Embracing Christ

Sunset2As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.    (Luke 4:40-44  NRSV)

It is so understandable why the crowds wanted to prevent Jesus from leaving them.

 He healed their sick;

He drove out all manner of evil;

He not only spoke to them about the Kingdom of God but demonstrated that the power of that Kingdom was available through Himself;

He was a direct conduit to God.

But Jesus does not allow His ministry to be contained by those who want to take hold of Him and keep Him to themselves.   Jesus’ own self understanding is that He came to take His message to ‘others.’   Where He goes people want to take hold of Him and keep them for themselves.   Jesus has no interest in letting this happen.  He did not come to this world just for the Jews, or for the Christian, or for the righteous, or for the healthy, or for the prosperous.   Any of those groups might want to claim Him for themselves and keep all others away from Him.   Jesus says His very purpose in this world is to proclaim the Kingdom of God to others.

EmbraceXC2We can think about Mary Magdalene in  John 20:17-18 who encounters Jesus returned from the dead:

Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Mary didn’t want to lose Jesus again, yet Jesus does not allow her to take any comfort in grabbing hold of Him.  Instead He turns her seeking consolation in to mission:  “go to my brothers and say to them…”      Mary in her grief suddenly turned into dismay becomes the first evangelist.    Mary Magdalene thus becomes the model of each Christian.

We live in a world in which we too are often dismayed by events.  We are often suffering serious grief because of death in this world: of loved ones, of innocent ones, of victims, of the defenseless.    Yet our Lord’s words to us are the same as His words to Mary Magdelene:  Go tell others about His kingdom.  Go tell others His teachings and word.  God tell others what you have seen, heard and experienced in and from Christ (1 John 1:1-3).    St. Peter in his First Epistle EmbracingXCexpresses the same thought in a different way:

“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls”   (1 Peter 1:6-9 (NRSV).

There is a temptation for each Christian to grab hold of Christ and never let Him go.   Yet our Lord Himself told Mary Magdalene not to take hold of Him but rather to go and tell the others about Him.  In that strange way the New Testament tells us that the way to embrace Christ is not be clutching onto Him and turning away from the world, but rather by going into the world to tell others about Him. 

In our prayer lives we may want to grab onto to Jesus and hold onto Him as if He is the only important thing in the world.   But Jesus tells us to embrace those who are important to Him – those for whom He died and rose again:  the sinners, His brothers and sisters, the sick, the least of His brothers and sisters, the meek, the sorrowful, the poor, the weak, the needy, the children.   We are to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel – this is the only true way for us to embrace Christ, risen from the dead and enthroned with the Father in heaven.

Christians: Empowered to Carry Christ

Sermon Notes  9/27/09     Gospel Lesson:   Luke 5:1-11

FishersofMenOnce while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, [2] he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. [3] He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. [4] When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” [5] Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” [6] When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. [7] So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. [8] But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” [9] For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; [10] and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” [11] When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

1)      Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid.   What did they have to fear?   The disciples had a profession – catching fish.   Jesus calls them to “catch people.”   Being called to follow Christ sometimes means being called to do something different than we are used to or comfortable with.   Jesus asks them to leave what they are familiar with, to leave their comfortable zone in order to follow Him.    In the Gospel Lesson He doesn’t ask them to leave their fishing profession just because times are hard or business is bad.  The disciples indeed had a profitless night of fishing –  they worked all night but have nothing to show for it and  they only get paid if they actually catch fish and can sell the fish.   But Jesus first takes them on a fishing expedition which leads to a huge catch of fish.  Jesus asks them to leave their business in a moment of great success behind, not failure.  He showed them He could be a very prosperous fisherman, but He asks them to leave that prosperity behind in order to undertake a new work – catching people instead of catching fish.  No doubt they understood how to catch fish, now they are being called to use their old skills in a new and totally unexpected way.  They have a lot to fear – they are giving up what they know for a totally untested way of life based upon Jesus showing them He knew how to catch fish.  

2)    At the MC meeting last week I listened to Met Jonah lament the fact that he doesn’t like doing desk/office/administrative work and he would rather do other things like read, write, give talks.  But Jesus calls us not only to do what we like, but to follow Him and do what He needs us to do.   He didn’t need the disciples to be fishermen, He needed them to become fishers of men.   Christ does ask us to do some things unfamiliar to us that have no guarantee of prosperity – for examples, loving one another, forgiving one another, calling each other to repentance, being generous in charity.

paulpeter3)    We all are to become bearers of Christ – Christophers.  Our collective task is to bring Christ to every situation we are in and every place we enter.  Christ is not going to be magically present everywhere – we have to make Him be present, we have to incarnate Him,  we have to bring Him to wherever we are and wherever we assemble:  not just in our homes and places of employment but even in the church building, the parish, the OCA .   That is not someone else’s job, that is the job of each of us and all of us.   Notice Jesus didn’t magically appear on the boat with the disciples – they had to take Him with them when they went out to fish – that in itself was hard labor.   .   To become fishers of men  means to carry Christ where we go.   We must be the people who carry Christ into our homes, jobs and even into our parish.  He is not going to force His way in, He is not going to come in uninvited.  He will rely on us to do the work that He expects us to do and has empowered us to do.  He is not going to do our work for us.   He didn’t catch the fish for the disciples; they worked hard to pull in that miraculously large catch of fish.

4)    We are to make Christ present in order to transfigure and transform the world.   That is our task as part of the priesthood of all believers.   We must transform even administration, parish councils, parish meetings.    That is what it means for us all to be priests of Christ.   We are to be a Kingdom of priests!  (Revelations 1:6; 5:10)   We don’t just incarnate Christ in the Liturgy in Holy Communion.  We are to make Him present in everything we do, at all times.     We can transform and transfigure work, home, pleasure, recreation, business, administration, daily chores, worship, family and parish into a means to encounter God.    That is the transformative power that Christ has bestowed upon us through Pentecost and the Holy Spirit.

Impressions of the September 2009 Metropolitan Council Meeting

There already are on the OCA’s Web Page Several Posts about the Metropolitan Council –Synod of Bishops Meetings which took place this past week in New York.  You can read the official OCA news releases:   http://www.oca.org/news/1934, http://www.oca.org/news/1936, http://www.oca.org/news/1938, and http://www.oca.org/news/1939.  I do not intend here to repeat “the news.”   I am  offering only my personal impressions of the Council Meetings.

The official Minutes of the Meetings will be released when they are approved by the Synod of Bishops, but it is possible that some form of the unapproved minutes might be made public in the near future.  One of the challenges of the Internet Age is that people are ready to read the reports from these meetings far faster than the staff can prepare them.   This is a special challenge in a Church which requires approval of the Synod of Bishops before any decision is considered official.

I came home from the meetings feeling very encouraged about the Orthodox Church in America. I was very impressed with the other members of the Metropolitan Council – their dedication and willingness to sacrifice for the church is most note worthy.  They bring to the Metropolitan Council an array of talents and wisdom, integrity, love for the Church, concern for the church membership, a willingness to serve, a desire to bring about unity in the Church.   We dealt with very difficult and potentially divisive issues, and yet there was a willingness to speak the truth in love, not to avoid difficulties but rather to confront them, and to treat others with respect despite disagreements in positions taken.   The openness and honesty in being willing to address the most difficult issues was very impressive – it showed the Christian Church in action.  Bishops listened and participated, and the chancery staff was fully engaged in the process.

Because of the nature of the issues which the MC deals with – legal, pastoral, personal – there are some parts of the discussion which will not be made public.  The issue of transparency was discussed as well.  In America, transparency is seen as the sign of integrity.  It is a very difficult balancing act in weighing the right to know versus the right to privacy, especially in a litigious society.   Some MC members feel more free to speak their minds when they know sessions will not be recorded or made public.   Some decisions have implications which cannot be made public for legal reasons or because individual statements might be later falsely construed as official policy or absolute decisions of the OCA.    So a balancing act is always ongoing in the deliberations.

I can say that every major issue which I heard someone raise before the meeting was addressed in one form or another during the week.  I will not say all issues were resolved, but the OCA showed an inner strength by allowing all topics to be discussed.  I think that just about everybody – bishops, attorneys, members, chancery staff  – were uncomfortable with one discussion or another.   The good news is that we were openly  and straightforwardly discussing. 

Sadly the SIC’s request for an audit of the NY/NJ Diocese turned up a similar scenario to the OCA’s – the financial records from 2001-2005 for the Diocese are missing so many documents that no audit can be conducted thus apparently no record can be established about where the Diocesan money went.  They had $60,000+ in the bank at the beginning of 2001 with decent financial records; then from 2001-2005, no records to speak of and the bank accounts are empty.  No one apparently is going to be held accountable for the debacle. 

Positively, the central church administration has shown it can live within its budget.   Accounting procedures are in place which gives me some confidence that the OCA is being fiscally conservative and responsible.  It appears at this point that the OCA will both live within its budget and will have a small financial surplus at the year’s end, despite the world’s economic downturn.   Monies raised by FOS are being used solely for ministries in the various departments.  The MC gave a firm “NO” to proposals for new and additional fund raising attempts despite the fiscally tight scenario the OCA faces.   As a result of this new fiscal conservatism, responsibility and accountability, I for the first time in more than a decade can tell people that I think it is good and wise to donate to FOS to support the work, mission and ministries of our church.   If you feel called to support church ministry on the OCA level, I would encourage you to consider making a donation to FOS now or when it issues its next appeal.

met_jonahI thought a true sign of maturity was the ability of the bishops, church administration and the MC to sit together in one room and discuss painful and difficult issues.   There was a willingness to face up to issues, to point out disagreements rather than avoid them, to listen to the concerns of others, to hear the concerns and priorities of the various groups which had come together for the week:  hierarchs, central administration staff and members of the MC.   There was an expressed need for the MC to sit down with the Metropolitan and have (as someone called it) “a come to Jesus meeting.”       Despite frustration and fears, I thought people remained composed and respectful while making their voice heard.   Rather than talking about the Metropolitan or bishops (and behind their backs or anonymously on the Internet) the consensus of the MC was to speak directly with the Metropolitan and the bishops. 

I believe we have moved to the point where we are becoming much more concerned about the present – about the issues facing us today and about the problems of our own creating (by our current actions) than by problems of the past (which are largely confined to legal).  The determination to look ahead – such as in strategic planning – shows that we are maturing and moving beyond the scandalous behaviors of past leaders.   The grievous and egregious problems caused by the former leadership now are the past.  We are still paying for this past but the reality of the recent MC meeting is that we are dealing with the problems that we created and we are looking at our future.   The future we are looking at through the strategic planning process.  The present we are dealing with in issues of our own creation – including the vision and style of the new Metropolitan.    The work of the current Metropolitan belongs to the current age, and really is our present, our problem, our blessing.   In having a session in which we talked to the Metropolitan about the Metropolitan we stopped dealing with past problems and focused on current concerns.  The past failed leadership is irrelevant to these current concerns.   In this sense, we have moved ahead and we are looking to the future.

On Being a Christian

FishersofMenIn Luke 5:11, when Jesus calls the fishermen to come be His disciples, He tells them, “Do not be afraid….”   Christians like all human beings are also subject to many fears – some good and some not so much, some rational and others completely irrational.   Christians are seen to fear God, Satan, Judgment Day, change, science, philosophy, socialism, other religions, apostasy, secularism, and a host of other things.     Evagrios the Solitary offers Christians a simple reminder and rebuke about our fears:

When you stand in prayer before God the Almighty, who created all things and takes thought for all, why are you so foolish as to forget the fear of God and to be scared of mosquitoes and cockroaches? Have you not heard it said, ‘You shall fear the Lord your God’ (Deut. 6:13); or again ‘Fear and dread shall fall upon them’ (Exod. 15:16)?   

 Keeping perspective on all things is essential to the Christian.  Ultimately there is only one we need to fear and that is God who in the end will judge each of us.   St. Mark the Ascetic offered some positive advice about what we ought to be thinking about.   He wrote about what things should guide and guard a Christian:  

He grows in love, is adorned with gentleness, rejoices greatly in spirit, is ruled by the peace of Christ, led by kindness, guarded by goodness, protected by the fear of God, enlightened by understanding and knowledge, illumined by wisdom, guided by humility.                                

ResoundingTruthThe Christian is is grow in virtue, but he or she does not have to go at this alone; for we have the Church as the Christian community to which we belong to help us in our spiritual growth.   Why belong to the church?    Jeremy Begbie in his most interesting book RESOUNDING TRUTH  says leaning to be a Christian is like learning to play piano—there really is something to learn; there are standards, there are right and wrong ways of doing things. We need to learn to submit ourselves to the well established tradition. Just as we can recognize the difference between noise and music, so too we can recognize the difference between determining our own beliefs & ethics and being a real disciple of Christ the Master.

 I decide to play the piano…In other words, I become an apprentice to a  tradition provided by others, a whole set of tried and tested skills, an accumulated knowledge with a very long history. I learn standards or excellence; I submit my choices, preferences, and tastes to standards already held and tested by others. I learn what is considered “musical” and “unmusical,” what counts as good phrasing and poor phrasing, what makes a composer “great” rather than mediocre.

Disciples2We not only need to come to faith in Christ, we must learn how to be Christians – how to live according to the Gospel teachings we have embraced.  Repentance means change.  We must be willing to learn how to be a Christian by making ourselves disciples of Christ.   If our Christianity is merely a matter of deciding to believe, there will be no evidence of the newness of life to which we are called.   We are called to strive to be Christ’s disciples.  Christianity calls us to a newness of life.  As the Scriptures put it, we are to sing a new song. 

Sing to the Lord a new song” (Ps. 149:1). In a spiritual sense the coming of the New Testament is a new song; everything that happened then was new—testament (“I shall make a new testament with you,” Scripture says), creation (“If anyone is in Christ,” Scripture says, “There is a new creation”), human being (“Having stripped off the former self,” Scripture says, “and put on the new, renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one creating it”). On account of the new life, then, and everything else, it is called a New Testament, and the inspired author urges us now to sing a new song typical of it.   (St. John Chrysostom)

Theodoret on Science and Abortion

This is the 4th blog in a series offering some quotes from the 5th Century Christian Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus who was also famous for writing extensive Scripture commentaries.   The first blog was Theodoret of Cyrus on Interpreting Scriptures, the second blog was Theodoret on Literalism and the third was Theodoret on Ancestral Sin.      The quotes are from  Robert C. Hill’s translation of THEODORET OF CYRUS: THE QUESTIONS ON THE OCTATEUCH   Vol 1 GENESIS AND EXODUS  .

SunMysteryI am always intrigued by the ways in which the Patristic writers used the scientific knowledge of their day as they endeavored to understand the Scriptures and as they formed their theology.   For example Theodoret understands that darkness is really nothing more than shadow something which St. Macrina also had commented on according to her brother St. Gregory back in the 4th Century when she postulated the darkness of night occurred because the sun had rotated to the other side of the earth and so night was really the earth’s own shadow.   Theodoret writes:

Thus, we have precise knowledge of the necessity of darkness.  And it is simple to grasp the truth that it is not a substance of some kind but only an accident, being a shadow cast by heaven and earth.  This is why it vanishes when the light appears.  Light, on the other hand, is and subsists as a substance; after setting, it rises, and after departing, it returns.  In other words, just as our body is a substance, but the shadow created by the body is an accident, not a substance, so heaven and earth, the largest bodies, are substances of different kinds, but the shadow caused by them in the absence of light is called ‘darkness,’ and once the light enters, the darkness disappears.   …  A house with no windows is full of darkness, but when a lamp is brought in, it lights up – not that darkness has moved off elsewhere, for, being insubstantial, it does not subsist.  Rather, it is completely dissolved with the coming of the light.  After all, a shadow is caused by the roof, the floor, and the walls, and is dissipated by the beams of light.  We see this occurring every day.  When the light recedes, the shadow cast by heaven and earth brings darkness, and when the light rises again, the darkness is dissipated.”  (p 23)

Theodoret using simply observation is able to figure out that the darkness of a room is simply that the walls and ceiling are casting shadows in the room – darkness is thus just the absence of light.  Not a bad observation for a 5th Century pre-scientific man.   He also speculates about why God would have created inedible plants – might seem like a waste.

“Why did God ordain the growth of inedible plants?   …   God foresaw the development of disease in the human race which, as a result of its sins, was to receive the sentence of death.  So he ordered the earth to produce not only edible plants but also those that would repel sickness.  Those versed in medical science could give you more detailed information about plants that, while seeming harmful, actually cure disease.  When mixed with others, they have curative properties and promote good health.”   (pp 33-35)

Everything serves a purpose in the world which emerged as a result of God’s creative activity.  Theodoret acknowledges the medical science of his day saying it knows how to make use of inedible plants for medicinal purposes.   He accepts that there is a knowledge not found in the Scriptures or in religion which is invaluable to humanity, namely medical science.   Even though such science was also associated with paganism in his day he was not afraid to use the knowledge of science and to recommend it to his flock.     He also used the common medical knowledge of Humourshis day concerning the body being composed of the four humors whose imbalance in classical thought was blamed for disease and the four elements which were said to make up all material things in the universe – fire, water, earth and air.

“Life would be impossible without these fluids, and by these the body is watered and flourishes, requiring, as it does, gall, blood, and both kinds of bile.   As it needs these to grow, it is through them that it also deteriorates; excess or deficiency in any on of the aforementioned causes the dissolution of the living creature.    …. Fire, for example …. Is one of the four basic elements of which everything is composed, and mortal nature cannot survive without it.”  (p. 43)

 I make reference to Theodoret’s use of science because in today’s world some Christians fear scientific truth thinking it disproves Genesis or biblical literalism.   Theodoret for his part accepted the scientific  theory of his day and made use of it in his writings not worrying about trying to reconcile it with Scripture.  Truth is truth no matter what its source.  Christians do not have to fear science but like Theodoret can recognize that science might offer truth not found in the bible.  It makes me think that he would likely have accepted DNA, genetics and other ideas found in the science of our day had he lived in the modern world.

Lastly I point out a quote from Theodoret about when life begins. 


Fetus at 6 months
Fetus at 6 months

“What is the meaning of ‘with human features’?  (Ex 21:22)

It is the general opinion that life is communicated to the fetus when its body is full formed in the womb.  Thus, right after forming Adam’s body, the Creator breathed life into him.  So, in the case of a pregnant woman who suffers miscarriage in the course of a fight, the lawgiver ordains that if the infant comes out with human features – that is, fully formed—the case is to be considered murder, and the guilty party must pay with his own life.  But if it comes out before it is fully formed, the case is not be to considered murder, since the miscarriage occurred before the animation of the child.”   (p 301)


 Unlike many Orthodox Ethicists today, Theodoret does not believe life begins with conception.   He sees human life animating the fetus only at some later time – the sign of the fetus being human is that it has all of the features (fully formed) of the human.   He bases this on his interpretation of the Septuagint version he was reading of Exodus 21:22 which discusses whether injuring a pregnant women which results in a miscarriage is murder or not.     It is hard to know whether he based his thinking on purely Christian principles or whether he relied on the Theology of his day.  He offers his commentary saying it is the “general opinion” which seems to imply that it is the common thought of Christians of his day.   He is speaking as a bishop and in other places in the text he is careful to distinguish between his personal opinions and those which are truly Orthodox. 

The Cross and the Crucified God



As the Byzantine liturgy states: when Jesus is crucified, it is “One of the Holy Trinity” that is crucified.  When Jesus is crucified, God is crucified.  In this complete subjection to the cross the Name of God is revealed.  And this Name is love, “God is love,” as St. John says.  In His love for us, God joins us in our suffering, in our rebellion, in our despair and our agony: “My father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”  “My god, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Thus, henceforth, the incarnate and crucified God comes between our suffering and the void, between our rebellion, our despair, our agony and the void and, rising from the dead, opens for us strange passages of light.          (Olivier Clément, Three Prayers)


Cross The joy and sanctification and transfiguration of life, and of the universe, which stem from the Cross…from the austerity of the Cross, and from the victory of the Resurrection.  There is no contradiction here; these things form an organic whole in the Christian experience.  The Eastern Church, while she puts a great emphasis on the ‘Life-giving Cross’ of the Lord, the Cross on which we all ought to be constantly crucified with Him at the centre of our moral being, also accents the glory of the transfiguration which is already beginning here in this world (although in an incomplete way).    (Nicholas Arseniev, Russian Piety)



Theodoret on Ancestral Sin

This is the 3rd blog in a series offering some quotes from the 5th Century Christian Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus who was also famous for writing extensive Scripture commentaries.   The first blog was Theodoret of Cyrus on Interpreting Scriptures and the second blog was Theodoret on Literalism.      The quotes are from  Robert C. Hill’s translation of THEODORET OF CYRUS: THE QUESTIONS ON THE OCTATEUCH   Vol 1 GENESIS AND EXODUS  .

Expulsion of Adam & Eve from Paradise
Expulsion of Adam & Eve from Paradise

 Theodoret like many of the Patristic writers in the Antiochian biblical commentary tradition does not hold to the tenets of what is commonly called “original sin” as translator Robert Hill noted in his comments.   “Theodoret never speaks of original sin or the transmission to posterity of the guilt for Adam’s sin…”  (translator’s note p 81).    Commenting on the fall of Adam Theodoret writes:

“Thus the punishment is not the result of anger, but part of a divine plan of the greatest wisdom…. So that the human race would hate sin as the cause of death, after the transgression of the commandment, God, in his great wisdom, passed the sentence of death and in this way both ensured their hatred of sin and provided the race with the remedy of salvation, which, through the Incarnation of the Only-begotten, achieves the resurrection of the dead and immortality.”  (p xlix)

“Indeed, death is healing, not punishment, for it checks the onset of sin: ‘He who has died has been acquitted of sin.’ (Rom 6:7)   He ordered him to live directly opposite the garden so that he would remember his trouble-free existence  and hate sin for causing his life of hardship.”  (p 91)

crucifixion2Theodoret sees mortality not a punishment for human sin but rather part of God’s own merciful plan.   By making death the result of sin, Theodoret sees humans hating sin and regretting their sin.  Additionally by making death the consequence of sin, God was providing the way for salvation through the death of His Son and His resurrection. 

(Theodoret writes) :   “We learn from all these passages (i.e., from Ps 51:5; Gn 8:21; Rm 5:12), not that the power of sin is built into human nature—for if that were the case, we would not be liable to punishment—but that our nature is inclined to slip and fall, as it is undermined by the passions.  Nonetheless, rationality prevails when supported by our efforts” ….   Compare this with Augustine’s remark… on the same verse: “No one is born without trailing along with him the punishment [i.e., for Adam’s sin] and the guilt that merits that punishment.”    (translator’s note, p 95)

Augustine has humans inheriting the guilt of original sin as well as the punishment for this sin.  Theodoret does not believe humans have inherited a depraved human nature – otherwise each human would not be responsible for his own sin.   Theodoret recognizes that humans are each subject to passions which lead us to sin, but he believes optimistically that the rational part of human can overcome the passions. 

To those Patristic writers who suggested that Adam and Eve were originally pure spiritual beings who received bodies and flesh only when God clothed them with skins after the Fall, Theodoret writes:

“Since holy Scripture says that the body was formed even before the soul, how can this claim that the man and woman took mortal flesh only after the transgression of the commandment amount to anything but a fable?”  (p 89)

Theodoret believes bodily existence is part of human nature from the beginning, not something which became part of humanity after humans sin.

Christ raising Adam & Eve
Christ raising Adam & Eve




“Why was it that, though Adam sinned, the righteous Abel was the first to die?

God wanted Death’s foundation to be unsound.  If Adam had been the first to die, Death would have established a strong base by taking the sinner as his first victim.  But since he first took the man unjustly slain, his foundation is insecure.”   (p 97)

Theodoret offers  a rational idea about why Adam does not immediately die after eating the forbidden fruit as God had threatened him.  If death had claimed Adam first, death would be just for humans.   But since death wrongfully took the life of the innocent Abel, as death will later unjustly claim the innocent Christ, so death proves itself not part of justice and righteousness but part of evil which God rightly destroys.

 Next:  Theodoret on Abortion and Science

Theodoret on Literalism

Little Flock2This is the 2nd blog in a series offering some quotes from the 5th Century Christian Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus who was also famous for writing extensive Scripture commentaries.   The first blog was Theodoret of Cyrus on Interpreting Scriptures.    The quotes are from  Robert C. Hill’s translation of  THEODORET OF CYRUS: THE QUESTIONS ON THE OCTATEUCH   Vol 1 GENESIS AND EXODUS  .

Theodoret was in the Antiochian tradition regarding biblical commentary and interpretation.   This generally means that he shied away from pure allegorical interpretation of the text.   He does however use allegory at times but with constraint.  He more readily looks for the historical and “literal” meaning of the text.  “Literal” often implies the meaning the author intended.   Theodoret is critical of those who blindly or woodenly read all Scripture texts only literally.   Hill notes:

“Yet, in Q.40.1 on Ex, the commentator reminds his readers that those who attend to no more than ‘the face value of the text’… will not arrive at the full meaning of Scripture.”   (p xlii)

The “full meaning of Scripture” is generally what the Patristic writers were always seeking whether they turned to allegorical or literal interpretive methods of reading Scriptures.  He does not deny that the literal is meaningful, but just that it may not be the full or best meaning of a given text.  He is aware that a literal reading of a text can create problems in reasoning.   For example, commenting on Genesis 18, Theodoret writes:

TrinityWarren“Holy Scripture declares that angels ate in Abraham’s tent. (Gn 18:8)

That same passage of Scripture says that Abraham had a vision of men.   If we must attend to the mere letter of the text, it was men, not angels, who ate.  But if we are to unfold the meaning, they ate in the same form in which they had appeared.  In other words, as they were incorporeal beings—they and their Lord—and yet seemed to have bodies (for this is how they appeared), so they seemed to eat.  Not that they put food into their mouths and stomachs, for they were incorporeal.  Rather, they consumed it as they wished.  Only the worst fool would try to pry further into the ways and means of a holy mystery.”  (p 145)

In commenting on the above Genesis passage, Theodoret deals with the difficult issue of angels who are immaterial beings who “appear” as men to Abraham.   Angels are not humans and don’t have physical bodies.  Theodoret accepts the “literal” statement of the Scripture that the angels appeared as men, but he had already labeled this a “vision.”  He however is willing to concede we may have to accept the literal notion that the these “men” ate with Abraham.  But how could they actually eat real food since they are incorporeal beings and/or a vision?   We have him here dealing with that point at which a “vision” interfaces with empirical reality.  His conclusion is that however angels can appear as men – appear to have bodies – is the same way in which they appear to eat.  He is not willing to explore the mystery any further.   Literally the text presents a problem – can apparitions consume real food?   Theodoret attempting to stick with a more literal interpretation of the Scriptures in general, realizes the literal interpretation presents a logical problem which he cannot completely resolve and so he has to accept that it is some form of mystery.

There are other texts which Theodoret acknowledges should not be interpreted literally.  Commenting on Exodus 20:5 which uses the phrase that the Lord is a jealous God – thus attributing to God the human emotion jealousy, which is also a vice – Theodoret strongly comments:

“God himself teaches us that it is irreligious to focus on the face value of the text when he requires the opposite.”   (p 289)

 In this Theodoret acknowledges that some passages of Scripture do not have an obvious (= literal) interpretation.  Accusing God of being jealous is unacceptable to him (though in the text God Himself lays claim to being jealous).  Thus Theodoret has to seek a meaning beyond the literal reading of the text in order to keep a theology of a good God.

 Theodoret also acknowledges that the Scriptures do not tell us everything we want to know about God, and sometimes are not clear enough for our purposes.

ArchAngel“When the questioner presses him on that sensitive issue of the creation of angels, he explicitly indicates that he can do no more than hazard an opinion on a question that does not admit of a conclusive answer (Q .4.2 on Gn): ‘Now, I do not state this dogmatically, my view being that it is rash to speak dogmatically where holy Scripture does not make an explicit statement; rather, I have stated what I consider to be consistent with orthodox thought.’”  (p xxix)

The issue is that Genesis does not mention when or how angels were created by God.  Since angels exist they must have been created at some point.  Since the Scriptures do not answer the question, Theodoret acknowledges that he can only make a reasonable guess based upon what he knows about Orthodox theology.  Thus the full interpretation of Scripture does require at times human logic and even speculation as the Scriptures have some gaps which mean they cannot fully interpret themselves.   Theodoret assumes God gives us intelligence, creativity and wisdom to come to reasonable interpretations of those questions which cannot be answered directly from the Scriptures.

Next:  Theodoret on the Ancestral Sin

Theodoret of Cyrus on Intepreting Scriptures

Old Testamen Scrolls
Old Testamen Scrolls

I finished reading  Robert C. Hill’s translation of THEODORET OF CYRUS: THE QUESTIONS ON THE OCTATEUCH   Vol 1 GENESIS AND EXODUS   and decided to offer a few quotes from the book.   Theodoret was the bishop of Cyrus who died about 457AD.  He received training in the Antiochian tradition for Christian interpretation of the Scriptures and wrote extensive commentaries on the books of the Old Testament.   Theodoret’s commentaries  are important because they give us some insight into how Christians in the 5th Century were interpreting the Bible.   This is insightful because it shows that not even in the ancient Patristic writers insisted that the Scriptures must be read only literally.  

Regarding the reading and interpretation of the Scriptures Theodoret though a serious historian when reading the Scriptures warns against an overly literal reading of the Bible especially regarding those passages in the Old Testament in which God is described in human (anthropomorphic)  images.

“These simpletons fail to understand that the Lord God,  when speaking to humans through humans, adjusts his language to the limitations of the listeners.  Since we see with our eyes, he refers to his power of vision as ‘eyes.’  He refers to his power of hearing as ‘ears,’ since it is through these organs that we hear, and to his command as a ‘mouth.’”  (p 51)

Christ speaking to Adam and Eve
Christ speaking to Adam and Eve

 Theodoret writes about Scripture as God “speaking to humans through humans.”  In this phrase he acknowledges that we receive God’s revelation mediated through the authors of Scripture.   This is important because it shows that He understands the Word of God to also be a product of human work – there is a synergy with God using a human intermediary in addition to human language and images to convey His message to the world.   Additionally he speaks against any literal reading of the text in which it anthropomorphizes God – such language, Theodoret says, is strictly for our benefit and because of our human limitations in understanding things abstract or divine.

At another point, speaking about Moses who Theodoret accepted as the author of Genesis, he wrote:

“Why did the author (i.e., Moses – my note) not first set down the true doctrine of God before relating the creation of the universe?

Holy Scripture normally adapts the contents to the learners… Since the Egyptians used to worship the visible creation, and Israel, in their long association with them, had joined in this idolatry, he had to set out the facts of creation and explicitly teach them that it had a beginning of existence, and that the God of the universe was its Creator.   …  Those he was teaching, however, had already learned of the eternity of God.  When the divinely inspired Moses was sent into Egypt by God, he was commanded to say to his fellow, ‘He Who Is has sent me to you.’  Now, “He Who Is’ conveys eternity, and it will be obvious to the attentive that that statement was made before the teaching in this chapter.  He taught them the former while they were still living in Egypt but composed this chapter in the wilderness.” (pp 7-9)

In this passage we see that Theodoret does accept Moses as the author of Genesis – Moses, not God, actually wrote the text down.  Theodoret rhetorically asks why didn’t Moses begin with a systematic theology – give a scholarly explanation of who this “God” is before launching into what God did?    His first answer again has to do with writing something that the Israelites could understand – they weren’t prepared for pure theology so Moses prepares them for it by writing narrative.  Obviously Theodoret believed Moses had a choice in what he wrote or how he wrote it.  Moses was inspired by God to write, but Moses under the influence of the Holy Spirit had to make choices about what to write.  The divine-human synergy is real to Theodoret; Moses is not merely an instrument of God’s actions – Moses co-operates with God and uses his free will and human creativity to accomplish what God wants him to do.   And Theodoret does not have Moses composing the Genesis creation story before becoming their leader in Egypt.  Rather, Theodoret clearly says that Moses composed the creation story after the Exodus while the Jews were in the desert.  So the creation story by Theodoret’s understanding is written after the Passover – after God wrought His salvation for His people.  Only after experiencing God’s salvation does Moses compose for the people of God an explanation about how the world came into existence in the first place.    (see also my blog The Literal Value of Genesis regarding the modern scholarly opinion that the creation narrative of Genesis was probably written down and became Scripture only after the Babylonian captivity of the Jews). 

Later in his commentary, Theodoret reminds his flock that Scriptures contain many different genres of literature and that the reader must pay attention to not only what is being read but also who in the Scriptures is speaking.

“The distinctive features of Scripture are the oracles of the Spirit, God’s laws, and the teachings of the devout; the rest is historical narration.  So one must take into account not only what is said but also who says it.”  (p. 173)

Prophet Moses
Prophet Moses

In other words sometimes Moses may be the mouthpiece for God and is giving voice to God’s Word.  At other times, Moses is simply the historian who is humanly reporting what the humans were doing.   The reader of Scripture must pay attention to these distinctions in order to properly understand “the Word of God.”

In discussing the origins of the word “Hebrew” Theodoret concedes no one answer can be offered with any absolute certainty.  So he advises:     “No point, however, in squabbling over this:  no harm is done to religion, which ever opinion we adopt.”   (p 129)   He thus holds to the notion that some questions which might rise as a result of reading the Scriptures may be worth pursuing to a degree, but ultimately the answer makes no real difference to the true faith.   Further, commenting on Genesis 15:9,  “Theodoret offers several interpretations and then concludes:  ‘I cite this view and the other for readers to take whichever strikes them as closer to the truth.’”   (p 139)  He actually allows for the fact that in some cases several interpretations of a text are possible, all of which can be correct.  In such cases he leaves it to the reader to decide which interpretation is correct.  This works for him whenever a main point of doctrine is not at stake.  He does not demand absolute uniformity in interpretation nor does he believe that each text has one and only one possible and correct interpretation.

Next:    Theodoret on Literalism

Metropolitan Council September 2009

OCAThe Metropolitan Council has its annual Fall meeting this week in New York.   The agenda is daunting with an intense schedule which includes joint sessions with the Synod of Bishops.   There are important discussions about  1)  finances (which though the normal business of the Metropolitan Council also are usually related to the problems of the OCA),  2) legal matters (which I now interpret as the “cost of doing business” in America – some of  it is like the tribute that has to be paid to the pestilent invaders to keep them at bay and some of it is the result of decisions and actions which “the church” has taken and now must pay the price for its choices),   3)  the policies and procedures of the central administration and pushing everyone at work in the OCA to adhere to them rather than treating them as discretionary suggestions  which are to be capriciously or serendipitously inforced or ignored,    and 4)  the future direction of the OCA through vision and strategic planning.    

 Truly all of the discussions deal with the important question of “what is the church?”   We profess the Church to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”   What does that look like incarnationally – legally, financially, administratively, ethically, and in terms of policies, procedures, planning and vision?

paulpeterCertainly our ancestral church leaders answered some of these questions in relationship to the Roman Empire, Byzantium, the Turkocratia, Holy Russian and communist regimes.   But what are they to be in a country which has a constitutionally defined separation of church and state – in which the state is forbidden from interfering in the internal affairs of the Church?    Are the structures and policies and canons capable of addressing our situation in which officially the state is neutral or indifferent toward the internal workings of the church and its processes for selecting its leadership?   The state is forbidden from controlling the church in America.  We cannot look tot the state to resolve our problems in leadership or in corruption.   We are given the “freedom” to solve these problems and so must have the Mind of Christ – not just the decisions of past generations – to deal with our issues today.  

Our bishops for example are wearing all of the signs of Byzantine imperial power and yet they cannot in the United States have the power of state.   What do we need to change within the Church to best reflect the Mind of Christ in the 21st Century?   What insignias and signs need to be changed and what internal church structures, policies, procedures do we need to allow us to be the Church of God in 21st Century America and into the future?   Hopefully our vision and strategic planning efforts will look at these questions as we structure a church to carry out its mission to North America as we move through this 21st Century. 

“Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained”   (Philippians 3:13-16   RSV).