The mystery of man’s reconciliation with God

Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that was incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.

He who is true God was therefore born in the complete and perfect nature of a true man, whole in his own nature, whole in ours. By our nature we mean what the Creator had fashioned in us from the beginning, and took to himself in order to restore it.

For in the Saviour there was no trace of what the deceiver introduced and man, being misled, allowed to enter. It does not follow that because he submitted to sharing in our human weakness he therefore shared in our sins.

He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.

Thus the Son of God enters this lowly world. He comes down from the throne of heaven, yet does not separate himself from the Father’s glory. He is born in a new condition, by a new birth.

He was born in a new condition, for, invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.

He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of man and the pre-eminence of God coexist in mutual relationship.

As God does not change by his condescension, so man is not swallowed up by being exalted. Each nature exercises its own activity, in communion with the other. The Word does what is proper to the Word, the flesh fulfils what is proper to the flesh.

One nature is resplendent with miracles, the other falls victim to injuries. As the Word does not lose equality with the Father’s glory, so the flesh does not leave behind the nature of our race.

One and the same person – this must be said over and over again – is truly the Son of God and truly the son of man. He is God in virtue of the fact that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He is man in virtue of the fact that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Pope St Leo the Great

What if she had said No?

(Universalis) The question may strike you as irreverent. How dare I suggest that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, Tower of David, and all the other titles, could have left us in the lurch like that?

But what if she had?

Could she have said No? You might say that of course she couldn’t, she was far too holy — but you would be guilty of demeaning and dangerous sentimentality. It is demeaning because it turns Our Lady from a free human being into a sanctified automaton. The whole glory of the Annunciation is that Mary, the second Eve, could have said No to God but she said Yes instead. That is what we celebrate, that is what we praise her for; and rightly so.

This sentimental view is dangerous too. If we believe that the most important decision in the history of the world was in fact inevitable, that it couldn’t have been otherwise, then that means it was effortless. Now we have a marvellous excuse for laziness. Next time we’re faced with a tough moral decision, we needn’t worry about doing what is right. Just drift, and God will make sure that whatever choice we make is the right one. If God really wants us to do something he’ll sweep us off our feet the way he did Mary, and if he chooses not to, it’s hardly our fault, is it?

So Mary could have said No to Gabriel. What if she had? He couldn’t just go and ask someone else, like some sort of charity collector. With all the genealogies and prophecies in the Bible, there was only one candidate. It’s an alarming thought. Ultimately, of course, God would have done something: the history of salvation is the history of him never abandoning his people however pig-headed they were. But God has chosen to work through human history. If the first attempt at redemption took four thousand years to prepare, from the Fall to the Annunciation, how many tens of thousands of years would the next attempt have taken?

Even if the world sometimes makes us feel like cogs in a machine, each of us is unique and each of us is here for a purpose: just because it isn’t as spectacular a purpose as Mary’s, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. When we fail to seek our vocation, or put off fulfilling some part of it, we try to justify ourselves by saying that someone else will do it better, that God will provide, that it doesn’t really matter. But we are lying. However small a part I have to play, the story of the Annunciation tells me it is my part and no-one else can do it.

Faced with the enormity of her choice, how was Mary able to decide? If she said No, unredeemed generations would toil on under the burden of sin. If she said Yes, she herself would suffer, and so would her Son; but both would be glorified. Millions of people not yet born would have Heaven open to them; but millions of others would suffer oppression and death in her son’s name. The stakes were almost infinite.

You might say that Mary didn’t worry about all this, just obeyed God; but I don’t believe it. What God wanted was not Mary’s unthinking obedience but her full and informed consent as the representative of the entire human race. The two greatest miracles of the Annunciation are these: that God gave Mary the wisdom to know the consequences of her decision, and that he gave her the grace not to be overwhelmed by that knowledge.

When we come to an important decision in our lives, we can easily find our minds clouded by the possible consequences, or, even more, by partial knowledge of them. How can we ever move, when there is so much good and evil whichever way we go? The Annunciation gives us the answer. God’s grace will give us the strength to move, even if the fate of the whole world is hanging in the balance. After all, God does not demand that our decisions should be the correct ones (assuming that there even is such a thing), only that they should be rightly made.

There is one more truth that the Annunciation teaches us, and it is so appalling that I can think of nothing uplifting to say about it that will take the sting away: perhaps it is best forgotten, because it tells us more about God than we are able to understand. The Almighty Father creates heaven and earth, the sun and all the stars; but when he really wants something done, he comes, the Omnipotent and Omniscient, to one of his poor, weak creatures — and he asks.

And, day by day, he keeps on asking us.

Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops: 2017 Great Lent Epistle

Great Lent Epistle in the year of our Lord 2017

PERMANENT CONFERENCE OF UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX BISHOPS BEYOND THE BORDERS OF UKRAINE

Beloved in the Lord, Reverend Clergy! Dear Brothers and Sisters! By the Grace of God, very recently we joyfully celebrated the Great Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who “ for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.” (The Nicene Creed).

In these days, Great Lent is already beginning and our Holy Church is preparing us for the events, the culmination of the history of humanity, in the relationship between the Creator and His creation. For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son to die for us in order to grant us eternal life, (John 3:16). For our sake and for our salvation, the Son of God willingly suffers and endures crucifixion and death. During this Holy 40 day period, as we approach the most important event for us all, the Holy Church calls us to adequately prepare ourselves to come near, to feel the incomprehensible love of God for us sinners, and to understand the price that was paid so that we may receive salvation and eternal life.

The Lord says “if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). The days of Great Lent are the days when, with God’s help, we should make the maximum effort, weak and sinful as we are, to carry our cross. We should try to repent more deeply, to cleanse our body and soul from sin more, to forgive others more, to pray more, to fast more, to engage in constant spiritual warfare and thus lay a good foundation for our spiritual cleansing and spiritual development so that we are adequately prepared for Passion Week and the Holy Resurrection.

As the Holy Orthodox Church teaches, the path to God is the way of carrying our cross; it is a narrow and thorny path; it is the path of continuous falls under the cross and of continuous rises again. This is the way, after our personal Golgotha, wherein the light of Christ’s Resurrection will shines on us. We must never forget the words of our Lord: “Where I am, there my servant will be also” (John 12:26).

In our days, people who truly seek God do not seek a religious corporation that is financially rich or gives easy answers to concerns about God or gathers thousands of people in stadiums who want to listen to easy messages that are pleasant to their ears about themselves and about God. They are told that God is their friend, that He loves them, that He forgives them and they don’t need to do anything serious and sacrificial in their life to be “saved”. They are told to take the wide gate and the broad way to God, rather than the narrow gate and difficult way as is said in the Holy Gospel (Matthew 7:13-14). But our Orthodox Church is not spiritual fast food, and the true way to God is the way of Golgotha, the way of sacrifice, the way of limitation in life. This is the way of the cross which leads through Golgotha to Resurrection. As His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said: “The Orthodox Church is distinguished from other Christian churches in that she has preserved unadulterated the first and most ancient ecclesiastical tradition and teaching, has avoided innovation and personal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and dogmas of faith” (Encountering the Mystery by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew). As we say in the Sunday of Orthodoxy: “this is the Apostolic faith, this is the faith of our Fathers, this is the Orthodox faith, this faith has established the universe”.

Orthodoxy is not a philosophy, not a theory, not an ideology, but a way of life that should be lived, that should be experienced, as the psalmist David says: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”(Psalm 33)

The Holy Orthodox Church has one goal: with God’s mercy and blessing, and through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, love for each other, through the Holy Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, that we achieve salvation. The Lord says: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Let us beseech the Lord not to leave us without His great mercy and bounty and that He strengthen us spiritually and physically, especially in these days of Great Lent, so that we can adequately meet His Holy Resurrection.

We sincerely greet the pious Ukrainian nation in Ukraine and beyond the borders of Ukraine with the beginning of Great Lent and we call God’s blessings upon all of you.

Your servants in our Lord Jesus Christ,

✠ YURIJ, Metropolitan Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

✠ ANTONY, Metropolitan Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Diaspora

✠ JEREMIAH, Archbishop Ukrainian Orthodox Eparchy of Brazil and South America

✠ DANIEL, Archbishop-elect Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

✠ ILARION, Bishop Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

✠ ANDRIY, Bishop Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada

Christianity & Islam: Different Gods, Different Religious Universes 

To proclaim that Christians and Muslims have the same God, and to hold to that, believing thereby that one has brought the debate to its term, denotes only a superficial approach. Their Gods do not partake in the same discourse, do not put forward the same values, do not propose for humanity the same destiny and do not concern themselves with the same manner of political and legal organization in human society. The comparative reading of the Gospel and the Koran by itself demonstrates that the two universes are unalike. From Christ, who refuses to punish the adulterous woman by stoning, one turns to see Mohammed ordaining, in the same circumstances, the putting to death of the unfaithful woman. One cannot follow Jesus and Mohammed.

SourceSylvain Gouguenheim’s “Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel: Les racines grecques de l’Europe Chrétienne” reviewed by Thomas F. Bertonneau

Samuel Gregg on Regensburg Revisited

Regensburg Revisited: Ten Years Later, A West Still in Denial Irrationality not only manifests itself in violence but also in an inability to apply authentic reason to the many pressing challenges of our age. Dr. Samuel Gregg

Source: Catholic World Report

The Council of Ancyra & the Moral Goodness of Property

There are Christians who seem to think that private property is at best morally suspect. While not necessarily arguing that, property is theft there is the suggestion that ownership is greed and the fruit of the poisoned tree. To be fair, there is patristic authority that can be marshalled for this position. But on close examination, the fathers’ criticisms of property pertain more to how it is acquired and especially how it is used and not to the moral goodness of property as such.

For St Maximus the Confessor, what is corrupted is not the thing itself but our understanding and so use of the thing.

It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. This being so, it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers (#4, Third Century on Charity).

We see a similar line of thought some 300 years earlier at Council of Gangra when the fathers condemn those who “take the matter of ascetic exercises as something to be proud of” and so “[dis]honor modest cohabitation of matrimony, and … despise wealth with justice and with the doing of good (Canon 21). While not beyond criticism, there is no suggestion here that property as such is theft. This shouldn’t surprise us if we recall the importance of property in ancient world. This is so even in the Old Testament. God doesn’t just call Abraham and make him the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5) be confirms His covenant by giving to Abraham and his descendants land. “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

With this in mind, let’s turn now to the canons on property (here) in the local Council at Ancyra (314). Here we get a glimpse of the how seriously the early Church took the moral goodness of property. The third and sixth canons give the loss of property and even the threat of such loss as a mitigating factor in reconciling apostates. Along with those who were tortured or jailed those who “had their property taken away from them … are not to be excluded from communion.” This extends not only to the laity but also “to the clergy.” The only requirement here is that the person demonstrate at the time “mournfulness over the occurrence in their whole make-up and their habit, and humbleness of life.” In other words, there must be some contemporary evidence of coercion.

Though generous the standard is not without limits.

The council makes a distinction between actual violence and civil fortitude and the threat of these. Apostasy committed to avoid the “threat of being imprisoned and punished, and of having their property taken away, or of being forced to change their abode” can be forgiven. Here reconciliation requires a six year long period of public penance before the individuals are re-admitted to Holy Communion. From the close of the council until Pascha (Easter) they may stay in the Liturgy only through the sermon (“as listeners”). After Pascha “they be obliged to serve three years as kneelers” at the entrance of the church asking for the prayers of the faithful. This is followed by “two more years (as co-standers)” when they may stay for the whole celebration of the Eucharist but not receive Holy Communion. Finally after this “they are to commune without an offering [i.e., additional penance], and thus to arrive at perfection.” To modern ears, this penance sounds harsh; however it is relatively mild for the time. As we read in third canon, it is meant as a correction for those who “were excluded by someone as a matter of excessive strictness, or … through ignorance.”

Given its status as local and not ecumenical, we ought not to make too much of the council’s comments on property which are, at best, tangential to the primary concern of reconciling apostates. Nevertheless, the off-handed way in which property is mentioned suggests the moral importance of property. One might argue that attachment to property made the faithful vulnerable to coercion. But the State’s willingness to exploit human weakness has never been the standard for determining Christian morality much less the willingness of the Church to forgive. Weakness, moral, physical or social, should rather inspire in us compassion and a renewed appreciation for the blessings that Caesar seeks to corrupt for his own ends and anything less than this is simply cruel.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Early Church Teaching on Economic Issues

There are several canons from ecumenical and local councils (here) that touch on economic matters. A keyword search turned up canons on “wealth,” “property,” “money,” and “usury.” Here are want to look briefly at those mentioning wealth and usury.

While I need to do more work on the historical and pastoral context in which they were written one of the things that struck me is that canons are not necessarily antithetical to the free market. This is different from saying that the canonical tradition advocates for a free market; it doesn’t. There is however a fundamental appreciation and respect for private property and on the use of “wealth with justice and with the doing of good” (Canon 21, Council of Gangra, AD 340). We can, and should, argue over the concrete meaning “justice” and “doing good” but clearly the council doesn’t condemn wealth as such. To borrow from St Maximus, it isn’t wealth but avarice which is the sin.

The canons on usury are also interesting. Unless he gives up doing so the Canons of the Holy Apostles (canon 44) deposes a “bishop, presbyter, or deacon, who takes usury from those who borrow of him.” Likewise Canon 10 of the Council of Trullo (AD 692), condemns clergy take interest from a loan are deposed “or what is called hecatostæ.” Looking back to Canon 17 from the First Council of Nicea (AD 325), the term hecatostæ suggest that by usury the fathers might have meant “ask[ing] the hundredth of the sum” as monthly interest.

While most of us would like a credit card that charged a simple interest rate of 1%/month, a gloss of the canon from Nicea suggests that fathers likely meant a higher rate. “If anyone shall receive usury or 150 per cent he shall be cast forth and deposed, according to this decree of the Church” (Ancient Epitome of Canon XVII). It is unclear whether this is a monthly or annual rate or simply a straight fee for borrowing money.

Whatever usury meant concretely at the time, evidently the bishops in the early Church were not content to limit their moral teaching on economic matters to general principles. They put numbers on the table and condemn specific business practices as unjust or contrary to “doing good.” While I’m neither a church historian nor a theologian, it seems to me likely that at least some of the bishops were economically literate. It also seems to me that at least some were familiar with the business practices of their day.

While the bishops place limits on the use and acquisition of wealth they don’t disparage wealth creation. At Gangra the bishops express their esteem both for monastic poverty AND material success seeing both as consonant with humility. As they write they “admire virtue with humility … continence with modesty and godliness, … anachoretic departures from mundane affairs with humility, … modest cohabitation of matrimony, and do not despise wealth with justice and with the doing of good.”

Yes they condemn usury but the canons cited don’t reject charging interest. Just as married life requires that the couple mix their labor with the material world to create the wealth needed to fulfill and to establish a home “built in the name of God” (Gangra) there are times when borrowing and lending money are necessary for the economic life of a community. This might be why Nicea doesn’t condemns interest payments as such but a very specific interest rate. Finally it seems to me unlikely that this was simply an arbitrary figure. Given the specificity of the canon it likely reflected an abuse of what was an otherwise acceptable practice leading credence to the possibility that economics the bishops understood business.

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