The Compilers of the Philokalia Answer the Opponents of Frequent Communion

There was a certain crisis of the Eucharistic life in the Russian Orthodox Church during the Synodal era. People received communion only sporadically, on the day of their birthday and once in the Lent, and it was considered quite godly. The communion on every great Church feast and in the major fasts was thought to be ultimate godliness and piety. However, the rules of the Church and countless Holy Fathers have always called for a full-fledged, regular, and frequent communion of the Holy Eucharist. Here are some examples of the patristic arguments of the authors of the Philokalia against infrequent communion.

Some Claim That Frequent Communion Is the Privilege of Priests

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite and St. Macarius of Corinth, the compilers of the Philokalia, respond that the work of priests is the offering of the Holy Gifts, so that sanctification could take place through them, as through some organs of the Holy Spirit. They must also perform other priestly duties and pray for the people of God. When the moment of the communion of the Holy Mysteries comes, priests are no different from the faithful, except that they dispense the Mysteries, and the lay people accept them. Clerics also partake of the Sacrament in the sanctuary and directly, while laypersons do it in the nave and with the Holy Spoon. The fact that there is no difference between clergy and lay people when it comes to communion is also stated by St. John Chrysostom:

“One Father gave birth to us. We all had the same birth (of the Holy Font)”

“…In some things the priest is no different from a layman… We all enjoy the same things, unlike in the Old Testament: the priest ate one thing and the uninitiated ate another thing. The Law did not allow the people to eat that which the priest ate. This is not the case today, but one Body is offered to all, and the Chalice is also the same.” (Commentary on Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Homily 18).

Some Argue That Infrequent Communion Is a Sign of Reverence for the Sacrament

Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite responds to this by saying that such fear is not from God, as the Psalmist says: “There were they in great fear, where no fear was” (Psalm 53:5). Fear can be a matter of wrongdoing rather than obedience. St. Cyril of Alexandria points out that under the guise of “exaggerated reverence” the devil himself casts his nets, so that the faithful would not communicate with Christ for a long time.

“If you are always afraid of your smallest sins, then you should know that as a human being, you will never stop doing them – Who can understand his errors? (Psalm 19:12), – and so you will remain completely untouched by the saving Sacrament” (St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book 3, Chapter 6).

The Communion purifies us of our smallest transgressions and brings life to the one who constantly engages in it.

Also, Rule 2 of the Council of Antioch penalizes those who “turn away” from the Communion with excommunication. Zonaras explains that the turning away should not be understood as outright defiance of the Sacrament, which leads to a full banishment and anathema, but rather reluctance to take part in the Eucharist due to false humility.

St. Mary of Egypt and Other Ascetics Received Holy Communion Once or Twice in Their Lifetimes and Were Saved Anyway

“It is not the hermits who run the Church, and the Church did not tailor Her rules to hermits,” St. Nicodemus says.

Without being physically present at the Liturgy, only the souls of the dead are sanctified, as well as all those who roam deserts and mountains, caves and valleys of the earth (See Hebrews 11:38). Nevertheless, the Hagiorite adds, if hermits had the opportunity to attend the Liturgy and to take communion but they didn’t, they should also be condemned as contemptuous of the Divine Mysteries and as violators of the sacred rules.

Can Laypersons Be Blessed by Attending the Liturgy but Not Receiving Communion?

This seems likely because they are in the Church, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies the whole assembly. Yet, to what extent do they unite with Christ? Clearly not as much as they are when they partake of His Body and Blood. Saint Nicholas Kabasilas was convinced that those who were present at the Eucharist and could partake of it, but did not do so, never received sanctification.

Every Christian should ask themselves one question: do you want to be with Christ or not? If you would like Jesus to dwell in your heart and mind, to sanctify and heal you from every sinful affliction, you should remember the Lord’s words, Take, eat; this is my body… Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament. These words apply to each of us, and the only right thing for us to do is to obey the voice of the Good Shepherd if we want to be His faithful disciples.

 

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The “Smoking Gun” of Non-Chalcedonian Christianity

by Fr. Alexander Webster

The “smoking gun” regarding the non-Chalcedonians is their adamant refusal TODAY to accept the rejection of the “monothelete” heresy by the Sixth Ecumenical Council in AD 681. To his dying day, Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church and other hierarchs and theologians among the non-Chalcedonians still alive insist that the Incarnate Son of God possessed only a divine will (“monotheletism” from the Greek words for “one” and “will”) instead of a divine will and human will in accordance with His divine and human natures. The doctrinal deviancy and spiritual danger of monotheletism is to reduce the humanity of Jesus Christ to a partial nature with no human will as an energetic manifestation of that nature.

From a more practical perspective, monotheletism empties the Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross of any significance in the economy of salvation–as if the Lord were merely going through the motions or play-acting.

Holy Orthodoxy embraces fully the teachings of all Seven Ecumenical Councils. An ecclesial entity cannot affirm only five or even six of the seven without embracing heresy and departing from the Church.

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On Moral Heresy

This deserves a wide readership –  please share liberally on social media and email.

by Fr. John Whiteford

We have previously discussed Aristotle Papanikolaou’s strange notion that, unlike the dogmas of the Church, Orthodox Christian morality is open to dispute and change (see The Living Church 2.0). In the wake of a recent conference in Oxford of Orthodox “scholars, pastors, clinicians, and other experts” who gathered to “dialogue” about LGBTQP+ issues, Papanikolaou has asserted that never in the history of the Church has the term “heresy” been used to describe a false teaching on a moral issue.

In the course of a Twitter exchange about the problems with this conference, I commented:

“It’s the idea that holding the position that homosexual sex is not inherently sinful is within the bounds of acceptable opinion in the church that is the problem. That’s not acceptable. That’s heretical. St. Paul says it is contrary to sound doctrine.”

Papanikolaou made two similar comments:

“Never in the history of the Church has ‘heresy’ been used in relation to morality.  That’s how much you know as you pontificate (irony) on who’s a heretic and who is not.  Say what you will about us, but at least we don’t throw that word around.”

“The more you talk the more it’s clear you don’t know what you are talking about and borrowing western categories.  Heresy was never, ever applied to morality, esp. not by St Paul and Jesus.  What surprises me is smart people who like your tweets.”

 

So let’s consider the facts here:

1. St. Paul and Moral Dogmas:

Does St. Paul teach that moral teachings of the Church are dogmas and doctrines? He most certainly does.

To understand St. Paul’s teachings, we need to go back to the very first Council of the Church, the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15. The question in dispute was to what extent ought gentiles be held to obey the Mosaic Law. On one side, there were those who argued that gentiles had to become Jews, and live according to all of the ceremonial and moral laws of Moses. However, the Apostles said that gentiles were to be held instead to the basic laws God gave to Noah for all of mankind (see Genesis 9:1-17), and to the Moral Law of God, particularly with regard to sexual morality. They wrote to the gentile converts:

“…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well” (Acts 15:28-29).

Some will object that Christians do not observe what the Apostles wrote with regard to eating the blood of animals, but while this is generally true of the heterodox, it is not true of the Orthodox (See Stump the Priest: The Council of Jerusalem on the Blood of Animals).

And when the text speaks of “fornication,” the word is porneia (????????), which refers to any sex which is unlawful, and in the Jewish and Christian context, this means any sexual relations forbidden by the moral law of God, as expressed in the Scriptures, including homosexual sex (see The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 6, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1964-1976), p. 587-595) .

So is this decree of the Apostles, that all Christians must refrain from sexual immorality, dogma? Well the Scriptures say that this is exactly what it is. The Apostles obviously did not post their epistle to their website. The way this epistle was disseminated to gentile converts was by people like St. Paul himself. We are told in the chapter immediately following the record of the Council of Jerusalem that St. Paul and his companions delivered this epistle as they went on their next missionary journey:

“And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decrees, that were ordained by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4).

And what is the Greek text for “the decrees”?  “?? ???????” ta dogmata (i.e. the dogmas).

St. Paul also does in fact number sexual immorality (fornication) in general, and homosexual sex in particular, among a number of things that are contrary to “sound doctrine”:

“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites [?????????????], for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

If a sin is contrary to sound doctrine, then teaching that this sin was not actually a sin would obviously be heretical. Falling into a sin is sinful, but not heretical. However, teaching that a sin is not really a sin is both sinful and heretical. It is in fact a very serious heresy, because people cannot repent of a sin that they do not believe to be a sin, and this effectively shuts the doors of repentance in the face of sinners who are misled by this error.
 
2. A Moral Heresy Condemned By Christ Himself
 
One of the very earliest heresies in the first century Church was the heresy of the Nicolaitans. In the second chapter of Revelation, in Christ’s epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, after warning the Ephesians about their having lost their first love, he praised them on one count: 

“But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:6).

Then, in His letter to the Church at Pergamos, he writes:

“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:14-15).

So, the first question is did the Fathers of the Church understand Christ to be speaking of a heresy, and was that heresy with regard to their teachings on morality?

St. Andrew of Caesarea (563–637), wrote what is indisputably the most authoritative commentary on the book of Revelation, commenting on Revelation 2:6, he says:

“Anyone who comes upon the works of the Nicolaitans, which are hated by God, will know their detested heresy” (Andrew of Caesarea, trans. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea, Commentary on the Apocalypse, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), p. p. 64, emphasis added).

Reading just the text of Revelation 2:14-15, you might think that here Christ is speaking of two different, though perhaps related, heresies, but in fact, “the doctrine of Balaam” is referenced directly with regard to the Nicolaitans:

“So it seems this city [Pergamos] had possessed two difficulties: First, the majority was Greek [i.e. Pagan], and second, among those who were called believers, the shameful Nicolaitans had sown evil “tares among the wheat” [Matthew 13:24-30]. For this reason he recalled Balaam, saying who in Balaam taught Balak, through these words signifying that the Balaam of the mind, the devil, by means of the perceptible Balak, taught the stumbling block to the Israelites, fornication and idolatry. For by means of that pleasure they were thrown down into performing thisto Beel-phegor” [Baal of Peor, Numbers 25] (St. Andrew of Caesarea, Ibid., p.68).

Oecumenius (who wrote around late 6th or early 7th century) likewise sees the reference to Balaam as applying to the Nicolaitans, rather than to some other group in Pergamos (Oecumenius, Ancient Christians Texts: Greek Commentaries on Revelation: Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea, trans. William C Weinrich, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2011) p. 13).

What else about the Nicolaitans can we find in the writings of the Fathers?

St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170–235) wrote that this heresy originated with the deacon Nicolaus that we read about in Acts 6:5:

“But Nicolaus has been a cause of the wide-spread combination of these wicked men. He, as one of the seven (that were chosen) for the diaconate, was appointed by the Apostles. (But Nicolaus) departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food. And when the disciples (of Nicolaus) continued to offer insult to the Holy Spirit, John reproved them in the Apocalypse as fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 7:24).

St. Irenaeus (c.130–c.202) writes along the same lines:

“The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Irenaeus. Against Heresies, 1:26:3)

Clement of Alexandria (150–215), on the other hand, excused Nicolaus himself, and wrote that the heresy originated from a misunderstanding of the things Nicolaus taught:

“Such also are those (who say that they follow Nicolaus, quoting an adage of the man, which they pervert, “that the flesh must be abused.” But the worthy man showed that it was necessary to check pleasures and lusts, and by such training to waste away the impulses and propensities of the flesh. But they, abandoning themselves to pleasure like goats, as if insulting the body, lead a life of self-indulgence; not knowing that the body is wasted, being by nature subject to dissolution; while their soul is buried in the mire of vice; following as they do the teaching of pleasure itself, not of the apostolic man” (The Miscellianes 2:20).

And Eusebius ( c. 260– c. 340), agreed with Clements on the origins of this heresy:

“At this time the so-called sect of the Nicolaitans made its appearance and lasted for a very short time. Mention is made of it in the Apocalypse of John. They boasted that the author of their sect was Nicolaus, one of the deacons who, with Stephen, were appointed by the apostles for the purpose of ministering to the poor. Clement of Alexandria, in the third book of his Stromata, relates the following things concerning him. “They say that he had a beautiful wife, and after the ascension of the Saviour, being accused by the apostles of jealousy, he led her into their midst and gave permission to any one that wished to marry her. For they say that this was in accord with that saying of his, that one ought to abuse the flesh. And those that have followed his heresy, imitating blindly and foolishly that which was done and said, commit fornication without shame. But I understand that Nicolaus had to do with no other woman than her to whom he was married, and that, so far as his children are concerned, his daughters continued in a state of virginity until old age, and his son remained uncorrupt. If this is so, when he brought his wife, whom he jealously loved, into the midst of the apostles, he was evidently renouncing his passion; and when he used the expression, ‘to abuse the flesh,’ he was inculcating self-control in the face of those pleasures that are eagerly pursued. For I suppose that, in accordance with the command of the Saviour, he did not wish to serve two masters, pleasure and the Lord” (Eusebius, Church History 3:29:1-3).

There is no doubt that the Nicolaitans were considered heretics, and that their heresy consisted in teaching that it was acceptable for Christians to engage in sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols… both things being specifically contrary to the dogmas of the Council of Jerusalem.

So yes, there have been moral heresies in the history of the Church. There haven’t been many moral heresies, because even heretics have generally not dared challenge Christian morality, because it is so clearly taught in Scripture. But the folks at “Public Orthodoxy,” and those cheering them on, are pushing a type of heresy that even most heretics would not have stooped to.

For more information, see:

The Living Church 2.0

Sermon “To the Church of Pergamos” (Revelation 2:18-29)

 

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Did Christ quote from the Septuagint?

by Fr. John Whiteford

From Fr. John Whiteford’s “Stump the Priest” series of blogposts.

Question: “I have heard that Christ quoted the Septuagint. Is there a listing of these quotes?”
It is a generally recognized fact that “the writers of the New Testament used almost exclusively the Greek Septuagint” (Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the making of the Christian Bible (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 850. And we find this in quotations of the Old Testament from Christ as well.

For example, when Christ entered into Jerusalem before his Passion, and the chief priests and scribes were expressing their disapproval of the children crying “Hosanna to the son of David!”, Christ said:

“Yea; have ye never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”” (Matthew 21:16).

This is a reference to Psalm 8:2, which according to the Masoretic Hebrew text, reads:

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2 KJV).

Which is close, but significantly different when it comes to the very reason why Christ quoted from this Psalm in the first place. However, when you look at the Septuagint text, we find the text exactly as Christ quoted it:

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou perfected praise, because of Thine enemies, to destroy the enemy and avenger” (Psalm 8:2, LXX).

The Greek text of Matthew 21:16 and the Greek text of Psalm 8:2 in the Septuagint are identical:

You can find a list of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, which compares the Hebrew  and Septuagint readings here:

Table of Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, in English translation, by Joel Kalvesmaki

You can find a similar list, with the differences highlighted, by R. Grant Jones, by clicking here.

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Augustine: Infant Baptism Is The Apostolic And Universal Practice Of The Church

by St. Augustine of Hippo

What the universal Church holds, not as instituted by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond.

On Baptism, Against the Donatists 

Calvin Knew Infant Baptism Was Apostolic in Origin

The Orthodox knew it first, but that’s beside the point. It’s an Apostolic practice. Only the most historically naive or uninformed would doubt it.

…But I reply, first of all, that infant baptism is not a recent introduction, nor are its origins traceable to the papal church. For I say that it has always been a holy ordinance observed in the Christian church. There is no doctor, however ancient, who does not attest that it has always been observed since the time of the apostles.

I wanted to touch on this point in passing for the sole reason of informing the simple that it is an impudent slander for these fanatics [the Anabaptists] to make others believe that this ancient practice is a recently forged superstition and to feign that it derives from the pope. For the whole ancient church held to infant baptism long before one ever knew about the papacy or had ever heard of the pope.

Besides, I do not ask antiquity to legitimate anything for us unless it is founded on the Word of God. I know that it is not human custom that gives authority to the sacrament, nor does its efficacy depend on how men regulate it. Let us come, therefore, to the true rule of God, of which we have spoken, that is to say, his Word, which alone ought to hold here.

Their view is that one ought to administer baptism only to those who request it, to those who have made a profession of faith and repented. And thus infant baptism is the invention of man, opposed to the word of God.

In order to prove this they cite the passage from Saint Matthew’s last chapter, where Jesus Christ says to his apostles,

”Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

To which they add this sentence from the 16th chapter of Mark:

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”

That to them seems an invincible foundation.

… We see that our Lord acted the same way toward Abraham with regard to circumcision. For before he conferred this sign on him he received him into his covenant and instructed him in his Word.

But we must now note that when a man is received of God into the fellowship of the faithful, the promise of salvation which is given to him is not for him alone but also for his children. For it is said to him:

“I am thy God, and the God of thy children after thee.”

Therefore the man who has not been received into the covenant of God from his childhood is as a stranger to the church until such time as he is led into faith and repentance by the doctrine of salvation. But at the same time his posterity is also made a part of the family of the church. And for this reason infants of believers are baptized by virtue of this covenant, made with their fathers in their name and to their benefit. Herein, thus, lies the mistake of the poor Anabaptists. For since this doctrine must precede the sacrament, we do not resist it.

JOHN CALVIN, Brief Instruction for Arming All the Good Faithful Against the Errors of the Common Sect of the Anabaptists in John Calvin: Treatises Against the Anabaptists and Against the Libertines, trans., Benjamin Wirt Farley (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), 44–47.

Did the Ante-Nicene Church Baptize Children? Infants?

The question has been answered many times, but none so definitively as with Hippolytus.

At the hour in which the cock crows, they shall first pray over the water. When they come to the water, the water shall be pure and flowing, that is, the water of a spring or a flowing body of water.

Then they shall take off all their clothes.The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family.

After this, the men will be baptized. Finally, the women, after they have unbound their hair, and removed their jewelry. No one shall take any foreign object with themselves down into the water…

Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235), The Apostolic Tradition 

The Bible and Homosexual Practice (7 Video Lectures)

by Fr. John Whiteford

One of the best books you can read on the subject of Homosexuality from a Christian perspective is “The Bible and Homosexual Practice,” by Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I found the following videos which provide some of the highlights of that book in lecture format.
 
The Old Testament

Genesis 1 & 2: 


Sodom: 


Levitical Prohibition: 


David & Jonathan: 

The New Testament

The Witness of Jesus: 


The Witness of Paul: 


Hermeneutical Relevance of the Bible