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".

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Question 119: How about the debate over whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to Non-Christians?

Answer: This is a debate all around the world and not just America. In secular Greece, for example, in an effort to be more inclusive, Happy Holidays is encouraged over Merry Christmas. When I was younger, growing up in a heavily Catholic atmosphere with some Jews, "Merry Christmas" was always said by everyone, and every Jew I knew growing up celebrated a secular version of Christmas on December 25th. It wasn't until the 1990's that saying "Merry Christmas" became discouraged, and for a long time I just stopped greeting anyone I didn't know cause you never knew who was going to be offended by what. In many cases, you could get in serious trouble just for saying "Merry Christmas". I had a sales job in one of the biggest companies in America about a decade ago and they specifically told us to never say "Merry Christmas", even though in their stores they constantly played Christmas music during the season. When I mentioned that Christmas in America is a national holiday for everyone and that everyone celebrates it in one way or another, and everyone benefits by it, I was told by my manager that even though he agreed with me, it was a corporate rule. Even just a few days ago I heard on Conan's show an interview with the comic Whitney Cummings who talked about how she was sent to Human Resources for wishing those who worked for her a "Merry Christmas". So yes, there is a war on "Merry Christmas" in various ways, usually business based, even though hardly anyone really cares, so no matter what I always now say "Merry Christmas" to people, even if they wish me a "Happy Holidays". Like I said, everyone in America celebrates Christmas in one way or another, and benefits from it, because it is an official national holiday.

The Kiss of Peace in the Divine Liturgy

Question 120: Why is it that in most Orthodox churches today, a kiss of peace is not exchanged during the Divine Liturgy when the priest calls for it?

Answer: I'm not exactly sure when this practice died down and why, but if I were to guess I would say it has to do with the injunction from the Apostolic Constitutions (8.10.11), which says: "And let the deacon say to all, 'Salute one another with the holy kiss.' And let the clergy salute the bishop, the men of the laity salute the men, the women the women." Since men are only to salute other men with the kiss of peace, and women other women, it seems obvious that when men and women began sitting together in church, it brought disorder to the church services, and the liturgical practice of exchanging a kiss of peace vanished.

The Two Epitrachelia of the Patriarch of Alexandria

Question 121: I have noticed that the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria wears something unique when fully vested for the Divine Liturgy. It is a vestment that is almost identical to the epitrachelion. It is worn over the sakkos, and (usually) has icons sown of various Apostles and Saints. Can this be seen as a second epitrachelion being worn, or is it simply an Alexandrian tradition that the one (and only) epitrachelion be worn over the sakkos?

Answer: Yes, the Patriarch of Alexandria is vested with two epitrachelia – one beneath the sakkos as all bishops do and one over the sakkos. This is a prerogative that only the Patriarch of Alexandria has. The epitrachelion above the sakkos is called the kritato (κριτάτο), in accordance with the Patriarch's title of "Judge of the Ecumene" (Κριτής της Οικουμένης). This came about by royal decree. It was Patriarch Theophilos II of Alexandria who received this honor. Briefly, being exiled to Constantinople, Theophilos intervened in a dispute between Emperor Basil and Patriarch Sergios II of Constantinople. The dispute regarded the application of solidarity in some affair.

Elder Ephraim of Arizona and the Ukrainian Issue

Question 122: Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou recently spoke about a vision of Elder Ephraim of Arizona to a married couple debating about the Ukrainian issue, and in the vision he seemed to favor the Russian position though advised them to remain in communion with the Church of Greece which holds the opposite position. What do you know about this and if true what are we to think of it? I read about it here:

Answer: Yes, I am aware of what Metropolitan Neophytos said. As much as I respect and honor Metropolitan Neophytos, sometimes he says things he should not, as it causes great confusion. He has become known for this, unfortunately. His recent statement on homosexuals being born to parents who had anal sex before their pregnancy, which caused a worldwide uproar, is a classic case. He just says things he heard somewhere and tells everyone about it, even though some things should not be consumed by the public at large, whether it is correct or not. This is just another one of those cases. Furthermore, in the past few years, though he was previously a bit careful with such things, now he has become sort of obsessed with modern prophecies, which I don't consider a good thing, and this is just another case of it. First, I don't know the married couple he is talking about. For all I know, there could be issues there. Secondly, if a vision is granted to someone, even if proven to be authentic, it is usually a private matter and should not be used to justify a position on anything. Third, we are told about this vision as if it is confirmed to be authentic, but it isn't confirmed. Since Elder Ephraim was alive at the time of this lecture, Metropolitan Neophytos should have confirmed it from Elder Ephraim himself before going public with it. Fourth, even if the vision is authentic, since Elder Ephraim was alive at the time, he still could hold a wrong opinion about a matter. No one knows the answers to difficult canonical issues by divine inspiration and no one ever has. That's not how it works. If it did work that way, then everyone would stop studying these issues and just start praying about it, considering their opinion as a response to their prayer, which would cause canonical and doctrinal chaos in the Church. Fifth, again, if the vision was indeed authentic, perhaps Elder Ephraim was just telling this kind of advice to that couple alone, because that couple stopped going to church, and maybe Elder Ephraim wanted to take the middle ground on the issue to bring them back into communion with the Church while recognizing their fears to avoid an argument and to honor their zeal, even if it is a zeal that led them wrong. Lastly, I don't like the fact that the wife prayed for a vision to resolve their issue. This is what opens someone up to demonic influence, or even to self-delusion. I know I would never do such a thing for myself, so why would I accept such a thing from someone else. Personally, I view the whole thing as ridiculous and the Metropolitan should have known better to not share what he did, even if he personally believes it to be authentic.

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