In 2019, I had the chance to visit the ancient city of Cappadocia during a recent trip with my wife to Turkey. There you will find the remnants of monastic, anchorite community dwellings, which began to form as instructed by the famed St. Basil the Great (330–379, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia), one of the three “Cappadocian Fathers” as they are called (including also his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa [c. 335 – c. 395], and St. Gregory of Nazianzus [329–389]).Continue reading
It is one thing to teach about Christian history, and it’s a entirely different experience when you actually behold the subject of your lesson right in front of you. And that’s the experience I had when I visited the British Library and saw on display several amazing biblical historical texts, dating as far back as c. 200 AD (only about 150 years after the last New Testament writing).
The other day in Sunday school, as I was discussing a phrase that the early Fathers often spoke—”There is no salvation outside the Church”—and also spoke about the need to strive for righteousness so we can be ready on judgment day, someone asked: “What is the role of the blood of Jesus in all of this?” “Where is grace?”
“It goes without saying,” I said, “that grace of Christ’s death and redeeming blood is the foundation of salvation.”
But they challenged that assumption and responded: “In the Orthodox Church, it is not spoken of enough.” Is that a fair statement, do you think?
As I was preparing this post, a friend of mine reached out to me because he was challenged with the same type of concern brought forward by some Orthodox Christians, that somehow the Orthodox Church is undermining grace when we emphasize the fact that “works” (being righteous) is necessary for salvation.
I think these questions and challenges often stem from the extent to which Evangelicals and other similar non-Orthodox Christian denominations emphasize “nothing but the blood of Jesus” (as the song goes) and “justification by faith in Christ” as being all that is needed to reach heaven, while excluding the need for the Church and righteousness, although Scriptures teach otherwise. And so, when we Orthodox are continually exposed to this message with such a singular focus on the issue of salvation, many are persuaded that maybe they are right: we are justified to enter heaven by faith in Christ, and that’s all we need.
Tell me, where is St. Mary buried? If you know anything about the ancient Apostolic Churches, you’ll know that they love to pay respect to the relics of heroes of the faith, “of whom the world was not worthy” (in the words of St. Paul [Hebrews 11:38]). You would think that with all the honor and adoration given to St. Mary, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches would be lining up in droves to get a glimpse of her bodily remains! Well, the answer to “where is St. Mary buried” explains why we celebrate her in August (15th in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, 22nd in the Coptic Church).
The answer is: Continue reading
The other day Suzy and I had the opportunity to meet a lovely young lady who asked us: “What are the main differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy?” (paraphrase). Talk about a hefty undertaking!
“Where do I begin,” I thought out loud.
One of the biggest differences is that the Orthodox turn to a slew of Christian leaders over the past nearly 2,000 years to understand the faith, so there is a wealth of depth that has accumulated over time, that is unfortunately overlooked by many Christians today.
To show her what is lost by not having the benefit of thousands years of Christian teaching, I asked her a question that I’ve asked non-Orthodox Christians for years, and I have yet to ever receive the right answer. And when they realize what it is I’m asking, and the answer they are giving, their intrigue is always peaked as they realize something is missing regarding an integral aspect of their understanding of salvation.
Here’s the question:
“Where did good people in the Old Testament go after they died, before Christ’s manifestation in the flesh and the salvation He accomplished for us?”
People like: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Solomon, Levi, Moses, Jonah? Adam? Eve? Where did they go when they died?
The answer I usually get:
An expounder of false teachings, a man named Atef Aziz, who was excommunicated and whose teachings were formally condemned by the Church of Alexandria’s Holy Synod of bishops in 2002, has recently emerged particularly in the United States of America and has gained some ground and following in the hearts of some. On June 1, 2016 many Copts (by way of CopticWorld.org) and others received a communication from the bishops of North America warning Copts not to have anything to do with Atef Aziz (who has changed his name several times) or his followers or teachings, or otherwise be subject to suspension and possible excommunication. (To learn more about this heresy and recent controversies related to him, see the end of this post). (I got wind of this initially when I, as many others, heard the news of a beloved priest who was originally implicated with Atef Aziz’s teachings but has (as I understand it) since clarified to the Coptic pope his position and remains accepted within the flock.)
Recently, through a mutual acquaintance (Fr. Anthony Messeh), I was introduced to Francella Brown when she planned a trip to Atlanta to visit the St. Mary & St. Demiana Convent. In spite of a very short time knowing her, it’s hard not to immediately embrace her infectious personality, and I regard her as a very dear friend. Of course, after confirming she was a convert to Orthodoxy, I had to ask her about her background and what led her to wanting to come visit a Coptic convent. With her permission, I recorded her inspirational story so that I may share it with others, for the glory of God. I’m providing her story as a recorded podcast, as well as in written blog posts, in two parts.
Here is part one of her story:
I saw the meme image above and realized how truly astonishing it is that many Christian denominations treat religious images (e.g., statues, icons, pictures, crosses with Christ on it [a.k.a crucifixes], and even sometimes a simple cross) as being something absolutely heretical and unacceptable in God’s eyes.
Unfortunately, while most of them seem to understand the value and harmless character of religious imagery during the Christmas season, once it ends its back to the passionate decree: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exodus 20:4).