St. Mary Orthodox Church
105 S. 19th Street
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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Questions on our Orthodox Faith
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Questions on our Orthodox Faith


Questions on our Orthodox Faith (top)

Question:

Father, is it true that I don't have to go to Holy Confession or Holy Communion again once I turn 65?

Answer:
NO, the individual who said this is gravely mistaken. Holy Confession and Holy Communion are Divine Mysteries of the Church and everyone needs them for their very salvation. Holy Confession allows us that good opportunity to draw near to our Lord, to repent of our sins, and to receive forgiveness and guidance in living the Christian life. Holy Communion is a vital necessity for all of us, because in the Eucharist we partake of our Lord Himself, it is in truth the very Food of Eternal Life. AS ALWAYS, THE FAITHFUL SHOULD PROPERLY PREPARE THEMSELVES TO RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION AND IDEALLY SHOULD DRAW NEAR TO HOLY COMMUNION AT EVERY DIVINE LITURGY. Sadly, many people are comfortable partaking the Holy Mysteries once a year, and don't realize that they should properly prepare and should partake of the Holy Mysteries as often as they can. This comfort, is based upon man made teachings that are not the teaching of the Church, but legal standards for the legal definition of membership in the Church. These standards were meant to define the minimum accepted requirements for membership in the Church. The teaching of the Church has historically called all of us to frequent participation in both Holy Confession and Holy Communion. Indeed, the Fathers of the Church encourage DAILY PARTAKING of the Holy Mysteries, not just weekly, because the Holy Mysteries are literally the Food of eternal life, and by Them we are brought to a fuller life in Christ. Ideally, one should go to Confession frequently so that no sin becomes a barrier between you and God; and should frequently partake of Holy Communion so that they may be strengthened and may grow in Christ unto Life Everlasting.
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Question:

Father, what about Birthdays, Name-days, and Anniversaries. Is there an Orthodox way to keep them?
Answer:

The Orthodox Church has always taught that it is most appropriate to celebrate all days of special significance in our life with Services (Moliebens) of Prayer, and offerings of our love to God.

Traditionally, Orthodox Christians celebrate their Names Day by participating in the Divine Services, and by inviting Orthodox family and friends to their home which may be decorated for the occasion. An icon of the saint is displayed in a prominent place and often is decorated with flowers. The priest may be requested to serve an Akathist or Molieben (prayer service) to the saint on this day either in the home or in the Church. Traditionally, Orthodox Christians also will prepare and offer in Church prosphora for the Divine Liturgy as a special prayer for the health of the person, and in many Orthodox countries a sweet cake will be prepared and specially blessed for the health of the person whose Names Day it is; flowers may also be donated to the Church for the health of the person on these days. One's name day is not only a day for celebration but is also a day for our spiritual growth. We should strive to go to Confession and to receive Holy Communion on this day if at all possible. In parishes where this is not always possible, one should do so on the Sunday or feast day that is nearest the saint's feast day.

It is most appropriate that Birthdays, like Names Days, should be sanctified by services of prayer and special offerings of love to God in thanksgiving for the life of the person whose special day it is. For like our Names Day which marks our spiritual birthday, our birthday marks the beginning of our earthly life and is a time to give thanks to Almighty God.

Wedding Anniversaries are traditionally commemorated with services of thanksgiving, and special prayers for the continued good health of the couple.

As a rule, as Orthodox Christians, every special event in our life should indeed be marked and blessed by prayer and the sound witness of our gratitude to God for His generous loving kindness, this includes weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, name-days, etc.

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Question:

Father, what gives? You challenged someone's wearing lipstick in Church, isn't that a bit extreme on your part? After all, should not one look their best when they come to Church?
Answer:
It is always good for the priest to be given such candid questions, especially when it touches on important issues and this does. The real question here is not "should one look their best or not?", but "why shouldn't lipstick be worn to Church/" The question of lipstick for the priest is not one of controlling how women should look, but of protecting the Holy Things from accidental desecration. Ideally, no lipstick should be worn in Church because it is harmful to the holy icons and the holy vessels, and leaves unsightly blotches on them, and can permanently damage their ornate finishes. This damage is due to the chemical makeup of lipstick which breaks down the gold and silver finishes, and the blotches often times become permanent stains on the Icons and the Holy Vessels, and this should never occur. Having said this, you can see why lipstick should never be worn in Church.
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Question:

Father, I don't remember if this was addressed before, but is it okay to sit down during the Divine Liturgy? And if yes, then when is it appropriate?
Answer:
Good question, nice, because I can give the short answer. NO, ideally, it is never appropriate to sit during the Divine Liturgy unless there is a medical necessity or other urgent need. People having a medical necessity, or other physical difficulty may sit during the Divine Liturgy if they need too. Having said this, it must be mentioned that it has become the accepted practice in some parts of our country to sit for the sermon, and in some places, certain litanies, but even this is a new trend, as traditionally sitting is never acceptable during the Divine Liturgy, except for medical necessity.
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Question:

How should one properly venerate a Holy Icon?
Answer:
When we venerate the holy Icons, the Cross of the Lord and the Holy Gospel, we do not dare to touch with our lips the sacred faces painted thereon; rather, we kiss the feet of the Crucified Lord or the blessing hand of the Lord or His Saints, or their clothing, calling to mind the woman of the Gospel who said to herself, "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole." On those Icons where the hands or feet are not depicted, such as the Icon of Christ 'Not Made By Hands', we kiss the hair, or the towel on which it is shown, but never the face or lips.
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Question:

What do the vestments of the priest symbolize?
Answer:
The priest wears several vestments, each rich with symbolic meaning and function. The Alb or Podriznik is the white undergarment with narrow sleeves, it symbolizes "the robe of salvation and the garment of joy." It symbolizes a pure and peaceful conscience, a spotless life, and the spiritual joy in the Lord which flows in him who wears it. The Cuffs are the wrist bands that the priest wears, they remind him that he must not put his trust in his own strength alone, but in the right hand of Almighty God. The Stole or Epitrachelion is the long Orarion sewn together which is worn about the priest neck. This is the symbol of his priestly office and represents the grace of God flowing forth. The Belt (Zone) is worn around his cassock, alb, and stole for convenience and symbolizes that the celebrant must put His hope in the help of God. The Phelonion is the sleeveless garment worn over the other vestments by the priest, it is shorter in the front and longer in the back, and symbolizes that Priests are invested with Truth, and are ministers of Truth. The Cross the priest wears symbolizes that he must confess the Cross of Christ before all men as a preacher of the Truth.
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Question:

How does the Orthodox Church view praying to the Saints?
Answer:
The Orthodox Church encourages the right veneration of the saints, understanding that they are part of the Church in Heaven making intercession for the Church on earth. They are asked to pray for us, just as we would ask anyone to pray for us, but because they have already acheived victory from the earthly struggle and are present before the Lord making intercession constantly before His throne. The wrong thinking prevalent in Protestant thought that we do not need the Saints to pray for us, is a misapplication of Holy Scripture, for the Apostles commanded us to pray one for another, and to pray for all men. No distinction is made by the Apostles of one's present status of being earth bound or heaven bound, indeed no such distinction would be considered logical in light of our Lord's Transfiguration and of the reality that in the Book of Revelation we are told clearly that the prayers of the saints rise as incense before the Lord's throne (Rev. 5:8). One can, and should, make frequent requests to the saints for assistance in living this life, and for the well being of others. But one must understand, that it is by God's power alone, that the Saints answer prayer. The saints can never answer prayers of their own accord or in their own power; they can only beseech Christ on our behalf. When we pray to the saints, we are asking them to pray to God for us and for those around us.
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Question:

How does the Orthodox Church view frequent Communion, and what Confession requirements must be kept?
Answer:
Frequent Communion is strongly encouraged provided one properly prepares themselves to receive the Holy Mysteries. Proper preparation means one should strive to fast as prescribed by the Church on Wednesday and Friday, and from midnight the night before, one should make every effort to attend Vespers and to pray the Prayers of Preparation found in your Prayer Book, and one should strive to be early for Liturgy, so that you might go to confession - if you need to, and so that you might complete your preparations. Confession is a normal means of preparing to receive the Holy Mysteries, and should be undertaken as often as you need too. Remember, the purpose of confession is twofold, first to that of repentance and absolution - this prepares our hearts to draw closer to our Lord; secondly as a source of spiritual healing and the receiving of God's wisdom from the priest to overcome or to deal with the difficulties we encounter on our spiritual walk in Christ. Remember, spiritual preparation for Holy Confession and Communion is based on a common sense approach, and medical conditions and other concerns can affect the way you prepare. Fasting is first from sin, the fast from food must be regulated by medical necessity and common sense, if you are unsure on the best way to approach fasting due to medical conditions or other necessities, talk with the priest and he will guide you. Those frequently receiving the Holy Mysteries should try to go to Confession at least four times a year, more often if needed.
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Question:

Is kneeling permissible on Sundays?
Answer:
No, kneeling is not allowed on Sundays unless it is specifically called for by the Rubrics. However, in America, the practice of kneeling in Church on Sundays has become an tolerated form of piety arising out of the lack of daily services. Therefore, while strictly speaking kneeling is not permissable, it has become the custom of many of the faithful to kneel during the divine services, and such practices are accepted as local custom and are not actively discouraged. It must be clearly understood, that there are however certain specific times of the year when kneeling and prostrations are not permitted or tolerated in the Church, namely from Holy Pascha to Holy Pentecost, Great Feasts, and from Nativity of our Lord to the Leave-taking of His Holy Theophany.
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Question:

How does the Orthodox Church view organ transplants?
Answer:
The Orthodox Church has not dogmatically addressed the contemporary question of organ transplants other than to address some of the ethical dilemmas raised by some transplant procedures, namely, heart, brain, and fetal tissue transplants. Such transplants are generally forbidden, because they involve portions of the body directly related to man's life, the heart is traditionally seen as the center of man's being, the dwelling place of the soul and thus cannot be transferred to another. The brain is the center of man's intellect, the place where his knowledge of personhood and identity is, and are not transferable to another. With fetal brain tissue transplants an additional ethical question is raised, that is as to how such tissue is received, abortion - a method used for obtaining such tissue - is seen by the Church as the taking of an innocent life and is forbidden. Other organ transplants, such as liver, cornea, lung, etc. are viewed as permissible provided they do not involve the taking of a life. It must be understood that this permissibility is understood as one freely sharing his life with another, and does not allow for the morbid practice of selling organs, or of intentionally harming others to help oneself or a loved one. As this issue is one constantly in flux as modern medical procedures develop, the Church addresses the issues of organ transplant on a case by case basis, thus insuring the welfare of the faithful and the donor are safeguarded, one considering a transplant should consult your parish priest for additional insight, guidance, and help.
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Question:

How does the Orthodox Church look upon Living Wills and the related questions involving life support, medicines, food and water?
Answer:
The contemporary issues of living wills, and extraordinary life sustaining measures are issues with which the Orthodox Church has a vital concern. Living Wills are not ordinary documents in the life of the Orthodox Christian, because we understand that it is God who gives life, and only God can determine when life should end. However, due to the seeming endless desire of modern medicine to prolong life, even when death is already imminent - or has in reality occurred, the following norms are generally applied in the Orthodox Church as permissible in guiding life and death questions. An Orthodox Christian may decline the use of extraordinary medical means that artificially prolong life, such as machines that breathe for you, or that cause the heart to continue to function when it would not otherwise. Such extraordinary means may be declined only when it is obvious that they will only prolong artificially a life that has already ended. This reality does not however include the removal of food or water - the basic essentials of life, which if the body is processing them provides real evidence that life continues, nor does it allow for the removal of medicines needed to comfort the patient. Mercy killing, i.e., with holding basic nutrition, failing to make every reasonable effort to preserve life, pulling the plug on a patient who is not brain-dead, and the such like, is strictly prohibited. An Orthodox concept of a living will is one in which strict instructions are provided to make all reasonable efforts to sustain and try to save a sick person's life and to insure them access to the Holy Mysteries. These efforts should never be controlled or determined by financial or family whims, but by the well guided individual mindful of the most sacred reality that all life is sacred, and that each of us is called upon to strive to save, preserve, and give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of life, and none of us are empowered to take or end another's life. Decisions regarding Living Wills should be made in consultation with your parish priest, your family and your physician, and should never be entered into lightly.
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Question:

Father, can you please clarify what it means to be a member of the Orthodox Church, specifically, and with regards to parish membership in the local Church?
Answer:
To describe being an Orthodox Christian as being a "member" in the Church is an inadequate legal term to describe a faithful servant of God - a Christian. This term has its root in the legal notion that organizations have members, and as such, really does not apply to the Church. The term of membership in a legal sense is not as inclusive as those set forth by our Lord. On a parish level, one discusses members, and applies the legal sense, and this refers to Christians who have fulfilled a minimum basic requirement of financial stewardship, yearly confession and communion. But on the canonical level, true membership in the Church is far more intense, it is that life led by the faithful servant of God who strives to live the Gospel, striving to give of himself beyond all measure and minimum requirements, striving to seek and serve the Lord with all their heart. The Orthodox Church, while She recognizes the legal notion of basic requirements for membership, looks beyond these, to the call of Christ to each believer. Our Lord calls each of us to "take up our cross" and to follow Him. Each Christian, each member of the Church, is called to live a life in communion with God, through frequent and active participation in the Divine Mysteries and through the active life of the Gospel. One living this life draws near to the Lord as often as they are able, both to receive healing grace in Holy Confession, and to receive the food of life - Christ our true God - in the Holy Eucharist. Ideally, each Christian will make regular Confession and Communion a part of their life, going as often as they are able, and will give in accordance with that, which they are able to do through tithing, not just in meeting minimum standards. The Church calls upon each believer to draw near to Holy Confession and to the Eucharist at least four times a year and at Holy Pascha, and encourages even more frequent participation in the Holy Mysteries among all who are able to do so. Therefore, canonically, membership in the Orthodox Church can best be described as each person living the life of the Gospel, drawing near to the Lord in the Holy Mysteries as often as they are able, with the end goal of a life of communion with God which leads to eternal life.
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Question:

Okay, enough already!!! Father keeps lengthening these services, and I find them frustrating. Is it really necessary that these Lenten Services are as long as they are? Which services are actually called for, why do we need them, and do they really have to be that long???
Answer:

Tragically the world in which we live is so fast paced that we leave little time for God, and we constantly demand that the Church take less and less even of that time. This in order that we can spend a greater portion of this time in worldly past times. Our Lord calls upon each of us to "Keep holy the Lord's day", to not forsake the gathering of the brethren, and to be in constant prayer. Yet in our life we do little of this and indeed we seem to complain more and more if the Divine Services of the Church take longer than an hour, or two.

During Great Lent, the Church calls upon us to challenge the time restraints of this world, and calls upon us to return our focus to Christ and to Salvation itself. To assist us, She calls us to increase our contemplation of God's mercy through strict fasting and through prayer. She gives us the Great canon in the first week of Great Lent, and on the fifth Thursday in the Lent to help us understand the depths to which our sinning have taken man, that we might repent and be saved. To strengthen us on our journey she provides us with the witness of the saints and martyrs who have already accomplished the journey, and provides us the fullness of Liturgical prayer found in St. Basil's Liturgy, and the Holy Eucharist during the week through the Presanctified Liturgies. To help us remember that we are not alone, but that all men have faced the journey of life, we are given soul Saturdays, which allow us to remember our loved ones in prayer, as well as to focus on the reward of sin - death. Finally, in order that we might remember the blessings found in obeying God's commandments, we are given the example of the Theotokos, and her role in our salvation. All of these services help to soften our hearts, to open them to receive in truth the glorious message of our Lord's Passion and Holy Resurrection.

Great Lent is without a doubt an intense time, filled with long services, and this is intentional, so that we might be reminded of the results of Adam's fall, and the death and suffering it brought, in order that, we might receive the good news of the Resurrection and be able to cast away the old man of this world, to put on the new man - who is Christ our True God.

It is sad that the world has so embittered the hearts of so many of us that we demand that the Church change the faith and the Divine Services for our convenience. Rather it is we who need to change to become receptacles for God's grace. Remember that on the cross by our Lord hung two thieves, one repented and was saved, the other mocked God and was damned. As Orthodox Christians, we need to understand that the cross we are given as Christians is what we are to carry, and part of being a Christian is that we must be faithful to God and to His Church. The Divine Services of the Church are given to us to help lead us to salvation if we will but utilize them, but those who seek to change or to cut them, seek to eliminate part of the armament given them to achieve salvation. Can you imagine going to war against a man with a gun without wearing a bullet proof vest and protective clothing to provide you as much shielding as possible, this is exactly what happens when we cut the Divine Services for our convenience, we help to undermine the very arsenal God has given us to overcome the evil one, and in so doing risk losing our very salvation.

P.S. The length of the services of Great Lent depend on many factors, but nothing in them is new, all the services predate us by several centuries, and for the most part, the Church has already abridged the services used on a parish level.

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Question:

Father, what gives? What exactly still divides us from the Roman Catholics? Is reunion between us and them likely?
Answer:

Excellent question. In our day and age, there is a renewed hope of reunion of the Roman Catholic Church to the Orthodox Church based upon a common confession of Faith and Communion. Sadly, there remain many things which hamper this reunion and divide the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church, primary among them are the following Roman Catholic teachings.

  1. The Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Filioque teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This doctrine is set forth in their rendering of the Nicene Creed, and is contrary to the faith of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church confesses only a single procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, and does not accept the Roman double procession because it is heretical in itself, and is fraught with numerous heretical dangers. It is also contrary to the Words of our Lord in the Gospel of St. John 15:26 "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." This Roman Doctrine of the Filioque is also opposed by the Orthodox because it was inserted into the Nicene Creed in direct disobedience to the Holy Canons of the Church which forbade making any additions or deletions to the Sacred symbol of the Faith - the Creed - as it was confirmed Church in the Holy Ecumenical Councils.
  2. Papal Supremacy - The Roman Catholic Church maintains that the Pope is the Primate (the Head) of the Universal Church, and the sole Vicar of Christ on Earth. For the Orthodox Church, such a thing is unheard of, as the Orthodox Church recognizes only Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church, and accepts the reality of each Patriarch of the Church as being a Primate of the Church, only in as much as he is equal to every other Bishop in authority, and every Bishop is equal in authority to him. Primacy is understood by the Orthodox as an honor not a reality which controls others. Indeed, this Roman concept of primacy is protected against in our Canon Law, which forbids Bishops acting outside of their own diocese without the specific blessing of the Bishop of that diocese.
  3. Papal Infallibility - The Roman Catholic Church maintains that the Pope in his person is infallible when he speaks on matters of faith, doctrine and morals. Such a notion is unthinkable to the Orthodox who understand all to well that every man is fallible and capable of error, and indeed throughout history, many Popes, Patriarchs, and Bishops have been condemned by the Church as heretics and deposed for false teachings. The Orthodox understand infallibility as being a quality of the Holy Spirit and that through Him the Church is infallible, incapable of error. This infallibility is seen expressed when the Church gathers in Holy Council and confirms the faith, and the results of the Council is confirmed by witness of the faithful of the Church. This is why at every level of the Church, a conciliar witness is present - the Priest with a Parish Council - assembly; the Bishop and the Diocesan Council - Assembly; the Primate and the Holy Synod and Council - and Sobor of the church; the Patriarchs in Holy Council. At every level of the Church the Holy Spirit guides and governs through the fullness of the Church and not any individual by themselves.
  4. Roman Catholic Dogma of Original Sin - The Dogma of Original Sin sets forth that each person bears specific guilt for the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden and Eden, and as such, every man is already under a condemnation of God unless they are baptized. The Orthodox understand Original Sin quite differently. For the Orthodox, Original Sin (Ancestral Sin) is the first sin by which death and sickness entered the world, and men fell from grace to self-will. The Orthodox Church understands that each person bears the effect of the original sin, that is to say, that everyone is now subject to death and illness, but that he does not bear the guilt of the sin. Man is understood by the Orthodox as having free-will by which one chooses to sin or not to sin, and unlike the Roman Church, we do not hold that man sins by force of nature, but as an act of his own free-will. This difference carries over into great differences on how other things are viewed and perceived, among them are the last state of children who die unbaptized, the Dormition of the Mother of God, and the last state of man, as well as the central message of salvation itself.
  5. The Roman Catholic Dogmas of Purgatory and Indulgences - The Roman Catholic Church maintains that the full price of sin was not paid at the Cross and even after one goes to confession, the absolution of sins by the priest does not totally cleanse the soul of the sins confessed, so after death one must go to Purgatory to have the remaining sins burned away and the penalty paid, to assist some-one to get out of Purgatory a system of indulgences was created whereby one can buy or earn relief from the Purgatorial fires. This concept is totally unknown to the Orthodox Church, and is abhorrent because it calls into question the fullness of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross, and casts doubt upon God's saving mercy. The Orthodox Church understands that when one has confessed a sin and it is absolved, God has totally forgiven it.

As one can see there are numerous differences, including others not listed here, that still divide the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, but none of these differences are insurmountable. In recent times major strides have been made towards ending the nearly thousand year separation between the two Churches, but much work remains to be done. In recent times the Bulls of Anathema exchanged in 1054 between Constantinople and Rome were lifted, and reconciliation has begun. There remains serious work to be done to resolve doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes, but, a common beginning has been made towards joint cooperation wherever possible. All these disputes require a sense of mutual understanding and serious commitment to the Faith of Christ as it was revealed Christ, taught by the Apostles and Saints, and confirmed by the Holy Ecumenical Councils; and it is only upon this basis that reunion will be possible. There is every possibility that we will see, within our lifetime, the reconciliation of the Churches of the East and West, and the restoral of the common bond of Faith and Holy Communion between them. For this, each of us must pray and labor, esteeming highly the love our brethren have for the Lord and working together to build one and other up in the faith of Christ.

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Question:

Father, I have a Protestant friend who asked me if I was saved and was certain I am going to heaven? My Protestant friend tells me that he says one can know, what does our Church say about this?
Answer:

To answer your question, first we must understand what exactly Fundamentalist Protestants mean when they say someone is saved and is guaranteed eternal life. Fundamentalist Protestants maintain that one can know for certain that they are going to heaven, and they base this belief upon the false premise of eternal security which they believe God has promised each believer. The Protestant doctrine of eternal security maintains that anyone who acknowledges that he is a sinner, repents of those sins, and who confesses and accepts Christ as His Savior is saved no matter what he may do after he confesses Christ as his Savior. This teaching is based upon a misinterpretation of the Gospel of St. John 10: 27-28 which says "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." According to Protestants this verse establishes that "the eternal security of the believer is guaranteed by the person and work of God. He is true and just, and cannot deny Himself. Therefore anyone who has eternal life, has it forever. God promises that no one can ever be separated from His love." (Liberty Annotated Study Bible, p.1629.) Sadly, the Protestants fail to read who God designates as His sheep. God designates His sheep as being those who hear His voice, He knows them, and the SHEEP FOLLOW HIM. This very Scripture that Protestants use to promulgate this falsehood, tells us that the individual can separate himself from God if he does not follow Christ, that is if he does not keep His commandments.

For the Protestants, salvation rests upon a public confession of faith with nothing more required, and they explain that good works will naturally follow. "The Christian is saved and secured by faith, but in love and gratitude to Christ [the Christian] will seek to faithfully serve Him." (Liberty Annotated Study Bible, p. 1629.) For Orthodox Christian, we understand that the process of salvation is an act of synergy between God and man, one in which God is condescending to us and we are drawing near to Him in faith, indeed we can say this synergy is an act of faith and love, where we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. St. James reminds us that faith and works are inseparable, as one bears forth evidence of the other: "faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17) St. James tells us further that it is in both faith and works together as one that a man is justified (James 2:24). Even in this, our words weakly communicate the true fruit of salvation, which St. Paul rightly describes as being a state of going "from glory to glory." Literally a process in which we become by grace what God is by nature, theosis.

Thus as we have seen, the concept of the sure knowledge of one's being saved is not given to us in Scripture, only the blessed assurance of salvation if we will indeed be those good and faithful sheep that follow our Master, with the assent of the heart and the confirmation of that confession of faith which is made manifest in how we live our very lives. Salvation for us as Orthodox Christians is not the fulfilling or satisfying of some code of religious justice or merely the intellectual assent to a set of theological ideas, nor is it the placing of oneself in a personal relationship with Christ "through faith" which leads God to pronounce us "innocent or "forgiven of our sins. For us as Orthodox Christians salvation is the reality of God's love for us accepted by us and make real in the life that we live and the faith we hold and confess, a faith that is revealed and made manifest in our very life, through our thoughts, our words, and our deeds - it is very real reality of making manifest and revealing in our lives our Lord and His Gospel. Salvation is a reality that is not made manifest only in our own persons, but in the Church, for salvation is found in the Church, the Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is Her Head and it is Christ who is the Salvation of His people.

This topic while treated here with some detail is far from exhausted, and it would edify all of us to read more about our faith, and especially salvation and the Orthodox teaching on it. The following books would be greatly instrumental in this endeavor.

THE LAW OF GOD, by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy - A catechism of the Orthodox faith that is easy to read and understand. Published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, 1993.

HOW ARE WE SAVED by Bishop Kallistos Ware, Light and Life Publishing, 1996. - A detailed study of the question of salvation.

ORTHODOX DOGMATIC THEOLOGY by Fr. Michael Pomazansky, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994. - Exposition on Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, very practical and not to difficult to read.

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Question:

Father,isn't there a danger of the spread of contagious germs from the communion clothe, or kissing the chalice?
Answer:

No, this is for three reasons.

  1. The reason we kiss the chalice is to venerate our Lord's precious side from whence flowed His life-giving blood. By faith we accept that He who alone is sinless will never permit evil to befall us as we draw near in faith, be it from venerating the holy chalice, the holy Icons, or the holy Cross. It must be remembered that sickness and death are the fruits of man's sin, but the Holy Eucharist and grace bearing holy objects are given to us to bring us healing not only from sin and death, but the very effects of them, namely: sickness.
  2. The spread of germs and other such contagions are highly unlikely according to the testimony of several local physicians, who point out the following:
    1. Germs and viruses require certain conditions to survive, which are not present at the Holy Eucharist, or in the Church in general.
    2. Throughout recorded history there has never been an incident wherein holy objects and the Holy Eucharist have been instruments for the spread of disease. Indeed, quite the opposite has often proved true in Russia, the Middle East, and even Europe numerous examples exist where the Holy Eucharist and the veneration of the Holy Objects have led to cessation of outbreaks of major contagious outbreaks in communities.
    3. Even if a risk does present itself,, it is so negligible that it should pose no reasonable concerns to anyone. A fact recognized by the Center For Disease Control according to several recently well-publicized articles.
  3. One local Orthodox physician pointed out that an even more stunning fact should be considered, "There is ample medical evidence to support the medical reality that taking Holy Communion and venerating Holy Objects is medically beneficial, as there are countless well documented studies that have clearly illustrated and confirmed this. This is why most doctors prefer a strong presence of the religious faith in the medical treatment of the sick and suffering"
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Question:

Father, I don't remember if this was addressed before, but is it okay to sit down during the Divine Liturgy? And if yes, then when is it appropriate?
Answer:
Good question, nice, because I can give the short answer. NO, ideally, it is never appropriate to sit during the Divine Liturgy unless there is a medical necessity or other urgent need. People having a medical necessity, or other physical difficulty may sit during the Divine Liturgy if they need too. Having said this, it must be mentioned that it has become the accepted practice in some parts of our country to sit for the sermon, and in some places, certain litanies, but even this is a new trend, as traditionally sitting is never acceptable during the Divine Liturgy, except for medical necessity.
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Question:

Father, is it wrong to work on a Sunday? If so, why and what activities constitute prohibited work on a Sunday?
Answer:
Yes, it is wrong to do unnecessary work on Sundays or on Holy Days. The real question here then becomes, what is unnecessary work? Ideally speaking, this is best defined as any work which is not needful to our spiritual well-being, i.e., cutting grass, shopping, going to theaters, and other such things are examples of such unnecessary work. As Christians we are called to spend Saturday Evenings, Sundays, and Holy Days, in Church, in prayer, spiritual reading and wholesome family activities which spiritually benefit us. But for many, such is not always possible. In our time many people face job constraints which require them to work for a living on Saturdays, Sundays, and Holy Days, and this then means that such individuals must strive to redeem the time they do have available for their spiritual benefit, striving to do all that they can to participate in spiritually enriching activities. It is a very serious matter spiritually for us to put social activities, vacations, or non-Church related activities ahead of our Lord, His Church, and the Divine Services, and doing such should always be avoided. As Christians we must remember that a well-ordered Christian life, is one where our Lord is at the center of all things, and all that we do is done to reveal and make Christ manifest in our lives. The home is after all, the little Church, and like the Church, should always be a place where our Lord is found, and where our entire life is such that He is readily seen in it. This should be seen in all that we do, in how the husband loves his wife; in how the parents love the children, and in how the children love their parents. A home that is dedicated to the spiritual ideal of keeping holy the Lord's day, communicates this very reality of Christ in the midst of the home.
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Question:

Father, why is there diversity in the races and languages of man?
Answer:

A good question, the apparent diversity between men of skin color, language, and even culture is an outgrowth of the fall of man and the evil he became engaged in. In the book "THE LAW OF GOD", (p.121-122) this question is answered in great detail, we are told:

     For a long time, the increasing offspring of Noah lived together in one land, not far from the Ararat Mountains, and spoke one common language. When the human race became numerous, evil deeds and conflicts between people began to multiply, and they saw that they would soon have to scatter across the entire earth. Before they separated, however, the offspring of Ham, together with others whom they attracted, decided to build a city and in it a tower in the form of a pillar, reaching to Heaven, in order to be glorified, and not be in subjugation to the offspring of Shem and Japheth, as Noah had prophesied. They made bricks and set to work. This proud project of the people was not pleasing to God. So that evil would not completely destroy them, since evil could be quickly spread due to a common language, the Lord changed the language of the builders so that they began to speak in different languages and could no longer understand one another. The men were forced to abandon the work they had undertaken and scatter across the earth into various lands. The offspring of Japheth went to the west and settled in Europe. The offspring of Shem remained in Asia. The offspring of Ham went to Africa, but a part of them also remained in Asia. The unfinished city was called Babylon, which means confusion. This whole land where this city was located was later called Babylonia, and also Chaldea. The Lord saw that people learned more evil from one another than good, and for this reason He brought about the confusion of the languages and divided people into separate nations and gave each nation a separate goal; and purpose in life. Note: See Genesis, chap. II.
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Question:

Father, can an Orthodox Christian be the Sponsor in a Roman Catholic or Protestant Baptism?
Answer:
Good question. NO, generally speaking, an Orthodox Christian cannot serve as the Sponsor at a Roman Catholic or Protestant Baptism or Confirmation. The reason for this is because the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Church does not share the same faith as the Orthodox Church. If an Orthodox Christian were to serve in such a capacity, the Orthodox Sponsor would be confessing and promising to raise children according to doctrines of those churches; doctrines which the Orthodox Church knows are at best wrong, or at worse, heretical. In the Orthodox Church, there is a steadfast rule the primary sponsor must be Orthodox and of the same gender as the child being baptized, thus allowing for a non-Orthodox sponsor (who must be a baptized Christian) to stand as a second sponsor, but the same may not be true outside the Orthodox Church. As the Sponsor should ideally be of the same faith as the child being Baptized or Confirmed and must promise to raise the child according to the teachings of the Church wherein the Baptism or Confirmation is being performed, it is normally not possible for an Orthodox Christian to serve outside of the Orthodox Church as a Sponsor. This matter, if it should arise due to family necessity, is one which the parishioner should discuss with their parish priest.
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Question:

Father, where does the Roman custom of Ash Wednesday come from, and why don't we have such a custom???
Answer:

Excellent question, even though it means you made me do some real work. I must confess, I was uncertain as to how the custom of Ash Wednesday developed in the Latin Church, so I did a little research on EWTN's Library Page to find the answer. Here is what I learned.

Fr. Saunders, president of the Notre Dame Institute for Catechetics and associate pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria. Gave the following summary for this Latin Custom in the Arlington Catholic Herald, February 17, 1994.

Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent, the 40 day preparation period (not including Sundays) for Easter. The ritual for the "Day of Ashes" is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary, which dates at least to the eighth century.

About the year 1000, an Anglo-Saxon priest named Aelfric preached, "We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast."

As an aside, Aelfric reinforced his point by then telling of a man who refused to go to Church on Ash Wednesday and receive ashes; the man was killed a few days later in a boar hunt. Since this time, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.

In our present liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we use ashes made form the burned palm branches distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year The priest blesses the ashes and imposes them on the foreheads of the faithful, making the sign of the cross and saying, "Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return," or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." As we begin this holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we must remember the significance of the ashes we have received: We mourn and do penance for our sins. We again convert our hearts to the Lord, who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. We renew the promises made at our baptism, when we died to an old life and rose to a new life with Christ Finally, mindful that the kingdom of this world passes away, we strive to live the kingdom of God now and look forward to its fulfillment in heaven.

As we can see, in the Roman Church, the theme of Repentance is the under-riding principle of Ash Wednesday as a preparation for the coming Lent, and is symbolized by anointing with ashes - a symbol of humiliation and of man's return to the dust from which he came. This theme of repentance and ashes also marked the beginning of the 40 days of Great Lent, in which they do not count Sundays, hence the reason for a Wednesday.

In the Orthodox Church, forgiveness of one and other marks the beginning of Great Lent. Repentance is understood by us to be the whole journey of our life as Christians, and is stressed throughout the Great Lent. The Rite of Forgiveness begins the Great Lent - restoring the mutual peace and harmony in which we are to live as Christians in God's Church. Our Great Lent begins on a pure Monday. Pure Monday begins our Lenten Journey, because our method of counting the 40 days of Great Lent differs from that of the Roman Church. These two unique customs grew out of divergent approaches to the Great Lent that compliment each other, and yet reveal the rich diversity of the Christian world.

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Question:

Father, is it really proper to pray to Mary? You know, I kinda thought this was reserved to Jesus alone. What gives???
Answer:

For this question, let us turn to a contemporary Saint in our time, St. John of San Francisco for the answer.

He tells us the following:

The Orthodox Church teaches about the Mother of God that which Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture have informed concerning Her, and daily it glorifies Her in its temples, asking Her Help and defense. ...."The Church teaches that Christ was truly born of Mary the Ever-Virgin" (St. Epiphanius, "True Word Concerning the Faith"). It is essential for us to confess that the Holy Ever-Virgin Mary is actually Theotokos (Birth-giver of God), so as not to fall into blasphemy. (p.63 of THE ORTHODOX VENERATION OF MARY THE BIRTHGIVER OF GOD)

It is important for us all to remember several vital points about the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

  1. She is fully human, born of Joachim and Anna.
  2. Mary, strengthened by God's grace and her desire to follow God was kept free from all sin.
  3. Mary is not divine, she was fully human, a fact evidenced by her birth from human parents and her death.
  4. Mary died and was buried. Her soul was received by God and Her body was mystically reunited to her soul by God, and on the third day, her tomb was found empty by the apostles.
  5. She is our heavenly intercessor before Her Son's throne and "has boldness towards Him as His Mother according to the flesh, and as one in spirit with Him, as one who performed the will of God and instructed others (Mat. 5:19). Merciful and full of love, She manifests Her love towards Her Son and God in love for the human race. She intercedes for it before the Merciful One, and going about on earth, She helps men." (p. 67 TOVOMTBG)

In our time there are many (Protestants) who reject the the idea of praying to - making intercessions to - the Theotokos and the saints because they misunderstand what exactly is being done. They think this is worship, when it is not. Others confuse right veneration with worship, trying to give to the Theotokos, titles of divinity which are foreign to her. As Orthodox Believers, we understand that only God is worshipped; the Theotokos and all the saints are venerated by us with love as part of our spiritual family, and we ask their aid and prayers, just as we do those of our loved ones around us. We do not however worship them as Protestants would believe, nor do we confuse the veneration of Mary with worship as many in the Roman Church appear prone to do; we in the Orthodox Church understand that our salvation is through Christ our Lord, and that without Him such is impossible.

Indeed, we should be steadfast in seeking the intercessions of the Theotokos, because She is in truth a ready help in danger and a constant aid in our daily lives.

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Question:

Father, in the Catholic Church there is an religious obligation to keep certain Holy Days. Do we have any such requirement, and if so - what is it?
Answer:
Interesting question. In short, the answer is, yes we do, and that is you should attend all the Divine Services whenever they are scheduled. While ideally this is the case however, we must be realistic, Orthodox Christians are encouraged to attend every Divine Service that they are able to attend. Like all things, common sense must apply, but this is not an excuse to be absent from the Divine Services. Willfully missing the Divine Services can be sinful, and we must strive to do all we can to be living the Christian life. Unlike Rome, there are no preset mandatory Holy Days, as every feast day is a Holy Day. If one is unable to attend the Divine Services due to true necessity, then strive to keep Holy the day in as much as you are able. Some reasons that are not acceptable reasons for missing Church are vacations, sporting events, family outings, recreation, golf, and the such like. Valid reasons for missing Church include sickness, death, emergencies, and the other necessity items that are unavoidable. Ideally, in our time and age, one must plan our lives to be able to attend the Divine Services, with some jobs, this could even require the use of vacation time to allow one time for the Divine Services. But again Holy Day Church attendance in a task that all of us need to seriously pay attention to.
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Question:

Father, why don't we have General Confession, other churches do?
Answer:

The Holy Synod allows for the use of General Confession only under certain conditions and where it pastorally needed. According to the Bishops, the Service of General Confession, when it is to be used, is to follow only after Holy Vespers the evening before the Divine Liturgy. Those conditions needful for General Confession are when those drawing near to Confession make regular Private Confessions and are frequent Communicants. It is permissible in such cases, for the Priest to utilize General Confession for those persons, when the needs of time and parish circumstances warrant it. In our parish, like most OCA parishes, there usually is not such a number of people that draw near to Holy Confession following Holy Vespers to warrant the use of this Office as prescribed by the Holy Synod, and hence we do not utilize it. (It must be said here, that, as your Priest, I am prepared to hear as many confessions as are requested following Vespers, i.e.30, 40 or even more.)

With this, it must be pointed out, that private Confession is the RULE of the Church, and General Confession is permitted by the Holy Synod ONLY to accommodate those who faithful go to regular Private Confession and who are frequent Communicants. This Office cannot be understood as allowing for its utilization to fulfill the occasional desire of individuals who wish to avoid Private Confession, for example those individuals who draw near only once yearly to the Mysteries of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. Such would be a grave abuse, and would be greatly detrimental to the spiritual health of both the priest and the penitent.

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St. Mary Orthodox Church
105 S. 19th Street; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15203
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Monday, December 11th
7:00 Vespers
Tuesday, December 12th
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