Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Friday, 21 August 2015

St Irenaeus of Lyon - Carrier of the Faith

This Sunday, the 23rd of August, our Holy Church celebrates the memory of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. His writings and theology have been very influential to the Church's theology and teaching; particularly his work known as 'Against Heresies.'  As a disciple of St Polykarp of Smyrna (who was a disciple of St John the Theologian and Evangelist) he truly shared and carried forth the Apostolic teaching and faith of Christ's Church.

'By sharing the ways of the Apostles, you became a successor to their throne. Through the practice of virtue, you found the way to divine contemplation, O inspired one of God; by teaching the word of truth without error, you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood. Hieromartyr Irenaeus, entreat Christ God to save our souls.' - Troparion

St Irenaeus, writing in opposition to the Gnostic movement, highlighted the unity of God. Furthermore he began describing the Holy, consubstantial and undivided Trinity (later explained more fully and precisely by the Cappadocian fathers), speaking of the Son and Holy Spirit as the 'hands of God.'

He continuously highlights the inseparability of salvation and history. God has always, and continues to, work through, and with His creation; with Jesus Christ as the highest point of salvation history.  For Irenaeus, Christ is the new Adam; as He was obedient until death on the wood of a tree, as opposed to Adam who was disobedient with regards to the fruit of a tree. The saint is also the first to draw comparisons between the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and Eve; something which of course continues to be done within the Church, in its services and writings.

'Jesus Christ the Son of God, through exceedingly great love for His creation, condescended to be born of a Virgin, having united mankind with God in His own self.' 

Through the Incarnation of God, creation becomes imaged and co-bodied to the Son of God, and Lord Jesus Christ. This is essential for the Hieromartyr Irenaeus; as through the Incarnation, and by Christ going through every stage of human life, from infancy to adulthood, human life is truly sanctified. For him, our salvation derives from Christ's incarnation. Irenaeus characterises the penalty of sin as death and corruption, and so by God becoming man and uniting with human nature we are given the gift of immortality. Like air, covering, surrounding and protecting the human race in order for us to survive, God becomes man in order for us to live eternally with Him. Of course it is for us to breathe in the air; as it is the case with accepting and living for Christ! When refuting the heresy of Valentinus, he writes this beautiful description of the Orthodox understanding of Salvation;

'The Word of God, Jesus Christ, through His inexplicable blessedness caused it to be, that we also, should be made that which He is.'


Saint Irenaeus also preached, lived, and was witness to, the truth of Apostolic Succession and Orthodoxy. He has clearly been a carrier and preserver of the Faith and Tradition of the Church, and his writings will remain important, and influential throughout every age:

'The preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the Disciples - as I have proved - through those in the beginning, the middle, and the end, and through the entire dispensation of God, and that well-founded system which tends to man's salvation, namely our faith; which having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also.... For in the Church, it is said, God hath set Apostles, Prophets, Teachers and all the other means through which the Spirit works..For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth.'
- Irenaeus III.38.1

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Family

Family means a lot to most of us - not only because we have been brought up with them, but because we rely on their presence, comfort, and compassion. We are there for one another, and share joyful and sad moments throughout our lives with them. As family members, we share responsibility of looking after one another, putting each other first. 

It is usually within our own family environments that we learn to put our own will and desires to the side, bearing in mind, and taking into consideration, the needs of our loved ones. Family life, through its struggles, joys and sorrows often leads to a beautiful realisation; that we are unable to achieve very much on our own, but as a close group we are certainly able to overcome tragedies. Without each others presence and support, life would be impossible. 

What does family mean for Christians? Does the fact that our relationship with God is at the centre of all that we do, necessarily mean we place less importance on family life?

Saint Sophia (Wisdom) and her three
daughters (Faith, Hope and Love).
Interestingly, icons are of course painted as
'windows into Heaven', reflecting God's eternal
Kingdom. Therefore, the iconographer
shows that these martyrs are still united
as a holy family beyond death. 
On the contrary, our family life must reflect our relationship with Christ, which is a relationship of communion, peace, and joy. From this divine relationship, our family relations flourish, with love, compassion, and warmth. Yes, Christ did indeed tell us that we must leave everything behind (including family) to follow Him and give our entire lives to Him. However, the more time we sacrifice for Him and His Church, the more we are able to offer to our families; our unceasing prayer, and support. Saint Paul, in his first epistle to Timothy, writes:

 'If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever!' (1 Tim 5:8)  

Therefore, there is a connection between our faith, and family life. I would argue the more we love God, the more we are able to love, care for, and support our families. Christ enriches, flourishes and blesses family life. Our Saviour's Holy Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary, along with Her parents Joachim and Anna, and other Saints and righteous servants of God, give us the greatest examples of family life. The connection and relationship between the Theotokos and Her Son is marvelling. As the Lord's Mother, raising Him, and allowing Him to grow and offer Himself to the entire world, she undoubtedly went through all the emotions that the ministry of motherhood bears; anxiety, sorrow, and of course joy and love. 'I have been looking for you anxiously.' (Luke 2:48) At the same time, the Mother of God is sinless through grace, so this shows us that the anxious, sorrowful, difficult times of family life are not the result of sin; but are natural stages of life.

14th century mosaic of the Virgin Mary's parents in Constantinople,
Joachim and Anna, showing the holiness of their
familial love.
Although there is not much written on the subject of Christ's upbringing within the Gospels, 'we should not forget that it happened,' as Fr Alfred McBride, a Roman Catholic priest and lecturer writes. The Theotokos is truly the Mother of God; but also a human mother of a Son Who had an upbringing. Perhaps it is for a good reason that we do not know how she raised Christ. It is a mystery. The mystery of the incarnation, as well as the mystery of motherhood and family. 

Often we do not necessarily know how to love our family members; we simply do. It is something that comes naturally, and perhaps this is because family is a God-given gift. A mystery which surely leads to a stronger, authentic relationship with Christ. In what way then, does family life relate to life in Christ?

Family of Chinese Martyrs, of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
Being brought up in our own families perhaps leads us into the greater family of God; the Church. 

'For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit.' (1 Cor 12)

Through Baptism, we enter into the greater 'family of Abraham' (Acts 13:26) - the family of God. Within the Church, we experience, witness and live in communion and unity. By getting rid of individualism, and becoming one with Christ and His Church we realise that we are all in this life together, to struggle, celebrate, mourn, and worship as one. In a similar way to family life, there may be personality clashes, jealousies, scandalous behaviour or idle talk, however we unconditionally forgive one another in love; and move on, striving to humbly assist each other in living the life of the Church. 



Monday, 3 August 2015

The Mother of God as our Path to Salvation

From this week, until the 14th of August, each day is dedicated to the Theotokos and ‘Mother of the Light.’ (Orthros)  Our thoughts and hearts are with her, especially throughout this summer period. Why, however, does the Orthodox Church place so much significance, love, and dedication to the Mother of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ?

The Virgin Mary’s acceptance and consent, opened the path to salvation:

‘May your will be done’ (Matt 6:10)
As Christians we aim to leave behind our ego, and self-centred will, in order to live the will of God, offering our whole lives to Him. The All-Holy Theotokos is our greatest example of this, with God calling her to offer the world our very salvation, bringing Christ the Saviour into this world. The Virgin Mary said yes:
‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38)

God gives us complete freedom, in order for us to choose, on our own, the path of virtue, and sacrificial love. The Mother of our Lord (like all the saints of the Church) shows us, and guides us on this path. She gave up everything for her Son and God. The Virgin Mary, as our representative, and Mother, opens this path of salvation - not by being forced or persuaded, but solely by her own freedom. Only then, through our own free will and choice, and our thirst for Christ, are we led to salvation. We should ask the Virgin Mary for her intercessory assistance in our struggle on the same path, so we may walk on the bridge she has built, leading us to the Theanthropos Christ; that we may also give our own consent to God’s great will in our own lives.

The relationship our Holy Mother has with the Lord, is the relationship we strive to obtain with Christ - an unbreakable communion with Him, far from sin and egocentrism. We are therefore called to this relationship of unity and communion with the Almighty God, to eternal life offered by Christ - the source of life and love. Through the works, sacrifice and above all, the yes given by the Virgin Mary, we are able to see our very goal. 

The recently recognised Saint, Elder Paisios, when praying to the Mother of God, would always cut wild flowers (found outside his cell) and would place them next to her icon, as an offering. The Elder said ‘how could I go with empty hands to ask for her help.’ In the same, simple manner, let us offer the Virgin Mary our own prayers, candles, incense and this period of humble fasting, asking for her intercessions to God, the only Lover of mankind. 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bible Study & Discussion on Matthew 22:36-40

This piece was written for the SCM (Scottish Christian Movement), 31st July 2015

Opening Prayer: 
Master, Lover of mankind, make the pure light of your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, opening the eyes of our mind to understand the message of your Gospel. For you are the illumination of our souls and bodies, Christ our God, and to you we give glory, together with your Father and life-giving Spirit, Amen.


Bible Passage:
‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22:36-40, RSV)

Reflection of the Passage: The connection between these two great commandments of love, and the relationship between the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and love.

After hearing about Christ putting the sadducees to shame, the pharisees brought one of their lawyers forward ‘out of immeasurable spite’(1) in order to question and test Him, hoping to ‘accuse Him of being an innovator who corrects the law.’(2) The Lord however, ‘discloses their malice, and because they came not to learn, but rather, devoid of love, to show their envy and their spite, He revealed to them the exceedingly great love expressed by the commandments.’ (3) Christ instantly reveals to them the painful reality that the law is simply meaningless if its consequence and centre is not love. The pharisees, like many of us who obsess over rules and judge others, are rightly put in their place. Jesus explains to them that the law which they assumed they completely understood, was an utter delusion, far from the true purpose of the Law established by God and His Prophets. Rather than being an external, regimented, dry list of rules, the Lord emphasises that they are commandments centred on loving God and our neighbour. 

We are told that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our being. ‘We ought not to love God partially, but to give all of ourselves to God…one must attend to Him with all the parts and powers of one’s soul.’ (4) This true, self-sacrificial, divine love for God and neighbour, as the greatest virtue (1 Cor 13) is also found in the Gospel according to St Luke:‘Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor..and come follow me.’ (Lk 18:22) Therefore, love for God and neighbour is not simply emotion, or a gesture of good will; but rather our very own κένωσις (self-emptying and sacrifice), taking on the role of a servant, putting ourselves last and others first. St Theophylact of Ohrid, commenting on this passage, interestingly tells us that there are two great obstacles in our Christian lives; falling into both evil doctrines, and a corrupt way of life. ‘Lest we fall into unholy doctrines, we must love God; so that we do not lead a corrupt life, we must love our neighbour (Levit 19:18). For he who loves his neighbour fulfils all the commandments, and he who fulfils all the commandments, loves God.’ Therefore the two commandments are very much connected and inseparable, together leading us to spiritual growth, and communion with God and our fellow human beings. ‘Whoever says “I love God” and hates his brother is a liar,’ (1 John 4:8) writes St John the Evangelist. Our belief, faith, and love in God cannot be true if we do not simultaneously love one another. The Orthodox Church reminds us of this, shortly before the Holy Eucharist; Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess: Father Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.’ It is interesting to find this direct connection between love and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. As Christians, we believe in the one Triune God, ‘Who is Love’ (1 John 4:8), but how can these two truths about our Creator be connected? 

God is love because He is Trinity; Three Persons in one Godhead, in an eternal relationship of love. As Christians, we are called to acquire this relationship of love and unity, found in the Holy Trinity. At the last supper, Christ prays that we ‘may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.’ (John 17:21) This is a paradigm of the Trinity; different persons but one body, in eternal communion and unity. (5)  Our chosen passage is no different, in that it reminds us of our calling to unite with God and our fellows, in communion. 

To conclude, although the pharisee’s motives were clearly distorted and impure, after hearing Christ’s reply and realising He is indeed the Saviour, fulfiller of the law (Matt 5:17), and our very God, he amends his ways and experiences the Lord’s forgiveness. ‘Thou art not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.’ (Mk 12:34)  Let this therefore be a reminder that love is nothing less than the very presence of our personal, forgiving, Triune God, and that if we centre our lives, relations, struggles and tests on His everlasting love, we will be fulfilling His first and greatest commandment. 

Concluding Prayer:  
Lord Jesus Christ, Who art plenteous in mercy, most compassionate, and Who callest all men to salvation; Receive, our prayers at this hour, and guide our life toward Thy commandments. Sanctify our souls, make chaste our bodies, correct our thoughts, purify our intentions, and deliver us from every evil,  Amen.



1) St John Chrysostom, Homily 71 on Matthew.
2) St Theophylact of Ohrid, on the Gospel according to St Matthew.
3) St Theophylact of Ohrid, on the Gospel according to St Matthew.
4) St Theophylact of Ohrid, on the Gospel according to St Matthew.
5 )Father Vassilios Papavassiliou, Journey to the Kingdom, 97-99.