Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Liturgical Life: Lex Orandi Lex Credendi

I came across this blog entry and I was reading through it all the points being presented resonate on many of the previous posts looking on the liturgical life and how to approach liturgy, Eucharist, prayer and everything that encompasses a life that becomes the icon of Christ as we all become icons by living Christ out all in all. Excellent post again taking ideas from many modern theologians like Father Matthew the Poor and Father Alexander Schmemann. Enjoy and pray for me:

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Role of the Bishop

                      (In order) Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch Shenouda III, Patriarch Theodorus II.

The role of the bishop is vital and important to understand because the dynamic of the church and community is central to the role of the bishop. The bishop in the early part of the church was the overseer the Greek word donated for the bishop was episkopos. The bishop if understood and viewed as the overseer the question becomes what was he the overseer of exactly? In our modern notion a bishop is given over to a dioceses. The romantic portrayal today associates the bishop being married to his dioceses and once married the bishop then becomes the living representation of God to the entire community through his service. This point of view speaks correctly in that the bishop represents God and in representing God he has a duty to take care of his community through the appointment of presbyters and deacons who take care of services and pastoral need of the congregation. St. Ignatius stresses this point to the community when he says "follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the father; and follow the presbytery as you would the apostles". Ignatius stresses the point here that the Bishop represents God as Christ follows the Father. In doing so we must respect and listen to the bishop as Christ followed God the Father. In doing so the Bishop then becomes a great form of service not because of the ecclescial rank but rather because the bishop is in complete submission to his service just like Christ was in complete submission to the will of the Father. This leaves the office of teaching and taking care of the people to the presbytery because as Ignatius puts it they represents the apostles. The apostles were the ones appointed by Christ to go to the ends of the world to preach and baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28.19-20 RSV). Priests then are to be respected because they not only represent the bishop when the bishop is not present but are given the gifr to teach and to lead the congregation in the unity of Christ body.               

The following are a few passages from the letters of Ignatius speaking on the bishopric, presbytery and the diaconate:

All of you should follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father; and follow the presbytery as you would the apostles. Respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no one do anything involving the church without the bishop. Let that Eucharist be considered valid that occurs under the bishop of the one to whom he entrusts (the presbytery=priests) it. Let the congregation be wherever the bishop is; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there also is the universal church. It is not permitted either to baptize or to hold a love feast without the bishop. But whatever he approves is acceptable to God, so that everything you do should be secure and valid (Chapter 8).

Finally, it is reasonable for us to return to sobriety, while we still have time to repent to God. It is good to know both God and the bishop. The one who honors the bishop is honored by God; the one who does anything behind the bishop's back serves the devil. Let all things abound to you on grace, for you are worthy. You have loved me when absent as well as when present. God is your recompense; if you endure all thinks for his sake, you will attain to him (Chapter 9).

Taken from St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Church of the Smyrnaeans 

Patriarch Shenouda III, Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch Theodorus II, Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Armeya.

These pictures of Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch Shenouda III and Patriarch Theodosius II, I choose to show because it demonstrates the common factor that brings these bishops together; Christ. Christ is the uniting factor. Christ great commission is what allows for these pious men who have devoted there entire lives to Christ to come together out of love for each other. Out of there common love for each other all three take care of the community they are given to and there work is made manifest throughout the world. Keep these bishops and all bishops in your prayers.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Eulogy for Father Matthew The Lamp of Scetis

I was reading the Coptic Church Review (2006 issue volumes 3 and 4) which happened to be dedicated to Father Matthew the Poor. He reposed in the Lord June of that same year. The Coptic Review to honor his memory dedicated the entire quarterly about his life and work within the church. In the middle of those writings Dr. George Bebawi, a modern Coptic Theologian, and a student of the late Pope Cyril (Kirolos) the 6th, wrote an Elegy for Father Matthew. I thought I would share the beauty spoken through the thoughts of Dr. Bebawi. The following is taken from the Coptic Church Review Quarterly 2006 Volume 27 Issue 3 and 4 pages 101-102:

In the quiet seas of the sane of Scete
You sleep like its eternal rocks
The rocks are silent
Your lips no longer speak
Your death now speaks louder

Before you the old theology of the isolated church
Battered by storms from inside and out
The greatness of Christ went under tons of folklore  
The love of God was buried under false teaching

We loved our darkness and thought it is light
We loved our isolation and considered it holiness
We even believed that we are the only true Christians
Christ became the property of the Copts

It is hard to say to the blind that the sun is shining
It is impossible to convince the deaf
That the world is full of great melodies
It is shameful to say that we are the best Christ
As if God was a prisoner of our worship
As if the Holy and Divine Trinity resigned his ministry  

From the womb of the divine providence you were born
Like many of our great ones
For you, like them, solitude became bread
Never once you replied to insults
Like a lamb you lived
Like a lion you preached the gospel

Being a mystic you opened for us the highest level of awareness
Our decaying Christian Arabic received new words
For you faith was a revelation of the Person of Christ
From Christ we receive divine life
Deification was very new to us
Fear of Islam had reduced Jesus to a collection of ideas
Legalism filled our empty life
Replaced the grace of God in Christ
It is not false to call you the Dawn of our history
The light that shined in our inner life

Before you the Holy Spirit was known by name
Truly the Holy Spirit was in our prayers
But you came to tell us that his Hypostasis lives in us
Many of our little ones were disturbed
They wanted to speak only of the Charisma's
They never had one Charisma to share with us
It goes back to the fear of God indwelling in us
They believed in Allah who abhors our humanity
The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ loves to be in us
His love makes us loved like his Son
This love was too much to be proclaimed in Egypt
Where, since the days of the pyramids our humanity has been crushed

Your writings remind us of the beautiful branches of a tress
In the heat of the summer of Egypt
Many will sit under their shade
Many will eat from their divine food
Many will regret that they never met you

Believing in the written words as the treasure of the future
We write, as you said once, for the coming generations
We have to put into their hands our tools
You opened our mind to the universal Christian heritage
A minf that has perceived freedom
A mind that has received the light of Christ
Will never go back to the darkness of slavery to ignorance

You will not hear these words
As you are now plunged in the sea of divine love
But like you I wrote this for the coming generation
In the coming years your greatness will shine

Dr. George Habib Bebawi was the Director of Orthodox Christian studies at Cambridge University in England.
He is presently teaching in universities in the U.S.A.

                                                           Dr. George Bebawi

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Unity in the (ONE) Body of Christ

The early church held on to a tradition and still holds on to this tradition which was passed down from the apostles themselves. The notion of community was vital for the growth of the church and the members of the community. When the church was disembodied there was disorder to the point that Paul the Apostle had to remind the communities that the body of Christ is held together with the gathering of the community. The body of Christ is then not broken into "two" but rather the gathering of the ONE community represented the body of Christ. Two events occurred in the community of Corinth and in the region of Ephesus where we see Paul writing to them to urge them to maintain the one body of Christ.   

For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 1 Cor 11.18-22 RSV.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. Eph 1.1-6 RSV.

To the community in Corinth there was a division over the Eucharist and Paul urged them to stop this division. Paul then goes on (if you read the verses that come after) to tell them of the tradition which was passed down to him by the other apostles instructing them how the body and blood of Christ was not divided but received within the gathered community. When Christ instituted this he did not have half the apostles with him but everyone was gathered. Paul then goes on to remind the people in Corinthians that they should not be divided over silly matters but become united in the one body which is the uniting factor between the community and Christ. This message becomes more emphasized when Paul writes to the community in Ephesus telling them to maintain the spirit which was handed down by the one Lord, One faith, One baptism, one God. The point is that there is no division in Christ but rather the community comes together in the one body of Christ. Therefore, we must be very careful not to divide this unity which Christ has given us.

Unfortunately, today many communities celebrate many liturgies (at the same time) within the ONE community forgetting that by doing this the body of Christ is broken. Unity needs to be maintained in order that the body is not broken up or divided for the sake of the "big" community. Many wonder why there are multiple liturgies (occurring at the same time) within one community? I would suggest the community splitting up if it is too big and start another church elsewhere were the need is needed for pastoral care. A church should never exceed more than 250 people. If we are to maintain the ONE body of Christ then that applies to everything within the church. One Church, one priest, one body of Christ, one community, one faith and one love. How can someone be part of a community if they when look to their right then look to their left and does not know the person they stand beside? The unity of the body of Christ is important to maintain the unity of the community. The following are two passages that speak on the unity of the one body of Christ. The first is a passage from Ignatius of Antioch writing to the community in Philadelphia right before his martyrdom in the city of Rome (Ignatius would have been in communication with John the Theologian). The second passage is taken from the English website of St. Macarius Monastery in the desert of Egypt. The reason I show these two passages because Ignatius is writing the same message Paul preached while the monastery starts out by saying how they maintain what the desert fathers have always taught.      

And so be eager to celebrate just one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup that brings the unity of His blood, and one altar, as there is one bishop together with the presbyter and the deacons, my fellow slaves. Thus, whatever you do, do according to God. (Ignatius of Antioch writing to the church in Philadelphia Chapter 4).

Following the tradition  of the desert fathers, we celebrate the Eucharist liturgy only once a week, on Sunday morning. It begins with an office of praise at two o'clock, ends at about eight o'clock and is followed by an agape meal. Our community is transformed by this celebration of the Eucharist from a purely human gathering into the actualization of the Body of Christ. This is why the liturgy, for us, cannot be said by an individual, or even by a section of the community; it is essentially the meeting of the whole community, gather together as the Church around the Lamb offered at His wedding feast (Rev. 19.9). (Taken from the main page of St. Macarius Monastery when asked about the Eucharist Liturgy).

St. Cyprian of the unity of the Church: 

God is one and Christ is one, and his Church and faith are one, and the people joined together with the glue of concord into the unbroken unity of a body. It is not possible for the unity to be rent asunder, nor the one body to be divided by the tearing apart of the structure, nor to be torn into fragments with the violent rending apart of its vital organs. Whatever splits off from the parent tree is not able to live and breathe apart from it. It loses the essential nature of health. Page 178. 

Recommended reading: 

St. Cyprian of Carthage has two excellent books on the Church and one section of the book deals with the unity of the Church. If interested you can order the his two books of the Popular Patristic Series from SVS. The following is a link to the SVS website:

SVS Seminary Press 

Selected Treatises of the Church  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The study of Theology: Living out Theology

The study of theology begins with the cross. Studying theology initiates with the opening of Scripture and the breaking of bread. The opening of Scripture and breaking of bread was revealed to the disciples is the same participation that Orthodox Christians live by in the liturgical life. Scriptures have been revealed and understood through the crucified Lord. The comprehension of the cross illuminates to the believer that in light of the cross Scripture was understood through the veil that blinded the nations. After the cross and the tearing of the veil scripture is recognized in light of Christ through his death. Therefore, when we come to know Christ through the cross we will not see our past as being negative but rather we can now interpret our understanding of the present in light of Christ bringing us to this comprehension as He has lead us from our past to encounter him through His cross. Life is gained through death and our understanding of life turns to the beauty of creation and as a continual participation in all of creation.  

It is through death that one gains life. It is through sin that humans become broken healers in the world. Becoming broken healers to others is vital because we then start to see the beauty and light in all of creation that God has crafted and we are to partake of His creation within the capabilities that have been bestowed on us. To deepen our participation in His creation we must grow an appreciation in Christ through his last public image on the cross. Now that Scripture has been opened and revealed through the cross we can open Scripture and be aware of Christ throughout all of Scripture. By profoundly understanding who Christ is we can live out His theology to the rest of the world. The theology that one is called to live out culminates in the Eucharistic participation of the gathered community in the one body of Christ. By opening Scripture, the breaking of bread and living out ones theology we begin to see the light in the world, in ourselves through the mystery of Christ. If this is how we are to understand theology in the manner culminating in the cross then the natural conclusion is to glorify God in our bodies.

The body and the flesh denote two different attributes within one essence of the body. This might seem like a contradiction however, the body and the flesh does not lead to bad actions. Paul speaks of good characteristics for the flesh (cf. 1 Gal 1.6; 2 Cor 10.3). It is sin that makes the flesh fall into a corrupt nature. The importance of flesh is crucial because the Word had to take flesh and to die in order to defeat death. A turning point as to why the Word took flesh was fundamental so that we can know Him through the opening of Scripture and breaking of bread. Human begins were created in the image and likeness of God in fleshy beings but more notably they were created to know God through his Word. We are then stuck in our present state because we choose to stir away from the goodness of creation and in doing so we lost sight of God and sought after senseless passions. In order to get back to the original state of knowing God we have to discipline the mind to get to know God in the state we were previously in. That previous state is not about killing the body but rather training the mind to see the body in the proper way. The body is important because through our spiritual struggle we will then be able to glorify God who created us in his image and likeness. The body then one can conclude is not only involved in our struggle for salvation but is the very means of accomplishing salvation. Only then can we say into thy hands do I commend thy spirit Oh Lord. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Monastery (St. Macarius) and Christian Unity

The monastery of St. Macarius and its views on Christian Unity. This is take from there main page on the English portion of the website. The link will be provided at the bottom:

In our monastery we live out fully the unity of the Church in spirit and in truth, in anticipation of its visible attainment ecclesiastically. Through our genuine openness of heart and spirit to all men, no matter what their confession, it has become possible for us to see ourselves, or rather Christ, in others. For us, Christian unity is to live together in Christ by love. Then divisions collapse and differences disappear, and there is only the One Christ who gathers us all into His holy Person.

Theological dialogue must take place, but we leave this to those who are called to it. For ourselves, we feel that the unity of the Church exits in Christ and that we therefore discover in Him the fulness of unity in the measure in which we are united to Him. "If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor 5.17). And in this new creation there is no multiplicity but "one new man" (Eph 2.15). Although we practice our Orthodox faith, and are aware of all the truth and spiritual riches it contains, we still recognize that in Christ "there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all" (Col 3.11). Whole wounds in the Body of Christ exist, we would offer our lives daily in sacrifice for the reconciliation of the Churches.

We have found in the religious life the best means of attaining union with Christ and hence the best way of fulfilling that new creation which gathers men "of every nation, race, people and tongue" (Rev 7.9) into unity of spirit and heart. This has been a clear feature of the monastic life in Scetis since the beginning. The particular gift of St. Macarius was that, as a spiritual director, he was able to gather together men of conflicting temperaments, different social classes and diverse races. Among his spiritual sons were Abba Moses, a Nubian bandit, alongside Arsenius, a Roman philosopher and tutor to the children of the emperor, illiterate Egyptian peasants side by side with the princes Maximus and Domadius. And they all lived in perfect spiritual harmony through the great spirit of love which was the life breath of St. Macarius, and was passed on by him to contemporaries and then to this spiritual heirs up to our own time.

It is our hope that the desert of Scetis will become once more the birth of good will, reconciliation and unity between all the people on earth in Christ Jesus.    

Home Page of St. Macarius Monastery (English version)

Also the following is a documentary about the monastery: 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Church is Mission

                                                  Photo taken by Leanne Parrott

This next entry is something that came to mind as I read the last chapter in Father Alexander Schmemann's book "For the Life of the World". Think of it as a regression from the book as my weak thoughts are being written on something that was sparked after reading this first part in the chapter. 

The church in its entirety then must be understand and lived out as a mission. The church is the mission to the world. This then begs the question why are there churches within Orthodoxy that are termed “mission” while others are not? There can be many reasons for this but the one reason that stood out was based on the fact that the church still holds on to the ethnically minded approach that was brought with the church from which ever country one came from (Greece, Russia, Egypt etc). If we cannot drop our “ethnicity” (and I mean this by saying by not accepting others) then the church will cease to be a mission church. The church will cease to be a church at all. How can a church be a church when it caters to the ones who have received the message and know of the good news? The church by not accepting “others” has lead to this dynamic of “mission” churches being created and this destroys the dynamic of the church. This tension evolves between the “us” and “them” environment and things are done differently “over there” while “we do it right here” type of language beings to develop. The “mission” in the name of the church must be dropped and all must embrace the essence of our theology which lies in the heart of mission. We are being called to be a mission to all. This includes all our actions from pumping gas and talking to the gas attendant to deacon and congregation reciting and chanting hymns in unity. If we do not live for Him and IN Him then the church will cease to be a mission. A wise friend of mine told me that the day “ethnicity” is dropped within the Orthodox Church this will be the day when America (and I add the world) will be painted into Orthodoxy (the life in which we live in Christ).  

Mission is not classified then by going on the streets and looking nice in front of people and preaching a few verses (which can be fruitful but mission does not end here) rather mission begins with the church and ends with the church. During the early times of the young church people gathered in communities and spoke and preached the word of God living in the united body of Christ. When you read Acts you notice the writer of Acts stressing the fact that Paul and his companions went from community to community. The heart of the church and its mission lies within the community. Mission is not done on an individualistic, self-motivated level rather mission takes place within the heart of the community which transforms the life of the community. If mission is then understood as the bringing of the community together only then can we say "your own of your own we offer unto you on behalf of all and for all" (Taken from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom Anaphora prayer). The heart of mission is the community coming together being united in the one body of Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3.28). 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

True Spirituality: A New Life

A close friend of mine asked me this following question:

In a bishop's talk I attended he said that we need to start making "spiritual goals" so make us closer to God, are these goals like objective things of quantity? Like should I read my bible more? Should I pray more? Like spiritual goals that can be kept for 2013 so that a person is not doing the same exact thing they did last year and the year rushes by without any chane spiritually, I guess it also ties in with seeking God constantly, like how can I seek Him everyday. And personally some days I want to seek God more then others, but is there a way to make it a constant thing.

To answer such a question would be abnormal for me because spirituality and spiritual growth is based on experience hence we we seek advice from individuals who are much older than us and have acquired more wisdom. I will be using an article written by Fr. Maxym Lysack. His article which focuses on the story of the rich man approach Christ (Lk 18 and Matt 19.16-26) is the main story behind the article. The following will illustrate a small portrait of how one can begin to there new life in Christ:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chapter 7: And Yea are Witnesses of These Things

 Final chapter:

The church in its totality is a mission and through this mission projects the very essence of this message which is life. However, sometimes one is in need of reminders of what this mission is because the church sometimes has forgotten its “establishment” in the world. Mission should be the focus of the modern times. Two aspects that have become a constant failure is based on any substantial victory of other “world religions” and the failure to overcome the growth of secularism in our culture. The first being the fact that Christianity sees itself as being another “religion”. As for secularism nothing shows better than the confusion it has created amongst the Christians themselves which ranges from varieties of Christians who reject it and to others who embrace it. This is why Christians are confused in regards to mission in the modern time. Mission is thought of as being essential need of man. This comes from the idea that Christianity is another “religion” and by discerning this thought mission then somehow becomes a “necessity”. There exists this notion that religion needs to “defend” as Fr. Alexander calls it the “religious” and “spiritual values” that are being “attacked” by atheism and materialism. Conservative Christians are ready to give up the idea of mission as the preaching of the one, and replace it by a common front of all religions against this enemy being secularism. As paradox as this next statement will sound it must be lived out that in order to overcome secularism is the reality of surrendering to secularism. The surrender does not mean one is ought to give up creeds, symbols, traditions and customs but rather as Fr. Alexander puts it: “…in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation. Page 109”. This is what Fr. Alexander is alluding to as the destruction of religion of our modern age. People “change” religions because it is never linked to truth but rather which religion can offer the most help or the fastest route to salvation. If this is what is understood as religion then the decline of religion will continue because as long as people understand religion as an appendix to the world then “religion” will cease to exist.

The second point that was mentioned previously was the acceptance of secularism. The important thing to understand from this is that mission is understood here primarily in terms of human solidarity. Christian mission is not only to preach Christ, but to be Christians in life and to see Christ in others. Secularism then can be understood as having been brought out of Christianity and the “revolution” it had gone through. The unfortunate part is that Christians do not embrace secularism but instead see it as the breaking away of the sacred and the profane. It is a tragedy because having tasted the good wine; man preferred and still prefers to return to water. Having seen the true light, instead they chose the light of their own logic. However, one must be careful because secularism in its broken form is a lie about the world. Many live in the world as if there were no God. Honesty to the gospel and the experience of every saint and every word of the liturgy demands exactly the opposite. As Father Alexander says “…to live in the world seeing everything in it as a revelation of God, a sign of His presence, the joy of His coming, the call to communion with Him, the hope for fulfillment in Him. Page 112”.

By way of conclusion Fr Alexander says that the only purpose to this book was to show that the two reductions of Christianity (religion and secularism) is not the only choice, that in fact it is a false dilemma. These final passages cannot be done justice as I will leave Fr. Alexander to conclude this chapter and book for us:

Since the day of Pentecost there is a seal, a ray, a sign of the Holy Spirit on everything for those who believe in Christ and know that He is the life of the world—and that in Him the world in its totality has become again a liturgy, a communion, an ascension. To accept secularism as the truth about the world is, therefore, to change the original Christian faith so deeply and so radically, that the question must be asked: do we really speak of the same Christ? Page 112.                

The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom—not because she possesses divinely instituted acts called "sacraments,” but because first of all she is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the "world to come,” to see and to "live” it in Christ. It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ has already "filled all things with Himself” that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty. A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world. Page 113.

A few quotes from chapter seven: 

There exist—such is the assumption—a basic religion, some basic "religious” and "spiritual values,” and they must be defended against atheism, materialism and other forms of irreligion. Not only "liberal” and "nondenominational,” but also the most conservative Christians are ready to give up the old idea of mission as the preaching of the one, true universal religion, opposed as such to all other religions, and replace it by a common front of all religions against the enemy: secularism. Page 108.    

But the tragedy is also a sin, because secularism is a lie about the world. "To live in the world as if there were no God!”—but honesty to the Gospel, to the whole Christian tradition, to the experience of every saint and every word of Christian liturgy demands exactly the opposite: to live in the world seeing everything in it as a revelation of God, a sign of His presence, the joy of His coming, the call to communion with Him, the hope for fulfillment in Him. Page 112.

It is only as we return from the light and the joy of Christ’s presence that we recover the world as a meaningful field of our Christian action, that we see the true reality of the world and thus discover what we must do. Christian mission is always at its beginning. It is today that I am sent back into the world in joy and peace, "having seen the true light,” having partaken of the Holy Spirit, having been a witness of divine Love. Page 113.