Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dr. David Ford: An Open Letter to an Advocate of So-Called "Gay Marriage"



An Open Letter to
an Advocate of So-Called “Gay Marriage”

by

Dr. David C. Ford
St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary

May 19, 2018



Glory to Jesus Christ!

Thank you very much for reading my recent lengthy letter, and for your thoughtful, respectful response to it.  I appreciate your calmness and civility in approaching the controversial topic of homosexuality, and I will endeavor to respond to you in a similar way.

I also thank you for being, I think, quite fair, for the most part, in representing/summarizing my words.  On one key point, though, I would like to offer a crucial clarification.  I'm sorry if I may have given the impression in my letter that I believe Tradition to be an “ultimately static system,” as you describe my position.  I do, in fact, agree with your words: “we can see that the corpus of theological writings has, in fact, grown—theology has been and is creative.  Theologians strive to receive the gospel—the apostolic faith—not simply to preserve it but to preach it.  And preaching requires that we address the gospel to an audience—we engage the world with the gospel.  When we look at the history of theology, this is what we see: the apostolic tradition alive in various figures who work out its meaning in their historical context.”

Yes, the Tradition, ever guided by the Holy Spirit in the Church, has always been and still is “alive” and “creative.”  But at the same time it has always been internally consistent.  With every fresh presentation of the Gospel to each new generation, in each new cultural setting, the Church has adapted her preaching to the specifics of the cultural context, but never to the extent of being inconsistent with what she has always preached in every other context. 

Hence, I'm surprised that you're calling for a “radical re-imagination” concerning “issues of sex, gender, and sexuality.”  For these words certainly imply at least the possibility of a radical change in the content of the Tradition itself.  Yet there has never before been even remotely anything like a radical change in the content of the Tradition in the entire history of our Church.  So it would be very much inconsistent for such a radical change to ever occur, either now or in the future.  After all, we do believe in timeless Truth – since Jesus Christ, the Truth Himself, is “the same: yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

So I think the basic point of our disagreement lies in the extent to which we believe and understand that certain elements in our Tradition are open to change.  Certainly there can be a vast array of local customs in music, iconography styles, rubrics in the services, certain relatively minor pastoral practices, etc., where there is great room for variety.  And these local variations often are in flux.  Yet they all are consistent with the Tradition as a whole.

Veneration of local saints is perhaps a good example.  As far as I know, there has never been an instance, in the entire history of our Church, when one portion of the universal Orthodox Church glorified/canonized someone as a saint whom another portion of the Church explicitly rejected as being a saint.

So we see that among all these variations in local practice, there is no departure from basic, foundational belief.  Your analogy using WonderBread and artisanal San Francisco sourdough bread, and asserting that they are still both bread, reveals how radical indeed your re-imagining is!  For how many true-blue artisanal sourdough bread lovers would see in WonderBread anything consistent with what they know to be truly bread!

From the point of view of consistency within the Tradition through the ages, it's inconceivable that the Orthodox Church as a whole would ever endorse sodomy – or any other form of same-sex sexual activity – as an acceptable practice, as something consistent with the quest for holiness and purity in spirit, soul, and body which her members have always preached and endeavored to practice.  It cannot ever be seen as being consistent with the Holy Scriptures, which as you know strongly condemn the practice, or as being consistent with the teachings of our Church Fathers and the canons of our Tradition, all of which also strongly condemn that practice as not being consistent with the life of purity to which our Church has always called us all:  “Pursue holiness, without which no one can see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  And I think it's very significant that immediately after St. Paul declares to the Thessalonians that the Lord's will for them is their personal sanctification, he then commands them to “abstain from sexual immorality, so that every one of you should know how to possess his body in sanctification and honor” (1 Thess. 4:3-4).

I fully realize that for many Christians who identify themselves as homosexuals, they are convinced, by their experience, that same-sex sexual relations are compatible with a life of holiness, especially if their same-sex sexual activity occurs within a loving, committed relationship.  But the foundational problem here is that they reach this conclusion based on their own experience and reasoning, and not on the experience and reasoning of the Church as a whole. 

For we Orthodox Christians are always taught not to trust our own experience and reasoning – for we know how easily we can be deceived but rather to measure and adapt our experience and reasoning by and to the experience and reasoning of the Saints and Fathers of our Church all of whom have always deplored and continue to deplore same-sex sexual activity as deeply sinful and highly detrimental to a life of true holiness.  Of course, all heterosexual sexual activity outside of marriage is also similarly condemned by our Church.

While I empathize with self-identified homosexuals who are trying to reconcile their sexualized SSA with their Christian faith, it seems to me that of all Christians, Orthodox Christians should be able to understand that if they do have sexualized thoughts and feelings of SSA, these thoughts and feelings cannot possibly be approved or blessed by our Lord.  So whatever the complex origins of such thoughts and feelings may be, in the universal and timeless understanding of our Orthodox Church these thoughts and feelings must be resisted with the help of our Lord, and through the guidance of His Church and her deep understanding of spiritual warfare and dealing with ungodly thoughts (logismoi), in order for a life of real holiness to be experienced.

*     *     *     *    *

I also agree with you that theologically we need to delve more deeply into the mysteries of human sexuality, to try to ascertain more fully why indeed our Lord Jesus fashioned mankind into only two sexes, and what this means as we seek to live as faithful Orthodox Christians – especially in today's cultural setting in which many are seeking to minimize the importance of the many distinctions between the two sexes. 

If sexual complementarity had not been our Lord's will for humanity, He certainly could have simply fashioned another man to be Adam's longed-for helpmate.  But He did not.  Rather, He desired for Adam and Eve to rejoice in the glorious and wondrous mystery of male/female complementarity. 

In addition, Christ declares that the man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wifenot to another man (cf. Matt. 19:5).  He also teaches concerning marriage, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6).  Since in the Orthodox understanding it is God Himself Who unites one woman and one man in marriage, it would be enormously inconsistent to His age-old way of acting, through His Holy Church for two thousand years, to suddenly believe and assert that He is now uniting two men or two women in “marriage.” 

Can it be a reasonable expectation that our Lord in our own time will change His mind on this very major issue, just because the Supreme Court, or Hollywood, or modern science (which in our time has abandoned its standards of objectivity on sexual issues due to its capitulation to political correctness),  or many others in our secularized and sexualized contemporary society have changed their mind on it?  And even if we may happen to hope that there's a chance that our Lord, acting through His Church, will some day change His mind on this, I believe it's unconscionable, and in egregious disobedience to our Church and our Tradition, for us as Orthodox Christians to now be encouraging anyone with SSA to engage in same-sex sexual activity in the hope that one day the Church will consider such activity acceptable.

Indeed, I believe it's unconscionable for anyone in our Church to encourage people with SSA to engage in same-sex activity for any reason – because encouraging such activity implies that it's something good and acceptable to the Lord, when it so obviously is not, according to the consistent teachings of our Church for two thousand years in a multitude of different cultures.  When this is made crystal clear to people wrestling with SSA, it gives them a sure foundation to inspire them to fight against any impulses towards same-sex sexual activity.  Otherwise, so often there is heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching uncertainty, which can amplify, sometimes with disastrous consequences, the confusion that people struggling with SSA so often feel.

In addition, I would assert just as strongly that everyone else in the single state also must struggle just as much against inappropriate heterosexual sexual behavior in order to live chastely before marriage – no matter how strong their feelings and impulses might be in a sinful direction, and no matter how strongly the surrounding society is urging them to indulge in sexual sin.  And for the married, this is also just as important for them – to ensure that they will not engage in inappropriate sexual activity within marriage, and that they will resist even the slightest thoughts of possibly committing adultery.

*     *     *     *     *

Christ also made men and women so different so that they could reproduce sexually – which, of course, is biologically impossible for same-sex couples.  Their bodies are not even designed for becoming “one flesh,” as Christ says the man and woman will do in marriage (Matt. 19:5).

Furthermore, I believe, along with Fr. John Breck, that the current many-faceted effort to reduce the importance of, and indeed to renounce entirely, binary human sexuality, is indeed a heresy – an anthropological heresy which can be called, as he does, unisexism.  As we quote him in the Introduction to the book of essays which my wife and I helped to edit entitled Glory and Honor: Orthodox Christian Resources on Marriage (SVS Press, 2016),

“Unisexism” is perhaps the Arianism of our day, the seductive and convenient, if heretical, solution to the intractable problem of sorting out gender roles in a workable and equitable fashion.  Only it's inverted.  Whereas Arius dealt with the antinomy of God-manhood by denying consubstantiality, the unisex heresy deals with the problem of gender by denying differentiation (p. 12; our emphasis).

*     *     *     *     *

You asked for a deeper reflection on Jesus Christ Himself as an avenue to help us sort out the current controversies regarding human sexuality.  I'd like to make an effort in this direction by suggesting that the heresy of unisexism has affinities with one of the most major heresies of Christian history, that known as Monophysitism.  In this heresy from the 5th century, there is a tendency to blur and obscure the distinctions between our Lord's divine and human natures – perhaps in a way parallel to the current efforts to blur and obscure the distinctions between the two sexes. 

But as the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (451) proclaims, the two natures of our Lord are united in Him “without confusion, without change, without separation, and without division; and without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the distinctive properties of each nature being preserved” (my emphasis).  In the Church's rejection of the related heresy of Monothelitism at the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681), this doctrine is further refined with the assertion that “in Him are two natural wills and two natural operations, existing indivisibly, uncontrovertibly, inseparably, and unconfusedly” (my emphasis).

In transposing this unchanging understanding in our Tradition of our Lord and His two natures to humanity existing in two sexes, we can assert, in a similar way, that humanity exists in two sexes without confusion, without change, without separation, and without division; and without the distinction of the sexes being taken away by such union, but rather the distinctive properties of each sex being preserved.

Unisexism, with its strong endorsement of homosexual relationships – wherein the opposite sex is actually totally eliminated, and wherein a man is said to be a “wife,” and a woman is said to be a “husband” – is also related to the heresy of Iconoclasm.  In that highly destructive heresy of the 8th and 9th centuries, the veneration of icons, a crucially important practice of the Church praised by the Church Fathers and approved in the Canons, was “cursed out of the Church” by bishops under intense pressure from the Emperor. 

In our own time, we recognize the intense pressure of many elements in our surrounding society, including many governmental authorities (all taking the place of the Emperor), pushing towards acceptance of sodomy and same-sex “marriage” by everyone, including by all the Christian churches.  And in this effort, just as the Iconoclasts destroyed the icons, this new form of Iconoclasm is intent on destroying historic Christianity's understanding of marriage as only being ever between one man and one woman, as well as historic Christianity's understanding of sexual relations as only being ever approved and blessed by God within heterosexual marriage.

Furthermore, it's clear that unisexism also has close affinities with the ancient yet constantly recurring heresy of Gnosticism, especially libertine Gnosticism.  In today's version of libertine Gnosticism, one aspect of the secret cosmological knowledge that grants salvation is now the assertion that sodomy (and transgenderism, for that matter) is acceptable, and therefore that it can be practiced with no detrimental repercussions for the spiritual life. 

Gnosticism, of course, is centered in the belief that all of Creation is a vast cosmic mistake, with matter itself being evil at least to some extent.  Therefore, the human body must be somehow evil also, and have nothing to do with salvation.  Hence, the Gnostics saw no moral significance in the body's natural form and functions.  So it's not surprising that the Gnostics of our own time see no moral significance in what has traditionally been seen as the glorious and fruitful complementarity of the two sexes.

Indeed, for the Gnostics, the body is seen as a tomb from which the soul must escape in order to find salvation.  In this view, since those having the secret knowledge are believed to be automatically saved, and since for them the body does not participate in salvation, it can be used – and abused – at will, without any damaging repercussions. 

The Gnostic worldview, of course, is far removed from the Orthodox understanding of the goodness of Creation, including the human body, created by the Good God Who loves mankind.  Hence, our Tradition understands that the body does very much participate in the ongoing work of salvation, which includes the constant endeavor to live in purity of spirit, soul, and body.  Furthermore, our Tradition sees great moral significance in the God-given natural form and functions of both the male and the female body – which is why, for instance, there are Church canons prohibiting castration and cross-dressing.

*     *     *     *     *

I believe what I've shared above is a step towards your call for “a shift from a defensive to a constructive mode” in doing theology – though I would never minimize the importance of what might be called “defensive” theology, since every one of the seven Ecumenical Councils met precisely to defend the timeless, universal Faith against specific heresies.  Yet as the Fathers at each of these Councils defended the Faith, they did so in very positive ways – preserving the sound and pure doctrine which is crucial for underlying and shaping sound and pure living.  And they did so in creative ways – using new wording in order to most effectively address each new heresy – while always remaining completely consistent with what the Fathers had taught before them.

I also believe that current Orthodox writing on the glory of marriage is also a step in this direction.  So I would suggest that we are seeing expressed in our own time within Orthodoxy a deeper and richer appreciation for the glory of traditional marriage as a path to holiness as equally valid and meaningful as the monastic path.  A wonderful example of this is expressed by an illustrious contemporary Athonite monk, Elder Aimilianos, in his homily, “Marriage: The Great Sacrament” (which is available on-line by that title).  In this homily, the elder says that a husband and wife truly living the Gospel are “a theophany” as they exhibit iconically Christ the Bridegroom's love for His Bride, His Holy Church, in their marriage. 

You might also be interested in the 30 essays on various aspects of marriage by 26 Orthodox priests and scholars, including two monastic elders, in Glory and Honor: Orthodox Christian Resources on Marriage (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2016).


Thank you for considering these thoughts.  May they be helpful to you and to many!

Yours, in Christ,

Dr. David C. Ford
Professor of Church History
St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary
South Canaan, PA


Friday, May 18, 2018

Stump the Priest: Lay Blessings

Isaac blesses Jacob (Genesis 27), by Govert Flinck, c. 1634

Question: "Can a laymen give a blessing?"

In the absence of a priest or bishop, a layman can give blessings. You can bless your food, for example. You do this by saying the prayer before the meal, and then by making the sign of the Cross over your food. If you are eating with your family, or other Orthodox Christians, this would be done by the most senior person.

It is a pious practice for Orthodox parents to bless their children, at the end of the day, and when sending them off.

If you use a home censer, when you put incense into the censer, you can also bless it.

But just as a priest does not give blessings when a bishop is present, deferring to him, likewise, laity do not give these blessings when a priest or a bishop is present.

A laymen simply forms his hand the same way he does when he blesses himself, but makes the sign of the Cross over the person or thing that he is blessing, and because he is blessing outwardly from himself, He makes the Cross from the top to the bottom and then from his own left to his right (which, when blessing a person, results in the Cross being made over them the same way they would have made it over themselves).

Fr. Athanasios Haros talks about this in the following video:



The only thing I would point out that when Russians give a blessing, they do not make the tiny crosses that he does in this video. Usually (at least as I have observed) they would trace the sign of the Cross over another person just as large as they would do so over themselves.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stump the Priest: Pews


Question: "I currently go to  a relatively traditional parish, however, recently it has been suggested that we add chairs to our parish, and I can't help but be deeply troubled by the proposal. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?"

Pews are certainly not traditional. No Christians of any stripe used them prior to the Protestant Reformation. But you often do find Orthodox parishes that use pews today, in the United States and in other parts of the world in which Orthodox parishes were established, where surrounding heterodox Christians have long used them.

Protestants adopted pews, because they suited services that revolved around long sermons, and such services tended to not have much left in the way of the traditional aspects of Christian worship. But for most of Church history, such things were unheard of.

We see in Scripture that the normal attitude of prayer is standing. Christ said in the Gospels:
"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25).
In the parable of the Publican and Pharisee, we find that when they went to the Temple to pray, both the Publican and the Pharisee stood when they prayed:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:10-13).
You also have references to bowing and kneeling in prayer (1 Kings 8:54; Daniel 6:10; Acts 9:40; Numbers 16:22), but you don't find many references to people sitting during corporate worship. It is traditional to have seating along the walls of churches for those who are unable to stand throughout the service, but nothing like the pews we see in many churches today.

There are parishes even in the Russian Church Abroad that have pews. These tend to be older parishes that were established during either the pre-revolutionary period, or during the period of the American Metropolia prior to the post World War II wave of immigration (which is most typical of the older mainstream ROCOR parishes). This is due, I think, to the pressure to assimilate (which was even stronger during those periods than it is today). So obviously, the fact that such parishes exist, and continue to use pews would suggest that our bishops do not consider pews to be intolerable, but our bishops clearly do not encourage them either, which is why you don't see them in most or our parishes.

If you are in a parish that has had pews for generations, you probably are not going to get any where by opposing them, and so you would need to come to terms with them, if there were no better options to consider. But in a situation in which a parish is considering pews (or rows of chairs, that amount to the same thing), one should certainly express respectful opposition to the idea. However, if those in authority decide to put them in, continuing to oppose them would not be a very healthy position to be in... and so again, you would have to either come to accept the facts on the ground, or look elsewhere, if there were other options.

There is a difficult balance one has to strike with such things. We want to be traditional, but on the other hand, we do not want to be a source of scandal or division in a parish. Obviously, there are some abnormalities that one could not possibly come to terms with, even to tolerate them for as long as one had no other parishes in the area to consider, but I would not put pews in that category.

Pews do tend to make the congregation feel like spectators in the services, rather than participants. On the other hand, because we live in a culture in which people are used to sitting through most of a service, there is a tendency in parishes that do not have pews for people to congregate along the walls, and thus not make full use of the worship space. One option I have seen that I think works pretty well, is the use of movable benches with no backs (they seat about 3 to four people, as I recall), that are placed in parts of the Nave of the Church. I observed this in the Old Rite parish in Erie, Pennsylvania, and in my opinion, it worked well, without the usual problems that pews bring, and I don't think I have seen a parish whose services were more pious than that parish.

On their website, they explain when people should sit on these pews:
"Most Old Rite faithful try to arrive on time for the services. The benches located in the Church of the Nativity are placed there because the faithful usually arrive several minutes before services begin, thus, allowing them a place to sit before services commence. Also, it is still the practice of the Old Rite to read the liturgically-appointed homilies during Matins and/or Vigils. During the reading of these homilies the faithful sit and listened attentively. When the services do begin, the faithful stand with arms folded with as little shifting of feet and body as necessary."
Because these benches have no backs, it is not very comfortable to sit in them throughout the services anyway. However, they still have benches along the walls for those who do need to sit throughout the services due to age or infirmity.

For More Information: 

This is why church pews were invented, by Philip Kosloski

Church Pews, Their Origin and Legal Incidents, with Some Observations on the Propriety of Abolishing them, By John Coke Fowler

Friday, May 04, 2018

Stump the Priest: Obedience to the Church


"Is an Orthodox Christian obliged to follow all that the Church teaches, or is there some leeway that is left to individual choice?"

If the Church clearly teaches something, then an Orthodox Christian that wishes to go to heaven should endeavor to embrace that teaching and obey it with all their heart and soul.

Christ taught us:
"He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16).
And so obedience to the Church is the equivalent of obedience to Christ. And so, for example, when the Scriptures, as understood and explained by the Church, teach us us that something is either forbidden or obligatory, that should settle the matter.

Further, the Seventh Ecumenical Council declared:
"If anyone breaks any ecclesiastical tradition, written or unwritten, let him be anathema."
But of course this applies to what the Church actually does teach. When it comes to matters that are debatable, to the extent that the debate has any real merit, there could be room for reasonable disagreement. So if there is a question about what the Church teaches, it needs to be examined on its own merits. However, often people try to raise questions about matters that there really is no question about, and so if you catch yourself grasping at straws in attempt to find a justification to ignore something that you know the Church really does teach, you should know that we ultimately will have to give an account to the God who knows whether or not we are just making excuses because we don't what to hear the Church.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sister Vassa on the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood


Sister Vassa posted a rather tortured answer to the question of whether women can be ordained as priests, which you can listen to here:


Apparently we should understand that the reason the Church doesn't ordain women is because it just doesn't want to... but she insists that there is no reason why this is the case. The Church just doesn't want to for purely random and arbitrary reasons:
"You know, when people ask me about women in priesthood, they say, "Sister, why can't women be priests?' And I say, 'Women can be priests. We don't want them to be priests." Because you see, God can do anything, and the Church, by divine authority, uh, can do anything, but, the Church doesn't want to -- and that's a legitimate reason. What I don't like is when we try to pretend that there are other reasons for this, because it's legitimate not to want something, and there are reasons not to want this - right? - but, we shouldn't pretend that there's some... reason, that, for example, the maleness of Christ is essential to priesthood. Because, the question in this whole big question, is, when we discuss something like the fact that Christ is indeed male, we can ask, with regard to priesthood... we should ask, this is the question for the whole argument -- is Christ's maleness essential to priesthood, or is it accidental? According to Aristotelian logic this would be at the heart of the question, okay? Is it essential, or is accidental? So, is it something... a sine qua non to Christian priesthood?"
The fact that Christ was a male, may or may not have anything to do with why we have a male only priesthood. It could very well be, at least in part, that the priest serves as an icon of Christ liturgically, and that this is part of the reason. However, it is also true that women can function as icons of Christ too. But whether or not this is a reason, there clearly are reasons for this practice, whether we individually understand them or not. If there really was no reason for this practice, what sense would it make? It wouldn't. And the idea that this practice was due to the limitations of the times, and that perhaps it just never occurred to anyone that women could be ordained as priests is a ridiculous argument... because the Israelites and later on the Christians were surrounded by pagans that had priestesses. And yet in both the Old and the New Testaments, the liturgical priesthood was exclusively male, despite the practice of all those around them.

Being a priest is a fatherly role... which is why priests are called "Father". There are also motherly roles in the Church, and women fulfill them. Then there are roles that are open to "whosoever will," and women fulfill those roles too. And we as families and as a Church need to encourage men to fulfill those roles which are in fact fatherly. Women tend to be more pious than men, speaking generally. Often at lesser attended weekday services, I am reminded of the women at the Cross of Christ, because when I look out at the congregation, I might see the occasional "John", but the women almost always outnumber the men by rather large margins. Men need to be encouraged, especially by the women in their lives, to take up their responsibilities as spiritual leaders in the home and in the parish, otherwise, you generally won't see men functioning in positive ways in the Church, in any great numbers. Of course many in our politically correct culture will immediately react to any suggestion that there is a need for male spiritual leadership, but there is empirical data that demonstrates that this is simply a fact of human nature, as God created it.

There was  a Swiss study that showed that if both the father and mother attend Church regularly, 33 percent of their children will be regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will attend irregularly, and 25 percent of their children will cease practicing their faith altogether. If the father attends Church irregularly but the mother is regular, only 3 percent of the children will attend Church regularly, 59 percent will attend irregularly, and 38 percent will cease practicing their faith. If the father is non-practicing and mother attends Church regularly, only 2 percent of children will attend Church regularly, 37 percent will attend irregularly, and over 60 percent of will cease practicing their faith. However, if the father attend Church regularly but the mother attends irregularly or is non-practicing, the percentage of children who grow up to be attend Church regularly goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother, and to 44 percent with the non-practicing mother. Clearly this shows that the spiritual leadership of the father, or the lack thereof, plays a crucial role... and that is just the way it is, whether one likes it or not (See: Touchstone Magazine: The Truth About Men & Church, by Robbie Low, you can also listen to a sermon on this topic: Christian Leadership in the Home).

Furthermore, if ever there was a human being (aside from Christ Himself) that was more worthy of any honor the Church could bestow, it would be the Virgin Mary, and yet she was never ordained to serve a priestly role in the services of the Church. However, while she did not preside over the celebration of the Mystery of the Eucharist -- she played a rather crucial part in the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, which made the Eucharist possible. Motherhood (both natural and spiritual) is a great honor and a thing of incredible power, beauty, and worth. Fatherhood (both natural and spiritual) is not a better thing, it is simply different. As most of us have noticed, men and women are different, and our roles are different, but they are complementary. Neither is possible without the other, and both depend on the strength and support of the other. And so we should not allow ourselves to be talked into blurring the lines between the two by a culture that is on a self destructive trajectory, and which has only managed to rob both men and women of the virtues of their sexes.

Sister Vassa continued:
"And if you pay attention to the argumentation in Hebrews, where the author of Hebrews is at pains to show that there is the possibility of change to the way priesthood is, um... is... how do you say... served, right? Those who have ...see, the author of Hebrews is at pains to explain to Jews how in the world those who are not of the tribe of Aaron and so on, those who are not Levites, why in the New Testament now other can be priests. And he is explaining that... uh... the priesthood according to the rite of Melchizedek. So, he's explaining a new kind of priesthood, and he is explaining that this is something that is changeable, as to who can be a priest, okay? So if one explores the Epistle to the Hebrews, one can see that there are... that the question of who can be a priest is something that is indeed a changeable aspect of tradition. What is not changeable is the basis for all priesthood, and that is of course Our Lord Jesus Christ. That's where the question arises: who... you know... what... what aspect of his person is essential to that service that is priesthood, that ministry, that, that mystery, um... is it, does it include his maleness, for example, would it include, if Christ indeed had black hair, for example, would priesthood be limited to those with dark hair? You know, I mean, we would ask what is essential to the person of Jesus Christ in his priesthood? Would his maleness be part of that? Anyway, traditionally, actually, we don't see the maleness of Christ thematized at all... it's not a patristic... nowadays some people who are at pains to argue against females in priesthood... whereas I don't think there's a big problem, we should just say honestly, "We don't want women to be priests. As Church, we don't want that." That's fine, you know, that's fine, but we shouldn't say that we couldn't have women as priests."
Actually, the Epistle to the Hebrews does not in the least suggest that who can be a priest is changeable, in the sense that it might just change again at any moment. St. Paul says that with the New Covenant there is a new ministry, i.e., the worship of the Old Testament is changed with the New (Hebrews 8). Unless Sister Vassa is expecting the establishment of a New and Improved Covenant before  the second coming, there is no reason to expect any change in the priesthood... and as a matter of fact, the exclusively male character of the liturgical priesthood is one aspect that has remained constant in both the Old and New Testaments.

Obviously, Sister Vassa wants to have plausible deniability here, and to be able to say that she is not advocating for women to be ordained as priests, but that is in fact what she is doing. If you insist that there is no reason why women cannot be ordained as priests, and that the Church just "doesn't want to," at this point, but that this is a matter entirely up in the air, the logical conclusion is very clear.

A parody of the song "Call Me Maybe," advocating for the ordination of women:


The key lyric: "Don't listen to St. Paul..."

See also:

Stump the Priest: Altar Girls?

Stump the Priest: The Churching of Boys vs. the Churching of Girls

h/t Byzantine Texas: Sr. Vassa: There's no ontological impediment to priestesses

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stump the Priest: Raising Hands at the Liturgy


Question: "Is it proper for laymen to raise their hands in prayer during the consecration of the Eucharist and the Lord's Prayer?"

No.

Raising hands in prayer is a very ancient practice, and following this practice in private prayer is certainly acceptable. However, even among the clergy, only the presiding clergyman raises his hands at various points in the Liturgy.* The other priests do not. The deacons raise only one hand at these points, but never both.

Why is this? I don't recall ever reading an explanation, but I would give one answer I am certain of, and another that I think is probably true:
1. This is not the practice we have received.
2. The liturgical logic at work seems to me to be that the person who is leading the people in prayer raises his hands on behalf of all the people, and so the people, deferring to that priest or bishop, do not attempt to usurp his role, but allow him to do this alone. On the other hand, in private prayers, you are the one presiding, so to speak, and so in this case you can raise your own hands in prayer.
There is an Old Rite practice of people raising both hands when they are censed during the services, but this is a different practice. This is not done at the times when the presiding priest or bishop raises his hands.

It is important that we conduct ourselves in the services in a way that does not draw attention to ourselves, and so adhering to the practice we have received is very important. It helps everyone focus on God in prayer. The services are where we serve God in prayer and worship -- not where we are served, and get to do whatever pleases us.

St. Paul admonished the Corinthians by saying: "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40), Commenting on this verse, St. John Chrysostom says:
"Nothing builds up as much as good order, peace and love, just as nothing is more destructive than their opposites. It is not only in spiritual affairs but in everything that one may observe this" (Homily 37:4 on 1 Corinthians).
*In my experience at least, the presiding priest or bishop doesn't raise his hands during the Our Father either.

For more information, See: 

Sermon: Let All Things be Done Decently and in Order

Does God care how we worship?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Answers to Objections to the Statement Against Racism

I recently took part in the posting of a statement against racism that has sparked quite a reaction. The reaction has largely been positive, but not entirely, and so I will address the most common criticisms I have seen so far. Of course not everyone who objected to parts of the statement, objected to its main point, which was that racism was wrong; and so I want it to be clear up front that many of the objections come from people of good will, who simply didn't like the way some things were stated. On the other hand, the reaction from a number of real racists has, in my opinion, only served to substantiate the concerns expressed in the statement.


1. Was such a Statement Necessary?

One certainly could exaggerate the problem of racism in the Orthodox Church, and I think many have done that. However, I am not sure exactly how many vocal advocates of racism there have to be out there, who claim to be Orthodox, before we can say a response is necessary. However, I think when you have someone like Matthew Raphael Johnson, who claims to be an Orthodox Priest, and who has a small fan base of ostensibly Orthodox people, and who has a podcast on Radio Aryan (an overtly Neo-Nazi website, which celebrates, for example, the heroes of the Waffen SS), and who engages in public demonstrations with Neo-Nazis and Klansmen, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.




Matthew Raphael Johnson, in the helmet with the shield with the green cross on it. Note the Klansman standing in front of him, with the KKK cross on his shirt. This was at a "White Lives Matter" rally, in October of 2017.

On the one hand, I don't think we should go on a witch hunt, in search of people we suspect of being racists, without any substantial evidence, but on the other hand, when you have Orthodox people showing up at Neo-Nazi rallies, singing Nazi songs, and using Nazi imagery and rhetoric, there is a problem (aside from the fact that they can't carry a tune in bucket).

I personally have had quite a few discussions with these people on various forums, and we are not just talking about one or two kooks here. I wish we were, but Matthew Raphael Johnson has actively been recruiting white nationalists to join the Orthodox Church. Now if they joined the Orthodox after repenting of their racism, that would be great, but that is not what is happening, and so we can deal with this problem now, while it is still relatively small, or we can let it grow and fester, and have a much bigger problem on our hands.


2. Is Race an Artificial Construct?

When we say that something is an artificial construct, this does not mean that it has no connection with observable reality, or that the observable reality that it addresses is not real. It means that the construct is something that we impose on what we observe as a means of understanding what we see.

There are some distinctions that we make that are very clearly called for by the facts in nature. For example, when we say that water has three forms: gas, liquid, and solid, these are distinctions that arise directly from what we observe, and you can't make much of a case that you could choose to look at water differently, and ignore these distinctions. Also sex is not an artificial construct. Men and women are physically distinct, and these differences are essential distinctions to human reproduction. You cannot naturally produce a child without one man and one woman making that happen, and so there is nothing artificial about these differences.

On the other hand, take the question of color. We cannot deny that there are varieties of color. But exactly how we view color is somewhat of an artificial construct. There really are countless variations in color, but in traditional Chinese culture, for example, they speak of there being five colors: green and blue are seen as the same general color, then you have red, yellow, white, and black -- which correspond to the 5 basic elements of traditional Chinese culture: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Chinese people see the same colors everyone else see, but in our culture, we have never sorted out color in precisely that same way.

Another example is tropical cyclones. No one would deny that they are real, least of all anyone who lives along the gulf coast, but we sort them out with an artificial construct. We speak of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and then we have hurricanes, which we further divide into 5 categories. There is nothing in nature itself that says that when the average wind speed of such a storm goes from 73 miles per hour to 74 miles per hour, that some greatly significant line has been crossed, but at 73 mph, you have a tropical storm, and at 74 mph, you have a hurricane. Now this artificial construct is certainly useful. If I hear on the news that a category 5 hurricane is headed my way, I am a lot more concerned about it than I am if I hear a tropical storm is heading my way, but depending on the storm, tropical storms can do a lot more damage than some hurricane might -- Tropical Storm Allison, being a case in point.

No one would deny that when they see a white person and a black person, they are seeing skin colors that reflect genes from different regional gene pools. But how we choose to view the various genetic traits we see in people is nevertheless an artificial construct, which we culturally impose on real observable differences. If you take, for example, the traditional racial classifications used in the United States, we usually speak of Caucasians/Whites. African Americans/blacks, American Indians/Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and "Other". Now, we could choose to say that Asians and Pacific Islanders should be grouped with American Indians, because they are all classified as "Mongoloid" peoples. But we could also choose to make many further distinctions, because as a matter of fact, there are a lot of obvious differences in appearance between the average Chinese person, and the average Navajo. But there is nothing in nature that says you should stop there, because even in China, there are many regional differences in appearance that Chinese people notice. Even I can usually see the difference between Chinese people, Koreans, and Japanese... though obviously, because these groups have not been entirely isolated from one another, it is not always easy to tell, and many times you would guess wrong about their country of origin. Also, many Chinese people are relatively light skinned, and many people from further south in Asia are fairly dark skinned. And the fact that racial distinctions are artificial is even clearer, when we consider that a person who has 25% African DNA and 75% European DNA is spoken of as being "Black". There is nothing in science or nature that demands such a conclusion, but this is often how our culture chooses to look at it. But we could choose to look at such a person as white, or we could put them into another racial category altogether. Science does not dictate how we view such a person -- our cultural choices do. In the light of DNA, scientist generally agree that race is an an artificial construct (see Megan Gannon, Race Is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue, Scientific American, February 5, 2016). And while using this construct to provide quick descriptions of people may be useful at times -- for example, when you are trying to clarify who you are referring to, it may be convenient to say that you are speaking about "that old Asian man wearing a blue sweater." However, racial distinctions are not useful constructs in Church. You will not find a single canon of the Church that employs the construct of race. And so, as Christians, while we do make some use of racial distinctions in our speech, we should understand that these are not essential distinctions, and that we should not allow those distinctions to divide us, especially when it comes to our brothers and sisters in the Church..

See Also:

On the Non-Existence of Race, by Fr. Cassian Sibley


3. St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. John of Shanghai

The statement began with this citation:
"The Holy Apostle Paul, in his speech on the Areopagus in Athens, unequivocally asserted that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26)."
Some have tried to suggest that what follows this citation negates the point we were making: "...and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." And so the suggestion here is that St. Paul was actually affirming racial separation here. The problem is that you will not find any Church Father that reads the text that way. In context, we have St. Paul, who lived most of his life as Jew living among non-Jews. He is in this text addressing non-Jews with the message that in the past they did not know the true God, but that God was now calling them too to repent and embrace Christ. In that context, is it likely that St. Paul was trying to affirm the separation of the races? If that was his point, he contradicted himself, because in Galatians 2, he speaks of how he rebuked St. Peter to his face for separating himself from the gentile believers out of fear of Jewish Christians advocating a strict observance of the Mosaic ceremonial law:
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision" (Galatians 2:11-12).
This would be a rather strange stand for St. Paul to take, if he believed that God had established a bound for the Jewish nation, and they were not to mix with non-Jews. Jews understood eating with someone to be very important communal act, and so would not eat with pagans, and believed that they were defiled if they did eat with them. And so when St. Paul drew attention to St. Peter's change of practice with regard to eating with gentile Christians, this was not a small matter, or an incidental detail.



Matthew Raphael Johnson cited St. Augustine's interpretation of Galatians 3:28, as if to suggest that St. Augustine was advocating for racial separatism, because he says that although in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female," this distinctions remain in this life. However, not only does St. Augustine not address the question of separating people based on ethnicity (he only states that ethnic distinctions remain in this life), St. Augustine is a case of ethnic mixing himself. St. Augustine was a North African from what is now Algeria, and his mother, St. Monica was almost certainly of Berber heritage, because her name is, as a matter of fact, a Berber name.

On the views of St. John of Shanghai, see: The Colors of the Russian Church.


4. What about racism against white people?

The statement condemns all forms of racism. No where does the statement suggest that only white people can be racist, or that they are never the objects of racism. It did, however, specifically cite one example of contemporary racism:
"The adoption of fascistic imagery, rhetoric, and tactics by groups that claim to represent “white nationalism” in the United States is a case in point, and constitutes a clear step in the direction of the extremes of which the Russian Church warns us."
Are white people sometimes the object of racism? Yes. It was not the intention of the statement to get into who is the biggest victim group of the day. However, the fact that there is a small group of racists who use fascistic imagery, rhetoric, and tactics who have publicly identified themselves and thus their cause with the Orthodox Church was the reason why this specific example was mentioned. I suppose we could have also mentioned Hutu violence against the Tutsis, but I don't think this was an example very relevant to the people who will likely ever read the statement in question.

Matthew Raphael Johnson's podcast cited crime statistics that indicate black people commit crimes against white people at a higher rate than white people commit crimes against black people. Obviously, in the past, violence was more often directed in the opposite direction. Certainly, where there are black people advocating violence or hatred against white people, this should be condemned just as vigorously as when white people advocate violence or hatred against black people. It doesn't matter who is engaging in racism... it is wrong 100% of the time.

However, even if black people were rounding up white people and putting them into gas chambers, or if white people were rounding up black people for the same purpose, this would not be a justification for hating even those guilty of the actual crimes. As Christians we are told that we are to love our enemies and even those that abuse us:
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:43-45).
If this is true even of those who we know hate us, and from whom we have personally received actual abuse, it is all the more true of people who are not guilty of such things, but just happen to look like those who are. This does not mean that we cannot speak out against incidents of injustice where they actually occur... in fact, we should, regardless of who is doing it, or who they are doing it against.

I would recommend the reading of an old essay by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations (found in the book "From Under the Rubble," beginning at page 105, and available online). When there is a history of ethnic animosity, the only way forward is repentance and reconciliation.

See Also: Hate and Racism.


5. Systemic and Institutional Racism

Some responses took exception to the reference to "systemic and institutional injustice" in the following statement:
"All of this obviously precludes any personal hatred, prejudice, or resentment of others on account of their “race” or nationality, and it must also lead Orthodox Christians to reject and oppose systemic or institutional injustice against racial or national minorities."
Some people claimed that this language was Marxist in origin. This document was a collaborative effort of four clergymen, and while I was not the one who suggested that particular phrase, I asked myself if there was such a thing as systemic or institutional injustice, and when you consider the Jim Crow system that once prevailed in much of the South, I couldn't deny that this is a fair description of that system. Today, in the United States, that kind of discrimination is illegal, but while I would agree that such injustices are far rarer than they once were in our country, I am not so sure that there are not some remnants that black people still encounter, but since they are illegal, they would also be harder to prove, because those engaging in such behavior would obviously have reasons to camouflage their behavior. But there are clearly instances of systemic and institutional injustice at play elsewhere in the world -- just consider the treatment of Christians in the most of the Middle East, for example. The statement said nothing about how pervasive such things are, or where they were to be found, only that we should reject such things, and it seems to me that this is something we should agree upon, though I can understand being concerned about how freely the charge of racism is thrown around these days. But if we want to be taken seriously when we object to the abuse of the charge, we need to clearly stand against those who are actually guilty of the real thing.

6. Antisemitism

I have been asked why specific mention was made of antisemitism. It was my idea to make that reference, and I suggested it because some don't think of it as racism, when in fact it is. It is also a form of racism that Orthodox Christians are, unfortunately, not entirely unfamiliar with. St. Paul tells us that one day we will see those Jews who have not already embraced Christ come to faith in Him. I want to hasten that day, rather than make it harder for Jews to come to faith in Christ because they experience hostility from people who claim to be Christians.

How would I define antisemitism? I would define it as the vilification of Jews, simply because they are Jews, and the promotion of hostility towards them as a group, based on who they are, rather than what they as individuals actually believe or have done. So for example, George Soros is seen as proof of Jewish conspiracy theories, because he has lots of money, supports evil things, and has a Jewish background -- though he is an atheist. Jeff Bezos is just a powerful liberal, with lots of money, who supports evil things, but isn't lumped in with Soros only because he doesn't have a Jewish background. I would prefer to just focus on criticizing the evil that people promote, regardless of whether they have Jewish ancestry or not. Criticizing Judaism is not antisemitic.Criticizing the policies of the state of Israel is not antisemitic. Criticizing the evil that some Jews do is not antisemitic.Lumping all Jews together, when criticizing the evils that some Jews do is antisemitic. Questioning the intentions of someone who is Jewish, because maybe they are part of the grand Jewish conspiracy, simply because they are Jewish, is antisemitic.

Some have tried to dismiss the idea that antisemitism is a sin by citing St. John Chrysostom's homilies "Against the Jews". But for one thing, the proper title of these homilies is not “Against the Jews." The translation by Paul Harkin states the following:
“Traditionally these homilies have been called Kata Ioudaion, which in Latin becomes Adversus Iudaeos, i.e., Against the Jews. This title misrepresents the contents of the Discourses, which clearly show that Chrysostom’s primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe Jewish feasts and fasts. Since the Discourses were delivered in a Christian church to a Christian congregation with few, if any, Jews actually present, I have not hesitated to add “Christians” to the title. That Chrysostom’s polemics are aimed at Judaizers is borne out also in titles found in earlier editions and in the manuscripts. All these points will be discussed in their proper place in the introduction” (The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, Discources Against Judaizing Christians, trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1979), p. x).
In footnote 47, on page xxxi, Harkin states:
“This [Adversus Iudaeos] is the Latin translation of the title given to the homilies in PG 48.843. The Benedictine editor, Montfaucon, gives a footnote (reprinted ibid.) which states that six MSS and [Henry] Savile [in his edition (1612) of Chrysostom] have at the head of this homily: “A discourse against the Jews; but it was delivered against those who were Judaizing and keeping the fasts with them [i.e., the Jews].” This note is not altogether accurate because Savile, for Hom. 27 of Vol. 6 (which is Disc. I among the Adversus Iudaeos in PG and in this translation), gives (p. 366) the title: “Chrysostom’s Discourse Against Those Who Are Judaizing and Observing Their Fasts.” In Vol. 8 (col. 798) Savile states that he has emended Hoeschel’s edition of this homily with the help of two Oxford MSS, one from the Corpus Christi College and the other from the New College; he must have gotten his title from any or all of these sources. Savile gives all eight of the homilies Adverus Iudaeos (Vol. 6.312-88) but in the order IV-VIII (wich are entitled Kata Ioudaion, i.e. Adversus Iudaeos), I (with the title given above), III and II (with the title affixed to them in our translation). Because of the titles in both some MSS and editions and because of the arguments which will be set forth in this introduction, we feel justified in calling this work Against Judaizing Christians rather than giving it the less irenic and somewhat misleading traditional title Against the Jews.
In the book “John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century, by Robert L. Wilken (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1983), a very compelling case is made that applying the modern label of antisemitism onto St. John Chrysostom is anachronistic. He particularly focuses on the rhetorical genre that St. John employed, and points out that St. John was using the genre of psogos (or invective):
“The psogos was supposed to present unrelieved denigration of the subject. As one ancient teacher of rhetoric put it, the psogos is “only condemnation” and sets forth only the “bad things about someone” (Aphthonius Rhet. Graeci 2.40)…. In psogos, the rhetor used omission to hide the subject’s good traits or amplification to exaggerate his worsts features, and the cardinal rule was never to say anything positive about the subject. Even “when good things are done they are proclaimed in the worst light” (Aristides Rhet. Graeci 2.506). In an encomium, one passes over a man’s faults in order to praise him, and in a psogos, one passed over his virtues to defame him. Such principles are explicit in the handbooks of the rhetors, but an interesting passage from the church historian Socrates, writing in the mid fifth century, shows that the rules for invective were simply taken for granted by men and women of the late Roman world. In discussing Libanius’s [St. John’s Pagan instructor in Rhetoric] orations in praise of  the emperor Julian [the Apostate], Socrates explains that Libanius magnifies and exaggerates Julians virtues because he is an “outstanding sophist” (Hist. eccl. 3.23). The point is that one should not expect a fair presentation in a psagos, for that is not its purpose. The psogos is designed to attack someone, says Socrates, and is taught by the sophist in the schools as one of the rudiments of their skills…. Echoing the same rhetorical background, Augustine said that, in preparing an encomium on the emperor, he intended “that it should include a great many lies,” and that the audience would know “how far from the truth they were” (Conf. 6.6).” (p. 112).
Another important point of context that Wilkens highlights is the reign of Julian the Apostate, and the way he used the Jews (and was used by them) to undercut Christianity. Julian had even planned to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, primarily because he believed it would refute Christ’s prophesies about the destruction of the Temple. This happened when St. John was a young man, and so Christians at this time had no reason to believe that they had a firm position in society that could not be overturned in a short period of time. Thus polemics against the Jews were not the polemics of a group with a firm grip on power, but the polemics of a group that had good reasons to fear what the future might bring.
“The Roman Empire in the fourth century was not the world of Byzantium or medieval Europe. The institutions of traditional Hellenic culture and society were still very much alive in John Chrysostom’s day. The Jews were a vital and visible presence in Antioch and elsewhere in the Roman Empire, and they continued to be a formidable rival to the Christians. Judaizing Christians were widespread. Christianity was still in the process of establishing its place within the society and was undermined by internal strife and apathetic adherents. Without an appreciation of this setting, we cannot understand why John preached the homilies and why he responds to the Judaizers with such passion and fervor. The medieval image of the Jew should not be imposed on antiquity. Every act of historical understanding is an act of empathy. When I began to study John Chrysostom’s writings on the Jews, I was inclined to judge what he said in light of the unhappy history of Jewish-Christian relations and the sad events in Jewish history in modern times. As much as I feel a deep sense of moral responsibility for the attitudes and actions of Christians toward the Jews, I am no longer ready to project these later attitudes unto the events of the fourth century. No matter how outraged Christians feel over the Christian record of dealing with the Jews, we have no license to judge the distant past on the basis of our present perceptions of events of more recent times’ (pp. 162-163).
Wilken’s book is a key text to properly understanding these homilies. It should also be pointed out that St. John Chrysostom was also dealing with Jews who were extremely anti-Christian, and who blasphemed Christ. Consider the following:

In the Shemoneh Esrei, we find the following prayer:
“And for the Slanderers let there be no hope; and may all the heretics perish in an instant; and may all the enemies of Your people be cut down speedily. May you speedily uproot, smash and cast down the wanton sinners, destroy them, lower them, humble them, speedily in our days. Blessed are You, HASHEM, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.” (Hebrew text on page 112, English on page 113, of The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Nusach Sefard), trans. By Rabbi Nosson Sherman, published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd., Brooklyn, New York, 1985).
This same translation provides a commentary on the word “slanderer”, which reads:
“Chronologically, this is the nineteenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei; it was instituted in Yavneh, during the tenure of Rbban Gamliel II as Nassi of Israel, some time after the destruction of the Second emple. The blessing was composed in response to the threats of such heretical Jewish sects as the Sadducees, Boethusians, Essenes, and the early Christians. They tried to lead Jews astray through example and persuasion, and they used their political power to oppress observant Jews and to slander them to the anti-Semitic Roman Government. In this atmosphere, Rabban Gamliel felt the need to compose a prayer against heretics and slanderers, and to incorporate it in the Shemoneh Esri so the populace would be aware of the danger” (Artscroll Siddur, pp. 112-113).
Now, lest you dismiss this as the opinions of an isolated source, let’s look at another text on this same prayer:
“From time to time, as we all know, the survival of the Jewish people is threatened. Threats may arise from hostile forces without or from traitors within. Such threats are sometimes aimed to destroy us physically, and sometimes to undermine us spiritually. In one place the Talmud indicates that this blessing, which was directed against heretical groups, was fixed at Yavneh under the leadership of Rabbi Gamliel the Elder during the second century c.e. (Berakhot 28b) and constituted the nineteenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei. Eliezer levy, however, argues from sources elsewhere in the Talmud (Yer. Berakhot 2:4) that this blessing was one of the original eighteen prescribed by Ezra. The opening words of the blessing were then Al Haminim (“For the heretics, let there be no hope”), and it was directed against the hostile Samaritan sect. Later, when the Samaritan threat declined, the blessing fell into disuse. When a new threat of religious heresy arose with the Sadducees (Tzedukim), the blessing was revived with a new opening that mentioned the Sadducees: “For the Sadducees, let there be no hope” With the growth of new heretic sects (among them Jews who adopted Christian beliefs) who informed on fellow Jews to Roman authorities, this blessing assumed new urgency and needed to be restated, this time at Yavneh, as the Talmud indeed relates” (Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, “To Pray as a Jew” (Basic Books, 1980) p. 92f).
And for an example of non-Christian Jewish blasphemies against Christ, see the text Toldot Yeshu. When you read that text, you can better understand what would motivate St. John to preach such sermons to denounce the anti-christian views of such people. But obviously not all Jews hold such views, particularly in our time and culture. Also, St. John was waging a war of ideas and theology. He never advocated violence against non-Christian Jews, or anyone else he disagreed with, and certainly had no desire to keep Jews from becoming Christians, because he thought they had some racial or genetic flaws that made them unfit to become Christians. St. John Chrysostom's criticisms were religious -- not racial, and not ethnic.

But unfortunately, I have heard antisemitic comments made about Jews who were even Orthodox Christians. No one familiar with St. John Chrysostom's homilies would suggest that St. John would wink at such treatment of those who are fellow believers. And if you look at St. John Chrysostom's 19th Homily on Romans, he speaks about those Jews who are believers, and those who will one day become believers. and these are obviously not at all the target of his homilies against Judaizing Christians.



And while St. John Chrysostom spoke at a time when Jewish persecution of Christians was still a living memory, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) spoke at a time when Christian persecution of Jews was an ongoing problem in Russia, and he spoke against it in terms no less vociferous than St. John Chrysostom. Hear the conclusion of his sermon Against the Pogroms:
"O Christians, fear to offend the sacred, even though rejected, tribe. God's recompense will fall upon those evil people who have shed blood which is of the same race as the Theanthropos, his most pure mother, apostles and prophets. Do not suppose that this blood was sacred only in the past, but understand that even in the future reconciliation to the divine nature awaits them (2 Peter 1:4), as Christ's chosen vessel further testifies, "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written. There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Romans 11:25-27).
Let the savage know that they have slain future Christians who were yet in the loins of the present day Jews; let them know that they have shown themselves to be bankrupt opponents of God's providence, persecutors of a people beloved by God, even after its rejection (Romans 11:28).
How sinful is enmity against Jews, based on an ignorance of God's law, and how shall it be forgiven when it arises from abominable and disgraceful impulses. The robbers of the Jews did not do so as revenge for opposition to Christianity, rather they lusted for the property and possessions of others. Under the thin guise of zeal for the faith, they served the demon of covetousness. They resembled Judas who betrayed Christ with a kiss while blinded with the sickness of greed, but these murderers, hiding themselves behind Christ's name, killed His kinsmen according to the flesh in order to rob them.
When have we beheld such fanaticism? In Western Europe during the middle ages, heretics and Jews were shamefully executed, but not by mobs intent on robbing them.*
How can one begin to teach people who stifle their own conscience and mercy, who snuff out all fear of God and, departing from the holy temple even on the bright day of Christ's Resurrection, a day dedicated to forgiveness and love, but which they i rededicate to robbery and murder?
O believers in God and His Christ! Fear the Lord's judgment in behalf of His people. Fear to offend the inheritors of the promise, even though they have been renounced. We are not empowered to judge them for their unbelief; the Lord and not we will judge. We, looking upon their zeal even though it is "not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2) would do better to contemplate their fathers: the righteous Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, David and Samuel and Elijah, who rose to heaven still in the flesh. Look upon Isaiah who accepted voluntary death for the faith, Daniel who stopped the mouths of beasts in a lions' den, and the Maccabee martyrs who died with joy for the hope of resurrections. Let us not beat, slay and rob people, but soften their hardness toward Christ and Christians by means of our own fulfillment of the law of God. Let us multiply our prayer, love, fasting and alms and our concern for those who are suffering, let us be zealous about the true essence of the faith; let our light so shine before people that they may glorify our heavenly father and Christ. Let us overcome unbelief and impiousness among Christians first, and then concern ourselves with the Jews, "And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:20-21)."
One other curious fact about antisemitism and racism, is that many who have criticized the idea that race is an artificial social construct, also show a distinct antipathy against Jews. When I have pointed out that if there are three primary races, the Jews would obviously have to be classified as Caucasians, because they are obviously neither Negroids or Mongoloids, the response I have gotten has been "But they don't identify as White." So I guess they do see race as an artificial construct, at least when it comes to the Jews.

See Also:

Was St. John Chrysostom Anti-Semite?, by Presbytera Eugenia Constantinou

Sermon: Hate and Racism

Sermon: The Church of Smyrna and the Synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:8-11)


7. Border Security

Several critics of the statement suggested that it somehow argued that we should have no borders, however the statement did not address that issue. There is no official Orthodox position on how much border security a country ought to have, and so different people are free to form their own opinions. Personally, I am very much in favor of having tight controls on our borders, and more reasonable limits on immigration than we currently have, but this is a question of what is the wisest course for our country, not a matter of theological or moral principle.


8. Confusing race and nation

Some suggested that arguments that race is not an objectively definable reality promotes one world government and the erasure of all cultural distinctions. One has to read things into the statement that it does not say, and ignore what it actually does say to come to that conclusion. Nations and ethnicities are concepts found in Scripture... but nations and ethnicities are not race. I know a lot of very Asian looking people who are culturally Russian, speak the Russian language, are Russian Orthodox, and consider themselves to be Russian. The American nation is certainly not a race, though we share a language (English) and we share an American culture (although this has been fragmenting in recent decades).

I don't support the erasure of cultural or linguistic differences, nor do I support a one world government, and in fact we affirmed that there was nothing wrong with a desire to preserve ones culture or to defend one's nation.


9. Cultural Marxism

The claim that this statement reflected Cultural Marxism is perhaps one of the more comical criticisms, because Cultural Marxism is pretty much the opposite of what we were arguing for. Cultural Marxists want to promote racial division as a means of empowering the oppressed and bringing down their oppressors. We are arguing that we should look past racial divisions and see in each other the common image of God we all have as human beings. We don't want people judged by the group that they are identified with racially, but rather we want to see each other as individuals that either are our brothers and sisters in Christ, or if not, as people that we want to make our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As to the more blunt accusation that I have received that I am a communist, I only last month preached an entire sermon specifically against communism, and have spoken and written against it with regularity. I hate communism with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. Racism, however, is just a more primitive form of collectivism, and both communism and racism are evil, and so it is possible to be opposed to both communism and racism without any contradiction whatsoever.

The only more ridiculous accusation that I have seen is the claim that I hate white people. I will only respond by saying that some of my best friend are white people.

See also: Cultural Marxism and Public Orthodoxy