The Canaanite Woman

canaanite woman orthodox iconThe reading of the encounter between Jesus Christ and the Canaanite woman can raise more questions than many other passages.  In summary, we see a Gentile woman from a pagan culture coming before Christ on behalf of her demon possessed daughter.

At first, Christ ignores her; then he calls her a dog before finally healing her daughter.  What are we to make of this?  Why would God, who so readily healed the multitudes in passages before and after this one, appear to be so difficult and insulting?

As unlearned as I am, I will attempt to answer those questions, relying mostly on the assistance of Saints John Chrysostom and Theophylact.

Continue reading The Canaanite Woman

Why a Closed Communion Table? Part 2

akathist resurrection eucharist orthodoxOne of my greatest stumbling blocks coming into the Orthodox Church was the closed communion table. Growing up Protestant, my experience was that the table was open to anyone who considered themselves to be a Christian. Attending an Orthodox Church and not being able to partake of the Eucharist was difficult for me. I believe in Jesus, isn’t that enough?

My historical studies revealed just how unaware I was of Christian practices before the 20th century. I blogged about that previously; this blog will be focused more on the theological reasons for a “closed table.”

Perhaps the best place to start is with scripture and the questions:

  • When did Christians begin partaking of the Eucharist?
  • What is the Eucharist?
  • Why do Christians partake of it?
  • And finally, why is the table open only to Orthodox members in good standing?

Continue reading Why a Closed Communion Table? Part 2

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

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

Working the Land Within

Farmer in Indonesia by JayantaraHe who works his own land will be satisfied with bread,

but those who pursue vain things are in need of discernment. (Prov 12:11)

WORK YOUR OWN LAND

The “land” which we are advised to work is our heart.  Those who plow their heart, making it ready for the seed of the Logos and pulling the weeds of passions, will be satisfied with “bread.”  Bread here can be understood in two ways. Continue reading Working the Land Within

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

The Parables of the Ten Virgins and the Talents

in the cell - Valaam Monastery, RussiaThere is a parable of Jesus that always puzzled me in my pre-Orthodox days.  It is the one of the ten maidens (virgins) with lamps who await the bridegroom.  In it, we see that all ten “fall asleep” and are awakened at the call that the Bridegroom is approaching.

Five of them are called “wise” and they have enough oil for their lamps; the other five “foolish” ones do not.  The five that are lacking attempt to borrow oil from the others, but they are refused.  The five foolish ones then attempt to rush to the market to purchase oil, but it is too late, the bridegroom comes when they are away and they are locked outside of his doors.  They request he open the doors to them, but he says, “Truly, truly, I do not know you.”

This parable confused me for many years because it seemed to oppose sharing with others. Continue reading The Parables of the Ten Virgins and the Talents

The Canon of Theophany

Theophany-small“Christ is baptized, in the Jordan!” is a phrase you will hear today in Orthodox Churches worldwide.  The sixth of January is Theophany.  As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the first time I ever understood why Jesus was baptized was when I began exploring Orthodoxy.  The significance of this event can be found in the hymns of our Church.

Below are the verses of the Canon of the Theophany.  If you are looking for a study on the significance of the Lord’s baptism, I would highly recommend reading the more in-depth hymns from the Vigil Service that I posted yesterday.  Also, I wrote briefly about the Theophany icon here. Continue reading The Canon of Theophany

Hymns from the Vigil Service for Theophany

Icon_TheophanyOne can understand much about a group through their music.  I vividly remember the music when I once visited a Kingdom Hall with some Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Many of their songs could be summed up as, “Jehovah’s mad and he’s gonna smite you unless you join our organization, cause this is the only safe place.  So, convert lots of people, or Jehovah’s gonna smite you!”  I was torn between bursting out laughing at how ridiculously obvious the Watchtower’s fearmongering is, or crying because I was surrounded by people who had swallowed this lie about God being a monster from Whom we need to be saved.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, our hymnography is also our theology.  In it, I am constantly finding songs that speak of the goodness of God, His love, and the significance of different biblical and historical events.  The songs essentially are the sermon, and many sermons can be derived from the songs.

Without further ado, here are several hymns from Theophany that explain the significance of Christ’s baptism and what that means to us (none of this was ever explained to me in my pre-Orthodox days). Continue reading Hymns from the Vigil Service for Theophany

New links to ancient wisdom

creation of adam

I have finally posted something that has been in the works for quite a while.  For the past several years I’ve had a fascination with church history; in particular, the early church.  I’ve read countless books that speculate about the early church and what it may or may not have looked like.

Until a couple of years ago, my entire understanding of the early church came from reading history books.  I had no idea there was an large library of books for the “Ante-Nicene Fathers” of the church (that is, those who lived and wrote before the Council of Nicene in 325 AD).  It seems many historians are attempting to engage the reader in their particular version of history, so they don’t bother to mention these writings as a great source as it may contradict their own narrative. Continue reading New links to ancient wisdom

An unholy identity crisis

holy cross monastery, nyIn Eastern Orthodoxy, our theology is based on experience of God rather than philosophizing about God.  Our dogmas are based on the incarnation of Christ and the revelations that God has given mankind through His patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints.

We appeal to the authority of these figures because we trust that they have obtained illumination and theosis.  They not only know about God, but they know God through experience.

Experiencing God

Now, when we say “they experienced God” we don’t mean a really warm, fuzzy feeling when they prayed.  Nor are we referring to an exuberant joy or even tears when they were worshiping.  Not even a deep peace that guided their words and actions throughout their entire lives.

Most of those things are commendable and should be a part of our own lives; however, the holy fathers and mothers of the Church experienced God in a much deeper way.  Many beheld God through their nous (the spiritual eye of the heart) and had a very real encounter that resulted in union with Him.  This type of encounter with the Divine usually takes many years of spiritual discipline in cleansing the body and soul of sinful passions and ridding the heart of all evil and malice. Continue reading An unholy identity crisis