William (aka Bill the Godfather)

William (aka Bill the Godfather)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Music of the Russian Orthodox Church





The BBC recently did a news report on the summer school for liturgical music held at Holy Trinity Monastery (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). You can listen to this wonderful program here.

Hat tip to Fr. John Whiteford.

Quote of the Day

"Because modern minds are very sick, as minds, and Benedict XVI has a modern mind, like millions and millions of modern people, including churchmen, around him."

-Richard Williamson (schismatic Roman Catholic & bishop vegante) explaining in part why he believes Pope +Benedict XVI is a heretic.

Read the rest here.

Caution & disclaimer: This above link is to a traditionalist Roman Catholic web site that is sympathetic to the schismatic SSPX and is known for controversial and sometimes extremist posts. The reader is advised to approach with care.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ad Orientem

"Praying toward the East is handed down by the holy apostles, as is everything else. This is because the comprehensible sun of righteousness, Christ our God, appeared on earth in those regions of the East where the perceptible sun rises, as the prophet says: 'Orient is his name' (Zech. 6:12); and 'Bow before the Lord, all the earth, who ascended to the heaven of heavens in the East' (Cf. Ps. 67:34); and 'Let us prostrate ourselves in the place where His feet stood' (Cf. Ps. 67:34); and again, 'The feet of the Lord shall stand upon the Mount of Olives in the East' (Zech. 14:4). The prophets also speak thus because of our fervent hope of receiving again the paradise in Eden, as well as the dawn of the brightness of the second coming of Christ our God, from the East."

St. Germanus of Constantinople.

Questions about money? Ask the OCA...

From the web site of the Orthodox Church in America:
SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] — On Tuesday, August 22, 2006, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, announced the debut of a new section on the Orthodox Church in America web site [www.oca.org] that will enable interested individuals to submit questions and obtain answers regarding the financial situation of the Church.

"The objective of this new feature will be to initiate and continue a dialogue between the faithful of the Church and the central Church administration," Metropolitan Herman said. "All questions are welcome, and we will attempt to the best of our ability to provide answers in an open and timely manner.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rome Orthodoxy and the big "D": Are we closer than we think?


While I am on the topic of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), I am thinking that perhaps its time to briefly discuss one of the more common complaints I hear from my former co-religionists. That is the dreaded “D” word. Divorce. Even among the many Catholics who are friendly to Orthodoxy this is a sticking point. They complain about how we permit divorce. This is not a subject I am very comfortable with, but its one worth talking about. Let’s start by briefly stating where the two churches are on this.

The RCC’s position on divorce is pretty clear (as is their official position on most subjects). They don’t allow it. They don’t recognize it. It does not exist as far as they are concerned. They affirm that marriage is a sacramental contract being permanent and therefore is indissoluble. Those who are divorced may still commune provided they do not attempt to remarry. The RCC bars remarried Catholics from the sacraments.

By contrast the Orthodox position on divorce is less rigid or legalistic. In Orthodoxy, Holy Matrimony is not a contract; it is the mysterious or mystical union of a man and woman - in imitation of Christ and the Church - in the presence of "the whole People of God" through her bishop or his presbyter. In Orthodoxy marriage is also considered permanent and divorce is seen at the least as a manifestation of sin and in many cases as a sin in and of itself. (It’s worth noting here that our understanding of sin is different from the Western Church’s, but that’s a topic for another day.) A major point of difference is the approach to the reality of divorce.

Orthodox Christians condemn it but acknowledge that it exists. In some rare cases most Orthodox will even tell you it may be the lesser of evils. Typically these can be reduced to what I once heard described as the three “A”s, abandonment, abuse and adultery (if it’s persistent). I think I might even add another “A” and suggest apostasy on the part of a spouse as a possible justification. I am not talking about an Orthodox Christian who becomes Roman Catholic or Baptist. I am thinking more along the lines of the husband who comes home and says “Honey guess what. I have converted to Islam and next week we are moving to Saudi Arabia where I just know you will love meeting my three new wives.”

While condemning the reality of divorce Orthodoxy is more concerned with the causes of this tragedy and healing the soul wounded by it. Pastorally the divorced Orthodox Christian is treated as someone who has fallen on the road to God and is in need of help as opposed to blanket condemnation. This help typically consists of confession coupled with spiritual counseling which might last a while and possibly a period of being excluded from Holy Communion. This doesn’t mean we condone divorce. We don’t. But it does mean we live in the real world as did the apostles (1 Cor 7:12-16). Jesus himself seems to have affirmed at least the possibility of divorce in cases of adultery and grave immorality (Matt 5:32 & Matt 19: 9). Even the RCC now permits in grave cases civil divorce without being barred from the sacraments. This was not true until fairly recently (of which more in a bit).The crux of the difference between Rome and Orthodoxy is less our attitude towards divorce than towards remarriage.

The Second Marriage:

Many RCs (and way too many Orthodox) are under the impression that in Orthodoxy you have a right to be married three times. That’s a serious error. Presuming compliance with the canons of the Church the Orthodox Christian can claim the right to one marriage blessed in the Church. Second marriages are NOT a right. Indeed the Orthodox Church severely frowns on them. This is true even in cases where the second marriage is the result of the original spouse dying. That’s because in Orthodoxy a valid marriage is not presumed to end with death. However in some cases a second marriage (and in rare cases a third) are tolerated through oikonomia and a condescension to human weakness. This is the decision of the local bishop under the guidance of the particular synod of bishops.

The rules for this will vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and even between bishops in the same jurisdiction. However, generally second marriages are allowed out of pastoral concern for the divorcee/widow who might otherwise have great difficulty in life. Also the concept of annulment is not really known in Orthodoxy. Most Orthodox jurisdictions don’t have juridical courts which weigh the background of a marriage and pronounce it valid or not. In many cases there is a presumption that a failed marriage was spiritually defective from the word go. By contrast the RCC has a peculiar position. It unconditionally forbids second marriages on the part of the divorced but permits with no reservation a fourth or more marriages on the part of the widowed. In Orthodoxy fourth marriages are forbidden.

A legitimate question might be asked about the history of this issue. Without going into the kind of detail that would turn this essay into a short book, it is generally acknowledged that remarriage after divorce was known in the East as early the fifth century. Tolerance for the practice was confirmed at the council of Trulla (692) and various lesser synods. What is not as widely known is that divorce and remarriage also existed in the West. In fairness it must be admitted that it was less common than in the East and had largely been suppressed by the late eighth century. As is often the case, the Fathers can be quoted effectively by both sides though again in fairness some of them were very severe in their criticism of second marriages.

Today:

Until fairly recently the RCC excommunicated anyone who had a divorce. Thus the sacraments were not only withheld from those who remarried but from those who were divorced for any reason. Since the Second Vatican Council this position has evolved into the present policy of excluding only remarried divorcees from communion. But is this a fair description of the RCC’s policy? Or is it closer in practice if not perhaps theory to Orthodoxy than some would like to admit?

Since the late 1960’s the number of so called annulments issued by the RCC world wide but especially here in North America has increased exponentially. There were just 400 granted in the US in 1968 but by 1978, the church handed out 45,000 (an increase of 11,250 percent). By 1983 67,000 annulments were granted in the United States. The number has leveled off since then, but still exceeds 60,000 annually! Theory aside; I would respectfully argue that the Catholic Church does in fact grant divorces. They just call them annulments. That’s not intended as a shot at the RCC but a simple statement of belief backed by statistics. It is well known and has been widely reported in Catholic publications that annulments are easily available to those with money or the right connections. From an historical point of view this has always been true, though it has become far more pronounced in recent decades.

Is this immoral? Strict conservative Catholics have been bent over this for a long time. But I would suggest that in some ways the Roman bishops are being better pastors by acknowledging human sin while striving to reinforce the weak soul. This fairly blatant nod and wink at divorce and remarriage probably keeps people in the Church who might otherwise be lost. Even the most liberal RC bishop is unlikely to give someone more than one marriage annulment. So the “annulled” Catholic knows when he presents himself for marriage number two that he better get it right this time. This is not really that far removed from the practice in Orthodoxy, even if there are a lot of legalistic hoops to jump through.

All this is not to say that we Orthodox do not have our own problems. I mentioned that there is a widespread belief that any Orthodox has a right to be married up to three times in the Church. In far too many cases clergy do little to disabuse the faithful of that false belief. In some places second marriages are indeed permitted too liberally in my opinion. The jurisdictional soup that we deal with outside of traditionally Orthodox countries also makes things harder. If your Greek bishop will not allow you to remarry or wants you to wait a year before doing so why just slide on over to the Antiochians or the OCA (example only not to be taken literally) and one of them might marry you with less hassle. One blessing is that from what I have been able to glean from various sources it seems that some Orthodox bishops are becoming increasingly reluctant to allow third marriages in all but the most unusual cases. Some even prohibit them altogether unless both previous marriages ended with the death of the spouse.

In closing it should be emphasized that even when second marriages are permitted they are not occasions of joy for Orthodox Christians. They are in fact quite penitential in their form. This applies even to widows. There are no crowns and the entire service is subdued with a heavy emphasis on our human failings and imploring the mercy of God, without which we can not hope to be saved.

Whatever happened to the Inquisition?


OK. I, no longer being a member, am a bit reluctant to criticize the Roman Catholic Church. And I have to admit that since my conversion my interest in what’s going on in the Latin Church has been steadily waning. It’s not that I have no sympathy for the people suffering though all of the silliness that now reigns in the American Catholic Church. Rather I have just reached a point where it does not affect me and I am not loosing sleep over it. But this is just over the top! I mean really. If I had read this bulletin without knowing the source I would have wagered my next paycheck it was from an Episcopal Church in San Francisco. A quick quote from this week’s bulletin of St. Joan of Arc (SJA) parish in Minnesota…
Call to Action Minnesota: Womenpriests Celebrate the Eucharist. On Saturday, September 23, 4-8 pm. Call to Action invites you to a Eucharistic Celebration with Regina Nicolosi presiding. Rev. Nicolosi was ordained as a womanpriest this summer. Following the Eucharist is a presentation by SJA parishioner Dr. Dorothy Irvin on "Ancient and Contemporary Models of Womenpriests and Deacons". Supper is included. FFI contact Judy McGuire at 612.927.6825.
Hello! Is anyone home? Is this not the same group of heretics recently excommunicated by the Roman Church for playing dress up as priests? Some quick investigating has revealed that apparently SJA has a reputation even in the very liberal diocese that it’s in for being so far out in left field that if the Earth were flat they would be in serious danger of falling off the leftward edge. Most of the rest of the bulletin is wacky liberal socio-political stuff. But if you have a strong stomach you can try reading the parish priest's comments column. I refuse to quote it on this blog

For the record the bishop of this diocese also recently created quite a stir when he silenced a well known and highly regarded priest whose orthodoxy (lower case "o") is unimpeachable. The priest was reasigned as the full time chaplain to a nursing home! This in a diocese that has many parishes with no priest.

Sancte Joannes Baptista ora pro nobis...

The Beheading of John the Baptist


Today is the commemoration of the martyrdom of the holy St. John the Baptist. It is a fasting day and one with a number of customs peculiar to Orthodox Christians. Food is not served on any form of platter or plate and the use of knives is discouraged. You can read more about this here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Trinity Cathedral in St. Petersburg (Russia) is badly damaged by fire


From the AP:

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - A fire raged through a 19th century cathedral in this former imperial capital Friday, collapsing the main rooftop dome and sending clerics scurrying to save treasured icons.

The fire erupted in the early evening and burned through scaffolding outside the soaring blue central dome of Trinity Cathedral, a duty officer at the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said.

The central dome collapsed and one of four smaller cupolas surrounding it — painted a striking light blue and in some cases spangled with gold stars — was also destroyed, St. Petersburg emergency department spokeswoman Lyudmila Rubasova said. There were no reports of injuries, she said.

Firefighters battled to save the other three cupolas as emergency workers and church employees removed icons and other religious articles. A helicopter brought in to fight the blaze dumped water on the historic structure.

About four hours after the blaze broke out, Rubasova said one of the three remaining cupolas had been damaged but that the fire was contained. A department spokesman later said the fire had been extinguished.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but acting St. Petersburg emergency department chief Leonid Belyayev said the blaze apparently started on scaffolding on the outside of the church, which was undergoing restoration.

He said the most valuable icons and other items had been saved, and that structural damage beneath the roof area was minor.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1835. State-run Rossiya television said the main dome was the second-largest wooden cupola in Europe, and Channel One said that writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky was married there.

It was used as a storehouse during the Soviet era and was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Islamic Persecution of Christian Converts in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Aug. 19 — From the scant personal details that can be pieced together about Lina Joy, she converted from Islam to Christianity eight years ago and since then has endured extraordinary hurdles in her desire to marry the man in her life.

Her name is a household word in this majority Muslim country. But she is now in hiding after death threats from Islamic extremists, who accuse her of being an apostate.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Russian Church Supports Conservative Episcopalians

The Russian news service Interfax has an article reporting that the Russian Orthodox Church has sent a letter expressing strong support for the conservative bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in their stand against the newly elected presiding bishop Catherine Jefferts-Shori. She is widely seen as an ultra liberal and a theological revisionist. My own reading of some of her statements and some of the public prayers she has uttered suggest that she is not far removed from Unitarianism. The letter expresses a willingness to restore contacts with those Episcopalians who “remain faithful to the gospel’s moral teachings.” The Russian Church severed all ties (purely of an ecumenical nature since the Orthodox do not hold communion with non-Orthodox) in 2003 following the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is a divorced man openly living in a homosexual relationship. Just what all this portends is something we will have to wait and see. But it might prove interesting to watch. Perhaps there might be some effort to bring some of these disaffected conservatives back into Orthodoxy. The Antiochian Archdiocese has an active Western Rite Vicarate. Let us pray!

Big hat tip to Fr. Huneycutt over at Orthodixie.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Yet another Quote...

This is turning into a good day for quotables....
“They’re the meanest things in creation,” he said delightedly. “I was so excited to get it. It’s the worst pet on earth.”
-Dr. William Leo Smith (ichthyologist) disucussing his stargazer, a highly venomous fish that also produces an electric shock.

Read the story here.

Quote of the Day (runner up)

The Episcopalian Community is not a Church. They have no Apostolic Succession or Eucharist. However, some of their ministers are excellent golfers. That can not be denied.
Freeper Bornacatholic

Quote of the Day

You only know God to the extent you love your enemies.
Fr. Stephen Freeman (OCA) over at Pontifications

Experts hope to get derailed Catholic-Orthodox dialogue back on track

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches has been derailed for six years. In mid-September, 60 ecumenical experts will try to get it back on track.

The Catholic-Orthodox international dialogue commission is meeting in the Serbian capital of Belgrade Sept. 18-25, in what Pope Benedict XVI has optimistically described as a "new phase in dialogue."

That the encounter is taking place at all has been described as a big step forward by Vatican officials. Representatives from 10 Orthodox churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church, will attend.

But church officials also recognize that it wouldn't take much to send the whole enterprise off the rails again.

For one thing, the two main topics of the meeting are papal primacy and the role of Eastern Catholic churches -- two of the sorest points in Catholic-Orthodox relations.

Read the rest here

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mother of 2 faces death by stoning

Ah... the religion of peace strikes again.
Human rights groups and concerned individuals worldwide are demanding an end to stoning executions in Iran – and right now are pressuring the head of the Islamic nation's judiciary to lift the death sentence against a 34-year-old mother of two young children.

Malak Ghorbany was sentenced to death June 28 by a court in the Iranian city of Urmia after being found guilty of committing "adultery."

Under Iran's strict Sharia law, women sentenced to execution by stoning have their hands bound behind their back. They are wrapped from head to toe in sheets before being seated in a pit. The ditch is filled up to their breasts with dirt, and the soil is packed tightly before people assemble to execute the woman by pitching rocks at her head and upper body.
Read the rest here

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Seven un-Holy Sacraments

I would have to say these are some of the most pointed words written by an (American) Catholic Bishop that I have read in a while. It's not everyday a bishop compares one of the two main political parties in this country to the Nazis. Maybe I am going out on a limb here. But I have a feeling this bishop's words just might stir some controversy. Stay tuned.

From The Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford (IL)

Bishop Doran's Column
(8/10/2006)

Reaping the whirlwind of abortion

I want to touch on this matter before we get too close to the November madness. As human beings, as citizens of a “first world country,” as Americans, and as Catholics, most importantly, we have to take count of the circumstances in which we live. We know that the only creatures of God that outlast time are those created having intellect and will. All other things, with the passage of time, break up or break down.

Many of the issues that confront us are serious, and we know by now that the political parties in our country are at loggerheads as to how to solve them. We know, for instance, that adherents of one political party would place us squarely on the road to suicide as a people.

The seven “sacraments” of their secular culture are abortion, buggery, contraception, divorce, euthanasia, feminism of the radical type, and genetic experimentation and mutilation. These things they unabashedly espouse, profess and promote. Their continuance in public office is a clear and present danger to our survival as a nation.

Since the mid-1940s we have been accustomed to look askance at Germans. They were protagonists of the Second World War and so responsible for fifty million deaths. We say, “How awful,” and yet in our country we have, for the most part, allowed the party of death and the court system it has produced to eliminate, since 1973, upwards of forty million of our fellow citizens without allowing them to see the light of day. They have done their best to make ours a true culture of death. No doubt, we shall soon outstrip the Nazis in doing human beings to death.

I do not think that we should spend a great deal of time in lamentation over the children whose lives have been snuffed out by the barbaric practice of therapeutic abortion. They passed from their lives quickly in this world and have gone into the hands of the Lord of Life and Mercy for all eternity. We must make it clear too, that many who have sought to have practiced on themselves therapeutic abortion are in many instances driven to it by persons heedless of their welfare, or by well- meaning but inept parents or guardians who regard abortion as a solution and not as what it is — an immense problem. There are some, I think few, largely given over to immoral lives who regard abortion as a good, but their number is not great.

What we have to remember is that violence breeds violence. When we tolerate unjust attacks upon the tiniest innocents among us, we habituate ourselves to violence. And so we have allowed these barbaric practices to corrupt our laws, our medical practice, and even our ordinary lives. How accustomed we have become to the immense loss of life in our wars throughout the world! Those who have killed millions under their mother’s hearts cannot be expected to balk at a mere few thousand killed in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Somalia, in Darfur, in Bosnia, in Madrid, in London, in Baghdad, in Beirut, in Washington, in New York. The violence of abortion coarsens the lives of all of us.

Once it was said, “... for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) So we see the rise in the number of predations among youth, even among the youngest, the rise of domestic violence. We speak of road rage as a common thing. It is true what the theologians have said, that sin darkens the intellect, and weakens the will.

Having sown the wind of abortion we now reap the whirlwind. This appears in every quarter of our culture and on every day. And that just from the first of the “sacraments of death” of our secular human culture.

The toleration of sexual perversions among inverts, widespread contraception, easy access to “no fault” divorce, the killing of the elderly, radical feminism, embryonic stem cell research — all of these things defile and debase our human nature and our human destiny. Should we cry out with the prophet “To the mountains, ‘Cover us,’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us’” (Hosea: 10:8), lest other peoples see and, God forbid, imitate us?

I ran across, in one parish, prayers of the faithful with the intention that “we pray for those who work and demonstrate for the cause of life and the unborn, the aged and the defected, that they may persevere in spite of the ridicule they receive sometimes, even from pastors and priests.” I shudder to think that might be true. We know from the sad experience of recent years that some Catholics (even among priests) are so warped and perverted from their Catholic vocation, that they are capable of enormities. But, they should know that it was no prelate or bishop or pope that said, “Suffer the little children to come to me and do not hinder them” (Matthew 19:14). The Invisible Head of the Church will one day come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire, particularly those who have either by acts of omission or commission, destroyed innocent human life.

It is the duty of every Catholic to support the work of the parish Pro-Life directors and commissions and to work for the extirpation from our society of all those who in any way foster or promote these things. I wholeheartedly endorse the activities of our Pro-Life Office in the sure and certain knowledge that divine justice will not allow those who act against human life to prosper.

These unholy sacraments of our secular culture are the seeds of the destruction of our nation.

Think for yourself: what nation that kills its young, perverts marriage, prevents new life, and destroys the family, kills those deemed useless, makes the war of the sexes into a real war, and manipulates the genetic basis of human nature, can long endure?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary

The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary: After the Ascension of the Lord, the Mother of God remained in the care of the Apostle John the Theologian, and during his journeys She lived at the home of his parents, near the Mount of Olives. She was a source of consolation and edification both for the Apostles and for all the believers. Conversing with them, She told them about miraculous events: the Annunciation, the seedless and undefiled Conception of Christ born of Her, about His early childhood, and about His earthly life. Like the Apostles, She helped plant and strengthen the Christian Church by Her presence, Her discourse and Her prayers.

The reverence of the Apostles for the Most Holy Virgin was extraordinary. After the receiving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles remained at Jerusalem for about ten years attending to the salvation of the Jews, and wanting moreover to see the Mother of God and hear Her holy discourse. Many of the newly-enlightened in the Faith even came from faraway lands to Jerusalem, to see and to hear the All-Pure Mother of God.

During the persecution initiated by King Herod against the young Church of Christ (Acts 12:1-3), the Most Holy Virgin and the Apostle John the Theologian withdrew to Ephesus in the year 43. The preaching of the Gospel there had fallen by lot to the Apostle John the Theologian. The Mother of God was on Cyprus with St Lazarus the Four-Days-Dead, where he was bishop. She was also on Holy Mount Athos. St Stephen of the Holy Mountain says that the Mother of God prophetically spoke of it: "Let this place be my lot, given to me by my Son and my God. I will be the Patroness of this place and intercede with God for it."

The respect of ancient Christians for the Mother of God was so great that they preserved what they could about Her life, what they could take note of concerning Her sayings and deeds, and they even passed down to us a description of Her outward appearance.

According to Tradition, based on the words of the Hieromartyrs Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), Ignatius the God-Bearer (December 20), St Ambrose of Milan (December 7) had occasion to write in his work "On Virgins" concerning the Mother of God: "She was a Virgin not only in body, but also in soul, humble of heart, circumspect in word, wise in mind, not overly given to speaking, a lover of reading and of work, and prudent in speech. Her rule of life was to offend no one, to intend good for everyone, to respect the aged, not envy others, avoid bragging, be healthy of mind, and to love virtue."

When did She ever hurl the least insult in the face of Her parents? When was She at discord with Her kin? When did She ever puff up with pride before a modest person, or laugh at the weak, or shun the destitute? With Her there was nothing of glaring eyes, nothing of unseemly words, nor of improper conduct. She was modest in the movement of Her body, Her step was quiet, and Her voice straightforward; so that Her face was an expression of soul. She was the personification of purity.

All Her days She was concerned with fasting: She slept only when necessary, and even then, when Her body was at rest, She was still alert in spirit, repeating in Her dreams what She had read, or the implementation of proposed intentions, or those planned yet anew. She was out of Her house only for church, and then only in the company of relatives. Otherwise, She seldom appeared outside Her house in the company of others, and She was Her own best overseer. Others could protect Her only in body, but She Herself guarded Her character."

According to Tradition, that from the compiler of Church history Nicephorus Callistus (fourteenth century), the Mother of God "was of average stature, or as others suggest, slightly more than average; Her hair golden in appearance; Her eyes bright with pupils like shiny olives; Her eyebrows strong in character and moderately dark, Her nose pronounced and Her mouth vibrant bespeaking sweet speech; Her face was neither round nor angular, but somewhat oblong; the palm of Her hands and fingers were longish...

In conversation with others She preserved decorum, neither becoming silly nor agitated, and indeed especially never angry; without artifice, and direct, She was not overly concerned about Herself, and far from pampering Herself, She was distinctly full of humility. Regarding the clothing which She wore, She was satisfied to have natural colors, which even now is evidenced by Her holy head-covering. Suffice it to say, a special grace attended all Her actions." (Nicephoros Callistus borrowed his description from St Epiphanius of Cyprus (May 12), from the "Letter to Theophilus Concerning Icons."

The circumstances of the Dormition of the Mother of God were known in the Orthodox Church from apostolic times. Already in the first century, the Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite wrote about Her "Falling-Asleep." In the second century, the account of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven is found in the works of Meliton, Bishop of Sardis. In the fourth century, St Epiphanius of Cyprus refers to the tradition about the "Falling Asleep" of the Mother of God. In the fifth century, St Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, told the holy Byzantine Empress Pulcheria: "Although there is no account of the circumstances of Her death in Holy Scripture, we know about them from the most ancient and credible Tradition." This tradition was gathered and expounded in the Church History of Nicephorus Callistus during the fourteenth century.

At the time of Her blessed Falling Asleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary was again at Jerusalem. Her fame as the Mother of God had already spread throughout the land and had aroused many of the envious and the spiteful against Her. They wanted to make attempts on Her life; but God preserved Her from enemies.

Day and night She spent her time in prayer. The Most Holy Theotokos went often to the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord, and here She offered up fevent prayer. More than once, enemies of the Savior sought to hinder Her from visiting her holy place, and they asked the High Priest for a guard to watch over the Grave of the Lord. The Holy Virgin continued to pray right in front of them, yet unseen by anyone.

In one such visit to Golgotha, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her and announced Her approaching departure from this life to eternal life. In pledge of this, the Archangel gave Her a palm branch. With these heavenly tidings the Mother of God returned to Bethlehem with the three girls attending Her (Sepphora, Abigail, and Jael). She summoned Righteous Joseph of Arimathea and other disciples of the Lord, and told them of Her impending Repose.

The Most Holy Virgin prayed also that the Lord would have the Apostle John come to Her. The Holy Spirit transported him from Ephesus, setting him in that very place where the Mother of God lay. After the prayer, the Most Holy Virgin offered incense, and John heard a voice from Heaven, closing Her prayer with the word "Amen." The Mother of God took it that the voice meant the speedy arrival of the Apostles and the Disciples and the holy Bodiless Powers.

The faithful, whose number by then was impossible to count, gathered together, says St John of Damascus, like clouds and eagles, to listen to the Mother of God. Seeing one another, the Disciples rejoiced, but in their confusion they asked each other why the Lord had gathered them together in one place. St John the Theologian, greeting them with tears of joy, said that the time of the Virgin's repose was at hand.

Going in to the Mother of God, they beheld Her lying upon the bed, and filled with spiritual joy. The Disciples greeted Her, and then they told her how they had been carried miraculously from their places of preaching. The Most Holy Virgin Mary glorified God, because He had heard Her prayer and fulfilled Her heart's desire, and She began speaking about Her imminent end.

During this conversation the Apostle Paul also appeared in a miraculous manner together with his disciples Dionysius the Areopagite, St Hierotheus, St Timothy and others of the Seventy Apostles. The Holy Spirit had gathered them all together so that they might be granted the blessing of the All-Pure Virgin Mary, and more fittingly to see to the burial of the Mother of the Lord. She called each of them to Herself by name, She blessed them and extolled them for their faith and the hardships they endured in preaching the Gospel of Christ. To each She wished eternal bliss, and prayed with them for the peace and welfare of the whole world.

Then came the third hour (9 A.M.), when the Dormition of the Mother of God was to occur. A number of candles were burning. The holy Disciples surrounded her beautifully adorned bed, offering praise to God. She prayed in anticipation of Her demise and of the arrival of Her longed-for Son and Lord. Suddenly, the inexpressible Light of Divine Glory shone forth, before which the blazing candles paled in comparison. All who it saw took fright. Descending from Heaven was Christ, the King of Glory, surrounded by hosts of Angels and Archangels and other Heavenly Powers, together with the souls of the Forefathers and the Prophets, who had prophesied in ages past concerning the Most Holy Virgin Mary.

Seeing Her Son, the Mother of God exclaimed: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God My Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate of His Handmaiden" (Luke 1:46-48) and, rising from Her bed to meet the Lord, She bowed down to Him, and the Lord bid Her enter into Life Eternal. Without any bodily suffering, as though in a happy sleep, the Most Holy Virgin Mary gave Her soul into the hands of Her Son and God.

Then began a joyous angelic song. Accompanying the pure soul of the God-betrothed and with reverent awe for the Queen of Heaven, the angels exclaimed: "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, blessed art Thou among women! For lo, the Queen, God's Maiden comes, lift up the gates, and with the Ever-Existing One, take up the Mother of Light; for through Her salvation has come to all the human race. It is impossible to gaze upon Her, and it is impossible to render Her due honor" (Stikherion on "Lord, I Have Cried"). The Heavenly gates were raised, and meeting the soul of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Cherubim and the Seraphim glorified Her with joy. The face of the Mother of God was radiant with the glory of Divine virginity, and from Her body there came a sweet fragrance.

Miraculous was the life of the All-Pure Virgin, and wondrous was Her Repose, as Holy Church sings: "In Thee, O Queen, the God of all hath given thee as thy portion the things that are above nature. Just as in the Birth-Giving He did preserve Thine virginity, so also in the grave He did preserve Thy body from decay" (Canon 1, Ode 6, Troparion 1).

Kissing the all-pure body with reverence and in awe, the Disciples in turn were blessed by it and filled with grace and spiritual joy. Through the great glorification of the Most Holy Theotokos, the almighty power of God healed the sick, who with faith and love touched the holy bed.

Bewailing their separation from the Mother of God, the Apostles prepared to bury Her all-pure body. The holy Apostles Peter, Paul, James and others of the Twelve Apostles carried the funeral bier upon their shoulders, and upon it lay the body of the Ever-Virgin Mary. St John the Theologian went at the head with the resplendent palm-branch from Paradise. The other saints and a multitude of the faithful accompanied the funeral bier with candles and censers, singing sacred songs. This solemn procession went from Sion through Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane.

With the start of the procession there suddenly appeared over the all-pure body of the Mother of God and all those accompanying Her a resplendent circular cloud, like a crown. There was heard the singing of the Heavenly Powers, glorifying the Mother of God, which echoed that of the worldly voices. This circle of Heavenly singers and radiance accompanied the procession to the very place of burial.

Unbelieving inhabitants of Jerusalem, taken aback by the extraordinarily grand funeral procession and vexed at the honor accorded the Mother of Jesus, complained of this to the High Priest and scribes. Burning with envy and vengefulness toward everything that reminded them of Christ, they sent out their own servants to disrupt the procession and to set the body of the Mother of God afire.

An angry crowd and soldiers set off against the Christians, but the circular cloud accompanying the procession descended and surrounded them like a wall. The pursuers heard the footsteps and the singing, but could not see any of those accompanying the procession. Indeed, many of them were struck blind.

The Jewish priest Athonios, out of spite and hatred for the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth, wanted to topple the funeral bier on which lay the body of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, but an angel of God invisibly cut off his hands, which had touched the bier. Seeing such a wonder, Athonios repented and with faith confessed the majesty of the Mother of God. He received healing and joined the crowd accompanying the body of the Mother of God, and he became a zealous follower of Christ.

When the procession reached the Garden of Gethsemane, then amidst the weeping and the wailing began the last kiss to the all-pure body. Only towards evening were the Apostles able to place it in the tomb and seal the entrance to the cave with a large stone.

For three days they did not depart from the place of burial, praying and chanting Psalms. Through the wise providence of God, the Apostle Thomas was not to be present at the burial of the Mother of God. Arriving late on the third day at Gethsemane, he lay down at the tomb and with bitter tears asked that l he might be permitted to look once more upon the Mother of God and bid her farewell. The Apostles out of heartfelt pity for him decided to open the grave and permit him the comfort of venerating the holy relics of the Ever-Virgin Mary. Having opened the grave, they found in it only the grave wrappings and were thus convinced of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven.

On the evening of the same day, when the Apostles had gathered at a house to strengthen themselves with food, the Mother of God appeared to them and said: "Rejoice! I am with you all the days of your lives." This so gladdened the Apostles and everyone with them, that they took a portion of the bread, set aside at the meal in memory of the Savior ("the Lord's Portion"), and they exclaimed : "Most Holy Theotokos, save us". (This marks the beginning of the rite of offering up the "Panagia" ("All-Holy"), a portion of bread in honor of the Mother of God, which is done at monasteries to the present day).

The sash of the Mother of God, and Her holy garb, preserved with reverence and distributed over the face of the earth in pieces, have worked miracles both in the past and at present. Her numerous icons everywhere pour forth signs and healings, and Her holy body, taken up to Heaven, bears witness to our own future life there. Her body was not left to the vicissitudes of the transitory world, but was incomparably exalted by its glorious ascent to Heaven.

The Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated with special solemnity at Gethsemane, the place of Her burial. Nowhere else is there such sorrow of heart at the separation from the Mother of God, and nowhere else such joy, because of Her intercession for the world.

The holy city of Jerusalem is separated from the Mount of Olives by the valley of Kedron on Josaphat. At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where olive trees bear fruit even now.

The holy Ancestor-of-God Joachim had himself reposed at 80 years of age, several years after the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple (November 21). St Anna, having been left a widow, moved from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and lived near the Temple. At Jerusalem she bought two pieces of property: the first at the gates of Gethsemane, and the second in the valley of Josaphat. At the second locale she built a tomb for the members of her family, and where also she herself was buried with Joachim. It was there in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Savior often prayed with His disciples.

The most-pure body of the Mother of God was buried in the family tomb. Christians honored the sepulchre of the Mother of God, and they built a church on this spot. Within the church was preserved the precious funeral cloth, which covered Her all-pure and fragrant body.

The holy Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem (420-458) testified before the emperor Marcian (450-457) as to the authenticity of the tradition about the miraculous ascent of the Mother of God to Heaven, and he sent to the empress, St Pulcheria (September 10), the grave wrappings of the Mother of God from Her tomb. St Pulcheria then placed these grave-wrappings within the Blachernae church.

Accounts have been preserved, that at the end of the seventh century a church had been built atop the underground church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, and that from its high bell-tower could be seen the dome of the Church of the Resurrection of the Lord. Traces of this church are no longer to be seen. And in the ninth century near the subterranean Gethsemane church a monastery was built, in which more than 30 monks struggled.

Great destruction was done the Church in the year 1009 by the despoiler of the holy places, Hakim. Radical changes, the traces of which remain at present, also took place under the crusaders in the year 1130. During the eleventh to twelfth centuries the piece of excavated stone, at which the Savior had prayed on the night of His betrayal disappeared from Jerusalem. This piece of stone had been in the Gethsemane basilica from the sixth century.

But in spite of the destruction and the changes, the overall original cruciform (cross-shaped) plan of the church has been preserved. At the entrance to the church along the sides of the iron gates stand four marble columns. To enter the church, it is necessary to go down a stairway of 48 steps. At the 23rd step on the right side is a chapel in honor of the holy Ancestors-of-God Joachim and Anna together with their graves, and on the left side opposite, the chapel of St Joseph the Betrothed with his grave. The right chapel belongs to the Orthodox Church, and the left to the Armenian Church (since 1814).

The church of the Dormition of the Theotokos has the following dimensions: in length it is 48 arshin, and in breadth 8 arshin [1 arshin = 28 inches]. At an earlier time the church had also windows beside the doors. The whole temple was adorned with a multitude of lampadas and offerings. Two small entrances lead into the burial-chamber of the Mother of God. One enters through the western doors, and exits at the northern doors. The burial-chamber of the All-Pure Virgin Mary is veiled with precious curtains. The burial place was hewn out of stone in the manner of the ancient Jewish graves and is very similar to the Sepulchre of the Lord. Beyond the burial-chamber is the altar of the church, in which Divine Liturgy is celebrated each day in the Greek language.

The olive woods on the eastern and northern sides of the temple was acquired from the Turks by the Orthodox during the seventh and eighth centuries. The Catholics acquired the olive woods on the east and south sides in 1803, and the Armenians on the west side in 1821.

On August 12, at Little Gethsemane, at the second hour of the night, the head of the Gethsemane church celebrates Divine Liturgy. With the end of Liturgy, at the fourth hour of the morning, he serves a short Molieben before the resplendent burial shroud, lifts it in his hands and solemnly carries it beyond the church to Gethsemane proper where the holy sepulchre of the Mother of God is situated. All the members of the Russian Spiritual Mission in Jerusalem, with the head of the Mission presiding, participate each year in the procession (called the "Litania") with the holy burial shroud of the Mother of God..

The rite of the Burial of the Mother of God at Gethsemane begins customarily on the morning of August 14. A multitude of people with hierarchs and clergy at the head set off from the Jerusalem Patriarchate (nearby the Church of the Resurrection of Christ) in sorrowful procession. Along the narrow alley-ways of the Holy City the funeral procession makes its way to Gethsemane. Toward the front of the procession an icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is carried. Along the way, pilgrims meet the icon, kissing the image of the All-Pure Virgin Mary and lift children of various ages to the icon. After the clergy, in two rows walk the black-robed monks and nuns of the Holy City: Greeks, Roumanians, Arabs, Russians. The procession, going along for about two hours, concludes with Lamentations at the Gethsemane church. In front the altar, beyond the burial chamber of the Mother of God, is a raised-up spot, upon which rests the burial shroud of the Most Holy Mother of God among fragrant flowers and myrtle, with precious coverings.

"O marvelous wonder! The Fount of Life is placed in the grave, and the grave doth become the ladder to Heaven..." Here at the grave of the All-Pure Virgin, these words strike deep with their original sense and grief is dispelled by joy: "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee, granting the world, through Thee, great mercy!"

Numerous pilgrims, having kissed the icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, following an ancient custom, then stoop down and go beneath it.

On the day of the Leave-taking of the feast (August 23), another solemn procession is made. On the return path, the holy burial shroud is carried by clergy led by the Archimandrite of Gethsemane.

There is an article in the "Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate", 1979, No. 3 regarding the rite of the litany and Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Holy Land.

Today flowers are blessed in church, and people keep them in their homes. During times of family strife or illness, the flower petals are placed in the censer with the incense, and the whole house is censed. See the Prayer at the Sanctification of any Fragrant Herbage.

From the OCA web site

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Once a Priest Always a Priest? (part II)

As a follow up to the discussion on the nature of the priesthood and the Roman view of the indelible mark on the soul the following essay was brought to my attention.

Big hat tip to:
Priest Steven Ritter
St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
Atlanta, GA


Christian Priesthood and Ecclesial Unity: Some Theological and Canonical Considerations


By Professor Constantine Scouteris
School of Theology of the University of Athens


1. The records of the early Christian tradition leave no doubt that Christian priesthood is not a "function" necessary for the institutional being of the Church. Nor is it an autonomous, isolated and self sufficient office belonging to the ordained individual. It is rather a ministry related and belonging to the entire ecclesial body. We can think of it as an anaphoral reality which is always in reference to and leads to the saving communion of the Body of Christ.

From the very outset of Christian history priesthood is understood as a living testimony of the constant and continuing presence of Christ in every historic "now" of the life of the Church. It was viewed as a token of the Paschal fulfilment and parousia, bestowed to all Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit. This means that priesthood was considered as an integral part of the ecclesial reality, related with and proceeding from the pentecostal economy.

In order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the place of priesthood within the Christian community and to estimate its role for the ecclesial unity, it is important to stress its Christological and Pneumatological foundation. Any attempt to approach priesthood from a monistic point of view, i.e. as an autonomous subject, leads to the divergent altered scholastic interpretations and speculations foreign to the Apostolic tradition.

Even a cursory study of the New Testament data reveals the fad that all titles related to ministry and priesthood are rendered to Christ Himself Christ is "apostle and high priest" (Hebr. 3: 1); he is "priest" (Hebr. 8: 4), "teacher" and "Rabbi" (Matt., 23: 7-8); he is "a prophet ... and more than a prophet" (Matt. 11: 9); he is "the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls" (1 Pet. 2: 25), "the Chief Shepherd" (1 Pet. 5: 4). Christ is "among us as the one who serves" (Lk. 22: 27; he is the "diakonos" (Rom. 15: 8). In His priestly ministry Christ has "given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma" (Eph. 5: 2). In the New Testament Christ is both the victim and the priest who performs the sacrificing action". We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected for ever those who are being sanctified" (Hebr.10:1014).

In spite of the individual characteristics and significant differences in terms of perspective and style among such writers as Matthew, Paul, Peter and Luke there is nothing more striking than the essential unity amid all diversity. This unity is basically that of a common attitude to Jesus Christ. There is among all New Testament authors a common sense that Christ "is the head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence" (Col. 1: 18).

Thus, from the authors of the New Testament themselves, from their understanding and conception of Christ, we can attest that Christian priesthood is directly related with Christ's ministry. The point is that priesthood is not simply a result of Christ's service in the world, not duplicate or parallel to it service, but somehow is ontologically incorporated and identified with Christ's ministry. If the Church is Christ Himself extended into history, equally Christian priesthood is Christ's priestly office realized and extended in every historic period of the life of the Church. It is, so to speak, the reflection and the projection1 of the saving work of Christ throughout the centuries. This means that priesthood is so inextricably bound up with the Person of Christ that our perception of the historical Jesus and of His ministry involves and determines our view of Christian priesthood.

At the heart of the early Christian tradition stands the position that Jesus Christ is the "first-born" and the only Archpriest, according to Father's nature2. The Apostles and those consecrated thereafter received the gift of priesthood "from the power of Christ, the eternal priest"3. By asserting that priesthood is not to be regarded as isolated, but as an event which must be taken in close connection with the fact itself of Christ, we mean that the primary content of priesthood is neither individualistic and functional, in the narrow sense of the term, nor a moralistic but essentially Christological.

2. The Christological understanding of priesthood evidently leads to its Pneumatological foundation, given that "no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12: 3). In fact there is no way of understanding the Christological ground of priesthood other than by its Pneumatological dimension. It is only through the "economy of the Spirit" that we can approach the economy of the Son. The Holy Spirit was sent into the world through and in the name of the Son, in order to teach and bring to our remembrance all things that Christ performed for and said to us (John 14: 26). It should be observed in this connection that, in relating priesthood with Christ's ministry, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, we do not propose either an exclusive Christology or an exclusive Pneumatology. The economy of the Son and the economy of the Spirit are not parallel, distinct, independent or self determined divine actions. Theological autonomy does not correspond to orthodox Christology or Pneumatology. As the Son entered into the human reality "incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary", so also the Holy Spirit comes into the world, being sent by the Son, to be an unceasing testimony of His work (John 15: 26), i.e., to be a continuous historic possibility for the realization of Christ's ministry. Thus, through the Holy Spirit, Christ's priesthood remains present in the "here" and the "now" of the ecclesial life. It is through the Holy Spirit, that priesthood, in its historic manifestation, is related to Christ's priesthood. Christian priesthood and the priesthood of Christ belong together and should never be conceived as individually apart, given that the Holy Spirit fills with His presence the Church and manifests to all Christ.

The Christological and the Pneumatological aspect of priesthood are present in a harmonious compound. They are inseparably blended together in a unique synthesis. The Christian priesthood involves the participation in Christ's own priestly mission. It is precisely the personal descent of the Holy Spirit upon the newly-ordained that which guaranties this participation. This means that the ordained person through the Holy Spirit is directly connected with the priesthood of Christ. The theandric principium of the priestly grace is pneumatologically present in the concrete ordained person. Through the epiclesis and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the ordination, the priesthood itself of Christ is offered to the newly ordained and remains alive and effectual within the ecclesial body. Thus the Holy Spirit, which was from the beginning with the Son, creating the cosmos, leading and inspiring the prophets, incarnating the eternal Logos of God in man, being always with Christ, raising Him from the dead and constituting the Apostolic Church4, realizes Christ's own priesthood within the historic life of the Church. In other words, the Holy Spirit remains as the vital link between Christ's priesthood and the Christian priesthood. In considering priesthood in relation to Pneumatology, we are obliged to make special reference to the Pentecostal economy. It is well-known that for the Church, Pentecost is not simply a historic event, but rather a continuous and dynamic presence, an always going on vital and flowing life. The late Fr. George Florovsky makes the observation that "Pentecost becomes eternal in the Apostolic Succession, that is in the uninterruptibility of hierarchial ordinations in which every part of the Church is at every moment organically united with the primary source"5. Thus, through the ordained ministry, the entire ecclesial body is related to the divine economy. Priesthood becomes an instrument for the realization of the ecclesial communion, which is offered at every historic moment as a continuous pentecostal life. In this perspective, what we call "Apostolic Succession" does not represent a narrow canonical principle, nor an external continuation, but rather indicates and signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit, that unique gift which restrains the entire Church into the continuity of the charismatic life.

3. When adopting the view that Jesus Christ remains actively present, through the Holy Spirit, in the Christian priesthood, in fact we relate priesthood with the One God in Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Patristic understanding, both Christology and Pneumatology are always placed in their Trinitarian context.

Pseudo-Dionysius had the Trinitarian dimension and perspective of priesthood in mind when he declared that "the source" of the ecclesiastical hierarchy "is the font of life, the being of goodness, the one cause of everything, namely, the Trinity which in goodness bestows being and well-being on everything"6. The same notion is stressed by St. Maximus the Confessor who points out that "the true priesthood is type in all respect of the blessed divinity"7. Earlier St. Ignatius of Antioch recommended to the Trallians to "respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles"8. In a spurious treatise, attributed to St. Athanasius, a discussion is developed between an orthodox and an anomoean on the issue: "the bishop, the

presbyter and the deacon, like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit"9. We find a similar typology later, in the liturgical writings of St. Symeon of Thessalonica. There, Christian priesthood is called "divine", a definition parallel to that of St. Gregory of Nyssa who described priesthood as "divine matter" (theion chrema)10. St. Symeon following and quoting Pseudo-Dionysius says that "in the type of the Trinity we have three, the deacon, the presbyter and the bishop"11.

4. The Trinitarian foundation of priestly order reveals and emphasizes not only the divine origin of the Christian priesthood, but equally its communal character. If the communion of the three divine persons, that of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is the communion par excellence, and if priesthood in its threefold aspect, bishop, presbyter, deacon, is an image and a type of the Holy Trinity, then, consequently, the priestly diakonia is an event of communion. Priesthood in its essence is a communal reality. It is a way of communion with God, i.e., it is a peculiar communion in terms of the divine grace conferred in ordination. It is as well an intercommunion of Church ministry and a syndiakonia between the three ranks of the ordained priesthood.

The priestly diakonia, as a sacramental consecration, is not an abstract and mysterious appointment, but a concrete ministry deeply bound to the very being of the ecclesial communion. Through the ordination, every individual priest accepts a unique commission to serve a community. His mission is inseparably related and destined to a concrete ecclesial body. In the canonical tradition of the Eastern Church, it is prohibited to ordain a person "in abstracto" and in a general sense. An ordination without a specific appointment is not acceptable. The ordained person should always be associated with a parish, with a concrete Christian community. The sixth canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon is absolutely clear: "No one should be ordained without a concrete appointment. Neither presbyter, nor deacon nor any other in the ecclesiastical rank. The ordained must be designated to serve in a concrete ecclesial community of a city or of a village or of a martyr's sanctuary or of a monastery. The Holy Council has ordered that an ordination without a concrete appointment should be void and the person ordained should not have the right to serve anywhere. This punishment should be understood also as a disapproval of the bishop who ordained him".

The same is true of the bishops. The assignment for. a particular episcopal ministry is the sine qua non condition for his ordination. Both bishop, priest and deacon should be related with a concrete diocese, or congregation. This spiritual relation is a kind of matrimonial connection. Thus, any one of the clerics is dedicated to serve the flock which was assigned specifically for him. In order to guarantee this unique communion between the ordained and his faithful the First Ecumenical Council in its fifteenth rule declared a direct prohibition for all clergy to move from one place to another. Neither a bishop, nor a priest nor a deacon has the right to leave his place and go elsewhere.

Speaking of priesthood as a diakonia within the concrete ecclesial community we should underline the communal character of the ordination service itself. In any circumstance secret ordination is absolutely unacceptable12. The ordination is always an ecclesial praxis; a spiritual action realized within the body of the Christian community; it is open and public, before the community and together with the community. It is not performed by the bishop or the bishops alone, but by the bishop or the bishops, together with the other clergy and the congregation. In the eastern ordination the "axios", the "Kyrie Eleison" and the "amen", pronounced by the entire community, is not a mere ceremonial exaltation, but a responsible testimony and a way to express the ecclesial approval. This ecclesial approval is shown in a direct way by the exclamation pronounced by the deacon, both to the Bishop and to the congregation, before the ordination ceremony begins: "give the command" (keleuson, keleusate). These exaltations have deep ecclesiological significance. This means that the ordination is performed by the bishop or the bishops together with the entire people of God. The bishop is not acting alone, but as the person who has the sacramental power to ordain within and together with the Christian community. He is the person charismatically appointed to safeguard the unity of the Church, connecting, by what we call Apostolic Succession, the present with the initial fulfilment.

The canonical tradition of the Eastern Christendom and the patristic treatises are full of evidences and indications that all ordinations are inseparably connected with a given community, and through this concrete community with the catholic ecclesial body. In approaching the ordination of a bishop in this perspective, we can infer that the participation of at least three bishops has substantial ecclesiological meaning. The fourth rule of the First Ecumenical Council commends that the ordination of a bishop should be performed by all bishops of the district, and if this is not possible, because of practical difficulties, by at least three of them. Every bishop is taking part in the ordination of the new one as representative and as a living presence of his entire flock; and all of them are a visible image of the Catholic Church. Thus, the new bishop who is appointed to serve in a concrete diocese, through his ordination is related with the whole Church. The ordination of a bishop did not simply convey to the newly ordained juridical privileges, but elevates him to the relational rank of a catholic person and places him in the midst of the community as a living image and testimony of the ecclesial oneness.

The same is applicable for the ordination of a priest. Through his ordination the new presbyter is again existentially related, in a unique and specific way, to the entire Body of the Church, thus becoming himself an instrument for the edification of the ecclesial unity. This means that the ordination of a presbyter is not an isolated sacramental action, in itself and for itself, but a sacramental and spiritual event related to the concrete community and through it to the life of the whole Church. If we maintain that the Risen Lord remains present in the eucharistic community through the power of the Holy Spirit, and if we profess, as we have already done, that the presbyter through his ordination is directly connected with the priesthood of Christ by that same Spirit, then we can assert that the ordained person receiving the priesthood within the community and being a member of the Christian community has the vocation and commission to serve, in cooperation with Christ and the community, for the establishment of the kingdom of God in the entire world. Thus, the diakonia of priesthood is not limited and exhausted to the given community but in its eucharistic dimension is extended dynamically to the entire Christian body. Again every priest becomes through his ordination and the offering of the eucharistic sacrifice a catholic person.

5. Both the bishop and the presbyter, as celebrants of the Holy Eucharist, are the builders of the ecclesial unity. It is there, in the eucharistic bond that all believers are united together in the one sacred relation to Christ, the living Lord. In the Eucharist the people of God are indeed in a constant, personal and at the same time communal relation to Christ, the risen Lord. It is not accidental that all ordinations, already from the early Christian times, are liturgically and theologically inseparable from the eucharistic communion. The fact that the eucharistic gathering is the unique and exclusive locus for all ministerial consecrations asserts that the priesthood belongs to the eucharistic community. It is begotten for the community and because of this, every consecration is realized within the context of the eucharistic assembly. It is the reality of the people of God, gathered together in the eucharistic communion, that constitutes the basis for the existence of the priestly diakonia. Priesthood was born for the Church and within the Church.

The implications of this perspective are of paramount importance for both a theology of priesthood and an understanding of its role for the ecclesial unity. The first point we have to firmly stress once more is that priesthood cannot exist as such apart from the community. Priesthood is not an authority or a power above the community, nor a function or an office parallel or outside it. Priesthood is indeed intrinsically related to the eucharistic sacrifice, which is the central empowering event and the source of unity of the ecclesial community. This means that the local community finds its unity in the priest, in the sense that through him it forms a eucharistic body, sacramentally linked and canonically conjoined with the catholic fulness of the Church. Through the charisma given to the ordained person the ecclesial unity and catholicity is realized in a concrete place as eucharistic participation. Thus, Priesthood exists as a charisma which belongs not to an individual but to a person who is dedicated to serve the community. The words of Christ, addressed to His disciples, are significant and clearly describe the otherness of the priestly service. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many' (Matt. 20: 25-28. Marc 10: 42-45.

In his ordination the priest or bishop receives a power of a different level and order. One has to estimate this power in light of the eucharistic gathering. In fact we cannot think of a gift "possessed individually"13, nor of a juridical authority within the ecclesial body, but of a charismatic ministry belonging to all the people of God. One can talk of a divine economy, of a ministry which has catholic consequences and which ministers in the Eucharistic Synaxis as a force transforming the entire community to "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2: 5). Although priesthood elevates the community to the level of "a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Pet. 2: 9), it is the community which has always been the permanent and the efficient basis of priesthood.

6. In the Apology of the monk Leontius of Jerusalem, which was appended to the Acts of the Fourth Ecumenical Council14, we find an unusual and interesting narration that illustrates our discussion. A mime actor of the theater accused of subversive activity and homicide, fled his homeland in order to avoid arrest and judgement, retreating to the desert in a foreign land. After some time there, he once more met adversity, this time being captured a hostage by certain Saracen Christians. These Christians, reckoning he was a priest because of his external appearance, demanded that he celebrate for them the Holy Eucharist. His attempts to persuade his captors otherwise, were judged to be pious acts of humility prevalent among the holy ascetics. Not succeeding in convincing them he gave in to their obstinate demands and agreed to perform the ritual. At his instructions, they built together an altar table out of wood and straw, setting over it a woven cloth and on this they placed the bread and wine in a wooden cup. The imprisoned actor sealed the gifts with the sign and looking up to heaven, glorified the Holy Trinity. This was the only thing he did. After that he broke the bread and gave it to the Christians, taking the wooden vessel he gave them wine from the cup. Upon finishing the believers took with devotion the altar cloth and the cup leaving behind only the altar. Just as they were leaving the place of worship, fire fell from heaven and burned the altar without touching or harming any of the faithful and yet consuming the altar entirely, leaving nothing remaining of it not even ashes. Beholding this awesome and frightening sign, the grateful Christians wanted to recompense the one whom they thought to be a priest and asked him what he desired. He responded that the only thing he wanted was for him and those with him to be set free; the Saracen Christians set them free.

7. Leontios of Jerusalem is not discussing Eucharistic theology in his Apology. His intention was rather to expose the heresies of Nestorianism and Monophysitism and the possibility of miracles both in the Orthodox Church and in circles of schismatics and heretics. At any rate, the reference to Eucharist and priesthood it seems to me is useful for our discussion.

First of all, we observe that for the Christians in this narrative, priesthood has been understood as ark undoubted necessary condition for their communal constitution. As a Christian group, as a small ecclesial community could not exist other than in the fellowship with him who has the gift and the power of sacramental action. It is through the priesthood that the Holy Spirit abide in their fraternal gathering, transfiguring it to a pentecostal body. Although the person chosen to celebrate the Eucharist was not in fact an ordained one, the Saracen Christians took it for granted that he was a priest. There was no doubt among them that their community is fulfilled and integrated through the priestly ministry. Their communal being was precisely transformed into an ecclesial being through and in priesthood.

The second point we have to stress is that for the people in the narrative of Leontius, the Eucharist was considered as an indispensable necessity for their spiritual being, as a sacrament decisive for their ecclesial existence. Obviously, Eucharist here is not seen as an objectified ritual, disassociated from their corporate identity, but flows from the community itself. Indeed, Eucharist needs to be apprehended as a gift related to the community, both to the minister and the "laos". Nicholas Cabasilas says that the Eucharist is a command of Christ "to the Apostles and through the Apostles to the whole Church"15. In this sense Eucharist is not a praxis of an ordained individual but that of a community, i.e., performed by the priest together with the people. The Eucharist is a liturgical praxis; liturgical with the etymological meaning of the term (ergon laou), work of the people, not of one single minister isolated from the ecclesial community. In the final analysis the actor of the Eucharist is Christ Himself, through the priest and the community building up His Body in this way.

8. This kind of approach leads us to come to point that the priest does not possess in himself an indelible mark as if it were a magical seal which grant him a private efficacy to perform the Eucharist or any other liturgical action, apart from the ecclesial body. The priestly ministry is rather a charismatic gift to serve and edify the body of the Church. It is a permanent rank of service only in union and by the discerning authority of the Church.

The doctrine of the "indelible mark" attained at ordination to the priesthood seems to have originated in the Scholastic period of the Western Church. This same conception was at times borrowed by Eastern theologians thereafter. The teaching purports the grace of ordination as an indelible irrevocable mark upon the soul of the ordained individual that sets him apart for priestly service analogous to the Levite rank and the priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek in the Old Testament. It is interesting to mention here that the sixth Ecumenical Council in its 33rd canon condemns the practice of Armenian Christians who had embraced the Old Testament custom concerning the Levitic rank and did not accept for the priesthood anyone who was not of this so called "priestly lineage". The reasoning for the adoption of the Old Testament typology in both cases seems to be that an identification mark is a constitutive element of priesthood. In the later case it is conceived as an inherited trait, while in the former which concerns us here, it is viewed as irrevocably and individually attained at the ordination rite.

The logical conclusion of the "indelible mark" is that the ordained individual possesses forever this peculiar mark of priesthood which can never be removed by anyone nor can it be surrendered in any circumstance. It is evident that such a doctrinal consideration absolutizes and isolates priesthood from the event itself of the ecclesial communion. Priesthood here is distortingly objectified and over-estimated assuming a totalitarian magnitude. It is imposed over the Church which is unable to deprive the ordained. individual of its characteristic mark, even if he is unworthy to maintain the ecclesial grace. In fact this doctrine concerning the indelible mark divorces the priesthood from its organic context of the ecclesial life. Thus the ordained person possess a self sufficient power which is higher than the Church itself And the Church is not able to take back the indelible mark from an individual even if he is defrocked and excommunicated.

Interpreting the 68th Apostolic Cannon which refers to the impossibility of repeating the sacrament of ordination16, St. Nicodimos the Agiorite explains that ordination cannot be repeated because it is done according to the Type of the First and Great Priest who entered once and for all into the holy of holies and there granted eternal salvation. Yet, he unswervingly rejects the doctrine of the "indelible mark" of priesthood and attests that it is the "invention of scholastics"17. Nevertheless, according to St. Nicodimos, the doctrine is borrowed by Nicholas Bulgaris, Koresios and many other theologians of the past century and some still somehow adhere to it today.

Despite the fact that the indelible mark theory acquired dogmatic formulation in the Council of Trent18, in most circles of the Roman Catholic Church, after the Second Vatican Council, the foundational framework of effecient causality and ex opere operato, which gave rise to such an understanding of priesthood, is reckoned as belonging to a bygone age and abandoned for a more dynamic and ecclesiological approach of sacrament19.

It should be mentioned in this connection that as far as we know, no evidence concerning the indelible mark theory can be found in Patristic teaching. On the contrary, the canonical data leave no doubt that a defrocked priest or bishop, after the decision of the Church to take back his priesthood, returns to the rank of the laity. The anathematized or the defrocked are in no way considered to maintain their priesthood. The canonical tradition that in the case of his ministerial rehabilitation this person is not re-ordained does not imply a recognition that he was a priest during the period of his punishment20. It simply means that the Church recognizes that which had been sacramentally performed and the grace of ecclesiastical ministry is restored upon his assignment to an ecclesial community with no other sacramental sign or rite.

9. In the light of what has been said thus far, we may conclude saying that priesthood in no way is a ministry introducing division or classification within the ecclesial body. Between a priest and a lay person there is no legal distinction but precisely what we may call charismatic distribution. As we read in I Corinthians (12: 4-6): "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministry but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all". This means that through ordination a member of the Church is set apart in order to minister the sacrament of ecclesial unity. In the Patristic tradition, priesthood is never understood as an of five based on an objectified mark imprinted on the soul of the ordained person, but rather as an ecclesial gift, as a vocation aiming to edify the Body of Christ. It has been rightly said that an Orthodox understanding of priesthood is beyond any "ontological" or "functional" definition21. Priesthood cannot be considered in itself and for itself, but rather as relational reality. In other words, the only way to have an adequate understanding of the priestly charisma is to see it in its anaphoral dimension and in connection to the ecclesial communion.

NOTES

1. J. ZIZIOULAS, L' etre ecclesial, Geneve 1981,171.

2. Cf. Ignatius, To the Smyrnaeans 9: "... Christon Iesoun, ton prototokon kai monon te physei tou Patros archierea".

3. Cf. Justin, Dialogus 42,1: "... apo tes dynameos tou aioniou hiereos Christou".

4. N. NISSIOTIS, The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity for Church Life and Theolo- gy, The Orthodox Ethos, Oxford 1964, 39.

5. G. FLOROVSICY, The Sacrament of Pentecost, Creation and Redemption, Belmond 1976, 190.

6. Pseudo-Dionysius, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (PG 3, 373C).

7. Maximus the Confessor, Epist. ad Joannem episcopum (PG 91, 625A): "... he alethes hier osyne charakter esti dia panton tes makarias theotetos".

8. Ignatius of Antioch, Trall. 3,1. See also Magn., 6,1.

9. Athanasius, Dialogue on the Holy Trinity 27 (PG 28,1156 ff).

10. Gregory of Nyssa, De Vita Moysis II (H. MUSURILLO ed.,130,15-16; PG 44, 417B).

11. Symeon, De Sacris Ordinationibus CLV (PG 155, 364A).

12. See FLOROVSKY, op. cit. 192.

13. J. ZIZIOULAS, op. cit.,164.

14. J.D. MANSI, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, Vol 7, Graz 1960 (repr.), 8, 821.824.

15. Nicholas Cabasilas, A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy 28.

16. See also Canon 48 of Council of Carthage.

17. "... Hoi scholastikoi tegoun dioti aphinoun kai typonoun auta charaktera anexaleipton, hos tis kat' autous poiotes pragmatike enyparchousa te psyche kai dynamis hyperphyes" (The Pedalion, Athens 1970, 90). "Ho para ton scholastikon epinoetheis charakter ..:' (Ibid.).

18. Canon 4: "Si quis dixerit, per sacram ordinationem non dari Spiritum sanctum, ac proinde frustra episcopos dicere: Accipe Spiritum Sanctum; aut per eam non imprimi characterem; vel eum, qui sacerdos semel fuit, laicum rursus fieri posse, anathema sit".

19. See for example B. COOKE, Ministry to the Word and Sacraments. History and Theology, Philadelphia 1978 ('Third printing), 187 ff. T. O'MEARA, Orders and Ordination, in: The New Dic- tionary of Theology, 725-726.

20. ZIZIOULAS, op. cit., 233.

21. ZIZIOULAS, op. cit., 226-227.

Friday, August 11, 2006

That Demon Alcohol



This morning I had a very pleasant meeting over tea and coffee with my parish priest. We chatted for the better part of two hours covering a wide range of subjects. One of the topics which came up was that of drinking. I don’t recall exactly how it came up but I remember talking about Woodrow Wilson’s Navy Secretary Joesphus Daniels, a fire breathing puritan who was a passionate prohibitionist. His name is still an epithet among enlisted sailors in the Fleet as the man whose first order was to end the ancient tradition of the daily ration of rum in the Navy (1 pt per man per day) in 1913. The Navy remains dry to this day.

As part of the conversation I noted that there still exists a Prohibition Party here in the United States. So imagine my surprise when I pop online tonight to check email and the world news, and discover that prohibition is once again a hot topic in some parts of the country. The New York Times ran a fascinating article on efforts by some big business interests to repeal the few remaining blue laws that ban the bottle in some localities. Yes there are still a few towns and counties that are drier than Beefeaters Gin served straight.

This has made me do a little thinking on the subject. Since a particularly bad (some would say fun) night on the town in Barcelona Spain with some shipmates in 1988 my drinking has ranged between light and non existent. So, do I favor prohibition?

No. I am at heart a libertarian and trying to tell people how to live their lives by passing laws has always struck me as rather foolish. We have been down this road before and it did not work. I oppose prohibition for the same reasons that I oppose outlawing gambling, adultery, homosexuality and a host of other social vices. In a free country you can’t legislate private morality. Beyond which these sorts of laws are notoriously ineffective. I was once told by someone I greatly respected in the Navy that I should never give an order I was unable or unwilling to enforce. It reduces respect for authority in general and for me in particular.

Having said all that, the prohibitionists may be wrong but they are wrong for all the right reasons. It is futile to even attempt to argue that alcohol abuse is not one of the root causes of a lot of problems in this country. The vast majority of highway fatalities are alcohol related as are more than half of all violent crimes. Alcoholism and drunkenness contribute to family quarrels, child abuse, divorce, depression, suicide, marital indiscretion, and all manner of accidents (many of them fatal). It can also be a lead into other vices and addictions including gambling, drug addiction, prostitution, sexual depravity and the like. Our college campuses today have become dominated by a culture of drunkenness. Binge drinking is rampant among young people. How many times have we read the tragic story of some kid who died at a fraternity party from alcohol poisoning or from some form of alcohol induced stupidity? Ask yourself dear reader, how many friends, loved ones and acquaintances have you gone to funerals for at least in part because of booze? I have lost count.

Do I favor prohibition? No. But I do think we would be vastly better off as a nation and a society if we all took the pledge and went on the wagon.

Once a Priest , Always a Priest?

An interesting discussion in the Orthodox Converts web list has been going on today on the subject of the different understanding of the nature of Holy Orders between Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church. The initial question was...

Glory to God in all things! Always and Forever!

The Roman Catholic church has a canon, I'm not sure from which of it's
many councils, which states once a man has been endowed w/ the
Sacrament (Mystery) of Holy Orders this is something that can be never
taken away. He can be forced by his Bishop or superior to no longer
publicly exercise his function, but the intrinsic ability, or power (I
hestitate to use the term), remains.

Is this the same in the Orthodox Church? Once invested w/ the ability
to sanctify the gifts, and all the other functions/actions of the
priesthood, this is something indelible?

Thankx for the time.

Yr brother in Christ,

-Joseph



A particularly well written reply came from Julio and I reproduce it below.

"Is this the same in the Orthodox Church? Once invested w/ the
ability to sanctify the gifts, and all the other functions/actions
of the priesthood, this is something indelible?"

Absolutely not. A priest's sacerdotal function is contingent upon
the blessing of his bishop on whose behalf he serves (bishops are
the successors of the Apostles and the "distributors" of Apostolic
grace). A bishop's presbyters fulfill a sacerdotal function that is
really the bishop's... however he delegates some of these to the
priests who serve under his authority and with his apostolic
blessing. The grace and ministry (which I think is a more accurate
term than power ;) ...) of the priest also depends on his being
grafted into the Body of Christ, actively and obediently. There is
no "indelible mark" for us. That is why we don't struggle with the
issue of whether a schismatic or a heretic has the ability to give
sacraments that are "valid but illicit" or fit into other
categories. Outside of the life of the Church, we proclaim
agnosticism concerning the status of other sacraments.

A vagante bishop who went renegade from his synod after ordination,
was deposed by his synod, and is not recognized by the other synods
can consecrate new priests... but they might as well be Anglicans or
Old Catholics. All we can say is that this bishop put himself
outside the Church, and to speak of his sacraments' "validity" makes
no sense to us.

Also, the priest does not "perform" the sacraments. He does not
stand in the "person of Christ" and bring them about by an indelible
gift given to him. He prays with the Church, on behalf of the
Church, as a leader figure, and he serves as an icon of Christ, yes,
but all sacraments are brought about by the descent and action of
the Holy Spirit who is expressly invoked in our sacraments. If it
was something he did, it would make sense that the "moment of
change" in the Eucharist would be when he utters the words of Christ-
"this is my Body". He would be standing in "in Persona Christi" and
would make the change by uttering the words of Him in whose place he
stands and whose presence he is making manifest. Instead, we focus
on the Epiclesis, when the Holy Spirit comes down and takes what the
whole Church (not just the priest) has offered and makes it
something Holy. That is why most early litrugies have some form of
an epiclesis.

I was reading a study on Western liturgices one time, and it
mentioned that in certain Gallican mass books, the rubrics called
for the priest to fold his hands on his chest and bow during the
epiclesis to show that his hands were "tied" and that the miracle
taking place was not of his doing. Many liturgists believe that the
Roman Canon (the Gregorian/Tridentine one, not the post 1960's one)
once had an explicit epiclesis. However, from an early date it was
reduced and blended into the subsequent prayer. What remains of the
Roman epiclesis is the prayer "Supplices te rogamus" after the words
of institution. In fact Nicholas Cabasilas called this prayer "the
Western epiclesis.

An interesting side not... This does not mean that there was a
complete consensus before the schism as to when the Eucharistic
gifts "changed". Even in the fourth century there was a Roman
opinion concerning the moment of change that is very similar to what
Roman Catholic theology teaches today. St. Ambrose of Milan said:

"The Lord Jesus himself declares: 'This is my body'. Before the
blessing contained in these words a different thing is named; after
the consecration a body is indicated. He himself speaks of his
blood. Before the consecration something else is spoken of; after
the consecration blood is designated. And you say: 'Amen', that
is: 'It is true'. What the mouth utters, let the mind within
acknowledge; what the word says, let the heart ratify."

But that doesn't mean that they believed this for the same reasons
that Roman Catholic theology believes this nowadays. It is easy to
find early references to the gifts being changed at the words of
institution. It is comparitively harder to find early references
concerning the indelible mark of the priesthood- a belief which
the "words of institution" theory has apparently been attached to.

-Julio