Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Icons of Sts. Peter and Paul

Twenty-first century laser technology has opened a window into the early days of the Catholic Church, guiding researchers through the dank, musty catacombs beneath Rome to a startling find: the first known icons of the apostles Peter and Paul.

Vatican officials unveiled the paintings Tuesday, discovered along with the earliest known images of the apostles John and Andrew in an underground burial chamber beneath an office building on a busy street in a working-class Rome neighborhood.

The images, which date from the second half of the 4th century, were uncovered using a new laser technique that allows restorers to burn off centuries of thick white calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the brilliant dark colors of the paintings underneath.

The technique could revolutionize the way restoration work is carried out in the miles (kilometers) of catacombs that burrow under the Eternal City where early Christians buried their dead.

The icons were discovered on the ceiling of a tomb of an aristocratic Roman woman at the Santa Tecla catacomb, near where the remains of the apostle Paul are said to be buried.

Rome has dozens of such burial chambers and they are a major tourist attraction, giving visitors a peek into the traditions of the early church when Christians were often persecuted for their beliefs. Early Christians dug the catacombs outside Rome's walls as underground cemeteries, since burial was forbidden inside the city walls and pagan Romans were usually cremated.

The art that decorated Rome's catacombs was often simplistic and symbolic in nature. The Santa Tecla catacombs, however, represent some of the earliest evidence of devotion to the apostles in early Christianity, Vatican officials said.

"The Christian catacombs, while giving us value with a religious and cultural patrimony, represent an eloquent and significant testimony of Christianity at its origin," said Monsignor Giovanni Carru, the No. 2 in the Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology, which maintains the catacombs.

Last June, the Vatican announced the discovery of the icon of Paul at Santa Tecla, timing the news to coincide with the end of the Vatican's year of St. Paul. Pope Benedict XVI also said tests on bone fragments long attributed to Paul "seemed to confirm" that they did indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint.

On Tuesday, Vatican archaeologists announced the image of Paul was not found in isolation, but was part of a square ceiling painting that also included icons of three other apostles — Peter, John and Andrew — surrounding an image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

"They are the first icons. These are absolutely the first representations of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of archaeology for the catacombs.

Bisconti spoke from inside the intimate burial chamber, its walls and ceilings covered with paintings of scenes from the Old Testament, including Daniel in the lion's den and Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. Once inside, visitors see the loculi, or burial chambers, on three sides.

But the gem is on the ceiling, where the four apostles are painted inside gold-rimmed circles against a red-ochre backdrop. The ceiling is also decorated with geometric designs, and the cornices feature images of naked youths.

Chief restorer Barbara Mazzei noted there were earlier known images of Peter and Paul, but these were depicted in narratives. The images in the catacomb — with their faces in isolation, encircled with gold and affixed to the four corners of the ceiling painting — are devotional in nature and as such represent the first known icons.

"The fact of isolating them in a corner tells us it's a form of devotion," she said. "In this case, saints Peter and Paul, and John and Andrew are the most antique testimonies we have."

In addition, the images of Andrew and John show much younger faces than are normally depicted in the Byzantine-inspired imagery most often associated with the apostles, she said.

The Vatican's Sacred Archaeology office oversaw the two-year $73,650 (euro60,000) project, which for the first time used lasers to restore frescoes in catacombs, where the damp air makes the procedure particularly difficult.

In this case, the small burial chamber at the end of the catacomb was encased in up to two inches (five centimeters) of calcium carbonate. Restoration using previous techniques would have meant scraping away the buildup by hand, leaving a filmy layer on top so as not to damage the painting underneath.

Using the laser technique, restorers were able to sear off all the deposits by setting the laser to burn only on the white of the calcium carbonate; the laser's heat stopped when it reached a different color. Researchers then easily chipped off the seared material, revealing the brilliant ochre, black, green and yellow underneath, Mazzei said.

Similar technology has been used on statues, particularly metallic ones damaged by years of outdoor pollution, she said. However, the Santa Tecla restoration marked the first time lasers had been adapted for use in the dank interiors of catacombs.

Many of Rome's catacombs are open regularly to the public. However, the Santa Tecla catacombs will be open only on request to limited groups to preserve the paintings, she said.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Early Family Update - Moving!

Fr. James here.  You may have noticed that I haven't posted anything in a long time.  There's a very good reason; I haven't just been lazy. 

For the first 12 years of our marriage, Jennifer and I moved 16 times, mainly due to the fact that we were overseas missionaries for 5 of those years.  In the eight years after that, we didn't move at all...until now.

8 years ago, we were blessed to be in a position to buy our first home ever.  It was a nice, relatively small starter home in a pleasant, relatively quiet neighborhood.  It was just what we needed at the time, with our three girls, aged 11, 4, and 1.

Over time, however, the girls got bigger and bigger, and God gave us another one to boot.  Before, long, our house was bursting at the seams.  Despite our efforts to not accumulate stuff, we found that every nook and cranny of the house was filled with things.  Also, we had a big almost 12-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 5-year old all sleeping in one small bedroom.

So, as much as we liked our house and hated moving, it was time to move.

We had two main goals for our new home:  it needed to be big enough for all of us, and it needed a backyard that wasn't small. (We have two dogs, one of whom is pretty big, and of course, three school-age girls).  We looked at nearly a dozen houses, and while many of them were nice and had plenty of space, most of them had tiny backyards.  In some, it seemed that if you took more than three steps out the back door, you would run into the fence!

Finally, we found a gorgeous house with a huge backyard that backs up onto a creek.  The neighborhood is beautiful, and our street is a quiet, peaceful, cul-de-sac.  There were a few things we had to do to get the house ready, including repainting some of the walls, and getting a few new items of furniture (not to mention the fact that our washer bit the dust only two weeks after we moved in).

The move was made much easier by a great volunteer crew of 7 men from our church who drove all the way down from north and west houston to our home.  Our home is located in the city of Pearland, Texas, which is about 15 miles or so south of downtown Houston.  It is a great place to live, and we are blessed to be here.  It's actually further away from our church and from both of our workplaces, but it's well worth it.

Getting settled in, unpacking boxes, putting things where they need to go (after figuring it out!), and so on, has taken pretty much every spare minute of our time since the move.  And getting prepared for the move did the same for most of the second half of May and the first week of June.  But we've closed on our old home, and after much hard work, we're almost settled in.  There is still some work to do however, so blogging will probably be sparse for much of the rest of the summer.

As soon as I get time, I'll take and post some photos.  In the mean time, may God bless you all.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Theosis: Man, Creation and Synergy - Part 2

St. John Chrysostom

This is a continuation of the previous entry.

So how is this deification achieved? It is accomplished through the Christian life. This desire for deification is inherent within mankind. This longing must be satiated. Unfortunately, many seek finite things to fill this infinite need. But for those who choose to be united to God through Christ this impossible task becomes possible. While deification is only possible because Christ became man and deified the flesh by uniting it with the divine, mankind must co-operate in order to be deified. Man must offer himself to God. In fact, he must offer himself up wholly to God, leaving nothing behind.

By partaking of the mysteries (or sacraments), man finds himself being joined together with Christ. As Orthodox Christians pray at each Divine Liturgy, “have mercy upon me…make me worthy to partake without condemnation of thine immaculate Mysteries, unto remission of my sins and unto life everlasting…unto the healing of soul and body." When the communicant approaches the chalice and receives the Body and Blood of Christ, these words are pronounced: “the servant of God (name of communicant) receives the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and for life everlasting.” As the Body and Blood are received, the divine and mortal become infused. The gift of deification is received in a tangible way.

However, the gift must be received intentionally. This is the very epitome of synergy. Trusting fully in God and His promises, the Christian must work out his salvation (Philippians 2:12). This work is two-fold. It is both vertical (the relationship between God and Man) and horizontal (the relationship between men). Not only must man seek after Christ, but he accomplishes this by relating appropriately with other men (St. Matthew 25:40). Therefore, it is appropriate to discuss these two planes of work associated with deification.

It is important for Christians to keep a constant focus upon God. In every activity, man should have his intellect directed to God. These actions are a process. Humility is an important part of that. By focusing upon God, man recognizes his own lowliness. St. John Chrysostom taught us to pray that “I am unworthy and am not meet that [God] shouldest enter beneath the roof of the temple of my soul, because it is all empty and dead; and there is in me no worthy place wherein [God] mayest lay [His] head.” With this humility in mind, man approaches God through prayer, fasting, vigils and alms. By these things, as well as study and meditation, Christians draw near to God and partake of his divine nature.

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Theosis: Man, Creation and Synergy - Part 1

I thought it would be nice to post one of my papers that covers Theosis. I have broken it into a few installments, to make it easier to read. clint

St. Athanasius rightly stated that Christ “was made man that we might be made God." He goes on to teach that when Christ took on flesh (St. John 1:14), Christ deified flesh and made it possible for mankind to be deified, by partaking of His Spirit. This option of theosis, or deification, is a promise to all who rely upon the Word of God. Not only do we have the words of St. Athanasius, but the writers of the New Testament attest to the same promise. St. Peter plainly stated that Christ’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1: 3-4). Likewise, St. Paul alluded to the same phenomenon in 1 Corinthians 15:53, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

Understanding that deification is a promise for all Christians and has been taught as such since New Testament times, on through the Church Fathers, and even into our own time, it is incumbent upon Christians to learn about this doctrine and what it truly entails. Rather than assume a person will become a God, in the same manner that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God, we should understand that Christians become what God is by grace, rather than by nature. This deification is the ultimate aim and goal of Christianity, and is the end result of our redemption and salvation. To seek after godhood by one’s own effort is the antithesis of true Christian deification, which relies upon the life and work of Christ to be accomplished in mankind.

Scripture teaches us that man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). The first man shared a special relationship with God, and together they shared a wonderful union. However, the fall created a separation between God and man. Man’s flesh was marred. By choice, man succumbed to the passions and to rebel against his Maker. To overcome the fall, Christ took on flesh and lived a sinless and perfectly obedient life. By doing so, he redeemed mankind, not only in a spiritual sense, but also physically.

Therefore, by being united with Christ, man can be wholly saved, physically and spiritually. By doing so, we receive an “influx of the divine” and “what is lacking or imperfect in us is supplied and perfected.” Simply put: we are deified. This is the union of human and divine, just as it was before the fall. Humanity is elevated to the divine. It is the reason for the creation of mankind. God desires this intimacy with us and by the reclamation of humanity by Christ, we can have this close relationship. Again, it is not that mankind is by nature divine. It is a work of Grace on the part of God. He makes man divine. Man is adopted into God’s family (or Kingdom) and takes part with God’s incorruptibility. Deification is achieved within the structure and framework of the Church.

to be continued...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Another OCMC update - Floyd & Ancuta Frantz

We have another update from one of our OCMC families. You can visit their page at OCMC here.

Greetings, and I hope that this finds you well today, and in good spirits on this the first Monday after Pentecost. Here in Romania we are celebrating "Spirit Day".

Today I would like to write about the Protection of the Theotokos Family Center, which is the program that my lovely wife Ancuta has developed over the past few years. It is a program that works to prevent the abandonment of new born children by their mothers. For many years this has been an issue in the Romanian society. Because of the poverty in some families, the mother abandons the newborn child to the state, believing that they will get better care that way. Actually, it is an act of desperation and hopelessness when they give up their child.

The Protection of the Theotokos Family Center works under the local Romanian Orthodox archdiocese, with funding through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center. Anca is essentially one of my fellow missionaries here in Romania. This story is very indicative of the situation for many people here in Romania today.

Ariana is one of the children in the programs, and now is 14 months old, and has tuberculosis. I found out about this when Anca asked me to take the babies from the center and some of the staff down to the hospital to be tested for Tb. When one child gets sick, often times others in the progam do as well. She probably picked up the Tb from her grandfather, whom she lives with. There are now three generations of this family living in a one bedroom apartment, and so these kinds of problems exist. This is not uncommon here in Romania, as there has been a serious housing shortage for several years.

Ariana's mother was abandoned as a child, and lived for a period of time in a village near Cluj, in the home of a relative who did not want her so she went out on her own quite early, at about 17 years of age. She had a good relationship with Fr. Liviu, one of the priests's who help us in our programs, and when she got into trouble she went to him for advice. He asked us to help her, and of course we agreed.

After the baby was born, they entered into our program and Florina, the mother, went back to school. Now they are both in the Tb hospital, along with the grandfather. We will give her support in keeping the child so that can finish high school, and get a job.

Even though Romania is an Orthodox country it has the highest abortion rate in Europe. It would have been easy for her to get an abortion. We respect her greatly for making the decision to give life, instead of taking what may be seemed like an easy way out.

Well, in an effort to keep things simple I will close for now. Next time I'll write something about the St. Dimitrie Program. There has been lots going on, and I have just been busy and put off writing until today. Thank all of you for your support, for your good words, and most of all for your prayers.

Please know that you can pass our postings on to others who you believe might be interested in our work.

If you would like to contact us, the address is to use is:
I do thank you for your interest in our work, for your support, and most of all for your prayers.

In His Love,
One day at a time,
Floyd & Ancuta Frantz, OCMC Missionaries

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Christ's Suffering and Ours (1 Peter 3:18-22)

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.

Here St. Peter elaborates on his exhortation to persevere in faith and pure conduct, even if it leads to suffering, by appealing to the example of our Lord. He was just, but suffered at the hands of, and for the benefit of, the unjust. He was put to death in the flesh (here meaning the body), but made alive (i.e., resurrected) by the Spirit (God the Father was the ultimate cause of the Resurrection, but the Spirit was involved in the process too, acting as the Father’s agent, for lack of a better word.) His seemingly pointless death was followed by triumph and victory, as FF points out: “Thus, though death seemed to be an ignominious defeat, it actually led to a light-filled triumph. Likewise, Christians who are martyred will find that death for them also leads to light-filled triumph, for they also will be made alive as Christ was” (91).

It was also by the Spirit that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” This phrase is very difficult to interpret, and biblical commentators have offered a multitude of interpretations. The reference to the spirits’ being disobedient during the time of Noah helps a little, as FF points out:

“Peter’s reference to the spirits in prison seems to be an allusion to the angelic spirits mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4, who fell into disobedience around the time of Noah’s flood. In that passage it says that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair, and they took wives for themselves from among them. This passage has been variously interpreted, but it seems that Peter shares the interpretation current in his day, which is reflected in such works as the Book of Enoch (especially chs. 6-21), written shortly before. In this interpretation, the ‘sons of God’ were angels who lusted after earthly women and fell from their angelic estate. For their sin they were imprisoned until the time of the end, awaiting their final punishment. Peter alludes to this interpretation again in this second epistle, 2:4, as does Jude in Jude 6” (91).

In passing, let me note that not all the Fathers interpret the “Sons of God” of Genesis 6:1 to be angels. For example, St. Ephraim the Syrian believed them to be descendants of Seth, whereas the “daughters of men” were descendents of Cain. One could debate this ad infinitum, but it would be a waste of time, since St. Peter’s main point does not revolve around who the “Sons of God were,” as FF points out: “Peter mentions here that Christ heralded His victory to those spirits in prison because he wants to show that Christ’s victory is total and universal. His triumph reaches to the remotest reaches of the cosmos—even over those fallen angels now imprisoned at its farthest ends” (91).

His mentioning of Noah prompts St. Peter to write about the flood. He points out that in the ark, eight people were saved through water. The ark, more than being merely a historical event or a means by which the human race was preserved, was also a type of something to come. The fulfillment of that type (i.e., the “antitype”) is baptism. And as St. Peter clearly says, just as the Ark saved Noah and his family, so baptism saves us. Thus Holy Baptism is more than merely symbolic; it is not just an act of obedience that outwardly symbolizes an inward change. It really does contribute to our salvation. FF explains it well:

“This experience of salvation in the ark foreshadows Christian salvation through baptism…” He then points out that the word that the NKJV translates as saves is diasozo, which literally means “saves through.” He continues: “Noah and his family came through the waters to inherit life in the renewed world, and the Christian also comes through the waters of baptism to inherit new life in Christ. For both Noah and the Christian, the life of the old sinful world has been left behind, drowned in the waters” (92).

Immediately after stating that baptism saves us, St. Peter adds a caveat. “Not the removal of the filth” is a biblical idiom for “not only.” St. Peter is not saying that Baptism does not remove the filth of the flesh at all, but that there is more to it than this. He is saying that the washing in water (“the removal of filth of the flesh”) is not all that is needed to save us, but also “the answer of good conscience toward God”; that is, faith. Again, FF’s words are helpful: “Peter mentions this spiritual dimension of baptism to encourage his hearers to continue to walk in the newness of life, maintaining their good conscience and blameless life among the pagans. Apart from their righteous life, baptism will not finally avail” (92).

In other words, to use the language of philosophers, Baptism is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for salvation. Without Baptism, our faith is of no avail (except in certain extreme conditions, like the thief on the Cross). But without a lifelong faith, our Baptism is equally useless.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Suffering for Right and Wrong (1 Peter 3:13-17)

Icon of St. Maximos the Confessor, who suffered greatly at the hands of the authorities of his day

13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

With this section, St. Peter begins to wrap up his exhortations about how Christians should relate to the outside world. First he reemphasizes a theme that he had touched on earlier (2:12, 15): that if we do good, we are much less likely to be harmed by evildoers. If we do what is right and obey the laws of society, we have little to fear from either the authorities or from other people in general.

But sometimes, even when we obey the laws of our nation and of God, we will face persecution. If and when this happens, we should not fear but should rather take heart, for we are blessed. The last part of verse 14 can also be translated as “you will be blessed;” there is no verb present. FF interprets it to mean both: “This blessing refers to the final blessedness of salvation in the age to come, but does not exclude a foretaste of it now. Even now, if they are reproached because of their faith, the Spirit and glory of God will rest upon them (4:14), filling them with the blessing of God’s peace” (89).

Because of this promise of blessing, Christians should not fear when they face persecution. Instead, they should do two things. The first of these is to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” What does this mean? FF explains: “By sanctifying Christ as Lord, St. Peter means that the Christian should reverence Christ as the only true Lord from his deepest being, openly confessing Him. (In Jewish thought, martyrs sanctified the Name of God by confessing it in martyrdom.) Society may think Caesar is Lord and ultimately in control, but the believer knows Christ is the One who rules over all, and nothing can befall him that Christ does not allow” (89).

The second thing St. Peter commands Christ to do in this passage is to “always be prepared for a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” In other words, we should know how to explain and even to defend Christianity to those who are interested. Note that St. Peter refers to those who ask for a reason. He is referring to people interested in knowing about our faith, not to skeptics or critics (although they too may ask, and we should answer if they do). But when we do give an answer, we must do so with meekness and fear. Remember that meekness means essentially self-control.

FF comments on this: “It is always tempting to add to the defense of one’s faith a loud assertion of how stupid the other man’s faith is. This should be avoided. The defense should also be made with fear—that is, with fear towards God, knowing that He hears all our words and will vindicate us at the end” (89).

Finally, St. Peter reminds us that if we have a good conscience, that is if we are living in accordance with God’s will, those who mock or even persecute us will be put to shame. As St. Peter has already told us, there is no reward for suffering caused by our own evil conduct. But there will be a reward for those who suffer for doing good. “[Christians’] decision to keep a good conscience will never be cause for regret, even if by the providence of God it does not result in immunity from persecution” (90).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Called To Blessing (1 Peter 3:8-12)

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For

“ He who would love life
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips from speaking deceit.
11 Let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”

There’s really not much extra I can say about this section. It is simple, practical, and clear. St. Peter calls Christians to be unified, being of one mind (Gk. omophron), having compassion for one another (Gk. sympathes, literally “suffering together”), loving one another as brothers and sisters (Gk. philadelphos), being tenderhearted (Gk. eusplagchnos, literally, “good kidneys”) and humble-minded (which is a better translation of tapeinophron than the NKJV’s “courteous.”). All of these are character traits which Christians should display toward everyone, especially those in the Church, and they are really just outward manifestations of submitting ourselves to others.

Note that St. Peter reminds us not to return evil with evil, but with good. In doing so, he is merely reaffirming Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek. This is part of our calling as Christians, and if we do so, we will receive a blessing. This blessing manifests itself in this life in the form of inner peace, and after death, in eternal life.

On the quote from the Old Testament (Psalm 34:12-16 to be specific), FF comments: “The Psalmist originally referred to God’s blessing of life and good days in this age, but Peter applies his words to the age to come, for the apostle has no doubt that in this age the Christian will not see good days, but persecution…[God] will see how the sinners wickedly use [Christians] and will avenge the righteous on the Last Day. Peter’s hearers may invoke God’s blessing even on those who injure them, for justice will eventually be done” (88, emphasis in original).

I would clarify this by saying that in St. Peter’s day, most Christians certainly would not see good days (meaning wealth, prosperity, or physical peace) in this age, but today, thankfully, some can, at least to some degree. More importantly, however, all Christians in all times can see good days in the sense of having inner peace and contentment, knowing that no matter what happens to our body, our possessions, or any other transitory thing, no one can steal away the peace and joy that we have in Christ.