Aug 2017 | Church Fathers

A Hymn of the Virgin Mary to her Child | Ephraim the Syrian

I shall not be jealous, my Son, that Thou art with me, and also with all men. Be Thou God to him that confesses Thee, and be thou Lord to him that serves Thee, and be Brother to him that loves Thee, that Thou mayest gain all!

When Thou didst dwell in me, Thou didst also dwell out of me, and when I brought Thee forth openly, Thy hidden might was not removed from me. Thou art within me, and Thou art without me, O Thou that makest Thy mother amazed.

For when I see that outward form of Thine before mine eyes, the hidden Form is shadowed forth “in my mind,” O holy One. In Thy visible form I see Adam, and in Thy hidden form I see Thy Father, who is joined with Thee.

Hast Thou then shown me alone Thy Beauty in two Forms? Let Bread shadow forth Thee, and also the mind; dwell also in Bread and in the eaters thereof. In secret, and openly too, may Thy church see Thee, as well as Thy mother.

He that hates Thy Bread is like unto him that hates Thy Body. He that is far off that desires Thy Bread, and he that is near that loves Thy Image, are alike. In the Bread and in the Body, the first and also the last have seen Thee.

Yet Thy visible Bread is far more precious than Thy Body; for Thy Body even unbelievers have seen, but they have not seen Thy living Bread. They that were far off rejoiced; their portion utterly scorns that of those that are near.

Lo! Thy Image is shadowed forth in the blood of the grapes on the Bread; and it is shadowed forth on the heart with the finger of love, with the colors of faith. Blessed be He that by the Image of His Truth caused the graven images to pass away.

Thou art not [so] the Son of Man that I should sing unto Thee a common lullaby; for Thy Conception is new, and Thy Birth marvelous. Without

the Spirit who shall sing to Thee? A new muttering of prophecy is hot within me.

How shall I call Thee a stranger to us, Who art from us? Should I call Thee Son? Should I call Thee Brother? Husband should I call Thee? Lord should I call Thee, O Child that didst give Thy Mother a second birth from the waters?

For I am Thy sister, of the house of David the father of us Both. Again, I am Thy Mother because of Thy Conception, and Thy Bride am I because of Thy sanctification, Thy handmaid and Thy daughter, from the Blood and Water wherewith Thou hast purchased me and baptized me.

The Son of the Most High came and dwelt in me, and I became His Mother; and as by a second birth I brought Him forth so did He bring me forth by the second birth, because He put His Mother’s garments on, she clothed her body with His glory.

Tamar, who was of the house of David, Amnon put to shame; and virginity fell and perished from them both. My pearl is not lost: in Thy treasury it is stored, because Thou hast put it on.

The scent of her brother-in-law slunk from Tamar, whose perfume she had stolen. As for Joseph’s Bride, not even his breath exhaled from her garments, since she conceived Cinnamon. A wall of fire was Thy Conception unto me, O holy Son.

The little flower was faint, because the smell of the Lily of Glory was great. The Treasure-house of spices stood in no need of flower or its smells! Flesh stood aloof because it perceived in the womb a Conception from the Spirit.

The woman ministers before the man, because he is her head. Joseph rose to minister before his Lord, Who was in Mary. The priest ministered before Thy ark by reason of Thy holiness.

Moses carried the tables of stone which the Lord wrote, and Joseph bare about the pure Tablet in whom the Son of the Creator was dwelling. The tables had ceased, because the world was filled with Thy doctrine.

From: Ephraim The Syrian. Hymns on The Nativity. Hymn 11. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. Series 2. Volume 13.


Aug 2017 | Book Review

The Letter of St. Athanasius to Epictetus, Bishop of Corinth Circa 370 A.D.

Following the Council at Nicaea in 325, the Fathers of the Church believed that heresy had been defeated by their strong, clear, and effective refutation of the Arians and agreement upon a universal Rule of Faith. It was therefore to St. Athanasius’s surprise and disappointment that, in the years following that “monument of victory over all heresy,” there remained those who were “attempting to raise doubts or questions[.]” Having received a memorandum from Epictetus, Bishop of Corinth, detailing these remaining heretical ideas, St. Athanasius undertakes, in twelve short paragraphs, to refute their opinions and reaffirm once more the Orthodox Faith regarding the perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Athanasius addresses in this letter three main Christological heresies, extant both at his time and still today. First, that Christ’s body came with Him from heaven, and is coessential with the Godhead; second, that Christ only seemed to take flesh; third, that the Logos Himself changed into a body. From these three heresies came many sub-heresies, and St. Athanasius here answers these teachings while proving the true humanity of Christ and emphasizing the truth of the incarnation. In doing so, he mentions the name of the Theotokos more than in any of his other works.

The importance of this short work in defending the Orthodox Faith during the Christological Controversies that would follow the death of St. Athanasius would become evident in the life of St. Cyril of Alexandria (who had memorized the works of his predecessor St. Athanasius), who witnessed to his knowledge of it, and assent to its teaching, saying: “If an uncorrupted text is in your safekeeping (for much of its content has been altered by the enemies of the truth), I should be in total and entire agreement with it.” Its importance would again be affirmed in its being read at the Council at Ephesus, during the first session. This letter is therefore essential to understanding sound Orthodox Christology, and is a must-read for every believer; especially for us, as proud children of the Coptic Church and of St. Athanasius and St. Cyril.

Book Review by Anthony Doss

Aug 2017 | Extra Works

Excerpt from: “Q&A: Bishop Kallistos Ware on the Fullness and the Center” | Interview by David Neff, July 2011.

In open countries where Orthodoxy has never been an established religion, how does Orthodoxy reach out to unchurched people?

In Britain, we have until very recently been concerned simply to be able to minister to our own people, to the children of Orthodox immigrants, who have lost a living link with their own church. Building our parishes from nothing—no church building, no accommodation for the priest—is not easy, and many of our priests in Britain still have to earn their living with secular work, because the community wouldn’t be able to support them full-time. We need to have a much more effective home mission before we reach out to others.

We Orthodox are still certainly too inward looking; we should realize that we have a message that many people will listen to gladly. I see our mission not primarily to practicing members of other churches, but to the unchurched who are very numerous in Britain, less so in the United States.

To me, the most important missionary witness that we have is the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic worship of the Orthodox Church. This is the life-giving source from which everything else proceeds. And therefore, to those who show an interest in Orthodoxy, I say, “Come and see. Come to the liturgy.” The first thing is that they should have an experience of Orthodoxy—or for that matter, of Christianity—as a worshiping community. We start from prayer, not from an abstract ideology, not from moral rules, but from a living link with Christ expressed through prayer.

To draw in the unchurched, evangelical churches often strip away things that might be mysterious or strange. But when you invite someone into an Orthodox liturgy, you hit them full-on with strange symbolism and unfamiliar words.

Yes, and let them understand what God gives them to understand. Throw them in at the deep end of the swimming pool and see what happens. That is very much our Orthodox approach. I would not want to offer a watered-down version of Orthodoxy.

The basic rules of Christianity, our relation to Christ, are very simple. Because they are simple they are also often difficult to understand.

On the other hand, we should not be content with a bare minimum. We should offer people the fullness of the faith in all its diversity and depth. I would wish people, when they come to the Orthodox liturgy, not to think that they understand everything the first time. I hope, rather, that they have an experience of mystery, a sense of awe and wonder. If we lose that from our worship, we have lost something very precious.

There’s a bad expression of mystery, which is just mystification. But there’s a good sense of mystery—to realize that in our worship we are in contact with the transcendent, with that which far surpasses our reasoning brains. I hope that this sense of living mystery, which is entirely bound up with a personal experience of Christ, is conveyed through our worship.

You speak of the fullness of the faith, experienced through the Divine Liturgy. Evangelical Protestants, from the first days of the Reformation through the Wesleyan Revival, have been eager to crystallize a central message and a central experience. We need to help people see both the center and the fullness of the faith. One theologian I talked to before this interview said, “Ask if the fullness doesn’t sometimes obscure the center.”

I agree that what we want is both/and—the fullness and the center. There could be a way of presenting Orthodoxy that makes it sound very complicated. We Orthodox have a rich inheritance, which could become a heavy burden if not properly handled.

Yet I certainly believe that Orthodoxy is simple Christianity—not an elaborate Byzantine ritual, but simple Christianity. When I first came in contact with the Orthodox Church, the music, the icons, the total experience of the liturgy influenced me greatly, but I did not become Orthodox because of that. I became Orthodox because I felt that it is simple Christianity.

If I were to meet you on a train and ask you, “What is the center of the Christian message?,” how would you succinctly put that?

I would answer, “I believe in a God who loves humankind so intensely, so totally, that he chose himself to become human. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ as fully and truly God, but also totally and unreservedly one of us, fully human.” And I would say to you, “The love of God is so great that Christ died for us on the cross. But love is stronger than death, and so the death of Jesus was followed by his resurrection. I am a Christian because I believe in the great love of God that led him to become incarnate, to die, and to rise again.” That’s my faith. All of this is made immediate to us through the continuing action of the Holy Spirit.