Category Archives: The Orthodox Faith

Is the body evil?

Is the body evil?

The body has been seen as a source of evil and sin at different times all throughout Man’s history. The philosophical phrase for the struggle between the sensual body and the mind, or soul, is dualism. While there are many different types of dualism, the type that has been often associated with Christianity is the belief that the body, with its receptiveness of the senses, is in direct conflict with the mind or soul and its ability to feel and communicate with God.

Fornication, gluttony and violence, for example, are all sins related to the body. It is the indulgence of, and giving in to, the physical pleasures of the body in a sexual way which leads to things like adultery, pornography and masturbation. Seeking to please the body through good food can lead to gluttony. Violence, rather than trying to please the body through its senses, attempts to punish or harm another person through their bodily senses.

Statue of the "Starving Buddha"

The examples above serve to show why the body can and has been seen as the greatest source of evil, as perhaps the biggest thing standing between God and us. This dualistic view has led many of various faiths and ideologies to deny and punish the body as a way of showing their devotion to what it is that they believe in. From the self-flagellation of medieval Roman Catholic monks and modern Shi’a  Muslims, to the extreme fasting of Siddhartha and Hindu gurus, it has been thought throughout history that the body must be subdued and overcome in order grow closer to the divine.

This is the incorrect view to have however. While it is true that it is through the body that we commit many of our sins, it is not because of the body. Sexual pleasure is not a sin in of itself; when shared with a spouse it can be an expression of the love shared between the two, a way of growing closer to the other, and the means of bringing new life into the world. Good food is not a sin; it can be used by the chef to express their affection for those they are cooking for, a desire to share something they enjoy with others, and, for those eating good food, it can be a way of spending time with others and enjoying the pleasures which God has given to us.

I find it telling that these things, when shared with other people, can often be considered “good,” yet it is when they are used to satisfy the individual only that they become “bad.”  To use sex and food again as an example, when a person seeks after sexual pleasure solely for themselves and for no other reason than to make themselves feel good, or if food is frequently sought out not to satisfy hunger but to satisfy and indulge in the desire of good tastes, it is then that these things cause us to stop focusing on others and God and to instead of focus on ourselves. This after all, the focus and reliance on the ego  and self in place of God, is what caused humanity to fall in the first place and what continues to separate us from Him.

In Greek, the word used for sin is αμαρτία (amartia). This translates literally as “missing the mark.” A good image to conjure is an arrow on the outer rings of a target. The arrow has missed the mark  which it is intended for, the bulls eye. With this understanding, an action is considered a sin if it causes us to “miss the mark” of glorifying and growing closer to God.

God created us with a soul and a body as a harmonious whole. He created us as sensory creatures, made to enjoy the things around us, and in doing so to thank and glorify Him for these things. We believe that at the final resurrection it is not only our souls, but our bodies as well that will be brought back to life. In Orthodox worship our body is a key tool used to help us connect to God: we smell the incense, hear the chanting and bells, make prostrations, see the beautiful icons and vestments and taste the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

The body is not evil, and holding such a dualistic view is not compatible with Orthodox theology. We do need to be mindful of our body and its senses though, and to make sure that we do not let the desire to indulge them alter our aim and cause us to miss the mark.

We should always be mindful of God and watchful over our passions, and when these two things are kept, then we can enjoy the body and its senses that God has given us, and as He intended. Glory to you, our God!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Christianity makes no sense.

Christianity makes no sense.

At least not rationally, and this is a problem for a large population of the world. The concept of a sort of “meta-person” who exists and has the ability to create, control and interact with creation can be a difficult concept for some, but the idea that that person could then die, and that be a good thing, complicates it exponentially. In a letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Even two-thousand years ago the idea of a god which which died, and yet was supposed to be all powerful, didn’t quite make sense. For the Jews, whose history had been filled with wonderous events such as the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the first born in Egypt, the gift of mana from the skies and many others, the death of a person whom these new Christians said was of the same essence of the God they worshiped did not seem miraculous at all; perhaps more blasphemous!

For the Greeks, who valued above all wisdom, and who were steeped in the traditional philosophies of giants such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and a number of others, the conclusions of Christianity couldn’t not (and cannot) be arrived at through an archetypal rationalistic method.

At the beginning of his letter, the Apostle tells us:

Brethren, among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

Christianity does not make sense, if we try to understood with the wisdom or rationality of the current age. This was true two millennia ago, and still true today. This age is ruled by science, which while by no means is a bad thing in of itself (I shudder to imagine what life would be like without the knowledge we have now), what is bad is the individual and collective egotism which can come from it.

We have learned so much about the universe around us; from how what goes on on the surface of the sun affects what goes on here on earth, to how a malfunction in a single gene of our genetic code can have profound effects on the body. We have used this knowledge to take control of our world, to build communities of previously unimaginable sizes and manipulate our environment to sustain them, to chase away the dark with perpetual light, to fight back against illnesses that would previously ravage our bodies with little to no opposition, and to build machines which allows us to communicate instantly any where in the world, manufacture goods with almost no human interaction and carry us across vast distances.

These are all good things. But these things have also caused us to believe that if something exists, we can find it,  and that if something needs to be known or done, we have the power to do it; it has caused us to believe that we can do anything that we need to, on our own.

The Orthodox Church teaches us that this is what was the downfall of humanity, represented in the persons of Adam and Eve, this belief that our wisdom is so great that we do not need God and figure everything out on our.

In the quote above, the Apostle mentions that he and his fellow workers impart a secret and hidden wisdom, one which does not pass away as does the wisdom of the rulers of the age. More importantly, it’s a wisdom that God has instituted for our glorification.

When humanity was first created, God created us for the purpose of communion, communion with each other and with Himself. We created in such a way that we had unlimited potential to grow closer and closer to Him, to share in the love and communion which the Holy Trinity has among each person. This was our glory; that we could become increasingly more like God in love and to share in His divine light. God created us with free will so that the extent to which we grew closer to Him was dependent on us, that the love which was to be shared would be real and not imposed.

However it is also this free will which caused our turning away from Him. The tree from which the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve came was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this way the author of Genesis conveys the idea that humanity took it upon itself to learn of the world and decided that it did not need God anymore to make moral decisions. When this decision was made, humanity turned away from the Giver of Life, and ventured out into the darkness by itself.

Due to this, God gave humanity the Divine Commandments, to give us a guideline on what was good and what we should be doing, to act as a yardstick of morality. The commandments are not a way to eternal life, they are not salvation; rather they show the way of death, and create sin by saying that any action which went against the commandments, was a sin, a turning away from God.

The Logos, the Word of God, then became incarnate in the person of Jesus. God Himself married his divine nature to our human nature and in doing so He healed the sickness which the turning away from God had created and refreshed our souls. God made it possible for our nature to receive a fresh start and to return to the state it was in when humanity was first created.

And lastly, to return to the point of contention at the beginning of this post, Jesus, God incarnate, died. Up until this point, when the body died the soul could not return God, since in life it had turned away and lost the glory which had been ascribed to it. Having turned away from the Source of Life, the soul was shut out the Kingdom of Life. Jesus’ soul too went down into death, but, being divine and the Source of Life the bonds of death could not contain Him. The divine nature broke the bonds of death and “shattered the gates of Hades,” making it so that those who had turned back to Him in life could not be prevented from returning to him after it.

This is the wisdom of God that the rulers of the age did not and continue not to understand. This is the “foolishness” of God that wiser than the wisdom of man. God did not die, he destroyed death. The wisdom of this age cannot understand the wisdom of God because it is temporary, while the wisdom of God has been since the very beginning.

No, Christianity doesn’t make a bit of sense if one attempts to arrive at it from a rational, self-contained, temporal understanding. It is not something we can hope to understand on our own because it is something completely outside of us; we cannot see it, we cannot arrive at it from cause and effect, we cannot deduce it from the evidence around us – ironically though, what Christianity teaches is a bigger miracle than was ever revealed to the Jews and it is a more profound and sublime wisdom than the Greeks could ever conceive:

It is the miracle, wisdom and gift of life itself.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Orthodox Personhood, Sin and Salvation

Before one understand morality from an Orthodox point of view, one must first understand how Orthodoxy views the person, sin and salvation. In The Freedom of Morality, Christos Yannaras says:

The person is the hypostasis of the human essence or nature. He sums up in his existence the universality of human nature, but at the same time surpasses it, because his mode of existence is freedom and distinctiveness.

This mode of existence which is personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man, making man a partaker in being. It is not as nature that man constitutes an image of God: it is not because he has natural attributes in common with God, or analogous to His. Man constitutes an image of God as an ontological hypostasis free from space, time and natural necessity….

Personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man. It is the mode of existence shared by God and man, the ethos of trinitarian life imprinted upon the human being. In the Orthodox Church and its theology, we study man as an image of God, not God as the image of man exalted into an absolute. The revelation of the personal God in history manifests to us the truth about man, his ethos and the nobility of his descent.

…In the historical revelation of God, we study true personal existence free from any constraint — from the constraint imposed on man by his own nature after his fall, which was the free subjection of his personal distinctiveness to the necessities and dictates of nature individuality…

In other words, it our free will and our relationship to God which defines us in the Orthodox church. Before the Fall, man was free from the exaggerated expression of our passions — greed, pride, selfishness, ego, etc. — and those passions were directed towards growing closer to God, growing more and more like Him. Our end was to reach theosis or deification, to unite our will, thoughts and actions to those of God and to become as like him as is possible.

God gave us free will however, and with it came the possibility to deviate from the course which God had created us for. The “original sin” was when man used his free will in just such a way; to pursue something other than the will of God.

Sin, in Orthodoxy, is not some concrete act, nor is it something that can be defined into laws, rules or regulations. The Greek word for sin, and the word which appeared in the New Testament, is”amartias,” which is defined as missing the mark:

The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and “missing the mark,” as the loss of that “end” or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

There is nothing God’s creation which is hypostatically  and naturally evil, not even the devil himself. Sin is failure, a failure as to existence and life: it is the failure of persons to realize their existential “end,” to confirm and conserve the uniqueness of their hypostasis through love.

To sin then is to not attempt to live up to our full potential in Christ, to not live in the manner which God created us for and to not attempt to correct the distorted image of God which we bear. This sin is understood to be a result of the breaking away of our will from the will of God in order to focus on our own individual needs and wants.

In the West, repentance is largely seen as a recognition of guilt, and this view comes from the legalistic, juridical view of sin which was developed in this part of the world. This isn’t the way that it was originally — and continues to be in the Orthodox East — seen. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia” and it translates into “change of mind.” This is so much more than just a change of attitude; it refers to a complete change in a persons way of thought, in their outlook.

Repentance is the recognition that  man’s self-sufficiency is inadequate; it is a search for the life which is realized in personal relationship with God, a thirst for personal communion with Him.

Repentance does not mean simply the “improvement” or even “perfection” of individual behavior and individual psychological feelings, or the strengthening of the individual will. All these can come about while a man still remains a prisoner in his autonomous individuality, unable to love or to participate in the communion of love which is true life. Repentance is a change in our mode of existence: man cease to trust in his own individuality. He realizes that existing as an individual, even a virtuous individual, does not save him from corruption and death, from his agonizing existential thirst for life.

Repentance then isn’t asking God to forgive us for acting “badly” and vowing that we will live “better lives,” it is recognizing that the way we have been living is focusing on ourselves and then trying to fundamentally alter our world-view. Our salvation comes through this whole-hearted attempt to live the way which God wants for us, which we were created for. Salvation comes from recognizing that our individual efforts are not enough, that our individuality is a lie told to us by the world and that is symptom of a mis-directed will.

This is what I’m learning as I read through this amazing book. I’ll continue to post my thoughts and reactions and hope to read some of yours as well!


Stand firm, like an anvil under the hammer.

Men that seem worthy of confidence, yet teach strange doctrines, must not upset you. Stand firm, like an anvil under the hammer. It is like a great athlete to take blows and yet win the fight. For God’s sake above all we must endure everything, so that God, in turn, may endure us. Increase your zeal. Read the signs of the times. Look for Him Who is above all time – the Timeless, the Invisible, Who for our sake became visible, the Impassible,  Who became subject to suffering on our account and for our sake endured everything. -St. Ignatius of Antioch

An icon of St. Ignatius being martyred.

It’s amazing how little can change over 2,000 years. St. Ignatius was a Bishop of Antioch, likely the second, who was martyred by wild beasts in Rome somewhere between 90 and 110 A.D.  Even so, his words, his call to vigilance, is just as acute and just as relevant today.

The Christian of today, at least here in America, does not have to worry about taking physical blows. Our martyrdom occurs in the intellectual sphere. Our aggressors attack not with boiling oil, red hot furnaces, or packs of starving animals. Our aggressors attack with scientific theories, which sociological explanations, and with charges of draconian and outdated thinking.

My priest pointed something out this past Sunday that is relevant here; especially around the holy days of Christmas and Easter, we presented with an increase in these attacks from our television. It is during these times that specials on the “real Jesus” are presented to us, shows that attempt to describe what life was like in the Middle East during the time of Christ and what sociological factors might have led to the formation of the religion which sprung up around him.

As Orthodox Christians we know that Jesus was more than just a mere mortal man. We know that the real story of Christmas is nothing less than a miracle, the joining of the divine with mortal, of God Himself submitting to be born, to grow up as a human child, to experience the world as we experience it, and ultimately to once again show us the road to perfection, heal our souls and to destroy the hold which death has over us.  We know that the “real Jesus” was born incarnate miraculously from a virgin but that He has existed from the beginning of time, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We know that while he was born in the flesh and did indeed have a human nature, he also remained fully God and had a divine nature as well.

Every year Christmas comes earlier and earlier; more time for those fueled by their passions of materiality and greed to make money, more time for those who have been brainwashed to feel like they must give things to show their gratitude and love for others, and more and more time for our faith to be undermined, marginalized, and attacked from numerous angles.

Stand firm, fellow Christians, like an anvil under the hammer. If anything, history has proven that the Christian can be placed under fire for his or her belief, that the Christian can be pounded by other world-views and ideologies, but that all this serves to do is refine, shape and strengthen us.

The anvil is not us, but God, and on it we are crafted to be the swords of truth.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Against “Sola Fide”

St. Augustine

Reject those who say we need only our own free will and not prayer to help us keep from sin. Even the Pharisee wasn’t blinded by such darkness. For, although he mistakenly thought he only needed his own righteousness (and believed he was saturated with it), nevertheless, he thanked God that he wasn’t “like other men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers…” Yet it isn’t a question of prayers alone, as if we don’t need to include our willful efforts. For although God is “our Helper,” we cannot be helped if we don’t make some effort of our own. God doesn’t work out salvation in us as if we are dull stones or creatures without reason or will.

-St. Augustine of Hippo (emphasis mine)

Sola Fide, or “faith alone” is a protestant doctrine that human beings need only have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Those who ascribe to this view see man’s relationship with God as very judicial; we human beings are “criminals” by virtue of our fallen nature and soley by believing in Christ, God gives us a judicial pardon (justification) and decides to save us. We play absolutely no part in this salvation outside of merely believing in God. I (as well as both branches of ancient historical Christianity) have a problem with this, and my personal reasons are three fold: (1) It is irreconcilable with normal human behavior and is essentially a “get out of hell free” card, (2) the idea of a judicial pardon is irreconcilable with the idea of an all powerful God, and (3) it is demeaning to the creations of God and ignores the gifts which He has given us.

(1) Get out of hell free: I say that the doctrine of sola fide is likened to the Monopoly game’s get out of jail free card because if all that is needed for salvation is belief, then it ignores how we act. Now, I will agree that faith is the jumping off point, the essential beginning step for salvation, but it is not enough to retain that salvation. If all I need to get to heaven is to believe in Christ (and what exactly is it that we’re supposed to ‘believe’ in order to gain the salvation?) then as long as I have that faith, can I go out and do anything I want? Can I continue to live in the world, valueing money, gratifying my body and the desires of my passions etc. and still get to heaven as long as I “believe” in Christ? This just doesn’t make sense!

In Orthodox Christianity (as well as Roman Catholicism) salvation is a dynamic process. We do not say that we “are saved,” rather we say that “we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.” You have to work to keep your salvation! This isn’t to say that salvation comes about by human effort, not at all! Salvation can only be granted by God. But if we truley believe that Jesus Christ was God. If we truley believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, if we truley believe in everything that God has revealed to the world from the time of Noah down to the time of Christ, then we will be active in our faith. We will strive to conquer our will, we will fight to overcome our passions, we will learn the tacticts of the demons and the subversive logismoi and learn to fight against them, trying as hard as we can to live like Christ and how God wants us to. It is not enough to say “I love you Jesus!” and then think that we are automatically granted entry into the Kingdom.

(2) We must be reconciled, not God: This reason I have against the idea of sola fide actually has its roots in the whole western conception of original sin and salvation. Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) tends to view original sin as some sort of stain on the soul which each of us inherits at birth. Because of this view, the Western idea of salvation tends to be that we must appease the wrath of God and ask for forgiveness for this sin on our souls. It is seen much like a court process: God is the stern judge, and we are the defendants. We must plead our case before God and then hope that he chooses to forgive us. But let me ask this, if God is truley just, then why does He hold us responsible for a sin which we did not commit?

Eastern Christianity has never seen salvation like this. We are only responsible for the sins which we ourselves commit. We do not inherit some stain on the soul. Rather, what we inherit are the results of the original sin; death and subjugation to the passions. If you view salvation in the manner that the Western Churches do then in effect what you say is that we have to reconcile God to us; we have to make God change His mind and they way that He views us. Again, this view is mistaken! It is us who would be changing, not God. It is us who should change the way that we live and us who have to work to live how God wants us. If you believe in sola fide then you unequivocally buy into this idea that God must change to justify us, rathern we changing in orther that we be justified.

(3) We are not cattle: My last major objection to sola fide comes from the complete helplessness that it leaves the human race. Sola fide assumes that human beings are completely depraved and absolutely helpless to do anything to change the situation. How demeaning is this! We are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God. To say that we are such base creatures as to not be able to do anything under our own power but wallow in sin rejects this truth. No, we human beings, while not having the power to actually achieve salvation on our own, do have the ability to work towards it, to prove to God that we are trying to live how He wants. We are not dumb animals, walking around in the dark praying for someone to turn the lights on for us. We are icons of God.

The truth that the Eastern Orthodox Church has proclaimed for nearly 2,0oo years—since the time of the Apostles—is this: Adam and Eve, acting as representatives of all of humanity, were created in the image and the likeness of God. At the time of creation our will was perfectly in tune with God and because of this there was no corruption in our bodies, we could see and talk to God easily. The fall from this state of grace was the result of going against the will of God. The result of this was that it because increasingly harder to do the will of God and so we left the state of grace which we lived in. No longer partakers of the divine grace corruption entered our bodies, meaning that we don’t have easy control over our will and passions, and eventually the material body corrupts tot he point to where it cannot sustain life or the soul (death). God didn’t abandon us though, and chose the Israelites to teach how to enter back into that state of grace. To make it easier for us to overcome our will and to realign it with God’s, He gave the Israelites commandments and laws. These served as a way to deny the things that we want, and to eventually overcome those wants.

Over time however the Israelites looked to those rules and laws and ends in themselves. They saw them as the way of achieving salvation, rather than as a jumping point. So, God became incarnate in the flesh and came down Himself to teach us a new way. He became a rolemodel for us, showing us how to live, how to love, and teaching still that we must deny ourselves and look to God on how to live. By dying on the Cross, the immortal destroyed the power of death, and opened up the gates of Heaven so that now when the body fails, the soul has the opportunity to go straight to Heaven and be with its Creator.

In order to this we must acknowledge God as the only true God, and Christ as God Himself. We must acknowledge that we often live for ourselves, gratifying our passions and seeking after our own will. Futher, we must deny this and work to conquer this will and instead do the will of God. We must have faith that by doing this we can reach the state of Adam and Eve before the fall, and then once in that state we can strive to grow in God, and to learn more and more about Him. We cannot reach God through our own power, but neither are we powerless in our struggle. Salvation is a two way process: God has set up the right conditions and waits for us with open arms, while it is up to us to see those conditions and to run willingly into those arms.

May God bless you during this period while we eagerly await the celebration of His ressurection!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Lent is a useless tradition…

Lent is a useless tradition. It is nothing more than acting like the Pharisee in the temple; standing before the crowd where everyone can see how ‘holy’ you are, and praying to God saying that you are thankful that you are not like the rest of those dirty sinners. Lent is a pointless, prideful tradition which was created by man, is not found in the Bible, and so not something we should do.

At least… this is what many Protestants and those not familiar with a liturgical Church calendar would have you think. And this might understandably be the view given the popular Roman Catholic conception of the season; eating fish on Fridays instead of meat and giving up chocolate for 40 days but giving in and then up halfway through. Now, I mean no offense to my Roman Catholic cousins, but you have to admit, the popular conception of Lent does seem a little shallow.

I once heard the Orthodox Church described as the “Marine Corp of Christianity” and I think that this is a very apt description, especially when it comes to Lent. The Orthodox Church prescribes the strictest fasting requirements of the whole year during the 40 day lenten period and while I won’t go into the specifices, the general rule is no meat, eggs, dairy, wine, or oil for the entire 40 days. But why? What is the point? What good does it do?

In order to understand the purpose if Great Lent (and I’m going to give it from an Orthodox viewpoint) you have to understand the way that the Orthodox Church sees the issue of original sin and how that differs from the Roman Catholic Church (and by extention Protestant churches)  view, and how it influences the idea of salvation.

The Western conception of original sin is that it is some blight, some stain on the soul of every human being. The Christian then must ask God to forgive her for carrying around this burden, and ask that God would remove it from her. Because of this view the Western view of Christianity tends to run very legal: When we commit a sin it is as if we broke a law that God has. Once we break this law we must approach God as if standing before a judge in a courtroom and plead our case, asking God to forgive us. If we do not ask for forgiveness then we will be punished for breaking that law.  Because of this legalistic Western worldview, Christ’s death on the cross came to be seen as an atonement for our sins. A lot of people see it like I recently read on another blog (which prompted me to write this post); that Christ’s death was a sacrifice which had to be made to God in order for God to forgive our sins, and that Christ was the only creature worthy of acting as this sacrificial lamb.

While the Eastern Church does agree that Christ’s death was a sacrificeChrist Icon on our behalf, She does not teach that it was a sacrifice of atonement in the same way as the West. Instead original sin being a stain on the soul, and us having to ask forgiveness for a sin which we did not commit, the Eastern Church teaches that when Adam and Eve commit the first sin, by disobeying the will of God they broke a certain harmony that existed between us and God. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but when we followed our own will over and above God’s, we ‘blurred’ the image, and the effect of this was that we became subject to our passionate will (it became harder to overcome the longer we gave it attention), and material corruption (i.e. aging and eventually the breakdown of the body to such a point that it is unable to sustain life and contain the soul).

When God decided to send His Pre-Existent Word to us, and by the Word became incarnate and God in a sense marrying the Divine with the material, He re-sanctified the image in us that had been corrupted by sin. He made it possible for us to once again, with His help, conquer our passionate will and realign it with His will, thus fulfilling the purpose we were created for and worshipping Him.

When Christ died on the cross his divine nature decended with his human nature into the land of the dead. Being He-Who-Cannot-Be-Contained, the land of the dead could not hold Him and its fatalistic hold over humanity was broken; it is no longer a necessary consequence of life that we die and go, all of us, sinner and saint, to a land of seperation from God. To prove that he had destroyed death, Christ came back to life.

What does this have to do with Great Lent? Everything! Great Lent is a 40 day period of purification, reflection, and anticipation. It is intimately married with the Holy Day of Pascha (Easter), and infact Pascha is the entire reason for Great Lent. During this 40 day period preceeding the celebration of Christ’s ressurection we work to, even though we know we will never be to fully, make ourselves worthy of this glorious ‘second chance’ that God has given us. We practice the ascetic practices as a way of training ourselves to sublimate our will when it does not conform to God’s. We study the scriptures with an enhanced fervor, we attend church more often, we struggle to keep God before us in heart and mind constantly. We reflect on what God has done for us and we praise Him for his long-suffering and patience when dealing with us. We strive to set our selves on a path that will take full advantage of this opportunity which God gives to everyone.

Lent is is a holiday in the fullest sense of the word as being a holy time, set apart from normal life for a specific purpose. It’s when we change our lives, instead of changing things to suit our lives. It is a time when we change our mode of thinking and remember that we are Christians, that we are not of this world, and that we have an opportunity that, sadly, the proud or ignorant might never take advantage of, and opportunity with eternal ramifications.

And perhaps most importantly, it is a time of eager anticipation when we await the glorious celebration of our victory over death and sin, and when we welcome (liturgically) Christ back to the world.

It might be a time of sorrow for our offenses, but it is a joyful sorrow; the sorrow of a Bride who is seperated from her Bridegroom, though she knows the reason is so that she can get ready for the wedding.


Return to me…with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing, offereings and libations for the LORD, your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridgroom quit his room, and the brider her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, and say “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say amon the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

With that, one of the daily readings for today as specified by the Chruch calendar, the Eastern Orthodox Church calls her faithful to begin preparing for Great Lent. This is a 40 day period of purification and prepation for the faithful as we eagerly await Pascha–the celebration of Christ’s ressurection from the dead, the single most important moment in all of Christianity and without which the entire religion would not exist.

This 40 day period is also the strictest when it comes the Church’s proscribed fasting rule.  Officially from the morning of the firstday of Great Lent, a Monday, until evening three days later on Wednesday, no food is eaten. After that for the remaining time we do not eat meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, oil, or anything with those ingredients in them or are animal byproducts, with the exception being Saturdays and Sundays when wine and oil are permitted.

This more than the just “I’m going to give up chocolate for Lent” mentality that seems so pervasive. This is mortifying our bodies in an effort to overcome our own passionate will and to recognize that we rely on our God to provide for us and ensure our continued existence.

The Church Fathers have recognized for two millenium the value of hunger when fighting against the passions.  The Desert Father Abba Evagnus has said:

Lust is extinguished by hunger.

The great Russian Saint, St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

The passions are exiterminated by sorrow and suffereing, either voluntary or sent by Providence.

And these are just two of many examples.

Great Lent begins on March 2nd according to the New Calendar this year. For all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, both here and worldwide, I humbly pray to God that this Lenten season will be edifying and profitable to you all. Let us struggle together to carry the weight of a self-inflicted cross, to fight against our passionate wills, and reflect upon what it is that our Great and Glorious King and God has done for us: He has set us from the snares of everlasting death and has corrected the Ancient Error so that we might have the means and the opportunity to recapture the Divine Image and Likeness and live in love in His presence.

To my Roman Catholic cousins who begin their Lenten period today, I pray that you will humble your hearts before God during this period, that you might treat it as not ‘Ordinary Time,’ but as extra-ordinary, other-worldly, sanctified time. Treat it as such, change your life to conform to this holy period and I am sure that it will be beneficial  to your souls as well.

Lastly, for the Protestants who do not follow a liturgical Church calendar, I pray that you might find your way back to this ancient observance and set it apart as a time of repentance and anticipation as well.

We are preparing for the second and more glorious Advent of Christ our God, greater than even Christmas. The only event that will ever be more important than this one to Christians will the third one! May God bless you all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Orthodox Morning Prayers: to the Theotokos, and the Conclusion

*This is the sixth and final in a series of posts of Eastern Orthodox morning prayers. I say the prayers in the order that they will be posted, but feel free to rearrange and single out the prayers as you see fit! All Glory and Honor to the Holy Trinity!

To the Theotokos

O my most holy Lady, the Theotokos, by your holy and all-powerful prayers to the Lord our God, remove fro me, your humble and burdened servant, despair, forgetfulness, lack of understanding, and negligence, and take away all unclean, crafty and blameworthy thoughts from my smitten heart, and from my darkened mind; quench the flame of my passion, for I am poor and lost; deliver me from my cruel recollections and undertakings, and set me free from all evil actions; for you are blessed of all generations, and your most honorable name is glorifed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

It is truley right to call you blessed…

It is truley right to call you blessed, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without corruption did bear God the Word, you, O Theotokos, we laud and magnify.

Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

O Lord Jesus Chris, the Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of your most pure Mother, of Saint (name of patron saint), of Saint (name of saint commemorated on this day), and of all your Saints, have mercy upon us, and save us, for you alone are a merciful God and loves all mankind. Amen.


Orthodox Morning Prayers: St. Basil, and to the Angel

*This is the fifth in a series of posts of Eastern Orthodox morning prayers. I say the prayers in the order that they will be posted, but feel free to rearrange and single out the prayers as you see fit! All Glory and Honor to the Holy Trinity!

A prayer by St. Basil

O Lord Almighty, God of Angelic hosts and of all flesh, that dwells in the highest, and cares for the humble, that searches the reins and the heart, and clearly discerns the hidden things of men, Light from eternity and ever-existent, with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning: O King Immortal receive our prayers which we, trusting in the multitude of your mercies, offer to you at this present time from our soiled lips; forgive us our transgressions which we have  committed knowingly  or unknowingly in thought or word or deed; and cleanse us from all stain of body or soul. Grant us to pass throu all the night of this present life with vigilant heart and sober thought, in expectancy of the coming of the bright and manifest day of your Only-begotten Son, our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, in which shall with glory the Judgement of all men, when to each shall be given the reward of his works: may we not fall away into sloth, but take courage and, being roused to action, be found ready and enter intot he joy and the divine bride-chamber of his glory, where the voice of those that feast is never silent, and the delight of those that behold the inexpressible beauty of your countenance passes all telling; for you are the true Light that enlightens and sanctifies every manner of thing, and of you does every creatures sing. Amen.

Prayer to the Guardian Angel

O Holy Angel, that keeps guard over my despondent soul and passionate life, leave me not, a sinner, nor depart from me to my undoing; grant not a place to the crafty enemy to overcome me by the force of this mortal body; strengthen my weak and feeble hand, and set me on the path of salvation. Yes, holy Angel of God, guardian and protector of my hopeless body and soul, forgive me everything wherein I have offended you every day of my life, and what I have done amiss this past night; protect me during the present day, and preserve me from every attempt of the enemy. May I not anger God by any sin. Pray for me the Lord, that he may establish me in his fear and prove me a servent worthy of His kindness. Amen.


Orthodox Morning Prayers: The Psalm and the Symbol

*This is the fourth in a series of posts of Eastern Orthodox morning prayers. I say the prayers in the order that they will be posted, but feel free to rearrange and single out the prayers as you see fit! All Glory and Honor to the Holy Trinity!

Psalm 50*

Have mercy upon me, O God,  according to Your lovingkindness;  according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak and blameless when You judge.  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,  and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 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 a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

The Symbol of Faith

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, true God of trueGod, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and on the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Spirit the Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father; who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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(*) This number is according to the Septuagint. All other Bibles will have it as Psalm 51.

The Symbol of Faith, also known as the Nicene Creed was formulated over the course of a number of years in order to set down once and for all the essential beliefs of Christianity, as well as to combat various heresies. It is shared in common with the Roman Catholic Church, but the Orthodox Chruch omits a change that the Catholics made to it known as the filioque (lit. “and the Son”) that they placed after the line “…who proceeds from the Father.