Saturday, May 5, 2018

Questions and Answers 1 - 7


Clergy and Wedding Rings

Question 1: I am about to be ordained a deacon and have been married for five years. Do you know if I should remove my wedding ring during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy? This was a tradition I was told about.

Answer: In the tradition of our Church before ordination the candidate takes off his wedding ring and no longer wears it. One can explain this, first, that one has been raised to a new rank: he’s symbolically betrothed to the Church. Second, clergy should not wear any worldly jewelry, even if it symbolically demonstrates his marital relationship.


Best Way to Learn Orthodox Theology

Question 2: What is the best and surest way to learn Orthodox theology?

Answer: The best and surest way to learn Orthodox theology is to follow the daily calendar of the Church. Every day we have assigned Scripture readings, feasts, lives of saints, hymns, and daily prayers. The more you immerse yourself in these on a daily basis, the quicker you will learn to be Orthodox and acquire its theological mindset. The books that provide these should be your first acquisition.


Pope Leo the Great and the Papacy

Question 3: I am a Roman Catholic from Indiana and I have been studying the Orthodox Faith and I have a question I would like to ask.

I know that the Orthodox Church recognizes Pope Leo the Great as a saint and a father, but sometimes his letters appear to support a papal supremacist viewpoint.

(Examples: Peter having “the principle charge”, one has no place “in the divine mystery” if they “secede from Peter’s solid rock”, and also not “separate himself from the solidarity of Peter”. He says Peter is “the highest of all the apostles”, “preeminent over the others”, no one should be at odds with the head, that Peter “was primate of all bishops”, “above all the apostles”, all “duly governed by Peter”.)

I am wondering as to whether or not these quotations by St. Leo have any significance or relevance to an Orthodox Christian or if it’s just him expressing his own private opinion, or if these concepts can be interpreted in an Orthodox way.

I appreciate any help that can be offered. Thank you and God bless!

Answer: Yes, Pope Leo the Great is a Saint and Father of the Orthodox Church. According to the Orthodox tradition, the Patriarchate of Old Rome is the first among equals among other bishops of the Church. Both Saints Peter and Paul are considered the "foremost (preeminent) of the apostles", though they have no higher authority than the other apostles. As the first among equals, Peter and the see of Rome is held as first in honor and holds the primary seat in synodal gatherings. The Pope of Rome, however, holds no jurisdictional authority over any other Patriarchs and those bishops under them. Saint Leo abided by this tradition. There is no indication that he forced his authority over other bishops. As for the quotes, all those, of course, need to be evaluated in context.


The Best Book on the Jesus Prayer

Question 4: Which book on the practice of the Jesus Prayer is in your opinion the best and most reliable one?

Answer: The Way of the Pilgrim is an excellent introduction and inspiration to noetic prayer, which will lead you to the primary text on the subject - The Philokalia.


What To Do In the Case of Spilled Communion

Question 5: If a drop of Holy Communion falls somewhere other than the red cloth, what should be done? For example, if a mother holding her baby has a drop of Communion on her dress because the baby was crying and the priest was elderly and a bit shaky, what should be done?

Answer: First, I would say that a priest should not have any of the wine on the spoon when feeding it to an infant. Instead, they should serve a very small piece of the bread dipped in the wine. This will prevent the Holy Communion from dripping or spilling anywhere under these circumstances.

Now if it does happen that the Holy Communion drips on clothing, there are a few opinions. Some would outright say to burn that piece of clothing. I don't think that is necessary if it is a small drop. I think it is perfectly fine to wash that piece of clothing separately from your other laundry. If the spill is widespread and/or has damaged the clothing, then it should be burned and/or buried in a secluded spot, preferably on the property of the church. Usually if given to a priest they will take care of this for you.

The only other place the Holy Communion could fall that would present a difficult situation is if it fell to the ground. In this case, if it is a hard marble floor, most priests would bend down and consume it. Others may gather it up in a rag and burn it or bury it. If it falls on carpet, then that piece of carpet would need to be removed and either buried or burned.


Questions About the Afterlife

Question 6: I have read and learned a lot from your writings. However, I hardly understand the afterlife in Orthodoxy. Are we going to be as we are now but sinless, are we going to see and be with GOD and LOVED ONES forever? When we say “eternity” do we mean that afterlife never has an end but you are always yourself? Are we going to have the same characteristics and all the memory we currently have as men on the current earth?

Answer: Questions regarding the afterlife, if we want to be as factual as possible, always end up in mystery. I can give you my best guest on these issues, but if you ask me what I know for sure, I would say nothing, primarily because I have not experienced it myself, and I would only trust those who have experienced it, which is basically no one. Death is a mystery. So how should we treat questions about the afterlife, since it is natural to have them? I like to respond with a quote from Saint Barsanuphios the Great:

"Don't be deceived regarding the knowledge of what will be after your death: what you sow here, you will reap there. After leaving here, no one can make progress. Here is the work, there the reward; here the struggle, there the crowns."

This is really all we need to know and worry about the afterlife.


Menstruation and the canons of St. John the Faster

Question 7: Hello my brother John, please forgive me for bothering you, but I would like to ask you something about the canons of Saint John the Faster. I know that these canons are traditionally universally accepted in the Orthodox Church, even though they were not confirmed by an Ecumenical Council. Specifically, I am tempted by thoughts of doubt against pretty much all canons because of canon 17 of Saint John:

As for women occupying a separate seat, let them not touch holy things for as many as seven days, the second Canon of St. Dionysius, but in particular the seventh Canon of Timothy bids. This is also what the old Law ordered, but neither did it permit them to have any sexual intercourse with men; for it happens on this account that the seeds sown become weak and evanescent. Hence it was that divine Moses ordered the father of a defective to be stoned to death, on the ground that on account of his intemperance he failed to await the purification of his wife. But as for a woman who has been so scornful of the same uncleanness during this period and has touched the divine Mysteries, they bid her to remain communionless for forty days.

First of all, I can't find Moses commanding anywhere that a father of a defective child be stoned. There is a provision that commands stoning for those who have sex with menstruating wife, but no mention of defective children at all. Secondly, we know today that semen doesn't combine with woman's blood to produce a child, so the text (commentary in the Rudder even more specifically so) which claims that produced children will be defective, doesn't make any sense if you consider basic scientific facts.

Finally, the provision to abstain from intercourse with a wife for "as many as 7 days", to me (who am not a native English speaker and I can't find the canon in Serbian) means "up to 7 days but could be less". However, commentary by Saint Nicodemos interprets this sentence as "at least seven days". Now, many women finish menstruation in LESS than 7 days. Does that mean that I am supposed to abstain from intercourse even after menstruation ends if full 7 days haven't passed, or otherwise I am in breach of a canon with ecumenical validity, with me being liable to numerous punishments which are foreshadowed by Old Testament stoning??

Answer: First of all, the canons of Saint John the Faster are instructions for clergy on how to hear the confession of secret sins, whether sins already committed, or merely sins of intent. He was of course not the first to do this. Those before him addressed the penances of these sins in a very strict way. What Saint John did was to reduce the penances of the ancient Church and make them more lenient. Today, when we read these canons, our first reaction is to see how strict they are, but in historical context, they were more lenient than what was before, pretty much reducing by half all the penances.

Saint John set more exactly the character of the penances: severe fasting, daily performance of a set number of prostrations to the ground, the distribution of alms, etc. The length of penance is determined by the priest. The main purpose of the nomocanon compiled by the holy Patriarch consists in assigning penances, not simply according to the seriousness of the sins, but according to the degree of repentance and the spiritual state of the person who confesses.

Canons such as these are not laws that should be observed in all cases. They are a guide on how to conduct a confession. The extreme nature of the penances is meant to present the most extreme in extreme cases, which in historical context was, as said above, more lenient than in the past. Nonetheless, the canons are to be applied according to the judgment of the cleric.

With this specific canon, Saint John says that a woman menstruating is not to touch any holy thing nor have sexual intercourse "for as many as seven days." This basically means "up to" seven days, since it is not that common for menstruation to last more than a week. On the other hand, Saint Nikodemos interprets this according to Leviticus. One interpretation is really as good as any other. Why? Because, as I said above, these canons are not an absolute rule to be applied to all, but serve as guides for clergy in confession for private sins. You will find different interpretations of these matters among various Fathers of the Church, to the point where some are perfectly fine with allowing a menstruating woman to receive Holy Communion. For this reason, I do not recommend non-clerics to study the canons of Saint John the Faster, since it is to be used by clerics alone, and interpreted according to their best judgment for the sins confessed to them privately.

But you do have a point regarding the law of Moses stating the father of a defective child be stoned. I do not recall that anywhere in Scripture. Saint John may be quoting an interpretation by someone of this text, or he just doesn't recall it accurately. However, sometimes the Septuagint translation has different meanings to things in Leviticus which warrant such an interpretation, but I am not aware of anything off the top of my head about this specifically. If I do come across something, I will address it in the future.


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