The “He Who Does Not Sleep” Icon

August 25, 2010

This is known as the “He Who Does Not Sleep” icon. It sometimes shows the infant Christ with eyes open and sometimes with eyes closed. It is also known as Christ Anapeson or Christ Reclining.

It’s central message is this: God is in control. He has power over life and death. More on the icon can be read here.

A description of this icon by Nick Papas (iconographer) at Saint Michael’s Orthodox Christian Church in Greensburg, Pennsylvania given on August 15, 2010:

Behold he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand… The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore. (Psalm 121:4-8)

There’s Something About Mary

August 16, 2010

H/T: Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog

On the theme of the Theotokos and the Dormition Feast, I would like to share an old facebook message I exchanged with an Orthodox convert from  August 11th, 2009 (almost exactly one year ago). As you will read from the reply, I had issues with the Orthodox veneration of Mary. This was his gracious reply:

Dear Jeremiah,

Thanks so much for your email. Your questions do not come across as disrespectful or antagonistic, so there’s no need to apologize. It’s a joy to hear of your interest in the Orthodox Church.

I grew up in Tennessee, the son of a Southern Baptist pastor. I wasn’t entirely wedded to the denomination, and often visited other churches with friends, mostly Presbyterian. Yet, during the ages of 18 and 22, I more or less stopped going to church, though I never quit believing in God and his unique revelation in Christ; I always prayed. I came into the Orthodox Church soon after I turned 23, on Dec.13, 2001.
The issues you mentioned (in particular, the role of Mary) were certainly things I wrestled with. Truth to be told, I was still wrestling with them when I converted (and sometimes still do). Yet, along the way I received some good advice which I will pass on to you. Simply put, a priest told me: convert to Orthodoxy for Christ, not for any other reason. When you investigate the Church, always remember that everything is about Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected according to the Scriptures. If we lose sight of this center, the practices of the Church become disordered, and make little sense.

I say this not to shirk your questions, but simply to place them in the proper context: that of faith in Christ. As you seek to understand more about the Church, never stop praying: “Christ, lead me to You in Your fullness.”

At a certain point, the more I thought about Mary, and the more I looked prayerfully upon icons of her and her Son, the grandeur of her simple words to Gabriel (“Let it be to me according to your word”), and her role in our salvation slowly dawned upon me. As a Protestant, if I ever thought about Mary at all, I generally viewed her as an almost impersonal vessel through which Christ had passed. As my Orthodox faith grew, I began to see her more as a person, just like us (not immaculately conceived), but who had been given a task of paramount importance, and had said, “yes.” Certain biblical figures had always stood out in my mind – Abraham, Noah, Moses, Peter, Paul, for example – as doing something truly unique for all of us, but Mary had never occupied such a role in my own mind. I began to see that what she had done was, in a sense, the lynchpin which held the lives of all these other figures together: she gave birth to the one the prophets proclaimed, whose Gospel Paul preached. Literally, it is through Mary, that our salvation – Christ – has come.

This, of course, doesn’t answer your more specific questions, but I hope it at least indicates to some degree how Orthodox Christians can apply such superlatives to her. In a sense, the Orthodox see Mary as the icon of what we should all do – say yes to Christ in every moment – and she is the one human to have done it perfectly.

You mention that you are troubled by Orthodox prayers which seem to ask Mary to perform our requests. My sense is that this is just a different (perhaps hyperbolic) way of asking Mary to pray for us. It is certainly not the Orthodox teaching that we cannot pray to the Father, but must pray to the saints, who then deliver our prayers to the Father. When I ask for Mary’s prayers, or even if I ask her to pray to God on my behalf, I think of this in two ways, (1) in the same way that I would ask someone whom I particularly respected as a Christian to pray for me; (2) as a way of acknowledging my own frailty before God. Humility is a virtue which the Orthodox particularly prize, and I often think our asking the saints to pray for us is not so much to “get God’s ear,” so to speak, as it is to remind us that we are truly the “least of these.” God hears our prayers, period – even those we don’t know to pray. But by asking the saints to pray for us, we cultivate an awareness of our own place in a much larger body – a body which even death cannot tear asunder.

Regarding prayers which depict Mary as holier than all others, I would think of it this way: rather than viewing Mary as standing at the top of some divinely established pecking order, these prayers simply offer yet another way of depicting for every single Christian what our lives are about: receiving Christ and manifesting him in our words and deeds. And it is significant, I think, that Mary always seems unconcerned with her own holiness. Her concern, in both Scripture and Icon, is to point to Christ.

Coming to terms with the Church’s veneration of Mary, however, takes time. The words I’ve written are in many ways my own continued attempt to come to terms with this. Yet, as with all Orthodox teaching, the conversion must take place in the heart, and the conversion of the heart always happens in prayer. If I could thus recommend one thing, it would be this: get an icon of Christ and the Theotokos (there’s one called “shower of the way” which seems particularly relevant) and for a few minutes every day, sit in front of it and pray, perhaps, “Christ, teach me about Your mother.” Even with this, though, don’t feel like you must rush into it. Conversion to Orthodoxy takes time, and you should feel comfortable taking this at your own pace (or you can think of it as God’s pace, in which a day is like a thousand years :) ).

In Christ,


Not too many months after this, Jeff was ordained a Deacon. AXIOS! I would like to thank Jeff from the bottom of my heart for the part he played in my journey.

The Midnight Pascha: A Vistor’s View

June 24, 2010

A very interesting account of a first-time visitor to an Orthodox Midnight Pascha service:

H/T: What the Thoughtless are Thinking

I love Easter. It’s my favorite holy day. Because of this fact, I often try to make it as meaningful as I can for myself and my family. In the past, we’ve done the Sunrise Services, pancake breakfast, passion plays, walk through Jerusalem re-enactments, climbed Mt. Rubidoux, experienced a Lutheran Tenebrae, visited a Catholic Monastery to hear monks sing in Latin, and attended Messianic Seder Dinners. This year, with some friends becoming Eastern Orthodox and the fact that my mom has always wanted to go to a candlelight service, I decided to partake in the Midnight Pascha Service at St. Andrews in Riverside, CA. To, which, all I can really say is it was a profound and moving experience. Every other Easter Celebration now feels mundane in comparison.

A word of caution, this by no means indicates that I am considering becoming a catechumen of the Orthodox Church. Maybe, at some future time, but as for now, I am simply an admirer of the beauty that the OC displays.

To my Orthodox friends, I’m sorry if I have misrepresented any part of the service.

I hope you enjoy reading about my experience as much as I enjoyed being there.

I enter alone; isolated in a room full of strangers.  They don’t feel like strangers tonight, though we’ve never met.  I have not been greeted or returned the blessing; though I am out of place there, I don’t feel that way. Tonight is different. It’s a grand celebration, a feast. The Feast of feasts.

As I walk up to the large heavy doors leading to the nave, there is a table outside with ladies selling candles. There are other candles offered, but these are hand painted and I argue with myself, whether I should purchase one or not and then I realize just what a miser I am. I tell myself “why not, it’s not like you do this everyday or for that matter ever. You should enjoy the whole experience.” So, I pick one out,  it’s simple and yet, elaborate with spirals dots and a picture of Jesus bearing his cross. As I’m searching for the candle I want to bare, I overhear the man next to me tell the ladies he has only been to a service four times and never has he been to a midnight paschal service. The ladies exclaimed that he was in for a very exciting celebration. I smile along with the man and then tag along behind him. I figured we were in the same boat, we’re both watchers, come-arounds, so why not stay close.

We entered the nave ten minutes early and already it was shoulder-to-shoulder standing room only. I’m sure they wouldn’t have it any other way. Most people stand throughout most of the services, so why should tonight be any different.

The room flickers and dances with the orange and red of burning candles, strewn around the room next to saints, a heavenly cloud of witness rejoicing with his servants on the Earth. A young man is reading in a very monotone script from the scriptures, though I can’t quite make out what it is he is reading.

Then the candles are blown out. We stand in darkness. There is anticipation for the moment to be over, for the darkness to subside. But there is also great reflection and symbolism in the Darkness.

Behind the Iconostasis there is still a dancing of color; the only light in the building. Then suddenly the Priest pulls back the curtains. He stands there with the Holy flame, lighting the way for all to see. The congregation filters into the aisle way to have their candle lit. I hear an usher whisper to the man next to me to go on up. I’m nervous, not sure if everyone is to go, I stepped forward and then back again a couple of times. I don’t want to impose where I’m not wanted. I should be an observer not participating. But the usher, nods at me and bids me to go up as well.

I never noticed before, but standing before this Priest , he looks like an Icon of Jesus. He is tall and slender with a scraggly brown beard that has hints of gray throughout, shoulder length brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and deep brown eyes. Strange, a living replica of Christ holding the Holy flame. “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning light, and. glorify Christ, who arose from the dead.”

I’m up before the people lighting my white candle with handmade decorations and my picture of Christ bearing his cross, to light from the Eternal Flame. I notice the wick is bent and broken. I’m freaked out. I’m bent and broken. What if it doesn’t light? I’m pleading with God and with my candle “please light, please light, please light.” It takes a moment, but finally a minuscule flame unsteadily sparks forth. I walk back to where I was standing to the other observers, the other watchers, the come-arounds and light their candles from mine. I am the apostle of the come-arounds.

The church, lit with candles, bursts into song. “The angels in heaven, O Christ our Savior, sing of Thy resurrection. Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.”

The congregation files out into a procession, a crussesion,  led by the Cross and incense and altar singers. Right outside the church, people are hitting the sematron, a wooden plank. It’s loud and noisy. It’s a call to prayer. Quietly we walk around the entire building. The symbolism is not lost on me. Christ is the light of the world; he has touched each and every one of us with his light that shines in us. We are now the light of the world to a darkened world.

The stark contrast of the world was not lost on me either. While slowly making our way around the building, on the street below was a car filled with college kids.  “I’m already drunk!” one of the passengers yelled. Then the music was bumping at ear ringing decimals: “F@#$ all these N@#$&” the song repeated and repeated.

Overlooking the street stands the church, a light on a hill: tonight a silent witness arrayed in the beauty, the glow of candlelight.

When the congregation stopped, here we stood, in front of the tall heavy doors. Mark 16, the gospel account of Resurrection Sunday, was read and then the church broke forth into a hymn. The choir leader starts off slightly above a whisper but grows with each time he sings the stanza until just under a guttural, throaty scream:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the grave bestowing life.

The Priest acts out Psalm 24 with a member of the church who is waiting inside.

Pounding on the heavy doors with his icon of the cross, he cries out,” Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”

With a deep thunderous voice, the unknown person responds, “Who is this King of glory?

Again the Priest hits the door three times and loudly cries out, “The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Who is this King of Glory?Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory?

The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

The church opens its doors to a heavenly whiteness. There are bells clanging, the choir and church is singing. The Priest is joyful, exuberant. He is walking; No, striding up and down the aisle way, censing the people and the icons while shouting Christ has risen! The Church is joyful, laughing, and replying just as loudly, “truly, he has risen!”

The sorrow is gone, the deep contemplation is gone, only an ecstatic elation that our Savior has risen and conquered death. This is a time for rejoicing, a time for the church to celebrate.

I walk out the door sometime after two-thirty in the morning and the service is still going strong.  This has been the Easter service I’ve been longing for throughout my Christian life.

You may also like:

The Midnight Pascha Service 2010

Christ is Risen From the Dead!

St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, Pray to God for us!

May 7, 2010

H/T: Oh Taste and See

I still remember the first time I read about St. Alexis back about 1993. I had recently started attending a Byzantine Catholic parish and discovered a series of pages on the Catholic Information Network that covered some of the early history of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the USA. Even though I had no thought then of entering Orthodoxy, I immediately had a feeling of indignation upon reading of how he (and other Eastern Catholics) were treated by the Latin Rite Bishops and clergy during that era.

As I discussed his story with other Byzantine Catholics after St. Alexis’ glorification in 1994, I discovered that some Byzantine Catholics were sympathetic to him and a few even obtained icons of him. Though these are a definite minority within Byzantine Catholicism, St. Alexis’ icon hangs in many Byzantine Catholic home icon corners and I’ve been told his icon even graces a few Byzantine Catholic parishes (though usually where it is not easily seen). I’ve even heard him commemorated once at a Byzantine Catholic service of Great Vespers.

Why this sympathy for St. Alexis from some members of the church that St. Alexis left when he entered Orthodoxy? David Wooten, a seminarian at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, in chronicling the life and times of St. Alexis Toth, gives us an insight into his story and why it has had such an impact.

It is important to note that the relationship between Byzantine Catholics and Latin Rite Catholics has vastly improved since then, though the subject of a married clergy among Byzantine Catholics in the USA is still a sore subject and is still subject to papal regulation.

David Wooten’s essay follows, posted with permission from his blog:

The following is a paper I wrote for Church History; appropriate for the saint commemorated today. Also an insight (though this is not the topic of the paper) that the “Low Slavic” nature of the OCA (as opposed to the “Higher Russian” flavor in the ROCOR can be attributed in large part to the heavy Carpatho-Russian origins of much of the OCA, origins which were immediately accesible to today’s Hungarian saint. As one cradle OCA-er in my year has said when we talked about this: “Yeah. We’re the Russian hillbillies.”


St. Alexis Toth

Alexis Geogievich Toth was an Eastern Catholic priest sent to minister to the faithful of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the late 19th Century. His conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, however, has been the reason history has remembered him. Toth’s dramatic departure from Roman Catholicism was followed by the movement of many Eastern Catholic parishes (including his own in Minneapolis and later in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), which were all enthusiastic to convert for the same reasons that prompted him to leave the fold of Rome. The failure of the Roman Catholic hierarchs of America to recognize the legitimacy of three things—the differences in Eastern Catholic praxis which had been historically accepted by Rome, the connection between rite and nationality within Eastern Catholic Countries, and the subsequent petitions to Rome for a Uniate Apostolic Vicariate—was what precipitated Toth’s departure from the Roman Catholic Church.

Keith S. Russin, in his thesis, The Right Reverend Alexis G. Toth and the Religious Hybrid, lists two major historical unions of Orthodox from Russia Rubra with the Catholic Church. The first—the Union of Brest-Litovsk—took place “throughout the Eastern areas of Hungary, Lithuania proper, the province of Novgorod-Litovsk, Volynia, and the towns of Brest, Zaslavl, Polotsk and Vitebsk” in 1596.[1] The second— the Union of Uz’horod— took place amongst the Carpatho-Russians in 1646.[2] It is generally acknowledged that, because of pressure from Jesuit missionaries on one side, Protestant missionaries on the other, and a distant hierarchy and “uneducated clergy” amongst the Orthodox themselves, the Orthodox in 16th Century Russia Rubra had to fend for themselves by creating lay brotherhoods to continue in their faith.[3] This difficult position, however, proved ultimately untenable; Basil Boysak, in The Fate of the Holy Union in Carpatho-Ukraine, states that “by 1624 the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox, “once famous for learned men and the most flourishing center of wisdom, [was] in a pitiful condition,” not able to “present…even a vestige of her former dignity.”[4] In both cases, then, union with Rome was thought to be the most immediate solution to their woes. Upon issuing statements confessing their allegiance to Rome and adherence to her teachings, the inhabitants of Russia Rubra also insisted on and were granted permission to retain the rite of the Eastern Church, freedom from ecclesiastical persecution from the Patriarch, and the ability to retain and elect their own bishops.[5] Unfortunately, from the beginning, the Carpatho-Russian privileges of “their own Eparchy and their own Bishop elected by their clergy,” together with the freedom to “[follow] freely their traditions” were denied them by the Latin clergy that came to oversee them.[6] That this friction regarding slighted differences of praxis was real and repeatedly ignored by Latin-Rite clergy is undeniable; not only did it continue into Toth’s day, but it even led to another movement towards Orthodoxy among Carpatho-Russian Uniates in the early 1930s—one which led to the eventual creation of ACROD.[7] Without a doubt, however, the most significant of the movements of Uniate Catholics into Orthodoxy due to Latin indifference was that of Toth and his parishes in the 19th Century, and it was due in no small part to the Latin bishops’ repeated prohibitions of these historically guaranteed Eastern rites and practices.

In denying the faithful these practices, the bishops displayed an ignorance of a critical element of their spiritual life: the connection between rite and ethnicity. The most infamous example of this is an encounter Toth had on December 19, 1889 with John Ireland, the Irish Catholic archbishop of Minneapolis. Abp. John was already embroiled in an internal conflict of the Roman Catholic Church; hierarchs were debating whether the faithful should assimilate into, or remain culturally distinct and separate from, American culture at large. Ireland was of the opinion that immigrants—and here he was primarily concerned with those from Western Europe—needed to be as assimilated into American life as possible. [8] The marked characteristics of immigrants from Eastern Europe as opposed to Americans of Western European origin (i.e., unfamiliar language, high rates of illiteracy and poverty[9]), together with ritual differences, led to a real threat to the assimilationist policy espoused by Abp. John. When Toth met with the Archbishop, the already volatile situation was sure to—and, indeed, did—come to a head, for the ignorance of the Archbishop regarding the Carpatho-Russians’ distrust of Latin-Rite Catholicism as belonging to a foreign people and clinging to their own rite as a unifying cultural factor distinct from the dominant culture of the United States would become all too apparent.

Toth’s own account of the meeting paints a volatile picture. When kissing the bishop’s hand, Toth failed “to kneel before him,” and thus began the litany of offenses that Toth would commit, unknowingly, before Abp. John. Upon learning that Toth was an Eastern Catholic priest, Abp. John refused to acknowledge not only his priesthood, but also his very membership in the Catholic Church. The reason for this was bound up in the first question Ireland asked Toth: “Do you have a wife?” When Toth answered that he had had a wife and was a widower, Ireland, in a rage, declared that he had specifically asked for Rome to cease sending him priests that were, or ever had been, married. [10] The obstinacy of Abp. John led to the denial of permission for Toth to serve in Latin Catholic parishes, as well as to the decision on the Archbishop’s part that all the faithful assigned to Toth would be taken from him and put under the care of the Latin-Rite, Polish priest.[11] This second insult was, no doubt, worse than the idea of being effectively excommunicated from Catholics of other rites, for the idea of “our faith and religion” was much more important to Toth’s flock than the Archbishop knew. Konstantin Simon, S.J., in his article, “Alexis Toth and the Beginnings of the Orthodox Movement among the Ruthenians in America,” notes that, far from being concerned with ideas of union, dogma, or ecclesiology, “the majority [of the faithful] was anxious to avail themselves of a priest ‘of any kind.’ The only requirement was that he celebrate in ‘their way.’”[12] Thus, having been denied permission by the Latin-Rite hierarch for their own worship, the impetus was set before the Carpatho-Russians to begin building their own, separate church in defiance of his orders and out of love for their own people.[13]

It quickly became obvious to Toth, however, as one ever-mindful of the identification that working-class Slavs had with their religious expression, that a faith so similar in form to their own and so sympathetic to their culture would be a more logical home for them; he immediately began to move in the direction of the Russian Orthodox. When Toth heard that there was reported to be a Russian bishop in San Francisco, he sent John Mlinar, a parish collector and member of the parish society, to investigate the veracity of the claims. That the Orthodox form of worship was more accessible to the Carpatho-Russians was obvious, for it was only upon Mlinar’s approaching the chalice that he “gave himself away” as an Eastern Catholic by a minor difference in how he crossed himself.[14] He was told, kindly, to go to the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco for the sacraments, though the archbishop’s secretary, merely upon learning that Mlinar was an Eastern Catholic, “told him that he would have to go ‘back to his own Russian bishop on Powell Street.’” In true form, Mlinar wrote back to Toth of his confusion, asking him bewilderedly, “What kind of faith is this? I am told that I am a Uniate; [what, exactly, is] a Uniate? I did not ever hear that before.” [15] Once this initial confusion was resolved, however, it became clear in the minds of all involved that the faith which could truly receive Toth and his flock as their own would not be one run by indifferent hierarchs of other ritualistic persuasion, but that of their own “Parental Church.”

It was only a matter of time, however, until Rome’s complete disregard of the Uniate faithful’s requests for an Apostolic Vicariate which would represent their people in the United States became intolerable to other Uniate priests as it had to Toth. Toth’s parish in Minneapolis, after a series of rejected appeals to Archbishop John to allow them to have their own, recognized parish and multiple requests to the Office of Propaganda in Rome to establish a governing Vicar Bishop for the Ruthenian Catholics[16] (rejected on the grounds of the ninth canon of the Fourth Council of the Lateran, which, according to the American archbishops, prohibited a single city or diocese from having more than one bishop[17]), entered the Orthodox faith at the hands of Bishop VLADIMIR in 1891. Over the course of the next decade, parish after parish would follow the same route, for Uniate priests were not only still “denied their hope for a Uniate bishop for America,” but they were also “once more told that services had to be in Latin, and they were now told that they had to renounce their wives and children.”[18] The Uniate faithful’s helplessness to achieve a canonical basis for practicing their faith was nearing an intolerable level.

A meeting of Uniate clergy was called in response to this (which Toth attended for moral support) at Hazelton, Pennsylvania in December of 1891. While the clergy in attendance were impressed with Toth’s movement to the Orthodox Church, and though the demands of the Uniate clergy for an Apostolic Vicariate were once again ignored, they decided not to follow him out of Eastern Catholicism.[19] In spite of this setback, Toth pressed on in his missionary endeavors and, over the course of the next ten years, “managed to bring into Orthodoxy at least seventeen other parishes in Pennsylvania alone, as well as in New York, New Jersey and Illinois.”[20] This progress, however, was not without its setbacks, as all of the priests in attendance who would eventually be brought into Orthodoxy under Toth’s influence—not to mention a sizeable faction of the parish he himself would later serve as pastor in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—returned to Catholicism, with only Toth himself remaining from among the attendees at Hazelton as an Orthodox priest.[21] Thus, though the priests and faithful seemed initially ready to do as Toth had done, they ultimately (and understandably) felt the stronger pull of “their family obligations”[22] and decided to “continue their fight for recognition from within the Catholic communion.”[23] However determined the archbishops might have been to deny them the rights Toth knew and insisted on so well, the formidable responsibility of the Uniate priests to provide financially for their own ultimately proved superior to their ancestral discontent, even without their own Vicariate.

The departure of Fr. Alexis Toth from Catholicism and his embracing of Orthodoxy are events that changed the course of history for a significant portion of both churches. These were events whose realizations were fraught with sharply contrasting ideologies, nationalistic fervor, and bureaucratic stiff-arming. That Toth was able to endure and continue his missionary endeavor when so many others who had begun a similar journey with him turned back to Catholicism is a testimony to his faithfulness. Although the newly-received Orthodox faithful had to endure financial hardship in the years that would follow their conversions,[24] they knew they had come home to a place wherein they could practice the historic faith of their fathers. This faith had been denied by Rome yet still united them together as a people, and was now implemented by a bishop who would care for and could relate to them as a fellow Slav. These gains, then, served to lift three great burdens which had weighed on the backs of the Carpatho-Russian faithful and had ultimately served to sever their ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

[1] (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1971), 5.

[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 6-7.

[4] (Toronto-New York, 1963), 227.

[5] Russin, 8, 14, quoting Eugene Vansuch, “The Carpato-Russian Uniates, Past and Present.” (unpublished B.D. Thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1967), 4; and Michael Lacko, The Union of Uzhorod. (Rome, Slovak Institute, 1966), 39.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese (in the USA). See Archimandrite Serafim (Surrency), The Quest for Orthodox Church Unity in America. (New York: Saints Boris and Gleb Press, 1973), 96.

[8] Russin, 32.

[9] Russin, 21, quoting “Foreign Population.” Wilkjes-Barre Record, May 9, 1907, 11.

[10] B. Wojcik, St. Alexis: The Shepherd of Minneapolis. (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1997), 36-7.

[11] Ibid., 37.

[12] Orientalia christiana periodica. V.54:1-2 (Rome: Pont. Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1988), 415.

[13] Ibid., 392.

[14] Ibid., 400.

[15] Wojcik, 52.

[16] Orientalia, 393.

[17] Ibid., 427, note (107).

[18] Wojcik, 61.

[19] Orientalia, 419.

[20] Ibid., 412.

[21] Ibid., 413.

[22] Wojcik, 62.

[23] Orientalia, 419.

[24] Ibid., 403.

Further reading:

Historical Mirror by Fr. John Slivka. Historical documents by a Byzantine Catholic priest chronicling the “celibacy wars.”

Can East and West Coexist With Married Priests? — the historical situation and the current status of this question and its ecumenical implications for Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Tips for Visitors to a Divine Liturgy

April 30, 2010

I’ve written earlier how I was moved to start blogging after becoming a reader of a blog by another revert to the Orthodox Church by the name of Mark, who fell asleep in the Lord this past January. There’s a lot of good information up at his blog still worth reading. This, I believe, is one of his best articles.

H/T: Central Pennsylvania Orthodox

Ah, so you’re going to a Byzantine liturgy. In the spirit of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s 12 Things I Wish I’d Known (with which I cannot, alas, compete), here are a few things that will make your visit more fruitful, and perhaps, a bit less uncomfortable.

What you’ll experience is utterly unlike anything you’ve encountered, and in not one, but many ways. I was completely befuddled the first time I attended a Divine Liturgy (partly because every syllable was Greek, but only partly). I want to make your experience a bit less stressful.

"Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening sacrifice." Psalm 141:2


There is no such thing as a Byzantine service without incense. Not just a little incense as the Romans use (on the rare occasions there is incense at all), but a lot of incense. Clouds of incense. Literally. You will be censed multiple times. Every icon in the church will be censed multiple times. Incense, incense, incense. Incense during Matins. Incense during Vespers. Incense during the Divine Liturgy. Incense, incense, incense, and more incense. If it bothers you, you’d best rethink going.


The first thing you need to know is this: No matter how ratty they may be, wear your most comfortable shoes. Don’t dress like a slob, but nobody cares what shoes you wear, and the reason is, as Mrs. Mathewes-Green so wittingly put it, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.”

In the Orthodox tradition, the faithful stand up for nearly the entire service. Really. In some Orthodox churches, there won’t even be any chairs, except a few scattered at the edges of the room for those who need them. Expect variation in practice: some churches, especially those that bought already-existing church buildings, will have well-used pews. In any case, if you find the amount of standing too challenging you’re welcome to take a seat. No one minds or probably even notices. Long-term standing gets easier with practice.

What she does not tell you in this section (although she does address it) is that our services last for hours. Literally. Matins lasts a bit over an hour, longer if you’re attending a parish where people go to Confession on Sunday mornings (we usually go to Confession on Saturday evenings after Great Vespers, and during Great Lent, before the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Wednesday and Friday evenings), and Divine Liturgy will last a good hour and a half, and probably a bit longer, substantially longer if you’re attending on a Sunday during Great Lent when we use the Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great. If you go at the beginning of Matins, you will be there for three hours, maybe a bit longer. (If it makes any difference, the Divine Liturgy begins when the priest chants, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages” and the lights are turned on.)

If the church has pews and your feet are giving out, feel free to sit. If there are no pews in the church (my parish has no pews), there will be folding chairs, usually stacked against the walls. So if you go into the church and see those folding chairs, you may want to stand near the wall so you can grab one should you need it.

Because pews are a relatively recent Western innovation (most of those gothic cathedrals in Europe have no pews, or had them installed long after the cathedral was built) and never developed in the East, we have no pan-Orthodox rule on when you may sit, other than during the homily.

Kingdom of Heaven

Byzantine worship is wholly theocentric. When we step over the threshold into the church, we leave this world behind us. The church represents the Kingdom of Heaven, so you are literally surrounded by icons, icons of Christ, icons of the Theotokos (the Mother of God), icons of the saints.

We love litanies, but we have no “customized” litanies as the Roman Catholics do (that may be one of those things that was never even mentioned in Vatican II, but slipped in). You will never hear the priest or deacon praying for “social justice” or whatever the currently popular euphemism for world Marxist government may be. Our feelings are irrelevant in church. We are there to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

To worship with us is to experience the timeless. There is a permeating, inescapable sense of ancient tradition, one that upon my initial encouter, left me shaken. We also rely far more on the Old Testament than do Western Christian traditions, not only for liturgical sources, but vestments and church architecture. There is nothing “modern” about Byzantine worship.

Why is everybody moving around?

Western and Eastern church behavior are wholly different. The church will list the times for Matins (Orthros) and the Divine Liturgy out front, which makes them seem like two distinct services, and they are, but one runs right into the other, with no break. So if you arrive at 10:20 for the Divine Liturgy at 10:30, you will not walk into a quiet church of people waiting for the liturgy to begin, but a church well into worship, somewhere toward the end of Matins.

This makes Westerners uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t. The faithful trickle in, starting before Matins to after the Divine Liturgy begins. Nobody will think you got there late.

Ah, the trickling in. After you arrive, you will notice that some people are standing and worshipping while those who come in are bowing, crossing themselves, lighting candles and placing them before icons, crossing themselves, bowing, and so forth as they go from icon to icon throughout the church, all while the worship service is going on. This is the way it’s done, and typically, those icons and stands of candles are up at the front of the church and not in the rear. As we enter the church, we perform our private devotions, and eventually, as you will see, we join the congregation in worship. The Western equivalent is how Roman Catholics will genuflect then kneel and pray, even when they arrive late, so it really is the same thing, but it does seem unsettling to many Western Christians. The general rule, by the way, is this: If the priest or deacon is in the nave, on this side of the iconostasis, do not go forward to venerate the icons; instead, wait until the priest and deacon are in the sanctuary, behind the iconostasis.

By the way, genuflection is unknown in Eastern Christianity. We cross ourselves or do metanias when we enter the church, or when we cross the center of the church, as Roman Catholics genuflect and cross themselves, and for the same reasons (you can’t see the tabernacle because it’s behind the iconostasis, but it’s there). But we don’t genuflect, not even during Great Lent, and that leads us to our next topic.

One thing that should relieve Protestants

We don’t kneel. Usually.

During Great Lent, however, we do prostrations, not as the Roman Catholics do them at ordinations, lie fully face down, but just as the Muslims do (where do you think Mohammed got it?) We kneel, place our hands down on the floor and touch our forehead to the floor between them. Feel no pressure to follow along. If you want to do something, feel free to bow or kneel.

Actually, I wouldn’t advise that you visit during the first week of Great Lent, at least not when we are chanting the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. We do prostrations and immediately return to our feet approximately 120 times during one service, and it’s quite a workout. Your thighs will shake from weakess at the end. We do full prostrations during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent, but we stay down, and it’s not strenuous.

If you attend a Divine Liturgy on a weekday (except for the period between Pascha and Pentecost), we do full prostrations during the Lord’s Prayer, after the Epiklesis (“Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and we ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered. And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ. Amen. And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ. Amen. Making the change by the Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen, Amen”)  and during the Communion Prayer (“I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God …”)

What do I do?

Protestants always wonder what they should do at a Roman Catholic Mass, and the same ten times over at an Orthodox liturgy. Roman Catholics also wonder what they should do at an Orthodox or Eastern Rite liturgy. Relax. Assuming you’re in the United States, if you look around, you will notice that people aren’t doing the same things at the same times, something Roman Catholics find unsettling.

Different traditions have developed similar, but slightly different customs, and except in larger cities where there are large enough ethnic communities to support several churches, American parishes tend to be pan-ethnic, and therefore, pan-tradition. Those from a Greek Orthodox background won’t necessarily be doing exactly the same thing at the same time as those from a Carpatho-Russian background, and they in turn won’t necessarily be doing the same thing at the same time as those from a Russian background, and so it goes.

If you’re a stickler, we cross ourselves from right to left (push, not pull), often three times (although that differs from tradition to tradition), and always with the thumb and first two fingers touching (for the Three Persons of the Trinity), and the two remaining fingers touching the palm (for the Two Natures of Christ, touching the palm to represent Christ descending to Earth). Nobody, however, is going to inspect to make sure your fingers are in the right places. Again, relax. We cross ourselves far, far more than do Roman Catholics.

If you’re Roman Catholic or Anglican and you cross yourself from left to right, nobody cares, and chances are nobody will even notice. Uniformity just doesn’t exist in Byzantine Christianity as it does in the West. We are glad to have you worship with us, no matter what your background, and nobody is there to catch you doing something “wrong.” If you choose to stand and just take it in, that’s fine. If you want to participate as best you can, that’s fine, too, as long as you know beforehand that not all parishes have service books (most do, but not all). In my experience, most Orthodox service books aren’t as complete as they could be, often using abbreviations (I suspect they are more for visiting Orthodox from different traditions because we all use different translations, more than you). If it’s only your first or second time, I would suggest that instead of trying to follow along, you listen and pray (more about that below).

What is this, a gym?

Byzantine worship is more “physical” than Western liturgical traditions. In addition to crossing ourselves many, many times, and the full prostrations mentioned above, we perform bows and the metania.

The metania is when we cross ourselves, then bow at the waist and let our right hand drop so that our fingers brush the ground, then rise. Metanias are more frequent in Russian custom than Greek (remember the discussion about differing customs): Those from a Byzantine tradition church (Greek and Antiochian Orthodox) will typically cross themselves before reverencing an icon, while those from a Slavic tradition church (OCA, ROCOR, Carpatho-Russian, Ukranian, etc.) will typically perform the metania, two before reverencing the icon, and one after, or even perform full prostrations, but even that isn’t entirely uniform, and there are differences within those two broad groups. One place, however, where the metania is near universal is during the call to worship, and is performed at every verse:

+O come let us worship God our King!
+O come let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and our God!
+O Come let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself our King and our God!

The metania is also done at the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”), at every recitation of “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, glory to Thee, O God,” and “Blessed art Thou O Lord, teach me Thy statutes.” It is also done on Sundays when a full prostration would be done on a weekday Liturgy, such as during the Lord’s Prayer, the Epiklesis, and the Communion Prayer.

We bow (incline our heads and bend forward) when we are censed, when we are blessed by the priest, and when the priest bows to us asking our forgiveness. Like Roman Catholics, we cross ourselves at every mention of the Three Persons of the Trinity. One place where we do not cross ourselves is when the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over us.

That filioque clause!

If you’re Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran, that is, a Westerner who is familiar with the Nicene Creed, you absolutely need to know this: We say “who proceeds from the Father,” and emphatically not, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The “and the Son” is the filioque clause (Latin for “and the Son”), inserted hundreds of years after the First Nicene Council, and is a particular bone of contention between East and West. Or perhaps I should say the West doesn’t consider it an issue, but the East takes it very seriously. To make it even more confusing, some Eastern Rite churches (all in communion with Rome) insert it, while others do not. No Orthodox church, however, inserts it, so if you say it, you’ll be the only person in the church saying it (our parish chants the Creed).

If it makes you feel any better, because different traditions use different translations, even we are tripped up from time to time (just not on that one little clause). I still fall into the translation used by my home Antiochian parish and “goof” in my OCA parish here. No big deal.

While we’re on those things that you could be saying all by yourself accidentally, like Roman Catholics, we pray the Lord’s Prayer only up to the Doxology, which the priest chants alone. Debts, debtors, trespasses, trespass against us? It depends on the parish and what translation they use.


Byzantine Christianity has no hymnology as it developed in the West; there aren’t even Christmas carols on Christmas. We do have hymns, but specific hymns appear at specific places, that is, they are prescribed by the Church, and cannot be “chosen” by the choir director.

In most parishes, everything is chanted. Different parishes have different musical traditions, and different levels of participation. Greek and Antiochian churches (Byzantine tradition) typically say the Creed and Lord’s Prayer, while OCA, Carpatho-Russian, ROCOR, and other Slavic tradition churches chant them, but there are exceptions. If you go to a Slavic church (that includes the OCA), there will surely be a choir, and the polyphonic music will sound familiar to your Western ears. If you go to a Greek church, there may only be a chanter or two, and the chant will sound exotic (even more so if you go to an Antiochian parish that uses Syrian chant). In my OCA parish, Slavic, but still a typical Heinz 57 American parish, you hear chanters and Byzantine chant during Matins up to the very end, The Great Doxology, when the choir takes over, and the music becomes (mostly) Slavic.

Because Slavic chant is so accessible to Western ears, it has spread beyond Slavic parishes, and in an American parish, even in an Antiochian parish, you’re likely to encounter it.

Although there are a few Orthodox churches that introduced organs, instrumental music is a Western innovation. Expect everything to be a cappella.

Holy Communion

If you aren’t Orthodox, please do not approach for Holy Communion. If you are Orthodox, but unknown to the priest, please do not approach for Holy Communion (then, if you’re Orthodox, you already know that).

Eastern Christianity has no “impersonal” Sacraments, as have developed in the West. We have no confessionals, but confess next to the priest at the front of the church (yes, in front of everybody else). A chanter will be chanting the Psalms during confessions, so nothing is overheard. When we commune, the priest addresses us by our Christian name, “The servant/handmaiden of God, NAME” as he does when he absolves us. Holy Communion is intensely personal, and contrasts starkly with the “assembly line” Eucharist in large, Western churches.

Eastern priests, whether Orthodox or Eastern Rite, are guardians of the Chalice. Roman Catholic priests are, at least traditionally, but because of the huge sizes of parishes and the impersonal nature of the Sacrament, cannot fulfill that role as Eastern priests do. If you go to Holy Communion and the priest has no idea who you are, he is likely to bless you, and allow you to kiss the foot of the Chalice, but is very unlikely to give you Holy Communion. That’s why at the beginning I said not to go to Holy Communion in a strange parish without speaking first to the priest.

You may be startled to see parents with infants in their arms in the line, and even more startled to see that the priest communes the infants. We practice full-immersion infant baptism, and immediately after baptism, the child is chrismated (confirmed). All baptized and chrismated Orthodox (or in the case of Eastern Rite, Catholics) may commune, including infants, and baptism is a child’s First Communion.

If you are Roman Catholic and attending an Eastern Rite liturgy, you may commune, but please introduce yourself to the priest first, and if you’ve never communed in a Byzantine church before, do your homework first. It is definitely very different from communing in a Roman Catholic parish.

We tend to commune less frequently than Western Christians, although people are communing more frequently than they used to, largely due to the large number of converts from Western Christian traditions (in our parish on any given Sunday, I’d approximate that about half commune). Still, not communing is less likely to make you feel “left out” than it might in a Roman Catholic or Anglican service.

Let us complete our prayer unto the Lord . . .

The end is near? Don’t you believe it! The liturgy will continue about fifteen minutes after Holy Communion, longer in a Greek parish where the custom is for the homily to be at the end, rather than after the Gospel. At the end, we go to the front to kiss the cross (on the feet of Christ) and take the priest’s blessing, and you will notice people taking a bit of bread. This is the antidoron, not the Body of Christ (although it is blessed, and is cut from the same loaf), and everyone is welcome to a piece of blessed bread. If you are uncomfortable and do not want to approach the priest at the end, that’s fine, and you may find that the person standing next to you brings you back a piece of bread. Just know that you are as welcome as anyone to receive the priest’s blessing and take a piece of bread.

We use leavened bread to symbolize the risen Christ.

The end, especially for Protestants

Like the Roman Catholics, we never developed the practice of the priest standing at the door greeting people as they left (although I do think it’s an excellent custom, and at the end, the priest will often speak briefly to each parishioner). Because we fast from sundown on Saturday until Holy Communion (or are supposed to), many parishes meet somewhere near, often in the basement or a parish hall, and break the fast after the liturgy, or at least have their first coffee of the day (better get in line as soon as you get there, because the coffee goes fast). Many Protestants do the same. Please feel free to join us. And I’m not directing the invitation especially to Protestants. That referred to the clergyman greeting people as they left the church.

Lex orandi, lex credendi

Literally, “The law of prayer [is the] law of belief,” loosely translated, it means “As we pray, so we believe.” It is, if anything, even more fundamentally true of Byzantine worship than even Roman Catholic or Anglican (although the same principle applies there). When we worship, we are expressing the fullness of our faith.

There are thousands of Orthodox theologians, from the Church Fathers to Fathers Lossky and Schmemman, and if you’re curious, you could spend the rest of your life reading treatises on theology. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to.

Instead of focusing on all of the strangeness and difference going on around you, listen. Pay close attention to what is being chanted. You can worship with us without bowing and crossing yourself constantly by listening and praying with us. And if you listen, you don’t have to ask us what we believe. You are hearing it.

And please come back!

Example of translation differences. The communion prayer from the Divine Liturgy.

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And I believe that this is truly Thine own immaculate Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Wherefore I pray Thee, have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance; and make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thine immaculate Mysteries, unto remission of my sins and unto life everlasting. Amen I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant, for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom. Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom. Amen.
Not unto judgment nor unto condemnation be my partaking of Thy Holy Mysteries, O Lord, but unto the healing of soul and body. May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.

The Repeated Invocations

April 25, 2010

My first exposure to the Divine Liturgy was a rather abbreviated version, minus many of the traditional litanies. Later, I started attending a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic parish that celebrated a somewhat fuller version of the Liturgy. I well remember when our parish was to have Fr. Peter Knowles, a Russian Byzantine Catholic monk of blessed memory from Australia, celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Old Church Slavonic. Fr. Peter, a wonderful priest, prayed the WHOLE liturgy in Slavonic. Our cantors, who had been pining to sing Slavonic for many years, were taken aback by all the litanies he included. To be honest, so was I.

It was actually some comments by Pope John Paul II that helped me re-think my resistance to litanies.

Within this framework, liturgical prayer in the East shows a great aptitude for involving the human person in his or her totality: the mystery is sung in the loftiness of its content, but also in the warmth of the sentiments it awakens in the heart of redeemed humanity. In the sacred act, even bodiliness is summoned to praise, and beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of the church, in the sounds, in the colors, in the lights, in the scents. The lengthy duration of the celebrations, the repeated invocations, everything expresses gradual identification with the mystery celebrated with one’s whole person. Thus the prayer of the Church already becomes participation in the heavenly liturgy, an anticipation of the final beatitude.

Still, I was locked into the “church should not last more than an hour” syndrome. As I’d visit various other parishes, some Eastern Catholic and some Orthodox, I’d see a variety of practices regarding taking litanies. Some take less than others. Generally speaking, Orthodox Liturgies (and litanies) were on the longer side. Whenever I’d encounter the “repeated invocations,” I’d chafe. I remember once being at a Sunday Liturgy at Holy Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Monastery (when it was near Barstow, California) and looking at my watch to check on how long Liturgy had been going on. I’d have similar anxiety visiting most Orthodox parishes.

Even though I struggled with the idea of a longer service, I was dismayed with some of the revisions of the Divine Liturgy in the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church. While some of the revisions have merit, the spirit of abbreviation permeates the Ruthenian Revised Divine Liturgy. The revisers mandated some litanies to be truncated or eliminated — they cannot even be sung by a parish that has a greater tolerance for a longer Liturgy. The “Little Litany” (integral in all Byzantine Orthodox celebrations) has almost disappeared from the liturgical life of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church. Beyond that, some litanies are made optional which often means in the parish setting they fall into disuse. (One of my greater concerns with Byzantine Catholic abbreviations is the use of pre-cut prosphora in many parishes, which saves a lot of time for the priest before Liturgy but destroys the rich symbolism of the one communion loaf. But, that’s a story I’ll save for a future post.)

When I began attending Liturgy at an Orthodox parish this past September, I had to deal with a longer service. Our parish’s Divine Liturgy goes about 75-85  minutes, depending on the homily. We also include the Litany of the Catechumens and conclude with the Prayers of  Thanksgiving after Communion (most stay for that, but some go set up the coffee hour then).

Initially, this required an adjustment on my part. On a recent Sunday, however, the wisdom of the repeated invocations was made plain to me. Perhaps I’m mellowing in my old age. Or, maybe I’m beginning to understand what John Paul was getting at in the passage cited above. In the morning rush to get to Liturgy, I had arrived just minutes before the service began. I venerated the festal icons, I lit my candles and settled in my place just as Father began “Blessed is the Kingdom…” This day, however, the “repeated invocations” made sense:

I needed that time to center myself into the mystery being celebrated and the call to prayer.

As I heard and sang response to what is called the “Little Litany”:

Priest: In peace let us again pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: Help us, save us, have mercy upon us, and protect us, O God, by Your grace.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.

People: To You, O Lord.

I no longer chafed. I understood what Jason Barker at Ancient Faith Radio said about such litanies: “rather than being redundant they instead serve a wonderful purpose: drawing us closer to God, and to each other.”

This “repeated invocation” from the Little Litany sums up the essence of what I consider true spirituality:

It’s not me. It’s God and His grace.

We also remember and honor the Theotokos, and with all the saints we “commit ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”

That’s enough for this sinner.

The Five Senses in Worship

April 11, 2010

H/T St. George Orthodox Church, Prescott, Arizona

Worship is the principle function of the believer, but how one worships and with what is rarely considered, or even considered unimportant.

In the Orthodox Church, the full use of the senses is engaged – one must worship God, engage in worship of Him, with everything.This article barely scratches the surface of a good look at how the Scriptures engage not only the mind, but the senses as well.

And this is not a new thing, but the way of  Orthodox Christians from the very beginning.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30

As Orthodox Christians, we believe in “one God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible.” In the book of Genesis, we are told how God made the world and everything in it, and how everything He made was good.

This is something most of us take for granted on a daily basis. We open our eyes in the morning and see the alarm clock. We hear it, too. We eat our breakfast. And when we step out of the door – say on a nice fall morning – we feel the slight chill and smell the clean air.

We are physical beings. God created us this way. Furthermore, God sanctified matter when he became man. Just like we sing during the Divine Liturgy:

“Only begotten Son and Word of God, Who, being immortal, accepted for our salvation to take flesh of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, and without change became man…”

God took on flesh – a body – a physical existence. In this way, God sanctified His creation. St. Athanasios famously said that “God became man so that man could become like God.”

The wisdom of the Church (defined, among other ways, as being the Body of Christ) has understood perfectly the sensory aspect of our being, and our Divine services engage us very effectively in this way so that our whole heart, soul, and mind are focused on God. Let’s look at some of the ways our five senses are utilized during our worship.


“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” – Matthew 6:22

Like much of what Christ said, this statement has a deeper meaning than just the topic of eyesight. “Light” and “darkness” can really refer to “goodness” and “badness.” In other words: don’t sin with your eyes. Well, in church, our eyes are bombarded with stimuli: vestments, decorative furnishings, but especially icons. Icons are not just pretty pictures – they call to mind the individuals or events that they represent and remind us that these people are worshipping with us, and ultimately direct our thoughts to God.

The entire Liturgy itself is a symbolic representation of the life of Christ. So, when we see the different parts of the Liturgy taking place, these are visual cues to remind us of what Christ did on Earth, as well as what He is doing for us now.


Christ used this phrase several times:

“He who has ears, let him hear.”

The most important thing we hear during the Liturgy is the Gospel. Jesus Christ is the Son and Word of God; when God became man, He could be amongst us and teach us Himself. This reflects a very powerful way in which we are to understand God. This is a point in our worship where we are given a clear chance to Love God with all our mind. As the priest instructs us:

“Wisdom! Stand up! Let us listen to the Holy Gospel!”

Also, nearly the entire Liturgy – and any service – is chanted. The hymns of our worship are to our ears what the icons are to our eyes. They fill our mind and our heart with praise of God and remembrance of His works. They reinforce our theology and convey our doxology. But, we shouldn’t just listen to the hymns – we should chant them together. In this way we imitate the Angels who ceaselessly sing hymns to God – think of the Cherubic hymn:

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn to the life-giving Trinity…”


Incense has been used in worship for ages. When we smell the incense in our services, this is a physical reminder that, like the smoke, our prayers rise to God, and hopefully are pleasing to him like the fragrance of the incense. As we chant during Vespers and the Presanctified Liturgy:

“Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee.”

Also – and this is probably most prevalent for Orthodox Christians at Pascha – when we smell the burning wick and wax of candles, or the burning olive oil of a vigil lamp, we are reminded of the light that these produce and why we light them in the first place, as symbols of our faith.


As we hear the priest repeat Christ’s commandments:

“Take, eat. This is My Body, which is broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins,”


“Drink of this, all of you. This is My Blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins,”

our heart and mind should be focused on what we are about to do: receive Holy Communion. When we receive Holy Communion, our mouth is the gateway to the rest of our being. As soon as we taste of the Gift, our entire body and soul are saturated with Christ Himself. Just like the Apostles who saw Christ give them bread to eat – and yet He said,

“this is My Body”

– and gave them wine to drink – and yet He said,

“this is My Blood”

– we partake of this Mystical Supper as well, experiencing God in a very unique way.


In our worship, our sense of touch is constantly engaged. More broadly, “touch” can be expanded to mean any physical activity. We kiss icons. We are sprinkled with Holy Water. We are given blessed palm crosses. We carry crosses in procession. We kneel and make prostrations. We seal ourselves with the sign of the Cross. We are anointed with blessed oil. And, the clergy who officiate these services are ordained by the laying on of hands.

Our sense of touch is more subtly engaged when we recall the Passion of our Lord and how He suffered bodily and died nailed to The Cross for our sins, and when we recall the fate of the many Martyrs of our Faith. As one of our hymns states:

“I suffer for Thy sake that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die that I may live in Thee.”

So, we see that worship in the Orthodox Church is engaging on all levels of our being – not just spiritually or mentally, but physically as well. This is an important aspect of our worship because it is probably the first one we will forget about. It should also be a reminder to us about what Christ said about our eye being the lamp of our body. If we allow our sight – or any of our other senses – to be used in ungodly ways, then our spiritual health can begin to deteriorate.

We see, then, that part of the proper engagement of the senses is positive (i.e. liturgically), and the other is negative – that is, we can only fully engage our senses in worship of God if we fully disengage them from idolatry. Christ clearly tells us that no man can serve two masters.

Our senses are the doorway between what is inside of us and what is outside of us.

It is up to us what we let through the door.

After the Chrism Dries

March 16, 2010

Another great article from Again Magazine:

Published by AGAIN, May 4, 2003

After the Chrism Dries

Some Pitfalls Awaiting Converts to the Orthodox Church

By David Tillman
Reprinted from AGAIN MAGAZINE, Volume 21, Number 1 – Winter 1999

Our merciful Lord says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14)

Coming into Orthodoxy may look like the end of a long journey home, but on another plane it is just the beginning of another journey – the journey into the Kingdom of heaven. This pilgrimage is the hard way, the way of the Cross, and it is fraught with dangers and pitfalls.

There is a steady stream of souls coming into the Orthodox Church, but, alas, there is also a persistent trickle of those going out. Some are scandalized, disillusioned, and heartbroken; some are rebellious, defiant, and – may God rescue them and us – perhaps lost forever. Joy comes only through the Cross, and all are tempted to flee from it. Let us take refuge in the divinely inspired promise of the Holy Apostle John that as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

Let’s get some basic doctrine down before we have a sober look at the journey after the chrism dries and the baptismal garment is folded and put away. I believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and the Orthodox Church is it. What the Orthodox Church has received from the Lord (the prayers, the liturgies, the Bible, the Mysteries, the Councils, the Fathers, the icons, the canons – in sum, the entire Tradition) is absolutely trustworthy. To reject these things in their proper place and order in the Church is to reject Christ as Head of the Church. To gain these things through Jesus in the communion of the Orthodox Church is worth every sacrifice.

The Pitfall of Expecting Sinless People

What we have received is absolutely trustworthy. The way we incarnate it in this world as individuals, parishes, dioceses, and the like can be an affront to God. If one flees to the Orthodox Church never expecting to encounter sinners again, one is deluded. Sinners are to be found in abundance not only among the laity, but among the clergy as well. St. John Chrysostom taught that the roads of hell are paved with the skulls of erring Orthodox priests, and erring Orthodox bishops are the lampposts!

In fact, even whole churches can fall into sin. The current Bishop of Corinth is reputed to say often that his church has not improved that much since the Apostle Paul left. And we must never forget that the seven churches described in St. John’s Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) were Orthodox churches! They’re gone now. Their lampstands may well have been removed forever. Whether this is due to the vicissitudes of Greco-Turkish politics or to a deeper cause, we know that God preserves the Orthodox Church where she is faithful.

There are real live sinners in the Orthodox Church, and anyone that enters thinking to escape them will be terribly disappointed. He might have better luck entering a hospital in order to avoid sick folks.

One escapes nothing by coming into the Orthodox Church. What happens is that everything is intensified, but with a new clarity. The late Flannery O’Connor (a Roman Catholic writer of the first rank and native of the Deep South) was once asked why her stories, and those of so many Southerners, were peopled by such freaks. She replied to the effect that perhaps the Southerner’s advantage is that he can still recognize a freak. The Orthodox Christian’s advantage is that he can still recognize sin when most of the world would like to deny its existence. There are sinners pedestrian and venal in the Orthodox Church. There are sinners who have damaged and torn lives and consciences. There are sinners intellectual and simple. One healthy sign amidst so much that is unhealthy, even dangerous, is that there is an unchangeable vocabulary of sin, repentance, accountability, and God’s coming judgment in Orthodoxy. One can hide from it, but one cannot escape it. The Orthodox Church still recognizes sin and celebrates virtue, even to the judgment and condemnation of some who would count themselves members in good standing, with medals and citations to prove it.

The Pitfall of Magical Thinking

Many come to the Orthodox Church with impossibly high expectations of her. Some of these expectations are quasi-magical. One can be baptized, chrismated, and communed with utmost care in Orthodoxy and still go to hell. The Holy Mysteries grant us an encounter with the Most Holy Trinity; they are not magic. They cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. A sinner who will not cooperate with this grace will be condemned by it.

Many a recovering drunk will say of his recovery program, It works if you work it! The Mysteries of the Church (which is itself the Great Mystery) work if you work them. One can be baptized in the deepest font made and be held under a good long time in each immersion and still end up in hell, for the lack of daily trying to die to self so that one can truly die with Christ and rise with Him. So many fixate on the outer form to the exclusion of the very presence of God in the Mysteries. The Lord is present to empower us to be faithful, not to magically transform us into lovers of Himself and our neighbors without struggle on our part. We must make the effort to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us (Hebrews 12:1).

An excessive fixation on the ultra-correct celebration of the services of the Church can be the result of this magical thinking. Some seem to be thinking that if the services are just done right (and there are wildly divergent definitions of done right) then the struggles will be over. Magic lusts after mere power. Alas, many prefer magic to grace and are disappointed that Simon the Magician was never canonized in the Orthodox Church! So they leave, or worse, stay and drive off the weaker brethren. It is heartbreaking to see people scandalized by the sins of others and/or their own sins and struggles. The antidote to this in faith is the foundational virtue of humility. When all is said and done, all that is wrong with the Church in her earthly pilgrimage (remember, there’s nothing wrong with her Head) can be discovered by looking in a mirror.

Every Orthodox Christian from the Apostolic Age until today must say at every Divine Liturgy that he himself is the chief of sinners. After many years of saying it, many come to believe it. Of those who believe it, many begin to do something about it. It is at this point that one begins to see and experience the Messianic miracles in abundance. At least on the moral plane one begins to witness, if not personally experience, the disfigured lepers being clean sed, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the dumb speaking, the demons being banished, and the dead being raised.

Yet some persist in wanting – may we say lusting for – a guaranteed magic rather than grace. Those healed by the Lord had to get up, get to work, and get home. Who are we to demand more? Jesus gives us His grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, to walk the narrow way. He doesn’t send a taxi to get us!

The Pitfall of Losing Our Balance

Being faithful is a struggle on both the individual and the corporate levels. Some give up the battle and settle for a worldly comfort. This is true for individual souls, parishes, dioceses, and patriarchates. None of us is immune to the desire to take the rest appointed for the Last Day right now. North Americans and Western Europeans have a great struggle with the devil’s most subtle weapon: prosperity. Again on every level, there are those of us so seduced by prosperity that we create a huge stumbling block to many souls. Worldly prosperity and numerical growth are not always signs of spiritual growth. After all, cancer cells grow much faster than normal cells.

The antidote to the comfy poison of prosperity is ascetic effort. Ascetic effort is the directed and controlled violence of war against the passions. Ascetic effort can be derailed by pride, publicity, and legalism. There are times we Orthodox, again on both the individual and corporate levels, can simultaneously make the Pharisee blush and the publican despair. There are some who deny the centrality of ascetic effort, especially fasting. There are others who can keep a Lenten kitchen more fastidiously than any scribe or lawyer of old could ever have hoped to keep Kosher. Where humility and mercy are lacking, God is banished in the name of Orthodoxy, and souls are led astray.

The Lord grants us grace step by step so that we can walk a balanced walk. When we are confronted with fellow sinners, we need not despair and begin looking for a Church more Orthodox than God. This is a temptation. Neither do we need to say, “Well, no one else is fighting sin in his life, so I am off the hook.” In balance we can be grateful to God that He brought us to the Orthodox Church, but we need not have any illusions that the Church would be diminished without us or is enriched by us. With sobriety we can do what grace makes possible and bless the Lord.

Unbalanced enthusiasm is another pitfall

One of the finest teachers in the North American Church tells the story of his enthusiasm in his first assignment as a parish priest. At one point his bishop reminded him, Father, the Church saves you. You don’t save the Church. This is a saving balance and sobriety in the Christian walk. There is nothing extreme in it. Passionate and intemperate enthusiasm can be purified and tamed to become patient and long-suffering zeal. Being on fire with love for the Lord is absolutely necessary, but it must be a controlled burn.

The Pitfall of Ingratitude

One of the signs that we are getting off the narrow way of the Cross is ingratitude toward or condemnation of our origins. For those of us who came to Orthodoxy from the Western denominations, this is a major and serious temptation. One must enter Orthodoxy walking forward singing, not retreating backward shouting. It is the height of ingratitude to be without at least a prayer for the folks that taught one to call on the name of Jesus.

In the entryways of many an ancient church building (called the exonarthex) one could see pictures of Plato and Aristotle. The Church knew that the philosophies of the pagan Greeks were inadequate to the mystery of faith in Christ. The Church knew that too many had attempted to subordinate the Tradition to pagan categories and had been lost because of it. Despite all of this she allowed a beautiful expression of gratitude to Plato and Aristotle as seekers of Truth, sometimes even referring to them as the Moseses of the [pagan] Greeks. In this we see sober, open-eyed, and Christ-enlightened gratitude.

Truth is truth wherever it is found, and it always has some relationship to Jesus, who is, of course, the Truth Incarnate. Ingratitude for whatever glimmer of truth came to us from even the most doubtful of sources is a singularly evil symptom of profound spiritual malaise. From the denominational perspective, there are few bodies more inadequate than the snake-handling sects, but their call for total commitment and focus is laudatory. On Judgment Day one can speculate that a rattlesnake-handling sect may fare better because of its hundred-percent commitment, albeit in ignorance, than an Orthodox parish that has it all, at least on paper, but is only thirty percent committed. Where ingratitude is found, judgments abound, and presumption cannot be far behind.

Having said these things, we must be careful not to teeter off the other side of the narrow way by saying, It does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere and committed. Although God is everywhere present and fills all things (as we say in our opening invocation to the Holy Spirit before nearly every private or public prayer of the Orthodox Church), He condescended to be objective – describable, touchable, knowable – in the Incarnation. The Faith has an objective content.

The Lord did not come to give us mere propositions. He came to restore our relationship to Him by freeing us from the tyranny of sin, decay, and death. Nevertheless, this relationship can be described accurately in ways He chose. There is right theology with attendant right practice. The Lord entrusts us with the Faith to equip us to walk the narrow way He pioneered. When we treat the Faith in presumption as our right, we distort it and disfigure it. The light in us becomes darkness, and we cause scandal and harm even though we may be members in good standing of the Orthodox Church.

A Bridge over Pitfalls – the Cross

What should be said in conclusion? Simply this: The Lord came to save us from the reality of rebellion, sin, death, and decay in every facet ofour being. The only way to be saved is to take up our cross and follow Him in obedient death to self and sin. If, in reality, our following Him is a charade, then all the tools and arsenal the Lord has provided for our salvation and sanctification will condemn us. Coming into the Orthodox Church does not take away the necessity of genuine repentance. It s a matter of grace, not magic.

In reality, if we have not died with Christ and risen with Him, we will find the Marriage Supper of the Lamb intolerable. The real God makes real repentance possible so that people can enter into the real Kingdom of heaven. It requires a genuine walk in faith with the power of our God, who cannot be fooled. The journey is not over yet.

Sundays of Great Lent

February 21, 2010

The Church’s weekly celebration of the Resurrection cannot be stopped during the Great Fast. We continue to commemorate this saving day without fail. The command of our Lord to remember provides the high point for the week. On Sunday we have the lamp of our journey lit. Saturday will always be the day of rest from creation. But Sunday is the day of the new creation. The day Christ rises from the grave he makes us a spiritual creation. We are born again in the death and resurrection of Christ.

From the earliest days of the Church the celebration of the Resurrection was the central act of worship. From this Feast of Feasts the rays of the resurrection stretch to the entire year through the Sunday Eucharistic celebration. The joy of this new creation spreads to the entire year. During the Great Fast Sunday becomes the thematic turning point for each week. The journey to Pascha begins with the expulsion of Adam on the Sunday of Cheesefare. Then on each successive Sunday we change focus. During each following week we elaborate on the theme. Step-by-step we approach the destination, Pascha.

On the first Sunday we commemorate the triumph of true worship, the Sunday of Orthodoxy. This historical event, the restoration of icons for use in the Church, affirms that our journey is not alone, but as a pilgrim Church together. I don’t follow my own feelings or decisions, but place myself in the company of the faithful in the Church.

On the Second Sunday the paralytic stands for my own spiritual illness before God. As I make the journey back from exile must ask the Lord for his healing power. I acknowledge my need for healing along the way.

At the mid-point of the Great Fast the Church plants the cross in our midst. Following Christ will entail taking up the cross daily, willingly as he did. I must expect no better than what our Lord received.

On the fourth Sunday the Church offers the “Ladder of Divine Ascent”. This book by Saint John Climacus spells out all the behaviors that build up our souls and those that tear it down. Each is like a step on Jacob’s ladder to heaven.

Finally, Mary of Egypt provides us with an example for turning my own life around. She found the Lord and came from the life of sin and death to the new life in Christ.

Taken from bulletin insert prepared by Steve Puluka, based upon the book  by Father Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha.

Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete

February 14, 2010

St Andrew of Crete & St Mary of Egypt

Great Lent begins on Clean Monday, which this year falls on March 7th. For the first few days of Great Lent, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is chanted. The beginning of the Canon reveals its appropriateness for the first week of Great Lent:

1. Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls.

2. Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears in repentance.

3. Having rivaled the first-created Adam by my transgression, I realize that I am stripped naked of God and of the everlasting kingdom and bliss through my sins.

4. Alas, wretched soul! Why are you like the first Eve? For you have wickedly looked and been bitterly wounded, and you have touched the tree and rashly tasted the forbidden food.

5. The place of bodily Eve has been taken for me by the Eve of my mind in the shape of a passionate thought in the flesh, showing me sweet things, yet ever making me taste and swallow bitter things.

6. Adam was rightly exiled from Eden for not keeping Thy one commandment, O Savior. But what shall I suffer who am always rejecting Thy living words?

7. I have willfully incurred the guilt of Cain’s murder, since by invigorating my flesh I am the murderer of my soul’s awareness, and have warred against it by my evil deeds.

8. I have not resembled Abel’s righteousness, O Jesus. I have never offered Thee acceptable gifts, nor divine actions, nor a pure sacrifice, nor an unblemished life.

9. Like Cain, we too, O wretched soul, have likewise offered to the Creator of all foul deeds, defective sacrifice and a useless life. Therefore we too are condemned.

10. In molding my clay into life, O Potter, Thou didst put in me flesh and bones, breath and vitality. But, O my Creator, my Redeemer and Judge, accept me who repent.

11. I confess to Thee, O Savior, the sins I have committed, and the wounds of my body and soul which murderous thoughts like robbers within have inflicted upon me.

12. I have sinned, O Savior, yet I know that Thou art the Lover of men. Thou strikest compassionately and pitiest warmly. Thou seest me weeping and runnest towards me as the Father recalling the Prodigal.

13.  In old age even, O Savior, do not cast me out empty to hell as I lie prostrate before Thy gates. But before my end, in Thy love for men, grant me release from my falls.

14. I am the one by my thoughts who fell among robbers; and now I am all wounded by them, full of sores. But stand by me, O Christ my Savior, and heal me.

15. The priest saw me first and passed by on the other side. Then the Levite took a look at my sufferings and disdained my nakedness. But stand by me, O Jesus Who didst dawn out of Mary, and have compassion on me.

16. O Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of all, take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction

17. It is time for repentance. I draw near to Thee, my Creator. Take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.*

18. Abhor me not, O Savior, cast me not away from Thy face. Take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls.*

19. All my sins, voluntary and involuntary, obvious and secret, known and unknown, forgive, O Savior, for Thou art God; be merciful and save me.

20. From my youth, O Christ, I have rejected Thy commandments. I have passed my whole life without caring or thinking as a slave of my passions. Therefore, O Savior, I cry to Thee: At least in the end save me.

21. I have squandered in profligacy my substance, O Savior, and I am barren of virtues and piety; but famished I cry: O Father of mercies, forestall and have compassion on me.

22. I fall prostrate before Thee, O Jesus. I have sinned against Thee, be merciful to me. Take from me the heavy yoke of sin, and in Thy compassion grant me tears of compunction.

23. Enter not into judgment with me, by recording my deeds, demanding an account of my words, and examining my motives and desires. But in Thy compassion disregard my terrible past and save me, O God All-Powerful.

The various parts of the Canon that are chanted during the first week of Great Lent are gathered together and chanted in their entirety during the fifth week of Great Lent. More about the Great Canon of St. Andrew (with additional texts) can be read here.

The radio program Icons in Sound: The Beauty of Orthodox Liturgy produced a radio program about the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete with selections from the Canon sung in English by a choir with harmonization arranged by Archbishop Job, of blessed memory. The program is in mp3 format and runs about a half hour, giving a great snapshot of this profound Lenten experience. Mp3 recordings of the 9 Odes of the Canon by the same choir can be listened to here. (Text and music arrangements of the Canon can also be found at this resource.)