Teachings from the Didache

One of the earliest Christian writings which despite its ancient origins did not get included in the Christian Scripture is the writing  known as The Didache.  It was written probably in the late 1st Century, shortly after the other New Testament books were written.  In it we see some of the focus of early Christians and their thinking on how to live the Christian life in world which was often hostile to the Christians.  Here is a brief excerpt from The Didache:

   There are two ways; the one is that of life and the other is that of death. There is a great difference between the two ways. The Way of Life is this: first, you shall love the God Who made you; second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Everything that you do not wish to be done to you, do not do to another!

Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies. Fast for those who persecute you, for what grace would you receive if you love only those who love you back? Even the heathen do that. Love those who hate you, and you will have no enemies. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also, and you will be perfect.

You shall not be rapacious and always want to have more, or be deceitful, or malicious, or imagine yourself to be great. You shall not plot evil schemes against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man. You shall admonish people, you shall pray for people, and you shall love man more than your own life.

Do not grumble, for this leads to blasphemy; do not be self-willed or evil-minded, for all these things breed blasphemy. Be gentle-minded, for those of a gentle mind shall possess the earth. Be patient and have a loving heart. Be guileless, quiet and good, trembling in all things at the words you have heard. You shall not exalt yourself or allow your heart to be bold or presumptuous. Your heart shall not cling to the high and mighty on earth but to the good and humble folk. (George Grube, What the Church Fathers Say About…, pp. 137, 138, 139)

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St Abercius, Equal to the Apostles

“In the time of the Emperor Antoninus (138-161), St Abercius was bishop in the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia. The great majority of the town’s inhabitants were pagans, and St Abercius governed his little flock with a heart greatly saddened by the great number of pagans and idolaters, and with fervent prayer to God that He would bring them to the true Light. At the time of a rowdy idolatrous festival, Abercius became inflamed with godly zeal and went into the temple, smashing all the idols. When the furious pagans tried to kill him, three young madmen fell down before the man of God, foaming at the mouth and bellowing. The man of God drove the demons out of them, and they were healed and became calm. Seeing this, the fury of the pagans turned to marveling at Christ’s wonderworker, and five hundred of them were immediately baptized. Little by little, everyone in the city of Hierapolis came to believe in Christ and was baptized. The proconsul of the region, Publius, had a blind mother whose sight Abercius restored by prayer, and both Publius and his mother came to faith in Christ, along with many other people. In old age, Abercius was summoned to Rome, where he healed the Emperor’s mad daughter. The Lord Christ appeared to His faithful follower several times. People from far and near came to him for help in chronic sickness, and the demons not only feared him but were obedient to his commands. At the order of the Lord Himself, he preached the Gospel throughout Syria and Mesopotamia, and went to his beloved Lord in great old age, in the city of Hierapolis at the end of the second century.”  (The Prologue from Ochrid, p. 96)

The Origins of the Apostle’s Fast

Fr. Paul N. Harrilchak notes in his book, The Divine Liturgy of the Great Church (p 211), that the origins of the Apostle’s Fast are rooted in the ancient Christian practice that there was no fasting or penitential kneeling in the Church for the 50 days from Pascha to Pentecost, which for many centuries was treated as one continuous and great Feast in the Church which lasted 7 weeks plus one day.   In the 4th Century according to documents, following this totally fast-free fifty day festal period, plus an additional week of feasting after Pentecost, a one week fast was observed.  That one week fast which began 8 days after Pentecost morphed, under monastic influence in recent centuries, into the Apostle’s Fast which now stretches from the Monday after All Saints Day until the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul on June 29.  Because Pascha and Pentecost are movable feasts, the length of the Apostle’s fast changes each year.

After having celebrated Pentecost, keep a feast for one week, and after that keep a fast for one week [origin of the so-called Apostles’ Fast–Ed.]: for it is right to rejoice over the Gift of God [meaning the Descent of the Holy Spirit–Ed.], and then to keep a fast after the time of relaxation [of Wednesday/Friday fasting during the 50-day Paschal/Pentecost season]. (Apostolic Constitutions, Syria (ca. 380 A.D.).  

The Ecumenical Council in the Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church often claims to be “the Church of the Councils“.  In that claim, Orthodoxy says the Seven Ecumenical Councils are foundational to the very life of the Church.   In the Liturgical life of the Church, these Ecumenical Councils are commemorated on various dates throughout the Church calendar year.  Notably, the 7th Ecumenical Council is commemorated on the 1st Sunday of Great Lent, and the 1st Ecumenical Council is commemorated each year on the 7th Sunday after Pascha a kind of inclusion bookending everything from the beginning of Great Lent to the conclusion of the Paschal season.

There is another factor that occurs as a result of this: the Church in many ways so identifies itself with the Byzantine Empire as to make the Empire and the Church coterminous.   Whatever the Byzantine Emperor and State ruled became law in the Church and vice versa.  The Ecumenical Councils, called as they were by the Emperors, are as much state affairs as they are church affairs.  The Byzantines saw this as a symphony between Church and State.  Fr. Eugen J. Pentiuc notes:

A climax came in 545 during the prolonged conflict over the validity of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In that year Justinian declared that the dogmata of the first four councils carried an authority equal to that of the holy Scriptures. 

Novella 131 issued by emperor Justinian in the year 545 C.E. reads:

‘Therefore We order that the sacred, ecclesiastical rules which were adopted and confirmed by the four Holy Councils, that is to say, that of the three hundred and eighteen bishops held at Nicea, that of the one hundred and fifty bishops held at Constantinople, the first one of Ephesus, where Nestorius was condemned, and the one at Chalcedon, where Eutyches and Nestorius were anathematized, shall be considered as laws. We accept the dogmas of these four Councils as sacred writings, and observe their rules as legally effective.'” (The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition, pp. 151-152)

There is a plus and minus in this symphony.  On the one hand, there was cooperation unifying Byzantine society civilly and spiritually.  Justinian is recognized in the Church as both Emperor and saint.  On the other hand, it appears that there is also a belief that the Holy Spirit acted equally in the state as in the Church as there is little difference seen between the two.  The Canons which reflect the work of the Holy Spirit in the ongoing life of the Church in the world, became civil law.  The ability of the Church to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit became enmeshed with the life of the Empire.  This is an enmeshment from which the Church has never fully disentangled itself – and doesn’t seem to have the desire to do so.  The Byzantine Empire came to an end as God ordained, and the Church survived, and yet the laws, assumptions and worldview of the Empire remain embedded in and/or imposed on the Church.  History moved on, leaving the Byzantium behind.  The Church needs to continue to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit and recognize the temporal nature of canon law – “law” which emerged because of particular historical needs but which became fixed, eternal and even ossified, even when history kept changing the conditions in which the Church finds itself.  Canon Law was not intended to freeze the Church in a historical period or to identify the universal Church with a particular worldly empire.  Canon Law emerged as the Church’s living response to contemporary issues and circumstances.  It is considered to be part of how the Church adapts to and responds to the times.  In a sense it is the “open” canon of the Church, subject to the Church’s own discerning and formulating the proper response to new and unfolding changes in history and the world.  Without that ability to formulate a current response to a contemporary issue, the Church becomes petrified, ossified and moribund – frozen in time despite the ongoing and changing nature of history and the world.

Commemorating the Ecumenical Councils is an essential good in the life of the Church – it makes us recognize that the Church throughout its history faced the challenges of its time and place.  Today, we commemorate the Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council who not only showed us the right response to the crises of their day but also how a living Church responds to issues internal and external to the Church in each and every age.   The Church in the past met those challenges by forming new “law” and methods to deal with the changing reality of history.  We need that same Spirit today.

The Three Hierarchs

On January 30, we commemorate in the Orthodox Church The Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers and Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom.

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One of the Matins hymns for the Feast appealed to me because of my interest in our friendly pollinators, the blessed bees.

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LIKE BEES HOVERING OVER THE MEADOW OF THE SCRIPTURES,

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YOU EMBRACED THE WONDERFUL POLLEN OF THEIR FLOWERS.

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TOGETHER YOU HAVE PRODUCED FOR ALL THE FAITHFUL

THE HONEY OF YOUR TEACHINGS FOR THEIR COMPLETE DELIGHT.

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THEREFORE AS WE EACH ENJOY THIS, WE CRY OUT WITH GLADNESS:

BLESSED ONES, EVEN AFTER DEATH,

BE ADVOCATES FOR US WHO PRAISE YOU!

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A Brief History of the Feast of the Nativity

“The Feast of Christmas on 25th December developed in the West at the beginning of the fourth century. The Christian celebration of the birth of the Sun of Righteousness (cf. Malachi 4:2) soon spread from Rome and was well established in the Eastern empire by the late fourth century, although it was not until the sixth century that the Feast was fully accepted in Palestine. This celebration of the Nativity of the Lord owes much to the fact that major theological questions about the divinity of Christ had been resolved at the Council of Nicea in 325, and the liturgical texts strongly emphasize Christ’s divinity.

In the historical event of Christ’s birthday, the Lord’s humanity is quite obvious, but the Feast is not only about a human birth; it is about the human birth of the second Person of the Holy Trinity and the implications of the Incarnation for the salvation of the world. There is constant interplay in the texts between the visible details of the event and the invisible reality of what is taking place as God the Son, the eternal Word, takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and is born at Bethlehem.” (John Baggley, Festal Icons of the Christian Year, p 31)

The Present Age

In every period of history since the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, some Christians have found themselves living in perilous times.  St Paul in his epistles describes the endless threats and actual suffering he endured.  Christians suffered persecution from the Roman Empire, from Persians, from Arab Muslims, Turkish Muslims, from Tartars, from communists and at times from other Christians.   Scripture scholar Richard B. Hays says St Paul actually pictured all times on this earth, as long as we await the parousia (the end of history and this world), as being a perilous time for believers.  Despite the appearance of the incarnate God in Jesus the Messiah, we still live in a world which is a spiritual battlefield, in which Satan and evil have not yet been fully defeated.  For St Paul the struggles of Israel in the Scriptures foreshadows the trials Christians face in the world.

Paul regards the present as a time out of joint, an age riddled with anomolies: despite the revelation of the righteousness of God, human beings live in a state of rebellion and sin, and Israel stands skeptical of its appointed Messiah. Under such circumstances, God’s justice is mysteriously hidden and the people of God are exposed to ridicule and suffering, as Israel learned during the period of exile. Paul’s pastoral task thus entails not only formulating theological answers to doubts about God’s righteousness but also interpreting the suffering that the faithful community encounters during this anomalous interlude.  […]  The point is not that ‘righteous people have always suffered like this;, rather, Paul’s point in Rom. 8:35-36 is that Scripture prophesies suffering as the lot of those (i.e. himself and his readers) who live in the eschatological interval between Christ’s resurrection and the ultimate redemption of the world. Thus, in this instance as in many others that we will examine subsequently, Paul discerns in Scripture a foreshadowing of the church.”(Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of St. Paul, pp 57-58)

If we follow the teachings of St Paul, we are given a framework in which to understand the current age.  The present is not more perilous than the past for Christians, it just is our time to face the perils which have always been a threat to Christians.  As Christians living in this world we must always remember that times of prosperity are as dangerous to our spiritual lives as our times of peril.   The world is not made less under Satan’s power by prosperity!

American elections do not usher in the Kingdom of God nor do they thwart God’s Kingdom.   Even in America, we live in this world, a world still under Satan’s influence, a fallen world – no matter who is president, this is our reality.  We live in the same world that all Christians have since the time of Christ: a world created as good by a loving Creator, one which has fallen under the power of sin, death and Satan, and yet which is redeemed by Christ the Savior.  This is why we have hope and joy no matter what is happening in worldly politics.

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Luke 12:32-34)

We Are Christian. So, Who Are We?

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“I begin with praxis. Where did resurrection show up in what the early Christians habitually did? Briefly and broadly, they behaved as if there were in some important senses already living in God’s new creation. They lived as if the covenant had been renewed, as if the kingdom were in a sense already present, though, to be sure, future as well; often their present-kingdom behavior (for instance, readiness to forgive persecutors rather than call down curses on them) comes to the fore precisely in contexts where it is all too obvious that the kingdom has not yet been fully realized. The other elements of early Christian praxis, not least baptism, eucharist and martyrdom, point in the same direction. If challenged about their lifestyle, or their existence as a community, the early Christian responded by telling stories of Jesus, particularly of his triumph over death.  […]

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The worldview questions, when posed to the early Christians, elicit a set of resurrection-shaped answers. Who are we? Resurrection people: a people, that is, formed within the new world which began at Easter and which has embraced us, in the power of the Spirit, in baptism and faith. Where are we? In God’s good creation, which is to be restored; in bodies that will be redeemed, though at present they are prone to suffering and decay and will one day die. What’s wrong? The work is incomplete: the project which began at Easter (the defeat of sin and death) has not yet been finished. What’s the solution? The full and final redemption of the creation, and ourselves with it; this will be accomplished through a fresh act of creative grace when Jesus reappears, and this in turn is anticipated in the present by the work of the Spirit. What time is it? In the overlap of the ages: the ‘age to come’, longed for by Israel, has already begun, but the ‘present age’ still continues.” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp 578-579 & 581)

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Jesus Christ, The Word of God, and Scriptures

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  (John 1:1-4, 14)

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The Evangelist John, known in the Orthodox Church as John the Theologian, proclaimed Jesus to be the incarnate Word of God.  John is very clear WHO the Word of God is: Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God to whom the Scriptures bore witness.

You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me…”  (John 5:39)

Thus the written revelation of God, the Scriptures bear witness to the Word of God.  As Jesus teaches, Moses inspired by God to write the Torah, was actually writing about the Word of God who was to become incarnate.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46)

 “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.“  (Luke 24:27)

Not only Moses but all the prophets and all the authors of Scripture were inspired to write about the coming Messiah, the Word of God.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45)

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In this blog series I intend to explore the relationship between our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the Scriptures, the written record of God’s revelation.  As in all my blog series, this is not a scholarly researched paper.  I am simply drawing upon quotes that I tagged from books I read over the past 30 years and am now assembling together into this blog series.  The quotes are  ideas I came across  in my reading over several decades which stood out in my mind when I read the books.  I am now bringing the quotes together to explore the relationship between the Word of God and the Scriptures.  Obviously if Jesus is literally the Word of God, then the Scriptures are the Word of God in some other way.  They are the written record of God’s revelation, but Jesus is the full revelation of God.  The Scriptures bear witness to Him.  It is of Jesus that all the Scriptures speak.   In this blog series we will look at various aspects of how the Scriptures are related to the Word of God.

Even when we think about the Word of God as being a written text, which we call the Bible, we have to realize the Bible is a collection of books written over hundreds of years by different authors.  Some of the books show signs that there were several different authors/editors involved in bringing together the texts of a book.  The Church still considers the texts inspired – whether one author or several had a hand in writing the book, or whether a book was edited by several different people, or even if we don’t know who the author(s) of a book are, we still consider the Scriptures to be inspired by God.  Absolute certainty about the authorship of a text, or total knowledge of the history of a book of the Bible, does not determine its inspiration.   Even when the books of the bible show several different versions of the same story, sometimes placed side by side within one book of the Bible, the Church accepts the received texts and all its variations as being inspired.  The Church in history accepted as inspired the Septuagint translation into Greek of the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts, as well as the original texts from which they were translated.

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The first thing I will mention about our Bible, and the books accepted by the Church as being part of our Scriptures, is that not only was the Bible written over many centuries, but the bringing together of all the texts and deciding which texts exactly belong to the canonical Scriptures also took centuries.  We see in the historical documents clear evidence that inspired saints, the Fathers of the Church did have at times slightly different ideas about which books constituted the official scriptures of the Church.  Additionally, there is a great deal of literature which compares and contrasts even the differences in the official texts of the Bible in the various Christian traditions (Latin, Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, Coptic, etc) .  Here I will only mention a few quotes that gives us a sense some of the differences in the Church Fathers through the centuries about what is officially in the bible.  In the 2nd Century we find one attempt at establishing what books belong in the Bible (the fact that this has to be established shows us that there was not exact agreement on what books officially belong in the canonical Bible).

Melito  (d. ca 180ad) visited the Holy Land with a view to establishing the list of the canonical books of the Old Testament. According to Eusebius (EH 4.26) (d. 339AD), his list does not contain the book of Esther, which incidentally is also missing from the biblical remains of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran.”   (Geza Vermes,  Christian Beginnings, Kindle Loc. 3424-26)

Melitio’s Bible agrees with the Qumran community’s “canon”.  That community was a dissident group of Jews outside of mainstream Judaism in Jerusalem.

A 4th Century Document, The Apostolic Constitutions (written ca 375AD), says this about the Canon:   “Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by you, both of the clergy and laity. Of the Old Covenant: the five books of Moses— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; one of Joshua the son of Nun, one of the Judges, one of Ruth, four of the Kings, two of the Chronicles, two of Ezra, one of Esther, one of Judith, three of the Maccabees, one of Job, one hundred and fifty psalms; three books of Solomon— Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; sixteen prophets. And besides these, take care that your young persons learn the Wisdom of the very learned Sirach. But our sacred books, that is, those of the New Covenant, are these: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the fourteen Epistles of Paul; two Epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; two Epistles of Clement; and the Constitutions dedicated to you the bishops by me Clement, in eight books; which it is not fit to publish before all, because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of us the Apostles.”  (The Apostolic Constitutions, Kindle Loc. 4894-4900)

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That 4th century canon of Scripture has many more books than officially ended up in the Bible of today.  It gives us a sense that there was not one canon accepted by all Christians in the 4th Century.  In the 8th Century, St. John of Damascus (d. 749) wrote a book that many consider authoritative in the Orthodox world for delineating doctrine.   Note in his comments especially what he considers to be the canonical books of the New Testament.  He is writing 400 years after many think the Christian canon had been closed.  St. John says:

 …  The New Testament contains four gospels, that according to Matthew, that according to Mark, that according to Luke, that according to John: the Acts of the Holy Apostles by Luke the Evangelist: seven catholic epistles, viz. one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude: fourteen letters of the Apostle Paul: the Revelation of John the Evangelist: the Canons of the holy apostles, by Clement.”  ( Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Kindle Loc.3180-3221)

St. John includes in the Bible as he knows it the letters of Clement but also those canons of the Holy Apostles mentioned from the 4th Century.  He includes as Scripture even more than the 4th Century Apostolic Constitution did.

Finally, in the 12th Century St Peter of Damaskos says this of the Canon of Scripture which he accepted:

 “These books include first of all the Old and the New Testaments, that is, the Pentateuch, the Psalter, the Four Books of Kings, the Six Books of Wisdom, the Prophets, the Chronicles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Gospels and the commentaries on all these…”  (St. Peter of Damaskos – 12th Century, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 25654-56)

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St. Peter seems almost to have an open canon of Scripture for he includes all of the commentaries (supposedly the Patristic ones) on the Scriptures.  The issue of Canon had to do with what writings people believe bore witness to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.  The Scriptures are those writing which bear witness to Christ, and so in different centuries they had differing ideas about what bore authentic witness to the Word of God.  All of these lists would have the common theme that the Scriptures – whatever books are included in the Bible – bear witness to the truth and help us recognize Jesus Christ as Lord.

Next:  Scriptures: The Written Word of God

The Moscow Council of 1917-18

Moscow CouncilThe recent Holy And Great Orthodox Council in Crete inspired me to read about another Orthodox council, THE MOSCOW COUNCIL (1917-1918) from a book written by Hyacinthe Destivelle.   This Council was held in the midst of most interesting and tumultuous times as Russia was in the spasms of its revolution which would overthrow the dominant social order of their empire.  The Church leaders and membership at times resisted the changes, at times prompted the changes and at times were pushed and carried along by the changes.

The Council was being considered and planned for a number of years before it actually took place.  The outbreak of the Russian revolution actually catalyzed the Church into action.  And while the Church leaders meeting were often inspired with creative thinking and were willing and able to look at issues the Church had not given serious consideration to in the past, ultimately the Church found itself chasing the retreating waters of history and then being smashed by the incoming tsunami called Bolshevism.

The Russian Church for years had been seeking to be freed from its enmeshment with the state, but was totally ill prepared for the collapse of the Russian state and the rise of the Bolsheviks.  And while the atheist Soviet state might seem to be the very government that would have also wanted a church-state separation, it instead decided that controlling the Church as the Russian state had done since the time of Peter the Great was actually to its own advantage.  Rather than ignoring the Church it no longer believed in, the Soviet State attempted to dominate and then destroy the Orthodox Church.  The Council members were trying to delineate (from the Church’s point of view) what the role of the Orthodox Church would be in a society in which there was a separation of Church and state, but history was passing them by and they didn’t realize the arising state had no interest in giving the Church freedom to realize its mission.

ww2russiaWhile these events were just beginning to unfold, we can see the ambivalence or even confusion expressed by the Council as to what the Church’s relationship to the state should be.  “… the Church, although it aspired to independence, did not have the intention of renouncing its privileged relation with the state or of separating itself from it.” (p 183)  The Council members believed the Church had a privileged position and used demographics to bolster their belief.  Stating that since factually “the larger majority of the population” (p 138) claimed membership in the Church it therefore was entitled to an advantaged position in the land, the Council members never envisioned that the Church might lose that majority position or that for the Bolsheviks such thinking meant nothing.  They seemed not to have realized how unaffiliated many (most?) of the population really was with the Church.  It was a state religion, cultural religion, but didn’t have the sincere loyalty of the hearts and minds of many in the Church.  The masses (what the Church believed were their faithful members) did not rise to the defense of the Church.

That the Council members continued to believe in

“The ‘juridical status of the Orthodox Church of Russia’ shows that the ideal of a ‘symphony of powers,’ formulated by Justinian I (527-65), clearly takes precedence over their separation.  In the name of its historical, sociological, and perhaps theological primacy, the Russian Orthodox Church claims a status that would unequivocally assure a privileged place – not only with respect to other confessions but as regards all other Russian institutions.  By claiming this preeminence, the council sometimes seems to resist the idea of separation from the state – especially in its insistence that the principal political leaders profess the Orthodox faith.”  (pp 140-141)

So, on the one hand, the Council believed that in order for the Church to fulfill its true mission, there must be the separation of Church and state.  They knew the disadvantages of being not only wedded to the state but controlled by the state. They wanted the Church to be released from the stranglehold of the Petrine Russian State, what they didn’t realize is what government was coming in Russia intended to fully strangle the Church.

On the other hand, they still wanted to draw upon entitlement from the state.  They expected the newly emerging Russia would give the Church independence while at the same time using all of its civil powers to keep the Church in a entitled position.  It wasn’t to be, for what emerged in Russia was a state freed from the powers of the Church but totally willing to dominate and abuse the Church hoping to eradicate it altogether.

As events in the emerging Soviet society were moving rapidly toward an anti-Church position, the Council frequently ended up responding to the ever changing events rather than leading the Church to help shape the nation.  For example, the Council promulgated in the face of communities losing not only the sacred liturgical objects but their church buildings that

“’The sacred vessels… may be without any ornamentation, and the vestments may be made from a common linen.’  The council gives a spiritual meaning to this persecution that forces the Church to become poor and simple and a better witness ‘so that it may be known to all that the Orthodox Church appreciates its holy objects because of their inner significance, rather than for the sake of material value, and that violence and persecution is incapable to deprive the Church from its chief treasure – its holy faith, the pledge of its eternal triumph, for ‘this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith’ (1 John 5:49”  ( p 150)

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It was, apparently, the revolution, not the Council, that  was forcing the Church to abandon its excesses in order to hold on to what is important and essential to Christianity.  The Church is not about gilded ornamentation but about the Gospel of a poor and humble incarnate God.  The Church is about God not gaud.   The Church was forced to embrace the poverty that Christ lived and taught.  It was the loss of its material treasures that caused the Church to remember its true treasure – Jesus Christ.  This certainly turns out to be a case in which the enemies of the Church in stripping away from the Church its possessions and privileges returned the Church to its fundamentals – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the living faith of the people.

As the Council proceeded it made more decisions which were direct responses to the unfolding events of the Russian revolution.  Critics of the Council began to complain that the Council members were being overly influenced by secular law and the demands of the moment.  But the Council noted quite correctly that “…the fathers of the first councils had been influenced by Roman law…” (p 179)  The Church has never existed in a vacuum.   Indeed the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils did often accept Roman civil law and structures in shaping the Church in the Roman Empire.   That the Russian Council had to take  the new Soviet law into account is a sign of the incarnational nature of the Church.  Christians from the time of St. Paul had prayed for their civil leaders, even when they were not Christian or even hostile to Christianity.

“This is why the Council of 1917-1918 still interest us: it reminds us that the Church, in every epoch, even the most troubled, can only be built up again by posing apparently ancient questions in order to find new answers and thus pour an ever-new wine into ever-new wineskins, the wine of its own marriage feast.”   (p 190)