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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

Saturday, 25 November 2017

A True Celebration of Christmas

Traditional Orthodox Christians celebrate the Nativity of Christ on 25th December according to the Old Calendar (7th January on the New Calendar). The Nativity Fast begins for us on 28th November (New Calendar) and therefore coincides with both the run-up to Western Christmas and the festival itself.

Western Christmas has become an almost completely non-religious festival in the UK, but the practice of giving gifts at Christmas has a Christian foundation. St. Nicholas of Myra, whose memory we celebrate on 6th/19th December, was the inspiration for Santa Claus due to his practice of leaving gifts anonymously for the poor.

On the 12th/25th November, just before the start of the Nativity Fast, we celebrate two more saints who are famous for their deeds of mercy to the poor. St. John the Almsgiver (right) became Patriarch of Alexandra in 610 AD and immediately asked for a complete census of all the poor and beggars in the city – there were found to be over 7500.  St. John decreed that they were all to be clothed and fed every day and said: ‘Those whom you call poor and beggars, these I proclaim my masters and helpers. For they, and they only, are really able to help us and bestow upon us the Kingdom of Heaven.’

St. John also built hospitals and refuges for refugees feeling from the capture of Jerusalem by the Persians and used up the resources of the Church to feed and care for them. St. John reposed in 619 in his homeland of Cyprus.

In the Greek Church, the memory of St. Martin of Tours is also kept on 12th November. St. Martin, like St. John the Almsgiver, was known as ‘The Merciful’ during his life for his many acts of charity to the poor.

St. Martin was born in 316 in Pannonia (modern-day Hungary) but he grew up in Italy. Although his family were pagans, St. Martin received permission to become  a catechumen at the age of ten. Even at a young age, St. Martin was renowned for his acts of mercy to the poor, once cutting his military cloak in two in order to give half to clothe a beggar (left). St. Martin was mocked by his friends for this act, but that night Christ appeared to Him clothed in the cloak that St. Martin had given to the beggar. Christ said: ‘Martin, while still a catechumen has clothed me in this garment.'

St. Martin was baptized soon after and, following his discharge from the army, travelled to Poitiers and became a disciple of St. Hilary. In 371 the people of Tours compelled him to become their bishop. Saint Martin reposed in the year 397.

Using the examples of these two Saints, we can turn the feast of Western Christmas into a useful preparation for the celebration of Orthodox Christmas. The Nativity Fast is a time of repentance and spiritual struggle in order for us to be spiritually nourished and renewed on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. The ever-memorable Metropolitan Cyprian explains this further:

It is certain that only the Christ-bearing faithful, that is, those who live their Christian calling and identity in repentance and holiness of life, and therefore believe unshakeably that in the God-Man ‘there dwells bodily the fullness of the Divinity’ ­–­ only they I repeat, are able to approach this great Feast and to appreciate its magnitude.  A necessary condition for one to live the Mysteries of our pure Orthodox Faith, and especially the Nativity of our Saviour Christ, is a personal rebirth and renewal through the life of Grace, which is granted to us in the God-built workshop of holiness, our Mother and nourisher, the Church.

Metropolitan Cyprian calls the Church a ‘workshop of holiness’ and this expression illustrates perfectly how we should understand the Church and our role in Her. St. Paul calls us to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2: 12-13). Giving money to the poor (almsgiving) is part of this work we do in order to make sure our faith is living and not dead (cf. James 2:17). 

It is only right that most of the money that our parish gives to charity each year goes to the help the poorest in the world. In the UK we simply do not have the depth of poverty that is found in developing countries where millions of people do not even have access to safe drinking water. Thousands die each day in these countries from a lack of things that we in the U.K. take for granted.

Nevertheless there are levels of poverty in some parts of Europe that have to be seen to be believed. Stranded migrants in Greece, for example, depend on our Church for food and medical care. Many elderly Greeks have to choose between medical care and food: they can’t afford both.  

Western Christmas has, for as long as anyone can remember, been a time for eating, drinking and enjoying time with the family.  We should remember at this time those who do not have anyone to celebrate with, or even a house to celebrate in.

The festive period is an excellent chance to volunteer at a homeless shelter; volunteers are always needed at this time of year. Many Church of England families invite an elderly neighbour to Christmas Dinner and this is something that we should be doing too. Even though Western Christmas is a fast day for us there is nothing stopping us doing something creative with fish, wine and oil! 

Our pure Orthodox Faith, therefore, is the foundation on which a true celebration of Christmas is built on.  As well as being renowned for their compassion, both St. John and St. Martin were unflinching in their opposition to heresy. St. John proclaimed the two natures of Christ in opposition to the Monophysites and St. Martin preached the Divinity of Christ thereby opposing the heresy of Arianism.
Following the example of these saints, we must never compromise our Orthodox Faith. However, genuine Orthodoxy does not consist in theoretically opposing wrong beliefs or theoretically believing correctly. It is only by being ‘rooted and grounded in love’ that we are able to know the ‘love of Christ which passes all knowledge’ (Eph. 3:17,19). If our correct belief is not demonstrated by love of our neighbour we shall be like the barren fig tree (cf. Luke 13:6-9) and consigned with those of whom Christ says: ‘I know you not’ (Matt. 7:23).

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Archbishop Welby is going to Heaven

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, caused a minor stir recently when he said the following in an interview with Alastair Campbell published in GQ magazine.[1]

Campbell: 'Will you go to Heaven?'
Welby: 'Yes.'
Campbell: 'Will I go to Heaven?'
Welby: 'That's up to you.'

Although Archbishop Welby’s answers sound arrogant to Orthodox ears, they are entirely consistent with his beliefs and not just personal conceit. Welby also categorically states in the same interview that he believes in the Virgin Birth and the Divinity of Christ so he is not a liberal in the Anglican sense.

Welby’s background in the Evangelical parish Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) could explain his certainty that he is going to Heaven. HTB became famous in the 1990s for embracing the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and events there made the UK and international press:

The youthful throng buzzes with anticipation more common at a rock concert or a rugby match. After the usual scripture readings, prayers, and singing, the chairs are cleared away. Curate Nicky Gumbel prays that the Holy Spirit will come upon the congregation. Soon, a woman begins laughing. Others gradually join her with hearty belly laughs. A young worshipper falls to the floor, hands twitching. Another falls, then another and another. Within half an hour, there are bodies everywhere as supplicants sob, shake, roar like lions, and strangest of all, laugh uncontrollably.[2]

Alpha Course literature no longer mentions the Toronto Blessing, but earlier editions of the talks that accompany the course mentioned it specifically:

Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto then she said ‘Now we’ll invite the Holy Spirit to come’ and the moment she said that, one of the people there was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing … making the most incredible noise … [3]

This behaviour resembles the actions of those possessed by demons that we read about in the Gospels:  

And one of the multitude answered and said, Teacher, I have brought unto you my son, who has a dumb spirit; And wherever he takes him, he throws him down: and he foams, and gnashes with his teeth, and wastes away: and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answered him, and said, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? Bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, immediately the spirit convulsed him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming (Matt. 9:17-20).

At Pentecost, the apostles did not bark like dogs, roar like lions or writhe on the ground. On the contrary, as we hear in the service for Pentecost, ‘each one of them there present heard spoken his native tongue’. In other words, the apostles were given the gift of speaking foreign languages. 

We don’t have time in this article to discuss the Alpha Course in great detail, but the Course, and the worship at HTB are rooted in the so-called Faith Movement. This movement promotes many heretical beliefs, one of which, ‘faith in faith’, is outlined below by the Baptist pastor Dr. Nick Needham:

‘Faith’ is an independent spiritual force, a basic law of the universe. God Himself is a ‘faith God’: He created the universe by His faith. This involved God in visualising the universe in His imagination, and then speaking it into existence with ‘faith-filled words’—saying ‘Let it be’ and believing that it would be. Man also can use the same power and create his own reality. This involves visualising what you want, and then speaking it into existence with faith in your creative words (‘Positive confession’—sometimes called ‘Name it and claim it’).[4]

According to the above theory, people can ‘create’ reality by wishing it into existence. Followers of the Alpha Course, for example, invite Jesus into their life and this becomes a reality because they have ‘named it and claimed it’. This theory also explains why follows of the Alpha Course believe that they will go to Heaven.

The Alpha Course has also been criticized by Reformed Protestants for promoting ‘easy believism’ – the belief that one needs to accept Christ as Saviour but not necessarily as Lord. In other words, ‘easy believers’ can continue their lives without obeying Christ’s commandments as long as they accept Christ as Saviour. In similar fashion, the Alpha Course ignores Christ’s role as Judge and Lord in order to promote a more accessible Jesus. HTB’s own magazine describes the course as ‘fun and unthreatening - just like our Lord Himself!’ [5]

We have only quoted a small part of Welby’s interview, but it is clear that the idea he is putting forward here is not Orthodox. We cannot be saved simply by telling ourselves we are. Nor can people can save themselves solely by their own actions. This idea was condemned by the Orthodox Church in the fifth century – it is called the heresy of Pelagianism.

People who are convinced that they are going to Heaven are forgetting that we will be judged by God for our deeds on earth as Saint Paul teaches: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad’ (2.Cor. 5:10).

Christ is the Judge of All and Almighty God. Christ Himself says: ‘As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 5:30) ‘And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me' (John 8:16).

We preach Christ as Saviour and Lord Who, when He comes again in glory, will reveal the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of our hearts (cf. 1. Cor. 4:5). Christ teaches:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity (Matt. 7: 22-23).

Even though Christ is a Just Judge, the chances of us entering the Kingdom of Heaven are far from certain. Even St. Paul did not dare to say that he was already saved or going to heaven: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own’ (Phil. 3:12). In a similar vein, St. Paul likens our Christian life to an athletic race: ‘Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain (1. Cor. 9:24).

We must repent of our sins and struggle to run the race well, but we cannot earn salvation by our works. It is for reason that the Church describes our spiritual life as cooperation with the Holy Spirit. This cooperation between our works on earth and grace is called synergy. St. Paul uses the word ‘synergy’ in this context when he says: ‘We are fellow workers (synergoi) with God’ (1. Cor. 3:9).  

Salvation is not solely up to us, because as Christ says: ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15:5). However, our contribution is indispensable because, as St. James the Apostle teaches, ‘Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).

Our personal salvation is therefore not assured unless we continue to ‘fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life’ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12). Who among us can say that we are fighting this good fight as well as we should? Who among us can say that we have no sin? We cannot, therefore, declare that we will go to Heaven.

We are all sinners and we must repent, acknowledging how far we away from even beginning to keep Christ’s commandments. It is for this reason, that time and again in the services of the Orthodox Church we ask for the mercy of God. For example, in the Orthodox funeral service we chant:

I am an image of Thine ineffable glory even though I bear the wounds of sin; take compassion on Thy creature, O Master, and cleanse me by Thy loving-kindness; and grant me the desired fatherland, making me again a dweller of Paradise.

We cannot, like Archbishop Welby, say that we are going to Heaven. We acknowledge that we are sinners, but we trust in the mercy and love of God ‘Who desires that all men be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

[2] Richard Ostling, 'Laughing for the Lord'. Time Magazine. Aug 15, 1994.
[3] Talk 9 Edition 1 (2000)
[5] Alpha News Feb 1997

Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Church is the Body of Christ

By Saint John of Shanghai the Wonderworker

'Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all' (Col. 1:18, Eph.1:23). 

In the sacred Scriptures the Church is repeatedly called the Body of Christ. “Rejoice in my sufferings for you … for His body’s sake, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24), writes the holy Apostle Paul. The Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were given by Christ “for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). 

At the same time, it is into the Body and Blood of Christ that the bread and wine are changed during the Divine Liturgy, and the faithful partake of them. Thus it was instituted by Christ Himself, when at the Mystical Supper He imparted Communion unto His Apostles with the words, “Take, eat, this is My body; drink ye all from it, this is My blood of the New Testament” (Matt. 26:26-28). 

How at one and the same time can the Body of Christ be manifest both as the Church and as the Holy Mysteries? 

In the one case and in the other the designation “Body of Christ” is not used metaphorically, but in the actual meaning of the words. We believe that the Holy Mysteries, while maintaining the appearance of bread and wine, are the very Body and very Blood of Christ. We also believe and confess that Christ is the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, became a man truly and that His flesh, taken from the Virgin Mary, was actually human flesh; that in body and soul Christ was truly a man in every respect like unto us, except for sin, and that at the same time He remains true God. The Son of God’s Divine Nature was not diminished or changed when He was incarnate, neither was His human nature changed thereby, but it fully retained all its human characteristics. 

The Divinity and the humanity are united in the One Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, without change, and without blending for ever, undivided and inseparably. The Son of God was incarnate so that people might be made ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4), so that man, who had fallen into sin and death, might be freed therefrom and be made immortal.  

When we are united with Christ, we receive Divine Grace, which grants human nature the power of victory over sin and death. The Lord Jesus Christ showed people the way of victory over sin by His teaching and He grants us eternal life, making us participants in His eternal kingdom through His Resurrection. That we might receive this Divine Grace from Him, the closest possible communion with Him is indispensable. Drawing all to Himself by Divine love and uniting them to Himself, the Lord united one to another those who love Him and had come thereunto, uniting them within the One Church.

The Church is unity in Christ, the closest union with Christ for all who rightly believe in Him and love Him, the union of all of them in Christ.  This is what the Church comprises from her earthly part even to her heavenly.
The Son of God came to earth and was incarnate, to raise man to Heaven, to make him again a citizen of Paradise, restoring him again to his original condition of sinlessness and wholeness, and to unite him to Himself. 

This is achieved through the action of the Grace of God, which is imparted through the Church, but it also requires effort on the part of man himself. God saves His fallen creature through His love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also needed, and without it it is impossible for him to be saved. When it strives towards God and cleaves to the Lord in its humble love, the soul of man receives power, which cleanses it of sin, and strengthens it to battle with sin unto complete victory.
In this battle the body also participates; though it now appears to be the dwelling-place and instrument of sin, it is intended to be the instrument of righteousness and the vessel of sanctity. 

God made man, breathing a Godlike spirit into the animate body which He had first created from the earth. The body must be the instrument of the soul which is subservient to God. Through it the soul of man is manifest in the material world. Through the body and its particular members, the soul reveals its characteristics and the nature which God has given it as His image, and thus the body is a manifestation of the image of God and “our beauty is fashioned after the image of God” (verses from the Funeral Service). 

When the first-created people fell away from their Creator spiritually, the body, which hitherto had been subservient to the soul, receiving its orders through the soul, ceased to be subject unto it and began to strive to rule over it. The law of the flesh took the place of the law of God within man.
Sin, which thus cut man off from the source of life, God, also separated man himself. He lost the oneness in his soul, between soul and body, and death came upon him. The soul, no longer watered by the streams of life, could no longer impart them to the body. The body became corruptible, languidness became the portion of the soul. 

Christ came to earth to raise up the fallen image again, and to bring it back to unity with Him, Whose image it was. Uniting him with Himself, God elevated man to his original goodness in all its fullness.

Granting grace and sanctification to the soul, Christ also purified, strengthened, healed and hallowed soul and body. ‘He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit with the Lord’ (1 Cor. 6:17). The body, then, of the man united with the Lord, must be the Lord’s instrument, serving for the fulfilment of His will and being part of the Body of Christ. 

That man might be wholly sanctified, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is achieved in the Mystery of Holy Communion. The very Body and very Blood of Christ, which we partake of, become part of the great Body of Christ.

Of course, for there to be union with Christ, it is not enough simply to unite our body with the Body of Christ. The tasting of the Body of Christ becomes beneficial, when with the soul we strive towards Him and are united with Him. The reception of the Body of Christ, when spiritually we are turning aside from Him, is like the touching of Christ by those who beat Him, and scourged Him and crucified Him. Their contact with Him did not serve for their salvation or healing, but was unto condemnation. 

Those who receive Communion, though, with reverence, love and a readiness to place themselves at His service, intimately unite themselves with Him, and they become instruments of His Divine will. 

‘He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me, and I in him’ (John 6:56). 

Having united himself with the Risen Lord, and through Him with the whole Ever-Existing Trinity, a man draws strength from Him unto eternal life and himself becomes immortal. 

‘As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me’ (John 6:57). 

All those who believe in Christ and are united with Him by giving themselves to Him and through the reception of the Grace of God together comprise the Church of Christ, the Head of which is Christ Himself, and those enter into Him are His members. 

Invisible to the physical eye, Christ clearly manifests Himself on earth through His Church, just as the soul of man, which is invisible, manifests itself through its body. The Church is the Body of Christ because her members are united with Christ through His Divine Mysteries, and because through her Christ acts within the world. 

We commune of the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might be members of the Body of Christ (the Church). 

This is not achieved instantaneously. The fullest abiding in the Church is the condition of victory over sin and a complete cleansing therefrom. Everything sinful to a certain degree alienates us from the Church and separates us from the Church. This is why, at confession, this prayer is read over every penitent: ‘Reconcile, and unite to Thy holy Church.’ Through repentance the Christian is cleansed; in the communion of the Holy Mysteries he is united most closely with Christ, but then again the dust of sin settles upon him and he is estranged from Christ and the Church and therefore again needs repentance and Communion. 

Right until a man’s earthly life ends, to the very departure of his soul from the body, the battle between sin and righteousness continues within him. However exalted, spiritual or moral a condition he may have reached, it is possible for him by degrees or even precipitately to fall deeply into the abyss of sin. So it is indispensable for us, at each and every communion of the holy Body and Blood of Christ, to strengthen our communion with Him and bedew ourselves with the living streams of the Grace of the Holy Spirit which flow within the Body of the Church. The importance of communing of the Holy Mysteries is demonstrated by the Life of the venerable Onouphrius the Great, to whom, along with the other hermits who dwelt in that desert, the Angels brought Holy Communion; by the venerable Mary of Egypt whose last wish, after many years of living in the desert, was to receive the Holy Mysteries; by the venerable Sabbatius of Solovki and by a host of others. It was not vainly that the Lord said: ‘Amen, Amen, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you’ (John 6:53). 

The communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is the reception within oneself of the Risen Christ, the Conqueror of death, Who grants to those who are with Him victory over sin and death.

When we preserve in ourselves the grace-filled gift of Communion, we have the pledge and presaging of the blessed life of soul and body. 

Until the very 'Day of Christ', His second Coming and Judgment of all the world, the battle between sin and righteousness will continue, both within each individual man, and among all mankind.
The earthly Church unites all those born again by way of Baptism, who have taken up the Cross of the battle with sin, and who follow the Contest-setter of that battle, Christ. The Divine Eucharist, the offering of the bloodless sacrifice and the communion thereof, sanctifies and strengthens those who participate; it makes those who taste of the Body and Blood of Christ true members of His Body, the Church. But it is only at death that a man may determine whether until his last breath he was actually a member of the Body of Christ, or whether sin prevailed within him and expelled the grace that he had received in the Holy Mysteries and which bound him to Christ. 

He who dies in grace, as a member of the earthly Church, is translated from the Church on earth to that in heaven, but he who has forsaken the earthly [Church] does not enter into the heavenly, for that part of the Church which is on earth is the road to the heavenly. 

The more a man finds himself under the action of the grace of Communion and the more closely he binds himself to Christ, the more he will inherit communion with Christ in His Kingdom which is to come.

But if sin continues to act in a man’s soul even unto death, then his body will be subject to its consequences, which bear in themselves sickness and death, and from them it will only be liberated when it decomposes after the death of that man and when it rises free of them in the General Resurrection. He who is united soul and body to Christ in this life, will be united with Him soul and body in the life to come. The grace-filled streams of the Life-creating Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ are manifest as the sources of our eternal joy in communion with the Risen Christ and in seeing His glory face to face. 

Even though sin does not completely alienate one from the race of man, nonetheless its consequences act not only upon individual people, but, through them, upon them upon the earthly activity of the whole Church. Constantly heresies, schisms and disorders appear, tearing away a portion of the faithful. From of old, breaks in commemoration between the local churches or within sections of them have agitated the Church, and in the Divine services we constantly hear prayers that such things might be cut short. 

‘We ask for concord among the Churches’, ‘the union of the Churches’ (Canon of the Resurrection, Plagal Fourth Tone), ‘that the dissension of the Churches might be set in order’ (Service of the Archangels, 8th November) ­– these and other similar petitions has the Orthodox Church offered up over the course of the centuries. On the Great Sabbath itself, before the Winding-Sheet, the Church cries out: ‘Birthgiver of Life, O most blameless and most holy Virgin: Quell every offence within our most Holy Church, blessing us with peace forever, O Good Maid’. 

Only when Christ appears in the clouds, will the tempter be trampled down and only then will all offences and temptations disappear. 

When the battle between good and evil, between life and death, is finished, then will the Church on earth be delivered into the Church Triumphant, in which “God will be all in all” (see 1 Cor. 15:28). 

In the coming Kingdom of Christ, there will be no need to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, for all those who have been deemed worthy will be in the closest bodily communion with Him and will delight in the pre-eternal light of the Life-originating Trinity, experiencing a blessedness which no tongue can describe and which our feeble minds cannot comprehend. Therefore, after the communion of the holy Mysteries of Christ at the Liturgy, in the sanctuary they always say the prayer which is sung on the paschal days, ‘O great and most sacred Pascha, Christ; O Wisdom and Word and power of God! Grant that we may partake of Thee fully in the unwaning day of Thy kingdom.’
Translated from Slova - the Homilies of St John of Shanghai, published by Russkiy Pastyr in San Francisco, in 1994.