The Christians of Dachau

By Fr. Hans Jacobse

Pascha, 2009

Every Pascha, I repost two stories on OrthodoxyToday.org. that tell how Orthodox prisoners in Dachau held the Paschal Liturgy during their liberation. The first, “The Souls of All are Aflame” provides historical background and detail. The second, “Pascha in Dachau” recounts the story of a prisoner who was there.

Icon of Christ opening the gates of Dachau

Christ opening the gates of Dachau

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Dachua was liberated during Holy Week. The Orthodox believers experienced Christ’s triumph over the forces of darkness by holding a Paschal Liturgy crying out “Christ is Risen!” It is hard to fathom the depravity the evil ideologies fostered in their persecutors short of any direct experience, but anyone who has confronted lesser evils knows that such great evil can exist.

The resurrection of Christ is the final confrontation to the horrors unleashed when the embrace of Nazism and Communism opened the jaws of a deep hell. We see the seeds of horror in our own day too, especially the embrace of the nihilistic fantasies that fuel the arguments that devalue human life. It began with that faceless figure, the one who lies, who is the father of lies and appeals to the base passions of men, who whispered into the ear of man that he can be like God. Some choose to believe him. They whisper anew that first whisper. The whisper gets louder and louder so that in some corners of our world it is proclaimed from the housetops. Evil always masquerades as good, and not until the evil that those ideas hide is laid bare do most men dare face the consequences of their own beliefs. Others of course, never do.

Only the Gospel of Christ, the proclamation that Christ is risen from the dead, reveals that death is an enemy destroyed and exposes the nihilistic embrace of death as a lie. The grand schemes of the social engineers who are intoxicated by their own pride and contemptuous of what is good and true, will one day come to nothing. Babel will fall. But until it does, destruction and suffering still prevail by their hands.

How does evil flourish? Edmund Burke answered the question this way: When good men do nothing. God enters the world through a word. The Gospel of Christ, when preached with authority and by the Spirit of God, tears down strong places. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places,” writes the Apostle Paul (Eph. 6:12). Truth, spoken into the world of space and time, draws from and reveals Him who is True, and tears down the towers that men build to reach God.

But preaching the Gospel comes with a cross. The cross is the locus of transformation, the place where death is changed into life. The men in Dachau understood this. Lest the darkness overwhelm them, they instead bore the suffering of Christ in their own bodies just as the Apostle Paul teaches that we must do. They would not let go of Him who had captured them.

Christ’s victory over sin and death begins on the inside. That is where the struggle first takes place. The Apostle Paul taught us about this too. Every disciple has his Garden of Gethsemane, sometimes many in a lifetime. Yet, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” the Apostle Paul wrote while enduring a suffering of his own (Phil. 4:13). He was jailed in Philippi at the time, no small thing in the Roman empire. His suffering however, was for the sake of the Gospel and through it light entered the world.

Carrying our cross is the way that “Christ is born in us.” We should not despise our suffering, but bring our cross to Christ who enables us to carry it and through it, come to know Christ. There are no shortcuts here. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it,” Jesus said (Matt. 7:13). Death would not have been transformed to life — the gates of Hades would not have been overthrown — had Jesus not ascended the cross. That He did so voluntarily (his death was a capital murder), and that He was innocent of sin according to the Mosaic Law, is why He was able to destroy — through His death — the death to which He was condemned.

We must put to death the “…sin that reigns in our body,” the Apostle Paul teaches us (Rom. 8:13). Harsh circumstances can impose this discipline, but most of us don’t experience the level of hardship that the men in Dachau did. We also don’t see the stark contrast between life and death that the presence of real evil reveals. Sometimes we even accommodate ourselves to evil as long as it does not directly affect us. We don’t want to accept that the the first line between good and evil rests in the heart, as Solzhenitsyn said.

But, if we know that the Gospel is true, even imperfectly, then silence cannot be our lot. We have to speak what is true and do what is right, even when we know it will impose a cost. That cost can become a new cross, just like St. Paul’s imprisonment for preaching the Gospel. But, like St. Paul or the men of Dachau, carrying that cross sheds light in places where it would otherwise not be found.

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Orthodox Christians use the word “Pascha” for Easter. Pascha is derived from Greek usage and is itself a transliteration of the Hebrew word for Passover: “Pesach.”

The Love of God and the Passion of Christ

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

On March 26, 2009, the Fellowship of St. James, publisher of Touchstone and Salvo magazines, hosted a Lenten talk by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, the pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of Christ in the Psalms and Christ in His Saints, both published by Conciliar Press. The title of the talk was “The Love of God and the Passion of Christ,” and it was preceded by an invocation by Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois.

Listen to it now:

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Orthodox chant on PBS [AUDIO]

A small but delightful segment on Orthodox chant appears on the Religion and Ethics section of the PBS website.

Achieving Orthodoxy Unity

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By: Fr. Gleb McFatter

Sermon delivered on the Sunday of Orthodox, Naples, Florida, March, 2009.

Pentecost - The Unity of the Church

Pentecost

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This invocation of the Holy Trinity which I have just recited is familiar to us all. It is repeated often in every Orthodox service and it is included in every Orthodox prayer. Yet I wonder how many of us have ever contemplated the concept that underlies this invocation, and how that concept is the very core belief which brings us together this evening for the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

In the divine liturgy, we affirm the Holy Trinity as one in essence and undivided. In fact, the Church goes even further and confirms that the Holy Trinity is not only one in essence and undivided, but that it is also comprised of three different and distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity, in its entirety is the God-head, or in short, God. We, as Orthodox Christians and benefactors of the true faith are called, even commanded, to become “god-like”. Our whole purpose and focus in this life is to strive to that end. What exactly does this mean? Simply put, it means that although we the Orthodox are many in persons, we are to be one in essence and undivided, in concert with the Holy Trinity — the God-head, or God.

Consider for a moment, what the situation would be if God the Father decided not to interact with Christ, the Son, because Christ the Son was not Russian. What if Christ, the Son, would not interact with the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit was not Greek? What if the Holy Spirit would not interact with either of the other members of the Holy Trinity because they were not Syrian? The Holy Trinity would be completely dysfunctional. Preposterous, isn’t it? Yet this is precisely the condition that many of the Orthodox in this country find themselves.

While theologically we are of one essence and undivided, we are physically and emotionally divided. It is important to understand that although the Holy Trinity is made up of three separate persons, those three persons are of one mind. The scriptures confirm this and we affirm this in the divine liturgy when we say “let us love one another that with one mind we may confess, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in essence and undivided”. The Holy Trinity is of one mind because all three persons are in perfect unity with each other. The Holy Trinity is our example. It is our “gold-standard.” We Orthodox fail to be of one mind and perfectly united because of our human frailties. We constantly strive to attain the unity of the God-head, but as humans we often fail.

So, how do we improve our situation? How do we practically achieve the unity that so many of us talk about but cannot seem to realize? The answer, for better or for worse, lies within us, both individually and collectively.

It has been said that extraordinary leadership is extraordinarily rare. If we expect our Orthodox hierarchs to initiate unity from above and pass it down to us, we will be waiting for our life-time, our children’s lifetime and our grandchildren’s lifetime. Orthodox unity will only be achieved when the laity, parish priests and monastics lovingly unify themselves and exhibit that untiy to the hierarchs. One thing those of us in the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) have learned from our recent “times of trouble” is that only when the discontent among the laity, parish priests and monastics rose to a fever pitch – only then were the hierachs moved to action. Imagine what could be accomplished if that same level of energy was focused on achieving unity among those at the parish and monastic level!

We begin building unity with small steps, growing and expanding as our unity strengthens. This service tonight is a small step, but we cannot simply have a vesper service once a year and expect to achieve unity. We need a series of small steps, community wide. We need to establish Orthodox women’s groups, men’s and teen’s groups, which can come toghether to accomplish tangible goals within the community at large — as a unified Orthodox group.

Tangible goals could include food banks and other charitable endeavors. The list of targets is endless. Eventually we may consider opening clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, universities, etc. All of these would be identified as “Orthodox”, but not specifically Russian, Greek, or Syrian.

It begins with us. There are at least two thousand Orthodox in Southwest Florida — enough to make things happen if we want them to. However, the desire must be there. If we think that it will not work, or that it is too much trouble or too expensive, then it will go nowhere. Every good neighborhood, every unified neighborhood, requires those neighbors to sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, energy and resources but this is what god commands us to do — go out into all the world and preach the gospel, raising the cross of Christ for all mankind to see.

When Christ was on earth, he focused on two things — healing mankind spiritually and physically. That also is precisely what our goal as Orthodox Christians should be. Yet we cannot do it if we are divided, disorganized and dysfunctional. The Orthodox priests and other clergy here tonight want to help and support you, the laity, in any way that we can. We need to work together to meet that “gold-standard” of the Holy Trinity, many in persons, of one mind, of one essence and undivided. This will affirm the true “Triumph of Orthodoxy”.

Now may he who is the author of all unity help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us by his grace, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

Fr. Gleb McFatter pastors St. Demetrius Orthodox Church in Naples, Florida.

The Scandal: Jesus Hangs on the Cross to Forgive Us of Sin

By: Fr. George Morelli

A Lenten homily.

“Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Is there any doubt that the Cross of Jesus Christ is a scandal, a shame and embarrassment to anyone who chooses not to respond to God’s grace? Look at Jesus from a Jewish perspective in the time of Christ. They were awaiting a messiah, the anointed one of God — a deliverer who would reign in glory with the power and adornment of a king.

Extreme Humility

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But who was Jesus? He was the son of a carpenter who came from a place of no stature or notice — “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). He was an itinerant, poor preacher and would be condemned as a criminal, scourged, buffeted, spat upon and be crucified in total ignominy.

Of the coming Messiah, the Prophet Isaiah forewarned that:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed (Is. 53: 3-5).

Jesus had power, but not the kind the earthly leaders understood. Jesus claimed to be God (“I and the Father are one”) and forgave sin by His own name – an authority reserved for God alone. His divine lordship is especially evident in Epistle to the Hebrews where St. Paul quoted the messianic psalm “The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool…The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter…Rule in the midst of your foes!” (Heb. 1:13, Ps. 109:1-2).

(Some scholars argue that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Christian-Hebrew scholars who were receding to the view of the Messiah-King as a political leader, rather that who the Anointed One of God who came to save mankind from sin and death.)

The power of Jesus was not of this world. His kingdom is understandable only in Divine terms — as the suffering servant. Isaiah wrote: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7). St. John Chrysostom wrote: “[Jesus] on His part also gives evidence of His power, loosing the man’s sins with complete authority, and indicating in every way that He is of equal status with the One who begot Him.”

St. Paul taught that Jesus is the true Christ, not anointed to be an earthly king, but to reign as the Divine King. But this kingship would be hidden from earthly eyes, because of sin. That’s why the cross is a scandal. How could a King be crucified?

St. Paul warned the Hebrews: “[T]herefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness…'” Jesus is superior to the angels. He surpasses Moses as a son surpasses a servant. Jesus as intercessor makes obsolete the priesthood of the Old Covenant.

What did St. Paul instruct the Hebrews to do? They are to forgive others and repent of their sins, and show love, compassion, chastity, obedience, perseverance, avoidance of greed and strange teachings.

Is this epistle written only for the Hebrews who were considering rejecting Jesus? Absolutely not! This epistle is for all of us in need of a physician because of the illness of our souls; for all who need the healing hand of Christ. Jesus cures our infirmities and diseases, and bring light into our darkened hearts and souls. Jesus told us: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mt. 9:12). St. Matthew wrote: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Mt. 8:17).

Yes, the cross is a scandal and stumbling block. We need forgiveness. We need to forgive others. We love God because He first loved us. But we must forgive others if we want to know the forgiveness of God. Consider the words of our holy Father St. Ephraim the Syrian (1997):

But if you do not make peace with your brother, then how will you ask Me for forgiveness? I am your Master; I command you and you do not heed Me. You are a servant; how dare you bring me a prayer, or a sacrifice, or first fruits of you harvest, if you bear malice toward anyone? If you turn your face from your brother, so shall I turn Mine eyes from your prayer and from your gift. If your brother is angry with you, then the Lord is also angry with you. And if you have made peace with your brother below, then you have made peace also with the Lord on high. If you receive your brother, then you also receive your Lord.

Imagine if all of us could forgive one another in the name of Christ. How different the world would be! Forgiveness is healing (Morelli, 2004) and a scandal to all who reject the crucified Christ who hung on the cross for our salvation.

REFERENCES

Morelli, G. (2004, December 07). Forgiveness is Healing. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliForgiveness2.php

St. Ephraim the Syrian. (1997) Spiritual Psalter. (Br. Isaac E. Lambertsen, Trans.). Liberty, TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press.

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counseling-ministries) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.

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