Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

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.


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 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Death Penalty - A Denial of Repentance

Every human person has the right to life and repentance, regardless of their state or sinfulness. From murderers to perverts; adulterers to prostitutes; thieves to egotists, all are in need of forgiveness as 'all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.' (Rom 3:23) Christ (as seen in the Gospel accounts) accepts and heals sinners who are seen as the lowest, most immoral, members of society.

Certainly, in order to protect the general population, dangerous criminals are understandably imprisoned, however our Saviour Jesus Christ grants us all life in order to continuously repent, regardless of how many times we have fallen. Of course this repentance can take place within the prison. The death penalty on the other hand, is a denial of this repentance and forgiveness offered by God to man. The teachers of the law, and the pharisees had sentenced a woman, who had committed adultery, to be stoned. 'Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,' (John 8:7) Christ says. The Lord does not condemn the sinful woman, but rather gives her the opportunity to change - to repent. He simply tells her to 'go, and do not sin again.' (John 8:11) 

Through repentance and confession, Christ truly forgives us - offering every individual the opportunity to step away from the old, corrupt self, 'and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.' (Eph 4:23) 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Happy New Year!

A Happy and Blessed New Year to All!

The Church brings us into the New Year with the commemoration of Saint Basil the Great. He was born in 330, in Caesarea of Cappadocia. After completing his initial education there, he was transferred to school in Constantinople, then to Athens where he studied several subjects, including philosophy and the sciences. Returning to his homeland, he decided to live ascetically, was baptised by Dianios, the local Bishop, then tonsured a Reader. The holy man wished to acquire a greater knowledge of God, so decided to travel to Egypt, Palestine and Syria in order to experience and meet the ascetic fathers located there; with the desire to learn from them. 

Saint Basil, on returning back to Cappadocia, gathering other monastics, settled down near his mother and sister, distributing his wealth to people in need. He invited Saint Gregory the Theologian to join him (having studied with him in Athens) and they both lived and struggled together, practicing abstinence and dedicating themselves to Biblical study and fruitful work. In 362 Basil was ordained to the diaconate, and in 364 to the holy priesthood by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. Saint Gregory, referring to his friend's service to Bishop Eusebius and the local Church, describes Basil as 'a good advisor, a righteous representative, and expounder of the Word of God, a staff for the aged, a faithful support...' 

Eusebius passed away in 370, and blessed Basil was chosen to succeed him. After his consecration as Bishop in June of the same year, he stressed the importance of his clergy following Christ's example of offering all services; wealth, strength, efforts, and gifts to our poor and disadvantaged neighbours. Basil ensured the Church (as well as he himself) remained humble and poor, in order to offer wealth and housing for those homeless, impoverished and suffering people of society. His continuously relevant writings on Social Justice, emphasise the fact we are called by Christ, through the teachings of the Holy Gospel, to sell our possessions, distribute our wealth to those in need, striving to create a society based on giving and offering to our fellow man. This is of course grounded on the conviction that all human beings are equal, and are able to help one another, with God's help and boundless love.

Christ's Church then invites us, on the second day of the New Year, to commemorate the Saint and Wonderworker, Seraphim of Sarov. Saint Seraphim, through his ascetic and prayerful example, emphasises that the Christian's aim should be the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. He writes that 'only good deeds done for Christ's sake bring us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.' Therefore, through faith in Jesus Christ, Who was born into this world to save us, and Who, through acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God, we are offered the way to eternal salvation. Prayer, for Saint Seraphim, is the 'instrument for acquiring the Grace of the Holy Spirit;' not necessarily because he feels it is more powerful than other means, but simply because it is always possible for everyone. From the rich and the poor, to the noble and the humble, strong and weak, as well as the righteous and sinful. 'You may judge how great the power of prayer is, even in a sinful person, when it is offered whole-heartedly,'  Saint Seraphim writes.

We are thus encouraged, at the beginning of this New Year, in fervent prayer, to offer ourselves to our fellow suffering man, helping those in need; beginning 2016 with these humble and holy examples of both Saints Basil and Seraphim, in our struggle to share the Gospel of love and peace to those around us, leading to our acquisition of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. Amen.