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Reference: Answers to commonly asked Questions...

Fr. George

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I thought it would be helpful if we had a thread here that listed some of the commonly asked questions posed by Protestants (of various denominations) to Orthodox, and some of the answers that we think have/will best work(ed) to respond to them.

Have at it!
 
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Q: "Why do you use a book to pray at night?"

A: We believe in both personally creative and personally adopted prayers, that is to say my own prayers as well as the prayers of the saints.  The prayer book is a collection of the heartfelt cries of Christians throughout this Era and are directly applicable to my life and acquiring a greater desire for unity with God and experiencing the transformation of the Grace of the Holy Spirit.  There is room for instantly-inspired creative prayer under the discretion of one's spiritual father who is a pastor and priest.  While there is a lot of reading books to pray, we make it our prayer and intersperse my private prayers according to the regular prayer rule established through the relationship between myself and my spiritual father.

My prayer rule is to teach me to pray through Christ and to pray without ceasing to him.  It is for times of joy and sorrow, excitement and boredom, morning and evening.  In short, it is the prayers that can be drawn on at all times, in any situation, without so much as a doubt.  It will enable the appropriate prayer to this vast and diverse world.
 

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Worshiping to a relic in Old Testament:
"I worship toward thy holy temple." (KJV psalm 5:7) (or: I will bow down toward your holy temple")

 

Asteriktos

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What evidence is there for guardian and ministering angels?

Perhaps the most famous passages regarding guardian or ministering angels are from the Gospels, in the story of the temptation of Jesus. During the second temptation the Devil tries to twist Scripture, and quotes a passage from the Psalms which speaks of angels protecting people (Ps. 91:10-12). Jesus does not say that the Psalm is wrong about ministering angels, but simply side steps the Devil’s attempt to tempt him. That the quoted Psalm was actually correct in what it said about angels is confirmed by the end of the temptation story, where we read about angels ministering to Jesus (Matt. 4:11; Mk. 1:13).

But perhaps the Psalm was merely a prophecy, and the ministering angels in the story were a special case? There are other Scriptural passages which show that this is not the case. We find the following in Hebrews, for example: “But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb. 1:13-14) And in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus explicitly speaks of the relationship between angels and people: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:10)

We also find evidence of angels praying for people, and protecting them, in various Old Testament passages. For example, in Zechariah an "angel of the Lord" prayed to God: "Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah...?" (Zec. 1:12) In the book of Judith an angel is spoke of as protecting Judith (Judith 13:20), and the three youths are also protected by an angel of the Lord (Dan. 3:49-50). But perhaps the clearest evidence is found in Tobit, where the Archangel Raphael says:

"I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner in order to go and bury the dead, I was sent to put you to the test. At the same time, however, God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord." (Tob. 12:12-15)

Understandably, some of these quotations may not be fully accepted by a Protestant because they are from deuterocanonical texts. However, leaving aside the canonicity question, at the very least these deuterocanonical quotes support the idea that the Jews of the time accepted the idea of ministering or guardian angels.
 

Asteriktos

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Why do the Orthodox pray to the Dead?

The Orthodox believe, based on the Scripture and witness of Christians throughout the centuries, that people who have passed on are not dead in the sense of being asleep or unconscious, but rather are awake and conscious. We find evidence of this in Jewish writings in the centuries before the coming of Christ (2 Macc. 15:11-14), and we also find evidence in the New Testament. For example, there is this passage in the book of Revelation:

"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." (Rev. 6:9-11; cf Rev. 7:9-17; 8:3-4)

In this text we get a glimpse of a heaven where the saints are very much alive and able to communicate with God. So when Scripture teaches that "neither death nor life will be able to separate us from the love of God," (Rom. 8:38-39; cf Rom. 14:8-9) we can trust that death does not seperate us from experiencing that love in a real, unbroken way. Thus the Church sees death not just as an end, but also as a beginning: for it is a new birthday, the birth into life everlasting. (cf Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, 18)

However, even supposing that some of those who have passed on are alive in heaven, a Protestant might still ask: why should we pray to them? why not pray to God alone? Perhaps the simplest answer is that Christians are connected to one another, individual cells in the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12; etc.) It is perfectly natural, therefore, due to this kinship and connection, to ask for people to pray to God on your behalf; and indeed the Scripture mentions intercessory prayer frequently (Rom. 15:30; Eph. 1:16; 1 Thes. 5:25; 2 Thes. 3:1; etc.)  The difference is that the Orthodox Church knows that this ability to intercede for us doesn’t necessarily end when someone passes on.

It is not unexpected, then, that we find inscriptions at Christian burial sites all the way back to the 1st century asking for prayers from those who had passed on. (see here for some references). We also find this practice mentioned by some early Christians, such as St. Clement of Alexandria, who says of the Christian that he prays: “in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]." (Miscellanies 7, 12) And we find in the works or Origen the following: "not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels...as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep" (Prayer 11)

In the fourth century and afterwards, as writings on doctrinal matters increased, there was naturally an increase of Christians who spoke of this practice, such as St. Methodius of Olympus (Oration on Simeon and Anna, 14), St. Gregory of Nyssa (Encomium to Martyr Theodore), St. Gregory the Theologian (Oration 18, 4), St. Basil the Great (Letter 360), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures 23, 9), St. Augustine (Tractate 84 on John), St. John Chrysostom (Homily 26 on Second Corinthians), etc.
 

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Isn’t monasticism contrary to the Great Commission?

Many wonder if monasticism doesn’t violate the missionary principle that is important in Christianity. For example, Jesus left us with these words:

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

And then there is this, from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)

The important thing to remember about these passages is that they are not necessarily applicable to everyone. Not everyone is goint to be baptizing, not everyone teaching, and so forth. Everyone has a different role to fill in the body of Christ, and that role does not always involve going out and evangelizing. Thus Paul says:

“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. “ (Rom. 12:4-8)

And again in First Corinthians:

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:4-12; cf Eph. 4:11-12)

It is not just type of ministry or gift that varies from person to person, however, but even personal details such as marital status. So St. Paul says:

“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I… He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:8, 31)

St. Paul is not insisting that people go by this guideline of his, however. For those who are called to do so, they can follow it. For those who can’t, they are not expected nor wanted to do so. Jesus himself said much the same on the topic: “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given” (Matt. 19:11)  

Monasticism, then, is a calling of God, and is an attempt to most fully live out the words of Jesus Christ: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.“ (Matt. 19:21; cf Mk. 10:21)  It is also an attempt to most fully live out the words of Paul: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). Monasticism, then, is an attempt to live for God, abandoning the acquisition of riches and fame, and focusing on prayer and humility.

However, it still have to be said that, in a sense, monastics do evangelize, just not always through public orations. When a person visits a monastic, this person often takes what they receive out into the world and spread it. And while we like to think of evanglization as a verbal or written practice, prayer also is an important element of evangelization: for sometimes prayers for someone can be more important than writing to them or talking to them.
 

Achronos

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Great thread and excellent contributions Asteriktos. I liked the monasticsm bit ALOT.
 

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Asteriktos

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Why is the Orthodox Church hierarchical?

While there are a lot of disagreements about particular points, I think the following touches on some important reasons that the Orthodox Church has a hierarchical structure. First, there is the work of Jesus himself. He chose twelve specific disciples to have an elevated role in the early Church (Matt. 10:1-4; 28:16-20; Mark 3:12-19; Lk. 6:13-16; 9:1-2; etc.). Of these apostles he chose three in particular to have a closer relationship  (Matt. 17:1-9; 26:37; Mk. 5:37). Our Lord Jesus said that he had founded a Church (Matt. 16:18-19), even if there is some disagreement on what and/or who he founded it on. Jesus also said that Christians would be bound to follow the leaders of this Church (Matt. 18:17-18; Jn. 20:23; cf Heb. 13:7, 17).

The apostles and a few others willingly took on leadership roles in the early Church, for instance replacing the fallen apostle with another (Acts 1:15-26). choosing seven deacons to minister to the Church (Acts 6:2-6), etc. Obviously they could not run everything from one location, especially with missionary work being so prominent; thus whenever they traveled they appointed specific people to be the leaders in that area: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee" (Tit. 1:5; cf 1 Cor. 7:17). Guidelines were even established for choosing who could be a leader (e.g., 1 Tim 3). Even St. Paul, who had the gospel taught to him by special revelation (Gal. 1:12), decided that he needed to go and talk with the Christian leaders in Jerusalem to  make sure he was in doctrinal agreement with, and accepted by, the apostles (Gal. 1:11-12, 17-19; 2:1-10).

We find this hierarchical system continuing through the early centuries of Church life. For example, St. Clement of Rome, writing at the end of the first century, said:

The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith...

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ, in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties.

-- St. Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 42-44
And about a decade after that we find the following in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

-- St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrneans, 8
Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Do all then, imitating the same divine conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbour after the flesh, but continually love each other in Jesus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality.

-- St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, 6
In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. Concerning all this, I am persuaded that you are of the same opinion.

-- St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians, 3
At the end of the second century we find the following in the work Against Heresies by St. Irenaeus:

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to the perfect apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

-- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3, 3
Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth.

-- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4, 26
True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].

-- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4, 33
The church hierarchy was thus not the invention of Emperor Constantine, or even the creation of Christians during the reign of St. Constantine, but was present (in some fashion) from the beginning. God chose to work through a hierarchical system in the centuries leading up the the times of Jesus Christ (as seen in the Old Testament), and God also chose to use such a system in forming the Church.
 

Asteriktos

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How can you say that the sacraments are anything more than symbolic acts?

Many modern-day Protestants wonder if sacraments are not merely the outward expression of an inward faith or activity. Obviously the Orthodox Church would answer that the sacraments--or mysteries--are much more than that.  But before looking at the evidence for that being true of specific sacraments, it might be better to start out with something more basic: that God uses the world--in all it’s glorious materiality--to bring about His will.

In the Gospel of Mark, for example, Jesus used spit to help heal blindness (Mk. 8:22-26). And in the Gospel of John it is spit, dirt and water which are all used: “When [Jesus] had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. “ (Jn. 9:6-7)  So to was there a woman who was sick for twelve years who was healed not just by faith, but by putting that faith into action. It was not just by having faith that God healed her, but when she “came behind [Jesus], and touched the order of his garment” (Lk. 8:43-44) And it was said that, through the work of an angel of God, the water in the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem sometimes had healing powers (Jn. 5:2-4)

Other Scriptural examples of God working through the material world would include Paul’s handkerchiefs healing people of bodily and demonic illnesses (Acts 19:11-12), and when the bones of Elisha resurrected a man (2 Kings 13:20-21)

Humanity itself, also, can be included in this. For while people have a soul and spirit, they also have a body, and use that body to help them think, communicate and act. Thus when God saves people through the prayers, preaching, teaching, etc. of people (cf 1 Tim. 4:16; James 5:19-20; Rom. 11:13-14; etc.), this work is facilitated, to at least some extent, through the use of plain old matter.

Thus God does not just focus on some nebulous, abstract “faith,” but makes use of other aspects of his creation to bring about His will, including things that are concrete and common, or even quite coarse. Now, as for the actual sacraments mentioned in Scripture, the two most prominent ones are baptism and the eucharist.

For various reasons, God chose the practice of baptism as a way of incorporating people in the body body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Thus Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus commanded the Church to baptize (Matt. 28:19), and the book of Acts repeatedly mentions the early Church baptizing people who wished to convert (Acts 2:38-41; 8:5-12; 10:48; 18:7-8; 22:16; etc.). Baptism was more than just a sign of conversion, however, but also according to Scripture has a part to play in the life in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27), and even ultimately has a part to play in the salvation of most Christians (Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:17-22).

The eucharist is also an act that has importance in itself, not merely as an activity participated in because of faith, but as a grace-bestowing thing in itself. For the Orthodox, the Gospel passages mentioning the last supper (Mt. 26:20-29; Mk. 14:17-31; Lk. 22:14-31) seem clear: “this is my body” and “this is my blood” are to be taken literally, though admittedly how it becomes the body and blood is a mystery. Thus our Lord, speaking of the eucharist to come afterwards, said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53). This offended many of his followers, who left him because of this idea (Jn. 6:59-66). Jesus didn’t go running after them, however, saying “No! I was speaking metaphorically!” Jesus knew that the concept would be off-putting, especially to Jews, but he didn‘t back down, or soften his words.

The other prominent passages dealing with the eucharist are found in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It is true that in this work St. Paul says that communion serves as a rememberance and proclamation of the death of Jesus (1 Cor. 11:23-26). This purpose of this sacrament is more than that, though, for through a mystery it unites the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17; Eph. 5:30), and to partake of the eucharist frivolously was a very serious offense (1 Cor. 11:27-30). St. Paul even went so far as to say that: “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body” (1 Cor. 11:29)

We find similar words about the importance and grace of the sacraments in the early Christian writings. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 107 CE), for example, called the eucharist the "medicine of immortality" (Epistle to the Ephesians, 20; cf Epistle to the Romans, 7), and says of heretics: "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes." (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 7)

St. Justin Martyr (d. c. 165 CE) also spoke explicitly of the eucharist:

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

-- St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66
And there was also St. Irenaeus (d. 202 CE), who said:

But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body...

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?— even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Eph. 5:30)

-- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5, 2, 2-3
 

Asteriktos

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What about infant baptism?

As a follow-up to the question about sacraments, it might be asked why the Orthodox baptize (and also chrismate and commune) infants. Don’t you have to have faith and believe in God before you get baptized? What good does it do an infant? And what happens if an infant doesn’t get baptized?

The explicit evidence for infant baptism in the New Testament is somewhat underwhelming, but there are some passages pointing to the practice being in place. The book of Acts, for example, records that the households of Lydia (Acts 16:15)  and a jailor (Acts 16:33) had their families baptized. Paul also mentions that he baptized “the household of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1:16). However, these passages are obviously weak on their own: after all, while it is very unlikely that all three households had no children, it’s not impossible.

We also find another clue in the epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, in which Paul speaks of baptism as the “circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:9-12). Thus does St. Paul makes explicit to the Gentiles that which must have been blatantly obvious to Jewish Christians at the time: Christian baptism is a replacement for Jewish circumcision. Both are used to signify the beginning of a relationship between a person and the people of God on earth, and both are used to signify that a relationship between the person and God should be developed. And the relevant bit, of course, is that circumcision was performed on infants. (Gen. 17:9-13) So, while this is obviously not a proof text for infant baptism, it does add piece to the puzzle being put together.

Another piece that we need to have in place is the fact that someone does not have to have faith, or even understand or be aware of what is going on, for God’s grace to be effectual. Regarding the former, all converts should be acutely aware of this point, for it is God’s grace which leads us to Him even when we do not believe (1 Tim. 1:12-14). As for the latter point, we find it said in Rom. 9:16 that God’s compassion does not depend on human desire or effort, but rather “on God’s mercy”. That is to say, grace does not come because we say a sinners prayer, or even because we dunk someone under water: no, God’s grace comes because he wants to bestow it.

This is important to remember because it reminds us that the sacraments are not magical, as though our words or actions forces God to give us grace. God is the one who decides whether or not to give the grace, and our sacraments are more like prayerful requests to him. Thankfully God wants us to be spiritually healed and for all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9), and so grants our request when we, following His will, ask in faith and love. It is also important because it shows that even if someone is in a coma, or mentally handicapped, or an infant, and cannot desire or ask for grace, God can and will still give it.

Another question is what happens if a person is not baptized (or in this case, if an infant is not baptized)? If baptism saves, then are infants not baptized destined for hell? In my opinion they are not destined for hell. Yet how can that be, if baptism saves? The answer is in how we speak of salvation. For the Orthodox, salvation is a process, and baptism is one part of that process. An important part, yes, and baptism does have a salvific element to it, but not to the extent that not getting baptized automatically damns you. (I'm planning on making a post on the thread about salvation, and will hopefully expand on the point then). Also, damnation comes from, and is itself a state of, a willfull separation from God, either from outright rejection of God, or rejection of His truth, or rejection of His way (Jn. 3:18-19; Rom. 2:7-9; 6:23; etc.)  Infants, however, cannot be guilty of any of these things, and so have nothing to be condemned for (I am also assuming here that they are not judged as having some guilt because of the original sin, but I’ll give my thoughts on that in another post).
 

Asteriktos

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Do the Orthodox teach salvation through works?

The first question is: what are we saved from? Orthodoxy teaches that we were made in the image and after the likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), but that we fell from grace through disobedience (Gen. 3; Rom. 5). This caused separation between man and God, and it is this separation that needed to be overcome. God healed this separation, and gives us all the opportunity and the grace to accept the healing, but we must do our part. When we speak of salvation, we are speaking of that healing.

This process of salvation is like gold being burned in a furnace, with the impurities being melted away (Wis. 3:1-6; cf 1 Pet. 1:6-7; Ps. 66:10). Thus the Orthodox don’t save “we are saved,” but rather: we were saved (Tit. 3:5), we are being saved (Phil. 2:12), and we hope yet to be saved (Rom. 11:22; 1 Jn. 2:24-25). Past, present, and future. This is done in cooperation with God, with us being "labourers together with God" (1 Cor. 3:9) and “workers together with him“ (2 Cor. 6:1). However, if we reject the process of salvation (Ps. 10:4; 36:1; 66:18; Jn. 3:18-19; Rom. 1:18-32; 2:7-9; 6:23), we will face God’s judgment (Mk. 3:9; Jn. 5:29; Rom. 5:9; 13:2). Thankfully God always tries to help us (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9), and is always close at hand and ready if we are willing (Ps. 16:8; 34:18; 119:151; Ps. 145:18; James 3:8; etc.).

In Orthodox thought, all good is based in God, so that whatever we might say about cooperating with god or doing good works or using free will, it is all possible only because of God. So James says: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). John the Baptist echoes this, saying: "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven" (John 3:27; cf Tob. 4:19) And Jesus Himself said: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (Jn. 6:44) Even our good intentions to do good works are a gift from God, as Paul said: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13)

A significant step in bridging the gulf that existed between humanity came through the work of Jesus Christ, his birth (Rom. 8:1-6; Phil. 2:5-7; 1 Tim. 3:16), life (Is. 55:4; Jn. 3:11; 8:14; 18:37), death (Rom. 5:6; 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2), and resurrection (Acts 2:24; 4:33; 17:2-3; Rom. 1:4; 14:9; 1 Pet. 1:3). Another step was the coming of the Holy Spirit, (Acts 1:8; Jn. 14:26; Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:6; 1 Jn. 2:27), Who has stayed with us for nearly two thousand years.

God having done His part, and given us the grace to cooperate with Him (Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:24; 5:15; Tit. 2:11; 3:7), we must now have faith, and accept, and desire, and believe in God (Rom. 5:1; 10:9; Gal. 3:6; Phil. 3:9; etc.). And so to will we do what God wants us to do, because we love him (Jn. 14:21). We do good deeds not because we think we can work our way into heaven, but rather as a "labour of love" (1 Thes. 1:3; 2 Thes. 1:11; Heb. 6:10). Yet these works are not simply fruit, but also help us move further along in the process. And on judgment day, we will be judged at least partially by these deeds (Mt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 20:12; 22:12)

This process of salvation is best pursued in the body of Christ (Rom. 12:1-8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 1:23; 7:4-13; Col. 2:18-19; Eph. 5; etc.), where we can best and more effectively cultivating virtues, partake of sacraments, pray for one another, receive guidance, participate in corporate worship of God, and so forth. Though this process of the healing of our soul (cf Mk. 2:16-17; Matt. 9:11-13; Lk. 5:30-32), the damage done to us at the fall of humanity is repaired, and we ever increasingly are “partakers of the divine nature“ (2 Pet. 1:4; cf Ps. 81:6; Jn. 10:34-36), for all eternity.
 

Volnutt

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Thanks for that one.
 

Asteriktos

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Why all the fixed prayers in Orthodoxy?

The Orthodox Church uses fixed prayers for a variety of reasons. First, fixed prayers such as the Psalms have long been a part of Christian prayer life, dating back to the New Testament times (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; James 5:13), and we also see biblical evidence for continuing the practice of praying at appointed hours (Acts 3:1; 10:9, 30). Second, Jesus Himself, in responding to the Apostles request to be taught how to pray (Lk. 11:1), gave a fixed prayer, saying “This, then, is how you should pray,” and then proceeding to give us the Our Father (Matt. 6:9-13; Lk. 11:2-4).

The reason that this is beneficial is that it cuts out some potential for self-willed prayer. Many Orthodox prayers come down to usfrom holy men, and the prayers have been tested and sanctified by use throughout the centuries. What we have in prayer books are not a random collection of prayers randomly selected. No, the Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has selected specific prayers because they help guide us towards truths about God and His creation. This is not to say that there are not sometimes issues, only that the Church in it’s collective wisdom is a better discerner of how to best pray to God than we are as individuals. Thus using fixed prayers is also an exercise in foundational Christian virtues such as humility and obedience.

Fixed prayers also connects people of various cultures, nationalities, geographic locations, and languages. True, any prayers could unite the body of Christ, so long as they were sincere. But using prayers known across boundaries of culture, language, etc. has a practical as well as spiritual benefit. So to with the liturgies, while there are some variations, and changes occur over the centuries, yet there is also a great deal of consistency from one year to the next. The Apostles didn’t switch worship styles based on popular opinion, and neither do the Orthodox. Thus the Orthodox continued the style of worship that they had received, ie. liturgical worship (Acts. 13:2), they established customs to be kept (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:2, 20-30), and as St. Paul put it: "Let all things be done decently and in order." (1 Cor. 14:40)

Of course, one problem that Protestants often have when they first explore Orthodoxy prayer and worship is the use of repetition. After all, did not Jesus say: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matt. 6:7; cf Eccl. 5:2)? They key word here is “vain,” however. Not all repetitions are vain, as we can clearly see from other Scriptural passages. In the Psalms we often see repetitions, sometimes of subject material (e.g. Ps. 119), and sometimes through using a refrain, such as when Ps. 136 finished every verse with: “for his mercy endureth for ever”. We should also remember that St. Paul spoke of the idea that we could “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17), which clearly would require some repetition, no matter how creative you were. And perhaps most importantly, Jesus Himself repeated his prayers on the night of His betrayal (Matt 26:37-45; Mk 14:33-42).
 

JR

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Asteriktos said:
Why all the fixed prayers in Orthodoxy?

The Orthodox Church uses fixed prayers for a variety of reasons. First, fixed prayers such as the Psalms have long been a part of Christian prayer life, dating back to the New Testament times (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; James 5:13), and we also see biblical evidence for continuing the practice of praying at appointed hours (Acts 3:1; 10:9, 30). Second, Jesus Himself, in responding to the Apostles request to be taught how to pray (Lk. 11:1), gave a fixed prayer, saying “This, then, is how you should pray,” and then proceeding to give us the Our Father (Matt. 6:9-13; Lk. 11:2-4).

The reason that this is beneficial is that it cuts out some potential for self-willed prayer. Many Orthodox prayers come down to usfrom holy men, and the prayers have been tested and sanctified by use throughout the centuries. What we have in prayer books are not a random collection of prayers randomly selected. No, the Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has selected specific prayers because they help guide us towards truths about God and His creation. This is not to say that there are not sometimes issues, only that the Church in it’s collective wisdom is a better discerner of how to best pray to God than we are as individuals. Thus using fixed prayers is also an exercise in foundational Christian virtues such as humility and obedience.

Fixed prayers also connects people of various cultures, nationalities, geographic locations, and languages. True, any prayers could unite the body of Christ, so long as they were sincere. But using prayers known across boundaries of culture, language, etc. has a practical as well as spiritual benefit. So to with the liturgies, while there are some variations, and changes occur over the centuries, yet there is also a great deal of consistency from one year to the next. The Apostles didn’t switch worship styles based on popular opinion, and neither do the Orthodox. Thus the Orthodox continued the style of worship that they had received, ie. liturgical worship (Acts. 13:2), they established customs to be kept (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:2, 20-30), and as St. Paul put it: "Let all things be done decently and in order." (1 Cor. 14:40)

Of course, one problem that Protestants often have when they first explore Orthodoxy prayer and worship is the use of repetition. After all, did not Jesus say: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matt. 6:7; cf Eccl. 5:2)? They key word here is “vain,” however. Not all repetitions are vain, as we can clearly see from other Scriptural passages. In the Psalms we often see repetitions, sometimes of subject material (e.g. Ps. 119), and sometimes through using a refrain, such as when Ps. 136 finished every verse with: “for his mercy endureth for ever”. We should also remember that St. Paul spoke of the idea that we could “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17), which clearly would require some repetition, no matter how creative you were. And perhaps most importantly, Jesus Himself repeated his prayers on the night of His betrayal (Matt 26:37-45; Mk 14:33-42).
so do the orthodox also use personal pray? as well as fixed prayers.
 

Asteriktos

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Some do and some don't. It's certainly permissable, and good to do... but various factors play into it, and it'll be different for each person. However, unless you are given an exact prayer rule by a priest, the prayers you select to say, even if they are from a prayer book or something, still show autonomy. If choose to pray Vespers instead of an akathist, for example, you've made a personal choice about the prayers. Or you might decide to just do spontaneous prayers intead of either vespers or an akathist. Or you might do the Jesus prayer, but maybe 10 minutes a day whereas someone else prays it 20 minutes a day. It all depends on the person...
 

Asteriktos

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With school starting back up next week I'm not sure how much time (or inclination) I'll have to write posts for this thread. Not for a while, anyway. But fwiw, in case anyone wants an idea, here are the topics I still have on a list that I was going to write about...

- Didn't Emperor Constantine invent the trinity? Where does the Bible talk about Jesus or the Holy Spirit being God?
- What do the Orthodox believe about the fall and original sin?
- Does humanity have free-will?
- Do the Orthodox take the Bible literally?
- Why do the Orthodox cross themselves?
- Why haven't there been any recent ecumenical councils?
- Why do you call Mary the mother of God?
- Why do the Orthodox fast so much?
- Do the Orthodox follow the traditions of men?
- Aren't icons idolatrous?
- Which is most important: Bible, Church, or Tradition?
- What happens to the non-Orthodox on judgment day?
- Why do you pray for those who have passed on?
- If people are awake in the afterlife as you claim, can they repent and go from being damned to being saved?

 

JR

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Asteriktos said:
With school starting back up next week I'm not sure how much time (or inclination) I'll have to write posts for this thread. Not for a while, anyway. But fwiw, in case anyone wants an idea, here are the topics I still have on a list that I was going to write about...

- Didn't Emperor Constantine invent the trinity? Where does the Bible talk about Jesus or the Holy Spirit being God?
- What do the Orthodox believe about the fall and original sin?
- Does humanity have free-will?
- Do the Orthodox take the Bible literally?
- Why do the Orthodox cross themselves?
- Why haven't there been any recent ecumenical councils?
- Why do you call Mary the mother of God?
- Why do the Orthodox fast so much?
- Do the Orthodox follow the traditions of men?
- Aren't icons idolatrous?
- Which is most important: Bible, Church, or Tradition?
- What happens to the non-Orthodox on judgment day?
- Why do you pray for those who have passed on?
- If people are awake in the afterlife as you claim, can they repent and go from being damned to being saved?
Looking forward to reading those
 

IsmiLiora

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Asteriktos, I bow down to your greatness! I will definitely be reading those when you get the chance to write them.
 

Fabio Leite

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Could we add topics with questions from Roman Catholics?

- Why do you reject the Pope?

- Wasn't it Miguel Cerularius who created your church in 1054?

- Why do you cross yourselves backwards?

- What's your take on the Virgin Mary? We have learned her conception is Immaculate from you. Did you stop believing it just to contradict us?

- Isn't the fact that you didn't have any other council after the 7th an implicit recognition that you need the Pope to have a proper council?

- Many Greek Fathers acknowledged the Supremacy of the Pope. Why don't you?

- Filioque is just a tiny word that has an Orthodox sense. Why can't you simply accept it?

- Byzantium dropped Latin, addopted Greek and became hellenized. How can it even claim to be Roman?

- The history of Byzantium is one of slow albeit continuous decay, while the history of the West is one of ascension. Even today, most Orthodox countries are poorer and weaker than Western ones. Doesn't that prove that God's favour is with us and therefore our theology is right and yours wrong?

- Why don't you accept reason and philosophy (Scholaticism in particular) and stick to mysticism only? Why isn't there any Orthodox philosophical tradition? Don't you feel you miss something?

- Isn't the plethora of jurisdictions proof that you lack unity and therefore are not the One Church of the Creed?

- With no Pope or Magisterium there are no official pronouncements of teachings from the Orthodox Church. Each bishop, each theologian speaks for himself only. Again, does that not prove a lack of unity?

- Our Lady in Fatima asked to consacrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart to prevent Russia from spreading its errors to the world. Isn't Orthodoxy included among these?

- The rise of Communism and the Soviet Regime in Russia is another proof that Orthodoxy cannot stand against the gates of Hell - a promise made to Peter and therefore to his successors, the popes. It took the action of a pope, John Paul II, to defeat Communism, therefore the true Church, Rome, resisted the gates of Hell. What say you about this?

- The incorrupt bodies of the Roman saints are much better preserved than the incorrupt saints of the Orthodox Church. All the well preserved Orthodox Saints are from the pre-schism period. In fact, post-schism "incorrupt" Orthodox saints are proven to be just cases of natural mumification. Doesn't that prove that the fullness of the Church is with Rome only?

- In Rome we have miracles such as the immediate growth of entire limbs. There are no such miracles in Orthodoxy. What say you about this?

- There are several and miraculous Roman saints after the schism. Why don't you accept them?

- Why don't you use statues or post-byzantine style paintings? Isn't the lack of formal and dogmatic development another proof that the Orthodox Church is dead?
 

Asteriktos

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Do the Orthodox follow the traditions of men?

Jesus rebukes Pharisees a number of times for placing the traditions of men over the will of God (Matt. 15:3; cf Mk. 7:8 ). Sts. Paul and Peter do as well (Col. 2:8; Tit. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:18) Yet to take these verses in isolation, without considering them in the context of the rest of Scripture, would be a mistake. I would argue that these verses don't condemn all traditions of men, but only those that lead someone away from God.

However, before we can speak of traditions we need to speak of authority--that is, who can come up with these traditions? I think anyone can be part of a new tradition (or new take on an old tradition) starting, but only certain people have the authority to validate it. All in the Church are cells in the theanthropic body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12), "church of the living God, the pillar and ground of fruth" (I Tim. 3:15). Yet it is the apostles and prophets who are the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). It is true that, ideally, we would all have one mind in Christ (1 Cor. 2:16; cf Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 4:1), but things are rarely ideal.

That's why there are specifically appointed leaders in the Church, who act in times when decisions must be made (Acts 15, 21). Even Paul, for all his boldness, went at first only to the leaders of the early Church when wishing to converse on things of faith (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:1-10). St. Paul even went so far to say that: "I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain." (Gal. 2:2)  Thus even someone given the Gospel and revelations by God thought it necessary to check with the Church to make sure he was on the right course.

Jesus Christ spoke of this authority when he said, in the Gospel of John: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." (Jn. 22:23)  So to do we find mentions of this authority in the rest of the New Testament, such as when the author of Hebrews said: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Heb. 13:17)

It is with this authority that the Church can validate that a tradition is godly, though this is not always done explicitly. Often a tacit acceptance is enough. And if the tradition leads the flock astray, the Church deals with it, modifying or abolishing the tradition. Since the early days the Church kept to customs and ordinances (1 Cor. 11:2; 1 Cor. 11:16), and Paul even seems to link faithfulness to traditions with salvation: "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,  Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work." (2 Thes. 2:14-17)

St. John Chrysostom, commenting on this passages, says that: "it is clear that they did not deliver all things by epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit." (Homily 4 on Second Thessalonians)

As St. Vincent of Lerins and others have observed, tradition also serves the role of helping people avoid inaccurate interpretations of Scripture. However, tradition does not provide an infallible protection in this role, but rather is part of a system of checks and balances that works, over the course of time and through many different people and mechanisms, to sift the sands of thought and practice so that only the real and helpful and truthful remain.

In this way, tradition is a living out of Scripture, and Scripture is a manifestation of tradition. Tradition is the passing on of, and a manifestation of, that which is Godly. And we do not merely follow tradition, but rather we are a part of tradition ourselves, being the most recent link in a chain that stretches back nearly twenty centuries. Tradition is not dead, but living--it lives in us each moment, moving through time. Nor is tradition rigid or confining--unless the will of God requires rigidity or boundaries to be set.

With that in mind, even the most recent practice or modification in Orthodoxy, if it is not against the will of God, may be a new piece of fruit on the living tree called Tradition. Tradition is not simply the past or ancient fruit, then, but the fruit from all ages which has been beneficial for salvation, produced from the tree that God planted on earth, his Church. Now if any tradition separates you from God, you shouldn't follow it... yet if God is guiding the body of Christ, then you can trust that it will guide the Church into customs and practices which help people attain salvation.
 

ialmisry

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Fabio Leite said:
- The history of Byzantium is one of slow albeit continuous decay, while the history of the West is one of ascension. Even today, most Orthodox countries are poorer and weaker than Western ones. Doesn't that prove that God's favour is with us and therefore our theology is right and yours wrong?
So God's a Calvinist, or at least a fan of Weber?
 

Asteriktos

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Does humanity have free-will?

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." - James 1:17

What does it mean for "every good gift" to come from God? Are we without the ability to choose good? Are all good thoughts and actions given to us, such that none are our own? Similar to the passage in James, we find John the Baptist saying: "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven" (John 3:27)  And St. Paul says that even our intentions to do good works are from God: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) So to do we find similar passages in the works of the Fathers, not simply in St. Augustine and those who followed him, but even in those who opposed him:

"...we clearly infer that the initiative not only of our actions but also of good thoughts comes from God, who inspires us with a good will to begin with, and supplies us with the opportunity of carrying out what we rightly desire" - St. John Cassian, Conferences, 13, 3

"For the will and course of no one, however eager and anxious, is sufficiently ready for him, while still enclosed in the flesh which warreth against the spirit, to reach so great a prize of perfection, and the palm of uprightness and purity, unless he is protected by the divine compassion, so that he is privileged to attain to that which he greatly desires and to which he runs." - St. John Cassian, Institutes, 12, 10

"How foolish and wicked then it is to attribute any good action to our own diligence and not to God's grace and assistance, is clearly shown by the Lord's saying, which lays down that no one can show forth the fruits of the Spirit without His inspiration and co-operation. For 'every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.' And Zechariah too says, 'For whatever is good is His, and what is excellent is from Him.' And so the blessed Apostle consistently says: 'What hast thou which thou didst not receive? But if thou didst receive it, why boastest thou as if thou hadst not received it?'" - St. John Cassian, Conferences, 3, 17
This is one side of the argument, yes, but if things were allowed to remain like this they would be a distorted picture and not reflect reality. This idea of God's grace and gifts to us must be balanced by our own own part that we play. Thus we find counter-passages such as these:

"And therefore the will always remains free in man, and can either neglect or delight in the grace of God. For the Apostle would not have commanded saying: 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,' had he not known that it could be advanced or neglected by us. But that men might not fancy that they had no need of Divine aid for the work of Salvation, he subjoins: 'For it is God that works in you both to will and to do, of His good pleasure.' (Phi. 2:12-13)" - St. John Cassian, Conferences, 13, 12

"For we have no wish to do away with man's free will by what we have said, but only to establish the fact that the assistance and grace of God are necessary to it every day and hour." - St. John Cassian, Conferences 3, 22

"For we should not hold that God made man such that he can never will or be capable of what is good: or else He has not granted him a free will, if He has suffered him only to will or be capable of evil, but neither to will or be capable of what is good of himself. And, in this case how will that first statement of the Lord made about men after the fall stand: 'Behold, Adam has become as one of us, knowing good and evil?' (Gen. 3:22) For we cannot think that before, he was such as to be altogether ignorant of good. Otherwise we should have to admit that he was formed like some irrational and insensate beast: which is sufficiently absurd and altogether alien from the Catholic faith." - St. John Cassian, Conferences, 13, 12

"...and that now He puts into us the very beginnings of salvation, and gives to each the zeal of his free will..." - St. John Cassian, Conferences, 13, 18
Thus free-will is not absent in humanity, but rather enlivened by grace. So St. John Chrysostom, speaking of the passage from Philippians, says:

"As then, when he calls these gifts, he does not put us out of the pale of free will, but accords to us free will, so when he says, 'to work in us to will,' he does not deprive us of free will, but he shows that by actually doing right we greatly increase our heartiness in willing. For as doing comes of doing, so of not doing comes not doing. Have you given an alms? You are the more incited to give. Have you refused to give? You have become so much the more disinclined. Have you practiced temperance for one day? You have an incitement for the next likewise. Have you indulged to excess? You have increased the inclination to self-indulgence. 'When a wicked man comes into the depth of vice, then he despises.' (Prov. 18:3) As, then, when a man comes into the depth of iniquity, he turns a despiser; so when he comes into the depth of goodness, he quickens his exertions. For as the one runs riot in despair, so the second, under a sense of the multitude of good things, exerts himself the more, fearing lest he should lose the whole. 'For His good pleasure,' he says, that is, 'for love's sake,' for the sake of pleasing Him; to the end that what is acceptable to Him may take place; that things may take place according to His will. Here he shows, and makes it a ground of confidence, that He is sure to work in us, for it is His will that we live as He desires we should, and if He desires it, He Himself both works in us to this end, and will certainly accomplish it; for it is His will that we live aright. Do you see, how he does not deprive us of free will?" - St. John Chrysostom, Homily 8 on Philippians
So when we do good, it is not because we must, but it is our own labor: a labor of love (1 Thes. 1:3; Heb. 6:10), in cooperation with God (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). So when the Epistle of James commands us to "be doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22), he means what he says. This extends even to helping save others, as St. James mentions (James 5:19-20), and St. Paul also speaks of when he says: "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." (1 Tim. 4:16)

(Also, my post about salvation here presupposes the ability to freely choose to follow or not follow God.)
 

Asteriktos

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Why do the Orthodox fast so much?

For Orthodox Christians, fasting is a matter of spiritual effort undertaken with the expectation that, through God's grace, it will produce spiritual fruit. Fasting is, first of all, a way of cultivating humility. "I humbled my soul with fasting," the Psalmist said (Ps. 35:13), and we likewise find in Joel the words: "Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God..." (Joel 2:12-13)

A sign of the power of fasting was given when the disciples couldn't cast a demon out of someone, and Jesus explained that it could only be done "by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:14-21). And we are given many examples of exhortations to fast in the Scripture, such as with Moses (Ex. 34:28), King David (2 Sam. 1:11-12), the Prophet Daniel (Dan. 10:3), and Esther (Est. 4:15-17; 9:27-32). And of course there was the example of Jesus himself (Luke 4:1-13; Matt. 4:1-11; cf. Matt. 9:14-15).

Another reason for fasting is that it helps builds relationships and community. Thus does Paul mention married couples fasting and praying together (1 Cor. 7:5), and in Acts we find the early Christians fasting together (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23)

According to the Fathers of the Church, fasting also helps us gain understanding and live a virtuous life. St. Justin Popovich, for example, in his essay The Theory of Knowlege of St. Isaac the Syrian, summed up the teachings of St. Isaac by saying (in part):

The soul, which was dispersed by the senses among the things of this world, is brought back to itself by the ascesis of faith, by fasting from material things and by devoting itself to a constant remembrance of God. This is the foundation of all good things...

Faith frees the intellect from the categories of the senses and sobers it by means of fasting, by pondering on God, and by vigils. Intemperance and a full stomach cloud the mind, distract it, and disperse it among fantasies and passions. The knowledge of God cannot be found in a body that loves pleasure. It is from the seed of fasting that the blade of a healthy understanding grows--and it is from satiety that debauchery comes, and impurity from excess...

Especial care must be taken with the chief organ of understanding, the intellect, for it has a particularly important role in the realm of human personality... Fasting is... the chief means of purifying the intellect...

--Trans. Asterios Gerostergios, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, (Institute For Byzantine And Modern Greek Studies, 1997), pp. 117-168
Of course this is not meant to be for show, or to draw attention to ourselves, or to make ourselves appear super-holy (Matt. 6:16-18). That is exactly the opposite of what fasting is for, and if you fast in that spirit then you are going to accomplish little, like the Pharisee at the temple:

"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14)
 

Asteriktos

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I'm glad all those years of debating on Protestant forums is finally paying off!  :D  Seriously though, I did have a rudimentary Orthodox website years ago (which is still viewable in the archives, here for example), and have thought about eventually making another one. I would like to make something really nice, though, like a combination of biblegateway, ccel, etc., with all sorts of traditional Christian resources gathered at one place, so for now it's just a dream.  :)
 

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Gebre Menfes Kidus said:
Great stuff Asteriktos! I hope you are compiling all this into a book.



Selam
+
 

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Thank you for sharing your knowledge.  I really enjoyed reading what you've written so far and look forward to reading more.  (Especially about icons.)
 

Asteriktos

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Fabio Leite said:
Could we add topics with questions from Roman Catholics?
I suppose you could ask about a similar thread for the Catholic section... though it might turn more into a debate than this thread has.
 

Asteriktos

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Why do the Orthodox cross themselves?

The usage of the sign of the cross is not commanded in the Bible, though it does seem to be an early tradition instituted to help Christians "work out their faith with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).  Around AD 204 Tertullian mentions that: "we trace upon the forehead the sign" (The Chaplet, 3), and says that it is as an "unwritten tradition" of "long-continued observance" (The Chaplet, 4). This "sign" mentioned by Tertullian might not have been the sign of the cross, for it also could have been a sign of the name of Jesus. What is important here is the evidence that various practices of this type were used back into the deep past, at least till the 2nd century, and perhaps the first. That it may or may not have been the sign of the cross is of a secondary concern, as their have been many different methods and approaches. What is important is all the good that such signs--however they may be done--help bring about.

First of all the sign of the cross is a reminder or rememberance of the victory of the cross: Paul preached "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23), and we remember the victory of Christ on that cross with this sign. The sign then is a reminder of who we are and who we are supposed to be, and who we should be focused on: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Done in the proper spirit, crossing ourselves is... a prayer to God, a request for blessings, a sign of obedience or submission, and a sign of dedication to God.

It is said that the sign of the cross has the power to drive demons away, not as a magic protection, but as a heart-felt prayer and cry for God's help. An example of this being discussed in the Life of Saint Anthony: "When, therefore, they come by night to you and wish to tell the future, or say, 'we are the angels,' give no heed, for they lie. Yea even if they praise your discipline and call you blessed, hear them not, and have no dealings with them; but rather sign yourselves and your houses, and pray, and you shall see them vanish. For they are cowards, and greatly fear the sign of the Lord's Cross, since of a truth in it the Saviour stripped them, and made an example of them." (St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 35)

Another thing to consider is what might be termed the psychology of pious custom. The purposeful habit of crossing ourselves makes us feel connected, integrated, and involved in making progress in the spiritual life in Christ. It keeps a person engaged in what is going on during prayer and worship, when a person might otherwise just be standing still and not participating in any overtly physical way.  It is also a sign so simple even a small child can do it, and it unites people of all ages, colors, etc. What's more, it acts as a common sign that unites the Christian community wherever it is spread throughout all the earth.

However, it must be emphasised that the sign of the cross is not a magic trick, which must be done with the exact hand or finger positions and with a specific verbal formula. It is a prayer to God, a sign and seal of unity, and a way to involve the body in prayer and worship.


(Note: When writing this post I consulted the book The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andreopoulos, especially for the patristic references. I'd recommend this book for anyone wanting to get deeper into this subject.)
 

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Asteriktos said:
Why do the Orthodox cross themselves?

The usage of the sign of the cross is not commanded in the Bible, though it does seem to be an early tradition instituted to help Christians "work out their faith with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).  Around AD 204 Tertullian mentions that: "we trace upon the forehead the sign" (The Chaplet, 3), and says that it is as an "unwritten tradition" of "long-continued observance" (The Chaplet, 4). This "sign" mentioned by Tertullian might not have been the sign of the cross, for it also could have been a sign of the name of Jesus. What is important here is the evidence that various practices of this type were used back into the deep past, at least till the 2nd century, and perhaps the first. That it may or may not have been the sign of the cross is of a secondary concern, as their have been many different methods and approaches. What is important is all the good that such signs--however they may be done--help bring about.

First of all the sign of the cross is a reminder or rememberance of the victory of the cross: Paul preached "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23), and we remember the victory of Christ on that cross with this sign. The sign then is a reminder of who we are and who we are supposed to be, and who we should be focused on: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Done in the proper spirit, crossing ourselves is... a prayer to God, a request for blessings, a sign of obedience or submission, and a sign of dedication to God.

It is said that the sign of the cross has the power to drive demons away, not as a magic protection, but as a heart-felt prayer and cry for God's help. An example of this being discussed in the Life of Saint Anthony: "When, therefore, they come by night to you and wish to tell the future, or say, 'we are the angels,' give no heed, for they lie. Yea even if they praise your discipline and call you blessed, hear them not, and have no dealings with them; but rather sign yourselves and your houses, and pray, and you shall see them vanish. For they are cowards, and greatly fear the sign of the Lord's Cross, since of a truth in it the Saviour stripped them, and made an example of them." (St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 35)

Another thing to consider is what might be termed the psychology of pious custom. The purposeful habit of crossing ourselves makes us feel connected, integrated, and involved in making progress in the spiritual life in Christ. It keeps a person engaged in what is going on during prayer and worship, when a person might otherwise just be standing still and not participating in any overtly physical way.  It is also a sign so simple even a small child can do it, and it unites people of all ages, colors, etc. What's more, it acts as a common sign that unites the Christian community wherever it is spread throughout all the earth.

However, it must be emphasised that the sign of the cross is not a magic trick, which must be done with the exact hand or finger positions and with a specific verbal formula. It is a prayer to God, a sign and seal of unity, and a way to involve the body in prayer and worship.


(Note: When writing this post I consulted the book The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andreas Andreopoulos, especially for the patristic references. I'd recommend this book for anyone wanting to get deeper into this subject.)
Interesting, some of those quotes I had not heard before, thank you!
 

Asteriktos

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Do the Orthodox take the Bible literally?

A literal understanding is often appropriate, and the standard or normal way of interpreting Scripture. However, not all passages are taken literally, and some passages can be understood in more than just a literal way. Yet other passages might be understood literally, but not in a "woodenly literal" way.

That interpretation is needed at all seems obvious to the Orthodox, but some Protestants will claim that the meaning of Scripture is plain and thus no interpretation is needed, so it might be helpful to first say a bit about interpreting. The most often mentioned passage with regards to the need for interpretation is that which says that "no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:19-21) While this passage may be taken as limited to prophecy, it does show that at least some of Scripture needs interpreted. And an example of seeing prophecy being interpreted was given to us in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch:

"And [Philip] arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus."

--Acts 8:27-35
We find another example of needing guidance when understanding Scripture in the Psalms, such as when it says: "Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes... Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end... Teach me good judgment and knowledge..." (Ps. 119:12, 33, 66)  Why would the Psalmist ask to be taught, except that the Scripture is not always of "plain meaning"? And this obviously speaks not of prophecy alone, but of God's commandments, of that which is right to do in righteousness according to God's word. (cf Deut. 11:19)

Consider also the case of the Bereans: "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." (Acts 17:10-11)  The "plain meaning of scripture" apparently wasn't so plain, until they heard the preaching of Christians? Thus sometimes we need understanding given to us by someone else before we can rightly understand--rightly interpret--the Scripture.

But all of this is going around the obvious: that we all have biases and make mistakes, that none of us are right all the time, and thus that we cannot assume that our "plain reading" of Scripture is correct. This is especially so when we seem to find other passages disagreeing with our interpretation, and we fall into the trap of understanding the Bible according to our favored verses. Everyone who reads something interprets it, that's unescapable. You cannot "let the words speak for themselves" exactly because they are not by themselves. You bring your own experiences, ideas, and methods to the text, and thus understand and interpret it in a certain way.  There is nothing bad about this, it is as it must be. The only problem is when we claim to not be subject to this process.

As for specific types of interpretation, we most often use a literal interpretation because that is what seems to give us the most accurate understanding, and matches how the original authors seemed to be writing. Thus when Jesus says: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (Jn. 14:6) we take that not metephorically, but literally. Jesus literally is the way, the truth, and the life, and he truly is the path to salvation. However, this is not taken in a woodenly literal way, as though Jesus is an actual path on the ground. And it would be a matter of interpretation--wrongly, in my opinion--to take from this passage that those who have never accepted the Gospel, because they've never had a chance, are damned.

Another example would be: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (Jn. 13:35)  We interpret this passage and apply to our lives it according to the understanding that it is literally true. But we do not read into the text: it does not say that this was the only way people would know that we are disciples of Christ, for example. Nonetheless, it stands as a true statement without needing a special interpretation (e.g., typological or allegorical).

An example of a passage that would not be taken literally can be found in the book of Revelation, which says: "And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy." (Rev. 13:1) There is obviously a lot of symbolism here, and we do not interpret this passage such that we expect a literal beast to rise out of a sea, and so forth. You might say that the passage is literally true, properly understood, but it certainly would not be literally interpreted.

And then there are examples of passages having a double meaning: both literal and spiritual. For example: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." (Matt. 19:21) This passage can be taken literally, as some Christians (e.g. St. Anthony) did. However, there is also a spiritual message embedded in the verse which does not rely on a literal application: it is good for our soul to not be acquisitive, and to give to those in need. That we only give some of our stuff away and give to the poor does not mean we are not benefiting spiritually.
 

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Which is most important: Bible, Church, or Tradition?

Most Protestants look to the Bible as their final authority in matters of faith and practice, so it's perfectly natural for them to wonder what the fainl  authority is for Orthodox Christians. I believe this can be answered in several ways, and I do not think the ideas outlined in this post to be the only valid response. Having said that, my answer to the question would be... there isn't one. That is to say, there is no single, earthly, final authority. Rather, God is seen as the final authority, and we look to Him to guide us in several ways.

It is true that some authorities are more important--or perhaps just more often helpful--than others. Yet no authority can be considered by itself, for all the methods God uses to communicate with us are interrelated. So the Gospel of Matthew is more important than a private letter by St. Gregory the Theologian, which in turn is more important than the fine work done by the modern theologian Fr. John McGuckin. Nonetheless, in Orthodoxy we don't focus on one to the exclusion of the others. If Fr. John contradicts the Gospel of Matthew then we go with what the Gospel says, but the much more likely scenario is that Fr. John (or St. Gregory, or Fr. John through St. Gregory) will help us to understand the Gospel of Matthew.

We also are part of the machinery. We are not impartial, outside observers, looking in as things work independent of us. We are participants, we are creators, we are corrupters, we are defenders, we are passers-on. We bring our biases, our speculative thoughts, our insights, and so forth, and then we try to understand and discern (and we try to discern so that we can then do). Thus even if there was one final authority--let's say the Bible--it wouldn't matter. We'd still have to try to decipher it for ourselves. And we see what happens when people try to use a single authority such as the Bible: there is a tremendous amount of disagreement, yet people think they are correct because they assume they have mastered the text.

Church and tradition are antidotes for this mentality, not working against Scripture, but together with it. Tradition is many things--the writings of saintly people, councils, icons, hymns, pious customs, etc. These things do not trump Scripture, but rather they are the context in which the will of God is lived out. The Church might be seen as the unifying element, in that it is the people involved, and also God working through people. Yet the Church without tradition would be a dead faith, for it would be a faith without context. It would be people doing nothing.

So none of the three (and in actuality there are more than three) are a final authority, but rather they work together with each other. They are all part of the life in Christ. And whether truth and virtue and the will of God comes to us through an icon, or a beggar, or the Epistle of James, it is still truth. And regardless of where it comes from, it means nothing if it is divorced from the larger context of Christianity as a whole.
 

Asteriktos

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Why do you pray for those who have passed on?

This is one of those tough ones that it is difficult to demonstrate only from Scripture. Nonetheless, even Scripture does speak to this question to some extent. The first things that needs to be mentioned are that Revelation clearly shows saints in the afterlife who are alive and conscious after their death but before the final judgment (Rev. 4:4, 9-11; 5:8-14; 6:9-11; 7:9-17). Even in the old testament there was an expectation that passing from this earth was not the end, and God "hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead" (Ruth 2:20). And so in 2nd Maccabees we are told of a vision in which the dead high priest Onias, who is said to be "praying with outstretched arms for the whole Jewish community" (2 Macc. 15:11-14; cf 2 Mac. 3:1-40). But this speaks of people in heaven praying for us; for an example of people on earth praying for those who have passed on we need to go back a couple chapters in 2 Maccabees:

"But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." - 2 Macc. 12:40-46

Some have also seen in the Onesiphorus mentioned by Paul (2 Tim. 1:15-18; 2 Tim. 4:19) an example of prayer for someone who passed on. Other passages which may allude to our needing prayers in the afterlife before moving on to heaven, or at least being helped by such prayers, include 1 Cor. 3:9-15 and Matt. 5:25-26, which the Orthodox do not see as justifying a purgatory per se, but which may speak of a cleansing or purging of some type.

In the early Church we also find examples of prayers for the dead, including in inscriptions in the Christian catacombs beneath Rome, and in such early Fathers as St. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 6, 14) and St. Cyprian of Carthage (Letter 51). This idea, being of apostolic (and indeed, of pre-Christian) origin continued throughout the life of the Church, as witnessed by numerous saints. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, put it rather straight: "Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them." (41st Homily on First Corinthians)  And for a later witness to this, summing up those who had come before--though some would disagree with particular ideas here--there is St. Mark of Ephesus:

But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have no repented at all, or great ones for which--even though they have repented over them--they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not at all be handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or--if their sins were more serious and bind them for a longer duration--they are kept in [hades], but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard.

All such ones, we affirm, are helped by the prayers and Liturgies performed for them, with the cooperation of the Divine goodness and love for mankind. This Divine cooperation immediately disdains and remits some sins, those committed out of human weakness, as Dionysius the Great (the Areopagite) says in 'Reflections on the Mystery of Those Reposed in Faith' (In 'The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, 7, 7); while other sins, after a certain time, by righteous judgments it either likewise releases and forgives--and that completely--or lightens the responsibility for them until that final judgment. And therefore we see no necessity whatever for any other punishment or for a cleansing fire; for some are cleansed by fear, while others are devoured by gnawings of conscience with more torment than any fire, and still others are cleansed only the the very terror before the Divine Glory and the uncertainty as to what the future will be...

And so, we intreat God and believe to deliver the departed from (eternal torment), and not from any other torment or fire apart from those torments and that fire which have been proclaimed to be forever. And that, moreover, the souls of the departed are delivered by prayers from confinement in [hades], as if from a certain prison, is testified, among many others, by Theophanes the Confessor, called the Branded. ...In one of the canons for the reposed he thus prays for them: 'Deliver, O Savior, Thy slaves who are in the [hades] of tears and sighing' (Octoechos, Saturday canon for the deposed, Tone 8, Canticle 6, Glory).

-- St. Mark of Ephesus, First Homily on the Refutation of the Latin Chapters Concerning Purgatorial Fire
 
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