Thursday, March 31, 2011

Greet Every Saint (Philippians 4:21-23)

Roman Emperor Nero, who was most likely the emperor when St. Paul wrote Philippians.  He was also most definitely NOT a saint!



21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.




This is a standard epistolary conclusion, but note St. Paul’s saying “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.” This implies that through St. Paul’s efforts, at least some of the members of Caesar’s household had converted to Christianity. These may have been slaves, paid servants, or relatives of the emperor. At St. Paul had suggested in the first part of his epistle, his imprisonment was not for nothing; it had a purpose—the furthering of the Gospel in Rome.

As is his custom, St. Paul closes his epistle by commending the Philippian Christians to the Lord. FF beautifully sums up what St. Paul does here: “From his prison captivity, the great apostle reaches out to them, praying that the grace, favor, and protection of the Lord may be with their inmost spirit. So St. Paul of unfettered joy ends his epistle to them, leaving them with this note of peace” (65).

Here endeth my Bible study series on Philippians.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I Can Do All Things Through Christ (Phil. 4:10-20)

"...but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account."


10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. 18 Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.



St. Paul concludes by thanking the Philippians again for their financial gift. In so doing, he compares the gift to a flower that has just begun to bloom and flourish again. He is careful to make it not sound like he is criticizing them for taking so long to send the gift (which they seem to have done). He acknowledges that they did care about him and had wanted to send a gift before, but that they just didn’t have the chance.

He also wants to make it clear that he is not complaining about not having enough. In all of his missionary journeys, he has learned much. Above all else, he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he is in. He has been both a “have” and a “have not.” He has been “abased” or lowly, and he has abounded. He has learned (the root verb here is the Gk. mueo, a word used for being initiated into the secret mysteries of a religion) to be full and to be hungry.

In other words, St. Paul had learned the secret of contentment in all circumstances. And what is this secret? He gives it in verse 13 in an oft-quoted verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” FF elaborates on this verse: “As [St. Paul] relies upon Christ, Christ enables him to have peace in everything and in all things, every circumstance and in all ways. His contentment no longer depends upon outward circumstances and outward conditions, but upon the lord. This is the secret of his invincible peace” (63).

And we can have this peace too, if we only keep in mind that God loves us and is with us all the time. Remembering God’s presence can and will get us through bad and good times. Unfortunately, we tend to forget about God both in times of plenty and times of want. When we are in plenty, we forget that all that we have comes from God. When we are in want, we focus on the circumstances and our own misery. The key to peace, joy, and contentment is what the Fathers call the remembrance of God. This is an essential discipline for the Christian life.

St. Paul again commends the Philippian Christians, thanking them for co-sharing in his tribulation. That is, they sacrificed and suffered financially so as to ease his physical suffering. And they were the only church to help him when he was on his second missionary journey. They gave generously to him not just once, but twice.

He then points out that it is not so much the money that he wants, but rather their spiritual progress. He has the heart of a pastor and spiritual father, wanting the best for his spiritual children. He then assures them that he has all he needs, saying “I have all” (literally, “I have received all in full”, a technical term for the receipt of payment or goods in full) and “I abound.”

Finally, using OT language, he compares calls their offering a “sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God”. Their offering is not only pleasing to him, but also to God. They had fulfilled all his needs, and in turn God would fulfill all their needs. As FF writes, “all the heavenly blessings of Christ will be showered upon them in return” (64).



Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Role of the Temple in the Writings of St. Luke - Part 3




This is the final installment of this discussion. You can read part one here and part two here.

Luke uses the imagery and symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem to exemplify this serious matter. The arrest and martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 6-7) bring this to light. After preaching the Gospel, St. Stephen is arrested and accused thusly: “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:13-14). Note that the major charge is against the Temple and the system associated with it. St. Stephen’s response provides the Christian viewpoint on the topic, using Israelite history to support his position:
Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands… (Acts 7:44-48)


It is clear from this scripture that God’s plan included the tabernacle, but the construction of the permanent Temple had been contrary to his purposes:
Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the LORD,
Or what is the place of My rest? (Acts 7:49)


Stephen’s defense goes on to teach that God is not bound to one location, but is a universal God. There is no place where He is not. His people are similar. Abraham had been a nomad, as had his descendents, residing as aliens wherever they were. Taking this example forward, it is understood that one is not a part of “God’s people” by heritage or genealogy, but by being a child of promise. Any ethnicity, race, etc. can be included. For the readers in Luke’s day, this was an encouragement to remain faithful to the gospel message, and to not look “back toward Jerusalem." This is simply a part of the continuing Pauline argument against the Judaizers. Freedom and relationship with God are found in the mobile Church, not in a stationary Temple. This story of St. Stephen echoes St. Paul’s words in Galatians:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth…Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage… if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing… every man who becomes circumcised … is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (3:1; 5:1-3)


Luke’s narrative concludes this topic with St. Paul’s presentation in the actual Temple in Jerusalem. He offers them one last chance to repent of their false understanding, and to accept his true Gospel message, the prophetic word of God. The Jews, and it can be understood that Judaizers fall into this group, reject his offer, and he is arrested. It is instructive to see that the Roman officials intervene for St. Paul’s safety, and go on to engage him in discussion, eventually sending him to Rome, where the Gospel message will be shared with their countrymen – Gentiles. The Jews accuse St. Paul of teaching a false message, with false religion. Consistent with the overall message of Luke-Acts, St. Paul’s defense is that, like Jeremiah, he is simply proclaiming the true message of God.

In the narrative, St. Paul goes to Rome, leaving the Jewish Temple behind. He takes the Word of God with him. This literary technique provides a fitting close to the discussion, as the true word of God, mobile as always, leaves the stationary Temple, and goes into the world to bring people to God. Fr. Paul Tarazi provides a thought provoking analogy of this journey to Rome, with the story of the ship in the storm (Acts 27:13-38). The dropping of four anchors in the storm is representative of the Jews attempting to hold onto Judaism, which is ultimately abandoned. Listening the words of St. Paul, the sailors follow his instructions and are eventually saved. Likewise, all who listen to those words, and follow his instructions, leaving the Temple behind, will receive the promised salvation. God is not bound to one location, as the Jews believed. Rather, He is free to be anywhere and everywhere His people are to be found. Any place can be a place of prayer, and any person, regardless of heritage, can belong to Him. Luke provides a comprehensive treatment of this truth, as taught by St. Paul, in his descriptions of the Temple.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Role of the Temple in the Writings of St. Luke - Part 2

image taken from here.


This is part two of this discussion. Part One can be read here.

As Luke’s writings and the Epistle to the Hebrews are both Pauline, the connection is clear. Luke takes this principle elucidated in Hebrews and applies it in narrative form. The stationary Temple, contrary to contemporary Jewish understanding, was not the God-given method of worship in the Old Testament – the mobile Tabernacle was. In fact, neither was the ultimate reality. Rather, a Spiritual Tabernacle founded upon the prophetic word was. It was not a physical building, but was to be found wherever God’s people were living according the message taught by St. Paul and other God-ordained prophets (Cf. Galatians 4:21-27).

Luke presents this by demonstrating how Jesus made any location a “house of prayer,” not confined to the Temple grounds. This is consistent with the Old Testament examples, such as Ezekiel’s description of the Spirit of God leaving the Temple to be with his people in Babylon. In this manner, Luke demonstrates the Pauline teaching that God is God of all people, and his “house of prayer” becomes “a house of prayer for all peoples." God is not bound to one physical location, but is found wherever his Word is found. Moses had received his intructions from God on a mountain, which became a “virtual temple” for him, demonstrating this concept that could be applied universally. No longer would “Israel” be defined by “history, patriotism, religion, and hope alike pointed to Jerusalem and the Temple." From the time of Jesus, “Israel” would be defined differently: “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed” (Romans 9:6-8).

Luke’s argumentation of this changing understanding of the Temple and its purpose is not confined to the Gospel bearing his name, where the birth of Christ, his presentation, return at age 12, prophecy of the Temple’s destruction, and instructive prayer life are prominent. He continues this treatment in his second volume, Acts. Fr. Tarazi describes Luke’s purpose by describing the Jews of that day as the descendents of men who had rejected the “free promise … made by a God who was bound by nothing earthly, [opting] for a kingship that would materialize around a Canaanite Jerusalem…and [who] ultimately shackled [their] God to a Canaanite temple."

However, the opponents of the true message of a mobile “tabernacle” were also no longer confined to the Jewish leaders. Luke introduces a new enemy – the Judaizing Christian teachers. As Luke shows, the majority of early Christians were of Jewish heritage, bringing their heritage with them. There was little controversy, until the Gentiles began to enter their ranks. This resulted in a great contention concerning the way to enter the Body of Christ. Were Gentiles required to convert to Judaism, as well as Christianity? This argument centered upon circumcision. This issue is clearly delineated in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where such Christian stalwarts as St. Peter, St. Barnabus, and others succumbed to the concept of requiring converting Gentiles to accept Judaism). Whether they repented of this or not is open for discussion, but there is no doubt that they did take the Judaizing side, at least for a time.

To Be Continued...

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Role of the Temple in the Writings of St. Luke - Part 1



The role of the Temple of Jerusalem in Luke’s works is of paramount importance, when considering the nature of Christianity. Since the Temple had been constructed by Solomon, rebuilt by Zerubbabel, and enhanced by Herod, the Jewish people had placed undue emphasis on the physical location of the Temple. It had almost become an object of worship, distracting focus from the God for whom it was built. Jesus’ words in Luke 21 brought the imminent destruction of the Temple to the forefront: “the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down” (NKJV; 21:6). With these words, the implication was that the focus of worship would no longer be in one physical location, “made with hands,” but would be a different Temple, “not made with hands." So the treatment of the Temple in Luke’s double volume is a progressive exposition of this movement from the Jewish focus on the physical temple to the Christian focus of spiritual worship, accomplished anywhere in the world.

The Jews had concluded that the religious interpretations emanating from the Temple were the only authoritative source. The Jew had “only one Temple, that in Jerusalem; only one God, Him Who had once throned there between the Cherubim, and Who was still King over Zion." The Old Testament prophets, such as Jeremiah challenged this understanding, and Jesus agreed. The prophetic word, not bound by location, was the true authority. This prophetic voice received authority from God himself, and could be received and proclaimed from anywhere in the world. St. Paul exemplified this aspect in his letter to the Romans, where his apostolic endeavors took on a priestly role, indicating that the Jewish priests, bound to Jerusalem, had forfeited this responsibility. This is counter to the previailing Jewish understanding that the Temple was the only place where “a God-appointed, pure priesthood could offer acceptable sacrifices." According to Fr. Paul Tarazi, this shift in viewpoint is exemplified by the birth narrative of St. John the Baptist, where Zechariah was struck dumb when challenging a prophetic word. His voice was only returned when he accepted this word. In this manner, Luke portrays this shift of understanding from Jerusalem to the world-wide prophetic word, in demonstrating that the Gospel, as preached by St. Paul, represents the true word of God, both pre- and post- AD 70, when Jesus’ prophetic words of the destruction of the Temple came to pass.

The supremacy of Jesus, and the prophetic word concerning Him, is demonstrated in two early narratives. He is presented, “according to the Law,” in the Temple, and is received by St. Simeon, who represents the Old Covenant. As such, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Law, and the inauguration of the New. The tie between the birth of the Christ and the prophetic word is established by the use of “consolation” in that narrative. Not only was Jesus the “consolation” that St. Simeon awaited, but the prophetic word (or scripture) was the “consolation” as defined by St. Paul in Romans 15. St. Simeon’s prophetic words that Jesus would be “set for the rising and falling of many in Israel,” speaks to the coming reality that the Temple would lose its focus, and the Gentiles would be an integral part of the coming Church. The second narrative is when Jesus returns, at age 12, to the Temple to “take over the throne of the house of God…and offer mercy to … Israel." Here Jesus teaches in the Temple, and establishes himself as the coming heir, who will take the place of David, the last Israelite King to rule before the construction of the Temple.

The Epistle to the Hebrews gives an important insight into the nature of the Temple, itself. While the Temple in Jerusalem had existed for the better part of a millennium at the time of writing, the Pauline author chose to hearken back to the precursor of the Temple, the Tabernacle, to define proper worship. In Hebrews 8, the Tabernacle was constructed “according to the pattern” given to Moses. There is no mention of the Solomonic Temple. As such, the author gives credence to the original instructions from God, pertaining to His worship, and likens the worship and priestly role of Christ to that earlier manifestation, cutting the Temple completely out of the conversation. One could determine that the Jewish focus on the Jerusalem-bound Temple was misguided, as there were deeper principles involved that are only understood if God had provided for a movable place of worship. They were not to be bound to one physical location, but to move wherever God’s people were. Yet even the Tabernacle was simply a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things,” to be replaced with a “more excellent ministry … established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:5-6). In fact, Jesus comes as “the High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands…[He] has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself…” (Hebrews 9:11,24).

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rejoice in the Lord Always (Phil. 4:4-9)

Do you want to have true joy?  Then live as this man did!  See below...


4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.


Without a doubt, this short passage is one of the most beautiful and inspirational sections in all Scripture. In this passage, St. Paul gives a serious of commands, which, if we follow them, we will experience true joy throughout our lives.

St. Paul begins with a very simple command: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And for emphasis, he repeats it. Rejoicing, as we have said, does not depend on having a happy or positive feeling. Rather, it is something we can and must choose to do in all situations. Even when life is not going the way we want it to, we can still rejoice…not for hardships themselves, but because we have a God that loves us and works in all situations for our good. St. Paul, we must not forget, was locked in prison, but he rejoiced in God nonetheless. He didn’t let his circumstances take away his joy, and neither should we.

St. Paul’s second command is to be gentle: “Let your gentleness to be known to all men.” The Greek word translated as “gentleness” (epieikes) can also be rendered as “forebearance.” In FF’s words, this word “is different to convey fully. It means that we should always be ready to yield, gentle, mild, reasonable. It is not the mild blandness of the weak, but the joyful graciousness of spirit that delights in peace. It is used in Wisdom 12:18 of the kind forbearance of God. When under persecution, we are always tempted to shout back, to return evil for evil. On the contrary, says St. Paul, we should let our forbearance shine forth among all and not allow ourselves to be provoked” (60-61). This teaching of St. Paul is contrary to what the world teaches, for the world teaches us that we should be aggressive and assertive and seek our own way above all else. But true joy comes not from being aggressive, but by being gentle.

St. Paul adds that “the Lord is at hand.” This is a motivation for not trying to avenge ourselves, for Christ will one day come back and right all wrongs. Scripture assures us that we can leave all vengeance and judgment to him.

St. Paul’s third command is to “be anxious for nothing” (the same Gk. command is given by Jesus to Martha and Mary in Luke 10:41). Being anxious is something that we choose to do; it is not something that is inevitable. Being anxious makes no sense. It is living in the future; it is worrying about something that may or may not happen (and most likely will not happen). As our Lord told us, “Take courage; I have overcome the world.” Instead of being anxious, we should, with prayer and thanksgiving, make our requests to God. We can lay our concerns at the feet of our loving Father, who takes care of the sparrows and has promised to take care of us as well.

If we will do this, God’s peace, which transcends all understanding (Gk. nous), will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. God’s peace, as Christ said, is not like the world’s peace. The world’s peace comes and goes, but Christ’s peace stays with us always…as long as we do not drive it away by our sinfulness and our unbelief. And God’s peace is something that we cannot understand. It is beyond all comprehension. As FF says, “In the midst of turmoil and persecution, it seems impossible that we should maintain such serenity, such fearlessness, such untroubled peace! But it is possible, only because the unconquerable peace of God stands at the heart’s door to keep out invading trouble” (61).

Then St. Paul gives a final command, a command that is of monumental importance to the spiritual life. He urges the Philippians to think only about things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. We must, as St. Paul told the Corinthians, “take every thought captive,” rejecting impure and evil thoughts while cultivating good ones.

FF adds the following: “In time of persecution and betrayal, the easy thing is to focus on the failures and sins of men—on the brutality of life, on the unfairness and the pain. This is not the way home to the Kingdom. Rather, their focus should be on whatever is true, pure, pleasing, and worthy of respect. It is not here a case of ‘positive thinking.’ Rather, it is striving to see life sacramentally as being crammed with the gifts of God and discerning God’s glory in the world…While in the Philippian jail, for example, [St. Paul] did not curse and complain. Rather, he sang hymns to God (Acts 16:25), setting his mind on the glory of the Lord” (62).

Even after saying “finally,” St. Paul slips in one more command: “the things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do.” In other words, St. Paul is saying to follow his example. Do what he does. Live our lives as he did. For it is only in acting out the Gospel, in keeping Christ’s commandments, on doing what God wants us to do, that we can really have peace and joy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Everything I need to know, I learned from Noah's Ark.





ONE: Don't miss the boat.



TWO: Remember that we are all in the same boat!



THREE: Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.



FOUR: Stay fit. When you're 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.



FIVE: Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.



SIX: Build your future on high ground.



SEVEN: For safety's sake, travel in pairs.



EIGHT: Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.



NINE: When you're stressed, float awhile.



TEN: Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.



ELEVEN: No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Be of the Same Mind in the Lord (Phil. 4:2-3)

Icon of St. Clement of Rome


2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.




Here St. Paul urges two prominent women in the church at Philippi to not quarrel but rather be of one mind. If they really love Christ, they should learn to love one another, end their dispute, and live in peace. He also calls upon an unnamed person, whom he calls simply “true companion” (literally “yokefellow”) to help the two women to put aside their differences.

He also refers to Clement, whom our tradition identifies as St. Clement of Rome, the future bishop of Rome and author of the wonderful epistle 1 Clement.

Finally, he mentions that the names of Eudoia, Syntyche, Clement, and the rest of his fellow workers are written in the Book of Life. What is this mysterious book? FF comments:

“This Book of Life is a concept rooted in the OT; just as an earthly king had a register of favored people, so the heavenly King kept a book of his friends and favored ones (see Ex. 32:32; Dan. 12:1). As true and faithful believers, all their names were also inscribed into this Book of God’s favorites” (58-59). I would add that this “Book” is an image and probably does not refer to a literal book; it certainly should not be used as a proof text for the protestant ides of “once saved, always saved” or “unconditional election.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Our Citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:17-4:1)


17 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

1 Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.



Here, St. Paul wraps up his rather long warning against the Judaizers. Rather than follow the Judaizers’ example, St. Paul urges the Philippians to instead “follow my example, and note those who so walk” In other words, they should pay attention to those who live and believe as St. Paul does, and imitate them. For they have St. Paul and the other apostles as a “pattern” (Gk. typos).

As FF comments, “There must be no disunity, no breaking of ranks! Let them all together imitate him in this! This pattern that they are to imitate is the apostolic example and teaching. More specifically, he refers to the example of apostolic reliance upon Christ alone and of finding in baptism one’s full salvation. The forgiveness Christ offers there does not need to be supplemented or completed by any circumcision” (56).

Unfortunately, not all who professed Christ followed the apostolic pattern. The Judaizers, by insisting that Gentiles must be circumcised to become Christians, were really enemies of the Cross of Christ. Why is this? They certainly would have claimed to believe in the importance of the crucifixion of Christ. But their insistence on circumcision makes the Cross irrelevant; as St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “…if righteousness still comes through the Law, Christ died in vain.”

Note that St. Paul draws no pleasure from the Judiazer’s opposition to the Gospel that he preaches. His warnings about them are done with much weeping. Regarding this weeping, FF writes, “Here we see again the great heart of the apostle of God. He can be polemical, lashing out furiously against his foes, denouncing them in harsh language as dogs, wicked-workers, mutilators (3:2). Yet for all that, he still desires their salvation.” And in passing, FF adds a very important word of advice: “Here is the example for our own polemics. We must denounce unfaithfulness and heresy, but no hatred for the heretics themselves must enter our heart. We must love them enough to week over their heresy and loss of salvation” (56).

St. Paul describes the Judaizers in three ways, saying that their end is destruction (that is, their reliance on the Law for salvation will result in no salvation), their god is their belly (that is, they are ruled not by God, but by their own desires), and their glory is their shame. Their glory was getting Gentiles to submit to the Mosaic Law, which in the end will turn out to be no glory at all, for instead of putting up barriers to the Gentiles’ salvation, they should have broken them down.

The Judaizers’ entire mindset is earthly—“earthly racial descent, physical circumcision, material keeping of the Law. Though they claim to be more spiritual than St. Paul, their earthly concerns and issues reveal their true earthly mind or attitude” (FF, 57). In contrast to this, St. Paul affirms that the true Christian mindset is heavenly; as he writes, “our citizenship is in heaven.” The true Christian lives his or her life in eager expectation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, focusing on the things of eternal significance rather than on passing, wordly things such as circumcision or following all the details of the Law.

One reason that we should not be overly focused on the body is that it will pass away. Our bodies, of course, will one day all go into the ground. But then (at the final resurrection), they will be transformed. As FF writes, “Now we suffer the humiliation of sickness, the passions, and death. Then we shall share the Lord’s glory and be filled with His power—even that same invincible power which he has to submit all things to himself on the Last Day” (57).

In light of all these wonderful truths, St. Paul again urges the Philippians to “stand firm.” Note again his great love for them; he calls them “my beloved” twice in the same sentence and also refers to them as “my joy and my crown.” He did not call any other church by this name.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

About the Lent stuff - by Clint



So, I am entering my third Lenten season, second as an Orthodox Christian. I am not even going to pretend that I have any real deep insights into this season. I am still early in my journey. However, I have a couple of observations.

1. This is a great time to really reassess intentions. Why do I do what I do? Am I trying to receive accolades? Am I simply serving?

2. There is no way to divorce prayer, the giving of alms, and repentance. Lent has a great way of bringing all three of these to the forefront. Too often, we (I) focus on one or the other, and ignore the other two.

What brought all of this to my mind was a brief encounter with a homeless couple this past Sunday. Each week, after Divine Liturgy, Coffee Hour, and Bible Class, my family stops at a restaurant for a late lunch. It has become a family tradition (which is tougher during fasting times, let me tell you...)

Anyway, we had finished lunch this past week and were getting in the car to head home. As I was getting ready to enter the vehicle, I heard a scratchy voice saying, "sir, sir, can you help me?"

I turned to see a dirty, scraggly, beaten-down old man. I said, "what do you need?"

"I am hungry. Can you help me?"

You have probably run into this scenario, yourself. It isn't the first beggar I have seen. My first thought was "another bum, looking for booze money."

I replied, "I don't have any cash, sorry." He looked disappointed, but persisted, "anything will help."

Again, I told him, "I don't have any cash." He thanked me and turned to leave.

Here is the problem. I was lying. I did have money, sitting in my pocket. It wasn't much money, but I did have some.

I got in the car. The rest of my family was already situated. I looked over at my wife and said, "I am going to go to hell. I just lied to that guy. What kind of Lenten spirit do I have?"

I drove over to where the man had rejoined his wife (or companion, or whatever), rolled down the window and gave him the little bit of cash that I had. He and his wife both thanked me profusely. I wished them well. They told me, "God Bless you." I pray that he listens to their prayer.

It made me think a little. The small amount of cash meant little to me. I have more. I am not rich, but I am compared to that guy. The little bit of cash that I did have could put a warm meal in his and her bodies. They needed it much more than I did. I had just eaten in a nice restaurant (it was a Lenten meal, but still...).

It hit me for the first time that the giving of alms is just as important as prayer and fasting. It is something I need to learn better.

God forgive me for lying. God forgive me for thinking ill of that man and his companion. Who do I really think I am, judging them and their circumstances. What mattered was that there was one of God's children, in need of some help. May God bless them and forgive me.

My prayer is that he finds warmth and a resolution to his destitution. My prayer is that I learn what it really means to empty myself, and allow God to fill me.

I ask for your prayers as I struggle through this season.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Revelation: Message To A Suffering Church - Part 2



This is the final installment of this discussion. Read part 1 here.

Here we see that for a certain period of time, troubles will come to Christians, but the tormentors will eventually come to naught. God will overcome. Those who remain faithful will spend eternity in the presence of God: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Understanding that this is the major theme of Revelation raises the question of the seeming events that are presented in the text. If they are not to be understood as historical events, then to what do they refer? The words of Archimandrite Athanasios again guide us rightly: “the Book of Revelation is not just for the Greeks, or the Americans. It is a universal book…its period is the history of the universe and eternity." This means that the events described in the book are not specific historical events, but are symbolic of a type of event. Whether the persecution that prompted the writing of the Revelation was the persecution of Nero, or the one of Domitian, the nature of persecution and tribulation was the focus. Long after the original impetus of the book, persecution continued to exist: the Decian , the Diocletian, those under the Islamic caliphates, the Soviets, North Korea, and more. Therefore, rather than pointing to any of these individual persecutions, the message of Revelation is relevant to any Christian enduring any persecution from any enemy of God.

Fr. Paul Tarazi correctly says that it is important to understand the proper use of the symbolism in the book. Revelation does not speak of a “literal succession of historical periods: it is rather an extended discussion of Judgment Day." This leads the discussion back to the original point that the message of Revelation is the Second Coming of Christ. The book is eschatological in the sense that each Christian, throughout history, must decide to remain faithful to Christ, regardless of circumstances, so that victory will be theirs, even if defeat looks all but assured. Christ will eventually prove victorious, as he “is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18). Those who remain faithful are qualified “to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light… if indeed [they] continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which [they] heard” (Colossians 1: 12, 23). They are to hold on to what they have until the return of Christ (cf. Revelation 2:25).

In Revelation, numbers serve an import role. It is a common biblical literary technique to use numbers in a symbolic manner; it is not peculiar to Revelation. However, it is very prominent in this book, and much debate has been made over what the numbers actually mean. For example, some commentaries claim that the 144,000 people in Revelation 7 and 14 refer to “celibate ‘Jews for Jesus’” or to a specific group of people, finite in number, and once that number is reached there is no longer room for others in heaven. Yet a proper understanding of the use of numbers in biblical literature leads to a much more likely interpretation. Fr. Paul Tarazi explains that the number 12, in scripture, represents “all Israel” and is squared for emphasis. T.L. Frazier, considers the squaring of 12 to be a multiplication of the 12 Patriarchs, representing the Old Testament faithful, and the 12 Apostles, representing the New Testament faithful. In both approaches, the result is the same: 12 (and its square) represent all of the faithful, throughout all time. The number 10 normally means completeness, totality, or very large numbers. This is shown in Psalm 50:10, where the “cattle on a thousand hills” belong to the Lord. Multiplying the number adds emphasis, so 1000 clearly represents a large number of people, or the complete number of people. So we can see that the 144,000 in Revelation is clearly referring to all of the saved people, throughout all history, with none missing: 12X12X10X10X10 = 144,000. This is just one example of the use of numbers in Revelation, which can be easily misinterpreted if a proper Orthodox approach is not used.

Rather than focusing upon times, numbers, and events – looking to see if we are in “the end times” – Christians need to apply themselves to remaining faithful. Christian writers through the centuries have proclaimed that the “end times” began when the words were written, and will continue until Christ returns. So the prophetic nature of Revelation began when the words were penned, and “this same prophecy can actually continue until the end of times, until the Second Coming of Christ." The words of Jesus, in Revelation, declare this truth: “I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:17-18). He is not bound by time. He is eternal and universal. Those who choose to be aligned with Him will also share in his victory over death. Christ is the “vanquisher of Hades, on his casting the devil, death, and hell into the ‘lake of fire.'" Persecution is not eternal, but Christ and his victory are.

We have not discussed the various methods of interpreting Revelation, as that would be the topic for an entirely different paper. However, what has been accomplished here is in accord with traditional Orthodox interpretation, providing “a peculiarly Christian historical perspective by which to judge human events." While the message of Revelation concerns the Second Coming of Christ, the focus of the book is actually all of the “divine economy” and is to be read in the context of the rest of scripture. Regardless of what sort of persecution or temptation a Christian might face, it is always the right choice to remain faithful to Christ, in order to receive glory that is superior to the tribulations. To fall away from Christ is to consign oneself to defeat and torment. By remaining faithful, “we can walk this golden and bright journey of the Church in the face of the blood-shedding and life-killing swords of the godless powers all throughout history."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Revelation: Message To A Suffering Church - Part 1



The Book of Revelation has been the source of much controversy since the time it was written. The early Church debated its inclusion in the canon of accepted scripture, and even today, it is not used in the liturgical services of the Orthodox Church. However, it was eventually included in the canon and is considered to be holy scripture. Its apocalyptic nature has led to many bizarre interpretations, often leading to confusion. Once its true purpose is ascertained, the confusion can be swept aside and the beauty of the book can be appreciated. While there is no official Orthodox interpretation of the book, the commentaries by St. Andrew of Caesarea, St. Arethas, and St. Ecumenios have allowed for a general consensus. The majority of Orthodox writing on the book has focused upon what is not included therein, such as an earthly millennium. As this is a negative approach to the content of Revelation, it is useful to study what is included, so that the true message can be made plain.

The central message, according to Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios, is “the Second Coming of Christ as King and Judge." Yet this focus must be explained, in order to avoid the aforementioned confusion. Many of the bizarre interpretations result from seeing the focus of the book speaking only about this final consummation of all things at the Second Coming of Christ, ignoring all of the time that will have elapsed from the writing of the book to that eschatological event. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has stated that the “seemingly violent prophecy must be read in harmony with the rest of the Bible." By doing this, it is apparent that the message of Revelation was intended for its original recipients, and could be applied to all Christians in the intervening years, until Christ’ Second Coming. In this manner, the book is certainly eschatological, but in an ongoing manner.

Fr. Paul Tarazi has clearly shown that the book is an encouragement to remain faithful in the face of intense persecution. Those who succumb to the temptation of the persecution and become apostate will face a horrible end, while those who remain steadfast will enjoy a joyful outcome – regardless of how things appear in the present. This is accomplished, in Revelation, by presenting Jesus Christ as the “prototypical martyr to whom all martyrs will be likened and with whom they will reign in the coming kingdom of God." This difference in focus is not contrary to the message presented by Archimandrite Athanasios, but is complementary. This is evident due to the nature of Revelation as a theodicy, or a treatment of the “problem of evil.”

The date of writing and authorship of Revelation have been disputed since the earliest days of Christianity. Early Christian writers attributed it to the Apostle John, while later writers have considered various other authors, such as John Mark. I take the traditional opinion of the Early Church, that the Apostle John wrote it. Likewise, the date has been disputed, with the major considerations being pre-AD 70 or mid 90s AD. It is not possible, at this time, to make a definitive conclusion on either of these questions. However, regardless of who the author was, or when it was written, the message is still applicable to Christians. That does not change. Both of the dates in question were times of intense persecution of Christians, when many chose to turn their backs on Christianity. The author, regardless of who he actually was, was disturbed by the apostasy, and desired to encourage Christians to remain faithful to Christ.

The method that was chosen to accomplish this was to show that persecution was temporary, but Christ was eternal. To turn away from Him was to be condemned to eternal damnation, while to remain faithful was to be ultimately victorious – even if one died during the persecution. “The purpose of the book of the Revelation is both the preparation of the faithful to face the tribulation that awaits them, and the consolation and strengthening of the faithful that they might fight the good fight until the end (1 Tim. 6:12)." The nature of apocalyptic literature in the book exhorts “believers to stay true to their faith even at the expense of their lives if need be."

What must be avoided in interpreting Revelation is literally applying its words to specific future events. It is not a guidebook to such events in human history. The setting of the book is both heaven and earth, with reference to the entire universe. Rather than being limited to earth’s history, it moves into “universal history and eternity." It is a mistake to apply verses from Revelation to specific geographical locations or historical events. False interpretations are developed by doing this, with historical people, such as Nero, Hitler, President Obama, and others being seen in the interpretations. How encouraging could the book be to first century Christians, if the message of the Revelation was that President Obama was the Antichrist? How would that encourage them to remain faithful?

These strange interpretations are the result of misunderstanding the nature of the symbolism and apocalyptic nature of the book. This misunderstanding can take two forms: considering the book as a simple apocalypse or by taking the symbolism literally. In fact, the book is not merely an apocalypse, but has elements of parables and epistles, and is a type of prophecy, though it does include apocalyptic elements, as well. As such, the symbolic language is not to be taken literally. To do so limits the meaning of the book to one specific time and place, and makes the book irrelevant to any other. These faulty interpretations take the focus away from the true meaning of the book – an exhortation to remain faithful in the face of persecution, in order to receive eternal life in Christ.

This leads us back to the idea of Revelation as a theodicy. The problem of evil has troubled Christians (and non-Christians) for centuries. If Christians are truly the people of God, then why do they undergo persecution and trouble? Why are they not blessed with a peaceful existence? Would it not be better to forgo Christianity in order to live an easier life? Revelation attempts to answer this difficulty by pointing out that evil may hold sway for a time, but will not ultimately prevail. Revelation 20: 7-10 shows this:

Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.


To Be Continued....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Connection Between the Transfiguration and Pascha -Part 3



This is the final installment. Part one can be read here. Part two can be read here.

Furthermore, Christians are challenged to “Come ye, take light from the LIGHT that is never overtaken by night. Come, glorify the Christ, risen from the dead” (Nassar 920). So it is apparent that the promise of The Transfiguration is bestowed at Pascha. It is the resurrection of Christ that allows humanity to be transfigured.

As the first man, Adam is an important figure in the hymnography of both feasts. Adam was the first sinner. Yet it is the very humanity of Adam that Christ took on. “Thou has put Adam on entire, O Christ, and changing the nature grown dark in past times, Thou hast filled it with glory and made it godlike by the alteration of Thy form” (The Festal Menaion 483). The sin of Adam had consumed the world and all were doomed to hades. Yet Christ overcame that sin. “O my Saviour, O thou living and unsacrificed offering, as thou art God, thou didst of they free will offer thyself an offering to the Father. And when thou didst rise from the tomb, thou didst raise Adam and all his race with thee” (Nassar 924). St. John Chrysostom provides a succinct description: “Adam is the image of Christ…as the man for those who came from him, even though they did not eat of the tree, became the cause of death, then Christ for those who are born of Him, although they have done no good, became the bearer of righteousness, which he gave to all of us through the Cross."

Pascha is the fulfillment of The Transfiguration. Just as the voice from heaven commanded, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (NKJV; Matthew 17: 5) at The Transiguration, so Pascha can be described as the day in which “…these thy children have followed thee as God-lighted stars, from the west and from the north, from the sea and from the east, blessing the Christ in thee for evermore” (Nassar 927), indicating that these are the ones who have hear Him. Another consideration regarding this Paschal fulfillment has to do with grapes. Grapes are commonly blessed at The Transfiguration feast. “Bless, O Lord, this new fruit of the vine, which thou has been pleased to bring to full ripeness…May we who partake thereof be filled with joy; and upon those who offer this fruit of the vine for use at Thy Holy Table, may it confer forgiveness of sins, through the sacred and holy Body and Blood of Thy Christ” (The Festal Menaion 502). This is a clear reference to the Paschal sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist in which Christians partake at each Divine Liturgy. “Come, let us drink a new drink, not wondrously produced from a barren rock, but from the fount of incorruption, that hath come to us with the overflowing of Christ from the tomb, in whom we are strengthened” (Nassar 922). This drink is the “blood of the new covenant,” the blood of Christ (Liturgikon 281).

The Transfiguration and Pascha are intricately tied together. The transformational nature of both feasts is evident. Both call mankind to hear and follow Christ, receiving forgiveness, salvation, and glory. Both feasts clearly point to the ultimate transfiguration of both Christ and his followers. Mankind’s sin is overcome, death is defeated, and Christ leads his Church to eternal life. The glory of the divinity of Christ is manifest in both feasts, as he shone brilliantly at the transfiguration, and he destroyed death by death at Pascha. Because of this, death is shown to be a beginning, not an end. The particular components of the hymnology of the feasts demonstrate that they are closely related. Death figures predominantly in the feasts, yet both are defined by brightness and light. The blood of Christ is foreshadowed by the blessing of grapes. Christians can take heart that blessings are bestowed at both feasts. Christ who “coverest [himself] with light as with a garment” (Psalm 103:1-2; cf. The Festal Menaion 497) shares that light with his followers, allowing them to receive that same light at Pascha: “Then on us the Sun of righteousness from the tomb did shine, brilliant, resplendent…Let us, therefore, the holy people, seeing the fulfillment of those symbols, rejoice with divine rejoicing; for Christ the Almighty is risen” (Nassar 923).

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Connection Between the Transfiguration and Pascha -Part 2



This is part 2. You can read part 1 here.

It is this focus on the death of Christ, his divinity, and the salvation of mankind that seems to be the foci of both feasts. The Transfiguration foreshadows the death and resurrection of Pascha: “Calling Moses and Elijah to be witnesses of this exceeding grace, He made them sharers in His joy, foretelling his decease through the Cross and his saving Resurrection… [Christ] wast transfigured, and has made the nature that had grown dark in Adam to shine again as lightning, transforming it into the glory and splendour of [his] own divinity” (The Festal Menaion 476-7). At Pascha, the Deacon chants, “In the grave with the body but in hades with the soul as God; in paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit was thou, O Christ, filling all things, thyself uncircumscribed,” and “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life” (Liturgikon 383).

Christ overcomes the sinfulness of man. At The Transfiguration, he gives a brief glimpse of his divinity. His disciples heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, who has come into the world to save mankind” (The Festal Menaion 477). During the feast of The Transfiguration, Christians cry out to Christ to “give light now to our souls,” just as he had shone light upon his disciples (The Festal Menaion 478). This light is given to Christians at Pachca. Fr. Schmemann tells us that Pascha (which is normally celebrated at night) “becomes brighter than the day,” and is a celebration of the joy that comes from the reality of salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of God.

The Transfiguration demonstrates that Christ is able to overcome mankind’s sin, and bring glory into the world by focusing upon the Resurrection. In this way, Christians are encouraged to look past the suffering of the cross and to notice the Resurrection (The Festal Menaion 62). The glory that was shown that day is one that all Christians can share. That glory is made available because of Christ’s death, burial and Resurrection – Pascha. On the feast day of The Transfiguration, Christians sing, “…let us…direct our minds to heavenly things, being shaped anew in piety according to the form of Christ. For in His mercy, the Saviour of our souls has transfigured man and made him shine with light upon Mount Tabor” (The Festal Menaion 468). That human transfiguring is accomplished through the sacrifice of Pascha:

As many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death. For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection… Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ. (Romans 6:3-4,8; read on Great Holy Saturday)


To Be Continued...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Connection Between the Transfiguration and Pascha - Part 1



Many people, including many Orthodox Christians, believe that the feast days of the Church are mere remembrances of past events. However, these events are actually timeless – in the since that they are not bound by time, but exist outside of it. Hence, the feasts are realizations in the present of those timeless events. This is why the present tense is so often used in the hymnography of the feasts. This fact is demonstrated in the first words of Small Vespers for The Transfiguration: “…let us be transformed this day into a better state…” (The Festal Menaion 468). Ultimately, all of the feasts, including The Transfiguration, can be related to Pascha – the ultimate timeless reality – demonstrating that the reality of Pascha is a present experience for Orthodox Christians, not only on the actual celebration of Pascha, but throughout the Church Year.

Transformation is a key component of both The Transfiguration and Pascha. St. Ephrem the Syrian provides these words: “…take from me the spirit of sloth…but rather give the spirit of chastity…” to articulate the meaning of the journey to Pascha. Likewise, Cosmas the Monk instructs us that The Transfiguration proves “that those who surpass the height of their virtues shall be counted worthy of the divine glory” (The Festal Menaion 470). We can also see in The Transfiguration that through Christ, humanity is changed. The dark nature has been replaced. Christ has “filled it with glory and made it godlike by the alteration” of His form (The Festal Menaion 483).

Just as Christ was “transfigured and [shone] more brightly than the sun…” at his transfiguration (The Festal Menaion 495), so are Christians to “shine with the feast” on the Day of Resurrection (Nassar 930). This brightness, or shining, is intimately associated with death (and resurrection – the triumph over death) in both Paschal and The Transfiguration hymnology. This association demonstrates the Orthodox perspective that death is not an ending, but a beginning. In the Ninth Ode of Paschal Matins, Christians sing, “Shine, shine, O new Jerusalem; for the glory of the Lord hath risen upon thee…him who died of his own free will, and was buried, and did rise from the tomb on the third day” (Nassar 928). At The Transfiguration, “the visible sun was eclipsed by the rays of [Christ’s] divinity…” (The Festal Menaion 486), as Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, appearing “in glory and [speaking] of [Christ’s] decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (NKJV, Luke 9:31).

Furthermore, both Pascha and The Transfiguration demonstrate “in some small measure…the light of the immaterial Godhead” (The Festal Menaion 487). At The Transfiguration, this is shown by not only the ineffable shining, but also by the witness of Moses and Elijah and the voice from Heaven that proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God (The Festal Menaion 487, 492). We read further that the apostles were struck with fear when Christ was transfigured:

When they saw Thee transfigured and shining more brightly than the sun, falling upon their faces, they were smitten with wonder at thy power, and cried aloud: ‘O Christ, Thou are the timeless Light and Brightness of the Father, yet of Thine own will without changing Thou art made manifest in the flesh.’ …Thou wast transfigured before Thy disciples, shining more brightly than the sun. Moses and Elijah stood by Thy side, making it plain that Thou art Lord both of the dead and of the living: they glorified Thine ineffable dispensation…whereby Thou has saved the world lost utterly in sin... and the voice of the Father… plainly declared Thee to be the beloved Son, one in essence and sharing the same throne. (The Festal Menaion 495-6)

The resurrectional apolytikion of Pascha elucidates the same point about Christ’s divinity: “When thou didst descend unto death, O Life immortal, then thou didst destroy hades with the brilliance of thy divinity; and when thou didst raise the dead from beneath the earth, all the powers of heaven did cry aloud unto thee: O Christ, thou Giver of live, glory to thee, O our God” (Liturgikon 372).

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Typology and Allegory as Exegetical Methods in the Patristic Era - Part 2



This is the final installment of this discussion. You can read the first one here.

In contrast to allegory, the use of typology was used to indicate the unity of the two testaments. In many ways, the two methods of interpretation are similar, such as the use of symbols and interconnectedness of the Old and New Testaments. In typology, the people and events in the Old Testament prefigured and anticipated the people and events of the New Testament. However, rather than spiritualizing the texts, typology accepted the reality and importance of the literal interpretation. It gave a very high view of the historical events as “pointers to God’s future dealings with men."

This method of interpretation also traced its authority back to St. Paul, who used typology to correlate the exodus from Egypt to Baptism and the rock from which water flowed in the desert to Christ (NKJV;1 Corinthians 10:1-4). In fact, typology was the “normal” Christian method of interpretation in ancient Christianity, which was used successfully to counter heretics, such as Marcion. In this manner, the Church endeavored to properly determine the relationship between the events of the Old Testament and the events recorded in what would become the New Testament. The Church realized that if the Old Testament was truly inspired scripture, speaking of God’s revelation to the world, consummated in Christ, then it must be “Christian.” Too often the apostolic writings referred to an event being “according to the scriptures,” meaning the Old Testament, for them to be considered anything other than Christian. Using the events recorded in St. Luke 24:27, where Jesus taught his followers “in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself,” these theologians began to look in the Old Testament for those very things, showing that the things were types of Christ. St. Clement, the unknown author of “Barnabus,” and others were proponents of this approach to scriptural interpretation.

Typology further intended to demonstrate the ongoing nature of God’s revelation. This revelation was progressive, with layer being laid upon layer, reaching the fulfillment of revelation in Christ. Therefore, earlier revelation must be consistent with this ultimate fulfillment. The earlier revelations were shadows of the reality of Christ. Again, this finds scriptural support in the words of St. Paul: “These [religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day] are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossian 2:17).

“Most of what the Christian theologians of the second century …had to say about the inspiration of the biblical writer pertained to the Old Testament prophets rather than to the authors of the books of the New Testament." It was the use of allegory and typology that they employed to make this connection. As such, the words of the Old Testament were just as important and holy as those written by the Apostles. “The words of the Moses were the words of Christ." This did not limit the Christian aspect of the Old Testament to obviously connected passages, such as Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22, but entailed each verse of the entire corpus of scripture. It has been said that “mystical interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or fall together." This indicates how important these methods of interpretation are in the history and life of the Church.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Typology and Allegory as Exegetical Methods in the Patristic Era - Part 1



The early Church was faced with numerous questions about how to utilize the scriptures inherited from the Jews, as well as the apostolic writings from the first century. The church determined that the scripture would not be interpreted in a legalistic manner, as the Jews had dealt with the Mosaic Law. Yet the other extreme, anarchism, was also to be avoided. Various churchmen addressed this issue, with different approaches, and different results. Two of the most important from the Patristic era were the use of allegory and typology.

Allegory was also inherited from Jewish theologians, such as Philo. In response to pagan accusations of the veracity of scriptural stories, Christian apologists began to employ the use of allegory to explain the “spiritual” meaning of texts. Building upon the example of St. Paul in Galatians 4, where the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar was equated with ancient Israel and the Church, Christian authors, such as Origen, the Alexandrian theologians, and even the Cappadocian Fathers, incorporated this hermeneutic method into their interpretations. Ultimately, the Alexandrian school took the leadership in this form of interpretation and Allegory became associated with them. However, there were other prominent Orthodox theologians who also employed Allegory, at least to some degree, including St. John Chrysostom, who “admitted the propriety of treating Cain as prefiguring the synagogue, Abel the Church, and the spotless lamb enjoined by the Law of Christ."

Allegory tends to ignore the literal meaning of the text, and focuses upon the symbolic meaning of the words. St. Augustine provides a good example of this method, when he taught that the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where Adam, Paradise, Sin, the Devil, the Church, and the Priesthood are to be understood as proper interpretations of the locations and individuals involved in that story. By using this technique, early Christian writers were able to find Christian meaning in obscure Old Testament texts. Broad themes were addressed in this manner, with every action in a text representing a spiritual truth and every physical location representing a spiritual location.

The Platonic background of many of the allegorizing writers made it simple for them to make application of this method. This philosophical approach tended toward a spiritual interpretation of words, in order to learn “real” truth, where transcendent truth could be interpreted by the intellect. Origen brought this approach to prominence in the Christian community, as he believed that “Scripture [was] a vast ocean…of mysteries; it was impossible to fathom…them all, but one could be sure that every line…was replete with meaning." Ultimately, Origen taught that there were three levels of meaning: “the bodily, the psychic and the spiritual." These three were understood to be the literal sense, the moral sense, and the mystic sense, respectively. According to its proponents, only an allegorical approach could allow for a proper interpretation of scripture, worthy of the Holy Spirit, with the spiritual sense being the “perfect and complete meaning." “Every proper name, every number, all the animals, plants and metals mentioned [in scripture] seemed to [Origen] to be allegories of theological or spiritual truths."

Eventually, Christian theologians, such as Theodore of Mopsuestia, modified and tempered the use of allegory. He determined that the allegorical method of Origen was an “abuse of [St. Paul’s] term” and that a proper allegory was “one that compared [and applied] events that happened in the past to the present." These new theologians were more restrained than their predecessors in utilizing the allegorical method of applying Old Testament examples to New Testament/Christian elements.

To be Continued...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Update from Katie Wilcoxson in Tanzania



Furaha na Amani! (joy and peace)

I am so very grateful for all of your daily prayers and support. It is hard to imagine that we have been here for eight months. Maria Roeber, an Orthodox Christian from the DC area, will be joining us after Pascha. She is a labor and delivery nurse and will start just as we did with learning the Swahili language for the first few months. She will be living with us in the "African version of the White House" in Bukoba, Tanzania.

Well, the news here is that we are patiently waiting for news if the hospital will be funded by the church in Greece. Until then we are making friends, learning Swahili, and Tanzanian culture. I do get to do some nursing. Whenever someone hears that I am a nurse they tell me about their health issues. I usually can help and know what the problem is, but sometimes I get stumped.The rainy season has started, kind of. It rains almost everyday in the morning and then it is sunny the rest of the day. This is not what I would call the rainy season, though. I was thinking more of a monsoon type rain.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support!!!


In Christ's Everlasting Love,

Katie Wilcoxson

"We cannot ask God and His holy saints that they remove all the difficulties
from our missionary road and everything that causes us moral suffering. We
can only pray that He help us carry the cross, and enable us to survive the
difficulties and sufferings that await us on our missionary road. Our
service is giving birth to spiritual children for God; and what birth is not
accompanied by pain? And for this we must be prepared in advance. But we
have a source of great consolation. To serve with energy and success we must
have confidence beforehand that our labor is not in vain and that our work
will be crowned with success." (St. Nicholas of Japan)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Public and Private: Penance and Confession (Part 4)



This is the final installment of this essay. The first three posts can be read here, here, and here.

Part of the Christian preparation for partaking of the Eucharist involves acknowledging one’s sinfulness. During the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Christians pray, “…[Christ] came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief…wherefore, I pray thee [Christ] have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary…and make me worthy to partake without condemnation of thine immaculate mysteries, unto remission of my sins and unto life everlasting…” shortly before partaking of the Eucharist. In this manner, a remnant of the early Christian practice of public penance is retained. The whole body of Christians jointly proclaims their sinfulness and need of consuming the Eucharist in order to receive forgiveness.

In fact, the connection between Repentance, Baptism and the Eucharist is evident in the ancient practices of the Church. In the early days of the Church (and still often practiced today), Baptisms took place at Pascha. By the second century, a two day fast was proscribed before the Pascha Eucharist. The periods of preparation began to be extended, lasting for weeks. This preparation period was originally for those who would be undergoing Baptism at Pascha. So the modern practice of Lent began as a time for preparation for those who would shortly become Christians. It was a time of repentance, where one would begin to address his sinful past, in order to be ready to receive Baptism and participate in the Eucharist.

So modern practice does clearly show the connection between the Eucharist and Confession/Repentance. Granted, the Christian must intentionally make the connection, but it is evident. The connection between Repentance and the Eucharist is made more evident by the loosely applied requirement for frequent confession. Besides the obvious connection of Lent, at my parish, Christians are encouraged to confess in the presence of the priest no less often than every three months. The implication is that if this does not occur, the Christian could be barred from receiving the Eucharist until Confession takes place. Confession and the Eucharist are therefore tied together in a practical way.

The connection between Confession and Baptism is more nebulous in my experience. This does not imply that my Christian education was faulty, but that since baptism is a one-time event, there is no ongoing connection evident in a tangible way. It is a spiritual understanding. By my regular and extensive reading of Orthodox teachers and theologians, I am personally aware of the connection, but I don’t see it taught regularly. However, it is apparent in the hymnology of the Church, especially when Baptisms take place.

In any event, the history of confession shows that while the application of the sacrament has changed from the earliest days of Christianity, it remains an important part of the Christian life. While true public proclamations are no longer practiced, and private confession is the norm, the life of the Church is made possible by the forgiveness of sins that Christians receive in baptism and continue to receive via confession. The health of the church requires this. By participating in regular confession, Christians are encouraged to avoid sin, and to be prepared to receive the Eucharist, in order to be further drawn into the life of Christ. “’Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered’ (Ps 31:1) The barrier between him and God has fallen, and he is in full blissful, and eternal union with his Lord!”

Friday, March 4, 2011

Public and Private: Penance and Confession (Part 3)



This is the third installment of this discussion. The first part can be read here. The second can be found here.

The transition to private confession dealt with some of these concerns, but allowed for the development of different problems. One great strength of the private sacrament is that the fear of public humiliation is removed. Now, the admitting of sin is confined to a discussion between the sinner and the Priest, in the presence of Christ. The remainder of the Faithful are excluded from the conversation. This allows for an environment more conducive for a sinning Christian to truly admit to sin, to make changes, and to remain within the Church.

Private confession’s weakness is that there is a loss of accountability within the Church, as a whole. No longer does a sinner expect that fellow Christians are “keeping an eye” on him. Normally, only the Priest knows the temptations and struggles of each member. Since the Priest must serve many different parishioners, it can be difficult for him to truly keep track of the lifestyle of each one. There is more pressure on the individual to maintain faithfulness. While some sins do require a more public penance, even in modern times, the actual application of this is rare in most Churches. Therefore, few Christians know of the struggles of their fellow Church members. While this might appear to be a pleasant thing, in fact, it does not allow the members to truly serve as a support and encouragement to one another.

The practice of the sacrament of Repentance in the modern Church is an important consideration. None of the sacraments exist in isolation from the others, but are part of an inter-dependant whole. Christians receive forgiveness of sins when they are baptized. Yet, when they sin after baptism, they must undergo the sacrament of repentance, which is often called “the second baptism." Just as baptism is a transition from the darkness of spiritual death into the brightness of eternal life, so repentance is “a transition from darkness to life; to repent is to open our eyes to the divine radiance." All sacraments are an interaction between the divine and the human. In baptism, this cooperation is seen as life being bestowed upon the new Christian, with sins being forgiven. We die to our sinful selves, and rise to live the Christian life. In repentance, we acknowledge that we have failed in that lifestyle, and renew our commitment. In a sense, this “second baptism” can be seen as the re-bestowal of the forgiveness provided at Baptism.

Both Repentance and Baptism are intimately related to the concept of forgiveness. Baptism is seen as the door to the Church, where the formerly non-Christian is accepted into the life of Christ and to membership in his Body, the Church. Repentance is understood to be a type of re-entrance into the life of Christ. Whereas baptism provides for remission of past sins, so repentance provides for forgiveness of trespasses occurring since that time. Both are an admittance of failure on the part of the Christian, and reliance upon the strength and mercy of God to persevere in the future.

Baptism is not the only sacrament that can be clearly tied to repentance. The Eucharist is likewise intimately related to the others. The partaking of the Eucharist is a proclamation of Christ’s death – the avenue through which forgiveness of sins is provided. St. Paul taught that the cup of the Eucharist was “the new covenant in My blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). In the Revelation of St. John, the faithful are described as the ones who had been washed in the blood of the lamb [Christ] (Revelation 7:14). It is by identifying with the death of Christ that one enters the Church. That identification occurs at baptism. The Eucharist is the sacrament through which the Christian regularly partakes of Christ and receives salvation, deification, and true life.

...to be continued

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Update from James Hargrave in Tanzania



Dear friends,

Nisamehe mimi, mwenye dhambi. Forgive me, a sinner.

And greetings from Mwanza, here at the beginning of Great and Holy Lent. After weeks of travel in January, I have been grateful to be home for the past month. Life here is slowly developing a rhythm. I've been busy furnishing my new apartment, a task which is complicated by the need to negotiate the price of everything from wardrobes to spoons. Back in Gainesville I furnished my house by visiting thrift stores and borrowing from the family stash. Neither is an option here, so this is a new experience.

No news is generally good news, so I'm happy to say there's not a lot to report from this part of the continent. We have joined the whole world in concern and prayer over recent events in North Africa, but society here is not being harmed by these far-away happenings.

As we enter Great and Holy Lent, I have been reflecting on the past year. I arrived in Tanzania during the Resurrection season of 2010 and so last year Lent was my time of final preparation for beginning missionary service. Now I am getting ready to see Christ risen in a new context, and to go forth from that Resurrection into my second year here in our Holy Archdiocese of Mwanza.

I am grateful for your presence with me in this past year. It is an awesome responsibility, but a profound privilege and encouragement to be here because of you. Your faithful prayers have sustained me. Your correspondence has encouraged me and has kept me close despite our physical distance. And your consistent, faithful financial support allows me to remain in this place. Thank you.

And stay in touch!

Mungu akusamehe. God forgives.

James

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Public and Private: Penance and Confession (Part 2)



This is the second part of this discussion. Read the first part here.

St. Cyprian struggled with this issue and wrote his great treatise On the Lapsed, where the determination was that the penitent sinner would be ultimately received back into the church, after considerable penance. At this point, confession for a Christian who had sinned was “a public confession of guilt…and an appeal to the community for its prayer and support." Most sinners would pursue repentance by participating fully in the life of the Church.

In the East, the problem of repenting Christians was dealt with in a less severe manner, focusing upon pastoral care, and was considered less humiliating. Though all sin was considered forgivable, penance was laborious. Since the east had a “healing” aspect, private confession came “to have a bearing on the public discipline beyond the counseling offered to penitents subject to the public discipline." This emphasis on healing and providing spiritual direction allowed for a fairly easy transition from public ecclesial penance to a private sacramental penance. As such, liturgical rituals began to be developed and administered. In order to allow for uniformity and to discourage abuses of power, synodal legislation was put into place. By the fifth century, these rituals had become defined. St. John Chrysostom, in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries, taught that priests had the ability to “bind and loose, cleanse and heal by their prayers. The word penance itself lost its original meaning of conversion and began to take on the connotations of difficulty, sacrifice, and penalty." The overtly public nature of penance had virtually disappeared by the 5th century, and private confession became, and continues to be, the normal confessional practice.

Modern understanding of confession entails that the penitent Christian approach the Priest, and reveal to him “in a detailed, frank, and full confession the secrets of his heart and conscience.” The Priest, convinced of the sinner’s sincere desire to repent, reads a sacramental prayer, in which Jesus Christ, through the person of the Priest, provides forgiveness. Though one might confess, privately, to God alone, the sin is not forgiven unless the confession takes place in the presence of a Priest. “It cures our pride; …it instills in us a shame and fear and thus protects us from future sins."

In the early Church, the requirement that confession and penance be public provided some very effective aspects for the life of the Church. When the whole Church is involved in penance, accountability is enhanced. If one truly desires to be a part of the Christian Community, it is more difficult to continue in sinful behavior when the whole Church is watching the daily interactions of the sinner. The struggling Christian has much support and encouragement to live in a proper manner. This enhanced accountability serves the Church, as well as the individual. As Jesus clearly stated, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (St. John 13:35). The public nature of penance was one way for the local Church to show love for one another, by helping sin be avoided. So the individual sinner was kept pure, the Church was kept whole and free from sin, and the evangelistic nature of the Church was enhanced.

However, there are weaknesses to public penance. Once the sin of a Christian was made public, the nature of the relationship between that person and the rest of the Church could be altered. Trust might be weakened. In fact, fear of public knowledge could easily cause members to simply reject membership in the Church, to avoid public humiliation. It would seem that public penance would be effective, as long as the personal desire to remain a Christian was more powerful than the desire to avoid public shame, and that the various members of the Church were truly committed to the healing and salvation of the sinner. Since every Christian sins, the continual public penance could potentially lead to a weakened familial structure within the Church, if the sinner, in fact, chose to admit the sin at all.

...to be continued

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Public and Private: Penance and Confession (Part 1)



“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (NKJV; St. James 5:16). The New Testament scriptures instruct believers to publically confess sins to one another to receive forgiveness and healing. Since the Church is composed of its individual members, each being a part of the whole, sin within the body of Christ is unacceptable. The sin of one member affects the whole of the body. Therefore, confrontation, correction, and confession of sin was of paramount importance in the early Church, in order for the Church to remain healthy and vibrant. Just as the sin of Achan had caused the Israelites to suffer, so might the sin of any member cause the Church to suffer (cf. Joshua 7). Yet, unlike Achan, who was executed for his sin, Christians were not to immediately reject the sinful member, but were directed to help the sinner to overcome the sin and to be fully reconciled to the body. The attitude was not judgmental, but one of love and concern. Even the drastic methods of excommunication (forbidden to receive communion) and being “cut off” from the Church were intended to be public methods to prompt repentance in the sinner. If the sinner did repent, then he was received back with full membership. What we do not find in the New Testament, or even the writings of the ancient Church, is a specific sacramental ritual to be used for confession and repentance. Certainly, the early Church did not have the same rituals that are now used in Orthodoxy, as can be seen from this quote in the Didache: “In church confess your sins, and do not come to your prayers with a guilty conscience." By the middle of the second century, however, the Church began to formalize specific sacramental rituals for repentance and confession, for both new Christians and those being reconciled. The rituals eventually led to confession being a more private affair, with three individuals being present: “priest, penitent, and Christ the Physician." The changing culture and environment in which the Church found itself was very important in this transformation, as was the increasing membership.

At the outset of the Orthodox Church, every member was a “new” member. When they confessed their sins and were baptized, they received forgiveness for those sins. This confession was (and still is) a public pronouncement, where the confessing person proclaimed the goodness of God, a rejection of his or her sinful past, and an acceptance of the Christian lifestyle.(I refer here to the rejection of Satan and the joining to Christ, which is completed during the service of the Catechumens immediately before baptism. I am not referring to the private confession that soon-to-be Christians make). Yet a problem soon arose. What could be done for those who sinned after baptism? There was only one baptism. It could not be repeated. Could post-baptismal sins be forgiven? By the third century, both pre- and post- baptismal repentance existed, though post-baptismal penitence was considered exceptional. A separate ritual began to be developed for secondary penitence. It differed from the initial penitence in several ways, though it was still conducted in public, amidst the assembled Church. This approach received impetus from the Decian persecution, in which many Christians succumbed to the threat of persecution, but wanted to return to the Church after the danger had passed.

...to be continued