Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Symbol of Faith: continuation of series on the Divine Liturgy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on October 28, 2008 at 11:25 am

“Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…” How can we dare to confess the holy dogmas of our faith, while we harbor hatred or unforgiveness in our hearts? The Church’s liturgy examines us carefully in this regard. So, the exchange of the “kiss of peace” is our guarantee of Christian charity and reconciliation, each person with his neighbor. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God… and thy neighbor as thyself.” Each rank of clergy and the laity, as necessary, then exchange a fraternal greeting before we confess our faith together. St Paul tells us, “faith…worketh by love” (Galatians 5: 6) and “greet each other with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13: 12).

The Symbol of Faith, or the creed (credo, Latin, “I believe”), consists of very specifically composed words which were authorized by the First Oecumenical[1] Synod held in the city of Nicaea in A.D. 325, augmented by the Second Oecumenical Synod held in Constantinople in A.D. 381, and sealed with divine authority by a synodal decree at the Third Oecumenical Synod held in Ephesus in A.D. 431. The exact wording is so important to the maintenance of the faith, that even the addition of a single word is cause for ceasing to be Orthodox. This is exactly what took place over the Roman Catholic Church’s addition of the word, filioque “and the Son,” thus introducing a distortion of the dogma of the Holy Trinity.  Imagine a compass heading for a large ship sailing the Pacific Ocean. A mere one-degree error of heading by the compass would yield a massive error in sailing, by the time the ocean was crossed. The ship’s pilot would miss his port by hundreds of miles! Thus, we carefully preserve “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

Before the common recitation of the Creed begins, we hear the diaconal exclamation, “The doors! The doors!” This is a call to secure the doors between the nave and the narthex, in order that no unworthy person, heretic, or persecutor, or unbaptized, be allowed in. During the recitation of each of the twelve articles of the Creed, the church annunciation bell is struck once, if such a bell exists in the parish. This striking of the bell underscores the sobriety and seriousness of our confession. The Creed is truly the flag of the Church. As the recitation continues, with the voice of the whole of the people, not merely the reader, the priest takes up and waves the aer (the covering cloth) over the diskos and chalice. Such actions, as this waving or fluttering of the aer, are amenable to a very great many interpretations of a fine spiritual nature. For example, many see in this a depiction of the hovering of the Holy Spirit, Who is about to descend upon the gifts. “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1: 2). At the words, “and He ascended into heaven,” the priest folds up the aer and resumes waving it in a circular motion over the gifts. From the beginning, many liturgical actions arose from very practical purposes, such as to keep any flying insects from alighting upon the prepared holy things, now uncovered (see Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, which is the text of the ancient Clementine Liturgy). Unlike those who see only exterior meaning to things, we Orthodox see both: the waving of the aer to keep off flies as well as symbolizing the earthquake which occurred at Christ’s resurrection or the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, among many other meanings, as with all holy things.

[1]  the classical style of spelling is employed here to avoid confusion with the word, “ecumenical,” which refers chiefly to relations between the Orthodox Church and heterodox Christian communities.


The augmented litany: commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on October 28, 2008 at 11:11 am

The Augmented Ektenia, and the Peace be to all!

Once the gifts have been placed on the Holy Table, a prayer and a litany are offered which sum up all our desires for salvation in every state of life. We “complete our prayer unto the Lord” by appealing to God for the fulfillment of our needs, culminating in the greatest need of all, “that we may have a good defense before the fearful judgment seat (bema) of Christ.” This petition is important, since the name of the very place where the gifts have been placed is the bema, “the judgment seat,” one of the many names for the altar. We realize that the judgment is not only in the future, but even right now! Are we ready to meet the Lord? Will we be found worthy to partake of Him?

With this sober reality before us, once again we hear the holy words to calm our hearts, “Peace be to all!” Now we will confess our faith together, but this again is never done without a deep connection to our spiritual state. Without inner peace, what can mouthing empty words mean?

It is interesting that we heard “Peace to all!” just before the high point of the first half of the liturgy; namely, the reading of the Holy Gospel. Now we hear it again, just before we celebrate the climax of the second and more solemn half of the liturgy, the Holy Eucharist itself.

The Great Entrance (Offertory); continuation of series on the Divine Liturgy

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity on October 7, 2008 at 5:16 am

The Cherubic Hymn and the Great Entrance

After two very brief ektenias in which the celebrant prays for worthiness and the proper spiritual disposition to celebrate the Eucharist, the Cherubic Hymn is sung, very slowly with great ornamentation and beauty. This hymn is an expression of our emulation of the holy angels who accompany the Lord in glory. The image is actually drawn from the ancient Roman military ritual of acclaiming a new emperor. The soldiers would hoist the newly chosen leader on a shield and all would point their spears straight up, and utter their oath of loyalty, thus the words in the cherubic hymn, “the King of all, Who comes invisibly up-borne (“carried with raised spears”) by the orders of angels.” Thus, we present ourselves in an angelic state, bearing the Lord Himself as we utter the thrice-holy hymn (which is about to be sung in its oldest form, in the anaphora, discussed below). Most importantly, we now put aside (actually, apothometha, ‘let us reserve for later use,’ as in our expression, “put by,” or “save for later”) the cares of daily life. These cares are not bad or sinful, merely mundane and transitory. We ought, then, to leave them for later action, as we place our attention fully on the holy oblation. God does not want us to shirk our daily and mundane responsibilities; however, He does want us to put them in proper perspective. Right now, all else is secondary to the Eucharist.

While the choirs are singing the cherubic hymn, the priest says a prayer beseeching God for the grace to serve Him without offence in the coming Eucharist. There, we learn that Christ Himself is both the Chief celebrant and the Victim: “for Thou Thyself art He that offereth and is offered.”  There is a special censing, showing the solemnity of the moment.  After this censing, during which the celebrating priest prays Psalm 50 (LXX), the most profound expression of repentance in the entire Bible, he makes a reverence toward the people. This is the expression of reconciliation and forgiveness we must extend to each other, if we are to “bring our gift to the altar” in a worthy manner. We ought never to liturgize, clergy or laity, if we bear ill-will against another human being.

The procession leading to the Great Entrance divides the cherubic hymn in the middle. Whereas in the Little Entrance, the Gospel-book is borne, symbolizing Christ’s appearance in His public ministry, so now in this Great Entrance, the diskos and chalice are borne, symbolizing Christ’s willing self-oblation in His holy passion (suffering), death, and burial for our salvation. The deacon bears the diskos, and the priest the chalice, and they are preceded by candle-bearers and cross. In antiquity, there was a separate building or side-chapel where the bread and wine were prepared and lodged. As this part of the liturgy approached, the deacons would take up the gifts and bring them in a procession to the bishop who awaited them in front of the altar. Now, we keep the gifts on the prothesis, for there were they prepared in the proskomidia, earlier. The procession from the prothesis to the Holy Table marks the formal beginning of the anaphora or holy oblation (offering).  In the procession, special commemoration is made for all Orthodox Christians, including the chief hierarch of the local church and the diocesan bishop. In addition, we remember the civil authorities. It is always important to bear in mind that the Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church does not subscribe to any political party or specific political system. We do, however, pray for the welfare of the civil authority, recognizing that all authority comes from God (see Romans 13: 1). After remembering both the living and the dead, the procession is concluded by the completion of the cherubic hymn and the deposition of the bread and wine on the Holy Table. These are placed upon the antiminsion, a special cloth bearing the ikon of the repose of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This cloth is signed by the metropolitan archbishop of the local church over whose synod of bishops he presides, or by the diocesan bishop himself. The antiminsion is the authorization from the hierarch for the Divine Liturgy to be served at the specific church temple where it is placed. It is always protected, when folded up, by a red cloth called the eiliton.

There is also an interesting custom in my particular patriarchate (Antioch): while the procession bearing the bread and wine to be offered is taking place through the nave, the people reach forward and touch the phelonion (the large, outer vestment worn by the priests). In this way, they demonstrate the fact that the offering is indeed from THEM; i.e., the whole kosmos brings its gift to the Lord for His blessing.

While the Great Entrance is taking place, there is a dramatic shift in the tenor of the Divine Liturgy. There are no more readings and very little variable hymnody. The cherubic hymn now being sung is very ornate and reflective, even mystical in ethos. We are leaving the world and all transitory cares behind in order to complete the mystical sacrifice, bringing our whole life unto Christ our God for His holy blessing. Indeed, if the Great Entrance has been completed, the priest may not break off the Divine Liturgy for any reason, even if someone comes into the church requesting an emergency baptism for a dying person! In such a case, the priest must complete the Eucharist. Only then may he leave the Lord’s Presence.

Liturgy of the Faithful: prayers before the Offering (Great Entrance)

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity, Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on October 5, 2008 at 6:07 am

The transitional stage with ektenias:
of Fervent Intercession, of the Catechumens and their dismissal, and of the Faithful.

The transitional prayers now are said, in the form of several ektenias. An ektenia is a drawn out series of petitions announced by the deacon, to which the laity ought to actively respond. The usual responses are either “Lord have mercy” or “Grant this, O Lord”. These ektenias, or litanies, are sometimes shortened, or entirely omitted, depending on the local situation. The first very meaningful act which takes place after the reading of the Gospel is the procession of the prepared bread and wine from the prothesis, through the nave, to the Holy Table. This is accomplished in the Great Entrance, which will be discussed shortly. As mentioned earlier, important liturgical actions need proper preparation. Thus, the ektenias of this transitional section of the liturgy accomplish the proper disposition of the worshippers. We pray for all in the ektenia of fervent supplication (we say “Lord have mercy” now three times after each petition). Unlike the earlier Great Ektenia, we even pray specifically for persons by name, both living and departed. Here, specific names can be supplied to the deacon before the liturgy for mention in prayer. We mention only the names of Orthodox Christians aloud in these ektenias. If the laity wish to exercise their priesthood in behalf of the whole world, each and every one can offer his or her quiet, heartfelt intercessions in behalf of any and all persons. As the deacon will say shortly, “for any and all whom we have in mind.” To this the people affirm, “for any and all!” (In our Antiochian translation, “for all mankind”).

After beseeching God for the catechumens who are preparing to enter the Church, their dismissal marks the formal end of the Liturgy of the Catechumens. In the primitive church, the catechumens were ushered out of the synaxis of the faithful in the nave and the doors from the narthex to the nave were secured. In the beginning, the catechumenate was in a vibrant state of development. Adults came to Christ directly from paganism and thus needed long and thorough instruction in prayer, knowledge of Holy Scripture, and formation in Orthodox Christian ethics.  They had to rid themselves of many un- and even anti-Christian habits of thought, speech, and action. After Christianity was officially recognized, and even promoted by the state, the catechumenate fell into abeyance. But now, increasingly in our day and age, when paganism and unbelief flourish in so many places, and where the Christian spiritual and ethical conscience in society-at-large is in such precipitous decline, the adult catechumenate is increasingly being reinstated. Thus, it behooves us to encourage the catechumens, if not to leave, at least to stand piously to the side or to the rear, and to take their time to learn. So, whereas beforehand this litany in behalf of the catechumens was omitted, it now finds new currency as increasing numbers of converts are finding their way home to Orthodoxy. And, all of the faithful can hear in these words a dismissal of all evil thoughts, and an expulsion of every distraction.

Some are embarrassed to hear the diaconal command, “Let all catechumens depart!” Their embarrassment stems from a misunderstanding of the place of the catechumens in the holy Church. They do not yet possess the competency spiritually to share in the synaxis of the faithful. They cannot yet receive the Holy Mysteries and are working on the basic principles of Orthodox Christian life: repentance, baptism, confession of sins, fasting, humility, examination of oneself, obedience to our apostolic order, and the acquisition of Holy Tradition. Let us give them the space to gain these things before thrusting them into full responsibility! I have never catechized anyone who objected to this path of discovery. Once received into the Church, they are most likely never to deny their Lord by defiling their Orthodoxy.

With the dismissal of the catechumens, along with all those “for whom the liturgy is no concern” (dismissal, as said in the Romano-Byzantine liturgy in southern Italy in the first millenium of the Christian era) the synaxis of the faithful proceeds with as little interruption as possible. For now the faithful attend to the serious acts which lie before them: the bringing of the gifts of bread and wine to the Holy Table and the Eucharist itself. As St Justin the philosopher and martyr reports in his 1st Apology (written in the early 2nd century), “then we bring bread and wine to the president of the synaxis.”

Announcement! resumption of my commentary on the Divine Liturgy.

In Commentary on the Divine Liturgy for laity, Orthodox Christianity: liturgics on October 5, 2008 at 5:34 am

Dear blog-readers! Beginning with the very next post, I am resuming my commentary on the Divine Liturgy. Our precious liturgy is the God-given gift of eternal life and the very portal into heaven, while we live in the body. Why do we hesitate? Why do we draw back from holy confession? Why do we live in the dregs of the corrupting passions and do not ascend to the heights to meet the Lord of Glory? He awaits! “Go, tell my disciples that I wait for them on the mountain in Galilee”

In the next post, you will find the first post on the third section of the Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Faithful, or the Eucharist proper.

Having experienced the divine Mystagogy, let us not be of the world anymore, but be wholly Christ’s!

the scandal of particularity: or, how God gives us ONE sure life-saving cure!

In Orthodox Christianity: in general, Orthodox Christianity: sermons on October 5, 2008 at 12:32 am

There is a certain rugged and very focused particularity to our Orthodox Christian faith. This particularity is scandalous to the modern, so-called “tolerant” and liberalizing, relativizing spirit of the age. Our refusal, as Orthodox Christians, to play by the rules of modern religious discourse, chiefly by insisting in the unity of Truth and the importance of language for the purposes of proclaiming this Truth, has cost us martyric blood in the past (Roman period, islamic yoke, Latin yoke, communist yoke) and will no doubt do so again in the future.  Why cannot we Orthodox lighten up a little and grant some leeway here?

In ancient times, the living, eternal Fountain of Life, the Mystery hidden before the ages, the timeless Word of the Unbegotten Father, the Lord of creation, called ONE man, Abraam of Ur of the Chaldeans. This vocation took place some 4,000 years ago. In the pitch darkness of human decay and ignorance, of bestial existence steeped in the stinking rot of the passions, Abraam received the divine call to “leave his homeland and to go to a place where I (God) will show you.” Abraham, his new name–the insertion of the “H” is a new breath of life!–ceased living in the gross ignorance of polytheism and came to the light of FAITH. Many early descendants of Abraham followed him in this faith, trusting in “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” However, it took a while for the worshippers of the LORD (YHWH, the ineffable Name) to come to the more particular view, as follows: whereas an early Abrahamite could say, “I worship the God of my father, Abraham, exclusively. The other peoples have their own gods, but I ignore them and worship only the God Who called my father Abraham.” This early non-polytheistic faith is henotheism (hen, “one–as distinct from two or three” + theos, “God”); namely, the belief that one’s own God is to be worshipped exclusively, whereas the other gods named out there are to be ignored. A henotheist does not necessarily deny the existence of these other gods; he just does not do them obeisance.

By the time of the holy prophet Isaiah, this henotheistic tendency was clearly seen to be insufficient. After all the battles between idolators and the holy prophets preceding him, the clarity of truth shone through. Consider Elias’ battle with the priests of Baal. There could be no middle ground; either Baal is to be tolerated, or not! What a scandal! Elias mocked them in the midst of their stinking, bestial, and cruel rituals. Finally, they were thoroughly expunged from Israel. No tolerance whatsoever could be allowed.  The prophet Isaiah said, “Other gods had dominion over us, but we will not name them ever again. Only the Name of the LORD will we address.” and, “Thus saith the LORD, ‘I AM the LORD; there is no other god beside me.” This is no longer henotheism. It is true monotheism (monos, “only one” + theos, “God”). The monotheist considers the only God as worthy of universal adoration and allows for the existence of absolutely NO divine competitors. In short, monotheism is particular, in that the ONE GOD Who IS, is the maker of all things and, depending on the monotheistic view, must be worshipped.

The scandal of particularity is sharpened with the advent of the Son of God as man, born of the Virgin. Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and of Joseph “as it was supposed,” is confessed by us Christians as the only-begotten Son of God from all eternity.” We allow for no other Christ! As our Lord said, “salvation is from the Jews” (Gospel acc to St John). And, our Lord Himself warned, “Many will come after Me, saying, I AM (this is the Name of God; see Exodus 3:14). But do not believe them…” Now the particularity is deepened. With each step of more particularity, the height of divine therapy is increased. Like a skilled surgeon, our loving God locates the illness of our nature and by locating his living scalpel, He cuts more skillfully, excising sin and death and healing us by His own Life. Jesus our Lord, the Messiah, entered His holy Passion, Crucifixion, Burial, and life-giving Resurrection to bring us back to the Father. How precise! In the ONE person, Jesus, all are saved. St Paul taught the nations, “whoever confesses ‘Jesus is Lord’ … will be saved” Therefore, all other so-called leaders are at best quack doctors without a cure–or as bad as demons in the flesh who actively contribute to man’s illness: Socrates, Plotinus, Arius, Nestorius, Mohammad, Krishna, Siddhartha, Varlaam, Kant, Nietzsche, our modern so-called “new age” practitioners and yoga purveyors, as well as the revisionist so-called theologians, who are really only merchants of empty potions like 19th century old Western fake cures.

Have we arrived at the acme of particularity in the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the all-pure Virgin Maria, daughter of Joachim and Anna, in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago? In a sense, yes, because  we can go no farther : God the Word become Man for us and for our salvation. If we receive baptism into His life, we are transfigured and saved. However, how do we ensure that we are not deceived in this regard? How do we know that the Jesus Who IS, that He is the same as the one we believe in and call upon? How can we trust our experience of the same? Here the particularity goes yet further!

The Lord Jesus called only 12 apostles. This is particular! St Matthew tells us that He called to Himself “twelve apostles, that they should be with Him” and be sent forth in His Name. At the end of His Gospel He says to these twelve, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations…” St Peter confirms this particularity when he says (see Acts 10), “(Jesus) did not reveal Himself alive to all the people but to us who ate with Him and drank with Him”  And St John says, “That Which our hands of handled concerning the Word of Life, in order that you may have fellowship with us, for our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”  So, not everyone who claims to speak in the Name of the Lord can be believed! The scandal of particularity goes thus further. What church can be believed? What preaching? As St Irenaios of Lyons in ancient Gaul says, we must examine the credentials of preachers and bishops to ensure a saving belief. St Vincent of Lerins, “that which has been believed everywhere, at all times…” The canon of Orthodoxy is essential in saving us from spiritual fakes or, at best, sincere mal-practitioners.  Therefore, even in the Church, we discern between true teachers and those who are to be disqualified since they lack true theology. We embrace St Paul (and not Valentinus), Ignatios (and not Montanus), Clement of Rome (and not Sabellios), Athanasios (and not Arios), John the Golden-mouth (and not Plotinus), Basil the Great of Cappadocia (and not Macedonios), John Cassian (and we take Augustine of Hippo with a large grain of salt), Antony (and not Evagrios), Gregory of Rome (and not Honorius), Gregory Palamas (and not Varlaam the rationalist and his scholastic ilk), Mark of Ephesus (and not the false unionists of Florence), and in modern times the discernment is still with us.  We listen to Nektarios of Aigina, Silouan of the Holy Mountain, and not to Athenagoras of Constantinople or Sergius of Moscow.

The criterion of Orthodoxy is HOLINESS! All false ways are sterile and cannot produce saints. Where are the saints of the heretics, the schismatics, the false unionists, the sectarians? Even within the Church, as one becomes Orthodox, there must be a personal particularity. Just going through the sacraments does not end this particularity. Just because I bear the epithet, Orthodox, does not mean this ever-refining particularity is complete.  I have my spiritual father-confessor to whom I entrust my soul for therapy and healing. Each of us works this out in an intensely personal and unique way. There is struggle throughout, since we actually take up the fight against the inner passions which war against us, “the flesh” as the New Testament calls it, and also the unseen warfare against the powers of wickedness which take advantage of our flight from God to further deceive us.  But when a man turns to the Lord, confesses Jesus as Lord, submits to Him in holy Baptism and is cleansed, receives life-giving Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ and continues in the holy teaching of Christ in His holy Church, walks in the commandments of God (“ye are my friends if ye do what I have commanded you”), seeks absolution through the apostolic gift of holy confession and repentance, accepts in humility the holy therapy given by his spiritual father and walks in holiness, “visiting the orphans and widows and keeping oneself unspotted from the world” in other words, holy asceticism, he will “taste of the Kingdom of God before he dies.”

Is this still a scandal? Or is this LIFE itself?  Particularity does not find its completion until the “I” the “ego” becomes fully and completely a new little christ, re-created after the image of the prototype, the New Man, Jesus Christ, in Whom all the deity dwells bodily, to Whom all glory, honor, and worship are due, as to His Unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, life-creating and undivided Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.