Friday, June 1, 2018

Questions and Answers 26 - 30

Introducing the Bible to Children

Question 26: Is there a book you can recommend for children to introduce them to the Bible?

Answer: Yes, there are three things I would recommend for children, only because these are what introduced me to the Bible, and every parent should provide these for their children.

1. Superbook (the animated series)

Superbook is an anime television series from the early 1980s, initially produced by Tatsunoko Productions in Japan in conjunction with the Christian Broadcasting Network in the United States. The series chronicled the events of the Bible's Old and New Testaments in its 52-episode run. The original series consisted of Series 1 (1981–82) and Series 2 (1983). You can find episodes online or order the DVD's. This is what introduced me in many ways to the Bible, and I think young kids will find it informative and entertaining at the same time. I am not familiar with the newer series, so I have no comment on that.

2. The Children's Bible in Colour (Hardcover – published in Jan. 1972)

This was my first Bible, gifted to me when I was around 10 years old from my grandmother from Greece and it was in Greek, but soon after I found it in English at a toy store and bought it. This has very vivid illustrations and well-written stories of pretty much every major story in the whole Bible. Highly recommended. I would read it every night before bed.

3. The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens

I never read this book as a child, but I wish I did. However, my favorite author as a child was Charles Dickens, and yearly I devoured A Christmas Carol. This book is a great introduction to the life of our Lord, which Charles Dickens wrote for his children and would read it to them every Christmas, never publishing it in his lifetime. Not only is this a great introduction to the life of our Lord, but also a great introduction to Charles Dickens, an author every child should be familiar with.

On the Book "Crazy John"

Question 27: I was deeply inspired and moved by the book 'Crazy John'. I was wondering if the Saint's identity is known - where was he was located in Athens and if there is local veneration of him?

Answer: I enjoyed the book as well, and find it beneficial. The identity of Crazy John I do not know, nor where he was from, nor if there is local veneration. However, what I take from the book is that all that doesn't matter, and the author purposely hides these things. One of the deeper messages of the story is that there could be saint's living among us and we don't know it, and this should be a source of hope for us. I will say, however, that when I read the book, I didn't really understand it to be a true story in the literal sense. This comes off to me more as literature. I find there to be really no good reason to hide so much information so the reader can place the book in reality. It should be noted that Dionysios Makris, the author, is a journalist who has a bi-monthly newspaper called "Stylos Orthodoxia" or "Pillar of Orthodoxy" with a website I will try to write a review of this book soon to go deeper into what I think about it on my book review site New Myriobiblon.

A Strange Scent After the Death of a Loved One

Question 28: My mother died two years ago. I was very close to her. About 10 days after she died I was in her bedroom to make my dad’s bed (unmade beds were her pet peeves) and suddenly the whole room was flooded by her perfume. She wore it only on special occasions. My daughter and nephew denied playing with the perfume bottle. I would have smelled the evidence on them. My question is that no one really knows truly what happens after death, but various Orthodox theories abound regarding the soul having to get used to the disembodied life hopefully in the presence of our Lord. Then there are all those out of body testimonies. What does our faith teach?

Answer: This is a difficult question to answer without me having experienced what you experienced. If it was me, my natural inclination would be to doubt that there is anything supernatural or paranormal going on. Perhaps by making the bed, it unleashed the scent of perfume that still lingered on the bed? Perhaps you had a window open that blew air over the bottle of perfume causing the whole room to be fragrant? Perhaps the bottle of perfume spilled on the floor somehow? These things and more I would investigate first. If there is absolutely no explanation after that, then I would simply thank God for the experience, whether natural or supernatural, because it reminded me of my mother, and go on with my life, not thinking too much about it its origin. It could very well be paranormal, but I certainly can't come to that conclusion from a distance.

As for out of body testimonies, this is a big subject, but I think on rare occasions there could be some truth to them if they align with Orthodox teachings. If it does happen it is a gift from God for our repentance, and certainly not normal. Most reported occurrences I believe to be brain activity working in us unconsciously, or some other natural explanation.

The Vision of God's Back by Moses

Question 29: When Moses saw the back of God on Mount Sinai, whom did he see? The Father, the Holy Spirit, or the Son? Saint Apostle Paul writes in his letters that the law was given by angels but in the Old Testament we read that Moses received the law directly from God so I am wondering with whom Moses actually talked face to face and whom did he see on Mount Sinai?

Answer: The Church Fathers understand this text spiritually more than literally. In one hymn chanted on the feast of the Prophet Moses, it says: "Sheltered by the stone, thou did not see the face of God, for it was hidden, O God-seer, but didst recognize the incarnation of the Word in His back parts." Moses was able to see God face-to-face, not in the sense that he saw His essence, which is unknowable, but in the sense that He recognized Him in His incarnation, in His visible humanity. It is what is called a Theophany, an appearance of the Pre-Incarnate Lord before His incarnation.

Gregory of Nyssa explains that if you see somebody’s back, this means you are following them. So, says Gregory, to be a Christian, to be a theologian is to follow Christ. But we never totally catch up with Him. He is always ahead of us. We see His back. He writes: "He who strives for God sees only His back." "Moses was impatient for God but all he learned was how to see Him. This is accomplished by following behind God and walking in the path He has left us." This is the only way for the one who is led to see the One who leads. "Whoever is following this path and then steps aside, or tries to see the face of the One who is leading him, sets for himself a path that has not been lain by his true Leader." God told Moses that He could not see His face. In Gregory's interpretation this signifies that "you will never stand face to face with the One who leads you because, if you do, your journey will be from the direction opposite Him. That which is good never looks directly at goodness but follows after it." For this reason God reveals that man cannot see His face and remain alive. To see the face of God one must be coming towards Him. Man should follow after God and not try to approach Him from the opposite direction. The path which leads from the direction opposite the path of virtue is the path of sin.

Gregory comments on other aspects of the Biblical narrative. God told Moses to stand on a rock. This rock is Christ, Who is absolute goodness. God placed Moses on this rock not so that he could rest, but so that he would be free to move forward. "Whoever ascends does not stand still and whoever stands still does not ascend." The man who ascends must be firm and he must not be distracted from the path of virtue. God showed compassion for Moses because "his desire to perfect himself could never be satisfied, and he was always striving for greater virtue." God appeared to Moses but this did not satisfy Moses' longing for Him. "God would not have shown Himself if this vision could have satisfied the yearning of His servant."

Natural Theology in the Church Fathers

Question 30: Is there a natural theology in the Church Fathers, where they teach that through a knowledge of creation we can come to a knowledge of God?

Answer: In the Patristic tradition, there is no room for an "analogy of being" (analogia entis), and thus also for "natural theology", that is to say, they do not believe that we can come to the knowledge of God through knowledge of creation. According to St. Gregory Palamas and St. John of Damascus, for example, knowledge of God can only be attained by divine revelation, which means through direct and unmediated communion with God Himself. The natural theology of the post-Augustinian western theological tradition, therefore, which claims that knowledge of God is obtainable by reason alone, is not to be confused with "natural contemplation" (physike theoria), which is found in the Fathers, and which refers to the spiritual vision of creation made possible only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the state of illumination, which follows the purification of the heart.

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