Monday, February 22, 2021

Questions and Answers 171 - 178

Question 171: I'm a recent convert to the Orthodox Church, but have noticed the same troubling dichotomy in the Orthodox Church that I find in all other Churches, where people are divided into conservative and liberal, particularly the clergy in social media I follow. I can't really put my finger on it, so I was wondering if you, who I find to be balanced, could help me understand how to distinguish between a conservative and liberal cleric.
Answer: The easiest way to make the distinction is to observe who they target as "enemies". A conservative Orthodox will usually target Catholicism and have an Evangelical leaning, while a liberal Orthodox will usually target Evangelicalism and have a Catholic leaning. - I'm sort of joking when I say this, but there is some truth to it. - Though there are indeed issues with both, you will be much happier as a newly-illlumined Orthodox Christian if you are "friends" or "followers" with clergy who focus more on bringing fellow Orthodox together rather than letting their politics manifest. Clergy on social media should not be heresy hunters, but church gatherers. If at the end of each day a cleric on social media helps to inspire and strengthen you in your daily path and life in Christ, then keep him as a "friend". If not, run for the hills.

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Question 172: Why do you and other notable Orthodox figures promote vaccination when they contain aborted fetal cells?

Answer: This is a myth. There are many articles online that answer this false claim, or at least clarify it, so you can be vaccinated with a clear conscience. Here is just one of many articles that I thought put it very simply:

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Question 173: Who baptized John the Baptist?

Answer: It sufficed that he was baptized in the blood of his own martyrdom.

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Question 174: Some say that with Holy Communion "you cannot catch a virus, but you do catch God." Even though I believe the scientific evidence suggests that it is nearly impossible to contract a virus through Holy Communion, as you have pointed out, I have never seen you defend the statement that a believer cannot get sick in a church, or by kissing icons or even by Holy Communion based on supernatural reasons. Why is this so?

Answer: Even though I do find the arguments against receiving Holy Communion based on fear of contracting a virus or sickness to be completely unfounded and baseless, as there is no evidence to back this up, at the same time I think it is equally unfounded and baseless to ascribe such spiritual power to a church or an icon or even Holy Communion that there is no possible way to be harmed by them, especially when this is applied to the everyone. I am in favor of caution in churches during this pandemic. I absolutely believe you can contract the virus in a church or by kissing an icon or even in some way when receiving Holy Communion (though not in the communion itself, but possibly from the priest or the cloth). I can given dozens of examples of how this is possible, and no one can cite one example of how it is impossible. Do I believe miracles can happen to prevent this from happening? Yes, of course, but we should not gamble on a miracle for the general public. Miracles happen to individuals, and these individuals make a decision of faith as to whether they want a miracle to take place. Some people don't want their lives put on the line because someone else believes a miracle can happen for them. 
The fact of the matter is, people fear that once changes are introduced for a short time, these changes can become permanent, and I agree with this fear as well. This is why I have always said that when Bishops and Priests and Synods give direction for any change due to the pandemic, there should always be emphasis in stating that these are temporary measures. Unfortunately, this never happens, and so people develop weird justifications for their fears, twisting it so that it becomes a matter of faith.

Let me make a few points I haven't made before, and I will just focus on Holy Communion. I have mentioned in other posts how precautions have always existed, especially in times of infectious plagues, for Holy Communion to be received safely, and when the plague has passed, normality returns. I have also pointed out how there have always been precautions used in cases where the reserved communion becomes moldy. But there are also cases when certain individuals require some caution for other reasons, though I also don't think this should affect the general public. Here are a few special cases that can be prearranged with a priest in order for Holy Communion to be received safely:

1. Some alcoholics, especially newly recovering ones, can be triggered by Holy Communion being received in the traditional way, but bread with a drop of wine is usually barely noticeable.

2. Some with celiac disease cannot eat gluten, though a crumb of the bread is usually fine with them.
3. Some with liver disease cannot consume much wine, so very little of the wine should be given.

(It should be noted that the above three problems are dramatically increased when a cleric has them.)

4. If Holy Communion is so miraculous that it can't bring anyone any harm, then why do Bishops and Priests so often avoid and/or pass on to Deacons the final consummation of the gifts after the Divine Liturgy?

5. Why do clerics with diabetes avoid consuming too much Holy Communion?

6. Why do clerics often complain of feeling dizzy or too tired after consuming too much of the left over Holy Communion? In fact, in Greece, in ecclesiastical stores, they sell communion wine with 10% of the alcohol of normal communion wine specifically to avoid this.

7. There is one story I heard of a priest who was pulled over by a police officer after Divine Liturgy, and when asked if he consumed alcohol was forced to take an alcohol test, which he failed, and was cited for drunk driving. Though I should point out, this can be very easily avoidable if the final consummation is done properly.

8. I heard another story of a priest who consumed the final Holy Communion and somehow an earring was inside that he consumed.
So no matter what you do, a problem will always arise, and priests should do whatever they can to accommodate, but changing things will always require more change.

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Question 175: How do Orthodox justify the use of repetitive prayer, like the Jesus Prayer, repeating the same prayer over and over again, especially based on Matthew 6:7?

Answer: The passage from Matthew 6:7 in which Jesus is saying not to pray with “meaningless repetitions” (or “heap up empty phrases”) doesn’t apply to the Jesus Prayer because the words are not “empty” – unless one thinks that calling Jesus the Lord is “an empty phrase”! The Jesus Prayer isn’t a meaningless “mantra” but a meaningful prayer and it is supposed to be prayed continuously but not mechanically. Not to mention the fact that after saying this in Matthew 6:7, Jesus went on to give to his disciples a highly formulaic short prayer: the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:7-13).

The Jesus Prayer is indeed a repetitive prayer, but there is constant repetitive prayers in Heaven, before the Throne of God. In Revelation chapter 5 we read about four “living creatures” that “day and night without ceasing sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come’ (verse 8). What is this if not a repetitive – but not meaningless – prayer?!

On two other occasions, in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, Jesus is praying three times repeatedly for each “time” with each session lasting up to “an hour”, and the prayer was after all this answered by “an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength” (Luke 22:43).

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul asked the Lord three times (possibly on three separate occasions) to be delivered and then stopped asking the same thing, but only because he received a direct answer from God that settled the matter, even though it didn’t resolve his problem.

We should not also dismiss the entire history of the Church and the Saints throughout the ages who have recommended repetitive prayer to the Lord of either the Jesus Prayer or even a verse from the Psalms or something like this. There are hundreds of examples of this, and its power is well attested by them, especially by their lives, which were favored by God.

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Question 176: I wanted to know what you can provide me on the Church's stance of the correct situation and vaccines that our Saints prophesied and forewarned us about. Do you have any information to pass along?

Answer: No Saints have spoken about the vaccine through prophecies, despite what others may say. It has even recently been reported that on Mount Athos about 50% of the monks will be vaccinated, and the other 50% either have mixed feelings about it or don't want to take it for whatever reason.

Assuming from your name that you belong to a Greek Archdiocese of some sort anywhere in the world, whether under the Church of Greece or the Ecumenical Patriarchate, both the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have fully endorsed taking the vaccine both by word and by example. Here are a few things you can read:

Personally, I'm looking forward to getting vaccinated very soon.

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Question 177: Your entry, "The Relic of the Right Foot of St. Mary of Egypt," raises the question I have asked myself ever since I first heard of St. Mary of Egypt: where, if anywhere, are her relics, and how were they found? At the end of the story by Sophronius, she is buried in the place where Zosimas first met her, and it seemed to me that this location must have been lost, especially as I never heard of any of Mary's relics being found. But apparently, based on your blog, some have existed? If this is the case, is there a pedigree on record? How were the relics found, when, and by whom? Did Zosimas disclose the location to his fellow monks? Did St. Mary visit someone centuries later and lead them to where her body was buried? Or is there some other story about this that I've never seen? No web searches I've done have ever led to anything like an answer. If you know anything about this, or know where one might look to find the story of how St. Mary's relics were found, I would greatly appreciate the information.

Answer: All valid questions, but at this time I have no satisfying answer for you. If I get one, then I will surely post something on it.
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Question 178: I would like to know, if you will, what 'Lives of the Saints' you deem best or would recommend. It appears to me the collection of Monk Makarios of Simonopetra is the one most commonly used. Also, my second question is about how often would an updated edition come out? Is there some general rule, like every 10 years or something like this?

Answer: Personally, I think what I have posted on my website is the best and most up to date. However, other collections can be helpful in areas where I am currently lacking. The volumes of Monk Makarios are very good, but you won't find much there you can't find on my website. If you want to collect a set in English, though it's a bit pricey, I would recommend the twelve volumes of The Great Synaxaristes published by Holy Apostles Convent. In English, it is hard enough to get one edition published, let alone updated editions, so if you want updates, the best source, again, is my website.

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