Melkite Greek Catholic Church
BEFORE JESUS BEGAN HIS PUBLIC MINISTRY, He prayed and fasted for forty days (see Matthew 4:1-11). The Church’s ascetics look to His experience as the model for their spiritual life. They devote themselves to prayer throughout the night and fasting every day. But even though they may live at a distance from others, they do not neglect almsgiving. What little they have they share with visitors or give away to poor in the area. Even solitaries have ways of serving the needy.

Christians in the world may have more occasions to help the needy. Even if they do not, there are always opportunities to serve the others in their own circle: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Before Jesus ended His public ministry, He provided a way for Christians to model their lives on His by serving those closest to them. He washed His disciples’ feet, saying: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:7). The image of the Lord washing His disciples’ feet has become the foremost icon of service for the Christian world. Few remember, however, that Christ actually urged His disciples to mutual service: washing one another’s feet. The followers of Christ are to imitate Him by serving one another.

Elsewhere Christ told His followers that caring for the needs of the poor is caring for Him, whether one knows it or not. “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me’ (Matthew 25:35, 36).

It is often said that the Eastern Churches have focused on prayer and fasting as their prime spiritual practices, while the West has stressed serving Christ in the poor as their foremost way of imitating Christ. This does not do justice to either East or West. The West has its share of ascetics and the East has an equally strong tradition of seeing Christ in the face of the poor. The life in Christ lived by the Church involves both asceticism and a rich liturgical life, as well as ministry to those in need.

St John Chrysostom is chiefly known for the way he influenced the liturgical life of the Byzantine Church. He also was outspoken in insisting that the Church embrace serving those in need as a way of glorifying the Lord. In his fiftieth Homily on Matthew he equates serving the poor with venerating the Eucharist! “Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn Him in His nakedness, nor honor Him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting Him outside where He is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by His words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me” (Hom 50, 3-4). 

The Legend of the Two Saints

There is a Russian folk tale about Saints John Cassian, the ascetic and Nicholas the Wonderworker. While the story does not depict the saints in any historical way, it tells us a good deal about the writer’s desire to follow Christ through service.

It is said that St. John Cassian and St. Nicholas were sent by God to survey the Slavic lands, to see what condition the Church and the people were in. As they completed their mission and were preparing to return to heaven, St. Nicholas spotted a farmer whose wagon had gotten stuck in the mud. “Come on!” said St. Nicholas. “Let’s give this poor man a hand.”

St. John surveyed the scene. The wagon was in the muck up to its axels. The horses could hardly move. The farmer and at least a half a dozen people had waded into the mud, pushing and pulling and sweating and swearing.

“We can’t do that,” St. John said firmly. “Our robes will get filthy. We’ll be unfit to enter the Kingdom.”

But while the words were still on his lips, St. Nicholas had waded in. He first calmed the horses, then, putting his shoulder to the wagon with the men, he pushed. The other men pushed with him, others pulled, and one guided the horses. St. John stayed back a respectful distance, watching.

The wagon at first held firm, then, little by little, it moved out of the muck.

St. Nicholas walked over to St. John, who took a quick half-step away from him. “Well, that’s done,” St. Nicholas said. “Let’s head home.”

White Robes and Mud

When they got to the gates of Heaven, God saw St. John Cassian’s sparkling white robe, and he saw St. Nicholas so covered in mud that it was impossible to tell what color his robe had once been. “Tell me what happened,” He said.

“There was this farmer,” St. Nicholas said, “and his cart and his horses were mired in the mud. I just took a few minutes to help them out before we came back.”

God turned to St. John. “And how did you manage to help this man without getting your robes soiled?”

“I didn’t, of course. You have clothed us in garments for the heavenly banquet, and I couldn’t possibly get them soiled with earthly cares.”

God looked at both of his saints, and his love flowed over them. “John Cassian, my beloved, you have indeed kept your heart in heaven, and your hands are clean of all things of the earth. And the heart of my beloved Nicholas is turned toward the people, however earthly their cares might be, and his hands are quick to help them when they call on him. And this,” he said, “this is why Nicholas, my beloved, has feast days in both summer and winter, and why he’s honored every Thursday besides. And this is why you, my beloved John Cassian, have but one feast day every four years.”

“Does a poor man approach you? Remember how poor you once were, and how rich you were made. One in want of bread or of drink, perhaps another Lazarus, is cast at your gate; respect the Sacramental Table which you have approached, the Bread of which you have partaken, the Cup in which you have communicated, being consecrated by the sufferings of Christ. If a stranger fall at your feet, homeless and a foreigner, welcome in him the One who for your sake was a stranger, and that among His own, and who came to dwell in you by His grace, and who drew you towards the heavenly dwelling place.

“Be a Zacchaeus, who yesterday was a Publican, and is today of liberal soul; offer all to the coming in of Christ, that though small in bodily stature you may show yourself great, nobly contemplating Christ.”

A sick or a wounded man lies before you; respect your own health, and the wounds from which Christ delivered you. If you see someone naked clothe him, in honor of your own garment of incorruption, which is Christ, “for as many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  If you find a debtor falling at your feet, tear up every document, whether just or unjust. Remember the ten thousand talents which Christ forgave you, and be not a harsh exactor of a smaller debt — and that from whom? From your fellow servant, you who were forgiven so much more by the Master. Otherwise you will have to give satisfaction to His mercy, which you would not imitate and take as your copy.
St Gregory the Theologian, Oration 40
IN EASTERN ICONS, such as the traditional representation of the Gergasene demoniacs, demons are often portrayed as little winged black men. In the medieval art of the West the horned, bat-winged and fork-tailed red giant was the most popular representation of the devil. What is the origin of these images and what do they actually represent?

Any representation of a demon in iconography, whether Western or Eastern, is an attempt to interpret Scriptural teaching. The imagery itself is not found in Scripture but strives to graphically depict a Biblical doctrine. Physical depictions of non-physical realities, however, are always doomed to fail. This is why in our Tradition depicting the Father or the Holy Spirit in human form is considered inappropriate since they were not incarnate. Icons of Christ, on the other hand, are considered so important because they point to the truth of His incarnation: that he actually became human to join His nature to ours. One artistic convention frequently employed in images of demons is the use of wings. This device “interprets” the Scriptural image of Satan as a fallen angel. As the Lord Himself said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Since “everyone knows” that angels have wings, artists assumed that fallen angels have wings too.

Does Size Matter?

The size of demons in icons or other images is a commentary on the power of Satan as understood by the artist and, ultimately by his Church. Medieval artists in the West often depicted Satan as larger than other figures in their paintings. They were interpreting Christ’s description of Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and St Paul’s characterization of him as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). A being of such power was in their eyes larger than life.

But Christ had said that, as a result of His passion, “the ruler of this world will be cast out (John 12:31). Thus in the Eastern icon of Pascha Satan is not depicted as a superman but as a colorless corpse bound in chains, defeated by the sacrifice of Christ. This image illustrates the teaching on Christ’s victory on the cross, “that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14). This is also why our Great Saturday liturgy puts these words in Satan’s mouth: “My power has been swallowed up! … Death’s power has lost its strength.”

In Eastern icons Satan and demons are regularly depicted as insignificant pests: tiny black creatures futilely attacking man. This illustrates the term for Satan used in all the Gospels, Beelzebub (see Matthew 12:24, Mark 3:22 and Luke 11:18). This is a satiric parody of the Canaanite title for their god meaning “Lord of the princes.” The Jewish parody used in the Gospels, “Lord of the flies,” points to the trivial nature of Satan before Christ’s power – little more than a gnat.

Demons in the Scriptures

The Old Testament presents Satan or the devil as “the Accuser” (in Hebrew, ha satan; Greek, ho diabolos) who accuses or slanders people and thus incites them to sin. He is depicted as a tempter, a persuader who convinces people to choose other than godly ways to live. When his influence spreads among the influential figures in society, an entire culture can be perverted. But Satan cannot force anyone to comply with his ways; we can always reject his temptations.

Old Testament-era Jews also came to speak of other diabolical figures in addition to Satan. The devil had his minions, angels who fell with him and who sought to drag people down with them. As the New Testament Book of Revelation describes it: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:9).

By the first and second centuries bc belief in demons active in Israel had become common in popular Judaism. Deliverance from demons was an important part of the ministry of Christ in the Gospels and of the apostles in Acts. It is assumed today that many of the people in the Gospel accounts believed to have a demon were actually afflicted with some form of psychosis. This does not explain the absence of demonic possession in Jewish writings before Christ. Could it be that the coming of the Messiah prompted a last ditch effort of Satan and his angels to assert power?

Jesus became quickly known as a healer and exorcist, confronting physical maladies and the assault of demons: “Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them” (Matthew 4:24).

Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the kingdom of God and gave them authority over demons: “He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease” (Matthew 10:1). They continued to exercise this power even after Pentecost (see Acts 8:7; 16:16ff.).

The Church has continued to exercise this power over unclean spirits. The second- century apologist St Justin the Philosopher told a Jewish acquaintance named Trypho that “now we, who believe in our Lord Jesus, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, when we exorcise all demons and evil spirits, have them subjected to us” (Dialogue with Trypho, 76.6). By the third century it was common that people entering the Church through baptism first be freed from the power of any unclean spirits. In our Byzantine ritual today four prayers of exorcism are part of the reception of a catechumen, calling on Satan to “Depart, and admit the vanity of your power which could not even control the swine.” When blessing water, oil or sacred vessels or when consecrating churches, the bishop or priest first prays that the influence of unclean spirits be averted from this place or object.

Our sacramental books also include prayers to deliver people from unclean spirits. In many places use of these prayers is on the increase as a result of people becoming involved with occult practices, thus opening themselves to influence by unclean spirits. A Coptic priest, Fr Sama’an Ibrahim, conducts prayers of deliverance weekly in his church carved into the rock of Moqattam Mountain, home of Cairo’s garbage collectors. Most of those who fill the 2000-seat church seeking deliverance are Muslims, says Father Ibrahim. “Christians rarely get possessed, because they are baptized young.”

First Exorcism of St. Basil the Great

O God of gods and Lord of lords, Creator of the fiery spirits and Artificer of the invisible powers, of all things heavenly and earthly: You whom no man has seen nor is able to see; You whom all creation fears and before whom it trembles; You who cast into the darkness of the abyss of Tartaros the angels who fell away with him who once was commander of the angelic host, who disobeyed You and haughtily refused to serve You: now expel by Your awesome name the evil one and his legions loose upon the earth, Lucifer and those with him who fell from above. Set him to flight and command him and his demons to depart completely. Let no harm come to them who are sealed in Your image and let those who are sealed receive power “to tread on serpents and scorpions and all the power of the enemy.” For You do we praise and magnify, and with every breath do we glorify Your all-holy name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
WHO WERE THE ROMAN CHRISTIANS to whom St Paul wrote his epistle? We know that the first believers in Jesus were Jews, even in the foreign cities where they had settled. For hundreds of years there had been Jews living in the commercial centers of the Roman Empire. The Jews in these places spoke Greek and adapted to the civic life of the Empire but retained the worship of the one God. As a result, the Romans knew something about Jewish religion and culture; some, attracted by their monotheism, followed the Torah. Most of the Churches to which St Paul wrote his epistles were communities which he had founded. The Christians in Rome were different. According to Ambrosiaster, an otherwise unknown fourth-century Latin writer, the Roman Church did not owe its existence to any of the apostles, but to unnamed Jews – perhaps traveling merchants – who had brought word of Jesus to the Jews in Rome and through them to the Gentiles. Ambrosiaster writes, “It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the Apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law [Torah] ... One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith, because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any of the apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ, although according to a Jewish rite” (Commentary on Romans, 3). If Ambrosiaster was right and the earliest Roman Christians were observing Jewish ritual practices, it would explain why St Paul devotes the attention that he does to the matter of the Jews and their covenant with God. The Church upholds his teaching as normative while realizing that it has been invoked to justify some destructive and unchristian practices over the centuries.

The Teaching of Romans 3:9-11

The passage read at this Sunday’s Divine Liturgy is part of a longer section in which St Paul makes the following points concerning the Torah and the Jews themselves:
God is Faithful –
Although many Jews have not honored God’s covenant with them, His love for them remains. “What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God?” (Romans 3:3)
There Is a New Covenant –
This covenant in Christ was seen from afar in the Jewish Scriptures but “now…has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets: the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe… for God is one and will justify the circumcised and the uncircumcised on the basis of faith” (Romans 3:21-23).
Most Jews Did Not Accept It –
The Jews relied on their observance of the Old Covenant practices rather than putting their trust in Christ. “… they have zeal for God, but it is not discerning. For, in their unawareness of the righteousness that comes from God and their attempt to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2, 3).
God Has Not Rejected the Jews –
The Jews remain the Covenant People of God. The Church is built on the most faithful Jews, the “elect” – those who accepted Christ – to which the believing Gentiles have been added.
This Does Not Justify Despising the Jews –
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place and have come to share in the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. If you do boast, consider that you do not support the root; the root supports you” (Romans 11:17,18).
Israel Will Ultimately Accept Christ –
When “the full number of the Gentiles comes in,” then the entire People of Israel will be saved, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:25,29).
As Origen noted, “What ‘all Israel’ means or what ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ will be only God knows along with His only-begotten Son and perhaps a few of His friends, as He said: ‘I no longer call you servants but friends, for I have made known to you everything which I have heard from my Father’” (Commentary on Romans, 4). Since this passage refers to something which will take place in God’s time, not ours, the Fathers refrained from trying to explain it.

Jews and Christians in History

At first Jewish Christians continued to frequent the temple (cf., Acts 3-5) and pray in the synagogues. Even St Paul offered temple sacrifice (cf., Acts 21:26). Since righteousness before God stems from faith, the ritual precepts of the Torah like the temple sacrifices and circumcision had been rendered obsolete by Christ. Jewish Christians who practiced them might do so out of devotion but could not impose them on others as necessary for salvation. In any case, by the end of the first century Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus had been expelled from the synagogues and an absolute separation between Jews and Christians enforced.

In Contemporary Thought

When the Second Vatican Council was convened in 1962 memories of World War II and the Holocaust were still fresh. The resulting statement on the Jews called for toleration and acceptance on a human level, while upholding St Paul’s theology: “As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews, in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues – such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder’” (Zephaniah 3:9). On November 17, 1980 Pope John Paul II cited Romans 11:29, speaking of the Old Covenant as “never revoked by God.” Supporters of this idea have interpreted this idea to mean that God still calls the Jews to observe the Torah, not the Gospel. Many feel that therefore Jews need not be brought to Christ, calling their novel teaching a development “in the spirit of Vatican II.” While God still has a covenant relationship with Israel, the terms of that covenant have changed. The Jews, like the Gentiles, will receive God’s mercy when they too accept the new terms of the covenant. St Paul continues: “Just as you [Gentiles] once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedi-ence, that He might have mercy upon all” (vv.30-32). God’s plan for the Jews will climax with Israel’s acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.
From the Epistle to the Hebrews
For if that first covenant had been faultless, no place would have been sought for a second one. But he finds fault with them and says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers…When he speaks of a “new” covenant, he declares the first one obsolete. And what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing.
Hebrews 8:7-13
The passage from St Matthew’s Gospel describing the healing of the demoniac begins with the words, “When Jesus had come to the other side…” (Matthew 8:28). “The other side of what?” we may ask, raising questions of where Jesus went and what it meant for His ministry. How does knowing where He lived and where He travelled contribute to our understanding of who He is and to our way of following Him? The Lord Jesus spent most of His earthly life in the province of Galilee, the northernmost district of the Holy Land. Galilee, north of Samaria, was the ancient territory of the Israelite tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali. With Samaria it had formed the northern kingdom, Israel, after the split following Solomon’s death (c. 931 bc). In 740 bc the northern kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrians; it would not be ruled again by Jews until 140 BC.

Galilee of the Gentiles

Already in the eighth century BC the prophet Isaiah referred to this territory as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (9:1), a phrase which will be quoted in Mt 4:16. Isaiah may have been referring to an event mentioned in 1 Kings 9: 10-13. There we read that Hiram, the King of Tyre, had supplied cedar, cypress and gold to build the temple at Jerusalem. To repay him, “King Solomon then gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee…” The story of Hiram is the first of two rather disparaging references to Galilee in the Scriptures. Solomon’s gift did not please the King of Tyre “So he said, ‘What kind of cities are these which you have given me, my brother?’ And he called them the land of Cabul, [good for nothing] as they are known to this day.”  For the 600 years after the Assyrian conquest much of Galilee had been all but abandoned by the Jews, who concentrated on rebuilding Jerusalem and Judea. Like Samaria, Galilee saw foreigners – in this case Phoenician farmers and Greek mercenaries employed by the Persians – among its new residents, apparently not the result of any intentional efforts by the various ruling powers, none of whom introduced a substantial number of colonists. Jewish resettlement of Galilee proceeded very slowly until the reestablishment of Jewish rule in the second century bc. According to the evidence of archaeology, there was a sudden change at the beginning of the first century bc. Within a few decades, dozens of new villages appeared, indicating that a new population had come into Galilee. By the first century ad Galilee included 204 prosperous villages and 15 fortified cities (Josephus, Vita, 45). 

Nazareth vs. Sepphoris

The town of Nazareth where Jesus was raised was on the outskirts of one such city, Sepphoris, the administrative center of Galilee and the home of the region’s prosperous Jewish elite. Nazareth was a working man’s town in the shadow of Sepphoris, of no importance to anyone but its residents. When the Lord’s disciple Philip told Nathanael that he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Nathaniel responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) The cosmopolitan and deeply Hellenized city of Sepphoris is never mentioned in the Gospels. Jesus is never depicted as going there – although it was only 3½ miles from Nazareth – and none of His closest followers are said to have lived there. Instead the Lord spent His time in and called disciples from the nearby working-class towns of Cana and Capernaum where He found “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), people more likely to accept His words. The contrast between Nazareth and Sepphoris exemplifies Christ’s preference for the poor in spirit, the attitude of spiritual poverty before God contrasted with the proud, exemplified in the Beatitudes, and which He personified in the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. The figures associated with His birth – the holy Virgin, St Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna, even the magi – all display this quality. Contemporary writers often use the Hebrew term Anawim to describe those people who look to God for everything. It was the word used by the Essene community to describe themselves. The Anawim usually have nothing that the world wants; their “wealth” consists in God. These are the people to whom Jesus referred in His first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth, quoting Isaiah 61:1, 2: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18). The Lord’s identification with the humble – the needy widow, Lazarus the beggar, the blind, the lame, and the lepers – has led churchmen throughout the ages to assert that the Church is called to imitate Christ by declaring its preference for the poor and powerless of this world. “Prove yourself a god to the unfortunate by imitating the mercy of God,” wrote St. Gregory the Theologian (Oration XIV, On the Love of the Poor). “There is nothing so godly in human beings as to do good works.” Sixteen centuries later Pope Benedict XVI taught that “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel” (Deus Caritas Est, 22).

Foreigners and Samaritans

Archaeologists suggest that the population of Galilee at the time of Christ included transplanted Judeans. They joined many Gentile Galileans (Phoenicians and Greeks) and Idumeans who some scholars say had been forcibly converted to Judaism.  If so, Galilee in Jesus’ day contained many Jews whose ancestors had only been Jewish for about a century. At the same time the Galileans were surrounded by native pagan peoples: Phoenicians to the north, Amonites and Moabites to the east, Edomites to the south and Palestinians to the west, while their immediate neighbors to the south were the Samaritans. Strict Jews like the Pharisees reviled all these peoples as unbelievers or as heretics and therefore unclean. The Lord Jesus was not put off by the isolationism of the scribes and Pharisees. Not only did He eat with sinners and tax collectors (i.e. collaborators with the occupying Romans), He ministered to Samaritans (John 4:5-42) and soldiers of the Roman occupation (Luke 7:1-9). He visited pagan territories such as Tyre and Sidon, where He helped the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), and Gadara, across the Jordan, as we see in today’s reading. A Galilean befriending sinners, embracing the poor and powerless, foreigners and Samaritans despite the precepts of the Torah – is it any wonder, then, that the Lord Jesus made enemies among the scribes, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law?
MANY CHRISTIAN CHURCHES in America were founded by a pastor who had a Bible, a microphone and a conviction that God wanted him to preach. So he gathered a few followers (often his own relatives), rented space and scheduled services. Americans see nothing unusual in this – after all freedom of speech and individual initiative are hallmarks of the American way of doing things. Why not in the Church? The historic Churches (those of the first centuries) saw things differently. Many of these Churches had, in fact, been founded by one of the apostles or their co-workers. They emphasized that the Church is the Body of Christ, an organic unity of Head and members. Like St Paul, these Churches saw unity as a chief mark of the Church and an important part of their mission “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:3-6). Still, the first centuries saw a number of teachers with competing doctrines arise in the Church. When they were not accepted by the leaders of a local Church, these teachers or their followers formed there own rival groups. In some places these groups became more popular than the historic Church. Arians, for example, were prominent in Constantinople through much of the fourth century and in much of the West through the fifth.

Constantine’s Solution

When Emperor Constantine accepted Christ and recognized the Church as an important structure in his empire, he faced the rivalry between these groups. In his quest for a strong and united Church, he called the first Ecumenical Council as a vehicle for unifying the teaching and practices of the empire. There had been councils before, of course, but always on regional levels. This council involved bishops from the entire empire (the ecumene) under Constantine’s rule. He set a precedent which would be repeated several times during the first millennium. These councils are:
  1. First Council of Nicaea (325) – Arians held that Christ was like the Father, but was no of the same essence. They believed Him to be the first of God’s creatures. This council rejected Arianism and, in the Creed which it drafted, proclaimed Him as being “one in essence” with the Father. The council also recognized as first sees Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. It unified the celebration of Pascha and issued other canons regulating Church life.
  2. First Council of Constantinople (381) – Macedonius was one of the rival bishops in Constantinople during the Arian controversy. His followers denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. In response this Council proclaimed the second part of the Creed (“and in the Holy Spirit…”).
  3. Council of Ephesus (431) – The question “How could Jesus be both God and Man?” was much debated in these centuries. Nestorius taught that Jesus was a man in whom the Logos dwelt and therefore Mary could not be called “Theotokos.” His chief opponent, Cyril of Alexandria, saw that, if Christ were not truly divine, He could not have united that divinity to our humanity. This council endorsed Cyril’s teaching and forbade the development of any further Creed.
  4. Council of Chalcedon (451) – As Nestorius had lessened the reality of the incarnation by emphasizing Christ’s humanity, Eutyches, a disciple of Cyril, seemed to be minimizing His humanity. After several rival councils endorsed first one then the other approach, a new emperor, Marcian, summoned this council which endorsed the teaching of Leo, Pope of Rome, finding it compatible with the teaching of Cyril and Ephesus. The Fathers of this Council confessed that Christ was “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably one in two natures.” The Council also added the sees of Constantinople and Jerusalem to the principal sees recognized at Nicaea, constituting the “pentarchy” (Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem).
  5. The (Assyrian) Church of the East did not explicitly accept the Council of Ephesus and the Oriental Orthodox Churches have not recognized the Council of Chalcedon, resulting in schisms between these Churches and the Eastern Orthodox (Byzantine) and Roman Catholic Churches. Twentieth- century Agreed Statements between these Churches succeeded in expressing their teachings in a harmonious way, thereby eliminating the theological bases for their divisions.
  6. Second Council of Constantinople (553) – Many felt that in his “Three Chapters,” Theodore of Mopsuestia had paved the way for Nestorius’ teachings. To assure the opponents of Chalcedon that the Greek and Latin Churches were firmly behind the Council of Ephesus, this Council condemned his and others’ writings as having inspired Nestorius.
  7. Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) – Attempts at reconciling the teachings of Cyril and Leo sought to stress the unity of God and man in Christ had given rise to two new theological trends. Monoenergism taught that Christ had but one energy. Monothelitism taught that He had only one will. This Council condemned both propositions as minimizing the fullness of Christ’s humanity and divinity.
  8. Second Council of Nicaea (787) – This Council justified the veneration of icons, based on the true humanity of Christ. If the Word truly became flesh, the Council Fathers reasoned, He could be painted.
  9. Two different gatherings have been called the Fourth Council of Constantinople. The first (869-870) confirmed the Seventh Council, requiring that the icon of Christ be venerated like the Gospel Book. Since it also deposed St Photios the Great as patriarch of Constantinople, the Greek Churches did not accept it. They give the title to a second council (879-880) which reinstated Photios (with the pope’s blessing). They affirmed the Creed without the filioque and condemned those who “impose on it their own invented phrases.” Since the decrees of this Council were promulgated as Roman Law by the Emperor after its minutes had been signed by the Five Patriarchs, some Orthodox consider this an Ecumenical Council. The West continued to call its general synods Ecumenical Councils long after the fall of the Empire. The Orthodox Churches, although they recognize several important “Great and Holy Councils” as normative for the entire Church, do not call them Ecumenical Councils.

    The Councils in Our Liturgy

    Our Church today celebrates the seven councils of the first millennium with special commemorations every year on the following Sundays:
    • The First Council (Nicaea I) – the Sunday following Ascension Thursday
    • The first six Councils – the Sunday following July 13
    • The Seventh Council (Nicaea II) – the Sunday following October 10
    • Each Council is also commemorated individually on the following dates:
      • January 23 – Constantinople III
      • May 22 – Constantinople I
      • May 29 – Nicaea I
      • July 16 - Chalcedon
      • July 25 – Constantinople II
      • September 9 – Ephesus
      • October 13 – Nicaea II
LOS ANGELES DODGERS PITCHER Sandy Koufax raised many an eyebrow at the 1965 World Series when he refused to pitch at the opening game because it was Yom Kippur. He remains a model for countless observant Jewish athletes, debaters, spellers and other competitors who decline to practice or compete on the Sabbath, even if it means forfeiting a championship. As one Jewish teenager put it, “Shabbat is not at all voluntary and not something you can compromise on.” Observant Jews do not see the Law as arbitrary but as the rational will of God for them . When the Hellenistic king Antiochus commanded the priest Eliazar to eat pork, the priest replied “We believe that the law was established by God… He has permitted us to eat what will be most suitable for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meats that would be contrary to this” (4 Maccabees 5:25, 26). This fidelity to a religious Law is something many – perhaps most – in our society find had to understand. Many observant Christians would not hesitate to participate in similar activities on a Sunday, even if it meant missing church. For many even shopping is a higher priority than worshipping, and they regularly skip the Liturgy to go to the mall. Yet the Lord Jesus was just as adamant as any other observant Jew about keeping the Law. “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” He insisted. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Unlike today much of the Law in Jesus’ day was made up of precepts concerning the temple and its worship. Christians taught that the Lord had indeed fulfilled the Law. He had come “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4). He was the great High Priest offering the new and perfect sacrifice, His own blood instead of the blood of animals. This is why St. Paul would say that Christ is the “end,” meaning the fulfillment of the Law. Once the temple had been destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, Jews have focused on the more personal precepts of the Law. Of the 613 precepts traditionally revered by Jews, 477 concern thing like personal purification for worship, study of the Law, daily prayer and the like.

The Law and Righteousness

Obviously as Christians we have our own religious practices: our holydays, fast days, rules about the mysteries and the like. We keep them as best we can and encourage their observance by our young. In times of trial maintaining our prayer rule helps maintain our balance. As Christian activist and concentration camp survivor Corrie Ren Boom remarked, “We did not keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept us.” What, then, is different in the attitude of observant Jews to the Law and the Church’s attitude to its precepts? The key is found in the concept of righteousness: the state of being holy, being one with God. For the observant Jew keeping the Law was the way to attain righteousness. As St Paul observed, “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’” (Romans 10:5). Spiritual life, for the keeper of the Law, comes from his observance of its commandments. For the Christian, as St Paul insisted, righteousness does not come from the observance of precepts. It comes through Christ restoring our nature and making of it a new creation. We participate in His work through faith that He had truly renewed creation through His death and resurrection. As St Paul insists, “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Keeping our Christian precepts – for example, worshipping together on the Lord’s Day – is praiseworthy, but we do not observe them to produce righteousness in us; we do so to respond to the holiness that is granted us in Christ. We can spend all day lighting candles, venerating icons, praying and attending divine services – but if we do so to generate holiness in us, we have completely missed the message of the Scripture. We do such things in gratitude to God for what we could not do for ourselves but for what has been done for us in Christ. In the Divine Liturgy as the priest prepares the Holy Gifts for distribution to the people he exclaims, “The Holy Gifts for the holy!” to which the people respond “One is holy, one is Lord – Jesus Christ…” We do not produce our own holiness. In we can be considered as “saints” or “holy ones” as St Paul described believers it is because we have received a share in the righteousness of the one truly Holy One, the Lord Jesus.

Our Own Profession of Faith

The first Christians made their climactic profession of faith in Christ at their entry into the Church. By virtue of this faith publicly professed – confessed with the mouth, in St. Paul’s words – they were baptized into Christ. The profession of faith is still recited just before baptisms. However, when the infant children of Christians became the greater number of people being baptized, the Nicene Creed, was also added to the Divine Liturgy so that we, baptized as infants, could profess our faith as adults and thereby join in the sacrifice of praise. Increasingly local Churches are insisting that infants may only be baptized because of the faith of their parents, with the expectation that they be raised as Christians, allowing the seed of faith to mature in their hearts. People who bring their child to be baptized out of some social convention (such as to please grandma) are often displeased to be questioned about the state of their own faith. To clean the house of an infant’s soul and then leave it empty is an invitation to even greater evil, as Christ said (see Matthew 12:43-45).
Faith and Baptism

In c. 350 AD St Cyril of Jerusalem preached a series of catechetical lectures to the newly-baptized which included the following:

“After these things, you were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulcher which is before our eyes And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and you made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ. … And at the self-same moment you were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother. … “O strange and inconceivable thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again; but our imitation was in a figure, but our salvation in reality…. “For in Christ’s case there was death in reality, for His soul was really separated from His body. There was a real burial, for His holy body was wrapped in pure linen; and everything happened really to Him; but in your case there was only a likeness of death and sufferings, whereas of salvation there was not a likeness but a reality.”

First Mystagogic Catechesis, 4, 5, 7
JUST WHAT IS IT ABOUT PORK? Any contact with it is prohibited in the Torah. There we read: “Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying, “These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat. Nevertheless these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, … the rock hyrax, … the hare, … and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you’” (Leviticus 11:2-8). Here the reason given seems arbitrary: is there a divine reason for preferring animals which have cloven hooves and chew their cud? If so, we are not told. Modern commentators have suggested ecological and hygienic reasons for the Jews’ attitude. It has been suggested, for example, that because pigs will eat anything – garbage, offal, even carcasses – they were thought of as “unclean,” that is, unfit for God’s People. The Quran also prohibits the consumption of and even contact with pork: “He has made unlawful to you only that which dies of itself, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked” (2.174). This and similar texts record the prohibition but do not explain it. The prohibition in the Quran does suggest another possible reason when it couples pork with “that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked.” In fact, pigs were regularly sacrificed to “other names” at the time of Moses. In the Egypt of his day pigs were sacrificed to the gods, especially to Set, the ruler of Upper Egypt, and the pork was consumed in a ritual feast. One of their most important gods, it was Set, along with Horus, the ruler of Lower Egypt, who were depicted as crowning Pharaoh. Pigs were also sacrificed to various deities by the Philistines, the Greeks and the Romans. Would this ongoing association of pigs with pharaoh and idolatry have influenced the condemnation of pork by the Hebrews? Idolatry and its attendant practices would certainly have been the greatest uncleanness to an observant Jew of the day; anything connected with idolatry would have been equally condemned. Perhaps the same reasoning applies to the Jewish prohibition against mixing meat and dairy. Would the fact that Canaanites offered lamb cooked in its mother’s milk to their gods, making it unfit for God’s People? In any case, pigs became the ultimate symbol of uncleanness in Judaism and, later, in Islam. When Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son, for example, the lad’s final degradation was to feed husks to the pigs.

The Pigs of Gedara

Jesus’ encounter with the demoniacs is directly connected with the story of how He calmed the sea (Matthew 8:23-27) which precedes it. The Gospel says that Jesus and His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm erupted. Commentators have stressed that Matthew used the same word here as he did in the account of the Lord’s crucifixion when the earth quaked. It represents an apocalyptic event, heralding the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God to the Galilee of the Gentiles. When Jesus and His disciples get to the eastern side of the sea, they come upon the demoniacs whose healing is described in Matthew 8:28-34. Part of Jordan today, this was a region inhabited by Jews, local Gentiles and Greco-Roman settlers. Early manuscripts of the Gospel story vary, locating this event in Gadara (the center of Hellenism in the region), or Gerasa (modern Jerash). Both were Gentile towns, more Greek than Semitic, with pagan temples side by side with Jewish synagogues. Pagan festivals were observed, with dramas depicting the gods and sacrifices offered to them. Pork would have been considered acceptable here. In the Gospel narrative the demons are given leave to enter the pigs and plunge into the sea. All that is unclean in this world (the idolatrous pigs) and in the spiritual realm (the rebellious demons) are destined to plummet into the abyss to make way for the kingdom of God. While crossing the Sea of Galilee the disciples had asked one another “Who can this be, than even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (v. 27) – they had yet to experience Christ as more than a holy man. When Jesus confronts the demons, however, there is no need for a discussion. “What have we to do with you, Jesus, you Son of God!” they whine. “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (v. 29) – these invidious spiritual powers know what, at this stage the disciples do not. Much of Matthew’s Gospel is concerned with the disciples’ growing awareness of Christ’s unique relationship with the Father. Those “of little faith” would before long be spreading faith in Christ much farther than they had ever gone before.

The Time Has Come

What is “the time” mentioned in the demons’ complaint? These demons were not prepared to lose their power. They are depicted here like many Jews of their time, who expected to have sway until the Last Day, the apocalyptic end of all things, when the Lord’s Anointed would come in glory and judge the world. They were not prepared to encounter the King of the ages in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus would come in glory, but not when and how anyone expected. Christ would be glorified when, triumphant over sin in Himself, He surrendered Himself to death in order to abolish it and overturn its power over mankind. Christ’s sacrificial death was His glory, the victory of self-offering in the face of a sterile world.

What is Clean and Unclean?

When scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem criticized Jesus and His followers for not observing the practices of ritual purification, He responded, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:11). Impurity is no longer a matter of ritual practices but of our actions and intentions. Not without some initial disagreements, the early Church came to maintain that there would be no clean vs. unclean foods, for all food is from God. As St. Paul insisted, keeping Torah laws does not justify us; rather we put our faith in Christ and in His saving acts. Nothing I do can “save” me. The source of all human uncleanness is that idea that I can save myself by doing this or refraining from that. Our efforts cannot bring us into relationship with God; it is only in God’s work, manifested in Jesus Christ, that we can find security and hope.

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