We are not servants of an absentee Father or archaeologists on a mission to discover some forgotten deity obscured through the lens of history. Instead, we are inheritors of an eternal kingdom, one that is meant to be joined and experienced as a people of God—not as mere individuals.
We say goodbye to the old and welcome the new. We give thanks for what the Lord has done, and petition his lovingkindness and protection for the days yet to come. We take a moment to consider our impact on the world around us, and whether our actions proceed from hearts of selfishness or hearts of compassion.
In the Orthodox Church, the purpose of theological discourse is not originality, popularity, or novelty. Our goal is not innovation or abandoning centuries of faithful witness. On the contrary, our goal is to see ourselves united with the Mind of the Church as She is and always has been.
A falsehood spread throughout the broader Christian world today is that God adopts us into his family without anything expected of us. Or even worse, we are promised a better life, happiness, and even material wealth or worldly success. But this is really the opposite of what the scriptures promise.
Some Christians object to the idea of honoring Saints—whether that be venerating their relics and images, or asking them for their prayers—because they feel it is to ignore the living already with us in the Church here on earth. They will suggest that a danger lies in only “speaking with the dead,” as the dead either cannot or will not talk back to us, redirecting us when straying from the straight-and-narrow. But is this really the case?
For many, this event is little more than a well-leveraged commemoration of an extended olive branch between these two ancient, Christian faiths. For others, concern over the future of their respective churches takes center stage. Will this event be used as an impetus for doctrinal compromise? Will the future of either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman catholicism hang in the balance as a result of this pending exchange of pleasantries?
Both the fall of monarchy and the wiles of the Enlightenment led even Orthodox Christians into the arms of the nineteenth century’s pseudo-replacement for imperial veneration and identity in Christian faith: nationalism. To be clear, a pride in one’s cultural or religious heritage is not necessarily a problem, but pride based solely on the superiority of one’s race over others is far removed from the Orthodox faith.
Contemporary scholars and certain Christian groups today tend to approach the study of scripture as archaeology.Rather than receiving the scriptures as God-breathed tradition in the life of the Church, the text is abstracted from its incarnate context, subjected to scientific analysis. While much can be learned, of course, from a knowledge of Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, this is not an end unto itself.
Many Christians today will associate a text-centered focus with Biblical worship, but this was true neither for the contemporary Jewish people of that era nor the early Christians. In fact, a robustly Biblical worship is one that resembles the temple cult as fulfilled in Christ, and not what one might find in contemporary Protestant or even Jewish circles.
But again, the celebration is about more than just the restoration and veneration of holy icons; it is a celebration of the victory of the Orthodox Faith itself. That is to say, it is a victory of both right-belief in (and right-worship of) our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Orthodox Christians do not hold to the Reformation principle of Sola scriptura. Instead, we view the scriptures as the pinnacle or “summit”1 of holy tradition, neither separating the two as wholly distinct, nor eliminating one or the other.
The Nunc dimittis or Song of Simeon is a recorded response as this old, frail servant of the Lord beholds the incarnate Lord of Glory for the very first time. In this moment, he knew his life was complete; he had fulfilled his purpose. Interestingly enough, there is a significant back-story to this presentation of Christ, and to the elder Simeon’s response.
It’s possible that many Orthodox Christians of the diaspora underestimate how much our culture influences, shapes, and even controls us. Orthodox Christianity in the English-speaking world has gone through some interesting times in recent memory, to say the least. But all in all, we are still in the infancy stages, in need of further asceticism, stability, and maturity.
In the veneration of both icons and relics, we experience the union these great men and women shared with Christ on earth decades or even centuries ago—a unity that transcends time and continues through eternity. Christ unites himself to us, both body and soul, and the bones of martyrs shine with the uncreated grace of God while their souls are at rest, working miracles even after their death.
Orthodox worship and devotional piety is best understood when it is approached from the standpoint of Christened temple (and synagogal) worship. Christ did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, and it is in him that we understand the fulfilled worship of Orthodox Christianity—an icon of the heavenly worship.
Standing at the south corner of the altar, the deacon quietly utters to the presiding priest: “It is time for the Lord to act.” This phrase sets the tone for everything in our worship. We are not performing some sort of magical act that assuages the deity in our favor, but are rather joining in with the liturgy of eternity; the liturgy of his own actions in our favor; the liturgy which has, and is, and ever shall be taking place; the liturgy which is the great thanksgiving—the great Eucharist—of God.
Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? … So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.
Transfiguration is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. It comes forty days before the Elevation of the Holy Cross, and is the next-to-last feast of the ecclesiastical year. In this feast we are reminded of our calling as Christians: to be transfigured; to mature into ripened fruit; to be glorified in Christ.
Did you know that there was once a Christian hymnal in the middle of the Old Testament?And no, I’m not referring to the Psalter of David, or even the later Odes of Solomon. I’m talking about the “Book of Odes” (ᾠδαί), a collection of fourteen Scriptural hymns or canticles, which are still regularly sung in the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Perhaps a classic analogy would be best served here: The Church is a seafaring vessel, churning through the tumultuous waters of this life. Many times, the Church must wade through dangerous seas, filled with depth charges, icebergs, and every sort of obstacle that the imaginations of Renaissance men and the cunning of the evil one can devise. And yet, despite these continuous assaults, the ship sails ahead, eventually leaving the controversies in her wake.
"The flow of history confirms the reality of the Gospel: the Church is filled to overflowing with sinners. Does their presence in the Church reduce, violate, or destroy her sanctity? Not in the least! For her Head—the Lord Christ, and her Soul—the Holy Spirit, and her divine teaching, her mysteries, and her virtues, are indissolubly and immutably holy." --Archimandrite Justin Popovich
The Council of Nicaea is often the victim of ridicule and historical revisionism. From the grammatical nightmares of Dan Brown novels to the revisionist and anti-ecclesial speculations of Protestant or non-Christian historians, it has certainly become a whipping boy of early Christian history. The problem with many of the critiques of this council is that they are based upon both faithless skepticism and a de-incarnational ecclesiology. Skepticism regarding both the promises of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, as well as a vision of the Church that would have both Arius and Athanasius be equally “fathers” of our one, true faith.
Like Luther, Melanchthon believed that their “reformed” faith — as a “peeling away” of the numerous developments and supposed abuses of the Latin Church over the centuries — would be virtually one and the same as the faith of the “Greeks” in the east. To that end, the leading “Lutheran” theologians of the day had their Augsburg Confession translated into Greek, and sent with their new-found friend in Demetrius back to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
One of the many wonderful aspects of the Orthodox-Catholic celebration of the birth of Christ is the traditional season of "Christmastide" or the "12 Days of Christmas." This is one of those rare periods in the life of the Church where all fasting is suspended and where the fulness of Christ's Incarnation is on display in the following days. Thankfully, people have come to understand more and more that the feast of Christmas was not established as a replacement of a "pagan holiday" (as is proposed in popular discussion), but is rather an intentional celebration of the unique birth of our Lord according to the flesh.