Friday, September 20, 2019

Questions and Answers 103 - 107

The Difference between the Old and New Atheists

Question 103: How would you describe the difference between the old atheists and the new atheists?

Answer: The fundamental difference between the two, in a very simplistic way, is that the New Atheists believe religion and faith are in the way of human progress, especially the progress offered through science, and they attack religion of all sorts with the anger of a fundamentalist. The Old Atheists on the other hand wanted something more than what the religions of the world offered. Let us take Nietzsche for example. He believed that religion had moved beyond the concept of a God. He felt that the concept of a God inevitably undermined his religious insight, so he rejected all gods. Of course, he fully admits that gods might come in handy in the future. Essentially his main issue was with what he referred to as 'Christian monotono theism': the understanding of God which has become so prevalent that it makes spirituality stagnant rather than allowing us to fully embrace the ever-changing nature of existence.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Questions and Answers 98 - 102

The Miracle of the Snakes of Kefallonia

Question 98: Do you know why there is a decline in the number of snakes that are appearing in Kefallonia during the Dormition Fast?

Answer: I've been asked this a lot. Just so it is clear, snakes appear in two churches in Kefallonia during the Dormition Fast, both dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos. Nonetheless, there is indeed a decline in the number of snakes that appear. There are probably a few reasons for this. When I was there in 1991, I was told by locals how some snakes were found dead over the years, and even talked to someone who knew a guy that ran over one with a wagon, and they buried it with honors. This is at least one explanation - they are just dying off. Also, it has become very popular to attend these events, so the increase of people may play a factor too. I have also noticed there has been development and construction around the churches to accommodate the increase of people, which may be another reason the snakes do not appear as much. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next decade or two. When I heard the stories in 1991, I thought the miracle would come to an end in the matter of years, but here we are almost thirty years later and the snakes keep appearing.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Questions and Answers 93 - 97

Three Favorite Poetic Quotes

Question 93: I was asked in a school assignment what my three favorite poetic quotes are, and I can't think of any. Can you tell me what yours are?

Answer: You probably shouldn't use my favorite poetic quotes as being your own, nor would you probably not want to, but I'll answer your question:

1. "I was in the death struggle with self:
God and Satan fought for my soul those three long hours.
God conquered —
now I have only one doubt left —
which of the twain was God?" - Aleister Crowley

2. "And so being young and dipped in folly, I fell in love with melancholy." - Edgar Allan Poe

3. "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men." - Willy Wonka

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Questions and Answers 92

Question 92: When do you think the issue over the granting of autocephaly in Ukraine will be resolved, so that either all the Churches accept autocephaly or it is resolved synodically?

Answer: I surprisingly get this question a lot, but I have absolutely no answer to provide, being a simple layman far from any inside information on the subject. Answers can only be found within the Patriarchal Synod of Moscow and/or the Patriarchal Synod of Constantinople, but I don't think they know either. One thing that must be stressed however is that this is nothing new in the Orthodox world, and I do believe it will be resolved in time just like it always has. Because it has happened before, it will likely happen again and again unless there is a synodal decision of all the Churches on the exact rules of granting autocephaly, but seeing that this has been an issue for many centuries it is unlikely a synodal decision will happen any time soon. It has always been very complicated however. Here are five of many examples just from the past few hundred years to prove my point:

Church of Greece: Under Ottoman rule, the Muslims had no control over the Church. With the establishment of the Greek kingdom, however, the government decided to take control of the Church, breaking away from the Patriarch in Constantinople. The government declared the Church to be autocephalous in 1833 in a political decision of the Bavarian Regents acting for King Otto, who was a minor. The decision roiled Greek politics for decades as royal authorities took increasing control. The new status was finally recognized as such by the Patriarchate in 1850, under compromise conditions with the issue of a special "Tomos" decree which brought it back to a normal status. It thus took 17 years for its autocephaly to be recognized by Constantinople.

Church of Romania: Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza, who had in 1863 carried out a mass confiscation of monastic estates in the face of stiff opposition from the Greek hierarchy in Constantinople, in 1865 pushed through a legislation that proclaimed complete independence of the Church in the Principalities from the Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized its status in 1885 only after long negotiations. It thus took 20 years for its autocephaly to be recognized by Constantinople.

Church of Poland: The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople granted the Church of Poland its autocephaly in the Tomos of 13 November 1924. Given that most of the parishioners were Ukrainians and Belarusians living in the Eastern areas of the newly independent Polish Second Republic, the Patriarch of Constantinople had a canonical basis to grant the Tomos to the Polish Church as a successor of the Kyiv Metropolia, the former territory of Kyivan Rus' which Constantinople continued to see as its canonical territory (despite having agreed to allow Moscow to be its caretaker in 1686). The Russian Orthodox Church at the time did not recognize the Polish autocephaly, as it did not recognize the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. In 1948, after the Soviet Union established political control over Poland, the Russian Orthodox Church recognized the autocephalous status of the Polish Orthodox Church. It thus took 24 years for its autocephaly to be recognized by Moscow.

Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia: On December 9, 1951, the Patriarch of Moscow granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia, though this action was not recognized by Constantinople, which regarded the Czechoslovak Church as being autonomous under its authority. The Patriarch of Constantinople later issued a Tomos, or official proclamation, of autocephaly in 1998. It thus took 47 years for its autocephaly to be recognized by Constantinople.

Orthodox Church of America: The OCA was granted autocephaly in 1970 by the Patriarchate of Moscow, but this was rejected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate since it considers America to be under its canonical jurisdiction. This continues to be its status today and has not been resolved.

And let's not forget the autocephalous Churches which did not obtain ecumenical validation and assurance — like the Church of Carthage, the Church of Mediolana (Milan), the Church of Lyons, the Church of First Justiniana, the Church of Ochrid, the Church of Trnovo, the Church of Ipek, and the Church of Iberia, as well as some others in this category — which lost their autocephaly with the passage of time.

What we see in all these examples is that the granting of autocephaly is done under various conditions in various complicated ways, and even when autocephaly is granted by one Patriarchate it may take many decades for other Patriarchates to accept, though it could over time lose its autocephaly altogether. With the Ukraine issue however, the Russian Church seems to have taken the matter very personal, hence its extreme reaction by not recognizing for the time being the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Such hostility may need to follow these hierarchs involved with the issue to the grave in order for a resolution to take place, but let's hope it does not come to this.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Questions and Answers 87 - 91

Saying "Eternal Memory" for Non-Orthodox Christians

Question 87: Is it permissible for Orthodox Christians to say "Eternal Memory" for departed non-Orthodox Christians, and if not, what should be said?

Answer: A funeral service and its prayers are considered a privilege and not a right in the Orthodox Church. The privilege belongs to faithful Orthodox Christians alone. The real and difficult question should be whether or not all who call themselves Orthodox Christians deserve a funeral service, just like we would ask if all who call themselves Orthodox deserve Holy Communion. We tend to lean towards explaining that since no one "deserves" either, as all are sinners, then we just give it to anyone who has not willfully apostatized, through word or deed. But this is a bigger debate.

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