Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Melito of Sardis - on his Paschal Homily

Melito of Sardis, in his Paschal Homily (170AD) , highlights that the mystery of salvation has been revealed and clarified by Christ’s manifestation on earth. The Old Testament Scriptures were a preparation, and a model of the joy to come. The Incarnate Logos fulfilled and renewed the Jewish Scriptures, the nation of Israel and the whole world through His Resurrection. For this reason Melito tells us that the Law is somewhat useless to us now, as we have the full reality of the Gospel, and the mystery of Pasch is truly revealed in its fullness. The sacrifices of the animals, the Jewish worship in the temple, and the Law are now without value - as Christ is the sacrifice and salvation; ‘the Son without blemish.’ 

Melito then discusses the consequences of the fall - ancestral sin. ‘He left an inheritance to his children..’ Several examples are given, showing the bitter consequences of fallen humanity, and the separation between God and man:

‘ Not sexual purity, but sexual license;
not imperishability, but corruption;
not worth, but worthlessness,
not freedom, but slavery;
not kingship, but tyranny;
not salvation, but destruction.’

Humanity had been ‘taken captive by the tyranny of sin’, and this had led to a complete separation between God and man; with the evil and self-centred desires and pleasures of humanity, contrasting with the holy will of the Creator. 

‘The image of the Father was lying abandoned.’

Melito then describes the process of renewal - building the bridge between God, and His fallen humanity. It was an ongoing process, working through the Law and the Prophets, through to the Incarnation of the Logos, and Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 

‘Through the words of the prophets too the mystery of the Lord is being proclaimed.’ 

Melito quotes from Isaiah, emphasising the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures - and this process leading to the Resurrection of the Lord. In this moving paragraph, he then explains that Jesus is indeed the Christ, Who came down to us on earth in order to bring salvation and a renewed communion and relationship with ‘Our Father in Heaven’ :

‘And He wrapped Himself in that suffering one in a virgin’s womb and came forth a human being. Through a body which is able to suffer He received the sufferings of the suffering one and loosed the sufferings of the flesh. And with the Spirit which cannot die he put to death death, the killer of humankind.’ 

This sums up the mystery of Pasch beautifully; the Pasch that has been unfolding through the Old Testament, its Prophets and its law - and is finally fulfilled in Christ, the Lamb of God.

The homily is concluded with the death of Christ, with much emphasis on how the people of Israel had killed their very God, Saviour and Master. ‘’You have killed your Lord in the midst of Jerusalem.’ Furthermore, Melito ends this piece with glorification to ‘the alpha and the omega’, the One who is the true Pasch, the Resurrection and the Life. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Genesis - Its Creation Account; Purpose and Meaning

We have become so accustomed to the Bible beginning with an account of the creation,  that we assume such a beginning was inevitable and that ancient people wanted to know how the world came into being. Ancients were generally uninterested in the cosmic questions of how this world began. They did not feel the need to ask these sort of questions, as pagan gods did not style themselves as 'creators' , in the same way as the Jewish God ( pagan worship was common practice in the context of Genesis ).

Genesis was written, not to answer the question of how this great world came into being, but rather to answer 'Who is the Creator and God, sovereign over the whole world?' The main point of Genesis is to highlight that the One God is the Creator, and is sovereign over the whole universe. The well known creation story functions as a backdrop to this message. It is important to remember that this divinely inspired book of the Old Testament was written in a pagan context - and its message had to emphasise that there is One All-powerful God, Who created and continues to create and work in bringing all things, both visible and invisible, into being out of nothing.  Of course the creation account is important, however it is crucial that we are familiar with the overall purpose and meaning of Genesis in its context.

The book of Genesis does not narrate the history of mankind. If it was to do so, the text would not jump chronologically from the creation account to the calling of Abraham and God's covenant with him. In the first eleven chapters, we see Yahweh creating, judging, and saving the world. This is indeed the God of Israel (and of all nations) - continuing to bless and work through His people, and His creation, as the source of goodness and life.

Is the Science of Evolution compatible with the Church' view of Creation?
The Church, with its Holy Scriptures, affirms that God is indeed the Creator of all things, and He is continuously actively engaged with this creation, as His will is to restore us all to full communion with Him through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is not an ideology or theory - but Theology that we experience in our spiritual lives within Christ's Body ( The Church )

There is no conflict whatsoever between the Church' understanding of Creation, and Scientific knowledge and fact. Why? Science increases our knowledge and understanding of this world - which is a gift freely bestowed by the God of Love. Of course when a theory, such as darwinism, promotes the idea that this world exists and works without a Creator, the Church will emphatically disagree with such claims. A theory that intentionally illuminates the active participation of the grace and goodness of God, is understandably contradictory - however the most common understanding of evolution has nothing to do with why we exist - but how. Theology is a completely different matter - concentrating on the inner man, and his relationship with the Source of life and love ( the uncreated Creator ).  Our Lord and Creator could well have guided a process of evolution - we should leave these matters to the great field of science, that should be cherished and supported.

Does this mean that the Orthodox Church does not believe in Biblical inerrancy? 
'Genesis is divinely inspired and infallible, not because it is historically or scientifically accurate, but theologically true.' ( Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou ) God is speaking to us through the people and context of Genesis - and therefore it is not about time periods, facts and figures, but about the everlasting truth that is conveyed, in the idiom of ancient Hebrew cosmology.

St Basil, in the fourth century, wrote 'On the Six Days of Creation' - and comfortably used the scientific information and philosophical terminology of his day; highlighting that there should be no contradiction between our present scientific knowledge, and spiritual and theological truths. Perhaps more importantly, it tells us that the theological truths are eternal, and do not change along side scientific findings or changing societies.

To conclude, the only way that the Church will reject a scientific theory, is if it intentionally tries to cancel out any need for God - and illuminates the fact that He Has created, and continues to create, work through, and guide His wonderful Creation - in order for every human person to attain a full, loving, eternal communion with Christ.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Books of The Old Testament

With guidance from the 'Overview of the Books of the Bible', by the Right Reverend Basil, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America, in the 'Orthodox Study Bible'

The Old Testament consists of forty-nine books. These divinely inspired books tell the story of God's dealings with ancient Israel, and are traditionally subdivided into four sections: 1) The Five books of the Law; 2) The books of history; 3) The books of Wisdom; 4) The Books of Prophecy. Like the earliest Christian communities, the Orthodox Church continues to use the Greek version, used and quoted by Christ Himself and His apostles, known as the Septuagint ( LXX ).

The Five Books of the Law
Genesis, meaning 'beginning', recounts the beginning of God's Creation, and His relationship with man. Exodus, which means 'exit' refers to the journey of the Hebrews, out of slavery in Egypt. Leviticus is a book detailing worship, as led by the priests ordained from the tribe of Levi. We then have Numbers, who's title is derived from the book's opening account of the census, or numbering of the people of Israel. Deuteronomy gives a detailed listing of the additional laws given by God through Moses.

These first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch, describe God's creation of the world, the rebellion and fall of Adam and Eve, as well as the history of God's people from the days of Moses, through to the days of Abraham. ( Dated by scholars at around 1250BC - 2000BC )

The Books of History
The second section of the LXX Old Testament begins with the book of Joshua, the leader of the children of Israel following the death of Moses, who brings God's people into the promised land after there forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Judges relates to the traditions of the various Hebrew tribes and the exploits of their own heroes, the Judges whom the title speaks, who ruled the nation.The book of Ruth is the heroic account of a Gentile woman who placed herself under the protection of the One true God, and in this process became an ancestor of King David, and of his descendant Jesus Christ the Messiah of Israel. First and Second Kingdoms ( 1 & 2 Samuel ) whose principle characters are Samuel, the faithful Prophet, Saul the first king to rule over God's people, and David, Saul's successor. The books of Third and Fourth Kingdoms ( 1 & 2 Kings ) begins with the enthronement of David's son Solomon, and ends with the fall of the kingdom - including the destruction of its capital Jerusalem, as well as the exile of God's people from Palestine to Babylon. First and Second Chronicles ( 1 & 2 Paraleipomenon ) expand on the history recorded in the previous books. The word Paraleipomenon means 'that which is omitted.' First and Second Ezra and Nehemiah continue this chronicle of divine history, focusing on the Jewish religious community after its return to Jerusalem ( from exile ) in Babylon. The final books in this historical section, reveal the stories of people who lived heroic and Godly lives under foreign domination, during the exile. Tobit was taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Esther was the Jewish queen of Persia, who achieved the revocation of Hamam's decree that would have allowed persecution and mass murder of God's people. The Maccabees were the faithful people who began the revolt and fought the wars of independence against foreign armies occupying their land.

The Books of Wisdom
The holy and uplifting Psalms, were used as the hymnal in Ancient Israel, and are still used for this same great purpose today in the Orthodox Church. The book of Job explores the depths of a man's unshakable faith in the face of tragedy and suffering. Proverbs is a collection of moral and religious instruction, taught to young people as they returned from exile in Babylon. Ecclesiastes tells us about the preacher who seeks to understand the meaning of human existence in this life. The Song of Songs is a collection of poems, emphasising ( prophetically ) God's love for His beloved bride, His Church. The Wisdom of Solomon, as well as the Wisdom of Sirach consists of lessons to young people on ethical and religious themes. In general, these moving books of wisdom proclaim that blessedness and joy is possible only through faith in, and obedience to the One true God.

The Books of Prophecy
Hosea gives the message of God's own redeeming love for His chosen people, even when they spurn Him and turn to false idols and gods. Amos is the shepherd called by God to denounce a self-satisfied nation for its social injustice, abhorrent immortality and its shallow and meaningless piety. Micah speaks of of peace reigning over all who do justice, who love kindness and who walk with God in humility. Joel is the prophet who foretells the outpouring of the Holy and life-giving Spirit upon all flesh. Obadiah prophesies the return of the exiles from Babylon, and Jonah unwillingly accepts God's command to preach His mercy and forgiveness to a foreign nation. Nahum prophesies the defeat of the powerful Assyrian enemy, and Habakkuk deals with the personal question How long, O Lord, shall I cry out to you, and You will not hear me? ( Heb 1:2 ) Zephaniah prophesies the dark days of Judah's destruction, but promises comfort and conciliation to those who wait patiently for the Lord and serve Him. Haggai, following the return of the exiles, exhorts them to rebuild the destroyed Temple in order to unify their disrupted religious life, and more importantly, to prepare for the long awaited Messiah. Zechariah prophesies the image of the messianic Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the flock. Malachi exhorts God's people to faithfulness and asserts the fatherhood of God over all nations. Furthermore, he foretells that God will appoint a forerunner, similar to the ancient prophet Elijah ( Elias ) who will appear before the Messiah and prepare the world for the coming of the Lord. Isaiah exhorts the people of God to place their confidence in the Lord. He also tells us of a Son that will be born of a Virgin, and the suffering servant ( the Messiah ) - who would be led as an innocent sheep to the slaughter, and by whose stripes we would be healed. Jeremiah severely criticises God's people, for abandoning their faith in the one true God and turning to the false worship of idols. Baruch was appointed to be read on feast days as a  confession of sins. In Lamentations the author Jeremiah mourns the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The Epistle of Jeremiah is addressed to those who were about to be carried away into exile, in Babylon. Ezekiel, the prophet of the exiles, assures his hearers of the constant comforting presence of God amongst them, even in exile and servitude. Finally, Daniel begins with the heroic story of Susanna and ends with the account of Bel and the serpent.

These forty-nine divinely inspired Old-Testament books, serve as an introduction and a foresight to St John the Baptist's preparation of the world, for the coming of the Christ, who is Isaiah's Suffering Servant, Zechariah's Prince of Peace, and the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the flock.

Continuing this series centred around the Old Testament Scriptures, the next post will be on the purpose of Genesis, and its Creation account.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Genesis - Part 2 ( The Hospitality of Abraham )

Hospitality of Abraham
In Part 1, I discussed how the Trinity is not seen in its fullness in Genesis, and the Old Testament in general ( as God is revealed to us fully, only by the incarnation of Christ - God becoming man ). All manifestations of the deity in the Old Testament are of the Son - and the Hospitality of Abraham is a prime example of this.

God appearing to Abraham :

Then the Lord appeared to him at the oak of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door during the noon hour. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood before him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground and said 'O Lord, if I have now found grace in Your sight, do not pass by Your servant...' ( Genesis 18 )

This passage, consisting of three men appearing to Abraham, does not show a mere representation and symbolism of the Trinity, but rather shows us a clear manifestation of the very Word of God - Christ (accompanied by two angels). Abraham identifies one of the men as 'Lord', and this is not a phrase which would have been used as an address of respect. Even if it had been, surely he would have used the plural 'lords' to address the three men. So, it is a recognition that one of the men is far greater than the other two, and has ultimate authority. In verse 22, we see that two of the men depart, and 'Abraham stood yet before the Lord'. In addition, the grammar of the passage emphasises that Abraham is only addressing one of the three men.

This passage shows Abraham's personal experience with the Son of God, Who is accompanied by two angels. Christ is portrayed as the Lord, and God of all. 'The invisible Father, who was worshipped in the Old Testament times under the Name 'Yahweh' always reveals Himself in His dealings with humanity through His Logos. All Old Testament theophanies of Yahweh are in fact manifestations of the prereincarnate Son, for the Father always reveals Himself through the Son.' ( Fr Lawrence R. Farley )

'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.... Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am' ( John 8:56-58 )

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Genesis - Part 1

Trinity in Genesis
Genesis, and the Old Testament in general, emphasises that there are no other gods, but the One Creator and God 'Elohim.'  Common polytheistic phrases are intentionally avoided, and are not used - in order to clarify that there is indeed One Lord God, sovereign, Who's Kingdom ruleth over all (Psalm 103.19) 

Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One (Deuteronomy 6:4) 

It is important to note that the Hebrew word 'Elohim' ( God ) is in fact plural, and we read in Genesis 1:26 Let us make man in Our image, according to Our Likeness. Furthermore, in Genesis 3:2 Then the Lord God said, 'Behold the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.' Even though the writer of Genesis is not explicitly writing about the Triune God, St Ephraim highlights that the Holy Trinity is certainly revealed symbolically - and prophetically. The Holy Trinity is not revealed in its fullness in the Old Testament, as the true revelation of God's nature takes place through the Incarnation of the Son of God ( and therefore the Triune God is found, and experienced fully in the New Testament )

Of course 'Yahweh' , the God of Israel is the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We affirm this in the Creed: I believe in One God, the Father Almighty..  However, the Father is revealed, and known only in His Son. For this reason, we know that all revelations of the Father are through the Son - so when God appears in the Old Testament, it is indeed the Divine Logos that appears, as the revelatory image of the Father.

In Part 2 , I will discuss 'The Hospitality of Abraham' ( Genesis 18 ), where we see a great example of the manifestation of the Word of God, as well as a foreshadowing of the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The 'Other Testament'

With guidance from Fr Lawrence R. Farley's 'The Christian Old Testament'

Admittedly, the Old Testament can be overlooked by many Christians (myself included) , and is often avoided due to its complexity and unclarity. Its meaning and overall message is far from self-evident, and at times there seems to be a rather startling contradiction with regard to God's nature, His will, and His relationship with humanity.

The Apostles emphasised the importance of the Old Testament scriptures, and they would teach their converts the correct understanding of them - on how they were fulfilled in Christ. The early Church in general, read the Old Testament to its converts, making them familiar with the Law and the Prophets. It is easy for us to think that the Church mainly concentrates on the New Testament, and has consequently left the Old Testament behind. Quite the contrary. The Old Testament, equally with the New, has been and will always remain the property of the Church, the New Israel. Christians should read the Old Testament as a revelation of Christ. As St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch said, when referring to the Old Testament,  ' my charter is Jesus Christ.' In other words, Christ is the foundation, and the basis on which we Christians understand these scriptures. He is our charter. Christians read these Holy Scriptures, and find things that before seemed contradictory, to be complementary parts of a single coherent whole. 'The Life of Jesus is the grid we place over the Old Testament texts, the key that interprets and explains everything. Without Christ, the Old Testament remains unclear, its different passages contradictory, its hopes manifestly unfulfilled.'

Just as we can do all things in Christ ( Philippians 4:13 ) , the same goes for reading difficult and overwhelming passages in the Old Testament - as He is our charter, and through Him comes understanding and fulfilment. The study of the Old Testament in the light of the authentic apostolic tradition will lead the reader to Him Who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets as He promised: Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 

This short post, will mark the beginning of a series of posts, centred around the Old Testament. I will be focusing on areas that directly speak about Christ, as well as general introductions and explanations to various other passages and books of these Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, starting from tomorrow, my second year of studies at the University of Edinburgh will begin - so new theological essays and articles are to be expected from this week onwards.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Saint Porphyrios - On Prayer

With guidance from ‘Wounded by Love' - the Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios

‘In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God.’ The Kingdom of God is within you. ( Luke 17:21 )

Saint Porphyrios emphasises that the only thing that can teach the soul how to pray, is the Holy Spirit. As long as we address ourselves to God, with humility, supplication and love, then our prayer will be pleasing to Him. He writes ‘ Let us stand devoutly before the Cross of Christ and say ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. That says everything.’ We are filled with divine grace during prayer, and so our human efforts are minimal and unnecessary. It is the Lord Himself that teaches us how to pray. Without me you can do nothing. ( John 15:5 ) 

Entering into Prayer:
Saint Porphyrios writes that we must prepare the soul for prayer, and for this reason we should create, and find ourselves the appropriate surroundings; with the light of the oil lamp, the fragrance of the incense, the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the singing of the psalms. He tells us that all of this atmosphere is appropriate for prayer, in that it causes us to pray naturally and out of simplicity of heart. 

Prayer as Love of God:
Rather than praying out of necessity, prayer should take place out of our love and thanksgiving towards God. Saint Porphyrios says that it is out of divine grace, that we are taught this obligation to pray - out of our craving and love for Christ. The Lord will ‘stoop over our soul’ when He finds that we have a good intention, true humility and love for Him. Without these things, prayer is impossible he says. 

Prayers not heard:
‘The slightest murmuring against your neighbour affects your soul and you are unable to pray.’ The holy elder tells us that our prayers are not heard because we are unworthy - and we are unworthy because we do not love our neighbour as our self. He even says that we are simply unable to pray, if we have not gone to be reconciled with our brother and received forgiveness. Therefore it is important to go first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift. ( Matthew 5:23-4 ) We may ask ourselves, who are worthy then of approaching Christ in prayer? Saint Porphyrios writes that those who desire and crave to belong to Christ become worthy. This takes the abandoning of our own self-centred will, and our submission to the will of God. We are able to give in to our own will, and submit ourselves to God’s, through love for Christ and by keeping His holy commandments. Of course this takes effort - but the fruit of this effort is sanctity, and unbreakable communion with God.

‘We shouldn't blackmail God with our prayers.’

Do we pray for the right things ? Saint Porphyrios tells us that we should not always ask God to release us from something - but rather we should ask God for strength and support, in order to bear a particular cross. When the Lord does not give us something that we desire,’ He has His reasons.’ God knows everything about our lives - and for this reason we should trust Him, and give our lives into His hands. He will always desire what is good for us, so by giving in to our own will, we are really doing what is best for our selfs. Before we ask for what we want in this life, we must seek first the Kingdom of God ( Matthew 6:33 & Luke 12:31 ) ‘The secret is to ask for your union with Christ with utter selflessness , without saying give me this, or give me that.’ God knows very well what our various needs are. It is in our best interest, as well as when we pray for others, to seek the will of God. 

We need simplicity of heart, as it is humility and absolute trust in God. The holy elder highlights that it is only through divine grace that we acquire this simplicity and artlessness. 

To conclude, Saint Porphyrios speaks of prayer as a complete submission to the will of God, taking place only through divine grace. Approaching our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, takes true humility, selflessness and love. We are told to pray with open arms, asking for Christ’s great mercy, and the strength to carry on in the spiritual struggle. ‘A prayerful life leads to a flood of divine love, filling the soul with joy and exultation.’

Sunday, 7 September 2014

St Simeon the New Theologian - On Faith

St Simeon describes faith as readiness to die for Christ's sake, in the conviction that this death brings life. It is to regard poverty as richness, insignificance as true fame and glory, and to have nothing in order to make sure that we possess all things. Above all, he says, faith is 'attainment of the invisible treasure of the knowledge of Christ.'

St Simeon highlights that faith in Christ is not merely a neglect of the pleasures of life, but also about remaining patient 'until God's favour looks down upon us.'

'I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard me cry' ( Psalm 40:1 )

So we are asked to imitate David - in placing all our hope in the Lord, and awaiting His great help and mercy. ' I bore my sorrows in hope that the Lord would help me; therefore the Lord, seeing me await His help without wavering, looked down upon me and showed me His mercy.'

Furthermore, he warns us that those who prefer the will of their friends and family, rather than the commandments of God, have no faith in Christ. Faith in the true God and saviour gives birth to healthy fear - the fear of God which will lead to a strict observance of the commandments. This observance teaches and helps us realise our weaknesses, leading to repentance.

To conclude, St Simeon the New Theologian emphasises how faith in Christ means giving our whole lives to Him - and not to this world and its people. This means being patient, and following His holy commandments - humbly, realising our weaknesses and unworthiness before Him.