Undoing the Boast of Lineage

In the last two posts we see how the pride of lineage, represented by the artful deception of Jacob and his mother for the Messianic promise was interrupted with the struggle between Jacob and the angel of God in Genesis. With a new name and limp, Jacob (Israel) has a vision of Heaven opened and angels ascending and descending. With a direct reference to this vision while reintroducing a context of duplicity, Jesus the Messiah calls on the charitable heart of Nathaniel:

JOHN 1:47 Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”48 Nathaniel said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”49 Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Christ the Messiah with His Mother have the remedy for all things presented to them by the converted heart of mankind. Now how could the knot of a boastful messianic lineage that began with warring first-borns in the womb of Rebekah be undone? If Jesus the Messiah had a brother, then maybe that would be a way.

Scripture describes three James’ specifically. There is James the brother of John, the two sons of Zebedee, and James son of Alphaeus, distinctly mentioned together when Jesus chose His apostles (Luke 6:12-14). Tradition has it that Alphaeus was an uncle to Jesus, so this James (also called the Lesser in tradition) a first cousin. Not a brother but close. There is a third James with the “brother” descriptor mentioned by Paul in Galatians:

Galations 19: I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

The use of the term brother for relatives is common in the middle east but if this were a first born brother of Jesus, he would be of Joseph from his former marriage.

Various traditions, including that of the Latin Church believe that there are only two James’, and that James of Alphaeus (the Lesser) are the same as this brother of our Lord that Paul found in Jerusalem. The Eastern Orthodox churches believe that there are three. If this sounds unbelievable witness what Paul says in Galatians in his next sentence:

Galatians 19: I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

Unless he frequently makes a point of saying he is not lying, it sounds like Paul himself was surprised to find out that Jesus had an actual brother.

A discussion on the James’ in the New Testament can be researched from the works of the first Church historian Eusebius and related commentaries. There are also apocryphal works that describe this third James.

But do we need these?

What should be more convincing is that the Eastern Liturgical calendar has three separate feast days for each of these James’ including for “Holy Apostle James, Brother of God, First Bishop of Jerusalem” (October 23). Thrown from the Temple at Jerusalem, this James was also martyred for the faith. He was called James the Just, known for his humility, maybe a cutout of his father.

But we rightly call the first two James’ apostles because Jesus appointed them among the twelve. Why is the third James an apostle? This is answered in a prayer from his feast day:

Kontakion of Saint James

When at the completion of time, God the Word, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, came down to us, He established you, admirable James, as the first Shepherd and Teacher at Jerusalem, a faithful steward of the Mysteries of Faith; wherefore we honor you as an Apostle.

There is a surety here because the Divine Liturgy or Mass is an eternal event. A Liturgy from that time is as real to God now as it was then. It is a building block of the future resurrection to Eternal Glory. This is why attempts to “retire” a Liturgical form such as the Latin Mass are senseless. New liturgies may be started but to do away with a Liturgy is impossible.

In the genealogy of Matthew Chapter 1 we see the lineage from Jacob to Joseph and end with a new Jacob to Joseph. At this point the Messiah of all races offers the title of Bishop of Jerusalem to His race in the first-born son of Joseph. Maybe a suggestion from His Mother. The knot of Rebecca is undone.

This is why orthodox churches even up to the 20th Century looked like synagogues. Could this be why the Orthodox liturgical traditions have more national identities and less emphasis on priestly celibacy? Here also the heroes from the lineage of the Messiah are saints in the Liturgical calendar. Prayers for self-government and their armed forces are included in the Liturgy.

There is a reminder of all this in the story of how God found a home in the charitable heart of Edith Stein, who became a Carmelite, a tradition rooted in the prophet Elijah. She was martyred by an evil whose only defeat will be through Christ. She was canonized by miracles witnessed by a Melkite priest, descendants of the same orthodox apostolic lineage from Bishop James of Jerusalem, but now in union with Rome.

St. James “brother of the Lord” icon on the throne of the Church of St. Mark in Jerusalem

So That No One May Boast

From the last post we see that after Jacob’s warring with Essau in the womb of Rebekah, Jacob now must war with God for heeding his mother and stealing the birthright that would lead to the Messiah. His war with the Angel of God left him with a new name, Israel, and an affliction. Often needed to break the pride of those destined to be united to God, the mark of Christianity. So that no one may boast. Witness how the story of the betrayal, burial, and resurrection of Christ the Messiah was subsequently foretold in the story of Israel’s son Joseph and his betrayal, burial, and reemergence (Genesis 37).

From this point the People of God urge on the coming of the Messiah, the day for God’s answer to Abraham that He will provide the Lamb of sacrifice. So that God Himself will offer up His own Blood for man. Witness how Moses emerges from purgatory and Elijah from his hiding place to urge Jesus on to His crucifixion at the mountain of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17). The dream of Jacob is fulfilled. Heaven has opened up.

The lineage cannot boast but in Christ the Messiah.

LUKE 3:8. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

And how could God be conceived in the flesh without the boast of parents? Witness Joseph’s humiliation from the virginal conception of Mary (Matthew 1). But to eternally protect the incarnation of our Lord from the boast of lineage, God reached back before the fall of man that came from Adam’s sin of pride. To create the most exquisite creature every created and ever will be. Who will never boast but in God and His grace, but in whom we all can be proud. Who alone has the grace to undo the knot of pride tied by Rebekah.

Authority Before Mysticism

There is a tradition in Apostolic Christianity that interprets the abrupt change in order of the two apostles running to witness the empty tomb:

John 20

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb…

Scripture breaths the life of revelation at many layers, some yet to be known, but the traditional interpretation of this change in sequence is that while the mystic, here represented by John, transcriber of the Book of Revelation, may see first, the event is not official until God’s authority takes witness, here represented by Peter, the Holder of the Keys.

So with the visions and revelations of conditional prophesies of mystics, their manifestations’ admission await the official.

Troparion of Saint John

Apostle beloved of Christ God, hasten to deliver a people that lacks any other defense; for He accepted that you lay your head on His breast. He will also accept your prayer. Therefore, intercede with Him, O Theologian, that He may disperse haughty nations, and beg that He may grant peace and abundant mercy.

The Beast and The Bride of Christ

Whether or not one feels we are entering into the apocalypse before Christ’s final coming, we can see how the Church, the Bride of Christ, is lured into the beast of the end times. The beast is the system that can usher in the Anti-Christ. The method is exactly that, an incorporation. In this case a tax entity. God can do no wrong and no evil can overwhelm without disobeying God. So God must have the Word that protects against evil. Certainly the unfaithfulness of the shepherds on issues of morality is at the core, but the lure of incorporation and consolidation of the Church into the beast may be related to disobeying another, if not command, then at least, a suggestion Christ directly made to the Apostles. Pay your taxes.

The Church teaches rightly that we should pay our taxes. But why don’t they pay their share? Only the defrauded can recognize the fraud. Tax structures have the potential to create an illusion of a moral code, a self-deluded perception that we are okay. In the code of governments, Al Capone was a tax-evader, not a murderer or illicit business operator. In the code of governments, natural immunity does not exist, only immunity from regular vaccinations

Look carefully at the words of our Lord in the following Matthew passage.

Matthew 17: 23 And when they were come to Capharnaum, they that received the didrachmas, came to Peter and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachmas? 24 He said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom? of their own children, or of strangers? 25 And he said: Of strangers. Jesus said to him: Then the children are free. 26 But that we may not scandalize them…thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee.

Jesus is stating the arbitrary nature of the tax and addressing His bride directly, He says pay it. He is saying that by not paying it, she (His Bride) becomes like the children of the kings of the earth, not of His Kingship.

Does the Church have to go underground for us to realize this? Christ is directly addressing the concept of a tax exemption here. It is time to grow up. If we want history to continue.

Christ the King Icon in Maaloula Syria
Christ the King Icon in Maaloula Syria

Kontakion of Saint Matthew

When you renounced the instruments of a tax-collector, to choose those of justice, you became an excellent merchant, rich in Divine Wisdom. You preached the Word of Truth, and you exhort us to be always ready by your vivid description of the last judgment.

About That Organized Religion

For decades now, discussions about religion have gone back and forth on whether an organized or institutionalized religion is needed if one believes in God. That what it is really about is conscience, and not what a priest, bishop, rabbi, or pastor says, but that what matters is a personal belief in God. On the other side of the coin were those that believe that what really matters is the official endorsement of a priest, bishop, or religious organization and that matters of conscience are irrelevant.

Today the day of reckoning has arrived. A window of escape from a poisonous vaccine and developed largely from aborted human tissue, is the religious exemption. The request is perfectly a matter of conscience and its backing is from solidified and institutionally documented teachings in the Catholic Church with perhaps some Orthodox, Jewish, and protestant churches qualifying. This while potentially a majority of priests, rabbis, pastors, and bishops increasingly cling to perverse teachings in their sanctioned government playground. True religion is defined. A God of all matters: secret, private, public, and institutional.

How helpful it would be for the faithful to receive backing from faithful pastors, priests or bishops in these times. But while a faithful priest or bishop is golden, rest assured that a faithful soul will have their cross decorated by the Virgin Mother herself.

Byzantine Cross Artwork
Byzantine Cross Artwork

What we know and more.

The Kingship of Christ (and about that Consecration of Russia)

This post is not about whether the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart has been sufficiently done as instructed by the Virgin Mother of God in the early 20th Century. I believe the declarations and suggestions of the Latin Church leadership that it has. I could be wrong. I would think that there would be nothing wrong with a repeated or more formalized consecration now. Maybe to be more sure? It can’t hurt.

Instead this post is about a more encompassing historical perspective for the consecration, its meaning for the reign of Christ the King and with perhaps an unexpected conclusion. Asking for the reader’s patience through what could be perceived as a disjointed and even superficial discourse, we will suggest at the end that a solution of our times may be a practical agreed upon footnote from the Council of Nicaea, in the 4th Century.

Certainly we know that the evils of communism began with and were spread by the Soviet Union. Our Lady of Fatima spoke of this danger for the whole world. However there is a meaning that has its roots in ancient times and echoes throughout history. It has all to do with the tug of war between secular man’s power, represented by an expanding government, even to take captive the soul, and God’s Kingdom of Love.

The Request for an Earthly King

A beginning point is when the ancient Israelites complained to God for a worldly kingdom. The passages speak for themselves:

1 Samuel 8: 7 And the Lord told him [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king. …9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”…11 He [Samuel] said, “…17 … and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

The Kingdom of Heaven Established

Christ the King Icon Maaloula Syria
Christ the King Icon Maaloula Syria

Now fast forward to after the Resurrection of Christ, the Acts of the Apostles and the early centuries that followed. Christianity was rapidly expanding east and west. A peculiar event however recorded in the Acts of the Apostles gives one pause:

Acts 16: 6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

St. Paul
St. Paul

With repeated emphasis and with outward geographical meaning [look up the locations of those regions], God directly intervenes in shifting the emphasis of the evangelization from east to west, directing Paul’s zeal. Although ultimately a mystery, a logical reason for this is the destined location for Primacy of Peter in Rome, the capital of the Roman empire. Also, within the organizational backdrop of the Roman Empire, a council can convene to create statements of doctrinal orthodoxy for the whole of Christendom, for all the churches in the orbit of the empire. Here we see the benevolence of God who does not put His Kingdom at odds with government. Rather He proposes a marriage with government through conversion of the hearts of peoples who understand His Kingship present among them.

The First Ecumenical Council

Council of Nicaea
Council of Nicaea

The first such ecumenical council occurred in Nicaea in AD 325. The primary focus of this council was the defense against Arianism, which denied the full Divinity and full humanity of Christ. God’s Kingship has been established and in harmony with cultures, nationhood, and sovereignty. This dual nature of Christ, is also directly stated with the title of Mother of God, since God, taking the nature of man, must have a mother. In fact this title would have to be defended a few years later at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD).

The Parable of the Weeds

Our next point has to do with workers of deception that latch on the blessings that God gives man in constructing a just civilization, trying to replace it with a purely worldly governance that dominates rather than frees. Everyone benefits from the presence of Christianity, but there are those, among whom are Christians, who with time forget the grace of God. And there are those outside Christianity that build empires on the backs of the workers of God’s Kingdom. The betrayal of the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ defined at the Council of Nicaea has been presented here in a prior post. Although our Lord may have been referring to a different specific point in time, His parable of the weeds, reminds one of this kind of betrayal:

Matthew 13:24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Readers can familiarize themselves with history between the time of the First Ecumenical Council with Emperor Constantine, who was at the Council, and the rise and fall of his nephew Emperor Julian the Apostate. Julian represented the return to paganism for the empire as the Arian heresy spread and became the dominant theology amongst the bishops. From the fall of Julian, the fragmentation of the empire began, bloated from corruption, top heavy, heterodox, and mired by foreign entanglements. The fall of the empire is a type of a “time of harvest” from Jesus’ parable. The building of a worldly government always entails moral decay on a personal level, breakdown of families, loss of sovereignty, and foreign wars. This should remind us of our present time.

The Mother of All Heresies and the Mother of All Councils

Pantocrator Icon
Pantocrator Icon

In denying the Divinity and humanity of Jesus, Arianism opens up the historical figure of Jesus to all sorts of interpretations, such as that of Islam who describes Him as only a human prophet. Heterodox (errant) teachings also explode. This is touched on in our prior post. One can think of the First Council then as where Christ’s Kingship was defined for all of history just as the heresy that it countered was one from which all errors emanated. Future councils can then be thought of addressing corollaries of orthodoxy just as the heresies they fought are variants  of Arianism. This is the implicit or stated position of the present day Orthodox Churches not in communion with the Roman Church, who were, nonetheless present at the Council of Nicaea via Apostolic succession. These were the eastern Churches in the orbit of the empire at that time. The future councils that followed then were increasingly concerning the Roman Church, eventually to counter the more specific and western cultural errors of the second millennium, such as those from which emerged with protestantism, moral relativism, modernism, and the like. For the smaller and more regional Orthodox Churches, these councils seem unimportant. The Latin Church, or See of Peter, headed by the Pope, is in this interpretation the spearhead of Christianity. Where the devil concentrates his attacks in history. Without this perspective, we find ourselves arguing over the differences in titles like of the Immaculate Conception and the title All-Pure which pervades the eastern liturgy.

A Timeline Overview of a Slow Schism and Isolation Starting after the Council of Nicaea

Russian Mary Icon
Russian Mary Icon

Most scholars put the final break between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches at the formal schism of 1054. Until that time, theological and political differences between Eastern and Western Christianity slowly accrued for centuries. Details of these differences include issues of the procession of the Holy Spirit, using leavened or unleavened bread in the liturgy, the role of other patriarchies. But these are better presented by scholars. Rather, we would like to point out a perspective by stepping back for an overview of this history, from the directing of the Apostle Paul’s zeal westward leading to the Council of Nicaea and to the present time. At Nicaea Christendom is defined for the faithful and for all time to follow. What follows is a slow isolation of the Apostolic Churches, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, while keeping the Sacraments available for those who chose to be faithful to them. At the latter part of the timeline, in the 9th Century, the Byzantine monks Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius translated the Gospel to the Slavonic language setting up the Christianization of the Slavs, including Russia, in the 10th Century. Suddenly, a very large chunk of the East became Christian, reaching the Pacific Ocean, and curiously just before the schism was formalized.

Our Lady of Kazan
Our Lady of Kazan

Becoming the last major Apostolic Church before the formal schism and one that did not exist in the orbit of the Roman Empire before its breakup, can we see perhaps why it was in Russia that the evils of communism began as a major political movement in the 20th Century? The western (Roman Catholic) church in the millennium after the schism and leading up to Communism, defended western attacks on the physical Kingship of Christ such as protestantism, moral relativism, modernism, secularism, etc. Being the Holder of the Keys of the Kingdom, the Latin Church was still able to effect vast eastern evangelizations in her fight against these errors and her internal corruptions. The evangelizations of Saint Francis Xavier comes to mind.

But if we are to take the warning of our Lady of Fatima seriously, the widest threat from a secular world government came from the country wherein is the last Apostolic Church before the schism, the Soviet Union. A Church that was not in the orbit of Christendom at the time of Council of Nicaea. We can see now more meaning behind the consecration of Russia.

Interestingly, the formation of the College of Cardinals, the body used to elect the Pope, was approximately coincident with the final Schism and isolation of the Churches, certainly by 1099.

There is much meaning to learn from timelines.

The Isolation of the Churches May Have Run its Course and a Footnote from the Council of Nicaea

SS Peter & Paul
SS Peter & Paul

Combining this timeline overview and the times we live in, particularly the compromise of the See of Rome with secular and shallow world government movements suggests that the isolation of the Apostolic Churches may have run its course. God exists independent of time however and promises that no trouble can befall His faithful without a way out, a grace for all trouble and temptation we undergo.

1 Corinthians 10:13…fidelis autem Deus qui non patietur vos temptari super id quod potestis sed faciet cum temptatione etiam proventum ut possitis sustinere.

Pentecost icon
Pentecost icon

Christ promises that He will return, not during trouble, but AFTER the Gospel is preached to all the earth (Matthew 14:14)[1]. So all available graces have to used first. All graces come from Christ’s supreme act of salvation on the cross and these graces became available for all time at Pentecost. The Council of Nicaea defined the true natures of Christ and addressed other matters as the empire’s first ecumenical council after Pentecost. It is the ecumenical council most proximal to Pentecost and is the last such council before the subsequent slow fractioning and isolation of Apostolic Churches.

So was there a grace defined at the Council of Nicaea as contingency for what was to follow? We point out an agreement somewhat obscure and certainly dwarfed by the definition of Christ’s dual nature:

Canon 6

Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop.

While this Canon has been debated over the centuries, it should be clear that it includes the appointment of bishops by each Apostolic jurisdiction (how these patriarchies are defined I would leave for those more qualified than me). That the granularity of the Church is preserved by the patriarchies appointing their own bishops is made explicit by the last sentence. It also states that the patriarchy’s authority is the same as that for the Bishop of Rome. By using here the term Bishop of Rome, the Canon is not stating that the Patriarchies have independence from the See of Peter as the Holder of the Keys of the Kingdom. That is a different jurisdiction, instituted by Christ Himself, and not by the Council.

Peter with the Keys
Peter with the Keys

Recall that it is Christ that appoints the Apostles, not the Apostle Peter. It is Christ who admonishes the seven bishops in Asia Minor. The Vicar of Christ can admonish an eastern bishop but he does not appoint him. A bishop appointed by Rome is no guarantee of orthodoxy, as is so clearly evident in our time. Rome cannot even guarantee her own orthodoxy especially with the present College of Cardinals, let alone the orthodoxy of an eastern bishop. Is the neglect of this canon a source of pride for both sides that amplifies schisms and breeds heresies and their innumerable flavors.  Providence has defined this canon at the same time when Christ’s Nature was defined for all times to follow. Could the canon be a faint reminder of Christ’s advice in the parable of the weeds, a remedy for the ubiquity of evil? Preserve the granularity for the final harvest?

One Heart

St. Cyprian Icon in Maad Lebanon
St. Cyprian Icon in Maad Lebanon

“There is, in fact, among the bishops only one Church, only one soul, only one heart… There is, through the institution of Christ, one and only one Church, spread out over the whole world, one and only one episcopacy represented by a multiplicity of bishops united among themselves… The Church forms a single whole, whose bond is the union of bishops” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, 3rd Century).

Icon at the Home of St. Alphonsus Liguori
Icon at the Home of St. Alphonsus Liguori

This heart is the Immaculate Heart or heart of the Theotokos, present at Pentecost.

St. Joan of Arch with visions
St. Joan of Arch with visions

There is a quote from the story of Saint Joan of Arch who’s martyrdom had everything to with the loss of her county’s sovereignty, a corrupt bishop, AND THE DENIAL OF ACCESS TO THE SACRAMENTS .  “Act. And God will act.” So was Russia sufficiently consecrated to the Immaculate heart by the various Popes in the 20th Century? Maybe. Is a return to the norm of Canon 6 from the Council of Nicaea needed? With the present state of affairs, it sure can’t hurt. After all, all sides signed it.

Mother of Perpetual Help, Pray for Us
Mother of Perpetual Help, Pray for Us

 

 

 

[1] This is why I believe that we are not at the time of Christ’s second coming. But this is just my opinion.

 

The Monetization of Religion and the Betrayal of St. Athanasios

This post can be an extension of the a prior, Taxes and the Incarnation of God, where the idea that a tax exemption for a religion as a corrupting element is introduced.   Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, paid the tax of His time then to serve as an example for us in our time. However the true story that follows can also be taken at face value about the history of early Christianity and provide insight into the propagation of heresy, and how seeds were sown for times that followed, including our own.  The history of the time is well-documented in many references but the particular details come from the reference, The Place of the Patriarchs of Antioch in Church History, by Exarch Elias B. Skaff, 1993,  Sophia Press.

With the Edict of Milan in 313, Emperor Constantine ended the official persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In fact the Edict gave freedom to all religions while it ended all ordinances hostile to the Christian religion. Constantine also gave the Church a tax-exemption status.

Meanwhile a disseminating heresy, formalized by Bishop Arius, resisted the idea that Jesus Christ is God as God the Father.  This heresy was addressed at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the defense of the co-substantial nature of Jesus with God the father (Greek term: homo-ousios) was championed primarily by Saint Athanasios, a deacon from Alexandria, and Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch.  The Arian heresy was important to counter, because anything less than the co-equal Divine Nature of Jesus Christ with God (the Father and Holy Spirit) meant a return to the monotheism of Judaism or monotheistic variants where Jesus was less than God.  Jesus is the eternally-begotten Divine Son of God the Divine Father. Eternally begotten also means that there never was a single point in time when He was begotten, before which the Father was alone without Him. He was, is, and by the definition of the word eternal, will always be begotten [1][2].

The condemned Arius was present at the Council of Nicea and his followers were influenced to sign the Nicean Creed at the urging of the sister of Constantine, Constancia. Within a few years, Constancia’s influence on the Emperor resulted in the re-admitting of Arius into the Church.  Bishops leading the Arian heresy regained imperial favor which resulted in the replacement of Saint Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, with an Arian.  A persecution of Athanasios began. A slow and labored fracturing at the Church of Antioch was started, whose first Bishop was the Apostle Peter.  Antioch is also known as the seat of the famous Bishop and martyr St. Ignatius in the 2nd Century.  At one point,  the majority of bishops in both eastern and western churches followed the Arian heresy.  Even after Arianism waned, divisions among the orthodox prevailed at Antioch and despite the works of Saints Basil and Chrysostom, the center of eastern orthodoxy shifted to Constantinople.   Antioch continued in orthodoxy, with the Melkites dividing off to formally recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the 18th Century.

The sequels of the Arian heresy may not be obvious to the casual observer of history and for our time. Consider however the following quote from the monotheistic religion of Islam:

“He, God, is one! God, the Eternal One! He will not generate, nor was he generated, and none is equal to him!” (Koran, 112, 2,4).

And for the Christian in the current age, are there heresies or unorthodox teachings, such as those for contraception that are related? Consider again the following quote by Saint Athanasios about an Arian Bishop of Antioch, Leontius, who sterilized himself to live with a woman:

“How can sterile and ignorant persons understand the eternal birth of God?”

Note carefully. Baptism imparts the pro-creative Nature of the Trinity on us. Even without us physically procreating. In fact much more so than procreating. Meet the only religion of God, the ONLY religion compatible with our physiology.

Can then the dilution and weakening of Christian teachings then be related to the influence of government or empire?  Is one mechanism of influence of empire over the Church that of tax-exemption?  Do Christians have to oscillate from persecution and physical martyrdom to heresy of teachings during “official” offers of freedom of religion but with outside influence?  Can the worship of “officialdom” in our time explain the lukewarmness and even doublespeak of bishops and shepherds? Note that it only took a a generation for the persecutions of Christians to resume under Constantine’s nephew, Julian the Apostate.

[1] With the Incarnation of God in the flesh, His eternal begotten nature becomes manifest in the flesh through the Virgin Mother. The Eternal has now entered the physical realm.  That is why she is ever-virgin, and mother of the new eternal race.

[2] This understanding of the eternally begotten nature of Christ (past, present, and future) has the potential to solve the Filioque controversy, since the Holy Spirit, with the same eternal nature has to exist (in mystery and outside the constraint of time) in the “was”, “is”, and “will always be” begotten nature of the Son.  Only in the “will be begotten” understanding of the Son, can we see how the Holy Spirit can proceed from the Father alone.

The Bishop of Rome and the Twelve

The crises of our time compel us to look at the history and in the current ecclesial crisis we can look at Christ’s foundational and therefore eternal work for perspective. The Melkite Eparchy of Newton has an excellent document, The Melkite Church at the Council, in support of the argument to be presented here, particularly Chapters 5-7. This much shorter discussion will touch on the history of the College of Cardinals after primarily presenting the case for election of the Bishop of Rome by all apostolic churches.

That all the apostolic churches, including the Orthodox churches recognize the Primacy of the See of Peter is assumed here. This is generally case with the definition of primacy more the subject of controversy than its existence.

“He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10,14).

John’s reference is for the Church defined by Christ in the 12 Apostles. Most would agree that the number 12 represents the entire Church he founded. His foundation is an ecclesial mystery not founded by of the apostles, including the apostle Peter, rather by the mystery that is His presence after the resurrection. This Presence is Sacramental and in the case of the present day apostles, it is the Sacrament of Holy Orders that creates the new generation of apostles. The work and collegiality of the 12 apostles including the addition of more, not the least of whom is Paul, is well documented in the Acts of the Apostles. These works are both autonomous while in recognition of the Primacy of Peter, even with disagreements that are at worst temporary in the mystery of Christ’s Presence.

From Chapter 6 of the above reference:

“Holy Scripture affirms a power of primacy, on the part of Peter, over the rest of the Apostles and over the whole Church. But Scripture does not affirm in any way that no bishop can be constituted in the Church except through the intervention, “direct or indirect,” of Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome. We even explicitly see the other Apostles constituting bishops without referring in any way to Peter. The same is true of their disciples, such as Titus or Timothy. If it is necessary to understand the text as applying to bishops in the strict sense, doesn’t the Scripture say that it is the Holy Spirit who instituted the bishops to rule the Church (cf. Acts 20:28)? It is difficult, without doing violence to the text, to find in the Scripture a basis which permits affirming that no bishop obtains jurisdiction over his Church except through the “direct or indirect” intervention of the Bishop of Rome, successor of Peter.”

Just as the validity of the Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance are direct works of God the Holy Spirit and are operational, i.e. valid, in all the apostolic churches and as affirmed by the Latin Church, so must the priesthood and episcopal ascendancy to Patriarchs of the eastern churches be valid. If the concern by the Latin Church under the See of Peter is that allowing full communion of the Eastern apostolic Churches with the Latin Church would compromise the Church instituted by Christ, then that same concern should be for any Sacramental event. A glaring witness of our time is the both doctrinal and personal perversion of priests and bishops, yet this does not compromise the efficacy of the Sacrament offered to the recipient. Christ guarantees His work and Presence in the Sacrament while waiting for the personal conversion of the administrator if necessary. He will confront the Bishop as he does with the seven Bishops in Asia Minor in the Book of Revelation, interpreted symbolically or literally. Therefore the ascendancy of the Bishop of Rome could involve the Patriarchy of the Eastern Churches to complete the role of the Bishop of Rome as representative of the 12 apostles. This completeness may have been wanting for over 1000 years.

This theory suggests certain degradation in those churches excluded from their “birth right” as part of the “12”. This can be the loss of the reach commanded by Christ to Peter to “feed my sheep”. Similarly, degradation to autocracy of the role of the See of Peter becomes a risk in any exclusion of the “12”.

“There is, in fact, among the bishops only one Church, only one soul, only one heart… There is, through the institution of Christ, one and only one Church, spread out over the whole world, one and only one episcopacy represented by a multiplicity of bishops united among themselves… The Church forms a single whole, whose bond is the union of bishops” (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 66, 8,3).

As a final note, we touch on the body used to elect the Bishop of Rome in our current time and for the last 1000 years, namely the College of Cardinals. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that this was initially a closed group of individuals that included non-clergy and grew at the expense of the successors of the Apostles. Compare this to the notion of the “12” in full effect at the time of the Acts of the Apostles and for the first millennium.

Archbishop Elias Zoghby’s Vision of Christian Unity


by Father James K. Graham

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2008 edition of Sophia, the magazine for the Melkite Eparchy of Newton.

The works of recently-reposed Archbishop Elias Zoghby, former Patriarchal Vicar in Egypt and Sudan, and retired Metropolitan of Baalbek, especially the essays collected in A Voice from the Byzantine East [1] and the monograph Tous Schismatiques [2], provide a vision of Melkite ecclesiology solidly based in the Eastern Tradition, representative of the thinking of the Melkite Fathers of Vatican II, and consistent with contemporary Orthodox ecclesiological thought.

Archbishop Elias bases his ecclesiology in the first millennium of undivided, but diverse, Christianity. During that period, he says, the Churches founded by the Apostles grew and evangelized the known world, developing liturgically, theologically, and ecclesiologically according to the particular needs of each geographical location and also according to their unique historical-cultural-political situations. A basic agreement on the essential content of the Christian faith, derived from the Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus and the disciples and their successors, and articulated for the universal Church at the seven Ecumenical Councils, united all Christians, despite their wide geographic dispersal and their many divergent local practices.

The Great Schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople came as the culmination of intensifying conflict between the two Churches, two cultures, and two political systems. The Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Florence (1439) aimed at reuniting the separated Churches, and despite the increasingly institutionalized condition of schism, both councils bear witness to a consciousness of some kind of continuing communion, for the bishops of both East and West convened and voted.[3] This sense of communion without administrative uniformity, at least tolerant of each other’s differences, but still agreeing on the essentials of the Christian faith, forms the foundation of Archbishop Elias’ proposal for reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in our time.

Even in Tous Schismatiques, which advances his notorious plan for immediate intercommunion between the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and its separated sister the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Elias does not provide more than an outline of how the Catholic and Orthodox Churches should realize their reunion. Let us sketch that outline.

1) “The rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches requires a new formulation of the doctrine of Roman primacy. This formulation must be grounded in the common tradition of the first thousand years of Christianity.”[4]

2) “Only the union of Latins and Orthodox on the level of equality can bring together the apostolic tradition in its fullness and make Catholic unity complete. [Orthodoxy] must, therefore, share equally in the government of the reunited Church, just as must the Latin Church, under the primacy of Peter, of course.” [5]

3) The “East-West Christian dialogue should be accompanied by an even greater effort at the decentralization that was begun at the Second Vatican Council, and in the Orthodox Churches it should accompany an effort of extremely qualified centralization around Peter’s successor and in the framework of traditional collegiality.” [6]

4) “All of the Churches ought to be governed by their own bishops; Eastern Christians have never conceived of Church government in any other way… The pope and his coleagues must not be entrusted habitually and normally with the government of all the Churches.” [7]

5) The Pope cannot “exercise, normally and habitually, in the Eastern Patriarchates, the role he exercises in the Latin Church in his capacity as Patriarch of the West.[8]

6) “In recalling, with theologians and ecumenists, that the faith is essentially the same in the Roman Church and in Orthodoxy, we understand that doctrine elaborated after the schism by one of the two unilaterally, that is, in the absence of the other, cannot be part of what is essential in this faith.” [9]

7) Thus, doctrine and discipline defined at the General Councils of the West after the Schism oblige only the Latin Church, and definitions made at Orthodox synods after the Schism oblige only the Orthodox Church. [10]

8) “It is our understanding of Church history and Tradition that the Church is to be governed by the bishops who are in communion with the Pope, but not exclusively by the Pope to the exclusion of the Episcopate.” [11]

9) There can be no practical progress toward resolution of the problem of primacy and reconciliation of the Churches “as long as the actual government of the Catholic Church has not been wholly and uncompromisingly transferred from the hands of this minority [the Roman Curia] to those of the pastoral Episcopate, the only agent truly responsible for the Church of Jesus Christ. [12]

10) In ruling his diocese of Rome and the dioceses of Italy whose metropolitan he is, the Pope “ought to be assisted by his local clergy.[13]

11) “The responsibilities of ruling the Latin Patriarchate of the West ought to be assumed by the Latin episcopate or their delegates near the Holy Roman See, assembled in Patriarchal Synod around the pope in the exercise of his powers as Patriarch of the West.[14]

12) “Where the whole Church is concerned, the responsibility for its administration ought to fall upon the universal Catholic episcopate (or the representatives commissioned by them) to coordinate, under the worldwide primacy of the Pope, the life and activities of the entire Church.[15]

13) In order to make reunion with Orthodoxy possible, as well as to adapt to the free and democratic conditions of the modern world, the Roman Church must return to the synodal type of Church government that even it lived under in the first Christian millennium. This means national or local church “government by genuine Bishops’ Conferences with real power,” not merely consultative or advisory bodies. [16]

14) Episcopal authority must be reaffirmed and restored because it comes directly from Jesus Christ Himself, who founded the Apostolic College in accord with Divine will. “Christ gave the ‘presidency’ of the Apostolic College to Peter only after having entrusted all the Apostles with a clear cut, well-defined mission. The leader of the Apostles was designated, then, to be head of a College which had already been constituted, a College already enjoying authentic and inalienable powers.” The Pope is the first bishop in the Church because he succeeds Peter, who was “a member of this College when he received the mission of strengthening his brethren. [17]

15) The rights and privileges of the Patriarchs must be recognized, respected, and revitalized, for “the Patriarchate is the only genuine guardian of each Church’s patrimony and one of the only checks on the spread of heterodoxy”.[18] In the Christian East, the Patriarchs are the agents of the episcopate, members of it and chosen by it. Archbishop Elias quotes Archbishop Peter Medawar as saying that the patriarch is “the most eminent guardian of the deposit of the faith, “having “major responsibility for its true and integral diffusion… He is the official spokesman of his Church and of its peoples in all circumstances… In conformity with the ancient law, the patriarchs have the right and even the obligation to carry the burden of governing the Universal Church together with the Holy Father and to do so in a more outstanding and formal manner than the other bishops.[19]

16) The reinterpretation of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome should be based on the Eastern understanding of his position as primus inter pares, which is sacramental rather than juridical. That is, the pope is first among equals because he, the patriarchs, and all the bishops are equal by virtue of sharing the fullness of priesthood, which is episcopacy. This understanding does not exclude the possibility that the pope, like the patriarchs, may have certain powers that other bishops do not have, [20] but these powers come from the rank of his see among the dioceses of Christendom, not from his personal succession to Peter,[21] and they originate in canonical custom and legislation, not in divine institution or essential doctrine of the faith.[22]

17) Referring to the Third Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, Archbishop Elias writes that “if the role of the Church of New Rome entails a veritable responsibility, witness, and diakonia in the service of the unity of Orthodoxy, one cannot be dealing simply with primacy of honor or precedence when one speaks of the Bishop of Rome, recognized by Orthodoxy as the first among all bishops.” [23]

18) In the reunited Church, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, so extensively elaborated by the Latin Church, would complement local autonomous episcopal collegiality, so zealously safeguarded by the Orthodox Churches. Excessive decentralization, the strength that has considerably weakened the Orthodox, would counteract excessive centralization, the weakness that has inordinately strengthened Rome.[24]

19)”Thus we would say that these rights reserved to the Bishop of Rome must be defined by mutual agreement of the Roman and Orthodox Churches. Since this matter must not in any way become a part of the essential deposit of faith required for canonical communion, it must be settled by the reunited Churches.” [25] This statement, of course, reflects Archbishop Elias’ conviction that the shared faith of the first millennium suffices for restoration of communion.

20) In fact, he says, “it is easier to agree on what concerns God than on what concerns men, knowing churchmen and their powers and privileges? Reaching accord on doctrine will be easy once we reach accord on the division of powers.” [26]

21) In matters of doctrine, the shared faith of the first millennium suffices; everything else is different non-essential formulations and elaborations of the same essential truths. And, since doctrinal formulations can never fully express the truth of what we believe, much less the truth of the Mystery of God, it is wiser to avoid dogmatic definitions as far as possible. “If one is obliged to do so‹which should be very infrequently after the stabilization of the depositum fidei‹one should do so with Christian modesty, and without a priori exclusion of other formulations that could be equally legitimate and maybe even more adequate… Revealed truth can be formulated in different ways and in different contexts. Factors such as cultural, historical, and other situations can influence these formulations without changing the Truth, which always remains the same.” [27]

22) Just as differences in doctrinal expression need not stand in the way of communion, so also differences in ecclesiology can be accommodated. “Until the 11th century, Rome and Orthodoxy each had its unique ecclesiology, at least germinally, and unity was not broken. One can conceive of these two different ecclesiologies in the Church without questioning the Faith and without altering communion.” [28]

23) We can even regard these differences as necessary for the wholeness of the Church, because “the Catholic Church, that is the Universal Church, can only consist of the Roman Church and the Orthodox Church reunited, since neither of them can claim to possess the whole Christian patrimony, spiritual, ascetical, liturgical, patristic, or doctrinal.” [29] The wholeness of the Church is legitimate diversity in essential unity.

24) Archbishop Elias conceives of Church unity in terms of East and West, and favors preservation and developement of the legitimate diversity of worship forms, theological expression, and church governance suited to peoples and countries. Jesus Christ is incarnated in each race, and each race shows forth in its own way the image and likeness of God. Thus, its expression of Christianity must be locally developed, not imported. [30] In this context, he seems to regard the re-entrance into Catholic communion by the churches of the Reformation and their descendants as a matter for the Western Church to deal with. [31] However, as expressions of legitimate diversity they figure in his larger vision of Christian unity: “no Church or group of believers however humble it may be, should be compelled to accept union by assimilation or disappearance… Indeed, we envision the true unity of the distant future to include several different rites in which almost everyone can find a home: an Anglican Catholic rite, a Presbyterian Catholic rite, perhaps even a Jewish Catholic rite, and many, many more; with some of them containing even smaller subdivisions.” [32]

25) Therefore, achieving the reunion of the Christian Church requires dedicated, humble, sacrificial effort on the part of all Christians, who should feel the pain of separation and who suffer from, as well as sometimes contribute to, its sinfulness.[33] However, the Church of Rome, since it is the head of the Churches, bears special responsibility for healing schism and restoring unity. This is its God-given mandate; this is the proper exercise of its primacy. [34] Fulfilling this role will require major changes in Roman self-understanding, a process begun at Vatican II, accompanied by fundamental changes in Roman dealings with other Christians, for “every attempt at unity centered in a pyramidal Church, built around an absolute juridical authority, and founded on submission to the Pope, instead of on co-responsibility with the older brother who is in Rome, would be doomed to failure.” [35]

However we may respond to this vision of Church unity – and as an ideal it has great appeal – our task here is to discover in it resources for fulfilling the ecumenical vocation of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, if we can. Let us begin, as we must, by flatly calling it a fantasy that ignores most of the secular and ecclesiastical history of the Christian age. Yes, the Churches should re-unite on the basis of the common faith of the first millennium, should accept legitimate diversity in worship and doctrine and discipline, and should govern themselves synodally under the benign primacy of the Bishop of Rome, first among equals, presiding in the service of charity. But at this time, and for the foreseeable future, such reunion seems at best highly improbable.

Nationalism, pluralism, colonialism,imperialism,and dogmatization of local customs and theological opinions contribute to the unlikelihood of reunion on these terms, as do centuries of carefully nurtured misunderstandings and even enmities. If the Churches truly hope one day to achieve reunion, they must strive diligently to resolve these misunderstandings and to heal these enmities, not simply at the level of international theological dialogue, not even at the level of the hierarchy or of clerical formation, but at every level of church life.

Agreement on theology by theologians has no meaning until the parishioners in church on Sunday can affirm it and apply it in their daily dealings with other Christians. As long as Catholics define themselves essentially as being “under the Pope,” and as long as Orthodox define themselves essentially as not being “under the Pope,” both sides ignorant not only of others’ faith but of their own, theological dialogue will remain so much wasted breath and reunion will remain a beautiful fantasy.

What, then, can Melkites learn from Archbishop Elias’vision? They can, and should, recognize its basic validity – it expresses our authentic understanding of the Church. It should be taught and nurtured in church schools, in homilies, in adult education classes, in regional and national clergy-laity conventions, in deacon training programs, in seminary curricula, in continuing education of clergy, in the Patriarchal Synod. It should become intimately and integrally part of the meaning of “Melkite.”

As this happens, we must also share our conviction that this vision authentically points the way to human achievement of God’s will that His people should be one with Him. Such sharing will involve more than words – though words, written in church bulletins, pastoral letters, episcopal statements, ecumenical documents, educational materials, popular magazines, and scholarly journals, will carry great weight.

Such sharing will involve acting according to our belief – individuals, families, parishes, dioceses, the entire patriarchate must seek cooperation with fellow Christians, repudiate inauthentic forms of worship and teaching and governance, and do whatever expresses our authentic vision: ordain married men, expunge latinizations, elect our own bishops, restore true monasticism, and adapt our heritage of Holy Tradition to the demands of life in the secular, pluralistic, technological, God-hungry world of the 21st century.

Often people contribute to making themselves invalids. They completely accept limitations placed upon them by circumstances or accidents, even further handicapping themselves by not daring to try actions that will challenge them but will not defeat them. Such people make themselves victims. They call themselves realistic. In effect, they deny God’s will and power. They defy God to heal them, without making any attempt to cooperate in their own healing.

Other people make every effort to overcome their handicaps or limitations. They constantly strive to reach farther or to walk longer or to stand longer by themselves. Such people make themselves victors. Others call them idealistic, but they too call themselves realistic. Consciously or not, they acknowledge God’s healing power and His willingness to cooperate with us when we try to cooperate with Him.

Melkites (and, indeed, all Christians) must stop acting like invalids, victims of circumstances and dependent on what others do to or for us. We cannot be like the paralytic, lying by the pool for 38 years waiting for someone to put him in the water. We must be like Zacchaeus, willing to climb up a tree – perhaps even to go out on a limb – to overcome our limitations. The Lord will recognize us, reward our efforts, and bring salvation to our house.

 

Father James K. Graham is the pastor of St. Elias the Prophet Melkite Church, San Jose, CA.

 

1. Archbishop Elias Zoghby, A Voice from the Byzantine East, trans. R. Bernard (West Newton, MA: Diocese of Newton Office of Educational Services, 1992; original French edition, 1970).

2. Archbishop Elias Zoghby, Tous Schismatiques? (Beirut: Heidelberg Press-Lebanon, 1981). An English translation is available from the Diocese of Newton Office of Educational Services. Citations in this essay are based on that translation, revised by James K. Graham. Page numbers refer to the French edition.

3. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.39.

4. Zoghby, Voice, p.71.

5. Zoghby, Voice, p.56.

6. Zoghby, Voice, p.57.

7. Zoghby, Voice, p.69.

8. Zoghby, Voice, p.70.

9. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.51.

10. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.51.

11. Zoghby, Voice, p. 75.

12. Zoghby, Voice, p.74.

13. Zoghby, Voice, p.110.

14. Zoghby, Voice, pp.110-111.

15. Zoghby, Voice, p.111.

16. Zoghby, Voice, pp.144-145.

17. Zoghby, Voice, p.83.

18. Zoghby, Voice, p. 104.

19. Zoghby, Voice, p. 118.

20. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

21. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.59.

22. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

23. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.48.

24. Zoghby, Voice, pp.56-57.

25. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.47.

26. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.109.

27. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.17.

28. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p.29.

29. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p. 14.

30. Zoghby, Schismatiques, p. 63.

31. Zoghby, Voice, p. 86.

32. Zoghby, Voice, p. 104.