Σάββατο, 21 Ιανουαρίου 2017

Saint Philothea Project, for Kenya (St. Philothea of Argesh: a girl who killed by her father because she helped the poor!)

"O man, for your sake was Christ born, and the Son of God came that He might make you to live; He became a babe, He became a child, and He became a man, being (at the same time) God in His Nature, and the Son of God."
The Paradise of The Holy Fathers (here).

Saint Philothea Project is in the final days of preparing to for Kenya Konnection 2017.
This means packing bags, How much can we squeeze into two bags and not go over the weight limit. Limiting personal item to the carry on bag only.
Thanks to the many people who have take the opportunity to use the service of Saint Philothea Project to send alms and gift to the orphans, widows and other poor under the care of Orthodox Priest in Kenya. Special thanks to the following who have entrusted us with their alms. By initials only to respect your privacy and anonymity.
SC-200 RH-50 JH-70 KO-25 SS-500
TG-70 SN-100 ID-20 LZ-150 MK-75
GP-50 CW-70 TB-75 TI-30 CW-50
HA-25 DC-275 AT-50 LC-25 RH-100
YA-5 CG-10 CF-20 MN-50 TS-40
OI-5 SR-70 EL-10 JF-50
Also extra thanks to DC for providing 300 Feminine Hygiene Towels for Girls and Young women.

"What shall the tribunal of the Judge be like, when the Nativity of an Infant, makes proud kings tremble? Let kings fear Him, now sitting at the Right Hand of the Father, Whom the impious king feared, while yet at His Mother’s breast".
St. Augustine of Hippo (here).

Please, see

St. Philothea, the Protectress of Romania (from here)

Commemorated on December 7.
Icon (& more) from here
St. Philothea (Filothea) of Argesh was born in Trnovo, the old capital of Bulgaria, around 1206. Her father was a farmer. Her mother died when Philothea was still a child, and her father remarried.
The child was often punished by her stepmother, who accused her of being disobedient, and of giving their possessions away to the poor. Her father chastised her for this, but Philothea continued to attend church and do good to others, just as her mother had taught her. As she grew older, she was adorned with the virtues of prayer, virginity, and almsgiving.
St. Philothea would bring food to her father, who was out working in the fields. However, not all of the food would reach him because she would give some of it to the poor children begging in the street. When he complained to his wife that she did not prepare enough food for him, she replied, “I send you plenty of food. Ask your daughter what she does with it.”
Becoming angry with Philothea, her father decided to spy on her to see what happened to the food. From a place of hiding, he saw her giving food to the poor children who came to her. In a violent rage, he took the axe from his belt and threw it at the twelve-year-old girl, hitting her in the leg. The wound was mortal, and she soon gave her pure soul into God’s hands.
Her father was filled with fear and remorse, and tried to lift his daughter’s body from the ground, but it became as heavy as a rock. He then ran to the Archbishop of Trnovo to confess his sin and explain what had happened. The Archbishop and his priests went with candles and incense to take up the martyr’s body and bring it to the cathedral, but they were also unable to lift it.
The Archbishop realized that St. Philothea did not wish to remain in her native land, so he began to name various monasteries, churches, and cathedrals to see where she wished to go. Not until he named the Monastery of Curtea de Argesh in Romania were they able to lift her holy relics and place them in a coffin. The Archbishop wrote to the Romanian Voievode Radu Negru, asking him to accept the saint’s relics. The Archbishop and his clergy carried the holy relics in procession as far as the Danube, where they were met by Romanian clergy, monastics, and the faithful. Her relics were then carried to the Curtea de Argesh Monastery.
Many people have been healed at the tomb of St. Philothea located in a small chapel in the belltower behind the monastery church. Those who entreat her intercession receive help from her. Each year on December 7 there is a festal pilgrimage to the Monastery, and people come from all over Romania. The relics of St. Philothea are carried around the courtyard in procession, and there are prayers for the sick. 

Πέμπτη, 19 Ιανουαρίου 2017

Malawi, Hermitage of St Mark of Ephesus (Eugenikos = Courteous) : the saint who resisted to Western European imperialism in 15th century (January 19)

An Orthodox Monastery (Hermitage), dedicated to St. Mark of Ephesus, founded in Blantyre, Malawi. At this Hermitage settled the Orthodox monk fr. Anthony and belonging to the Holy Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi, in the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, namely in the ancient Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ and brought to Africa by Saint Apostle and Evangelist Mark.
Photos from the page of the Holy Metropolis of Zambia and Malawi in Facebook.

23 December 2016 (1)
23 December 2016 (2)

The life of st Mark Eugenikos (OrthodoxWiki)

Icon from here
Our father among the saints Mark Eugenikos (Greek: Μάρκος Ευγενικός), Archbishop of Ephesus, was famous for his courageous defense of Orthodoxy at the Council of Florence (1439 A.D.) in spite of the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus and the pope of Rome Eugenius IV. He held Rome to be in schism and heresy for its acceptance of the Filioque clause added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and for the claims of the papacy to universal jurisdiction over the Church, and was thus the only Eastern bishop to refuse to sign the decrees of the council. Sometimes he is called "the conscience of Orthodoxy."
He died peacefully in the year 1444 A.D. On his deathbed, Mark implored Gregory, his disciple, and later Patriarch Gennadius II of Constantinople, to be careful of the snares of the West and to defend Orthodoxy.
For his efforts at the Council of Florence and his defense against: the addition of the Filioque, the primacy of the Pope, and purgatorial fire purification, the Orthodox Church considers him a saint, calling him a Pillar of Orthodoxy. His feast day is January 19.


"It is impossible to recall peace without dissolving the cause of the schism—the primacy of the Pope exalting himself equal to God." [1]
"The Latins are not only schismatics but heretics... we did not separate from them for any other reason other than the fact that they are heretics. This is precisely why we must not unite with them unless they dismiss the addition from the Creed filioque and confess the Creed as we do." [2]
"Our Head, Christ our God... does not tolerate that the bond of love be taken from us entirely." 
"We seek and we pray for our return to that time when, being united, we spoke the same things and there was no schism between us." 
"The Symbol of the Faith must be preserved inviolate, as at its origin. Since all the holy doctors of the Church, all the Councils and all the Scriptures put us on our guard against heterodoxy, how dare I, in spite of these authorities, follow those who urge us to unity in a deceitful semblance of union—those who have corrupted the holy and divine Symbol of Faith and brought in the Son as second cause of the Holy Spirit" (s.v. Jan 19th in The Synaxarion, ed. Hieromonk Makarios of Simonas Petra, and trans. Christopher Hookway; Ormylia: Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady, 2001).
"The souls of the departed can indeed benefit to their 'advancement,' and even the damned to a relative 'relief' of their lot, thanks to the prayers of the Church and through the infinite mercy of God; but the notion of a punishment prior to the Last Judgment and of a purification through a material fire is altogether foreign to the tradition of the Church" (ibid.).

Death, Miracle and Canonization

He died peacefully at the age of 52 on June 23, 1444, after an excruciating two-week battle with intestinal illness. On his death bed, Mark implored Georgios Scholarios, his former pupil, to be careful of the snares of the West and to defend Orthodoxy. According to his brother John, his last words were "Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, into Thy hands I commit my spirit." Mark was buried in the Mangana Monastery in Constantinople.
There is an account of a posthumous miracle performed by St. Mark of Ephesus. Doctors gave up on trying to save the life of the terminally ill sister of Demetrios Zourbaios, after their efforts had worsened her condition. After losing consciousness for three days she suddenly woke up to the delight of her brother, who asked her why she woke up drenched in water. She related that a bishop escorted her to a fountain and washed her and told her, "Return now; you no longer have any illness." She asked him who he was and he informed her, "I am the Metropolitan of Ephesus, Mark Eugenikos." After being miraculously healed, she made an icon of St. Mark and lived devoutly for another 15 years.
In 1734 the Holy Synod of the Church of Constantinople under Patriarch Seraphim I glorified Mark of Ephesus as a saint, stating:
"All of us of the holy Eastern Church of Christ acknowledge the holy Mark Evgenikos of Ephesus. We honor and receive this saintly, God-bearing and righteous man as a zealot of ardent piety, who was a champion of all our sacred dogmas and correct piety. He is an emulator and equal to the holy theologians, and those that adorned the Church of ancient times." (The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy, p. 500, via)

Troparion (Tone 4)
By your profession of faith, O all-praised Mark
The Church has found you to be a zealot for truth.
You fought for the teaching of the Fathers;
You cast down the darkness of boastful pride.
Intercede with Christ God to grant forgiveness to those who honor you!
Kontakion (Tone 3)
Clothed with invincible armor, O blessed one,
You cast down rebellious pride,
You served as the instrument of the Comforter,
And shone forth as the champion of Orthodoxy.
Therefore we cry to you: "Rejoice, Mark, the boast of the Orthodox!"
External links

See also

St Macarius the Egyptian, the Great, January 19  
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_qpE5hNwi618/TTbvCTrfptI/AAAAAAAANGU/3jNzc0YjEic/s1600/macarius%2Bmain.jpgA Greek saint, who went from village to village, compared the ancient wisdom of the Orthodox Christians with the culture of the West († 1861, January 18)...

Τρίτη, 17 Ιανουαρίου 2017

A Greek saint, who went from village to village, compared the ancient wisdom of the Orthodox Christians with the culture of the West († 1861, January 18)...

Chief Seattle’s response to President Franklin Pierce in 1854, that he could not sell his people’s land because it does not belong to them but rather the people belong to it, has become a memorable piece of American history. In exactly the same time period, a Greek saint went from village to village saying exactly the same things to my people, the Greeks, who had just acquired their “own” state, but were being ruled by the powerful countries of Western Europe, who had dazzled them with their wealth and culture. This saint was called Christoforos Papoulakos (which means “dear old man”). The people in power captured him and he died in prison, but his words influenced our future. 

Icon: Elder Christoforos Papoulakos (here)

In 1977 the “Message of the Iroquois Confederation of the Six Nations to the Western World” was presented at the International Conference of Indian Nations in Geneva, under the auspices of the Non Governmental Organizations of the UN. In this message, the ancient wisdom of the Native Americans was compared against the utilitarian and invasive culture of the white men, the culture that now essentially rules the whole world and which in reality is only the culture of the Western white men, not ours. Similarly, the reproaches against Christianity included in this message, that “Rome is the real place that it is modeled after”; that it “de-spiritualized the world”, and that it “came to prominence with weapons”, refer to the false versions of Christianity that were created in the West, not to ancient Christianity or to Orthodoxy. A few years earlier, during the second world war, an Orthodox saint, imprisoned at the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, the bishop Nikolaos Velimirovich, sent a moving message to all the people of Europe, wherein he too compared the ancient wisdom of the Orthodox Christians with the culture of the West, the same culture critiqued by our Iroquois brothers as well as every wise and thinking Native American. 


Life of Saint Christoforos Papoulakos (site about him)

«African needs to be helped, to find his divine roots, for his soul to be at peace, to become united with God...»

The Orthodox African Church (Patriarchate of Alexandria) denounces the exploitation of Africa by contemporary colonialists
Orthodox Church & Capitalism: Orthodox Fathers of Church on poverty, wealth and social justice
Is capitalism compatible with Orthodox Christianity?
Grace and “the Inverted Pyramid”
The Passion of Jesus Christ and the Passions of Africa

Δευτέρα, 16 Ιανουαρίου 2017

Four Africans ancients saints of January: Paul of Thebes (the First Hermit), Anthony the Great (the Professor of Desert), Athanasius the Great & Cyril of Alexandria

Father Antipas of Kenya: "I appeal to all of you to set your hearts up summing a foundation that will help support our work here in Africa"...

Basil Vetas, In the Orthodox Vineyard of Africa

The distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Kenya, the school board, parents, teachers and students I greet you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I am Reverend Father Antipas, a Greek-Orthodox priest (*) serving within the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, of the Holy Archbishopric of Kenya. I was born on the 23rd July 1974, as a first born in a family of 5 children. My mother fell ill and remained in that condition for almost two years before she passed on. My father was a peasant farmer, and it became only natural for me to join my father on the farm. I also had to leave school from time to time to go and engage in child labor. Instead of being in school, I had to work on tea and sugarcane farms for a meager pay to help supplement my father’s effort to make ends meet.

(*) Note of our blog: "Greek-Orthodox" here means "Byzantine", the ancient Christian Church = the Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa).

I was therefore on and off from school until I met a Coptic Orthodox priest who took me back to school in grade seven. I completed my primary education, and he later took me to a good high school. Unfortunately, this priest also passed on. I once again dropped out of school and left my rural home and came to Nairobi in search of a better life, where I visited a Coptic Orthodox church and served there briefly as a reader.

I met Father Philippos who Introduced me to a Greek-Orthodox priest, Father Innocentios, who is now the Orthodox Bishop of Rwanda and Burundi . This priest developed in me the desire for priesthood; he sponsored me for a teachers training course and later helped me to join the Orthodox Seminary, after which I became a priest. 

The Orthodox Bishop of Rwanda and Burundi Innocentios (from here)

Today, I am a married priest with two children, and I thank God for the opportunity to give back to the society through my priestly ministry and through the Dagoretti School.

My ministry as a priest enabled me to interact with many slum children in Nairobi. Many of these children lived in conditions far worse than what I experienced as a young boy; their plight and my own experience planted in me the desire to establish a school for them.

I shared my vision with my bishop and he gave me his blessing. I then approached a few friends and we founded this school as a community-based organization to end up providing the children with education, talent development, mentorship and technical training. Today we have a full primary school and we have also started St. Nektarios High School as a project of Dagoretti School to help us provide secondary education to the children. We hope to find partnerships, partners and well-wishers who will help us to buy land and build a proper school, and a training center and an Orthodox chapel to help us serve the children better.

Many of our children came from single families. Some are orphans mainly due to the HIV scourge. Some are drawn from the streets where they begged for assistance. Some were exposed to child prostitution and sexual molestation. We therefore need to feed, educate, council, rehabilitate and mentor them.

For this reason, I count myself privileged to have met Mr. Basil who agreed to help fund my studies for a Bachelors of Arts in Sustainable Human Development. I thank you all for meeting here today to fundraise for this noble cause. This degree will help me acquire a new set of skills and competencies for a better service to God and to the community.

I therefore appeal to all of you to set your hearts up summing a foundation that will help support our work here in Africa. I encourage you to have a very close partnership with us so that you can work with us to ensure a transparent and accountable use of finances. In order to share with you proper documentary of the situation, kindly plan for an invitation and support to make it possible for me to be able to travel to the U.S. and share more about the school and about the projects we are running here.

Remember us in your prayers and may God bless us all. Amen.

See also

Orthodox Kenya (tag) 
African Orthodox Church of Kenya / Facebook

Σάββατο, 14 Ιανουαρίου 2017

The Authority of the Church, the Protestants & the African Initiated Churches

The purpose of this study (original title "The Authority of the Church") is to point out certain differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy, and to arouse the interest of Protestants who have never become properly acquainted with the Orthodox Church of the Lord.
Note of our blog: It also regards the African Initiated Churches (
African Indigenous Churches), which are the "Protestantism of Africa".

  The canonical Orthodox Bishop Neophytos in Kenya (from here)

Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries

1. Arbitrary authority

It is customary amongst Protestant religions -when someone disagrees with certain of their dogmas- to break away and form another, independent team of their own. These teams quite often evolve into self-dependent, separate religions, which baptize, distribute bread and wine, ordain “elders” and pursue many other activities.

There are also teams, even individual persons, who congregate and study the Bible without the presence of “elders”, or any other kind of infrastructure. The latter usually believe it is wrong for someone to belong to a religion and they maintain that a Christian should remain free of any commitments in any religious area.

But, are these stances and customs proper? Could there be something that all these people have overlooked and should re-examine?

A first question that arises in the first instance is the issue of authority. Perhaps certain people should ask themselves: “With what authority am I creating a new religion? With what right do I baptize, or distribute bread and wine, or ordain Elders? Is it really alright for one to proceed with such actions? Who put me in charge, who made me an Elder, so that I too can superintend over a new congregation?”

Similarly, those who are “independent” of religions should ask themselves: “Is it possible for me to be following - as I claim- the paradigm of the apostles and the first Christians, when I don’t belong to any Church the way they did? Where are the Elders of my congregation? When was someone of us ordained, by someone who had this authority? With what authority do I baptize? Is my participation in the supper of the Lord a valid one, when it is an arbitrary participation? How can I be a part of the worldwide and all-time body of the Church, when I have no communion with any of the other Churches of the Lord? Or is my team, or my person, perhaps the only one that is Christian? So, which are the Churches of the Lord, according to the paradigm of the apostles?

As strange as it may sound to a Christian, there are many people who actually do act this arbitrarily in such important matters as faith and salvation. The reason for this behavior is that is has become a force of habit, from their Protestant roots. 

The canonical Orthodox Bishop Jonah of Uganda 
(from the article Natives Africans bishops in the Orthodox Church)

When Protestantism introduced Reform in the West, it did not comprise a continuation of an apostolically rendered arrangement, it was merely an autonomous and independent protest; there was no historical continuance in their protestation, and no-one with such authority ever ordained Luther or Calvin as Elders in their new religion. Even if they had been ordained by a former Papist (since there was no-one in this new religion to perform an ordination), this ordination would still not be valid, because the Papists had already been pronounced a heretic congregation at that time. No-one from another religion would undertake to ordain Elders in a newly-formed, rivalrous faith. This would have been incongruous, because both the ordainer of the one religion and the ordained of the other religion are equally in heresy, and consequently, the ordination is deemed invalid.

So, given that Protestantism suddenly penetrated history, it naturally found itself without Elders and without any legally bestowed authority to perform its religious obligations. It was therefore compelled to act arbitrarily, from the very first moment it appeared.

Conclusion: All Protestant “elders” officiate arbitrarily; they have no historical continuance and no authority to officiate.

It is no wonder, that all affiliated Protestant groups act in a similar way; they just haven’t realized that what they do is impermissible. 

2. The paradigm of the apostles

One excuse that is offered by Protestants is that since all Christians belong to a “Regal Priesthood”, they all have the authority to baptize and to elect Elders, as well as to distribute bread and wine. Thus, they do not need any special ordination for these things. And although there is a multitude of Church regulations (Canons) that prove the absurdity of these assertions, we feel obliged to convince them of the facts, by referring them to the paradigm of the apostles themselves, since they refuse to accept the regulations of the Church.

We shall therefore prove that in the era of the apostles, the hieratic status of Christians did not comprise a prerequisite that allowed them to act arbitrarily. We shall see how ordination as well as a given mission was compulsory, in order for someone to be able to baptize, distribute bread and wine, or superintend the Christian congregations of the first centuries.

This continues to apply in the Church of the Lord to this day, as it always did, and as is witnessed by all the proto-Christian writings that have been preserved until now. In the narrations of the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that God did not act independently of His Church, as Protestants assert.

Let’s look at a few examples:

When the 7 deacons were elected in the Church, this didn’t take place arbitrarily; the laying on of the Apostle’s hands was necessary: “whom they placed before the apostles, and while praying, they (apostles) placed their hands upon them” (Acts 6/VI 3-6)p,

These 7 deacons weren’t “appointed” by any arbitrary religious leadership; it was after the laying on of the hands of the apostles themselves. As for the Apostles, they too had received authority for all this, from Jesus Christ Himself, and they also never acted arbitrarily: “Verily I say unto you, whatever is bound by you on earth is bound in heaven and whatever is unbound by you on earth is unbound in heaven. And again, verily I say unto you, that if two amongst you should agree on anything that they might request, it will be done unto them, by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18/XVIII 18,19)

“..for Jesus said to them again: Peace be with you. Just as my Father sent me forth, thus I send you forth. Having said this, He blew His breath upon them and said to them: Receive Holy Spirit. If you discharge (people’s) sins, they will be forgiven; if you do not discharge them, they will be remain firm” (John 20/XX 21-23)

It is therefore clearly evident that in the Church there is a line of authority: the Father sent forth the Son, the Son sent forth the apostles, and they, with the tremendous authority that was bestowed upon them, commenced to distribute authority to others. 

Apostle Paul ordain st Titus in Crete (icon from here)

Let’s examine a few more tracts of the Holy Bible as examples:

When Philip the evangelist preached in Samaria - despite all the miracles that he performed – he did not have the authority to transmit the Holy Spirit into the newly baptized, because only the apostles had this authority at the time. “When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had embraced the Word of God, they sent there Peter and John, who, on their way down (to Samaria) prayed for them, so that they might receive Holy Spirit…. On seeing that the Spirit is given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, Simon brought them money, saying: “Give me this authority also, so that whomever I lay my hands on will receive Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8/VIII 4-19)

When Saul (the one who was later renamed Paul) converted to the Christian faith and was sent forth by Jesus Christ Himself, the mission and the instructions given by the very Lord were not enough! The Lord sent him Ananias ( who was a Christian and had the power of healing ), to baptize Saul and to transmit the Holy Spirit into him. This narration is in Acts 9/IX 1 - 19. But even Ananias, when placing his hands on Saul, declares that he had received the authority to do so: “ and on laying his hands upon him, he (Ananias) said: Saul my brother, the Lord sent me: Jesus, the One who you saw on the road that you were coming from, so that you can regain your sight and be filled with Holy Spirit.”

It is evident here, how significant the source of every authority for every action was, to the first Christians. Good intentions were not enough, not even the decision of the Lord; The act had to be endorsed by a Christian appointed by the Lord, so that everything be done in Ecclesiastic order. 

The canonical Orthodox Bishop Ieronymos of Mwanza, Tanzania (from here)

But even so, the mission given directly by the Lord did not suffice for the apostle Paul. Following a revelation, he sought out the apostles that preceded him, so that he might obtain from them the authority to perform his mission of preaching to nations. This narration is in Galatians 2/II 1 - 10: ΄΄Then……. I went up to Jerusalem…... according to a revelation. And I reported to them (the apostles) the gospel that I preach to the nations - and personally to them that are cognizant - for them to determine whether I am -or have been- heading towards a void…….and upon ascertaining the grace that was bestowed upon me, James and Peter and John – who are believed to be pillars – offered the communion of (laid) their right hand on myself and Barnabas…..”...΄΄

The exact same thing happened, when the Lord sent Peter to Cornelius; the Lord didn’t send the Holy Spirit to Cornelius directly; He first sent Peter, in order to baptize Cornelius as well. (Acts 10/X 44-48)

Even in Antioch, when the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas on a mission, this took place only after those who had the authority laid their hands upon them. (Acts 13/XIII 1 - 3).

The apostle Paul in turn laid his hands upon Timothy, in order to convey authority to him, so that he may undertake the office of Bishop in Ephesus: ΄΄I wish to remind you to rekindle the charisma of God that is within you by the laying on of my hands” (Timothy Β 1/I 6).

In the same way, both Timothy as well as Titus in Crete had been given the authority to ordain Elders. (Timothy Α 5/V 17 - 20. Titus 1/I 5).

Saint Ignatius (icon), a 2nd century bishop, acted in the same spirit:΄΄Without that (approval) of a Bishop, not even baptism is permitted...΄΄ (Smyrnaeans, 8). ΄΄It (the Eucharist) is one, being under a Bishop΄΄. (Magnesians, 6-7).

We see therefore, that the offices of the Church are not just for everyone who believes in Christ; the officiator has to first receive the authority from those who have it, and who can transmit it to them.

It would therefore be a wise move, for those who arbitrarily undertake Church functions, to reconsider their ways and seek to acquire the authority from those who have such authority in the Orthodox Church: from those who are the successors of the apostles according to the Lord’s intention.

Translation by A.N.

Greek text

See also
African Initiated Churches in Search of Orthodoxy... 
During the time that Luther and Calvin were formulating the Reformation...
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?
Charismatic Revival As a Sign of the Times 
Ancient Christian faith (Orthodox Church) in Africa

The Orthodox Church of Alexandria & the Patriarchate of Alexandria
Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa) 

The Orthodox Church in Uganda, an outgrowth of indigenous self discovery
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life

«African needs to be helped, to find his divine roots, for his soul to be at peace, to become united with God...»

Παρασκευή, 13 Ιανουαρίου 2017

To See Him Face to Face

“The self resides in the face.” – Psychological Theorist, Sylvan Tompkins

Glory 2 God for all things

There is a thread running throughout the Scriptures that can be described as a “theology of the face.” In the Old Testament we hear a frequent refrain of “before Thy face,” and similar expressions. There are prayers beseeching God not to “hide His face.” Very clearly in Exodus, God tells Moses that “no one may see my face and live.” In the New Testament, there is a clear shift. The accounts of Christ’s transfiguration describe His face as shining. St. Paul speaks of seeing God “in the face of Jesus Christ.” He also speaks of us gazing steadily on Christ “with unveiled faces.” Orthodox Christianity has a very particular understanding of the face, modeled in the holy icons. It is worth some thought and reflection.
In both Latin and Greek, the word translated as “person,” actually refers to the face, or a mask (as a depiction of the face). The face is not only our primary presentation to the world, and our primary means of relationship, it is also, somehow, that which is most definitively identified with our existence as persons. Developmental psychologists say that the face-to-face gazing of mother and child in the act of nursing is an essential building block in the development of personality and the ability to relate to others.
It should be of note that the Holy Icons are always depicted facing us, with some few, turned ever so slightly. Those “turned” faces are found on icons whose placement would have originally been on an iconostasis and are slightly turned so as to be acknowledging the Christ icon. The only figures portrayed in profile are Judas Iscariot and the demons (or those who are fulfilling those roles). In the art of the Renaissance, and subsequent, this treatment of the face disappears. The human figure is simply studied for itself, as art, the relational function of the icon having been forgotten.

The Orthodox understanding of salvation is reflected in this treatment of icons. St. Paul’s description of being transformed as we behold the face of Christ is an expression of true personhood. Our “face” becomes more properly what it should be as we behold the face of Christ. This “looking” is, to a degree, what we today would call a “relationship,” though, I think, it has more insight and import. “Relationship” has become a word that is almost completely vacuous, lacking in substance. I cringe these days when I hear conversations about our “relationship” with God.
With the face, and its implications for personhood, much more can be said. I cannot see the face of another without looking at them. To see your face, I must reveal my face. That face-to-face encounter is pretty much the deepest and oldest experience we have as human beings (first experienced with our mother in nursing). For the whole of our lives, our faces are the primary points of experience and reaction. We cannot truly know the other without encountering them face-to-face.

It is probably significant that art turned away from the face and toward the figure. The language of salvation as “not going to hell” or “going to heaven,” is, strangely, impersonal. The same is true of justification and the like. It easily sounds like a medical procedure, a treatment of the body (or worse).
Similar to the face is the treatment of names. In Revelation, the image of salvation is the giving of a new name. In the Old Testament, this same thing happens to Abram (Abraham) and Jacob (Israel). In their cases, a new name signals a change in them and a change in their status before God. By the same token, it has always struck me as deeply personal and touching that Christ sometimes had nicknames for his disciples: “Peter” (“Rock”) and “Boanerges” for James and John (the “Sons of Thunder”). I suspect there were others. In the Orthodox tradition, a child is named on the eighth day after birth, or, if later, at Baptism. The giving of a name at Baptism is also a very ancient part of Baptism in the West.

Orthodox Baprism in Rwanda (see here)

In these things, we must understand that we are “known.” We are known uniquely and not by reputation or reference. We are not in a category, nor are we the “objects” of God’s love. That we are being changed by beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ suggests that we have to look at him – directly. This is very much part of the meaning of true communion.
Psychologists describe the bonding between mother and child in nursing (and face-to-face) as communion:
Identification begins as a visual process, but quickly becomes an internal imagery process, encompassing visual, auditory, and kinesthetic scenes. It is that universal scene of communion between mother and infant, accomplished through facial gazing in the midst of holding and rocking during breast or bottle feedings, that creates the infant’s sense of oceanic oneness or union. (Psychology of Shame, Kaufman, pg 31)
I was somewhat staggered to find such a theologically compatible statement in a work of technical psychology. Sometimes scientific observation is simply spot-on.
As we grow older, we never again gaze into the eyes of a person as we once did with our mothers. Lovers are often drawn to the eyes of the beloved, and find a measure of communion, but wounds and injuries eventually interrupt the initial innocence of such eyes. The same is at least as true with regard to God.
Regarding the face of God, there is this very telling passage in Revelation:
 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (Rev. 6:16)
It is of note that Revelation does not simply speak of the wrath of the Lamb, nor merely of His presence. It is specifically a fear of His face. Our experience of the face is an experience of nakedness and vulnerability. On the positive side, the result is identification, communion and oneness. On the negative side, it is the pain of shame and the felt need to hide. I can think of nothing else in nature that so closely parallels and reveals the fundamental character of our relationship with God. Salvation is communion. Sin is an enduring shame.
It is into this existential/ontological reality of sin/shame that Christ enters in His Incarnation, suffering and death. The depths of hell are everlasting shame and yet, He doesn’t hesitate to enter there in order to rescue us. Christ’s rescue of Adam and Eve in Hades are a final echo of the encounter in the Garden. They hid in shame, but He came looking for them. Then, He covered them with the skins of animals, but now He covers them in the righteousness of the Lamb who was slain. Then they were expelled from Paradise; now they are restored. Then, they fled from before His face; now they behold Him face to face – and rejoice.
When I pray before the icon of Christ, I notice that His gaze never changes. He does not hide Himself from my shame – but He bids me return my gaze to His. Unashamed, painless. You can find paradise in those eyes!

Orthodox children of Mozambique, with Bishop of Mozambique & the icon of Theotokos (from Mother of God (Virgin Mary), Orthodox Church and African peoples - more about Orthodox Church in Mozambique here)

"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life 

"Partakers of Divine Nature" - About Deification & Uncreated Light in Orthodox Church  
Holy Icons (tag)
St. Symeon the New Theologian's First Vision of Uncreated Glory
Feast & holy icon of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ

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