The Council of Nicaea - 3
Dn. Michael Hyatt · December 20, 2008
Today, Dn. Michael continues his look at the Council of Nicaea and the importance of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
Dn. Michael Hyatt: I want to do just a little bit of a review to kind of get us back in, because the lesson last week, I actually intended it to be a complete unit, [but] because of the questions and the discussion, which was all good, we didn’t get all the way through it. You remember, two weeks ago, we had dealt with the heresy of Arianism and all that led to the formulation of the Creed. So that was really important, but last week, I made the point, particularly in the introduction, that it’s not sufficient to just be Orthodox, you know, in our thinking, although that’s critically important. I’m not saying it’s not important. It’s foundational. But unless orthodoxy manifests itself in orthopraxy, then we’re really no better than the demons who also believe and tremble.
So, what the Fathers did, just as a kind of a natural part of understanding the doctrine of the Incarnation, was to agree on what the revealed truth was about the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation, insofar as they were confronting the controversies of the day, but they didn’t stop there. Then they immediately rolled up their sleeves and began to deal with the very practical, very messy, issues related to the Church and related to: what do we do with people who have fallen away from the Church and now want to come back in, and what about the clergy, and all this really practical stuff. Well, I love that, because I think our faith has to be both. These are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. There are those today who will try to say to you, “Look, it doesn’t really matter what you believe, the important thing is that you live a Christian life.” Well, that’s nonsense. You know, they’re looking at one side of the coin, and they’re saying this is the whole coin, and this coin has heads on both sides. No, it’s both-and. By the same token, no pun intended, it’s not intended that we just believe the right things, but it doesn’t have a practical, fleshed-out, incarnational aspect to it as well.
I think frankly, that’s the danger we have as Orthodox today is that we’re so focused on believing right, and jumping to sort of a trivialized form of orthopraxy, which is: do you bow to the priest when he bows to you, and how do you venerate the icons, and all this kind of stuff—I’m not saying it’s not important, but I’m saying it’s tertiary in terms of priorities. Right doctrine. That’s the foundation of everything. How you believe will determine how you act and how you manifest the life of Christ in the world. And then being conformed in our lives to God’s will is the second priority. And then all these other liturgical things. Again, I’m not saying they’re not important, but don’t get the cart before the horse. It’s not sufficient. These other issues are critically important.
So, last week, I talked about some of the issues, and I said that these canons, I’m kind of rearranging them following the author, Leo Donald Davis, I believe. Let’s call him “Leo.” Leo takes all the canons from the first council, and he divides them into five categories, and I rearranged the order of the categories. But this schema is his, not mine, but I think it’s very helpful. So, we talked last week about the dignity of the clergy, and I’m just going to repeat the canons for you or my summary of the canons.
Canon 1. Clerics who had castrated themselves. If you weren’t here last week, you’re probably going, “Okay, that’s a jolt.” Canon 1. Clerics who had castrated themselves could not continue as clerics. So the bishops certainly weren’t afraid to hit the toughest issues head-on. That was Canon 1. They went right to it and got right involved in it. And part of it was the beginning of a war that we’ll see repeated again and again against super-spirituality. People for whom God’s revealed will isn’t sufficient; they’ve got to go the extra mile. Now, some people are over-achievers, and I’ve always had a bit of this disease myself, and so it’s like, “Okay, find out what’s required. Now how can I exceed it?” Well, that’s not always good when it comes to spiritual things, because what happens is for most of us mere mortals, you know, you can kind of go in these surges of spirituality where you get really serious. You roll up your sleeves and you say, “This year I’m going to keep the Fast with exacting precision. You know, it may be enough for some people not to eat meat, but I’m going the whole way. No eggs, no dairy products, no wine and oil; I’m going full tilt.”
Now, that’s great if you’ve worked up to that, and you’ve got some spiritual maturity, and I’m not saying anything is wrong with that. That is the standard. But when you go further than that— you know like: “Ordinary Christians are required to fast two days a week usually, but you know, I’m going for that monastic standard. I’m going three days a week.” That’s the kind of super-spirituality that I think the Fathers constantly warn us against, and basically say, “Just chill out. What we’re looking for is not surges or spikes, and then kind of falling away, but we’re looking for incremental change over a long period of time.” That’s the secret to success in anything, but it’s certainly the secret to success spiritually: incremental change over a long period of time. Okay, that’s a long ways from Canon 1, but I could make a case that it grew out of that.
Canon 2: the newly baptized could not be hastily promoted to the rank of priest or bishop. [That] appears to be common sense. There are notable exceptions in the history of the Church, like Ambrose of Milan who went from [being] a catechumen to being baptized, to being ordained as a deacon and then a priest and then a bishop, in one week. But that’s kind of the exception that proves the rule. You know, there’s one example of somebody and it worked, but the Church, in its wisdom, basically said, “Ordinarily, no. That’s not a good idea: to take people that are brand new to the faith and put them in positions of leadership.”
Canon 3. Women cannot dwell with clerics. Well, of course. That’s natural, but then, of course, if you’re super-spiritual, you might think you have superpowers and could resist that. But the Fathers are very reasonable: “No, it’s not a good idea. Just don’t do it.”
Canon 9. Notorious sinners could not be ordained even after they had reformed their lives. And I went to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 last week where the requirement of overseers and bishops in the Church was that they be blameless, and secondly, towards the end of that passage, “they have a good reputation among those who are without.” Because, again, they’re representing the Church. And so, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be admitted to the Eucharist, it doesn’t mean they can’t live very productive lives in the Church, but they just can’t be ordained to official office.
Canon 10. Clerics who denied the faith were to be deposed. We’re going to talk specifically [about] what that meant in this historical context in a moment.
Canon 17. Clerics were forbidden to engage in usury even if they charged only the 12% interest allowed by Roman law, which is kind of funny when you think about it, that the Romans had a cap on usury, or “interest-charging,” at 12%. You know, we’ve gone well beyond the Romans in our usury, but clerics were forbidden to engage in usury at all. Okay, so that’s the first category: the dignity of the clergy. Any questions from last week pertaining to that? Yes, Jeff.
Jeff: Women can’t dwell with clerics? What does “dwell” mean? I don’t quite understand that. Are they talking about being married or hanging out?
Dn. Michael: No, it meant living in the same house, because they went specifically to say that mothers, sisters, aunts, or someone above suspicion, I don’t know exactly what that means, but were exempted. Maybe someone that was old and ugly was okay, I don’t know. (Laughter) And married clergy were obviously exempt, okay? Good question.
Okay, I’m going to keep plowing through here. Church government was the second category. Canon 4. A bishop must be ordained by all the bishops of a province. So, this is the kind of essence of conciliarity that we consider all the bishops’ opinion; they all have a voice, and the people have to say, “Amen.”
Canon 5. Bishops are forbidden from receiving into communion laymen or clerics excommunicated by another bishop. So, if you got excommunicated, God forbid, you couldn’t just move to another town and casually join that church and pick up where you left off. There was this organic unity in the Church, and you couldn’t lose your membership one place and join somewhere else without a process.
Canon 6. Some bishops were given supra-provincial authority over other bishops. So, this is kind of the beginning of the patriarchs that will play an important role later on in Church history.
Canon 7. The see of Jerusalem was given a special position of honor—and really, I think what this teaches us is that a lot of these administrative details were important. Honor, respect is important in the Church. Even today, it’s important. I don’t know if you all noticed this, but when the clergy serve, there’s a specific order to who does what. Like in the ordinary order, Fr. Stephen will always commune first, if he’s the protos, if he’s the one serving, he will commune first. Then what happens is: the next-highest ranking arch-priest will serve, which now is Fr. Bob, and then in order of ordination. First order of rank, and then, within the rank, order of ordination. It keeps a lot of chaos from happening in the altar, and it keeps a lot of chaos from happening in the Church. St. Paul says in I Corinthians 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” God is a God of order. Part of the way that He manifests his life in the world is in an orderly way. This isn’t the antithesis of creativity, but it’s the foundation for it. So, this order is important, and here even in the first council, they are giving an order to certain sees.
Canon 15. Clerics are prohibited from transferring from place to place. You know, kind of got it tough in my local parish, so I move to another part of the country and set up shop there. That was forbidden by the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council.
Canon 16. Clerics were enjoined to return to the churches in which they were enrolled. So if you found yourself in that situation where you’d left home and were sojourning in a place where you weren’t ordained, you were told by the First Ecumenical Council, “Go home. Go back to the church that was where you were ordained. Get it squared there. You don’t have the luxury of just kind of going from one place to the next because you don’t want to deal with your stuff in the original place.”
Third category—and this is the last one that we dealt with last week, and I want to clarify some things, but—this was the category of reconciliation of the lapsed. So, this was people who had fallen away from the Faith “without being threatened.” They could come back to the Church. So, and this is what I want to clarify from last week. We’re not talking about somebody who is struggling with the same sin over and over. We’re not talking about people who have sinned, otherwise none of us would be admitted to the Eucharist, right? What we’re talking about is a specific category of Christians who, under the persecution, had agreed to sacrifice to the Roman gods and had received a certificate certifying that they had done so. Those are the people that the first council is considering in this canon. Those that had a certificate; they had denied the Faith. It was deliberate, and it was an intentional thing; and they walked away from the Faith.
Now, the canon also differentiates between those who weren’t threatened and walked away—and that’s what we talked about last week—and those who were threatened. You know, like, “I’m going to kill your whole family if you don’t sacrifice to the Roman gods.” The Church, in its mercy, put those in a different category. You know, that’s a little bit more understandable. You know, if you’ve got a gun held to your head, or, in this situation, a sword held to your neck, and the injunction is to “Sacrifice to the Roman gods or I’m killing your children in front of your eyes”—I’m not saying it’s right. It certainly wasn’t right and there was a penance required there—but what I am saying is that those who were not threatened at all is who this is talking about. And that’s why in the first case, they had to repent for 11 years. And Canon 12 dealt with soldiers who had gone to the other side and fought against Constantine.
But here’s what I think the essence of this Canon 11 is. That those who make uneasy, deliberate alliances with the world, that’s a problem. You know, when we become Christians, it’s a very serious, sobering thing. We are, as we see in the baptismal Liturgy, faced West, renounce the devil, blow and spit upon him. I don’t know what could be more insulting, more vow-breaking, more of a cleaner break than that. That’s pretty much saying, “We’re done.” And then it’s a deliberate [act], facing the West, [then] turning your back on Satan, which is about the most insulting thing you could’ve done in the Roman Empire. To this former emperor—remember Gladiator, when he does this? It’s an incredible moment toward the end of the movie when the gladiator is there with the emperor, and he turns his back on him. That’s hugely insulting. That’s something that would bring swift and certain death. And then to face Christ and affirm our submission to his lordship and our belief in him as our only Lord and Savior. Well, that was significant.
So, it’s kind of unthinkable that somebody, without being under the threat of force, but just kind of going along to get along, would sacrifice to the Roman gods, get their certificate, kind of have their cake and eat it, too. That’s really what we’re talking about here. People that have this sort of easy alliance with the world and don’t realize that they’ve been bought with a price. They now belong to another Kingdom. They’ve been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, but they want [to have] their cake and eat it, too. Now this is a problem that evidently was very prevalent in the Church. Jesus warns against it, but in II Corinthians 6:14, St. Paul says:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship is righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord does Christ have with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?
Some of you know my sister, Cathy Parsons—I think she wouldn’t mind if I told this story—and my brother-in-law Jack Parsons. But I had the privilege, 30 years ago, of leading them both to Christ. Well, my sister came to Christ first. We weren’t Orthodox at the time, but she came to Christ first, and it was a very dramatic conversion experience for her. But she was engaged to Jack, who had not yet converted. I didn’t say anything to my sister initially, because I thought it might be good if she figured this out on her own. I would’ve said something as they approached the marriage date, but I didn’t say anything for, like, two or three days. (Laughter) No, I didn’t say anything for several weeks.
Well, she finally came to me, and with tears, said to me, “Mike, I think I have to break up with Jack. And I read something in the Bible that really is disturbing to me, and I just want to make sure that I’m interpreting this correctly.” And so she read this very passage.
And I knew this was coming, and I said, “Yeah, you’re right. You really can’t have a successful Christian marriage if both of you aren’t Christians. It’s going to be tough enough even if you’re Christians.” Can I have an “Amen” to that? Yes. “But if you’re not Christians, it’s going to be doubly tough, and, besides that, I think the Scripture’s pretty clear.”
And she was very resolute about it, but with tears, went to Jack and said, “I can’t marry you.”
And he said, “What are you talking about? Why?”
And she said, “Because you’re not a believer.”
And so, he said, and this is where the story got interesting, “Well then, I’ll become a believer.” So, she came and told me that, and I’m immediately suspicious, of course. This is my little sister. And I’m thinking, “Yeah, right.”
So, I meet with him, and Jack’s one of those kind of guys that, once he decides to do something, he’s just going to be faithful, he’s going to do it, and he has stayed the course for 30 years. He’s the kind of guy that makes the commitment on the front end and doesn’t waver. And so, they got married and they’re still married and happily married and all that’s good, but it began with my sister understanding that she couldn’t have her cake and eat it, too. And every now and then, in all of our Christian lives, I think, there are times when God tests us and says, “Okay, let’s see if all that stuff rattling around in your brain, if you really believe it. Is it just theory or are you willing to put it into practice. Are you willing to say ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to sin? Or is this just kind of a game for you, and you think you can have your cake and eat it, too?” And that’s happened to me a number of times, thankfully, not very often, but a number of times, where it feels like I’m risking everything to follow Christ. And that’s probably happened to you as well.
Another passage of Scripture, I John 2:15:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And other passages—“The world is passing away.” Our moment is just a drop in the bucket to eternity, and we have to have that perspective, and unfortunately some of these early Christians that were considered the lapsed, thought they could have their cake and eat it, too, and they could just get their certificate, go along to get along, appease the Roman authorities, and still be Christians. And the Church said, “No, that’s very serious stuff.” It amounts to deliberate spiritual treason.
That what we’re talking about: treason. It’s like Benedict Arnold, who, in the Revolutionary War, was on the Revolutionary Army’s side until he thought the war was going in the other direction, and then he defected. So he defects and goes to the other side, and so that’s become, what’s the word I’m looking for, a parable or something we refer to: Benedict Arnold. “He’s a Benedict Arnold.” It’s somebody who’s disloyal. Yeah, an archetype of treason, exactly. And so whenever we sin, there’s a sense in which there’s a spiritual treason involved. We’ve forgotten who our Lord is, but in this particular case, again, they wanted to be able to serve two gods. Have their cake and eat it, too. So, the lapsed are allowed back in, but only after they’ve repented for a total of 11 years, and I talked about that in some detail last week, and I won’t repeat it again this week.
So the lapsed were one thing. Heretics were something else entirely. So that brings us to the third category, which is the readmission to the Church of heretics and schismatics. First of all, in Canon 8, they deal with the schismatics and a particular sect called the Novatianists. And they had broken with the Church in 251 over, not doctrine, but over discipline. And they had refused to commune with the lapsed Christians. So, by this time, by the first council, there was already a process for readmitting lapsed Christians. And after a period of time—as we see here, 11 years, which was regarded generally by most Church historians as a more merciful canon than what had preceded it in provincial canons— but these people considered themselves the pure ones, the Novatianists. They would not commune with the lapsed Christians. So they had withdrawn from the one, holy, catholic Church, and they had their own churches, the Novatianists churches, where the “pure ones” could go. These are not heretics. These are schismatics. So there’s a fundamental difference. They went so far as to re-baptize their converts. So, they would allow you to start over and be re-baptized, but, similar to the Novatianist controversy in North Africa, the Donatists were also of the same mind-set, and Augustine opposes them in North Africa.
But these schismatics were to be received back into the Church after receiving the imposition of hands. They had hands laid on them by the bishop, and then they had to agree in writing that they would follow the decrees of the Church. So they entered into a type of contract. And they agreed that they would commune with the twice-married—it’s literally that phrase. You know it’s sort of this idea, it certainly as Orthodox Christians, we believe in long-term—really long-term—marriage. And divorce, God hates it. But it happens. And there’s a process for that as well, and to have this kind of attitude as “I won’t commune with the twice-married,” is, again, this kind of super-spirituality that goes beyond what God has revealed and doesn’t really have anything to do with Orthodox Christianity. And they also had to agree, in writing, to communicate with the reconciled lapsed, people who had lapsed who had now been readmitted into the Church. They had to agree to communicate with them. Essentially, get off their high horse and get down with the rest of us sinners and admit that they probably weren’t so pure either.
As I said last week, too, I said that the Orthodox Church views the Church as not a museum for saints, but as a hospital for sinners. This is the place where we come to get fixed. I’m not totally healed, I’m recovering. You are, too. None of us are well. We all are in a process of theosis, becoming more like Christ, being restored, and even beyond what the original image was, sharing in the very life of God. Under the Novatian schism, the clergy can also be restored to their rank, and somebody asked this question last time, that in places where there was an Orthodox bishop, the reconciled Novatianist bishop could only serve as an auxiliary bishop or an assistant to the Orthodox bishop. So, it happened that there were these overlapping jurisdictions. You might have a city like Nashville where you had an Orthodox bishop and you had a Novatianist bishop, and now the Novatianist bishop wants to come back into the Church. He can do so, but now he’s going to be an assistant to the Orthodox bishop. There had to be a procedure, practically, for dealing with that, because you couldn’t have more than one bishop in a diocese. So that’s the schismatics. That’s how they’re to be dealt with.
Now, we’re going to go on to the heretics. There was a heresy, there was a man named Paul of Samosata who had been condemned in 268 as a heretic because he taught a particular form of Trinitarian subordinationism which meant that Jesus was less than the Father. That was the problem with Arianism, right? But Paul of Samosata taught a different version of it. He taught that Jesus was adopted. It’s called Adoptionism, but he was born as a man, and then when the Holy Spirit came down upon him in his baptism, he was “adopted” into the godhead. This was regarded as a heresy.
By the way, I heard this taught in college by my religion professor. This was an ancient heresy, and this was at a Christian university. Has anybody else heard that taught before? That somehow in his baptism, Jesus came into this moment of self-awareness, and he realized that he was the Son of God or something. Adoptionism. Well, the bishops believed that those who had been baptized under Paul—again “of Samosata”—that the baptismal formula was invalid. And as a result of that, not the schismatics, but the heretics had to be re-baptized. Now, practically speaking, this is how we do it in the Orthodox Church today. We don’t generally re-baptize, and this is an economia, but we don’t generally re-baptize Christians who have been baptized according to the Trinitarian formula. But Christians who come from a non-Trinitarian tradition, like many Pentecostals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, others, they have to be baptized, because we don’t consider them to ever have been baptized. They got wet, and there were some religious things said, but it wasn’t a baptism from our perspective and from the early Church’s perspective. Philip?
Philip: I’m a little confused on what the actual definition of “heresy” is. Where’s the line between somebody just thinking something that’s not quite right and actually being a heretic?
Dn. Michael: That’s a great question. So what’s the line? What really makes somebody a heretic? Well, a heresy is a distortion of the truth, and I think that most Church historians and most Orthodox Christians would see it as a distortion of a fundamental, essential truth. You know, if you believe that Jesus is going to come and reign for a thousand years before he comes back again, or if you believe whatever you believe about the end times, you know that’s— there’s no heresy there because the creeds don’t really affirm that, other than the fact that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. That’s what we all have to affirm and be with under the umbrella of Orthodoxy.
But when you start distorting the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation and the other things that the creeds talk about, then you’re putting yourself outside the circle. It’s a distortion of the truth, as opposed to an issue of discipline which is what the schismatics were saying: “We don’t want to commune with these lapsed Christians.” The issue wasn’t doctrinal; it was practice. So, schismatics, in this particular case, the imposition of hands, they had to sign an agreement saying that they were going to commune with the twice-married, and with the reconciled lapsed, based on that, they were readmitted. Basically, repentance. Readmitted based on repentance. But heretics, on the other hand, they had to be baptized. Yes?
Q1: I’m not sure I heard you right. Did you say if people had been baptized by Paul or the followers of Paul, they had to be re-baptized?
Dn. Michael: Yes, Paul of Samosata.
Q1: Oh. (Laughs) I’m okay.
Dn. Michael: Not the Apostle Paul. Another Paul. The heretic Paul. Thank you for clarifying that. Probably somebody else had that question too. Okay? So anyway, that’s basically how they dealt with the heretics. Let me move on. That was one category, now another category of canons related to liturgical practice. This’ll be easy. Yes, Robert?
Robert: In the development of the Church, part of the background of what’s going on right now is, once the Church is becoming fashionable because it’s legal, people are fleeing to the desert, and desert monasticism is starting at this point. You have Anthony the Great, Anthony of Egypt, and that’s with the Church to this day. And it’s kind of starting at this time period. It’s got to be putting pressure on the Church to make some of these— now that it’s fashionable, they’re afraid of what’s going to happen to the Church to make sure people understand when they’re joining the Church that it’s serious business.
Dn. Michael: Yeah, I think that’s right, and this was the beginning of monasticism and as you pointed out, Anthony the Great. Athanasius writes a biography of him later. We really regard him as the first monastic.
Q2: But some of the monastics you read about, I would think would have been that super-spiritual-type Christian thing that you said is easy to get to. And some, if you read the stories, if I had been like a normal person, they were crazy. I don’t mean that— wow!
Dn. Michael: Part of what didn’t make them crazy— and even though, yes, there are examples in the history of the Church of extreme monasticism. I mean you’ve got the Stylites. You’ve got all these people who dwelt in cages and all kinds of stuff. Really unusual stuff, but they didn’t generally teach it, and here’s where the error came in. First of all, it was very much discouraged. It’s like being a hermit. You know, most monastic fathers would discourage that. That was kind of the exception that proved the rule that we need community. So occasionally, somebody went out by themselves and became a hermit, but that wasn’t the norm. Even for monastics, they had to dwell in communities. But when they started teaching that everybody had to do that, that’s where they slip into error. It’s like: “Well, okay, if you want to try that, fine, let me know how that goes,” but you start teaching that everybody has to do that as the norm? That’s when it becomes problematic. There’s some interesting stories in the history of the Church.
One of the things you’re not going to find in Orthodoxy—this is kind of a sidebar—is sort of this neat, tight algorithm that says, “Here’s the boundary, it’s etched in stone, and if you slip past it—Bam! You’re out of the Church.” There is that kind of thing doctrinally for sure. But the Church even takes a long time for that to kind of gel. Witness the seven ecumenical councils that took centuries, all, for the most part, dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine of the Incarnation. So, there’s grace, time goes, there’s discussion, and then the Fathers speak.
But they’re not quick to speak, and I think that’s a little bit maddening to us when we live in the 21st century where everything is “instant” this, “instant” that. I get frustrated over the fact that we have this crazy jurisdictional situation in the U.S. where we have all these competing jurisdictions: the Russians and the Greeks and the Antiochians, and we have overlapping dioceses and all this stuff that’s not canonical, and there’s a move, even in recent years, to try to clean that up and move to one jurisdiction. But this is a wisdom, I think, and as much as we’d like to say, “Boom, make the decision and let’s go on,” and I particularly like that with my personality type. Let’s make the decision and let’s go on, but the Church says, “Look, let’s just take some time, let’s think through it carefully. Let’s make sure that we’re measuring twice and cutting once.” So, I think that’s a wisdom.
Let me keep going. Liturgical practice. Deacons were to stay properly subordinated to priests and bishops. Fr. Stephen reminds us all deacons of this frequently. No, I’m just kidding, but there were things like the deacons were not to serve the Eucharist to priests or bishops. They weren’t to receive communion before, in advance of, priests and bishops, and they were not to be seated with the priest at the Liturgy, because they often were seated, particularly during the homily. Failure to comply with this canon would result in expulsion from the diaconate.
Okay, here’s an interesting one on liturgical practice. Canon 20. Christians were required to stand at prayer during the Liturgy on the Lord’s Day. Kneeling, specifically, was forbidden, even during the season of Pentecost. You know, we have Kneeling Vespers on Pentecost, but it happens, technically, after Sunday. So as a practical thing, we do it right after the Liturgy, generally because it’s hard to get people to come back to church in the evening, but we don’t kneel on Sundays. It’s forbidden in the First Ecumenical Council.
Now, before you get too super-spiritual on me, we are permitted to sit, and occasionally I see people who insist on standing through the entire service. It’s no big deal if you want to do that, but that’s not required by this canon. And, in fact, if you go to Greece to the monasteries as I have, at Mt. Athos—I would think that would be some kind of standard of monastic practice—the monks frequently sit in the services. And in fact, they have little chairs against the walls where the seat folds up and they have arms like this and you can fold the seat down and you can sit. Even in Orthros, during the Psalms, following the Psalms, the six psalms in Orthros are the kathisma hymns. Guess what comes from? “Chair.” These are the hymns you sit for. So, certainly you can sit down by reason of infirmity or being weary. Standing is a part of our liturgical practice and part of our liturgical discipline, our own discipline like fasting or something else, but there are times where it’s permitted to sit. So, we don’t need to be creating canons where there are none. Yes?
Q3: Why is kneeling forbidden?
Dn. Michael: The rationale against kneeling is that in honor of the Resurrection—Jesus was raised from the dead; he stood up—and so we stand. Even though, by the way, if you go back to Ezra 7, where Ezra recovers the Law of the Lord and reads it to the Israelites, they stand the entire time while it’s being read. So, out of respect. So, kneeling was practiced at other times, but not on Sunday. Deborah?
Deborah: Two things. Explain the difference between kneeling and prostrating, and when one is accepted and when one’s not.
Dn. Michael: The question is: is there any spiritual distinction—I think this is it—between kneeling and prostrating? I see it as just a deeper kind of repentance. You know, a more outwardly expressive form of repentance. And you know, we have in the Orthodox Church, metanias where we bow down and cross ourselves. A “metania,” or a word that comes from “repentance,” comes from the same Greek root word. Then there’s the kneeling. I’m not going to demonstrate, but you get on your knees, typically touch your head to the floor; and then there are full blown prostrations, which are difficult to do in a parish church with the chairs or with a lot of people. But all those are successively demonstrative ways of repenting.
Deborah: During those first six psalms in Matins, aren’t you supposed to stand? This is just what I’ve been told, probably at a monastery one time, but you stand because those psalms are actually the psalms that your guardian angel will say for you when you face the Lord after you die, and you stand during those, and you don’t even enter the Church when those are being done.
Dn. Michael: Deborah’s question is, on the six psalms during Orthros do you sit or not sit? And, no, we do stand. You should stand for the six psalms. The kathisma hymns, which immediately follow that, in recognition that you’ve been standing for all those psalms, now you can sit. By the way, they’re really abbreviated, so you could sit if you want at Orthros, but you’re not going to get much time to sit down. In the monastic services, though, that’s a really long section that has a lot of hymnody in it, and we abbreviate it in parish churches. It’s like the Canon. Hugely long as it is in the books and as it’s said in monasteries, but we abbreviate it and just say the main hymns to each ode.
The next thing was liturgical practice, and then they dealt with the date of Easter. And you had to understand that Easter was being observed at different times in the Church. Most of the churches, particularly in the West, had adopted the practice of celebrating Easter on the Sunday after Passover. Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? Jesus observed the Last Supper on the Thursday of Passover, and then he was raised on the dead from the Sunday following Passover. So that made sense. Others celebrated the feast on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, the date of the crucifixion, according to the Hebrew calendar, and that group was called—here’s a big word—“Quartodecimans,” which is the Latin word for 14. So they celebrated it on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan.
The Eastern churches of Syria and Silesia and Mesopotamia dated it, Passover, one way, and Alexandria and Rome dated it another way. So there was confusion. So what the Church did, or what the council did, was they said the following. It’s to be celebrated, not on Passover itself, but on Sunday. So you can’t celebrate Easter—which seems like it could be self-evident—on Passover, but you have to celebrate on the Sunday. First rule. It has to always occur after the Jewish Passover. Another rule. It was to be on the first Sunday after the first vernal full moon. I’m not sure I even know what that means—I know it means spring, full moon. And then finally the bishop of Alexandria was given the privilege of determining for each year the date on which Christians would celebrate Easter. So maybe you’re thinking, “Why don’t East and West celebrate it on the same day today?” Anybody thinking that? It really has nothing to do with this. Both East and West think they’re observing this. Does anybody want to venture a guess as to why it’s not the same?
Q4: In the East, isn’t it based on the Julian calendar and the West is the Gregorian calendar?
Dn. Michael: Yes. That’s exactly it. The Julian calendar, which eventually— both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches decided to follow the Gregorian calendar after Pope Gregory, maybe 14th, 15th century? But by the way, that took a long time for that to take root in the world. The early Protestants, until the 19th century— or this country was operating under the Julian calendar. So it took a long time for it to take effect. But it’s about today, at the time of the council, it was about 10 days off? Excuse me: by the time of Pope Gregory, it was about 10 days off? Today it’s about 14 days off. So that’s really the difference. We still follow the Julian calendar with regard to Pascha, and the West follows the Gregorian calendar, and there’s what’s called a “Paschalian algorithm” for dating Easter that depends on where the moon’s cycle is. So, our Easter can be from one to five weeks after Western Easter. Sometimes it’s occasionally on the same one. Philip?
Philip: Why was the decision made to have it— have any relation to the moon phases?
Dn. Michael: That’s a question I can’t answer. I don’t know.
Q5: That was when the green grass was done in Palestine. The grass was green in Palestine.
Dn. Michael: I don’t know if that’s the reason or not, but that sounds reasonable. I can tell you this: the Hebrew calendar was all based on lunar cycles as opposed to solar cycles. So, let’s make a couple quick conclusions, and then I’ll dismiss you. Conclusion of all these canons—we’re literally going to get to the Second Ecumenical Council next week, God-willing. I know it’s been a long haul. It won’t be as involved as this.
But first of all, I think there’s three things that are important that we can take from this First Ecumenical Council: the importance of order and unity. Order in the Church is very important. Unity is very important. And the Fathers went to great length to try to preserve the unity, but they understood, unlike a lot of modern day Christians that that had to be based on a common understanding of essential truths of the Faith. You know: we can’t just start communing together. We’ve got to get agreement that this is what we believe together.
Second thing, importance of the council, was repentance, and I think what we can take away from this is: that the Church always makes a way, but repentance is more than just being: you’re sorry. But those who are forgiven are to be received back into the Eucharist. You know, we can’t assume that we’re the pure ones or look down our nose at those who have sinned and come back into the Church.
And then I think the distinction between heresy and schism is important. We need to continue to see that today. That there is a difference between heresy and schism, and we’re in schism from some Orthodox Christians, some Orthodox Christians, other Christians in general, but there’s a difference between heresy and schism. So God bless you; let’s go to the Liturgy.