Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 

There is much debate today about Homosexuality and the Bible.  People from all walks of life, from school teachers to newscastors, all seem to have an opinion about the subject.  There is, however, a remarkable ignorance among many about what the Bible actually says on the subject.  In this lecture, Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo, PhD (Biblical Studies), carefully examines the Old and New Testament reference to Homosexuality and provides insightful and scholarly commentary along the way.  What you will learn may surprise you, for, "Such Were Some of You."


Video and Study Guide courtesy of The Liberty Institute for Faith and Ethics.

 
PDF, 2 pages 484KB
 
WHEN THE LORD JESUS WAS ASKED which commandment was the first, He replied that the first is to love God with your whole being. But He immediately added a second –inseparable from the first – to love your neighbor as yourself. His questioner agreed, adding that to live this way “is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:28-34) In this Jesus was saying nothing new – He was expressing the teaching of the Torah – but legalists often tried to restrict the meaning of neighbor to mean people like us. Jesus’ response was the parable of the Good Samaritan where the true neighbor turns out to be, not the priest or the Levite, but the despised heretic. We are to love all those whom God loves: in short, everyone. Inevitably touched by the spirit of our age, we may see Jesus’ insistence on love in the light of 1960’s “flower power.” The Scriptures’ picture of love calls for much more than good feelings. In his epistle to the Romans, for example, St Paul outlines some concrete ways to love, giving us his image of a righteous believer:
“Let love be sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. Love one another with mutual affection and anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal but be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. … Do not be overcome by evil but conquer evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)
St Paul continues by urging support for the state “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs are due, obedience to whom obedience is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13: 7). He urges that we go beyond correct behavior in concern for the weak. “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please our neighbor for his good, that he may be edified.” (Romans 15:1-2)

Relating to the Society in Which We Live

St Paul’s summary speaks to us of several levels of relationships, reflecting the life of a godly person in the world. In terms of the wider society the godly strive to live in harmony with the images of God around them, allowing Christ’s way to inform their interactions. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all” overcoming evil, not with even more evil, but with good. When others will not live amicably with us, then we are told to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” We are given the examples of Christ on the cross, of St. Stephen and the martyrs of all ages, and of so many who prayed for their Communist oppressors or who today intercede for Islamic extremists. The godly believer respects the state and fulfills the obligations of citizenship which in our society includes more than paying taxes and customs. All believers are called to pray for our public servants and our armed forces that they may exercise their responsibilities in righteousness. As we pray in the Liturgy of St. Basil, “Preserve the good in their goodness, and through Your own goodness make the evil become good.” While we are to respect and honor all mankind, we are not to accept their values when they run counter to godliness. Because something is generally accepted in society (“Everybody’s doing it.”) does not mean that it is acceptable in God’s sight. Rather we are told to “Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.” Believers of every age have had to deepen their knowledge of the Gospel to be able to discern what should be affirmed in the culture around them and what must be resisted.

Relating to the Church

In terms of the Church the godly person relates to other believers in a more intense way than to the wider society at large. We are called to Love one another with mutual affection. We should expect our relationships among fellow Christians to be deeper than those among fellow workers, students or others with whom we do not share at the Eucharistic Table. St Paul would have us outdo one another in showing honor – not simply by words but deeds. We are urged to “Contribute to the needs of the saints” and to “exercise hospitality” to believers who may come into our life. We are always faced with the temptation to prefer some believers over others because of their ethnicity or economic status. To us then St Paul insists, “Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.” Disagreement on political or religious matters is another frequent cause of disunity in the Church. In such cases St Paul’s warning, “Do not be wise in your own estimation” may be a welcome reminder for mutual love. Rather “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak.” Sometimes it is more important to be together than to be right.

Relating to Our God

In terms of our relationship with God St Paul emphasizes perseverance. “Do not grow slack in zeal, but be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer.” There is a cycle in our liturgical and prayer life, yet there is also repetitiveness, reflecting that we are, after all, always repentant sinners before our Creator and Redeemer. The basic text of the Jesus Prayer, repeated over and over, is the symbol of this quality to our prayer life that may come to mind. Yet we know that life’s hardships and simply the changing circumstances of our lives can affect our zeal for the Christian life and even our hope in the Lord. Godly believers are called to be steadfast in prayer –not that God needs to be convinced of our sincerity, but that we need to become people of prayer in everything that life brings us. Again St. Paul gives us our cue: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18). The godly believer, therefore, is to be honest, ethical, trustworthy, and innocent in dealing with those around them: in short, to reflect Christ’s love for the world. The godly believer is to be committed to prayer, unswerving in belief and steadfast in faith before God. The godly believer is to be dedicated to the community of the faithful, both locally in the parish and beyond in the wider Church, the Body of Christ.
 
“THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3) In these few simple words from the Holy Gospel we find the Biblical vision of our life’s goal set forth. Life without end means knowing God and Jesus His Son. Most of us feel that we know God and Jesus because we know the facts about God which the Church teaches. But knowing God and knowing about God are very different. The person who knows the contents of God’s “file” (the Scriptures, the Creed, etc.) does not necessarily know God personally. We can know many facts about God and even repeat what we know to others without ever encountering Him in a life-giving way. As we read in the Epistle of James, “You believe that there is one God. You do well; but even the demons believe – and they tremble” (James 2:19). Knowing facts about God does not automatically transform anyone into a person of dynamic faith. Many people live their entire life with a “beginners’ faith.” They may accept the Gospel and the Tradition and live a pious life. Their faith is real, but it is the faith of children who accept what they are told without having any personal experience to back it up. Their faith is in something unknown and remote, not something known firsthand. As a result hardship or temptation may seriously shake this kind of faith. You cannot fight any challenge to your faith with only a theory of God. A person whose faith is based on their awareness of God’s active presence in their life, however, will know God through experience as power and life. For them the assertions of Christ – I am the way, the truth, the life, the vine, the good shepherd – are not abstractions. They are images which describe the actions of God as they have encountered Him in their own life. They know the truth of St Paul’s assertion “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Many people have found the following exercise helpful in seeing the hand of God in their life. Take a few moments to recall all the coincidences that you consider turning points in your life. Imagine how your life might have developed without those coincidences and experiences. Do you think that these coincidences are just random events or are connected in a way we can only begin to comprehend? Are the formative events of our lives merely accidental or coincidental? The believer knows that the universe did not come about by chance – it is ultimately the work of God. The person who is aware that his or her life has a purpose and direction must see the same divine hand at work. The mature believer comes to know the presence of God not only in these climactic moments but also at every moment in their lives. They are no longer just reading “God’s file;” they know Him at work, giving them a place in His plan for the salvation of the world. They become eager to take an active place in His service. Knowing God personally in our lives is not opposed to knowing Him as He has revealed Himself in the world. If our personal experiences seem at odd with the Scriptures, the Fathers or the common witness of the historic Churches, then our experiences may lead us to delusion. If “God” is telling us to violate the commandments, for example, we can be sure that the source of that message is not God. Our own imagination or the promptings of demonic powers may be the source of these urgings. The Apostolic Tradition – source of our Scriptures, our liturgy and many of our practices of prayer and fasting – was born from the apostles’ personal experience of Christ in the flesh and of the Holy Spirit whom they received after the resurrection. Key elements came to be synthesized in the early creeds, particularly the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed formulated at the first two Ecumenical Councils and confessed at every Divine Liturgy. This Apostolic Tradition is further expressed in the writings the Church Fathers, the texts of the Churches’ liturgies, and the witness of the saints. It presents us with a picture of God as: Creator of Heaven and Earth – the Source of all that is: the One to whom we owe all our thanks for whatever we are and whatever we have. The Holy Trinity – in a way we cannot comprehend. God is the Father of His eternal Son and Word, and the One from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. Christ, the Lover of Mankind – God so loved the world that as Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Word of God becomes man to share our world, like us in all things except sin. He took on our humanity, showing us that our frail and fragile bodies can bear the presence of God. The Gospels give us images of what the Lord Jesus is meant to be for believers of all times. In them we see Him as:
  • The Bread of Life (John 6:32-59) … the One who would nourish and strengthen us throughout our life.
  • The One who would quench our thirst with the Holy Spirit (John 8:37-39).
  • The Light of the World (John 8:12)… who would illumine our path in this life.
  • The Gate (John 10:7)… the One through whom we go to find pasture.
  • The Good Shepherd (John 10:14)… who would – and did – lay down his life for His sheep.
  • The Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)… the only One through whom we have access to the Father.
The Holy Spirit – Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, experienced all the weaknesses of human life, including temptation, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). His physical presence among us was necessarily short like ours; yet His presence would continue forever with us in another way. He promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit as “another Paraclete, to be with you always” (John 14:16). The Spirit did, in fact, come upon the Church as Jesus promised to:
  • “Teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26).
  • Testify to the truth of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world (John 15:26).
  • Empower the Church to bestow forgiveness of sins (John 20: 22-23).
It is through the Holy Spirit that we experience Christ in the Church. The Spirit inspired the writing and collecting of the Scriptures to touch the hearts of people of every age. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers the mysteries as vehicles of Christ’s saving, nurturing and forgiving love. It is the Spirit who bestows a multitude of gifts in the Church for the good of all. It is this same Spirit who has led Christians through the ages from “beginner’s faith” to holiness and ultimate glorification as saints. God is thus not just the source of our earthly life but of our eternal life as well through Jesus Christ. Immersing ourselves in this life we can experience all that union with God can provide. As the Lord Jesus affirmed, “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
 
“IT’S MY LIFE!” the assertive person insists. “I can do whatever I want.” The timid are told to “get a life,” meaning that they should pursue the goals of the age: financial security, independence, travel and all the things – and people – that it can buy. A “full life” is one that includes all these things and more. In fact, “Our years are as fragile as a spider’s web” (Psalm 89:9 LXX), able to be taken from us at a moment’s notice. Even the longest earthly life is over in the blink of an eye. Trees outlive us; parrots outlive us – we are “mere scraps of life,” in the words of theologian Olivier Clement. No matter how forcefully we may work at seizing life, we are doomed to fail.
“We live a ‘dead life,’ according to Gregory of Nyssa, in a world permeated by death, in which everything gravitates continually towards nothingness” (The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 1995, p. 15).
The bit of life we have is merely a momentary share in the life of the only One who truly exists, who will never face death: God, the Source of all life. When Moses encountered God in the mysterious burning bush he asked for God’s name, and God replied “I am the One Who Is” (Exodus 3:14). This name – YHWh in the Hebrew (variously rendered as Jehovah, Yahweh or Yahwa) and ό ών (o όn) in the Greek Septuagint – expresses the unique character of God. He did not receive life from any other nor will His life come to an end; He simply Is, unto all ages. This Existing One, the only One who truly is, has nevertheless shared His being in the incredible profusion of creation. From vast galaxies to the tiniest organisms, everything in creation exists because He does. They exist – not by the chance occurrences of impersonal forces but by the will of a Person whose existence overflows beyond Himself. He creates simply that others may exist. “He fashioned all things that they might have being” (Wisdom 1:14). This outpouring of being which we call creation is the first hint we have that the One-Who-Is is also the One who loves. People of all cultures through the ages have found God in creation. Although they have often confused God with the most powerful forces of nature, such as the stars, people have found Something or Someone beyond themselves in the created world. As St Paul wrote, “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Romans 1:20). Still, we see more of God in creation than awe-inspiring power and divinity. We see love – the love of God manifest in this drive to share existence with all sorts of creatures. As St. Maximos the Confessor expressed it, “When God who is absolute fullness, brought creatures into existence, it was not done to fulfill any need, but so that His creatures should be happy sharing His likeness, and so that He Himself might rejoice in the joy of His creatures as they draw inexhaustibly upon the Inexhaustible” (Centuries on Charity III, 46).

The One Who Is Truly Love

In the New Testament we come across God the Existing One again, in a surprising way. We are told that “No one has ever seen God. The Only-Begotten, the Existing One (ό ών) in the bosom of the Father – He has made Him known” (John 1:18). The One who revealed Himself to Moses, to Elijah and the prophets was in fact the Word of God who would in time take on our human nature as Jesus of Nazareth. St Hilary of Poitiers tells of how his journey to faith leapt forward when he encountered the Word in the Gospel:
“I became acquainted with the teaching of the Gospel and of the apostles… My intellect overstepped its limits at that point and I learned more about God than I had expected. I understood that my Creator was God born of God. I learned that the Word was God and was with Him from the beginning. I came to know the light of the world…. I understood that the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us… Those who welcomed him became children of God, by a birth not in the flesh but in faith. …This gift of God is offered to everyone… We can receive it because of our freedom which was given us expressly for this purpose. “But this very power given to each person to be a child of God was bogged down in weak and hesitant faith. Our own difficulties make hope painful, our desire becomes infuriating and our faith grows weak. That is why the Word was made flesh: by means of the Word-made-flesh the flesh was enabled to raise itself up to the Word… Without surrendering His divinity God was made of our flesh… My soul joyfully received the revelation of this mystery. By means of my flesh I was drawing near to God; by means of my faith I was called to a new birth. I was able to receive this new birth from on high… I was assured that I could not be reduced to non-being.” (The Trinity 1)
Christians, who have experienced Christ as the Lover of mankind and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, have learned to see God as love in the mystery of the Trinity. At the same time God exists as truly One but also in a communion of love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is love, first of all in the relationships of Father to Son and Holy Spirit, then in the outpouring of Himself in all creation and in the incarnation of His Word. To us He is love in another way. He not only shares being with us, but the potential for relationship with Him. The book of Genesis expresses this relationship as walking with God in the Garden; we might say that we are invited to “play in God’s yard,” to be drawn into the place where He dwells. In our Tradition this is expressed in the icon of the angelic Trinity by St Andrei Rublev. Three angels, representing the Trinity are shown surrounding a table interacting with one another. But there is a fourth side of the table and we, the viewers, are drawn into this fourth side, as it were experiencing the Trinity from within. This is the fullness of life to which we have been called. Our “life is communion with God,” St Irenaeus writes, “and separation from God is death” (Against Heresies V, 27, 2). To truly “get a life,” then, is strive for communion with the God who is completely beyond us and yet so loves us that He offers Himself to us so that we may be filled with His life.
Blessed is the Existing One, Christ our true God, at all times: now and ever and unto the ages of ages. (The Great Dismissal)
 
MANY PEOPLE IN THE WORLD believe in the one God. But so many of them find it impossible to imagine that God has become man in Jesus Christ. The very idea that God could come to earth and suffer all that we suffer in life is incomprehensible to them. People who balk at the idea of the incarnation often believe in something which may seem more incredible yet. They embrace the teaching that “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). How could human beings like us be in God’s image? We know ourselves and our weaknesses. Surely the author of Genesis knew human nature also. How could this author make such a claim? And how could the Spirit of God, who inspires the Scriptures, speak to us through these words? Yet we know that all creation reflects something of God who is the Source of its being. It is God’s presence which upholds everything that is, so that in some way everything mirrors its Creator. The great forces of nature – the galaxies and planets, the mountains and oceans – suggest to many the power and majesty of God, “charged with the grandeur of God” in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Others find the wisdom of God evident in the precise arrangement of even the tiniest organism or of the ecosystem. From ancient Greeks to 21st century scientists people have marveled at the “golden ratio” (1.618 or φ), which reflects an order underlying things as diverse as atoms, brainwaves, the graphic arts and music. People of all ages have seen this order as pointing to God who has brought together everything in an otherwise unrivalled precision. Yet in mankind there is something which mirrors God in a way that distinguishes us from the rest of creation. While the rest of creation reflects God’s wisdom and power, mankind reflects God at the heart of His very being. God is love, we read in the New Testament, and we are the creature that can love and so reflect the love of God. To be human, then, is to be a lover in the image of the One who is love itself. Seeing God as the Holy Trinity, Christians believe that the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is at the core of God’s very being. God is a communion of love and this communion is not closed in upon itself but is extended to embrace all creation. In a similar way relationship is at the heart of our being. We are made for communion with one another and most importantly for communion with our Creator, God. Not only are human beings created by God, but we are created in God and for Him. In the broadest sense we are made for worship.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

These words introduce the story of our creation in the book of Genesis. Many Church Fathers, like St. Irenaeus, saw in them a distinction between what we already are and what we have the chance to become. From our creation in God’s image we have the innate ability to love. We can know what is good and choose to embrace it. As God’s love is extended freely to His creation, mankind in His image is given the freedom to extend our love or to withhold it. To be created after God’s likeness means something more. It means that we were created with the fullest possibility of relating to God and to one another already in view. The fully developed human being would be one fully resembling the One who made us. At mankind’s creation, St Irenaeus wrote, man was a child. Just as infants are born with the potential to develop into adults, mankind was created as a spiritual infant. That he was to develop was clear; the certainty that he would mature fully was not. The book of Genesis teaches that the relationship of men and women with their Creator was quickly ruptured. Adam and Eve are tempted to become “like God” on their own, despite the warning that they “would surely die” if they did not follow the directions of their Maker. Striking out on their own, they showed a mistrust of God which altered their relationship forever. The image of God in humanity would remain; the likeness was so scarred that it became impossible for men and women to fulfill their potential as God intended. The only One who could perfectly realize human nature was the eternal image of the Father, His only-begotten Son: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible… All things were created through him and for Him. … For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell” (Colossians 1:15-19). And so the Word of God, the icon of the Father, would become human to completely fulfill human nature in Himself. As a Sufi poet once wrote, “When God wanted to see His face He sent Jesus to the world.” And because He had become one with us, the Son of God could restore the likeness of God in us as well. Created in God’s image, we could re-embark on the journey of fellowship with God in Christ, our “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Only the Lord Jesus truly reflects for us the love of God. But those who have put on Christ in baptism and who sustain their union with Him will be transformed into “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), sharers in His likeness. This transformation, which the Fathers called theosis (deification), is the goal of our life as Christians; but it is also the journey to that goal. What begins here is meant to be completed in the age to come. Theosis as a process begins with baptism. We begin allowing the gift of our baptism to impact our life when we make a godly life the main goal of our existence. We try to keep the commandments, to observe the Lord’s precepts on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and to live the life of the Church. Theosis will grow in us as we become more aware of God’s presence within us and in our life at every moment: an awareness cultivated perhaps by the Jesus Prayer. We discover the meaning of St Gregory of Sinai’s words: “Become what you are. Find Him who is already yours. Listen to Him who never ceases speaking to you. Own Him who already owns you.” As we begin entrusting our entire life to Christ God, we may understand Christ’s words, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) in terms of what we do: “If I am accomplishing all this, I am becoming perfect in God’s sight.” A deeper sign that we are growing in the journey of theosis is when we seek to become more like Jesus the Servant. As St Paul urged, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who – though he was in the form of God – did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and found in human appearance, He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). As Christ’s attitudes of humility, obedience and mutual service become more ingrained in us, we reflect ever more the life of God. Our love for others and for all creation grows as we reflect the mind of Christ in us. We become what we are: people who live by God’s divine life in us and partake in His divine nature.
 
THE BOOKS OF CHRONICLES describes how King contributed great resources toward the building of a temple and describes his reason in prayer to God: “All things come from You, and of Your own we have given You.” (1 Chronicles 29:14) For David, all is of God; we are simply returning to Him what He has entrusted to us. Our great act of thanksgiving as Christians is the Eucharist where we join Christ as He offers Himself to the Father for our salvation. As the holy gifts are raised up in offering, the Church unites itself to Christ’s oblation in language similar to David’s: “We offer You Your own of what is Your own, in all and for the sake of all.” We are called to apply the same sentiment to our daily lives, making of them an act of worship. Our lives as Christians are meant to reflect that all we have is a gift of God given, not for our self-gratification, but for the service of the One to whom they really belong. The way of life which sees all that we are and all that we have as set apart for God and His purposes we call stewardship. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-26), Jesus speaks of a householder entrusting certain sums to his servants in his absence. Upon his return the master calls for an accounting, commending those who used these talents to build up their master’s holdings. As with the servants in this parable, what has been given to us is not really ours; it is simply entrusted to us and we are account-able for the care of what we have received. In the Gospel the Lord tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Christ calls us to reorder our priorities, to place all of creation in a proper perspective in light of the Kingdom of God, where all else pales compared to our relationship with God. We are to “commend ourselves, one another and our whole life” to God.

Of What Are We Stewards?

The Gift of Life – Life itself is our most basic gift. Thus we frequently glorify God as the “Giver of life” and as “the Lover of mankind.” We are called to work as stewards of life, the gift of God, by treating our own life with respect, not squandering what we have been given. Believers are also called to take concrete action and, whenever possible, to cooperate with others, working to affirm God as Lord of life from conception to natural death for all God’s children. Our Relationships – We have been created in the image of God, the communion of the Holy Trinity. For us to reflect that image in us, our dealings with our spouses and children, our parents and extended family, and all those whom God has placed in our life should mirror God’s love for us. Our willingness to extend forgiveness for the offences we may suffer at their hands validates what we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us and we forgive.” The Material Creation – In Genesis, God is depicted as placing the first man in the garden “to till it and care for it” (Genesis 2:15). Humanity is first and foremost the recipient of the material creation and also its steward. While primitive peoples often have a more respectful relationship with the earth, modern society has more frequently been its users and abusers. The Gospel – Believers have received an even more precious blessing than life. Through faith and baptism we have the gift of communion with God in Christ. We express our stewardship of the Christian life by participating in the Church’s work of evangelization: sharing that life with those who have not yet received it and with those in whom it has become weak. As Christ told a man He had healed, “Go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). Our Church – The liturgies, theologies and particular customs of our Churches contribute something unique to all the Churches, but only if we observe them as authentically as possible. Like any other gift, our Tradition is meant to be cherished and used, not just for ourselves, but in the service of the One who has given it to us. The material resources of our churches may often be shared with other Christians as well, particularly newer immigrants seeking to worship in their own tradition. Our Individual Gifts“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). The Scriptures frequently speak of the particular gifts individual believers have received, not to build themselves up, but “for the good of all” (1 Cor 12.7). There is hardly any gift which cannot be employed in the service of Christ and His Body. Many people were raised to believe that working in the Church was the business of the clergy and religious. The clergy have specific charges in the Church, but their primary purpose in the community is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), to see to it that the Church is in truth a priestly people, faithfully fulfilling its mission in the world. Our Material Resources – More than 15% of what Jesus spoke about in the Gospels was about our money, our wealth. For Jesus, money and possessions and their proper use was highly important to our spiritual growth. He encouraged us to entrust everything to God and not worry about tomorrow (Mt 6:33).

How Are We to Offer?

In the Scriptures we find several principles which can govern the way we offer back to God what is His. They generally speak about material goods, but also can be applied to other aspects of our sharing with God and His people: First Fruits – The Old Testament speaks of offering to God the “first fruits” of our possessions, thus recognizing Him as the provider of all we are and all we have. By giving God our “first fruits” we insure that we are putting Him first in our lives. Proportional Giving“All shall give as they are able, according to what the Lord your God He has given you” (Deuteronomy 16:17). Here people are charged to give in proportion to how God has blessed them. Our Abundance – St Paul establishes another principle: God will provide us with enough for our needs; anything over that – our abundance – is for doing good (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:8-9). In two prayers at the mystery of crowning the priest asks God to pour out this blessing upon the couple “… that, having sufficiency in all things they may abound in every work that is good and acceptable to You.” Stewardship – the care of all that we are and have in trust for the One who has given it to us – is nothing less than the imitation of God’s love in action. St Gregory the Theologian phrased it this way: “Give something to God to thank Him that you are able to do good to others and are not one of those who need to be assisted, and that others gaze at your hands and not you at theirs… Be a god for the unfortunate, imitating God’s mercy.” “Being a god” is the ultimate end of stewardship. “The most divine in a human person is precisely this: to do good. You can become god without any labor – do not miss your chance to reach deification.” (St Gregory the Theologian, Discourse 14:26; 17, 10)
 
OUR DAY HAS SEEN THE DEVELOPMENT of microchips implanted in the human body to provide medical information or security access. Retinal implants are being used to restore sight in certain cases and chips are being designed to replace whole organ transplants. For 2000 years the Church has been proclaiming another kind of “implant” producing an organic unity between Christ and His Holy Spirit and the believer. Sometimes this unity is expressed as the believer being “in Christ” or “having put on Christ.” Elsewhere the scriptural imagery is reversed; thus it speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Similarly, St Paul affirms, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 Cor 6:19). Whether we say that we are in Christ or Christ is in us, the reality is the same: we are organically linked to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This union is achieved in a tangible way through the holy mysteries, which graphically portray that the believer is in God and that He is in us. In Baptism we are immersed into the water and thus are plunged into Christ (Gal 3:27). We are buried with Him in the likeness of His death and we rise with Him in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom 6:3-4). In Chrismation the reality of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is depicted when we are anointed with chrism and this sacred ointment infuses our bodies. As the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ is physical form after His baptism, so too the Spirit comes upon the believer through the physical sign of anointing. We are penetrated with the Spirit of God and the One who is “everywhere present and filling all things” abides in us in a distinctive way. As the Scripture says, we become adopted children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom 8:15-16). We are inseparably united to the Father through His incarnate Word and His life-creating Spirit.

Consequences in This Life

“You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,” says St Paul, “if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom 8:9). Incorporation into Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit takes us to a whole new dimension of reality. We are empowered to live in the Kingdom of God. While Adam and Eve walked “with God” in Paradise, it is given to us to walk “in Christ” through His Spirit dwelling in us. God has created us as free beings, however, and so every act initiated by God in us bears fruit only when we cooperate with Him in fulfillment of His work in us. “By the baptism of rebirth grace confers two benefits on us, one of which infinitely surpasses the other. It gives the first immediately, for in the water itself it renews us and causes the image of God to shine in us. … As for the other – the likeness of God – it awaits our collaboration to produce it” (Diadochus of Photike, Gnostic Chapters, 89). Thus we can choose to live only on the earthly or “fleshly” plane, to use St. Paul’s word, or to live in Christ. “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13). In our Tradition living “according to the flesh” means to let the needs, desires and inclinations of the body determine the direction of our lives. It also includes following the tendencies of the mind which are based not on the indwelling presence of God in us but on the egotistical desires of our broken nature. These the Tradition calls “the passions.” The Church’s ascetic practices are designed to “put to death the deeds of the body” in us: not only the obvious sins, but also the cravings or passions which may lead us to sin. These include physical practices such as fasting or prostrations but also mental disciplines such as following the direction of a spiritual guide rather than one’s own personal inclinations. Some feel that these observances are meant for monastics. St Paul was not writing for monks, however, but for all who would live their lives in Christ. As many have observed, life in the world – in the family itself – presents us with as many opportunities for curbing our self-will as any monastery may offer.

Consequences in the Age to Come

We are children of the Father, St Paul writes, and therefore His heirs, “joint-heirs with Christ” of the eternal Kingdom “if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together” (Rom 9:17). If we live the life in Christ in this world it is with the assurance that “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 9:11). When St Paul and the Tradition after him tell us not to live according to the flesh, they are not despising the body, but looking ahead to its glorification. In this life we may experience “the first fruits of the Spirit” but their fulfillment will be “the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23) in glory. As St Justin the Philosopher wrote, “If the resurrection was to be only spiritual [Christ] would have to have shown at His own resurrection His body lying dead on one side and His soul on the other in its risen state. But He did nothing of the sort.” (Fragment 9) The Church has seen the promise of the body’s glorification in the lives of many saints. Some, like St Seraphim of Sarov, have experienced bodily transformation during prayer. Others have reached out to touch people through their relics like St. Demetrios of Thessalonika, whose tomb has been exuding myrrh for centuries. Another sign of the body’s place in the Kingdom is the icon. Its style suggests the deification of the saint evident in the body. Our full transformation in Christ will come at the end of the age. We await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come where our body will be transfigured in the image of Christ. “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2. See also 1 Cor 15:48-49). It is not just those who are in Christ who will be transformed. All creation will be touched when Christ is revealed in glory. Again we turn to St Paul: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God… because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:19-22). The transfiguration of humanity in Christ will also transform all creation which will bask in His glory.
From the Prayer of the Ninth Hour Subdue in us the cravings of our flesh so that – after putting off the old man – we put on the new and live for You, our Lord and Benefactor.
 
The Christian Church was born in the Holy Land, what we call the Middle East today. In its human incarnation, Christianity is an oriental religion, first expressed in oriental languages (Greek and Semitic). Its theology and spirituality were mainly elaborated in the East. Our Christian patrimony came out of the early communities of the Apostles and the Church Fathers centered in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Edessa. Monasticism was first conceived in the East and all the original liturgical rites — even those of ancient Rome — were largely gifts of the East. They were then, as they are still, the patrimony and heritage of both East and West. As it spread, the Church took on the ways of the nations that accepted it. In this country, most Christian Churches are Western, because their roots are in Western Europe and their ways reflect the culture of the German, Irish or Italian immigrants who founded them. Some American Churches, including ours, were started by people from Eastern Europe or the Middle East. They still keep the ways of the Holy Land: Jerusalem, where Christ founded His Church; Antioch, where the name “Christian” was first used; Damascus, where Saint Paul was converted. Because our ways reflect this Eastern culture, we are called ‘Eastern’ Churches. At the time of the early Church, there were several rich cultures in the Middle East and each of them has given rise to a different church tradition. The traditions of this church reflect the Greek or Byzantine culture, and so we are called Greek Catholics or Byzantine Catholics (from Byzantium, the ancient name for Constantinople). Greek Catholics in the Middle East were also nicknamed “Melkite”, because they followed the faith of the Byzantine emperor, or ‘melek’, in supporting the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon.

What is Distinctive about Our Tradition?

As Eastern Christians we have a particular style of Christian living all our own. We especially stress:
  • A belief in our call to be divinized
  • Union with God through the Holy Mysteries
  • A ‘public’ life of worship, fellowship and service
  • A ‘public life of worship, fellowship and service
  • A ‘secret’ life of prayer, fasting and sharing
  • The need for ‘spiritual warfare’
Our most important belief is that we are called “to become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), not just to be ‘saved’ from sin. We see ourselves as invited to live the very life of God, to become intimately related to God, to be physically united to Christ and to have the Holy Spirit dwell within us! The Church Fathers saw this as the reason for Christ’s coming: “God became man so that man might become God” (St. Athanasius). This relationship comes about when we receive in faith the Holy Mysteries (what western Churches call sacraments). In Baptism we are made one with Christ as we reenact His burial and resurrection. This reliving takes place when we are buried (immersed) into the water and are raised from it. We immediately receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, “the first of God’s gifts” (Romans 8:23) in Chrismation (Confirmation). In receiving the Eucharist, we recognize that our mortal bodies are united to the Body and Blood of Christ as a token of the life to come, when they shall be united to Him in glory forever. Thus we see these Mysteries, not merely as pious devotions, but as encounters with God, actually producing the effects they symbolize.

Communal and Private Dimensions

As members of God’s family, we belong to one another, and so we live an active Community Life as Church. Most importantly, we join one another in worship. Our style of worship in the Eastern Churches reflects the presence of the risen Christ among us in glory and joy. All the senses take part in our worship to express this glory. We see icons, vestments, candles; we smell incense and perfumes; we hear continual singing; we taste blessed foods and use physical gestures such as bowing, prostrating and crossing ourselves to express our wonder at the glory of God. Another important aspect of our community life is our joy in each other’s company, expressed in the frequent meals and social times we share. Finally, we open ourselves to support one another in the trials of daily life. In this way the unity we celebrate at the Eucharist is lived out day by day. Besides this public Christian life, the Eastern Churches also stress a personal spiritual life “… in secret, so that your Father, who sees all in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Chief of these is personal prayer in the silence of our own hearts, where we can speak honestly with God. Thus one of the most popular prayers in the Christian East is the ‘Jesus Prayer’, which sums up our need for God’s love: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. In addition, Eastern Christians are called to fast and to share their goods in secret as Jesus commanded (Matthew 6:1-8). By refusing to gratify ourselves endlessly whenever we want, we reflect our need to continue our conversion day by day. Though we are called to be divinized, we realize that this process is long: “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). The most difficult obstacle to our growth is the weakness and brokenness of our personalities. This is why the Eastern Churches call on their members to engage in a spiritual warfare in the arena of their hearts, learning to subject their weaknesses to the divinizing power of the Holy Spirit working within them. Eastern Christians are urged to conduct this warfare with the help of a spiritual guide. Counseling, then, is not something for those with problems, but for all of us who seek to grow in our relationship with God. All these beliefs and practices date from the earliest days of Christianity in the Holy Land. By continuing to observe them, we maintain a living connection with the early Church. We cherish our Tradition as a continuous stream flowing from the first Christians to us under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: the “living water” which enlivens the Church.
 
The mystery that God is with us is a fact in our lives. His presence has been experienced by people from the beginning right to our own day. People have reflected on this mystery and tried to express it in words: what we call Theology. Some of these teachings have been recognized by the Church as authentic reflections of its experience of God. These are the doctrines of the Church, which serve much like route markers for us, keeping us along the right road to God. Chief of these are those summarized below: the core teachings of our Church.

The Mystery of God

God’s inner life is unknowable, because it is beyond our capacity to understand Him. He is the Holy One: so unique and perfect that He cannot be compared to others. Using our own reasoning, we can only assume that He is the most excellent perfection of everything we know to be holy, true, good and beautiful. But how He is we do not know, because He is beyond all our experience, even beyond existence as we know it. As the Divine Liturgy expresses it, He is “beyond our grasp or understanding, beyond sight or comprehension.”

God Reveals Himself

God, who is so far beyond us, has reached out to us, revealing to us something of Him. Everyone can look about and see in the wonders of nature the Creator, whose very Word causes them to be. More especially we catch a glimpse of Him by looking at people, made in His Image and likeness. But we get our clearest picture of God because He has directly communicated Himself to us in what we call Divine Revelation. He has freely opened Himself to us so that we may share in His divine life. Forming a people, Israel, God dealt with them through judges and kings, priests and prophets. He fed them, protected them, liberated them, loved them, corrected, punished and forgave them. He taught them that He alone is God, compassionate and true to His promises. He showed Himself, not only as the Holy One, but at our Father as well.

God Acts in Christ

These signs of God’s presence and revelations of His love find their climax in the coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, into the world. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die, but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the supreme expression of God’s revelation to us. In Christ we see God as the Lover of mankind, emptying Himself for us. We see Him as the victorious Lord, trampling upon Death and giving life to those in the tomb of separation from God. We see Him as the King of glory, fully alive and in union with His Father – the definitive and irrevocable communication of God to us.

The Holy Spirit: God With Us

At the close of His earthly ministry Christ promised His followers that He would send them Another in His place who would be with them forever, “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26). This Spirit came upon the Church at Pentecost and remains with us as the Seal and Guarantee of the Kingdom to come, the power of God working among us. It is the Holy Spirit who “provides every gift. He is the One who inspires prophecy and perfects the priesthood; it is He who grants wisdom to the illiterate and turns simple fishermen into wise theologians. Through Him divine order comes into the organization of the Church” (Vesper Hymn for Pentecost).

The Holy Trinity

And so God the Unknowable has reached out to us in love, revealing Himself in the process as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus mankind’s deepest experience of God has shown us something of the Living Reality of God which we could never have discovered on our own. We see that God is One, and yet at the same time Three. He is one in essence and being, one in activity and power, but three in person. The Fathers of the Church described this mystery as the Holy Trinity, the sacred community calling us to share in the riches of God-life. They recognized that, by God revealing Himself in this way, we have been given a glance at the very nature of the Unknowable One, so that we might desire fellowship with Him.

The Church

This fellowship with the Holy Trinity comes to us in the Church, the assembly of those whom God has called to be His people. While the Holy Spirit is the continuation of Christ’s divine presence among us, the Church is His Body, the extension of His physical presence in the world. The Church is thus the Temple of God in which the Spirit dwells, as the human body is the dwelling place of the human spirit. The Fathers called the Church the communion in the Holy Spirit, the fellowship He builds which joins us to God in a divine community. Our mission as Church, our purpose for being, is “to proclaim the wonderful acts of God” (1Peter 2:9): to be a witness of God’s revealing love to all mankind. As members of the Church, we are part of Christ’s Body, inseparably joined in Him to the Trinity, the living stones which make up God’s temple. In this is our life.

The Theotokos

The special honor continually given to the Virgin Mary in our worship is not simply a matter of pious devotion. In honoring her as Theotokos (Mother of God), the Church confirms two basic aspects of Christian faith: that Jesus is truly the Son of God and that He dwells in our midst as true Man. Only if these two concepts are true can we call her Theotokos. Because we believe in the true incarnation of the Son of God become man in Jesus, we give His Mother the honor we do. One of the most prominent examples of this reverence is the fact that we always place the icon of the Theotokos containing Christ in her womb high on the rear wall of the church building. This image, placed between ceiling and floor, recalls that Mary bridges the gap between God and us by carrying the Son of God in her womb.

The Holy Mysteries

We take this life in the Church through many ways. Most prominent of these ways in which the Spirit enlivens us are the holy mysteries or sacraments. A mystery is a prayer of the Church in which we ask the Lord to transform a natural element into a vehicle of His saving grace: a prayer which, because made in His Body’s name, is unfailingly answered. Thus water and the reenacting of Christ’s death and resurrection become a way of entering into an intimate relationship with Christ (baptism). In the same way, invoking the Holy Spirit over bread and wine enables us to achieve a physical union with Him in His Body (Eucharist). Through all the mysteries and the Church’s other prayers of blessing, every aspect of our life can be transformed and set apart as a means of praise to the One who calls us to share His life.

Theosis

The greatest gift of God to us is the gift of sharing His very life. We have been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4): a process begun in us at our christening. When we live a life of faith, this relationship is deepened, furthering the process of our divinization or theosis. This movement continues in us through life and death and will not be complete until the resurrection of all mankind on the last day. Then our risen bodies as well as our spirits will share in the resurrection life and partake in glory. “We know we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). We have been brought to experience God’s self-revelation and to become sharers in His very nature. This is our glory and our joy. This is also the core of the Christian message, the Good News we proclaim at our christening and reaffirm whenever we confess the Nicene Creed. This is the heart of our faith and the source of our confident assurance and trust in God who will complete what He has begun in us as He leads us to a greater and greater intimacy with Him.

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