From history

Our Tuesday evening parish Discussion about our Faith has turned to church history to look through the historical path of the Christian Church. Appropriately enough we’re using Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s “The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy”. Reading through and discussing this book has introduced our readers and participants to some of the historical moments and figures from church history. This includes some of the heretical, wrong teachings and teachers. Fr. Schmemann, for instance, mentions the appearance of Montanism, a heresy from Phrygia in about the year 150 where a new convert to Christianity together with two women started to teach and announce the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised in Scripture. This movement also introduces us to another name from early church history, Tertullian.

OrthodoxWiki gives us some more insight into this heresy:

While claiming a conversion to Christianity, Montanus preached and testified what he purported to be the Word of God as he traveled among the rural settlements of his native Phrygia and Asia Minor. In these travels he proclaimed the village of Pepuza as the site of the New Jerusalem. The Orthodox Christians, however, regarded his teaching to be heretical. He claimed not only to have received a series of direct revelations from the Holy Spirit, but personally to be the incarnation of the paraclete mentioned in the Gospel of John 14:16. Montanus was accompanied by two women, Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla, and Maximilla, who likewise claimed to be the embodiments of the Holy Spirit that moved and inspired them. As they traveled, “the Three” as they were called, spoke in ecstatic visions and in the first person as of the Father or the paraclete. They urged their followers to fast and pray, so that they might share these personal revelations. His message spread from his native Phrygia across the Christian world of the second century, to Africa and Gaul.

Prisca claimed that Christ had appeared to her in female form. When she was excommunicated, she exclaimed “I am driven away like the wolf from the sheep. I am no wolf: I am the word and spirit and power.”

It is generally agreed that the movement was inspired by Montanus’ interpretation of the Gospel of St. John — “I will send you the advocate paraclete, the spirit of truth” (Heine 1987, 1989; Groh 1985). The response to this continuing revelation split many Christian communities of the second century, and the Orthodox clergy fought to suppress it. Bishop Apollinarius found the church at Ancyra torn in two, and he opposed the “false prophesy” (quoted by Eusebius 5.16.5). But there was real doubt in Rome. Pope Eleutherus even wrote letters supporting Montanism, although he later recanted them (Tertullian, “Adversus Praxean” c.1, Trevett 58-59).

The most widely known defender of Montanists was undoubtedly Tertullian, onetime champion of orthodox belief, who believed that the new prophecy was genuine and began to fall out of step with what he began to call “the church of a lot of bishops” (On Modesty).

Although the Orthodox Christian church prevailed against Montanism within a few generations, elements of Montanism persisted. Inscriptions in the Tembris valley of northern Phrygia, dated between 249 and 279, openly proclaim their allegiance to Montanism. A letter of St. Jerome to Marcella, written in 385, refutes the claims of Montanists who had been troubling her (letter 41). A group of “Tertullianists” continued to exist in Carthage. The anonymous author of Praedestinatus records that a preacher came to Rome in 388 where he made many converts and obtained the use of a church for his congregation on the grounds that the martyrs to whom it was dedicated had been Montanists. He was obliged to flee after the victory of Theodosius the Great  who supported the Orthodox belief.  Augustine records that the Tertullianist group dwindled to almost nothing in his own time, and that the remnant of the group finally was reconciled to the church and surrendered their basilica. It is not certain whether these Tertullianists were Montanist or not.

In the sixth century, John of Ephesus, at the orders of the emperor Justinian, led an expedition to Pepuza to destroy the Montanist shrine there, which was formed around the tombs of Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla.

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