Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Lenten Journey to Pascha

As we approach the 'radiant triumphal feast' of Pascha, the Church invites us on Christ's very journey; from His entry into Jerusalem, the anointing and kissing of His feet, His rejection and betrayal, His Mystical Supper, the Crucifixion and Burial, to His descent into Hades, and rising from the dead, offering us eternal life.



Our Lenten journey began with the crucial commandment and Christian act of forgiveness and reconciliation (Matt 5:23-24) with our fast only being acceptable if grounded upon forgiveness, as its goal is the love of God, and consequently love of our neighbours. We have struggled through this period against the many passions, intensifying our efforts to fight against 'the spirit of sloth, idle curiosity, love of power, and useless chatter' but rather, through prayer and repentance, seeking to acquire the virtuous 'spirit of chastity, humility and love.' We sang the Canon of St Andrew ( a dialogue between a Christian and his soul, usually taking place in Clean week and the first Thursday of Lent),  powerfully reminding us of our own lives speedily passing by through time, drawing near to an end. This reminder however, through Christ's trampling down upon death, is not a source of despair or hopelessness. On the contrary, the Church, through the texts of the Great Canon, tells us that it is not too late to repent and change our selfish ways, but rather this opportunity for spiritual renewal and everlasting communion with God is at hand.  As we move into Holy Week, singing the well known hymn 'Behold, the Bridegroom comes..' the Parable of of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13) is brought to mind, as we are urged to be watchful and prepared, 'not weighed down with sleep' but rather in a state of prayer and readiness for meeting our Creator and Lord 'crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy are You our God." Physical death is always nearby, but the Great Canon boldly, yet compassionately tells us that 'the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand' (Matt 3:2) therefore we must repent, submit our lives to the Prince of Peace and Lord of all nations, for He is truly with us.    

Many of us may, admittedly, feel as though this Lenten journey has not been quite as fruitful as was hoped for. Perhaps we have tried, struggled, yet still spoken unjustly to our neighbour; overeaten and overindulged; wasted important and precious time; and have failed to offer our efforts or money to the poor and suffering. St John of the Ladder (commemorated on the fourth Sunday of Lent) highlights that pride is that which blinds us into thinking of ourselves as being better than we really are. Humility is the virtue in which assists us in seeing 'our own faults,'  and in fact seeing ourselves as the greatest sinner of all. St John writes: 'Humility is constant forgetfulness of one's achievements..that one is the least important and is also the greatest sinner..that one is weak and helpless...' For this reason, it is undoubtedly beneficial for us to see ourselves as having truly failed during this Lenten period; not in the emotional or superficial sense, but in the sense that we will persistently carry on this never-ending struggle, fighting the good fight (1 Tim 6:12) having grown, albeit slightly, from this humbling and unique period of the ecclesiastical year.


If all this is truly done in our efforts to love Christ our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (Lk 10:27) then He will surely accept our gradual steps along this path of repentance, as they are done in His name. Christ the Bridegroom, having received us, His Church, in marriage, 'polishes her, bathes her, nourishes her, raises her and guides her.'  It is only through acknowledgment of our unworthiness and failure that we can truly prepare ourselves for the Paschal feast - celebrating the fact God has defeated death and evil, offering us eternal life, despite our wrongdoings. As we strive to follow Christ, we realise He has 'brought us out of nothing into being' and when we fall away He rises up again with Him.  On this joyous and glorious feast of His Resurrection, let us all therefore rejoice together, with faith in the Risen Lord, the Source of life, Who 'shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first' for He 'accepts the deeds and welcomes the intention, and honours the acts and praises'  we offer to Him. St John Chrysostom, in his Paschal sermon, invites us all to partake of this eternal and sweet banquet, where there is no room for bitterness, pain, sorrow or death for it has been overthrown, but calling us to 'enjoy the feast of faith; receive all the riches of loving-kindness.. for the universal kingdom has been revealed.' May we all receive Christ, Who enlightens all in darkness, following Him all the days of our lives, and rising with Him unto the Jerusalem on High.



Sources (quoted in italics) :

 - The Catechetical Paschal Sermon of St John Chrysostom 
 - Great Compline & Canon of St Andrew
 - The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
- Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian
- St John's Ladder of Divine Ascent 
- Service of the Bridegroom
- Scriptural references used from RSV


Thursday, 31 March 2016

Eucharistic & Sacrificial Meals according to Saint Paul

The essay will briefly describe  what both Eucharistic and sacrificial meals consisted of in antiquity, followed by a discussion on Paul’s own understanding of them, seen in his first letter to the Corinthians. Whilst exegetically discussing the relevant passages (mainly 1 Cor 8 and 10) the piece of writing will include both modern and patristic understandings of the comparisons between the two meals, according to the Apostle Paul.

The Eucharistic meal would be initiated with a blessing, followed by the distribution of bread, then the meal itself, ending with a solemn blessing over the cup. This structure, used in the Early Church is attested to by the Didache. Indeed, there is reference to this meal in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when complaining about the drunkenness and selfishness in the Eucharistic celebration (1 Cor 11:20-23) Perhaps this is why the meal itself was excluded from the practice, even though this part would probably have been significant for the great number of gentile Christians. Fr Giles Dimock argues that the Eucharistic meal stems from the Jewish passover meal (rather than from meals celebrated by gentiles) in the sense that, ‘hands were washed, cups of wine blessed and drunk,  and bread was eaten in an atmosphere of celebration.’ For Giles, it is through Christ that ‘participation in the body of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16) exists with the breaking of the bread, at this new passover offered by God to man. The ‘new covenant’ (1 Cor 11:25) is established, replacing the old ways of animal sacrifice. For this reason, Fr Giles describes it as ‘a new Passover from death to the life of the new Paschal Lamb, Jesus.’ The fulfilment of Jewish law and sacrificial meals can be seen here, ‘for Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed’ (1 Cor. 5: 7) on behalf of all. By partaking in His Eucharistic meal, we ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’ (1 Cor 11:26) in remembrance. 

Meals involving the sacrifice of an animal (usually taking place in settings such as temples, clubs, private parties or banquets) on the other hand, formed one of the most important gatherings in all cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, in Paul’s context. The consumption of meat constituted the highest form of eating in relation to the gods, and involved sharing the food with them in a sense. Within Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the Lord’s Supper is discussed in order to distinguish itself from a sacrificial meal; in featuring bread instead of meat. Sacrificial meals involved the animal being slaughtered (somehow with its own consent) and finally shared unequally,  according to the hierarchy of the people present. The meal itself creates differentiations; with the higher ranking, male citizens gathering round the altar roasting the ‘splanchna’ (heart, liver lungs and kidneys) before placing the god’s portion onto the altar. If anyone present was not who they claimed to be, it was said that the gods would show signs on the meat and the barbecue would be aborted. The splanchna (especially the liver) is seen as the receptor of communication from the gods. The second stage of the meal consisted of the ‘lower class’ citizens being offered portions of boiled meat (usually the thighs). We can thus conclude that sacrificial meals lack a sense of unity, as they differentiate between various sectors of society. In opposition to this, partaking of the ‘one bread’ (1 Cor 10:16) results in spiritual unity among its members of Christ’s body, with the meal bringing God’s faithful together regardless of social status or gender, for ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ.’ (Gal 3:28). All members drink from the same cup and celebrate the Eucharist equally. 

The details regarding sacrificial meals are in fact of great important for Paul, as for most of the gentiles who constitute his churches. Any special meal or celebration will have be constituted by similar sacrificial activities in this period. Neither the Corinthians, nor the Apostle Paul could make sense of the Eucharistic celebration without a clear comparison with sacrificial meals; the most well known at that time. The Eucharist, according to Ron Cameron, certainly inhabits a culture centred on ‘θυσία.’ The difference is of course that the Eucharistic meal, although a partaking of and participation in Christ (Who sacrifices Himself for us) clearly has no connection to slaughter or violence of any kind.  For Cameron, Paul’s interpretation of the Eucharistic meal shares the basic assumption with the sacrificial practice, that those who are present are liable to divine judgement. Paul warns the faithful that one has to be suitably prepared to partake of Christ’s body and blood - by testing himself. One must therefore take part only if their disposition towards the consecrated bread and wine is correct (1 Cor 11:29).   One cannot argue against the fact both meals have a sense of preparation (and feeling of unworthiness standing before the divine). Perhaps this comparison also overlooks the fact that self-examination, repentance, and ones preparation for Christ’s eternal kingdom (and therefore for the Eucharist) is a central theme within the Gospel and is vital for the Christian’s life and relationship with God; not just something passed on by pagan culture by the gentiles.

The cup offered to the Christian community, ‘which we bless’ (1 Cor 10:14) is an offering to God. This Eucharist (Εὐχαριστία) is the faithful’s participation in, and the partaking of, Christ; as one body. Sacrificial, pagan meals on the other hand, according to the Apostle Paul, are an offering to demons. 1 Corinthians 10 warns us that rather than being partakers of demons, Christians are called to be partakers of God. It is important to note that the Eucharistic meal, for early Christians in Paul’s time, is the source and summit of their spiritual lives. The Church is changed from a human community into the body of Christ. Worship is the most profound activity of the people of God, with the Eucharistic meal especially at the heart of the Church’s life; meaning that to partake of an act in complete opposition to this meal would be understandably unacceptable and incompatible (1 Cor 10:20).  The ‘new life’ (Rom 6:4) offered to us by Christ is constantly renewed, preserved and nurtured by the Eucharist. We, as Christians (whether from a gentile or Jewish background) are called to ‘commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God’ as the ancient liturgical tradition remind us. This means remaining faithful to our own Eucharistic practice, without involving ourselves in sacrificial meals offered to ‘gods,’ or rather demons - for we should not ‘be partners with demons.’ (1 Cor 10:20) Our goal is to ‘do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor 10:31). Through our conscience, we can judge whether actions and decisions are acceptable to God. For example Saint Paul tells us that eating meat sold in the market is acceptable as ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ (1 Cor 10:26). However the distinction between this and sacrificial meals is that they clearly involve rituals and practices contrary to Christ’s teaching and commandments to love Him with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves (Matt 22:34-40), in other words equally and fairly (not the case with segregating sacrificial meals). 

For Saint Paul, sacrificial meals are offered to non-existent idols. There are many so-called gods and idols, but only ‘one God, the Father, from whom are all things..’ (1 Cor 8:6) He thus stresses that we, as followers of Christ, ascribe glory, thanksgiving and worship to our one Creator and Lord; this being the case within the context of the meal. Paul recognises that ‘not all possess this knowledge’ (1 Cor 8:7) however it is for those who do know, to create an example to others by abstaining from meals within idol’s temples. According to the Church Fathers, knowledge is useful in itself if it is humbled by love. Paul strikes down the notion of pride and self-exaltation as a result of knowledge, by stating that ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.’ Egoism leads to divisions, where as for Paul, love unites and leads to knowledge.

Saint John Chrysostom argues that for Paul, the idols do not have any power, for they do not even exist. One may argue that Paul is admitting (in 1 Cor 8:5) that there are indeed ‘gods’ and ‘lords,’ who perhaps have power and some form of authority. On the contrary, Chrysostom tells us that Paul uses such phrases ‘not in reality.. but in name.’ In other words, in Paul’s context, pagan worship of pseudo-gods is a common and well known practice and occurrence, and therefore he is simply using the terms used in antiquity. As Fredriksen points out, virtually all social activity throughout this period involves interaction with the ‘gods.’  One noticeable method Paul uses in order to preach, is not only knowing the people’s strengths and weaknesses, but also local practices and culture. This culture of worshipping local ‘gods and lords’ was prominent and had to be addressed. The fact he clarifies that an idol is nothing, for there is no other God, emphasises that for Paul this passage is a matter of how one should relate to sacrificial meals, and not a question of monotheism. 

Although Chrysostom’s stance is clear, 1 Corinthians 8 still undoubtedly poses an interpretive problem for us. As previously mentioned, Paul clearly argues that idols (εἴδωλον) do not exist and therefore eating food offered to them (εἰδωλόθῦτος) does not pose a great issue. The second half of the chapter however, refutes this by arguing that this knowledge may lead the weak to catastrophe. This then allows us to question how (if idols really are nothing to worry about) the weak can be destroyed?  Wendell L Willis argues that the passage is in fact a response to a letter sent to Paul by the Corinthians. Much of St Paul’s passage can then be seen as quotations from the suggested letter, rather than his own position. The Corinthians would probably have reached their own conclusions about eating sacrificial meat already, and are writing to share this with Paul. This offers us another explanation for why the Apostle Paul seems to refer to the gods in that manner; as this is the way the gentiles would have culturally referred to them. He then responds to their view by stating our actions should be based on love (ἀγάπη) rather than supposed knowledge. Daniel C. Ullucci notes that the problem for Paul is direct participation in the sacrifice to idols (as seen in 1 Cor 10, actively partaking in the demonic practices of sacrificial meals). This point describes the main difference between the Eucharistic meal and the sacrificial meal; by partaking in a sacrificial meal we are actively connecting ourselves to evil, whereas partaking of the Eucharist connects us to our life-giving Creator as one body in Christ.

Paul’s audience, unlike the earlier Apostles, is pagan, not Jewish. Paul’s pagan,  ‘god-congested environment’ (as Fredriksen writes) means that he has to deal with these ancestral, local gods - as John Chrysostom suggests. After all, we come across these gods within the Old Testament Scriptures, giving ‘thanks to the God of gods.’ (Ps 136:2) These ‘gods’ may be dependent on the Creator, however if they have some limited form of power as errant angels, it would explain why Saint Paul warns us of taking part in meals offered in their name; as they are demonic. (1 Cor 10:20-21) Even though Paul’s gentile followers will have retained their native ethnicities, they no longer worshipped their native gods. We are told that ‘all the nations will turn (επιστρέψουσιν) in fear of the Lord God.. and bury their idols.’ (Tob 15:6) 

John Chrysostom gives us a concise exegetical comment, regarding the importance of the Eucharistic meal as the ‘cup of blessing.. a participation in the blood of Christ.’ For Chrysostom, this is a statement of faith and awe; the fact that the Eucharist is this indescribable gift (2 Cor 9:15) sharing in Christ, praising Him and partaking of Him. The Lord gives us this gift, for us to participate together in His loving communion, putting aside the former dead flesh (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13). On the contrary, participating in the celebrations consisting of sacrificed food would be to turn back on ourselves, falling into the animalistic ways of the flesh. Clement of Alexandria notes that Paul is not saying we should abstain due to fear, but rather for the sake of our consciences. This suggests that the Eucharist cleans the human being and his holy conscience (1 Cor 10:28-29), whereas the sacrificial celebration defiles it. Feeding on Christ, at His ‘feast of love’ (as it was known) fills man with divine contemplation, ensures spiritual growth, stability and purity as opposed to feasting on sacrificed earthly creatures, connected to gluttony, bodily pleasures and satisfaction. 


To conclude, following the historical descriptions of the Eucharistic and sacrificial meals, the essay has discussed ways in which we can compare and contrast them in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians - using the writings and arguments of Saint John Chrysostom, Paula Fredriksen, Daniel Ullucci and other patristic and modern scholars.




Bibliography: 

Calivas A 1988, The Sacrament of the Economy of Salvation in ‘One Loaf, One Cup - Ecumenical Studies of 1 Cor and Other Eucharistic Texts, Cambridge: Mercer. 

Cameron R 2011, Redescribing Paul and the Corinthians, Atlanta: SBL.

Chrysostom J 1956, Homilies on First Corinthians - Homily XX,  Michigan: Eerdmans.

Dimock G,The Eucharist: Sacrament and Sacrifice (Online).

Fredriksen P, The Question of Worship: Gods, Pagans and the Redemption of Israel (Online).

The Church’s Bible 2005, Cambridge: Eerdmans.

Ullucci D 2012, The Christian Rejection of Animal Sacrifice (Published to Oxford Scholarship Online)







Friday, 25 March 2016

Looking Beyond Ourselves



It's often the case that the more we do for others, the more sacrifices we make, the more time we give up, the less we are appreciated. We begin to be taken for granted; or can even be mocked and turned against in our own times of need. St Matthew's Gospel, specifically the Beatitudes, is abundantly clear, that those who are merciful to others yet persecuted will be blessed. 

The reality is that contrary to this, many people simply 'look after their own interests' (Phil 2:21) rather than following the self-sacrifical life in Christ. Although admittedly difficult, this is our ministry; to serve others 'without grumbling' (Phil 2:14), without seeking 'glory from one another' (John 5:44) but rather doing every deed in order to glorify God's Honourable and Majestic Name, with humility and self-denial. 

Contrary to our misconceptions, God is not solely concerned with whether or not we stick by the fast vigorously, talk or act in a pious manner, have fallen into sins of a sexual nature, or have read all kinds of spiritual books.

The Lord fundamentally commands us to Love (which is of course the purpose of the Church's liturgical, canonical & sacramental life). Specifically, to Love Him and our neighbour. We often forget how closely related these two are though. Again in Saint Matthew's Gospel, we witness Christ stating that by doing something to our fellow human being, we are in fact doing it to our very God and Creator:

'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' (Matt 25:40) 

Therefore, let us, especially throughout this Lenten Journey, place the care and importance of our fellow human beings at the forefront of our daily Christian lives - offering ourselves (our prayers, efforts, time, care and patience) to the other; and consequently to Christ our God. 

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Man of God

'You blossomed from faithful and noble stock, you came from a city illustrious and regal, O most-wise Alexios, all things disdained that are mortal and passing, you hastened to be united to Christ the Lord. Pray therefore, always to Him for our souls.' - Apolytikion of Saint Alexios

There are several striking characteristics and details about Saint Alexios' life and example. The first being his rejection of wealth, freely choosing to exchange the materially rich environment he was brought up in, with a life of poverty and self-sacrifice. He remained faithful to his calling and vow of chastity; resulting in him foregoing his own arranged marriage - transforming his body into a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit through fervent prayer, fasting and ascetic struggle.


He was born of wealthy parents, Euphemianos and Aglaia, who initially became engrossed and dominated by their own worldly success and vanity. However, God offered them an opportunity of renewal and repentance. As they experienced difficulties having a child, they pleaded about their situation, simultaneously offering generous amounts of wealth and food to those in need (orphans, the sick, widows and travellers) and offering time and effort to daily prayer. Aglaia's particular prayer was 'remember me Lord, your unworthy servant, and grant me a child to be the consolation of my soul and my support in old age.'

With God's grace, Aglaia conceived and gave birth to their son Alexios. Though he was born into a prayerful, pious family, as he grew older he began to question and reject the wealthy way of life (with servants accompanying him to school for example) and environment, contrary to his desire for a simple, humble way of life. After several years of dedicated study, his parents decided it was time to arrange his marriage. After selecting a young maiden, purchasing a house for them, and organising a grand ceremony, Alexios decided it was not God's will for him to remain in this affluent environment with his wife. Consequently, on the day of his wedding, he lovingly explained to the young maiden that he must leave, assuring her that God will bless both of them in their separate ways. He gathered his belongings, a small amount of money, and travelled to Laodicea, in Asia Minor, praying:

'O God, You Who provide more than abundantly the things which we request of You, open for me Your door upon which I am knocking and grant to me now the fervent desire of my heart.'

From there he reached Edessa in Mesopotamia. Offering all his minimal possessions to the poor, he spent his days outside a church (dedicated to the Theotokos) begging, simply in order to eat a little each day. He spent the majority of his time in the Narthex of the church on a daily basis, for seventeen years, in prayer. Alexios had remained silent for all these years, not mentioning to anyone the fact he was originally from an extremely wealthy and powerful family. One day however, an attendant persuaded him to talk and discuss his personal life. After hearing the details, the attendant  boldly said :

 'If that blessed man, who grew up in such great luxury and comfort, is now willingly enduring such utter deprivation for the sake of the spiritual life, how much should we, the unworthy, endure for the sake of our salvation?'

Once this was known in the area, Alexios realised it was best to leave, probably because the community (including the local Bishop) began to see him as an exemplary, holy figure; something which can puff up ones ego. He realised it was time to return to Rome, albeit it as an unknown, unrecognisable figure, to see his parents and loved ones. Though his father did not completely recognise his son when meeting him after such a long period of time, he did remind him of his dear Alexios. They welcomed him as a slave and treated him very well (not knowing who he was) in their home. It is said that during a Divine Liturgy in Rome after his return, there was an unknown and invisible sound of a voice proclaiming 'seek the man of God who will pray for Rome. Soon he will die but the Lord will receive his soul into Heaven.' Saint Alexios would continuously keep vigil, indeed praying for his city, his family and all of humanity. After some time living in Rome, his father Euphemianos found his body after passing away peacefully in the Lord. In his hand was a parchment, letting his family know that he is their beloved son. Although there was pain, not having had the chance to see their son alive but passed away, they were also moved, proud and astonished. His tomb exuded fragnant myrrh, and those who anointed themselves with it received many blessings and help from Saint Alexios' source of humility, endurance, chastity, prayer and love; Christ our God.

May we, like Saint Alexios, put our trust in God; placing our lives (our future, our career paths, our children's prospects) in the Lord's hands, as difficult as it may be.

Main Source:
The Life of Saint Alexios, the Man of God, a publication of the Metropolis of Atlanta






Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Church of Cyprus & Reconciliation

This essay will demonstrate how the Church of Cyprus promotes, and should continue to promote reconciliation between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities within the divided island. By looking specifically at the recent work and efforts of the Diocese of Constantia in Famagusta, led by Bishop Vasilios, the piece will highlight how their frequent services in the occupied North promote integration, mutual respect and unity - concentrating on the importance of the very first service in St George’s church on Holy Friday of 2014 with the presence of the Mufti, political dignitaries, and thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriot citizens. 

Christianity was initially brought to Cyprus by the Apostles Barnabas and Mark in the year 46AD. To this day, the Church plays a significant role in shaping the island’s society, culture and traditions; with it being one of the leading land and company owners,  philanthropic contributors, and is intrinsically connected to state affairs and the island’s politics. For these reasons, it has the responsibility of contributing to the aim of reunification; promoting reconciliation through its teaching and actions. Following a short summary of the Church of Cyprus’ movements, as aforementioned, the essay will focus on the Diocese of Constantia’s initiatives in the move towards a peaceful solution.

The Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, leads frequent meetings with the leading Turkish Cypriot Mufti, along with other religious minorities (mainly Maronites and Armenians) , in order to discuss the restoration of historical and holy sites on the island - a move which has introduced more collaboration, integration and mutual understanding. These fruitful meetings took several years of campaigning, including a lengthy process of alerting the international community of the many ruined and abandoned Churches in the North of the island. One such strategy in creating this awareness, was the Church of Cyprus’ presence within the EU’s headquarters in Brussels; represented by the Bishop of Neapolis, Porphyrios.  With persistent persuasion and dialogue, the Turkish Cypriot community began to agree that this step of religious restoration would inevitably bring the two communities together. It is also important to note that within the Greek South, Turkish mosques have always been maintained by the state and authorities, with utmost respect and sensitivity. One might think that the Greek South would adopt a more hostile attitude after much of its heritage and settlements were invaded, however their stance has honourably remained true to the Christian understanding of respect for others. This noble respect in the South, towards the Turkish Cypriot Muslim heritage (with the up-keeping of the pilgrimage site of Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca as a prime example) has been supported by, if not as a result of, the Church and its teaching. 

The Metropolis of Constantia (a Diocese which covers an area of the occupied North, in the region of Famagusta) has gone to great efforts in order to re-open and worship in churches within the occupied areas. This simple yet bold step has meant an increase in integration; with many Greek Cypriots travelling to the North in order to partake in the Liturgy in their re-opened parishes. Turkish Cypriots likewise support this move; with their Muslim cleric, the Mufti Dr Talip Atalay,  offering back the keys of Famagusta’s St George’s church in the centre of the occupied town on Holy Friday of 2015, in order for it to be used by the Diocese on a weekly basis. Witnessing this step forward, Olav Fykse Tveit, the General Secretary of the WCC described Cyprus as 'a station for the pilgrimage of justice and peace.’ This significant act of returning the church keys to the local diocese of occupied Famagusta, with several dignitaries from all political circles attending, is ‘a clear message of promoting the conviction that religion is a powerful tool for reconciliation and not for division,’ Metropolitan Vasilios stated. This took place on Holy Friday in 2014, during the first church service for 58 years, since the occupation; understandably creating tears of sadness, but also of hope and joy. The Most Reverend Metropolitan Vasilios also said that this historical service was a divine act which will contribute to solidifying good relations between the two communities. It is therefore clear that in relation to the peace process and negotiations towards a political settlement, the Church of Cyprus (and its example of reconciliation and relationship with the Turkish Muslim leaders) is of paramount importance. 

Bishop Vasilios noted that at the centre of our Christian faith, is the fact our Saviour reconciles us with God, and consequently reconciles us with each other as human beings. Through Our Lord’s crucifixion, burial and Resurrection we are truly united to Him and to each other. As Metropolitan Vasilios stated, His sacrifice for mankind is ‘the divine act of reconciliation par excellence.’  Though we have transgressed, the paradox is that God does not take vengeance but sends His Son to establish communion with us. The Most Reverend Vasilios concluded that if we want to be coherent with our faith, we have to work for our reconciliation with God and fellow men. This great act, celebrating Easter in the occupied North, with the presence of the Mufti and many Turkish-Cypriots, who that week celebrated the birth of their Prophet Mohammed, would be seen as an impossibility years ago post-invasion. This miraculous and significant act surely emphasises that God does indeed offer peace, restoration and reconciliation among us when we work together; uniting us, regardless of religious affiliations or cultural differences, as two communities appreciating and rejoicing in our shared island of faith, hospitality, and love. 

The mufti in turn, emphasised that Cyprus, the island of beauty, consists of two communities who are able to share everything together - such as that particular church service, on Holy Friday. He then noted that he believes the religious leaders, with their good hearts, are able to make an influential and beneficial move towards reconciliation. These events and acts bring us together, allowing us to know one another face to face, leading to a positive mentality.

The Greek word used by Metropolitan Vasilios, καταλλαγή, is directly linked to the New Testament; in particular Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“oὐ μόνον δέ, ἀλλὰ καὶ καυχώμενοι ἐν τῷ Θεῷ διὰ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι’ οὗ νῦν τὴν καταλλαγὴν ἐλάβομεν”  (Rom 5:11) 

The theologian Iliana Kaoura, of the Metropolis of Constantia, emphasises that reconciliation is God’s plan of economy, beginning with the Creation, and fulfilled by Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice. The Lord’s passion and sacrifice reconciles us all with one another, however the starting point is of course God’s invitation and act of reconciliation towards man. He, through His sacrificial act and destruction of death and evil, as well as His constant renewal of mankind through the sacramental work of His Church, clearly desires forgiveness and peace. It is thus our duty to act upon this holy desire in building bridges between the Cypriot communities, with the services in Famagusta being a prime example. Theodoritos of Syria (393-457) tells us that man has often been in a state of war with God (just as we have been at war with each other in Cyprus’ context) however as the very definition of love (1 John 4:8) He forgives all of mankind, and to put it simply, wants the best for us. This is indeed the message given by Metropolitan Vasilios, addressing the island on such a historic occasion. Having faith in God at the starting point of Cyprus’ reconciliation process is crucial, and perhaps the Most-Reverend Vasilios’ comment on how the event ‘was a miracle, which would have seemed impossible’ is an affirmation of this. Although, as human beings, we have social, ethnic, cultural, personal, religious differences, somehow our Creator and Saviour manages to reconcile us together. “For with God, all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26) At the same time however, as human beings, and just as the Church of Cyprus should continue to do, our own sacrificial efforts and acts of unity and love are needed in this process. We read in Matthew’s Gospel that we must first be reconciled to our brothers, and then offer our gift to God (Matt 5:23-24). Iliana Kaoura thus concludes that reconciliation is inseparable from worship. Sin (or as Theodoritos described it, being at war with God and man) distracts us from the realisation of how vital reconciliation is regarding our spiritual lives. Within Cyprus’ historical and political context some Christians will understandably experience feelings of sadness if not bitterness. However, Kaoura highlights that reconciliation takes place through the greatest virtue: love. (I Cor 13:13) Worshipping God, especially alongside Turkish Cypriot Muslim compatriots is truly impossible without reconciling with one another; and so the Church of Cyprus’ services within the occupied North surely proves that this is indeed taking place, and restoration and reunification is on its way.

To conclude, this essay has demonstrated how the Church of Cyprus’ (and in particular the Diocese of Constantia's) recent effort to re-open and use parishes in the occupied north for regular services is a significant step towards reconciliation and peaceful co-habitation of the two communities. Christian theology maintains the view that the source of reconciliation is Christ, our God and Saviour, and so significantly it was on Holy Friday, the day in which we celebrate His crucifixion and burial that this seemingly impossible act and event of integration and mutual love took place in Famagusta. The Church of Cyprus should continue to maintain its exemplary relations with the Turkish Cypriot Muslim community, as a beacon of hope and faith, highlighting that a solution will stem from our trust in the God of peace (Phil 4:6-7) and uniter of all (Gal 3:28). 




Sources:

Kypris, C 1985, The History of Cyprus. Nicosia: Proodos Printing.

Turkish Cypriot returns key of occupied church to the Church of Cyprus, 2014. Available from http://famagusta-gazette.com/turkish-cypriot-returns-key-of-occupied-church-to-the-church-of-cyprus-p23204-69.htm.

Kenny P 2014, Church opening on Turkish Side of Divided Cyprus seen Aiding Reconciliation. Available from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/81500.htm.


Κάουρα Η 2015, Κυριακή Γ’ Επιστολών Αποστ. Ανάγνωσμα: Ρωμ. 5: 1-10. Available from http://www.imconstantias.org.cy/2193.html.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Church

The Body of Christ

When the Apostle Paul tells us the Church is the Body of Christ, he reveals to us that the ecclesiastical community in the world consists of the visible presence of the Risen Lord. This community is the way in which the Risen Christ acts throughout history and has personal relationships with individuals. The Church's head is Christ, our Lord and God, as the head connects, and gives life to, all the other parts of the Body. The mouth of the Body consists of the Bishops; through Apostolic Succession 'rightly proclaiming the Word of Truth,' and passing this on to the rest of the faithful. The rest of Christ's Body consists of Baptised Orthodox Christians, who are in communion with the Lord, and with one another through the Mysteries of the Church, and in particular, through the Holy Eucharist. The Church is the unity of the faithful in Christ; clergy and laity. 

The Church comes together in the fullest way in every Divine Liturgy; with the partaking of our Saviour's Body and Blood, the presence of His Holy Mother, and of all His Saints. There is one, eternal Liturgy, bringing us all together in Christ - both the living and the dead - as the Liturgy is the meeting place of Heaven and Earth. Through this unity and communion with one another, man is blessed as Christ is in our midst. This unity does not in any way undermine the individuality of the human person; but rather enriches and fulfils them, as a human being with particular talents, gifts, and ways to offer themselves to the wider community. Saint Paul highlights that Christ and His Church, rather than dividing mankind, unites us all regardless of race, gender, cultural background or ethnicity. 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (Gal 3:28) The Holy Spirit unites us in such a way that we are able to put our personal differences and social or cultural interests to the side, as we are all equal members of Jesus Christ's Body.

Saint Paul, referring to the new life in Christ, tells us we should 'let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away...and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God forgave you.' (Eph 4:31) This is a crucial point, in understanding the individual's life within the Church, and how one treats and behaves towards brothers and sisters. Perhaps one of the most moving parts of the Divine Liturgy is when the Clergy (followed by the people) ask one another for forgiveness before the Holy Oblation. For us to fully offer ourselves to God, partake of His Holy Gifts, and obtain a relationship with Him, we must forgive our fellow human beings. For this reason we proclaim; 'Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess.' Unity cannot exist without us loving and forgiving one another. The Lord's prayer itself states that God forgives us, because we forgive others.  We are thus called 'in patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.' (Eph 4:2-8)

The Church is the Body of Christ, which was historically founded on Pentecost, with the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit descending on the Apostles. The day of Pentecost marks the beginning of our calling to preach the Gospel to the nations, sharing Christ's eternal truth of love.  

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic

The Oneness of the Church is important in that Christ founded one Church, consisting of all His faithful, regardless of age, epoch, language, or place in society. If the Church is truly Christ acting through history and in relationship with man, then His Church must be one and unified. His Body is Holy as Christ is the source of holiness. His Church to this day consists of many saints; and for many this is proof that God does still indeed act in the world, through His people, and shows that His Church is alive, eternal and true. In Apostolic times, all Christians were in fact referred to as 'Saints,' as the Christian's goal is deification; complete and full unity with God. This of course only takes place through the mysteries and acts of the Church, where the Lord's grace and love is witnessed and experienced in its fullness. The Catholicity refers to our call to 'Go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.' (Mark 16:15) The Church exists for the entire universe; for every corner of the earth. It's salvific work involves the whole of mankind, and invites all with its doors open throughout the world, sharing the Apostolic, Orthodox Christian Faith and Tradition. The Church is Apostolic as it was founded by Christ and His Apostles, who went out to serve God, preach, and share the faith with the world. This carries on today, with the gift and charisma of the Holy Spirit through ordination, with Bishops proclaiming Christ's truth and maintaining the Church's worship, and teaching throughout the ages in all nations.


- Delivered to the Student Group of St Luke's Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Glasgow in Greek & English.

Sources:

Monday, 18 January 2016

Reconciliation within the Holy Scriptures - Introduction

The concept of reconciliation is centred on the fact man has disobeyed God, and fallen away from Him. This fall has direct negative implications on personal, communal, and world relations. God's will is of course the restoration of His relationship with man, and therefore all other relations flowing from this. This takes place, in the New Testament, through Jesus Christ. Cecil McCullough argues that within the Bible, restoration on the 'vertical' level (between God and man) is always accompanied by restoration on a horizontal level (people are reconciled to each other).

Within the Old Testament we witness the reconciliation of God's people within His covenant - and this reconciliation is not solely a particularistic view found in the Scriptures (Israel called out of the nations) but a also a universal one. 'I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.' (Isaiah 49:6)


The New Testament delves further into this crucial notion of reconciliation, with God, as Father, inviting all into His Kingdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ invites us, through His words and actions -  announcing the Good News of His Gospel to all sinners;  poor, weak, oppressed, marginalised and all human beings.  In His teaching however, lies the spiritual law that when the sinner accepts this offer of reconciliation from God, then they must also be reconciled with their neighbour. The Lord's prayer itself is a prime example: 'forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.' (Matthew 6:12) By receiving God's offering of reconciliation and eternal relationship with Him, we are simultaneously asked to be reconciled to others. Matthew 18: 23-24 comes to mind (with a servant refusing to forgive) as well as the parable of the Prodigal Son. Saint Mark also tells us that prayer and forgiveness go together; 'And when ye stand praying, forgive if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses.' (Mark 11:25) 

Not only through the words of the Gospel does Christ offer us understanding of reconciliation; but through the Eucharist, the eternal table of communion and fellowship. Table fellowship was, in the ancient world and in Jesus' context, of particular importance, as it was a symbol of social unity and was seen as a group of people striving for the same ends. The pharisees refused to have such fellowship with 'sinners' (those who they deemed unworthy) however Christ, in opposition to this hypocritical mentality, invites us all. Christ welcomes all sinners, eats with them (Luke 15:1) and offers each other the opportunity to reconcile with one another. Another dramatic, yet moving account of reconciliation offered by the Lord, is when He decides to stay with the tax collector, Zacchaeus. Jesus' actions led to the disapproval of the authorities. Through this act He ignores and abolishes social boundaries, and the sectarian attitudes within Israel. 

Jesus Christ's teaching does not simply apply to those 'in His group,' or members of His Church; but applies to all human beings. His teaching on love for one's enemy, and on non-retaliation is apparent: 'Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also!' (Matthew 5:39) Where Christ finds injustice, unfairness, the putting down of marginalised groups (such as Luke 7:36 with the woman who anoints Him) there is a firm rejection. Thus, we can conclude that loving others practically, flows from a loving relationship with Christ our God and Saviour.

Main Source: Reconciliation in Religion and Society, Proceedings of a Conference organised by the Irish School of Ecumenics and the University of Ulster 
- Bible and Reconciliation, Cecil McCullough