Travels during lent (Tokyo) – 2021 update.

This a highly edited and updated version that was originally posted 2 years ago.

When I created this blog, I promised myself not to write my own views and shy away from even sharing my own experiences. I originally wrote this short post after great lent of 2019 had finished. It had taught me something I thought was worthy of sharing. That is why I am sharing it again in a highly edited form before this upcoming holy time of lent.

The issue of travelling during the Great lent (or any fast). I am very well aware that due to the COVID crisis, travel is impossible for most. However, I deeply believe my experiences while travelling can be applied in everyday life, when we “drift away…” or become pre-occupied with earthly matters.

In todays world, the dietary aspects of the fast (avoid animal products and oil) is rather easy to keep, even during travels (its popular to be vegan these days). After the first week of the Great lent in 2019, I went to Japan for a conference and stayed there for two weeks, as a vacation. Full of confidence and pride that I would “keep the fast” there, my dear priest friend told me, before I left, that he did not think it to be a good idea to travel for such a long time during lent, especially if it could be avoided – and in all honesty I could have just stayed for one week, but chose to stay longer (come on, its Japan!). The issue, as I mentioned before, was not the food, I “kept the fast” in that way.

Tokyo

What was the issue however, is the part of the fast that is equally as important (actually most important) – the prayer life. To pray more, pray “better” and to find peace inside – to be close to Christ. This prayer is so so necessary in order to get into the mood of Great lent, which should be a mood of repentance and humbleness. This, as I quickly learned, was harder “to keep” while in Japan. Not because of Japan as such, but because of being out of rhythm, not in accordance to my normal routines, concentrating a lot on less important things in life and in a foreign place. I simply could not pray good in the capsule hotel I stayed at and the excitement of being again in Tokyo (my favourite city) made my mind and heart more often than not focus more on temporal things, than on prayer and closeness to Christ. Tokyo has a wonderful Orthodox cathedral with many services and a friendly and open Orthodox community – but being out of my comfort zone and away from my routines – I still struggled.

I am therefore sharing this here – if you can, avoid long travels during fasts and especially during the Great lent. I was humbled very quickly and the lesson it taught me is something I will carry with me forever. I am weak and need all the peace and balance possible to even try to attain some sort of prayerful state that is so important always, and especially during lent. And today in 2021 during the Corona crisis, we often drift away for days into less important things putting God and prayer in a drawer, giving them a break so to speak. While my “aha!” moment came during travels, the essence of what I realised, could and can apply even today, sitting at home in a semi-lockdown. We need God and especially so if we are to be able to change our hearts during the period of the Great lent – because what we do during these holy weeks, we hope and pray, will stay with us forever.

I wish you all a blessed a fruitful lent. May God bless us all and help us always.

May His most holy Mother always be near us and pray for us.

P. S.Tokyo is a Great city, very peaceful even – but perhaps best visited outside the Great lent…

The sign of the cross throughout history

The Christian sign of the cross as done by the faithful and clergy, did not come from “nowhere”. Likewise, as most of our ritual practices do, it holds deep symbolism and even expression of dogma itself. I will very briefly here outline the history and development of the sign of the cross throughout Church history, starting in the 2nd century.

The first known mention about the sign of the cross can be found already in the 2nd c. in the writings of Tertullian who wrote: “we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”[1]. We not only have information from Tertullian that the sign of the cross was used, but also how it was used:  “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross”[2] which suggest to us that the sign of the cross was done on the forehead. Most point to the fact that the sign of the cross was done on the forehead with one finger, to symbolise the oneness of God as Jews and many pagans accused the early Christians of being polytheistic.

Likewise, in the same way the sign of the cross (in blessing form) was made on items, this can be read in the life of St. Barbara: “[Barbara] said, In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and she miraculously drew the sign of the cross in the marble wall of the bathhouse with her finger (singular, one finger)”[3]. St. Epiphanius also confirms that the sign of the cross was early on in the history of the Church made with one finger[4]. The one finger sign of the cross can be seen up until the fourth century when we start to notice in writings that more than one finger was used for the sign of the cross. Instead the use of two fingers started to appear, most likely as a response and guard against Monophysitism – two fingers now symbolised the two natures of Christ. St. Cyril of Jerusalem remarks in his Catechesis (13:36) that the sign of the cross was to be made with “fingers”, plural. Theodoret of Cyrus, who was involved in rebuking and debating the Monophysics in the 5th century, wrote: “Thus does one bless with the hand and cross oneself: Holding three fingers together evenly the thumb and the last two fingers-confesses a mystery in the image of the Trinity (…) Joining two fingers together-the index and the middle finger-and extending them, with the middle finger slightly bent, represents the two natures of Christ: His Divinity and His Humanity”.  This practice of the sign of the cross prevailed for many centuries.

Two-finger sign of the cross

In the 8th century, St. Peter Damascene wrote in what today is found in the Philokalia the following: “The Holy Fathers have handed down to us the meaning of this holy sign, in order to refute heretics and unbelievers. The two fingers and the one hand then, represent then the crucified Lord Jesus Christ, who we profess as having two natures in one person”[5]. It is however important to note that Sts. Cyril and Damascene as well as Theodoret were all a part of the local Church of Antioch. This local church was very active in the fight against Monophystitism and this view on the sign of the cross was defended there stoutly as a direct result of the Monophysite heresy. This fact makes it more likely that this sign of the cross, with two fingers, was not a universal practice of the Church as such, or at least this possibility needs to be accepted. As this tradition was prevalent in the Orthodox east (Cappadocia and Asia Minor) it is no surprise that the Russians later received it in the 10th century. 

In the 9th century however, we can find traces of the three finger sign of the cross (as practiced today by most Orthodox Christians) which of course puts an emphasis on the Holy Trinity. This sign of the cross can be found in the writings of Pope Leo IV of Rome (+855), he wrote:  “Sign the chalice and the host, with a right cross and not with circles or with a varying of the fingers, but with two fingers stretched out and the thumb hidden within them, by which the Trinity is symbolised. Take heed to make this sign rightly, for otherwise you can bless nothing”[6]. In the beginning of the 11th c., the Abbot of Eynsham, Aelfric, wrote “With three fingers one must bless himself for the Holy Trinity”[7]. Both these statements are made during a time when the Roman Catholic church was orthodox in their faith. The praise and support for the three-finger sign of the cross continued in the west after the schism with Pope Innocent III (+1216) writing: “The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Trinity”.

Three-finger sign of the cross

The origin of the three fingers sign of the cross can be traced back to the west at least all the way back until 855 when the above mentioned Orthodox Pope Leo IV passed away, which makes it historically certain that this originated before the schism in 1054. This most likely lead to Orthodox people geographically close to Rome to use this three-finger sign of the cross. The Greeks, Serbs, Albanians, Bulgarians and Georgians as well as the Monophysite Copts, Armenians and Syrians all used the three-finger sign of the cross at the time of or closely after the great schism[8]. It is however important to note that the Monophysites crossed themselves from left to right – contrary to Orthodox practice. Today Nestorians in India and Persia also cross themselves with three fingers. In other words, this practice seems to have been the official practice in Orthodox west before the great schism, likewise for the Greeks and their closest Orthodox brothers surrounding them as well as the various above mentioned Monophysite and Nestorian groups. Most likely because of the bigger distance, it did not reach the Russians at the time when it spread from the European mainland. It also important to note that the three-finger sign of the cross has been lost in the west and is today mostly associated with the Orthodox Church – it was “officially” abolished by a papal statement in 1569 in favour of the five-finger sign of the cross symbolising Jesus’ five wounds. The Russians kept the practice given to them in the 10-11th century up until the reforms of the 17th century, which was the two-finger sign of the cross as taught by the likes of Theodoret of Cyrys and St. Peter of Damascus. This is clear as the writing of these two were included in the Russian Typicon of the time.

As we see, the symbolism of the sign of the cross has evolved and been different depending on the local historical contexts. What is however clear, is that the sign of the cross as a concept has always, since the earliest times, been important to Christians and it has contained symbolism as-well as direct expression of dogma. This never was or is simply an empty part of the ritual.


[1] De Corona Militis, chapter 3.

[2] De Corona Militis, chapter 3.

[3] http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/st_barbara.htm

[4] Panarion (Adv. Haer.) ch. 12 –

[5] Philokalia p. 642

[6] Liturgy. Rom. Pont.”, III, 37

[7] Thorpe, “The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church” I, 462.

[8] https://orthodoxwiki.org/Sign_of_the_Cross#History

Radical love

In todays world, so caught up in the Corona virus and the tragic mess of the US socio-political issues, we as Christians should be beacons of light and love. Sadly, often, it is we who are negative or even hateful.

It is important we define the word “love”. Today, in some circles, this word is used to promote ideologies that from a Christian Orthodox perspective are a lie. From that perspective, love is intimately tied to truth, we cannot separate the two. God is Love and Truth, as the scripture teaches us, indicating to us the two are in fact, one.

St. Maria of Paris (Skobtsova), who was killed by the Nazis in a concentration camp in 1945, is a living testimony of this love. By some in the Church, she is viewed upon with suspicion. Why? Because in certain ways, she rebelled against many established “norms”. She questioned a piety that while good and God-pleasing, ignored the suffering of other humans. For St. Maria, the love of God must be accompanied by a love of human, who is created in the image of God. She said, “Piety, piety, but where is the love that moves mountains“. Strong words and still so relevant for us today.

In my late teens, when I turned back to the Christian faith, I rejected a love and passion for politics. I had wanted to study these subjects and have a career in these fields. One day, after reading a lot, I just could not take it any more. I had decided to turn away from this, from politics. I had only two words in my mind, “radical love”, as opposed to the hate and lies I had read. Having been brought up in a Christian home where the faith was barely practiced, the only place I suspected I could find this radical love, was in Christ, who because of love, suffered and died on a cross – that seemed as radical as anything for me at that time!

Mother Maria, as she was affectionally called, was an imitator of the radical love of Christ. Living in a crisis most of us cannot even start to imagine, the Second World War, she was able to be a shining beacon. Caring for all, regardless of their faith or world views. In some ways, she was a rebel and she did question some long established norms, especially those about monastic life. However, I believe that God through His Church, sends us holy people that we need at a time.

Mother Maria provides to us, even today, a challenge. A challenge to find a balance in our spiritual life. To not forget that love for human is in-itself a love for God. It is not something contrary, but one and the same. In our times of deep moral crisis, she is a beacon shining bright. A beacon we as Christians all should strive to be. Firmly grounded in the Truth, who is God Himself, yet with wide open arms to embrace and love every needing person everywhere.

Let us not be afraid, because as Mother Maria teaches us,

Christ, who approached prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners, can hardly be the teacher of those who are afraid to soil their pristine garments, who are completely devoted to the letter, who live only by the rules, and who govern their whole life according to rules.

Rules are important, so are practices, but without radical love, they mean little.

Mother Maria, pray for us!

The paradox of the Nativity

As most Orthodox Christians celebrate the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – Christmas – these days, it is only fitting to reflect on this salvific moment in history. What better way to do that than with the help of the great poet-theologian, St. Ephrem the Syrian.

Old Russian Icon of the Nativity of Christ

St. Ephrem in his writings loves paradoxes. He often rejects the classical philosophical approach of many of the Church fathers, instead focusing on the symbolic one, which often provide a series of paradoxial opposites. Writing about the incarnation and the Nativity of Christ, this is clear. Brock gives examples used by St. Ephrem to comment on the incarnation: “the Rich One who became poor”, “the Great who became small” and “the Hidden One who revealed himself”[1].

These paradoxes on the incarnation present to us the picture of God, who in His love for us, humbles Himself. In order so that we can be saved, he Himself becomes a small and vulnerable child. St. Ephrem writes in his poem/hymn on the Nativity,

“The Mighty One entered, and put on insecurity from her womb (…) He who gives drink to all entered – and experienced thirst”[2].

It is a wonderful and poetic statement, which also presents to us the paradox of the incarnation which is theologically sound. In the same hymn, St. Ephrem writes,

“He who is the Word entered – and became silent within her; thunder entered her – and made no sound”[3].

Again, we see a wonderful poetic interpretation of the paradoxes of the incarnation. 

Highest, became lowest. Word, became silent. Thunder, made no sound.

St. Ephrem is very clear in his theological understanding that the depths of the faith cannot be simply understood intellectually, but rather, one needs faith. One needs to look with the eye of the soul. Our rational intellect very often has trouble understanding the paradoxes of our Holy Faith, and especially the incarnation. When discussing this with Muslims for instance, one will see that they most often cannot allow themselves (intellectually) to accept a notion that the Master freely became a Servant, that the Strongest freely became the Weakest – they claim it is illogical

St. Ephrem would most likely agree with such a statement, that it is indeed illogical. He would see a logical approach, which tries to define the faith too much, as us setting up boundaries on the Boundless God. 

The Church often describes the Virgin Mary as being “more spacious than the heavens”. Why? Because in her womb, she carried the Creator of the heavens and earth, the One that cannot be contained, Whose birth we today glorify. 

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, O Lord, glory to Thee!


[1] Brock, Sebastian. The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World of Saint Ephrem”, p. 25

[2] St. Ephrem the Syrian, Nativity 11:6-8.

[3] Ibid.

Reflections on ecology, under a palm tree.

The more a person challanges themselves, the greater the fruits of our labours or inquiries. The more we are willing to seek discomfort, the more real and lasting comfort we find. This is the Christian way.

We as Orthodox Christians often fail to even attempt to keep the fasts of the Church, being afraid of what we have to give up. In many ways, our approach towards the ecological issues of todays world are the same. Self-denial is not something most of us, including myself, are genuinely ready for.

What we see as the ascetic way of life, so vital and essential to us Orthodox Christians if done correctly, is most often an empty exchanging of meat for vegan meat for a X number of days – without any real attempt for a transformation of our hearts.

This is a tragedy, as the ascetic way of life, prescribed to monks and lay people alike, is the solution to many of our problems, not the least of the ecological issues of our day.

Self-denial, giving up, sacrifice, love for others… All tenets of real ascetic labour.

Our Orthodox faith offers us solutions to our most burning issues, including ecology. The way forward for us is therefore, based on the ascetic traditions of the Church, a strive for self-denial, balanced used of the created world (its resources) as well as love of neighbour and creation. Elizabeth Theokritoff in her “Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology” (p. 90) writes:

The monk,” says the great spiritual writer Evagrius, “is separated from all and united with all.” The non-monastic Christian may not be separated from other people and things in terms of space; but all Christian asceticism has the goal of detachment for love of God. And that detachment allows us to embrace all other creatures as objects and instruments of God’s love, not of our own desires.

This detachment starts with ourselfs, every Wednesday and Friday is a good beginning I think. If we can learn to at least a bit control our bodily desires, we can also slowly start to make the deeper and permanent changes needed, the re-orientation to Christ, which would allow us in turn to approach the ecological issues in a correct and balanced way – not ignoring it completely and not making it into an idol.

Theokritoff again, quoting Colliander, writes, The ascetic tradition gives a radically new perspective on self-limitation, on the sort of restrictions on our range of options that a sustainable way of living is likely to demand. Such limitations are neither a way of making ourselves miserable, nor an occasion to feel self-righteous. They are opportunities and tools “to silence, with God’s help, our loud-voiced will,” as the Finnish author Tito Colliander puts it so aptly. They are providential aids in our spiritual struggle (p.90).

To silence our will, so soaked in sin, which often wills and desires that which is not really needed, seems to be the answer to our issues. Let us follow the teachings of our Holy Fathers. As our father among the saints, St. John Chrysostom puts it:

Is not ‘the earth God’s, and the fullness thereof?’ [Ps 23.2]. Our possessions, then, belong to one common Lord; and therefore they belong also to our fellow servants. The possessions of the Lord are all common. (Hom on 1 Tim).

Let us therefore use only what what we really need. Consume to live, not live in order to consume.

Photo from my sisters balcony in Dubai, under the palm tree, where this was written.

“When in Rome…”

”When in Rome, do as the Romans”.

This famous response of St. Ambrose of Milan (whose memory the Church celebrates today) to St. Augustine when the latter was to visit Rome and was used not to fast on a Saturday – something however done in Rome at this time during late 4th/early 5h century. 

St. Augustine together with his mother Monica consulted about this matter with St. Ambrose before they went to visit. It is said that he answered them, “When I am here (in Milan) I do not fast on Saturday, when in Rome I do fast on Saturday”, and this is how the famous saying was born.

A western painting of Sts. Ambrose, Monica and Augustine

What can we read into this simple answer given by the great Church Father of Milan? First thing that comes to mind is that already in the early Church, this is after all in the 4th century, we witness that there were various local practices and traditions. This is confirmed by many various writings of the era left to us. This demonstrates to us the diversity of Church life. A diversity based first and foremost on the adherence and confession of the one Orthodox faith and the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

If we study liturgical history of the Church for instance, we notice the same thing in the first millennium. There were many different rites or variants of the same rite. Before 451, we had in the Orthodox Church what we today would call, radically simplifying it of course, Western rite, Eastern rite and Syriac rite, just to mention a few. Today in the Orthodox Church, such diversity is mostly gone, sadly I would personally say. We do however still have quite a big diversity in other, non-liturgical practices. Usually of course tied to a certain place or local church. In Russia one (usually) has to confess before receiving Holy Communion, while in Greece, most people confess once per year and then commune the whole year. Serbs barely eat fish during the Sts. Peter and Paul (Apostles’ fast) fast, while Russians often refer to it as the “fish” fast because they can eat fish almost all days of the fast. Russian Old Ritualists cross themselves with two fingers, their brothers in the Orthodox Church of America use three fingers. Most Orthodox do not kneel on Sundays in church, while many Romanians say the Lord’s prayer while kneeling on Sunday in church. All these and many more examples here not mentioned, demonstrate to us that while we are united by one faith in the one Church of Christ, we do have local tradition and practices.

In todays modern world, where we can travel at ease (perhaps not in 2020…), this is something we as Orthodox Christians should be aware of and I would even claim something we should cherish. How do we cherish this? Well, “When in Rome, do as the Romans…” is the pointer. When we visit our brothers and sisters from other local traditions, either in the diaspora or in traditionally Orthodox countries, we should humble ourselves and do as they do. This is a sign of respect and love. A sign of unity. We might think that what they are doing is strange or even wrong, however, if we are in full eucharistic communion with someone, we accept their practices, without having to adopt them of course.

Therefore, on todays feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, let us ask for his prayers that we all may humble ourselves and with deep love acknowledge, accept and above all respect other local traditions. This is the way of the Church Fathers and the earliest Church. This is the Universality of the Church.

St. Ambrose of Milan, pray for us!!

Creation as a way to the knowledge of God

There is a tendency among many Christians to place man as not only the loving king of creation, but as a bloody tyrant. On the other hand, many people, make nature itself into an idol, that is wrong. But is it not equally wrong for us to consider ourself the masters of nature? To destroy and dominate nature as we please, for our own pleasure? Is nature simply a tool? I thought I would here very briefly look what some Church Fathers have to say about this.

St. Gregory of Nyssa in his work “On the making of man” speaks about man’s place in creation and its purpose:

“He [God] thus manifests man in the world, to be the beholder of some of the wonders therein, and the lord of others; that by his enjoyment he might have knowledge of the Giver, and by the beauty and majesty of the things he saw might trace out that power of the Maker which is beyond speech and language.” (On the making of man, II)

St. Gregory of Nyssa, and many Fathers, call man a “king” of creation. However, they also make it clear that man, as the king, has no right to use creation as he likes. Instead, there is a way laid down by the Creator, by God. St. Gregory the Theologian writes about God’s “wills”, which are His intentions manifested or expressed in created things, in nature. Theokritoff understands St. Gregory’s (the Theologian) view like this: “Man’s ‘oversight’ of creation is not just practical management or ‘stewardship’; it is inextricably bound up with being aware of the mystery of creation, discerning God’s wisdom in the depths of created things.”(Theokritoff, Elizabeth. Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology p. 53). Again, we see the theme of man having knowledge of God, His will and His wisdom through the creation.

Creation is given us, or rather under us one might say, for our salvation. The ultimate way for us to use it, is to through it draw closer and closer to God. God created us “being from both natures” as St. Gregory the Theologian calls it. This means that while we are, just like animals, part of the animal kingdom and the created physical world, we are also divine, created in the image of God. It is this nature that should guide us in our relationship to creation. It is created for us, for our benefit and survival. Yet, we are not to enslave it for selfish and hedonistic reasons. When the human however uses the creation in a bad way, then he is not “simply disobeying a commandment: he is ceasing to be a real human being. What we are talking about here is creation in the image and likeness of God as the defining characteristic of man.”(Theokritoff, p. 54).

God breathing life into Adam and creating the animals. Mosaic from the Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily, 12th century.
(https://orthodoxartsjournal.org/the-making-of-a-new-icon-christ-breaking-the-bonds-of-animal-suffering/)

The great Syrian poet-theologian St. Ephrem, my personal favourite, writes:

“At our resurrection, both earth and heaven will God renew, liberating all creatures, granting them paschal joy, along with us. Upon our mother Earth, along with us, did he lay disgrace when he placed on her, with the sinner, the curse; so, together with the just, he will bless her too; this nursing mother, along with her children, shall he who is Good renew.” (Hymn IX.1, Sebastian Brock, trans., Hymns on Paradise, p. 136.)

This nursing mother is more than just dead and simple matter to be used and exploited. It is a direct path to God and to salvation itself. Let us use her for our survival, just as was intended, but let us also respect her and care for her, because she manifests to us the glory of God.

Orthodoxy + Nationalism

One of the main complaints towards the Orthodox Church is that its local churches are often very nationalistic. This can be manifested in various ways, but lets agree that most such manifestations are wrong, some would argue outright heretical. The 1872 Council of Constantinople made it clear in its first Decree:

We censure, condemn, and declare contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the sacred canons of the holy Fathers the doctrine of phyletism, or the difference of races and national diversity in the bosom of the Church of Christ.

Orthodox priests in Romania dressed in liturgical vestments made to represent the Romanian flag

Phyletism is the name given to the ecclesiological heresy that claims that local Orthodox churches can or should be based or established on ethnical, racial or cultural basis. It would seem the 1872 council made it clear and there should not be any more issues of this nature – sadly, the reality is different. For any serious inquirer into Orthodoxy, especially in the diaspora, this issue is blatant. To a larger or lesser degree, most local Orthodox churches, or rather their representatives (bishops, priests and faithful), are guilty of this tragedy. We are guilty.

It must be pointed out that we here do not criticise any local traditions or languages – these are all part of the universal beauty of the Church, as St. Paul famously teaches us “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28), and this oneness should be expressed in different local ways (as it always was), all united by the one faith in Christ.

Instead of us using this post to criticise countless examples of this heresy in the modern day, I thought we could instead try to briefly examine reasons for this. Not justifications, as there are non, but rather why has it become like this?

If we look upon traditionally Orthodox states like Serbia, Greece, Russia, Ukraine and Romania, we see a pattern. At some point in its history the last 500 years, the once formally Christian state became enslaved under Ottoman Muslim and/or Communist yoke. This ment persecution of not only the Church, but any culture that was in some ways tied to Christianity and to the Church. And let us be honest, most culture and history of these states was always, for good and bad, tied to Christianity. Because of this persecution, the lines between traditional national folk culture and Christianity became blurred. Why? Because the persecuted Christians fought to preserve both at once. Therefore, in many ways, the lines that separated Christianity and local nationalistic culture, disappeared. The Church became the defender of the faith and of old national culture. The Church became a vessel for national culture. We can observe a similar situation among Polish Catholics or Ukrainian Greek Catholic Uniates, whose church structures both became bearers of their national identity and culture in time of persecution.

Now, this is not always automatically wrong as a lot of old nationalistic culture was closely tied to Christianity – however here, it often became one and the same.

Orthodox bishop in vestments made to look like the Serbian flag.

This was quickly adopted by the simple and theologically uneducated people and up until today this is the case. The local Serbian (or any other for that matter) parish in the diaspora is in the eyes of many of its faithful the bearer of language, national history and culture – and after that of the Orthodox faith.

I once heard a story about an Irishman who found Orthodoxy and travelled to Serbia where he visited holy places and eventually got baptised. On the train back from the Balkans he met a Serb. They started speaking and the Irishman told him that he had been in Serbia and was baptised, thus he said, “I became Orthodox”. The Serbian man looked at him and said, “No, you became a Serb”. This story is of course a bit comical, however it also reveals the tragic reality of things.

In the diaspora, the Orthodox people often associate their parish with a bearer of their culture from the old country. This is in itself not always wrong. However, when the mission of bishops and priests in the diaspora becomes to first and foremost preserve a language or a nationalistic mindset, rather than spreading the faith and being open to everyone, that’s when we are dealing with the above mentioned heresy of phyletism.

A potential convert to Orthodoxy should not be required to also accept and adopt all nationalistic views of some of the people in his local church. One should be able to be himself in as much as he is in Christ. We are not saved by a veneration of a long gone monarchy, a fallen empire or a land taken away from us by the enemy – rather we are saved by our faith in Christ who through His Church makes us all one, all members of His Body. An appreciation of our pious history can be a means and help in our spiritual life, never a goal in itself.

Let us love our countries, be patriots and follow what Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine Onuphry teaches us, namely that nationalism breeds division, while true patriotism is manifested in love of God and others, especially those who are different than us!

Christ Himself as the liturgical authority in the earliest Christian Church

Take, eat; this is my body…

The first and the supreme liturgical authority in the Church is Christ Himself when He establishes the Holy Eucharist during the last supper, as recorded in the Gospels[1]. Christ passed this authority on to His Apostles when He commanded them to teach, giving them the power to teach[2] and to feed His flock. In the Epistles and Acts of the Apostles, we read how His disciples in many ways adapted what they had received from Christ to their local context and circumstances[3].

The earliest Church, Christian communities usually meeting in hiding, gathered around the breaking of the bread, which was seen as the manifestation of the risen Christ Himself[4]. St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives witness to an early account of the liturgical tradition of the early Church in the Apostolic period. The Eucharist, the breaking of the bread, was the essential and common factor between the various communities; it was the heart and centrepiece of liturgical life, and everything else revolved around this. This means, as Skcrincosky argues, that “they [the Apostles] adjusted and adapted to inherited foundations of divine cult to local circumstances”[5], allowing for differences in worship, as long as the key and central part, the Eucharist (breaking of the bread) and what they saw as the orthodox faith was intact. These communities were one in faith; they made up what was the Church. These times were long before the canon of the New Testament had been established, and so their oneness in faith revolved mostly around the resurrection of Christ and faith in Christ as the Messiah of Israel, as foretold in the Old Testament.

The supreme authority which came from Christ Himself, was later passed on to the apostles and their successors, the bishops. Already in the earliest times of the Church, small variations in how the worship took place developed, the first and minor glimpses of what we today consider different rites[6] could be seen. This means that with the authority given by Christ, the Apostles and their disciples started to develop liturgical rites.

It is with this knowledge we can proclaim that the liturgy, the celebration of the Eucharist, came directly from Christ and his disciples. Any accusations attacking the liturgical practices of the Orthodox Church as being unchristian or human inventions, are de facto an attack against the Lord Himself who said to “do this in remembrance of me…” (Luke 22:19).


[1] Matt. 26:17-30, Mark 4:12-26, Luke 22:7-21

[2] Matt. 28:18

[3] Acts 2:46, 1Cor. 11:23;

Cf. Skcrincosky, Peter. The liturgical legislator in the Ukrainian Church, PIO, Rome, 1963, p. 15-16.

[4] Luke 24:30-35

[5] Skcrincosky, The liturgical legislator… pp. 15-16

[6] Even if we must state that at this time in history, there were barely any “rites” to speak of, as understood from today’s definition of a rite.

Nature – a Holy gift from God

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1)

St. Theophan the Recluse writes that one of our bondages, is imposed on our spirit by the world, “with its ideas, principles, rules, and in general, with all its order, which has been elevated to the status of an unalterable law”[1]. He speaks about this world as “created by our thoughts; they are imaginary, not real or physical”[2]. For this reason, we who want and must get free from this bondage, should dispel this imaginary authority of the world imposed on us, breaking the fetters of this world. To accomplish this, he writes that God has given us two other worlds, which are holy and divine – nature around us and the Church of God.

By contemplating God’s creation, we become sober. Likewise, when we enter a church, we become sober – as if awakening from a long sleep or state of drunkenness.  The Saint writes: “One man in winter looked at the tree that stood in front of his window and came to himself”[3]. Same stories can be retold about people entering a church and having such a moment of clarity, becoming sober and free from the bondage of this imaginary world, instead realising the ultimate reality as created by God.

When I visited Diveevo monastery in the late summer of 2019, I felt this. The visible nature and the Church, as joined into one, absolute and ultimate reality. There is a lot to be said about monks leaving the world and heading into desserts and forests to contemplate God, to be close to the Creator of everything. The inner peace and communion with God that a man feels in such environment is beyond words, it has to be experienced, even if for a short while as I did.

Diveevo Monastery

The early Christians in Rus would pray towards the sun, seeing it as the light of Christ. This might sound pagan, and surely it has roots in Paganism. However, when we look upon nature and see it as the creation of God given to us as a gift, for our salvation, everything in this nature becomes holy, holy in the correct way, leading to God. “Visible nature and the Church of God have not only brought to their senses and sobered careless and sinful Christians, but they have even turned pagans towards the true knowledge of God and true worship of Him”[4].

Just as fasting and prayer, so nature is given to us as a gift. A gift to sober our minds and turn towards the Creator of everything, a gift that can “dispel the charms of this vain and greatly alluring world”[5].

St. Theophan the Recluse

[1] Theophan the Recluse, “Turning the heart to God”, p. 28

[2] ibid

[3] Ibid, p. 29

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, p. 30