The Prayer of Gethsemane

A Hymn to the Theotokos

Weep not for Me, O Mother, beholding in the sepulcher the Son whom thou hast conceived without seed in thy womb.  For I shall arise and be glorified, and as God I shall exalt in everlasting glory those who magnify thee with faith and love.  (Ninth Irmos of the Holy Saturday Matins Canon, The Lenten Triodion, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, p. 51)

The Prayer of Gethsemane

This is the title of a Chapter in the book, His Life is Mine by Archmandrite Sophrony.  Now that we are in Holy Week I plan to quote something from the aforementioned Chapter and so, pass on a thought for consideration.  This will also serve as an introduction to an articles I will soon post: “Development of Personhood in Christ as a Calling to pray for the World.”  Archmandrite Sophrony believes that the prayer of our Lord in Gethsemane was a prayer for the salvation of all mankind.  And this is something to think about as we approach Holy Friday: What should we pray for at that time?  Maybe we need to think how the world seems to have basically rejected our Lord Jesus Christ and pray for the salvation of all.  So now a quote from Father Sophrony’s book, His life is Mine:

Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is the noblest of all prayers by its virtue and power to atone for the sins of the world.  Offered to the Eternal God the Father in a spirit of divine love it continues to shine, a light that cannot be extinguished, for ever drawing to itself the souls that have preserved their likeness to God.  Christ included the whole human race in this prayer, from the first Adam to the last man to be born of woman.    We lack existential knowledge of such love and so its permanent significance is hidden from us.  Victorious in eternity, Christ’s love on the earthly plane spells extreme suffering.  No one has ever known such suffering as Christ endured.  He descended into hell, into the most painful hell of all, the hell of love.  This is a sphere of existence which can only be apprehended through spiritual love—of love that has been granted us to know from on High.  It is vital to have experienced, if only once, the heavenly fire which Christ brought with him; to know with our entire being what it is to be even a little like Christ….

When, as I have said, a shadow of a likeness to the Gethsemane prayer is granted him, man then transcends the boundaries of his own individuality and enters into a new form of being—personal being in the likeness of Christ.  By participating in the sufferings of his Divine love, we, too, in spirit can experience a little of his death and of the power of his resurrection.  “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death” (in deep prayer for the world and consuming desire for the salvation of all) “we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. 6.5).  when it is given to us from on high to enter this new sphere of Being, we arrive at “the ends of the world” (ICor. 10.11) and pass into the light of Divine Eternity.

And every man on whom God has bestowed the rare and dread privilege of knowing to a minute degree the agony of Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane will stumble on, slowly and painfully, to a cogent awareness of the resurrection of his own soul and a perception of Christ’s undeniable, ineluctable victory.  He will know “that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him” (Rom. 6.9)  And now, O Christ, by the gift of Thy love which passeth all understanding I, too, have crossed from death to life…

Now—I am. (pp. 91, 95)

 

 

Akathist SAturday

 

 

 

A hymn from the Matins canon of Akathist Saturday

Rejoice radiant dawn who alone bearest Christ the Sun; rejoice, dwelling place of the Light. Thou hast dispersed the gloom and utterly destroyed the demons of the darkness.  (The Lenten Triodion, trans. Mother Mary and Bishop Kallistos Ware, p. 428)

A Sermon on Akathist Saturday 

Beloved of God, in the liturgical cycle of this day when we read the Akathist to the Theotokos it is like a second Synaxis for her, we k now that the day after the Nativity of our Lord is the feast of the Synaxis to the Theotokos when we honor her through whom He came into the world, Mary, the virgin mother of God.  And, as I said this day is like a second Synaxis.  So today let us honor her by considering the honor and glory that God has bestowed upon her, the mother of God the Son according to the flesh.  In particular, let us reflect upon two things that we know and confess as Orthodox Christians, which are, that she is the highest of all creation, and she is ever-virgin.

Let us first consider her place among created beings in God’s kingdom, and then her ever-virginity.  When the Apostles James, and John asked our Lord to be at His right hand, and left in His kingdom, He answered, “it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father” (Matt. 20:23).  Who has this honor to be at the right and left of our Lord Jesus Christ in His kingdom?  Our iconographic tradition shows us what the Church teaches; we often see in triptychs the Theotokos at His right, and St. John the Baptist at His left.  We can especially see this in an iconostasis that has multiple rows, which include Christ enthroned in the center, here again, the Theotokos is on Christ’s right. The Psalmist also prefigures this when he says, “At Thy right hand stood the Queen, arrayed in a vesture of inwoven gold, adorned in varied colors” (Ps. 44:8).  And in the proskomedia, a priest utters these words of prayer, when he places the particle of prosphora taken out in memory of the Theotokos to the right of the Lamb, which becomes the Body of Christ.  It is so natural and logical that this would be so.  Whom among the race of men would God, the Father, honor more than the one through whom His pre-eternal Son, in time, became man?  No one!  It is inconceivable that anyone would be given more honor than she who conceived His Son in her womb, and gave birth to Him according to the flesh, Mary, the Mother of God.

So then Mary, the Mother of God, is the highest of all creation.  She is more spacious than the heavens, for she contained within herself God, Whom the heavens cannot contain.  She has pre-eminence over all the heavenly hosts, for as a loving mother–the Mother of God, according to the flesh–she held in her embrace, and looked upon Him at Whom they dare not gaze.  She is indeed more honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, for without defilement, that is, as a virgin, without knowing the touch of a man, she gave birth to God the Word.   So she is the one through whom God has wrought our salvation.  She is our Mediatress through whom the Son of God became our Mediator, therefore she is a bridge which joins earth to heaven.  She was foretold by many figures and prophecies.  She is the bush that burned without being consumed which Moses beheld (Ex. 3:2), for she received within herself the fire of Divinity yet her human nature remained intact.  She is the living ark of God made golden by the Divine Spirit, who contained not the tablets of the law and the pot of manna, but rather Christ-God, the Lawgiver and bread of Life (Ex. 25:10-11, Heb.9:4).  She is the rod of Aaron that budded forth (Num. 17:8), not a simple flower of this world, but the flower of immortal life, Christ our God.  She is the ladder that Jacob beheld (Gen. 8:12), by whom God descended to become man.  She is the fleece of Gideon wet with dew (Judges 6:37-40); for as dew comes upon the earth so quietly and inconspicuously, thus did she in an unnoticed and modest manner conceive and give birth to Christ our God.  She is the light cloud (Is. 19:1), upon whom the Lord sits as the Prophet Isaiah said.  She is the closed gate (Ez. 42:2), of which the prophet Ezekiel wrote, by whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered.  She is the unhewn mountain that the prophet Daniel saw (Dan. 2:45), from whom our Lord Jesus Christ proceeded.  She is the overshadowed mountain seen by the prophet Habakkuk from whom the Holy One would come (Hab. 3:3 Sept.).  In short, she is the mother of our God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity incarnate, therefore whom among created beings can be compared to her?

Let us now move on to pondering the ever-virginity of the Theotokos.  When we speak of her “ever-virginity” there are several aspects of her virginity to discuss.  First of all she gave birth without knowing a man, as the prophet Isaiah foretold: “A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14).  For the conception was of the Holy Spirit, and it was God, the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity Who took flesh from her and became incarnate for our salvation.  As the Archangel Gabriel disclosed to her when she questioned her conception and birthgiving, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35).

In a homily on the Annunciation St. Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neo-Caesarea, points out that the ever-virginity of the Theotokos was foretold by the prophet Isaiah.  Thus he writes:

‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph.’ Hear what the prophet says about this man and the virgin: ‘This book that is sealed shall be delivered to a man that is learned.’  What is meant by this sealed book, but just the virgin undefiled?  From whom is this to be given?  From the priests evidently.  And to whom?  To the artisan Joseph.  As, then, the priests espoused Mary to Joseph as to a prudent husband, and committed her to his care in expectation of the time of marriage, and as it behoved him then on obtaining her to keep the virgin untouched, this was announced by the prophet long before, when he said: ‘This book that is sealed shall be delivered to a man that is learned.’  And that man will say, I cannot read it.  But why canst thou not read it, O Joseph?  ‘I cannot read it’, he says, ‘because the book is sealed’. (1)  For whom, then, is it preserved?  It is preserved as a place of sojourn for the Maker of the universe. (2)    

So she was the unwedded bride of God who never knew the touch of man.  And when we call the Theotokos, “ever-virgin” this does not only mean that she never knew the touch of a man, but also that she physically remained a virgin.  She was virgin before, during, and after birth.  This teaching of our Church has also been incorporated into our iconographic tradition.  The three stars which are upon the forehead, and two shoulders of the Theotokos, indicate that she was a virgin before, during, and after childbirth.  The seal of her virginity was never broken.  Is this difficult to believe?  Yet it is so natural and reasonable that Christ God would do this for His Mother.  It fits so beautifully into God’s dispensation for the salvation of man, and life in His eternal kingdom, that Christ God would have His mother according to the flesh as ever-virgin, and the highest of all creation.  This was a small thing for our omnipotent God to do, yet infinitely glorious.

So in concluding, let us not omit anything that could enhance our honoring Mary, the Mother of God, this day.  Let us briefly first contemplate what manner of person she was, and what quality of character she possessed, and afterwards offer her a short eulogy.  The former we can find in the following excerpt from a letter of St. Ignatius the God-bearer, to St. John the Theologian:

But Salome also, [the daughter of Anna, ] whom thou lovest, who stayed with her five months at Jerusalem, and some other well-known persons, relate that she is full of all graces and all virtues, after the manner of a virgin, fruitful in virtue and grace.  And, as they report, she is cheerful in persecutions and afflictions, free from murmuring in the midst of penury and want, grateful to those that injure her, and rejoices when exposed to troubles: she sympathizes with the wretched and the afflicted as sharing in their afflictions, and is not slow to come to their assistance. Moreover, she shines forth gloriously as contending in the fight of faith against the pernicious conflicts of vicious principles or conduct.  She is the lady of our new religion and repentance, and the handmaid among the faithful of all works of piety.  She is indeed devoted to the humble, and she humbles herself more devotedly than the devoted, and is wonderfully magnified by all, while at the same time she suffers detraction from the Scribes and Pharisees. Besides these points, many relate to us numerous other things regarding her. We do not, however, go so far as to believe all in every particular; nor do we mention such to thee. But, as we are informed by those who are worthy of credit, there is in Mary the mother of Jesus an angelic purity of nature allied with the nature of humanity.  And such reports as these have greatly excited our emotions, and urge us eagerly to desire a sight of this (if it be lawful so to speak) heavenly prodigy and most sacred marvel. (3)

– thus St. Ignatius wrote of the Theotokos. (4)

Finally, in closing, let us offer us our eulogy to the most pure Mother of God with the words of St. Gregory the Wonderworker:

Thy praise, O most holy Virgin, surpasses all laudation, by reason of the God who received the flesh and was born man of thee. To thee every creature, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, offers the meet offering of honour.  For thou hast been indeed set forth as the true cherubic throne. Thou shinest as the very brightness of light in the high places of the kingdoms of intelligence; where the Father, who is without beginning, and whose power thou hadst overshadowing thee, is glorified; where also the Son is worshipped, whom thou didst bear according to the flesh; and where the Holy Spirit is praised, who effected in thy womb the generation of the mighty King. Through thee, O thou that art highly favoured, is the holy and consubstantial Trinity known in the world. Together with thyself, deem us also worthy to be made partakers of thy perfect grace in Jesus Christ our Lord: with whom, and with the Holy Spirit, be glory to the Father, now and ever, and unto the ages of the ages. Amen. (5)

 

(1) The complete verse referred to reads as follows: “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed” (Is. 29:11).

(2) Saint Gregory, Bishop of Neocaesarea, The Third Homily on the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325, ed. The Rev. Alexander Roberts, D. D., and James Donaldson, LL. D., Vol. VI, Grand Rapids Michigan, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p.66.

(3) Saint Ignatius, The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Writings of the Fathers down to 325 A. D., ed. The Rev. Alexander Robert, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL., D.D., Vol. I, The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Grand Rapids, Michigan, WM. B Eerdmans publishing Company, 1956, p. 124

(4) Although this letter has been attributed to St. Ignatius the exact authorship is uncertain.

(5) Saint Gregory, Bishop of Neocaesarea, The Second Homily on the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325, ed. The Rev. Alexander Roberts, D. D., and James Donaldson, LL. D., Vol. VI, Grand Rapids Michigan, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956, p. 65

 

The Theotokos at the Cross

Foreword

Since we are celebrating the Sunday in Great Lent dedicated to the Cross and two days later is the Annunciation I thought would combine these two and speak about the Cross as an event in the life of the Theotokos. Therefore I am simply going to post a Chapter from the book, “O Full of Grace Glory to Thee.” And since many hymns to the Theotokos will be quoted I will not begin with one in this post.

The Theotokos at the Cross

What did the Theotokos experience at the Cross of her Son and God? This is the question we want to ponder in this article. The Scriptures, together with historical information from apocryphal sources, and other early Christian writings have said nothing directly about this. There is no doubt that an exact answer has not been revealed to us, as St. Silouan the Athonite acknowledges:

The Mother of God committed to writing neither her thoughts nor her love for God and her Son, nor her soul’s suffering at the Crucifixion, because we could not have understood, for her love for God is stronger and more ardent than the love of the Seraphim and Cherubim, and all the host of angels and archangels marvel at her. (1)

Some of our Church Fathers, however, have contemplated this question and expressed opinions on this topic. These opinions cannot be termed dogma. That is because a reply to this question has neither been revealed in the historical record available to us, nor has it been formally investigated and articulated by the Church. Consequently, we also can only set forward an opinion on this theme.

In responding to this issue, we must first consider what knowledge was revealed to the Theotokos concerning her Son. What did the Theotokos know and think about her Son? When she stood at the Cross of our Lord, in addition to the fact that she knew He was her Son according to the flesh, whom did she believe Him to be? Let us begin our inquiry by considering the time she spent in the Temple in Jerusalem as a child and examining what St. Gregory Palamas says about this part of her life.

St. Gregory writes of the Theotokos:

With profound understanding she listened to the writings of Moses and the revelations of the other prophets when, every Saturday, all the people gathered outside, as the Law ordained. She learnt about Adam and Eve and everything that happened to them: how they were brought out of non-being, settled in paradise and given a commandment there; about the evil one’s ruinous counsel and the resulting theft; about their explusion from paradise on that account, the loss of immortality and the change to this way of life full of pain….When the holy Virgin Maid heard and understood this, she was filled with pity for humanity and, with the aim of finding a remedy to counteract this great affliction, she resolved at once to turn with her whole mind to God. She took it upon herself to represent us,..the Virgin full of grace interceded for all humanity in an amazing way defying description. (2)

It is quite logical and natural that the one of whom God would choose to be born would ascertain this. The notion that the Theotokos, even during her life in the Temple, would understand the catastrophe of the fall of man along with the need of a Savior, and therefore become our advocate before God, fits, just so precisely, perfectly, and beautifully into God’s intricately woven plan for our salvation. Mary, who was to give birth to God, went above and beyond the mainstream of Judaic thought, which was expecting the Messiah to be an earthly king. She was able to perceive the true role of the Messiah to be the One who would heal the effects of the fall. And so the young girl, Mary, “interceded for all humanity in an amazing way defying description.”

In continuing our inquiry, we shall now turn to accounts from the Scriptures, beginning with the Annunciation. The young maiden Mary, who had lived in the Temple from infancy, expressed a desire to keep her virginity; therefore she was put into the care of the elderly Joseph and espoused to him. And the Archangel Gabriel being sent from God came to Mary and said,

Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women…behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:28-35)

One of the great Archangels of God appears to Mary, informing her that she shall bear a child without the touch of a man, Who shall inherit the throne of David, Whose kingdom shall have no end and Who shall be called the Son of God. Mary knew the Scriptures very well; such things were never seen in the history of Israel. A woman to conceive without the seed of a man – this was to be the prerogative of her who would bear the Messiah (cf. Is. 7:14). And a man being called the Son of God – this appellation was not known to apply to any born of man; it was only the One Who joined the three young men in the Babylonian furnace Who was thus called (cf. Dan. 3:25). Who then, was this that was to be born of her?

As we know, soon after the Annunciation, Mary visited her cousin Elisabeth. And when Mary greeted her:

Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. (Luke 1:41-44)

In his Gospel St. Luke tells us that Mary abode with Elisabeth about three months and returned home. This would have been until the time of the birth of St. John the Baptist. St. Luke records in his gospel:

And his [John the Baptist’s] father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham. (Luke 1:67-73)

And concerning his son, Zacharias continues to say,

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us. (Luke 1:76-78)

And so Mary, who was to become the Theotokos, was conscious of all this. Let us reiterate: from the time of her life in the Temple, she discerned from the Scriptures the need of a Savior who would deliver the race of Adam from the consequence of the fall in paradise. She desired this and prayed for it with her whole heart; it was the focal point of her life in the Temple. She is told by the Archangel Gabriel that she would bear a son without the touch of a man who shall be called the Son of God and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Elisabeth says to her, “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Then the priest Zachrias prophesies calling the Son to be born of her, “an horn of salvation”, and signifies Him as the One whom the prophets foretold. As he continues, he speaks of salvation through remission of sins. Mary knew all this, who did she believe her Son would be?

Now let us proceed to the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savoir Jesus Christ in the flesh. The righteous Joseph sees that his betrothed is with child—the young Mary, whom he received into his care from the Temple because she wanted to preserve her virginity. As he was troubled and considered putting her away, an angel appears to him in a dream revealing the Child’s conception of the Holy Spirit. Joseph is told to name the child Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21). Who was it that preserved the information of this occurrence? Nowhere do the Gospels speak of Joseph being alive at the time of Christ’s public ministry. So it is not possible that any of the evangelists could have heard this directly from Joseph. It is obvious that he must have told Mary, his betrothed. So again she hears that the Son to Whom she would give birth was to save His people from their sins. How would He accomplish this?

Then at the birth of Christ itself, the shepherds receive a revelation of multitudes of angels praising God. In coming to see the Christ-child, they inform the Holy family of it. And Magi from the orient are led to Palestine by a star. After asking Herod, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:2), “the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matt. 2:9). All this, far surpassed any occurrence in the history of Israel and the Scriptures – Mary was aware of all this. And so, as it is recorded in the Scriptures, forty days after the Nativity, the Church celebrates His Meeting in the Temple.

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, the parents brought the child Jesus to Jerusalem to the Temple” (Luke 2:22). It is then that the righteous Symeon signifies Jesus as God’s Savior, “a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of Israel” (Luke 2: 32). He goes on to tell Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:34-35).

So again, the new born Babe of Mary is designated as Savior, this time by the righteous Symeon. He also calls the Holy Child, “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.” Did Mary know exactly who this Child was that she recently gave birth to? Greater things were spoken of Him than any of the prophets. Yet with all this good beyond any expectation, the evil and suffering to come is also foretold. For her Son is described by Symeon as, “a sign to be spoken against”, and she is told, “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.” “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

In addition to all that has been said thus far, we know that the Theotokos, along with the Apostles and the rest of the followers of Christ, witnessed the miracles of His Divine power and heard His preaching. He healed men’s sicknesses and cast out devils. He had power over the natural world, stilling the sea and winds, changing water into wine and multiplying the loaves and fish. He raised the dead, and even Lazarus after he had been dead four days. He did these things not by praying to God, as the prophets before Him, but by the word of His Own power. Yet Christ also foretold His Passion, the Cross, His death, and Resurrection on the third day.

So now, we come to the Cross. What did the Theotokos experience as she stood before the Cross of her God and her Son: her Son, Whom she conceived without seed just as she was informed by the Archangel Gabriel? Her Son, of Whom it was said, He will inherit the throne of His father David and of His kingdom there will be no end. Her Son, of Whom it was said, “He will save His people from their sins”; and Who was called “Savior”, “a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel”. Her Son, Who performed more miracles than all the prophets combined by the word of His Own power and foretold this terrible death of the Cross which she was looking upon. This was her Son, to Whom she gave birth, Whom she held in her arms as a babe – her own Child, Whom she cared for and raised, to Whom she was a mother according to the flesh.

In considering this, let us use the hymnography of the Church as a reference point and particularly the Cross-Theotokions in the Octoechos. Mary, the Theotokos, suffered as a mother and in this was fulfilled St. Symeon’s prophecy.

Standing by the Cross, O Jesus, She Who gave birth to Thee, wept lamenting and cried out: “I cannot bear this, to see Thee to Whom I gave birth nailed on the wood. I escaped the pain of childbirth since I never knew a husband, so how am I now gripped with pain, and wounded in heart. Now is fulfilled the saying which Symeon uttered, ‘A sword shall pierce thy heart O undefiled One.’” (3)

O my Son”, the Virgin cried out with tears, “Now hath a sword of sorrow hast rent my heart in that the assembly of lawbreakers with nails hath nailed Thee to the Cross.” (4)

And there are many places in the Church’s hymnography where the Theotokos refers to Christ in such terms as, “The fairest or most comely of all men”, and she cries out questioning, “Where hath this comliness gone?” She also calls Him, “My sweetest Child”, or “Most exceedingly beloved Child”, and she often exclaims such phrases as: “How is it (or Why is it) that Thou dost hasten to make me childless?” To illustrate her pain, the hymnographers also says that while shedding tears, she tore her hair. So she suffered terribly as a mother and as she is the highest of all creation her love was more than any creature. Therefore she suffered more than any other mother could.

Yet did the Virgin Mary at that time have hope in the Resurrection? Or did she understand her Son was dying on the Cross for the sins of mankind? During her life in the Temple she had already perceived that the Messiah would come to heal the effects of the fall on the whole race of Adam. Her betrothed Joseph was told by the Archangel that her Child “shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Christ openly preached that He would be crucified, and rise again, and that He was the good Shepherd Who would lay down His life for His sheep. Together with all this, if we accept the opinion of St. Gregory Palamas that “She flew high above all created things, saw God’s glory more clearly than Moses (cf. Exod. 33:18-23), and beheld divine grace” (5), then we should conclude that she also far surpassed the Apostles in the understanding of who her Son was, and in the comprehension of the mystery of His dispensation. So at the Cross she not only lamented as a mother but as a faithful handmaiden of the Lord she also glorified her Son and God. As the Church’s hymnography tells us, at the cross she cried out:

Woe is me, my Child! How divine and unutterable is Thy dispensation by which Thou dost enliven Thy creation; I hymn Thy tenderhearted compassion. (6)

The world rejoices receiving deliverance through Thee. My inner self burns beholding Thy crucifixion which Thou dost endure for the sake of Thy merciful kindheartedness, O God, most-good and sinless Lord! (7)

Thou hast torn asunder the record of Adam’s [sin], being pierced with a spear O Master. (8)

But I pray do not leave me in the world alone, but make haste to arise, and also raise up our forefather with Thee.” (9)

So when the Theotokos stood at the foot of the Cross, she suffered terribly, more than any of us could comprehend. She suffered as a mother seeing her Son crucified. She suffered as all the followers of Christ, seeing her Lord crucified. She suffered as a Hebrew seeing her people reject and kill Him Whom she knew to be their Messiah. She was also purer than any born of the race of Adam and all creation, and she loved more than all. Therefore she suffered terribly, more than any of us could comprehend. But what is the consequence of all this suffering? What is its fruit?

We can answer by the words which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to St. John the Theologian as he stood at the Cross next to the Theotokos. He said, “Behold thy mother” (John 19:27). And so she is truly a mother, she is a mother to all believers. “Verily she is our advocate before God…she dwells in heaven and ever beholds the glory of God, yet she does not forget us, poor wretches that we are, and spreads her compassion over the whole earth, over all peoples.

And this most pure Mother of His, the Lord has bestowed on us. She is our joy and expectation. She is our mother in the spirit, and kin to us by nature, as a human being” (10). She is truly our mother in Christ, she is our “hope, protection, refuge, rest and joy” (11). For, like her Son, in that [she herself] hath suffered being tempted, [she] is able to succour them that are tempted (cf. Heb. 2:18).

So let us close with a fitting hymn of praise to her. Again from the Octoechos which is foremost a work of that great dogmatician and hymnographer of the Orthodox Church – St. John Damascus:

We praise thee O Virgin Theotokos, as she who mediates for the salvation of our race. For thy Son and our God, Who deigned to receive flesh from thee, accepted the passion of the Cross, to deliver us from corruption as the Lover of mankind. (12)

(1) Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), St. Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex, England, Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1991, p. 392

(2) Saint Gregory Palamas, Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, edited by Christopher Veniamin, South Canaan, PA, Mount Thabor Publishing 2005, p. 41

(3) The Ochtoechos, Tone 5, Stavrotheotokion on the Friday Matins Aposticha. (All hymns from the Octoechos are original translations from the Slavonic.)

(4) Ibid. Tone 4, Theotokion on the Wednesday Matins Canon of the Cross, Ode 6.

(5) Saint Gregory Palamas, Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, p. 47

(6) The Ochtoechos, Tone 8, Friday Matins, Stavrotheotokion of the Sessional Hymns after the second reading of the Psalter

(7) Ibid., Tone 8 Wednesday Matins, Stavrotheotokion of the Sessional Hymns after the first reading from the Psalter Hymns after the first reading from the Psalter

(8) Ibid., Tone 4, Theotokion on the Friday Matins Canon of the Cross, Ode 4

(9) Ibid., Tone 4 Thursday Vespers, Stavrotheotokin on Lord I call…

(10) Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 393

(11) See Post Communion Prayers, Prayer to the Theotokos

(12) The Ochtoechos, Tone 3, Resurrectional Dismissal Theotokion    

 

What concord has Christ with Belial, or Harry Potter?

A Prayer to the Theotokos

Grant, O Lady, peace and health to thy servants, all Orthodox Christians, and enlighten their minds, and the eyes of their hearts unto salvation. (From the prayer to the THeotokos after the Akathist in the Prayer Book, published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY)

What concord has Christ with Belial (II Cor. 6:15) or Harry Potter?

 

This title is, of course, a little play on words. With Great Lent almost upon us I chose this title to make a certain point. For the Orthodox, Great Lent is a time of increased fasting, and also prayer through the many additional Church services. And what is the main concern among the Orthodox at this time? Even more so than the services it seems to me that it is food: About keeping the dietary exclusions, being attentive to being moderate, and maybe even skipping some meals. It seems to me that this is more often than not the prime focus of Orthodox. Although fasting from foods is useful and productive, as is an increase of services yet we need to also consider the following: Outside of the Church services with what do we feed our mind?

That which is in our mind affects our heart. Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) (1) once said: “The thoughts that pass through our mind are not our thoughts, but if we accept them, they enter our heart and become a part of us.” In a similar way the Elder Joseph the Hesychast (2) has written: “The mind is the supplier of food to the heart whatever it receives it sends down there whether good or bad.” So then, with what shall we feed our minds? During Great Lent we should not only fast from foods and attend more services, but we should nourish our mind and heart with the things of God. This is getting back to the norm to which we are called, as Orthodox Christians our whole life should be dedicated to God. The final petition of many of the Litanies in our Church conclude with the words: “Let us commend one another and our whole life unto Christ our God.”

So then, where does the literature of this world come into play in the life of a Christian? (It is especially the entertainment world that I am thinking of.) With what will it fill the mind? What will it send down into the heart? How will the heart be affected? Will the heart be drawn to God, to become more Christ-like or will there be another consequence? Although there is some reading outside the Church which could have a good theme and have some profit, but in such we still find light mixed with darkness, good mixed with evil, discretion mixed with delusion. Such writings come from fallen, passionate humans who sometimes have evil motives. Even authors who seek to share something edifying fall short of the saints who were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21).

So now, I am going back to the title: “What concord has Christ with Belial” (II Cor. 6:15) or Harry Potter? Where do we rate Harry Potter with all that has been said? I have made an example of this character because the series of books concerning him have gained a great popularity. Many Orthodox do read this literature and some clergy consider it to be harmless.

Now I will tell you of my experience with Harry Potter. Both in the past and more recently parents who were concerned about their children have brought Harry Potter to my attention. So I decided to ask other clergy about this literary character. I spoke with a priest and deacon with whom I thought might have something reliable to say about this. Unfortunately neither of them read any novels concerning him but they had received some feedback from others who had. They both came to the same conclusion. These books are dangerous for Christians because they are presenting something evil as though it is good. These books will serve to normalize occult practitioners as good and acceptable. The big problem is that evil is camouflaged and being presented as innocent entertainment that is permissible for Christians. This reminds me of someone I know who practiced so-called “white” magic. The person who initiated him into this convinced him it was acceptable with the argument: “We are using evil to accomplish good.”

However, since neither of the above clergy actually read Harry Potter I went on to talk to two other priests about him. One said to me, “I can only speak from my experience which is limited. I have only read the first volume which appears to be like a harmless fairytale. Some of my parishioners have read this and I do not know of them being harmed.” I decided to call one other priest whom I knew from past experience to have been well informed about Harry Potter. I will quote only one short comment: “The books get more dark with each volume.”

I finally decided to read something of Harry Potter myself. So I did get one of the later volumes from the public library. When I saw how every chapter began with an illustration that had occult significance I was shocked to think that any Orthodox Christian would venture to read such a book. It speaks of magic, warlocks, and witches etc.. But what effect did reading from this book have upon me? It was very attractive and alluring but to the old fallen man—this was easy to discern. As a monk my life is heavily concentrating on the life of the Church—the saints, the services, spiritual writings and a strict prayer rule. Only if one is thus strictly concentrated on the life of the Church can the above be discerned, that is, that this book was very attractive and alluring to the fallen man.

I must continue to say what happened to my mind and heart: It was as though my mind and heart were being twisted. I went to my chapel fell down before the icon of the Mother of God, “Quick to Hear”. After praying for about five minutes I was freed from this effect on my mind and heart. I must warn that if your life in Christ is too external, and you have not entered within, and are not strictly concentrated on the life and good things that the Church offers us, you will not discern this negative effect. So let us conclude by quoting the holy Apostle Paul. Let us turn to the section in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (II Cor. 6:14-18) of which only part of a verse was quoted above:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what partnership hath righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? Or what agreement hath a temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: “I will live with them and move among them, I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch no unclean thing; and I will receive you,” saith the Lord, “and touch nothing unclean and I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

(1) In the book Everyday Saints published by Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, the Chapter “His Eminence the Novice” is dedicated to him.

(2) His life and letters have been published by St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, Arizona in the book, Monastic Wisdom.

 

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? Part II

A Hymn to the Theotokos

He Whom the heavens cannot contain, O Virgin Theotokos, ineffably by a word, was contained within thy womb; and thou hast remained pure in no way having thy virginity defiled. For thou alone among women art both virgin and mother; and thou alone, O pure One, hast nourished a Son Who is the Life-giver. And in thy embrace thou didst hold the never-slumbering Eye, Who didst not leave the bosom of the Father but continued as He was before the ages: Wholly above as God with the angels and wholly below from thee with men being everywhere inexplicably present. Entreat Him, O all-holy Mistress, to save the Orthodox who confess thee to be the pure Theotokos. (Saturday Evening Small Vespers, the Theotokion at the Aposticha, Tone 8)

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? Part II (continued)

Next we must consider the opinion that our Lord Jesus Christ did, in His human nature, grow in wisdom and understanding. Concerning this St. Cyril of Alexandria, in his work, “Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke” writes: “He [that is, Christ] is said to have increased in wisdom, not as receiving fresh supplies of wisdom—for God is perceived by the understanding to be entirely perfect in all things, and altogether incapable of being destitute of any attribute suitable to the Godhead—but because God the Word gradually manifested His wisdom proportionately to the age which the body attained”. [p.64]

In reference to this the Blessed Theophylact writes:

He subjected Himself to His parents, giving an example even to us, that we should subject ourselves to our parents. The Virgin kept all these sayings in her heart. For both the Child’s actions and His words were divine, and not those of a twelve year old, but of a mature man. See here how the Evangelist explains what it means that the Lord increased in wisdom, by addingand in stature”, showing that as the Lord increased in stature and age, He permitted more and more of His wisdom to manifest itself. And He found favor with God and man, that is, He did what was pleasing to God and what drew praise from men. First from God, and then from men. For we must first please God, and then men. (Blessed Theophylact, “The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Luke”, House Springs, Missouri: Chrysostom Press, p. 39)

Finally St. John of Damascus teaches:

He is said to have progressed in wisdom and age and grace, because He did increase in age and by this increase in age brought more into evidence the wisdom inherent in Him; further, because by making what is ours altogether His own He made His own the progress of men in wisdom and grace, as well as the fulfillment of the Father’s will, which is to say, men’s knowledge of God and their salvation. Now, those who say that He progressed in wisdom and grace in the sense of receiving an increase in these are saying that the union was not made from the first instant of the flesh’s existence. Neither are they holding the hypostatic union, but, misledby the empty headed Nestorius, they are talking preposterously of a relative union and simple indwelling, “understanding neither the things they say, nor whereof they affirm”. (ITim. 1:7)For, if from the first instant of its existence the flesh was truly united to God the Word—rather , had existence in Him and identity of person with Him—how did it not enjoy perfectly all wisdom and grace? It did not share the grace and neither did it participate by grace in the things of the Word; rather, because human and divine things had become proper to the one Christ by the hypostatic union, then, since the same was at once God and man, it gushed forth with the grace and the wisdom and the fullness of all good things for the world. [“Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”, Book 3, Chapter 22]

So, even though, our Lord Jesus grew physically (including His brain) the fullness of divine wisdom was always with Him. This is because the ability of a human being to reason is not only a function of the human brain, but also, as our Holy Fathers teach, it is a faculty of the human soul that will continue to function even after the physical brain is dead. Our Holy Fathers speak of the soul as possessing three powers; they are the powers of reason, desire, and anger. Bishop Kallistos (Ware) explains these powers of the soul in the glossaries in each volume of “The Philokalia”. Fr. Reardon expresses something quite different when he writes of our Lord, “All his ‘thinking’ took place in a human brain at the service of a human intellect because Jesus was (and is) God’s Son enfleshed in a human condition.” [“The Jesus We Missed”, p. 86] Along these same lines Fr. Hopko states of our Lord, “Jesus is really a human being…if you’re a real human being, then you’re limited. You learn things as a human being, with a human brain.” [see the third paragraph above]. I believe these errors stem either from an ignorance of, a lack of understanding of, and/or a lack of experience in the ascetic tradition of our Church.

The next step for us to take is to establish the truth that even during His life on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God was not ignorant of anything. So then, let us first see what St. John Chrysostom teaches about this:

As a reference, I will be using Aloys Grillmeier’s book, “Christ in Christian Tradition, Volume One, From the Apostolic age to Chalcedon”, translated by John Bowden. In examining the Christology of St. Chrysostom, Grillmeier follows the study by C. Hay: “St. John Chrysostom and the Intergrity of the Human Nature of Christ”, FrancStud 19, 1959, 301. Thus Grillmeier writes of St. John Chrysostom: He supposes the existence of so close a communication between the Logos and the spiritual soul of Christ that he will allow no limitation to Christ’s human knowledge because this seems to endanger his divinity. Because the Logos dwells in Christ, there is no need for knowledge to be mediated to Christ’s human spirit by human sense experience: ‘In the (divine) nature he possessed all. Nowhere in his writings does Chrysostom give any indication that Christ possessed a distinct human knowledge.’” [“Christ in Christian Tradition”, p. 419; single quotation marks refer to, C. Hay, art. cit., 305]

In addition to this what does St. John of Damascus tell us?

One should know that He did assume an ignorant and servile nature, and this is because man’s nature is subservient to God who made it, and it does not have knowledge of future events. If, then, like Gregory the Theologian, you distinguish what is seen from what is thought, then the flesh will be said to be servile and ignorant. However, by reason of the identity of person and the inseparable union, the Lord’s soul enjoyed the knowledge of future events as well as the other signs of divinity. For, just as the flesh of men is not of its own nature life-giving, whereas that of the Lord, being hypostatically united to God the Word Himself, became life-giving by reason of its hypostatic union with the Word without losing its natural mortality, and we cannot say that it was not and is not always so; in the same way, while His human nature did not of its essence have knowledge of future events, the Lord’s soul, by reason of its union with God the Word Himself and the identity of the person, did, as I have said, enjoy along with the other signs of divinity, the knowledge of future events also (emphasis are mine). (“An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”, Book 3, Chapter 21)

Again he states:

One should furthermore know that His sacred mind performs His natural operations, both understanding and knowing itself to be the mind of God and adored by all creation, but at the same time still mindful of His doings and sufferings on earth. It is, moreover, associated with the operation of the divinity of the Word by which the universe is ordered and controlled, understanding and knowing and ordering not as a mere human mind, but as one hypostatically united to God and reckoned as the mind of God” (emphasis are mine). (Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 19)

As a final aspect on this matter St. John writes:

And so, the Word of God is united to flesh by the intermediary of mind which stands midway between the purity of God and the grossness of flesh. Now, the mind has authority over both soul and body, but, whereas mind is the purest part of the soul, God is the purest part of the mind. And when the mind of Christ is permitted by the stronger, then it displays its own authority. However, it is under the control of the stronger and follows it, doing those things which the divine will desires.

Moreover, the mind became the seat of the divinity which has been hypostatically united to it (emphasis mine), just as, of course, the flesh did—but not an associate, as the accursed opinion of the heretics falsely teaches, when, judging immaterial things in a material way, they saw that one measure will not hold two.(1) (Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 6)

There are two more points that must be taken into consideration. Again, in his book, The Jesus We Missed, Fr. Reardon writes: “If the traditional interpretation of Jesus (that defined by the ancient councils and enshrined in the ancient creeds) is correct, there is no reason to suppose that the human mind of Jesus enjoyed access to the divine omniscience, and there is no evidence in the Gospels that that was the case.” (p. 80) And a little later he expresses the same as follows: “There is not sufficient evidence in the Gospel stories that the mind of Jesus had access to the divine omniscience, and traditional Christology prompts us not to ascribe it to him.” (p.84)

First we must consider the following: Is Fr. Reardon expressing traditional Christology of the Orthodox Church or the Christology that developed in the West? He does not support this with any quotations of the Holy Fathers and he is not unity with all that has been quoted above of St. John Damascus. In the person of our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine nature was hypostatically united with our human nature—including the intellectual power of the soul and the carnal brain. In the Divine Person of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Son of God, our human nature was enriched with His Divinity. In the passage above, Fr. Reardon implies that the grace of God dwelt in our Lord Jesus Christ in a way similar to the prophets—this is what “the mind of Jesus having access to the divine omniscience” implies. He even interprets our Lord’s foreknowledge of the disciples meeting “a man carrying a pitcher of water” (Luke 22:10) “as an example of prophetic foresight” (p. 82). Rather we should listen to St. Gregory the Theologian who wrote in his “Letter to Cledonius” (As found in John McGukin, Saint Cyril and the Christological Controversy, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004, p.392):

If anyone should say that [the divine power] was operative in Him by grace as in the case of a prophet, but was not and is not united to Him essentially, then let such a one be empty of the higher powers, or rather full of the opposite. (2)

Finally, one last thing to we need to consider is the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ: was His Person Divine or human? There is no doubt that our Orthodox Faith confesses the truth that His Person is Divine. In Christ God the Divine and human natures are united in one Person or Hypostasis—God the Son. The second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God “became flesh”, that is, He assumed our human nature, He did not become a human person. This is expounded by St. Cyril of Alexandria in his “Letter to Nestorius” which is included in the proclamations of faith in the Third Ecumenical Council. St. Cyril writes as follows:

Neither will it at all avail to a sound faith to hold, as some do, a union of persons; for the Scripture has not said that the Word united to Himself the person of man, but that He was made flesh. This expression, however, “the Word was made flesh,” can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; He made our body His own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off His existence as God, or His generation of God the Father, but even in taking to Himself flesh remaining what He was. [“Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers”, Vol. 14, p. 198]

However, the erroneous Christology of Frs. Hopko and Reardon would very nicely fall into place if either His Person were human or there would be dual persons in our Lord—both Divine and human. These are, of course, great errors. So now, we end with a question similar to the title with which we began: The Christology of Frs. Hopko and Reardon, Orthodox or opinion?

(1) The reader should be aware that the mind is not equivalent to the brain. The mind (or nous as the Greek transliterates) is the inner essence of the reasoning faculty of the soul. The mind functions in a rational way for the needs of this world and also in a contemplative way in which it apprehends spiritual knowledge. When the mind functions in a contemplative way it is in the heart. Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) once related something on this theme worthy of noting. While a young monk he was given the obedience to learn Greek. When he began to study he said that his mind was lifted from his heart and went to his head.

(2) “i.e. if anyone maintains a Christology based on grace (Christ as a specially graced man) rather than on nature (Christ as God himself) then such a person not only has no grace (to inform theology) but has proved himself demonic in intent. Gregory is radically attacking the Antiochene tradition.”—John McGukin, “Saint Cyril and the Christological Controversy”, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004, p. 392 footnote #8.

 

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or opinion? Part II

A Hymn to our Lord

The sisters of Lazarus stood beside Christ and, lamenting with bitter tears, they said to Him: “O Lord, Lazarus is dead”. And though as God He knew the place of burial, yet He asked them, “where have ye laid him?” Coming to the tomb, He called Lazarus that was four days dead; and he arose and worshipped the Lord Who had raised him. (Sessional hymn after the Third Ode of the Matins Canon of Lazarus Saturday—“The Lenten Triodion”, p. 479, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press)

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? Part II

Although this is was originally meant only to be a continuation of a critique of Fr. Hopko’s theology focusing on Christology, I felt it necessary to bring in another modern writer in the Orthodox Church: Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon. Fr. Reardon has authored a book entitled, “The JESUS We Missed, The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ”. Since, in this book, he shares certain beliefs about our Lord with Fr. Hopko, I felt it vital to include his book in this critique.

But before I begin this we should take a moment to consider another viewpoint of Fr. Hopko in which a Coptic site (coptichymns.net/PNphpBB2-viewtopic-t-9216.html) questions a particular teaching of Fr. Hopko’s wondering if his concept is consistent with Orthodox teaching. They quote Fr. Hopko speaking of the death of the soul as follows:

Those who have been Baptized have died, raised and sealed with the life creating Spirit. They are literally raised from the dead and cannot die, and death becomes the transfiguration or the passage of everlasting life in Christ, because Christ is risen. This is important, not because we have an immortal soul; our soul is as dead as our body is, as far as the Bible is concerned. We do not teach immortality of the soul in our Church; we are not Socrates or Plato, but we follow the Bible. Death is the enemy of the body and soul, and Christ raises us up in body and soul. It is because Christ is risen that we have hope over death, not because of any ‘natural’ teaching. (www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/afterdeath.htm)

The above is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church; if it were then our funeral service and all our prayers for the dead would be a mockery of the faith. On the other hand, the Orthodox theologian and writer, Constantine Cavarnos offers us the proper Orthodox viewpoint in his book, “Immortality of the Soul”. In another of his works, “Modern Greek Philosophers on the Human Soul”, he has a chapter on St. Nectarius of Aegina (Chapter IV) in which he presents eighteen proofs of the immortality of the soul as outlined by the saint.

So, let’s return to our main topic and take a look at one facet of the Christology of the aforementioned clergymen. In a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio (ancientfaith.com/podcasts/nameofjesus/jesus_-_the_man), Fr. Hopko speaks of our Lord as a man. The whole of his talk can be heard or the transcript read at the aforementioned site. So as not to tire my readers I will address only a few brief quotes from this talk. In speaking of our Lord as a man Fr. Hopko expresses the following:

It would be definitely the teaching of ancient Christianity and certainly Eastern Orthodoxy that in making this confession of faith and [saying] that Jesus is really a human being…if you’re a real human being, then you’re limited. You learn things as a human being, with a human brain. And this would definitely be the teaching, that, as a man, hōs anthrōpos, Jesus was not omniscient. He was not omnipresent; He was not all over the place. He could express divinity through His circumscribed—that would be a good expression of the Church Fathers—His bounded humanity. [emphasis mine]

A little later he states:

There are certain elements in Him [that is, our Lord] that are really human. If He were not really human, they wouldn’t be so. For example, Jesus didn’t know English. Jesus couldn’t speak English. Now, you could say, “Well, God could have infused in Him the knowledge of English or something.” Well, perhaps God could; perhaps He could have infused it in anybody if He wanted to. It doesn’t seem very likely, but in any case, if Jesus is really human, then He is also ignorant of many things. [emphasis mine] He does not know the [theory] of relativity. He never read Charles Darwin. He didn’t know the Baghavad Gita. Maybe He even thought the earth was flat; who knows? He was a first-century, real human being.

I shared a slightly expanded version of the above with a few highly theologically trained acquaintances of mine. I asked their appraisal and here are their comments:

This is not the Christology that I encounter in the Church Fathers and I believe because first and foremost there is not the piety that is present in the Church fathers. First of all, I know of no Church Father that speaks of our Lord’s humanity in the abstract, cut off from the divinity and not within the divine hypostasis of the Son. The one ecclesiastical figure who did so is Nestorius. Christ is the mystery of all mysteries and to explain that mystery in a logical fashion as do many liberal protestants simply takes a person away from Christ. A humble answer is that Christ is perfect man in every way, but perfect God in every way. There is no human way to understand that, for that mystery is guarded by and in the divine Person of the Son. We also believe that He did human things in a divine way and divine things in a human way, but we don’t speak about what He didn’t do and never speak about what He couldn’t do. We believe that Christ was absolutely free, free to be all over the place, but choosing to be in one place. As for not being omniscient, this is a subject the fathers do refer to and I know of no father claiming anything less than omniscience for the Lord Christ.  Yes, this is a troubling excerpt for an Orthodox Christian, although I think many heterodox, especially liberal protestants, and perhaps some Roman Catholics, would agree.

Another contact of mine replied as follows;

After speaking with a friend of mine here, who has done much work on St. John of Damascus’ theology, here is what it comes to: In a word, NESTORIANIZI (theologizes in the style of Nestorius). The human nature of Christ does not exist independently from His Divine Nature. We do not know of the “man Jesus”, only the God-man Christ. The human nature of Christ as created is not everywhere present. However, it is everywhere present on account of its unity with Divinity. St. John Damascus presents this wonderfully in His Exact Exposition on the Orthodox Faith. These are theories found among non-Orthodox – not in the writings of the Fathers.

Before going on to some excerpts from the Holy Fathers, I think it is best to first look at a few passages from Fr. Reardon’s book; they are found in “Chapter 6—Learning and Teaching”. First, however, I would like to make some comments on the title of this book: “The JESUS We Missed, The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ”.

Consider the following questions: Who missed HIM? Did St. Athanasius the Great who wrote the acclaimed work “On the Incarnation” miss HIM? Did the St. Gregory whom the Church named “The Theologian” because of his unequaled Theological Orations miss HIM? Did the classical dogmatition St. John Damascus, and St. Gregory Palamas the expounder of the Orthodox concept of deification miss HIM? Did the Orthodox Church miss HIM for two thousand years, and did Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, only now—in 2012—published a book to tell the Orthodox Church the surprising truth about the humanity of the JESUS it has missed for all this time? I believe the readers can see my point.

Now to some excerpts, on page 79 at the outset of the above mentioned chapter Fr. Reardon writes:

Among the limitations consequent to the Incarnation, it is important to consider whether they included the Word’s assumption of human ignorance. This, too, would seem to be part of the “human condition,” after all.

When Luke tells us, “Jesus increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52), the plain meaning of the statement implies that he progressed from less wise to wiser. He necessarily began with less wise, and from that he “increased.”

Now, an “increase” implies the making up of a deficiency, the overcoming of a limitation. Logically prior to learning certain things, Jesus was ignorant of them. In short, the limits of the Incarnation included Jesus’ experience of ignorance.

So, now let us ponder these questions: Did our Lord Jesus, in His human nature, have the need to grow in understanding? Did He also experience ignorance in His human nature? To answer affirmatively to these questions shows is an erroneous Christology, since it is to separate the divine and human natures in Christ. Therefore we must begin by speaking of the union of the two natures in our Lord. Archbishop Dimitri, the former Archbishop of Dallas and the South, expresses the Orthodox concept correctly when he writes: “The two natures were united in the one Person of the Saviour at the moment of conception in the womb of the Virgin”. [The Doctrine of Christ, p. 48] In order to confirm this by the teachings of the Holy Fathers let us turn to St. John of Damascus. In Book Three of his “Exact Exposition o f the Orthodox Faith” he writes:

For the very Word of God was conceived of the Virgin and made flesh, but continued to be God after this assumption of the flesh. And, simultaneously with its coming into being the flesh was straightway made divine by Him. Thus three things took place at the same time: the assuming of the flesh, its coming into being, and its being made divine by the Word. (emphasis mine) Hence, the holy Virgin is understood to be Mother of God, and is so called not only because of the nature of the Word but also because of the deification of the humanity simultaneously with which the conception and the coming into being of the flesh were wondrously brought about—the conception of the Word, that is, and the existence of the flesh in the Word Himself. [Chapter 12]

In writing of the operations of the two natures in Christ again he states:

Therefore, the divinity communicates its excellencies to the flesh while remaining with no part of the sufferings of the flesh. For the flesh did not suffer through the divinity in the same way that the divinity acted through the flesh, because the flesh served as an instrument of the divinity. So, even though from the first instant of conception there was no divisions whatsoever of either form, (emphasis mine) but all the actions of each form at all times belonged to the one Person, we nevertheless in no way confuse these things which were done inseparably. On the contrary, from the nature of the works we perceive to which form they belong. [Ibid. Chapter 15]

to be continued…

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion?

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? (continuation)–I must apologize for the inconsistent formatting; in transferring this document errors crept in that cannot be corrected on this processing program

Let us now continue to look into this Chapter, “The Purification of Mary”; it is stated:

We learn from the Church’s liturgy that Joseph and Mary were considered to be poor, since they did not offer a lamb, but rather the turtle doves, as is depicted on the icons of the feast. The Gospel of Saint Luke makes no mention of the possibility of offering a lamb. We learn as well that, although the accent of the liturgy is on the meeting, Mary did in fact come for purification as the law required. This means that her womb was opened and that the Christ Child was born from her in the manner in which all children are born. In this sense, although the Church insists that Mary remains forever a virgin, the only miracle in regard to the Lord’s birth is the virginal conception. There is no teaching of any other sort of a miracle in regard to His birth; certainly no idea that He came forth from His mother without opening her womb. (pp. 174-5)

Furthermore, by way of conversation, several students of the author have related how he has expounded the subject at hand. In classroom lectures it has been taught that in order for Christ to be fully human He had to have a normal human birth, which meant birth pangs, the breaking of the seal of the Theotokos’ virginity, and the usual bleeding of a woman. What does the Church say about this? The Theotokos is ever-virgin, she is virgin before, during and after childbirth. She had no birth pangs, there was no spilling of blood in the birth of Christ, the Theotokos was alone in the cave when she gave birth to our Lord, and it was a supernatural birth. The midwife quoted above has testified to this and this has been confirmed by Scriptures, the writings of our Holy Fathers, and the liturgical tradition of the Church.

To begin with we can quote the Prophet Isaiah: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child”. (Isa 66:7) This is a prophecy of the painless birth giving of the Theotokos to our Lord. St. John of Damascus confirms this in writing:

Having completed the nine-month period He was born at the beginning of the tenth, it was in accordance with the law of gestation; while because it was without pain, it surpassed the established order of birth (emphasis mine) — for, where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow, as the Prophet said: “Beforeshe was in labor, she brought forth, and again: before her time came to be delivered she brought forth a man child.” (Isaiah66:7) [Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Christian Faith, Book 4, Chapter 14—all excerpts from St. John of Damascus are from, The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, Vol. 37]

Likewise St. Irenaeus of Lyons in writing of this says: “And concerning His birth, the same prophet says in another place (Is. 66:7), ‘Before she who was in labor gave birth, and before the birth pains came on, she was delivered of a male child;’ thus he indicated His unexpected and extraordinary birth from the Virgin”. [“The Miraculous Virgin Birth of our Lord” See: http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/readings/i

believe/incarnation.shtml]

In the canons of the Church in reference to Nativity icons we see the miraculous birth of our Lord confirmed:

Just as we confess the conception of the Theotoke to have been seedless and to have resulted from the action of the Holy Spirit, so in like manner we also join in confessing Her childbirth to have been one above every accompaniment of any confinement due to what is commonly called childbed, which consists in giving birth to an infant with the accompanying pangs of childbed and is followed by a flux of blood, according to Zonaras. [He was a 12th century Byzantine canonist and historian] Whoever should do this, if he be a Cleric, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated. [From the interpretation of Canon LXXIX of the 102 Canons of the Quinisext or Sixth Ecumenical Council, The Rudder, p.384 ]

The footnote to this carries on as follows:

Hence artists painting pictures ought not to depict the Theotoke on the occasion of the feast of Christmas, at the Nativity of Christ, to be lying on a bed and apparently exhausted by the pain….For certain women, on the other hand, to be depicted as washing Christ in a basin, as is seen in many icons representing the Nativity of Christ, is an absurdity and impropriety of the rankest kind, and is an invention of carnal men; wherefore it ought by all means be discarded. [ibid. pp. 384-5]

Let us now continue and consider the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it wasshut. Then said the LORD unto me; this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.” (44:1-2) Our Church considers the gate that is shut and shall not be opened to refer to the ever-virginity of the Theotokos, the physical seal (or gate) of her virginity was not violated by the birth of our Lord. Thus Saint Amphilochius of Iconium writes: “In the Virgin Birth, the virginal gates were in no way opened, as He fittingly hath willed, who was conceived there, according to the words that were spoken concerning Him: ‘this gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord God of Israel hath entered by it, and it shall be shut’”. (Eze. 44:2) [The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. I, p. 175]

The hymnology of the Church often speaks of this, one of the most beautiful that does so is as follows: “Of old thou wast revealed as the gate of life to the Prophet Ezekiel through whom the Lord incarnate alone has passed. And as He is the Most High He preserved thee sealed, O most pure One”. [Tone 6, Friday Matins, Ode 3, Canon to the Theotokos] Thus our hymnology also speaks of the Theotokos as being the, “Impassible gate mystically sealed”. [Tone 2, Sunday Vespers, Theotokion at the Aposticha]

Let us finally take a look at several excerpts from our holy fathers that speak of the ever virginity of the Theotokos. St. John of Damascus writes of her: “Just as at His conception He had kept her who conceived Him a virgin, so also at His birth did He maintain her virginity intact, because He alone passed through her and kept her shut”. [Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Christian Faith, Book 4, Chapter 14] St. Leo, Pope of Rome, in his Tome written to the Council of Chalcedon says that “Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost within the womb of a Virgin Mother, who bore Him as she had conceived Him without the loss of virginity” [Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 14, p. 254]. Also St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:” The womb of the Holy Virgin, which ministered to an Immaculate Birth, is pronounced blessed in the Gospel; for that birth did not annul the virginity, nor did the virginity impede so great a birth”. [“On Virginity”, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, p. 365]

In concluding what can we say as regards those who speak of the Theotokos as having giving birth to our Lord in the normal human manner? We shall let a 5th century bishop, St. Peter Chrysologus, give us a reply:

Where are they who think that the Virgin’s conceiving and the Virgin’s giving birth are like those of other women? Theirs is of the earth, hers is of heaven. Hers is by divine power, theirs by human weakness. Theirs is in the passions of the flesh, hers in the tranquility of the Divine Spirit and in a human body at rest. Blood was quiet, flesh was still, her members slept, and the Virgin’s womb was entirely un­moved in that heavenly visit, while the Author of flesh was clothing himself in a garment of flesh and becoming a Heav­enly Man, who would not only restore the earth to man, but would even give him heaven. A Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and a Virgin she remains. [The Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, Vol. 17, Sermon 117 “The First Adam, and the Last Adam, Born of a Virgin” p.199] (It is possible that in his last sentence St. Peter is quoting the midwife at the birth of Christ—see above fourth paragraph.)

 

 

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or opinion?

A Hymn of the Theotokos

O Lord, Thou Who art more than good, through the prayers of Thy Mother and of the Fathers who convened the Seven great Councils, establish and build up the Church and make firm the holy Faith; show us all forth as partakers of the Kingdom of Heaven when to earth Thou returnest to judge the whole of creation. [The Theotokion of the Exapostalaria of the Sunday of the holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, October 11-17 trans.from "The October Menaion", Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston Mass.]

Foreword

The following article is a critique which will be sectioned into four posts. Although critiques are not my prime desire for this blog site yet in asking advice I was encouraged to do so. I was actually told I should feel obligated to do so. My hope is that in setting forth the Orthodox teaching on certain points of Christology and Mariology the readers will have an increase of gratitude to our Lord for His saving work for us, and love for both Him and His most-pure Mother.

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion?

Our Lord questioned the Apostle Peter: “Simon son of Jona lovest thou Me?” And when the apostle replied affirmatively our Lord said, “Feed My sheep.” And so, the motivation of this article is concern for the flock of Christ, the faithful of the Church. This is a critique of certain points expressed by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko. This will be done in two parts, one being on Christology the other on Mariology, the latter will be dealt with first. Each of these parts will be sectioned off into more than one post.

I have been personally acquainted with Fr. Hopko since the late 1980’s. I have admired his committed sacrifice for his spiritual children. He has a great physical stamina which he used for others in spending long hours counseling those who came to him for help. Some of his spiritual children have also spoke of him as having a photographic memory and likened him to a walking encyclopedia and he put these good qualities to use. However, it is quite sad to see that in some of his instructions he has gone off on tangents from the teachings of our Orthodox Church. Therefore, reminding myself of the responsibility of the priesthood to perpetuate the truth “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), I feel compelled to write this critique. Although I lack qualification for this task yet trusting in the assistance of a number of highly qualified theologically trained acquaintances in the Church I hope to accomplish something useful.

I believe it was a total of four times, once quite recently, and several times in the past, that questionable teachings of Father Thomas were brought to my attention. Twice this concerned Christology and twice the Mariology. Since that time I have had correspondence with Father Thomas on several occasions. Once it concerned a critique I was about to write and he encouraged me to state what I believe and why. Another time I questioned some things he expressed and he replied, “I can only say what I believe to be true”. I was a bit surprised by such answers because in neither of them was the need to stay within the parameters of the Church or to support one’s self with the Holy Fathers mentioned. We need to be obedient to the Church; we need to be in harmony with the Church. We have the responsibility teach nothing new, but to reiterate that which has been handed down to us. So, before going on to a critique, I will repeat the title: The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion?

So let us now, speak about our holy Lady Theotokos. When, in our Holy Orthodox Church we call the Theotokos Ever-Virgin, what do we indicate? Does this only mean that Mary, the Mother of God, conceived as a virgin by the Holy Spirit, or does it signify something more? It definitely signifies something more, for our Lady Theotokos experienced a supernatural birth, she continued a virgin in giving birth, and remained so afterwards. This was testified to by one of the midwives who entered the cave of the Nativity of our Lord a little after His birth. The Theotokos allowed the midwife to examine her, and this woman declared, “Lord, Lord Almighty have mercy on us! It has never been heard or thought of, that anyone should have her breasts full of milk, and that the birth of a son should show his mother to be a virgin. But there has been no spilling of blood in his birth, no pain in bringing him forth. A virgin has conceived, a virgin has brought forth, and a virgin she remains”. [From the Apocryphal Gospel attributed to St. Matthew, "Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 8", pp. 374-5] Therefore she is the Ever-Virgin Mother of God.

It is unfortunate, quite unfortunate that we have seen the opposite expressed by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko. This then, leads us to a brief examination of one chapter in his book The Winter Pascha, and a brief survey of what of our holy Orthodox Church says regarding this topic. It is one chapter entitled, “The Purification of Mary”, and primarily one paragraph that we must take into consideration. First of all one must raise the question: How can an Orthodox Christian write of “the purification of Mary”? Here Fr. Thomas is using the terminology of the Western Christians with which—sad to say—he agrees. But did she need purification? Let us consider this question before going on to that which Fr. Thomas expresses.

What does the consciousness of the Church tell us? She was neither unclean nor in need of purification. Just as her Son our Lord Jesus Christ went to baptism with no need for it but rather to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), so too, His most pure Mother, although she was not in need of purification, submitted to the Law. Perhaps a question could be raised based on the Gospel narrative concerning this event. Did it not say: “when the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled” (Luke 2:22)? Since the Gospel says “her purification”, could not one conclude that this must indicate she needed it? However, the King James Version is being quoted here, and it is this or the New King James Version which are used in most of our parishes. This latter also uses the term, “her purification”. Unfortunately it is a mistranslation, the original Greek is plural; it says, tou katharismou auton, the pronoun is plural (the last “o” is an omega), it would be properly translated as “their purification”, and not “her purifi- cation”. Yet the Law of Moses, which she came to fulfill, does use the singular, and refers specifically to the woman who gave birth, it states: “And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled” (Lev. 12:6). But by changing the pronoun to the plural, St. Luke is referring to the purification of the Jews prescribed by the Law of Moses to which the Mother of God submitted although she had no need—the collections of the lives of saints from the Greek, Romanian, Russian and Serbian all agree with this.

But let us go on to further establish this point by listening to what the traditional collection of the lives of saints of the Church says about this. On the feast of “The Meeting”, we read:

Fulfilling the Law of the Lord, the Mother of God came into the Temple of the Lawgiver. She came to purify herself, although she had no need of purification since she was undefiled, without offense, uncorrupted, most pure. For she who conceived without a man or desire, and gave birth without pain or violation of her virginal purity, was not tainted by the impurity common to women who give birth according to the law of nature. For how could impurity touch her who gave birth to the source of purity? Christ was born of her like fruit from a tree. And as the tree producing its fruit is neither harmed nor defiled, in the same manner at the birth of Christ—the Blessed Fruit—the Virgin remained unharmed and undefiled. Christ proceeded from her as a ray of the sun that passes through glass or a crystal, a sun-ray does not break up or damage it, but illumines it even more. And Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, did not harm the virginity of His Mother. And the door of natural birth was sealed in purity and preserved in virginity not being defiled with a flow of blood as is common to women. But having passed through her supernaturally, He increased her purity, having sanctified and enlightened her with the light of Divine grace by His proceeding from her. Any purification was absolutely unnecessary for her who gave birth without defilement to God the Word. But in order not to break the Law, but to fulfill it, she came to purify herself having all-perfect purity and without any blemish. At the same time, filled with humility, she was not proud of her uncorrupted purity, but she came as if unclean to strand with the unclean women in front of the doors of the Temple of the Lord, and besought purification, not disdaining those who were unclean and sinful. ["Lives of the Saints, In the Russian Language, Book Six", Moscow, Moscow Synodal Press, pp.23-4]

Thus does our Church honor our All-holy Lady Theotokos.

to be continued…

 

Baptism

A hymn to the Theotokos

From thy virgin womb the Light that was before the sun, even God who has shone forth upon us, took flesh ineffably, coming to dwell among us in the body. Thee, then, O Blessed and all-holy Theotokos, do we magnify (The Irmos of the ninth Ode in the Matins Canon for the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist, trans. from “The Festal Menaion”, p. 401)

Baptism

Since, this month we are celebrating the Baptism of our Lord which we usually call Theophany or revelation of God, it seems to me that speak about the Sacrament of Baptism is quite appropriate. I do not want to say much myself but to turn immediately to a pair of eleventh century saints whose writings are recorded in the Philokalia: Sts. Callistus and Ignatius. What do they teach us about the Sacrament (or Mystery) of Baptism? In the fifth chapter of their writings which is entitled, “The glory of the grace of Holy Baptism, what dims and what restores it”, they tell us:

What this grace is and how we acquire it, what dims and what purifies it, will be explained to you better than all gold by St. John Chrysostom, shining in word and soul who says (All quotes of St. John Chrysostom are as found in the writings of Sts. Callistus and Ignatius): “‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image’ (IICor. 3:18). This was more clear for the believers in the times of the Apostles when miraculous gifts occurred. Still, it is not hard, even now, for a man who has the eyes of faith to understand it. When we are being baptized, our soul, purified by the Spirit, becomes brighter than the sun; not only then are we able to look at the glory of God, but we ourselves take on something of its radiance. As polished silver, illumined by the rays of the sun, so a soul purified by the Divine Spirit, becomes more brighter than silver; it both receives a ray of the Divine glory, and from itself reflects the ray of this same glory. Therefore the Apostle says: ‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory’, that is, from the glory of the Spirit to our own glory, which fills us and which should be ‘even as by the Spirit of the Lord’” (IICor. 3:18).

As examples of such grace manifest in believers Chrysostom tells us:

Think of Paul, whose very garments had a miraculous effect. Remember Peter, whose very shadow manifested miraculous power.

Continuing he says,

Do you wish to see how their inner light penetrates even through their bodies? “And looking steadfastly on Stephen, they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Then, a little later, he mourns the infirm condition of the faithful:

But alas! We ought to groan bitterly; for, though granted such noble rank, we do not even understand what is said about it, because we quickly lose it and incline to the sensory. This ineffable and terrible glory remains in us one or two days, after which we extinguish it, bringing in the storm of worldly affairs and their thick clouds as repulse its rays. [These quotes are from, “Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart”, pp. 166-7]

Sts. Callistus and Ignatius go on to comment:

Do you see how much it lies in our power to increase or to diminish this supernatural grace, that is, to show it forth or to obscure it? What obscures it is the storm of worldly cares, and the ensuing darkness of passions which attack us like a whirlwind, or a wild torrent and, flooding our soul, give it neither rest nor possibility to look at the truly good and blessed things for which it was created. Instead it is mauled and tortured by the waves and smoke of sensory lusts, it is plunged into darkness and dissoluteness. Conversely, grace is manifest by that which is reflected from the Divine commandments, in the souls of those who walk not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. [Ibid. p. 167-8]

Continuing on this topic in the next chapter the saints write:

In the Divine womb, that is, in the Holy Font, we freely receive perfect Divine grace. If after this we cover it over with the fog of passions, either through abuse of temporal things, or through excess of cares for worldly activities, it is possible, even after this, to regain possession of it, to restore its supernatural brightness and to see quite vividly its manifestation, by repentance and the fulfillment of commandments whose action is Divine. Grace manifests in proportion to each man’s zeal in remaining faithful to faith, but above all through the help and benevolence of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Mark [the Ascetic] says: “Christ as perfect God, gave to those baptized the perfect grace of the Holy Spirit, which receives no increase from us, but merely reveals itself and manifests in us in accordance with our keeping the commandments, and gives us increase in faith ’till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13).” Therefore, whatever we may bring after our regeneration in Him, must previously have been concealed in us by Him and of Him. [Ibid. p. 168]

In order to further illustrate how one rekindles this grace of Baptism I would like to refer to a conversation I had with a highly educated Athonite monk, Fr. Luke of Philotheou. Fr. Luke was a university professor before becoming a monk. This conversation took place in the early 1990′s, at that time many Charismatics claimed to be experiencing what they called a “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” They would sometimes refer to St. Symeon the New Theologian who wrote of a second Baptism in the life of a Christian. However, they do take St. Symeon out of context, for this saint speaks of a Baptism of repentance or a Baptism of tears which is a long process of purification. Just as Bishop Basil Krivocheine once commented in a talk: “For the charismatics Baptism in the Holy Spirit is in the beginning, but for St. Symeon it is something in the end.” Bishop Basil authored a book on St. Symeon the New Theologian called, In the Light of Christ. So here are the notes of my conversation with Fr. Luke:

We spoke about the grace received in original Baptism and what some of the Fathers say about the grace of a second Baptism of repentance—a Baptism of tears. In summary concerning this he said:

We are like a glass that we must clean once again. We have the grace of Baptism but we are like a dirty vessel which has to be cleansed. When the process of cleansing takes place, then it is as though one has had a second Baptism. So what we call the “second” is greater than the first only in conscious awareness. The second is greater than the first because the second is done through a synergy of God and man. A synergy of God’s grace and man’s repentance, of man’s finally overcoming sin and becoming to a certain degree immune to the sickness of sin and then he receives this second Baptism. The second Baptism is not something different from the first but it is the complete manifestation of the first, that is, in manifestation of the grace itself acting in a person it is greater. It is in essence the same as the first, it is the uncovering of the first, but we say that it is greater because in it the manifestation of the grace in us becomes greater since we have struggled and become even more pure ourselves. We are able to receive the conscious awareness of the grace because of our repentance and struggling against sin and lulling the passions. Whereas in the beginning we were not able to receive the full impact and have this grace fully consciously active within us because of our state of separation from God.

A question to ponder: Can the experience of the Charismatics and Pentecostals or the “born again” Christians be compared to the “Second Baptism” spoken of by Fr. Luke?

St. Amvrossy of Optina on the Nativity

A Hymn to the Theotokos

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 Righteoussness; in the stead of Moses, Christ, the Salvation of our souls. (Dogmatic of Saturday Vespers Tone 2, trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston Massachusetts 1990, p. 108)

St. Amvrossy of Optina on the Nativity

As we shall soon be celebrating the feast of the Nativity I have chosen to post a festal greeting of St. Amvrossy of Optina which is contained in his book: Collection of Letters to Monastcis.

Letter 2, 1870

To those who are wise in the Lord! By the mercy and the long-suffering of God once again we have reached the time of the yearly feast of Christ’s Nativity. In place of simple and usual congratulations, I want to say a few words about the great mystery of this holy feast. The Holy Church in her hymns already calls the faithful to contemplate with “uplifted” minds the travels of the Master, and with purified hearts, to be mysteriously delighted with the immortal supper in the poor cave. How has the Omnipresent One bowed the heavens and come down to earth without leaving the Father’s bosom? How has the Invisible been seen? How has the co-eternal Word and consubstantial Son of God become the Son of a Virgin? How is it that He, Who is pre-eternal and incomprehensible beyond all things, is born from a virgin today as an infant? How is it that He Who is inaccessible to all, is today, as an infant, embraced by the motherly virginal arms? How is it that He Who covers the heavens with clouds, is today – as an infant – wrapped in swaddling bands? How is it that He Who created everything in wisdom is today, as a swaddled infant, put into the manger so that He will free mankind from irrationality? How is it that He Who feeds everything is nourished as an infant, with a mother’s milk? O, the awesome mystery! O the incomprehensible wonder! Now God has indisputably become man so that He would make man into god as was foretold by the prophet: “I said that ye are gods and all of you are sons of the most High”. But, what about our human condition—“and we, as men, die”? What vanity is ours and neglect over the divine adoption! We have more love for the slavery of passions; and because of our evil will we voluntarily and involuntarily bend down our necks before the adversary! What blindness and distortion is ours! Blessed are the ears of those shepherds who heard the angels sing in the sky: “Glory to God in the highest”, and the announcement of peace on earth and God’s good will among men. Blessed are their eyes which saw, like a blameless lamb, Him Who was pastured in Mary’s womb. Blessed are those who are deemed worthy of God’s good will and peace which surpasses all understanding. Blessed are the wise men that came from afar to worship Him Who was born from the Virgin and who brought to Him worthy gifts: gold as to a King, incense as to God, and myrrh as to the Immortal dead man. Blessed are also all those who worship Him in the spirit and truth, bringing Him gifts, each according to his own capacity: one the righteous pennies of mercy—as though gold; another, as though the sweet smelling odor of incense—glorification and the many prayers of repentance and confession. Yet another, like the fine perfumed myrrh—the grateful memory of sufferings and the reverend worship of the life-giving wounds of Him Who became incarnate and was crucified in the flesh for our salvation. But what can we do, who are depressed and insensitive [among whom I am first] who cannot take delight in that immortal supper in the poor cave, not having an elevated mind (from earthly things) nor a cleansed heart? Humbling and reproaching ourselves, let us pay attention with reverence to the reading and singing in the Church. And let us receive from them, as from a source of life and of immortality, the comfort and instruction and salvation by the mercy and unutterable love for men of Him Who was incarnate for us—the Son of God. To Whom is due all glory and power, honor and worship together with His eternal Father and the most-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Do Thou Who wast unutterably born from the Virgin, have mercy on us who are full of shame, by the prayers of Thy most-pure Mother and all who pleased Thee!