How far must we come… March 2, 2008Posted by Seraphim in Love, Misc., Patristics, Prayer.
The beginning of true love is having warmth in your heart continually, even for those who hate you.
How far we are from God!
Lord grant that I may someday have continual warmth in my heart for those who love me!
From the Holy Fathers, I September 29, 2007Posted by Seraphim in Patristics.
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If a person places all his hope in his works, and turns to God in prayer only when unforeseen misfortunes befall him, then he, seeing that he lacks the means of averting them in his own abilities, begins to hope for help from God — but such a hope is trivial and false.
True hope seeks the one Kingdom of God and is sure that everything necessary for this mortal life will surely be given. The heart cannot have peace until it acquires this hope. This hope pacifies it fully and brings joy to it. The most holy lips of the Saviour spoke about this very hope: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
–St. Seraphim of Sarov
How often do each and every one of us turn first to our own powers or the powers of others, rather than hoping in God? How often do each and every one of us entreat the help of God only when our material efforts begin to look uncertain?
As our holy father Seraphim clearly points out, this is not the true hope of Christians. True hope, he says, is a complete focus on the world to come, with trust that everything necessary for our callings will be provided for us.
We attain this hope by giving “glory to God for all things,” in the words of St. John Chrysostom. To acquire the true hope of which St. Seraphim speaks, we must give thanks to God and entreat his blessing for every action we take, before and in place of any reliance we might make on our own strength. We must strive to see Christ in all things, to see with spiritual eyes that the Lord guides us and cares for us at all times. When we see and seek Christ at all times, the world and the flesh can no longer trouble us. This is why those who possess true hope have peace in their hearts, as St. Seraphim says.
In our hearts should be an attitude like St. Patrick’s, in his famous Breastplate prayer:
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the ship’s deck.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Here we see the pervasiveness of St. Patrick’s consciousness and pursuit of Christ. Here, too, we see the melding of faith, hope, and charity. The belief that Christ blesses us in all things stems from faith. The reliance on that belief, the casting aside of worries into Christ and reliance on Christ in place of material strength, stems from hope. The resulting humility and reverence toward all things as coming from the infinite mercies of God stems from charity.
Let us emulate the example of these blessed lovers of God, beholding Christ in all we see, including Christ in all we do, and trusting Christ in all that happens.
Christ is in our midst!
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Apologia for the Fathers July 8, 2007Posted by Seraphim in Patristics, Tradition.
Christ is in our midst!
There are some in this day and age who calumniate and malign the holy Fathers of the Church, in an attempt to deny the doctrine they preached as truly Apostolic. This criticism may range from the mild, that the Fathers were “erroneously influenced,” to the truly sinister accusations, such as that the Fathers were pagans, conspirators, and so on. It is a dangerous error to so lightly dismiss the early Christian writers, as, if their teachings truly reflect the Tradition of the Apostles, then many professed followers of Christ are in serious error as to their faith and worshop.
A close study of the Fathers, and examination of the arguments against their instruction, will swiftly reveal the error of those who protest their Tradition. Let us, then, examine the merits of the Fathers and the fallacies of their detractors:
1. The Witness of Scripture
Among the Reformed traditions, a belief in the inerrancy and divine origin of the Scriptures is all but universal, while a belief in the major errancy (if not outright heresy) of the Fathers is, sadly, likewise. This, however, is a patently ridiculous assertion, for we would not know the Scriptures at all, were it not for the doctrine of the Fathers.
We must first consider that knowledge of the authors of Scripture comes through Patristic tradition alone. Within the Synoptic Gospels, neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke identifies himself, or attests to his apostolic origin. That these Gospels were written by apostles or their disciples is attested to solely by the patristic witnessness, such as Irenaeus and Eusebius. Ignatius of Antioch–so often disparaged as a theological radical by opponents of the monarchial episcopate–is possibly the earliest witness to the existence of the Gospel of Matthew. Then there is the Catholic Epistle to the Hebrews, which Tradition likewise ascribes to the Apostle Paul.
There are–as any serious student of Church history will know–myriad pseudo-apostolic writings within the corpus of early Christian literature, such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, et. al. All of these claim apostolic authority, and some of them (such as the fragmentary Oxyrhynchus Gospel) are, at the least, derived from genuine apostolic writings (is it not said that the strongest falsehoods are flavoured with a sprinkling of the truth?). Amidst these swirling masses of documents, the Churches of God–spurred initially by the false theology of Marcion–were called upon to discern which of them were of truly apostolic origin and contained true doctrine breathed by the Holy Spirit. To be sure, a major body of the texts we now call the Bible were recognized as authoritative from the very beginning (primarily the Gospels and several of the Pauline epistles), but there were many texts initially dubious that were later accepted into the canon, and several that were ultimately rejected on one or another basis. In addition, there are several interpolations within even the canonical Scriptures (such as Mark 16:9-20, which appears in none of the earliest extant Mark manuscripts) that were later recognized by the Church as reflective of genuine Apostolic truth.
These texts were judged by the Fathers of the Church. For the faithful Christian, it is absolutely necessary to contend that the Holy Spirit directed the compilers of the texts to a proper understanding and consensus. There is no internal canon of Scripture, no particular textual or stylistic feature that distinguishes real Scripture from fables or profitable-but-uninspired writings, and, in several cases, no identification of the authors of Scripture. This brings us to the next point:
2. The Authority of Scripture
The Fathers, presented with inspired Scripture, spurious pseudepigrapha, and valuable but ordinary writings, swiftly established a rule of rather strict apostolicity for the writings worthy of being directly attributed to the authorship of the Holy Spirit. It is this criterion of extremest antiquity that is often brought to bear by individuals otherwise denying the Patristic witness.
However, it is truth that the antiquity of a writing does not necessarily boost its authority, and Scripture is filled with examples of writings not attributed to apostles. Jude, James (of Jerusalem), Mark, and Luke were not apostles, but rather disciples thereof; for the reason of their intimacy with the apostolic doctrine, therefore, their writings are given great reverence and placed in the canon of Scripture alongside such worthies as John and Peter and Paul.
What, then, of things written by those equally intimate with the apostolic doctrine, that were yet not, in final consideration, judged as breathed of the Spirit? Paul authored an Epistle to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16) of which today not a trace survives (and yet Paul seems to ascribe significance to the apostolic doctrine contained in this now-lost letter). Hermas (Rom. 16:15) authored The Shepherd, a lengthy and greatly prized book which only narrowly failed acceptance into the canon. Barnabas, Paul’s sometime missionary companion and enlightener of the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9) authored an epistle, which is yet not today read in the Churches of God. Clement (Phil. 4:3), another true intimate of the apostles, who was so favoured of the early Christians that it was given to him to govern the very church of Rome, likewise wrote an epistle which is nowhere to be found in the modern Bible.
Whence, therefore, is it determined that some friends of the apostles wrote in the Spirit, while others did not? The earliest of the Fathers (as did their successors) judged the various writings by its authorship, by its antiquity, by its conformity the apostolic doctrine they and the remainder of God’s Churches had received, and thereby ascribed varying degrees of authority to various writings.
We must here pause to note that, prior to the advent of the Marcionite heresy, the Churches were not highly preoccupied with Scripture on the whole; the apostolic doctrine had sufficient power amongst the Churches to preserve the Truth in its fulness, while the various writings were circulated and read as exhortations and expositions on how the Lord lived, and how Christians ought likewise to conduct themselves.
The broader point of noting this is that the Churches of God have been content to hold to the words they received; the very history of the Church is proof that the Church very rarely embarked on doctrinal codification and dogmatization until one or another heresy would arise as enemy of that which had been received in the beginning. In the case of Marcion, it was his rejection of many writings that had previously been accepted by the Church as Godly which prompted the beginnings of the Church’s attempt to rightly divide the written word of Truth.
3. The Dignity of the Martyrs
Why would the Churches of God react so strongly against the Marcionites, unless elements within his canon were in opposition to the apostolic teaching? We must, of course, suppose that the Churches were quite well aware of the apostolic doctrine, being united as they were, and responded accordingly.
More than this, the great and humble Fathers of the early Church laid down their lives and paid in blood for their faith; it is arrogance of the highest order to presume that they would have perished to preserve a falsehood of their own devising. It is also truth that the Fathers lived in the very culture and context in which the Scriptures were written–and indeed, the Scriptures were, first of all, written to these very men, and for their understanding–not to mention that some among the Fathers (Ignatius most prominent among them) had indeed seen Jesus Christ, our Lord, in the flesh, and heard His teaching with their own ears! To complete the structure we are attempting to build, we must, at the last, note that these men were so respected for their piety and adherence to the true teaching of the Apostles that they were selected to guide the Churches in the absence of the Apostles (either because their missions took them elsewhere or because they had fallen asleep in the Lord). Few indeed in any age will be likened to the stature of the early Fathers.
Who, then, will presume to discredit the witness for which they paid so dearly in blood, and to contend contemptuously against their teaching? When Ignatius tells us that the Eucharist is in truth the Body and Blood of our Lord, and that this is the true apostolic teaching, can you testify against him with any authority? When Clement describes a monarchic episcopal ecclesiology in his Epistle to the Romans, how can you propound your doctrine against his without calling him either a liar or a fool, by extension maligning his teachers, who are the very Apostles who wrote the Scripture which you twist to be in harmony with your own preconceptions? What of Polycarp, who thought the letters of Ignatius so moving and theologically sound that he commissioned copies to be sent to the Philippians whom he instructed?
Do you really believe yourself to stand in a better position, both in history and in the humility of the Spirit of God, to judge these men of faith and learning, immersed in the Apostolic teaching, who gave their lifeblood in order that others, even like yourself, might be able to hear the Gospel of Christ in fulness?
4. The Potency of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit, as we know, is nothing less than God. Christ calls the Spirit “the Comforter” and “the Spirit of Truth,” Who will lead His people “into all Truth.” The Apostles and their followers, filled with the Spirit, contemplated realities too wonderful for human language, eloquently proclaimed the Gospel of Christ, corrected those with mistaken doctrine, made conciliar proclamations and rules as to the Truth, and even prophesied. We know from the Scriptures that the Spirit speaks to the Church of God (Rev. 3:6), and that it is by the charism of the Spirit that the bishops (episkopoi) of the Church are established (Acts 20:28). We also know by the Spirit that the Church of the Living God is “the pillar and foundation of the Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). We know that all true believers are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), and so, for as long as there are true believers, so also the Spirit of Truth will be with them.
Why, then, do we count the Spirit as slack concerning the promises of Christ? Why do we assume that the Spirit, from the very time of the Apostles–for indeed, the Didache, the Shepherd, and 1 Clement all date back to a time when the Apostles still lived and breathed the air of this earth–permitted all His people to be led not into Truth but out away from it into apostasy? Why do we assume that the very Spirit, Whom we trust in the lips of the Apostles to speak words of life, suddenly fled away from the very men who followed these selfsame words of life?
Is this not the height of arrogance? Is this not well-nigh blasphemy against the Spirit, to so disbelieve that the Spirit leads into Truth, that the Church anchors the Truth, and that the Truth lasts from everlasting to everlasting unchanged? God forbid that the Church pass so directly from the tender care of the Apostles into the malign hands of heresy! How can one have faith in such a God, Who forsakes His people as soon as His twelve chosen ones walk no longer in the flesh? If we truly hold “the Faith delivered once for all unto the saints,” how can we say with clear conscience that the full Faith fell to corruption, and this Faith had to be re-delivered unto the saints?
Again, I say, God forbid that the True Faith should prove so easily perverted! If the Spirit is our guide, and the Spirit leads us to Truth, then the holy Apostolic Fathers must have a testimony of Truth, and Truth alone. Yes, it is true that this leads to many conclusions uncomfortable to those who deny the doctrine preached by the Fathers. For the truly faithful, for those who truly believe in His promises, there must be a reckoning, must be a comparison of doctrine, not measuring the Fathers against one’s own standard, but measuring one’s own self against the Spirit-fortified testimony of the Church.
We have seen how even those who deny the doctrine of the Fathers still rest heavily on their authority. We have seen how the Fathers themselves are of unimpeachable fidelity, character, and authority. We have seen that the doctrine the Fathers preach is the Truth about the Church, inescapably. This conclusion will (and should) cause some discomfort and consternation amongst those who have been raised denigrating the doctrines of the Fathers. But at the same time, when they let the thought settle, what joy will present itself!
No longer is the path shrouded in shadow; it is illumined by the Light that gives life! No longer is the doctrine subject to personal whim; the very testimony of God and His works proclaims the Truth! No longer must we live in confusion; Christ, our guide, is in our midst, and ever shall be! As the hymn proclaims, “Understand, all you nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” He is and always has been (and always will be) with His Church in fulness, guiding us at all times and shepherding us along the process of transforming us “into [His] image, from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Christ and the Church await. The Saviour saith: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star. And the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:16-17)
The Lord’s Prayer January 31, 2007Posted by Seraphim in Prayer.
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Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
Of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, +
Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Christ is in our midst!
The above is a classic Christian prayer, perhaps the classic Christian prayer. Many, however, simply pray the Lord’s Prayer from their lips without delving into the mind and heart of the prayer. It is my humble aim today to suggest a few ways in which the prayer can be interpreted, and a few things we can learn about the way the prayer is written. Study of prayer, especially Scriptural prayer such as this, is highly beneficial for improvement of one’s spiritual life.
Let us first consider the structure of the prayer. It is remarkably organized around a triune unity. Observe how it groups its petitions and praises:
1. Our 2. Father, who 3. art in heaven,
1. Hallowed be thy name.
2. Thy Kingdom come,
3. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
1. Give us this day our daily bread,
2. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
3. And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the 1. kingdom, and the
2. power, and the 3. glory,
Of the 1. Father, and of the 2. Son, and of the
3. Holy Spirit, +
1. Now, and 2. ever, and 3. unto ages of ages. Amen.
The structure is roughly thus, although each “segment” contains elements from all the others, as we shall presently see:
-Glorification; that is, declaration of His majesty.
-Confession; that is, accord of our desires with His will and plan.
-Supplication; that is, petition that God save us and provide us with all things needful for the furtherance of the Faith.
-Praise/Glorification; that is, re-declaration of God’s majesty, and an offering of all that we are to Him.
Let us begin at the beginning.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Our Father — we confess God as an authority and further confess a personal relationship with Him. He is Father, but more importantly, He is our Father. We acknowledge Him as Father, with all the duties attendent thereunto… love, care, punishment, and so on.
Who art in heaven — We acknowledge the glory of God and His heavenly state. Further, as God is our Father, this is an admission that we do not belong to this world, but rather belong to the world to come.
Hallowed be thy name,
We further glorify God by confessing the holiness of His very Name, and willing that it become yet more holy and glorified unto eternity. Spiritually, the Fathers (particularly of the Philokalia) state that this is an acknowledgement of the grace and power of the Name of Christ, and a petition that the invocation of the Name may cause it to become inscribed on our hearts to divine power and edification.
Thy Kingdom come,
By this request, we declare that God is King, and that His Kingdom–though complete–is not yet fully recognized on this earth. We confess the future coming of His Kingdom in physical totality. This part of the prayer is also a petition for God to abide in us and commune with us, that the “inner Kingdom” be made real within each and every one of us.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Here, we demonstrate obedience, chief of the virtues, along with humility, as we acknowledge God’s will as superior to our own. Here, we ask for the illumination of God’s presence, that His will may be followed perfectly here on earth, just as it is perfectly followed in heaven. This is, further, a confession of the union of worlds in the age to come. Above all, this is a petition for union with God; we ask that our will be His will, and set all things beneath His feet. We may also recognize “on earth as it is in heaven,” as applicable to the previous two confessions; i.e., we will that God’s name be as holy on earth as it is in heaven, and we will that God’s Kingdom be established on earth as it is established in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
This is the petition of need, par excellence. We ask for all things that may be needful in the day. Note that we ask not for material prosperity, but rather only for what God deigns necessary for us to live the day according to His will. This is also, spiritually, a request for edification, as well as increase in knowledge and wisdom. After all, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Importantly, this petition is one for the presence of Christ, Who is the bread of life, needful day by day. This also ties strongly into the Church, as the Church is the Body of Christ, which is the bread of Eucharist. As such, we are here also asking for the communion of the Church and for the thanksgiving of the Holy Mysteries. It is truly a marvel that we can petition God for so much in so few words!
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
This is another profound confession and petition. We confess that we are with sin–else we would have no trespasses–and we further confess that we must be cleansed from our sins, and further yet, that God alone can cleanse our transgressions. Here, we also raise the standard of Christian love–forgiving as we have been forgiven–and, crucially, we ask that we be judged by exactly that standard. Let that thought fill us with fear. As such, this part of the prayer cannot be prayed sincerely, or effectively, if we do not release and forgive all grievances we have against others at the moment we pray.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
There is an extremely subtle aspect to this petition that must be pointed out. Nowhere do we ask not to be tempted. We simply ask God not to place us in temptation. No mention is made of temptation incurred by our own fleshly natures or by the Enemy. We do, however, ask here to be freed by God from all evil. This has two layers of meaning. On the physical, worldly aspect, we ask that God liberate us from every situation that will not edify our souls. Spiritually, we ask that the shackles of our passions and flesh be broken, in order that we may commune with God in a pure spirit. The most important part of this petition, however, is that we implicitly give credit and glory to God from every victory over every evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
Of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, +
Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The prayer comes full circle here. We began by glorifying and confessing God, and so do we end. We glorify and praise His dominion, confessing that all authority, action, and honour belong to Him alone (in the Orthodox variant of the prayer, invoking the Holy Trinity as well), now, always–remember that God is I AM, and thus his kingdom and power and glory are from everlasting–and evermore.
May God bless us all to pray the Lord’s prayer in its full spiritual richness, for the enlightenment of our souls and the greater glory of our Lord and Saviour.
A Dream December 14, 2006Posted by Seraphim in Mysticism.
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Christ is in our midst!
I would like to apologize to anyone who was disappointed by the recent hiatus. I was told by a spiritual father that I should not let knowledge become a source of pride, so I took a while off to ruminate over that. I have, however, returned, and I plan to be around for some time to come.
First off, I’d like to express my hope that everyone had a happy celebration of St. Herman of Alaska’s feast day. A monk burning with the Spirit of God, St. Herman was among the first to bring the Orthodox Faith to the Americas. In the Alaskan wilderness, he worked many wonders amongst the Aleut population and, it is said, even held converse with angels. Despite his extreme humility and simplicity, he was also granted unusual eloquence by the Holy Spirit, and evangelized many pagans and atheists in his time.
With that out of the way, I’d like to relate a curious dream I had. St. Anthony the Great appeared to me, and said, “I, who am not worthy to judge my brother, nonetheless marvel at the claims made by this generation. For if men be right in their opinion of themselves, then never has humanity been more righteous before God; but if their opinion be mistaken, then surely all men before the present age have never had such perverse hypocrisy. Amen.”
On the subject of humility, I think this is a sobering warning to us to walk always in the immediate cognizance of our unworthiness before God. For I do not venture to set myself above St. Anthony; but if I may venture an opinion, I believe that men are more prone to corruption than to virtue, and this would mean our souls are very likely in a perilous state. May the unsleeping God ever grant us watchfulness and wakefulness, that our hearts may be prepared for His coming!
The Apple of Salvation November 30, 2006Posted by Seraphim in Tradition.
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Christ is in our midst!
I come to you all today with a simile that I hope will be worthy of your attention.
Let us suppose that I come across a divine apple, a heaven-sent fruit that is wondrously delicious, endowed with the power to give life, heal the sick, and dry the tears of the afflicted.
Because of the marvelous properties of this apple, I undertake to write a description of it, in order that future generations might recognize it and know it when they see it. I therefore write thus:
“The apple rests on a marble pillar, red all over its rounded surface.”
Some years later, I die, after commending the manuscript into a great library.
Years and years after my death, a great dispute arises between those who have read my description of the apple.
“His meaning is plain,” says one (let us call him Adam). “It is an apple of uncertain description resting upon a rounded red marble pillar. He wrote thus, so that we might know that when we find such a pillar, so shall we have found our apple.” And thereby, the Adamites scour the earth for pillars of red marble, neglecting any white pillars, no matter how divine or tempting the fruit thereupon might appear.
“You are taking his words entirely out of context,” says another (let us call him Barlaam). “Clearly he is talking about a round, red apple resting atop a marble pillar of uncertain description. Surely his meaning is to describe the apple, a rare treasure, rather than the (by comparison) crude construct upon which it rests.” Thus it comes to pass that the Barlaamites do search in all places for apples of purest red atop marble pillars, neglecting any that even hint at another colour.
Certainly, both the Adamites and Barlaamites are sincere in their attempt to interpret what is written. Certainly, they both use the same writing for their interpretation. Certainly, their interpretations are not implausible from the text given.
Certainly, they cannot both be right. I cannot have been describing both apple and pillar. Of course, each group believes itself to possess the whole and actual truth; but neither can really be assured that their interpretation is correct save by supposing their reasoning to be superior (which is really no assurance at all).
Now, let us suppose that I had in my time a disciple, Constantos. He wrote thusly, shortly before his own death:
“Now, in those days I was talking with my friend Seraphim, and he told me: ‘My brother Constantos, you know the apple of which I so often speak?’
“And I replied to him, ‘Yes, my friend, but I have not seen it with my eyes, nor has it entered into my imagination.’
“And so Seraphim said unto me: ‘Brother Constantos, I have written that the apple rests on a marble pillar, red all over its rounded surface. For in truth, it sits upon a white pillar that is thusly high, the apple itself being completely and utterly red, save for one side, which is flat, unrounded, and coloured a glorious, emerald green. By this writing, then, shall you know the apple when you see it.’ And I thanked my friend Seraphim for the great goodness he showed me in this teaching.”
It has been passed down that no guile was ever found in the lips of this Constans, and he lived a full and virtuous life, ever speaking truth.
There was also a fourth person, Donovan, who taught that I was metaphorical in my writing, and that the apple was actually blue, and the pillar purple.
Now, stop a moment and consider. Whom would you believe out of these four individuals, Adam, Barlaam, Constantos, and Donovan? If you had to search for the apple, would you search for an apple on a pure red pillar, as with the Adamites; a pure red apple on any sort of pillar, as the Barlaamites teach; a red-and-green apple on a white pillar, as the Constantines adjure; or a blue apple on a purple pillar, as the Donovians declare? Let us consider.
I believe any reasonable person, with a sincere interest in the truth of the matter, would reject the interpretation of the Donovians without question as a complete fabrication of a fanciful teaching.
Between the doctrines of the Adamites and the Barlaamites, I would be inclined to favour the latter, as the language of the writing seems to refer more to the apple than the pillar.
But how much more should we delight in the teaching of the Constantines! Here is the testimony of one who knew and loved the author, in the flesh, and to whom was presented the interpretation of the things written. As an eyewitness of the teaching, and a trustworthy man, it seems to me that his testimony should be trusted as truthful and accurate. The interpretations of the Adamites and Barlaamites are certainly not unreasonable insofar as they extend, but they lack the fulness of revelation possessed by the Constantines and are, therefore, very probably incorrect.
Now, let us finish the story.
Despite the preserved teachings of the Constantines, the Adamites, Barlaamites, and Donovians strenuously reject their tradition, saying that, as Constantos was not a personal witness to the apple, his testimony cannot be trusted as in any way authoritative. Some among the Barlaamites point to the words of Constanos as proof for their assertion that the apple is red, but (as the description of the pillar and the green segment of the apple go umentioned in the writing proper) reject the further teachings of the Constantines.
And so it happens that the four sects each tell a different tale about the apple, each search for a different apple, and each believe themselves to know better than the others what the apple looks like. Of course, only one of them is right; the other three are, like the proverbial blind man and the elephant, believing honest, but misguided doctrine, on account of incorrectly perceiving the foundation of their beliefs.
Which of the four would YOU believe is closest to the truth?
The interpretation, of course, should by now be fairly clear. The apple is the Truth of God; the author is an author of the Scriptures, and his writing is the Bible. The Adamites, Barlaamites, Constantines, and Donovians are all different segments of those who confess Christ.
The Donovians are those who, like the Gnostics, quite plainly and heretically distort the Gospel. The Adamites and Barlaamites are those who cling to what is written alone (sola scriptura) and attempt to interpret and arrive at their doctrines through the sole interpretative faculty of their human reason.
Finally, the Constantines are those who base their doctrine off of the whole and continuous experience of the Church, making sure to stay in harmony with both what was written and what was experienced in the day-to-day life of the Church, passed down from the beginning. In such a way is the modern Church the same today–in essence, doctrine, and practice–as the Church that was founded two thousand years ago at Pentecost: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
If you would, in the simile, hold Constantos to be the best possessed of understanding as to the nature of the apple and its location, then you are nothing less than a hypocrite when you reject the teaching of the early Fathers of the Church. Harsh words, perhaps, but true.
Naturally, those who practice sola scriptura do not place any stock in Apostolic Tradition. In doing so, however, they cut themselves off from the life of the Church which has unchangingly passed down that which it received at the beginning. Adam and Barlaam display nothing less than pure hubris when they rely on their own contradictory rational extrapolations on what has been written, rejecting the teaching of one who actually lived what was being written.
In such a way do many Christians, sincerely, I confess, but erroneously attempt to interpret the Bible clinically, using their own powers of deduction, completely (and irrationally) rejecting those who lived within the very teachings they are attempting to understand.
The Bible is not a living or self-interpreting document; Paul says, “one faith,” but there is no one faith amongst those who reject Holy Tradition. A Calvinist believes in predestination; an Arminian believes in free will. A Lutheran believes in liturgy and infant baptism; a Quaker believes in spontaneous worship and no baptism whatsoever. They all use the exact same Scriptures; with the command to “go forth and baptize all nations,” one will say they must be immersed in water; another will say the command refers to their undergoing a religious, spiritual conversion experience with no sacramental administration involved in the slightest.
Thus we see that Scripture is not an all-sufficient guide to our faith, nor is human reason efficacious for the interpretation thereof. Sincerity and/or intellect are no guarantees of arriving at the Truth.
Let us suppose I approach one of these rejecters of Tradition and ask him what the Christian faith consists of. He will tell me, “the Christian faith is such and such.” Then I ask him how he knows this to be true. He replies that “The Bible says thus and so, interpreted in this and that way; therefore, what I believe is true.”
No sooner does he conclude his exposition, however, than another man comes up and tells me, “Nay, the Christian faith consists of A and B!” I, greatly perturbed, ask him how he has arrived at this dramatically different conclusion. And, with equal confidence, he tells me exactly the same thing as the other fellow: “The Bible says thus and so, interpreted in this and that way; therefore, what I believe is true.”
Then I, miserable creature that I am, stand torn between these two erudites, one of whom tells me that red is true, and blue false, and the other telling me blue is true, and red false; how, then, am I to choose between them? In the end, I have no option save to follow the teaching that seems best and most reasonable in my own eyes.
Not long after this, a man comes to be and says, “This is the truth of the Christian faith, that we hold X and Y to be meet and necessary.” Once again, I enquire as to by what authority he believes these things. He replies to me, very simply, “It is what we have believed from the beginning, as revealed in the Scriptures and in the practice and experience of the Church from the earliest times to the most modern.” Then he proceeds to show me how the earliest Christians believed thus, and how their lineage and faith, in harmony with the Scriptures, has continued unbroken to the present day.
How much in that day do I rejoice that I may at last surely know the Truth! How much do I exult that my belief is the divine and everlasting experience of the faithful, and not constrained to error by my own pride and flaws of mind! How much, at that time, do I pity those who are still imprisoned and chained by the bonds of relying on their own finite wisdom to understand how to follow the Infinite God!
Thus is the majesty of Holy Tradition apparent to all who wish to hold to the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” of the “faith delivered once for all unto the saints.”
Metanoia November 12, 2006Posted by Seraphim in Prayer.
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Christ is in our midst!
I anticipate extreme busyness this week and next week. As such, my entries will be fairly short. This week I’d like to publish a fairly short prayer of repentance, in English and Spanish translations. Influences on this particular prayer would be, in particular, St. Philaret of Moscow, St. John of Damascus, and, to a lesser degree, St. Isaac of Syria. Honourable mention would also go to St. John Chrysostom for the basic format.
O Lord, hear my prayer in Thine infinite compassion, for in my perversity I am undone and without hope.
O Lord, straighten me, for I am twisted by my infirmities.
O Lord, clean me, for my flesh is full of corruption.
O Lord, teach me to speak kindly to all men, for my lips are possessed by spite.
O Lord, chasten me, for I have transgressed thy commandments.
O Lord, sanctify me, for I have desecrated myself by my sins.
O Lord, love me, for my spirit is lost without Thy hope.
O Lord, teach me to love, for I am consumed by the selfishness of my flesh.
O Lord, have mercy on me, for I have verily condemned myself.
O Lord, shed thy holy light upon my soul, for my heart is utterly dark and noisome.
O Lord, teach me to be joyful, for I am burdened by the cares of this world.
O Lord, give me peace, for my soul is roiled with the turbluence of evil.
O Father, humble me and make me least of all men, that I may be first in the age to come.
O Christ, help me to confess Thee by loving sinners, that Thou mightest love me on the day of judgment.
O Holy Spirit, teach me to pray, and pray Thyself within me, that my words may be pleasing in Thy sight as incense.
O All-Holy Trinity, accept my contrition and have mercy on me, purifying my soul that I, unworthy as I am, may turn from my wickedness and be thy good and faithful servant, sinning no more and shining Thy Light before all nations; for holy art Thou and Thy Radiance unto ages of ages. Amen.
–A Sinner’s Prayer
O Señor, escuche mi oración en tu infinito compasión, porque en mi perversión soy desecho y sin esperanza.
O Señor, réctame, porque soy torcido por mis fallas.
O Señor, límpiame, porque mi carne es llena de corrupción.
O Señor, enséñame como hablar benévolamente a todos hombres, porque mis labios son poseídos por rencor.
O Señor, disciplíname, porque he transgredido tus mandamientos.
O Señor, santifícame, porque yo me he desecrado por mis pecados.
O Señor, ámame, porque mi espíritu está perdido sin tu esperanza.
O Señor, muéstrame como amar, porque soy consumido por la arrogancia de mi carne.
O Señor, ten piedad de mí, porque soy ciertamente condenado.
O Señor, ilumina mi alma con tu santa luz, porque mi corazón es enteramente oscuro y nocivo.
O Señor, enséñame ser jubiloso, porque soy cargado con las preocupaciones del mundo.
O Señor, dame paz, porque mi alma está enturbiada con la turbulencia de maldad.
O Padre, hazme humilde y hazme menor, para que soy el primer en el siglo que viene.
O Cristo, ayúdame confesarte por amar a pecadores, para que me amarás en el día de juicio.
O Espíritu Santo, enséñame como orar, y ora dentro de mi, para que mis palabras serán agradable en tu vista como incienso.
O Santísima Trinidad, acepta a mi contrición y ten piedad de mi, purificando a mi alma, que yo, indigno como soy, puedo desviarme de mi iniquidad y ser tu siervo bueno y fiel, ya no pecando y brillando con tu luz ante todos pueblos; porque santo eres y santo tu resplandor por los siglos de los siglos. Amén.
–Oración de un pecador
For the Remission of Sins November 5, 2006Posted by Seraphim in Baptism.
But you will perhaps say, “What does the baptism of water contribute toward the worship of God?” In the first place, because that which has pleased God is fulfilled. In the second place, because when you are regenerated and born again of water and of God, the frailty of your former birth, which you have through men, is cut off, and so …you shall be able to attain salvation; but otherwise it is impossible. For thus has the true Prophet [Jesus] testified to us with an oath.
-From the Recognitions of Clement, c. A.D. 221
Christ is in our midst!
There is perhaps no more vital and yet divisive issue amongst the Biblical faiths today than baptism. How should we baptize? Why should we baptize? What is baptism? Who should be baptized?
It is first important to define baptism. The word itself comes from Greek baptizo, which means “to immerse,” or “to dunk repeatedly.” This is distinct from the Greek bapto, which means “to dip,” in a fascinating and nuanced manner: bapto implies a temporary state of being dipped, which will eventually pass away and return the object to its original state. When baptizo is used, however, it is understood that the immersion causes the object to undergo a permanent change of substance.
Etymologically and traditionally, within the context of the Church, baptism is a reference to the three-fold immersion of the body in water (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as the signal act that brings a new believer into the Church. The act has powerful sacramental symbolism, representing washing, death, rebirth, transfiguration, and plunging into the Spirit.
Many Protestants today affirm baptism as a sort of vestigial, symbolic expression of faith with no more grace inherent in it than lifting up the hands while praying or any such thing. They deny it has any role in salvation as such, and relegate it to the adult faithful who wish to undergo a rite to make their belief public, if you will. However, baptism has from the earliest times of the Church been administered for remission of sins and as an essential component in salvation. Moreover, infant baptism has from earliest times been practiced within the Church.
Let us begin with Scripture to test this thesis. Perhaps the best place to start is with the example of Christ Himself, in the third chapter of Matthew:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Conclusions we may draw from this passage:
-Baptism is for all, from the lowliest to the greatest.
-Baptism is righteous, and is an integral part of a righteous life.
-Baptism pleases God greatly.
-Christ insisted it was necessary He be baptized. This is not a point to be missed.
-If we take this symbologically, or even literally, extrapolating the same result for us in baptism as with Christ, the Spirit of God descends on us when we are baptized. This is a bold claim for those who believe baptism is an empty act ineffecacious for salvation; but, as we shall presently see, baptism is an ordinance of God for the working of the gospel.
Let us now turn to the fourth chapter of Ephesians.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
This is a wonderful, wonderful excerpt with far-reaching implications for almost every aspect of its thoughts. It’s practically a microcosm of the Nicene Creed! There is one body, the Church (incidentally, as the implication of the body is that it’s physical, this is a good point for those who believe the Church is not a physically recognizable group), animated by one Holy Spirit; one Lord, Jesus Christ, one God, the Father Almighty, one faith, in the mercy of God and the resurrection of the age to come… and most notably, one baptism.
This declares that baptism is an unchanging sacrament, an item of belief within the confession of the Church, and an article of faith. Participation in baptism is here put on the same level as participation in the life of Christ, the service of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. No faithful man truly honest with himself could possibly deny any more the importance, necessity, and efficacy of baptism from this passage alone. However, for those who yet doubt, let us proceed to further evidence of the saving grace transmitted in the sacrament of baptism, as recounted in the sixth chapter of Romans:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.
St. Paul gives the truth of the matter to us very directly. Baptism, the sacred immersion into water, is immersion (baptizo) into the death of Christ, that we, spiritually partaking of Christ’s death, might also be gifted with the life with which Christ was rewarded… because, just as Christ’s death broke the curse of sin on mankind, our death and rebirth in baptism breaks the curse of sin on us. Baptism is the death of sin and the birth of life everlasting, very simply, very Scripturally!
By now, we’re beating a dead horse, but I wish to run through all the relevant Scriptures, that even those who do not wish to believe may be convinced by the Truth of the word which God has handed to us from generation to generation. Let us turn to 1 Peter’s third chapter:
Once, the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
The key word to understanding this is “antitype,” antitupon in the Greek. It defines a relationship that is concrete, though indirect. It’s used only in one other place in the Bible, in Hebrews, mentioning that the Holy of Holies was a prefigure of Heaven. As Noah was saved through water, which bore him up through the judgment that destroyed other men and deposited him in a new land, so baptism bears us through the judgment of souls and deposits us in Heaven. It is very important to clearly understand what this verse says: Baptism saves us.
Now, those who argue against the necessity of baptism point to where St. Peter footnotes his statement by saying baptism is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” Context is key here. The rest of the verse is very clearly talking about baptism as a physical act. From this, and from the other verses which proclaim the necessity of baptism, we can therefore see that our salvation lies not in the physical cleanliness baptism brings, but in the spiritual renewal accompanying it. We can dip ourselves in water every day of our lives and be no closer to salvation. It is the sacramental, spiritual power accompanying the physical act of baptism which makes us pure, enabled by a mind free of animosity toward God.
Having by now a solid understanding of baptism (particularly from the type presented in 1 Peter), let us now consider the third chapter of John:
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.“
The Faith is one, the Truth unchanging, God’s word the same from age to age! This is exactly the same message later spoken by Peter, whom we have just read. As Peter said, baptism is the salvation of water; yet it is not the water which saves, but rather, the grace of God transmitted through the water. And yet, emphasizing the necessity of the sacrament, Christ notes that it is neither water, nor Spirit, that enables us to see God’s kingdom, but both in one, enlightening act of rebirth.
We’ve just read that baptism saves us. Still, we have a few passages yet to consider. We shall now consider the second chapter of Colossians:
In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
Baptism is equated to “the circumcision made without hands,” the “putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh,” and burial in Christ. This precisely follows Orthodox belief. Just as circumcision enabled a man to partake of the old covenant of God, and made him a part of Israel, God’s people, so baptism enables men to partake of the new covenant of God, and brings him into God’s people, new Israel, the Church. And, as the Church operates on the principle of forgiveness of sins and life everlasting in Christ, so baptism enables our participation in the same.
Note very specifically that Paul takes baptism as the new circumcision. Circumcision was administered to those adults who adopted the Jewish faith, and to all children born into that faith. That baptism is the New Covenant type of this ancient practice is a strong, if not irrefutable, argument in favour of infant baptism.
Let’s follow that thought up with a passage from the third chapter of Galatians:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
If we are baptized into Christ, we wear Christ like a garment, a robe of dazzling white wool from the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Is this beautiful imagery not a wonderful illustration of how baptism shields and cleanses us from sin? The passage goes on to emphasize the unity of the faith; something which, I feel, implies (at least) the Orthodox commonality of belief and practice. Note the unity which baptism brings; one might equally well say there is neither cripple nor leper, neither young nor old, in Christ. The unity and universality of baptism is another powerful argument in favour of infant baptism, since one would hardly, for example, expect a mentally deficient person to be damned simply because he could not be baptized. Similarly, infants too can partake of the saving power of baptism.
What truly gives “punch” to this passage, however, is that we are of the seed of Abraham when we are baptized. What were Abraham’s people marked by? Circumcision. And thus, in line with what we just read from Colossians, baptism is the new circumcision which ensures our inheritance in the blessing of Abraham! This, too, is a strong mark in favour of infant baptism, since the way Abraham signaled Isaac’s inheritance of the covenant was by circumcising him when he was born.
We now turn to the third chapter of Titus for deeper wisdom and understanding (it’s interesting how many of these passages are in the third chapters of their books, is it not?):
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
He saved us through the washing of regeneration. That’s pretty black-and-white. It’s a clear reference to baptism, and a clear statement that baptism spiritually regenerates us.
What I love about this passage is that it distinguishes baptism from “works of righteousness” in a more general sense. God’s grace saves us, through faith… but keeping the commandments and ordinances of God is inherent in that faith. Baptism is a work… but it is a work of faith, sanctified and made into righteousness by the good will of God. The error of so many who preach sola fide is that declare the necessity of spiritual righteousness without preaching physical righteousness, when in fact the two are one and the same. Orthodox Christians are sola fide in the truest, fullest sense of the term, living by faith because they act by faith.
We’re almost done with our Scriptural exegesis. Now for a passage from the sixteenth chapter of Mark:
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
Christ appears to the Apostles after their resurrection and orders them to go forth and preach the Gospel, proclaiming the efficacy of baptism with His own sanctified, transfigured lips: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Christ, earlier in His ministry, said that belief in absence of action is insufficient; the devils believe, but they fail to do. He again illustrates that principle in this passage; true baptism and true belief begets true salvation.
A common argument raised against this passage is that Christ does not explicitly state that the unbaptized will be damned. This is an extremely weak argument which completely ignores Christ’s explicit statement that baptism and belief are necessary for salvation, and hence the implicit statement that one lacking baptism lacks salvation. Saying that one surely knows Christ’s motives for omitting an explicit statement to that effect is an exercise in arrogance and, as it promotes the debater as precisely knowing the mind of God, deserves nothing but contempt. Christ could very easily have omitted such a thought for the reason that it’s already implicit in the rest of the statement, or perhaps for reasons of the “baptism of desire,” i.e., that those who wish to be baptized but die before they are able are saved by the mercy of God.
Next, let’s proceed to Paul’s own story of his conversion, in the twenty-second chapter of Acts:
“For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
Paul, on the way to Damascus, was struck blind by the glory of God. He saw Christ in glory, believed in His identity, and was faithful to what He commanded (asking Christ what he should do, and being commanded to go to Damascus). I would venture that the average Protestant who could say, “I believe in Christ the Saviour, I keep His commandments, and heck, I’ve even seen Him in glory” would certainly consider himself “saved,” no? Ahh, but what is Paul told in the house of Ananias? “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins.” It could not possibly be more clear that baptism is efficacious for the purification of sin.
I’ve saved one of the “smoking guns” until almost the end. Let’s read from the second chapter of Acts:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers… And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Now, this is where the fire meets the flesh. St. Peter states, outright, bluntly, that baptism is for the remission of sins, and a requirement to be a follower of Christ Jesus. There is quite simply no wriggling around this passage. If you believe in the truth of Scripture, then you must correspondingly believe that baptism is for the remission of sins.
This passage is also interesting for a couple of other reasons. First, on the topic of infant baptism, note that St. Peter says that baptism for the remission of sins is a promise to the multitudes and to the children of the multitudes. That day at Pentecost, there were surely dozens and dozens of families who came to Christ. Peter didn’t say, “Let every one of you be baptized… but come back in ten years if you’re on the young side.” Christ Himself said, “let the little children come to Me.” Baptism was a sacrament universally administered.
The other point of note is that the Church is defined as those who, after baptism, followed the teaching of the apostles, praying, and partaking of the Eucharist (the breaking of bread). This was during times far before the New Testament, clearly establishing that the Apostolic, oral doctrine was a crucial and integral part of the Church. Now, this might seem like plain common sense, but most Protestants (and even some Catholics) blanch when the Early Fathers write about what this Apostolic doctrine consisted of, since it so dramatically contradicts the safe, individualistic, semi-Gnostic house of cards on which they’ve built their praxis.
Last, but not least, let us again attend to the words of Christ, in the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew:
Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This is known as the Great Commission. The evangelical nature of Christianity stems from this command of Christ. And what are His orders? To go forth to all nations and bring the peoples thereof to obedience of Christ. What are the two things He commands them to do, to make this possible?
1. He commands them to teach observance of His commandments. This is a crippling blow to sola fide in the Protestant sense. Christ doesn’t say, “tell all nations to believe in Me;” He says, rather, “tell all nations to observe the commandments.”
2. He commands baptism. Again, this highlights the extreme importance baptism is given in the New Testament. He makes it a specific part of the charge which He gives His disciples.
Thus we see, from the whole of Scripture, a pattern emerges of the most fundamental Christian practice–baptism–and it is starkly in contrast to the belief of many today who call themselves “Christian.” The baptism of the new testament is for all people of all ages, for the remission of sins, and is non-negotiable; if you wish to be a member of the Church, if you wish to rest within the ark of salvation, you must be baptized.
Now, since the Apostolic doctrine is still fresh in our minds, let us briefly see what the Early Fathers had to say about baptism. If, as it is written, baptism is a necessity, and for the remission of sins, we would expect to see it in early Christian practice. Let’s take a cross-section of, oh, the first two hundred years of Christianity, beginning in about 70 A.D. with the Epistle of Barnabas:
After we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls.
Step down into the water with sin, and emerge from our immersion bearing spiritual fruit. That seems consistent enough with Scripture…
Next, The Shepherd of Hermas, late first century:
They had need [the Shepherd said] to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of their former life. These also, then, who had fallen asleep, received the seal of the Son of God, and entered into the kingdom of God. For, [he said,] before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he puts mortality aside and again receives life. The seal, therefore, is the water. They go down into the water dead [in sin], and come out of it alive.
Baptism for the remission of sins. Hard to get clearer than that.
Justin Martyr’s First Apologia, c. 150 A.D.:
Whoever is convinced and believes that what they are taught and told by us is the truth, and professes to be able to live accordingly, is instructed to pray and to beseech God in fasting for the remission of their former sins, while we pray and fast with them. Then they are led by us to a place where there is water; and there they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we ourselves were reborn: In the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing with water. For Christ said, “Unless you be reborn, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” …The reason for doing this, we have learned from the Apostles.
Again, baptism for the remission of sins, as a precondition of entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, and as the doctrine taught by the Apostles.
St. Ireneaus, Fragment 34, c. 190 A.D.:
“And [Naaman] dipped himself…seven times in the Jordan” [2 Kings 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The good Saint draws an interesting antitype of Naaman’s healing… and again, passes on the Apostolic doctrine, the Truth that Christ declared.
Now, to briefly answer a few common objections to the Orthodox doctrine of baptism:
“Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward reality; it has no power in and of itself.”
I reply: This is nowhere conclusively stated in the Bible. Baptism’s necessity is conclusively stated, but its purported symbological purpose is at best implied, based on selective interpretation of verses.
“Well, what about the thief on the cross? HE wasn’t baptized!”
This is a shoddy argument for the simple reason that there’s no way of conclusively knowing whether or not the thief was baptized. He could well have been baptized by John or by one of the disciples earlier in life before slipping into a life of sin. Alternatively, it could be a case of “baptism by desire” or some such. St. Cyril of Jerusalem makes reference to an Apostolic teaching that martyrdom is a baptism in blood.
“Salvation is by faith alone, so baptism can’t possibly be essential to salvation.”
Quote me a Bible verse where it’s said salvation is by faith alone.
I realize that’s a bit of a glib answer, so I’ll reply more fully by saying: We are saved by faith, but faith is manifested in action. Let me quote Paul in the sixth chapter of Romans:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
In other words, as Christians, we are slaves to God’s righteousness, and must do His will. Obeying from the heart the doctrine which we received… that is faith. Or, in the words of Christ, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Therefore, salvation is by faith, because faith involves baptism as part of obedience to God. What is faith if not obedience?
“Paul said, ‘Christ sent me not to baptize.’ [1 Corinthians 1:17]”
The passage does, however, state that everyone got baptized, and it nowhere states that baptism is unnecessary; merely that Paul’s role was more as a preacher (preceding baptism) than as an administrator of the sacraments. It provides no evidence against the necessity of baptism except in the most speculative sense.
“But Matthew 3:11-12 says: ‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'”
Obviously not necessarily a direct interpretation, since we don’t start flaming when we believe God. I would simply state that the baptism of Christ permits the Holy Spirit to abide in us. St. John’s baptism, while certainly a good thing, was incomplete without the sacrifice of Christ.
“What about Acts 10:44-48?”
Quoted here for reference:
While Peter was still speaking… Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
Such an incidence is never repeated in Scripture, and, given the context of the passage, appears to be a one-time incident to demonstrate to the Christians (up until that point Jewish) that Christ’s saving power was for all men. Note that, even with the Holy Spirit, they still had to be baptized.
In short: Baptism now saves us. May we all be baptized unto the remission of our sins and immerse ourselves in the Truth that saves and the Light that brings life.
In Defense of the Real Presence October 29, 2006Posted by Seraphim in Eucharist.
I believe, o Lord, and I confess, that this is truly thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly thine own precious Blood…
–A Prayer of St. John Chrysostom
Christ is in our midst!
Perhaps one of the most hotly debated and contentious issues amongst the various denominations is the question of the Eucharist: Is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper a mere commemoration, or do the bread and wine really and truly become Christ’s Body and Blood? The ramifications of either view are immense. If the bread and wine remain bread and wine, then the Catholics, Orthodox, etc., err gravely and assign an incredible and undue veneration to material things that really ought not thus be venerated. On the other hand, if the ancient churches are correct in their interpretation, those who deny the Real Presence may well be placing their souls in grave danger. My object is to establish Christ’s undeniable presence in the Eucharist.
It behooves us to begin with Scripture, most of which is ground common to all who confess faith in Christ. What does Christ Himself have to say about Eucharist? Let us attend to the sixth chapter of John, in proper context, as is our custom:
When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Now, what is “the food which endures to everlasting life?” Protestants would say it’s salvation, spiritual edification, etc.; Orthodox would say it’s Eucharist. Let us continue…
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.“
So, Christ is the Bread of God. Again, one side would say this is purely figurative, and another would say it has a much more literal meaning.
Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst…”
Third reference to Christ’s identity as the Bread.
The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus therefore answered and said to them… “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.“
He who eats of Christ’s flesh shall not die. Now, the Protestants generally argue for a common-sense interpretation of the Bible, i.e., the most obvious interpretation is the correct one (no twisting of the words to say what you want it to say). The obvious interpretation of this passage is that those who eat Christ’s flesh will have eternal life, and that this is phrased in a context of eating bread. Now, I think everyone who reads this passage will agree on this, though there would be considerable debate as to what eating Christ entails.
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”
Shades of modern Protestantism? “With man this is not possible; but with God all things are possible.”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven–not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
Here’s the real essence of the passage, black and white, plain as day. Given the context of the words spoken at the Last Supper, would not the logical interpretation seem to be Eucharistic in nature? The only way the Protestants can deal with this passage is to explain it away as an allegory for faith or reading the Bible or some such, but Christ has not talked a bit about eating as referential to faith or any such thing. Christ talks about the Israelites eating manna, which was a concrete, physical act, and contrasts it to the consumption of His flesh, which, in the context, would also appear to be a concrete, physical act. Again, the most open, obvious interpretation backs the Orthodox position, and the only way around it is to stretch the Scripture and twist it to conform to not a straight, objective reading of the text, but rather, so that it holds to the preexisting belief and notion.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”
To no one’s surprise, a lot of people didn’t really like what Christ had to say. They didn’t want to believe they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to obtain immortal life. Now, note what Christ says: What if He were to return to heaven? It is the Spirit giving life, not his incarnate flesh. The Protestant interpretation is that Christ is basically negating all he said before and laughing it off as a non-literal metaphorical trick of words. The Orthodox interpretation is that Christ was saying the disciples where not to eat Him right then and there, but rather, to consume His spiritual gifts after such time as he returned to the right hand of the Father.
Now, having read all of this, how does the Last Supper relate?
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. “
First we hear “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me,” and then we see Christ take bread and wine and say, “Take, eat,” and “drink,” for “This is My body,” and “This is My blood.” Note the very specific correlation. We know God isn’t the author of confusion… so again, the logical inference is that the Eucharist is indeed Christ’s Body and Blood. If Christ had wanted to make a point about eating without causing any doubt that he was talking about the Eucharist, he could have, in John, simply said he was the Lamb of God and whoever ate His flesh would have life. Then there wouldn’t be any body/blood confusion, would there?
So, we now have a thesis. The Lord’s Supper does indeed consist of the true Body and Blood, mysteriously and sacramentally. If this is true, we would expect to find it confirmed elsewhere in Scripture, perhaps during an account of the Early Church… in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, let’s say, in the eleventh chapter…
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you:
Important note: God-breathed doctrine ahead.
That the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
This is the sole communal ritual of worship mentioned as Christian practice in the New Testament… and it’s a reenactment of the Last Supper. Again, it’s emphasized that Christ said the bread and wine were His Body and Blood.
Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
There it is, black and white, plain as day! If you partake of the Eucharist unworthily, you’ve sinned against the Body and Blood of the Lord. Why would it be that specific sin were the Eucharist not truly the Body and Blood? It wouldn’t, of course… and therefore we conclude the Real Presence of the Eucharist.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
Again! He who partakes of the Eucharist unworthily sins because he does not properly respect the Body of Christ. The only conceivable reason this would be so is because the Eucharist is really and truly Christ Himself, mysteriously present among us when we partake.
For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
“Sleep” (koimáo) in this case is a reference to death. It is used six times in 1 Corinthians, and every time as a euphemism for death. In the Early Church, therefore, those who partook unworthily of the Eucharist sickened and occasionally even died. Given the overwhelming evidence in favour of the Real Presence, this makes perfect sense; on the other side, it would be highly illogical for God to smite those partaking of a completely spiritually unnecessary symbol, if indeed it’s possible to partake of such a symbol in a manner sufficiently unworthy to provoke God’s ire. St. Paul puts it very succinctly in the preceding chapter:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
So here we have a compact, but complete Biblical proof of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Let’s go a step further, though to confirm our thesis even more solidly, and see if this belief is confirmed in the early Church. St. Ignatius, third bishop of Antioch, writing in Apostolic times, speaks out against a heresy plaguing the Church:
Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox [heretics] in regard to the grace of God which has come to us… They abstain from the Eucharist… because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.
A fairly clear-cut admission, would you not say? Quite interesting that one of the greatest early martyrs would consider Protestants out-and-out heretics, contrary to the mind of God. I don’t think I need do more than mention that the Church, for the first one thousand five hundred years of its history, universally held to the doctrine of the Real Presence.
Scripture alone supports the Real Presence. Tradition alone supports the Real Presence. Christ alone comes amongst us in the form of Eucharist.
Christ truly is in our midst. Let us rejoice and receive His Body.