Apologetics 2.3: Iconography Pt.2

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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. 

Proof:
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.”

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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.

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Do not despise the poor!

A new gospel is being taught in this capitalist and materialist society we live in: “The rich are not obliged to help the poor.” As Catholics, we cannot hold such views since these contradict the Church’s teaching on the Corporal Works of Mercy. (Matt 25:34-45).

Scripture teaches: 

1 John 3:17 – “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

Proverbs 14:31 – “He that oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker: but he that honors him has mercy on the poor.”

Proverbs 28:27 – “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.”
Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

(Note: To refuse helping the poor willingly can lead to damnation: See – Luke 16:22-24, Matt 25:41-46).

Church Fathers: 

St. Ambrose: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”

St. John Chrysostom – “The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.”

The Didache – “Share everything with your brother. Do not say, “It is private property.” If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.”

Pope Pius X – “I was born poor, I lived in poverty, I wish to die poor.”

The Singing Tradition of Byzantine Rite Churches

Technically speaking, we are “sui iuris (self-governing) Churches using the Byzantine Rite.” There are quite a few different churches using the Byzantine rite, and they can be grouped into categories of church, i.e. slavic, Greek, Russian, Antiochian, etc. The ones that most people are familiar with are churches in the slavic category (Ruthenian – which goes under the name of Byzantine Catholic Church in America, and Ukranian) as well as the Melkites. There are plenty of other Eastern Catholic sui iuris Churches that utilize different rites, i.e. Maronites, Chaldean, Syro-Malabar, etc. but for this article, I will be focusing primarily on churches using the Byzantine Rite, as this is where I have most of my experiential knowledge.

First Things First: Traditionally We Sing Everything

I know what some of you may be thinking: “at our church, we recite some liturgies.” Technically speaking, we aren’t supposed to be doing that. It continues for a few reasons:

  1. Back in the era of forced latinizations, many parishes adopted Romanesque practices such as kneeling during Sunday and Paschal liturgies (in violation of the 2nd Nicean Council) which have stuck because the people who grew up with the latinizations thing this is what a Byzantine Catholic church should look like and don’t want to change it.
  2. The parish is in a tourist area and wants to appeal to Roman Catholic visitors on vacation. Yes, this actually happens. You can tell it is a tourist church when the priest or some parishioner has to announce before liturgy that it is an Eastern Catholic Church but “we are still under the Pope, but we do things a little differently.” So, in this case, they are sacrificing their identity for tourist dollars.
  3. People and Priests are too lazy to change. Remember that this is a list of potential reasons, and I am not writing about anyone’s church specifically (i.e. I’m not calling anyone lazy or saying anyone is lazy. I’m saying that there are people who *might* be lazy. One is calumny or gossip, the other is just throwing out potential ideas. Know the difference). Let’s be honest, singing a liturgy takes effort. And it makes the liturgy take a lot longer. A recited liturgy will be over in 25 to 30 minutes, whereas a sung liturgy will take a minimum of an hour. For time reasons alone, some people prefer recited liturgies.

With this out of the way, we should understand why we sing and why it is bad when the liturgy is just recited. St. Augustine says “he who sings prays twice.” In the Metropolitan Cantor Institute (Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh), it states that singing indicates “oneness of heart.” Our singing changes liturgy from being a ritual to being a truly communal worship, a joyful, yet a reverent celebration of the resurrection. When we reduce it to a recited liturgy, the goal shifts from prayer and worship to simply receiving a sacrament. That issue will be covered in a later (and likely shorter) article.

THE MUSIC IS DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT JURISDICTIONS

That’s right. Just because you walk into a church using the Byzantine Rite does not mean they use the same music. They have the 8 tones and they have the same responses, but they are written to different music. This is because when churches began to develop in certain areas, popular melodies were adapted to fit the words of the liturgical words. Thus, Ruthenian tone 1 will be different than Ukranian tone 1, which will be different from Melkite tone 1, etc.

They are different sui iuris churches. Again, it is important to emphasize that there is no one single Byzantine Catholic Church.

CANTORS OR CHOIRS?

Some churches use a cantor or two to lead the congregation in singing. Some churches use a choir to sing the responses and the people will sing along. In my church, as the cantor, my priest tells me to let the people sing. That means I start the music, and then I let the people sing it (i.e. I shut up and listen) and if they start going off track, I jump in to correct them. Yes, it takes practice to learn how to do this while still providing for a reverent liturgy, but it is possible. My priest likes it because it forces the people to sing rather than rely on me to do it for them. Some cantors are told to sing at a regular volume so that the people have a base melody to sing along to. In this case, a lot of the people will listen rather than sing. Other churches have choirs who are told to sing in plainchant (i.e. non-harmonized melody). Lastly, there are choirs who harmonize melodies and sound truly beautiful. My priest doesn’t like the idea of that because he thinks that with a harmonized choir, the people will not sing along.

So what is the right way? Obviously, I have my opinions and my priest has his opinion, but it really depends on the tradition of your church. One thing I learned in the Roman Catholic Church is that you do not need to be singing or saying anything to be actively participating in the mass (internal participation). This is the case in our church when parishes choose to use the language of their ethnicity rather than in the vernacular (in our case, English). Some prefer to use Church Slavonic, and despite what some may think, that is not a latinization. Many Orthodox churches will choose to sing more ancient languages rather than the vernacular. (Ironically it was Saint Cyril and Methodius who translated the original liturgy into Slavonic – the vernacular of the Slavic people, who they ministered and brought the gospel to.) Singing in Slavonic or in Ukrainian, while it may be nice for immigrants isn’t so great for potential converts or visitors. An example would be a Melkite Catholic who moves and only has a UGCC nearby, which sings solely in Ukranian.

In these cases, if the person doesn’t know the language, they cannot sing along, but they can certainly pray in the reverent atmosphere of the church, thus actively participating without saying a word. Of course, unlike a Latin Mass, this shouldn’t be the primary means of worship, but rather a way of worshipping when one cannot sing along. And yes, it is possible to sing along without actually praying along, but again – a different topic for a different day.

SUMMARY

Overall, music is deeply ingrained in the liturgical life of Byzantine Catholics and is more than just background music or ambiance. It is truly the outpouring of one’s heart in the worship of God. The music may differ between jurisdictions, but the fact is that they all have their own music, thus a testimony to the great importance that it has in the liturgical life of the Church.

The Apostles Fast

We are about 11 days away from the conclusion of the Apostles Fast. Of course, unlike any other fasting season on the Calendar, 11 days doesn’t really have meaning since this is the one fast that does not have a set number of days. This year, the Apostles Fast began toward the end of May, so 11 days means that we are over halfway done and there isn’t much left to it. Of course, in some years, this fast only lasts 2 days, and others have been longer than Lent.

It concludes on the Feast of Peter and Paul on June 29th. But outside of that, it is really a mystery. Unlike Nativity, Dormition, or Lent, this fasting season doesn’t exactly end on a day of any particular significance. In fact, it is not even one of the 12 solemn feasts. It is a day of Obligation for those in the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburg, and it may be in other Greek Catholic sui iuris churches as well, but if you look at the Eastern Orthodox, the fast just ends on that feast day.

It is a mysterious fast, because unlike Nativity or Lent, this fast doesn’t come from pious preparation for a major feast. Yet, early Christian texts show that this was indeed one of the original fasts celebrated. And the reason? “After feasting from Pascha to Pentecost, it is only proper that we fast while our bodies are refreshed.”

Yet, upon further research, I found that the Apostles fast used to not end on June 29, but actually on August 15. Yes, the Apostles Fast and the Dormition Fast were originally 1 long fast. For whatever reason, it was decided to cut July out and just have it as a regular season.

SOOO, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING, CANTOR?

I know that previous section seems to provide information without really providing anything else, but one thing to take away from this is that the Early Christians thought it was important enough to have a post-pentecostal fast, and that the Church Fathers for over 1500 years decided that it was worth keeping on the Calendar. Yet, for some reason, this seems to be one of the most unpopular fasts. By unpopular, I am not saying that people don’t like it. Rather, people don’t even care enough about it to even do it.

No one really knows why they are fasting during this time period, as it is not in penance or in preparation. It is essentially a fast for the sake of fasting. But despite what some may be thinking, that actually is NOT a pointless endeavor. In fact, we fast every Friday from meat as a minimum. Why? The western mentality is that they are fasting because that is the day Christ died on the Cross, and they are crucifying themselves with Christ. I assure you that despite what you may think, that is not the reason. The cross is actually not something to take sorrow over but is actually our victory over sin and death.

Rather we fast on Wednesday and Friday because the Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday, and the Christians while not wanting to fast with the Jews, wanted to continue the practice. Wednesday was chosen because it was the day Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday was chosen because it was the day of the Crucifixion.

“But I thought you said we didn’t fast because of the crucifixion.”

We do fast in penitence as well as better equipping our bodies to resist sin. We, however, do not fast as a way of beating ourselves up for being the ones responsible for making Jesus die on the cross.

Likewise, the apostles fast should be for us a means of turning away from sin, not because we are preparing for a feast, but because we have feasted and are thus better equipped to fast for the sake of our souls.

GUEST POST: Persecuted Church in the Philippines!

Tonight, we will be having the privilege of sharing with the public a writing by a faithful Catholic within the Philippines. For those who are not aware, the Church in the Philippines is being persecuted. This year we have not only witnessed a bombing of a church by a suicide bomber, killing parishioners, but we have also witnessed the slaughtering of priests; Fr. Richmond Nilo being the third one in six months this year. Therefore, for safety reasons our guest asks to remain anonymous. His writing in which he has shared with us will be posted via our admins. We ask you to please keep our guest and the Church in his country in your prayers.

From the Byzantine Commemoration for the Living: “Save, O Lord, and have mercy on the old and the young; the poor and the destitute; the orphans and the widows; those in sickness and sorrowful, misfortune and tribulation; those held captive or in exile; and on those of Your servants who suffer persecution for Your sake and for the orthodox faith, especially (insert here: our brothers and sisters in the Philippines and throughout the world); and on all those who have asked for our prayers or are in need of our prayers, unworthy though we are. Visit, strengthen, comfort, and heal them, and, by Your Power, quickly grant them relief, freedom, and deliverance.”

Our guest of honor now speaks:

The beautiful country of the Philippines is about to commemorate the 500th year anniversary of the arrival of the Christian Religion this 2021. For centuries, the Catholic Religion has been the bulwark of the Philippine Society since 1521. But from time to time, the people in the Philippines and the Spanish colonizers began to neglect every plead of the Church.
During the time of the Spanish colonizers, the Spanish government here in the Philippines has neglected the plead of the Church to end the slavery of the Filipino people in the first Synod of Manila. Many heroes in this country were Freemasons seeking the destruction of the Catholic Church. But the only time in history, where in the Filipino people actually listened to what the Church has said was during the time of dictatorship in our country. By the shepherd’s voice, the Filipino people have successfully done a peaceful way of gaining freedom. But this was not the happy ending we awaited.
Many storms were actually going nearer to the spiritual ship we are sailing. Liturgical Abuses began to spread in our country and even until now we are still experiencing such horrible acts. We thought our struggles only ends with this Liturgical Abuses, but we were wrong. The Masonic influence in the Philippine Government has began to work slowly. Recently, the Philippine Government has allowed the amendment of the RH Law which promotes birth control. Though it didn’t include abortion, still it has gone against the teachings of the Church. The Church has stood against this decision but the people never listened.
In today’s society here in the country, the Catholic Church is now seen as a mere institution and not the way of belief. The current President of our country has been so enraged to the Church due to our stand in opposing Extra-judicial Killings to any person suspected of drug addiction. Many disgusting things that we have heard from the mouth of the President against the Catholic Religion. Blasphemies to the Pope, to the deceased priests, to our Catholic teachings and to God were coming out from his mouth. And what surprises us, was the series of priests being murdered in just a span of 6 months. And even our beloved Honorary Catholic Faith Defender Priest, Rev. Fr. Richmond Villaflor Nilo (who was scheduled to debate the heretical sect ‘Iglesia Ni Cristo’) was not spared from these incidents. Our Church in the Philippines has been persecuted both Externally and Internally, from the Outside and the Inside of the Church. We ask your prayers brethren so that our country the Philippines would not end up being the same with most western societies who have forgotten the Lord.

‘The Liturgical Year according to The Byzantine Tradition’ by Byzantine Seminary Press

“The liturgical year is a system of yearly church celebrations by which the faithful repeatedly relive the salutary mysteries of their salvation. In the liturgical year Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to live with us, to teach us, and to lead us to our heavenly destination.

The liturgical year, like a beautifully painted iconostasis (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, N. 14), again and again places before our eyes Christ’s sublime work of redemption in order to keep us intimately united in our Divine Redeemer. It inspires us and gradually forms a living Christ in us “until we become perfect man” (Eph. 4:13). It is indeed “a year of grace”, a year of God’s favor.

1.

The Church follows the computation of time according to the civil calendar year. However, in the Byzantine rite, the liturgical year begins on September 1st, while the Western Churches begin their liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent.

The Byzantine Church inaugurated the first of September as the beginning of the liturgical year in honor of the victory of Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 337 A.D.), over his adversary, Emperor Maxentinus, in 312 A.D. Prior to Constantine, Christianity was constantly exposed to persecution. But with Constantine’s victory, as attested by St. Ambrose (d. 397 A.D.), the Church began a new life.

The liturgical year in the Byzantine Church ends with the feast of the Beheading of St, John the Baptist (August 29), with whom the Old Testament also concludes. The New Testament, liturgically symbolized by the New Year, begins with the preaching of Our Lord, as indicated by the Evangelist; “After John’s arrest Jesus appeared in Galilee, proclaiming the good news: – The time has come and the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15). Hence the liturgical year is often referred to as “a year of salvation.”

The liturgical year is inaugurated by the message of the Prophet Isaiah, which Jesus applied to Himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news, to announce a year of grace (favor) from the Lord” (Lk. 4:16-19). In this way the beginning of the liturgical year symbolizes the beginning of the New Testament, inaugurated by the preaching of the gospel (good news) in the Person of Jesus Christ, Anointed One of God.

2.

From the earliest Apostolic times the Christians were convinced that they must celebrate the saving work of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by recalling the salutary mysteries of salvation on certain days of the year. The starting point was the weekly commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection on Sunday. Thus Sunday for Christians became – The Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), supplanting the Sabbath of the Old Testament. Every week on Sunday the Christians commemorated the Resurrection of Christ by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, referred to by the Acts as “the breaking of bread” (Acts 20:7). The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, compiled at the turn of the first century, admonished the faithful: “On the Lord’s Day, after you come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist” (14,1).

The early Church, commemorating the Resurrection of Christ every Sunday, did not neglect the yearly commemoration of the glorious event and, from the early days, celebrated the Feast of Easter with great solemnity. As a matter of fact Easter became the core of the liturgical year and was referred to as “The Feast of feasts and Solemnity of solemnities.”

3.

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In the early centuries there arose a heated controversy as the date of the celebration of Easter. The question was finally resolved at the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) when it was determined that Easter had to be celebrated every year on the first Sunday, following the full moon after the spring of equinox. According to this rule, the earliest date upon which Easter can be celebrated is March 22, and at the latest, April 25. But it always must be on Sunday.

Since the date of Easter changes from year to year, the Sundays, the holy seasons and the festivals that depend on Easter form the so called – Cycle of the Movable Feasts. The Movable or Easter Cycle begins four weeks before Lent with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, and serves as a liturgical preparation for that Holy Season.

The Great Lent, in preparation for Easter, starts on the Monday after Cheese Fare Sunday (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.13). The sixth Sunday of Lent, called Palm Sunday in commemoration of Christ’s solemn entrance into Jerusalem (Jn. 12:12-19), introduces us into the Passion or the Holy Great Week, during which we relive the sufferings and the death of our Lord, endured for our salvation. Then, on Easter Sunday, we suddenly burst into the joyous celebration of Christ’s glorious Resurrection.

On the 40th day after Easter we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, commemorating the Ascent of our Lord to Heaven. (Lk. 24:50-53). Ten days later, i.e. on the fiftieth fay after Easter, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost in commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the Church was solemnly inaugurated. (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.3).

Pentecost is followed by the series of 32 Sundays, indicated by successive numbers, the first of which is called All Saints Sunday. The Easter Cycle of the movable feasts ends with the 32nd Sunday after Pentecost, known as the Sunday of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10).

4.

The second cycle which influenced the formation of the liturgical year is – the Cycle of the Immovable Feasts, at the center of which we find the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, celebrated since the turn of the fourth century, on the 25th of December (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.5). These feasts are called – immovable because, unlike the feasts of the Easter Cycle, they fall on the same day of the month every year and their date never changes.

Eight days after Christmas, on January 1, we celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision and the naming of the Child Jesus, as indicated by Scripture (Lk. 2:21). On Febuary 2, forty days after Christ’s birth, we solemn commemorate the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, N. 12). The Feast of the Annunciation, known in the early days as the Conception of Our Lord, is observed nine months before Christ’s nativity, that is on the 25th of March.

One of the most ancient feasts of this cycle is celebrated on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ’s Divinity at His baptism, commemorated by the solemn Blessing of the Water on that day (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.9). Then on August 6th we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.18). Finally, on the 14th of September we commemorate the finding of the instrument of our salvation by St. Helen (d. 333 A.D.), as we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 8).

Thus, our Church, through the annual celebration of the Lord’s feasts, repeatedly unfolds to us the riches of Christ’s merits and salutary graces.

5.

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In celebrating the mysteries of our salvation we cannot exclude the Holy Mother of God (Theotokos), since she played an important role in the economy of our salvation. And we are happy to know that precisely the Byzantine Rite is characterized by its high esteem and veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Already at the beginning of the liturgical year, on September 8th, we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, sine Mary’s birth signaled “the beginning of our salvation” (cf. Sticheria of Litia). In connection with Mary’s birth, since the eighth century, we celebrate the Feast of the Conception of the Mother of God, recently referred to as the Immaculate Conception. (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 36).

At the beginning of the 10th century the Feast of the Patronage of the Mother of God was introduced which with time became a great inspiration to the Ruthenian people in their filial devotion to the Blessed Mother of God (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 1). Since the 8th century we also celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple. (November 21st).

There are several minor feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the liturgical year ends with the oldest Marian feast, the Dormition, known in the Western Church as the Assumption. It is solemnly celebrated to the present time of the 15th of August (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 11).

6.

The Church Fathers also included the commemoration of many Martyrs and other Saints in the liturgical year. The II Vatican Council reminds us that the Martyrs and Saints, being “raised to holiness by abundant graces of God and already in possession of their eternal salvation, sing constant praises to God in heaven and offer prayers for us” (cf. Decree on the Liturgy, n. 104). By celebrating the passage of the Saints from the earth to heaven, the Church also proposes them to us as so many examples of genuine Christian living.

The veneration of the Saints has a similar purpose. This began in the first century, first the Veneration of the Martyrs and then of the Apostles. Soon other Saints were added. Between the fourth and fifth centuries the veneration of the Saints became a general practice, ceding the first place of St. John the Baptist (after the Blessed Mother and the Angels), in view of Christ’s testimony: “There is no one greater than John!” (Lk. 7:28). The Saints usually are commemorated on the anniversary of their death, since the departure of those “that died in the Lord” (Romans 14:8) was considered by the Christians as a day of birth to a new and happy life with God.

The liturgical year is indeed a year of grace and our sanctification, keeping us in close union with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The liturgical year helps us to become more and more Christ – like, it molds Christ within us. In a word, through the liturgical year Jesus Christ continues to live among us, He continues to teach us, He continues to lead us toward our eternal salvation.”

(Byzantine Leaflet Series, No. 35 – With Ecclesiastical Approbation, August 1986 , Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh PA 15214). 

Troparion For The New Year (September 1st):

O Maker of all creation, under whose control are the seasons and the years, being Our Lord, bless the blessings of the year with abundance and, through the intercession of the Theotokos, preserve our country and the people in peace, and save us. 

Vatican II On The Liturgy:

“Holy Mother Church believes that it is her duty to celebrate the saving work of her Divine Spouse by commemorating it devoutly on certain days throughout the course of the liturgical year.” (n. 102).

The Feastdays Of Obligation:

  1. The Nativity of Our Lord (Dec 25); 2. The Epiphany (Jan 6); 3. The Ascension of Our Lord; 4. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29); and 5, The Dormition of the Blessed Theotokos (August 15). 

The Rich Man Who Walked Away

This parable is probably the most striking to me. I’ve heard this parable, along with many others, a lot throughout my Christian journey. I heard this as a Protestant, I heard this as a Roman Catholic, and I hear it now as a Ruthenian Rite Catholic. It is a parable I will hear at least once every year. But why does it strike me?

We all know the story from Matthew 19:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The thing is that every single pastor I had ever met had focused on one thing. That the guy was too greedy to follow Jesus. He liked his possessions too much to even seek after eternal life. Every sermon or homily I ever listened to was a scoff-fest. We would all listen disapprovingly, and then the pastor or priest would lay into his greed. And I agreed with them. The man knew what he had to do and rejected it to keep his possessions. Most sermons never called on US to change but rather chastized “the rich” in our society who choose money over God.

Then, one Sunday, the priest of my parish read the gospel and began the homily. This homily stands out above all of his other homilies since he had the tendency of putting me to sleep. He was so boring and I could predict what he was going to say. “Gospel was about this and that and this relates to the eucharist because blah blah and in the eucharist we can…” But on this day, his rhetoric was somewhat different. I remember snapping out of a daydream (I was 16 at the time) and he said “here is a man who’s observance of the commandments could put all of us to shame.” And that statement struck me. We were so busy accusing him of greed that we ignored the part where he had never broken a commandment. His issue wasn’t greed. If he was greedy, he’d have been violating the commandment to not covet. In fact, he obeyed the law to “love his neighbor as himself.” This means that he was even GENEROUS with his possessions and gave some things away to help others.

He was more righteous than the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t chastise him for deception or for only following the letter. Jesus recognized in him a genuine heart that wanted to serve Him. But he was too attached to the world. He helped the poor, but he also enjoyed his money. He liked the licit pleasures of this world too much. He figured he could serve God while maintaining a comfortable standard of living. Even after the man walked away, Christ didn’t condemn him. Christ said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. After the disciples noted the impossibility of that statement, Christ said that with God, it is possible. Essentially, it is possible, but it will be very difficult. But Christ can save him.

The ironic thing is, that all of us scoffing at him are essentially in the same situation. Everyone reading this has access to an internet browser, probably lives indoors, and probably hasn’t genuinely faced starvation. Even more ironic is that everyone scoffing at the churches I went to all had cars and owned homes. Some had 2 cars. Some had fancy cars. Some had fancy homes. Then they come to church and hear the Gospel messages. And when they (myself included) heard this call to give up EVERYTHING, they make excuses to why it doesn’t apply to them. And guess what. They are NOT wrong. Nowhere does Christ say that owning property is a sin. No saint has ever said that rich people can’t get into heaven. There have been some really well-off people who have been canonized. In fact, many Popes who went on to become saints lived in a very luxurious Vatican. They spent their days sitting on a papal throne, being carried about the streets like a king.

The issue isn’t a question of sinfulness but rather of theosis. We can begin our transformation now or after our death. It’s going to happen sooner or later. The difference is that it is easier for us to do it while alive since we can use our bodies to help perfect our souls, but while dead, it is a lot harder to purify our souls without a body. That is why it is said that being present at a single liturgy in life will benefit one’s soul more than hundreds of liturgies offered for them after death. That is why it is hard.

But financial possessions aren’t the only thing that tethers us to this world and prevent our theosis. What about family or friends? What about our desire to be successful? What about our education and careers? Every person, unless they are a monk or nun who has literally given up everything and has no possessions, spending their days at a monastery praying and helping others, is that rich young man. We have to give up even our relationships with our family and friends if we want to be someone who follows Christ directly.

That is the purpose of that parable. Many of us are that rich man, unable to part with our possessions, while still upholding the commandments. And this parable is actually a message of hope. Even though we can’t part with everything to cut ourselves off from the world, God says that it will be hard, but not impossible for us to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Church teaches that those who repent and try to seek after Christ will be saved. And for those of us who never get around to abandoning all of our possessions to enter into monastic life, maybe as we go through purgatory in the next life, we will realize how foolish we were for holding on to something that we were destined to lose anyway.

 

Technology in the Liturgy

If there is one thing that I cannot stand, it is the placement of projector screens in churches. This hasn’t really occurred in the East as much as it has in the West. But why is it an issue? Is it that we should be opposed to new technology? We have books, and some of us have pews, and those didn’t exactly exist when the Christ founded the Church, so that argument is out. (Plus, I would be hardpressed to find a Church that didn’t use a heater or A/C – or electric lighting). It isn’t technology that I dislike.

The issue is about what is in the front of the Church. In our Byzantine Catholic Churches, we have beautiful icon screens, which really convey the sacred nature of the place that we are in. Those images, along with the candles, really set a prayerful climate. It is a climate that is meant to put us into a different time period so that we can fully place ourselves into the liturgy. Church has always placed us in the past, even back in 33AD! The first liturgy, the Last Supper, celebrated by Christ Himself, occurred in concordance with a Passover Seder, which called its participants back to the Exodus. Every Liturgy looked to the past as well as forward to the Second Coming. That is why our Churches have maintained the same sacred architecture that it had since our victory over the Iconoclastic heresy.

In the West, after the Second Vatican Council, the architecture of their churches was changed to reflect their “meal theology.” Essentially, the Eucharist is a communal meal of “we and God” and so they changed the architecture of the Church to reflect this. Age old designs, such as the Church being shaped in the form of a cross, or the Church representing a ship on the way to heaven was thrown out to be replaced with a semi-circular concert hall to reflect the meal in the “here-and-now.” The Romans previously had too much of an emphasis on the Sacrifice of the Cross (to the detriment of the focus on the Resurrection – in my opinion. Others may say that you can never be too focused on the cross) but now the sacrifice is denied almost completely in this architecture. It becomes less about worshipping God and more about having a good time in God’s presence. You must acknowledge the Cross in the liturgy, but you must remember the resurrection as well.

With this change, there was a lot of empty space created. In one corner, tabernacles were stashed aside. Towards the front, there was nothing next to the sides of the crucifix. No icons, no paintings, not even statues. While in the past, Roman Churches would have side altars with statues, now there is nothing. With this, the Church also realized that they didn’t have much money left over after “renovations,” so things such as vestments and decent hymnals became something the local churches had no interest in investing in. And with technological advancements, they solved two of their problems. They could eliminate the blank space as well as the need to buy books by placing projector screens in the churches. While this may be a very utilitarian solution, imagine coming into a church to pray. Towards the front (which all the pews face), there is a very un-ornate altar table with a crucifix (if you’re lucky- if you’re unlucky you get one of those weird resurrection crucifixes). You might get some statues, but that’s about it. Then you see two blank projector screens. The tabernacle is off in the corner. If you are lucky, there are kneelers in front of the tabernacle. These new churches are not very prayer-friendly.

Thankfully, I do not anticipate this ever becoming an issue in our Eastern Catholic Churches. After all, where would they go? Icon screens cover up the majority of the front, if not all of it. They simply do not have a place to go in our worship – and that is a good thing.

We do have technology in our churches, and that is also a good thing. The air conditioning, the books (yes books are technology), the lights are all things that make it easier to focus on prayer. And that is what technology should do in the Church: focus us in our prayers to God.

What is the Purpose of Prayer?

A lot of people ask this question. However, the thing they forget to do is ask themselves this first: What is Prayer? After all, if we don’t know what something is, we can’t know it’s purpose. Prayer, in its simplest definition, is communication to a spiritual entity. We pray to angels, saints, and God. Here, we must draw a distinction. There is a difference between prayer and worship. All worship is prayer, but not all prayer is worship. Worship literally means to give worth. So we worship (in the literal sense) God, Mary, the angels and saints, and even anyone we respect and admire.  However, our understanding of worship is an action in which we give to recognize one as a Supreme being. So, using our colloquial understanding of the word, we would say that we worship God, glorify Mary, praise the angels and saints, and honor those around us who we respect and admire.

Prayer can be broken down even further into: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplications (abbreviated ACTS). This leads into the purpose. We adore God just for the sake of His goodness. We pray to express sorrow for sin and to beseech forgiveness. We give thanks to God for his great goodness. The last is supplications. A lot of people question this aspect. After all, there have been cases where areas were threatened with destruction, but since everyone prayed for deliverance, God delivered them. Then, there are cases where Christian areas were wiped out by natural disasters or by murderous psychopaths. Some people say that the more people praying for something, the more likely God will answer the prayer. Sometimes, that is the case, sometimes it isn’t. And we don’t always get what we want.

A lot of times, we treat God as a cosmic Santa Claus to give us whatever we want and whenever we want. We pray for people to not die, we pray for storms to be averted, we pray to win the lottery, we pray for other people to convert, etc. We forget that His plan is sometimes nonsensical to us.

So, sometimes our supplications are answered, sometimes their not. So why ask? We have an inherent need to be in total communion with God. Our created purpose is for worship after all. It is by telling God all of our cares, even when we know what we want won’t occur, that we fully trust in Him. Even Jesus prayed to God the Father and wasn’t given what He asked. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, but not My will but Yours be done.”  See, here we see a perfect model of supplication. We pray for what we want and for deliverance from what may occur. But we accept God’s will regardless.

What is Consent?

Pretty much every Catholic is familiar with the concept of Mortal Sin. We all know that there are 3 conditions: it must be grave matter, you must have full knowledge, and you must give full consent. In my opinion, consent is the most important part, since consent is the only part of the sin you can actually do. The gravity of an action is objective and will always be the same when factoring in the object, purpose, and circumstances of the act. The knowledge is variable but is set at the time consent is given. Without consent, an act will not take place. It is possible to fully consent to evil without knowing that it is gravely evil. Then again, the grave evil this usually refers to is that of breaking a disciplinary law such as meat on Friday. It is a sin because of the disobedience, not because meat is bad. (So, I guess it really isn’t gravely evil since you can’t intentionally sin through disobedience if you didn’t know it was a rule, to begin with).

Now with consent to a sin, there are many different levels.

The highest level is full consent. This means you are allowing your body to perform the act and you are participating without resistance. This does not mean you aren’t facing temptation. For instance, there is a party going on at the same time as church, and you really want to go to it and you are seriously considering skipping mass/liturgy.

Then there is consent through habit. It is something our body has been used to doing, so the body has a stronger inclination to do. We feel bothered when we don’t do it. An example here is foul language. We are so used to using Jesus’s name in vulgar ways that it happens automatically. We don’t mean disrespect but we do it anyways.

Then there is consent through addiction. This is where the body feels like it NEEDS to do something. This is something that happens when you are actively trying to stop but can’t stop easily. There are people addicted to pornography, people addicted to eating, people addicted to smoking, etc. Yes, you are allowing yourself to perform the act and participating in it, but if you didn’t have that addiction, you could go periods without considering it. An example is the people who do drugs even when they know they will be caught and lose everything. Or someone who cannot function normally without a substance. Yes, there are people addicted to coffee, even if coffee isn’t immoral.

Then there is consent through violence. For instance, you commit a sin because you are being threatened. An example is being forced at gunpoint to perform sexual acts. It’s still considered consent because you could resist, but without the threat, you wouldn’t have done it.

Then there is involuntary reaction.You don’t actively give consent or participate, but you don’t resist either. An example is throwing a punch without contemplation. The fist flies before you can even think to stop. Or when you injure yourself and you shout Jesus’s name.

Lastly, there is perfect resistance, where you don’t give into the sin.

A lot of people, especially traditionalists, forget that the condition of mortal sin is FULL consent. Now, these people have good intentions. They understand the serious potential for people to rationalize their mortal sin into a venial sin. For instance, someone could take their temptation and say “I didn’t give full consent because I was tempted” which is absolutely false. Thus, you have people who don’t even repent of their sins or even try to fight sins. To them, full consent is if they do something completely devoid of inclination. The other fear of traditionalists is that the person with an addiction will figure that since they aren’t committing a mortal sin, they won’t have to change. The fact is that not even trying is a different sin. The sin of being lukewarm. Sin is damaging and every time a sin is committed, regardless of consent, you are damaged, and so is your relationship with God. And those sins will cause you to commit other sins that you aren’t addicted to, thus enabling you to give full consent to a different sin. If you don’t fight an addiction, you will fall away from God. The last traditionalist fear is that someone will claim an addiction when they really don’t have one. Thus, they excuse themselves from the confessional. “I don’t need to go since I’m addicted and therefore not in mortal sin.” That distinction isn’t made by an individual. Either a healthcare practitioner or a priest will tell you of your addiction.

The traditionalists have good intentions here, but the issue that occurs is that the addicted person will despair and give up. The same occurs with people with scrupulosity. Saying that someone who is addicted isn’t in mortal sin is not a free pass for them to continue their sin. And it only applies to someone who genuinely repents and wants to change.

The thing about actions, whether good or bad, is that we don’t own them. They don’t originate from us. We are incapable of owning our own actions since due to our corrupted fall, all the good we do came from God, and all that is bad is because of the fall. Yes, we cannot even pride ourselves in having ownership over our sins. We perform deeds. We commit sins. We do not own them. The only thing we do is consent to them and participate in them. Thus, the only action we really own is whether we consent to or reject God’s mercy.