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.

Fasting Rules Regarding "No Wine And Oil" Days

Question 99: Out of curiosity, do you abstain from all alcohol during Great Lent or just wine?

Answer: This is always a difficult question to give an objective answer to because the Typikon does not give details regarding "No Wine or Oil" days.

First, you should keep in mind that during Great Lent wine and oil are prohibited only on weekdays, while on weekends they are permitted (except on Holy Saturday) as well as on March 25 which is a Major Feast of the Church.

Putting the rule in the context of the Roman Empire in which it was formulated, pretty much the only alcohol available at the time was wine. Beer was only brewed in the outer areas of the Roman Empire where wine was difficult to obtain. For the Romans beer was considered a barbarian drink. Tacitus, who first wrote about the ancient Germans or Teutons, put it like this: "To drink, the Teutons have a horrible brew fermented from barley or wheat, a brew which has only a very far removed similarity to wine." Furthermore, Eusebius of Ceasaria, Jerome, Theodoret and Cyril of Alexandria spoke of beer as the cloudy manufactured water of the Egyptians and looked down on it. But as the Psalms say: "Wine gladdens the heart of man." Jesus also turned water into wine in the Gospel of John for a wedding feast. Thus wine was the alcoholic drink par excellence in the Roman Empire and was associated mainly with merry-making. This being the case, wine during a fasting period would be inappropriate just as all kinds of merry-making were inappropriate during Great Lent.

I know that among many Slavs beer is permitted on fasting days and I am also aware that there are miracles associated with beer in the life of the Saint Brigit, but I would not go so far as to suggest that this justifies beer drinking on weekdays during Great Lent. All I can say is that in my opinion all alcohol should be abstained from on weekdays during Great Lent and saved for moderate use during the weekend, but if I was put in an awkward position in a social setting I may have only one beer on a weekday (though I would try to prevent myself from being in such a setting during Great Lent anyway).

But this brings up another interesting question regarding the use of oils on weekdays of Great Lent. Again in the context of the Roman Empire olive oil was the main oil used for consumption. Today most Greeks who fast would abstain from olive oil, but replace it with another vegetable oil. In Slavic nations they abstain from all oils based on the fact that the Typikon doesn't say "only olive oil" but "oil." I would agree with the Slavic tradition. Weekdays in Great Lent are a time for xerophagia or "dry foods." On these days we should not embellish our foods to make them taste better than they do, such as frying foods or using margarine or putting dressing on a salad (except maybe some spices). This is exactly why olives themselves are permitted on non-oil days, while olive oil isn't; and peanuts themselves are permitted on non-oil days while peanut oil is forbidden: you can't fry anything in olives or peanuts. It is not the essence of the vegetable/fruit itself -- it is what you can do with it to make other foods taste better and how they affect the passions.

Traditional Family Values and Orthodoxy

Question 100: Can an Orthodox Christian use such terms as "traditional family values"? I heard Orthodox should not use this term since it is not part of our tradition?

Answer: There is some truth to this, but at the same time the same Orthodox who say such things also argue for the incorporation of new terminology in our theology based on western concepts to reach people in the West. Basically, the only reason they say this is because they have some political anti-conservative bias. In the United States, the banner of family values has been used by social conservatives to express opposition to abortion, homosexual marriage, and major feminist objectives in politics. To say being against abortion, homosexual marriage, and major feminist objectives is not Orthodox I think is an overreach by leftist Orthodox who I suppose must favor such things, and would probably rather endorse a term like "progressive family values." Both terms however are political terms and have nothing to do with Orthodoxy, which means both can be used and debated from a political perspective by Orthodox, but they should not be confused as ecclesiological or theological terms. Politics should always be separate from ecclesiology and theology. In the Orthodox Church, family values is something each individual family should apply for themselves based on our entire ecclesiological tradition, and should not be something we try to impose on society, especially if the rest of society is not Orthodox - this is when family values becomes a political and social debate separate from and outside the Church, and our beliefs on family values will reflect how we want our entire society to view this issue, respecting everyone's freedom as much as possible, whether they agree with us or not. Of course, outside the Church, people will have different opinions on the issue of family values, and they will be forever debated and people will be forever divided, but in the Church these issues are a lot more clear and are much less debatable, as long as politics is not mixed with our ecclesiological tradition, which is unfortunately often done these days to the confusion of many, whether you are on the political and sociological left or right. When these issues are debated in the Church, such as traditional versus progressive family values, it usually means politics has invaded our Orthodox ecclesiology and tradition, and such debate should be rejected if it goes against what is clearly upheld by the Church, despite our political opposition or agreement with what the Church teaches. If there is still confusion, then only a synod of bishops can clarify the teachings of the Church, though even a synodal decision cannot be imposed on society outside the Church.

What God Hates in Orthodoxy

Question 101: Is there anything in Orthodoxy that you think God hates?

Answer: Who can know the mind of God? Can God hate? For the sake of argument, I'm sure there are many things, and most people would probably answer this question differently, if they dare to be so bold as to answer this question at all. If I were to attempt to dare answer such a question, I would do so with the disclosure that this is my opinion, and does not reflect any inside knowledge of what God thinks. I am not that bold. With this being said, I would say that I think God thinks Orthodoxy has become too reliant on ceremonials. I don't believe God is against ceremony at all, but the way it is often offered is horrifying, at least in my opinion. What I mean by this is that clergy will allow just about anyone to receive communion, they will allow just about anyone to be baptized and chrismated, they will allow just about anyone to have a funeral, they will allow just about anyone to get married, they will allow just about anyone to get divorced, and many other things like this. Most of these practices and Divine Mysteries are designed for Christians who have devoted their lives to Christ first and foremost. If it is done for those who are lukewarm in their faith, at best, then I do believe it would be better for them to abstain altogether from the ceremonies of the Church. I know this is an unpopular opinion, and many clergy especially won't like what I am saying here, but I truly do believe God hates this. I have dozens of personal stories I could share on this matter, and one day I will probably share them all to drive home my point, but I will leave that for a future date. It all sort of reminds me of the mentality behind what was spoken by the Papal legate and Cistercian abbot Arnaud Amalric prior to the massacre at B├ęziers, the first major military action of the Albigensian Crusade. "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." A direct translation of the Latin phrase would be "Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own." Less formal English translations have given rise to variants such as "Kill them all; let God sort them out." The phrase has been called a misapplication of 2 Timothy 2:19, "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are His" (KJV). Orthodox clergy today similarly say: "Everyone commune; let God sort them out," or "Everyone get married; let God sort them out." Clerics need to start becoming better spiritual fathers and guides of their communities and know how to properly apply the Mysteries of the Church to its "members." Of course, if they do so, they will probably get thrown out of their parish in many cases, why is why I have little to no hope of a change. This is because the damage has already been done; it is difficult to take away what has already been given. For the most part, people these days need to take responsibility for themselves and how they approach what is sacred.

Owning a Statue of Buddha

Question 102: Is it permitted as an Orthodox Christian to own a statue of Buddha? Of course, it is not for the purpose of veneration or anything like that. I don't even care about Buddhism and am a fully committed Christian. But I like Asian art, even their religious images, and just wanted to use them for decoration. Perhaps even a Buddhist would not approve?

Answer: I personally see nothing wrong with a Christian owning a statue of Buddha as a piece of art or for decoration. I collect many religious objects from all around the world, and own a small statue of Buddha myself. Usually the only things people find objectionable in my collection are occult objects, but this is usually because many have superstitious beliefs about having something like that in your house even though you never use them. I also grew up in a Greek household that had many small statues and images of Greek gods we used for decoration, and my mother also had a Chinese section in our dining room where she also kept two images of Buddha meditating, just because she loved it as art, and they were indeed beautiful. The thing with statues of Buddha is that they are not objects of worship, as most Buddhists don't even believe in a God or gods; at most they might worship their ancestors. Statues of Buddha are meant to primarily serve as an inspiration for Buddhists to overcome suffering by meditation. For this reason they may have a reverence for it, and may outwardly treat it like an idol, but it is not worshiped. I'm sure they would not find it objectionable that a non-Buddhist has a statue or image of Buddha in their house just as a collectors item like me or an art item like you. People use Christian art and symbols all the time as art and decorative pieces, and most Christians, though they may not like it, do not protest it. I live in Boston, and there are at least a dozen museums around me with old icons and ecclesiastical items in them to preserve them, but most people look at them as historical art. This does not scandalize me. But if this is something that troubles your conscience, then either don't own one, or talk about it with your priest. I would assume however that many priests will object to you having a statue of Buddha.

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