MANY YEARS WITH PEOPLE’S QUESTIONS PART
IV Dogma and Ritual Questions
By H.H. POPE SHENOUDA III INTRODUCTION
I am continuing, dear Reader, with publishing for you a
collection of questions which I have received, either in the
weekly meetings on Wednesdays (formerly Fridays), or which
students at the Theological College (the Seminary) have
addressed to me during my lectures. This, the fourth part of the series Many Years
with the Problems of People, which you now have in
your hands, is concerned with theological, doctrinal and
ritual questions. It contains the replies to some 60 questions
divided up as follows:
a) 37 questions on faith and theology, up to page 108
b) 12 or so questions on ritual theology, up to page 132
c) 10 questions about the Virgin Mary provoked by
various statements of the Plymouth Brethren, from
page 134 to the end. The first part of this whole series consists
of questions concerning the Holy Bible (40 questions in
all), while the second centres on theological and doctrinal
questions (35 questions), the third part addresses spiritual
and general questions (44 questions), and in this fourth
part I answer the following 60 questions.
So far then, if we count the whole series altogether I am
replying to some 179 questions. I have tried to make the answers as short
and to the point as possible and to support them with texts from
the verses of the Bible.
I look forward to meeting you again in the fifth part, if God
wills. Pope Shenouda III
[ 1 ] THE SPIRITS AND THEIR WORK
Question Are there spirits who work in this world?
And if so, what are they like?
Answer: Spirits were created in two types; the spirits
of angels and the spirits of human beings. The angels are also
of two types: holy angels, and evil angels or demons. There is
no doubt that both types, good and bad, are at work in the world.
It was said of the angels: “Are not all angels ministering
spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? ” (Heb.
1:14) and “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear
Him, and delivers them. ” (Ps. 34:7)
The work of the demon spirits is to corrupt mankind spiritually,
but only if people surrender their wills to them, or to throw
some or take possession of them. This is why the Lord gave
His disciples and saints the gifts of casting out demons. (Matt.
10:1, 8; Mark 16:17) As far as the spirits of mankind are concerned,
the wicked end up imprisoned in hell, while some of the righteous
become entrusted by God to provide help for their
brothers on earth, and these spirits may even appear to those
people as Virgin Mary and St. George do.
[ 2 ] CAN THE SPIRITS RECOGNISE
EACH OTHER? Question
Can the spirits recognise each other while they are in the
place of waiting? Answer:
Yes, of course. There is no doubt that they can. And we have
the clear example of this in the story of the rich man and the
poor Lazarus, where the Bible says that after they had both
died, the rich man: “looked up and saw Abraham far away, with
Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham,
have pity on me’.” (Luke 16:23).
We notice here that the rich man knew which was Lazarus and
which was Abraham, and we also see that Abraham knew that
one of them had received his blessings on earth, while the other
had suffered troubles. Therefore it is clear from this that a spirit’s
capacity to recognise extends to those whom the person
has seen before as well as to those whom he has not.
For the rich man not only recognised Lazarus whom he had
seen with his own eyes in the world, while he was alive, but he
also recognised Abraham whom he had never met or ever set
eyes on. In the same way our forefather Abraham recognised
both of them. The knowledge of the spirits become very extensive
after they have become separated from the body.
Thus we find our master St Paul saying: “Now we see but a
poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully
known”. (1Cor. 13:12). [ 3 ]
“NO-ONE HAS EVER SEEN GOD” Question
What is the meaning of the verse, “No-one has ever seen
God”? (John 1:18) Has not God appeared to many of the
prophets and spoken to them? Answer:
What is meant by ‘God’ in this phrase is the god head, His
essential divinity, because this god head is invisible. And in
regard to this divinity since God is Spirit, He cannot be seen by
our earthly eyes which can only perceive material things.
This is why God always appeared in the form of a human being
or in the shape of an angel when it was intended for human
beings to see Him. And finally He appeared in the body when
we saw Him in His Son Jesus Christ who said: “Anyone who
has seen Me has seen the Father. ” (John 14:9) Thus after John the Baptist said “No-one has
ever seen God”, he went on to say: “The Only Begotten Son,
who is in the Father’s bosom, has made Him known. ” (John
1:18), which means that He declared the Father.
All those who try to depict or have ever tried to portray the
Father in a visible form, have got it wrong, and this very verse
proves them wrong, for example those who portray the Father
in icons of the baptism of Christ, when God said: “This is My
Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”” (Matt. 3:17),
when no-one actually saw the Father. All the while that we are in this physical
body, there is a mist like a veil preventing us from seeing God,
we can only see “a poor reflection as in a mirror. ” as St Paul
put it (1 Cor. 13:12). But when we put off this earthly body,
we will be clothed in a shining, spiritual body that
can see what no eye has ever seen. And it is then that we shall see
God. [ 4 ]
HOW CAN SPIRITS SEE SPIRITS? Question
How can a spirit see another spirit? And does a spirit have
a shape? Answer:
There is a kind of spiritual perception by which the spirit can
see beyond the limits of the body and its form, and by which it
can also see God, as a spirit without form, in a vision that
cannot be expressed as the Bible tells us: “Blessed are the pure
in heart, for they will see God. ” (Matt. 5:8) and as Job said:
“now my eyes have seen You.” (Job. 42:5). St Anthony saw the soul of Anba Amun being
conducted to heaven by angels, and told this to his disciples.
But what did he actually see?!
The rich man saw Abraham and Lazarus, but what exactly did
he see, and in what form did he see them? Was it in the same
way as St Anthony saw the soul of Anba Amun, and in the same
form? I wonder whether the spirit can take on the shape of a
body, without it being material or substantial! We know that the angels of the Lord encamp
around those that fear Him and deliver them, but we don’t see
the angels with the physical, bodily eye because they are spirits,
and we can only see them by our own spirits. In his revelation,
St John the Beloved, when he was “in the Spirit”, “on
the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), saw an angel directing him, and
also saw other angels. But what did he actually see? Was
it a spiritual vision beyond the level of form? Or did the angels
also have a discernible shape?
There are angels who have taken on certain forms and been
visible. There were, for example, the angels of the
Resurrection: on one occasion two angels appeared who were like,
“two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning. ” (Luke
24:4), and on another occasion the angel of the Lord appeared
and, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes
were white as snow. ” (Matt. 28:3)
In the face of all this, St Augustine stood in wonder thinking
over an important question, ‘Does a spirit have a form? Or can
it take on a form?’, and he replied quite frankly, ‘I do not know’.
Nevertheless we hear that the Cherubim and Seraphim have six
wings, that with two of them they cover their faces, with
another two their feet and with the remaining two they fly. Are
all these just symbolical or metaphorical? Or do they actually
have this shape, by which they can be distinguished, albeit in
non-material form? In regard to the eyes of the earthly body,
the spirit obviously cannot be seen at all unless it
takes on the kind of shape which the angels usually take on. But
spirits see spirits, and often see them in definite form.
I must add, though, that this is my personal view.
But we still have no answer to the question put by St
Augustine. As far as we know, at the Resurrection, bodies
will rise and be united with spirits, and obviously these
bodies will have shapes, and the same ones as they had before,
but they will be ‘spiritual’ and ‘imperishable’ (1 Cor.
15) and will have no defects…
Are we to understand from this that the spirit has the same
shape as the body? Or is it without a shape but then assumes
the shape of the body? There are things which the Bible does not
explain, but which have been left for individual interpretation
I think it is most probable that spirits have shapes by which they
can recognise one another and be distinguished from each other.
Even with these forms, though, they would still, in their
spirituality, be far removed from physical, material forms.
[ 5 ] THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Question Since Adam and Eve fell while they were in
Paradise, is it possible that any of us would fall in the
next world? Answer:
No, of course not, for the nature in which we will rise after
death, will be better in every respect than the nature which
Adam and Eve had. As far as the body is concerned, we will rise
in a non-physical body, a spiritual, luminous, glorious body,
a strong and indestructible one that resembles the glorious
body in which Christ Himself rose (Phil. 3:21), according
to St Paul, who also said: “Just as we have borne the likeness
of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from
heaven. ” (1 Cor. 15:42-49).
This body will not sin, because sin is a kind of corruption: “It is
sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. ” (1 Cor.
15:42). There will be no sin in the next world, for we are told
about the heavenly Jerusalem that “Nothing impure will ever
enter it. ” (Rev. 21:27). Here on earth we possess a will which can
incline itself either to good or to evil. But in the kingdom
of God, the will would only ever incline itself towards
the good. This is because our wills will be sanctified when
we put on the crown of righteousness.
St Paul said, concerning this crown: “Now here is in store for
me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous
Judge, will award to me on that day -and not only to me, but
also to all who have longed for His appearing. ” (2 Tim. 4:8)
But what is this crown of righteousness? It is the crown that gives us righteousness
as a nature and makes us not sin any more.
As an example of this we have those holy angels whose wills
successfully stood their tests, and who did not fall into
corruption with Satan. For this they were crowned with
righteousness and their wills were made sinless. At present we can misuse the freedom granted
to us by God. We can now desire with this freedom to do
what is wrong, and to actually do it. But in eternity, the only
desire we will have will be for God alone, and thus it will be
impossible for us to sin. What is more, the very knowledge of evil
will also fade from our minds entirely and we will enjoy
perfect simplicity and total purity. We will be ‘like God’s angels
in heaven’. Now we have a knowledge of good and evil,
but then we will know only the good.
We will only have knowledge of what is good, and we will love
it and live it and our memories will be completely purified from
all previous knowledge concerning what is evil. Thus we will
be crowned with righteousness. [ 6 ]
WHO ARE THE SERAPHIM? Question
Who are the seraphim and what do they do? Answer:
The word ‘seraphim’ is plural, the singular is ‘seraph’, and this
word is used for a particular kind of angel, all of whom have six
wings, with two of which they cover their faces, with another
two their feet and with the remaining two they fly.
The particular passage in which the Bible refers to the seraphim
is to be found in Isaiah, when the prophet saw these angels
around the throne of God, praising Him and saying; “Holy,
holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His
glory! ” (Is. 6:3). The work of the seraphim is to praise, even
so, when they heard Isaiah cry, “Woe to me!… I am ruined! For
I am a man of unclean lips”, one of the seraphim flew down
“with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs
from the altar”. And he touched Isaiah on the mouth and said:
” Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken
away, And your sin purged ” (Is. 6:7).
There is no mention anywhere in the Bible that any of the
seraphim has ever fallen. The literal meaning of the word ‘ seraphim’
is ‘the burning ones’ or ‘the ones who blaze with fire’. And it
is clear from their name that they symbolise the divine love and love
that never fails. [ 7 ]
JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE Question?
Since the Bible says we are “justified freely by His grace ”
(Rom. 3:24), then salvation must be free. So why do we
associate it with baptism which is an act that has to be
The expression “justified freely” means that we do not have to
pay a price for this justification. This is because “the wages of
sin is death. ” (Rom. 6:23), as it says in the same epistle to the
Romans, and the Lord Christ paid this price for us with His
death, by shedding His blood on the cross. We, therefore, obtain justification without
having to pay the price ourselves, hence it is free.
Baptism, however, is not the price, but the means to this
justification. For example, our Protestant brothers and sisters
say that we are saved through faith. But faith is the means,
and not the price. The price is nothing other than the blood
of Christ; as the Bible says: “without the shedding of blood there
is no forgiveness. ” (Heb. 9:22) and the Lord Christ joined these
two means; faith and baptism, together, when He said: “He who
believes and is baptized will be saved; ” (Mark 16:16)
It is not we who linked salvation with baptism, but the Lord
Christ Himself and also the Holy apostles like St Peter who,
when speaking about Noah’s Ark, said “in it only a few people,
eight in all, were saved through water, and this water
symbolises baptism that now saves you also. ” (1 Pet. 3:20-21)
And St Paul also said: “He saved us, not by works of
righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy
He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and
renewing of the Holy Spirit .”(Titus 3:5) Perhaps you might object, saying: So if I
am not baptised I will perish, and yet Christ died for my sake?
Christ certainly died for you, but you will need to follow the
course which the Lord Himself laid down for your salvation.
For this will be the means by which you gain that salvation
which Christ has offered to you free. In spite of the blood of Christ, is it possible
to be saved, for example, without repentance?
Christ’s blood alone is sufficient for salvation, but there are also
His words: “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all
likewise perish. ” (Luke 13:3 and 5) Repentance isn’t a price
that has to be paid for salvation, but rather an essential means
by which one can receive the justification which was won by the
blood of Christ. Baptism is also an essential and requisite
part of being justified freely through Christ’s blood. The Lord Jesus
Christ Himself said: ” Most assuredly, I say to you, unless
one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom
of God. ” (John 3:5)
And faith, too, is another vital and necessary means whereby
one can obtain that free justification which was won by Christ’s
blood. Thus we have to differentiate between the
price and the means.
The cost of justification was the blood of Christ alone. And
the necessary and vital means whereby we can attain it are
faith, baptism and repentance. St Peter linked these three means together
on the Day of Pentecost after the Jews believed and were
cut to the heart. When they asked him what they should do, St
Peter answered them: ” Repent, and let every one of you be
baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of
sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts
2:38) So here we have the three means: faith in the name of Jesus
Christ, repentance and baptism.
All these are means, but the one and only price paid for
justification was the blood of Christ, and He alone paid
that on our behalf. We obtain this justification for free since
we haven’t paid anything for it. By which I mean that we haven’t
had to give our blood for it.
We gain it through faith, baptism and repentance, the three
means to justification combined. They are simply the means
while the only price paid for justification was Christ’s blood.
It is then that we can enter into good works, which are the fruit
of faith and repentance, and the result of the activity in us of
the Holy Spirit which we have received through the sacrament
of the holy chrism and the renewal and sonship which we were
given at baptism. Speaking of this righteousness, St John said:
” If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone
who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (1 John 2:29).
The Lord Jesus Christ paid a price for your justification, and
that was His blood. And He gave you this for free so that you
wouldn’t have to pay for it ever again. All you need to do is to
follow the course to obtain it which our Lord Himself defined.
In order to explain this to you a bit further, I could say for
instance: Let us suppose that you have a cheque for a very large
amount of money, which you have perhaps acquired freely, as a
result of an inheritance, but which you haven’ yet been to the
bank to collect as money. Obviously you still don’t possess this
sum, even though it is credited to you, because you haven’t yet
been through the procedures for realising it.
I will say it just once more: the price paid for justification was
the blood of Christ-that and nothing else! And we obtain that
justification freely, by way of faith, baptism and repentance.
[ 8 ] CONCERNING THE JEWISH RELIGION
Question Some people say that Judaism is a worldly,
materialistic religion. What is your view on this assertion,
and if it is true, has Christianity rectified the materialism
of Judaism? Answer:
Since Judaism is a heavenly religion, we can’t describe it as being
materialistic. And since the doctrines of Judaism were inspired by
God in the Bible, that is in the Torah, we cannot describe God’s
commandments as being materialistic, otherwise we would be
making an accusation against God Himself, and not only against
God but against the great prophet Moses, who was the first to give
mankind a divine written law. Could we ever accuse Moses of
leading the people towards materialism? The exalted nature of the teachings of Judaism
could provide scope for many books, and we might be able to produce
something of this later on. We also ought not to forget that
much of what is said in the Books of the Old Testament Cannot be correctly
understood without a knowledge of its symbols.
Someof those who criticise Jewish teachings, have not yet
understood them properly. To describe the Judaism as it is practised
by the Jews as being materialistic is one thing, but to describe
the Jewish religion in those same terms is something else entirely
which could have serious consequences. For the Jews, after
all, are human beings, they can make mistakes and go astray like
anyone else. But the Jewish religion is from God: anything that
does it an injustice is doing an injustice towards God who created
it and also towards the mighty Moses through whom it came to man from
God. It would also be to wrong the Torah which is an integral
part of Judaism, and which God revealed as guidance and a light
for His people. It wouldn’t make sense if God were to send a
prophet with a religion that would lead the people to materialism,
would it? The commandment to pay tithes in Judaism is
totally opposed to materialism.
Judaism instructs that a tenth of all one’s possessions should be
paid to the Lord, a tenth of everything, “whether grain from the
soil or fruit from the trees, ” and a tenth “of the herd and flock. ”
(Lev. 2 7:30,32) ” You shall truly tithe all the increase of your
grain that the field produces year by year.” (Deut. 14:22) And
they also had to give their wheat. (Deut. 12:17)
In addition to the tithes, Judaism also enjoined the payment of
the first fruits. And what was meant by that, was the first
of any form of produce, whether it was human offspring or a crop from
the earth, or produce from the trees or from the flocks
of sheep or cattle. The Lord said: ” Consecrate to Me all the
firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel,
both of man and beast; it is Mine. ” (Ex. 13:2)
So the first of anything born from livestock, from the flocks and
herds belonged to the Lord, and the firstborn males from among the
people were to be presented to serve the Lord, until the Levite tribe
replaced these firstborn males. The Jewish law also said “The first of the
first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the LORD
your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
(Ex. 23:19), and ” bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your
harvest to the priest.” (Lev.23:10). It also told the people to bring
to the priests the first fruits of their grain, new wine and oil, and
the first wool from the shearing of their sheep (Deut. 18:4). The
people were also asked to present a cake from the first of their ground
meal, as an offering from the threshing floor. (Num. 15:20). This
day of the first fruits was held as a holy festival.
As far as fruit trees were concerned, for the first three years their
fruit was to be considered forbidden, and the fourth year’s fruit was
all to be given to the Lord (Lev. 19:24). Its owner could only eat of
its produce the following year. Would this remarkable offering be characteristic
of a materialistic religion?
There were also the vows and free will offerings which people
gave. (Deut. 12:17). One of the humanitarian aspects of the Jewish
holy law is to be found in the Lord’s instruction: ” When you reap
the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your
field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your
harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I
am the LORD your God. ” (Lev. 23:22). So the poor would be able to
gather something to sustain them from behind the harvester.
Another of the humanitarian points of the Jewish law which shows
that it was anti-materialistic was the freeing of slaves.
In the time of Moses and before, there was slavery, but the Jewish law
commanded that they release in the seventh year any slave whom they
had bought with their own money, who had served them for six years.
(Deut. 15:12) Another anti-materialistic feature of Judaism
was the presentation of sacrifices and burnt offerings.
These were all aimed to please the Lord and to obtain forgiveness, and
to atone for one’s sin. These are all described in detail in the Book of
Leviticus. In some of the sacrifices, like the burnt
offerings and the various sin offerings, the person presenting them was
not allowed to take anything from them at all. One could not call this
a materialistic concept for in fact it was a very spiritual one, involving
being sorry for one’s sins and offering repentance for them and sacrificing
something material in order to atone for them – and all these things
that were offered had their spiritual symbols.
Yet another anti-materialistic aspect of Judaism were the many
religious celebrations, both weekly and yearly, which were holy
days, that is,. days regarded as holy to the Lord, upon which the
people did not work. The Ten Commandments included the command
to keep the Sabbath holy: ” the seventh day is the Sabbath of
the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor
your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant,
nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger
who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female
servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a
slave in the land of Egypt,… ” (Deut. 5:14)
Besides this there were more than twenty days of sacred holidays and
festivals on which no activity was allowed unless it was spiritual, as
we are told in Leviticus (chapter 23). If Judaism were materialistic, it wouldn’t
have designated some 73 days a year as holy days, that is exactly
a fifth of a year – on which no work was to be done.
As far as their rules of prayer, hymns and holy readings were
concerned: There were seven daily prayers (Ps. 119:164),
apart from the night prayers and the approaching of the House of
God, which was done with singing and psalms, referred to as the
Songs or Psalms of Ascents. The Torah was divided into a regular
system of readings in the synagogues, so that all the people could
hear it. The spirituality contained in the teachings
of Judaism, however, is a long subject which we do not have time to
go into here. [ 9 ]
PRAYING FOR THE DECEASED Question
Can a Christian who dies in a state of sin enter the
kingdom of heaven? I don’t see how he can. So what is the
use of praying for someone who has died when we don’t
know whether he has died in a state of sin or repentance?
Answer: We don’t have to pray for someone who has
died whilst sinning. Prayer will not benefit him, and our master
St John said: “There is sin leading to death. I do not say
that he should pray about that.” (1 John 5:16).
If a thief climbs up the walls of a house in order to burgle it, and
falls down and dies in the process, the Church would not pray
for him. And if drug smugglers get into a fight with the police
and get killed during this fight, the Church does not pray for
them either. And if a person who has an intelligent mind and
commits suicide, the Church does not pray for him.
Therefore, if the Church can be sure that the person has
died whilst in the act of committing a sin, it doesn’t pray
for him. But in other cases, it would certainly pray
for someone who had died, so that he could at least depart
from the world having been absolved by the Church, so that
he is no longer bound in any way. That person is then left
to the mercy of the One who searches men’s hearts and the
One who knows all secrets.
It is as if the Church is saying to God: this person has been
released from our side by the authority to loose and bind which
You gave to us (Matt. 18:18; John 20:23), and so we leave him
now to Your mercy and to Your knowledge which is beyond
ours. The Church also prays on behalf of the one
who is passing on, for him to be forgiven any sins which
he may have committed which weren’t of the degree that
leads to death, according to the instruction of the apostle.
As an example of this St. John said: ” If anyone sees his brother
sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He
will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to
death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should
pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not
leading to death. ” (1 John 5:16-17) So what are these sins that do not lead to
death? They are uncompleted sins, sins that have
not been fully carried out. They may be sins of ignorance,
sins committed unintentionally, or sins that are latent,
or sins of negligence, for example.
We pray in the Trisagion saying: [Forgive, absolve and pardon us, O God, for
the wrongs we have done intentionally, those we have done
knowingly, and those we have done unknowingly, the secret
and the open.] But unintentional sins, sins of ignorance
and unseen sins are nevertheless still sins (because they violate
God’s commandments and require forgiveness and prayer).
In the Old Testament, we see that even in the case of sins
committed unintentionally without knowing, as soon as one
became aware, one had to offer a sacrifice so that they might be
forgiven. (Lev. 4:2,13,22-23). The Church prays that the Lord would forgive
any of these sins of ignorance or of negligence, or any
sins committed unintentionally and unknowingly, which those
who have passed over might have committed.
The Reciter says in the psalm: “Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults. ” (Ps. 19:12) It is for these
hidden faults which the person is not aware of having, that the
Church asks forgiveness on his behalf. Let us suppose that a person has died suddenly
without having had a chance to confess, or that he has forgotten
to confess some sins, and therefore hasn’t received an
absolution for them. The Church can give him absolution and asks
forgiveness for him, in the Prayer for the Departed.
The Church, therefore, prays for the sake of the departed
out of a kind of compassion, because no-one is without sin,
even if his life on earth lasts only one day (and this is a
phrase which comes in part of the Prayer for the Departed).
David said: “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord who
could stand? But with You there is forgiveness… ” (Ps. 129:3-
4) And he also said: ” Do not enter into judgment with Your
servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous. ” (Ps.
143:2) So if this is the situation, that there is no servant without
a fault, and no master who is not forgiving, we pray for those
who have passed away [Being human beings who put on the
body and lived in the world]. We pray for everyone in this state, since
only God is good. We ask for forgiveness and then leave the
matter to God, always knowing that any human being might
perhaps have repented even if it was at the hour of his
death. But for those who have died in the act of
committing a deliberate sin, without having repented, we
do not pray, since our prayers in these circumstances would be
going against God’s goodness and justice.
[ 10 ] IS THERE AN ETERNITY FOR THE
WICKED AND FOR SATAN? Question
I have heard that eternity is an attribute of God alone, and
that there isn’t any eternal life for the wicked. For if there
were an eternal life for evil, for the wicked and for the
Devil, it would mean that Satan would then become a god,
and people could then claim that two gods existed: a God of
Good and a god of Evil! What is the opinion of the Church
on this matter? Answer:
It is the attribute of infinity, not just eternity (or having an
existence after death), which belongs to God alone.
God is infinite, which means that He had no beginning. No
other being has this quality, for all other beings have been
created. Consequently they had a beginning at some point, and
had no existence before that beginning. They are, therefore,
necessarily finite, because at some point they did not exist. And
since they were created they cannot be infinite. Eternity in the form of eternal life, however,
is something which God has given to some of His creatures.
God created human beings with an immortal soul, both the
righteous and the wicked are alike in this respect.
This potential for immortality doesn’t mean that human beings
are gods, they are still human beings, in spite of the fact that
God has bestowed on them eternal life. If eternal life were one
of God’s attributes alone, it would be impossible for a human
being to live on after death and enjoy eternal life, because a
human being cannot turn himself into a god. Existence in an afterlife is for both the
righteous and the wicked, but they will differ in their fate,
as the Bible tells us concerning the Day of Judgement: “Then they
(ie. the wicked) will go away to eternal punishment, but the
righteous to eternal life. ” (Matt. 26:46)
If we did not believe in this eternal existence for the wicked, we
would on one hand be contradicting the Bible, and on the other
we would be becoming like the Seventh Day Adventists who
believe that the punishment of the wicked is non existence and
annihilation. This painful eternity is also for Satan and
his angels. The Bible says that on the Day of Judgement
the Lord, “will say to those on His left, ” ‘Depart from Me, you
cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and
his angels ” (Matt. 25:41)
And the Book of Revelation says about Satan’s punishment..
“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and
brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they
will be tormented day and night forever and ever. ” (Rev.
20:10) The phrases ‘for-ever and ever’ and ‘eternal
fire’ mean that Satan and the wicked will live for-ever, but in
torment. Those who belong to the Jehovah’s Witnesses
and the Seventh Day Adventists, however, deny this.
[ 11 ] DID GOD NEED CHRIST IN ORDER TO
CREATE AND TO SAVE MANKIND? Question
I heard a critic suggesting that, when He was creating the
world, God needed Christ, so that the creation could take
place, and that it says: “Through Him (ie. Jesus Christ,
being the Word) All things were made through Him, and
without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:3).
Did God need Jesus Christ when it came to saving the
world? And if this is so, does it not mean that God is not
If God had needed anyone else to do these things, He could
hardly be considered Almighty!! But He is far beyond needing anyone else.
In the creation, everything was created at God’s word, through
the Word or Logos, who is God’s mental power speaking for
Him, or the speech of God expressing His Wisdom. All this
was so, long before the incarnation, and before the creation of
Adam and Eve and the entire world. Since God was able to create everything through
His own intellect or wisdom, or by His, word, He could not have
needed to create anyone else in order to help Him.
The phrase ‘God created the world’ or ‘the intellect of God created
the world’ or ‘God created the world through His intellect’, all point
to one and the same meaning. God and His mind are one being,
and the same goes for salvation. It is God who has saved the world, without
needing anyone else’s help to do so.
If someone other than God had saved the world, salvation would
not be boundless enough to redeem all people in every age from all
their sins. The real problem, though, for the person who
makes this criticism is the incarnation.
The incarnation is a long subject, which we don’t have time for
here. In any case, it is not a matter for criticism.
That critic whom you mentioned, is trying to make out that God
needed someone else to help in His plans, and that needing
someone else would suggest that God was not Almighty. The
answer to this, however, is that God never needed anyone else,
either when it came to the creation, or the salvation of mankind. It
is God who created everything, and He who redeemed all.
[ 12 ] THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE APOSTLES
WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT Question
Were all the Apostles supported by the Holy Spirit? And
on this basis did the Lord Christ have the same relationship
with the Holy Spirit as the apostles had? Answer:
The apostles had a relationship with the Holy Spirit because the
Holy Spirit – according to the Creed – was the One who ‘spoke
through the prophets’. But the relationship that the Lord Christ
had with the Holy Spirit was hypostatic and quite distinct from
that of the apostles or anyone else with the Spirit. This is because
Christ’s relationship with the Holy Spirit is eternal,
and is based on equality.
Christ’s relationship with the Holy Spirit existed before the
creation of the world, before all ages, before time and from
infinity, while none of the apostles had this same kind of
relationship. Christ abides in the Holy Spirit, and the
Holy Spirit abides in Him, and both are ever-present in their mutual
essence. They are of the same nature. This is the point
on which Christ differed from all others in His relationship
with the Holy Spirit. Then again it was Christ who sent the Holy
Spirit to the holy disciples, so that it came upon them on the
day of Pentecost, and gave them the gift of speaking in tongues.
None of the apostles could ever have said that he had
sent the Holy Spirit. [ 13 ]
HOW CAN I TELL WHICH LEAFLETS ARE ORTHODOX AND WHICH ARE NOT?
Question I recently received some leaflets containing
various spiritual words and religious teaching, which were mostly
to do with redemption and salvation. How can I tell if
these leaflets are genuinely Orthodox, especially in view
of the fact that some of them say that they have been published
by this or that ‘Orthodox ‘ association or society?
Answer: Just having the word ‘Orthodox’ attached to
that society or association is not enough.
Many people conceal their own teachings behind the word
‘orthodox’. Some people claim that they and their work are
Orthodox, but because these people have been reading too
many books that are not on Orthodox Christianity. And
because these people attend non-Orthodox meetings and
societies, and have formed close friendships with the nonOrthodox ideas which do not at
all accord with the belief and faith of the Church. These ideas have entered
their minds and shaped their opinions. Yet even so, they go
ahead and publish these ideas.
So how can you tell the difference? Actually you can tell by the
language, for what is genuinely Orthodox writing shows itself
clearly in the language. According to what I have seen, of some
of these pamphlets, I could say to you that in general:
Leaflets that are not truly Orthodox very often avoid
mentioning the Church, the Sacraments and the
priesthood, in whatever teaching they are trying to explain.
So for instance when writing about the forgiveness of sins, or
repentance, or salvation or eternity, these kinds of publications
just concentrate on the relationship between the individual and
God, without bringing into it the activity of Church, the
sacraments and the priesthood. Frequently what they are saying unfolds in
the following sequence of argument, for example they stress
the importance of eternity, your need for salvation, that
God loves you and that He alone can save you, therefore you must
take refuge in God, open your heart to Him and receive Him as
your Saviour etc. All this they expound without any mention
of confession, receiving the Holy Communion, or the role
of the Church. Another observation which can be made is that
these pamphlets for the most part talk to the readers
as if those readers were doomed to destruction, as if
they had not yet received redemption, and they talk to them
about the blood of Christ, as if those readers had not so
far gained its effectiveness in their lives.
And the final irony is that these unorthodox groups distribute
their leaflets at the doors of churches while those within these
churches have already experienced atonement for their sins
through Christ’s blood, on the day that they were baptised.
[ 14 ] CONCERNING THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST
Question Are there any verses in the Bible that clearly
state Christ’s divinity? I would appreciate it if you could
mention some of them.
Answer: Yes, of course. There are many verses, among
which we could cite:
( The words of St Paul concerning the Jews: “Theirs are the
patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ,
who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen “. (Rom. 9:5)
( The beginning of John’s gospel states it plainly too, when it
says: ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God. ” (John 1:1) And in the same
chapter, John attributes the creation of everything to Christ, saying
” All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing
was made that was made.” (John 1:3). ( ( And Paul says, concerning the divinity of
the Lord and His incarnation: “Beyond all question, the mystery
of godliness is great: He appeared in a body. ” (1 Tim. 3:16).
( On this act of redemption which Christ performed, as God,
Paul says to the people of Ephesus: ” Therefore take heed to
yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has
made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He
purchased with His own blood. ” (Acts 20:28) Obviously it
wouldn’t have been possible for God to have ‘bought’ the Church by
His blood, if He had not taken on a bodily form, and shed His
blood on the cross. St Thomas acknowledged Christ’s divine nature
when he put his finger into Christ’s wounds after the Resurrection,
and said to Him: “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28)
The Lord Christ accepted from Thomas this believing in His
divinity and scolded him for his doubts: “Because you have seen
Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and
yet have believed” (John 20:29). Even the Lord’s name was announced by an angel,
as the Bible tells us: ” and they shall call His name Immanuel,”
which is translated, “God with us.”” (Matt. 1:23)
This was fulfilment of the word of the prophet Isaiah that the Lord
Himself would give us a sign: “The Virgin shall conceive and bear
a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. ” (Is. 7:14). God
himself became a sign to the people through His birth by the Virgin
Mary. There are in fact many verses which attribute
God’s qualities to Christ.
[ 15 ] IS THERE LIFE ON THE OTHER
Scientists are interested in the question of whether there is
life on the other planets. What would Christ’s attitude to
this subject be? And if science later confirms the existence
of another form of life, would this have an effect on
Religion has left this subject without raising any arguments
either for or against it. It makes no difference either way
whether it is proved that there is life on the other planets or
there isn’t. If there is, it will have no effect on religion at
all. The Bible was not intended to be a book on
the solar system, or a book of science, but the good news about
salvation. It relates the story of salvation and all the history,
commandments and theology connected with it.
As far as the stars are concerned, whatever might be on them
has no connection with our salvation, it is enough that they give
light to us at night, like a blessing from God to us. God likened
His righteous saints to the stars, saying that they will shine like
the lights in heaven. Even if life were found on the other planets
or the stars, there is nothing in the Bible that would be opposed
to this, and vice versa.
[ 16 ] REPLYING TO A QUESTION WITH
A VERSE Question
In the Seventh Day Adventists’ book, ‘God Speaks’, there
are questions on faith and belief, and each question is
answered with a verse supporting it from the Bible.
Also, some leaflets which have come my way, have put
forward certain teachings which the Church rejects, but
which are backed up by verses from the gospels all the
same. And because of this they claim that the teaching is
the Gospel and Bible truth. Why should we not believe what they say, since
they confirm their doctrine with verses from the
One verse from the Bible isn’t sufficient and cannot be held
to convey the total Biblical truth on a particular matter.
This can only be gathered from collecting together all the
verses which pertain to that subject. I shall give you some examples to prove this
point: 1. Let us suppose that a person asks you about
being born of God, and how can man be born of God, and you
put before him the following verse: ” If you know that He is
righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born
of Him. ” (1 John 2:29).
Is it possible by this verse alone to convey the whole Biblical
teaching on this point, just by giving this brief statement that man is
born of God through doing good works, without any mention of
faith or baptism? No, of course not. And all Christian denominations
would say the same.
Alternatively, we could convey rather more of the Biblical truth on
the subject of being born of God, by putting beside this verse the
other verses which are also concerned with it, such as:
“I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless
he is born of water and the Spirit. ” (John 3:5)
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the
Holy Spirit. ” (Titus 3:5) “He chose to give us birth through the word
of truth. “(James 1:18)
2. Let’s suppose someone asked you what was the religion
that was acceptable to God. Would you only put before him
these words of James: ” Pure and undefiled religion before God
and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their
trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world “.(James
1:27). Can this be regarded as the whole biblical
truth on this matter, when no mention is made in this verse of the
need for faith? The other denominations wouldn’t accept this!
So let us provide for your questioner those other verses which together
convey the full meaning of this point, which can then, when
taken together, be regarded as biblical truth.
3 Again, let’s imagine that a person asks you how a sinner
can pass from death to eternal life. Would you reply to him simply
be giving these words of John: “We know that we have passed from
death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love
his brother abides in death.” (1 John 3:14). Is this all that the Bible has to say on this
matter, leaving out any mention of atonement, redemption and the blood
of Christ, or of repentance and baptism?
No-one should accept this verse just by itself. We have to put
beside it those other verses which concern this subject, such as:
“God.. made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in
transgressions. ” (Eph. 2:5) “When you were dead in your sins.. God made
you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having
cancelled the written code, with its regulations that was against
us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. ” (Col. 2:13-14).
4. The same goes for the question of salvation, if you were to
ask: ‘How can I be saved?’ The verse which says: ” Take heed to
yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this
you will save both yourself and those who hear you. ” (1 Tim.
4:16), might be put before you. But is what it says in this verse alone enough
for salvation, without faith and without baptism? And we could say
the same for the verse: ” if you confess with your mouth the
Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from
the dead, you will be saved. ” Rom. 10:9)
Why not add these following verses: “Whoever believes and is baptised will be
saved. ” (Mark 16:16) “.. in the days of Noah while the ark was
being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through
water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also
(1 Pet. 3:20-21) By doing this, the whole biblical truth will
be conveyed. This question is one that constantly bewilders
me, and I haven’t yet found an answer to it:
Why don’t those who call for the gospel teaching and who claim to
defend biblical truth, state these verses which bring out the full
meaning, in addition to those other ones? Aren’t they all from the
gospel and the Bible after all, I ask?! [ 17 ]
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT Question
I read in a book about Pentecost, that on the day of
Pentecost, ‘there was an invisible union between divine
nature and human nature’ and that, ‘the divine nature was
none other than the mystical body of Christ which
preceded Christ and which He indicated was to be taken
and eaten in order that we could be united with Him and
abide in Him’. What is your opinion on this supposed union
with the divine nature? And what do you think of the
following phrases, which I also read in that book: ‘we
are, therefore, like a burning bush’, and ‘the purpose of
the divine incarnation was completed on the day of Pentecost’,
and ‘the Church possesses all that was Christ’s’?
Answer: The Lord Christ is the only one who has a
unity of the divine nature and the human nature. If this same
union of the divine nature with the human were to happen to all
believers, then what difference would there be between any
human being and Christ?
There are two ways of attacking Christ’s divinity: one is by
belittling the importance of Christ and reducing Him to the level
of ordinary human beings, as the Arians did, and the other is by
raising people to the same level as Christ, which is referred to as
defying the human being, in the kind of way that you have
described in your question. In both cases the outcome is the same: that
Christ and human beings are placed on the same footing.
The Church cannot possess all that was Christ’s, because the
word ‘all’ would have to mean His divinity too. Christ gave the
Church His love, but He did not, and does not, give His glory to
another. Theological terms always need to be used very
precisely. And what is this about a human being changed
into a ‘burning bush’? If that were to happen then the prophets
would have to stand humbly before him to listen to the voice
of God, just as Moses did (Ex. 3)! Human beings were not changed
on the day of Pentecost into gods, and the divine incarnation
which was Christ’s alone, did not happen to them either.
As far as the phrase ‘the divine nature was none other than the
mystical body of Christ’, is concerned, these are either the
words of Eutyches, in which the dimension of Christ’s humanity
is lost, or they are supposed to mean that the divine nature was
the same as the human, in which case there could be no divinity!
So what is this mystical body of Christ? Is it supposed to mean
the Church? The Church cannot be the divine nature. Nor
can the Church be the body of Christ, which He instructed to
be taken and eaten in the Eucharist. In the divine Mass we do not
eat the Church! There is a confusion here between the body
which Christ took from the Virgin Mary, and the Church when
it is referred to as the ‘body’ of Christ.
Is this body, the body which in the sacrament of the Eucharist
the Lord instructed us to take and eat? If this were so, this
body could not be the divine nature, otherwise we would be
going back to the ideas of Eutyches! We say in the Liturgy,
“This is the life-giving body which Your Only Son received
from our lady and Queen of us all the pure St Mary.. and He
made it one with His divinity.” Here too, an important question stands out,
which is: were the words spoken on the day of Pentecost about
the third person of the Holy Trinity (ie. the Holy Spirit), or
the second, namely the Son, who was incarnated for our sake, and
who said: “Take, eat, this is My body”? And what has the sacrament
of the Eucharist got to do with the day of Pentecost
on which the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire?
In your question there still remain some points which need to be
explained: a) Was what happened on the day of Pentecost,
a descent or a union? The Bible speaks unequivocally
about the descent of the Holy Spirit. And the Lord Jesus Christ
said: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on
you. ” (Acts 1:8) b) Was the burning bush a symbol of the divine
incarnation, or was it a symbol of the day of Pentecost?
And was the nature, purpose and results of what happened
in the divine incarnation, what the disciples experienced
on the day of Pentecost, such that one could say that the
purpose behind the divine incarnation had reached its peak on
the day of Pentecost? c) And did the third Person of the Holy Trinity
become incarnated in mankind on the day of Pentecost,
by descending upon those present, or uniting with them,
according to what you have read?
[ 18 ] WAS THE HOLY SPIRIT THE ANGEL
I heard someone say that the Holy Spirit was the angel
Gabriel. Is this true? And some people say that it is the
spirit of a prophet. Could this be true? Answer:
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, not the spirit of an angel or
prophet. For if it were that of an angel or prophet, it would be
restricted, whereas the Holy Spirit, according to what the
gospel tells us is unbounded. If the Holy Spirit descends upon all believers,
as the Bible says: ” Or do you not know that your body is the
temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God,
and you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6.19), would it be reasonable
to suppose that an angel or prophet could descend on
all believing humans in their hundreds and thousands?
In the Bible it also says, concerning the martyrs: ” “But when
they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you
should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you
should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your
Father who speaks in you. ” (Matt. 10:19-20) Would it have been possible for an angel or
prophet to speak through the mouths of the thousands of martyrs
at the beginning of the Christian era, who bore witness to
Christ in so many different and far-flung places at the same
time? Referring to the Holy Spirit, the Lord Christ
said: “the Father … will give you another Helper, that He
may abide with you forever; the Spirit of truth, whom the world
cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him;
but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
(John 14:16-17) Obviously these words could not have been
referring to a prophet, because a prophet could not be with
men for ever, and also because people would have been able to
see him and recognise him. Likewise it could not be meant
to apply to an angel, because an angel could not stay with
all believers for ever and ever, because he is not boundless.
The Bible goes on to say: “But you know Him, for He dwells
with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) So who could this
‘angel’ or ‘prophet’ be who stays with all people and is in them
for ever? The Lord Jesus Christ was the Good Teacher,
who brought the true teaching to mankind, and opened men’s
hearts and minds to the highest principles of all, so that
they were amazed at His teaching.
As far as Adam was concerned, the Bible does not record that
there was any teaching or spiritual guidance for his generation,
or even for his kinsfolk, for Adam gave in to his wife’s mistaken
direction. Christ has always been the head. It was Christ who redeemed Adam and his sons,
and freed them from the penalty of sin, who died for them
and their descendants, and who bought them with His
blood. So Christ was the Redeemer, and Adam and his
sons, the redeemed.
All this is seen from the human point of view, but from the
theological standpoint the matter is too extensive to be written
about in a brief answer to a question like this, which is just one
of many being answered. [ 19 ]
WHY ARE THERE SEVEN MYSTERIES OR (SACRAMENTS)?
Question The word secret, mystery or sacrament occurs
a number of times in the Bible, as when for example the
apostle Paul says: “Beyond all question, the mystery of
godliness is great: He appeared in a body” (1 Tim. 3:16), and
“the mystery of the gospel. ” (Eph. 6:19) and “the secret Power
of lawlessness. ” (2 Thess. 2:7) and so on. Why are there Seven
The word “sacrament” or mystery when used in the
Church is not used just in the way that the dictionary
defines it, but is a technical term with a specific meaning of
its own. Each of the Church’s mysteries or sacraments
consists of a mysterious divine blessing which you cannot
see, but which you receive in secret from the Holy Spirit through
the prayers which a legitimate priest offers up in a special
ritual, along With the presence of a specific substance,
which is the material of the sacrament or mystery.
It is not a mystery or sacrament in the sense of being something
recognisable, such as when the Bible says: “the mystery of the
seven stars” (Rev. 1:20) A sacrament is conditional upon four elements
which are: sacramental grace, a priest, prayers and ritual
and the substance of the sacrament.
In baptism, for example, there exists something mysterious that is
unseen, which is the new birth through water and the Spirit (John
3:5). Or you might say that in baptism you are being “clothed..
with Christ. ” (Gal. 3:27), or that you “wash your sins away”
(Acts 22:16) or that you are buried with Christ and die with Him
(Rom. 6). These heavenly blessings are a mysterious
action which the Holy Spirit performs in the human being, through
the priest’s special prayers, and a special ritual which involves
the one being baptised, being submerged in water three times. So here,
then, the substance of the mystery is the water.
The mysterious blessing in the Chrism (the Myron) is the descent
of the Holy Spirit, and in the sacrament of confession it is the
wiping away of sins by the blood of Christ, and in the Eucharist it is
the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of the
Lord, while in marriage it is the joining together of the two into one
etc. None of these blessings can be seen by the
human eye, therefore they are a mystery.
They are things that cannot be distinguished by intellectual
knowledge, like mysteries pertaining to ultimately knowable facts,
data, learning or information, but are spiritual elements to do with
faith which go beyond what can be expressed in words.
The Church has defined these mysterious blessings to be seven in
number, and has prescribed special prayers for them and the rituals
which they require. There are, of course, other prayers and rituals
which are not to do with the sacraments, such as the prayer for
the departed, which isn’t a sacrament but just simply a prayer, a request,
in which the Church asks for compassion for the souls of
those passing on. And here “The knowledge of the secrets of
the kingdom of heaven. ” (Matt. 13:11), which are boundless, we now
see as but “a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12),
but God will bring them to our knowledge in due time. These are not,
however, part of the mysterious gifts which the believer receives
on earth, and which the Church is engaged in giving to him by virtue
of the authority granted to it by God.
So there is no need for anyone to confuse one kind of mystery with
another. Mysteries to do with things that are knowable,
are quite different from mysteries in the sense of the
sacraments which pertain to heavenly grace.
[ 20 ] ARE THE SACRAMENTS NECESSARY FOR
ALL PEOPLE? Question
Are the Church’s Seven Sacraments necessary for all
Baptism is necessary for everyone because, ” He who believes
and is baptised will be saved ” (Mark 16:16), and without it noone can enter the kingdom
of heaven (John 3:5). The bestowing of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament
of the holy anointing is necessary for all. And the Church
has been doing this for all believers since the time of the
apostles (Acts 8). Similarly, the sacrament of repentance is
necessary for all people, because nobody is without sin.
Also the Eucharist is an essential sacrament for everyone, since
the Lord says: “unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink His blood, you have no life in you. ” (John 6:53)
The sacrament of the priesthood also has a bearing on all
people. It does not only apply to those who are ordained as
priests, but is relevant to all believers in that they receive the
blessings of all the seven sacraments by way of the priest, whom
we call the ‘servant of the mysteries’. We could talk about the sacrament of marriage
for example, though it is clear that some people do not
need this sacrament themselves, since they live without partners.
Nevertheless, even those who are celibate are the fruit of the
union of man and woman.
So the sacrament of marriage and that of priesthood, although
not practised by all people, are notwithstanding of benefit to all,
and they are essential to the Church as a whole.
The sacrament of anointing the sick is necessary for the sick
only, and if a person never receives it, perhaps because he has
never needed it, this obviously will not affect his salvation.
[ 21 ] IS THE SACRAMENT STILL THE SAME
WHEN A SHORTENED SERVICE IS USED? Question
Sometimes we attend a long Mass and sometimes a shorter
version, and it seems that baptism can take an hour or just
a few minutes. Is the sacrament still being performed
properly even though the ceremony is shorter? Answer:
As far as baptism is concerned, it consists of two parts. The
first of which is the blessing of the baptismal water, which is a
long ceremony, and can take an hour to perform. The second
part, is the actual baptism of the child or adult, which may take
only a few minutes. What happens is that the priest might pray
over the water very early on, before the arrival of those in the
baptism party, so because they have not attended this part of
the ritual they might think that the baptism has just taken a few
minutes to perform, whereas if they had been present from the
very beginning, it would have taken more than an hour. Therefore
what you imagined to be shorter version of the ceremony
was in fact a part of the full-length baptism ritual.
As far as the Mass is concerned, though, there are prayers
which are fundamental to the consecration of the Host, such as
the signing with the cross, Christ’s covenant with us, the
invocation of the Holy Spirit, the division and distribution, and
the final confession. But the intercessions, for instance, and the
commemoration of the saints, the sermon and the various
readings are not connected with the actual consecration of the
sacrament, but are nevertheless recited as part of the liturgy of
the Mass, which is after all the holiest of the services in the
Church. In the time of the martyrs, during the persecution
of the Church, the Mass was abridged without any damage being
done to the sacrament. Also one can shorten it by abbreviating
or eliminating some of the chants, for the music
isn’t part of the consecration of the sacrament but serves to
deepen the spirit of prayer. So don’t be apprehensive or suspicious
about the validity of the shorter Mass, because the
sacrament is still being fully carried out.
[ 22 ] THE POINT OF TRANSUBSTANTIATION IN
THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST Question
When do the bread and wine change into the body and
blood of the Lord in the Sacrament of the Eucharist?
I have read one of the Fathers who said that the
transformation of the bread and wine takes place in the
Eucharist when the sign of the cross is first made over them
at the offering of the Host, and that this is what has
happened since early times. Answer:
The transubstantiation of the holy mysteries takes place
when the Holy Spirit descends, and not before. And the descent of the Holy Spirit takes place
just before the Intercessions and the commemoration of the
saints. So the priest prays in secret saying: “Let Your Holy
Spirit descend upon us and upon these sacrifices placed here.
Purify them and transform them and make them to appear holy
to your saints “. Then he makes the sign of the cross over the
bread three times and calls aloud: ‘He makes this bread His holy
body’. Then he makes the sign of the cross three times over the
chalice and, calls aloud: ‘.. and this cup too, He makes the honoured blood
of the New Testament…’ and the people say ‘Amen’ after
both of these. This proves that no transformation takes place
during the offering of the Host.
For if the mysteries were transformed before this point, the
priest would not call for the Holy Spirit to descend to change
them. We also observe that after the descent of
the Holy Spirit to transform the sacraments, the priest does
not make the sign of the cross, and does not look behind him.
Before that – after the offering of the Host and the signing of the
cross – the priest makes the sign of the cross over the people, and
the bread and wine. However, after its transubstantiation, when the
Holy Spirit has descended, he does not make the sign of the cross
over the people any more, not even when he says, ‘Peace be with
you all’. In fact he just bows his head without signing the cross.
Nor does he sign the cross over the chalice or the offertory
paten (tray), but makes the sign of the cross with each of the
sacraments in turn, after their transubstantiation, over the
other one. This means that the blood is crossed by the
body, and the body by the blood, but the priest doesn’t do it with
his hand or finger at all. He does not turn round to face the people
at all when he blesses them but instead focuses his concentration
on the holy mysteries, without turning away from them.
From this one can see that to say that the mysteries are transformed
directly after the offering of the Host during the first signing of the
cross, is inaccurate. If it were so, then it would mean that the
mysteries are sanctified and transformed, during the part of the
Mass that is attended by the catechumens for those are not allowed
to attend the whole Mass. But we observe that in the early days of the
Church, the catechumens used to attend the offering of
the Host and the reading of the epistles and the gospel and the sermon,
and would then depart. And the deacon, before the raising
of the holy veil concealing the sacraments, meaning before
the Holy Mass was begun, would say: ‘Let no-one who is unconfirmed
or who is an unbeliever stand here, but let only those
believers stay who are worthy to attend the divine Mass’. (See the
canons of the apostles and those of Apolides.)
Studying the history of the Church’s ceremonies calls for a
knowledge of theology of the rituals involved and also their
spirituality. Since history does not conflict with theology,
we can see that it cannot be said that in the past, the holy
mysteries used to be transformed from the bread and wine into the
body and blood of the Lord, before the descent of the Holy Spirit
upon them and the prayers of the priest invoking this descent.
[ 23 ] ABOUT THE PRAYER OF “THE UNCTION
OF THE SICK” BEING SAID IN HOMES Question
Is it proper for the Prayer of the “Unction of the Sick ” to
he said in homes during a fast, even if there isn’t someone
ill there? For it has been noticed that the Church Fathers
and many individuals from among the congregation have
been used to doing this, is it right to continue this
practice or should it be abolished?
Answer: The Prayer of the “Unction of the Sick ” known
by the name “The Lamp Prayer” is essentially, and
above all, a prayer on behalf of the sick, and their anointing
with oil, but it also has many benefits.
1. It is an opportunity for meeting together in the home,
and of blessing the home by prayer, and of raising up incense.
It is a chance for the Father Priest to visit and read the
Absolution, and pray for all those in the home. All these
benefits are in any case irrespective of the kind of prayer that is
said and its purpose. 2. The Prayer of the “Unction of the Sick”
includes many other prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer,
the Thanksgiving, the Trisagion and the Kyries, along with a number
of other prayers asking for God’s mercy, all of which are beneficial.
3. The Prayer of the “Unction of the Sick ” comprises all
the main intercessions which are offered to God with the raising
of the incense, including those for the sick and the departed for
the travellers and for those who are awaiting baptism and
confirmation, as well as prayers for the Church, for its meetings,
for those who offer its sacrifices, and the heads of state etc. So
everyone who attends this finds his situation is included in it
somewhere. 4. The Prayer of the “Unction of the Sick”
also contains prayers calling for individual repentance
and asking for God’s mercies. And we ask Him to accept us just
as He accepted the woman who was a sinner, and Zacchaeus the
tax collector, and to pardon us just as He forgave the debtor.
Anyone, even if he is in perfect health, will undoubtedly benefit
from these humbling, contrite prayers, and will be led
to repentance through them, if he follows them with an open
heart. 5. It also includes the reading of at least
seven chapters from the gospels, chosen for their particular
wisdom. And simply listening to the Bible being read aloud
in the home a number of times is something beneficial.
6. Let us not forget the holy rituals in these prayers, like the
incense and the candles, the oil and the hymn, all of which are of
great benefit, even to children who might not understand them
all , and they make everyone feel that the home has become a
part of the Church. 7. Because of this, we feel that it is right
to continue this custom of saying the Prayer of the “Unction
of the Sick” in people’s homes, even if there is no-one there
who is ill, for anyone of us might have a hidden illness which
we don’t know about, and there are always psychological
and spiritual imbalances which we might have but may not
recognise. [ 24 ]
THE NUMBER OF HEAVENS Question
I heard that there are only three heavens, because the Holy
Bible says Everything is perfected in the number three.
Answer: I would like to say to the one who sent in
this phrase that there is no verse in the Bible which says that!
This is purely a worldly expression! Perfection isn’t confined to the
number three. Number seven, for example, is sometimes made
a symbol for perfection and so is ten etc.
The expression ‘the third heaven’ comes in the Bible as a name
for Paradise (2 Cor. 12:2,4). But reference to the heaven which
is the throne of God comes in John 3:13 and Matt. 5:34. On
the other hand, the ‘highest heavens’ mentioned in Psalm 148:4,
must obviously be higher than the third. This is the heaven to
which only the Lord Jesus Christ has ascended, and to which no
human being will ever rise. (John 3:13). [ 25 ]
CAN SATAN ENTER A CHURCH? Question
Is it possible for Satan to enter a church, one which has
been consecrated? And if he can, how could this be so,
since the church is supposed to be full of angels, and also to
contain the Holy Spirit? Answer:
We remember in the story of the righteous Job, that the Bible
said: “One day the angels came to present themselves before
the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to
Satan, ‘Where have You come from?’ ” (Job. 1:6-7). And
Satan plotted against Job. So Satan was able to dare to stand in a holy
place where God Himself stood, in order to try and cause
to one of God’s believers harm.
We read how Satan came to the Lord Christ on the mountain
and dared to tempt Him, using verses from the Bible, and what
is more, he also stood with the Lord Christ on the pinnacle of
the temple to put Him to the test there. But of course that was all with the Lord’s
permission. We hear in the Old Testament of sins that
were committed in holy places, in the days of Eli the priest,
by his sons which provoked God’s anger. No doubt these were
caused by Satan’s intervention.
Satan might enter a church to distract the thoughts of the
believers, to take their minds off of the prayers, out of envy that
they are worshipping God. And although some believers might defeat him
by the strength of their prayers, others may be weakened.
Whether a church has been consecrated isn’t really the issue,
because it depends on whether the individual believer has been consecrated,
through being anointed with oil at baptism. Nevertheless,
Satan can still enter his heart and thoughts to test him.
God may give Satan freedom to act, but it would be
freedom within a limited sphere, and he would be judged
for it. So we say that Satan nowadays is fettered,
and has been since the Crucifixion. And if Satan is fettered
it means that he isn’t totally free, otherwise he would have destroyed
the world by now!
There have been times when the Lord has said: ‘Go away
Satan!’, as happened at the temptation on the mountain, or
when He has set him limits which he cannot exceed, such as in
Job’s temptation. I am pretty sure that most of all Satan cannot
bear the moment when the Holy Spirit descends and the
sacraments are transformed during the divine Mass.
He cannot bear these holy moments, and God does not permit
him to act then. Also, at this point, the believers are usually in
an elevated spiritual state in which it is likely for them to
respond to distracting ideas from Satan who at that moment is
troubled by the deep heartfelt humility of the believers, and the
action of the Spirit upon the sacraments and the congregation.
Generally speaking, if Satan enters a church in order to do
something then he is in a weak position. And he cannot find
real scope to act there except within the people who are inside
the church, but whose hearts and minds are outside the Church!
Satan may try to cast doubts in people’s minds, even on holy
occasions and during prayers, but since the people’s hearts are
connected to God, any doubts that they might have remain
outside them, however heavy and forceful they might be, and
thus Satan has to depart unsuccessful. [ 26 ]
FASTING AND EATING FISH Question
Why don’t we eat fish on Wednesdays and Fridays but
during some other fasts, in view of the fact, so I have
heard, that in olden times they used to eat fish on
Wednesdays and Fridays? Answer:
Some believers in the past used to eat fish on Wednesdays
and Fridays, and this was undoubtedly on account either a
mistaken understanding of the Church’s teaching on their
part, or because it was a wrong habit which they had
inherited or had passed down to them from others who had
been mistaken. Our kind of fasting in the Orthodox Church
is eating vegan foods. As everyone knows, we abstain from
meat and all foodstuff of animal origin during fasting
days. Obviously fish are included as flesh foods, so to eat fish
is not in accordance with our kind of fasting at all. So you mustn’t
be surprised at the non-eating of fish on the fasting days
of Wednesday and Friday.
In fact you should really be surprised at eating fish during
a vegan fast! The general rule is not to eat fish during
the fasts. However, since there are so many fasts in
the Coptic Church, around two hundred days in the year, which
means more than half a year in fasting, the eating of fish
during certain fasts, which are of the minor order, is permitted
as a way of reducing the lengthy period of the fast for the people.
But eating fish is not allowed during major fasts or on
Wednesdays and Fridays because these are counted among
the major fasts. The most important of these major fasts is
the period of the forty holy days which the Lord fasted, and
Pascha Week, the week of His suffering. On Wednesdays we remember
how He was betrayed and plotted against, and on Fridays
we recall His crucifixion.
People can eat meat all the days of the week, except
Wednesdays and Fridays. So if they were to eat fish on those
days, the result would be the consumption of fish foods every
day of the week, since fish is included in this category! And it
wouldn’t be right to make things that easy. It wouldn’t be very logical either, if we
were to remember Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion by eating
fish! We’d be letting ourselves off rather lightly! This remembrance
demands a greater degree of renunciation and devotion
than that. On another occasion some asked whether fish
could he eaten on the Day of Our Lady, the festival of the
Annunciation, which is one of the Lord’s festivals. The
Day of Our Lady is of course the 29th Baramhat (the seventh Coptic
month), and always comes during the lent. So the answer
to this question is that the lent takes precedence and shouldn’t
be broken under any circumstances, even on account of the
Annunciation, because it is still part of the Lord’s fast.
To break the fast on this occasion would show a lack of selfcontrol. How could anyone fast
for more than a month of the lent and then let himself be tempted by a
piece of fish during the fast on the Day of Annunciation? What would
that say about one’s efforts towards trying to rise above
the level of material things and not indulge oneself in scrumptious
foods?! [ 27 ]
THE ASCENT INTO HEAVEN AND THE EARTH’S GRAVITY
Question When the Lord rose to heaven, did He break
the law of the earth’s gravity?
Answer: To answer this question let us recall two
points which are: 1. That God set down the laws of Nature, in
the first place, so that Nature would submit to him,
and not He to them.
2. That material or physical things on earth submit to
the law of gravity, whereas the Lord Christ, when He
ascended, did not do so in a physical body or an earthly
one, which would have been subject to the laws of gravity.
The Lord’s body of the Resurrection and the Ascension was a
glorious body, a spiritual and heavenly one. If we too are to
rise with such bodies, according to what it says in 1 Corinthians
15:43-50, it goes without saying that our Lord would have such
a body, and an even better one. And we are told that Christ,
“will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His
glorious body. ” (Phil. 3:21) This glorious body, in which our Lord rose
from the dead and ascended, was therefore not subject to the
earthly laws of gravity. And this brings us face to face with
an important question:
Was there, then, nothing miraculous in His ascension?
Of course it was a miracle. But it wasn’t contrary to the earth’s
law of gravity. The miracle was in the transformation of the
physical body into a spiritual, heavenly body that could
rise up. So the Ascension was not something contrary
to Nature, but rather an elevation of the natural state of
Christ’s body which rose to heaven. It was a kind of manifestation
of this nature. And just as the Lord granted us to be in His
form and likeness when He created us (Gen. 1:26-27), so shall
we also be in His form and likeness at the Resurrection and
Ascension. This will all happen to us when we are glorified
with Him and rise with Him in glory.
When we rise in power and glory, those living on earth at the
time of the Resurrection will be changed: ” in a flash, in the
twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will
sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible.” (1 Cor. 15:52-
53) ” Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up
together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:17)
[ 28 ] WHY THE CROSS?
Question Why did Christ have to die on the cross and
not some other way?
Answer: Death on the cross was considered shameful,
so the Lord chose the kind of death that was the most shameful
and most horrible at that time. This is why Paul says in Hebrews
12:2 that the Lord, “endured the cross, scorning its shame.
” So there was humiliation on the cross, and because of this
Paul said: “Let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing
His reproach. ” (Heb. 13.13), for the cross was considered
a disgrace. In the Old Testament, the cross was considered
a curse, and it was said that whoever was hung upon a cross
was accursed. The Lord intended by His crucifixion to bear
all the curses which could fall on mankind, which the Law
indicated (Deut. 28), so that He could give us a blessing,
and so that there should be no more curses in the future.
The cross was considered “foolishness” by the Jews (1 Cor.
1:18), so Christ chose this disgrace and changed the cross into a
sign of strength. Crucifixion on the cross was also one of the
most painful ways to die, since it tore the tissues of the body
in a most excruciating way, besides draining the body
of its fluids through bleeding. So by His crucifixion Christ suffered
the worst pains that mankind could ever be crushed by.
Crucifixion was a manner of death in which the person who was
to die was literally raised above the earth, so Jesus could say
that after He had been ‘raised’ above the earth He would draw
all men to Himself. Just as the Lord Christ was raised on the
cross, so was He raised in glory in His ascension. By His
crucifixion He has also raised us with Him, from the level of
dust and earth. In His death Christ stretched out His arms
to all mankind, in a gesture of His acceptance. of all people.
[ 29 ] GOD’S JUSTICE AND MERCY
Question I read this question in a book: Was what happened
on the cross the reconciliation of God’s justice
with His mercy? Answer:
There has never been any conflict between God’s justice
and His mercy, because there cannot be any contradiction
between the qualities of God. God is merciful in His justice
and just in His mercy. The justice of God is full of mercy. The mercy
of God is full of justice. We can say that God’s justice is
a merciful justice and that His mercy is a just mercy. We cannot
separate at all God’s mercy from His justice.
When we speak on one occasion of justice, and on another
of mercy, we are not talking of two different things but of
varying aspects of the same thing. Meimar al-Abd al-Maimluk (a special reading
during the Good Friday) imagined a dispute and an argument
between God’s justice and mercy, which is a kind of theological
debate, but it is not correct from the theological point of
view, and there have been many objections to it. For naturally
such a disagreement never took place. The author of the Meimar,
however, wanted to point out the details of the subject in
the form of a discussion. This is a style that sometimes
makes for interesting reading, but it is not a theologically accurate
one. On the cross, however, as the psalm tells
us, justice and mercy join together, or mercy and truth join
together (not that they are reconciled!).
The word ‘reconciliation’ implies the existence of an opposition,
and heaven forbid that there should ever be or have been,
anything so at odds among the attributes of God!
Even the expression ‘join together’ means a joining together
before us, in our presence, and is conditioned by our concept of
this process, while from the theological standpoint, mercy and
justice have been joined together in harmony right from eternity.
It is as we have said, that God’s mercy is full of justice and His
justice is full of mercy. It was on the cross that we saw this union
between justice and mercy and it is indeed a permanent union.
But we, being human beings, only perceived it when
it was brought to our attention on the cross. That was when
we saw this beautiful image, which gave to our human minds
an understanding that mercy and justice were
combined. ( [ 30 ]
ABOUT BEING RE-BAPTISED Question
Is it possible to be re-baptised? Is baptism ever done
twice? Don’t we say in the Creed, “We believe in
one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”? And doesn’t the
Bible say that there is “one baptism” ? (Eph. 4.5).
Answer: Yes, the Bible says that there is “one baptism”,
but please let us read a bit more of the verse, which tells
us that there is “one faith” and “one baptism”.
For wherever one faith exists, one baptism is found too.
Therefore we don’t re-baptise a person who has been baptised in
a church which shares our Orthodox faith. Also, baptism must be performed by a properly
qualified priest who has full priestly authority to carry out
the holy sacrament of baptism, and who believes totally in the
effective action of this sacrament.
For example, the churches which do not believe in the
sacrament of the priesthood and which do not have priests and
do not believe that baptism is a sacrament, do not share our
belief in the effectiveness of baptism, so we can’t really accept
their baptism. The same applies to churches which believe
in the sacrament of baptism and its effectiveness and in the sacrament
of the priesthood, but are closed to us according
to anathemas set by the Fathers.
These anathemas must be removed first, then their church
sacraments would be acceptable to us. [ 31 ]
IS THERE A THIRD PLACE FOR WORSHIPPING GOD?
Question The Lord Jesus Christ said to the Samaritan
woman: ” the hour is coming when you will neither on this
mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.” (John 4:21)
Does this sentence carry a prophecy about there being
a specific third place, besides these two, where God is to
he worshipped, because I have heard from some people that
this is so? Answer:
The Jews thought it right that God should be worshipped in the
Temple in Jerusalem, because this was the only holy place in
which sacrifices were offered. They didn’t believe that other
people could have different holy places, and they applied that
especially to the Samaritans because of the enmity which existed
between them and the Jews. The Samaritans however had their own holy
mountain. When the Lord Christ spoke these words to
the Samaritan woman, he was not alluding to a third place,
and was not defining an alternative spot either, but was
referring to the spread of the faith to the Gentiles.
That is, He was not singling out Jerusalem alone or Samaria as
being places of worship, but was saying that faith was for all
peoples and nations, and that worship could be performed in
any sacred place on earth, but “the true worshippers will
worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23)
The Lord Christ was not substituting one nation for
another, but was in fact opening the door to all.
If He had meant that there was a third place, then it would have
meant that the concept of God’s ‘chosen people’ was to remain
(and just apply to the Jews), but that it simply moved from one
place to another, and that there was to be no general diffusion
of the religion. This, of course, would have been at odds with
what He said to His holy disciples: ” Go into all the world and
preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15), and ” Go
therefore and make disciples of all the nations, ” (Matt. 28:19),
also, “you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea
and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. ” (Acts 1:8)
Yet the Lord Christ did not declare that Jerusalem was not to
be considered holy, nor did He substitute some other place for
it. The people of the whole world till this day go to Jerusalem
and worship there. The true worshippers of God are those who
worship Him in spirit and in truth. And this was what Jesus
meant by His words to the Samaritan woman, who considered that
the hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans, and their
different places of worship, were a barrier to her faith.
The place where worship is performed is not the most
important thing, but what is important is that the person
worships in spirit and truth, wherever he may be.
The true worshippers are those who worship God in spirit and
truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.
“God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in
spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24). So where is this ‘third’ place then? There
is no indication, or definition or prophecy concerning it. It
is rather an explanation of the true meaning of worship,
and of not restricting it to a particular location.
[ 32 ] HAS SATAN BEEN RELEASED FROM HIS
PRISON AND IS THE LAST DAY APPROACHING?
Question I read in a newspaper that someone was saying
that Satan had been freed from his prison in 1967, and
that we were approaching the last day. What do you think?
Answer: Why did the author of that article choose
the year 1967 rather than another?
What basis is there in the Bible to support that? Upon what
calculation was it made? Many people in the past have defined dates
for what they believed would be the end of the world, and
probably the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been most prominent
in doing this. They said that Christ would come to rule in
1914, but the date came, and Christ didn’t! The Seventh Day Adventists
and the Plymouth Brethren have also foretold the end
of the world, and have challenged the word of the Bible in a
startling way According to what Jesus Christ Himself said
to His holy disciples:
” It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father
has put in His own authority.” (Acts 1:7) According to St Paul: “Do not think of yourself
more highly than you ought. ” (Rom. 12:3) So why do some
people take it upon themselves to decide things that are
way above their level, and beyond their human understanding? These
things are under the authority of the Father alone. But let
us look now at what will happen when Satan is freed from his prison.
The Bible says:
” Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be
released from his prison and will go out to deceive the
nations which are in the four corners of the earth, ” (Rev.
20.7-8) So, had a thousand years passed when we got
to 1967? And if so, from when and how did they calculate it?
Is Satan, therefore, now that we are some twenty odd years past
that date (1967), able to lead the nations astray?
The Lord said: ” And unless those days were shortened, no
flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be
shortened …. For false christs and false prophets will rise and
show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the
elect.” (Matt. 24:22-24) Has any of that happened yet? For if
Satan had been set free from his prison, he would be trying
with all his might to bring this about, knowing that he would
have an easy time. (Rev. 20:3) The choice of 1967, then, was not a very satisfactory
one after all!
In fact for us in Egypt, 1967 was rather a good year, for it was
in that year that the foundations were laid of the main cathedral,
which was opened the following year. And on 2nd April 1968,
St Mary appeared in Zeitun, and a great spiritual revival took
place as a result of this appearance and its miracles. Could all
this have happened if Satan had been released from his prison?
On the world stage, during these past few years, after which the
supposed prophecy claimed that Satan had been freed, we have
seen President Gorbachov begin a policy of freedom of
conscience, and the revival of the Church in Russia. America
and Russia have agreed on the elimination of medium-range
nuclear weapons, and the nations of the world are now moving
towards abolishing chemical weapons and other destructive
weapons. Could all of this be happening if Satan had been
released from his prison? When Satan was free in olden times, he was
able to bring down all the nations of the world to worship
idols, so that paganism and primitive forms of worship were
widespread. Only the Jews remained worshipping God, and
later they too fell into paganism.
When Moses was detained on the holy mountain talking with God,
and the tribe of Israel worshipped the golden calf, who was
worshipping God then? There were only two people, Moses and
Joshua. Those days when Satan is released from his
prison to lead the nations astray will be terrifying, unless
God limits them, for otherwise no one would saved.
We could hardly be living in those days now, with churches filled
with worshippers and hundreds and thousands of people receiving
Holy Communion in every church each week! When Satan is released, false prophets and
false Messiahs will abound, according to what Christ said, and
they will, ” will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if
possible, even the elect. ” (Matt. 24:24) So where are these
people and their miracles today?
There are many signs which will herald the last days, none of
which have yet taken place. What about the ‘Antichrist’, who according
to St Paul will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is
called God or is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the
temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2 Thess. 2:4) and
” The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of
Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous
deception among those who perish, …”? (2 Thess. 2:9)
And what about the apostasy of the world, which is supposed to
follow the coming of the Antichrist and his miracles?
What about the prophecies of Enoch and Elijah? What about the faith of the Jews? (Rom. 11:26)
And what about the words; “And they will fall by the edge
of the sword, … until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. ” (Luke
21:24), and ” until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Rom.
11:25)? The final signs will be the destruction of
Nature. The Lord said: “Immediately after the tribulation
of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will
not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers
of the heavens will be shaken.”. (Matt. 24:29)
So, theological matters really call for humility of heart.
We cannot claim to know everything. If we are asked about
subjects like the date of Satan’s release from his prison, and the end
of time, which we cannot answer, we should simply say without
embarrassment that we do not know, and not try to claim that we
do know, or think of ourselves more highly than we should!
The Bible says that Satan will he bound for a thousand years,
and that when that period has passed, he will he freed from his
prison. How, then, could that thousand years have been
completed by the year 1967, by any calculation, whether
literally or symbolically? This is a very serious point: if an idea occurs
to us, we shouldn’t just present it to people as doctrine! “He
who has ears to hear, let him hear!”(Matt. 13:9)
[ 33 ] WHO ARE THE SEVENTH-DAY
Who are the Seventh Day Adventists? Answer :
The Adventists are a dangerous heretical sect which shares with
the Jehovah’s Witnesses many serious errors. Among the most
well-known of their heretical beliefs are: 1. They believe that Christ is the angel Michael.
2. They believe that Christ was born in original sin.
3. They call the Holy Spirit, ‘the vice-regent of the Lord’s
host’. 4. They believe that Saturday is the Lord’s
day, instead of Sunday.
5. They don’t believe in the immortality of the soul.
99 6. They believe that Jesus will come three
times in all. 7. They believe in an earthly kingdom and
that heaven will not be for mankind.
8. They believe in the extinction of the wicked and not their
torture. 9. They don’t believe in the priesthood or
intercession, or most of the other sacraments of the Church.
10. They have many other wrong beliefs which I will point out
later, if God wills. In addition to this, they have a Protestant
origin, which means they deny the passing on of tradition, and
the reverence of the saints, and do not use candles, incense or
an altar, and do not share our Church’s rituals, and refuse the
Church canons, councils, the Fathers and the priesthood.
I am hoping that by God’s grace I will be able to bring out a
book about them for you, in which I can repudiate their beliefs,
and especially what their leader, Alan White, has said in their
books. [ 34 ]
WAS THE USE OF INCENSE ABOLISHED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?
Question Some people say that incense was used to get
rid of the smell of blood during the sacrifices in the
Old Testament, so that when the blood sacrifices were abolished
in the New Testament, the use of incense was consequently
abolished. Is this true?
Answer: This is not true. The offering of incense
was something on its own, which the priest could do without
performing a sacrifice.
When God struck the tribe of Israel with the plague, Moses
ordered Aaron, the chief priest, to raise the incense and to stand
between the living and the dead. And on account of the
offering of incense, God accepted their intercession and put an
end to the plague. (Num. 16..48) On this occasion no sacrifice
was made, and there was no smell of blood to be disguised.
Incense was just used alone. There was also a separate altar called ‘the
altar of incense’ (Ex. 30. 1), which Aaron lit each morning and evening
so that there would always be incense before the Lord, and
this had no connection with the sacrifices.
The incense was considered a sacrifice on its own. Thus the
place where it was offered was called ‘the altar of incense’.
We read of the priest Zechariah when the angel announced to
him that Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist that:
“when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as
priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the
custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and
burn incense. ” (Luke 1:8) and “an angel of the Lord appeared
to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.” (Luke
1:11) So incense on its own could constitute a sacrifice,
and there didn’t have to be a blood sacrifice which
would need to have its smell taken away by any incense.
We observe the same in the New Testament in the Book of
Revelation. There is an angel who offers a lot of incense
with the prayers of the saints: ” Then another angel, having a
golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much
incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the
saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the
smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended
before God from the angel’s hand.. ” (Rev. 8:3-4) There
were no blood sacrifices involved. There was also the incense
offered by the twenty four elders (Rev. 5:8). This was something
independent, and was not accompanied by any animal sacrifice,
and this remained in existence in the New Testament.
The raising of incense was not a ceremony only connected with
animal sacrifice and conditioned by it, but was a spiritual
activity, like the prayers of the saints, having an effectiveness all
on its own. [ 35 ]
CANDLES IN CHURCH Question
Why do we light candles in church when there are electric
Candles are naturally for giving light. They were used in the
past because they gave a soft, subdued light, and because this
light inspired humility and awe to a greater extent than brighter,
more glaring lights. This explains why we find churches which
are lit by candles alone are more awe-inspiring. They are used nowadays, although we have electric
lights, in those special situations when we feel that
the people need to concentrate specifically on the light.
They are used, for example, during the reading of the gospel,
because we are seeking enlightenment from it, for the Bible
says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
” (Ps. 119:105), and also; ” The commandment of the LORD is
pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Ps. 19:8). Candles are also placed before the icons of
the saints, as an indication that a particular saint was a light
to the world, and that like a candle he or she faded away in
order to give light to others. And since the candle requires oil
to burn, and oil symbolises the Holy Spirit, so the light of
the candle suggests that the saint was not himself giving out
light, but this was effected by the grace of the Holy Spirit within
him. We also light candles as a reminder of the
presence of the angels, who are also lights and a fire that
burns’. And there are two candlesticks which are placed on the altar
as a reference to the two angels who are mentioned in the story
of the Resurrection.
We light candles at particular moments during the divine Mass,
especially during the prayers for sanctifying the sacraments, as a
reminder of the presence of God Himself, who is the “True
Light “who has come into the world to give light to all people.
His advent meant the coming of light to the world.
When the deacons hold the candles in their hands, they are
suggesting that the ministers of the church are bearing light to
the world for divine guidance. They are to be seen as the
torchbearers giving light just as the angels of God give light in
heaven. Candles in general suggest light, and suggest
the life of devotion that God wants for mankind. The Bible likens
goodness to light, and evil to darkness. The righteous
are called the ‘children of light’, and the wicked the ‘sons
of darkness’. The Lord said: ” Walk while you have the light,
lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness
does not know where he is going.” (John 12:35)
Light also indicates the transfiguration of the righteous as
happened to Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor and suggests
the luminous bodies in which we will be raised in eternity.
The deacons carrying the candles behind the priest, or around
him, remind us of the five wise maidens who carried their lamps
with enough oil, as a reminder that we should always be
prepared. I wish that I could give you a whole book
about the function of candles and lamps in church, as a subject
on its own, and not just an answer to one question.
[ 36 ] AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER
Question What proof is there that the Lord rose and
is seated at the right hand of the Father, and where is this
Answer: This miracle first comes in the gospel of
St Mark. It says at the end of it: “After the Lord
had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down
at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)
It also comes in the Book of Acts, in more than one place.
For example, after the Lord’s last meeting with His disciples,
when He said to them: ” you shall receive power when the Holy
Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me… ”
and ” Now when He had spoken these things, while they
watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of
their sight ” And following this, two angels said to them: ” This
same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so
come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”(Acts
1:8,9 & 11) It also comes in the vision of St. Stephen
the deacon, when he was being stoned: “Stephen, full of the
Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and
Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look he said, ‘I see
heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand
of God.” (Acts 7:55- 56)
There are many references to be found in the Book of
Hebrews too. For example it says of Christ that: “After He had
provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of
the Majesty on high,” (Heb. 1:3). And when St Paul was speaking about the Lord
as the high priest, he said: “The point of what we are
saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the
right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven” (Acts 8:1).
And at the end of this epistle he said: ” looking unto Jesus, the
author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set
before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat
down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)
The prophecy for this comes in the Psalms, where David
was speaking in the Holy Spirit: “The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right
hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool. ” (Ps. 110:1)
108 The Lord’s sitting at the right hand of God
is something which I have dealt with elsewhere, in the first volume
of this series. [ 37 ]
ATONING FOR SINS Question
If someone has sinned, should he atone for it by doing a
good deed or by almsgiving? Answer:
The Bible says: “the wages of sin is death ” (Rom. 6:23).
There is no escape from this death sentence, except through
Christ’s death on our behalf; for He is the only atonement
for our sins. (Rom. 3:24-5; 1 John 2:2, 4:10) Only a person who believes in this blood and
this atonement is worthy to receive it (John 3:16), providing
he is repentant, and has received the grace of baptism (Acts 2:38;
Luke 13:3,5). A person is not saved by his acts alone (without
faith), whatever good deeds he might have done. The Bible says
about the redemption given by Christ, “Salvation is
found in no-one else” (Acts:4.12).
110 As far as the action of mercy or almsgiving
is concerned, it is that which moves the heart of God to pity,
for the Lord Christ said: ” Blessed are the merciful, For they
shall obtain mercy ” (Matt. 5:7) But the action of mercy without
repentance and without faith, cannot save anyone. On account
of mercy, however, God’s grace can kindle a person’s
heart and call him to repentance, and if he repents he will be worthy
of the blood of Christ and his sins will be forgiven.
[ 38 ] WHEN SHOULD THE HOLY CHRISM
(MYRON) BE MADE? Question
The making of the Chrism, the Holy Myron used in
baptism and consecration, was sometimes carried out in the
sixth week of the Lent and sometimes in the Pascha
(passion week). Which of them is more suitable? Answer:
In actual fact, it is better not to make the Holy Myron
during the Pascha days. This is because the readings for preparing
the unction are different from those for Holy Week, and their
times are different too. Also the days of Passion Week are totally
taken up with remembering the sufferings of Christ. So how
can we properly divert our attention during this time to making
the Holy Myron? These are also days of sorrow, while the making
of the Myron requires more of a festival spirit, for which
the piety of fasting, rather than the sadness of the Passion, is
more appropriate. The original method dating from the time of St
Athanasius was not to make it during the Holy Pascha.
[ 39 ] THE MAKING OF THE HOLY MYRON IN
THE MONASTERY OR IN THE PATRIARCHATE
Question For a long time the making of the Holy Myron
used to be carried out in one of the monasteries, and
then it was transferred to the Patriarchate, where it
remained for some time. Why was this? And why did it then go
back to being made in the monasteries?
Answer: A monastery is a very appropriate place for
making the Holy Myron, firstly because it is a Holy place,
and secondly, because it is far away from the noise and bustle of
the city. So why did we take it to the Patriarchate in Cairo at
all? Well, that happened not because of a particular
theological or ecclesiastical reason, but rather because
of the problem of transport.
In the past, people had to reach the monasteries by camel,
because there weren’t any asphalt roads, as there are nowadays,
on which their carts or vehicles could pass easily along the way
and reach the monastery as easily and quickly as we can today.
The way across the desert sand by camel was hard, and took a
long time. Just imagine what it must have been like for the rider
on his camel, with the precious Holy Oil and the pre-baptismal
or Ghalilaun shaking about in large glass containers with every
step of the camel, and in constant danger of getting broken, and
being spilt all over the place – and all this on a journey that
lasted a long time! It actually happened on one occasion that
a huge container of oil was broken, but fortunately it was only
one of Ghalilaun * and not the holy chrism. The Pope at that
time was very upset by this and decided to make the Holy Oil in
Cairo, and that is where it continued to be made from the time
of the 89th Pope until recently.
Now circumstances have changed however, and the original
difficulties of transportation which called for that change in the
first place no longer exist, and there isn’t the danger of large
glass containers being broken, or their contents being spilt,
because in fact plastic containers are now used to bottle the
Holy Oil. Therefore the making of the Holy Oil returned
to the monasteries as before.
[ 40 ] WHAT IS THE ‘GHALILAUN ‘ ?
Question We have heard that on Thursday 16 of April
1971, two kinds of Holy oil were consecrated one being
the Myron and the other was Ghalilaun. What is the Ghalilaun?
What is it used for? How is it made, and what does it mean
to consecrate it? Answer:
The word Ghalilaun which we use for this second kind of oil,
comes from two Greek words joined together which mean ‘oil
of joy’ or ‘oil of happiness’ or ‘oil of rejoicing’. This is the oil with which the person is anointed
before his baptism, in the ritual of repudiating Satan,
and its function is to ward off any bad spirits that might want to
lead astray the one being anointed, or which might try to obstruct
his faith, or plant blasphemous thoughts in his mind when he is
an adult. When the priest anoints the one being baptised
with this type of oil, he says: ‘I anoint you with the oil of
joy… which was planted in the sweet olive tree before your baptism’.
115 In the past, the Church used to anoint those
who were coming new to the faith, with this oil, to prepare
them for seeking enlightenment and the sacrament of baptism.
This is why it used to be called the oil of anointing and
preparation. The composition of the Ghalilaun is made up
of three elements: a ) pure olive oil.
b ) a number of drops from the sacred olive oil and our present
stock contains the products of 23 batches of the holy
chrism. c ) the ferment from the old Ghalilaun, which
is formed in the bowl of the Ghalilaun by the boiling of the
drops of chrism with the olive oil.
The special prayer which is said over the Ghalilaun to
consecrate it is recited after a prayer for the chrism, and both
His Holiness and the bishops take part in this. Then the Pope
makes the sign of the cross over the Ghalilaun just as he has
previously done over the holy chrism. In the past, this oil – the oil of joy – was
used to anoint kings and priests. It was formerly used to anoint,
according to what the Lord commanded Moses, was composed of
some of the constituents of the chrism, as it says in
Exodus 30, though of course the chrism, now, is different, because
spices, and grains from the embalming that was on the body of
Christ, have since been added to it. These things were obviously
not available in the Old Testament times, and it is in this
respect that the chrism differs from the Ghalilaun.
[ 41 ] WHERE SHOULD THE OFFERTORY
BREAD BE PLACED? Question
In some churches the plate containing the offertory bread is
placed inside the sanctuary on a shelf or chair, and
sometimes it is put on the altar after the Mass until the end
of the prayer of blessing. Is this right? Answer:
The only kind of bread that is permitted to enter the sanctuary
is the Host which is the offering of bread which the priest prays
over in the Mass to consecrate it in order to transubstantiate it
for the believers to receive in the Communion. If any other offering of bread should enter
the sanctuary, that is a clear mistake. Or to put it more precisely,
it is an even greater mistake if the plate of this unconsecrated
bread is placed on the altar. The laws of the Church have defined
what may be placed on the altar, since it is not an ordinary
table ! 117
The plate of the unconsecrated bread is to be placed outside the
sanctuary, in a suitable place, since the sign of the cross is to be
made over it outside the sanctuary. Then one is chosen to be
consecrated, outside the sanctuary before the offertory is being
presented. [ 42 ]
WHEN SHOULD THE ORDINARY BREAD BE DISTRIBUTED?
Question Some people take and eat the ordinary bread,
which is to be given after the Mass, when they arrive
at church, and eat it, or let their children actually eat
it in the church during the service. Is this permitted? Or
should we only take it on leaving the church after the end
of the Mass? Answer:
The correct thing to do is to take the bread as you depart from
the church after the end of the Mass, and after you have heard
the blessing and the dismissal. Originally this custom arose because the people
came to church fasting, and attended the Mass fasting, and
so on their departure, the Church gave them the bread
of blessing. In olden times the churches used to hold an
‘ agape’ or love meal, in which the people used to have their
breakfast together, after they had left the church. There was
a special or private room for this, and the more wealthy believers
would take turns in providing such a meal, in the name of the
Church. But this custom gradually died out, except for being
held on a few special occasions. Finally, it was thought
sufficient that the believer should be given a piece of bread
on leaving the church, so that all could be said to have eaten from
one meal – which was the bread.
But to distribute this bread before people enter the church
doesn’t make sense, and has no purpose from the pastoral point
of view. It also gives some of the children the opportunity to
eat it during the service, a thing which forbids them to take
Communion! [ 43 ]
THE DEACONS AND THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE EULOGIA
Question Is it permitted for the deacons to break and
distribute the portions of the bread of blessing (ie. the
bread given to people after the Mass), to the people in the
church, as happens in our Church ?
And is it permitted for this to take place while the priest is
distributing the holy sacraments, in order to save time so
that the people can leave more quickly? Answer:
Only the priest is supposed to give out the portions of the bread
of blessing (the Eulogia) to the congregation when they leave
the church after the end of the Mass and following the recitation
of the final blessing. When the believers receive this Eulogia from
the hand which was only minutes before, touching he body
of Christ, it has a better effect on their hearts and they can
feel conscious in taking a blessing from the hand of the Father, from
the hand of the priest of God.
Also, when the priest distributes the Eulogia, it gives him a
chance to see who has attended the service, and who has not, so
that he can ask after them and perhaps pay them a visit.
Sometimes it provides him with an opportunity to say a few
words to various people, and for them to speak to him. These
moments could be used for any useful purpose, offering the
chance for him to congratulate, to give his condolences, to
encourage, to pray for someone, to arrange an appointment
with someone to pray about something, or arrange a visit.
It is also an opportunity for the people to receive the blessing of
the priest and to say hello to him before they leave the church.
The wholly consecrated deacon, however, is one of them, one
of the clergy after all, but generally speaking, it is rare
nowadays to find such deacons who are entitled to wear clerical
dress, and who have devoted themselves completely to the
ministry. Most of the deacons in the church are only less in
rank :-aghnastus (reader) or Epideacon (assisting deacon).
But as far as distributing this Eulogia during the sharing of the
holy sacraments is concerned, this is something definitely
unsuitable, for it would mean that attention was being diverted
from the divine mysteries to something else, when the only thing
that should be going on at that time is a hymn of praise.
The expression you mentioned, to ‘save time’ is an unacceptable
excuse because this is essentially a spiritual situation, which is
important, and demands attention. Time, however, can be
recouped in other ways. It isn’t right for us to do wrong from
the spiritual point of view on the flimsy pretext of ‘saving time’!
This is like someone who leaves church during the service, and
even during its holy moments, to ‘save time’!! [ 44 ]
THE DEACONS AND TAKING COMMUNION
Question Is it right for a deacon, who is wearing his
tunic to attend the Mass, but not take Communion – on the
excuse that he has been serving outside the sanctuary?
Is it allowed for the church reciter, the one who leads the
deacons in singing, to serve and not take Communion?
Answer: If a deacon does not take Communion, he is
not supposed to wear the tunic, because it is a special garment
for serving at the altar. So the deacon is not allowed to serve
at the altar and not take Communion.
From the point of view of taking Communion, there exists no
difference in the Church’s rituals between a deacon who serves
outside the sanctuary or inside it. They are all deacons and are
supposed to be prepared to receive Communion, otherwise they
would be a bad example to the people. The only reasons for not taking Communion
are: not having fasted, not having repented, or not being
spiritually prepared, all of which also prevent one from serving as
a deacon. So anything that disqualifies one from taking
Communion also disqualifies one from serving as a deacon.
The whole congregation is supposed to come to church in a
state of fasting, and spiritual preparation, because as the Reciter
says in the Psalm: “Holiness adorns Your house, O LORD .
“(Ps. 93:5) In the past, all those who attended the Holy
Mass, the Mass of the Saints, had prepared themselves to partake
so there is all the more reason now for the deacons to attend
and to wear their tunics!
For a deacon to attend just to sing the chants and then leave,
this is something not permitted according to Church rules. If he
doesn’t wish to receive Communion, or is not prepared to do so,
then the priest ought not to sign the cross over his tunic.
[ 45 ] CAN A DEACON HOLD THE CHALICE
DURING THE COMMUNION SERVICE? Question
I received the following question from America: If there is a
large number of people taking Communion, can a deacon
help the priest by taking the chalice? Answer:
If there is another priest in the church, then he is the one who
should help with the Communion, and the deacon, in this
situation, is not allowed to take the chalice since there is no
pressing need for him to do so. But if there is only one priest, then there
exists a basic condition in which the deacon could perform this task
and is permitted to do so, if in the circumstances the serving
priest is unable to give Communion to all the people. This condition
stipulates that: The deacon should be wholly consecrated in
order to be able to assist the priest, by virtue of his
rank, and to be completely devoted to the Church’s ministry,
and wear clerical dress.
He must be someone who doesn’t have an ordinary job, or wear
ordinary clothes outside the church, and he must be
recognisable to the people as someone who has consecrated
himself to the religious ministry. According to Church rules
any bishop, priest or wholly consecrated deacon who involves
himself in an outside job (that is, works outside the Church)
should be cut off. If the wholly consecrated deacon takes the
chalice in a situation where there isn’t another participating priest
then he will not be offending the people at all.
It is not permitted, however, for deacons of any lesser rank to
do so. This is because serving at the altar and receiving the
holy sacraments, is not something everyone can do, but is only
for those who have devoted themselves to the ministry, and
each one should only undertake the duties appropriate to his
rank. [ 46 ]
A FUNERAL PROCESSION FOR A DEACON WHO HAS DEPARTED
Question Is it right that a deacon who has departed
is taken round the church in a procession, after his body
has been prayed over, because when he was confirmed as a deacon,
he had the bishop’s hand laid upon him?
Answer: It is well known that the priests are taken
in procession (after they depart), around the altar which they
have served, and to which they have dedicated their lives. But
as far as a deacon is concerned, if he is a wholly consecrated deacon
who has dedicated himself to the ministry, who has
no other job apart from being a full deacon and who has been
blessed by the bishop laying his hand upon him and who is
entitled to wear clerical dress, then it is quite all right
for his body to be taken in procession around the church, in view of the
fact that he has devoted himself to its ministry.
But the lower ranks of deacon, from Chanter to Sub-deacon
who have not received the hand of ordination upon them are not
entitled to this procession, because they have not devoted
themselves entirely to serving the altar. [ 47 ]
PREACHING DURING COMMUNION Question
Is it permitted for a sermon to be delivered during the
distribution of Communion, when the believers are actually
receiving the holy mysteries? Answer:
No. It is something that is not allowed, because it would
mean a lack of respect for these sacred moments and would
cause a distraction from the sacraments. While Communion is taking place, the only
other appropriate activity to be going on is the singing of
chants or hymns of praise. So the Church should apply itself,
at that point, to praising God for the blessings which He has
poured out on us so lavishly, in permitting us to partake of
His holy body and blood.
If we were to be distracted from the word of God by the words
of other people, then this would be neither permissible nor
appropriate, because we would be neglecting the great.
sacrament present on the altar, and would be giving our
thoughts and feelings to the subject of the sermon.
Let us not forget that people usually listen to the sermon when
they are sitting down, whereas during Communion it is not
suitable for people to be seated. [ 48 ]
THE SUNDAY PRECEDING THE LENT AND GETTING MARRIED
Question Is it possible to get married on the Sunday
The Patriarchate issued an instruction some years ago to all
its churches to forbid marriages on the Sunday before Lent
and the reason for this is that it would be likely to cause a
breaking of the fast. One could hardly expect the bridal couple
to fast, either on the morning of their marriage, from the point
of view of taking no food, or from the abstention from marital
relations for 55 days straight after the marriage (this being the
period of the Great Fast).
The Bible says: ” Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as
long as the bridegroom is with them? (Matt. 9:15)
If we were to allow couples to get married on the Sunday
before Lent, we would be implicitly permitting them to
break the fast, which would not be right. This same situation would apply to any period
of fasting, which is why it is necessary for marriage
to be prohibited at such times.
[ 49 ] WHY WOMEN ARE NOT PERMITTED TO
ENTER THE SANCTUARY Question
Why aren’t women permitted to enter the sanctuary? What difference is there between men and women
in this respect?
Answer: Basically, the only people allowed to enter
the sanctuary are those who serve at the altar, and by them
we mean the men of the priesthood and the deacons and no-one
else. Those who are not priests or deacons are not
permitted to go into the area around the altar and it makes
no difference whether they are men or women.
In some ancient churches, we have seen that they have an
aperture in the veil of the sanctuary through which the believers
receive the holy mysteries while they stand well outside the
sanctuary area. The reason that the sanctuary is raised up
from floor level by three steps is because it is a symbol of the
three degrees of priesthood by which those who minister at
the altar ascend to the sanctuary.
Since women in the Coptic Church are not part of the
clergy, they are not allowed to enter the sanctuary.
Thus there is no difference between men and women. One and
the same rule applies to them both about their not being allowed
to enter the sanctuary. [ 50 ]
ABOUT WOMEN DURING MENSTRUATION TIME
Question Is it allowed for a woman while menstruating
to receive Communion, and if not, why not? Because after
all, this is something natural which she can’t help.
And if she just sits down at home, is she allowed to worship
privately, to pray and read the Bible etc.? Answer:
At home she can worship God however she likes at this time of
the month, but if she takes Communion in church, or outside it,
this is absolutely not allowed. A person is not permitted to receive Communion
if blood is flowing from his body, and this applies to
both sexes, and it also applies to any secretion of a sexual
nature: this is clear from the Bible.
There are many Biblical texts and many Church regulations
which confirm this point and have made it clear for people to
understand. But someone might plead that it isn’t fair
on women, since nothing comparable applies to men. For when
men have wet dreams or if any discharge comes from their
bodies, they can still enter Church and no-one is likely to
prevent them, and no rules can be enforced against them. So why
should this happen to women?
Perhaps someone might ask that there are some men who aren’t
deacons but who nevertheless enter the sanctuary and take
Communion. How is that so? In actual fact, this was only ever permitted
to the king who had been crowned in the Orthodox manner, and had
been anointed with the holy oil in view of the fact that
he was the Lord’s anointed.
As for other people entering, perhaps they have another reason
for doing so which could be one of the following: Many of the men who do this have actually
been admitted to one of the lower degrees of deacon, but might
not be wearing their proper deacon’s dress at the time that
they enter the sanctuary, as they should, and this is a mistake
which the Church is trying to remedy, by forbidding
all deacons from entering the sanctuary, even those decreed
to be at one of the lower levels, but who don’t happen to be serving
or wearing their tunics on that day.
But there is also another mistake which I have observed which
has been necessitated really by a professional situation which is
that some men, such as builders, engineers or decorators might
need to enter the sanctuary during the course of their work, but
this obviously wouldn’t be during a service. In a similar way, it
might be necessary at times for painters, television or radio men
to enter the sanctuary. The answer is that the most the man is permitted
to do is to enter the church after having cleansed himself
bodily, but he is not allowed to receive Communion.
There is a basic difference though between the kind of discharge
coming from the man and the woman, which is that: the man’s is
incidental and temporary, whereas the woman’s continues for
several days. The following point, however, would make them
both equal and that is if the man’s discharge were continuous, he
would also be forbidden to take the communion in exactly the
same way. But there remains the point that it is not
the woman’s fault, that it is something natural which she can’t help.
No, it’s nobody’s fault: there is nothing wrong in it, and noone is being blamed but
God just wants to always remind us of the first sin of mankind.
If we are mindful of that first sin, we are more likely to value
the ransom paid out for us. The wages of sin is death, and even though
Christ died for us, He still left us with a mark to remember this
by, which is for men, that “By the sweat of your brow you will
eat your food” and for women, that “with pain you will give
birth to children. ” (Gen. 3:19,18)
In the case of pregnancy, the woman’s menstruation stops, and
she is reminded of Eve’s original sin by the pains of pregnancy,
birth and delivery, and outside the period of pregnancy she
recalls her sin at the time of menstruation and this makes her
realise how much her sins forbid her from receiving holy
blessings, not only those which are associated with Communion
and the Church. Men, on the other hand, are reminded of their
first sin because they are supposed to labour throughout their
lives on account of earning their daily bread. The remembrance
of this is the aim, though the means might vary enormously.
It would be better for us to try and derive spiritual benefit from
thinking more deeply about the meaning of these things rather
than complaining about them. [ 51 ]
WHY WE BEATIFY THE VIRGIN MARY Question
Why do we beatify our Lady, St. Mary? Is it because of
her motherhood virginity or faith? I heard one of the Plymouth Brethren say that
we should not beatify the Virgin Mary, either as a mother
or as a virgin, since physical motherhood was not
the kind of motherhood that the Lord honoured! And that
person also said that God didn’t attach particular importance
from the spiritual point of view, to natural family
relationships or physical kinship, and that the only reason
for us to beatify St. Mary would be for her faith. What is the
Orthodox view on these matters?
Answer: We beatify St. Mary for all these things:
for being the mother of our Lord, for her virginity and
faith, and for her holy life. We beatify her for all these things
together, but especially because she was the mother of God.
For she was singled out from among all the women in the
world for this purpose.
We can say to her the words of the proverb: “Many daughters
have done well, But you excel them all. ” (Prov. 31:29)
In fact St. Elizabeth said to Virgin Mary: “Blessed is she who
believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which
were told her from the Lord.”(Luke 1:45) And what Mary
believed would be accomplished was that she would become the
Mother of God. Elizabeth did not restrict Mary’s beatification
just to her having this faith, but had previously said: ” But why
is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come
to me?” (Luke 1:43). And in praising St. Mary she added:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you
will bear!” (Luke 1:43) All these things focus on St Mary being the
Mother of God, and we cannot just take one phrase of Elizabeth’s
glorification of St Mary and leave out all the other references
which go to provide a complete picture.
I would like to say that St Mary being a virgin and the
Mother of God were two qualities which she possessed
which were connected with the subject of salvation itself.
Salvation could not have come about without the incarnation
and the incarnation meant that the Lord was born of a woman,
from a human being, with the same nature that we possess, and
by this it became possible for Him to act on our behalf. This is
why the Lord Jesus Christ insisted on calling Himself the ‘Son
of Man’, because it was in this capacity that He redeemed
mankind. The only way that He could become a son of Man
was through being born of St Mary. Thus St Mary’s special title of ‘Mother of
God’ is a title that is connected with the redemption or the
salvation, because this would not have come about if
it hadn’t been for the incarnation.
Does St Mary’s virginity also have a connection with the subject
of salvation? Yes, of course, because Christ could not have
been born as a result of normal human seed of man and woman,
for this would have made Him an ordinary human being!
He had to be born of a virgin by some unusual method, through
the Holy Spirit. He already had a Father, who was God, and
thus He was not born in the state of original sin. And because
He was holy, He was able to ransom sinners. Why then should we not beatify the Virgin
Mary for being a Virgin and the Mother of God when these
two attributes were so necessary for our salvation?
In any case, would a person, whatever his Christian
denomination, gain anything from not beatifying the Virgin
Mary for being a virgin and the Mother of God? St. Paul
praised virginity and said that it was a preferable state to
marriage if the individual could manage it. (See 1 Cor. 7)
Therefore, when St. Mary said: “From now on all
generations will call me blessed” she did not mean that her
faith would be the cause of her beatification, but that it was
because, ” For He who is mighty has done great things for
me, and holy is His name. ” (Luke 1:48-49) Naturally this glorification was the ability
to give birth, even though she was a virgin, to bear the Lord
Himself. What glory could be greater than this?
Any woman can have faith. But it is not every woman who can
bear a child whilst still a virgin and bear the child who was to be
the Lord Himself! So if the beatification of St Mary is confined
to her faith alone, it would be to make her like other
devout women, without being different from them at all,
which is the familiar Protestant standpoint.
As far as God’s not attaching particular spiritual importance to family relationships of physical
kinship is concerned, that is not technically correct
from what the Bible teaches.
Sufficient proof of this is that God put honouring one’s parents
as the top priority regarding the commandments pertaining to
relationships between people. (Deut. 5:16) St. Paul also stressed this commandment to
honour your father and mother,” which is the first commandment
with promise:” (Eph. 6:2)
In the Old Testament, death was the penalty for cursing one’s
father or mother (Matt. 15:4), and in the New Testament, it
says: ” if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially
for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse
than an unbeliever ” (1 Tim. 5:8). And the Lord Jesus Christ
rebuked the Scribes and the Pharisees for not teaching the need
to respect one’s parents, on the pretext that anything that they
might have given to their parents they were giving to God
instead. (Matt. 15:5) Something which perhaps gives a good indication
of Christ’s concern for His mother is that He
singled her out when He was on the cross, with two out of
the seven phrases that He said, and put her in the care
of His beloved disciple. (John 19:26-27)
There are countless examples of the Lord’s concern for family
relationships. To say that God attaches little spiritual
importance to natural family bonds and ties of kinship would be
to demolish the family and with it, the basis of society, which is
something that would not agree with the teaching of the Bible,
either in the Old Testament or the New. If someone does not
respect his mother and father, he would be hardly likely to show
respect for anyone else! They would be a disobedient and disrespectful
son or daughter. Under the law of Moses the person
would have been stoned and according to the New Testament
he would not be regarded as a believer.
Finally, Christ honoured Virgin Mary as a mother and as a
spiritual human being when He chose her for being the most
holy woman of all, to be a Mother to Him ((( [ 52 ]
CONCERNING HONOURING THE BODY OF THE VIRGIN MARY
Question One of the Plymouth Brethren said that the
body of the Virgin Mary was not different from that of
any other believer, and that her earthly body must have
been subjected to decay and decomposition. Also
the writer denies that Mary’s body ascended. What is
your view? Answer:
The Virgin’s body was distinct from any human’s body,
and had its own special dignity, because it was the body in
which the Lord of Glory spent nine months, and which the
Holy Spirit sanctified with His coming upon it to place the
Lord within. (Luke 1:35) Is it likely that God would then leave that
special body to decay and decompose, to be eaten by worms and rot
without being honoured or respected, when He is the one
who has honoured the bodies of so many of the saints?!
And would that body, which was the purest body that a human
being ever had, not receive a special honour after death from
the Lord? Those who do not honour the Virgin Mary and
who also do not honour the rest of the saints are ignorant
of what the Lord said of His saints, that those who honoured
them were also honouring Him.
The body of the Virgin will not only be honoured after the
Resurrection, by being clothed in a glorious body, but has
already been honoured by the Lord after her death. The Lord in
a similar way, honoured the body of Moses before the
Resurrection, when He let it appear on the Mount of
Transfiguration. The question of the ascent of St. Mary’s body
is one that history records, and which history cannot deny. It is
not just we who record it, but many other churches too.
Those who attack the Virgin gain nothing but actually lose
a blessing. [ 53 ]
IS THE VIRGIN THE “GATEWAY” TO LIFE?
Question I read that one of the Plymouth Brethren had
made an attack which was very insulting, upon the
title given to the Virgin Mary in the Agpia (the prayer book
of the Coptic Church), of the ‘gateway to life’ or the ‘gateway
to heaven’. He based his argument on the fact that the
Lord Christ is the only gate that leads to life,, according
to what the Lord Christ said of Himself: “the gate for the
sheep.” (John 10:9- 10). How should one reply to this?
Answer: Calling the Lord Christ a ‘gate’ has one meaning,
and calling St. Mary a ‘gate’ or ‘gateway’, has
a different one. The Lord Christ gave us many of His own titles
which have various meanings. For example He said: “you
are the light of the world ” yet He also said of Himself: “I
am the light of the world ” But He, of course, is the truest light
of all, whilst the light that we have, is derived from His. In
the same way, the Virgin being a ‘gate’ or ‘gateway’ does not
prevent Christ’s being the ‘gate’ for the sheep.
The name ‘gate’ or ‘gateway’ has also been applied to the
Church, to prayer, to faith, to preaching the gospel and to
all spiritual means of reaching God. None of this, however, has detracted anything
from Christ or His saving work. These titles, as we will
see, are mentioned in the Bible, so they accord with the biblical
truth which they defend.
The first church in the world to be consecrated was called
the ‘gate of heaven’. Jacob, the Patriarch, said of the place in
which he saw a ladder leading up to heaven from the earth: “How
awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of
God; this is the gate of heaven. ” (Gen. 28:17), and he called
that place ‘Bethel’ which means ‘house of God’.
Does the Church being the ‘gate of heaven’ prevent Christ from
also being a gate, ie. a way in, or a way leading to heaven?
The Church is a gate leading to Christ, and Christ is a gate
leading to salvation and to the Father. The name is the same
but the meaning is different. The Virgin Mary, however, can also be regarded
as a gateway, because she connected Christ to us
through the body, and she was referred to as a ‘gate’
in the Book of Ezekiel, where it says that the gate of the
east has been shut, and “It is to remain shut because the
Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. ” (Ez. 44:3)
Prayer, too, has been called a gateway to heaven, because
heaven is opened by prayer. The Virgin Mary is not merely a gateway to
heaven, but is in fact a kind of heaven herself.
Heaven is, after all, the dwelling place of God, and the Virgin
became a dwelling place for God when He grew within her
womb for nine months. Thus she became a ‘heaven’ for Him.
This is why the Church calls her the ‘second heaven’. Because
the Church has become a house of God, it too can be likened to
heaven. Therefore we say in one of our prayers: When we
stand in your holy temple (ie. in church), we consider ourselves
to be standing in heaven. The Bible mentions that there are gates which
lead to heaven. For example it says: ” Blessed are those who
do His commandments, that they may have the right
to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.”
(Rev. 22:14) But does the existence of these gates prevent
Christ from being a gate too?
All spiritual means can be gateways, provided they connect
us to Christ, who is the only gate which leads to salvation
through His blood. The Lord spoke of this matter when He said:
“Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which
leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14)
Do the Lord’s words about the narrow gate prevent Him
from being a gate too? ” The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.
” (1 Cor. 3:6) We must always remember to understand the words
of the Lord, and prayers of the Church, for their spiritual
and not simply their literal meaning, as “expressing spiritual
truths in spiritual words. ” (2 Cor. 2:13)
Prayer and faith are both gates that can lead to God.
Saul and Barnabas came to Antioch and called together the
Church: ” Now when they had come and gathered the church
together, they reported all that God had done with them, and
that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. ” (Acts
14:27) It was this ‘door of faith’ that was their means to
salvation, because it brought them into contact with Christ.
Preaching can also be a gateway leading to salvation,
because it leads to faith, and faith then leads to Christ.
It was probably this gate which the Lord had in mind when He
said to the angel of the church of Philadelphia “I know your
works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can
shut it; ” (Rev. 3:8) So if prayer, faith, preaching the gospel,
the Church and the Virgin Mary can all be gateways leading to
Christ, then “Blessed are those who… may go through the
gates into the city” which is of course, heaven. (Rev. 22:14)
The Virgin Mary was the gate through which Christ came
in order to save the world. Who was Christ? 1. Christ was the Messiah, and He was Life,
according to what He said of Himself: “I am the Resurrection
and the life. ” (John 11:25), and “I am the way, the truth and the
life. ” (John 14:6).
So we can see how St. Mary can be called a ‘gateway to
life”, by virtue of her being the very gate through which the
Messiah – who is life, came into the world. 2. Christ is also the Redeemer and ‘our salvation’.
We sing in the psalm: “The Lord is my strength and my
song; And He has become my salvation. ” (Ps. 118:14) So if
Christ was and is a ‘salvation’ to the world, then there is nothing
strange in our calling the gateway through which He came,
that is the Virgin Mary the ‘gate of salvation’!
[ 54 ] YOU ARE THE TRUE VINE
Question The Lord Christ said, “I am the true vine”
(John 15:1), so how can we say to the Virgin Mary in the prayers
of the Agpia, ‘You are the true vine that carries
the fruit of life’? Are we to apply the same title to Mary as
we do to Christ? Answer:
When the Lord Jesus Christ says, “I am the true vine”, it
has a different meaning from when we say that St Mary is a
‘true vine’. The word ‘vine’ can also be applied to the
Church, to the people and to the individual human soul, as
the Bible itself makes clear. The Bible gives the title of ‘vine’ to the
Church and it says in the psalm: ” Return, we beseech You, O God of
hosts; Look down from heaven and see, And visit this vine ” (Ps.
80:14), and we use these words in the Church’s hymns.
The Lord Himself gave this title to the Church when He
said: “In that day – ‘Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord,
152 watch over it; I water it continually. ‘ ” (Is.
27:2) and also: ” And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men
of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more
could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done
in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good
grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?” (Is. 5:3-4)
So we see here that the Lord gave the name of ‘vine’ even to
His people who had done wrong and borne bad fruit!
We also see Him referring to Israel as: ” ‘Your mother was like
a vine in your bloodline, Planted by the waters, Fruitful and
full of branches Because of many waters. But she was plucked
up in fury, She was cast down to the ground, And the east wind
dried her fruit. Her strong branches were broken and withered;
The fire consumed them.” (Ezek. 19:10,12) And in the Book of Joel He makes another reference
to Israel when He says: “He has laid waste My vines
and ruined My figtrees. ” (Joel 1:7) When the Lord compared His people or the Church
to a vine He said: ” There was a certain landowner
who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a
winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers
and went into a far country. ” (Matt. 21:33)
Here the Lord likened the Church to a vine, and the
vinedressers to the Father, saying: “I am the true vine, and My
Father is the vinedresser. ” (John 15:1) But of course when
the word vine is used of Christ it has a different meaning from
when it is used to refer to the Church. The Bible even uses the word vine to refer
to women, when it says: “Your wife shall be like a fruitful
vine In the very heart of your house, Your children like olive plants
All around your table. ” (Ps. 128:3)
So if the word ‘vine’ can be given to a woman or a wife, to the
people of God, even when they have gone astray, and can be
given to the Church as a whole, what is wrong with using it for
the Virgin Mary, whom we also call the ‘second heaven’?
We see many cases where God’s titles are actually used for
man and for nature. The Lord said: “I am the light of the world”
(John 8:12), and said to His disciples: “You are the light
of the world ” thus using the same name, though in both cases
it means different things, quite apart from the word ‘light’
when used to refer to real, physical. “God said, ‘Let there be light,’
and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and
He separated the light from the darkness. ” (Gen. 1:3)
And the word of God is also called a ‘light’: “Your word is a
lamp to my feet and a light to my path. ” (Ps. 119:105)
[ 55 ] THE VIRGIN MARY AS A ‘WALL’
Question Is it right for us to refer to the Virgin
Mary as ‘the wall of our salvation’?
One of the Plymouth Brethren has cast doubt about this
designation, which comes from the words of the prophet
Isaiah: “but you will call your walls Salvation ” (Is. 60:18).
Did St Mary rise to the rank of being a ‘salvation’? Answer:
The Bible does not just consist of one verse but is a whole
book full of them. Anyone who uses one verse to the exclusion
of. the others which relate to it, is not giving a true picture
of what the Bible is saying, nor is he giving the full meaning
of Divine Inspiration. The word “wall” in the Bible is used to mean
Thus one of Nabal the Carmelite’s servants said to Abigail: ”
They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we
were with them keeping the sheep. ” (1 Sam. 25:16), meaning
that they had protected and defended them. It was in this sense that “the walls of Jerusalem”
were looked to for protection from one’s enemies, and the
phrase ‘a city without walls’ came to mean one that was open to its
enemies, without any protection or defence.
But let us see whether God is the only one who has been
specially referred to as being a ‘wall’, or whether this word
has also been applied to human beings. This title has in fact been used for certain
people, perhaps the best example we have is that of Jeremiah,
of whom the word of God said: ” And I will make you to this people
a fortified bronze wall, …. ” (Jer. 15:20)
If God Himself appointed this prophet to be a protector for the
people, to the extent that He called him a “wall” for them, and a
strong wall at that, then it is not contrary to faith for the Virgin
to be regarded as a wall, because she was in every way more
important than Jeremiah. The Lord confirmed this purpose of His to
Jeremiah himself when He said to Him: ” I have made you this
day A fortified city and an iron pillar, And bronze walls
against the whole land; Against the kings of Judah, Against
its princes, Against its priests, And against the people of the
land. ” (Jer. 1:18) What an amazing thing it was, that Jeremiah
be a wall to all the land!
The bride in the Song of Songs is also referred to as a
‘wall’: ” I am a wall, And my breasts like towers;
then I became in his eyes as one who found peace.” (Song 8:10)
If we consider the bride here to stand for the Church, then the
Church can be regarded as a wall for believers, to protect
them from falling. We have obtained salvation through the blood
of Christ, and what we have obtained and now have, requires
prayers to protect it and to be a wall surrounding it,
so that we do not fall, through lack of faith.
No prayers are more powerful than those of the Virgin Mary,
the Mother of God, the ‘wall of our salvation’. [ 56 ]
WAS THE VIRGIN MARY EVER A BRIDE? Question
I read a vehement criticism from one of the Plymouth
Brethren concerning reference to the Virgin Mary as a
‘bride’, in which it argued that the Church, and not the
Virgin, was the ‘bride’. Please would you clarify this for us.
Answer: It is true that the Church has been called
the bride of Christ, as John the Baptist put it, but all
human souls have also been called the ‘brides’ of the Lord.
From this whole number of brides the greatest bride was made,
and in the same situation and in the same sense, the Church has
been called the ‘Virgin’. For example, see what St Paul says: ”
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have
betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a
chaste virgin to Christ. ” (2 Cor. 11:2). Here the Church is the
Virgin, the bride of Christ, and at the same time the Bible
speaks of every living soul as a maiden in love, saying: ”
Therefore the virgins love you” (Song 1:3) Thus the fact that the Church is the bride
of Christ does not preclude each living soul from being a
Virgin bride to Christ, according to the Bible.
It was Christ Himself who gave us this teaching, when He said
that the kingdom of heaven was like the five wise virgins who
went out ready and prepared to meet the bridegroom, and so
were able to enter into the wedding feast with him.
Those wise virgins are a symbol for each bride of Christ.
The Bible does not say that only one chaste virgin was
betrothed to Christ, who waited for Him and entered into the
wedding feast to delight herself in Him as her husband, but it
uses the plural ‘virgins’ to stand for all human souls individually.
What is said of the Church here can apply to every person.
Every girl who dedicates herself to the Lord can call herself a
bride of Christ. The same goes for every soul that loves Him,
whether male or female, they are also Christ’s brides, and
will wait to enter with Him into the heavenly wedding feast. We cannot
strike out any soul from loving the Lord, and say that there
can only be one bride for Him which is the Church.
The Song of Songs gives us the best and clearest illustration
of this truth. We cannot prevent anyone from meditating on
the words of this Song, nor say to them that it only symbolises
the Church and not individuals.
In actual fact, the Song of Songs contains expressions which
could not possibly be applied to the Church, but when used to
refer to human beings, and when seen in the context of personal
relationships, become entirely appropriate, such as the words of
the bride: “I slept but my heart is awake… my beloved had
turned away and was gone… . I sought him, but I could not find
him . ” (Song 5:2,6) It would be difficult to describe the Church
as sleeping or refusing to open itself to the Lord, and the Lord
turning His back on her and leaving her, and then her searching
for Him and not finding Him, her calling for Him and His not
answering. These words are really only appropriate in the
context of personal human relationships, and in particular, for
people who are in a lowered or weak spiritual state.
The word ‘bride’ is familiar to us from the Song of Songs.
” How fair is your love, My sister, my spouse!.. Your lips, O my
spouse, Drip as the honeycomb;… A garden enclosed Is my
sister, my spouse, A spring shut up, A fountain sealed.” (Song
4:10-12) We observe how in these verses the word ‘bride’
is used without any difference and to convey the same
meaning. The words of this Song could possibly refer
in some places to the Church, but in most cases it simply refers
to the love between human beings.
It is difficult for us to determine the exact meaning or
context of these words of the Bible. It isn’t easy for us just to draw a narrow
circle around them and say: ” this particular passage only has one
meaning,” when if we were to meditate upon it, we might find in
it endless possibilities.
As an example of this there are the seven letters to the seven
churches in the Book of Revelation, which are sometimes taken
to be letters to specific churches during the lifetime of St John,
and at other times are regarded as letters to any church at any
time, which might be passing through a similar experience, and
yet they can also be taken more personally, as letters addressed
to all individual believers. The word of God is limitless, and David was
right when he said: ” I have seen the consummation of all perfection,
But Your commandment is exceedingly broad.” (Ps. 119:96)
If the word ‘bride’ can be applied to any human being then
why shouldn’t it be even more appropriate to the Virgin?
Is there anything wrong with that, which should make a person
get zealously worked up to attack it? That writer you mention,
wastes his time writing about it, and other people’s time in
having to refute it! And he also raises doubts in some people’s
minds, when there are subjects from the Bible that are far more
essential, which need to be dealt with, either rejected or
defended, and especially when the whole Bible is accused of
being false or of distorting things! Is this really so much of a problem that we
need to ask wether these words refer to a human being
or to the Church? Is not the human being in a sense,
a Church also. Doesn’t the Bible say: ” Do you not know that
you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells
in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will
destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you
are.. ” (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
So a human being can be a small church, and from the totality
of these small churches the universal Church is made up. It is
the bride of Christ, and all these brides together form the largest
bride of all which is the Church, the body of Christ.
It is perfectly all right for us to address each and every pure
soul, and not only the Virgin Mary, with the words, ‘You
have found favour, O bride’. And what about St Mary highly favoured one!
[ 57 ] IS THE VIRGIN MARY A ‘SISTER’ TO US?
Question I read in a book by one of the Plymouth Brethren
that the Virgin Mary is a ‘sister’ to us! What is your
opinion on this phrase?
Answer: The Brethren tend to use the word ‘brother’
to apply to everybody, even the apostles and prophets,
and while we are all children of Adam and Eve, there are still
differences between us. Some are children, some are fathers and
mothers, and the Bible says: “Honour your father and your mother”.
(Ex. 20..12) So we don’t call our parents our brothers
or sisters, even though they, like us, are still children of Adam
and Eve. Just as physical sonship exists, so does spiritual.
See how St John the Beloved said: ” My little children, these
things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” (1 John 2:1)
Since we look to St John as a spiritual father to us, we can
hardly call him our ‘brother’. If St John as a father and apostle could say
to us ‘dear children’, what about the Virgin Mary then?
The Lord called her a mother to His disciple John, who was
himself a father to us, and so Mary has become through
this situation a mother to us all. Would it then be courteous for anyone to call
her a ‘sister’? If no-one could call their own real mother
by the title of ‘sister’ because the Bible instructs them to respect
his mother then how much more should they respect the Virgin and
call her mother, since she is the mother of all?
St Mary is not only a mother to us, but is also a mother to
the Lord Himself. St Elizabeth, who was an old woman, old enough
to be St. Mary’s mother, humbled herself before St.
Mary and said to her: “But why is this granted to me, that the mother
of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) And it happened,
when St Elizabeth heard the greeting of St Mary, that
the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the
Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)
If St Mary was a mother to the Lord, and He submitted
obediently to her, as the Bible says (Luke 2:51), how can we
call her a ‘sister’? After all there is something known as
priority The Lord Christ called us His brothers, and
said that He was the first born among many brothers, and He addressed
the two Marys after the Resurrection, saying: ” Do
not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and
there they will see Me ” (Matt. 28:10), just as He also said:
” For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother
and sister and mother. ” (Matt. 12:50)
So according to this, are we entitled to call Christ our
‘brother’, or treat Him like a brother, or address Him like a
brother? When speaking about St Mary, therefore, we
must do so with the proper respect due to her. After all the
angel Gabriel spoke to her with respect when he said: ” Rejoice,
highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you
among women! ” (Luke 1:28) And St Elizabeth addressed her
with even more reverence and humility when she said: “why
am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to
me?” So, when talking about St Mary we should do
the same. Put before you the words of the Bible:
” Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are
due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to
whom honor. ” (Rom. 13:7) That particular ‘Brother’ who regarded the
Virgin Mary as a sister of his – when she was and is in fact
the mother of Christ – is, if you think about it, actually putting
himself in the position of Christ’s uncle!
[ 58 ] DID THE VIRGIN MARY KNOW?
Question Did the Virgin Mary know that Christ was the
Son of God? And if so, did she realise that before the
birth after it or because of Christ’s miracles?
Answer: St. Mary believed in Christ’s divinity, and
that He was God’s son, before His birth, right from the time
of the Annunciation when the angel said to her: ” that Holy One
who is to be born will be called the Son of God.. ” (Luke 1:35).
And St Elizabeth confirmed this fact when Virgin Mary visited
her after becoming pregnant, and she said to Mary: “”Blessed
are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
(Luke 1:43) This shows that it was not only St Mary’s belief,
but Elizabeth’s belief too. And this was evidence of Mary’s
faith. In addition to all this, the miracles which
Christ performed and the holy visions on the occasion of His birth,
were things seen by St Mary besides all this.
I can confidently say that the Virgin Mary was the first
person to believe in the divine nature of Christ.
Let us not forget that St. Mary had studied the Bible and knew
the prophecy of Isaiah where it says: “The virgin shall conceive
and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14)
and also: ” For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name
will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting
Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:6) St. Mary understood that these holy verses
applied to her and her son, and that all the wonderful things
which were happening before her eyes confirmed this. It was these
things which she was said to have treasured in her heart.
It was on account of this that Mary said: “henceforth all
generations will call me blessed. ” (Luke 1:48)
As for the second person who believed, that was St. Joseph the
carpenter and that happened as a result of the angel’s prophecy
to him. The third person was, of course Elizabeth
and the fourth was John the Baptist, who suddenly leaped for joy in
the womb of his mother because he was still within her at the time
when Mary came to visit and when Jesus was a tiny seed inside her.(((
[ 59 ] DID CHRIST HAVE ANY REAL
Who was James the brother of the Lord? Did the Lord
Christ have any real brothers who were also born to Virgin
Mary? If not, who were those brothers mentioned? Answer:
James the brother of the Lord was James the son of Alphaeus
and was at the same time Jesus’ cousin according to the flesh,
being the son of Jesus’ maternal aunt who was Mary, the wife of
Clopas. (Clopas was also named Alphaeus). Children of one’s maternal aunt were at that
time regarded as one’s brothers and sisters on the strength
of this close tie of kinship according to the Jewish custom
when one spoke of those born in the relationship.
For example, there is what the Bible says about the relationship
of Jacob to his uncle Laban: “When Jacob saw Rachel the
daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of
Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled
the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban
his mother’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up
his voice and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her
father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and
told her father.” (Gen. 29:10-12) We see here that even though Laban was Jacob’s
uncle, Jacob was considered to be of Laban’s ‘own
flesh and blood’.
We find that Laban also refers to Jacob as being one of his
relatives when he invited him to look after his flocks: ” Because
you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for
nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be. (Gen. 29:15)
The same thing happened regarding the relationship between Abraham and Lot.
Abraham was Lot’s paternal uncle, and so the Bible said
concerning the genealogy of the father of Abram and Haran
(Lot’s father) “Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot
the son of Haran” (Gen.11:31). Nevertheless, when Lot left
Sodom during the war against Kedorlaomer, the Bible says: ”
They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom,
and his goods, and departed…. Now when Abram heard that
his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and
eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and
went in pursuit as far as Dan.” (Gen 14:12-14) So it was on account of these ancient customs
that the sons of Christ’s maternal aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas,
were called Jesus’ brothers and sons of Mary.
It was about this Mary, the wife of Clopas, that the Bible said: ”
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His
mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary
Magdalene.” (John 19:25). And this was the Mary mentioned
by Mark when he said: ” There were also women looking on
from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the
mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome,. ” (Mark
15:40) This James, Joses and Salome were all children
of Mary the wife of Clopas, and it was they who were mentioned
in what the Jews were saying about Christ: ” Is
this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called
Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?”
(Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3)
As for the Virgin Mary, she gave birth only to the Lord Christ,
and then lived as a virgin for the rest of her life, and so the
‘brothers’ of Christ mentioned above were not her children, but
those of her sister. James the younger (the son of Alphaeus), was
called the ‘ younger’ to distinguish him from James the
elder (the son of Zebedee) the brother of John the Beloved.
[ 60 ] THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MARY
AND ELIZABETH Question
Since our Lady Mary was from the house of David, from
the tribe of Judah, why did the angel Gabriel say to her: ”
Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son ” (Luke
1:36), when Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah the priest, was
from the tribe of Levi, and descended from the daughter of
Aaron? (Luke 1:5). Answer:
Some people take the word ‘relative’ in a wide sense in the same
way that Paul used the word ‘brothers’ when speaking about the
Jews as a whole: “… my brothers, those of my own race, the
people of Israel. ” (Rom. 9:3-4) St. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch, however,
had a different point of view.
He said that when the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream
called him, “Joseph son of David. ” (Matt. 1:20), it was to
remind him of God’s previous promise, that the Messiah would
come from the descendants of David. It was with a similar
intent that the words “Elizabeth your relative”, which were
addressed to Mary, were used to remind us of the link between
Elizabeth and the distant past. In actual fact it was written in the Book
of Exodus, before the commandment which prohibited the taking of
a wife from another tribe had been given, that Aaron,
the first high priest, according to the Law, had “married Elisheba
(whose name meant Elizabeth) daughter of Amminadab and
sister of Nahshon. ” (Ex. 6:23) and Nahshon was, “the
leader of the children of Judah. ” (1 Chr. 2:10; Matt. 1:4)
Look at the unfolding of the wise design of God’s holy plan, and
see how it was arranged that the wife of Zechariah was called
Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and was a relative of
Mary, the Mother of God. We can trace it all back to Elisheba
(or Elizabeth), whom Aaron married, and through whom came
the union of the two tribes and by whom this Elizabeth became
a close relative of the Virgin Mary.