.
  • Music. Good Byzantine or Russian chant just might cure you of the need for guitars!
  • Divorce and remarriage; a pastoral sense, non-legalism. We don’t bother with annulment, but your bishop can grant an ecclesiastical divorce, clearing the way for up to 2 more marriages. Despite (or Because of?!) being “orthodox,” we have a reputation for leniency, compassion in pastoral practice. It’s called economy, in Greek oikonomia, the opposite of acriveia or strictness, and called into play when an exception may be necessary rather than fear losing a soul’s salvation.
  • Patristics, incl. patristic social justice. The Fathers and Mothers of the Church are the source of the best Orthodox theology (though even “100 pct. of the Fathers are 85 pct. right!”). And how’s this for social justice?: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help” (St. Basil the Great).

A Fundamentalist who converted to the Latin Church wrote a book entitled Rome Sweet Home. I might call mine New Rome, Sweet Home: A Liberal Catholic Discovers Orthodoxy! (New Rome was the official name of Constantinople or Byzantium.)

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)!

…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!!!