Archive for the ‘Orthodox Theology’ Category

Below is an excerpt from Part 2 of a three-part article “A Search for Wholeness: An Orthodox Response to Organ Donation and Retrieval” written by Matushka Linda Korz, M.D. and published in Orthodox Canada: A Journal of Orthodox Christianity.  You can read all three parts of the article here, here and here. I highly recommend reading it, whether you are considering organ donation or working in an environment in which you must play some part in organ retrieval, Matushka’s article is very enlightening.


Some will argue that the greatest gift one can offer is to give ones life for another. Surely the Church teaches that, doesn’t it? The Lord Himself tells us, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.“(John 15:13) But does this apply to the state of organ retrieval at the present time? Does the harvesting of organs from one individual at the point of death as it currently occurs in North American hospitals, constitute a sacrifice to save life, or a sin that takes a life?

Currently, in Canada and the United States of America there are two legal definitions of death: the traditional definition of death, irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions (cardiac death) or cessation of the brain whether as a whole or in part (neurological determination of death, NDD or brain death).[9] In 1971, the historic ad hoc committee of the Harvard Medical School presented its report on the definition of Brain Death and described scientific and medical criteria on which to base the diagnosis. This landmark paper opened the door for legislation to sanction the removal and use of organs for transplantation from patients who did not fit the medical criteria for cardiac death, but were found to have severe irreversible brain injuries leading to a state of prolonged coma. These patients were successfully resuscitated and kept alive by advances in circulatory medicine and mechanical ventilation.

It was expedient that a more liberal and utilitarian definition of death be ethically, morally, and, more importantly legally, accepted. “Brain death has proved to be a most important concept for the progress of organ transplantation…. In parts of the world where brain death was given legal standing and became standard practice, vital organ transplantation increased rapidly.”[2] During the process of brain death donations, the duration of oxygen deprivation (known in medical literature as warm ischemic time) and the extent of loss of viable cells in the body are minimized since the heart continues to perfuse and nourish the tissues while mechanical ventilation sustains breathing (recently, the more descriptive term of heart-beating donation is preferred). In North America and most parts of Europe, organ retrieval from NDD individuals is by far the leading source of all organs for transplantation.[18]

Over three decades later, there is still disagreement worldwide regarding the definition of brain death and, unsurprisingly, how to diagnosis it. Henry Beecher, chairman of the historic ad hoc committee of the Harvard Medical School to examine the definition of Brain Death stated:

“At whatever level we choose to call death, it is an arbitrary decision. Death of the heart? The hair still grows. Death of the brain? The heart may still beat. The need is to choose an irreversible state where the brain no longer functions. It is best to choose a level where, although the brain is dead, usefulness of other organs is still present. This, we have tried to make clear in what we have called the new definition of death(…). Here we arbitrarily accept as death, the destruction of one part of the body; but it is the supreme part, the brain…”[9]

How much of the brain? Current tests only look at selective parts of the brain, whether it be brain stem or higher cognitive function, and thus, by definition, these tests can not confirm the death of the whole brain.

In a recent issue of a leading Canadian medical journal the authors concluded: “the current evidence base for existing NDD (neurologic determination of death) guidelines is inadequate … . We recommend that after NDD, the patient be declared dead.”[11] Father John Breck, an Orthodox author on bioethics, clearly outlines the problem in regard to the state of organ donation throughout the world today:

“Using brain-stem criteria to determine death, we are left with the gruesome fact that vital organs can only be harvested from patients who are technically still alive… Human personhood is determined not by medical diagnosis but by divine Providence.”[12]

The acceptance of brain death whether legally or morally is not equal or universal among countries. In India, organ transplants are largely limited to live or cadaveric donations due to religious and cultural rejection of NDD. In Japan, heart transplants were not done until 1997 when government legislation finally permit organ donation after neurologic or brain death. Despite these realities, and despite the growing challenge within the scientific community to acknowledge that biological death cannot be proven with certainty in brain death, information given to families and patients about organ procurement continues to falsely represent brain death as physical death. Furthermore, in some cases, religious and cultural consent to organ retrieval after neurologic death is misrepresented and misleading. John Gillman, pastor and ethicist in California, in his article titled Religious Prospectives on Organ Donation[10] attempts to outline the Christian prospective. The statement that the Greek Orthodox do not oppose organ donation was subsequently reinterpreted by the Trillium Gift of Life Network (an agency created in 2000 by the Government of Ontario, Canada) as the Greek Orthodox Churchs support organ donation. (see www.Giftoflife.on.ca)

For Orthodox Christians, the supreme part of the body is not the brain (which is an Aristotelian notion; c.f. De Anima) but the heart. “The heart is not just a physical organ or centre of his psychic life but something indefinable yet capable of being in contact with God, the Source of all being.”[13] In the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we read, “make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.”(Isaiah 6:10) Later, in another passage, “these people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Isaiah 29:13) Christ tells us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21).

The reality that the noetic heart is located within the physical heart has always been the teaching of the Orthodox Church. St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), a champion of the Orthodox understanding of the knowledge of God, writes:

“Since our soul is a single entity possessing many powers, it utilizes as an organ the body that nature lives in conjunction with it. What organs, then, does the power of the soul that we call ‘intellect’ make use of when it is active?… For some locate it in the head, as though in a sort of acropolis; others consider that its vehicle is the centremost part of the heart, that aspect of the heart that intelligence is neither within us as in a container – for it is incorporeal – nor yet outside us, for it is united to us; but it is located in the heart as in its own organ.”[1]

St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite (1749-1808) on instruction for stillness in prayer writes:

“You must free the energy (energeia) of your mind, whose organ is the brain, form all the external things of the world, through the guarding of the senses and of the imagination. Then you must bring the energy into the heart, which is the organ of the essence (ousia) of the mind. This return is customarily brought about in the case of beginners – as the Divine Wakeful Fathers teach – by turning the head down and resting the chin on the chest.”[20]

Secular man, having lost the quietness and gentleness of heart, can not know God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”(Matthew 5:8) As a consequence, he finds incredulous the Truth of self knowledge, the essence of the soul is located within the physical heart. Thus, ignorant of the mystery of life, how can he define the mystery of death and more specifically, how can the definition of death be measured by some grotesque notion of cessation of some part of the brain?

It is sad but not surprising that, for the most part, the medical community does not truly understand the nature of death. Acknowledging this limitation, Zameretti et al. advocate the substitution of the word (and thus concept of) death with the term irreversible coma or more precisely, irreversible apnoeic coma, understood not as equivalent to death, but as describing a particular condition in which life support should be legitimately forgone and organs can be retrieved from consenting patients.[9] Even more pathetic is the disregard, at best, and denial at worst that the human person is a creation of body and soul. So long as the medical community is ignorant of the soul of an individual, the medical definition of death will never be complete. Organ retrieval will remain an act of taking life, since it concentrates only on questions of physiology, ignoring the relationship between the soul and the body. Saint Paul cautions, that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” (Romans 8:5) For Orthodox Christians, death is simply an impermanent separation of body and soul which afflicts mankind until the final judgement.[14] Saint John of Damascus reminds us, that “truly most terrible is the mystery of death, how the soul is violently parted from the body, from the harmony, and most natural bond of kinship is cut off by the divine will.”[8]

[9] Nereo Zamperetti et. al. Irreversible apnoeic coma 35 years later: Towards a more rigorous definition of brain death? Intensive Care Med 2004; 30(9):1715-22.

[10] John Gillman. Death and organ procurement: public beliefs and attitudes. Kennedy Institute Ethics J 2004; 14(3):217-34.

[11] Brain arrest: the neurological determination of death and organ donor management in Canada. CMAJ 2006; 174(6): Supplemental S1-30.

Read Full Post »


(Originally posted in 2012)

September 1 is the beginning of the Orthodox ecclesiastical year.

According to Tradition, it was on September 1 that our Lord and Saviour entered the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and was given to read a scroll from the prophet Isiah. It was customary at that time for the Jewish male to read in the synagogue once he had reached his thirtieth year. It was not a coincidence that Christ read prophetic words which referred to Him personally. It was the will of God for Him to be revealed in this manner. When He stood to read these were the words He uttered:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isiah 61:1-2).

St. Luke’s gospel tells us Christ then “closed the book, and gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:20-22).

The Church, in her wisdom, decided the appropriate day to begin the Church year was the very day on which Christ began His ministry, the day He began to “preach the acceptable year of the Lord”.

Interestingly, the ecclesiastical year begins and ends with the Theotokos. On September 8 we celebrate her nativity, just one week into the new Church year. We celebrate her dormition, or falling asleep, on August 15, two weeks before the end of the Church year.

I don’t think we can view this as a coincidence. Our salvation begins with her as she was the long-awaited one; without her Christ would not have been born. So her own nativity is a kind of “beginning of our salvation” (Troparion of the Nativity of Christ). Her falling asleep and being escorted by her Son to Paradise is the appropriate ending. Taking our cue from the Lady Theotokos an appropriate “new year’s resolution” should be to die with Christ so that we can live with Him, to endure so that we too will reign.

“For if we have died with him, we will also live with him; and if we endure we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11).

Read Full Post »

From the Synaxarion:

On August 6 in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the divine Transfiguration of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.


Tabor was glorified above earth’s every region

When it looked upon God’s nature shining in glory.

On the sixth Christ transformed His form as a man.

This glorious event is recorded in the Gospels of Mark (9:2-13), Luke (9:28-36 in Orthros) and Matthew (17:1-9 in Liturgy). In the third year of His preaching, the Lord Jesus often spoke to His disciples of His approaching passion and His glorious Resurrection. So that His impending passion would not totally weaken His disciples, the All-wise Savior wanted to show them His divine glory before His passion on the Holy Cross. (This is why we sing the Katavasias of the Holy Cross on this day.) For that reason, He took Peter, James and John with Him and went out at night to Mount Tabor. The Lord took only three disciples on Tabor because the Lord did not want to leave the unworthy Judas alone at the foot of the mountain so that the betrayer would not, by that, justify his betrayal. Our Lord was transfigured on a mountain and not in a valley to teach us two virtues: love of labor and godly-thoughts. For, climbing to the heights required labor and height represents the heights of our thoughts, i.e., godly-thoughts. Moses and Elijah appeared in order to destroy the erroneous thought of the Jews that the Christ is one of the prophets; that is why He appears as a King above the prophets and that is why Moses and Elijah appear as His servants. Until then, our Lord manifested His divine power many times to the disciples but, on Mount Tabor, He manifested His divine nature. This vision of His Divinity and the hearing of the heavenly witness about Him as the Son of God would serve the disciples in the days of the Lord’s passion, in strengthening of an unwavering faith in Him and His final victory.

Unto Christ God be glory and dominion unto the ages. Amen.

mt tabor1

Read Full Post »


Abba Sisoes’ humility and longing for repentance was epitomised by the manner of his departure from this life. When he lay upon his deathbed, the disciples surrounding the Elder saw that his face shone like the sun. They asked the dying man what he saw. Abba Sisoes replied that he saw St Anthony, the prophets, and the apostles. His face increased in brightness, and he spoke with someone. The monks asked, “With whom are you speaking, Father?” He said that angels had come for his soul, and he was entreating them to give him a little more time for repentance. The monks said, “You have no need for repentance, Father” St Sisoes said with great humility, “I do not think that I have even begun to repent.” After these words the face of the holy Abba shone so brightly that the brethren were not able to look upon him. St Sisoes told them that he saw the Lord Himself. Then there was a flash like lightning, and a fragrant odour, and Abba Sisoes departed to the Heavenly Kingdom.

St. Sisoes is today well known for his depiction in an icon which became popular upon its appearance in Greek monasteries following the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 15th Century. This icon, the “Astonishment of Sisoes”, is a contemplation on death, but not only the death of a man, but of an earthly empire. The icon shows St. Sisoes over the dead bones in Alexander the Great’s open tomb and with the following inscription:





ossuary in meteora

Read Full Post »

Father Alexis Trader, an American priestmonk living in Greece, not only writes with great spiritual and scientific knowledge, he writes about matters of central importance to Orthodox Christians. I found his article on leaving one’s gift at the altar very informative and beautifully written. Below is just an excerpt, to read  the article in its entirety see here. Visit Father Alexis’ website and peruse his collection of articles here.

We all like consistency between our thoughts and our actions. It is as though we have a map to a goal and we are following it. When we lose that consistency, we feel lost, distressed, and uncomfortable on account of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a condition that becomes worse in proportion to the meaning and importance of those thoughts and actions. This state of discomfort is actually a gift that under the most important of circumstances the Fathers would refer to as pangs of conscience. Those with a refined conscience for whom living in accord with God’s will is highly important will experience great cognitive dissonance when they act in an un-Christian way. Saint Jerome refers to such cognitive dissonance when he asks, “How have we been able to say in our daily prayers ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,’ while our feelings have been at variance with our words and our petition inconsistent with our conduct?” (Letter 13 to Castorina).

Oh, and Happy Independence Day to our American friends and readers!

Read Full Post »

Below is a great article written by a Greek Orthodox priest concerning the recent events in Jerusalem and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s perplexing statements concerning the Church.

May God enlighten us all!


What is one to make of the recent events in Jerusalem commemorating the 50th anniversary of the meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, during which the Patriarch of Constantinople, along with the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and other hierarchs of the Patriarchate, met with the Pope of Rome to conduct joint prayer services and issue joint statements? What problems, if any, do these meetings and statements pose to us as Orthodox Christians and to our Orthodox Faith? And, what, in the final analysis, is the essential theological problem at stake here?

These are some of the questions that many faithful ask, and they deserve a thorough answer in return. This short article will attempt to provide some answers, or at least the beginnings of such answers.

Those who would see in these ecumenical gatherings an overwhelmingly positive development speak of them as “exchanges of generosity, goodwill and hope,” and “exchanges in the spirit of Christian love” which are “true expressions of the faith of the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Orthodox.” The champions of these gatherings never fail to admit that “although there are serious differences” between the Orthodox Church and Catholicism “which must not be overlooked, nevertheless our faith demands that we join together and witness to our shared Christian commitments.” This is how a well-known American Orthodox theologian referred to the Jerusalem event and I believe he is accurately repeating the general conception among supporters.

If, however, we are to understand the meaning of these events in a spiritual and theological manner, we must go beyond the tired clichés and overused platitudes and examine the underlying ecclesiology which is either being implied or being expressed by the Patriarch and his supporters during these meetings. It is quite easy, and unfortunately quite common even among Orthodox Christians, to be satisfied with the flowery language of love and reconciliation and not pay attention to the deeper significance of the theology being expressed in word and deed. If we are to avoid such a pitfall and assist others in the same, we must acquire an Orthodox mindset and judge these important matters within the Orthodox framework and criteria.

The underlying problem here that few discuss is the ecclesiological implications of the Patriarchate and its supporters’ new view of the Church. If the Jerusalem meeting and the accompanying gatherings (such as those in Paris, Boston and Atlanta) are judged to be destructive of Church unity and to undermine the mission of the Church, it is not, of course, because of the flowery language of love and understanding incessantly used on all sides, but because they are not grounded in the Orthodox Faith, in Orthodox ecclesiology. If, however, our representatives in these meetings are not expressing an Orthodox teaching on the Church, what are they expressing?

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of previous statements by hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople one could reference in order to answer this question. Citing them is both beyond the scope of this article and unnecessary, for in remarks made by the Patriarch of Constantinople in his first speech given in Jerusalem on May 23rd, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the essence of the new ecclesiology is clearly articulated:

The One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by the “Word in the beginning,” by the one “truly with God,” and the Word “truly God”, according to the evangelist of love, unfortunately, during her engagement on earth, on account of the dominance of human weakness and of impermanence of the will of the human intellect, was divided in time. This brought about various conditions and groups, of which each claimed for itself “authenticity” and “truth.” The Truth, however, is One, Christ, and the One Church founded by Him.

Both before and after the great Schism of 1054 between East and West, our Holy Orthodox Church made attempts to overcome the differences, which originated from the beginning and for the most part from factors outside of the environs of the Church. Unfortunately, the human element dominated, and through the accumulation of “theological,” “practical,” and “social” additions the Local Churches were led into division of the unity of the Faith, into isolation, which developed occasionally into hostile polemics.

Note that the Patriarch states:

  1. The One Church was divided in time.
  2. That this division was the result of the dominance of human weakness. It is not stated, but it follows that this human weakness was stronger than the Divine Will for the Church He founded.
  3. That the various groups, parts of the One Church, which resulted from this division each “claimed” to be the authentic and true Church. The implication here is that none of them, including the Orthodox Church, can rightfully lay claim to being exclusively the One Church.
  4. And, yet, somehow, in spite of these competing groups all exclusively claiming authenticity and truth, the Church is one. Once again, it follows from all that is said that this oneness exists only outside of time, since the Church, as he said, was divided in time.

In order to gain a total picture of the new ecclesiology being presented, we should add to these views on the Church the Patriarch(ate)’s stance vis-à-vis Catholicism, which was on exhibit in both word and deed throughout the Jerusalem event. In all of the promotional material and patriarchal addresses, Catholicism—which synods of the Church and saints have for centuries now considered to be a heretical parasynagogue—is considered to be a Local Church, the Church in Rome. Likewise, the current Pope is considered to be a “contemporary successor of the early apostle [Peter] and current leader of the ancient church [of Rome].” The Patriarch has also referred to the current Pope as his brother bishop, co-responsible for the good governing of the One Church. He considers the sacraments performed by the Pope and his clerics as the self-same mysteries of the One Church. Thus it is not surprising that he views the Church as divided in history and yet somehow still one, if only outside of history.

What can we now say of this image of the Church presented by the Patriarch? We can say that:

  1. It is in total harmony with the Second Vatican Council’s new ecclesiology as laid out in the conciliar documents Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio.
  2. It is entirely at odds with the vision of the Church presented in relevant conciliar documents of the Orthodox Church, such as the decisions of the Council of 1484, the Patriarchal Encyclicals of 1848 and 1895, and in the writings of those Holy Fathers who have expressed the mind of the Church on the subject, such as Sts. Gregory Palamas, Nectarius of Pentapolis, Mark of Ephesus, Paisius Velichkovsky, and many others.

The Patriarch and his supporters are aligning themselves and attempting to align all of Orthodoxy with the ecclesiological line drawn during the Second Vatican Council. This new ecclesiology allows for a division of the Church “in time,” such that the Orthodox Church and Catholicism are considered “two lungs” of the One Church—yet nevertheless divided. In this ecclesiology, the universal Church includes both Catholicism and all other Christian confessions. It is supposed that the Church is a communion of bodies that are more or less churches, a communion realized at various degrees of fullness, such that one part of the Church, that under the Pope, is considered “fully” the Church, and another part of the Church, such as a Protestant confession, “imperfectly” or only “partially” the Church. Thus, this ecclesiology allows for participation in the Church’s sacraments outside of her canonical boundaries, outside of the one Eucharistic assembly, which is antithetical with a properly understood “Eucharistic ecclesiology.”

Hence, the ecclesiology expressed in word and deed by the Patriarch of Constantinople and the ecclesiology of Vatican II converge in the acceptance of a divided Church, or a Church rent asunder by the heavy hand of history. It might be characterized as ecclesiological Nestorianism, in which the Church is divided into two separate beings: on the one hand the Church in heaven, outside of time, alone true and whole; on the other, the Church, or rather “churches,” on earth, in time, deficient and relative, lost in history’s shadows, seeking to draw near to one another and to that transcendent perfection, as much as is possible in “the weakness of the impermanent human will.”

In this ecclesiology, the tumultuous and injurious divisions of human history have overcome the Church “in time.” The human nature of the Church, being divided and rent asunder, has been separated from the Theanthropic Head. This is a Church on earth deprived of its ontological nature and not “one and holy,” no longer possessing all the truth through its hypostatic union with the divine nature of the Logos.

This ecclesiology is, without doubt, at total odds with the belief and confession of the Orthodox in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Church of Christ, as the Apostle Paul supremely defined it, is His body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (τὸ σῶμα Αὐτοῦ, τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσι πληρουμένου). The fullness of Christ is identified with the Body of Christ which is, like Christ when He walked on earth in time, as Theanthropos, visible and indivisible, being marked by divine-human characteristics. As Vladimir Lossky has written, all that can be asserted or denied about Christ can equally well be applied to the Church, inasmuch as it is a theandric organism. It follows, then, that just as we could never assert that Christ is divided, neither could we countenance the Church ever being divided. (cf. 1 Cor 1:13).

Saviour_by_Rublev_bigThe Church, it goes without saying, was founded, established, spread, and exists to this day in time (and will exist until the Second Coming, and beyond). This is so because the Church is the Theanthropic Body of the Christ, who entered into time, walked, died, rose, ascended and is to return again in time. The Church is the continuation of the Incarnation in time. And just as our Lord was seen and touched and venerated in the flesh, in time, so too does His Body, the Church, continue—united and holyin time. If we were to accept the division of the Church, we would be accepting the nullification of the Incarnation and the salvation of the world. As this new ecclesiology of a “divided church” ultimately annuls man’s salvation, it could be rightly considered as heresy.

Our belief in the unity and continuity of the Body of Christ, our confession of faith, this dogma of the Church, is based on nothing less than the divine promises of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, when he said such words as these:

“When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (Jn. 16:13).

“I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock [of faith] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18).

“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Mt 28:16).

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33).

Likewise, from the mouth of Christ, the divine Apostle Paul, we hear more promises of the indivisibility and invincibility of the Church:

“And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is His body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23).

“The house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tit 3:5).

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph 4:5).

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Heb 13:8).

And, from the Apostle of Love, John the Theologian, we read that it is our faith in the God-man and His divine-human Body that is invincible and victorious over the fallen spirit of this world, which is above all, a spirit of division:

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 Jn 5:4).

So, then, has not the Spirit of Truth led His Church into “all truth”? Or, are we as Orthodox only advancing a “claim” of authenticity and truth? Has He not guarded His Church so that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it? Or, has “human weakness” overcome Christ’s Body? Has He not remained with us, guiding us even until today and on to the end of time? Or, does He no longer exist as One “in time”? Has not our faith in the God-man overcome the world and the spirit of division? Or, is it, as the Patriarch supposes, that the “human element” and “human weakness” has overcome our faith and the unity of the Body of Christ?

To better understand the impossibility of both the Orthodox Church and Catholicism maintaining the identity of the One Church while being divided over matters of faith, let us look briefly at the marital union. In marriage, a man and a woman are united in Christ. There exists a three-fold unity, or a unity between two persons in a third Person. This is no mere human accord. This is a theanthropic unity, a manifestation of the mystery of the Incarnation and thus of the Church, according to the divine words of the Apostle Paul: This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:32).

All unity in the Church is theanthropic. Indeed, truly united human beings are only to be found in the Church, for in the Church alone does man put on divine-humanity (Gal 3:27), the human nature of Christ. As the fallen, unredeemed human nature is hopelessly broken and divided within itself, separated from the principle of his unity, God, man can only be united by “putting on” a new human nature, the human nature of the God-man, which takes place in the mysteries, first of which is baptism. Therefore, we are restored to unity in ourselves, between ourselves and with God only through unity with the God-man in His human nature, in His Body, the Church.

Has there been division? Has the “marriage” fallen apart? Know that first one of the two persons ceased to exist “in Christ,” fell away from Christ, and only then from the other. This human division is necessarily preceded by a break in communion with the Divine Person in which the two persons were united. Something similar can be said on the ecclesiastical plane.

The Patriarch maintains that even though “the Local Churches were led into division of the unity of the Faith” and “the One Church was divided in time,” nevertheless both the Orthodox Church and Catholicism are united to Christ and manifest this unity with Him in common sacraments. This is impossible, however, for if both were united to Christ, they would necessarily be united to one another, since they find their unity in Christ. Simply put: if we are both in Christ, we are united. If we are divided, we can’t both be in Christ. In terms of ecclesiology, this means that both can’t be “the Church.”

From the moment that one holds that the Church is divided, he can no longer hold that the members of the Church are united to the theanthropic nature of the Body of Christ. The Church that is envisioned is necessarily a merely human organism, in which the “dominance of human weakness and of [the] impermanence of the will of the human intellect” reigns and brings division.

We can also see this truth evidenced in the words of the Apostle of Love, the beloved Evangelist, John the Theologian. He states that if a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. (1 Jn 4:20). Similarly, since love unites us to God, if we say that we are united with God but divided from our brother, we do not speak the truth. Furthermore, on the ecclesiastical plane, if we say that the “churches” are both united with God but are divided between themselves, we do not speak the truth. For, if both are united to God they would also be united to one another, since unity in the Church is in and through Christ.

Based on this new teaching from the Patriarch(ate), some maintain that a “false union” has already been forged. Most dismiss this claim straightaway. It is true that the common cup, at least officially and openly, was not at stake in Jerusalem or immediately anywhere. However, a type of “false union” has undeniably been established on the level of ecclesiology. For, when the mysteries of a heterodox confession are recognized per se, as the very mysteries of the Church, and, likewise, their bishops are accepted and embraced as bishops of the One Church, then have we not already established a union with them? Have we not a union both in terms of recognizing their “ecclesiality” (i.e., the One Church in Rome) and in adopting a common confession of faith with respect to the Church?

If we recognize their baptism as the one baptism, it is inconsistent not to recognize the Eucharistic Synaxis in which their baptism is performed. And if we recognize their Eucharist as the One Body, it is both hypocritical and sinful not to establish Eucharistic communion with them immediately.

It is precisely here that the untenable nature of the Patriarchate’s stance becomes apparent. The fact that the Church has never accepted inter-communion with Catholicism witnesses not to just some tactical decision or conservative stance, but to her self-identity as the One Church and to her view of Catholicism as heresy. If this were not the case, it would be as if we are playing with the mysteries and the truth of the Gospel. As St. Mark of Ephesus famously expressed it, the “cutting off of the Latins” was precisely because the Church no longer saw their “church,” their Eucharistic assembly, as if in a mirror, as expressing the “Catholic” Church in Rome. Their identity was no longer that of the Church, but of heresy.

From all that has been written here, it should be clear that there are eternal consequences from every new departure from “the faith once delivered,” and the new ecclesiology is no exception. By ignoring the contemporary voices of the Church—from St. Justin Popovich to the Venerable Philotheos Zervakos, to the Venerable Paisios the Athonite—those who went to Jerusalem espousing the new ecclesiology are leading their unsuspecting followers out of the Church and those already outside further away from entry into the Church.

This new ecclesiology is the spiritual and theological challenge of our day to which every Orthodox Christian remains indifferent to his own peril, for it carries with it soteriological consequences. In the face of a terribly divisive and deceptive heresy, we are all called to confess Christ today, as did our ancient forbearers in the days of Arianism. Our confession of faith, however, is not only in His Person in the Incarnation, but His Person in the continuation of the Incarnation, the Church. To confess the faith today is to confess and declare the unity of His divine and human natures in His Body, the one and only Orthodox Church—unmixed, unchanged, undivided and inseparable (ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως). [Oros of the Fourth Ecumenical Council].

Mosaic showing Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in Jerusalem. If anyone has any information about the blue man holding a child who is holding a dove (and wearing what appears to be a wedding ring on his right hand) I’d love to hear an explanation.

Read Full Post »

If you wish you can read the homily in its entirety here.

Christ had ascended bodily into heaven, so if He had not sent His Holy Spirit to accompany and strengthen His disciples and their successors in following generations who taught the Gospel of grace, He would not have been preached to all nations, nor would the proclamation have been passed down to us. That is why the Lord, in His all-surpassing love for mankind, showed at Pentecost that His disciples were partakers, fathers and ministers of everlasting light and life, who bring us to new birth for eternal life and make those who are worthy children of the Light and fathers of enlightenment. Thus, He Himself is with us unto the end of the world, as was promised through the Spirit (Matt. 28:20). For He is One with the Father and the Spirit, not according to hypostasis, but in His divinity, and God is One in Three, in one tri-hypostatic and almighty divinity. The Holy Spirit always existed and was with the Son in the Father. How could the Father and divine Mind be without beginning if the Son and Word were not also without beginning? How could there be a pre-eternal Word without there also being a pre-eternal Spirit? Thus the Holy Spirit ever was and is and will be, co-Creator with the Father and the Son, together with them renewing that which has suffered corruption, and sustaining the things that endure. He is everywhere present and fills, directs and oversees everything. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit”, says the Psalmist to God, “And from Thy presence whither shall I flee?” (Ps. 138:6).

He is not just everywhere, but also above all, not just in every age and time, but before them all. And, according to the promise, the Holy Spirit will not just be with us until the end of the age, but rather will stay with those who are worthy in the age to come, making them immortal and filling their bodies as well with eternal glory, as the Lord indicated by telling His disciples, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). “It is sown”, says the Apostle (meaning buried and committed to the earth), “a dead natural body”, that is to say, an ordinary created body with a created soul, stable and capable of movement. “It is raised” (that is, comes back to life), “a spiritual body” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:44), which means a supernatural body, framed and ordered by the Holy Spirit, and clothed in immortality, glory and incorruption by the Spirit’s power (cf. 1 Cor. 15:53). “The first man, Adam”, he says, “was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45,47-48).

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 404 other followers