UKRAINIAN AUTOCEPHALY: A CALL TO UNITY OR THE DESTRUCTION OF THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH? Protopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos.

This report of Protopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos was supposed to be delivered at the Diakideios School of the People1 in Patras on Wednesday, January 8, 2020—but his speech was canceled. Reportedly, this happened after the interference of certain highly positioned individuals. We publish here a translation of the report with minor redactions.

    

Dedicated to the Ever-Memorable Father George Metallinos

To start out, I will ask you one question. A new priest comes to the parish. The first impression of him is the most favorable: He is highly educated, and has excellent connections and acquaintances with professors, archbishops, and even Patriarchs. You decide to invite him into the house, and entrust him with a matter of the greatest importance: that he perform the sacrament of the Unction, and confess your father, who, despite his advanced years, has never confessed before.

But when you speak with this priest, you experience a real shock, because you find out that he does not possess the grace of the priesthood, since he received “ordination” from a pseudo-bishop named Victor, with an extremely murky past. At first, this Victor (a.k.a Viktor Chekalin, Vincent Berg, Vikenty) was a deacon in the canonical Orthodox Church, but was cast out of the clerical rank, because he was convicted and imprisoned for pedophilia. After leaving prison, he joined a schismatic group, to which he introduced himself as a bishop, although he was not ordained—never by anyone—even as a priest, and began to ordain others as “priests” and “bishops”.

He then later left the schismatic group and became a bishop with the Uniates. However, they found out that he was completely un-ordained, and drove him away. The Pope even punished the Uniate archbishop for accepting him. Subsequently, the pseudo-bishop Victor became a Protestant—an Anglican pastor. In the end, after his “church” career, he ended up in Australia, where he posed as a “psychiatrist of the secret school of the KGB”! However, he was soon arrested and sentenced to 4 years and 3 months in prison for fraud and falsification of documents, because he presented himself as a psychiatrist with fake diplomas.

If you really knew that your new parish priest, educated and such, but was in essence, not ordained, because he was consecrated by Victor, a charlatan and a fraud, would you allow him to confess your elderly father? Would you take a blessing from him? Would you have him baptize your child? Would you go to a Divine Liturgy performed by him? Would you take communion from the un-ordained?

You’d tell me that this wouldn’t happen, and that it’s a figment of my imagination. Unfortunately, my dear brothers and sisters, all that I have presented to you is a reality; it’s true, down to the smallest detail.

This is exactly what happened in the new autocephalous church, created last year by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine. A whole series of “bishops” have no trace of apostolic succession, because their consecration comes from a pseudo-bishop, a charlatan, a child rapist, a Uniate, an Anglican pastor, a self-proclaimed KGB psychiatrist, and now Victor Chekalin, convicted of fraud and falsification of documents! They were recognized—yes, dear friends—these people were recognized as canonical bishops, and honored with the highest ecclesiastical status—autocephaly—by our Ecumenical Patriarchate; unfortunately, they were also recognized by the Greek Church and the Patriarchate of Alexandria!

That is why, my dears, we are afflicted, we suffer and cry from pain, because, despite our many sins, we do not want to serve under the authority of pseudo-bishops, the un-ordained charlatans. Christ condescends to ensure that we sinners serve at His altar, but I think that He will not tolerate the un-ordained to pose as bishops, and deceive His people. Christ allows even the most sinful priest and bishop to celebrate the Divine Eucharist, and the offering they make—bread and wine—is transubstantiated into His Body and Blood by the Holy Spirit!

Yet for the sacrament to be performed by the un-ordained, this can never happen! The un-ordained cannot perform any real sacrament. They deceive and mock the people of God! Ultimately, it is unacceptable, that a handful of un-ordained schismatics without apostolic succession, defile (not the Church, which always remains holy and immaculate), but the Orthodox Episcopate of the Ecumenical Church.

We declare this publicly—and we will continue to do it, no matter what the local and foreign pundits say, voicing someone else’s opinion and repeating it like parrots.

We are not Russophiles, we are not following the instructions of Russian centers, we are not receiving rubles, we have not become traitors to Hellenism.

These slanderous characterizations do not hurt us, and we return them to those who utter them… These ad hominem labels that they hang on us only strengthen our conviction that we are not mistaken in the matter of Ukrainian autocephaly. If they had any real theological counterarguments, they would not have resorted to use slander against us. Or perhaps someone has actually heard any serious theological objections from them?

Our Lord, shortly before His death on the Cross, in His High Priestly Prayer2 paid special attention to the unity of the members of the Church. And in the future, the apostles, the holy fathers of the Church and all of our Church Tradition, as the apple of our eye, preserved the unity of our Church in truth.

In this context, a whole canonical tradition has been formed, in connection with which church institutions do not operate autonomously, on their own, but have a definite purpose: unity and communion in truth between members of the Church and between Local Churches.

The same applies to the institution of autocephaly. It also serves church unity. In briefly defining the concept of autocephaly, we can say that it has two dimensions: (a) the local level and (b) the pan-Orthodox level.

1 At the local level, it manifests itself in the fullness of the canonical jurisdiction of a Local Church, without any dependence on another church center; therefore, in order to provide autocephaly, the consent of the Mother Church (from which the new Church is to be separated) is required;

and

1 at the pan-Orthodox level, it manifests itself through the direct communion of the autocephalous Church with the family of Orthodox Local Churches, and therefore pan-Orthodox consent is required for the provision of autocephaly.

That is to say, the process of obtaining autocephaly ends with the entry of the new Church into fellowship with the other Local Churches, in the status of an equal sister church. This moment is of key importance, because it concerns the unity of the universal Orthodox Church, and not simply one part of it. Therefore, as an insufficient, flawed jurisdiction does not imply autocephaly, so an autocephaly which challenges the pan-Orthodox ecumenical (universal) unity of the Orthodox Church, is truly “malcephaly”.

On the serious issue of granting autocephaly to Ukraine, three fundamental questions were raised; among other things, the conclusion on the canonicity or non-canonicity of this Ukrainian autocephaly depends on the study of them:

1 Is Ukraine canonically subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the Moscow Patriarchate?

2 Does the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the right to grant autocephaly [in this case—Trans.]?

3 Who was/would be given autocephaly?

1. Is Ukraine subordinate to the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Throne?

Kiev Caves Lavra

    

The question of whether the Church of Ukraine is subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is of key importance, because otherwise, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no canonical right to intervene in the jurisdiction of another Local Church. Otherwise, he commits serious canonical crimes (the invasion of a different jurisdiction, etc.), which is condemned by many holy canons (The 2nd Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, 8th Canon of the Third Ecumenical Council, 39th Canon of the Quinisext [Fifth-Sixth] Ecumenical Council [in Trullo], 13th and 22nd Canons of the Council of Antioch, 3rd Canon of the Sardinian Council, etc.) as well as all the precedent of the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Of course, initially—after the Baptism of the Russians in Kiev, on the Dnieper River, in 998—the territory of what is now Ukraine, or the “Kievan Metropolia”, or the so-called “Little Russia—Malorossia”, like all of Rus’, was subject to the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Later, in the 17th century, Patriarch Dionysius IV, at the request of the Russian rulers, and following the principle of respect for the unity of the peoples of Rus’, which all Orthodox Patriarchs of Constantinople adhered to, transferred Ukraine to the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. It should be noted that the first Patriarchs of Constantinople who tried to destroy the church unity of Little and Great Russia were Latin-minded Patriarchs, John Kalekas and Gregory Mammas in the XIV – XV centuries. And now we’ve come to this end in the XXI century…

As we have shown in our recent work, according to official data, documents and publications, including even from the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, published by its own “Patriarchal Printing House” in Constantinople, according to studies by representatives of the leadership and members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (archivists of the Ecumenical throne such as Archbishop Kallinikos Delikanis, Archpriest Theodoros Zisis, Vasilios Stavridis, Vlasios Pheidas,3 G. Larentzakis), as well as according to officially stated theses of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, (in letters and speeches), it follows that in the ecclesiastical-canonical consciousness of the Ecumenical Throne during the last three and a half centuries, until 2018, Ukraine was not considered its canonical territory.

They explicitly and officially recognized that it belongs to the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, which had full canonical jurisdiction in all aspects of church life.

At the same time, the inhabitants of Ukraine themselves were actively a part of all the manifestations of the church life of the Moscow Patriarchate (parish life, [being] persecuted for their faith, monasticism, theological research, leadership).

And, finally, the most important point: The fact that the Ukrainian Church is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate was unambiguously resolved in the pan-Orthodox consciousness. Without exception, all Local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches and Patriarchates recognize that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has the status of broad and wide autonomy,4 is subject to the canonical jurisdiction of Moscow. Without exception, all Churches consider the only canonical Metropolitan of Kiev to be His Beatitude Onuphry. Only with him and with his Synod did all Orthodox Churches communicate in inter-Orthodox and pan-Orthodox services and in various commissions. Such unanimity expresses the pan-Orthodox ecumenical consciousness of the Orthodox Church, which no one can neglect without serious consequences.

Let’s not forget: When on July 26–28, 2013 a large delegation of clergy, led by our Most Reverend Hierarch, brought the cross of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called from our city of Patras to Kiev, whom did they commemorate? The Ecumenical Patriarch? Of course not! They commemorated the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, because Ukraine is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Patriarchal Church, like all Orthodoxy, recognized His Beatitude Met. Onuphry as the only canonical Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine!

For three and a half centuries, this unanimous, continuous, and indispensable experience of the life of the Church has formed, what canonical tradition calls, “church custom or canonical president,”5 which is respected along with canon law and, therefore, applies even in matters relating to canonical jurisdiction. For example, the autocephaly of the Cypriot Orthodox Church is based on this ecclesiastical precedent, which was approved by the Third Ecumenical Council in its 8th Canon.

In any case, both the removal of East Illyria (Illyricum orientale—Crete, Achaia, Thessaly, Epirus, Albania, and Macedonia) from the jurisdiction of the Roman Patriarchate, and its submission to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, did not occur on the basis of the proclamation of a Tomos, as was customary, but on the basis of this church custom. Eastern Illyria until 731, was canonically subordinate to the jurisdiction of the Roman Patriarchate which was then Orthodox. In 731, the iconoclast emperor Leo III the Isaurian, despite the sharp objections of the Orthodox Pope Gregory III,6 separated Eastern Illyria by imperial decision, and subjugated it to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in order to punish the Pope, who was Orthodox, and did not agree with him on the matter the destruction of Holy Icons!

Consequently, while Eastern Illyria was subject to Constantinople by ecclesiastical precedent, despite the fact that there was no church act (“tomos”) transferring jurisdiction over it from Rome, then the Kievan Metropolia is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate as there was a patriarchal and synodal decision in 1686, which was adopted by the church consciousness both in Constantinople, and at the pan-Orthodox level, thereby establishing a canonical, ecclesiastical precedent for 332 consecutive years.

Consequently, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, honoring the ecclesiastical canonical order, had no right to intervene in the affairs of Ukraine, without the consent of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Only the Ecumenical or Pan-Orthodox Council could authorize the Ecumenical Patriarch to intervene. However, exactly the opposite was happening: all the Orthodox Churches urged him not to intervene.

By what canon law does he neglect this pan-Orthodox consciousness and precedent, expressed “multilaterally and diversely”?

Under what canon law does the Ecumenical Patriarch place himself above pan-Orthodox consciousness?

2. Does the Ecumenical Patriarchate have the right to grant autocephaly this way?

    

In order to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations, it is necessary to clarify the following:

• Of course, the Ecumenical Patriarch has the right to grant autocephaly, but on certain conditions!

• Of course, the Ukrainian Church has the right to autocephaly, but, again, on certain conditions.

Everything in the Orthodox Church occurs subject to the conditions established by Church Tradition and canonical order. The same applies to the provision of autocephaly.

In the case of Ukraine, the basic conditions put forward by ecclesiastical tradition and order were not met. Unfortunately, the Ecumenical Patriarchate not only did not fulfill these conditions, but also contradicted itself! For decades, at Pan-Orthodox meetings, he declared and strongly supported one position, but later in Ukraine he did exactly the opposite.

All Pan-Orthodox conferences, all historians and canonists who collaborate with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and occupy leading positions in it, and even the Ecumenical throne until April 2018, unanimously proclaimed that church tradition and the procedure for proclaiming autocephaly of a particular Church imply a number of conditions, which were summarized from the official rostrum of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission (Geneva, December 9–17, 2009) via its chairman, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas):

“Since the Ecumenical Patriarch is concerned for the consensus of the Local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, then, having received a document confirming their consent, he can sign a Patriarchal Tomos on his own… If the Ecumenical Patriarch alone signs a tomos of autocephaly, this does not detract from the pan-Orthodox consent, because, according to what has been resolved, it required that the consent of all the Primates be given in advance; of course, including the Primate of the Mother Church… The Ecumenical Patriarch fulfills a coordinating function and can express the opinion of all Orthodoxy. And he does this after the deliberation and discussion with the other Primates. This has nothing to do with Papal Primacy. A Pope expresses his own opinion without asking others. The Ecumenical Patriarch seeks to enlist the opinions of others, and expresses that opinion.”

This was said by Metropolitan of Pergamon John Zizioulas as a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and chairman of the Inter-Orthodox Commission!

Unfortunately, none of the above was observed in the case of Ukraine. Obviously, not one of the conditions that the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself recognized as elements of church tradition and canonical order was fulfilled:

1 No petition was filed from the Church itself, requesting autocephaly—the canonical autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, recognized by the pan-Orthodox Church consciousness and the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, which has 53 dioceses, 90 bishops, 12,000 parishes with priests, 250 holy monasteries, 5,000 monks and nuns, did not ask for it, but on the contrary, categorically refused autocephaly, and did not participate in this process. Moreover, about 400 thousand signatures of Ukrainian citizens refusing autocephaly were collected and sent to the Ecumenical Patriarchate!

2 The necessary consent was not obtained from the Mother Church, from which a Church asking for autocephaly would be separated; to the contrary, the Mother Church was categorically against the provision of autocephaly.

3 There was no communal, conciliar discussion with other Churches, and, above all, not a single Local Orthodox Church advocated the provision of autocephaly. The pressure exerted by America on the Local Churches in favor of recognizing autocephaly does not honor all those who planned the provision of Ukrainian autocephaly and participated in it. This is a shame for the Orthodox Church and its pastors.

4 Thus, the Ecumenical Patriarch in the case of Ukraine acted not as a proponent of pan-Orthodox consent and consensus, but in the exact opposite way.

Unfortunately, we are bitterly convinced that the Ecumenical Patriarchate neglected the cry for help from the canonical Church and the Ukrainian people, neglected the opinion of the Mother Church, as well as the unanimous refusal of all Orthodox Churches—and listened to whom? To two Ukrainian groups: a) the political leadership of Ukraine, headed by then-President Poroshenko (who received only 17 percent support in the new elections!) And the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, which are both Uniates, and b) two groups which erupted from the ranks of excommunicated and self-ordained pseudo-clergy. These pseudo-clergy created schismatic organizations, which, despite state and other support and assistance, found little response from the people.7

There is disregard for Church Tradition and the canonical order in the granting of Ukrainian autocephaly.

Is it possible for autocephaly based on such a foundation to bear spiritual fruit and prosperity? Obviously, it will only create problems.

3. Who was granted autocephaly?

    

If in the previous two paragraphs, we considered the neglect of Church Tradition and the canonical order, as well as serious canonical violations, the situation is significantly exacerbated if we consider who was granted autocephaly!

Here we are dealing with a disregard for the innermost essence of the Christian priesthood, for the very sacrament of the transmission of divine grace, through the continuous apostolic succession possessed by Orthodox bishops. In fact, we were faced with a violation not of just one church canon, but of the dogmatic teaching of the Church on the priesthood, which is continuously transmitted from the apostles to our days.

In an unprecedented and unheard-of act, the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized and restored in the rank of bishop:

1 Philaret Denisenko, the defrocked and anathematized former bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Philaret’s eruption and anathematization was recognized and accepted without objection for 26 years by the pan-Orthodox church consciousness, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople.8 At the same time, Philaret, right after being defrocked in June 1992, exercised his right of appeal [ἔκκλητος—Trans.] and applied to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which sent a delegation to Moscow to study the circumstances of his defrocking. The appeal of Philaret was rejected, and Patriarch Bartholomew in August 1992, in his letter to the Patriarch of Moscow, recognized the defrocking of Philaret as consistent with the canons.9

2 Makary Maletich, who actually was never defrocked as a bishop…because he never received canonical ordination as bishop! In fact, Makary is completely un-ordained as a bishop, since those who ordained him were ordained by only one bishop, who was defrocked and never restored, as well as Viktor Chekalin, the former deacon, charlatan, fraudster and person involved in a criminal case (child molestation), who never even had a priestly ordination.

The new Autocephalous Ukrainian Church has approximately 50 bishops. Unfortunately, today 2/3 of these hierarchs received consecration from defrocked schismatics, and 1/3 of the consecrations (approximately 15 bishops) is traced back to the false bishop Chekalin!

However, in the restoration of defrocked, excommunicated and self-ordained clergy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not follow Church tradition, as was correctly noted by the bishops and Primates of many Local Churches:

A. There was no repentance on the part of the schismatics, therefore it is quite natural that Philaret can at any moment create a new schism. Let’s pay attention to the fact that the introduction of heretics and schismatics into the Church is, first of all, a spiritual process that takes place in the spirit of the patristic tradition. It is not committed by one administrative act of a particular institutional body, like the inclusion of any association! Professor Demetrios Tselengidis very accurately noted that repentance is the basic, fundamental, and mandatory prerequisite for the grace of God to take effect, and it cannot be replaced by an act signed in official authority, no matter what the authority. In the absence of repentance, when a sinner, stagnant in sins, deliberately rejects the saving word of the Church, grace cannot act, and the formal adoption of a synodal decision will not help here. And in this case, there was no repentance—even if external, even only formally, brought forward by anyone.

B. The schismatics did not show the slightest readiness to return to fellowship with the Church from which they broke away. Thus, the Local Church is ignored, and the basic and fundamental principle of Church Tradition is violated, according to which communion with the whole Church occurs only via the Local Church, and the indictment on church crimes made by one Local Church is valid in the whole Ecumenical Church (12th and 32nd Apostolic Canons, the 6th Canon of Antioch and 9th Canon of the Carthage Local Council).

This fundamental canonical principle is crucial for the restoration of schismatics. Their restoration is not accomplished unconditionally, through their communion and recognition by certain “friends” belonging to canonical Churches. Communion with schismatics does not help heal the schism, but leads to the fact that those who communed with schismatics in the sacraments are subject to ecclesiastical court, for violating the holy canons! Canonical tradition gives a clear answer:

“Furthermore, we decree that communion with those excluded from communion is not allowed, nor in another church is it to be allowed to admit those who have no admittance to another church. If anyone among the Bishops, or Presbyters, or Deacons, or anyone of the Canon, should appear to be communing with those who have been excluded from communion, he too is to be excluded from communion, on the grounds of seemingly confusing the Canon of the Church”10 (The 2nd Canon of the Council of Antioch).

And also

“If any one shall pray, even in a private house, with an excommunicated person, let him also be excommunicated.”11 (The 10th Canon of the Holy Apostles)

And

“[One] must not join in prayer with heretics or schismatics.”12 (The 33rd Canon of the Council of Laodicea)

Thus, according to the Tradition of our Church, the restoration of schismatics always takes place either through the Local Church from which they separated, or by convening an Ecumenical Council (for example, as happened with the Meletian schism at the First Ecumenical Council). Never has a single Local Church restored a schismatic group, separated from another church’s jurisdiction. This is how “confusing the Canon of the Church” (2nd Rule of the Council of Antioch) is essentially meant to be understood.

C.) No proper concern or care was taken regarding the lack of apostolic succession among the unappointed “bishops” of the new Church, namely:

• Those who received false consecration in schism were not re-ordained;

• Those who received false consecration from defrocked and anathematized clergy were not re-ordained;

• Those who received false consecration from the self-ordained and generally non-ordained, were not re-ordained.

After all, it was precisely this that was prescribed by the corresponding decision of the First Ecumenical Council, regarding the Meletian schism, and this is precisely what the Ecumenical Patriarchate did recently, when two “bishops” of the Old Calendarists entered its jurisdiction in the USA. He ordained them as like the un-ordained!

    

Approximately 35 of the 50 “bishops” of the new Church belong to the group of Philaret, who received canonical ordination in the Russian Orthodox Church, but later on, despite the fact that he was defrocked and anathematized, continued to “ordain”. The remaining “bishops” (about 15) belonged to Makary’s group, and their “episcopal ordinations” are traced back to the unrighteous charlatan and swindler Viktor Chekalin.

Some, unfortunately, including official figures, in order to calm their conscience and justify their inaction and silence, characterize our persistence in the issue of the un-ordained as an obsession. But until they answer us seriously and responsibly, we will continue to publicly declare this issue in the hope that at some point their conscience will become our ally… Frankly, we are particularly concerned that neither the Ecumenical Patriarchate nor the new church answers the most important question: “From whom did the “bishops” of Makary’s group receive the episcopal ordination and apostolic succession?”

Why do these officials not answer this question? Maybe this question concerns details, which are not worth discussing? The question of the apostolic succession of Orthodox bishops is not important? Four to five versions are unofficially distributed on the Internet, trying to justify the “canonicity” of their ordination. However, they achieve the exact opposite effect, because:

a) The data they each present does not correspond to the others. Each version is fundamentally different from the others and refutes the rest;

b) they are based not on official statements of competent church authorities, but on the words of Ukrainian journalists or even on an anonymous (!) researcher who published an unsigned text! Is it possible for competent institutions and persons to remain silent on such serious issues, and the answers to come from… “journalists”?

• The new Autocephalous Church is silent, as if there was no problem at all!

• The Ecumenical Patriarchate is also silent, as if there were no problems!

• The Alexandrian Patriarchate is also silent on this issue!

• The Special Rapporteur of the Synodal Commissions, Professor Vlasios Pheidas, is silent about this in his report!

• And the Synodal Commission on Dogmatic and Canonical Issues is silent about this in its conclusion addressed to the Holy Synod!

• The Synodal Commission on Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations is also silent about this in its conclusion addressed to the Holy Synod!

• The Archbishop of Athens in his statement to the Council of Bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church did not say anything about this issue!

• During a meeting of the Council of Bishops of the Church of Greece on November 7, 2019, none of the bishops who supported autocephaly addressed the issue of healing the problem of those who were not ordained from the Makary group. And they are silent!

• Finally, in the decision of the Council of Bishops of the Greek Orthodox Church—complete silence…

None of the above seemed to have ever heard or thought that the lack of apostolic succession among the un-ordained is a problem! And at the same time, they accuse us of “asking too many questions”. It’s a pity that everything happens this way…

So, who in the end confuses the people of God: those who try to understand what is happening, and ask questions, or those who, being competent and responsible persons, remain silent? Is it a manifestation of church ethics to demand that the people of God not ask questions or ask officials about anything? If authorized approved pastors do not answer us, who will answer us?

And most importantly: these questions about how the non-ordained received the “priesthood” are not raised by us with our “obsessions,” but by bishops, Primate and Synods of Local Churches.

Can anyone blame the bishops and the Primates for embarrassing the fullness of the Church when they do not recognize the hierarchal rank of the un-ordained?

Can anyone blame the Archbishop of Albania, Anastasius, for embarrassing the fullness of the Church when he answers the Ecumenical Patriarch, citing irrefutable theological arguments, and denying the canonicity of even [the defrocked] Philaret’s episcopate, not to mention Makary, who has no ordination at all!

The same problems and the same questions are raised by the defender of the rights of the Ecumenical See, who is a supporter of Ukrainian autocephaly, His Grace Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos. As a leading theologian and expert in the field of dogmatic theology and ecclesiastical canonical order, he does not “recon” on the way in which “restoration” was accomplished. So, on March 30, 2009, in his letter to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, he notes:

“With regard to the question of how the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized the “episcopate” of bishops, who were “ordained” as such by defrocked or schismatic “bishops”, or otherwise the “self-ordained”, our Church, before making any decision, must ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate a question as to the way he restored these bishops.”

Indeed, and how did the Ecumenical Patriarchate react in response to the reasonable concern of the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos? With utter silence! Neglecting the question of an authoritative bishop, who had justified anxiety regarding the essence, divine inspiration, and action of the sacrament of episcopal ordination among schismatics!

It is noteworthy that the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos quotes the words “episcopate”, “ordained”, “self-ordained” and “bishops”, in referring to the “bishops” of the new autocephalous church, apparently due to deep doubts as to whether they were “ordained”, whether they hold an “episcopate”, and, finally, whether they are even “bishops”! Perhaps the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos confused the people of God when he presented his message to the public?

Maybe Metropolitan Seraphim of Kythira confuses the people, when, in his New Year’s encyclical, he says the following with perfect clarity:

“Another very dangerous and disturbing problem is the well-known and increasingly aggravated “Ukrainian issue” in connection with the anti-canonical way in which autocephaly was provided. There is an unpredictable scale of spiritual threat of a deepening and uprooting impending schism among the Local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, if this complex and intrinsically intractable canonical and ecclesiological question does not receive a timely, canonical and final solution at the pan-Orthodox level. We will not tire of emphasizing this. From everywhere, voices are heard, alarmed and preoccupied with the ongoing anti-canonical development of events in connection with this most acute, Ukrainian question.”

G.) The former “bishops” among the schismatics did not obey the canonical bishops, as prescribed by the 8th Canon of the First Ecumenical Council, regarding the return to church communion of schismatic clerics (Cathari), which clearly states this:

“But if they come over where there is a bishop or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the Bishop of the Church must have the bishop’s dignity; and he who was named bishop by those who are called Cathari shall have the rank of presbyter, unless it shall seem fit to the Bishop to admit him to partake in the honour of the title. Or, if this should not be satisfactory, then shall the bishop provide for him a place as Chorepiscopus, or presbyter, in order that he may be evidently seen to be of the clergy, and that there may not be two bishops in the city.”13

On the contrary, they remained in the same diocese as “parallel bishops” along with canonical bishops. Moreover, we are dealing not only with the parallel existence of two bishops, in violation of the 8th Canon of the First Ecumenical Council, commanding, “Let there not be two bishops in the city”, but also with the creation of a parallel Church and a parallel Synod in the territory of another Autocephalous Church.

Honestly, we cannot help but see that the Phanar’s intervention in the affairs of Ukraine led to the creation of a grotesque situation: He had such “successes” that he managed to make the impossible and unprecedented possible for all of Orthodoxy—in a single city there are now 4 bishops serving of the same nationality, and one and the same flock: the canonical bishops belonging to the autonomous Church under the omophorion of Metropolitan Onuphry; two of the former schismatic structures of Philaret and Makary, that existed before the Tomos, and one new group, which Philaret recently ordained, after creating a new schism! The most tragic thing is that Phanar and his “heralds”, without any hesitation, and with great confidence, speak of the unity of the Church of Ukraine.

There is no historical and canonical precedent, when a bunch of defrocked, excommunicated, self-ordained, and schismatic “clergy”, in one fell swoop be “restored to their clerical dignities”, participate in a “unification council”, and at the very same time receive “autocephaly”—an enviable speed even for express procedures! And all this—with disrespect for the apostolic and canonical ordinance, which provides that it is not righteous to suddenly turn into a bishop a “convert”, “from a vicious way of life. For it is unfair for the still untried to become a teacher of others,” see the 80th Apostolic Canon and the 2nd Canon of the 1st Ecumenical, the 3rd of the Laodicean Local Council, and the 4th of St. Cyril)!

Here the Patriarchate hastened to immediately bestow the highest church degree—autocephaly—to people who were born and spiritually took shape in a 25-year schism, and now he is tasting the fruits of his unreasonable actions that dishonor the Church, alas…

Since the canonical Metropolitan of Kiev Onuphry, recognized by all Orthodox Churches, and the other canonical bishops, did not die, did not resign, were not absent without a good reason for 6 months in their diocese, were not convicted of a canonical offense—how can one elect the “Metropolitan of Kiev” or another bishop? Isn’t this forbidden by the 16th Rule of the First-Second Council14 of 861:

“It is also necessary to decree something in regard to the quarrels and disturbances that are taking place in God’s Church. Under no circumstances shall any Bishop be appointed over a church whose president is still alive and is in good standing of honor, unless he himself shall voluntarily resign. For the cause of one who is going to be ousted from the church must first be canonically examined and brought to a conclusion, and then thereafter when he has been duly deposed from office, another man may be promoted to the episcopacy in his stead.”1516

An absolutely anti-canonical Ecumenical Patriarch demands that His Beatitude Onuphry, recognized by all Orthodoxy as the canonical Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine, stop calling himself by his canonical title, which is recognized by all Orthodox Churches.

Does the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on accepting bishops of another Church without a letter of canonical release and the permission of their Kyriarch17—the canonical Patriarch—contradict the holy canons? This is strictly prohibited by the 14th and 15th Apostolic Canons, the 15th Canon of the First Ecumenical Council, the 15th Canon of the Sardinian Council, the 63 (54th) of the Carthaginian Local Councils.

Based on what canon does a self-governing Church, having the rights of broad autonomy, with an active church life (thousands of parishes, thousands of monks and millions of believers), which to this day has been recognized by all Orthodox Churches as expressing the aspirations of all the Orthodox of Ukraine, “disappear” from the church diptychs, in order to provide a place for the founding of a “new church”?

And finally, how can the Orthodox Churches acknowledge that the actions and deeds of an unrighteous false bishop-impostor convey divine grace in the sacrament of the priesthood? Can anyone who does not have ordination ordain canonical priests? Since when did the un-ordained have apostolic succession?

The moral character of the new church

Let us take a closer look at the moral character of leaders, and, consequently, the moral character of the new autocephalous Church as a whole, which the Greek Orthodox Church recognized.

I honestly admit, I doubt that the leaders of the new church are even believers. It is regrettable to talk about this, but judging by their behavior, they are ruthless and conspire even with the devil himself in order to achieve his goal! And the Phanar knows well what kind of “guys” he is dealing with, and does not trust them.

There is proof of this: The unthinkable is provided in the tomos—that the “autocephalous church” cannot canonize saints, but must appeal to Constantinople on this issue! For no other Church has something like this provided. The Greek Orthodox Church has the right to canonize saints, and only because of their respect for the Ecumenical Patriarchate appeals to him, without being obligated to do so. However, she can canonize the saints herself, and sometimes enjoys this right: for example, St. Chrysostom of Smyrna was glorified among the saints by the Church of Greece without an appeal to Phanar. The [autonomous] Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has the right to canonize saints, but the “Autocephalous church”—the OCU—does not!!!

I will cite several cases that clearly demonstrate the moral character of the new Church:

1. The “canonization” of a self-ordained heretic and an event in his honor!

Mockup of the memorial to “Metropolitan” Lipkovsky in Cherkassy, September 2018

Ten days after receiving the “tomos” (01/06/2019) and before undergoing proper “enthronization”, the new “primate” hastened to honor Vasily Lipkovsky(Ukrainian: Vasil Lipkivsky). In the presence of President Poroshenko and one “bishop” of his new church, on January 18, 2019 in Cherkassy (Ukraine), Epiphany participated in the opening of a large monument in honor of Vasily Lipkovsky, whom the author of the monument depicted in bishop’s vestments. 

Moreover, the un-ordained Makary, “restored” by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, honored the memory of Vasily Lipkovsky on November 27, 2018, as a “Hieromartyr”, having an icon painted of him! 

Who is Vasily Lipkovsky? A Ukrainian defrocked  priest, and later the self-proclaimed “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine”! To be more precise, he did not ordain himself, but was consecrated by a Soviet-style national assembly, which was attended by defrocked former priests and deacons, as well as lay people, among whom were women. 

Moreover, in order for consecration to be more “real”, a part of the relics (the hand) of the Hieromartyr Makarios, bishop of Kiev, was placed on the head of the “ordained” Vasily Lipkovsky! Due to such an ungodly and blasphemous method of “ordination”, this group received among the people the nickname “self-saintedsamosvyaty18 (meaning self-ordained)!19

According to one honorable hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the ever-memorable Metropolitan Maximos of Sardis, Vasily Lipkovsky introduced married bishops, a second and third marriage for clerics, and also abolished monasticism! Such lofty church morality, worth of all imitation, veneration and respect… 

In order for all Orthodox to understand the seriousness of this issue, it should be noted that the group under the self-ordained Vasily Lipkovsky, after two and a half years, already numbered thirty bishops and about 1,500 priests and deacons, who served in nearly 1,100 parishes, and its diaspora was created in Europe and America! The Metropolitan of Sardis Maximos on this occasion writes the following: 

“The aforementioned Vasily Lipkovsky, self-ordained to the rank of bishop, independently appropriated the title, ‘Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine’, repeatedly appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate with a request to accept him in church fellowship and to bless him, as well as to acknowledge the self-ordination of himself and other bishops, which cannot be justified… Of course, needless to say, not one of the appeals received a response from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” 

If the ever-memorable Archpastor Maximos only would have seen the deplorable development of these events today… 

Unfortunately, he [Lipkovsky] is revered and worshiped as a saint by the new OCU… I especially emphasize that all of the above is not coming from Russians to slander this “apostle of the Ukrainian church” (as the “primate” Epiphany characterized Lipkovsky), but from venerable hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the ever-memorable Metropolitan of Sardis Maximos and Metropolitan Methodios (Fouyias) of Thyateira and Great Britain. 

2. There’s even the LGBT! Lord have mercy!

   

The new church, the offspring and instrument of American foreign policy, cannot keep up with issues related to the movement of perverts (homosexuals). In his first statements, the new Primate Epiphany said regarding the rights of sodomites, perverts, the LGBT: 

“Of course, I am for starting reforms in the church, so there wouldn’t be conservatism, so we would depart from Russian tradition and so the church would be open and a spiritual guide for the Ukrainian people. Because we are moving towards Europe, and therefore we should depart from the Russian conservative tradition. The church should be more open, because Russian Orthodoxy is very conservative and far from the people. I have the position that we should be with the people. We should understand their problems… This is a difficult issue that we should not raise at the beginning of our journey, because, you know how Ukrainian society perceives this question. Now we need to work on it, so Ukrainian society would accept it. It’s a long path.”20

And soon he began to implement his plans: At the next meeting of the Synod of the OCU, Ivan Ryabchiy took part as a translator, a member of the leadership of the LGBT movement in Ukraine, and one of the main initiators of gay pride parades in Kiev.21 According to journalists, Ryabchiy, who, in addition to his sexual orientation, positioned himself as a nationalist and patriot, was previously a member of the leading circles of the Kiev Patriarchate. For example, in 2016, “Patriarch” Philaret (Denisenko) presented Ryabchiy with an award from the UOC-KP (the schismatic group of Philaret, called the “Kiev Patriarchate”). 

Yes! An active participant in the LGBT movement sits at a meeting of the Synod of the autocephalous church and is awarded by the “Honorary Patriarch” Philaret “for his special contribution to the spiritual revival of Ukraine”!!! 

Let us rejoice in the rising new church! 

3. And of course, contacts with the Uniates!

     

Finally, I left the most important example of their ecclesiastical morality for last: a fact that from now on, will all the more trouble us, in relations with the OCU. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Ecumenical Patriarchate set about creating this church formation. 

Extremely disturbing are the increasingly strengthening warm relations between the OCU and the Uniates. Epiphany’s best friend is the major archbishop of the Uniates Shevchuk. All these sweet speeches… Let’s not forget what the Pope said: “Ukraine is a laboratory of ecumenism!” 

The plan is being implemented methodically and purposefully: the Phanar wants us, as Orthodox, to “swallow” communication with schismatics; to “swallow” the lack of apostolic succession among the bishops. To gradually get us used to fraternizing with the Uniates. And so in the end, one more step, and we will find ourselves in the arms of the pope who “loves us so”. 

It will not be difficult at all… Then they will tell us: “And what about the fact that the Uniates recognize the pope, that they are so close to Orthodoxy after all. And then we will be the same… all together, in love and harmony! What is wrong with that?” There is a revealing video on this, which is worth watching to understand what they are preparing for us.22

We are sincerely concerned about the position of traditional Greek bishops and theologians, who have accepted, approved, and want to impose on the faithful this evil false autocephaly! We ask ourselves: how do they feel when they observe this mechanism in action? Do they not feel sharp reactions of conscience as accomplices, because they participated in a crime against the Ukrainian people, recognizing such people as their shepherds, and such a church as their Mother? 

4. The Ukrainian Problem: has it gone from a canonical question to an ecclesiological?

     

Unfortunately, the Ukrainian church issue is being transformed from a canonical problem into a massive ecclesiological problem, the consequences and extent of which are currently unpredictable: 

For the first time in modern church history, the Ecumenical Patriarch interprets the “prerogative of honor”23, which Orthodox Tradition, no doubt, grants him, as a primacy of power according to the papal model. 

The Primacy of Honor (prerogative of honor):

  1. The role of a coordinator in inter-Orthodox relations. 

  2. Declares and realizes resolutions which Orthodox Churches undertook in a conciliar way. 

A Papal Primacy of Power:

  1. The Pope acts outside his jurisdiction, not only within the Roman Patriarchate, but throughout the Church. 

  2. The Pope makes decisions sovereignly and independently and / or contrarily to the opinion of the Local Churches. 

  3. The remaining bishops are required to accept a papal decision. 

  4. A papal decision does not need approval; it cannot be challenged or changed. 

Tell me, please, what do the actions of the Ecumenical Patriarch remind you of? Orthodox prerogative of honor, or the papal primacy of power? 

Moreover, the Ecumenical Patriarch’s demand is unprecedented in the Orthodox Church. 

To judge serious problems in the Local Orthodox Churches and intervene in any affairs outside his jurisdiction throughout the ecumenical (universal) Orthodox Church, and not just that, but “self-sufficiently, as a duty” to resolve “not only dogmatic questions, or those or related to the Holy Tradition, or canonical church prescriptions, or problems of a general nature concerning the whole body of the Church, but also all the important local problems that concern one or another Local Church.” 

This is reminiscent of the Dictate of Pope Gregory VII (Dictatus Papae) of 1075. The Pope’s Dictate sets out the requirement to submit to the Pope all the most important (“cause majores”) affairs of each Church! 

And the associations continue if we recall the statements of the Gregorian reform theorist Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida (1053-1054) in his writings “On the Holy Roman Church” (De sancta romana ecclesia), which states that the Roman Church is “the mother of all Churches” (mater omnium ecclesiarum), their core, source and origin (cardo, fons et origo), their top and foundation (vertex et fundamentum). 

Reverent and beloved fathers, we understand where our Orthodox ecclesiology is being directed… 

Consequently, the responsibility will be great for all those who take part in this, or by their silence make it possible to consolidate these views and practices in the Orthodox Church. Possible connivance will be charged with complicity in the crimes committed. 

I would like to believe that the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and our bishops, who took an oath to observe the sacred canons and Church order, and to preserve the purity of Orthodox ecclesiology, are fully aware of their great responsibility to God and His people. 

5. The new “church” of Ukraine—year one

     

Recently, on January 6, 2020,24 one year has passed since the provision of the tomos to Ukraine. It is quite natural that its church activity, which was dictated by certain anti-Christian centers of power, was designed to serve not ecclesiastical, but exclusively geopolitical purposes, based on the violation of a number of sacred canons, which rapidly leads to ecclesiological deviations, and cannot bring good results for our Churches. Spiritual laws, as St. Paisios said, must come into action! And here is the result: 

1. The deterioration of the church situation in Ukraine. Not only have peace, harmony and unity not been achieved, on the contrary, violence occurs, seizures of churches, hacking of the doors of the holy temples of God with crowbars and chainsaws, threats, accusations against clergy, courts, etc. 

Indeed, my dear brothers and sisters, how can we, as clergy and laity, be calm and indifferent to the pain and suffering of thousands of our Orthodox brothers, members of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church abiding in the Ukrainian lands, who wish to remain in their Mother Church, and for this reason suffer such persecution? Aren’t they members of the Body of Christ? Aren’t we obliged to empathize with them? How is it possible for us Orthodox Greeks to be on the side of their executioners? 

The absence of the Spirit of God and the influence of evil spirits are indicated by the fact that the autocephalous church was self-divided! The schism has schismed! Philaret, with several bishops, separated from the schismatics and began to ordain new bishops. To this day, he has already created his own Synod with eight “metropolitans”! His spiritual child, the “Primate” Epiphanius, charges him, and Philaret threatens to disclose incriminating evidence. The Phanar, who restored Philaret and proclaimed him—just wait—”Honorary Patriarch”—now in an awkward position, accuses the Russians of causing the quarrel between Philaret and Epiphanius! Laughter through tears! 

2. All situations driven by the devil are difficult to control; they sow confusion and division at the inter-Orthodox level, and this is what has happened with Ukrainian autocephaly. 

In Africa, thiry local clergymen from four Metropolises published a message in which they disagreed with the decision of the Patriarch of Alexandria to recognize the OCU. This is an unprecedented phenomenon for Africa. And there is a threat that if local bishops do not exercise caution, they will lose all the clergy, and then the end of their mission can be very bad… 

In Cyprus, an exchange of harshness between the archbishop and three to four bishops hit the press! 

And look what is happening in Greece! Can’t you see that Ukrainian autocephaly is causing more and more damage to our Local Church? 

Let’s read the message of the Archbishop of Albania, Anastasius, describing the crisis, in which, due to the Ukrainian problem, the Greek church discourse ended up “under the guidance and patronage of dignitaries”—indeed, a serious accusation from the Archbishop of Tirana! In particular, he writes: 

“It is regrettable that in the light of such an important problem, irresponsible people have become more active, who insult those who express different opinions and at the same time flatter those who support them. 

“Apparently, everything is well thought out and planned. Some use social networks. 

“Their main mouthpiece is a clergyman of the Cretan Metropolia (under the leadership and patronage of high-ranking officials), who, along with a certain ‘strike team,’ took upon himself the task of viciously and sarcastically scrutinizing, intimidating, and at his own discretion, ‘punishing’ with insults, threats, far-fetched fabrications, and even obscene jesting, against all those who make other proposals to overcome the crisis… 

“All who participate in the implementation of this plan, directly or implicitly, without hesitation, label people ethnophiletic characters, such as ‘Slavophiles’, ‘Russophiles’ and the like. There is an undoubted crisis of Church polemics that undermines inter-Orthodox dialogue during this critical period for Orthodoxy.” 

The Archbishop of Albania mainly speaks of supporters of autocephaly, who formed a “definite strike team” and insult, ridicule and trample in the mud all who criticize the actions of the Phanar, “under the guidance and patronage of dignitaries”! 

2. Personally, I was saddened by how understated and indifferent the dignity of our episcopate was when the Ecumenical Patriarch made his decision. Unfortunately, not a single bishop was outraged by such a direct insult to the Church hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church. 

3. To be honest with our spiritual fathers, we must with great respect, like real children, tell them that, with a few exceptions, they disappointed us, both personally and collectively, as a Council of Bishops. 

How could a Christian not be disappointed seeing how the very essence of the conciliar system is being undermined due to the refusal to put forward a vote on the approval of autocephaly? Why were they so afraid that they did not put the question to a vote? Perhaps the fact that they will not be able to turn this matter around in their own way, and then have to give answer to those in whose favor they promised to resolve this issue? 

But even in spite of such a course of events, they failed to do it completely: Some venerable bishops raised very serious objections to the council “decision”, pointing out the unacceptable rush to “carry out this procedure”, “ignorance and complete unpreparedness of the bishops”, as well as the fact that this issue is “not yet ripe for discussion” and “pernicious haste in making a decision.” 

In addition, it was pointed out that there were flaws in the conclusion of the conciliar commissions, which was of the greatest importance in this matter: It was described as “superficial and containing inaccuracies”, and the conclusions as “contradictory, inconsistent and ill-conceived”. And this is far from the point, as Metropolitan Germanios of Elis and Olena mentioned, informing his clergy about the course of the Council of Bishops at the diocesan meeting. 

4. We were disappointed with the conciliar discussions, as they proceeded without any objection. 

Can we not be upset, when we hear how almost completely our episcopate is silent on the most important canonical, ecclesiological and theological issues raised in connection with Ukrainian autocephaly, and at the same time speaks of a “brave Hierarchy” or refers to national self-consciousness with cheap ethnophiletic slogans like, “We can’t let the Russians take our patriarchy away from us”? 

It is tragic that the Greek bishops at the Council of Bishops (that is, quite officially, from the pulpit where theology is to be born) are trying to support Ukrainian autocephaly, saying how bad Moscow is, which means it “got what it deserves” from Bartholomew! 

I can’t believe that this is possible! Such an argument reminds me of a situation in my family about 15 years ago, when my children, then very young, quarreled. When I scolded one of them, he said that the other started first, and he made excuses: I was not guilty, he started it… And if these childhood tricks annoy us, then a completely different reaction is caused when you hear the same level of argument from the bishops at the Council of Bishops regarding such significant theological issues. 

As the literal flock of Christ, loving and honoring our shepherds, we expect and demand seriousness from them, that they remain at the same height that befits their high title bestowed upon them by Divine Grace. 

And not only this but much more disappoints us and fills us with bitterness … 

Protopresbyter Anastasios GotsopoulosProtopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos     

I would like to dwell in more detail on the statement of our Metropolitan made before the Council of Bishops. His Grace told us: 

“If the Russians had come to Council of Crete, Patriarch Bartholomew would not have given autocephaly to Ukraine.” 

Unfortunately, our Archpastor is absolutely right. This statement is completely and totally true—quite tragically so! If the Russians went to Crete, he [i.e. Patriarch Bartholomew] would not have given autocephaly to Ukraine. 

This was promised by Patriarch Bartholomew himself to the Patriarch of Moscow in Chambésy (Geneva) during the previous Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Gathering of Primates (January 2016), as recorded in the letters of the Patriarch of Serbia, and the Archbishop of Czech Lands and Slovakia.25

Moreover, a Greek bishop, who fully supports the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, described in detail to me what happened in Chambésy in January 2016 at the meeting of Primates. The Moscow Patriarch was strongly opposed to the Pan-Orthodox Council, and it was obvious that the meeting was at an impasse. 

During the break, over a cup of coffee, the Ecumenical Patriarch says to the Moscow Patriarch in the presence of the other Primates: “If you just come to Crete, I won’t even touch Ukraine!” 

The Moscow Patriarch agreed to this, and they returned amicably to the conference room and announced the holding of the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete! 

However, in the end, the Patriarch of Moscow not only didn’t come to Crete, to confirm the patriarchal status of the Patriarch of Constantinople, but 6 months later, on the pretext of celebrating Kirill’s birthday, he organized an anti-meeting of Primates, designed like a Pan-Orthodox Council. The Phanar’s patience boiled over… 

This was recalled by our Most Reverend Metropolitan when he said: “If the Russians had come to Council of Crete, Patriarch Bartholomew would not have given autocephaly to Ukraine.” 

However, I did not write in vain: “unfortunately.” Why “Unfortunately”? Because it proves that the motive for granting autocephaly was not spiritual! There was no concern for the Ukrainian people; there was no care for healing the split. There was no grief over the schism and no desire to return the faithful to church fellowship. There were only goals and objectives in the field of church politics. If Moscow, had confirmed with its presence in Crete the “first-throne” status of Constantinople, no one would be involved with some schism in Ukraine. Am I wrong? 

5. Finally, I have left for last the topic of worries and confusion, which was caused by the visits of representatives of the new autocephalous “church” to our country. The “bishops” of the new church visited the Monastery of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Patmos, founded by St. Amphilochius (Makris), on the patronal feast of the monastery (on the day of the Annunciation). As a result, not a single nun of the monastery communed! Just think about it, my dear: The Annunciation Day, the feast day of the monastery, and the nuns do not partake of Holy Communion… 

Didn’t you see the impudence of the representatives of the OCU who went on a pilgrimage to Greece, supposedly to bow to the shrines of our Motherland, even before the ink had dried on the document of their recognition. In fact, they just wanted to take pictures and show those photos to the people of Ukraine, saying, “Here! Look, Look! All of Greece recognizes us, not Onuphry!” Such are they, such is their spiritual level! 

Fortunately, they did not dishonor our city, and did not desecrate the altar of our Church of St. Andrew the First-Called. This did not happen thanks to two people: firstly, our Most Reverend Metropolitan, who did not give them permission to serve the Liturgy, which was announced publicly. Personally, I wish and pray that God will send him spiritual strength, so that he does not succumb to other similar attacks by the devil and his servants. I am sure that the corresponding pressure will increase, not only from the splitters of Ukraine, but also from their patrons, politicians and dignitaries in the Church. 

The second person after the Metropolitan who helped to ensure that the holy Church of St. Andrew the First-Called was not defiled, was a simple Christian, Spyros Zorbalas. I must publicly say that we first met with Mr. Zorbalas one or two days before the arrival of the schismatics, and I set out some of my concerns to him. I admit, however, that I was wrong, and his step was successful, because he scared away the schismatics, and they were forced to change their plans and did not attend the Divine Liturgy in the Church of St. Andrew the First-Called! Once again are confirmed the words of the Holy Prophet Moses, that with the help of God, one person, and even more so two people, can drive away the enemy: 

How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up? (Deut. 32:30) 

Beloved ones! I think that the time is coming when we will have to make decisions, perhaps painful ones. There will be no excuse for us if we see how the altars are desecrated by the hooves of mules (by “mules” we mean the spiritual state of the blasphemers. Remember the terrifying vision of St. Anthony the Great, to whom the Arians appeared in the form of mules surrounding the Holy Altar of the monastery, jumping on it and kicking it. According to St. John Chrysostom, heretics differ little from schismatics, because both of them lead souls from the Church to eternal perdition). 

So, if we see how dumb cattle enter the temple, defecate in it and pollute it, do we really not react, remain indifferent and say: Is it the issue for overseer of the church or the priest? Do we not thus participate, by showing indifference, in the desecration of the holy sites of our faith? 

As a faithful people of God, we must abandon spiritual laziness and carelessness and assume, as far as the strength and capabilities of each of us allow, the responsibility assigned to us by Orthodox ecclesiology, which is briefly formulated in the famous Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (1848), written in reply to Pope Pius IX: 

“Moreover, neither Patriarchs nor Councils could then have introduced novelties amongst us, because the protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves, who desire their religious worship to be ever unchanged and of the same kind as that of their fathers…”26

Protopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos
Russian translation by the brothers of the Kellia of St. Modestos on Mt. Athos
Translation from the Russian by Matfey Shaheen

Pravoslavie.ru

3/30/2020

1 Translated from the Russian “в школе имени И. Диакиди города Патры”. This refers to the Diakideios School of the People or Διακίδειος Σχολή Λαού, named in honor of Ioannis Diakidis (Ιωάννης Διακίδης)

2 See John 17

3 The Greek professor Βλάσιος Φειδάς (Russian spelling: Власий Фидас) which do to transliteration of Greek, may appear if at all, in various spelling in English (for example: Vlasy Fidas, Blasios I. Pheidas, Phidas, Phithas etc).

4 The autonomy that UOC enjoys grants them by far more freedoms than the autocephaly granted by the Phanar to the OCU. In reality, the “autonomy” of the UOC is practically autocephaly in all practical ways, save for the fact that the UOC commemorates the Patriarch of Moscow and receives myrrh from him. In Russian Imperial days, the Myrrh was in fact made in Kiev. The OCU must receive myrrh from Constantinople, and receive the blessing of Constantinople to canonize saints, unlike the UOC, which does not require the pre-approval of Moscow to canonize.

5 Here I translate this phrase from the Russian translation of the authors Greek, throughout this article, by various names, as appropriate to the context, including church custom, ecclesiastical custom, ecclesiastical precedent, and canonical precedent. By its very nature, this is not a clear codified and unmoving law, but a natural way in which a canonical or ecclesiastical norm is established simply by long-standing tradition. If something is continually practiced in Orthodoxy, and does not violate the dogmatic canons, it may eventually become set in the local or even ecumenical church custom simply by way of its continuous existence and the consensus or otherwise non-objection of the churches. This is similar to the concept of Precedent in common law based legal systems—Trans.

6 The fifth Syrian pope and the last pope born outside Europe until Francis.

7 Shaheen, Matfey. “Analyzing the Ukrainian Cross Processions—Why did 300,000 Ukrainians March for the Baptizer of Russia?” Orthodox Christianity, August 15, 2019. http://orthochristian.com/123071.html

8 Orthodox Christianity. “Patriarch Bartholomew’s 1997 acceptance of anathematization of Philaret Denisenko.” October 25, 2018.

9 See above for the letter in question.

10 The Rudder, “The Twenty-Five Canons of the Regional Council Held in Antioch Interpreted.” Translated by D. Cummings. The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1957. Pg. 535. Available online: http://s3.amazonaws.com/orthodox/The_Rudder.pdf

11 Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.) Pg. 594 Available online: https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214/npnf214/Page_594.html

12The Rudder, “The Sixty Canons of the Council of Laodicea.” Translated by D. Cummings. The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1957. Pg. 566. Available online: http://s3.amazonaws.com/orthodox/The_Rudder.pdf

13 Translated by Henry Percival. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900.) Pg. 20. Available online: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214/Page_20.html

14 Also called the Council of Constantinople (861) or the Protodeutera.

15 https://sites.google.com/site/canonsoc/home/-canons-of-the-particular-councils/constantinoplitanum-861

16 The Rudder, p. 471

17 A Kyriarch or Kyriarchal Church refers to the ultimate ecclesastical authority figure, a primate or mother church, to which an individual or group is bound. In the case of a Church which obtains canonical autocephaly, the term can refer to the Mother Church which granted autocephaly, without any longer implying authority over the now sister church—Trans.

18 From the Russian самосвяты, meaning self-ordained, self-sanctified, but can also sound like Self-Sainted.

19 See here for more information: http://orthochristian.com/120077.html as well as here http://orthochristian.com/116116.html

20 http://orthochristian.com/118195.html

21 https://spzh.news/gr/news/67209-na-arkhijereskom-sobore-pcu-prisutstvoval-lgbt-aktivist%E2%80%93smi

22 This English video from the Ukrainian Union of Orthodox Journalists is also available in Greek here and in Russian here.—Trans.

23 See the Third Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council: “The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the prerogative of honor after the Bishop of Rome because Constantinople is New Rome.”—Trans.

24 Since the preparation of this document.

25 This most likely is referring to the primate of the Czech-Slovak Church, who is elected either as Archbishop of Prague or Archbishop of Presov; it should be said though, this primate is then generally styled as a Metropolitan, however in Greek, the language of this original article, Archbishops outrank Metropolitans—Trans.

26 http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/encyc_1848.aspx



ON THE MOTHER OF GOD AS FIRST TO SEE THE RISEN CHRIST. Sermon by St Gregory Palamas.

The resurrection of the Lord is the renewal of human nature, and the renewal, re-creation and return to immortality of the first Adam who was swallowed up by death because of sin, and through death went back to the earth from which he was formed. In the beginning nobody saw Adam being made and brought to life, for no one existed yet at that time. However, once he had received the breath of life breathed into him by God (Gen. 2:7), a woman was the first to see him, for Eve was the first human being after him.In the same way, no one saw the second Adam, that is the Lord, rising from the dead, since none of his disciples were present and the soldiers keeping the tomb had been shaken with fear and became like dead men. But after the Resurrection it was a woman who saw Him first of all, as we heard today in Mark’s Gospel. “Now when Jesus”, it says, “was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9).

The Evangelist seems to be telling us clearly that it was early morning when the Lord rose, that He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and that He appeared at the very time of the Resurrection. However, this is not what he says, as will become clear if we look more carefully. A little earlier Mark, together with the other Evangelists, says that this Mary had also come earlier to the tomb with the other myrrhbearers, and finding it empty, they went away (Mark 16:1-8). So the Lord had risen long before that hour of the morning when she saw Him. When the Evangelist indicates the time of that earlier visit, he does not say simply ”early”, as he does here, but “very early in the morning”. There they called the first hint of pale light on the horizon sunrise, as John shows by saying that Mary Magdalene came “early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre” (John 20:1).

According to John, she did not just come to the sepulchre at that time, but left it without seeing the Lord. She ran and came to Peter and John and told them, not that the Lord had risen, but that He had been taken from the sepulchre, as she was not yet aware of the Resurrection John 20:2). So the Lord did not appear to Mary absolutely first of all, but when full daylight had come. There is something which the Evangelists tell us in a veiled way, but which I shall reveal to your charity.As was right and just, the Mother of God was the first person to receive from the Lord the Good News of the Resurrection, and she saw Him risen and had the joy of His divine words before anyone else. She not only beheld Him with her eyes and heard Him with her ears, but was the first and only person to touch with her hands His most pure feet. If the Evangelists do not say all this openly it is because they do not want to put forward His Mother as a witness, lest they give unbelievers grounds for suspicion.As we are now, however, by the grace of the Resurrection, addressing believers, and the subject of today’s feast obliges us to clarify everything that concerns the myrrhbearers, this too shall be revealed, with leave from Him Who said, “Nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest” (Luke 8:17).

The myrrhbearers are those women who followed the Lord in company with His Mother, who stayed with her at the time of the saving Passion, and were intent upon anointing the Lord’s Body with myrrh. When Joseph and Nicodemus sought and obtained the Master’s Body from Pilate, they took it down from the Cross, wrapped it in linen cloths with glue-like spices, put it in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock and put a large stone in the doorway John 19:38-42). Meanwhile, according to the Evangelist Mark, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there watching (Mark 15:47), sitting opposite the tomb. When he refers to the other Mary he clearly means the Mother of God, for she was also called the mother of Joses and James, the sons of Joseph the Betrothed. But they were not the only ones there watching when the Lord was being laid in the tomb.There were other women as well, as Luke tells us when he writes, “And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid” (Luke 23:55). “It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the Mother of James and other women that were with them” (Luke 24:10).

He says that they returned and bought spices and ointments (cf. Luke 23:56). As yet they did not fully understand that He Himself is truly the fragrance of life for those who come to Him in faith, though the smell of death to those who are disobedient to the end.The scent of His garments, that is of His body, is above all spices, and His “name is like ointment poured forth” (Song of Songs 1:3), filling the whole world with divine fragrance. They prepared myrrh and spices, intending, on the one hand, to honour the dead, and, on the other, to assuage by their anointing the stench of the body as it decomposed, for the sake of those who wanted to stay beside it.

When they had prepared the ointments and spices, they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment (Luke 23:56), for they had not yet understood the true Sabbaths, nor had they discovered that exceedingly blessed Sabbath which brought human nature up from the nethermost regions of Hades to divine, heavenly heights full of light.”Now upon the first day of the week, at early dawn”, as Luke tells us, “they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared” (cf Luke 24:1) However, Matthew says that it was “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1), and refers to two women coming. According to John, “it was yet dark” (John 20:1), and only Mary Magdalene approached, whereas Mark tells us it was, “very early in the morning the first day of the week”(Mark 16:2), and there were three women who came (Mark16:1).The Evangelists all call Sunday the first day of the week, and by the expressions, “the end of the sabbath”, “at the early dawn”,”very early in the morning”, and “early, when it was yet dark”, they mean the time around dawn when light and darkness mingle.This is when the eastern horizon begins to grow light, heralding the day. If vou were to observe the horizon from afar, you might see it beginning to be tinged with light at about the ninth hour of the night, with three hours still to go before full daylight.

The Evangelists seem to a certain extent to disagree about what time it was and how many women were there. This is because, as we have said, there were many myrrhbearers and they did not come just once to the tomb, but two or three times. They came in groups, but not always the same women.They all came at dawn, but not at precisely the same time, and Mary Magdalene came once more on her own and stayed longer. Each Evangelist refers to one of the occasions when the myrrhbearers approached, and passes over the others. However, I conclude and infer from all the Evangelists, as I said before, that the Theotokos was the first to come to the tomb of her Son and God, bringing Mary Magdalene with her. I gather this above all from the Evangelist Matthew who says, “There came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”, who was obviously the Mother of God, “to see the sepulchre.And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door of the sepulchre, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men” (Matt. 28:1-4).

All the other women came after the earthquake when the keepers had fled, and found the sepulchre open and the stone rolled away. The Virgin Mother, however, was there when the earthquake took place, the stone was rolled away, the tomb opened and the keepers were still present, though shaken with fear.When they got to their feet after the earthquake they immediately took to flight, whereas the Mother of God delighted herself in the sight without fear. It seems to me that the life- bearing tomb opened first for her sake (because everything in heaven above and on earth below was opened first for her, and through her for us) and that the angel shone like lightning on her account, so that even though it was still dark, by the angel’s abundant light she could see not only the empty tomb, but also the graveclothes lying in order and bearing witness in many ways to the fact that He Who had been buried there had risen. The Angel who announced the Good News was surely Gabriel himself.For when he who had originally said to her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God” (Luke1:30), saw her hastening to the tomb, he made speed now to come down and greet the EverVirgin once more with the same words, to announce the Good News that He Who had been born of her without seed had risen from the dead, to take away the stone, and to show the empty tomb and the graveclothes as confirmation to her of his tidings. “And the angel”, it says, “answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: do ye seek Jesus, which was crucified? He is risen. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:5-6).”Even though”, he says, “you see the keepers struck down with fear, you are not to be afraid. I know that you seek Jesus Who was crucified. He is risen, He is not here. Not only can He not be held by the locks, bars and seals of Hades, death and the tomb, but He is also Lord of us, the immortal, heavenly angels, and He alone is Lord of all.” “Come, see”, he says, “the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead” (Matt. 28:6-7).

“And they departed”, it says, “with fear and great joy” (Matt. 28:8).Once more it seems to me that it was Mary Magdalene and the other women who had gathered with them by this time who still felt fear. For they had not understood the force of the angel’s words, nor could they fully perceive the light so as to see and discover exactly what had happened. It was the Mother of God, on the other hand, who was possessed of great joy, because she understood what the angel said and was completely filled with light, being utterly purified and full of divine grace. Therefore she knew the truth for sure and believed the Archangel, since his trustworthiness had long since been demonstrated to her through works. As the divinely wise Virgin was present when these things happened, how could she fail to understand what had been accomplished? She saw an earthquake, and a great one at that, an angel descending from heaven, flashing forth as lightning, she saw the keepers being struck down as dead, and the stone being moved, and the tomb empty.She also saw the miracle of the graveclothes, which had not been undone and were held together with myrrh and aloes, but were visibly empty of the Body. In addition to all this, there was the angel’s joyful appearance and message to her. But when they had departed after these good tidings, it was as if Mary Magdalene had not heard the Angel, or perhaps his greeting was not for her, since her only precise statement was that the sepulchre was empty, and she made no mention of the graveclothes. “Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple”, as John tells us (John 20:2).The Virgin Mother of God, on the other hand, returned in the company of other women to the place whence she had come. And behold, as Matthew says, “Jesus met them, saying, All hail”. Notice that the Mother of God saw Him Who for our salvation suffered in the flesh, was buried and rose again, even before Mary Magdalene. “And they came”, it says, “and held him by the feet and worshipped him” (Matt. 28:9). When the Theotokos, together with Mary Magdalene, heard the Good News of the Resurrection from the Angel, only she understood the meaning of the words.In the same way now when, in the company of the other women, she met her Son and God, she was the first of them all to see and recognize the risen Lord, and falling down before Him she grasped His feet and became His Apostle to the Apostles. It is from John that we learn that Mary Magdalene was not with the Mother of God at the time when the Lord met her as she was returning from the tomb, appeared to her and addressed her. For John says that Mary Magdalene “runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2). If He had met her and she had seen Him, touched Him with her hands and heard Him speak, how could she have said, as she did, that they had taken Him away and laid Him in an unknown place? But after Peter and John had run to the tomb and seen the linen cloths, and gone away, “Mary”, it says, “stood without at the sepulchre weeping” (John 20:11). Observe that not only had she yet to hear Him, but she also had yet to hear the news.When the angels appeared and asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou”, again, she replied as if speaking about a corpse (John 20:13). Even when she turned round and saw the Lord, she still did not understand, but when He too asked why she was weeping she gave the same reply, until He called her by name and proved it was He. Then she too fell down before Him and tried to embrace His feet in greeting, but heard Him say, “Touch me not” (John 20:15-17).From this we learn that when the Lord appeared earlier to His Mother and the women with her, it was only His Mother whom He allowed to touch His feet, even though Matthew attributes this action to the other women too, being unwilling to put forward the Lord’s Mother as a witness to such events for the reason we stated in the beginning.

The Ever-Virgin was the first to come to the tomb and receive the good tidings of the Resurrection, but afterwards many women came together and they too saw the stone rolled and heard the angels. Then after seeing and hearing, they separated.Some, as Mark tells us, “fl ed from the sepulchre, for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Others followed the Lord’s Mother, and these it was who had the good fortune to see the Master and be addressed by Him. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, went to tell Peter and John, and returned with them to the tomb on her own. When they left she stayed, and she too was accounted worthy to see the Master, and was sent to the Apostles. Once more she came to them to tell them all, as John says, “that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken these things unto her” (John 20:18). Mark tells us that the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene early in the morning (cf. Mark 16:9), which means when full daylight had come, obviously after dawn had passed, but he does not state that the Lord’s Resurrection happened then or that it was the first time He had appeared.

So now we have a thorough explanation of everything that concerns the myrrhbearers, and, as we have sought all along, agreement between the four Evangelists on this subject.On the very day of the Resurrection the Apostles heard from the myrrhbearers, from Peter (Luke 24:34), and from Luke and Cleopas (Mark 16:12–13; cf. Luke 24:13-35), that the Lord was alive and had appeared to them, but they did not believe. That is why they were reproached by Him when He appeared to them later when they were gathered together (Mark 16:14). However, once He had shown Himself in many ways and on many occasions to be alive, not only did they all believe, but they preached everywhere: “Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Ps. 19:6 Lxx; Rom.10:18), “The Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). For signs were absolutely necessary until the word had been preached throughout the world. But if there had to be great signs to prove and confirm that the teaching was true, there had also to be signs, though not great ones, to show whether those who had received the word really believed. What signs do I mean? The witness of their deeds. “Show me”, it says, “thy faith by thy works” (cf. Jas. 2:18), and, “Who is faithful? By his good life let him show his works” (cf. Jas. 3:13).How can we believe that someone has a truly divine, great, exalted, even heavenly understanding, such as godliness entails, if he clings to sordid actions and is engrossed in the earth and its concerns? It is pointless for someone to say that he has faith in God if he does not have the works which go with faith. What benefit were their lamps to the foolish virgins who had no oil (Matt. 25:1–13), namely, deeds of love and compassion? What good did calling Abraham his father do to that rich man frying in the unquenchable flame for his pitilessness towards Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? What use was his apparent obedience to the invitation to that man who had failed to acquire through good works a garment fitting the divine wedding and the bridechamber of immortality? He was invited and approached because he clearly believed, and he sat down alongside those holy guests, but when he was convicted and put to shame for being clothed in depraved habits and deeds, he was mercilessly bound hand and foot, and cast into hellfire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 22:11-14).

May no one called by Christ have this experience, but may we all display a way of life which goes with our faith, that we may enter the bridechamber of unfading joy and spend eternity with the saints in the dwelling place of all those who rejoice. Amen.

Edited by Christopher Veniamin.

Copyright 2005 by The Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, Essex, UK.

Labor over yourself without Relaxing. By St Theophan the Recluse.(1815-1894)

Labor over yourself without Relaxing.

So labor over yourself, and you will more and more be able to cast off your blindness, insensitivity and indolence. But labor and labor without relaxing. There is deceit in a sinful soul, which tries all it can to disincline itself from the work of salvation. Come, take hold and carry it, it will not cross you — it simply does not want to do any work. No one can be master over your inner life besides you yourself. Enter there and break yourself: startle, instruct, carry on the work with yourself before the face of God; persuade and convince yourself. This is why we say that in the matter of conversion, reasoning with one’s own self is the only way in. If you yourself do not reason and think it out, who will do it for you? That is why it is said to you: “Think about it, imagine it, delve into it.”

What a great blessing it is for a sinner if his depravity has not yet been able to completely stifle all the light of the knowledge of truth in him. Say his morals are corrupted, his feelings are unclean — but if a healthy understanding still lingers in the soul, there is still something to work with for the one who has begun to think about his salvation. When even that is no longer there, when even the mind has become depraved — he will either fall into doubts, having lost his conviction, or he will accept an entirely twisted teaching. Then there is nothing left for the man to use on himself; then he must admit that he is unwholesome from head to toe. Incidentally, few go that far. As for those who do go that far, if there is any hope for their conversion, it occurs through the extraordinary and stunning actions of God’s grace.

Most sinners do not lose their faith, or healthy images — according to the Apostle, their rationality — but only become morally corrupted. For these it is enough to be cleansed by forgetting their darkened understanding, and strengthening their conviction weakened by inattention and carelessness toward everything that is good.

Sit and see for yourself what you should believe, how you should live and in what you should trust, according to the Symbol of Faith and the Lord’s commandments. If you have trouble, look at the catechesis; and if you cannot do this either, talk with someone, especially with your spiritual father.

When you do this, the truth reigning within you will arise victorious, and it will begin with authority to thrust out the unrighteous deeds, dispositions and feelings that had taken you over. Then it will be easy to reason with yourself, expose your blindness, shatter your insensitivity and cast out your indolence.

St Theophan The Recluse : From The Path to Salvation.

Part 2, Chapter 6:7

St John Chrysostom(347-407AD). Paschal sermon.

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

Archbishop Averky Taushev(1906-1976) on our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearance to His Disciples and restoration of Peter.

Lord’s Appearance to His Disciples on the Road to Emmaus.

(Luke 24:13-35 and Mark 16:12).

Evangelist Luke — according to tradition being one of the two disciples — was the only one to describe this event in detail, the other one being Cleopas, a relative of Mother of God. Both were among the Seventy disciples of Christ. There is also a short mention of Christ’s appearance by Saint Mark (16:12). The very extraordinary alacrity of the narrative of this event, and the fullness of the portrayal with all its inner sufferings, shows that one of its two participants was undoubtedly Luke himself, and according to the custom of holy writers, not calling himself by name. The disciples were heading toward Emmaus, a settlement located approximately 7 miles west of Jerusalem. At the slow pace that they were traveling there, it would have required near 3 hours to cover the trip, while on a hurried return trip, it would have taken 1 ½ to 2 hours. This was the “same day,” i.e. the day of Christ’s resurrection. They were walking slowly, discussing among themselves about all the sad events associated with the Lord’s last days on earth that lay heavily on their souls. As can be seen further on, they also discussed events of the current day, which evidently couldn’t affirm their faith in the authenticity of Christ’s resurrection, because they walked in sadness. Along the way, the Lord Himself joined them as a traveler, heading in the same direction. “But their eyes were restrained, so they did not know Him.”

Saint Mark explains that the Lord appeared to them “in another form,” i.e. in a different appearance, that’s why they did not recognize Him. The Lord did this intentionally, because it wasn’t inopportune for Him to be recognized immediately. He did this, so as to instruct them in their spiritual state with essential teachings. As Saint Theophylactus reasons that He wanted them, “to reveal all their perplexities, expose their wound and then accept the medicine; so as to appear before them, after a prolonged intermission, more pleasing; to instruct them from Moses and the Prophets, and then be recognized; so that they may better believe that His Body is no longer that, which can be seen by everyone in general, but that while it is the same body that resurrected and suffered, at the same time, it is visible only to those that He deigns to see Him.”

Being omniscient — He wants to know from them themselves, what is the reason for their sorrow: “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” With this question, the Lord is trying to provoke the disciples into pouring out their feelings before Him. Cleopas then perceives the Lord to be a Judean, having arrived in Jerusalem from some other country for Passover, as one could not visualize that a Palestinian resident, wouldn’t know everything about what transpired during those days. The disciples then professed their sorrow. However, characteristically, they refer to their Teacher as just “prophet,” at the same stating that their expectations of Him as the Messiah, had not been realized: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” Moreover, they themselves don’t know what to make of everything that transpired, because some women, having been to the tomb, related some amazing things: they didn’t find His Body, but saw the appearance of Angels, who pronounced that He was alive. Evidently, Luke and Cleopas left Jerusalem before hearing about the appearance of the Lord to Mary Magdalene and other myrrhbearers. “Certain of those who were with us went to the tomb” — here, evidently, the conversation is about Apostles Peter and John, about which the latter narrates (John 20:1-10) — “but Him they did not see” — and it is this that places them in a quandary, not knowing what to make of all this.

Without still not revealing Himself, the Lord begins His dialogue, giving them to understand that the reason for their uncertainty of their spiritual state, lies within them — in their incomprehension and in the inertia of their hearts. “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” — His spiritual and not earthly glory.

The disciples listened to their mysterious traveler with an inner heart-felt zeal, and their hearts became so pre-disposed toward Him, that they started to persuade Him to stay with them for the night, citing that night is approaching and to travel alone at night in Palestine, was not without danger. The Lord stayed, and when it was time for supper, as the eldest, “He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Evidently this gesture, characteristic of their Teacher, served as an impulsion to open their eyes, and “they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.” As can be seen from the Evangelists’ narratives, the glorified Body of the Lord was already something extraordinary. It wasn’t like the former mortal human body: to it, there were no barriers, and it could appear suddenly and become invisible instantly.

Why is it that only now the Lord allowed Himself to be recognized? The purpose of His appearance was to explain to the disciples, how all the writings of the Old Testament Prophets, had been realized through Him. Had they recognized Him instantly, the impulsive joy that would have undoubtedly overwhelmed them, may have hindered a quiet reflection about the authenticity of His resurrection and conviction in its reality. As the Lord guided them slowly toward a profound conviction in this truth, and by their own admission, compel their hearts to inflame, He finally revealed Himself to them, having thus ignited them with a burning faith, inaccessible to any doubts or temptations.

Notwithstanding that night had fallen, they immediately hurried to Jerusalem so as to share their joy with the other disciples. They in turn related to them that “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” According to Saint Mark (16:12-13), Luke’s and Cleopas’s account was not believed by the other disciples. It has to be assumed that what confused them, were the incomprehensible appearances of the Lord, first here then elsewhere, which was impossible for an ordinary person. Also, that He appeared to the travelers to Emmaus “in another form.” They didn’t understand the Lord’s new being upon resurrection, because their faith was not yet very firm — they didn’t know the nature of His resurrected Body. That’s why when He appears to them collectively, behind closed doors, they regard Him as an apparition.

 

Appearance to the Ten Disciples.

(Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-45 and John 20:19-23).

Saint Mark speaks briefly about this appearance, while Saints Luke and John, narrate about this in detail, complementing one another mutually. As indicated by Saint Luke, just as Luke and Cleopas had returned from Emmaus and were continuing their narration, the Lord appeared to the ten disciples (Thomas was absent, according to Saint John), as though for the purpose of dispelling all their doubts and curing them of their remnants of disbelief. According to Saint John, this was “the same day at evening, being the first day of the week.” Here, John departs from the normal Jewish calculation of time according to which, evening is the beginning of the next day. Because of the fear of Jews, the doors of the house were locked — “for fear of the Jews”; evidently, word had reached the disciples that they ostensibly stole the body of Christ. That’s why they naturally feared some type of violent measures on the part of those Jews that were hostile toward them. And so — “when the doors were shut,” “Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Here, an especial attribute manifested itself in the glorified Body of Christ, by which material substances did not impede His penetration through them. The Lord’s miraculous passage through closed doors, provoked confusion among the disciples, as Saint Luke speaks: “But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit” — they thought that this was only the Lord’s spirit, detached from the body and having come to them from “sheola” i.e. appeared to them as dead and not alive. In order to assure them that it was indeed Him, the Lord shows them His hands and feet, wounds which are witness that it is the same body that was crucified on the cross. He offers them to touch Him, so as to convince themselves that it is He Himself and not His apparition. The Lord partakes of the food before Him (probably some baked fish and honeycomb left over from supper), with the aim of eradicating the last remnants of doubt in the disciples. “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” — their doubts dispersed and a joy, about which the Lord foretold them at the Last Supper, enveloped them: “but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22).

According to Saint Mark, the Lord reproached them for their disbelief and their hard-heartedness that they didn’t believe those that have seen Him resurrected i.e. the women myrrhbearers, Luke and Cleopas (Mark 16:14).

“These are the words which I spoke to you” — everything that transpired — this is the fulfillment of that, which I have formerly and repeatedly foretold you, about My forthcoming sufferings and resurrection. All this had been predicted in the Old Testament — “Law of Moses,” “prophesies,” and “Psalms.” That’s why all this had to come to pass. Here, the Lord is pointing to the three divisions of the Old Testament holy books, which existed among the Jews. They separated their sacred books into three sections:1) The law, which embraced the Five Books of Moses; 2) Prophets, which embodied nearly all the rest of the historical and Prophets’ books, and 3) Psalms, which included instructive books and minor historical ones. Thus, through the indications of the Lord Himself, the whole Old Testament, in its complete composition, is filled with prophecies about Him. Before, the Apostles didn’t comprehend correctly these prophecies: now, through the extraordinary blessed enlightenment, the Lord “opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”

Saint John adds that the Lord then reiterated to them: “Peace to you!” Having said this, He then through breathing upon them a preliminary grace of the Holy Spirit — before the day of Pentecost — instructed them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are detained.” The full release of gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, occurred on the day of Pentecost; but evidently, before this day, it was essential that the Apostles receive those gifts of the Holy Spirit, that would strengthen them in an absolute and firm belief in the genuineness of Christ’s resurrection, that would help them to understand the Gospel correctly, and especially to generate within the 11 Apostles, a belief in their Divine mission. It was also to beget a faith in them, that they were not only former traveling companions and listeners of the Lord Jesus Christ, but “Apostles” — His envoys, appointed by Him for the great service of spreading the good news of the Gospel throughout the world: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” This was the commencement of the Spirit, which was essential for the strengthening of the Apostolic assembly. With this, the breathing on them gave all the Apostles the power to forgive sins, which was previously promised to Peter — for professing Christ as the Living Son of God (Mat. 16:19) — as well as to the other Apostles (Mat. 18:18).

Thomas’s Disbelief.

(John 20:24-31).

Evangelist John notes that when the Lord first appeared to all His disciples, who were gathered together, Thomas (called the Twin) was absent. As can be seen from the Gospel, the character of this Apostle was distinctive in its persistence, bordering on the stubborn, which was natural for a simple, yet firmly arranged viewpoint. Even when the Lord was traveling to Judea to resurrect Lazarus, Thomas expressed his conviction that nothing will come from that journey: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). When the Lord stated to His disciples in His parting dialogue: “And where I go you know, and the way you know,” Thomas started to contradict: “Lord, we do not where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

That’s why the Teacher’s death produced an especially severe, overwhelming feeling in Thomas: it was as though he became steeled in the conviction that the forfeiture of His was irredeemable. He was so low in spirit, that he even wasn’t with the other disciples on the day of resurrection; he evidently decided that there was no reason for them to be together, because everything was finished, everything had fallen apart and now, every disciple had to return to their previous, individual and independent lives. And now, having met the other disciples and suddenly hearing from them: “We have seen the Lord.” Consistent with his character, he sharply and definitively refuses to believe their words. Regarding the resurrection of his Teacher as being impossible, he declares that he would believe this not only if he saw this with his own eyes, but also felt with his own hands the wounds on the Lord’s hands and feet, as well as the wound inflicted by a spear to His side. “and put my hand into His side” — it can be seen through the words of Thomas, that the wounded inflicted by a soldier upon the Lord, was very deep.

After ten days had elapsed from the Lord’s first appearance to the ten Apostles, the Lord again appeared when “the doors being shut,” evidently in the same house. This time, Thomas was with them. Perhaps under the influence of his association with the other disciples, the obdurate disbelief began to leave him, and his soul, slowly but surely started anew to be capable of believing. The Lord appeared especially to rekindle his faith. As in the first instance, the Lord appeared among them quite unexpectedly, and after conferring peace upon them, the Lord turned to Thomas: “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands…” The Lord is answering to Thomas’s doubts with his own words, with which he preconditioned his belief in the Lord’s resurrection. Obviously, Thomas would have been stunned by the very fact that the Lord knew of this. And the Lord added: “Do not be disbelieving, but believing,”” i.e. you are in a position to decide definitively: there are now only two avenues before you — absolute belief and conclusive spiritual hard heartedness. Although the Gospel doesn’t say as to whether Thomas really touched the Lord’s wounds — it can be assumed that he did. In any case, belief inflamed within him, and he exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” confessing with these words, not only his belief in Christ’s Resurrection, but also in His Divinity.

Nonetheless, this belief is still based on sentient verifications. That’s why in His instructions to Thomas, the Lord reveals to the other Apostles and all the people the ultimate path toward faith, praising those that have achieved it, in other than the way that Thomas did: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And in the past, the Lord more than once gave preference to that belief, which is based on the word rather than on a miracle. The spread of the Lord’s teachings throughout the world would have been made impossible, if everyone demanded either a similar confirmation of belief like Thomas did, or continuous miracles in general. That’s why the Lord praises those, who attain faith through trust only, through oral witness — trust in the Teachings of Christ. This is the best type of belief.

Saint John concludes his Gospel with this final passage. It is thought that, on the basis of reports that he was decreed to live until the Second Coming of Christ, his 21st chapter was written some time later. Now, Saint John concludes his narrative with the witness that “truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book.” Even though Saint John positioned himself to supplement the narratives of the first three Evangelists, he didn’t record everything, by far. At the same time, as can be seen, he feels that what has been written is sufficient “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” — and what little has been recorded, is sufficient to confirm the belief in Christ’s Divinity and for salvation through such faith.

Appearance At the Sea of Tiberias.

(John 21:1-14).

Even before His sufferings, the Lord had forewarned His disciples that upon His resurrection, He would appear to them in Galilee. This was also stated by the Angels to the women-myrrhbearers, at the Lord’s tomb (Mat. 26:32 and 28:7). Having spent the full 8 days of Passover in Jerusalem, the Apostles returned to Galilee, where, naturally enough, they again began to practice their profession — catching fish on Lake Gennesaret for their livelihood.

Here “Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.” According to Saint John, this was the third appearance of the Lord to His disciples, gathered together. This time there were seven of them: Simon, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, sons of Zebedee i.e. James and John, and two more, who were not named. In this outline, because of his humility, Saint John places himself and his brother last, not even mentioning their names. Whereas, in the other Gospels, they are usually placed after Andrew and Peter. The Apostles fished throughout the whole night but caught nothing. This undoubtedly, would have reminded them of that night, which according to Saint Luke (5:5 and others), preceded their selection for apostolic mission. And here, once again, something similar occurred.

“But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” — an expression of a sudden appearance. Perhaps the disciples didn’t recognize Him because, as with Luke and Cleopas, He may have appeared “in another form,” or perhaps simply because the darkness of night or the morning fog had not yet lifted. The Lord turned to them with: “Children, have you any food?” and as can be seen further, the word “food” meaning fish. The Lord responded to their negative answer by inviting them to cast their net “on the right side of the boat,” and again, the miracle that they experienced three years ago, was repeated: because of the huge size of the catch, they couldn’t haul in the net. Undoubtedly, this miracle like the first, symbolized their future apostolic activity, in which their personal labors will be under the Lord’s directives.

“That disciple whom Jesus loved,” i.e. John, as he usually refers to himself, stunned by this miraculous catch, immediately knew in his heart Who this mysterious stranger was that stood on the beach, and informed Peter of His conjecture: “It is the Lord!” Not having the effrontery to appear before the Lord undressed, Peter put on his “outer garment” and plunged into the sea, so as to emerge before the Lord from the water, on the other side, fully clothed. This event shows us the distinctive characters of these two Apostles: John — elevated, Peter — zealous, John, more able to observe, Peter — more decisive in action. As Blessed Theophylactus says: “John, ore discerning, Peter, more ardent; John was the first to recognize the Lord, while Peter, the first to hurry toward Him.”

In the meantime, the other disciples drifted over in their boat, dragging the net with the fish. Because the catch was so large, they weren’t game to haul the fish into the boat for fear of capsizing it. That’s why they were towing the net toward the beach, where they could haul it onto the beach without any risk.

Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Once again, the Lord had miraculously prepared food for them, but so that they also partook food from their own endeavors, said: “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” Simon Peter returned to the boat and evidently, with the help of the other disciples, dragged the net ashore, filled with 153 large fish. The other apparent miracle was the fact that the net didn’t burst from such a large weight of fish. In any case, it can be assumed that this miraculous catch of fish produced a profound impression on John — if he remembered the number of fish caught -for the rest of his life. It must have been from their particular reverence, amazed by what transpired that the Apostles stood away from the Lord at a respectful distance. That’s why He invited them to come closer and partake in the food: “Come and eat breakfast.” The Lord too must have been standing at some distance, because “Jesus then came.” As host, He began to treat them to bread and fish. “None of the disciples dare ask Him, ‘Who are You?’ — knowing that it was the Lord” — the disciples saw something extraordinary in the materialized Lord: evidently, He didn’t appear to be as they have grown accustomed to see Him, because upon resurrection, His body became exceptional, glorified, filled with special greatness and Divinity. However, they knew that it was undoubtedly Him.

Restoration of Peter.

(John 21:15-25).

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’” — before the arrival of the Lord’s suffering, Simon — more than anyone else — had pledged his loyalty to Him: “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Mat. 26:33); “I will lay down my life for Your sake” (John 13:37); “If I have to die with you, I will not deny You!” (Mark 14:31); “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Notwithstanding all these ardent pledges, Peter renounced the Lord three times, and of course through this lost his apostolic calling and Apostolic rights — he ceased to be an Apostle. This is noted by Evangelist Mark — undoubtedly from Apostle Peter’s words — who narrates that the Angel which appeared to the women myrrhbearers, said: “But go, tell His disciples — and Peter…,” singling out Peter as one who through his renouncement, had fallen away from the Apostolic image, placing him last after the other Apostles.

For his sincere and profound repentance, the Lord mercifully restores Peter to his Apostolic worthiness. Peter renounced three times, so three times the Lord forces him to answer the question: “Do you love Me?” — with “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You!” And after every affirmation, the Lord entrusts him — as an Apostle — to nurture His lambs, to nurture His sheep. Peter was aggrieved because he was asked the third time: “Do you love Me?” — “You know that I love You.,” (that’s why on the 29th of June, in the church service commemorating the holy foremost-of-the-Apostles Peter and Paul, the stihira “Glory” is sung).

The Roman-catholics, quite fruitlessly and without substance, see in this a special endowment of rights and seniority to Apostle Peter by the Lord — in comparison to the other Apostles. “Lambs,” which the Lord entrusts to Peter for nourishment, are the youngest, newly born, so to speak members of Christ’s Church, which are in need of special attention from the shepherd. “Lambs,” are the ordinary, spiritually mature members of the Church, which do not need special and diligent expenditure of time and care. It is very characteristic that the Lord in asking the first time: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” was seemingly hinting at Peter’s promise to the Lord of his fidelity and loyalty — more so than the other disciples. Also very characteristic is the Lord calling Peter by his former name — “Simon” — and not Peter, because having renounced, he revealed his instability, lack of spiritual firmness, and through this ceased to be “Peter,” i.e. “rock.” Humbly acknowledging the depth of his fall, Peter doesn’t now compare his love of the Lord with that of the other disciples. He even doesn’t dare to reassure the Lord of his love for Him, but only alludes to His omniscience: “You know that I love You.” Not only that, through his humility, instead of the word “love” — “agapan,” used by the Lord in His question and meaning full and complete love, Peter uses another word — “filin,” meaning a personal heart-felt attachment and loyalty. In asking Peter the third time, the Lord uses this same word “filin.” This saddened Peter, that his personal attachment to Him is being subjected to doubt by the Lord. That’s why, on the third time, he confesses his love with exceptional force, citing His omniscience. Just as he had renounced the Lord for the third time with exceptional force, oaths and swearing, the Lord is now compelling Peter — for the third time — to confess his love for Him, with exceptional force.

The Lord combines the restoration of Peter’s Apostolic calling with the prediction, that his current attested love for the Him will lead to his martyr’s death at the end of his Apostolic mission. “When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish” — here, under the guise of a helpless old man being dealt with against his will, the Lord symbolically predicts the martyr’s violent death. Indeed, Peter was in fact crucified in Rome during the reign of Nero, in the year 68. “Follow Me” — were the last definitive words of the fallen Peter’s restoration to Apostolic calling.

After these words, the Lord left and evidently the disciples followed. Seeing the Lord’s beloved disciple John, Peter was overtaken with the desire to know his future — did a martyr’s death for Christ await him. But to the Lord, it was not opportune for Him to reveal the type of death of His beloved disciple. He answered Peter, that it was not his business to know this: “What is that to you? You follow Me.” Here we find another refutal of the Roman-catholic false teachings, as to the Lord entrusting the other disciples to Peter and that he had been appointed as the “prince.” If the Lord did in fact entrust Peter as His vicar with the other disciples, then Peter would of course be fully entitled to ask about John, and the Lord wouldn’t have responded with: “What is that to you?”

The words expressed by the Lord about John, gives rise to the thought that he wouldn’t die, but would live till the Second Coming of Christ: “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” However, the Evangelist himself refutes this, underlining the fact that the Lord’s dialogue carried a condition: “If I will that he remain…”

The narrative on this and in fact his Gospel, Saint John concludes with a testimony thereof: “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” This confirms the attribution of this Gospel to Saint John the Theologian, and the truth of everything that he narrated in the Gospel. In conclusion, Saint John again reiterates that much “that Jesus did” has not been recorded in the Gospel, because if everything was to be recorded in detail, “I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Although this may seem an exaggeration, a hyperbolical expression, the discourse here is namely about the immensity of the Lord’s works, which the limited world is unable to absorb. Some assume that the last two verses — 24 and 25 — were subsequently added to John’s Gospel by his readers in ancient times, wanting to confirm for eternity the truth of this Gospel.

Appearance in Galilee.

(Mat. 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18 and Luke 24:46-49).

“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted” — as the Angels told the women myrrhbearers that the Lord is preceding them to Galilee, then it must be assumed that the Apostles were not the only ones to rush toward Galilee so as to see Him, as He had promised to be there. Many think that it was this specific appearance by the Lord on the mountain, that Apostle Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 15:6, when the Lord “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once.” The name of the mountain is not mentioned, but it was most likely the Transfiguration Mount Tabor, where the disciples were privileged to witness the transfigured glorious state of the Lord, in which He now appeared to them. Some that were present, “doubted,” which definitely shows that this couldn’t be a massive hallucination, as the unbelievers attempt to convince everyone.

“And Jesus came,” i.e. approached them so as to dispel all doubts that it was really Him, “and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth.” Since the beginning of the world, as the Only Son of God, He has had full authority in heaven and earth: now, as Conqueror of hell and death, He acquired similar authority over everything, and as the Redeemer of the world — over mankind. Having appeared on earth as a human, the Son of God curtailed Himself in the use of His Divine authority, because He didn’t want to accomplish the redemption of mankind purely through His omnipotence. Through His resurrection, He assumed His full Divine authority as God-Man. It now depended upon Him to crown the whole matter of mankind’s salvation, by sending the Holy Spirit, founding His Church and sending the Apostles to preach throughout the whole world.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” writes Saint Matthew, or as Saint Mark relays: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” or as Saint Luke conveys the authority given by the Lord to His Apostles: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and the repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.” Now, the Lord doesn’t restrict their sermons to just the Judeans as before (Mat. 10:5-6; 15:24), but sends them out to teach all the peoples, because the whole world had been redeemed through Christ’s sufferings, and should be summoned to Christ’s Kingdom. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” — God-Man is giving His disciples the right, and imposes the responsibility, of baptizing all the peoples in the name of the Holy Trinity. This means that those baptizing, are not acting of their own volition, but by the authority granted to them by the Trinity of God. And those receiving baptism, accept through this the responsibility of believing in the Holy Trinity, and dedicating their lives to the redeeming and regenerating Divine Trinity that is calling them. Baptism is the symbolic sign of the cleansing of a person’s sins through the invisible actions of the Holy Spirit, and that person’s entry into Christ’s Church for a new, born-again life in God. Baptism should be preceded with instructions, and those receiving It, should follow all that is decreed by Christ Savior: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

Saint Mark adds to this, the miraculous signs that will appear as a consequence to those, that have believed: “In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” From Man’s sin, the whole world has come to a state of disorder, which has become its master: those who have believed in Christ-Redeemer, receive authority to conquer all types of evil, as well as over the fallen spirits, who incite people toward evil works. These miracles, which the subsequent history of the Church gives witness to, were truly performed by the Apostles and true Christians. Thus, through His disciples and their successors, the Lord reinstates a harmony that was forfeited by the world.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” — in charging the Apostles with the heavy task of spreading the good news of the Gospel throughout the whole world, the Lord enheartens them, promising His mysterious, invisible presence with them “always, even to the end of ages.” However, because the Apostles did not live till “the end of ages,” then this promise has to be applied to all of their successors. This doesn’t mean that at the end of ages, the Lord will not be with His disciples. “No, it is then that He will be present” (Blessed Theophylactus). It simply means that before the end of ages, He will be found unseen among the faithful, as head of His Church, guiding it toward mankind’s salvation.

 

Archbishop Averky Taushev on the Resurrection,the Myrrhbearers at the Tomb and Mary Magdalene.

Resurrection.

In narrating about this greatest event, all four Evangelists say nothing on the mysterious and for us, incomprehensible side of it. They don’t describe how it came about, and how the Resurrected Lord came out from the tomb without disturbing the seal. They speak only of the earth-quake, which was the result of the Lord’s Angel rolling the stone away from the entrance to the tomb (after the Lord had risen — which is emphasized in our church songs — and not as is commonly thought, that the Angel rolled the stone away so that the Lord may come out of the tomb), on the Angel’s dialogue directed at the women myrrhbearers that arrived at the tomb, and a further range of appearances by the Resurrected Lord to the them and His disciples.

 

Arrival of the Women Myrrhbearers at the Tomb.

(Mat. 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-10).

To the women that were present at Golgotha and then at the Lord’s burial, it seemed that His priceless Body was too hastily prepared for burial, and they were grief-stricken because they were not involved in the Jewish custom of anointing His body. That’s why in accordance with the law, after spending all of Saturday at rest, on the first day of the week — at sunrise — they hurried to the tomb in order to fulfill their wish and final obligation of love to their Beloved Teacher. At the head of these deeply committed women to Christ, who entered into history with the name “myrrhbearers,” (as testified by all four Evangelists) was Mary Magdalene; followed by the “other Mary” or Mary, mother of James, Salome and others that followed the Lord from Galilee (Luke 23:55). It was a whole host of women among who, some walked fast, nearly running while maybe others walked slowly, without any great haste. Therefore, it is not surprising that at first glance, the time of their arrival at the tomb as determined by the Evangelists varies, creating a feeling of contradiction between them, which in reality there is none.

Before going further: who is this “other Mary,” twice referred to as such by Saint Matthew in his narration on the Lord’s burial (Mat. 27:61), and then — on the resurrection (Mat. 28:1). According to ancient Church tradition, enunciated in the Sinarksis for the day of Passover, it was non other than the Mother of God. Why isn’t this enunciated unequivocally? As the Sinarksis explains, “so that it would not appear questionable” (that the witness to such an enormous event was appropriated by His Mother), the Evangelists says: the Lord appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), who saw the Angel sitting on the stone.

Salome was the mother of the “sons of Zebedee” — Apostles James and John. Joanna, mentioned by Saint Luke (24:10), was the wife of Chuza, king Herod’s steward. The other women-myrrh-bearers are not mentioned by name, but Saint Luke clearly states that there were “other women with them” (Luke 24:10). Among these “others,” Church tradition also indicates: Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus who was resurrected by the Lord, Mary, wife of Clopas and Susanna, and many others, “As God-filled Luke narrates: serving Christ and the disciples with their possessions” (Sinarksis in the week of the Women-Myrrhbearers).

The women-myrrhbearers were awaiting the end of the Sabbath rest. Moreover, as Saint Luke states that some of them had purchased some aromatic spices on Friday evening (23:56), while others — “when the Sabbath was passed,” i.e. Saturday evening (Mark 16:1).

The Evangelists express themselves in different ways about the time of arrival at the tomb by the myrrhbearers.

 

Saint Matthew — “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn…”

Saint Mark — “Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week… when the sun had risen”

Saint Luke — “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning…”

Saint John — “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while

It was still dark…”

 

Thus, all these indications of time coincide, only that they speak of different moments of the advancing morning, from which can be seen that the women-myrrhbearers didn’t all arrive at one and the same time. Saint John is the one that differs most in his description from the other Evangelists, which is understandable. As usual, he omits what had been narrated by the first three Evangelists, but complements them with what relates to Mary Magdalene and two disciples. In amalgamating the narratives of the four Evangelists, a full picture emerges of everything that transpired. As described by Saint Matthew only, the earthquake that occurred when the Angel rolled the stone, naturally took place before the arrival of the women-myrrhbearers. The purpose to this was to send the guards fleeing and reveal the tomb empty. The Lord resurrected prior to this, just as it is sung in our church: “From the sealed tomb.” I don’t have the Troparion, and hence didn’t put these sections in). That’s why the depiction of Christ, (spread even among our faithful in recent times under the influence of the West) — emerging from the tomb, with the stone rolled open and the guards falling on the ground from fear, doesn’t address reality. The Angel descended and rolled the stone, after Christ had risen. This caused the guards, palpitating and numb with fear, to flee to Jerusalem.

By juxtaposing the four Evangelists’ narratives, a clear picture of the sequential events is created. As can be seen by Saint John’s narrative, the first to arrive at the tomb was Mary Magdalene, “while it was still dark” (John 20:1). She wasn’t alone in coming, but a whole host of myrrhbearers was following, as narrated by the first three Evangelists. Because of her especial love for the Lord and her lively temperament, she headed the other women and arrived while it was still dark. Whereas the other women approached the tomb when it was becoming light. That she was not alone can be seen in John’s writing, because when she had returned to Apostles Peter and John, she spoke in a plural and not singular tense: “We do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2). Thus, it is clearly evident in the Greek text, and that’s the way it was translated into the Russian language. Seeing the stone had been moved from the entrance (she did not see the Angel that later appeared to the women), she thought that the Lord’s Body had been carried away, and immediately runs to inform Apostles Peter and John about this. On the way back, she of course met the other women (whose minds were occupied with the idea as to who will move the stone for them (Mark 16:3)), and told them of her fears. While she was going to the Apostles, the rest of the women-myrrhbearers neared the tomb, saw the Angels, heard the good news of Christ’s resurrection, and hastened back to the Apostles to share the great joy with them. All of this is narrated in detail by the first three Evangelists (Mat. 28:5-8; Mark 16:4-8 and Luke 24:3-8).

Meanwhile, as a result of the news brought to them by Mary Magdalene, (and perhaps by the other myrrhbearers, whom they didn’t believe — “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” Luke 24:11) the two Apostles — Peter and John — hastily went, or even ran to the tomb. Being younger than Peter, John ran faster and therefore arrived at the tomb sooner, when the women had left, but did not go inside. Perhaps, it was because of his apprehension at the garden’s isolation that held him back. However, hunched over and peering into the opened tomb, he saw some swaddling-cloth lying on the ground.

Immediately after, Simon Peter arrives who, being bolder and more courageous, decides to enter the tomb and sees just swaddling-cloth lying on the ground and a purificator that was wrapped around the Lord’s head, “not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself” (John 20:3-7). “Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first,” i.e. John, “and he saw and believed,” i.e. believed in the truth of Christ’s resurrection, because with the removal of the Body, there would have been no need to unwind and divest the swaddling-cloth from it and then leave them in such a neat order. “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” — until the Lord “opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25), there was much that they didn’t understand clearly: they didn’t comprehend the Lord’s narratives on His forthcoming sufferings and resurrection (as can be seen, as an example, in Luke 18:34 and Mark 9:10), and therefore were in need of corporeal proof. To John, the carefully folded swaddling-cloth and purificator served as such proof of the truth of Christ’s resurrection. However, this served as proof to John only as to the veracity of what transpired. On Peter, Saint Luke states that “he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened” (Luke 24:12). After his triple rejection of Christ, the state of his spirit was very heavy and was not inclined toward a living belief. And thus, apparently with his return from the tomb, the merciful Lord appeared to Peter in order to console him and pacify his heart. This is mentioned briefly by Saint Luke 24:34 and Saint Apostle Paul 1 Cor. 15:5. As can be seen from these segments, the Lord appeared to Peter alone, before the other Apostles.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene.

(John 20:11-18; Mark 16:9-11; Mat. 28:9-10).

After Apostles Peter and John had left the tomb, Mary Magdalene, who perhaps arrived there with them or close behind them, was left on her own. Her soul was in upheaval and she was crying, thinking that the Lord’s Body had been stolen. Crying, she leaned toward the opening of the tomb, and saw inside two Angels, sitting on the bier upon which the bodies of the dead were placed, inside the burial cave. Her grief was so great that it drowned out all other feelings. That’s why Magdalene is not very shaken by the sight of these Angels, and to their consoling question: “Woman, why are you weeping?” she simply — as though speaking to earthly beings — expresses her grief in the same words as she did before to Apostles Peter and John: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Having said this, maybe by chance, through a sense of lost feelings, and then again perhaps, moved by an instinctive inner feeling, she turned around and saw Jesus, but did not recognize Him. Apparently, she didn’t recognize Him, because He appeared “in another form,” like an Emmaus traveler, in a “humble and ordinary” appearance (Saint Chrysostom). That’s why she took Him to be a gardener. Maybe she didn’t recognize Him, because her eyes were full of tears, as she was crushed with grief and didn’t expect to see the Lord alive. She didn’t even recognize His voice when He asked her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you seeking?” Taking Him to be a gardener (which is quite natural, because who else would be in the garden so early other than a gardener), she says to Him: “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away,” not even considering as to whether she, being a weak woman, would be able to lift Him. The Lord then revealed Himself by calling her with a special and long-familiar intonation: “Mary!” — this shows that after her words to the seeming gardener, she turned her gaze toward the tomb, — “and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’” and with a visible but indescribable joy, fell at His feet wishing to cling to them, perhaps to convince herself that she is seeing a real live Jesus and not some apparition. The Lord forbad her to do this, saying: “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” It is as though the Lord is saying: “Believe My word and not your grasp.” Another meaning to this forbiddance is that the Lord wanted to convey to Mary: “Leave Me, as you cannot remain with Me permanently. Don’t detain Me, but go and proclaim My resurrection. It is incumbent of Me not to remain with you but ascend to the Heavenly Father.” A good explanation of this forbiddance in touching the Lord can be found in the morning hymn of the eighth tone: “….”

“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her” — collating these words with that of Saint Matthew, we have to assume that along the way, Mary Magdalene encountered the “other Mary,” and the Lord again appeared to both of them (second appearance), “saying: rejoice!” They prostrated themselves before His feet. He repeated anew His behest that they go to His disciples (having called them “His” Brothers), and announce His resurrection to them, repeating that which the Angel stated prior to this: “Tell My brethren to go to Galilee.” The resurrected Lord, already the glorified Messiah ready to go to His Father, very touchingly calls His disciples “brethren.” He wasn’t ashamed to call them as such — as Apostle Paul later emphasizes this in his Epistle to the Hebrews 2:11-12.

Saint Mark states that the women myrrhbearers were so overcome with palpitations and terror (of course reverential), that they “said nothing to anyone.” This has to be understood in the sense that, when they were running along the way, they did not mention anything to anyone about what they saw and heard. Further on, Evangelist Mark himself (as well as other Evangelists, Luke 24:9) narrates that having reached home, they related everything to the Apostles (Mark 16:8 and 6:10).

According to the Evangelists’ writings, it would seem that the Lord’s first appearance was to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-10). However, from ancient times, our Church maintains the tradition, that the before Mary Magdalene, the resurrected Lord first appeared to His Blessed Mother — which is quite natural and understandable. To this day within the temple of Resurrection at Jerusalem, there is a declared area where the Lord appeared to His Blessed Mother, not far from the “koovookleeya”? Tradition, blessed by centuries, cannot be but based on actual fact. And if there is no mention of this in the Gospel, it is because in general, there is much that is not recorded, as Saint John testifies (21:25; 20:30-31). It has to be assumed that because of Her humility, it wasn’t agreeable to the All Pure Mother of God Herself for the intimate secrets of Her life to be broadcasted. That’s why there is extremely little said about Her in the Gospel, except for the very essential facts, associated directly with the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Evidently, the Evangelists didn’t want to mention the Blessed Mother of God at all as a witness to the genuineness of Christ’s Resurrection, because the testimony of a mother would have been met with skepticism by those that doubted (see the Sinarksis in the Paschal week). The Evangelists say, that the accounts by the women-myrrhbearers of what they saw and heard at the tomb about the appearance of the resurrected Lord Himself, were not believed (Luke 24:11). If the Apostles didn’t believe them, would strangers believe the witness of a Mother?

Bribing of the Guard.

(Mat. 28:11-15).

“Some of the guard,” (that ran from the Lord’s tomb) who apparently were in charge and responsible for leaving their post, informed the high priests of everything that had occurred. Namely them and not Pilate, because they were placed under their command and not the procurator’s. The high priests assembled the Sanhedrin and decided to bribe the guards into slandering the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection. “They bought His blood,” — states Saint Chhrysostom — “when He was alive, and with His crucifixion and resurrection, they again are using money to undermine the authenticity of the resurrection.” “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept’” — that’s what they taught the soldiers to say. “Their words are completely unbelievable and have no plausibility,” reasons Saint Chrysostom: “In what manner did His disciples steal the body, these poor and simple people, who didn’t even dare show themselves? And wasn’t there a seal placed at the tomb? Wasn’t this area surrounded by many guards, soldiers and ordinary Jews?….And for what purpose would they steal Him? Is it so that they could invent a teaching on resurrection? But how would thoughts of something like this enter the minds of people that wish to live in anonymity? And how did they leave the stone sealed? How did they remain undetected by some many guards? And of what benefit would it be to them, if Christ didn’t resurrect?” All the exponents of the Bible rightly note, that all the endeavors by the Sanhedrin — to retain the Lord’s Pure Body in the tomb as secure as possible, was seemingly conceived and executed to purposely confirm the authenticity of the event, with all historical clarity, which the members of the Sanhedrin wanted to eclipse and present as a lie. After all, the stealing of bodies was completely unheard of among the Jews, fearing defilement through coming into contact with a corpse. (Num. 19:11-12).

How could it happen that the guards fell into a deep sleep at the precise time, when the actual theft was expected — the third day? Their sleep must have been extraordinarily deep, if they couldn’t hear the stone of the tomb being rolled open. Even if decided to fall asleep — which is totally unlike Roman soldiers — they would have done so in front of the entrance, so that it would have been impossible to roll the stone without crushing them. The most improbable thing about this is that the frightened and scattered disciples would decide on this senseless theft, from which they would have received no benefit, but an apparent enormous danger. Remarkable too is the fact that the soldiers would spread such reports about themselves, without arousing bafflement among their listeners as to why they weren’t punished for their breach of duty. Notwithstanding the obviousness of the hateful Jews’ fabrication, their stubborn unwillingness to believe in the authenticity of Christ’s resurrection only confirms this great Christian truth.

Archbishop Averky Taushev on the Crucifixion, death and burial of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Mat. 27:33-44; Mark 15:22-32; Luke 23:33-38; John 19:18-24)

In accordance with all 4 Evangelists, the Lord was brought to a place called Golgotha, meaning “place of execution” and was crucified between two robbers. Saint Luke writes that they too were led with the Lord to their death. Golgotha, or “place of execution,” was a small hill toward the northwest and situated outside the walls of Jerusalem. It is uncertain as to why this hill carried such a name. It is thought that perhaps because it either resembled a skull, or because it was littered with numerous skulls of executed people. According to ancient tradition, the last remains of the father of mankind — Adam — reposed here. In his Epistle to the Jews, Saint Apostle Paul points out the special meaning that “Jesus….suffered outside the gate.” When they brought Jesus to Golgotha, they gave Him drink. According to Saint Mark 15:23, it was wine mixed with myrrh, while according to Saint Matthew 27:34, it was vinegar mixed with gall. This drink, which stupefied and dulled the senses, was given to people condemned to crucifixion, so as to somewhat reduce the painful sufferings. The Romans called him “soporific.” According to the Jewish rabbis’ eyewitness, this wine was mixed with crushed resin, which dulled the senses of the condemned and thereby alleviated his sufferings. Myrrh is one form of resin — which is why Saint Mark mentions it. The mixing of wine and myrrh gave it a tart and bitter taste. That’s why Saint Matthew calls it “gall,” and the wine “vinegar,” which apparently is what you call wine that had gone sour. “But when He had tasted it, He would not drink” — the Lord did not partake of this drink, wanting fully conscious to bear the whole cup of sufferings to the end.

“Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him” — thus Saint Mark narrates (15:25). This would appear to contradict Saint John’s witness, that at six o’clock, the Lord was still at Pilate’s trial (John 19:14). However, it must be understood that as with night, that was divided into 4 watches — three hours in each — so was the day divided into 4 sections, each one referred to as the last hour of each watch: the third hour, the sixth hour and the ninth hour. Assuming that that the final judgment was passed by Pilate from the rostrum at the end of the third hour (by current times — early 9 am), then Saint John was quite entitled to say that it was the 6th hour, because the second section of the day comprised of the 4th, 5th and 6th hours, to which the Jews referred as the last hour i.e. 6th. On the other hand, Saint Mark could state that it was the third hour, because in the sense of the second section of the day, the 6th hour was just commencing and only the third hour of the first quarter had elapsed.

“And they crucified Him” — the crosses were of several forms and crucifixions varied. Sometimes, the person was nailed to the cross while it was lying on the ground, and then raised into the ground vertically; sometimes the cross was first raised into the ground, and then the condemned man was nailed to it. Sometimes the crucifixion was upside down (as was the case with Apostle Peter — at his own request). Sometimes the hands and feet were nailed to the cross, while other times, they were simply tied to it. The body of the crucified individual hung helplessly in terrifying convulsions; all the muscles arched from excruciating spasms; wounds inflicted by nails, tore under the weight of the body; as a result of nail-wounds and loss of blood, the victim was tormented with unbearable thirst Because the sufferings of the crucified were so great and incredibly agonizing, and added to that — protracted (sometimes the crucified hung on the cross for three days and longer), this form of execution was applied to only the most serious offenders and was regarded as the most horrifying and ignominious of all the executions. So that the nailed hands did not tear prematurely, sometimes a foot-rest/crossbar was nailed at the bottom, on which the condemned could stand. On top of the remaining free end of the cross, a board was nailed horizontally, detailing the crime of the condemned individual.

Among the indescribable sufferings, the Lord did not remain completely silent: He spoke seven times from the cross. The first time He said a prayer for His crucifiers, the second time He bestowed Heavenly joy to the repentant criminal, the third time — placing His Pure Mother into the care of Saint Apostle John, His fourth time was an exclamation: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” His fifth utterance was — “I thirst,” sixth — “It is finished,” seventh — “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”

The Lord’s first utterance was a prayer for His executioners, which is brought by Saint Luke (23:24): “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” None of those who were crucifying Jesus was aware that He was the Son of God. “For had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8), states Apostle Paul. He even spoke of this to the Hebrews in his second sermon, during the healing of a lame person: “I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). Of course, the Roman soldiers were not aware that they were crucifying the Son of God; being so blinded by their hatred and having sentenced the Lord to death, the Jews really did not think that they were crucifying the Messiah. However, this unawareness doesn’t justify their crime, because they had the opportunity and means to know. The Lord’s prayer testifies to the greatness of His spirit and serves as an example, so that we too do not seek retribution against our enemies, but pray for them.

“Now Pilate wrote a title…” Saint John testifies that by Pilate’s orders (as was normally accepted), a small wooden plaque was issued indicating the Lord’s guilt (John 19:19-22). Wishing to once again hurt the Sanhedrin, Pilate ordered the following to be inscribed: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Because the members of the Sanhedrin accused the Lord of appropriating for Himself this regal honor, Pilate decreed to their shame, that this be written as His guilt; the Jewish king, crucified at the insistence of the representatives of the Jewish people. Contrary to custom, the plaque was inscribed in three languages: local/national Jewish, Greek and the prevalent Roman tongue of the conqueror. The aim of this was to allow every person to read this inscription. Not realizing it, Pilate fulfilled a higher providential purpose: at the moment of His lowest point of humiliation, the Lord Jesus Christ was announced to the entire world as King. The Lord’s accusers took this to be a cruel mockery, and insisted that Pilate change the inscription. The proud Roman brusquely refused them, letting them feel his authority.

“Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots…” Roman law decreed that the clothes of the condemned person belonged to the soldiers that crucified him. According to the eyewitness of Philon, there were four soldiers that carried out the crucifixion. Saint John — who was more detailed than the others in describing the division of the Lord’s clothing — attests that the outer garments were torn into 4 parts, “To each soldier a part,” while the undergarment — tunic — was not stitched but woven, or knitted (from the top down), starting at the opening for the head. If this tunic was to be torn apart, the parts would have no value. That’s why the soldiers cast lots with the winner getting the tunic whole. According to tradition, the Blessed Mother of God wove this tunic. In carrying out this act, the soldiers unconsciously fulfilled the ancient prophecy on the Messiah in Psalm 21:19, which is presented by Saint John: “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

Further on, the first three Evangelists narrate on the mockery and blasphemy that the Lord was subjected to by the soldiers, as well as His pedestrian enemies among the people. And of course, the high priests, Scribes, elders and Pharisees. These blasphemies had the one, mutual basis in the comparison of the past with the present. In recalling everything that the Lord said and did, they pointed to His current helplessness, and derisively suggested He perform a miracle that is evident and clear to all — come down from the cross, (promising hypocritically — of course) in which case they would believe in Him. According to Saint Matthew’s words, both robbers, crucified on His right and left, participated in this blasphemy.

Repentance of the Wise Robber.

(Luke 23:39-43).

In complementing the first two Evangelist, Saint Luke narrates about the repentance and appeal to the Lord of one of the robbers. One of them, evidently more irate from the agony and seeking an object upon which he could turn his hatred, began to blaspheme the Lord by emulating the example set by His enemies. The other robber, obviously not corrupted to such an extent, having retained some religious feelings, began to admonish his companion. “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due rewards of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Evidently, he heard the torment of the Jerusalem women accompanying the Lord to Golgotha; perhaps the sign on the Lord’s cross produced a feeling that made him think over their words: “saved others,” or perhaps the most important sermon on Christ for him was the Lord’s prayer for His enemies, the crucifiers.

In one way or another, his conscience spoke up strongly, and he wasn’t afraid to openly come forward among the mockery and blasphemy, in defense of the Lord. Not only that, there came about a complete and decisive break within his soul, so that in expressing his faith in the crucified Lord as the Messiah, he turned to Him with these penitent words: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom!” In other words: “remember me, Lord, when You come to rule.” He doesn’t ask for glory or joy, but for the smallest thing, just like the Canaanite woman wishing to receive a breadcrumb from the Lord’s table. From then on, these words of the wise robber have become an example of genuine, deep repentance, and they have even entered into usage in our church services. This remarkable confession brightly testified to the power of faith in the penitent robber. In pain, exhausted and dying, he acknowledges the Lord as King, Who will come into His Kingdom that He will establish. This confession was such, that it was even beyond those closest to the Lord, who were unable to accommodate thoughts of a suffering Messiah. Here undoubtedly was an especial impact of God’s grace that had enlightened the robber, so that he may be an example and lesson to all generations and peoples. This confession earned him the highest reward that one can imagine: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” — said the Lord i.e. today he will enter Heaven, which will again be opened to people through the redeeming death of Christ.

 

Mother of God at the Cross.

(John 19:25-27)

As an eyewitness and participant in the event, only Evangelist John narrates on how the Lord Jesus Christ entrusted the care and concern for the Blessed Mother of God from the cross. When the hateful enemies started to slowly move away from the cross, Virgin Mother of God, Her sister Mary Clopas, Mary Magdalene “and the disciple whom He loved” (as Saint John often refers to himself in the Gospel), who were standing nearby, moved closer to it. With the departure of Christ from this world, His Blessed mother, would have remained alone with no one to look after Her. That’s why with the words: “Woman, behold Your son” and to His disciple: “Behold your Mother!” the Lord entrusts His Blessed Mother to His beloved disciple. “And from that hour that disciple took Her to his own home” — as Church tradition testifies, from that point on until Her death, the Blessed mother lived at Saint John’s, who cared for Her like a loving son. This is especially significant for the following reason. Not letting an opportunity to blaspheme against the Holy Mother of God go by, the protestants and sectarians reject the fact that She was and remained a Virgin. They claim that after Jesus She bore other children, born through natural means from Joseph, and that they were those “Lord’s brothers” that are mentioned in the Gospel. However, this begs the question: if the Blessed Mother of God had Her own children, who undoubtedly could and should have cared for Her as their own Mother, then why was it necessary to entrust Her to a stranger — Saint John? It has to be assumed that Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Theologian remained at the cross till the end, because Saint John points out in his Gospel, that he was a personal eyewitness to the Lord’s death, and to everything that followed (John 19:35).

Death of Christ.

(Mat. 27:45-56; Mark 15:33-41; Luke 23:44-49; John 19:28-37).

According to the witness of the first three Evangelists, the Lord’s death on the cross was preceded by a darkness that covered the land: “Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” i.e. in our time — from noon till 3 pm. Saint Luke adds that “the sun was darkened.” This could not have been a normal eclipse, because the Jewish Passover on the 14th of Nisan, always has a full moon, whereas an eclipse occurs only with the new moon — not a full moon. This was a miraculous sign, which witnessed the astonishing and extraordinary event — the death of God’s beloved Son. The Roman astronomer Flagonus witnessed this darkness, during which time even the stars were visible. The Greek historian Phallus also gives witness to this extraordinary darkening of the sun. Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (when he was still a heathen) mentions this in his letters to Apollophanus. However, it’s marvelous how both Saint Chrysostom and Blessed Theophylactus emphasize that this “darkness was over all the earth,” and not in some part only — as is the case with an ordinary eclipse. Evidently, this darkness followed after the sneering and mockery at the crucified Christ; and it stopped this sneering, causing the feelings as narrated by Saint Luke: “And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts” (Luke 23:48).

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Saint Mark relays these words as “Eloi” instead of “Ili.” Of course this lamentation was not that of despondency, but only an expression of the profound grief of the God-Man. In order for the redeeming sacrifice to be accomplished, it was essential that the God-Man drink the chalice of human suffering to its bottom. This demanded that the crucified Jesus not feel His joyous unity with God the Father. God’s entire wrath, in the power of His truth, which should have decanted on the sinful humanity, now seemingly concentrated itself on Christ alone, and it was as if God had left Him. Amid the most heaviest physical and spiritual sufferings that can be imagined, this separation was the most agonizing, causing this anguished cry from the lips of Jesus.

In Hebrew, “Eloi” was pronounced as “Eliagoo.” That’s why the Lord’s lamentation served as a new cause for mocking Him: “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” The sarcasm of this derision was based on the fact that before the Messiah’s coming, the Jews were expecting the arrival of Elijah. In laughing at the Lord, they were seemingly saying: even now, crucified and abused, He still imagines that that He is the Messiah and is calling Elijah to help Him. The first two Evangelists narrate that one of the soldiers immediately ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and having placed it on the end of a reed, gave Him to drink. Evidently, this was sour wine, which was ordinarily issued to Roman soldiers to drink, especially in hot weather. The sponge that was filled with the liquid, was placed on a reed, i.e. the stem of a plant (called a “hyssop” by Saint John), because those hanging on the cross were quite high above the ground, making it simply impossible to come up and give them drink. The crucifixion caused an extraordinarily strong and painful thirst in the crucified individuals, and Saint John narrates that apparently the Lord just before that exclaimed: “I thirst!” (19:28-30), adding to this : “That the Scripture might be fulfilled.” In depicting the sufferings of the Messiah, the Psalmist in the 69th Psalm, verse 21, truly foretells this: “And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” According to Saint John, having received the sour wine, the Lord exclaimed: “It is finished!” i.e.: the Mutually Divine and predetermined deed is accomplished — the redemption of the human race and its reconciliation with God, had been accomplished through the death of the Messiah (John 19:30).

According to Saint Luke, this was followed by the Lord crying out: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46), “and bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). All first three Evangelists narrate, that at that moment of Christ’s death, “the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” i.e. the curtain that separated the Sanctuary from the Holiest of Holy, tore in half by itself. As it was that time for the offering of the evening sacrifice — nearly 3 o’clock in the afternoon (by our time) — there apparently was a rostered priest, who witnessed this miraculous tearing of the curtain.

This symbolized the discontinuance of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, which opened the Kingdom of Heaven to humans that was previously closed to them. “The earth quaked” — as a sign of God’s wrath at those who put to death His Beloved Son, a strong earthquake occurred. From this earthquake “rocks were split” i.e. rocky hills split, revealing caves used for burials. As a sign of the Lord’s triumph over death — “many bodies of the Saints who had fallen asleep were raised” — on the third day when the Lord resurrected, these bodies that came to life in those caves, appeared in Jerusalem to people that knew them.

All three Evangelists narrate that these miraculous signs, which accompanied the Lord’s death, had such a profound and jolting effect on the Roman centurion, that (according to the first two Evangelists) he pronounced: “Truly this was the Son of God!” while Saint Luke writes: “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” Tradition has it that this centurion, whose name was Longinus, became a Christian and was later martyred for Christ (his memory is 6 Oct.).

According to Saint Luke, all the people that gathered at Golgotha, were also shaken: “beat their breasts and returned” — these sharp changes in moods from one to another are quite natural in an agitated crowd. All three Evangelists point out that the witnesses to the Lord’s death and events surrounding it were “many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar,” and among them, as enumerated by Saints Matthew and Mark, by name: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and the mother of the Zebedee sons, and Salome.

Only Saint John narrates on events following the death of Jesus, and as usual, complements the first three Evangelists, and as he confirms in his narrative, he was a witness to all of them. Because it was Friday — in Greek “paraskevi” meaning “preparation,” i.e. “day before Saturday,” and that Saturday was “a great day” as it coincided with the first day of Passover, so as not to leave the crucified bodies on the crosses on such a “great day,” the Jews (enemies of Christ or members of the Sanhedrin) asked Pilate “that their legs may be broken.” Having killed them this way, “they might be taken away” i.e. taken down and buried before the onset of night, when it would be time to partake of Passover. In order to quicken their demise, the cruel Roman custom had the legs of the crucified broken i.e. shattered. Having received Pilate’s permission, the soldiers broke the legs of the two robbers crucified with Christ, who were still alive. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with his spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:33-34; 1 John 5:8).

Criticism rejecting this, have occupied a great deal of time with the question as to whether it’s possible for blood and water to flow from Christ’s wound, arguing that this was impossible as blood cannot flow from a cold dead body. This is because blood remains in a fluid state for a very short time, at most one hour, and separation of fluid from blood occurs only with the onset of decomposition, and with certain illnesses like typhoid, ague etc. All these arguments are without substance. After all, we don’t know the full details of the Lord’s crucifixion and death, and therefore cannot make a determination about these details. However, it is a well-known fact that crucified individuals suffer feverish conditions. The very piercing of the rib undoubtedly occurred very soon after death — and in any case, certainly no later than one hour — as night was approaching and the Jews were hurrying to complete their foul deed. Apart from that, there is no need to examine the flow of blood and water as a natural manifestation. Saint John himself underlines this by annotating it as miraculous in his Gospel (“And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true” — 19:35). The Purest Body of God-Man could not be subject to the ordinary laws of decomposition of the human body. Probably, from the moment of death, It began to enter into a transforming state, which ended in Its resurrection in a new, glorified and spiritualized appearance.

The holy Fathers explain that in a symbolic sense, this is a sign of the mysterious unification of the faithful with Christ in the mysteries of baptism and the Eucharist: “we are born through water, and nourished by blood and flesh” (Blessed Theophylactus and Saint Chrysostom). Standing at the cross and witnessing all this, Saint John testifies that what he says is true and that he is not being deceived, confirming this — “and his testimony is true” (John 19:35).

The flow of blood from Christ’s perforated side signifies that He became our Redeemer, having cleansed us with water in the Mystery of Baptism, and nourishing us with His Blood in the Mystery of Communion. That’s why in his first Epistle, the same Apostle John writes: “This is He who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in Heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one” (1 John 5:6-8).

“For these things were done,” i.e. not only the piercing of the side, but also that the Lord’s legs were not broken, “that the Scripture should be fulfilled.” This was foretold in the Book of Exodus 12:46: the Paschal lamb, transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ, had to be eaten without any bones being broken and what remained, had to be burned. There is another section of the Bible that prophesies: “they shall look unto me whom they have pierced” (Zach. 12:10). In this segment, Jehovah is depicted as the Messiah that had been pierced by His people, and having looked upon the wounded Messiah, the same people are presented as bringing penitence with weeping and sobbing before Him. These words are slowly being fulfilled with the Jews that condemned Christ to death — and will continue to be fulfilled to the end of the world, when there will be a universal conversion of Jews to Christ, as foretold by Saint Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans 11:25-26.

The Burial of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Mat. 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42).

The Lord’s burial are narrated completely in accord by all four Evangelists, at the same time each conveying his own details. The burial took place with the advent of evening, although before the arrival of Saturday i.e. it has to be supposed that it must have been one or two hours before sundown, when Saturday began. This is clearly indicated by all four Evangelists: Mat. 27:57, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54 and John 19:42. This is especially emphasized by Saints Mark and Luke. At that time, as Saint Mark testifies, Joseph of Arimathea arrived from a Jewish town near Jerusalem. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, a pious, clandestine follower of Christ, and according to Saint John, was not involved in Christ’s condemnation (Luke 23:51). Approaching Pilate, he asked for Christ’s body so that He could be buried. According to Roman custom, crucified bodies were left on the crosses as prey for the birds. However, it was possible to obtain permission from the authorities for the body to be buried. Pilate expressed surprise that Jesus had already died, as the crucified sometimes hung there for several days. Having checked with the centurion, who confirmed Christ’s death, ordered that the Body be released to Joseph. According to Saint John, Nicodemus arrived — who previously came to Jesus at night (see John chp 3) -—bringing with him about 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe mixture. Joseph bought a long and expensive shroud. They took the Body down and according to custom, anointed it with aromatic oils, wound the shroud around it and placed it in a new burial cave in Joseph’s garden, situated close to Golgotha. As the sun was setting in the west, while everything was performed hastily, it was done diligently. Having rolled a stone across the entrance, they left. All this time, the women that were present at Golgotha, watched the activity.

Saint Chrysostom and also Blessed Theophylactus consider that “Mary the mother of James and Joses” mentioned by the Evangelists, was the Most Holy Mother of God, “ inasmuch James and Joses were sons of Joseph from his first wife. As the Mother of God was called the wife of Joseph, then She was rightfully called mother i.e. Stepmother to his sons.” Others were of the opinion that it was Mary, wife of Clopas, cousin to the mother of God. As narrated by Saint Matthew (27:61), they were all sitting across from the opening to the cave. Then according to Saint Luke, they later returned and prepared aromatic herbs and paste, so that at the end of Saturday’s quiet and in accordance with Jewish custom, they would anoint the body of Christ (Luke 23:56). According to Saint Mark, these women, named “myrrhbearing,” didn’t purchase the aromatic herbs on the day the Lord was interred, but after Saturday had passed i.e. Saturday night. There are no contradictions here. Evidently, there was very little time left on Friday evening before the sun set. They prepared it partly on Friday, and what they didn’t finish, they did so on Saturday evening.

Evangelist Matthew narrates about another important situation, which occurred on the day after the burial — “On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation,” i.e. Saturday, the high priests and Pharisees gathered at Pilate’s residence (not thinking about violating the rest on the Sabbath) and asked that he place a guard over the tomb for three days. They declared their motive as: “We remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.’” “The first deception” they regard here is the Lord Jesus Christ teaching about Himself as the Son of God, Messiah, while the “last deception” — sermon on Him as the resurrected Conqueror of hell and death. They feared this sermon more, and in this they were quite right, as the future history showed in the spread of Christianity. Pilate dryly answered their request: “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” In view of the huge influx of people from all the countries in the world into Jerusalem, a Roman guard was assigned under the authority of the Sanhedrin to maintain law and order during this festive period. Pilate offers that they utilize this guard as they see fit, so that later they would not be able to blame anyone for anything. “So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” — i.e. placing a cord and seal on the stone in the presence of the soldiers, who remained at the tomb to guard it. Thus, without realizing it, the evil enemies of the Lord prepared undisputable proof of His glorious resurrection from the dead.

 

 

Elder Ephraim of Arizona on labor and grace .

Elder Ephraim of Arizona

Let us now strive more, my children, and the benefits will be great. No one finds grace without toil. If the farmer does not farm his field, he will not see the results. When our fasting coexists, is strengthened and is encompassed with prayer, with contemplation, with watchfulness, with church attendance, with confession, with Holy Communion, with good works of charity giving, then is fulfilled the beauty of the souls preparation for the reception of the Holy Week. Then we will feel the Holy and Honorable Passion of Christ more profoundly, because our hearts will soften, and they will alter and recognize how boundless the love of God is for man. Then the Holy Resurrection will be alive within us with great strength, we will feast in a divinely-fitting manner and celebrate together with the angels the Holy Pascha. Amen.
+Elder Ephraim of Arizona

Fr Lawrence Farley: The Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven”

We continue this series examining the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase, using Matthew’s version of the Prayer rather than Luke’s. We will begin by working from the archaic version of the text as commonly prayed in our liturgical tradition (e.g. “Our Father who art in heaven”, rather than “Our Father in heaven”) because this is the version familiar to most people. But differences found in the original Greek text will be noted and mined for meaning.

We note at the outset the corporate nature of the prayer: the Lord taught us to say “our Father”, not “my Father” so that even when we say this prayer on our own with no one else around, we still pray as part of a family. The Lord did not act as a one-on-one mentor to individuals, but as a Master to a group of disciples, and His commands to us presuppose that each person is part of a larger group. He was not offering a course in spirituality to individuals who might be interested, but forming a qahal, a gathering, an ekklesia, a church. As such, when He was asked by this group for instruction on prayer (Luke 11:1), he offered a model prayer which presupposed prayer in a group.

The Christian faith in fact presupposes membership in this group, this ekklesia, and its spirituality is relentlessly corporate throughout. All the images of salvation are corporate: we are branches on a larger vine (John 15:1f), sheep in a sheepfold (John 10:1f), part of a city (Galatians 4:26, Revelation 21:2f), members of a single body. As far as our salvation is concerned, Christ is inseparable from His body—in fact when St. Paul referred to the church being a body with many members, he called the church “Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). The church is thus inseparable from Christ—it is His “fullness” (Ephesians 1:22-23). One cannot even become a Christian without the Church. One can join other religions on one’s own. In the case of Islam, for example, one becomes a Muslim simply by saying, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger”. But it is otherwise with Christianity: if one wants to become a Christian, one must present oneself to the gathered ekklesia and be baptized by one of them. Even then one cannot even baptize oneself—the act of triple immersion must be performed by someone else. And of course having become a Christian through the baptismal actions of others, one remains a Christian by receiving Holy Communion, which is also a corporate act.

This radical identification of Christ with His gathered Body the Church means that if we depart from the Church, we thereby depart from Christ, and to the extent that we draw near to the Church in faith, we draw near to Christ. The “our” in the opening clause of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we need each other to be saved.

Secondly, we note also that Christ taught us to address the deity not as God, Lord, or King (all perfect good and Biblical titles), but as “Father”—almost certainly abba in the original Aramaic. Abba means not just “father”, but more specifically “papa”. Along with imma [i.e. mother] it was one of the first words a Jewish child learns (compare Isaiah 8:4). It is a word of sweet intimacy and loving familiarity. The title “father” denotes respect and can be uttered while kneeling or standing at attention; abba presupposes a loving embrace. Yet despite the immense transcendence of God whose glory fills heaven and earth, and before whose face the exalted cherubim and seraphim veil themselves in awe, we are still taught to invoke this transcendent God as our “papa”.

This is because Christ shares with us His intimate relationship with the Father. He is the Son of God by nature, and so of course calls God “abba” (compare Mark 14:36). He shares this sonship with us, so that all that He is by nature, we can become by grace. Thus after His Resurrection He commands Mary Magdalene to tell His disciples that He is ascending “to My Father and your Father; to My God and your God” (John 20:17).

Here is the answer to any who are tempted to despise themselves and succumb to despair. God loves you; He embraces you; He is your abba, your papa. You may respond to that love or spurn it, but His love for you is not in doubt.

Finally, we note that God is described as being “in heaven”—or, literally, “in the heavens” (plural). We tend to think of heaven in the singular, with earth down here and heaven up there. The ancients thought of heaven in the plural. St. Paul referred to the paradisal dwelling of Christ as “the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2f). Others spoke of seven heavens. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews spoke of Christ having “passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14). One should not ask, “So, are there three heavens or seven?”, for we are not speaking the language of arithmetic, but of metaphor. This is theology, not astronomy. The point of the theological metaphor is the transcendence of God. God is not just “up there”. He is greater than that. And He is not just “up above up there”. He is higher still. There are many heavens, and God is above them all. In fact He is so exalted that He has to humble Himself to see what goes on in heaven as well as on earth (Psalm 113:6). He surpasses and defies all description (as the author of the Dionysian corpus knew only too well). He is not just “our Father”, but “our Father in the heavens”.

This means that the God who loves you is a God of power and might. He is the Lord Sabaoth, the Lord of the heavenly armies, and that power and might are there to help and save you. There are many that oppose us, many enemies that seek to do us harm and drag us down to death, dust, and despair. We need fear none of them, for the God who is our abba is in the heavens. The Psalmist told us of this long ago: our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). And what He pleases is to embrace us as His children, since we have taken refuge in His Christ.

Copyright Fr Lawrence Faley.