Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Friday, 7 July 2017

Orthodox mission?

'You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.' (Acts 1:8)

The Biblical understanding of mission (Αποστολή) means to go out, leave ones environment, and share the Apostolic faith. Thus, even in todays context, we should distinguish between the ongoing pastoral ministry taking place within our parishes, and the Apostolic mission we are also simultaneously called to carry out. Atheistic, secular influences prevail in societies today, and so our witness (Μαρτυρία) should be an important part of the Church' work.

However, as Archbishop Anastasios of Albania highlights, proselytism on the other hand 'contravenes the dignity of the human person and of the Gospel' and is thus 'not sincere.' 'What is not sincere' he writes, ' both in purpose and in ways of acting, cannot be Orthodox.' Proselytism begins with other means, such as gifts, leaflets, food, or money in order to gain followers; means which are very much contrary to the Orthodox Church' tradition of sharing the Faith. As members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, we have no concerns over statistics or the number of converts. Our 'martyria' must be a witness based on the respect of ones freedom - indeed sharing the experiential and eternal joy of salvation found within Christ's Church, transmitting the tradition of the Gospel yet remaining free from any anxiety to convert or impose on anyone's freedom. This martyria however does often not entail preaching, theological discussions or even words at all, but simply acting as a candle of hope, lit by Paschal joy. If our neighbour wishes to partake of this flame, then that is entirely their free decision.

This ministry, stemming from the Eucharistic and prayerful life of the Church, is a ministry all the faithful can carry out: in their workplace, university, neighbourhood and circle of friends, as an example and testimony of life in Christ. It is our responsibility as Orthodox Christians, being called to 'go forth in peace' from the Liturgy, to share with those around us, offering the Risen Christ's uniting, light-giving presence and joy, especially needed in a broken world and epoch.

Every human being desires the Truth, and the eternal salvation offered by Christ to all. With respect and sincerity, we are thus called to offer this authentic, full and experiential life in Christ to those in our personal context: with unconditional charity, understanding, and vitally love.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Pastoral Care: The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's example and contribution

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the Archbishop of Constantinople, ranked as the first among equals among the hierarchs of the several churches that collectively form the Orthodox Church. Within the five apostolic sees, the Ecumenical Patriarch is regarded as the successor of St Andrew the Apostle; with Bartholomew being the 270th holder of this title.

He is widely regarded as the spiritual leader and pastor of the approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. The title ‘Ecumenical’ refers to the universality of the Patriarchate, still based today in the great city of Constantinople, Istanbul Turkey. The Patriarchs in ancient history assisted in the peaceful spread of the ancient original Christian Church, Her Apostolic Tradition and the resolution of doctrinal disputes. In the middle ages they played a major role in the affairs of the Orthodox Church, sharing the faith with the Slavs, often under difficult political circumstances. Bartholomew, continuing this rich Patriarchal tradition of offering, sharing and pastorally guiding his Orthodox Christian flock, represents the Church, and assists in interfaith dialogues, worldwide philanthropic charitable and pastoral work, preaching against violence, persecution, disrespect of the human being’s dignity, and religious intolerance.

Last year on the day of Pentecost, after decades of preparation, the Patriarch Bartholomew led a Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete; in other words a meeting consisting of the main leaders of the Orthodox Christian Church. This Holy Synaxis, led by our Patriarch was not only a significant expression of the Church’ unity and living faith, yet also a bold statement that the Orthodox Church must pastorally promote and share the triumphal, joyful and life-giving faith in Christ to such a broken world of ethical, political, social injustices and crises. Some of the official documents released by the fruitful and productive council led by Bartholomew included the ‘Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world,’ ‘The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s world,’ and the ‘Sacrament of Marriage.’ In our context of secularisation and moral relativism the Council emphasised the Church’ preservation of the human person’s dignity as the image of God, of family life, and the pastoral nature of the Church’ role in society.

When one is called to serve the Church’ hierarchy, with Christ as our Archpastor and Shephard, pastoral responsibilities increase within this ecclesial structure. I believe that the pastoral spirit of understanding, collaboration, dialogue, respect, and fundamentally love (which is not simply a feeling or state, but sharing in the very person of Christ, the incarnate, crucified and Risen Lord) is truly seen and witnessed in the person of Bartholomew, as our representative and Hierarch of the Church of Constantinople. The pastoral care and responsibility of the Church, as is written in Scripture, is very much grounded within the order of clergy. The Scriptures note that the Good Shephard’ (Jn 10:11) Christ, gives those of us who are ‘temperate, respectable, hospitable, gentle, peaceable..’ (1 Tim 3:1-3) the grace and gift to carry out His ministry, ‘to comfort those who are in any affliction’ (2 Cor 1:14) to ‘feed His sheep’ (Jn 21:17) as members of His body. (Rom 12:4-21)

In my opinion, one of the greatest gifts a clergyman and pastor should cultivate today, and by all means a Bishop such as our Patriarch with responsibility on a worldwide scale, is that of discernment; knowing when to speak out against evil, knowing when to remain silent, knowing when to diplomatically act, while simultaneously remaining faithful to the Church’ tradition and Gospel of love. For me, his all-Holiness certainly cultivates this gift, and is an example not only to every leader, but to every clergyman and pastoral carer. There are several reasons I say this. Perhaps one of the most significant reasons is because of his continuous bold message of the dignity and holiness of the human person (which I’m sure most of us would agree is the very foundation of Christian Pastoral care) as a psychosomatic being who needs and desires the sacramental care, nurturing, and eternal joy in Christ. The human being who is called to be a steward of God’s creation, a carer for the environment, and who is called to commune with our God and fellows.

Through the guidance, blessing and initiative of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Network for Pastoral Health Care was set up in 2008, holding annual conferences consisting of representatives of orthodox churches throughout the world, in order to discuss and implement ways in which the Church as our Mother serves those who are sick. The central objectives are to help those in this particular ministry, promoting a high-quality standard of pastoral health care. This network has led to an increased awareness of the clergy and laity’s role of serving those in need within each Orthodox community worldwide, with the setting up of philanthropic centres, hospices and assigned chaplains responsible for the sick.  

Bartholomew himself writes: “Caring for the sick knows no geographic boundaries. It does not distinguish between race, people or language, but is directed without discrimination and without exception toward all human beings who are created in God’s image, as God Himself, the Physician of souls and bodies, did and does.”

The network has discussed topics such as  loneliness in life, despair in face of severe psychological difficulties, the importance and role of Confession for those who suffer from psychological illnesses, communicating with the deaf and blind, and ministering to those who are on the wayside of life.

Caring for the sick has been a major part of the Church’s mission since Apostolic times. Throughout the history of the Church, dedicated clergymen, medical and health care professionals have worked together to provide for the physical and spiritual health of all those who are ill.  Pastoral care, for our Patriarch, and Orthodox theology in general, is centred on the human being’s whole and complete restoration to health; a full harmony between soul and body. As opposed to secular ideas of health and well-being, Orthodox Theology underlines the importance of spiritual healing ( taking place with our free participation in, and acceptance of, Christ’s salvation) leading to psychosomatic harmony and well-being. Thus pastoral care for Bartholomew is not something separate from the Eucharistic, prayerful life of the Church, but flows from it.

Bartholomew, addressing the European Council of Pastoral Care and Counselling on their theme of ‘the Secular and the Sacred,’ tells us that ‘one who lives a secular life, a life of this world  is one who distances himself or herself consciously from the will of the Heavenly Father, pursuing self-deification through the usage, abuse and overuse of the good things that have been granted by God. On the contrary, one who lives within the realm of "the sacred" is one who lives a life of holiness within the grace of Christ, the love of the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit. One who lives a sacred life is in a continual journey toward the Eternal Kingdom of God. In this journey one will find our Lord as a companion, just as His Disciples did on their way to Emmaus. Even though the eyes of one's heart sometimes may be sealed because of everyday stress and anxiety, often obstructing one's journey, our Lord will not forsake those of His flock.’

Thus, he advises all pastors to devote themselves to ‘caring for those who have been entrusted to you, leading them in their journey to the Kingdom.’ In other words, Pastoral care allows us to participate in the sacred presence of God, within His all-embracing Church, known by the fathers as the Hospital for sinners.

While Bartholomew recognises the benefits of contemporary, medical and psychological methodologies in leading fellow men and women out of despair and illness, he emphasises that ‘the essential spiritual expression of continual prayer, humility and denial of our worldly desires allows us to participate in God’s philanthropic grace.’ In doing this we imitate the First and Greatest Pastor , our Lord Jesus Christ Who fully knows all the entities of the human personality and can heal any infirmity.

For our Patriarch Bartholomew, the Church, as Christ’s body and the ark of humanity’s salvation, has to act, by serving humanity in our world of suffering, injustice and conflicts. Tackling poverty, discrimination, victims of war, youth unemployment, and drug use, as well as both mental and physical illnesses is only successful and true when done out of self-sacrificial love found in fullness in Christ’s kenotic crucifixion.  His all-holiness Bartholomew, I would argue, has shown throughout his ministry that as Christians in this broken yet hopeful world in which we live, we are called to joyfully feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are naked, visit those who are sick and imprisoned, fundamentally sharing the message and experience of Christ’s triumphal resurrection,  eternal salvation and life.

Useful Sources:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Pastoral Care of the Orthodox Church

This essay will introduce the Patristic foundations of the Orthodox Church’s Pastoral Care; how 
the practical element of this ministry is very much based on the sacramental, salvific, prayerful work of Christ’s body, and is for this reason a ministry primarily led by the clergy. 

Throughout early Christian history, the Church, according to Gerkin, placed importance on the care and protection of Tradition by which Christians were identified, as well as on anticipation of Christ’s second coming. Thus, Pastoral Care consisted of a concern for the purity of the congregation, encouraging the faithful to remain strong in their beliefs and Christian way of life; at both communal and individual levels. While it is indeed the case that the Early Fathers of the Church emphasised Orthodox doctrine (often in a harsh manner) and the importance of ecclesiastical unity, they simultaneously promoted and preserved Christ’s practical commandment of Pastoral Care. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, offers the following advice to his fellow Hierarch, Polykarp of Smyrna:

"Let not widows be neglected..bear all men.. suffer all men in love..Toil together one with another, struggle together, run together, suffer together... rise up together as God's stewards and assessors and ministers.”

St Irenaeus, by metaphorically speaking of the Church as our Mother who nourishes the faithful with the “milk of God,” not only describes the Body of Christ as the source of Orthodox doctrine and Apostolic faith, but simultaneously of healing and offering; a ministry we are called to participate in, both clergy and laity. This offering is one of love, as ‘within the Church, friendship, service and glory are joined together.’ Alongside, or rather flowing from, the Sacramental life of the Church, Christ’s Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons and laity ‘go forth in peace’  having celebrated and partaken in the eternal Eucharist, sharing ‘the true Light’ with the suffering world. We witness this fundamental link between the faithful’s Eucharistic synaxis (or the ‘feast of love’ as it was known) and the Church’ ministry of care and offering within St Luke the Evangelist’s ‘Acts of the Apostles:’

 ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread…and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need’ with ‘generous hearts praising God and having favour with all the people.’  (Acts 2:42-47)

The Scriptures note that the ministry of pastoral care is the responsibility of the Church; as our ‘Good Shephard’ (Jn 10:11) Christ, gives those of us who are ‘temperate, respectable, hospitable, gentle, peaceable..’ (1 Tim 3:1-3) the grace and gift to carry out this ministry, ‘to comfort those who are in any affliction’ (2 Cor 1:14) to ‘feed His sheep’ (Jn 21:17) as members of His body. (Rom 12:4-21) It is the role of ‘the elders of the Church’  to ‘pray over.. save the one who is sick.. anointing him with oil.. and the Lord will raise him up.’  (James 5:14-19)

As the Orthodox priest prays for the cease of wars, for peace of the entire world, the end of disorders and for health, within the Liturgy, he then goes out to the hospitals and prisons to act out Christ’s ministry in this broken world; a fundamental characteristic of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great’s teachings. St John would assist and visit widows, orphans, and nursing centres on a daily basis, while Basil led and organised philanthropic institutions, orphanages, hospitals, and schools for the education of girls in poor areas. Paul Evdokimov (former professor of St Sergius’ Institute in Paris) notes that the Church’s (or rather Christ’s) primary work is our restoration to health; a full harmony between soul and body. As opposed to secular ideas of health and well-being, Orthodox Theology underlines the importance of spiritual healing ( taking place with our free participation in, and acceptance of, Christ’s loving salvation) leading to psychosomatic harmony and well-being. St Maximus the Confessor refers to this holy state as ‘τὀ εὗ εἷναι.’ 

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, in his book titled ‘Orthodox Psychotherapy,’ signifies the fact Orthodox Christianity is, unlike philosophies and theories, a revelation of God to man. The Orthodox Church, according to His Eminence, offers Theocentric therapy, treatment and care for man, essentially through God’s divine grace and our divine-human synergy. This process of ‘psychotherapy’ which the Church offers man, aims to achieve communion and union with God, and is provided primarily by the Holy Sacraments, and our supplementary active, prayerful, pastoral care. For this reason Saint Gregory Palamas describes the priesthood as a science of healing of souls, bringing Christ into the hearts of believers, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The sinner is in a state of ill-health, as we are reminded by our Lord in the Gospel according to John: ‘“See, you are well! Sin no more..’ (Jn 5:14) 

Thus the pastoral work of the Church must reiterate the importance of repentance, the mystery of Confession, and the reassurance of Christ’s Salvation and eternal life. Saint Paul tells us we should ‘mourn with those who mourn’ (Rom 12:15) and therefore personally approach the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned and the homeless, offering and sharing the hope of Resurrection, of Salvation, and fundamentally impart and transmit the Church’ eternal joy to the person in crisis. Essentially this radiates the Church’ beautiful message that every human person ‘is a creature of God, His creation’ as He ‘loves you and the whole heaven watches over you, takes care of you and gives you importance.. you have value and personality.. there is a tremendous power inside you,’ as Fr Andreas Konanos summarises. Metropolitan Anthony similarly highlights each individual’s human dignity and worth (being the foundation of the Orthodox Church’ pastoral work) by advising those called to this pastoral ministry to treat the suffering person as if ‘no one else in the world is more important,’  for our Creator forms and knows each of us (Ps 139:13-16) both ‘rich and poor.’ (Prov 22:2) 

The Orthodox Church, following the Early Patristic approach, places utmost importance on the preservation of Apostolic Faith and tradition, and primarily the sanctification and salvation of man; however the Church’ Pastoral Care is incorporated into Her salvific work and ministry. It is in fact for this reason that Pastoral Care is the Church’ responsibility; for the human being, as a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit,’  ( 1 Cor 16:19-20) who desires wholeness and health, needs both spiritual and material nourishment. 

For St John Chrysostom, a pastor has the role of sharing in Christ’s own love for His people, and for this reason is an office of the highest importance. Chrysostom interestingly distinguishes pastors from lay people - not necessarily meaning lay people cannot partake in the Church’ pastoral care, yet suggesting it is led primarily by the priesthood. By using the analogy of a shepherd, Chrysostom emphasises the pastor’s responsibility of exercising considerate care over each person, mirroring Christ’s care for His Church. Although, for St John, physical existence is not evil, it assumes positive value when raised to a spiritual state by the soul; thus highlighting the spiritual, prayerful, sacramental nature and importance of the Church’ Pastoral Care, with the clergyman raising the layperson. As is the case within the Orthodox Church today, Pastoral ministry is, according to Chrysostom, ‘controlled by the Eucharist, which is the place where heaven and earth meet in order to take the human up to God.’

The Eucharist is the divine act in which the cosmos is defined, and the role of the priest is fulfilled, for ‘he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.’ (John 6:54) For this reason, within the Orthodox Church, a pastoral visit often corresponds to the clergyman offering the sick patient, prisoner, or anyone in his care, the Eucharist, Holy Unction, or another relevant sacrament. This  role is one of spiritual therapy, with salvation and restoration to health as the Church’ objective, and both emotional and psychological support being an important part of this process.

Saint Gregory the Great notes that those leading the Orthodox Church’ ministry of Pastoral care, as models of the Lord’s example, should live by a balanced life of upholding a prayerful relationship with God, and practical ministry. While Gregory the Great tells us that those carrying out the Pastoral work of the Church are called to descend to the level of their flock with compassion and understanding, outwardly bearing the burdens of men, they should also, according to Gregory of Nazianzus, simultaneously aspire to contemplate inwardly on God’s heavenly eternal gifts, and the ‘New Jerusalem.’ (Rev 21)  As the Orthodox Christian’s end is deification, Gregory Nazianzus underlines the fact the Church’ pastors must have salvation at the centre of their ministry. Fr Georgios Metallinos highlights that at the beginning of history, God called man to paradise, and eternal communion with Him; while at the end of history man will either decide to accept this calling, or the state of hell. The Orthodox Church, Metallinos notes, as a spiritual hospital, provides the therapy of the heart, leading to its illumination by the Holy Spirit, finally, reaching theosis. This is where the difference lies between Orthodox Christianity and religions according to fr Georgios; rather than promising eternal bliss, or sending individuals into an eternal place depending on an ethical code, the Church prepares, heals and nourishes each person, for an eternal relationship with our Saviour Christ.

To conclude, this piece has introduced the patristic foundations of the Orthodox Church’ ministry of pastoral care; a ministry fulfilled through the Sacraments, with the focus being our restoration to psychosomatic health and essentially eternal salvation and deification. The essay also discusses why pastoral care is primarily led by the clergy, as through the Eucharist ‘God communicates himself to us’ and with one another; out into the hospitals, prisons, and places where individuals need the joyful, compassionate, salvific presence of the Risen Christ in times of pastoral need.


Purves A (2001) Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition, PPC, Ebook, 44-45.

‘Aspects of the Orthodox pastoral care’  Accessed from:

Gerkin C (1997) An Introduction to Pastoral Care, Nashville: Abingdon Press

Konanos, Andreas 2013, Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, Akakia: London.

Osborn E (2001) Irenaeus of Lyons, Cambridge: CUP.

Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Polycarp (accessed from

Π. Γεώργιος  Μεταλληνός, Το έργο του Κλήρου είναι θεραπευτικό (accessed from translated by Alexis Florides.

St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule (Liber regulae pastoralis) II.6.

Zizioulas J, Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (Accessed from  

Monday, 23 January 2017

St Ignatius' Epistles

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (c.35-108) was a young convert to Christianity, and a disciple of the Apostle John. He was later called to serve as Bishop of Antioch, succeeding Saint Evodius.

His writings, especially his epistle to the Romans, mention his arrest by authorities, and travel to Rome for trial. Along this route, Ignatius wrote six letters to regional churches, and one to his fellow Bishop Polykarp of Smyrna.

In his epistle to the Romans, Saint Ignatius highlights the fact he 'shall not profit' from the pleasures of this world, but would rather 'die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth,' "for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Lk 9:25) Offering his life into God's hands, he willingly desires to imitate the Lord's passion, and be persecuted and tortured in His name. He prays for attainment to God, through his trial and martyrdom, with his life and example set on the Lord's commandment for His each follower to "deny Himself and take up his cross." (Matt 16:24-26)

Ignatius' letter to Polykarp of Smyrna offers spiritual and ecclesiastical advice to his fellow Bishop. He emphasises the need for unity, to "bear all men.. suffer all men in love," as the Lord accepts all Who take refuge in Him. He encourages Polykarp, stating that for all toils and difficulties "there is much gain," therefore "give thyself to unceasing prayer.. be watchful and keep thy spirit from slumbering," as God will give strength to those who serve Him faithfully. While noting the importance of keeping and securing the Orthodox faith, the Bishop of Antioch advises Polykarp on pastoral matters mainly; "let not widows be thou their protector...let meetings be held more frequently.. that they may obtain a better freedom from God." He thus shares our Saviour's commandment to offer our service and help to those with needs, with those in certain difficult situations, and ensure the Church, especially their Bishop, is there at all times to assist in their spiritual wellbeing. The Bishop's position as the representative of Christ is of paramount importance to Ignatius, with unity and collaboration amongst the three-fold ranks of clergy being an integral part of ecclesial life. "Toil together one with another, struggle together, run together, suffer together... rise up together as God's stewards and assessors and ministers." 

St Ignatius' letters, along with the Didache, directly follow the New Testament period, and consist of several parallels to St Paul's letters. The Bishop of Antioch enters into the Pauline, and wider Christian Apostolic tradition, preceding the well known writings and theology of St Irenaeus, who develops on Ignatius' Eucharistic theology and Ecclesiology; particularly the notion of 'The Body of Christ.' Just as there is one Eucharist, one Altar, and one Christ, there should be one Bishop in each area. As well as the undertone of unity to his theology, Ignatius significantly emphasises the real presence in the Eucharist, being at the centre of the Christian's liturgical life, as the way in which we unite with the historical Christ Who suffered and died for us, in the ecclesial community.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The God of Joshua

Throughout the book of Joshua; from the preparation of the invasion, crossing the Jordan, the destruction of Jericho, through to the capturing of the lands and violent conquests, one is faced with the wider question ‘Who is this God?’ This essay will discuss ways in which we can understand God’s will, character, and relationship with man, through the texts of Joshua, both in their literal contexts, as well as in relation to coherent Biblical themes. In doing so, the piece will concentrate on chapters 2 and 9 - discussing both the story of Rahab the harlot, and the covenant made with the Gibeonites, in the midst of destruction and genocide. 

In Joshua 2 we witness Joshua, ο υιός του Ναυή, sending spies from Shittim (2:1-2) to view the land at Jericho, before the city’s conquest.  They stay at a harlot’s house, ‘whose name was Rahab.’ (2:1) The King of Jericho demands Rahab to ‘bring forth the men’ (2:3) however she claims they had already left, having hidden them on her roof. Then, Rahab confesses the Lord of Israel to be ‘God in heaven above and on earth beneath,’ (2:11) of all lands and people. This affirmation of her belief in Yahweh, and her recognition of the land rightfully  belonging to Israel, is followed by an exchange of kindness, with the spies promising safety and deliverance from death providing she keeps to her oath of secrecy. One could argue this is simply a fair exchange of promises, with both parties taking the oath for personal gain, rather than necessarily being an act of kindness or love. One interpretation, stemming from the ‘documentary hypothesis,’ highlights the evolutionary process within the Israelite tradition. The tradition’s formation, and the Israelites’ experience and relationship with God, continuously moves from primitive to sophisticated stages. Thus, perhaps this passage followed by the violent texts within Joshua, reflect a state of primitivism. Chapters 2-12, in particular, speak of the raw violence of Israel, sanctioned by God, but this reflects a primitive notion of God within this specific historical context; a god of violence, tribal passion and competition. The reason for us being able to interpret in this way is due to the Israelite tradition progressing, unfolding and transforming throughout the Old Testament, and to an even greater extent as we move into the New Testament. Even within the book of Joshua, in Chapters 13-19, we find a calmer, more tedious report on land division. Furthermore, in Chapters 1 and 23-24, we are aware of a more sophisticated covenantal voice; a transformation of the war imagery found in the earlier tradition and understanding of God’s will. So, in this particular primitive context, one could argue this gratefulness towards, and acceptance of, Rahab, by God and his representatives, should be of important significance. 

According to Gregory of Elvira (370CE) the fact the spies stay at the prostitute’s house is no mistake or chance. It would seem unusual for two divinely inspired messengers to stay at a harlot’s house, an immoral and socially defiled woman. For Gregory, just as Hosea is commanded to accept a harlot as his wife (Hos 1:2) it is an indication of cleansing, preservation, of fulfilment, and that fundamentally the Lord accepts and saves all Who serve and follow Him with compassion and mercy. As Rahab abandons her own will, confesses God’s work on Israel’s behalf, she demonstrates the reality of the Lord’s selection of His people, asked to call all others to his salvation. (Is 49:6) As a member of Jericho’s poorest segments of society, her oath with, and acceptance by, God’s people is an opportunity for freedom and change of life; an opportunity to reject false ways or beliefs, worshipping the Creator Yahweh. For Saint John Chrysostom the chapter is centred on the importance of repentance and faith, which ensure Rahab’s salvation. Origen similarly notes every human could be considered a prostitute within their heart, living according to ones own desires and lusts, and so this passage offers hope for those in sin, opening the door of Yahweh’s salvation to all. Interestingly, as soon as a harlot converses with the Lord within the Gospels, anointing and washing His feet, confessing Him to be the Christ, she repents and is preserved to life (Lk 7:36-50) similarly to Rahab. For this reason Gregory of Elvina tells us that this simple example of compassion, repentance and love within the context of such darkness, is indeed a foretaste and foreshadowing of the coming realities, or could be characterised as pointing to a more coherent, sophisticated, fuller understanding of God’s character and will.
We witness a contextually different, yet similar account within chapter 9. ‘All the Kings who were beyond the Jordan..the Amorites the Canaanites, the Per’izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb’usites..gathered together with one accord to fight Joshua and Israel.’ (9:1-2) However the Gibeonites on the other hand (although acting in a cunning manner) seek to make a covenant with God’s people, offering them (albeit dry) bread. Joshua makes ‘peace with them’ (9:14) Beyond the fact the Gibeonites deceived Joshua, there is a willingness on his part to make peace with those who wish to accept God’s people and will, even though they are not part of his army or group. Again, for this primitive, tribal context this would seem rare, if not unusual. Joshua, having realised the Gibeonites had deceived him, still faithfully offers them life (as servants) in the community. Similarly to Rahab, they were exempted from death (and the ban put in place for cities in the land as opposed from distant lands) as they recognise the power of Yahweh. (9:9) The central difference between the stories of Rahab and the Gibeonites, is that Rahab is included fully into the community (6:25) as opposed to the Gibeonites who are saved yet are enslaved due to their faith without good example, their willingness to be part of God’s plan yet while falling into cunningness and fraud.

Although we are able, at this stage, to argue that both texts point to a God who saves those Who decide to follow and respect His will, we are still faced with a dilemma when regarding those other groups who are later conquered and killed. The Scriptures describe those who fight against Israel as having hardened hearts (11:20) thus no longer having the possibility to change, repent and accept God’s willingness for a relationship with them. Israel had been waiting for four-hundred years in order to rightfully conquer their land, (from the time it was promised to Abraham) as the sins of the Amorites and the enemies of Israel were not yet complete. (Gen 15:16) In other words God, ‘the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful’ (Prayer of Manasseh 7) withholds His judgement, until one has had every opportunity to repent and believe; the Gibeonites, and especially Rahab freely chose to follow God, Whose ‘strength is the source of righteousness,’ (Wis 12:16) and  ‘source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.’ (Heb 5:9) Regardless of whether we take the brutalities surrounding these texts as literal or metaphorical, we can conclude that each group is free to choose whether or not they want to accept the God of Israel, and His people’s rightfulness to the land.
A metaphorical understanding of this violent process, which we see unfolding in our chosen passages, wiping out the opposing settlements in order to take over the land, is that of a spiritual war, simultaneously highlighting the importance of one unified nation rather than several tribes, with those against Israel representing evil and the sinful passions. For Christians, this war is known as asceticism, with its purpose being to subdue these evil desires. Lawrence Farley, though not rejecting any literal understanding of the texts, underlines Israel’s call to unity in addition to God reiterating the theme of Him constantly being with, and offering strength to, His people. Throughout this period, the notion of being one united people would still have been difficult to comprehend, as tribal membership and their independence was of paramount importance. This call for pan-tribal unity under God is witnessed from the beginning of Joshua, crossing the Jordan. The twelve stones (4:9) make a single monument, as all tribes together experience God’s power, functioning as one nation. As Christians, we consider ourselves as the heirs of the victories found in Joshua, as the Church is the ‘commonwealth of Israel.’ (Eph 2:12) Following the Patristic approach, Farley draws to our attention the typological significance; as the people of God are led to victory in the promised land by הוֹשׁ֫וּעַ, Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) as Christ the Saviour then does within the New Testament. 
One could argue, such as Earl, that such methods of understanding are simply created due to our embarrassment to discuss a god who authorises violence, covering up the reality of the texts which convey divinely inspired war, that, for him should be taken purely literally.  Perhaps there is an element of this. However it is important to note that the Christian patristic understanding does not reject the literal worth of the passages (as Farley reiterates) yet draws on the literal, historical contexts to convey Who God is, His compassion and mercy (seen throughout the books of the Old Testament) preparing the reader for the Lord’s revelation witnessed in its fullness within the New Testament. With this in mind, Hawk proposes the idea of the text intentionally containing ‘detractions’ from the storyline, subverting the claims of genocidal violence. Rather, for Hawk, the text is thematically about the construction of the identity of God’s people, and of course the establishment of boundaries. Again, this approach does not reject the literal accuracy, but places the emphasis on the underlying and coherent themes.
To conclude, this essay has discussed ways in which the reader of Joshua, by concentrating on Chapters 2 and 9, is able to discern Who this God, revealed through the harlot Rahab and through the acceptance of the Amorites, is; His will, his relationship with Israel and all of humanity. In doing so, the piece has discussed human conceptions of the divine within such a primitive, tribal context, where God’s compassion and mercy is yet still visible to all who desire a relationship with Him. Even amidst such violence, Yahweh’s gift of freedom to man is apparent, giving groups the opportunity to peacefully unite with Israel, His people. Furthermore, through the writings of Farley and other scholars, the essay introduces the Patristic approach to the texts; with Joshua being of strong typological significance, directing us to the all-embracing Saviour Christ, Who reveals the fullness of God’s character in the New Testament following His incarnation. 


Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 2005, IVP, Illinois.
Brueggemann W 2012, The God of Joshua…Give or Take the Land (Accessed Online).
Coogan M 2000, Joshua in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Bloomsbury, London.
Farley L 2012, The Christian Old Testament, CP, New York.
Hamlin E.J 1983, Inheriting the Land, Eerdmans, Michigan.

The Orthodox Study Bible 2008, Thomas Nelson, California.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Orthodox Church in Britain

In light of the Holy Council taking place in June, this short article will discuss ways in which the Orthodox Church can move towards greater unity, and local inclusivity within the diaspora, and in particular the United Kingdom, in our efforts to strive for canonical exactness. 

Living in a country which has been without an ingrained local Orthodox tradition for centuries, leaves us with a dilemma. In our efforts to share the faith of the Church, do we try rediscovering ‘British Orthodoxy,’ its Liturgical traditions and practices, or do we base ourselves within the local parishes founded by ‘Ethnic’ communities?

Some may argue that for converts in particular, ethnic parishes do not provide sufficient cultural self-identification, and perhaps involve an unknown language. However, in reality, these are, and will remain the parishes with the most experience of Orthodoxy in this country, having peacefully and respectfully integrated into British society. Within our Archdiocese of Thyateira for example, we have witnessed positive changes take place recently, with most parishes having a priest who has grown up into the community, ethnically diverse congregations, and all publications, weekly sermons, offered to the people in English. Thus, rather than  converts constructing their own communities, distancing themselves from the already-established parishes, perhaps it is through their integration that we are able to build truly diverse, local, Orthodox churches in the diaspora, and then look at ways in which these communities can share a more united, communicative, synergetic relationship, as ‘one body in Christ.. individually members one of another.’ (Rom 12:5) 

In this way, converts and ‘cradle Orthodox’ learn from one another, can share experiences and grow together. This distances ourselves from the sinful heresy of  Εθνοφυλετισμός, Ethno-phyletism, denounced in Constantinople in 1872, when the city's Bulgarian community tried establishing their own separate diocese, based solely upon their ethnic identity. Simultaneously we must not confuse this with Φιλοπατρία, patriotism, as the latter simply implies loyalty and appreciation to one's nation. So, for example, some of the largest parishes across the country are Greek, under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, proudly serving the needs of the local Greek, Cypriot population, encouraging the use of the Ancient language of the Gospel, celebrating national holidays, and hosting cultural events. Such events, as well as other cultural, social events and traditions practiced by members of the local, diverse community should only be supported by the Church, so long as they involve integration and do not distance the parish from its primary, spiritual, intentions. It is in fact through festivals, open-days, fairs, and such events that the Orthodox Church is often known to locals, and is the first contact they have with us, in many cases leading to a a desire to know and experience more. 

Within the Diaspora it is however more difficult than one might expect to draw the line between these two opposing terms; Ethno-phyletism and healthy patriotism. Should matters of ethnicity interfere with the life of our Orthodox Churches within this country? Should we have separate Bishops depending on whether we attend a Greek, Russian, Romanian, Antiochian, or Exarchate parish? The answer, I would hope, is simple. Absolutely not. As we read in Saint Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek.. for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal 3:28) This fundamental Christian truth, that we are are united in Christ regardless of ethnicity, gender or ‘social group,’ is also reflected upon in our Church canons. The model of Church organisation that was formed during the first three centuries of Christianity, as Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev notes, was based on the principle of "one city-one bishop-one Church", which foresaw the assignment of a certain ecclesiastical territory to one concrete bishop. Therefore the Canons highlight the importance of one Bishop assigned to a geographical territory, as opposed to the current uncanonical state in the diaspora, where we find numerous Bishops in one area. 

Many of us were, perhaps unrealistically, expecting a more positive outcome regarding the topic of the diaspora at this years Holy and Great Synod. As it is well known, the issue of jurisdictions and Bishops is one of the major challenges for the Orthodox Church today, in the diaspora. The phenomenon is against the canonical tradition of the Church, as has been noted, but here in the United Kingdom we have Greek, Russian, Romanian and Antiochian Bishops, all responsible for their respective dioceses. The document released by the Synod affirms the importance of Episcopal Assemblies, (consisting of canonically recognised Bishops in each region) set up in order to work, through this 'transitional period,' towards greater unity, and cooperation until 'the appropriate time arrives when all the conditions exist in order to apply the canonical exactness.' 

In other words, with time, this fundamental issue will be resolved. However, as with all aspects of the Christian life, this ideal solution will only become reality with our own contributions and prayerful efforts, along with the work of the Episcopal Assemblies. Both the Clergy and Laity within the United Kingdom have a great responsibility and role to play, in striving for more practical cooperation, and a greater sense of unity, so that our 'one God and Father of us all' (Eph 4:6) may grant us one voice and one heart, glorifying His all-honourable and majestic Name. Without this unified voice and active cooperation in working towards this ideal canonical exactness, Orthodoxy will seem limiting and impractical to those who may feel called to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. 

There are many ways we are able to practically work together as One Church. There should be cooperation on three central levels; 1) Liturgical & Pastoral 2) Education & Youth 3) Events. 

Liturgically, parishes are able to work together by sharing service schedules (ensuring each city has frequent Liturgies shared between each of the communities) , priests (with the blessing of the relevant Bishop) should visit each others churches, sharing pastoral responsibilities when necessary, and conducting Pan-Orthodox Vespers at the appropriate time of the year. Essentially, there should be an Orthodox youth society, group or organisation set up in cities ( often through the local university) allowing the young members of our parishes to mix, organise talks, discussions and pilgrimages. Finally, joint events, such as choir concerts, talks, social nights, catechetical classes and Church music lessons should also be ways in which we grow as Orthodox Christians in this country towards our aims and hopes.

Finally, Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia (1840-1924), the spiritual father of Saint Paisios, notes that ‘the Church in the British isles will only begin to truly grow again when it begins to venerate its own saints.’  The veneration of the British Saints, especially recently, has indeed brought our communities together, with Pilgrimages to St’s Winefride and Cybi in Wales,  Lindisfarne, Saint Bertram in Llam, Iona, and other holy sites taking place, throughout the United Kingdom. 

To conclude, let us Orthodox Christians, both clergy and laity, respond to our Lord’s call for unity, in times of confusion, unsettledness, and discrimination; in times where many seek Christ, His Church’ salvific mysteries, and unified presence. The One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church here in Britain, and across the Orthodox Diaspora, has this responsibility, in our efforts towards canonical exactness. 


- Alfeyev, Hilarion "The canonical territories of the local Orthodox churches – part I". (2006) Retrieved from :
- Official Documents of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, ‘The Orthodox Diaspora,’ accessed through
The Orthodox Diaspora,’ accessed through

- Article within the 'Orthodox Outlook' Issue 122 (October/November) within the 'Letters to the Editor' Section.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon concludes a number of key Christological debates taking place within the Early Church. We could say that four significant issues concerning the person of Christ are clarified: 1) Christ’s full deity is affirmed, rebuking Arius 2) Christ’s full humanity is affirmed, rebuking Apollinarius 3) Christ is one person, rebuking Nestorius and 4) Christ’s two natures (divine and human) remain distinct, rather than blurred together, refuting Eutyches. 

The Council follows on from Leo’s Tome, condemning Eutyches. The Council of Ephesus in 449 did not take any positive notice of Leo’s Tome, and in fact rejected his standpoint. Later however, the Emperor’s successor favoured Leo’s approach, and so this council took place in 451, reserving the decisions of Ephesus yet condemning Eutyches. Leo’s writings were read and approved, which was concluded by a revised confession of faith in order to unify the Empire, symbolising the clarified Orthodox doctrine and tradition of the Church. This is known as the Chalcedonian Definition. The definition affirms that Christ is ‘truly God… perfect in Godhead.. perfect in manhood.. begotten of the Father before the ages..born of the Virgin Mary’ with ‘the deity and humanity..not parted or divided into two persons but.. one person and one being.’ The ‘Lord Jesus Christ’ is ‘made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.’ 

As J.F Bethune-Baker writes, ‘in this definition the Church at length pronounced a final verdict on both extremes of Christological opinion, clearly repudiating Apollinarian, Nestorian and Eutychian teaching’ stating the relationship between the two natures in one Person is more fully expressed in the statements of both Cyril and Leo, to which, by recognition on this occasion of the Council, conciliar authority was given. The Council’s definition, along-with the writings of both Cyril and Leo affirm that the ‘temporal nativity in no way detracted from the divine and eternal nativity, and added nothing to it, but was solely concerned with the restoration if man and the need for the assumption of our nature by one whom sin could not stain nor death keep in his hold.’ In other words, the two natures are not confused, and do not affect each other. The fact Christ is born of the Theotokos for our salvation does not affect the fact He also proceeds from the Father, and is ‘eternally the same’ as is affirmed in the Divine Liturgy.

Richard Price and Mary Whitby note that by the time the Council was summoned by the Emperor Marcian, all were aware that the questions of the nature of Christian Orthodoxy, and the interpretation of this Tradition, were of critical importance at the time. All were in agreement that there was indeed one true Christian Tradition (from which deviation led to heresy) however what was not yet agreed on was what the Tradition should include. The authority of Scripture, as well as of the Nicene Creed and Cyril’s writings, were recognised and respected, however questions such as how one interprets the Nicene Creed, or to what extent Cyril’s writings (particularly his third letter to Nestorius) were authoritative, were at the forefront of the Holy Council. The authority of Nicaea was recognised by all in attendance, although the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, a revised version of Nicaea’s definition of faith introduced by imperial commissioners as a symbol of Orthodoxy, was heavily questioned. In fact, there is little indication this Creed of 381 would have been widely known and accepted by this stage, however generally the Bishops of Chalcedon emphatically accept it.This is the Faith of all… this is the Faith of the Orthodox.. We all believe accordingly,’ the Bishops affirmed, amidst controversy and uncertainty among the Egyptian and Roman groups in particular. 

As the Chalcedonian definition ‘was the result of a series of laborious compromises between the opposing parties’ the text initially presented at the Council used the terms of 433  ‘ἐκ δύο φύσεων’ (from two natures) which the Monophysites were prepared to accept, as it allowed them to simultaneously say ‘one nature after the union.’ The use of ‘two natures’ was balanced by the insistence on the unity of Christ; with the repeated expression ‘τὸν αὐτὸν’ (the same) intentionally underlining the unity of the subject of Christ, in all actions and places. The expression ‘in two natures’ (although not used by Cyril, was accepted in Antioch and the West) fundamentally constructed a clear distinction between φύσις and ὑπόστασις which had been lacking in earlier Christological discussion, thus needing to be clarified. 

The Council of Chalcedon therefore acted as a bridge - between the culmination and clarification of the Early Church’ vital Christological questions - and a new beginning giving way to Christian theologians being able to use proper, approved terms when designating both the unity and duality in Christ. 


Baker J.F 1942, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine. Methuen, London.

Lane T, The Council of Chalcedon. Accessed from from:

Meyendorff J 1975, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought. SVS, New York.

Price & Whitby 2009, Chalcedon in Context: Church Councils 400-700. LUP, Liverpool.