Author Archives: gldstrm

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (10)

​We enter the church through the water of baptism. Water, as such, has a washing, cleansing and life-giving properties, so it is naturally used in the world of religion. For example, in Japan, people undergoing spiritual training will pray and meditate under waterfalls, even in the harshest of weather. In Judaism there is a rite similar to baptism called Tevilah, a purification ritual which involves immersion in water, which is used for the baptism of converts and for other things. One difference from Christian baptism is that Tevilah can be repeated while Christian baptism can be done only once.​On a certain level we can see baptism as an initiation ritual. On a natural level again, when we enter a new group (e.g., a new school, the army, a club) there is often some ceremony of welcoming the new member of the group. From that point of view, baptism is the ceremony of welcome into the church.
​Another major purpose of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. These days baptism is usually administered to children so the idea of baptism for the forgiveness of sins may seem odd. However, baptismal texts go back to the earliest days of the church when most candidates for baptism were adults, so that the forgiveness of sins was seen as one of the key functions of baptism. Because baptism can only be administered once, people in the early church often postponed baptism until late in life.
​Another aspect of baptism is participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as Christ was in the grave for three days, in baptism we go down into the waters of baptism three times. Just as Christ rose to new life after three days, we are reborn after rising from the water. As St. Paul writes in Romans 6:3-5:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. “
​On a historical note, the original meaning of the Greek word baptism means immersion into water, so this is the preferred method for Orthodox baptism, although baptism by pouring is also practiced.
​In the New Testament, the first reference to baptism is the ministry of John the Baptist. St. John’s baptism was for forgiveness of sin and did not grant eternal life. As St. John himself says comparing his baptism to that which would be given later by Jesus Christ.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Mt 3:11)
​The baptism of Jesus Christ by St. John is the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. Christ did not need to be baptized but he allowed Himself to be baptized to show his solidarity with the whole human race. Also, by undergoing baptism Christ gave an example of what human beings will need to do to be saved. Finally, by going down into the depths of the water, Jesus purified all waters. In the Bible and in pagan writings, it is thought the sea monsters, or dragons, lurked in the water. This view came about because water has death-giving as well as life-giving properties.
​Of course, for us Orthodox baptism is immediately followed by Chrismation, the anointing with chrism, which is a special kind of oil. This combination of baptism with water and anointment with chrism is often see as “illumination”. In other words, those who were in the darkness of sin and death are brought to the light of eternal life.
Finally we can say that the mission of the church is to fulfill Christ’s command given at the end of St. Mathew’s Gospel:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Mt 28:19)

 Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (9B)

As mentioned earlier, it is necessary to venerate icons to demonstrate our faith that Jesus is True God and True Man, God in the flesh. It we were to scorn icons we would be saying that Jesus Christ is either not true man or not true God, which would be heresy.​However, there is an important distinction to make, as those saints who defended icons say, there is a difference between worship and veneration.

​As noted above, the defense of icons was undertaken by many Christian clerics, monastics and lay persons. There are two saints especially connected to the theological defense of icons

​In the first period the great defender of icons was St. John of Damascus (676-749AD). St. John was a Christian and who was raised in Damascus under Muslim rule. These Muslim rulers were quite tolerant of Christianity and many Christian Arabs worked in the Muslim government. St. John’s father wanted a good Christian education for his son and hired a Sicilian monk to teach him both secular and religious subjects. As a result of his education and talent, St. John was given an important position in the Muslim Caliphate’s government. When iconoclasm started in Constantinople St. John wrote three “Apologetic Treatises Against Those Decrying the Holy Image”. In other words, defenses of the veneration of icons. Ironically, because St. John lived in the Muslim territory, the Byzantine emperor could not take action against him. However, the emperor forged a document claiming that St. John was conspiring against the Caliphate. The Caliphate dismissed St. John and had his right hand cut off. Tradition tells us that his hand was restored through the intercession of the Mother of God. St. John retired to St. Sabbas Monastery near Jerusalem where he lived until his death. In addition to his defenses of icons, St. John also wrote many other theological works, including many of the liturgical texts and hymns the Orthodox Church uses today.

​In addition to what was said earlier about the differences between worship and veneration of icons, St. John declared that he did not venerate matter, meaning the paint and wood of the icon, but rather the creator of matter, that is God. Also, he stated that it was permissible and even necessary to venerate material things because Jesus Christ had entered the material world so that matter itself can be a means of grace.

​The great defender of icons in the second iconoclast period was St. Theodore the Studite. St. Theodore was a monk and later abbot of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Studius, near Constantinople. St. Theodore made the Studite Monastery a center of scholarship and piety. Many of his writings are included in the Lenten Triodion, the service book the Church uses during Great Lent. When the second iconoclast period began St. Theodore wrote three “Refutations of Iconoclasm”. As a result of this St. Theodore was exiled and died in exile before the Triumph of Orthodoxy, which is writing had helped to accomplish. St. Theodore wrote that we can venerate icons because Christ became incarnate.

​“If anyone should say that when the image of Christ is displayed it is sufficient neither to honor nor dishonor it, those refusing it the honor of relative veneration, he is a heretic.”

​We can see that St. John of Damascus and St. Theodore the Studite gave verbal form to the church’s veneration of icons, defending it from ancient, as well as modern iconoclasts.

​Sometimes Orthodox Christians are accused of ‘worshipping’ icons. However. St. John made the point that worship (latreia) is due to God alone. We worship only God. However we offer veneration (proskynesis) to icons, as well as to relics, the Gospel book, and so on. And this is quite natural and human. We like to have photographs of our loved ones around us and may even kiss the photograph of our departed parents, for example. This is a natural kind of proskynesis. We stand and salute or place our hands on our hearts when the flag is raised. So it is quite natural that we ‘venerate’ objects which convey deep meaning to us.

​One of the things that the iconoclastic period shows us is that as important as the role of theologians, bishops and even empresses had played in the history of the Church, it is the whole people of God, clergy monastics and laity, have the duty to recognize and hold and defend the faith., In the iconoclast controversy the lower clergy and laity were not passive before a battle of emperors, empresses and bishops, but rather played an important role in the defense of the faith. Once again, we see that many Christians today are paying with their lives in defense of the faith. We should help them, as we can pray for them, and try ourselves to be knowledgeable about our faith.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (9a)

One of the things that strike a non-Orthodox visitor on the first visit to an Orthodox Church is the icons. Icons are everywhere. They lie on stands and are hung on walls.
There may be frescos or mosaics. Orthodox Christians kiss icons, light candles around them and pray to the person depicted on them. Icons are an essential part of Orthodoxy.
Icons go back quite early in Christian history, although not many early icons survive because they were destroyed by iconoclasts, as we shall see in a moment.
According to tradition, St. Luke, author of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, painted icons of the Virgin Mary.We are not sure how many icons of her he painted but he is usually credited with at least two. He is said to have painted an icon Hodightria (the Directress, or the one who shows the way). These icons show the Mother of God pointing to the infant Jesus who is sitting on her lap. The point is that she is directing us to her Son, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Another icon by St. Luke is the Eleousa (Merciful, Tenderness). This icon shows St. Mary embracing the Christ child and the Christ child embracing or caressing His mother.
It makes sense that St. Luke should have painted an icon of the Mother of God. St. Luke appears to have written the part of his Gospel that describes the circumstances of Christ’s birth from her point of view. We are not sure where the originals of St. Luke’s icons are now, but icons in these styles are found everywhere in the Orthodox world.
Another icon from the early days of the church is the icon ‘not made by human hands’. The story behind this icon is as follows: King Abgar of Edessa was suffering from leprosy. He heard that Jesus Christ was a great healer so he sent a servant to Jesus to ask him to come to Edessa and cure him. Christ told the servant that He could not come to Edessa. However, Christ took a piece of cloth and pressed it o his face and his face miraculously appeared on the cloth. The servant took the cloth to King Abgar who put it on his body and was healed. This icon of the Holy Face is called the Mandylion and the icon ‘Not Made by Human Hands’ because it was not painted by an artist. This icon eventually ended up in Constantinople, from where it was stolen by a crusader in 1204. Its current location is uncertain.
These narratives of St. Luke’s icons and the Mandylion would be difficult to ascertain historically but they show that the memory of the church knows that icons go back to the earliest period of the church.
In spite of this, in the early 8th century the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperor Leo III banned icons. He ordered the icons to be taken out of churches, monasteries, public places, and homes. This is known as iconoclasm or the smashing of icons. This is the first iconoclast period which lasted from 730-787AD. Many Orthodox Christians suffered arrest, torture, and death in defense of icons. No one is quite sure why Leo began this campaign against icons. One theory is that he was influenced by Islam, which is against icons. Some say that he was influenced by the Old Testament which forbade the making of images of God (Ex 20:4). This prohibition made sense in the Old Testament period because no one had seen God, so the image of God would have been a product of human imagination and fantasy and so would have been an idol.
However, things changed radically in New Testament times when Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, and Word came into the world. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. As St. John writes “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father’?; (Jn 14:8-9)

 

“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied,” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father’?; (Jn 14:8-9)

And

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God;” (Jn 1:1-2)

So because Jesus is God in the flesh He can be depicted in icons.
In any case, Emperor Leo was succeeded by his son Constantine V, who continued his father’s policy as did the next emperor Leo IV. However, when he died his son Constantine VI was still a child so his mother Irene became regent, ruling in place of her young son. Irene was a supporter of icons and so called a council which later was known as the 7th Ecumenical Council or Nicaea 2. During the lifetime of Empress Irene and the next two emperors, icons were venerated, but a new campaign against icons was begun by Emperor Leo V. This is the second iconoclast period which lasted from 814-843AD. This policy was continued by his son Michael II. But when Michael died Empress Theodora became regent for her young son Michael II and she ordered icons to be restored on the first Sunday of Great Lent in 843AD. From this time to the present the day is celebrated as the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Fr. John

 

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (8b)

As the 5th century went on a new false teaching arose. This false teaching so emphasized the divinity of Jesus Christ that his humanity was reduced to nothing. This may seem strange to us. We naturally believe that Jesus Christ is a human being. But in ancient times, there was a strong sense that God could not really become human. People who were raised on Greco-Roman philosophy could not believe that God Himself could be hungry, thirsty or tired. This was inconsistent with their notion of God. They would say that all of Christ’s physical needs were a kind of “show”. Some even said that when Jesus walked he did not leave footprints in the sand. And, of course, Jewish people could not accept that the Messiah would die a painful, shameful death on the cross. Again, a ‘play acting’ Jesus could not truly transform humanity from within. This is why the Church has always held on to the humanity of Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ had to be truly God to conquer sin, death and the devil, but he also had to be truly human to help us. A council was called in Chalcedon to address these issues. The council said that although there is only one divine person in Jesus Christ, there are two natures, divine and human. Therefore, this council was defending the humanity of Jesus Christ.​There are Christians who do not accept the Council of Chalcedon. These people affirmed that there is only “one divine nature” in Jesus Christ. The Christians are sometimes called “monophoysite” (mono-physis = one nature). They are also called non-Chalcedonian Christians or Oriental Orthodox, and include the Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian churches. However, as a result of further study and ecumenical dialogue beginning in the 20th century, theologians have come to see the difference between the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Christians as linguistic verbal differences rather than differences in belief. We can hope that God will lead us to heal this schism.
​Some people thought that this stress on the two natures was a falling back to the Nestorian heresy which said there was only a connection between the divinity and humanity of Christ. To make it clear that the Council of Chalcedon was not Nestorian, the Emperor Justinian (It is interesting to note that the Emperor Justinian was a skilled theologian, as his activities on behalf of the church show. It was a strong tradition in the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire that laymen and women could be theologians. This held true to the very end of the Eastern Empire. In the West, theology early on became a matter for clergy, not for lay people. Justinian was also renowned as a builder. He commissioned the building of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) Basilica in Constantinople [now Istanbul] which for many centuries was the greatest church in Christendom. After the Muslims conquered it, it became a mosque and is now a museum. Justinian also commissioned the building of St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai, one of the oldest, still functioning monasteries in the Christian world.) called a council in 553 to reiterate the Orthodox teaching that Jesus Christ is one, divine person in the two natures, human and divine. To express this poetically Justinian wrote the hymn “Only-begotten Son” which we sing at ever Divine Liturgy.
Only-begotten Son and immortal Word of God, Who for our salvation didst will to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, Who without change didst become man and wast crucified, Who art one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit: O Christ our God, trampling down death by death, save us!
​We can see, then, that the 1st to 5th ecumenical councils were concerned with showing how Jesus Christ is related to God and humanity. This was not for the sake of theological controversy or debate, but rather to be sure that Jesus Christ is truly our Savior.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (8a)

​In previous articles we looked at the first and second ecumenical councils. In this article we will look at the third, fourth and fifth ecumenical councils. But before we do this, we should go over some of the material about the first two, because really all the counsels are related. In a sense we could say that the theme of all the counsels is who Jesus Christ is and how He is related to God and to us.​In the early 4th century a priest of Alexandria named Arius began to preach that Jesus Christ was not God. Arius said that Jesus was the first being who was created, through whom God created the world, but he was still a created being, not God. This false teaching so disturbed the church and civil society that the emperor called a council of bishops to settle the matter in 325AD. The Fathers of the council condemned Arius and affirmed that Jesus is indeed God. The Fathers adopted the Creed which we sing at every Liturgy which says that Jesus is “…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made;…”
​So the first ecumenical council stressed the divinity of Jesus Christ, the second council (381AD) was called because there were people denying that the Holy Spirit is God. To combat this, the council added a section about the Holy Spirit in the Creed. We say that we believe “… in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;….”. In other words, the second ecumenical council affirmed that the Holy Spirit is God also.
​In the early 5th century a man named Nestorius became Bishop of Constantinople. When he became Bishop he learned that the Christians in Constantinople were venerating the Virgin Mary as “Theotokos”. Theotokos is a Greek word which is often translated as “Mother of God”. However, it literal means “the God bearer”. In other words, the one who has given birth to God. Nestorius did not like this because he thought it was incorrect to say that Mary is the Mother of God. Nestorius said that she should be called “Christotokos” (the one who bore Christ) or “anthropotokos (the one who gave birth to a man). Nestorius said that there was a division between the Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, and the Jesus Christ who was born of the Mother of God. He said that there was a connection between the two, but they were not the same.
​At one point Nestorius said that the Word of God dwelled in the man Jesus as in a temple. The problem with this, of course, is that the word of God can be said about all holy men and women. This means that the difference between Jesus Christ and other holy people is a matter of degree. One would say that the word of God dwells in Jesus to a great degree than it does in other holy people. It would be a difference of quantity, not quality, so to speak. In a sense this is a very modern false teaching. Most people, Christian or non-Christian, have good things to say about Jesus. People see him as a great spiritual leader, a moral teacher and so on. Some Buddhists see Jesus as an enlightened being, some Hindus will say that Jesus is an incarnation of God. Even some Jews will say that Jesus was a charismatic rabbi. It is indeed wonderful to see Jesus Christ praised this way, but all of this praise falls short of confessing that Jesus is “true God of true God.” This is what Nestorius denied and the council of Ephesus affirmed. In other words, Nestorius denied that the son of Mary is truly God. Again, we have a denial that Jesus is God. In order to deal with this problem a council was called in 431 AD in Ephesus. The council stated that the Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary is indeed the eternal Son of God. There is not just a connection between the two, but they are one. This council said that it was proper to call the Virgin Mary “Theotokos” because she is the Mother of God. This was the third ecumenical council which defended the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Fr. John