Monday, December 10, 2018

Why Are Prayers Said in Church Without Kneeling on All Sundays and from Pascha Until Pentecost?

As is evident from the Holy Scriptures, bows, kneeling and prostrations were employed during prayer even in the Old Testament. The holy Prophet King David refers to bowing down to God or to His temple in many of the psalms, for example: "Bow down to the Lord in His holy court" (Ps. 28:2); "I shall bow down toward Thy holy temple in fear of Thee" (Ps. 5:8); "O come, let us worship and fall down before Him" (Ps. 94:6); "Let us go forth into His tabernacles, let us bow down at the place where His feet have stood" (Ps. 131:7), etc.

About kneeling, it is known that the holy Prophet Daniel, for example, thrice daily "knelt upon his knees, and prayed and gave thanks before his God" (Dan. 6:10). Full prostrations are also mentioned in the books of the Old Testament. For example: the Prophets Moses and Aaron besought God, "having fallen on their faces" (Numbers 16:22), to be merciful to the children of Israel who had grievously sinned. In the New Testament also, the custom of performing kneelings, prostrations and, of course, bows had been preserved and still had a place at the time of the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who sanctified this Old Testament custom by His own example, praying on bended knees and failing down upon His face. Thus, we know from the Holy Gospels that before His passion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He "kneeled down, and prayed" (Matt. 26:39), "fell on the ground and prayed" (Mark 14:35). And after the Lord's ascension, during the time of the holy apostles, this custom, of which the Holy Scriptures also speak, existed unchanged. For example, the holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen "knelt down," and prayed for his enemies who were stoning him (Acts 7:60); the Apostle Peter, before raising Tabitha from the dead, "knelt down, and prayed" (Acts 9:40), etc. It is an indisputable fact that, as under the first successors of the apostles, so even in much later periods of the existence of the Church of Christ, kneelings, bows and prostrations upon the ground were always employed by true believers at domestic prayers and at the divine services. In antiquity, among the other bodily activities, kneeling was considered the outward manifestation of prayer most pleasing to God. Thus, St. Ambrose of Milan says: "Beyond the rest of the ascetic labors, kneeling has the power to assuage the wrath of God and to evoke His mercy" (Book VI on the Six Days of Creation, ch. 9).

The canons concerning bows and kneelings now accepted by the Orthodox Church and set forth in the books of the divine services, and particularly in the Church Typicon, are observed in monasteries. But in general, Orthodox Christian laymen who have zeal are, of course, permitted to pray on their knees in church and to make full prostrations whenever they wish, excepting only those times when the Gospel, Epistle, Old Testament readings, six psalms and sermon are read. The Holy Church lovingly regards such people, and does not constrain their devout feelings. However, the exceptions with regard to Sundays and the days between Pascha and Pentecost apply generally to everyone. According to ancient tradition and a clear church law, kneeling must not be performed on these days. The brilliant solemnity of the events which the Church commemorates throughout the period of Pentecost and on Sundays precludes, in and of itself, any external manifestation of sorrow or lamentation over one's sins: for ever since Jesus Christ, "blotting out the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, ... nailing it to His Cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col. 2:14-15)—ever since then "there is, therefore, no condemnation to them who are in Jesus Christ" (Rom. 8:1).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Why the Nativity Fast Has Been Established

The Orthodox Church prepares its faithful to welcome the Nativity of Christ in a worthy manner by means of a 40-day Nativity fast, which lasts from November 28th to January 6th (by the new calendar).

Besides generally known reasons, the Nativity fast is also undertaken by Orthodox Christians in order to venerate the suffering and sorrow undergone by the Holy Mother of God at the hands of the scribes and the Pharisees just prior to the sacred event of Christ’s Nativity.

Holy Tradition tells us that shortly before the righteous Joseph and the Holy Virgin set off for Bethlehem, they were subjected to the following tribulation. A certain scribe by the name of Ananias, entering their home and seeing the Virgin pregnant, was severely distressed and went to the High Priest and the entire Jewish council, saying: “Joseph the carpenter, who has been regarded as a righteous man, has committed an iniquity. He has secretly violated the Virgin Who was given to him from the temple of God for safekeeping. And now She is with child.” Then the High Priest’s servants went to Joseph’s house, took Mary and Joseph, and brought them to the High Priest, who began to denounce and shame the Most-blessed Virgin Mary.

But the Holy Virgin, crying in deep sorrow, replied: “The Lord God is My witness that I am innocent and have known no man.” Then the High Priest accused the righteous Joseph, but the latter swore on oath that he was not guilty of this sin. Yet the High Priest did not believe them and subjected them to the trial that was customary in those times, (when a woman suspected of violation was given to drink bitter water that had been cursed by the High Priest). However, the trial just served to confirm the innocence of the Holy Virgin and the righteous Joseph. All those present were amazed at this, unable to understand how a Virgin could simultaneously be with child and yet remain inviolate.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Useless Knowledge and Idle Curiosity

Just as it is necessary to guard the mind from ignorance, so is it equally necessary to protect it from the opposite, namely from too much knowledge and curiosity. For if we fill it with a quantity of information, ideas and thoughts, not excluding such as are vain, unsuitable and harmful, we deprive it of force, so that it is no longer able to understand clearly what is useful for our true self-correction and perfection. Therefore, in relation to the knowledge of earthly things, which is not indispensable, even if it is permissible, your attitude should be as of one already dead. Always collect your mind within yourself, with all the concentration you can, and keep it free of thoughts about all worldly things.

Let tales of the past and news of the present pass you by, and let all the changes in the world and its kingdoms, be for you as though they did not exist at all. If anyone brings you such news, disregard it and turn it away from your heart and imagination. Listen to what St. Basil says: "Let listening to worldly news be bitter food for you, and let the words of saintly men be as combs filled with honey.” Listen also to the words of David: "The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after thy law" (Psalm 109:85). Love to hear only of spiritual and heavenly things and to study them, and wish to know nothing in the world except our Lord "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2), save His life and death and what He demands of you. Acting thus, you will act in a way pleasing to God, Who has for His chosen and beloved those who love Him and try to do His will.

All other inquiry and investigation is the offspring and food of self-love and pride. They are the nets and shackles of the devil; he sees the strength and firmness of will of those who pay attention to spiritual life, and strives to conquer their minds by means of such curiosity, in order to gain possession of their mind and will. For this purpose, he suggests to them thoughts that are lofty, subtle and wondrous, especially to those who are sharp-witted and quick to make lofty speculations.

Monday, September 3, 2018

On Struggling by Saint John of Kronstadt

Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.

You cannot conquer any passion, any sin without gracious help; therefore, always ask the help of Christ, your Saviour. It was for this that He came into the world, for this that He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, in order to help us in everything, to save us from sin, and from the violence of the passions, to cleanse us from our sins, to bestow upon us power in Holy Spirit to do good works, to enlighten us, to strengthen us, to give us peace. You ask how you can save yourself when sin stands at every step, and you sin at every moment? There is a simple answer to this: at every step, at every moment, call upon the Saviour, remember the Saviour, and you will save yourself and others.

Now we stand up and fall (in faith and virtue), but we hope for a time and condition when we shall no longer be able to fall, when we shall reach such a state of perfect safety from falling, as the angels have attained to, who are now inaccessible to evil, and when we shall become strengthened in holiness. In the meantime fight against sin, and hope that the time will at last come of perfect victory over sin and over death, which is its offspring. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."[1160]

Everything is possible unto those who believe and trust. We must struggle and conquer.

Struggle against your infirmity, pray as much as you have the strength to, and the Lord will not despise the infirmity of your flesh and spirit.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

"Imitate; Don't Innovate": Safeguarding the Integrity of the Orthodox Faith

SOME YEARS AGO, Professor Constantine Kalokyris, the renowned expert on the history and theory of Orthodox Iconography, made the observation that, "In America they have started making Byzantine icons, mosaics, and wall-paintings, but the painters here are still lacking the theological presuppositions of Orthodox iconography." [1] One might take some exception to this statement now, several decades later, when traditional Iconography and iconographers can be found in many places in America; and, indeed, it can be persuasively argued that there were very no table and clear exceptions to his claim, especially in certain Russian  Orthodox circles in this country, at the very time that Kalokyris originally made his observation. Nonetheless, there was, in part, some accuracy in what he said, and there persists among Orthodox in America an iconographic "tradition" which most assuredly reflects a deficit in that correct understanding of the theological and dogmatic presuppositions which define the Church’s iconographic witness.

What lies at the core of the many deviations that we see from traditional Iconography is a failure to grasp one of the essential spiritual axioms that undergird the preservation of Holy Tradition itself: following the path carefully set forth and meticulously defined by those who have gone before us. As I constantly tell my own spiritual children: "Imitate; don’t innovate." The failure to honor this simple principle has serious negative consequences, not only for the field of sacred art, but in every other area of Orthodox theology as well. The malaise of modernism, which so deeply affects so many Orthodox jurisdictions today, can be traced precisely to a willful rejection of the humility of imitation for the arrogance of innovation. This fact is perfectly illustrated by two Icons recently printed by the Conciliar Press, a publishing house of the now-defunct "Antiochian Orthodox Evangelical Mission," a short-lived "church within a Church" that was formed when a group of former Evangelical Protestants (the self-styled "Evangelical Orthodox Church") was received into the ultra-modernist Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. These two iconographic offerings, advertised in the publishing house’s Spring 1998 catalogue, also provide compelling evidence that Professor Kalokyris’ somewhat dated misgivings about traditional Church art in America are not wholly without merit and still find application in at least some contemporary Orthodox circles here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Saint Maximos The Confessor: Even After Death the Soul Retains Activity

On the second day of this August in the current first indiction, our mutual friend handed me the honourable letters sent by your fatherly holiness. Naturally, I was comforted to read that you are in good health; since after God, you, my master, are the cause of every good thing [in my life]. So much has the Holy Spirit of God united Himself to you, that even when you are absent I behold you with my mind’s eye alone. I order my life and my speech [or reason] using what strength I possess, because when I remember you, it is as if I am seeing God before me, and I am filled with reverence. 

I was not a little disturbed to learn that the [heretical] doctrine concerning the soul is shamelessly being preached in your parts with the same support and boldness as it is here. In fact, I am filled with grief, and a weight has settled on my mind like a cloud, because this novel doctrine about [the state of the soul after] the resurrection is being advocated by almost everyone here, in particular by the supposedly most distinguished monks. One would not be far off if he supposed that this was the first sign of the coming of the Antichrist. Indeed, anyone who is able to reason should affirm this to be the case, since he has as a witness to the great evil the absurdity of the things they say. 

These people shamelessly sharpen their tongues against everything and do not consider anything irreverently said or done to be terrible. Thus they claim that after the resurrection bodies will continue to subsist by means of phlegm, blood, yellow and black bile, breathing, and tangible food. They say that in the resurrection, nothing will be different from this present life, except that no one will die again. I do not know how they can stop their ears and close the eyes of their souls so as not to understand everything written in Holy Scripture about the soul and the resurrection through the prophets and apostles, through the Word of God Himself speaking in the flesh, and especially through the divine Paul when he expounds on the resurrection to the Corinthians. These passages are crystal-clear and very well known. They do not require an exegete. Moreover, the nature of reality itself, no less than the divine oracles, teaches about the resurrection and leads even barbarians to the knowledge of the truth. Nevertheless, [the heretics] feel no shame in ignoring these self-evident proofs.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Saint Athanasios the Athonite

According to his biography, St Athanasios hailed from the east, from Trapezounta. After concluding his education- as a teacher of literature- while still very young he was touched by the Divine Grace. He forsaken the world and espoused monasticism under the guidance of his uncle (St Michael Maelinos).

It is said that when the young generals who later played a crucial role in the Byzantine Empire, Nikiforos and Leon, visited St Michael to confess, he guided them to the place where St Athanasios –then thirty years old- was staying and told them that he wanted to show them a ‘treasure’. After meeting and talking with Athanasios, the two men were truly amazed and concurred that indeed he was ‘a great treasure’. They were then commanded to ‘reveal all their thoughts to this very monk for ever’. Until the end of their lives, these two great men continued to have St Athanasios as their spiritual guide. Nikiforos was so keen to be with him that they promised each other to live together as monks for ever.

Nikiforos never managed to keep his part of the promise. Being a general was called to free Crete from the pirates. Then he became king against his will and was later murdered. However, he never stopped looking after the monastery of Great Lavra, established by St Athanasios.

St Athanasios came to Mount Athos from Bythinia. When he reached Karyes, which was the centre of monasticism at the time, he never revealed who he was, but pretended to be an illiterate peasant. His elder had tried several times to teach him to read to assist him with his spiritual regime. He, however, was pretending to be incapable of learning.