An Ordinary Book

41ahavbrl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The people at InterVarsity Press surprised me with a small package in last week’s mail: a copy of Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren. An attractive looking book that didn’t appear to be too complicated to read. What on earth compelled them to send this to me, I thought?  Do I really want to read this? I have so many books by Orthodox writers to read, do I have time to spend reading this?

I came home late that evening – after a church board meeting of all things – and decided to leaf through it. The Foreword by Andy Crouch was good but not too convincing.

I decided to read the first chapter. It was late, but I continued on to the second and then read the first half of chapter three, decided to go to sleep….But then decided to just finish that chapter as well.

What a delightful book!! It’s literally hard to put down. Simple, straightforward; ordinary, for lack of a better word. Her prose is poetic. She reveals the eternal Christian truths in the ordinary things of everyday life. She writes at one place, “If the church doesn’t teach us what are bodies are for, our culture certainly will”. She was talking about how our bodies are “integral to our worship”, how as Christians we “believe in a God who, by becoming human, embraced human embodiment in fullness…”. And all this – and much, much more – started from the simple act of brushing her teeth.

That’s how this book is structured: she wakes up, makes her bed, brushes her teeth, checks her email….etc.etc.  An ordinary day in her life – everyone’s life – and in the most ordinary things she digs deep to discover and reveal to us, the reader,  just how great God is.

This might be one of the rare cases of a book I’d happily gift to fellow Orthodox by a non-Orthodox writer. It’s that good.

Muslim Family Builds Orthodox Church

20161114165612_397711H/T: Here

Before the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina Muslims and Orthodox lived together in the town of Osredak in Cazina. There are no more Orthodox in this town but they have left behind them a church and cemetery which, over time, has deteriorated.

The last year, the church and cemetery have been watched over and renovated by a Muslim family while Serbs from this town that have since fled to other parts of the world assist financially. The Keranovic family is the only family who works at renovating the church since the other citizens are not in favor of this idea. The sons Samir and Mensud are studying building and construction so this gives them an opportunity to show what they know and learn something new. Fatima, the mother, oftentimes helps her husband Mesud when the sons are at school.

Mesud said that he would like most of all if everyone would return to their own place, he is sad about the war and hopes that at least someone will return and they’ll be able to socialize regardless of their faith. Like before.

Do not re-baptize

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H/T: Here

Acceptance into the Orthodox Church
Bishop Basil (Rodzianko)

I have been asked: “How do we accept individuals into the Orthodox Faith?” Should we “rebaptize?” Must everyone be “chrismated?” Is it enough “only to hear their confession?” Traditionally the Orthodox Church has three means of accepting someone into Orthodoxy: 1) Baptism, 2) Chrismation, and, 3) Confession. Naturally, in all cases, also Communion.

Generally, people say: “Moslems and Jews should be baptized; Protestants are chrismated; and Roman Catholics and Armenians should confess.” This 19th Century formula is obviously outdated and was even incorrect. The second formula is: “non-baptized are to be baptized; those baptized by priests without apostolic succession should be chrismated; and, those baptized and chrismated by priests with apostolic succession should have confession.” A third formula proclaims: “those who were not fully immersed in water are to be baptized because sprinkling is not baptizing.” Others insist that there are “no sacraments outside of the Orthodox Church.” If the Church accepts without rebaptizing, she accepts just a “form” of a heretical or schismatical baptism and places this “form” in a “content of grace” at the moment when the individual is accepting Orthodoxy. Consequently, one may accept converts by any form — the Sacrament is performed and completed by the very act of admitting into the Church. The extreme position is to “baptize everyone.”

All of these formula and interpretations are in essence far from Orthodoxy. The teaching and practice of the Church is based on the First Rule of Saint Basil the Great and on the original text which has served as reference to this rule: the message of St. Basil the Great to St. Amphilochius of Iconium. In this message, St. Basil outlines the theological reasoning for the practice of not to re-baptize those who were baptized outside the church and expresses it in the following words: “because they exist thanks to the Church” (“ek tis Ekklicias onton”). In other words, the reasoning for such practice of the Church is “ontological.”

The acceptance into the Church should correspond to the reality. What was the individual before? What was his faith and churchly life? Did he consider himself a sinner? Did he believe with his priest and with others in the real transformation of the Holy Gifts? Did he believe in the apostolic laying on of hands? Was and is this laying on of hands, as such, historical? Was the baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity and was water used?

All of this must be determined in detail prior to accepting them into Orthodoxy. A person does not always match this or that “formula,” even if he belongs to a church, which is historically and canonically “unquestionable.” The reverse is also true.

A theological separation of “form” from “content” is foreign to the theology of the Holy Fathers of the East, particularly St. Basil. Such teaching is very dangerous, in spite of the high authorities who might support such definitions — a typical latin nominalism and scholastic aristotelism.

Another extreme is the denial of grace just because of the “form was incorrect” or did not correspond to the teaching or practice of the Orthodox Church. Baptism by immersing in water is the accepted norm because it is the symbol of “being buried with Christ.” However, the Church has always accepted a baptism as being with grace in such cases when an immersion was not possible as in the case of illness or just prior to death. A contact with water in any form was acceptable. Every priest knows of such cases, especially with babies. Some Orthodox Churches, such as the Serbian church do not practice full immersion due to historical reasons. No one ever had the idea to say that all Serbians cannot be considered baptized or that they should all be re-baptized.

The Orthodox Church has a special rule, which concerns all cases in which the condition is not clear. This is a conditional performance of a sacrament. In such cases anyone may be baptized. However, prior to the Sacrament, the priest should say: “If not yet baptized, being baptized nowä “if not chrismated yet, receive the grace of the Holy Spirit now…” etc. This practice is presently widely used in atheistic countries, where frequently there are no reliable information about the baptism of a child. Equally, such a practice is acceptable, if the convert to Orthodoxy is not sure about the legality of his baptism or has any doubts.

In all cases, one should know exactly what the convert really believes and what he thinks about his previous condition, and does his conviction correspond to the facts. Only then should a decision be made concerning what form should be applied: “first rank” — Baptism, “second rank” — Chrismation, or “third rank” — Confession. In questionable cases one should not hesitate to “re-baptize” but it is imperative to apply the formula: “If not yet baptized…”

In case a priest has any difficulties to make a decision with respect to a real condition, he should directly contact his Bishop.

Light of Life. Published quarterly by the Diocese of the West, the Orthodox Church in America, February 1983.

Seed and Soil

sower

H/T: goarch.org (here)

Father Theodore Stylianopoulos

And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold” (Luke 8:8)

A seed contains a miracle. When you look at it from the outside, or touch it, it appears
hard, dry, perhaps even dead and incapable of producing anything. But place it in the ground, give it water and warmth, and life begins to stir. The outer shell dies but the inner kernel comes alive by the mysterious forces of growth. The inner powers of the kernel are released when the seed is in proper soil and receives adequate moisture. The kernel germinates and new life begins. As long as nourishment is provided, growth continues. From the seed comes a flower, a plant, or a tree, each of which was present only potentially in the seed.

Is the miracle of growth manifest in human beings, too? Yes, by all means. Not only our physical being but also our spiritual being has the potential of miraculous growth. Physical growth is practically spontaneous and automatic. Yet physical growth, too, requires adequate nourishment and suitable environment. Spiritual growth is neither spontaneous nor automatic. Spiritual growth requires the exercise of personal freedom through intellectual, moral and spiritual decisions, commitments and actions. But spiritual growth, too, surely needs a proper environment and constant nourishment to flourish.

In the Parable of the Sower (Lk 8:5-15), Jesus teaches that both seed and soil are necessary for growth. Both seed and soil need proper interaction to produce satisfying crop. The seed is likened to the word of God. The soil is the life and heart of each human being. The parable tells us that much seed is lost when falling into unreceptive soil. However, when seed and soil connect and interact properly, astonishing growth occurs. “And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

What do we mean by the seed of the word of God? What is God’s “word?” Any human word, spoken or written, conveys meaning. Many words together express a message, various forms of communication from one person to another. Words and messages reflect the mind and character of the one from whom they come.

In a similar way, God’s word is God’s utterance, God’s speech, God’s message. God’s words convey precious knowledge that God wants human beings to know and live by. “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3). “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Mt 6:33). “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). “Who ever would be great among you must be your servant; for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life for many” (Mt 20:26-28).

All those divine words are not merely abstract principles, arbitrarily established, just to test human obedience and keep people in their place. Rather, they make up essential instruction that is intrinsic to human nature. They are food and drink natural to our humanity as personal and moral beings created in the image and likeness of God. When those divine words are wholeheartedly embraced and faithfully practiced, they become “life-bearing” and “life-giving.” They generate light and life because they guide to right and harmonious relationships between God and people, between people and people, as well as between people and creation. They are like seeds which, when falling into good soil, grow and yield a hundredfold.

Do you recall some biblical verses about the importance of God’s word? When Jesus was hungry, He was tempted to turn stones into bread. But He rejected the temptation and said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Upon finishing the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does themwill be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Mt 7:24-25). At a time of crisis, Jesus asked His disciples: “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter replied: “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:67-68)!

Moreover, God’s word is not only instruction and guidance. God’s word discloses God’s character and power. God’s word both announces and enacts who God is, what He has done, and what He is doing even now. God cannot be separated from His word. God’s word is always the vehicle of God’s holy presence and creative power. In Genesis we read that God said: “’Let there be light!’ And there was light.” The prophets in the Old Testament likened God’s word to a powerful hammer that strikes and breaks rock, that is, the hardness of human hearts and the hardness of human communities, in judgment and for healing. The Book of Hebrews declares: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to soul and spirit, … and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

Even more astonishing is that Christ himself, according to the New Testament, is the Word of God— Logos Theou—the supreme self-revelation of God—who God is, what He has done, and what He continues to do today. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … In Him was light and the light was the life of all people. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:1-5).

Of course those words point to the core message of the Christian faith, the good news of the gospel. The good news is that God in Christ has broken humanity’s bondage to the powers of sin, evil, and death. God in Christ actualizes His love and forgiveness for sinners. God in Christ offers to every man and woman a new start, a new order of life, a life of grace and truth. Because of the divine nature and blessings of the gospel, St. Paul variously calls the gospel itself the word of God, the word of Christ, the word of grace, the word of reconciliation, the word of truth. When the gospel of Christ is wholeheartedly announced, the announcement does not merely inform but also mediates Christ and His blessings. Christ in His holiness and power is present in His word. When the good news is heard and embraced, human hearts are stirred and human lives change. The gospel “is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes” (Rom 1:16). When falling into good soil, the gospel takes root and grows, and yields a hundredfold.

Nevertheless, if the soil is not conducive to growth, the seed of the word of God remains inactive and powerless. Seeds cannot take root on the hard path. Seeds cannot last in rocky ground lacking adequate moisture. Seeds cannot flourish among weeds. Jesus tells us (Lk 8:11-15) that the hard path is a faithless heart, a heart that hears but pays no true heed to God’s word. The rocky ground is a heart that initially receives God’s word but later loses endurance when trials and temptation come. The soil with weeds is a heart filled with worldly cares and distractions that seem to swallow up God’s word. Lack of faith, lack of endurance, and lack of spiritual focus—those indeed are the negative elements of the infertile soil that cancel out the miracle of the seed. We know all about those elements because we face them every day. We need to be humbly mindful that all of us at various times have exemplified the hard path, the rocky ground, or the soil with weeds.

What we need much more is to concentrate on building up good soil. Christ the Sower is forever faithful, enduring, and active through his mighty and life-giving word. What men and women need to do is respond in kind; to offer to Him the soil of “an honest and good heart” (Lk 8:15). The parable clearly identifies the negative elements of the unproductive soil—lack of faith, lack of endurance, lack of spiritual focus. But the parable also powerfully suggests the opposite elements, the contrasting positive qualities of the honest and good heart. Those are lively faith, patient endurance, and the focus of an active Christian worldview. The Lord warned: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Lk 8:8). But the Lord also gives assurance that, when falling on good soil, the seed of God’s word takes deep root, grows bountifully and yields blessings beyond imagination. Praise, thanksgiving, and glory be to Christ the eternal Sower. Amen.

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos is the Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology and New Testament at Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where he has been a faculty member since 1967. He graduated from Holy Cross in 1962, received his S.T.M. from Boston University School of Theology in 1964, and his Th.D. from Harvard Divinity School in 1974. Fr. Ted serves the parish of St George in Keene, New Hampshire.

Our Souls at Trial

Below is an excerpt from Elder Ephraim’s The Art of Salvation which someone read to me so it might not match the actual text:

“We are ignorant and therefore cannot fully grasp the meaning of the word eternity. This word is defined as life without end, without sunset. Just as God’s existence has no end similarly man’s soul will live without end. Consequently, in the event that we fail to attain salvation we will live in eternal misfortune. This misfortune will not be limited to one type of pain or to something that can be overcome or forgiven. No, unfortunately we will live in a frightful and horrific never ending hell. This is why I say that we have no grasp what will take place after death.

Through her teachings, her preaching and her mysteries our Church enables our mind to open and comprehend  the crucial matter. The only thing we are in need of not to be condemned to hell. We must become attune to our spiritual condition and regulate our life accordingly, we must give this our immediate attention as we do not know what tomorrow will bring. We do not have tomorrow at our disposal, time is not in our possession. When we get up to leave from here something can possibly happen to end our life. Shortly thereafter the book of our conscience and our life will be opened before God and the trial will commence. Christ will turn the pages, one by one and point out, here you did this on that day you did something else. Our conscience will respond, Indeed these things occurred, this is how it is, everything is true. And once the entire book has been read during the trial our soul will quiver with fear like an autumn leaf in the wind or like a live fish out of water.

This is how the soul will tremble before the awesome tribunal as it wonders what God’s decision will be. If it is positive then we cannot fathom the depth, height, extent of our achievement. The soul will enter into the Kingdom of God, it will come to know Him as much as possible and it will return to her own God and Father. Just think, God is the source of all happiness.

In the case of a negative decision and unsuccessful outcome and an incriminating verdict most dreadful hell will unfold before this unfortunate soul. If someone were to grasp the meaning of this fully his mind would instantly stop working. Under no circumstance can the horrific extent of hell be understood. I will give you an example. When we have a sever toothache we almost lose our mind on account of the pain and we frizzly search for medication in order to stop it. But what is this pain or what is any other pain we experience which oftentimes is severe, unbearable and compels us to seek medical attention immediately? What will happen however when the soul confronts hell. If a person were to see a demon with his physical eyes he would die immediately on the spot. Yet, a condemned person will live together eternally with not only one but with millions of demons. Is it possible for anyone to live in such a state? And yet this is how things are. This is why our Christ, our love, our Savior, our God-man who spilled His immaculate blood on the Cross….”

 

Second Baptism of Russia

Metropolitan_Hilarion_Rite

H/T: spc.rs (here)

Speaking to a group of Italian students about the Russian church, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations,stated “…beginning with 1998 a new era began in our church which we refer to as ‘The Second Baptism of Russia’. The end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s saw a massive baptism of the Russian people.”

“Today we have 35,000 churches, that is to say, in 28 years 29,000 new churches were opened. More than a thousand churches are opened per year, or three churches a day….We had three spiritual schools, today there are over fifty.”

According to the metropolitan, such a growth of faith is unparallelled in Russian history.

Poland archbishop’s comments

H/T: USAToday (here)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The leader of Poland’s Catholic Church has come under a wave of condemnation by appearing to suggest that children are partly to blame for being sexually abused by priests.

Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of Poland’s influential Episcopate, was commenting this month on revelations about Polish pedophile priests. A child from a troubled family, Michalik told reporters, “seeks closeness with others and may get lost and may get the other person involved, too.”

The words triggered an immediate uproar — one that Michalik tried to stamp out the same day by apologizing and saying he had been misunderstood. He had not, he said, meant to suggest that child victims were in any way responsible.

But the damage was done.

Ordinary citizens joined prominent politicians in expressing outrage, and intense debate continues more than two weeks later. The media pointed out that Michalik had supported a parish priest convicted in 2004 of child sex abuse, and one of the priest’s victims said she was horrified by Michalik’s latest remarks.

“Archbishop Michalik’s words make us feel fear and revulsion,” Ewa Orlowska said.

The archbishop’s comments forced the Episcopate’s spokesman, the Rev. Jozef Kloch, to state that Poland’s church has “zero tolerance” for pedophilia but that it needs to learn how to approach and talk about the matter. The controversy has since led bishops under Michalik to apologize for “priests who have harmed children.”

It all comes amid a tide of allegations that Poland’s church is sweeping cases of sex abuse under the carpet, putting it at odds with Vatican efforts since 2001 to punish abusers. The scrutiny has also further undermined the church’s status in Poland as a moral and political leader — cemented by Polish-born Pope John Paul II through his critical role in inspiring the fight against communism. The church’s defenders say that priests are being singled out for condemnation when teachers and sports coaches have also been caught sexually abusing kids.

John Paul himself came under criticism for a reluctance to heed accusations against priests. While the Vatican in 2001 ordered bishops to submit cases of alleged pedophilia to the Holy See’s review, it was largely the initiative of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. After the church sex abuse scandal erupted in 2002 in the United States, Ratzinger pressed for faster ways to permanently remove abusers from the church.

The crackdown against pedophile priests gained intensity once Ratzinger became Benedict XVI. In 2011, Benedict instructed bishops’ conferences around the world to submit their own guidelines for keeping molesters out of the priesthood and to protect children.

Poland’s Episcopate has issued guidelines for the church’s punishment of priests and support for the victims. But it sees no need to report priests to state investigators and says that the financial compensation rests with the wrongdoer, not with the church. That approach may soon be tested by a man who is readying Poland’s first sex abuse lawsuit against the church.

In several countries, including the U.S., Canada and Australia, the church has been paying millions in compensation over sex abuse cases.

Michalik also recently raised eyebrows by saying that the roots of pedophilia lay in pornography and divorce, both of which are “painful and long-lasting wounds.”

The debate started last month after Dominican Republic investigators revealed child sex abuse allegations against two Polish clergymen: Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the Vatican’s ambassador, and Rev. Wojciech Gil, a parish priest. Wesolowski has been forcibly removed by the Vatican. Gil has denied sex abuse and suggested that Dominican drug mafia is taking revenge on him for his educational work.

Some 27 Polish priests have been tried for sex abuse since 2001, but most cases ended in suspended prison term — indicating a general leniency for the church in Poland, where religion is taught in schools and senior church officials attend state ceremonies.