Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 2

Continuing from Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 1….

Heresies

We are living in an age enslaved in many kinds of deification of modern rationality, its twin product science and technology and in the midst of false teachings or doctrines. 

Before we start with our discussion on heresies let us remember and keep in mind the song we sing at every Holy Qurbana (Eucharist) of the St. James Liturgy . The song is sung before the lesson from the epistle of St. Paul, as:
Paul_4x6

Paul the Blessed Saint, the Lord’s Apostle said
If one comes to preach to you
A doctrine other than I preached to you
Be he man or angel bright,
Cursed be he in Church’s sight;
Doctrines all diverse arise;
Sprouting up with many lies;
Blest is he who first and last
Trusts God’s Truth and holds it fast.
(Galatians 1:5-9)

Every conceivable opinion, even the most absurd, even those hitherto rejected by the universal consent of all civilized people -now has its platform and its own “teacher.” A few of these teachers come with demonstration or promise of “spiritual power” and false miracles, as do some occultists and ” charismatics”; but most of the contemporary teachers offer no more than a weak concoction of undigested ideas which they received “out of the air,” as it were, or from some modern self-appointed “wise man” (or woman) who knows more than all the ancients merely by living in our “enlightened” modern times.. As a result, philosophy has a thousand schools and “Christianity” a thousand sects.

Where is the truth to be found in all this, the truth that needs to be found in our most misguided times?

St. Gregory of Palamas says:
“And not many days after,” it says, “the younger son gather all together, and took his journey into a far country” (Luke 15:13). Why did [the Prodigal Son] not set off at once instead of a few days after? The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, “Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.” When he separates someone from the divine services and obedience to the holy teachers, he also distances him from God’s vigilance and surrenders him to evil deeds. God is everywhere present. Only one thing is far away from His goodness: evil. Being in the power of evil through sin we set off on a journey far away from God. As David says to God, “The evil shall not stand in thy sight” (Ps. 5:5).
A part of the quote says …The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, “Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.” This is the spiders’ web the devil weaves around us that separates many of us from the divine services and obedience to the Holy teachers, as a result, falling apart from God’s vigilance and therefore surrendering to the evil of heresy.

The first Heresy in Christian church can be traced back to the apostolic times itself and is written in the Scripture. This is well documented in St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ work from 2nd Century – ‘Against Heresies’. Given below is an extract taken from this book…

“Simon the Samaritan was that magician of whom Luke, the disciple and follower of the apostles, says, “But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime used magical arts in that city, and led astray the people of Samaria, declaring that he himself was some great one, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This is the power of God, which is called great. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had driven them mad by his sorceries.” Acts 8: 9-11.
This Simon, then who feigned faith, supposing that the apostles themselves performed their cures by the art of magic, and not by the power of God; and with respect to their filling with the Holy Ghost, through the imposition of hands, those that believed in God through Him who was preached by them, namely, Christ Jesus–suspecting that even this was done through a kind of greater knowledge of magic, and offering money to the apostles, thought he, too, might receive this power of bestowing the Holy Spirit on whomsoever he would lay his hands,–was addressed in these words by Peter: “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God; for I see that you are poisoned by bitterness, and bound by iniquity.” Acts 8: 20 – 23
He, then, not putting faith in God a whit the more, set himself eagerly to contend against the apostles, in order that he himself might seem to be a wonderful being, and applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the whole magic art, that he might the better bewilder and overpower multitudes of men. Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Caesar, by whom also he is said to have been honored with a statue, on account of his magical power. This man, then, was glorified by many as if he were a god; and he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son, but descended in Samaria as the Father while he came to other nations in the character of the Holy Spirit. He represented himself, in a word, as being the loftiest of all powers, that is, the Being who is the Father over all, and he allowed himself to be called by whatsoever title men were pleased to address him.
Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin, formed his sect.”

What is a heresy?

“The Greek word hairesis (literally choice or thing chosen) was applied to the doctrines of philosophical schools. But already in I Cor. 11.19 and Gal. 5.20 Paul uses the term in a negative sense to mean a divisive faction. In the work of St. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107), that is, even before the days of the conciliar definitions of Christian faith, it denotes theological error. Tertullian (160-225) identifies the root of heresy as the willful choice of philosophical opinion over revealed Christian truth”.
The ecclesial meaning of the term signified the sin of a person who, having been baptized and calling him or herself a Christian, denied a defined doctrine of faith even after having been formally instructed. These notions have two aspects: formal and material/concrete. In the first aspect, heresy is the persistent adherence to erroneous teaching. The second aspect, material, heresy means adherence to error, and acting upon this error, without such culpability. The definition of heresy is dependent, therefore, on acknowledged doctrine of the Church. Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting doctrine by the introduction of a denial of some essential part therein.

To put it in simple words Heresies are the false ideas of those that disagree with the faith of the Church.

Heresies are always tend to be found at the opposite poles and end up forming their own sects. Once a separate sect is formed, they concentrate on increasing their followership, as did Simon of Samaria who formed his own sect by the name Simonians. It is not unusual for one heresy to arise in reaction to another. One heresy claims that Christ is not God, another that He is not man. One heresy condemns the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Mother of God, another makes her the Immaculate Conception. One claims that man is saved by grace alone, another that he is saved only by works, all with different doctrines ‘that was not from the beginning’, ultimately forming their own sects and each began to mass up the followership. Such extremes are not easily embraced by Orthodoxy. True Orthodoxy tends to be the middle-way between the two extremes.

It is very necessary in this context to understand the Apostolic Fathers.

Who Are the Apostolic Fathers?

By the end of the first century, all the Holy Books of the New Testament were written. But at that time, still were not all compiled into one Holy Book as it is today. However, all the churches in the world during that time accepted these Holy Books as the Pillar of Faith and the Christian life that was inspired by God through the Apostles who were the means used by the Holy Spirit. “For no prophetic message ever came just from the human will, but people were under control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God.” (II Peter 1:21)
From the beginning the Christian Church was more conservative in acceptance of any book as prophetic even than the Jewish Church itself. For example earlier, there were some writings found in certain manuscripts but the Church did not accept them as prophetic books, for example, very early manuscripts contained, in addition to the Holy Books of the New Testament, two books, which belonged to St. Clement, the Roman.
The era of the Apostolic Fathers began in the middle of the first century and these Fathers followed the Apostles of our Lord immediately. The teachings of the Apostolic Fathers are truly considered as a direct reflection of the Apostles preaching. The Apostolic Fathers were either directly connected to the Apostles themselves or they received their teachings from the Apostles through the disciples lives.
In reality, the term “Apostolic Fathers” was not known in the primitive church, however, it is expressed first by scholars in the seventh century and it refers to the church’ fathers who were direct disciples for the Apostles, or saw them, or received teachings and instructions from the Apostles themselves.
The writers in this era included St. Clement the Roman, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp the Martyr, The Bishop Papias of Hierapolic, Higyspoc, Hermas author of the Didache and the author of the Barnabas Letter. Although these writings are very rare, they have a great importance. The scholars examined and studied these writings extensively regarding Theology, Liturgy, and Church Rituals. The Apostolic Writings focused on patronage in Christianity and their style, which is very similar to the style of writing of the New Testament, especially the style of the Epistles.

Remember your instructors, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the end of their life… Be not led away with various and strange doctrines. (Hebrews 13:7, 9)

“One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life.”- St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, III.4
”We have learned the plan of our salvation from no one else other than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us. For they did at one time proclaim the gospel in public. And, at a later period, by the will of God, they handed the gospel down to us in the Scriptures-to be the `ground and pillar of our faith.'”- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies

St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote a number of books, but the most important that survives is the five-volumes On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, normally referred to as Adversus Haereses (in English, Against Heresies). Irenaeus cites from most of the New Testament canon, as well as works from the Apostolic Fathers.
St. Ireneaus The holy and glorious, right-victorious Hieromartyr St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202) was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons, France. His writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself was a disciple of the Apostle St. John the Theologian. 

To support this topic on heresies let us look at the following example regarding The True Church and the Apostolic Succession from the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, quotes taken mostly from the book Against Heresies written by St. Irenaeus. These are the common questions that can arise in one’s mind due to the influence of other doctrines (heresies) that is easily available around us. In the following example/case ‘Response’ is given to a protestant believer’s questions/doubts.

In short let us understand what the main doubts of a protestant believer are and what St. Irenaeus says in respect to this

A good protestant always assumes that the criteria for determining if a church is truly apostolic is to look at the doctrine of that particular church. (The answer to this is response to question #2 (How did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?) elaborated further in the article)

The church is the custodian of the truth, but only those churches that have continuity to the teachings of the apostles qualify as being the true church. It thus turns out that the Protestant assumption was only half correct, for Irenaeus does teach that to determine if a church was within the apostolic tradition one had to look to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith that the apostles had passed down in the sacred writings. Thus, Irenaeus used Biblical exposition to show that the teaching of the Gnostic churches were incompatible with the apostles’ doctrine revealed in Scripture.
But that is only one side of the coin. Equally important in determining whether a church is legitimacy apostolic is whether the church is under a bishop that is the recipients of a chain of ordination going back to the apostles. This is because it was to be assumed that the apostles and their successors would only have appointed leaders who agreed with their teaching and also because apostolic authority was transmitted by the laying on of hands in a transfer of real divine power and authority.

Although Irenaeus did not have time “to enumerate the successions of all the churches”, he took the church at Rome as one example and traced the succession of ordinations back to Peter and Paul. This, he maintains, provides “a full demonstration that it is one and the same life-giving faith which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles to the present, and is handed on in truth.”

The doctrine of apostolic succession provided a hedge around the interpretation of Scripture, according to Irenaeus. Any church which taught private innovations different to the public tradition of the other apostolic sees, was a church teaching heresy.

Question #1: Is it correct that Irenaeus taught that a bishop derived his importance from belonging to an apostolic church?

Response:  If a protestant believer reads St. Irenaeus’ writings, he will always start out assuming that Irenaeus looked to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith the apostles had passed down in Scripture. However, the believer will soon recognize that just as important for Irenaeus was the bishop being part of a chain of succession going back to the apostles.
In the passages below Irenaeus makes it clear that he considers the Church to be the custodian of the truth.
The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith… (AH 1.10; (ANF) Vol. 1 p. 330; italics added)
Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master… (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)
The early Church was apostolic because her bishops were able to trace their lineage back to the original apostles. Irenaeus holds up two men as exemplars of apostolic succession: Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna. Irenaeus writes of Clement:

St. Clement of romeClement received the lot of the episcopate; he had seen the apostles and met with them and still had the apostolic preaching in his ears and the tradition before his eyes. He was not alone, for many were then still alive who had been taught by the apostles. (AH 3.3)
Note that Irenaeus does not make any reference to Clement receiving the keys to the Papacy (the government of the Roman Catholic Church; pontificate). The stress here is on his deep personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings. In the case of his predecessor Polycarp of Smyrna, Irenaeus also stressed the personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings.

st-polycarpAnd there is Polycarp, who not only was taught by the apostles and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but also was established by apostles in Asia in the church at Smyrna… He always taught the doctrine he had learned from the apostles, which he delivered to the church, and it alone is true. (AH 3.4; italics added)
Irenaeus did not understand apostolic succession in terms of institutional authority but authority rooted in the apostolic Gospel. Only if he taught the true Gospel could a bishop be in apostolic succession. A bishop who altered the Gospel had abandoned the true faith and broken the chain of succession.
For Irenaeus evidential support for apostolic succession came in the form of succession lists.
Thus, the tradition of the apostles, manifest in the whole world, is present in every church to be perceived by all who wish to see the truth. We can enumerate those who were appointed by the apostles as bishops in the churches as their successors even to our time… (AH 3.3.1; italics added)

He enumerates in detail the apostolic succession for the Church of Rome as follows:
To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (AH 3.3.4; ANF Vol. I p. 416; italics added)

Unlike the Gnostics who invoked a secret spiritual genealogy, the Christian church in Irenaeus’ time were able to trace their lineage back to the apostles. That this was a widely accepted practice can be seen in Eusebius’ Church History which contains succession lists for various dioceses. Protestantism’s inability to provide a similar listing is something Irenaeus would view with suspicion. The closest thing that Protestantism has to such a listing is the far-fetched claim made by the Landmark Baptists who claim a secret lineage back to John the Baptist.

Central to Irenaeus’ apologia is an apostolic church that was also at the same time a catholic (universal) church.
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

Irenaeus stresses the importance of these handed down traditions in the following words…
….if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 3.4.1; italics added)

It was not enough for a bishop to claim apostolic succession, he also needed to be in communion with the church catholic (universal). In contrast, Gnosticism was comprised of teachings that varied according to schools and geographic locations. In other words, the unity of the church catholic (universal) stood in sharp contrast to Gnosticism’s denominationalism, a case similar to today’s Protestantism.

It must be recognized that Irenaeus was one of the earliest biblical theologians. Irenaeus did not simply invoke his episcopal authority like a hammer. Instead, he exercised his episcopal authority through the exposition of Scripture. His high view of Scripture can be seen in his carefully reasoned exegesis of Scripture. He writes:
…and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us praising in hymns that God who created all things. (AH 2.28.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 400)
Irenaeus cited numerous scriptural references from Old and New Testaments to refute the Gnostics (cf. AH 2.2.5; AH 3.18.3). He sounds much like an Evangelical when he wrote: “as Scripture tells us.” (AH 2.2.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 362) In one particular passage in Against the Heretics, Irenaeus invoked the authority of Scripture repeatedly: “We have shown from the scriptures…”; “The scriptures would not give this testimony to him if…”; “.the divine scriptures testify to him…”; and “The scriptures predicted all this of him.” (AH 3.19.2)
Does this make Irenaeus a second century proto-Protestant?

No. Irenaeus did not oppose Scripture against church and tradition. He urged his readers:
It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their (Gnostics) doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. (AH 5.20.2, ANF p. 548)
Irenaeus described the church’s teaching authority in warm maternal terms and assumed the two to be mutually compatible. This stands in contrast to later Protestant views which often saw the church in antagonistic tension with Scripture. Unlike the Protestant principle of ‘sola scriptura’ which makes Scripture the supreme norm for doing theology, Irenaeus saw the traditioning process as an interlocking matrix of which Scripture was one integral component.

The answer to the protestant believer’s Question #1 is that

while the bishop derived his importance or authority from the traditioning process, Irenaeus also emphasized that apostolic succession is corroborated by the catholicity (universality) of the Faith. The authority of the bishop is not autonomous(independent) but contingent(dependent) on the faithful transmission of the Faith received from the apostles.

Because apostolicity is correlated with catholicity (universality), Eucharistic communion provides an essential confirmation of the bishop’s teaching and his pastoral authority.

Question #2: If the answer to question #1 is affirmative, then how did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?

Response:  For Irenaeus two foremost criteria were: apostolic succession and doctrinal agreement with the church catholic (universal). A corollary of apostolic succession is antiquity. This is evident in Irenaeus’ insistence that weight be given to the earliest ꟷ “most ancient” ꟷChristian churches.
If some question of minor importance should arise, would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved? And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 3.4.1; italics added)

By means of the criterion of antiquity, Irenaeus finds the Gnostics falling short. This can be seen in the phrase: “much later” used to describe the Gnostic teachings.
All the others who are called Gnostics originated from Menander the disciple of Simon, as we have shown, and each of them appeared as the father and mystagogue of the opinion he adopted. All these arose in their apostasy much later, in the middle of the times of the church. (AH 3.4.3; italics added)

In the above quote ‘Simon’ refers to Simon of Samaria who was a magician mentioned in Acts 8: 20 . And in contrast to the unity and universality of the apostolic preaching, Gnosticism was divided among the various schools of thought which resulted in doctrinal diversity ꟷ another marker of deviant theology.
All these are much later than the bishops to whom the apostles entrusted the churches, and we have set this forth with all due diligence in the third book. All the aforementioned heretics, since they are blind to the truth, have to go to one side or the other off the road and therefore the traces of their doctrine are scattered without agreement or logic (AH 5.20.1; ANF p. 547).

Apostolicity did not reside in any one particular church body but pervaded the entirety of the church catholic (universal). Using the second century Church of Rome which was known for its doctrinal conservatism, he notes that the churches in other areas would be in agreement with it (AH 3.2).

Iranaeous sums his case for the apostolicity of Rome thus:
In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in that Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (AH 3.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 416)

Thus, emphasis is on: (1) apostolic succession ꟷa chain of ordination going back to the apostles, (2) apostolic teaching ꟷa body of teachings going back to the apostles, and (3) catholicity ꟷbeing in agreement with the universal church.
Irenaeus’ commendation of the Church of Rome would give rise to the respect accorded to other patriarchates: (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), Catholicate (India, Armenia) and Pope (Coptic) by later Ecumenical Councils.

Question #3: One of the reasons that Irenaeus taught apostolic succession is because he believed that the apostles “certainly wished those whom they were leaving as their successors, handing over to them their own teaching position, to be perfect and irreproachable, since their sound conduct would be a great benefit [to the Church], and failure on their part the greatest calamity.” If Irenaeus was correct, might it be possible that the purity of this chain of succession could expire after a time, as the link to the first apostles becomes more and more distant?

Response: Irenaeus did not envision a diminishing chain of succession. It would be like a banker entertaining the thought that one day his vault will be broken into and all his depositors’ money will be lost. Irenaeus understood tradition as a sacred deposit.
Since these proofs are so strong, one need not look among others for the truth that it is easy to receive from the church, for like a rich man in a barn the apostles deposited everything belonging to the truth in it (the church) so that whoever might take the drink of life from it. (Rev. 22:17; AH 3.4.1)

If anything, Irenaeus, like the good banker, would have been horrified at the thought of the Depositor coming back to claim His deposit and finding it gone.
That he expected the Christian Faith to be preserved against heresy and innovation can be seen in the passage below.
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331)

Here Irenaeus fully expects that the Church will “carefully preserve” the apostolic faith. One empirical test of this claim is the fact that the early Church was able to maintain doctrinal uniformity as it spread throughout the vast Roman Empire. One could expect that as the church became dispersed across vast distances, regional differences in doctrines would emerge.
The way of church members surrounds the whole world, contains the firm tradition from the apostles, lets us view one and these same faith with all, for all believe in one and the same God and in the “economy” of the Son of God and know the same gift of the Spirit and care for the same commandments and preserve the same organization in the church and await the same coming of the Lord. (AH 5.20.1; italics added)
In Irenaeus’ phrase “firm tradition” we get the sense that the Christian faith is stable and resistant to innovation and heretical distortion. One can innovate only by “deserting the preaching of the Church.” (AH 5.20.2; ANF p. 548)

Orthodoxy has multiple safeguards to ensure the preservation of the Faith. The most important is the fact that Tradition consists of an interlocking and mutually reinforcing matrix. One important component is the episcopacy. Elevation to the episcopacy entails not just the conferring of ecclesiastical authority but also the obligation to keep the apostolic faith intact and to guard it against change.
Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master… (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

This is a complete proof that the life-giving faith is one and the same, preserved and transmitted in truth in the church from the apostles up till now. (AH 3.3.2; italics added)

Next, there is the inscripturated word of God. Irenaeus writes:
For we have known the “economy” for our salvation only through those whom the Gospel came to us; and what they then first preached they later, by God’s will, transmitted to us in the scriptures so that would be foundation and pillar of our faith. (I Timothy 3:15) (AH 3.3.1; italics added)

In addition to the episcopal office and inscripturated Tradition is the regula fide in the form of creed. In Against the Heretics 1.10 Irenaeus writes:
The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit.. (AH 1.10; ANF Vol. 1 p. 330)
By the fourth century, the regula fide would be standardized in the Nicene Creed as a result of the decisions made by the first and second Ecumenical Councils. The Orthodox church’s fierce resistance to the Church of Rome’s unilateral insertion of the Filioque clause points to its taking seriously the task of preserving the apostolic deposit.

Another component is the Eucharist. For Irenaeus there is a close link between Christian doctrine and Christian worship.
But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. (AH 4.18.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 486)
The above quote anticipates the theological principle: lex orans, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith). Worship in the early church was liturgical. The liturgy was part of the received apostolic tradition “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took the bread;”(I Corinthians 11:23). Here the words ‘received‘ and ‘delivered‘ refer to the transmission of Holy Tradition. These words were the part of the Eucharist celebrations in the first century as it is today. It was not the result of creative expression but served to conserve the Christian faith. An examination of the ancient liturgies used by the Orthodox churches ꟷLiturgy of St. James, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of St. Basil ꟷshows how much the faith of the early church lives on the Orthodox churches today. The ancient liturgies have pretty much disappeared from the Roman Catholic Church with the shift to the Novus Ordo Mass in the 1960s.
All these, however, are insufficient apart from divine grace. That is why preservation of the apostolic teaching depends on: (1) the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), (2) Christ’s guarantee of the church against the powers of Hell (Matthew 16:18), and (3) Christ’s charge to teach the nations and the promise of his presence with the church until the Second Coming (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission probably has the most bearing on the protestant believer’s Question #3. The traditioning process is implied in the Great Commission ꟷ “teaching them to observe everything I commanded you” ꟷand is guaranteed by Christ’s promise to be with the Church “always even unto the end of the age.”

Question #4: Is Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession a Biblical doctrine? If so, where can we find it implied or inferred in scripture?

Response: That Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession is rooted in Scripture can be seen in the ample citations below.
Irenaeus in the Prologue to Book 3 explains how the Lord Jesus himself laid the foundation for apostolic succession:
The Lord of all gave his apostles the power of the Gospel, and by them we have known the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God. To them the Lord said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who despises you despises me and Him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) (Italics added)
Another biblical support for apostolic succession can be found in II Timothy 2:2 in which Paul describes to Timothy how the traditioning process is key to the ordination to the ministry:
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Tim 2:2)
Biblical support for apostolic succession can be inferred from Titus 1:5 in which Paul gave Titus instructions on the ordination of men to the priesthood:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I commanded you. (Titus 1:5)
The top-down approach described here is sharply different from the ordination practices of congregationalism.
Apostolic succession can also be found in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to preserve the apostolic teaching against heretical innovations (I Timothy 6:3, 20; II Timothy 2:14, 24; Titus 1:9, 2:1). In these verses Paul stresses the need to preserve the Faith against heresy; the very same point reiterated by Irenaeus.

Question #5: If Irenaeus is correct in his doctrine of apostolic succession, which churches today satisfy the criteria for a `true church’?

Response: If Irenaeus were to examine the churches today he would be looking for the “most ancient” churches and at the “sequence of the tradition” from the apostles for those churches.
…would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved? And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 4.1; italics added)
The application of these two criteria rules out all of Protestantism. That being the case, there remains two present day options: the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
Irenaeus had some knowledge of these two branches. In Against the Heretics 3.3 Irenaeus showcased the Church of Rome. Irenaeus’ predecessor, Polycarp, was bishop of the church in Smyrna, which would be closely linked to the Patriarchate of Constantinople belonging to the Orthodox Church. Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire during that time, one should not confuse Church of Rome with Roman Catholic Church which is based out of Vatican and not Constantinople.
One would think in light of Irenaeus’ high praise for the Church of Rome in AH 4.1 that he would automatically point us to the present day Roman Catholic Church. But it should be kept in mind that he lived in the second century and that much has happened over the next two millennia, most notably the Schism of 1054 A.D.

Would Irenaeus identify himself with present day Roman Catholicism?
No, for three reasons: (1) Roman Catholicism has adopted a strongly forensic approach to the doctrine of salvation ꟷsomething not found in his teachings, (2) it has superimposed Aristotelian categories on to the doctrine of the Eucharist ꟷsomething not found in his teaching, and (3) it has promoted the supremacy of the Roman papacy ꟷsomething not found in his teachings. Furthermore, Irenaeus would likely have regarded Rome’s later independence from the other patriarchates ((Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), Catholicate (India, Armenia) and Pope (Coptic)) contrary to the catholicity of the second century church.
In Orthodoxy’s favor is the fact that it has retained Irenaeus’ understanding of salvation in terms of recapitulation, i.e., Christ through the Incarnation recapitulated the entirety of human existence (cf. AH 3.20.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 450). Also, where the Roman Catholic Church has introduced the medieval emphasis on penal substitution as the basis for our salvation, Orthodoxy, like Irenaeus, has retained the emphasis on salvation as union with Christ and theosis (AH 3.4.2; AH 3.20.2).
St. Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies provides historical evidence to support Orthodoxy’s claim that the way it does theology has deep historic roots. A close reading of St. Irenaeus will give pause to any thoughtful Protestant who base their theological method on sola scriptura. Irenaeus of Lyons stands as a valuable benchmark for determining what doctrines and practices are congruent with the historic Christian Faith.

An example of  a great heresy that we will need to look at is Arianism. This was the debate within the Church in the fourth century over the divinity of Jesus Christ. It was great because this heresy, from its beginning, changed the minds of people and urged them to understand divinity in a rational way. Since it is very difficult to rationalize the union of the Infinite with the finite, there is an apparent contradiction between the two terms ꟷthe final form into which the confusion of heresies settled down was a declaration by the Arians that our Lord was of as much of the Divine Essence as it was possible for a creature to be, but He was none the less a creature. It is very interesting how the Arian system keeps its strength after so many centuries, after so many controversies. Arius was the father of many heresies, which have grown up after him. From his roots many heresy take the saps, like the branches from the root of tree. These branches develop own systems, but checking the genesis of them we will see the old root. We will discuss more on this topic on a later date in another article about heresies.

The article continues as….Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 3

What is the significance of Veil/Curtain in an Orthodox Church?

Question 1:

I recently came across a blog post which questioned the relevance of the veil after the New testament. It mentioned how it was initially created to separate man from the Holy of Holies, but Christ through his crucifixion had destroyed this distance between man and God and hence the veil was no longer needed. That man did not need anyone to come between him and God now and he could reach him directly. But we still keep the old covenant and create a distance between us and God. We don’t allow ourselves to freely walk towards Him and partake in the new blessing He has left us with. Why do we still hold on to the veil? I need something concrete with respect to the New Testament specifically.

Answer 1:

“Then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:52)

The real God of Israel was revealed the moment Jesus yielded up His spirit on the cross. While those who had their way, accomplishing their task to punish our Lord Jesus for the audacity of defying their rejection of His messiahship, hurling at Him the false accusation that He had claimed to destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, the temple veil was torn in two. The holy of holies was exposed, because the chosen people were incapable of recognizing Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Messiah; therefore, at the moment of His death on the cross, the heavenly Father sent a sign that the greatest of all mysteries, the presence of His only-begotten Son fulfilled His mission on earth even if those who had been nurtured to realize and respond to Him lost their moment in history for which they had been prepared from the time of Abraham. The splitting of the temple veil is a sign of that reality.

Those who demanded from Pilate that He be crucified as a false Messiah were made to realize they were tragically wrong. Jesus was shown to be the genuine Messiah in the holiest site of all Jerusalem. To comprehend the meaning of that revelation requires the understanding of what a veil signifies.

  1. The first and most obvious meaning is separation. The chasm dividing God from humanity—nothing greater can be conceived. Only the high priest was entitled to pass beyond the veil shutting off the outside world from the holy of holies, the sacred cube of space containing the Ark of the Covenant.
    800px-Tabernacle_Schematic

    Old Testament Tabernacle / Temple / Church

    And only that chosen person was permitted once a year on the holiest of days, only if he understood his purpose of being there, only if he wore a rope tied to his leg and bells on his vestments that would ring while he was moving about performing his assigned tasks. If the bells stopped ringing, those outside could pull him out without entering the sacred space themselves.

  2. The veil closing off the sanctuary from the nave has meaning. When closed, it is a reminder of the holiness of the temple of Jerusalem, and when opened is the evidence that Christ is the Source of all holiness, being Himself the Son of God. The curtain is shut other than the time of sacraments/prayers so that it will be opened to only the friends, sisters and brothers of Christ Jesus.

The architecture of an Orthodox church is expressed as heaven on earth. It is a model of the spiritual world—of the Heavenly Kingdom—which the Lord opened to us through the holy prophet Moses on Mt. Sinai. Then God commanded to build the Old Testament Tabernacle according to the precise pattern given by Him to Moses, down to the smallest detail.

parumala_pally

New Testament Church

New Testament Orthodox churches have the same arrangement as that of the Old Testament, but with the difference that our Lord Jesus Christ became Incarnate and completed the work of the salvation of mankind. It is namely from this monumental event that there are changes to New Testament temples in relation to that of the Old Testament.

A church building is an expression of the covenantal experience of ‘God being with us’. The Holy Eucharist is also celebrating the same nuance. The book of revelation rhetorically affirms the same expression that the dwelling place of God is within men [Rev 21:3]. It is true that God is with men in Christ through the Holy Spirit. We know that God does not dwell in house made with hands. It was conviction of Solomon [1 Kings 8:27] and we see St. Stephen [Acts 7:48] repeating the same as well. But Solomon realizes the presence of God in the temple and dedicated it as the center for worship. At the same time New Testament teaches that the human kind is the temple of the living God [Eph 2:21-22, 1Pt 2:4-5, 2Cor 6:16]. Through this architecture, the Church wishes to convey to us the immanence of Christ and the fact that each of us is the dwelling place of God. The Church building is not mere gathering place. Its architecture proclaims the unity of all things in God. The emphasis is laid on celebrating the Eucharist in the context of worship as a corporate act. According to the holy prophet Moses it includes the courtyard, the sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies. In the New Testament church it is the Portico or Narthex [a place for the Catechumens], Haikala or Nave [main hall], Kesthrumo [part inside the rails] and Altar/Sanctuary or Madbaho.

The Narthex symbolizes this world [Rev 11:2] and Nave is the place of church understood as the assembly and people of God. Any believing Orthodox Christian can be in these parts. The nave correspond to the Old Testament sanctuary. Earlier no one but priests could be found there, but today, because the Lord with His most-pure blood cleansed us all and united us in His Mystery of Baptism, the nave—the New Testament sanctuary—is open to all Orthodox Christians. Kesthrumo is the place between Altar and Haikala where deacons are to stand. So according to Syriac Church Father Mar Yuhanon of Dara [+825 AD] the main three section inside the church building Nave, Kesthrumo and Madbaho allegorically symbolize three special gifts of the Holy Spirit: perfection, illumination and purity.

The Holy of Holies of the Mosaic Temple corresponds to the altar in the New Testament Church. It symbolizes the Heavenly Kingdom. It is not without reason that it is elevated in relation to the nave and narthex. The very word “altus” in translation from Latin means “high.” The center of the altar is the altar table. It is this throne on which God Himself sits invisibly in the church. In Syriac, the term Madbaho denotes the places for sacrifice. Usually Madbaho is situated in the eastern side of the church. East is of Biblical importance as it is mentioned to be location of the Garden of Eden [Gen 2:8]. Considering all such interpretations, the Holy place is a symbol of heaven or paradise. In heaven Jesus the Son of Man continuing His priestly mediation in the midst of saints and angels along with the heavenly glory of light. Likewise in Madbaho the Holy Mysteries of our Lord are offered by the priest who is the sacramental presence of Christ, together with deacons and candle light. Madbaho is a shadow of Paradise with the fruit of the tree of life.

Thronos symbolically and mystically represents the heavenly throne and the table of the kingdom of God [Isa 6:1]. In the context of Holy Qurbana as the sacrifice Thronos is called Altar. It is called the Table of life where we find the Bread of life. So Thronos is the seat of Christ, the word of God, the Lamb and the King of the everlasting life [Rev 4:5; Rev 7:9-11]. According to Syriac Church Father, Moses Bar Kepa [+903] Thronos is Christ Himself and it is source from where the grace is flowing. St. John Chrysostom says that Thronos indicates the holy Tomb of our Lord. The bread and wine offered upon it are transformed in to the Mystical Body of glorified Christ. It recalls the worldly death of Jesus on the Cross and the burial of his earthly body in the tomb which resulted in the triumphant resurrection of His glorified body.

The Veil of the Madbaho, as we perceive in the Jerusalem temple, separates the Holy place and the Holy of Holies. Generally the Veil which closes the Madbaho stands as the sky which hides the heaven above. Hence during Holy Qurbana, the Veil is opened when Christ is reveled to us from His birth in Bethlehem, Baptism at Jordan, Ministry and up to His death on Cross. After this, The Madbaho is closed by the Veil now, which denotes the absence of sunlight was the very characteristic mark of the creator’s suffering and the death in Golgotha, the place of His sacrifice. Hence Veiling during this time depicts the meaning of His suffering and death in the absence of the temporal light made for creation. After this the Veil is opened, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ and the appearance of the Lord to His Apostles. After this Veil is pulled to close the Madbaho, this time it represents disappearance of the Lord thereafter on the ascension. After this the removal of Veil shows the opening of heaven and the second coming of Christ [Mat 24: 30-31, Dan 7:13, 1 Cor15:52, 1Thess 4:16].  The Veil closes the Madbaho again after the Holy Qurbana, indicating us to the present situation of sky which hides the heaven above…

According to the Church Tradition the first to order the closing of the altar by a curtain was the Holy Hierarch Basil the Great in the second half of the fourth century. But even earlier there were well-known partitions between the altar and nave was already a part of the church, for example in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The modern appearance of the iconostasis, which we see in Eastern Orthodox Churches was basically developed in Church art by the beginning of the fifteenth century. As you see in the below picture, the curtain still remains in the middle…

philipiconostasis

Iconostasis

The visual separation of the altar from the nave by the Veil should motivate us to strive in that direction—to the heavenly, and this aspiration is the core of the life of every Orthodox Christian. We believe that the merciful Lord will once open to us the door to Paradise and lead us in, as a loving Father His children…

It all speaks to us about that in our Orthodox services and in the structure of the churches there is nothing superfluous, but everything is coherent, harmonious and intended to guide Orthodox Christians into the Heavenly realm.

Mostly the color of the curtain is Red. Red has come to signify victory and resurrection, as it symbolizes the Blood of Christ that was willingly shed for us. It also brings to mind the blood of the countless martyrs for Christ throughout the ages. That is why the main color used to adorn most of the Madbaho is red (along with green, white), and why many churches (especially on Mount Athos) are also painted red.

A bit more about what happens inside the Madbaho, when the Veil is closed…

… but into the second tent only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people (Hebrews 9:7).

In the Old testament Church, Priests entered the other rooms daily to perform their duties, but only one person, the high priest, could enter the Holy of Holies and that only once each year, on the Day of Atonement. After offering special sacrifices, the high priest collected some of the blood from the animal victims in a bowl and carried it behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies. Using a branch of hyssop, he sprinkled the blood about the chamber. The purpose of the ritual was to symbolize the people’s repentance for the sins of the previous year and to entreat God’s forgiveness.

The Apostle tells us that this ritual was a prophecy of the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord.

The Old Testament high priest, because he was a mere man, had to offer the expiatory sacrifice for his own sins, and he had to offer the sacrifice year after year because he continued to sin. He could bring only the blood of animal sacrifices, and he offered these sacrifices in an earthly Temple.

Our Lord’s offering was superior to the old sacrifice in every respect. He is the eternal Word of God become man; although He took to Himself everything which is human, even the consequences of sin, He is sinless Himself. By His crucifixion and resurrection, He offers the supreme and perfect sacrifice, His pure and unstained Self. His sacrifice is complete — thoroughly purging the sins of mankind – because He does not need to offer it first for His own sin. He presents this offering, not on a mundane altar, but in heaven itself, before the Throne of the Father, which He Himself shares, together with the Holy Spirit.

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

Also, unlike the Jewish high priest, Christ does not complete the atonement alone.

As He enters the heavenly Temple our Lord bears with Him His humanity, which He shares with us. Thus we enter the Holy of Holies with Him, borne into the glory and peace of the Kingdom by His purity and love. Our Lord’s great sacrifice brings us remission of sins and, moreover, sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit and entrance into the Kingdom.

The words of the prayer link our offering of the Gifts (bread and wine) with Christ’s entering “the Presence behind the Veil” (Hebrews 6:19), “by a new and living way which He consecrated for us through the Veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). [This is where the New Testament speaks of the Veil, and we will know how the Orthodox Church has implemented this verse with a detail study of what happens during the Holy Qurbana]

St. Athanasius of Alexandria says, [The Lord Jesus entered heavens for our sake, though He is the Lord of heavens, and its founder. It is written that He was glorified for our sake. He Himself said, “And for their sakes, I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19) This does not mean that He becomes sanctified, but He sanctifies us in Him. We understand the phrase “glorify Himself,” not that He needs to be glorified, for He is above all, but that He is Righteous and we are glorified in Him, and can enter the doors of heaven which He has opened for us. Therefore, it was written, “Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!” And the King of glory shall come in” (Ps. 24:7). The doors were never closed in front of Him, for He is the Lord and Creator of all, but this was written for us, whom the doors of Paradise were closed in front of us” [Against Arians, Discourse 1:41].

In each Liturgy we unite ourselves with our Lord’s sacrifice and we enter heaven with Him. On the people’s behalf the priest prays over the gifts which are the bread and wine, kept on the Thronos, behind the closed curtain, in similarity to the Old Testament priest symbolizing the Passion and rising of the incarnate Christ.

But, once we are there, these symbolic gifts offered for sacrifice becomes reality (Body and Blood of Christ) by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

It was through the Spirit that Christ offered Himself (Hebrews 9:14); it is in and through the Spirit that we participate in that sacrifice in our Baptism (Romans 6:4-5).

And now, in the awesome solemnity of the Liturgy, we await the Holy Spirit, to fill our Gifts with the Savior’s power and glory.

Behind the curtain, the Old Testament priest used a sprig of hyssop to sprinkle the blood of a slaughtered creature. With the curtain of our Madbaho closed, we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of the living Christ.

images0XAR5T19

Saint John Chrysostom declares, “With this Blood not Moses but Christ sprinkled us, through the word which was spoken; ‘This is the Blood of the New Testament, for the remission of sins. Mat 26:28.’ This word, instead of hyssop, having been dipped in the blood, sprinkles all.

There in the Old Testament the body was cleansed outwardly, for the purifying was bodily; but here, since the purifying is spiritual, it enters the soul and cleanses it, for it is not being simply sprinkled over, but it gushes forth in our souls … And in their case indeed one sprinkled just the surface … But in the case of the soul it is not so, but the Blood is mixed with its very substance, making it vigorous and pure, and leading it to the very unapproachable beauty.”

Closing the curtain reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice of the King of glory. We do not perform a new sacrifice, like the Jewish high priest did year by year. Rather, each Sunday and each feast day, we renew our communion in the one great Sacrifice.

We come forward to receive the spotless Body and precious Blood of Him who is “the One who offers and who is offered, the One who receives and is received.”

As once Christ entered heaven, so now He enters us, transfusing us with the Kingdom. He does not seek to become one with us, but He makes us one with Him. He does not enter us in order to remain in the world: He comes to purge us of the sin which binds us to this age. He comes to cleanse, so that He may bear us up with Him, to dwell where He dwells, in eternal light with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us, “Let us no longer continue on the earth; for even now it is possible for him that wishes it, not to be on the earth.”

Now another thing that we need to understand is that, there is no New Testament without the Old Testament. Christ did not ignore the Old Testament, in fact He taught at the synagogues and spoke to His disciples and others always quoting from the Old Testament. New Testament is only the fulfillment of what was promised in Old Testament. This means that New Testament can be understood in fullness only through study of Old Testament. Apostles also spoke using the Old Testament to prove to people how in Christ everything is fulfilled. Hence the Church also in its architecture, function and purpose does not radically change from how it was in the Old Testament and this is the very reason of Orthodox Churches, as established by Apostles are still having a similarity with the Old Testament Church. We could also experience this in our Holy Qurbana – Old Testament is read first in order to testify that the New Testament is true. Then the New Testament is read in order to indicate that it is new and that which was said in the Old has been fulfilled in it.

There are a lot of symbolic representations in the Orthodox Church. In an Orthodox church there is no thing or action which does not carry meaning of spiritual weight and for sure all of these are based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. According to Orthodox theology, symbols reveal the fact that something is hidden to us. However the devotee keeps a meaningful silence against the mystery that, at the end of time all will be exposed from the hideout. This is because we, as is, are incapable of knowing the reality in full measure. This is a fundamental method of Orthodox theology in order to interpret the concept of mystery. The symbols of the Church penetrate into our senses and reveal the presence of God.

Having doubts, post here….Ask your Questions on Orthodoxy….

Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction–Part 1

St. Basil’s Hexameron – Homily 1 — 6th point–

  1. Such being the different senses of the word beginning, see if we have not all the meanings here.  You may know the epoch when the formation of this world began, it, ascending into the past, you endeavor to discover the first day.  You will thus find what was the first movement of time; then that the creation of the heavens and of the earth were like the foundation and the groundwork, and afterwards that an intelligent reason, as the word beginning indicates, presided in the order of visible things. You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things.  “For,” as the Apostle says, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Rom. 1: 20.  Perhaps these words “In the beginning God created” signify the rapid and imperceptible moment of creation.  The beginning, in effect, is indivisible and instantaneous.  The beginning of the road is not yet the road, and that of the house is not yet the house; so the beginning of time is not yet time and not even the least particle of it.  If some objector tell us that the beginning is a time, he ought then, as he knows well, to submit it to the division of time—a beginning, a middle and an end.  Now it is ridiculous to imagine a beginning of a beginning. Further, if we divide the beginning into two, we make two instead of one, or rather make several, we really make an infinity, for all that which is divided is divisible to the infinite. On the inconceivability either of an absolute minimum of space or of its infinite divisibility.  Thus then, if it is said, “In the beginning God created,” it is to teach us that at the will of God the world arose in less than an instant, and it is to convey this meaning more clearly that other interpreters have said:  “God made summarily” that is to say all at once and in a moment. But enough concerning the beginning, if only to put a few points out of many.

Introduction:

Orthodoxy is the way of life in Christ through True Worship, where each member of the Church is set out on a journey towards deification by partaking in the Holy Sacraments, built firmly on the Holy Scripture and, preserved and handed over by the Holy Tradition. It is not a theory. In other words it is the life in the faith of the church – especially the teaching about the Incarnation of God [i.e. Jesus Christ as one and only Incarnation of God]; and the teaching about the Holy Trinity [ God- The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit worshipped as one Undivided Trinity in Unity]. Orthodox Christianity offers a fullness of truth and beauty in its quest for holiness.

Orthodoxy is established upon a sound and inviolable foundation: fidelity to the teaching of the fathers of the ecumenical councils, the age-old experience of the spiritual and grace-filled life in Christ. The Martyrs, Confessors, Wonderworkers, Holy monastics and other Saints by their God pleasing lives and righteous deaths are witness to the truth and the salvific nature of the Orthodox faith…

This is what we understand about the Orthodox faith today.

Mankind was created by God and was originally in direct communion with Him. Having forgotten God, man still longs for Him in his soul. That having been forgotten, it is still God’s will to be known by man. Therefore it is sensible, even predictable, that in every human community, society and culture throughout history, evidence can be found of man’s longing to know God, and God’s will to be known by man.

From times immemorial all through the human history man’s ignorance to know God have resulted in many religions in the world. One of the tasks of the early Church (till 5th century) was defining, and defending, orthodox theology against the battering waves of heresies. These heresies often appeared in disputes over the nature of the Trinity, or how Jesus could be both God and Man. Would the early Church identify with present day Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? This is the challenge that we face today in our quest for “The Truth”. Church Councils were called to put into words the common faith that could stand for all ages. From this time, the Church has been called “Orthodox,” which means “right belief” or “right praise.” The Nicene Creed originated at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and is the central Orthodox statement of faith. Built on the foundation of Christ and His Apostles, nothing has been added or can be added to our faith. We now live in an age where lives and acts (secularism and the other ‘isms’) are contrary to this Christian heritage of Orthodox faith. As a result, many have separated themselves from this tradition, hence our perception and understanding of Christ and His Church has become clouded.

We read in Genesis 11: 1-9 the incident at the tower of Babel.

tower of babel

“Come let Us(The Holy Trinity as shown in the icon)  go down there and confuse their language”……. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the languages of all the earth; and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all earth.”

“Now the whole earth was one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them in fire”. They had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. They also said “Come, let us build ourselves  city and a tower, whose top will reach to heaven; and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered broad over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the sons of men built. Then the Lord said, “Indeed, the people are one race and one language, and they have begun to do what they said. Now they will not fail to accomplish what they have undertaken. Come let Us go down there and confuse their language, so they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city and the tower. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the languages of all the earth; and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all earth.”

Here we learn how human race was scattered over the face of the earth because in our pride we wished to build a tall tower reaching unto heaven. The people of Babel wanted to be like God but without God or apart from Him.

Similarly according to Isaiah 14: 12-15 we read `How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who rose up in the morning! He who sends forth all the nations is crushed to the earth. For you said in your mind “I will ascend into heaven; I will place my throne above the stars of heaven; I will sit on the lofty mountain, on the lofty mountain towards the north. I will ascend above the clouds; I will be like the Most High”. But now you shall descent to hades to the foundations of the earth.’

The `I will’ in the above verses show how Satan pursued his own will which made him go away from the “Most High God”, his pride was the reason for his fall. The pride of Adam and Eve was defeated by God when they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

The question to ponder here from the above paragraphs is, Are we really that different than the ancient people of Babel trying to make a name for ourselves? Let us look into history. The discussion that follows points out to certain facts that paved a way to move away from The Truth.

We take an extract from the homily 1 point 6 of St. Basil‘s hexameron which justifies the discussion below.

“You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things.”

Taking this small extract from the homily, let us examine ourselves, in the midst of the world of distraction (the different subjects of discussion below), to make a choice whether we as reasonable souls are using this world as the training ground in doing God’s will or our own fallen will or the will of the devil. As it say’s in Luke Chapter 21: 34-36 “ But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly… Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man”

Historic paganism and neo-paganism

Early apologist, scholar and Christian synergist, St. Justin Martyr of Alexandria and Rome, made the point to the Roman government, that Christians were inherently good citizens.  Why? Because Christians believed in the Logos (Gospel of John) that is also understood as “reason.” Therefore, St. Justin explained, Christians believe in reason and therefore are reasonable people.  “Whatever things were rightly said among all men,” wrote St. Justin in his second apology “is the property of us Christians.”

St. Justin went further to say that since the demons also knew that salvation would come to humanity through Jesus Christ, they made up legends and myths of the Olympian gods that were similar to historic events, using the same (or very similar) images and symbols.  In essence, St. Justin confirmed the legends and myths were truth to a point. However, they were distorted, he said, to create confusion among mankind. 

Now looking into Historic paganism and neo-paganism, the term “historic paganism” will be used to denote the ancient, polytheistic, nature worship and fertility cults of pre- and early-Christian eras; while “neo-paganism” will be used to describe contemporary efforts to revive historic paganism in the facts described below.

Orthodox Christianity fears no slander, criticism or challenge of any sort; every variety has already been dealt with at some point. Orthodoxy zealously embraces the mystical revelation of God in Trinity, through His Son, the incarnate Sojourner among men, who appeared on earth at a specific time and place in history. At the Annunciation to the Theotokos by Gabriel, the chronological history of fallen humanity intersects with divine Kairos [interruption] i.e. God became Man to save us from our fallen state; Orthodoxy is submission to, and preservation of, this salvific opportunity as it occurred in history. The historical context of the Incarnation was not coincidence but providence. This being the case, Orthodoxy is not stumbled by such facts as that of paganism predating Christianity.  Fallen man, having forgotten God, contrived nature worship prior to God’s revelation to Moses or the salvific incarnation of Jesus Christ. Paganism’s pre-Christian existence does not prove that it is the source of Christianity but only that man’s longing for the divine predates Judeo-Christian revelations. The seemingly logical progression that pagans predate Christians, and pagan gods are myths, therefore the Christian God is a myth as well, does not hold. And yet, today, it is a popular idea to which many subscribed.

Another popular belief is that because Christian theology, worship, and mysteries share common terminology and symbolism with paganism (elementals, chant, altars, liturgy, etc.) that they must share a common origin. But again, this only demonstrates that there are metaphors and symbols that are universal to human psychology; which suggests a common origin for all men (i.e. Adam and Eve) but not for all religions. We could perhaps designate this as the law of psychological identity. Some of the sensible images or symbols, created by man to reflect spiritual truths, are indeed common to many peoples and races because their basis is the same human nature or experience. This basis of psychological identity explains many rites, words, and ideas common to Christianity and paganism.

Depending on studies done by various scholars the problems of historical, conceptual, and genetic relationships between the mysteries of the Christians and those of the pagans are breathtaking in their complexity. But Orthodox Christianity is at ease with the seemingly universal signs, symbols, rituals and even prophecies that predate the life of Jesus Christ. Mankind was created by God and was originally in direct communion with Him. Having forgotten God, man still longs for Him in his soul. That having been forgotten, it is still God’s will to be known by man. Therefore it is sensible, even predictable, that in every human community, society and culture throughout history, evidence can be found of man’s longing to know God, and God’s will to be known by man. Orthodoxy has no need to claim originality in its rites and rituals. Quite the opposite, it glories in the infinite fulfillment that Christ offers mystically to that which is already familiar; in other words, sanctification, deification, and theosis. God becoming man, that man might become god.

Lastly, regardless of the projected confidence of neo-pagans, it is a simple fact that all conjecture regarding historic paganism is made in a near void of critical data. We have extant but a few literary works dealing with the [pagan] mysteries, many scattered references, verses of poetry, fragments of hymns and prayers, mutilated inscriptions, damaged papyri, cult emblems, bas-reliefs, frescoes, painted vases, ruined chapels and temples. These are the varied and imperfect material out of which we have to attempt reconstruction. Our difficulties are much heightened by the insecurity of chronological sequence, and the uncertainty as to the particular usages or beliefs of a cult at a particular period of the long history of the [pagan] mystery religions from the sixth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. “And the only mystery ritual which has survived in its entirety is the one belonging to the Mithraic cult.” Not coincidentally, the cult of Mithras is the only source cited consistently by those subordinating Christianity to paganism.

In contrast, consider the sheer volume of Judeo-Christian documents and literature produced from approximately 1500 B.C. to 800 A.D.: Old Testament, New Testament, Apostolic literature, the catacomb experience, Christian Byzantium, and the Holy Ecumenical councils! In light of this tremendous outpouring of Judeo-Christian literature that encapsulates the dark age of paganism (600 B.C. to 500 A.D.), one might be compelled to argue that every enduring aspect of paganism, other than its rightful claim to the Mother-Goddess of agrarian fertility worship, and the Greek philosophical terminology of the time, is in fact a borrowing from Judeo-Christianity practices.[1]

As part of the Church’s tradition, it is believed that during Christ’s flight into Egypt, statues to the native gods crumbled and fell at His presence; this led to the conversion of some of the inhabitants.

Flight of ChristGiven below are some selective acts of saints who destroyed religious images[2]

The Apostle Paul (+67 A.D.)

As recounted in the Book of Acts 19: 11-20, the miracles of the Apostle Paul led many pagan sorcerers in Ephesus to convert to Christ, whereupon they publicly burned their spell-books. Scripture concludes this episode with the words: So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

The Apostle John (c. +97 A.D.)

Some accounts of the Life of John the Evangelist state that his exile to Patmos was a result of the Apostle causing pagan idols to fall through his prayers. In the Anglo-Saxon homilies from the 10th/11th centuries, there is an explicit mention of the Apostle John turning the idols to dust by the power of God.

Empress Helena (+ 329 A.D.)

brosen_icon_constantine_helenaThe pious Christian mother of Constantine the Great, Empress Helena is best remembered in the Orthodox Church for finding the Holy Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On the site of the finding she erected the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Less well-known perhaps, but no less significant, is that a temple to the goddess Aphrodite (Venus) needed to be flattened for the church to be built. St. Helena probably also ordered the destruction of a temple to Zeus (Jupiter) in order to build a church dedicated to St. Cyrus and St. John.. The finding of the true Cross is commemorated on September 14, and is one of the Great Feasts of the Church.

Nicholas the Wonder-Worker of Myra (+ 345 A.D.)

st-nicholas-destroying-the-idolsOne of the most celebrated Saints of the Orthodox Church worldwide, the wonderful feats of this miracle-working bishop abound. Among these acts is the destruction of all the temple of Diana and other pagan shrines in his city of Myra, after he was reinstated as bishop there during Constantine’s reign. Much of the demolition was carried out by his own hand, though he also had to struggle in prayer to overcome the demons that inhabited the temples. That this act of Nicholas is celebrated is evidenced in later church frescoes showing the event.

 

Martyr Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, in Syria (suffered 360 A.D.)

Under Constantine the Great St. Mark, with the help of his deacon Cyril, had torn down a pagan temple and built a church in its place. When Julian the Apostate became emperor, idol-worship again grew, and the pagans wished to take revenge upon the now elderly bishop. Beaten, slashed with knives, his ears sliced off with linen, and with his hair pulled out, St. Mark steadfastly refused to offer up any money in order to rebuild the pagan temple he had demolished. Even after the pagans kept lowering the price, St. Mark refused to pay a single coin. Exhausted, and seeing that people were converted to Christ through his endurance, the torturers let St. Mark go! St. Gregory the Theologian writes highly of St. Mark, and uses his example in his writings against Julian the Apostate.

Spyridon the Wonderworker of Tremithus, in Cyprus (+ 348 A.D.)

st spiridonA shepherd who gave all his wealth to the poor, St. Spyridon was made bishop of Tremithus after the death of his wife, under the reign of Constantine the Great. The life of the saint speaks of the amazing simplicity and the gift of wonder-working granted to him by God. Through a word of the saint the dead were awakened, the elements of nature tamed, the idols smashed. At one point, a Council had been convened at Alexandria by the Patriarch to discuss what to do about the idols and pagan temples there. Through the prayers of the Fathers of the Council all the idols fell down except one, which was very much revered. It was revealed to the Patriarch in a vision that this idol had to be shattered by St. Spyridon of Tremithus. Invited by the Council, the saint set sail on a ship, and at the moment the ship touched shore and the saint stepped out on land, the idol in Alexandria with all its offerings turned to dust, which then was reported to the Patriarch and all the bishops.

Saint Porphyry of Gaza, Bishop and Confessor (+ 420 A.D.)

porphyry-of-gazaAfter many years as a monk, St. Porphyry was elected Bishop of Gaza, a city where the Christian population numbered less than three-hundred, and idolatry was wide-spread. Discriminated against by the pagans, St. Porphyry went to Constantinople and gained the support of Emperor Arcadius and the Archbishop, St. John Chrysostom, to close down the idolatrous temples. Officials sent to close down the pagan shrines of Gaza were often bribed, and so after much laboring, St. Porphyry undertook the destruction of the temples personally with his flock of Christians. Many temples were destroyed, including those dedicated to Aphrodite, Hecate, the Sun, Apollo, Kore (Persephone), Tychaion, the shrine of a hero, and the Marneion, dedicated to Zeus. In their place, Christian churches were erected. The pagan idols were burnt, and the marble from their temples were used to pave the way to the new Christian churches, so that all Christians on their way to worship would trample upon the remains of idolatry. These acts, along with much preaching, prayer, and humiliations suffered by St. Porphyry, won the entire city of Gaza over to the Christian faith. The Life of St. Porphyry, recounting his struggles against the pagans, was written by the deacon Mark.

What to take from all these above facts from history? As with other miraculous deeds of the Saints, the destruction of the idols can be understood symbolically as the victory of right-believing Christians over all other idols, whether they be demons pretending to be gods or man-made constructs that lead our minds from the contemplation of God. This can be done without denying the historical fact of the Church’s Saints physically destroying non-Christian religious images. Of course, when considering other deeds of the Saints, we try to use their acts as an example for our own conduct. In the case of idol-smashing, most Christians today would shy away from literally following the Saints’ example, even though non-Christian idols abound. Perhaps this is wisest thing to do, though the courage of these idol-smashing Saints is certainly something worthy of imitation. In striving for this, we can pray to Christ that we may emulate the martyr’s strength.

The above information on Saints who destroyed religious images (or idols), gives a considerable list of Saints who in their lives courageously and physically confronted the practice of worshiping idols. Most of the examples come from the First Millennium A.D., which shouldn’t be surprising as this is when idol-worship was widespread in the world and at its most aggressive towards Christianity.

Looking back over so many centuries it can be difficult to imagine just what these heroic Saints did in publicly taking a stand against something so anti-Christian, yet so popular. Even in today’s times so close to ours we get to learn about a story from the life of Elder Gabriel (Urgebadze), a Georgian priest-monk considered locally to be a Saint, publicly denounced the idolatry of a people.

The article continues as…. Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 2

[1] Alexander Schemann. Orthodox Christianity and Paganism.

[2] Source: iconreader.com