We finally have the video recordings of the 2nd Annual Orthodox Bioethics Conference held on Saturday, February , 2018 at St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church in Felton, CA.
Downloadable Handouts from the Conference:
We finally have the video recordings of the 2nd Annual Orthodox Bioethics Conference held on Saturday, February , 2018 at St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church in Felton, CA.
Downloadable Handouts from the Conference:
by Fr. John A. Peck
How Dogmatic Iconography defends the doctrine of the Incarnation against ancient Gnosticism.
Harold Bloom, in his book, The American Religion, rightly comes to the startling conclusion that America is a nation of Gnostics, believers in a pre-Christian tradition of individual divinity. The American propensity to be religious iconoclasts on the one hand, and cultural idolators on the other is a stark and broken contrast with Incarnational Christianity.
Despite protestations to the contrary, it is not the icon which is so offensive to Gnostics and iconoclasts, it is the message which the icon represents which cannot be tolerated.
Sports teams all have logos, pictures and posters of famous players, their own sayings and their own traditions. A high degree of religiosity plays an important part in sports propaganda worldwide. Politics have always used religiosity and iconography, even those who were religious iconoclasts. In communist countries in the last century, giant ‘parades’ (religious processions) with posters (icons) of the glorious leader, the little red books containing the ‘catechism’ of the political movement, and the religious fervor of classic Gnostics (agree, obey or suffer) all were part and parcel of secularist societies. But these were simply replacements for Orthodox icons, Orthodox Christian festal processions, Bibles and prayerbooks. The icons, in this case, were not just destroyed, but deliberately replaced with ‘atheist’ iconography. Because it was based on a falsehood – that the state is supreme – it could not last. Indeed, we see much of the same kind of tactic going on today in America. It is doomed to the same historical failure
Christian Dogmatic Iconography
Before the Incarnation, it was idolatrous to make an image of God. Now that the Incarnation has taken place, it would be idolatrous not to make images of Him.
For example, Muslims reject the Incarnation – the doctrine that God Himself took a human body, mind, soul, spirit – God became a man. Therefore, mosques have bare walls and no images of God. Under their influence, and the resurgence of Gnosticism, many civil authorities in the past engaged in religious iconoclasm. This state-sponsored iconoclasm (literally “image smashing”) was countered by St. John of Damascus (d. 749), Germanus I, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 732), and St. Theodore the Studite (d. 826), who marshaled scripture and theological thinking in favor of the use of icons in Christian worship. John of Damascus argued that God was the first and original image-maker of the universe and that the son of God was the living image of God in his very nature. Since Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians had written,
“He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15),
the worship of the icon of Jesus Christ was not idolatrous, because, in the oft-quoted formula of Saint Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) in De Spiritu Sancto (On the Holy Spirit),
“The honor paid to the image [the Son] passes over to the prototype [the Father].”
When a religion rejects images of God, it confirms the message that God is only a spirit, and that He has no physical body. Before the Incarnation, that was true. After the Incarnation, it is false, and is therefore, as false worship, idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping false gods, or worshipping the True God while misrepresenting Him.
In ancient Israel, when people worshiped Baal, Ashtoreth, and Moloch, they committed the first form of idolatry. These are all false gods, and it is idolatry to worship them in any way whatsoever, either with or without images. When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, they committed the second form of idolatry. They correctly noted the identity of the true God, but they grossly misrepresented Him. Instead of recognizing God as an invisible Spirit, the Israelites made a golden calf, they praised it for delivering them from Egypt, and they even called the calf “Yahweh”.
When the Israelites sinned with the golden calf, they were still correct that God’s name is “Yahweh”. They were correct that Yahweh had delivered them from Egypt. And they were correct to praise Yahweh. But their worship was turned into idolatry, because they misrepresented Him. God is not a cow, nor does He look like one. Similarly, when heterodox Christians worship with bare walls and an absence of icons, they are correct that God’s name is “Jesus”. They are correct that Jesus came to deliver them from sin. And they are correct to praise Jesus. But their worship is turned into idolatry, because they misrepresent Him. God is no longer a faceless spirit.
Before God became incarnate in the womb of Mary, He had no human body. Images of God were therefore forbidden, because they misrepresented God, but now that God has become incarnate, our worship must reflect this important fact. Otherwise, if we misrepresent God, we become idolaters.
Misrepresenting God: A Grievous Sin
In ancient Israel, God did not want His people bowing down before images of Himself, because any image of Him they made would be misrepresenting Him. But He knew that people needed to bow down before something, so He provided the Temple in Jerusalem for this purpose.
The temple did not represent the image of God, but it did represent His presence.
So God had His people bow down toward the temple:
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. (Psalm 5:7)
Anticipating the day when He would become incarnate, when His people would be able to have images of Himself, God taught His people to include many images in the context of worship. The Jerusalem temple included icons of angels, and early synagogues were covered with icons of many Old Testament saints. The Word had not yet become flesh, so God’s people venerated the Word of God contained in Scripture. Even to this day, Jews bow toward the Torah scrolls when entering/exiting the synagogue, and also during special Torah services. Jews also kiss the Torah to venerate it.
Before the coming of Christ, the Jewish Temple signified God’s presence, and His people bowed down toward it. Before the Incarnation, it was impossible to make an image of the invisible God, a heavenly reality, without misrepresenting Him. Once, however, God became flesh in the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, the invisible God became visible, the immaterial God was suddenly approachable. As is sung in the Nativity hymns of the Orthodox Church during Christmas,
It is the reality of the Incarnation which iconography, as sure as the written Scriptures and the liturgical hymns of the Church throughout the ages, protect, defend and guarantee that Christ is understood in one way and one way only – as God the Word come in the flesh.
After Christ came, He referred to His own body as the true Temple. Therefore, instead of continuing to bow down toward a temple building, we now bow down toward images of Jesus. This is not worship of the icon – perish the thought! No Orthodox Christian thinks a piece of wood created heaven and earth. We also bow to one another, because Scripture says that every Orthodox Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit. When Orthodox Christians bow to an icon of Christ, they are reminded that God is now forever united to a body – the physical flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is fully God, and fully human, and He is physically seated in Heaven even today. Orthodox worship represents God correctly.
When others, including heterodox Christians, refuse to bow to icons of Christ, and they choose to bow down before nothing instead, their worship suggests that God has no body, and that the Incarnation hasn’t happened. Their worship misrepresents God. They are bowing down before a faceless idol.
What the Icon Isn’t and What it Is
The Icon is not a ‘holy picture’ designed to increase piety. Neither is an icon something spiritual in itself, as it does not depict “God” in general. The icon is a dogmatic expression of a theological truth. It is, therefore, not variable as artists would claim by ‘artistic license’ – a term I, as an artist, have always found to be a cop out for lack of talent or lack of vision.
Just as one cannot translate the Bible any old way one wishes to and still remain true to the text, one cannot paint an icon any old way one wishes to and still remain true to the prototype.
There are no dogmatic icons of Jesus as Chinese or Jamaican, or with blonde hair and blue eyes. He must always be depicted as he was visible on the earth – a first century Jewish rabbi.
By the same token, the icon is far more than just an attempt to capture a historical person or event. The icon shows the spiritual truth or heavenly reality – not just the image or ‘snapshot’ of history.
Therefore, we never see icons of saints who wore glasses in which they are wearing their glasses. Why not? Presumably, no one wears glasses in heaven, where all may gaze and contemplate upon the glories of heaven.
In the most convincing words of John of Damascus:
“We have passed the stage of infancy, and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God, and know what may be imaged and what may not. The Scripture says, “You have not seen the likeness of Him.” (Ex. 33.20) What wisdom in the law-giver. How depict the invisible? How picture the inconceivable? How give expression to the limitless, the immeasurable, the invisible? How give a form to immensity? How paint immortality? How localize mystery? It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form.
When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh (as in the Incarnation of God in the flesh – John 1:14), you may then draw a likeness of His form. When He who is a pure spirit, without form or limit, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing as God, takes upon Himself the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and a body of flesh, then you may draw His likeness, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it.
Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Tabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulchre, and Resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and color. Have no fear or anxiety.”
Indeed, we see that as American Gnosticism strains to invent a distant, amorphous and ahistorical “concept of God,” Who can never be seen or heard or heard from, it is precisely the dogmatic icon, depicting Christ as He appeared in time, in history, on the earth and among men, which guarantees the Truth of the historical Incarnation that God became flesh and dwelt among us.
The reality is that American Gnosticism clearly denies the objective presence of Christ in the World through Church, Sacrament, and Creed – all vehicles for remaining ‘on the mark’ so to speak. In short, it attempts to make the Incarnation irrelevant.
It is the dogmatic icon which destroys the idolatrous fantasy of Gnostic relativism, and which is, therefore, intolerable to any Gnostic or even to any Christian with Gnostic tendencies. And so it is.
When the Word became flesh, iconoclasm became idolatry. The Incarnation changes everything.
by St. Theophan the Recluse
Rarely does the Rite of Orthodoxy, which is now being performed, take place without censures and reproaches on somebody’s part. And no matter how many sermons are given explaining that the Church here acts wisely for the salvation of her children — still the malcontents just keep repeating their line. Either they do not listen to the sermons, or these sermons do not strike home as regards the latters’ perplexities, or perhaps they have formed their own conception of this rite and do not want to abandon it, no matter what you tell them.
To some people our anathemas seem inhumane, to others constricting. Such charges might be valid in other situations, but there is no way they can apply to our Rite of Orthodoxy. I will clarify for you briefly why the Church acts thus, and I think you yourselves will agree with me that in so doing, the Church acts wisely.
What is the holy Church? It is a society of believers, united among themselves by a unity of confession of divinely revealed truths, by a unity of sanctification by divinely established Mysteries, and by a unity of government and guidance by God-given shepherds. The oneness of confession, sanctification, and administration constitutes the rule of this society, which is obligatory for anyone who joins it. Membership in this society is contingent upon accepting this rule and agreeing with it; remaining in this society is contingent upon fulfilling it. Let us see how the holy Church grew and how it continues to grow. The preachers preach. Some of the listeners do not accept the preaching and leave; others accept it and as a result of accepting it are sanctified by the holy Mysteries, follow the guidance of the shepherds, and thus are incorporated into the holy Church — they are churched. That is how all the Church’s members enter her. In entering her, they are mingled with all her members, they are united with them, and they remain in the Church only as long as they continue to be one with them all.
From this simple indication regarding how the Church is formed, you can see that as a society, the holy Church came to be and continues to exist just like any other society. And so regard it as you would any other, and do not deprive it of the rights belonging to any society. Let us take, for example, a temperance society. It has rules which every member must fulfill. And each of its members is a member precisely because he accepts and abides by its rules. Now suppose that some member not only refuses to abide by the rules but also holds many views completely opposed to those of the society and even rises up against its very goal. He not only does not himself observe temperance but even reviles temperance itself and disseminates notions which might tempt others and deflect them from temperance. What does the society ordinarily do with such people?
First it admonishes them, and then it expels them. There you have an anathema! No one protests this, no one reproaches the society for being inhuman. Everyone acknowledges that the society is acting in a perfectly legitimate manner and that if it were to act otherwise, it could not exist.
So what is there to reproach the holy Church for when she acts likewise? After all, an anathema is precisely separation from the Church, or the exclusion from her midst of those who do not fulfill the conditions of unity with her and begin to think differently from the way she does, differently from the way they themselves promised to think upon joining her. Recollect how it happened! Arius appeared, who held impious opinions concerning Christ the Savior, so that with these notions he distorted the very act of our salvation. What was done with him? First he was admonished, and admonished many times by every persuasive and touching means possible.
But since he stubbornly insisted upon his opinion, he was condemned and excommunicated from the Church — that is, he is expelled from our society. Beware, have no communion with him and those like him. Do not yourselves hold such opinions, and do not listen to or receive those who do. Thus did the holy Church do with Arius; thus has she done with all other heretics; and thus will she do now, too, if someone appears somewhere with impious opinions. So tell me, what is blameworthy here? What else could the holy Church do? And could she continue to exist if she did not employ such strictness and warn her children with such solicitude about those who might corrupt and destroy them?
Let us see — what false teachings and what false teachers are excommunicated? Those who deny the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, divine providence; those who do not confess the all-holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One God; those who do not acknowledge the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and our redemption by His death on the Cross; those who reject the grace of the Holy Spirit and the divine Mysteries which bestow it, and so forth.
Do you see what manner of issues they touch upon? These are issues which are the very reason the holy Church is the Church, principles upon which she is founded and without which she could not be that which she is. Therefore those who rise up against such truths are to the Church what those who make attempts against our lives and our property are to us in our daily life. Robbers and thieves, after all, are nowhere permitted to carry on freely and go unpunished!
And when they are bound and handed over to the law and to punishment, no one considers this to be inhumane or a violation of freedom. On the contrary, people see in this very thing both an act of love for man and a safeguard for freedom — with regard to all the members of society. If you judge thus here, judge thus also concerning the society of the Church. These false teachers, just like thieves and robbers, plunder the property of the holy Church and of God, corrupting her children and destroying them.
Does the holy Church really err in judging them, binding them, and casting them out? And would it really be love for man if she regarded the actions of such people with indifference and left them at liberty to destroy everyone else? Would a mother permit a snake to freely crawl up to and bite her little child, who does not understand the danger? If some immoral person were to gain access to your family and begin tempting your daughter, or your son — would you be able to regard their actions and their speeches with indifference? Fearing to gain a reputation for being inhumane and old- fashioned, would you tie your own hands? Would you not push such a person out the door and close it against them forever?! You should view the actions of the holy Church in the same way. She sees that individuals of corrupt mind appear, and corrupt others — and she rises up against them, drives them away, and calls out to all those who are her own: Beware — so-and-so and such-and-such people wish to destroy your souls. Do not listen to them; flee from them. Thus she fulfills the duty of motherly love, and therefore acts lovingly — or as you put it, humanely.
At the present time, we have a proliferation of nihilists, spiritists and other pernicious clever ones who are carried away with the false teachers of the West. Do you really think that our holy Church would keep silence and not raise her voice to condemn and anathematize them, if their destructive teachings were something new? By no means. A council would be held, and in council all of them with their teachings would be given over to anathema, and to the current Rite of Orthodoxy there would be appended an additional item: To Feyerbach, Buchner, and Renan, to the spiritists, and to all their followers — to the nihilists – – be anathema. But there is no need for such a council, and there is no need either for such an addition.
Their false teachings have already all been anathematized in advance in those points where anathema is pronounced to those who deny the existence of God, the spirituality and immortality of the soul, the teachings concerning the all-holy Trinity and concerning the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you not see with what wisdom and foresight the holy Church acts when she makes us perform the present proclamation and listen to it?
And yet they say, “This is outdated.” It is precisely now that it is relevant. Perhaps 100 years ago it was not relevant. But one must say concerning our time, that if a Rite of Orthodoxy did not as yet exist, it would be needful to introduce one, and to perform it not only in the capital cities but in all places and in all churches: in order to collect all the evil teachings opposed to the Word of God, and to make them known to all, in order that all might know what they need to beware of and what kind of teachings to avoid. Many are corrupted in mind solely due to ignorance, whereas a public condemnation of ruinous teachings would save them from perdition.
Thus, the Church excommunicates, expels from her midst (when it is said, “Anathema to so-and-so”, that means the same thing as, “So-and-so: out of here”), or anathematizes for the same reason that any society does so. And she is obliged to do this in self-preservation and to preserve her children from destruction. Therefore there is nothing blameworthy or incomprehensible about this present Rite. If anyone fears the act of anathema, let him avoid the teachings which cause one to fall under it. If anyone fears it for others, let him restore him to sound teaching. If you are Orthodox and yet you are not well disposed toward this act, then you are found to be contradicting yourself.
But if you have already abandoned sound doctrine, then what business is it of yours what is done in the Church by those who maintain it? By the very fact that you have conceived a different view of things than that which is maintained in the Church, you have already separated yourself from the Church. It is not inscription in the baptismal records which makes one a member of the Church, but the spirit and content of one’s opinions.
Whether your teaching and your name are pronounced as being under anathema or not, you already fall under it when your opinions are opposed to those of the Church, and when you persist in them. Fearful is the anathema. Leave off your evil opinions. Amen.
Recently, we spent the entire sermon time going over a basic lesson on the Liturgy of Preparation, also known as the Proskomedia. This service, which is celebrated as a part of every Divine Liturgy in every Orthodox Church, comprises a host of Biblical quotations, references, and allegories. Parts 1 and 2 are below.
You can also watch these on the ASONA YouTube page, and subscribe there to get notified of new videos.
Please join our Brothers & Sisters at the host parishes for these Sunday Evening Lenten Vespers services. The service of Lenten Vespers is very beautiful, and we want to encourage everyone to participate in these services as much as possible. Great Lent is once a year, and this is a wonderful opportunity to meet Orthodox Christians from other parishes, see their beautiful churches, and share some Lenten food and fellowship during this time of spiritual effort. Don’t miss them!
All Vespers Services Begin at 6:00pm
The Sunday of Orthodoxy – February 25, 2018
Host Parish: Assumption Greek Church
8202 E. Cactus Road Scottsdale, 85260
The Second Sunday of Lent – March 4, 2018
Host Parish: Sts. Peter & Paul OCA
1614 E. Monte Vista Rd. Phoenix, AZ 85006
The Third Sunday of Lent – March 11, 2018
Host Parish: St. Sava Serbian Church
4436 E. McKinley Street Phoenix, 85008
The Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 18, 2018
Holy Trinity Greek Cathedral
1973 E. Maryland Ave Phoenix, 85016
The Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 25, 2018
St. John the Baptist Romanian Church
3749 W. Behrend Dr. Glendale, AZ 85308