Shrimp and Homosexuality

by Fr. John Whiteford

In reponse to Christian stands against homosexuality non-Christians often point to Old Testament laws that are no longer followed by New Testament Christians, such as the Leviticus 11:9-12 forbidding of the consumption of shrimp. Why do Christians continue to adhere to some Old Testament laws and not others? Why do Christians eat shrimp but oppose homosexuality? Fr. John Whiteford answers these questions:

The Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22), but it also says that eating shrimp is an abomination (Leviticus 11:9-12), so why do Christians east shrimp, but oppose homosexuality?

As these texts are translated by the King James Version, and in several other translations, you do find the same word (“abomination”) is used, but in the Hebrew text you find two different words:

Leviticus 18:22 reads: Thou shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination [to??e?bah].

Leviticus 11:9-12 reads: “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination [sheqets] unto you: they shall be even an abomination [sheqets] unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination [sha?qats (verbal form of sheqets)]. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination [sheqets] unto you.

These two words, while they have some overlap in terms of their range of meaning, do not have thesame range of meaning. The NRSV translates “sheqets” as “detestable,” which at least alerts the reader to the fact that the words are not identical. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the word “sheqets” is used “mostly in reference to unclean and forbidden foods … Relegating certain animals to the category of “unclean” and “abominable” may in a number of instances involve considerations of health. Yet the main consideration here must be that, whatever the reason, or however much or little it was understandable to the Israelites, certain foods were forbidden and regarded as detested. This was to be accepted on the simple basis of trust in, and obedience to God” (Vol. II, ed. R. Laird Harris, et al. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 955).

While “to??e?bah” can refer to that which is ritually offensive, it also includes matters that are morally repugnant, such as homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22), human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31), ritual prostitution (1 Kings 14:23f), etc. “Whereas to??e?bah includes that which is aesthetically and morally repulsive, its synonym sheqets denotes that which is cultically [i,e, ritually] unclean…” (Ibid., p. 977).

Even when one uses the very same word, this does not necessarily mean that they carry the same weight. I can say that I love Blue Bell Ice Cream, and I can say that I love my wife, but while I would die for my wife, I will generally only buy Blue Bell when it is on sale. Though the same word is used, it is used in two very different senses.

In the case of eating shrimp vs. homosexual sex, you can tell a lot about the degree to which these things were regarded as sinful by the punishments meted out to those who violated them. In the case of eating shrimp, there was no specified punishment at all. The person who shrimp would have certainly been considered unclean for some period of time, pending ritual purification. According to Jewish tradition, they might also have been subject to corporal punishment. The punishment for engaging in homosexual sex was death (Leviticus 20:13).

We can also tell that these things are viewed very differently by the fact that only Israelites were expected to abstain from non-kosher food. On the other hand, the passage that the ban against homosexual sex is listed (in Leviticus 18) is in the context of a list of sexual sins for which God judges even the gentiles. This is stated before this list, and repeated again at the end of it:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:1-5).

Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations [to??e?bah]; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations [to??e?bah] have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spew not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spewed out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations [to??e?bah], even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable [to??e?bah] customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 18:24-30).

There was no mention that non-kosher foods were forbidden before the Law of Moses. For example, God said to Noah: Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things (Genesis 9:3). And when Gentiles began entering the Church, the Apostles declared that the Gentiles were not bound by the kosher laws of the Mosaic Law:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, 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).

And it should be noted that the word translated as “fornication” is the Greek word “porneia,” which includes any kind of sexual immorality, including those listed in Leviticus 18. This also completely ignores the vision given to St. Peter which specifically ended the requirement for Christians to abstain from non-kosher food (Acts 10:9-16), and that there are several other New Testament passages that condemn homosexuality. So the argument that Christians are hypocritical in their appeal to the ban on homosexual sex in in Leviticus 18:22, which still each shrimp, lobster, clams, and crawfish is completely consistent with testimony of Scripture.

Some things are inherently sinful, and some things are sinful in specific contexts. For example, it is sinful for an Orthodox Christian to disregard the fasts for no compelling reason, and to eat a hamburger on a fast day, but there is nothing inherently sinful about hamburgers. Likewise, for Israelites, not eating certain kinds of foods had a symbolic meaning, and was a matter of obedience, but there was nothing inherently sinful about eating shrimp. However, it is inherently sinful for a man to have sex with another man, and the Bible is completely unambiguous about this.

A Recent Example:

A recent example of pro-homosexuals trying to argue against taking seriously Leviticus 18:22 by appealing to the biblical illiteracy of the average American is the following clip from the TV show “West Wing,” which “Occupy Democrats” have been circulating via social media recently, which even resulted in CNN’s Don Lemon playing portions of it:

(the pertinent part of this clip begins at about 1:18)

This line of argument is really not just against the Church’s position on homosexuality. It is also an argument against taking the Bible seriously at all. No one who considers himself a Christian should have any sympathy for such arguments. But we should know how to respond to them, and so let’s look at the passages referenced in this video:

Exodus 21:7-11: This passage provides some special protections for female slaves, because they obviously were in a more vulnerable position. For more on this question, see “Stump the Priest: What about Slavery in the Bible?“, but suffice it to say here that this passage does not command that anyone own slaves, nor that anyone sell their children into slavery—it puts limits on how slaves could be treated. This was quite in contrast with Roman law, for example, in which a master could do whatever he wished to a slave, up to and including killing them, for any reason.

Slavery is no where in the Bible presented as a good thing. A Christian can certainly not own slaves and oppose most forms of slavery without violating any tenet of Scripture or Church Tradition (we still allow for involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime, and in the form of the military draft). And so the comparison of this issue to the question of whether or not homosexual sex is a sin is a ref herring.

Exodus 35:2: This passage calls for the death penalty for those who break the Sabbath. The Church still believes that the Ten Commandments, including the commandment to remember the Sabbath day, apply to Christians, but we consider the Lord’s day (Sunday) to have taken the place of the old Sabbath as the primary day of Christian rest and worship, though we also continue to observe Saturday the day of creation. The Church does not call for the death penalty for violating this, nor does it call for it in the case of homosexuality. For more on this, you can listen to the sermon: The 4th Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

The Old Covenant was given to people who were at a very low level of spiritual understanding. The harsh penalties that are often found in the Old Testament law were due to this. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the law which condemned Sabbath breakers to death, said that it was “Because if the laws were to be despised even at the beginning, of course they would scarcely be observed afterwards” (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 39:3). But while the harsh and immediate penalties for the violation of the law are relaxed in the New Testament, the strictness of the laws themselves are not only not relaxed, but are rather enhanced. Just as you spank younger children, but expect less of them, and expect more of older children, without spanking them, the Old Testament dealt with the Israelites where they were, but brought them gradually to a higher level of spiritual understanding.

Then Martin Sheen‘s character simply begins to make stuff up. He speaks of the Bible calling for stoning someone who plants different seeds together, and burning to death someone who mixes different kinds of fabrics. While Leviticus 19:19 does say: Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle breed with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee, you will note that it says nothing about anyone being stoned or burned alive for failure to observe these customs. This shows the complete dishonesty of those who make such arguments. These customs were part of the ceremonial law of Moses (which still has symbolic value, but which is no longer directly applies in the New Testament), not the moral law of God—which was in effect before the law of Moses, and remains in full force and effect today. See: The Continuing Validity of the Moral Law of the Old Testament.

For more information on the Levitical Law and homosexuality , see:

Dan Savage Savages the Bible, Christianity, and the Pope,” by Dr. Michael Brown

As well as the following video from Dr. Robert Gagnon:   

Robert Gagnon: The Bible and Homosexual Practice (7 Video Lectures)


On Purgatory

by St. Mark of Ephesus

First Homily of St. Mark of Ephesus on Purgatory

At the false council of Ferrara-Florence, Saint Mark, Bishop of Ephesus, was commissioned to wrote a response to the Latin doctrine of Purgatory.

Because we are required, preserving our Orthodoxy and the Church Dogmas handed down by the Fathers, to answer with love to what you have said, as our general rule we shall first quote each argument and testimony which you have brought forward in writing, in order that the reply and resolution in each of them might follow briefly and clearly.

1. And so, at the beginning of your report you speak thus: “If those who truly repent have departed this life in love (towards God) before they were able to give satisfaction by means of worthy fruits for their transgressions or offenses, their souls are cleansed after death by means of purgatorial sufferings; but for the easing (or ‘deliverance’) of them from these sufferings, they are aided by the help which is shown them on the part of the faithful who are alive, as for example: prayers, Liturgies, almsgiving, and other works of piety.”

To this we answer the following: Of the fact that those reposed in faith are without doubt helped by the Liturgies and prayers and almsgiving performed for them, and that this custom has been in force from antiquity, there is the testimony of many and various utterances of the teachers, both Latin and Greek, spoken and written at various times and in various places.

But that souls are delivered thanks to a certain purgatorial suffering and temporal fire which possess such [purgatorial] power and has the character of a help — this we do not find either in the Scriptures or in the prayers and hymns for the dead, or in the words of the teachers.

But we have received that even the souls which are held in Hades are already given over to eternal torments, whether in actual fact and experience or in hopeless expectation of such, can be aided and given a certain small help, although in the sense of completely loosing them from torment or giving hope for a final deliverance.

And this is shown from the words of the great Macarius the Egyptian ascetic who, finding a skull in the desert, was instructed by it concerning this by the action of divine power. And Basil the Great, in the prayers read at Pentecost, writes literally the following: “Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, art graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers for those who are imprisoned in Hades, granting us a great hope of improvement for those who are imprisoned from the defilements which have imprisoned them, and that Thou wilt send down Thy consolation” (Third Kneeling Prayer at Vespers).

But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which — even though they have repented over them — they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have aid, has not at all been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or — if their sins were more serious and bind them for a longer duration — they are kept in Hades, but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard.

All such ones, we affirm, are helped by the prayers and Liturgies performed for them, with the cooperation of the divine goodness and love for mankind. This divine cooperation immediately disdains and remits some sins, those committed out of human weakness, as Dionysius the Great (the Areopagite) says in the “Reflections of the Mystery of those Reposed in Faith” (in The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, VII, 7); while other sins, after a certain time, by righteous judgments it either likewise releases and forgives — and that completely — or lightens the responsibility for them until that final Judgment. And therefore we see no necessity whatever for any other punishment or for a cleansing fire; for some are cleansed by fear, while others are devoured by the gnawing of conscience with more torment than any fire, and still others are cleansed only the very terror before the divine glory and the uncertainty as to what the future will be. And that this is much more tormenting and punishing than anything else, experience itself shows, and St. John Chrysostom testifies to us in almost all or at least most of his moral homilies, which affirm this, as likewise does the divine ascetic Dorotheus in his homily “On the Conscience.”

2. And so, we entreat God and believe to deliver the departed from eternal torment, and not from any other torment or fire apart from those torments and that fire which have been proclaimed to be forever. And that, moreover, the souls of the departed are delivered by prayer from confinement in Hades, as if from a certain prison, is testified, among many others, by Theophanes the Confessor, called the Branded (for the words of his testimony for the Icon of Christ, words written on his forehead, he sealed by blood). In one of the canons for the reposed he thus prays for them: “Deliver, O Savior, Thy slaves who are in the Hades of tears and sighing” (Octoechos, Saturday canon for the reposed, Tone 8, Canticle 6, Glory).

Do you hear? He said “tears” and “sighing,” and not any kind of punishment or purgatorial fire. And if there is to be encountered in these hymns and prayers any mention of fire, it is not a temporal one that has a purgatorial power, but rather that eternal fire and unceasing punishment. The saints, being moved by love for mankind and compassion for their fellow countrymen, desiring and daring what is almost impossible, pray for the deliverance and daring what is almost impossible, pray for the deliverance of those departed in faith. For thus does St. Theodore the Studite, the confessor and witness of the truth himself, say, at the very beginning of his canon for the departed: “Let us all entreat Christ, performing a memorial today for those dead from the ages, that He might deliver from eternal fire those departed in faith and in hope of eternal life” (Lenten Triodion, Meat-Fare Saturday, Canon, Canticle 1). And then, in another troparion, in Canticle 5 of the Canon, he says: “Deliver, O our Savior, all who have died in faith from the ever-scorching fire, and unillumined darkness, the gnashing of teeth, and the eternally-tormenting worms, and all torment.”

Where is the “purgatorial fire” here? And if it in fact existed, where would it be more appropriate for the Saint to speak of it, if not here? Whether the saints are heard by God when they pray for this is not for us to search out. But they themselves knew, ad did the Spirit dwelling in them by Whom they were moved, and they spoke and wrote in this knowledge; and likewise the Master Christ knew this, Who gave the commandment we should pray for our enemies, and Who prayed for those who were crucifying Him, and inspired the First Martyr Stephen, when he was being stoned to death, to do the same. And although someone might say that when we do everything that depends on us. And behold, some of the saints who prayed not only for the faithful, but even for the impious, were heard and by their prayers rescued them from eternal torment, as for example the first Woman-Martyr Thecla rescued Falconila, and the divine Gregory the Dialogist, as it is related, rescued the Emperor Trajan.

(Chapter 3 demonstrates that the Church prays also for those already enjoying blessedness with God — who, of course, have no need to go through “purgatorial fire”.)

4. After this, a little further on, you desired to prove the above-mentioned dogma of purgatorial fire, at first quoting what is said in the book of Maccabees: “It is holy and pious….to pray for the dead…that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:44-45). Then, taking from the Gospel according to Matthew the place in which the Savior declares that “whosoever shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this world, nor in that which is to come” (Matt. 12:32), you say that from this one may see that there is remission of sins in the future life.

But that from this there in no way follows the idea of purgatorial fire is clearer than the sun; for what is there in common between remission on one hand, and cleansing by fire and punishment on the other? For if the remission of sins is accomplished for the sake of prayers, or merely by the divine love of mankind itself, there is no need for punishment and cleansing by fire. But if punishment, and also cleansing, are established by God… then, it would seem, prayers for the reposed are performed in vain, and vainly do we hymn the divine love of mankind. And so, these citation are less a proof of the existence of purgatorial fire than a refutation of it: for the remission of sins of those who have transgressed is presented in them as the result of a certain royal authority and love of mankind, and not as a deliverance from punishment or a cleansing.

5. Thirdly, (let us take) the passage from the first epistle of the Blessed Paul to the Corinthians, in which he, speaking of the building on the foundation, which is Christ, “of gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble,” adds: “For that day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:11-15). This citation, it would seem, more than nay other introduces the idea of purgatorial fire; but in actual fact it more than any other refutes it.

First of all, the divine Apostle called it not a purgatorial but a proving (fire); then he declared that through it good and honorable works also must pass, and such, it is clear, have no need of any cleansing; then he says that those who bring evil works, after these works burn, suffer loss, whereas those who are being cleansed not only suffer no loss, but acquire even more; then he says that this must be on “that day”, namely, the day of Judgment and of the future age, whereas to suppose the existence of a purgatorial fire after that fearful Coming of the Judge and the final sentence—is this not a total absurdity? For the Scripture does not transmit to us anything of the sort, but He Himself Who will judge us says: “And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46): and again: “They shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29). Therefore, there remains no kind of intermediate place; but after He divided all those under judgment into two parts, placing some on the right and others on the left, and calling the first “sheep” and the second “goats” — He did not at all declare that there are any who are to be cleansed by that fire. It would seem that the fire of which the Apostle speaks is the same as that of which the Prophet David speaks: “Fire shall blaze before Him, and round about Him shall there be a mighty tempest (Ps. 49:4); and again: “Fire shall go before Him, and shall burn up His enemies round about (Ps. 96:3). Daniel the Prophet also speaks about this fire: “A stream of fire issued and came forth from before Him (Daniel 7:10).

Since the saints do not bring with them any evil work or evil mark, this fire manifests them as even brighter, as gold tried in the fire, or as the stone amianthus, which, as it is related, when placed in fire appears as charred, but when taken out of the fire becomes even cleaner, as if washed with water, as were also the bodies of the Three Youths in the Babylonian furnace. Sinners, however, who bring evil with themselves, are seized as a suitable material for this fire and are immediately ignited by it, and their “work,” that is, their evil disposition or activity, is burned and utterly destroyed and they are deprived of what they brought with them, that is, deprived of their burden of evil, while they themselves are “saved”–that is, will be preserved and kept forever, so that they might not be subjected to destruction together with their evil.

6. The divine Father Chrysostom also (who is called by us “the lips of Paul,” just as the latter is “the lips of Christ”) considers it necessary to make such an interpretation of this passage in his commentary on the Epistle (Homily 9 on First Corinthians); and Paul speaks through Chrysostom, as was made clear thanks to the vision of Proclus, his disciple, and the successor of his See. St. Chrysostom devoted a special treatise to this one passage, so that the Origenists would not quote these words of the Apostle as confirmation of their way of thought (which, it would seem, is more fitting for them than for you), and would not cause harm to the Church by introducing an end to the torment of Hades and a final restoration (apokatastasis) of sinners. For the expression that the sinner “is saved as through fire” signifies that he will remain tormented in fire and will not be destroyed together with his evil works and evil disposition of soul.

Basil the Great also speaks of this in the “Morals,” in interpreting the passage of Scripture, “the voice of the Lord Who divideth the flame of fire” (Ps. 28:7): “The fire prepared for the torment of the devil and his angels, is divided by the voice of the Lord, so that after this there might be two powers in it: one that burns, and another that illumines: the tormenting and punishing power of that fire is reserved for those worthy of torment,; while the illumining and enlightening power is intended for the shining of those who rejoice. Therefore the voice of the Lord Who divides and separate the flame of ire is for this: that the dark part might be a fire of torment and the unburning part a light of enjoyment” (St. Basil, Homily on Psalm 28)

And so, as may be seen, this division and separation of that fire will be when absolutely everyone will pass through it: the bright an shining works will be manifest as yet brighter, and those who bring them will become inheritors of the light and will receive the eternal reward; while those who bring bad works suitable for burning, being punished by the loss of them, will eternally remain in fire and will inherit a salvation which is worse than perdition, for this is what, strictly speaking the word “saved” means — that he destroying power of fire will not be applied to them and they themselves be utterly destroyed. Following these Fathers, many other of our Teachers also have understood this passage in the same sense. And if anyone has interpreted it differently and understood “salvation” as “deliverance from punishment,” and “going through fire” as “purgatory” — such a one, if we may so express ourselves, understands this passage in an entirely wrong way. And this is not surprising, for he is a man, and many even among the Teachers may be seen to interpret passages of Scripture in various ways, and not all of them have attained in an equal degree the precise meaning. It is not possible that one and the same text, being handed down in various interpretations, should correspond in an equal degree to all the interpretations, should correspond in an equal degree to all the interpretations of it; but we, selecting the most important of them and those that best correspond to church dogmas, should place the other interpretations in second place. Therefore, we shall not deviate from the above-cited interpretation of the Apostle’s words, even if Augustine or Gregory the Dialogist or another of of your Teachers should give such an interpretation; for such an interpretation answers less to the ideas of a temporary purgatorial fire than to the teaching of Origen which, speaking of a final restoration of souls through that fire and a deliverance from torment, was forbidden and given over to anathema by the Fifth Ecumenical Council, and was definitively overthrown as a common impiety for the Church.

(In Chapter 7 through 12, St. Mark answers objections raised by quotations from the works of St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Dialogist, St. Basil the Great, and other Fathers, showing that they have been misinterpreted or perhaps misquoted and that these Fathers actually teach the Orthodox doctrine, and if not, then their teaching is not to be accepted. Further, he points out that St. Gregory of Nyssa does not teach about “purgatory” at all, but hold the much worse error of Origen, that there will be an end to the eternal flames of Hades — although it may be that these ideas were placed in his writings later by Origenists.)

13. And finally you say: “The above-mentioned truth is evident from the Divine Justice, which does not leave unpunished anything that was done amiss, and from this it necessarily follows that for those who have not undergone punishment here, and cannot pay it off either in heaven or in Hades, it remains to suppose the existence of a different, a third place in which this cleansing is accomplished, thanks to which each one, becoming cleansed, it immediately led up to heavenly enjoyment.”

To this we say the following, and pay heed how simple and at the same time how just this is: it is generally acknowledged that the remission of sins is at the same time also a deliverance from punishment; for the one who receives remission of them at the same time is delivered form the punishment owed for them. Remission is given in three forms and at different times:

(1) during Baptism;

(2) after Baptism, through conversion and sorrow and making up (for sins) by good works in the present life; and

(3) after death, through prayers and good deeds and thanks to whatever else the Church does for the dead.

Thus, the first remission of sins is not at all bound up with labor; it is common to all and equal in honor, like the pouring out of light and the beholding of the sun and the changes of the seasons of the year, for this grace alone and of us is asked nothing else but faith. But the remission is painful, as for one who “every night washes his bed, and with tears waters his couch” (Ps. 6:5), for whom even the traces of the blows of sin are painful, who goes weeping and with contrite face and emulates the conversion of the Ninevites and the humility of Manasses, upon which there was mercy. The third remission is also painful, for it is bound up with repentance and a conscience that is contrite and suffers from insufficiency of good; however, it is not at all mixed with punishment, if it is a remission of sins; for remission and punishment can by no means exist together. Moreover, in the first and last remission of sins the grace of God has the larger part, with the cooperation of prayer, and very little is brought in by us. The middle remission, on the other hand, has little from grace, while the greater part is owing to our labor. The first remission of sins is distinguished from the last by this; that the first is a remission of all sins in an equal degree, while the last is a remission only of those sins which are not mortal and over which a person has repented in life.

Thus does the Church of God think and when entreating for the departed the remission of sins and believing that it is granted them, it does not define as a law of punishment with relation to them, knowing well that the Divine Goodness in such matters conquers the idea of justice.


On Rebaptism in the Eastern Orthodox Church

an interview with Fr. John Whiteford

I’ve been a fan of Fr. John Whiteford for some time, and his presentation on this important topic is balanced and excellent in the superlative. 

Elder Cleopas On Why Baptise Infants?

There are some who say Baptism should only be given to adults because we must first have repentance and faith. Earlier I was asked to comment on this subject and recently found the teaching of Elder Cleopa on this topic.

The Elder begins his explanation by pointing out the precursors to Baptism found in the Old Testament. He writes,

There in [the Old Testament] we read how God appeared to Abraham when he was ninety-nine years of age and, among things, told him to circumcise all the men and to circumcise all the male children who would be born from that time on on the eighth day after their birth. As for him who would not be circumcised , he would perish (Gen 17: 10-14). We see, then, that God did not say to Abraham that children and youth should be circumcised when they became adults… Some say the Baptism of babies is meaningless since they don’t understand anything when they are Baptized. But what did Issac, Abraham’s child, understand on the eighth day? Undoubtedly he understood nothing. His parents, however, understood. This is how it is with Baptism as well, as it is practiced in the Orthodox Church, since it is well-known that circumcision symbolizes Baptism in the Old Testament.

He gives another example of the Exodus from Egypt and the passage through the Red Sea which is also seen by Church Fathers as prefiguring Baptism. This is affirmed by Paul who says,

“Moreover brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2).

Moses had told the pharaoh ,

“We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go.” (Ex 10:9).

He then points out that on the day of Pentecost the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and preached to the people what the Spirit had tight them, telling them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for

“the promise is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39).

Elder Cleopa says,

“For what promise? The promise of Baptism. Thus, the promise was for the children as well. When it is said that they were baptized, it does not say three thousand men and women were Baptized, but three sous and fouls, which means that among those baptized were children.”

He next presents examples of families who were baptized as recorded in the New Testament.

  • Lydia with her whole family (Acts 16:14).
  • The prisons guard who took Paul and Silias to his house who was Baptised with his whole family ( Acts 16:33).
  • Then there was Crispus and his family (Acts 18:8), and
  • Stephanos and his household (1 Cor 1:16).

He writes,

Jesus Christ likewise, made it clear that little children ought to be Baptized, for when they brought Him some children to be blessed by Him, and His disciples obstructed them, the Lord scolded them, saying:

“Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven; And He laid His hands on them, and departed hence” (Matt 19: 13-15).

Hence , if the Lord calls children unto salvation from a young age, why would we obstruct them from receiving Holy Baptism? But how about the question of faith. Is it possible for children to be saved without faith?

The Elder responds,

“It is true that children are not capable of believing at the young age of their Baptism, but neither are they able to doubt or deny Christ. He is not saved who only believes, but he who first of all is baptized… While children do not have faith, they have godparents. These sponsors are adults who accompany the infants to Baptism and make the required confession of faith in their stead. Godparents are the spiritual parents of the children whom they baptize and undertake to guide them into a new life in the Holy Spirit… The priest conducts the Baptism based on the faith of the parents, the sponsors, and the other witnesses present. It is written in Scripture that the faith of a few can save others.

Here are examples given by Elder Cleopa,

“By faith the Roman centurion healed his servant (Matt 8:13). The servant did not believe, but on account of the faith of his master, Christ returned him to full health. Four people brought a paralytic tot he Savior: When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the also, Son, thy sons be forgiven thee (Mark 2:3-5)…

On the basis of the faith of Jarius the Lord raised his twelve-year-old daughter (Matt 9:18). On account of faith of others, the Lord healed a dumb, demon-possessed man (Matt 9:32).

On account of the faith of the woman of Canaan, the Savior healed her daughter, casting out the demon that possessed her (Matt 15:21). Likewise on the account of faith of a father, the Lord healed his epileptic son (Matt 17:14).

These and many other testimonies from Holy Scripture make clear to us that on account of the faith of parents, and others who stand as witnesses at Holy Baptism, the Lord grants sanctification and salvation to the baptized children.” We also see this practice from the early days of the Church, The earliest explicit reference to child or infant baptism is in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, about 215 A.D.:

“Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.” (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 21:15, c. 200A.D.)

We must also keep in mind that baptism marks the beginning of our Christian life, each of us who are baptized must continue daily to persevere in our faith until the end of our earthly life. As St. Paul says:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect… I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do… I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Reference: The Truth of our Faith, Vol. II, 17-34

Six Men Who Tried To Paganize the Origins of Christmas But Failed

by John Sanidopoulos

Every Christmas season, the usual myths are hauled out and distributed for popular consumption. You know them. We’ve all heard or read them.

  • That Christmas celebrations were stolen from the Romans
  • The Christmas tree is a pagan hangover
  • That other gods had virgin births
  • That Yule and the mistletoe are all about Odin

These falsehoods are repeated often and loudly, under the guise of being “historical truths.” And strangely they still stump most Christians, who are then filled with doubt about what they believe.

Of course, these myths were designed to elicit precisely this sort of reaction from believers.

All of them were invented in the 18th- and 19th-centuries by specific writers, who were looking for ways to finally destroy traditional Christianity, and specifically Roman Catholicism. It was, in fact, a continuation of the Black Legend (the anti-Catholic propaganda of the Protestants, which continues to this day and has now been taken up by secularists).

Six writers of such legends have had the most long-reaching influence, despite peddling in ahistorical and groundless suppositions.

The earliest is Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757), who in his De origine festi nativitatis Christi (Concerning the Origins of Christmas) set out to destroy Roman Catholicism by claiming that it was all pagan superstition (a view still rather common among many Protestants).

He was the first to suggest that Christmas was nothing other than a pagan celebration for Mithras (the Persian god adopted into the Roman army, like a mascot, if you will). Until recently, in fact, Protestants tended not to celebrate Christmas, deeming it to be paganism.

Jablonski made all his claims without a shred of historical evidence. But his real legacy is the habit of mind that he created – which holds to the supposition that beneath the superficial Christian overlay, there is a jumble of ancient superstitions, myths, pagan folk customs and practices. Scratch a Christian and you find a Roman pagan.

And this habit of mind is now a thriving industry, with everyone and his uncle nursing a pet theory about how “pagan” Christianity really is.

Ernst Friedrich Wernsdorf (1718-1782) picked up where Jablonski left off and claimed that Christmas was just an adapted Roman celebration for the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus). He laid out his case in De originibus solemnium natalis Christi ex festivitate natalis invicti (The Origins of Christmas in the Festival of the Birth of the Unconquerable Sun).

Wernsdorf further popularized the trend of finding ways to debunk Christianity via spurious historical references. In this view, Christians were a fraud, foisted upon the world by conniving, power-hungry lot who wanted to control the Roman Empire.

The real historical evidence points to the fact that Christians were always distancing themselves from anything pagan. So much so that they were willing to be slaughtered in the arenas, rather than agree to anything the pagans wanted them to do to fit into being “Greek” (which the Christians of the Roman Empire called the pagans).

In fact, Christians were renowned throughout the Roman world for neither adopting nor adapting to pagan ways.

But Wernsdorf did set an influential precedent – implicating Christianity for “stealing” pagan ideas, festivals, theology, and making them their own. Again, all these assertions were made without a stitch of historical evidence – just a lot of suppositions and assumptions.

His views would find their most eloquent expression in Edward Gibbons (1737-1794) who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published in 1776, the same year as the American Revolution).

This then led to all kinds of suppositions about just how pagan Christianity was. Gibbons suggested that Christians destroyed the Roman Empire and replaced it with a terrible Dark Age, filled with superstition, ignorance and narrow-mindedness.

His explanation as to how Christians managed to do this was by a policy of adapting and adopting everything pagan, giving it a quick whitewash and proclaiming it as sound “Christian” theology – and in this way they won friends and influenced people.

We have to bear in mind that when Jablonski, Wensdorf and Gibbons are writing, there is a lot of interest in history among ordinary people (antiquarianism). Thus, there’s a great demand for books that explore and explain the past.

Antiquarianism would go on to establish history as a science, as well as archaeology, paleography, chronology. In short, the diachronic approach.

So, it’s also at this point that another modern phenomenon began to emerge – popular history, which took on a life of its own, and soon was separated from real, scholarly, evidence-based inquiries into past.

One such popularist was Alexander Hislop (1807-1865), whose life mission was to annihilate the Roman Catholic Church once and for all. He set about doing this by claiming that everything about Catholicism was nothing other than the disguised paganism of ancient Babylon.

It was Hislop who turned Constantine into the great “villain” who connived to create the Roman Catholic Church, building it entirely on the ancient Babylonian religion.

This cartoon version of Constantine is now widely popular and taken to be the “truth” by many.

Another contemporary, Charles William King (1818-1888), who published his influential work, The Gnostics and their Remains, in 1864, claimed that Christianity was simply Mithraism whose object of worship was the sun. King knew nothing about Mithraism, other than what he could find in Latin sources. And, of course, Mithraism has nothing to do with the sun.

As the work of the historians continued to bring to light more ancient civilizations, the “paganizers” found more grist for their various mills.

The most important among these was Gerald Massey (1828-1907), who went more ancient than Rome and latched on to Egypt as the “real” root of Christianity. It’s he who is responsible for the howler that Jesus is actually Horus (the ancient Egyptian sky god, often depicted as a falcon).

Wallace then went to town as he concocted a heady brew of “proofs” – that Horus was born of a virgin mother; that Horus was baptized in a river by a baptizer named Anup; that Horus had twelve disciples; that Horus was crucified and rose from the dead and proclaimed as savior of mankind. None of this is true, of course. It’s all Wallace letting his imagination run amok.

So, this brief exertion into the origins of the still-vibrant Debunk Christianity industry points to something far more important…

  • That Christianity is unique. It has no pagan links. All claims that assert a pagan connection are easily destroyed (it would be dull going through them one-by-one)
  • That the message of Christianity is entirely new. Nothing like it ever existed in the ancient world.
  • That unlike the pagan gods, Jesus is a thoroughly historical figure.
  • That Christian theology is unlike any other, whose main principles (love, forgiveness, charity, and a personal relationship with God) are unprecedented in any other religion.
  • That even the Resurrection is a verifiable, historical event, entirely provable by clear evidence.

The consequences of all the attacks by the “paganizers” (who have now grown in number) are easily disproved.

This means that…

Christmas is only Christian and nothing else, and was established as a Christian feast day from the very earliest time of the faith.

Christmas trees are an ancient symbol of the hope that Christ offers. They are “paradise trees,” and symbolize the Garden of Eden, to which human beings return by faith in Christ. They have nothing to do with Germanic or Roman pagan festivals (for which we have no concrete historical evidence).

The mistletoe represents the love of God, which is why couples kiss beneath it. The Old English word, “mistel” really refers to the her basil, which in ancient Christian herbals (book of healing herbs), is associated with the crucifixion. When the True Cross was found by Saint Helen, the spot where she had dug for it was covered in basil.

And, no, the mistletoe is not a hangover from “Germanic” paganism. We have no idea what the ancient Germanic tribes worshipped, because the further back we go, the more Roman these tribes present themselves – and the evidence of Christianity is pervasive among them. By the time these Germanic people appear in history, they are already Christians. The connection with Baldur is spurious, since none can now say what is ancient and pagan and what is invented by Snorri Sturluson to flesh out his narratives.

As for the term, “yule,” the earliest mention comes from the Venerable Bede who tells us that it was the name for the month of December among the Anglo-Saxons.

We cannot really use the Scandinavian evidence because it is much later (Snorri Sturluson dates from the 13th-century). So, Bede makes the earliest reference. And Odin is nowhere in sight! All the later mythologizing is merely neo-pagan wishful thinking.

Murdo Macdonald, in his book, The Need To Believe, summarizes all these efforts to make Christ and Christianity into anything but what it really is:

“…certain authors tried to prove that Jesus, as a historical person, never existed. He was only a figment of the imagination, a fanciful creation, a mythical figure, giving expression to the religious aspirations of mere heretical tendencies of the time. These attempts have long been abandoned and no reputable scholar gives them a passing thought… It may be possible to ignore the New Testament and to misread history, selecting only those parts of it which lend sanction and support to our own personal bias, but it is difficult all the time to elude the challenge of Christ Incarnate in human character.”

Christianity is not pagan in any way. It is uniquely its own. This is what scholarly history shows us. Though the lies be many, there can be only one truth.

Source: Mystagogy

Church Canons: a Beginner’s Guide

What canons are there in the Church? What do they govern? Do canons restrict people’s freedom or do they help people to exercise their freedom? Why do those hair-splitting formalities even exist in the Church? Is it impossible to get saved without them? FOMA Magazine asked Archpriest Demetrius Pashkov, who is a professor in the Department of World and Russian Church History and Canon Law of the Orthodox Saint Tikhon Humanities University, about all these questions.

How do you define church canons and what are they for?

The word ‘canon’ in Greek literally means ‘a rule’ or ‘standard.’ Canons are the generally accepted codes of conduct in the Church. That is why canons are to the Church what laws are to the country.

Generally, it is clear that church canons are necessary. We have to comply with a definite set of rules adopted by a certain community if we want to belong to that community. The Church is no exception. If you become a member of the Church, you’ve got to comply with Her ordinances, the canons.

We can use the following analogy. When we stay in hospital, there are some rules, which we have to comply with whether we like it or not. The hospital rules may initially seem excessive or even absurd until we consider them carefully.

With that said, there must not be any pedantry in the Church. Everyone is different, which is why one’s spiritual father plays a significant role in one’s church life. Aware of the spiritual child’s weak and strong points, the priest can act quite freely within the limits described in the canon law. We should remember that the majority of the canons were adopted long ago, during the first millennium, so there are quite a few canons that cannot be applied nowadays. That is why each priest has a leeway in applying canons to the given situation (which is assumed in the canons, too: priests are expressly granted the right to curtail or prolong penances). It’s crucial when we speak of the difficult and extraordinarily sensitive sphere of pastoral guidance.

Is it possible to get saved without all those formalities?

No, the emphasis here is not on the formalities but on ourselves. Due to the fact that we remain imperfect, lazy, and self-centered even after we’re baptized, we’ve got to adapt to the pious lifestyle that corresponds to our faith.

Of course, our communication with God is not meant to be prescribed. For instance, canons don’t dictate how you should pray at home: how long you pray, whether you light up a vigil lamp or not, whether you look at an icon or close your eyes, whether you sit or stand during prayer. It’s your own business and it depends on what suits you best. However, when a Christian joins other believers, he has to bear in mind that there are many people like him and each of them has their own views, interests, and preferences, and therefore he will hardly do without certain rules that can unite all that motley crowd into a real community.

That is, generally binding regulations—the canons—are necessary to avoid chaos and disorder in the society where each of its members has certain rights and obligations.

Aside from that, the canons serve to maintain the original modus vivendi of the Church, which appeared on the Pentecost Day, so that the Church remains the same in any country, culture, and political regime. The Church is the same always and in all times: in the first century, in the age of Ecumenical Councils, in late Byzantium, in the Tsardom of Muscovy, and now. The canons protect this identity of the Church throughout the centuries.

Did Jesus say anything in the Gospel about the need to follow certain rules?

Yes, He did. There are some norms of Christian life that the Lord specifies in the Gospel. For example, there are canons that regulate the Sacrament of Baptism. It was Jesus Christ who established this rule in the Gospel, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19–20).

It is here that we find the baptismal formula “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, which is uttered by a priest during the Sacrament today. Moreover, this passage says that we have to teach and then baptize, which is where preparatory meetings before baptism originate from. A priest or a catechist must explain to the person who wishes to join the Church the basic tenets of the Christian faith and piety in detail.

In addition, it was our Lord Jesus Christ who established monogamy (See Matthew 19:4-9). It was on the basis of His words that the Church developed its teaching of the Sacrament of Matrimony. However, the Church reduced the rigidity of the Gospel where it says, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9). The Church condescends to human infirmity and understands that not everyone is able to carry the burden of staying alone. That is why the Church allows to re-marry twice, under certain conditions.

However, there are other canons that aren’t taken directly from the New Testament. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and acts as the successor of Christ the Lawmaker, expanding, amending, and revising Her regulations. Again, this activity of the Church and Her legislative actions in general are based on the principles provided by the Holy Savior in the Gospel.

What canons are there? What do they regulate?

There are lots of church canons. They can be divided in several big sections. For instance, there are canons that regulate the management of the Church. There are “disciplinary” canons that regulate the life of the faithful and the ministry of the clergy.

There are dogmatic canons that condemn certain heresies. There are canons that specify the territorial divisions within the Church, e.g., establish the rights of the top bishops—metropolitans and patriarchs—or determine how often councils at various levels must be convened, and so forth.

All the canons were written during the first millennium of the Church history, and some of them are somewhat outdated. Nevertheless, the Church honors these ancient canons and studies them carefully because the unique age of Ecumenical Councils is the model for the future generations.

Even if we don’t act according to those ancient rules directly, we still follow their spirit and basic guidelines to establish revised answers to the challenges of our times.

If you break the law, you will be punished by the court of law. What about Church law? Does it determine any punishments for breaking the canons?

Speaking of regulations that deal with church discipline and piety, the believers who break them are banned from their most essential right, i.e., the union with Christ through the Sacrament of Communion. It is not a punishment in the conventional sense but a therapeutic measure aimed at healing the person’s spiritual illness. However, there is a very important and meaningful caveat: the final decision belongs to the spiritual father or, on a higher level, to the ruling bishop of the diocese. Each case is reviewed on an individual basis and the decisions are made depending on the situation at hand.

Therefore, church canons are more like remedies than laws. Laws are much more formal, and demand a strict separation of the legislative and the executive power.

In this case, the law enforcer (a bishop or a priest) must act like a good doctor. A doctor won’t test new drugs on his patients if the prescribed drugs have already had a positive effect. If the treatment is unsuccessful, though, the doctor tries other remedies until the patient gets well. The patient’s recovery is the end result of successful treatment; likewise, from the point of view of the priest and the bishop, a believer’s sincere repentance must be the end result of his full recovery.

This is precisely why church penances exist: they must attune the individual to repentance and improvement, foster his or her spiritual growth, stimulate the penitent’s change of attitude and remorse so that they could realize that the sin that they’ve committed prevents them from interacting with God and that they have to do something to restore the broken connection.

Do church canons exist in writing? Are there books of canons?

Sure. The Church started putting Her laws in writing in the late 4th century. It was at that time, soon after the persecution of Christians was over, that an enormous number of canons appeared and had to be systematized and sorted out. That was how first collections of canon law came to be. Some of them were organized chronologically, while others were arranged according to various subjects. There were collections of canon law called nomocanons (from the Greek “nomos”: an Emperor’s decree; and “canon”: a Church law), which appeared in the 6th century and combined Church canons with Emperors’ decrees related to the Church.

There are the so-called Apostolic Canons. They are not derived directly from the disciples of Jesus Christ and must have received the name due to their special importance and authority. The Apostolic Canons were recorded in Syria in the 4th century.

The most well-known collection of ancient canons is titled “The Book of Rules”. It contains the so-called Apostolic Canons, the canons adopted by Ecumenical Councils, the canons adopted by several Local Councils, as well as some authoritative legal opinions of the Holy Fathers pertaining to various issues of the Church life.

Does a lay person need to know church regulations?

In my opinion, yes, he does. If one knows church canons, he understands his rights and duties. Moreover, church canons are very helpful in everyday life.

For instance, the life of a newborn baby is in imminent danger and therefore, the baby has to be baptized as soon as possible. Can his or her mother perform the Sacrament and if yes (by the way, yes is the correct answer), how does she do it properly? Or imagine that someone invited you to become their baby’s godparent. What does it mean and what does it entail if you agree? There are plenty of difficult questions related to the Sacrament of Matrimony, too. For example, can an Orthodox Christian marry a heterodox Christian or a non-Christian?

What would you recommend a lay person to read about canon law? Where can one learn about his or her rights and obligations in the Church?

There is an excellent cycle of lectures on canon law by Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin, which has been published several times in the recent years. Speaking of the sources, I’d recommend everyone to study the aforementioned “Book of Rules”. Contemporary laws and regulations of our Local Church (such as its Charter and some other documents) are published on its official website The Publishing House of the Moscow Patriarchate has undertaken the publication of a comprehensive multi-volume collection of decrees and other documents of the Russian Orthodox Church, which started five years ago.

Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds

Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

by C. S. Lewis

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.

The one most people have heard is the one about our being let off because Christ volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person instead? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. Or if you take “paying the penalty,” not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general sense of “footing the bill,” then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend.

Now what was the sort of “hole” man had gotten himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here’s the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it.

Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off of if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it. Now if we had not fallen, that would all be plain sailing. But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all – to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.

But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.

Chapter 4, Mere Christianity 


Caveat Emptor: Ware’s ‘The Orthodox Church’

This is a short post on changes in the book “The Orthodox Church” by Kallistos Timothy Ware regarding the Orthodox teaching about contraception.

Natural family planning is acceptable, because it simply involves abstinence from sex during times when fertility is likely. Such is the teaching of the Church of Greece as expressed in her encyclical of October 14, 1937.

From a ‘Booklet on Contraception’. Click the chart to see it.

Timothy Ware’s book, The Orthodox Church, an extremely well respected book in Eastern Orthodox circles. The alterations which have been made through the various revisions tell us an interesting story, and paints a rather troubling picture concerning recent developments within Eastern Orthodoxy:

1963 Version

“Artificial methods of contraception are forbidden in the Orthodox Church”

1984 Version

“The use of contraceptives and other devices for birth control is on the whole strongly discouraged in the Orthodox Church. Some bishops and theologians altogether condemn the employment of such methods. Others, however, have recently begun to adopt a less strict position, and urge that the question is best left to the discretion of each individual couple, in consultation with the spiritual father”

1993 Version

“Concerning contraceptives and other forms of birth control, differing opinions exist within the Orthodox Church. In the past birth control was in general strongly condemned, but today a less strict view is coming to prevail, not only in the west but in traditional Orthodox countries. Many Orthodox theologians and spiritual fathers consider that the responsible use of contraception within marriage is not in itself sinful. In their view, the question of how many children a couple should have, and at what intervals, is best decided by the partners themselves, according to the guidance of their own consciences”