Friday, May 29, 2015

Orthodox Clergy Association of Houston and Southeast Texas: Statement on Gay Marriage and the Houston Gay Rights Ordinance

You can read the statement by clicking here:

You may also be interested in this video on homosexuality by the Roman Catholic Media outlet, Church Militant:

The source is not Orthodox, but it is a great overview of how we got here, and also exposes many of the typical lies the media has been telling us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stump the Priest: Tattoos?

Question: "What does the Orthodox Church say about tattoos?"

There is no canon, at least to my knowledge that teaches Christians should not get a tattoo. However, we do find the following in the Law of Moses:

"Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:28).

Unfortunately, I do not have any patristic commentaries that address this verse, though they may be some out there. But if all we had was this verse, it could be argued that this is just a ceremonial law that no longer applies to Christians. However there are several reasons why that would be an incorrect conclusion:

1. With the exception of the Copts, Ethiopians, and Bosnian Croats, the Christian Tradition has universally rejected tattoos. And there are historical reasons why these Christian groups are an exception -- they tattoo their children with crosses so that if they are kidnapped by Moslems, they can later be identified as Christians; and given the intense level of persecution they have faced, this has also been a way of proclaiming their intention of remaining a Christian, no matter what may come (a tattoo being, by its nature, a very permanent statement). However, it is both interesting and instructive that Orthodox Christians living in the same circumstances never adopted a similar custom.

2. Most of the tattoos that people have in our culture are not modest and pious crosses designed to protect children from kidnapping or to testify to one's commitment to standing firm for Christ, but are all kinds of things that are usually frivolous at best, and often unwholesome. If you read what the Scriptures have to say about modesty, it is unlikely that the inspired writers would have spent so much time encouraging us to dress in ways that are not immodest, or draw unnecessary attention to ourselves, and yet would be O.K. with a tattoo just above the crack of your behind (just to cite one popular trend as an example).

3. St. Paul says that our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Imagine if someone took a spray paint can, and expressed themselves over the walls of a Church. We would all be shocked that someone would do such a thing, but it is no different to express yourself by defacing your body -- because you are bought with a price, and are not free to so whatever you want with your body... if indeed you are a believer.

Of course if someone already has a tattoo, it is certainly not an unpardonable sin. And when we see someone with a tattoo, we should not judge them, because they may have repented of getting that tattoo a long time ago. But those contemplating getting a tattoo should ask themselves why they want one in the first place, and they should ask whether this is really something that pleases God. Once you get a tattoo, they are not easy to get rid of, and what you think looks cool today, may not seem so cool to you in ten or twenty years.

For More Information see:

Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver on Tattoos

"On the Faith: Are tattoos permissible in the Orthodox Church?" by Fr. Gregory Naumenko

Testimony Regarding Tattoos


Here are two replies to some comments this post has received on Facebook:

In response to a comment that saw a contradiction between acknowledging that there are no canons against tattoos, but my statement that the Christian Tradition has universally rejected tattoos:

The actual practice of the Church is a testimony to the Tradition of the Church. It is not as if tattoos were a recently discovered technology, They had tattoos when Moses wrote the Law. But aside from the unique cases of the Copts and Ethiopians, Christians have universally rejected tattoos. It is only in my lifetime that having a tattoo has gone from something those on the fringes did (sailors, soldiers, and marines -- away from home; gang members, and convicts) to something that young ladies from decent homes are doing.

In response to a catechumen who has religious tattoos, and similarly questioned whether the Church really has rejected tattoos.

Not all of the Tradition of the Church has been written out in the form of canons. We generally only have canons to guard against people doing something when there are some people in the Church who are doing it. Tattoos were something that no Christians (outside of the exception I discussed) did. Until only very recently, no Christian group of any kind would have suggested that such a practice was befitting a Christian. Now, in your case, your tattoos were probably very well intentioned, but people often do things in ignorance that they should not do. As St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 11:16: "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God."

And on the authority of unwritten Traditions, consider St. Basil's words, which were specifically endorsed by the 4th, 6th, and 7th Ecumenical Councils:

In response to some who have disputed whether Christians really have historically rejected tattoos:

It is not merely coincidence that the pagan Romans, Slavs, and Germans practiced various forms of tattooing, but when Christianity was established in those areas, these practices ceased. Even the word "tattoo" demonstrates that this was not part of the Christian culture, because it is a Polynesian word, that was not in use in English prior to the 18th century, and there is no record of any tattoo artists in either England or the United States prior to the 19th century.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Strange Theology of David Bentley Hart

David Bentley Hart has done a lot of good work in response to the "new atheists," and he is described as an "Orthodox theologian and philosopher," but having read his recent comments in defense of universalism, I think he would be more accurately referred to as a theologian and philosopher who happens to be a member of the Orthodox Church... because he clearly has an approach to Scripture, Tradition, and the Church that is not at all Orthodox.

I would have responded to his comments on that blog, but Fr. Aidan Kimel, the owner of the blog "Eclectic Orthodoxy," while he allowed two of my comments back in December, has deleted all of my comments ever since. The title of the blog alone is a tip-off that what is contained therein is not Orthodox in any traditional sense of the term. One of the primary themes of this blog is the promotion of the heresy of universalism.

Expressing his opinion of the Fifth Ecumenical Council, as well as St. Justinian, Dr.. Hart wrote:
"If you consult the (very dubious) records of the council, you will find something called Origenism condemned. But no authentic finding of the council condemns universalism as such."
Here we have repeated the argument that the universalism of Origen was condemned, but not universalism per se. The problem with this argument is that if universalism was OK in general, why would it be mentioned at all in the anathema's against Origen. Why not just condemn the other objectionable parts of Origen's teachings? The problem is not that the Fifth Ecumenical Council was unclear in its rejection of universalism -- the problem is that universalists will not be swayed by what the Fifth Ecumenical Council taught:
"Not that I would care if it did. That very imperial “ecumenical ” council is an embarrassment in Christian history, and I sometimes think it a mercy that such a hash was made of its promulgation that we literally do not know what was truly determined there. For my money, if Origen was not a saint and church father, then no one has any claim to those titles. And the contrary claims made by a brutish imbecile Emperor are of no consequence."
So DBH not only disputes what the Fifth Ecumenical Council taught on universalism... he explicitly does not care what it taught. Contrary to the judgment of the Church, which does not number Origen among the saints or fathers of the Church, he believes he is not only both, but chief among them. And having canonized Origen, and removed the Fifth Ecumenical Council from the Seven Ecumenical Councils, he calls a great saint of the Church (St. Justinian) a "brutish imbecile."

This is not how Orthodox Christians approach such things. The Orthodox Church teaches that the Ecumenical Councils are infallible, and so such a cavilier attitude towards them is entirely alien to Orthodox thought.

Then when asked about the fact that every year, throughout the Orthodox Church, we anathematize Origen's teaching, and universalism in particular, DBH opines:
"The Synodikon is just a compendium, and at times a converses, and possesses only as much authority as what it is quoting at any point. In itself it is no more binding on the conscience of an Orthodox than the Baltimore Catechism or a Thomist manual is on the conscience of a Catholic."
The Synodikon of Orthodoxy states:
"To them who accept and transmit the vain Greek teachings that there is a pre-existence of souls and teach that all things were not produced and did not come into existence out of non-being, that there is an end to the torment or a restoration again of creation and of human affairs, meaning by such teachings that the Kingdom of Heaven is entirely perishable and fleeting, whereas the Kingdom of Heaven is eternal and indissoluble as Christ our God Himself taught and delivered to us, and as we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting, to them who by such teachings both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others, Anathema! Anathema! Anathema!"
Those who advocate for universalism argue that this is only a condemnation of Origen's universalism, not the universalism supposedly expressed by other Fathers, because they had different theological and philosophical reasons for their universalism. But that is a bit like arguing that the Church hasn't anathematized Jehovah's Witness Christology, because they have different theological reasons for denying the divinity of Christ than the Arians did. This anathema states, without equivocation, that "we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting..." and there is no indication that we would ascertain anything differently if people were universalists because they saw a documentary on the history channel, read pseudo-Isaac's writings, and agreed with it, or agreed with Origen.

Anyone who has ever had an Orthodox thought in their life knows that we believe what we say in the services of the Church (lex orandi lex credendi), and when what we say ends with "Anathema!", we mean it in no uncertain terms.

Then in response to my own comments on that blog, DBH wrote:
"Dear me, you really think [the statements taken in support of universalism by St. Gregory of Nyssa] are interpolations? That is something of a joke in scholarly circles. Especially since it would basically mean that Gregory’s whole theology, from the ground up, as unfolded in De anima et resurrectione and De hominis opificio and the Great Oration and the Psalms commentary is an interpolation. Maybe Gregory never really wrote anything (rather like the Oxfordian hyposthesis about Shakespeare)."
I did not say that those statements were interpolations. Fathers of the Church, like St. Mark of Ephesus did. But Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), makes a very different argument. He devotes an entire chapter to this subject in his book "Life After Death (Chapter 8, The restoration of all things, pp. 273-312), affirms that this heresy was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council, and goes to great lengths to make the case that St. Gregory of Nyssa did not in fact teach it, but rather taught that hell (gehenna) and its punishments are unending, and that those who attribute this teaching to him are simply failing to understand them in the context of his complete teachings on the subject. If one rejects the argument that St. Gregory of Nyssa did not teach this doctrine, that would only prove St. Gregory to be in error, because Ecumenical Councils are infallible, whereas no Church Father, as an individual, is. However, it certainly is interesting that in the one instance in which, if he was a universalist, you would expect him to put that on display, St. Gregory of Nyssa not only does not affirm universalism in his treatise on the death of unbaptized infants, but directly refutes it when speaking of Judas as an example of one who died in his sins:
"Certainly, in comparison with one who has lived all his life in sin, not only the innocent babe but even one who has never come into the world at all will be blessed. We learn as much too in the case of Judas, from the sentence pronounced upon him in the Gospels; namely, that when we think of such men, that which never existed is to be preferred to that which has existed in such sin. For, as to the latter, on account of the depth of the ingrained evil, the chastisement in the way of purgation will be extended into infinity..." (On Infants' Early Deaths).

"Something similar is true in Isaac’s case. And those two are far from being the only patristic universalists; both of the very distinct Alexandrian (including Cappadocian) and Antiochene tradition are full of them, from the days of Pantaenus to the 13th century writings of Solomon of Bostra. Goodness, there are almost overwhelming reasons to believe Gregory Nazianzen, and even Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, were so disposed (Gregory unquestionably, really)."
What he says here is simply not the case. For example, St. Cyril of Alexandria, commented on 1 Peter 3:19 as follows:
"Here Peter answers the question which some objectors have raised, namely, if the incarnation was so beneficial, why was Christ not incarnated for such a long time, given that he went to the spirits which were in prison and preached to them also? In order to deliver all those who would believe, Christ taught those who were alive on earth at the time of his incarnation, and these others acknowledged him when he appeared to them in the lower regions, and thus they too benefited from his coming. Going in his soul, he preached to those who were in hell, appearing to them as one soul to other souls. When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone. And the only-begotten Son shouted with authority to the suffering souls, according to the word of the new covenant, saying to those in chains: "Come out!" and to those in darkness: "Be enlightened." In other words, he preached to those who were in hell also, so that he might save all those who would believe in him. For both those who were alive on earth during the time of his incarnation and those who were in hell had a chance to acknowledge him. The greater part of the new covenant is beyond nature and tradition, so that while Christ was able to preach to all those who were alive at the time of his appearing and those who believed in him were blessed, so too he was able to liberate those in hell who believed and acknowledged him, by his descent there. However, the souls of those who practiced idolatry and outrageous ungodliness, as well as those who were blinded by fleshly lusts, did not have the power to see him, and they were not delivered." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2000) p. 107f).

"And, had our our Lord spoken of everlasting punishment, that would be an interesting argument. But he did not speak English, and in fact did not speak Greek; and the Greek text of Matthew 25:46 (which is the only one you can have in mind) has been read by a great many Greek-speaking and Syriac-speaking fathers, from the earliest days, as saying nothing of the sort."
First off, I don't know that it is a fact that Christ did not speak Greek, In fact, it is hardly likely that Pilate spoke Aramaic or Hebrew, and so Greek would have been the most likely language that they would spoken with each other. And secondly, I would like to see the evidence that many Greek or Syriac speaking fathers did not interpret Matthew 25:46 as speaking of eternal punishment. I doubt DBH can produce one commentary that asserted that it was not speaking of eternal punishment. The same word is used with reference to eternal life, and so if the punishment is temporal, how can he be sure that the life of the righteous is not temporal also?

St. John Chrysostom spoke Greek pretty well, and here is what he had to say about whether or not the torments of gehenna are temporal:
"There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance" (Homily 3, 2nd Thessalonians).
I think it is a safe bet that when Dr. Hart was received into the Orthodox Church, he was probably not asked to make the customary renunciations and affirmations found in the service book for the reception of converts. Had he done so, he would have been asked the following questions (among others):
"Priest: Hast thou renounced all ancient and modern heresies and false doctrines which are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Church?
Answer: I have."
"And again the Bishop saith:
Dost thou accept the Apostolical and Ecclesiastical Canons framed and established at the Seven Holy Universal and Provincial Councils, and the other traditions and ordinances of the Orthodox Church?
Answer: I do.
Bishop: Dost thou acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which hath been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, hath always held and still doth hold?
Answer: I do."
If it should turn out to be the case that God has a surprise for us, and that in the end all will be saved, failure to promote that idea will not keep it from happening. However, if it is not true, hoping it will be, no matter how hard you may hope, will not make it so. But promoting that teaching might well delude some into a false hope that will leave them eternally ashamed. And those who have enabled their delusion will have to answer for it, because as the Synodikon says of such people, " such teachings [they] both destroy themselves and become agents of eternal condemnation to others..."

For More Information:

The Hieromarty Daniel Sysoev wrote a very interesting article on this question: The Fifth Ecumenical Council and the New Origenism.

Stump the Priest: Is Universalism a Heresy?

Stump the Priest: Prayers for the Dead in the Bible and in Tradition

Holy Scripture and the Church, by the Holy New Martyr Hilarion (Troitsky)


Dr. Hart has responded to some of my points. I see now why Stephen H. Webb observed: "Hart has created one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary theology: a reluctant curmudgeon feigning weariness for being forced by so much foolishness to state the obvious. He is, it seems, our Christian Zarathustra, a bit annoyed for being called down from his mountain top, where he blissfully experiences the peak of divine unknowing, in order to correct “the rather inane anthropomorphisms that proliferate in contemporary debates on the matter, both among atheists and among certain kinds of religious believers.”

I had asked him to provide one commentary from any Church Father, on Matthew 25:46 that suggested Christ was not saying that the wicked would be punished eternally. His response was:
"...send him to fathers like Gregory of Nyssa or Isaac of Ninevah, who fully reveal how they understand such terms as “αιωνιος” or “le-alma” in the course of their expositions."
This is not what I asked for. As I figured, he cannot produce such commentary as I asked for, because there is none. I say this, not because I can claim to have read every comment from every Church Father on this subject, but because if such a comment did exist, universalists like DBH would quote it with regularity.

As for how we know what "aionios" means, we can look to the definitive lexical resource for the Greek New Testament, which is Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It discusses how words were used in ancient pagan Greek writings, how they were used in the Greek Septuagint, and what the Hebrew background of the words the translate are, it discuss the New Testament usage, and then the usage beyond the New Testament. In the entry for this word, the one word definition is simply "eternal". It points out that Plato used the related word "aion" in reference to "timeless eternity in contrast to chronos. It says of "aionios": "An adjective meaning "eternal"..." And beyond that, I think Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) knows Greek pretty well, and he takes that word in the same sense.

"The thing to recall is that, outside the Seven Councils, the licit range of theological opinion is far larger than these self-appointed rigorists know. They do not get to say whether, for instance, Evdokimov, or Olivier Clement, or Bulgakov (etc.) are less truly Orthodox than they."
So he says, but according to DBH, it doesn't matter what the Fifth Ecumenical Council says, and so in what sense is he bound by anything other than his own opinion?

And as for Bulgakov, the Russian Church condemned his sophiology as a heresy -- in fact the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR both came to that conclusion, separately..

On the subject of St. Gregory of Nyssa, DBH says:
"...he quotes a bad translation of Gregory’s De infantibus too. Fr John, read the Greek, in the Gregorii Nysseni Opera of Jaeger et al."

And then further on, he wrote:
"But, really, no citing if [sic] crucial texts in dubious translations–that must be a rule. If Gregory of Nyssa talks of Judas suffering “eis ton aiona,” then quote him as doing so, as well as the many instances where he makes clear how he understands that biblical phrase. “Unto infinity” forsooth. One of the first things to learn about Gregory is that every version of “infinite” in Greek–apeiron, aperilepton, eyc–is a privileged name for the divine nature. Die Unendlichkeit Gottes bei Gregor von Nyssa (E. Mühlenberg) might have been one of the earliest books I read on Gregory’s metaphysics, flawed though that book is."
So based on what we have read in the TDNT, a fair translation would be "into eternity," which is not much different from "into infinity".

But let's consider an example of Christ using more concrete terminology in reference to the eternality of gehenna:
"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43-48).
When Christ speaks of gehenna in these terms, he is probably alluding to Isaiah 66:24: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh"; and Judith 16:17: "Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; he will send fire and worms into their flesh; they shall weep in pain forever."

But Dr. Hart would have us believe that the worm will die, and the fire will be quenched. Should we believe him, or Christ?

Then we have St. Paul, who says: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

But Dr. Hart would have us believe that it was St. Paul who was deceived, because he believes that everyone, along with the devil and the demons, will inherit the Kingdom of God.

St. Paul also wrote: "since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

But Dr. Hart would have us believe that what St. Paul really meant was that they would punished for a really long time, and then inherit the Kingdom of God. However, St. John Chrysostom, who spoke Greek pretty well, said (as referenced above) that this clearly teaches that torments are not temporal, but eternal.

And as converts are admonished, we must "acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which hath been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, hath always held and still doth hold." And the fact that every year, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the entire Orthodox Church affirms that "we have ascertained from the entire Old and New Testaments, that the torment is unending and the Kingdom everlasting," we have obviously not always held, nor do we hold that the torments are temporal.

Update II:

Someone brought this chapter from St. John of Damascus' "And Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," Book II, Chapter 1:

"He created the ages Who Himself was before the ages, Whom the divine David thus addresses, From age to age Thou art [Psalm 89[90]:2]. The divine apostle also says, Through Whom He created the ages [Hebrews 1:2].
It must then be understood that the word age has various meanings, for it denotes many things. The life of each man is called an age. Again, a period of a thousand years is called an age. Again, the whole course of the present life is called an age: also the future life, the immortal life after the resurrection [Matthew 12:32; Luke 7:34], is spoken of as an age. Again, the word age is used to denote, not time nor yet a part of time as measured by the movement and course of the sun, that is to say, composed of days and nights, but the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity. For age is to things eternal just what time is to things temporal.
Seven ages of this world are spoken of, that is, from the creation of the heaven and earth till the general consummation and resurrection of men. For there is a partial consummation, viz., the death of each man: but there is also a general and complete consummation, when the general resurrection of men will come to pass. And the eighth age is the age to come.
Before the world was formed, when there was as yet no sun dividing day from night, there was not an age such as could be measured, but there was the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity. And in this sense there is but one age, and God is spoken of as αἰώνιος [eternal] and προαιώνιος [pre-eternal, or before time], for the age or æon itself is His creation. For God, Who alone is without beginning, is Himself the Creator of all things, whether age or any other existing thing. And when I say God, it is evident that I mean the Father and His Only begotten Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His all-holy Spirit, our one God.
But we speak also of ages of ages, inasmuch as the seven ages of the present world include many ages in the sense of lives of men, and the one age embraces all the ages, and the present and the future are spoken of as age of age. Further, everlasting (i.e. αἰώνιος) life and everlasting punishment prove that the age or æon to come is unending [Matthew 25:46]. For time will not be counted by days and nights even after the resurrection, but there will rather be one day with no evening, wherein the Sun of Justice will shine brightly on the just, but for the sinful there will be night profound and limitless. In what way then will the period of one thousand years be counted which, according to Origen, is required for the complete restoration? Of all the ages, therefore, the sole creator is God Who hath also created the universe and Who was before the ages."
Update III:

As to the question of whether or not the 5th Ecumenical Council anathematized Origen, the 1st Canon of the Quinisext Council settles that question:
"We take the pious utterances of the one hundred and sixty-five God-bearing Fathers who assembled upon the ground of this Imperial City in the reign of Justinian, who became our Emperor and who passed away at the termination of his pious career, and, recognizing them to have been inspired and uttered by the (Holy) Spirit, we teach them outright to our posterity; which Fathers indeed as a Council anathematized and consigned to abomination Theodore of Mopsuestia, the teacher of Nestorius, and in addition Origen and, Didymus and Evagrius, who joined hands in refashioning the Greek myths and recounting to us periods and mutations of certain bodies and souls, prompted by raptures and hallucinations of the mind, and in drunken revelry impiously exulting over the resurrection of the dead; as well as what had been written by Theodoret against the right faith and correct belief and against the twelve heads (or chapters) of blissful Cyril; and also the so-called letter of Ibas" (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 291).
And it should be noted that the canons of this council were specifically affirmed by the 7th Ecumenical Council.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Stump the Priest: The Woman with an Issue of Blood

Question: "I have heard conflicting interpretations about the woman with an issue of blood. On the one hand, I have heard it said that by touching the hem of Christ's garment, she was showing her obedience to the traditions regarding her ritual uncleanness. On the other hand, I have heard it said that she was boldly stepping beyond those same traditions. Which interpretation is correct?"

Most of the Church Fathers whose commentaries I have do not focus on this question, but focus on other elements of the story, but there are two Fathers who cite the example of this woman in ways that would seem to give support to both of the options presented in this question. Both of them were commenting on issues related to menstruating women -- and rather than repeat what I have said previously about what is at issue in their comments, see "A Response to "Holy Communion and Menstruation,"" as well as the references mentioned at the end of that article, for more detail.

St. Gregory the Great, in a letter to St. Augustine of Canterbury, says:

"Yet still a woman, while suffering from her accustomed sickness, ought not to be prohibited from entering the church, since the superfluity of nature cannot be imputed to her for guilt, and it is not just that she should be deprived of entrance into the church on account of what she suffers unwillingly. For we know that the woman who suffered from an issue of blood, coming humbly behind the Lord, touched the hem of his garment, and immediately her infirmity departed from her. If then one who had an issue of blood could laudably touch the Lord's garment, why should it be unlawful for one who suffers from a menstruum of blood to enter in the Lord's Church?

...Further, she ought not to be prohibited during these same days from receiving the mystery of holy communion. If, however, out of great reverence, she does not presume to receive, she is to be commended; but, if she should receive, she is not to be judged. For it is the part of good dispositions in some way to acknowledge their sins, even where there is no sin, since often without sin a thing is done which comes of sin."

On the other hand St. Dionysius of Alexandria, in his Second Canon, which was affirmed by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils, says:

"Concerning menstruous women, whether they ought to enter the temple of God while in such a state, I think it superfluous even to put the question. For, I opine, not even they themselves, being faithful and pious, would dare when in this state either to approach the Holy Table or to touch the body and blood of Christ. For not even the woman with a twelve years’ issue would come into actual contact with Him, but only with the edge of His garment, to be cured."

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain commenting on this canon, says:

"For they can recall that woman who had an issue of blood and who on account of the flux of her blood did not dare, because of her great reverence, to touch the body of Christ, but only the hem of His garment. None of them is forbidden to pray, whatever be her predicament (whether she be at home or in the narthex of the church), by imploring God and asking Him for help and salvation. One is forbidden, however, to go near the Holies of Holies, which is the same as saying to partake of the sanctified portions (i.e., the Eucharistic species) when he is not clean in soul and body, like women who are taken with their menses."

In the ancient discipline of the Church, those who were to commune stood in the nave, whereas those who were not to commune stood in the narthex. Without getting into all the details, suffice it to say that as circumstances changed, the discipline of who could stand in the nave and who was confined to the narthex (or to the outside of the Church) has changed, and so the line beyond which such people could pass has moved to the iconostasis from the doors of the nave, or the narthex.

So while these two fathers do not directly contradict each other on the interpretation of the healing of the woman with an issue of blood, they certainly do not come to all of the same conclusions. Of these two, St. Dionysius's interpretation would have to be considered the more authoritative, since it has the endorsement of the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils.

But looking at the accounts in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; and Luke 8:43-48); and also looking at the Old Testament law, and Jewish customs, there is some basis for saying she boldly went beyond the letter of the ceremonial law of Moses, and some basis for saying she only went so far out of reverence for the law. According to the letter of the law, she should not have been out of her home while in this state, and so on that point she stepped beyond the law, but several fathers point out that she dared only "touch the hem of His garment" and wished to remain hidden because she felt constrained not to go any further than that. She also did not merely have the hope that she might be healed, and thus be made clean, but was absolutely convinced of it, so she was not lightly stepping beyond the law, but because she saw taking this action as the only way she could finally be healed, and after twelve years in this state, begin to live a normal life again.

So I think the point to take away here is that we cannot always strictly adhere to the letter of the law, but we also should not step beyond it lightly. And of course for us, it is not the ceremonial law of the Old Testament that should concern us, but the pious Traditions of the Church. However, when it comes to the moral law of God, we never have license to violate it.

Three points of interest here: 

1. The "hem" of Christ's garment would likely have been one of the four tassels (Hebrew: tsitsit) which the law of Moses required Israelites to wear (Deuteronomy 22:12). You can read what Alfred Edersheim has to say about in his classic "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah" by clicking here).

2. Eusebius (who reposed about 340 a.d.) records in his Ecclesiastical History (7:18:1-4) that there was a bronze statue of Christ healing the woman with an issue of blood that was erected on the spot that the miracle occurred, which he himself had seen when he was there, and that the tradition was that this woman had commissioned this herself. This statue remained until it was removed during the time of Julian the Apostate.

3. According to Tradition, the woman with an issue of blood was St. Veronica, who also was the one who wiped the blood from Christ's face as he carried his Cross, and that the miraculous icon "Not-made-by-hands" appeared on the cloth.

St. Veronica

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Marriage, Plan B

If, as seems likely, the Supreme Court will shred the Constitution and impose Gay "Marriage" on all 50 states, here is what states could do to nullify that decision.

I have often argued that the state can't "get out of the marriage business" because the state has an interest in it, but I think I have come up with a way that the state could deal with what it has as a legitimate interest, change some labels, legally, and not have to deal with the question of gay marriage, all in one fell swoop.

Granted, it is ridiculous that the Supreme Court would force us into this position, but if they want to pretend that there is no difference between a gay relationship and a marriage, we can break it down in the law in a way that they would not be able to call discriminatory:

1. Pass a law that says that going forward, marriage will be treated as a private religious matter, that the state will no longer either license or concern itself with.

2. Create a state-wide "potential birth registry,"* that would have the same restrictions that current laws have regarding who can get married: which would include prohibited relationship (incest), age requirements, and limit this to one man and one woman. Children born from a woman in this registry would  be presumed to be the children of the man registered with her, just as it works now in a real marriage. Those registering in this registry would be affirming that they were entering into an exclusive, monogamous relationship, that is likely to produce children (i.e. is heterosexual).

3. Create a state-wide "community property partnership registry," that any 2 people, regardless of their sex, or regardless of whether or not they are in any sexual relationship can enter into.

4. When people register for the potential birth registry, give them the option of also checking a box to be included in the community property partnership registry.

5. Instead of divorce, you would terminate your registration from from the above registries; but if you could not agree on the division of property, you would have a court case to decide that matter. And if you had any children, you would have to get a child support order (which would address custody, visitation, etc.).

6. Any heterosexual marriages prior to these new laws going into effect would automatically be listed in both registries. Any homosexual "marriages" that might have happened because the courts forced the state to allow them prior to this law would automatically be added to the community property registry.

* Another name that could be used for this would be "Presumed Paternity Registry."