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THE LIGHT OF CHRIST ILLUMINES ALL MANKIND
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ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
Response to Your Questions and commentary on Major News Stories
by Archbishop Lazar Haler-Puhalo
THEOLOGY MADE SIMPLE:
seldom think of fasting as being a theological act, and perhaps this is
because we do not understand the full meaning of "theology," or of the
word "asceticism." Orthodox theology is an ascetic theology; this means
that we try to actually live what we teach.
Fasting is an ascetic act, but what does "ascetic" mean? ascesis in
Greek indicates the kind of training and preparation that athletes
undergo in order to compete. As Orthodox Christians, we are called upon
be spiritual athletes. This means that we should train and prepare to
actually live the theology of the faith. We should strive to have a
living faith in the living Christ, but we cannot do this without active
effort. Keeping the fast periods prescribed by the Church is a
significant part of training ourselves for the moral struggles before
us. What we mean by this is "putting our faith into practice in our
We are not talking about "moralism." Moralism is not true morality. In
fact moralism usually defeats our moral struggle by leading us into
being judgmental, self-righteous and condescending. We become like the
Pharisees whom Christ exposed. They performed all the outward
ceremonial correctly and they wanted people to see that they did this.
We want to train our hearts and our consciences so that whatever we do,
we "do it joyfully as unto the Lord" ( ).
Where does fasting enter into this? How does it help to train us? No
one can force you to keep the fast. You must exercise yourself in
self-discipline and self-control in order to fulfill the fasts
appointed by the Church. This means also that you exercise your will to
strengthen it. At the same time you practice humility by following the
fasting rules given by the Church. While strengthening your own will,
you control it by not following a self-willed rule of fasting.
Moreover, since the whole parish community is working at the fast
period together, this can strengthen the sense of community which is so
much a part of the Orthodox Christian ethos.
The Orthodox Christian fast periods are not simply about certain foods.
They are about much more. We must also fast from arrogance, judgement
of others, pridefulness, gossip, evil thoughts about others, etc. This
is why we continually pray the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian
during Great Lent.
Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition or vain talking.
But rather a spirit of purity, humility, patience and love, bestow upon me Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and king, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my
brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.
We can say these words easily, but it is not so easy to fulfill them;
and yet they are concepts which are at the heart of the theological
life. Exercising ourselves in self-control, self-discipline and
exercising our will in a disciplined manner through following the
fasting rules of the Church help us to have the will and self-control
to better fulfill the words of this prayer.
It is also important for us to see what kind of a
fast is truly God-pleasing. Here is what the holy prophet teaches us:
Is it sort of a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his
soul? Is it for him to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread
sackcloth and ashes under him? Would you call this a fast, and an
acceptable day to the LORD?
Rather, Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to
loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let
the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it
you share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring the poor that
are outcast into your house and when you see the naked, that you cover
him; and that you hide not thyself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth as the morning,
and your health shall quickly spring forth: and your righteousness
shall go before you and the glory of the LORD shall be your reward.
says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the
fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the
tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful,
therefore love the truth and peace. (Zach.8:19).
Thus, while fasting is a time for true self-reflection and repentance,
it is not a morbid exercise in self denigration as some teach, but a
time of self-examination. The fasts are periods of special struggle to
acquire the true spirit of the Gospels, the true heart of our theology.
DEALING WITH THE FEELING OF INJUSTICE AND OFFENCE
QUESTION (From Thessaloniki)
Sometimes among the young people in our church, there is some friction
and some begin feeling that an injustice has been done to them. Then a
question comes to mind, "But we all go together and receive Holy
Communion, so how it is possible that we behave this way one towards
the other." Then a cold feeling comes into our heart. Can you advise us
how to struggle to avoid such situations?
ARCHBISHOP LAZAR: Part
of the reason we take offense with each other is because of our own
pride, and part of the reason is because some people are very careless
in how they deal with each other. With some young people immature
emotions can lead one to take offence easily. Of course it would be
easier for young people if the older people set a better example, but
that it not always the case.
The fact that we
belong to the same parish and that we receive Holy Communion
together—this is not going to solve the problem by itself and it is
easy to see how the situation you describe can make one feel and
coldness in approaching for Holy Communion.
One thing I would suggest is that all of you who are
approximately the same age, in your late teens or early twenties, and
perhaps not married yet, should come together periodically and talk
about these things openly with each other. But of course you have to
talk to each other peacefully. One of the biggest difficulties that we
have is that we do not communicate with each other. This is true not
only in the parish community but even between husband and wife. The
solution to many problems is to communicate with each other in an
honest and open manner. If you sit down as a group and talk about these
problems it gives you a new closeness among yourselves, and you might
even help to heal each other from some problem. If your discussions are
peaceful and constructive, you will also develop a valuable deeper
sense of mutual trust and appreciation for one another. For example, if
one person has the kind of personality which leads them to offend or
commit injustice more often than others, they probably know within
themselves that they have a problem, but they also might not know how
to deal with it. If you discuss problems with each other you might be
able to help this person find a way to handle his or her problems.
Young people can exhibit much wisdom and intelligence. If a young
person in your general age group is a bully, for example, it is far
better for his or her peers to help resolve the issue rather than
taking the problem to adults.
We also have to
learn not to take offense with injustices. Injustice is a part of the
human condition. This is so throughout the whole world, even in the way
nations deal with each other (or perhaps, especially in the way nations
deal with each other). Injustice is something that you will always
encounter throughout your life. But it is also true that sometimes when
we see injustices in small matters, in matters that are not as
significant as we think they are, then this is a problem with our own
pride. Many times as you mature in life you see the same situations in
a different light, even though the situations are the same.
It is very easy for a teenager to feel injustice from his or her
parents when the parents are really only showing love. For example,
when you are not allowed to do things that other young people are
doing, this may seem like an injustice, but the parents deny you the
privilege to do these things because they know what kind of dangers are
involved. In this case sometimes love is being misunderstood as an
injustice. The most important thing about solving these problems among
yourselves is to communicate with each other sincerely and peacefully.
The Church is a spiritual hospital and everybody in the church has an
illness, including the priests and the bishops. We are all there to be
healed from something, and when we help each other with this healing
process this is a great thing. Part of this is praying for one another
by name, not just in a general way, and also by communicating with each
other in a peaceful way. You will never solve these problems without
communicating, without talking to each other
recommend that the young people in the parish get together
sometimes and talk about various problems. I see many times how a
teenager can show considerable wisdom, and not only wisdom but
great intelligence, in solving problems and in helping to heal one
another. When I am together with a group of young people I often learn
as much as I teach, especially when the young people are open and talk
This is the way you have to be with each
other, and it is the only way you are going to solve these kind of
We should respond in more profound ways
when greater injustices, ones that can destroy people’s lives, are
being committed. This is why so many teenagers have begun to work at
putting a stop to bullying and resisting cultural pressures to
participate in injustices. Our youth can make great contributions to
the formation of more just and equitable societies.
QUESTIONS ABOUT BAPTISM
You must be born again of water and the Spirit ( Jn.3:5)
Christ made it clear that being “reborn” or “regenerated” is
accomplished through the combination of water and the Holy Spirit;
perhaps we should say by the Holy Spirit using the water. Why do some
of the newer Christian religions question this and attempt to find a
way around the words of our Saviour? Often because of a
misunderstanding of the meaning and nature of baptism, and
misunderstandings of the meaning of divine grace. There is also a
misunderstanding of what it means to be “born again” or “regenerated.”
The false doctrine of “Original Sin” confuses the question even more.
This erroneous teaching holds that there is a kind of “genetic guilt”
that we inherit from Adam, and that baptism is for forgiveness of the
WHY WATER? WHAT DOES THIS TEACH US?
In the creation story, which is filled with profound meaning, we are
told that the Holy Spirit “hovered over the waters” (Gn.1:2). We know
that life on earth began in the sea. This is why we are made up of 50-60%
sea water and the rest is minerals. God made water to be a source of
life. Nothing can live without liquid water. The Holy Spirit descending
upon the ancient water made it life-bearing.
Holy Spirit, the “giver of life” also descends upon the baptismal
water, transforming it by grace, and this takes us back to the very
creation itself. Baptism reenacts (recapitulates) the very beginning of
The story of Noah is also a story
about the meaning of baptism. In the story, the earth itself is
baptised and given a new start, a “rebirth,” a new start of life.
BLESSING AND SANCTIFYING THE WATER
Before the baptism, we pray for the Holy Spirit to come down upon and
into the water and sanctify it, making it life-giving by grace. We also
bless the baptismal water with the cross and the sign of the cross.
In our understanding, Moses used the sign of the cross to open and
close the sea when he led Israel out of captivity. He brought his staff
down over the water, tracing out where it would be parted. Having
crossed the sea, Moses completed the sign of the cross by moving his
staff across the opening, closing the sea on the Egyptians.
Again, when Israel was perishing of thirst, they came to the bitter
waters of Marah. This water was “dead,” is was undrinkable. God
commanded Moses to take a limb with two branches, like the shape of the
cross, and bless the water with it. Moses placed this image of the
cross directly into the water and, by grace, the water was “healed,”
made life-giving and quenched the thirst of the Hebrews.
The creation of life in the sea by the descent and grace of the Holy
Spirit, the deliverance of God’s people through the sea, with the sign
of the cross, the healing of the waters of Marah are all brought
together (recapitulated) in the Orthodox Christian baptismal service.
THE IMAGE OF CHRIST
In baptism, we are born again in the image of Christ. Christ was
incarnate in the womb of the Virgin, by the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Apostle Paul calls the Church the “pure virgin bride of Christ.” The
baptismal font is the womb of the Church, the “pure virgin.” Thus in
baptism, we are reborn, regenerated, in the womb of the “pure virgin”
Church, through the descent of the Holy Sprit.
Baptism gives us a new birth into the Body of Christ. We also receive
the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” with the chrism oil. This
unites us fully with the Body of Christ both in this world and in the
age to come.
THE ROYAL PRIESTHOOD
In The Old Covenant – the Old Testament – we see that only priests
could partake of the “things on the altar.” At our baptism, we become,
as Apostle Peter says, a “royal priesthood” (1Pet.2:9). We can now
partake of the “things on the altar,” the Communion of the Body and
Blood of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus.
THE GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN BAPTISM
Thus, to be “born again” refers to the action of the grace of the Holy
Spirit, in the image of the very creation of life itself and in the
image of the birth of Christ Jesus for our salvation. This is called
“recapitulation” because it brings together all those manifestation
when the Holy Spirit has worked together with water to bring forth
life, to deliver God’s people from bondage, to heal dead water and make
it life sustaining, and even the baptism of the earth in the days of
Noah, when the earth was regenerated through a form of baptism.
Baptism is not a mere symbol or a testimony of a decision you have
taken in your life. It is also not about the forgiveness of some kind
of personal, genetic guilt inherited from Adam. It is an episode of
freely given grace, a true descent of the Holy Spirit. Just as the
bitter waters of Marah were healed, so the alienation from God that we
did inherit from our ancestors, is healed. The possibility of our
growth toward a deeper and deeper unity with God is made possible.
There is no reason to exclude infants from this great mystery. Indeed,
it is likely that, in their innocence, they have a faith that excels
What is the Difference Between BC and BCE, and also A.D. and CE
Christ while BCE=Before the Common Era. AD=Anno Domini, the Year of our
Lord while CE=Common Era. It had been traditional in the West to give
dates as "Before Christ," and "Anno Domini." However, with the
emergence of plualistic cultures and nations that are not Christian,
the demand for different, non-religious names for this system grew. In
almost all scholarly publications, the new designation "BCE" and "CE"
Must confession and Communion always be tied together?
is no canonical or patristic justification for tying the two together.
Some people believe that you can only have confession if you are
preparing for Holy Communion. Sadly, this attitude tends to make
confession a mechanical act, often void of any deep, heartfelt
repentance. One should have confession regularly, whether or not one is
going to receive Holy Communion. Confession is a medicine for the soul
and mind, a cleansing and healing process which must be accompanied by
contemplation and heartfelt repentance. We do not confess "as part of
preparation for Holy Communion," but to unburden our souls and spirits
and seek prayerful help in resolving of spiritual problems.
Confession is not prescribed in preparation for Holy Communion by any
canon of the Church, and I am not personally aware of any patristic
injunction making it so. Requiring confession before every Holy
Communion is a “local practice,” and one must follow what is practised
in the diocese that he or she belongs to. It does appear to presuppose
that you will be communing infrequently — perhaps no more than four
times a year. It must be seen as a custom where it is locally required.
Fasting, on the other hand, is clearly required before Holy Communion,
and this is something deeply ingrained in the conscience and Tradition
of the Church. Regular confession is also an essential part of our
Why do our churches face East and is it really important for them to?
living in the West sometimes developed the idea that churches were
built with the altar to the East in order to face Jerusalem. This is
not true. If one lived East of Constantinople, the the altar would
actually be facing away from Jerusalem. As one ancient bishop of Edessa
explained in the 500's, the church faces East because (1) Paradise was
"in the East" and the altar is a type of paradise and (2) because at
the second coming, Scripture says, Christ will appear "in the East."
The same bishop added, "We do not pray toward Jerusalem, for there
Christ was rejected and crucified, and there also, Antichrist will
VIRGIN BIRTHS AND RESURRECTIONS
Your Eminence, the Islamic Outreach Centre here is raising doubts about
the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ. They point out that,
historically, there are many myths of virgin birth and resurrection in
several pagan religions. What are we to believe?
A: Allow me
to point out, first of all, that the Quaran (Koran) fully accepts the
virgin birth of Jesus (peace be upon Him). In some species what we
would call "virgin births" are the norm. Female is the default gender
and the males in a number of species are little more that parasites or
are insignificant, and function only to add genetic diversity in
fertilising the female eggs. In theory, a virgin birth among humans
would be possible. Or course, "where God wills, the order of nature is
overturned. Aside from this, the story of a virgin-born spiritual
leader (of whatever rank and calling) is so pervasive in cultures
across all race boundaries, that there has to be some singular basis to
the concept. I am going to offer the thought that there was a
primordial prophecy of a virgin-born saviour and resurrection inscribed
almost genetically in humanity from mankind's most early history. We
have the protoevangelion in the book of Genesis, and I understand the
two trees as a prophecy about the Cross of Christ. It is for these very
reasons that I feel that taking the Genesis narrative in a literal,
fundamentalists fashion, is so destructive and so corrupting for us:
the most profound revelations and prophecy of the narrative are
destroyed by literalism and fundamentalism. It seems to me that all the
previous stories of virgin births and resurrections were leading up to
the full manifestation in Christ Jesus. Note how radically different
the message of Christ is to all that preceded. Note also that the Holy
Fathers, who accepted the Divinity, virgin incarnation and resurrection
of Christ were not ignorant peasants, but among the most erudite and
highly educated in the Roman world. I would suggest that all the
previous stories of virgin birth and resurrection were, in a manner of
speaking, etimasia ---- the preparation of the throne.
ABOUT WITNESSING THE FAITH
Last time you had a discussion with us [the teenagers at one of the
parishes], you mentioned that because of your different kind of
clothing you are distinguished from other people. People come and ask
you what you are and this often opens an opportunity for you to confess
the Orthodox faith to them. But we as lay people do not have something
that distinguishes us from other people. So we do not have an
opportunity where people come and ask us about our lives or about our
faith. What should our approach to other people be? Should we try to
talk to them by ourselves, and if we try to confess and give an oral
witness what should our first words be toward them?
LAZAR: There are seldom any situations in which you should initiate
such a conversation. Some Protestants do this, and it usually has a
negative results. It is difficult to do this without being offensive to
Often you are only making ordinary conversation with people, and it is
only when you meet someone who is interested in spiritual matters that
you are able to talk to them about the faith. I remember that we had
one boy around fourteen years old in one of our parishes who went to
school near the monastery. When it came time for lunch in the big lunch
hall at school, he always stood up and said a short prayer and made the
sign of the cross on himself. A few people would ridicule him because
of this and some people thought he was a bit strange. On the other
hand, many people also respected him because of it. Protestants would
come and try to convert him because they could see that he was pious.
They would tell him ,"You should not make the sign of the cross because
Protestants do not do that." Then he would begin to explain to them why
they should make the sign of the cross. He told one young woman who
came to him to try to convert him ,"Are you ashamed of the cross of
Jesus? If you are not ashamed of the cross why do you not make the sign
of the cross?" She was unable to answer so she went to her home and
asked her parents about it. Because of that one thing the parents began
to investigate a little bit and eventually the whole family became
Orthodox. It happens that the Holy Spirit often provides the
opportunities for us to witness by giving us an opening toward those
people who are able to hear what we have to say.
It is difficult to initiate a conversation about the faith without
appearing to be self-righteous or arrogant, but because it is also
necessary to witness for the faith we need to have classes periodically
where we teach people how to do this. Above all, we must learn to
approach discussions about the faith in an Orthodox manner, rather than
imitating the highly condescending and obnoxious Protestant manner. One
of the first steps is to gain complete control of anger, because in any
discussion, debate or argument, if you become angry then you are going
to lose the discussion or argument. The Holy Spirit brings us the
spirit of peace. In the Holy Scripture we read: "Be ye angry and sin
not," but here it is talking about an internal spiritual struggle, not
a disposition. When we are witnessing for Christ we are witnessing to a
spirit of peace, so we have to acquire a spirit of peace. If you have a
spirit of peace and an inner joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, then
people who are open to the things of the Spirit will ask you how you
arrived at the spirit of peace. Also when somebody tries to get you to
do something wrong or something negative, when you refuse to do it you
can tell people why you have refused without being angry or
self-righteous. Remember that your concept of what is wrong or negative
may differ substantially from theirs, and a condemnatory tone will not
only come across as arrogant self-righteousness, it will also turn the
listener away from considering your point of view.
We do not want any kind of self-righteousness. In order to truly
witness for Christ one has to be natural and open, and not take on an
attitude or the appearance of religiosity. In Slavic we call such an
attitude svyatosha. This applies to a person who tries to consciously
take on the appearance of "holiness." But we do not need to have a long
face, a sleepy, closed eyed countenance or a sorrowful look as an
effort to demonstrate that we believe in God or in an effort to make us
One thing that I would like to
say is that when I lecture at universities many times the students ask
questions and I explain the Orthodox perspective on the problems. The
students are very often amazed at the Orthodox answers. Sometimes they
say ,"Oh but it sounds very liberal!" by which they mean "enlightened."
In fact, the statements are simply patristic. Many people have turned
away from our Lord Jesus Christ because the teaching they have received
is heavy and dark, sometimes very dry and often filled with
superstition. Students are amazed when they hear that we are
comfortable with the principles of evolution and find it easy to
understand in a spiritual way the whole process of evolution, or how
comfortable Orthodoxy is with modern science. They are also surprised
when we explain to them the true meaning of marriage. When you know and
understand the Orthodox perspective on these things then you have a
great deal more to teach and to say to other people.
SHOULD WE BE KEEPING THE JEWISH SABBATH (SHABAT) ON SATURDAY?
On what basis do Christians celebrate Sunday and not Saturday (the
Sabbath) as was commanded by God (Ezekiel 20:8, Isaiah 58:13-14,
ANSWER: There is a misunderstanding about the
meaning of the word "sabbath" or Shabbat; shavath. The word does not
mean "seventh day" or "seventh." Sabbath means, literally "cessation."
Therefore, the "Sabbath" is "a day of cessation," not "the seventh
day." The Lord "sanctified" the Sabbath, the day of the “cessation of
His work” as a "day of cessation from work" on which His people would
rest (Genesis 2:3, Exodus 20:8-11, Isaiah 58:13-14). This was in
commemoration of His creation of the universe, but God also set the day
apart for the sake of mankind. He gave a special law (Exodus 20:8)
commanding that this "day of cessation" be celebrated so that people
who were engaged with life's cares and heavy toil, could be freed from
their bondage to endless work and the slavery of caring for their daily
needs, for at least one day a week. On the Slavic Calendar,
incidentally, what is called “Sunday” on the Western Calendars, is
actually the seventh day of the week. Remember that Tuesday in the
Slavic Calendar, is named “Secondday” (vtornik), while Friday is called
“Fifthday” (pyatnitsa). Thus Saturday is the sixth day, not the
seventh. But Sabbath does not mean Seventh, in any case.
On this day of “cessarion,” the people could wholly serve their God
(see Hebrews 4:10-11), but it was also given to man as day for him to
rest from his work.
Just as important, God, out
of love, planned to "recreate" and renew the fallen world and fallen
mankind would be given a “new birth.” (Isaiah 65:17). Jesus Christ
accomplished this renewal of the world, after sufferings, through
His resurrection from the dead — which took place on a “Sunday.” By
means of His victory over the power of death and over the evil-one, He
also gave us “new day,” a “new era.” Sunday became the eight day, the
day of salvation. In memory of this, Christians celebrate the "new
day," Sunday (see Hebrews 4:6-11) as a day of the decisive victory of
life over death (Romans 8:38-39). Since the Resurrection of Jesus
Christ is the actual completion of creation (the redemption of the
creation, and indeed a "new creation") it is clear that this “new day”
became that day of cessation (shavath) which completed the new
creation. Keeping the Old Testament "day of cessation"
(Saturday) is a rejection of the work and victory of Jesus Christ, and
a return to a law which the New Testament tells us that we were
MUST WE ACCEPT THINGS IN THE
OLD TESTAMENT THAT WE KNOW ARE NOT TRUE?
Orthodox Christians are not fundamentalists and we do not fear truth. We do not have to accept anything that is known
to be untrue. What is untrue cannot be made true just by repeating it,
and what is true cannot be a heresy. We have a famous example of this
in the trial of Galileo. The Latin inquisition demanded that he lie and
say that the Earth does not move, and agree that the Sun moves around
the Earth, rather than the true fact that the Earth moves around the
Sun. However, the historical information given in the books of the
Hebrew Scripture (the "Old Testament") have been proved to be generally
true. The rulers of other nations, particularly those that fought
against Judea and Israel have been named and dated properly, and the
major battles with invading armies are accurate. Those things that must
be seen in the light of science are mostly not accurate, but represent
the best interpretations of the phenomena and facts that coulld be made
at the time..
We are interested in meaning,
in all these narratives, and are not so concerned about
"scientific accuracy." We know that the Creation Narrative is not
literally true, but we also know that it is full of important spiritual
meaning. For one thing, it clearly shows that God is the creator of all
those things which pagans worshipped as deities, and therefore, that
God is the only God, and all else is idolatrous. The process and
methods of God's creating was left for us to discover and discern, but
the meaning of life, of humanity, of the human condition, of the
oneness of God, of our need for a redeemer, or the problems caused by
our ego and self-love: all these things are made clear, and this
meaning we should take literally. The Earth really is over 4 billion
years old, and humanity has been present on Earth for hundreds of
thousands of years. In all that time, the human condition continues to
be the same as described in the narrative about the Fall of mankind,
and about our need for a redeemer, our Saviour Jesus Christ. But we are
not obliged to accept those historical and scientific "facts"
given in the Old Testament which we know not to be accurate, not to be
true statements of reality. Things that are clearly untrue cannot be
doctines of Faith; things that are true cannot be heretical.