Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective

Malankara World Journal
Penta Centum Souvenir Edition
Volume 8 No. 500 October 14, 2018


Chapter - 6: Orthodox Faith

Faith - Key to God's Treasury by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

True faith cannot be satisfied with a cold recognition of God's existence but strives to be in close communion with Him. The believing soul naturally reaches to God, as a sunflower turns toward the sun. ...

I Believe...A Short Exposition of Orthodox Doctrine Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

Basic Points of Difference Between the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church By the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos,

The basic distinction between the (Eastern) Orthodox Church and Catholic Church is found in the doctrine concerning the uncreated nature and uncreated energy of God. ...

7 Sacraments of Syriac Orthodox Church

Orthodox Church by BBC

Essentially the Orthodox Church shares much with the other Christian Churches in the belief that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and a belief in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Orthodox Church differs substantially in the way of life and worship. ...

The Triumph of Orthodoxy by St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Orthodoxy is the true knowledge of God and reverence of God. Orthodoxy is the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth. Orthodoxy is the glorification of the true God, the knowledge of Him and worship of Him. Orthodoxy is the glorification of God by man, the true servant of God, given to him through the grace of the Holy Spirit. ...

Orthodoxy - A Thinking Man's Faith by Benedict Seraphim

Orthodoxy has a mystical theology. Which simply means that Orthodoxy thinks in terms of her experience of the revelation of God in Christ. Orthodoxy is quintessentially an experiential religion. She thinks with her mind, but with a mind that has descended into her heart. ...

The Gift of Orthodoxy by Elizabeth Huestis

It is possible to see that our becoming Orthodox was not just a chance occurrence, but something that God planned out and manipulated starting many, many years before we had even the smallest idea anything was happening. Let me give you an example by telling a bit about what happened in my case. ...

6. Chapter - 6: Orthodox Faith

Faith - Key to God's Treasury

by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)


The Nature of Faith.
Faith and Knowledge.
Dependence of Faith on Free Will.
Faith as the Foundation of Hope.
Faith as the Key to God's Treasures.
Faith Acting Through Love.
How to Strengthen One's Faith.

The nature of faith

Our soul possesses the amazing ability to sense God. Although this awareness of the Divine presence is weak and hazy in a person just beginning to grow spiritually, it gets stronger and be-comes more and more conscious with a virtuous way of life. This, in turn, strengthens one's faith in Him, so that the inner feeling of God grows to a strong religious conviction. In such a state, the omnipresence of God, His infinite love and fatherly care are continuously felt and become a source of inner peace and strength.

True faith cannot be satisfied with a cold recognition of God's existence but strives to be in close communion with Him. The believing soul naturally reaches to God, as a sunflower turns toward the sun. In turn, an active relationship with God further strengthens the person's faith, so that his faith becomes a spiritual guide, based on personal experience. In some particularly gifted people faith grows into an all-illumining and constantly inspiring idea, that leads them from this world of vanity into the transcendent world of eternal life. Among such people were the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, the Apostles John and Paul, and countless saints like Sergius of Radoneszh, Seraphim of Sarov, John of Kronstadt, Herman of Alaska and Blessed Xenia of Pe-tersburg, to name just a few.

The significance of faith in a person's development lies in that it gives proper direction to all his aptitudes and powers. Specifically, it gives clarity and the correct outlook to his intellect, di-rection and purpose to his will, it ennobles and refines his senses. Faith brings harmony to a per-son's inner world. It frees one from base earthly interests and leads him into a realm of higher and holier experiences.

Faith and knowledge

In our time of many scientific achievements it has become customary to belittle faith in compari-son to intellect. Knowledge is regarded as something firmly founded, positive, and completely objective. Faith, on the other hand, is considered to be arbitrary, subjective and unproved. How-ever, both high confidence in scientific knowledge and disdain of faith are pitiable misconcep-tions.

First of all, to regard present knowledge as absolutely certain, proven and representing the absolute truth is very naive and historically unfounded. Perhaps it is an "ideal" of knowledge but not its state. It would be worthwhile to compare the theories about matter throughout human his-tory — during ancient times, then towards the end of the last century, the middle of this one, and finally the latest discoveries of quantum mechanics — in order to be convinced that scien-tific ideas radically change with each new generation. Similar "revolutions" can be observed in all fields of science — in physics, astronomy, biology, medicine, etc. That which was considered to be unquestionably true yesterday is rejected today. As new scientists become popular for their discoveries, the old ones gradually fade into oblivion. We may well ponder that if humanity sur-vives yet for a few more centuries, our descendants will discuss ironically the primitive ideas and theories of the "dark" twentieth century.

This fact should convince us that of most value is not knowledge in itself but the ability to delve deeper and deeper into the secrets of nature. And here, the propellant of science is not ra-tionalistic knowledge based on the five human senses but intuitive vision. Many philosophers and scientists have experienced a sudden enlightenment which gave birth to their discoveries and new theories. Intuition, like faith, is a very valuable ability. It resembles faith but is a step below it, since intuition relates to the physical domain, whereas faith to the spiritual.

No one will dispute that the engineer's knowledge is valuable for practical matters such as designing and constructing something. But if no scientists existed, who by their intuition un-locked the secrets of nature, then engineers would have nothing to study, and human knowledge would be very limited. Thus it is not knowledge but intuition that leads to the progress of sci-ence. Let us consider another example. Many musicians are appreciated for their fine perfor-mance of musical compositions. But if there were no composers who were gifted with creative genius, the musicians would have nothing to play. The genius of composers, poets, sculptors, art-ists and others like them, has the ability to transform their ideas into something beautiful, sublime and ennobling. Thus, wherever we look, we see that imagination, intuitive vision, inspiration and creative genius are all spiritual forces which lead to the progress of science and art.

Comparing faith to other elevated human abilities, we see that it, like intuition, broadens human reason. It gives men access to that which is unattainable by corporal senses. Thus, thanks to faith, we come to the conviction that the world which surrounds us is not eternal but came to existence by the will of One Allwise Creator. He created us and gave us an immortal soul so that we may share with Him eternal and blessed life. As a matter of fact, faith was often ahead of scientific discoveries by stating, for example, that our world is not eternal but appeared some time ago from "nothing" (the "Big bang" theory), that its origin is not matter but energy, that it gradually evolved from lower to higher states (theory of evolution), that there is a unity in the laws of nature (modern searches for a unifying force), that there should exist other worlds differ-ent from ours (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), and so on.

Thanks to personal contact with God, believers receive a special sense of truth, a faculty to perceive what reason is yet incapable of comprehending. For example, the forthcoming resurrec-tion of the dead, the Last Judgment, and the beginning of eternal life are all beyond our every-day experience and any possibility of verification, and yet we perceive these future events as cer-tain truths and "know" that they will happen. Thus faith, as a spiritual eye, gives us the ability to perceive what lies far away on the horizon of the future.

However, even the most sensitive eye cannot see without light. Similarly, faith needs the spiritual light of divine revelation. God, in His love for us, revealed through the prophets, the apostles, and especially through His Only Begotten Son, all that is necessary for us to know for the spiritual development and salvation of our souls. Thus, God has revealed to us the mystery of the Trinity and of the Divine attributes, the mystery of the Incarnation and the power of the re-deeming sufferings of the Son of God, the significance of His resurrection for our spiritual re-birth and corporal Resurrection on the last day of this world and so forth.

But by saying that the ability to believe is above physical knowledge, we do not wish to ex-clude reason or logical thinking. On the contrary, according to the plan of the Creator, all spiritual capabilities must be in harmony and reinforce one another. Genuine faith must not be blind nor light. Gullibility discloses laziness of the soul, naiveté of the mind. Reason must help faith to dif-ferentiate between truth and delusion. Calm exploration of religious truth makes faith more defi-nite and founded. The Lord Jesus Christ never demanded blind faith from His followers. On the contrary, He advised the Jews, "Search the Scriptures; because they testify of Me" (John 5:39). He also suggested that unbelievers examine His miracles in order to be convinced of His Divine min-istry: "Though you not believe Me, believe the works [that I do], that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him" (John 10:38). Likewise, the apostles urged the early Chris-tians to use reason and discretion in questions concerning faith: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). In particular the apostles urged their disciples to hold to sound doctrine, rejecting fables and human fabrications (2 Tim. 1:13, 4:3).

Thus, it is erroneous to set reason against faith; they complement and reinforce each other. Reason is for searching out, proving and substantiating. It protects faith from delusion and hu-manity from fanaticism. Faith, on the other hand, is the driving force that opens new horizons, elevates us to new heights. It can be compared to an engine, while reason to a steering wheel. Without the engine the car will not move, and without the steering wheel it may crash.

Dependence of faith on free will

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20). With these words our Savior tells us that He offers to each of us the gift of faith, but it is up to us to accept or to reject this gift.

The Lord is merciful to those who doubt not from obstinacy but due to spiritual weakness and inexperience. Those who seek the truth and lament their lack of faith receive Divine help to acquire faith. Thus, for example, Christ took pity on the despairing father of the possessed youth who cried out: "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) and healed his sick son. He likewise had compassion on the apostle Peter who, having become frightened of the storm, began to sink. Giving His hand to Peter, the Lord gently rebuked him, saying: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:30). Nor did the Lord reject the doubting Thomas, who wished to be personally convinced of the miracle of the Resurrection. The Lord, having condescended to Thomas with His appearance, did not, however, praise him for becoming a believer on the basis of an obvious proof but said to him, "You believe because you have seen; blessed are those who do not see and believe" (John 20:29). In other words, faith based on external experience has little value; it's actually not faith but ordinary knowledge. True faith is born of inner experience; it de-mands sensitivity, a spiritual up-lifting, and, therefore, is worthy of praise.

However, we see the complete opposite of such a searching faith in the Jewish scribes and Pharisees of Christ's time. They obstinately and stubbornly refused to believe in Jesus Christ as the God-sent Messiah. Neither the fulfillment in Christ of the ancient prophecies, nor His count-less miracles and raising of the dead, nor signs in nature, nor even His Resurrection shook their unbelief. On the contrary, with each new miracle they became still more embittered and hostile towards Him. Thus if even Christ was unable to awaken faith in those who did not want to be-lieve, is it any wonder that in our time there are conscious and adamant atheists? They claim that they do not believe because they see no miracles. But the real reason for their unbelief lies not in a lack of miracles, which occur daily in different parts of the world, but in the negative direction of their will. They simply don't want God to exist.

The problem of unbelief is closely tied to the sinfulness of human nature. Because the sub-ject of faith is not an abstract theory but a positive teaching that demands certain behavior and imposes definite responsibilities, not everyone is willing to change his life around to adapt to its high moral standards. Faith puts a check on a person's greed. It calls him to overcome his selfish-ness, to live moderately, to do good to others, even to sacrifice himself. When a man prefers his passions over the will of God and places his own good over the good of others, then he will do everything he can to repudiate arguments in favor of faith. The Savior indicated that an evil will is the chief cause of unbelief when He said: "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:20-21).

Being capable of suppressing faith within himself, man is also capable of strengthening it. Turning again to the Gospel, we find in it striking examples of ardent faith. Inspiring in this re-gard are the examples of the Roman centurion, the Canaanite woman, the woman with an issue of blood, the blind men of Jericho, and similar others. The Lord repeatedly called for His listen-ers to imitate the faith of these people. Consequently, it lies within our power, with God's help, to gather and direct our spiritual capabilities towards a greater faith. Faith, as everything good, demands effort. That is the reason a reward is promised for it: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16).

Faith as the foundation of hope

Trials and sorrow are inevitable in this temporary life. At difficult moments only faith can give a person the necessary spiritual strength. When a person with a weak faith despairs during misfor-tunes, feels defeated and complains bitterly, the believing person more strongly turns to God for help. He disperses the tide of despondency with hope in God, having learned from previous trials that "whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame" (Rom. 9:33).

Sorrows are the "rainy days" and "storms" in our life and are meant to test our faith. During fair weather every sailor can fantasize about his skills, but it is during a storm that the genuine mariner is unveiled. Reading the Holy Scripture or lives of the saints, one becomes convinced that righteous people displayed their faith more obviously during persecutions and sufferings than during calm and normal conditions. When the Apostle Paul refers to the Old Testament righteous, he specifically mentions their difficult moments as examples of strong faith. He thus concludes his overview of their lives: some of them "were tortured, not receiving deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trials of mocking and scourging, of chains and imprisonment. Some were stoned, some were sawn in two, others were tempted and slain with the sword. Some wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. Of whom the world was not worthy, wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth … Therefore, — concludes the apostle — since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every burden of sin (which so easily ensnares us) and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Instead of the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame. Now He sits at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebr. chapters 11-12).

Although faith helps man to face suffering with fortitude, the question remains: why does the Lord permit the righteous to suffer? The answer is not obvious at all; "Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has taught Him?" (Isai. 40:13). Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul explains that "all things work for good to them who love God" (Rom. 8:28). The word "all" includes sorrows as well. Actually, having himself experienced innumerable trials during his mis-sionary journeys, Saint Paul shares with his disciples what he has learned: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong; for the strength of God is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:10).

Sorrows convince man of the instability of life's blessings, remind him of God the Rescuer, of eternal life, and teach him patience. They develop fortitude and constancy in good deeds. When man can expect help from nowhere, he turns to God with all his strength. And while he is troubled from the outside, in his heart he finds Divine peace and consolation. Such direct aware-ness of God is greatly beneficial to a man's faith. Thus, on the one hand, faith helps a man to bear sorrows, and on the other, sorrows strengthen the faith in him. For this reason Saint James taught Christians: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience" (James 1:2).

Probably because faith gives man fortitude at difficult times and serves as a bulwark for his spiritual life, our Savior named it a rock, saying: "On this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). Indeed, it is impossible to enumerate all the persecutions of Christians in the two millennia of the existence of the Church. While so many empires and powerful governments fell and have completely disappeared from the face of the Earth, Christ's Church, founded on faith in Him, stands firm and will remain invincible until the end of the world.

Faith as the key to God's treasures

Faith draws a person into a living communication with God in heartfelt, concentrated prayer. When a person comes into close contact with the Almighty, then, according to the words of the Savior, everything becomes possible to him: "Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive … If you have faith as (small as) a mustard seed, and you will say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matt. 21:22, 17:20). Thus even the smallest faith can work wonders provided it is wholesome and healthy like a mustard seed. The great miracle worker Saint John of Kronstadt, speaking from his own experience, called faith "the key to God's treasures."

True faith has nothing to do with self-confidence. Greatly mistaken are those who confuse faith with ordinary auto-suggestion. Some sectarian preachers teach that one must convince one-self of whatever one desires, for example: in health, success, or well-being — and that is enough to obtain it. These auto-suggestions resemble a game in which a child imagines that he is sailing accross the sea or riding a horse while he sits on the floor in his room. Faith built on self-suggestion leads to self-delusion and a spiritual catastrophe.

True faith acts not by the power of imagination or self-hypnosis but in that it joins a person to the ultimate Source of all life and strength — to Almighty God. Faith is like a vessel with which one scoops up from the Divine fountain, and prayer acts as an arm with which one reaches into it. It is important to take recourse prudently to the power of faith. Because only God knows what is best for us, in praying one should be less concerned about pressing one's own desires and more about understanding what is the will of God. After all, prayer should not become a mono-logue but a two-way conversation. And in every conversation one must learn to listen as well. When we sincerely pray to God, He replies to us in our heart and in subsequent external circum-stances.

Turning to the Gospel accounts, we see that those people who possessed an exceptionally strong faith as, for example, the Roman centurion, the Canaanite woman, the friends of the para-lytic, and others, were all very far from any elation or pathos. Actually, they all were extremely humble people (Matt. 8:10, 15:22, 9:2). The combination of strong faith and humility is not acci-dental. A deeply believing person feels, more than anyone else, the greatness and the almighti-ness of God. And the more he realizes it, the more keenly he becomes aware of his own limita-tions and deficiency. The great miracle workers such as, for example, the prophets Moses and Elisha, the apostles Peter and Paul and those like them were always distinguished by profound humility.

Faith acting through love

Is there an interrelationship between faith and good works? Some ask: is faith alone sufficient for salvation, or are good works also necessary? The fact that many contemporary Christians op-pose faith to good works reveals how impoverished and distorted their concept of Christianity has become. True faith extends not only over man's mind but over all the powers of his soul, in-cluding the heart and will. Many contemporary preachers have narrowed the concept of faith to a rational acceptance of the Gospel's teaching. They declare: "Only believe, and you will be saved." The error here, just as with the pharisaic approach, consists in the formal and legalistic understanding of salvation. The Jews in Christ's time taught justification by fulfillment of the Mosaic Law, while Protestants since Luther's times teach justification by faith alone, independ-ent of good works. Traditional Christianity, however, calls for complete spiritual re-birth: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation is not only the resettlement from earth to paradise but the grace-filled state of man's renewed soul. According to our Lord: "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). In this renewed state a complete harmony is established between internal convictions and external behavior. Here good works become fruits which naturally grow on a healthy tree. And on the contrary, lack of good works testify of an ill and dying soul.

Now, spiritual re-birth is not achieved instantaneously. Christ's words to those who be-lieved, "Thy faith has saved thee," (Matt. 9:22) refer to that crucial turning point made by those who have decided to break with the past and follow Jesus Christ. Without this radical change in thinking, any improvement and spiritual progress are impossible. Naturally, after a person has chosen the right path he must subsequently walk on it, i.e., apply its high principles with patience and perseverance. All New Testament books speak about working on oneself and becoming more like Christ: "We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). What is needed here is not abstract faith but that which acts through love (Gal. 5:6).

The Apostle James firmly rises up against those who separate faith from good works, saying: "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, `Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? … But someone will say, `You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble!" Further, the apostle gives examples of righteous men and women of old who proved their faith by their works, and he draws the following conclusion: "Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? … For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:14-26).

The Apostle Paul likewise does not recognize faith without its fruit: "Though I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2-3). Therefore, correct un-derstanding of faith dispels all doubt as to which is more important — faith or works. They are inseparable, like the light and warmth of a flame.

How to strengthen one's faith

Thus, among the many talents and faculties of the human spirit, faith is the most precious of the Divine gifts. Faith broadens man's horizons and gives him a proper outlook, reveals to him the purpose of his life, encourages him during hard times and gladdens his heart, empowers his pray-er and gives him access to a multitude of God's treasures and mercies.

Sadly, however, our life of plenty and well-being weakens our faith, and God's goodness gets forgotten. As faith grows dim, a man's inner condition becomes increasingly disordered: he loses clarity of thought and purpose of life, his spiritual strength leaves him, emptiness and de-spondency firmly set into his heart, he becomes irritable and dissatisfied with everything. After all, the soul cannot live without faith, just as a plant cannot live without light and moisture. No matter how intelligent and talented he might be, with faith extinguished a person descends to the level of a cunning animal, or even a predator.

In order to escape such a "shipwreck of faith" (1 Tim. 1:19), one must seriously concern oneself with the renewal of his soul. But how? We know that all talents require exercise: to pre-serve a sharp mind, it must be engaged in mental work; so that fingers maintain their flexibility, it is necessary to practice on a musical instrument; to have the body remain limber, it is necessary to do gymnastic exercises; and so on. If people expend so much energy and money to develop and preserve their physical abilities, should not we Christians strive to strengthen our spiritual capabil-ities?

Specifically: to strengthen our faith, we must live spiritually. This includes regular reading of the Holy Scripture, meditation about God and the purpose of our life, fasting and prayer. When praying, one must make an effort to concentrate on the meaning of the words and feel the presence of God. It is also important to repent sincerely for one's sins, go to Confession and take Communion on a regular basis. Finally, one must try to live not for oneself alone but for the good of one's neighbor and one's church. The heart of one who loves is warmed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Of course, in trying to lead a Christian life one cannot avoid battles, trials and diffi-culties. At times it may seem that the whole world is armed against us. These are unwanted but precious periods in which we are given the opportunity to grow spiritually and become better Christians.

In striving to strengthen our faith, let us always remember that ultimately faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul testified to this: "The fruit of the Spirit is: joy, love, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, kindness, faith" (Gal. 5:22). Let us, therefore, ask God for faith, that great spiritual treasure. As Jesus Christ has promised: "Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you" (Matt. 7:7). And as faith grows, it will bring with it peace of mind, joy, and a foretaste of final triumph over all evil. "This is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith" (1 John 5:4).

Edited by Donald Shufran
Copyright © 2001 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission, CA

I Believe...A Short Exposition of Orthodox Doctrine

Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)


Concerning God the Father.
Concerning the Holy Trinity.
Concerning the Incarnation.
Concerning Creation.
Concerning the Spiritual Hosts.
Concerning Immortality.
Concerning Evil. Concerning Sin.
Concerning Man’s Free Will.
Concerning Faith and Works.
Concerning the Virgin Mary (Theotokos).
Concerning the Saints.
Concerning the Holy Icons.
Concerning the Holy Relics of the Saints.
Concerning the Holy Scriptures.
Concerning the Church.
Concerning the Church and Holy Tradition.
Concerning the Life That is to Come.

Concerning God the Father.

I believe in God the Father, Who is without beginning, indescribable, incomprehensible, Who is beyond every created essence, Whose essence is known only to Himself, to His Son and the Holy Spirit; as it says in the Holy Scriptures, upon Him even the Seraphim dare not gaze.

I believe and confess that God the Father never became the likeness of any material form nor was He ever incarnate. In the theophanies (appearances of God) of the Old Testament, as our Holy Fathers bear witness, it was not God the Father Who appeared, but rather it was always our Saviour, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (i.e., the Word or Logos, the Angel of the Lord, the Lord God of Sabaoth, the Angel of Great Counsel, the Ancient of Days) Who revealed Himself to the prophets and seers of the Old Testament. Likewise, in the New Testament, God the Father never appeared but bore witness to His Son on several occasions solely by a voice that was heard from Heaven. It is for this reason that our Saviour said, "No man hath seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him," (John 1:18) and "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He Who is of God, He hath seen the Father" (John 6:46). In addition, Acts Four, Five and Six of the Seventh Ecumenical Council state that the Holy Trinity cannot be portrayed iconographically since He is without from and invisible. Therefore, God the Father is not depicted in the holy icons.

I believe that He is the cause of all things as well as the end purpose of all things. From Him all visible and invisible creatures have their beginning and there was a time when they did not exist. He created the universe out of absolutely nothing. The earth too had a beginning and man was created by God's love. The creation of man and of the universe was not out of necessity. Creation is the work of the free and unconditional will of the Creator. If He had so wished, He need not have created us; the absence of creation would not have been a privation for Him. The creature's love is not one which gives Him satisfaction. God has no need to be satisfied. He needs nothing. God's love cannot be compared to human love, even as His other attributes such as paternity, justice, goodness cannot be compared to their human counterparts. God's love is a love which constitutes a mystery unfathomable to man's reason or intellect. God has no "emotions" which might create passion, suffering, need or necessity in Him. Nevertheless, although the nature of divine love remains incomprehensible and inexplicable to human reason, this love is real and genuine and I confess, in agreement with Scripture, that God is love.

Concerning the Holy Trinity.

I believe, confess and worship the Holy Trinity. I worship the One, Holy, Indivisible, Consubstantial, Life-Creating and Most Holy Trinity. In the Trinity I worship three persons — three hypostases — that of the Father, that of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit. I do not confuse the persons of the Most Holy Trinity. I do not believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are, as it were, three masks of a single person. None of the persons is alienated from the others, but each has the fulness of the Three together.

Concerning the Incarnation.

I believe that from the moment of His conception in the virginal womb, Jesus Christ was one person, yet having two natures. From His conception, He was God and Man before birth, during birth and after birth.

I believe and confess that the Most Holy Virgin Mary, after the image of the bush which burned and was not consumed, truly received the fire of the Godhead in Herself without being consumed thereby. I believe and confess that She truly gave of Her own blood and of Her own flesh to the Incarnate Word and that She fed Him with Her own milk.

I confess that Jesus Christ was, in His Godhead, begotten of the Father outside of time without assistance of a father. He is without mother in His divinity, and without father in His manhood.

I believe that through the Incarnation, the Most Holy Virgin Mary became truly the Theotokos — the Mother of God — in time. She was a Virgin before, during and after birth. Even as Jesus Christ arose from the dead despite the fact that the Jews had sealed His tomb with a stone, and even as He entered into the midst of His disciples while the doors were shut, so also did He pass through the virginal womb without destroying the virginity of Mary or causing Her the travail of birth. Even as the Red Sea remained untrodden after the passage of Israel, so also did the Virgin remain undefiled after giving birth to Emmanuel. She is the gate proclaimed by the Prophet Ezekiel through which God entered into the world "while remaining shut" (Ezekiel 44:2).

Concerning Creation.

I believe that matter is not co-eternal with the Creator, and there was a time when it did not exist, and that it was created out of nothing and in time by the will and the Word of God. I believe that matter was created good but drawn into sin and corruption because of man, who was established initially as the ruler of the material world. Even though the creation "lieth in evil" and corruption, yet it is God's creation and therefore good; only through man's will in using creation evilly can sin be joined to creation. I believe that creation will be purified by the fire of the Last Judgment at the moment of the glorious Advent of our Saviour Jesus Christ and that it will be restored and regenerated and that it will constitute a New Creation, according to the promise of the Lord: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21.5). "New heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (II Peter 3:13).

Concerning the Spiritual Hosts.

I believe that the angels are not mythical but noetic beings created by God, that they had a beginning in time and that they are not eternal or immortal by nature, but only by Divine Grace. Although they possess a different nature than ours, their spiritual and incorporeal nature is nonetheless real and is subject to other laws and other dimensions foreign to human nature. They are conscious persons. In the beginning they were created perfectly good, perfectly free, having the faculty of will and choice. Some angels made a good choice by remaining faithful to their Creator, whereas others used their liberty in an evil manner and estranged themselves from their Creator and rose up against Him and, becoming darkened and wicked, fell from God and turned into demons.

The demons are envious of man because of the glory of the eternal destiny for which he was created, and they seek his ruin and utter destruction. They have no real power over those who have received Baptism, yet they tempt us so that we ourselves might make ill use of our freedom. But the angels, because of their loyalty and their communion with God, know no envy and are not jealous of man's destiny. Rather, they have been endowed with a nature superior to man's so that they might help man realize his purpose through the aid of Divine Grace; they rejoice when a man succeeds in realizing the aim of his existence. The angles are humble, they are instructed by the Church, they belong to the Church and celebrate with us in glorifying the Creator; they pray for us and attend to our prayers. All beings created by God's wisdom, will, and love are fashioned on a hierarchical principle and not on an egalitarian principle. Even as men on earth differ according to what gift each has received, so also do the angels have distinctions among themselves in accordance with their rank and their ministry.

Concerning Immortality.

I believe that only God is eternal and immortal by nature and in essence. The angels and the souls of men are immortal only because God bestows this immortality upon them by grace. If if were not for the immortality which God bestows by His divine will, neither the angels nor the souls of men would be immortal of themselves.

Men's souls have no pre-existence. The how of the soul's birth, as well as separation from the body at the moment of the latter's biological death that it might be reunited to the body when the dead are raised at the Second and glorious Coming of our Saviour is a mystery which has not been revealed to us.

Concerning Evil.

I believe that God created neither death nor suffering nor evil. Evil has no hypostasis or existence as such. Evil is the absence of good; death is the absence of life. Evil is the alienation of the created being who has estranged himself from God; it is the degeneration of an essence which was created good. The sinner dies, not because God slays him in punishment so that He might revenge Himself on him — for man cannot offend God, nor does God experience any satisfaction at the death of a man — the sinner dies because he has alienated himself from the Source of Life. God is not responsible for evil, nor is He its cause. Neither is God blameworthy because He created man's nature with the possibility of alienating itself. If He had created human nature without free will, by this imposed condition He would have rendered the created intelligent being purely passive in nature; the creature would simply submit, not having the possibility of doing otherwise, since it would not be free.

However, God wished that, after a fashion, we too should be His co-workers in His creation and be responsible for our own eternal destiny. God knows in His infinite wisdom how to transform the causes of evil into that which is profitable for man's salvation. Thus God uses the consequences of evil so as to make roses bloom forth from the thorns; although He never desired the thorns, nor did He create them in order to use them as instruments. He permitted these things to exist out of respect for our freedom. Thus God permits trials and sufferings without having created them. When suffering comes upon me, I must receive this as an unfathomable proof of His love, as a blessing in disguise and without feeling indignant, I must seek out its significance. As for temptations, I must avoid them, and for the sake of humility, beseech God to spare me from them, even as our Saviour teaches us in the Lord's Prayer: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Yet, in all trials, temptations, and sufferings, we conclude our prayer as did the Saviour in the garden of Gethsemane: "Not My will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42).

Concerning Sin.

I believe and I confess that God created man neither mortal nor immortal, but capable of choosing between two states, as St. John of Damascus teaches us (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, chap. 30). Man's bad choice and ill use of his free will caused his nature to be defiled by sin and become mortal. Human nature's defilement and alienation from God are caused by sin which entered into the world through a single man, Adam. Baptism in the true Church liberates us from the effects of sin and enables us to "work" for our salvation. Yet, even as after the Lord's Resurrection both the memory of His sufferings and also the marks of these sufferings were preserved in a material manner, so also after our Baptism does our nature preserve our weakness, in that it has received only the betrothal of the Divine adoption which shall be realized only at the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, our regeneration by Baptism is just as real as our Saviour's Resurrection. The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born with the same nature as ours. She could not of Herself have maintained the state in which the Archangel found Her on the day of the Annunciation, because She also, like all of us, had need of God's Grace. God is the Saviour of the Virgin not only because He purified Her, but also because by Divine Grace and Her will She was protected from a state of personal sin.

Concerning Man’s Free Will.

I believe that man "works" for his salvation. Salvation is not imposed upon him in spite of himself as Augustine of Hippo's and John Calvin's doctrine of predestination would have it, nor is it obtained solely by the endeavors of human will, as Pelagius taught. Salvation is synergetic, that is, man co-operates in the work of his salvation. God does not take upon Himself the role which belongs to man; likewise, man can attain to nothing by his own efforts alone, neither by his virtue, nor by observing the commandments, nor by a good disposition. None of these things have any value for salvation except in the contest of Divine Grace, for salvation can not be purchased. Man's labors and the keeping of the commandments only demonstrate his will and resolve to be with God, his desire and love for God. Man cannot accomlish his part of co-operation in his salvation by his own power, however small this part may be, and he must entreat God to grant him the strength and grace necessary to accomplish it. If he perceives that he does not even wish his own salvation, he must ask to receive this desire from God "Who gives to all men and disregards none." For this reason, without despising man's role, we say that we receive "grace for grace" (John 1:16) and that to approach and enter the Church is according to the Fathers, "the grace given before grace," since in reality all is grace. This is the true meaning of the words of the Holy Fathers, "although it be a question of grace, yet grace is granted only to those who are worthy of it" indicating by the word "worthy" the exercise of our freedom of will to ask all things from God.

Concerning Faith and Works.

I believe that man's natural virtue — whatever its degree — cannot save a man and bring him to eternal life. The Scriptures teach: "All our righteousness is like unto a menstrual rag" (Isaiah 64:6). The fulfillment of the works of the Law does not permit us to demand or to merit something from God. Not only do we have no merits or supererogatory works, but Jesus Christ enjoins us that when we have fulfilled all the works of the Law, we should esteem ourselves as nothing but "unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10). Without Jesus Christ, a man's personal virtue, his repute, his personal value, his work, his talents and his faculties matter but little; they matter only insofar as they test his devotion and faith in God. Our faith in Jesus Christ is not an abstraction but rather a communion with Him. This communion fills us with the power of the Holy Spirit and our faith becomes a fertile reality which engenders good works in us as the Scriptures attest "which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

Thus, according to the Apostles, faith engenders true works; and true works, which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit, bear witness and prove the existence of a true faith. Since faith is neither abstract nor sterile, it is impossible to dissociate it from good works. It was by this same faith in the same Jesus Christ that the righteous of the Old Testament (who are venerated to the same degree as the other saints in the Orthodox Church) were saved, and not because of their legalistic or disciplinary observance of the Law. Faith is also a gift of God, and a man relying on his own efforts, his own piety, or his own spirituality, cannot of himself possess this faith. Yet faith is not imposed: to those who desire it, God grants it, not because of a fatalistic predestination, but because of His Divine foreknowledge and His disposition to co-operate with man's free will. If God has given us faith, we must not think ourselves better than others, nor superior or more worthy than them, nor should we think that we have received it because of our own merits, but we should attribute this favor to the goodness of God Whose reasons escape us. We must thank Him by bowing down before the mystery of this privilege and be conscious that one of the attributes of faith is the "lack of curiousity." It is neither works nor faith, but only the Living God Who saves us.

Concerning the Virgin Mary (Theotokos).

I believe that the nature of the Most Holy Virgin Mary is identical to our own. After Her free and conscious acceptance of the plan of salvation offered to man by God, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Her and the power of the Most High covered Her, and "at the voice of the Archangel, the Master of all became incarnate in Her." Thus our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Adam, partook of our nature in all things save sin, through the Theotokos, the New Eve. The nature of fallen man, the nature of Adam, which bore the wounds of sin, of degeneration, and of corruption, was restored to its former beauty, and now it partakes of the Divine nature. Man's nature, restored and regenerated by grace, surpasses Adam's state of innocence previous to the fall, since as the Fathers say, "God became man so that man could become God."

Thus St. Gregory the Theologian writes: "O marvelous fall that brought about such a salvation for us!" man, created "a little lower than the angels" (Ps. 8:5), can, by God's grace, surpass even the angelic state, and so we praise the Most Holy Virgin Mary, as: "More honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim." I reject all the doctrines, which are alien to the teachings of the Fathers, concerning original sin and the "immaculate conception of Mary." Likewise, I reject every doctrine which endeavors to distort the position of the Theotokos, Who, with a nature identical to ours, represented all humanity when she accepted the salvation offered Her by God. Thus, God is the Saviour of the Most Holy Virgin as well and She is saved by the same grace whereby all those who are redeemed are saved. She is not the "Mother of the Church," as though She were dissociated from the Church or superior to It., but rather She is the Mother of all the faithful of the Church, of Which She also is a part.

Concerning the Saints.

I believe that God "glorified those who glorify Him" (I Kings 2:30), that He is "wondrous in His saints" (Ps. 67:35), and that He is the "Saviour of the body" of the Church (Eph. 5:23). I believe that we are saved insofar as we are members of the Body, but that we cannot be saved by any individual relation with God outside of the Church. For the Lord said, "I am the true vine... As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." (John 15:1, 4, 6). The saints are those members of the Church, the Body of Christ, who have achieved great sanctity and perfection. I believe that our God is the "God of our Fathers" and that He has mercy upon us because we are the children of our Fathers, who were and are His saints and His servants, as the Holy Scripture attests in many places. I believe that, even as St. James the Apostle says, "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16), even as the Three Youths who prayed in the fiery furnace attest: "Cause not Thy mercy to depart from us for Abraham's sake, Thy beloved, for Isaac's sake, Thy servant, and for Israel's, Thy holy one" (Dan 3:34).

Those whom God has glorified, I also glorify. Because of Him Who glorifies them, I entrust myself to their prayers and intercessions, even as the Scriptures require, for the angel of the Lord appeared to Abimelich and counseled him to seek Abrahams's prayers, saying: "He shall pray for thee and thou shalt live" (Gen. 20:7). I believe that my worship and veneration of the saints is a well-pleasing worship offered of God since it is because of Him and for His sake that I worship them. I give adoration to no created thing, no other being, be it visible or invisible. I venerate no man for his own virtue's sake but "for the grace of God which is given" him (I Cor.1:4). In celebrating the feast of a saint, it is God Who is always worshipped, the saint's contest and victory being the occasion for God to be worshipped. Indeed, He is worshipped and glorified in His saints; He "is wondrous in His saints" (Ps 67:35). As He said, "I will dwell in them" (II Cor. 6:16) and, by grace and adoption, they shall be called gods (John 10:34-35). God Himself has granted His saints their ministry of interceding on our behalf. I supplicate them and I am in communion with them, even after their death in the flesh, since this death, according to the Apostle, cannot separate us from the love of Christ which unites us. According to the Lord's promise, they who believe in Him "shall never die... but are passed from death into life" (John 11:26, 5:24).

Concerning the Holy Icons.

I venerate holy icons in perfect accord with the second commandment of the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] and not in contradiction to it. For, before the Incarnation of God, before the Nativity of Jesus Christ, any representation of Him would have been the fruit of man's imagination, a conception of man's reasoning concerning God Who is by nature and in His essence incomprehensible, indescribable, immaterial, inexpressible and unfathomable. Every conception or imagination concerning God will, by necessity, be alien to His nature; it will be false, unreal, an idol. But when the time was fulfilled, the Indepictable One became depictable for my salvation. As theApostle says, "we have heard Him, we have seen Him with our eyes, we have looked upon Him and have handled Him with our hands" (I John 1:1). When I venerate the holy icons I do not worship matter, but I confess that God Who is immaterial by nature has become material for our sakes so that He might dwell among us, die for us, be raised from the dead in His flesh and cause our human nature, which He took upon Himself, to sit at the right hand of the Father in the Heavens. When I kiss His venerable icon, I confess the relatively describable and absolutely historical reality of His Incarnation, His Death, His Resurrection, His Ascension into the Heavens, and His Second and Glorious Coming.

I venerate the holy icons by prostrating myself before them, by kissing them, by showing them a "relative worship" (as the definition of the Seventh Ecumenical Council says) while confessing that only the Most Holy Trinity is to be offered adoration. By the words "relative worship" I do not mean a second rate worship, but that they are worshipped because of their relation to God. God alone, Who is the cause and the final goal of all things, deserves our worship; Him alone must we worship. We worship the saints, their holy relics and their icons only because He dwells in them. Thus, the creatures which are sanctified by God are venerated and worshipped because of their relation to Him and on account of Him. This has always been the teaching of the Church: "The worship of the icon is directed to the prototype." Not to venerate the saints is to deny the reality of their communion with God, the effects of Divine sanctification and the grace which works in them; it is to deny the words of the Apostle who said, "I no longer live, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:20). I believe that icons are a consequence of and a witness to the Incarnation of Our Saviour and an integral part of Christianity; thus there is no question of a human custom or doctrine having been superimposed upon the Tradition of the Church, as though it were an afterthought. I believe and I confess that the holy icons are not only decorative and didactic objects which are found in Church, but also holy and sanctifying, being the shadows of heavenly realities; and even as the shadow of the Apostle Peter once cured the sick — as it is related in the Acts of the Apostles — so in like manner do the holy icons, being shadows of celestial realities, sanctify us.

Concerning the Holy Relics of the Saints.

I believe and I confess that when we venerate and kiss the holy relics, the grace of God acts upon our total being, that is, body and soul, and that the bodies of the saints, since they are the temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:9), participate in and are endued with this totally sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God can act through the holy relics of His saints, as the Old Testament bears witness; for there we see that a man was resurrected by touching the bones of the Prophet Elisseus (II Kings 13:21). Therefore, I neither venerate holy relics for some sentimental reason, nor do I honour them as merely historical remains but acknowledge them as being, by the grace of God, endowed with intrinsic holiness, as being vessels of grace. Indeed, in the Acts of the Apostles we see that the faithful were healed by touching the Apostles' "handkerchiefs" and "aprons" (Acts 19:12).

Concerning the Holy Scriptures.

I believe that all the Scriptures are inspired by God and that, as St. John Chrysostom says, "It is impossible for a man to be saved if he does not read the Scriptures." However, the Holy Scriptures cannot be dissociated from the Church, for She wrote them. The Scriptures were written in the Church, by the Church and for the Church. Outside the Church, the Scriptures cannot be understood. One trying to comprehend the Scriptures though outside the Church is like a stranger trying to comprehend the correspondence between two members of the same family. The Holy Scriptures lose their meaning, the sense of their expression and their content for the man who is a stranger to the Church, to Her life, to Her Mysteries and to Her Traditions, since they were not written for him. I believe and I confess that there is no contradiction whatsoever between the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. By the word "Tradition," I do not mean an accumulation of human customs and practices which have been added to the Church. According to the holy Apostle Paul, the written and oral Traditions are of equal value; for it is not the means of transmission that saves us, but the authenticity of the content of what has been transmitted to us. Furthermore, the teaching of the Old Testament as well as that of the New Testament were transmitted orally to God's people before they were written down.

Therefore, the Holy Scriptures themselves are a part of Holy Tradition which is a unified whole and we must accept it as a whole, and not choose bits and parts according to our private opinions or interpretations. The official versions and texts of the Orthodox Church are the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (which was used by the Apostles when they recorded the New Testament) and the Greek text of the New Testament. Translations into the various languages have also been approved by the Church and are extensively used. I acknowledge that there are a plurality of meanings for each verse of the Bible, provided that each interpretation be justified by the teachings of the Holy Fathers who are glorified by God. I reject all human systems of interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, whether they be allegorical, literalistic, or otherwise. I confess that the Holy Scripture was written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it is solely through the Holy Spirit that we can read and understand It. I acknowledge that I cannot read or understand the Scriptures without the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the illumination of the Tradition of the Church, even as the eunuch of Candice could not understand the prophets without the aid of St. Philip, who was sent to him by the Holy Spirit (Acts 8). I denounce as blasphemous every attempt to correct, re-adapt or "de-mythologize" the sacred texts of the Bible. I confess that Tradition alone is competent to extablish the Canon of the Holy Scriptures since only Tradition can declare what belongs to it and what is foreign to it. Moveover, I confess that the "foolishness of preaching" (I Cor. 1:21) is superior to the wisdom of man or his rationalistic systems.

Concerning the Church.

I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and that It was instituted by God through the power of the Holy Spirit and by revelation. I reject the idea that the Church is a form of piety which is the fruit of a philosophical or historical evolution, or the fruit of human reason and ingenuity. The Church is instituted by God and is a tree which is rooted in the Heavens. We receive nourishment of its fruits, although the planting remains supernatural. I believe that no other Name under heaven has been given us by which we can be saved, besides that of Jesus Christ. I believe that one can not dissociate Jesus Christ from His Church, which is His Body. I believe with St. Cyprian of Carthage that the man who does not have the Church for his Mother cannot have God as his Father, and that outside the Church there is no salvation.

I believe that neither ignorance, nor lack of awareness, or even the best intentions, can excuse one and justify him or her for salvation; for if even in the true Church, "the righteous will scarcely be saved" (I Peter 4:18) as the Scriptures say, how can one conclude that ignorance or error — even if it be inherited — can excuse one or that good intentions can lead us with certainty into the Kingdom of Heaven? According to His boundless mercy and righteousness God deals with those who are outside the Church, and the Apostle forbids us to concern ourselves with the judgements of God concerning such people. God did not institute schismatic and heretical assemblies that they might work in parallel with the Church for the salvation of men. For this reason, schismatic and heretical assemblies ("churches") are not workshops of salvation; rather, they are obstacles created by the devil, wherein error and truth are mingled in different proportions so that the true Church may not be recognized. Therefore, with the Holy Fathers I confess that: "The martyrdom of heretics is suicide and the virginity of heretics is fornication." Outside of the Church there is no true Baptism, nor any other Mystery. Hence, the Apostolic Canons and the canons of the Ecumenical Councils forbid us to pray with schismatics and heretics, be it in private or in Church, as they forbid us, under the penalty of defrockment and excommunication, to permit them to function as clergymen.

Concerning the Church and Holy Tradition.

I believe that the Church is directed by the Holy Spirit. I believe that, in the Church, man cannot invent anything to take the place of revelation, and that the details of the Church's life bear the imprint of the Holy Spirit. Hence, I refuse human reason the right to make clear distinctions between what it thinks to be primary and what secondary. A Christian's moral life can not be dissociated from his piety and his doctrinal confession of faith. I denounce as being contrary to Tradition the dissociation of the Church's profession of Faith from Her administration. By the same token, the Church's disciplinary canons are a direct reflection of Her Faith and Doctrine. I reject any attempt to revise or "purge," "renovate," or "make relevant" Orthodoxy's canonical rules or liturgical texts.

Concerning the Life That is to Come.

I believe in the existence of eternal life. I believe in the Second Coming, that is, the glorious return of the Lord, when He sahll come to judge the living and the dead, and render to each man according to the works that he did while living in the body. I believe in the establishment of the Kingdom of His righteousness. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and I believe that we will be resurrected in the body. I believe that both the Kingdom of God and Hell shall be eternal. I do not transgress the Fourth Commandment when I observe Sunday, the eighth day, the day which prefigures the "new creation," since formerly, before the Incarnation, the primordial perfection of the creation of the world was commemorated by the Sabbath day of rest. By observing Sunday, I confess the new creation in Jesus Christ, which is of greater import and more real than the existing creation which yet bears the wounds of sin.

I believe also that both the righteous and the sinners who are departed now enjoy a foretaste of their final destiny, but that each man shall receive the entirety of what he deserves only at the Last Judgement. God loves not only those who dwell in Paradise, but also those who are in Hell; in Hell, however, the Divine love constitutes a cause of suffering for the wicked. This is not due to God's love but to their own wickedness, which resents this love and experiences it as a torment. I believe that, as yet, neither Paradise nor Hell has commenced in a complete and perfect sense. What the reposed undergo now is the partial judgment, and partial reward and punishment. Hence, for the present, there is also no resurrection of the bodies of the dead. The saints, too, await this eternal and perfect state (even as a "perfect" and everlasting Hell awaits the sinners), for, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul states, "and these all (i.e., all the saints), having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, since God has provided some better thing for us, so that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb. 14:40).

Therefore, all the saints await this resurrection of their bodies and the commencement of Paradise in its perfect and complete sense, as St. Paul declares in the Acts of the Apostles, "I believe all things which are written in the law and in the prophets, and have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust" (Acts 24:14-15). But even though they do not yet partake of their glory fully, the intercessions of the saints are nonetheless efficacious even now, for St. James in his Catholic Epistle, did not say "the effectual prayer of a righteous man shall avail much," but rather, "availeth much" (James 5:16) even now. I believe that Paradise and Hell will be twofold in nature, spiritual and physical. At present, because the body is still in the grave, both the reward and the punishment are spiritual. Therefore, we speak of Hades (i.e., the place of the souls of the dead) because, as such, Hell (i.e., the place of everlasting spiritual and physical torment) has not yet commenced. Hades was despoiled by our Saviour by His descent thither and by His Resurrection, but Hell, on the contrary, shall be eternal. In that day, Christ shall say unto those on the left, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).

This is attested to in the Gospels by the demons also, in the miracle of the healing of the demoniac who lived in the district of the Gadarenes. For, at the approach of our Saviour, the demons cried out, "What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?" Thus, they are not yet in Hell, but they do know that a Day has been appointed when Hell shall commence. I do not believe in "purgatory," but I believe, as the Scriptures attest, that the prayers and fasts made by the living for the sake of the dead have a beneficial effect on the souls of the dead and upon us, and that even the souls that are in darkness are benefited by our prayers and fasts. The public prayers of the Church, however, are reserved exclusively for those who have reposed in the Church. Insofar as it depends upon my own wish, I shall not permit my body to be cremated, but shall specify in my Will that my body be clothed, if possible, in my Baptismal tunic and be buried in the earth from which my Creator took me and to which I must return until the Saviour's glorious Coming and the Resurrection from the dead.

Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Copyright © 2002 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission 

Basic Points of Difference Between the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church

By the Reverend Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, His Eminence IEROTHEOS Vlachos

Translated from Greek by Fr. Patrick B. O'Grady

[Editor's Note: This article compares Catholic Church with Eastern Orthodox (Greek) Church. There are some small difference between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Church within which Syriac Orthodox Church belongs.]

The bishops of Old Rome, beside small and non-essential differences, always held communion with the bishops of New Rome (Constantinople) and the bishops of the East until the years 1009-1014, when, for the first time, the Frankish bishops seized the throne of Old Rome. Until the year 1009 the Popes of Rome and the Patriarchs of Constantinople were unified in a common struggle against the Frankish princes and bishops, already even at that time heretics.

The Franks at the Synod of Frankfurt in 794 condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and the honorable veneration of the holy icons. Likewise in 809 the Franks introduced into the Symbol of the Faith the "Filioque" (Latin: "and the Son"); namely, the doctrine concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit both from the Father and from the Son. Now at that time the Orthodox Pope of Rome condemned this imposition. At the Synod of Constantinople presided over by Photios the Great, at which also representatives of the Orthodox Pope of Rome participated, they condemned as many as had condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and as many as had added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith. However, the Frankish Pope Sergius IV, in the year 1009, in his enthronement encyclical for the first time added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith. Then Pope Benedict VIII introduced the Creed with the Filioque into the worship service of the Church, at which time the Pope was stricken out from the diptychs of the Orthodox Church.

The basic distinction between the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church is found in the doctrine concerning the uncreated nature and uncreated energy of God. Whereas we Orthodox believe that God possesses an uncreated nature and uncreated energy and that God comes into communion with the creation and with man by means of His uncreated energy, the Catholics believe that in God the uncreated nature is identified with His uncreated energy (acrus purus) and that God holds communion with the creation and with man through His created energies, even asserting that in God there exist also created energies. So then the grace of God through which man is sanctified is seen as created energy. But given this, one cannot be sanctified.

From this basic doctrine proceeds the teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son, the cleansing fire, the primacy of the Pope, etc.

Beside the fundamental difference between the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church, in the theme of the nature and energy of God, there are other great differences which have given rise to topics of theological dispute, namely:

--the Filioque, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son with the result that the monarchy of the Father is diminished, the final equality of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is compromised, the Son is diminished in His own character in having been born, if there exists a oneness between Father and Son then the Holy Spirit is subordinated as not equal in power and of the same glory with the other Persons of the Holy Trinity, with the result that He is shown as the "unproductive (steiro) Person,"

--the utilization of unleavened bread in the Divine Eucharist which transgresses the manner with which Christ accomplished the Mystical Supper,

--the consecration of the "precious Gifts" which takes place not with the epiclesis, but rather with the proclamation of Christ's words of institution, "Take, eat . . . drink of it, all of you . . .,"

--the view that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross satisfied the Divine justice, which presents God the Father as a feudal lord and which overlooks the resurrection,

--the view about the "merits" of Christ which the Pope dispenses, along with the "superabundant" grace of the saints,

--the alienation and segmentation placed between the mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Divine Eucharist,

--the doctrine concerning the inheritance of guilt from the ancestral sin,

--the liturgical innovations in all of the mysteries of the Church (Baptism, Chrismation, Ordination, Confession, Marriage, Anointing),

--the practice of not communing the laity in the "Blood" of Christ,

--the primacy of the Pope, according to which the Pope is "episcopus episcoporum (Latin: the bishop of bishops) and the origin of the priesthood and of ecclesiastical authority, that he is the infallible head and the principle leader of the Church, governing it in monarchical fashion as the vicar of Christ on the earth" (I. Karmires). With this concept the Pope views himself as the successor of the Apostle Peter, to whom the other Apostles submit themselves, even the Apostle Paul,

--the non-existence of concelebration in the praxis of worship services,

--the infallibility of the Pope,

--the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Theotokos and the development of the worship of Mary (mariolatria), according to which the All-Holy Virgin is elevated to Triune Deity and even becomes a concept leading to a Holy Quaternity (!),

--the views of analogia entis (analogy of being) and analogia fidei (analogy of faith) which hold sway in the West,

--the unceasing progress of the Church in the discovery of the recesses of revelatory truth,

--the concept concerning the single methodology for the knowledge of God and of creatures, which leads to a blending of theology and epistemology.

Moreover, the great difference in practice, which points out the manner of theology, is found also in the difference between Scholasticism and Hesychastic theology. In the West Scholasticism was expounded as an endeavor to search out the meaning of all the mysteries of the faith by means of logic (Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas). However, in the Orthodox Church hesychasm prevails; namely, the purification of the heart and the illumination of the mind (nous), towards the acquisition of the knowledge of God. The dialogue between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the scholastic and uniate is characteristic and shows the difference.

A consequence of all the foregoing is that we have in Catholicism a decline from Orthodox ecclesiology. Whereas in the Orthodox Church great significance is given to theosis which consists in communion with God, through the vision of the Uncreated Light, then those who behold the Light gather in an Ecumenical Synod and accurately define revelatory truth under conditions of confusion. But in Catholic Church great significance is given to the edict of the Pope; indeed, the Pope even stands over these Ecumenical Synods. Consistent with Latin theology, "the authority of the Church exists only when it is established and put in good order by the will of the Pope. Under a contrary condition it is annihilated." The Ecumenical Synods are seen as "councils of Christianity that are summoned under the authenticity, the authority, and the presidency of the Pope." Whenever the Pope leaves the meeting hall of the Ecumenical Synod, it ceases to have power. Bishop Mare has written, "There would be no Roman Catholics more accurate as those exclaiming, "I believe also in one Pope" than who say "I believe also in one . . . Church."

Furthermore, "the significance and role of the bishops within the Roman church is no more than a simple personification of the papal authority, to which also the bishops themselves submit just as also do the simple faithful." Towards this papal ecclesiology it is essentially maintained that "the apostolic authority left off with the apostles and was not passed on to their successors, the bishops. Only the papal authority of Peter, under which all of the others are found, was passed on to the successors of Peter; namely, the popes." Along with the foregoing it is maintained by the papal "church" that all the churches of the East are secessionist and have deficiencies. It receives us as sister churches into communion by dispensation (kat' oikonomian), since she sees herself as the mother church and sees ourselves as daughter churches.

The Vatican is an earthly power (kratos) and each pope is the wielder of the power of the Vatican. It is a matter of a man-centered organization, a worldly, indeed an especially legalistic and worldly organization. The earthly power of the Vatican was instituted in the year 755 by Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne –even in our own time he was recognized by Mussolini, in 1929. The source of the proclamation of papal worldly power is significant, as Pope Pius XI maintained, "the one who stands in God's stead on earth cannot be obedient to earthly power." Christ was obedient to earthly power, the pope cannot be! The papal authority establishes a theocracy, since theocracy is defined as subsuming both worldly and ecclesiastical authority into one concept. Today we can see theocratic-worldly power in the Vatican and in Iran.

Pope Innocent IV (1198-1216) maintained the characteristic nature of these things in his enthronement speech, "He who has the bride has the bridegroom. However the bride herself (the church) has not been coupled with empty hands, but brings therein an incomparably rich dowry, the fullness of spiritual goods and the expanses of the world's things, the largesse and abundance of both. . . . Your contributions of the worldly things has given me the diadem, the mitre over the priesthood, the diadem for kingdom and it has established me as His representative (antiprosopo), in the garment and on the knee of which it is written: the King of kings and Lord of lords."

Consequently great theological differences exist, which have been condemned by the Synod of Photios the Great and at the Synod of Gregory Palamas, just as it appears in the "Synodikon of Orthodoxy." In addition also the Fathers of the Church and the local synods down to the 19th century condemn all the deceits of papism. The issue is not mollified or improved by a certain typical excuse which the pope would give for an historical error, whenever his theological views were outside of the revelation and the eccesiology is moved into an enclosed course, since of course the pope presents himself as leader of the Christian world, as successor of the Apostle Peter and the Vicar-representative of Christ over the earth, as if Christ would give His authority to the pope and He cease ruling in blessing in the heavens.

source: Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries

7 Sacraments of Syriac Orthodox Church
1. Baptism

2. Holy Moroon (Chrism)

3. Eucharist

4. Priesthood

5. Repentance

6. Matrimony

7. Anointing the Sick 

Orthodox Church

by BBC

Essentially the Orthodox Church shares much with the other Christian Churches in the belief that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and a belief in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Orthodox Church differs substantially in the way of life and worship.

Eastern Orthodox Church

Orthodox Churches

The Orthodox Church is one of the three main Christian groups (the others being Roman Catholic and Protestant). Around 200 million people follow the Orthodox tradition.

It is made up of a number of self-governing Churches which are either 'autocephalous' (meaning having their own head) or 'autonomous' (meaning self-governing).

The Orthodox Churches are united in faith and by a common approach to theology, tradition, and worship. They draw on elements of Greek, Middle-Eastern, Russian and Slav culture.

Each Church has its own geographical (rather than a national) title that usually reflects the cultural traditions of its believers.

The word 'Orthodox' takes its meaning from the Greek words orthos ('right') and doxa ('belief'). Hence the word Orthodox means correct belief or right thinking.

The Orthodox tradition developed from the Christianity of the Eastern Roman Empire and was shaped by the pressures, politics and peoples of that geographical area. Since the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire was Byzantium, this style of Christianity is sometimes called 'Byzantine Christianity'.

The Orthodox Churches share with the other Christian Churches the belief that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and a belief in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Orthodox Church differs substantially from the other Churches in the way of life and worship, and in certain aspects of theology.

The Holy Spirit is seen as present in and as the guide to the Church working through the whole body of the Church, as well as through priests and bishops.

Are Orthodox Churches the same as Eastern Orthodox Churches?

Not all Orthodox Churches are 'Eastern Orthodox'. The 'Oriental Orthodox Churches' have theological differences with the Eastern Orthodox and form a separate group, while a few Orthodox Churches are not 'in communion' with the others.

Not all Churches in the Eastern tradition are Orthodox - Eastern Churches that are not included in the Orthodox group include the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches

The nominal head of the Eastern Orthodox Churches is the Patriarch of Constantinople. However, he is only first among equals and has no real authority over Churches other than his own.

There are 15 'autocephalous Churches', listed in order of precedence.

Churches 1-9 are led by Patriarchs, while the others are led by Archbishops or Metropolitans:

Church of Constantinople (ancient)
Church of Alexandria (ancient)
Church of Antioch (ancient)
Church of Jerusalem (ancient)
Church of Russia (established in 1589)
Church of Serbia (1219)
Church of Romania (1925)
Church of Bulgaria (927)
Church of Georgia (466)
Church of Cyprus (434)
Church of Greece (1850)
Church of Poland (1924)
Church of Albania (1937)
Church of Czech and Slovak lands (1951)
The Orthodox Church in America (1970)

The Orthodox communion also includes a number of 'autonomous Churches':

Church of Sinai
Church of Finland
Church of Estonia*
Church of Japan*
Church of China*
Church of Ukraine*
Archdiocese of Ohrid*

* indicates a Church whose autonomy is recognised by only some of the other Churches

History and schism

The Great Schism

The doctrine of the Christian Church was established over the centuries at Councils dating from as early as 325CE where the leaders from all the Christian communities were represented. The Eastern Church recognizes the authority of the Councils of Nicea 325 CE, Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431) Chalcedon (451) Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680) and Nicaea II (787).

Although initially the Eastern and Western Christians shared the same faith, the two traditions began to divide after the seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 CE and is commonly believed to have finally split over the conflict with Rome in the so called Great Schism in 1054.

In particular this happened over the papal claim to supreme authority and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The break became final with the failure of the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century.

However, in the minds of most Orthodox, a decisive moment was the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the (Western Christian) Fourth Crusade. The sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders eventually led to the loss of this Byzantine capital to the Muslim Ottomans in 1453. This has never been forgotten.

The divisions between the East and Western Churches happened gradually over the centuries as the Roman Empire fragmented.

Eventually, while the Eastern Churches maintained the principle that the Church should keep to the local language of the community, Latin became the language of the Western Church.

Until the schism the five great patriarchal sees were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. After the break with Rome Orthodoxy became 'Eastern' and the dominant expression of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean, much of Asia Minor, Russian and Balkans.

Life and worship

Eastern Christianity stresses a way of life and belief that is expressed particularly through worship. By maintaining the correct form of worshipping God, passed on from the very beginnings of Christianity. Eastern Christians believe that they confess the true doctrine of God in the right (orthodox) way.

The Bible

The Bible of the Orthodox Church is the same as that of most Western Churches, except that its Old Testament is based not on the Hebrew, but on the ancient Jewish translation into Greek called the Septuagint.

The wisdom of the Fathers of the Church is central to the Orthodox way of life as today's inheritors of the "true faith and Church" passed on in its purest form. By maintaining the purity of the inherited teachings of the Apostles, believers are made more aware of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit being present both in history and at the present day.

A life of prayer

At the centre of worship and belief is the Eucharist surrounded by the Divine Offices or the Cycle of Prayer. These prayers are sung particularly at Sunset and Dawn and at certain other times during the day and night.

Personal prayer plays an important part in the life of an Orthodox Christian. For many Orthodox Christians an important form of prayer is the Jesus Prayer. This is a sentence which is repeated many times; for example: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The aim of this repetition is to enable the person to concentrate solely on God.

The strict life of a monk or nun is seen as an important expression of faith.

Mount Athos and Monasticism

Monasticism is a central part of the Orthodox faith. Mount Athos in north-eastern Greece is described as the centre of Orthodox monasticism. It is the only place in Greece completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mountain.

Most monasteries are coenobitic: living a communal life. The peninsula is divided into twenty self-governed territories. Each territory consists of a major monastery and some other monastic establishments that surround it (cloisters, cells, cottages, seats, hermitages).

For monk and nun alike, their spiritual life should follow the same way of living that all Christians try to achieve by following God's commandants. While not being against marriage, it is generally accepted that celibacy in the Church allows for a closer understanding of the Christian life away from worldly things.

Fasting and prayer

Fasting and prayer play an important part of the Orthodox Christian life. Orthodox believe that fasting can be the 'foundation of all good'. The discipline of training the body can enable a believer to concentrate the mind totally on preparation for prayer and things spiritual.

There are four main fasting periods:

  1. The Great Fast or the period of Lent
  2. The Fast of the Apostles: Eight days after Pentecost until 28th June. This ends with the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
  3. The Dormition Fast which begins on 1st August and ends on the 14th August
  4. The Christmas Fast from 15 November to 24th December.

Also all Wednesdays and Fridays are expected to be days of fasting.

Even though today the call to fast is not always strictly followed, nevertheless many devout Orthodox Christians do undergo a time of genuine hardship and it has been said that:

Orthodox Christians in the twentieth century - laity as well as monks - fast with a severity for which there is no parallel in western Christendom...


Sacred Mysteries (sacraments)

The following seven principal Mysteries or sacraments are at the heart of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Baptism and Chrismation

The first two are Baptism and Chrismation. Baptism of adults and infants is by immersion in water three times in the name of the Trinity and is both the initiation into the Church and a sign of forgiveness of sins.

Chrismation follows immediately after baptism and is by anointing with holy oil called Chrism. Chrismation is followed by Holy Communion. This means that in the Orthodox Church babies and children are fully communicant members of the Church.

Chrism can only be consecrated by the Patriarch, or chief Bishop, of the local Church. Some of the old Chrism is mixed with the new, thus linking the newly baptised to their forbears in the faith.

The Chrism is used to anoint different parts of the body with a sign of the cross. The forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears, the chest, the hands and the feet are all anointed. The priest says the words, "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" as he makes the sign of the cross at each point.

The newly baptised Christian is now a layperson, a full member of the people of God (the 'Royal Priesthood'). All Christians are called to be witnesses to the Truth.

Chrismation is linked to Pentecost in that the same Holy Spirit which descended on the apostles descends on the newly baptised.

The Eucharist

The Eucharist, usually called the Divine Liturgy, fulfils the command of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper: "Do this in remembrance of me".

As in many Western churches the Eucharist is a service consisting, in the first part, of hymns, prayers, and readings from the New Testament, and in the second the solemn offering and consecration of leavened bread and wine mixed with water, followed by the reception of Holy Communion.

The Orthodox believe that by the consecration the bread and wine are truly changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Communion is given in a spoon containing both the bread and the wine and is received standing. A sermon is usually preached either after the reading of the Gospel or at the end of the service. At the end of the Liturgy blessed, but not consecrated, bread is distributed to the congregation, and non-Orthodox are often invited to share in this as a gesture of fellowship.

Both parts of the Liturgy contain a procession. At the Little Entrance, the Book of the Gospels is solemnly carried into the sanctuary and at the Great Entrance the bread and wine are carried to the altar for the Prayer of Consecration and Holy Communion.

The prayer of consecration is always preceded by the proclamation of the Nicene Creed, frequently by the whole congregation.

The Orthodox Church lays particular emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, and in the Prayer of Consecration calls on the Father to send down his Holy Spirit to effect the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

There are four different liturgies used throughout the year:

The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (used on Sundays and weekdays)
The Liturgy of St Basil the Great (used 10 times a year)
The Liturgy of St James, the Brother of the Lord (sometimes used on St James' Day)
The Liturgy of the Presanctified (used on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent and on the first three days of Holy Week)


Although the Church is a self-governing community the Church recognises the diaconate, the presbyterate or priesthood and the episcopate (bishops).

The Bishops in the Orthodox Church are considered to be the direct successors of the original Apostles and they are very much a unifying focus in the Church. Priests in the Orthodox Church are permitted to be married but may not marry after ordination. Bishops must always be celibate. Orthodox priests normally do not shave their beards, in accordance with the Bible.

You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.
Leviticus 19:27


All Orthodox Churches use the Mystery of Penance, or Confession, but in Greek speaking Churches only priests who have been blessed by the Bishop as 'Spiritual Fathers' are allowed to hear confession. Children may be admitted to the sacrament of Confession as soon as they are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong.

Through this sacrament sinners may receive forgiveness. They enter into confession with a priest often in an open area in the church (not in a confessional as in the Roman Catholic tradition nor separated by a grille).

Both priest and penitent stand and a cross and book of the Gospels or an icon is placed in front of the penitent with the priest standing slightly apart. This stresses that the priest is simply a witness and that forgiveness comes from God not the priest.

The priest will then hear the confession and perhaps give advice. After confession the penitent kneels before the priest, who places his stole on the penitent's head saying a prayer of absolution.

Anointing of the sick

In Greek-speaking Churches this is performed annually for the whole congregation during Holy Week on the eve of Holy Wednesday. Everyone is encouraged to come forward for anointing with the special oil whether they are physically ill or not. This is because it is generally held that all are in need of spiritual healing even if they are physically well.

Anointing of the sick can also be performed on individuals. People sometimes keep the blessed oil of the sick in their homes.

The Church anoints the sick with oil, following the teaching of St James in his Epistle (5:14-15), "Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins he will be forgiven."

This sacrament,', remarks Sergius Bulgakov, 'has two faces: one turns towards healing, the other towards the liberation from illness by death.
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church


Marriage is celebrated through the rite of crowning, showing the importance of eternal union of the couple. Although marriage is seen as a permanent commitment in life and in death, remarriage and divorce are permitted in certain circumstances.


Icons are of great importance to Orthodox Christians. These beautiful and elaborate paintings are described as "windows into the kingdom of God". They are used in worship both in the decoration of the church and for private homes. The icon is seen as both a form of prayer and a means to prayer.

An icon is usually an elaborate, two dimensional painting. They often have a gold leaf background and are usually on wood. They depict Christ, his mother Mary, scenes from the Bible or the lives of the Saints.

The iconographer prepares for the painting of an icon with prayer and fasting. By worshipping at the Icon the Orthodox Christian enters into a sacred place with God.

The icon is venerated and often candles and oil lamps are burnt before them. The worshipper kisses the icon, making the sign of the Cross and may kneel or prostrate before it.

In most Orthodox churches the Altar, or sanctuary, is separated from the main body of the church by a solid screen (known as the iconostasis), pierced by three doors, the one in the centre being known as the Holy door. The screen is decorated with icons, of which the principal ones are those on either side of the Holy Door of Christ and the Mother of God.

These are normally flanked by icons of St John the Baptist and of the Saint, or Feast, to which the church is dedicated. In Russian churches the iconostasis normally forms a solid wall decorated with four or five rows of icons according to an elaborate traditional arrangement.

The composer Sir John Tavener is one of Britain's most famous followers of Orthodox Christianity and calls icons "the most sacred, the most transcendent art that exists". In this clip he talks about his interpretation of these works of art.

Calendar and Christmas

The Orthodox calendar

After World War I various Orthodox Churches, beginning with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, began to abandon the Julian calendar or Old Calendar, and adopt a form of the Gregorian calendar or New Calendar. The Julian calendar is, at the present time, thirteen days behind the Gregorian Calendar.

Today, many Orthodox Churches (with the exception of Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, and Mount Athos) use the New, Gregorian Calendar for fixed feasts and holy days but the Julian calendar for Easter and movable feasts. In this way all the Orthodox celebrate Easter together.

The Orthodox Church calendar begins on September 1st and ends on August 31st. Each day is sacred: each is a saint's day, so at least one saint is venerated daily.

Orthodox Christmas

Christmas is celebrated by Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe and throughout the world on the 7th of January in the Gregorian Calendar - 13 days after other Christians.

In the East, Christmas is preceded by a 40 day fast beginning on November 15th. This is a time of reflection, self-restraint and inner healing in the sacrament of confession.

Usually, on Christmas Eve, observant Orthodox Christians fast till late evening, until the first star appears. When the star is seen, people lay the table ready for the Christmas supper.

On Christmas Day people take part in divine liturgy, after which many walk in procession to seas, rivers and lakes. Everyone gathers around in the snow for outdoor ceremonies to bless the water. Sometimes rivers are frozen, so people make holes in the ice to bless the water. Some take water home to bless their houses. Then a great feast is held indoors where everyone joins in to eat, drink and enjoy themselves.

A Orthodox Russian custom is to serve Christmas cakes and to sing songs. The tradition is mixed with other pagan traditions of ancient Russia such that people may visit their neighbours in disguises, dance, sing and ask for presents, similar to trick-or-treating.

There are similarities, as well as differences, between the Eastern and Western celebration of Christmas. The Eastern Christmas has a very strong family and social appeal just as it does in the West. It brings people of all generations together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Unlike the West, where Christmas ranks supreme, in the East it is Easter, centred on the cross and the resurrection of Christ, which is the supreme festival of the year. Eastern Orthodox Christmas also lacks the commercial side that is typical of the West.

Source: BBC

The Triumph of Orthodoxy

by St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Christ the Pantocrator. Fresco in the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Christ the Pantocrator.
Fresco in the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

Orthodoxy is the true knowledge of God and reverence of God. Orthodoxy is the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth. Orthodoxy is the glorification of the true God, the knowledge of Him and worship of Him. Orthodoxy is the glorification of God by man, the true servant of God, given to him through the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the glory of the Christian (cf. Jn 7:39).[1] Where there is no Spirit, there is no Orthodoxy.

There is no Orthodoxy in human teachings and philosophies; false reason reigns in them—the fruit of the fall. Orthodoxy is the teaching of the Holy Spirit given by God to man for his salvation. Where there is no Orthodoxy, there is no salvation. "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic [meaning: universal] Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly" (from the Creed of St. Athanasius[2]).

The teaching of the Holy Spirit is a precious treasure! It was taught in the Holy Scriptures and the sacred traditions of the Orthodox Church. The teaching of the Holy Spirit is a precious treasure! In it is the guarantee of our salvation. Our blessed portion in eternity is precious; nothing can take its place, and it is comparable to nothing. The teaching of the Holy Spirit is just as precious, just as high above all other values, and a guarantee of our blessedness.

In order to preserve this guarantee for us, the holy Church recounts today for all to hear the teachings that were spawned and published by satan—teachings which are an expression of his enmity toward God, and which suggest slander concerning our salvation, robbing us of it. The Church rebukes these teachings as we would rebuke wolves seeking prey, deadly snakes, thieves, and murderers. Guarding us from them and calling back from perdition those who were deceived by them, the Church anathematizes those teachings and all who stubbornly adhere to them.

The word anathema means severance, rejection. When the Church anathematizes a teaching, it means that that teaching contains blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of salvation it should be rejected and removed, as poison is removed from food. When a person is anathematized, it means that he has irreversibly adopted a blasphemous teaching, and through them deprives himself and those near him, to whom he has imparted his line of thought, of salvation. When a person has made the commitment to abandon the blasphemous teaching and to receive the teachings upheld in the Orthodox Church, he is obligated, according to the rules of the Orthodox Church, to anathematize the false teaching that he formerly upheld, which was destroying him, alienating him from God, keeping him locked in enmity against God, in blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and communion with satan.

The meaning of anathema is the meaning of the Church's spiritual cure of an illness in the human soul, which causes eternal death. All human teachings cause eternal death if they introduce their own thinking drawn from reason falsely so-called, from carnal mindedness—that common heritage of fallen spirits and men—into the God-revealed teaching about God. Human philosophies introduced into the teachings of the Christian Faith are called heresies, and adherence to these teachings is called evil belief.[3]

Hearing today the dreadful pronouncement of spiritual cure, let us accept it with the true understanding of it; and pressing it to our souls, let us sincerely and decisively renounce those destructive teachings that the Church will strike down with anathema unto the salvation of our souls. If we have always renounced them, then through the voice of the Church let us confirm our renunciation of them. The spiritual freedom, lightness, and strength that we will unfailingly feel within ourselves is a testimony to us of the rightness of the Church’s action, and the truth of the teaching it proclaims.

The Church pronounces:

As we therefore bless and praise those who have obeyed the divine revelation and have fought for it; so we reject and anathematize those who oppose this truth, if while waiting for their return and repentance, they refuse to turn again to the Lord; and in this we follow the sacred tradition of the ancient Church, holding fast to her traditions.

To those who deny the existence of God, and assert that the world is self-existing, and that all things in it occur by chance, and not by the providence of God, Anathema.

To those who say that God is not spirit, but flesh; or that He is not just, merciful, wise and all-knowing, and utter similar blasphemies, Anathema.

To those who dare to say that the Son of God and also the Holy Spirit are not one in essence and of equal honor with the Father, and confess that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not one God, Anathema.

To those who foolishly say that the coming of the Son of God into the world in the flesh, and His voluntary passion, death, and resurrection were not necessary for our salvation and the cleansing of sins, Anathema.

To those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema.

To those who dare to say that the all-pure Virgin Mary was not virgin before giving birth, during birthgiving, and after her child-birth, Anathema.

To those who do not believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and by them taught us the true way to eternal salvation, and confirmed this by miracles, and now dwells in the hearts of all true and faithful Christians, and teaches them in all truth, Anathema.

To those who reject the immortality of the soul, the end of time, the future judgment, and eternal reward for virtue and condemnation for sin, Anathema.

To those who reject all the holy mysteries [sacraments] held by the Church of Christ, Anathema.

To those who reject the Councils of the holy fathers and their traditions, which are agreeable to divine revelation and kept piously by the Orthodox Catholic Church, Anathema. (From the Service of the Sunday of Orthodoxy).[4]

Divine Truth became incarnate to save through Himself us who have perished by accepting and adopting a murderous lie. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (Jn 8:31–32). Only he is faithful to the teachings of Christ who decisively renounces and ever rejects all those teachings once conceived and still being conceived by outcast spirits and lawless people, inimical to Christ's teaching, to God's teaching—slandering its integrity and inviolability. The integrity of the God-revealed teaching is preserved inviolable solely and exclusively in the bosom of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)


[1] (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

[2] Phillip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume II.The History of Creeds (Harper & Brothers: 1877). pp. 66–71.

[3] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Homily 1.

[4] In the rite can also be found these pronouncements:
To those who mock and profane the holy images and relics which the holy Church receives as revelations of God's work and of those pleasing to Him, to inspire their beholders with piety, and to arouse them to follow these examples; and to those who say that they are idols, Anathema.
To those who dare to say and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ did not descend to earth, but only seemed to; or that He did not descend to the earth and become incarnate only once, but many times, and who likewise deny that the true Wisdom of the Father is His only-begotten Son, Anathema.
To the followers of the occult, spiritualists, wizards, and all who do not believe in the one God, but honor the demons; or who do not humbly give their lives over to God, but strive to learn the future through sorcery, Anathema.

The word anathema means severance, rejection. When the Church anathematizes a teaching, it means that that teaching contains blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of salvation it should be rejected and removed, as poison is removed from food.


Orthodoxy - A Thinking Man's Faith

by Benedict Seraphim

One does not normally associate theoretical or intellectual rigor with Orthodoxy. By that I don't mean that Orthodoxy is incoherent, or doesn't stand up to rigorous philosophical inquiry. After all, among the most brilliant of thinkers in the history of the Church are the Cappadocians, St. Maximus, and St. Gregory Palamas (who, I hasten to say aren't Orthodoxy's unique property, but are nonetheless integral to Orthodoxy in the way St. Augustine is to the West).

But Orthodoxy is not a tight, architectonic system like Calvinism, nor does it have the sort of Aristotelian philosophical grid that Roman Catholicism post-Aquinas has. Orthodoxy's greatest thinkers share no such system or grid.

No, in fact, Orthodoxy has, as Vladimir Lossky's book title puts it, a mystical theology. Which simply means that Orthodoxy thinks in terms of her experience of the revelation of God in Christ. Orthodoxy is quintessentially an experiential religion. She thinks with her mind, but with a mind that has descended into her heart.

This is why, when I have spoken about my reasons for attraction to the Orthodox Church in the past, those reasons derived from the experience of the Faith. In December 2003, I finished up a nine-part post on the reasons I was attracted to Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church honors the past, respects the present, has a consistent theology, has the fullness of the Christian faith, has both an existential and objective worship and askesis, makes claims that are historically and objectively verifiable and theologically valid, and unites the home and family in the Church. Six months later, I added an additional post on my relief that Orthodoxy not only tells me what salvation is, but shows me how to acquire it. Today, nearly a year after that last post, and more than a year and a half since the last post of the original series, I want to add yet one more post answering,

Why Orthodoxy?

And today I want to talk about Orthodoxy in terms of intellectual consistency.

Let me say it clearly and starkly: Orthodoxy has a purity of thought unmatched by the Roman Catholic Church and by all of Protestantism. I don't mean Orthodoxy has never had heretics. No, in fact, some of Orthodoxy's heretics were the most highly-placed of her hierarchy. Rather, I mean that if one conforms one's mind to Orthodoxy one will quite literally never go wrong.

Of course, this might seem tautological. After all, Orthodoxy is right belief. It also might seem to beg the question. After all, if one assumes Orthodoxy to be true, then of course anything that doesn't match up is false. But then: Is Orthodoxy true? That's the question being begged.

Although I won't offer an apologetic for the Orthodox Church here, let me say that such an apologetic is not hard to come by on the net, and there are a plethora of books one can consult. One will find that Orthodoxy's claims are historically verifiable and logically valid. Furthermore, experience will also bear out the claims of the Orthodox Church to be the Church.

But one can also think through some of Orthodoxy's claims and show their internal consistency and coherence, and also show how the opposing beliefs of other churches are internally inconsistent and/or logically invalid. A couple of examples should suffice.

Take the filioque of the Western churches' Creed.

Applied to the essential nature of the Godhead, the filioque falls apart. If, for the Son to be of one essence with the Father, it is necessary that He share in the eternal procession of the Spirit, then the Spirit cannot be of the same essence of the Father and the Son. Nor does this work if one posits that the Spirit is the hypostatic love between Father and Son, for this also fails to establish one essence of the Holy Spirit with the Father. In other words, the filioque fails to properly establish the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit. In all configurations, the Holy Spirit must be of a composite nature of that of the Father and the Son, and different than that of both of Them.

In short, the Holy Spirit becomes an attenuated appendage to the bi-unity of the Father and the Son.

Now don't misunderstand me. I do recognize that Western churches who have adopted the filioque explicitly reject these entailments. Indeed, they must do so if they would continue to claim the name of Christ. But it doesn't erase the fact that their adoption of the filioque places their theology in a fundamentally compromised light. Indeed, for the reasons noted above (as well as because the filioque was never accepted by the whole Church), the filioque itself is heresy. And if one admits heresy into one's theology, one will continually be shoring up that theology to keep the heresy from rotting things out from the inside. And one can't get any more inside Christianity's core beliefs than the Trinity.

The Orthodox Church avoids these problems by teaching that the unity of the Trinity is preserved in the monarche of the Father. In that the Father causes the Son and causes the Holy Spirit, both Son and Holy Spirit share in the nature of the Father and are of the same essence. Orthodoxy never had a Pentecostal or Charismatic movement as the West did, because for more than fifteen hundred years it had a robust theology of the Holy Spirit, having rejected the filioque.

But it's not just the filioque. The Western understanding of original sin brings the same heretical entailments. Orthodoxy, of course, believes in original sin–but not the sort that arose out of Augustinianism in the West. In the West, through the development of St. Augustine's teachings, original sin is not just understood in the corruptibility and mortality to which human nature was subjected via Adam's sin, but is understood as the moral guilt and sin which is inherited with that corruptibility and mortality through the concupiscence of the sexual act of procreation. This results in a view of human nature, willing and personhood which entails that all human willing must ultimately be sinful (since the very nature from which that will operates is itself sinful, and a will cannot become something that it's nature is not), and that necessitates an identification of person with nature. This results in a soft determinism (compatibilism) in which humans always choose their strongest inclination at the moment of willing, which for sinful humanity will always entail sin, since the strongest inclination of human natures is always sin. Even good acts–giving alms, prayer–are ultimately suffused with sin, since pride and the self are at the core of their intentions.

There are a host of problems with this. First and foremost, the Western understanding of original sin fails to account for how Adam, who was created with a sinless nature, but capable of sin, did, in fact, sin. For even if sin was possible to Adam, it was not necessary, and given Adam's uncorrupt nature at the moment of his willing to sin, his greatest inclination, according to his nature, should have been for God. But it wasn't. This soft determinism doesn't explain Adam's sin.

To explain that sin, under the Western rubric, free will can only be actualized in a choice involving opposition (good vs. evil). Adam, from a sinless nature, indeterminately chose sin (since there would have been no necessary cause in his nature that would have moved his will to sin), in which case, free will is predicated upon a relation of opposition thus making free will the necessary cause for evil. Indeed, it also requires that there necessarily not be free will in the eschaton, for if there were, then God, to make possible free will's actuality, will necessarily have to make possible a choice between good and evil, and this will ultimately result in an endless chain of potential Falls. So the only way to guard against sin in the eschaton is to take away any opportunity for the exercise in free will, which is the same thing as eliminating free will.

Compatibilists will argue that free will is compatible with natural determination of the will, that is to say, the will always freely wills in the direction of its strongest inclination; but this only strengthens the problems in Christology. For if Christ's human nature was free of original sin for Christ to be sinless (which it would have to be, according to the Western understanding of original sin), then for Christ's will to be truly free, he would have to be given the opportunity to choose between good and evil, else he could never have been tempted in all way such as we are.

But since such free will must be indeterminate, then either we have the case that it will always remain possible for Christ's human will to sin (which means that Christ's human nature is not fixed in virtue), or Christ did not have human free will (in the libertarian sense that Adam had free will), or Christ's divine will subsumed his human will (in the compatibilist sense of human free will). The first option is a problem, because this calls into question the union of the human and divine natures in Christ's person. The second option is a problem because Christ could not have undone the consequences of Adam's Fall apart from free will. And the third option results in the heresy of monothelitism.

In fact, under the Western rubric of original sin, eternal destinies are decided by God alone in his inscrutable decrees. The logical entailment is as stark as it is intuitively horrifying: God creates some persons for heaven and some persons for hell.

Orthodoxy, however, avoids these problems altogether, by understanding that all that God creates is good, including human nature and free will. Though postlapsarian humans are born with original sin, this original sin is the capacity for corruption and mortality that is part of unredeemed human nature. Though human nature has been compromised by Adam's fall, that nature in no way necessitates that we sin. That humans do sin, then, is not directly a result of their fallen human nature, but is rather the direct result of the failure of their deliberative will.

That is to say, as a result of deliberation humans take an apparent good for a real good, and mistakenly choose the apparent good. Free will, then, does not necessitate a relation of opposition, but only a deliberation among multiple goods. In a fallen world, apparent goods ultimately entail sin, since they are a rejection of the real good. But in the eschaton all goods will be real, and there will be no need for deliberation. So, in orthodoxy, free will is good, but the deliberative use of that will can be either good or evil–the use being completely up to the person so willing.

Christ, however, did not need the deliberative will. Like all humans, he had a human nature and a human will, and like all humans, his will was free to choose among different acts. The difference however, which results from his mode of existence as the incarnate God-man, is that Christ's human nature and will were deified in the union with his divine nature and will and he had no need to deliberate between apparent and real goods. His personal choice to act made use of his human will such that he always chose the real goods available to him. Unlike Adam and unlike humans prior to the eschaton, in his Person, Christ was fixed in virtue: all his thoughts and acts were good. His divine nature had deified his human nature. But like Christ, regenerated humans in the eschaton will be fixed in virtue, we will be deified through our hypostatic union with God in Christ. Thus all our willing will be according to our natures, which natures are divinized, and our wills will freely choose among multiple goods, about which there will be no need of deliberation.

In other words, in Orthodoxy, the deliberative will is the mode of willing peculiar to the un-deified mode of existence unique to humans prior to the eschaton. Such a deliberative mode of willing is not, in itself, evil, since it was the mode of willing given to Adam in the garden, and through which mode Adam, had he so chosen freely, would have been fixed in virtue and been deified in Christ. Indeed, it is precisely this use of the deliberative will prior to the eschaton which fixes either in virtue or in vice, the humans who make use of it. This explains both why it is possible to fall away from God after regeneration and why it is possible to reach a point in which repentance is no longer possible; i. e., why humans choose hell and remain fixed in that choice for all eternity.

Thus, in Orthodoxy, the cause of sin is properly placed not in God, for all his gifts are good, but in the creatures He has created who use that good gift to reject God, not for another objective evil but for another apparent good. It is also places the responsibility for our personal eternal destinies in our hands, for all our accumulated choices arising from our countless deliberative moments in this life, are ultimately our own authorship of our character and and fate.

These are only two examples–and though it may not seem like it, only the most summarized of examples at that–among many that could be noted. For instance, the consistency in the West on the insistence of the absolute simplicity of God, the doctrine of created grace, and the overemphasis on forensic justification necessitated by original sin.

This is not to say that Orthodoxy smooths out all intellectual difficulties. After all, theodicy is a recalcitrant matter which does not admit of easy resolution. But Orthodox theodicy is able to honestly admit the difficulties without implicating God in them. That, in itself, is a huge advance over the logical entailments of original sin. But it is to say that the difficulties one encounters in Orthodoxy are difficulties that result from the finiteness of human reason in its attempt to understand the divine and not from the arguments of human reason itself.

© 2010, Journey To Orthodoxy.  All rights reserved.

The Gift of Orthodoxy

by Elizabeth Huestis

St. Paul speaks of being “an Apostle out of due time”

in the sense that he did not know Jesus first-hand, and did not travel around with Jesus the way that the other Apostles did. Yet God chose him particularly to have a special and useful place in the Church. In the same way, converts are not natural inheritors of Orthodoxy in the same way as are those people born in traditionally Orthodox countries and cultures. But God takes us from all sorts of places, adopting us in a special way, making us a part of His Church in a way that we would have no natural inherited right to. (Someone born Greek or Serbian or Russian would normally inherit Orthodoxy.)

Because God has chosen to give us Orthodoxy outside of normal means, perhaps we tend to cherish it more and also to feel the obligation to share it with those who do not have the gift and also to help those who have inherited it to understand and appreciate it better. This becomes more true when in retrospect it is possible to see that our becoming Orthodox was not just a chance occurrence, not something that we stumbled into blindly by ourselves, but something that God planned out and manipulated starting many, many years before we had even the smallest idea anything was happening. Let me give you an example by telling a bit about what happened in my case. The part that I wrote to you before was rather the third act of the drama and the climax, but did not show all the careful and patient preparation that God did for so many years.

We had a most unusual parish priest during my teen years. He taught the high school religion class and gave us a thorough grounding in early Church history, and for a Catholic priest, gave an amazingly honest appraisal of the politics involved in creating the break between East and West. He also told us that the TRUTH was an absolute quantity which could stand any amount of searching, questioning and probing. He insisted that we should search, think, question everything. Also, he created a “model” parish.

People came from all over California to see us during Sunday Mass because the entire congregation could sing the Mass or make the responses in Latin if the Mass was being spoken instead of sung. This gave a clear sense of participation and involvement with the main worship service and pointed out clearly the position of primary importance of Holy Communion. Then, once a year, on the feast of the Ascension of our Lord, he placed an Iconostasis in the church and had the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom performed in a different language Greek, Slavonic, Syrian, Arabic and Aramaic. Some people were indifferent, some disliked it, but I positively loved the Liturgy right from the first time.

After finishing university, I had an opportunity to study abroad for a year. I wanted to go to Japan and was accepted to study there, but God intervened and I ended up in Sweden instead for a year. There I became fascinated by all the beautiful Russian icons in the museums and when an opportunity came to travel during the spring holidays, I travelled to Russia. On the way, we were taken to Vespers in a Russian Orthodox Church in Helsinki. Then, in Moscow, the leader of the tour had tried to arrange for us to go to the Pascha Liturgy. We trudged miles through the snow to get to one of the few open churches left there. It was an amazing experience.

We got there at about midnight. There were people everywhere, almost solid for about two blocks around the church. It was a real effort to make our way up to the church through this throng. Then we were confronted by mounted police guarding the area and a huge wrought – iron fence about 12 feet high. We were told that we should have had our passports with us in order to be admitted, so someone went back to the hotel to fetch them. The rest of us waited. Every so often, the gate would open and a few people, foreign visitors like ourselves, would leave.

We were fortunate that some of the students in our group could speak Russian so they talked with people standing around with and were told that the church was already full and there was no more room for anyone, that is why they were not permitted in. But one wing was reserved for foreign visitors, and that was where we waited. One girl in our group slipped in the gate as some visitors were let out. She held a rosary with a crucifix on it and gestured that she wanted to go in the church.

After much discussion by the 10 or so people who grabbed her, she was finally allowed in. I decided that if she could get in, perhaps I could too, and for some reason, I wanted very much to get into that church. There was nothing logical about it, it was a compulsion. The next time the gate opened, I slid in, and was grabbed even more roughly than my friend had been. They looked at the large silver cross that I was wearing and finally allowed me to enter. It was so beautiful. The chanting was unearthly.

We stood there for over three hours and finally about 4 am, left and made our way back to our hotel. The service was not finished but we just felt unable to keep standing anymore. Bright Monday, the “Intourist” guide collected us all after breakfast (the only day in Russia that we did not have boiled eggs for breakfast) and she told us that in Russia mistakes don’t happen, but that it was not going to be possible for us to see the factory we were scheduled to see! Instead, there was only one thing that she could arrange at such short notice, a visit to an old monastery 50 miles outside the city.

That is how we ended up at the Holy Trinity Lavra at Zagorsk. Zagorsk, the monastery established by St. Sergius and considered by many to be the holiest place in all Russia. But of course, I didn’t know that then. I only knew that it was a very beautiful, peaceful place and that the people from the town seemed extraordinarily full of faith for being in a Communist country.

A friend had picture postcards with various churches and monasteries and for some reason gave some out to the ladies standing around after the service. People seemed to materialise from everywhere and want one. In the end, she gave them all away, while the ladies stood in groups eagerly comparing and seeing which church each one had received a picture of. They seemed almost like a group of small children who had just been given lollies than ladies in their fifties and sixties. After we saw the church, a Russian lady saw that I was wearing, a cross, hurried home, and upon returning, smilingly presented me with a dark red egg.

After we returned to Sweden, my fiancé and I found a small antique shop in Stockholm selling Russian icons that had been taken out of Russia by a friend of the proprietor. In this way, we acquired a beautiful 19th century icon, the “Mother of God, Joy of all who Sorrow”. We had intended the purchase as an investment to be sold when we married in order to help set up house. But somehow, we could never bring ourselves to sell it.

Much later, we were told by a Russian Orthodox friend that he knew of several cases where people had bought icons as a “piece of art” or as an investment, but after living with the icon, became Orthodox.

When we came to Australia, my husband began lecturing at the university. Years later, he had a Greek young man in one of his classes providing someone for us to talk to when Robert began to ask questions about Orthodoxy. This very serious young man was just the right person to explain things because he wanted to become a priest. Christos became the nonos (godfather) for our whole family when we became Orthodox. And even though he wanted to go to Greece to study for the priesthood, things kept happening, various papers were lost, or misplaced, red tape everywhere, so that he was able to be with us for the first year after our Chrismation.

Christos finally went to Greece, completed 3 years of study for a degree in theology and became a monk on the Holy Mountain. Last year, he became a deacon. Now he is called Fr. Theonas.

When we finally began attending the Divine Liturgy at St. George’s in spite of all the difficulties and spiritual confusion that I told you about in a previous letter, in a way it was like coming home, I remembered from my childhood the peace and beauty of the Liturgy and remembered “Kyrie Eleison” [Lord have mercy) and "Sie Kyrie" [to Thee, 0 Lord]. They stood out like bright beacons of something remembered and understood and saved as a bridge over into the fullness of Orthodoxy. Obviously, God planned everything right from the beginning, but it took about 30 years from the first experience with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom until the final conclusion of being Orthodox.

Many people might say that these were all odd, isolated, or random happenings, but I don’t think so. Behind everything always the hand of God nudges and prods, like a Fisherman slowly and carefully gathering in His net until He has each one of us precisely where He wants us. His slow, patient, careful planning, the years of inexorable, diligent pursuit are almost terrifying in their intensity. It says something to us very clear and real about His love for us and His determination to save us in spite of ourselves. No wonder that Christ is portrayed sometimes in the West as the Hound of Heaven, relentlessly pursuing souls with the same unswerving determination displayed by a bloodhound after its prey.

The amazing thing is that there are so many of us and yet God goes to such trouble over each one on a very individual basis. What incredible value He must place on each of us to go to so much trouble on our account.

Source: © 2011, Journey To Orthodoxy, All rights reserved.


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