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Sunday, 4 February 2018

Preparation for Confession

The questions listed below are intended to help us identify the symptoms of our spiritual ills. Before confession we must pray for the strength to be able to recount all our sins. The most valuable thing in the eyes of God is the confession of the sin which weighs most on the conscience. However, we should remember that our sins can never outweigh God's love towards us. Even if we seem to have committed all the sins below we should not lose heart. We should repent of the sins we have committed and receive whatever remedy our confessor should lay upon us. Most of all, we should be assured of the Grace of God which will come upon us after a sincere confession of our sins.


Sins Against God

Do you say your daily prayers and those before and after meals?
Have you day dreamed during prayers or rushed them?
Do you read the Scriptures daily? Do you read other spiritual writings regularly?
Have you read anti-Orthodox or spiritually damaging books?
Have you pronounced the name of God without reverence?
Have you asked God's help before starting every activity?
Have you made the sign of the Cross carelessly or thoughtlessly?
Have you sworn? Have you murmured against God?
Have you been slack in attending church?
Have you tried your best to attend church on every Sunday and on the Great Feasts?
Have you joined with non-Orthodox in prayer or attended their worship services?
Have you kept the fasts?
Have you behaved irreverently in church, or before the clergy and monastics?
Have you laughed or talked in church, or moved about unnecessarily?
Have you dressed modestly?
Have you tried to pay reverent attention to the readings, hymns, and prayers in church?
Have you been ashamed of your Faith or the sign of the Cross in the presence of others?
Have you used your Orthodox Faith or its teachings to belittle others?
Have you used it as a shield or excuse for your own inadequacies rather than humbling yourself?
Do you believe in dreams, fortune telling, astrology or any other superstitions?
Do you give thanks to the Lord for all things?
Have you ever doubted God's providence?

Sins Against Your Neighbours

Do you respect and obey your parents, clergy and teachers?
Are you always respectful to the elderly?
Have you fought with or insulted anyone?
Do you use foul language?
Have you mocked the disabled or the poor?
Have you harboured ill will or hatred against anyone?
Have you forgiven those who have offended you?
Have you asked forgiveness from those whom you have offended?
Have you neglected the sick and the elderly?
Have you neglected, or been cruel to, animals in your care?
Have you stolen anything? Have you taken or used other people's things without asking?
Have you kept money or things that were lent you without returning them?
Have you wasted your employer's time or resources?
Have you taken things from work for your own use?
Do you always try to have your own way?
Are you resentful?
Have you been inconsiderate of other people's feelings?
Have you gossiped?
Have you tried to have your revenge against those who have offended you?
Have you lied or deceived others?
Have you judged and condemned others?

Sins Against Yourself

Are you proud? Do you boast of your abilities, achievements or wealth?
Do you consider yourself worthy before God?
Are you vain or ambitious?
Do you try to win praise and glory?
Do you bear it easily when you are blamed, scolded or treated unjustly?
Have you sinned in thought, word or deed, by a look or glance, or in any other way against the seventh commandment? (Adultery, fornication, all extra-marital sexual relationships with others, masturbation, engaging in unnatural sexual acts, fantasizing, pornography, etc.)
Have you been envious?
Have you been over-sensitive?
Have you been lazy?
Have you become obsessive about anything?
Have you been despondent?
Have you had thoughts of committing suicide?
Have you been drunk?
Do you smoke or take recreational drugs?
Have you watched television indiscriminately?
Have you been greedy?
Have you been extravagant or wasteful?
Is there any other sin which burdens your conscience, or which you are ashamed to tell?

Friday, 26 January 2018

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

This coming Sunday is the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee and the start of the Lenten Triodion. Every day of next week is a non-fast day (meat, eggs and dairy permitted) and the reason for this lies in the parable itself (Luke 18:10-14) which is read at the Divine Liturgy:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

The Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee commemorates the triumph of repentance and humility over fasting when the latter is carried out with pride. The fast-free week reminds us that in the upcoming Great Fast we need to fast with humility and repentance and not content ourselves with reading the ingredients on food packets.

The word ‘publican’ in this context means ‘tax collector’. In those days, tax collectors were despised because they abused their legitimate power to extort and overcharge people.  They were also renowned for their petty-mindedness which is why the example of this publican is so striking – he didn’t resort to excuses or justification but acknowledged himself as a sinner and called on God to have mercy on him.

However, in recognizing the Publican’s repentance, the Church also calls us to strive for virtues with humility as we hear in the Canon of Matins:

Let us hasten to imitate the virtues of the Pharisee and emulate the humility of the Publican; let us hate what is wrong in each of them: foolish pride and the defilement of transgressions.

During Vespers and Matins on this Sunday the hymns of the Resurrection in the tone of the week are combined with hymns commemorating the parable of the Publican and Pharisee. During Vespers the following stichera are sung (the first two are also repeated in Matins):

O brethren, let us not pray like the Pharisee, for he that exalteth himself shall be humbled. Let us humble ourselves before God, and with fasting cry aloud as the Publican: O God be merciful to us sinners.

A Pharisee, overcome by vainglory, and a Publican, bowed down in repentance, came to Thee, Who alone art Master. The one boasted and was deprived of blessing, and the other kept silent and was counted worthy of grace. Strengthen me, O Christ God, in these his cries of sorrow, since Thou art the Friend of Man.

O Almighty Lord, I know how great is the power of tears for they led up Hezekias from the gates of death; they delivered the sinful woman from her iniquities of many years; they justified the Publican more than the Pharisee. Number me with them, I pray Thee, and have mercy on me.

Saint Hezekias was a contemporary of the Prophet Esaias (Isaiah) and reigned as King of Judah in the seventh century BC. He was renowned for his piety and was pleasing unto God. The above sticheron refers to the following incident narrated in the Book of Esaias (Is. 38: 1-6):

In those days Hezekias was sick even to death, and Esaias the son of Amos the prophet came unto him, and said to him: Thus saith the Lord: Take order with thy house, for thou shalt die, and not live. And Hezekias turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, And said: I beseech thee, O Lord, remember how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekias wept with great weeping. And the word of the Lord came to Esaias, saying: Go and say to Hezekias: Thus saith the Lord the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, and I have seen thy tears: behold I will add to thy days fifteen years: And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of the Assyrians, and I will protect it.

To give thanks for his healing, Hezekias sent up praise to God (Is. 38-9-20). He is commemorated on August 28th and on the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ. The sinful woman referred to in the above sticheron is the harlot who washed Christ’s feet with her tears and anointed them with ointment (cf. Luke 7:36-50).

As we approach the Great Fast we are reminded by this parable that we need to combine virtue with humility. Of course we need to struggle to pray, to keep the fasts and to love our neighbour because without these good works our faith is dead (cf. Jas. 2:17).  Nevertheless, we should never exalt in our virtues like the Pharisee, but should humble ourselves like the Publican acknowledging in our hearts that we are sinners and crying out with him: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.'

Friday, 5 January 2018

An Explanation of the Nativity of Christ Icon

The Nativity icon is not just an artistic depiction of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Like all icons, the icon of the Nativity of Christ depicts not only earthly events but also spiritual realities. An icon, even though it is a painted image, is joined to its prototype in a mystical way and participates in the holiness of the person whose face is painted upon it. In other words, the Nativity icon doesn’t just portray Birth of Christ; the icon shares in the holiness of the event. 

In the centre of the icon is the cave with Christ lying wrapped in swaddling-bands in the manger. The darkness of the cave represents the darkness that once enshrouded the whole of creation because of sin. The rocky terrain and the sparse vegetation recall the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered for forty years and in which they were fed with manna from heaven. Just as formerly the Son of God rained manna from heaven on the Israelites, now He gives us His Body to eat in the Eucharist; Christ is, as He teaches in the Gospels, the Bread of Life (John 6:35). The cave also signifies the Church; the manger is the altar on which the sacrifice of the Eucharist is made and from which we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ that nourishes our souls. 

A ray of light shines on the cave and the star that guided the Magi is drawn developing from this ray. The star is depicted like this to indicate that it was not a normal star but a supernatural phenomenon with the appearance of a star. This is clear, as St. John Chrysostom explains, from the direction of the star’s travel and from the fact that it descended from heaven and settled over the exact place where Jesus was born.

The Mother of God is shown reclining in the centre of the cave in a peaceful manner signifying that this birth was contrary to the law of nature. Sometimes she is depicted seated to emphasize this point even more. In Orthodox icons the Mother of God is not depicted kneeling before the manger in worship.

The Infant Jesus is shown wrapped in swaddling bands as was the Jewish custom recounted in the Gospels (Luke 2:12). These bands also foretell the winding sheet with which Christ will later be wrapped for burial.

The ox and the donkey offer their adoration as prophesied by Esaias: ‘The ox knoweth his owner and the donkey his master’s crib’ (Is. 1:3). The ox symbolizes the Jews of the Old Testament that were subject to the Law and the donkey, the traditional beast of burden, those non-Jews weighed down by the sin of idolatry. Oxen and donkeys are fed with hay from a manger; now Christ, by becoming incarnate, grants mankind His Body for food. 

In addition, through becoming man and being born in the manger, Christ has re-created man and ‘broken down the middle wall of partition’ (Eph. 2:14). He has removed the yoke of the Law from the Jews and the heavy weight of idolatry from the nations making, of the two, ‘one new man’ as Saint Gregory of Nyssa teaches. The festival of the Nativity of Christ is therefore not a feast of creation but of ‘re-creation’. 

The cave, the manger and the swaddling bands all demonstrate God the Word’s condescension towards mankind. In the hymns and theology of the Church this is called ‘kenosis’ which means ‘self-emptying’. Christ empties Himself to become man, yet does not cease to dwell with the Father and the Holy Spirit. 

In the bottom right-hand corner of the icon Christ is shown being washed by two midwives. This washing scene is based on the apocryphal Gospels of Matthew and James and was the cause of some controversy in the eighteenth century. The dispute arose because the washing scene appears to suggest that the birth of Christ was according to nature. However, we know from the teaching of the Church that the Theotokos was a virgin before, during and after childbirth. In other words, the seal of her virginity remained even after childbirth and she gave birth without defilement and without the need for washing. This event was foretold by the Prophet Ezekiel: ‘This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut’ (Ezekiel 44:2). 

Most early icons depict this bathing scene and as long as it is correctly interpreted it is not a problem. The washing was part of Christ’s condescension to human custom in the same way as He underwent circumcision and baptism. This scene does not indicate any uncleanness, but teaches us that Christ became man in reality and not in just in appearance.

The angels are depicted both in their role as messengers proclaiming the birth of Christ and as worshippers of His nativity. This two-fold ministry of the angels is depicted on this icon by some of the angels lifting up their hands to heaven, giving glory to God and the others bending down towards mankind to whom they bring good tidings. 

Beneath the angels, on the left-hand side are the three Magi. The Magi are depicted as of differing ages and not the usual three elderly men that we find on western Christmas cards. This is to emphasize that revelations occur independently of age and experience. In some icons the Magi appear twice – both on their journey and presenting their gifts to Christ.  On the right-hand side a shepherd is depicted playing a reed pipe and joining chorus with the angels. 

The plants and rocks are included together with the sheep, men and angels to signify that the Nativity of Christ is a historic event in time, and also has a spiritual significance for the whole world. Christ is the ‘Rod of the root Jesse and the flower that blossomed from his stem’ (cf. Isaiah 11:1-2). The tree at the bottom of the icon is a symbol of the Tree of Jesse. Christ was from the lineage of David – the Prophet King David was the son of Jesse.

To emphasize the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth, St. Joseph the Betrothed is not portrayed with the Virgin and Christ, but is seated alone (in the bottom left-hand corner of this icon) looking downcast. This recalls the temptation that he underwent undergone when Joseph realized that the Mother of God was expecting a child (cf. Matt. 1:19). The devil, disguised as an old shepherd, is shown tempting him. The Mother of God, instead of looking at the Christ in the manger, gazes with compassion on Joseph as she perceives his inner turmoil.  Saint Joseph,  even though he is a witness and guardian of this mystery, is detached from the Mother and Child because he is not Christ’s father.

This positioning of St. Joseph is important in safeguarding the traditional teaching of Christ’s birth from a Virgin. Placing Joseph next to the Mother of God could lead us to believe that Christ’s conception was earthly and not of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, it would over-emphasize the ‘normal family’ aspect and fail to depict, at least as much as we are able to, the mystery of the Son of God’s self-emptying to become man. 

The Orthodox Church, therefore, does not accept western portrayals of Joseph the Betrothed, the Mother of God and Christ in a ‘family portrait’ pose. This  ‘Holy Family Icon’ (right) might be called an ‘icon’ but it is not Orthodox. In this depiction, the ‘Holy Family’ are represented as a normal family; the Orthodox Church does not depict the  St. Joseph the Betrothed hugging the Mother of God because this would imply some earthly, carnal union between them. In addition, in this icon, Saint Joseph resembles Christ in appearance. This practice is unknown to Orthodoxy because it implies that St. Joseph was Christ's father according to the flesh. Orthodox icons always depict St. Joseph the Betrothed as an older man.

The safeguarding of Orthodox theology by our iconography explains why the Orthodox Church does not have a crib (nativity scene) in church and why we do not perform nativity plays. Both these examples unintentionally distract from the central point of the Nativity scene in the Orthodox icon – that the Word of God became incarnate. The statues in the Roman Catholic crib over-emphasize the human aspects of the birth of Christ much in the same way as dressing up children as Mary and Joseph introduces a fleshly sentimentality into the feast. 

Christmas is beautiful but not because a beautiful child is born; it is beautiful because this child is the Word of God become man for our sake.  Statues and actors cannot depict this beauty in its fullness because they portray a fleshly sentimentality rather letting us glimpse and share in a spiritual reality. The Orthodox icon of the Nativity of Christ both depicts and joins us mystically to this event in which heaven and earth are united by God becoming man on earth.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Charitable Donations for 2017

In 2017 (new calendar), through our Orthodox Aid Fund, Saint Edward Brotherhood made donations totalling £21,832.84 to various church, humanitarian and environmental charities. This is  a considerable increase on last year’s total of just over £14,000, and has only been made possible by the generosity and kindness of our parishioners and supporters.

Of the total given, £7,582.96 was assigned for our Church’s Missions in Africa, £6,013.80 went to our sister churches and fellow Genuine Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria, £2,765.96 was given to the Saint Philaret the Merciful Orthodox Christian Women’s Guild in Attica, Greece for their soup kitchen project, and £1,691.89 went to our Sister Church, ROCA’s mission in Haiti. Most of the other donations were in the order of £150 each. None of the monies went to our concerns or our church communities in this country. Everything was given out.

An increase in giving this year of approximately 55% more than last year is even more remarkable in that, during the year, the community itself has had to meet the final costs of the Mortuary re-roofing and refurbishment, and the re-structuring of the turret. We hope to give a report on this in our next issue when all the payments have been settled. Again we can only thank our Good God and Saviour and the almsgiving of our people. May our Saviour reward you all with things heavenly for things earthly, but not only in the next life - in this one too.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

President Trump and Jerusalem

The recent decision by the President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of the Israel resulted in the usual liberal media frenzy that accompanies almost any statement by the current President of the United States. Interestingly, on this occasion, other western political leaders, including the British Prime Minister Theresa May, criticized the President’s statement.

The political situation in the Middle East is far too complicated to discuss here, but the religious reasons behind President Trump’s decision are worth discussing considering that most Protestants we encounter believe in some form of ‘Christian Zionism’.

British soldiers rescuing the wounded after a Zionist terrorist
attack on the King David Hotel.
Zionism is the movement for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Zionists view the State of Israel as the Promised Land promised by God to Abraham in the Old Testament. Zionism is not a modern movement, but it came to prominence following World War Two due to the huge influx of Jews into Palestine, which led to violence between the British forces running Palestine at the time, the Jewish immigrants and the Palestinian inhabitants.

Many Christians are unaware that Zionists perpetrated many terrorist atrocities in their fight to establish a State of Israel. Palestinians were abducted and murdered; British soldiers were murdered in car bombings, shootings, and lynchings in order to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population and to force the British to leave Palestine. By the time the British withdrew, they had lost over three hundred men killed.[1] As well as Muslims, a significant number of native Palestinian Christians and Jews were killed in these terrorist attacks carried out, to a large extent, by recent immigrants to Palestine.

Despite this, most American Evangelicals believe that God has blessed the State of Israel. This belief that the State of Israel is synonymous with the Old Testament Israel blessed by God is what is called ‘Christian Zionism’. In a recent survey, 82% of white Evangelical Protestants stated that God gave Israel to the Jews.[2] Many Evangelicals not only support the State of Israel but also yearn after a return to Jewish worship:

Though it may surprise most Jews, evangelicals feel not only a strong sense of protectiveness toward the state of Israel but a deep cultural affinity with the Jewish people. It is not just that they are well versed in the Hebrew Scripture and its values. More importantly, as convinced Protestants, evangelicals tend to bypass the period of church history between the apostles and the Reformation—more than a thousand years of Christian corruption and paganism, as they see it—and look for inspiration not to Origen or Aquinas but to the heady days when all Christians were, in fact, Jews. In returning to the roots of their faith, they often feel closer to Jewish culture than to other branches of Christianity. Some go the extra mile to don a kippah, observe Passover, or celebrate a bar mitzvah.[3]

Evangelicals also believe that the prosperity and power of America is conditional on its support for Israel. Some of this support for Israel probably stems from a literal Protestant Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, which associates the Old Testament Israel with the State of Israel simply because of the use of the word ‘Israel’. This interpretation is overly simplistic and not traditionally Protestant. The Israel that God delivered from Pharaoh is not the same as the State of Israel established in 1948.

In the Orthodox Church we venerate the saints of the Old Testament because they struggled out of love for God by obeying the ordinances of the Law, but this law was merely a foreshadowing of grace. St. Paul teaches that ‘the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith’ (Gal. 3:24). Christ is the fulfilment of the law (cf. Matt. 6:7) and its end. We hear this summarized in the Dogmatic Theotokion of the Second Tone sung on Saturday evening:

The shadow of the law is passed away with the coming of grace; for as the bush was not consumed when it was burning, thus as a virgin didst thou give birth, and a virgin didst thou remain. In the stead of a pillar of fire, there hath arisen the Sun of Righteousness; in the stead of Moses, Christ, the Salvation of our souls.[4]

Most American Evangelicals are Christian Zionists, but only a minority believe in its most extreme forms. John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel is one such example. He claims that Hitler was sent by ‘god’ in order to cause Jews to move to Israel.[5]

It is quite understandable that religious Jews believe the State of Israel is their Promised Land although we would disagree. Although there are fanatical religious Zionists, most Israelis are cultural Zionists and do not exhibit the same levels of hatred for Palestinians as do extreme Christian Zionists:

In stark contrast to cultural Zionists who deem ethnic cleansings as a defensible cruelty, Christian Zionists defend ethnic cleansing as a divine command. From Darby in the past to LaHaye in the present, they militantly forward the notion that God has covenanted to give Eretz Israel – from the river of Egypt to the River Euphrates ­– exclusively to the Jews. “The Lord will purify His land of all the wicked,’ wrote Darby, ‘from the Nile to the Euphrates.’ John Hagee is equally explicit. ‘God has given Jerusalem’, he says, ‘only to the Jews’. Supporting the displacement of Arabs in order to make room for Jews is rationalised as fulfilment of the purposes of God. [6]

Not only is Christian Zionism completely un-Orthodox, it is not even traditionally Protestant. The sixteenth century Protestant Reformer John Calvin strongly condemned the theory of chialism (millelianism) that is closely associated with Christian Zionism.

Different forms of millelianism exist, but most American Evangelicals believe in the idea that, at some point the future, Christ will return secretly and take Christians into heaven (the Rapture) thereby ushering in a period of tribulation before Christ comes again openly to institute a thousand year reign on earth. This type of millelianism (pre-dispensational millelianism) is part of a relatively new belief system called dispensationalism invented in the 19th century by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Darby divided the Bible into seven historical periods or dispensations. We are now, apparently, living in the sixth dispensation. This millennium (the seventh dispensation) will be Jewish in origin, with the Temple, animal sacrifices and Old Testament priesthood being re-established. Only after this millennium will the Last Judgment occur.

The idea of re-establishing the Old Testament priesthood and animal sacrifices is unique to dispensationalism; it is a modern heresy unknown to both the Early Church and the Protestant Reformers.

Christian Zionists and Evangelicals who believe in a reintroduction of Temple worship cannot be called Christians because they deny the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. We are Christians because we have been redeemed by the ‘precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1. Pet 1:19).  If we reject this sacrifice and yearn after the sacrifices of the Old Testament we are not Christians.

Christ is our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed for ‘our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). Christ, by offering Himself as a sacrifice, redeemed us from the curse of the law so that the blessing of Abraham might come upon us and that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (cf. Gal. 3:13-14). Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross abolished the sacrifices of the Law as St. Paul makes clear:

Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By that will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:8-10).

The Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers clearly show that Christ is not only the sacrifice offered, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29), but also the High Priest who offers the sacrifice. We hear this High Priestly prayer of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on Great Thursday evening (it is the first of the twelve Gospel readings (John 13:31- 18:1)).

In other words, re-establishing the Old Testament priesthood would be rejecting Christ the High Priest’s sacrifice for us. We would be going back to the time when animal sacrifices were used to propitiate God, thereby rejecting the New Covenant of Christ. Saint Paul explains this further:

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause He is the mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they who are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9 11-15).

By Christ’s redeeming sacrifice we have become a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). It is for this reason that the Church is often referred to as the New Israel. St. Paul is clear in his Epistle to the Romans that a remnant of the Old Israel, that is the Jews, will be saved, but this salvation will come through grace and not through the a re-institution of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.  

Far from believing that Christ’s sacrifice instituted a new, royal priesthood, dispensationalists believe that the Christian faith is actually a result of a failure of Christ. According to this heretical theory, Christ became incarnate to establish an earthly millennial kingdom, but He failed to do this because the Jews rejected him as their leader. As a result, the ‘church’ came into being and God now has two separate plans or ‘dispensations’: one for the church and one for Israel. Members of the church look forward to eternal life in heaven and members of Israel look forward to an earthly Kingdom – the re-establishment of the Old Testament Israel including Temple worship and animal sacrifice.

It should apparent by now that dispensationalism and Christian Zionism are not Orthodox in the slightest. We do not look for a kingdom on earth, with human priests subject to death, because we have Christ as High Priest as St. Paul teaches:

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; Who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever (Heb. 7: 26-28).

Dispensationalism has penetrated so deeply into American Protestantism that most Protestants would fail to recognize the word dispensationalism – for these people, believing in a thousand year earthly kingdom, the rapture and the re-establishment of Jewish Temple worship is part of being ‘Protestant’; this is despite Calvin’s condemnation of millelianism! There is little doubt that President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel was influenced by the powerful American Christian Zionist movement.

Christian Zionists believe that because Jerusalem is the place where the end of the world will occur, the State of Israel needs to be supported; the formation of the State of Israel, according to them, is the first stage of the second coming of Christ and is part of biblical prophecy.

Extreme Christian Zionists have even tried to hasten the second coming of Christ by various means. According to the dispensationalist interpretation of Numbers 19:2, even today everyone that has come into contact into contact with a human corpse, bone, or grave is unclean until cleansed with water containing the ashes of a red heifer. This heifer must be completely red with no hairs of any other colour. The ashes of the last pure red heifer ran out in about 70 A.D. leaving, by now, all Jews impure and incapable of building a new Temple.

In the 1990’s Clyde Lott, a born again Christian and cattle breeder, decided to take matters into his own hands and take care of what God had obviously not provided by breeding fifty thousand Red Angus cattle and shipping them to Israel in the hope that one cow might give birth to a pure, red heifer.

In 1996, a red heifer named Melody was born on a farm near Haifa and was visited by a hundred Protestant pastors from Texas and even featured on the front cover of the Endtime magazine.[7] At eighteenth months of age Melody, probably much to her relief, sprouted white hairs which saved her from imminent death and cremation. Although Melody was not the result of Lott’s breeding programme, other American cattle breeders are still trying to raise an unblemished red heifer. The following story was reported in January 2014:

In January a red heifer, or ‘Parah Adumah’, was born to a cow herding family in an undisclosed location in the US, who wish to see the animal used for the purity service during the preparations for the rebuilding of the Third Temple. The family has reportedly not marred or maimed the animal in any way, nor will they be using the animal for work or feeding it any growth hormones. All this to comply with Jewish law of keeping the animal as nature created it. Update: Unfortunately, several months later, the cow was found to have more than one colored hair that is not red. [8]

The site of the proposed new Jewish Temple is Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This site is currently occupied by the Muslim Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque. Melody’s appearance sent some Christian Zionists into such fervour that Israeli security forces even considered the possibility that these ‘christians’ might try to blow up these Muslim holy sites in order to clear the ground for the new Temple.[9]

Many American Evangelical Protestants are not concerned about damaging the Middle-East peace process by their interference because, in their opinion, the bloodshed that would result would be a price worth paying for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.  Let’s not forget that these people believe that they will be spared from the tribulation of the end-times by being taken into heaven (the Rapture) at their imagined secret coming of Christ.

The  Rapture is unknown to the Early Church and to traditional Protestantism. It is something forced on to one particular biblical text in order to make Scripture fit the teachings of dispensationalism. Christ Himself explains that His Second Coming will not be secret, but clearly evident to all: 

Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.  For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24: 26, 27, 29, 30).

The Second Coming of Christ will also be demonstrated by the resurrection of the dead, and the dead in Christ will be raised first as Saint Paul teaches:

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess. 4:15,16)

Although many British Evangelicals believe in the Rapture, their beliefs concerning the State of Israel are more moderate than their American co-religionists. Perhaps this is because, until recently, the Middle-East conflict has not featured very much in UK political campaigns. Unfortunately, the infiltration of the Labour Party by both hard-left and Islamic agitators has led to an alarming rise in anti-Semitism in the U.K. Often, this is disguised under the banner of ‘anti-Zionism’ – in fact, in many cases, it is plain anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism has also plagued Orthodox countries for centuries. The Russian pogroms of the nineteenth century in which Jewish villages were burned to the ground are one shameful example. Although the Orthodox Church condemned these acts in the strongest possible terms, widespread suspicion of the Jews in general persisted. This suspicion is manifested today in the form of conspiracy theories detailing Jewish plots to control financial markets and international politics.

Orthodox Christians should leave conspiracy theories well alone. We are not called to reform the world’s banking system, we are called to repent and follow the teachings of the Gospel. Saint Seraphim of Sarov teaches: ‘acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved’. We cannot change the whole world, but we can change our lives by repentance and, as a result, change that part of the world in which we live by showing love for God and our neighbour.

Genuine Orthodox Christians demonstrate true Christianity by showing love for their neighbours regardless of their religion. We can see this in the following two examples from World War Two. We ourselves have heard similar accounts from our parishioners, and no doubt there are many, many more.

In September 1943, The Chief Rabbi was ordered by the Nazis to provide the names and addresses of the Jews living in Athens. The Rabbi contacted Archbishop Damaskinos who suggested that the Jews flee rather than identifying themselves to the Nazis. At the same time, the Archbishop, together with the chief of police, began an operation to save as many Jewish lives as possible. He publicly condemned Hitler’s plans and the priests in his diocese condemned the deportation of Jews in their sermons.

As a consequence over six hundred Orthodox priests were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Orthodox clergy issued false baptismal certificates to Jewish families in order to save them from deportation. Over two hundred and fifty Jewish children were saved by being hidden in the homes of Orthodox clergy, and many thousands more were hidden by monasteries and laypeople.

Archbishop Damaskinos, in a final attempt to prevent the deportation, signed a letter appealing to the German commander for clemency. The letter concludes: ‘Our holy religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: “There is neither Jew nor Greek” and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences.’ Outraged, the German commander threatened the Archbishop with being taken outside and shot. The Archbishop’s reply was simple and courageous: ‘Greek religious leaders are not shot they are hanged. I request that you respect this custom.’

The reply so astounded the German that the Archbishop’s life was spared. It is interesting to note how a Jewish Foundation views the contents of this letter: ‘The appeal of the Archbishop and his fellow Greeks is unique; there is no similar document of protest of the Nazis during World War II that has come to light in any other European country.’[10]

In 1944, the Germans invaded the Greek island of Zakynthos and ordered the mayor to hand over a list of the Jewish inhabitants. By this stage in the war it was evident that Jews handed over to the Germans would be murdered. The mayor enlisted the help of Metropolitan Chrysostomos who presented the mayor’s list to the Germans. The list contained only two names: Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Louka Karrer, the mayor. The Metropolitan bravely told the German commander: ‘Here are your Jews. If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me, and I will share their fate.’ Whilst the Metropolitan was stalling the Germans, the Orthodox Christian inhabitants of Zakynthos hid their Jewish neighbours.

It is also thought likely that Metropolitan Chrysostomos wrote to Hitler interceding for the Jews living within his diocese. Unfortunately, due to the loss of the island’s archives in the devastating 1953 earthquake, copies of this letter no longer exist. We do know that all Zaknythos’ two hundred and seventy-five Jews survived, and no further attempt was made by the Germans to deport them. Indeed, the first boat to arrive with aid to the victims of the 1953 earthquake was from Israel, adorned with a banner that read: ‘The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their mayor or their beloved bishop and what they did for us.’[11]

It is clear that Christian Zionism is incompatible with Orthodoxy and not even vaguely Christian. However, in rejecting these heretical ideas, we must not allow ourselves to be numbered with the anti-Semites whose stock-in-trade is hatred and division and who are recognized by their fruits (cf. Matt. 7:20). Let us instead follow the example of those Orthodox Christians who were willing to lay down their lives during the Holocaust and recall the words of Christ: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).

[4] Holy Transfiguration Monastery (trans.) The Pentecostarion (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1990) p.108
[6]  H. Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) p.167
[7] S. Spector, Evangelicals and Israel: The story of Christian Zionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) p.204
[9] Evangelicals and Israel: The story of Christian Zionism p.205

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

A Homily by Saint Philaret of Moscow

The significance of the infant Jesus being wrapped in swaddling bands is explained for us by one of the ancient Christian teachers. By this wrapping, Jesus foretells His own burial. Actually the swaddling bands of an infant and the shroud of the dead were originally woven by one craftsmen; the cradle and the coffin have one and the same maker. If sin had not devised the coffin and the winding sheet, then neither would there have been swaddling bands and the cradle. Just as birth pangs are the beginnings of death, so the cradle is the precursor of the coffin, and swaddling bands the first hem of the gradually developing burial shroud.

For this reason, the Son of God, Who was voluntarily wrapped in swaddling bands, foreshadows thereby the life of unremitting asceticism. Whoever you might be, if you wish to follow after Christ, you must pass through the shadow of death on the path to birth unto life eternal. Every instrument of offence must be cut off (Matt. 18:8), every self-willed movement must be restrained and cut short, every earthly desire must be bound and mortified: mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5). 

You must, as if bound with swaddling bands, maintain the freedom to open your eyes only enough to gaze peacefully upon the bonds of your old man (cf. Eph.4:22), and in this way you will mortify your sight; you must guard your mouth in such a way that it solely breathes prayers. Thus it was that the faithful followers of the Lord bore about in their bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus and died daily (2 Cor. 4:10; 1 Cor. 15:31), but in that very death they obtained new life, as dying, and, behold, we live (2 Cor. 6:9). Our ascetical life is a constant sign of the path of Christ, and the coffin of the old man is truly the cradle of the new man.

Finally, this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling bands, lying in a manger. If the infancy and the swaddling bands of the God-Man are signs of His deep humility and mortification, then His manger depicts an unfathomable poverty. He had already belittled Himself before His angels by becoming man, by His being an infant and by the swaddling bands. He accepted that which belittled Him before men. He now condescends even further, and the Word which is inseparably with God (John 1:1) is numbered with the irrational beasts.

Oh, how before this sign of the Divine impoverishment, all the exaltation in mankind, all the glory of the world, is not just brought down and belittled, but is brought to nought, disappears, and is concealed in its own annihilation! And blessed is he, who reverences before the manger of the God-Man as though it were before the Throne of His Majesty. He, who falls down before it, sees it above him at such a height as though in the very heavens! Let him lose the whole world, let him lose himself in the boundless abyss of his abasement: this boundlessness is itself the boundary of communion with the boundless Divinity. According to the cry of the Psalmist, let his soul faint: it fainteth for salvation (cf. Ps. 118:81).

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Purpose of the Incarnation of the Son of God

By Bishop Alexander of Buenos Aires, 1938-2005

Translated by Seraphim Larin & Daniel Olson

The parable of the lost sheep speaks graphically and vividly of the purpose of the coming of the Son of God into the world.  The good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep, by which is meant the angelic world, and sets out for the mountains in order to seek out his lost sheep - the human race perishing in sins.  The shepherd’s great love for the perishing sheep is evident not only in the fact that he solicitously seeks it, but especially in the fact that after finding it, he takes it upon his shoulders and carries it back.  In other words, God, by His power, returns to man the innocence, holiness and blessedness lost by him; having united Himself with our human nature, the Son of God, according to the word of the Prophet, “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Esaias, Ch. 53).

Christ became man not only to teach us the true way and to show us a good example.  He became man in order to unite us with Himself, to join our feeble, diseased human nature to His Divinity.  The Nativity of Christ testifies to the fact that we attain the ultimate aim of our life not only by faith and by striving for good, but chiefly by the regenerating power of the incarnate Son of God, with Whom we are united.

Delving deeply into the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, we see that it is closely bound up with the mystery of Holy Communion and with the Church, which, according to apostolic teaching, is the mystical Body of Christ.  In the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, a man is joined to the Divine-human nature of Christ; he unites with Him and in this union is wholly transfigured.  At the same time, in Holy Communion, a Christian unites also with other members of the Church - and thus the mystical Body of Christ grows.

Heterodox Christians who do not believe in Holy Communion understand union with Christ in an allegorical, metaphorical sense, or in the sense of only a spiritual communion with Him.  But for spiritual communion, the incarnation of the Son of God is superfluous.  After all, even before the Nativity of Christ, the prophets and the righteous were counted worthy of grace-filled communion with God.

One must understand that man is ill not only spiritually, but also physically: all of human nature has been harmed by sin.  It is essential, therefore, to heal the whole man, not only his spiritual part.  To remove any doubt in the necessity for total communion with Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His discourse on the Bread of Life, speaks thus: “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day...  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6:53-54, 56).  Later, Christ uses the metaphor of the grapevine to explain to His disciples that it is precisely in close union with Him that man receives the strength essential for spiritual development and perfection: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Some holy Fathers have justly likened Holy Communion to the mystical tree of life, from which our primogenitors ate in Eden, and which afterwards St. John the Theologian saw in Paradise (Gen. 2:9, Rev. 2:7, 22:2).  In Holy Communion, a Christian is joined to the immortal life of the God-Man.

Thus, the purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God lies in the spiritual and physical regeneration of man.  Spiritual renewal is accomplished throughout the course of a Christian’s whole life.  But the renewal of his physical nature is completed on the day of the general resurrection of the dead, when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13:43).

Originally appeared in The Shepherd, December 2007