23 February 2013

The First Sunday Of The Triodion Period: Sunday Of The Publican And Pharisee

From http://Lent.GOArch.org

Icon of the Publican and the Pharisee provided by Theologic and used with permission.

Learn About The Sunday Of The Publican And The Pharisee

The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is the first Sunday of a three-week period prior to the commencement of Great Lent. It marks the beginning of a time of preparation for the spiritual journey of Lent, a time for Orthodox Christians to draw closer to God through worship, prayer, fasting, and acts of charity. It is also on this day that the Triodion is introduced, a liturgical book that contains the services from this Sunday, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), to Great and Holy Saturday.Learn More »

Listen To The Hymns From The Sunday Of The Publican And The Pharisee

Doxastikon of the Aposticha, Saturday Vespers (Tone Plagal of the First)

Mine eyes are weighed down by my transgressions, and I cannot lift them up and see the height of heaven. But receive me, Savior, in repentance as the Publican and have mercy on me. Listen »
Troparion after "Have Mercy", Matins Service (Tone plagal of the second)
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness and according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
As I ponder in my wretchedness the many evil things I have done, I tremble for the fearful day of judgment. But, trusting in Thy merciful compassion, like David do I cry out to Thee: have mercy upon me, O God, in Thy great mercy. Listen »
Doxastikon of the Ainoi, Matins Service (Tone Plagal Fourth)

O Lord, Thou hast condemned the Pharisee who justified himself by boasting of his works, and Thou hast justified the Publican who humbled himself and with cries of sorrow begged for mercy. For Thou dost reject proudminded thoughts, but Thou dost not despise a contrite heart. Therefore in abasement we fall down before Thee who hast suffered for our sake: grant us forgiveness and great mercy.
Kontakion (Tone Four)

Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry unto the Savior: Be merciful to us, for Thou alone art ready to forgive.

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07 February 2013

A Conversation about the Toll-Houses in the Bible

From a conversation that happened on OCnet:

James: The toll-houses don't bother me, the only thing about them that bothers me is the concept that Angels and Demons will be the ones to judge me. The fact that God seems so distant in this concept is frightening to me, and it seems like the concept of Angels/Demons judging me undermines the mercy of God. If demons and angels want to tempt me, take me to all these places and accuse me and all this crap, I don't mind, but is it so much to ask for that God judges me and not them?

Nicholas: That is the thing, the demons and angels are more like lawyers, not judges.

Christos: This is a very important point. I find that critics of the toll-house teaching approach this subject with a literalist Protestant fundamentalist mentality which typically doesn't characterize their approach to other subjects within Orthodox theology. For instance, Protestants are so afraid to detract from the glory due to God that they completely ignore, and even protest against, the role that God has given to the saints and angels in the economy of our salvation. Saints and angels are not to be worshiped as God, but God Himself has given them a role to play. Our guardian angel has been given to us by God Himself to help and protect us, and the saints and angels may intercede for us before God. The fact that they have such roles, and the fact that we acknowledge their roles, does not mean that we therefore put all of our hope in the saints and angels and forget about God. It also does not mean that the saints and angels save us rather than God.

Similarly, with regard to the so-called toll-house teaching, the Lord himself speaks of angels carrying the soul away at the time of death. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the Lord says that "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22)." In the story of the rich fool who stored up treasure and then died, the Lord said, "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided (Luke 12:20)?'" In this text, "required" could also be translated "demanded". The Fathers have pointed out that this "demanded" refers to the fact that while angels carry the souls of those pleasing to God to Paradise, demons carry away the souls of those who are not fit for the kingdom of heaven. This is just to point out that the angels and demons have a role to play in carrying out the particular judgment after the separation of the soul and body. To recognize that they have this role affirms rather than denies the Scriptures, and affirms the way in which God has chosen for our judgment occur rather than denying God's role in judging us. As with much of Orthodox teaching, it is not a matter of "either/or", but "both". The Particular Judgment is not the Final Judgment, neither is God absent from the Particular Judgment just because the angels and demons have a role to play.

It is true that the Scriptures do not spell out with great clarity what the soul encounters after its separation from the body. There is actually a great deal that the Scriptures do not spell out in great detail, but which the Fathers explain more completely later. To expect the Scriptures to spell out everything in great detail is to have a Protestant rather than an Orthodox understanding of the Scriptures, their purpose, their function, and their role in the life of the Church. Any attempt to invalidate Tradition by using one's own view of what the Scriptures say, or to consign to "theolgoumena" a teaching that is found throughout the patristic literature, hagiography, hymnography, etc. just because someone doesn't like it or understand how this teaching relates to Scripture - this approach is not an Orthodox but a Protestant one.

The Scriptures themselves testify that "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 Cor 2:14)." To rightly understand the Scriptures one must first become a dwelling place of the same Spirit that inspired the Scriptures. In other words, the proper interpretation is known only to the deified. It is from the deified saints, not simply by their written words, but from their recorded experiences and from what God revealed to them, that the teaching regarding the toll-houses has come down to us. The Church has used this imagery in its hymnography, and the Church throughout the world has testified to this teaching by singing and chanting this hymnography with one accord.

The problem with this teaching in Orthodoxy in America has mostly to do with certain argumentative people who wanted to start a fight about this at a time when much of the hymnography, hagiography, and patristic writings were not available in English. This was also a time when certain persons in a certain jurisdiction were trying to make a name for themselves, trying to set themselves up as teachers, and trying to lead others into their own factions. They attempted to do so by denouncing this teaching as "gnostic heresy", so as to exalt themselves as "pillars of Orthodoxy".

06 February 2013

Saint Boniface on the Aerial Toll Houses After Death

Saint Boniface, the 8th century Anglo-Saxon Apostle to the Germans, relates in one of his letters the account given to him personally by a monk of the monastery at Wenlock who died and came back to life after some hours.
"Angels of such pure splendor bore him up as he came forth from the body that he could not bear to gaze upon them.... 'They carried me up.' he said, 'high into the air ...' He reported further that in the space of time while he was out of the body, a greater multitude of souls left their bodies and gathered in the place where he was than he had thought to form the whole race of mankind on earth. He said also that there was a crowd of evil spirits and a glorious choir of higher angels. And he said  that the wretched spirits and the holy angels had a violent dispute concerning the souls  that had come forth from their bodies, the demons bringing charges against them and aggravating the burden of their sins, the angels lightening the burden and making excuses for them." 
"He heard all his own sins, which he had committed from his youth on and had failed to confess or had forgotten or had not recognized as sins, crying out against him, each in its own voice, and accusing him grievously.... Everything he had done in all the days of his life and had neglected to confess and many which he had not known to be sinful, all these were now shouted at him in terrifying words. In the same way the evil spirits, chiming in with the vices, accusing and bearing witness, naming the very times and places, brought proofs of his evil deeds.... And so, with his sins all piled up and reckoned out, those ancient enemies declared him guilty and unquestionably subject to their jurisdiction." 
"'On the other hand.' he said, 'the poor little virtues which I had displayed unworthily and imperfectly spoke out in my defense.... And those angelic spirits in their boundless love defended and supported me, while the virtues, greatly magnified as they were, seemed to me far greater and more excellent than could ever have been practiced by my own strength.'"
From The Letters Of Saint Boniface, translated by Ephraim Emerton, Octagon Books (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux), New York, 1973, pages 25-27.

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