Confession: Overcoming the Error of Silence

Christ came into the world to save sinners, calling all of us to repentance – to a recognition that we are alienated from God and need to change our lives in order to accept the reconciliation which God is offering to us.   Confession of sins is one way which the Church has offered to us to experience the forgiveness of God.  There is an abundance of literature in Orthodoxy regarding repentance and confession.  The Lenten season we are now in is an entire season (some literature calls Lent a “school”) of repentance.  So while we work through our repentance during Lent – and this takes place both before and after our actual confession – here are some thoughts from the Orthodox tradition on overcoming sin in our lives.

Abba Isaac in the desert fathers tradition says:

“My brother, if you err in something, do not tell a lie because you are ashamed, but make a prostration and say: ‘Forgive me,’ and your error will be immediately forgiven. Do not have different words in your mouth than you have in your heart, for God is not mocked, but sees all: both things hidden and things in the open, Therefore, do not hide any of your temptations, or any concern, or any desire, or even a simple thought; but freely confess them to your Abba. Whatever you hear from him, take care to carry it out, performing it with sincerity. For, then, the battle will be easier for you. The evil spirits find joy nowhere else but in the man who keeps his thoughts silent, whether they be good or bad.” (The Evergentinos: Volume 2, pg. 134)

St. Clement of Alexandria (d. ca 211AD) says:

“Though men’s actions are ten thousand in number, there are only two sources of all sin: ignorance and inability. Both of these depend on ourselves. Either we will not learn, or we will not restrain our lust. If one does not learn, he does not judge well. If he does not restrain his lust, he cannot comply with right judgments. If someone is deceived in his mind, he will be unable to act correctly, even though he is quite capable of doing what he mistakenly knows. Another man may be capable of judging what is required of him, but he will not stay pure if he does not have the power to do what is right. So there are two remedies to sin. The first type of sin needs knowledge and clear proof from the testimony of the Scriptures. The other type of sin needs the training according to the Logos. This training is regulated by the discipline of faith and fear. Both disciplines develop into perfect love. The completeness of the one who knows God is twofold: It is part contemplation, and it is part action.” (The One Who Knows God, pgs.119-120)

The Second Sunday of Great Lent (2013)

“Since 1368 this Sunday has been dedicated to the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica (1296-1359) . In the earlier period there was on this day a commemoration of the Great Martyr Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 155), whose feast was transferred from the fixed calendar (23 Feb.). This commemoration, like that of St. Theodore, underlined the connection between Lenten asceticism and the martyr’s vocation. The second Sunday also takes up the theme of the Prodigal Son as a model of repentance.”      (The Lenten Triodion, pgs. 52-53)

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Great Lent is Mark 2:1-12 in which the Lord Jesus heals a man of his physical paralysis.  Before the man is physically healed, Jesus seeing the paralytic, in compassion pronounces, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

We come to Jesus for many reasons – in the Gospel lesson the paralytic’s friends want from Christ a miraculous healing for their paralyzed friend.   We come to him for many reasons, following different paths, moved by different influences and needs.  Christ accepts us as we come to Him, but transforms us by forgiving our sins and setting us in a right relationship with God.  The paralytic left Christ healed of his sins, forgiven by God in order to live a right relationship with God.  We all are to be that paralytic and come to the church for that forgiveness, and not leave the church until we hear those words, “your sins are forgiven you.”

Lent as a season of repentance is the perfect time for us to allow ourselves to be the paralytic and to walk away from the Church, to walk away from being in Christ’s presence, forgiven of our sins.

Father Alexis Trader writes about sin and confession:

“Hence, someone approaching a spiritual father will also be in a repentant state, for as Saint Ambrose put it, even the Lord himself ‘does not forgive anyone, except those who repent.’ Repentance adds new highlights to a darkened face. The repentant or penitent is someone who accuses his sins, rather than excuses them or denies them. This mark of genuine repentance, moreover, explains why the ancient ascetics considered self reproach to be such a fundamental virtue in the Christian life. Patristic texts also describe the penitent as being concerned neither about his appearance nor about his diet, but only about his entreaty that God be merciful to him. This his supplication includes words of true penitence, sighs from the heart, tears of contrition, prostrations, patience, and almsgiving. The repentant also refuse to condemn their brother for any sin. Above all, the repentant are characterized by the meekness and humility necessary to submit to the divine will as well by ‘grief that springs from the love of God.’ When a person is in this state, he can come to his spiritual father, reveal his wound, be admonished, repent, obtain forgiveness and thereby by healed by his restoration to the Body of the Church that takes up the sinner’s burden. Thus by repentance and confession, the Christian who has fallen into sin is restored to his rightful status as a child of God. From the perspective of the confessant, confession of sins is a confession of the truth about himself that makes his soul feel light and free. By confession, the repentant leaves the dark world of dissimulation, denial, and irresponsibility. And as Blessed Augustine so eloquently comments on Psalm 84:12, when truth, even the truthful confession of one’s sinfulness, springs out of the earth, righteousness looks down from heaven. By confessing one’s sins, one already moves toward the truth who is light. In fact, ‘the confession of evil works is the beginning of good works.’ By a sincere confession, the soul is humbled. And above all, the soul is given hope by her most compassionate Savior.” (Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, pg. 161)


Lent: The Season of Love

“Prayer and fasting should in their turn be accompanied by almsgiving – by love for others expressed in practical form, by works of compassion and forgiveness. Eight days before the opening of the Lenten fast, on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, the appointed Gospel is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25: 31-46), reminding us that the criterion in the coming judgment will not be the strictness of our fasting but the amount of help that we have given to those in need. In the words of Triodion:

Knowing the commandments of the Lords, let this be our way of life:

Let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty drink,

Let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers,

Let us visit those in prison and the sick.

Then the Judge of all the earth will say even to us:

‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.’”

(The Lenten Triodion, pg. 19)

St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope (III)

This is the 3rd blog in this series.  The first blog is  St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope and the previous blog is St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope (II).

In the previous blogs we saw that St. John of Damascus incorporated the science of his day into his book on dogmatic theology!   He accepted from ancient non-Christian philosophers many scientific ideas.  He saw the entire cosmos as something we can try to understand, though in his day the lack of technology made exploring the cosmos virtually impossible.  But his use of science and effort to understand the universe lead me to think he would have welcomed the science of our day, had he lived in the 21st Century.   He was comfortable acknowledging there are some things about the universe which we cannot know and which the Bible does not give us decisive information.

My interest in St. John of Damascus’ scientific ideas is mostly for its historical value.  I am impressed at his scientific knowledge considering all of the technological and philosophical limitations of his time.  But I don’t read St. John’s 8th Century thinking to learn science, just as I don’t read the Bible to learn science either.  St. John’s writings are important for their theology not their science.  The Bible offers us theology and theological anthropology, which for believers is the real significance of these texts.  I don’t consult the Bible or St. John Damascene if I want to understand the nature of the empirical cosmos – to understand it in modern scientific terms.  For neither in the 8th Century nor in biblical times did any of the authors have modern scientific knowledge nor a modern scientific paradigm in which to see the universe nor the technology to do so (and the technology is necessary for our modern understanding of the physical universe).

I read with interest two recent news stories on the topic of the Big Bang and the beginning of the universe:  Universe as an Infant: Fatter Than Expected and Kind of Lumpy  by Dennis Overbye and Big Bang’s afterglow reveals older universe by Lena H. Sun and Brian Vastag.  Both accounts are reporting on the same information being gathered by scientists through the Planck satellite telescope which was launched in 2009 and has been used to investigate some of the mysteries in the cosmos which only new technology can reveal to us.

Universe Microwave2

Among the items which Sun and Vastag report in the Washington Post:

“The images captured by a space telescope show the universe is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older than previously estimated. The results also reinforce a key theory scientists have about how the universe was formed, exploding from subatomic size to its current expanse in what one scientist described as ‘one nano-nano-nano-nano second after the Big Bang.’”

“Using the first 15 months of data from the telescope, scientists created an all-sky picture of the afterglow — light imprinted on the sky when the universe was just a baby, about 370,000 years old. NASA contributed technology, and U.S., European and Canadian scientists analyzed the data.”

“The images form the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe, what scientists call the cosmic microwave background, a sort of afterglow left over from the Big Bang. That ancient light has traveled for billions of years from the very early universe to reach Earth. The patterns of light represent the seeds of galaxies and clusters of galaxies seen today.”

“The results suggest the universe is expanding more slowly than scientists thought. The data also show there is less of the perplexing dark energy and more matter — both normal and dark matter — in the universe than previously known. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can be perceived only by observing the effects of gravity, while dark energy is a mysterious force thought to be responsible for pushing the universe apart.”

Universe Microwave

Overbye looking at the same data and reports in the New York Times:

“The map, the Planck team said in news conferences and in 29 papers posted online Thursday, is in stunning agreement with the general view of the universe that has emerged over the past 20 years, of a cosmos dominated by mysterious dark energy that seems to be pushing space apart and the almost-as-mysterious dark matter that is pulling galaxies together.”

“Analyzing the relative sizes and frequencies of spots and ripples over the years has allowed astronomers to describe the birth of the universe to a precision that would make the philosophers weep. The new data have allowed astronomers to tweak their model a bit. It now seems the universe is 13.8 billion years old, instead of 13.7 billion, and consists by mass of 4.9 percent ordinary matter like atoms, 27 percent dark matter and 68 percent dark energy.”

Modern science peers at the university through the lens of its technology, theories, and skeptical mind set.  It is interested in the empirical universe.  It answers questions about the physical universe.  It endeavors to explain this universe within the limits of the universe – all things are to be explained by the cause and effect physics which govern the inanimate subatomic world.  Science has moved to a point where some of its adherents deny there is anything beyond this physical universe.  So many scientists find questions about what it means to be human or why anything exists at all to be worthless speculation since those questions are beyond their interest and expertise.

St. John of Damascus writing in the 8th Century still lives in a world in which science and theology are pursuing the same truth and so he readily incorporates the science of his day into his theologically dogmatic writings.  He was not afraid of science even when it came from non-biblical sources and even if the assumptions between science and the bible were not exactly the same (though he  thought they all had one source – God).   He accepts as scientific ideas that have been discarded long ago as false, and he accepts some things as science which we would say were are superstitions.   But, I think what is true is that St. John would have been as interested today in what science says about the cosmos as he was in what the educated people of his day taught.  He knows both the teachings of his contemporary science and the controversies that offered different theories of the nature of the universe.

He would have been, I think, most fascinated to see what telescopes see and to discover that humans can put telescopes in satellites which are launched into “outer space” (a concept he wouldn’t have known as he believed in a vault/fimament covering/surrounding the earth).  The technology which makes all this possible, he would have marveled at and welcomed because he believed the universe as part of the created order is something we can study to learn about the Creator who reveals divinity in and through the created world.  God made us physical beings and we know of God through our bodies and physical senses because they are related to our souls and the spirit which God has put within us.  The physical universe is for us physical beings a window into heaven.

Humans are made in the image and likeness of God, and though this image and likeness is not a physical quality, it is imprinted/implanted in beings who are physical.  The incarnation of God the Son tells us the physical world is capable of bearing divinity – physical and spiritual are the same reality.  Icons, those theological means to express the truth of the incarnation, tells us the physical world is capable of revealing God to us and in us.

King David with Wisdom and Prophecy

St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope (II)

Planck_satelliteThis is the 2nd blog in this series.  The first blog is  St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope.  I was reading some news articles about the Planck satellite telescope being able to examine evidence from the Big Bang that brought our universe into being.  I’m always interested in science’s claims about the beginnings of humanity or the universe.  I also happened to be reading .  St. John of Damascus’ (d. 749AD)  theologically dogmatic work, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.   St. John presents as part of his theology, the science of his times which he also accepted as being true.  He believed science and theology were both revealing truth about the Creator of the universe.  He saw no need to oppose one to the other.

When St. John writes about his understanding of the universe, we see him combining what the Scriptures say with what the natural scientists and philosophers said:

“But further, God called the firmament also heaven, which He commanded to be in the midst of the waters, setting it to divide the waters that are above the firmament from the waters that are below the firmament. And its nature, according to the divine Basilius, who is versed in the mysteries of divine Scripture, is delicate as smoke. Others, however, hold that it is watery in nature, since it is set in the midst of the waters: others say it is composed of the four elements: and lastly, others speak of it as a filth body, distinct from the four elements.”

In the above comments St. John does what was common science in his day – he repeats what he has learned from wise men before him.  Though he notes that there are differences in opinion as to what the firmament in the heavens might be – smoke or watery or composed of the 4 elements (earth, water, air, fire) or some unknown substance.  The reality in their day was there was no way to prove the theories one way or another.  So the learned people accepted what the wisest believed to be true.  St. John Damascene continues his dogmatic statement where it is obvious that he does accept the notion that the heavens are a vault/ceiling of some kind marking the boundary of the cosmos- the earth is at the center and all revolves around the earth:

“All, therefore, who hold that the heaven is in the form of a sphere, say that it is equally removed and distant from the earth at all points, whether above, or sideways, or below. And by ‘below’ and ‘ sideways’ I mean all that comes within the range of our senses. For it follows from what has been said, that the heaven occupies the whole of the upper region and the earth the whole of the lower. They say, besides, that the heaven encircles the earth in the manner of a sphere, and bears along with it in its most rapid revolutions sun, moon and stars, and that when the sun is over the earth it becomes day there, and when it is under the earth it is night. And, again, when the sun goes under the earth it is night here, but day yonder. Others have pictured the heaven as a hemisphere. This idea is suggested by these words of David, the singer of God, Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain, by which word he clearly means a tent: and by these from the blessed Isaiah, Who hath established the heavens like a vault: and also because when the sun, moon, and stars set they make a circuit round the earth from west to north, and so reach once more the east. Still, whether it is this way or that, all things have been made and established by the divine command, and have the divine will and counsel for a foundation that cannot be moved. For He Himself spoke and they were made: He Himself commanded and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which will not pass.”  (Kindle Loc 767-797)

For St. John ultimately whatever the scientific truth turns out to be (and he is acknowledging there are different philosophic opinions), he is confident that God is still the creator.  Science is not disproving the creator though it can change our understanding of creation.  He is not afraid to dogmatize about science, but also he recognizes that we may not know the truth exactly about the cosmos, which doesn’t change our understanding of God.

Of the Scriptures he is certain, but he recognizes the Scriptures don’t tell us all there is to know about the world.   It appears to me that the Patristic writers embrace of the science of their day which also indicates to me that they accepted a notion that there is truth in nature which is not found in the Scriptures, but which is still truth.  They acknowledged there were things we don’t know, and so were cautious about saying some things about the natural order.   St. Augustine cautions Christians against entering into scientific debates if we don’t really know science because when we do we embarrass ourselves and discredit Christianity.

The point being that the discoveries of science do give us new insight into and understanding of the empirical cosmos.  But scientific theory and fact does not contradict the basic claim that there was a beginning to creation.  How this beginning unfolded in space and time is something science can study and comment on.  Why it all began or exists at all cannot be explained by the empirical sciences.  They can only account for what exists not why there is existence.  (Watch an interesting video by Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox in which he addresses this topic from his point of view as a Christian and a scientist).

As Christians we do not fear truth, even scientific truth.  Science is able to help us understand the empirical universe which God created.  Science is able to interpret the physical world and its history and physical origins.  Science cannot tell us everything there is to know about all that exists for science is limited to commenting on the physical universe.  It cannot tell us what existed before the Big Bang, nor can it tell us about what exists outside of space and time. Nor can it tell us why there is existence.   But within its parameters, science continues to push to the end of its boundaries to know the truth.

Next:  St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope (III)


St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope

While I’m not a scientist, I do find many scientific stories and discoveries to be fascinating as they give us greater insight into the empirical universe.  Our understanding of the physical universe can also contribute to both our experience of God and our understanding of our God.


I find scientific inquiry into the beginnings of life, of humanity and of the universe to be particularly interesting.  Science keeps trying to peer deeper into the mystery of the beginning of all things, which can also be of interest for anyone who believes there was a moment of creation of the universe.  By studying what scientists call the Big Bang we get ever closer to an act of God.  The Big Bang is an act of God we can actually study scientifically.

A number of the Patristic writers in the ancient Church were very cognizant of and convinced by the truth given to us through science and the study of nature.  But the ancients had far more limits on their knowledge of the universe than we do, lacking the instrumentation which exists today, but also being limited by their philosophical assumptions on the nature of the physical universe.  St. John of Damascus (d. 749AD)  in his very theologically dogmatic work, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, writes about the physical universe and says:

“For the great part the heaven is greater than the earth, but we need not investigate the essence of the heaven, for it is quite beyond our knowledge. It must not be supposed that the heavens or the luminaries are endowed with life. For they are inanimate and insensible.” (Kindle Loc. 810-12)

Much of what the Patristic writers saw as beyond the reach of human knowledge, is now attainable through science and technology.  I think it is completely wrong to imagine that the ancient Christian writers were trying to obscure the truth of science or that they were intentionally superstitious and anti-scientific.  They were as interested in knowing the truth about the cosmos as any scientist today.  But they were people of their time and did rely on both revelation and traditional knowledge to guide their thinking.  They wanted to know the truth, but did so within their philosophical understanding of what truth and nature are.  On the other hand, modern science is based in skepticism and has an ability to test and disprove hypotheses which the ancients lacked.

St. John of Damascus  in his EXACT EXPOSITION writes not only about theology but also about science and he is as confident in his science as he is in his theology.  Many of St. john’s scientific presuppositions and “facts” have been disproved by modern science.  He certainly belongs to the pre-scientific age and accepted what was the traditional view of the universe of his day.  He is well aware that there existed competing theses to explain the universe and sometimes mentions the different theories he has heard about the nature of the cosmos. But lacking any means to test or prove their theories, they often accepted them as the best explanations possible.  For example he writes in his dogmatic treatise:

“Now there are, it should be known, four elements: earth which is dry and cold: water which is cold and wet: air which is wet and warm: fire which is warm and dry. In like manner there are also four humours, analogous to the four elements: black bile, which bears an analogy to earth, for it is dry and cold: phlegm, analogous to water, for it is cold and wet: blood, analogous to air, for it is wet and warm: yellow bile, the analogue to fire, for it is warm and city. Now, fruits are composed of the elements, and the humours are composed of the fruits, and the bodies of living creatures consist of the humours and dissolve back into them. For every thing that is compound dissolves back into its elements.”

The above are all common scientific presuppositions from what even in his day was considered antiquity.   These were assumed to be non-negotiable truths about the world around them which had been handed down by the wisest of philosophers.  St. John doesn’t question this science but rather relied on the science and philosophy of his day to guide his own scientific thinking.  I would assume he would, if he were alive today, embrace the science of our day as he did the science which he believed to be factual.  He never doubts scientific claims but accepts them as being as true as the Scriptures themselves.  But if we Orthodox think everything St. John included in his dogmatic work is infallibly true, we will find that he includes his scientific claims in his doctrine.  We who have been taught a different science, will find his ‘science’ to be far removed from scientific truth as we know it today.   We are not under any obligation to accept what he claims to be scientifically true, especially when we know modern science has revealed facts which disprove what he assumed to be absolute truth about the world.    Still, sometimes I am amazed at what the ancients knew in that pre-scientific world (he knew for example, the world was a sphere, he knew an eclipse of the moon shows the earth’s shadow, he knew night time was nothing more than being in the shadow of the earth).

That he could write about such things in a document dealing with the church dogmatics shows how certain they were of the science of their day.   It also shows he did not consider science and theology to be in opposition to each other.   He accepted that science had discovered truths which are not found in the Scriptures.  This idea we find in St. Paul in the First Century as well:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”  (Romans 1:19-20)

Both the Scriptures and the created world reveal to us the Creator.

Next:  St. John of Damascus and the Planck Satellite Telescope (II)

The Cross that Heals

One of the powerful images of Christianity is the Cross of Christ.  During Great Lent and Holy Week the Cross stands central to the Christian proclamation of the Gospel.  In some Christian traditions it is the death of Christ alone through which God accomplishes the justification of humanity.  The Cross is the instrument through which humanity’s burden of sin is taken away.  The Cross is the image offered for all to remember that Christ died for our sins, the victim of our transgressions.  A natural pious response to a message that focuses exclusively on Christ’s death as the only way human sin can be dealt with is to feel guilty for being responsible for the death of the Son of God.

In the Orthodox tradition, on the other hand, there is another set of metaphors and images through which the Cross is understood and preached.  In this tradition the emphasis on the Cross is its power to destroy both evil and death, and to give health (salvation)  to all.  In this imagery the Cross is not imposed upon Christ the victim of our sins, but rather Christ voluntarily takes up the cross in order to heal humans wounded by sin.  Christ is thus saving us from the ravages of sin, not just from the guilt of it.  God intends life for His beloved human creatures, and thus the Holy Trinity works constantly to save us from death.  And God works His salvation through becoming incarnate and then dying on the cross in order to descend to the place of the dead.   It is because in Christ divinity is already reunited to humanity that His death brings about salvation.

What follows are a few hymns from Friday of the first week of Great Lent in the Orthodox Tradition.  Fridays in Orthodoxy have the Cross as a daily.  We see in the hymns below the Cross being proclaimed by the Orthodox as Good News – God’s triumphing over sin and death for our salvation.

“By Your Cross You have triumphed over the powers of darkness.  Deliver me from their wickedness, for I am fallen into a depth of sin and a pit of iniquity; but by Your mercy, I hope to be saved.”

In the hymn above the Cross is celebrated as the instrument of Christ’s victory over all evil powers.  We call upon Christ who was crucified to deliver us from sin and to save us. The Cross is the sign of God’s love for us and His determination to deliver us from the power of sin and death.    Sin has weakened and sickened us, so we are almost helpless before the “powers of darkness.”  But despite our weakness and sinfulness, God is the powerful Savior who is forever merciful to us.

“You hung dead upon the Cross: restore life to my soul, deadened through sin, O Christ, count me worthy to attain Your holy Resurrection in peace obediently fulfilling Your commandments.”

The Cross becomes for us the means of our resurrection – it is thus life-giving.  Christ dies on the cross so that we can live.  The emphasis is not on Christ paying some price for our sins but rather on Christ’s victory over all evil.  Christ’s death is not so He can suffer, but for Him to overcome human suffering and give life to the world.

“In Your compassion You humbled Yourself, and were lifted on the Cross, raising up with Yourself  the one who had fallen of old through eating from the tree. Therefore You are glorified, Lord, alone greatest in love, and we sing Your praises for ever!”

Through the Cross Adam is raised from the dead.  Adam is a type of all humans and so the Cross is the means of salvation for everyone.  Through the Cross joy has come into all the world.  Christ dies on the cross to raise Adam, not just to suffer for him.   Christ is glorified by saving Adam.

“I have fallen into the heavy sleep of sin through heedlessness, but, my Christ, Who for my sake fell asleep on the Cross, awaken me, that the night of death not come on me.”

A very poetic imagery in the above hymn which plays on the fact that sleeping is an image of one who is dead but can be awakened.   Sin has taken away vibrant life from me, and so I fall into a dead sleep of sin.  Wonderfully, Christ is portrayed as also having fallen asleep on the Cross – but His sleeping is not due to sloth and sin, but rather His active and powerful love.  His sleep is not draining his power away but is done in order to overcome death.

The last hymn, below, adds another dimension to the salvation attained through Christ’s death on the cross: namely, that God is using humanity to overcome sin and death.  The hymn turns its gaze on the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary.

“You have destroyed the sentence of condemnation passed upon mankind of old; You are the restoration of our first Mother Eve, the cause of our reconciliation to God, our bridge to the Creator!  We magnify you, Theotokos!”

Just as the Cross is the is God’s weapon to destroy “the sentence of condemnation” which stood against humankind for the sin of Eve and Adam (namely, death), so too the Theotokos through God’s grace begins the process of undoing what Eve and Adam had set in motion through their sinful disobedience.  Already in the Virgin Mother God’s womb, the incarnate God is at work restoring humanity to Himself.  The crucifixion of Christ is essential for our salvation because Mary is Theotokos.  God the Word took on flesh from Mary thus bridging the divide between God and humanity.  The significance of the crucifixion, and thus the Cross, is that Christ is God in the flesh.  God in Christ is already saving humanity from the moment of His conception and incarnation.  Without the reality of the incarnation of one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, Christ’s death does not heal humanity or restore our relationship to God.  The mystery of the incarnation is fully revealed in the cross – God dying in the flesh while through His body, destroying the power of sin, death and Satan.

Rejoice, O Virgin full of Grace, the Lord is with You



(Vespers for the Feast of the Annunciation)

The Annunciation to the Theotokos (2013)

March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos (Luke 1:24-38) celebrates the incarnation and the beginning of salvation for all humanity.  In this event, all the walls which separated humanity from God are broken down as God unites Himself to His human creatures in order to make us more fully human.

St. Irenaeus (d. 202AD) gives us an idea of how early in Christian history Mary’s role in salvation was understood and appreciated.

Adam Eve Temptation“Eve was seduced by the word of the [fallen] angel and transgressed God’s word, so that she fled from him. In the same way, [Mary] was evangelized by the word of an angel and obeyed God’s word, so that she carried him [within her]. And while the former was seduced into disobeying God, the latter was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary became the advocate (advocata0 of the virgin Eve. And just as the human race was bound to death because of a virgin, so it was set free from death by a Virgin, since the disobedience of one virgin was counterbalanced by a Virgin’s obedience. If, then, the first-made man’s sin was mended by the right conduct of the firstborn Son [of God], and if the serpent’s cunning was bested by the simplicity of the dove [Mary], and if the chains that held us bound to death have been broken, then the heretics are fools; they are ignorant of God’s economy, and they are unaware of his economy for [the salvation of] man.” (St. Irenaeus in Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero, pg. 54)

Annunciation, Chora Church, Istanbul

Sunday of Orthodoxy (2013)

ArbpJobFor centuries in the Orthodox Church, the first Sunday of Great Lent has been dedicated to the theological victory of Orthodoxy in defense of icons as not only theology proper but also as theologically necessary for clearly proclaiming the doctrine of salvation in Christ to the world.  Certainly the icons were seen as a very concrete way to proclaim the reality of who Jesus is:  God incarnate.

However, despite the ancient nature of the Sunday of Orthodoxy’s affirmation of Christian theology, there was at one time a different commemoration on the first Sunday of Great lent which is even more ancient in Orthodoxy.

“Before the Triumph of Orthodoxy came to be celebrated on the first Sunday, there was on this day a commemoration of Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and the prophets. Traces of this more ancient observance can still be seen in the choice of the Epistle reading at the Liturgy (Hebrews 11: 24-6. 32-40). and in the Alleluia verse appointed before the Gospel: ‘Moses and Aaron among His priest, and Samuel among them that call upon His Name.’” (The Lenten Triodion, pg. 52)

This earlier tradition of honoring the prophets at the beginning of Lent was long ago replaced by the Sunday of Orthodoxy’s emphasis on the theological importance of the Holy Icons in proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord.

“If I consider that the Lord and Savior is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15), and if I see that my soul is made ‘in the image of the Creator’ (Gen. 1:27), to be the image of the image (since my soul is not, properly speaking, the image of God but has been formed unto the likeness of the original image), then I will be able to comprehend the matter by putting it in these terms: Just as a painters of images, after choosing (for example) the face of a king, apply their artistic ability to copying a unique model, in the same way each of us, by transforming our own soul into the image of Christ, reproduces an image of him, smaller or larger, sometimes hidden and dirty, but sometimes shining and luminous and corresponding to the original model.”  (Luigi Gambero , Mary and the Fathers of the Church, pg. 79)