Does the Bible permit relative (honorary) veneration?
DISCUSSION BETWEEN AN ORTHODOX AND A PROTESTANT
by Fr. Epiphanios Theodoropoulos
A Publication by the Orthodox Philanthropical Society “Saint John the Merciful” – Athens 1959
Prot.: I wish today to discuss the matter of veneration, because you Orthodox bow before the Virgin, the Angels, the Saints, Icons, etc.. You even bow before clergymen, inasmuch as you often indulge in deep, full-body bows – even with prostrations on the ground – before them. And yet! God’s commandment is categorical: “The Lord your God you shall fear/worship, and Him shall you serve” (Deut.6:13, Matth.4:10) and: “You shall not do obeisance to them, nor are you to serve them, for I am the Lord your God” (Exod.20:5).
Orthod.: These commandments dear fellow pertain to the recognition and worship of the one God – the True one – and they prohibit the recognition and worship of other gods – the false and nonexistent ones. They do not preclude veneration of respect, honour, etc., of respected and superior persons. There is not just one, exclusive form of veneration –the absolute kind– that constitutes a sign of worship and undoubtedly the one that is appropriate only for the one, True God. There is also another form of veneration, the so-called “relative” (or “honorary”) veneration, which expresses – not worship – but honour, respect, admiration, submission, supplication, gratitude, and the suchlike.
Prot.: I am familiar with these special excuses by you Orthodox, but I vociferously insist that they are all arbitrary concoctions intended to justify the unjustifiable. “Veneration cannot be regarded as unrelated to worship. Honorary veneration as a concept is improper, and as an argument, it is a sophistry… In Christian Providence (Oekonomia), as in the Judaic, veneration is strictly reserved for God only.” (“Checking delusions”, pp. 125, 136, 143).
Orthod.: Slow down, dear fellow! This interpretation of the commandments by us and our distinguishing between two kinds of veneration are not inappropriate, they are not an arbitrary concoction, nor are they a sophistry. This interpretation and distinguishing is the only correct way; it is the only appropriate and imperative way and the only one that rules out any monstrous contradictions in the Holy Bible. Yes! Only by acknowledging relative veneration (apart from the absolute kind), can matters be reconciled. Whereas, if we succumb to your opinion and say that only the absolute form of veneration (ie worship) exists, and that “veneration cannot be regarded as unrelated to worship”, then the Holy Bible itself appears as terrifyingly self-contradicting. Because in it, we observe in places the prohibiting of veneration of beings other than Holy God, and in other places, the veneration of people or Angels being allowed.
Prot.: There are examples of veneration of people or Angels in the Bible ?
Orthod.: Tens of them! Listen up therefore:
- Abraham, “sitting at the door of his tent at midday” and observing three visitors coming towards him, hurried to meet up with them and “did obeisance upon the ground” (Gen.18:2). Certainly the being venerated was Holy God, Who had assumed human form. Abraham however was unaware of this. He venerated the stranger as a person. So, how did he venerate him? By worshipping, or honouring Him? If you say “worshipping”, then you are accusing Abraham of a gross irreverence, because you would be characterizing him as a man-worshipper.
-Here is a second example: Abraham “did obeisance to the sons of Chet, the people of the land” when he asked them for a burial place for his deceased wife Sarah. In fact he did this twice (Gen. 23:7 and 12).
-And a third example: As Lot was sitting by the gate of Sodom prior to its destruction, he saw two visitors coming towards him, whom he perceived as ordinary people passing through. Upon seeing them, “he rose to meet them and did obeisance with his face upon the ground” (Gen.19:1). How did he venerate them, if every form of veneration of people is a sign of worshipping?
-Here is a fourth example: When Isaac was blessing Jacob, he wished him the following: “And may God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. And let nations be subject to you, and rulers shall do obeisance to you…” (Gen.27:28-29). If there is only one form of veneration –the veneration of worship- was Jacob going to be worshipped? That would be a clear case of man-worship and as such, unacceptable. It is obvious that this was about a veneration of honour, respect, submission.
-Here is a fifth example: On his return from Mesopotamia, Jacob marches together with all of his family towards the meeting with his brother Esau. Having sighted his brother from afar, he “advanced ahead of them anddid obeisance upon the ground seven times until he came near his brother.” Then “the maids and their children drew near and bowed down, and Leia and her children drew near and did obeisance, and afterwards Rachel and Ioseph drew near, and they did obeisance (Gen.33:3-7).
Were all these obeisances venerations of worship or of honour? Undoubtedly of honour, given that the Bible does not permit man-worship.
-Here is a sixth example: Jacob’s children went over to Egypt where unbeknownst to them, their brother Joseph was ruler of the land, in order to purchase provisions. “And when Ioseph’s brothers came, they did obeisance to him face down on the ground.(Gen.42:6). Similarly later on, they did obeisance to him twice (Gen.43:25, 27). Was their obeisance a sign of worshipping him, or was it a veneration of honour and respect?
-Here is a seventh example: Joseph’s sons – Ephraim and Manasses – did obeisance to their grandfather Jacob, when he gave them his blessing. «And Ioseph brought them from his knees, and they did obeisance to him face down upon the earth», according to the sacred text (Gen.48:12). Was theirs a veneration of worship, or was it one of honour and respect?
Prot.: I must confess that your arguments would have been powerful, if they didn’t refer to the age prior to Moses, when the Law had not yet been given.
Orthod.: And from this, you assume that man-worship was permitted? I ask you: During the era before Moses, did God allow man-worship?
Prot.: Certainly not.
Orthod.: Then why is it that we observe ordinary people being venerated (that is, “worshipped”, as you would have it, since you cannot presume veneration as anything but worship)? Don’t you think that even before Moses, God had forbidden His faithful to worship men?
Prot.: I already agreed that He didn’t; however, He had not given any specific, written commandment.
Orthod.: Was there perhaps given a a specific, written commandment forbidding lies, prior to Moses’ time? And yet, Abraham was checked by Abimelech, king of Gerara for his lies to him (Gen.20:2, 9).
- Was there perhaps given a specific, written commandment forbidding murder? And yet, Cain was penalized for having killed his brother (Gen.4:8)
- Was there perhaps given a specific, written commandment forbidding wickedness in general? And yet, there was the Flood (Gen.7:11 etc), where He destroyed all the lawbreakers, because “the wicked deeds of humans were multiplied on the earth“ (Gen.6:6)
- Was there perhaps given a specific, written commandment forbidding lewdness? And yet, the Sodomites were burnt down for their lewdness. (Gen.19:1 etc.)
- Was there perhaps given a specific, written commandment forbidding vainglory? And yet, the builders of the Tower suffered confusion of tongues for their vainglory (Gen.11:19)
-Was there perhaps given a specific, written commandment forbidding adultery? And yet, Joseph had refused to sin thus, crying out, horrified: “how shall I carry out this evil matter and sin against God?” (Gen.39:9)
Therefore, just as before Moses’ time lying, murder, lewdness, adultery and wickedness in general were forbidden – even though there was no specific, written commandment, so it was likewise forbidden to worship beings other than God – even though there was no specific, written commandment. In fact the latter commandment was forbidden more than any other wickedness, given that it is the greatest wickedness of all. So, if “veneration” signifies “worship”, the persons that we just mentioned shouldn’t be venerating people, because otherwise they would be punished. But, since they did venerate and remained unpunished – and in fact were actually blessed by God – it is only natural to distinguish honorary veneration from veneration of worship. What do you say to that?
Prot.: I would like to hear other examples, after the delivery of the Law to Moses. Are there any?
Orthod.: Lots of them. But I see you didn’t give any reply to the aforementioned! So, listen up:
I will firstly read Exod.18:7 : “And Moyses went out for a meeting with his father-in-law (Iothor), and he did obeisance before him and kissed him…” Was this obeisance a case of worship, or veneration?
But, because there is a possibility you will again say to me that the Law had not been yet given to Moses, move along to Numbers 22:31, where we are now in the era following the delivery of the Law:
Prot.: “Now God uncovered the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of God standing opposed in the road and the dagger drawn in his hand, and he bowed down and did obeisance to his face.”
Orthod.: Was Balaam conferring worship upon that Angel, or honouring it?
Prot.: We cannot possibly regard Balaam’s behaviour as being an exemplary one, because Balaam was a false prophet and it was quite possible he would confer worship even upon an Angel.
Orthod.: We however can – or, rather, should – acknowledge the Angel’s behaviour as exemplary: How was it that the Angel didn’t protest? How come the Angel didn’t tell Balaam that worship belongs to God alone? How did he dare accept “worship” – that is, a thing that belongs to God alone? Undoubtedly, if this was not a case of honorary worship, but instead, every form of veneration in fact was a declaration of worship, in no way would the Angel have accepted Balaam’s veneration; in no way would the Angel have usurped a divine honour! His unprotested acceptance of that veneration was therefore proof that honorary veneration exists. What have you to say against this?
Orthod.: Listen to another example:
“And it happened, when Iesous was at Iericho, that he looked up with his eyes and saw a person standing before him, and his sword was drawn in his hand. And Iesous approached and said tohim, “Are you one of us or on the side of our adversaries?” Then he said to him, “As commander-in-chief of the force of the Lord I have now come.” And Iesous fell face down onto the earth, and he said to him, “Master, what do you order your domestic?” And the commander-in-chief of the Lord said to Iesous, “Loosen the sandal from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.”(Joshua 5:13). So, if every kind of veneration is a display of worship and there is no such thing as a veneration of honour, did the most pious and divinely-inspired Joshua of Naue confer worship upon that creation, that is, the Angel? And the Angel dared to accept that divine honour without protesting?
Orthod.: I shall move on: In the Book of Ruth we read that she “fell upon her face and did obeisance on the ground” to Boaz (Ruth 2:10). Was that obeisance a display of worship, or of honour and gratitude?
Prot.: But Ruth was not an Israelite and we should not expect her to know and to observe the Law’s prohibition of veneration.
Orthod.: But Boaz himself was an Israelite, and in fact a pious one. How would he have accepted that veneration, if it were forbidden by the Law? How would he have accepted that veneration, if it constituted worship? But let me continue:
-In 1 Kings 2:36, when God announced to the Priest Eli the imminent punishments, He concluded: “…he who is left in your house shall come to do obeisance to him (=to the Priest that would be made known by the Lord) for a silver obole, saying, Put me down in one of your priestly places to eat bread”. Now, was that obeisance a veneration of worship, or a veneration of entreaty and supplication?
-When David met up with the son of king Saul, Jonathan, who had saved him from the designs of his father, notice how he acted: “And when the boy had entered, Dauid rose from the ergaba and fell on his face and did obeisance to him three times, and each kissed each his fellow” (1 Kings 20:41). Did David offer worship to Jonathan with his triple veneration, or was it a veneration of honour and gratitude?
-And in 1 Kings 24:9 I note another instance of veneration by David: “and Dauid bowed with his face to the ground and did obeisance to him”. Was that a veneration of worship, or one of honour and respect towards the king?
-And in 1 Kings 25:23 I read that “Abigaia saw Dauid, and she hurried and alighted from the donkey and fell before Dauid on her face and did obeisance to him on the ground on his feet”. Was worship being bestowed on David, or honour?
-In 2 Kings 1:2, I read that when the messenger came to David bearing the message of Saul’s and Jonathan’s death in battle, “he fell to the ground and did obeisance to him.”
-In 2 Kings 9:6: “And Memphibosthe son of Ionathan son of Saoul came to King Dauid and fell on his face and did obeisance to him”.
-In 2 Kings 14:4: “And the Thekoite woman went in to the king, and she fell on her face to the ground and did obeisance to him”.
-In 2 Kings 14:22: “And Ioab fell on his face on the ground and did obeisance and blessed (gave thanks to) the king,”
-In 2 Kings 14:33: “And he went in to the king and did obeisance to him and fell on his face on the ground in front of the king”.
-In 2 Kings 16:4: “And Siba said to the king…and doing obeisance Siba said: May I find favor in your sight, my lord O king”.
-In 2 Kings 18:21: “And Chousi did obeisance to Ioab and went out”.
-In 2 Kings 18:28: Achimaas “did obeisance to the king on his face on the ground”.
-In 2 Kings 24:20: “and Orna went out and did obeisance to the king on his face on the ground”.
-In 3 Kings 1:16, 31: “And Bersabee bent down and did obeisance to the king”
-In 3 Kings 1:23: the prophet Nathan “entered in front of the king and did obeisance to the king, in front of him on the ground.”.
-In 3 Kings 1:53: Adonias “entered and did obeisance to King Salomon”.
-In 3 Kings 2:13: “And Adonias son of Haggith came in to Bersabee, Salomon’s mother, and did obeisance to her.”
-In 4 Kings 1:13: “And the third officer of fifty went to him and knelt on his knees before Eliou and entreated him and spoke to him and said…” Was this veneration a case of worship, or was it of honour and respect, and above all, of entreaty?
-In 4 Kings 2:15 I read again that the sons of the prophets “came to meet him (the prophet Elisaie) and they did obeisance to him on the ground”.
-In 4 Kings 4:37: the Somanite woman, after her son was resurrected by the prophet Elisaie, “came in and fell at his feet and did obeisance on the ground.”
-In 1 Chronicles 29:20: “all the assembly blessed the Lord, God of their fathers, and bowed their knees and did obeisance to the Lord and to the king (David).”
So, were all these venerations absolute, or were they relative? In other words, were all of them displays of worship, or did they express honour, respect, subservience, supplication, gratitude etc.?
Orthod.: If they were displays of worship – as if relative veneration did not exist – then the following ruthless questions rise up before you and demand an explanation:
(a) How could so many pious persons blatantly transgress God’s commandment and confer “worship” upon people, or themselves concede to “worship” being conferred upon them?
(b) How is it, that not one of those persons was punished by the Israelite Community for that terrible act, when in the Old Testament there are numerous examples of stoning of those who transgressed the Law?
(c) How is it, that not one of those persons was punished by God for that horrific disrespect, whereas we can see Him frequently punishing minor transgressions?
More specifically, I ask you:
(a) How could that divinely-inspired, great Joshua of Naue – that faithful servant of the Lord – confer “worship” upon an Angel, thus unhesitatingly showing contempt for the divine Law?
(b) How could Nathan – that holy prophet, that envoy of God, who had such outspokenness and boldness before God – that fearless Nathan – commit such a blasphemy by conferring “worship” upon a person? How dare he “worship” king David, when he had been given the command by God to go there and check the king for his double sin?
(c) How could David, that very pious and God-loving David, of whom Holy God had said “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22) dare to accept such displays of “worship”, thus transgressing God’s commandment? How was it that – despite all His love for David, God punished him severely for the adultery and the assassination that he had committed, while leaving him unpunished for the other crime (of accepting “worship”), which was incomparably more serious than the previous two – given that David had supposedly usurped something that was appropriate only for God? Why did God not only leave him unpunished, but also did not even simply check David for such disrespect?
(d) How could that prophet Elijah – ablaze with zeal and piety – dare to accept the veneration (ie, the display of “worship”) by the officer of the fifty? How could he commit such disrespect?
(e) How could that God-bearing prophet, Elisaie, unprotestingly accept the veneration (ie the display of “worship”) by the Somanite woman and the prophets’ sons? Why didn’t he dismiss that offer in horror?
What have you to say on all the above?
Orthod.: You have nothing to say! My dear fellow, all of those venerations were relative ones. They were not absolute ones – that is, they were not venerations of worship. If there had been in them the slightest trace of worship, those pious persons would not have accepted them, let alone confer them.
But let me move on to another verse:
In the Book of Daniel, I read that: “Nabouchodonosor the king, falling face-down on the ground, did obeisance to Daniel and ordered that sacrifices and libations be carried out to him.” (Daniel 2:46), after Daniel had explained the king’s dream. Was Nabouchodonosor worshipping Daniel here, or was it a veneration of honour and respect? And if it was in fact intended as worship – given that the king was not an Israelite – how did the beloved of God and divinely-inspired Daniel accept it as worship, without any objection?
Well, I am waiting for your reply now, as I have finished with all the verses – at least with all the ones I intended to use.
Prot.: I have an example, where there is a refusal to venerate a person.
Orthod.: We shall examine your example, but before that, you are obliged to reply to all the aforementioned.
Prot.: This example itself will give that reply.
Orthod.: What are you saying dear fellow? That whatever your example may contain, it will be able to overthrow the multitude of examples that I have set forth? That the one example will win and conquer the many (assuming that there is an antithesis, which I preclude, given that there are no true antitheses in the Bible)?
Prot.: In the Book of Esther I read: “After these things King Artaxerxes honored Haman son of Hamadathos, a Bougean, and exalted him and set him above all his Friends. And all who were in the court would do obeisance to him, for the king had commanded them to do so. But Mardochaios would not do obeisance to him.” (Esther 3:1-2). See how the pious Israelite Mardochaios refused to venerate Haman, because he believed that this obeisance meant worship? If it only meant honouring, why would he have refused?
Orthod.: Your example only turns itself against you, and not against me. Because it places in my mouth the following questions:
-If “veneration” indeed signifies worship, then why didn’t the persons mentioned earlier follow Mardochaios’ example?
-Why did they (including Joshua of Naue and the prophet Nathan) confer veneration – and in fact willingly – whereas Mardochaios did not confer it, even though it was asked of him?
-Why did the aforementioned persons venerate without risking any danger if they didn’t, whereas Mardochaios refused to venerate even though he knew he was in danger?
-And among the other aforementioned persons (among whom is the great David and the fiery Elijah and saint Elisaie and the wondrous Daniel): why do they accept the venerations that were conferred upon them?
Is it possible that Joshua and Nathan and David and Elijah and Elisaie and Daniel were less pious than Mardochaios and less faithful to the God of Israel?
Orthod.: Mardochaios’ example not only refutes the preceding ones, but on the contrary, it corroborates them and convinces us that those cases were in fact cases of relative venerations, because this example shows the negative stance of the pious Israelites towards a veneration that bore the characteristics of a worshipping veneration. We are convinced that Mardochaios’ refusal to do obeisance had nothing to do with a simple display of honour (but rather had a characteristic of worship), by the following:
(a) it was demanded as something obligatory and it was demanded by an idolater. It is a well-known fact that in ancient times, idolatrous potentates perceived themselves to be divine beings and deserving of divine honours;
(b) Mardochaios refused to do obeisance to the “prideful Haman”, not because of pride, as he stated in his prayer (“…you know, O Lord, that it was not in insolence nor pride nor for any love of glory that I did this, namely, to refuse to do obeisance to this prideful Haman – Esther 4C:5-7), but “I did this so that I might not set human glory above divine glory, and I will not do obeisance to anyone but you, my Lord….”
So, if Mardochaios (who was not a divinely-inspired prophet, but a simple, pious Israelite) refused to do obeisance – thus “setting human glory above divine glory” – why didn’t the divinely-inspired men (Joshua, David, Nathan, Elijah, Elisaios, Daniel) do the same, but instead, they accepted and they conferred venerations, “thus setting human glory above divine glory”? Undoubtedly, because their venerations were of a different nature, and as such, did not “set human glory above divine glory”!
What have you to say now, contrary to this?
Orthod.: Let me summarize: It is an irrefutable fact, that we have before us two realities. The one consists of tens of people who either confer or accept veneration, and the other is Mardochaios, who refused the conferral of veneration. Alongside Mardochaios we must also place the three pious Judean Youths who had refused to venerate the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar and for that, were put into a burning furnace but were preserved untouched by the flames (Daniel 3). So, with these two contradicting realities before us, let us confront the matter of veneration from the beginning, in relation to these two realities. You are convinced that there is only one kind of veneration: that of worship.
Let’s now see what will happen if we take your view as being correct:
(a) If the actions on the “front” of Mardochaios and of the Three Youths appear as proper and God-pleasing, then the actions on the “front” of all the other persons will appear as irreverent and blasphemous (since they had conferred or accepted “worship”, which belongs to God alone). More especially, the divinely-inspired men Joshua, David, Nathan, Elijah, Elisaios and Daniel will thus appear as wretched scorners of the divine Law;
(b) The stance of the Holy Bible remains inexplicable in that it seems to be receptive of both types of actions. In fact, the Bible will appear as a book that lacks stable principles and is incoherent; a book with antitheses and contradictions, inasmuch as it does not seem to deprecate or check either of the aforementioned “fronts”, but quite the opposite, it seems to applaud and approve and bless the actions of both “fronts”.
Behold, the results of implementing your viewpoint!
Now let’s examine the implementation of our view – ie, that relative and absolute veneration both exist:
(a) Both “fronts” are presented as right and God-pleasing; the first mentioned one, because it accepts and confers honorary veneration, and the second one, because it refuses a veneration of worship.
(b) The Bible appears as a divine and perfect book, rid of every antithesis and contradiction, and correctly approving the actions of both “fronts”:
The first “front” for conferring and accepting simple honour, respect, subservience etc., and therefore not doing anything contrary to the divine Law, and the second “front” for refusing to confer worship on someone other than God and therefore obeying the divine Law which has thus commanded.
As you can see, this second solution – the solution of accepting the existence of two kinds of veneration – is the only one that precludes every seeming antithesis; it is the only one that perfectly reconciles matters, and the only one that doesn’t create unsolvable problems. I am listening to what you might have to say…
Prot.: First of all, I would like to be informed of this: If there are two kinds of veneration, how can we discern the one from the other? How can we tell between absolute or worshipful veneration and the relative kind, so that we won’t mistakenly confer veneration of worship on beings other than God?
Orthod.: Your query is justified. However it is easy to discern between the two, because it is done automatically, so to speak. In other words, every kind of veneration (“veneration” as the bowing of the body, even to the point of prostration) which is conferred upon God is the absolute kind. If it is conferred upon a person –as a person- or upon an Angel -as an Angel- then the veneration is a relative one. In other words, when one venerates this or that being as God, then that veneration is automatically the absolute kind; it is worship, precisely because it entails the element of recognizing that being as God. This same kind of veneration (the absolute kind) also applies when a person is thus venerated; when that person is perceived not as an ordinary person (even if a great and important and saintly one, or whatever else he may be, but definitely as a person), but is instead perceived as a divine being. However, when we venerate an Angel or a person without overlooking their nature, without perceiving them as divine beings (I use the word “divine” here, not in the sense of sacred and holy, but in the sense of a being that by nature has divine characteristics), and without overlooking the fact that they too are creations of the only True God, then veneration in such cases is automatically a relative one. The reason it is a relative veneration is precisely because it does not contain the element of acknowledging the individual being venerated as God.
And to express myself even clearer, I shall give you an example: Suppose your brother was condemned to death. You raise your arms in supplication to God and beseech Him to save your brother. “Lord, save my brother” you cry out constantly. You also decide to resort to human aid, as much as you can. With the help of powerful friends, you speedily appear before the king and beg him to show leniency. “O king, save my brother” you cry out tearfully to him also…
Who could possibly say that you committed irreverence because you begged both God and the king for the same thing, with the same manner of expression? Undoubtedly no-one, because when beseeching the king, you were beseeching him as a person; a person who of course has privileges and power, but nevertheless a person! But, if you had taken the king to be a divine being (the way that idolatrous peoples did in ancient times), then you would have undoubtedly committed a grave irreverence.
And if you would like an example of this in the Bible, here it is:
When the Israelites were in the desert, full of complaints and ingratitude towards God and His servant Moses, “…they said one to the other, “Let us assign a chief and turn back into Egypt.” And Moyses and Aaron fell face down before all the congregation of Israel’s sons…” (Numbers 14:4-5), thus begging and beseeching them to change their decision and not return to Egypt.
Lster on, when Kore raised a revolt against Moses, Moses “fell face down, and he spoke to Kore and to all his congregation, saying…“(Numbers 16:4-5).
Soon after however, God let Moses and Aaron know that He intended to destroy the people because of Kore’s behaviour and his followers’. Then Moses and Aaron “ fell upon their face and said, “O God, God of the spirits and of all flesh, if one person sinned, is the anger of the Lord upon all the congregation?” (Numbers 16:22).
What do we notice in these verses? That when wanting to express his objection to a certain decision that had been made, as well as in his supplication for this decision to be altered, Moses used the exact same external method – whether it was addressed to God or to people. And that method was to “fall upon his face” – to fall face down upon the ground. It was by falling face down that he beseeched God, and by falling face down that he also beseeched the Israelites! So, I wonder, was Moses being irreverent? On the contrary! He beseeched God as God, and he beseeched the Israelites as people. He had a clear and accurate notion within himself of the worth and the status of each, regardless of the fact that he used similar external forms. What is important is the inner disposition, and not the external form.
Therefore, that which makes a veneration or a supplication etc. before a person an irreverent and forbidden one, is the element of acknowledging that person as a divine being. Lacking that element, no irreverence whatsoever is committed, and no Law of the Lord is transgressed!
Prot.: All of your preceding examples of relative veneration were from the Old Testament. I would like some examples from the New Testament also, which prove that relative veneration does exist.
Orthod.: You have no logical right to demand examples from the New Testament also. Because the commandments which -according to you- forbid all veneration of persons are found in the Old, not the New Testament. If the commandments were found in the New Testament and I had brought forth examples of veneration of people from within the Old Testament in order to prove with them that those commandments do not forbid every veneration, then you might have said: “The examples from the Old Testament are not valid, because the commandments were given later on; they were given in the New Testament. Consequently, in the Old Testament it is natural to find things that are contrary to the commandments, since they were unknown at the time. That is why I demand examples from the New Testament.”
But this is not the case, in the matter of veneration. The forbiddance of worshipping people or other beings is not a new one – as is for example the forbiddance of divorce or taking an oath. The forbiddance of man-worship applies in both the New as well as the Old Testament. If therefore every display of veneration was an expression of worship, and if “veneration cannot be regarded as unrelated to worship” -as you believe and maintain- then there should not be a single example of person-veneration in the Old Testament. Or, if there was, it would have to exist in there as a transgression that would require disapproval and austere punishment of the guilty party. But, because there are many examples of person-veneration in the Old Testament, the problem is solved! So, to search the New Testament in this case is redundant. The conclusions that are drawn from the Old Testament (on this matter of course) are by themselves sufficient. Consequently, I would be in absolutely logical and moral order, if I were to close this subject right here. But, so that you won’t think I am afraid the New Testament will reverse my opinion and that is the reason I am avoiding it, I shall proceed to research the New Testament also.
Prot.: I am listening very attentively.
Orthod.: I will read the following verses:
(a) “And behold, a leper came and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2)
(b) “While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshipped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” (Matthew 8:2)
(c) “And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son…” (Matthew 17:14)
(d) “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him…“ (Matthew 20:20)
(e) “And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly…“ (Mark 5:22)
(f) “But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth…” (Mark 5:33)
(g) “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down on his knees to Jesus, saying…” (Luke 5:8)
(h) “And one of them (the 10 lepers), when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks” (Luke 17:15-16)
(i) “Then he (the man born blind) said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshippped Him ” (John 9:38)
(j) “Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him…“ (John 11:32)
So, here you have verses from the New Testament also!
Prot.: How naïve of you! Are you not aware that all these verses refer to the Lord, or are you not aware that the Lord is God and that consequently everyone could – or rather, was obliged to – confer worship on Him? To what end are you invoking these verses?
Orthod.: And how thoughtless of you! Are you not aware that none of those people had recognized the Lord as God, but rather, that everyone thought He was an ordinary person? Certainly an important person and a miraculous and saintly and great one, or as an unrivalled teacher, as a prophet and an envoy of God superior to every person before Him, as…, as…, as… whatever – but definitely as a HUMAN! None of them could imagine anything more. No-one knew or even suspected that the externally insignificant son of Mary was the incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity! Nor were the Israelites at all familiar with the Holy Trinity, given that the teaching of the Old Testament regarding the Triune God consisted of certain hints, which could be comprehended only in the light of the New Testament. Therefore, all of those who conferred honours upon the Lord had conferred them upon a man – I repeat, a man – who was great and saintly and superior to every other man, but nevertheless a man! Not as God incarnate. So, how could they be venerating – that is, worshipping (since according to you “Veneration cannot be regarded as unrelated to worship”) a person, when worship belongs exclusively to the True God alone? Answer me!
Orthod.: And one more argument: If every kind of veneration expressed worship, the Lord would have reprimanded those who venerated Him, for they would have been transgressing the Law of God by conferring worship on a person (since, as mentioned previously, they were unaware that He was God incarnate).
Prot.: That would not have been necessary (=the reproaching). Given that the Lord was actually God, He could have accepted worshipful veneration by people, even if they had bestowed it as if to a person and not as if to God.
Orthod.: Quite the contrary! He would have done at least what He did when that young man had addressed Him as “good teacher”. Do you remember how the Lord responded to him? “So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One: that is, God.” (Mark 10:17-18). In other words, “If you have taken Me to be an ordinary person (and it is impossible to not take Me as such, for you are unaware that I am also God), why do you address Me as “good”? Only God and God alone is actually good, and only Him should you address in that manner”.
He would have said something similar to those who had venerated Him: “Why do you confer worship on Me since you regard Me as an ordinary human (and are unaware who I actually am)? Worship befits God alone!”
But by not objecting thus, and instead accepting those venerations without objection, He of course knew and could discern that they were mere venerations of honour and respect and supplication, and not offers of worship. What is your reply?
Orthod.: I shall move on and ask you: Which is graver – to address a person as “good”, or to confer worship on that person?
Prot.: Undoubtedly the latter.
Orthod.: And you stated in the beginning that “veneration” means “worship” and that “Veneration cannot be regarded as unrelated to worship”.
Orthod.: So listen up now. The young man who had addressed the Lord as “good teacher” and for this was reprimanded, had previously venerated (“worshipped”, according to you) Him. “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”” (Mark 10:17) So, how come the Lord reprimanded the young man for his use of the adjective “good”, but remained silent with his veneration – that is, his act of “worship”? Undoubtedly, He remained silent because that veneration was not an expression of worship, but one of honour and respect. The characterization “good” can, after all, be bestowed (always unduly) to a person also (cmp also Matth.5:40 and 12:35, Luke 23:50, Acts 11:24, e.a.), but worship, never. And yet, the Lord objects to the first action – the “lighter” one – and remains silent to the second – the “graver” one!… I believe dear fellow that this example alone is proof enough of the existence of relative veneration. Do you perhaps have any objections?
Prot.: I confess that I have nothing to oppose here.
Orthod.: Now hear another example, which proves that non-worship venerations do exist:
“…the kingdom of heaven was likened to a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’” (Matthew 18:23-29).
I ask you dear fellow, were these venerations by the servants in the parable venerations of worship? Isn’t it more obvious than the sun, that they were expressions of fervent and wholehearted entreaties and supplications?
Orthod.: Now hear another example of relative veneration: When the earthquake struck in the prison of Philippi where Paul was being held along with Silas, (and as a consequence of which, the doors of the prison opened and the chains of all the prisoners were loosened), the prison guard, believing that the prisoners had escaped and knowing the punishment that awaited him, was ready to kill himself with a sword. But at that precise moment, “Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:25-30)
What does this veneration express, dear fellow? Worship, or honour and respect and entreaty? And if the prison guard –as a non-faithful– had indeed bestowed worship to those persons by his prostration, why didn’t the Apostles protest vehemently and repulse that veneration (of “worship”) in horror? Doesn’t this verse prove marvelously that there is such a thing as a non-worshipful veneration? Do you have any objections?
Prot.: On this point, I do not. But there are in the New Testament two examples in which the veneration of persons is repulsed:
(a) As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26)
(b) In the Book of Revelations, John says: “And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!’ ” (Acts 19:10)
What is your reply here? How do you confront these verses?
Orthod.: There are those of us who believe that here too we have simple venerations, which however are not accepted because of humility. Of course, people quite often reject honours bestowed on them, not because they believe they are not entitled to them, but merely for reasons of humility. In this case however, I do not think we have such a case. More likely these are examples of venerations of worship, repulsed by Peter and by the Angel because they did not desire, nor dared, to usurp divine honours. I am led to this opinion by the strong objection by Peter and the Angel to the kind of veneration that was bestowed on them.
In fact, the Angel literally horrified rejects John’s veneration. “ ‘See that you do not do that!’ ” he cries out; “Worship God!”
And his so austere and categorical, almost agonized tone is too difficult to be attributed to humility.
If their veneration had been repulsed, not as something that belongs to God – that is, out of fear they would be usurping divine honour – but merely out of humility – then both Peter’s and the Angel’s objection would have been undoubtedly milder, and not so strong and intense.
It therefore looks as though Cornelius had taken Peter as a divine being and that Peter – through divine illumination – diagnosed this, which is why he not only lifted him up but also stressed “I myself am also a man.” What would have been the meaning of these words by the Apostle, if Cornelius had not formed an erroneous impression about Peter’s person? Peter’s reassurance that “I myself am also a man” indicates that he had discerned that Cornelius had mistaken him for something other than an ordinary man.
This reassurance is similar to Pauls’ and Barnabas’ reassurance before the citizens of Lystra, who had thought the two Apostles were divine beings (“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men’ ”) and were preparing to confer divine honours on them. “Men, why are you doing these things?” the two Apostles cried out. “We also are men with the same nature as you”. (Acts 14:11-15) The similarity in the manner the Apostles reacted in both instances is, I believe, convincing enough that the reasons for their reaction were also similar.
Then John appears to have also taken the Angel as being the Lord Jesus Himself, with Whom he was together since the beginning of the divine Vision (Rev.1:17). This was not difficult to comprehend, as John was amazed and stunned at what was happening. Thus, it was quite possible for confusion to occur, not just once but twice – as it did indeed occur (Rev.22:8-9). As for the Angel, it too perceived through divine illumination that it was being worshipped instead of God, and not only objected strongly and repulsed that veneration, but also told him: ”I am your fellow servant”. (This reaction again resembles that by Paul and Barnabas in Lystra). What would have been the meaning of these words by the Angel, if John hadn’t mistaken the Angel as being the Lord? The reassurance “I am your fellow servant” convinces us that the Angel had perceived that John had not taken it to be a mere Angel – which is why it vehemently rejected John’s veneration of worship.
Prot.: I can see that we are in agreement in these passages, because we too interpret them in the same manner. And I rejoice about this agreement.
Orthod.: Don’t rejoice, because you will soon be saddened. Unfortunately for you, dear fellow, these verses not only do not negate relative veneration; they in fact miraculously advocate in favour of its existence!
Prot.: That’s strange! How do they do that?
Orthod.: I had mentioned this previously: Such verses show the behaviour of saintly persons in the face of veneration when it is an expression of worship. And that this behaviour is one of strong protest, reaction and aversion.
So, if every form of veneration is an expression of worship and relative veneration did not also exist, then all of the saintly persons of the Bible –without exception– and in every single instance –without exception– should have been protesting and reacting strongly and with horror, against every attempt of veneration. We however have seen Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, Manasses, Moses, Joshua of Naue, Booz, David, Nathan, Elijah, Elisaie, Daniel, Paul, Silas either conferring or accepting veneration. How can things be reconciled, if we don’t recognize the existence of relative veneration also? Personally, I cannot otherwise solve the problem.
Previously, we saw Balaam and Joshua of Naue venerating Angels, and Angels unprotestingly accepting veneration (Numbers 22, Joshua of Naue 5:13). Now, we see John venerating the Angel and the Angel not just protesting, but protesting vehemently and with horror, repulsing that veneration. Why is there a differing behaviour by the Angels, if all these venerations were expressions of worship?
How come the first Angels dared to accept that which belongs to God alone, whereas the second one repulsed it with terror, as not belonging to it? The differing behaviour of the Angels dear fellow convinces us that the kind of veneration being conferred was not the same in all three cases.
If it was the same, their behaviour would have been the same. But, given that their behaviour differed, the kind of veneration involved must have been different. There, it was honouring; here, it is worship. If you have anything to say, I am listening.
Orthod.: Would you like another verse that proves more clearly than the sun that relative veneration does exist, and thus pulverizes all of your notions that oppose it? Behold: The Lord says to the Bishop of the Church of Philadelphia: “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” (Rev.3:9)
If you like, you can say that this too was not a relative veneration (a veneration of honour, respect, subservience etc.), but an absolute veneration – a veneration of worship! If you like, you can say that God permits person-worship – in fact, that He even takes part in it (“Indeed I will make those…” He says). If you like, you can say that God decided to descend from His Throne and lift people onto it, so that they might accept the worship which is befitting only to the One who is seated on the Throne. Then you might as well leave God and worship people. You won’t be committing irreverence. God will have thus commanded!
Prot.: Can’t we say that this example is a case of accession into the Church by the so-named “synagogue of Satan” , and to regard the Bishop as symbolizing Christ?
Orthod.: I would not object to that. However, worship belongs to God alone, and to no other being – whether it symbolizes and represents God, or not. Everything that we offer to God (honour, respect, subservience, gratitude, supplication etc.) we can – to a relative degree of course – offer to people as well. Everything, except one: worship.
And the reason for this is that the prerequisite but also the essence of worship is that we acknowledge God as the worshipped Being. “Worship” is nothing other than every honour that is offered to a Being that we recognize as God. So, if every form of veneration expressed worship, then it would not be possible to venerate the Bishop, whether he is perceived as a symbol and a representative of the Lord, or not.
Prot.: I did not mean that the Bishop per se would be worshipped. I meant that the Bishop should be seen as a symbol of Christ, and whatever is said about his person, refers to the Person of the Lord. Thus, it would be the Lord being worshipped, not the Bishop.
Orthod.: But the one speaking to the Bishop is the Lord Himself. Why would He therefore say “I will make them come and worship before YOUR feet” and not “I will make them come and worship before MY feet”? Whoever heard of Christ speaking of Christ in the second person? Apart from this, if you take the words being said to the Bishop as referring to the Person of Christ, then you are obliged to apply to Christ the other phrases addressed to the Bishop, and you will thus end up with teachings that are not only nonsense, but also blasphemous.
Because how is it possible for Christ to say to Christ “…and to know that I have loved you”?
How is it possible for Christ to say to Christ, that “you have little strength, yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My name”?
How is it possible for Christ to say to Christ, that “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world”?
How is it possible for Christ to say to Christ, “Behold,I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”?
So, just as all the above pertain to the Bishop, so does “worship before YOUR feet” pertain to the Bishop and consequently, this veneration was in no way a display of worship, but one of honour and respect and subservience.
If you have something to say, I am listening again.
Orthod.: It has therefore been proven by means of many examples, both from the Old and the New Testament, that relative veneration does exist. And your assertion that “veneration cannot be regarded as unrelated to worship” and «In Christian Providence (Oekonomia), as in the Judaic, veneration is strictly reserved for God only” is proven entirely erroneous and unsupported and very far from the truth.
AND TO THE KING OF THE AGES, THE INCORRUPTIBLE, INVISIBLE AND ONLY WISE GOD, HONOUR AND GLORY UNTO THE AGES OF AGES. AMEN.
Source of OT passages : NETS
Source of NT passages : NKJV
Elder Epiphanios of Athens (Theodoropoulos) was a priestmonk in the twentieth century who served the Church in Athens. Elder Epiphanios, aside from serving as a priest and confessor, also wrote twenty-two books and many articles in service to the Church. He was asked many times to become a bishop, but he refused the honour. Having arranged for his funeral and burial, and being spiritually prepared, Elder Epiphanios reposed at 58 years of age on November 10th, 1989.