Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fasting in the Orthodox Church

After our post on meat-eating in the Orthodox Church, we received a comment from ‘Melissa’:
Great post! I would like more information on the role of meat in the Orthodox Church. I know that abstaining from meat is a part of many fasts. Where does this come from historically?
This got us to thinking.  And we thought and thought.  Which is why this post is so delayed.  Those of our readers who are already celebrating the twelve days of Christmas will wonder; those who are still in Advent will understand.  However, just because we have thought about this post doesn’t mean it’s any good.
If one goes to Melissa’s profile page one finds links to a couple of blogs that Melissa runs.  It seems that Melissa follows a diet called ‘Paleo’.  This is new to us.  Briefly, without our having investigated it very much, ‘Paleo’ is a diet that orients its follower to eating the way the Palaeolithic natives ate in the region where the person lives.  Presumably, a person living on the Great Plains would eat much the same foods that a Plains Indian would have eaten before Cortez came.  This got us to thinking about discussing why the Orthodox fast, and how.
First of all, at the risk of irritating ‘Paleos’ with our ignorance of their diet, we want to make one remark.  It is all well and good within reason to eat the way a Plains Indian ate if you live on the Great Plains, but only if you live in the same conditions that the Plains Indian lived.  The energy consumption of a pre-Cortez Plains Indian in winter was completely different from the energy consumption of someone living in Indianapolis with central heating and an automobile.  (By ‘energy consumption’ we here mean the number of calories burned to keep alive, and the dietary source of those calories, not any issue with carbon footprints.)  Similarly, there was an adage on the tundra that you had to drink fresh reindeer blood to stay alive.  But who living in a centrally heated home in a town on the tundra would think that today the thing to do was to drink fresh reindeer blood?  What we are saying is that a ‘Paleo’ diet has to be adapted to the actual conditions of life today of the person who wishes to make use of the insights of the Palaeolithic natives of his region.
However, and now we are turning to the actual purpose of this post, we would like to discuss why the Orthodox fast, and how.  The origins of fasting in the Orthodox Church are to be found in the Old Testament.  There, fasting is a sign to God of, and also a means of, our repentance.  It is a sign to God of our repentance because it is a visible act that ‘God can see’ that I am sorry for what I did: I am denying myself because I am sorry.  That is why Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a strict fast.  Even Jews who are otherwise unobservant might find themselves keeping that fast.  The key to understanding this is to see that what is refused in this sort of fasting is what we normally are entitled to: normally there is nothing wrong with eating the sheep in my flock.  Indeed, as Abraham demonstrated, it is good to slaughter the sheep in your flock to feed the stranger who has come to you.  However, by denying ourselves that to which we are entitled we are showing to God we are sorry.
Similarly, fasting was historically tied to sexual abstinence.  During a fast a man was not to touch a woman.  We imagine that this is still true among more Orthodox Jews.  This is also true in the Orthodox Church today.  It is also true in Islam, for example during Ramadan.
Fasting is a means of repentance because it takes us away from the flesh to the spiritual.  The flesh withers, as it were, but in our bodily weakness, our spirit is made more pure and more able to turn to God in prayer.  In this regard, one should consider the references to fasting in the New Testament.  Jesus is clear that while the Bridegroom is with them, the disciples cannot fast, but they will fast when the Bridegroom is taken from them.  Moreover, there is the case of the demon that the disciples could not cast out, which type the Lord said could only be cast out with fasting and prayer (following the textus receptus version of the passage).
So now we can understand the role of the great fast periods in the Church, particularly Great Lent.  It is a period of repentance in preparation for the joy of Easter.  Similarly with the 40-day Advent fast before Christmas.  Similarly with the 15-day strict fast before the Dormition of the Mother of God in August, and the milder fast that extends from the Monday after All Saints (the Sunday after Pentecost) to the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Moreover, in the New Testament the Pharisee fasts twice a week.  The Orthodox Church has kept those two days of fasts—Wednesday and Friday.  Monks also fast on Mondays.
So we can see that the Holy Spirit has woven an intricate web of fasts that extend throughout the whole year.
Now how do the Orthodox fast?  This is a little difficult for us to explain theoretically but easy to explain practically.  Let us start with the practical issues.
There is a list of types of foods, as follows, from the richest foods to the poorest foods. :
1.      animal meats;
2.      dairy products (milk, cheese, eggs, butter, yogurt etc.);
3.      fish;
4.      wine and olive oil;
5.      cooked food;
6.      raw nuts, fruits and vegetables.
The principle is that if on a certain day you can eat an item on the list, you can eat all the items below it on the list but none of the items above it on the list.  If you can eat animal meat on a certain day, say Christmas, you can eat anything.  Hence the way 5 is to be interpreted is that it is food cooked over the fire without wine or oil or anything else above it on the list.  A thin vegetable soup.  But at least it’s cooked; if you’ve reached 6, you’re left with raw nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Now we have to define what an animal is for the purposes of the above list.  An animal is a land creature that has blood.  A goat is an animal.  A snail is not an animal.
Next, what is a fish?  A fish is a sea creature with blood in it.  A tuna is a fish.  An octopus or a clam is not a fish.
What happens to snails, clams and octopus?  They can be eaten on days that animal meats and fish are forbidden, for example during Lent.  However, they have to be prepared with things permitted for the day in question.  For example we do not eat meat or dairy products during Lent, so while we could eat clams, we wouldn’t be able to eat a New England clam chowder soup—it has milk, butter and pork in it.  However, we could, if we wanted to, eat a clam chowder soup on Easter.  Obviously these fast rules were not designed with Howard Johnson’s in view.
Now what we can’t tell you is why the list is structured the way it is.  First of all, it does seem to make intuitive sense: animal meat is more energizing than cheese or yoghurt, which is more energizing than fish (some people might dispute the second assertion).
The list also clearly derives from the experience of the Mediterranean Basin.  It indeed has much in common with what is known as the Mediterranean Diet.  If you follow the fast rules of the Orthodox Church, you will be eating a Mediterranean Diet.
Of course, this presents issues if you’re an Orthodox in Northern Alaska or Northern Russia.  In very different climates there is the matter of the climate itself.  Different climates have different demands in terms of the foods that a person needs.  Someone living in Egypt has different bodily demands than someone living in Siberia.  This is where ‘Paleo’ comes in again.  But while the climate plays a role for anyone living in a region, there is also an issue with how you’re living.  A reindeer herder in Lapland has different metabolic demands from the sedentary doctor living in a centrally-heated house in Lapland and driving a car to the reindeer herder’s tent.
There is also the matter of the foods which are locally available.  Olive oil is very important to the Orthodox fast regime, but olives do not grow above Romania because of the climate.  Compared to the Greek, the Russian or the Finn is going to eat more animal fat than he is going to eat vegetable oil.  But part of the problem with urbanization is that people in the city continue to eat just as their parents ate on the farm before mechanization.  Then they die early.
Moreover, the Orthodox fast regime is an issue even in the Far East, since dairy products are an important component of the Orthodox fast rules and many Far Easterners have a genetically-based intolerance to milk products.
We are not promoting one or another solution to these issues; we are merely pointing out that the issues exist.
Now how do we know what we can eat when?  This is a matter of the liturgical typikon of the Orthodox Church.  The liturgical typikon is a calendar of all the days in the year and the feasts that fall on each day, including movable feasts such as Easter.  For each day the liturgical typikon prescribes what on the list can be eaten and what can’t.  Now the liturgical typikon is very complex, being about 1000 pages long, and has to deal with such issues as ‘What happens if Good Friday falls on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation?’  This can happen.  It has to analyze what services are performed and what can be eaten.
Now let us turn to a very basic issue.  As we pointed out, the Holy Spirit has woven a very complex web of fast rules for the Orthodox, which fast rules were, we said, designed to help the member of the Orthodox Church repent and turn to God.  But there is nothing really in the theology of the Orthodox fast that discusses the health of the faster.  In other words, fasting in the Orthodox Church is not a matter of adherence to a program of bodily health or psychological well-being based on the foods we eat.  We do not fast in the Orthodox Church to feel good, to reduce our blood pressure or to overcome genetically-based health issues.  We fast to turn to God.
Well, then what about the health issues?  The Orthodox Church respects medicine, so if a medical doctor were to tell someone to stop eating animal fats because of his high blood pressure, the Church would accept that.  But the medical judgement is not the business of the priest.  The priest is telling you how to get to God, not how to lower your blood pressure.
Now, the confusion starts with dietary regimes that are philosophically based.  In ancient times, for example, the Epicureans recommended eating bread and cheese as a healthy balanced diet conducive to the state of mind that Epicureanism wished to promote in its adherents (a sort of equanimity).  The Stoics had another diet that derived from their own philosophy.  Today, there is a diet called ‘Macrobiotic’ that derives from certain Japanese philosophical principles; that diet too is what we might call a spiritual path.  Similarly for the dietary aspects of hatha yoga.  These are really philosophical systems that use diet to achieve certain philosophical goals for the adherent of the philosophical system.
So the first problem is with diets related to philosophical systems that ultimately have a completely different world-view from the Orthodox Church, making quite different claims about Man and God.
The confusion increases when the philosophical system makes scientific claims.  While it is not a diet, acupuncture comes to mind.  It seems to be empirically demonstrable that you can stop pain with acupuncture.  Western science accepts that but no one knows how it works.  The philosophical explanations given in Chinese medicine bear no real connection to Western physiology.  So is acupuncture a scientific medical treatment?  Is it an Eastern philosophical tradition in competition with Orthodoxy?  We are not proposing an answer, but there is room for serious confusion.
There are diets, for example the Macrobiotic, and perhaps even the ‘Paleo’, that occupy a similar grey area between science and philosophical system.  In such diets it is not merely that there is a philosophical system connected to the diet, but that there are also scientific claims made about the results of following the diet.  These claims might or might not make sense in the context of Western Science.  Here the Orthodox, or even the practitioners of the diet looking at Orthodoxy, have to be clear in themselves just what it is they understand to be the teaching of the Orthodox Church and whether that would be in conflict with any aspect of the diet taken as a philosophical system.  That is not to say that you should kill yourself eating things that destroy your body.  It is to say that there might be a conflict between the theology of the Orthodox Church and the philosophical principles of the diet in question.
For those of our readers who are awaiting Christmas, we wish you all a blessed and holy Christmas and Theophany.  For those who are already celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas, may God bless you.
­–Orthodox Monk

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Meat-Eating in the Orthodox Church

We have received a request for a post and we would like to respond. This turns out to be our Thanksgiving post. But the question is about the Orthodox attitude to meat-eating. We think the timing is coincidental. But here you have our 2010 Thanksgiving post, those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving today.
The request goes like this, (slightly edited, see the comment on our post New Look for the original text):
I would be interested in reading a post that addresses compassionate diet and its relation to Orthodoxy. To elaborate, over time I have become increasingly concerned with unnecessary animal suffering as a component of human dietary patterns. Of course, this concern presupposes:
that animals are capable of suffering; as may be evident from:
(1a) scientific evidence wherein we can observe biological prerequisites for pain;
(1b) psychological evidence wherein we can observe stress, pain avoidance patterns, etc;
(1c) human-commonality wherein God-image differentiated sentience does not seem to confer an entirely unique mode of suffering (i.e. when I suffer, there is a strong existential analogy to how animals suffer, and as such I should be able to empathize in a real way);
that there is a standard of necessity; ostensibly that:
(2a) necessary suffering either has some teleological good in view (i.e. if I choose to suffer breaking my attachment to meat as a way to reduce animal suffering) or it is unavoidable in the course of mitigating or preventing an even greater suffering;
(2b) pleasure (at least impassioned) is not a teleological good if it is acquired in a manner which causes suffering (sadism?). If the basis of this concern is well-founded, then it seems that there is a good warrant to examine one's own dietary practices.
In addition to the above, I wonder whether a diet which minimizes death and suffering is:
  1. prophetic insofar that it points to an eschatological reality where death and suffering are no more (perhaps akin to how celibacy may be prophetic);
  1. a way to be more consistently pro-life;
  1. part of a compassionate Christianity which is not surpassed by Buddhism's regard for animal life;
  1. consistent with a eremitic/monastic precedent (which would seem related to the prophetic aspect at least).
What has to be discussed is Orthodox anthropology in relation to animal suffering and in relation to Buddhist anthropology.
Let us state the obvious. Christianity arises out of the Old Testament and can only be understood in that framework. This is not to say that both the Lord and the Church did not look at the Old Testament in certain ways that are now normative. It is to say that ‘Salvation is from the Jews’, as Our Lord said; that he was a Jew according to the flesh; and that he followed the Mosaic Law.
The basic element of Orthodox anthropology that concerns us is the creation of Man, and the relation of Man to the animals. Man is different from the animals in that God himself fashioned Man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him a breath of life, later taking a rib from Adam from which to fashion Eve. In the case of the animals, God merely gave a command and they were created.
Man was created in the image and likeness of God. The animals were not. There is a disjunction between the nature of Man and the nature of animals.
This is different from Buddhism in that Buddhism treats all sentient beings (‘sentient’ means ‘having sensation’) as being the same sort of thing. In Buddhism there is a continuity between Man and the animals. Indeed Buddhism treats all animals as ‘mothers’ to Man because of the doctrine of reincarnation: all animals were once men and all men were once animals. So there is a very big difference between Orthodox Christian anthropology and Buddhist anthropology.
St Gregory of Nyssa addresses the creation of Man in a work called On the Making of Man. This work was written to finish his brother St Basil the Great’s own work On the Six Days of Creation, interrupted at the creation of Man by Basil’s death.
The interesting thing that St Gregory does in On the Making of Man is combine Aristotelian psychology with the Genesis creation narrative in a way which really seems to foresee the Theory of Evolution. In Aristotelian psychology, there are a number of souls—the plant, the animal and the human—which coexist in Man. We might look at these various souls as functionalities in man. The Vegetative functionality is mere cellular nutrition; the Animal functionality is the sentient experience of one’s environment; the Human functionality is the image of God in Man. Man as the union of body and soul has all these functionalities.
Moreover, according to St Gregory these different souls or functionalities were created by God in stages (the days of creation). The Vegetative soul or functionality was created when the Lord created the plants. The Animal soul or functionality was created when the Lord created the animals. So in On the Making of Man we have the outline of a theory of evolution which treats of the gradual development of vegetative and animal functionalities in the world; and when man is created and given human functionalities, it is on the foundation of these lesser vegetative and animal functionalities which already exist in Creation.
Now the issue that ‘Memory of Death’ is raising revolves around the nature of suffering. Is it merely something that Man has because he has the Human functionality (soul) of the Image of God, or is it something Man shares with the animals as part of his animal functionality?
Clearly, all animals, by definition sentient, can feel pain. No one ever suggested that only Man can feel pain. Moreover, we do not think that anyone would want to insist that animals cannot suffer.
However, in the Old Testament, despite the fact that they can suffer, animals are eaten and sacrificed to God. When Our Lord cleansed the Temple, he did not suggest that sacrificing animals to God was wrong; he was reacting to the avarice of the men buying and selling in the Temple. At no time did Our Lord ever say that we should not eat meat. While he himself is recorded in the Gospel of John only as eating fish (after his resurrection), he attended various meals during his ministry and meat would have been served at those meals. At no time is he recorded as objecting to the meat.
Moreover, Our Lord at no time taught that sacrificing animals was wrong. Indeed, he directed at least one person he healed to show himself to the priest and to make the prescribed sacrifice so as to demonstrate that he was now clean.
Our Lord’s mother and Joseph the Guardian offered the prescribed sacrifice of two young birds when Our Lord was presented in the Temple on the 40th day after his birth.

Moreover, Our Lord, as a devout Jew, would have eaten the Passover lamb every year.  The Mosaic Law is clear that anyone who does not eat the Passover lamb is to be cut off from the Jewish people.  Clearly, if Jesus was not keeping the Passover, that would have been one of the charges against him in his trial.
(We are referring to the sacrifice of animals not in relation to Thanksgiving but to discuss Our Lord’s attitude to animals. Thanksgiving is a secular feast having its roots in Puritan culture in early America; it has nothing to do with Orthodoxy.)
In the New Testament, it is evident that some Christians (including, we believe, St James the Brother of the Lord) ate only vegetables. In the Apostolic Council at Jerusalem where St James was present, the Gentile converts to Christianity were exempted from the ritual provisions of the Mosaic law except that they were not to eat blood or animals that had been strangled (both things forbidden in the Mosaic law). Clearly, meat-eating was permitted.
In Acts St Peter was shown a vision of a sheet held up by its four corners that was full of all the animals of the earth and told to eat of all of them. He at first refused, saying that he had never eaten anything unclean, but God insisted. Hence, God explicitly allowed the eating not only of animals but of animals that Jews had previously considered unclean.
In his Epistles St Paul legislates that meat-eating is acceptable. He makes some points: we should not eat meat that we know is sacrificed to idols (although we can eat meat sold in the market without raising questions on the grounds of conscience if we do not know if the meat was sacrificed to an idol); we should not have disputes between those who eat only vegetables and those who eat meat: St Paul would rather not ever eat meat than cause scandal to a brother who eats only vegetables. Hence, St Paul has no problem with meat-eating but he also has no problem with people who are vegetarian. He thinks that the issues are elsewhere.
It should be clear from the above that there can be no dogmatic basis in Christianity for a ban on meat-eating.
Some points.
  1. From the beginning, being vegetarian was acceptable—but as a personal choice, not as a dogmatic position.
  2. Monks in the Orthodox Church do not normally eat meat. This derives from 4th Century Egypt. We don’t really recall a long explanation of why. If there is a prophetic or eschatological element in this, it is not emphasized. Moreover, in cases of serious illness monks are served meat.
  3. If an Orthodox Christian follows the fast rules of the Church, he will not eat that much meat. This is good from the point of view of the person’s health since a high-meat diet is dangerous from a medical point of view. The fast rules of the Church are based on the Mediterranean Diet, which is considered beneficial.
(The situation among the religious in the Roman Catholic Church is somewhat more ambiguous: the older orders with deeper roots in Egyptian monasticism do not ordinarily eat meat. The Cistercians come to mind. However newer orders which are not really monastic, such as the Jesuits, do eat meat.)
Now given that animals do suffer, should a Christian take this into account? We would imagine that a Christian would want to slaughter an animal with the least suffering simply on the basis of being a human being with a conscience. But we have never heard of the Bishops of the Church occupying themselves with slaughter-house practices.
It is true that industrial meat-raising—such as of pigs or chickens in sheds—is terrible from two points of view. First the animals are treated as commodities or machines, so they presumably suffer. Second, they are filled with all kinds of drugs and chemicals and whatever to get them ready as fast as possible for slaughter at a good price, and the food these animals are provided is an unnatural concoction. Apart from any issue of compassion for sentient beings, this makes the meat potentially dangerous for human consumption. But it is a long way to go from finding these practices distasteful to reaching a dogmatic position on meat-eating.
It should also be pointed out that although Buddhist anthropology makes the human nature continuous with the animal nature, Buddhist norms on meat-eating are by no means consistent across all forms of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama, for example eats meat, by all accounts with a good appetite. Only some schools of Mahayana Buddhism absolutely forbid the eating of meat. Hence, trying to accommodate Orthodox Christianity to Buddhist compassion for all sentient beings is to follow a will-o’-the-wisp.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers!
Orthodox Monk

Sunday, 10 October 2010

New Look

We decided to use labels on the blog. That forced us to upgrade the template, and to a new design.  It’s not bad.  We’ve tried to bring the labels up to date.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Gift of Tongues

We have received an email from a man in Brazil who wishes to learn how the Orthodox Church views the gift of tongues as practised among the Pentecostalists of the ‘Assemblies of God’.  The Assemblies of God is a classical Pentecostalist church that derives from the Azusa Street Revival of the early 20th Century in Los Angeles.  This is the church that in Wasilla Sarah Palin grew up in and was re-baptized in (she has since changed churches without publicly renouncing any of her beliefs).  However, Palin’s particular Assemblies of God church in Wasilla evidently taught a doctrine that was condemned by the majority of other Assemblies of God churches in the late 1940’s.
We have already discussed Pentecostalism a number of times.  In our post called Pentecostalism and the Jesus Prayer, we made some remarks on the contrast between the operation of the charisms among Orthodox saints and among the Pentecostalists.  We received two comments, which we printed on the post, and exchanged emails with the persons making the comments.  In those comments a variety of issues were raised, to which we responded in another post called Ecclesiological Dimensions in the Pentecostalist Practice of the Jesus Prayer.  So this is a third time in recent history that we are addressing Pentecostalism and Orthodoxy.
Here is the man’s email.  Since he is clearly a non-native speaker of English, we have had to edit his text.  We have appended his original text as a footnote.  We have changed his name both in the text and in the footnote.  The name he gives in the text does not in any event agree with the name on his email address, so it is not even clear to us that the name he provides in his email is in fact the man’s real name.
My name is Alphonso Luis Borges and I am a Pentecostal Christian, currently attending the church called the ‘Assemblies of God’ located in Brazil.
My question is about the ‘Gift of Tongues’.
The Pentecostal gift of tongues is the ability to speak languages and/or dialects.  These dialects may be known, unknown or so-called dialects of angels.
I grew up with and lived with this phenomenon for 30 years.  I recently met a friend who is Orthodox Christian and he told me the gift of tongues is not the ability to ‘speak new languages’.
From what he told me that I could understand, the gift of tongues happens silently in the heart of every Son of God and when this person has the gift of interpreting languages, he can then through the voice build up the Church (people) with prophecies, teachings and so on.
I would humbly ask that you explain to me what then is the ‘Gift of Tongues’ in the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church.
First of all, let us look at what Alphonso thinks his friend is telling him about the gift of tongues in the Orthodox Church.  Now we frankly are not clear what Alphonso means or what his Orthodox friend actually told him.  It appears to us that what was said by the Orthodox friend is that through assiduous practice, the Jesus Prayer becomes automatic, repeated in the heart.[2]  Then through further grace, the practitioner of the Jesus Prayer is given the gifts of the word and prophecy in order to edify the church.  This would be the condition of an Elder of the Orthodox Church.[3]  So what appears to us to be meant is the known progression by means of the Jesus Prayer, say among the Elders on Mt Athos, or at Optina in the 19th Century, of the monk from beginner through to the condition of Elder.  Examples would be the Elders of Mt. Athos or Optina or, most notably, St Seraphim of Sarov.  It should be noted that a monk proceeding on this road normally has an Elder to guide him.
If this is what Alphonso’s Orthodox friend means, we have no problem with any of it.  This is a well-known progression.  The only caveat that we have is that not everyone on Mt Athos is an Elder, and not everyone at Optina was an Elder or Staretz (Russian for Elder), and not everyone at Sarov was a Saint.
Next, we emphasized the historical background of the origin of the Assemblies of God about 100 years ago to emphasize the difference between such a new and young church and the Orthodox Church.
Next, we have to look at how the Orthodox Church looks at the spiritual life, the charisms and in particular the Holy Spirit.  We have discussed much of this in other posts, but we think it important to repeat all of this material in one place for Alphonso.
The Orthodox Church teaches us that we receive the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Baptism.  This Baptism cleanses the nous or innermost soul of the person from the Devil and from all demons and demonic influences.  Baptism then grants the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the innermost soul of the person.  This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is lost only in cases of denial of Christ—if we join another religion for example.  In the Orthodox Church, Chrismation—anointing with specially blessed oil—corresponds to the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles did after they baptized converts.  In the Orthodox Church Chrismation occurs right after Baptism, at the same time.  Since the person has in Baptism received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this laying on of hands or Chrismation is for the reception of the Holy Spirit in the way the Apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and through the laying on of hands subsequently transmitted it to others who were baptized; it is for the reception of the power and charisms of the Holy Spirit.
Even if after your Orthodox Baptism you commit murder, you do not lose the Holy Spirit—you are in bad shape but you are still Orthodox and can still repent and still go to confession and still ultimately receive communion and be saved.  But if you deny Christ, say by becoming a Buddhist—even without doing anything bad like killing someone—you have lost the Holy Spirit.  You are no longer Christian.  You cannot merely go to confession.  What happens in these cases, and only in these cases, is that the person is received back into the Church through a second Chrismation.  Normally he or she is not allowed to receive communion until he or she is on his or her death bed.
Since the Orthodox Church practises infant baptism and Orthodox receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, all Orthodox have the Holy Spirit.  But clearly not all Orthodox are Elders.  There’s more to it.
Now it has to be understood that the interpretation of the laying on of hands for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as implying the ability to speak in tongues in the way Pentecostalists speak in tongues today derives from Protestant experiences in 19th Century England, Wales and the United States.  There was no such doctrine or practice before that.  There are certainly episodes of speaking in tongues in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of Paul, but it is not obvious that the same thing is being referred to.
Let us look at Acts.  On the day of Pentecost, Scripture records that the Apostles were praising God and that the Jews who came at the sound of the mighty wind heard the Apostles praising God each in his own language, which were all the languages under Heaven because the Jews had come from everywhere.  Elder Porphyrios (1906 – 1991) interprets this to mean that although the Apostles were speaking in Hebrew, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit each of their listeners heard them in his own language.  Peter speaks Hebrew; Solomon from Persia hears him in Persian; Barnabas from Cyprus hears him in Greek.
In the Orthodox Church, it is recorded that St Ephraim the Syrian visited St Basil the Great (4th Century) and the two communicated by this means: each spoke his own language and the other understood.
In the actual life of Elder Porphyrios, it is recorded that an atheist French woman visited him in Greece and the two communicated in this way: Elder Porphyrios spoke Greek; the woman spoke French; and the two understood each other.  The French woman was later received into the Orthodox Church.  She is, as far as we know, still alive.  This event would have occurred within the last 50 years.
Now in the Epistles of Paul it is recorded that a person might speak a new or even angelic language.  However, the question arises, did a Church service that St Paul attended sound like an Assemblies of God service today?  We really do not have any way to know.  There is simply not enough information for us to judge.
However, there is no recorded case that we are aware of that following voluntary Orthodox Baptism and Chrismation of an adult, that person spoke in tongues in the way people who have been ‘baptized in the Spirit’ do in the Assemblies of God or any other Pentecostalist or charismatic church or group.  It just doesn’t happen in the Orthodox Church.  Moreover, practice on Mt Athos, that beacon of discernment, is to receive members of the Orthodox Church who convert to Pentecostalism with rebaptism by the Pentecostalists and who then return to the Orthodox Church—to receive them back into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation after certain other prayers.
Hence, it is quite clear that there is no tradition in the Orthodox Church of speaking in tongues in the way that it is done in the Assemblies of God.
Now the question arises of charisms in the Orthodox Church.  Here there are two points to make.  St John Chrysostom (died 5th Century) discusses the question of the cessation of the charisms.  We do not recall exactly what his answer was; our point is that the growing rarity of the charisms was already an issue then.
In the Orthodox Church, great Elders and great Saints do exercise the charisms of the Holy Spirit.  Great miracle workers and healers and prophets who come to mind are St Seraphim of Sarov (died early 19th Century), St John Kronstadt (died early 20th Century), Elder Paisios (1924 – 1994) and Elder Porphyrios (1906 – 1991).  There are many others.  However, what characterizes all these great healers and miracle workers and prophets in the Orthodox Church is that before they either received the charisms or publicly exercised them they went through the preparation of a long and arduous asceticism so that they might be spiritually cleansed from their tendencies to sin.  Such Elders and Saints are characterized by great personal holiness.  Such Elders and Saints are also characterized by their rareness.
This is different from Pentecostalist circles where the charisms are acquired quickly (sometimes it seems that all it takes is to go to a revival).  The charisms are also quite common (how many persons are claiming to be Apostles and Prophets today?).  These charisms are exercised quickly after their reception (no preparation for a public ministry). These charisms are often exercised by persons who might not only lack distinction for their holiness but might even be involved in serious sin.  There’s nothing odder than a great miracle worker who gets a divorce on account of his adultery.
What Alphonso has to understand is that Orthodoxy is a completely different road from the Assemblies of God.

[1] Hello
My name is Alphonso Luis Borges and I am a Pentecostal Christian, currently has attended the church called the Assemblies of God located in Brazil.
My question is about the "Gift of Tongues."
In designing the Pentecostal gift of tongues is the ability to speak languages and / or dialects known (these dialects may be known, unknown or so-called dialects of angels).
I grew up and lived for 30 years this phenomenon has recently met a friend who is Orthodox Christian, and he told me the gift of tongues is not the ability to "speak new languages."
From what he told me and I could understand, the gift of tongues happens silently in the heart of every Son of God and when this person has the gift of interpreting languages, can then through the voice  build up the Church (people) with prophecies, teachings and so on .
I would humbly that you explain to me what then is the "Gift of Tongues" in the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church.
[2] The reader can find much material in the early posts on the Jesus Prayer.
[3] An Elder is a senior monk in the Orthodox Church, one distinguished by his gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy.  We have various posts on the blog that discuss Elders.

Friday, 1 October 2010

September 14 Elevation of the Holy Cross

The Elevation of the Holy Cross is the first feast of the Master in the ecclesiastical year.
Let us begin with the Synaxarion.  The Synaxarion records the vision of St Constantine the Great, Equal to the Apostles, before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312.  St Constantine had a vision of a cross above the sun in the midday sky and around the cross a legend in Greek, ‘In this sign conquer’.  St Constantine had a standard made according to the vision, which standard led his troops into the battle.  St Constantine’s troops won a decisive victory.
Subsequent to this, St Constantine’s mother, St Helen went to Jerusalem to find the Cross of Christ.  She found the Cross and also the crosses of the two thieves who were crucified with Christ, but only the Cross of Christ did a miracle, raising an old widow from the dead, and so the thieves’ crosses were discarded.  St Helen and her retinue venerated the Holy Cross.  The Christian population of Jerusalem also wished to venerate the Cross but were unable to because of their number. Therefore the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Makarios, standing in the pulpit raised the Cross up with his two hands before the people, who responded by repeatedly chanting ‘Lord have mercy’.  Since then the elevation of the Holy Cross has been celebrated every year in the Orthodox Church.  Part of the Cross was brought to Constantinople, along with nails of the Crucifixion, while part of the Cross remained in Jerusalem.
St Constantine granted toleration to Christianity in 313 by the Edict of Milan and St Constantine himself certainly favoured Christianity but it was Theodosius the Great who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire, in 380. The Byzantine Empire was a Christian empire, indeed an Orthodox Christian empire, until it fell in 1453.  Similarly the Russian Empire was an Orthodox Christian empire until it was overthrown in 1917.
In 614 the Zoroastrian Persians sacked Jerusalem taking the Cross as booty.  The Persians then ransomed the Cross back to the Greeks.  (In those days there was no reason to destroy someone else’s relic—it was worth money.)  Then in 628 Heraclius invaded Persia and achieved victory.  When he returned to Constantinople he had the Cross raised before the people in the main church of St Sophia the way it had been raised in Jerusalem three hundred years before.
This historical background helps us to understand the Apolytikion and the Kontakion of the feast:
Save, O Lord, your people and bless your inheritance, granting victories to the Kings against barbarians and guarding your nation by means of your Cross.
                                       (Apolytikion of the feast.)
O Christ God, you who have voluntarily been raised on the Cross, grant your mercies to the society called by your name.  Make our faithful Kings glad in your power, dispensing to them victories against the enemies.  May they have your alliance in battle, which alliance is the weapon of peace and the unconquerable standard.
                                       (Kontakion of the feast.)
Let us now look at the deeper meaning of the feast on the basis of a number of hymns from the service.
When you were raised on the Cross, O Master, you raised together with yourself all the fallen nature in Adam.  Therefore raising up your spotless Cross, O Lover of Mankind, we ask for your power from on high, crying: ‘Save us, O Most High, showing mercy as God to those who honour the reverend and light-bearing elevation of your divine Cross.’
                                       (At Lord have I cried in Small Vespers.)
As we can see, the Church does not lose sight of the central mystery of the Christian religion: when Christ was raised on the Cross, all of Man’s fallen nature was raised with him.  In what sense did Christ raise with him on the Cross all of Man’s fallen nature in Adam?  In two senses.  First Christ died for our sins—for the sins of all men.  Salvation is open to all men and women without exception.  No one is predestined to damnation.  There is a second sense, however, in which on the Cross Christ raises the fallen nature of Adam.  As we have learned from the Gnostic Chapters of St Diadochos of Photiki, Baptism restores the image of God in us, cleansing us from all sin and all influence of the Devil in our innermost self, and granting us in our innermost self the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  It is of course for us after our Baptism to work with the Holy Spirit to restore in ourselves the likeness to God.  As St Paul puts it, if we have died with Christ in Baptism we shall surely share in his Resurrection.  Here is how the service puts it:
The Cross when it is raised calls the whole creation to praise the spotless passion of him who was raised on the Cross.  For he revived and beautified those who in the Cross kill the one who kills us, those who had been put to death; and as compassionate because of exceeding goodness he made us worthy to live a life in Heaven.  Whence, having rejoiced, let us elevate his name and magnify his extreme condescension.
                                       (At Lord have I cried in Great Vespers.)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

September 8 Birth of Our Exceedingly Holy Mistress, She who Gave Birth to God

The first major feast of the ecclesiastical year, which begins on September 1, is the Birth of Our Exceedingly Holy Mistress, She who Gave Birth to God.
The most concise explanation of this feast is found in this hymn, attributed to Sergius, chanted in Vespers of the Feast:
Today God who abides in the heavenly thrones has prepared for himself a holy throne upon the earth.  He who in wisdom established the Heavens has in love for mankind created a heaven with a living, rational soul.  For from a barren root he has made to grow for us a life-bearing plant, his Mother.  O God of the wonders and hope of the hopeless, glory to you!
God who abides in the highest order of angels, who gaze on him through the Word of God, has for the sake of his Incarnation prepared for himself a holy throne upon the earth.  God who with wisdom established the Heavens with their multifarious stars and constellations has in love for mankind stooped to create a new heaven upon the earth, a heaven that will contain his Son, the Word of God.  And that new Heaven has a living, rational soul: that new Heaven is a person like us, Mariam, the daughter of sterile Ann and her husband the blessed Joachim.  The daughter of the sterile woman gives birth in virginity to the Word of God made flesh.  O God of wonders and hope of the hopeless, glory to you, who have loved mankind which remained in despair after the fall of Adam and Eve.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Blog Post 250

We noticed both that we were completing our 5th Anniversary as ‘Orthodox Monk’ and that our next post would be No 250.  So we thought we would take the opportunity to make a few brief ‘looking-back’ remarks.

We have written an average of approximately 1 post a week for 5 years.  The number of words in the collected posts is around 300,000.  That’s a lot of words.

Readers come and go.  Some readers ‘sign up’ for a period of time and then drop the blog, evidently moving on to something else.  That is normal.

Many people come to the blog from a Google search on becoming an Orthodox monk or nun, perhaps after having been divorced.  We are rather surprised at the level of interest in becoming an Orthodox monastic.  We have written specific posts on those subjects and those posts show up in the Google searches so there is no need to repeat the links.  We would like to emphasize, however, that the blog was always conceived not as a running forum that discusses the issues of the day and then moves on, but as a place where we set down for permanent reference our considered thoughts on topics with which this blog is concerned.  We therefore encourage all our readers, if our views interest them, to make the effort to go back to the beginning of the blog and read it in ascending chronological order.  An alternative would be for readers to use the search field at the top of the blog to search it on a topic that interests them.  As readers can see, we are not a fan of ‘tags’ and don’t use them.

Would we do anything over again if we could?  Our biggest mistake has been to engage in private email correspondences.  We should have established a policy from the beginning that emails would be answered only on the blog, with full or partial quotation of the email at our discretion.  Of course if someone sends us an email marked ‘not for publication’, we will respect that—but we will not engage in an email correspondence except to send our email policy.  We have put the email policy in the margin of the blog.

Because this is not a forum, it is not automatic that we will want to discuss your email.  We have to think after prayer that there is reason to.  The same applies to comments.  If you just want to argue, there are a lot of blogs and forums that love ‘vigorous discussion’.  This isn’t one of them.  We also like vigorous discussion but the discussion has to be both literate and substantive from the point of view of how we conceive the blog.

Are we literate?  Yes.  Are we holy?  No.  We are sometimes quite sharp with our correspondents, at the risk of wounding their pride.  There is a fine line between using scorn to bring someone to his senses—sometimes only when you are publicly laughed at do you realize you are wrong—and using scorn out of pride and arrogance.  If we do use scorn it is, we hope, as a rhetorical device.  We would like to think that the underlying tone we have established on the blog is one of Christian charity and courtesy.

All our positions are rationally defended.  Is this a sign of the Holy Spirit’s absence?  We do not claim to have the Holy Spirit except by Baptism and Chrismation but we also do not think that the presence of the Holy Spirit is necessarily characterized by incoherence.  Moreover, sometimes there is a problem when we have to stand up for what we think is right and the other guy or gal disagrees.

Let’s see how the future will go.