Ecclesiology


“The work of the salvation of our souls is the greatest and most wise work, and to learn this work, this art, it is necessary to have recourse to those to whom this work is known, who have completed it. This work of salvation, this work of repentance, is especially known to the Saints, since they have especially endeavored to concern them selves with it, and have carried it in a surpassing manner, one saving for their souls and pleasing to God. Indeed, the Saints have left this spiritual inheritance, this art of repentance and salvation, to the Orthodox Church, having laid up in Her, as in a secure treasure house, all their understanding, their instruction, their zeal, their art, their experiences Let us therefore learn repentance and salvation from Her. We all have come and do come to the church services for Sundays, holidays, ordinary days, and for the Great Fast. All these services teach us repentance and salvation. Have you heard the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete? Heard the prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian? Heard the troparia and canons for the Great Fast? What a spirit of repentance is in them! What a compunction, what contrition for the sins of sinful mankind! What a thirst for salvation and pardon from God! What wails and tears of sinners repenting! Behold and learn repentance and propitiation of the Lord from the holy Church. Attend well, reflect, comprehend your sins, have contrition, repent, vaunt not yourselves, do the works of mercy: for the merciful shall obtain mercy.”

– St. John of Kronstadt

Advertisements

“Have you sinned? Go into Church and wipe out your sin. As often as you might fall down in the marketplace, you pick yourself up again. So too, as often as you sin, repent your sin. Do not despair. Even if you sin a second time, repent a second time. Do not by indifference lose hope entirely of the good things prepared. Even if you are in extreme old age and have sinned, go in, repent!” …. “For here there is a physician’s [i.e. the priest’s] office, not a courtroom; not a place where punishment of sin is exacted, but where the forgiveness of sin is granted.”

St. John Chrysostom – Homilies on Penance 3:4

“If people could behold in what glory a priest celebrates the Divine Office they would swoon at the sight; and if the priest could see himself, could see the celestial glory surrounding him as he officiates, he would become a great warrior and devote himself to feats of spiritual endurance, that he might not offend in any way the grace of the Holy Spirit living in him.

As I pencil these lines my spirit rejoices that our pastors are in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we, the flock, though we have grace but in small measure – we, too, are in the likeness of the Lord. Men ignore this mystery but St. John the Divine told us clearly: “We shall be like him”, (1 John iii:2) and this not only after death but even here and now, for the merciful Lord has given the Holy Spirit on earth, and the Holy Spirit lives in our Church, lives in all virtuous pastors; lives in the heart of the faithful. The Holy Spirit teaches the soul to fight the good fight; gives the strength necessary to fulfill the commandments of the Lord; stablishes us in all truth; and has so adorned man that he has become like unto the Lord.

We must always bear in mind that a father-confessor performs the duties of his office in the Holy Spirit, wherefore we must venerate him. Know this, brethren, that if anyone should die with his confessor present, and, dying, say to him: ‘O holy father, give me the blessing that I may behold the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven,’ and the confessor should answer, ‘Go, child, and look upon the Lord,’ it would be with him according to the confessor’s blessing, for the Holy Spirit both in heaven and on earth is one and the same.

Great power lies in the prayers of a spiritual father. For my pride I suffered much from devils but the Lord humbled me and had mercy on me because of my spiritual father’s prayers, and now the Lord has revealed to me that the Holy Spirit dwells in our father-confessors, wherefore I hold them in deep respect. Because of their prayers we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, and joy in the Lord, Who loves us and has given us all things needful for our soul’s salvation.

If a man does not open his heart to his confessor, his will be a crooked path that leads not to salvation; whereas he who keeps nothing back will go straightway to the Kingdom of Heaven (…)

Whoever would pray without ceasing must have fortitude and be wise, and in all things consult his confessor. And if your father-confessor has not himself trodden the path of prayer, nevertheless seek counsel of him, and because of your humility the Lord will have mercy on you, and keep you from all wrong. But if you think to yourself, ‘My confessor lacks experience and is occupied with vain things, I will be my own guide with the help of books,’ your foot is set on a perilous path and you are not far from being beguiled and going astray. I know many such who reasoned thus and so deceived themselves, and they did not thrive because they despised their confessors. They forgot that the saving grace of the Holy Spirit is at work in the sacrament of confession. In such wise does the enemy delude those who fight the good fight – the enemy would have no men of prayer – while the Holy Spirit gives good counsel to the soul when we harken to the advice of our pastors.

Through the father-confessor the Holy Spirit operates in the sacrament (of confession), and this is why the soul, on leaving her confessor, feels renewed through peace and love for her neighbour. But if you are troubled when you leave your confessor, it means that you have not made a clean confession of your sins, and have not in your soul forgiven your brother his transgressions.

A confessor should rejoice when the Lord brings him a soul for repentance, and according to the grace given to him he should heal that soul, wherefore he will receive great mercy from God, as a good sheperd of his sheep.”

– St. Silouan the Athonite

“Archimandrite Vasilieios of Iviron Monastery, in his book Hesychia and Beauty in Athonite Life (1996), explains that, in the Church, ‘beauty is not reckoned as a category of aesthetics, but rather as the divine grace and energy which holds together the universe’ (p. 10). It therefore behooves us to seek to recognize and become aware of ‘beauty,’ remembering that Lord ‘sanctifies those who love the beauty of His house’ (Cf. Divine Liturgy, Prayer before the Ambo). All beauty has its origin in the Source of beauty, which is Christ Himself.

In our modern culture we continue to experience a general decline in our ability to recognize and appreciate beauty within our utilitarian world. It is imperative for us to fight against the plague of ‘busyness’: to slow down, to remember to carefully and prayerfully read, learning how (and sometimes violently forcing ourselves) to appreciate the Psalms, liturgical texts, the Scriptures, the sacred poetry and music. Words in the modern world have lost their power due to their sheer and daunting number. We must recover a sensitivity and respect for the power of each word, lest the Church’s liturgical life, based on the Word of God, fall to shambles, unappreciated and mindlessly hurried through (as it is much of the time).

To seek and recognize beauty is to find a door to the divine, to see a reflection of another world; it is to call to remembrance the Lord and ‘see’ His reflection. The virtuous Christian soul is the pinnacle of all such beauty. Indeed, all of creation is called to be redeemed and to enter into the Church, and as Christ’s garments on Mount Tabor, to be transfigured through coming into contact with Christ’s Body, the Church. Thus, everything that is restored in Christ’s Church — including the music — ought to reflect this sanctifying beauty.

We must constantly seek to become sensitive to, to learn to appreciate, to seek to understand more about the Church’s canonical liturgical arts which are the precious flowering of the Gospel itself. To fail to appreciate the real beauty, in all its diverse forms, that is contained within the Church’s Tradition (in all local jurisdictions), is to fail to recognize the Lord Himself; it is to fail recognize His restored and grace-filled creation within the Church, which is our best tool for evangelizing and changing the world. This beauty is truly captivating, reaching deep into the heart of man and restoring the image of God — the original beauty within him, the glory and power and majesty of Christ God Himself — through the beauty of holiness. It is this divine and saving beauty which comes through the Church and Her sacraments that will restore man and his world, saving it for eternity in the world to come.”

— Abbot Sergius of St. Tikhon’s Monastery

“In the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, doctrine and worship are inseparable. Worship is, in a certain sense, doctrinal testimony, reference to the events of Revelation. Thus, ‘dogmas are not abstract ideas in and for themselves but revealed and saving truths and realities intended to bring mankind into communion with God.’ One could say without hesitation that, according to Orthodox understanding, the fullness of theological thought is found in the worship of the Church. This is why the term Orthodoxy is understood by many not as ‘right opinion,’ but as ‘right doxology,’ [that is,] ‘right worship.’”

– Archimandrite Zacharias, Ecclesial Being, pg. 88.

“Why do we need to go to confession? Is it not enough to confess our sins with sincerity in our private prayers each evening, will not God forgive us from the very moment that we confess our sins? Yes, as soon as we turn to God in true repentance He forgives us. God is always more ready to forgive than we to repent. Even the slightest turning of our heart will be blessed by God. Why then are we taught also to go to the sacrament of confession?

First: there are no private sins, all sins affect our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of our sins, however secret, have an effect on the community. If I feel in my heart anger towards someone else, even if I do not show it by word or action, that evil disposition in my heart has a destructive effect on others around. Every sin is a sin against the community, every sin however secret is a stumbling block for others and makes it harder for them to serve Christ.  In the early Church confession was public. After the fourth century, with the growth of the Christian community, that gave scandal and so confession assumed its present form, as an opening of the heart before the priest alone, under conditions of secrecy. But let us remember that during confession the priest is there, among other things, as the representative of the community, of the people. The fact that we confess not just to God, but in the presence of a fellow man, shows that we acknowledge the communal social dimension of all our sins. In confessing in his presence we are also asking forgiveness from the community.

Once before the Divine Liturgy St. John of San Francisco was hearing the confession of a man, and the man said: “Yes I know that what I have done is a sin, I ask God’s forgiveness, but my heart is like a stone, I do not feel any sorrow for my sin, it is all just in my brain.” So St. John said to him: “Go out into the center of the church in front of the people and make a prostration before them and then come back to me.” As the man did this and knelt to ask forgiveness from the people before him, something broke inside his heart and it came alive again. Suddenly he felt real compunction for what he had done. He said “now it is different,” and the Archbishop gave him forgiveness.  That was the moment of turning for him because he acknowledged that his sin was a sin against the community and he asked their forgiveness. So in our confession let us first of all recall that dimension. We are also asking for forgiveness of our brothers and sisters for what we have done. That is one reason to go to confession, because sin is social.

Second: The spoken word, the uttered word has great force. This applies in two ways. First of all we listen to the spoken word of the priest, the council that he gives, and it may be that what he says if written down and put in a book would not seem so striking. It may be that it wouldn’t seem so remarkable. But in confession the priest is praying and we are praying for the light of the Holy Spirit, and he is addressing those words under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to each one of us, to each penitent personally. The words which looked at in the abstract might seem obvious, common place, can prove words of fire when we realize that they are being said to me personally here and now under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

At the Russian convent in London many years ago there was a priest, Fr. John, who didn’t much like hearing confessions, he didn’t much like giving sermons either. He was a person of few words and very humble, and didn’t feel he really had the authority to offer council in confession, but he was blessed by the bishop to hear confessions so he did so. On one occasion a woman was telling him at immense length of her quarrels with her husband: “I said this and he said this and I told him he was wrong and told him this” and so it went on “and I told him this and this.” When she had finally stopped all Fr. John did was to turn to her and say “And did it help?” and then he gave her absolution.  That came as a sudden revelation to her, the futility of the endless arguments she had with her husband, of her endless desire to prove that she was right and that he was wrong. Suddenly she saw that there was no point to all this, it was quite simply unnecessary and she stopped from that moment.

So the uttered word can have great power and that applies also to what you or I utter when we make our confession. Yes we can confess our sins secretly in our evening prayers and we should do so, but when we come before the holy icons in church, when we have listened to the prayers and speak in the presence of the priest, when we have to say these things aloud, often then it becomes powerful, immediate, personally significant in a way it was not before.

The uttered word has great force and we find ourselves in confession, by God’s grace, saying things that we never said in our private prayers. Suddenly we are able to understand more deeply and to express it more openly. Therein lies much of the grace of confession. The desert fathers say that a thought which is concealed has great power over us, but if we can find a way to bring it into the open and to speak of it, it loses its power. That is also what the modern psychiatrists tell us, but the desert fathers said it first! So, the uttered word that we bring in confession can have a sacramental force and a healing grace which will surprise us.

But then there is a third thing, not just what the priest does when he offers advice, not just what we do when we try to speak the truth in Christ. There is also what Christ does. Confession is a mystery of the Church that confers sacramental grace, there is power within it, Divine power. When the priest lays his hand upon our head in Confession, it is Christ who lays his hand upon us, Christ who forgives and that is certainly the deepest and most profound reason why we should go to Confession. When such grace and such healing is offered to us, who among us dare refuse to accept such an opportunity.”

– Met. Kallistos Ware

Hat tip: Bulletin from Holy Theophany, Colorado Springs, CO

"Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations..."

“Often overlooked … is the great missionary tradition of the Eastern body of Christendom. Missions, as a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all creation, have always played an integral role in the very essence of the Orthodox church. Certainly, there have existed periods when the Orthodox have been less active in fulfilling the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). But often, these lapses can be attributed to adverse historical conditions rather than indifference. In fact, a host of missionary figures throughout the centuries have carried on the apostolic zeal of proclaiming the gospel to all peoples.”

– Veronis, “Missionaries, Monks and Martyrs”

Next Page »