Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Holy Spirit: Saint Basil's Letter to Amphilochius

St Amphilochius was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia. It was in the year 373 that Amphilochius was ordained Bishop of Iconium, with St Basil, his spiritual father, passing away in 379 at the age of 49. Several theological challenges by 370 had been made sense of, particularly regarding the controversies surrounding Arius and Eustathius, and for this reason Basil was able to write on newly arising issues in a time of maturity, when able to teach with confidence from his ecclesiastical position in his episcopacy.(1) This short piece will discuss ways in which Basil’s letter to Amphilochius, with its differentiation between Ousia and Hypostasis, and implications on the Trinitarian Doctrine, was highly significant for Orthodox Christian Theology.

Saint Basil’s letter to Amphilochius, highlights the distinction between the key terms Ousia and HypostasisThe distinction is the same as that of the general and the particular, as for instance between a ‘living thing’ such as the animal and the particular man. Thus, when it comes to the Godhead - the Holy, Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity - St Basil notes that we confess one essence (so we do not have a variant definition of existence) while confessing a particular hypostasis so we do not confuse the persons of the one Godhead. We must have distinct perceptions of these Three Persons, of their characteristics as Father Son and Spirit, which forms our coherent perception of the ‘common’ Godhead. So these two terms, for St Basil, provide us with the essential link between God’s unity of Persons, but also their diversity of characteristics. 

Basil, criticising Sabellius’ teaching that God was single and indivisible, with three manifestations of one Person, provides the Church with the coherent understanding of one ουσία and three ὑπόστασιςOusia being the existence, essence or substantial entity of God, and Hypostasis signifying this essence in a particular mode, and the manner of being of each Person. Each of the divine hypostases is the Ousia, or Essence of the Godhead, determined by its appropriate, particular characteristics; the Father’s paternity, the Son’s Sonship, and the Spirit’s sanctification. (2)

The Holy Spirit, the ‘Comforter’ proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), ‘Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified’ (Symbol of Faith) Orthodox Christian doctrine, following the teaching of St Basil, confesses that God the Father is the eternal origin, and source of, the Holy Spirit, just as He is the Source of the Son. As we read within Basil’s letter to Amphilochius, there is a difference in the manner which the Spirit proceeds from the Father, from the way the Son is begotten and born from the Father. (3)  He particularly uses the term ‘sanctification’ when describing the work of the Holy Spirit, which he later characterises as the giver of life: ‘All things thirsting for holiness turn to Him… He waters them with His Life-Giving breath and helps them reach their proper fulfilment… He is the source of sanctification, spiritual light, Who gives illumination..and the illumination He gives is Himself.’  (4) Siding with Sabellius, one might argue that the Spirit of God (since it seems to have different roles or characteristics to that of the Father and Son) is simply a manifestation of Himself, or even one of his energies, or acts, rather than God Himself; the third person of the GodHead. Basil offers us a Scriptural answer to this question: ‘When the Lord established the Baptism of salvation, did He not clearly command His disciples to baptise all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?’ (5)

Thus we see that Basil’s letter to Amphilochius is essential, in the sense that it offers (as he expresses it) a ‘healthy’ account of our Trinitarian Doctrine, our conception of God. The letter, through its distinction between Ousia and Hypostasis offers a coherent understanding of the ‘union and fellowship’ (6)  between the Three Persons, their distinctive characteristics, all (and together) fundamentally necessary for our salvation. Taking Basil’s example of Baptism, it is notable through the reading of Scripture alone, we are unable to refer to the Father without the Son and Spirit, and vice-versa: ‘It is impossible to worship the Son except in the Holy Spirit; it is impossible to call upon the Father except in the Spirit of adoption.’ (7)  Saint Paul tells us that ‘As many of you who were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal 3:27) while Saint Peter notes ‘God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 10:38) It is through the invocation of the Spirit’s name alone that, not only baptism, but the Christian Church and life is complete, restored and fulfilled. So, rather than a simple gift of God, or even manifestation of God, the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit is the Lord and Illuminator Himself, the Third Person of the Godhead,  for ‘there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:4-6) (8) present everywhere, as God is of one essence (ουσία) though consisting of these three hypostasis. According to Stephen Hildebrand, the successful synthesis and understanding created by Basil was down to his Greek and Christian thought linked together. It was through his writings (between 360-378) that Christianity noticed a significant development regarding Trinitarian language and expression. (9)

Through summarising the chosen letter to Amphilochius, discussing the terminology of ousia and hypostasis, how the writer synthesises the unity of the Godhead as well as His three hypostases as different Persons, this short essay has highlighted the importance of Basil’s Trinitarian theology.

 1) Stephen Hildebrand, The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea: A Synthesis of Greek Thought and Biblical Truth (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2007) 27-28.
2) Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1990) 112.
3) Holy Spirit, within the OCA’s online series: ‘Doctrine and Scripture,’ The Symbol of Faith: Volume 1. Accessed from
4)  St Basil the Great (Translated by David Anderson) On the Holy Spirit (New York: SVS, 1980) 43.
5) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 45.
6) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 45.
7) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 48.
8) St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 60-61.
9) Stephen Hildebrand, The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea30-33.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

St Athanasius and the First Ecumenical Council

Saint Athanasius spent the early part of his ecclesiastical work as Alexander’s (Bishop of Alexandria) secretary, and in 325 became his Archdeacon. His writings proved to lead the way against the Arian controversy, and assisted Alexander, to a great extent, when attending the Nicene Council. His defence of the Nicene Council, our chosen text, would have been written between 346 and 356. Acacius (Arian) was Bishop of Caesarea by this point, and Eusebius of Nicomedia is not referred to as though still alive, having died in 342. Not only is it an attack on the Arian heresy, but also a criticism of their conduct during the Council; ‘caught whispering..and winking with their eyes.’

 A question one might ask regarding the work, career and theology of Athanasius, is to what extent he was motivated politically? The German scholar Eduard Schwartz for example, argues his motivations were purely political, and that his theological opinions surrounding the Council were simply pretexts to cover his desire for power. It could certainly be argued that Athanasius sought power, in the sense that he suppressed opposition within his diocese and was suspicious of the Emperor Constantius who challenged his imperial authority. However, the flaw in Schwartz’ argument, is the lack of realisation of how important theology was throughout this period, for the Early Church. These are undoubtedly spiritual matters affecting the life of the Church, with the central source for Athanasius’ decree on the Council of Nicaea being the Holy Scriptures. The reason for the Church exerting its power and authority is in order to preserve the Orthodox, Scriptural, Apostolic Faith, discerned and preached by the Council and its Bishops. It is also perhaps easy for us to misconceive the way in which the Christian faith and doctrine was linked to the Empire, and to the political situation under Constantine.

Athanasius, within his ‘Decree of the Council of Nicaea,’ rebukes the Arian notion of Christ being ‘a creature,’ or ‘belonging to us’ men, but is rather, according to him,‘other than’ all God-created things; thus defending the Orthodox position of the Council. His decree, written in 350/351AD, defends Nicene terminology, as it was accused of being non-Scriptural.    Separated from all other created beings, the incarnate Word is ‘Lord and Fashioner of all.’ For this reason, according to Athanasius, the Council declares Christ to be ‘of the substance of the Father,’ as He is ‘other than generated beings,’ ‘unalterable,’ ‘always existing,’ and eternally the same God.

Unlike the human relationship between Father and Son, Athanasius describes the relationship between these two persons of the consubstantial Trinity as inseparable, in the sense that they are of one substance, for ‘the Word is always in the Father and the Father in the Word.’ Interestingly, he explains this relationship further with the example of radiance in relation to light. The light (Father) as the source of the radiance (Son) shares the same substance, however simultaneously begets, and acts through (1 Cor 8:6) this radiance in every action, when sharing the light upon the world. 

St Athanasius’ writings during this period would certainly have been influenced by Origen’s, who’s writings had already stated the importance of Christ’s eternal nature. However, for Origen, because the works done by the Son are those of the Father, he assumed there was ‘absolutely no dissimilarity between the Father and the Son,’ while the Father, or first person, is the only one who is God in the fullest sense, whereas the Son is his δύναμις, power. Athanasius would instead describe the Son as the Father’s image, and the Father as the Source Who begets His Only-Begotten Word. They are of the ‘same substance,’ yet both identifiably different. (later to be clarified as two different persons) Nonetheless, Origen had previously noted that it was impossible for there to be a time when Christ, the Word and Wisdom of God, was not, and this view is approved of by Athanasius and taken further. As Athanasius later notes, Arianism undermines the Christian doctrine of God by presupposing that the Son (and the Holy Spirit ) is not eternal, which virtually reintroduces polytheism. The eternity of the Word and Son of God is essential for our understanding of salvation in Christ, for only ‘if the Mediator was Himself divine could man hope to re-establish fellowship with God.’ 

To conclude, Athanasius’ Decree of Nicaea affirms Christ as γεννηθέντα ού ποιηθέντα (Begotten not Made), as ομοούσιον του Πατρός (of the same being, or essence as the Father) and as true God. This short piece has discussed the relevant doctrine, Athanasius’ contribution at the time of, and following the Council, and ways in which he had been influenced by, and worked upon, Origen’s theology. 

Apart from the Primary Source (St Athanasius' Decree of Nicaea) the following sources were used:

Behr, J 2001, The Way to Nicaea, SVS, New York.
Hanson, R.P 2005, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, T&T, Edinburgh.
Jurgens, W.A 1970, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Liturgical Press, Minnesota.
Kelly, J. N. D 1968, Early Christian Doctrines, A&C, London.
Newman 1957, St Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.

Online Articles:

 - Perry M 2003, Athanasius and his Influence at the Council of Nicaea, accessed from
 - Origen, within the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, accessed from

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Are they humble?

It was recently suggested to me that, simply by witnessing ones characteristics and manners, it can be understood whether or not one is humble. Although humility can undoubtedly be transforming on an outward level, and can be experienced or witnessed through external deeds, is it really as closely related to our characteristics and mannerisms as we often assume?

From the Old Testament, through to the Gospels and St Paul’s Epistles, we realise humility is a fundamental virtue. As a key element and example of Christ’s life, Christians are called to imitate His humility; seen in all its fullness on the Cross, as our Lord and God sacrifices Himself ‘for the life of the world,’ (John 6:51) emptying Himself, ‘taking the form of a servant.’ (Phil 2:7) 

Our Lord however, as the archetype of humility, seems to contradict some of our common misconceptions of humility; overturning ‘the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons’ saying ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer..’ (Matt 21:12-13) This would seem harsh, abrupt, emphatic, or rude, and therefore contrary to most common descriptions of humility. 

St John of Kronstadt describes humility as distancing ourselves from pride, which is often manifested in the judging of others, and our impatience or irritability when others oppose or annoy us. For St John, humility is purely based on our relationship with God, flowing through to our relationships with others, in our efforts to be patient, understanding, and fundamentally to love. Christ teaches us to serve, (Matt 20:25–28) to offer ourselves to the other, doing ‘nothing from selfishness or conceit.’ (Phil 2:3) Our Lord is the very definition of humbleness, not because of personal characteristics, but because He associates Himself with the lowest, cares about the least, becoming a true servant to all. 

Particularly within Church circles, we are quick to judge whether a priest, sister or brother is loud, quiet,  ‘show-offy,’ harsh, strict, too lenient, too soft, not passionate enough about the faith, crazy, lazy, too ‘rough’ or ‘theatrical.’ Often we associate humility with quietness, tenderness, or perhaps even lack of emotion, or energy. However, our Scriptures and teachings of the Saints do not speak of such humility based on characteristics or individual mannerisms at all, but rather something deeper, within the heart of man. As Christians, we are not called to act in the same way, converse with the same manner, speak with the same accent, or have the same personal characteristics. The Church unites us, and by doing so brings out all our individual personalities in their fullness, with this diversity of persons being a wonderful gift to Christ’s body, His Church. 

Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans is abundantly clear on this matter; ‘Though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another, we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..’ (Rom 12:5-8)

Similarly, Saint Augustine, realising our various ways of humbly reaching out with love to our fellows, and knowing the importance of discretion, tells us; ‘If you keep silent, keep silent by love: if you speak, speak by love; if you correct, correct by love; if you pardon, pardon by love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow. Love and do what you will.’

For this reason, it is surely limiting, and contrary to our understanding of what humility is, when we often look for, and focus on certain outward behaviours. We are surrounded with such diverse personalities, characters, images of God, who can be equally humble, self-sacrificing, servants of God, in their own personal ways, within their own contexts and ways of expression. Both the loud, emotive, rather harsh Bishop, and the sedate, perhaps sombre monastic can equally treasure God’s wonderful, yet diverse gift and virtue of humility. May we also, through the sacramental life of His Church, and through our own prayerful struggle acquire this virtue; in our own personal contexts.

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.


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