Does Orthodoxy Matter? A Case Study

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And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

 

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Orthodoxy means “true glory” or “true faith.”  We Orthodox think very highly of the word.  Or do we?  When it comes down to it, does Orthodoxy actually matter all that much to us (as it should)?  Orthodox Christians in the west find themselves living among many different Christianities and it can sometimes be tempting to think that notwithstanding some of the more obvious differences, (icons, the Theotokos, fasting, worship, for example), all these Christian traditions share much the same faith as us.  If you are of this opinion, then I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but it just isn’t true at all.  How so?

I am going to consider this issue by looking at a case study which reveals the damage that heresy can do in our personal lives, our relationships and even to the society and world that we live in.  It is a fictional story, but quite typical.

John and Mary go to an Evangelical Anglican Church.  John is Orthodox (Greek tradition).  Mary is Anglican.  This is her second marriage, being a young widow with one teenage son (Ian, 15) still living at home. She now has two children with John, daughters, aged 5 and 7.  John would prefer to go to his local Greek Church but his wife is a committed Anglican, and their children, although baptised in the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Ian), prefer the “lively worship songs”, as they put it, which are included in the church’s family service.  Ian is very involved in the local youth group and is thinking eventually of becoming an Anglican minister.  Does Orthodoxy then matter to John?  Well, yes, but only in a remote nostalgic sort of way.  It is some years now since he has attended Divine Liturgy, the last time was at Pascha in 2008.  His stepson, Ian, will have nothing to do with what he considers to be the “stuffy incomprehensible worship” at his stepdad’s church which he has visited once, just after his stepfather’s marriage.

Ten years later ….

Neither John nor Mary now regularly attend the Anglican Church.  John still hasn’t been back to the Orthodox Church since Pascha 2008 and Mary doesn’t like the new Vicar who is a woman.  Mary is quite a conservative evangelical believer who maintains that a woman should not be in a place of authority within the Church over men.  (This is the evangelical doctrine of the”headship of the male.”)  Her two daughters, now 15 and 17 still attend on their own and are very active in the youth group.  Ian, who shares his mother’s conservative outlook, has also left the church, disagreeing with what he believes to be the Anglican Church’s tolerance of homosexual partnerships.  He has started attending a very conservative Baptist church that teaches pure Calvinism, in particular, the doctrines known as TULIP (from the first letter of each doctrine), namely:-

Total Depravity – As a result of Adam’s fall, all humanity, is dead in sins and therefore damned.  Humanity’s nature is corrupt and utterly incapable of godliness.

Unconditional Election – Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, from eternity God elected certain people to salvation and others to damnation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond to God, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement – Because God determined that certain people should be saved as a result of His unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected, and for whom Christ died, will be saved but the rest will be damned to hell for all eternity; again as determined by God’s sovereign will.

Irresistible Grace – Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.  Man cannot choose to love God by his own choice and freedom.

Perseverance of the Saints – The precise people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith to the end. None whom God has elected will ever be lost; they are eternally secure even though they may sin grievously after election.

Although Ian is a pious and committed believer these doctrines trouble him.  He begins to doubt that he is one of the elect, chosen by God for salvation.  His sinful life (he occasionally resorts to prostitutes) troubles him greatly but his church tells him that he is unable to make any right choice and save himself.  Ian enters a very dark period of depression, made much worse by the impact of these heresies on his mental health.  His fragile relationship with his atheist girlfriend disintegrates.  He seeks medical help for a latent depression which has now become the full blown clinical variety.

Five years further on, the two daughters are now at the same university, one just about to graduate but they have been unable to find an evangelical church they like nearby, so they have stopped attending church on the grounds that they believe in Christ and are saved, so what’s the point?  Back home John and Mary now lead thoroughly secular lives.  John sometimes thinks wistfully of his childhood back in Cyprus when he used to attend church with his Nana but this seems to him a very distant idealised time now.  He hopes, nonetheless, that his wife or children will respect his wish for an Orthodox funeral if he dies first.

So, did Orthodoxy matter to John?  Well yes, particularly earlier on, but for most of his adult life only in a nominal sort of way.  He had certainly not been catechised in his youth and his grasp of the faith, therefore, had always been somewhat tenuous.  Did Anglican evangelicalism then strike him as being similar to Orthodoxy?  Well yes, mostly.  He only saw differences in the worship style which often set his teeth on edge.  Let’s face it.  He attended the evangelical Anglican Church for the sake of his wife and family.  When they stopped going, so did he.  There is only one God after all and this was just a different way of being a Christian, it seemed to him.  He did lament his stepson’s involvement in the Calvinist church because he could see how its refusal of human freedom and choice, its dark doctrines of divine election to salvation or damnation, did not feel right to him, but he couldn’t really say why. 

Did Mary his wife ever consider Orthodoxy when the lady Vicar arrived?  Well, no, why should she?  Her husband rarely spoke of his childhood faith and she concluded that it could not have meant much to him in that case, so why should she consider it?  John and Mary now spend a conventional Sunday together as most couples do in their street, getting up late, going to the gym occasionally, shopping at B&Q, taking a drive into the countryside; just the usual and normal things everyone does nowadays.  Both still consider themselves as Christians, but obviously not of the fanatical sort whom they blame, quite rightly, for destroying Ian’s piece of mind.  As for the two girls, well they eventually graduated and now have families of their own.  Churchgoing, however, has become completely alien to all their families with the rest.

So, does Orthodox Christianity matter to you?
Does it matter enough for you to find out about it in more depth?
Does it matter enough for you to practice it as faithfully as you can, notwithstanding the distractions of modern life?
Does it matter enough for you to stay loyal to this faith no matter what challenges are presented to it by both family life and society as a whole?

And here’s the challenging question …

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

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Give Me This Stranger

 

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Give Me This Stranger” Dedicated to my brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, “to all mankind”. Especially dedicated to the suffering, persecuted Church and to my Orthodox ‘convert’ brothers and sisters in Christ. I was so deeply disturbed, hurt and offended last Sunday when I heard them being characterised as ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’  amidst ‘cradle’ Orthodox circles.

 

“And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

 

 

 

“As the sun hid its very rays at the Savior’s death, and the curtain of the temple was rent in twain, Joseph of everlasting memory approached Pilate, beseeching him in this manner:”

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Give me this stranger

Give me this stranger, who from infancy has been  as a stranger, a sojourner in the world.”

The Diaspora and Mission

 

I often hear the word “diaspora” “dispersed” to describe those Orthodox Christians worshipping outside their homelands or canonically defined jurisdictions. Originally used in connection with the Jewish people who were forced into exile outside Israel Deuteronomy 28:25, it has come to be used for those Orthodox Christians falling outside their traditional cultural nascent homelands and living in countries where multiple jurisdictions appertain as in the USA, Australia or Western Europe. Assignment of the “disapora” according to the interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council was granted to New Rome- Constantinople to take pastoral oversight over the “Barbarian” lands.

 

 

The reposed Metropolitan Philip of North America of thrice memory said: “I believe that Canon 28, historically, is a contextual canon and not a dogmatic one; it gave the city of Constantinople certain rights as the New Rome for secular, political reasons because it was the seat of the emperor.”

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Give me this stranger, whon His own race has hated and delivered unto death as a stranger.”

 

If we look to the Apostolic age we see in the Acts of the Apostles that it was the Patriarchate of Antioch that established mission to the “Gentiles” through St Paul the Apostle. All three of his missionary journeys were launched from Antioch. It was His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatios IVth who saw that the manner of living the catholicity of the Church is in full freedom in the Holy Spirit and not in blind adherence to the letter of the canons; because, “the canons were made for the Church and not the Church for the canons.” With spiritual courage, he maintained that “nothing prevents the modification of old and obsolete canons. We must search diligently for the realization of the Church in her present and given historical context, otherwise we die and we become nothing more than a museum filled with mummies.”

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Give me this stranger, who in a strange manner is a stranger to death.”

 

I am not part of any “diaspora,” I am an Orthodox Priest born in the United Kingdom and I am an adopted son of Antioch. There are many Orthodox Christians whose parents were from different jurisdictions who were born here and are baptised into the Orthodox Church which may or may not be part of their “national” jurisdiction. Practically all of our Parishes in Britain and Ireland are Pan-Orthodox in their demography. Glory to God!

The Church as we say in the Creed is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

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Give me this stranger, who has received the poor as guests.”

Those who do not see mission as important are not true Orthodox Christians. Complacency and self regard emanate from empty vessels, veiling themselves with the masks of actors and national flags. Whilst less common the “older brother” syndrome sadly still persists in some circles towards so called “converts.” The Parable of the Prodigal son ( who he was guilty of many sins-Luke 15:11-32) is also a Parable about the Older son whose character is painted as pompous, aloof, resentful, self righteous, grudging, sullen, angry, complaining and jealous. One can do all the right things but with the wrong spirit.

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Give me this stranger, whom the jews from envy estranged from the world.”

 

From the very beginning the Church was One– she expressed herself at a local level but the faith and doctrine she proclaimed as being held in unity. We hold the faith as Holy– as those called to imitate Christ and to separate ourselves from sin, not from one another on the basis of ethnic identity.

 

The Church is Catholic that is “universal”; a proclamation which we make on the Sunday of Orthodoxy:-

This is the Faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers, this is the Faith of the Orthodox, this is the Faith which has established the Universe.

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Give me this stranger, that I may hide him in a tomb, for as a stranger He has no place to lay His head.”

 

And the Church is Apostolic based on the teaching, preaching and tradition of the Apostles and by nature “sent out” to preach the Saving Gospel to all nations. From the very beginning, the Church was apostolic and evangelistic in her calling and command. Ethnic pride is simply a form of pharisaism and the very anithesis of Our Lord’s last command:

Matthew 28:19-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.

 

 

Certainly there are those waiting to hear the word of salvation, but there is no such thing as “ the diaspora”- quite the opposite-only those called and gathered( the ekklesia– the total body of believers belonging to the Lord who are called out from the world) into the Kingdom of God.

Luke 13:29

 

29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.

 

Give me this stranger, whose Mother seeing His dead body cries out:

“O my Son and my God, I am sorely wounded within me and my heart is rent,

seeing Thee as one dead: but in Thy Resurrection

I take courage and magnify Thee”.

 

So we have much to do- because for to those who have been given much, much is expected. We rejoice with those returning to the Orthodox Church. We weep with those who find themselves exiled from their lands. We are warmed by the fact that so many of our parishes are microcosms of Pentecost with faithful being welcomed from all over the world regardless of nationality. We thank God that we witness strength of faith and growth in His Church and we ask empowerment for the apostolic mission set before us to bring God’s love to a hungry world.

 

The glory of God is revealed in joy. The mercy of God is experienced in suffering. The grace of God is discovered in fellowship. The power of God is realised in miracles. The love of God is manifested in mission.

 

The Diaspora and Mission by father Jonathan Hemmings

 

“Thus entreating Pilate with these words, noble Joseph receives the body of the Savior: and wrapping it with fear in a linen with myrrh, he places in a tomb Him Who bestows upon all eternal life and great mercy.”

 

* After the procession with the Epitaphion on Holy Friday night,  the choir sings the “Give me this stranger” hymn.

 

*Unfortunately so much ‘wordplay’ in the original hymn with the key word/ root “ξένος” (ie. a stranger) is lost in the translation! In ancient Greek “ξένος” & “ξενίζω”  ξενίζω and ξενίζομαι < αρχαία ελληνική ξενίζω (φιλοξενώ) < may alternatively mean “a stranger” as a noun: ξένος, or “surprise conventional people by doing something weird, paradoxical, unconventional” as a verb: παραξενεύω, εκπλήσσω, “behave like a stranger”: φαίνομαι ή φέρομαι σαν ξένος or “offer hospitality usually to a stranger”: αρχαία ελληνική ξενίζω (φιλοξενώ)

 

Russia in Winter

 

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Sunny forest (photo by Sergei Malinin)

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Frost on Theophany (photo by Archbishop Maximilian (Lazarenko) / Expo.Pravoslavie.Ru)

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First snow on the Sherna river (a river in the Vladimir and Moscow regions). A view of the St. Nicholas Church (photo by Irina Beloturova)

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The Kantyube Mountain, Urals (photo by Alexei Klekovkin)

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The Church of St. Dimitry Prilutsky on Navolok, the city of Vologda
(photo by Archbishop Maximilian (Lazarenko) / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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(Photo by Archbishop Maximilian (Lazarenko) / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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Solovki Monastery (photo by Sergei Veretennikov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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St. Andrew’s Church (photo by Sergei Veretennikov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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(Photo by Sergei Veretennikov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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The bells ring joyfully in frosty weather (photo by Sergei Veretennikov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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(Photo by Sergei Veretennikov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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The first ray of light (photo by Sergei Veretennikov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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Theophany immersion (photo by Vladimir Khodakov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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Sunset (photo by Anatoly Zabolotsky / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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The Lavra (photo by Hierodeacon Gerasim (Pichugin) / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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A Nativity scene in Yakutia (photo by Marina Yurchenko / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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A Nativity scene in Yakutia (photo by Marina Yurchenko / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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Frosty haze (photo by Marina Yurchenko / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru)

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The Crimea in winter (photo by Daniel Korzhonov)

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The Crimea in winter (photo by Sergei Yershov)

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The Holy Trinity Church in Antarctica

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The last ray (photo by Daniel Korzhonov)

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Photo by Vladimir

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His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All the Russias photo by Vladimir Khodakov / Expo.Pravoslavie.ru

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Belaya Gora (White Mountain) and surroundings (a name of a mountain and village in the Perm region)

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Belogorsky St. Nicholas Monastery, Perm region (photo by Vadim Balakin / Severniye Zemli)

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Around Belaya Gora (photo by Vladimir Chuprikov)

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A winter landscape in Belaya Gora area (photo by Vladimir Chuprikov)

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Winter magic (photo by Vladimir)

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Svetlaya (Bright) Bay, sea of Okhotsk (photo by Alexei Gnezdilov)

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The Baptism of the Lord (photo by Vladimir Yeshtokin / Expo.Pravoslavie.Ru)

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A Russian village

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Winter sunrise above the Istra river, the Moscow region (photo by Andrei Ulyashev)

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Ice on Lake Baikal (photo by Daniel Korzhonov)

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Nighttime fairy tale (photo by Maxim Yevdokimov)

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A monk fees a winter bird (photo by Anatoly Zabolotsky / Expo.Pravoslavie.Ru)

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The sun illumines the trees covered in hoarfrost (photo by Vitaly from N-sk)

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Photo by Marateaman

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Friends (photo by Elena Shumilova)

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(Photo by Elena Shumilova)

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Kazakhstan, Lake Borovoye, the Goluboy Zaliv (Blue Bay) inlet (photo by Leonid Dyachenko)

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Frost and the sun (photo by Viktor Kornyushin / Expo.Pravoslavie.Ru)

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Winter sunrise (photo by Ilia Melnikov)

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Winter sleep (photo by Tatiana Smirnova)

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A lovely evening on Green Mountain, Sheregesh, the Kemerovo region
(photo by Valery Peshkov)

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Frost and the sun (photo by Marina Nikiforova)

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The ragged sky (photo by Marina Brydnya)

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The Church of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God in Red Square

 

Source: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/foto/set1466.htm

Christ(mas) Healing of Chronos, Kairos, and Aeon

An Orthodox Theology of Time – II / V

 

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The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dali

Nature of Time: What is time? What is its relation to God’s mode of being? Time as understood in its relation to the Church as a receptacle of the eternal Kingdom of God.

 

“What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend this even in thought so as to articulate the answer in words?

Yet what do we speak of, in our familiar everyday conversation, more than of time?

We surely know what we mean when we speak of it.

We also know what is meant when we hear someone else taking about it.

What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know.

If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know”

 

(Augustine’s Confessions,11.14.17, p. 230)

Some Fathers, including Sts. Basil the Great and Maximus the Confessor, spoke of three modes of being (i.e. time (chronos), age or creaturely eternity (aeon) and the everlasting or uncreated eternity (aidios, aidiotes) and sometimes … proaionios or the pre-eternal which is ateleutetos or without an end)), not just the two of time and eternity.

 

…First, everlastingness or everexistingness (aidiotes)  is the mode of being only of God, who is utterly beyond the distinction between time and creaturely eternity, being and non-being, since He is the pre-eternal (proaionios) God who is “endless” in the sense of being beyond duration. Everlastingness is essentially a negative or apophatic category emphasizing God’s unknowableness.

 

God is indefinable as the ho pro aionon Theos (Slavonic: prevechnyi Bog) which can be translated as ‘the pre-eternal God’ or ‘God before the ages.’ As the Kontakion of Christmas puts it:

 

Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being [ton huperousion], and the earth offers the cave to him whom no one can approach; Angels with Shepherds give glory, while Magi journey with a star, for to us there has been born a little child, God before the ages [ho pro aionon Theos].

 

Second, we have creaturely eternity/age (aion–aionios), which is the creaturely mode of being of the supra-cosmic or spiritual creation of God—angels. [Human beings too. Both Angels and humans are eternal, because although they were created in Time, they do not have an end]. This mode of being is not one that excludes change but it is not bound by the distinctions of our present time’s version of change. The past is not utterly past but it is contained in the present as is the future and the future in the past and the past in the future so that eternity is a sort of perichoretic version of time. This, I would argue, is what Schmemann was getting at when he wrote that points in time can be gathered together and encountered simultaneously:

“In an instant, not only are all such breaths of happiness remembered but they are present and alive—that Holy Saturday in Paris when I was a young man—and many such ‘breaks.’ It seems to me that eternity might be not the stopping of time, but precisely its resurrection and gathering.”

 

Moreover, there is in the Kingdom of God, which is an eternal Kingdom not of this world, an enduring quality of being where one forever praises God from one moment to the next—a sort of sempiternal or eternal duration—without in any way being trapped in growing old or being trapped in the inexperience of youth. In such eternal duration, the goodness of God is always desired and always held in its fullness at the same time as that goodness continually increases our capacity and desire for it although we never possess this goodness in its fullness.

 

 

Time in physical creation, as we now experience it under the weight of sin, is understood as a reality with a strict division between past, present and future where the person in time, who has turned his back on God’s grace in Jesus Christ, is prevented from being present to more than one division at once. Thus when I err under the weight of sin I cannot be present to here and there at once since I am bound to here.

 

… Christ heals our time (chronos), and indeed the time of the invisible creation (aeon), by making it His time of opportunity for our salvation in Him (kairos).

 

Time, as Christ’s time, becomes a means to our perfection in Him rather than the ultimate expression of our rejection of God’s grace. Through Him in His Body the Church we come to partake in the mode of being of the invisible creation, creaturely eternity, but this eternity or time of the invisible creation becomes wedded with our sensible time, remade for an embodied being like man, through participating in the everlasting life of God. Time is, therefore, remade and renewed in the Church as the Kingdom of God and we have a foretaste of this renewal in the liturgy.

[Chronos, Kairos and Eternity, or, Agape. Because Eternity is Hypostatical Agape in God]

 

Source: Excerpts from Gallaher, Brandon ‘s Orthodox Theology of Time http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2668945.html#_ftnref1

 

To Be Continued …

For Part I go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/12/18/chalice-of-eternity/

For Part III go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/12/18/4497/

The Art of Spiritual Reading

An Introduction to the Art of Reading God’s Word accompanied by some of the most beautiful medieval manuscripts

Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Black Hours (M. 493 › Morgan Library & Museum)

The Black Hours is a product of unequalled luxury. All 121 vellum folios are stained in black. To make the writing stand out against the dark background, only white lead and opaque paints were used for the miniatures, and gold and silver ink for the script. Only three of these black parchment manuscripts survive to this day.
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WE BELIEVE THAT THE SCRIPTURES constitute a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation of Himself – in creation, in the Incarnation of the Word, and the whole history of salvation. And as such they express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience.

We may distinguish four key qualities that mark an Orthodox reading of Scripture, namely

Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Prayerbook of Claude de France (MS M. 1166 › Morgan Library & Museum)

In the words of Roger Wieck, curator of manuscripts at the Morgan Library: “An artistic triumph…” The personalized prayer book of the French queen Claude de France enchants us especially by its delicate paintings in a charmingly small format of 69 x 49 mm, and even more so by the unusual wealth of illustration it contains.

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Reading the Bible with Obedience

FIRST OF ALL, when reading Scripture, we are to listen in a spirit of obedience. The Orthodox Church believes in divine inspiration of the Bible. Scripture is a “letter” from God, where Christ Himself is speaking. The Scriptures are God’s authoritative witness of Himself. They express the Word of God in our human language. Since God Himself is speaking to us in the Bible, our response is rightly one of obedience, of receptivity, and listening. As we read, we wait on the Spirit.

But, while divinely inspired, the Bible is also humanly expressed. It is a whole library of different books written at varying times by distinct persons. Each book of the Bible reflects the outlook of the age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author. For God does nothing in isolation, divine grace cooperates with human freedom. God does not abolish our individuality but enhances it. And so it is in the writing of inspired Scripture. The authors were not just a passive instrument, a dictation machine recording a message. Each writer of Scripture contributes his particular personal gifts. Alongside the divine aspect, there is also a human element in Scripture. We are to value both.

Each of the four Gospels, for example, has its own particular approach. Matthew presents more particularly a Jewish understanding of Christ, with an emphasis on the kingdom of heaven. Mark contains specific, picturesque details of Christ’s ministry not given elsewhere. Luke expresses the universality of Christ’s love, His all-embracing compassion that extends equally to Jew and to Gentile. In John there is a more inward and more mystical approach to Christ, with an emphasis on divine light and divine indwelling. We are to enjoy and explore to the full this life-giving variety within the Bible.

most beautiful medieval manuscripts lindisfarne gospels

Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D IV › British Library)

The Lindisfarne Gospels doesn’t need many words of introduction: it’s one of the finest works in the unique style of Hiberno-Saxon or Insular art, combining Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic elements.

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Because Scripture is in this way the word of God expressed in human language, there is room for honest and exacting inquiry when studying the Bible. Exploring the human aspect of the Bible, we are to use to the full our God-given human reason. The Orthodox Church does not exclude scholarly research into the origin, dates, and authorship of books of the Bible.

Alongside this human element, however, we see always the divine element. These are not simply books written by individual human writers. We hear in Scripture not just human words, marked by a greater or lesser skill and perceptiveness, but the eternal, uncreated Word of God Himself, the divine Word of salvation. When we come to the Bible, then, we come not simply out of curiosity, to gain information. We come to the Bible with a specific question, a personal question about ourselves: “How can I be saved?”

As God’s divine word of salvation in human language, Scripture should evoke in us a sense of wonder. Do you ever feel, as you read or listen, that it has all become too familiar? Has the Bible grown rather boring? Continually we need to cleanse the doors of our perception and to look in amazement with new eyes at what the Lord sets before us.

We are to feel toward the Bible with a sense of wonder, and sense of expectation and surprise. There are so many rooms in Scripture that we have yet to enter. There is so much depth and majesty for us to discover. If obedience means wonder, it also means listening.

Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (Acc., No. 54.1.2 › Metropolitan Museum of Art) 

All miniatures are in demi-grisaille, a painting technique using mainly shades of grey and coloring for the figures’ face and hands. The surprising amount of details that can be fit in such small space is outstanding.

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We are better at talking than listening. We hear the sound of our own voice, but often we don’t pause to hear the voice of the other person who is speaking to us. So the first requirement, as we read Scripture, is to stop talking and to listen – to listen with obedience.

When we enter an Orthodox Church, decorated in the traditional manner, and look up toward the sanctuary at the east end, we see there, in the apse, an icon of the Virgin Mary with her hands raised to heaven – the ancient Scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. This icon symbolizes the attitude we are to assume as we read Scripture – an attitude of receptivity, of hands invisibly raised to heaven. Reading the Bible, we are to model ourselves on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she is supremely the one who listens. At the Annunciation she listens with obedience and responds to the angel, “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). She could not have borne the Word of God in her body if she had not first, listened to the Word of God in her heart. After the shepherds have adored the newborn Christ, it is said of her: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Again, when Mary finds Jesus in the temple, we are told: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:5l). The same need for listening is emphasized in the last words attributed to the Mother of God in Scripture, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee: “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5), she says to the servants – and to all of us.

In all this the Blessed Virgin Mary serves as a mirror, as a living icon of the Biblical Christian. We are to be like her as we hear the Word of God: pondering, keeping all these things in our hearts, doing whatever He tells us. We are to listen in obedience as God speaks.

Westminster Abbey Bestiary

Westminster Abbey Bestiary (Ms. 22 › Westminster Abbey Library)

Out of all the Bestiaries, the Westminster is considered to be one of the most beautiful and richly decorated bestiaries in the world, and is full of all kinds of incredible descriptions, legends and myths.

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Understanding the Bible Through the Church

IN THE SECOND PLACE, we should receive and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is not only obedient but ecclesial.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture. A book is not part of Scripture because of any particular theory about its dating and authorship. Even if it could be proved, for example, that the Fourth Gospel was not actually written by John the beloved disciple of Christ, this would not alter the fact that we Orthodox accept the Fourth Gospel as Holy Scripture. Why? Because the Gospel of John is accepted by the Church and in the Church.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, and it is also the Church that tells us how Scripture is to be understood. Coming upon the Ethiopian as he read the Old Testament in his chariot, Philip the Apostle asked him, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And the Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30-31). We are all in the position of the Ethiopian. The words of Scripture are not always self-explanatory. God speaks directly to the heart of each one of us as we read our Bible. Scripture reading is a personal dialogue between each one of us and Christ – but we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church. We make full use of our own personal understanding, assisted by the Spirit, we make full use of the findings of modern Biblical research, but always we submit private opinion – whether our own or that of the scholars – to the total experience of the Church throughout the ages.

The Orthodox standpoint here is summed up in the question asked of a convert at the reception service used by the Russian Church: “Do you acknowledge that the Holy Scripture must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which has been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, has always held and still does hold?”

We read the Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We read as the members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. When reading Scripture, we say not “I” but “We.” We read in communion with all the other members of the Body of Christ, in all parts of the world and in all generations of time. The decisive test and criterion for our understanding of what the Scripture means is the mind of the Church. The Bible is the book of the Church.

godescalc-evangeliary

Godescalc Evangelistary (Ms. Nouv. acq. lat. 1203 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

Why is this manuscript so important? In the words of Godescalc himself:

Golden words are painted [here] on purple pages,
The Thunderer’s shining kingdoms of the starry heavens,
Revealed in rose-red blood, disclose the joys of heaven,
And the eloquence of God glittering with fitting brilliance
Promises the splendid rewards of martyrdom to be gained. 

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To discover this “mind of the Church,” where do we begin? Our first step is to see how Scripture is used in worship. How, in particular, are Biblical lessons chosen for reading at the different feasts? We should also consult the writings of the Church Fathers, and consider how they interpret the Bible. Our Orthodox manner of reading Scripture is in this way both liturgical and patristic. And this, as we all realize, is far from easy to do in practice, because we have at our disposal so few Orthodox commentaries on Scripture available in English, and most of the Western commentaries do not employ this liturgical and Patristic approach.

As an example of what it means to interpret Scripture in a liturgical way, guided by the use made of it at Church feasts, let us look at the Old Testament lessons appointed for Vespers on the Feast of the Annunciation. They are three in number: Genesis 28:10-17; Jacob’s dream of a ladder set up from earth to heaven; Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; the prophet’s vision of the Jerusalem sanctuary, with the closed gate through which none but the Prince may pass; Proverbs 9:1-11: one of the great Sophianic passages in the Old Testament, beginning “Wisdom has built her house.”

These texts in the Old Testament, then, as their selection for the feast of the Virgin Mary indicates, are all to be understood as prophecies concerning the Incarnation from the Virgin. Mary is Jacob’s ladder, supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes upon entering our human world. Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while still remaining inviolate. Mary provides the house which Christ the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) takes as his dwelling. Exploring in this manner the choice of lessons for the various feasts, we discover layers of Biblical interpretation that are by no means obvious on a first reading.

The Grimani Breviary

Grimani Breviary (Ms. Lat. I, 99=2138 › Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana) 

A monumental witness to the splendor of Flemish art produced during the Renaissance. Perhaps an outstanding features of this manuscript is the choice of motifs, which alternate between religious and lay themes.

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Take as another example Vespers on Holy Saturday, the first part of the ancient Paschal Vigil. Here we have no less than fifteen Old Testament lessons. This sequence of lessons sets before us the whole scheme of sacred history, while at the same time underlining the deeper meaning of Christ’s Resurrection. First among the lessons is Genesis 1:1-13, the account of Creation: Christ’s Resurrection is a new Creation. The fourth lesson is the book of Jonah in its entirety, with the prophet’s three days in the belly of the whale foreshadowing Christ’s Resurrection after three days in the tomb (cf. Matthew 12:40). The sixth lesson recounts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites (Exodus 13:20-15:19), which anticipates the new Passover of Pascha whereby Christ passes over from death to life (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7; 10:1-4). The final lesson is the story of the three Holy Children in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3), once more a “type” or prophecy of Christ’s rising from the tomb.

Such is the effect of reading Scripture ecclesially, in the Church and with the Church. Studying the Old Testament in this liturgical way and using the Fathers to help us, everywhere we uncover signposts pointing forward to the mystery of Christ and of His Mother. Reading the Old Testament in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the, Old – as the Church’s calendar encourages us to do – we discover the unity of Holy Scripture. One of the best ways of identifying correspondences between the Old and New Testaments is to use a good Biblical concordance. This can often tell us more about the meaning of Scripture than any commentary.

In Bible study groups within our parishes, it is helpful to give one person the special task of noting whenever a particular passage in the Old or New Testament is used for a festival or a saint’s day. We can then discuss together the reasons why each specific passage has been so chosen. Others in the group can be assigned to do homework among the Fathers, using for example the Biblical homilies of Saint John Chrysostom (which have been translated into English). Christians need to acquire a patristic mind.

Morgan-Crusaders-Bible

Morgan Crusader Bible (Ms M.638 › Morgan Library & Museum; Ms Nouv. Acq. Lat. 2294 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France; Ms Ludwig 16 83. M.A. 55 › Getty Museum)

In this manuscript history is depicted in great detail, without any text and recalls the Creation of the world, the Righteous Wars and the deeds of the most important characters of the Old Testament. The Crusader’s Bible fascinates through its rich and refined gold embellishment which comes to enhance the luminosity of the colors.

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Christ, the Heart of the Bible

THE THIRD ELEMENT in our reading of Scripture is that it should be Christ-centered. The Scriptures constitute a coherent whole because they all are Christ-centered. Salvation through the Messiah is their central and unifying topic. He is as a “thread” that runs through all of Holy Scripture, from the first sentence to the last. We have already mentioned the way in which Christ may be seen foreshadowed on the pages of the Old Testament.

Much modern critical study of Scripture in the West has adopted an analytical approach, breaking up each book into different sources. The connecting links are unraveled, and the Bible is reduced to a series of bare primary units. There is certainly value in this. But we need to see the unity as well as the diversity of Scripture, the all-embracing end as well as the scattered beginnings. Orthodoxy prefers on the whole a synthetic rather than an analytical approach, seeing Scripture as an integrated whole, with Christ everywhere as the bond of union.

Always we seek for the point of convergence between the Old Testament and the New, and this we find in Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy assigns particular significance to the “typological” method of interpretation, whereby “types” of Christ, signs and symbols of His work, are discerned throughout the Old Testament. A notable example of this is Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who offered bread and wine to Abraham (Genesis 14:18), and who is seen as a type of Christ not only by the Fathers but even in the New Testament itself (Hebrews 5:6; 7:l). Another instance is the way in which, as we have seen, the Old Passover foreshadows the New; Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea anticipates our deliverance from sin through the death and Resurrection of the Savior. This is the method of interpretation that we are to apply throughout the Bible. Why, for instance, in the second half of Lent are the Old Testament readings from Genesis dominated by the figure of Joseph? Why in Holy Week do we read from the book of Job? Because Joseph and Job are innocent sufferers, and as such they are types or foreshadowings of Jesus Christ, whose innocent suffering upon the Cross the Church is at the point of celebrating. It all ties up.

A Biblical Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, on every page of Scripture, finds everywhere Christ.

Wiener-Genesis

Vienna Genesis (Codex Theol. Gr. 31 › Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

It is the most ancient purple manuscript surviving today. The fragment of the Genesis (from the Greek Septuagint translation) is compiled in golden and silver ink, on a beautifully purple-dyed calfskin vellum. Each page contains a lavish miniature depicting the text, for a total of 48 well-preserved images.

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The Bible as Personal

IN THE WORDS of an early ascetic writer in the Christian East, Saint Mark the Monk: “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.” As Orthodox Christians we are to look everywhere in Scripture for a personal application. We are to ask not just “What does it mean?” but “What does it mean to me?” Scripture is a personal dialogue between the Savior and myself – Christ speaking to me, and me answering. That is the fourth criterion in our Bible reading.

I am to see all the stories in Scripture as part of my own personal story. Who is Adam? The name Adam means “man,” “human,” and so the Genesis account of Adam’s fall is also a story about me. I am Adam. It is to me that God speaks when He says to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). “Where is God?” we often ask. But the real question is what God asks the Adam in each of us: “Where art thou?”

When, in the story of Cain and Abel, we read God’s words to Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?” (Genesis 4:9), these words, too, are addressed to each of us. Who is Cain? It is myself. And God asks the Cain in each of us, “Where is thy brother?” The way to God lies through love of other people, and there is no other way. Disowning my brother, I replace the image of God with the mark of Cain, and deny my own vital humanity.

In reading Scripture, we may take three steps. First, what we have in Scripture is sacred history: the history of the world from the Creation, the history of the chosen people, the history of God Incarnate in Palestine, and the “mighty works” after Pentecost. The Christianity that we find in the Bible is not an ideology, not a philosophical theory, but a historical faith.

Then we are to take a second step. The history presented in the Bible is a personal history. We see God intervening at specific times and in specific places, as He enters into dialogue with individual persons. He addresses each one by name. We see set before us the specific calls issued by God to Abraham, Moses and David, to Rebekah and Ruth, to Isaiah and the prophets, and then to Mary and the Apostles. We see the selectivity of the divine action in history, not as a scandal but as a blessing. God’s love is universal in scope, but He chooses to become Incarnate in a particular comer of the earth, at a particular time and from a particular Mother. We are in this manner to savor all the uniqueness of God’s action as recorded in Scripture. The person who loves the Bible loves details of dating and geography. Orthodoxy has an intense devotion to the Holy Land, to the exact places where Christ lived and taught, died and rose again. An excellent way to enter more deeply into our Scripture reading is to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Galilee. Walk where Christ walked. Go down to the Dead Sea, sit alone on the rocks, feel how Christ felt during the forty days of His temptation in the wilderness. Drink from the well where He spoke with the Samaritan woman. Go at night to the Garden of Gethsemane, sit in the dark under the ancient olives and look across the valley to the lights of the city. Experience to the full the reality of the historical setting, and take that experience back with you to your daily Scripture reading.

Then we are to take a third step. Reliving Biblical history in all its particularity, we are to apply it directly to ourselves. We are to say to ourselves, “All these places and events are not just far away and long ago, but are also part of my own personal encounter with Christ. The stories include me.”

Betrayal, for example, is part of the personal story of everyone. Have we not all betrayed others at some time in our life, and have we not all known what it is to be betrayed, and does not the memory of these moments leave continuing scars on our psyche? Reading, then, the account of Saint Peter’s betrayal of Christ and of his restoration after the Resurrection, we can see ourselves as actors in the story. Imagining what both Peter and Jesus must have experienced at the moment immediately after the betrayal, we enter into their feelings and make them our own. I am Peter; in this situation can I also be Christ? Reflecting likewise on the process of reconciliation – seeing how the Risen Christ with a love utterly devoid of sentimentality restored the fallen Peter to fellowship, seeing how Peter on his side had the courage to accept this restoration – we ask ourselves: How Christ-like am I to those who have betrayed me? And, after my own acts of betrayal, am I able to accept the forgiveness of others – am I able to forgive myself? Or am I timid, mean, holding myself back, never ready to give myself fully to anything, either good or bad? As the Desert Fathers say, “Better someone who has sinned, if he knows he has sinned and repents, than a person who has not sinned and thinks of himself as righteous.”

Have I gained the boldness of Saint Mary Magdalene, her constancy and loyalty, when she went out to anoint the body of Christ in the tomb (John 20:l)? Do I hear the Risen Savior call me by name, as He called her, and do I respond Rabboni (Teacher) with her simplicity and completeness (John 20:16)?

Reading Scripture in this way – in obedience, as a member of the Church, finding Christ everywhere, seeing everything as a part of my own personal story – we shall sense something of the variety and depth to be found in the Bible. Yet always we shall feel that in our Biblical exploration we are only at the very beginning. We are like someone launching out in a tiny boat across a limitless ocean.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 118 [119]:105).

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Lectio Divina  is a four-part way of reading Scripture:
Lectio. Read. God is speaking, so I listen intently to what he says.
Meditatio. Engage. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally.
Oratio. Pray. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally and reply personally in prayer.
Contemplatio. Live. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally and reply in prayerful living.

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By Bishop Kallistos Ware: “How to Read the Bible” at http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/11/1/4.aspx#obedience

 

Source: MEDIEVALISTS.NET, “Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts” http://www.medievalists.net/2015/10/03/top-10-most-beautiful-medieval-manuscripts/

St. Petersburg’s Jaw-Dropping Wonder

Ana Paula Hirama, Flickr

Al and Marie, Flickr

You know the Sistine Chapel and the Notre Dame in Paris, but do you know the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood? Because it’s one of the most beautiful churches in the whole world. Located in St. Petersburg, Russia, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is a Russian Orthodox church that was built in the late 19th century under the direction of the Russian imperial family. It is built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally injured in March of 1881. It is full of bright colors, twisting spires, and floor to ceiling icons.

Here’s what it looks like on the outside:NoPlayerUfa, Wikipedia

And if you walk inside and look up, here’s what you see:

Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr

See what I mean about being jaw-droppingly beautiful??

And yes, this place really exists.

Unfortunately, it is not used as a full-time church. During the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the church was looted and damaged. The Soviet government closed the church in the 1930s. It suffered further damage during WWII.

Since 1970s, it has been used as a museum, even after a major restoration of the church in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

But it can still inspire people’s faith with its beauty!

Here are more pictures of both the exterior and interior. Enjoy!

Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Ana Paula Hirama, Flickr
Justin Kaplan, Flickr
grizzlee9129, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Ana Paula Hirama, Flickr
jaime.silva, Flickr
Diego Sáez Contreras, Flickr

Source: http://www.churchpop.com/2015/09/02/the-jaw-dropping-wonder-of-st-petersburg-the-church-of-the-savior-on-spilled-blood/

Between Son and Mother

A virtual, photographic pilgrimage to shrines in Greece and Cyprus dedicated to the Feast of the Mother of God Presentation or Entry, Entrance, Eisodos in the Temple (November 21)

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Iconography of the Entrance of the Theotokos at Hilandari Monastery–MOUNT ATHOS

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The Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa in AmorgosENTRY96entry7

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Panagia Malteza of Santorini

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Panagia Odigitria of Kimolos

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The 11th Century Church of Panagia Kapnikarea in Athens

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The Monastery of Panagia of Machairas in Cyprus

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No one stands between Son and Mother

Give us salvation


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“Today, the most pure temple of the Savior, the precious bridal chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of God, enters the house of the Lord, bringing the grace of the Divine Spirit. The Angels of God praise her. She is the heavenly tabernacle.”

 

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