| || |
You keep mentioning "The Church"........
Basically, Jesus Christ did not come to establish such a thing as "Christianity". Even the word is not in the Holy Scriptures. What Christ Jesus did do was to establish the Church, which Scripture calls both His Body and His Bride, the communion which man seeks with God is found by being part of the Church, something which St. Paul calls a "great mystery", whereby we become members of Christ: "of His flesh, and of His bones." (Ephesians 5:30) The Bible also tells us that such as were being saved were added to the Church (Acts 2:47). They were not merely making "decisions for Christ"-- again, not a Scriptural term -- but they were repenting, being baptized for the remission of their sins, and being added to the Church. (Acts 2:38 if.) There, they were continuing steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread (what is commonly called Holy Communion today), fasting and prayer. Finally, from the day of Pentecost, the "birthday" of the Church, the Bible never speaks of Christians who were not a part of it. This is why we speak so much of "The Church".
This is the Cornerstone of the Orthodox Faith.
| || |
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of the Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church
| || |
I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, through whom all things were made.
Who for us all and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.
Crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried.
And He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures.
And He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
And He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; Who spoke through the prophets.
I believe In One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge One Baptism for the remission of sins.
I await the resurrection of the dead.
And the life of the age to come. Amen.
| || |
| || |
About Holy Icons
Christian art has its origins quite early in the life of the Church. Symbols found in the catacombs testify to the use of art to convey theological statements as early as the beginnings of the second century.
| || |
| || |
The above symbols were used for identification between Christians but also as a statement of their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour. The lamb is an early symbol which was finally forbidden by the fifth ecumenical council.
We do not know exactly how early Christ and the saints began to be portrayed in icons, although there is a tradition in the Orthodox Church of an icon of the Virgin Mary holding Christ regarded to have been painted by the hand of St. Luke himself. There is also the Holy Mandelion which is an imprint of the face of Jesus on cloth which was considered to have been miraculously created by Jesus himself after the request of King Abgar of Edessa who was ill and wanted to see Him.
Holy icons depicting Jesus, the Virgin, and other saints seem to have proliferated by the beginning of the 8th century. What is also apparent is that a wrong approach to the use of icons in worship also accompanied this increase of the presence of holy images in the life of Christians. This abuse of images by ignorant Christians eventually sparked a reaction against holy images, which we know as iconoclasm, during the reign of Emperor Leo III (717-741) which continued under his successor, Constantine V (741-775).
The Iconcolastic Controversy was not just about images, however, but was closely associated with the Christological controversies of previous centuries. Eventually, the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787 upheld the veneration of holy images as an extension of the doctrine of the Incarnation. Since God assumed human form and lived among us we are allowed to depict him on icons.
One of the main defenders of holy images was St. John of Damascus who lived in the monastery of St. Savvas in Palestine, under Moslem rule at the time, away from the politics of Constantinople and safe from the imperial persecutions of the iconophiles and defenders of icons.
St. John of Damascus wrote several treatises in which he answers the iconoclastic theologians who based their opposition to images on: (a) the Old Testament condemnation of idolatry, and (b) on the philosophical presupposition that an image is one in essence with its prototype - hence an image of God will be taken to be God Himself - hence idolatrous. St. John of Damascus addressed the weakness of the theology of the iconoclasts with regard to the Incarnate Jesus. They spoke of a divinity who absorbed humanity and united with it making it devoid of its human characteristics, thus approaching the heresy of Eutyches and the monophysites. St. John emphasized along with Necephorus of Constantinople and Theodore the Studite that through the Incarnation God entered human history and established a special relationship between the divine ant the human, between divinity and matter, between the creator and the creation.
St John pointed out that: "In former times, God, being without form or body, could in no way be represented. But today, since God has appeared in the flesh and lived among man, I can represent what is visible in God. I do not worship matter, but I worship the creator of matter who became matter for my sake ... and who, through matter accomplished my salvation. Never will I cease to honor the matter which brought about my salvation."
St John makes a distinction between worship or adoration, which is offered only to God, and veneration or bowing down before something, that in the Old Testament is offered even by the prophets to kings or other human beings.
He also demonstrates that it is wrong to identify every image with its prototype except only in the case of the Son, Who is the image of the Father because they are of the same essence to start with.
Hence, the icon is a theological statement of the incarnation of God and not God himself. His main point was that we venerate icons, but give worship and adoration to God alone.
Praying with the Icons
Every home has a corner for prayer where they keep their icons. Our mind is distracted by the cares of life, the duties and concerns of every day and the noise of the world. We need to withdraw from everything into a peaceful room and create a prayerful, serene atmosphere by lighting a candle or an oil-lamp in front of the icons and by burning some incense. This will help to cleanse our thoughts so that we may begin to pray with the Jesus Prayer until the soul comes to stillness and the heart tastes the sweetness of the presence of God. The mind eventually descends into the heart and the prayer becomes "prayer of the heart."
| || |
Click Here to learn more about Our Faith
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY MATRIMONY:
Signs and Symbols of the Orthodox Marriage Service by
Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou, Ph.D.
God created Adam and lovingly offered him the heavenly state of Paradise. In Paradise, Adam could not find a companion, a being similar to him, so God put him to sleep, took one of the ribs from his side and created the woman, Eve, to be his companion. In this way, God dissolved his loneliness and offered them the opportunity of a loving communion in the image of the Holy Trinity. God united man and woman and commanded that the two "become one flesh." We know from the Holy Scriptures, that God created them according to "his image" with the purpose to attain the highest state of perfection. Through this blessed union, God wants to help mankind in their struggle to reach holiness. He wants them to become perfect, like Him. He wants them to attain the highest state of human existence, the state of theosis (deification). At the same time man and woman become co-workers and co-creators with God by giving birth to children and helping them also to attain perfection.
Hence, the Church, following the example of the Lord who blessed the marriage in Cana of Galilee with his miracle, and also heeding to the words of St. Paul who calls marriage "a great mystery," blesses the union of man and woman, praying that the grace of God may visit them and help them to support each other on the way to perfection.
The service of Holy Matrimony in the Orthodox Church is full of symbols drawn from the theology of marriage. The ultimate purpose of the ritual symbols is to highlight the essence of Christian marriage using external forms and manifestations.
With this booklet, we wish to help the newly wed couples, but also those attending the marriage service, to understand the deeper meaning of Orthodox marriage and its sacramental dimension as expressed symbolically in the movements and signs used in the ritual.
The service of Holy Matrimony as conducted today, is divided into two parts: the Engagement Service and the Crowning.
A. THE ENGAGEMENT SERVICE
The Engagement Service precedes the Service of Holy Matrimony. In the past, the Engagement Service used to be the official promise for marriage. This was followed by a time of preparation of the couple, which gave them the opportunity to get to know and love each other.
Today, the Engagement Service is an extra prayer and blessing of the Church to the couple about to be married.
During the engagement service, the rings are blessed by the priest over the Gospel Book. Then, holding the rings with his right hand, the priest makes the sign of the cross over the couple's heads saying: "The servant of God....(name) is betrothed to the servant of God ....(name), in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." He then places the rings on the second finger of their right hands. The best man and maid of honour exchange the rings between the bride and groom three times.
Rings have been used since ancient times as symbols of the promise for marriage and are frequently encountered in the Old Testament. Apart from been symbols of the bond between the couple, they are also symbols of authority and honour. In the ancient times, by giving her a ring, the man gave his wife the authority to govern within his household. Authority and honour, are also manifested in the prodigal son's story where the father welcomes back his son and orders for a ring to be placed on his right hand as a sign of his acceptance of him as a free man and not as a servant. The exchange of rings symbolizes the couple's dependence on each other and the love they will be sharing from now on, as well as their commitment to remain faithful to each other.
B. THE SACRAMENT OF THE CROWNING
The office of the crowning is the holy matrimony service itself. This is the office during which we pray for our Lord Jesus Christ to be present at the ceremony Himself and bless the union of the couple.
THE WHITE COLOUR OF THE WEDDING GOWN
The bride, enters the church dressed up like a princess in white. The white colour of her wedding gown symbolizes the purity of her soul and body. On his side, the groom offers his own purity to the bride. Having being blessed by the Grace of God in the sacrament of matrimony, they will now proceed from the state of the ascesis of virginity to the state of the ascesis of love within marriage.
Within the Orthodox tradition, the lighting of candles during prayer, symbolizes the light of Jesus Christ, which enlightens and sanctifies "every man, who comes into the world" (John 1:9). It also stands as a reminder of the flames of Pentecost.
The candles are lit during the service and they lead the procession out of the Church, symbolizing the light of Christ, which the newly weds received through the sacrament, and which will enlighten their path in their new life together.
THE BEST MAN AND BRIDESMAID
They are the representatives of the people of God, the Church. They stand as witnesses to the promise of love and devotion between the new couple. The best man and bridesmaid, surround the newly weds with their love, and offer their prayers for the blessing of this marriage. They also promise to stand by them and always support them.
THE JOINING OF THE RIGHT HANDS
At some point during the service, the priest praying that the two may be united together "in oneness of mind" and crowned with wedlock into one flesh...", joins symbolically the right hands of the couple. The hands are kept joined together throughout the service, pointing to the eternal unity of the couple in the eyes of God.
From this moment on, they are joined in harmony both in a spiritual as well as a physical way.
The crowns are royal symbols. With the sacrament of marriage a new kingdom is created. The groom and bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own kingdom, their own home and family.
The priest, after having blessed the crowns over the gospel book, makes the sign of the cross over their heads invoking God Himself to crown them with glory and honour as king and queen in their new small kingdom, where they should govern with prudence, wisdom and justice.
The wedding crowns also remind us of the crowns of the martyrs of the Christian faith, emphasizing the dimension of sacrifice and martyrdom required in the Christian life and marriage in order for the spouses to reach perfection (theosis).
THE READING OF THE EPISTLE
The Epistle reading is from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians (5:20-33). In this, we have a summary of the theology of the Church on marriage. This is essentially, the mutuality of love between husband and wife. St. Paul explains that, on the one hand, the man should love and protect his wife just like himself, having the love and self-sacrifice of Christ for the church as prototype. On the other hand, the woman should love and respect her husband, just like the Church responds to the love of Christ.
In this way, they will be able to rejoice in everything, always!
THE READING OF THE GOSPEL
The Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of John. It is an account of the first miracle of the Lord at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. There, Jesus converted the water into wine so that people would drink and celebrate marriage. With His presence, He blessed the institution of marriage and through his miracle. He emphasized that the human "wine" is not enough.
The Lord's blessing is also required. So, Jesus blesses where He is invited. He blesses the wine of love and happiness so that it may never to run out.
THE BREAD AND THE COMMON CUP
The bread and the common cup offered to the couple during the service are remnants from the time when marriage was blessed within the Divine Liturgy and the couple participated in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Communion. Now, that the marriage service is held outside the Divine Liturgy, the bread and the common cup are no longer the Body and Blood of Christ, but remind us symbolically that marriage finds its true meaning within the Holy Eucharist.
From ancient times, bread and wine were considered as basic elements of life. The bread nurtures the body and the wine makes the heart rejoice. The newlyweds share symbolically for the first time from the same loaf of bread and drink wine from the same cup of life in order to seal in this way their love. Their participation in the common cup and bread also symbolizes that from now on they will be sharing everything in life, both the joys as well as the sorrows, and they will be lifting each other's burdens. From now on, none of them is alone but they have the other next to them. The two have become one.
By retaining the elements of bread and wine within the sacrament of marriage, the Church wants to remind the newlyweds that they should be joining together frequently to Christ's Body in the Divine Liturgy through their participation in Holy Communion in order to sanctify themselves.
THE CEREMONIAL WALK
The joyful service of Holy Matrimony is completed with a ceremonial walk. The priest, chanting the good news of the fulfilment of the prophesy of Isaiah through the birth of Christ, leads the bridegroom in a circular walk around the table on which is placed the Gospel, the Word of God. The new husband and wife are taking their first steps together led by the Church, which is represented by the priest.
The circle symbolizes perfection and the circular walk eternity. The Church leads the newlyweds toward eternal life and perfection. They are asked to always walk with Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, born of a virgin, at the centre of their lives. They are asked to make Christ the pillar of strength and the centre of their family. In this way only will they be able to stand firmly in the storm of life and attain the goal of "theosis". Through the second hymn sung at this time, we ask the Holy Martyrs of the Church to intercede for the couple, thus pointing out again the aspect of martyrdom associated with the Christian life and marriage, but also the promise of the final crowning of the victors by God. In the third hymn, we offer praise to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the pride of the Apostles and the rejoicing of the Martyrs. It is for the sake of Jesus Christ that we accept the martyrdom of the loving coexistence in marriage, confessing at the same time the God of one essence who exists in Trinity in a perfect loving relationship.
THE PRESENCE OF OTHER CHRISTIANS
The congregation of the Church participates in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony with their presence and their prayers. Our prayer is the most important reason for which we have been invited to the ceremony.
We must all pray along with the couple that Jesus may be present at this marriage, as he was also present at the one in Cana of Galilee. Just like then, so also now, we ask him to bless this marriage and join these two people in an eternal bond of love.
"Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. “
From the "Song of Solomon" (Chapter 8, 6-7)