Category Archives: The Orthodox Faith

Orthodox Morning Prayers: Hymns to the Holy Trinity

*This is the third 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!

Arising from sleep, we fall down before you, O Blessed God, and sing to you, O Mighty One, the Angelic Hymn: Holy, holy, holy are you, O God. Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy upon us.
-Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
You, O Lord, have aroused me from my bed and from sleep; enlighten my understanding and my heart, and open my lips, that I may sing of you, O Holy Trinity. Holy, holy, holy are you, O God. Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy upon us.
-Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Suddenly shall come the Judge, anad the deeds of every man be revealed; but with fear we cry to you in the morning: Holy, holy, holy are you, O God. Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy upon us.
– Lord, have mercy (x12)

Prayer by St. Basil the Great

Arising from sleep I thank you, O Holy Trinity, that, for the sake of your great kindness and long-suffereing, you have not had indignation against me, for I am slothful and sinful, neither have you destroyed me in my transgressions: but you have shown your customary love towards man, and have raised me up as I lay in heelessness, that I might sing my morning hymn and glorify your sovranty. Enlighten the eyes of my understanding , O Lord, open my  ears to receive your words and teach me your commandments. Help me to do your will, to sing to you, to confess you from my heart, and to extol your All-holy Name, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
– O come, let us worship God, our King. (prostration)
– O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, our King and our God. (prostration).
– O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ himself, our King and our God. (prostration)

Imagine that you are standing before Christ himself while saying the last part of this prayer. Imagine that you are standing before His throne and that He is arrayed in just like a King. Make your prostrations reverently, showing honor to our King and our God. While still prostrated after the third prostration, pray to God with your whole heart for your own personal petitions.

Once done, this is a good time to read the epistle and Gospel readings for the day.


Orthodox Morning Prayers: The Standard Four

*This is the second 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!

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who is everywhere and fills all things, the treasure of blessings and giver of life, come and abide in us. Cleanse uf all impurity and of your goodness save our souls.

Trisagion

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us (x3)
-Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Prayer to the Holy Trinity

Most Holy Trinity, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, cleanse us from our sins.
O Master, pardon our iniquities.
O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for your Name’s sake
-Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
-Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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These following four prayers are the pretty standard opening prayers for many different occasions, and is especially used during the Royal Hours.  They are always at the beginning though. One of my favorite prayers is the Trisagion, the Thrice-Holy Hymn. It is beautiful when it’s chanted and really shows honor to God as the Pantocrator, the Rule of the Universe.


Orthodox Morning Prayers: St. Seraphim of Sarov

*This is the first 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!

-In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Having invoked the Holy Trinity, keep silence for a little bit, so that your thoughts and feelings may be freed from wordly cares. Then recite the following prayers with your whole heart.

– O Lord, cleanse me, a sinner, and have mercy upon me. (prostration)
– I have sinned without measure, have mercy upon me. (prostration)
– God, be merciful to me, a sinner. (prostration)
– O Lord, pardon my sins and transgressions. (prostration)
– We bow before your Cross, O Master, and we glorify your Holy Ressurrection. (prostration)
– O Lord, if I have sinned all my days in word or deed, have mercy upon me, a sinner, for your mercy’s sake. (prostration)
– Glory to you, our God, glory to you.

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I love opening my prayers with this Rule by a famous saint. I believe that in it we can see why God decided to grant to St. Seraphim the gift of his Uncreated Light. Each line of the prayer takes full ownership of our sins, but it does not distress about them, rather it implores the unlimited mercy of God. The prostrations at the end of each line are a way of humbling ourselves, of recognizing our place before the King of Creation, and I think that they also help us to get out of our “Me” way of thinking, the selfish, proud, self-attention that so many of us have today.


You -think- you’re holy…

Icon of the Publican and the Pharisee

Oh God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector.

These are the words which the Pharisee prayed to God in the temple. Jesus told this to his disciples in the parable about the Pharisee and the Publican, or tax-collector, which can be found in Luke 18:10-14

This past Sunday the (New Calendar) Orthodox Chruch celebrated the day reserved for this teaching from our God and this entire week is fast free, even from the normal Wednesday and Friday fasting. While most see this as being because we are about enter the Lenten period and the 40 day “Great Fast,” I heard another, more edifying explanation; we do not fast this week as a reminder that we should not think highly of ourselves just because we perform spiritual duties. Attempting to further justify himself before God, the Pharisee continues his prayer:

I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.

It’s easy as an Orthodox Christian to get a  high opinion of yourself. For instance, I can think about my life and see that I too fast twice a week, I attended Orthros and Divine Liturgy on Sundays, and I’m a chanter. I can look around me and easily see others who don’t do as much as me. But I cannot allow the idea that just because I do more means I’m more righteous stay in my head.

The tax-collector, a man who takes money from others, lies about fees, steals from those he’s collecting from; this man stood of at a distance, away from the crowd and those who might hear him. He beat his chest with compunction and lowered his eyes, not thinking himself worthy to raise his eyes to heaven and he prayed a simple prayer:

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

A simple prayer,  but because of the compunction, because of the repentance, Christ tells his disciples that it was the Publican who left the temple justified before God that day, while the Pharisee left unforgiven.

So this week we do not fast. Partially to give us time to prepare ourselves for Lent, but also to remind us that fasting and other spiritual acts will not gain our God’s favour. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 50 (51):

For if you desired sacrifice, I would have given it: you will not take pleasure in whole burnt offerings. Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humble heart God will not despise.

I pray that God will bless you all, and continually give us all opportunities to humble ourselves before Him and others.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


For what wickedness have I not done…

I just wanted to share this prayer by St. Simeon Metaphrastes of the 10th century. I try to pray it on the night before I receive Holy Communion and it never fails to touch me in some way by saying what it is I feel but don’t have the words for myself.

St. Simeon MetaphrastesAs though I stood at your dread judgment-seat that has no respect of persons, O Christ my God, awaiting judgment, and rendering an account of the evils committed by me: even so today before the appearing of the day of my condemnation, I stand before your holy altar in your sight and in the sight of your dread and holy Angels, and, bowed down by my own conscience I offer up my wicked and lawless acts, triumphing over them and publishing them.

Behold, O Lord, my misery, and remit, O Father, my sins. Behold, my iniquities have increased above the number of the hairs of my head. For what wickedness have I not done, what sin have I not committed, what evil have I not imagined in my soul? Already in my works I have practiced fornication, adultery, arrogance, imposture, railing, blasphemy, foolish talking, drunkenness, gluttony, greediness, hate, envy, avarice, cupidity, graspingness, self-love, self-vaunting, robbery, injustice, covetousness, jealousy, slander, lawlessness; all my perception and every member have I polluted, corrupted, and disabled, and am become wholly the workshop of the devil.

And I know, O Lord, that my iniquities have gone over my head: but immeasurable is the multitude of your loving-kindness, and the mercy of your goodness and forbearance beyond telling; and there is no sin that conquers your love toward all men. Wherefore, O King all-marvelous, forbearing Lord, cause the wonder of your mercy to lighten even upon me, a sinner; show the power of your excellence, manifest the strength of your kindly condescension, and, as I return to you, receive me, the sinner, receive me, as you did receive the Prodigal, the Thief, and the Harlot.

Receive me who have sinned against you exceedingly in word and in deed, in foolish desire, and in thought without reason. And as you did receive those that came at the eleventh hour and had done nothing worthy, so also receive me, a sinner. Much have I transgressed, and offended, and grieved your Holy Spirit, and provoked your loving-kindness toward all men, in deed and word, and thought, by night and by day, openly and secretly, wittingly or unwittingly: and I know that you will set these my sins, which have been committed by me, before me, and require an account from me of the sins which I have knowingly and unpardonably committed: but, O Lord, convict me not with exact judgment, neither chastise me in your anger: have mercy upon me, O Lord, for not only am I weak, but also I am the work of your hands.

You, O Lord, have laid your fear upon me, but I have wrought evil in your sight. Against you only have I sinned, but I ask of you, enter not into judgment with your servant, for if you, O Lord, will be extreme to mark iniquity, who shall abide it? For I am a sea of sin, and I am not worthy, neither sufficient, to behold and to gaze upon the height of heaven, for the multitude of my sins, of which there is no number. For every work or evil, and every guile, and craft of Satan, corruption, instability, effeminacy, seduction, remembrance of wrong, counsel toward sin, forced laughter, and a thousand other passions beside have I not put aside from me.

For with what sins have I not been corrupted? In what evils have I not been occupied? Every sin have I practiced, every prodigality have I set before my soul, I have become unprofitable both to you, O my God, and to men: who will raise me up who am fallen into such evils and such transgressions?

Upon you, O Lord, have I hoped; O my God, if I have hope of salvation, if your love toward all men conquers the multitude of my lawlessnesses, by my Savior; and according to your loving-kindnesses and your mercies, remove, remit, and pardon all things wherein I have sinned; for my soul is filled with many evils, an in me there is no hope of salvation; Have mercy upon me, O God, after your great mercy, and requite me not according to my deeds; but convert, uphold, and deliver my soul from the evils implanted in it, and from the dread projects. Save me for your mercy’s sake, that where sin filled full measure, your grace may also abound; and I will praise and glorify you all the days of my life.

For you are God of those that repent, and you we ascribe glory, with your Eternal Father, and with your all-holy, and gracious, and life-giving Sprit, now, and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Facing Up to Mary

Is it safe to say that no woman in history is more misunderstood by modern Christendom than the Virgin Mary? And is it also probable that in a discussion concerning Mary between two Christians, if their differences remain unresolved, most likely it will be due to differing interpretations of the biblical data? If I have heard him say it once, I have heard Billy Graham say it at least a half-dozen times over the years: We evangelical Christians do Theotokos of the Passionnot give Mary her proper due. There is no doubt in my mind that he is correct. But his statement raises a crucial question about Mary. What is her proper due? Before we look to the Scriptures for some answers, let us acknowledge right up front a problem which makes our task much more difficult than it should be. The highly charged emotional atmosphere which surrounds this subject serves to blunt our objectivity in facing up to Mary. Therefore, those of us who were brought up to question or reject honor paid to Mary in Christian worship or art often have our minds made up in advance. That is why we have allowed our preconceptions to color our understanding even of the scriptural passages concerning her. We have not let the facts speak for themselves. As we attempt to face up to Mary honestly and openly, let us turn first to the Bible, the source book of all true Christian doctrine. We will consider what the New Testament teaches about her, and then we will turn to the Old Testament. To understand how the biblical record has been applied through the years by Christians, we will look specifically at Church history to understand both how she has been properly honored, and how excessive beliefs concerning her have crept into the picture. Lastly, we will look at how we must face up to her in light of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

THE NEW TESTAMENT RECORD
What is it, then, that the New Testament clearly teaches concerning the Virgin Mary? The Gospel of Saint Luke, the book of the beloved physician, gives us at least four crucial answers.

1. Mary is the greatest woman who ever lived.
Whereas our Lord Jesus Christ tells us there is no greater man to walk the earth than John the Baptist, both the Archangel Gabriel and the saintly Elizabeth confess to Mary, “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:28 and 42). She is the most blessed of women for several reasons, the greatest ofIcon of the Annunciation which is that she conceived, carried, gave birth to, and nurtured the very Savior of our souls. The One who today occupies the heavenly throne of David, seated regally at the right hand of God the Father, entered the human race and became our Savior through her womb. She was sovereignly chosen by the Father to bear His only begotten Son. In that role, Mary is the first person in all history to receive and accept Christ as her Savior. You and I are called to enthrone the Lord in our hearts and lives-to follow her example in doing so. Early in Christian history she is called “the first of the redeemed”. I remember entering a church some years ago and seeing a painting or icon of Mary with open arms front and center on the wall (the apse) just behind the altar. My first impulse was to wonder why Christ alone was not featured at that particular place in the church, though He was shown in a large circle that was superimposed over Mary’s heart. When I asked why she was so prominently featured, the Christian scholar with me explained, “This is one of the greatest evangelistic icons in the entire Church. What you see is Christ living as Lord in Mary’s life, and her outstretched arms are an invitation to you and me to let Him live in our lives as He has in hers”. The power of that icon stays in my mind to this day. For she has set the pace for all of us to personally give our lives over fully to Jesus Christ. Mary is also blessed because she found favor in the sight of God. Gabriel’s words of encouragement to her were, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Then he comforted her by saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30, italics mine). What does one do to become one of God’s favorites, to be favored by Him? Remember Cornelius in Acts 10? He was the first Gentile to convert to Christ, “a devout man and one who . . . gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Two verses later he is told in a vision, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God”. The Lord took notice of his deeds of devotion and brought him salvation. In a similar way, Mary’s purity found favor with God, and she was chosen to bear His Son. You say, “Wait a minute! Are you suggesting human merit earns salvation?” Not at all! As commendable as it is for us to live in purity, a devout life never merits salvation. Else why would Mary be called first of the redeemed, or why would Cornelius be baptized into Christ by Saint Peter? Prayer and devotion, however, do gain God’s attention. When we seek Him with all our hearts, we do find Him! Do you want to be favored of God? Then give Him everything you have, give Him your very life. This is precisely what Mary did, and why she is to be considered the greatest woman who ever lived.

2. Mary is our model for Christian service.
While God certainly knew Mary desired to please Him, He did not take her service for granted. The angel explained how she would bear Christ. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest [God the Axion EstinFather] will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Now Mary had a decision to make. Was she willing? Hear her answer, for it is the doorway to the life of spiritual service for all of us. “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!” she said. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Even if we are totally sincere about wanting to follow God, He will never conscript us apart from our consent! This is why He is called “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10). We are to choose freely to obey Him and do His will. Some thirty years later, by the way, Mary again had opportunity to exalt her Lord. She was with Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The servants who were in charge of the celebration discovered they were out of wine. Mary had no doubt as to who could solve their problem. Referring to her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, she advised them, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5).

3. Mary is the Mother of God.
Now things get a bit more touchy for some of us. Here is one of those emotional trouble spots I mentioned earlier. Whether we like to face it or not, the Bible teaches Mary is the mother of God. First let’s look at the text, then we will discuss why this title is so important to our lives as Christians in the Church. After Christ had been conceived in her womb, Mary paid a visit to the home of relatives Zacharias and Elizabeth, soon to be parents of John the Baptist. When Mary greeted her cousin, Elizabeth called her blessed and said, “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Elizabeth knew that her Lord, the Messiah of Israel, was in the womb of Mary. The title “Mother of God” took on great importance in theIcon of the Nativity (click for larger) fourth century, when a heretic named Nestorius-a man who held high office in the Church-claimed that the one in Mary’s womb was certainly man, but that He was not God. Orthodox Christians, with one accord, said, “Wrong!” To see Jesus Christ as something less than God in the flesh is sub-Christian. For unless the one in Mary’s womb was and is God, we are dead in our sins. To safeguard the full deity of Christ, the Church has always insisted that Mary be rightly called-as Elizabeth called herthe Mother of God. This title, of course, does not mean mother of the Holy Trinity, for the Holy Trinity has no mother. Neither does it mean she originated the Person who is God the Son. It refers instead to Mary being the Mother of the Son of God, who assumed full humanity in her womb. Just as we insist on the Virgin Birth of Christ, we also insist that for the nine months Mary carried Him in His humanity He was at every moment fully God as well. Thus we say boldly and with great insistence that Mary is the Mother of God, Theotokos, God-bearer. To say anything less is to side with those who deny His deity. When a man buys a large plot of land and turns cattle out to graze on it, he fences in his acreage. He does so to protect his cattle, to keep them from wandering off, and to discourage rustlers. Similarly, the Church sets doctrinal fences around its foundational truths. And nothing is more basic and important to us than the deity of Christ. Because Christ is God, we set a firm and non-negotiable fence around His divinity by our unmovable confession that Mary is Mother of God.

4. We are to honor Mary and call her blessed.
Now comes the toughest test of all. Not only is Mary the most blessed of women, our model for obedience, and the Mother of God, we are called to honor her and to bless her. How do we know? The Bible tells us so. During her three-month stay at Elizabeth’s house, Mary offered one of the most beautiful prayers of praise to the Lord in all the Scriptures. It begins, “My Theotokos of Donsksoul magnifies the Lord”, and thus it has become known as “The Magnificat”. In that prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary prophesied, “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Essentially, all generations in Church history have done so; only the last few centuries have faltered. Our generation of American Christians is filled with those who refuse to bless her, and we must change our ways. For some Christian bodies have come to stand dogmatically against Christ and the New Testament by refusing to bless her. From the beginning of recorded Christian worship, Orthodox Christians have taken special care to venerate or honor Mary in the Liturgy. There is an ancient hymn which begins, “It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos (Mother of God)”. She is also called in this hymn “ever-blessed and most pure”. The biblical injunction to honor Mary is followed and taken seriously. We do not, of course, worship Mary, for worship is reserved for the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But she is most certainly to be honored and venerated. And because Christ is our elder brother, the firstborn of many brethren, we honor the Virgin Mary as our Mother, our Lady, as well. Just as Eve was mother of the old Adamic race, so Mary is the true Mother of the new race, the Body of Christ, the Church. Perhaps in part because we refuse to honor Mary, our generation seems to struggle with honoring anyone. For example, next time a presidential news conference comes on T.V., watch closely how most of the press corps behave! Far from merely trying to get the story, many are out for intimidation and willful dishonor. While God’s word tells us to honor the king (1 Peter 2:17) and to give preference to each other (Romans 12:10), our generation seems to delight in challenging and humiliating other people, especially those in authority. Not only are we who are Bible-believing Christians urged to give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7), we are called by God in no uncertain terms to bless the Mother of our God. We cannot get around that point in Scripture.

THE OLD TESTAMENT AND MARY
We know that the Old Testament is more than just an inspired account of the history of mankind, or of Israel in particular. In its pages-indeed central to its message-is also the prophetic record concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. He is typified throughout. Moses is a type of Christ, in that he leads the people out of bondage into the land of promise. David typifies Christ as King of Israel. Adam was a type of Christ as head of the human race. Often overlooked, however, is the fact that the Virgin Mary is also seen in the prophetic pages of the Old Testament. Most Christians are aware that the Prophet Isaiah predicts Mary’s virgin conception of Christ when he writes: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). But there are numerous other passages which speak of Mary as well.

EVER-VIRGIN
From the very early years of the Church, Mary was called not only Virgin, but Ever-Virgin. She was seen as never having had a sexual union with Joseph, before or after the birth of Christ. Ezekiel 44:1, 2 is a passage often referred to by the early Fathers in this regard. It states: “Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. And the LORD said to me, `This gate shall be shut; it shall not be Theotokos of Nicopeiaopened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.’ “In traditional interpretation of this passage, Mary is the temple and Christ is the Prince of Peace. The gate mentioned is seen as a picture of Christ’s passage through the door of Mary’s womb. You might not find that interpretation in some of today’s commentaries, but it was held by the great majority of early Church Fathers, as well as many of the Reformation leaders. At this point, however, a very valid question can be raised. If she remained a virgin, why does the Gospel of Matthew tell us that Joseph knew not his wife until Christ was born (Matthew 1:25)? From a scriptural standpoint, the presence of the phrase, “until she had brought forth her firstborn Son” does not automatically mean that Joseph must have known her afterward. This is because in both Greek and Hebrew the word until or to can have several different meanings. We find it in 2 Samuel 6:23: “Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to [until] the day of her death”. It is used again in Matthew 28:20 where the risen Christ says “Lo, I am with you always, even to [until] the end of the age”. And in Deuteronomy 34:6 we read that Moses was buried “in a valley in the land of Moab . . . but no one knows his grave to [until] this day”. Obviously the use of the word in these passages does not imply that Michal had a child after her death, that Christ will depart at the end of the age, or that Moses’ burial place was discovered the day Deuteronomy 34:6 was written. By the same token, the word until in Matthew 1:25 does not mean that Joseph and Mary began a sexual union after Christ was born. Such a teaching is found nowhere in Scripture and is contrary to the consistent voice of the entire early Church. But doesn’t the Bible also mention other brothers and sisters of Christ? Who are they and where did they come from? For one thing, they are never directly called the sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph. In several passages the Bible speaks of the children or relatives as “brothers”. Abraham and Lot are called brothers, although Lot was actually Abraham’s nephew. And Jacob and Laban are called brothers, even though Jacob was the son of Rebecca, Laban’s sister. Scripture is therefore silent concerning the nature of this relationship between Christ and these brothers and sisters. Early Fathers differed slightly in their understanding of what the terms meant. Some, such as Saint Ambrose, believed that they were children of a former marriage between Joseph and a wife who died prior to Matthew chapter 1. Others taught that they were cousins. But on one point, almost everyone is in agreement: Mary and Joseph had no sexual union whatsoever, before or after the birth of Christ. I must say in all candor that had my betrothed been the woman chosen by the Father to bear His eternal Son in the flesh, my view of her would have been utterly transformed and my honor for her infinitely heightened. Imagine being betrothed to the Mother of God. It was so with Joseph. His betrothed was ever-virgin.

ROYALTY
If we as the Church are called to be “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but . . . holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27), does it not follow that she who is the progenitor of the Lord of that Church should be of that same holy character? Not only has Mary by the mercy and power of God conquered both sin and death, the psalmist sees a glimpse of her in heaven through prophetic eyes. For in Psalm 45, Christ is King and Mary is at His side as Queen and rightly so. If God can make us “kings and priests” (Revelation 1:6) for all eternity, certainly He has the prerogative to crown her with higher honor in heaven’s royal procession. Little did John and James realize, the day they argued about which of them might occupy the seat of honor at Christ’s right hand in the Kingdom, that God the Father had already reserved that space for the marvelous woman He chose to bear His Son for our salvation. The honor is appropriate for the most blessed of all women, the one who is our very icon of holiness. Who else could be more rightly rewarded? Thus the psalmist is well within the mark when he writes of Christ, “At Your right hand stands the queen” (Psalm 45:9)!

OTHER TRADITIONS
There are two other beliefs concerning Mary that must be briefly mentioned and addressed. The first is her bodily assumption into heaven, the other her immaculate conception. It was widely reported in the early Church that shortly after her death, Mary’s body was assumed into heaven. In later centuries, the Roman Church ratified this belief as dogma, while the EasternThe Dormition of the Theotokos Church withheld such an official imprimatur. Most Christians agree that such a miracle is within the realm of firm biblical precedent, Enoch and Elijah being two examples. Further, there is no known record of any gravesite or relics of the Holy Virgin. The assumption of the Virgin is safely seen as an historic Christian tradition, though not recorded in the Scriptures. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a doctrine unique to the modern Roman Church. In an effort to distance Mary (and protect Christ) from the stain of sin, the Immaculate Conception holds Mary was conceived and born without sin. The Orthodox Church firmly rejects this doctrine on the basis of both Scripture and tradition. Whatever other excesses may have cropped up in history, the Roman Church has never believed or officially taught that Mary was in any way coequal with the Trinity or was to be worshiped with the Trinity. Such allegations are sometimes set forth by critics of the Roman Church, but without basis in fact.

THE VESPERS PRAYER
Near the end of Vespers in the Orthodox Church, the officiant says, “O holy Mother of God, save us”. What does this mean? The Orthodox Church has taught from the very beginning that Mary is the supreme example, or prototype, of what happens to a person who fully places trust and faith in God. Everything we aspire to become in Christ, she already is. We are all to “receive” Christ (John 1:12). And as we noted previously, Mary was the first human being who did receive Christ. Out of the millions of “decisions” made for Christ, Mary’s was the first. Therefore, whatever promises the Holy Scriptures hold for us, Mary already possesses. If the sacred Scriptures declare that we are all kings (Revelation 1:6), is it so strange that the Church refers to Mary as Queen? If the Holy Bible promised that you and I shall judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), is it so odd that the Church should sing that Mary is “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim”? If we who are called “holy brethren” (Hebrews 3:1) are commanded to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15, 16) and are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), is it so unthinkable that she whose holy body was the recipient of God Incarnate should be called “most holy” by the Church? If Saint Paul instructs us to “[pray] always . . . for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18), is it so outrageous to confess with the Church that Holy Mary (along with all the saints who have passed from death to life and continually stand in the presence of Christ) intercedes before her Son on behalf of all men? Mary volitionally relinquished her will to the will of God, thus cooperating fully with the purpose of God. So the original question, “Can Mary save us?” leads to another question: “Can we Icon of the "Sweet Kissingsave others?” Again, the Holy Scriptures speak with resounding clarity. Here are some examples: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). “Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 22, 23). Fire saves (1 Corinthians 3:15), prayer saves (James 5:15), angels save (Isaiah 63:9), baptism saves (1 Peter 3:21), preaching saves (1 Corinthians 1:21), the Apostle Paul saved (Romans 11:14). New life in Christ, or salvation, is both personal union with Him and an incorporation into the wholeness of the Body, the Church. Salvation is a Church affair, a Church concern, because we are all affected by it. In another biblical image, salvation is seen as a family matter-God’s family (“the whole family in heaven and earth”-Ephesians 3:15). Everybody gets into the act, so to speak. Therefore, under Christ we each have a part to play in the corporateness of His saving act. We do not save alone; Mary does not save alone. Jesus Christ is our wellspring of salvation. And He said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Mary has a unique role in our salvation because she provided the physical body of Christ and thereby became the “mother” of all those who would be saved. That is why Jesus, while on the Cross, said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” and then said to Saint John, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26, 27).

TAKING ACTION
Many Christians have been grossly misinformed in the last 150 years concerning the historical Church’s view of Mary. Therefore, I would suggest that you keep this booklet and use it to help others when the question arises. And remember also that there are things that are unique to the Virgin Mary. She was the only one who gave her flesh to the Son of God, and she is uniquely to be blessed throughout all generations (Luke 1:48). What we do about Mary is connected directly to what we do about Church. The community of Christ’s followers is called to act together. Taking action with regard to Mary is not simply personal or private; it has to do with responding as The Church. And where in Christendom has the fullness of truth concerning Mary been preserved? Even most Protestants-both liberal and conservative-know she is slighted in their circles. The answer for Protestants who take the biblical and historical evidence seriously lies neither within the Protestant Churches nor in the Roman Church, with its questionable late dogmatic additions concerning Mary. I urge you to visit and get to know the historic Orthodox Church which has maintained the biblical fidelity concerning Mary and Christian Faith in general. Within the boundaries of Orthodoxy, the faith and practice of the Church safeguard true commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. It is there that the truths of the Bible are taught in their entirety, where the worship of God is experienced in Spirit and in truth, and where Mary and the great cloud of witnesses for Christ throughout the ages are honored and revered. The hour is at hand for all of us who love Christ and take seriously the Holy Scriptures to set our hearts and minds to giving Holy Mary her proper due in the proper Church. We do so because God has done great things for and through her (Luke 1:49). As Christians we do not live by feelings, we live by faith. Let us once for all rise above those things the devil has sown in our hearts to neutralize us against this precious woman who gave birth to our Savior. Bless her in the midst of God’s people. Follow her example in exalting Christ. Confess her as the Mother of God. Come home to the Church that has kept intact our Holy Faith. And may we help turn our generation back to giving Mary the honor and blessing which God has commanded.

***NOTE: I did not write this, it was written by Peter Gillquist and published by the Conciliar Press***


Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?

As a Jewish convert to Christ via evangelical Protestantism, I naturally wanted to know God better through the reading of the Scriptures. In fact, it had been through reading the Gospels in the “forbidden book” called the New Testament, at age sixteen, that I had come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our promised Messiah. In my early years as a Christian,Pocket Bible much of my religious education came from private Bible reading. By the time I entered college, I had a pocket-sized version of the whole Bible that was my constant companion. I would commit favorite passages from the Scriptures to memory, and often quote them to myself in times of temptation-or to others as I sought to convince them of Christ. The Bible became for me-as it is to this day-the most important book in print. I can say from my heart with Saint Paul the Apostle, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

That’s the good news!

The bad news is that often I would decide for myself what the Scriptures meant. For example, I became so enthusiastic about knowing Jesus as my close and personal friend that I thought my own awareness of Him was all I needed. So I would mark verses about Jesus with my yellow highlighter, but pass over passages concerning God the Father, or the Church, or baptism. I saw the Bible as a heavenly instruction manual. I didn’t think I needed the Church, except as a good place to make friends or to leans more about the Bible so I could be a better do-it-yourself Christian. I came to think that I could build my life, and the Church, by the Book. I mean, I took sola scriptura (“only the Bible”) seriously! Salvation history was clear to me: God sent His Son, together they sent the Holy Spirit, then came the New Testament to explain salvation, and finally the Church developed.

Close, maybe, but not close enough.

Let me hasten to say that the Bible is all God intends it to be. No problem with the Bible. The problem lay in the way I individualized it, subjecting it to my own personal interpretations-some not so bad, others not so good.

A STRUGGLE FOR UNDERSTANDING
It was not long after my conversion to Christianity that I found myself getting swept up in the tide of religious sectarianism, in which Christians would part ways over one issue after another. It seemed, for instance, that there were as many opinions on the Second Coming as there were people in the discussion. So we’d all appeal to the Scriptures. “I believe in the Bible. If it’s not in the Bible I don’t believe it,” became my war cry. What I did not realize was that everyone else was saying the same thing! It was not the Bible, but each one’s private interpretation of it, that became our ultimate authority. In an age which highly exalts independence of thought and self-reliance, I was becoming my own pope! The guidelines I used in interpreting Scripture seemed simple enough: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. I believed that those who were truly faithful and honest in following this principle would achieve Christian unity. To my surprise, this “common sense” approach led not to increased Christian clarity and unity, but rather to a spiritual free-for-all! Those who most strongly adhered to believing “only the Bible” tended to become the, most factious, divisive, and combative of Christians-perhaps unintentionally. In fact, it seemed to me that the more one held to the Bible as the only source of spiritual authority, the more factious and sectarian one became. We would even argue heatedly over verses on love! Within my circle of Bible-believing friends, I witnessed a mini-explosion of sects and schismatic movements, each claiming to be “true to the Bible” and each in bitter conflict with the others. Serious conflict arose over every issue imaginable: charismatic gifts, interpretation of prophecy, the proper way to worship, communion, Church government, discipleship, discipline in the Church, morality, accountability, evangelism, social action, the relationship of faith and works, the role of women, and ecumenism. The list is endless. In fact any issue at all could-and often did-cause Christians to part ways. The fruit of this sectarian spirit has been the creation of literally thousands of independent churches and denominations. As I myself became increasingly sectarian, my radicalism intensified, and I came to believe that all churches were unbiblical: to become a member of any church was to compromise the Faith. For me, “church” meant “the Bible, God, and me.” This hostility towards the churches fit in well with my Jewish background. I naturally distrusted all churches because I felt they had betrayed the teachings of Christ by having participated in or passively ignored the persecution of the Jews throughout history. But the more sectarian I became-to the point of being obnoxious and antisocial-the more I began to realize that something was seriously wrong with my approach to Christianity. My spiritual life wasn’t working. Clearly, my privately held beliefs in the Bible and what it taught were leading me away from love and community with my fellow Christians, and therefore away from Christ. As Saint John the Evangelist wrote, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20). This division and hostility were not what had drawn me to Christ. And I knew the answer was not to deny the Faith or reject the Scriptures. Something had to change. Maybe it was me. I turned to a study of the history of the Church and the New Testament, hoping to shed some light on what my attitude toward the Church and the Bible should be. The results were not at all what I expected.

THE BIBLE OF THE APOSTLES
My initial attitude was that whatever was good enough for the Apostles would be good enough for me. This is where I got my first surprise. As I mentioned previously, I knew that the Apostle Paul regarded Scripture as being inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). But I had always assumed that the “Scripture” spoken of in this passage was the whole Bible-both the Old and New Testaments. In reality, there was no “New Testament” when this statement was made. Even the Old Testament was still in the process of formulation, for the Jews did not decide upon a definitive list or canon of Old Testament books until after the rise of Christianity. As I studied further, I discovered that the early Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. This translation, which was begun in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century B.C., contained an expanded canon which included a number of the so-called “deuterocanonical” (or “apocryphal”) books. Although there was some initial debate over these books, they were eventually received by Christians into the Old Testament canon. In reaction to the rise of Christianity, the Jews narrowed their canons and eventually excluded the deuterocanonical books-although they still regarded them as sacred. The modern Jewish canon was not rigidly fixed until the third century A.D. Interestingly, it is this later version of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, rather than the canon of early Christianity, that is followed by most modern Protestants today. When the Apostles lived and wrote, there was no New Testament and no finalized Old Testament. The concept of “Scripture” was much less well-defined than I had envisioned.

EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITINGS
The second big surprise came when I realized that the first complete listing of New Testament books as we have them today did not appear until over 300 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. (The first complete listing was given by St. Athanasius in his Paschal Letter in A.D. 367.) Imagine it! If the writing of the New Testament had been begun at the same time as the U.S. Constitution, we wouldn’t see a final product until the year 2076! The four Gospels were written from thirty to sixty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the interim, the Church relied on oral tradition-the accounts of eyewitnesses-as well as scattered pre-gospel documents (such as those quoted in 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13) and written tradition. Most churches only had parts of what was to become the New Testament. As the eyewitnesses of Christ’s life and teachings began to die, the Apostles wrote as they were guided by the Holy Spirit, in order to preserve and solidify the scattered written and oral tradition. Because the Apostles expected Christ to return soon, it seems they did not have in mind that these gospel accounts and apostolic letters would in time be collected into a new Bible. During the first four centuries A.D. there was substantial Coptic Icon of St. Ahanasiusdisagreement over which books should be included in the canon of Scripture. The first person on record who tried to establish a New Testament canon was the second-century heretic, Marcion. He wanted the Church to reject its Jewish heritage, and therefore he dispensed with the Old Testament entirely. Marcion’s canon included only one gospel, which he himself edited, and ten of Paul’s epistles. Sad but true, the first attempted New Testament was heretical. Many scholars believe that it was partly in reaction to this distorted canon of Marcion that the early Church determined to create a clearly defined canon of its own. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the breakup of the Jewish-Christian community there, and the threatened loss of continuity in the oral tradition probably also contributed to the sense of the urgent need for the Church to standardize the list of books Christians could rely on. During this period of the canon’s evolution, as previously noted, most churches had only a few, if any, of the apostolic writings available to them. The books of the Bible had to be painstakingly copied by hand, at great expense of time and effort. Also, because most people were illiterate, they could only be read by a privileged few. The exposure of most Christians to the Scriptures was confined to what they heard in the churches-the Law and Prophets, the Psalms, and some of the Apostles’ memoirs. The persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire and the existence of many documents of non-apostolic origin further complicated the matter. This was my third surprise. Somehow I had naively envisioned every home and parish having a complete Old and New Testament from the very inception of the Church! It was difficult for me to imagine a church surviving and prospering without a complete New Testament. Yet unquestionably they did. This may have been my first clue that there was more to the total life of the Church than just the written Word.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO WHOM?
Next, I was surprised to discover that many “gospels” besides those of the New Testament canon were circulating in the first and second centuries. These included the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel according to the Egyptians, and the Gospel according to Peter, to name just a few. The New Testament itself speaks of the existence of such accounts. Saint Luke’s Gospel begins by saying, “Inasmuch as many [italics added] have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us . . . it seemed good to me also . . . to write to you an orderly account” (Luke 1:1, 3). At the time Luke wrote, Matthew and Mark were the only two canonical Gospels that had been written. In time, all but four Gospels were excluded from the New Testament canon. Yet in the early years of Christianity there was even a controversy over which of these four Gospels to use. Most of the Christians of Asia Minor used the Gospel of John rather than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Based upon the Passion account contained in John, most Christians in Asia Minor celebrated Easter on a different day from those in Rome. Roman Christians resisted the Gospel of John and instead used the other Gospels. The Western Church for a time hesitated to use the Gospel of John because the Gnostic heretics made use of it along with their own “secret gospels.” Another debate arose over the issue of whether there should be separate gospels or one single composite gospel account. In the second century, Tatian, who was Justin Martyr’s student, published a single composite “harmonized” gospel called the Diatessaron. The Syrian Church used this composite gospel in the second, third, and fourth centuries; they did not accept all four Gospels until the fifth century. They also ignored for a time the Epistles of John, 2 Peter, and the Book of Revelation. To further complicate matters, the Church of Egypt, as reflected in the second-century New Testament canon of Clement of Alexandria, included the “gospels” of the Hebrews, the Egyptians, and Mattathias. In addition they held to be of apostolic origin the First Epistle of Clement (Bishop of Rome), the Epistle of Barnabas, the Preaching of Peter, the Revelation of Peter, the Didache, the Protevangelium of James, the Acts of John, the Acts of Paul, and The Shepherd of Hermas (which they held to be especially inspired). Irenaeus (second century), martyred Bishop of Lyons in Gaul, included the Revelation of Peter in his canon.

OTHER CONTROVERSIAL BOOKS
My favorite New Testament book, the Epistle to the Hebrews, was clearly excluded in the Western Church in a number of listings from the second, third, and fourth centuries. Primarily due to the influence of Augustine upon certain North African councils, the Epistle to the Hebrews was finally accepted in the West by the end of the fourth century. On the other hand, the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, written by the Apostle John, was not accepted in the Eastern Church for several centuries. Among Eastern authorities who rejected this book were Dionysius ofSt. John Chrysostom Alexandria (third century), Eusebius (third century), Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century), the Council of Laodicea (fourth century), John Chrysostom (fourth century), Theodore of Mopsuesta (fourth century), and Theodoret (fifth century). In addition, the original Syriac and Armenian versions of the New Testament omitted this book. Many Greek New Testament manuscripts written before the ninth century do not contain the Apocalypse, and it is not used liturgically in the Eastern Church to this day. Athanasius supported the inclusion of the Apocalypse, and it is due primarily to his influence that it was eventually received into the New Testament canon in the East. The early Church actually seems to have made an internal compromise on the Apocalypse and Hebrews. The East would have excluded the Apocalypse from the canon, while the West would have done without Hebrews. Simply put, each side agreed to accept the disputed book of the other. Interestingly, the sixteenth-century father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, held that the New Testament books should be “graded” and that some were more inspired than others (that there is a canon within the canon). Luther gave secondary rank to Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, placing them at the end of his translation of the New Testament. Imagine-the man who gave us sola scriptura assumed the authority to edit the written Word of God!

THE NEW TESTAMENT MATURES
I was particularly interested in finding the oldest legitimate list of New Testament books. Some believe that the Muratorian Canon is the oldest, dating from the late second century. This canon excludes Hebrews, James, and the two Epistles of Peter, but includes the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon. It is not until A.D. 200-about 170 years after the death and resurrection of Christ-that we first see the term “New Testament” used, by Tertullian. Origen, who lived in the third century, is often considered to be the first systematic theologian (though he was often systematically wrong). He questioned the authenticity of 2 Peter and 2 John. He also tells us, based on his extensive travels, that there were churches which refused to use 2 Timothy because the epistle speaks of a “secret” writing-the Book of Jannes and Jambres, derived from Jewish oral tradition (see 2 Timothy 3:8). The Book of Jude was also considered suspect by some because it includes a quotation from the apocryphal book, The Assumption of Moses, Monestary of St. Catherine (click for bigger picture)also derived from Jewish oral tradition (see Jude 9). Moving into the fourth century, I discovered that Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea and the “Father of Church History,” lists as disputed books James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John. The Revelation of John he totally rejects. Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete New Testament manuscript we have today, was discovered in the Orthodox Christian monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. It is dated as being from the fourth century and it contains all of the books we have in the modern New Testament, but also includes Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas. During the fourth century, Emperor Constantine was frustrated by the controversy between Christians and Arians concerning the divinity of Christ. Because the New Testament had not yet been clearly defined, he pressed for a clearer defining and closing of the New Testament canon, in order to help resolve the conflict and bring religious unity to his divided Empire. However, as late as the fifth century the Codex Alexandrinus included 1 and 2 Clement, indicating that the disputes over the canon were still not everywhere firmly resolved.

WHO DECIDED?
With the passage of time the Church discerned which writings were truly apostolic and which were not. It was a prolonged struggle, taking place over several centuries. As part of the process of discernment, the Church met together several times in council. These various Church councils confronted a variety of issues, among which was the canon of Scripture. It is important to note that the purpose of these councils was to discern and confirm what was already generally accepted within the Church at large. The councils didP not legislate the canon so much as set forth what had become self-evident truth and practice within the churches of God. The councils sought to proclaim the common mind of the Church and to reflect the unanimity of faith, practice, and tradition as it already existed in the local churches represented. The councils provide us with specific records in which the Church spoke clearly and in unison as to what constitutes Scripture. Among the many councils that met during the first four centuries, two are particularly important in this context:
(1) The Council of Laodicea met in Asia Minor about A.D. 363. This is the first council which clearly listed the canonical books of the present Old and New Testaments, with the exception of the Apocalypse of Saint John. The Laodicean council stated that only the canonical books it listed should be read in church. Its decisions were widely accepted in the Eastern Church.
(2) The third Council of Carthage met in North Africa about A.D. 397. This council, attended by Augustine, provided a full list of the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments. The twenty-seven books of the present-day New Testament were accepted as canonical. The council also held that these books should be read in the church as Divine Scripture to the exclusion of all others. This Council was widely accepted as authoritative in the West.

THE BUBBLE BURSTS
As I delved deeper into my study of the history of the New Testament, I saw my previous misconceptions being demolished one by one. I understood now what should have been obvious all along: that the New Testament consisted of twenty-seven separate documents which, while certainly inspired by God nothing could shake me in that conviction-had been written and compiled by human beings. It was also clear that this work had not been accomplished by individuals working in isolation, but by the collective effort of all Christians everywhere-the Body of Christ, the Church. This realization forced me to deal with two more issues that my earlier prejudices had led me to avoid: (1) the propriety and necessity of human involvement in the writing of Scripture; and (2) the authority of the Church.

HUMAN AND DIVINE
Deeply committed, like many evangelicals, to belief in the inspiration of Scripture, I had understood the New Testament to be God’s Word only, and not man’s. I supposed the Apostles were told by God exactly what to write, much as a secretary takes down what is being dictated, without providing any personal contribution. Ultimately, my understanding of the inspiration of Scripture was clarified by the teaching of the Church regarding the Person Icon of St. Matthew writting his Gospelof Christ. The Incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is not only God but also man. Christ is a single Person with two natures-divine and human. To de-emphasize Christ’s humanity leads to heresy. The ancient Church taught that the Incarnate Word was fully human-in fact, as human as it is possible to be-and yet without sin. In His humanity, the Incarnate Word was born, grew, and matured into manhood. I came to realize that this view of the Incarnate Word of God, the Logos, Jesus Christ, paralleled the early Christian view of the written Word of God, the Bible. The written Word of God reflects not only the divine thought, but a human contribution as well. The Word of God conveys truth to us as written by men, conveying the thoughts, personalities, and even limitations and weaknesses of the writers-inspired by God, to be sure. This means that the human element in the Bible is not overwhelmed so as to be lost in the ocean of the divine. It became clearer to me that as Christ Himself was born, grew, and matured, so also did the written Word of God, the Bible. It did not come down whole-plop-from heaven, but was of human origin as well as divine. The Apostles did not merely inscribe the Scriptures as would a robot or a zombie, but freely cooperated with the will of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

A QUESTION OF AUTHORITY
The second issue I had to grapple with was even more difficult for me-the issue of Church authority. It was clear from my study that the Church had, in fact, determined which books composed the Scriptures; but still I wrestled mightily with the thought that the Church had been given this authority. Ultimately, it came down to a single issue. I already believed with all my heart that God spoke authoritatively through His written Word. The written Word of God is concrete and tangible. I can touch the Bible and read it. But for some strange reason, I was reluctant to believe the same things about the Body of Christ, the Church-that she was visible and tangible, located physically on earth in history. The Church to me was essentially “mystical” and intangible, not identifiable with any specific earthly assembly. This view permitted me to see each Christian as being a church unto himself. How convenient this is, especially when doctrinal or personal problems arise! Yet this view did not agree with the reality of what the Church was understood to be in the apostolic era. The New Testament is about real churches, not ethereal ones. Could I now accept the fact that God spoke authoritatively, not only through the Bible, but through His Church as well-the very Church which had produced, protected, and actively preserved the Scriptures I held so dear?

THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the view of the earliest Christians, God spoke His Word not only to but through His Body, the Church. It was within His Body, the Church, that the Word was confirmed and established. Without question, the Scriptures were looked upon by early Christians as God’s active revelation of Himself to the world. At the same time, the Church was understood as the household of God, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20, 21). God has His Word, but He also has His Body. The New Testament says: (1) “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27; compare Romans 12:5). (2) “He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). (3) “And He [the Father] put all things under His [the Son’s] feet, and gave Him to be head overall things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22, 23). In early times there was no organic separation between Bible and Church, as we so often find today. The Body without the Word is without message, but the Word without the Body is without foundation. As Paul writes, the Body is “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Church is the Living Body of the Incarnate Lord. The Apostle does not say that the New Testament is the pillar and ground of the truth. The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth because the New Testament was built upon her life in God. In short, she wrote it! She is an integral part of the gospel message, and it is within the Church that the New Testament was written and preserved.

THE WORD OF GOD IN ORAL TRADITION
The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). This verse was one that I had not highlighted because it used two phrases I didn’t like: “hold the traditions” and “by word [of mouth].” These two phrases conflicted with my understanding of biblical authority. But then I began to understand: the same God who speaks to us through His written Word, the Bible, spoke also through the Apostles of Christ as they taught and preached in person. The Scriptures themselves teach in thisHieromonk Seraphim Rose teaching passage (and others) that this oral tradition is what we are to keep! Written and oral tradition are not in conflict, but are parts of one whole. This explains why the Fathers teach that he who does not have the Church as his Mother does not have God as his Father. In coming to this realization, I concluded that I had grossly overreacted in rejecting oral Holy Tradition. In my hostility toward Jewish oral tradition, which rejected Christ, I had rejected Christian oral Holy Tradition, which expresses the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. And I had rejected the idea that this Tradition enables us properly and fully to understand the Bible. Let me illustrate this point with an experience I had recently. I decided to build a shed behind my house. In preparation, I studied a book on carpentry that has “everything” in it. It’s full of pictures and diagrams, enough so that “even a kid could follow its instructions.” It explains itself, I was told. But, simple as it claimed to be, the more I read it, the more questions I had and the more confused I became. Disgusted at not being able to understand something that seemed so simple, I came to the conclusion that the book needed interpretation. Without help, I just couldn’t put it into practice. What I needed was someone with expertise who could explain the manual to me. Fortunately, I had a friend who was able to show me how the project should be completed. He knows because of oral tradition. An experienced carpenter taught him, and he in turn taught me. Written and oral tradition together got the job done.

WHICH CAME FIRST?
What confronted me at this point was the bottom line question: Which came first, the Church or the New Testament? I knew that the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, had called the Apostles, who in turn formed the nucleus of the Christian Church. I knew that the Eternal Word of God therefore preceded the Church and gave birth to the Church. When the Church heard the Incarnate Word of God and committed His Word to writing, she thereby participated with God in giving birth to the written Word, the New Testament. Thus it was the Church which gave birth to and preceded the New Testament. To the question, “Which came first, the Church or the New Testament?” the answer, both biblically and historically, is crystal clear. Someone might protest, “Does it really make any difference which came first? After all, the Bible contains everything that we need for salvation.” The Bible is adequate for salvation in the sense that it contains the foundational material needed to establish us on the correct path. On the other hand, it is wrong to consider the Bible as being self-sufficient and self-interpreting. The Bible is meant to be read and understood by the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit within the life of the Church. Did not the Lord Himself tell His disciples, just prior to His crucifixion, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13)? He also said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Our Lord did not leave us with only a book to guide us. He left us with His Church. The Holy Spirit within the Church teaches us, and His teaching complements Scripture. How foolish to believe that God’s full illumination ceased after the New Testament books were written and did not resume until the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, or-to take this argument to its logical conclusion-until the very moment when 1, myself, started reading the Bible. Either the Holy Spirit was in the Church throughout the centuries following the New Testament period, leading, teaching, and illuminating her in her understanding of the gospel message, or the Church has been left a spiritual orphan, with individual Christians independently interpreting-and often “authoritatively” teaching the same Scripture in radically different ways. Such chaos cannot be the will of God, “for God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

A TIME TO DECIDE
At this point in my studies, I felt I had to make a decision. If the Church was not just a tangent or a sidelight to the Scripture, but rather an active participant in its development and preservation, then it was time to reconcile my differences with her and abandon my prejudices. Rather than trying to judge the Church according to my modem preconceptions about what the Bible was saying, I needed to humble myself and come into union with the Church that produced the New Testament, and let her guide me into a proper understanding of Holy Scripture. After carefully exploring various church bodies, I finally realized that, contrary to the beliefs of many modern Christians, the Church which produced the Bible is not dead. The Orthodox Church today has direct and clear historical continuity with the Church of the Apostles, and it preserves intact both the Scriptures and the Holy Tradition which enables us to interpret them properly. Once I Martin Lutherunderstood this, I converted to Orthodoxy and began to experience the fullness of Christianity in a way I never had before. Though he may have coined the slogan, the fact is that Luther himself did not practice sola scriptura. If he had, he’d have tossed out the Creeds and spent less time writing commentaries. The phrase came about as a result of the reformers’ struggles against the added human traditions of Romanism. Understandably, they wanted to be sure their faith was accurate according to New Testament standards. But to isolate the Scriptures from the Church, to deny 1500 years of history, is something the slogan sola scriptura and the Protestant Reformers-Luther, Calvin, and later Wesley-never intended to do. To those who try to stand dogmatically on sola scriptura, in the process rejecting the Church which not only produced the New Testament, but also, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, identified those books which compose the New Testament, I would say this: Study the history of the early Church and the development of the New Testament canon. Use source documents where possible. (It is amazing how some of the most “conservative” Bible scholars of the evangelical community turn into cynical and rationalistic liberals when discussing early Church history!) Examine for yourself what happened to God’s people after the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Acts. You will find a list of helpful sources at the end of this booklet. If you examine the data and look with objectivity at what occurred in those early days, I think you will discover what I discovered. The life and work of God’s Church did not grind to a halt after the first century and start up again in the sixteenth. If it had, we would not possess the New Testament books which are so dear to every Christian believer. The separation of Church and Bible which is so prevalent in much of today’s Christian world is a modern phenomenon. Early Christians made no such artificial distinctions. Once you have examined the data, I would encourage you to find out more about the historic Church which produced the New Testament, preserved it, and selected those books which would be part of its canon. Every Christian owes it to himself or herself to discover the Orthodox Christian Church and to understand its vital role in proclaiming God’s Word to our own generation.

SUGGESTED READING

Bruce, F.F., The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990.

Farmer, William R. & Farkasfalvy, Denis, The Formation of the New Testament Canon: An Ecumenical Approach, New York: Paulist Press, 1983.

Gamble, Harry Y., The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

Kesich, Veselin, The Gospel Image of Christ, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992.

Metzger, Bruce Manning, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Meyendorff, John, Living Tradition, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978.

Histories of Christianity generally give some information on the formation of the Canon, although they are not likely to discuss its relevance to the authority and interpretation of Scripture.

***NOTE: This was not written by me, but was rather written by James Bernstein and published in booklet form by Conciliar Press***


Praying to the Saints

Praying to St. John Perhaps one of the most misunderstood traditions of the Orthodox Chruch (after the ‘Mary issue”) is the idea of venerating and praying to the saints. It is mostly an issue with Protestant Christians who have been raised up in and taught the idea that to do so, especially in front of an icon is tatamount to heresey and idolatry. With that in mind I’d like to try and explain the issue, and what exactly it means to venerate and pray to the departed in Christ.

In order to understand why we Orthodox feel it is right to pray to the saints one must first understand the what the Orthodox believe happens after death. When a Christian dies, we do not believe that that is the end of the story. We believe that their soul then goes to heaven where it continues to be conscious and affective, and after the second coming for Christ their soul will be reunited with the body. This is why we do not say that a fellow Orthodox has died, but rather has ‘fallen asleep in the Lord.’ Scriptural evidence of this continued consciousness can be found in Luke 16:19-31, many verses from Revelation, 2 Corinthians 5:8, the gospel account of the Transfiguration (where Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ and were conversing with him) Hebrews 12:1, John 11:25-26, and verses similar.

These souls then are present and truley alive in heaven. This does not mean that they cease to be able to pray for us on earth, or to act as instruments of God’s grace. There are many stories where saints after death, through their prayers and their holiness have brought about miraculous healings or appeared to us who are still leaving. A recent example of this involved St. Nektarios who died in 1920. Just after he died in the hospital a nurse was changing his clothing. She removed his woolen undershirt and set it on a bed behind here, where lied a paralyzed man. When the saint’s garment touched the man, his paralysis was instantly healed and he was able to walk again. Events like this can also be found in scripture, such as 2 Kings 13:20-21 which describes a man being raised from the dead through contact with the bones of the prophet Elisha, and also in Acts 19:11-12 which describes healing coming about through Saint Paul’s handkerchiefs.

We ask these saints, who live in Christ and are still a part of His church (the Church Triumphant as some describe it)  to pray for God us, just like we might ask our friends and family here on earth to pray for us. Since these saints no stand in the presence of God, and since they are now free all bodily passions and distractions, they are able to be in continuous prayer. We here on earth can hardly come close to this and are only able to maintain prayer for a short amount of time before being distracted. This does mean that they can bring out healings or help through their own power. Not at all, and to hold such a view would indeed be incorrect! Rather, it is only through their prayers for us, and only through Christ listening to and answering their prayers, that we can benefit from them. An example of this is a hymn we sing for St. Nina, a woman who brought the Christian faith to Georgia in the early fourth century:

…with the angels thou hast praised in song the Redeemer, praying constantly for us that Christ may grant us His grace and mercy.

There are some who would object that we shouldn’t do this, since the Bible tells us 1 Timothy 2:5 that Christ is the only mediator between God and Man. Well, this is true, Christ is the only one who has reconciled us to God. But that does not mean that we cannot ask others for help in living a holy life! We do not believe that we necessarily need anyone else beside Christ to get to God, but we also do not believe that asking others to pray to God for us hurts.

We as Christians and as the Church of God do not only exist on this earth, in this life. Standing around the throne of God are all the holy people who lived before us, singing praises to God! Their earthly death does not put up a barrier between us and them, and death does not divide the Church of Christ. We should not forget our holy brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers who have gone before us, and should ask them to pray for us to Christ our God just as we would ask our friends and family. Truley we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” who share in our joys and sorrows and are able to interceed for us to God! What a joyful thing this is!

I’m sure I’ve not fully explained this entire topic, but I would be more than happy to answer any questions that anyone might have.