Month: February 2010

How your money is being spent in Haiti

From OBL on how the money sent to the Orthodox Churches in Haiti is being used, and a reminder that they still need our help:

New York, NY – The Fund for Assistance to ROCOR continues disbursing aid to our mission in Haiti one month after a series of earthquakes devastated the island nation. To date, FFA has collected over $90,000 and disbursed $30,000.

The earthquakes destroyed the local infrastructure, making it practically impossible to disburse collected aid in the wake of the disaster. The first sums of money which provided medical supplies and financial aid to the mission were sent through the deacon of St. John Chrysostom church in House Springs, MO, Fr. Matthew Williams, who travelled to Haiti to support the faithful after the quake. While there, Fr. Matthew and an associate provided medical assistance, as well as moral and spiritual support to the parishioners, and arranged access to food and water and other supplies for the mission.

Another $10,000 was distributed to the mission through IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities humanitarian aid group) who provided food and hygiene items to the faithful in six local ROCOR parishes.
Further assistance is now being sent directly to the mission.

As the country and the ROCOR mission struggle for a return to normalcy, the Fund for Assistance is working closely with the mission priests, Fr. Gregoire Legoute and Fr. Jean Chenier-Dumais, as well as the mission’s administrator Fr. Daniel McKenzie of Miami, FL to develop a plan of action so as to better address the short and long-term needs of the mission.

Among the mission’s most pressing needs are shelter, food, water and a vehicle for each priest, so they can deliver supplies and visit their parishioners. All of these things, according to Fr. Gregoire, are best acquired locally, as any imported supplies cost the mission extra money in freight and other charges.

Having lost nearly everything in the quake – houses, possessions, family – our brothers and sisters are restarting their lives from scratch. Church buildings have been damaged and are not usable. Homes have to be rebuilt.

Those who wish to assist the ROCOR mission in Haiti are encouraged to make a donation on the Website

The mission’s future existence depends on our support.

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The futility of apologetics

Since finishing my debate with Rhology, and even for some time before the closing, this thought has been on my mind. I’m not completely unrealistic; by no means did I expect fireworks and a confession of Orthodox Faith out of anyone, especially not Rhology himself. But something about the entire endeavor makes it seem to me that it was all a waste of time. Everybody who was for Sola Scriptura when the debate began walked away still for it and everyone who was against at the beginning walked away against. I’ve tried to console myself with some vague thought about some “lurkers” who were persuaded by my less than stellar arguments, but I think we all know that isn’t true. No one was convinced who wasn’t leaning that way to begin with.

Things pretty much go the same way over at YouTube with my videos, which aren’t intended to be excursions into apologetics but always somehow end up that way. I’ve had several rather lengthy exchanges with people of various backgrounds, including Calvinists, Muslims, atheists, and, believe it or not, even a self-proclaimed Ebionite, and they all seem to go the same direction. In the end, we either both walk away shaking our heads and wagging our tongues about how stupid and misled the other is or, occasionally, we part amicably with a “you haven’t changed my view at all, but now at least I understand the other side a little better.” I’ve had quite a few people who watch my videos send me messages or post comments along the lines of “I think the Orthodox Church is the greatest thing next to sliced bread — it’s got the Apostolic Faith, beautiful worship, and an amazing history — but I’ll never convert because…”

Like I said, I didn’t get into apologetics expecting masses of people to come from all around with a burning desire for immediate entry into the Church, but I can’t help but feel a little frustrated. I’m not sure what I expected, to tell the honest truth. I first started delving into apologetics back about this time last year, while I was still in Iraq.

What first motivated me to start doing it was watching Zeitgeist, The Movie (for those who don’t know, part one of the movie attempts to prove that Christ was a pagan/gnostic deity and that Nicene orthodoxy was a political move by the Roman Empire). As I sat and watched this movie for the first time I kept thinking over and over how much I’d like to get the truth out there — that if only people knew the facts they wouldn’t buy into such horsehockey. Well, I was wrong, as it turns out. Since then I’ve had my share of run-ins with Zeitgeist supporters and I have yet to see one persuaded to abandon his support no matter how much historical documentation and logical argumentation is used to undermine and disprove Zeitgeist‘s claims. Perhaps I’ve been sowing the seeds of doubt in their heads? Sure — why not … ? I doubt it, though.

I think that even the Fathers hit the point, in their dealings with the Marcionites and Gnostics, of concluding that apologetics is ultimately futile in persuading anyone but those who already want to be persuaded. This always seemed to me to be the point of Tertullian’s Prescription Against the Heretics. The prescription he offers is to say to the heretics, essentially, “here’s the Church — it was founded by the Apostles and it preserves their Faith: take it or leave it.” Perhaps this is also what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to St. Titus (3:10) to “admonish a divisive man once or twice, then have nothing more to do with him.”

I think that this point is often overlooked in commentaries and essays I’ve read on the interactions of the early Lutherans with Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. They sent to him a highly-edited Greek version of the Augsburg Confession. He then responded with a letter, in some parts lifted word-for-word from the Fathers and earlier Orthodox writers, which expounded the Orthodox Faith, following the same order as the Augsburg Confession, but never really interacting with it. They wrote back to him defending their position and he wrote again, doing basically the same thing as the first time. His response to their response essentially followed the same order as their response but expounds on the same topics from the viewpoint of the Apostolic Faith. They wrote again, trying to convince the Patriarch to accept their new theology. The Patriarch responded one last time, this time telling them to write no further unless it were in a spirit of friendship and on matters other than religion. I think he also understood the ultimate futility of apologetics. He had responded to them twice, thoroughly expositing the Orthodox Faith from both the Fathers and the Scriptures, refuting, while all throughout being careful to speak in a spirit of friendship, the ideas of the Lutherans. They twice refused to accept the Orthodox Faith. They were twice admonished and, finally, the Patriarch had to have nothing more to do with them, on that topic at least.

So, if apologetics is ultimately futile, what is the point? I don’t know. Maybe someone here can provide me with the answer to that. Is it really useless to debate with heterodox and others or to try to correct their errors?

I think that, perhaps, the best course of action is to let the interested come to you. For that reason, I will continue to provide information, to the best of my abilities, on the Orthodox Faith, including both what we believe and why we believe it as well as what we don’t believe and why we don’t believe it, praying that someone like myself five years ago will come across the information that he needs to convince him to finally come home. But I think my days of debating and arguing are over.

Just a thought…


The text, translated into English, of the Arabic inscriptions on the interior of the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim structure which stands on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (built, by the way, on top of a destroyed Christian church):

On the inner octagonal arcade:

    1. S In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has
    2. no associate. Unto Him belongeth sovereignity and unto Him belongeth praise. He quickeneth and He giveth death; and He has
    3. Power over all things. Muhammad is the servant of God and His Messenger.
    4. SE Lo! God and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet.
    5. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation. The blessing of God be on him and peace be
    6. on him, and may God have mercy. O People of the Book! Do not exaggerate in your religion
    7. E nor utter aught concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of
    8. Mary, was only a Messenger of God, and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit
    9. from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and say not ‘Three’ – Cease! (it is)
    10. NE better for you! – God is only One God. Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is
    11. in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And God is
    12. sufficient as Defender. The Messiah will never scorn to be a
    13. N servant unto God, nor will the favoured angels. Whoso scorneth
    14. His service and is proud, all such will He assemble unto Him.
    15. Oh God, bless Your Messenger and Your servant Jesus
    16. NW son of Mary. Peace be on him the day he was born, and the day he dies,
    17. and the day he shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary, (this is) a statement of
    18. the truth concerning which they doubt. It befitteth not (the Majesty of) God that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him!
    19. W When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.
    20. Lo! God is my Lord and your Lord. So serve Him. That is the right path. God (Himself) is witness that there is no God
    21. save Him. And the angels and the men of learning (too are witness). Maintaining His creation in justice, there is no God save Him,
    22. SW the Almighty, the Wise. Lo! religion with God (is) Islam. Those who (formerly) received the Book
    23. differed only after knowledge came unto them, through transgression among themselves. Whoso
    24. disbelieveth the revelations of God (will find that) lo! God is swift at reckoning!

On the outer octagonal arcade:

    1. S In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has no
    2. associate. Say: He is God, the One! God, the eternally Besought of all! He begetteth not nor was begotten. And there
    3. is none comparable unto Him. Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be on him.
    4. SW In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God.
    5. He is One. He has no associate. Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
    6. Lo! God and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet.
    7. W O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a
    8. worthy salutation. In the name of God, the Merciful
    9. the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. Praise be to
    10. NW God, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath
    11. no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend
    12. through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence. Muhammad is the Messenger of
    13. N God, the blessing of God be on him and the angels and His prophets, and peace be
    14. on him, and may God have mercy. In the name of God, the Merciful
    15. the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One. He has no associate.
    16. NE Unto Him belongeth sovereignty and unto Him belongeth praise. He quickeneth. And He giveth death; and He has
    17. Power over all things. Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be
    18. on him. May He accept his intercession on the Day of Judgment on behalf of his people.
    19. E In the name of God, the Merciful the Compassionate. There is no god but God. He is One.
    20. He has no associate. Muhammad is the Messenger of God, the blessing of God be
    21. on him. The dome was built by servant of God ‘Abd
    22. SE [Allah the Imam al-Ma’mun, Commander] of the Faithful, in the year two and seventy. May God accept from him and be content
    23. with him. Amen, Lord of the worlds, praise be to God.

Hm…

“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.” – 1 John 2:22

“‘Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (whoever reads, let him understand), ‘then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.'” – Matthew 24:15-16

Just a thought…

Martin Luther on the Orthodox

“A common opposition to what they regarded as papal pretensions led the Protestant Reformers to make use of Eastern Christianity for propaganda and polemics. At the Leipzig debate in 1519, Martin Luther, pressed to defend his view that the authority of the pope was not normative for Christian doctrine and life, cited the example of ‘the Greek Christians during the past thousand years … who had not been under the authority of the Roman Pontiff.’ The following year he declared that ‘Muscovites, White Russians, Greeks, Bohemians, and many other great lands in the world … believe as we do, baptize as we do, preach as we do, live as we do.'” – Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700)

Expiation, Blood, and Atonement


[Came across this the other day and thought it might help in answering some of the questions that have been raised in recent discussions in the comboxes here.]

(h/t: John Sinadopoulos at Mystagogy)

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Among the biblical concepts supporting St. Paul’s theology of atonement, one of the most important, surely, is that of expiation. What does the Apostle mean when he writes,

“God set forth [Jesus Christ] as the expiatory in His blood” (Romans 3:25)?

Although this is the only time St. Paul uses the noun hilasterion, I believe that the full context of his epistles, along with the Old Testament substratum on which they depend, provides the correct and adequate meaning of that term.

If I seem to belabor an obvious point–that we should go to the Bible for enlightenment on the subject of expiation – let me say that I do so from a sense that some readers of Holy Scripture in recent centuries either have not done so, or have done so inconsistently. They have borrowed misleading ideas from elsewhere.

In classical and Hellenistic Greek, the verb “to propitiate” (hilaskomai), when used with a personal object, normally signified the placating of some irate god or hero. It is a curious fact that since the rediscovery of ancient Greek literature in the West, beginning from the Renaissance, there has grown a strong tendency to impose this pagan meaning of “expiation” on the teaching of the Bible.

Understood in this way, Paul is presumed to teach that Jesus, in His self-sacrifice on the Cross, placated God’s wrath against sinful humanity. That is to say, the purpose of the shedding of Christ’s blood was to propitiate, to assuage an angry Father.

Let me say that this interpretation of the Apostle Paul is very erroneous and should be rejected for three reasons.

First, this picture is difficult to reconcile with Paul’s conviction that God Himself is the One who made the sacrifice. How easily we forget that the Cross did cost God something. He is the One that gave up His only-begotten Son out of love for us. It was Jesus’ Father

“who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).

Sacrificial victims are expensive, and in this sacrifice the Father Himself bore the price. He gave up, unto death, that which was dearest and most precious to Him. In the death of Jesus, everything about God is love, more love, infinite love. There is not the faintest trace of divine anger in the death of Christ.

Second, in those places where Holy Scripture does speak of propitiating the anger of God, this propitiation is never linked to blood sacrifice. When biblical men are said to soften the divine wrath, it is done with prayer, as in the case of Moses on Mount Sinai, or by the offering of incense, which symbolizes prayer. Because blood sacrifice and the wrath of God are two things the Bible never joins together, I submit that authentic Christian theology should also endeavor to keep them apart.

Moreover, when the Apostle Paul does write of God’s anger, it is never in terms of appeasement but of deliverance. At the final judgment, when that divine anger, far from being placated, will consume the realm and servants of sin, Christ will deliver us from it, recognizing us as His faithful servants (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9). There will be not the slightest hint of appeasement at that point.

Third, the word hilasterion, which I have translated as the substantive “expiatory,” seems to have in Paul’s mind a more technical significance. In Hebrews 9:5, the only other place where the word appears in the New Testament, hilasterion designates the top, the cover, of the Ark of the Covenant, where the Almighty is said to throne between and above the Cherubim. In this context, the term is often translated as “mercy seat,” and it seems reasonable to think that this is the image that Paul too has in mind.

On Yom Kippur, the annual Atonement Day, the high priest sprinkled sacrificial blood on that hilasterion,

“because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions of all their sins” (Leviticus 16:16).

Therefore, by saying that God “set forth” (proetheto) Jesus as the expiatory, or “instrument of expiation,” for our sins, Paul asserts that the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the Cross fulfilled the prophetic meaning and promise of that ancient liturgical institution of Israel, reconciling mankind by the removal of the uncleanness,

“their transgressions of all their sins.”

The Cross was the supreme altar, and Good Friday was preeminently the Day of the Atonement. The removal of sins was not accomplished by a juridical act, but a liturgical act performed in great love:

“Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

Loving both the Father and ourselves, Jesus brought the Father and ourselves together by what He accomplished in His own body, reconciling us through the blood of His Cross.

In the Bible,

“the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11).

The victim slain in sacrifice was not the vicarious recipient of a punishment, but the symbol of the loving dedication of the life of the person making the sacrifice.

This sacrificial dedication of life is the means by which the sinner is made “at one” with God.

Such is the biblical meaning of expiation and the proper context in which to interpret Paul’s teaching on the sacrifice of Christ.

Senior Editor of Touchstone Magazine, and archpriest of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL, Fr. Patrick is, perhaps, the most erudite writer in the Orthodox Church in North America today. This article, one of his Pastoral Ponderings, was published by Orthodoxtoday.org.

The not-yet-Orthodox


For me, a more than timely reminder from Fr. Seraphim Rose.

The ancient Fathers had five categories for the non-Orthodox: schismatics (that is, those who have broken from the Church — they are not always heretical, but certainly never Orthodox as one must be a member of the Church to have that title), heretics (those who were formerly Orthodox but chose another belief than that of the Church), heterodox (those who were never Orthodox themselves, but have chosen another belief than that of the Church), Jews (those who still live as if they were under the Old Covenant), and pagans (non-Christians, non-Jews). Perhaps in this day and place (I speak here of modern America, but many other places around the world today equally qualify) when “Christianity” is there, but not the Church, and so there is no “choice” being made per se we may need to add another category: the not-yet-Orthodox. And, as Orthodox Christians, we need to be conscious of the fact that most of the people we encounter on a daily basis have probably never heard of the Orthodox Church and so our actions and attitudes represent the Church to them. I remember hearing a Protestant song not long ago, the chorus of which was “we may be the only Jesus they ever see” — a heavy burden we bear, and one we have to keep in mind at all times.

About those Christians who are outside the Orthodox Church, therefore, I would say: they do not yet have the full truth—perhaps it just hasn’t been revealed to them yet, or perhaps it is our fault for not living and teaching the Orthodox Faith in a way they can understand. With such people we cannot be one in the Faith, but there is no reason why we should regard them as totally estranged or as equal to pagans (although we should not be hostile to pagans either—they also haven’t yet seen the truth!). It is true that many of the non-Orthodox hymns contain a teaching or at least an emphasis that is wrong—especially the idea that when one is “saved” he does not need to do anything more because Christ has done it all. This idea prevents people from seeing the truth of Orthodoxy which emphasizes the idea of struggling for one’s salvation even after Christ has given it to us, as St. Paul says: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Phil. 2:12]…

…The word “heretic” is indeed used too frequently nowadays. It has a definite meaning and function, to distinguish new teachings from the Orthodox teaching; but few of the non-Orthodox Christians today are consciously “heretics,” and it really does no good to call them that.

In the end, I think, Fr. Dimitry Dudko’s attitude is the correct one: We should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, and recognize that we have at least our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families.

– Blessed Father Seraphim Rose, Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works.

(h/t: Leah at Christ is in our midst!)