Archive for the ‘Orthodox Theology’ Category


Written by Fr. John Palmer

According to the renowned Patrologist Fr Theodoros Zisis, Orthodox theology teaches that, “…[t]wo phases, two economies are readily distinguished within the mystery of man’s salvation and renewal: the economy of the Son, and the economy of the Holy Spirit.”[1]  Vladimir Lossky fills out this assertion for us, stating that, “The redeeming work of the Son is related to our nature.  The deifying work of the Holy Spirit concerns our persons.  But the two are inseparable.  One is unthinkable without the other.”[2]  In other words, Christ renews human nature through his Incarnation and the Holy Spirit then applies this renewed nature to individual persons by various appointed means in order that they might be united to God, becoming partakers of the divine nature, and saved.  From an Orthodox perspective, then, both economies – that of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit – are equally important and integral to the mystery of salvation, with Pentecost serving as the ‘Metropolis of Feasts’ wherein the salvific mystery is perfected.

In contrast, Frankish theology (the foundation of Roman Catholicism and Western theology in general) develops a one-sided understanding of the mystery of salvation as a result of its emphatic focus on redemption.  Here salvation is largely reduced to a legal drama, Lossky writes, “…played between God, who is infinitely offended, and man, who is unable to satisfy the impossible demands of vindictive justice.  This drama finds its resolution in the death of Christ, the Son of God who has become man in order to substitute himself for us and pay our debt to divine justice.”   Within the context of this drama, the Holy Spirit largely vanishes and consequently the feast of Pentecost fades into the background, at least soteriologically speaking.[3]

The groundwork for this aberration was laid by the adoption of the filioque heresy and the novel Trinitarian theology that arose from it.  The Holy Fathers derided the filioque not only because of its addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed when every addition to said Creed was prohibited by the Ecumenical Councils, but because it introduced an inequality among the Divine Persons wherein the Holy Spirit ranked last.  For example, in his Mystagogy, St Photios the Great writes that,

“…if, according to their babble, the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, then the Spirit is differentiated from the Father by more properties than the Son.  Both issue forth from the Father, and even if one issues forth by begetting and the other by procession, nonetheless, one of two modes equally separates them from the hypostasis of the Father; but here the Spirit is differentiated by a second distinction arising from the dual procession.  If more distinctions differentiate the Spirit from the Father than differentiate the Son from the Father, then the Son would be nearer to the Father’s essence, and the Spirit, equal in honour, will be blasphemed as being inferior to the Son…”.[4]

This leads Lossky to conclude rightly that if Frankish theology, “… could stop at the redeeming work of Christ…it was precisely because [by this] time the West had already lost the true idea of the Person of the Holy Spirit, relegating him to a secondary position by making him into a kind of lieutenant to the Son.”[5]  Similarly, Zisis writes, “First the filioque was introduced into the Symbol of Faith and made into a dogma, initially with serious protest coming from certain of the Popes, resulting in a diminution of the Holy Spirit…”[6]

As we have asserted in previous posts, Ælfric of Enysham (+1051) finds himself caught in the middle of the West’s transition from one point to the other, and his Sermones Catholici help us plot the particular path taken by England as it left behind the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and Orthodox Faith.

Though his life and activities pre-date the Norman Conquest of 1066 – the date typically assigned to England’s apostasy – England was already experiencing a cultural captivity during Ælfric’s time.  The heavy Norman influence characteristic of the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) caused England to gradually forfeit its Orthodox theological heritage in favour of those Frankish theological ideals embraced by the Normans.  Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the Sermones Catholici show Ælfric to be a firm devotee of the filioque (though he never expounds it in a polemic manner, suggesting that he simply received it from his teachers and was unaware of its controversial nature).  For example, in his homily On the Beginning of Creation he writes:

Ðeos þrynnys is án God; þæt is se Fæder and his wisdom of him sylfum æfre acenned; and heora begra willa, þæt is se Halga Gast: he nis na acenned, ac he gæð of þam Fæder and of þam Suna gelice. This Trinity is one God, that is, the Father, and his Wisdom, of himself ever produced; and the Will of them both, that is, the Holy Ghost: he is not born, but he goeth alike from the Father and from the Son.

Moreover, in his sermon Of the Catholic Faith, he offers the following exposition of the dogma of the Holy Trinity which concludes asserting the filioque:

Soðlice se Fæder, and se Sunu, and se Halga Gast, habbað áne Godcundnysse, and án gecynd, and án weorc. Ne worhte se Fæder nán ðing ne ne wyrcð, butan ðam Suna, oððe butan þam Halgan Gaste. Ne heora nán ne wyrcð nán ðing butan oðrum; ac him eallum is án weorc, and án rǽd, and án willa. Æfre wæs se Fæder, and æfre wæs se Sunu, and æfre wæs se Halga Gast án Ælmihtig God. Se is Fæder, seðe nis naðer ne geboren ne gesceapen fram nanum oðrum. Se is Fæder geháten, forðan ðe he hæfð Sunu, ðone ðe he of him sylfum gestrynde, butan ælcre meder. Se Fæder is God of nanum Gode. Se Sunu is God of ðam Fæder Gode. Se Halga Gast is God forðstæppende of ðam Fæder and of ðam Suna. Verily the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, have one Godhead, and one nature, and one work. The Father created nothing nor creates, without the Son, or without the Holy Ghost. Nor does one of them anything without the others; but they have all one work, and one counsel, and one will. The Father was ever, and the Son was ever, and the Holy Ghost was ever One Almighty God. He is the Father, who was neither born of nor created by any other. He is called Father, because he has a Son, whom he begot of himself, without any mother. The Father is God of no God. The Son is God of God the Father. The Holy Ghost is God proceeding from the Father and from the Son.

However, while the Abbot of Enysham receives and indeed clearly teaches the filioque, he yet manages to remain aloof from its implications.  In an impressively Orthodox manner he expresses the economy of the Holy Spirit as this pertains to salvation, and clearly presents salvation as deification, and what is more he does this in his sermon, On the Holy Day of Pentecost.  In a passage where he describes the importance of the feast (and ironically again affirms the filioque) he writes:

Þyses dæges wurðmynt is to mærsigenne, forðan ðe se Ælmihtiga God, þæt is se Halga Gast, gemedemode hine sylfne þæt he wolde manna bearn on ðisre tide geneosian. On Cristes acennednysse wearð se Ælmihtiga Godes Sunu to menniscum men gedon, and on ðisum dæge wurdon geleaffulle men godas, swa swa Crist cwæð, “Ic cwæð, Ge sind godas, and ge ealle sind bearn þæs Hehstan.” Þa gecorenan sind Godes bearn, and eac godas, na gecyndelice, ac ðurh gife þæs Halgan Gastes. An God is gecyndelice on ðrim hadum, Fæder, and his Sunu, þæt is his Wisdom, and se Halga Gast, seðe is heora begra Lufu and Willa. Heora gecynd is untodæledlic, æfre wunigende on anre Godcundnysse. Se ylca cwæð þeah-hwæðere be his gecorenum, “Ge sint godas.” Þurh Cristes menniscnysse wurdon menn alysede fram deofles ðeowte, and ðurh to-cyme þæs Halgan Gastes, mennisce men wurdon gedone to godum. Crist underfeng menniscnysse on his to-cyme, and men underfengon God þurh neosunge þæs Halgan Gastes. The dignity of this day is to be celebrated, because Almighty God, that is the Holy Ghost, himself vouchsafed to visit the children of men at this time. At the birth of Christ the Almighty Son of God became human man, and on this day believing men became gods, as Christ said; “I said, Ye are gods, and ye are all children of the Highest.” The chosen are children of God, and also gods, not naturally, but through grace of the Holy Ghost. One God is naturally in three persons, the Father, and his Son, that is, his Wisdom, and the Holy Ghost, who is the Love and Will of them both. Their nature is indivisible, ever existing in one Godhead. The same has, nevertheless, said of his chosen, “Ye are gods.” Through Christ’s humanity men were redeemed from the thraldom of the devil, and through the coming of the Holy Ghost human men were made gods. Christ received human nature at his advent, and men received God through visitation of the Holy Ghost.

[1] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 173.

[2] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 109.

[3] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 99.

[4] On the Mystagogy of  the Holy Spirit (New York: 1983), 84.

[5] ‘Redemption and Deification’ in In the Image and Likeness of God (Oxford: 1974), 103.

[6] Επόμενοι τος Θείοις Πατράσι· ρχές καί κρίτήρια τς Πατερικς Θεολογίας (Thessaloniki: 1997), 180.


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Never even think of pleasing men. To be dishonoured by men – this is good. And what if people say that you have sins? Don’t you? We must endure insults, my dear, because the Savior Christ praised us for this: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake (Matt. 5:11). We must endure everything with humility, my dear, endure with humility for the love of Christ, in order to win not all of Paradise but only a little corner, however small.

–Elder Paisius of Sihla from A Little Corner of Paradise, p. 77.

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(Written by Fr. John Palmer)

Continuing my reading of Ælfric of Eynsham’s Sermones Catholici, perhaps the most prominent collection of vernacular homilies belonging to the Anglo-Saxon period, I have stumbled across an interesting, spiritually-beneficial observation in his interpretation of the Parable of the Good Shepherd (Homily XVII, On the Second Sunday after Easter, pp. 239-245).  Admittedly, I have not undertaken much source analysis of this text.  It is thus quite possible (even probable) that Ælfric has lifted the position in question directly from the works of someone like St Gergory the Dialogos or Blessed Augustine, since he makes frequent use of these.  He only cites his sources, however, when the work of a particular ecclesiastical writer or Father forms the base of the largest part of his sermon or homily.  A cursory scan of the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database would seem to suggest its provenance in Blessed Augustine’s Tractates on the Gospel of John.

As he often does, Ælfric begins this particular homily by translating into Old English the gospel passage just previously read in Latin within the context of the Liturgy:

Dixit Iesus discipulis suis, Ego sum pastor bonus: et reliqua.  Þis godspel, þe nú geræd wæs, cwyð, þæt se Hælend cwæde be him sylfum, “Ic eom gód hyrde…” Dixit Jesus discipulis suis, Ego sum pastor bonus: et reliqua.  This gospel, which has now been read, says, that Jesus said of himself, “I am the good shepherd…”


The Good Shepherd, then, is Christ himself.  However, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul are also good shepherds, he says, only:


“…ac heora gódnys wæs of ðam heafde, þæt is Crist, ðe is heora heafod, and hí sind his lima.” “… their goodness was of the head, which is Christ, who is their head, and they are his limbs.


Consequently, the successors of the apostles, the bishops and priest of the Church, are called to be good shepherds of the spiritual flock in the same manner.  And in what way is their ‘goodness’ manifested?  Particularly in their shielding the flock from the attacks of wolves.  The first wolf is the devil and his machinations, which are fended off by two means:  sound doctrine and prayer.


“Mid lare he sceal him tæcan, þæt hi cunnon hwæt deofol tæchð mannum to forwyrde, and hwæt God bebýt to gehealdenne, for begeate þæs ecan lifes. He sceal him fore-gebiddan, þæt God gehealde þa strángan, and gehæle ða untruman. Se bið to strángum geteald, seþe wiðstent deofles lare; se bið untrum, seðe on leahtrum fylð.” “With doctrine he shall teach them, that they may know what the devil teaches for men’s perdition, and what God commands to be observed for the attainment of everlasting life. He shall pray for them, that God may preserve the strong and heal the weak. He is to be accounted strong who withstands the precepts of the devil; he is weak who falls into sins.”


The second wolf who stalks the spiritual life are unrighteous secular powers:


“Wulf bið eac se unrihtwisa rica, ðe bereafað þa cristenan, and ða eadmodan mid his riccetere ofsitt” “The unrighteous powerful man also is a wolf, who robs christians, and oppresses the humble with his power.”


Here the Abbot of Eynsham is most certainly speaking of early medieval lords who mistreat their subjects, unfairly punishing them and exacting crippling taxes.  His words also apply to our own times, though, where unrighteous authorities in many liberal democracies are enacting policies which aim at the persecution of simple, faithful Christians, and are using their position of power to ‘oppress the humble’ under the weight of a constant barrage of worldly, impious ideals.


Faced with these two wolves, the unworthy shepherd – the hireling – will flee, but,


” Ne flyhð he na mid lichaman, ac mid mode. He flyhð, forðan þe hé geseh unrihtwisnysse and suwade.” “He flees not with body, but with mind. He flees because he saw iniquity and held silence.”


And what particular characteristic corrupts a shepherd and leaves him a hireling who flees at the moment he is most needed?  Worldliness.  He flees, Ælfric says, “…because he considers worldly advantages.” It is worldliness which will cause the shepherd to see adultery, covetousness, pride, anger, division, and remain silent, being blind to the spiritual damage they cause.  Moreover, it is worldliness which will cause him to be concerned for his own station, to worry about how the powerful of this world view him, leading him to abandon his flock when worldly authorities mistreat or mislead them.


It is one of Ælfric’s concluding thoughts which I found particularly insightful and equally important to both clergy and laity:


Ge sceolon beon geornfulle to eower agenre ðearfe, þeah hit swa getimige þæt se láreow gimeleas beo, and doð swa swa Crist tæhte, “Gif se láreow wel tǽce and yfele bysnige, doð swa swa he tæcð, and na be ðam þe hé bysnað.” Se Hælend cwæð be him, “Ic eom gód hyrde, and ic oncnawe mine scép, and hí oncnawað me.” Þæt is, ic lufige hí, and hí lufiað me. Ye should be zealous for your own need, though it so happen that the teacher be heedless, and do as Christ taught, “If the teacher teach well, and give evil example, do as he teacheth, and not according to his example.” Jesus says of himself, “I am a good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and they know me.” That is, I love them, and they love me.


“I know my sheep,” the Good Shepherd says, “and they know me.”  Ælfric interprets this line as highlighting the direct relationship between the individual Christian and ‘the Good Shepherd’, Christ himself.  It is the goal of the individual Christian to know, to be united to Christ, and it is the central task of the clergy to facilitate the establishment of this relationship.  Should a bishop or priest prove a hireling, however, this no excuse for the individual to turn away from Christ.  He is bound directly to Christ by ties of love and thus duty-bound to persevere and labour in faith within the Church: “Ye should be zealous for your own need, though it so happen that the teacher be heedless.”


Moreover, this passage also serves as a reminder for those clergy struggling to fulfill their vocation conscientiously that the faithful bear final responsibility for pursuing a relationship with Christ.  “I know my sheep,” the Good Shepherd says, “and they know me.”  The bishop or priest can teach the flock about temptation, sin, confession, fasting, the prayer rule, but he cannot live the spiritual life for those committed to his charge.  Such a realization should help him to fend off despondency and resist the temptation to ‘micromanage’ lives, attempting without discretion to force a relationship with the Eternal Bridegroom.

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Once, while he was praying, Saint Macarius heard a voice: “Macarius, you have not yet attained such perfection in virtue as two women who live in the city.” The humble ascetic went to the city, found the house where the women lived, and knocked. The women received him with joy, and he said, “I have come from the desert seeking you in order to learn of your good deeds. Tell me about them, and conceal nothing.”

The women answered with surprise, “We live with our husbands, and we have not such virtues.” But the saint continued to insist, and the women then told him, “We married two brothers. After living together in one house for fifteen years, we have not uttered a single malicious nor shameful word, and we never quarrel among ourselves. We asked our husbands to allow us to enter a women’s monastery, but they would not agree. We vowed not to utter a single worldly word until our death.”

Saint Macarius glorified God and said, “In truth, the Lord seeks neither virgins nor married women, and neither monks nor laymen, but values a person’s free intent, accepting it as the deed itself. He grants to everyone’s free will the grace of the Holy Spirit, which operates in an individual and directs the life of all who yearn to be saved.”

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Below is an amateur translation I did. It’s an excerpt from Λόγια Καρδίας (pp. 246-250), a collection of homilies by Abbess Makrina of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Odigitria in Volos, Greece. It is a beautiful story that tells of the great rewards God has prepared for those who practice patience when confronted with great trials and temptations, and the spiritual exhalation the soul experiences when we abstain from passing judgement, even on those who openly hate and harm us. 

Let’s be watchful concerning the matter of passing judgment. Let’s be very watchful concerning passing judgement! It is indescribable how fearful this matter is! “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Do we safeguard this saying? Even if we don’t have virtues, Christ will save us, He will take us into Paradise if we abstain from judging.

I will tell you something else, again from experience. Once a sister[1] in the world wanted to say something about me that didn’t happen to me; it was slander. For the glory of Christ I tell you this. Was it a temptation that put her up to it? Was it from hatred? Was it from jealousy that she did it? In any case, I said many, many prayers for her, I mean many prayers. I cried neither for my father, nor for my mother as much as I cried for this sister. With much pain I cried and I said: “My God, save me, help me, give me strength.” The prophet David said: “Deliver me from the slander of men and I will keep thy commandments” (Ps. 119: 134). I felt a great deal of pain inside.

I saw her coming to me in a vision. Her face had two indentations on account of her tears. It was so real! In the indentations she had clots of perspiration. Her whole face was covered in perspiration and black from suffering and fatigue. She had a sack on her back, too heavy to be lifted. And as soon as I saw her, I wanted to go and help her, to lift the weight from below, but it was like a stone wall and the weight lay there immovable. I said to her: “You are tired!”

“Yes, I am tired of lifting this weight!” she said. It was a stone like the porters used to carry on their backs a long time ago.

She said to me, “This evening is the Queen’s reception and she wants you to go.”

“The Queen wants me?” I asked.

And suddenly a vehicle arrived, not like any carriage or car, it was very different, and Gerontissa Theophano was sitting inside. She looked like a young child, like a young lady of fifteen years. She said: “Come, the Queen will have us at the reception this evening.”

I made the sign of the cross and I got into the vehicle. We proceeded to a beautiful turnpike. I saw a church in front of us – it was like looking at the church of Panagia in Tinos – such a nice church, it was bright, resplendent! I made the sign of the cross as I passed by. Across the way, toward the east, was what seemed to be a palace. The door to the palace was huge, just as doors are in large buildings. There in the middle of the doorway was the Queen, who, from her neck up I couldn’t see on account of the light of her face, because she was shining so brightly. I saw her resplendent sandals; she wore a feloni[2] and vest, each had two inches of piping embroidered around them.

Two lines were configured in front of her: one line with children who were wearing lace and ribbon in their hair, dressed just as the angels are, while the other line seemed to be composed of widows[3], as though they were nuns, wearing monastic clothing, just like we wear.

I started toward the nuns and they told me it wasn’t my turn yet, I would go when it was my turn. Suddenly I heard chanting, “This is the day of the Resurrection, let us be radiant…” And the Queen began to say, “Come martyrs to the platform, come great-martyrs!” They were taking her blessing and going to the platform. From within the palace was heard, “This is the day of the Resurrection…”

When I approached, I took the hand of the Queen: her slender hand, those nails, that gentle hand has been imprinted on my soul. Padding me on the back she said, “Patience, patience, patience.” Then she addressed one of her maids of honour: “Escort Maria[4] to the royal garden.”

I paused for a moment to see where they were chanting “This is the day of the Resurrection”. And I saw that inside the palace a banquet was laid out with very beautiful white tablecloths. What could you desire that the banquet didn’t have!

I lingered to listen and the maid took me by the hand and said, “That is for the martyrs, those who endured great temptations” and she gave me to understand that patience is needed. Afterward she took me to the royal garden, and I saw a vast place which had something like lilies, the brown lily had a cross. Just as the wind blew, so the lilies swayed. A vast place: green, beautiful, enchanted! Within this beautiful exhalation which I found myself, the sorrow in my soul fled, and pleasantness and joy came!

In the morning I went and found this sister who had slandered me, and hugged and kissed her. I didn’t know what to do for her; I didn’t know how to thank her for the false words she had said, I really didn’t know.

This experience stayed in my soul and from that time I have kept the commandment of God: judge not, so as not to be judged – even if I see the act committed in front of me, whatever I happen to see in front of me.

That which I saw in the vision stirred me and left me such comfort. I forgot everything. A purity entered into my nous, a passionlessness, a peacefulness, a heavenly thing entered my soul and I didn’t know how to thank that sister who was the cause of such good.

And I say what a good thing it is for someone to be patient! For this reason the Queen said, “Come martyrs of Christ, come great-martyrs of Christ, enter into the platform…” How can I have the boldness to touch such a banquet? It was the banquet for the martyrs who had struggled, who had endured martyrdom and for whom God had prepared greatness!

[1]Although Gerontissa calls this woman “sister” it seems that she was a laywoman.

[2]A feloni (φελόνι) is a chasuble, which in its origin was a traveling garment in the late Roman Empire. It is like a poncho, a circular garment with a hole in the middle for the head.

[3]It is a tradition in Greece for widows to wear black head-scarfs and dress.

[4]Gerontissa Macrina’s name before monastic tonsure was Maria.

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(This post is written by Fr. John Palmer)

My studies in homilietics have taken me to some unexpected, yet rather interesting places.  Of late I have found myself reading mostly about pre-Norman Britain, and particularly about a significant Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical writer named Ælfric of Eynsham (955-1010).  Ælfric is perhaps best known for having produced two Latin series of sermons – the Sermones Catholici – which he later translated into Old English, intending them to be used by priests as an aid in homily preparation, or in some cases even read aloud by unlearned priests at liturgy over the course of a two-ecclesiastical-year cycle.  He writes:

“[I]t occurred to my mind, I trust through God’s grace, that I would turn this book from the Latin language into the English tongue, not from confidence of great learning, but because I have seen and heard of much error in many English books, which unlearned men, through their simplicity, have esteemed as great wisdom…” (Ælfric, Sermones Catholici I, [Preface], 3).

There are some beautiful expositions of the Scriptures and explanations of Feast of the Church contained in these sermons.  There is a particularly nice section wherein he comments on the quality of the Protomartyr Stephen’s prayer and its role in the conversion of the Holy Apostle Paul, and I thought this section to be worthy of sharing today, St Stephen’s feast.  Below I will post the original Old English text (I find it impossible to penetrate if read silently in my head, but somewhat more intelligible if read out loud) next to the Modern English translation:

Understandað nu, mine gebroðra, þa micclan lufe þæs eadigan weres. On deaðe hé wæs gesett, and ðeah he bæd mid soðre lufe for his cwelleras; and betwux ðæra stana hryre, ðaða gehwá mihte his leofostan frynd forgytan, ða betæhte hé his fynd Gode, þus cweðende, “Drihten, ne sete þu ðas dæda him to synne.” Swiðor he besorgade þa heora synna þonne his agene wunda; swiðor heora arleasnysse þonne his sylfes deað; and rihtlice swiðor, forðan ðe heora arleasnysse fyligde se eca deað, and þæt ece líf fyligde his deaðe. Saulus heold ðæra leasra gewitena reaf, and heora mod to þære stæninge geornlice tihte. Stephanus soðlice gebigedum cneowum Drihten bæd þæt hé Saulum alysde. Wearð ða Stephanes bén fram Gode gehyred, and Saulus wearð alysed. Se árfæsta wæs gehyred, and se arleasa wearð gerihtwisod.

On ðyssere dæde is geswutelod hu micclum fremige þære soðan lufe gebed. Witodlice næfde Godes gelaðung Paulum to lareowe, gif se halga martyr Stephanus swa ne bæde. Efne nú Paulus blissað mid Stephane on heofenan rice; mid Stephane hé bricð Cristes beorhtnysse, and mid him hé rixað. Þider ðe Stephanus forestóp, mid Saules stanum oftorfod, ðider folgode Paulus gefultumod þurh Stephanes gebedu. Þær nis Paulus gescynd þurh Stephanes slege, ac Stephanus gladað on Paules gefærrædene; forðan þe seo soðe lufu on heora ægðrum blissað. Seo soðe lufu oferwann ðæra Iudeiscra reðnysse on Stephane, and seo ylce lufu oferwreah synna micelnysse on Paule, and heo on heora ægðrum samod geearnode heofenan rice. Eornostlice seo soðe lufu is wylspring and ordfruma ealra godnyssa and æðele trumnys, and se weg þe lǽt to heofonum. Se ðe færð on soðre lufe ne mæg hé dwelian, ne forhtian: heo gewissað, and gescylt, and gelæt. Þurh þa soðan lufe wæs þes halga martyr swa gebyld þæt he bealdlice ðæra Iudeiscra ungeleaffulnysse ðreade, and he órsorh betwux ðam greatum hagolstanum þurhwunode; and he for ðam stænendum welwillende gebæd, and þær to-eacan ða heofenlican healle cucu and gewuldorbeagod inn-ferde.


Mine gebroðra, uton geefenlæcan be sumum dæle swa miccles lareowes geleafan, and swa mæres cyðeres lufe. Uton lufian ure gebroðra on Godes gelaðunge mid swilcum mode swa swa ðes cyðere þa lufode his fynd.

Understand now, my brethren, the great love of this blessed man [namely, of St. Stephen]. He was placed in death, and yet he prayed with true love for his slayers; and amid the falling of the stones, when any one might forget his dearest friends, he commended his foes to God, thus saying, “Lord, place thou not these deeds to them as sin.” He was more afflicted on account of their sins than of his own wounds, more for their wickedness than his own death; and rightly more, seeing that eternal death followed their wickedness, and eternal life followed his death. Saul held the garments of the false witnesses, and zealously instigated their minds to the stoning. But Stephen with bended knees besought the Lord that he would redeem Saul. Stephen’s prayer was heard, and Saul was redeemed. The pious one was heard, and the impious justified.

By this deed is shown how greatly avails the prayer of true love. Verily the church of God would not have had Paul as a teacher, if the holy martyr Stephen had not thus prayed. Behold, Paul now rejoices with Stephen in the kingdom of heaven; with Stephen he enjoys the brightness of Christ, and with him he rules. Whither Stephen preceded, stoned with the stones of Saul, thither Paul followed, aided by the prayers of Stephen. Paul is not there defiled through Stephen’s murder, but Stephen rejoices in the fellowship of Paul, because true love rejoices in them both. True love overcame the cruelty of the Jews to Stephen, and the same love covered over the greatness of his sins in Paul, and it in both of them together earned the kingdom of heaven. Verily true love is the fountain and origin of all goodness, and noble fortitude, and the way that leads to heaven. He who journeys in true love cannot err nor fear: it directs, and shields, and leads. Through true love was the holy martyr rendered so courageous that he boldly reproved the disbelief of the Jews, and he continued tranquil amid the great stones, and benevolently prayed for the stoners, and, in addition thereto, entered the heavenly hall living, and crowned with glory.




My brethren, let us in some degree imitate so great a teacher’s faith, and so great a martyr’s love. Let us love our brothers in God’s church with such affection as that with which this martyr loved his foes.  (Ælfric, Sermones Catholici I, ‘The Passion of Blessed Stephen, Protomartyr, 51-53).


Beyond this specific passage, Ælfric proves an interesting figure to Orthodox Christians for at least a couple of more general reasons.  First, his works (along with that handful of other vernacular collections of homilies belonging to late Anglo-Saxon England), show us one local Orthodox church’s approach to linguistic adaptation and vernacularization.  Today, many are inclined to consider linguistic adaptation a sort of ‘all or nothing’: vernacularization ought to occur instantaneously and unilaterally or it means that there is something dramatically wrong in the Church.  In Anglo-Saxon England, however, where Orthodox Christianity dated back to Apostolic times, we encounter an alternative model, a sort of middle road, which endured for a significant period of time.  All services were conducted in Latin rather than the vernacular English, but by Ælfric’s homilies we are shown that preaching could often be in English.  Perhaps the realization of the existence of the British example can help us in North America to be patient with our current situation, seeing that it is not unprecedented.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Ælfric represents a living example of Fr John Romanides’ point concerning cultural captivity and the West’s fall into heresy.  The Abbot of Eynsham’s death well predates the Schism (1054), as well as the Norman invasion (1066) which marks the official imposition of Franko-Latin doctrine (what we today call, ‘Roman Catholicism’) on the English people; he reposes some forty years before the former, and some fifty years before the latter.  In this sense, then, he is an Orthodox Christian.  But while his sermons contain many beautiful, Orthodox thoughts (like that quoted above), having lived under the philo-Norman regime of Edward the Confessor, one begins to see Norman influence rear its head in his writings – for example, he clearly assents to the filioque.  In the person of Ælfric, then, we see the gradual dimming of the light of Orthodox Britain even before the official date of the Schism or the Norman Conquest.  This is particularly important to recognize when it comes to developing an understanding of the Schism, but also when it comes to discerning issues associated with the Orthodox Western Rite.  It is not enough to use the dates of the Schism and the Conquest as so-called ‘cut-offs’ when determining Orthodox liturgical practices; rather we need to develop a subtle sensitivity to the issue of cultural captivity.

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Monasticism is an institution wherein man is viewed as a whole, as a psychosomatic being, with special emphasis being laid on the care of the soul and things spiritual, with the ultimate aim of leading him to perfection and theosis. It is precisely this reality which the hymnographer expresses in the apolytikion for the commemoration of an ascetic. Borrowing from the writings of St. Basil, he lauds the ascetic because by his actions he teaches us to, “Despise the flesh, for it passes away, [but] be solicitous for your soul which will never die.” Authentic Christianity, Christianity in its fullness, is cultivated in the monasteries, and the preservation of this is the greatest contribution to the world and to society imaginable. St. John Chrysostom repeatedly admonishes the faithful to visit monasteries so that they might see for themselves that the application of Christianity’s ascetic principles is not some utopian dream, but rather something entirely possible. The monastics succeed in creating a community wherein the worship and praise of God occupy as much time as do work and rest, wherein we find love amongst the brothers, and wherein the life of asceticism is lived in its highest form.

From Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis, Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity  (Columbia: Newrome Press, 2017), 41.


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