Friday, 22 November 2013

Toll Houses in Orthodoxy

Aerial Toll-Houses

The teaching of Aerial Toll-Houses regards the soul's journey after its departure from the body, and is related to the particular judgment. In its most general form, it refers to the idea that after death, the demons attempt to find a basis for taking the soul to Hades, while the angels and the prayers of the living defend the soul if it can be defended. Whether the soul is finally seized by the demons, or taken to heaven depends on the state of the soul at death. In either case, the soul then experiences a foretaste of what it can expect after the final judgment. According to Fr. Thomas Hopko, the teaching of the Toll Houses is found in virtually every Father of the Church

Patristic evidence

In the life of St. Anthony the Great, he saw a vision of souls rising towards heaven and some being stopped by a large demon and cast down. Likewise St. Bede recorded certain visions of a Celtic Saint who saw a soul arising and fighting off demons with the help of angels and his reposed wife's soul.

In the Philokalia, St. Diadochos of Photiki (ca 400 – 486 a.d.) states:"If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover and ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we may be without fear at that time; for if we are afraid then, we will not be able freely to pass by the rulers of the nether world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which rejoices in the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness. For it is given wings by spiritual love, since it ceaselessly carries within itself the love which 'is the fulfilling of the law' (Rom. 13:10)."

In the Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Theophilus of Antioch (who reposed in 412 a.d.) we find:"The same Abba Theophilus said, "What fear, what trembling, what uneasiness will there be for us when our soul is separated from the body. Then indeed the force and strength of the adverse powers come against us, the rulers of darkness, those who command the world of evil, the principalities, the powers, the spirits of evil. They accuse our souls as in a lawsuit, bringing before it all the sins it has committed, whether deliberately or through ignorance, from its youth until the time when it has been taken away. So they stand accusing it of all it has done. Furthermore, what anxiety do you suppose the soul will have at that hour, until sentence is pronounced and it gains its liberty. That is its hour of affliction, until it sees what will happen to it. On the other hand, the divine powers stand on the opposite side, and they present the good deeds of the soul. Consider the fear and trembling of the soul standing between them until in judgment it receives the sentence of the righteous judge. If it is judged worthy, the demons will receive their punishment, and it will be carried away by the angels. Then thereafter you will be without disquiet, or rather you will live according to that which is written: “Even as the habitation of those who rejoice is in you.” (Ps. 87.7) Then will the Scripture be fulfilled: “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35.10)."Then your liberated soul will go on to that joy and ineffable glory in which it will be established. But if it is found to have lived carelessly, it will hear that terrible voice: "Take away the ungodly, that he may not see the glory of the Lord." (cf. Isaiah 26.10) Then the day of anger, the day of affliction, the day of darkness and shadow seizes upon it. Abandoned to outer darkness and condemned to everlasting fire it will be punished through the ages without end. Where then is the vanity of the world? Where is the vain-glory? Where is carnal life? Where is enjoyment? Where is imagination? Where is ease? Where is boasting? Riches? Nobility? Father, mother, brother? Who could take the soul out of its pains when it is burning in the fire, and remove it from bitter torments?" 

St. Mark of Ephesus wrote:"But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which – even thought they have repented over them – they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sin, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in they very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or – if their sins were more serious and bind them, for a longer duration – they are kept in hell [i.e., Hades], but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard."
Liturgical Evidence

In both the Greek and Slavonic Euchologion, in the canon for the departure of the soul by St. Andrew , we find in Ode 7: "All holy angels of the Almighty God, have mercy upon me and save me from all the evil toll-houses."

Likewise, in the Canon of Supplication at the Parting of the Soul in The Great Book of Needs are the following references to the struggle of a soul passing through the toll-houses:"Count me worthy to pass, unhindered, by the persecutor, the prince of the air, the tyrant, him that stands guard in the dread pathways, and the false accusation of these, as I depart from earth." (Ode 4, p. 77)."Do thou count me worthy to escape the hordes of bodiless barbarians, and rise through the aerial depths and enter into Heaven…" (Ode 8, p. 81)."[W]hen I come to die, do thou banish far from me the commander of the bitter toll-gatherers and ruler of the earth…" (Ode 8, p. 81).

In the Octoechos, there are many references to the Toll Houses:"When my soul is about to be forcibly parted from my body's limbs, then stand by my side and scatter the counsels of my bodiless foes and smash the teeth of those who implacably seek to swallow me down, so that I may pass unhindered through the rulers of darkness who wait in the air, O Bride of God." Octoechos, Tone Two, Friday Vespers"Pilot my wretched soul, pure Virgin, and have compassion on it, as it slides under a multitude of offences into the deep of destruction; and at the fearful hour of death snatch me from the accusing demons and from every punishment." Ode 6, Tone 1 Midnight Office for Sunday

In the Saturday Midnight Office, the prayer of St. Eustratius, contains the following:"And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me and let Thy mercy descend upon me, for my soul is distracted and pained at its departure from this my wretched and filthy body, lest the evil design of the adversary overtake it and make it stumble into the darkness for the unknown and known sins amassed by me in this life. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark countenances of the evil spirits, but let it be received by Thine Angels bright and shining. Glorify Thy holy name and by Thy might set me before Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, suffer not that the hand of the prince of this world should take hold of me to throw me, a sinner, into the depths of hades, but stand by me and be unto me a savior and mediator..." 
The Number of the Toll Houses

The most detailed version of the toll-houses occurs in a vision of Gregory of Thrace, apparently from the 10th century. The demons accuse the soul at each toll-house of sins. In some cases the demon might accuse the soul of sins that they tempted her with, but it didn't comply with, or of sins that she repented for, and in that cases one of the angels, the one which was the persons guardian angel, speaks for the person, saying that those are lies, and that payment is not necessary, taking the soul to the next toll-house. If a person has unrepented sins, and does not have enough good deeds and prayers of the living to pay for them, the demons of the corresponding toll-house grab him, and take him to hades to await the final judgment. This vision recounts the toll-houses in the following order:
At the first aerial toll-house, the soul is questioned about sins of the tongue, such as empty words, dirty talk, insults, ridicule, singing worldly songs, too much or loud laughter, and similar sins.
The second is the toll-house of lies, which includes not only ordinary lies, but also the breaking of oaths, the violation of vows given to God, taking God's name in vain, hiding sins during confession, and similar acts.
The third is the toll-house of slander. It includes judging, humiliating, embarrassing, mocking, and laughing at people, and similar transgressions.
The fourth is the toll-house of gluttony, which includes overeating, drunkenness, eating between meals, eating without prayer, not holding fasts, choosing tasty over plain food, eating when not hungry, and the like.
The fifth is the toll-house of laziness, where the soul is held accountable for every day and hour spent in laziness, for neglecting to serve God and pray, for missing Church services, and also for not earning money through hard, honest labor, for not working as much as you are paid, and all similar sins.
The sixth toll-house is the toll-house of theft, which includes stealing and robbery, whether small, big, light, violent, public, or hidden.
The seventh is the toll-house of covetousness, including love of riches and goods, failure to give to charity, and similar acts.
The eight is the toll-house of usury, loan-sharking, overpricing, and similar sins.
The ninth is the toll-house of injustice- being unjust, especially in judicial affairs, accepting or giving bribes, dishonest trading and business, using false measures, and similar sins.
The tenth is the toll-house of envy.
The eleventh is the toll-house of pride- vanity, self-will, boasting, not honoring parents and civil authorities, insubordination, disobedience, and similar sins.
The twelve is the toll-house of anger and rage.
The thirteenth is the toll-house of remembering evil- hatred, holding a grudge, and revenge.
The fourteenth is the toll-house of murder- not just plain murder, but also wounding, maiming, hitting, pushing, and generally injuring people.
The fifteenth is the toll-house of magic- divination, conjuring demons, making poison, all superstitions, and associated acts.
The sixteenth is the toll-house of lust- fornication, unclean thoughts, lustful looks, unchaste touches.
The seventeenth is the toll-house of adultery.
The eighteenth is the toll-house of sodomy: bestiality, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, and all other unnatural sins.
The nineteenth is the toll-house of heresy: rejecting any part of Orthodox faith, wrongly interpreting it, apostasy, blasphemy, and all similar sins.
The last, twentieth toll-house is the toll-house of unmercifulness: failing to show mercy and charity to people, and being cruel in any way.

Are They Literal?

Many of the Orthodox who accept the doctrine of the toll-houses do not take the form or all the teachings from the vision of Gregory literally. Thus for example Fr. Thomas Hopko maintains that one should not try to associate a particular time after death to the process, nor should one take the toll-houses as being literally "in the air," or necessarily twenty in number. Likewise, he makes no mention in his argument for them of the doctrine of bargaining for sins (which is similar in some ways to the Latin doctrine of merits). Instead, his description, drawing on St. John Chrysostom and the Fifty Homilies of St. Macarius of Egypt, among others, takes the toll-house encounters to describe the attempt of the demons to assault the soul with its own vulnerability to sin, or to entice it away from God, and describes passing through the toll-houses as the purification of the soul. St. Theophan the Recluse likewise said that what the demons are seeking is "passions," and suggested that, although the toll-houses are often depicted as frightening, the demons might equally well try to entice the soul by appealing to one of its weaknesses. Some others go so far as to say that the demons and angels are metaphors for sins and virtues of the soul.


There is disagreement in certain circles regarding the status of this teaching within the Orthodox Church. Some, including 
Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa, consider this teaching controversial, even false (describing it as gnostic or of pagan origin). These accusations were later declared to be wrong by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church Abroad. The traditional proponents of the teaching argue that it appears in the hymnology of the Church, in stories of the lives of saints (for example, the Life of St. Anthony the Great, written by St. Athanasius the Great, the life of St. Basil the New, and St. Theodora), in the homilies of St. Cyril of Alexandria in the Discourses of Abba Isaiah, the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and the Dogmatics of the Orthodox Church by Blessed Justin Popovich. Several contemporary Church figures speak about toll-houses.Secondly, not a single Church Father ever wrote even one sentence expressing doubt about this teaching (which is present in its most general form in the Church since at least fourth century), although their discussions of the topic are always about general struggles with "tax-collector" demons, lacking the details present in Gregory's vision (apart from one pseudo-Makarian story which also mentions numerous toll-houses and a bargaining over sins at each one). Thirdly, some of the greatest modern authorities of the Orthodox Church, such as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov and St. Theophan the Recluse, insisted not only on the truthfulness, but on the necessity of this teaching in the spiritual life of a Christian..

Friday, 15 November 2013

Beards ~ St. Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c. 215)

~ St. Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c. 215)

“This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man. . . . It is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.”
“How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, and to arrange his hair at the mirror, shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them! . . . For God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But He adorned man like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest—a sign of strength and rule.”

“It is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man’s natural and noble adornment.”

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Orthodox Duties of Parents and Children

The Orthodox Duties of Parents and Children by St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Compiled By Fr. Demetrios Serfes


The Holy Apostle Paul says this to parents, Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), and he exhorts them to nurture their children in a manner befitting of Christians. All Christians are renewed in holy Baptism to the new, holy and Christian life, and they have vowed to serve God in faith and in truth, and so to please Him. But lest those who have been baptized become corrupt and come into a poor inheritance and have that saying come true in them, A dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that hath been washed to her wallowing in the mire (II Pet. 2:22), good nurturers of children must without fail warn them against this calamitous condition while they are yet small and young. For we sigh with pain to see that many children are corrupted in their youth; this happens to them because of the carelessness of their parents.

Many parents teach their children the arts that serve the temporal life, and spend no small sum on it, but they neglect the Christian teaching and are remiss in teaching their children to live as Christians. Such parents beget their children unto the temporal life, but close the door to the eternal.

St. John Chrysostom, in considering the misfortune of both parents that neglect the good upbringing of their children and of the children not well brought up, says this, "Parents that neglect to bring up their children as Christians, are most heinous murderers of children" (Homil 3 "Against Those that Slander the Monastic Life"). For child-killers separate the body from the soul, but these parents cast them both soul and body into the fire Gehenna. It is impossible to escape from the former death according to natural law, but would be possible to escape from the latter death were the negligence of the parents not to blame for it. Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (cf. Eph. 6:4).

Moreover, once it comes, the Resurrection is able to abolish bodily death, but nothing can overturn spiritual destruction. Therefore, parents, listen to the word of the Lord.

A Gardener binds a newly planted sapling to a stake driven and fixed into the ground lest it be uprooted from the ground by wind and storm, and he prunes unneeded branches from the tree lest they harm the tree and dry it up. You should also act likewise with your small and young children. Bind their hearts to the fear of God let they be shaken by the machinations of Satan and depart from piety, and prune away the passions that grow in them lest they mature and overpower them and so put the new, inward man to death that was born in holy Baptism. For we see that as children grow up, then sinful passions also appear and grow with them as unneeded branches of a tree. Therefore, lest these iniquitous branches matrue and harm and kill the man washed, sanctified, and justified in holy Baptism, it is absolutely necessary to prune them away with the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Then, beloved prune away these shoots from your children and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). As soon as they begin to understand reason, even a little, and to know good and evil, you should begin your work and teach them. Do thus with them:
1. Remind them often of holy Baptism and that at that time they promised God to live decently and steadfastly, to serve Him with faith and righteousness, and to keep away from every evil and sin.
2. Repeat to them as often as possible that we are all born and begotten in Baptism not for this temporal life, not for the sake of obtaining honor, glory, and riches in this world - that our very death indicates that we should abide otherwise than forever in this world - but that we are born and begotten for eternal life. All our life in this world, from birth to death, is a journey on which we travel to our promised homeland and eternal life.
Remind them often of this, lest they give themselves over to the vanity of this world, and so that they may learn to philosophize on higher and not on earthly things.
3. Let them understand Who is the God of Christians, and what He requires of us, that He hates evil and loves good, that He punished man for evil and rewards him for good, and although we do not see Him, He does see us and is invisibly present with us everywhere and sees our every deed and hears our every word. It is necessary, then, to fear Him and to do what is pleasing to Him.
4. Enlighten their inward eyes as to Who Christ is in Whom we believe, and for what cause He came into the world and lived and suffered and died. Our sins were the cause of this, and our eternal salvation, so that being delivered from sin we might obtain eternal salvation.
5. Teach them the Law of God, and tell them what the Law demands of us: That is, that we should love God and every man; that everything that is contrary to that Law is vice and sin, while everything that is in agreement and accordance with it is virtue.
In holy Baptism we promised God to keep the Law of God and so depart from every sin and live virtuously. Whoever lives otherwise does not keep these vows and is found to be false before God, and if he does not truly repent and correct himself, he will appear false at the Judgement of Christ.
6. Set before them the last things: death, Christ's judgement, eternal life, and eternal torment, that the fear of God may so abide in them and preserve them from every evil. Pour these and other things like milk into their young hearts, that they may mature in piety.
They call you parents, then be true parents. You gave them birth according to the flesh, then also give birth to them according to the spirit. You gave them birth unto the temporary life, beget them also to eternal life.

Beloved Christians, you and your children shall appear at the Judgement of Christ, and you shall give account for them to the just Judge. He will not ask you whether you have taught them to speak French, or German, or Italian, but whether you have taught them to live as Christians.
Young children pay greater attention to the actions of their parents than to their teaching. Therefore, if you wish your children to be pious and good, you yourselves should be pious and good, and show yourselves as example to them, and so Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (cf. Eph. 6:4). And so you and your children together shall receive eternal salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

On The Duties Of Children

First, conscience itself convinces a man to honor his parents with love. The pagans taught and made it a law to give parents first honor after God. The word of God also commands us to honor our parents, Honor thy father and mother (Eph. 6:2, also Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16, and elsewhere). Then give all respect, Christian, to those that gave you birth, that it may go well with you. Whom should you honor, if not your parents?
2. Second, because your parents are your great benefactors, you should render them due gratitude. Remember the pains and labors they undertook for your upbringing, and be thankful to them for it. Know well that you can give nothing in return for the benefits you have received from them. They gave to you much, and you are greatly obligated to them. Then give them heartfelt gratitude for it throughout your entire life.
3. Third, show them every obedience. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right (Eph. 6:1), and again,Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord (Col. 3:20).
4. Fourth, do not undertake anything new without their advice and consent, but you ought to take counsel with them in everything and seek their consent, lest you offend them with your disrespect and lest matter that you have undertaken go without success.
5. Fifth, be ashamed to show disorderly conduct before them and avoid it. Say no indecent word and do no indecent deed, though Christian duty demands this of you everywhere.
6. Sixth, resolutely avoid offending them with any crude word, but speak to them and reply with every courtesy, that they may know that you love and respect them.
7. Seventh, if they punish you for something, and you know that you are genuinely at fault for it, acknowledge your fault with humility and endure the punishment with meekness. For they punish you so that they may correct you and that you should be good. But if you know that you are innocent, and your conscience justifies you, then declare your innocence with every courtesy and humility. Show judicious meekness everywhere that they may know that you are their child.
8. Eighth, do no abandon them in any need and want, but help them and serve them, and especially in their old age. Remember how much they labored for you, you should also render them service.
9. Ninth, cover with silence any infirmity you may see in them, which occur even in good people. But even if you should see something scandalous, resolutely avoid judging them and revealing it to anyone else. Do not imitate Ham, the son of Noah, who saw his father's nakedness and went out and told it to his brothers. But follow his brothers, Shem and Japhet, who took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father (Gen. 9:23), and son on. Then you should see as though not seeing when you see anything in your parents.
10. Tenth, if you should somehow offend them in your actions and you know it in your conscience, do not delay, but fall down before them that very hour and beg their forgiveness with humility, lest you fall under God's judgement. For if you are obliged to ask forgiveness of every man whom you have offended and to make peace with him according to Christ's words (cf. Mt. 5:23-24), how much more are we obliged to do so with our parents, to whom we owe love and honor more than to any other person.
11. Eleventh, even the pagans have established great punishments in their books for those children who do not honor their parents. Terrible punishments are also prescribed against such miserable children in the holy Law of God. He that curse father or mother, let him die the death (Mt. 15:4, cf. Ex. 21:17, Lev. 20:9), and so on. Such children, or rather degenerates of the human race, are loathsome to God and men. It is a great ingratitude and a serious iniquity to be an evildoer to your benefactors and to return evil for good. Therefore, Christian, beware, lest you experience God's avenging hand on you at that very moment. After God we have no greater benefactors than our parents. Then it is a fearful thing to be ungrateful to them.
12. Twelfth, know of a certainty that as you are to your parents, so will your children be to you, according to the words of Christ,And with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (Mt. 7:2).

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Icon Corner

The icon corner (Greek: εικονοστάσι and Russian: Кра́сный у́гол - meaning red, bright-shining, or beautiful corner) is a small worship space prepared in the homes of the orthodox people.

An Orthodox Christian is expected to pray constantly. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, "In Orthodox spirituality, [there is] no separation between liturgy and private devotion."Thus the house, just like the Temple (church building), is considered to be a consecrated place, and the center of worship in the house is the icon corner.Ideally, the icon corner is located so that it is visible when one first enters the house from the main entrance. Traditionally, when first entering the house, an Orthodox Christian would venerate the icons before greeting the members of the house.

In the past, whether in a village or in the city, every Orthodox family’s home would always have a shelf with icons, or an entire home iconostasis, located in the most visible place. The place where the icons were installed was known as the front corner, the beautiful corner, the holy corner or God’s place.
For Orthodox Christians, an icon is not just a depiction of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, the Saints, or events from Sacred and Church History. An icon is a sacred image, i.e., it is outside the realm of ordinary reality; it is not to be confused with ordinary daily life; and it is intended only for communion with God. Thus, the primary purpose of icons is prayer. An icon is a window from our world, the earthly world, into the world above. It is God’s revelation in form and color.
In this way, an icon is not simply a family relic to be passed on from generation to generation, but a holy thing that unites all family members during communal prayer – for prayer in common can take place only if those standing before the icons have mutually forgiven one another’s offenses and achieved unity.
Today, of course, when the television set ­– which is itself a kind of a window into the motley world of human passions – has taken the place of icons in the home, the purpose of the family icon, the tradition of common prayer at home, and the consciousness of the family as the “little Church” have been lost.
Therefore, an Orthodox Christian today might ask: What icons should I have in my home? How should they be arranged? Can I use reproductions of icons? What do I do with old, dilapidated icons?
Some of these questions merit an unequivocal answer, while others do not demand any kind of strict recommendations.
Where should one place icons at home?
In a free and accessible place.
The terse nature of such an answer is prompted by the realities of life, rather than by the absence of canonical requirements.
Of course, it is preferable to place icons on the eastern wall of the room, because the “East” as a theological concept has special significance in Orthodoxy.
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed (Genesis 2:8).
O Jerusalem, look about thee toward the east, and behold the joy that cometh unto thee from God (Baruch 4:36).
Moreover the spirit lifted me up, and brought me unto the east gate of the Lord’s house, which looketh eastward (Ezekiel 11:1).
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Matthew 24:27).
But what should one do if there are windows or doors on the eastern side of one’s home? In that case, use the southern, northern, or western walls.
One should not combine icons with decorative objects of a secular nature, such as statuettes, various types of pictures, etc.
It is inappropriate to put icons on a bookshelf next to books having nothing in common with the Orthodox faith or that conflict with Christian teaching on love and charity.
It is absolutely impermissible to have icons next to posters or calendars depicting rock musicians, athletes, or politicians – the idols of the current age. This not only diminishes reverence for the holy images to an unacceptable degree, but also puts holy icons on par with the idols of the contemporary world.

The home icon corner can be decorated with live flowers. Traditionally, larger icons are often framed with towels. This tradition dates back to antiquity and has a theological basis. According to tradition, an image of the Savior miraculously appeared on a towel during His earthly life to help a suffering man. After washing His Face, Christ wiped His Face with a clean towel, on which an image of His Face appeared. The towel was sent to King Abgar, who was afflicted with leprosy, in the city of Edessa in Asia Minor. Upon healing, the ruler and his subjects adopted Christianity and the Image-Not-Made-By-Hands of Jesus Christ was affixed to a “permanent panel” and raised above the city gates.
In times past, August 29 (new style), the day the Church commemorates the translation of the Image Not-Made-By-Hands of our Lord Jesus Christ from Edessa to Constantinople in 944, was known among the people as the feast of the “canvas” or “linen Savior,” and in some places fabric and towels made of homespun yarn were blessed.
These richly embroidered towels were reserved for use in the icon corner. Likewise, icons were framed by towels for use during weddings and the Blessing of Waters. Thus, for example, after the service for the Blessing of Waters, when the priest sprinkled the icons with abundant Holy Water, people would wipe the icons with special towels that they would incorporate into the icon corner.

Which icons should you have at home?
It is essential to have icons of the Savior and the Mother of God. The Image of the Lord Jesus Christ, which bears witness to the Incarnation and to the salvation of mankind, and of the Theotokos – the most perfect of those who have lived on earth, who was made worthy of deification, and who is venerated as more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim – are an essential part of the Orthodox Christian home. The icon of Christ ordinarily selected for prayer at home is a waist-length depiction of Christ Pantocrator.
Those with room for a greater number of icons in the home may supplement their icon corner with depictions of various revered saints.

Russian Orthodoxy has a strong tradition of special veneration for St. Nicholas the Wonderworker; almost every Orthodox family has an icon of him. One should note that, together with the icons of the Savior and the Mother of God, the image of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker has always occupied a central place in Orthodox Christian homes. People revere St. Nicholas as a saint endowed with special grace. This stems in large part from the fact that, according to the Church’s Typikon, every Thursday, when the Church offers up prayers to the Holy Apostles, is also dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia.
Among the icons of the Holy Prophets of God, that of the Prophet Elias holds a prominent place; prominent among the icons of the Holy Apostles is that of the Sts. Peter and Paul, the chiefs among the Apostles.
Among the images of martyrs for Christian Faith, those encountered most often are icons of the Holy Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer George and the Holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon.
It is recommended to have depictions of the Holy Evangelists, of St. John the Baptist, of the Holy Archangels Gabriel and Michael, as well as icons of the Feasts, to make a home icon corner complete.
The selection of icons for one’s home is always an individual matter. The best person to help one make these choices is one’s priest – the family’s spiritual father – and it is to him, or to another clergyman, that one should turn for advice.
As for icon reproductions and color photographs, sometimes it makes more sense to have a good reproduction than a painted icon of poor quality.
An iconographer should maintain a very demanding attitude toward his work. Just as a priest does not serve the Liturgy without due preparation, the iconographer must approach his service with full awareness of his responsibility. Unfortunately, both in the past and today, one often encounters vulgar examples of images that bear no resemblance to icons. Thus, if a given depiction does not evoke a sense of piety and a sense of contact with the holy, or if it is theologically suspect and its technical execution is unprofessional, it would be best not to purchase such an item.
However, reproductions of canonical icons, mounted on a firm backing and blessed in church, can occupy a place of honor in the home iconostasis.
How and in what order should icons be arranged?
Are there strict rules in that regard?
In church, yes. As to the home prayer corner, we may limit discussion to a few principal rules.
For example, a collection of icons hung without a sense of symmetry, without a well thought-out arrangement, evokes a constant sense of dissatisfaction with the arrangement and a desire to change everything – something that often distracts from prayer.
It is likewise essential to remember the principle of hierarchy: for example, do not place an icon of a locally-venerated saint above an icon of the Holy Trinity, the Savior, the Mother of God, or the Apostles.
Just as on a classic iconostasis, the Icon of the Savior should be to the right, and the Mother of God to the left.

 What should be our attitude toward holy things?
As one of the attributes of God (Isaiah 6:3), holiness is also reflected in God’s saints and in physical objects. Therefore, reverence for holy people and sacred objects and images, as well as personal striving for authentic communion with God, are manifestations of a single order.
And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy (Leviticus 20: 26).
Family icons have always been held in particular reverence. Following baptism, an infant was brought before and icon and the priest or master of the house would read prayers. Parents blessed their children with an icon to pursue studies, to go on extended journeys, or to engage in public service. As a sign of their approval of a wedding, parents likewise blessed newlyweds with icons. Moreover, a person’s departure from this life took place in the presence of icons.
It is improper to have arguments or to engage in rowdy or otherwise improper behavior before the images of the saints.
One should instill proper reverence for holy images in children from a very early age.

 What should you do if an icon’s condition has rendered it unfit for use and it cannot be restored?
Under no circumstance should such an icon, even one that has not been blessed, simply be thrown away. A holy item, even if it has lost its original appearance, should always be treated with reverence.
If the condition of the icon has deteriorated with age, it should be taken to church to be burned in the church furnace. If that proves impossible, you should burn the icon yourself and bury the ashes in a place that will not be sullied or disturbed, e.g., in a cemetery or under a tree in the garden.
The faces that look at us from icons belong to eternity. Gazing upon them, raise up your prayers to them, asking for their intercessions. We, the inhabitants of the earthly world, should never forget our Savior’s eternal call towards repentance, perfection, and the deification of every human soul.

Some families burn wax votive candles before the icons; however, the tradition is to burn olive oil. Electric lights are not appropriate for use as the light to burn before icons. The traditional oil lamps require an amount of attention which electricity does not, thereby directing our physical services and thoughts to God several times a day when we are required to trim the wick and refill the lamp with oil.
There are a number of different kinds of utensils designed for burning oil before icons. A very common one is the wick-float which utilizes cork to keep the wick and flame floating on the oil. The burning of oil before icons, its care and practice is described below:

1. The Glass. Any low, wide-mouth glass may be used for the lamp. Once used for this, however, the glass should not be reused for any other purpose. In Greece, most of the lamps are of clear glass, but colors such as red, blue or milk-colored are also used. [It is advisable to use a large enough glass so that the oil will last at least 10 to 12 hours.]

2. The Oil. The use of olive oil for the lamps is a tradition which we have received even from the time of our father Moses. The olive oil will burn best if left open and allowed to age (or even become rancid).

3. The Wick. To make a wick, use cotton string about one foot in length. Do not use coated or waxed string. Cotton string of about 6 ply will be thick enough. If the wick is soaked in vinegar it will burn brighter and cleaner. If this is done, the wick should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being used.

4. The Flame. The fathers of the Holy Mountain [Athos] have taught us to use a very low flame which they call apathes, passionless. The flame should burn steadily, not flickering. The lamp will burn six to twelve hours, depending mainly on the oil, but also on the size of the flame, the weather, etc. Before relighting the lamp, remove the excess carbon from the wick and twist the string slightly to shape the wick into a point. [Candle wax may be used to make a firm point for ease in "threading" the wick. It should be trimmed off before lighting.]

5. Cleaning. The napkin or tissue used to wipe the carbon and oil from the fingers should be burned in a separate place (the home censer is the best place) and not just thrown into the garbage. Be careful not to drip or spill the oil when lighting the lamp (St. Theodore of Studion imposed a canon of thirty prostrations on the church ecclesiarch who spills oil from the icon lamps). The glass should be washed periodically, and the oil replaced anew. The water in which the lamp is washed, as well as the old oil from the icon lamp, should not be poured down the drain. It is best, rather, to pour it under plants or trees, or an area that is not walked upon.

Pious Orthodox faithful take oil frequently from the lamp and bless themselves, making the sign of the Cross on their foreheads.

Understanding the Holy Spirit

The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost "called all men into unity," according to the Byzantine liturgical hymn of the day; into this new unity, which St. Paul called the "body of Christ," each individual Christian enters through Baptism and "chrismation" (the Eastern form of the Western "confirmation") when the priest anoints him saying "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit."

This gift, however, requires man's free response. Orthodox saints such as Seraphim of Sarov (died 1833) described the entire content of Christian life as a "collection of the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit is thus conceived as the main agent of man's restoration to his original natural state through Communion in Christ's body. This role of the Spirit is reflected, very richly, in a variety of liturgical and sacramental acts. Every act of worship usually starts with a prayer addressed to the Spirit, and all major sacraments begin with an invocation to the Spirit. The eucharistic liturgies of the East attribute the ultimate mystery of Christ's Presence to a descent of the Spirit upon the worshipping congregation and upon the eucharistic bread and wine. The significance of this invocation (in Greek epiklesis) was violently debated between Greek and Latin Christians in the Middle Ages because the Roman canon of the mass lacked any reference to the Spirit and was thus considered as deficient by the Orthodox Greeks.

Since the Council of Constantinople (381), which condemned the Pneumatomachians ("fighters against the Spirit"), no one in the Orthodox East has ever denied that the Spirit is not only a "gift" but also the giver—i.e., that he is the third Person of the holy Trinity. The Greek Fathers saw in Gen. 1:2 a reference to the Spirit's cooperation in the divine act of creation; the Spirit was also viewed as active in the "new creation" that occurred in the womb of the Virgin Mary when she became the mother of Christ (Luke 1:35); and finally, Pentecost was understood to be an anticipation of the "last days" (Acts 2:17) when, at the end of history, a universal communion with God will be achieved. Thus, all the decisive acts of God are accomplished "by the Father in the Son, through the Holy Spirit."

Orthodox Christology

The Orthodox Church is formally committed to the Christology (doctrine of Christ) that was defined by the councils of the first eight centuries. Together with the Latin Church of the West, it has rejected Arianism (a belief in the subordination of the Son to the Father) at Nicaea (325), Nestorianism (a belief that stresses the independence of the divine and human natures of Christ) at Ephesus (431), and Monophysitism (a belief that Christ had only one divine nature) at Chalcedon (451). The Eastern and Western churches still formally share the tradition of subsequent Christological developments, even though the famous formula of Chalcedon, "one person in two natures," is given different emphases in the East and West. The stress on Christ's identity with the preexistent Son of God, the Logos (Word) of the Gospel According to John, characterizes Orthodox Christology. On Byzantine icons, around the face of Jesus, the Greek letters '' —the equivalent of the Jewish Tetragrammaton YHWH, the name of God in the Old Testament—are often depicted. Jesus is thus always seen in his divine identity. Similarly, the liturgy consistently addresses the Virgin Mary as Theotokos (the "one who gave birth to God"), and this term, formally admitted as a criterion of orthodoxy at Ephesus, is actually the only "Mariological" (doctrine of Mary) dogma accepted in the Orthodox Church. It reflects the doctrine of Christ's unique divine Person, and Mary is thus venerated only because she is his mother "according to the flesh."

This emphasis on the personal divine identity of Christ, based on the doctrine of St. Cyril of Alexandria (5th century), does not imply the denial of his humanity. The anthropology (doctrine of man) of the Eastern Fathers does not view man as an autonomous being but rather implies that communion with God makes man fully human. Thus the human nature of Jesus Christ, fully assumed by the divine Word, is indeed the "new Adam" in whom the whole of humanity receives again its original glory. Christ's humanity is fully "ours"; it possessed all the characteristics of the human being—"each nature (of Christ) acts according to its properties," Chalcedon proclaimed, following Pope Leo—without separating itself from the divine Word. Thus, in death itself—for Jesus' death was indeed a fully human death—the Son of God was the "subject" of the Passion. The theopaschite formula ("God suffered in the flesh") became, together with the Theotokos formula, a standard of orthodoxy in the Eastern Church, especially after the second Council of Constantinople (553). It implied that Christ's humanity was indeed real not only in itself but also for God, since it brought him to death on the cross, and that the salvation and redemption of humanity can be accomplished by God alone—hence the necessity for him to condescend to death, which held humanity captive.

This theology of redemption and salvation is best expressed in the Byzantine liturgical hymns of Holy Week and Easter: Christ is the one who "tramples down death by death," and, on the evening of Good Friday, the hymns already exalt his victory. Salvation is conceived not in terms of satisfaction of divine justice, through paying the debt for the sin of Adam—as the medieval West understood it—but in terms of uniting the human and the divine with the divine overcoming human mortality and weakness and, finally, exalting man to divine life.

What Christ accomplished once and for all must be appropriated freely by those who are "in Christ"; their goal is "deification," which does not mean dehumanization but the exaltation of man to the dignity prepared for him at creation. Such feasts as the Transfiguration or the Ascension are extremely popular in the East precisely because they celebrate humanity glorified in Christ—a glorification that anticipates the coming of the Kingdom of God, when God will be "all in all."

Participation in the already deified humanity of Christ is the true goal of Christian life, and it is accomplished through the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Fixed Great Feasts

January 7 – The Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ
January 19 – The Baptism of Our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ
February 15 – Meeting of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Temple
April 7 – The Annunciation of Our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary
August 19 – The Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ
August 28 – The Dormition of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
September 21 – Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary
September 27 – The Universal Elevation of the Precious and Life-Creating Cross of the Lord
December 4 – Entry into the Temple of our Most Holy Lady Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary