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Showing posts from 2017

Why do we stand in church?

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Non-Orthodox visitors to our church are often surprised that we don’t have any seating except for the pews around the walls. This practice is traditional in Orthodoxy, and it used to be traditional in western churches too. The photo on the right is of Saint Peter’s Chapel, Bradwell, Essex built by Saint Cedd, an Orthodox saint from the seventh century. There are no fixed pews or seats – the movable benches are a modern addition.
Odda’s Chapel in Gloucester (left) is another fine example of an Anglo-Saxon chapel. Note the benches around the walls. Built in 1056, the chapel became a house in the 13th century, and it is quite possible that this saved it from being converted into a typical English country church.
The ancient features in most English churches have not been preserved so well. The wooden church at Greensted, Essex is described as the ‘oldest wooden church in the world’ and some parts have been dated as early as the sixth century.  Unfortunately the interior of the church has s…

Animals in Orthodox Icons

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Animals are often depicted together with saints in Orthodox iconography. These animals are either mentioned in the saint's life or, as in the case of St. George, refer to miraculous appearances of the saint. Saint Gerasimus (right) is often painted together with his lion ‘Jordan’, and St. Seraphim of Sarov, more rarely, with his bear ‘Misha’. 
Below, Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsk is depicted next to a bear illustrating an actual event in his life. St. Peter was imprisoned and then exiled by the atheistic Communists for his refusal to compromise the Orthodox faith by submitting to the new ‘Soviet’ Church. He died in December 1936 after ten years of  persecution. In the case of martyred soldier saints, animals often illustrate rank rather than a particular incident in the saint’s life. Saints Sergius and Bacchus, for example, are often depicted on horseback as a representation of their status in the army. All these representations of animals occur in traditional Orthodox iconogra…

Do animals have souls?

This question is quite easily answered using the writings of the Church Fathers. A soul is the life that exists in all things that participate in the life-giving energy of God. Plants, animals and humans have souls, but these souls are different as St. Maximus the Confessor explains:  Lower creatures such as plants have life and their souls have the power of nourishment and growth. The souls of animals also have the power of imagination and instinct. The souls of men have all these powers as well as the powers of intelligence and thought. Animals, therefore, have souls but their souls are different to ours. The human soul is rational and immortal whereas those of animals are irrational and mortal. What exactly do we mean by this?

In Orthodox terminology, the word ‘irrational’ in this context doesn’t mean that animals are incapable of making decisions, but that they cannot be held responsible for them. Animals cannot commit evil because they always act according to nature. Some anim…

Organ donation: should we opt-out?

Both major political parties in the UK have now committed to introducing an opt-out policy for organ donation which means, once the details have been sorted out, it is almost certain to become law. What does this mean for Orthodox Christians?
Organs are normally taken from donors whilst the donor's heart is still beating; this procedure is known as heart-beating (HB) donation. It is possible to remove some organs from donors after the donor's heart has stopped beating which is called non-heart-beating (NHB) donation. 
Legally, organs can only be taken from donors who are dead which is why the criterion of 'brain death' was introduced by the transplant lobby. It allows donors to be declared dead even though their hearts are still beating. This approach has come under attack from some doctors and specialists in medical ethics particularly as the symptoms of brain death can be produced by other conditions from which the patient makes a full recovery. 
Because the HB proc…

Whose Bible is it anyway?

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It is often said that the Orthodox Faith is founded on Scripture (the Old and New Testament) and Tradition, but these two pillars of the Church are not completely separate, they exist within each other and because of each other. The Bible belongs to the Orthodox Church because the Old Testament was fulfilled by Christ Who made us a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people (1. Pet. 2:9). In fact, as we shall discuss below, the New Testament in the form we know today only exists because of the Church.
The New Testament, as the book we are familiar with today, did not exist in the first centuries of Christianity. It was only in the period AD 140-200 that the Church began to consider which writings should be accepted as genuine. It was during this period that the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were universally accepted, but several other books such as the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Hebrews and the Revelation of Saint John remained deeply con…

The Transgender Agenda

The transgender issue is in the UK news again due to a Christian couple withdrawing their child from a primary school because the parents of another male child had decided to dress him as a girl. The school, which is run by the Church of England, said: ‘Church of England schools are inclusive environments where pupils learn to respect diversity of all kinds.’The parents, on the other hand, said that school’s policy caused their child ‘stress’. What does the Orthodox Church teach on this issue? Is there an answer to this very modern problem in the Scripture and Tradition of the Church?
We are all born as a result of sexual union between man and woman, and we are born, die and will be judged in our bodies. However, in this life, we are all seeking to be ‘delivered from this body of death’ (Rom. 7:24) and to attain eternal life, in which our bodies will be transformed and we will live like the angels of God (cf. Matt 22:30).

The biological differences in our bodies caused by gender are …

The Question of Trousers

Our attention was recently drawn to a Guide to Confession which listed 'wearing pants' (trousers) as a sin for women. Women should wear skirts and cover their heads in church, but is wearing trousers in itself sinful? Would a female surgeon, police officer or firefighter wearing trousers be considered to be committing a sin? According to the strict interpretation in this Guide they would be, because wearing trousers is sinful for women. Unfortunately, life is not this simple. 
Orthodox Christians should try and dress modestly and with humility at all times. Skirts can themselves be immodest and revealing; wearing designer dresses or skirts costing thousands of pounds could not be considered humble. In addition, the skirt itself is not just woman's garment. The traditional Greek military uniform consists of a skirt-like garment called a foustanélla. Scottish regiments of the British Army also wear kilts although no longer in combat. Scottish soldiers were given the ni…

Bone cancer in children, what’s that about?

The atheism of Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins

Introduction
Suffering is everywhere around us in the world, but how can we make sense of it from an Orthodox perspective? Rationalizing our own personal suffering is relatively easy when compared to trying to make sense of the suffering of a family member, or the suffering caused by wars and natural disasters.
Stephen Fry, in his 2015 interview with RTE, raised the issue of the suffering of children, in particular, with the rhetorical question: ‘bone cancer in children, what’s that about?’ The popular evolutionist Richard Dawkins, in his attacks on religion, regularly highlights the problem of suffering.
Both Fry and Dawkins seem to base their objections to religion on their knowledge of Roman Catholicism and Islam. Neither of these religions has a readily acceptable answer to the problem of suffering. The logic on which Roman Catholic theology is modeled might have satisfied people in earlier centuries, but a logical approach to the proble…