In yesterday’s Gospel, we read Luke 19:45-48. It states: “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.”
As we can see above, this is a very short Gospel reading. So you may be asking: “What gives, how can I apply this to my life?” When reading 1 Cor 3:16-17 & 1 Cor 6:19-20, both scriptures make it very clear that our bodies are temples of God Himself: the Holy Spirit. Being that we are temples made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27) and are of even more value than the animals (Matt 6:26), how much more do we offend God when we do not keep guard of our hearts? Especially when we allow sinful passions to fill it by not fighting them off with prayer?
Jesus shows in Matthew 15:18-20, in addition to many other scripture passages, that the heart can cause us to sin when we do not guard it. Not guarding it causes us to defile the Image of God that we are made in. “But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man. For from the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man.”
St. Makarios says that: “The heart is but a small vessel: and yet dragons and lions are there, and there, poisonous creatures and all treasures of wickedness …” (Homily XLIII). I.E.; the sins and passions of Pride, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth.
With these words in mind, we must not be afraid to ask Christ to come within our hearts to drag out the passions of our soul. Being that the temple – in the words of Christ – “is a house of prayer”, so shall it be with our bodies and souls. This is why St. Paul commands us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:17). This can be done with the Jesus Prayer by allowing the Cleansing Breath of The Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and souls. But first, we must call upon the Holy Spirit to give us that desire. “The Name of Jesus cannot really enter a heart that is not being filled with the cleansing breath and flame of The Spirit. The Spirit Himself will breath and light in us the Name of The Son.” – Archimandrite Lev Gillet.
In the Book of Steps by St. Ephrem the Syrian, it states: “The body is a hidden temple, and the heart a hidden altar.” Just like the altar is the center of a church in where sacrifice takes place, so is the heart for our bodies and souls. Every action that we do as a result of it offers up to God either a spiritual perfume of incense or a gross odor.
Psalms 50:19 says “A sacrifice unto God is a contrite spirit, a contrite and humbled heart, Oh God, will not despise.” This is why as followers of Christ we must keep guard of our hearts, since the heart and the spirit cannot be separated in the spiritual sense. St. John Cassian states: “It is not so much the corruptible flesh as the clean heart, which is made a shrine for God, and a temple of the Holy Ghost.”
In light of all these words of wisdom from the Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers, let us remember to keep guard of our hearts. Just as we would not defile our beautiful churches and blaspheme the Holy Icons, Liturgy etc; so must we also not blaspheme God by mocking Him by defiling ourselves, the living images (Ikons) of Christ.
In this article we will be discussing the traditions of the Eastern Churches and explain how they have had a impact on the Latin Church throughout the centuries. In a predominately Western world in which hardly recognizes the existence of the Eastern Churches, we aim to not only inform our viewers for the sake of educational purposes, but to also show the equal importance of the Eastern Churches.
1. The Liturgy and the Nicene Creed
As we are all aware, the Creed of the first Ecumenical Council was written by the Council Fathers to preserve orthodoxy and to combat the heresy of the Arians. Before catechumens were baptized into the Church, they were first required to profess the Nicene Creed before the church to prove that they accepted the true faith and renounced the evils of the world. This is still practiced in the Roman Rite. The recitation of the Nicene Creed within the Divine Liturgy before the Eucharist was later adopted by the Church of Antioch in the 5th century. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “The recitation of all the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed at the Eucharist seems to have begun, according to Theodore the Reader, at Antioch under Peter the Fuller in 471 (though James of Edessa says that it was adopted as soon as it was composed), and to have been adopted by Constantinople by Patriarch Timotheus in 511.” (1). The Church of the West did not adopt the use of the Nicene Creed until 589 within the churches of Spain and Galicia. The third Council of Toledo states: “That the creed of the faith be said in all churches of Spain and Galicia in accordance with the form of the Oriental churches and of the council of Constantinople at which 150 bishops were present, that it be sung with a clear voice by the people before the Lord’s Prayer is said.” (2). The Pope of Rome, His Holiness Pope Benedict XIV, confirms this to be a historical fact. (3).
2. Holy Friday (Good Friday).
As we are all aware, it is on Holy (Good) Friday that we commemorate the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for having saved us through His death on the cross. In the Latin Church, this is done by kissing the Crucifix after a procession is done. In the East we have a similar practice of venerating the Crucifix on Holy Friday. However, the Body of Christ is also removed from the Cross, wrapped in a white cloth, and carried to the altar during the Apokathylosis Service. The clergy also process with what is called a “Epitaphios” which is an icon of Christ on linen depicting him after he has been removed from the cross. The practices in which we can now see being used during Holy Friday comes from a night procession that was practiced within the Church of Jerusalem during the 4th century. A series of readings would also be read to the faithful as they would gather at Calvary for the hours that Jesus was crucified and died. The ceremony concluded with the veneration of the Holy Cross. The Pope of Rome, St. Sergius, later introduced the practice of venerating the cross to the Latin Church for Good Friday and established it as a practice in the Lateran Basilica. (4). Earlier, we have referenced the Papal Bull ‘Allatae Sunt’ by Pope Benedict XIV. Within this same Papal Bull, he also confirms that this is a historical fact. “Continuing with Our topic, Amalarius in his de Divinis Officiis, chap. 14 (relying on the authority of St. Paulinus’ Epistolary ad Severum) relates that the Cross on which Christ hung was exposed for adoration of the faithful in the church of Jerusalem on Good Friday of Holy Week only. He declares that the ceremony of the adoration of the Holy Cross which forms part of the Good Friday service in every Latin Church until the present day derived from the practice of the Greeks.” With that in mind, it opens to the next subject.
3. The Use of Crucifixes
In his book “The Cross of Christ” by John R.W. Stott, he states: “The crucifix (that is, a cross to which a figure of Christ is attached) does not appear to have been used before the sixth century”. (5). His Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Joseph Tawil of blessed memory, former Eparch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the United States, agrees with this. “Before the sixth century the crucifixion was a hated and shameful image, depicted only symbolically.” He continues, “It was the Syrian monks who first represented Christ on the cross, to better emphasize the humanity of the Word. This representation was at first shocking in Gaul where it was covered with a veil. The crucifixion scene in the manuscript of the Syrian monk, Rabbula (sixth century), became the prototype of all representations of this type in the west during the seventh century.” (6).
When examining Church history, it is evident that monasticism was started by Eastern Christians within the desert of Alexandria. This was done by Early Christians in order to get away from the world to live a life of perfection through prayer and fasting. Great examples of Early Christian monastics include St. Paul of Thebes, St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Pachomius the Great, St. Moses the Black, St. Sabbas the Sanctified, etc. While monasticism is attributed to St. Paul of Thebes, St. Pachomius was the originator of monastic rule since it was not common in the early monastic communities. This is something that we continue to see within Latin religious orders, something that was also adopted by St. Benedict after monasticism was introduced to the West by St. Athanasius in 340 A.D. (See ‘Western Monasticism’ within the Catholic Encyclopedia for more info). Because the East had such an huge impact on the West in this regard, not only was the date for Easter adopted by the Alexandrian Church, but also the Lenten Fast. The Fast began in the monasteries of Egypt. When the custom was brought to the west, it was first rejected by the Roman Church since the observance of a 40 day fast seemed to be too harsh. However, St. Athanasius insisted that this practice become the normal custom of the Latin Church after he requested Bishop Thumis to make it so.
In the Preface of the Traditional Roman Rite, the Priest says to the faithful: “Dominus Vobiscum” (The Lord Be With You). The church responds with “Et Cum Spiritu Tuo” (And with your spirit). He then says the words “Sursum Corda” (Lift up your hearts). Finally, the faithful reply with “Habemus Ad Dominum” (We have lifted them up to The Lord). Sound familiar? This is still said within the newer form of the Roman Rite as well. The very words “Lift up your hearts” was first used within the catechism of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, explaining how the liturgy was said in his region in order to prepare catechumens for baptism. (7). This was something that the Roman Church has also adopted from the East.
Another prayer of the East in which has influenced the prayers of the West, in addition to many others, is the Troparion for the Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. “Your Nativity, O Christ our God, Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to adore you, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Orient from on High! O Lord, Glory to You!” The Latin version of this prayer, known as the Nativitas Tua, goes: “Thy Nativity, O Virgin Mother of God, announced joy to the whole world: For out of thee arose the Sun of justice, Christ Our God, who paying for the curse, gave blessing, and confounding death, gave us eternal life.”
6. The Ripidion (Liturgical Fan).
Beginning in the first – fourth century, the Churches of the East used the liturgical fans within the Divine Liturgy. The Apostolic Constitutions from the 4th century reads: “Two deacons, one on either side of the altar, are directed to hold fans formed of thin membrane of the feathers of the peacock, or of linen tissue, to drive away little flying creatures, least they should fall into the sacred vessels”. (8). It wasn’t until the 6th century that the Latin
Church began to adopt the use of liturgical fans. (9). This practice later fell out of use in the 14th century. (10).
Granted, it is evident by history that the Eastern Churches have had a huge influence on the Church of the West. As stated in the introduction, it shows that the churches of the East have an equal importance with the Church of the West in regards to traditions, customs, etc. History also shows that the Churches of the East have helped develop the practices of the Latin Church, which shows that both traditions are complimentary rather than competitive.
1. Liturgical Use of Creeds, Catholic Encyclopedia
2. Canon Two, Council of Toledo, 589 A.D.
3. Papal Bull: Allatae Sunt, Section 28, 1755, Pope Benedict XIV
4. The Patriarchate of Antioch throughout History: An Introduction, Archbishop Joseph Tawil, Sophia Press, 2001, Page. 33-34.
5. “The Cross of Christ”, John R.W. Stott, Page 27.
6. The Patriarchate of Antioch throughout History: An Introduction, Archbishop Joseph Tawil, Sophia Press, 2001, Page. 14
7. Catechetical Lecture 23, Section 4, St. Cyril of Jerusalem.
8. Apostolic Constitutions, VIII, 12.
9. Church Vestments: Their Origin & Development, Herbert Norris, Page 152.
10. Ibid. Page 155.
Ripidion Image: Church Vestments: Their Origin & Development. Herbert Norris. Page 154.
On November 15, we began the Nativity Fast, and unfortunately, most of our bishops/priests don’t really give clear direction in how to undertake this fast. This seems to be the case during every fast because our church doesn’t mandate anything other than abstaining from meat on Friday and holding to a strict fast on Christmas Eve. So for most of us, we know that the Nativity Fast is supposed to be less strict when compared to Great Lent, but the rules for Great Lent aren’t particularly strict either, as the rule for Lent is no meat on Wednesday and Friday. So to make it “less strict” would be to mandate what we are supposed to be doing during every week of the year (minus 4 fast free weeks).
The reason being, the dietary component of fasting is really not what is important. The dietary restrictions due aid in struggling against sin, but remember that fasting has to be undertaken in context with Isaiah 58.
6“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.”
Essentially, the call is to live a more blameless life and to care for our brethren. St. John Chrysostom explains that the abstinence from certain materials is not what makes the fast but rather how we treat each other by abstaining from sin.
“Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.
In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well. Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness. Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights. Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well. Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.
Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers? He who condemns and blasphemes is as if he has eaten brotherly meat, as if he has bitten into the flesh of his fellow man. It is because of this that Paul frightened us, saying: “If you chew up and consume one another be careful that you do not annihilate yourselves.”
You did not thrust your teeth into the flesh (of your neighbor) but you thrusted bad talk in his soul; you wounded it by spreading disfame, causing unestimatable damage both to yourself, to him, and to many others.”
+ St. John Chrysostom
This is all stuff that we are supposed to be doing anyways. A similar example is in our liturgy. Time after time, the Deacon (or priest, in the absence of a deacon) will say “Wisdom! Let us be attentive!” I’ve seen other translations that say “Let us attend” or “Stand aright,” which the closest parallel I can draw is to that of our military when the command “Attention!” is given. To be at “attention” means that the soldier is required to stand upright, and their body is able to perform any military command given from that position. When the soldier is in a “resting” position, he has to be called back to “attention” before he can proceed.
However, in our liturgy, we are always spiritually at “attention,” and we are standing for most of the liturgy. It would seem that these calls to be attentive – for us to pay attention with our minds and our hearts – are rather redundant, since we were doing that anyways. Yet, in our human condition, we tend to distract easily. We have to be reminded to put away the old man and put on the new through these fasts, rather frequently. In fact, I think we spend more time fasting than not in our church. This behavior is how we ought to act at all times, but we draw attention to it, since when we aren’t fasting, our discipline tends to slip.
Fasting is only a tool for reaching heavenly perfection, after all. If all you do is focus on the dietary requirements and do not fast spiritually, nothing will avail you. However, even if you were to eat meat every day, yet you abide by Isaiah 58 and by the words of St. John Chrysostom, you have kept the fast.
Whether you like it or not, it has been proven that devout Catholic youth want the ancient, spotless, orthodox, unchanged, and holy Catholic faith. In other words, we desire to have our churches teach what the church has always taught, and to worship the way it has always worshiped as handed down by the fathers of the church. (Regardless of Rite). This means that we do not want churches and liturgies in which reflect what the world has to offer, but instead we want a church and a liturgy that emphasizes the heavenly reality in which we are in; contradicting the ordinary world just like how God instructed His temples to be in scripture. (Exodus 25, Chronicles 28).
It has been commonly misunderstood that the Church should reach out to the youth by “getting with the times” in where the ways of old are thrown out of the picture. Some examples involve the removal of icons and Holy images for felt banners and modernized art, substituting ancient chant for guitar and pop/rock music, celebrating liturgies where balloons are tied to the altar and even tossed throughout the church etc. (Life teen for example).
But when you truly speak with young devout Catholics with humility, especially us converts; such things are a huge turn off since what can be found in a church that behaves in this fashion can also be found in the every day world. (Or even non – Catholic Churches). Being that the younger generation is the future of the Church, this should be taken into serious consideration by the hierarchy.
When we examine the fruits of changing the church to make it more reflective of the modern world, can we honestly conclude that the church has preserved the faith, increased church attendance, and improved its vocations? If we are going to be truly honest with ourselves, we cannot come to this conclusion.
When we look at many from the generations that have gone before us in the last 50 years, it is evident that their approval of innovation has only planted seeds in which gave birth to bad fruits. It has resulted in the approval of heterodoxy; which explains why the faith has been either watered down or thrown away all together in Catholic Churches around the globe in order to please the world and reflect it. But when we examine scripture, who does it say is in charge of this world? It says the devil. (John 12:31, 2 Cor 4:4).
This explains why the church is in the scandal that it is in today. After speaking with him personally, Father. Bill Casey of the Fathers of Divine Mercy stated that: “It should be of no surprise.” This is because instead of many in the post Vatican II generation guarding the truth with prayer, fasting, and keeping what was handed down to us; they have let their guards down to later allow the church to be scourged, punched, and kicked by its enemies – to only allow it to become sick and bruised within and out; letting it suffer as they refuse to treat her wounds.
Many have given the impression that Jesus Christ shall bow to this world instead of suggesting that the world shall bow down to Christ. This can only parallel with the book of Matthew in where Satan has asked Jesus to bow to him while tempting him in the desert (Matt 4:9), offering the pleasures of this world in return. (Matt 4:8). And when we look at many of the clergy within the Church that promote error and heresy, how can we deny that such shepherds have betrayed their flock in order to be given pleasures of this world? I.E. money, fame, approval, acceptance, etc.
Therefore, as stated above, the clergy of the church and the older generation should take into consideration what has happened as a result of innovative practices. They should also consider the requests of the Catholic youth to restore authentic Catholicism since this will be the only way to fix the church. After all, what do we have to loose by restoring Orthodoxy within the Church?
If we are continuously silenced, and labeled as “rigid”, even by the Pope himself, then how is it that we will be able to fix the church? Wouldn’t silencing those that have a true care for the church make you the church’s enemy? Wouldn’t silencing devout Catholics that actually care about the faith only help spread errors throughout the church, as we have seen by clerics such as Father. James Martin in whom promotes homosexuality? (Something that is not only against Catholic teaching, but against the scriptures themselves!)
In the words of Father Bill Casey, if we are going to help fix the church in the midst of the chaos that it is in, we must “start with ourselves.” This means being obedient to what the church has always taught and not allowing our pride to influence what we believe the church should teach. This is something we have recently witnessed at the youth synod where bishops and liberal non Catholic youth have given the suggestion that the church must accept sodomy.
The unfortunate reality is that many laity and even clergy inside the church continue to defend the wickedness that we continuously see, even though they are aware that the Church has dogmatically condemned their errors. In the words of St. Augustine against the Manichees, he stated: In Christ’s Church, those are heretics, who hold mischievous and erroneous opinions, and when rebuked that they may think soundly and rightly, offer a stubborn resistance, and, refusing to mend their pernicious and deadly doctrines, persist in defending them.”
Being that we live in a time in where the church is being plagued and attacked from within by those in whom preach the heresy of homosexual acceptance and other forms of heterodoxy, how much more relevant is this quote today? Again, the voice of the devout Catholic youth shall be listened to with an open mind, and the clergy must restore orthodoxy in which we desire to have if we are going to save the church.
Disclaimer: We are not blaming the older generation as a whole for the modern crises that we are in, nor are we blaming the Second Vatican Council.
Recently, Pope Francis has come out to say some frightening words regarding the Theotokos that would make an Orthodox Catholic cringe. In an interview with the chaplain of the Padua – Father Marco Pozza – he stated: “From the moment she was born until the Annunciation, to the moment she encountered the angel of God, I imagine her as a normal girl, a girl of today, I can’t say she a city-girl, because she is from a small town, but normal, educated normally, open to marrying, to starting a family.” Link.
These are an interesting use of words considering that this statement not only contradicts the ancient dogmatic faith of the Church regarding the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, but it also lowers the Theotokos to the status of an ordinary female when he stated: “I imagine her as a normal girl, a girl of today.”
“I imagine her as a normal girl.”
In the East, we sing unto Mary in the ‘Axion Estin’ that she is “Higher in honor than the cherubim, far more glorious than the seraphim” since she is even superior to the angels for giving birth to God within her womb – which even caused St. Gabriel to have fear of her out of reverence.
“Gabriel is on his way to announce the glad tidings to the Virgin; He is ready to cry out in fear and wonder: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with You!” – (Feast of the Annunciation, Troparion Tone 4, Byzantine Rite). If she as the Theotokos was a “normal girl”, this would mean that she is equal to all other women and vice versa, also meaning that she isn’t “Blessed Among Women” as St. Gabriel the Archangel solemnly declared.
If Pope Francis truly means that Mary was a ‘normal girl’, it would seem to suggest that he believes that she had sinful inclinations. Not only that, but it would seem that he is also suggesting that she had worldly cares when stating that she was open to “starting a family”.
Such a suggestion would contradict the words of St. Augustine when he taught that Mary willed and chose to be a Virgin all of her life. “In being born of a virgin who chose to remain a virgin even before she knew who was to be born other, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave (Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]).
“A girl of today.”
What’s also dangerous is the fact he stated that he imagines her as a “girl of today”. But when we look around us in this fallen world of today, what exactly do we see when we come across young teenage girls and young women? Do we not see young women dressing impurely and taking half – naked pictures for ‘likes’ on social media? Not that this applies to all young females, but we cannot deny that this is an unfortunately reality in today’s society within the secular west. To suggest that Mary would have been like a girl of today’s age – and a teenager at that – would be a sacrilegious rationalist ideology.
A scary quotation from Gustavo Raffi, the former Grand Master of the Masonic lodge of Rome, stated “With the election of Pope Francis nothing will be the same again.” (Thursday, March 21, 2013). See here.
Continue to pray for the church in these dark times we live in. St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
For more information on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, click here.
The coldness of the heart is a dangerous self destructing weapon and vice that can keep us enslaved. It is the cause of destruction, pride, apostasy, blasphemy, hatred, and rebellion against God’s Holy Law.
It was the hardness of heart that caused Lucifer to fall into pride and rebel against God. It is what caused the Pharisees and the Scribes to persecute Jesus Christ. It is what caused Judas to betray Jesus for the riches of this world. It is what caused the Rich man to be condemned to Hell for refusing to show mercy to the poor man Lazarus. We must ask ourselves, where do we stand?
Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself after God. (Matthew 22:37-39) Yet, our sin stained flesh and it’s passions can easily cause us to ignore this commandment and go astray as a result of our spiritual wounds that need cleansing and healing, something that we cannot do on our own strength; but only by God’s life giving and nature restoring Grace.
This can be hard, especially if we are having a hard time forgiving those that have hurt us. However, let us examine the 5th petition of the 7 that’s within the Our Father. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the 5th petition:
“Here we’re begging for God’s mercy. This is the one line that causes many to stumble praying the Lord’s Prayer. If it just contained the first part no one would ever stumble with it (forgive us our trespasses) but the second past is there too: forgive us our trespasses As we forgive those who trespass against us (cf. CCC 2862).
In the words of Father Miguel Marie Soeherman: “In other words, we’re telling the Father: Father, please forgive all my offenses to you and to my neighbor, but do me a favor Father, forgive me only as I forgive others. If I don’t forgive even one person, then don’t forgive even one of my sins.”
So what are we to get out of this? That we should work on overcoming our hardness of heart, for we will have to answer for it when it’s time for our judgement. Let us not puff ourselves with pride and flatter ourselves because of the talents and gifts that we have, for all good things comes from God and God alone. Let us not refuse to forgive those that hurt us and even pray for them, though it may hurt. Let us, rather, Ask God to warm us with the presence of the Holy Spirit so that the cold passions of our heart may melt by His Divine Power, trampling over the wickedness of our hearts.
From the Byzantine Akathist Hymn to our Sweetest Lord Jesus: “Teach me to pray with faith and love. Pray in me, that with you I may love my enemies and pray for them.”
(1). The “brothers and sisters” of the Lord in scripture are not Jesus’ biological siblings, but cousins and close relatives considering that the word cousin was not used in the ancient Aramaic spoken by the Jews in the ancient world.
(2). Being that Jesus Christ is the First – Born of the Theotokos (Matt 1:25), it would obviously mean that He is the oldest of all His “siblings”. Had this been the case, it would be against the ancient Palestinian tradition for the younger to correct and rebuke one’s elders, as we see His “brothers” do in John 7:3-5.
(3). In John 19:26, Jesus gives His Mother to the Apostle John. Had Jesus had siblings, He would have passed that care to the next oldest sibling. This was the ancient law of the Jews.
(4). Protestants and other heterodox sects use Matt 13:55 as one of the scripture verses to argue against Mary’s virginity considering that there is a list of “brothers” of Jesus by name; that being James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. This was an argument used by the ancient Helvidius and Antidicomarianite heretics.
Yet, it must be taken into account that James, the “brother of the Lord” in Acts 9:27 is the Son of Alphesus, whereas the Martyred James of Acts 15:6 was the son of Zebedee. (See Matt 10:3, Mark 3:18). Jude, being the brother of James the Less (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13) would have to also be the son of Alphesus.
St. Simon (not to be confused with Simon Peter), was known by the early church to be Simon, Son of Cleopas, in whom succeeded James the Apostle as Bishop of Jerusalem. On comparing John 19:25 with Matthew 27:56, and Mark 15:40 (cf. Mark 15:47; 16:1), we find that Mary of Cleophas, or more correctly Clopas (Klopas), the sister of Mary the Mother of Christ, is the same as Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joseph (Joses). That being said, St. Simon of Jerusalem was also the son of Mary of Cleopas, along with Joseph. (Not to be confused with the adoptive earthly father of Jesus).
Note: Cleopas and Alphaeus are the same person. Papias of Hierapolis, who lived c. 70–163 AD, teaches: “Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph.”
(5). “Until” in Matt 1:24-25 is a idiomatic expression not to be taken literal, as 1 Sam 6:23 also expresses that Saul’s daughter didn’t have children until her death. Does that mean that she had children after her death? Of course not! In 1 Cor 15:25, it states that Jesus must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. Would that mean that His reign would eventually end? Absolutely not. (Luke 1:33).
Hilary of Poitiers: “If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate” (Commentary on Matthew 1:4 [A.D. 354]).
Athanasius: “Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary” (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).
Augustine: “In being born of a Virgin who chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave” (Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]).
Cyril of Alexandria: “[T]he Word himself, coming into the Blessed Virgin herself, assumed for himself his own temple from the substance of the Virgin and came forth from her a man in all that could be externally discerned, while interiorly he was true God. Therefore he kept his Mother a virgin even after her childbearing” (Against Those Who Do Not Wish to Confess That the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God 4 [A.D. 430]).
Pope Leo I: “His [Christ’s] origin is different, but his [human] nature is the same. Human usage and custom were lacking, but by divine power a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and Virgin she remained” (Sermons 22:2 [A.D. 450]).
Therefore, being that Mary was the spouse of the Holy Spirit, it is clear by scripture and by the teachings of the Early Christians that Mary remained a Virgin all the days of her life.
It is easy to fall into pride by thinking that we can conquer temptations without prayer, fasting, and patience. This is because our fallen human nature deceives us into thinking that we can battle evil by own our power. But we must humble ourselves and remember that salvation cannot be achieved by our own strength, but only by God’s. (Matthew 19:26).
To the self righteous, you may glorify yourselves and cheer “I have conquered this temptation” deceiving yourself into thinking that you are now holy; giving you the inclination to judge the sins of your brother. However, such actions shall condemn you.
St. Caesarius of Arles teaches: “The worst kind of sin is not to acknowledge that you are sinful.” (Commentary on John 1:8).
Silouan the Athonite: “Understand two thoughts, and fear them. One says, “You are a saint,” the other, “You won’t be saved.” Both of these thoughts are from the enemy, and there is no truth in them. But think this way: I am a great sinner, but the Lord is merciful. He loves people very much, and He will forgive my sins.” (Writings, XVII.1)
St. Mark the Ascetic: “Guard your mind from self-praise and flee a high opinion of yourself, so that God does not allow you to fall into the opposite [passion to the virtue for which you boast], for man does not accomplish virtue alone, but with the help of God who sees all.” (Homilies, 85)
I remember my first confession. I was a convert to the Catholic Church. Having been baptized prior to my conversion, and due to odd circumstances which prevented my confirmation/chrismation from occurring for a few years, I was granted a rare privilege of going to confession before my reception into the Catholic Church. Most pre-baptized converts will confess right before their reception, so the administration of the Mystery of Repentance/Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to someone not officially a Catholic is not unheard of, provided that they are, indeed, becoming Catholic.
Anyways, I think the hardest part of my confession was waiting in line for it. I remember staring at this examination of conscience pamphlet produced by the Fathers of Mercy, looking at all of the sins. As I read each one, I grew more nervous and fearful. But the hardest part was the wait! Sitting in line waiting to tell the priest my sins. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I finally get to walk into the confessional.
It wasn’t a proper confessional, so to speak, but rather a room that they were using to hear confessions. Regardless, I speak to the priest and inform him that this is my first confession and that I would like to become Catholic. I had never seen a man so excited in my life. I pulled out the pamphlet and asked him if it was alright if I used it to help me. So I go through each one and as I tell him each sin, he gives a bit of advice. But I eventually finish my confession, 15 minutes later. However, what I remembered the most was the feeling of having this heavy weight lifted from my shoulders and how clean my heart felt afterward. I walked out of that confessional feeling like a new man. Because I was.
CONFESSION IS A SECOND BAPTISM
Baptism is the sacrament where we are brought into the Church by the literal and spiritual washing away of our sins. But as sinners, we stain our souls with our misdeeds and sometimes we even commit sins that cut us off from the grace of God completely! In this way, we excommunicate ourselves (literally: cut ourselves off from communion) and the only way to be brought back into communion is to be forgiven of the sins that separated us, to begin with. To do that, we need to first be truly sorry for our sins, resolve to sin no more, and resolve to repair whatever damage we have caused by our sins. It is then and only then we can be forgiven. Because anything less than that isn’t true repentance.
But when we sincerely repent, and we go to confession, we are forgiven of our sins, and those sins are wiped off of our souls, and it is just like we had been baptized all over again.
SO, HOW IS CONFESSION MADE POSSIBLE?
By, Jesus’s death on the cross of course! And it is also through His resurrection. When Christ died for our sins, He died for all who sincerely repent of their sins so that they may live in the newness of life. It is only because Christ paid the price for our sins, that is, death, we can live. Without the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection, there would be no forgiveness of sins. All sins that were forgiven by God in the past, in the present, and in the future, were made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We are only saved by His grace, not by any work that we do.
Yet, even with sincere repentance, we are still unworthy of forgiveness. It is only through the supreme mercy of God that He pardons our transgressions, our offenses against Him, numerous as they are. After all, if someone offended us the same amount that we offend God, we would find it hard to forgive someone. People have been executed for much less, after all. However, my point isn’t to show how unworthy we are, but rather show how great God’s mercy and goodness is since He forgives us for all of our transgressions when we truly repent.
CONFESSION ENABLES OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE
I was living in mortal sin for a little while in my life. How can one be spiritual with God while in a state of sin? You can’t. Our spiritual life is based on us trying to grow closer to God through prayer and repentance. If we are doing things that we know separate us from God, we are doing the exact opposite. Even worse, if we do those things, and are knowingly in a state of mortal sin, yet still go to communion, it is even worse!
The receiving the Eucharist both physically and spiritually unites ourselves to Christ. Yet, if we eat and drink the Eucharist in a state of sin, rather than eating and drinking salvation, we are eating and drinking judgment and damnation upon ourselves. In fact, St. Paul writes this:
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
1 Corinthians 11:26-30 (ESV) – For more commentary on 1 Corinthians 11, click here
Yes, the sacrilege of receiving unworthily can even induce physical ailments and even death!
Why is it a sacrilege? Every sacrament comes from the sacrifice of the Cross. Baptism and Confession are the most obvious, but every sacrament is tied to the cross and is made possible only because of the cross. The Eucharist is more than bread and wine transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is actually the entire service of thanksgiving, i.e. the Divine Liturgy is rightly and properly the Eucharist. And in this Eucharist, we are brought back to the death of Christ on the Cross for our sins. By receiving unworthily, we are making a mockery of His death. We are, in essence, saying that Christ died in vain since I can be united to Him without being forgiven of the sins I have committed/am committing. I am now taking my salvation for granted and even worse, not discerning the body and blood (i.e. the sacrifice, not just the real presence). This is why receiving unworthily is considered such a mockery. It is one thing to have committed venial sins, as those do not take us out of communion with God. It is another thing to physically unite ourselves to God when we are spiritually out of communion. That is why receiving worthily is actually a big deal.
And this is why confession is so important. When we commit a mortal sin, all we have to do is sincerely repent, confess our sins, and receive absolution. This prevents us from eating and drinking unworthily.
CONFESSION IS NOT A CRUTCH
When I was a Protestant, I had the mindset that since I was already “saved,” I could commit sins without any consequences. When I became Catholic, I learned that we had a bad rap for doing the exact same thing. The only difference was that we confess our sins to a priest for forgiveness rather than just assume forgiveness. If we go to confession insincerely, I assure you that we are not only not forgiven for what we have confessed, but we also commit a great sin of sacrilege. At this point, we are no longer seeking God’s mercy, but rather going through a ritual that lets us go to communion. There is also another sin, called presuming on God’s mercy, in which we say something along the lines of “I can eat this meat today,” or “I can watch this porn,” or even “I can hit that person,” because “I can just go to confession later and be forgiven of it.” Essentially, you are committing a sin with the intention of making an insincere confession. When you repent of that sin, on top of the other sin you committed, then you can have a sincere confession.
God has given us this wonderful sacrament of mercy and peace, but it is up to us to not abuse it.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I GO?
The most famous answer is “as often as you need to.” However, I will say that there are two camps of people. Those who go to confession way too much (rare, but still exist) and those who do not go enough (the vast majority of people). The people who go too much are the ones with tendencies to scrupulosity, who go to confession every 3 days or so. Really, what is recommended to most people is that if you are not committing mortal sins, you should go to confession at least on a monthly basis. Some people recommend going weekly. It is truly something you should work out with your spiritual father. Going weekly will benefit some people without a doubt, but there are others who, by going weekly, turn it into a ritual that actually causes them to sin more. As crazy as that sounds, going too much could lead someone into a presumption of God’s mercy.
Here is a scenario. Confessions are held before liturgy each Sunday. You have a sin you commit on a frequent basis. You go to confession, are absolved, and then go to communion. You get home from church and go on to sin for the remainder of the week because you know that you will be able to confess your sins and approach communion. In fact, some people only use the confessional because mortal sins cut us off from communion. Not surprisingly, if people in mortal sins were allowed to go to communion, the lines for confession would be much smaller. It is our human nature: we do not like admitting that we are wrong.
However, the mindset of going to confession just to be able to receive communion is a dangerous one. The reality is that when we are in mortal sin, we are liable to the fires of hell. Again, I reiterate, if we are not forgiven of our mortal sin, we will go to hell. While wishing to receive Jesus is not wrong, don’t go to confession for just that purpose, but out of heartfelt sorrow for offending God.
But, at the end of the day, it is better to avoid sin than to ask forgiveness. How do we do this? By prayer and fasting of course!
In the words of my priest: “If you deny the use of icons, you deny the Incarnation of Christ.” How is this so? Because Jesus Christ, in the flesh, is the perfect Icon of the Father.
John 12:45 – “He who sees Me sees Him who sent Me”
John 14:6-10 – “‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?’”
Hebrews 1:3 – “the brightness of His glory and the express image [eikon] of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power”
Collisions 1:15 – “He is the image [eikon] of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
The holy father St. John of Damascus teaches the following: “If the Word of God truly took flesh, He could be depicted in images … In the old days, the incorporeal and infinite God was never depicted. Now, however, when God has been seen clothed in flesh and talking with mortals, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation.”
The following Anathemas are taken from an 1111 edition of the Synodikon by a monk of the Monastery of Oleni in Moroea. “On every innovation and action contrary to the tradition of the Church, and the teaching and pattern of the holy and celebrated Fathers, or anything that shall be done after this: Anathema!… On those who accept with their reason the incarnate economy of God the Word, but will not allow that this can be beheld through images, and therefore affect to receive our salvation in words, but deny it in reality: Anathema!
Those who apply the sayings of the divine Scripture that are directed against idols to the august icons of Christ our God and his saints: Anathema!
Those who share the opinion of those who mock and dishonor the august icons: Anathema!
Those who say that Christians treat the icons like gods: Anathema!
Those who dare to say that the Catholic Church has accepted idols, thus over-throwing the whole mystery and mocking the faith of Christians: Anathema!”
Thus, one cannot be a Christian and reject iconography, otherwise, one would have to reject the Incarnation in which is a heretical conclusion.