In order to meet the rising costs of running the offices of the Archdiocese around Australia, from January 1, 2015 a necessary increase (the first for several years) is made in the fees of Church Sacraments, as follows:
- Issuing of a Marriage Certificate - $300
- Issuing of a Baptism Certificate - $150
- Issuing of a Celibacy Certificate - $70
- Granting of Ecclesiastical Divorce - $350 (for each spouse)
- Copy of Ecclesiastical Divorce - $150
- Copy of a Certificate - $70
- Issuing of a Celibacy Certificate for outside of Australia - $70
For Baptism Certificates:Generally they are issued by the local Parish where one was baptised. With the following exceptions:
- In Victoria, all Baptism Certificates are issued by the Archdiocesan District Of Victoria.
- In New South Wales, for certain Parishes, Baptism Certificates are issued by the Archdiocese.
- Cathedral of the “Annunciation of Our Lady Theotokos” in Redfern,
- Community Parish of “the Dormition Of Our Lady” in Redfern,
- Parish of “the Holy Trinity” in Surry Hills,
- Parish of “St. Sophia”, in Taylor Square.
For Wedding Certificates:All wedding certificates are are issued by the Archdiocesan District of each State. Before calling and making a request, please have your wedding details ready.
An ecclesiastical divorce may be granted after a civil Decree Absolute has been given. However, the parish priest must exert every effort to reconcile the couple and avert the divorce. Should the priest fail to bring about reconciliation, he will convey the petition of the party seeking ecclesiastical divorce to the Spiritual Court of the Archdiocese. A copy of the Decree Absolute must accompany this petition and the fees for the Archdiocese. Such ecclesiastical divorce is necessary in the case of a second or third marriage, which are tolerated by our Church. Fees:
- Granting of Ecclesiastical Divorce $350.00.
- If both parties require Divorce, fee is $350.00 each.
- Copy of Ecclesiastical Divorce $150.00.
The sacramental union of a man and a woman should be performed in the Orthodox Church according to the liturgical tradition, and blessed by a priest recognized as canonical by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The procedure for intended weddings is as follows: There must be no impediment (regarding relationships) according to the Canons of the Church. The priest must be given notice of at least one month before the intended date of marriage. The parish priest will thereupon give directions as to the necessary documents, fees for the Archdiocese, as well as for the local Church. In the case of mixed marriages, the non-Orthodox partner must be a person who belongs to a denomination which accepts the sacramental character of Holy Baptism. Having been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, he or she would declare responsibly that future children will be baptized according to the rites of the Eastern Orthodox Church and that they shall be raised in the Orthodox Faith. Marriages with persons who belong to the Pentecostal Church, Baptist Church, Salvation Army, Christian Revival Crusades, Reborn Christians, Assembly of God, Church of Christ and other similar religious groups are prohibited. A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not automatically become a member of the Orthodox Church, and is therefore not permitted to receive Holy Communion or other sacraments in the Orthodox Church. In addition, Orthodox priests are not allowed to conduct wedding services with priests of other churches. The civil marriage cannot be conducted without the priest simultaneously performing the religious service. Marriages are not permitted:
- From the 13th December until Christmas Day.
- On the 5th January, the eve of Epiphany.
- From Great Lent until Easter Sunday.
- From 1st to 15th August, the Dormition of Theotokos.
- On the 29th August, the Beheading of John the Baptist
- On the 14th September, Elevation of the Cross
Your child may have as many names as you desire, but will only be baptised with one. Your child has only one identity. The child’s name is part of its identity, even if you baptise with two, the child will only ever use one name. The other name will be lost. Baptism is also about receiving one’s identity in the body of the Church, that is, among the people who make up the Church. Two or more names is a false notion and is not permitted in baptism. On the birth certificate you can put as many names as you like, but nothing will be different. The child will still only have one name. So it is best to be truthful to the child and to everyone else who has expectations in relation to the child’s name.
The answer is no. Historically in the church there has only ever been one godparent per neophyte (the person being baptised). Baptism is a rite of passage into the Church which is the family of Christ. The sponsor is the person who introduces one to the Church and promises to ensure one’s spiritual upbringing. Many people may help in that upbringing, but he is the one who put himself forward as the one to take full responsibility. Similarly, only one person may sponsor another to migrate to Australia. One person takes responsibility. This does not exclude others from participating in the child’s life, but only one person is the sponsor.
Why does the priest stand with the godparent and the child at the front of the Church during the first part of the Baptismal service?
“The service of Baptism is divided into two main parts. The first, the ‘Prayers at the Making of a Catechumen’ is a preparation service to begin the candidate on the path of ‘enlightenment’ that ultimately leads to baptism and the beginning of a ‘new life in Christ’. A ‘Catechumen’ is someone undergoing ‘instruction’ in the faith. In the ancient Church the ‘Catechumenate’ was divided into a number of levels, each one considered a higher state of enlightenment than the one before it. The structure of the building of an Orthodox Church is divided into a number of areas beginning at the doors that provide entry from the outside (the ‘world’). Upon entering one turns one’s back to the world and faces the Altar area, which represents the very presence of God and heaven itself. The symbolism here is that as we move closer to the Altar (the symbol of the presence of God), we place ourselves further from the world (the realm of Satan and the darkness of sin). It is a strong and fitting symbol for the one undergoing entry into the ‘Catechumenate’ to stand just inside the main body of the Church away from the world, but still far from the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. The Catechumen begins a journey of faith that (hopefully) will lead to salvation and living in the presence of God. The journey in and with Christ and aided by the spiritual guidance of the godparent is symbolised by the ‘Prayers at the Making of a Catechumen’ being said near the doors of the Church, beginning the Christian journey that has God as its purpose and focus.”
In Greek, the godparent is called anadochos which describes the action of the godparent receiving the newly illumined Christian out of the baptismal waters and into their arms. There is only one person who takes this role and, from that moment onwards, this godparent becomes accountable before God as to how they fulfil their role as a spiritual parent. It is for this reason that the selection of the godparent must be according to spiritual criteria rather than for just social reasons or convenience. Although the godparent cannot be changed after Baptism, it is hoped that other people in the life of the child – besides the parents and godparent – will also become good spiritual examples and guides in the faith.
If a person gets baptised in a non canonical Church does that person have to get re-baptised again to get married?
This depends on which “Church” the person was “baptised” in. There are some non canonical groups in Australia at the moment in which the “sacraments” performed are not recognised by any canonical Orthodox Church in the world. Consequently, all those “baptised” by them are deemed as never having been baptised and so need to be baptised in a canonical Church before they can get married. Historically, however, there have been some instances (e.g. during the schism of several Community Churches in Melbourne in 1963 – 1970) where, although baptisms in these Churches during these years may have been non canonical, the Church hierarchy at the time – after resolving and healing the schism and for pastoral reasons – decided to “canonise” these baptisms through the Sacrament of Chrismation.
We were commanded to be baptised by Jesus himself. He himself, though sinless, was baptized in the Jordan River. After His resurrection he commanded his Apostles saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19) During Holy Baptism a death and resurrection take place. In the Orthodox Church we totally immerse, because such total immersion symbolizes death. What death? The death of the “old, sinful man”. After Baptism we are freed from the dominion of sin, even though after Baptism we retain an inclination and tendency toward evil. This inclination and tendency remain so that the Christian may struggle to achieve his rebirth. From the Holy Font, and with the triple immersion in the blessed water, those that are baptized emerge reborn into a new life, resurrected into the life in Christ, children of God, citizens and members of God’s Kingdom. The Apostle Paul said, “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin”. (Romans 6:3-6) The actual service of Baptism begins with the rejection of Satan and the acceptance of Christ. Before being baptized, the person- or his sponsors or godparents for him- officially proclaims the symbol of Christian faith, the Creed. The baptismal water is then prayed over and blessed as the sign of the goodness of God’s creation. The person to be baptised is also prayed over and blessed with sanctified oil as the sign that his creation by God is holy and good. And then, after the solemn proclamation of “Alleluia” (God be praised), the person is immersed three times in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The baptized person is then clothed with the “garments of salvation”, symbolized by the white baptismal robe. The words of the Apostle Paul are then chanted as the newly-baptized is led in procession around the baptismal font three times as the symbol of his procession to the Kingdom of God and his entrance into eternal life: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia.” (Galatians 3:27) Baptism is a very joyous occasion, because with Baptism we become members of the Church, a Church that will lead us to our salvation and bring us peace and joy.
“Some sacraments of the Church may be received only once, others may be received often; still others are not received by everyone in the Church. Baptism belongs to the first category. Like all the sacraments, baptism is a ‘mystery’ of God’s grace working within the Church and in the life of an individual Christian. The important point when looking at baptism is not ‘Can I be baptised more than once?’, but, ‘is the Baptism I have undergone (or will undergo) a ‘real’ (or ‘valid’) baptism?’ The Orthodox Church holds to the belief that we can be baptised only once. You can only be made a member of the Church once; the Church is one Church there are not many Churches! The Holy Orthodox Church does not arbitrarily decide on whether a baptism is ‘true’ or not. The form and action of baptism is fundamental to its nature. We seek to be true to the revelation of God and to the Holy Tradition of our Church. It is this that makes us Orthodox! Three main criteria determine the ‘acceptability’ of a baptism: 1. the use of water; 2. baptism in the name of the Trinity; and 3. a ‘sacramental’ understanding of the nature of baptism. The later one refers to an understanding and a belief that baptism is primarily an act of God’s grace at work in the life of a person. Baptism is not a simple action – a mere ‘symbol’, nor is it only a response of the faith of a believer. Baptism is truly a mystery through which God washes away sin creating a ‘new’ creature in Christ and making the new illumed person a member of Christ’s body, His Church. An Orthodox Christian cannot be baptised again. He or she is already a member of the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ of God. What then do we with this mystery of Grace after we have received it in baptism, well, that is another question that relates to our journey of faith that is the Christian life”.
What did Jesus mean when He said that a person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven?
Jesus is not referring to a specific act, he is rather referring to a state: a hardness of heart. No matter what we have done, if we truly repent, genuinely feel sorry, make a firm decision to change, and confess our sins before a priest, then Jesus will forgive us. To understand what Jesus meant it is best to study what happened just before Jesus said these firm words. Jesus had a performed a great miracle, (Matthew 12:22-23), it was obvious to everyone that this miracle was from God - the Bible tells us that it was so obvious that “all the multitudes were amazed.” The Pharisees however, even though they had first hand experience of a holy miracle, were so hardened in their heart that they said and believed that - “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” It was here were Jesus said: “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32) In other words, if one has had first hand experience of an obvious miracle, if one has had direct experience of the Holy Spirit, and still rejects God and even blasphemes, then such hardness of heart cannot be forgiven. The issue concerns a heart that has hardened so much that it will not accept the Holy Spirit. Professor Trembelas said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consists of stubbornly and willfully rejecting a truth even where the evidence is obvious and where there can be no doubt. Such blasphemy has to do with insensibility in evil and a burnt-out conscience. The matter has to do with enmity against the very source of spiritual life and the provider of repentance and faith. Where there is such enmity, there can be no repentance, and therefore, this sin, this state, cannot be forgiven. It may seem amazing to us that someone could experience a very obvious miracle; they could experience for themselves the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and still reject Christ. It is amazing, but it can happen. This should be seen as a warning to us to not allow our hearts to harden.
We often hear that Jesus died on the cross to save us. From what do we need to be saved, and whom did Jesus come to save?
John the Baptist said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). In reality, what Jesus takes upon his shoulders is very complex: a multi-faceted burden, which in a word may be termed “misery.” “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, …. But He was pierced for our transgressions, … He bore the sins of many.” (Isaiah 53:4-6). The Bible presents sin as a global state of disorder, as being removed from God, as inner derangement. Sooner or later sin leads to numberless misfortunes and grief. Soon after their fall Adam and Eve learn that sorrows and pains would be their lot, death would be their end, the punishment of sin. The Apostle Paul said, “For sin… deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death…. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For in my inner being I delight in God''s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:11-25). Jesus died and suffered on the cross to save us from this horrible misery. Scripture declares, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15). In terms of who He came to save, the Bible makes it very clear that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). It needs to be emphasized also that Scripture tells us that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Many of us think that it is our righteousness that introduces us to God, and that our virtue, piety, learning, service, and zeal qualify us for communion with the heavenly. We do not realise that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13). The truth is that we have nothing good to approach God with, “There is none righteous, no, not one,” (Romans 3:10), and that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus came to save sinners, particularly the sinner who feels within himself a total deprivation of all that is holy, pure, and solemn because of sin, the sinner who in his own eyes is in utter darkness, severed from the light of life, and from the communion of saints.
Beats me! It's been around since the day of Pentecost (circa 33AD). You probably haven't heard about it because we are a conservative Church that sounds no trumpets in our social programs but rather attempts to lead individuals, each in his or her own circumstances, into communion with God, the very purpose for which the Church exists. Believe it or not, there are at least 250 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
Basically, Jesus Christ did not come to establish such a thing as "Christianity". Even the word is not in the Holy Scriptures. What Christ Jesus did do was to establish the Church, which Scripture calls both His Body and His Bride. The communion which man seeks with God is found by being part of the Church, something which St. Paul calls a "great mystery", whereby we become members of Christ: "of His flesh, and of His bones." (Ephesians 5:30) The Bible also tells us that such as were being saved were added to the Church (Acts 2:47). They were not merely making "decisions for Christ" -- again, not a Scriptural term -- but they were repenting, being baptised for the remission of their sins, and being added to the Church. (Acts 2:38 ff.) There, they were continuing steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread (what is commonly called Holy Communion today), and prayer. Finally, from the day of Pentecost, the "birthday" of the Church, the Bible never speaks of Christians who were not a part of it. This sort of sums up why we speak so much of "The Church".
Sorry, you were told wrong! The Holy Icons ("pictures") are honoured as reminders of the Glory and Presence of God, and venerated as such. ONLY God, the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are due worship. (How can the Church practice that is so contrary to God's Law?) That is one reason you will find no statues in Orthodox temples - their inclusion in our tradition never developed as that too closely resembled the pagan piety of the early days of our Church, during the time of the Apostles. But icons, rather than attempting to depict reality, point to the Kingdom of God. They are often referred to as "picture windows to Heaven". In other words, you will not only hear the Gospel in an Orthodox Church, you will see it! The icons act as "tools" in our spiritual worship and witness to the sanctification of all creation and matter that occurred when Christ Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. The Divine/Human Person of Jesus became the living icon of God (John 10:30; 14:6-11) in the flesh. With regard to the use of icons transgressing the second commandment of the decalogue, it must be remembered that Christ has already fulfilled the law under the Old Covenant and therefore the Commandments of old need to been seen now in the light of the New Covenant. The Church has already dealt with those who disagreed with or could not understand the place of icons (ie: the 'iconoclasts') in the 8th Century through the decisions of the 7th Ecumenical Council.
We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12:1-4) that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (literally, the martyrs) who watch after us and urge us on in our race towards Christ. We believe that the saints who have already run their race on earth indeed surround us - as in a stadium where the crowd urges the athlete on. In our homes as well as our churches, Orthodox Christians image this reality through the placement of icons.
The first thing you notice when you visit us is that Orthodox worship engages the five senses. The burning candles and oil lamps, colour, form, symmetry, the touch of icons, the smell of incense, the sounds of the chanting, the taste of Christ's Body & Blood in Holy Communion- all serve to focus our entire being on the worship of the living God. Corporate worship does not simply mean we worship with our ears and minds (by simply listening to the 'preacher'). This is how worship has been since Apostolic times - worshipping with the WHOLE being. In terms of aesthetic beauty, we feel it necessary to adorn the house of God more so than our own place of dwelling for the simple fact that we love Him.
No. You confess your sins to God in the presence of a priest who will help you overcome them and proclaim God's forgiveness, as promised in Holy Scripture. Jesus tells His disciples to hear the sins of the people and impart His forgiveness, just like at the Last Supper He tells them to perform what we know as the Eucharist and Holy Communion. Confession was a public part of Christian life in the early Church. In his epistle, James teaches his readers to "confess to one another" (James 5:16). In fact, in the early Christian Church, confession was public. Secret and private confession (at home by oneself) is a modern idea completely unknown in the Bible and throughout Christian history. A Confession which is not made before God, humanity and creation, is no confession at all. This is the Orthodox Faith. In the early Church, confession was made to the whole congregation. Afterwards the priest read a prayer over the person which manifested God's forgiveness. With time this practice became difficult to keep up because of growth in Church membership. Confession to the whole congregation ceased by the fourth century and the priest came to represent the whole congregation in Confession. The priest would hear the person's sins, offer guidance and encouragement and then pray over the person. This is how confession is still practised today. Confession is totally based on the Bible and Holy Tradition.
Yes, we are Christian because Christ is the head of our Church and the reason for our existence. Orthodox is a Greek word meaning "right worship" and "right faith." Greek, Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian Orthodox etc. are all the same faith. The only difference is the language. The Orthodox Church is actually a 'family' of churches, consisting of many jurisdictions (or ethnic groups if you will). At the same time, the Orthodox Church is not a 'country club'. You are welcome regardless of where your parents, grandparents or ancestors came from. Just keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost.
The sacrament of the Priesthood, was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, when He selected His Apostles to be his successors and those who were to continue His work on earth. The priests (clergy) are themselves the successors of the Apostles to this day. The ordination of a cleric (bishop, priest or deacon) takes place during the Divine Liturgy. Priests can only be ordained by a bishop, who places his hands upon the head of the upon him so he can fulfil his vocation. However, it is the High Priest, Jesus Christ, who actually performs the sacraments through His Holy Spirit, whilst the priests are His visible servants on earth for the performance of these sacraments. There are three offices of the priesthood: - 1. Bishop - He can perform all the sacraments, especially that of ordination of the clergy. He is obliged to teach the people the truth of the Gospel, maintain correctly the teachings (dogmas) of the Church, and govern his diocese not only in spiritual but also in practical matters. 2. Priest - He can perform all the sacraments except that of ordination, and hear the confessions of the faithful, after special permission by the bishop. 3. Deacon - He helps the bishop or the priest to perform the sacraments, but he himself cannot alone perform any of them. The office of the clergy is enormously responsible and their calling is directly from God, so the faithful have a duty to obey them, support them and honour them.
The Emperor Constantine having brought the persecutions of the Christians to an end, brought at the same time peace to the Church. But this was not to last. The Church was now facing enemies not from the outside but from inside. These were the heretics, who although Christians were altering the teachings of the Church, by mixing them with their own distorted ideas. And what is more they were spreading those ideas with great fanaticism. A Heresy consists of teachings that are contrary to the official teachings of the whole Church. The first and most serious of the heresies was that taught by Arius, a Christian priest from Alexandria. He was teaching that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was not equal to God the Father, but that He was the most perfect being created by God before the creation of the world. The ideas of Arius were condemned by the local Synod of Alexandria, but his teachings were spreading like bushfire, threatening the unity of the Church as well of the Empire. To restore the peace of both, the pious Emperor Constantine, called all the Bishops of the universal Church to a Synod - the first Ecumenical Synod - which took place in Nicene (Nikaia), a town near Constantinople, in the year 325 AD. The 318 holy Fathers of the Church who took part in the Synod, declared with the help of the Holy Spirit " that Jesus Christ is God and of the same substance as the Father, without beginning and eternal ". The Synod also formulated the first seven articles of the Creed (the Nicean Creed), which deal with the essence of the Father and the Son. The holy Fathers condemned Arius and his teachings, but he remained unrepentant, and was exiled by the Emperor. The followers of Arius continued to cause upheaval in the Church, and peace was only restored when the Emperor, Theodosius the Great, imposed the decisions of the Synod as obligatory for everyone, thus establishing the triumph of the Orthodox Faith!
If we think deeply and sincerely, and meditate on we see and feel around us and within us, then we could suspect that being an atheist is a delusion. Indeed, to believe that all that we see around us and within us is simply here by an enormous fluke, that we are part of a vast and purposeless universe, is surely a lot harder to believe than belief in God. Deep inside us we all have an intuition, something that we cannot express in words or with reasoning, that there is a purpose to life, that the beauty we can experience cannot be there by a fluke, and that there is a God. As the famous mathematician Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.” Some of you may be thinking that the beauty of nature etc does not prove that God exists, because science has been able to explain how this diversity and order came about. It is true that science has offered explanations for a lot of phenomena, however as science progresses it has introduced new questions, and many good scientists feel that science has if anything increased their faith in God. For example, in recent years physicists have realised that the universe contains some very basic constants, for example the speed of light, the force that binds protons and neutrons together, and if these were even a fraction of a percent different then there would be no solar system, no life. The probability of all these constants being “just right” to enable planets to go around the sun, to enable the formation of carbon, and ultimately to make life possible is so incredibly unlikely that it seems absurd to believe that it all happened without a creator. The most remarkable molecule in the universe is without a doubt DNA. Evolution cannot explain the formation of DNA, this molecule, and the fact that it very occasionally makes a mistake when it replicates, is the basis of evolution. It has been worked out by scientists that the chance of random chemical reactions forming DNA is 10^40,000. This number is really huge! The number of atoms is the universe is about 10^80! If you are an atheist then you would have to believe that the mind is explained only by the electrical circuits that occur in your brain, you would not believe in the soul. In recent times philosophers and brain scientists have increasingly delved into this difficult area. They have identified what they call the “hard problem.” Aspects of the mind such as memory, the ability to play chess, etc, are not trivial but not “hard”. For example computers can play chess and have memory. What is “hard” to understand, and what no computer can do, is aspects of the mind such as self awareness. What we can be more sure about than anything else is the fact that we are aware of our own selves, we can not only think and love and feel, we are also aware of ourselves thinking and feeling these things. No computer can do this. Is this self awareness due to physical circuits in my brain? If we think deeply about these things - think about our own thinking - then we can come to a conviction that surely we have inside us something that is beyond the physical, what we in the Church call soul. There is a lot more one could say, but space does not permit. Many of the readers of this article may have experienced miracles in their lives, very many of you may have experienced how beautiful it is to be a Christian, how the ways of the Bible and of the Church really work, really do bring peace and happiness, a peace that is different to what the world offers (John 14:27). Ultimately, what can lead us to true and genuine faith, a faith that can change our lives and make us want to give ourselves to the Church and into the hands of Jesus, is not scientific or philosophical arguments, but the Grace of God. Faith is a gift - a gift to the humble and to the genuine and sincere.
Firstly, we must remember that many times we all worry over things that we do not need to worry about. We may think we are suffering, whereas in reality we are worrying unnecessarily. It has been said: “If someone throws a dagger at you, it makes all the difference if you catch it by the blade or catch it by the handle.” Two people may be going through the same illness or other hardship, one may see it as a catastrophe, and the other may be a lot more patient and at peace. Secondly it needs to be acknowledged that a lot of suffering occurs because of the faults and shortcomings of others. Some people are difficult to live with, cannot accept that they are wrong, have a huge temper, are selfish, greedy, etc. If God had pre-programmed all of us to be considerate, loving, humble etc, there would be a lot less suffering in the world. In response we need to explain that God has created us free, and that there is an enormous beauty in freedom. On this issue of the trials we go through due to others we need to point out that the Fathers of our Church encourage us to actually see these trials as a type of blessing. For example if someone criticizes us we could respond with anger, or by becoming depressed. It is better however to realise that by being criticized we are being helped to achieve something we all desperately need: humility. If someone does something very unfair to us, again this has the potential to help us grow spiritually. We can struggle to forgive them, and have the faith that God will bring justice. In general, if we are patient and tolerant with difficult people we are on the road that the saints walked on, a road that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. Why does God, who loves us so much, allow suffering? A number of points need to be raised: 1. We have been assured by the Bible that if God has allowed us to go through suffering, He knows that it is not greater than our ability to cope with it. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) 2. God knows better than us what is good for us. 3. A few years of suffering, even decades of suffering, is very tiny compared to eternity of happiness in Heaven, and if our patience helps to lead us to heaven, then it is worth it. 4. We can grow through suffering. Our Archbishop Stylianos once said, “There is a secret law, that God has put into the depths of his creations: that they will discover their best self not when they have worldly ease and wealth, but through suffering, poverty and humility. When the olive is beaten, it produces oil, when the oyster is injured, it produces a pearl.” Through suffering our eyes can open, we can realize things that previously we just could not comprehend. Through suffering can come character. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3) 5. No-one can comfort another person who is suffering as well as someone who has suffered themselves.
The prevailing image of the Church amongst most people today is that of an organized religion with a distinct code of rules, a conglomeration of laws and complex structures. The Church is simply thought to be an institution in society alongside other institutions fulfilling the needs of people side by side with other entities like business, government, labor and entertainment. These people are happy to allot a role to the Church as long as it does not interfere in the functions of the other agencies. However, understood only as a society, entirely integrated in the world, the Church can lose its world-transforming power if it remains a mere institution alongside others. On the other hand, other people believe that Jesus did leave the keys to His kingdom to the Church as we read in St Matthew's Gospel (cf 16.9), but it would appear to them today, that the Church has lost those keys. And for this reason you hear many people say, "Jesus yes, Church no!" But the Church is not a mere human society but has both a human and divine character. The Church is Christ throughout the ages; it is the body of Christ present in the world today. For this reason, whilst it is true that the Church is in the world, it is something more - it is the body of Christ – that is, God incarnate "prolonged unto the ages". And one needs to be in communion participating in the life of this body if one wants to be considered a member of the Church. Christianity is not simply knowing certain facts about Christ but experiencing Him through the life in the Church; by literally "eating and drinking" Christ Himself in the gift of Holy Communion. It becomes apparent just how important it is to participate in the very life of the Church. One needs to be grafted upon the Church which and not stand afar simply knowing certain facts about it. Just like any organ or part of our body, as healthy as it may be in itself, cannot exist isolated from all other parts of the body, since there is an interdependence between all parts of our body, so too, human persons, as healthy as they may think they are alone, need one another if they want to live the fullness of life and not just survive. To be part of this body means precisely a distinct way of existing whereby we commune life; that is we exist only because we participate in the life-giving unity of the unified body. It is not our individual virtues or attributes which will save us but our participation in the body of Christ which is the Church. And the centre of this communion is the Eucharist where we share the common nourishment of life; that is the body and blood of Christ which the fathers of the Church have called the bread of immortality. In this way, not only can we become one with Christ but we become one with all those present in this communal event. The human person must overcome this false sense of security that it is better to remain alone since there is no danger in getting hurt because living life in this way, totally isolated from others, leads to our death whilst still alive. Rather, the true destiny of human persons is to exist the way God exists, that is free - free from the bounds of death; loving - that is ceasing to draw their existence from their individuality which is corrupt and mortal and instead seeking the freedom of personal relationships - a life as communion of love. What true sense of comfort and peace of mind being in this sign of solidarity between those around us. The greatest gift that the Church gives us is not simply teachings about Christ and salvation but Christ Himself and salvation itself since God promises that He is present in His Church. I end with a beautiful quote from Genesis regarding the Church: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen 28:17)
There are literally hundreds of translations of the bible into English and many more in other languages. We do not have the original texts as written down by the authors of the Old Testament, or by the Holy writers of the New Testament. By the very act of distributing the Bible, people have developed translations. It has only been in the last few hundred years that printed text has been available. Prior to this, copies were made by hand; laboriously copying each letter and word from the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Some translations are better than others; some have glaring errors and sometimes deliberate changes have been made that reflect the bias of the translator. It is the nature of language that it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to capture the precise meaning of a word, phrase, or idea written down in one language and then to relate it perfectly into another language. Whilst we should not use paraphrases for bible study (these have deliberately changed the text in order to make it more readable in a particular language or easier to understand), most translations in English are useful and helpful to the Christian. Our Church uses a particular Greek text of the Bible but for individual study and devotion use a popular English translation. If in doubt, see your Parish priest who can guide you in finding a translation that is good and useful to you.
This answer this question, we need to first understand what the Bible is. The Bible is a foundation for the Christian Church, yet it is this very foundation that often becomes a reason for Christians to disagree even on some of the fundamental of Christian doctrines. Rather than see the bible as something as separate from the Church, it should be seen together with the Church – inseparably tied with it. This question is irrelevant, because it presupposes that the Bible can somehow be seen as relevant outside the Church; If it is truly the Church, founded by Christ and built on the Holy Tradition that has been handed down by him to his Apostles, and from them to their successors to the present day, then it is by definition based upon the Bible. Likewise, if the Bible is seen as Holy Scripture containing within it a record of the history of God’s interaction with His creation, and a book that has come out of the Church in its development and its response to a loving God, then the Bible is the ‘Book of His Church’! This question only becomes a problem when we erroneously see the Bible as separate things standing apart and against each other. The bible is ultimately only understood and interpreted by God, and it is by His grace, through the Holy Tradition that He has given to His Church, that we too can understand it and interpret it.
The Old Testament is a name given to the 39 books of the Holy Bible that preceede the New Testament. They are the Hebrew or Jewish Scriptures – the Holy Book of the people of Isreal that were written genrally in Hebrew, the language of Ancient Isreal. In Judaism, the Old Testament was divided into three basic groups, The Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Later on about 300 years or so before Christ , they were translated into Greek, for the Greek speaking Jews living around Egypt, called the Septuagint. This is the version used in our Churches. It had dealt with the history, literautre and song of the People of God at the time of the Patriarchs, Moses, King David and the Prophets, before Christ.. The Books of the Bible were complied and /or redacted by different authors over a long period of time. Not long after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, all the books of the Bible were finally collected into an official Canon. It included these 39 books which came to be known as the Old Testament, along with the 27 books of the New Testament. Authoritative figures like St Athanasius the Great included all 39 books of the Old Testament in their offical lists and this became the norm in all the Churches. (18 extra books called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanon were also inculded, but we need not worry about these at the moment) They were therefore recognised together as the inspired Word of God and formed a major part of the Holy Scriptures in the Christan Church. Much of the New Testament presuposes the history and religion of the Old Testament and without it, the New Testament is largely incomprehensible. Jesus oftern quoted from the Old Testmant, along with St Paul, St Peter, St John the Evangelist and other New Testament authors. A great deal of our theology, wisdom and morals concerning the nature of God, Man and Creation are based on the Old Testament. According to the Fathers of the Church the Old Testament, interprented wholistically, prefigures or points ahead to the events of the New. This is clearly seen for example in the Services of Holy Week in the Orhtodox Church were many Old Testament passages from the Books of Jonah, Genesis, and the Propehts are read that prophesied or spoke about what would happen to Jesus, long before He walked the earth. Much of our Liturgical texts and prayers are taken from the Old Testament espeically the Psalms. Many readings from the Old Testment are heard on the Eve of Great Feast Days in the Service of Vespers, that help us undertsand the meaning of the Feast.In the the light of this, it is thus benefical if not essential for Christians to read the Old Testament as a means of comprehending the nature of God’s dealings with human beings and in understanding His purpose for our salvation. For the first-timer, the Bible in general can be quite bewildering. It is important to note that the Bible is unlike any other book in that it is made up of a library of separate books that have been compiled by different authours over many centuries. So reading it cover to covermay not be very helpful at first. It is highly advisiable that a person attends a Bible study group in their local Parish, conducted by a compitent peson who knows the Bible well and can answer questions and offer guidance.. Attending Church and the services also helps us hear the Word of God in the context of worship. It is also advisibale to aquire a good Study Bible – which is basically the Holy Bible with Study Notes, that helps intoruduce each book of the Bible in context. While there is an Orthodox Study Bible availaible for the New Testmant, there is as yet not one available for the Old Testament. It is also important to get a good translation – preferably the Revised Standard Version, or the New King James Version. A very good modern translation is the Revised Standard Version.
If we put aside for a while faith, can one believe in the resurrection of Jesus based solely on historical evidence?
1. Could the Bible have been made up, and have nothing to do with real events? The first thing I would like to say is that if one reads the Bible carefully, and particularly if one tries to live as the Bible says, one can come to feel that this Book is truly genuine and holy. Secondly, the Bible has been studied in a very scholarly and scientific way. Such an inquiry can lead to a conclusion that the Bible does not have the features of legend, but of genuine history, of genuine eyewitness accounts. For example, if you study the different accounts of the Resurrection, you will soon discover contradictions. If you were making up these accounts, you would not have made it so difficult for those analysing what you wrote. Such contradictions are exactly what you would expect if different people had to recall what they witnessed. These contradictions can be harmonized, solutions that are at least feasible have been worked out, this has been difficult, but it can be done. Another piece of evidence comes from the historical fact that if someone had made up the Resurrection story, they would not have had women being the first to witness the Resurrection: the testimony of women in first century Palestine was universally regarded as useless. The Gospel writers however recorded what actually happened. 2. Could those that said they saw Jesus after his death have lied? We know that these people changed the whole world, and many of them died for what they believed. If they knew they were lying, they would not have had the strength to achieve such amazing things. 3. Can we be sure that Jesus’ tomb truly was found empty? It would have been so easy for the enemies of the Christians to disprove what the Christians were saying: they could have simply presented the body in the tomb. It is precisely because they could not find such a body that they resorted to saying that someone must have stolen the body. 4. Could those that saw the Resurrected Christ actually have seen a vision or a hallucination? We must not lose sight of the fact that on multiple occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people (including over 500 at once) experienced appearances of Jesus alive. If you study Jewish religion of the time, no-one ever talked about Resurrection of an individual. Those that saw the Risen Christ were not expecting this, they were in no way primed. There are other objections, but these are easy to dismiss and not highly regarded amongst scholars. In summary, if one looks rationally at the evidence we have for the Resurrection of Jesus, one can decide that this probably was a historical event that really occurred. Of course, a Christian, even one who has leanings toward rational thought, has other reasons to believe in God. He just has to look around him, and within himself, and can come to the conclusion that it is a lot more likely there is a God than that there is only a purposeless physical universe. Ultimately, however, true and deep faith is a gift of God, a gift to the sincere and humble- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The ecumenical (from the Gr. οἰκουμένη, civilised world) synods (from the Gr. σύνοδος, travelling together, common way) are symptomatic for the ecclesial mindset and experience, manifesting the communal dimension of our faith. The seven ecumenical synods share in common the fact that – while addressing the various heresies which challenged the Church of the first millennium – they have formulated doctrines representing crucial guidelines for our faith and life till the end of times. It is important to note that ‘formulating’ cannot be mistaken for ‘innovating’; the canonisation of a doctrine means to bring it to a clear and purely apostolic expression, in order to constitute a faithful guide into the Christian mystery. Punctually, the seven ecumenical synods debated: The first (Nicaea, 325AD) – the heresy of Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, considering him a mere creature. Against Arianism, the Church stated that Christ is the Lord, truly God and Only-begotten Son of God, of one essence with the Father, from whom he is eternally born and not created in time. The second (Constantinople, 381AD) – the heresy of Macedonius, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, considering him as inferior to the Father and the Son. Against Macedonianism, the Church stated that the Holy Spirit is Lord and Giver of life, originating eternally from the Father and being worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son as their equal. The most famous outcome of the first two synods is the (Nicene-Constantinopolitan) Creed. The third (Ephesus, 431AD) – the heresy of Nestorius, who was unable to acknowledge the inner ‘hypostatic’ relation between the two natures, divine and human, of Christ, speaking of two persons (acting subjects). Against Nestorianism, the Church stated that there is one Christ, the incarnate Son and Logos of God, who united hypostatically (in his own eternal person) the human nature he assumed from the Theotokos. As a direct consequence of the hypostatic union, the Church emphasised the existential outcomes of the incarnation, namely the humanisation of God (who was truly crucified in the flesh) and respectively the deification of man (who was truly introduced in the divine life). The fourth (Chalcedon, 451AD) – the heresy of Eutychius, who affirmed that the human nature of Christ was so much deified that it was eventually absorbed by his divinity; therefore in Christ would have been just one nature, the divine. Against Eutychianism (or Monophysitism), the Church stated that although the hypostatic union is perfect from the very moment of Christ’s conception, none of the two natures – divine and human – is changed or abolished. Contemplated from the point of view of his two unconfused natures, Christ is truly God and truly man; contemplated from the point of view of the undivided hypostasis/person, there is one Christ who lived the features of his both natures in a complex way (a mode labelled by later theologians as theandricity, Godmanhood). The fifth (Constantinople, 553AD) – various heresies, such as the late Palestinian Origenism (speaking of the pre-existence of the souls, interpreting God’s creation in pessimistic terms, denying the permanence of the Logos’ incarnation and announcing the final restoration of all beings, including the demons) and a series of Antiochian authors who either supported Nestorius or have been his inspiration (Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, Ibas of Edessa). The council represents an essential phase within the ecclesial process of articulating dogmatically the reality of incarnation and its salvific consequences, on the one hand, also of interpreting Chalcedon in light of Ephesus and the traditional Christology as formulated by St Cyril of Alexandria. The most famous outcome of this council is the hymn Ὁ Μονογενής, Only-begotten. The sixth (Constantinople, 680AD) – two related Christological heresies, intended as compromises between the Orthodox and the Monophysites: Monoenergism (teaching that in Christ was active or energetic only the divine nature) and Monotheletism (teaching that in Christ was manifested only the divine will). Against the two heresies, the Church stated that since the hypostatic union did not annihilate the characteristics of the two natures, we must acknowledge that both are active in Christ. More specifically, according to the natures, in Christ there are two energies and two wills, and according to the hypostasis one complex (theandric) energy and will. The seventh (Nicaea, 787AD) – the iconoclasm, or the heresy of those denying the possibility of visually representing God and the saints, also the legitimacy of the icon veneration. The Church stated against the iconoclasts that since God the Logos assumed hypostatically our flesh, becoming visible, we can represent him in the icons, together with his saints who are his living icons. The council specified also that (1) the icons express visually what the Scripture proclaims by words, (2) iconography represents the Bible of the analphabets, and (3) the veneration addressed to the icons goes to the originals (the persons represented by them). It is obvious that all the above mentioned heresies still exist, even if under various forms, determining us to remain faithful to the ecumenical synods as the accurate expression of the apostolic faith. Also important to note is the fact that by all their decisions, the ecumenical synods defended ultimately the possibility of our participation in the divine life and deification through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Firstly, we must remember that many times we all worry over things that we do not need to worry about. We may think we are suffering, whereas in reality we are worrying unnecessarily. It has been said: “If someone throws a dagger at you, it makes all the difference if you catch it by the blade or catch it by the handle.” Two people may be going through the same illness or other hardship, one may see it as a catastrophe, and the other may be a lot more patient and at peace. Secondly it needs to be acknowledged that a lot of suffering occurs because of the faults and shortcomings of others. Some people are difficult to live with, cannot accept that they are wrong, have a huge temper, are selfish, greedy, etc. If God had pre-programmed all of us to be considerate, loving, humble etc, there would be a lot less suffering in the world. In response we need to explain that God has created us free, and that there is an enormous beauty in freedom. On this issue of the trials we go through due to others we need to point out that the Fathers of our Church encourage us to actually see these trials as a type of blessing. For example if someone criticizes us we could respond with anger, or by becoming depressed. It is better however to realise that by being criticized we are being helped to achieve something we all desperately need: humility. If someone does something very unfair to us, again this has the potential to help us grow spiritually. We can struggle to forgive them, and have the faith that God will bring justice. In general, if we are patient and tolerant with difficult people we are on the road that the saints walked on, a road that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. Why does God, who loves us so much, allow suffering? A number of points need to be raised:
- We have been assured by the Bible that if God has allowed us to go through suffering, He knows that it is not greater than our ability to cope with it. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
- God knows better than us what is good for us.
- A few years of suffering, even decades of suffering, is very tiny compared to eternity of happiness in Heaven, and if our patience helps to lead us to heaven, then it is worth it.
- We can grow through suffering.
There can be no better description of the meaning of true Faith than that given by the Apostle Paul. «Faith is that, that gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of things we do not see» (Hebr. 11, 1). This means that Faith is the absolute certainty and unshakable conviction, that I the believer, will partake of future blessings which do now exist, which appear not to exist, but which I hope and wait for them to be realized and expect to enjoy them. Such blessings are the second coming of Jesus Christ, the day of the final judgement, the resurrection of the dead, and life in the eternal Kingdom of God. The Christian also believes that he will be freed from the tyranny of sin, he will receive help to become a sanctified individual (theosis), and he will be protected from the many dangers which threaten the integrity of his soul. And what of the «things we do not see» ? – such as, the creation of the World, the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the angelic hosts, the spiritual world of the souls, and of one’s own soul. All these are unseen, but the Christian is so convinced of their existence, as though he has seen them with his own eyes. The ultimate purpose of such true faith is to accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Saviour, as well as that of every one else in the World, and to unquestionably accept and believe all His teachings and live my life according to them. It is such faith that transforms this earth into heaven and this life into a veritable paradise.
It is a matter of fact that more and more people in the Western societies, from all walks of life and mostly intellectuals, become interested in Orthodoxy. Incarnating the original message of the Gospel and exploring it within various historical, cultural and geographical contexts, the Orthodox tradition exerts ineffable attraction upon those looking for more spiritual ways. The secret of its success lays in the fact that Orthodoxy ultimately is, if anything, the ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4), the supreme celebration of life and restoration of its fullness in light of the traditional apostolic criteria, in Christ’s Holy Spirit. Its message, consequently, is not exhaustible by any ideological statements or ethicist commandments, since within the frame of Orthodoxy both faith and life are being intricately interconnected. Paraphrasing the words of St John Chrysostom, Orthodoxy illustrates excellently the application of the following principle: ‘your life should reflect your teachings; your teachings should preach your life’. This characteristic is reflected in the preliminary instruction (catechism) received by the converts (catechumens). And in fact, during their catechetical instruction, the converts to Orthodoxy are introduced to our way of living which combines the doctrinal and ethical aspects into a complex synthesis. Given this complexity, coming to Orthodoxy unfolds as a process of gradual assimilation. Inaugurated by an act of personal decision, this process takes the effort of conversion, of reshaping or μετάνοια, engaging the change of one’s mind and life in accordance with the ecclesial criteria. Along this journey, an essential aspect is represented by the relation of the convert with the spiritual father, who is a true embodiment of tradition and the one able to introduce wisely the convert to the rhythms of the Church’s life. This is the meaning of His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos’ statement, that ‘Christian faith is basically the result of communion between two persons’. With respect to the process of ecclesially incorporating converts, various Orthodox Churches follow different patterns. The major differences occur with the reception of the adults whose upbringing has taken place within other Christian denominations. In this respect it is to be noted that while some Churches baptise again all heterodox coming into Orthodoxy, the majority of Orthodox Churches (including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia) receive them by chrismation, or anointing (the equivalent of the heterodox ceremony of confirmation), after passing the necessary stage of the catechetical instruction. Also, a few Orthodox Churches ask the converts to abjure the heretical teachings and practices they professed before their conversion to Orthodoxy, as a prerequisite of either the catechetical instruction or the reception of the holy mysteries (sacraments) of baptism and/or chrismation. The policy is, however, more clear with respect to receiving to Orthodoxy the converts coming from non-Christian backgrounds. For such cases, the converts should all pass the catechetical stage of instruction and after to receive all the sacraments of initiation: baptism, chrismation and communion. After the reception of the holy mysteries (sacraments), the converts are considered full members of the Church, enjoying all the blessings of partaking with the people of God.
Although this term refers to the Virgin Mary, it is in fact a statement of conviction about who we believe Christ to be. The Greek term ‘Theotokos’ literally means ‘the one who gave birth to God’. We thereby confess our faith that Christ is not simply an enlightened teacher or prophet. Nor is He a human being who somehow ‘achieved’ divinity through His life and work. Rather, He is God in the flesh. He became a full human being, like us, without for a moment ceasing to be fully divine. The Holy Mother of God is therefore always seen in relation to Christ Whom she brought into the world, through the will of the Father, in the Holy Spirit. It was through her that the Incarnation took place. The eternal Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, became human and entered time, born as a human Child. Thus, He who is born beyond time from the Father without a mother, was born in time from a Mother without a father. It is an incomprehensible mystery. And it is a cause for the faithful to glorify God. In every Church Service, we hear this term of honour repeated time and again whenever the Mother of God is referred to. It is worth recalling that Elizabeth pre-empted the title Theotokos when she greeted Mary as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43) soon after the Annunciation. The Holy Virgin then prophesied that “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). This scriptural passage magnifying God’s divine plan is joyfully chanted at every Orthros Service to this day. In short, to describe the Holy Mother of God as ‘Theotokos’ is not a ‘diversion’ from Christ, but a re-affirmation of our devotion to Him.
The “Small Entrance” is the procession with the Holy Gospel book which takes place in the early part of the Divine Liturgy. It symbolises Jesus Christ coming into the world as the “Word of God” to teach and instruct us into the ways of God, to know and understand His will and, to ultimately prepare us for the Kingdom of God. It prepares us for the first major focus of the liturgy that is, listening to God’s word. The “Great Entrance” is the procession of the holy gifts of bread and wine which occurs after the Gospel Reading and the censing at the Cherubic Hymn. The previously prepared and covered gifts are taken in procession from the Prothesis table inside the Altar Sanctuary, out into the congregation, down the centre aisle, back into the Sanctuary through the Royal Door. Once inside the Sanctuary, they are placed onto the Holy Altar ready for the Anaphora - the Eucharistic offering and consecration into the Body and Blood of Christ. The “Great Entrance” symbolises Jesus Christ coming into the world not only to teach, instruct and to prepare us for the Kingdom of God, but also to offer Himself for us on the Cross as a sacrifice of Love. In other words, it symbolises everything God has done for us in Christ to save us and bring us into eternal life with Him. The whole action of the “Great Entrance” reminds us and proclaims that God came into the world as one of us in Jesus Christ and willingly suffered and accepted death to save us from death and sin. We could say, then, that the “Great Entrance” is the procession of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, going there in humility to lay down his life for us and for our salvation. The great entrance prepares us for the second and final focus of the liturgy which is the Eucharist.
For Orthodox Faithful the lighting of candles in Church is a worshipful act that is very rich in meaning. The unlit candle represents us before we came close to Christ- when we were then spiritually dead. However the lit candle that stays upright signifies those who have been enlightened by Christ. Indeed, light represents the light of Christ according to Jesus’ own words, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). If we just rely on our own abilities, our intelligence and human wisdom, we will live in darkness, we will not know the purpose of life, what is truly important, how to live, etc. By submitting to the revealed truth of Christ, light comes into this darkness and our eyes open, we perceive truths and beauty that we could not perceive before. When we light a candle we are in a sense promising to let our life shine as Christ commanded in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven. As the candle gives out light it melts silently, without noise and commotion. We too need to bring the light of Christ to others, and we to need to do this in silence, without showing off or portraying ourselves. Also, as the candle melts, so every Christian needs to melt in their work with others- they needs to offer their spiritual and physical strengths, they need to not worry about becoming tired, they need to sacrifice themselves as they give themselves to acts of love for their fellow human beings. It is also common in our Church to light a candle for someone in need, to honour a saint, or to commemorate a deceased loved one. Of course, we should not use candles as a kind of magical substitute for our own prayers- we use candles as an expression of our own prayers, in a sacramental fashion.
Every item in our Creed is a statement about what we believe as Orthodox Christians. The Creed begins with a series of statements about God and then immediately proceeds to talk about the Church. This is significant as it tells us immediately that the church is not a building or even an institution in the worldly sense. It is an article of faith and therefore non-negotiable for Orthodox Christians. But what do we mean by ‘church’? The Greek word for church - εκκλησια is a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew word qahal - which means literally "assembly" and in the Biblical usage, the Assembly of the People of God. In the New Testament it came to mean the People of God assembled together in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel our Lord said that wherever the ‘church’ or assembly of believers gathered, he was mystically present among them (cf. Matt 18:20) The New Testament uses the word ‘Church’ in the plural (eg. The seven churches of Asia (cf. Rev 1:11) and in the singular, when St Paul talks about the Church being the body of Christ. (cf. 1 Cor 10:16; 11:29; 12:27; Eph 1:23) It follows that the followers of Jesus Christ from the earliest times established faith communities or churches that were part of the One Church of Christ with Christ at it’s head. St Paul says that God the Father has made Christ “the head over all things for the church, which is his body...” (Eph 1:22). He also said a person becomes one body with Christ in Baptism (cf.’ Rom 6:4-11) so wherever the church – the assembly of believers were, the fullness of Christ’s presence was there also and that Christ and the Church were inseparable. Consequently this brings us back to the four adjectives used in the Nicene Creed: "one, holy, catholic, apostolic." What do these words mean? ONE means that the Church is one because God is one. "There is one body, and one Spirit... one hope... One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:4-6). In His great Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed that the Church may be "one" even as He and the Father are one (John 17:22). There cannot be many churches visible or invisible. There can only be one Church of Christ and that unity is expressed through the Faith in the One God and Father, One Lord Jesus Christ and One Holy Spirit – the Triune God. HOLY. The Church is holy because our Lord made her so. "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing but that it should by holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). Not only is the Church holy but it is also her purpose to make us holy, i.e., different from the world, conformed to God's will through His Grace and our free will. CATHOLIC. The Orthodox Church is Catholic, meaning universal and whole, because she has preserved the wholeness of the faith of Christ through the centuries without adding or subtracting to that divinely revealed Faith. For this reason she has come to be known as the "Orthodox" Church, i.e., the Church that has preserved the full and true faith of Christ “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). Orthodox Christians believe that the Church, which has Christ Himself as Head and which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, cannot err. Her voice is the voice of Christ in the world today. Catholic means also that the Church is universal. It embraces all peoples, the entire earth. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . ." Just as there are no distinctions within the love of God, so the Church stretches out her arms to the world. "Here there cannot be Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man . . ." (Col. 3:11). God's love is all-inclusive; so the Church is Catholic. APOSTOLIC. The Church is apostolic because she teaches what the apostles taught and can trace her existence historically directly back to the apostles. It was the Apostle Paul, for example, who established the Christian Church in Greece through his early missionary journeys. His letters to the Corinthians, the Thessalonians, the Philippians were written to the churches he had established in those Greek cities. The Church he founded there has never ceased to exist. The Apostles Peter & Paul founded the church in Antioch which exists to this day as the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Other apostles established the church in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Greece and Cyprus. The Eastern Orthodox Church has existed in these places since the days of the apostles. From these cities and countries, missionaries brought the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus to other countries: Russia, the Ukraine, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. This self-governing family of churches is known today as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Thus, the Orthodox Church is the legitimate and historical continuation of the early Church. She has the same faith, the same spirit, the same ethos. "This is the Apostolic faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the Orthodox faith, this faith has established the universe" (From the Sunday of Orthodoxy vespers). The Church is therefore both visible and invisible. The visible Church is the Church Militant on earth. The invisible Church is the Church Triumphant in heaven, "the heavenly Jerusalem . . . innumerable angels in festal gathering . . . the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:22-23). The Church is therefore the Kingdom of God on earth, which manifests in its fullness the Grace of God’s redemptive work in Christ to the world.
Within the contemporary order of the Divine Liturgy the clergy concelebrating perform the kiss of peace, right before the proclamation of the confession of faith (the Creed). This moment within our ritual takes place when the deacon (or the priest) exhorts: Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess… and the people respond: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity of one essence and inseparable. Parallel to this dialogue, the clergy in the holy altar come one by one, starting with the bishop or the presbyter presiding at the liturgy, and they kiss the holy gifts and then kiss one another. More precisely, the concelebrants come and greet the bishop or the presiding presbyter, embracing each other and proclaiming: Christ is in our midst – He was and is and will be. From the outset, this ritual was understood by the Church as a necessary condition for the continuation and fulfilment of the holy synaxis. Our prayers and offerings cannot be presented to God if there is no peace and love between us (cf. Mt 5:23-24). During the first Christian millennium, the kiss of peace was a ritual act performed by all those who participated in the holy synaxis, as a manifestation of the “chosen race” and “royal priesthood” which is the people of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). This reality is echoed by the most characteristic greetings in the Pauline epistles, such as: greet one another with a holy kiss (Ro 16:16; 2 Cor 13:11-12), greet all the brethren with a holy kiss (1 Thess 5:26). In the second century, St Justin Martyr also mentioned this gesture of the entire worshipping community: we salute one another with a kiss (First -Apology 65). This communal act was still performed during the sixth and seventh centuries. In fact, the author known by tradition as St Dionysius the Areopagite observed: all exchange the ritual kiss (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3:2), and called this moment the divine kiss of peace (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3:3, section 8). St Maximus the Confessor gave an ecclesial interpretation of the practice: The spiritual kiss which is extended to all prefigures and portrays the concord, unanimity and identity of views which we shall all have among ourselves in faith and love at the time of the revelation of the ineffable blessings to come (Mystagogy 17). He also suggested that the kiss of peace is related, together with all the other elements of the Divine Liturgy, to the mystery of the transformation of the individual believer into members of the people of God, called with one name, that of Christ (cf. Mystagogy 1 & 24).Today, various Christian Churches preserve the custom of shaking hands, in remembrance of this venerable act. As a Manifestation of our unity as people of God, who- Strive to obey the commandment of the lord to “love one another” (John 13:34), the kiss of peace gives substance to our confession in the one faith. Only by loving each other, as confirmed by the kiss of peace, may we proclaim the undivided Trinity as the paradigm and source of all communion. A Church established on the bedrock of love and compassion reflects the splendour of the Trinitarian life.
When addressing many questions concerning practises of Orthodox faith and worship, the answers have sometimes more to do with the changing ways of doing things rather than adherences to rules or directives. This question relating to the differences of reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Divine Liturgy is a case in point. Receiving of the Body of Christ directly into the hands and drinking the Blood of Christ directly from the chalice, is actually the more ancient practice and is dealt with by some of the Canons of the early Councils of our Church (e.g. from the ‘Quinisext Council’ in Trullo in 692 AD). The Clergy still follow this ancient custom down to this day. However, the practice for the laity has changed for most celebrations of the Divine Liturgy. The laity receives the Body and Blood of Christ combined in the Holy chalice, via a sacred spoon directly into the mouth. Such a change has taken place for many reasons; concerns for ease of reception and care when distributing the very real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in particular. The ‘Liturgy of Saint James’ is celebrated on only one day each year, on his Feast Day - 23rd October; it is this James who is identified as the ‘Brother of God’. During this service, the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is distributed separately; first the Holy Body and then the Holy Blood. This service reflects the more ancient practice. However we are to receive the ‘Holy Communion’, it must be remembered that we are partaking of the Body and Blood of the incarnate Son of God. We do so with care, with humility, and ‘with fear of God, with faith and love we draw near’.”