There are billions of people living on Earth, with countless differences between them. Such differences can be the color of their skin, the language they speak and the level of their civilization. Despite their many differences, all these people have something common that unites them and makes them different from animals, something that makes them “human”. Every single human being, without exception, deep inside him feels the existence and presence of a higher being toward which he turns in moments of great need. That is why man alone stands up straight, and despite the fact that his feet are firmly on the ground, his head (containing his brain) moves upward in a vain attempt to reach the sky. This attempt describes religion as well, as “Religion is the close, living relationship, the need of communication of a human being with a higher being, a being we tend to call God. Only through religion the humble and sick, the sinner and insignificant man can regain his happiness and become again “in grace god”.
RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS FEELING
There is a huge difference between religion and religious feeling. Every human being has implanted deep inside him the religious feeling, a “microchip” (so to speak in one of today’s most popular technological terms) placed there by his Creator. Even those who live deep inside the jungle and have never heard of God, even those who choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator, even those who call themselves “unbelievers” turn the “eyes” of their soul toward this higher being and kneel asking His mercy every time the elements of nature turn violent, when sickness takes away their strength, the moment death approaches ever so threateningly to take away what they previously thought so precious.
From the very moment the creation (humans) went against the will of the Creator (God), somehow influenced by the devil, the mind darkened towards worshiping other creations, far lesser than himself. By acting this way, man walked away from the life-supporting presence of God giving his trust instead to many gods he imagined in his tormented mind. By choosing to go against the will of God, man lost his trust in Him. In the “absence” of God (willingly banished from man’s heart), the humble man, impressed by natural phenomena, directed his prayers to them, in a vain attempt to make them favorable towards him, asking for their friendship. Nature was now his enemy, so he imagined that, by worshiping the elements, he would avoid unwanted situations. He worshiped the sun, giver of life, the powerful elements of thunder, lightning and earthquake, as well as rivers and high mountains (especially with erupting volcanoes). The impersonal and lifeless were recognized as gods and man offered to them worship and sacrifice (even other humans, victims of a darkened mind). The next, somehow natural step was the imagination of false gods, armed with human weaknesses that enabled man to rightfully act his wishes and desires. For example, the ancient Greeks had 12 main gods, each one in charge of a specific field; for a mainly island country, Poseidon was the god that ruled the seas, and for mainly warrior people, Ares was the protector of war. Aphrodite satisfied the erotic fantasies of man, Artemis his hunting urges and Apollo the ever-present warmth of the sun.
Living in this dark world of idolatry, few individuals kept their faith in the One True God. Men with moral values higher than the rest like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job and their descendants, the people that eventually formed the nation of Israel and continued unstoppably the tradition of monotheism. It is a tradition that reaches to our days with the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all based on the Hebrew Bible. Unfortunately, even today in the midst of technological advance there are religions based on natural instincts, far away from the loving nature of the One True God. Even today, more than ever, due to an “openness” of mind and “freedom” of expression, there are corrupted minds that refuse to accept the existence of the Creator and insist in believing the creation. Even today, there are people who elevate themselves above their true worth and behave against their fellow people with arrogance, taking advantage of their position in society or the wealth God has entrusted in their possession. The way back to the lost Paradise proves to be a difficult one, despite God’s constant attempt to guide man there.
REVELATION OF GOD
Despite man choosing to walk away from God’s protection and seek his happiness away from His merciful love, God reveals Himself in many ways, in an effort to make man realize His divine presence and help him find his way back to His welcoming, open arms. “Revelation is the appearance of something that is hidden and unknown.” God uses both Natural Divine Revelation and Supernatural Divine Revelation. Natural Divine Revelation is the appearance of God through nature. The mere existence of the world in which we live is a proof of God’s existence. The sun that rises and sets every day, the regular change of the seasons, the rain, even the snow, the various fruit and vegetables are nothing but signs sent by God to us daily. These everyday small miracles (taken for granted as mere “natural phenomena”) are nothing more than God shouting to every one of us, “Hey man, I am still here and I want to protect you! Show some attention and you will see me!”
The Supernatural Divine Revelation is the direct appearance of God to some special people. God was “speaking” daily with Adam, as the Bible informs us (not by word of mouth but spiritually, through the mind as God is Spirit). He paid a visit to Abraham, appearing as the three visiting Angels, revealed Himself to Moses as the Burning Bush and appeared to give him His Commandments on Mount Sinai. He spoke through the mouths of Judges and Prophets and directed the fates of His people. Finally, “When time was up”, the Only Begotten Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ willingly took on human form and lived among us to fulfill the Law, a perfect moral Law based on love, the final piece in the plan of God for the salvation of human beings.
Many people are fooled by false coins. Of course, for a false coin to exist it is absolutely necessary to have a pure one first. Something similar is happening with religion. Many different forms of worship are just cheap remakes of the one, true religion. This religion has been revealed directly by God to his best creation.
The founder of the Christian religion is our Lord Jesus Christ. The second person of the Holy Trinity (God Father, God Son and God Holy Spirit), who took flesh and bones in a final effort to reveal to man the whole truth and shown him the way that leads to spiritual salvation. Jesus Christ teaches the law of love and demands from every body that follows Him and carries His holy name, faith to the One, True God; the Holy Trinity.
Unfortunately, some of Jesus Christ’s teachings have been changed by some people, who have moved away from the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” He established, by sending to His Disciples the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Today, Christianity is divided into three main groups: Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and the Protestant movement. From these groups, only Orthodoxy keeps unchanged every single teaching of Christ and the Apostles, the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Synods (Councils) and the Works of the Holy Fathers of the Church. Even today (and for the rest of time as we know it) the Orthodox Church keeps as sources of its faith the Holy Bible and the Holy Tradition. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants have changed the true meaning of Christianity, with several dogmas and traditions that do not agree with the spirit of Christ’s teachings.
The Holy Bible is the “Book of God”. It is a collection of several books, written by holy people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Writers used their human faculties (senses) and the Holy Spirit only protected them from making vital mistakes that could change the true meaning of God’s revelation.
The Holy Bible of the Orthodox Church contains 76 books, divided into two main collections, the Old Testament (containing 49 books) and the New Testament (containing another 27 books).
The List of the Books of the Old Testament
- a) Historical Books
- Genesis 2. Exodus 3. Leviticus 4. Numbers 5. Deuteronomy 6. Joshua 7. Judges 8. Ruth 9. I Kings 10. II Kings 11. III Kings 12. IV Kings 13. I Chronicles 14. II Chronicles 15. I Ezra 16. II Ezra 17. Nehemiah 18. Tobit 19. Judith 20. Esther 21. I Maccabees 22. II Maccabees 23. III Maccabees
- b) Didactic or Poetic Books
- Psalms 25. Job 26. Proverbs 27. Ecclesiastes 28. Song of Songs 29. Wisdom of Solomon 30. Wisdom of Sirach
- c) Prophetical Books
- Hosea 32. Amos 33. Micah 34. Joel 35. Obadiah 36. Jonah 37. Nahum 38. Habakkuk 39. Zephaniah 40. Haggai 41. Zechariah 42. Malachi 43. Isaiah 44. Jeremiah 45. Baruch 46. Lamentations 47. Epistle of Jeremiah 48. Ezekiel 49. Daniel
The List of the Books of the New Testament
- a) Historical Books
- The Gospel according to St. Matthew 2. The Gospel according to St. Mark 3. The Gospel according to St. Luke 4. The Gospel according to St. John 5. The Acts of the Apostles
- b) Didactic Books
- The Epistle of Paul to the Romans 7. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians 8. The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians 9. The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians 10. The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians 11. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians 12. The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians 13. The First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians 14. The Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians 15. The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy 16. The Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy 17. The Epistle of Paul to Titus 18. The Epistle of Paul to Philemon 19. The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews 20. The Catholic Epistle of James 21. The First Catholic Epistle of Peter 22. The Second Catholic Epistle of Peter 23. The First Catholic Epistle of John 24. The Second Catholic Epistle of John 25. The Third Catholic Epistle of John 26. The Catholic Epistle of Judas
- c) Prophetical Book
- Revelation of John
The above listed books comprise the complete CANON (list) recognized by the Orthodox Church for teaching and worshipping purposes. All the above-mentioned books are regarded as equal and of the same importance and are used to guide the faithful towards their spiritual feedback and eventual salvation.
While every Christian denomination accepts all the above listed Books of the New Testament, the Roman Catholics and the Protestants approach the Books of the Old Testament in a different way. The Roman Catholics do not accept the books of I Ezra and III Maccabees and include the Epistle of Jeremiah in the Book of Baruch (as its 6th chapter), recognizing in all 47 books.
The Protestants, followed the example of Judaism and dropped ten books, regarding them as Apocryphal (or occult). These ten books are: I Ezra, Tobit, Judith, I Maccabees, II Maccabees, III Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah. Judaism had no reason to drop these ten Books as they used them extensively at the worship until the final destruction of the Temple of Solomon (69 A.D. by the Roman general – then Emperor Titus). The use of them by Jesus only proves this usage. Maybe the decision by Judaism to drop the ten “Apocryphal” (as they call them) Books was taken for political reasons than religious.
Usually, when we talk about “tradition” we mean orally given instructions about living, handed down from generation to generation; something like the baton handed from an athlete to his colleague in a 4X4 race. In Church language, this is completely wrong, as tradition, although started the same way (as oral instructions from Jesus and His Disciples to their immediate descendants), was later written down in an effort by the Church to avoid heresies. By writing its tradition, the Church protected itself from changes to its dogmas, those very ideas that make her role to the salvation of every human being so important and vital.
Tradition includes the Writings of the Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church. These devoted clergymen, educated and responsible gave their lives to the course and managed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to reach deep inside the thoughts of the writers of the Books of the Holy Bible and express their full meaning. Holy Fathers appeared immediately after the Apostles and included Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarpus of Smyrna and Justin the Philosopher (1st century A.D.). The greatest Fathers appeared in the 4th and 5th century A.D. with John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great at the very top. Their writings were used as a shield against the different heresies that appeared during the first centuries of the life of the Church.
Also important in Holy Tradition are the Canons decided by the Seven Ecumenical Councils held by the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” from 325 A.D. until the 8th century. The Ecumenical Councils were called (mainly by Emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire, the so called Byzantine Empire) to solve problems created by the appearance of heresies and also to rule on the ways of life of every Christian. “Canon” is a Greek word meaning a “ruler”, a tool that helps us draw straight lines. So, “Canon” is the way of life we should live as Christians in order to get to the Kingdom of Heaven. As an easy guide to Christians, the first two Ecumenical Councils (held in Nicea, 325 and Constantinople 381) agreed on the Creed, a short statement of faith telling the Christians where to put their trust at (in other words, what to believe).
Another source of Holy Tradition are the Books used in worship. Initially, worship depended on the guidance of the Holy Spirit upon the Priest. Later on, it took a unique form, depending to its place of origin (Alexandria of Egypt, Antioch of Syria, Constantinople). Today it is crystallized into a set group of services, through which the faithful are blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, participating in person in Sacraments and other kinds of everyday services. These services are written down, and the Liturgical Books include petitions and prayers by the priesthood and readings and songs for the readers and singers.
Finally, the Holy Tradition includes the special books that contain the lives of around 7 million saints of our Church. The lives of these people (who are kind of heroes for the Church) are the living example to all the Christians who are asked to follow them. Their icons show men and women, young and old, of every profession and background of life, proving to the next generations the possibility of winning the race of this life and gaining salvation.
HOLY HISTORY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Holy Bible is the book of God. It is divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the beautiful story of the creation of the world and of man and his travel through the history of a group of people, the Israelites of pre-Christ period.
All around us we can observe and enjoy perfect creations that manage to impress us, even with their simplicity. The sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers, the oceans, the green plains, the snowy mountains are so perfect although we put their existence down to coincidence. Furthermore, we consider the rise of the sun every morning and the merciful rain as our exclusive rights. Instead of shouting in awe with the songwriter, “Great are your works Oh Lord, because you have created everything with wisdom”, we prefer to search to find reasons hidden behind so much perfectionism. We employ scientists to give answers to our questions about the creation and they in turn feed us back with complicated accounts of events, like the much-applauded recent theory of the “Big Bang”. Money and time are wasted on studies that could be avoided if we only employ a tiny part of faith and a few seconds to read the opening words of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament.
“In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth”
Ten simple words explain so much. When? “In the beginning”, the Bible tells us. Why should we know the exact moment the first man lived or when did he had his first tooth? What really matters for the writers of the Holy Bible, is not the chronological order of the events, but if these events play a part at the Divine Plan. When the writers tell us “In the beginning” it means that before the creation there was chaos, a great NOTHING. The one that decided to create a beautiful world is God, who worked methodically. Initially God created the Angels, spiritual beings who glorify and serve Him. He then created the Heaven and the Earth with all the vegetable and animals. God left his best creation for last, making mud and forming man (Adam = made of soil) and blowing in his face His own breath. Thus man is an icon of God and has inside him forever the spiritual presence of his Creator.
Realising the loneliness man felt, God gave him a companion, Eve, an eternal partner. Also, He gave them two orders. He asked them to work so to avoid laziness, and to avoid eating from the tree of knowing good and bad. Despite all this, man chose to go against the will of God, loosing his trust to His word and preferring to accept the advice of the devil, a spiritual being (an Angel) who fell from Grace and since then works against the will of God. Adam worsened his position by blaming indirectly God for his sin, accusing Him of being at fault for created Eve for him. Unfortunately, by doing so, man lost also his trust at nature. Natural phenomena that didn’t bother him until then (rain, snow, sun, earthquake, tsunami) seemed now threatening and the animals became his enemies in his quest to conquer Earth. Even his own kind seemed so distant, as soon Cain killed his own brother Abel, virtually for nothing. Adam thus experienced the result of his foolish act, and death became since natural.
The fast growing of population that followed with the blessing of God drove man away into a world of idolatry. People worshipped their perishable flesh and forgot about the eternal spirit. Only Noah and his family kept their faith to the One, True God. For the sake of them, God gave man another chance – in fact 120 years, that long took Noah to build his Arc and another seven days after Noah and his family enter the Arc. Then, the Flood came initialising a new beginning for human race. A new beginning that didn’t last long as man again went back to his old ways, attempting to build a Tower and reaches up in the skies and into the Kingdom of God. Babel means “confusion of languages” as man cannot understand anymore his fellow man.
The immediate result of this isolation is idolatry. Man began to worship anything he is afraid of, in an effort to pacify it and earn its favour. The loud and bright thunder, the trembling earthquake, the powerful animals, even influential kings earned man’s trust and became his gods. Despite this, God kept working to fulfil His plan and help man reach salvation. He chose the devout family of Abram, living in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia (in today’s Iraq) who lived at around 1850 B.C. to make him His vehicle towards completing this plan. Abraham (as he was renamed by God) travelled to Palestine and created a dynasty. His son Isaac followed his father’s belief and footsteps, while his grandson Jacob gave birth to twelve sons, to form the twelve tribes of Israel (their names are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, Benjamin).
Due to a prolong famine in the land of Palestine, Jacob and his twelve sons moved to Egypt, where the Israelites lived for the next 300 years. At around 1200 B.C. God chose another leader for His people, Moses to guide them back to the Promised Land. God gave his people His Law, received by Moses on Mount Sinai, shortly after departing from Egypt. The Ten Commandments (as they are known) are the backbone of every law-abiding nation, a perfect example of behaviourism that leads to a better civil life. After forty years spent in the dessert of Sinai Peninsula, and armed with the Mosaic Law, the Israelites, with their new leader Joshua reached and re-conquered Palestine. Despite the presence of God amongst them and so many miraculous interventions by Him, the Israelites were easily influenced by a world of idolatry that surrounded them and adopted foreign traditions. As a result, God punished them by allowing interior bloodshed and repeated invasions by enemies. In times of repentance, God helped his people sending to them Judges, military leaders during war and administrative rulers during times of peace. There were fifteen Judges, among them Gideon, Samson, Eli and Samuel (in the number is also included a woman, Deborah).
Again influenced by foreign elements, the Israelites demanded from the last Judge, Samuel to approve Saul as their king. From 1040 until 975 B.C. three kings ruled the state of Israel: Saul, David and Solomon (David’s son, by the wife of Uriah). Civil war following the death of Solomon resulted to the division of the kingdom into the North Kingdom of Israel and the South of Judah. The Prophets became the mouth of God and called in vain for repentance, but the Israelites were already heading towards destruction. The Assyrians destroyed the North kingdom in 723 B.C. while the Babylonians finally destroyed the South kingdom in 597 and 586 B.C.
The return of the Israelites from the Babylonian capture (it began in 538 B.C.) begins a new era for the nation. They lost forever kings and Prophets and the leadership fell on the authenticity of the Synagogue. A number of conquerors followed, with most prominent the conflict between the descendants of Alexander the Great, the Seleucids in Syria and Ptolemy in Egypt. Finally, Palestine fell to the new Empire of Rome, and the violent leadership of the dynasty of Herod. The Hebrews remained faithful to the One God, expecting the fulfilment of His promise to send the Messiah. Unfortunately, they expected a political and military leader to throw the enemy out of the Promised Land and re-established Israel as a dominant force in the world. These expectations made them blind to the arrival of Jesus Christ, who came peacefully, quietly and humble in a period of religious and moral draughtiness.
HOLY HISTORY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
The first four books of the New Testament are called Gospels. Written by four different Apostles, tell the life of the founder of the Christian religion, Jesus Christ. The Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the expected by the Old Testament Messiah, the Son of God and the Second person of the Holy Trinity. In Jesus become reality all the prophecies of the Old Testament and His life was mirrored in many cases in the Old Testament. Most striking mirroring of Jesus’ life is the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob. Loved by his father and hated by his brothers, Joseph was sold to caravan merchants and taken to Egypt where he became a trusted servant of Petefris, an official at the Pharaoh’s palace. Fancied erotically by the wife of his master, he rejected her advances and was taken to prison on false accusations. There, God helped him through the charisma of dream explaining. He became a high-ranking official of Pharaoh and helped his family in times of great need due to a famine the area. In fact, the life of Jesus Christ was just that; loved by His Father (God) was sold by His brothers (the Israelites) in false accusations (those of the Scriptors, the Pharisees and the Synagogue). After spending time in prison (tomb) He triumphed over death with his glorious Resurrection.
The writers of the Gospels try to pass the message of the new agreement (Testament) between God and the world to their readers. The four writers are: Mathew was a Disciple of Jesus and former customs officer. Mark was nephew of Barnabas (a rich landowner and secret Disciple of Jesus). Luke was a well-known doctor who followed Paul to his travels and John, one of the most loved Disciples of Jesus. In their Gospels they present the life, teachings and miracles performed by Jesus Christ, connecting them often with the Prophecies about Him.
The fifth book of the New Testament, written also by Luke, is an account of the life of the first Christian Church and the travels of another disciple, Paul. Paul (or Saul, as he was known by his Roman name) was a fanatical Pharisee who was sent by his sect to arrest any Christians hiding there. On his way to Damascus, God called Paul who believed and became one of the most hardened preachers and missionaries of Christianity.
The first century A.D. is marked by the life of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of His Disciples. Only one of the twelve, John died peacefully. All the others carried their own cross, empowered by the Holy Spirit that descended upon them on the day of the Pentecost, fifty days after the Lord’s Resurrection. Soon after, and following Christ’s final instruction (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”), Churches were established in almost everywhere in the known world. Paul and other Disciples sent to certain Churches Epistles, encouraged the faithful and solved problems arising among the new Christians. Finally, John wrote the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation, among a climate of expectation of the promised Second Coming of Christ. Christianity was by then a reality and the Church survived many prosecutions internal and external and guided millions of people to salvation.
A SHORT HISTORY OF 2000 YEARS OF CHRISTIANITY
By the end of the first century A.D. all the books of the New Testament were written in the midst of prosecutions and the first Church Councils. The prosecutions became more intense during the next two centuries as the Christians refused to worship false gods and the king of Rome. Charismatic Church leaders, like Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarpus of Smyrna and Justin the philosopher, took over the defending of the Church. Despite the intense prosecutions, 10% of the Roman Empire population became Christians. The worst prosecution happened at the beginning of the 4th century A.D. called by Diocletian and lasting until Constantine the Great took over as the first Christian Emperor. Constantine moved the capital of his Empire to Constantinople, a new city build on the site of the old village Byzantium and recognised Christianity as the formal religion of his Empire (Constantine and his mother Helen are honoured as saints by the Eastern Orthodox Church on the 21st of May).
Despite its successes, the Church faced internal problems with the appearance of heresies. During the next four centuries, seven Ecumenical Synods (Councils) were held to solve several problems that rose in the Church. Meanwhile during the 6th century A.D. the Emperor Justinian achieved the much desired unity and co-operation between the Church and the Nation. The worst problem the Church faced was the damaging argument about the holy icons, ignited by the dynasty of Isavrus and lasting for over a century. The Iconolatry (as it is known) ended by the Empress Theodora in mid 9th century A.D. allowing the Church to turn again its attention to missionary work towards the Slavs and the Bulgarians. During the 10th century A.D. we see the establishment of Mount Athos (Agion Oros) with traditional monasteries.
The 11th century is known as the century of the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Catholic Church. The Great Schism happened in 1054 and soon after the Latin Crusaders begun a series of Crusades to regain the rule over the Holy Land of Palestine from the Muslim Arabs. The booming Byzantine Empire became a target for the fortune seeking Crusaders who eventually captured it in 1204. Since then, the tense atmosphere between the two Churches would worsen until Mark Eugenicos rejected the Term of Unification of the Council of Ferrara – Florence. The Ottoman Turks’ attacked Constantinople, who was captured on 29th May 1453, ending a period of 1100 glorious years of Christian life.
The role of the defendant of Christianity in the East was then taken by Russia and its glory seeking Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Meanwhile, in the West the appearance of Renaissance and its strong representatives Erasmus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Fra Angeliko, Donatello and Boticelli led toward a radical change in Church matters. Following the gradual descent of the Pope into civilian and administration roles, prominent theologians of the West moved against the organised Church. Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in Switzerland and Ulrich Zviglius in Holland started the Protestant movement. By dropping the Holy Tradition, they minimised the Sacramental character of worship and based their denomination only on the Holy Bible (“Sola Scriptura, Sola Fidei”, the grace comes only with faith in the Scriptures). As a result to the Protestant movement, we observed the establishing of independent Churches in England and Scotland, connected with a drive for national independency (by kings Henry the Eight and John Knox).
The appearance of heretic movements continued with Deism, a romantic opinion about a higher being that created the world and then left it to its fate. The same century (17th) lived the great ecclesiastical composers Bach, Handle, Mozart and Beethoven. The next two centuries were dominated by developments in Russia, with the appearance of great saints, among them Seraphim of Sarov, a monk who lived for 20 years in isolation and who used to greet with the words, “Christ has risen!” Missionary work is prominent during the 19th century, with missionaries reaching Siberia, Tokyo, Alaska and the Pacific islands.
The 20th century saw the establishment of the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches as well as several meetings of the Orthodox Church, held since 1961 in Rhodes and Geneva. After 2000 years of Christian life, despite so many internal and external problems, the Christian Church is today stronger than ever, nourishing its members with the “living water” and in a continuous struggle to bring back to the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” the many lost sheep.
For eight centuries the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” faced every problem created in its body in unity. During the 9th century, the Pope (as the Bishop of Rome is better known) asked for rights never agreed by the united Church. The papal establishment became by then more civilian and authoritative, leading eventually to the separation of the two main sectors of the Church, into Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic. The separation is known as the Great Schism.
There were two phases of the Great Schism. Initially and between 861 – 886, the ideas of the Eastern Patriarch Photios prevented the separation. But, in 1054, Cardinal Umbert, head of a papal committee, arrived in Constantinople and placed damnations against the Eastern Patriarch Michael Kiroularios on the Altar of Hagia Sophia during a Sunday Service. Reasons for the damnations were the “Filioqve”, the unmarried priesthood and liturgical so called “errors”. The Eastern Patriarch sent damnations against all responsible for such an act and since then the two Churches have no communion.
- The papal leadership
Every independent Church is free and responsible for its own area. Never have been given to any Bishop special rights of domination over other Episcopal areas, except “honorary positions” at meetings. Despite this, Pope Nicolas 1st claimed to be the leader of the Christian Church “through divine grace”. The Eastern Church reacted, as Pope Nicolas tried to intervene at the argument between Photios and Ignatius, two candidates for the Bishopric in Constantinople. The Pope insisted that he was the direct descendant of Peter, “the greatest among the Disciples and High Priest of Christ on earth”. In fact, Peter was equal among the other disciples and never asked for leadership. Even so, founder of the Church of Rome is considered to be Paul who stayed in the city for two years and died there as a martyr, not Peter who just passed through. The honorary position of Rome was due to the fact that Rome was then the capital of the Empire. The answer of St. Markos the Gentle, “If the Pope wants to be an Orthodox, he should be considered equal to the Patriarchs”, is the only way to get grace from God.
The unfounded adding to the Creed of the word “filioqve” is considered to be the main dogmatic heresy of the papal Church. “Filioqve” is a Latin word made up from the noun “filio” meaning “the son” and the preposition “qve” meaning “from”. The 8th article of the Creed states very clearly, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father”. The papal Church added after the name “Father” the Latin word “filioqve” meaning “from the Son”. The term first appeared during the Third Council of Toledo, as a powerful tool in the hands of the Spanish Christians trying to depose the threat of Arian heresy. Arius, a prominent theologian from the Alexandrian Church could not accept the divinity of the Son. Instead, Arius was teaching that the Son did not exist from all eternity, but was created out of nothing like every other creature, and He only exists by the will of the Father. In other words, the relationship of the Son to the Father is not natural, but adoptive. This theory is surely a heresy, because it considers Jesus Christ as a creation of God, just like everyone else, meaning that His sacrifice was not enough to save the fallen man.
The arrival of many Arab heretics to Spain, fleeing from the advancing Muslims, forced the Church to defend herself by showing the importance of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Of course, the official Church in Rome never accepted “filioqve” formally, although king Charlemagne used it the 9th century in an effort to impose himself over the Roman Church. It is well known that Pope Leon 3rd placed two silver plagues on the doors of St Peter in Rome, with the Creed written in Greek and Latin, without the term of “filioqve”. Finally, during the early 11th century, as a reprisal to the Great Schism, the Roman Church adopted “filioqve”, distancing itself further away from the given, true faith. The Eastern Churches denounced the introduction of “filioqve”, despite accepting it for a short period during the early 15th century (in a vain hope of help from the West against the Ottoman Turks).
The Patriarch of Constantinople Photios, one of the sternest defendants of the Orthodoxy, noted about “filioqve”: “If everything is common between the Father and the Son, they should be common to the Holy Spirit. If proceeding is from the Father and the Son, it should be also from the Holy Spirit. This way, the Holy Spirit proceeds and is proceeded. Not even the legends of ancient Greece could dare to imagine so stretched fairy tales!” Anyway, the Eight Ecumenical Council (879 A.D.) ruled against adding or taking away any decisions taken by the Ecumenical Councils. Let us not forget that the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils were first written in Greek, so the Greeks could understand them better.
Finally, let us imagine the 3 persons of the Holy Trinity like the 3 sides (or angles) of a triangle.
God Son God Holy Spirit.
Each side (and angle) is as important to the existence of the triangle as the rest. If we accept that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, it only demotes the importance of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, reducing it to be a servant of the other two persons. In the Holy Trinity each person is having a different role to offer.
God Father is Eternal, Unborn and proceeds the Holy Spirit.
God Son is Eternal and having Being Born.
God Holy Spirit is Eternal and proceeds from the God Father.
- Other differences
Although the Western Roman Catholic Church is considered to be close to the Eastern Orthodox, we observe a few more differences between the two denominations.
One of them is a fairly new claim by the papal Church (first raised in the 18th century) that, when the Pope speaks formally, he is Infallible (he is always right). This is directly connected to the papal claim about Leadership, in an effort to gain authority over Christianity. The Orthodox Church, believing in democracy, cannot accept such claims, especially as they give direct access in controlling minor independent Churches. In the Eastern Orthodoxy, each Church is autonomous, in organising its religious life and solving the problems arousing.
Another fairly new claim is the so-called Immaculate of the Virgin Mary, also introduced during the 18th century. According to this claim, the Holy Spirit conceived the Virgin Mary, thus she was without any sins, just like her Only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Such claims increase the status of the Mother of God, elevating her to a semi-goddess, just like the goddesses in the ancient pantheon of Olympian idolatry. The Orthodox view is that Mary was the product of love of a human couple, her parents Jacob and Anna, and only through her deep faith, continuous spiritual practise and the help from God became able to bare in her womb the Son of God.
A serious difference is considered to be the use of Unleavened Bread for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The Roman Catholic Church argues about the day the Last Supper happens. Hebrews eat unleavened bread (and boiled bitter vegetables) on the eve of Passover, in remembrance of the day before Exodus from Egypt under Moses. Although the Gospels clearly state that the Last Supper took place on the Thursday (and not on Friday, eve of the Passover that year) the papal Church insisted in introducing unleavened bread for Holy Communion in a drive to persuade its followers that there are indeed differences between themselves and the Orthodox.
Less serious differences between the two Churches are considered to be Fasting practices and the marital status of the Clergy. As far as fasting is concerned, this is a personal exercise of body and spirit that can differ from place to place. The difference on the marital status of the clergy is much more serious, as the practise of the Roman Catholic Church that demands from all the clergy to stay free of marriage, affects the personal freedom of the individuals, the result of which we are seeing in the many scandals of sexual nature published in the press regularly. The position of the Orthodox Church that reserves the unmarried status only for the top hierarchy and the monks (giving the free choice to the rest of the clergy to marry before ordination) is considered wise and beneficial for the Church.
Nevertheless, the Church should find a way to resolve these problems that stop her from progressing with its target, which is to bring the message of the Gospel to the entire world. Negotiations between the different denominations are continuing and the day of unification comes even closer. Orthodoxy believes that it holds the whole of the Revelation of God as pure as it has been delivered by Jesus Christ and His Disciples, so the other denominations should accept these and return in the arms of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. There is still a long way to go, but the unification will happen one day, bringing even closer the day of the Glory of our Lord.
INTRODUCTION TO THE CHURCH (TEMPLE)
There are two words used in Greek to describe the meaning of Church. The word “Naos” meaning the Temple, describes the structure used for the services, while “Ecclesia” refers to the congregation of people. The word “Naos” (“I live somewhere”) was first used by the idolaters of pre-Christ era to describe the houses in which they worshipped their gods. The Hebrews used the same word exclusively for the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. For the Christians, there is not an exclusive place to worship God, as the whole firmament is the Temple of God. The Altar is considered as the Throne of our Lord Jesus Christ, who proceeds to be sacrificed for the salvation of manhood (becoming the “Lamb of God”).
The word “Ecclesia” was first used by the ancient Greeks to describe the meeting of free citizens (something like today’s House of Parliament), and in that sense the Christian Church uses it. It is the coming together of people who want to participate in specific services. The word describes the meeting of the faithful, the total of Christians living in a specific place (e.g. Church of Cyprus) as well as all the Christians in the whole world.
Origins and forming of the Christian Church.
The first Christian Liturgy took place on a Thursday evening, in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. At the same house, owned by Maria, the sister of Barnabas and mother of Markos took place the descent of the Holy Spirit, about fifty days later. Maria gave her house to be used as the first Christian Church. Likewise, in other cities, rich Christians offered their houses at the service of the Church. Only during the 3rd century, the Christians began building their own special buildings, dedicated for worship. The first known church was build in Nicomedia, while the oldest remains of this period were found in the destroyed city of Durra – Europus in Syria, on the banks of the river Euphrates. The Church, build in a shape of a Π had the Altar at the left corridor and a pool for baptising at the right. The Church was destroyed during the Diocletian prosecution at the end of the 3rd century.
To avoid prosecutions, the early Christians used the Catacombs, underground tombs, very popular in the Latin world. One notorious catacomb is that of St. Callistos in Rome with corridors stretching for 22 kilometres and divided in 5 underground levels. Christians used the catacombs for hiding, holding their services and for burying their dead, the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the glory of God. Their Argosolia (square tombs), were painted white and decorated with flowers, birds and scenes from the Bible, all in bright colours. The Christians used to hold their services on the tombs of the martyrs, a tradition the Orthodox Church continuous by placing in every blessed Altar the holy remains of several martyrs.
The first Temples
Following the freedom given by the first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great, to the Christians (A.D. 313, Decree of Freedom to Believe), their numbers increased rabidly, as did the places of worship. Helen, the Empress mother of Constantine, travelled to the Holy Land and found the Holy Cross. She built at the very spot in Jerusalem the Church of Resurrection. Many new Churches appeared all over the new Empire, alongside the conversion of pagan temples into Christian ones (like the Pantheon in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens etc.).
Basilicas were Roman buildings used as market places or courthouses. There long and narrow structures, divided with columns into 3 or 5 corridors, with the entrance at one of the narrow sides and a niche formed on the opposite wall. Borrowed by the Rotunda (round pagan temples) a dome was erected in the middle of the Basilica symbolising the sky. The most magnificent example of Basilica with dome is Hagia Sophia built in Constantinople by Emperor Justinian.
Hagia Sophia was built in Constantinople in place of an old church. The famous Greek architects Anthemios and Isidores supervised planning and building which started at A.D. 532 and lasted for 5 years. The Emperor cried on the day of inauguration (27 December 537), “I beat you, Solomon”, referring to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The cost of building reached the enormous amount of 150 million dollars and it could house inside up to 25.000 people.
Later, another style dominated the Christian architecture, the one with 5 domes forming the shape of a Cross. Slavs and Russians accepted Byzantine elements in their architecture, although the Russian domes reach at enormous heights. In the West, three different styles dominated church building. The Roman style appeared first in France, and had thick walls and small windows making the inside it very dark. The Gothic style appeared also in France, had thinner walls and higher columns, and the Renaissance style, appearing in Italy, mixed parts from the other two styles.
PARTS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The Christian Church is built facing East to West. Popular belief is that it turns towards Jerusalem. This opinion is entirely wrong, as the Churches in Russia should turn towards the South to face the Holy City. The reason the Christian Churches all over the world turn towards the East is because from the East rises the Sun and the Christians believe in the Sun of Judgement, as our Lord Jesus Christ is also known. Another tradition places Eden (the garden of Paradise) to the East, and that is where we turn our thoughts by participating in Sacraments.
The Christian Church is divided into 3 main parts, the Narthex, the Main Temple and the Altar.
As we enter from the West, we meet the first part of the temple, the Narthex, a narrow threshold with the shape of “narthex”, a flower like lily. Initially, the Narthex was reserved only for the non-Christians, still on the process of initialisation. These students had to leave the Church after the readings and the sermon and it was much easier to exit without much noise if they stayed near the door. Later, a semi-floor was built over the narthex exclusively for the women students, a tradition lasting to our days with the semi-floor named as Catechumen (students) or Gynaikonites (harem).
A water fountain was a vital part in the narthex (as people arrived for services straight from working). The most famous water fountain was at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople with a cancerous writing on its marble (“NIPSON ANOMHMATA MH MONAN OPSIN” “Wash up your sins, not just your face” which one can read both front and backwards). The narthex was connected to the main Church with 3 doors. The middle door was covered with 3 Velums (Latin for curtains) and was used exclusively by the Bishop and the Emperor. The faithful used the other two doors. Today the narthex is inside the main building and is housing seats for the members of the Church Committee, the candle table, the candelabrums and an icon stand.
They were built near the main church, either on the main building or even in a completely separate site near by. The baptism building was either round or many-angled, divided into an outer housing (where they used to read the exorcisms) and the inner housing with a built-in round or cross-shaped pool. Baptism was delayed until adulthood, and took place on certain days of the Ecclesiastical year (like Epiphany, Pentecost, Good Thursday and Good Saturday).
On the sidewalls of the Main Church there could be other buildings, depending on the needs of the Church. On the right it was a Holy Utensils storage room and another one for the exclusive use of the deacons. On the left it could be another room reserved for wine and bread, offerings by the faithful.
Built on one of the corners of Narthex, bell-towers were in use since the 9th century A.D. Bells were used to call the faithful to services or to announce happy or sad events, even to sound School times. Before the introduction of bells, special people (the Callers) called the Christians to meetings. Trumpets and wooden bells were first used in the monasteries. Bells first appeared in the West, named after Campania, an Italian region producing the bronze by which they were made. Ursus, Duke of Venice gave to Emperor Michael the Third, twelve bells during the 9th century to be housed in a bell tower near Hagia Sophia. The bell rings twice during the Sunday Service, at the beginning of matins and during doxology (the bell ringing during the Katavasies is wrong as it is only connected with the arrival of a Bishop to the church). Bells were decorated with signs, the most successful being a Latin one: “FUNERA PLANGO, FULGURA FRANGO, SABBATA PANGO, EXCITO LENTOS, DISSIPO VENTOS, PACO CRUENTOS” (= “I cry for the dead, I dismiss the thunder, I rule the times of celebrations, I wake up the lazy, I break up winds, I give calm mind”).
Reserved only for the faithful, with chairs used exclusively by old and sick people and pregnant women. The special, carved seats are called “stasidia” meaning “standing up” and are designed only to give rest by lifting the weight of the body off the feet. During the service of matins, special songs (“Kathismata”) are sung to allow the faithful some seating time. Although there isn’t a set rule for the separation of men and women, tradition varies from place to place. Somewhere the men stand at the front, elsewhere to the right of the main church.
The Latin word “Solium” means “rostrum” and describes a slightly higher than the rest of the Main Church, part. It was used initially for the chorus of singers. Gradually, the usage of two choruses prevailed, so today on the Soleas we observe other characteristic furnishings.
The Throne symbolises the unity of the Church through the continuous presence of the local Bishop (even in his absence). The Bishop is the representative of the founder of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, the icon of which decorates the Throne. The priest remembers his Bishop and visits his Throne during service, to keep his connection with him and (through him) with the universal Orthodox Church. Initially, the Throne was on the north wall, opposite the Emperor’s Throne placed on the south wall. After the fall of Constantinople (29 May, 1453), the Bishop took also a political role, so the two thrones emerged into one and moved to the south wall.
A kind of a rostrum, deriving its meaning from the Greek word “anavaino” meaning, “I go up”. Initially placed in the middle of Soleas, it was a stand reminding a bridge, facing east to west. It was used by the deacon to read the Gospel and the Petitions during the services and also by the chorus for singing certain songs. Also, from the Ambo they used to say the sermon and announce important imperial decrees and edicts. Later, in an effort to make the Altar more visible, the architects moved the Ambo to the north wall, transforming it into a small balcony that is approachable by steps, either on the wall or even from inside the wall.
The Iconostasis separates the main Church from the Altar. Initially, short columns (about one meter high) were placed between the Altar and the “Soleas”. Later, the space between the columns was filled with marble plagues or Velum (= curtains). Soon, small icons appeared, hanged on the columns. After the restoration of the icons (9th century) a wooden base was placed on the columns and bigger icons decorated the Church, hiding the Altar from the main Church. Another line of twelve smaller icons (depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ) were placed even higher and another of the twelve Apostles on top. Finally, reaching to the ceiling was placed the crucifixion scene (the Holy Cross with Jesus on it, His Holy Mother to His right and St. John to His left).
Doors on the iconostasis
Depending on the width of the iconostasis there are up to three doors on it. The main door at the centre is the “Beautiful or Imperial Gate”, is wider than the others and has a shape of an arch. This door is half-covered with wooden saloon-style doors and fully covered by a long curtain. It is used only for ceremonial purposes, for the priest to read the Gospel, to bless the faithful and to dismiss them. The deacon stands in front of this door to read the Petitions. On the wooden doors there might be painted (or carved) several icons (the scene of Annunciation and / or Fathers of the Orthodox Church). On the curtain there might be embroidered our Lord Jesus Christ or scenes from His life. Another two doors, one to the north and the other to the south, are used for entering (south) and exit (north) the Altar.
Icons on the iconostasis
As we see the Iconostasis, to the right of the “Imperial Gate” is placed the icon of our Lord Jesus Christ. To the left of the “Imperial Gate” is placed the icon of the Virgin Mary holding the child-Christ. To the left of Christ is placed the icon of John the Baptist and to the left of the Virgin Mary the icon of John the Theologian. Other icons, with popular saints, are place left and right with the Archangels Michael and Gabriel placed on the opening upper parts of the side doors (north and south).
The most sacred part of a Christian Church is the Holy Altar that represents the Throne of God. On its Holy Table takes place the sacrifice of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, culminating the most important Sacrament of all, the Holy Communion. A Church without a Holy Table is not considered to be a Christian Church.
The Holy Table is placed in the middle of the Holy Altar and is made either of wood (first Christian communities) or marble. The Bishop, keeping up an old tradition, places holy remains of martyrs inside the Holy Table. The Holy Table stands on four columns, symbolizing the four Evangelists (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) and is dressed by a petticoat and a formal dress. The petticoat remains intact, stuck on the marble by a mixture of hot wax and spices, while her dress changes depending on the Ecclesiastical period (black for Lent, White for Easter etc.).
On the Holy Table are placed very few and specific items: the holy book of Gospel, an Antiminsion (a linen clothe that is used as a replacement Holy Table), two candlesticks (lit for certain services) and a container with Holy Communion, prepared during the service of Good Thursday and used for emergencies (old and sick adults and babies and children).
Also inside the Altar, there is a niche (hollow wall) used for preparing the Holy Communion) and a closet to store up clothes and items used for the services. Finally, an oil-light that lit continuously is either hung from the ceiling or placed on the Holy Table.
Items used by the Church
Used exclusively for Church, there are certain items considered to be holy, even if they are old or ruined. The only occasions Holy Items have been used otherwise in the past were to exchange the lives of prisoners or to buy food for the poor.
They include, a Holy Plate (that holds the bread to be turned into the Body of our Lord),
a Holy Cup (containing wine to be turned into the Blood of our Lord),
a small spear (to extract the Body), and a special spoon to share the Holy Communion among the faithful
a curved star-shaped basement (placed inside the Holy Plate to protect the Body), a water receptacle for hot water (to be poured inside the Holy Cup) and a sponge (to collect every small piece of the Blood).
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
The Ten Commandments are part of the Law of God given to Moses on the Mount Sinai during the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. They were written on 2 plagues, and the first four refer to duties of man towards God while the other six refer to duties of man towards members of his own kind, and are listed in the Book of Exodus (chapter 20).
- “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me”
There is only one God. That God is the one that created all of us out of nothing, He is the one that saved us from the devil and He is the one that provides for us what is good to us. Our God is very proud and He is not accepting any competitors in sharing our devotion towards Him. He demands our attention, as he who loves God puts his trust on His decisions and accepts His rules. Transgressors of the first Commandment are the so-called “atheists” (those ignorant people who do not accept the obvious presence of God), the polytheists (those who accept many gods, usually made up and imaginative), the magicians (all those who believe in dreams, palm reading etc.), the heretics (who accept wrong dogmas) and the proud (those who rely entirely on their own strengths).
- “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is on the earth, beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God”
The second Commandment completes the first one by forbidding paganism. A “jealous” God doesn’t accept the creation and worshipping of made up gods. Before the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fallen man worshipped the creations rather than the Creator and only the Hebrew remained faithful to the One God. With the Icons the Christians offer honour to the heroes of the Church, reserving the worship to God. Transgressors of the second Commandment are the Idolaters and the misers (who worship money more than God).
- “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God”
We should not use the Holy name of God without consideration. The name of God should only be used in prayer, preaching and for court purposes. Also important is to keep an oath we gave in the name of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ referred to this Commandment and advised all of us to control our readiness to give promises and to use only the necessary words “yes” and “no”. Transgressors of the third Commandments are the blasphemous, the cursers, the perjurers and the false witnesses.
- “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God”
The Hebrew word “Sabbath” means, “to rest” and the Hebrews kept the seventh day exactly as that (taking extreme care in observing it). For the Christians, the seventh day is Sunday, the day of the Rising Sun, our Lord Jesus Christ. Even God rested on the seventh day, after six days of creation. With rest, the destructible body of man regains its strength and reaches up, towards divinity. The seventh day should be reserved for charity work (as Jesus Christ did, by healing the sick on the day of the Sabbath). Also important is what Jesus noted, that the Sabbath was made for the man, and not man for the Sabbath. Thus, transgressors of the fourth Commandment are all those who work on the day of Sunday (except the necessary doctors, policemen etc.) and all those who stay away from Church or spent the day in unlimited eating and drinking.
- “Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you”
Our parents have gone through lot to raise and educate us. We certainly owe to them our lives. We should honour them, love them, respect and take proper care, allowing them to live comfortably in their old age. The example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was “subject unto” his human parents and much more to His Heavenly Father (“Father, let happen according to Your will”), should be our guide. Also important is the promise of God for long living as a result to taking care of parents. Respect is also due towards our godparents, teachers, priests, judges and state leaders. Transgressors are considered all those who disrespect their parents and the other pillars of society.
- “You shall not kill”
Life is the most valuable gift God gave to man. His breath revived the lifeless, material body and is since then the most important element of a human being. God gave life and only He has the right to take it away, when He decides to do so. A murderer is anyone who takes away a human life, even his own. A murderer is indirectly causes destruction not only to a human being but also to his entire family, as many families have been destroyed through a murder. The only killings “allowed” by common sense are through accident, for self defence, during war (when defending faith and country), through insanity and state the executions of mass criminals. Transgressors are the murderers, those who commit suicide and those who cause deaths.
- “You shall not commit adultery”
Next to life, honour is considered of major importance. The happiness of family life depends on honouring a wedding promise given by both partners. “Those who God has brought together, let no man separate” our Church warns, realising that the marriage act is not only necessary but also sacred. Nobody should offend reputations, especially on false claims. Offend can be done both through words and with actions. An adulterer is simply someone who does not respect his own body, using it without considering that a human body is nothing but the temple of the Holy Spirit. Transgressors are all the shameful, immoral and corrupted those who participate or watch indecent shows, even the slanderers.
- “You shall not steal”
Every person needs some kind of wealth to support himself and his family. Wealth should be gained only by honoured work, not through stealing. Thieves are considered those who take wealth they do not own and those who cheat or deceive others for their own benefit. Thief is even someone who does not make an effort to return to his rightful owner wealth he found. The reasons for theft can be traced in miserly and laziness. The person who is lazy usually turns to theft. Transgressors are the thieves (steal secretly or by fraud), robbers (steal violently and in full view), forgers (for goods and money) and violators of foreign property and sacrileges of the sacred.
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour”
A human being should always tell the truth especially in court. The evidence given in front of a judge can lead to a fair (or not) judgement. A false witness is considered to be unjust and can cause his fellow human beings great harm. Transgressors are all those who give wrong evidence, those who damage reputations and those who slander.
- “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour”
The last Commandment completes the eight (“You shall not steal”). Our Lord Jesus Christ took a human form to teach the ultimate love element (“you should love your neighbour as your own self”). Desire leads to jealousness and stealing. Of course, one should love first his own self to have a measure in loving the others. Transgressors are all those who desire out of limit, those who are jealous of what others have and those who desire more than they already have.
The Creed is a proclamation of faith that is concise, undoubted and formal. Individuals and entire congregations recite the Creed as a Christian confession of faith. In that sense, the Creed is an essential part of the Sacrament of Baptism. The Creed began its life as a Baptismal confession, different to every Church and depending on the needs of its believers. With the appearance of heresies and the need to give the Christians a unique and common Creed, the Holy Fathers that took part in the first two Ecumenical Councils in Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) agreed on the 12 verses that give a confession of faith according to the Orthodox teaching and doctrine. Since the 5th century, it has become a vital part of Eucharist and is in use, despite non-Orthodox Churches using as well the Apostles Creed and the Athanasian Creed, not recognised by the Orthodox Church. In the Creed appears one of the major differences between the Churches, that of “filioqve”.
Analysing the Creed:
“I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible”.
The Creed begins with the verb “I believe”, by which it receives its name, as the Latin verb “credo” means “I believe”. “I believe” means “I have trust”. To trust someone means to leave your entire well being on his hands (just like a little child that wants to cross over a busy road and places its tiny hand in the robust hand of his father, trusting him to cross him over safely). Christians are only trusting “God”. “God” is the Higher than us Being that has created “heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible”. As the creator of everything God cares about them, just like an artist cares about its creation. He is like a “Father” to us, a father who cares equally about all His children, even the prodigal. As an example we observe the animals that do not work, or sow, or mow and still God provides them with their daily food. It is natural, for God the creator, to be the Almighty, ruling over His whole creation. That creator is certainly “One”. If they were more than one it wouldn’t have been the incredible harmony we observe all around us, as each god would have wanted to follow his own plans, resulting in disagreement and experimentation. The presence of many gods would have had the same effect the parliament of a nation shows, with daily in fighting and disputes. The “One” God created a “pretty good” world in six days. Before the visible creation God created the “invisible” world, the spirits (Angels) that serve and glorify Him.
“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, of One essence with the Father, through whom all things were made”.
The next six verses refer to the second person of the Holy Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus rules over everything, just like His Father, because He is the “Begotten”, the only child of God. When? “Before all ages” as there is not known a time in which Christ did not exist (a direct reference to the heresy of Arius, a theologian of the Alexandrian Church who lived during the 3rd century and preached that “there was a time that (Jesus) was not existing”. By this, Arius was regarding Jesus Christ as a creation of God). Jesus is “Light of Light” as with His enlightened teachings He brought the eternal light of truth back to the souls of every person, and He is also, “True God”, exactly the same as His Father. Because Jesus is not a creation, He has the same substance with the Father and He is considered to be co-creator with His Father. Under these circumstances, Jesus is regarded as the “Word” of the Father, the part of the Holy Trinity most prophesised by the writers of the Old Testament and being the centre of attention in the New Testament.
“Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man”.
Jesus’ only wish for accepting the human form was the salvation of the fallen man. As man, the “image of God”, willingly followed a different path from the one God has planned for him, it was necessary for a divine intervention to lead him back in the arms of his Father. The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ became that vessel, willingly receiving a human form with all its weaknesses (except sin) so to fight the source of the fall and return the crown of creation back to its former state. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, a pure woman product of love between two persons (her parents Jοacheim and Anna), who spent most of her young life (12 of her 16 years) serving in the Temple. Jesus Christ spent three years teaching us humans what to believe and how to show our belief, bringing a new message from God to us, the need of LOVE. “Love thy neighbour” is Jesus’ exhortation, a radical teaching He put into practice with His own example and ultimate sacrifice.
“And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried”.
During the reign of Pontius Pilate in Judea, Jesus Christ was arrested and crucified. Pontius Pilate was the representative of the Empire of Rome, the dominant force of its time in the world. He was from Pontus (in today’s shores of the Black Sea, North Turkey), a soldier in the regiment of Pilates (pilate = a kind of a sword the Pilates used to hold). The arrest of Jesus was peaceful, although his disciples (especially Peter) were willing to fight for Him, following the expectations of the Israelis for the arrival of a military leader who will organise and lead a rise against Rome. After His death, two of His secret followers, Nicodemus and Joseph, buried Him in a new stone grave nearby. The act of burial is significant as it symbolises the descent into Hades and the liberation of the lost souls.
“And the third day He rose according to the Scriptures”.
Everything that happened in the life of Jesus was described in the Books of the Old Testament (= Scriptures). Historically, Jesus died on the Cross on Friday, 23rd of March (or 14th of Nissan (or Aviv) at 3.00 p.m., and He Resurrected sometime before the morning of Sunday. The seals of the grave remained intact and the soldiers guarding the grave never knew what happened. The Books of the New Testament testify this, as they give information about many appearances of Jesus after His glorious Resurrection to many (perfume bearing ladies, Disciples, other followers).
“And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father”.
The Books of the New Testament testify the Ascendance of the Lord into heaven, forty days after His Resurrection. After His successful mission, His Father honoured Him by placing Him on the privileged place of the right (as we do when we give special honour to human celebrities).
“And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom shall have no end”.
Although the first part of Jesus’ mission was successful, the Lord will appear again to complete His mission. He WILL come again (that is a certainty, not a possibility), and He will appear as a glorified judge. During the Second Coming, Jesus will act as a rightful judge, rewarding the good people with a place in eternal life and condemning the bad people to eternal punishment. The time of His return is unknown, as Jesus pointed out with the parable of the “Ten Bridesmaids”.
“And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the Prophets”.
This verse speaks about the third person of the Holy Trinity, referring to the Spirit as Holy (Holy is a substance without sins). The Holy Spirit is a Lord, because, having the same substance with the God Father and the God Son it means it rules as well over everything. The Holy Spirit is the “Giver of Life”, providing us with spiritual life and enlightening us to a kind of life preferred by God. The Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” is an important part of the Creed. Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants have corrupted the meaning of the above sentence with the addition of “filioqve”. Having the same substance and importance with the other two persons, it is only fair for the Holy Spirit to be glorified as well. The words of Jesus’ “Baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” applaud such honour. Its presence was apparent both in the Old Testament, where the Holy Spirit became the divine words of God sounding through the words of the Prophets, and in life of the Church. After being proceeded by the Father to the Disciples on the day of the Pentecost (fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection), it stays in the Church, blessing the Christians and guiding them towards the way of God.
“I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.
The Church of Christ was first established on the day of the Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ glorious win over death. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples and their spirited preaching drove 3.000 people to believe in Christ on that very day. Church is people who come together, who believe the same things and who work together to reach their salvation. The Christian Church (as it was later named after her founder) is ONE, because her leader is one, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus chose the Disciples who preached to every part of the world and appointed as leaders the Bishops. The duty of a Bishop is to take care of the Church, an organism that is divided in two parts: the clergy and the faithful. The purpose of the Church is to lead its members into holiness. The Church is HOLY indeed, as holy was her founder and is also holy because is eternally guided by the Holy Spirit. And as the One True God is the father of every living creature, the Church is also Catholic. The word “Catholic” is wrongly used to describe the Christian sect faithful to the Roman Church run by the Pope. The word “Catholic” is Greek and it means “for all”. The prophecy of Jesus that all people will one day become Christians is a clear challenge to the Church to spend every effort in achieving such a target. Finally, the Church is APOSTOLIC. It has spread all over the world through the efforts of the Disciples of Christ and their teachings (based on the teachings of their Lord) hold her together. The Orthodox Church keeps unchanged and unblemished those teachings, passing them from generation to generation. Unfortunately, today the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” Church is divided into many branches. Human weaknesses and devilish driven irregularities have spoiled it and the target of the Church is to bring back all the lost sheep in its welcoming arms.
“I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”.
Each person should be baptised once in his life, just like Jesus did. With the Sacrament of Baptism, the fallen man is cleansed from all his sins. The last instruction of Jesus to His Disciples concerned the Sacrament of Baptism: “Go to all the people, teaching them and baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Baptism is the first step towards salvation, allowing the weak man to gain spiritual help through participation to the rest of the Sacraments. A major presumption (for the adults who decide to become Christians) is the repentance from previous habits and the confession of their major sins.
“I look for the resurrection of the dead”.
We should expect the resurrection of the dead. Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us clear indications about this, in the account of the Final Judgement. Also, His death and subsequent Resurrection is a proof for our future resurrection. The human being is made up of two substances, the destructible body that is mortal and subject to death and the immaterial soul, immortal and eternal. Through death, the soul is leaving the body and, while the body returns to the soil, the soul is taken to God by its Guardian Angel, where it is kept until the Final Judgement.
“And the Life of the age to come. Amen”.
The Scriptures are certain about another life, a better life and an eternal life. The good people would enjoy Paradise, an ideal place where there is no pain, or sorrow and where peace and calmness reign. These conditions are closely associated with communication with God and His Angels and saints. Meanwhile, the bad people will be sent to Hell, far away from the presence of God, and with the remembrance of their sins always in their minds.
LESSONS 6 – 7
SACRAMENTS – THE MEANS OF GRACE
Sacraments are God-instructed ceremonies, being recommended and founded, directly or indirectly by our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the Sacraments, the Church transmits the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit to her members. Such ceremonies are the Baptism, the Confirmation and the Holy Communion. The Greek word “Mystirio” emanates from the verb «Initiate» meaning “I put my hands in front of my eyes to protect them”. A Sacrament is a human experience that is achieved with prayers and other action (the visible elements) from the priest, for the benefit of the faithful. The asked and given Grace helps the individual to maintain his relation with God and to progress in his spiritual life “in Christ”. This Grace is different depending on the need it serves.
- The visible material necessary for each Sacrament (for example, water and oil for the Baptism, wine and bread for Holy Communion, oil and wine for the Holy Unction).
- The presence of a legally ordained and on duty priest to invocate the Holy Spirit and bring its Grace to the individual.
- The priest should do his duty freely (without any kind of coercion or violence).
- The transmission of the Holy Grace depends on the amount of faith, right preparation and morality of the individual asking of it and not on the personality of the priest. Essential requirements are: faith, desire for salvation, conscience of sin and readiness to accept the Grace.
There are 7 Sacraments in the Orthodox Church.
- The Holy Baptism.
- The Holy Chrism (Confirmation).
- Penitence (or Confession).
- The Holy Communion.
- The Holy Unction.
Of them, obligatory are: the Baptism, Confirmation, Confession and Holy Communion. Baptism, Confirmation, Priesthood and Marriage take place once in the lifetime of each person (although there are can be exceptions for Marriage). The rest of the Sacraments are repeated depending on the need of every individual.
The Holy Baptism
The Holy Baptism is the first Sacrament in which a Christian takes part. With it, a person enters the Church and becomes its member. The triple dive in the holy water of the pool cleanses the individual of every personal sin he has committed and gives him another chance in living a moral life. Jesus Christ founded the Holy Baptism as a Sacrament on the day of His own Baptism in River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Baptism of Christ (celebrated by the Orthodox Church on January 6th) marked the beginning of Jesus’ work among the humans. After His Glorious Resurrection, Jesus ordered His Disciples to “Go to the all the nations, teach them and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The Disciples of Christ followed His last instruction; beginning on the day of the Pentecost and transferring the message to the world making sure they leave successors in every place they visited, so to continue the salvation work.
Visible parts of Baptism are the water, for spiritual cleaning rather than flesh, the triple dive and emersion in the pool, symbolizing the burial and after 3 days Resurrection of Christ, and the words spoken by the priest. These words conceal the priest from the Sacrament, as he doesn’t say “I baptize you…” but he lets the responsibility on the Holy Trinity, saying, “The servant of God … is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
During the Sacrament, a special Grace is granted which enables the person of rebirth, adoption and salvation. The new member reconciles with God and is cleansed, but remains in the tendency of committing sin. In extreme cases, a newborn baby who’s life is in immediate danger, can be baptized by individuals by being raised in the air (that contains oxygen and hydrogen, parts of water) and if lived complete the rest of the Service at the Church. During the persecutions, martyrs were baptized with the “Baptism of Martyrdom” (in their own blood, sacrificed for the name of Christ), considered by St. Gregory the Theologian as superior.
The Roman Catholics and the Anglicans prefer sprinkling water on the head of the new Christian, instead of the triple dive and emersion.
The Holy Chrism
Known in the West as Confirmation, it grants the Grace and Gifts of the Holy Spirit to the new Christian, encouraging in a new spiritual life. Initially was transmitted by placing of hands on the head of the newly baptized. As a Bishop cannot be present in every Baptism performed, he authorizes the priests in his area to apply the Holy Chrism in the form of a scented oil called “Myron”, an essence of olive oil and 40 different exotic spices, prepared and supplied by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
The visible parts of the Sacrament are the “Myron” itself as well as the sealing of the body of the new Christian with it the words “Sealing of Grace, by the Holy Spirit. Amen”. The Holy Chrism is also applied once in the lifetime of a person. It is also used to seal new icons and church tools and also for the acceptance of non-Orthodox Christians, already baptized in other denominations, which wish to join the Orthodox Church.
The Protestant Church initially rejected Confirmation, but in the 17th century, the accepted it as an entry requirement in the Church for baptized children. The Roman Catholic Church accepts Confirmation as a Sacrament, although it delays its appliance to the 7th or 12th year of age, only to be applied by Bishops through placing of the hands.
The Penitence (or Confession)
The Sacrament of Penitence is helping a guilty conscience to unload its heavy burden and turn a new leave of life with the forgiveness of all sins confessed in front of an appointed priest. Jesus Christ has given the authority of forgiving sins. The term “Penitence” expresses the sadness of soul for all the sins of the feeble flesh. The decision for change drives the person in front of the priest to confess and ask for forgiveness. If the priest realize the sincerity of the person he can either give the required forgiveness or even ask for certain rules, applied with educational purposes and as a medicine for a sick soul (certainly not a punishment, as it is generally thought of). Such rules could be the reciting of the Sunday Prayer or the Creed a few times a day, a visit to the Holy Land etc. The relationship between a priest and a faithful is that of a Father with his child. The caring Father listens carefully and then forgives or gives instructions, in a solemn effort to cure the origins of a particular sin.
Until the 5th century, Confessions were held publicly. Today Confession is held on a one to one basis, avoiding the exercise of psychological violence or influence. The Roman Catholic Church accepts Confession as a Sacrament, despite claims that sins are either eternal or precarious. The Protestants reject the Sacramental nature of Penitence, regarding it as a type of peace between a person and God.
The Holy Communion
Our Lord Jesus Christ has personally delivered the Sacrament of Holy Communion. On Thursday night (22nd of March, or 14th of Nissan or Aviv), hours before He was arrested and put to trial, during the Last Supper (the last time He had Thanksgiving dinner with His Disciples held on the upper room of the house of Mary, sister of Barnabas, in Jerusalem), He took bread, blessed it saying “Take eat; this is my body” and shared it among His Disciples. Then, He took the cup of wine, blessed it saying “Drink all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” and shared it as well among His Disciples. These are the introductory words of the Sacrament, repeated at every Service of the Holy Communion. The Disciples took up the instructions of the Lord and held Thanksgiving services every Sunday (Kyriaki = the day of the Lord), singing hymns and commuting from the bread and wine, feeling them the Body and Blood of the Sacrificial Lamb. Later on, the Church added additional hymns, prayers, blessings and readings from the Bible to prepare the faithful for their participation to the Communion. The appointed Bishops took the services that at the beginning were said freely. Soon, texts were written, used by the Church. Today there are 3 different services held in the Orthodox Church. The most common is the Service written by St. John Chrysostom, sung all around the year. The Service written by St. Basil the Great is sung 10 times a year (the first 5 Sundays of Lent, and on Good Thursday, Good Saturday, Christmas Eve, the day before Epiphany and on the day we celebrate the memory of its writer, 1st of January). The Service written by St. James, the Brother of the Lord is sung twice a year (on his memory, 23rd of October and the Sunday after Christmas, memory of the ancestors of Christ). Although there is a priest standing before the Altar of God, the real official is Christ, repeating the Last Supper with all the faithful as His honored guests. The priest is just a servant of God, standing among countless numbers of Angels who sing a doxology to God. The Service moves up, towards God so to bring down the Grace of the Holy Spirit and transfigure the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The main question arising about Holy Communion is how often a Christian can take part to it. The answer is simply, “Every time the Service is held”. There is no limit in being part to Jesus Christ. The rule that today seems to be followed widely, about a three times a year having Holy Communion is totally wrong and is a result of a paraphrases of a rule given to people having been married three times. Unfortunately, today the majority of Christians have Holy Communion on Easter, on Christmas and (possibly) on the 15th of August. If an individual feels ready, he should proceed to the Common Cup with “fear of God” and ask Him to forgive Him. If we give our mortal body at least three meals a day to support it, how come we choose to give our immortal soul two or three nourishments a year?
Marriage aims in regulating the relationship between a man and a woman, helping them to live harmoniously together and determining the legal and social aspects for the creation of a family. God constituted Marriage by acknowledging the loneliness of Adam and creating for him a companion, allowing them to be “joined” together again. Our Lord Jesus Christ blessed the Marriage and constituted it as a Sacrament, when He performed His first miracle at a wedding in Cana. The Church recognizes Marriage as an important element in the mystery of salvation. The union of a man and a woman becomes a depiction of unity and love, as shown by the unlimited love Christ shows to His Church. The right union allows the blessed couple to become collaborators and co-creators of God, with the birth of descendants.
The visible points of Marriage are the free concept of the two would be married, and the blessing by the priest that transmits the Grace of the Holy Spirit. With this Grace, the couple can achieve the real aims of Marriage, the genuine love and devotion for one another, the mutual help and completion, childbirth and the Christian upbringing of their children.
There are some conditions for accepting the marriage of two people. The couple should be Christians, their marriage should be eternal and they should not be related either by blood or by marriage / spiritual. Prohibited is also the marriage of priests after their ordination. Despite this, the Church accepts mixed weddings, if one of the two is Orthodox (as long as the other spouse is of other Christian denomination). The Church also allows the divorce only for adultery reasons, as well as 2nd or 3rd Marriage. The Roman Catholics do not accept divorce or the marriage status of priests. The Protestant Church regards Marriage as a natural union, accepting as holy even the wedding between non-Christians. This attitude has led to the decree of Civil Weddings that does not need any blessing by the Church of God, and allows even marriage between humans and animals.
Through the Sacrament of Priesthood, the Grace of the Holy Spirit descents on the candidate through the hands of the Bishop and enables him to serve the Church. Nobody that is not properly ordained is eligible to do priestly and spiritual duties. As a Sacrament, priesthood has been established by our Lord Jesus Christ, with His last instruction to His Disciples: “Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. The Disciples transmitted the priesthood Grace to their successors.
Priesthood has three decrees. The deacon serves near a Bishop or a priest, but is not eligible to take services alone. The priest is a representative of his local Bishop, guiding the flock that has been assigned to him. The Bishop has the maximum and complete Grace, and takes all services as well as having ecclesiastical power and authority in his own region. The Orthodox Church allows the Marriage for priests and deacons, as long as it takes place before their ordination. Bishops were able to marry until A.D.692 when a Council held in Constantinople prohibited such an event, letting the Bishops free from all familial care to dedicate the whole of their life at the services of the Church.
The Roman Catholics accept the Orthodox view about priesthood. The only difference is the imposing of compulsory celibacy to all decrees of priesthood. On the contrary, the Protestants have indiscriminately allowed the marriage in all decrees, rejecting also the sacramental importance of it. Moreover, the Protestants deny the visible and historical Church, and have been cut away from the apostolic succession. Only the Anglicans maintain the three decrees of priesthood, insisting in the apostolic succession (apostolic succession = an unbroken chain of priests that begins from our Lord Jesus Christ and goes through the Disciples and their successors to today’s priests. This chain has been cut by the refusal of the Protestants to be ordained by canonical Bishops and by sharing priesthood diplomas through the Internet).
The Holy Unction
The Church offers the Sacrament of the Holy Unction when there is a direct need of Divine Grace for treatment of body or spiritual illness. The first Church used it, as the Epistle by James testifies: “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”.
The visible elements of the Holy Unction are three. The oil, the anointment by it of the patient and the prayer said by the priest, “Holy Father, doctor of souls and bodies, You who cures all illnesses and saves from death, cure your servant and give renew him via the Grace of your Christ”. Precisely because it is medicine against illness and the sin, Holy Unction is taken, not only for bodily sick but also for the remission of sins of healthy Christians. It is also considered as a suitable aftermath of Penitence and a preparation of Holy Communion. It is a repeated Sacrament for all baptized Christians. Of course, we should not always expect the cure of bodily illness after holding the Holy Unction. However, its performance is fulfilling the sincere wish of repentance for all those who approach it with the proper affection.
The Roman Catholics accept the sacramental character of the Holy Unction, despite using it as a supply for those nearing death. The Orthodox Church prefers the Holy Communion, as it cannot ask God to allow someone more time on earth. Another innovation of the Roman Catholic Church is the prohibition for children under 14 (or in some cases under 18 year-olds) years and to the insane. Contrary to that, the Protestants reject the sacramental character of the Holy Unction for not ensuring all times the cure. Some Protestant sections accept Holy Unction only as a preparatory ceremony for the Holy Communion.
- THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
The sign of the Cross is the main symbol of Christianity. Used by the Persians and the Romans as an instrument of torture, has been transformed into the means of Salvation through the voluntary crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross first appeared in the Old Testament, in an episode described in the Book of Numbers. After the death of Aaron, the Israelites blamed Moses for their misfortunes. God sent poisonous snakes that killed many of them, and instructed Moses to make a copper resemblance of a snake and nail it on a joist, thus creating the shape of a cross. Moses placed the joist on a hill and every Israelite, bitten by a snake and voluntarily looked at the cross, was saved from the poisonous venom. The venomous snakes symbolise the devil and his followers. The raising of the cross is a forerunner of the crucifixion of Christ on the hill of Golgotha. Isaiah prophesised that Jesus’ Cross would be of three different trees; of cypress, of pine and of cedar. The shape of the Cross is compared by the Ecclesiastical Fathers as the four points of the horizon or even a man praying with his hands open.
The Christians should make the sign of the Cross as often as possible. There are plenty of occasions when we should offer God our thanks for His mercies or ask Him for favours. In the morning (for allowing us to live another day), before we sit at the table and after we finished eating (for providing us with everything we need), when entering or leave a house, when something unusual happens to us, when we pray. The most common occasions are when we enter a Church and when we hear the names of the Holy Trinity, of the Virgin Mary, of the Saints and of our beloved dead.
The sign of the Cross is made with the right hand. Joint together are the thumb, the index and the middle fingers, symbolising the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Three persons, three entities united into one God). The other two fingers of the right hand (ring and little) are placed on the palm, under the thumb. They symbolise the twin natures of Jesus when he received a human form, His Divine and His Human (Jesus Christ was a complete God and a complete man).
- a) First, the hand moves to the head and the three fingers touch the forehead. The round head symbolises the Heaven, a place where the Angels eternally glorify God. The head also contains the brain that directs our body. Thus, our love towards God and our devotion to Him should be at the centre of our thoughts.
- b) The hand moves to the belly area (preferably touches the belly button). Jesus was born out of the Virgin Mary’s belly, joining earth with Heaven. The belly button provides for nine months the foetus with the necessary nourishment he needs. Like that, only God can provide us with spiritual nourishment and enable us to live our lives according to His will.
- c) The hand moves to the right shoulder. A direct plead to God to place us on the right of His throne with the righteous (narration of the Second Coming).
- d) The hand moves to the left shoulder. A plead not to place us in His left with the sinners. The semicircular move in front of our chest signifies that, our human activities should be concentrating in doing God’s will.
The sign of the Cross is accompanied with a small bow, indicating that, like the Lord was willingly placed in a grave we should one day be buried as well. The straightening up of the body is a silent acceptance of Christ’s Resurrection.
- ENTERING THE CHURCH
Enter and remain in the Church: a quick guide.
- At the Door: We keep our hands off the pockets, always at the front (never behind), take off any kind of hat and make the sign of the Cross. When the bell rings, it invites us to the feast of our friend, God. We should be acting with respect, as our actions would have an effect on the good name of our host.
- At the Candle-table: We pay as much as we wish and pick a candle or two. We should have the right amount we want to pay as, asking for change it creates an unwelcome noise and unrest among other faithful.
- At the Candelabrum: We light the candle from other candles and place it on the sand. We pray silently for our family and friends, alive and dead (an action that takes us to a different level, as we disregard our person and think of others).
- In front of the Icon: We make the sign of the Cross and a small bow. We kiss the icon (feet of our Lord and His Virgin Mother, hands of saints) and recite the “Apolytikion” (special song about the person on the icon) or a small prayer (for example: “Lord, please enable me to be worthy of the privilege to be an Orthodox Christian and to honour my call and glorify with my life Your Holy name. Amen”).
- Taking our position: We do it QUIETLY – with NO SHOUTS – NO COMPLAINS – NO MOVING ABOUT.
- THE HOLY ICONS
Icon is a painted representation of holy persons or scenes associated with the Orthodox Tradition and worship. The Orthodox Churches and houses are adorned and decorated with icons that bring the heroes of our faith to life, indicating and proving that it is possible even for us to achieve our goal of salvation. Color was acquainted and used by the ancient cultures, so it wasn’t a surprise when the first Christians used them to decorate the graves of the martyrs of the prosecutions with scenes and symbols from the Scriptures. The most popular symbols were the sign of the FISH (anagram of a consent of faith: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savor), the sign of the VINE (a symbolism of the secret unity between Christ and the Church) and the letters A and Ω (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet: God should be the beginning and the end of our existence). Luke the Evangelist is considered to be the first Ecclesiastical painter. A painting of the Virgin Mary, found today in the Monastery of Kykkos in Cyprus, is attributed to him.
Iconography recognises the internal and spiritual need of Christians to have an effigy of what they have as a model. Youth express the same need with posters of actors and footballers. Also, an icon should be an open book telling the life of a Saint, reminding a Christian of the right way he should live his life. The colours on the icon are not intense, as they do not intend to bring anything cheerful and instead they lead to meditation. The bodies are not given with their natural dimensions, as a Christian should not see reality of life, but concentrate on spirituality. The portraits are without depth, expressing directness, and the individuals are en face and not profile.
The icons and the excessive devotion shown to them by the Christians, led to the wrongful worship of material on which they were painted. This erroneous behavior, and the excessive fortunes gathered by the monasteries and also influences of Muslims (strongly opposed to any representation of God) allowed the Dynasty of Isaurus to rule against the usage of Icons. For 120 years, the Orthodox Church was divided and plenty of priceless treasures of Orthodoxy were destroyed. Only a few regions of the Empire stayed free of the destruction (Cyprus, Egypt, Mount Sinai, Middle East). The fanatical opponents of the Holy Icons even ignored the decisions of the 7th Ecumenical Council, held in A.D. 787 in Nicea. Finally, in A.D. 843, the Empress Theodora called a local Council who ruled in favor of restoring the Holy Icons, decreeing that Icons should be honored and kissed by the Christians. The Orthodox Church celebrates the Restoration of the Holy Icons on the First Sunday of Lent, known as Sunday of Orthodoxy.
- THE CANDLE
Many examples of the Christian worship are residues of idolatry and Judaism. The various candles, torches and lamps helped lit up the space or burned in front of the altars as offerings (like the seven candle lamp burned in the altar of the Temple of Solomon). The Christians just gave these habits new symbolisms. The lights helped the Christians celebrate mass in dark and they symbolized the light of Christ as the luminous life that all of us should follow. The signs on these lamps are a good guidance: “Light of Christ lights all”, “Light from Light” and “I am the Resurrection”.
The humble candle has three characteristics. It lights up our way to God’s will and helps us avoid the traps of the devil. It heats up our hopes to the Lord. And comes from honeycomb, a product of many bees – a representation of the Church (with Christ as its head and all of us as its members). The iconostasis and an oil lamb should be an essential part of every Christian house, as they are for every Christian Church. We should offer God the most pure of oil (olive oil) symbolizing the cleanest of our intentions. Saint Sofia in Constantinople had 3,000 oil lamps, while the Church of Resurrection in Jerusalem was provided with oil by an estate of 10,000 hectares of olive trees. Unfortunately, the turn off of an oil lamp is associated with death or other horrible coincidences. Such cases are completely accidental and irrelevant; they haven’t any theological base and should not be connected with intellectually healthy Christians.
In the Church, a continuous light lit in the Altar. This is not because God has a need to see, but to try and keep a light on forever is an act of devotion and duty. Also, it is a conjunctive ring of the present with the martyrs graves in catacombs and the crypts of all those who sacrificed their mortal lives to cement our faith.
Symbolisms of the candle:
- Cleanliness of soul – manufactured only from clean honey.
- Plasticity of soul – we can engrave of carve it easily.
- Divine Grace – it emanates from fragrant flowers.
- Godlike – is mixed with fire and nourishes the fire.
- Light of Christ – it burns and lids up the dark.
- Love and Peace – comforts in the dark.
- Glory of God – to the one and unique light of our lives.
- Dissolution of spiritual darkness.
- Presenting the Grace to our souls.
- Honors Saints and Martyrs.
- Symbolism of good deeds.
Finally, a Christian should keep alive the light he receives through his baptism.
Incense was used in the Hebrew worship and is also indicated as a part of the sub-Apostolic period by the last Book of the New Testament, the Revelation. The first clear evidence of incense burning comes from the 5th A.D. century, while the first incensing of the altar, church and congregation is evident from the 9th century. Incense symbolises prayer, which should be going to God, as the smoke goes upwards (“Let my prayer be directed to Thee as incense before Thy presence…” as the writer of the Psalm reminds us). Also, the beautiful fragrant of exotic flowers and plants brings to us a taste of Paradise, taking us away from the usual smells of our everyday, earthly life and its worries.
Feasts are special days in the Church history that give the Christians a reason to remember or celebrate an event. Such events relate to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ and others connected with memories of Angels and Archangels, of the Virgin Mary and of all the Saints. The Saints are all those heroes of the Church who through their life and deep faith glorified God. There were humans with weaknesses who through continuous exercise achieved a closer relationship with God. The Church celebrates the day of their death, as the beginning of a new life near God. The names of those we carry are a reminder of their life and living examples we should try to mimic.
A major difference exists between birthday and name day. Few people know our birthday, only those we chose to reveal it to; as for a birthday celebration we expect gifts from relatives and friends. The day the saint we carry his / her name celebrates is known to everybody, so we cannot escape in accepting their warm congratulations. We also have to offer presents to others, a kind of alms that should accompany a true Christian celebration.
Memorials are an ancient and continuous act of the Orthodox Church. The Church is divided between the Fighting (all of us who still try to achieve Salvation) and the Glorified (those who successfully finished and left). There is a constant spiritual communication between the members of the two parties, as the incident of Metamorphosis of our Lord indicates so clearly. Death only perceptibly changes a person. By prayer and the showing of love we can certainly help our sleeping brothers find some kind of a rest. Such testimonies are evident from the first Christian centuries. The Book of the “Apostolic Orders” instructs memorials to be taken on the third, ninth, fortieth days after a brother’s departure, and yearly ever after. Tertylianos and Cyprian, prominent theologians of the 3rd century, insist on memorials, calling them a “duty”. “Diptychs” were also evident, two boards listing the names of the Saints, living and dead, cited by the Church (today the “Diptych” is cited during the Proskomidi and just after the blessing of the Holy Gifts).
We offer memorials on the first day of the death, the third (in recollection of the three days stay of our Lord in the Grave), on the ninth (to remember the 9 angelic battalions, part of which our beloved had become) and on the fortieth day (as it was a Judaic habit). There follow anniversary memorials on the third, sixth, ninth months and one year. Finally, the yearly memorials are a reminder of the immortality of the soul and the belief that one day, the soul will again join the immaterial body that will be grown in Paradise. Other occasions for memorials are given every Saturday of the year (as Jesus stayed in the grave on the Saturday), dedicating three of them especially for all the dead Christians (Psychosavvata – two before the beginning of Lent and one before the feast of Pentecost).
A proper memorial contains the materials used during the Divine Service. Home made leavened bread and Church wine (used to prepare Holy Communion), incense, olive oil and candles to be used during the service. Until the 4th century there existed the kind habit to offer bread, wine, olives, cheese and rice to all guests, today a tradition of eastern European Christian countries.
Today, “Kollyva” are the main feature connected with memorials. “Kollyva” are various fruits, wheat, sesame seeds, almond, pomegranate, dried grape, which have the attribute to sprout when they are planted in the ground and are cultivated suitably. The same happens to a beloved person who is “planted” in the ground to be resurrected in a perfect condition and live eternally in the Kingdom of God.
We don’t know if the memorials can profit a soul. We should not put limits to the love of God, a merciful God that does not want the destruction of a person. When memorials are offered with faith and devotion, to a person that left his heart open to the love of God, He will see with alms the polite action of the memorial. St John Chrysostom said, “Let us not cry for those that died, but, but for those that died in sin”. What is certain is the benefit for the living. Since a person remembered the dead and planed to do a memorial, God has noted his action. This action should go further, strengthening the faith in afterlife and the hope in the mercy of God. A memorial should become a continuous reminder of death and an offer of alleviation. It should prompt to virtue and benefaction and declaring the permanent presence of Christ in the world.
Prayer is nothing but a personal meeting and discussion with God. It presupposes a servant (human) and a listener (God). For this reason, the prayer becomes a relationship. God makes perceptible His presence or even His absence. Of course, He knows the needs and intents of the person and asks for the approach to approve the petition. Prayers asking for material goods, usually remain unanswered. The West Theologian Origenis noted that, “The unanswered prayer is not even a prayer”.
The answer of God is negative when:
- The applicant is faithless, hypocrite or unrepentant. Even, when the prayer is insincere and is moved by personal gain.
- God ignores malicious requests that intent to damage.
- God ignores also the request that lacks awareness for the consequences (for example, the request of glory for her sons by the mother of John and Jack the disciples).
- Another case of ignoring a prayer by God is when a division exists between requests.
- Finally, when the demands are absurd or insignificant, God might also refuse to answer them.
St John, the writer of the climax, supplements that God denies granting His favor when the praying person is unworthy to receive, or because he tries to cheat by asking other things than those he has in his heart and finally when he is not still ready spiritually to accept God’s donations.
Sometimes the prayers even remain unanswered. This happens when their content are opposite with the errand of God.
- The demands of prayer can be disadvantageous for us.
- When the prayer becomes routine (just to say that we pray).
- When we pray against our enemies, instead of pleading to God to save them and us.
The right approach to prayer gives much joy to the heart of a devout Christian, making him begin the road back to salvation and the lost Heaven. The recognition that we lost the Grace of God and the need to feel again the presence of God should install in our hearts strong love for our Heavenly Father, accepting His existence and transferring our love to Him on our neighbors and living according to His will. That is why the prayer should always include two components: a big, wholesome “I thank You” for all his donations to us and our supplication to His generosity about the needs of our mortal life. Only then, God will make reality our wishes; He will richly give us His mercies and compassions and make our life on earth more cheerful and complete.
Fasting was adopted from Judaism, where it was legislate by God. Right after his creation by God, man was placed in Paradise, given just two instructions, to work (avoid laziness) and abstain from eating from the tree of knowledge good and bad. The second rule was designed to exercise and test the spiritual strength of man, and Adam failed spectacularly. The example of prominent men of the Old Testament, of Jesus Christ, the Disciples of the New Testament and so many other saints and martyrs who observed fasting before undertaking a major action, proves the power of fasting in building strong will and good health.
Fasting originally meant complete abstinence from food for the entire day. With the increase of fasting periods, the way of fasting changed as well. The prescribed fasting that is today in force, is the one observed in Monasteries. Its rigorous character can hardly be observed by working people needing ample sustenance. As a result, the observation of fasting has fallen to a few days and became preparatory to receiving Holy Communion.
Fasting is designed to strengthen the spiritual life by weakening the attractions of the senses and should be coupled with self-reflection, prayer and reducing gluttony and other carnal and material urges. St John Chrysostom said the famous “more attention should be paid to things that come out of one’s mouth rather than the things that go in it”. This is why fasting was never connected to Holy Communion, despite the popular belief. A three-day fasting before Holy Communion is only asked from Christians not observing the prescribed by the Church fasting.
Fasting and eating periods and days
- Lent (from “Clean” Monday to the Saturday of Lazarus).
- Holy Week (Good Monday to Good Saturday).
- The Holy Apostles (All Saints Sunday to the 28th of June).
- August (1st to the 14th of August).
- Christmas (15th of November to the 24th of December).
- Every Wednesday and Friday (except specified instructions).
Strict Fasting (no cooking):
- January 5th (day before Epiphany).
- Wednesday and Friday of the Second week of preparatory Lent.
- August 29th (Beheading of St John the Baptist).
- September 14th (Holy Cross).
No Fasting Periods:
- The first week of preparatory Lent (Sunday of Pharisee to the Sunday of the Prodigal Son).
- The third week of preparatory Lent (Monday to Sunday of Cheese eating – except meat).
- Easter Week (Easter Sunday to the Sunday of Thomas).
- The week after Pentecost (Sunday of the Pentecost until All Saints Sunday).
- The period between the 25th December to the 4th of January
Fish Eating Days:
- The 7th of January (St John the Baptist).
- Τhe 2nd of February (welcoming of Jesus to the Temple).
- The 25th of March (Annunciation of the Theotokos)
- Palm Sunday.
- Wednesday of Mid-Pentecost.
- Wednesday of repeating Easter
- From Monday after All Saints Day to the 28th of June (except Wednesdays and Fridays).
- The 24th of June (Birth of St John the Baptist).
- The 29th of June (Peter and Paul the Disciples).
- The 6th of August (Transfiguration of our Savior).
- The 15th of August (“Sleeping” of the Virgin Mary).
- The 8th of September (Birthday of the Virgin Mary).
- The 14th of November (Philip the Apostle).
- The 21st of November (the Entrance of the Virgin Mary to the Temple).
- From the 15th of November to the 12th of December (except Wednesday and Fridays).
“Angel” is a Greek word meaning “messenger”. Angels are intellectual, immaterial beings that transport the wishes of God to people. They were created by God before the material world, because the Book of Job mentions that Angels glorifying God during the creation of the stars. They are the most perfect creatures as they can take human form and often are presented as young men. Their knowledge is by far superior that of humans without knowing everything (an exclusive characteristic of God). They do not multiply, they don’t die and they have the ability to move about with unimaginable speed.
According to the prophet Daniel, they are “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (in other words they are innumerable). They are divided into 9 Orders (or Battalions: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Principals, Forces, Authorities, Beginnings, Angels and Archangels). We know the names of only 3 Angels. Michael (= Who is like God) who gave spiritual strength to Daniel in the beast’s cage, Gabriel (= The man of God) who visited the Virgin Mary with the message of Jesus’ birth, and Raphael (= The God heals) who cured Tobit from blindness. From the above we realize that the work of Angels is to serve God, glorify His Holy name and protect humans. Each person has his own Guardian Angel who is always with him and protects him and finally leads the soul of the departed person to God. During the Holy Communion, innumerable Angels hold service with humans with doxologies and prayers. Finally, the feathers with which Angels are shown in icons symbolize their wish and eagerness to make the errand of God, as fast as it is possible.
- FEASTAL CALENDAR
At the center of the festal calendar lies of course the ultimate sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. The “Holy Week”, leading to the main event, the glorious Resurrection of the Lord, is the pivotal point of the calendar of feasts. The “Holy Week” follows “Lent”, a forty-day period of fasting and general moderation, a 10th of the life offered to God’s service. The next event is the Ascension of Christ, celebrated forty days after Sunday of Resurrection and the Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples. The final celebration of summer is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, celebrated on the 15th of August.
In fact, the Church Calendar begins on the 1st of September. In Roman times, “Indictus” was the beginning of the tax year, and the Church kept this as a relic from Byzantine tradition, even after the introduction of the Julian calendar. The beginning of the year on the 1st of September is logical as far as the circle of the feasts is concerned, as we celebrate the Birth of Christ in the beginning of the year, instead as the last celebration of the Julian year.
There are three groups of feasts in the Christian Church calendar. The feasts of our Lord, the feasts of the Virgin Mary, and the feasts dedicated to the saints.
- Feasts of the Lord: Christmas day (25th of December), Circumcision (1st of January), Epiphany (6th of January), the Meeting of our Lord (2nd of February), Sunday of the Resurrection and every Sunday of the year, the Ascension (40 days after Resurrection), the Pentecost (50 days after Resurrection) and the Transfiguration of the Lord (6th of August).
- Feasts dedicated to the Virgin Mary: the conception of St. Anne (9th of December), the Birth of the Virgin Mary (8th of September), the Entry of the Virgin Mary in the Temple (21st of November), the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (25th of March), the Concentration of the Virgin Mary (26th of December), the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (15th of August), the Presentation of the Robe of the Virgin Mary (2nd of July), the Salutations to the Virgin Mary (the first 5 Fridays of Lent), every Wednesday of the year and many other occasions of miracles, findings of holy icons and openings of Churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
- Feasts dedicated to the Saints are due to the deep respect to the honor and glory this people are enjoying in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church shows her honor by dedicating Temples to their memory, by installing in them Holy remains of saints, by honoring their Holy icons, by composing special songs and hymns for them and by expecting their agency towards God. There are five occasions for celebrating a saint. The anniversary of their sleep (their spiritual birth), several Concentrations (celebrated on the following day of a great feast, in memory of the main protagonists of the event, e.g. the Concentration of St. John the Baptist, the following day of the Epiphany). The finding or transportation of their holy remains, and finally the anniversaries of miracles of main events in the history of the Church.
The proper celebration consists of trying to mimic the life of a saint.
Judaism is a product of three thousand years of history, closely associated with the faith of the Patriarchs. As a religion, Judaism was shaped after the spiritual experience of the Patriarch Abraham and his race, Israel. Later, through Moses, Israel began a covenant with God, becoming His people. Judaism requires faith in the holy history shaped on a line and a philosophy experienced by the great personalities reported in the Old Testament, a collection of Books separated under titles with the names Law, Prophets and Writings. Basic laws described in the Old Testament are the observation of holiday of Saturday, circumcision and the discrimination between clean and impure. Teams of scholars, including the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes, undertook the interpretation of the law.
After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman general Tito in A.D. 70, the Israelites were scattered in all over the world, with Alexandria of Egypt being one of the most important centers of Diaspora. By A.D. 500 an interpretation of the Law was completed under the name of “Talmud”. During the Dark Ages, Judaism was flourishing in Spain, despite being chased by the Holy Examination of the Roman Catholic Church. Theodore Hertz is regarded as the father of modern Zionism, declaring in 1897 the “state of the Jews”. During the Second World War, millions of Jews were annihilated in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. Finally, on 14 May 1948, the state of Israel was founded, a declaration that sparked more conflicts with the Palestinian Arabs.
The main dogmas of Judaism are:
- There is only one God who created the world and saved His people every time they needed Him.
- The Israelites are not interest in “What is God” but “How God is, what He did and how He did it”.
- Evil exists because God allows it.
- God has created the humans to differ from the rest of the creation, as humans are composed of flesh and soul.
- All people are equal between them.
- Faith should be accompanied by good deeds.
- Center of worship is the Synagogue where the study of the Law (“Torah”) is obligatory for all. The rabbis, heads of Synagogues, were the law teachers who developed the theological thought of Judaism.
- The expected Messiah will save Israel and restore its glory, as well as rebuilding the Temple of Solomon, resurrect the dead and judge all people.
The holiday of Saturday is at the center of the religious life. Other feasts in the Jewish calendar include:
- Passover: remembering the exit of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, under Moses. It is the biggest feast of the Jewish calendar.
- Pentecost: celebrated fifty days after Passover, after the harvest of corn. There are new meal offerings, special animal sacrifices and freewill offerings. In remembrance of the receiving of the Mosaic Law, fifty days after leaving Egypt.
- Tabernacles: the greatest and most joyful of all feasts. Remembering the sojourning of the children of Israel in the wilderness and the gathering-in of all the fruits of the year.
- Ros Asna: celebrating New Year as a reason for penitence.
- Purim (or Mardecai’s day): celebrated in spring, for remembering the salvation of the Jews of Babylon by Esther.
- Hanukah or Dedication: instituted in the days of Judas Maccabaeus, it is called so because of the dedication of a new altar of burnt offering after the profanation of the temple and the old altar by Antiochus Epiphanes.
The word “Islam” emanates from the Arabic verb “selasma” that means “salvation” or “peace”, a close relative of the word “shalom” (= peace). The precise meaning of the word “Islam” is “dedication and submission in the will of God”. Another name for the religion of Islam is “Muslim”, an Arabic word meaning, “dedicated”.
Founder of “Islam” is Mohammed who was born in Mecca in A.D. 570 and died in Medina in A.D. 632. After becoming an orphan in early childhood, his uncle Abu Talib took care of him. Since the age of 12 he was working in the caravans carrying goods from Arabia to Syria, a great Christian center. In Syria Mohammed learnt about monastic life and he was very impressed by the teachings of the Monks. Later, he worked as a purser to a rich widower, Hadija, whom he married despite being 15 years younger than her. His marriage introduced him to the high society of Mecca and also to Christianity, as Hadija was a heretic Christian.
In the age of 40, Mohammed experienced (according to the Muslim Tradition) a vision of Archangel Gabriel, asking him to read a text. Mohammed was illiterate, but when he ate the paper offered to him by the angel, he began repeating its content. Two years later, in A.D. 612, following encouragement by his uncle, Mohammed began preaching, although his preaching did not satisfy the residents of Mecca. After learning of a plot to kill him, Mohammed fled from Mecca and moved to Medina in A.D. 622, an emigration known in Islam as Egira, the beginning of Islamic chronology.
Mohammed’s preaching had both religious and political content. He managed to join together all the fighting tribes and races and finally to take control of Mecca, shortly before his death on 8th June A.D. 632. Mohammed fought idolatry, he declared the uniqueness of God (Allah) and organized Muslims in an Arabic, theocratic community. For these reasons, his contribution to the Arabic world is considered important.
Islam as a religion contains elements from idolatry, from Judaism and from Christianity. Basic source of Islam is the Koran, the teaching of which was revealed directly to Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel. Its main doctrines are:
- There exists ONLY one God, Allah, which is inaccessible.
- Mohammed is the last and bigger prophet of God. The comprehension of history becomes clear via the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and Mohammed.
- Islam accepts the existence of Angels.
- Islam accepts the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment.
- The life of each person is predestined by God (the word “kismet” means “absolute destination” or “destiny”).
As far as worship elements, Islam includes:
- The recitation of the words: “No other God exists than Allah. Mohammed is his prophet”.
- A five times a day prayer.
- The all day fast of the month Ramantan.
- The offering of alms and to charity.
- A visit (“Holy emigration”) to Mecca – at least once in the life of each person.
- The extension of the faith by any means, even by violence.
Finally, Islam is a religion with few moral requirements that satisfy the direct and more inferior wishes of a person.
Hinduism is the religion of the Indians. The word emanates from the Persian name of the river with the same name (in Indian, Sindhu). There isn’t a single religion with a known founder, teachings and doctrines, but rather teachings, religious practices and ways of worship and perception of Sulphur that have been collected in the space of 1,000 years.
The history of Hinduism begins at around A.D. 1500 with THE appearance of Vedes (Veda = knowledge), a collection of ancient holy books. Around A.D. 1000, Brahmans (= priests) imported the teaching of the four “castes” (= social classes): those of Brahmans, of nobles and military, of tradesmen and of villagers.
Another station in Hinduism constitutes the writing of Upanisad, a philological treatment of the Vedes, a fundamental teaching since 800 B.C. Between 400 and 200 B.C. the epics Ramagianna and Mahabharata appeared, while the modern form of religion was developed by A.D. 1000 with the appearance of Bachti, influenced by Christianity and Islam. Bachti teaches devotion to a particular God. According to Bacht, exists an impersonal being, Brahma. The rest of the gods exist only to guide and direct the faithful to the knowledge of Brahma. The element of Brahma exists in each person, is called Atman and represents his soul. The world constitutes of Maya (hallucination), and the person reincarnates (Samsara) because depends from the law of Karma (= of reason). The only way of escaping from Samsara (= circle of reincarnations) is by annihilating the Karma. Only then a person achieves his Moxa, or salvation.
The practical side of Hinduism tries to lead the person to the Moxa – with knowledge, with good deeds, with devotion to one of the gods or with more intense monastic ways. Such a technical method is Yoga, an effort to release a person from the world of fraud in which he lives. Educated Hindus follow more theoretical ways of religion. For example, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), an Indian political and intellectual leader that applied non-violence, a more natural way of life, humiliation, simplicity and prayer in order to help his people. Also famous are Rampintranath Tagko’r (1861-1941) and the Sri Aouropinto (1872-1950) who renewed Hinduism. Hinduism has become well known to the western world. Various religious movements with missionaries transmit its basic teachings and adopt it in the way of thought of a modern person. These actions serve varied interests – economic, personal projection insecurities etc.
Buddhism is a renewing movement that began from Hindu tradition. After 2500 years of history it is today an enormous spectrum of systems, constituted by many traditions, mixed with basic teachings of Sintarta Gaouttama Buddha (= Lit up). Buddha was born in current Nepal at 563 B.C. and belonged to a noble family, whom he abandoned to study the monastic life. Practicing strict exercise, he tried to give an answer to the question, “Why there is pain in the life of a man”. After observing 4 different cases (a weakened old man, a sick man, a dead man and a monk), Buddha realized that the cause of pain is wish. Only after the release of wish, the person becomes “lit up”.
The basic elements of Buddha’s teaching (Dharma) are the four noble truths (pain exists in life, the cause of pain is wish, the pain ceases when the wish is eradicated, the person then it achieves the lighting with the eight roads). The eight roads is a system of successive stages that helps the person to achieve knowledge, virtue and the living experience of Nirvana. Nirvana is the deliverance that is considered as the highest objective of a Buddhist and is characterized as “the end of pain”.
After the second century, Buddhism was shaped in a separate sector. Its initial form constituted the Hinayana Buddhism (= small vehicle) while its later form, the Mahayana Buddhism (= big vehicle) in which belongs the Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese Buddhists. The center of worship is located at the Buddhist monasteries with participation by all. Objects of worship are the holy remains of Buddha’s students, the holly tree bonsai (under which Buddha was enlightened) and the statues of Buddha, in several poses, each with its own symbolism. Worship includes doxologies to Buddha, recitation of the treble Resorts (“I resort to Buddha, I resort to the Dharma / teaching, I resort to the Shanga / Monastic community”). Finally, reasons for celebrations are the established feasts (the birth of Buddha, his enlightenment) and also the ordination of Monks etc. Today, Buddhism is a mutable system of philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism. The effort of modern intellectual Buddhist leaders is to show the western world that Buddhism can offer many to the modern person.
HERETIC SECT – JEHOVAH’S WITNESSESS
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a religious sect that adopted doctrines from various religions. Its main doctrine is the 1000-year reign of Christ on Earth before after the Final Judgment. Jehovah is a supposed biblical word that means God. The rich tradesman Charles Russell founded the sect in America in 1879. Russell, a former protestant from the sect of the Adventists, believed that he was the next (after Paul) chosen prophet of God. He wrote a seven-part book (“Graphic Studies”) and organized the new religion using American commercial methods. In less than a century, Jehovah’s Witnesses, based in Brooklyn New York, became an extremely wealthy religious company by the name “The Watchtower”. The sect has expanded in 200 countries; it has more than 2 million followers and continues to systematically proselytize Orthodox Christians. For proselytizing, Jehovah’s Witnesses use certain means and methods:
- They visit mainly poor families, or even those with a recent death of a close relative.
- Their main effort is to try and shake the faith with stubborn religious discussions.
- They use insistence propaganda in favor of their beliefs (which they intelligently pass as Christian doctrine).
- They offer books and booklets.
- They try to morally engage the person with pecuniary aid or other type of services.
The basic doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses are:
- Christ is not God but a creation of God – He was a perfect person chosen by God to become the Messiah.
- Christ will return as a military leader to help men overcome the devil and to establish secular kingdoms that will last for 1,000 years. The earth will then become the Paradise that will house only the Jehovah’s Witnesses with Christ as “Chairman”, Abraham as His “Prime Minister” and other prominent members of the Old Testament as “ministers”.
- The soul is mortal.
- The Holy Spirit does not exist (so does the Holy Trinity).
- Christian Tradition, the Ecumenical Councils, the Holy Fathers of the Church, the saints and Christian worship are tools of the Satan in his effort to lead man away from God.
- The Second Coming will be very soon – in fact in 1914, in 1918, in 1921, in 1931, in 1975, 1984 (lately they decided there is no point of guessing!)
- Only 144,000 members (representing the 12 races of Israel X 12,000) will go reign with Christ in Heaven (only those that go to concentrations on Sunday). The remainder will live on earth while the non-members will disappear (as hell and eternal punishment do not exist).
These doctrines are clearly anti-Christian (many times even antisocial) and are based on counterfeited publications of the Bible and on brainwash systematically practiced on members. From the most serious positions is the refusal of sect members to accept blood transfusion, based in the relative passage of the Acts “that ye abstain from meats offered to idols and from blood” (15. 29). The prohibition (= abstain) concerned the blood consumed by idolaters after animal sacrifices. Jehovah’s Witnesses even dispute the legal power of the country they live in, recognizing only their organization as the only legal authority. They do not respect the flag, they deny doing military service and they only accept proselytism as a proper work.
The Freemasons is a world wide secret organization combining religious and social ethics. The word is English and it describes a craftsman or a builder. Initially the word described medieval builders’ unions formed underground that used symbols and signs borrowed by the Jewish occult. In 1646, English aristocrats formed a secret company, the “Royal Company of London” whose aim was to help their homeland consolidate a worldwide domination. To keep the character of their company secret, they borrowed the signs and symbols of tectonic associations. The first Freemason House opened in Scotland in 1717, with many branches following worldwide (in Greece the organization arrived in 1740 from Italy). The arrival of many Jews in the organization gave it an intense Zionistic character.
To become a Freemason, the candidate should pass from a series of stages of ordeals and initiations. There are 33 degrees in Freemasonry; however few reach the very top. The first 3 degrees are called “Student”, “Partner” and «Teacher”. The 33rd and last degree is the «Supreme, Big, General Inspector”. The initiation ceremonies take place in dark rooms of the Houses, decorated with black curtains, skeletons, bones, coffins, altars, candles, incense, blooded handkerchiefs and swords. The candidate is led with his eyes shut in front of his superiors to pass from several ordeals (from plain stupid to degrading).
The Masonic Houses are disguised as associations of intellectuals and maintain a charitable character. These activities attract a lot of dynamic persons who, without realizing it, they soon become faithful servants of the interests of the association. They also claim the participation of prominent members of society (politicians, scientists, artists, intellectuals) always posthumous (after their death!).
Freemasons call God is B.A.U. (the Big Architect of the Universe). Freemasons did not recognize Christ as god; they accept the immortality of the soul, while they also accept the theory of rationalism (the person can save himself through his logic).
The worship of Freemasons is a poor imitation of ancient idolatry ceremonies. It takes place in the Houses, directed by special officials and includes ceremonies corresponding to Christian Sacraments (christening, marriage, opening of a temple etc.). The Christian Church considers Christianity and Freemasonry as incompatible. Behind a mask of charitable activities, Freemasonry hides Zionistic plans of worldwide domination, committing its members to horrible oaths and censorship. The organization watches daily the activities of its members, suppresses the meritocracy, as its members help only each other, and promotes racism, prohibiting blacks, poor or illiterate from joining.
The horoscope is a basic content of every newspaper and magazine and daily many gullible people visit astrologers attempting to learn what the future holds for them. Even the “oracles” of Nostradamus had made a comeback lately, in a vain attempt to persuade people follow the trend of astrology. There are many people who pay a very expensive price, as they are pushed to face the daily problems with a dangerous and fatalistic way.
Astrology is the observation of the stars for the knowledge of future, developed as a fictitious science during the antiquity and the Dark Ages. It is based on the wrong belief that the stars influence the earth and the lives of its habitats. Astrology was born in Mesopotamia, 2,000 years before Christ, from the need of the fallen man to find support for his unpredictable life. Seeing the marvelous spectacle of the night sky, the man allowed the devil lead him astray once again and he began to thing that the mysterious “beings” traveling on the sky could resolve his queries of tomorrow. Man thought that, if he knew what tomorrow will bring he could arrange his life accordingly.
Astrology reached its climax during the Assyrian civilization. After the fall of Babylon (535 BC) Haldean priests were scattered around the world taking along their astrological theories. Some intellectuals denied them, as was the philosopher Epicuros (342-270 B.C.) who ridiculed the astrologer Alexandros. Even in Rome there was circumspect with astrology, and the poet Ennios (A.D. 239-169) used to say that “the horoscope cost one drachma, and even at one drachma it is too expensive!” During the Dark Ages, astrology flourished once more. Many astrologers were ridiculed, as was Staifler that forecasted a biblical flood for February 1524. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), the reformer theologian, called astrology a “cheap science” and even the renounced German astronomer Kepler (1571-1630) wrote popular horoscopes to support the many members of his family. Kepler used to say: “For me, astrology is an intolerable but necessary slavery…I only deal with the curiosity of the illiterate…astronomy is the wise mother, while astrology her foolish daughter…”
Certain sovereigns of the West and even the Byzantium were greatly influenced by astrologers and arranged the course of their state affairs depending on the advices received by them. At this period flourished the Jewish doctor and astrologer Michael de Notre Dame (aka Nostradamus, 1503-66) that influenced many by the occasional coincidences that actually happened on his predictions. Despite that, even at Salon of France, where he died, Nostradamus was considered as a fraudster and an adventurer. Nostradamus only appears to have forecasted rightly the way and the place of his death: he died in a duel (although many believed that he staged his death to at last fulfill one of his predictions). His son, Michael, continued the family trade – when he realized that the “prophecy” of a city destroyed by fire was not about to happen, he decided to burn the city himself. Unfortunately, he was caught red handed and so his career ended abruptly. However, even today many people, even experts at this field, are prepared to tolerate this mockery. Consider the facts.
- Astrology is not a science, neither has it given reliability.
- Astrologers failed repeatedly in their forecasts.
- How can anybody believe today (with the advancing technology) that the lifeless stars can solve our problems?
Fotini, the woman from Samaria who talked to our Lord Jesus Christ (her name means Luminous, and the Church celebrates her memory on the 26th of February) learned that the “living water” is more important that the one we drink to satisfy our thirst. By admitting her sins and encouraged with her faith and hope, she grasps the hand of the Lord, offered to her and reaches to salvation. This is the hope of us all, for a better tomorrow. If we built our lives around the “living water” we would not need idolatry elements to guide us through our passage from life.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HOLY COMMUNION LITURGY
A SHORT INTERPRATATION OF THE DIVINE LITURGY
- “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages”. The service begins with these words since the 10th century, a relic of the initial communal services. These opening words are only used for the Sacraments of the Divine Liturgy, the Baptism and the Matrimony (Marriage) (as those Sacraments were part of the Holy Service). They represent a formal invitation to the Holy Trinity to be present at the Sacrament that leads us directly to the Kingdom of Heaven.
- “Amen” is a Jewish word meaning “let it be, true or indeed”. It is an early addition to the service, as with it the people accept the words and actions of the priest, regarding them as their own.
- “The Litany of Peace” is a number of requests divided in groups of three. The first three requests include the word “peace” and they are of general topics. The second group asks for the welfare of the people and the final group engages special situations. With these petitions (requests) the Church is praying for EVERYBODY and UNIFIES EVERYONE.
- “Lord have mercy”. The answer of the faithful shows everybody’s necessity for the help of God (in the past was sung by children).
- Recapitulation of the requests, referring to God on behalf of everyone in the Church.
- READING ALOUD, The natural ending of the prayer (or rather sung).
- ANTIPHON, is the way the singing is conducted – two singers (or two choruses) sing in turn, one after the other. As Antiphons the Church uses verses from a particular psalm, commemorating the day’s celebration. Another verse is repeated in between. They psalms prepare the faithful for the Holy
- SHORT LITANY, is a smaller version of the “Litany of Peace” containing only 3 requests.
- “Only-begotten Son and Word of God …” is an hymn written by Emperor Justinian of 6th century, that came in use since the 10th
- The ENTRANCE WITH THE HOLY GOSPEL is in remembrance of the old entrance of the clergy and the congregation into the church building. Today the priest shows the Holy Gospel reminding everyone that he will soon read a part from its contents.
- “Wisdom. Stand upright”, is a part of the Service since the 7th With these words, the priest asks the congregation’s attention to the Wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ whose life and teachings are included into the Holy Book.
- ENTRANCE CHANT is another vital part of the service, since the 14th As an Entrance Chant the Church uses a verse from a psalm that covers the entrance of the Holy Gospel into the Altar.
- APOLYTIKIA – KONTAKIA. They are special songs that mention the days’ celebration and the patron saint of the Church.
- The HYMN OF THE TRISAGION is based on Prophet Isaiah’s descriptions. It mentions the Holy Trinity.
- There are two today, both from the New Testament: one from the Acts of the Apostles or the Epistles (read by a special reader), and one from the 4 Evangelists (read by the priest). From the Old Testament there might be readings during the evening service, depending on the importance of the celebration.
- It concentrates on the first reading. Verses from a psalm are read in turn with the word “hallelujah” repeated after each one.
- PRAYERS FOR THE CATECHUMENS. The Church asks God to give strength and wisdom to the students of faith, and to accept them as members. After the prayers the catechumens leave, as they are not worthy to attend the Sacrament (not prepared enough to understand the bloodless sacrifice. They don’t possess the unity of faith and don’t participate in the truth).
- CHERUBIC HYMN. A part of the service since the 6th century, it is sung so to allow the priest some time to prepare the Holy Gifts. The words prepare the faithful for the proper welcoming of the King of glory, Jesus Christ.
- GREAT ENTRANCE is a re-enactment of the transferring of the offerings to the altar by the deacons. As an act, it symbolizes Jesus’ way to the passion. The Great Entrance asks the faithful to mimic Him and leave back any earthy concerns in order to welcome Him with pure hearts.
- LITANY OF THE PRECIOUS GIFTS. More personal requests follow, concerning the spiritual life of the faithful.
- PRAYER OF THE The Holy Gifts have been offered and now they cease to be earthy. Anything the faithful ask will be granted to them as their guarantee is the everlasting love of Christ.
- THE KISS OF PEACE. A very old act that today is exercised only between priests (initially the kiss was exchanged between the priests, the men and the women). Christ demanded it by saying that we should forgive our brother before we offer our gift to the Church. The kiss of Peace shows the unity and sociability of the Church. Such an act becomes the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
- THE CREED. Is a profession and a short statement of faith; concise, undoubted and formal. It became part of the service during the 6th Unity becomes only possible through the Holy Eucharist and the communion of all of the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Son of God.
- THE HOLY OBLATION is the main part of the service. The offerings are raised towards heaven and God because the whole Eucharist is referring to Him.
- “Let us stand with awe; …”. We stand firm to the profession of faith we have just made.
- “Mercy and peace: …”. Mercy (the love of God) is the fruit of the real peace.
- “The grace of our Lord …”. These fruits are: Son – grace, Father – love, Holy Spirit – communion.
- “Let our hearts be high”. Towards God, our Maker and Saviour.
- “Let us give thanks to the Lord”. Free from all earthly worries, our heart is on the right side of God.
- “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts; …”. A glorifying hymn, the one prophet Isaiah heard in a dream. By singing this hymn, the people of Jerusalem welcomed Christ, days before His final Passion. Let not be a pretend welcome for us, but let it show our unity and equality of value with the angels with whom we will live forever in the future life in Heaven.
- “Take, eat; …”, “Drink from this, all of you; …”. The instructional words of Christ, said during the Last Supper. Whatever happened on that day is repeated every time – with us as His guests, the same Table, the same bloodless
- “Offering you your own of your own …”. Everything we offer is part of what He gave us, a product of His love and compassion. We offered them as a “thank you” sign to our Creator and benefactor.
- “We praise you, …”. A very old hymn connecting the prayer of Oblation. The hymn is nothing else but a glorification of the Holy Trinity. The Oblation is offered to the God – Father, the God – Son (who sacrificed himself for our salvation) and the God – Holy Spirit (that repeats this sacrifice in the Church).
- APPEAL TO THE HOLY SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit is the life and force of the Church. Because Church and Eucharist are identical, so is the Church with the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit. The act appears in the Liturgy of Hippolitus (3rd century) and becomes prominent during the 4th century, after the ruling of the 2nd Ecumenical Council that defended the holiness of the Holy Spirit.
- DIPTYCHS (= list of names). A very old act during which names of alive and dead persons are mentioned. Everybody can mention those he chooses. Today, the Diptych is only concerning the dead (the living Diptych has moved to the start of the service, during the preparation of the Gifts).
- LITANY OF THE LORD’S PRAYER. Used to cover the time of the reading of the diptychs.
- THE LORD’S PRAYER. Since the 4th century (Cyril of Jerusalem), it shows a spirit of forgiveness and love.
- THE BOWING OF THE HEAD. Signifies our heart’s modesty to receive the grace of God and also the appreciation it hides for God’s mercies.
- “Let us attend. The Holy Things for the Holy”. It symbolises the elevation of Christ to the Cross. It reminds us that the body of Christ is not for the unworthy. Practically, to be able to cut the Holy Body we have to raise it from the plate!
- THE BREAKING OF THE HOLY BREAD. By breaking Himself, Christ is able to feed everybody. In each tiny particle it is not just part of Him but the whole Christ.
- THE HOT WATER. Since the 2nd century signified the blood and water that spilled from the side of Christ. The Byzantines made it part of the service in the 9th It symbolises the descent of the Holy Spirit. It also serves as a heater to the usually ice cold wine.
- COMMUNION CHANT. A psalm sang to encourage the devout Christians towards communion.
- “With fear of God, …”. The most exciding experience in the life of a true Christian is to be able to take part in the life, passion and resurrection of Christ and to inoculate himself with the Kingdom of God. During the first years of Christianity the Holy Communion was offered separately, first the Body and then the Blood. For practical reasons (babies, old people, sick people), the spoon was introduced during the 6th
- “We have seen the true light; …”. It shows the happiness of the people, from an experience, which brought them near the true light, Christ, and the fountain of holiness, the Holy Spirit.
- THANKSGIVING follows, towards God who made it possible for us to have Holy Communion.
- PRAYER BEHIND THE PULPIT. An old prayer for dismissal and blessing of the people. It was read from behind the pulpit situated in the middle of the church. It is a seal and summon of all the requests.
- First a simple exhortation from the deacon: “In peace you go”.
- “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, …”. A sentence that was initially used in the monasteries (holy fathers = monks).
- DISTRIBUTION OF THE HOLY BREAD. Pieces from the bread used by the priest for the preparation of the Holy Gifts. It is offered as a blessing to all those who did not have Holy Communion. A result of the strict mysticism of the 9th century that drove lot of people away from frequent
- “Blessed be the name of Lord …”. God’s glorification should be extended in our life even outside the church. The Divine Liturgy does not stop in church but continues into the world.
A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE
- Historical Books
Genesis is a Greek word meaning “origin” or “beginning”. There are many beginnings in the book of Genesis. The creation of the earth, of the universe, of man, the appearance of sin, the revelation of the Gospel to Adam, the beginning of tribes and races, the origin of various languages at Babel and the beginning of the family of Abraham. There are also, many genealogies in the book of Genesis. Some major divisions are those of Adam, of Noah, of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. Finally, emphasis is also given on Joseph’s role as a preserver of Israel.
Exodus is a Greek word meaning “exit” or “departure”. The book is called Exodus as it describes the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt. It is divided into two main divisions. The first division tells us of the oppression of Israel in Egypt, the early history and call of Moses, of Pharaoh’s plagues, of the exodus itself, the march through the Red Sea, the journey to Mount Sinai the giving of quails and manna to the people and the arrival of Jethro in the camp. The second division describes events at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments and the code of other laws, the covenant between Moses and the 70 elders, the matter of the golden calf, the construction of the tabernacle. So, the book of Exodus gives an account of early Israel; as a nation enslaved, as a nation redeemed and as a nation set apart and consecrated to the service of God.
The book of Leviticus (Levites = descendants of Levi, priests) represents the priestly and religious life of Israel. Its object is to teach religious truth to the minds of men through the medium of a stately ritual, sacrifices representing the need of atonement and communion. It also points out to the law of clean and unclean teaching that God requires the sanctification of the whole man, body as well as spirit.
The book of Numbers bears its name from the double numbering of census of the people. It also contains events in the wilderness from the second year after the Exodus and from the close of the wandering, interspersed with legislation. The events concentrate on preparation from departure from Mount Sinai, the march to the borders of Canaan, the sending of spies into the Promised Land and their reports, the refusal of the people to enter Canaan and God’s punishment for disobedience and the history of the last year in the wilderness. The book also contains various laws and historical notices.
Deuteronomy is a Greek word meaning “repetition of the law”. The book contains the last three discourses of Moses delivered in the plains of Moab. The first is introductory, the second consists of the Ten Commandments and a practical exposition to them and the third is a code of laws (like the laws concerning ritual of religion and rules about food and tithe, laws of dept, calendar of festivals, administration of justice and private and social rights). Finally, the third discourse is a solemn renewal of the covenant and an announcement of the blessings of obedience. The book of Deuteronomy ends with Moses’ song and last blessing and his departure.
Joshua is the principal figure in the book that describes the conquest of Canaan by the returning from Egypt Israelites, the allotment of the land among the tribes and the final exhortations of Joshua. After the death of Moses, Joshua takes control and leads the Israelites in crossing the Jordan River and reclaiming the Promised Land. They take Jericho and a vast number of other cities. The land is divided among the twelve tribes of Israel before Joshua sets up an altar and says his farewell address.
The book of Judges (with the book of Ruth) contains the Jewish history from the death of Joshua to the birth of Samuel. Judges were civil officers and military leaders (more fighters than preachers). The book narrates the events under Twelve Judges: among them Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. At this period, the Israelites formed a confederation of tribes rather than a nation, united only by their recognition of a common descent and still more by their common worship of Jehovah. Their unity seldom found practical expression, often overborne by local jealousies. Only in time of war a single leader could become an authority and lead them to unification and victory.
The book of Ruth tells the story of the family of Elimelech who lived in the days of the Judges. The family left Bethlehem because of a famine and went in the land of Moab. The two sons of Elimelech married Moabite wives, but died young, as did their father Elimelech. Naomi, the wife of Elimelech returned to Bethlehem with Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law. Boaz fancied her and eventually married her by right, as a nearest kinsman to her dead husband. Their son was Obed, the grandfather of king David. The book of Ruth connects the history of David to the earlier times, and also illustrates the conversion of a non-Israelite into the service of the God of Israel (as Ruth, a Moabite, becomes a direct ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ).
9 – 12. I, II, III, IV Kings
The four books of Kings narrate the history of Israel from the rebellion of Adonijah to the final captivity and destruction of the kingdom of Judah. Included are the histories of the northern kingdom from the separation till its disappearance in 721 B.C.
13-14. I, II Chronicles
The two Books of Chronicles give a short history of events from the Creation down to the proclamation of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to Palestine. They contain material from records of earliest times of the kingdom, by writers living during the events they prescribe. The compilers of the Chronicles chose such portions of the records as suited the purpose of their composition.
- 15. I Ezra
The first book of Ezra contains an account of Josiah’s reforms and the history of Israel down to the destruction of the Temple (588 B.C.). It also describes the return of the exiled Jews under Zerubbabel and the events that followed.
- II Ezra
The Book is marked with a tone of deep melancholy as it contains seven visions of revelation made to Ezra. There is a reference to Messiah and a thought of retribution that is to fall upon the heads of the gentiles who have crushed the Jews (the author is perplexed at the triumph of gentile sinners).
The name Nehemiah means “Comfort of the Lord”. Nehemiah was a Jew who held the important office of “cupbearer” at court of Artaxerxes. From the king, Nehemiah obtained a royal commission authorizing him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The Book of Nehemiah contains an account of the progress and difficulties of the work and its final completion. The Book is divided into four parts: Nehemiah’s first visit to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the walls in spite of much opposition; religious and social reforms; lists of names and account of the dedication of the wall; Nehemiah’s second visit after a 12 year absence and his further reforms.
Tobit was a Jew of the tribe of Naphtali, living in Nineveh. He was God-fearing and very strict in the observance of the Jewish law. When he lost his eyesight, he sends his son Tobias to fetch the five talents of silver left by him in the hands of his kinsman Gabael. Tobias traveled with angel Raphael (God heals). On their way they lodged at the house of Raguel in Ecbatana where Tobias claimed his daughter Sara in marriage and expelled the demon Asmodeus from her (a demon that deprived her of seven husbands on the night of wedlock). The angel Raphael fetches the money, the couple returns back to Tobit and Tobias heals his father’s eyesight applying supernatural means. The angel reveals his true nature and disappeared, while Tobit sing a song of thanksgiving and they all end their lives in prosperity.
The book describes a romantic event in the history of the Jews, the murder of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith, a rich and beautiful widow of Betulia. It is a work of fiction with some traditional deed of heroism.
The name Esther is Persian. Her Jewish name was Hadassah, meaning myrtle, an evergreen shrub with fragrant leaves. Ahaseurus, king of Persia (aka Xerxes) divorces his queen Vashti for refusing to show her beauty and chooses Esther, adopted daughter of Mordecai the Jew. Haman, chief of the staff obtains a decree to kill all Jews. Esther, at great personal risk, reveals her nationality and obtains a reversal of the decree. This deliverance was celebrated in a feast called Purim (because of the lot, Pur, Haman had cast for the destruction of the Jews). The book contains no direct reference to God, although He is everywhere taken for granted. It contains a most striking illustration of God’s overruling providence in history, as well as a very high type of courage, loyalty and patriotism.
- I Maccabees
The book describes the minutes of the Maccabean movement, from the accession of Antiochus Epiphanes to the death of Simon (175 – 135 B.C.). It chronicles the persecution of Antiochus and the national rising led by the aged priest Mattathias, the heroic war of independence under the lead of Judas and Maccabbee and the recovery of religious freedom and political independence under Jonathan and Simon.
22-23. II-III Maccabees
The second book goes over part of the history described over in the first book (175 – 160 B.C.). The legends are introduced with greater freedom, but the doctrine of the resurrection is strongly affirmed.
- b) Didactic or Poetic Books
Out of the 283 direct citations from the Old Testament made in the New Testament, 116 have been counted from the book of Psalms. Seventy-three of the 150 Psalms are ascribed to David. Titles are added to some of them (some of them inaccurate), while others are accompanied by stringed instruments. In some titles appears the Hebrew word “mizmor” which denotes a composition set to music. The title of Psalms in Hebrew is “Tehillim”, meaning “Praises”. The Psalms were religious songs sung by pilgrims on their way to the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Some are to glorify God, others tell of heroic stories, while others are joyful or mournful.
The book tells the story of Job, a righteous man that is put through many sufferings. Job remains faithful to God and refuses to blame Him for his misfortune, despite urged to do so by his “three friends” and even his wife. The book doesn’t answer the question as to why humans should suffer, although suggests that suffering is not for punishment, rather is for experience, discipline and instruction. The deep faith Job has for God is shown through the entire book and also his reward at the end is a hopeful message to all those who built their lives in God.
Throughout the book it is taken for granted that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. The first section, more poetic, contains an exposition of true wisdom. A collection of proverbs and sentences about the right and wrong ways of living follows while the book also contains proverbs of Solomon, copied out by the men of king of Judah Hezekiah. Finally, there is a picture of the ideal life.
Ecclesiastes is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Koheleth” meaning “one that convenes an assembly”. The book consists of reflections on some of the deepest problems of life and it seems permeated with a pessimistic flavor. They are observations about how things appear to men on the earth “under the sun”. The most spiritual part of the book concludes that the only activity of lasting and permanent value comes from obedience to God’s commandments, since all things will be examined in the judgment that God will render on man.
- Song of Songs
Although it is generally attributed to King Solomon, the author of the Book is unknown. The Book is a romantic story, and Jews and Christians were reluctant in accepting it into the canon. Finally they have permitted it on the basis of its being an allegory of God’s love for Israel and / or of the Church. The composition has many beautiful phrases and lyrical prose, often quoted in non-religious structure.
- Wisdom of Solomon
The book tries to warn the Jews of Alexandria against abandoning the religion of their fathers. It is a praise of “Wisdom” and condemns all those who reject her. Basis of all happiness is the “Wisdom” of the book of Proverbs and “the fear of the Lord”.
- Wisdom of Sirach
In style and character, the book of Wisdom of Sirach resembles the book of Proverbs. There are questions of practical morality, like friendship, old age, women, avarice, health, wisdom, anger and servants. The book was first written in Hebrew and is the only book that contains the name of the author (“Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem”). The grandson of the author translated the book into Greek.
- c) Prophetic Books
Hosea was the only prophet of the northern kingdom that left written prophesies. He lived during a time of national decline and ruin, the result of sin by Israel. His fundamental idea is the love of God for His people. The history of Israel is an illustration of God’s love and their restoration shall be due to His love. In contrast with God, who is Love, Israel is characterized by a constant want of affection, by treachery and infidelity. Yet, Hosea looks forward to a final redemption and his profound thought and pathos deeply influenced succeeding writers.
His name means “Burden” and he prophesied during the 7th B.C. century (750). He was a shepherd, native of Tekoa, 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem. His ministry was among the northern kingdom of Israel. He emphasizes upon the moral character of Jehovah, showing that the offering the Lord most cares for, is a righteous life. The fact that Israel is the covenant means that the people of Israel would make their punishment even heavier. Yet, Israel will not be entirely destroyed and the kingdom will return to even surpass its ancient glory. Amos insists that the Lord speaks through His prophets in warning mankind.
Micah lived in the plain country of Judah and his Book has three divisions. Prophecies of judgment and ruin on the Jewish State, prophesies of restoration, with brilliant Messianic promises and prophesies of mixed character. In the final division, the Lord remonstrates with His people and recounts His past softness to them, requiring from them justice, goodness and humility. It is a fresh picture of the state of society, with Zion sitting in darkness, is comforted with the assurance that Jehovah pardons iniquity when men repent.
Joel was a prophet of Judah who took a severe visitation of drought and locusts as a chance to prophesy. Joel assures the people that on repentance they will again receive the blessings of God. Peter quoted Joel’s prophesy about the outpouring of the Spirit on his speech on the day of the Pentecost, while other of his prophecies are used in the Book of Revelation.
Obadiah’s name means “Servant of the Lord”. Obadiah was a prophet that foretold the doom of Edom, after the Edomites had displayed hostility to Judah. One of the better-known passages of Obadiah speaks of “saviors…on mount Zion”, which refers to the doctrine of salvation of the dead.
Jonah was of Zebulon and the Book that bears his name describes an episode in his life. The writer is opposing narrow-mindedness that would confine the love of God to a single nation. He shows that Jehovah reigns everywhere; even in the heathen world the minds of men are conscious of sin and prepared to admit the will of God. The Book is a beautiful poem, painting the humanity of heathen sailors, the mourning of the prophet over the decay of the grass of the field and the Divine tenderness in pitying the little children of Nineveh. His life (especially his three-day stay in the belly of the beast) is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
His name means “Consoler”. Nahum, a native of Galilee, prophesied against Nineveh and his prophecy has great literary beauty and much patriotic feeling. Nahum makes no allusion to the sin of his own people, but takes the occasion of a recent aggression of Assyria and some powerful coalition against Nineveh to express his certainty of the city’s doom.
Although the outcries of the prophet against wrongdoing in Judah remain unheard by God, the Chaldeans (idolaters) will eventually get the punishment they deserve, as they will also come under judgment by God. The book ends with a lyrical poem, describing the coming of Jehovah to judge and to deliver his people.
Zephaniah was a prophet that lived in the reign of Josiah (639-608 B.C.). His name means “The Lord hides” and his prophecy speaks of universal judgment and of universal salvation in the knowledge of Jehovah. The outpouring of the wrath of the Lord falls on all created things, on Judah for her idolatries, on the royal house, on the merchant classes, on all the ungodly and on all the nations round about.
Haggai prophecies came soon after the return of the Israelites from Babylonian exile (about 520 B.C.). It is an exhortation to the people to be more zealous about the public worship of God and the rebuilding of the temple. He also consoles those distressed by the appearance of the temple and assures them that the day of the Lord is near. Haggai also warns that the worldly spirit of the people had brought a curse on all their labor.
Zechariah, the son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo, was a contemporary of Haggai. The Book of Zechariah contains two divisions: a series of visions sketching the future of the people of God and prophecies of an obscure kind. The visions begin with a warning to hear and repent. The 1st vision is of riders on horses of various colors who report on the state of the nations in the interests of Jerusalem. The 2nd vision is of four horns (all the nations) that have scattered Israel and four craftsmen (the divine agencies) that shall counteract and destroy them. The 3rd vision is of a man with a measuring line to measure Jerusalem (the city will be immeasurable and overflow by people). The 4th vision is of Joshua, the high priest, dressed in filthy clothes, standing in front of the angel of the Lord, with Satan at his right accusing him (might be a reflection of the feeling of the people, their abject condition awakening a sense of their sin, and the fear that the Lord had not returned to them in truth). The 5th vision is of a lamp stand surmounted by a bowl of oil, which feeds by tubes the seven burning lamps of the lamp stand, with two olive trees supplying it with oil (the lamps represent the light shed by the people, the oil is the symbol of the Spirit, who is dispensed through the two anointed ones, the priestly and the royal rule. The 6th vision is a symbol of the curse that shall light on sin in the land. The 7th vision is a symbol of the removing of the sin of the people to Sinar (the land of their foes). The 8th vision is of horsemen (called winds) going to all quarters of the earth (agencies by which God will subdue the nations, foes of his people). There is also a reply to a question about fasting (the Lord is indifferent whether men fast or eat; He desires that they execute judgment and show mercy).
The name of Malachi means “My messenger” and his prophecies were spoken at around 430 B.C. The first part of the Book of Malachi is addressed to the priesthood, reproving them for their neglect of service to God. The second part is addressed to the people, speaking against marriage outside the covenant, divorces from wives within the covenant and neglect of tithe paying. The faithful are encouraged to remain so, with the assurance that the Lord is mindful of them and the disobedient shall fail in the day of the Lord’s coming.
The name Isaiah means, “The Lord is salvation”. A son of a prophet, Amoz, Isaiah had great religious and political influence as chief advisor of King Hezekiah. He is the most quoted of all the prophets. His writings refer to events of his day as well as those who passed and those who are to come. The bulk of Isaiah’s prophesies deal with the coming of the Redeemer. A major theme is that God requires righteousness of his people and until they obey Him they will be smitten and scattered by their enemies. In the end, Israel will be restored and the Lord, the Holy One of Israel will dwell in the midst of His people, who will be called Zion. Isaiah uses extensively symbolism, as well as prophetic foresight and literary style. Some prophecies are probably fulfilled more than one time and / or have more than one application.
Born of a priestly family, Jeremiah prophesied between 626 – 586 B.C. He tried to stem the tide of idolatry and immorality. The Jews took Jeremiah to Egypt with after the fall of Jerusalem, initially as a fetish, but later they stoned him to death (according to the tradition). He dwells on the inwardness of the Lord’s relation to the mind of His servants and points out that, external service is useless where there is no devotion of heart and life.
The name Baruch means, “Blessed”. The Book contains a work written by Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah and prophet in Babylon.
Lamentations is a book written by Jeremiah in poetic form. The word “lament” means “weep” or “cry”. It talks about the scenes in the city during its destruction and the feelings of the people and also the deep impression made by the destruction and the feeling of sin awakened by it. The writer was an eye-witness of the destruction and a great composer as chapters 1, 2 and 4 have each 22 verses, each beginning with the successive letters of the alphabet, while chapter 3 has 66 verses, with every 3 beginning with the same letter. Finally, only chapter 5 is not alphabetical.
- Epistle of Jeremy
It is a letter written by Jeremiah the prophet while being carried away as captive to Babylon.
Ezekiel was a priest of the family of Zadok taken away as a captive by Nebuchadnezzar to Tel Abib where he settled. His name means “God will strengthen”. He prophesied for a period of 22 years (592 – 570 B.C.). His book by the same name is divided into three main divisions. Prophecies of judgment against Jerusalem and the Israeli nation, prophesies of restoration and visions of reconstructing the temple and its worship. His teachings are quite notable, especially his warning of individual responsibility of every person and the consequences of his own behavior. Ezekiel was a man of many visions who spoke about the future restoration of Israel and the glory of the millennial reign of the Lord.
Written mainly in Hebrew (except Chapters 2: 4 – 7 and 28, written in Aramaic) the Book of Daniel is divided in two equal parts. The first part contains narratives regarding Daniel and his three companions and the second part contains prophetic visions seen by Daniel and reported in his own name. The Book of Daniel teaches its readers the important duty of being true to the God of Israel at all cost and illustrates the blessings of the Lord upon the faithful. The first part includes the dramatic stories of the three children (Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego) being delivered from the fiery furnace by the power of God and Daniel thrown into the den of lions. The prophetic visions present a succession of world monarchies, the last of which will severely prosecute the saints, before is brought to its end by the judgment of God.
The List of the Books of the New Testament
- Historical Books
- The Gospel according to St Matthew
The name Matthew means “Gift of God”. Before his conversion, Matthew was known as Levi, son of Alphaeus, and worked as a tax gatherer in Capernaum. A thorough Jew with a wide knowledge of the Old Testament, he was able to see in every detail the fulfillment of every prophecy in the Lord’s life and he uses many quotations from the scriptures. He wrote his Gospel for the use of Jews in Palestine. Matthew’s chief object is to show that Jesus is the King and Judge of men. He probably wrote his Gospel in Aramaic but is known to us by an early Greek translation
- The Gospel according to St Mark
Also known as John, Mark was the son of Mary, sister of Barnabas, who had a house of considerable size in Jerusalem. In the Upper Room of that house Jesus held the Last Supper for His disciples and also appeared to them after His Resurrection a couple of times (without and with Thomas). Also, at the same house happened the descent of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Mark accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, deserting them at Perga and becoming the reason for disagreement between the two Apostles. Later, he accompanied Barnabas to Cyprus, Paul to Rome, Peter at Babylon and Timothy at Ephesus. After the death of Peter, Mark visited Egypt where he founded the Church of Alexandria, a city in which he died by martyrdom. His Gospel was written under the direction of Peter. Today is regarded as the first written Gospel, from which Matthew and Luke took many ideas. He appeals to a gentile audience and his Gospel is fast moving, emphasizing the doings (miracles) more than the sayings (preaching) of the Lord. He regularly explains geographical and cultural terms, a necessary procedure for non – Jewish readers.
3 The Gospel according to St Luke
Luke was Paul’s fellow traveler. He was born of gentile parents, probably in Greece, and practiced medicine. He was possibly one of the disciples to whom the Lord appeared on the way to Emmaus. He joined Paul at Troas, making him a valuable and welcoming companion to him due to his medical knowledge. After remaining in Philippi for a few years, he again joined Paul on his last journey to Jerusalem and stayed with him until their arrival in Rome. He probably died as a martyr. His Gospel is specially intended for gentile readers, as he seems more favorable toward them, as well as giving more stories involving women that the others record.
4 The Gospel according to St John
John was the son of Zebedee and brother of James, from the inner circle of three among the disciples of Jesus. In his early life he was a fisherman, living fairly comfortably. He received the name “Boanerges” meaning “the son of thunder” with his brother (because, during a visit to Samaria, Jesus was not welcomed and the two brothers wished God to sent fire from Heaven to destroy the place). In his Gospel, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. John was the only one who followed Jesus during his Trial, and was also present at the Crucifixion, where he was given the duty of taking care of Jesus’ mother. Later, he was exiled to the island of Patmos (where he wrote the Book of Revelation) and he was the last of the disciples to die, the only one peacefully at a very old age (possibly nearing 100). His Gospel differs from the rest, and his account does not contain much of the fundamental information the others record. It is also evident that John is writing to members of the Church who already had basic information about the Lord, concentrating in theological rather than historical events. His primary purpose was to emphasize the divine nature of Jesus as the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh.
5 The Acts of the Apostles
This is the second book written by Luke and addressed to Theophilus. The early part records some of the major missionary activities of the Twelve Apostles under the direction of Peter immediately after the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The second part outlines some of the travels and missionary work of Paul. The Book of the Acts is not a comprehensive history of the early Church, but a recitation of the early missionary efforts to people other than the Jews. The missionary work begins in Jerusalem, moves to Judea and Samaria and reaches unto the uttermost part of the earth. The main protagonists of the Acts are Peter, James and John (from the original Twelve), but also Barnabas (from the circle of the Seventies), Stephen (from the elected deacons) and Paul (converted from the Jews).
- b) Didactic Books
- The Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Paul wrote 14 Epistles to the members of the early Church who already had some knowledge of the Gospel. By sending epistles, a popular way of correspondence, Paul tried to strengthen the newly founded Churches and also solve the problems arousing from non- established as yet dogmas. The Epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth, toward the end of Paul’s lengthy stay there. The missionary planned to return to Jerusalem, a dangerous visit, and if he escaped with his life he hoped to visit Rome next. After the standard salutation, he offers his main doctrine, the righteousness by faith. God’s wrath against sin was evident and this included both Jew and gentile. The case of Abraham illustrates the truth of this doctrine. Israel has rejected (not a final one yet) union with Christ. After instructions for the treatment of weaker brethren, Paul gives his reasons for writing the Epistle, his Greetings and a final benediction and doxology.
- The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
Corinth was the meeting point of many nationalities as the city was the main harbor of trade between Asia and Western Europe. Paul stayed at the city for nearly two years on his first visit. His converts were mainly Greeks gifted with a keen sense of the joys of physical existence, a passion for freedom and a genius for rhetoric and logic. Unfortunately, at the time Greece was in the midst of a very bad moral corruption, undisciplined and self- conceited. Paul addressed those two Epistles as well as visiting the city twice, and also visited by Apollos, by (perhaps) Peter and other Jewish Christians. After the initial salutation, Paul rebukes the Corinthians for lack of unity, after a case of impurity. He replies to enquiries made by them as to marriage, meat offered to idols, the order of worship, and the doctrine of the resurrection, of Christ and of the dead. He directs them to make a collection for the Christian poor of Jerusalem and gives information about his plans and those of Timothy and Apollo.
- The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
The First Epistle of Paul was well received in Corinth and had produced the desired effects. Paul found that a personal coolness had sprung up between himself and his converts, so he addresses them the Second Epistle. After the initial salutations, he gives his own movements and feelings toward the Corinthian Church and an account of the impression he had after Titus reported to him about it. He asks for a welfare collection for the churches of Judea and gives an assertion of his own position as an apostle.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
Although it is not certain as to which of the Churches are referred as Galatians, they were certainly visited by Paul on his second and third journeys. Traveling through Macedonia, Paul heard of a wholesale defection from the truth of the Gospel in favor of a return to the bondage of the Jewish law. After a salutation and a direct expression of regret at the news he received, Paul vindicates his own position as an apostle and his relationship with other apostles. Theologically he shows the superiority of the doctrine of faith to the doctrine of merit by works. He appeals to his own experience and the faith of Abraham, noting that faith in Jesus Christ enables believers to become Abraham’s seed. Finally he notes that a return to Judaism is a denial of Christian liberty, a liberty that did not mean freedom from moral restraint.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians
An Epistle of great importance as it contains Paul’s teaching regarding the Church of Christ. Paul prays for further enlightenment of his converts and notes the importance of unity. He writes about the change in the state of the new Christians, from aliens to fellow-citizens of the saints, gentile and Jews united in one Church. He teaches about marriage, children and servants and talks about the Christian armor.
- The First Epistle of Paul to the Philippians
The Church at Philippi was the first founded in European soil. Even if his first visit ended abruptly, he was never forgotten. His converts sent him supplies even while staying in Corinth. He returned to Philippi six years later, passing through twice. The Philippians even sent to him Epaphroditus, to minister to him under their name when Paul was a house prisoner in Rome. Paul wrote the Epistle at that time, and its main purpose is to express his gratitude and affection, and also to cheer them under the disappointment of his imprisonment. He salutes and prays for them and deals with the progress of the missionary work. He warns about false teachers and thanks Philippians for their assistance.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians
The Epistle to the Colossians was the result of a visit of Epaphras, the evangelist of the Church of Colosse and his report that the Colossians were falling into serious error. The Colossians, through a deep consciousness of sin, were led to a desire to attain moral perfection by mechanical means. Paul shows that Christ, in his own person, is the one principle of the unity of the universe, and that sanctification is to be found only though union with Him.
- The First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
Both Epistles were written from Corinth, during Paul’s first visit to Europe. Although, the wish of the Apostle was to return to the city of Thessalonica, he was unable to do so, and he sent Timothy to cheer the converts and bring him word how they fared. In the First Epistle, Paul reminds them of the work among them and he talks about spiritual growth, chastity, love and diligence. He also refers to exhortations to laity, clergy and the whole church.
- The Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
In the short interval between the two Epistles, the Church suffered a prosecution. The prospect of an immediate return of the Lord fostered an unhealthy excitement, while Paul’s own teachings had been misunderstood. That is why Paul talks about the Second Advent, explaining that the Lord might not be coming immediately. He also mentions the duty of subordination and of work.
- The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy
The name Timothy means “Honored by God”. Timothy the student of Paul was the son of Greek father and Jewish mother (by the name of Eunice) that lived at Lystra. Paul chose him in order that he might be of greater use of evangelistic work among Jews. He calls Timothy as his own “son in the faith”. He appears at Philippi, at Beroea and he is send by Paul to Thessalonica and Macedonia. He accompanied Paul to Corinth, Troas, Rome and Ephesus. It seems that Timothy was perhaps Paul’s most trusted and capable assistant. Paul addresses the First Epistle to Timothy from Macedonia to give him counsel and encouragement in the fulfillment of his duty. Therefore, he gives directions about public worship and about the character and conduct of ministers and a summary of the true believer’s creed. He hints to Timothy about the treatment of his flock and warns against various dangers.
- The Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy
The Second Epistle to Timothy was written during Paul’s second imprisonment, a short time before the apostle’s martyrdom and it shows the wonderful courage and trust with which Paul faced death. Paul talks about the desertion by old friends and the faithfulness of others and gives various warnings and directions. He points out dangers ahead and gives advice on how to meet them. Finally, Paul sends a message to friends, declaring his own confidence in the ace of death he is facing.
- The Epistle of Paul to Titus
Titus was a convert of Paul from Antioch who attended the conference in Jerusalem about circumcision. He accompanied Paul on his third journey and was sent to Corinth twice, carrying Paul’s two Epistles. Eight years later, Titus met Paul again in Ephesus and traveled with him to Crete where he stayed, receiving the Epistle bearing his name. Later Titus was sent on mission to Dalmatia. Paul addressed to him (and the Second to Timothy) the Pastoral Epistles, dealing with questions relating to the internal discipline and organization of the Christian body and with the ideal of the pastoral office. Addressing Titus, Paul gives the qualifications of an elder and the proper treatment of various classes of Christians.
- The Epistle of Paul to Philemon
The Epistle of Paul to Philemon is a private letter about Onesimus, a slave who had robed his master, Philemon a convert of Paul, and run away to Rome. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master at Colosse with the letter, asking Philemon to forgive him and receive him back as a fellow Christian.
- The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews
Written by Paul about ten years after the conference in Jerusalem, it is a result of Paul finding out that many thousands of Jewish members of the Church were still “zealous of the law” of Moses. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews to show them by their own scripture and by sound reason why they should no longer practice the Law of Moses. Paul points out the superiority of Jesus, who is greater than the angels, having a more excellent name, inheritance and higher calling. Angels are servants; Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus, a faithful Son, is also greater than Moses, a faithful servant, and of Melchizedek, a higher order than Aaron and Abraham. The first covenant (testament) under Moses was fulfilled and Jesus brought a new covenant (testament), so we now have a complete Bible (in Old and New Testaments).
- The Catholic Epistle of James
The name James is an English form of the Hebrew name Jacob, meaning Supplanter. There are several persons of this name in the New Testament. The person that wrote the Epistle is probably the one known as James the Just, brother of the Lord, son of Joseph from his first wife and brother of Joses, Simon, and Jude and of several sisters. The Epistle is addressed to the twelve tribes of Israel scattered abroad. It was written in Jerusalem and contains stated items about practical religion. Among them, are those that have to do with faith and works, the need to control the unruly tongue, an exhortation to patience and the calling of the elders for a blessing when sick (confirmation of the Holy Unction practice).
- The First Catholic Epistle of Peter
Peter (Rock) was the brother of Andrew and son of Jonah, and is also known as Simeon or Simon. Originally a fisherman of Bethsaida, he was called by Jesus to be a disciple at a time living in Capernaum with (probably) his wife and her mother. He was given the Aramaic name Cephas (Peter = Rock) by Jesus and he was one of the three disciples present on several important occasions. He denied the Lord three times during His trial, but her repented and went on to become the “rock upon which Jesus build His church”. He worked as a missionary in Babylon, and Syria, directed Mark in writing his Gospel and suffered martyrdom in Rome (64 or 65 A.D.). The first Epistle was written from Rome and is addressed to Christians of Asia Minor. Peter tries to encourage men who were in danger of being terrified into a denial of their Lord and contains valuable teaching about the incarnation, about atonement and of regeneration.
- The Second Catholic Epistle of Peter
The Second Catholic Epistle of Peter, addressed to the same churches of Asia Minor, was written just before Peter’s martyrdom and aims at guarding against apostasy. Peter uses forceful language in reaffirming that the Lord will come from heaven in great glory and in judgment upon the earth.
- The First Catholic Epistle of John
Although the name of the writer of the three Epistles attributed to John is not given, tradition and the similarity of language strongly connect them with the writer of the Gospel. The first Epistle emphasizes that Jesus has come in the flesh and shows its bearing on the life of men.
- The Second Catholic Epistle of John
In the Second Epistle the writer is identified as the “Elder”, as John by then must have been in a very old age. Its content is closely connected with the First, in condemning the false teachings.
- The Third Catholic Epistle of John
In the Third Epistle, the “Elder” mentions the names of Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius without giving any other information about them.
- The Catholic Epistle of Judas
The writer is the brother of James and one of the “brethren of Jesus”, son of Joseph from a previous wife. The Epistle is addressed to certain people in danger, owing to the presence among them of professing Christians who were giving themselves up to the immorality of pagan worship and claiming to be above the moral law.
- c) Prophetical Book
- Revelation of John
“Revelation” means to make known or uncover. The Book of Revelation belongs to the apocalyptic writings of the Judaic world. John in the Greek island of Patmos, where he was banished during a persecution, wrote it during the 1st century A.D. John saw visions of pictures and symbols that he recorded. He presents to us a course of history heading towards its close, a new history that is closely connected with Christianity fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies. At the center is the “Sacrificed Lamb”, crucified and resurrected Christ, who is the proclaimed through the other Books of the New Testament. The fundamental thematic points of the Book of Revelation are.
- a) The three lines of wounds falling on earth with the opening of the seven seals, after the trumpet call of the seven Angels and the discharge of the content of seven bottles do not aim at the creation of terror and distress, but the show the deterioration and deformity of the world. This is a result of the culpability of human beings that God allows only in order to clear the old world. Following the purification, a “new sky” and a “new earth” would appear, sent by God.
- b) The trials aim for the purgation of the old world and are an invitation for repentance.
- c) The evil (called by various names such as the devil, Satan, snake, dragon, beast), grows fast and continuously and opposes the work of God, convincing individuals to worship him. However, the final word is with God that judges the world and throws Satan in a pool of fire.
- d) The message of the Book of Revelation is hopeful and optimistic. It provides the world with the promise of God of a new world, a New Jerusalem that would descent from the sky not as a vision but as a reality through our Lord Jesus Christ.
PRAYER AFTER RISING UP FROM SLEEP
O heavenly King, Comforter, the spirit of truth who are present everywhere and fill all things, the treasury of good things and the giver of life, come and abide within us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O good one.
THE THRICE HOLY PRAYER
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us; Lord, be merciful to our sins; Master, forgive our transgressions; Holy One, visit us and heal our infirmities, for your name’s sake.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Our Father who are in heaven, may your name be hallowed; may your Kingdom come; may your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
THE SYMBOL OF FAITH (THE CREED)
I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things, visible and invisible. And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made. Who for us and for our salvation, descended from Heaven, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became Man. And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and He suffered and was buried. And He rose according to the Scriptures. And ascended into the Heavens and is seated at the right of the Father. And He shall come again with glory, to judge the living and the dead, and His Reign shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the Prophets. I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the Resurrection of the dead. And of the life of the ages to come. Amen.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy, and according to the multitude of your compassions, wipe out my offence. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I am aware of my iniquity, and my sin is continually before me. Against you only have I sinned and done evil before you, that you might be justified in your words, and emerge victorious when you are judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother carry and bear me. For behold, you have loved the truth; you have revealed to me the hidden and secret parts of your wisdom. You shall sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed; you shall wash me and I will be whiter than snow. You shall make me hear joy and gladness; the afflicted bones shall rejoice. Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in the depths of me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take away your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and strengthen me with a guiding spirit. I will teach transgressors your ways, and the ungodly shall return to you. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; and my tongue will joyfully sing your justice. O Lord, you shall open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise. For if you desired sacrifice, I would have offered it; you will not be pleased with whole-burnt offerings. Sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; a contrite and humbled heart God will not despise. Do good, Lord, to Zion in your pleasure that the walls of Jerusalem may be built. Then you will be pleased with a sacrifice of justice, offering and whole-burnt sacrifices. Then shall they offer you calves upon your altar.
O Christ our God, Who at all times, and at every hour, both in Heaven and on earth, is worshipped and glorified, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy and compassion; Who loves the just and shows mercy to the sinners; Who calls all men to salvation through the promise of the blessings to come; receive also our supplications at this present time, O Lord, and direct our lives toward Your commandments. Sanctify our souls; purify our bodies; set our minds aright; cleanse our thoughts; and deliver us from all grief, evils and distress. Encompass us with Your Holy Angels, so that guided, and guarded by their Host, we may attain the unity of the Faith and the comprehension of Your ineffable Glory. For blessed are You unto the ages of ages. Amen.
THE PRAYER OF ST EFRAIM THE SYRIAN
O Lord and Master of my life, deliver me from the spirit of indolence, meddling, ambition, and vain talk.
But bestow thou upon me thy servant the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience, and love.
Yea, King and God, grant that I may know my sins and my faults, and not judge my brother, for thou art blessed forever. Amen.
- Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
- Blessed are they, which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
- Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad; for great is your reward in heaven.
PRAYER TO THE VIRGIN MARY
(A poem by Paulos, Monk at the Monastery of Evergetidos)
O spotless, undefiled, incorruptible, chaste and pure Virgin-Bride of God, who by Your wondrous conception united God the Logos with man, and joined our fallen nature with the Heavens; the only hope of the hopeless, and the help of the persecuted; the ever-ready to rescue all that flee unto You, and the refuge of all Christians, spurn me not, the branded sinner, who by shameful thoughts, words and deeds, has made my whole being useless, and through indolence has enslaved my judgement to the pleasures of this life. But as the Mother of the Merciful God, mercifully show compassion unto sinner, the prodigal, and me and accept my supplication that is offered from impure lips unto You. With Your maternal approach entreat Your Son, our Lord, and Master to open for me the merciful depths of His loving kindness; and overlooking my countless transgressions, guide me to repentance, and show me forth as a worthy worker of His commandments. As You are merciful, compassionate and gentle, be at my side; and in this present life, be my fervent protector and helper, thwarting the assaults of the adversaries, and leading me to salvation; and in the hour of my passing take care of my wretched soul, and cast far away the dark faces of the demons. And at the dreadful Day of Judgement, deliver me from eternal punishment, and prove me to be an heir to the ineffable Glory of Your Son, and our God. May this glory be my share, O my Lady, Most-Holy Theotokos, through Your mediation and help, by the Grace and mercy of Your only-Begotten Son, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, Jesus Christ; to Whom is due all glory, honour and worship, together with His Eternal Father, and His All-Holy and Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
PRAYER TO OUR LORD CHRIST
(A poem by Antiochus, Monk at the Monastery of Pandectos)
O Lord, grant unto us, as we depart for sleep, rest of body and soul, and protect us form the gloomy sleep of sin and from every dark nocturnal pleasure. Suppress the impulse of passions; quench the fiery darts of evil, which insidiously move against us. Check the impulses of our flesh, and quiet every earthy and mundane desire within us. Grant to O God, an alert mind, prudent reason, a sober heart, a peaceful sleep, and free us from every satanic fantasy. Raise us up at the time of prayer, holding fast to Your Commandments and having the remembrance of Your judgements unbroken within us. Grant unto us Your glorification through the night, that we may praise, bless, and glorify Your most honourable and magnificent Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
- Most glorious, Ever-Virgin, blessed Theotokos, present our prayer to Your Son, and our Go, and entreat Him, so that, through You, He will save our souls.
- My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my shelter is the Holy Spirit, O Holy Trinity, Glory to You.
- My every hope I entrust unto You; O Mother of God, keep me under Your protection.
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men. We praise You; we bless You; we worship You; we glorify You; we thank You, for Your great glory. O Lord King, God in Heaven, the Father Almighty. O Lord, Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. O Lord God, Lamb of God, the Son of the Father, Who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us; You, who takes away the sins of the world;
Receive our prayers, You, who sit at the right hand of the Father, and have mercy on us. For You alone are Holy; You alone are the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God, the Father. Amen. Every evening I will bless You, and praise Your name, forever and ever, and unto the ages of ages. O Lord, You have been our refuge, from generation to generation. I said: Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against You. O Lord, unto You I have fled; teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. For with You, is the fountain of life; in Your light we shall see light. Extent Your loving mercy to those who know You. Grant, O Lord that we may be kept this night without sin. Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our Fathers, and blessed and glorified is Your name forever and ever. Amen. Let Your mercy O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in You. Blessed are You, O Lord, teach Your commandments. Blessed are You, O Master, grant that I may understand Your commandments. Blessed are You, O Holy One, enlighten me with Your commandments. O Lord, Your mercy is everlasting. Despise not the works of Your hands. To You belongs praise, adoration, and glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
THE MOST COMMON TROPARIA
THE APOLYTIKIA OF THE 8 TONES
When the stone had been sealed by the Jews, and while soldiers were guarding your most pure Body, you rose, O Saviour, on the third day, giving life to the world; therefore the heavenly Powers cried out to you, Giver of life; Glory to your Resurrection, O Christ! Glory to your Kingdom! Glory to your dispensation, only Lover of mankind!
When you went down to death, O immortal life, then you slew Hell with the lightning flash of your Godhead; but when from the depths below the earth you raised the dead, all the Powers in the heavens cried out: Giver of life, Christ our God, glory to you!
Let everything in heaven rejoice, let everything on earth be glad, for the Lord has shown strength with his arm; by death he has trampled on death; he has become the first-born from the dead; from the belly of Hell he has delivered us, and granted the world his great mercy.
When the women Disciples of the Lord had learnt from the Angel the joyful message of the Resurrection, casting away the ancestral condemnation, triumphantly they said to the Apostles: Death has been despoiled; Christ God has been risen granting to the world his great mercy.
Let us believers praise and let us worship the Word, who like the Father and the Spirit is without beginning, born from a Virgin for our Salvation; for he was well pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and undergo death, and to raise those who had died, by his glorious Resurrection.
Angelic Powers were at your grave, and those who guarded it became as dead, and Mary stood by the tomb, seeking you most pure Body. You despoiled Hell and emerged unscathed; you met the Virgin and granted life. Lord, risen from the dead, glory to you!
You abolished death by your Cross, you opened Paradise to the Thief, you transformed the Myrrh-bearers’ lament, and ordered your Apostles to proclaim that you had risen, O Christ God, granting the world your great mercy.
You the Compassionate came down from above, you accepted burial for three days, that you might free us from the passions. Our life and resurrection, Lord, glory to you!
APOLYTIKIA FOR MAIN FESTIVE DAYS FOR OUR LORD
- Christmas – December 25
Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has given rise to the light of knowledge in the world; for they that worshipped the stars did learn there-from to worship you, O Sun of justice, and to know that from the east of the Highest you did come O Lord, glory to you.
- The Circumcision – January 1st
O most compassionate Lord, while yet God after your essence, you did take human likeness without transubstantiation; and having fulfilled the law that you did accept willingly circumcision in the flesh, that you might annul the shadowy signs and remove the veil of our passions. Glory to your goodness, glory to your compassion, glory to your ineffable condescension, O Word.
- The Epiphany – January 6
By your baptism, O Lord, in the River Jordan, worship to the Trinity has made its appearance; for the voice of the Lord did come forth to you with the testimony, naming you beloved Son; and the Spirit in the likeness of a dove, confirming the truth of the word. Wherefore, O thou who did appear and lighted the world, O Christ, glory to you.
- Presentation of Our Lord – February 2
Rejoice, O virgin Theotokos, full of grace; for from you arose the Sun of justice, Christ our God, lighting those who are in darkness. Rejoice and be glad, O righteous old man, carrying in your arms the Deliverer of our souls, who granted us resurrection.
- The Transfiguration – August 6
When, O Christ our God, you was transfigured on the mountain, you did reveal your glory to your Disciples in proportion as they could bear it. Let your everlasting light also enlighten us sinners, through the intercessions of the Theotokos; O you Bestower of light, glory to you.
- The Resurrection song
Christ is risen from the dead; by Death has he trodden death, and upon those in tombs, has he bestowed life.
Glory Belongs to Our God
Now and Forever
And to the Ages of Ages. Amen.