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.

Is Being Passionate About Something a Sin?

Question 104: In the Church Fathers I often read about how "passion" is something negative. Can you have passion for something, like a job or a hobby, without it being sinful?

Answer: I must admit, when I read your question I was reminded of the speech delivered in one of my favorite comedies Legally Blonde (2001) by Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) for her 2004 graduating class from Harvard Law School:

On our very first day at Harvard, a very wise Professor quoted Aristotle: "The law is reason free from passion." Well, no offense to Aristotle, but in my three years at Harvard I have come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law -- and of life. It is with passion, courage of conviction, and strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world, remembering that first impressions are not always correct. You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.

The reason I quoted the speech is because you, like Elle Woods in the movie, and most people, confuse a positive form of the word "passion" with a negative form of it. There is nothing wrong with doing something passionately, and we are even encouraged to love God passionately. A passion is only negative if leads to a desire for sin, and this sort of passion is destructive for us and possibly for others, because it is against human nature, which is why the Greek word for "passion" denotes someone who suffers. This is why in the Orthodox Church we speak of spirituality as something that heals, and the Church itself is a spiritual hospital that helps to cleanse us of these passions. This does not mean that doing your job with a passion is a sin, since it is a motivation factor for your success.

Let's even look at the quote by Aristotle and how it is used in the speech in Legally Blonde. The original quotation is “the law is reason unaffected by desire”. It means that a law or edict is meant to be followed in order to uphold certain norms and standards set by the society and government of the land. There is no room for personal feelings or obsessions based on those feelings. Or in other words, you cannot allow personal prejudices or subjective interpretations to interfere with your decision making and dispensation of the law of the land. Therefore applying the law based on your own personal desires and passions is not encouraged, while if you want to study law then you may need passion to motivate you in your studies.

The Word "Sodomy"

Question 105: Can you do a post about the word "sodomy"? Where did that term come from? Why do people (priests) think it means "oral sex"?

Answer: In the early Church and Jewish literature, the word "sodomy" had a wide ranging meaning of the sins of Sodom in Genesis, which included sexual sins, such as homosexuality and bestiality. The primarily sexual meaning of the word "sodomy" for Christians did not evolve before the 6th century AD. Roman Emperor Justinian I, in his novels no. 77 (dating 538) and no. 141 (dating 559) amended to his Corpus iuris civilis, and declared that Sodom's sin had been specifically same-sex activities and desire for them. He also linked "famines, earthquakes, and pestilences" upon cities as being due to "such crimes", during a time of recent earthquakes and other disasters.

While adhering to the death penalty by beheading as punishment for homosexuality or adultery, Justinian's legal novels heralded a change in Roman legal paradigm in that he introduced a concept of not only secular but also divine punishment for homosexual behavior. Individuals might ignore and escape secular laws, but they could not do the same with divine laws, if Justinian declared his novels to be such.

In around 850 AD a Frankish monk using the pseudonym Benedictus Levita ("Benedict the Levite") made use of this law of Justinian in the fake Charlemagnian capitularies he fabricated. It was in these fake capitularies where Benedictus utilized Justinian's interpretation as a justification for ecclesiastical supremacy over mundane institutions, thereby demanding burning at the stake for carnal sins in the name of Charlemagne himself. Benedict broadened the meaning for "sodomy" to all sexual acts not related to procreation that were therefore deemed counter to nature (so for instance, even solitary masturbation, oral sex, and anal intercourse between a male and a female were covered), while among these he still emphasized all interpersonal acts not taking place between human men and women, especially homosexuality.

Benedict's rationale was that the punishment of such acts was in order to protect all Christianity from divine punishments such as natural disasters for carnal sins committed by individuals, but also for heresy, superstition and heathenry. According to Benedictus, this was why all mundane institutions had to be subjected to ecclesiastical power in order to prevent moral as well as religious laxity causing divine wrath.

Because his crucial demands for capital punishment had been so unheard of in ecclesiastical history prior to this based upon the humane Christian concept of forgiveness and mercy, it took several centuries before Benedict's demands for legal reform began to take tangible shape within larger ecclesiastical initiatives. This came about with the Medieval Inquisition in 1184. The sects of Cathars and Waldensians were a common target, and these heretics were not only persecuted for alleged satanism but were increasingly accused of fornication and sodomy. In 1307, accusations of sodomy and homosexuality were major charges levelled during the Trial of the Knights Templar. Some of these charges were specifically directed at the Grand Master of the order, Jacques de Molay. It is this event which led into the medieval and early-modern witch hunts that were also largely connoted with sodomy. Persecution of Cathars and the Bogomiles sect in Bulgaria led to the use of a term closely related to sodomy: "buggery" derives from French bouggerie, meaning "of Bulgaria".

The association of "sodomy" with hereticism, satanism, and witchcraft was supported by the Inquisition trials. The resulting infamy of sodomy motivated a continuing discrimination and persecution of homosexuals and sexual deviants in general long after the Medieval period had ended.

Can Archimandrites Perform Weddings?

Question 106: According to the Holy Canons of our Church, Archimandrites are not allowed to bless a wedding. Why is this prohibition not enforced today?

Answer: The Holy Canons do not actually forbid an Archimandrite or Hieromonk from performing a wedding, but there is a long standing rule that says they shouldn’t. It does not refer to all Archimandrites as we know them today, otherwise it would also prohibit Bishops from performing weddings as well. Today there are many Archimandrites and celibate Priests that live in the world and are Priests of a parish church, but this is an innovation. The word Archimandrite means the head of the fold, and was a title given to the Abbots of Monasteries. The Archimandrite Abbot had the responsibility and spiritual welfare of the monks in his monastery, and as a monk himself, who had left the world for an ascetic life, he had no reason to return to the world to perform a wedding. This also applied to all celibate Priests (Hieromonks) who are also monks and as Priests should only perform the daily services of the monastery.

In general, monastics do not perform weddings either at their monastery nor anywhere else. They are monks and tend only to the needs of their monastery. In our times many celibate Priests live in the world and serve a parish church. On paper they are monks and belong to a monastic community, but many have never even lived in a monastery. They are often given the honorary title Archimandrite and wait to be appointed as a Bishop when a See becomes vacant. He is still the head of a fold, but now, not of a monastery, but of a parish and must also tend to the needs of his parish. Thus he must perform weddings and anything else his parish requires of him. The prohibition then has nothing to do with whether the Priest comes from the monastic order, but rather where his duties lie. If it concerned all celibate Priests then neither could a Bishop perform a wedding because he also is a monk, but living in the world and as the Head of his Church, he has every right to perform weddings, if he so chooses to. I should note that some Bishops do not of their own choosing perform weddings. Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol came from the monastic life. When he was elected Metropolitan of Limassol, he had to leave his place in the monastery and tend to the flock God assigned to his care. He has never performed a wedding, not because he is not allowed by some rule, but because he chooses not to perform weddings.

The rule prohibiting weddings in monasteries should not be misunderstood that it is scandalous for a monk to perform a service that is opposed to his own calling. Monks are not repulsed by the idea of marriage: they willingly give up this life, established and sanctified by God, to follow a different life equally established and sanctified by God. One reason is because a monastery is a spiritual haven needing peace and quiet. Joyful worldly occasions such as weddings only disrupt the tranquil monastic life and have no place there. For the same reason, Baptisms also should not be performed in monasteries, though this is more common. Not so many years ago, monasteries were places where people flocked to baptize their children. This brought in a lot of income for the monastery, but the spiritual life of the monks suffered. In places like Cyprus, the Holy Synod decreed that no more Baptisms are to be performed in monasteries.

According to many old Greek films, there were times when people would secretly go to a monastery to get married. If this actually happened, then I have reservations to how legal the wedding was, because to get married nowadays involves a lot of paperwork and a wedding license must be issued before the Priest can perform the wedding.

Asking a Priest for a Blessing

Question 107: What is the proper Greek word or phrase to say when asking for the blessing from a priest?

Answer: If the person says (Πάτερ ευλόγησον) “Pater eulogison” (father bless) then the priest replies with (Ο Κύριος) “O Kyrios” (the Lord) meaning the Lord bless you. If the person says (την ευλογία σου Πάτερ) “tin eulogia sou pater” (your blessing father) the priest replies (Του Κυρίου) “Tou Kyriou” (the Lord’s) meaning the Lord’s blessing. Similarly when they say (Πάτερ την ευχή σου) “Pater tin euchi sou” (Father your prayer) the priest replies (Του Κυρίου) “tou Kyriou” (the Lord’s) meaning the Lord’s prayer, or more correctly the Lord’s blessing, as the word (ευχή) euchi in Greek has two meanings – prayer and blessing.

Contact Form


Email *

Message *