Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Orthodox Faith – The New Testament – Church History (5)

The Orthodox Church, like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and some others is a hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons who conduct the services, preach and so on. So the hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons are the three orders of the church. Actually, the laity are also an order of the church without which there would be no church, but discussion of this issue will be left aside for now.

Of course, we know that in addition to the 3 abovementioned clergy there are also archbishops, metropolitans and patriarchs. However, these all belong to the order of bishops. An archbishop is usually the bishop of a large diocese, and an archbishop can be an honorific title. Our bishop is Archbishop Michael, leader of the Diocese of New York, consisting of the states of New York and New Jersey. A metropolitan (the word comes from the Greek word for a large city) is, in principle, a bishop who in some sense the superior of the bishops of smaller dioceses. In our Orthodox Church in America, the highest ranking bishop is Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop of Washington and Metropolitan of All-America and Canada. A Patriarch is the leader of an autocephalous church. In some churches the Metropolitan is the leading bishop, in others an archbishop is the leading bishop and in some others a patriarch.  It is important to realized that archbishops, metropolitans and patriarchs are all members of one order of bishops. A metropolitan, archbishop or patriarch cannot go to another bishop’s diocese without the permission of that bishop.

In the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to the above-mentioned orders of the clergy, there are the cardinals and the pope. The cardinals are “princes of the church” who help and advise the pope. Interestingly enough, cardinals are usually bishops. Theoretically a priest, deacon or even a layman or lay woman could become a cardinal.

The Pope is a different matter. In the Roman Catholic Church the Pope is the superior of all other bishops, priests and laity. The Pope is infallible in certain circumstances. In other words, if he is speaking on a matter of faith and morals with full authority he can declare a dogma which binds every member of the Roman Catholic Church. In practice, the Popes have exercised infallibility only a few times, but he does possess this authority.

The Pope also has immediate jurisdiction over every person, clergy or lay, in the Catholic Church. For example, the Pope can appoint or depose every member of the Catholic Church. Of course, we as Orthodox reject this. 

Before the schism in 1054, the Pope was honored as “first among equals”. This is not because Christ gave the Pope any special powers, but rather because the Pope was the bishop of Rome, the first city of the Roman Empire. When Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople became the second Patriarch of the Roman Empire.

Having spoken of the four orders of the Church, bishop, priest, deacon and the laity, we have to realize that many Protestant Churches completely reject the notion of a hierarchy. When they read the New Testament, they say that they don’t see such a hierarchy. Many of these churches have the kind of hierarchy the Orthodox church has. They may have pastors, deacons, elders or something similar. They strongly oppose the kind of hierarchy we have. However, we will see the biblical basis of our hierarchy in the next article.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Bible – The New Testament (4)

St. Paul is one of the most important figures in the early church. He was born a
Roman citizen. It is important to remember that not all the inhabitants of the Roman
empire were Roman citizens. Roman citizens had certain important rights that non-
citizens did not have. Roman citizenship could be granted by the government, it could
be bought, or it could be inherited. St. Paul was born a citizen in the city of Tarsus. He
was also known as Saul. Many Jews had two names, a Hebrew one (Saul) and a
Greco-Roman name (Paul). Tarsus was a fairly large city, an important trading center.
It was a very diverse city so young Paul had contact with people of different religions,
nationalities and languages.
As a young man St. Paul was sent to Jerusalem to study with the famous rabbi
Gamaliel, and he became a rabbi. St. Paul was a Pharisee. As he says in Acts 23:6,
….”Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the
resurrection of the dead I am on trial.”
The Pharisees were a sect within Judaism. They tried to live strictly according to
the Jewish law.
At first St. Paul was a persecutor of Christians. He first appears in the Bible in the
Book of Acts. He is present when St. Stephen was stoned to death.
“Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their
garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. “(Acts 7:58)
When he gets older he becomes a violent persecutor of Christians.
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the
high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found
any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts
9:1-2)
However, as he is riding to Damascus the risen Christ appears to him:

“Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven
flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul,
Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said,”I am
Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what
you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6)
It is important to understand that after Jesus appeared to Paul, he did not go on to form
his own idiosyncratic religion. Rather he went to a Christian, Ananias, who taught him
the basics of Christianity and baptized him. Shortly thereafter, St. Paul began to preach
the Gospels to the Jews. However, as the majority of the Jews would not accept Jesus.
St. Paul directed his preaching to the Gentiles (non-Jews).
“But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted
what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly,
saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you
thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the
Gentiles.” (Acts 13:45-46)
One of the more important aspects of Paul’s Christianity was his attitude to the
Jewish law. As stated earlier, St. Paul was a Pharisee, and the most important aspect of
being a Pharisee was the strict observance of the Law. St. Paul, before he became a
Christian, tried very hard to observe the Law, but always felt he wasn’t succeeding. He
was always frustrated. So, when he became a Christian he realized that one is not save
by observing the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. St. Paul’s letter to the Roans and
Galatians deal with this issue.
This attitude towards the Law is rooted in Jesus’ attitude. We remember that
many times He was accused of breaking the Law. For example, of violating the law
against working on the Sabbath or the food laws. As Christ said
“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27)

Also, we have to remember the controversy over the Law and gentile believers.
In other words, when the Apostles began to preach to the Gentiles, some of the Jewish
Christians thought that the Gentiles who converted to Christianity also had to observe
the Jewish Law, that to become Christian one had to become a Jew first. This
controversy roiled the early church. If a convert to Christianity had to become Jewish
too, then Christianity would simply have been a Jewish sect. However, the apostles met
in Jerusalem in the 1st church council, decided that gentile converts did not have to
observe the Law.
“Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the
disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that
we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Therefore, my
judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should
write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is
strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:10-11, 19-20)
Traditionally, St. Paul is considered to be author of thirteen letters. Some
scholars deny the direct Pauline authorship of some of the works, but St. Paul’s
teaching is seen in all. Also, we should mention that about half of the Book of Acts is
about St. Paul, his conversion, his missionary journeys, the persecution he suffered and
finally his arrest and journey to Rome for trial.

Fr. John