Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Excerpts from the May newsletter

SAINT OF THE MONTH


SAINT ALEXIS: May 7

Alexis Toth was born on March 18, 1854, in Hungary. He studied in Roman and Byzantine Catholic. Alexis was ordained a priest in the Uniate Greek Catholic Church in 1878 and assigned as a parish priest. His wife died soon afterwards, followed by their only child. In 1889, he was appointed to pastor St. Mary’s Uniate parish in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The local Roman Catholic bishop refused to accept him as a legitimate priest. Other Uniate communities were being treated in the same way by Roman Catholic bishops all over America. The situation with the Roman bishops prompted him to think about taking action. On March 25, 1891, Orthodox Bishop Vladimir went to Minneapolis and received Fr. Alexis and his community. The other Uniate communities saw and took courage in following his example. In the midst of great hardships, he issued a stream of Orthodox writings for new converts and gave practical advice on how to live in an Orthodox manner.
Read more at http://www.antiochian.org/north-american-saints


ASCENSION

On the fortieth day after his passover, Jesus ascended into heaven to be glorified on the right hand of God (Acts 1:9-11; Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51). The ascension of Christ is his final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of his mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is his glorious return to the Father who had sent him into the world to accomplish the work that he had given him to do.
The Church’s celebration of the ascension, as all such festal celebrations, is not merely the remembrance of an event in Christ’s life. 
The Lord leaves in order to be glorified with God the Father and to glorify us with himself. He goes in order to “prepare a place” for and to take us also into the blessedness of God s presence. He goes to open the way for all flesh into the “heavenly sanctuary ... the Holy Place not made by hands” (see Hebrews 8-10). He goes in order send the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father to bear witness to him and his gospel in the world, making him powerfully present in the lives of disciples.
Excerpts from http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/ascension1 




Pentecost

The Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to his disciples came on the day of Pentecost (Jn 14:26, 15:26; Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5). The apostles received “the power from on high,” and they began to preach and bear witness to Jesus as the risen Christ, the King and the Lord. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.
Thus, Pentecost is called an apocalyptic day, which means the day of final revelation. It is also called an eschatological day, which means the day of the final and perfect end (in Greek eschaton> means the end). For when the Messiah comes and the Lord’s Day is at hand, the “last days” are inaugurated in which “God declares:... I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” This is the ancient prophecy to which the Apostle Peter refers in the first sermon of the Christian Church which was preached on the first Sunday of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1 7; Joel 2: 28-32). Excerpts from http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/pentecost-the-descent-of-the-holy-spirit


The Wrathful God – missing in action from the Orthodox Church             Fr. Andrew

When I first came into the Orthodox Church, back in the early 1980’s, it was largely through the prayers and guidance of a very wise and very Orthodox priestmonk Fr. Loren Kubin who became our dear spiritual father in Christ. He simply asked me where I was getting my teaching and suggested I read some of the early Church fathers so see how things squared with what they had to say. I was quite unaware that there even was much to consider before Martin Luther, so it was quite a shock when I started reading some of books he gave me as the “Apostolic Fathers” were taught either directly from the Apostles or within a generation or two; a good couple of centuries before the canon of the new testament was finalized around the early fourth century. They were surprisingly consistent on things that I had understood were not really a healthy part of Christianity up until then. Little things like the sacramental nature of the Church, the importance of communion and the body and blood of Christ therein, the liturgical normalcy of the worship service, the place and authority of Bishops, honour of the ever virgin Mary as the birth giver of God… Needless to say my “theology” having been formed within the folds of the Baptist, Evangelical, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Lutheran and other “non-denominational” but very protestant evangelical circles, lay in a smouldering heap at my feet burning my toes, and I felt like a ship without a rudder for a time.

I think quite a number of us “Orthodox converts” can tell a similar story with feelings of great awakening mixed with a bit of bewilderment and even perhaps a little resentment – which hopefully quickly passed (the resentment that is). The essential question of “Who do you trust and why” to explain the precious things of the faith and how to interpret the scriptures is of fundamental importance. The teachings of those early Christian Fathers who were taught directly by Christ’s Apostles, and later Fathers who were led by the Holy Spirit to give us the 27 books we now all hold in common as the canonical books of the New Testament, are obviously the most trustworthy source. Finding they were all Orthodox Christians, fiercely defending the purity of the Orthodox faith and they had much to say regarding scriptural interpretation and the faith brought me into the Church.

I entered into the Orthodox Church and began to encounter the great treasure found in the heritage of the Church, all of which is given to us to lead us to an ever deepening life in Christ. As I journeyed, I discovered that I missed, in my early impressions of the main differences between the Orthodox Church and the other two major streams of Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), what I now consider to be probably the most important difference; the absence of the “wrathful God.” It is hard to comprehend how much the spectre of this angry God, fiercely looking down upon us pathetic sinners and pronouncing judgement and hellfire as the only just consequence for our sinful ways had shaped my thinking and messed up my motivation to serve God. 

 In my previous non-Orthodox teaching, God the Son came to save me from the wrath of God the Father. His demand for divine judgement was such that the only way to satisfy it was to send down His Son to be sacrificed for our sakes, thus atoning for our sins and satisfying God’s need to be appeased. Or perhaps somehow this was also to pay a ransom as such to the rightful owner of the race of Adam – the devil. I never could quite grasp why the devil should be given a ransom by the only all powerful God to begin with, especially such a valuable one as God Himself incarnated as a true human being as Jesus Christ. So either the devil required a cosmic ransom payment to free us from his hold on us, or God required satisfaction for the debt we had incurred but could never repay ourselves, being the sinful depraved creatures we had become. How to reconcile this vision of the loving “Abba” father Christ talks about in the gospels so tenderly, and this wrathful entity who has a need for cosmic appeasement that is somehow demanded by His unbending sense of justice. No wonder so many sensible humans run screaming from such a hideous picture of our loving God and want nothing to do with the “church.” I suspect that our dear Father God probably looks very kindly upon them for rejecting this distorted view which purports to represent Him.

Thanks be to God, that the Orthodox Church has an entirely different view of God and salvation and original sin than that of the “wrathful God” which developed in the Roman Catholic Church, and was taken and even further by most of the Protestants. The Protestant reformation threw out many things well worth throwing out when they left Rome, things such as indulgences and complete Papal authority (both of which are still very much alive and active in the RC church). As the Protestant movement developed and further fractured however, certain sects also threw out a number of precious and holy things that had always been an essential and unquestioned part of the church from the time of the Apostles – most essentially the precious and life giving sacrament of communion, a healthy respect for the blessed Theotokos, and Church order with proper ecclesiastical authority. A talented Romanian priest friend of mine Fr. Dan Suciu has written an interesting little booklet called “Orthodoxy; Catholicism without Additions; Protestantism without Subtractions” which is a pretty good one sentence working description of The Orthodox Church. Unfortunately when cleaning house, the Protestants kept this view of the “wrathful God” who needed satisfaction, and in some cases presented an even more distorted and insane caricature of our precious and all loving Father God. Have a read of the greatly admired (in some circles) Calvinist reformer Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to get a sense of this.

The Orthodox view of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross comes from a completely different mindset. There is no “Angry God” to placate, and indeed the very nature of Jewish sacrifices in the Old Testament, which foreshadowed the redeeming work of Christ, was greatly at odds with the pagan sacrifices in the nations around them. The Pagan sacrifices were to somehow influence the very capricious and unpredictable “gods” in their favour. The Jewish sacrificial system was not designed to appease an offended God, but to change the heart of the sinner bringing the sacrifice. When they came in repentance and confessed their sin and brought their sacrifice to the priest to offer to God, it was not with the intention of somehow influencing God to look more favourably upon them. Psalm 51 is the most commonly used Psalm in Orthodox worship. “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and contrite heart – These O Lord You will not despise.” 

The Orthodox understanding of Christ dying for us was that He came and sanctified all of life by becoming fully human, and entering into death He went down to Hell/Hades itself and destroyed the hold that death and the devil had on the race of Adam. He “trampled down death by death.”  Then through His resurrection He paved a path for us to join Him, to be transformed and to allow the image of God we already had within us to come to life and grow.  He died to heal us, to save us by providing a way for us to come to Him and enter into His kingdom NOT to appease His wrathful Father and somehow substitute and die instead of us. He died to change us and provide a way for us to find life in Him, not to appease an angry God and convince Him to keep us from throwing us into the eternal flames of hell that would burn and torment us throughout all eternity.

St. Anthony writing in the fourth century says “It is not right to imagine that God feels pleasure or displeasure in a human way. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united with Him; but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us, and expose us to demons who punish us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change, but that through our actions and our turning to God, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.”

The words from St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century are repeated every year at the Paschal service and sum up the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection very well “Christ is Risen – and hell is overthrown; Christ is Risen - and the demons are fallen; Christ is Risen - and the angels rejoice; Christ is Risen - and life reigns; Christ is Risen - and not one dead remains in the grave! Christ is Risen!!!

I would highly recommend the book by Fr. James Bernstein “Surprised by Christ” and “Christ the Conqueror of Hell” by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev for a more thorough understanding of this very important topic. Or as always, give me a call, I’m always hoping for a coffee invitation :-).


Cinderella, the Fool for Christ
Excerpts from an article by Gabe Martini:
Kenneth Branagh’s new film has been critically acclaimed for everything from its faithfulness to tradition (at least, to the 1950s Disney tradition of the tale) to its charming and eye-opening presentation.
But for many critics, the film falls short. The character of Cinderella is berated as a terrible role model for little girls everywhere, as she fails to be “feisty” and “strong” like other, recent Disney princesses (with Frozen and Brave being the two, most commonly cited examples).
But from my perspective, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better role model for a little girl than the Cinderella depicted in this latest adaptation. What Cinderella lacks in feistiness and sarcasm she makes up in both kindness and courage—a courage that is audacious enough to be merciful in a world that says be “strong,” and patient in a world that says be “feisty.” Cinderella shows our little girls what it means to be a true princess—based not on good looks, noble blood, or how much she acts like a man (one of the strangest tenets of feminism, I must add). Instead, we learn from this Cinderella that a true princess is one who—above all things—gracefully strives to be both courageous and kind, no matter the circumstances.
Read more at http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/onbehalfofall/cinderella-the-fool-for-christ/

“The Saviour and the Comforter, two Persons of the Godhead: the One ever saves from sins, and the Other comforts  him who is saved. Their very names are taken from their deeds, and are always actually justified. He comforts! The Holy Spirit comforts the believing soul, as a mother comforts her child.”

St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ


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