What Do Icons Mean?

007-Trinity-icon-hospitality-AbrahamThe following is an article written by iconographer Michael Goltz. In it, he explains the theology of the icon, its use, symbolism, how/why characters are portrayed, etc. I hope it is as beneficial to you as it was to me.

The iconography of our Orthodox Church, with all of its symbolism and spiritual meaning, is central to the Church’s teaching. People are greatly influenced by what they contemplate, and so the Church, in its love for its faithful, has given us iconography in order to help us contemplate God. The Church has elevated iconography to a place of prominence as a teaching tool. What the Gospels proclaim with words, the icon proclaims visually. Continue reading What Do Icons Mean?

The Great Fast and The Pharisee

Publican Pharisee iconBecause the Orthodox Church was instituted by God to be the hospital for our souls, everything within it has been ordained through the Holy Spirit for our salvation. The upcoming season of Great Lent (the Great Fast) is no exception.

In her wisdom, the Church does not simply throw us straight into a difficult fast, but rather slowly steps us toward it: both theologically and practically. The Church readings on Sundays teach us important lessons about fasting, and on a practical level, the fasting begins slowly with Meatfare Sunday.

WHY FAST?

It is pertinent to ask why do we fast?  Continue reading The Great Fast and The Pharisee

Assaulting God, Part 4

WHY ANY OF THIS MATTERS

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society; image from Wikipedia
In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society

After the first few months of meeting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I revealed to my neighbor that I honestly thought the Witnesses were Christians and good people, only a bit misguided. He was surprised and rightly told me that they were outside of the truth and not in a good place spiritually.

Those were my pre-Orthodox days and I was wrestling with what it meant to be a Christian. My thoughts were that there are so many thousands of ways to interpret the Bible, how can we possibly say that one group is better than another? If someone is trying to live a godly life, what does it matter if they are a mess doctrinally? Aren’t we all a mess? Continue reading Assaulting God, Part 4

An Ancient Homily for The Annunciation

Annunciation Full Size flyerThe following is the third homily on the Feast of the Annunciation by Bishop St Gregory the Wonderworker, probably written sometime around AD 260-275.

It was one long paragraph and I have divided it into several sections so that it is much easier to read.  All of the bold type is my addition.  I find it noteworthy that salvation in early Christianity was understood to be God rescuing his beautiful creation from death, which had entangled it due to sin.  In that regard, it is full of poetic love and (like all Christian writings from antiquity that I have read) it lacks any concept of a wrathful God desiring to take out his anger and justice upon His son on the cross.  Especially enlightening is the dialogue between Gabriel and the Lord. Continue reading An Ancient Homily for The Annunciation

The Everyday Martyrdom

Christ being taken down from the cross“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.(Jn 15:13)

I was reminded of the words of Christ while reading last night.  The Christians in the ancient Roman Empire (third century) were being persecuted, turned from their homes, burned, tortured, and beheaded.  A civil war broke out and then a plague infested the area, which distracted the unbelievers from the persecution.

I was deeply moved by the account which St Dionysius the Great wrote* regarding the total selfless and divine love the Christians displayed.  I will quote him at length here:

DIONYSIUS TO THE ALEXANDRIANS

Certainly very many of our brethren, while, in their exceeding love and brotherly-kindness, they did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously, and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully along with them, lading themselves with pains derived from others, and drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them.
Continue reading The Everyday Martyrdom

Receiving Material Grace

prophet moses iconI am often confronted with the reality of a divine mystery.  This all-powerful, all-knowing God whom we serve chooses to “work in mysterious ways.”  (Isa 45:15).  The particular “way” that I have in mind is His working through material people and objects rather than doing everything Himself.

Even God’s greatest intervention in the history of humanity, the incarnation of the Logos, was completed through the willingness of a pious young virgin.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES

When God wanted to free His people, he called Moses to confront Pharaoh.  How much more efficient would it have been if he had simply sent an angel to Pharaoh in a “shock and awe” sort of method? Continue reading Receiving Material Grace

Why do the Orthodox pray to saints?

Below is a letter recently written that I felt may help others out as well.

http://www.ssppoc.org/In regards to praying to saints, it is one of the most difficult things for Protestant Christians to understand.  I wrestled with it for a while.  In old English, the word “pray” simply meant to ask or implore someone for something.

In the modern English Christian world, the word has come to mean “to ask God for something.”  So, when we mention “praying to the saints” it seems horrible because we’ve been trained that the word should only be used in regards to praying to the god of whatever religion one adheres.

As you are finding through the Jesus Prayer, prayer is often much more than simply asking for something.  It is communing, that is, connecting with the Divine in a deep way…establishing a heart to heart connection.  Continue reading Why do the Orthodox pray to saints?

Babel Upside Down

Pentecost iconIn the prehistoric times, mankind decided they would force their way into heaven. The biblical narrative explains they built a large tower with the intention of walking right into heaven. Their plan was destroyed when they found themselves speaking in diverse tongues and no longer able to understand each other.

Pentecost, which was celebrated today in the Orthodox Church, could be considered Babel upside down. The Holy Spirit descended among us and the diverse tongues that once divided mankind acted to unite.

Now, we no longer build towers to reach into the heavens because the heavens have come sweeping down into our world.

As one Kondak goes,
“When the Most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations, but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity, and with one voice we glorify the Most Holy Spirit.”

Heaven within

1013261_10200815667388812_1403043136_nOn several occasions, I have written about heaven not being a physical place, but rather a state of being.  I ran across this quote recently in my readings and thought I would share:

You, then, O reader, hasten to sell your possessions and give to the poor. Possessions are, to the wrathful person, his anger; to the fornicator, his disposition for debauchery; to the resentful person, his remembrance of wrongs.

Sell these things and give them to the poor demons who are in want of every good thing. Return the passions to the creators of the passions, and then you will have treasure, which is Christ, in your heaven, that is, in your mind which has been exalted above this world. For he who becomes like the heavenly One has heaven within himself.

It comes from Blessed Theophylact’s commentary on Matthew in regards to chapter 19 and the rich young ruler’s encounter with Jesus.

An Oasis of Beauty

spring at Ladoga (Valaam Monastery - Russia)This year, after celebrating an explosively powerful and beautiful Pascha with my wife and church family, I have continued to spend time in reading and reflection.

The ancient desert fathers taught that the only way to know God is to dive into our hearts and know our own selves first.  This inward journey is full of darkness and beauty, and it is one that is necessary if we want to see freedom from the passions and deepening inward growth toward God.  We must know ourselves.

There is a hymn in the Orthodox Church called the Trisagion Hymn.  Below is an Orthodox priest and part of his congregation singing it in Aramaic(the ancient language that Jesus and his apostles spoke):

The words are, “Qadisha Alaha Qadisha Khaylthana Qadisha La Mayotha” (Holy God, Holy Almighty, Holy Immortal).  The priest is Mama Serafime (‘mama’ means ‘father’ in Georgian).  He heads an Assyrian Eastern Orthodox community in Georgia

May this song be an oasis of beauty for you as you travel through the journey on which God is leading you today.

The Harrowing of Hades

resurrection2There is an ancient Christian account from the Gospel of Nicodemus that describes what happened between the time that Jesus died on the cross and his resurrection.  It is the account in which our Lord descends into Hades and empties it of its prisoners. 

While the Gospel of Nicodemus (or Acts of Pilate) is not considered “scripture,” it was used to create the Resurrection Icon and was also utilized for writing church hymns, particularly for Holy Saturday.  With that being the case, I believe it is a beneficial read for Christians.  It was probably written in the mid 200’s, though it likely existed in verbal form long before that.  I have cut out the first half of the gospel, which as far as I know, is not used for teaching or hymns in the Church.  The latter portion is more theologically authentic though. Continue reading The Harrowing of Hades

A Morning Prayer by St Patrick

Lorica by St. Patrick

(Lorica was a mystical garment or breastplate that protected the wearer from danger and illness.  The word was attributed to this prayer because of the sections in it regarding protection from physical and spiritual enemies.)

st patrickI arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim, Continue reading A Morning Prayer by St Patrick