Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Questions and Answers 48 - 52


Postings on Saints and Feasts

Question 48: I know you are very busy with your website, but would you consider putting up the main page with the Saints of the day some hours earlier so the faithful in the east, I am in Greece, can read about the feastdays ealier in the day? I think it would be a good idea for U.S. Orthodox, too, as they could anticipate the coming feastday. This anticipation of the coming day comes to our Church, as you know, from the Hebraic tradition which says that each day begins the evening before.

Answer: Many have had the same request, especially from those overseas like you, even more so from people in places like Australia and New Zealand. This is one reason, among others, that I formed a Saints and Feasts page, which will often be updated, to which everyone can now refer to the Saints and Feasts I have so far written about for every day of the ecclesiastical year. This can be found at the following link:



Prohibited Marriages

Question 49: I just reread this article of yours:


Your comment on “Eighth degree and beyond” are allowed confuses me because definitions of degrees differ by discipline as described here:


In particular, I want to know:

Is a marriage between the second cousin man and the *daughter* of his second cousin allowed under “eighth degree”?

Do *half* relationships count as half or as full? Genetically, a “half cousin” is half as related. But does the church recognize this?

I ask because I just found family I didn’t know about and there is a marriage between a man I am related to and a woman who is the daughter of his second *half* cousin. In other words, my great great grandma had a first marriage that produced *her* GREAT grandfather, and then had a second marriage that produced *his* GRANDfather.

This of course is confusing to everyone and we just figured it out last night.

Answer: The first question seems like you are asking if third cousins can marry, according to Canon Law. According to Canon Law, this would be prohibited.

As for half cousins, in my opinion it would be the same thing as a full cousin. This would need to be decided upon by a local bishop, however, since there is need for interpretation.

The fact that you refer to great grandparents explains a lot, as they probably lived in a time and place where these things were not applied as they probably should have. For example, in Greek villages it was not unheard of back then for even second cousins to marry, or for two sisters to marry two brothers, etc. In such cases, they lived within the bubble of their village, and their priest was probably uneducated, so such marriages were not questioned.


The Invisible Ascetics of Mount Athos

Question 49: I would have a small question concerning the invisible brotherhood of Mt. Athos that you were mentioning a while ago. Are these angelic monks considered to still have physical bodies or are these bodies already made of light?

Answer: From what has been reported, they are living people like you and me, but are hidden from site by Divine Providence in order to live their lives without being disturbed. Some say there are 7 of them at Mount Athos, while others report 12. However, they have been reported elsewhere as well, such as in Crete.


Questions on Biblical Editions

Question 50: I was wondering if you know of a source to get a print copy of the 1904/1912 Patriarchal Text of the Greek New Testament? Sometimes the text is also referred to as the Antoniades text. I have it in electronic form, but I’d also like to get a print copy. I’ve seen a recent publication on Lulu.com, but I believe this is merely a copy based on the digital text, because it is now in the public domain. I guess I’m looking for a more official copy.

Also, I was wondering if you know if there is a preferred version of the Septuagint used in the Orthodox Church? I have Rahlfs in print and a few others electronically.

Answer: Regarding your first question, I don't know of an "official" copy existing, just what I see in places like Amazon.

As for your second question, there is no preferred version of the Septuagint by the Church.


Christian Hedonism and the Orthodox Teaching on Purification

Question 51: I am a convert coming from a Reformed Calvinistic background. We were Chrismated last year after I had researched Orthodoxy for about 2 years. I am in the process of becoming – I don’t know- more than someone who just appreciates Fr. Romanides. Really, it was largely if not completely due to Romanides exposition of Ancestral Sin – and realizing that Orthodoxy had preserved this soteriology from the beginning (at least in large part and in the hymns, liturgical texts, etc.) – that I came to believe Orthodoxy was the true Church.

In my background we subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The first item in the confession is this:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Some Reformed (especially John Piper) have taken this and added a word, by enjoying Him forever. Man glorifies God by the enjoyment of God.

Romanides seems strongly opposed to this, but I cannot figure out why. I don’t know if I understand him correctly. If someone is to delight themselves in the Lord, and if God is said to take pleasure in various things, I’m confused as to how Christian self-seeking, sometimes called Christian hedonism – when in humans it is a desire which has been transformed into “delight in the Lord” – is a bad thing. According to some, the highest way to express love towards God is to have your sinful, selfish love transformed into selfish love for God. If you can imagine a husband bringing home flowers to his wife and saying to her I got these because I was supposed to – or – that I did it out of unselfish love, sort of unmoved but an act of kindness as an emanation of a purified state – how would this bring honor to the wife? If you said, I got these flowers for you because I wanted to, because I took delight in it, the enjoyment of the act is actually a higher form of love and honor towards the wife than duty, or in Romanides’ case, a purified state. It seems to me, and maybe wrongly, that having a high degree of affection, love, and enjoyment of God is a fruit of theosis. Delighting in someone is to honor them. To delight yourself in sin or base pleasures is wickedness, but it seems to me that to delight yourself in prayer, in love is to honor God in the most appropriate way.

Christian hedonism would mean taking on fasting, prayer, acts of love, as a means to transform desire into the enjoyment of God – and would be part of sanctification. – versus mere obedience. I’m not trying to promote this idea by any means, although it would have practical benefit if it were correct. There is an expulsive power in the cultivation of a higher pleasure- when a person has a strong affection for sin sees it and instead strives to take a much higher pleasure in God, they can much easier be content with leaving the sin behind. I think of C.S. Lewis and his story about the child who has never seen the beach being content with mudpuddles.

So, I don’t know if Romanides would have really been opposed to this or not, and why in either case - but I really would like to know – I wish I could email him. Would Romanides have thought that the purified person be emotionless, static? Maybe I’m confusing what he sees as the purified state, at least in my imagination, with the state of a Buddhist who has reached Nirvana?

Answer: About 20 years ago I took a Pastoral Theology course at a Reformed Seminary, and our primary text was John Piper's Desiring God, so I am somewhat familiar with him. With this being said, I'm not sure you quite understand either Piper or Romanides that clearly, or at least you are trying to reconcile them in a way that you distort both of them.

It is not surprising that believers find Christian Hedonism or ‘delighting in God’ interesting and attractive. To delight in the Lord is a magnificent and biblical exercise. But Dr. Piper’s formula for its use undoubtedly alters the understanding of sanctification long held by believers even in the Reformation tradition, because it elevates one Christian duty above all others.

Delighting in God, we repeat, is made the organizing principle for every other spiritual experience and duty. It becomes the key formula for all spiritual vigor and development. Every other Christian duty is thought to depend on how well we obey this central duty of delighting in the Lord. The entire Christian life is simplified to rest upon a single quest, which is bound to distort one’s perception of the Christian life and how it must be lived.

Dr. Piper’s attempt to oversimplify biblical sanctification is doomed to failure because the biblical method for sanctification and spiritual advance consists of a number of strands or pathways of action, and all must receive individual attention. As soon as you substitute a single ‘big idea’ or organizing principle, and bundle all the strands into one, you alter God’s design and method.

The great problem arises from it being made the supreme issue of life, and the core of our obedience to God. Is the key aim to delight in God? Is the root of all righteousness to delight in God? Is delight in God the only true and worthy motivation for good deeds? In Dr. Piper’s scheme, every other Christian virtue, from love to temperance, is dependent on this. We cannot have either motivation or energy for the life of faith unless our prime aim is to be delighting in God. This, in a nutshell, is the method which is proposed.

Dr. Piper wants us to see this as an old idea, but his claims are not convincing. It tends to look no older than CS Lewis, whose famous book, Weight of Glory, had an explosive influence on Dr. Piper in his younger years. In the course of this book, CS Lewis criticized people who regard the self-interested pursuit of joy as something ugly and wrong, insisting that it is a Christian duty for everyone to be as happy as he can be. (This is characteristic of the mystical drift of CS Lewis.) He often quotes Jonathan Edwards as an influence too.

Although Dr. Piper seeks to root his system in the past, he seems at the same time well aware that it is a brand new idea. Frequently, he virtually admits it by using the language of innovation, and saying, in so many words, ‘This is explosive’; ‘This is stunning’; ‘This is radical’; ‘This is dangerous’; ‘This is not safe’; ‘This is surprising’. Dr. Piper really knows that he is promoting something novel. He even uses the term, ‘my vision’, and that is what it is, for however well intended, it is Dr. Piper’s personal vision. He also calls it ‘my theology’.

I won't go into a detailed critique of Piper, as these can be found online, my only point is that Dr. Piper is taking a verse about delighting in God from the Psalms and forming a whole theology around it that he made up with no basis, often even distorting Scripture to do so. But as far as your question about Romanides believing the purified state is a static state, I'm not exactly sure where you got that from. Just because someone is no longer enslaved to their passions does not mean that they are in a static or emotionless state. Orthodoxy teaches the passions are part of our human nature, but they have become twisted in human beings into vices. For this reason we must transform our passions back to their original intention as God designed for us. Instead of being angry at other people, for example, we must use our anger towards sin to help prevent us from sinning. Instead of lusting after other people, we must transform this lust into eros or passionate love for God, which will in turn help us to love others in a proper way. One who has entered the state of illumination by the grace of God sees things as God intended us to see things, and everything that makes them human is in their proper order, though they are not free from temptations.

Much more can be said to answer your question, but my only intention is to steer you along with a better understanding of what the two taught based on what you wrote.


Referring Reading Material for an Inquiring Atheist

Question 52: I am writing to you in hopes of your referral on some articles or books that could help a friend of mine. He is an Atheist but has finally decided to ask me for help & for him to be introduced to our Orthodox faith. Since I have never encountered a situation like this before I am asking for help as I do not want to turn my friend off, confuse him or overwhelm him. Before I take him to church to talk to the priest I want him to understand Christianity, miracles, faith, hope & love. Please I need your advice.

Answer: I don't recommend things too easily, and would usually need to get to know someone better in order to recommend some material. For example, how old is he? what was he, if anything, before he became an atheist? why is he, in a nutshell, an atheist? why is he interested in learning more about Orthodoxy? how educated is he? Unless I have more of an understanding of such basic things, I cannot recommend anything.


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