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.

When we say "Eternal Memory" for someone who has passed, it is a prayer that God would keep that person in His memory, since to not be remembered is likened to a condemnation to hell ("I never knew you."). But it is also a victory hymn, as we see in the Synodikon of the Orthodox Faith read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The victory is that they were faithful to Christ in word and in deed till their last breath. To express this victory hymn to anyone who is not Orthodox would be sacrilege, because it indicates that the person for whom it is said was Orthodox rather than a heterodox or non-Christian.

If you want an historical example, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on August 24, 1797 authorized for Orthodox priests to do burials of Roman Catholics, Lutherans and the Reformed, if there is no pastor of their confession available and if the dead before death did not say anything against the invitation of the Orthodox priest. But in these cases the priest, vested in a stole and vestment, had to limit his participation to only the escort of the body of the departed from the house to the cemetery while singing "Holy God," without doing a Litiya and without proclaiming "Eternal Memory." If therefore in such a case "Eternal Memory" was not allowed to be said for these heterodox, nor any prayers from our funeral service, then certainly we should not throw around this prayer for anyone we want that is not Orthodox. Nonetheless, Orthodox burying the heterodox was granted by indulgence and respect for their soul, since they had at least been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.

As for what should be said for the non-Orthodox departed, a simple "God rest their soul" or "May they rest in peace" is sufficient. Neither of these belong to the exclusive prayers reserved for faithful Orthodox Christians in the Orthodox funeral service. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow even allowed a Psalm to be chanted for non-Orthodox Christians buried by an Orthodox priest, in cases mentioned above.

Concerning the Knowledge of God and Orthodox Gnosiology

Question 88: Father Romanides taught that when someone experiences theosis, when they experience the uncreated glory of God and His uncreated energies, then "perfection has come" and faith and hope are no longer necessary and only love remains (I Cor. 13.10). Romanides also taught that prayer of the heart is an experience in which the saint is aware of the Holy Spirit praying within them, which is an existential phenomenon and empirical for the person experiencing it.

How does his teaching relate to the following particular idea of Father Alexander Elchaninov in his book Diary of a Russian Priest?

"Those who demand proofs in order to believe are on the wrong track. Faith is a free choice; wherever there is a desire for proof, even a desire hidden from ourselves, there is no faith. The evidences of divine manifestation must not be taken as 'proofs' - this would be to degrade and nullify the great virtue of faith."

Answer: They are speaking of two different methods of attaining to a knowledge of God.

Father Elchaninov is critiquing here the scholastic and philosophical "proofs" for the existence of God as well as those who seek to get to know God by such proofs. Proofs are obtained from deductive reasoning or logic, rather than from inductive or empirical arguments. It was believed by the scholastics that if we believe in God we can come to know Him through reason and deduction. Anselm of Canterbury used to say: “I believe in order to comprehend.” Therefore, according to the scholastics, faith comes first (a priori) then through rational arguments and logical categories we can know God - this is Natural Theology according to Thomas Aquinas. Revelation was believed to come through Scripture alone and its contemplation. With the association between philosophy and theology the model of metaphysics proposed by the scholastics collapsed in the West, and ever since people think that they can actually come to faith through logic and reason, which is still considered the highest faculty within man.

Father Romanides presents the Orthodox a posteriori approach to theology, which is the biblical and patristic scientific method. By "a posteriori" and "scientific" we mean that it is empirical. The word "empirical" denotes information gained by means of observation, experience, or experiment. A central concept in science and the scientific method is that all evidence must be empirical, or empirically based, that is, dependent on evidence or consequences that are observable by the senses. St. Paul in Romans 1 speaks of a natural faith which arises empirically from the moment we are able to comprehend our observations in the created world. Commenting on this, St. John Chrysostom says: "Every Scythian, every barbarian, may come to the knowledge of God by the wonderful harmony of all things, which proclaims the existence of God louder than any trumpet." According to Scripture and the Church Fathers, this initial natural faith is meant to lead the individual to revelation through the prescribed therapeutic method which purifies the nous (the highest faculty in man according to the Orthodox) darkened through our passions and sins and allows us to see with our eyes through the illumination of the Holy Spirit the uncreated glory of God. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 5: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The pure in heart thus have an actual empirical observable knowledge of God, and revelation of divine things becomes written in the heart through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. This is the faith which the Prophets foretold, the Apostles taught, the Fathers received, and the Church proclaims.

Some will ask where does Holy Scripture fall into the picture. We will conclude with St. John Chrysostom, who beautifully explains this in his commentary on Matthew 1:

"It were indeed meet for us not at all to require the aid of the written word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be instead of books to our souls, and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. But, since we have utterly put away from us this grace, come, let us at any rate embrace the second best course.

For that the former was better, God has made manifest, both by His words, and by His doings. Since unto Noah, and unto Abraham, and unto his offspring, and unto Job, and unto Moses too, He discoursed not by writings, but Himself by Himself, finding their mind pure. But after the whole people of the Hebrews had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, then and thereafter was a written word, and tables of stone, and the admonition which is given by these.

And this one may perceive was the case, not of the saints in the Old Testament only, but also of those in the New. For neither to the apostles did God give anything in writing, but instead of written words He promised that He would give them the grace of the Spirit: for 'He', says our Lord, 'shall bring all things to your remembrance' (John 14:26). And that you may learn that this was far better, hear what He says by the Prophet [Jeremiah]: 'I will make a new covenant with you, putting my laws into their mind, and in their heart I will write them' (31:33), and, 'they shall be all taught by God' (31:34). And Paul too, pointing out the same superiority, said, that they had received a law 'not on tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart' (2 Cor. 3:3).

But since in the process of time they made shipwreck, some with regard to doctrines, others as to life and manners, there was again need that they should be put in remembrance by the written word.

Reflect then how great an evil it is for us, who ought to live so purely as not even to need written words, but to yield up our hearts, as books, to the Spirit; now that we have lost that honor, and have come to have need of these, to fail again in duly employing even this second remedy. For if it be a blame to stand in need of written words, and not to have brought down on ourselves the grace of the Spirit; consider how heavy the charge of not choosing to profit even after this assistance, but rather treating what is written with neglect, as if it were cast forth without purpose, and at random, and so bringing down upon ourselves our punishment with increase.

But that no such effect may ensue, let us give strict heed unto the things that are written; and let us learn how the Old Law was given on the one hand, and how on the other the New Covenant."

Why John the Baptist is Depicted With Wings

Question 89: Why is St. John the Baptist depicted with wings in Orthodox iconography?

Answer: Holy Scripture describes the Seraphim as having six wings, but at all other times when angels have appeared to men they have appeared without wings, so not all angels have wings even though they are always portrayed in icons with wings. The wings of the angel symbolizes swiftness and “the lightness of the wings denotes their being in no respect earthly, but undefiled and lightly raised to the sublime” (St. Dionysius the Areopagite, The Celestial Hierarchy).

Saint John the Forerunner is described as a heavenly man and an earthly angel because he lived a holy, ascetic and angelic life? But his portrayal with wings in icons has nothing to do with the symbolism given to the wings of angels, but rather it is associated with the word angel (άγγελος) which in Greek means "messenger." Iconographers followed to the letter the words of the Prophet Malachi (3:1) which Matthew and Mark interpret as referring to John the Baptist: "For this is he, of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send (τὸν ἄγγελόν μου) my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee'" (Matt. 11:10). "As it is written in the prophets, 'Behold, I send (τὸν ἄγγελόν μου) my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'" (Mk. 1:2-3). Thus iconographers chose to give emphasis to the word άγγελος meaning messenger by giving John wings like the heavenly angels.

The Septuagint Version of Exodus 40:2

Question 90: I only speak English and often use an English translation of the Septuagint in my Biblical studies. When I find variations in the Septuagint from the other English translations that I use, I try to look up the actual Greek definitions to understand the differences.

In Exodus 40:2 my English translation of the Septuagint reads: "On the first day of the first month, at the new moon, thou shalt set up the tabernacle of witness." While the King James Version and most all other English translations read: "On the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation." Most English translations leave out the "at the new moon" phrase that the Septuagint has.

My question is about the Greek word used for "new moon." When I look up νουμηνίᾳ in my Greek lexicon, I have not been able to find the word. Is this the word for "new moon" and does it always mean "new moon" or does it have other meanings as well?

Answer: If your dictionary is in modern Greek then it won't have the word νουμηνίᾳ because it is an ancient Greek word. Literally it is a compound word of new and month but it means "new moon." The ancient Israelites didn't have a fixed calendar like we have today. The religious authorities waited for confirmation from two of three witnesses of the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon to announce the first day of the new month. The word νουμηνίᾳ is also found in verse 15 of the same chapter according to the Septuagint (verse 17 in the KJV).

Nουμηνίᾳ could also be translated as the Feast of the New Moon because every new moon was a religious feast in which the Jews were obliged to observe, by attending religious worship, and offering sacrifices (see Numbers 28:11). In this sense it is also used by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians (2:16): "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath."

How Are We To Understand the Jealousy of God?

Question 91: As Orthodox Christians know, it is a sin to be jealous or to have jealousy. Why is it then that God in Exodus and in Ezekiel reveals that He is a jealous God? How are we suppose to interpret this? It appears there is some irony here. The two texts of the Old Testament below, were the only passages I knew of that describes God's jealousy. I don't know if there are any additional verses from other chapters either from the Old or New Testament that also gives an account of this.

According to the Second Commandment in Exodus 20:4-6: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."

Furthermore, in the Book of Ezekiel chapter 36, verses 5-6 it is written: "Therefore thus says the Lord God: 'I speak in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might possess it and plunder it. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I speak in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the reproach of the nations.'"

Answer: There is human jealousy and there is a godly jealousy. Human jealousy is being envious of someone who has something we do not have. It is being resentful of material possessions such as a nice car or home or a physical attribute like a special ability or beauty. Such jealousy is often associated with suspicion, envy, and rivalry, and it is always sinful. Godly jealousy is something completely different because it is not being envious of something that belongs to another person. God is jealous when someone gives to another something that rightly belongs to him. In the Second Commandment, God is speaking of people making idols and bowing down and worshiping those idols instead of giving God the worship that belongs to Him alone. God is possessive of the worship and service that belongs to Him. It is a sin (as God points out in this commandment) to worship or serve anything other than God. He will not tolerate the worship of other gods (a practice common in Egypt and other nations). God is "jealous" in the sense that He expects full devotion, not merely a partial, lukewarm commitment. Worship belongs to God, and He is right to be "jealous" of it. Here the word jealousy could be interpreted as protective.

This is precisely the jealousy the Apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."

Paul sought for the Church to be fully devoted to Christ. His "jealousy" should be understood as "guarding" or protective of their relationship with God. He knew that the Corinthians’ faithfulness to the one true God was threatened by the prevalence of sin in their society and by the influence of false teachers. He spoke to the Corinthians as a father would to his children whom he loved and wanted to protect. Paul wanted the Corinthians to abandon the pursuit of anything that distracted from worshiping the Lord. This is not sinful jealousy, but godly jealousy.

Of your quote from Ezekiel the Septuagint does not use the word "jealousy" for the first quote, but reads: "Truly in the fire of My wrath have I spoken against the rest of the nations" The KJV reads: "Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen." The use of jealousy is used here as wrath (anger) against the nations who took the land from his chosen people which he chose for them, and gave unto them; the land where he himself dwelt, and granted his presence; where his temple was, and he was worshiped.

In the second part of the quote on jealousy, "Behold, I have spoken in My jealousy and in My wrath," its use means zeal and refers to God's zeal for his honor and the interest of his people Israel because they suffered the scorn and reproach of his and their enemies.

According to Cruden's Concordance of the Bible there are about forty uses of the word jealous or jealousy in the Bible, but the majority refer to human jealousy. The following are quotes of the word jealousy which refer to godly jealousy according to western translations: Exodus. 20:4-6, Numbers 25:11, Deuteronomy 29:20, Deuteronomy 32:16, Deuteronomy 32:21, 1 Kings 14:22, Ezekiel 16:42, Ezekiel 23:25, Ezekiel 36:5-6, Ezekiel 38:19, Psalms 78:58, Psalms 79:5, Zechariah 1:14, Zechariah 8:2, Zephaniah 1:18, Zephaniah 3:8, Romans 10:19, 1 Corinthians 10:22. 2 Corinthians 11:2.

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