Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Questions and Answers 118 - 122

An Orthodox Christmas Greeting

Question 118: What is the proper Orthodox way to greet each other on Christmas and after? I heard "Christ is Born" is the proper Orthodox greeting?

Answer: I'm not sure when the greeting of "Christ is Born" with the response of "Glorify Him" on Christmas and after (according to some, till Theophany on January 6th, or according to others until the Meeting of the Lord on February 2nd) began, though we know it comes from the Christmas sermon of Saint Gregory the Theologian, but as a greeting it seems to be certainly of Slavic origin. I've been Greek Orthodox since I was born and never encountered this greeting until I went to seminary. Greeks usually just give a greeting equivalent to "Merry Christmas" or "Many Years." Personally, I don't think there is such a thing as an exclusively "proper Orthodox" greeting for Christmas. I usually just simply say "Merry Christmas" to everyone, though sometimes I may say "Christ is Born".

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Questions and Answers 113 - 117

Psychic Abilities

Question 113: Do you believe psychics have real abilities?

Answers: It depends what you mean by "real abilities." I think a better way to ask the question, and what I think your implying, is whether or not psychics can predict the future. Let's be clear on one thing: many psychics are frauds. However, there are psychics out there who truly believe they have the ability to predict the future. It seems to me that what they do is follow their intuition, but they believe they have more accurate and sensitive intuitions than an average person, which is an ability they believe can be harnessed by anyone with some training, sort of like what they call a sixth sense. When they are wrong about something, they simply shrug it off as a misinterpretation of their intuition. Most psychics would not call this intuition, as they like to speak of it in spiritual terms, but I believe what they are speaking about is intuition. There could possibly be a demonic element as well, where a demon may suggest to them something they know will be true, and in this way deceiving both the psychic and the one getting their reading. This is true for mediums as well. I once knew a former professional psychic who converted to Christianity who explained to me that she now believed that when she was a psychic that it was a mixture of both intuition and demonic. When I was younger I myself was tempted with something that could be described as psychic ability when I was able to predict things that were virtually impossible to predict, but I quickly dispelled it and interpreted it as a demonic temptation.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Questions and Answers 108 - 112

Contradictions in the Gospels

Question 108: In the Gospels we have eye-witness accounts, yet there are contradictions in the accounts, such as in the accounts of the Resurrection of Christ. How do you explain this and does not this prove the Gospel accounts are untrustworthy?

Answer: In 1912 the Titanic sank. According to eye-witness accounts of the time, some said the Titanic sank in one piece, while others said the ship broke in half before it sank. We know now that the Titanic broke in half, then sank. Does this contradiction from the eye-witnesses mean that the Titanic never existed? Or that the Titanic never sank? Or that the eye-witnesses were lying and were untrustworthy? To all these questions, the answer is no, of course not. The reason this is so is because the eye-witnesses saw the sinking of the Titanic from different perspectives and vantage points. If you saw the Titanic sink from the front or back, or perhaps from a far distance, then you probably saw the Titanic sink as one piece from your perspective and vantage point, but if you saw it sink from the side, then you saw it break in half. Similarly in the Gospels, you have different eye-witness accounts written from different perspectives and vantage points, with apparent contradictions. For example, in one Gospel it says the Myrrhbearing women encountered two angels at the empty tomb of Christ, while another Gospel says there was one angel. This is an apparent contradiction, but it is in fact not a contradiction but a difference. In one Gospel account it says there are two angels, but only one angel is recorded to speak, but in the other Gospel account it only records the one angel speaking. The account which speaks of the one angel never says that there was only one angel, but it just stresses the fact that one angel spoke, and there could very well have been two angels, but it was not necessary to record there were two angels, whereas the other account wanted to be clear that there were in fact two angels. Yet we must also remember, none of the Myrrhbearers wrote a Gospel, so the Gospel writers were not recording something they saw or witnessed, but they are interpreting the oral account they heard, and so one emphasized one thing while the other emphasized something else about the same thing. Similar things can be explained with all the other apparent contradictions in the Gospels. What I would be more worried about is if all the accounts were in total agreement from perspective and vantage point, cause then they would be accused of conspiring and colluding.

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.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Questions and Answers 80 - 86

About the Shroud of Turin

Question 80: I am wondering whether you would consider updating the articles you have included on the Shroud of Turin at your Mystagogy site. I’m Orthodox, and even without the Shroud would be a convinced Christian. All I care about is the Truth and that we all bear witness to that as best we can. What I have learned is unless the experts who have thus far examined the Shroud are unqualified or lying (and they are not all Catholics or even all Christians from what I understand), the Shroud is beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that described by the NT as enclosing the Body of the Lord after His death. I have from time to time been following the research, so I didn’t always think this, but recent discoveries have changed my mind, and I’m very inspired by how the Lord seems to have left Himself yet another extremely powerful witness to His life, death and resurrection (as well as corroboration of certain records we have of the history of this holy relic). In a skeptical age, I like to see those in the Church taking advantage of this, not joining the skeptics in casting doubt unless that is truly warranted. You were apparently skeptical in 2012? There have been developments since then. Perhaps a fresh look at all the evidence and a 2019 update at your site would be timely and edifying of the faithful, and a fitting challenge to the skeptics.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Questions and Answers 75 - 79

Restoration of the Female Diaconate

Question 75: Do you think Deaconesses should be restored in the Orthodox Church?

Answer: If it is done for the sake of tradition, then I could maybe be convinced, but if it is done for the sake of progress, then I probably will not be on board. I've been to some female monasteries where there is usually a nun who performs some of the liturgical duties of a deaconess, although she is not one, so if it will be restored, this may be a good place to start, especially if the priest who serves in such monasteries is older and alone and needs the extra help. I should add that Deaconesses have functioned in modern times on occasion, as the need arose, so there really should not be talk about restoring it, but instead if it is necessary.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Questions and Answers 71 - 74

Orthodox Mysteries in the Movies

Question 71: I recently saw Keanu Reeves give an interview and he mentioned something I had read in one of your posts. He talked about how till this day he will get a text from Winona Ryder saying "Hi husband", referring to the real wedding scene from Dracula where their characters were married in a Russian Orthodox wedding. I was just wondering, since they did go through an entire wedding service by a real Orthodox priest, can they really consider themselves married, even though they now joke about it and consider themselves single?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Questions and Answers 68 - 70

Sources of Ecclesiastical News in English

Question 68: I'm wondering what you consider to be a good source of ecclesiastical news in English. I have been going to but it is slanted to the Russian side. Do you have another recommendation?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is no good English source for ecclesiastical news. You have to go to a lot of places to get them all. This is something I once thought of compiling, but when I saw how difficult it would be, I put it aside, since to do it properly would require full time work in and of itself. And since most people aren't willing to pay for something like that, if they can get it for free elsewhere, such work will probably not be done. Which leaves much of the work to be done by you. First of all, most dioceses, metropolises, archdioceses and patriarchates have websites, and these websites have news sections, often in English, so if you want news about a particular one, you can visit these sites and get some basic news. There are also periodicals and newspapers put out by some with news, like the Orthodox Observer for the Greek Archdiocese of America, where you can get news. There are also about a dozen or so news websites put out by groups or individuals that compile some of the news, which is sometimes helpful. I personally also get a lot of my news from Greek websites, most of which is never translated unfortunately. This is the best general advice I can offer. One day I will try and put all these sources together in one post so people can easily access the news they are looking for.

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