Orthodox Church Practice

Practice of the Orthodox Church

On this page you will find explanations on whys and hows of the Orthodox Church. In the Orthodox Church, everything exists for a specific reason or is done for a specific purpose. Many Orthodox themselves are not even aware of many of these reasons or their historical backgrounds. We hope you will find these pages below helpful.

The first century of the Christian era begins with the birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. Christ lived, died, rose again and ascended into heaven in the first century. This time also witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples on the feast of Pentecost, the event which is often called the birthday of the Church. In the first century, the apostles preached the Gospel of Christ. We do not know exactly where the apostles travelled, with the exception of Saint Paul whose missionary journeys are recorded in the book of Acts. According to Tradition, all of the apostles were universal preachers of the Gospel, who, with the exception of Saint John, were killed for their faith in Christ.

The gospels and epistles and all of the books which comprise the New Testament scriptures were written in the first century. Also at this time, the first Christian communities were established in the main cities of Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly in North Africa. The Church was also established in the capital city of Rome.

The Church

Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the Christian Church was first an urban phenomenon which only later spread to the rural areas. Also, it was composed mainly of people from what we would call today the “middle classes” of society. Thus, it is not true that Christianity gained its foothold in the world in uneducated and backward people who were looking for heavenly consolation in the face of oppressive and unbearable earthly conditions.

The main event of the Church of the first century was the admittance of gentiles into the Church who were not obliged to follow the ritual requirements of the Mosaic law. (See Acts 15, Galatians, Romans) Thus, although the Christian Church entered Roman imperial society “under the veil” of Judaism, it was quickly separated from the Jewish faith as the People of God called from all the nations, those who were united in Christ the Messiah, Who was confessed as the Lord and Savior of all men and the whole world. The requirements for entry into the Christian Church w ere faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, repentance from sin, and baptism in Jesus’ name with the subsequent reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who fulfilled these requirements entered the Church which was founded in each place as a local community led by those called bishops or presbyters who received the laying-on-of-hands from the apostles. The apostles themselves were not local bishops of any particular Christian community in any place.

Each of the early Christian communities that we know about had its own unique character, and its own unique problems, as we see in the New Testament documents. Generally speaking, however, each church had great concern for the others and were all called to teach the same doctrines and to practice the same virtues, living the same life in Christ and the Holy Spirit:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, and communion, to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:42, 44)

This description of the Church in Jerusalem can generally be applied to all of the early Christian communities.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

There are at least five reasons why Orthodox Christians should read and study the Holy Bible. First, according to Christian tradition, the Bible is the divinely inspired and thus authentic record of God’s revelation of himself and of his will to mankind. Correctly understood, it is a primary source of truth concerning the nature of God, the condition of man and the overall purpose of the universe. Those who seek such truth must therefore have recourse to the witness of Holy Scripture.

Second, as an inspired record of divine revelation, the Bible is God’s Word to mankind concerning himself and his kingdom. And that Word is addressed especially to those who are members of the Church, who are called to listen to it, heed it, take it to heart and respond to it in faith and obedience.

Third, the Orthodox Church teaches that the Bible is a verbal icon of God himself. Just as the persons and events depicted in painted icons are “really present” in and through their physical representations, so God is “really present” in and through the physical representation of his written Word. Through reading and studying Holy Scripture, through praying over it and meditating upon it, it is possible to make contact with, and commune with, God himself. Through the diligent and prayerful study of and meditation upon the Bible one can both “touch” and “be touched by” the eternal, undivided and life-creating Trinity.

Fourth, the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church is grounded in and expressive of Holy Scripture. It has been estimated that in the Divine Liturgy alone, and without counting readings from the epistles and gospels or the recitation ofthe Lord’s Prayer, there are 98 quotations from the Old Testament and 114 from the New Testament.”1 And in all Orthodox services throughout the year, the Bible is read almost constantly. It follows that one’s understanding of and participation in the liturgies and services of the Church will be both deepened and intensified to the extent that one makes himself familiar with the contents of God’s written Word.

Fifth, and finally, the Bible is a major expression of the holy tradition of the Orthodox Church. According to Fr. Kallistos Ware, “the Orthodox Christian of today sees himself as heir and guardian to a great inheritance received from the past, and he believes that it is his duty to transmit that inheritance unimpaired to the future.”2 But in order to perform this duty, Orthodox Christians will have to overcome a number of rather formidable obstacles. Faced with the secularized culture of the contemporary world, Orthodox Christianity must learn to dwell in the presence of, and frequently in competition with, a multitude of non-Orthodox philosophical and religious movements and organizations. Many Orthodox Christians are, in fact, tempted to depart from the Orthodox Church in response to the often quite attractive and effective enticements of these philosophies and religions. For far too many of today’s Orthodox Christians, holy tradition has ceased to be a living and life-sustaining tradition.

Cut off from his theological roots by political forces, by radical cultural change and by his own failure to live in the light and truth of God, the modern Orthodox Christian must make every effort to comprehend the doctrinal and liturgical foundations of his tradition and to express that comprehension in a living faith. Only then will he be able to perform his duty of preserving and passing on “the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship, and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages.”3 In seeking to carry out this task, it will be necessary to construct a specifically Orthodox critique ofthe predominantly secular, non-Orthodox and even anti-Christian beliefs and values of the present age. And an important part of this overall project will be the serious study of the content and meaning of Holy Scripture and the development of a world perspective that is grounded in and expressive of what Fr. Georges Florovsky has called “the scriptural mind”.4

For these and other reasons, then, Orthodox Christians should make the reading and study of Holy Scripture a central concern of their lives. The Bible is, of course, a very large and complex collection of documents; and it is possible for the beginning Bible reader to get lost in the details of the sacred texts. What is important, as one seeks to develop a “scriptural mind”, is to strive for a sense of the overall message of God’s written Word, “a grasp of the Scriptures in their totality”.1

1Timothy (Fr. Kallistos) Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1972) 209.

2Ibid., 204. 3Ibid.

4Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View (Nordland Publishing Co., 1972) 9-16.

5Georges A. Barrois, The Face of Christ in the Old Testament (SVS Press, 1974),19.

From: The Message of the Bible by George Cronk, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990

In the Book of Genesis, we read that creation began when the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:2) Throughout the Bible, water plays an important and a ‘mystical role’ in human existence and in man’s relationship with God the Creator.

Water has the capacity to produce death, as recounted in the story of Noah and the ark (Gen. 6); or to produce life, as noted in the story of Moses’ striking the rock in the desert to produce water for the parched wanderers (Numbers 20). While the waters of the Red Sea parted to allow the Hebrews to pass over in safety (and thus preserve life), the same waters came rushing upon the Pharaoh and his army drowning them.

In the New Testament, we see water becoming the means by which the Trinity was revealed during the Baptism of Jesus, which we celebrate on the Feast of Theophany on January 6 each year. In the Baptism of Jesus, at the hands of John the Baptist, the spiritual significance and potential of water as the source of life is again revealed and reaffirmed just as in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

In a sermon on Theophany, St. John Chrysostom says: “On this day Christ was baptized; through His Baptism He sanctified the element of water. There let us all draw of the water and store it in homes, because on this day the water is consecrated.”

In blessing water on the Feast Day, we ask and pray that the original purpose of water, as a source of life, blessing and holiness be revealed to us as we drink it. In the Garden of Eden, Adam enjoyed a unique and lordly relationship with Creation. After the Fall as he was expelled from Paradise, he heard the words, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” (Genesis 3:17) From that point Adam would be subject to Creation, and not a master. Yet through Christ, the curse is lifted, just as the curse of death is lifted from the human race through the Resurrection. Because of Christ’s coming and His work of salvation and redemption (as the hymns say, “dispensation”), Man and Creation are reconciled. Creation is able once more to meet not only the physical needs of man, but the elements of creation can be, and are, sources of grace and healing as we worship the Lord of Life.

When we bless water – or any other material object – and when we celebrate the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, we reverently and gratefully proclaim that Christ Himself (in the words of the Divine Liturgy) “offers and is offered” blesses and sanctifies the world (cosmos) as the Great High Priest. The celebration of the Great Blessing of Water is an affirmation that through Christ’s own baptism, He who is our loving Lord has lifted the curse of Adam’s sin, and given the creative goodness of God’s creation back to mankind once again.

By Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

I believe in God….But what is belief, faith? If we look impartially at this affirmation “I believe in God,” and reflect on what these words might mean, it becomes mystifying….And this is true even though we thought we understood it.

First of all, it is obvious that belief and knowledge are not the same, or at least knowledge as commonly used in its everyday sense. If I say: “I believe in God” – i.e., I know God exists – this type of knowledge is in no way similar to the knowledge that in my room there is a table and outside my window rain is falling. This latter – what we call objective knowledge – is independent of me, it enters my consciousness apart from free choice of any kind. It is, in fact, “objective”; and I – the subject, the person within me – am only able to accept it and make it my own. But when I say “I believe in God,” then I am making an affirmation which requires a choice, a decision. In other words, it presupposes some kind of personal participation by my entire being. As soon as this personal participation, this choice disappears, then my faith dies, becomes sort of non-existent. Genuine faith of this sort is far from our norm, and therefore faith must in no way be reduced to simply an objective, independent part of my convictions and worldview.

Many people turn to God in times of fear, unhappiness, or suffering, but when these moments pass they return to a life completely unrelated to faith, living as if God did not exist. Even more people believe not so much in God as in religion, strange as this may sound. They simply like being in a church, they find it cozy and comfortable. Many of these people have been accustomed since their childhood to the “holiness” of church and rituals. Here everything is beautiful, deep, mysterious – quite different from what they find in the world’s day-to-day insanity and evil. And without ever thinking about it, or pursuing it on a deeper level, these people hold on to this “religiosity.” But religiosity has almost no connection to “real” life. Religiosity provides good, clean “experiences,” making it easier to live; but religion in this scheme is isolated and divorced from real life.

Finally there is a third category of people: those who view religion as something useful and necessary for human society, for the nation, for the family, for children, for the terminally ill and sick, for upholding honesty and morality. In other words, these people reduce religion to its usefulness. When I was a young priest, I remember how mothers would approach me for help in uprooting some bad habit from their children by means of confession. “Tell my child that God sees everything; then he will be afraid and won’t do such and such….”

Religion as help and comfort; as a kind of recreational pleasure in holy and exalted things; religion as usefulness. In all of these there is a measure of truth, but when reduced only to these, religion is no longer faith as the Apostle Paul described it at the dawn of Christianity: “Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the certitude of things unseen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Let’s reflect on these strange words: “realization of what is hoped for, the certitude of things unseen.” They are strange because of an apparent contradiction: if I am hoping for something, how can it be already realized?  If it is realized, then logically there is nothing to hope for. And how can something that is not seen – or, in other words, something impossible to observe and to examine – be seen and known? How can it become within me certitude, something genuine and true, a reality, something that I possess? Yet it is precisely in this way, employing these apparent paradoxes, that the Apostle Paul defines faith. Notice that this definition does not include the word God; that word appears later, in the following verses of his letter. Here he speaks of faith as a special, characteristically human condition – a kind of gift human beings possess.

“So you say it’s a gift, but what gift?” To this question we may respond as follows: it is a yearning, the longing, the hopeful anticipation for something desired, the presentiment of that something other which alone will make life worth living.

And here is something strange: the atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sarte defines man in almost exactly the same way, saying: “man is a useless passion.” He calls this passion, this yearning, “useless” because in his opinion it is illusory: there is nothing to yearn for, there is nothing for which to wait or to hope, there is nothing foe which to thirst. But what is significant is that even he finds in man this hopeful anticipation and thirst. So faith itself, according to the Apostle Paul, is the knowledge of, and the encounter with that which a person – without perhaps even realizing it – anticipates in hope; it is the yearning and thirst that are revealed as his very life. If this thirst did not exist, if this hopeful anticipation did not exist, then there also would be no encounter; and if that for which a person thirsts does not exist, then this anticipation within him also would not exist. It is in this encounter that the unseen becomes certitude, something that I experience as my own, as reality.

All of this means that faith, in the Christian experience, is the fruit and manifestation not simply of knowledge; it is not a conclusion based on reasoning and analysis. Faith is not an intellectual calculation, but neither is it simply a religious emotion which is here for a moment and then evaporates and is gone. Faith is the encounter, the real encounter between what is deepest in a person – that thirst which is so distinctly a part of him, and that toward which his thirst is directed – even if he doesn’t know what it is. St. Augustine was the one who spoke best about this “realization of that which is hoped for” and the “certitude of things not seen,” when he said: “You made us for Yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” But this also brings us to the third and most enigmatic word of our confession of faith: “I believe in God” – which brings us to the word “God.”

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann (departed 1983) would broadcast two talks every week into the Soviet Union on Radio Liberty. This talk was from one of his broadcasts in the 1970s and can be found in a collection of his writings called I Believe (SVS 1991).

by Bishop Kallistos Ware

“We waited, and at last our expectations were fulfilled”, wrote Bishop Nicholas of South Canaan, describing the Easter Service at Jerusalem. “When the patriarch sang ‘Christ is risen’, a heavy burden fell from our souls. We felt as if we also had been raised from the dead. All at once, from all around, the same cry resounded like the noise of many waters. ‘Christ is risen’ sang the Greeks, the Russians, the Arabs, the Serbs, the Copts, the Armenians, the Ethiopians – one after another, each in his own tongue, in his own melody….Coming out from the service at dawn, we began to regard everything in the light of the glory of Christ’s Resurrection, and all appeared different from what it had yesterday; everything seemed better, more expressive, more glorious. Only in the light of the Resurrection does life receive meaning.”

This sense of Resurrection joy, so vividly described by Bishop Nicholas, forms the foundation of all worship of the Orthodox Church; it is the one and only basis for our Christian life and hope. Yet, in order for us to experience the full power of this Paschal rejoicing, each of us needs to pass through a time of preparation. “We waited, ” says Bishop Nicholas, “and at last our expectations were fulfilled.” Without the waiting, without the expectant preparation, the deeper meaning of the Easter celebration will be lost.

So it is that before the festival of Easter there has developed a long preparatory season of repentance and fasting, extending in present Orthodox usage over ten weeks. First comes twenty-two days (four Sundays) of preliminary observance; then the six weeks or forty days of the Great Fast of Lent; and finally Holy Week, there follows after Easter a corresponding season of fifty days of thanksgiving, concluding with Pentecost.

This time can most briefly be described as the time of the fast. Just as the children of Israel ate the “bread of affliction” (Deut. 16:3) in preparation for the Passover, so Christians prepare themselves for the celebration of the New Passover by observing a fast. But what is meant by this word “fast” (nisteia)? here the utmost care is needed, so as to preserve a proper balance between the outward and inward. On the outward level fasting involves physical abstinence from food and drink, and without such exterior abstinence a full and true fast cannot be kept; yet rules about eating and drinking must never be treated as an end in themselves, for ascetic fasting has always an inward and unseen purpose. And a proper balance must always be maintained.

Man is a unity of body and soul, “a living creature fashioned from natures visible and invisible”, in the words of the Triodion; and our ascetic fasting should therefore involve both these natures at once. The tendency to over-emphasize external rules about food in a legalistic way, and the opposite tendency to scorn these rules as outdated and unnecessary, are both alike to be deplored as a betrayal of true Orthodoxy. In both cases a proper balance between the outward and the inward has been impaired.

One reason for the decline in fasting is surely the heretical attitude towards human nature, a false “spiritualism” which rejects or ignores the body, viewing man solely in terms of his reasoning brain. As a result, many contemporary Christians have lost a true vision of man as an integral unity of the visible and invisible; they neglect the positive role played by the body in the spiritual life, forgetting St. Paul’s affirmation: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit….glorify God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Another reason for the decline in fasting among Orthodox is the argument, commonly advanced in our times, that the traditional rules are no longer possible today. These rules presuppose, so it is urged, a closely organized, non-pluralistic Christian society, following an agricultural way of life that is now increasingly a thing of the past. There is a measure of truth in this. But it also needs to be said that fasting, as traditionally practiced in the Church, has always been difficult and has always involved hardship. Many of our contemporaries are willing to fast for reasons of health or beauty, in order to lose weight; cannot we Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom? Why should the self-denial gladly accepted by previous generations of Orthodox prove such an intolerable burden to their successors today? Once St. Seraphim of Sarov was asked why the miracles of grace, so abundantly manifest in the past, were no longer apparent in his own day, and to this he replied: “Only one thing is lacking – a firm resolve”.

The Funeral Service for the Orthodox Church is an ancient burial service that has been celebrated for close to 2000 years. It is based on the Burial and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As such, the Church looks for the resurrection of all people in the end times. The service itself is divided into three parts. The first is the memorial for the departed served the night before the burial. The second part is served on the day of the burial and is the longer service based on the theme of the Resurrection. The final part is done at the cemetery where the departed is interred into the earth.

It should be noted that the Orthodox believe strongly in the resurrection of all at the end times and as such the focus of the funeral service is on the life hereafter rather than on the life of the departed. Each hymn is meant to explore the mystery of death and resurrection in our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may follow the path He opened to all of us. As such He is the great example that we all should follow. The service also gives us the opportunity to weep and grieve and give our final farewells to the beloved departed this life before us.

The Panakhida (Memorial Service)

The evening service is a short memorial to the departed. It begins with the standard Trisagion prayer (Three Holy) which is a commemoration to the Trinity. There is the funeral tropar (hymns) which speaks of the departed being with the Holy Ones departed before us all. There are various hymns which remind us of the grieving and consolation of the family. Included are Litanies (responded verses) which prayer for the world and the departed. Finally there is an Epistle and Gospel reading which speak of the soul of the departed. The service ends with the familiar song “Memory Eternal” which reminds us all to remember the departed.

The Funeral Service

The funeral service itself is a longer service based around Psalm 119 which in the Orthodox Church is the Resurrectional Psalm. After the usual beginning, the priest chants verses from Psalm 119 which are interspersed with refrains such as “Have mercy on Thy servant who has fallen asleep.”

Following the Psalm, the choir will sing various hymns which relate to the departed interspersed with litanies. Following this, there is the chanting of the Canon, which is a longer poetic hymn based on Biblical themes. This particular Canon is used during the Easter service and talks about the resurrectional prefigurement found in the Old Testament. There are some more hymns and litanies.

Following the Canon there is the famous hymns written by St. John of Damascus which speaks about death and give exhortation to those living to follow a righteous life. It is often said that the priest speaks for the departed to those living. Following this, there is the Beatitudes which shows the living on how to live their lives. This is followed by the Epistle and Gospel reading which is much more resurrectional in its tone. The service now begins to end as the priest brings the people forward for what is called “The Last Kiss” as the family and friends bid farewell to the departed. The priest reads a famous hymn about saying farewell.

The service is concluded with the priest offering absolution to the departed, anointing them with holy oil and closing the casket. As the casket is moved from the Church, the choir and people sing “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” as a sign of remembrance to the power of God.

The Burial

The funeral service is completed at the cemetery where the departed is interred. There is a short service similar to the first one and the priest prayers for the departed one last time. The ground is blessed and the people take their final farewell. The priest then shovels dirt onto the casket and empties the censor repeating “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” and saying “The earth is the Lord’s and all they that dwell therein.” The casket is lowered with the final singing of “Memory Eternal.”

“O Lord crown them with glory and honor!”

-from the Wedding Service of the Orthodox Church

God declared marriage to be honorable by His presence at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Thus, it is only fitting that all marriages be performed in the Church as the couple dedicates their new life together to God. The Orthodox wedding ceremony is the original form of marriage in the early Church and continues unchanged to this day. There are different parts of the ceremony with many symbols to express God’s love towards His creation and His blessing upon the couple.

The ceremonies begin at the back of the Church where the couple exchanges rings and enter together into God’s Holy House. There are a set of prayers called a “Litany” which asks God’s blessing upon the couple, the people and the Church. The rings are then exchanged by the couple three times in remembrance of the Holy Trinity and placed on the fourth finger of the right hand. It is traditional for the couple to wear their rings on the right hand as it is the hand of blessing from the Bible. There is then another prayer which cites the many examples of Godly marriages in the Bible and extols the couple to follow their example. The priest then leads the newly betrothed couple to the center of the Church.

In the center of the Church is a table upon which sets the liturgical items used in the ceremony. There is a set of crowns which the priest places on the heads of the couple to bless them and to remind them of the crowns which the martyrs wear for their witness to Christ. There is a common cup which the couple drinks from to symbolize their unity. There is a pair of candles that the couple holds to show that the light of Christ shines in their lives. There is a handkerchief which the priest binds the hands of the couple together as a symbol of their unity. Finally, there is a Gospel Book which the priest reads from and a cross which he blesses the couple.

The service begins with the chanting of Psalm 128 which reminds the couple of the blessing of God upon Jerusalem. The priest then gives lit candles to the couple and inquires both of them of their intentions. There is again a Litany and prayers of blessing which reminds the couple of their obligation towards God and each other. The priest then blesses the couple with a crown and places it on each one’s head. Following the crowning, there is a reading from the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians (Eph 5:20-33) which speaks about the obligation of marriage and compares it to Christ and the Church. There is then a reading from the Gospel of St. John (John 2:1-11) which speaks of Christ’s blessing of the wedding in Cana.

Following the readings, there is another Litany and prayers. The couple then partakes of the common cup three times to unite them. He then binds their hands together and takes up the cross. There is a procession three times around the center table while the choir sings a beautiful hymn. Interestingly this hymn is the same one used in the ordination of clergy. Following the procession, the priest blesses the couple, unbinds the hands and removes the crowns. Usually there is a sermon following this followed by the final blessing. With this, the couple is united in Christ to each other in Holy Matrimony.

The Wedding is not simply an exchange of vows or a contract but a Sacrament of the Church, which as all Sacraments unites us with Christ. The newly married couple is not just united to each other but joined together with Christ and His Holy Church. It is not a private affair but one witnessed by the Church as the Body of Christ bringing them in closer communion with all. Through marriage their lives are transfigured as together they seek salvation in this world.

Below are descriptions of Orthodox vestments, specifically what are known as the ‘Sacerdotal Vestments’, along with an explanation of their symbolism:

Readers. A short Tunic (Felon), which barely covers the shoulders, is put upon the Reader when he is set apart by the Bishop, and (at the present time) is rarely worn except upon that day. It symbolizes his coming under the yoke of the Priest-hood, and his dedica­tion to the service of God. His usual vest­ment is a Dalmatic (Stikhar).

Sub-Deacons and Deacons. The Dal­matic (Stikhar) and the Stole (Orar). The Dalmatic, a long, straight vestment with wide sleeves, which covers the whole person, is called “the robe of salvation and the garment of joy. It is symbolical of a pure and tranquil conscience, a spotless life, and the spiritual joy in the Lord which flows therefrom, in him who wears it. The Stole is a long, wide band of material which is sometimes worn over the left

shoulder, sometimes crossed upon the breast and back, in the case of the Deacon. The Sub-Deacon wears his Stole always crossed, for conven­ience in the fulfilment of his duties. But the Deacon binds his Stole about him in the form of a cross shortly before the Holy Gifts are con­secrated, thus typifying the wings of the Angels who serve about the Altar, as the Deacons themselves typify the Cherubim and Seraphim. Sometimes the Angelic song, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” is embroidered upon the Stole. The Stole is bound about the Sub-Deacon in the form of a cross at his Ordination, as a symbol that, through the meekness and continence of his members and the purity of his heart, he is to put upon him the robe of purity. The Deacon wears, also, the Cuffs (Porutchi), for convenience during the service, and to remind him that he must not put his trust in his own strength alone, but in the right hand of the Lord, the Almighty and merciful God, and in His strength and aid.

Priests. The Priest’s stikhak or cassock (Podriznik), has close sleeves. His Stole (Epitrakhil) consists of a long piece of cloth like the Deacon’s, but broader than the latter, which passes round his neck, is joined in front for its entire length, and falls low upon his cassock. It typifies the consecrating grace of the Priesthood. The Priest, like the Deacon, can celebrate no Office without his Stole. In it, without the Chasuble, he celebrates the less solemn Offices: Lesser Vespers, ordinary Compline, Lauds (Polunotchnitza), the Hours (if the Gospel be not appointed to be read in them); also various Prayer-services in private dwellings, such as that at the birth of a child, and the like.

The Zone (Poyas) is a sort of belt wherewith the Priest girds himself above his cassock and stole, for convenience in serving the Altar. It is symbolical of the gift of strength, wherewith God aids him in his ser­vice, and exhorts him to blamelessness of life. His Cuffs (Porutchi) typify the bonds wherewith the hands of our Lord were bound. The Epigonation (Nabedrennik) is an oblong piece of brocade, which is suspended upon the hip of a priest, and signifies the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It is also explained as being sym­bolical of the towel wherewith the Saviour girded himself to wash the disciples’ feet.

The Palitza is identical with the Epigonation, except that it is suspended by one corner instead of by two corners. It is always worn on the right hip. The Epigonation is worn on the right hip; but if the Priest have also a Palitza, the Epigonation is worn on the left hip. Both the Epigonation and the Palitza are typical of profound zeal for the faith, and for the salvation of Christ’s flock, and are conferred as rewards of honour. The distinguishing vestment of the Priest is the Chasuble (Felon), a long, ample garment without sleeves, short in front and with an open­ing for the head, which is put on over the other vestments. Archpriests and Priests also receive, as tokens of distinguished ser­vice, the pointed and the upright Biretta – the sknfya and the kamilavka.

Bishops. A Bishop wears all the vestments of a Priest, save the Chasuble and Epigonation, his biretta being perpendicular, black, and draped with

the monastic veil or cowl. In place of the Chasuble a Bishop wears a Dalmatic, which closely resembles the wide-sleeved Dalmatic of the Deacon. This Dalmatic (Sakkos) is symbolical of Christ’s coat without a seam, woven from top to bottom. The Bishop’s Stole (Omofor-Pall) is very broad, and hangs clown in front and behind over his other vestments. His Pall typ­ifies the wandering sheep, and the Prelate, when arrayed in this vestment, bears the image of the Saviour Christ, who, as the Good Shepherd, took upon his shoulders the wandering sheep and bare it to those who wander not; that is, to the Angels, in his Father’s house. The Mitre is typical of a diadem or crown, and serves as an emblem of the power bestowed upon a minister of the Church. (The Mitre is conferred also upon Archimandrites, or Abbots, and upon certain Archpriests.) The Panagia, which is worn on his breast by a Bishop, is generally a small, circular Holy Image, or Ikona, of our Sa­viour and the Birth-giver of God. The Panagia (or “all-holy”) reminds the Bishop that he must al­ways bear in his heart our Lord and his holy Mother, the Intercessor with God; and, to that end his heart must be pure, and his spirit upright. The Bishop’s Mantle (Mdntiya) is a monastic vestment, which covers the whole person with the exception of the head. Its freely flowing lines typify the wings of the Angels; hence it is called “the Angelic vestment.” The folds of the Mantle are symbolical of the all-embracing power of God;and also of the strictness, piety and  meekness of the monastic life; and that the hands and other members of a monk do not live, and are not fitted for worldly activity, but are all dead. All monks, when present at divine service, must be robed in their mantles.

The peculiarity of a Bishop’s man­tle is that it is not black in hue, like the monastic mantle, but of purple, or some other colour; and upon it are sewn the so-called “Tables of the Law” (Skrizhali), and, in particular, the “Fountains ” (Istotchniki). The Tables (squares of velvet at neck and foot) typify the Old and the New Testament, whence the ministers of God should draw their doctrine. The “Fountains” are ribbons, usually red and white in hue, sewn horizontally round the Mantle, and represent the streams of teaching which flow from the mouth of the Bishop. Small bells are attached to the Mantle of a Bishop, and to his Dalma­tic, as to the upper robe of the High Priest of the Jews. The Crozier, or Pastoral Staff (Posokli), is given to Bishops and to Archiman­drites, in token of their spir­itual authority over the monasteries or cities which they rule; and as a sign that it behooves them to feed the flock of Christ. The Eagle (Orlet) is a small circular rug, with the representa­tion of a one-headed eagle soaring over a battlemented city. A Bishop stands on this rug during divine service, and to him alone is its use accorded. He is led upon a large “Eagle” at his Consecration, as the Office of Consecration sets forth. The view of the city betokens the Prelate’s rule over the city; the Eagle denotes the lofti­ness and purity of his teach­ing. Thus the Eagle-rug spread for a Bishop to stand upon signifies that he, by his life Crozier and doctrine, must resemble the eagle, which soars above all lower things, and aspires unto heaven.

From: Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church – Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, Englewood, NJ, 1983

(derived from the Archpriest Konstantin Nikolsky: An Aid to the Study of the Orthodox Church, St. Petersburg, 1894)

Over the last half century few subjects have provoked so much controversy in the Orthodox world as autocephaly. One need only mention the unedifying disputes between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople concerning the status of the churches of Poland, Czechoslovakia and America. Disagreement has centered on the way in which autocephalous status is attained. To put matters in simplest terms, according to the Russian Church, any autocephalous church has the right to grant canonical independence to one of its parts. According to Constantinople, on the other hand, only an ecumenical council can definitively establish an autocephalous church, and any interim arrangements depend upon approbation by Constantinople, acting in its capacity as the “mother church” and “first among equals.”

While this debate concerning the granting of autocephaly has proceeded with great acrimony, the nature and content of autocephaly has been left relatively undefined. The word is assumed to have a simple univocal meaning. In fact, those who use the term often tacitly assume implications which others may not share but which nonetheless color their outlook and at times arouse their emotions.

In present-day Orthodox usage, a church is termed “autocephalous” if it possesses (1) the right to resolve all internal problems on its own authority, independently of all other churches, and (2) the right to appoint its own bishops, among them the head of the church, without any obligatory expression of dependence on another church. Similarity between this definition and the definition of internal and external sovereignty given in textbooks on government is hardly coincidental. Autocephaly thus defined in quasi-political terms is seen as arising from a veritable liberation. According to Professor J. Karmires, writing in the Greek Encyclopedia for Religion and Ethics: “By this concept [of autocephaly] above all is meant the various local churches that have been emancipated (kheirapheto) and that have their own administrative and spiritual ‘head’…” As Professor Karmires immediately goes on to add, these autocephalous churches are also characterized by “the coincidence of their jurisdictional boundaries with those of the corresponding state.” Here we have echoes of an idea most forcefully enunciated by Theokletos Pharmakides, principal theoretician of the modern Church of Greece, according to whom independence of a state necessarily implies ecclesiastical independence for the territory of that state. This conception, so well suited to nineteenth-century attitudes toward church/state relations, has continued to influence Orthodox polity in this century. It was used, for example, to justify the autocephaly of the Orthodox church of the new Polish republic following World War I. Usually, however, it has not been the concept of the state as such but rather that of the nation-state that has colored perceptions of autocephaly.

To be sure, nationality alone has not completely triumphed as a principle of ecclesiastical organization – witness the fate of the Bulgarian Exarchate in the nineteenth century, when phyletism (tribalism, ethnicism) was officially condemned as a heresy by Constantinople. But nationality linked to statehood has been a very potent force indeed. We find the basic argument expressed in its simplest – and most benign – form by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in his preface to the 1653 edition of the Kormchaia Kniga: though Russia had received Christianity from Constantinople, this did not imply necessary and permanent subordination, “for if a nation has established an independent state not subordinate to the Greek empire, and if that local church gradually has become stronger, it may in time become self-governing in all respects.” We find the same argument expressed more stridently in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century, as the older sense of one Orthodox oikoumene gives way to modern ideas of nationalism and statism.

These are only a few of the elements which may enter into modern definitions of autocephaly. Even from these, one can easily understand why dispassionate discussion of the subject has been so difficult. Unfortunately, the search for an adequate definition of autocephaly is not greatly simplified when one turns from modern church history to the more distant past, for the word “autocephalous” has had a variety of meanings over the centuries.

This historical investigation of “autocephaly” should dispel at least one common misconception. Very often autocephaly is taken to be a univocal, self-evident and utterly fundamental principle of Orthodox ecclesiology, as though the notion of autocephaly has remained – and will forever remain consistent and unchanged. But as we have seen, forms of supra-episcopal organization in Orthodoxy have in fact varied considerably. In antiquity each province in effect constituted an autocephalous church. In the imperial period there was a marked tendency to centralization, first into patriarchates and then around a single center, Constantinople. But in the twentieth century we have entered a new period in the history of ecclesiastical organization, one in which we can no longer appeal to this or that isolated historical precedent.

Here, by way of example, the situation of Orthodoxy in America could be noted. As indicated at the beginning of this essay, the patriarchate of Moscow seems to take as axiomatic the principle that any autocephalous church has the right to grant autocephaly to one of its parts, and on this basis it recognized as autocephalous its former North American mission, now the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). The patriarchate of Constantinople has vigorously protested this autocephaly, arguing that only an ecumenical council can definitively establish an autocephalous church and that any interim arrangements depend above all upon approbation by Constantinople. Now the approach of Moscow certainly is consistent with nineteenth-century ideas which would regard the auto cephalous church as the spiritual counterpart of the sovereign nation-state, and the approach of Constantinople is consistent with the “newer tomes of autocephaly” to which it so often refers, even though this clearly ignores much of the historical evidence presented here. Yet in their official pronouncements neither Moscow nor Constantinople take into consideration all the dimensions of the actual American situation. Moscow has tried to ignore the multitude of overlapping ethnic jurisdictions in America or at most has regarded them as regrettable anomalies, while Constantinople has failed to recognize the existence, growth and vitality – or even the possibility – of authentic church life that is at once both Orthodox and American. As a result, their debate over “who has the right to grant autocephaly” has been sterile, without possibility of resolution.

In all this controversy, one should also note the lack of correspondence between spiritual content and canonical forms, so that the very same church may be regarded by one party as autocephalous and by another as autonomous or possibly even as completely uncanonical. Authentic church life may be present yet still be ignored or mislabeled. Conversely, authentic spiritual life may be absent yet canonical recognition be extended. Thus, as we debate about who has the right to grant autocephaly, as we wait for a Great and Holy Council to answer such questions, in fact we are ignoring the real source of the canonical chaos of our time: that miserable ecclesiological nominalism which ignores spiritual reality in favor of empty names, claims and titles. Should we not instead discuss real issues, however painful this may be? Do we care enough – love enough – to take upon ourselves this cross of truth?

From: The Challenge of our Past by John Erickson, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1991

…In one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church…

We must first focus on the word “Church.” In the Greek original of the Symbol of faith, we find the word ekklesia which may be translated as: “the assembly of those who are called,” or in other words, the people called to this assembly, the people agreeing to this call. To put it another way, it is not simply an assembly, which might be accidental and have no particular meaning or task whatsoever. No, it is first an assembly with a particular purpose, and secondly, it is the assembly of people who are called to and capable of fulfilling that purpose, of realizing it. Thus, in order to understand the central place of the Church in Christian faith, we must ask ourselves: who gathers this assembly, and for what purpose? To the first question Christ Himself gives the answer in the Gospel: “I will build my Church…” (Mt 16:18). Christ builds the Church. It is the assembly, the union of those whom Christ has called and continues to call. Christ founds the Church even before approaching the people with His preaching. Indeed, Christ begins His task pre­cisely by calling to Himself twelve men to whom He says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (Jn 15:16). And after His departure it is these very twelve who re­main as the Church, and they in turn “call” people to join them.

Thus, the Church is founded on Christ. It is His Church, the response to His call, the obedience to His will. It is important to keep this in mind, because Chris­tians themselves often forget and begin to view the Church as “theirs,” as an organization essentially called to serve them, to satisfy their spiritual and non-spiritual needs and demands. Yet the very word Church shows above all that it is the union of those who are called to serve Christ, and to continue His work. It is service not to self but to God. What is this service? Or rather, what is the purpose, the task for which Christ founded, or as He says, “built” His Church? The answer to this question is given by the Symbol of faith in the four adjectives pre­ceding the word “Church”: “I believe,” we each say, “in One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” We will briefly consider each of these attributes.

The Church is One. We must emphasize immediately that this word is a description from within the Church and not from outside. It is not an external, but an inner and spiritual characteristic of the Church, since externally the Church is dispersed into many “churches,” or as one of the early Christian documents puts it, it is “scattered” throughout the world (Didache, 9:4). And yet, wherever it is, however scattered it is, the Church is everywhere called to manifest to people that unity which was revealed in the world by Christ. For the world and man live by the law of division and opposition; everything on earth di­vides people—everything—even that which “unites” some of them: nationality, belief, ideology, taste, and so forth. The world’s sin and tragedy is that its entire life is fundamentally a war of all against all for the sake of self. Christ’s antidote to this division is unity or oneness, and oneness above all with God, oneness from above; for the closer people are to God, the closer they are to each other and to unity amongst themselves. Christ came to all and for all, and therefore in Christ, in His teaching, in His life, people are able to find that oneness of faith, hope and love which nothing else in the world can give, and which is finally the ultimate goal, the ultimate calling of the world and man: the unity of everyone and of everything in God. It is this oneness which is in fact the Kingdom of God, and it is this new oneness of all and everything in Christ which the Church is called to manifest, to serve, to bring into being in all places and at all times.

“I believe,” we say further, “in the Holy Church.” The word “holy” does not mean, of course, that the Church consists of saints and perfect people. It means rather that the Church’s task is to make our life holy, to purify it with the power of God, to liberate it from enslavement to sin, to offer it to God, to direct it upward, to transform it by the Holy Spirit.

After confessing the holiness of the Church, we con­fess the Church’s catholicity. The word “catholic”—in Greek katholike—means firstly that which is worldwide, universal, and secondly, wholeness and fullness. The Church is universal because Christ and His teaching are addressed not to any one people, nor to one particular era or culture, but to all mankind, to all cultures and to all eras. We often forget this; we constrict the Church and Christianity to “our own kind,” we refashion it into some­thing narrow, provincial, partial. But Christ says: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15)… and for centuries the Church has sung in response: “Let all the earth worship Thee…” (Ps 66:4). This is because the teaching of Christ is an organic whole, which means that it is all-encompassing, embrac­ing within itself the whole life of man, answering all his questions, directed to all of life.

Finally, we confess that the Church is apostolic. The apostles, as I said earlier, are those first twelve disciples whom Christ Himself chose and formed as the Church’s foundation; in Greek the word “apostle” means “one who is sent.” In saying that the Church is apostolic, we confess first that it was founded upon, and forever remains founded upon the witness, teaching, and preaching of those apostles chosen and instructed by Christ Himself. And secondly, we affirm that the Church is always sent into the world, to people, to the whole creation, that it always remains missionary, i.e., doing the work of Christ in the world. This is the meaning of those words about the Church in the Symbol of faith, a meaning that especially today is so crucial to remember.

From: Celebration of Faith by Fr. Alexander Schemann, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991

The term iconostasis means simply a partition covered with icons. Of rather late origin, it attained its classical form in the fifteenth century. In the churches of early Christianity, the sanctuary was separated from the nave by a low screen, latticed grill, or a low, solid wall. With the increase in the number of icons this slowly changed. The icons were first hung onto the grill in one row, and then on a second. Finally, we find up to five rows or tiers, thus giving the iconostasis the form that we recognize today. Its evolution and development raised it to the vault, both isolating the priest and at the same time blocking the complete view of the frescoes on the sanctuary walls. The solution was to use on the iconostasis itself the same iconographic plan as for the cupola, the sanctuary and the nave. Often misunderstood today, the iconostasis should be re-evaluated in terms of the theology of the icon. By no means a barrier, the iconostasis is, positively speaking, the maximal expression of all that the icon can reveal to us visually. Behind it there is nothing to be seen. Why? Simply because the wondrous mystery that is celebrated there could never be situated on our human, visual level, so to speak; such a wondrous mystery is perceived not by human eyes, but only by the soul in communion.

The iconostasis is thus not limited to simply recapitulating the entire economy of salvation for our eyes and our senses, though this is already a fact of great importance; it suggests a spiritual passage into another world which remains invisible to our earthly eyes. In other words, it symbolizes that boundary between the sensual world and the spiritual world. Beyond its didactic intent and purpose, the iconostasis invites us to a spiritual communion with the Celestial Church. It serves to emphasize that essen­tial bond between the sacrament of the glorious Body of Christ, the Eucharist—and the icon, representation of His transfigured Body.

From: The Icon – Window on the Kingdom by Michel Quenot, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996

The icon is in vogue today, something not at all surprising in a civilization where imagery reigns supreme. In keen demand within the world of culture, the icon today inspires frequent expositions, and private collec­tions of icons have indeed multiplied over the past few decades. This fancy for the icon often stems from contrary motivations; proof of this is the interest manifested by both the faithful and the faithless. Some among the latter see the icon as a work of art they can appreciate because of its aesthetic value. Others discover in it an exotic appeal, or sense an irresistible attraction whose origin escapes them. As for the faithful, we must certainly mention those whom Orthodoxy fascinates, and who recognize in the icon the unifying element of a spiritual relationship they share with us. But the majority of Western Christians ignore the spiritual wealth of the icon, influenced as they are by an ever renascent form of iconoclasm, or conditioned by some form of pious art that just appears to be sacred art. A fact not to be ignored is that more and more young people want to know the icon better, and it would indeed be naive to see this as only a passing fad. Would it not rather be a prompting of the heart, the vague perception of an appealing truth? Before being beautiful, the icon must first be truthful, and all the more so because an image appeals to the heart before it strikes the intelligence. Today, when the human countenance is so disfigured, when racial discrimination persists, when so many people suffer from a lack of genuine, sincere communication, faces on the icons radiating a light that comes from beyond fascinate and beckon us to contemplate.

The place of the Icon in the Orthodox Church:

The Icon in our Daily Life

The icon is central among the essential needs of the Orthodox faithful. At baptism the newly baptized is often given an icon of the patron saint whose name she or he receives. Then, at marriage, the fathers of the spouses bless them with icons. Finally, it is the baptismal icon and that of the Virgin which are carried in front of the funeral procession at their burial. Wherever atheism has not yet scored a victory, there, entering the home, the icon offers itself to prayer and homage even before the head of the house is greeted. Placed in honor on the wall, it invites us to lift our hearts heavenward. Icons are thus present in some way at every significant moment throughout our lifetime. Even portable icons exist so we can carry them with us on a journey. Whenever we make a visit to church, it is always accompanied by the offering of candles, lighted in honor of Christ and the saints, whose icons are then kissed, just as a member of the family is embraced.

The Icon within the Life of the Church

Without any doubt, Orthodox faithful are keenly aware of participating in the great family of the saints. If you look at the interior of any Orthodox church covered with frescoes and icons of the saints, you assuredly no longer feel alone. Both the individualism and the self-centeredness so natural to humanity simply have no reason for existing here, since every prayer becomes a communion with the saints, those elect whose silent, steady gaze still speaks to us of the interior life.

An aid for meditation, frescoes and icons dispose us to contemplate the Invisibilia. Conversely, what a sensation of both emptiness and cold­ness for any Orthodox faithful who enters a house of worship that is devoid of sacred images!

We should not forget that the House of God reflects the cosmic order: the ground level represents our world, the earth; the vaulting the celestial world, Heaven; and the sanctuary unites them both: Heaven and earth. Already in the fifth century, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite stated that the church should be considered an image of the heavenly Church. Therefore, everything within it should orient us toward the Celestial Court, even its frescoes should not picture scenes of everyday life, but rather the spiritual world.

From the ninth century onward, official rules prescribe the choice and disposition of the iconography to be painted on the walls and ceilings of the churches. Accordingly, the icon of the Christ Pantocrator, Master of the visible and invisible universe, adorns the large cupola of the church. It suggests a window on Heaven and constitutes the summit within the hierarchy of the imagery. On the vaulting of the sanctuary is portrayed the Theotokos: the Mother of God, our “Bridge” between Heaven and earth. Surrounding the altar like a protecting wall, the apse pictures the celestial liturgy of the Angels on die upper section of the wall, and on the lower level the eternal commu­nion of the aposdes. Above the church exit you generally see a fresco of the Dormition of the Theotokos or of the Last Judgment—vivid reminders for the faithful as diey return home. The iconography of the saints occupies the remainder of ordinary mural space. The iconostasis, which we shall consider more closely further on, plays a double role: on the one hand it separates the faithful from the altar, which is called the “Throne of Christ”; on the other hand, like a bridge, it unites them to the celestial world.

Those icons exposed on the “proskynetaria,” or icon stands, are there for the immediate veneration of the faithful, who neither kneel nor genuflect upon entering the church; instead they make the sign of the Cross—up to three times, in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. Standing, they recite a short prayer with head bowed before the icons, which they venerate with a kiss: first, the icon of Christ, next, that of the Theotokos, and then ordinarily the icon of the feast-day or of the liturgical cycle, placed in evidence in the middle of the church.

Assisting at a Byzantine Liturgy just once helps to understand the prominent place of the icon in the liturgy. Not only is the icon frequently incensed, it is at times carried solemnly in procession. How could we omit the story about Vladimir of Kiev sending off his ambassadors to compare different religions for his “choice of faith”? After having assisted at litur­gies amid the magnificence of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, they returned to tell their Prince:

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for assuredly on earth such beauty cannot be found anywhere else. So we do not know what we ought to tell you; but one thing we know well: there God dwells among men who celebrate His glory in such a manner that no other religion on this earth could equal. It is impossible for us to forget such splendorous beauty.”

Vladimir converted to Christianity with all his tribal subjects of Kievan Rus’ in 988. That “splendorous beauty” the spiritual world belongs in particular to Orthodoxy, for which the Word (the Gospels), the Liturgy and the Icon are all intimately associated. Everything that is taught by the Divine Liturgy, the hymns of the Chutch and the words of the reader, truly find a luminous commentary in the silence of the frescoes and icons.

As for beauty, it reaches its accomplishment in each of the five senses. Our eyes are fascinated and marvel at the beautiful sight of the icons; copious, fragrant incense suggests to our sense of smell the sweet odor of the Kingdom; at communion our taste is satisfied by the Holy Bread and Wine; our sense of touch is gratified as the icons, the Gospel Book and the Cross are venerated and kissed. Finally, our sense of hearing, like our sight, comes into play in a privileged manner during the liturgies.

In passing, let us note that organ music and oil painting, developed at about the same time, offer our senses both colors and sounds that are sensual and carnal, and thus express conceptions of a world that is foreign to the icon! Whether Byzantine or Slavonic, the strictly a cappella choral music opens the ear of the heart to the sounds of a different world. Like the icon, this music aims at a reality beyond anything physical and seeks to engen­der a much higher level of reflection, sensibility and awareness.

From: The Icon – Window on the Kingdom by Michel Quenot, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996

The Exterior . A Temple has sometimes a single dome, sometimes many domes. One dome serves as a symbol of the One Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Three domes typify the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Five are symbolical of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Four Evangelists. Each dome – and where there is no dome the apex of the Temple – is crowned by a Cross, the emblem of victory.

Bells . A Belfry is generally constructed in connection with the church, either in a separate tower or in one of the domes. The direct use of the belfry is to summon the faithful to worship, although the rubric concerning the use of the different bells and their manner of chiming and pealing is very detailed and complicated. It is impossible to make it clear, in a foreign language, to those who are not personally acquainted with the beautiful Russian bells, which are treated in a pecul­iar way, wholly unknown in the Western Church. They are rung at certain points in the service, in order that the faithful who, for any reason, are not in church, may unite their prayers with those of the worshippers in the Temple at the most solemn mo­ments. At Matins, for ex­ample, they are rung before the Gospel is read, while the lights are being kin­dled, and the choir is sing­ing: ‘Praise ye the Lord’. At the Divine Liturgy one bell is rung while the Holy Gifts are being conse­crated.

The Interior . The Temple is usually built in the form of a ship (the ship of salvation), or of a cross (the emblem of sal­vation). The Temple is divided into four parts:

1. The Sanctuary (Altar), and beyond the Image-screen Altar (Ikonostas).

2. The pro-longation of the Sanctuary platform outside the Image-screen, called the Solea, which consists of: (a) the Amvon, or Tribune, which is the portion immediately in front of the Holy Door, in the centre of the Screen, and (b) the railed Kliros, or places for the two choirs, on either side of the Amvon.

3. The Body of the church.

4. The Porch (Pritvor).

The Sanctuary must be built, except when that is impossible, at the eastern end of the church. The Altar (Prestol) represents the throne of God in heaven, and the Lord God Almighty himself is present thereon. It also represents the tomb of Christ, since his Body is placed thereon. The first covering of the Altar, the white linen Sratchitza, represents the winding-sheet in which the body of our Lord was wrapped. The upper Altar-cloth (Inditia), of rich and brilliant material, represents the glory of God’s throne. Both cloths cover the Altar to the ground.

On the Altar is placed the Corporal (Antimins), a silken (formerly a linen) cloth, having upon it the representation of the Deposition of Christ in the tomb and the four Evangelists. This is spread out only in the Divine Liturgy, at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faith­ful, and is folded up again as soon as that is finished. If any accident should happen to the holy Altar, the Holy Oblation can be made upon the Corporal alone, in an unconsecrated building or suitable place. In this Corporal (Antimins), or Vice-Altar, are placed relics of the Saints. Other relics are placed under and in the Altar itself, in a specially pre­pared coffer; because the blood of the Martyrs, after that of Christ himself, serves as the foundation of the Church. And also because, in the early days of Christianity, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the Catacombs, on the tombs of the Martyrs. Under the Corporal, and upon the upper Altar-cloth is placed a square of fine linen or rich material called the Iliton, which symbolizes the swaddling-clothes wherein the Lord was wrapped after his birth; and also the winding-sheet wherein his body was enveloped in the tomb, as the Altar represents the gravestone.

Behind the Altar a seven-branched can­delabra is usually placed (seven being the customary sacred number); and, sometimes a large Cross, for carrying in processions. The Book of the Holy Gospels, being the Word of God, is laid upon the Altar, to denote that God himself is mystically present thereon; and the Cross stands on the Altar as upon the place where is celebrated the unbloody sacrifice offered up to God. As the Altar represents the sepulchre of the Lord, an Ark (Kovtcheg) is set thereon, being the Tabernacle in which are placed the Holy Gifts, the Body and Blood of Christ reserved for the sick, and (during the Great Fast – Lent) for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts.

Upon the Altar is kept the Holy Chrism for Chrismation after Baptism. Tapers are placed upon the Altar to typify the light of Christ, which illu­mines the world; and, at Pontifical Services, the double and triple branched candle­sticks (Dikiri, Trikiri) – re­presenting, respectively, the dual nature of Christ (human and divine) and the Holy Trinity – wherewith the Bishop bestows his blessing on the people. It is strictly for­bidden to place anything whatsoever on the Altar save the objects which are here enumerated. A sponge is usually placed beside the Corporal, for the more careful brushing off of the particles from the Paten into the Chalice. In some places a Canopy (Syen) is suspended over the Altar, to re­present the heavens outspread above the earth, upon which was offered up the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Behind the Altar is the High Place (Gornoye Myesto), an elevation upon which stands the Bishop’s throne. At cer­tain times during the service the Bishop sits thereon, re­presenting the King of Glory. On either side of the ” High Place” are seats for those who celebrate with the Bishop, and represent the Apostles and their successors. At either side of the ” High Place,” during Pontifical services, are placed the Sacramental Fans (Ripidi), representing the six-winged Seraphim, with which the Holy Gifts are fanned to keep away insects.

The Credence (Table of Oblation – Zhertvennik) is in the northern part of the Sanctuary, and on it the Holy Gifts are pre­pared for consecration. For their preparation and for communicating them the following sacred vessels and implements are used:

  • the Paten (Diskos), for the bread; the Star-cover (Zvyez-ditza), which supports the Veil above the Paten so that it may not touch the Holy Body
  • the Chalice (Potir), for the wine
  • the Spear (Kopyo), with which the particles are taken from the Altar-breads (Prosfori), and represents the spear with which the Saviour’s side was pierced
  • the sacramental Spoon (Lzhitza), with which the Holy Body and Blood are administered to the laity
  • the Sponge (Gubk) with which the Chalice is wiped out at the end of the Communion
  • three Veils (Pokrovy); two smaller, for covering the Paten and Chalice, and one which is called the Air (Vozdukh), for covering both Paten and Chalice
  • the Ladle (Kovsh), in which the holy tepid water and wine are offered (together with portions of the bread), to the communicants, after they have received the Holy Gifts
  • two salvers for the Altar-breads

The Censer (Kadilo), which, with the incense placed therein, is symbolical of the gifts offered by the Wise Men to the infant Christ, – gold, frank­incense, and myrrh, – is also necessary for most services.

The southern side of the Sanctuary is usually appointed as the Repository (Diakonnik) for the vestments, church books, and the vessels used in the divine service. The Sanctuary is separated from the choir-place and the body of the Temple by a solid Image-screen (Ikonostas), which corresponds to the chancel-rail in the Western Church. Three doors give access through it to the different parts of the Sanctuary above mentioned.

The central opening is called the Royal Gate (Tzarskiya Vrata), because through it, at the Divine Liturgy, the King of Glory comes forth to feed his faithful people with his own Divine Body and Blood; or the Holy Door (Svyatya Vrata), because the Mystery of the Eucharist is celebrated in the Sanctuary, and through this door (or gate) the Holy Gifts are brought forth. Unordained men are not permitted to pass through it. No woman may enter the Sanctuary at any time.

The opening and closing of the Holy Door, at different points of the various services, signify several things: sometimes the opening of the gates of Paradise; some­times the throwing open of the entrance into the King­dom of Heaven. The Entrances and Exits through it of the clergy symbolize the progress to and from those places where the Saviour of the world abode; since the priest, at different points, represents the Saviour himself or the Angel of God proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ; while the Deacon represents the Angel of the Lord, or John the Baptist.

The Curtain inside the Holy Door is drawn or with­drawn at appointed times during divine service. The Image-screen (Ikonostas) portrays those who dwell in heaven. In the Image-screen are the Holy Pictures (Images – Ikoni) of the Lord God magnified in the Trinity; of the most holy Birth-giver of our Lord; of the Holy Angels, Prophets and Apostles, and other Saints of God; and presentments of sacred events which have happened for our salvation. The customary arrangement of the holy Images is as follows: On the right of the Holy Door is placed the image of the Saviour, and next it (or next the south door, if that be next), the Image of the Temple, or of the Patron Saint of the Temple. On the left of the Holy Door is the Image of the holy Birth-giver of God. On the leaves of the Holy Door itself (which represents the Entrance into Heaven) is the Image of the Annunciation, that being the forefront of our salvation; together with the Images of the Four Evangelists, who also, like the Archangel Gabriel, announced to the world the glad tidings of the Saviour. Over the Holy Door is the Image (Ikona) of the Last Supper; because in the Sanc­tuary is celebrated the Mystery of the Eu­charist, reminding us that those who wish to follow Christ and obtain entrance to the kingdom of heaven must be accounted worthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper, which is prepared within the Holy Door, and offered to the laity in front of that door.

On the northern and southern doors are depicted the mes­sengers of God, the Angels, sent to serve those who desire to follow after salvation; or holy Deacons, the types of the Angels, who have charge of those parts of the Sanctuary into which these doors lead. At each Kliros (Choir-place) stands a holy Banner (Khorugv); that is, a holy picture mounted upon a staff, typifying the victorious Banner of Christ’s Church, which wages incessant Warfare with the enemies of salvation.

In large churches, in line with the Images of the Saviour and the holy Birth-giver of God in the Image-screen, are placed Images of the more especially revered Saints. Above them, in the second row, are the Images of the Feasts of our Lord, and of the holy Birth-giver of God. In the third row are the Images of those Saints who, on earth as in heaven, were deemed worthy to be nearest to the Saviour, namely: Over the Image of the Last Supper is placed the Image of Jesus Christ himself, in royal or episcopal robes, having on his right hand the holy Birth-giver of God, and on his left St. John the Baptist. This Image is called the Deisis (Prayer), the Holy Mother and St. John being turned toward the Saviour in supplication; and on either side it has the Images of the Apostles. In the next row are placed the Images of the Old Testament Saints, the Prophets: and among them is placed the holy Birth-giver of God with the Divine Child, who is from everlasting, and who was their hope, their consolation, and the subject of their prophecies. Images and the fittings of the Temple are used in accordance with the command of God: Exodus xxv. 18-20; xxvi. i, 31.

The Body of the Church . The space extending from the Sanc­tuary platform (Solea) to the Porch (Pritvor) is appointed for the lay worshippers, who generally stand throughout the service. In this part of the church, during Pontifical services, in the centre there is placed a raised dais, called the Kathedra. Here the Bishop is vested, and here, also, he performs a portion of the service; and sometimes, even, the entire service, praying like a father surrounded by his children.

In spacious churches, there is also placed, close to the Sanctuary platform, the Tomb for the Winding-sheet (Plashtschanitza); and a small table for Requiem services, with the Requiem-stand (Panikhidnik), with places for tapers and a vessel for grain.

The Vestibule (Pritvor), or inner porch, was appointed, in early times, for the Catechumens, or learners, and for penitents. Here they listened to exhortations and instruction, and here they prayed. The rubric decrees that the Office for the Reception of Converts shall be performed in this Vestibule. Several of the penitential Offices, also, are appointed to be said here, such as the Litiya(a litany of fervent supplication, with oft-repeated “Lord, have mercy” in response) at Vespers.

Lights . Lights are always used during divine service, even though it be performed in full sunlight. This is done not only for illumination, but also to show that the Lord, who dwells in light ineffable, illumines the world with spiritual radiance; to denote that the hearts of faithful believers are warmed by a flame of love toward God and his Saints; and, also, to show forth spiritual joy and the triumph of the Church. Wax and olive oil, as the purest of substances, and free from animal matter, are used for lighting before sacred things. Artificial light also is permitted, but only for illumination. The wax and oil are symbolical of the purity and sincerity of the gifts which provide them, made in the holy Name of God.

The lights in the Temple are kindled in accordance with the songs and services. The more vivid the joy of the Church in the Lord, the more solemn the service, the more numerous are the lights. On Great Feasts all the lights are not kindled at the beginning of the service, but at the approach of the most solemn hymns and readings. The rubrics on these points are detailed and precise. More lights are used at the Divine Liturgy than at the other services, as a rule.

Attitude . Only two attitudes are recognized as befitting the house of God: standing and kneeling. There are some moments of the service when sitting is proper. But usually it is tolerated only as a con­cession to physical weakness. On Sundays and Feast Days, with few exceptions, the rubric of the Church does not permit kneeling; that is, reverences to the earth. From holy Easter Day until Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) no kneeling is appointed. The joy of the worship­pers at that season is held to outweigh even their sense of lowly penitence for sin, which prompts to kneeling.

The Sign of the Cross is made with the thumb and the first two fingers of the right hand joined at the tips (the third and fourth fingers being closed on the palm), as a symbol of the Trinity, by touching the brow, the breast, the right shoulder and the left shoul­der: in token that every power of mind, heart, soul and strength are dedicated to the service of God. It is made, accompanied by a simple inclination of the head and body, always at the occur­rence in prayers and litanies of the words: “Let us attend,” “Lord, have mercy,” “Grant it, O Lord,” “Come, and take up thine abode in us,” “Let us pray to the Lord,” and so forth.

The sign of the Cross, accompa­nied by a reverence to the very earth, is made when the following words occur: “Let us worship and fall down;” “Let us give thanks unto the Lord;” or when the singers sing, “Meet and right is it to adore thee,” “We praise thee, we bless thee;” “Our Father, who art in heaven;” and when the holy Chalice is brought forth, during the Divine Liturgy, with the words: “Always, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages of God and with faith draw near.”

A reverence, unaccompanied by the sign of the Cross, is made when the Priest pronounces the words, “Peace be with you all,” “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” “The blessing of the Lord be upon you;” or when he exclaims, “Bow your heads unto the Lord.” Bishops and Priests, in bestowing the Benediction, hold the fingers in such a manner as to represent the Greek letters 1C, XC – the first and last letters of Jesus Christ.

Incense . The Holy Images (Ikoni), the Holy Things, and the people who are present at the divine service, are honoured with incense. The censing before the Holy Door signifies the desire of the worshippers that their prayers shall be borne up to the throne of God, as the in­cense from the censer is wafted heavenward; and that their petitions shall be well-pleasing to God like fragrant incense. The censing of the people is symbolical of the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is shed abroad everywhere, upon all men. The censer (Kadilo) represents the Divine Ember, even Christ.

From: Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church – Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, Englewood, NJ, 1983

(derived from the Archpriest Konstantin Nikolsky: An Aid to the Study of the Orthodox Church, St. Petersburg, 1894)

The Kingdom of God is not a Talmud, nor is it a mechanical collection of scriptural or patristic quotations outside our being and our lives. The Kingdom of God is within us, like a dynamic leaven which fundamentally changes man’s whole life, his spirit and his body. What is required in patristic study, in order to remain faithful to the Fathers’ spirit of freedom and worthy of their spiritual nobility and freshness, is to approach their holy texts with the fear in which we approach and venerate their holy relics and holy icons. This liturgical reverence will soon reveal to us that here is another inexpressible grace. The whole atmosphere is different. There are certain vital passages in the patristic texts which, we feel, demand of us, and work within us, an unaccustomed change. These we must make part of our being and our lives, as truths and as standpoints, to leaven the whole.

And at the same time we must put our whole self into studying the Fathers, waiting and marking time. This marriage, this baptism into patristic study brings what we need, which is not an additional load of patristic references and the memorizing of other people’s opinions, but the acquisition of a new clear-sighted sense which enables man to see things differently and rightly. If we limit ourselves to learning passages by heart and classifying them mechanically—and teach men likewise—then we fall into a basic error which simply makes us fail to teach and make known the patristic way of life and philosophy. For what is altogether distinctive about the patristic creation is that it is conceived and held together, it is formed and grows, as a result of the grace and power of the freedom of the Spirit.

What the Fathers require and give is the change which comes from the Spirit. If we want to approach them outside this reality, they will remain for us incomprehensible as writers and scorned as persons.

Communication of the patristic word, the word of the Holy Fathers, is not a matter of applying their sayings to this or that topic with the help of a concordance. It is a process whereby nourishment is taken up by living organisms, assimilated by them and turned into blood, life and strength. And, subsequently, it means passing on the joy and proclaiming this miracle through the very fact of being brought to life, an experience we apprehend in a way that defies doubt or discussion. Thus the living patristic word is not conveyed mechanically, nor preserved archaeologically, nor approached through excursions into history. It is conveyed whole, full of life, as it passes from generation to generation through living organisms, altering them, creating “fathers” who make it their personal word, a new possession, a miracle, a wealth which increases as it is given away. This is the unchanging change wrought by the power that changes corruption into incorruption. It is the motionless perpetual motion of the word of God, and its ever-living immutability. Every day the word seems different and new, and is the same. This is the mystery of life which has entered deep into our dead nature and raises it up from within, breaking the bars of Hell.

Offering the words of the Fathers to others means that I myself live; that I am changed by them. And so my metabolism has the power to change them, so that they can be eaten and drunk by the person to whom I am offering them. This change of the word within man, and the change in himself resulting from it, preserve unchanged the mystery of personal and unrepeatable life which is “patristically” taught and given. It is like the food a mother eats: it nourishes her and keeps her alive, and at the same time becomes within her mother’s milk, the drink of life for the stomach of her baby. How beautiful it is for a man to become theology. Then whatever he does, and above all what he does spontaneously, since only what is spontaneous is true, bears witnesss and speaks of the fact that the Son and Word of God was incarnate, that He was made man through the Holy Spirit and the ever-virgin Mary. It speaks silently about the ineffable mysteries which have been revealed in the last times.

From: Hymm of Entry by Archimandrite Vasileios of Stavronkita (Mount Athos), St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1984

Byzantine theology ignores the Western distinction between “sacraments” and “sacramentals,” and never formally committed itself to any strict limitation of the number of sacraments. In the patristic period there was no technical term to designate “sacraments” as a specific category of church acts: the term mysterion was used primarily in the wider and general sense of “mystery of salvation,” and only in a subsidiary manner to designate the particular actions which bestow salvation. In this second sense, it was used concurrently with such terms as “rites” or “sanctifica-tions.” Theodore the Studite in the ninth century gives a list of six sacraments: the holy “illumination” (baptism), the “synaxis” (Eucharist), the holy chrism, ordination, monastic tonsure, and the service of burial.* The doctrine of the “seven sacraments” appears for the first time – very characteristically – in the Profession of Faith required from Emperor Michael Paleologus by Pope Clement iv in 1267. The Profession had been prepared, of course, by Latin theologians.

The obviously Western origin of this strict numbering of the sacraments did not prevent it from being widely accepted among Eastern Christians after the thirteenth century, even among those who fiercely rejected union with Rome. It seems that this acceptance resulted not so much from the influence of Latin theology as from the peculiarly medieval and Byzantine fascination with symbolic numbers: the number seven, in particular, evoked an association with the seven gifts of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2-4. But among Byzantine authors who accept the “seven sacraments,” we find different competing lists. The monk Job (thirteenth century), author of a dissertation on the sacraments, includes monastic tonsure in the list, as  did Theodore the Studite, but combines as one sacrament penance and the anointing of the sick. Symeon of Thessalonica (fifteenth century) also admits the sacramental character of the monastic tonsure, but classifies it together with penance, considering the anointing as a separate sacrament. Meanwhile, Joasaph, Metropolitan of Ephesus, a contemporary of Symeon’s, declares: “I believe that the sacraments of the Church are not seven, but more,” and he gives a list of ten, which includes the consecration of a church, the funeral service, and the monastic tonsure.

Obviously, the Byzantine Church never committed itself formally to any specific list; many authors accept the standard series of seven sacraments – baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, holy orders, matrimony, penance, and the anointing of the sick – while others give a longer list, and still others emphasize the exclusive and prominent importance of baptism and the Eucharist, the basic Christian initiation into “new life.” Thus, Gregory Palamas proclaims that “in these two [sacraments], our whole salvation is rooted, since the entire economy of the God-man is recapitulated in them.” And Nicholas Cabasilas composes his famous book on The Life in Christ as a commentary on baptism, chrismation, and the Eucharist.


In the Eastern Church, baptism and confirmation (the latter being effected through anointment with “holy chrism” blessed by the bishop) are normally celebrated together. Immediately after receiving baptism and confirmation, the child is admitted to Eucharistic communion. There is, therefore, no practical difference between admitting a child or an adult to membership in the Church; in both cases, a human being who belonged to the “old Adam” through his natural birth is introduced to “new life” by partaking of baptism, chrismation, and holy communion. Christian initiation is one single and indivisible act: “If one does not receive the chrism one is not perfectly baptized,” writes Symeon of Thessalonica.

As we have seen, the patristic doctrine of salvation is based, not on the idea of guilt inherited from Adam and from which man is relieved in Christ, but on a more existential understanding of both “fallen” and “redeemed” humanity. From the “old Adam,” through his natural birth, man inherits a defective form of life—bound by mortality, inevitably sinful, lacking fundamental freedom from the “prince of this world.” The alternative to this “fallen” state is “life in Christ,” which is true and “natural” human life, the gift of God bestowed in the mystery of the Church. “Baptism,” writes Nicholas Cabasilas, “is nothing else but to be born according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature.”

The Byzantine tradition has retained the ancient Christian practice of baptism through triple immersion. Actually, immersion was sometimes considered essential to the validity of the sacrament, and some extreme anti-Latin polemicists questioned the effectiveness of Western baptism on the grounds that it was performed by sprinkling. Immersion is indeed the very sign of what baptism means: “The water destroys the one life, but shows forth the other; it drowns the old man and raises the new,” writes Cabasilas. “Drowning” cannot be meaningfully signified other than through immersion.


Sacramental penance – i.e., reconciliation to the Church after sins committed after baptism – has had a parallel development in East and West. Originally a public act, required from sinners who either had been olli cially excommunicated or had performed acts liable to excommunication, penance, gradually and especially after the fourth century, took the form of private confession, followed by a prayer of absolution pronounced by a priest. It then identified itself almost completely with the practice of private spiritual direction, especially widespread in monastic communities.

The development of penitential practice and theology in the Byzantine world was distinct from its Western counterpart in that it never knew the influence of legalistic interpretations of salvation, such as the Anselmian doctrine of “satisfaction,” and never faced a crisis comparable to the West ern Reformation and Counter-Reformation, with the latter’s stress on clerical authority.

Patristic and Byzantine literature on repentance is almost entirely av cetical and moral. Very few authors of ascetical treatises on repentance specifically mention sacramental absolution as a formal requirement. This silence does not imply that sacramental repentance did not exist; except in cases of formal excommunication, which had to be followed by an equally formal reconciliation, it was only encouraged, but not required. In his innumerable calls to repentance, Chrysostom frequently mentions “confession,” i.e., an opening of one’s conscience before a witness or “the Church”; but regular sacramental confession does not seem to be meant. In his nine sermons specifically dealing widi “repentance,” only once does he refer to the Church as a direct recourse: “Did you commit sin? Enter the Churrli and repent for your sin. . . . You are an old man, and still you com in it sin? Enter [the Church], repent; for here is the physician, not the judge; here one is not investigated, one receives remission of sins.”


The Byzantine theological, liturgical, and canonical tradition unanimously stresses the absolute uniqueness of Christian marriage, and bases this emphasis upon the teaching of Ephesians 5. As a sacrament, or mysterion, marriage reflects the union between Christ and the Church, between Yahweh and Israel, and as such can be only one—an eternal bond, which death itself does not destroy. In its sacramental nature, marriage transfigures and transcends both fleshly union and contractual legal association: human love is being projected into the eternal Kingdom of God.

Only this basic understanding of Christian marriage can explain the fact that until the tenth century no second marriage, whether of those widowed or of those divorced, was blessed in church. Referring to the custom of “crowning” the bridal pair – a feature of the Byzantine rite of marriage – a canon attributed to Nicephorus the Confessor (806-815) specifies: “Those who enter a second marriage are not crowned and are not admitted to receive the most pure mysteries for two years; those who enter a third marriage are excommunicated for five years.” This text, which merely repeats the earlier prescriptions of the canons of Basil, presupposes that second and third marriages of those widowed or divorced can be concluded as civil contracts only. Actually, since the marriage blessing was normally given at a Eucharist, where the bridal pair received communion, the required temporary excommunication excluded the Church’s participation or blessing in cases when marriage was repeated.

Absolute uniqueness, as the norm of Christian marriage, is also affirmed in the fact that in Byzantine canon law it is strictly required from clergy; a man who was married twice, or was married to a widow or a divorcee, is not eligible for- ordination to the diaconate or to the priesthood.28 But laymen, after a period of penitence and abstention from the sacraments, are re-admitted to full communion with the Church, even after a second or third marriage; understanding and toleration is extended to them, when they cannot agree to remaining single, or would like to have a second chance to build up a true Christian marriage. Obviously, Byzantine tradition approaches the problem of remarriage—after widowhood or divorce —in terms of penitential discipline. Marriage, as a sacrament, implies the bestowing of God’s grace; but this grace, to be effective, requires human cooperation (“synergy”). This is true of all the sacraments, but particularly of baptism, whose fruits can be dispersed through sin and then restored through repentance. In the case of marriage, which presupposes personal understanding and psychological adjustment, Byzantine tradition accepts the possibility of an initial mistake, as well as the fact that single life, in cases of death or the simple absence of the partner, is a greater evil than remarriage for those who cannot “bear” it. The possibility of divorce remained an integral part of Byzantine civil legislation at all times. In the framework of the “symphony” between Church and state, it was never challenged, a fact which cannot be explained simply by reference to caesaropapism.


Frequently associated with penance as a single sacrament, die office of “holy unction” did not evolve – except in some areas of the Christian East after die sixteenth century – into “extreme unction,” a sacrament reserved for the dying. In Byzantium it involved the concelebration of several priests, usually seven, in accordance with James 5:14, a text considered to be the scriptural foundation of the sacrament. It was composed of scriptural readings and prayers of healing, the texts of which definitely exclude the possibility of giving a magic interpretation to the rite; healing is requested only in a framework of repentance and spiritual salvation, and not as an end in itself. Whatever the outcome of the disease, the anointing symbolized divine pardon and liberation from the vicious cycle of sin, suffering, and death, in which fallen humanity is held captive. Compassionate to human suffering, assembled together to pray for its suffering member, the Church through its presbyters asks for relief, forgiveness, and eternal freedom. This is the meaning of holy unction.

The funeral service, also considered a “sacrament” by some Byzantine authors, has no different significance. Even in death the Christian remains a member of the living and resurrected Body of Christ, into which he has been incorporated dirough baptism and the Eucharist. Through the funeral service, the Church gathers to bear witness to this fact, visible only to the eyes of faith, but already experienced by every Christian who possesses the awesome privilege of living, by anticipation, in the future Kingdom.

From: Byzantine Theology by John Meyendorff, Fordham University Press, New York, NY, 1979

I was a stranger and you took me in.” Matthew 25:35

Evangelism begins at the front door of the church. It begins when someone, anyone, has gathered the courage to walk through the front door. These people have often been looking, seeking, researching, in fact, finding out whatever they can about a community before they even stepped through the front doors. They had many options but yet chose this particular church to come for worship. For those who are Orthodox, it was because this was the place they felt they can experience Orthodox worship. For a non-Orthodox, it is the hope that they will at last find the truth they have been seeking. In any case, it takes a great amount of courage to walk through those doors; to meet people they have never met, to worship in a manner they may not be accustomed. Yet with the Grace of God and through prayer, they made the decision and they walk into the church.
This is the point of entry and the single greatest opportunity for an Orthodox community to make a connection with this person or family. It is the intersection of their decision and our response. It is the opportunity to connect them, educate them and most importantly to welcome them. But not to overwhelm them. Most people want to slip in, come to service and think about it. They can be overwhelmed and this is (according to surveys) one of the greatest turn-offs when people are looking for a Church home. Remember the Orthodox Church and her services can be overwhelming in themselves to those who have never experienced them.
So how do we welcome them, but not overwhelm them? Well admittedly, it is a fine line. We want them to know that we appreciate them and welcome them to our services but we don’t want to all rush to them and ask their life story. And we don’t want to single them out as to say “Look here is a stranger.” But we also want to help them understand the services, not sit alone during the fellowship hour, or even just wander around. So here are few suggestions on welcoming strangers into the Church.

1. Greeters. 
The Greeters ministry is important in the life of a church. It does not need to be sophisticated with badges and formal rules. It simply needs to be a few people who have the gift of speaking with people, making them feel at ease and can guide them to the service books, find them a place to be during the services and be willing to answer any questions they may have. It is that simple. Just make them less uncomfortable and let them know they are welcome in the church to worship. If the greeters can speak different languages, this is also a great help. Every parish has those people who have that wonderful gift of hospitality and they can be asked to serve the Church in this manner. It is also important that they follow-up after the services. Invite them to the fellowship hour and make sure they do not sit by themselves and just talk. They can introduce them to the priest and even have them fill out a visitor card. These simple acts of hospitality can make a great difference when someone walks into the church.

2. Visitor Cards.
This is a very simple and effective way to gather names, connect people to the church community and provide basic information for the priest for follow-up. The visitor cards need to be an easily accessible place that can be clearly seen and be obvious as to where to deposit it. The card needs to be simple, clear and provide some basic information. A basic visitor cards should have name, address, phone number, email address. It should have boxes that can be checked off that ask simple questions such as: Are you Orthodox, First time visiting an Orthodox Church, First time Visiting this specific church, Would you like to talk to a priest, Would you like to be put on the parish mailing list, Would you like to learn more about the Orthodox Church, Would you like to learn more about this parish. These simple questions will give the priest and the parish a good idea of who the person is and start the process of connection. It opens the door for the priest to contact them but also allows them a chance to begin learning about the Church or the parish. It is absolutely important to follow-up. The cards are useless if they are put in a box and never have any connection established. The priest can contact them within a week and just talk to them, introducing himself and inviting them to services and even arrange for a meeting in the near future. The door has been opened with this simple card.

3.Have Material Available.
Many people are coming to the church and really don’t know much about the Faith, the parish or the procedures. So simple tracts and materials are essential in helping with this. They should be placed somewhere in the vestibule where people can easily find them. Do not charge for them but rather have people feel free to take whatever interests them. Do not place anything that is offensive but rather informative. You may also want to have different information on church services in various languages that can help them understand the OCA and when the services are. The best materials are the “Tract Masters” material from OCPC which can be copied on any copying machine. Material from Conciliar Press such as the topical series and brochures are also excellent. They can be displayed in a nice case where people can peruse them at their own leisure. Some parishes also have a visitor’s guide which simply tells about the parish, the history and the building and other helpful information. All of this allows the person to take the material home, look at in their own time and return to ask questions when they are ready.

4. Have a small bookstore/library.
Even the smallest of missions can have a simple bookstore and library. They can stock some standard books on Orthodoxy found from our Seminary Presses and other publishers around the country. There can be some icons and other prayer-related items available for purchase. The great gift of the last thirty years is that there is a plethora of books and material available in English which address so many of the aspects of the Orthodox Faith and can assist those who are seeking to learn about the Faith. Many people come to the Church, see these items for sale and buy them so they can educate themselves and learn about Orthodoxy. So a small investment in some key books on Orthodoxy and making them available for people to purchase is a great opening for seekers.

5. Use the Internet.
The internet, properly utilized, is probably the greatest gift to evangelism to come along in centuries. It is highly effective and very flexible. It allows people access to information on a level never before imagined (both good and bad). But a simple web site with basic information can bring people in on a level never imagined. This has been shown time and again by parishes across the OCA. People are looking for a church so they go on the internet (more than the yellow pages) and research it. Then they find the church they are interested in and visit. A simple web site should have an easy web address, pictures and information on the community, a list of services, a contact page, and directions to the church. More advanced sites have an Orthodox library of articles and information, utilize different languages, links to solid Orthodox web site, as well as donation pages and other information. Remember the utility of a web site is that it is being used. If it is not being viewed then it is just sitting out there in cyber-space. It needs to be frequently updated and managed and guide people both within and without the community to the parish. Remember that every OCA parish has a free access to a web page on the OCA web site It does not cost anything and has all the basic information about a parish. It can be updated as often as need be. Yet there are MANY parishes in the OCA that do not utilize even this simple tool that is made available to them. So as a minimum, update your web page and keep it up to date. Now just a warning on what not to do as these issues have proved to be hurtful to a parish’s evangelism efforts and can turn the people away from the front door, in some cases before they even arrive.

1. Beware of the gatekeeper.
These are the persons who keep people out of the church. For whatever reason they see their job as screening (sometimes unconsciously) those who walk through the door. They judge, question, block and, in some sad cases, kick people out. They need to be controlled and kept from spreading this attitude. They do need to be treated with love and need to learn that they cannot act like this before anybody, not the least of all, strangers. They can be very difficult and sometimes almost impossible to change but they must be or every effort that is done by a parish will come to nothing if people simply walk in and walk out. The parish then gets the reputation of being unfriendly to strangers and no one will ever visit. Remember this simple line….the people that walk through the door, we are not there for their salvation, they are there for ours!

2. Do not single people out.
This is the greatest turn-off. Someone comes to the services and the priest goes to the ambo and says “we have a visitor with us today.” Every eye in the church turns to look at them…and they want to crawl under a rock and hide. It is well intentioned to want to welcome people to the community. But it often backfires because the people do not want to be the focus of attention for a group of people they do not even know. They want to come in and experience the services. They don’t want to be singled out. So be friendly and welcoming but let the visitor engage the community at their own pace. Make them feel comfortable not the focus of attention.

3. No hard sell. 
We are not in the sales business. We should not try to convince people to buy something. We need not try to convince them right away that this is the Truth and every thing they have done in the past was a lie. They would not be stepping through the front door if they were not seeking the Truth. They are already feeling conflicting emotions and thoughts about what they are doing, we do not need to add to them. We are the Church and the Truth. That is enough. People will come to recognize that because it is a fact. We do not need to engage in polemical arguments while the person does not even know how to make the sign of the Cross. We will present the Truth by our worship, our actions and our love. We should not judge them nor find fault with them rather love them. In the end that is what our Lord is…love. Let them discover the truth through our Lord Jesus Christ, with guidance from His Church. In the end, that is all we need to be, The Church. So we have nothing to “sell” we have instead a precious gift that is for all who seek it. And those who seek will find it.

4. Welcome families and children.
It is an absolute fact that where there are children, where families bring their children that these same parishes are growing. And these same families who come to church together find other families with children who want to share and grow in the Faith. Families bring in families. Yet some parishes are uncomfortable with children. They see them as distractions and disruptive to the services and prayer. Yet these same parishes are shrinking and dying because they are not replacing themselves. As an old adage says, “a quiet church is a dead church.” Some parishes have the children leave during the services so that the children never really grow in the Faith. We must welcome families and children. Make them a part of the services. Teach them to love the Faith and educate them with love on proper behavior. These children will one day become adults and be supportive of the parish…and where do you think seminarians come from? So bring in the families and have the children be a part of the parish. Open your doors to families because they are ultimately looking for a place where they can raise their children as Christians. Our parishes need to be that place.

5. Do not shut yourselves out.
Unfortunately there are some parishes in the OCA that have no connection with the community that surround them. They have high gates, closed doors and closed people. They can exist for years and not know their neighbors. They kick people out who come on their property because they are afraid of damage or whatever else. They have marginalized themselves through their own actions, language or culture. Yet these same parishes do not understand why no one visits, why they have no one new coming through the front door, why their buildings are the targets. The people come to church, worship and leave right away. Well who wants to be apart of that? And why would anyone in the community want to be a part of that? It is a culture of decay which even affects their outlook. The common saying among them is that “there is no one here anymore.” Yet right outside their door is a huge population looking for Christ. Do not shut yourselves out. Because the whole community is our neighbor. Make them welcome, involve them in the life of the parish, engage and participate in community events. Bring them to an understanding that this is our neighborhood and this church is a part of it. Love your neighbor as yourself. By engaging the community, even those in urban decay, we are saying that we are not abandoning you to the world, but rather are here and have been here and will always be here. People will begin to respect the parish and the community will make it a part of themselves. And this is what we are all called to do, to make Christ’s presence real to those around us.

By Fr. Eric George Tosi


Orthodox Church in America

It is interesting to see what people’s perceptions of evangelism and mission are. So often they are mixed up with marketing, in other words, lets advertise to get a mission or church going. When looking at the modern American experience, one can certainly see why this may be the perception. You drive down the road and see huge billboards advertising about a new church. You listen to the radio and hear how you can be saved. You flip on the television and you can find every brand of Christianity or belief. But is it really worth it? Is this really how to bring people to salvation?

We as Orthodox would say no. While there may be a stream of thought among these groups that all you have to do is bring people to accept Jesus Christ, the reality is much more. In fact, many of these groups have a revolving door, as many people that come in go out on the other side. This is not evangelism, this is marketing. As marketing theory implies, all you need are new customers to buy your product and keep sales high. Is this not what is being done?

But the Orthodox Church takes a completely different view on salvation and therefore on evangelism. Salvation is not an event but a process, a life-long process. If it is such a long process then “sales” will not be high and certainly marketing is not the method. Rather we must take a longer and perhaps larger view. We don’t market the Church, we are the Church. And to bring people to the Church, we must be the Church.

Sound simplistic? It is and it isn’t. We have the wonderful gift of being giving all we need to be the Church. We have had the wonderful experience of over 2000 years of experience being handed to us. We have had the numerous saints and teachers to guide and strengthen us. And of course, the Scriptures, the Liturgy and all of Holy Tradition behind us. That is more than enough. But putting that into practice, that is another story. A mission grows simply by being the Church, by living the life of the Church, by being a part of the Church. We just need to put that into practice.

It is amazing that some of our smallest missions have some of the fullest liturgical life. They celebrate the daily services. They teach and preach and take care of each other. They live that same life that we often find recounted in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul. They live the life as a community gathered together in worship and this is precisely the definition of a church. So simply put, this is what we all need to do in our own parishes (whether a small mission or a established parish).

What happens in these parishes is quite remarkable. It lives. You can see it the moment you walk in and there is no doubt as to what is going on. And as people see this, they also want to be a part of it. And when they want to be a part of it, it changes them. And when people are changed they are walking the path of salvation. Now that is evangelism.

But that does not mean that you abandon the community and retreat into small cliques. Instead it means that there is a real engagement with people, with souls. It means that people need to know where to find you and when they do, they are drawn in by love. It means that they come home in a true way and discover Christ. Reaching out is not marketing but rather apostleship. Apostleship means precisely to be “sent out” to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world. Marketing means making people buy something and we are not here to make people buy anything, no matter how good it might be. So we must all be evangelists and apostles. This grows a mission and builds a church.

Nonetheless, we can do certain things to help people discover us and to grow. Here are a few suggestions that have worked quite successfully in missions and parishes. These five simple rules can ensure that we are evangelism and not marketing.

1. Make sure people can find you. We can’t show our light to the world if we hide it under a bushel. So make sure they can find you. Be in the Yellow Pages, put events in the local paper, use the internet, make sure you have a phone with a answering machine. Check those messages often and answer every call that comes in. Send out a monthly newsletter. Have a sign on the Church and directions posted. You would be surprised how many missions forget these simple ways to get people to them. Why do you think there were crosses and cupolas on the churches (theological reasons aside)? It was so people knew where the church was, so they could find it. We need to mark our churches as well both physically and figuratively. Help people find them.

2. Do the services. It is that simple, we have a calendar, we have a liturgical cycle, now do it. How often would someone come by the Church looking for comfort, for answers, for prayer and the doors are locked and no one is around. We just sent away an empty soul. These services are there precisely to fill those souls. Think of how many people came the Church simply because the Liturgy spoke to them. It is supposed to….that is the point. And if we don’t do the services, the Church doesn’t speak! The most powerful evangelizing tool we have is the Liturgy. It is all there, everything we need, everything we believe, everything to answer our questions. So present this gift back to the world as it was given to us by God to speak to the world.

3. First Impressions. In Orthodoxy, what you see is what you get. Our theology is all around us and so we must always present ourselves with the best. And what people see when they walk in will be critical. It doesn’t matter if it is a glorious cathedral or a s rented room. The Church is there in its fullness. But it does matter as to what they see. Is everything clean and neat and in order? Is everything done with reverence and piety? Is the space used properly? Is it theologically correct? Will people know they are in a church when they walk in? Even the most modest places can become as glorious as Hagia Sophia if we “draw near in Faith”. So we must put our best foot forward so that when people ask “What do you believe?” We simply say, pointing “this.”

4. Bring it home. People need to learn and you cannot bombard them with material when they walk in. They will turn around and walk out. It is too much and they are already reeling from a full Liturgical experience. So have brochures, pamphlets, and books available for them to take home. Then they can begin their journey in a comfortable place. Encourage questions and answer them simply. Make sure they have a good interaction with the rest of the parish so that they will feel comfortable even thought they may not understand. Be friendly, outgoing, helpful and loving. Isn’t that what we all want…so let us do the same thing. I remember a great saying a fellow priest told me….”We are not their for their salvation….they are here for our salvation.” Remember that whenever someone walks through the front door.

5. Welcome back. The number one thing a people look for in a Church….a home. That simple. Home is some place you feel welcome and want to go back to. The parish must be a home since in effect it is our only true home on earth. When people come back, it means they are finding a home, a place of refuge, a retreat, a place of family. So we must always welcome them home and back home….again and again. So welcome them back when they do come again. Sometimes it may take weeks or months as they are still processing what they have seen. It took courage for them to come there in the first place, but sometimes it takes more courage for them to return because it is the beginning of a commitment. Don’t overwhelm them when they return but great them joyously and gently. They will find their way. But talk to them, remember them and welcome them. Then they know they have come home.

Five simple rules. But really they come to the heart of evangelism. They bring people to Christ and to the Church. Now that is not marketing but being the Church. And yet the impact is greater and more lasting because it is based around salvation. Now go outside of your parish and look in….does it have these five simple elements? Be critical and look around. Observe what goes on every service. Notice the details and the spirit. And implement small changes. A parish that is truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic is a Church. And the Church is where we walk the path to salvation. Now be the Church!

By Fr. Eric George Tosi


“In 1853, Bishop (later Saint) Innocent wrote as an introduction to his instructions to missionaries, “To leave one’s native country and seek places remote, wild, devoid of many of the comforts of life, for the sake of turning to the path of truth men who are still wandering in the darkness of ignorance, and of illumining with the light of the Gospel them that have not yet beheld this saving light. This is an act of truly holy and apostolic. Blessed he whom the Lord selects and appoints to such a ministry! But doubly blessed he who labors with undivided zeal, sincerity and love in the work of conversion and enlightenment, enduring the hardships and sufferings which he encounters in the course of his ministry, for ‘his reward is great in heaven’!”

While the places “remote and wild” may no longer exist in the American mission effort, truly the spirit is alive and thriving. There are today many priests who have followed that calling and have planted missions throughout the continent. St. Innocent’s vision of an American Church revealing the Truth of Orthodoxy to this country has taken root in our Orthodox Church in America. For generations now the Orthodoxy has been planted in areas where there was no Orthodox presence. Missions now exist from Alaska to Florida, from Los Angeles to New York. And in many places in between. This legacy of great missionaries that was planted with St. Herman exists in many small communities that continue to be planted and grown. It is remarkable to look at a map of America and see how so many gaps have been filled with communities that did not exist even ten years ago.

And yet the spirit of the missionary continues to be the same….zeal, sincerity and love. Zeal for the Gospel, sincerity in presenting this Gospel and love for the people that the Gospel serves. This is shown in the faces of the missionary priest and the success of their communities. Communities that were just a small number of people are now full parishes. We no longer just plant missions where there are a few Orthodox faithful but have founded whole communities of converts who are seeking the Truth. This effort of the mission priests continues to bear fruit.

But yet the hardship is still there. While they may not be in wild and remote places, they are often isolated from other Orthodox and Orthodox communities. A missionary in North America now has to reach across many cultural and regional boundaries. There is the shifting demographics to compete with, shifting populations and a new immigration. Mission priests are often underpaid and have to balance secular jobs with the demands of the priesthood. Their facilities may not be ideal but they continue to serve wherever they are called to be. And just as St. Innocent brought his own family with him on his mission journeys, todays mission priest have to support their own family. Missionary work is hard work. And the Gospel demands nothing less.

Each year, the missions appeal allows the Church to give support to our many missionaries throughout the North American continent. The money that is collected is given directly to the mission priests who have qualified for matching grant. This grant is exclusively used to

supplement their salary so they may be full-time missionaries. For many missions it is literally the difference for survival. Yet every mission that gets the grant show incredible growth and often transition successfully from the grant in three years. The money does make a difference. Every mission struggles to make it and the grant in a limited way helps those priests in flourishing missions.

But we can only give out what we receive. The money that the is brought with the appeal determines the level of support. A successful appeal means that more mission priests can be supported at a better level. A successful appeal mean more commitment to our mission priests and their families. A successful appeal means another community of Orthodox where there was none before. And this means “ turning to the path of truth men who are still wandering in the darkness of ignorance, and of illumining with the light of the Gospel them that have not yet beheld this saving light”.

We ask that you support our missions. It is the growth of the Church and the future of Orthodoxy in America. We are looking to increase the number of missions on the grant. This year we have a record five on the grant. They are in Ashland, Oregon, Port Townsend, Washington, Victoria, British Colombia, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Nicholasville, Kentucky. And for every mission we gave a grant to, we have three or four additional ones who have applied. There are new mission possibilities in Alaska, Hawaii, and throughout Canada, Mexico and the United States. Many of them can qualify for the Grant but our resources make it prohibitive. It is hoped that a full missions endowment fund can be built to a level where it will allow us to support every mission who asks for it. But this takes time, money and dedication. Please support the appeal and make every dollar count.

How can you help the missions?

1. Prayer. In St. Innocent’s instructions to missionaries, the first instruction is to pray “which alone can open the spring of highest teaching and bring down a blessing upon every good beginning and work.” Remember our missionaries every time you pray. This spiritual support gives them untold strength and blessings. If you know a mission priest, pray for him and his family by name so that they will be upmost in your memory. If you don’t know a mission priest learn their names. There are many right in your own diocese. Get to know these missions in your diocese (and other dioceses) and pray for them by name. Ensure that your own community knows about the work that is being done and includes them in their prayer.

2. Visit. Visit a mission. Get to know these communities and you will find your life greatly blessed. You will learn of their joys and their struggles. Often these missions are not as far away as you may think and it is worth a trip to see with your own eyes the work they are doing. Missions always appreciate visitors and it helps connect them to a wider church. This is important for any developing missions, to know they are not alone. And it allows you to bring their story back to your own community.

3. Ask. Ask questions about the missionary efforts in the Orthodox Church in America. It is truly a remarkable story that is continuing with great effort. Find out who is your diocesan mission director and the work that he does. This contact is invaluable and may even help in identifying new mission efforts. Find out the needs of the missions in your diocese. This will be a tangible way in understanding what mission work is all about. Find out what is being done to plant and support missions across the whole of North America and be a part of that excitement..

4. Involve. Don’t be passive but be involved in the missionary effort. We are all missionaries of the Church. Every community no matter how established benefits from mission work either right down your street to some far away mission. These missions (and churches) grow when the people are active in bringing others to the Church. There have been established parishes which have turned around because of their effort in evangelizing. If you know people in the area of a mission who are interested, point them towards the mission. This helps these missions grow. If you have a particular talent or skill that may help a mission, volunteer your time. Often mission survive of volunteers who helps in areas as wide ranging as legal to carpentry. Remember a missions needs so much and have so little resources. A team of helpers can make a huge difference. Help the mission in any way.

5. Support. Participate in the Annual Mission’s Appeal. Every dollar collected helps a mission priest. And this money will go to them! Give generously to your local mission efforts. Many missions receive support from their diocese on a monthly basis and often this is more effective. Give directly to a mission who will welcome any support. They often struggle each month and any extra income is welcome. Buy an item they may need as they often lack some of the basic liturgical items. The often have used items, wouldn’t it be nice for them to have new liturgical items? As a parish, adopt a mission and help support a priest and his family. Some parishes have adopted a mission and give to them on a regular basis.

All of these can be done easily and have a great impact. The mission work in this country is growing rapidly and our resources need to keep pace. All efforts in this field will reap great benefits from vocations to salvation. This vine that has been planted by God is ours to cultivate and the legacy we leave will be a stronger church.

By Fr. Eric George Tosi

Secretary OCA

In the 1790s a group of monks from Russia arrived on the Alaskan coast. They had been sent there by the Russian authorities to minister to the settlers. Upon arriving they decided to split up, each heading their own way. The spread throughout the region establishing communities. Some were killed, some left to go back and some settled in the villages. They preached the Gospel to the natives. They translated the scriptures and services. They cared for and educated the people. They protected them from outside influence and engaged the culture. The people responded to this love and churches were built. Whole communities were baptized and churches were built. Their legacy lived on long after they died.

Back in the 1920s, a young couple emigrated from a small village in Galacia. They were seeking a new life in America, a place where opportunity abounded and they can raise a family in peace and stability. They settled where they could find a job and where there were other people of their culture. They soon gathered together and decided that they needed a place where they could express their Faith. They were in a strange culture and the Church became a gathering place for them. It was a place where they found dignity and they could pass on their traditions to their children. The gathering grew and they found a small building to worship. Every so often a priest would pass through the town. While there he would serve the Liturgy, baptize the children and perform all the necessary services for these people. The people saved their money and put it towards a purchasing their own building. They bought some land and built a church, often relying on their own hands and skills. The community grew and they petitioned the bishop for a priest. After the priest arrived the community grew even larger. The people had their own church.

In the 1980s a group of protestant Americans began a search for the “True” faith. They found that the modern American religious experience had not filled their spiritual quest. They gathered together in small groups and studied the Scriptures. They read the history of the Church. They gathered in prayer and asked God to guide them. In their quest, they discovered the Orthodox Church. They made inquiries and contacted local Orthodox clergy. They attended the services and discovered that the roots of the Christian Faith. They remodeled their worship space and began to emulate the Orthodox services. Their journey twisted and turned. Some stayed and some left. But eventually they decided they had discovered the Church and en masse were received into the Orthodox Church.

What is common with all three? They all were missions and they are all part of the tapestry of the Orthodox Church in America. They all are a part of the ancient Faith. While these are simply three very common stories that could represent a host of parishes and missions in the North America, they are a powerful reminder of where we have come. In a sense, they all carried forth that same commission. All three stories represent the history of the Church in North America and specifically the history of the Orthodox Church in America.

Missions exist everywhere in North America now. It is hard to believe that there was a time when faithful Orthodox and those who were seeking the Faith could not immediately find a Church. Yet the reality is that so much of this continent has been filled in. That does not mean we are everywhere, because there is so much more to do. But it does mean that people can find the Church if they are seeking. The new media and demographics means that people have an access that can only be imagined twenty years ago. So the Orthodox Church has continued to remain faithful this mission throughout our entire history. All three of those examples represent a way in which the Church was established over the past 200 years.

So what is a “mission”? Believe it or not there is not set formula. It can range from a small struggling gathering of people to a large and established parish. All have the same common denominator…salvation. That is ultimately why we must plant missions, to save our souls, to preach the Gospel and to plant the Church. Whether it is a small community seeking the truth to a large parish reaching out to the surrounding community, they all bring people to salvation. This is the first criteria and must be the single most important focus of any community. Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, one of the great modern missionaries, wrote, “mission implies a witness to the living Trinitarian God, who calls all to salvation and binds human beings together in the church, who otherwise would not belong to it or have lost their tie to it. This characteristic [reaching the non-believer – those unaware, indifferent or hostile to the Faith] distinguishes it from mere pastoral care, which is directed towards those already incorporated into the Church…Mission is ‘inward’ or ‘internal’, when it takes place within its geographical, linguistic and cultural bounds, and ‘outward’ or ‘external’ when it reaches beyond these bounds to other nations and lands.”

So there it is. A mission is salvation. It can reach inward to ourselves or outward to others. But the goal always remains salvation and truth. Each of those three examples above can fit into both of these categories. Each of these examples exemplify how a mission engages a person, a community and the world. If the Church ever loses sight of that single fact, at best it becomes a club and at worst…well we won’t go there. But the mission of “missions” (so to speak) is always to be focused on our souls. It is for salvation that God became Man, it is for salvation that Christ walked among His Creation. It is through salvation that the Church becomes relevant. As it says in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all things shall be added unto you.”

So this is where we begin. The mission must be one that brings people to salvation. This should always be the first criteria and one which the Church in America should never lost sight. While those three examples may have a differing environment around them, a different history and even a different context, the simple fact is that they all where together because they knew (however intrensic and unspoken) that their souls depended upon it. A gathering of people who seek their salvation is tuly what ecclesia (Greek for ‘to come togther”) is about.

But there is another dimension to this gathering. Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, another of our great modern teachers, wrote, “Mission is one of those words much used and much abused today in America….On the one hand every Christian is called to be a missionary. Every Christian is sent….My being a missionary can be understood in a threefold way. In the first place I am sent to myself….In the second place I am sent to others…And finally, I am sent a s a missionary to the world….It is indeed the eternal problem for each Christian individually and for every Christian generation to find their modality of mission- the way God wants them to fulfill their missionary calling.”

So again, we are all called to be missionaries and all churches are missionary by our very nature. As Fr. Alexander states, a mission is not only to oneself (though firstly), it is also to be sent to others and the world. A mission cannot be a mission when it is “hidden”. It cannot reach out and engage. But how this engagement happens is critical. To be a missionary is not simply to be “good samartin” (though this examplifies the love that all Christain should exhibit) not is it to be on a box in the corner of street quoting verses. But rather it is to system so to speak. In all three examples, a system was followed, the Church was established. Not just a community but a Church. And a Church implies all that comes through it and from it. A mission reaches outward through the Church.

We know this, our Church has a structure, a hierarchy and a tradition. We must always remain faithful to this which has been handed down to us. This enables us to be the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” It prevents us from simply being “out there” and enables us to be “sent” or truly apostolic. So we must always flee to this refuge when encountering the world for it is only in here that we find sanity, truth and love in its fullness. It is very easy today in “post-modern” and “decontructionalist” world to simply disregard the methods and institutions. Yet these are the very reasons that the Church survived and thrived for over 2000 years in radically different cultures and environments. This is exactly why all three of those models survived and flourished. When St. Innocent gave instructions to missionaries he stated, “The dogmas of the faith and the substance of the actual doctrine should be kept to so strictly as not to allow anything contrary to them in word or deed, though in the face of death itself. But some allowances should be made for new converts, as regards to certain imperfections in the rites, partly in consideration of local conditions, partly in expectation of their growing firmer in faith and the new mode of life.” In other words, hold fast to the Faith which is has been handed down and present it as such, understanding that context may change….but the message is the same.

So here we are again, what is a mission? Well as we have learned, it is the engagement to oneself and society. It is the respect and adherence to our structure and tradition. It is also one more thing…it is activity. All of the three examples did not show a passive approach to faith but rather a real active search for the Truth. They gathered, they built, they prayed, they engaged. The missions sought to build upon the foundations that were giving to them (wherever that might have been…the ‘old country’ and the ‘new world’). The planned, they struggled, they grew, they had good years and bad years. But in the end the mission succeeded because God wanted a Church there. God had planted the vine and we nurtured it. Mission is just that, a nurturing. Anyone who knows gardening knows that the planting must be planned, the soil must be right, the plant must match the conditions, there must be watering and feeding, pruning and caring. All of this is required to get the vine to produce fruit. Missions need that same care, love and attention so that through us cooperating in a synergy with God’s Divine Plan, a mission is planted, nurtured and grown to bloom.

Many of us can think back to the struggles in our own missions and parishes. We hear the stories, we remember the struggles and we remember the joy. This is part of our corporate history as the Orthodox Church in America. But we can also look back and say, what a glorious journey. Our missions are all on that glorious journey. In some ways they are easier today, resources are more available and the Church is so much more established to assist missions. Yet the missions all have new struggles and challenges from both within and without. The success of a mission is directly proportional to how each Christian, each mission/parish, in fact the entire Church engages these struggles. Its activity towards them will ensure that the Church does not become a “relic” (though that has a bad connotation) but rather the Church. It requires all of our participation in not only our own salvation but the salvation of the world.

So again to answer the questions…what is a mission? A mission is vehicle for salvation, an community that engages oneself and society, and a carrier of activity. All there are to be found in every growing prospering parish in the Orthodox Church in America. All three are the indicators of the path. All three have been present in the Church since Pentecost.

So is your parish a mission? Does it meet the criteria? Does it hid its light under a bushel or is it a light on the hill? In the ideal, the answer is yes. Our mission to North America demands nothing less.

By Fr. Eric George Tosi

Secretary OCA

There is a story from the Russian Philokalia about two monks. The older of the two monks said that they were going to go down into the local village and evangelize. The two monks went to the village and walked around. They meet with people, talked to them, asked about their life. After a few hours the older monk told the younger monk that it was time to go back. As they were walking back, the younger monk turned to the older one and said, “Father when are we going teach the people?” The older monk replied, “We just did.”

So often, missions believe that they have to have some grand plan to bring in the people. There is a need for programs, lecture series a whole host of activities. Yet the actual reality is that the most powerful evangelism tool is simply being with people. Getting to know them and their life. Showing concern and love. Mission is ultimately about an encounter.

By encountering people, being among them and loving them, we bring Christ to them. Christ was constantly walking among the people. He taught them how to deal with their daily problems. He was ultimately and perfectly “Emmanuel” or “God is with us”. As representatives of God’s Church in the world, we are also called to be the same. We are called to be among the people and not simply hide ourselves away. As often stated, we mus be in this world not of this world. In the Gospel of Mark, Christ says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

So certainly, evangelism and mission is just that, encounter the world. So often missions make the mistake that by simply being there, people will come. Or they go to the other extreme, thinking that if we have many programs, it will “market” the Church. But really neither way is correct. Again is all comes down to encounter.

There are many, many stories of how people came into the Church by simply developing relationships with people already in the Church. So often (and statistics definitely bare this out), people join a Church because someone they knew asked them to come. That is powerful and a building of a relationship. I remember once I had to have my computer fixed and went to a particular shop. The person assigned to my computer began asking questions, typical ones when one sees someone in a cassock and cross. What denomination are you, what is this church, what are your services like? The questions turned to more serious ones, who is Jesus Christ, what is a Church, what is salvation. I was in a rush and tried to give some perfunctory answers. But the man insisted and, in fact, followed me out of the store and kept asking questions. I set up an appointment and we continued our conversation. Nine months later he and his whole family were baptized and chrismated into the Church.

Now I would have missed that. I certainly wouldn’t have thought it was evangelizing. But it was. It was an encounter that only God could have put together. There are many stories of the same vein. God brings people to the Church, not men. This is why a “marketing” approach does not work. We don’t leave room for the Holy Spirit. We want to control people, the Church, the environment. Here was an event that came from nowhere yet affected so much (at least in this family’s life). Evangelism is just that…affecting people’s life.

So where do we find this? It is in the daily encounters. It with our daily encounter with God through prayer and the Church. It is through our daily encounter with our family. It is through our daily encounter with our community. All these are opportunities to evangelize…ourselves, our family and those all around us. Yet so often we can blindly walk through life unwilling or unable to see that which is right before us.

That is why the Church should not be marketed….it doesn’t effect a daily existence. Ultimately Christianity is to affect our daily existence so that we are “no longer children of the world”. Christianity grew through these encounters. It survived because of these encounters. Think of how many parishes were built one soul at a time. They are still here saving one soul at a time.

But remember that it doesn’t end here. Christ did not come just to be a personal savior but rather the savior of the whole world, of all of creation. It would be egocentric to think that God did not come to sanctify all of creation. That is why He established the Church. That is what our liturgical cycle bares out. That through His Church, all people, all creation, all time is brought back to God. So while it may be soul to soul in a small sense, it is all of creation that is effected. All of the world is sanctified by this. I often look at all the baptism and chrismations, weddings and funerals that I have done in my short time as a priest and I am humbled at the vast numbers of people it has effected. Families, extended families, friends and visitors. It rolls outward and onward filling to where it is needed. As such our own encounters does the same. It rolls outward and onward. All this because of a simple encounter. Now that is evangelism.

Another powerful story happened in Alaska. We are all aware of the story of the Russian missionaries from Valaam who arrived on Kodiak in 1794. There became two very different approaches to the mission. St. Herman stayed on in Kodiak and served the people around him. His affect was so powerful and his love so palatable that the people came to Christianity. He lived in seclusion though he was always engaging the community and the culture. His presence was so powerful and his encounter so real that the people believed that God was truly with this simple monk. When he died, his memory was kept alive by the people he served. The other missionaries went out. St. Juvenaly decided on another path. He traveled throughout the Kenai, Kuskokwim Delta and into the Alaskan interior. He encountered many different tribes and cultures. His love for them was so evident. At one point he baptized 700 Chugach Sugpiag as well as a large number of the Athabaskans. Eventually he was martyred by those hostile to the Faith. Both of these wonderful missionaries were canonized by the Church. And the people they missionized….they are all still strong Orthodox despite what they have gone through after them.

What did they both have in common in their missionary effort? They encountered a people, a community, a culture. They lived their life as Orthodox Christians despite being a far-away place. They did not even have churches but they created it. The used the charisma that the God gave to them and used the Church as the vehicle for salvation.

Their lessons should not be lost on us. It is that spirit which has seeded the Orthodox Church in America. It is that spirit which is found in every missionary in the Church and should be in every Orthodox. By encountering the world, we bring Christ to them. But probably more accurately Christ brought them to the people. So it should be for us all.

Orthodox Christians today follow the church liturgical year of the Orthodox Church according to two different calendars: the Julian calendar (commonly referred to as the ‘Old Calendar’) and the Revised Julian calendar (commonly referred to as the ‘New Calendar’).

The Julian calendar is said to have been introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., and was adopted by the Church when the First Ecumenical Council met in Nicea in 325 to settle the date for celebrating Pascha (Easter). Due to inaccuracies which over time led to the accumulation of extra days, the Julian calendar has been revised twice: once by the western church (known as the Gregorian calendar as it is credited to Pope Gregory) and once by the eastern church (known as the Revised Julian calendar).

In 1582 in Western Europe, 10 days were dropped from the calendar so that the Spring Equinox would again fall on March 21st as the Church had ruled in 325. This version is now commonly called the Gregorian calendar and is the generally recognized calendar in use today by governments and civil authorities. However, it took a few hundred years for this to occur. Both the United States and Great Britain used the Julian calendar until after American Independence, and in fact, George Washington was known to have celebrated his birthday twice each year – once according to each calendar.

In 1923 at a synod (conference) of Orthodox Churches in Constantinople (Istanbul), the Revised Julian calendar was adopted to bring the Spring Equinox back to March 21st, and in doing so, the 13-day accumulated difference was dropped. At the same time, the synod endeavored to maintain the liturgical year to the degree possible.

Today, the Revised Julian calendar is in use in most Orthodox churches in the USA, and also in the Churches of Constantinople, Greece, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Alexandria, Cyprus, and Antioch. The Julian calendar continues to be used by the Churches of Russia, Jerusalem, Serbia, and in some Greek churches. It’s also in use by the Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska.

The most obvious difference of the calendars for many is that ‘Old Calendar’ churches celebrate Nativity (Christmas) on January 7th, while ‘New Calendar’ churches celebrate on December 25th. Because the 1923 refinement did not settle the Pascha date question, most Orthodox Churches, be they ‘Old Calendar’ or ‘New Calendar’, observe Pascha according to the 325 Council formula, which determines the Spring Equinox according to the Julian calendar.

Services during Holy Week have led up to this moment. Indeed, it has been a long and laborious journey leading up to this. Ten weeks, if the pre-Lenten period is taken into account, of fasting, and of lengthened services and expanded vigils. The fast is now complete. Bells will ring. Visitors from Las Vegas and elsewhere will join a procession around the exterior of the church three times (to symbolize the doctrine of the Holy Trinity) and back inside to joyfully affirm that “Christ is Risen!” This occasion is Pascha for Orthodox Christians, also known as Pascha or Orthodox Easter.

The preceeding days leading up to Pascha, Holy Friday and Saturday, have placed our attention to the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are confronted with the extreme humility of our suffering God. Then comes Pascha: the feast of universal redemption.

Pascha often comes later than that of western Easter as it is calculated by the Julian calendar. The forerunner of Pascha is the Jewish Passover (pesach – pascha – passover), the festival of the deliverance of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. Our Lord was crucified and buried on the day before the Passover and rose again the day after it in the year which we have traditionally come to number 33 A.D. On that year the Passover was on a Saturday. And according to the Gospel accounts, the crucifixion occurred on a Friday and the resurrection early on Sunday morning.

The great Easter sermon first delivered by St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, is now proclaimed during Matins in every Orthodox church on Pascha morning (shortly after midnight), while all the faithful stand in attendance:

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Then the priest proclaims ‘Christ is risen!’ And the people respond ‘Indeed, He is risen!’ Also sung throughout the service is The Paschal Troparion, also known as the great hymn of the Resurrection of Christ. The words to this are: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, He granted (or Bestowing) life!” This great hymn of Pascha will be sung repeatedly in the weeks to come.

After services, the people typically gather for a meal, and the priest blesses food baskets. Meats and dairy products can now be eaten once again. Traditional Pascha/Easter delicacies served on this day include richly colored eggs, a sweet, high-domed (Russian) Easter bread and a sweet cheese spread called Pascha .

If all words are shaped by realities of this world, then there is an exception in the case of “holiness,” for it has no direct reference to the human dimension. Wisdom, power, even love have analogies in human life but holiness is par excellence of the “wholly Other,” the most striking manifestation of the Transcendent One. Holiness belongs to God himself. “Holy is your name,” said the prophet Isaiah (57:15) But if each livine Person is holy, according to St Cyril of Alexandria, the Holy spirit is the very essence of divine holiness, and for St Basil the Great, ‘holiness is the essential element of his nature.” The Holy Spirit is holiness hypostasized, personalized.

Contemporary language frequently employs such expressions as sacred” obligation, will, or commandment, a “holy” person. In semantic evolution the terms “sacred” and “holy” were detached from their roots and have taken on a moral meaning quite different from their original ontological significance.

Above all, holiness is the opposite of the reality of this world and presents itself as the eruption of what is absolutely different, that which Rudolf Otto termed das ganz Andere. The Bible supplies the fundamental definition. Only God is holy, and a creature is such only in a derived sense. The sacred and the holy can never be of the creature’s own nature but only and always by participation in the nature of God. The terms kadosh, agios, sacer and sanctus imply a relationship of totally belonging to God, and of being set apart. The divine act of sanctification or consecration takes a person or an object back from its empirical condition and places it in communion with the divine energies and grace which change its nature and immediately makes it experience, within its natural or original location the mysterium tremendum, the sacred trembling before the coming of the supernatural and its “awesome purity.” This has nothing at all to do with fear of the unknown, but is rather a mystical awe which accompanies every manifestation of the Transcendent One. “I will send my fear before you and will destroy all the people to whom you will come” (Ex 23:27). Again: “Take off your shoes from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Ex 3:5).

This is, in the world’s false realities, the overwhelming experience of a reality which is “innocent” because it is sanctified, purified and returned to its original state, to its destiny of being the pure vessel of a presence. The holiness of God abides there and shines from it. Thus “this place is holy” because of the presence of God as that part of the Temple was holy because of the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, as the Holy Scriptures witness to the presence of Christ in their words, as every church building is holy because God dwells there, speaks to us and feeds us with himself. The “kiss of peace” is holy because it seals the communion of those who exchange it in Christ, who is present.

The prophets, apostles and the “saints” of Jerusalem are holy because of the charism of their ministry. Bishops have the title “holy brother,” a patriarch is addressed as “His Beatitude/Holiness,” not because of any personal virtue but because of their participation in the unique, holy priesthood of Christ. Each baptized person is confirmed or chrismated, anointed, sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to “share in the nature of God,” (2 Pet 1:4) participate in “the holiness of God” (Heb 12:10), and it is in this sense of participation in divine holiness that St Paul calls the members of the community “saints.”

The liturgy teaches this holiness most explicitly. Before offering the eucharistic gifts, the celebrant says: “Holy things for the holy” and the assembly responds, moved by this awesome invitation, confessing their unworthiness, “One is holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.” The One who is uniquely holy in his nature is Christ. Those who are his members are holy only through sharing in his unique holiness.

From: In The World, Of The Church, by Paul Evdokimov, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 2001

If the biblical idea of “in the image and likeness of God” is fundamental for a Christian anthropology, it must be said most paradoxically that it is again decisive for an atheistic anthropology. Actually, the resemblance between God and man has never been denied by atheism. For Nicholas Hartmann, Feuerbach or Karl Marx, the human person is defined by attributes which are properly divine: intelligence, freedom, creativity, prophetic clairvoyance. For Sartre, man is essentially “project,” thus freedom, which means that his existence both precedes and surpasses his essence. St Gregory Palamas affirmed precisely this on the subject of God: “I am the One who is, for I am the One who embrace in myself all being.”

In The Faith of an Unbeliever, F. Jeanson affirms: “The universe is a machine for making gods…the human species is capable of incarnating God and making him real.” For Heidegger, more the pessimist, man is a “powerless god,” the god only of himself. Everywhere we think of ourselves in relation to the Absolute. To understand man is to decipher this relationship. Both believers and atheists are able to advance to this same point, namely that the problem of man is one that is both divine and human. God is the archetype, the limiting ideal of the human self. Certainly, the human person bears within himself something of the absolute. In his own way he exists en soi and pour soi, in and for himself, and Sartre’s entire philosophical system pivots on this. Therefore, God and man resemble each other. Neither the Greek poets, nor the skeptic Xenophanes, nor Feuerbach and Freud have ever denied this. For all the questions, the basic one is really knowing who is the creator of the other, God or man.

The atheist vision possesses a singular methodological significance. In reality, atheists identify God and man and do not pause before the enormity of such an identification. It is necessary to admit that they are infinitely more consistent than are Christians, faced with the affirmations of the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, which are no less astonishing.

The thinking of the Fathers goes back to the relation between God and his creation. The biblical idea of the “resemblance” is what makes revelation possible in the first place. If God the Word is this Word that the Father addresses to man, his child, then there is a certain conformity, a correspondence between the Logos who is divine and the logos who is human. This is the ontological foundation of all human knowledge. The laws of nature are proposed by the divine Architect. God is the creator, poet or maker of the universe and man, who resembles him, is also creator and poet in his own way. St Gregory Palamas makes this more precise: “God transcendent of everything, incomprehensible, unspeakable, consents to become a participant in our intelligence.” What is more, Clement of Alexandria says: “Man is like God because God is like man.” God forms the human being observing, in his Wisdom, the heavenly humanity of Christ (see Col. 1:15,1 Cor 15:47, Jn 3:13). This is predestined “to reunite all things, those that are in heaven with those on earth” (Eph 1:10), the “mystery hidden in God before all ages” (i Cor 2:7). We are created in the image of God in view of the Incarnation, placed in this state because it implies the ultimate degree of communion between God and man. The icon of the Theotokos, the Mother of God (especially that called Eleousa, Umilenie—tenderness) holding the child Jesus, admirably expresses this. If God was born in man (the Nativity) there is also a birth of man in God (the Ascension).

It is necessary to be attentive to this vision of the Fathers, the deification of mankind is a function, a result of the humanization of God: “Man is the human face of God,” said St Gregory of Nyssa. This is why “man, destined for the enjoyment of things divine, ought to receive in his very nature a relationship, a kinship with God, with whom he ought to share.” The human soul is not fulfilled except in the “divine milieu.” “To contemplate God is the soul’s very life,” says St Gregory of Nyssa.

The Fathers build their anthropology on the divine level, and their perspectives are incisive, paradoxical, bold in the extreme. It will suffice, at some small risk, to select but a few of their most astonishing and well-known theses:

“God became man so that man might become God by grace and share in the divine life.”

“Man is a being who has received the command to become God.”

“Man must unite created nature and uncreated divine energy.”

“I am human by nature and God by grace.”

“The one who shares the divine light becomes himself a sort of light.”

A microcosm, man is also microtheos, a. “little God.” It is in our very structure that we bear the theological enigma, that we are mysterious beings, what St Peter calls “man, hidden in the depth of the heart” (i Pet 3:4). This is an apophatic definition and one which shows the Fathers’ interest in the content of the imago Dei, the image of God in man. For St Gregory of Nyssa, the richness of the image reflects divine perfection, the convergence of all good things, and underscores the human power, properly divine, to freely determine himself.

When we say, “I exist,” something of the absoluteness of God is translated into the human: “I am the One who is.” For the Fathers these formulas were “essential words,” words of life received and experienced. Sadly, in history, these lofty summits of experience and expression experienced a fall toward the flatness of scholastic theology, where these images of fire became clichés without life, common places where this or that theological position was reinforced, cerebral, abstract, polemical, without any revolutionary or cataclysmic power any longer for the life of the world.

Within current piety, asceticism poorly understood becomes obscurantism. Humility becomes formalized and a passport of good orthodoxy leading to an orthodox Barthianism, where man reduced to something insignificant is able to do nothing except to revolt and negate himself. Monophysitism has never been surpassed in certain currents of piety, taking the form of the “transcendent egoism” of individual salvation. It is the monophysite contempt for the flesh and for the material world, the flight toward the celestial realm of pure spirits, the misunderstanding of culture and of the human vocation or callings in the world, a hostility even a hatred for woman and beauty. According to Nicholas Cabasilas, God’s “foolish love” (manikos eras) for us or in the magnificent words of St Filaret, Metropolitan of Moscow: “The Father is the Love which crucifies, the Son is crucified Love and the Spirit is the invincible power of the Cross. This religion of crucified Love has been the victim of widespread alienation. It has been transformed into a religion of paternalistic clericalism, or one of a “sadistic Father” (the juridical theory of satisfaction, the Son “satisfies justice,” “quenches the Father’s anger”), or a religion of law and of punishment, of obsession with hell, a “terrorist” religion where the Gospel is reduced to a purely moralistic system. Again in the nineteenth century according to the then prevalent theology, the “rich” represented divine Providence, and the “poor” blessed God for having sent into the world such worthy, affluent people. When one considers wealth and poverty as divine institutions, one is only able to oscillate between the Father as fearful tyrant and the Father as the generous and reassuring patriarch.

Now authentic Christian Tradition teaches an authentic dialectical tension, so powerfully stressed by St Gregory Palamas: not by one thing or the other, but by the one and the other at the same time. It is the tension between subjective humility and the objective fact of being co-liturgist, co-creator, co-poet with God. It is necessary to relearn these antinomies, formerly so familiar to the Fathers and to the Church, now foreign to us.

We say, “I am imperfect,” and God responds, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). We say, “I am dust and nothing,” and Christ says to us, “You are like gods and my friends” (Jn 15:14). “You are children of God” (Acts 17:28) affirms St Paul, and St John, “You have received the anointing and you know everything” (i Jn 2:27). “I bear the marks of my sins but I am in the image of your unspeakable glory” we hear in one of the troparia of the Orthodox funeral service.

Man is created and nevertheless not created but “born of water and the Holy Spirit.” We are of the earth and also of heaven, creatures yet God-in-becoming. A “created god” is a most paradoxical notion, just as a “created person” and “created freedom.” The Fathers’ boldness deepened these maxims and sayings so that we might “not at all be saddened” and not “stifle the Holy Spirit.”

Certainly the Eastern Church’s understanding of theosis that is, “deification” or “divinization,” is not a logical solution nor a concept but a solution of life and grace, an antinomic solution, as is every charism of the Holy Spirit which leads us back to the antinomy of God himself. The Fathers recognized this in saying that the Name of God is relative with respect to the world. How is God able to be, at one and the same time, relative and absolute, the God of history and the God in history? This is a mystery of Christ, of his Love, which transcending his own absoluteness, is leading us toward the Father. How also can the saying of St Ephrem the Syrian be true: “The whole Church is one of penitents and those who are perishing?” How is this statement able to agree with that of St Simeon the New Theologian: “Truly it is a great mystery, God among men, God in the midst of gods, by deification!” But this is one and the same mystery.

From: In The World, Of The Church, by Paul Evdokimov, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 2001

The establishment of the “Autocephalous Church in America” is a significant event for world Orthodoxy today: it recognizes officially the fact that the Orthodox faith is not simply the faith of some ethnic groups in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, that its canonical structure is not bound forever to nostalgic reminiscences of Byzantium or Holy Russia, and that its mission is directed to the man of today and of tomorrow.

We are not forgetting the past, for it is indeed the activity of the great missionaries of the past – Father Herman, Bishop Innocent Veniaminov, Archbishop Tikhon and many others – clergy and laity – which gives us today the canonical and moral right to autocephaly. But in the Church the past is always present and relevant: this is the secret and mystery of what true living Tradition is. The Church is alive, and its life is equally endangered if one cuts the roots of the past or if one refuses to recognize the responsibilities of the present. The forthcoming months and years will test our ability to live up to these responsibilities.

The Statutes of our Church give us ample opportunity to secure a fruitful cooperation between episcopate, clergy and laity on all levels of Church life. It is time for all of us to make full use of our rights and duties and stop arguing about petty and false issues.

To be “The Orthodox Church in America” means that our witness to Orthodoxy must transcend nationalism and be open to our tremendous missionary responsibility and to our responsibility for unity among ALL Orthodox Christians in this country, with the understanding that this unity will not be achieved by submitting one ethnic group to another, or by refusing to any group its share in building up a fully united Orthodoxy in America.

The status of autocephaly finally involves a direct role in shaping up the witness of Orthodoxy as a whole in the world today. This implies not only participation in formal pan-Orthodox conferences and, hopefully, Ecumenical councils, but also responsible and competent debating of contemporary theological, social and moral issues.
The situation of the Orthodox Church being what it is in Communist-dominated countries, in military-ruled Greece, in a fiercely embattled Middle East, the role of our Church could be decisive in making the message of Orthodoxy truly heard and understood.

These responsibilities are heavy: if the Church were a human organization only and not the true Body of Christ, they certainly could not be fulfilled. May the power of God “made perfect in weakness” (I Cor 9:9) help us.

From: Vision of Unity by John Meyendorff, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1987

Eastern Orthodoxy, throughout its entire history, has been :he religion of the people. With its liturgy using the vernacular, with its particular ability to assume the various cultures where it developed, with leaders who often assumed :he responsibility for entire nations, Orthodoxy became inseparable from national consciousness itself. This is true for :he Greeks, who like to identify Orthodoxy and Hellenism, for the Russians with their irrational messianism of “holy Russia,” for the Serbs, who see no difference between pravoslavie and svetosavlje (the inheritance of St Sava).

The strength of these various forms of religious nationalism is tremendous: the Communists themselves are unable to deracinate it. This strength comes from the fact that Christianity has become rooted in society, in the family traditions, in the general world-view of entire nations: all this is an extraordinary achievement of an authentically Christian spirit, which assumes and transforms the whole of human life, and not only – as in our modern secularized civilization – an isolated corner of man’s life. This wholeness of Christian life is what the great saints of the past have succeeded to build: the Greek Fathers of the Church, St Sergius in Russia, St Sava in Serbia.

But something quite new happened later, especially in the nineteenth century: the balance between religion and culture was lost. Instead of sanctifying their national life by submitting it to the higher ideals of the One Church – as the Greek Fathers, and St Sergius, and St Sava had done – the Orthodox began to use the Church as a tool for the perpetuation of their national, political or cultural interests. They began to think of themselves as “Greek Orthodox,” “Russian Orthodox” or “Serbian Orthodox,” as if these were separate religious “denominations.” Hence our disastrous state of division here in America, where God brought us all together.

St Paul had to face a similar situation in Corinth, where Christians of Jewish background and Christians of pagan background had created separate communities. He wrote to them: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you . .. “What I mean is that each one of you says, I belong to Paul, or I belong to Apollos, or I belong to Christ. Is Christ divided? “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Cor 1:10-13).

There is – in the One Orthodox Church – one Baptism, one Eucharistic Liturgy, one Priesthood, one Faith. And of course, there are many different people, whose identity – personal, national, cultural – is perfectly legitimate, but only as long as this identity does not divide the Church.

Today, fortunately, we envisage again our future in terms of Orthodox unity. This unity existed – administratively and canonically – before 1921, when all Orthodox of various national backgrounds were united in one single canonical Church of America. No one ever said that their national identity was suffering then in any way.

In restoring that unity again today, we will not create a new “denomination,” called “American Orthodox,” but we will all be one in the “Orthodox Church of America.” This Church will undoubtedly preserve, wherever necessary, various liturgical languages and traditions, with all desirable guarantees on the diocesan or parochial levels, and it will, of course, welcome Americans, who do not desire to identify themselves by any other national adjectives. The canons of the Church actually ignore “national” churches: they only require that in each area the essential Oneness of the Church be visibly realized, so that our confession of faith in the Creed – “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” – may not sound like empty words.

No one requires from us to cease to be what we are. Diversity is not precluded by oneness. The future therefore is in an “Orthodox Church of America,” where there will be room for Russians, Greeks, Serbians, Ukrainians, Arabs, Albanians and . . . Americans!

From: Vision of Unity by John Meyendorff, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1987

For reasons which are impossible to enumerate here, there is, in many minds, a great confusion concerning the Episcopal office in the Church.

In the early years of Christianity, in the times of the Councils and of the Fathers, the bishop was the center of the entire church life: his flock knew him as its Father, its Teacher, its Priest. Nothing in the Church was done without his knowledge, and he himself knew his people by name and understood his office not as an opportunity to exercise power, but, first of all, as a service – just as the Lord showed Himself to be the Servant…. It is for this service that apostolic authority is also given to the bishop, and there can be no Church without him being the Pastor and the Head.

Today in America we often lose this conception of episcopacy. Instead of seeing in the Bishop the Teacher of the apostolic faith, we visualize him as simply the occasion of a more elaborate – and often incomprehensible – liturgical ceremonial. Forgetting that it is in his name only that our parish priest can serve the Divine Liturgy, we are sometimes afraid of his “interventions” in our parish affairs, which we wrongly consider as “our own,” and not God’s. We do not understand where our money goes when it is being sent to the diocesan or the Metropolia’s treasury, for we do not see any use for these institutions anyway. And finally, the shameful multiplicity of “jurisdictions” makes us feel that bishops are rather a divisive element in Church life, and we tend simply to forget that the most important character of episcopacy is to keep the Church in unity in every place.

Again, it is not the place here to look for responsibilities: everyone—bishops, priests, laymen—have their share in them. But let us rather be concerned with the means to correct a situation both unusual and critical. The forthcoming Sobor gives us a crucial opportunity to make a decisive step all together.

The late Metropolitan Leonty had succeeded in preserving throughout the most difficult period of our Church’s history a holy image of the episcopate. His successor’s most difficult task will be to maintain that image. But he will also have to lead the Church in a different historical period: a period of further transition towards the establishment and progress of American Orthodoxy, a period of growth, of unification, of challenge by both an increasingly secularized world and changing patterns of life.

We can be sure that whoever will be elected will receive the help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But let us also remember what Saint Leo the Great, a great Church Father, once said: “There is no greater sin than to bestow the grace of the Holy Spirit upon an unqualified person.” And much of our troubles do come precisely from the fact that Saint Leo’s precept has not been taken seriously enough in the past. The power of grace is not magic; to be effective, it requires the cooperation of man, and the Sobor will be the moment when we, all together, will have to designate the one who will be capable of giving that cooperation which God needs today.

From: Vision of Unity by John Meyendorff, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1987

Liturgical Year

On this page you will find explanations on whys and how’s of the Orthodox Church. In the Orthodox Church, everything exists for a specific reason or is done for a specific purpose. Many Orthodox themselves are not even aware of many of these reasons or their historical backgrounds. We hope you will find these pages below helpful.

The TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD is celebrated as one of the major feasts of our Holy Orthodox Church. This mysterious event occurred late in our Lord’s public ministry. In fact, the noted historian Eusebius, as well as St. John of Damascus were of the opinion that the Transfiguration took place precisely 40 days prior to Christ’s death upon the Cross.

While heading for Jerusalem, Jesus took the Apostles Peter, James and John to the top of Mt. Tabor. Suddenly, “His face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as snow” (Matthew 17:2). Appearing with the Lord at this awesome moment were Moses and Elias, proving that He was, indeed, the fulfillment of all that had been written in the Law and foretold by the Prophets. Any doubts of Christ’s Divinity were dispelled by the thunderous voice of God the Father: This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”. (Matthew 17:5)

The Apostle Peter would later describe his role on Mt. Tabor as being an “eyewitness to greatness.” The Evangelist John beautifully captures the feeling of that moment in the first chapter of his Gospel: “And we beheld His glory, the glory as it were of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14)


The Feast of Transfiguration

The Feast of Transfiguration is celebrated on August 6 in commemoration of the dedication of the first church on Mt. Tabor in the 5th century. “The Feast of Transfiguration, very popular in the Orthodox Church, can serve as the key in the understanding of Christ’s humanity in the Eastern Tradition” (Vladimir Lossky)Indeed, while we adore and venerate kenosis, the divine self-emptying, the Church constantly reminds us that Christ is fully God, even when He strips himself of His glory, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwelt bodily…”(Col 2:9). Byzantine hymnographers always have these two poles in mind, even when writing about the cross and tomb. Christ abases Himself willingly: He accepts disgrace and abandonment, but even in His poverty the majesty and triumph of the King of Glory can be seen.

In the earthly life of Christ, the Transfiguration occurs between His baptism and his passion. Having revealed Himself to John the Baptist, Jesus now reveals the mystery of His person to the apostles: He is the second person of the Holy Trinity. It is through the apostles, “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet 1:16), that we have inherited the revelation about Christ, both God and man….Transfiguration and the cross are inseparable, and the forty days between the two feasts express this link. Indeed forty days, the same length of time as Great Lent, makes of Transfiguration a preparation for the mystery of the cross.

In Orthodoxy, we have a beautiful custom of blessing fruit in the church on Transfiguration. It is, of course, because of the season, the peak of summer, that the Church has chosen this day to bless the fruits of the earth. But we can ascribe a theological meaning to this rite: the blessing of the fruit reminds us that the divine energies penetrate into all created matter and transfigure the world in the light of the age to come.

On the great Feast Day of Theophany, we commemorate, among other things, our Lord’s baptism in the Jordan River by John. Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized? Why did the Sinless One need to submit to a ritual that symbolized the washing away of sins? St. John the Baptist himself must of had the same question in his mind.

The Gospels tell us that when Christ approached him in the Jordan, he was reluctant to baptize Him, saying: “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14) In the following verse of Matthew’s Gospel, Christ answers: “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Therein lies our answer. Jesus certainly did not NEED purification. But by making the purification of humanity His own. He would wash away the sin of humanity, grant regeneration and reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Thus, Christ’s baptism was necessary for the fulfillment of all of God’s righteousness. St. Gregory of Nyssa puts it beautifully: “JESUS ENTERS THE SINFUL WATERS OF THE WORLD, AND WHEN HE COMES OUT, HE PURIFIES THE ENTIRE WORLD WITH HIM.”

The Church refers to baptism as a “new birth”. In this “new birth”, a true mystery takes place, for in the Sacrament of Baptism, we die, going down into the water to be mystically united to Christ in His death, and we live again, rising up out of the water in His Resurrected humanity.

The author of the famous “Ladder” came from an unknown place to Mount Sinai as a sixteen year old boy and remained there, first as a novice, then as a hermit and finally as abbot of Sinai, until he died at the age of eighty, in about 649. His biographer, the monk Daniel, said of him: “He brought his body up to Mount Sinai, but his spirit he brought up to the Mount of Heaven.”

He spent his first nineteen years in obedience to his spiritual father, Martyrios. Anastasius of Mount Sinai, who saw John once as a young man, foretold that he would be abbot of the monastery. After the death of his spiritual father, John took himself off to a cave, where he lived for twenty years in strict asceticism. A disciple of his, Moses, relates a story how John saved his life by praying for him when he perceived danger and was saved at the last moment.

At the importunate urging of the brethren, John accepted the abbacy, and guided their souls to salvation with loving zeal. He once heard a monk reproach him for being too verbose. He was not in the least angered, but was silent for an entire year, not uttering a single word until the brethren begged him to speak. He then began to instruct them on the wisdom which God had endowed him.

During the time he was silent in his cave, John wrote many instructive books, of which the most famous, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, is much read to this day. It describes the way to raise the soul to God as if on a ladder. Before his death, John appointed his brother George to the abbacy, but George began to grieve greatly at the approaching parting with John. Then John said that if he was found worthy to stand close to God in the next world, he would pray that George would be taken to heaven the same year. So it came to pass that John fell asleep in the Lord in 649. His brother George followed him ten months later.

From ‘The Prologue From Ochrid’

This is another of the Feasts in which we find no “historical” account in the Gospels but has been preserved for almost two thousand years as a part of the “inner” life of the Church. The Feast has been consecrated by centuries of prayers as well as the numerous icons which attest to its authenticity. Most evidence comes from the Protoevangelion of James.

On this day, Joachim and Anna bring their daughter to the Temple in Jerusalem. According to Jewish custom, when a child is three years old, weaned, and able to live without the mother, the parents dedicate the child to God. Joachim and Anna, who had a difficult time conceiving, made a particular vow at the birth of Mary to consecrate the child to God.

Their ascent to the Temple was a source of much joy and the High Priest Zachariah meet them at the courtyard, according to the story. And to the amazement of all, Mary entered into the Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark rested and none but the High Priest could enter. This boldness shocked the people but no one tried to stop her. This event serves to prefigure the future deliverance of humanity by the Savior whose coming was imminent. Mary will serve as the “New Ark”, the “Holy of Holies”, and the “New Temple” as God Himself will dwell in her and make her womb more spacious than the Heavens.

The legend continues that Mary remained and grew up in the Temple, dividing her time between work, study, and prayer. At the age of 15 she was betrothed to Joseph, an elderly widower who was an important person in the Temple. This was done to protect her and her consecrated virginity.

The custom of blessing homes during the Theophany season is of special beauty and significance. It is not simply a sentimental tradition without meaning, nor is it a custom whose meaning we have forgotten, like an old friend whose face we remember, but whose impact on our life has been forgotten.

When an Orthodox Christian believer moves into a new home, he dedicates his new home as the abode of a follower of Christ. He asks that God, the source of all goodness and the Giver of every perfect gift, to bless his house and all that is within it; he recalls that Jesus Christ, His Son, came to bring Salvation to all, even as He brought Salvation to the house of Zaccheus; he prays that the Holy Spirit may abide in it, guiding those who dwell in it in the Paths of righteousness.

On the Feast of Theophany we rededicate our home for its original purpose, just as we must periodically rededicate our life to Christ. We do it especially on this Feast because this is the day on which we remember in the Church Year the coming of Christ who began His Ministry when He descended into Jordan to be Baptized by St. John the Forerunner and Baptist. He enters again into our lives reminding us that we must “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

An Orthodox Christian must dedicate not only himself and his house to the Lord, but his daily work and all his efforts as well. All things are to be done to the glory of God. That is why in the Orthodox Church, not only religious objects, such as icons, crosses, churches and vestments, are blessed, but also homes, fields, animals and all objects which are used in our daily life for the good of man. In this the Church expresses its faith that the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying action extends over the whole Creation.

The rite of the Great Blessing of Water is celebrated in the Orthodox Church after the vesperal Divine Liturgy on the eve of the feast of Theophany, and after the eucharistic liturgy on the day itself. It begins with the chanting of special hymns with the incensing of the water, and concludes with bible readings, petitions and prayers.

The water placed in a large receptacle in the midst of the church, or freely flowing in a natural source, is decorated with candles and flowers as the symbol of the beautiful world of God’s original creation through His Word and Spirit – the same beautiful world which shall become the Kingdom of God at the end of the ages through its redemption by the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit.

People sometimes think that the blessing of water, and the practice of drinking it and sprinkling it on the people and things, is a “paganism” which has crept into the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People of God before the coming of Christ, as well as at the time of His manifestation. (See John 5-7) And we know that it has existed among Christians from very early in conjunction with the practice of baptism.

The service of the Great Blessing of Water itself reveals the action’s meaning for the Christian people. The readings from the Bible, particularly the messianic words from the prophecy of Isaiah, together with the prayers, petitions and hymns all serve to manifest the meaning of the great festival of the Manifestation of the Messiah….

God has sent His only-begotten Son “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17) He has sent the Lord Jesus Christ not only to save people’s souls, but to save their bodies, and not only to save human beings, but to save the entire creation….

Since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has appeared in the world, manifesting Himself in His baptism in the Jordan, all flesh and all matter is sanctified. Everything is made pure and holy in Him. Everything which is corrupted and polluted by the sinful works of men is cleansed and purified by the gracious works of God. All death-dealing powers of the devil, which poison the good world of God’s creation are destroyed. All things are made new. Through the “prime element” of water on the feast of Theophany the entire creation is shown to be sanctified by God’s word through the same Spirit of God who “in the beginning….was moving over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2)

By Fr. Thomas Hopko

A “Synodikon” is an official declaration signed by all members of a synod or council, by which a decision by that synod is affirmed. The Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy is a declaration of the members of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 AD affirming the truths of the Orthodox Faith, which sprung forth from the controversy concerning icons. This Synodikon was read before the Divine Liturgy that sealed the decision in 843 AD and has since then has been read on this day every year. The tradition is for the people to recite it together and at the end to hold up the icons to affirm their truthfulness and Orthodoxy.

“As the Prophets beheld,

As the Apostles have taught,

As the Church has received,

As the Teachers have dogmatized,

As the Universe has agreed,

As Grace shown forth,

As falsehood has been dissolved,

As Wisdom has presented,

As Christ awarded.

Thus we declare, thus we assert, thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor His Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons; on the one hand worshipping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord; and on the other hand, honoring as true servants of the same Lord of all and accordingly offering them veneration.

This is the Faith of the Apostles!

This is the Faith of the Fathers!

This is the Faith of the Orthodox!

This is the Faith which has established the Universe!


In the contemporary situation of Orthodox people, who are often completely cut off from the Church of God, who have no opportunity to experience within themselves the beneficial influence of the Church services and the whole prayerful atmosphere of the Church, it is very important to create, even in one’s solitude, some likeness of the churchly atmosphere. How can this be accomplished?

First of all, set aside some special place for prayer. In your home, perhaps above your bed, hang two or three icons and a vigil lamp before them… It is imperative to establish a permanent order of prayer at home. Select a rule of prayer – evening, morning and during the day. Let the rule not be too long so as not to become tired of it because of the newness of the experience. The rule must always be observed with fear, effort and attention. Here also will be demanded certain external: standing, prostrations, kneeling, the sign of the Cross, reading… The more often one prays in this manner, the better. It is well to become accustomed to one such prayer, so that on beginning, one’s spirit is immediately enkindled. One should pray simply: on arising to pray, say the prayer with fear and trembling, as into the ear of God, accompanying the prayer with the sign of the Cross, prostrations and kneeling. The adopted rule must always be fulfilled without fail.

There are degrees of prayer: the first degree – physical prayer, which consists mostly of reading, standing, prostration; the attention wavers; the heart is not sensitive, there is no inclination towards prayer: toil and patience are required, this is active prayer. The second degree – attentive prayer: the mind becomes accustomed to consecrate in the hour of prayer and to utter the whole prayer without absentmindedness. The third degree – the prayer of feeling: the heart becomes warm with feeling, and what previously is thought now becomes feeling. One who has reached this feeling prays without words, for God is the God of hearts.

Read the Word of God, the New Testament, and before reading address yourself to God in prayer, that the Lord may help you to understand, accept and fulfill that which you have read. Do not be frightened by the asceticism, effort, fasting, prayer, abstinence to which the Church calls you. All this is boring and burdensome only when it is done without memory of Christ, but when it is done in the name of Christ, with faith and love, then the yoke becomes easy and the burden becomes light…

May the Lord help us in the course of the Great Lent to fulfill it well so that we may worthily adore the Shining Resurrection!

From Archpriest Sergei Chetverikoff, Holy Trinity Cathedral Church Life Bulletin, April 1964

“On this Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the veneration of the honorable and Life-Giving Cross, and for this reason: inasmuch as in the forty days of fasting we in a way crucify ourselves….and become bitter and despondent and failing, the Life-Giving Cross is presented to us for refreshment and assurance, for remembrance of our Lord’s Passion, and for comfort.

We are like those following a long and cruel path, who become tired, see a beautiful tree with many leaves, sit in its shadow and rest for a while and then, as if rejuvenated, continue their journey; likewise today, in the time of fasting and difficult journey and effort, the Life-Giving Cross was planted in our midst by the Holy Fathers to give us light and courage for the remaining task.

Or to give another example: when a king is coming, at first his banner and symbols appear, then he himself comes glad and rejoicing about his victory and filling with joy those under him; likewise, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to show us His victory over death, and appear to us in the glory of the Resurrection Day, is sending to us in advance His scepter, the royal symbol – the Life-Giving Cross – and it fills us with joy and makes us ready to meet, inasmuch as it is possible for us, the King Himself, and to render glory to His victory.

All this in the midst of Lent which is like a bitter source because of its tears and despondency….but Christ comforts us who are as it were in a desert until He shall lead us up to the spiritual Jerusalem by His Resurrection….for the Cross is called the Tree of Life, it is the tree that was planted in Paradise, and for this reason our Fathers have planted it in the midst of Holy Lent, remembering both Adam’s bliss and how he was deprived of it, remembering also that partaking of this Tree we no longer die but are kept alive….”

From the ‘Synaxarion of the Sunday of the Cross’

The Services of Holy Week

Since the early days of the Church, there has been a cycle of services celebrated during Holy Week and Pascha. Evidence of this go all the way back to Egeria, a female pilgrim from the West who experienced Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha in 383 AD in Jerusalem. These exact same services are still conducted today by the Orthodox Church. I thought it would be valuable to briefly outline the services of Holy Week for your use. Many of the services are anticipated or served the day before. Lazarus Saturday: The Gospels clearly relates how six days before Christ’s own death, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:42) We see the humanity and divinity of Christ combined as well as the foreshadowing of his own death. Entrance into Jerusalem:The end of the Great Fast and entry into Holy Week as Christ triumphantly enters into Jerusalem. The tradition is for a procession of palms lead by the children as the tropar for the feast states. So begins our journey into Holy Week. Bridegroom Matins:Known in the Church as “The End”, the imagery here is about the Last Judgment. It relates the deep anguish of Christ as He prepares for His Passion. The services tell us to watch for we do not know when God will come. These services are a triumph of the eschatological imagery in the Church. Matins of Holy Thursday with Holy Unction: This service relates the event when the harlot anoints Christ and is forgiven. On this day we customarily anoint the people with Holy Oil as a sin of healing and remission of sins. Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Thursday: This solemn Liturgy commemorates the Last Supper. The darkness of the week is broken slightly because of the importance of the Eucharistic event. Traditionally the priest prepares the reserve sacrament for the year. The Passion of Christ is now close. Matins of Holy Friday: The service commonly known as “The Twelve Gospels” as the Church remembers the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ by reading the twelve Gospel accounts. A climatic point of Holy Week emphasizing the reality of actions. Vespers of Holy Friday: Remembering the crucifixion and death of Christ. There is a solemn procession as the burial shroud (plashtschanitza or epitaphios) is brought out to the people. Christ is laid in the tomb and our vigil of the Resurrection begins. Matins of Holy Saturday: Known as “The Lamentations”, the service begins the Sabbath as Christ lays in rest in the tomb. Often seen as a funeral service for Christ, in fact it is a commemoration of the law and love of God towards His people. Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday: The death of Christ is linked with the creative acts of God. It is here that Christ descends into Hell and breaks the doors. The service inaugurates the paschal celebration as the service is bright and uplifting. The tomb is revealed as a place of life. The Services of the Great and Holy Pascha: The Joy of Joys, Holiday of Holidays, celebrating Christ’s Resurrection. The service begins with nocturne anticipating the Resurrection. The procession follows at midnight announcing the Resurrection to the world. We then celebrate the Paschal matins followed by the Divine Liturgy, the first of the new day. The most joyous event of the year. Paschal Vespers: The Great and Joyous Vespers celebrating the Pascha of our Lord. There is a procession for the children and the parish celebrates the Resurrection with a feast and events for the children.

Bright Week – Traditionally Divine Liturgy each day: Celebrating the Resurrection with a Paschal Liturgy each day until Thomas Sunday. Includes a procession and reading of the Resurrectional accounts.


In the days following the death and the Resurrection of Christ, there was much confusion. Many of His apostles and disciples went into hiding awaiting word of what would happen to them and the infant Church. However as Christ had promised (John 14), he sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles who were gathered in the Upper Room (Acts 2). The Spirit rested upon the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues and the Church was born as they were sent forth to preach the Gospel and baptize the people. However, the martyrdom of Stephen brought to light the coming controversies.

As the Church grew and many new people were brought into the Faith, there was some controversy on how to receive them, mainly by a group who wanted strict adherence to Jewish law (known as the Judaizers) in such areas as circumcision and dietary regulations. Such there was an disagreement on whether Gentiles need become Jews first then Christians. Also in questions was the need for replacements to their numbers as well as the apostleship of Paul and Barnabas.

The Apostles gathered in Jerusalem around 48 AD for the first council of the Church (Acts 15 and Galatians 2). James, being bishop in the city, presided over the meeting. After many important speeches, including a key one by Peter, the Council made a decision on how to receive the gentiles into the Church. This decision was vitally important for two reasons, first it opened the doors for non-Jews (gentiles) to be received into the Faith. Secondly, it showed the Church on how it should meet and it what way decisions need to be made.

The Issues

Peter made a major speech by showing that it was God’s will that Gentiles should hear the Gospel, that they had been given the Holy Spirit without discrimination, that the ceremonial law of the Jews was a yoke that they themselves could not bear, and finally that salvation was a Grace for both Jews and Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas reported on the remarkable success they had in growing the Church and believed that it would not have grown if God did not intend it to do so. James, considered a strict observer of the Law made the Scriptural argument God intended to save all (Gal 2) however, that there should be some general requirements, namely abstention from idolatry, fornication, eating of meat from strangled animals and the eating of blood. This was so that fellowship could be maintained. Plus, if they desired to become Jews, then they could go to any one of many synagogues around the Empire.

The Decisions

The major decision was the fourfold answer to the questions they faced and basically followed James’ recommendations. First was the repudiation of the Judaizers who began the controversy. Second was the support of the work of Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles. Third was the authorization of Judas and Silas as delegates. And finally, the agreement that the people abstain from idolatry, from blood, from things strangled and fornication. It was insisted that the decision was of “The Holt Spirit and us.”

The Results

The results of these early decisions was the opening of the Church. It allowed for unprecedented growth among the gentile nations. Paul would go on and have 6 more missionary journeys bringing the Gospel all the way to the capital of the Empire, Rome. His great Epistles (or letters) not only established deep theological reflection of Christ and the Church but set down the first standards of operation and behavior within the Church. The other Apostles also went forth and brought the Gospels to all nations so that the Church began to spread throughout the known world. Many meet the fate of martyrdom in the name of Christ.

These early days also continued to see a more frictional relationship between the Jews and the Christians which eventually lead to their total break. Christianity as a whole were not accepted in the Empire and would not be until the Emperor Constantine legalized it in the early 4th century. So what would follow would be periods of great martyrdom and persecution which would drive the Church underground until such time that it could come out in the open. This, however, brought rise to the great apologists of the Church who would write some of the classic tracts on what it means to be a Christian and what exactly is the Church. These would formulate the basis for serious theological reflections in the later centuries. It would also give us the evidence on life in the early Church and how it was organized, confirming the unbroken traditions of the Orthodox Church today.

The Main People

The main people during this period were the Apostles Peter and Paul. They were the major missionaries of the Faith as it spread throughout the Empire. Both met their martyrdom in Rome. The other Apostles such as James were also especially important in the spread of the Gospel. In fact the Seventy as well as all those named throughout the New Testament contributed to the survival of the Church and are all canonized as saints, many spreading the message throughout the world and meeting their death.

The Sources

The first and foremost source for this period is found in the New Testament. Specifically in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul. They present a very accurate picture of the early Church and the issues that the people faced. It is worth reading Acts and Galatians for a specific view of the issues.

There were, however, other writings being collected and disseminated to the Church which were from the same period and survived to this day. Key among them are the Didache (or The Two Ways), the Shepherd of Hermes, the Apostles’ Creed, the Epistles of Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, and Barnabas.

The historical origin of the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross is not clear. The tradition is generally accepted that in the fourth century St. Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, discovered three crosses buried on Golgatha, where Jesus Christ was buried. The true cross was identified because it was found between the two others (those of the two thieves), because it bore the inscription (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews), and because it was the source of numerous miracles. What is historically certain, however, is that, beginning with September 14, 347, an annual ceremony was held in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, built in Jerusalem by order of Constantine. At this ceremony a relic considered to be the wood of the cross was venerated. On that day, the bishop elevated or “exalted” the cross, i.e., raised it solemnly above the people.

At the conclusion of the Vigil on the Feast of the Exaltation, the crucifix is placed on a board and decorated with flowers. The bishop (priest in his place) carries it in procession around the church and raises it at the four cardinal points, the four branches of the cross. For the cross fills the universe and unites the whole created world through the love of Christ, who is, “the breadth and length and height and depth….” and reveals to us “all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19)

Then the bishop (priest) places the crucifix on a stand in the center of the church, censes it, and the whole assembly sings the following hymn:

“O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of Your Cross, preserve Your habitation.” 

Before venerating the cross, the people sing the following prayer three times. It is also repeated at the Liturgy in place of the Trisagion:

“Before Your Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and glorify Your Holy Resurrection.”

The cross, inseparable from Christ and from His Passion, assumes a great importance, and the Church personifies it and addresses prayers to it. The work which Christ accomplishes on earth is always linked to the work of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit (LK 24:40) descends upon the cross to make it an invincible weapon against the demons. The cross is, through the Holy Spirit, more than an object: it is a symbol, a sign (in the strongest sense of the word). In it, the battle between Christ and the powers of evil continues until the end of time.

We have run through the entire cycle of the liturgical year, and we have passed through all the stages of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ: his nativity, his teaching, his death on the cross and his glorious Resurrection, his ascent into heaven, his sitting at the right hand of the Father. Christ’s earthly mission on behalf of humanity is fully completed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The life of the Church, the Body of Christ, begins on that day. The Holy Spirit reveals himself through the saints, and their radiance in the world is the fruit.

The Church reserves a very special place among the saints for Mary, the most-holy Mother of God. Through her, the Son of God became the Son of man. Her virgin womb is more spacious than the heavens, as we say in our hymns, because it contained God. The infinite, limitless God has allowed himself to be contained in the womb of a mother. The body of the most-holy Virgin was the physical envelope which assisted the incarnation. This is why the liturgical year, which is the image of the life of Christ, is also circumscribed by two events in the life of Mary, her birth and her death. In fact, the first feast of the liturgical year is the Nativity of the Virgin (September 8). The last feast of the year is her death, the Dormition, celebrated on August 15. To mark the significance of this day, it is preceded by a two week fast as a period of preparation needed to glorify this event.

We may have no historical documentation about Mary’s death; no scriptural text mentions her end. Only the apocryphal gospels contain a detailed account of the Virgin’s death, placing it in Jerusalem. These writings inspired the icon and liturgical text of the feast. But these accounts, very late in origin and full of legendary detail, accounts which the Church has not accepted as canonical, should not be trouble for us, for the veneration of Mary is based not on folklore, but on Tradition, which is the complement of Scripture. Indeed Tradition is the living memory of the Church, a memory which is transmitted from generation to generation. Ever since the time of the Apostles, we keep in our memory the certainty that Mary, like her Son, has passed through death, and that like him she has risen. This is why the Feast of Dormition is a second Pascha, a passage from death to life.

Listening to the account of Christ’s crucifixion and death during Holy Week, I am invariably struck by one detail of the story: the loyalty to the very end of a handful of people, mostly women, about whom the Gospel’s tell us almost nothing else….

This is what the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women means. It reminds us that the love and faithfulness of a few individuals shone brightly in the midst of hopeless darkness. It calls us to ensure that in this world love and faithfulness do not disappear or die out. It judges our lack of courage, our fear, our endless and servile rationalizations. The mysterious Joseph and Nicodemus, and these women who go to the grave at dawn, occupy so little space in the Gospels. Precisely here, however, is where the eternal fate of each of us is decided.

Today, I think, we are especially in need of recovering this love and basic human loyalty. For we have entered a time when even these are being discredited by harmful concepts of the person and human life now prevailing in this world. For centuries, the world still had the weak, but still flickering and shining, glow from that faithfulness, love and co-suffering which was silently present at the sufferings of the Man cast aside by all. And we need to cling, as if to a last thread, to everything in our world that still thrives on the warm light of simple, earthly, human love.

Love does not ask about theories and ideologies, but speaks to our heart and soul. Human history has rumbled along, kingdoms have risen and fallen, cultures have been built and bloody wars fought, but what remains unchanging on earth and in this troubled and tragic history is the bright image of the woman. An image of care, self-giving, love, compassion. Without this presence, without this light, our world, regardless of the successes and accomplishments, would be a world of terror. It can be said without exaggeration that the humanity of the human race was, and is, being preserved, saved, by women – preserved not by words or ideas, but by her silent, caring, loving presence….

By Fr. Alexander Schmemann

The services of the Orthodox temple are the way of ascent. Seen in the aspect of time, a temple service is an interior movement creating in us an inward separation at the fourth coordinate of depth and leading us into the highest realm. But a temple service is also an organized action in space, an action whose surface “membranes” continually direct us to the central kernel; and so temple space and temple time have, in the service, one and the same meaning. (More precisely, they have the same meaning along verbal and numerical coordinates, although they differ along other coordinates.)

The temple’s spatial center, or kernel, is defined by “membranes”: narthex, vestibule, the temple itself, sanctuary, altar-table, antemension, chalice, the Holy Mysteries, Christ, the father. As has been said before, the temple is Jacob’s ladder, leading from the visible into the invisible. But the whole altar is (in its wholeness) already the place of the invisible, the area set apart from this world, separate, withdrawn, dedicated. The altar in its wholeness is heaven as sensible, as mind-apprehendable, as one with (in the phrase from the Divine Liturgy) “the most heavenly and spiritual altar.” The symbolic meaning of the altar differs according to the different symbolic meanings of the temple: but the various meanings converge in aligning the incomprehensible with the actualities of the temple itself.

For example, when (following Simeon of Salonica) we see the entire temple in Christological terms as Christ God-Man, then the altar signifies the invisible God while the temple means the visible Man. If we use a purely anthropological approach, then the altar represents man’s psyche or soul while the temple is his body. Theologically considered, the altar reveals to us the mystery of the Trinity in its incomprehensible essence, while the temple signifies the Trinity as comprehensible in the world’s province and power. Finally, in a cosmological interpretation, the same Simeon recognizes in the altar the symbol of heaven ‘while, in the temple, he sees the symbol of earth. Thus, the very diversity of these interpretations strengthens the onto-logical center of the altar’s meaning as the invisible realm.

But this realm, by its very invisibility, is impossible to look at; and the altar, as noumenon, would for the spiritually blind be as impossible to see as would the flowing clouds of incense be for the physically blind – for the incense is a landmark which, because it is sensorily comprehensible, reveals the invisible world. Thus, the altar is necessarily limited in order to be something for us; but this limitation arises only through the realities of our dualistic power of perception. If these realities were wholly spiritual, they would be incomprehensible to our weak nature – and what exists in our consciousness would therefore not be made better. But if these realities were only in the visible realm, then they would be unable to indicate where lies the boundary between the visible and invisible: nor would they themselves know where that boundary existed. Heaven and earth, altar and temple: this separation can only occur through the visible witnesses of the invisible world, those living symbols of the co-inherence of this world and the other – i.e., through the holy people.

These holy persons, visible in the visible, are nevertheless not conformed to this world, for they have transformed their bodies and resurrected their minds, thereby attaining existence beyond this world in the invisible. Thus, they bear witness to the invisible as they bear witness to themselves by their holy countenances. They live with us, and they are more easily accessible to us than we are to ourselves. They are not earthly ghosts but persons standing firmly on our earth, not abstract, not bloodless.

But neither are they held in bondage to earth; rather, they are the living ideas of the invisible world. Thus, they are (we may say) the witnesses on the boundary between the visible and the invisible, the symbolic images of those visions that arise when passing from one state of consciousness into another. In this sense, they are the living soul of humanity by and through which mankind enters into the highest realm; for they, having left behind all the delusions and fantasies of the ascending passage, and having received the other world – they on their return to earth have transfigured themselves into angelic images of the angelic world. And it is no accident that these witnesses who, by their angelic countenances, have made the invisible close and accessible to us have, since ancient times, been popularly termed angels in the flesh.

When air currents of differing heights and speeds make con­tact, wavy clouds are formed at the point of contact. At the surface of such contact, the currents continue to flow contrariwise in layers one above another, and the winds that formed the clouds therefore cannot move them away—nor are the layers of air currents moved by their own swiftly moving flows. And so fogs are created that fall to cover the mountain summits; and though mountain windstorms may rage, the foggy cover does not move. Such a fog-cloud is a boundary between the visible and the invisible.

It renders inaccessible to our weak sight that which nevertheless it reveals the real presence of; and once we open our spiritual eyes and raise them to the Throne of God, we contem­plate heavenly visions: the cloud that covers the top of Mt. Sinai, the cloud wherein the mystery of God’s presence is revealed by that which clouds it. This cloud is (in the Apostle’s phrase) “a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), it is the saints. They surround the altar, and they are the “living stones” that make up the living wall of the iconostasis, for they dwell simultaneously in two worlds, combining within themselves the life here and the life there. And their upraised gaze bears witness to the operation of God’s mystery, for their holy countenances in themselves bear witness to the sym­bolic reality of their spiritual sight – and, in them, the empirical crust is completely pierced by light from above.

The wall that separates two worlds is an iconostasis. One might mean by the iconostasis the boards or the bricks or the stones. In actuality, the iconostasis is a boundary between the visible and invisible worlds, and it functions as a boundary by being an obstacle to our seeing the altar, thereby making it accessible to our consciousness by means of its unified row of saints (i.e., by its cloud of witnesses) that surround the altar where God is, the sphere where heavenly glory dwells, thus proclaiming the Mystery. Iconostasis is vision. Iconostasis is a manifestation of saints and angels – angelophania – a manifest appearance of heavenly witnesses that includes, first of all, the Mother of God and Christ Himself in the flesh, witnesses who proclaim that which is from the other side of mortal flesh. Iconostasis is the saints themselves. If everyone praying in a temple were wholly spiritualized, if everyone praying were truly to see, then there would be no iconostasis other than standing before God Himself, witnessing to Him by their holy countenances and proclaiming His terrifying glory by their sacred words.

But because our sight is weak and our prayers are feeble, the Church, in Her care for us, gave us visual strength for our spiritual brokenness: the heavenly visions on the iconostasis, vivid, precise, and illumined, that articulate, materially cohere, an image into fixed colors. But this spiritual prop, this material iconostasis, does not conceal from the believer (as someone in ignorant self-absorption might imagine) some sharp mystery; on the contrary, the iconostasis points out to the half-blind the Mysteries of the altar, opens for them an entrance into a world closed to them by their own stuckness, cries into their deaf ears the voice of the Heavenly Kingdom, a voice made deafening to them by their having failed to take in the speech of ordinary voices. This heavenly cry is therefore stripped, of course, of all the subtly rich expressiveness of ordinary speech: but who commits the act of such stripping when it is we who fail to appreciate the heavenly cry because we failed first to recognize it in ordinary speech: what can be left except a deafening cry?

Destroy the material iconostasis and the altar itself will, as such, wholly vanish from our consciousness as if covered over by an essentially impenetrable wall. But the material iconostasis does not, in itself, take the place of the living witnesses, existing instead of them; rather, it points toward them, concentrating the attention of those who pray upon them a concentration of attention that is essential to the developing of spiritual sight. To speak figuratively, then, a temple without a material iconostasis erects a solid wall between altar and temple; the iconostasis opens windows in this wall, through whose glass we see (those of us who can see) what is permanently occurring beyond: the living witnesses to God. To destroy icons thus means to block up the windows; it means smearing the glass and weakening the spiritual light for those of us who otherwise could see it directly, who could (we could figuratively say) behold it in a transparent space free of earthly air, a space where we could learn to breathe the pure ethereal air and to live in the light of God’s glory: and when this happens, the material iconostasis will self-destruct in that vast obliteration which will destroy the whole image of this world and which will even destroy faith and hope – and then we will contemplate, in pure love, the immortal glory of God.

From: Iconostasis by Pavel Florensky, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 2000

Born in 1882, Fr. Pavel Florensky was a brilliant philosopher, theologian, scientist, and art historian who, in 1911, became an Orthodox priest. By the time of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Fr. Pavel had become a leading voice in Russia’s great movement in religious philosophy, a movement whose roots lay in the rich ground of nineteenth-century Russian monasticism and whose branches included the work of Bulgakov, Berdiaev, and Solovyev. In the 1920s and 1930s the Soviets violently destroyed this splendor of Russian religious thought. In 1922, Fr. Pavel was silenced, and, after a decade of forced scientific work for the regime, he was arrested on false charges, tried, imprisoned, and, in 1937, murdered by KGB directive. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn honored Fr. Pavel in The Gulag Archipelago.