Monday, October 30, 2017

Luther and the Reformation: Musings of an Orthodox Christian

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, there is no shortage of articles outlining praises and critiques of this great event. There is no doubt that the Reformation marks a pivotal time in history, especially in western Church history. It is the subject of much study, and rightfully so. This overarching event led to many other reformations which have come to shape Christianity in a different light today. 

I have heard it argued that the Orthodox can affirm much of what Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle in his 95 Theses. While I can sympathize with this line of argumentation, having been formerly Reformed myself, I would have to vehemently disagree with it. In any case, I do believe that Luther was initially noble in his intentions. He sparked his protest against abuse that he witnessed first-hand, which pertained almost exclusively to the doctrine of indulgences, and subsequently, Purgatory.

In fact, Luther’s entire Theses can likely be summed up into three key points:
  1. The abuse of indulgences, especially with respect to the poor.
  2. A false and inadequate salvific security or assurance.
  3. An over-reaching of papal power, namely in terms of Purgatory and his perceived power of it through the sale of indulgences.
And with the nailing of the 95 Theses, Luther effectively called for a return to orthodoxy—at least in a limited sense. It is perceived that Luther’s appeal for Sola Scriptura was just that: an appeal to the exclusive use of Scripture and nothing else. But this doesn’t appear to be the case, at least at first. While eventually going on to become a champion for Sola Scriptura, Luther’s initial rallying cry was for the Roman church to get back to interpreting the Scriptures, not merely using the Scriptures as an exclusive means to the whole of Christianity. Because of the widespread perversions of Rome, Luther called on the magistrate to once again interpret, abide by, and solidify the testimony of the Scriptures.

Even looking back at his earlier writings, it is extremely difficult to disagree with many of his statements. For instance, Luther argued:

“Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security. Christians should be taught that he who gives to the poor is better than he who receives a pardon. He who spends money on indulgences instead of relieving want receives not the indulgence of the pope but the indignation of God.”

Surely, at least some form of reformation was needed.

The idea of a formal Reformation was still far from Luther’s thought though. He was seeking a restoration of truth within Rome and not outside of it. This restoration would not immediately ignite, and Rome would go on to excommunicate Luther. It can be argued that the excommunication exacerbated the situation because there was no canonical basis for such an extreme determination. Even further, it can certainly be argued that his excommunication was a sort of rallying cry for soon-to-be protestants to rally behind his cause. Nevertheless, it is evident in Luther’s famous words what he was advocating for initially.

Luther said:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures, or by evident reason (for I put my faith neither in popes nor councils alone, since it is established that they have erred again and again and contradicted one another), I am bound by the scriptural evidence adduced by me, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, I will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience. God help me. Amen.”
  1. Scriptural authority. By his testimony, Luther’s admission asserts that he must be convinced by “the testimony of the Scriptures” or by “evident reason,” indicating that the Scriptures and/or reason must reinforce or stand as a foundation to the doctrines of the Church. (This didn’t appear to assume a “Scripture Alone” mindset, considering Luther continued to believe in infant baptism among other, at best implicit, doctrines).  
  2. Holy Tradition based on orthodoxy. He mentions that he doesn’t put his faith in “popes or councils alone,” and then goes on to subsequently mention that the reason for this is because they err or are in contradiction (likely speaking of his own experience). Alone is the key word here. It appears as if Luther still affirms some sort of Holy Tradition at this point, as he doesn’t discount the popes and councils in his statement. His hesitation to put his faith in popes and councils was reasonable considering the circumstances of his time.
  3. Commitment to truth. He is bound by “scriptural evidence” and is captive to the “Word of God.” He will not cannot recant. Luther was declaring his commitment to truth in light of a papacy that was distorting said truth.
Even in his 1518 discourse with Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg, prior to his excommunication, when Cajetan argued that the Bishop of Rome was the final interpreter of Scripture, Luther responded in stating, “His Holiness abuses Scripture. I deny that he is above Scripture.” Notice here that the denial is in light of the abuse of Scripture. And notice even further that he still references the Pope formally. The protest that Luther puts up until this point is very reasonable.

Luther’s cause was initially noble. He sought to call Rome back to rightly interpreting the Holy Scriptures, and to restoring the integrity of the Roman church. With his excommunication and the likely despair of seeing those around him murdered and his displacement among the church that ensued, Martin Luther’s views began to radically change. Looking back at all of the events that transpired, Luther wrote:

“I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”

And thus marked the evolution from that which he formerly believed to the basis of all of his subsequent beliefs. Scripture captivated him (rightfully so), but in a manner that was alien to the Church and alien to his initial rallying cry. The call for the Roman Church to interpret the Scriptures in orthodox fashion evolved into a call for Scripture Alone in unprecedented fashion. This is the pivotal point in Reformation history where reformation and restoration developed into abolition and re-creation.

Rome responded to Luther and the Reformers in many different ways—most times irrationally. Eventually (and extremely late) Rome would go on to honor the call to Reformation. While most Christians might not initially see it, Rome did indeed succumb to the call for reform. This reformation didn’t come in the form of schismatics or in the form of the creation of dozens of Protestant movements. No. It came in the form of Rome’s 19th general council: the Council of Trent. While the Counter-Reformation is hailed as the “Catholic Reformation/Revival,” I believe it to be more accurate that Trent itself was the formal Reformation of the Roman Church. Doctrines were expounded on and solidified—everything from the Biblical Canon, to the Eucharist, to Original Sin, and to Salvation, among many other things—and Rome experienced a massive influx of converts and a period [counter-Reformation] of restoration and glory throughout western Europe.

Luther indeed invoked a Reformation in Rome, but it came much too late. Had Rome responded more appropriately, I wonder what the state of the western church would be today. By the time of Trent, various sects had splintered from Rome into their own traditions and churches, leading to formal confessions and catechisms being formed and issued by localized traditions. And as time progressed, more splintering occurred—sometimes over disagreements on essential doctrines, and more recently, over disagreements over trivial opinions and customs. On one hand, the Reformers had gone away from the perversions they set out to protest, but on the other hand, they had also separated themselves from apostolicity by unprecedently establishing their own traditions by the masses.

Today, we can look back at the Reformation as a guide of caution for all churches, and especially for the Holy Orthodox Church. Abuse can corrupt those within the Church, but never the Church Itself, as She is a Divine Institution. Even 500 years later, we are still learning to be diligent to stay the course and persevere in orthodox doctrine and praxy, and the Reformation should stand as a reminder to all Orthodox Christians to maintain the Faith and Traditions handed down to us by Christ, His Apostles, the Church, Her Fathers, and all of those martyred over the ages to preserve the immutable Truth of God.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Robe of Glory

Antiochian Orthodox priest Fr. Philip LeMasters recently published an article titled How to Wear a Wedding Garment Everyday (Fr. Philip also blogs on Ancient Faith and is on the board of trustees for St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary). This article alludes to a very rich and ancient tradition which has its origins in Antioch, Syria, & Mesopotamia, especially within the Syriac-speaking regions. This post will be a sort of review of the article, going into more detail and building on some of the original tradition from which it comes.

Fr. Philip's article begins by talking about appropriate dress for appropriate occasions, places, etc., tying that in with Middle Eastern culture in the 1st Century, especially for wedding feasts, being that of "the Son of the King" drawing on the marriage feast from Matthew 22:1-14:

"And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests."

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Orthodox Study Bible's commentary on this passage says:

"The wedding garment would have been provided by the king, and therefore the man had no excuse for not wearing one; thus he is speechless. His refusal to wear the garment that was provided is an illustration of those who refuse God's hospitality, or who want His Kingdom on their own terms. Specifically, the garment refers to the baptismal garment, and by extension, a life of faith, repentance, virtue, and charity. Without these, a person will ultimately be cast into outer darkness."

Building on the same concept quoted from the commentary, the article continues into explaining the same themes found in very early Syriac tradition, such as the anonymous Odes of Solomon & Hymn on the Pearl, and continuing into some examples from the poems and literature of St. Ephrem the Syrian and the general Syriac tradition altogether.

The foremost academic in the Syriac field today, Dr. Sebastian Brock, focuses very heavily on this topic in his book, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian. In his writing, he describes how clothing imagery finds its origins in Semitic tradition--especially Jewish tradition--which is why it is unique to this part of the world and especially among the Aramaic-speaking communities.

Syriac Christianity inherited a Jewish, Rabbinical tradition regarding something called the “Robe of Glory.” The term is derived from Genesis 3:21, which in modern Bibles refers to garments of animal skin that God made for Adam and Eve after the Fall. However, in early Aramaic rabbinical traditions, it reads garments of light (or glory) and was interpreted to be prior to the Fall: “the Lord God had made for Adam and his wife garments of glory.”

Ephrem and other Syriac writers inherited this oral Jewish tradition from the earlier Aramaic-speaking Jewish communities from which they also received their Old Testament. As mentioned by Fr. Philip, in the Antiochian Orthodox Baptismal Rite, the priest declares, "The servant of God, N., is clothed with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." and the choir sings "Vouchsafe unto me a robe of light, O Thou who clothest Thyself with light as with a garment: Christ our God, plenteous in mercy."

The Odes of Solomon reads:

"I took off darkness and clothed myself in Light." (Ode 21)

The Robe of Glory is a key theme throughout the whole Hymn on the Pearl and the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite, as well as that of the Church of the East.

From the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite:

"And may Thy Living and Holy Spirit come, O Lord, and dwell in this water, and kindle it with Thy mighty power, and may He sanctify it and make it like the water which flowed from the side of Thy Only-Begotten One on the Cross; that those who are baptized in it may be refined and made white, and be purified and put on the clothing of righteousness, and clothe themselves with the garment of light and the heavenly robe, so that, being pure and holy, and clothed with the armor of salvation, they may be raised up by it, and offer up praise to thy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages, Amen. Amen." (Anonymous Syriac Baptismal Ordo, Sebastian Brock, 329-330.)

The Syriac version of Psalm 8:6 also reads, “You created man a little less than the angels: in honor and glory did you clothe him.”

Therefore, when Adam sinned, he lost, or was stripped of this Robe of Glory, hence the sudden realization of his nakedness; this feeling is caused by sin. In order to redeem Adam by re-clothing him with the Robe of Glory and restore him to Paradise, God descends and puts on “Adam,” or “puts on the body” from the Blessed Virgin Mary (a parallel of the body Adam received from the virgin earth) and laid the Robe of Glory in the river Jordan when He was baptized by John the Baptist, making it available once again for mankind to put on at baptism, as also emphasized in the Syriac Orthodox Baptismal Rite, calling the water a womb from which we are born again.

St. Ephrem writes:

"The brightness which Moses put on (Exodus 34:29)
was wrapped on him from without,
whereas the river in which Christ was baptized
put on Light from within,
and so did Mary’s body, in which He resided,
gleam from within." (Hymn on the Church 36:6)

Regarding Christ, St. Jacob of Serug goes on to write that He “came to Baptism, went down and placed in the baptismal water the Robe of Glory, to be there for Adam, who had lost it.”

In the Scriptures, St. Paul refers to "putting on Christ" at baptism in Galatians 3:27 and Romans 13:14.  The understanding of these Scriptures is that by putting on Christ, we are putting on the Robe of Glory and re-entering Paradise, the Church, being able to eat from the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the Holy Eucharist, and, at the Resurrection, we will enter Paradise, clothed in our Robes of Glory, returning to the story in Matthew 22:1-14.

Fr. Philip remarks that, "In every Divine Liturgy, we enter mystically into that heavenly celebration, that eternal wedding banquet that is the salvation of the world."  The priest in the Antiochian Baptismal Rite declares, "He who hath put on thee, O Christ our God, boweth also his head with us, unto thee," in addition to quoting Galatians 3:27 several times during the rite.

Fr. Philip goes on to write, "The Second Adam has come to restore the entire creation" drawing on on St. Ephrem's view of God becoming man having reversed the Fall.

St. Ephrem writes:

"Christ came to find Adam who had gone astray,
to return him to Eden in the garment of light." (Hymn on Virginity 16:9)

"All these changes did the Merciful One make,
stripping off glory and putting on a body;
for He had devised a way to reclothe Adam
in that glory which he had stripped off.
He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,
corresponding to Adam’s leaves,
He put on clothes in place of Adam’s skins;
He was baptized for Adam’s sin,
He was embalmed for Adam’s death,
He rose and raised Adam up in His glory.
Blessed is He who descended,
put Adam on and ascended." (Hymn on the Nativity 23:13)

After the Fall, Adam’s glory was replaced by fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Drawing on this and fig tree imagery from the Gospels (including Jesus seeing Nathanael under the fig tree, John 1:48), Jesus curses the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22) and brings Nathanael and us all out from under the fig tree and restores our Robe of Glory:

"When Adam sinned and was stripped of the glory in which he had been clothed, he covered his nakedness with fig leaves. Our Savior came and underwent suffering in order to heal Adam’s wounds and provide a garment of glory for his nakedness. He dried up the fig tree, in order to show that there would no longer be any need of fig leaves to serve as Adam’s garment, since Adam had returned to his former glory, and so no longer had any need of leaves or garments of skin." (St. Ephrem, Commentary on the Diatessaron 16:10)

Again he writes:

"Instead of with leaves from trees
He clothed them with glory in the water." (Hymns on the Epiphany 12:4)

"Among the saints their nakedness is clothed with glory,
none is clothed with leaves or stands ashamed,
for they have found, through our Lord,
the robe that belongs to Adam and Eve." (Hymns on Paradise 6:9)

Despite those of us interested in these kinds of parallelisms in early Christian tradition, what is more important is the application of this to our lives. Fr. Philip gives us key takeaways saying, "The question for each of us, then, is whether we are living in a way that is appropriate to our exalted identity as participants in this great banquet.  Do we act, think, speak, and believe in ways that fit with the beautiful garments Christ has given us?  Of course, He Himself is our garment for we have put Him on in baptism...We must not go around half naked spiritually or pretend that holiness concerns only one day of the week."

We must not live as if we have not been baptized and have not put on the Robe of Glory. In the washing of the feet, Our Lord said, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:10). Our Lord was referring to repentance, but still, there are those who even though they have put on Christ at baptism, live as if they haven't, and therefore will not inherit Paradise, as their fall will be worse than the first. The one who was cast out of the wedding feast in the Gospel had a wedding garment given to him before the wedding, yet didn't wear it to the wedding. 

Let us all keep the glory, light, grace, righteousness, Christ Himself, we have put on so that we can be with Him at the wedding and enter into His wedding chamber.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Dictatus Papae: The Power of Doublespeak

In the arena of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, many articles, epistles, and decrees have been largely circulated between both the Orthodox and Catholic faithful, especially over the last century. When evaluating claims pertaining to each side of the debate, one thing has become quite clear: relations between the two traditions have certainly improved in recent history.

In fact, a sort of ecumenism has begun to advance among both apostolic communities. For some, this is a good thing. For others, not so. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy doesn’t maintain a neatly systematized set of dogmatics, and so ecumenism, with Orthodoxy, is largely based on how Roman Catholicism presents itself to the Orthodox, since the RCC can always defer back to a set of canonized doctrine over the last two millennia. In many cases, the doctrinal definitions provided by Rome maintain mutability and are often presented in different ways by different individuals throughout different eras.

I am often challenged by my Catholic friends to find where in history I can canonically defend my theology or the theology of the Orthodox Church. The challenge is rarely reciprocated, however, as Rome has a sort of monopoly over canonically defined theological terms and doctrines, and this is generally understood. The Roman Catholic Church and its canons is the of the Apostolic world. But, as many of us know, that is not necessarily a good thing.

In dialogues between the Orthodox and Rome, Rome has the advantage of doublespeak. If an agenda is clear (communion), the mode in which it is achieved must be mutual. If a roadblock to accord exists (papism), a strategic tool is relativity. And so far, this strategic tool has worked, as relationships are advancing. The Orthodox claim one thing about the papacy, for instance, and Rome counters with a charge of Orthodox “misunderstanding.” The Orthodox ask for clarification and Roman scholars provide it, and vice versa. It is all too convenient, and its fruit ultimately yields a false unification.

With regard to the everlasting debate of Papal Infallibility and Supremacy, this very thing has occurred—repeatedly. We see it in the Joint Commission for Dialogue, in the Chieti agreement, and in the NA Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation.

The doublespeak is manipulatively convincing—even to the point that the Orthodox forget just what Rome meant in its bid for primacy superiority and infallibility. While a normative reading of papal canon law simply reveals what Rome meant in its claims in the post-Schism era, the Roman position is made abundantly clear in the form of the Dictatus Papae.

The Dictatus Papae is a papal document outlining the authority and power of the Bishop of Rome. It is said to have been dictated by Pope Gregory VII in some capacity (whether written, oral, or secretarial)—this being the most common view. Some scholars also believe the document to have been an iteration or reiteration of Cardinal Deusdedit’s canon law, which appears to be virtually identical in its delegation of papal powers. Whatever the case may be, two things are painfully evident and convenient: (1) the Dictatus Papae was written almost immediately following Rome's excommunication of Constantinople and the beginning of the Great Schism, and (2) it was more extreme in nature than anything before it and anything after it (arguably). 

It reads as follows:

1. The Roman Church was founded solely by God.

2. Only the Pope can with right be called "Universal".

3. He alone can depose or reinstate bishops.

4. All bishops are below his Legate in council, even if a lower grade, and he can pass sentence of deposition against them.

5. The Pope may depose the absent.

6. Among other things, we ought not to remain in the same house with those excommunicated by him.

7. For him alone is it lawful, according to the needs of the time, to make new laws, to assemble together new congregations, to make an abbey of a canonry, and, on the other hand, to divide a rich bishopric and unite the poor ones.

8. He alone may use the Imperial Insignia.

9. All princes shall kiss the feet of the Pope alone.

10. His name alone shall be spoken in the churches.

11. This is the only name in the world.

12. It may be permitted to him to depose emperors.

13. It may be permitted to him to transfer bishops, if need be.

14. He has the power to ordain the clerk of any parish he wishes.

15. He who is ordained by the Pope may preside over another church, but may not hold a subordinate position. Such a person may not receive a higher clerical grade from any other bishop.

16. No synod shall be called a 'General Synod' without his order.

17. No chapter and no book shall be considered canonical without his authority.

18. A sentence passed by him may be retracted by no one. He alone may retract it.

19. He himself may be judged by no one.

20. No one shall dare to condemn any person who appeals to the Apostolic Chair.

21. The more important cases of every church should be referred to the Apostolic See.

22. The Roman Church has never erred. Nor will it err, to all eternity--Scripture being witness.

23. The Roman Pontiff, if he has been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter, St. Ennodius Bishop of Pavia bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As it is contained in the decrees of Pope St. Symmachus.

24. By his command and consent, it may be lawful for subordinates to bring accusations.

25. He may depose and reinstate bishops without assembling a Synod.

26. He who is not at peace with the Roman Church shall not be considered 'catholic'.

27. He may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.

If the cross-tradition dialogues via Rome are now backtracking on these papal powers, as they appear to be (see Chieti, for example), then how can the Dictatus Papae and Deusdedit’s subsequent canon law not be viewed as anything less than an extraordinary development in the papacy? And if the papacy was different in form and power, in any extraordinary capacity (aside from administrative), from the apostolic era to the 11th century, and to the now 21st century, how can the institution claim an apostolic origin of extraordinary power in light of the fact of any sort of development or change? Consistency is critical in order to maintain the veracity of the papacy as Rome defines it, but if that consistency doesn’t exist, what basis does the papacy have to stand on in its current form?

I would submit that if Rome were to maintain the Dictatus Papae, or its later definition of Papal Infallibility and Supremacy, or whichever definition for that matter, it would be more credible in terms of the presentation of papal power. However, this is clearly not the case.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Fathers on Aerial Toll-Houses - Part 2

Third Toll-House of Judging and Slander
Christ is risen!

Continuing the testimony of the Church Fathers on the doctrine of Aerial Toll-Houses, I have added several more quotes as points of reference.  Please make sure to read Part 1 prior to reading this article, so as to acquire the source and intent of these quotes, as well as to maintain the continuity of the witness of the Church throughout the first millennium.


(Editor's note: All of these quotes were typed manually.  If you discover any possible errors/typos, please leave a comment.  Thank you!)


➤St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea (+379)--

→"Being under the sentence of death, knowing that there is One Who saves and One Who delivers [he cries out:] In Thee have I put my trust he says, save me from weakness and deliver me (Ps. 7:1-2) from captivity. I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled considerably with the invisible enemies during the whole of their lives, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and reached the end of life, are examined by the prince of the world in order that, if they are found to have wounds from the wrestling or any stains or effects of sin, they may be detained; but, if they are found unwounded and stainless, they may be brought by Christ into their rest as being unconquered and free. Therefore [the Holy Prophet King David] prays for his life here and for his future life. For, he says, "Save me" here "from them that persecute me; deliver me there in the time of the scrutiny lest at any time he seize upon my soul like a lion." You may learn this from the Lord Himself Who said concerning the time of His passion, Now the prince of this world is coming, and in Me he will have nothing (John 14:30). He who had committed no sin said that He had nothing; but, for a man it will be sufficient if he dares to say: "The prince of this world is coming, and in me he will have few and trivial penalties." And there is a danger of experiencing these penalties, unless we have someone to deliver us or to save us. For, the two tribulations set forth, two petitions are introduced. Save me from the multitude of them that persecute me; and deliver me, lest at any time I be seized as if there were no one to redeem me (Ps. 7:1-2)."

➤St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople (+389)--

→"Divine fear has overcome me, a mass of horrors: dismal Tartarus, scorching flames, whips, demons, the tax-collectors of our souls. All a myth to the wicked."

➤St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (+407)--

→"Pondering these things--as well as other similar things that are more unknown, which only those who have arrived there and have experienced understand--some who are lying in bed jump up, wanting to escape but cannot; others grind their teeth; others scratch their cheeks; others roll their eyes around pitifully as they see the strength of their body gradually fading, the tongue uttering, and the deposit certainly obtained, the opposing powers standing by, scrutinizing, criticizing, and trying to seize.  And then the thief enters and denounces and rends the soul from the body.  Then we will require many prayers, many helpers, many good deeds, and a great protection from angels on the journey through the spaces of the air. If when traveling in a foreign land or a strange city we are in need of a guide, how much more necessary for us are guides and helpers to guide us past the invisible dignities and powers and world rulers of this air who are called persecutors, publicans, and tax-collectors by Holy Scripture."

→"Lazarus was then escorted away by angels, but certain frightful powers, who were perhaps sent for this, were demanding the soul that other person.  For the soul cannot on its own depart to that life, since this is impossible. If we, in going from city to city, have need of a guide, how much more will the soul, when it is torn from the body and translated to the future life, have need of guides."

→(On Eph. 2:2) "Here again he [the Apostle Paul] means, that Satan occupies the space under Heaven, and that the incorporeal powers are spirits of the air, under his operation. For that his kingdom is of this age, i.e., will cease with the present age, hear what he says at the end of the Epistle; "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the world rulers of this darkness;" (Eph. 6:12) where, lest when you hear of world-rulers you should therefore say that the Devil is uncreated, he elsewhere (Gal. 1:4) calls a perverse time, "an evil world," not of the creatures. For he seems to me, having had dominion beneath the sky, not to have fallen from his dominion, even after his transgression."

→"Most persons may be then heard relating horrors, and fearful visions, the sight whereof they that are departing may not endure, but often shake their very bed with much vehemence, and gaze fearfully on the bystanders, the soul urging itself inwards, unwilling to be torn away from the body, and not enduring the sight of the coming angels. Since if human beings that are awful strike terror into us beholding them, when we see angels threatening, and stern powers, among our visitors, what shall we not suffer, the soul being forced from the body, and dragged away, and bewailing much, all in vain?"

→"Moreover another told me, without learning it from someone else, but as being himself thought worthy to be both an ear and eye witness of it, that, in the case of those who are about to depart hence, if they happen to be partakers of the mysteries [Holy Communion] with a pure conscience, when they are about to breathe their last, angels keep guard over them for the sake of what they have received, and bear them hence [to Heaven]."

➤St. Makarios the Great of Egypt (+391)--

→"Like the tax collectors who sit along the narrow streets and snatch at the passers-by and extort from them, so also the demons watch carefully and grab hold of souls. And when they pass out of the body, if they are not completely purified, they are not permitted to go up into the mansions of Heaven there to meet their Master.  For they are driven down by the demons of the air. But if, while they still live in the flesh, they shall, because of their hard toil and much struggle, obtain from the Lord on high grace, they, along with those who through virtuous living are at rest, shall go to the Lord, as He promised.  "Where I am, there also My servant will be" (Jn. 12:26). And for the endless ages they shall reign together with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and for all eternity. Amen."

→"When you hear that there are rivers of dragons and mouths of lions and the dark forces under the heavens and fire that burns and crackles in all the members (such that the earth could never contain), you will remain ignorant of such things unless you receive the pledge of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22).  These forces will hold your soul and when you depart from this life will not allow you to rise to Heaven."

→"When the soul of a man departs from the body, a certain great mystery is there enacted. If a person is under the guilt of sin, bands of demons and fallen angels approach along with the powers of darkness which capture that soul, and drag it as a captive to their place. No one should be surprised by this fact. For if, while a man lived in this life, he was subject to them and was their obedient slave, how much more, when he leaves this world, is he captured and controlled by them? You can understand this, however, from what happens to those on the better side. Indeed, angels even now stand alongside God's holy servants and holy spirits surround and protect them. And when they leave their bodies, the bands of angels receive their souls and carry them to their side into the pure eternity. And so they lead them to the Lord."

→"If the dark power of the passions and the malice of evil spirits cleaves to a soul, if the invisible spirits of error accompany it and haunt the highways and byways of its thoughts in order to act through the passions, and if this soul becomes their accomplice, when it comes to leave the body, the spirits of error and the Prince who delights in evil, the Ruler of the world of darkness, receives it, takes charge of it and detains it among themselves; it entirely belongs to them, this soul that did their will and accompanied them to the end when in the flesh. And conversely, the soul that accompanies the essence of the desirable and inexpressible beauty of the divine Spirit's light, the soul that accompanies and dwells with the grace of Christ's truth, the soul that has been from its time here below favored with holiness of heart and the indwelling of Christ in the highways and byways of its thoughts, when this soul comes to leave the body, the spirits of the saints in light (receive it) and the King of peace, Christ, who Himself finds His joy in excellent souls, receives this soul and welcomes it into His presence as His very own bride and intimate associate, this soul that has never acted on earth outside of His will."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Fathers on Aerial Toll-Houses - Part 1

The Last Judgment
Christ is risen!

One of the most hotly debated topics in recent times is Aerial Toll-House theology.  This topic has garnered so much attention that a comprehensive work, titled "The Departure of the Soul," was recently published by St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery to examine quite literally much of the Church's history as it pertains to Aerial Toll-Houses.  This volume explores Holy Scripture, Holy Synods, Patristics, theologians, liturgical forms, iconography, and other various references.

So, what are Aerial Toll-Houses?

In basic summary, Aerial Toll-Houses refer to the intermediate state--or particular (also known as "partial") judgment--where the recently reposed are accused by demons in an attempt to condemn their souls to hell, and opposite of that, the reposed are defended by the Angels, the Saints, and the intercessory prayers of the Church Militant to elevate their souls to heaven.

The theology behind Aerial Toll-Houses becomes a bit more complex when further examining the teachings of the Church over the last two millennia, as multiple viewpoints currently exist among Orthodox Christians.  My intent, however, is not to examine the nuances behind this doctrine, but rather to create a systematic reference guide to Patristic and Scriptural testimony, using "The Departure of the Soul" in addition to my own findings.  Being that the references are so vast, this reference guide will be broken into multiple posts as I compile it.  For citations, please reference the actual published volume; my own findings will be properly cited within the article.  It is my hope and prayer that you find this reference guide as useful and edifying as I have.  Enjoy!

(Editor's note: All of these quotes were typed manually.  If you discover any possible errors/typos, please leave a comment.  Thank you!)


➤St. Justin Martyr the Philosopher (+166)--

→"But Thou, Lord, do not remove Thine assistance from me; give heed to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion's mouth [This was written] that, when we arrive at the end of life, we may ask the same petition from God, who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls."

➤St. Isaiah of Scetis (+370)--

→"Keep death before your eyes daily, and be concerned about how you will leave this body, pass the powers of darkness that will meet you in the air, and encounter God without hindrance, foreseeing the awesome day of His judgment and reward for all our deeds, words, and thoughts."

→"Beloved Brother: Those who occupy themselves with the ephemeral and vain world, if they advance and make gains do not count the trials which they have endured, but rejoice at the progress which they have made. Can you imagine, then, my brother, what joy the soul of a man who undertakes spiritual work for God, and finishes it successfully, experiences? It is natural for the soul to feel unfading joy, for at the moment of its departure, the good works which it has done will precede it when it ascends into Heaven. At that time the Angels of God will rejoice together with it, as they see it delivered from the powers of darkness. This happens because, when the soul of man departs from the body, the Angels go along with it. However, all of the powers of darkness then hasten to meet it and seek to take hold of it, thereby to examine it carefully and learn whether or not it was engaged in any of their own works. It is not now the Angels who struggle with the demons to protect the soul; but the deeds of the soul surround and defend so that the demons cannot touch it. And if the good deeds of the soul defeat the demons, then the holy Angels sing on its behalf, until the soul, with joy and gladness, meets God. At that time, the soul completely forgets all of its good deeds in this vain world, as well as the labors knew. Blessed, indeed, is he against whom the leaders of darkness can find nothing. He will find joy, honor, and rest beyond all measure. Let us thus weep with the whole power of our soul before God, that in His goodness He will take pity on us and send aid from on high, by which we might do all to conquer the leaders of evil who obstruct our path [towards Paradise - Trans.].  Let us thus disengaged from the many other pursuits of life, take care with resoluteness of heart to fulfill the Will of God, which will save us from the hands of the demons when they shall come to meet us there above. Let us remember love for the poor, that this love might save us from greed, when the sin of greed shall come to meet us.  Let us acquire peace with all, the humble and the great, that this might guard us against hate, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us acquire patience before all and in all things, that this might guard us against carelessness, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us love all of our brothers and sisters, without hating anyone or repaying anyone any ill done against us; for this shall guard us against envy, when this demon too shall come too shall come to meet us.  Let us love the endurance in humility of our neighbor's word, even if this word should bring upon us hurt and derision; for humility will guard us against pride, when it too shall come to meet us.  Let us seek to honor our neighbor and not to condemn or hurt anyone; for this shall protect us from gossip, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us despise the cares of the world and its honors, that we might be saved from its bewitching evil, when it shall come to meet us.  Let us teach our tongues to be unceasingly occupied with the commandments of God, righteousness, and prayer, that we might be protected from falsehood, when it too shall come to meet us. All of these foregoing evils impede the soul, while the virtues to which we have attained help it to confront these evils successfully. Now, what prudent man would commit his soul to eternal death just to be relieved from the labors required to gain these virtues? Let us do all that is within our power and the power of our Lord Christ, which is great, to help humble ourselves; for our Lord Jesus Christ knows that man is hapless, and thus He has granted him repentance, as long as the soul is in this corruptible body, that he might, until his very last breath, correct himself and flee from sin."  

→"Nothing helps the soul more at the hour of its departure than stillness, silence and the remembrance of God.  During your departure, the angels of God, together with your guardian angel, will reveal all your good deeds: the fasts, vigils, the many prostrations, and even your little rug which is worn out by innumerable prostrations, as testimony against the demons. And seeing this, your soul will then rejoice if you have fervently fulfilled all that I have taught you in this book. On the other hand, the demons will also reveal if you were at times depressed, or did not fast, or did not keep vigil, or did not remain in stillness, or wandered here and there, seducing men or being yourself seduced by them. All this the evil demons will reveal at your departure, in writing with the day and hour, as well as the person whom you seduced or by whom you were seduced. If you truly repent of all this and properly spend the rest of the time in stillness and silence, then ours will be the victory, by the grace of Christ in other words, with the angels and your guardian. Then the radiant angels will take you and Proceed with you to Heaven. And if the other side prevails--which I pray will not happen to you--then I do not know what to say to you. For this reason, everywhere in the present book I inspired have you to remain in stillness and to stay away from any associations with men. If you obey me, then at that hour you will be very grateful to me, and if you do not listen, then know that you yourself have given your soul voluntarily into the hands of the enemies. If you fear God, then take care for your soul, because you are not a child and you are not senseless and you know what is good and what is bad, what is salvific and what will bring on perdition. You do not know when death will come--now or on the morrow, at midnight or midday. Therefore, be attentive to what is written for you."

→"Fasting, with stillness and prayer, is our intercessor before God.  With this, the holy Fathers pleased God, became vessels of the Holy Spirit, and performed many miracles. And we too, my lady, who have entered the invisible martyrdom and the battle with demons--if we become victorious, God will award us with a crown of holiness and glory; and if we are vanquished, then woe to us, for we will receive everlasting torment. For this reason, let us be sober and watchful, let us fast and keep vigil; let us be still and humble. If we keep this, then when Christ comes at our death He will justify us; He will deliver us from the rulers of torments, who have all our sins written down; and He will take us to our original fatherland--in other words, to Paradise."

➤St. Athanasius the Great, Archbishop of Alexandria (+373)--

→"And once more, if the devil, the enemy of our race, having fallen from heaven, wanders about our lower atmosphere, and there bearing rule over his fellow-spirits, as his peers in disobedience, not only works illusions by their means in them that are deceived, but tries to hinder them that are going up--and about this the Apostle says: According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience--while the Lord came to cast down the devil, and clear the air and prepare the way for us up into heaven, as said the Apostle: Through the veil, that is to say, His flesh--and this must needs be by death--well, by what other kind of death could this have come to pass, than by one which took place in the air, I mean the cross? For only he that is perfected on the cross dies in the air.  Whence it was quite fitting that the Lord suffered this death. For thus being lifted up He cleared the air of the malignity both of the devil and of demons of all kinds, as He says: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven; and made a new opening of the way up into heaven as He says once more: Lift up your gates, O you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors. For it was not the Word Himself that needed an opening of the gates, being Lord of all; nor were any of His works closed to their Maker; but we it was that needed it, whom He carried up by His own body.  For as He offered it to death on behalf of all, so by it He once more made ready the way up into the heavens."

→"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Him to die for all, stretched forth His hands, not somewhere on the earth beneath, but in the air itself, in order that the Salvation effected by the Cross might be shewn to be for all men everywhere: destroying the devil who was working in the air: and that He might consecrate our road up to Heaven, and make it free."

→"And once again, stretching out His hands upon the Cross, He overthrew the prince of the power of the air, that now works in the sons of disobedience, and made the way clear for us into the heavens."

➤St. Ephraim the Syrian (+373)--

→"Are you not aware, my brethren, what fear and what pressure we will suffer at the hour of our departure from this life when the soul is separated from the body? Great is the fear and great the mystery that takes place then, because holy angels and a multitude of the heavenly host appear to it, as well as all adverse powers and the rulers of darkness, each desiring to receive the soul or to offer it places. If the soul then had acquired in this life good virtues and lived a decent life, they become good angels, and encircle the soul and do not leave any of the enemy powers to touch it; but on the contrary they receive it with joy and gladness along with the holy chanting to God hymns of victory, presenting it to Christ the Master and glorious King, and together with it and all the heavenly powers they worship Him; and at last it is led to a place of rest, to the ineffable joy, the everlasting light, in the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is neither grief, nor sighing, nor tears, nor cares, but eternal life and everlasting rejoicing, together with all those who pleased God.  But if in this life it lived shamefully, associating with the dishonorable passions and dragged by the pleasures of the flesh and the vanity of this world, in the day of its exodus from this life these selfsame passions and pleasures which it acquired in this life become malicious demons circling the wretched soul, not allowing the angels of God to approach; but together with the adverse powers of the rulers of darkness they receive it and lead it sullen, lamenting and weeping pitifully to dark and gloomy and grievous places, where all the sinners have been kept for the day of Judgment and the eternal punishment; where the devil along with all his angels will be imprisoned."

→"No one will help us in that day--neither friend nor relation. Only our repentance in this world, with its accompanying virtues namely true love, humility, obedience, and temperance will help us These accompany us when we set off from this ephemeral world. They resist those opposing powers which wish to seize us."

→"You see that, in accordance with the Gospels, we will be judged in that day.  Pay attention exactly to what is written and do not despise it. Woe to those who blaspheme against the Sacred Scriptures! For many are idle talkers and deceive themselves; whenever they hear about judgment and Hades, they mock, saying: "Am I better than the rest of the world? Wherever the world goes, there will I go, also. What can hold me down in all the world? I will now enjoy all the pleasures of this life, like everybody else." Then, upon the completion of the term of his life, comes a harsh angel sent to seek his soul, saying: 'Your road in this life is complete; come then to the other world; come to your proper place.'  Then he forsakes the joys of this life which he had thought he would be enjoying eternally, and is removed away to the place of his torment, dragged by evil angels; and when he sees this place, he will be frightened, and he will beat his face with his hands, turning his gaze here and there, but even though he tries to escape, he will by no means be able to break loose, for he will be held securely by those who lead him away."

→"All the days of my life have I wallowed in the sea of evil, and I did not lament my sins. And all at once death will place its shackles upon me... 
May Thy cross accompany me during that dreaded crossing, may it drive the powers of darkness away from me; may it be for me the key that opens the gates of paradise, that I may enter into bliss, rejoice and glorify Thy compassion, O most merciful One!"

→"Lo, I try to gather my thoughts from every corner, but I am successful, for the things responsible for the passions of my thoughts remain in me. I have not yet been freed from the influence of the evil spirits that will detain me on my upward path toward heaven. I have not yet acknowledged the weight of the multitude of my sins..."

→"Do not leave me in the terrible hour of death, O my Lady, but rush to my aid, rescue me from the bitter torments of the demons. For if thou so choosest, thou hast the power to do this, for thou art truly the Mother of God who reignest over all."

→"In a short time we shall pass through terrible and fearful places, and there is no one here who can avoid walking this path.  There will be no one there to accompany and assist us; neither parents nor brethren, nor friends, nor relatives, nor wealth, nor any other such thing.  If at that very hour we find ourselves stripped of God's protection, the princes of darkness shall certainly hold us back.  They are unyielding and merciless; they fear not kings, nor do they respect masters; they honor neither the small nor the great. Only from those who live in piety do they withdraw in fear, allowing them free passage.  I imagine what this hour will be like and fall down before Thy goodness, O Lord. Give me not up to those who offend me, that Thine enemies might not boast that they have taken Thy servant, O good Lord. May they not gnash their teeth and terrify my sinful soul, saying, 'Thou hast fallen into our hands, thou hast been handed over to us. This is the day for which we have waited.'  No, O Lord, deal with me not according to mine iniquities and turn not Thy face away from me. Say not to me, "Amen, I say to thee, I know thee not." Punish me, O Lord, according to Thy compassion, and may mine enemy not rejoice over me.  Extinguish his fury, nullify all his actions, provide for me a path to Thee free from attacks and revilement.  Incline Thine ear to my prayer, O good Lord, not because of my righteousness, but because of Thy compassion and Thy great mercy. Save my sorrowful soul from death. Thou art the Lord of all and Thou hast power over all creatures.  Thou hast said, O Lord, "Ask, and it shall be given to you; knock, and it shall be opened to you." Lo, I ask and I knock. Before my end comes, O Lord, cleanse me of all sin. Amen."

→"At the time when my humbled soul departs from my body, when--woe is me!--I will have to speak with the enemies outside the gates (Ps. 127:5), then, O Lady, regard me with thy merciful eye; free me from all the merciless tormentors and the terrible task-masters of the prince of this age; be my defender and destroy all record of my sins. Lead me saved and unashamed to the throne of thy Son and His unoriginate Father and the All-Holy Spirit--the light-creating Trinity, one in essence. Amen."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Response to Pen & Pulpit on Orthodoxy

Image Credit: Ancient Faith
Christ Pantocrator
At this point, it is no secret that former evangelical juggernaut, Hank Hanegraaff, has converted to the Orthodox Faith through the Greek Orthodox tradition.  Over the last week, the evangelical and Orthodox communities have discussed the "good" and the "bad" behind the conversion, but the intent of this post is not to discuss those stories that have already received so much attention.  Rather, the intent of this post is to respond to a recent article posted by the Protestant blog, "Pulpit & Pen," who have used the platform of Hank Hanegraaff's conversion to boost their own notoriety.  In this case, however, not all press is good press, as there has been a strong backlash from Orthodox and Evangelical believers alike.

Jeff Maples, the author of the recent articles discussing Hanegraaff and the Orthodox Church, has made some strong accusations against Orthodox Christians all over the world.  Without beating this subject to the floor even further, the Reader's Digest version of Maples' claims is that Orthodox Christians are not Christians, but rather apostates.  Even further, in an even more outrageously despicable assertion, Pulpit & Pen has strongly asserted that those Coptics recently martyred for their faith are not Christians.

In the most recent article by P&P, Maples tells of his recent experience at Hanegraaff's parish.  On Holy Saturday, this year (2017), Maples and gang visited St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, for what appears to be Rush service, Paschal Matins, and Paschal Liturgy.  He outlined 9 total issues which apparently stood out to him and which he took great issue with.  Of course, these issues are largely exaggerated and overly-caricaturized.  At the heart of the article, though, sheer ignorance is demonstrated by Maples in that he set out to "experience" a Liturgy for the sake of proving his adversaries wrong and to bolster his own claims against the Orthodox Church.  Because of all of the alleged complaints that he's received with accusations of "misrepresentation" towards the Orthodox Church, he felt that attending a Liturgy would build his credibility in his presentation of the Orthodox Church.

Let's take a look at Maples' issues (his comments in orange):

1.) I have sat through many Catholic masses. I was married in a Catholic church, and I can definitely say I’ve “been there done that.” But I’ve never sat through anything so long and tedious as the Greek Orthodox mass. Perhaps being a special Saturday night “resurrection service,” this wasn’t the norm, but it was excruciatingly long. 2 1/2 hours in and no sign of slowing down.

1.) Orthodox services are long.  Special festal services are long.  The length of one's worship, however, should not be limited or governed by one's willingness to participate.  The Kingdom of God deserves all of our attention, devotion, and time, and if a 2 1/2 hour commitment is just too much for an individual, maybe check out one of those billboard evangelical churches that promise short services in addition to the circus acts that permeate throughout.  Additionally, it should be mentioned, that Maples attended multiple services in one sitting (Rush, Paschal Matins & Liturgy).  This was not merely a "resurrection service"; this was the Feast of feasts and the greatest Liturgy of the year for the Church.  The service doesn't slow down; the Orthodox don't slow down.  And we certainly don't take shortcuts.  On a final note, Maples also mentioned that the service was "tedious."  The only "tedious" thing about the service--at least that I can imagine--is the level of each individuals participation in the Liturgy; we participate in the Church corporately.

2.) The cliché, “bells and smells” is actually a true reality. The burning of incense and ringing of bells was a noxious combination. It reminded me of being in a college dorm smoking weed and blowing the smoke through toilet paper rolls stuffed with dryer sheets.

2.) The "bells and smells" cliché rings true.  It's a reality because we meet to celebrate and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom we are chief.  Incense and bells are just two individual pieces [of many] that help us to utilize all of our senses holistically to more strongly worship the Living God.  What struck me as odd, though, is not so much what Maples was reminded of, but more so that he was reminded of what seemed to be his own past which involved "smoking weed and blowing the smoke through toilet paper rolls stuffed with dryer sheets" inside of his dorm.  Like, who does that?

3.) The liturgy was vain and repetitious. Literally, the same ritualistic prayers and chanting were sung over and over. Every prayer included an invocation of Mary and the Saints.

3.) Here, we arrive at some heart issues and some bearing false witness issues.  The Orthodox Liturgy is somewhat repetitive [during the Paschal services]: we worship corporately, sing and chant hymns and songs (mainly that Christ is risen), venerate the saints, and worship the Almighty God of the universe.  Other than that and the Litanies, there is hardly anymore repetition.  I hope Maples will forgive me for stating this, but to make the claim that our Liturgy is "Literally, the same... over and over" is an outright lie.  And this lie is followed by another lie.  The majority of our prayers, contrary to popular caricaturization, do not actually invoke Mary or the Saints.  To close on this point, calling the Liturgy "vain" appears to be a heart issue.  The Liturgy is only vain to an individual who finds no meaning in what is being delivered to the congregation.  I, for one, have always been moved by the Liturgy in its entirety, so vanity, in this case, appears to be a subjective [and unfair] charge leveled against the Orthodox, that actually seeks to examine each individual's heart without any basis in doing so.  One could easily argue that the hymns (or rock music) that Maples "worships" to at his "church" are vain.  They mean different things to different people.

4.) While there was actually quite a bit of Scripture reading, there was absolutely no teaching. In fact, the vast majority of Scripture reading was sung in the eerie Byzantine chant. You’d really have to pay attention and try to listen really hard to even understand what they were reading or reciting.

4.) The Orthodox Church reads a lot of Scripture corporately.  A lot.  And why wouldn't we?  The Orthodox gave and preserved the Scripture!  And there is some strong teaching in the Church.  In fact, the Orthodox Liturgy is comprised of more theology than one would receive at any other tradition in the world.  Our hymns and chants are steeped in theology--sweet, sweet Trinitarian and Christological theology.  And our Byzantine chants are not "eerie."  That would be like me saying Reformed hymns (err, is Maples even confessionally Reformed?) are monotonous and sound like they're being sung by the frozen chos... nah, I won't go there.  Again, this is subjective, and it's different for everyone, obviously based on preference.  Maples probably didn't hear a homily/sermon during the Paschal Liturgy because St. John Chrysostom's beautiful sermon was read aloud.  There are theological powerhouse Priests who employ fantastic teaching during their homilies, and there are those who are not the most eloquent speakers when it comes to theology, but again, this is not exclusively an Orthodox issue, as this problem exists in every single tradition around the world.  Let's not set double standards.  On a final note, the Orthodox understand what's being sung, chanted, and read.  Why?  Because we participate in it and have learned it, or eventually will.  And if someone can't understand what's being said, maybe try picking up the Bible or Liturgy booklets that each parish provides.  Just an idea... but that would take too much effort, right?

5.) The facility was adorned, literally, wall to wall, floor to ceiling in graven images of the saints. The images were painted in such a way that the expressions on their faces were devoid of any emotion. They looked like lifeless figures just floating around in space.

5.) Ah, yeah!  The beauty of our icons.  The Saints bear witness to the Church and participate in the Divine Liturgy mystically, when Church Militant and Church Triumphant gather to partake of the Holy Eucharist.  But why is it that our flat painted icons are considered "graven images of the saints," but the literally graven/carved Reformation wall, which features "saint John Calvin," is not considered a "graven image?"  And of course our icons are devoid of emotion; the Orthodox Church has reasons for this.  Would Maples have liked it more if they were smiling or frowning?  Oh, and they're not just "floating around in space."  Maples said they were "wall to wall," remember?

6.) The enthusiasm of the clergy and participants in the service was extremely low. Those participating in the rituals walked around with lifeless expressions on their faces. The entire ritual was empty and dead.

6.) One can easily make this argument about Calvinists, Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics, Wesleyans, Particular Baptists, you name it.  This charge is "literally" just grasping at straws.  It is writing something down just for the sake of writing something down.  At the very root of it, it is a heart issue, and it is impossible for Maples to know the extent of the clergy and participant's hearts in their worship of God and their participation in the Liturgy.  The "lifeless expressions" charge is also pretty funny.  What did ya expect, Maples?  Wide-eyed smiles?  A motivational speaker?

7.) There is obviously little to no pursuit of holiness in this church. Several times during the service, the ushers and deacons could be seen stepping out to take smoke breaks. Many of the women and even some of the younger girls were dressed less than modestly.

7.) Again, heart issue.  How can one judge what the "pursuit of holiness" looks like in a 2 1/2 hour timeframe, much of which is done in pitch black?  I can't speak to ushers and deacons stepping out to take smoke breaks, but I seriously doubt the veracity of this claim, especially as it pertains to Deacons, as they are generally not permitted to leave the altar during Liturgy.  And as far as women's dress, it really makes me wonder what the intent of Maples visit was, aside from him and his gang wanting to "confront Hanegraaff," as he states earlier in his article, which is a whole other ridiculous venture.  Orthodox women tend to be some of the most modest of women worldwide, especially in their dress (head coverings and dresses, anyone?).

8.) Repeatedly, the chanting and liturgy included a summons to God to perform certain acts. It was clear that they believe that God works through and is dependent upon these rituals to activate the work of the Holy Spirit.

8.) Huh?  Perform certain acts?  Like 1) save His people, 2) bless His inheritance, 3) forgive our sins, 4) grant us peace and safety, 5) make the schisms cease, 6) grant us life eternal, 7) be glorified, etc.?  Oh, Maples probably was referring to prayer here.  Yea, dude.  We pray and send our petitions--a lot.

9.) The Greek and Eastern Orthodox church is clearly a lifeless church. There was absolutely no gospel in this service. A lost person could not walk into this church and walk out a changed man. It was literally a Pagan practice. Like a seance. Pure witchcraft was going on in this place. In this religion, salvation doesn’t come through Christ’s imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement on the cross, it comes through these dead rituals that they believe ontologically changes them into divine beings. It was truly one of the most wicked experiences I’ve ever seen.

9.) The Orthodox Church is the Life-Giving Church.  It is the clearest and truest expression of the Faith, delivered once and for all to the saints.  The Gospel is presented more times in one sitting than it is in months at the most conservative of Protestant churches.  It has preserved the clear teaching of Christ and the Apostles since the first century, and continues to do so.  In Orthodoxy, salvation comes through Christ.  And through Christ, the Sacraments were instituted as a means of grace--as Life-Giving-and-Preserving instruments in which God extends to His people.  It is truly the most glorious experience in the universe--where Heaven and Earth meet.  And to Maples claim about paganism?  Were there human sacrifices?  Blood rituals?  Druids and Shamans with masks?  I'll let Prince Vladimir, a former pagan from the 10th century, respond:

"When we journeyed among the Bulgars, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter; so we cannot remain any more in paganism.”

It is very disheartening to witness a professing Christian lie so boldly and openly over a public forum which is viewed by many.  No charity was employed and no benefit of doubt was given towards Orthodox Christians.  Maples is a man set out on a mission not to disprove Orthodoxy--his arguments are too weak for that--but rather, to misrepresent the Orthodox Church and Orthodox Christians through a series of bold lies and baseless accusations off one short visit to one specific parish.  The reality is that the Orthodox Church has withstood the test of time, and it will always continue to do so, even in the face of false witness.

The best way to engage any given subject is by being intellectually honest, and part of that requires refraining from employing your own set of presuppositions to judge an ideology (in this case, a Tradition).  The only way to test Maples' claims is to visit a local Orthodox parish yourself or to speak to a few of the hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians in our midst and asking sincere questions.

Come, taste and see that the Lord is Good.