Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Virtue of Chastity

By Fr. Phillip Reese  - From the "The Voice of Orthodoxy"

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

The virtue of chastity, or sexual self control; the value of virginity and of waiting until marriage is virtually gone in our western world today. Christendom is teetering. To carry these values and beliefs into the reality of today’s world where the opposing message comes at us relentlessly through the various forms of media, academia, culture, politics, government, and even other churches, are like going against a great monster.

So many of our Orthodox young people have succumbed to it. Many minimize or cease their participation in Church life, some returning after marriage and the arrival of children, recognizing the Church’s teachings and influence as a positive aspect in their lives. Very many never return, their faith shipwrecked as they find little relevance for the Church in their lives molded by modern, secular thought. It is a big problem which faces not only our Orthodox Church, but churches all over America and the Western world. Children not only face it, but also adults.

The early Church began in the pagan Roman world filled with sexual license and ambiguity. The first Christians were firmly connected with their faith and with each other. They did not look to the pagan world and its institutions for support. They accepted the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and lived each day as the Church, concerned with the advancement of His Kingdom in this world. It was a minority faith that was peculiar and strange to the masses. The members faced opposition and bitter persecution from the beginning. The names and stories of so many the martyrs of that period are with us today. They are our heros and our heritage as a believing community. Their faith, along with with the ideals of chastity, sexual purity, the sanctity of marriage and self control have changed the world. It is that faith, the Orthodox Faith, that continues that heritage even today in the presence of the licentious and profligate monster (or idol!) which we all face and are challenged by.

As in the early Church, so today; being firmly connected to our faith in Jesus Christ and to each other is key. He and His Holy Church must be the center of our lives if we are to tame the influence of this monster our lives. It’s time to repent, to organize and to pray. Retreat is not an option.

May the Lord, in His mercy, bless you and inspire you! 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Veneration vs. Worship

In modern English, “worship” (like prayer) has mainly taken on the meaning of an act (invocation, prostration) offered exclusively to God. However, the original and official semantic range of this word used to be much wider, as was the case of the Greek word proskunh/w (proskuneo) which is normatively applied to God but also to human beings (Genesis 27:29; 1 Kings 1:16; Revelation 3:9).  The idea conveyed by proskuneo is that of “offering obeisance,” “making a physical demonstration of veneration and respect” or “prostrating oneself.” With this in mind, the New American Bible sometimes translates proskuneo as “to do homage,” including when applied to Jesus.  In contemporary Eastern Orthodox terminology, the equivalent of proskuneo is often “venerate.”    The Marriam-Webster dictionary offers the following definition for ‘worship:’
1 : to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2 : to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion... synonym see REVERE
page24image1256 page24image1416
As a result, some scholars have decided to translate proskuneo consistently as “worship,” but many others do not use “worship” in contexts where proskuneo is properly offered to a creature.  Indeed, there are instances when proskuneo is reserved for Go (Exodus 20:5 LXX, Acts 10:25, Rev. 22:9) and others when proskuneo can be properly offered to creatures as derivative icons of God (1 Chronicles 29:20 LXX, 1 Kings 2:13 LXX, Rev. 3:9). Hence, although ‘all honor, glory and worship are due to God,’ relative honor, glory and worship are due to parents, rulers, bishops, angels, saints, etc. 

In the development of the Eastern Orthodox dogmatic framework and at the time of the iconoclastic controversy, St. John of Damascus and the Seventh Ecumenical Council clarified the definition of proskuneo as “derivative or relative worship” or “veneration,” while acknowledging the fact that proskuneo can also mean “worship” in the highest sense. On this basis, the Council declared such acts of reverence to be proper if the intention is to ultimately honor the ‘the true God and Father’ by honoring his icons, primarily the Son who is the perfect icon, “True God of True God” and who shares the uncreated nature of the Father, but also created icons, such as rulers and saints. For clarity’s sake, the Council also declared that the highest form of worship would be associated with the unambiguous word latruo/latreia, a semantic clarification and adjustment comparable with the one that took place with the words episkopos and ousia/hypostasis.  Indeed, latreia is never used in the Scriptures in reference to anyone but God. 

The EOB Bible pg. 24-25

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bridegroom Matins

No other time of the year enables "our life in Christ" to be more palpable than Holy Week. It is during Holy Week that we are actually given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in Christ simply by showing up to the worship services of the Church.  Unlike our regular routines of one or two visits to church during the week, Holy Week bids us to move in to the nave and stay there for seven days. Simply this presence has an overwhelming effect on the human psyche and soul. 

During the first three days of Holy Week, Sunday evening through Tuesday evening, we are drawn into the passion week by way of the services called the bridegroom matins. During these three days we are made to participate in the experience of the disciples on that very week, with them we move from the preview of Christ’s victory on Palm Sunday to that time wherein Christ explained to His disciples that “He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” (Mat 16:21)  We hear the Lord say, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (Jn 12: 31) In summary, we are prepared to be crucified with Christ, in the same way as in our baptism. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Indiana and Democracy

We are surely not experiencing the first time in American history in which we find ourselves torn by competing moral values. This current test that we have before us in the new Indiana religious liberty law is just the latest of these events.  I have mused over this interesting face-off, and come to see it as just another test for the real viability democracy. The debate over Indiana’s religious liberty law forces each of us to examine such things as whether or not democracy is feasible for the long term, how much should or should not be legislated by a democratic nation, and to finally answer the question, when do personal convictions trump the basic rights of another and vice versa.  I do not pretend to be the all knowing voice or any kind of authority with an answer to this test, but perhaps raising additional questions might be part of the answer.

Q. 1. How is virtue determined and applied in a democratic society?
We owe this process to Plato who insisted that in a democracy national choice must be constrained by a set of virtues.  
“This city has been created to be the best city possible, we know this because we can be sure that it has all the virtues. So we will now look for each of the four virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.” 
The Republic; book 4, 419-34.
The idea found in the above quote was one of the major influences that led to our constitution and the bill of rights. However, our problem in present day America is that we have shifting definitions of virtue and vice. For, example what used to be a virtue (being religious) is now considered by many to be a vice, and what used to be a vice (LGBT) is now considered a virtue. The obvious problem seems to be that we cannot agree on right and wrong, and even if we do now there is no guarantee we will in the future. Right and wrong are shifting sands. The fact is that the two sides totally disagree. Historically when this occurs, the side which is strongest either politically or militarily wins the debate. In other words, it becomes a case of force decides virtue (as in the civil war). We will have to wait and see on this one.

Q. 2. How much religious liberty is actually to be tolerated by a democratic society?
America has not answered this question fully. Political history seems to be full of political figures that are somewhat eager to placate religious folk for the sake of votes.  In other words, religious people are treated as a voting block and that’s all, if they are significant in number they matter, if not then they don’t matter that much.  The outcome of Indiana will probably reflect our politicians  reliance upon keeping the religious on their side as a voting block. The outcome will then point to the future direction of religious liberty in America. In short, the outcome will answer how committed are our politicians are to pursuing the religious voting block.  It doesn’t look good for the religious. All indications are that America has a decreasing level of tolerance for religion.

Q. 3. How much moral liberty is actually to be tolerated by a democratic society?
The answer here seems to be easy, moral liberty will rest completely on public opinion because that is the greatest voting block. Our future moral convictions are completely in the hands of those who can both afford and be willing to invest in major funds into their convictions.  Whoever is willing to use public media and the educational system to form values, will in due time be found virtuous. We know this much, once something is deemed virtuous, then the republic mindset kicks in and the dissenters are overridden by the masses who vote for the politicians.

As I said, this is merely a political observation and not a moral commentary, I will save the moral commentary for another day.