The Cleansing of the Temple

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.

The Eastern Churches & Their Influence on the West

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).

4. Monasticism

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.

5. Prayers

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.

Fasting – Our Call to Theosis

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?
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?
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.
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.