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.)