For those who want to know the complicated stuff

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Orthodoxy and housework


Luke 10:38-42.  There are far more important worthy interesting wholesome things than a clean and tidy house.

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Orthodoxy and the Holy Liturgy


The Orthodox church commonly uses the word 'Liturgy' to describe the act of worship that elsewhere uses 'Holy Communion', the 'Eucharist' and other terms. This is because the word 'liturgy' describes 'common work' or 'common action'. Thus, the Holy Liturgy is the common work of the Orthodox church.


This is where the people of the Orthodox church gather together in common to worship God in common action. This is where we come together as one body of God's people, instead of living our own separate lives doing our own separate things.


In this particular act of worship, the Holy Liturgy may be celebrated once only on any given day in an Orthodox Christian community.  It is not something Orthodox Christians (lay or ordained) will be part of more than once a day. Always everyone, always together, children infants and adults. 


Because of the characteristics the Orthodox church assign to the Holy Liturgy, it may never be celebrated privately by the clergy alone, it may never be served for some while excluding other Orthodox Christians, it may never be served for any private purposes or intentions. Within the holy Liturgy there may be prayers offered specifically for the sick, the dead or within the context of special projects or events, but there is never a Holy Liturgy celebrated other than on behalf of all people for all people.  Because in Orthodoxy the Holy Liturgy is the central mystical action of the whole church, it is always resurrectional; a manifestation of the Risen Christ to God's people. It is always communion with with God; a joyful, Simcha almost, meeting between humanity and Divinity.


There are two parts to the Holy Liturgy. The gathering component, called the Synaxis, has its origins in the synagogue gatherings of pre-Christian times where the focus is centred on the proclamation and meditation upon scripture. The second component is that of the eucharistic sacrifice, the origin of which being in Jewish liturgical worship where the focus is on the priestly sacrifices of the People of God, the Jews, and in the central salvation act of the Passover, the Pesach or Pascha.


The first part was historically called the Liturgy of the Catechumens. Catechumens are aspirants to Orthodoxy, those who have as yet to be formally received  into the 'tribe' of Orthodox Christians through chrysmation (baptism) and reception. Historically there was a point in the Holy Liturgy where only Orthodox Christians would be allowed to stay for the whole of the service. At such a point, non-Orthodox Christians would be expected to leave, not even being able to witness or hear the prayers of interceding, offering, and consecration, and certainly not being able to see the congregation take the bread and wine. The second part, the Liturgy of the Faithful, forms the second part.


Only Orthodox Christians are allowed to receive the bread and wine. Non-Orthodox, and within Orthodoxy those who are not ecumenically within full dialogue of their patriarchate, may not take the bread and wine.



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In every Orthodox community throughout the world Christians will find some water and celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan by a blessing. But that is a characteristic of Orthodoxy and what in part attracts people to Orthodoxy. Nothing changes. A Christian living in the 1st or 2nd century would recognise the worship in an Orthodox church as being derived from a liturgy familiar to them. The timelessness of God is echoed through Orthodox worship and practice in the sense that nothing changes. Following the normal Liturgy, led by the choir singing the “Theotrophic Troparion” (a hymn to all intents and purposes) the congregation walk to the edge of the Ford a few minutes from the church, where the water will be blessed and the hand Cross dipped into the water. Theophany, in the greater sense of the word, indicates a point in time when God reveals Himself to the world. The bible describes eight events beginning at the burning bush and concluding with the ministry of Jesus that would come under the the category of Theophany. Many traditions use Epiphany to describe Theophany, but whatever word or tradition is used, the really important thing is that there is a point in time, space and life where God and mankind meet in a special way.


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Hell

The sixteenth century translators of the Bible are responsible for the mistranslation of Hades, Tartaros, & Ghenna, as Hell.


Hades – the 'Unseen Place' – is a translation into Greek of the Hebrew/Aramaic word Sheol, which Jesus would have spoken, meaning, meaning the 'abode of the departed', or, 'the pit'.  Hades was understood to be a temporary place of the departed, whereas Hell is a permanent state or destination.  This distinction is quite clear where the personified Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire,  i.e. Hell  (cf. revelation 20:13).

The Revises King James version of the Bible correctly distinguishes between Hades and Hell where they occur.

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Theotokos


In Orthodox Christianity, the Theotokos holds a special place in the history and life of the church.  A hymn often sung in our worship addresses her as follows:


"More honourable than the cherubim,

and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim,

thou who in virginity didst bear God the Word,

thee, true mother of God, we magnify."


There are unmistakeable similarities in Christian ikonography (and Mary's place in the church) with the Egyptian Goddess Isis and her son Horus.  Both are often depicted with the child on the lap of their mother, the feasts of both (Horus and Jesus) would fall around the latter part of December, Horus and Mary are often depicted as having a role in feeding the people, they also are depicted breast-feeding their respective children, both Mary and Isis are viewed as being the ideal perfect mother, both have been considered to have miraculous powers, the Roman writer Apuleius in the 2nd century AD describes Isis as "Queen of Heaven", Plutarch gives her the role of 'personification of human grief', an attribute sometimes laid upon Mary following the Crucifixion whereby she is called "Mother of Sorrows", and both Isis and Mary shared the qualities of compassion and protector. The similarities are impossible to dismiss, but just because we can see similar qualities and depictions of both doesn't diminish Marys position in the Divine Plan, nor does it elevate Isis to an identity alien to faith. The fact is, as part of the Human Condition we look to God to supply our needs ,and answers to eternal questions. If God chooses to use recurring themes to satisfy His Creation then that isn't a question for us to resolve, it is a question for God.


How then was Mary able to acquire so similar attributes as Isis held? The geographic jump from Egypt to the Christian territory was probably made by Italian merchants who carried the faith of Isis to the Greek island of Delos, the commercial center of the Aegean, sometime in the first few centuries AD, within spitting distance of Apuleus writing the epithet of "Queen of Heaven". To aid the proselytising of the Christian faith, missionaries would be "flexible" in their approach to existing deities. As early as in the book of Acts, Paul visits Athens and when speaking about an altar to "The Unknown God" informs the Athenians that the name of their Unknown God is the God he worshipped. One of the earliest records of devotion to Mary was also in this similar time frame with the "Protevangilium of James" circa AD 150. As time passed Christianity spread and as devotion to Isis declined so devotion to Mary rose. The rest, as they say, is history.


The term 'virgin' developed in western culture as a synonym for purity and good behaviour, as though not having had sex somehow brought a person closer to God. However, in Jewish society at the time of Jesus birth, virginity had nothing about it that was so burdened by Western eyes, it was about ensuring that the new husband was getting brand new goods. Virginity was only important for the moment of the first marriage. In Jewish society, the society of Mary Joseph and Jesus, the first marriage was more important than subsequent marriages. For example, in the Jewish marriage contract for a first marriage husbands paid twice as much as for a second marriage. Virgins went out on the wedding procession with their hair open and flowing so that everyone could see and it would then be remembered that she had been a virgin when she entered her husband's house at that event. 


The term Theotokos was adopted as a title for the virgin Mary at the Third Ecumenical Council (AD 431), though it had already been in use in the life of the Church for some time.  It was a theological statement, emphasising that Mary's son, Jesus, (Joshua ben Joseph), is fully God as well as fully Man, and that His two natures are united as one Person of the Holy Trinity.  "Mother of God", which the Orthodox church has adopted, is one of the phrases commonly used to render Theotokos, though it is not an accurate translation, and without clear guidance could be, is, subject to misinterpretation.


It also has the disadvantage of being a translation of Meter Theou, which is less commonly used, but which occurs alongside Theotokos,, even within the same hymn, potentially leading, in translation, either to tautology or to convoluted renderings of one or other of the phrases.

Other possible translations of Theotokos are "God–Bearer", "Bearer of God", "Birthgiver of God", or "Birthgiver to God".  The last though clumsy, is probably the closest to an accurate translation of the meaning.  


The search continues for a more helpful, accurate and satisfactory translation.  What is clear though, is that there is no doctrinal obligation to regard Mary as being sexually 'intact', either at her time of the conception of Jesus, or her eventual death. That she had at least another child is quite possible.  Having said that, there are those who do adhere to the traditional view that she was a virgin, sexually intact, and have difficulty seeing an alternative to tradition. As ever, language is as much a barrier to our understanding as a driver. What the Early Fathers  and the scriptures meant by virgin, has to be taken in the context of the time, but so often as words change their meaning, it is all too easy to apply modern definitions and change their original meaning to a modern sense. In the final analysis it doesn't actually matter what or how the term virgin is applied to ones personal belief. All that matters is that one loves God. 

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Paraklitos

This means 'called to one's side', or 'called to one's aid', hence; an advocate. a helper, an intercessor, a counsellor, one who gives solace or encouragement.  With reference to the Holy Spirit, the term 'Comforter' is often used.
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The Meeting of the Lord


The Feast of 'The Meeting of the Lord' marks the end of the season of Theophany. In other traditions it is called 'The Presentation of Christ', 'Candlemas' or 'Feast of the Purification of Mary'.  


The event is described in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:22–40). which describes how Mary and Joseph took the Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days (inclusive) after his birth to complete Mary's ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, in obedience to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12-15, etc.) which describes how every firstborn male was to be brought into the temple to be dedicated to God on the fortieth day after birth.


Luke explicitly says that Joseph and Mary took the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb) (Leviticus 12:8), to sacrifice "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." Leviticus 12:1-4 indicates that this event should take place forty days after birth for a male child, hence the Presentation is celebrated forty days after Christmas.


Women contract tumah (ritual contamination) through childbirth.  The time period of the woman’s purification after childbirth differs and is based on the sex of the child as explained in Leviticus 12:1-8.  Here we see that Jesus was named on the day of His circumcision but they did not offer sacrifices until the days of Mary’s impurity were completed. 


Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, they run into Simeon, who had been promised that "he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2:26). The term "Lord's Christ" actually refers to the Messiah promised to the Jewish race by God. Simeon prayed the prayer that would become known as the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon, which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus:


"Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).


Simeon then prophesied to Mary: "Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).


The elderly prophetess Anna was also in the Temple, and offered prayers and praise to God for Jesus, and spoke to everyone there about Jesus and his role in the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:36-38).


Leviticus 12 explains that women who gives birth to a male child shall be contaminated for 7 days as in her days of menstruation (niddah = separation from marital relations and sacred things).  Circumcision on the 8th day pictures the putting to death of the fleshly nature in order to be made clean.  The new mother must be in blood of her purification for 33 days. This is basically a ceremonial purification from the blood of birth, life, and death.  During that time, she may not touch anything sacred and she’s unclean until time of purification is complete.  After the 33 days are complete, she must bring a sin offering and a whole burnt offering.  The sin-offering can be a young pigeon or a turtledove and the whole burnt offering can be a lamb or a young pigeon or a turtledove.  After that the woman can now be with her husband and enter the Tabernacle/Temple.


The Jewish perspective on this is that "Tumah" is a built-in component of women's natural monthly cycle. Her status of "impurity" demonstrates her descent from a peak level of holiness, when she had the ability to conceive a new life through her union with her husband. The status of "tumah" is not meant to imply sinfulness, degradation or inferiority. On the contrary, it emphasises, in particular, the great level of holiness inherent in woman's power to create and nurture a new life, and the great holiness of a husband and wife's union, in general. Since a woman possesses this lofty potential, she, also bears the possibility of its void; hence her status as tameh, ritually impure. Since she experienced "the touch of death," so to speak, with the loss of potential life, as reflected by her menstruation, she enters this status of being "impure."

After having given birth to a baby boy, a woman must wait a minimum of seven days before beginning her pure days; while after a baby girl is born, she must wait a minimum of fourteen days. Since the female child inherently carries a higher degree of holiness, due to her own biological, life creating capability, a greater void, or tumah, remains after her birth. Thus, the greater tumah after a baby girl's birth reflects her greater capacity for holiness (due to her creative powers) and necessitates the longer wait to remove this ritual impurity.

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Forgiveness Sunday


The weeks leading up to Pascha (Easter) are known as Great Lent. This period is a process and not just an event in time. The purpose of this process is as a preparation to celebrate Pascha when it arrives.  As part of this process, the Great Lent begins in earnest with Forgiveness Sunday.


The purpose of Forgiveness Sunday is to be reminded that Jesus included in His teaching that forgiving others is a necessary part of drawing close to God. "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses. Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, looking miserable. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly". (Matthew 6:14-18).


What happens on Forgiveness Sunday is this.  After the dismissal at Vespers or in our case the Sunday Liturgy, the priest stands before the congregation and in turn comes forward, venerate the icon, and then each makes a prostration (bows low enough to touch the floor with a finger as a gesture of humility) before the priest, saying, "Forgive me, a sinner." The priest also makes a prostration before each, saying, "God forgives. Forgive me." The person responds, "God forgives," and receives a blessing from the priest. 


Then it gets logistically interesting, because each person lines up around the church to give and receive forgiveness from each person in the congregation. No one is left out. We each all ask forgiveness of everybody, and everybody seeks our forgiveness of them for every offence that might have happened since the previous year when Forgiveness Sunday took place.


 Orthodoxy and Orthodox Christians accept that we can be indifferent to others, selfish, uninterested in others problems, have little or no concern for their troubles, and this act of reconciliation helps us come face to face with those uncomfortable things about us, with which we usually manage in our consciousness by just being polite and friendly to others instead of doing something practical for others, or by forgetting or ignoring their needs in our prayers.This act of reconciliation, whether we feel another who seeks to be reconciled does so unnecessarily for we haven't felt offended by them over the year, recognises that with the best will in the world a year in a community rarely goes by without doe small, albeit unintended, slight, and sets in motion our intentions and thoughts towards the sacrifice of Pascha whereby we can absorb the full meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection. 



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