Orthodox-Reformed Bridge

A Meeting Place for Evangelicals, Reformed, and Orthodox Christians

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April Fools’ Day

 

Reformed seminary turned upside-down.  Theologians unable to explain mystery.

Reformed seminary turned upside-down! Theologians unable to explain mystery.

On April 1, 2015, Tony Arsenal, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary graduate “announced” his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.  See “From Geneva to Constantinople — The Eastern Orthodox Arsenal.”  He writes:

As many of you know, I have a deep love for the early Church. My theological passions circle around the related doctrines of Triadology and Christology, and I have recently become disillusioned with the insufficiency of the modern Reformed bodies in these areas. . . . .  Read more.

 

Orthodox Fools for Christ

There is in Orthodoxy’s spirituality the tradition of “fools for Christ.”  What may seem at first glance to be bizarre has biblical roots.  Apostle Paul writes:

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!  (1 Corinthians 4:10; OSB)

The tradition of holy fools points to the radical message of the Cross and reminds us of the radical difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the present age.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.” (1 Corinthians 3:19; OSB)

There is the temptation in today’s society to be cool, to be respectable, to go with the flow but the Lenten journey to Christ’s humiliation, crucifixion, and his resurrection all remind us of a divine wisdom that challenges the wisdom of the world.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14; OSB)

Thus “becoming fools” is part of Christian discipleship.

Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. (1 Corinthians 3:18; emphasis added; OSB)

Some Christians have taken these verses literally and used them to express a particular type of Christian discipleship.  Keep in mind that this is not a form of mental illness but an intentional form of Christian discipleship.  In the blog CityDesert article “Fools for Christ” is a concise explanation of this seemingly outrageous form of spirituality.

One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference.

 

 Basil the Fool

Basil the Fool for Christ.  Source

Basil the Fool for Christ. Source

One of Russia’s important saints is Basil the Fool.  He lived in the days of Ivan the Terrible and one occasion rebuked the Czar for not paying attention to the sermon during  the Divine Liturgy.  On other occasions Basil rebuked the Czar for his violence against innocent people.  When Basil died the Czar acted as pallbearer and carried his coffin to the cemetery.  The icon depicts Basil’s nakedness which demonstrated his utter destitution and the severity of his asceticism.  Basil is credited with a number of miracles.  It is believed that by his prayers the city of Moscow was spared from invasion by the Crieman Khan, Mukhamed-Girey.

St. Basil's Cathedral - Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral – Moscow

Today, many people who visit Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow are unaware that this famous church building was named after a Fool for Christ.

Wishing you all a blessed April Fools Day!

Robert Arakaki

The Triumphal Entry – Palm Sunday

 

Behold, Your King is coming!

Behold, Your King is coming!  source

This year while Protestants and Roman Catholics have already celebrated Palm Sunday, for Orthodox Christians Palm Sunday still lies ahead.

Palm Sunday is a familiar event for many Christians but it is a profound multi-layered event that has much to teach us about our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

In Matthew’s Gospel we read a quote from the prophet Zechariah:

Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,  A colt, the foal of a donkey.  

(Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9, OSB)

 

Early Christians viewed Jesus’ death and resurrection from the standpoint of Christus Victor (Christ the Conqueror).  But all too often we forget or overlook that Jesus Christ is unlike worldly conquerors.

Marcus Aurelius shown in a four horse chariot

Marcus Aurelius shown in a four horse chariot.  Source

Unlike Roman emperors who entered triumphantly riding a chariot drawn by war horses, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey — a sign of humility.

Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures used Zechariah 9:9 to drive home the point the uniqueness of Christ’s kingship.

Kings are many; of which do you speak, O Prophet? Give us a sign which other Kings have not. If you say, A king clad in purple, the dignity of the apparel has been anticipated. If you say, Guarded by spear-men, and sitting in a golden chariot, this also has been anticipated by others. Give us a sign peculiar to the King whose coming you announce. And the Prophet makes answer and says, Behold! Your King comes unto you, just, and having salvation: He is meek, and riding upon an ass and a young foal, not on a chariot. You have a unique sign of the King who came. Jesus alone of kings sat upon an unyoked foal, entering into Jerusalem with acclamations as a king. (Lecture 12.10)

The Orthodox Matins Service for Palm Sunday has an interesting allegorical interpretation of Jesus riding the foal.

Mosaic - Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Mosaic – Jesus enters Jerusalem.

O Thou who ridest on the cherubim and art praised by the seraphim, Thous hast sat, O gracious Lord, like David on a foal, and the children honored Thee with praise fitting for God; but the Jews blasphemed unlawfully against Thee.  Thy riding on a foal prefigured how the Gentiles, as yet untamed and uninstructed, were to pass from unbelief to faith.  Glory be to Thee, O Christ, who alone art merciful and lovest mankind. (Lenten Triodion p. 492)

Thus, there is in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a missionary message — that Christ came to save not only the Jews but also the Gentiles.  With Christ’s entry into Jerusalem the Old Covenant of Moses reaches its conclusion and a New Covenant commences.  The Old Israel is superseded by the New Israel:

Let us also come today, all the new Israel, the Church of the Gentiles, and let us cry with the Prophet Zechariah; Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; for behold, thy King comes unto thee . . . . (Lenten Triodion p. 489)

In his Catechetical Lectures Cyril also sees Jesus entry into Jerusalem as fulfilling another prophecy in Zechariah 14:4, a favorite verse among Evangelicals who view it in light a literal 7 year Tribulation, the Antichrist, and the Second Coming.  (See Calvary Chapel’s founding father Chuck Smith’s dispensationalist commentary.)  Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lecture notes:

But He might perchance even sit upon a foal: give us rather a sign, where the King that enters shall stand. And give the sign not far from the city, that it may not be unknown to us: and give us the sign plain before our eyes, that even when in the city we may behold the place. And the Prophet again makes answer, saying: And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives which is before Jerusalem on the east. Does any one standing within the city fail to behold the place?  (Lecture 12.11)

An Invitation

Palm Sunday is an invitation to worship Jesus Christ.  Just as the Jews and the city of Jerusalem were given the opportunity to receive Christ as King so too the opportunity is given to all today.  We find in Canticle One Palm Sunday viewed from the Christus Victor motif:

Out of the mouth of Thy servants, the innocent babes and sucklings, Thou hast received praise.  Thou hast overthrown the adversary and by Thy Passion on the Cross Thou hast avenged Adam’s fall of old; with the Tree Thou hast raised him up, and he sings to Thee, O Lord, a hymn of victory.

(Lenten Triodion p. 496)

 

Robert Arakaki

Resources

The Lenten Triodion.  Edited by Mother Mary and (Metropolitan) Kallistos Ware.

Adoration of the Holy Cross

 

God as Mystery

Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee.

 

This Sunday marks the third Sunday of Lent.  On this Sunday Orthodox Christians celebrate the adoration of the precious and life giving Cross.  At the end of the Divine Liturgy the priest processes around the church carrying a tray with a cross surrounded by basil leaves or flowers while hymns about the Cross are sung.

 

Cross surrounded by basil.

Cross surrounded by basil.

Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, succour of the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.

 

Come, Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, who fell from the choir on high through the envy of the murderer of man, when of old with bitter pleasure ye tasted from the tree in Paradise.  See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all, draws near!  Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, thou art our succour; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorrpution; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy.  

 

The Old Testament Fulfilled

Many of the hymns of the Orthodox Church services consist of biblical exegesis.  In the Matins service for this Sunday we hear how Old Testament foreshadowed the Cross of Christ and how the Cross fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and types.

The Way Back to the Garden of Eden

We learn in the following kontakion (hymn) how the Cross dealt with the fiery sword that blocked access to Paradise (Genesis 3:24).

The fiery sword no longer guards the gate of Eden, for in a strange and glorious way the wood of the Cross has quenched its flames.  The sting of death and the victory of hell are now destroyed, for Thou art come my Saviour, crying unto those in hell: ‘Return again to Paradise.’

Jacob the Patriarch

Jacob as he was dying leaned  on the top of his staff and venerated Christ (Genesis 47:31, Hebrews 11:21).

Jacob prefigured Thy Cross in days of old, O Christ, when he venerated the top of Joseph’s holy staff, in which he saw foreshadowed the dread sceptre of Thy Kingdom; and now we venerate Thy Cross in faith for ever.

Moses the Lawgiver

Moses stretching out his arms was a type of the Cross (Exodus 17:8-12).

When now we venerate Thy Cross, which Moses once prefigured with his outstretched arms, we put to flight the invisible Amalek, O Christ our Master, and so we gain salvation.

Elisha the Prophet

What looks like a strange incident of the missing ax head and Elisha throwing a stick of wood into the Jordan River is interpreted as a foreshadowing of the Cross of Christ and our redemption (4 [2] Kings 6:5-7).

Come, Elisha the prophet, and tell us plainly: What was the wood that thou hast cast into the water?  ‘It was the Cross of Christ, which draws us up from the depths of corruption: and we venerate it with faith for ever.’

The Trees Shall Rejoice

The Orthodox Church reads the Psalms through Christ-centered glasses, that is, looking for its fulfillment in Christ.  Thus instead of reading the verse about the trees of the forest rejoicing literally (Psalm 95 [96]:12), the Church reads it allegorically.

Let all the trees of the forest dance and sing, as they behold their fellow-tree the Cross, today receiving veneration: for Christ, as holy David prophesied, has exalted it on high.

 

Chanting Versus Preaching?

In a recent FaceBook thread a reader who grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church asked why there was so much chanting in the church and so little preaching from the Bible. Many of the responses were that much of the hymns and prayers were Scriptural in content.

However, I think the reader did raise a valid point.  I think she felt the need for didactic Bible preaching in the Orthodox Church.  All too often it seems that after the Gospels are read, the priest will turn around, face the altar and move into the remaining part of the Liturgy.  Or that the homily that follows is so brief as to barely scratch the surface of the Bible passage.  What is sorely needed are sermons/homilies that explain to the congregation the meaning the biblical passage read that morning and an exhortation to live out that Bible passage in the context of the Church.

As a Protestant Evangelical I was encouraged to read and study the Bible.  When I became Orthodox I found this biblical training very helpful.  Knowing the Bible passages helped me to better understand what was being sung or chanted in the service.  The value I find in the hymns and chants of the Church is that hearing theology in song penetrates my mind and heart on a deeper level than pure didactic sermons.  So my answer to those who wonder about chants versus sermons is: “We need both.  Strong biblical preaching to the mind will complement and revitalize the chants and hymns sung from the heart.” One of Orthodoxy’s greatest bible expositors, John Chrysostom, was also responsible for the Liturgy used on most Sundays in Orthodox churches.   

Robert Arakaki

 

Reference

The Lenten Triodion.  By Mother Mary and Metropolitan (Archimandrite) Kallistos Ware.  South Canaan, Pennsylvania: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press.  [pp. 334-352]

 

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