Closed Communion

H/T: Pravmir (here)

pricesce_thumbClosed Communion
Ilias Levy

To some Orthodox it may seem that this is a somewhat bizarre issue to think worthy of an article. Indeed, perhaps it ought to be. Unfortunately, however, it is something about which there appears to be a certain amount of ignorance and confusion – to the extent where there have been very troubling instances of non-Orthodox being given Communion in Britain and other places. Where this happens, it is of course a disciplinary issue which must be dealt with by the appropriate Hierarchs. However it is also true that for some people it is an issue which is very difficult to understand – and from this lack of understanding can come an understandable pastoral difficulty when people are told that, for instance, a Catholic or Protestant spouse or friend cannot be admitted to Communion.

It is therefore my intention to try to make this subject more widely understood and, hopefully, by increasing knowledge and understanding, removing the potential for insult or offence.

Part of the reason for this confusion is that other Christian denominations allow any Christian (and, occasionally, anyone at all) to receive the Precious Gifts. Whether this is in fact true is something to which I will come later. Indeed, it seems more likely that the reason is simply that there is a lack of knowledge about the significance of Communion. This Mystery is not a cause of unity, rather a result of it.

The act of receiving Communion is not something which brings someone into unity with the Church. In fact, the most serious penalty which the Church can put on its members is that of excommunication – refusing to allow an individual to receive the Gifts. This shows not only the importance of the Eucharist for Orthodox Christians, but also the fact that one must be a faithful member of the Church to take part in the Mystery.

The most significant reason for keeping a practice of closed communion is that it is vitally necessary for a communicant to have a correct understanding of the Holy Mystery from which he is partaking. As A.S. Frangopoulos explains in his book ‘Our Orthodox Christian Faith’, other Christians have an alternate – and therefore incorrect – understanding of the Eucharist. How, then, would it be at all reasonable to invite them to share, as Frangopoulos puts it, a common cup? This difference is most keenly felt when it comes to the vast majority of Protestant denominations. The Orthodox doctrine is that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist truly become the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Saviour. Most Protestants, on the other hand, tend to see this as purely a symbolic matter, choosing to concentrate on the words of Christ – “Do this in remembrance of me”. This line is, of course, only a very small part of Christ’s institution of the Eucharist.

In the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel of St John, Christ tells us that this sacrament is for the unity of the faith, that His disciples might be one. How, then, can we share this most sacred of Mysteries with those with whom we have no unity? A (rather strange, it must be said) response to this might be that “well, we are all Christians”. Only in the most basic of senses, this may be true. But we, as Orthodox Christians, believe that the Orthodox Church holds, uniquely, the fullness of truth. It carries the traditions and faith of the Apostles, and therefore springs from the salvific teaching of Christ Himself. Any theological deviation from this faith is, by definition, lacking in truth.

Another scriptural justification for the practice of closed communion comes from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” One of the reasons that this is apparently such a difficult issue in our modern, Western, society is the rise of the oppressive atmosphere of pluralism. This doctrine attempts to teach us that all opinions, beliefs and ideas are equally valid, and that it is in some sense morally wrong to question anyone else’s views or to promote a known truth of your own. Of course, as Orthodox Christians we know that this simply cannot work. There can be no such thing as a pluralist Orthodoxy. This does not, of course, mean that we should be judgmental, prejudicial or condemnatory. We are clearly commanded in the Gospel to love our neighbours, and even our enemies. It is sometimes a difficult balance to achieve, but we are extremely fortunate that we have two millennia of Church Tradition and wisdom to draw upon.

Finally, I would like to quote an extract from an online article on this subject – “It is crucial to point out that the Orthodox practice of “closed” communion is not a judgment against a person or their standing in God’s eyes or the potential of their salvation. It is not a way of saying that some are “good” and others are “bad”. The practice of receiving communion together is the outward expression of having all things in common, in faith and worship. It is the fruit of unity.”

Behind Every Test….

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H/T: Elder Ephraim Arizona (here)

Almost all attribute their conversion to some ordeal.

Sorrow is not nice. However, behind it, behind the pain, behind the sorrow, behind the test, lurks the blessing of God, the rebirth, the reforming of man, of family. Almost everyone attributes his/her conversion to some test. They believe everything goes well, then God takes their child, and then there is mourning, pain etc. Then comes the grace of God which overshadows them, making these people calm. They approach the Church, approach the confession, approach the priest. Thanks to that child they go to the Church. Their pain makes them to seek, to pray for repose, to request liturgies.
Pain relieves the heart and makes it receptive to the word of God, while earlier it was hard and unreceptive. For example, a man during his youthful exuberance thinks, “I am and no one else is”. There go the degrees, the glories, the health, the beauty and everything else. However, when he is laid in bed sick, he thinks differently. Vanity of vanity, everything is vanity. I may die, he thinks. What is the benefit of all these and he starts to think differently. It is like a man approaching him and tells him, “read this book and check what it says”. He hears a word of God and then he listens to it. And if you give him a book, his pain has already made his heart suitable and he opens the book and the Bible and reads it and thus starts the repose of man. And when he is healed, immediately then he stands up and lives carefully his life and does not live like before with pride and with the fantasy he had.
Sickness and sorrow is by and large medicine of the providence of God to bring man closer to Him and increase his virtue.
The sickness and sorrow is by and large medicine of the providence of God to bring man closer to Him and increase his virtue. Job was the best man on earth but God wanted to make him even better. Before he was tested, Job was not famous. As soon as he was tested and fought, struggled, crowned and became rich, after that began his glory to this day. His example is the most brilliant one and empowers every man that is being tested. If he was tested being a saint, so much more us who are sinners. The result was he was made holy and was given again years of life and blessed him doubly and thrice with what he had, thus becoming a bright example throughout the centuries and for him to relax and say: “As the Lord wished so it happened. May the name of the Lord be blessed”. He lowers his head and says: “God gave and God took” And even if He took my child, hasn’t God given him to me? He took it. Where is my child? In heaven? So what happens there? He reposes there.
Behind every test lurks the will of God and the benefit which naturally he could not see at that time, but with time he will know the benefit. We have many such examples.
Like also the Saints Andronicus and Athanasia. They were a couple. He was a jeweler of great wealth etc. Part of his profit from work was used to feed his family. Another part of his profit he gave to the poor and a third of his profit was lent to people who had no money, interest free. They had two happy daughters. One day both died from sickness. Both parents went to bury them. Athanasia, the unfortunate one, would cry inconsolably over their graves. So did Andronicus. With great pain he started for home. Poor Athanasia stayed behind to mourn over their graves. “My children” and “My children” she cried. The sun was setting and the cemetery was closing. In her sorrow she saw a monk coming to her and telling her: “Lady why are you crying?”
How could I not cry Father?” (She thought he was the priest of the cemetery). “I buried both my children, my two angels, I laid them in their graves and I and my husband are left alone. We have no more freshness anymore.
He tells her: “Your children are in paradise with the angels. They are in the joy and grace of God and you cry? Pity, and you are a Christian.

“So they live my children? Are they angels?”

Of course your children are angels”

He was the Saint of that Church. Finally both Andronicus and Athanasia became monastics and were sanctified.

Elder Ephraim, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Anthony’s – Arizona

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

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Today is a beautiful feast and one that presents us with many things to consider. For instance, in the long gospel read at liturgy we heard, among other things:  Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”  The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.

Good news? Gabriel? Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? When the Archangel used the same line to the Virgin Mary we dedicated an entire feast to it and called it the Annunciation.  But that’s not the case here. Nor was Zachariah’s response anywhere near to that of the Virgin Mary. Is it just me or are women portrayed so much more heroically in the gospels than men.

Like when Elizabeth breaks family tradition later on in the reading: On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

The Kosovo Covenant

“The Lord sees the heart and soul and there recognizes who relies on himself, in their own deeds, in their belonging to the faithful people of God, the Church of God. He sees who is ready to go with Him to the end. He looks to see who is ready to renounce himself, to take up his cross and follow Christ and to know that the earthly kingdom is temporary but the Heavenly is unto the ages of ages, as St. Prince Lazar said. The Battle of Kosovo and Prince Lazar are a defense of the faith, witnessing the truth and true faith, faithfulness in Christ. And so whenever we remember the Battle of Kosovo and when we speak of the Kosovo Covenant we don’t speak of an idol, there is no idolatry to some event that once happened nor to the people who are actors in that event, but we speak of the Kosovo Covenant as a constant choosing Christ’s Church and all of us for Christ, aware that all things rest on Christ.”

Metropolitan Porfirije of Zagreb

Theologian of Surprises

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H/T: Istocnik.ca (here)

Fr Justin is a theologian of surprise

The festivities in honor of our Holy Father Justin in Chelije Monastery is an opportunity to liturgically come together with pastors of our Church from communities geographically far from us. Bishop of Western America, His Grace Dr. Maxim (Vasiljevic), one of the most educated hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church today,  gave a beautiful homily of Chelije’s spiritual giant, calling this beautiful feast at the calendar summer’s dawn, Justinday.

As we are having this conversation at the Chelije monastery, on the feast of our Holy Father Justin, our topic – in a way – comes on its own. What does Father Justin mean to you as a theologian and pastor of God’s Church?  

Bishop Maxim: Saint Father Justin is a representative of the “theology of surprise” because at every one of our encounters with him, in reading his works, eternals truths are given to us, but in a new manner. This is a characteristic of truly great theologians and Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic) rightfully calls him a “new theologian”. His language is crystal clean and clear and doxologically rich. He has enriched the Serbian language, theology and philosophy. It is known that he was one of the founders of the Serbian philosophical society (with Branislav Petronijevic, 1938, in Belgrade). Also, the translation of Father’s books into Greek brought about the coining of new words : “охристовљење“, “христопис“, “еклисиопис“… Father Justin always opens new horizons of theology.

The social environment during Fr. Justin’s life was accompanied by unbelief and an open persecution of the Church. Today, the faithful are faced with other temptations. What can we learn from his example that is important our own endurance on the path of faith?

Bishop Maxim: Fr. Justin was a  man of love and truth. He theologized in love, revealing the misconceptions of this world. He was the one to enlighten, who is in the truth and rejoices, and gives incentive to the one in error to leave it, to “sober up” and return to the path of Christ.

Father Justin is a reliable guide for bishops, a reminder for pastoral interaction with the faithful. Not out of our authority, but love, humility …. As we notice, he calls every man. He has gathered us today at Chelije at the Divine Liturgy and calls us to great councils. Next year, in 2016, the Great pan-Orthodox Council will be held in Constantinople (Istanbul). With his sharp language and pen Father Justin has “branded” certain “deviations”, or the approach to the preparation of the council during his time. Today, his disciples (Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands and Bishop Irinej of Backa) are among the participants of the preparations of the Ecumenical council.

What do you specifically mean by “deviations”?

Bishop Maxim: At that time the approach to the tradition of the Church was very “rigid”. The themes for the council were the calendar, marriage, and similar items instead of witnessing Orthodoxy today in the world. “We don’t want cabinet (office; management), bureaucratic topics at the council, but the living ones,” Fr. Justin would say. He was able to wake the conscious. Besides Father’s disciples, among the participants of the council are those who were not his disciples directly, but they grew in his example. For instance, the president of the Committee for Preparing Topics for the Council, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon highly respected Fr. Justin.

Father Justin is always the moderator for he speaks to us of the themes of the Gospels and the Saints.

Holiness is a timeless theme and challenge for all of us to live by the example of God’s people, right?

Bishop Maxim: Father Justin used to say that the lives of the Saints show us how a plowman becomes a saint. Or a shoemaker, mailman… In recent times, for example, a model or a web designer. Of course, also a newsman. We are all in need of the seventh force as a corrective.

You are Bishop of Western America, far from the homeland. What is the spiritual life and life in general in that part of the diaspora?

Bishop Maxim: The Diaspora lives in the spirit of that old adage “I’m not here, and there is no there”. It’s as if we have one foot in one boat and the other in another. But, this is a blessing. Someone had said that the people in the diaspora can do something people in the homeland cannot – to witness Orthodoxy among the heterodox, open horizons for new people and bring them to the faith. We see this in the exemplary marriages of Serbs and Americans. Of course, for all of this prayer is necessary!

Your Grace, thank you very much for the conversation and relay our prayers and greetings and blessings to your spiritual children!

Bishop Maxim: To God be thanks! Gladly!

Conversation: Jadranka Jankovic

 

The Holy Apostles

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A happy Feast of the Foremost of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, celebrated today according to the Gregorian Calendar. The following is from Fr. Ted:

H/T: Fr. Ted’s Blog (here)

As our parish community celebrates its heavenly Patron, St. Paul the Apostle, here are two quotes with some thoughts about St. Paul.   First biblical scholar Peter Ellis notes that St. Paul’s faith deepened with experience.  The original Twelve Apostles didn’t like Jesus discussing his own death, but wanted to sit at His right hand in His triumph.  They learned that Christ’s death and triumph were the same event, and they were called to share in it!  So too St. Paul had his own lesson about this to learn.

“Paul’s close brush with death at Ephesus, reflected in Phil. 1:12-26 and 2 Cor. 1:8-11, had a double effect on him: it made him realize that he might not be alive for the Parousia and that following Christ meant more than sharing in his victory – it also means sharing in his sufferings and death. This latter realization was the more significant. It led Paul to a more profound conception of Christian existence and its relationship to the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Growth in Christ meant sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” (Seven Pauline Letters, p 7)

As St. Paul himself wrote about this in Romans 6:3-11:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Scripture scholar N.T. Wright points out that St. Paul is consistent in all his thinking about the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

“According to Paul’s view of creation, the one God was responsible for the whole world and would one day put it to rights. According to his covenant theology, this God would rescue his people from pagan oppression. His messianic theology hailed Jesus as King, Lord and Savior, the one at whose name every knee would bow. His apocalyptic theology saw God unveiling his own saving justice in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. At every point, therefore, we should expect what we in fact find: that, for Paul, Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.” (Paul, p 69)