Monday, February 19, 2007

In Memory Of The 50 Million Orthodox Christian Martyrs Of The 20th Century

Of all the Christian confessions, it has been the Eastern Orthodox Church which has suffered the brunt of persecutions in the 20th century.

In the first two decades, there were massacres of Orthodox Greeks, Slavs, and Armenians in the Ottoman empire, culminating in the 1915 genocide of the Armenians in Anatolia and the near destruction of the ancient Assyrian community in Iraq. In 1923, the entire Orthodox population of Asia Minor was forced to leave their homes, bringing to a close a 2000 year Christian presence.

During the Second World War, two groups of Orthodox Christians were especially targeted for genocide by the Nazis and their allies - the Gypsies and the Orthodox Serbs of Bosnia and Croatia, while the population of Greece, Serbia, European Russia, and Ukraine were designated by the Nazis to serve as slave labor for the Third Reich. By special order of Heinrich Himmler (21 April 1942), clergyman from the East (as opposed to their counterparts from Western Europe) were to be used for hard labor.

At the same time the Orthodox suffered in greater proportion to any other Christian group at the hands of the Communists, who sought to completely eliminate religion.

First in Russia and Ukraine, then in Eastern Europe, in Greece during its civil war (1945-49), and in Ethiopia, the Orthodox Church was the principle target for attach, subversion, or destruction.

Finally, the Orthodox of the Middle East have found themselves caught in the crossfire of the conflicts between Muslim and Jew in Israel and the West Bank, and the civil war between Maronites, Muslims, and Palestinians in Lebanon.

Between the tolls exacted from prisons, concentration camps, forced marches and exiles, warfare, famine, and brutal military occupation, it is reasonable to conclude that up to 50 million Orthodox Christians have perished in the first eight decades of the twentieth century.

Even in the United States, where so many Orthodox have found refuge, the Orthodox Native Americans of the Aleutian Islands were forcibly interned during World War II and many of their churches deliberately destroyed by the U.S. Army.

Unfortunately, the depth and range of the Orthodox suffering throughout the world in this century, remains largely unknown and unappreciated in the West.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Questions For An Inquiring Reformed Protestant Mind

1. What scriptures is Paul referring to in his epistle to Timothy (2Tim3:16),when he states that all scripture is by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness?

2. Is the church at Corinth still in existence today? What about the churches at Thessalonica, at Jerusalem, at Anitoch, in Ethiopia, in Egypt, in India. And if so, what do they look like today?

3. What about the missionary efforts of these churches established in the first century, are the churches they established still in existance today? The church in Spain, France, Britain, Russia,Iraq and so on? And if so, what do these churches look like?

4. If these churches are still in existence today, how do they worship, what is their liturgy like, what do they believe, what are the names they go by?

5. If the Old Testament were the scriptures Paul is referring to, and that they are profitable for doctrine, does that mean they contain the blueprints by which to structure our liturgy, our church buildings, our missions, our understanding of the trinity and so on?

6. If the New Testament as it is compiled today was not part of the scriptures Paul was referring to, how did they come about and why do we consider them sacred writings upon which we build our lives, our churches and society?

7. When Paul talks about traditions in 2 Thess.2:16, what traditions is he referring to? Is there a difference between the traditions of men and the traditions of the apostles? If so, what are they and do we still hold to traditions today, be they of the apostles or of men? 

8. Who was the first man to compile the 'table of contents' of the New Testament and at what time in history did it take place? How is it that these letters were the ones determined to make up the New Testament and who made the final decision about the 'table of contents' for the New Testament?

9. Before these letters were compiled, what did the church look like, how was their authority structure organized and how did they conduct their worship and did it change at all after the New Testament was compiled? 

10. Other than determining what books should make up the New Testament, what other decrees, rules or decisions were made by these church councils of the first millennium? When did they convene and for what other purposes? And how are we to know which decrees, rules and decisions to adhere to and which ones to reject? How important is church authority and who determines who is in authority?

Friday, February 16, 2007

"GREAT LENT - Journey To Pascha " Book Muse

This book penned by Alexander Schmemann, seeks to bring to our attention, the deep and beautiful meaning of Great Lent, confirming the ancient boundary stones set by our early first milleniuum church fathers as well revealing where the modern church has wandered outside of those ancient bounderies. 

"Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand", were the first words, Jesus began to preach. Great Lent is a time of preparation, for the kingdom of God, comes to earth, ushered in; first, by Christ decscending and secondly, by Christ, gloriously ascending into the heavenlies and in doing so, taking with Him those whom He has received as His own. 

Great Lent is a time for the bride to prepare to receive her groom, the Risen Christ. We prepare for Pascha by seeking to adorn ourselves in holiness which only comes by repentance, which is assisted through fasting. Just as Christ prepared to bring the message of salvation to us by fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, so now, we prepare to receive the risen Christ by fasting both ascetically and totally in a perfect balance that "opens us up", in joyful expectation of our Christ.

Monday, February 12, 2007

One Must Endure Many Tribulations To Enter The Kingdom Of Heaven

My journey from the Reformed Protestant world into the ancient world of Orthodoxy has been both an awesomely wonderous and tumultuously painful experience. Following is a response to my Protestant pastor's letter in which he expressed concern about issues surrounding my departure in March of 2006, from the Christ Church community, in Moscow, Idaho.

Dear Doug,

I am writing in response to your letter dated, January 29th, 2007.

I am not going to address the specifics of your letter but I will address it in general.

First of all, as you are well aware of, I have had varying degrees of association with Christ Church since 1976. As a new believer, your father was the first person I met upon moving to Moscow in 1976 and I also participated in first class of, "The Practical School of Christianity". You and I also served together as elders for ten years with the church plant which I initiated in Lewiston, Idaho, in 1981. Throughout these past thirty-one years, I have kept a good conscious before our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and I have always strove with all my heart, soul, mind and strength to love the Lord God and serve Him faithfully. I can also say with all confidence, that I have sought for my entire married life to love my wife and my family as Jesus Christ loves His church. Additionally, I have always pursued peace with my family, my neighbors, my fellow members of Christ Church, as well as the leadership of Christ Church.

During the course of my journey through life many questions have remained unanswered, numerous dilemmas have left me perplexed and multiple mysteries have remained just that, mysteries. I came into the Protestant faith as a very broken man and for many years, I was sustained by the hope of God's word, the joy of living by the promises of God's word as well as experiencing the peace that came with keeping God's word. But as the years expired, my hope, my joy and my peace were challenged by what seemed to be inconsistencies and contradictions in what I read and what I saw lived out around me within the Protestant community. My initial and ongoing attraction to Christ Church was its commitment to unswervingly and with a single mind, fleshing out the word of God in every area of life, no matter what the costs. I believe this to be one of the reasons why Christ Church has grown and been so popular over the years.

It was probably around six years ago that I began to inwardly part ways with the teachings of Christ Church in a significant way. I don't think it is necessary in this letter to go into the details of what catalyzed the initial 'drawing away' but nevertheless, that is when I began to realize that I could not in good conscience embrace many practices and teachings of Christ Church. Of course, that left me in quite a dilemma, in that, the entirety of my life was intertwined with the Christ Church community. Thus, to pull away from Christ Church would have ripped at and damaged the very fabric of which made up the whole garment and I didn't want to injure others by pulling away.

So, for many years, in my mind, I was resolved to stay at Christ Church, so long as God kept me there, believing with all my heart, that in relation to the whole body, I was just a toe, and the toe could not say to the rest of the body, I am done with you and walk away. I saw myself as intimately connected to the Christ Church community and the only way for me to be separated from this community would be by an act of God working through Christ His Son, whom I believed to be the head and mind of the body, His church.

With that frame of mind, I continued to fellowship within the Christ Church community and in order to be at peace with my dear brethren, I endeavored to avoid controversy at all costs. But over the course of time, I found myself in unavoidable situations within the Christ Church community, which exposed principles and beliefs, which in good conscience before my God, I could not compromise on. It eventually came to the point where the differences were such that they began to significantly strain relationships not only within Christ Church but also with my own dear wife of thirty years. Again, without going into details, the stresses and strains brought upon my wife because of my ever growing differences with Christ Church practices and principles began to take their toll on our marriage.

All of these problems were further compounded by the lack of someone to talk to who could help me cope and deal appropriately with the dilemma I found myself in. That is until, January of 2006. It was at this time, that I met Dr. Matthew Steenburg, a Professor of Ancient Christianity at Oxford University in England, who comes to Moscow every Christmas to spend time with his parents who live here. While enjoying the benefits of the Bucers Pipe and Cigar Room, we talked about a subject, I had never in my life studied or even considered worth reading about; Ancient Christianity. In the course of our conversation, or put more appropriately, Dr. Steenburg's lucid explanation of Orthodoxy, questions that had lingered for years were being answered, mysteries that had been shrouded for as long as I can remember were being uncovered and dilemmas were being dissolved. That evening in Bucers was an epic moment in my life.

We spent the next two weeks in long discussions as he provided me with book after book to learn more about this fascinating topic of Orthodoxy. I then began alternating between attendance at Christ Church and St. John The Baptist Orthodox Church in Post Falls. Within a few months, I became a Catachumen of the Orthodox Church and began attending full time. Sadly, along with the joy of coming into Orthodoxy, I began to experience the grief of separating from the Christ Church community of which my family was an intimate part. During the course of making a transition into Orthodoxy from the Christ Church community, there were many misunderstandings, miscommunications and unresolvable differences that erupted in which attempts were made to bring resolution between Doug, my wife and me along with my new Orthodox pastor, Father Gregory.

The rest is history and this past year has been one of both learning a new way of life and dealing with the fallout from the dismantling of an old way of life. Unfortunately, the process has not been without pitfalls, tragedies and sorrows. Given the circumstances, I know of no other way this process could have evolved but I can say with confidence it isn't over yet and I continue to hold out hope that our family situation will be resolved in a peaceable and edifying manner.

I can also assure you that I will full fill my obligations and responsibilities as given to me by Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, and by the power of His might working in me, that I will love my wife and my children with the redeeming and healing love of my Lord and God, Jesus Christ.

Having given you, this statement, it is my earnest hope that you may forever enjoy the peace of God, the love of Jesus Christ and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Written the 11th day of February, 2007 by Gary Greenfield

Sunday, February 11, 2007


In the medieval Russia, all newly-painted icons were coated with a layer of a special drying oil to protect the painting against mechanical damage and impart greater intensity to the colors. Unfortunately, with time oil darkened, thereby darkening the initial colors of icons and eventually turning absolutely black. For this reason, the icon had to be renewed, and the Trinity was painted over with fresh paints within its faintly discernible contours. This procedure was repeated several times. Towards the turn of the twentieth century there remained nothing of Rublev's masterpiece apart from the rapturous recollections of antiquity. The first attempt to remove later accretions from the fifteenth-century icon was made in 1905. At the end of 1918 restoration work was continued, the surround was removed and it is only since then that the icon's appearance has become close to the original. We say "close to" because in these long five centuries the icon's painting turned out to be damaged: the gold background was lost, the tree was painted anew within the old contours, the top layers of paint were washed off, even the ground was occasionally disturbed and cracks appeared, the outlines of the Angels' heads were partly altered. All this notwithstanding, even in its present state the Trinity remains one of the best extant Russian icons.

The subject of the icon is based on the Biblical story about the visit by three Angels to the Prophet Abraham and his wife Sarah. According to the theological interpretations whose authors associated the Old Testament events with events of the New Testament, these Angels were the three Persons of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. Though revealing direct iconographic affinity with this kind of representations, the Trinity as painted by Rublev, has its own features which carry a new quality and a new content. In Rublev's icon we observe for the first time all the three Angels shown equal. This icon alone conformed to the strict rules of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Meantime, some historians of art believe that Rublev expressed in the icon the need for and benefit of love, of a union based on the trust of one individual in another. Whereas Rublev's Trinity is void of any noticeable energy of earthly life, of corporeality of forms and external manifestations of love, equally absent from it is that cold soaring of the spirit, so remote from humans. The image determines the subtle struck balance between soul and spirit, the corporeal and the imponderable, endless and immortal sojourn in the heavens. When speaking of Rublev's work, different authors describe the Trinity's Angels as quiet, gentle, anxious, sorrowful, and the mood permeating the icon as detached, meditative, contemplative, intimate.

Depicting the Trinity as an indivisible essence without beginning and without end, infinite and eternal, Rublev chose repetitive light and airy movement as the leitmotif of the composition. The Angels' attitudes and meaningful gestures, their inclinations are amazing in their dissimilarity while being almost identical, so that the icon leaves the clear impression of a seemingly many-voice talk.

It is not fortuitous that we perceive Andrei Rublev's Trinity as the highest achievement of Russian art. Crowning a long artistic career of a single master, it is also an embodiment of the creative thought of several generations. Just as any other medieval artist, Rublev highly valued tradition and collective effort. All the best features of early fifteenth-century Russian culture merged in the Trinity: a form of philosophical generalization, outwordly abstract, but with an amazingly concrete content, a capacity to express through iconographic images the national character, and artistic skills attaining to the pinnacles of world art.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

From the Philokalia (Icon of Archangel Michael Trampling Satan)

Oppose the devil and try to discern his wiles. He usually hides his gall under an appearance of sweetness, so as to avoid detection, and he fabricates various illusions, beautiful to look at – which in reality are not at all what they seem – to seduce your hearts by a cunning imitation of truth, which is rightly attractive. All his art is directed to this end – to oppose by all possible means every soul working well for God. Many and varied are the passions he introduces into the soul to quench the Divine fire, in which all strength lies; but above all he overcomes it by the inertia of the body and all this is connected with it. None the less, when he sees at last that some men guard themselves from all this and accept nothing from him and show no promise of ever obeying him – he withdraws from them with shame. Then the Spirit of God comes to dwell in them. And when the Spirit of God comes to dwell in them, He brings them rest, or lets them enjoy rest in all their activities, and makes the yoke of the Lord sweet for them, as it is written in the Gospels "and ye shall find rest unto your soul" (Matthew 9:29), although they have taken His yoke upon themselves and are bearing it. Then they become indefatigable, both in the practice of virtue and in carrying out obediences and night vigils. They feel no anger at human calumny and have no fear, whether of man, beast or spirit; for the joy of the Lord stays with them day and night, gives life to their reason and is their food. Through this joy the soul grows and becomes apt for all things or perfect; and through this joy it ascends to heaven. St Anthony the Great, "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, (London: Faber and Faber, 1954), pp. 46-51