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On Ecumenism with Sincerity

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When those involved in the ecumenical discussion are representatives of confessions belonging to the same religion, we can speak of an interconfessional ecumenism.

Every year, in the third week of January, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches pray together.

This ritual is based on one of the aspirations of the Christian Churches to leave the differences apart and reunite in a single community.

This intention regarding the unification of all Christian denominations received the generic name of “ecumenical movement” or “ecumenism”.

Ecumenism is not something new. We did not invent it! Not us, the ones that belong to the end of the 20th or the beginning of the 21st century. Not even, close!

In fact, the initiative to unite all Christians did not even belong to one of the two older branches of the religion founded by Christ: Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

On the contrary, it emerged from the desire of the Anglican Christians.

Let the History speak

Certainly, there have been attempts, but historians mention the association of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches as the official beginning of ecumenism.

This happened in 1864, at the initiative of British minister H. J. Fynes-Clinton.

Then, in 1910, in Edinburgh, the first International Mission Council was held, attended by representatives of several Christian denominations.

This meeting is considered the basis of today’s ecumenical movement.

The most important ecumenical organization the World Council of Churches (W.C.C.) that was established following the meetings in Utrecht (1938) and Amsterdam (1948).

In this body, most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches entered in 1961, during the W.C.C. assembly from New Delhi (India).

For more information, click here.

What is ecumenism and what are its purposes?

From my point of view, the ecumenical movement is a correction of the wrong deed of history and the attempt to erase several stains from the face of the Christian Church.

Because Christ is One and He is the Head of the Church[1], it is self-evident that there can only one “true” Church.

Certainly, Christians have known these things since the dawn of Christianity, but it took some time before they became aware of it. “Just” a few hundred years!

Therefore, the first attempts of unification between Christian Churches tried to put into practice the essence of Christ’s teaching – love for the other[2].

Meeting between Pope Francis I and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Consequently, the objective of the ecumenical movement was to unite the Christian Churches to ward off wars and cure social woes.

In this respect, since 1944, W.C.C. has activated to limit the effects of the Second World War.

After these trials, quite successful, in the practical realm, began the long process of in-depth mutual knowledge, in order to achieve the unification in the realms of teaching, morality, cult and church organization.

So far, this process is underway.

Obstacles

As expected, once separated, each of the Christian Churches developed its own identity.

Some of the best-known examples are given by the fact that Roman Catholic priests are only unmarried, while most Orthodox priests are married.

In addition, in some of the Protestant Churches, women may be priests and bishops.

In addition, some Protestant Churches also accept homosexual or transgender clergy.

And these are just matters related to the organization of the clergy, without having entered into dogmatic or moral matters of finesse.

Therefore, we can no longer speak of a unitary picture of Christianity, but of an unsolved puzzle.

Some principles

I firmly believe that the unification of the Churches is a very difficult thing to accomplish, but not impossible. So this process is one that must continue. But not anyway.

It requires patience, lucidity, and clear principles to regulate this endeavor.

Knowledge is needed

In 1054, the Great Schism of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches occurred. And this was just the beginning.

Over time, several branches of Christianity have emerged and each has its own identity (from the perspectives of teaching, moral, cult, and organization).

To speak of union, one must first know the differences between these ways of confessing Christ.

The truth is absolute and not something to be found somewhere in the middle

When we talk about the revealed truth, we are talking about Christ, which is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”[3].

Therefore, in the ecumenical dialogue, it is not possible to apply the principle of negotiation – “I give up something, you give up something, and let us meet in the middle.”

The Truth is only one, and it must be found together and accepted by all!

We do not have to hurry

The wounds that caused the separation between Churches remained open for hundreds of years. It would be a pity to hurry to close them without completely cleaning the gangrene.

If we do not do it properly, we cannot speak of genuine healing.

Along the history, Christian denominations have formed their own identities expressed in feasts, specific rituals, unique ways of understanding God, etc.

Let’s assume that after a debate, the experts come to the conclusion that the practices of a particular confession are wrong.

In that case, it would very difficult for the priests and believers of that community to accept that what they and their forefathers believed over hundreds of years is not right.

That’s why these things have to be dealt with maximum care!

The theologians must be allowed to work

Einstein said that a problem cannot be solved by the same level of intelligence that created it.

And history tells us that not necessarily differences of learning have been the basis of the separation between the Churches, but rather, Church-related political issues.

So, more than ever, prayer and theological clarity are needed, where the egos of the high priests or the interests of the moment created tears.

Or, in other words, humility and theological arguments must be focused on.

In search of God

For the time being, ecumenism is only seen as a prayer shared with other Christians.

In the same way, it is also a way to apply practically the principles of Christian love in communion with members of other denominations.

But it is more than that!

Even though on the surface, it seems to be just about the union of the Christian Churches, there is more.

Because ecumenism is also about seeking God together.

I have always liked the metaphor that speaks of God as a very high mountain everyone wants to climb.

Therefore, each individual starts from a different place at the basis of the mountain, and therefore each one of them will experience a unique way to the top.

However, what is important to remember is that, despite the obstacles, as everyone approaches the peak, he is approaching the others.

Perhaps this is, in fact, the essence of the ecumenical movement.

So, firstly, let’s start to search for God, and as a consequence, we will get closer to one another.

References

[1] Epistle to Ephesians of apostle Paul, chapter 5, verse 23: ”For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body.”

[2] The Gospel according to John, Chapter 13, verses 34-35: ”A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.”

[3] The Gospel according to John, Chapter 14, verse 6.

Psychotherapy or the Sacrament of Confession?

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Milton Erickson - the expert who put psychotherapy on the map!

Even risking to offend the snobs, I’m going to start by saying that psychotherapy, in my opinion, it’s not just a “cool thing”, but a necessity. And I think in the same way about the Church’s Sacrament of Confession. Why?

The Drama of Contemporary Men – we transmit information, but we don’t know how to communicate

In our world of those who like to show off with our latest gadget, and have an infinite number of friends on our Facebook list, often, there is a great loneliness.

We speak, it is true, more than ever, but we also communicate less than ever!

We are informed in real time about the pranks of our Governments, about the latest brake-ups of famous singers, about the real “drama” of the Hollywood stars, about the insecurities of supermodels, we even know the predictions for each astrological sign, but we miss what’s important to us!

Actually, we do not know what our close relatives, our friends or even our children do.

It’s kind of sad if we think about it.

But this is the naked, ugly truth!  It’s our current lifestyle!

And if we are to change it, we realize we have to change our way of thinking, our personality. Unfortunately, this means we are not good enough… even for ourselves!

And, let’s face it, nobody is willing to admit this easily.

Therefore, we postpone the change… Up to a point when we not only know but also feel that we have to make some changes if we are going to look in the mirror and stand our faces!

The alternative is not so pretty! So, we know that if we don’t do something, we’ll begin to experience the lack of purpose. The fact that nothing that pleases us satisfies us anymore, and the fact that, even we are surrounded anytime by a bunch of people, we are lonely.

So, if we do not make the changes we’ve been running off, we’ll get soon to the point of “no return”! And beyond that point, we’ll start to live a drama. Ours…

If we had experienced these existential anguishes in the time when my grandfather was still young, the problem would have been solved with one simple blow in the stomach. Yeah, the people back then didn’t have time for this! They were busy living their lives.

And, believe me, we would have “come back”! Unfortunately, only for a while, because the problems would not have been disappeared, but only denied.

Despite all of these, the things are less complicated than we think. I am an ordinary man, and I don’t have a complicated mindset. This is why I like symmetry.

So, if anyone has a bodily affliction (let’s call it a “hardware” problem) she/he goes to a specialist. Therefore, I suppose if someone experiences a psychological condition (a “software” problem) she/has to go to an expert in that field.

Based on such thinking, a new discipline emerged – psychotherapy.

Science and Sacrament

We all have in mind some images of what’s going on in a psychotherapist’s office. And it is possible that we all are right because there are many forms of approach to mental healing. That is why you will hear about all sorts of psychotherapy: cognitive-behavioral, psychodrama, hypnotherapy, Gestalt etc.

But relax! A good psychotherapist will know how to approach the particularities of each client so that the desired outcome is achieved. Therefore, in the overwhelming majority of cases, healing really takes place. Hurray!

But a new question emerges: what’s the catch the Sacrament of Confession, which, in its turn, seems like a form of psychotherapy, that is practiced by the Church?

Is it still necessary, given the fact that we can address to “open-minded” specialists who study their whole lives this field, rather than go to simple, “closed – minded”, and, sometimes, even illiterate monks?

Although these two approaches may look quite similar, in my opinion, they are different techniques with different but complementary purposes.

As I have said, psychotherapy addresses the psychological problems whereas Confession has as objective the spiritual progress and the salvation of human being. So, the psychotherapy doesn’t interfere with Confession and vice versa.

It must be said that these approaches complement each other in helping people to fulfill their potential and enjoy while doing it.

Honestly, I do not see how the Confession will affect the elimination of a tic, the increase in self-confidence, or the development of communication skills, just to give some simple examples of what can happen at the psychotherapist.

Indeed, problems arise when the spiritual fathers do not really understand the context their spiritual sons and daughters live and give advice that, in some cases, may lead to torment.

I want to mention in this category people who do not want to do anything without “blessing” from their spiritual father or try to live a “monastery life” even though they have a spouse, just because the confessor told them they should “repent”.

Of course, there are also failures of the psychotherapists – cases of people who, after hypnosis, have worsened their condition, deepened their affections, and so on.

So, each of these two approaches depends on the relationship between the client and the specialist or between the penitent and his mentor. Therefore, it is important to choose wisely, the most important criterion being the improvement of one’s condition!

Conclusions

In order to synthesize, it is important to remember that the Confession is a Sacrament of the Church and it communicates the grace of forgiveness for the sins that we regret.

In addition, thanks to the prayers of the confessor for his spiritual children, penitents receive help from God to change their lives.

Also, it should not be forgotten that Confession is for free[1]!

Unlike Confession, in psychotherapy, there is little discussion about repentance, but rather about finding a way of reaching a state of “balance”. This is the objective of the therapeutical process and is defined by the patient and the psychotherapist from the beginning.

As a direct consequence, psychotherapy does not offer forgiveness, but a professional help for the patient to discover and understand herself/himself better. And yes, the client must pay!

I have heard over the years many opinions about the relationship between Confession and psychotherapy, each with its own pros and cons. In my opinion, such a dispute is unnecessary, because the two do not exclude one another but are complementary.

These two people are not your friends (yet!), but your mentors! That is people who can help you make the changes you need for your mentality to be a good one. It won’t happen overnight, but, in accordance with your own rhythm, you will see the results. Change takes time, but it’s worth it!

So, when the need arise, do not hesitate to call the psychotherapist of the spiritual father in accordance with your situation, or (why not?) both of them. The only condition: no exaggeration! (Especially because psychotherapy can be very expensive!)

References

[1] Or, at least, it should be, because it is assumed that the “donation” made by the believers to the priest is a voluntary one. The good news is that, in many cases, that’s how it happens!

What We Need to Know When Buying Orthodox Icons – Six Practical Tips

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The icon of Holy Trinity painted by Andrei Rublev remains until today one of the landmarks of the Orthodox iconoghaphy.

Whether it’s about starting a family, a new job, a special event in our lives, or we just want to make someone a gift, buying an icon is always a special event.

The icon expresses, through its contours and colors, great theological teachings, which the Church has condensed in the symbols that give the Orthodox icons a special beauty coming from another world.

However, today, more than ever, we encounter an abundance of graphic representations that claim to be authentic icons and which can make us believe that we are buying an “icon”, when, in fact, they are just profane images.

Therefore, I put together six criteria to help us recognize the true Orthodox icons!

1) Orthodox icons are not signed

This is the handiest criterion by which we can distinguish between an authentic icon and a simple painting. The great painters of Orthodox icons realized that the value of their work did not come from their talent and work, but from God, inspiring them and guiding them during painting.

Even if we are talking about a man’s co-operation with God, the Orthodox iconographer was aware that the icon he was painting did not belong to him entirely, but most of the creative process was due to divine intervention.

That is why, for Orthodox Christians, a true icon is, first of all, the work of God and, thereafter, the creation of man.

Consequently, the painter has no right to claim ownership of this graphic representation, because he believes that it belongs entirely to God to whom he lent his hands and talent.

Unlike this, for an ordinary painter, it is absolutely normal to sign his work, because through this gesture he recognizes that the artistic production belongs entirely to him.

Therefore, when such a painter creates a Christian-themed drawing and signs it, he recognizes that the work belongs only to him, not to God, and we cannot speak of an icon.

2) The icon must be sanctified

There are still some disputes between the theologians about this because some scholars argue that when the name of the person in the icon is written, it becomes obvious that we can no longer speak of an ordinary drawing, but of a holy representation.

If we take into account that the icon is the result of the collaboration between God and man, we would be inclined to agree with this point of view. But in its wisdom, the Church decided that the icon should be sanctified through a special ceremony. Why?

Because the sanctification of one thing means it is consecrated or dedicated to God in its entirety. Basically, any sanctified object is removed from ordinary use and intended to be used only within the Christian rites and ceremonies.

Under these circumstances, any religious representation of a religious theme can only be considered as an icon when it is fully consecrated to man’s connection with the Divinity, and this is accomplished by sprinkling with sanctified water following a special prayer[1].

So, if you are not convinced that the icon you have purchased is sanctified, then you have to talk to a priest to sanctify it.

3) The faces of the saints in Orthodox iconography

Another defining feature of Orthodox icons is given by the appearance of the saints. The face, hands, and body have that spiritualized note that they do not resemble much to the faces of ordinary people.

It is the way Orthodox iconography expresses a fundamental truth of faith. Through their ascetic life, by the restraint of their thoughts and by their love accompanied by continual prayer, the saints no longer belong to this world[2], even if they live in our midst.

Therefore, when you see “icons” in which the people are rendered with red cheeks and voluptuous shapes, you must know that you don’t stand in front of an authentic icon.

So, the paintings with angels depicted as chubby children flying playfully among the clouds must be considered … simple drawings. This is due to the fact that they cannot even stimulate you to meditate or induce a praying state.

4) Colors in Byzantine icons

In the vision of icon painters, nothing should be left to chance. This explains why the great iconographs are very profound theologians. Only their form of expression differs. Instead of using words, they chose the colors, points, and lines.

Therefore, strict rules were needed, so that the teachings of faith transmitted by the icons would not be distorted. And later, there were also handbooks or manuals for icon painters.

The most famous book of this kind is the “Painter’s Manual” of Dionysios of Fourna, which was written in the early part of the eighteenth century.

Here, we are told what each icon should contain and what icons should be found in a church, as well as their position on the walls of the edifice.

However, we must remember that these rules were not established by Dionysios of Fourna. He only wrote them down.

The principles of icon painting had already been established since the first Christian millennium and have remained unchanged since then and have been passed from masters to disciples over the centuries.

For those who want to know more about the secrets of Orthodox icons, I recommend, besides Dionysios of Fourna’s “Painter’s Manual” (Buy it on Amazon), Michel Quenot’s very accessible book, “The Icon, a window on the Kingdom” (Buy it on Amazon), explaining the evolution and symbolism of Orthodox icons.

Here, he explains the meanings of the colors in the icons. Thus, in the Orthodox iconography, there are mainly seven basic colors: white and black, blue, red and yellow, green and brown. And each of them has a distinct significance that was established hundreds of years ago.

Michel Quenot tells us that blue is the color of Divinity, while red is considered an imperial color that expresses both life (blood, wine) and the flames that devour sinners (shades of red washed).

The Final Judgement represented on the Western wall of the church from Voroneţ Monastery expresses a metaphorical vision of Heaven and Hades. Unfortunately, many Christians didn’t understand this kind of theological expression.

As for the yellow, we can say that it represents wealth and takes us to think of gold. However, in icons we encounter two types of gold:

1) Gold as a color that is the symbol of the sun-Christ and of eternal life;

2) Gold as the color of coins (cloudy or pale yellow) that leads to corruption and decadence.

In turn, green is the expression of rebirth and renewal (vegetation), while brown is the color with which human skin is rendered.

The explanation is found at the moment of creation when the Bible tells us that man was created from the dust of the ground through the direct work of God[3], and that brown is the color closest to the hue of the ground.

Last but not least, the two non-colors, white and black, have special also meanings.

As expected, white symbolizes light, purity, infinite knowledge of God, and leads us to joy and happiness.

In the Resurrection icon, our Lord Jesus Christ has His clothes of white color which signifies the light, the happiness, and the eternal life.

In contrast, black is the color that absorbs light without giving it back. From this perspective, it represents the night, the anxiety and the death.

However, in Orthodox iconography, black is not considered a pessimistic color, because the darkness of the night announces the light of the sunrise.

This explains why the clothes of the great hermits are black, as black also means giving up this fleeting world with the intention of seeing the divine light[4].

The conclusion is very simple: you should pay great attention to the colors of the icon you want to buy. They say more than they seem at first glance.

Therefore, purple, orange or other colors used in excess do not find their place in authentic icons. And that’s because the icons do not want to shock or draw attention to them.

On the contrary, they intend, through the harmony of colors, to induce a state of tranquility, to give us the peace of mind.

5) Orthodox icons must be painted in an atmosphere of prayer and fasting

It is a common-sense principle, but I feel the need to insist on this. Orthodox icons must be painted in an atmosphere of fasting and prayer.

Tradition says that, before painting the hands and the faces of the saints, the icon painters of old would fast harshly for three days before they started working.

Indeed, there is a great difference between those masters and some so-called painters of icons. Therefore, when you wish to commission an icon, it is recommended to ask beforehand about the person who is going to do it for you.

If, when you meet, she or he smokes, is drunk or wears clothes with “rebellious” drawings on them, it is advisable to look for someone else.

This is not discrimination, and it has a very simple explanation. If the icon is the result of man’s co-operation with God, how can a man enter into the necessary state of receiving divine grace, if he does not take this seriously?

6) Orthodox icons predispose to prayer

Because they are born out of prayer and are painted in the atmosphere of prayer, the icons, in their turn, predispose to prayer.

The colors that urge you to meditate, the spiritualized faces of the saints, the long shapes of their bodies, and plenty of theological symbols all help us to detach for a few moments of this world.

It is one of the fundamental roles of the icon to bring us with the mind and heart as close as possible to God, and therefore, the icons were rightly called “windows on the Kingdom.”

In the end, they give us the opportunity to detach for a few moments of this world and focus more on the spiritual dimension of our beings.

Sometimes, when we pray in front of the icons, we might have the impression that we are entering into dialogue with the holy persons represented on them. This doesn’t happen by chance!

Even if Christ is looking up front, His face is orientated somehow on diagonal, in order to give the impression that He is speaking to us. It is the famous Byzantine “3/4 perspective”.

This is how the icons are designed. It is the reason why the saints are rendered somehow on diagonal, the renowned ¾ perspective, precisely to emphasize the idea that they are living people who live and communicate with us.

Consequently, when you are in front of an object with religious drawings, it is good to look at it more carefully before considering it as an icon.

If that “icon” has a clock as an accessory or the colors and drawings change when viewed from different angles, most likely, we are not in front of an icon.

Conclusions

As you can see, buying an icon should not consist of a simple visit to a church shop, or of accessing a website or a simple order given to a painter.

This requires an analysis of our thoughts, a certain state of mind, and the understanding of the meaning of the icon we want.

Orthodox iconography has evolved over time and has refined the rules of creating an icon so that nothing is left to chance. And if we take into account the purpose for which it is painted, we realize that it is normal to be so.

Orthodox icons are not just works of art. They are so much more.

That’s why the honor we give to an icon should start right from the moment we think of getting it into our lives!

References

[1] https://www.goarch.org/-/the-blessing-and-hallowing-of-icons: Prayer for the Blessing and Hallowing of Icons: “O Lord our God, Who created us after Your own Image and Likeness; Who redeems us from our former corruption of the ancient curse through Your manbefriending Christ, Who took upon Himself the form of a servant and became man; Who having taken upon Himself our likeness remade Your Saints of the first dispensation, and through Whom also we are refashioned in the Image of Your pure blessedness;

Your Saints we venerate as being in Your Image and Likeness, and we adore and glorify You as our Creator;

Wherefore we pray You, send forth Your blessing upon this Icon, and with the sprinkling of hallowed water

Bless and make holy this Icon unto Your glory, in honor and remembrance of Your Saint (N);

And grant that this sanctification will be to all who venerate this Icon of Saint (N), and send up their prayer unto You standing before it;

Through the grace and bounties and love of Your Only-Begotten Son, with Whom You are blessed together with Your All-Holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; both now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Sprinkling cross fashion the Icon with Holy Water the priest says: ”Hallowed and blessed is this Icon of St. (Name) by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, through the sprinkling of Holy Water: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit:  Amen”.

[2] Pr. prof. dr. Ion Bria, Dicționar de teologie ortodoxă, second edition, Editura Institutului Biblic și de Misiune al Bisericii Ortodoxe Române, București, 1994, p. 197.

[3] Genesis, chapter 2, verses 7-8: ”Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

[4] Michel Quenot, The Icon: Window on the Kingdom, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991.

Three Saint Hierarchs – Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus (the Theologian) and John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth)

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Datorită culturii teologice profunde și a operelor care au lămurit aspecte importante din învățătura de credință creștină, sfinții Trei Ierarhi sunt considerați patronii spirituali ai școlilor de teologie ortodoxă.

Every year, on January 30th, the Orthodox Church celebrates the hierarchs Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus (Theologian) and John Chrysostom (Golden Chrysostom).

Even though each of these saints has his own day of feast [1], the need for this celebration arose as a result of a rather embarrassing dispute for the Christian community. Somewhere around the second half of the 11th century, there was a dispute, let’s call it “unjustified,” about the importance of these saints.

Some claimed that St. Basil the Great is more important than St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. John Chrysostom, others that St. Gregory deserves this honor and finally the third group considered St. John as the most valuable.

The matter had become quite serious, that even hatred between members of these factions had occurred.

In this context, the Sinaxar[2] tells us that Metropolitan Ioan Mavropous (the last great Christian hymnographer) of the city of Evhaita had a vision in which the three saints appeared to him and told him that they were equal before God. Therefore, he was urged to establish a common feast for them, so that the preference dispute would cease. This vision, according to Tradition, took place during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenus (1081-1118).

Each of these great teachers of the world had a profound theological education and made remarkable contributions to the thesaurus of Christian teaching[3], all three led an impeccable ascetic life, and also proved to be involved in helping those in need. But, in fact, all these dimensions of their personalities are the elements that make up the holy ministry. That’s why the feast of January 30 is called the feast of the “three hierarchs.”

St. Basil the Great – “The Hand That Works”

To express the uniqueness of each of the three great hierarchs in the Eastern Christian tradition, a phrase has been used that compares Saint Basil with the working hand, St. Gregory with the thinking mind, and John with the mouth that speaks.

St. Basil the Great came from a wealthy family who had the possibility to provide him with a very high education. This was the basis for the later transformation of Saint Basil, who, during his studies in Athens, came to be a very good friend of Saint Gregory of Nazianz.

This friendship has remained, until nowadays, a landmark in Christian history.

After an ascetic passage in Egypt and other places of great spiritual experience, Saint Basil became the author of the “Great Rules” and “Small Rules” on the life of the monks and, based on them, laid the foundations for monasteries.

His theological knowledge is highlighted in both the interpretations he has left us about the Genesis (Hexaimeron) and the Psalms, but especially in the theological treaty, which is dedicated to the Person of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, he is the author of one of the three variants of the Liturgy used today in the Orthodox cult and the famous ritual of exorcism, which is read on 1 January (Saint Basil’s day of celebration) and on special occasions.

St. Basil the Great became Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia and, as such, proved a great inclination toward the practical side of Christianity. Thus, he is the one who set up the first social work facilities, where protection and care for widows, abandoned and sick were offered. These settlements have remained in history under the name “Basiliada”.

For additional information, click here.

Thus, his qualities as a good organizer and founder of several monasteries and social work establishments brought him the “working hand” appellation.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus – “The mind that thinks”

In the history of Christianity, among the multitude of saints, ecclesiastical writers or theologians, only three received the appellation of the “theologian.” St. Gregory is one of them, and only this should clarify the origins of the phrase “the thinking mind.”

St. Gregory was born around 330 in a Christian family, his father being a bishop. This, coupled with the fact that his family was able to support him financially during his studies, helped Gregory deepen the Christian teaching in an extraordinary way.

This is how, after a period of fleeing the priesthood, due to the great responsibility of this ministry, he eventually became a priest at the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Constantinople. The situation he met in the imperial capital was far from being a favorable one.

The Macedonians (penvmatomahs), who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, were majority. The only island of Orthodoxy was the church where St. Gregory was priest. But from the church pulpit, this great hierarch would make history.

“The 5 Theological Lectures” which he spoke remained a model of theological reasoning and overturned the situation in favor of those who claimed that the Holy Spirit is true God. This draws the attention of influential people from the imperial court, who intercede for him to become patriarch of Constantinople, being enthroned by Emperor Theodosius himself on November 27, in the year 380.

From this position, Saint Gregory was to participate at the working sessions of the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381). Then, forced by the intrigues of some bishops with great influence in the court, and in order not to cause disorder among his followers, Saint Gregory left the patriarchal seat and retreated to Nazianzus where he dedicated himself to a life of intense prayer.

For additional information, click here.

St. John Chrysostom – the “mouth that speaks”

Also, in the case of this saint, the appellation is a fully deserved one. From no Christian writer or orator we have as many works as St. John Chrysostom left.

Like St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. John came from a family with financial possibilities. After being a widow at a very young age (about 20 years old), Antusa, his mother, renounced to remarry and devoted herself to educating her son.

The fruits of this endeavor did not cease to appear, and after a period when his mother instructed John, he attended the courses of the great orator Libanius and the philosopher Andragatis, whom he impressed with his rhetorical talent.

After several years of ascetic life, bishop Meletius of Antioch ordain Saint John deacon, and during the next six years, he wrote the famous treatise “On Priesthood,” considered one of the most beautiful descriptions of this Sacrament.

Afterwards, he is ordained priest with the mission of being a preacher, and for 12 years, he combats in his sermons the heretics and influences of Judaism on Christian life, which contributes to a significant extent in raising the level of Christian morality in the region.

His fame grew bigger and, in 397, the minister Eutropius interceded for him to become Patriarch of Constantinople in the vacant place following the death of Patriarch Nectarios.

Unfortunately, for St. John, the reality he faced from this position was a rather complicated one for a man who did not like to mimic morality. Thus, he entered into open conflict with Empress Eudoxia and Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria.

Through an elaborate intrigue, Theophilus manages to exile St. John, but he is recalled after a rebellion of believers who were asking for their shepherd and following an earthquake that was considered a divine sign.

However, after two months, Theophilus manages to convene a synod who deposed hands over St. John from the patriarchal dignity. Afterwards, it was decided for him to be exiled in Cucuz (Armenia). However, because John still had important friends, both in Constantinople and Antioch, he is relocated. He died while traveling from Cucuz to Pityus on September 14, 407, with the last words “Glory to God for All”!

For additional information, click here

Apart from the sermons and the emblematic interpretations of the Gospel of Matthew and the 14 Epistles of the saint apostle Paul, St. John remains in Christian history for his exorcism ritual, but especially for the Liturgy ritual, which is the most commonly used in the Orthodox cult.

These three great personalities of Christian ascetic theology and life have remained in history as shining stars who can guide us through the turmoil of life. Although they had important positions within the hierarchy and church administration, they were people of profound Christian living. They had a visceral hatred for everything that is sinful, but they showed tremendous love for sinners.

As you can see, holiness is not gained only by isolation in the wilderness and living an ascetic life. It implies, first, the serving of others and the fight against immorality.

The three great hierarchs had these in common and, because of these, they suffered. Nevertheless, they continued to fight!

One of the important ideas that we should learn from this feast is that the difference between us, the ordinary people, and the great personalities of Christian history lies in the fact that the latter did what was right, regardless of the consequences.

References

[1] St. Basil the Great is celebrated on January 1, St. Gregory of Nazianzus on January 25, and St. John Chrysostom on November 13 and January 27.

[2] A collection of accounts of the most important events in the saints’ lives that are ordered according to the feast day of those saints.

[3] Because of their remarkable contribution to the deepening of Christian theology, they are considered patrons of theological schools and theologians.

 

Who is God?

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Sfânta Treime în viziunea lui Andrei Rubliov - una dintre cele mai cunoscute icoane ale Ortodoxiei.

If you have asked questions about God, it is good to know that you are not alone. If you have come to the conclusion that you have not understood much or do not know too much, you are not the only ones, as well.

Mystics of all religions, renowned philosophers and many ordinary individuals, all tried and failed to learn more about God, because it is simply impossible to encompass infinity with the limited human mind.

And yet, who is God?

God is the One with many names and the One with no name

Our information so far about God comes from two sources: what He has discovered to us through revelation and what we have deduced based on His manifestations in our lives.

The reasoning is simple: because He has created the whole world and it protects it, we have come to the conclusion that He is omnipotent.

For more information, click here

After that, we realized that He has nothing to gain from creating us and, nevertheless, he did it. More, He gave His Son to redeem us from sin[1]. From here, we infer that God is all-good.

From the fact that he knows our thoughts[2], all the laws of nature (which He put in place), all the creatures (because He created them) and because He knows the past, the present and the future (because He is outside time), we came to the conclusion that He is all-knowing.

And so on, this deductive process has continued over time, and it has come to assert that God possesses all the positive attributes to the highest degree: all-wise, omnipresent, etc.

But here’s the catch. None of our words is suitable to define God. Basically, the attributes we assign to Him are definitions. That is, ways to specify the boundaries of ideas, phenomena, beings and objects. However, God, because He is infinite[3], has no limits. Therefore, our definitions, that is, the human names we assign to Him, are not appropriate for Him.

Just because these names can not fully define Him, even if there are many, they are actually wrong, so, in reality, He has no name.

Therefore, the attributes we use to define, to name Him, are just references, ways of addressing.

However, we know some names, which God himself used, referring to Himself.

God is the One that is

The first divine name we encounter in the discussion between God and Moses, when God says He is “He that is.”[4] It is a very profound definition of God which expresses the fact that all that is found outside of communion with Him does not exist. Therefore, evil does not have its own existence, but it is a denomination of the lack of good, as darkness is a lack of light, or death means lack of life.

Holy Trinity = God

Other names of God have been told us by Christ. They are “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” But the Savior does not talk about one, but about three distinct Persons. It is not about three names of the same reality, or about three ways of manifesting it, but about three Persons. Hence, it follows that God and the Holy Trinity, consisting of these three Persons, are one and the same existence!

And now, things are getting very confused. Does God who is unique[5] and infinite consists in fact, of three Persons? In other words, can there be 3 infinities without limiting each other?

These things have begun to be elucidated since the fourth century, at the first two ecumenical councils in the years 325 and 381.

For more information, click here and here.

It required philosophical concepts, a lot of spiritual experience, and the confrontation of ideas from 468 participants in the synodic debates. The result – Christian teaching about the Holy Trinity.

In order to understand this teaching, some things need to be clarified first. So, as much as we try to avoid definitions, in this case we can not really get rid of them.

Terms of teaching about Holy Trinity

  • Being – is the common nature of the individuals of the same species (eg, deity, humanity);
  • Nature – the material of which a being or an object is constituted (eg human nature – body and soul);
  • Hypostasis – the subject, the individuality, the way of individual manifestation of a being. When we are dealing with a rational hypostasis, we are talking about a person.

Let’s get back! Orthodox Christian theology says that God is one in being and three in Persons. So, the each of three Persons of the Holy Trinity possess the divine being at once and in full.

This is done through interpenetration (perihoresis) so that the three Persons do not limit each other.

That is all for now! I know it’s too little, but if we were to get into the details, we should use whole books. However, the result would be the same as 1,700 years ago-human reasoning struggling to understand an impenetrable mystery.

God is love

All this thinking is a minimum necessary to understand something about God, but, in my opinion, is quite technical.

That is why, for me, the most useful characterization of God was left to us by the saint apostle John who said that “God is love”[6].

Beyond theological or philosophical thoughts, everything about God is explained and understood through love.

Love is the foundation of the union of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, it explains the creation of the world and the care of God for it, through it we understand the redemption of the world from sin by the Son and its sanctification by the Holy Spirit, also love is the purpose our communion with God in eternity.

Likewise, because we are created in the image of the Holy Trinity, love is our way of being. Whether it’s about love between parents and children, between brothers, between husband and wife, whether it’s about love for friends, for people in general, or for everything that is divine creation, it is love that explains and makes sense to our lives.

If we do not love, no matter how much we seem to have progressed in the understanding of God, the whole effort is worthless, because only when we love can we say that we have an authentic answer to the question “Who is God”?

References

[1] Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verse 16.

[2] I Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 11.

[3] If He was not infinite, He would not be God. Under these circumstances, we would have every right to ask ourselves if there is anyone else more powerful than God, who, eventually, created Him.

[4] Exodus, chapter 3, verse 14.

[5] God is unique because He is infinite. Reason tells us that there canot be more infinities without limiting each other, because, by limiting each other, they can not be considered infinite anymore.

[6] I John, chapter 4, verse 8.

On Miracles

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De multe ori, căutăm miracole din sfera senzaţionalului, dar le uităm pe cele atât de evidente. Fiecare viaţă este o minune şi are taina ei.

There is a time when we start believing that we have seen them all, that we know them all, and therefore nothing could surprise us. But is it so?

God has come.When we hear about extraordinary things, we raise skeptics from our eyebrows, but when we come to a turning point, we are willing to believe that we may also be beneficiaries of such an extraordinary event. And, then, barely whispered, a thought takes form: “What if …?”

But what are we exactly waiting for?

What Is a Miracle?

The miracle can be defined as a supernatural phenomenon, beyond the laws of nature, unable to be explained by them, which does not abolish them, but strengthens them. Miracles are considered only those supernatural events that are the result of a divine intervention that acts to fulfill a religious purpose.

The purpose of a miracle is not to make someone look “cool” or for the performer to earn money. The gift of doing miracles is one that must be put to the service of others so that they turn to God or reward their faith.

So miracles have, first, a spiritual purpose and are part of divine pedagogy. That is why they are meant to provoke what we know about the world[1] and the natural laws and give us the chance to anticipate how it will be in the “other world.”

How Can We Recognize a Miracle?

Over time, there have been many controversies about the reality or even the possibility of a miracle. Whether we are faithful or not, whether we live in the nanotechnology era or existed 2000 years ago, when we are told that a man has risen, chances are we become at least skeptical. And, however, such an event is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Do all who believe in the Resurrection of Jesus can be regarded as case studies for psychiatrists or are they normal people who have accepted such an event based on rational elements?

In other words, what are the criteria by which we can accept an event as a miracle?

Miracle is a paranormal, unexplained phenomenon.

If a miracle can be explained by scientific discoveries, even though they occur centuries after the miraculous event, it loses its character as a paranormal phenomenon. The Resurrection of Christ or the miraculous healings are considered miracles, precisely because science remained mute when it had to give explanations.

Holiness or the special spiritual life of the miracle’s performer

The Savior tells us very clearly that among us there are people who have special gifts[2], but which they use outside of communion with God. That is why Christ does not accept such individuals! Their deeds can be named anyway, but the Church cannot consider them as miracles.

The mental health of witnesses and the objectivity of those who report the miracle

It seems to be a clear, a common sense thing, but, too often, events considered miracles were “paranormal” only to those who were present and only to those who told the story further.

Whether we are talking about people with mental illnesses or easily influenced people who tell us “from the heart” that they “were blessed” to learn about miracles even from those who performed them, the possibilities of confusing a normal phenomenon with an extraordinary one are infinite.

Even if an event seems to meet all the criteria of a miracle, but we cannot rely on the testimonies of the performer or witnesses, it cannot be considered a miracle. It’s better for everyone!

If God wants to send us a message through such a means, He will surely find a way for us to understand what He meant to tell us. Moreover, He does not mind if we are skeptical regarding the signs He communicates us. Gideon’s case[3] is a very suggestive one.

So, let us not feel any remorse, if we are skeptical about certain events or miracles’ reports!

Who Can Benefit from Miracles?

The miracles are accessible to all with one condition – they have to be prepared to receive them. I say this because Christ performed many miracles, but not all who witnessed them were impressed. The Pharisees and priests from the temple even became very obstinate!

Therefore, if someone says she/he needs a miracle to believe, she/he might be surprised. Because, in fact, that person does not want a miracle, but a proof that can be replicated in a research laboratory.

But the miracle is not an experiment. It cannot be reproduced or understood. It is unique!

Therefore, we do not have to be very upset if it seems that we have not experienced a miracle until now. We may have benefited even many of them and not realize it. But, that doesn’t matter!

What really matters is to keep our minds and hearts open to such an extraordinary event!

Who knows?

 

 

[1] Saint Augustin, De Civitate Dei, 21, 8, 2.

[2] “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 7, verses 22-23).

[3] The Book of Judges, chapter 6, verses 36-39.

Providence or Destiny?

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Hristos Pantocrator sau Atotțiitorul - icoana care exprimă, prin excelență, purtarea de grijă a lui Dumnezeu pentru întreaga creație.

Probably, every one of us has heard at one point the phrase, “What is written for you, is going to happen to you!” or “That’s how it was his fate!” Then, we also have to cope with those who tell us that our lives are determined by planets, names, or numbers that, in one way or another, influence our evolution.

In the end, we get to wonder if we have any kind of contribution to what’s happening to us. Is the “script” of our life established in advance and we only have to interpret it, without deviating from any scene, from any replica?

Such thinking, from the perspective of Orthodox Christianity, is unacceptable!

People were created with free will to decide their own destiny

If we believe this, it would mean that our deeds are not ours but somebody else determines them. This other person is neither the Universe, nor the planets or anything else but God, who is the only being of infinite power[1]. That would mean that we would not be judged, in fact, for our deeds, but for His.

If we had the destiny established before we were born, we would not be responsible for our decisions. Somebody else set them up before, and we just put them into practice. After such a logic, even devils would be innocent for all the wrongs committed!

Such a vision of reality can be an Oscar winning scenario, but, for Orthodox Christians, it is nonsense.

God created us not from boredom, but from infinite love. This means that He wanted us to share eternal happiness, that is, to take part in the communion of love with the Holy Trinity.

That is why He created us in His image[2] – with reason, sentiments and free will. So, from the very beginning of our existence, we have the right and possibility to choose our destiny, our way in life, our future or whatever we would like to call it. Yes, we really have the power to decide for us!

In other words, we are neither robots scheduled to live a predetermined life nor are we someone else’s puppets. Of course, unless we decide this.

And, because God loves us infinitely, He hasn’t left us. He has always watched over us. He took care of us! This process of God taking care of the world is called Providence.

But if God had always cared for us, what about the misfortunes and sufferings in the world?

I think anyone knows, even without watching the news, that our lives are not just made of happy moments. Unfortunately, throughout the world, in every moment, so many horrors are happening that even the most sadistic serial killer would feel ridiculed.

But this cannot be attributed to God. God does not limit the free will of men or angels. Therefore, the evils happening in the world are, in fact, acts done outside communion with Him.

Evil does not exist in itself, but it is a lack of good, just as darkness is nothing but a lack of light. When people or angels (I mean the evil ones, the devils) turn their back to the light, they remain with the darkness.

Exactly the same thing happens when we abandon the way of good. You cannot live a “neutral” life, you can live it well or not.

Let’s say that each one educates her/his child as best she/he can and teaches her/him to do good. When the child reaches mature age, so she/he is 100% responsible, may be considered his/her parent guilty of his/her actions? Of course not! So, is our relationship with God!

If we, men, do evil to one another, how come is God’s fault?

Sure, we can say that He could watch over the innocent people or guard those who suffer from natural disasters. After all, if it is natural phenomena, He is the one who controls them, isn’t He?

That’s right, but it’s a little hard or rather “ostentatious” on our part to claim that we can know or understand the reasons why the various phenomena happen!

We only know that everything has a justified cause, that God loves us and that things happen in the best possible way for everyone.

If we understand these things and accept them, our lives make sense. If we do not believe that our life is a consequence of our free choices and that God does not watch over the whole world, then everything is pointless.

But, however reluctant we may be, we cannot fail to recognize that beyond all the misfortunes and sufferings in the world, there is “too much” order and “too much” equilibrium. Therefore, we cannot think that everything is determined by planets or by a random evolutionary process.

It is simply the intervention of a Being who is far superior to us, who takes care that we, the people, in our “wisdom”, do not ruin everything. It is God, Who, through His Providence, takes care of the whole universe.

I know! It’s not all we have to know, but it’s all we need to know! For now!

[1] If there were two infinite beings, this would be a nonsense, because the two beings would limit each other and would not be infinite.

[2] Genesis, chapter 1, verses 26-27.

On “Universe” or “Infinite Intelligence”

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Oare câți dintre cei care doar și-au pus dorințe, le-au încredințat „Universului” și nu au făcut ce trebuia și-au văzut visele devenind realitate?

At every beginning of the year, everyone sets goals for the coming year. Whether one does this on the night of the year, with a glass of champagne in one’s hand, whether one is alone and meditating or discussing with his family, friends or collaborators, everything in the first part of the year is about goals.

There is nothing wrong with that! As matter of fact, I am one of the supporters of the planning and I consider that a list of objectives is like a kind of itinerary that helps us not to get lost during our lives.

In my opinion, they have to be clear, a little more above the present possibilities (to be challenging), they must have a time limit and, depending on the circumstances, an attached budget.

Then you have to make the necessary effort to meet them and do not get hurt in front of the obstacles.

But that’s me!

That is why I confess that I was intrigued by the way others establish their goals and how they think they will be fulfilled.

There are quite many books, not to mention many videos on www.Youtube.com, where the authors talk about the fulfillment of our wishes by “Universe”[1], “infinite intelligence”[2] or other such entities.

The principle is simple: you have to know very clearly what you want, write it on a piece of paper in a predetermined way. Wishes must be expressed at the present time as a form of gratitude, as if we had already received the things we want, but which we are supposed to receive.

In other words, in the present moment, you thank to the Universe for what you have already received (so it is about an action that happened in the past), but the action of getting what you thanked for will happen in the future[3]. Does it seems logical? … That’s what I was saying!

I say that I am intrigued by these beliefs, because the Christian perspective is different. It involves a clear intention, but also an effort on the part of the one who asks something along with the belief that God will help him achieve his goal.

The condition is that the fulfillment of one’s desire is beneficial for both, the persons who asks the favor and others, as well. (Now, do you understand why God did not fulfill your request, when you were only 12 years old, to drive your parents’ car?)

Indeed, Christianity also speaks of the faith that one has to have when she/he asks something from God. In this sense, Christ tells us very clearly: “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”[4]

But He does not tell us to thank for something we have not received, but just to believe that “we have received.” Why? Is not that similar with what those, who say the “Universe” or “infinite intelligence” fulfill their desires, speak of?

At first sight, it would seem so! There are, however, some details that could better clarify this matter!

The first of these refers to the guidance that Christ gave us in the Sermon on the Mountain: ” Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”[5]

So, God focuses primarily on our interest, which means eternal communion with Him, and not on our desires that often are not consistent with what is good for both, us and others.

In other words, what we need from the material perspective (food, clothing, dwelling etc.) is already in God’s attention. And we should pray, in particular, for what is useful to us in building up the soul.

Normally, that does not mean that we can not pray for anything else, but God first considers our spiritual needs and then the material needs[6].

Coming back, it means that when Christ tells us that we have to believe that the things we ask for we have already received, He firstly refers to spiritual matters and then to material matters. Indeed, the spiritual qualities we need to progress, we have all of them since birth. So, we can think that “we have received them”.

So, in fact, we ask God to find for us the best options to acknowledge and develop these qualities. Once we have achieved this, we will surely come up with results on the material realm, as well.

For additional information, click here.

This idea is very clearly exemplified in the Old Testament when God asked King Solomon what he wished, and he only required wisdom to be able to lead his people properly, and God gave him, besides wisdom, other gifts that had connection with the material part of life[7].

For Christians, there is no “Universe,” “infinite intelligence,” or other entity is waiting to fulfill our desires. For Christians there is only God! Because we believe there is no one out there except God!

Therefore, the terms “Universe” and “infinite intelligence” can only be accepted as names that some people use when referring to “God”.

It is He who helps us to fulfill our desires, as long as they are in our interest and those around us. For our part, He only requires faith.

No matter how intense our desires are, if we do not work for them to be fulfilled, they will not be fulfilled. When we act to fulfill them, God will help us.

For additional information, click here.

The writing down of our goals is only the first step, only the first action we take to reach our goals, which involves a certain degree of acknowledgement from our part. This is why this is recommended by management or self-help specialists.

However, from that moment on, we must constantly strive for the fulfillment of our goals. Over time, we will realize that, as we get closer to meeting our wishes.

We transform ourselves, we think differently, we have another daily routine, we have other concerns and we activate in a different environment than the original one.

In other words, we evolve! We become different people! And this has always been God’s plan for each of us!

[1] Niculina Gheorghiță, Bucuria de a trăi în și cu Dumnezeu, Studis, Iași, 2013.

[2] Napoleon Hill, De la idee la bani (Think and Grow Rich),  second edition, Editura Curtea Veche, București, 2013.

[3] The belief on which such practice is based on is that our desires are energetic vibrations that propagate in ether, and the “Universe” or “infinite intelligence” receives these vibrations and acts accordingly.

As soon as we have formulated our intentions, “the Universe” already ” gives orders in its kitchen” to prepare the ingredients for the fulfillment of our wishes.

There is a need for clarity in the way expressing our desires in order not to create confusion at the universal level and it is necessary that our objectives be formulated in the way I have spoken to you earlier. After that, we have to keep our firm conviction that we will get what we want with intensity.

The intensity of our desires is also important, because when two or more people want the same thing, the one who does this more intensely will receive what he has asked for.

[4] Gospel according to Mark, chapter 11, verses 24.

[5] Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 6, verses 31-34.

[6] God will not make us famous and will not give us a fancy car or nor will grant us that dream holiday, but will help us to acquire the qualities and mentality necessary to fulfill such desires as well.

So if you want to be world champions in a certain field, most likely this will not happen overnight. But you will be helped to continually gain the perseverance, discipline and other qualities that will help you fulfill your dream.

Once you get to the first stage of the podium, the cars and holidays will also come.

[7] The First Book of Kings, chapter 3, verses 5-14.

The Gathering of Saint John the Baptist

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Sfântul Ioan Botezătorul a fost considerat de Hristos „cel mai mare născut din femeie” și a avut un rol esențial în a-I pregăti calea Domnului și a-L prezenta lumii.

In the Romanian folklore there is conviction that St. John the Baptist is the “godfather” of Christ (because he was the one who baptized Him) and the one who helps the children not to die without being baptized. It is an original interpretation of the celebration established by the Church on January 7 and dedicated to the gathering of St. John.

But this feast was set up right after the day of the Epiphany, according to a Church principle that says the day after a royal feast is dedicated to those who were involved in the event of preceding holiday.

 Why is on 7 January the name’s day of those who bear Saint John the Baptist’s name?

Indeed, there are at least three important holidays related to the life and work of Saint John the Baptist: the Gathering of Saint John the Baptist (January 7), the Birth of St. John the Baptist (June 24) and the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29),  not to mention the holidays concerning the findings of Saint John’s head.

Normally, the saints are celebrated on the day of their death, as the day they entered the eternal life. The only ones with special treatment are the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and St. John the Baptist whom Christ described “the greatest amongst those that are born of women.”[1]

If, in the case of the Virgin Mary, the motives are obvious with regard to St. John the Baptist one must emphasize the role he had in the history of salvation – to present Christ to the world.

To this mission, which he was very aware of, St. John practically devoted his whole life. All, his birth, the very austere life in the wilderness, the missionary activity and the guidance of his disciples, everything had as ultimate goal the announcing of Christ as the Savior of the world, when Son of God came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

The Activity of Saint John the Baptist and Its Importance to Our Salvation

The mission of St. John the Baptist was predicted by the ancient prophets[2], and it consisted of preparing the coming of the Savior[3] and making Him known to the world. This mission was necessary to increase the impact that the Savior’s work would have had on the world.

Jesus had to preach in the midst of human communities, where the tumult of daily life prevented people from thinking about spiritual life.

Moreover, after sending His message, Christ did not spend much time in the same town, because there were other communities which needed His teachings and many sick people who could use His healing power. Under these circumstances, it would have been difficult for those willing to become the first disciples of the Master of the world to ask for it.

Unlike this way of preaching, the activity of John the Baptist was one that took place in the wilderness, near the Jordan River.

There, he was lived a very austere life, characterized by prayer and an extraordinarily difficult lent. He was dressed in a camelhair coat and was girded with a leather belt, and his food consisted of locusts and wild honey[4].

In order for his message to be taken seriously, he could not begin his preaching earlier than the age of 30. Since Christ came to be baptized after having reached this age[5], we infer that John’s public activity began about 6 months before that of our Lord Jesus Christ[6].

Probably, in order to have a bigger audience, Saint John preached in a place where the Jordan River intersected with a main road and could be crossed. This explains how his message had a significant impact that attracted disciples[7], brought him into the attention of the priests from the Temple[8], and even managed to cause distress to the ruler of his time[9]. Evidently, this location provided Saint John the Baptist with enough water to baptize those who confessed their sins[10].

John’s baptism was one that anticipated the baptism that Christ would bring. Those who confessed their sins did not receive forgiveness, but only a visible sign of the fact that by virtuous life[11] they could receive that forgiveness when the world’s Redeemer would come.

Even though John announced the baptism with “Holy Spirit and fire”[12], and Christ, during discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus, spoke of “the birth of water and of the Spirit”[13], there is no contradiction between these descriptions of the Sacrament of Initiation in the Christian Life.

The baptism Saint John spoke of took place on the Day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), when, over the apostles, the Holy Spirit appeared unto them in the form of “tongues like as of fire”[14]. The baptism we see today in the Church was announced by Christ and has been practiced since the beginning of Christianity by the apostles[15] and their successors.

So, neither the austere life, nor the martyrdom he suffered as a result of the public condemnation of King Herod Antipas’ decadent morals, but the mission he accomplished brought to Saint John the Baptist the special honor the Savior and the Church gave to him.

For us, the twenty-first century people, dedicating our life to a single moment, be it crucial to the destiny of the whole world, is something that very few of us would be willing to do.

That is why St. John the Baptist remains one of the moral leaders of Christianity and a model of sacrificing one’s life for a unique purpose that is of paramount importance to all.

 

[1] Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 11, verse 11.

[2] Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 3; Malachi, chapter 3, verse 1.

[3] Gospel according to Luke, chapter 1, verse 17; Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 6-8.

[4] Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1, verse 6.

[5] Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 23.

[6] Between the moments of the conception of Saint John the Baptist and the Savior’s conception there is a difference of 6 months (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 1, verse 26). So, St. John the Baptist was 6 months older than our Lord Jesus Christ.

[7] Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 35-37.

[8] Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 19-27.

[9] Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verses 19-20.

[10] Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 5-6.

[11] “And the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answereth and saith unto them, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, “what shall we do?” And he said unto them, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, “And what shall we do?” And he said unto them: “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verses 10-14).

[12] Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verse 11; Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 16.

[13] Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verse 5.

[14] Acts, chapter 2, verses 1-3.

[15] Acts, chapter 8, verses 26-38; chapter 10, verses 44-48.

Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ or the Epiphany of the Holy Trinity

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Boboteaza este momentul în care Sfânta Treime S-a arătat pentru prima dată în Noul Testament.

Most of the time, when we talk about the feast of the Epiphany[1], we refer to the consecration of water. However, this is only a part of the significance of this especially valuable holiday for Christianity.

At least two arguments support the importance of this celebration. The first one speaks about the ancient celebration of this holiday that can be traced somewhere in the second century of the Christian era. Another argument relates to the fact that it was, alongside the Resurrection, one of the important Feasts in the ancient Christian calendar.

Moreover, in the past, in order to make a clear distinction between Christianity and pagan religions that celebrated the increase of the day duration around the winter solstice, the Nativity of the Lord was celebrated together with His Baptism. Afterwards, the two holidays broke up.

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus ​​Christ

Epiphany or the Baptism of the Lord is a feast set up to commemorate the baptism of Christ the Savior in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. The episode is mentioned by all four evangelists (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 13-17; Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1, verses 9-11; Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verses 21-22; Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 29-34), a sign that was an important one in the history of salvation.

From the Gospel according to John, one can deduce that role of Saint John the Baptist was a very precise one. He had the mission to prepare the coming of Christ and to present Him to the world. He knew very clearly what he had to do and acknowledged the importance of his two missions: to gather around him a prepared people (Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 1, verse 17) and to announce the Savior to the world (Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 6-8, 31).

In order to present Jesus to the world he needed a setting and an audience. The setting was not chosen by chance. It was a place from desert, far from the turmoil of everyday life of the cities, and situated near a flowing stream – the Jordan.

The Jews who came to John to listen to him and to be baptized with the “baptism of water” were those who wanted a spiritual change in their lives. They were dissatisfied with their own state of sinfulness. In other words, they were prepared to receive the baptism of “Holy Ghost and fire” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verse 11) that Christ was about to bring!

Christ did not come to be baptized until he was 30 years old (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 23), the age of maturity to the ancient Jews, which allowed Him to be taken seriously when he spoke in public.

From the moment he saw Christ, John recognized his inferiority toward Him: “But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, «Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.» Then he suffered him.” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 14-15).

After Jesus was baptized and came out of the water, the Epiphany of the Holy Trinity took place, but only after Christ prayed for it – “that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened ” (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 21).

The epiphany of the Holy Trinity was a very visible event: Christ came out of the water, the Holy Spirit, Who, in the form of a dove, descended upon Him, and the voice of the Father heard from heaven, which confirmed Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ” (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verse 17).

After this moment, John had all the arguments that, in his turn, to fulfill the last part of his mission on earth, the presentation of the Savior of the world. The words by which he did so remained famous: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (Gospel according to John, chapter 1, verses 29, 36).

 Significance of the Epiphany

The Feast of Epiphany is very rich in symbols. On the one hand, we are talking about the beginning of the missionary activity of Christ, and on the other hand, Epiphany reminds us of the beginning of the restoration of the world.

The first category of symbols is related to God’s plan to heal the world, to cleanse it from sin. This is the purpose of the coming of Christ on earth as the Son of the human race, or of the Son of Man, that, by His sacrifice, He may restore the fallen nature of man. Basically, we are talking about beginning of the world’s recreation.

Therefore, if, at the beginning of the world’s creation, the entire Holy Trinity (Genesis, chapter 1, verses 1, 26) was present, as well, at the beginning of its restoration, God was present in Persons (Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3, verses 16 -17).

Also, water is a vital element for life and for our cleansing. However, without the Holy Spirit, it has only a purely biological value. That is why, at the beginning of creation, the Holy Spirit is the One who moves upon the face of waters (Genesis, chapter 1, verse 2). The same happens at the moment of Christ’s baptism when the Holy Spirit descends above Jordan’s waters.

An interesting detail is that of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. If we recall, after the earth was purified by the flood water, Noah sent the dove to see if the waters were withdrawn from the face of the earth. He returned with an olive branch in his beak, a sign of reconciliation of God towards mankind.

The Epiphany, in its turn, epitomizes the reconciliation between God and man marked by the presence of the dove, this time, in the form of the incarnation of the Holy Spirit.

But, now, reconciliation comes as a result of prayer. The Holy Trinity was not made visible automatically, though God is always present in the life of the world, but His appearance was the result of prayer from the human race, represented by Christ (Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 21).

This explains why the ritual of water consecration during the Epiphany Day is placed at the end of the Liturgy. That means we must pray first and, then, the Holy Spirit descends and consecrates the water. Furthermore, consecration of water is not a distinct act but is a part of the process of the world’s restoration; therefore, it cannot be separated from the saving work of Christ.

This is represented in worship by the fact that consecration of water is not a stand-alone service (it does not have its own beginning or end) but takes place within the Liturgy, the service that revives the most important moments in Christ’s life and work of salvation of the world.

Such considerations may be an explanation for the fact that the great holy water (which is consecrated on the day of Epiphany) is given to those who, for various reasons, cannot receive the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

In addition, it is superior to ordinary holy water and is used especially for consecration of objects used for cultic purposes, exorcisms, consecration of churches, spraying of sick people, or can be consumed on fasting days and on important holidays.

So, beyond the consecration of waters, Epiphany represents the appearance of the Holy Trinity at the beginning of the missionary activity of Jesus Christ. It marks the beginning of the world’s restoration and reminds us of the moments from the beginning of all creation. That is why its significance far outweighs the recent meaning of simple consecration of water, and derives from the profound symbolism this holiday has.

[1] The term “Epiphany” comes from Greek and consists of two words, from the prepositions „’επι” (epi) – “over” and the verb „φαίνω” (faino) – “shine, make visible”. Therefore, the literal translation of this term would be “the appearance over (the world, creation)” of the Holy Trinity.