Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Language of Ecumenism

"Once the Communists came to power, they skillfully used the means of seduction toward the Church. The language of love and the language of seduction are the same. The one who wishes a girl for a wife and the one who wishes her for only a night both say the words, 'I love you'. Jesus has told us to discern between the language of seduction and the language of love, and to know the wolves clad in sheepskin from the real sheep. Unfortunately, when the Communists came to power, thousands of priests, pastors, and ministers did not know how to discern between the two voices."

- Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ, p. 15


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Eastern Orthodox Conception of Heaven and Hell

Before I was a Christian I read this article while exploring Orthodoxy, and as of practically everything in Orthodoxy, it made a lot of sense compared to what I grew up hearing.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Some links on the Theotokos

While I have full intentions of finishing my paper on the Theotokos, I realize that I'm not even close to being qualified to talk about such a subject, especially in the depth that is required. As such, I'm posting some links to some lectures/articles dealing with Mary from an Orthodox perspective. Note that I haven't fully read or listened to all of these, so I cannot guarantee the content of all of them. Seraphim's (Kabane52) post is something that I've read though, and Fr. Thomas Hopko is probably one of the best theologians that American Orthodoxy has produced. Also note that some of them use some polemical language.

Who is the Theotokos by Fr. Thomas Hopko

Mary According to the Bible by Seraphim

The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God by Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco

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A Response to Sarah's Article

This note is a response to the article Sarah posted called: Biblical Issues Regarding Fornication (Singles Sexuality). In the article, the author contests from a few linguistic studies and un-cited (and usually wrong) historical information that the teaching that most Christians have is not supported by the bible but is just the interpretation of the Church (her seeming to mean the Roman Catholic church). I know the main point of this is to respond to the sexuality issue, but I want to clarify something about the Church before we begin that always bothers me when people get it wrong.

The author begins by saying “True Biblical theology begins not with Church tradition and dogma but with the biblical texts themselves”, something that just strikes me as inane. In the early Church there was no established New Testament, and there wouldn't be for about another 300 years. It was the Tradition and theology of the Church that was used to determine what would be canonical and what would not. This obviously is an entirely different conversation, but it always irks me when people are quick to dismiss the Church (not suggesting that you guys are, but the author of this article seems to) when they don't understand the full history (this author might, but some of the strawmen shown here inclines me to think otherwise). It just amazes me that the author wants to find the context in which the early Church was writing, but doesn't mention Polycarp, Ignatius or Clement.

Linguistic Arguments

Anyway, let's begin with the few linguistic arguments that the author brings up. The first passage at hands is I Corinthians 6:9.

"Do you not know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites"

The author points out that the word for 'fornicators' is porneia. The first problem is minor: the word is actually pornoi (πόρνοι ) (1) which is the “Nominative Plural Masculine” form of pornos (πόρνος ) which roughly means “a male prostitute” (2). The word pornoi also occurs in Revelation 22:15 (3):

“But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie”.

Here the words 'sexually immoral' is translated from pornoi. Here's my point with all this: even if I grant the use of pornoi in I Corinthians 6:9 as referring to the sexual idolatry regarding the temple of Athena found in Corinth, why does the word all of a sudden always carry that very connotation when used in all passages? Surely St. John wasn't referring to only temple prostitution in Revelation 22:15 as there is nothing at a quick glance that would lead me to believe so. In fact all the different tenses of pornos seems to refer to a general sexual immorality, both in St. Paul's letters and in Revelation (4, 5, 6). So when the author refers to I Corinthians 7:8-9 and says that St. Paul is only talking about fornication with temple prostitutes, their exegesis seems to be incredibly off. Also, in I Corinthians 6:9 St. Paul mentions idolaters as those who are not allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven. If the real sin of sleeping with the temple prostitutes was idolatry and not sex, then why even mention the fact that the sin was sexual, why bother to single it out? I guess the author could say that it was because it was also prostitution as well as idolatry, and that it wasn't the fact that the person had sex outside of marriage, but because they paid for the sex and did it with idolatrous connotations rather than connotations of love. Because, even though St. Paul condemns prostitution, the author only takes it to mean sex without love. It seems to be too far-fetched for me, given the wide use of the Greek words to begin with.

The author uses Galatians 5:19-23 to try and show how porneia (πορνεία ) only means prostitution. Porneia does have relation to a “selling off” (7) of some kind, but also has wider connotations (8). But even if it was restricted in this case to prostitution, this doesn't mean that all of a sudden sex outside of marriage is alright.

A few more comments before I move on. Firstly, the author at one point puts Jesus against the law of the OT, telling us that “It seems that if we apply Jesus' teaching of love over legalism, responsible Christian sexuality is much more an example of Christ's loving desire for us than the traditional biblical values of many wives, concubines as breeders, and capturing women in battle for soldiers' sexual pleasure!” The irony, of course, is that it is the Word of God who speaks in the Old Testament, and that Christ came to fulfill the law and not to destroy it.

The point of Biblical Marriage

The fundamental problem with the author's article though lies in their incorrect view on marriage in the New Testament. Real quickly we see this misunderstanding as the author says “Marriage is certainly not needed today since birth control is available and many feel they can be more effective without the legal burden of marriage. Marriage had to do with ownership not love. I can't imagine anyone getting married who hasn't first lived together many years!”. The idea that NT marriage had to do with ownership and not love is incorrect, and blatantly so. One only needs to read St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, which is recited at every first Eastern Orthodox marriage:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become on flesh”. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Notice, firstly, that the relationship here is monogamous. There's no indication that the polygamy in the OT carried over into the NT, and as far as I can tell from the writing of the Apostolic Fathers thus far, there's been no indication of polygamy. Secondly, love. Love is the binding force in marriage, a love that resembles Christ and His Church; both the OT and the NT used marriage language to indicate God's relationship with His chosen people, the Old and the New Israel. For the author to say that “Marriage is certainly not needed today” not only undermines the sacrament of marriage, but undermines the entire relationship between God and His Church.

Understanding that a husband and his wife become “one flesh”, something that has been established ever since Adam and Eve, it seems – regardless of the multiple connotations of pornoi – that premarital can't be holy. All actions Christians are supposed to do are meant to Glorify God and bring us closer to Christ. Sex itself is a representation of Christ taking His Bride, the Church. As such, how can one merge with a flesh outside of marriage, and still glorify Christ? How can one take a false Church, become one flesh with it, and truly say that they represented Christ taking His Bride? This is related to why St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”

As Fr. Alexander Schmemann points out in “For The Life Of The World” (which I suggest everyone to read, regardless if they are Orthodox or not) that marriage is “not to be blessed and 'solemnized' – after a rehersal and with the help of the photographer – but restored. This restoration, furthermore, is in Christ...” (82). To somehow merge into one flesh outside of marriage and think that it is totally acceptable is against everything that St. Paul teaches us in his epistle, based on marriage alone. This obviously is not going to be the best reply, but I think it is sufficient enough for now.

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9 - “For The Life Of The World” by Alexander Schmemann, page 82. Copyright 1963
10 - All biblical quotes from The Orthodox Study bible: New Testament and Psalms. NKJV


A Defense of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary Part I

I want to note that before you begin reading that this is the first of probably many notes I'll be writing on this subject. A particularly good blogpost can be found in the references by Seraphim who I am thankful for personally messaging me some information when I asked him. I'm purposely trying to avoid polemics and harsh language as you are all my friends and are Christians.

God Bless you all,

- Nick

A Defense of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary Part I

As the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord approaches, a topic that had never really given me concern before began to arise in some of my conversations: the ever-virginity of Mary. Now, I know that those of my friends tagged in this note that, for a lack of a better word, are Protestant, probably don't see this as an issue one way or another. However, I'm writing this to explain why the Orthodox Church believes that Mary indeed was an ever-virgin and why that matters. This short defense will primarily be referencing Scripture as I know using the Holy Tradition would bring in a plethora of other questions. Also, being short, this is by no means a full defense of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary and will only cover basic ideas.

Matthew 1:25

The Theotokos (Greek for 'god bearer') has been a controversial figure ever since the Protestant reformation as Roman Catholics were accused of worshiping Mary. Though early reformers such as John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary (1), the dogma eventually came to be questioned and rejected by many other Protestants. The first key verse that is usually brought up to support this claim is in Matthew 1:25:

“and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”

The first word in question is “till”, as it seems to imply that after Christ was born Mary would go on to have sexual relations with Joseph (1). However, this is merely an issue of translation; the word “till” in Koine Greek is ἕως ὅς, the transliteration being heós hos (2). The word heós in Greek means “till, until” and functions as a primary particle (3). The word hos is a primary pronoun that makes a reference as to what the primary particle is affecting (4). The word heós is used multiple times throughout the New Testament, and while meaning until, it implies that the action will go beyond the stated event (5). For instance, in Matthew 28:20, our Lord says:

“and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”

Note that where it says “even” it is again heós (6). Yet, we don't believe that at the end of the age Christ will not be with us, for He is with us unto ages of ages, for all eternity as He reigns in the Kingdom of Heaven (7). The same word is also used in the Greek Septuagint (Genesis 8:7; Deuteronomy 34:6; II Kings 6:23) and has the same meaning, that the event at hand will continue on afterward (8). Hence the linguistic argument of the word “till” in Matthew 1:25 cannot be used to show that Mary had sexual relations after her marriage. In fact, if we follow the logic of the word heós as seen in the other passages, this seems to be evidence for the ever-virginity of Mary.

The second word in question is “firstborn”, which in Greek is πρωτότοκος, prototokos (9, 10). The word again has a very different connotation in Greek than it does in English; whenever we use the word firstborn in English, we usually imply that more children came after (11). However, in Greek the word does not necessarily carry the same implication (11). Prototokos was often used in the Greek Septuagint in order to show the authority of a figure (12). In Psalm 89:27, the passage reads:

“'Also I will make him My firstborn'”

This passage would make little sense in the way prototokos is used referring simply to birth order. Instead it was used to assert the power of the coming Messiah (13). Thus I've hopefully shown that the linguistic argument in Matthew 1:25 doesn't work due to translations.

The Holy Innocents

One argument that I have heard comes, again, in the book of St. Matthew. When Herod learns of the betrayal of the three wise men, he orders for the death of all male children the age of 2 or under in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-16). The argument given is that if Joseph's children were from a previous marriage, why is the Scripture silent of them on their trip to Egypt? The answer is simple enough; assuming that Christ's brothers and sisters are indeed older than him, then they were probably old enough so that Herod's orders wouldn't affect them. Hence one can assume that the children weren't taken since they could remain at a relatives, giving Mary and Joseph more maneuverability while going to Egypt (having that many kids with you is only going to slow you down that much more).

The Brothers and Sisters of Christ

Another common argument given against the perpetual virginity of Mary is the mentioning of the Lord's brothers and sisters in verses such as Matthew 12:46 and Mark 6:3 (14):

“While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him”
“'Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?'”

The problem here is obvious: if Jesus Christ had brothers, then how could Mary be an ever-virgin (15)? However, the bible uses the word brother in far more ways than a only literal blood-brother (15). For instance, Genesis 12:5 says:

“So Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother's son and all their possessions and every soul they acquired in Haran, and they departed for the land of Canaan. Thus they came to the land of Canaan.”

The word translated for “his brother's” is the word אָח, whose (16) transliteration is “ach” (17). Now in Genesis 13:8 (18) we read:

“So Abram said to Lot, 'Let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are bretheren.”

The word for “are bretheren” is again ach (19). Hence we see that the Hebrew word in the OT used for brother can have multiple meanings and is not only subjected to a literal brother (20). This is again seen in Genesis 29:12 and 1 Chronicles 23:22 (21). Now, the Greek Septuagint translates this word as ἀδελφός , adelphos (22), which means brother in either a literal or figurative fashion (23). This same word is used in Matthew 12:46 for the word “brothers” (24) and Mark 6:3 for the word “brother” (25). However, as I explained, this word has more than just the literal meaning for brother, so it could very well mean step-brother (the position of the Orthodox Church) (26).We even see a similar use of language in the gospel of St. Luke when St. Joseph is referred to as Jesus' father in Luke 2:48:

“So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”

Obviously St. Joseph is not the actual father of Jesus, for He is the only-begotten Son of the Father, the head of the Holy Trinity (27).

This brings me into my next point: let's grant for the sake of the argument that brothers and sisters of Christ were indeed born by the Virgin Mary. The biggest problem comes in the end of St. John the Theologian's gospel (28). John 19:26-27 says:

“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing by, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!'”

The customs of the time required that the eldest son take care of his mother if the husband died (9). Yet here Jesus is delegating the task to St. John, something that would be against the law if he shared the same mother with His brothers and sisters (30). However, this behavior makes complete sense if He was the only Son of Mary as it would be His duty to find a caretaker for His mother before His death (31). Seeing as Christ cannot break the law because he came “to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), it makes more sense to have the reading that Christ's brothers and sisters were of Joseph's previous marriage.

Ending Thoughts

Such a discussion is by no means complete, though I hope I've shared a few things here. I'll probably be updating this paper over time: particularly I'd like to give more examples of prototokos. I'd like to go over typology as well as words within prophecies to further back up the ever-virginity of the Theotokos, but as of the current moment I think I'll wait until after Christmas. I also want to eventually touch on the theology of the matter, why her virginity is so important -- but that is something that I myself still need to research.

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8 - The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today's World
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21 – ibid
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29 – ibid
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I guess just a few words about this blog. 1) I'm going to try and not use it for my personal musings, as it'll inevitably lead me to pride. 2) This blog will deal mostly with religious reflections, specifically Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I'll be posting, I believe, a great deal here instead of spamming my facebook with notes. The reference of facebook also means this will be generally a private blog as I'm not even going to claim that I know enough to be a learned talker on such matters. If you want that, go to Energetic Processions or Pious Fabrications.