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Thursday, 21 February 2019

Orthodox Aid Fund

IN the civil year, 2018, our Brotherhood’s “Orthodox Aid Fund” gave a total of £14,745.87 to various, church, humanitarian and environmental causes. Of this, £11,682.35 was distributed to churches and communities of our own Synod (none of them in our own diocese) and the sister Traditionalist Orthodox Churches, both to support them and for their charitable work, such as that of the Saint Philaret the Merciful Orthodox Women’s Guild in Greece. £3,063.52 was distributed to other charities unrelated to our Church. In addition to this, we collected a further £3,380 for Bishop Ambrose’s Appeal for the Saint Peter’s Clinic in the Kananga Diocese of our Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This we will give to His Grace when he comes for his pastoral visitation during our celebration of Christmas, and has not been included in this year’s total above. We are also aware that many of our people have answered the various appeals that we have publicized over the year directly, without having recourse to our fund. We are grateful to our Saviour that we have been able to achieve this and thank all of those of you who have given so generously. May God bless you all in the coming year, and more especially in the life of the Age to Come.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Organ transplants from heart-beating donors

We are posting this excerpt from our newest book 'The Grace of The Spirit' in the light of recent disturbing events in Phoenix, Arizona. 
Most organs used for transplants are taken from donors while their hearts are still beating: a procedure called ‘organ harvesting’ or ‘organ recovery’. The first recorded instance of an organ being taken from a ‘heart-beating’ (HB) donor occurred on June 3rd 1963 when Guy Alexandre removed a kidney from a patient in Louvain, Belgium. The recipient died a month later from septicaemia.[1]

Heart-beating donation is preferred over donation from those who have died for many reasons. Keeping blood flowing through the organs as long as possible improves the success of transplants, and allows the transplant team to assemble and for the recipients to be notified and prepared for operation.

The removal of organs from ‘heart-beating’ donors is always unacceptable to the Orthodox Church because it is a deliberate medical intervention to end life; cutting out a vital organ while the heart is still beating is euthanasia in all but name.

Organs may legally only be recovered from the ‘dead’, and the definition of death needed for HB transplants is a complete absence of brain stem activity commonly referred to as ‘brain death’. This definition of death was invented solely to provide HB donors for transplants, but the definition is flawed because it relies on the brain being the only source of control in the body; according to Dr. Alan Shewmon, the ‘brain’s role is more modulatory than constitutive, enhancing the quality and survival potential of a presupposedly living organism.’[2]

To illustrate this point, at the Third International Symposium on Coma and Death (Havana, 2000), Dr. Shewmon showed a video of a patient referred to as ‘TK’ who had been ‘brain dead’ since the age of four. This diagnosis had been confirmed by repeated clinical tests, including EEG’s and MRI angiograms to check for brain blood flow. TK’s heart was still beating unaided twenty years later, and he was cared for at home for six years.[3]

Patient TK eventually died of heart failure and an autopsy showed that his brain had been completely destroyed.[4] Amazingly, the Diabetes Insipidus from which TK suffered had spontaneously resolved during his period of ‘brain death’ despite him having no functioning brain tissue.

In TK’s case, and in other patients whose bodies continue to function without any brain-stem activity, a host of biological processes continue to support life without any direction from the brain. As well as the heart beating, nutrients are assimilated and wastes eliminated, thousands of complex proteins and ions are maintained at the correct levels essential for life, infections are overcome and wounds heal, hormones are produced and their levels adjusted by complex feedback responses. Indeed Dr. Shewmon reports that a 13-year-old boy whom he had examined began puberty while brain-dead.[5]

The processes by which cells communicate with each other to coordinate bodily response are still poorly understood, but it is known that cell signalling occurs without direct input from the brain. For example, all cells in the body are programmed to die and are kept alive by signals from other cells: a phenomenon known as apoptosis.

Defining death by an absence of brain stem activity is far from an exact science. Overdoses of barbiturates, excess alcohol and hypothermia may all cause a cessation of brain activity which could be classified as ‘brain death’. For example, in 2009, Coleen Burns woke up the day before doctors were due to ‘harvest’ her organs after declaring her ‘brain dead’. Defenders of organ transplantation would say protocols were not followed correctly in this case, but it is evident that patients with a complete absence of brain stem activity are not actually ‘dead’.

Alternatives to the current definition of an absence of brain stem activity as ‘death’ have been proposed. One definition is that of a loss of ‘being’ indicated by a lack of self-awareness, an absence of intentional behaviour and sociality etc. This definition is unacceptable because it would leave the permanently unconscious and the severely disabled in danger of having their organs harvested.

Death also cannot be certified simply on the basis that the brain is no longer able to control the body. For example, there is a strong biological correlation between the symptoms of a high spinal transection and the criteria used for determining brain death. The former condition is a complete severing of the spinal cord resulting in tetraplegia and, in severe cases, an inability to breathe unaided. In both cases the brain does not function in integrating the organism, but paralysis or tetraplegia certainly does not imply ‘brain death’ or a lack of sentient being.

The only reliable method of certifying death is the older cardiorespiratory criterion in which death is defined as an absence of heartbeat and breathing. This definition, as Professor Ian Kerridge argues, avoids re-defining death solely because of the needs of the transplant lobby:

The danger is that death is defined on the basis of providing useful organs for transplant. We argue that the definition of death should not be related to organ transplantation and that it is biologically, philosophically, and socioculturally more accurate to regard ‘brain death’ as a state separate from death.[6]

In other words, an absence of brain stem activity does not indicate death, but is rather a prognosis of immediate death; a patient who is ‘brain dead’ will die if life support is removed and is in a state of permanent irreversible unconsciousness. An absence of brain stem activity thus moves from being the starting-gun for organ removal to a diagnostic tool useful for medical staff and relatives alike. The latter can prepare themselves for the imminent death of their loved one (once life support is removed) and medical staff have a strong basis for advising against continuation of ventilation and intensive care support.

Professor Ian Kerridge argues that the current portrayal of how transplants are carried out is both scientifically inaccurate and dishonest.

Rather than redefining those who are ‘brain dead’ as ‘dead’ it may be more honest to acknowledge that such individuals are not dead and that removing their organs is in fact killing them. Such an action is undeniably morally troubling; it may, however, be morally justifiable in precisely defined circumstances such as where recovery is impossible and personal identity is lost. It may also be less morally objectionable than the creation of a fiction (the redefinition of death) which is the only alternative. The long term viability of transplantation programmes is likely to be better served by telling the truth than trading in fictions.[7]

Prof. Kerridge’s view that certain circumstances could justify killing a patient to recover their organs is not shared by traditionalist Orthodox Christians. The Church’s objection to HB donors is not about rejecting scientific progress, but about protecting those who are least able to protect themselves as Alan Shewmon explains:

To admit that many brain-dead patients are deeply comatose, severely disabled, living human beings is progress, not regress. It will force a refinement in our understanding and diagnosis of death, a clarification in our fundamental philosophical principles regarding human life, and realignment between our understanding and our consciences in dealing with these most vulnerable human lives.[8]

To avoid being involved in heart-beating transplants, Orthodox Christians should not sign up to organ donor registers, and take steps to opt out of donating if they live in countries where consent for donation is assumed. Orthodox Christians should also refuse all organs obtained from HB donors.

[1] C. Machado, Brain Death: a Reappraisal (New York: Springer Science, 2007) p. 21.
[2] D. A. Shewmon, The Brain and Somatic Integration: Insights Into the Standard Biological Rationale for Equating “Brain Death” With Death. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (2001) Vol. 26, No. 5, p. 457.
[3] D.A. Shewmon, Chronic ‘brain death’ meta-analysis and conceptual consequences.Neurology (December 1998) Vol. 51, No. 6, pp.1538-1545.
[4] S. Repertinger et al., Long Survival Following Bacterial Meningitis-Associated Brain Destruction. Journal of Child Neurology (2006)Vol. 21, Issue 7, pp. 591-595.
[5] D.A. Shewmon, Neurology (December 1998) Vol. 51, No. 6, pp. 1538-1545.
[6] C. Machado, I. Kerridge et al., A definition of human death should not be related to organ transplants. Journal of Medical Ethics (2003) Vol. 29, No. 3 pp. 201-202.
[7] I. H. Kerridge et al., Death, dying and donation: organ transplantation and the diagnosis of death. Journal of Medical Ethics (2002) Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 89-94.
[8] D. A. Shewmon, Mental disconnect: ‘physiological decapitation’ as a heuristic for understanding ‘brain death’. Chapter in M. Sánchez Sorondo (Ed.), The Signs of Death (Vatican City: Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 2007) p. 326.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Nativity Message from the Holy Synod

“God of Peace, Father of Mercies,
Thou hast sent Thine Angel of Great Counsel that we might have peace.”
Fifth Irmos of the Canon of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ

Beloved Fathers and Brothers, Children in the Begotten Lord, 

Yet again, the immeasurable Love for Mankind of our All-Good God has deemed us worthy to rise up with festal joy in the early morn, showered in the light of Divine Knowledge, and to celebrate with proper devotion the Birth of our Theanthropic Savior, Jesus Christ. A Feast that shines with joy and inundates our tumultuous world with waves of Divine Love, Peace, and Benedictions!

Glory to His Divine Condescension!

For God is the Father of Mercies, replete with love, forgiveness, and compassion. It was for this reason that he showed his great mercy to the race of man and sent His Only-Begotten Son to earth, in order to confer Peace, being the Wellspring, Bestower, and Guarantor of Peace.

The Son and Word of God the Father is the “Angel of Great Counsel,” as He is described by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:6), for He proclaims and reveals to the world the preëternal, great, and ineffable Counsel of God, His preëternal plan, His Antecedent Will, for the salvation of man, for the Mystery of Divine Providence, as the Mystery of our pacification and of the restoration of our relationship with God.

He who was made flesh and was born “οf the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” as a Child in Bethlehem, the Interpreter and Fulfillment of God’s Counsel, the Prince of Peace, the Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ, gives dawn to the light of Divine Knowledge and knowledge of the Divine Will. He dispels the darkness of disbelief, of spiritual delusion, and of sin, throwing down the Devil and restoring Peace. For this reason and it alone, with genuine knowledge of God, love, and humility, do we possess Peace. Only in this manner can we rise up in the glorification of God, in Orthodoxy (proper belief) and in Orthopraxy (proper observance of the Faith), being made peaceful and reconciled to God, bearers and proclaimers of Peace.

The gift of Peace is Divine and is given to those who seek it: “O Lord our God, give us peace” (Isaiah 26:12). Our Lord is He who casts aside the enmity of man towards God, giving pardon where there is repentance, which reconciles earth and Heaven, which dispels antipathy and hatred between persons, bringing their relationships into harmony, and which proffers inner peace to every person as joy and as unity in mind and heart.

“For he is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14), having, indeed, bestowed it with the seal of the Cross and Resurrection, and He gives Peace, not as the world understands it, but His own Peace: that which conquers fear and turmoil (St. John 14:27) and brings about union in a manner befitting Him as God, overcoming every obstacle.
But where is there “peace on earth,” which the Holy Angels proclaimed and glorified on the Eve of the Nativity of the Divine Child? What takes place and what predominates within us and around us?

What we ascertain is grim: that nearly everywhere there are turmoil, conflict and warfare. We find them in the hearts, minds, and relationships of people in the world and, unfortunately, sometimes even in the Church.

As long as personal whims, egotism, spiritual delusions, the indulgence of passions, unlawful pursuits, betrayals, hostilities, and hatred predominate, there is not to be found reconciliation with God, and thus Peace cannot exist or prevail. Wherever true belief in God, the Truth, and, as well, the fear of God, compliance with His holy Will, and reverence for the Hierarchal order of His Church according to Divine Tradition are absent, there God is absent, and justice and love are missing, for such people “have not known the way of peace” (Romans 3:17). Thus it is, too, that we so frequently encounter disturbed individuals, full of confusion, incoherence, hardness of character, and turmoil. This explains such derangement in souls, in thoughts, and in society within the world. And even in the Church, the refuge and harbor of Peace, certain hapless people torpedo the divine and inestimable virtue of Peace with bizarre new ideas and fallacious constructs from their darkened minds and their troubled hearts, thinking in their foolishness that they serve justice and truth in this way! It is our duty to confront resolutely every challenge, remaining undisturbed, as servants of the true Peace of Orthodoxy, which—as St. Theodore the Studite says—overflows with Peace.
Beloved Children in the Lord:
No matter what occurs in our lives and in the progression of the Church, let us repeat with the Psalmist: “We will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 45:3). Let us taste from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Guarantor of Peace, the sweetness of His Peace, by way of His Holy Mysteries, with peace of conscience and virtuous hope of victory and participation in the eternal Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Feast of the Holy Nativity 2018

The Holy Synod

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Explanation of the Entry of the Theotokos Icon

On 21st November we celebrate the Great Feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple as a three-year-old child. This feast is the closing and fulfillment of the Old Testament and the heralding of our salvation which would be wrought through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Saint Gregory Palamas explains this below:

We keep festival this day because we have seen the prize won for the good of us all by her unrivalled patient endurance there: God’s marvelous descent to earth through her and our own glorious ascent to heaven through Him. [1]

To understand the icon of this Feast we need to learn a little about the structure of the Old Testament Temple. The Temple building referred to in the New Testament replaced the portable Tabernacle or tent that the Hebrews used for worship during the forty years in the wilderness. We hear about this Tabernacle in the epistle reading of the Feast (Heb. 9:1-7)

Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people.

To summarize, the Jewish Temple building was divided into three main sections:

·The courtyard where animals were offered in sacrifice.
·The sanctuary separated from the courtyard by a curtain.
·The rearmost part of the sanctuary called the Holy of Holies separated from the former by a curtain. 

The first Temple building was started by Solomon after the Hebrews reached the Promised Land and was completed about 950 years before Christ. The Holy of Holies of this Temple contained the Ark of the Covenant which held the Tablets of the Law together with other objects such as Aaron’s rod that budded and the pot of manna. King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed this Temple in 586 BC and took the Hebrews into captivity in Babylon.

The Prophet Ezekiel foretold the restoration of Israel and rebuilding of the Temple, but when the temple was finally rebuilt by Zerubbabel it matched neither the splendour of Solomon’s Temple nor did it correspond to the Temple in Prophet Ezekiel’s vision. An even larger Temple was built by King Herod in around 20 BC. This Temple was the one into which the Virgin Mary entered and was later destroyed by the Roman Emperor Titus in 70 AD.

Everything that was done in the Old Testament Temple was a prophecy of what would be fulfilled by Christ which is why the Vespers readings for the Feast of the Entry all end with the verse: ‘And the glory of the Lord filled the House of the Lord’. The first two readings concern the establishment of the earthly Tabernacle and Temple. The third reading is from the prophecy of Ezekiel in which he speaks of the Theotokos as the living Temple of God.

In the icon of the Feast of the Entry, the living Temple of God is depicted being received into the earthly Temple by the High Priest Zacharias, the father of St. John the Baptist. Saint Zacharias is shown vested as a priest and the Virgin Mary is accompanied by her parents Saints Joachim and Anna and by virgins carrying candles. She holds both her hands outstretched as a symbol of her self-offering and her parents hold their left hands outstretched ushering her forward and indicating their willing participation in this mystery.

The virgins are depicted realistically, but the Theotokos is depicted as a child in stature but with an adult’s features. She has her head covered, but the virgins are bareheaded. We hear this explained in the canon of the matins: ‘She who in body is but three years old, and yet in the spirit is full of years’.

The red cloth draped across the rooftops on the right-hand side of the icon signifies that this event is taking place inside the Temple even though it appears to be outside. This device is seen in other icons too, such as the Nativity of the Theotokos icon.

The red curtain in the centre of the icon signifies the veil that was in front of the Holy of Holies. The curtain is shown drawn back to signify the opening of the Holy of Holies to the true tabernacle that was to hold God in her womb.

The highest point of the Temple was the Holy of Holies which is why the Mother of God is depicted in a tower. The archangel Gabriel is shown offering heavenly bread with which the Virgin will be nourished during her time in the Temple.

In this sixteenth century Russian icon (right) the priest Zacharias is shown standing in front of Russian style Royal Doors. This is done to show that the Jewish Temple prefigured the incarnation of the Great High Priest Christ from the Virgin Mary the new Ark of the Covenant made, as Saint Hippolytus of Rome teaches, of 'incorruptible wood’. Saint Gregory Palamas explains further:

She who was chosen from the elect of all ages, who was declared the Holy of Holies, whose body was purer and more divine than spirits cleansed by virtue, to such an extent that she was able to receive not just the form of the divine words but the person of the only-begotten Word of the Father without beginning, was today justly consigned to the innermost hallowed sanctuary like God’s treasure. When the time came, this treasure was to be used to enrich and adorn both heaven and earth, as indeed came to pass. Thus and on this account the Lord glorified His Mother before she gave birth, as well as afterwards. [2]

This icon depicts the entry of the Virgin into the Temple as she prepares to become the House of God, the King of all. Later, through the seedless conception announced to her by the Archangel Gabriel, she will become the Temple of the Holy Spirit as we hear in the Vespers service of the Feast:

Today the Theotokos, the Temple that is to hold God, is led into the temple of the Lord, and Zacharias receiveth her. Today the Holy of Holies greatly rejoiceth, and the choir of angels mystically keepeth feast. With them let us also celebrate the festival and cry aloud with Gabriel: Rejoice, thou who art full of grace: the Lord is with thee, He who hath great mercy.

[1] C. Veniamin (trans.) Saint Gregory Palamas The Homilies (Dalton: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) p. 418
[2] Saint Gregory Palamas The Homilies p.412

Friday, 16 November 2018

Concerning Sacred Depictions and Sacred Objects (2)

By Saint Nicholas Varzhansky

Part Two

The Hebrews used to worship and bow down before sacred objects:

"I shall worship toward Thy holy temple" (Ps. 5:8).

"I will worship towards Thy holy temple" (Ps. 137:2).

At the tabernacle, Moses and Aaron "fell upon their faces" (Number 20:16).

Jesus of Navi [Joshua] "fell to the earth upon his face before the ark" (Josh. 7:6).

They lit lamps before these sacred objects, following the teaching of the Lord Himself Who said unto Moses: 

"Thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold … and thou shalt make seven lamps therefore, and place its lamps thereon, that they might give light over against it. And the tongs thereof and the snuffers thereof shall be of pure gold … and look that thou make them after the pattern which was showed thee on the mount" (Ex. 25:31, 37-40; see Ex. 27:20, 21; 30:8; Lev. 24:2; 2 Chronicles 4:40).

They burned incense as the Lord commanded Moses:

"Thou shalt make … censers … and thou shalt make an altar to offer incense thereon… and Aaron shall burn thereon fragrant incense" (Ex. 25:29,30:1,7).

Candles and offerings in the temple of the Lord were not denied even in the New Testament, for the Saviour says (Matt. 5:21-24): if thou bring thy gift to the altar and the rest; and see also Hebrews 13:10; the Saviour's tribute money for the temple (Matt. 17:24-27); the widow's mite (Mark 12:41-44).

Miracles were worked through sacred object:

The Ark was taken by the Philistines into the temple of Dagon and for this reason Dagon was overthrown, and the Philistines were punished with grievous tormenting haemorrhoids (1 Kings [Samuel] 5:1-6).

"And He (the Lord) smote the inhabitants of Bethsamis, because they had looked upon the ark of the Lord, and He smote of the people fifty thousand and seventy men. And the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter" (1 Kings [Samuel] 6:19).

"Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God (to steady it) and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. But the Lord was angered against Uzzah, and God smote him for his boldness, and he died there by the ark of God" (2 Kings [Samuel] 6:6-7).

The Saviour did not condemn the true depictions in the Temple of Jerusalem, but on the contrary He said:

"My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer" (Mark 11:17; Matt. 21:13; Luke 19:46; John 2:16).

The apostles prayed and worshipped in this Temple:

"That thou mayest understand," said the Apostle Paul, "that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship" (Acts 24:11).

The Lord appeared to the Apostle Paul in the Temple showing that prayers offered in churches with sacred depictions are acceptable to God:

The Apostle Paul says: "When I was come again unto Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the Temple, I was in a trance and saw Him (Christ)" (Acts 22:14-18).

The Lord promised to reveal Himself to those who would keep His Commandments:

"He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me, and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My father; and I will love him, and will manifest Myself unto him" (John 14:21). This implies that the prayer of the Apostle Paul in the Temple before the icons was acceptable in that the Lord once appeared to the Apostle Paul during such prayer.

The Lord founded the New Testament Church and in the true Church there are sacred objects such as the holy icons:

Prior to the Second Coming, the Antichrist will come, the "man of sin will be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is holy, so that he shall sit in the temple of God, as God, shewing himself to be God" (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

This means that before the coming of Christ, the Christians will have churches of God, and in them will be holy things "called God". 

These holy things "called God" as the Apostle says are the holy icons.
[1] We depict:
  • God the Father, as the Prophet Daniel saw Him, as the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9).[2]
  • The Son of God - the Incarnate Word, as the Holy Apostles beheld Him (John 1:14).
  • The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, as He descended on the Saviour "in bodily form" (Luke 3:22).
We also have depictions of the Mother of the Lord, the Holy Angels, the Holy Apostles and of all who pleased God. For us, the icons are primarily for the remembrance of God, of the sacred events, of the instructive lives of the Lord and of the saints. Also, icons set forth the teachings of God and invoke religious feelings in us. Through icons we glorify God as we do through sacred singing and music. Christians have always had icons, and there never was a time when the Christians had absolutely no icons. This is shown not only by Scripture but also by the whole history of the Church. The Roman Catacombs, in which the Christians used to pray at the beginning of the Faith of Christ on earth, are abundant in icons.

Wherefore we must ask the sectarians: How can they be they Christians if they have no divine holy things? How is it that they have no holy icons?

A Selection of Refutations of the Dissenters

The Dissenters say: Exodus 20:4-5; images are forbidden, which means that icons are forbidden.

The Orthodox reply: It is idols of false gods that are forbidden. Through true depictions we remember and glorify the true God. These depictions are not forbidden: Ex. 25:8-10, 17-21; 26:1,31 etc.

The Dissenters say: Esaias [Isaiah] 17:7-8.

The Orthodox reply: This concerns the idols of Astarte and Baal and their altars, not true depictions.

The Dissenters say: Esaias 31:7.

The Orthodox reply: This concerns idols.

The Dissenters say: Esaias 42:8; 48:11.

The Orthodox reply: Here is says that the True God will not give His glory to a false god (an idol).

The Dissenters say: Esaias 44:8-28.

The Orthodox reply: Here it speaks about the making of idols, about their being unnecessary and vain, but it says nothing here about true representations. Moreover, here the Lord promises the building of the Temple of Jerusalem (Esaias 44:28.) showing that material sacred objects are permitted.

The Dissenters say: Jeremias 2:26-28.

The Orthodox say: We do not forget God, but rather strive to remember Him by His depictions.

The Dissenters say: “Thus saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord, neither shall it come to mind, neither shall they approach it, neither shall that be done any more” (Jer. 3:16).

The Orthodox reply: We do not mourn the loss of the ark because now we have Christ God. It is clear though that the commandments forbidding idols were not violated by sacred depictions or by the ark, the cherubims and the rest.

The Dissenters say: Deut. 4:15-17. All representations are therefore categorically forbidden.

The Orthodox reply: Here it speaks of the likenesses and idols of other gods. Moreover the True God is a jealous God and will not have mercy when man begins to serve other gods. However the Orthodox do not make false idols, only true depictions of the one true God. Similarly we depict the good servants of the one God, the holy Angels and the saints. A depiction of God is not a substitute for God, but recalls Him and instructs concerning the true God, just as a portrait of the king does not replace, but rather brings to mind, the earthly king.

The Dissenters say: Jer. 10:3-15.

The Orthodox reply: Here it concerns idols, and not true depictions, which are permitted (see Ex. 25:8-10, 17-21).

The Dissenters say: See the Book of Jeremias.

The Orthodox reply: This concerns idols and not true representations, which are permitted.

The Dissenters say: Acts 17:24-31.

The Orthodox reply: We do not think that the Divinity is gold, silver, or stone carved by men. But we ask the question: Is God actually paper, printed with letters? No. But we use paper to refer to God by writing the name ‘God’. Is God actually an angel or a stranger? No. But God appeared in the form of three strangers (see Genesis, chapter 18) and in the form of an Angel (see Judges, chapter 6).

Yes, we depict God in those forms in which He appeared to people; and Christ in the appearance that He had when he lived on earth; the Holy Spirit, as He appeared in a bodily form, in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22); God the Father in the appearance of the "Ancient of Days" that is as an Elder, as was seen in the vision of the Prophet Daniel (7:9) and also the angels, the Mother of God and the saints.

The Dissenters say: Romans 1:21-23. The Apostle forbids sacred depictions.

The Orthodox reply: The Church has never changed the glory of the incorruptible God. The sacred depictions, they do not stand with us "in place of the Creator," as do idols with the pagans. Just as a portrait of the king does not replace the king, so sacred depictions do not replace Christ God, Whom the holy icon commemorates.

The Dissenters say: Psalms 113 and 134.

The Orthodox reply: Here Scripture speaks of idols.

The Dissenters say: John 1:18. No one has seen God at any time and it is completely impossible to represent Him.

The Orthodox reply: It is possible, because "the Only Begotten Son, Which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath revealed Him" (John 1:18). "And the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him" (Luke 3:22). So we represent the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, as the Lord manifested Himself.

The Dissenters say: It is not necessary to speak of Old Testament depictions because Hebrew 9:5 now applies.

The Orthodox reply: Then don't read about them in the Bible, and cross these references out! But this one cannot do, but one must rather read Chapter Nine of Hebrews intelligently, and not like sectarians. The Apostle Paul spoke of the Old Testament sacred objects which were well known to the Jews, to whom this epistle was sent, not in order to deny them, which is inadmissible, but rather to instruct the Jews that it is possible to flee idols and yet to hold to physical sacred objects such as was God's command to Israel.

The Dissenters say: Why don't all icons work miracles?

The Orthodox reply: Why did not all the clothes of the Apostles work miracles, but only the Apostle Paul's "handkerchiefs and aprons" (Acts 19:12)?

The Dissenters say: If the icons are gods, then they should cry out when we hack at them and should strike those who mock them. This does not happen, which means that icons are not gods.

The Orthodox reply: No one recognizes them as gods, but only as sacred depictions. We should not be surprised that blasphemers of the icons are not immediately punished. Likewise, the soldiers and servants of Caiaphas hit Christ, spat at and mocked Him, but were not immediately punished; these acts, however, resulted in divine punishment after death. In like manner those sectarians who blaspheme will be visited with punishment.

In conclusion we say that the verses in Scripture that refer to idols do not refer to icons. Regarding idols: we do not have them in church. 

New Martyr Nicholas
[1] St. Nicholas’s meaning is clearer when we consider that the Russian word for 'icon corner' is bog – the same word as that used for God in Church Slavonic. St. Nicholas is not of course saying that icons are gods. An icon can never be consubstantial with the prototype because it has a different nature. The idea that two objects can be identical and yet different is explained by St. Theodore the Studite: ‘As in the Trinity Christ differs from the Father in hypostasis, so He differs from His own image in nature’.

The icon and the prototype are however connected – there is a participation of one in the other. An icon is connected to the person painted on it because the honour given to the image is transmitted to the prototype (the person painted on it). St. John of Damascus explains: ‘Matter is endued with a divine power through prayer made to those who are depicted in image. Purple by itself is simple, and so is silk, and the cloak which is made of both. But if the king put it on, the cloak receives honour from the honour due to the wearer. So is it with matter. By itself it is of no account, but if the one presented in image be full of grace, men become partakers of his grace according to their faith.’

The Fathers of the Seventh Oecumenical Council clearly state that we offer ‘relative worship’ to the icons. The original Greek word can also be translated as ‘venerate’. ‘Absolute worship’ or ‘adoration’ is offered to God alone.

[2] The Father is shown as the Ancient of Days in many older icons but the 1667 Council of Moscow condemned this practice. The dispute over whether the Son or the Father should be shown as the Ancient of Days still continues however. 

Friday, 26 October 2018

Concerning Sacred Depictions and Sacred Objects (1)

By Saint Nicholas Varzhansky

Part One

In Holy Scripture a great deal is said concerning sacred depictions and sacred objects. Some depictions were absolutely forbidden as being false; one could not make them, possess them or honour them. However, God did command the making of other images and objects, and it was ordained that they should be considered holy and be honoured. First let us consider the false depictions.

False depictions and objects were absolutely forbidden by the Second Commandment of the Law given on Sinai:

"I am the Lord thy God, Which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; thou shalt have no other gods before My face. Thou shalt not make unto thee any idol or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow thyself down to them, nor serve them, for I the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God" (Ex. 20:2-5; Deut. 5:6-9).

The false depictions are the idols of:

The calf (Ex. 32:4); Moloch (Lev. 18:21); Baal-phegor (Numbers 25:3); Baal (Judges 2:13; 3[1] Kings 18:21-29); Astarte (Judges 2:13).

The idols are nothing:

"We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but One" (1 Cor. 4-6).

Idols are the works of the hands of men:

"The customs of the people are vanity; they cut down a tree in the forest, they work it with the hands of the carpenter with the help of the axe; they cover it with silver and gold, they fasten it with nails and the hammer, that it move not. They are as turned columns, but they do not speak; they must needs be borne because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them for they cannot cause evil, and neither is in their power to do good" (Jer. 10:3-5).

The laws of nature do not yield to the idols:

"Every man is mindless in his understanding; every smelter is shamed by his graven image, for what he hath fashioned is false, and there is no breath in them. It is a complete vanity, the work of delusion; in the time of their visitation they shall perish" (Jer. 10:14-15).

The idols cause depravity and abomination:

"The idea of making idols is the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them the dissipation of life" (Wisdom of Solomon 14:12). 

Near the idol of Astarte there was a house of ill-fame. Osias the king "brought" the Astarte "out of the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook of Kedron, and he burned it at the brook of Kedron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof out upon the cemetery of the peoples. And he brake down the houses of ill-fame, which were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove garments for Astarte, and he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah" ( 4 [2] Kings 23:6-8).

God commands to make true depictions:

"Make ye an ark of shittim wood, two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof" (Ex. 25:10).

"Make thou a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And make thou two cherubims of gold, make thou them of beaten work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. Arid make one cherubim at the one end and the other cherubim at the other end; standing out from the mercy seat make the the cherubims on both its ends, and the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall be one to another; towards the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be. And place the mercy seat above the ark on high, and in the ark place the revelation, that I shall give thee" (Ex. 25:17-21).

"Moreover make thou the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and of blue and purple and scarlet stuff, and cherubims of skillful work make thou on them" (Ex. 26:1).

"And make thou a veil of blue, and purple and scarlet stuff and of fine twined linen; cherubims of skillful workmanship must be made upon it" (Ex. 26:31).

The Ark of the Covenant was itself called Lord:

"When the ark was taken up on the way, Moses said: Arise, O Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee from before Thy face! And when the ark rested, he said: Return, O Lord, unto the ten thousand thousands of lsrael!" (Number 10:35-36).

"Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship the footstool of His feet, for it is holy” (Ps.98:5).

David spoke before the ark and he said: "Before the Lord will I play and will dance, and I will be more abased, and will make myself even more lowly in mine eyes" (2 Kings [Samuel] 6:21-22).

The ark was called God as being the highest holy thing of God:

"O God, when Thou wentest forth before Thy people, when Thou didst traverse the wilderness, the earth was shaken and the heavens dropped dew, at the presence of the God of Sinai, at the presence of the God of Israel"(Ps. 67:8-9).

God commands to make sacred objects:

"Make thou an altar of offering, from shittim wood make thou it" (Ex. 30:1).

"Upon it Aaron shall burn sweet-smelling incense every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense thereon; and when Aaron lighteth the lamps at evening, he shall burn incense thereon - a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations" (Ex. 30:7-8).

"And make thou a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work must this candlestick be." "And make thou seven lamps therefor, and set its lamps thereon that they might light over against it" (Ex. 25:31;37).

The tabernacle, the sacred depictions and objects were sanctified and most holy.

"Make thou of it a chrism for sacred anointing, an ointment, compounded by the art of one who compounds ointments; it shall be chrism for sacred anointing; and anoint thou the tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all that pertains thereto, and the candlestick and all that pertains thereto, and the altar of incense, and the altar of the whole burnt offering and all that pertains thereto, and the laver and its stand; and sanctify them and it shall be a holy great thing: all who touch them shall be sanctified" (Ex. 30:25-29).

All the sacred objects and depictions were made not only by God's command, but also according to the pattern revealed by Him:

"Make thou them according to that pattern, which was shown thee on the mountain" (Ex. 25:40).
True depictions were not only found in the tabernacle, but also in the Temple of Solomon:

"He made two cherubims of olive wood, each ten cubits high. And five cubits was the one wing of the cherubim, and five cubits the other wing of the cherubim; from the uttermost part of the one wing unto the uttermost part of the other were ten cubits. And the other cherubim was ten cubits; both the cherubims were of one measure and of one form. The height of one cherubim was ten cubits, and so was it of the other cherubim. And he set the cherubims in the centre of the inner part of the temple. The wings of the cherubims were stretched forth, and the wing of one touched one wall and the wing of the other cherubim touched the other wall; and the other wings came together wing upon wing in the midst of the temple. And he overlaid the cherubims with gold. And on all the walls of the temple around he made various depictions of cherubims, and of palm trees, and of open flowers, within and without" (3 [1] Kings 6:23 -29).

The Lord sanctified this Temple and approved Solomon on its account:

"The Lord appeared unto Solomon the second time, as He had appeared to him at Gabaoth. And the Lord said unto him: I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou has made before Me (I have done all according to thy prayer). I have hallowed this temple, which thou hast built, that My name might continue there unto the age; and Mine eyes and My heart shall be there in all days… But if ye shall at all turn from following Me, ye or your sons, and will not keep My commandments and My statutes that I have given you, but go and begin to serve other gods and worship them, then will I cut off Israel from the face of the land, which I have given it, and the temple which I have sanctified for My name will I turn away from My face, and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this temple, which is high, everyone that passeth by shall be astonished and shall hiss, and they shall say: Why hath the Lord acted thus with this land and with this temple? And they shall say: Because they forsook the Lord their God, Who brought forth their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and did take unto themselves other gods and worshipped them and served them; therefore hath the Lord brought all this calamity upon them" (3 [1] Kings 9:2-3, 6-9).

There were sacred depictions in the true temple seen in vision by the Prophet Ezekiel:

"Show them the form of the temple and the fashion thereof… and all the images thereof"(Ezek. 43:11).

Idols were always distinguished from true depictions. The Lord sanctified the temple with its true depictions, but when Solomon introduced false depictions the Lord condemned him:

"And Solomon began to serve Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milchom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did what was displeasing in the eyes of the Lord, and followed not the Lord wholly, as had David his father. Then did Solomon build an idol-temple to Chalmos, the abomination of the Moabites, on the mountain that is before Jerusalem, and to Moloch the abomination of the Ammonites. And likewise did he for all his foreign wives, who burnt incense and offered sacrifices unto their gods. And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of lsrael, Which had appeared unto him twice, and commanded him that he not follow after other gods, but he did not fulfil that which the Lord (God) had commanded him. And the Lord said unto Solomon: Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it unto thy servant" (3 [1] Kings 11:5-11).