Q&A w/ Fr. Anthony


 These are taken from our weekly bulletin and the Orthoanalytika podcast; if you have questions you would like answered, e-mail Fr. Anthony at father.anthony@yahoo.com .  They are a mix of explanations of local practices and basic Orthodox theology.  They provide a little bit of insight into this parish, our pastor, and our faith.

To see the answer, just click on the question and it will drop down into view.


What is the bread and wine we eat and drink immediately after Communion?

This is a pious custom common in Ukrainian and other Slavic parishes.  This bread and wine are blessed, but neither is consecrated (i.e. they are not the Body and Blood of Christ).  Since it is blessed, it should be handled with reverence (to include crumbs).

Communicants who are able to have fasted since midnight, and the bread and wine are offered to alleviate their hunger.  It also tastes good, cleans the palate, and hearkens back to the “agape meal” celebrated in the early Church (as does our Sunday “Coffee Hour”).

Communicants can take some of the bread (called “antidoran” or “instead of Gifts”) back to share with catechumens and others who did not have Communion.  You can also take antidoran home to have throughout the week (especially during Lent).  It dries and keeps well.


How should I cross my arms as I approach the Chalice?

The tradition is to approach with your right arm over your left (but this is not a test – no one will notice if you do it backwards).


If I miss Communion one week, do I need to take Confession before I go to Communion again?

Some priests require this, but I do not.  This practice is appropriate in some contexts, but the approach that I encourage is to take Communion as often as you are able and Confession as often as you need.  One size does not fit all, but this one is definitely worth trying on. 

The Church is the Body of Christ.  We are its members.  Imagine how difficult it would be for your own body to function well if certain parts received blood irregularly!  At its extreme, this is what “excommunication” is – members cut themselves off from the life-giving nourishment of the Body of Christ. 

Of course this description is not perfect: infrequent Communion has a long tradition in the Orthodox Church, and there are many saints who achieved holiness apart from regular Communion (St. Mary of Egypt comes to mind).  But for most of the people most of the time, frequent Communion is the surest path to sanctification.


How would you like us to receive Communion?

I ask that you approach the chalice prayerfully and with your arms folded, asking the Lord for His mercy and thanking Him for His love.  When it is your turn, step forward and say your name (I occasionally stumble even on my family’s names at communion – the mind can blank at the least convenient times!  Trust that I have not forgotten you any more than them). 

The servers will hold the napkin so as to cover the gap between the chalice and you.  I will say the prayer; “The servant/handmaid of God [name] receives the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and life everlasting.”  As I say this prayer, your should tilt your head back and open your mouth so that I can tip the Life-Giving Food into your mouth (if it sticks to the spoon, I may ask you to take it from the spoon – sometimes that happens and it is okay). 

If you want to gently take it from the spoon on your own, that is fine, too.  The servers will then move the napkin so that you can kiss the chalice.  At this time, step over for bread and wine (and thanksgiving).  All Glory to God and He shares Himself so that we might live and grow in Him.


Can I take Communion if I am on medication?

Yes, even if this leads you to eat between midnight and Communion (the pre-Communion fast is important, but NOT dogmatic).  Both medicine and Communion are gifts offered for our health; do not let one lead you to forsake the other.  The sick should Commune frequently – especially if they can’t come to church.  See your spiritual father for personal guidance.


Is chewing gum considered “food” for purposes of Eucharistic fasting?

Yes, it is considered food.  We should not chew it while preparing for Communion, in church (regardless of whether we plan to Commune), or immediately after taking Communion.  FWIW, nor should we smoke, chew, or dip.


Why don’t we allow other Christians to receive the Eucharist in our Church?

All are invited to Communion in the Orthodox Church, as long as they are willing to become Orthodox first. In His love, God warns against people taking His Body and Blood unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).  In love, we take His warning seriously. The way to prepare for Communion is to be of the Orthodox (i.e. correct) faith, to repent of sins, and to pray and fast.

There are two main attacks that people use against Christ’s position on the sharing of His Body and Blood. Neither are convincing. The first is: “But I believe the same thing you do”. This is obviously false. If a person believed what we believe, then he/she would submit to Christ, His Church, and His teachings. The second is: “But we will let you commune at our church”. It is true that many churches have “open communion”, just as it is true that many couples have “open marriages.” Both display an unwillingness to accept the Sacraments in all their deifying splendour/fullness, and there is no need for us to reciprocate.

With Christ, we continue to pray that we all be made One in Him through the Holy Orthodox Church (St. John 17:20-23); however, the Eucharist is the celebration of that union, not the means by which it is achieved.  It is better to use the pain of our separation to work towards union than to pretend that it does not exist.


How often should I receive communion? How should I prepare?

I believe that our goal should be to take Communion every time it is offered.  This for our health and salvation and will best prepare us for the blessed life of eternal Communion which is to come!  As for preparations: FAST according to the Calendar and from midnight on the eve of Communion as well as your health allows.  PRAY the pre-communion prayers in your prayer book.  Confession is not required before every Communion, but should be taken at least once a year and whenever your Christian conscience requires it.  For what it is worth, I go to my spiritual father for confession at least every few weeks and take Communion every week.  As a concession to your priest, please remember to say your name as you approach. 

Here are the general guidelines from our bulletin:

Holy Communion is offered to all Orthodox Christians*** in good standing who have prepared themselves through the Church’s disciplines of prayer and fasting.  The Holy Mystery of Penitence is offered at Vespers, before Divine Liturgy, and by appointment.  You are encouraged to partake of Communion as often as possible and of Repentance as often as necessary.  These are offered by Christ through his Church for our health and salvation.

*** Christ’s will is to feed us all with His Precious Body and Blood.  Please see Fr. Anthony if you have questions about becoming a Communicant of the Holy Orthodox Church.

[Addition: Our bishops recommend regular communicants to take confession at least once a month.  Our monthly “Service of Repentance” can help with this.]


Some places send children out for lessons during Divine Liturgy. Why do we keep them with us?

Because we love them, desire their salvation, and recognize that being raised in the midst of communal Ortho-doxia / Pravo-slavia / “Correct worship” is the best way to raise Christian saints. 

Think of the many senses and teaching modalities used in our worship, the strong socialization and demonstration aspects of communal praise, and the very real presence of the Holy Spirit, and you can see why Christ continues to say to us at St. Michael’s – as He did his dubious disciples 2,000 years ago – “Let the little children come unto me!” 

We love our children and are deeply thankful that their parents bring them to celebrate with us.  Children and teachers leave for Church school immediately after Communion.  Unlike other traditions (e.g. Roman Catholicism and most forms of Protestantism), our children are already full communicants.  As the Lord said; “Let the little children come unto me!”


What is the “Litany of the Catechumens” and why was it added to our service?

Catechumens are god-fearing people who are preparing for entrance into the Orthodox Christian Church.  Praying the Litany of the Catachumens involves all of us in their preparation.  The conversion of catechumens, along with the Baptism of children born into Orthodox families, is how the Church grows.  When we pray for the catachumens, we develop a Christian attitude that actively supports our growth and that of our parish.    What are we saying when we leave it out?  Is the minute it saves from our service more important than spreading the Good news and growing our parish?  Everyone here is interested in Church growth.  Praying this Litany – along with the way we already welcome all who come to pray with us – are two very practical ways to facilitate this.

Note: Christians who are preparing to join the Orthodox Church should stay for the entire service, even after the “dismissal of the catachumens” (i.e. when the book says “depart all catachumens”).  This dismissal was added “back in the day” for pagan catachumens who might misunderstand Communion. After the dismissal, they would then be taken out for instruction

When should we kneel during Divine Liturgy?

There is a lot of local variation when it comes to kneeling during the Divine Liturgy.  Currently, everyone serving in the altar is expected to do a full prostration after the Epiclesis and during the “Our Father” (except during the Paschal and Nativity seasons).  The corresponding practice for the laity is to kneel during the Epiclesis (i.e. from “One is Holy…” to the “Hymn to the Theotokos”) and the “Our Father”.  This combination has a venerable tradition within our parishes. 

[Note: some may protest that early Canons prohibit kneeling on Sunday, but spirit of the the rule is against penitential kneeling/prostrations.  Reverent kneeling is a sign of our overwhelming awe and reverence for our Lord.  If I understand correctly the implications of Christian charity as found in St. Paul’s discussion of eating meat, then “standers” should be willing to kneel so as not to offend “kneelers”; and “kneelers” should be willing to kneel so as not to offend “standers”. In all things, the strong must carry the burdens of the weak.  My personal desire for this parish, as for my own life, is that we gradually bring all of our customs into conformity with standard Orthodox practice.  With this particular issue, there is no real hurry; this is not the case with other habits and rules (such as love of neighbor and repentance of sins).] 

Standing for the entire service is another (even older and more widespread) venerable Orthodox tradition – and one that we respect here at St. Michael’s.  The Sunday ban on penitential prostrations and kneeling only makes sense if we humble ourselves penitentially before the Lord regularly Monday through Saturday.  One of the reasons to grant economia (dispensation) on this issue is that so few of us do this.  As a wise man pointed out to me (in love): “Sunday may be the only day our people ever humble themselves.”  As this becomes less true, we may need to revisit this issue.

Note: On the first Sunday of each month, we precede the Divine Liturgy (and the reading of the Hours) with a “Service of Repentance” during which folks are used to kneeling.  Again, if we are going to kneel on Sunday, it should be done out of reverence.  Folks who have a hard time doing this (kneeling in adoration during a penitential service) should consider standing throughout the service.


What is the Great Entrance?

The practical purpose of the Great Entrance – that bit of ceremony that begins during the Cherubimic Hymn – is to move the plate (paten) that holds the lamb and our commemorations and the chalice that contains the wine and water from the Table of Preparation to the Holy Altar for consecration.  Historically, the bread and wine would have been brought in by the people.  The deacons would have selected the best for use in the service and given the remaining to the poor.  Back then, the Great Entrance would have started outside the Sanctuary and progressed from there to the altar.  Allegorically, the Great Entrance is a reminder of Palm Sunday, when Christ made his triumphant return to the holy city of Jerusalem on his way to make the perfect sacrifice (Himself) for our salvation.  This sacrifice and triumph is the center of our Eucharistic celebration, and the sacramental foundation of our perfection.  I hope you will enjoy celebrating this movement with us as it moves among you!   It is proper to face the gifts as they travel, and to cross yourself as they move past you in the center.


Why are the Holy Doors closed during parts of the Divine Liturgy?

In general, the opening of the Holy Doors is to be treated as an occasion of great joy as “God is the Lord and is revealed to us”, whereas the closing of the Doors should increase our sense of joyful repentance and anticipation.  It is true that there is great variation in their actual use.   At St. Michael’s we keep the Holy Doors closed until God manifests Himself through the Gospel during Little Entrance.  It stays open until the gifts are placed on the altar after the Great Entrance, at which point they are closed to symbolize Christ being sealed in the tomb.  We open them again for the recitation of the Creed and the Anaphora, close them for the Communion of the Clergy, and then open them as Christ comes forth from the altar to His people for Communion.  They then stay open until service is over.  For more information on this subject, see the article on liturgics in the 2007 Ukrainian Orthodox Calendar.

Note:  This practice was changed for Sunday/Festal Liturgies in July, 2010, when, according to the blessing and guidance of our bishop, we began opening the Holy Doors before the opening Doxology.  They are now closed only for the Communion of the clergy, then opened again as the people approach Christ/the chalice “with the fear of God, with faith, and with love.”  The theology remains the same: the Holy Doors are open to signify times of great revelation, but the emphasis is made on the ongoing revelation/Incarnation of Christ through His Church and the Eucharist.


Who can serve Reader’s Services?

Any member of the laity or minor clergy (even bishops, for that matter).  They are designed to allow families and communities who do not live near an Orthodox parish to continue worshipping in the Orthodox manner.  I have copies of such services if you know of anyone in this situation.


How should I take Confession after the Service of Repentance?

We offer this Service of Repentance at 8:30 AM on the first Sunday of every month.  By far the most important thing is to open your heart in contrition, with the desire to become perfect, and ready to accept God’s love, forgiveness, and help.  The basic mechanics are simple – after our preparatory prayers (which all of us will have done together), come forward and bow your head to the icon of Christ on the stand.  I will stand next to you (in the position of witness).  I will place my stole over your head and begin a dialogue (e.g. “what other sins would you confess?”).  This dialog will end with the prayer of absolution, after which you will kiss the Cross and emerge thankful, buoyant, and free from sin.


What is the Moleben service that meets each Wednesday (outside of Great Lent)?

Moleben is an intercessory prayer service.  It includes litanies, responsive singing, hymns, a Gospel reading, and a short homily, but the feature I would like to bring to your attention comes toward the end.  That is when we lift up all of our concerns – for ourselves, our families, friends, and neighbors (both living and departed) – to the Lord in prayer.  Even if you cannot make it to the service, I encourage you to make a habit of filling out a page in the “Notebook of Intercessions” kept in the parish entrance (aka “narthex” or “vestibule”).  This is a visible reminder of the overlap and reinforcement between our private and corporate prayer lives as we gather our individual concerns – the ones that we collect and pray in our daily lives – and offer them together in the temple.  Speaking of private prayer, please remember this parish and all its faithful in your daily prayers.


Can you tell us more about the Vespers service and why we celebrate it every week?

Vespers is a beautiful service that invites us to contemplate creation, our fall, and the promise of salvation through the glorious Resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ.  As we reckon the beginning of the liturgical day from sunset, Vespers is the first service of the Resurrection celebrated each week.  Vespers provides a special opportunity for us and the “under-churched” in the broader community to participate in authentic Christian worship and praise.  If you have not been to Vespers recently, COME AND SEE! I think you will enjoy it.


For a person who has not been coming to Lenten services but would like to start, are there some services that you would recommend over others?

I recommend the Presanctified Liturgy above the others.  This is because

1) taking Communion during the week really fortifies us, and

2) the service itself is incredibly intimate and moving. 

Of the two Presanctified Liturgies, My favorite is the Friday one because it is conducted later, so the effect of the natural lighting is more profound (on Wednesday you get dinner, though!)


What are the “3rd and 6th Hours” that are chanted before Divine Liturgy?

The Canonical Hours (1, 3, 6 & 9) are the ancient way of “redeeming the time”; of marking certain points in the day with prayer.  Based around the reading of specific Psalms, each Hour has its own theme.  The Third Hour theme is the Scourging of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit; the Sixth Hour theme is the nailing of Our Lord to the Cross.  These two (3rd & 6th) are read before Divine Liturgy; the other two are read before the start of Vespers (9th) and at the end of the All Night Vigil (1st).


What is the “Great” or “All-Night” “Vigil”? Does it really last all night?

Come and See! It is a beautiful service that combines Great Vespers, Matins, and the First Hour. It is nice when it lasts all night, but for us about 90 minutes is enough. Small Vespers (the 4PM service, preceded by the 9th Hour) is a lot shorter (about 40 minutes) and is comprised almost entirely of singing and chanting (w/one litany at the end).


Why do you sometimes read other people’s sermons?

Each Sunday, we read Epistles that the Apostle St. Paul sent.  In this tradition, sometimes episcopal descendants of St. Paul (i.e. our bishops) send us epistles to read, too.  Not only are these sermons edifying (much more so than anything I come up with!) we read them because they wrote them for us; they would read them to us themselves if they could! If you really miss my 2 cents, I publish an hour of audio content each week to our website (and to iTunes), teach two separate classes on spirituality each week, and will talk theology (or anything else) with anyone who has the desire.


I know someone that has been away from the church for years, but wants to come back. What is the procedure?

Invite them to come home!  In accordance with the Gospel (e.g. St. Matthew 20: 13-16 & St. Luke 15: 31-32), we welcome them with open arms: they are immediately restored to full communion through the Sacraments of Repentance and Communion (if penance is required, then that is largely a private matter).  Again in accordance with God’s instructions (e.g. St. Matthew 18: 4-6), we should put nothing (to include grudges and hard-heartedness) between Christ and His children.  The “devil” is only “in the details” if we put him there.  It is my opinion that if we truly reached out to folks that have been away for whatever reason, not only would our pews be full: we would be one step closer to living the kind of life that Christ requires of those who bear His name.  We always greet everyone who comes in our doors with love and compassion (e.g. St. Matthew 5: 43-48).  This is how we grow (as persons and as a church).


Should I have a living will?

Yes, I think you should.  Please include your desire for end-of-life ministry by your (or a) priest.  This extra clause costs nothing to add or execute, but will provide immeasurable comfort to you and your family.


What is the Orthodox Church’s position on organ donation?

There is no unanimous Orthodox position on this.  If done, it must be a voluntary act of love and performed with respect to the sanctity of the body.  I am an organ donor, but know of committed, loving Orthodox Christians who are not.


Why don’t you talk about the departed in your funeral eulogies?

Orthodoxy does not eulogize the departed at funerals (this is better done by friends/family outside of services): the Church contextualizes death and proclaims the Resurrection.


What are the Orthodox Church’s regulations regarding funeral services?

You can read the “Vital Regulations” of our Church or ask me for more information (there is a copy in the narthex display case), but here is a summary of the things most people are interested in:

If the family desires, the service may be celebrated in conjunction with a Divine Liturgy, the service is best conducted in the Church, but can be celebrated elsewhere (e.g. at the funeral home)

The service should be celebrated with an open casket, especially if it was open for public viewing at the funeral home.

Lastly, Orthodoxy does not condone cremation – a Church “funeral service”  and internment can only be conducted in the presence of an intact body.

Because it is our Christian obligation to bury the dead, economia / accommodations may be made for extra-ordinary circumstances.  See Fr. Anthony for more information.


Why aren’t Orthodox Christians cremated?

No one should be willingly cremated.  The popularity of cremation demonstrates how secular (post-Christian) our culture has become.  People who choose cremation do not really understand what the body is, nor its role in our sanctification.  No matter how broken our bodies become, we are not “souls/spirits trapped in a mortal shell”.   Rather, we are “made in the image and likeness of God” and “sanctified through our Lord Jesus Christ”. 

As Christians, we believe that this is what makes us truly human and allows us to become holy.  What some Christians have forgotten is that it is both our souls and bodies that are therefore worthy of respect and veneration.  Your body and soul are united, made to grow together eternally into deeper union with God.  It is true that the death of your body separates it from your soul – but this rendering is pitiable and unnatural; and you repose awaiting the day when your soul and body are eternally reunited in a more perfect union and form. 

The body that remains on earth while you wait should be treated with love.  As Christians, we venerate the bodies of saints as relics and we treat the bodies of EVERYONE respectfully.  This is why we do not even allow “cremains” into the temple, much less celebrate the full funeral service around it (and please remember that this service is helpful for both the reposed and those who remain).  

Cremation is no more “practical” than a traditional funeral, even in secular terms.  Yes, the average cremation is cheaper than the average funeral, but I can help you prepare a funeral that is both affordable and consistent with your Orthodox faith (and please remember that spiritual health is imminently practical!).  While otherwise good people do chose to be cremated, there really is no excuse for an informed and devoted Orthodox Christian to willingly choose it.

We do not know what the future holds for us.  I strongly suggest making both your desire to have your priest involved in your end of life care and for a proper funeral/burial part of a living will.


You mentioned the Ukrainian language being a valuable Christian witness – what did you mean?

One of the great teachings of the Orthodox Church is that the Truth should be proclaimed in the language of the hearer (think here of the miracle of Pentecost, when all heard the disciples speak in their own native language).  For centuries, this set the Orthodox East, which worshiped in the vernacular, apart from the Catholic East, which worshipped in Latin.  A friend of mine wondered to me whether it wasn’t a bit ironic, given this history, that our parishes continue to use some Ukrainian in services when so few (if any) speak it as their first language.  While he might have had a point if we prayed all of our services entirely in Ukrainian, we do not – so he did not! 

For a long time leading up to the collapse of the Russian Empire, Ukrainians were forced to worship in a foreign language.  Not only was Ukrainian forbidden in Churches (and schools), even the Ukrainian pronunciation of Church Slavonic (the language of worship in the Russian Empire and much of Eastern & Central Europe) was forbidden!  (Can you imagine how hard it must have been to raise Christian children in such a situation?)  It was this and similar policies that led to such a strong movement for the re-establishment of a truly Ukrainian Church in the early 20th century.  We use Ukrainian for many reasons, but one is certainly to celebrate our ability to worship freely in the tradition and language(s) that will, like the Spirit at Pentecost, best direct our minds to Christ our God.       

[Note that we sing “Eis Polla eti Despota” for our bishops despite none of them or us being Greek.]

P.S.  There is also a more obvious reason for our use of Ukrainian – many of our parishioners still worship best in it.  It is a great pleasure for the rest of us to provide this offering of love to and with them.


I had my house blessed already – why should I do it again?

You certainly don’t have to.  We are made in the image of God with the responsibility to care for the world around us.  An implication of this is that our spirituality has a real affect on our surroundings: our families, our friends, our co-workers, and even our physical environment.  We participate in the blessings and mysteries of the Church regularly not only because we want to ensure our own sanctification, but because we want to make sure that our impact remains positive. House blessings, prayers, and the use of holy water are part of this – and as with other mysteries, they can help repair the damage our passions have done to ourselves, our relations, and our homes since the last time we participated in them.


What is Bojhe Veliki, and why do we sing it so often?

Bojhe Veliki is a traditional prayer for our homeland (Vkraina / Krai) and for us as her sons and daughters.  No doubt, many of us remember singing it (in part) to beseech God to relieve the yoke of foreign communist rule over Ukraine.  However, its stirring melody and poetic language call us to remember more than our physical, ancestral, and spiritual homelands here on earth: they evoke within our hearts the deeper nostalgia and yearning for our True Home, the place that our Lord Himself has prepared for us in glory.  For instance, when it asks our Lord to “enlighten us through knowledge and learning” so that the “pure love for our homeland might flourish within and among us”, it is asking our Lord to grow us into proper children of His inheritance.  Please stand attentively and join the choir as we sing this beautiful prayer at the end of Divine Liturgy.

To hear Bojhe Veliki as sung by our choir and congregation,  click here.


When should I cross myself during Church?

It is traditional to cross oneself (usually w/ bows) when entering the nave (x3); before kissing an icon (x2, kiss, x1); when being blessed with a hand cross, Gospel, or Chalice; when the Trinity is described; when crossing from one side of the nave to the other, & at the beginning and end of the Gospel lesson.  

A simple bow is the traditional response when the priest blesses us with his hand & when he censes us. (The only time crossing is a bad idea is right in front of the Chalice… although we do cross our arms!)

Outside of the service, the Cross of our Lord provides a tremendous protection and blessing and should be invoked whenever the believer is in need or feels so called.


What is the proper way to address a Bishop in conversation?

“Vladyko” is appropriate, and the most common way we address our bishops in the UOC.  The English equivalent of “Master” is also appropriate.  Our bishop has the title of “Archbishop”, so “Your Eminence” is the more formal way to address him in the second person; “His Eminence” is the most appropriate way for doing so in the third person (“Your Grace” is appropriate for bishops; “Your Beatitude” for metropolitans).  When first meeting/greeting a bishop, you should say “Master, bless” or “Valdyko, blahoslovi”, at which point he will give you a blessing and his hand for you to kiss. This is the norm in all Orthodox cultures; in most places this courtesy is also shown to priests (saying “Father, bless”, as at the end of services).  FWIW, it is a sign of veneration to Christ and His Church as manifested through the bishop and priest; not a sign of submission to the individual person beneath the cassock. For those of you who are familiar with military culture, this interaction is roughly equivalent to saluting and exchanging the greeting of the day (but with the added benefit of a blessing  ).  

It is through the preservation of our Orthodox culture that our individual faith is preserved and strengthened.  An intentional weakening of this culture is always followed by widespread apathy and eventual apostasy.


What is the big deal about Great Lent and fasting?

Great Lent is like Christian boot camp.  Soldiers go to boot camp to learn to think and react like soldiers, and to condition their minds and bodies to handle the stress of combat.  We participate in the disciplines of Great Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – to learn to think and react like Christian Saints, and to condition ourselves to handle the stress of living in a fallen world.  It would be perilous for soldiers to go into combat without first training (or retraining, for the case of veterans).  It is even more dangerous for us to pursue righteousness among temptation without first taking time to prepare.  Great Lent is part of that preparation. 

The Lenten fasting discipline prescribed for all healthy Christians is to avoid meat, fish with bones, eggs, dairy, wine, and oil (although there are special days like the Annunciation and Palm Sunday when fish, wine, and oil are allowed).  Fasting can be difficult (and easy to ignore), but – through Christ – can prepare us for other trials (that cannot be ignored).  May God bless us on this Lenten journey.


What is tithing? Why is it being encouraged? What is wrong with Dues?

A Christian Perspective on Giving:

Tithing (10% of income) is the standard.  The average Woonsocket family makes $38k/yr and would thus give $3,800/yr.. This does not include special gifts, etc.  Tithing – and the sacrifice it requires – should be every Christian’s goal.

Fair share giving. It costs us somewhere around $200k to pay our bills.  We have about 100 members.  The “fair share” of each member is thus around $2000/yr.

Dues giving.  Doesn’t have a compelling algorithm/formula, nor is it supported by Scripture of Tradition; amount comes from incremental increases from a figure set at the time of our founding; requires each member to give $600/yr.

What will you base YOUR giving budget on?  As with fasting and every other Orthodox discipline, our habits are all-too-easy to justify and often stand in the way of improvement.  If you are not already doing so, there is no better time than now to begin working towards tithing (and fasting, and following a consistent prayer rule, and loving your neighbor – it’s all part of the same package)!  You will be surprised at the freedom and blessings that accrue therefrom.


We always hear that God is love, but what are we to make with His seeming love of violence in the Old Testament?

There are many explanations for this.  Some (such as the demiurge of the gnostics) are wrong.  Others are more helpful.  Here is the Orthodox explanation that I have found the most helpful.  The Truth is one and unchanging.  Humanity is not.  God speaks to us through the language and events we understand.  Even transcendent visions and prophecies must be put into words that the prophet can utter and people hear/read.  The pre-Incarnation economy of salvation is a story of the preparation of Israel – and indeed the entire world – to become the bearers of the Word.  So we must always be sure to read the Old Testament with Orthodox eyes; it would be a mistake for us to shrink our understanding to the anthropomorphisms of the early Hebrews.  This is why people who are interested in reading the Scripture should NOT start with Genesis but with the Gospels.


What about the veneration of icons of saints? Why do we kiss icons?

The Incarnation is again key.  Man was made in the image of God, but we corrupted that image through sin.  Christ restored the perfection of that image.  The saints participate in that perfection through Him (as do we).  We venerate their icons because of the way Christ is reflected in and through these saints.  We kiss icons because those depicted therein are very dear to us – similar to the way we kiss pictures of family and friends.  Love demands action.

Some perspective:  When Christianity was being attacked by Islam in the first millennium, the Fathers of the Church (especially Theodore abu Qurra) stressed the icon in order to defend Orthodoxy and the Incarnation vs. the heresies of Islam (which is extremely anti-icon and teaches that Jesus was just a prophet).  Today, our secular culture continues to mock the core Christian doctrine of the Incarnation (as does Islam), and the affirmation of the icon remains a strong defense.  It is also a good counter to heterodox Christianity (e.g. Evangelicals, which tends to be iconoclastic).  If a Christian asks you why you worship with icons, you could (lovingly) ask why they don’t!  The resulting conversation could lead them home to Orthodoxy.

In short, we worship with icons because know our Savior Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.


Isn’t it idolatrous to worship icons?

Yes, it would be idolatrous to worship icons – so we don’t do it.  We worship with icons because they reaffirm the fundamental doctrine of the Incarnation: God became describable (e.g. with paint) when He took flesh as the God-man Jesus Christ.  The veneration we offer to icons of Him pass beyond the wood and paint to Him.  They are a literal window into heaven.


Why do some churches celebrate Pascha (Easter) before we do?

It comes down to how one interprets the universally-accepted Canon that sets the date for Pascha.  The rule basically says that we celebrate Pascha on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, “not celebrated with the Jews.”  Rather than using exact astronomical calculations, both the Orthodox and the Western heterodox use calendars to determine both the full moon (i.e. the 14th day of the lunar month) and the vernal equinox (March 20/21st).  Because we use the Julian Calendar (the one in effect when the rule was written), our “vernal equinox” falls 13 days later than it does for the Western heterodox (they use a slightly different lunar calendar, as well).  The phrase “not celebrated with the Jews” is designed to remind us that while the Lord’s Pascha was related to the Passover 2,000 years ago, we are not obliged to ensure that our Paschal celebration coincides with Jews today.  This point needed to made because the Jewish method for dating their Passover varied after the destruction of the temple.  For what it is worth, the Western heterodox also count to “forty” (for Great Lent) differently than we do: they skip Sundays and include Holy Week in their calculations.  We do neither.  

You can read more about this HERE.


Will everyone go to heaven?

We know from the mouth of the God Himself that no one can be granted eternal bliss except through Jesus Christ.  The truth is that we do not who will make it through the “narrow gate” into heaven.  We witness and pray in hope that all will come to accept Christ and live their lives accordingly, but we cannot make other people’s choices for them.  But we do control our own choices.  If we were to earnestly put Christ at the center of our lives, not only would we be transformed for the better, we would be more useful instruments for transforming others (St. Saraphim of Sarov said rightly “Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved”). 

Turning yourself over to God means accepting His plan for you and for everything/everyone.  It also means becoming an active participant in this plan.  It is an unfortunate fact that most of us love satisfying our fallen desires more than the Truth.  A man that does not recognize his peril cannot honestly seek or obtain salvation.  God is infinite in Knowledge, Compassion, Justice, Mercy, and Power.  His plan is the best plan for saving us, everyone else, and this world (even though we do not know all of it).  I promise you that it is better than anything we can come up with.  Repent and Trust Him.


Why are there so many religions? What happens to people who are not Christian?

If you want the fuller answer, you will have to listen in on our Youth Church School class!  But the short answer is that 1) we are made in God’s image and are designed to operate best when we glorify Him.  As a result, worship is instinctive and our psychology naturally reacts to our loves, fears, and unknowns with an appreciation of the supernatural.  2) Being made in God’s image, we are also “little creators”.  In pride, many have used this gift to create their own imaginative myths rather than accept the authentic revelations of salvation through Christ and His Church. But the Holy Spirit actively works with all who sincerely seek the Truth to move them towards Orthodoxy (i.e. “Correct Worship”) in the great hope that Christ’s Healing Sacrifice will be accepted and enjoyed by all.  Our loving and earnest witness should be part of this process, as should our prayers.


What do you make of “The Golden Compass”?

I am a fantasy book and movie junkie, and strongly recommend the traditional practice of using fantasy stories and fairy tales to reinforce and grow the imaginations of our children and youth.  In addition to cultivating an appreciation for wonder, these stories are a wonderful way to teach morale lessons that lead to the acceptance of morality and virtue as being heroic, desirable, and (ironically, perhaps) natural.  Authors I recommend include Lloyd Alexander, Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkein.  While I don’t always like the way Harry treats others, J.K. Rowling’s series follows in this same tradition (the final book glows with Christian morality and theology – it is in the others as well, but in a more muted). Obviously not every book or author  is good for every child, and discernment is required. 

Unfortunately, while the Pullman books are full of adventure and compelling young characters, they were written with the express purpose not of edification or even simple entertainment, but rather to pull children away from religion in general, and the traditional Christian Church in particular.  These themes have been played down in the movie (which is probably quite entertaining), but if you see it, plan on spending time talking with your children about it afterwards.  More so even for the books (which I actually discourage for children and anyone who is not well-grounded in their faith or cannot read critically). 

The effect of images can bypass rationality and establish themselves firmly in the imagination.  This, while some might view this movie as pure entertainment or even a chance to raise important issues for discussion; this is possible, but please be careful.  One Orthodox commentator  put it this way; “this is like showing children pornography to teach them about marital fidelity… you can talk through the issues but the images remain…” (paraphrased from Dr. Carl Carlton’s “Faith and Philosophy” podcast on “The Golden Compass”).


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