You Asked!

You Asked! – Bishop Varlaam answers your Questions

Ask your own questions, E-Mail bishopvarlaam@yahoo.ca

QUESTION: The Roman Catholic Pope recently announced that all the “hosts” or azymes [those thin wafers they use for Communion] should have at least some gluten in them. Also, they have to be made of white flour. People have asked what that is all about.

REPLY: First of all, we should note that, at the Mystical Supper with His Apostle, just before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus Christ introduced us to Holy Communion. Even though it was the time of unleavened bread Scripture tells us that Christ broke bread with His disciples, using artos, or leavened bread. This was very meaningful, and it explains why Orthodox Catholic Christians use leavened bread (artos) instead of unleavened wafers (azymos). Bread made with leaven is called “living bread,” because of the activity of the yeast. Bread made without leaven was called, in the East, “dead bread.” Christ is proclaiming Himself to be the “living bread”, and breaking the artos, rather than azymos, with his Apostles at the Mystical Supper, saying, this is My body…. amplifies His teaching that He is the “living bread” that came down from the Father.

From this, you can see how useless is the whole matter about whether the azymes used for communion in the West have gluten or are made from white flour. Why even bother to add gluten and make sure that the flour is a refined white flour if the bread is “dead?” Even in the West, they used leavened bread for the first centuries, but as they broke away from the original church, they adopted many strange customs, and one of them was to use “dead bread” for their Communion. We, on the other hand, use leavened or “living bread” for our Holy Communion because our bread, like our faith, is living and not dead. Perhaps the main reason that azymes are used in the West is because they are more convenient. However, the Scripture tells us that when Christ introduced Holy Communion at the Mystical Supper before His arrest, He took artos (leavened bread) and gave it to His holy disciples saying, “take eat, this is by body which is broken for you….

QUESTION:

Why did we Orthodox celebrate Pascha this year together with the Catholic and Protestant Easter, but not in other years?

REPLY:

Canon 7 of the Apostolic Canons reads thus: “If any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon celebrate the holy day of Pascha before the vernal equinox with the Jews, let him be deposed.” In actual fact, the calculation of the date of Pascha each year is more complicated than that but, basically, it must be celebrated after the occurrence of the vernal equinox, and it must follow the celebration of the Jewish Passover. The fact that those in the West have ignored this canon and came up with their own calculation of the day of their Easter does not mean that we have to follow their decisions. The important thing to remember is that the Old Testament Pascha (Passover) was a prototype and prophesy about the Passover (Pascha) of Christ. The Apostles, and the First Ecumenical council after them, declared that we must celebrate Holy Pascha (the Passover of Christ) AFTER the prototype or prophecy, that is, only after the Jewish (Old Testament) Passover (Pascha). The word “pascha” simply means “passover.” In the Old Testament Passover, death “passed over” the faithful who had marked their doorposts with the blood of the paschal lamb. In the New Testament Pascha, Christ has conquered the power of death altogether, and given us the promise of the Resurrection. So the fulfilment of the prophecy must always follow after the prophecy. The West no longer follows this Apostolic teaching.

QUESTION:

Is there any symbolism in the colours red and blue in the garments of Jesus Christ and the Theotokos in icons?

REPLY:

We often try to understand symbolism in an attempt to have a clearer understanding of the subject at hand. As for blue and red in icons, we must realize that there is no all-encompassing answer, since there are few ancient icons and many of them were made in the encaustic manner [made with wax and colours that were readily available]. Moreover, there were, and still are, many schools of iconography, such as the Cretan, Novgorodian and others that have used their own unique styles and procedures. Even in researching this topic, one can find different and even conflicting analyses, but one that sounded reasonable is as follows. Red in the icon of Christ represents His humanity [blood and flesh] and blue represents divinity [heaven, the sky]. Christ assumed the human nature, hence He is wearing red, while He is nonetheless God [covered outwardly in blue]. The Theotokos is the opposite [inside is blue and the outside is red]. She put on divinity since she bore God while remaining human. While on this topic of icons, I would strongly encourage the readers of YOU ASKED to take a step beyond the use of colours in icons. Accept only canonical icons and reject those with western and Latin influences since, in truth, they are merely pictures and not icons. If any interest is shown, in the future we can write about “canonical” icons. I would also like to recommend the book THE ICON AS SCRIPTURE, which is available from www.synaxispress.ca. In my view, it is the best book available for a true understanding of the meaning of Orthodox icons.

QUESTION:

Why are candles blessed on the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple?

REPLY:

This is a timely question, as we celebrated this feast last month in February. The correct name of this feast is the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple and not, as some people would have it, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a concept entirely Roman Catholic. Many Orthodox service books offer the entire service of the blessing of candles on this feast, but let me give you a direct translation from Bulgakov’s great book on all aspects of our services.

“In our western regions [mainly Ukrainian] the feast of the Meeting of the Lord is known by another name “gromnitsa” [from the word for thunder] from the custom of blessing candles in church on this day, which are called “gramnsitsy”, that supposedly have the power against thunder, lightning, pouring rain and hail, brought down by sorcerers or magicians. These candles are also given to the dying to defeat and to drive Satan away. On this day of the Meeting of the Lord, simple folk scorch each others hair crosswise with these candles to prevent and cure headaches. All these views of the significance of the Meeting of the Lord speak much against the custom of blessing candles in church. The appearance of this custom in the practice of our western lands [Ukraine] dates to the time of the Unia and explains the influence of the Catholic Church where they have a yearly service of the blessing of candles at the Mass on the day of “The Purification of the Holy Virgin Mary”, as the Catholics call this feast.”

This shows us how easily Roman Catholic and other practices have crept into Orthodoxy and we must be vigilant at all times.

QUESTION:

Why do some crosses have a slanting bar at the bottom?

REPLY:

This question arises quite often and, moreover, it is an interesting one.The slanted bottom bar is the foot rest. People died of suffocation on crosses. There was a block of wood under their feet to that as they sagged down, pressure was put on the lungs to make it hard to breath. This was a way of adding pain and suffering to the victim. This footrest is enlarged on the icon of the cross of Christ in order to symbolise something. In prayers for the ninth hour, the Church likens the cross to a type of balance or righteousness: “Between the two thieves Thy Cross did prove to be a balance of righteousness: wherefore, one of them was dragged down by the weight of his blasphemy [the balance points down], whereas the other was enlightened and remitted of his transgressions unto the comprehension of theology [the balance goes up] O Christ God, glory to Thee.” More will be written later about the significance of the correct Orthodox Cross of the Russian tradition.

QUESTION:

Can you explain why someone I know was recently referred to as being Greek Catholic when I know that he is Ukrainian?

REPLY:

In this case, Greek and Greece have nothing to do with the issue. Originally those Orthodox Christians who found themselves controlled by Catholic countries were either compelled to convert to Roman Catholicism or else to become Uniates. This latter term refers to those who tried to maintain their Orthodox faith, services, language and customs, but who agreed to accept the Pope of Rome as the head of their church. The term Greek Catholic was replaced with Ukrainian Greek Catholic and now it is simply Ukrainian Catholic. Over the centuries there has been a great deal of Latinization, by which I mean that much has been done to draw these people closer to the Roman Church. Some of these people say, “We are Orthodox but in communion with Rome.” In truth, they belong to the Roman Catholic Church and they are not Orthodox as we understand Orthodoxy.

QUESTION:

I have been confused, wondering why the feasts of Saint Xenia of Rome and Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg are celebrated on the same day.

REPLY:

In a way, you have answered your own question. Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg [18 century] was, in her baptism, named after Saint Xenia of Rome [5 century]. Their memory is celebrated on the same day, that is, on 24 January. In the Traditional Orthodox calendar, this day actually falls on 6 February. Let it not be confusing—just remember to add 13 days to whatever date you might have in mind, and you will have the proper traditional date. {The best example is Nativity which is celebrated on 25 December. Add 13 days and you will arrive at 7 January, which is when the majority of Orthodox Christians world wide celebrate this feast}. By the way, the name Xenia is derived from the Greek and it means “stranger” or “foreigner”.