Tuesday, February 20, 2018

ASH WEDNESDAY — February 21

“From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us strive to love God above all, and fulfill His holy will” — St. Herman of Alaska

Wednesday, February 21st, is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. It would be very difficult to over-emphasize the importance of Lent to our spiritual lives, so please do your best to clear your schedule and to be in church at 6:30 PM for Ash Wednesday Services. 

Confessions will be heard at mid-day on Ash Wednesday from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM.

Ash Wednesday Services begin at 6:30 PM, and will consist of Solemn Vespers, the Imposition of Ashes, and the Sung Litany.

ASH WEDNESDAY

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church. Ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christians on Ash Wednesday in the form of a cross. The words (based on Genesis 3:19) used to accompany this ceremony are, "Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris" — “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." 

Beginning Lent with the imposition of ashes is credited to St. Gregory I, the Great (c. 540–604). The formula, based on the words spoken to Adam and Eve after their fall, reminds the faithful of their own sinfulness and mortality, and thus of their need to repent and turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Fr. William Saunders writes, “The liturgical use of ashes originates in Old Testament times. Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality and penance. For instance, in the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes, 485-464 B.C.) of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Est 4:1). Job (whose story was written between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C.) repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6). Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel (c. 550 B.C.) wrote, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes" (Dn 9:3). In the fifth century B.C., after Jonah's preaching of conversion and repentance, the town of Ninevah proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, and the king covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes (Jon 3:5-6). These Old Testament examples evidence both a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.

Jesus Himself also made reference to ashes. Referring to towns that refused to repent of sin although they had witnessed the miracles and heard the good news, our Lord said, "If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago" (Mt 11:21).

The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons. In his book, De Poenitentia, Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must "live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes." Eusebius (260-340), the famous early Church historian, recounted in his The History of the Church how an apostate named Natalis came to Pope Zephyrinus clothed in sackcloth and ashes begging forgiveness. Also during this time, for those who were required to do public penance, the priest sprinkled ashes on the head of the person leaving confession.

In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes. The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, "Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return." After the sprinkling, the priest asked, "Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?" To which the dying person replied, "I am content." In all of these examples, the symbolism of mourning, mortality and penance is clear.

Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent, the 40-day preparation period (not including Sundays) for Easter. The ritual for the "Day of Ashes" is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary, which dates at least to the eighth century. About the year 1000, an Anglo-Saxon priest named Aelfric preached: "We read in the books, both in the Old Law and in the New, that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast." As an aside, Aelfric reinforced his point by then telling of a man who refused to go to Church on Ash Wednesday and receive ashes; the man was killed a few days later in a boar hunt. Since this time, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.

In our present liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we use ashes made from the burned palm branches distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. The priest blesses the ashes and imposes them on the foreheads of the faithful, making the sign of the cross …  As we begin this holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we must remember the significance of the ashes we have received: We mourn and do penance for our sins. We again convert our hearts to the Lord, who suffered, died and rose for our salvation. We renew the promises made at our baptism, when we died to an old life and rose to a new life with Christ. Finally, mindful that the kingdom of this world passes away, we strive to live the kingdom of God now and look forward to its fulfillment in Heaven.”

Those of us who have been trying to follow the Lord, but have the humility to recognize the sin in our lives and that we continue fall short of our high calling in Christ, can say on Ash Wednesday, “Today, I will begin again.” And those who have never turned to Christ, or who have fallen away from following Him can say, “Today, I will begin.” Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season is a time for beginnings and for new beginnings. Let us make the most of this important and grace-filled day and season. Please invite family and friends to join us for Ash Wednesday Services. It can be the beginning of a new life as an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ.

To help us begin a holy and spiritually profitable Lent, I am attaching links to a several helpful articles. Please remember that they are written by Eastern Rite priests and may mention certain Eastern Rite Services or practices that do not necessarily apply to us in the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church.

THE HEALING POWER OF FORGIVENESS


ON NOT TRYING HARDER


THE FIRST WEEK OF GREAT LENT: PASTORAL ADVICE


ASH WEDNESDAY SERVICES — Wednesday, February 21

CONFESSIONS will be heard from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM. 

Confessions can also be heard during the Psalms (but not the Canticles) at Solemn Vespers on Wednesday evening.  

SOLEMN VESPERS, IMPOSITION OF ASHES, AND THE SUNG LITANY at 6:30 PM.

Everyone is invited to attend. Visitors are always welcome. We are a faithful, friendly and vibrant parish, and we have a place for you. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you on Ash Wednesday.

Please forgive me, a sinner, for any offense I may have caused you. Pray for me as I do for you. Many God grant us all a holy and spiritually profitable Lent.

HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558

Monday, February 19, 2018

THE FUTURE OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE WESTERN WORLD WILL LIKELY BE WESTERN RITE — Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch

A MUST HEAR interview with Fr. John Mangels who reports that His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch opined that the future of the Orthodox Church in the Western world will likely be Western Rite.

Fr. John Mangels has been an Orthodox priest for 28 years, and has pastored in both the Eastern and Western rites of the Orthodox Church. He had been an Old Catholic priest for 12 years before entering the Orthodox Church. Fr. John is currently the rector of St. Augustine’s Orthodox Church, a Western Rite parish in Denver Colorado.




Wednesday, February 7, 2018

FORMER ANGLICAN BISHOP SAM SEAMANS TO VISIT HOLY CROSS PARISH

Fr. Samuel Seamans, formerly a bishop with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), will be joining us at Holy Cross Orthodox Church for a Pre-Lenten Retreat with Metropolitan Jonah on Saturday and Sunday, February 10 and 11.

Metropolitan Jonah is perhaps the best known Orthodox bishop in America. A former Anglican himself, he was a featured speaker at the Inaugural Synod of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in 2009, and addressed its Provincial Synod again in 2012. Later, Metropolitan Jonah addressed a Conference of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen (FCC), the group that organized the great St. Louis Church Congress in 1977.

The theme of the Pre-Lenten Retreat is, The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality.

The Retreat begins at 9:15 AM on Saturday, February 10th with Matins (Morning Prayer), followed by the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM, with lunch in our parish hall after the Liturgy. 

The Conferences on the theme of The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality will be held from 12:30 to 4:30 PM, with Vespers at 5:00 PM, followed by a reception for Metropolitan Jonah.

The Retreat continues on Sunday, February 11th, with the formal Reception of a Bishop and Matins at 9:15 AM, followed by the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM, and a catered luncheon in our parish hall immediately after the Liturgy. 

In addition to the Conferences on Saturday, Metropolitan Jonah will be the homilist or preacher at both Eucharistic Liturgies and will be the luncheon speaker on Sunday. 

There will be ample opportunities for discussions with both Metropolitan Jonah and with the clergy of Holy Cross Orthodox Church. In addition, Fr. Samuel Seamans, a former traditional Anglican bishop who is now an Orthodox priest and the pastor of a Western Rite Orthodox parish in Arkansas, will be available to discuss his journey to Orthodoxy.

The public is invited to attend and fully participate in the Retreat. So far, we are expecting clergy and laity from seven States, and from as far away as New York. There is no cost for the Retreat or the meals, but free will offerings will be taken.

The favor of a response is requested so we can better plan for meals, but is not required. Questions about the Retreat or directions are also welcome. You can call the church office at (402) 573-6558 or email me at venovak@hughes.net.

We will be looking forward to seeing you on Saturday!


HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558

Friday, February 2, 2018

RETREAT WITH METROPOLITAN JONAH — Saturday and Sunday, February 10 & 11

Metropolitan Jonah will be conducting a Pre-Lenten Retreat at Holy Cross parish in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday and Sunday, February 10th and 11th. The public is invited to attend.

Metropolitan Jonah is perhaps the best known Orthodox bishop in America. A former Anglican, he entered the Orthodox Church in college under the influence of Fr. Seraphim (Rose), another convert who may one day be canonized a Saint. 

He entered the monastic life at the famous Valaam Monastery in Russia, and later became the abbot of the St. John of San Francisco Monastery in Northern California. Consecrated a bishop in 2008, he was soon elected primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and served in that capacity from 2008 to 2012, eventually transferring back to the Russian Orthodox Church where he now serves as a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

Metropolitan Jonah was a main speaker at the Inaugural Synod of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in 2009, and addressed its Provincial Synod again in 2012. In 2013, he spoke at a Conference of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen (FCC), the group that organized the great St. Louis Church Congress in 1977.  

I have had the privilege of personally knowing his Eminence since 2014, when I was invited to serve Vespers, Matins and the Eucharistic Liturgy with him on the Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia at St. Benedict’s Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The theme of the Pre-Lenten Retreat is The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

Everyone!  Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, seekers of God, and those who are not sure if there even is a God — everyone will benefit from this Retreat. 

The Orthodox Church is the oldest Church in the world, dating back some 2,000 years to the Holy City of Jerusalem. As the oldest Church in the world, Orthodox spirituality is ancient, and antedates the later Reformation/Counter-Reformation debates, and other controversies that have divided Western Christians over the past millennium. 

The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality will take Christians of all traditions back to the spirituality of the “undivided” Church of the first millennium of Christianity where they will encounter the living Christ. The Retreat will introduce participants to a new (to most in the West) approach to Christianity that is both ancient and Eastern. The Orthodox Church is often called the Eastern Orthodox Church because Christianity originated in the East, in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, — not in Rome, Wittenberg, Geneva, Canterbury or the United States. Most Westerners tend to forget that.

WHAT TO EXPECT?

The Pre-Lenten Retreat begins at 9:15 AM on Saturday, February 10th with Matins (Morning Prayer), followed by the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM, with lunch in our parish hall after the Liturgy. 

The Conferences on the theme of The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality will be held from 12:30 to 4:30 PM, with Vespers at 5:00 PM, followed by a Reception for Metropolitan Jonah.

The Retreat continues on Sunday, February 11th, with the formal Reception of a Bishop and Matins at 9:15 AM, followed by the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM, and a catered luncheon in our parish hall immediately after the Liturgy. 

In addition to the Conferences on Saturday, Metropolitan Jonah will be the homilist or preacher at both Eucharistic Liturgies and will be the luncheon speaker on Sunday. 

WHO IS COMING?

While this is a parish Pre-Lenten Retreat, the public is welcome and everyone is invited to attend and participate. So far, we are expecting clergy and laity from seven States and from as far away as New York. There is no cost for the Retreat or the meals, but Free Will Offerings will be taken.

WHAT IS TO BE GAINED?

First and foremost an encounter with Jesus Christ in the the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, and an inspiring introduction to ancient Christian spirituality that will help us all to have a holy and spiritually profitable Lent. 

Additionally, for those who are interested in learning more about Western Rite Orthodoxy, there will be the opportunity to immerse yourself for two days in the liturgical, spiritual and parish life of a Western Rite Orthodox parish. 

Over the course of two days we will sing Matins twice, Vespers once, and celebrate the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist — commonly called the Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass — twice. 

There will be ample opportunities for discussions with both Metropolitan Jonah and with the clergy of Holy Cross Orthodox Church. In addition, we will have Fr. Samuel Seamans with us. Fr. Samuel is a former traditional Anglican bishop who is now an Orthodox priest and the pastor of a Western Rite Orthodox parish in Arkansas. He will also be available to talk about his journey to Orthodoxy.

Please feel free to share this blog post with others. Everyone is invited to attend and will be most welcome.

The favor of a response is requested so we can better plan for meals, but is not required. Questions about the Retreat or directions are also welcome. You can call the church office at (402) 573-6558 or email me at venovak@hughes.net.

I hope that you can join us next week for the Retreat. We are a faithful, friendly and vibrant parish, and we have a place for you. See you there!

HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558

Friday, January 26, 2018

RETREAT WITH METROPOLITAN JONAH — Saturday and Sunday, February 10 and 11, 2018

You are Invited to a 
PRE-LENTEN RETREAT WITH METROPOLITAN JONAH
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR)

“The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality”

Saturday February 10, and Sunday February 11, 2018
— Beginning at 9:15 AM on both Saturday and Sunday —

HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
(402) 573-6558


RETREAT SCHEDULE

Theme: “The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality” 

Saturday, February 10th

9:15 AM  Matins
10:00 AMLiturgy of the Holy Eucharist — Metropolitan Jonah, homilist

Lunch will be served after the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist

12:30-4:30 PM “The Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality,” presented by His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah

5:00 PMVespers

A Reception for Metropolitan Jonah will follow Vespers.

Sunday, February 11th

9:15 AMReception of the Metropolitan, followed by  Matins
10:00 AM  Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist — Metropolitan Jonah, homilist

A Catered Luncheon in honour of Metropolitan Jonah’s visit will follow the Liturgy. Metropolitan Jonah will be the luncheon speaker.

Metropolitan Jonah is a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), and a former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). He was a monk at the famous Valaam Monastery in Russia, and later the abbot of St. John of San Francisco Monastery in California before being consecrated a bishop in 2008.

The Retreat and meals are free and open to the public. Free will offerings will be taken. Visitors are always welcome. For more information contact:

Fr. Victor Novak
Rector
HOLY CROSS ORTHODOX CHURCH
7545 Main Street
Ralston, Nebraska 68127
Church Phone: (402) 573-6558


We are a faithful, friendly, vibrant and growing parish — and we have a place for you!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY AND POST-SCHISM WESTERN THEOLOGY: SOME IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES — A Study Guide for Inquiring Western Clergy

A growing number of traditional Anglican and traditional Roman Catholic clergy are  being drawn to the Orthodox Church. In a recent interview, Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch (Primate) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, said: “The Anglican Church has broken apart, and many older clergymen are converting to Orthodoxy. We receive them. We ordain them so that they can serve as Orthodox pastors. Their flocks follow their conversion to Orthodoxy. I constantly get appeals from them, to receive them and ordain them. Of course, we prepare them first. But when we start to work with them, we realize that they have already studied a great deal about Orthodox Christianity.”

Much the same can be said of Roman Catholicism. The Second Vatican Council has been described as the French Revolution in the Church, and it has led to a massive exodus of Roman Catholics. If former Roman Catholics were a denomination they would be the second largest denomination in the United States. Large numbers of tradition-minded Roman Catholics have entered the Orthodox Church and a growing number of traditional Roman Catholic priests are investigating Orthodox Catholicism.

While the Orthodox Church shares much in common with both traditional Anglicanism and traditional Roman Catholicism, there are also some important differences. These differences are in areas where Western forms of Christianity have changed theologically since the Great Schism of 1054, and the Norman Conquest of England of 1066. 

Much has happened in Western Christendom in the thousand years that it has been separated from the Orthodox Church, including the Renaissance, Reformation, Counter Reformation, the rise of liberal-modernism, and the tragic splintering of Western Christianity into thousands of competing and squabbling denominations. 

Over the past two thousand years the Orthodox Church has continued to hold firmly to the Faith and Order of the undivided Church of the first millennium. The Orthodox Church is unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable in matters of Faith and Morals, earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), and committed to the Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins that defines the Catholic Faith as that which has been believed, “everywhere, always and by all.” To become Orthodox means to return to the Faith and Order of the undivided Church, — without addition or diminution.

Holy Cross parish in Ralston, Nebraska was received into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). We began the reception process in 2012. In April of 2018, we will celebrate our sixth Pascha or Easter as a Western Rite Orthodox parish. I was ordained into the Anglican ministry in 1984, and have more than thirty-three years of ministry experience — and I have never been happier or more fulfilled than I am now. 

Becoming Orthodox has changed everything for us. Holy Cross Orthodox Church has experienced a tremendous revival and is experiencing solid growth. In 2017, we added thirteen new members to our parish from nine households, with eleven more added in 2016 — that is twenty-four new members in two years. In addition, our church is growing younger and younger, with only three members over the age of 70, and many under the age of 18. We are a thoroughly Orthodox parish and have no nostalgia for our past. None. We love being Orthodox and are thankful for the many blessings that come with being in the Church.

Inquiring into a new Church can be unsettling. We tend to be comfortable where we are, even though we may be unhappy and know in our hearts that we should be somewhere else. Yet, it can be difficult to think of leaving our comfort zone. There are a lot of uncertainties about entering a new Church, there are new (really ancient) things to learn, and necessary adjustments to make. That is why this Study Guide was written — to help inquiring Western clergymen. 

We want to answer some of the questions you may have up front, and to help you to understand that the Orthodox Church is the original Church — the one Church established by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself; that it continues to hold the Faith of the “undivided” Church, and that the Orthodox Church is the home that you have been longing for.

Trying to understand and embrace Orthodox Christianity without recognizing and correcting some important post-Great Schism doctrinal misconceptions is like trying to put square pegs into round holes. So it is important to take a closer look at some of the differences in theology and practice between the Orthodox Church and the post-Great Schism West. Because of the rule “lex orandi, lex credendi,” theology and practice are bound together. They can be distinguished, but not separated. While this Study Guide is not exhaustive, it does address ten important differences. They are:

Original/Ancestral Sin
The Atonement
Theosis
The Text of the Old Testament
The Problems with the Filioque Clause
Orthodox Ecclesiology
Post-Schism Para-liturgical Devotions
Iconography, Religious Paintings and Statuary
Standing and Kneeling
The Calendar

This paper will briefly cover each of these ten differences between Orthodox and post-Schism Western theology and practice, and will have links that will provide more detailed information. Soon you will be putting round pegs into round holes, and will feel more comfortable as you inquire into the Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and begin your own journey to the fullness of the Apostolic Faith and into the Ark of Salvation — the Orthodox Church.

ORIGINAL/ANCESTRAL SIN

It is vital to come to a proper understanding of the doctrine of Original/Ancestral Sin. If we get this fundamental doctrine wrong it will adversely affect our doctrinal understandings in other areas, including redemption and salvation.

The terms Original Sin (Sin from our Origin) and Ancestral Sin (Sin from our First Ancestors) are synonymous terms and are interchangeable. However, since the contemporary Western understanding of the Fall and of Original Sin has evolved over the past millennium far from the Orthodox understanding, Orthodox Christians tend to prefer the term Ancestral Sin in order to avoid confusion. Still, it is the meaning rather than the vernacular that is most important.

The Orthodox understanding of Ancestral or Original Sin is that we inherit the consequences of the Fall, but not Adam’s Guilt. Abbot Tryphon writes, “The fact that we Orthodox do not accept the doctrine of original sin as espoused in the West, does in no way suggest that we do not need to be born again (born anew). We believe, as did the Early Church Fathers, that we inherit only the results of Adams sin, not his guilt. This is known as ancestral sin because the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, resulted in our inheritance of death, sickness and an inclination toward evil” (Ancestral Sin; The Morning Offering, February 22, 2017).

Fr. Matthew Joyner made an excellent presentation on Original/Ancestral Sin at the ROCOR Western Rite Conference held in October of 2017. Fr. Matthew was a church-planter in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) prior to entering the Orthodox Church and becoming an Orthodox priest. You can listen to his presentation courtesy of Western Rite Radio. Here is the link:


THE ATONEMENT

Most Western Christians hold to the Substitutionary Atonement theory in one of two two  primary forms: the Satisfaction Theory and the Penal Substitutionary Theory. They take the Substitutionary Atonement theory that they have inherited for granted, and although it is only a theory — and a late one at that — assume that it is a Christian dogma and is what the early Church believed and taught.

The truth is though that these theories have their roots in the teachings of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), an 11th century Norman Archbishop imposed on England in the wake of the Norman Conquest. Archbishop Anselm wrote a book titled, Why Did God Become Man?, in which he explained his innovative theory.

As Fr. James Bernstein, an Orthodox priest, explains, “Anselm’s view of atonement has come to be called the ‘debt’ or ‘satisfaction’ theory. It was based in part on the concept of total depravity [stemming from a false understanding of Original/Ancestral sin], which holds that man’s sin against God (which is total) must be punished by God absolutely. According to this theory, God’s honor and justice demanded that to avoid punishment, the debt owed Him by the human race must be paid or satisfied. By ourselves we could not pay the debt owed God, because we are all fallen and sinful. Only Jesus Christ could pay what we owe to God, because He is sinless and perfect. In dying on the Cross, Christ completely paid this debt for each of us. If we believe in Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, then we are forgiven, and God is free to bestow on us His grace and mercy.”

The Protestant Reformers built on this theory and constructed the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement. Again, Fr. James Bernstein explains, “The Protestant Reformers built upon the satisfaction theory and developed a third theory of atonement called the 'penal substitutionary' theory. Whereas the debt/satisfaction theory emphasizes that Christ paid the debt that we owe God, the penal theory emphasizes that Christ received the punishment we deserve. In this view, justice demands that our sins be punished. In suffering and dying on the Cross, Christ received God’s punishment for us so that we no longer need to be punished. This view has gained great popularity and is perhaps the best known of the… non-Orthodox theories of atonement…”

In his book, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin presents the clearest and fullest statement of the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the atonement. Calvin writes, "He [Jesus] endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. He bore the weight of the divine anger, that smitten and afflicted, He experienced all the signs of an angry and avenging God. How dire and dreadful were the tortures which He endured when He felt Himself standing at the bar of God as a criminal in our stead." Calvin did not even shrink from declaring that Christ did, literally, descend into Hell, "to feel the weight of the divine vengeance." 

Although this is the understanding of the Atonement that most Western Christians have today, it has never been the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Both the Satisfaction Theory and the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement are post-Great Schism, were unknown in the “undivided” Church and have their roots in the 11th century, with the Penal Substitutionary Theory only being developed in the 16th century. Therefore, these theories could not have been what the early Church believed and are not part of the Deposit of Faith. The Orthodox Church still holds to what the Church of the first millennium taught, and its teaching on redemption is indeed Good News.

It its vitally important to gain an Orthodox understanding of the doctrine of Christ’s Death upon the Cross for our salvation and thereby of what the Gospel or Good News really is. A very good article on the subject is, The Original Christian Gospel, by Fr. James Bernstein. Fr. James was born into an Orthodox Jewish family and came to faith in Christ as a young adult. He was a founding member and leader of the well-known Messianic Jewish ministry called Jews for Jesus. He later entered the Orthodox Church where he now serves as a priest. You will find this article very helpful. Here is the link:


THEOSIS — Partaking of the Divine Nature

Theosis (or deification), becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:4), is an ancient theological term that you will often hear as an Orthodox Christian, and it is very important that you understand what this term means and does not mean. Although the doctrine of theosis came to be neglected in the post-Schism Western Church, it was clearly taught as late as the 13th century in the dissident Roman Patriarchate. Thomas Aquinas taught theosis — "full participation in divinity which is mankind's true beatitude and the destiny of human life" (Summa Theologiae 3.1.2).

The concept of theosis is also found in the traditional (Pre-Vatican II) Roman Liturgy. In the prayer, Deus, Qui Humanœ Substantiœ, the priest prays as he mixes water with the wine in the chalice: 

“O GOD, who didst lay the foundations of man’s being in wonder and honour, and in greater wonder and honour didst renew the same: grant that by the mystery of this water and wine, that he who was partaker of our humanity may make us joint-heirs of his very Godhead, even Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord: Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

In its efforts to restore the faith of the primitive Church, theosis is found as a recurring theme within Anglicanism: in Lancelot Andrewes (17th c.), the hymnody of John and Charles Wesley (18th c.), Edward B. Pusey (19th c.), and A. M. Allchin and E. Charles Miller (20th c.). The prayer, Deus, Qui Humanœ Substantiœ, is also found in both the Anglican and American Missals.

Christians are to become by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature — sons and daughters of God. Christ partook of our human nature that we might partake of His divine nature. This is not to be confused with the heretical apothéōsis — "Deification in God’s Essence,” which is imparticipable.

OrthodoxWiki has a good short article on Theosis, along with links to additional articles on the subject. The OrthodoxWiki article on Theosis can be found here:


THE TEXT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The Orthodox Church has always held to the use of the Septuagint text of the Old Testament, and to the wider Canon which includes the Deuterocanonical Books. All Christians everywhere did so until after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. 

The Septuagint and the wider Canon was the Old Testament of the early Church and remains the Old Testament of the Orthodox Church today. The Orthodox Canon of Holy Scripture contains seventy-six Books: 49 Books in the Old Testament and 27 Books in the New Testament. 

Protopresbyter James Thornton writes, “ the Synod of Jerusalem [1672], not unlike the Council of Trent, bestowed ‘deuterocanonical’ status on these books — which are typically referred to by Orthodox as…(‘anagignoskomena’), ‘things that are read,’ a term that implies their acceptability for ecclesiastical use — by stating explicitly what was already the long-standing unwritten tradition of the Orthodox Church regarding them” (The Ecumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church — A Concise History,   p150).

The term deuterocanonical refers to the fact that the Orthodox Church declared these Books that had always been in the Canon of Scripture to be “canonical” a second time, that is in the 17th century at the Council of Jerusalem after more than a century of Protestant attacks upon them. The Church has historically preferred the term “anagignoskomena,” meaning “things that are read” to deuterocanonical, but deuterocanonical is most commonly used in the West today. The terms “apocrypha” or “apocryphal,” meaning “hidden” (unrecognized), are never used of these Books. 

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Holy Scriptures made by Seventy (or seventy-two) Jewish scholars some two centuries before the birth of Christ. For centuries Greek was the lingua franca of the ancient world, even in the Holy Land, so use of the Greek Old Testament was widespread among the Jewish communities.

Western scholars used to criticize the Orthodox Church for its unwavering commitment to the Septuagint, but time has proven the Orthodox Church to be right. The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press) says, “A significant legacy of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is related to their attestation to the reliability of ancient translations. It is no longer possible to argue that differences from the MT  [Masoretic Text] preserved in the ancient translations… reflect intentional changes introduced by the translator rather than a different underlying text… Readings from the ancient translations hitherto regarded as questionable have now been shown to preserve authentic Hebrew ones” (pp. 1922-1923).

The Old Testament that the vast majority of Western Christians have in their Bibles is the Masoretic Text, although the Apostles and the early Christians used the Septuagint Version. They could not have used the Masoretic Text because it did not come into being until about a thousand years ago. The Septuagint on the other hand antedated the time of Christ by a couple of hundred years and is some 1200 years older than the Masoretic Text.

The New Testament frequently quotes from the Old Testament, but if these quotes are  compared to the Old Testament text itself, it is clear that they often vary considerably from what is found there. The New Testament writers were not misquoting the Old Testament Scriptures or paraphrasing them. The New Testament writers were quoting from the Septuagint, but most modern Bibles contain the Masoretic Text, — a Jewish text from nearly a thousand years after the time of Christ. 

The Orthodox Church uses the same Bible that the Apostles and early Christians used. Western Christians no longer do, and that is one of the reasons why their theology has often diverged from that of the Orthodox Church. They may be following their Bible, but they are not using the Bible that the Apostles and early Christians used.

The Protestant Reformers adopted the Masoretic Text because they assumed that the Jews knew best about the Old Testament, but they were unaware that the Masoretic Text was only about 500 years old when the Reformation began and is unfaithful to the original Hebrew. The Septuagint is some 1200 years older than the Masoretic Text. 

Unfortunately, Rome later allowed the use of the Masoretic Text as well in an effort to keep up with the Protestants. The Masoretic Text was never used by the Apostles or early Christians, is only about a thousand years old, and was unknown to the Christians of the first millennium.

Is it any wonder that post-Great Schism Western Christians have deviated from the teachings of the Orthodox Church when you realize that they are using a Bible that is different from what was used in the “undivided” Church, was unknown to the early Christians, and that reads very differently in many places? 

Fr. Joseph Gleason has written an excellent article on this subject that was published by Fr. John Peck of the Preachers Institute. It is titled, Masoretic Text vs. Original Hebrew. Here is the link:


For further reading on the differences between the Septuagint and Masoretic Texts, the book Which Bible is Better? How to compare versions of the Bible, by Fr. Joseph Gleason, is highly recommended. Fr. Joseph Gleason was an Anglican priest and pastored a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) before entering the Orthodox Church and becoming an Orthodox priest serving a Western Rite parish. You can order the book, Which Bible is Better? here:


Orthodox Christians are serious students of the Holy Scriptures, and have a large and growing number of commentaries — both from the Fathers and from modern Orthodox writers — as well as other Bible Study materials available to them. In addition, we have the Orthodox Study Bible. If you do not already own a copy of the Orthodox Study Bible, you will want to purchase one.  You can order it here:


THE FILIOQUE CLAUSE

It is very important that incoming clergy understand the problems with the Filioque Clause that was inserted into the Nicene Creed in the West. Its insertion into the Nicene Creed was pressed by Charlemagne (the Western, or Holy Roman Emperor) and his successors, but long resisted by Rome. Rome finally inserted the Filioque Clause into the Creed in 1014, precipitating the Great or Papal Schism in 1054.

Archbishop Joseph Raya, Melkite (Eastern Rite Roman Catholic) Archbishop of Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee explains, 

“To prevent anyone ever to misinterpret or alter the words of the Creed — which could lead to heresy and destruction of the faith — the Council fathers declared ‘anathema,’ or condemnation on anyone who would ever ‘add to it, or take away from it any word.’ Yet, by his own personal authority, Charlemagne added the word ‘Filioque,’ making the Creed read: ‘Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.’ He imposed the addition upon all the Churches of the West by force of arms. The Church of Rome refused it, and did not add it to its Creed.

“There was no immediate reaction from Constantinople. The Byzantines must have been amused at seeing a ‘Barbarian’ playing a game of absolutism of power and bad taste in theology” (Byzantine Church and Culture, Alleluia Press, p. 41).

In 1014, Rome also adopted the Filioque Clause, falling under the anathema of the Third Oecumenical Council. “In the eleventh century, the addition of the ‘filioque’ became a point of doctrinal contention between East and West. Michael Cerularius [Patriarch of Constantinople] accused the West of heresy; the West retorted by accusing the East of heresy; they excommunicated each other” (ibid, Raya, pp. 41-42). 

It is obvious, of course, who changed the Creed and who preserved it unchanged, and therefore who fell into heresy and schism and who remained Orthodox Catholics.

The Third Oecumenical Council placed an anathema on anyone who would change the Nicene Creed, and Rome’s changing of it led to Rome’s fall from Catholic unity;  but the Filioque is much more than a canonical infraction — it is heresy. The Filioque leads to an Arian subordinationism of the Holy Spirit. Due to the Filioque, the Holy Spirit became the all but forgotten person of the Holy Trinity in the West until the 20th century when the pendulum swung back to the other extreme leading to the excesses of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. The article, Filioquism is Arian Subordinationism Applied to the Spirit is a must read for understanding why the Filioque is such an important issue in the Orthodox Church. Here is the link:


ECCLESIOLOGY

Western Christians tend to have a defective understanding of Ecclesiology. Anglicans believe in the Branch Theory, while Protestants speak far more often of Christianity than the Church, and see the Church as primarily an invisible body of faithful Christians in all denominations. Roman Catholics see the Church divided between two “Sister Churches” — the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, and has described them as the two lungs of the Body of Christ.

Only the Orthodox Church believes in the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Nicene Creed. For Orthodox Christians one means one, and cannot mean two, three, or many. Christians and their clergy can fall away from the Church, but the Church cannot be divided any more than Christ can be divided. The Orthodox Church is the oldest Church in the world, the original Church, the one and only Church built by Jesus Christ Himself — these are indisputable facts of history. Every other Christian body is a schism, a splinter from a schism, a splinter from a splinter, or a wholly man-made denomination.

According to Orthodox ecclesiology, the branches of the Church are the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. These and these alone are Sister Churches. If two lungs of the Body of Christ were to be spoken of in an Orthodox context, they would be the Eastern and Western rites of the one Orthodox Catholic Church. 

Does that mean that Christians outside of the Orthodox Church who are faithfully following Christ to the best of their understanding are of necessity lost? No, it does not.

Alexei Khomiakov (1804-1860) was a great 19th century Orthodox theologian and is considered by many to be a Doctor of the Church. His theological writings are still widely studied today. In his important treatise, The Church Is One, Alexei Khomiakov took up the question of non-Orthodox Christians. He wrote:

“Inasmuch as the earthly and visible Church is not the fulness and completeness of the whole Church which the Lord has appointed to appear at the final judgment of all creation, she acts and knows only within her own limits; and (according to the words of Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians, I Cor. 5:12) does not judge the rest of mankind, and only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who exclude themselves. The rest of mankind, whether alien from the Church, or united to her by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her, she leaves to the judgment of the great day. The Church on earth judges for herself only, according to the grace of the Spirit, and the freedom granted her through Christ, inviting also the rest of mankind to the unity and adoption of God in Christ; but upon those who do not hear her appeal she pronounces no sentence, knowing the command of her Saviour and Head, ‘not to judge another man’s servant’ (Rom. 14.4).”

A link to the treatise The Church Is One, by Alexei Khomiakov can be found here:


Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky) wrote an important article on ecclesiology titled, Christianity Or The Church? Archbishop Hilarion is a Russian New Martyr who suffered under the Bolsheviks. He was canonized a Saint in the year 2000. His article, Christianity Or The Church?, will be very helpful in understanding Orthodox ecclesiology. Here is the link:


POST GREAT SCHISM PARA-LITURGICAL DEVOTIONS

Lex orandi, lex credendi is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life of the Church. Lex orandi, lex credendi means “the law of praying is the law of believing.” In other words liturgy and para-liturgical devotions can have a big impact on what we believe, and do indeed shape our beliefs. 

While the Church recognizes that private devotions are private devotions, the Church has to be very cautious regarding contemporary Western para-liturgical devotions in light of the Orthodox Faith. This is because — due to the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi — public para-liturgical devotions bear the teaching authority of the Church in the eyes of the faithful. It must be remembered that the word Orthodox means both correct doctrine and correct worship. Two of the most common and yet problematic para-liturgical devotions in the West today are Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Sacred Heart Devotions.

— Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

According to the (Roman) Catholic Encyclopedia, “The idea of exposing the Blessed Sacrament for veneration in a monstrance appears to have been first evolved at the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century. When the elevation of the Host at Mass was introduced in the early years of the thirteenth century… the idea by degrees took firm hold of the popular mind that special virtue and merit were attached to the act of looking at the Blessed Sacrament.”

The elevation of the Host after the Words of Institution in the Roman Rite is not ancient at all, but was only introduced early in the thirteenth century, some two centuries after the Great Schism. The elevations were introduced because the number of communicants declined to the point that people were seldom receiving Holy Communion — often only at Easter. At Mass it became common for the priest alone to communicate. 

By introducing the elevations after the Words of Institution, non-communicants could at least look at what they were not receiving. “The idea of exposing the Blessed Sacrament for veneration in a monstrance appears to have been first evolved at the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century” — about a century after the elevations were introduced. Rather than receiving the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, “the idea by degrees took firm hold of the popular mind that special virtue and merit were attached to the act of looking at the Blessed Sacrament.” In other words “looking at the Blessed Sacrament,” became a substitute for receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

Orthodox Christians certainly adore Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but the emphasis remains on partaking of the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord said, “Take, eat.” Elevations and Benediction were introduced as a substitute for taking and eating. For the first twelve hundred years of Christianity in the West there were no elevations in the Mass after the Words of Institution, and for thirteen hundred years the para-liturgical devotion known as Benediction and the use of a monstrance were unknown. When they did come into use, they were substitutes for receiving Holy Communion.  These are facts of history, and that is why Benediction is problematic from the Orthodox point of view and why a monstrance is not used in the Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

— Sacred Heart Devotions

The source for the contemporary Roman Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart was Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690), a nun of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, who claimed to have received apparitions of Jesus Christ in the Burgundian French village of Paray le Monial, beginning on December 27, 1673.

Margaret Mary Alacoque said that in her apparitions Jesus promised certain blessings to those who practice devotion to His Sacred Heart as revealed to her. The list of blessings was tabulated in 1863. In 1882 an American businessman spread the twelve promises throughout the world, in 238 languages.

Fr. Aidan Keller writes, “Sister Marie [Margaret Mary Alacoque] spent whole nights in ‘amorous colloquies with her beloved Jesus.’ One day, He permitted her to lean her head on His breast and asked for her heart. She consented. He removed her heart from her chest, placed it upon His own, then returned it to her chest. From that time she felt a continuous pain in that side, where her heart had been extracted and replaced. Jesus told her to bleed herself when the pain became too great.

“Marie Alacoque gave her heart to Jesus by a physical document, a deed, which she signed in her own blood. In return, Jesus gave her a deed, which designated her as the heiress to His heart for time and eternity. ‘Do not be stingy with It,’ He said to her, ‘I permit you to dispose of It as you wish, and you will be a plaything for My good pleasure.’ Upon hearing these words, Sister Marie took a pocket knife and carved the name of Jesus into the flesh of her breast ‘in large and deep letters.’

“Bishop Languet’s Life dwells upon the ‘promise of marriage’ which took place between Jesus and Sister Marie, on their ‘betrothals and espousals.’ (Actually, the terms he uses are too graphic to be used in a public Christian forum.) Languet also relates that the first Friday of every month the pains in sister Marie’s side were so sharp she had herself bled. Since this occurred from 1674 to 1690, she would have been bled 192 times in honour of the Sacred Heart, believing she was obeying Christ’s express injunctions.

“The Jesuits used their campaign of spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart as a means to spread other of their doctrines, including the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. Sister Marie Alacoque aspired also to sow the seeds of this belief: that the Mother of God was conceived in a manner beyond the human experience. She also insisted that those within her circle of influence swallow little slips of paper with pertinent messages written on them.

“‘You promised,’ she wrote to her brother, a priest, ‘that you would take the notes which I am sending you, one each day, on an empty stomach, and that you would have said nine masses, on nine Saturdays, in honour of the Immaculate Conception [of the Virgin Mary] and as many masses of the Passion, on nine Fridays, in honour of the Sacred Heart. I believe that none of those who shall be particularly devoted to It shall perish.’

“After these vigorous promotional campaigns, Rome’s Congregation of Rites was solicited to establish a feast of the Sacred Heart, a request denied in 1697. Thirty years the Order waited, using images, medals, booklets, pictures, stories, sermons, confraternities, and exhortations at confession to advance the Sacred Heart devotion.

“In 1727 and 1729, two more requests for a feast of the Sacred Heart were submitted. The Promotor of the Faith for the Congregation at that time was named Prospero Lambertini. He was a well-educated man and not much inclined towards the Jesuit programs, and he denied the requests. In his work ‘On the Canonization of Saints,’ Lambertini left us an account of the affair. ‘If one requests a feast for the Sacred Heart of Jesus,’ he marvels, ‘Why not also ask for one for the Sacred Side or the Sacred Eyes of Jesus? Or, even for the Heart of the Blessed Virgin!?’ Prospero Lambertini later became the Pope-scholar Benedict XIV. Little could he have foreseen that what he knew to be so preposterous would, after his day, infect the entire Roman Church. In the 19th century, the Roman Church established a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Mary, and even instituted a feast day in its honour” (The Error of the Sacred Heart Devotion, by heiromonk Aidan Keller).

Besides being bizarre to say the least, the visions and actions of Margaret Mary Alacoque are contrary to the Orthodox Faith. The Orthodox Church disapproves of the worship of the physical, human heart of Jesus as being a form of Nestorianism, separating the divine and human natures of Christ.

The great St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote: “We do not worship a created thing, but the Master of created things, the Word of God made flesh. Although the flesh itself, considered separately, is a part of created things, yet it has become the body of God. We do not worship this body after having separated it from the Word. Likewise, we do not separate the Word from the body when we wish to worship Him. But knowing that ‘the Word was made flesh,’ we recognize the Word existing in the flesh as God.” (Ep. ad Adelph., par. 3)

Anglican Bishop Chandler Holder Jones agrees with the Orthodox position. He writes, “Anglo-Papalists included this feast in the Anglican and English Missals, but the Sacred Heart tradition is relatively modern and certainly post-Tridentine, originating as it does in the seventeenth and eighteenth century… As such, it is not part of the devotional tradition of the ancient and patristic catholicism of the undivided Church.”

ICONOGRAPHY, RELIGIOUS PAINTINGS AND STATUARY

Many Western Christians assume that iconography is traditional in Eastern Christendom while religious paintings and statuary are traditional Western Christendom. However, that is a misconception. 

Iconography is ancient, and was used in both Eastern and Western Christendom. Religious paintings and the use of statuary in churches is not ancient at all, dates back only to the Renaissance and especially to the Counter Reformation, and has never been used in the Orthodox Church East or West, in ancient or in modern times.

A 1,500-year-old church in the city of Rome which was buried under debris from an earthquake for more than a millennium has recently reopened to the public after a painstaking restoration of some of the world’s earliest Christian art.

The sixth-century church of Santa Maria Antiqua is located in the ancient Roman Forum, at the bottom of the Palatine Hill, where Roman Emperors lived for centuries. It was buried under rubble by an earthquake in AD 847.

“This church is the Sistine Chapel of the early Middle Ages," Maria Andaloro, an art historian involved in the project, told Reuters. Being buried by the earthquake saved the church from being altered in later centuries, particularly during the Counter-Reformation, said Professor Andaloro.

The main frescoes, decorating the walls of the central nave and sanctuary, were painted under Pope Martin I, who was Bishop of Rome from AD 649 to 655. Further frescoes were ordered to be painted by Pope John VII (705 to 707).

The photos of the interior of this ancient Roman church are a must see. There are none of the paintings and statuary that we see in Roman Catholic churches (both pre and post-Vatican II), because such artwork is not ancient at all, was never used in the undivided Church, and only dates back to the Renaissance and especially to the Counter Reformation. 

The iconography that you see on the walls of a Western Rite Orthodox parish or monastery is not “Eastern,” but was used everywhere, both East and West in the ancient Church, and remains unchanged in the Orthodox Church to this very day. You will see the same kind of iconography in this important ancient Roman church — “the Sistine Chapel of the early Middle Ages.”

In the photos you will see a large icon of the Crucifixion over where the altar was and you will see icons of the Saints covering the walls. This is what all Orthodox Catholic churches looked like. There were no life-like paintings and statuary like we see in the West today. Instead, the churches were adorned with iconography. Iconography is not “Eastern.” It is Catholic, Universal. Iconography is not mere religious art. There is a big difference. Icons are “windows into heaven” through which we see the Saints as they are now, transfigured by the grace of God.

The sixth-century church of Santa Maria Antiqua located in the ancient Roman Forum in the city of Rome is an Orthodox church. Popes Martin I, and John VII, were Orthodox popes. The Patriarchate of Rome was an Orthodox Patriarchate until 1054, when it unilaterally changed the Nicene Creed and fell away into schism, setting the stage for the Protestant Revolution of the 16th century and what has been called “the French Revolution in the Church” in the wake of Vatican II. Being buried by the earthquake saved the church from being altered in later centuries, particularly during the Counter-Reformation, said Professor Andaloro.

Here is the link to this eye-opening article about the sixth-century church of Santa Maria Antiqua from the London Telegraph. The photos are amazing:


What about in England? At the time of the Papal Schism in 1054, the Church in the British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) remained Orthodox. This led to the Norman Invasion and Conquest in 1066, which was launched to bring Orthodox England under papal authority.

The ancient churches in England looked like Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome. Lot’s of iconography, but no religious pictures or statuary. 

St. Mary’s Chapel in the palace of Westminster is a Royal Peculiar and is the chapel for the members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This chapel dates from the 13th century and, although it is post-Norman Conquest, it was built in the ancient style.

This 13th century undercroft chapel is, in a word, ornate. From the patterned tile floor to the stained glass windows, and from the elaborately painted, vaulted ceilings and roof bosses to the polished, hanging lanterns, it is a visual feast. The first thing that will gain your attention is the row of beautiful icons on the wall behind the altar. Icons, but no paintings or statues. Paintings and statuary are not ancient at all. They are Renaissance and Counter Reformation.

You can view the picture of St. Mary’s Chapel. Here is the link:


A Western Rite Orthodox church today will look like all ancient Western churches did. There will be iconography on the walls and behind the altar, but no Renaissance or  Counter Reformation style religious paintings or statuary. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

STANDING AND KNEELING

The Western Rite has been restored and the Western Church is being rebuilt. Our mission is to restore the Faith and Order of the “undivided” Church, and to begin the re-evangelization of the post-Christian West. In order to restore the Faith and Order of the undivided church we sometimes need to reapply canons that have long been forgotten in Western Christendom. Sometimes, reapplying forgotten canons can mean making adjustments in our liturgical practices. The two primary adjustments that will need to be made is in standing and kneeling, and in the ecclesiastical Calendar with its Paschalion. 

In the Orthodox Church, we stand on Sundays, Feast days, and daily during Paschaltide; and kneel on week days. This is not a Byzantinization of the Western Rite, but was the universal practice in the undivided Church. 

The First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325) made this practice binding by a special canon obligatory for the entire Church. The canon of this Council states: "Since there are some persons who kneel in church on Sundays and on the days of Pentecost [i.e. Paschaltide], with a view to preserving uniformity in all parishes, it has seemed best to the holy Council for prayers to be offered to God while standing" (Canon XX).

In Canon XC of the Council in Trullo (692), of the 6th Ecumenical Council, we read: "We have received it canonical from our God-bearing Fathers not to bend the knee on Sundays when honoring the resurrection of Christ. Since this observation may not be clear to some of us, we are making it plain to the faithful, that after the entrance of those in holy orders into the sacrificial altar on the evening of the Saturday in question, let none of them bend the knee until the evening of the following Sunday, when, following the entrance after the lamps have been lit, again bending knees, we thus begin to offer our prayers to the Lord. For, inasmuch as we have received it that the night succeeding Saturday was the precursor of our Savior’s rising, we commence our hymns at this point in a spiritual manner, ending the festival by passing out of darkness into light, in order that we may hence celebrate the resurrection together for a whole day and a whole night.”

This does not mean that pastors should be liturgical police, correcting those faithful who kneel on Sundays and ordering them to stand. Personal acts of piety are personal acts of piety. But what it does mean is that those serving at the altar should stand when it is appropriate to stand, and kneel when it is appropriate to kneel, setting an example for the congregation by conforming to the canons of the Church.

THE CALENDAR

The Julian or “Old” Calendar was the calendar that was in use when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was the Calendar of the early Church and the Calendar that all Christians used until 1582, when five hundred years after the Papal Schism of 1054, Pope Gregory of Rome changed the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church to the so-called “Gregorian” or “New” Calendar — and tragically, further divided Christians. The New Calendar gradually spread throughout the West, with the British Empire and the American Colonies being the last to give up the Old Calendar in 1752. When President George Washington was born the American Colonies were still on the Old Calendar. 

Our Church remains on the Old or original ecclesiastical Calendar. The two calendars are 13 days apart, so January 7 on the New Calendar is December 25 on the Old Calendar. While returning to the Old Calendar will mean some adjustments, there is much to gain and nothing to lose by it. It is simply a return to the Order of the undivided Church. Orthodox Christians still celebrate the Christmas holiday with family and friends on December 25th on the New Calendar, but then they have two more weeks to prepare for a holy Feast of the Nativity without the competition of Santa Claus and commercialism. Jesus is the Reason for the Season, and the Old Calendar keeps Him central.

Sometimes people ask, Why does Orthodox Easter generally (but not always) fall on a different Sunday than Western Easter? That is because the Orthodox Church continues to use the Paschalion (method for determining the date of Pascha or Easter) as established by the First Council of Nicea. Returning to the Faith and Order of the undivided Church means returning to the Paschalion of the Council of Nicea.

You can read more about the Calendar here:


CONCLUSION

For more information on liturgical questions, a good, official resource is the General Norms of the Orthodox Restored Western Rite — Ordo. You will find a great deal of helpful information there. Here is the link:


If you are a clergyman who is seriously considering Orthodoxy, and have any questions or pastoral concerns as you study these materials, please contact the Western Rite Vicar General, Fr. Mark Rowe. He will be happy to answer your questions, and work through your pastoral concerns. You will find that the Orthodox Church is very pastoral and will work patiently with you as you work with your parishioners.

Fr. Mark Rowe can be reached by phone at (941)-914-2890, or by email at: fr.markrowe@gmail.com

I am also available to discuss our experiences both in entering the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and what parish life has been like for us in the years since becoming a part of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities.

As Western Rite Orthodox Christians we are Western in our cultural, liturgical and spiritual heritage and patrimony, but are fully Orthodox in Faith and Order. As St. Mark of Ephesus has said, “There can be no compromise in matters of the Orthodox Faith.”


Fr. Victor Novak is the rector of Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Ralston, Nebraska and a member of the Western Rite Advisory Board of the Western Rite Communities of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). He can be reached by phone at (402) 573-6558, and by email at: venovak@hughes.net.