Best of Pascha Videos 2012

April 23, 2012

There are really too many videos to choose from to really have a “Best of Pascha” category. But these videos stood out to me this year.

Holy Week and Easter in Montreal — a trailer from an upcoming documentary:

The midnight procession to the tomb from St John’s Cathedral in Washington, DC:

Midnight Pascha celebration at the Assumption of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Denver, Colorado:

Blessing Easter eggs & baskets at Sts. Peter & Paul Orthodox Cathedral:

Easter Liturgy from Shablykino, Russia. This church has some beautiful iconography!

Palestinian Orthodox Christians in Beit Sahour, just east of Bethlehem, celebrate Easter with a parade:

Christ is Risen! Blessed Pascha and Happy Easter!

April 14, 2012

A Blessed Pascha and Happy Easter to all!

Here are highlights from services last year. First, from Holy Cross Orthodox Church (Orthodox Church in America) in High Point, North Carolina:

Also, you can listen to the entire Midnight service here:

The Midnight Matins (Orthros) Service of Holy Pascha

Next, this is the Office of Lauds and Holy Mass for Easter from Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church (Western Rite) in Lincoln Park, Michigan:

For further reading:

Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

An Easter Sermon by Pope St. Leo the Great

The Whole Earth Keeps Silence Because the King is Asleep

April 14, 2012

Today, the Church sings at the Vespers of Holy Pascha:

Today, Hades groaning cries out, “It would have been better for me if I had not received the One born of Mary, for He came upon me and destroyed my power. He shattered the gates of brass and the souls which I held captive of old He resurrected as God.” Glory, O Lord, to Your Cross and Your Resurrection!

More on this “Harrowing of Hell” can be seen in the following homily attributed to St Epiphanius of Cyprus (AD 320-403) which describes Holy Saturday — the time between Good Friday and the Resurrection:

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

‘For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

‘See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

‘I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

‘Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.’

Text from here.

For further reading:

Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

Pascha at Dachau (1945): The Souls of All Are Aflame

April 9, 2012

The gates to Dachau Concentration Camp

By Douglas Cramer

In 1945, a Paschal Liturgy like no other was performed. Just days after their liberation by the US military on April 29, 1945, hundreds of Orthodox Christian prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp gathered to celebrate the Resurrection service and to give thanks.

The Dachau concentration camp was opened in 1933 in a former gunpowder factory. The first prisoners interred there were political opponents of Adolf Hitler, who had become German chancellor that same year. During the twelve years of the camp’s existence, over 200,000 prisoners were brought there. The majority of prisoners at Dachau were Christians, including Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox clergy and lay people.

Countless prisoners died at Dachau, and hundreds were forced to participate in the cruel medical experiments conducted by Dr. Sigmund Rascher. When prisoners arrived at the camp they were beaten, insulted, shorn of their hair, and had all their belongings taken from them. The SS guards could kill whenever they thought it was appropriate. Punishments included being hung on hooks for hours, high enough that heels did not touch the ground; being stretched on trestles; being whipped with soaked leather whips; and being placed in solitary confinement for days on end in rooms too small to lie down in.

Aerial view of Dachau Concentration Camp

The abuse of the prisoners reached its end in the spring of 1945. The events of that Holy Week were later recorded by one of the prisoners, Gleb Rahr. Rahr grew up in Latvia and fled with his family to Nazi Germany when the Russians invaded. He was arrested by the Gestapo because of his membership in an organization that opposed both fascism and communism. Originally imprisoned in Buchenwald, he was transported to Dachau near the end of the war.

In fact, Rahr was one of the survivors of the infamous “death trains,” as they were called by the American G.I.’s who discovered them. Thousands of prisoners from different camps had been sent to Dachau in open rail cars. The vast majority of them died horrific deaths from starvation, dehydration, exposure, sickness, and execution.

In a letter to his parents the day after the liberation, G.I. William Cowling wrote,

As we crossed the track and looked back into the cars the most horrible sight I have ever seen met my eyes. The cars were loaded with dead bodies. Most of them were naked and all of them skin and bones. Honest their legs and arms were only a couple of inches around and they had no buttocks at all. Many of the bodies had bullet holes in the back of their heads.

Marcus Smith, one of the US Army personnel assigned to Dachau, also described the scene in his 1972 book, The Harrowing of Hell.

Refuse and excrement are spread over the cars and grounds. More of the dead lie near piles of clothing, shoes, and trash. Apparently some had crawled or fallen out of the cars when the doors were opened, and died on the grounds. One of our men counts the boxcars and says that there are thirty-nine. Later I hear that there were fifty, that the train had arrived at the camp during the evening of April 27, by which time all of the passengers were supposed to be dead so that the bodies could be disposed of in the camp crematorium. But this could not be done because there was no more coal to stoke the furnaces. Mutilated bodies of German soldiers are also on the ground, and occasionally we see an inmate scream at the body of his former tormentor and kick it. Retribution!

Rahr was one of the over 4,000 Russian prisoners at Dachau at the time of the liberation. The liberated prisoners also included over 1,200 Christian clergymen. After the war, Rahr immigrated to the United States, where he taught Russian History at the University of Maryland. He later worked for Radio Free Europe. His account of the events at Dachau in 1945 begins with his arrival at the camp:

April 27th: The last transport of prisoners arrives from Buchenwald. Of the 5,000 originally destined for Dachau, I was among the 1,300 who had survived the trip. Many were shot, some starved to death, while others died of typhus. . . .

April 28th: I and my fellow prisoners can hear the bombardment of Munich taking place some 30 km from our concentration camp. As the sound of artillery approaches ever nearer from the west and the north, orders are given proscribing prisoners from leaving their barracks under any circumstances. SS-soldiers patrol the camp on motorcycles as machine guns are directed at us from the watch-towers, which surround the camp.

April 29th: The booming sound of artillery has been joined by the staccato bursts of machine gun fire. Shells whistle over the camp from all directions. Suddenly white flags appear on the towers—a sign of hope that the SS would surrender rather than shoot all prisoners and fight to the last man. Then, at about 6:00 p.m., a strange sound can be detected emanating from somewhere near the camp gate which swiftly increases in volume. . . .

The sound came from the dawning recognition of freedom. Lt. Col. Walter Fellenz of the US Seventh Army described the greeting from his point of view:

Several hundred yards inside the main gate, we encountered the concentration enclosure, itself. There before us, behind an electrically charged, barbed wire fence, stood a mass of cheering, half-mad men, women and children, waving and shouting with happiness—their liberators had come! The noise was beyond comprehension! Every individual (over 32,000) who could utter a sound, was cheering. Our hearts wept as we saw the tears of happiness fall from their cheeks.

Rahr’s account continues:

Finally all 32,600 prisoners join in the cry as the first American soldiers appear just behind the wire fence of the camp. After a short while electric power is turned off, the gates open and the American G.I.’s make their entrance. As they stare wide-eyed at our lot, half-starved as we are and suffering from typhus and dysentery, they appear more like fifteen-year-old boys than battle-weary soldiers. . . .

An international committee of prisoners is formed to take over the administration of the camp. Food from SS stores is put at the disposal of the camp kitchen. A US military unit also contributes some provision, thereby providing me with my first opportunity to taste American corn. By order of an American officer radio-receivers are confiscated from prominent Nazis in the town of Dachau and distributed to the various national groups of prisoners. The news comes in: Hitler has committed suicide, the Russians have taken Berlin, and German troops have surrendered in the South and in the North. But the fighting still rages in Austria and Czechoslovakia. . . .

All that now remains of Block 26 at Dachau: the block housing Catholic priests who shared their prayer room for the 1945 Orthodox Pascha service.

Naturally, I was ever cognizant of the fact that these momentous events were unfolding during Holy Week. But how could we mark it, other than through our silent, individual prayers? A fellow-prisoner and chief interpreter of the International Prisoner’s Committee, Boris F., paid a visit to my typhus-infested barrack—“Block 27”—to inform me that efforts were underway in conjunction with the Yugoslav and Greek National Prisoner’s Committees to arrange an Orthodox service for Easter day, May 6th.

There were Orthodox priests, deacons, and a group of monks from Mount Athos among the prisoners. But there were no vestments, no books whatsoever, no icons, no candles, no prosphoras, no wine. . . . Efforts to acquire all these items from the Russian church in Munich failed, as the Americans just could not locate anyone from that parish in the devastated city. Nevertheless, some of the problems could be solved. The approximately four hundred Catholic priests detained in Dachau had been allowed to remain together in one barrack and recite mass every morning before going to work. They offered us Orthodox the use of their prayer room in “Block 26,” which was just across the road from my own “block.”

Theotokos of Czestochowa icon

The chapel was bare, save for a wooden table and a Czenstochowa icon of the Theotokos hanging on the wall above the table—an icon which had originated in Constantinople and was later brought to Belz in Galicia, where it was subsequently taken from the Orthodox by a Polish king. When the Russian Army drove Napoleon’s troops from Czenstochowa, however, the abbot of the Czenstochowa Monastery gave a copy of the icon to czar Alexander I, who placed it in the Kazan Cathedral in Saint-Petersburg where it was venerated until the Bolshevik seizure of power. A creative solution to the problem of the vestments was also found. New linen towels were taken from the hospital of our former SS-guards. When sewn together lengthwise, two towels formed an epitrachilion and when sewn together at the ends they became an orarion. Red crosses, originally intended to be worn by the medical personnel of the SS guards, were put on the towel-vestments.

On Easter Sunday, May 6th (April 23rd according to the Church calendar)—which ominously fell that year on Saint George the Victory-Bearer’s Day—Serbs, Greeks and Russians gathered at the Catholic priests’ barracks. Although Russians comprised about 40 percent of the Dachau inmates, only a few managed to attend the service. By that time “repatriation officers” of the special Smersh units had arrived in Dachau by American military planes, and begun the process of erecting new lines of barbed wire for the purpose of isolating Soviet citizens from the rest of the prisoners, which was the first step in preparing them for their eventual forced repatriation.

In the entire history of the Orthodox Church there has probably never been an Easter service like the one at Dachau in 1945. Greek and Serbian priests together with a Serbian deacon wore the make-shift “vestments” over their blue and gray-striped prisoner’s uniforms. Then they began to chant, changing from Greek to Slavonic, and then back again to Greek. The Easter Canon, the Easter Sticheras—everything was recited from memory. The Gospel—“In the beginning was the Word”—also from memory.

And finally, the Homily of Saint John Chrysostom—also from memory. A young Greek monk from the Holy Mountain stood up in front of us and recited it with such infectious enthusiasm that we shall never forget him as long as we live. Saint John Chrysostomos himself seemed to speak through him to us and to the rest of the world as well! Eighteen Orthodox priests and one deacon—most of whom were Serbs—participated in this unforgettable service. Like the sick man who had been lowered through the roof of a house and placed in front of the feet of Christ the Savior, the Greek Archimandrite Meletios was carried on a stretcher into the chapel, where he remained prostrate for the duration of the service.

Russian Orthodox chapel at Dachau, built in 1995

Other prisoners at Dachau included the recently canonized Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, who later became the first administrator of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the US and Canada; and the Very Reverend Archimandrite Dionysios, who after the war was made Metropolitan of Trikkis and Stagnon in Greece.

Fr. Dionysios had been arrested in 1942 for giving asylum to an English officer fleeing the Nazis. He was tortured for not revealing the names of others involved in aiding Allied soldiers and was then imprisoned for eighteen months in Thessalonica before being transferred to Dachau. During his two years at Dachau, he witnessed Nazi atrocities and suffered greatly himself. He recorded many harrowing experiences in his book Ieroi Palmoi. Among these were regular marches to the firing squad, where he would be spared at the last moment, ridiculed, and then returned to the destitution of the prisoners’ block.

After the liberation, Fr. Dionysios helped the Allies to relocate former Dachau inmates and to bring some normalcy to their disrupted lives. Before his death, Metropolitan Dionysios returned to Dachau from Greece and celebrated the first peacetime Orthodox Liturgy there. Writing in 1949, Fr. Dionysios remembered Pascha 1945 in these words:

In the open air, behind the shanty, the Orthodox gather together, Greeks and Serbs. In the center, both priests, the Serb and the Greek. They aren’t wearing golden vestments. They don’t even have cassocks. No tapers, no service books in their hands. But now they don’t need external, material lights to hymn the joy. The souls of all are aflame, swimming in light.

Blessed is our God. My little paper-bound New Testament has come into its glory. We chant “Christ is Risen” many times, and its echo reverberates everywhere and sanctifies this place.

Hitler’s Germany, the tragic symbol of the world without Christ, no longer exists. And the hymn of the life of faith was going up from all the souls; the life that proceeds buoyantly toward the Crucified One of the verdant hill of Stein.

On April 29, 1995—the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Dachau—the Russian Orthodox Memorial Chapel of Dachau was consecrated. Dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, the chapel holds an icon depicting angels opening the gates of the concentration camp and Christ Himself leading the prisoners to freedom. The simple wooden block conical architecture of the chapel is representative of the traditional funeral chapels of the Russian North. The sections of the chapel were constructed by experienced craftsmen in the Vladimir region of Russia, and assembled in Dachau by veterans of the Western Group of Russian Forces just before their departure from Germany in 1994. The priests who participated in the 1945 Paschal Liturgy are commemorated at every service held in the chapel, along with all Orthodox Christians who lost their lives “at this place, or at another place of torture.”

Christ opening the gates of Dachau -- behind the altar at the Russian Orthodox chapel at Dachau

This article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 26 No. 1. Reprinted with permission of the author from here.

Does the Name “Easter” Have a Pagan Origin?

April 8, 2012

Blogger John Sanidopoulos of Mystagogy tackles this question in a recent post entitled:

“Pascha” or Easter” or Both?

Many Orthodox Christians insist “Pascha” or any derivitive of the word Passover is the only correct name for the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, among possibly other liturgical words for the feast, but insist the word “Easter” is innapropriate because it supposedly has pagan origins. Does it truly have pagan origins that would prohibit its use? Or are there in fact justifiable reasons to allow for “Pascha” and “Easter” to both be used with a clean conscience. Since “Pascha” is without controversy, we will examine these things for the word “Easter”.

Etymological relation vs. etymological descendance

The word “Easter” has some etymological baggage. Some Christians are wary of using the word because of its supposed pagan origin. The Venerable Bede (672-735) asserted that the word “Easter” derived from “Eostre”, the goddess of the Saxons (De Ratione Temporum). In modern times Alexander Hislop connected Easter to the Babylonian goddess Astarte (The Two Babylons, 1858). Apparently, there was indeed a goddess by the name “Eostre” (“Ostara” in German). Hence it seems that “Easter” and “Eostre” are etymologically related. However, it is foolish to take etymological relation as evidence of a “pagan connection” between “Easter” and “Eostre”. To see the foolishness of this, consider the following example: There was a Christian theologian in the third century by the name of “Lucian” of Antioch. There is also the name “Lucifer” ascribed to Satan (Isaiah 14:12). Both “Lucian” and “Lucifer” are derived from the Latin word for “light (lucis)”. This means that “Lucian” and “Lucifer” are etymologically related. However, neither is an etymological descendant of the other, which means neither name is derived from the other name. Each name is a separate etymological descendant of the root word for light, “lucis”. Thus it would be foolish to say, “A Christian should never call himself Lucian because the word is related to Lucifer!” Etymological relation between a negative word (i.e. Lucifer) and the impugned word (i.e. Lucian) does not mean anything. The issue is whether the impugned word is an etymological descendant of the negative word. As for “Lucian”, it is not an etymological descendant of “Lucifer”. Likewise, Easter is not an etymological descendant of Eostre but rather a separate etymological descendant of a common root word which in itself carries a neutral connotation.

“Easter” is derived from “East”

The root of “Easter” is “east” just as the root of “Ostern” (“Easter” in German) is “Ost” (“east” in German). Likewise, the root of “Eostre” (English) and “Ostara” (German) is the word for “east.” Thus both “Easter” and “Eostre” are derived from the word “east”. This means neither “Easter” nor “Eostre” has to be an etymological descendant of the other, but each could be a separate etymological descendant of the word “east”. The etymology of “east” gives us clues as to why both pagans and Christians wished to use the word “east” for their respective purposes. The etymology of the Saxon word “east” is:

■ “O.E. east, from P.Gmc. *aus-to-, *austra- “east, toward the sunrise” (cf. Du. oost, Ger. Ost, O.N. austr “from the east”), from PIE *aus- “dawn” (cf. Skt. ushas “dawn,” Gk. aurion “morning,” O.Ir. usah, Lith. auszra “dawn,” L. aurora “dawn,” auster “south”), lit. “to shine.” The east is the direction in which dawn breaks.” (Online Etymological Dictionary)

“East” refers to the dawn, sunrise, morning. Hence if pagans wished to worship a goddess of sunrise, it was fitting for the pagans to name their goddess after the word “east”. But Christians also had reason to use the word “east” to describe the day of their Savior’s resurrection. Consider the following passages concerning Christ’s resurrection:

■ “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.” (Matthew 28:1)

■ “And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.” (Mark 16:2)

The day of Christ’ resurrection was in the morning at the rising of the sun. In fact, it was not only a physical morning but also a spiritual morning because the light of salvation had come into the world. Christ began to rise as the “Sun of righteousness” at his resurrection. The following passages compare Christ with the rising of the sun:

■ “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings;” (Malachi 4:2)

■ “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

■ “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” (Revelation 22:16)

With these details of Christ and his resurrection, there is no mystery as to why Anglo-Saxon Christians called the day of his resurrection “Easter,” a word derived from “east,” which means dawn, sunrise, morning. Just as the sun rises from the darkness of night, the “Sun of righteousness” rose (resurrected) from the darkness of death. Christ’s resurrection was the sunrise of all sunrises – hence, Easter. This association of Christ’s resurrection with the dawn is not pagan but based on biblical narrative and symbolism.

Christians reclaimed the true meaning of “Easter”

Anglo-Saxon Christians may have given the name “Easter” to the day of Christ’s resurrection to identify Christ as the true God of sunrise (in the sense of being Creator of the sun as well as spiritually being the “Sun of righteousness”). Thus the word “Easter” stands as a testimony of the Anglo-Saxon Christians’ rejection of the goddess in reception of the true God, Jesus Christ. It is counterproductive to suggest that Christians should abandon the word “Easter”. Why should we give the pagans a monopoly over a word which signifies the dawn, one of God’s most stunning works of creation? The funny thing is that many Christians who oppose the use of the word “Easter” still celebrate “Good Friday”. Yet the word “Friday” is based on the name of a pagan goddess. The word “Friday” means “Day of Frige” – Frige being the name of a Norse goddess. “Good Friday” literally means “Good day of Frige (the goddess)”. Some Christians say that Christ rose on “Saturday”, yet “Saturday” is also derived from the pagan god Saturnus. If one would actually like to avoid a “pagan connection”, he would be wiser to avoid using the words “Friday” and “Saturday” rather than the Christian word “Easter”. Avoiding all of these words, of course, is an impossibility if we wish to communicate with others regarding the days of the week. We just have to admit that the English language is the language of a people who were once pagan and that there are many vestiges of pagan etymology in English. It is only by God’s redemptive grace that the words of our mouths (notwithstanding the occasional pagan etymologies) are found acceptable in His sight:

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Read also: Was Easter Borrowed From a Pagan Holiday?

Reprinted with permission.

For further reading:

Christmas and “Pagan Origins”

The Pagan Origins of Christmas?

First Look at the New Ukrainian Catholic Catechism

October 14, 2011

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarch Shevchuk introducing the new official Catechism Christ Our Pascha

In June of this year, after ten years of preparation, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) –the largest Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Pope of Rome– released its first official Catechism. Entitled Christ our Pascha, it received the unanimous support of all the Bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and also was reviewed by the Eastern Congregation in Rome before publication. A description of the development process by the Patriarchal Catechetical Commission can be read here. Translation into other languages is proceeding, including Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and English.

There was speculation that the new Catechism might present some nuanced understandings of some of the issues that divide the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, especially with regards to the role of the papacy. However, some rough, unofficial translations of key paragraphs in the new UGCC Catechism indicate that this is not a breakthrough document that might suggest a way to resolve the doctrinal differences.

For example, here are two key paragraphs that describe the Pope:

291. Each local congregation in administering the Eucharist by its bishop and through community of faith comes into communion with the other local congregations. Local congregations being in communion form the Local Church headed by a primate – a bishop, archbishop, metropolitan or patriarch. The first among the local Churches is the Roman Church, since it has the Pope of Rome – a successor of Apostle Peter – as its primate. He is the teacher and the rule of the apostolic faith, to whom the Lord gives a gift of infallibility in the matters of faith and morals. Just as apostle Peter expressed a love to Christ that was greater than that of the others and received a commission from Christ to tend his flock (cf. Jn 21:15-18), so the Roman Peter’s Chair “presides in love”244 and holds primacy among the local churches245. This primacy is effected through Peter’s ministry of the Roman bishops, which our Church confesses in the title “The Most Holy Universal Hierarch”.

Footnote 245 is translated below:

[Footnote]245. VATICAN II, Dogmatic Constitution about the Church Lumen Gentium, 13, see also i.d. 18: “So that the episcopate itself would be kept in unity and indivisibility, He put Saint Peter over the other apostles and established in him a continuous and visible origin and foundation for the unity of faith and communion (cf. Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, (18.07.1870): Denz. 1821 (3050 w.). And this teaching about establishment, continuity, power and sense of the sacred primacy of the Roman Hierarch and about his infallible teaching is again given by the Sacred Council to all believers for their steadfast believing.”

It is important to note again that the translations provided here are unofficial. I would welcome input from those who know Ukrainian who might offer improvements in the translation. It does seem clear, however, that by citing both Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I and Lumen Gentium from Vatican II the traditional doctrines of papal infallibility and primacy taught at those Councils are being reaffirmed in the new UGCC Catechism.

A couple of paragraphs later, the Council of Florence (one of the failed “union” councils between East and West) is directly quoted to explain the Pope’s universal care of “the whole Church.”

293. Christ entrusts the ministry of Church universality to the apostle Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk. 22:32). The Bishop of Rome – a bearer of Peter’s ministry – convenes Ecumenical Councils, approves of their decisions, ascertains and expresses the infallible doctrines of the Church, resolves difficulties that arise in the life of local Churches. The ministry of the Roman Hierarch testifies of “the most ancient apostolic times”247. His ministry is to “strengthen the brothers” in common faith (cf. Lk. 22:31-42), be a “rock” (cf. Mt. 16:18) and a “shepherd” (cf. Jn. 21:15-18). “It is to him (the Roman Hierarch), in St. Peter, that Jesus Christ passed on the whole authority to tend, manage and take care of the whole Church, as it is established at the Ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons”248.

247. See Dmytro Tuptalo, Lives of Saints. October 11. Remembering the 7th Ecumenical Council.
248. Council of Florence, Oros.

The union decree (available here under the date of July 6, 1439) of the Council of Florence, which was rejected by Orthodoxy as a whole, served as a basis for union of  the various Eastern Catholic Churches with Rome. The Florentine decree is cited a few more times in the new UGCC Catechism: in a discussion of the procession of the Holy Spirit (paragraph 98), when discussing Purgatory (paragraph 250), and in discussing East-West unity (paragraph 306).

The new UGCC Catechism also reaffirms the teaching of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, quoting Pope Pius IX’s proclamation made in 1854:

311. The Church universally confesses that Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin, and venerates her in the festivals of the liturgical year. In the festivals dedicated to the Theotokos the Church prayerfully commemorates the salvific events from Theotokos’s life: Conception by St. Anna 274, Christmas, Introduction to the Temple, Annunciation, Presentation and Dormition, seeing in her an example for our growing in holiness.

Footnote 274 is below:

274. The Pope of Rome Pius IX by his bull Ineffabilis Deus (December 8, 1854) proclaimed the dogma on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “The Most Holy Virgin Mary from the moment of Her very conception by a special blessing and privilege from the Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was protected against any spot of the original guilt” (DS 2803; also CCC 491).

I asked about these issues in a letter to UGCC Bishop Peter Stasiuk (who was involved in the production of the new Catechism). In his reply, Bishop Peter explained that the new Catechism:

was not written as an ecumenical statement. You cannot speak of ecumenism if you do not know who you are. I suppose this is a starting point for our ecumenical dialogue with others. But at no time did we have ecumenism in mind. Our task was to explain our church as clearly as possible to our people.

The official English translation is due out in late 2012. I’m sure that further research on the new UGCC Catechism will reveal many areas of common identity between Eastern Catholics and Orthodox. A future article will go into the new Catechism in greater detail.

However, this initial look at the new Catechism indicates that it is solidly in the Catholic tradition and is not to be, as some had hoped, a document suggesting new approaches to issues that divide East and West.

For further reading:

The New Ukrainian Catholic Catechism: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The new UGCC Catechism was released in Ukrainian in June, 2011. Translation into other languages is in process. The English version is due out in late 2012.

Ancestral Sin vs. Original Sin

October 10, 2011

H/T: Preachers Institute

By Fr. Antony Hughes

This excellent essay details the vast divergence between western/Scholastic theology and Orthodox Patristic theology with regard to the sin of Adam.

Pastor of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fr. Anthony has also served as Orthodox Chaplain at Harvard University.

A young man called me recently to discuss his family’s movement toward the Orthodox Church. He told me a priceless story about how his seven-year old daughter helped him and his wife understand an Orthodox practice that is often a hindrance to inquirers. Although the family had icons in their home they could not grasp the reason for the practice of venerating (kissing) them. One evening after prayers with his daughter she looked at the icon in her room and asked,

“Who is on those pictures, Daddy?”

He replied,

“The Virgin Mary and Jesus.”

She picked up the icon, kissed it and hugged it to her chest exclaiming,

“Oh, daddy, they love you so much!”

“Then,” he told me, “We understood. It’s all about affection.”

Love, in fact, is the heart and soul of the theology of the early Church Fathers and of the Orthodox Church. The Fathers of the Church — East and West — in the early centuries shared the same perspective: humanity longs for liberation from the tyranny of death, sin, corruption and the devil which is only possible through the Life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only the compassionate advent of God in the flesh could accomplish our salvation, because only He could conquer these enemies of humanity.

It is impossible for Orthodoxy to imagine life outside the all-encompassing love and grace of the God who came Himself to rescue His fallen creation.

Theology is, for the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, all about love.

The Approach of the Orthodox Fathers

As pervasive as the term original sin has become, it may come as a surprise to some that it was unknown in both the Eastern and Western Church until Augustine (c. 354-430). The concept may have arisen in the writings of Tertullian, but the expression seems to have appeared first in Augustine’s works. Prior to this the theologians of the early church used different terminology indicating a contrasting way of thinking about the fall, its effects and God’s response to it. The phrase the Greek Fathers used to describe the tragedy in the Garden was ancestral sin.

Ancestral sin has a specific meaning. The Greek word for sin in this case, amartema, refers to an individual act indicating that the Eastern Fathers assigned full responsibility for the sin in the Garden to Adam and Eve alone. The word amartia, the more familiar term for sin which literally means “missing the mark”, is used to refer to the condition common to all humanity (Romanides, 2002).

The Eastern Church, unlike its Western counterpart, never speaks of guilt being passed from Adam and Eve to their progeny, as did Augustine. Instead, it is posited that each person bears the guilt of his or her own sin. The question becomes, “What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt?” The Orthodox Fathers answer as one: death. (I Corinthians 15:21)

“Man is born with the parasitic power of death within him,” writes Fr. Romanides (2002, p. 161).

Our nature, teaches Cyril of Alexandria, became

“diseased… through the sin of one” (Migne, 1857-1866a).

It is not guilt that is passed on, for the Orthodox fathers; it is a condition, a disease.

In Orthodox thought Adam and Eve were created with a vocation: to become one with God gradually increasing in their capacity to share in His divine life — deification2 (Romanides, 2002, p. 76-77).

“They needed to mature, to grow to awareness by willing detachment and faith, a loving trust in a personal God” (Clement, 1993, p. 84).

Theophilus of Antioch (2nd Century) posits that Adam and Eve were created neither immortal nor mortal. They were created with the potential to become either through obedience or disobedience (Romanides, 2002).

The freedom to obey or disobey belonged to our first parents,

“For God made man free and sovereign” (Romanides, 2002, p. 32).

To embrace their God-given vocation would bring life, to reject it would bring death, but not at God’s hands. Theophilus continues,

“… should he keep the commandment of God he would be rewarded with immortality… if, however, he should turn to things of death by disobeying God, he would be the cause of death to himself” (Romanides, 2002, p. 32)

Adam and Eve failed to obey the commandment not to eat from the forbidden tree thus rejecting God and their vocation to manifest the fullness of human existence (Yannaras, 1984). Death and corruption began to reign over the creation.

“Sin reigned through death.” (Romans 5:21)

In this view death and corruption do not originate with God; he neither created nor intended them. God cannot be the Author of evil. Death is the natural result of turning aside from God.

Adam and Eve were overcome with the same temptation that afflicts all humanity: to be autonomous, to go their own way, to realize the fullness of human existence without God. According to the Orthodox fathers sin is not a violation of an impersonal law or code of behavior, but a rejection of the life offered by God (Yannaras, 1984). This is the mark, to which the word amartia refers. Fallen human life is above all else the failure to realize the God-given potential of human existence, which is, as St. Peter writes, to

“become partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4).

St. Basil writes:

“Humanity is an animal who has received the vocation to become God” (Clement, 1993, p. 76).

In Orthodox thought God did not threaten Adam and Eve with punishment nor was He angered or offended by their sin; He was moved to compassion.3 The expulsion from the Garden and from the Tree of Life was an act of love and not vengeance so that humanity would not

“become immortal in sin” (Romanides, 2002, p. 32).

Thus began the preparation for the Incarnation of the Son of God and the solution that alone could rectify the situation: the destruction of the enemies of humanity and God, death (I Corinthians 15:26, 56), sin, corruption and the devil (Romanides, 2002).

It is important to note that salvation as deification is not pantheism because the Orthodox Fathers insist on the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (Athanasius, 1981). Human beings, along with all created things, have come into being from nothing. Created beings will always remain created and God will always remain Uncreated. The Son of God in the Incarnation crossed the unbridgeable chasm between them.

Orthodox hymnography frequently speaks of the paradox of the Uncreated and created uniting without mixture or confusion in the wondrous hypostatic union. The Nativity of Christ, for example, is interpreted as “a secret re-creation, by which human nature was assumed and restored to its original state” (Clement, 1993, p. 41). God and human nature, separated by the Fall, are reunited in the Person of the Incarnate Christ and redeemed through His victory on the Cross and in the Resurrection by which death is destroyed (I Corinthians 15:54-55).

In this way the Second Adam fulfills the original vocation and reverses the tragedy of the fallen First Adam opening the way of salvation for all.

The Fall could not destroy the image of God; the great gift given to humanity remained intact, but damaged (Romanides, 2002). Origen speaks of the image buried as in a well choked with debris (Clement, 1993). While the work of salvation was accomplished by God through Jesus Christ the removal of the debris that hides the image in us calls for free and voluntary cooperation. St. Paul uses the word synergy, or “co-workers”, (I Corinthians 3:9) to describe the cooperation between Divine Grace and human freedom.

For the Orthodox Fathers this means asceticism (prayer, fasting, charity and keeping vigil) relating to St. Paul’s image of the spiritual athlete (I Corinthians 9:24-27). This is the working out of salvation

“with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Salvation is a process involving faith, freedom and personal effort to fulfill the commandment of Christ to

“love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

The great Orthodox hymn of Holy Pascha (Easter) captures in a few words the essence of the Orthodox understanding of the Atonement:

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs bestowing life”

(The Liturgikon, Paschal services, 1989).

Because of the victory of Christ on the Cross and in the Tomb humanity has been set free, the curse of the law has been broken, death is slain, life has dawned for all. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662) writes that “Christ’s death on the Cross is the judgment of judgment” (Clement, 1993, p. 49) and because of this we can rejoice in the conclusion stated so beautifully by Olivier Clement: “In the crucified Christ forgiveness is offered and life is given. For humanity it is no longer a matter of fearing judgment or of meriting salvation, but of welcoming love in trust and humility” (Clement, 1993, p. 49).

Augustine’s Legacy

The piety and devotion of Augustine is largely unquestioned by Orthodox theologians, but his conclusions on the Atonement are (Romanides, 2002). Augustine, by his own admission, did not properly learn to read Greek and this was a liability for him. He seems to have relied mostly on Latin translations of Greek texts (Augustine, 1956a, p. 9). His misinterpretation of a key scriptural reference, Romans 5:12, is a case in point (Meyendorff, 1979).

In Latin the Greek idiom eph ho which means because of was translated as in whom. Saying that all have sinned in Adam is quite different than saying that all sinned because of him. Augustine believed and taught that all humanity has sinned in Adam (Meyendorff, 1979, p. 144). The result is that guilt replaces death as the ancestral inheritance (Augustine, 1956b) Therefore the term original sin conveys the belief that Adam and Eve’s sin is the first and universal transgression in which all humanity participates.

Augustine famously debated Pelagius (c. 354-418) over the place the human will could play in salvation. Augustine took the position against him that only grace is able to save, sola gratis (Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 7)4. From this a doctrine of predestination developed (God gives grace to whom He will) which hardened in the 16th and 17th centuries into the doctrine of two-fold predestination (God in His sovereignty saves some and condemns others). The position of the Church of the first two centuries concerning the image and human freedom was abandoned.

The Roman idea of justice found prominence in Augustinian and later Western theology. The idea that Adam and Eve offended God’s infinite justice and honor made of death God’s method of retribution (Romanides, 2002). But this idea of justice deviates from Biblical thought. Kalomiros (1980) explains the meaning of justice in the original Greek of the New Testament:

The Greek word dikaiosuni ‘justice’, is a translation of the Hebrew word tsedaka. The word means ‘the divine energy which accomplishes man’s salvation.’ It is parallel and almost synonymous with the word hesed which means ‘mercy’, ‘compassion’, ‘love’, and to the word emeth which means ‘fidelity’, ‘truth’. This is entirely different from the juridical understanding of ‘justice’. (p. 31)

The juridical view of justice generates two problems for Augustine. One: how can one say that the attitude of the immutable God’s toward His creation changes from love to wrath? Two: how can God, who is good, be the author of such an evil as death (Romanides, 1992)?

The only way to answer this is to say, as Augustine did to the young Bishop, Julian of Eclanum (d. 454), that God’s justice is inscrutable (Cahill, 1995, p. 65).

Logically, then, justice provides proof of inherited guilt for Augustine, because since all humanity suffers the punishment of death and since God who is just cannot punish the innocent, then all must be guilty in Adam. Also, by similar reasoning, justice appears as a standard to which even God must adhere (Kalomiris, 1980). Can God change or be subject to any kind of standard or necessity?

By contrast the Orthodox father, Basil the Great, attributes the change in attitude to humanity rather than to God (Migne, 1857-1866b). Because of the theological foundation laid by Augustine and taken up by his heirs, the conclusion seems unavoidable that a significant change occurs in the West making the wrath of God and not death the problem facing humanity (Romanides, 1992, p. 155-156).

How then could God’s anger be assuaged? The position of the ancient Church had no answer because its proponents did not see wrath as the problem. The Satisfaction Theory proposed by Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) in his work Why the God-Man? provides the most predominant answer in the West5.

The sin of Adam offended and angered God making the punishment of death upon all guilty humanity justified.

The antidote to this situation is the crucifixion of the Incarnate Son of God because only the suffering and death of an equally eternal being could ever satisfy the infinite offense of the infinitely dishonored God and assuage His wrath (Williams, 2002; Yannaras, 1984, p. 152). God sacrifices His Son to restore His honor and pronounces the sacrifice sufficient. The idea of imputed righteousness rises from this. The Orthodox understanding that

“the resurrection…through Christ, opens for humanity the way of love that is stronger than death” (Clement, 1993, p. 87)

is replaced by a juridical theory of courtrooms and verdicts.

The image of an angry, vengeful God haunts the West where a basic insecurity and guilt seem to exist. Many appear to hold that sickness, suffering and death are God’s will. Why? I suspect one reason is that down deep the belief persists that God is still angry and must be appeased. Yes, sickness, suffering and death come and when they do God’s grace is able to transform them into life-bearing trials, but are they God’s will? Does God punish us when the mood strikes, when our behavior displeases Him or for no reason at all? Are the ills that afflict creation on account of God?

For example, could the loving Father really be said to enjoy the sufferings of His Son or of the damned in hell (Yannaras, 1984)? Freud rebelled against these ideas calling the God inherent in them the sadistic Father (Yannaras, 1984, p. 153). Could it be as Yannaras, Clement and Kalomiris propose that modern atheism is a healthy rebellion against a terrorist deity (Clement, 2000)? Kalomiris (1980) writes that there are no atheists, just people who hate the God in whom they have been taught to believe.

Orthodoxy agrees that grace is a gift, but one that is given to all not to a chosen few.

For Grace is an uncreated energy of God sustaining all creation apart from which nothing can exist (Psalm 104:29). What is more, though grace sustains humanity, salvation cannot be forced upon us (or withheld) by divine decree. Clement points out that the “Greek fathers (and some of the Latin Fathers), according to whom the creation of humanity entailed a real risk on God’s part, laid the emphasis on salvation through love: ‘God can do anything except force a man to love him’. The gift of grace saves, but only in an encounter of love” (Clement, 1993, p. 81). Orthodox theology holds that divine grace must be joined with human volition.

Pastoral Practice East and West

In simple terms, we can say that the Eastern Church tends towards a therapeutic model which sees sin as illness, while the Western Church tends towards a juridical model seeing sin as moral failure. For the former the Church is the hospital of souls, the arena of salvation where, through the grace of God, the faithful ascend from

“glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

into union with God in a joining together of grace and human volition.

The choice offered to Adam and Eve remains our choice: to ascend to life or descend into corruption. For the latter, whether the Church is viewed as essential, important or arbitrary, the model of sin as moral failing rests on divine election and adherence to moral, ethical codes as both the cure for sin and guarantor of fidelity. Whether ecclesial authority or individual conscience imposes the code the result is the same.

Admittedly, the idea of salvation as process is not absent in the West. (One can call to mind the Western mystics and the Wesleyan movement as examples.) However, the underlying theological foundations of Eastern Church and Western Church in regard to ancestral or original sin are dramatically opposed.

The difference is apparent when looking at the understanding of ethics itself. For the Western Church ethics often seems to imply exclusively adherence to an external code; for the Eastern Church ethics implies

“the restoration of life to the fullness of freedom and love” (Yannaras, 1984, p. 143).

Modern psychology has encouraged most Christian caregivers to view sin as illness so that, in practice, the juridical approach is often mitigated. The willingness to refer to mental health providers when necessary implies an expansion of the definition of sin from moral infraction to human condition. This is a happy development. Recognizing sin as disease helps us to understand that the problem of the human condition operates on many levels and may even have a genetic component.

It is interesting that Christians from a broad spectrum have rediscovered the psychology of spiritual writers of the ancient Church. I discovered this in an Oral Roberts University Seminary classroom twenty-five years ago through a reading of “The Life of St. Pelagia the Harlot.” My journey into Orthodoxy and the priesthood began at that point. These pastors and teachers of the ancient Church were inspired by the Orthodox perspective enunciated in this paper: death as the problem, sin as disease, salvation as process and Christ as Victor.

Sin as missing the mark or, put another way, as the failure to realize the full potential of the gift of human life, calls for a gradual approach to pastoral care. The goal is nothing less than an existential transformation from within through growth in communion with God. Daily sins are more than moral infractions; they are revelations of the brokenness of human life and evidence of personal struggle.

“Repentance means rejecting death and uniting ourselves to life” (Yannaras, 1984, 147-148).

In Orthodoxy we tend to dwell on the process and the goal more than the sin. A wise Serbian Orthodox priest once commented that God is more concerned about the direction of our lives than He is about the specifics. Indeed, the Scriptures point to the wondrous truth that,

“If thou, O God, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand, but with Thee there is forgiveness” (Psalm 130:3-4).

The way is open for all who desire to take it. A young monk was once asked,

“What do you do all day in the monastery?”

He replied,

“We fall and rise, fall and rise.”

The sacramental approach in the Eastern Church is an integral part of pastoral care.

The therapeutic view frees the sacrament of Confession in the Orthodox Church from the tendency to take on a juridical character resulting in proscribed, impersonal penances. In Orthodoxy sacraments are seen as a means of revealing the truth about humanity and also about God (Yannaras, 1984, p. 143). After Holy Baptism we often fail in our work of fulfilling the vocation to unbury the image within.

Seventy times seven we return to the sacrament not as an easy way out (confess today, sin tomorrow), but because humility is a hard lesson to learn, real transformation is not instantaneous and we are in need of God’s help. Healing takes time. Sacraments are far from magical or automatic rituals (Yannaras, 1984, p. 144).

They are personal, grace-filled events in which our free response to God’s grace is acknowledged and sanctified. Even in evangelical circles where Confession as sacrament is rejected the altar call often plays a similar role. It is telling that the Orthodox Sacrament of Confession always takes place face to face and never in the kind of confessional that appeared in the West. Sin is personal and healing must be equally personal.

Therefore nothing in authentic pastoral care can be impersonal, automatic or pre-planned. In Orthodoxy the prescription is tailored for the patient as he or she is, not as he or she ought to be.

The juridical approach that has predominated in the West can make pastoral practice seem cold and automatic. Neither a focus on good works nor faith alone are sufficient to transform the human heart. Do positive, external criteria signify inner transformation in all cases? Some branches of Christian counseling too often rely on the application of seemingly relevant verses of Scripture to effect changes in behavior as if convincing one of the truth of Holy Scripture is enough. Belief in Scripture may be a beginning, but real transformation is not just a matter of thinking.

First and foremost it is a matter of an existential transformation. It is a matter of a shift in the very mode of life itself: from autonomy to communion. Allow me to explain.

Death has caused a change in the way we relate to God, to one another and to the world. Our lives are dominated by the struggle to survive. Yannaras writes that we see ourselves not as persons sharing a common nature and purpose, but as autonomous individuals who live to survive in competition with one another. Thus, set adrift by death, we are alienated from God, from others and also from our true selves (Yannaras, 1984). The Lord Jesus speaks to this saying,

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew16:26).

Salvation is a transformation from the tragic state of alienation and autonomy that ends in death into a state of communion with God and one another that ends in eternal life. So, in the Orthodox view, a transformation in this mode of existence must occur. If the chosen are saved by decree and not by choice such an emphasis is irrelevant. The courtroom seems insufficient as an arena for healing or transformation.

Great flexibility needs to exist in pastoral care if it is to promote authentic transformation. We need to take people as they are and not as they ought to be. Moral and ethical codes are references, certainly, but not ends in themselves. As a pastor entrusted with personal knowledge of people’s lives, I know that moving people from point A to Z is impossible. If, by the grace of God, step B can be discovered, then real progress can often be made.

Every step is a real step. If we can be faithful in small things the Lord will grant us bigger ones later (Matthew 25:21). There need be no rush in this intimate process of real transformation that has no end. As a priest and confessor I tell those who come to me,

“I do not know exactly what is ahead on this spiritual adventure. That is between you and God, but if you will allow me, we will take the road together.”

A Romanian priest found himself overhearing the confession of a hardened criminal to an old priest-monk in a crowded Communist prison cell. As he listened he noticed the priest-monk begin to cry. He did not say a word through his tears until the man had finished at which time he replied,

“My son, try to do better next time.”

Yannaras writes that the message of the Church for humanity wounded and degraded by the ‘terrorist God of juridical ethics’ is precisely this: “what God really asks of man is neither individual feats nor works of merit, but a cry of trust and love from the depths” (Yannaras, 1984, p. 47). The cry comes from the depth of our need to the unfathomable depth of God’s love; the Prodigal Son crying out, “I want to go home” to the Father who, seeing his advance from a distance, runs to meet him. (Luke 15:11-32)

What this divine/human relationship will produce God knows, but we place ourselves in His loving hands and not without some trepidation because

“God is a loving fire… for all: good or bad.” (Kalomiris, 1980, p. 19)

The knowledge that salvation is a process makes our failures understandable. The illness that afflicts us demands access to the grace of God often and repeatedly. We offer to Him the only things that we have, our weakened condition and will. Joined with God’s love and grace it is the fuel that breathed upon by the Spirit of God, breaks the soul into flame.

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said: Abba, as much as I am able I practice a small rule, a little fasting, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet, and as much as possible keep my thoughts clean. What else should I do? Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven, and his fingers became like ten torches of flame. And he said:

If you wish you can become all flame. (Nomura, 2001, p. 92)

As we have seen, for the early Church Fathers and the Orthodox Church the Atonement is much more than a divine exercise in jurisprudence; it is the event of the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God that sets us free from the Ancestral Sin and its effects. Our slavery to death, sin, corruption and the devil are destroyed through the Cross and Resurrection and our hopeless adventure in autonomy is revealed to be what it is: a dead end.

Salvation is much more than a verdict from above; it is an endless process of transformation from autonomy to communion, a gradual ascent from glory to glory as we take up once again our original vocation now fulfilled in Christ. The way to the Tree of Life at long last revealed to be the Cross is reopened and its fruit, the Body and Blood of God, offered to all.

The goal is far greater than a change in behavior; we are meant to become divine.


1 Editor’s Note: Some within modern evangelicalism (Oden 2003, Packer and Oden 2004) have begun to examine the writings of the Patristics in an attempt to inspire unity within the Christian church. While somewhat controversial, the present article was invited in hope of beginning dialogue among the tributaries of Christian spirituality on a topic of great importance to a spiritually sensitive psychotherapy — sin.

2 A reference to movement toward union with God.

3 Orthodox theology recognizes that all human language, concepts and analogies fail to describe God in His essence. True knowledge of God demands that we proceed apophatically, that is, with the stripping away of human concepts, for God is infinitely beyond them all.

4 Pelagius is regarded as a heretic in the East (as is the case in the West). He elevated the human will and the expense of divine grace. In fairness, however, the Orthodox position is expressed best by John Cassian — who is often regarded as “semi-Pelagian” in the West. The problem — to the Orthodox perspective — is that both Pelagius and Augustine set the categories in the extreme — freedom of the will with nothing left for God versus complete sovereignty of God, with nothing left to human will. The Fathers argued instead for “synergy,” a mystery of God’s grace being given with the cooperation of the human heart.

5 It would perhaps be more precise to say the Latin West. The most prominent Reformed view seems to be a modification of Anselm’s emphasis on vicarious satisfaction, in which more emphasis is placed on penal substitution.


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