"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday 30 January 2012


Understanding Pope Benedict XVI on the Liturgy
Published Tuesday, August 31, 2010 A.D. | By Christopher Blosser
Assessing Benedict’s views of the liturgy

In “Where Truth and Beauty Meet”: Understanding Benedict (The Tablet August 14, 2010) – Eamon Duffy,  Professor of the History of Christianity, and Fellow and Director of Studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, aptly summarizes Pope Benedict’s view of the liturgy and his calls for reform

[Pope Benedict] believes that behind many celebrations of the new liturgy lie a raft of disastrous theological, cultural, sociological and aesthetic assumptions, linked to the unsettled time in which the liturgical reforms were carried out. In particular, he believes that twentieth-century theologies of the Eucharist place far too much emphasis on the notion that the fundamental form of the Eucharist is that of a meal, at the cost of underplaying the cosmic, redemptive, and sacrificial character of the Mass.

The Pope, of course, himself calls the Mass the “Feast of Faith”, “the Banquet of the reconciled”. Nevertheless Calvary and the empty tomb, rather than the Upper Room, are for him the proper symbolic locations of Christian liturgy. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist has to be evident in the manner of its celebration, and the failure to embody this adequately in the actual performance of the new liturgy seems to him one of the central problems of the post-conciliar reforms. …

In his view, the liturgy is meant to still and calm human activity, to allow God to be God, to quiet our chatter in favour of attention to the Word of God and in adoration and communion with the self-gift of the Word incarnate.

The call for active participation and instant accessibility seem to him to have dumbed down the mystery we celebrate, and left us with a banal inadequate language (and music) of prayer. The “active participation” in the liturgy for which Vatican II called, he argues, emphatically does not mean participation in many acts. Rather, it means a deeper entry by everyone present into the one great action of the liturgy, its only real action, which is Christ’s self-giving on the Cross. For Ratzinger we can best enter into the action of the Mass by a recollected silence [emphasis mine - Chris], and by traditional gestures of self-offering and adoration – the Sign of the Cross, folded hands, reverent kneeling. [...]

For the Pope … liturgical practice since the Council has taken a wrong turn, aesthetically impoverished, creating a rupture in the continuity of Catholic worship, and reflecting and even fostering a defective understanding of the Divine and our relationship to it.

Apropos is Ratzinger’s strong criticism of certain forms of contemporary music and dance, which take on the character of ‘performance’; the very spirit of which runs counter to that of authentic liturgy.

According to Professor Duffy, Benedict’s 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, permitting the free celebration of the Tridentine liturgy, “was intended both to repair that rupture and to issue a call to the recovery of the theological, spiritual and cultural values that he sees as underlying the old Mass.”

Criticism of the Novus Ordo – Can one go too far?

In a recent column, Dr. Jeff Mirus criticizes those who he believes go to the extreme in opposing and denigrating the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, claiming that they are simply following the lead and writings of Cardinal Ratzinger (“The Mind of the Church on the Novus Ordo ” Catholic Culture. August 13, 2010):

I want to emphasize that he expressed these concerns in scholarly work, and that, taken in context, it is always clear that Ratzinger as a cardinal was not ill-disposed toward the Novus Ordo. Rather, he was interested in improvements which might be made (no liturgy is perfect) and, in particular, he was opposed to the free-wheeling manner in which some ignored the rubrics when saying Mass.

Dr. Mirus reminds us that “it is absolutely critical to note that the mind of the Church or even of the Pope himself cannot be determined by looking at the writings of a future pope before he became pope,” and that “while in office, Pope Benedict XVI has made his approval of the Novus Ordo clear”:

[Pope Benedict XVI] has also made clear that his serious criticisms do not apply to the rite itself but to the false interpretation of the Missal of Paul VI as something that requires constant experimentation and innovation, as if priests are to superimpose their own improvisations on the official liturgy and, in so doing, frequently substitute the banal for the sublime.

Benedict made these points in explaining his decision to widen the use of the Tridentine Mass (the Missal of Pope John XXIII) in his 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum. Readers will recall that the Pope issued an accompanying Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the Publication of Summorum Pontificum to explain his decision. In that letter he recounted why he wanted to expand the use of what he now called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and, in so doing, he deliberately responded to the fear that this expansion was somehow intended to demote the Novus Ordo or undermine the Second Vatican Council’s call for liturgical reform.

Dr. Mirus’ caution is a welcome one and worth reading in full, as he examines the commentary of Benedict on the liturgy as Pope — which may be contrasted with, and qualify — the more acerbic and oft-cited criticisms of Ratzinger the Cardinal. Dr. Mirus concludes with some advice (and admonishment) to critics of the Novus Ordo:

Admit your personal preference for the Extraordinary Form if you like; true Catholics should not criticize you for it, even if they prefer the Ordinary Form. Combat abuses of the Novus Ordo where you can; the Church will thank you for that. But do not denigrate the rite itself, as if it is something unworthy or profane, and never imply that the billion Catholics who use and have come to love it are somehow inferior in their Faith.

It is possible to debate the merits and demerits of any liturgy, but it is not possible to cite either Pope Benedict XVI or the mind of the Church as being anything less than in favor of the prescribed use of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite. Finally, no approved liturgy of the Church should ever be treated with disrespect, nor its adherents stigmatized if they are not disobedient, for it is a sacred thing.

Understanding Summorum Pontificum

Speaking of Summorum Pontificum, Ignatius Press has published a new book, The Old Mass and the New: Explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI, by Bishop Marc Aillet:

In July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI released his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, allowing for unprecedented freedom for priests to celebrate the so-called Tridentine Mass, now referred to as the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass, as opposed to the Mass of Paul VI, or the “Ordinary Form”. In this new book by French bishop Marc Aillet, the historical and cultural impetus for the motu proprio as well as the rich tradition of liturgical reform are explored.

As a priest of the Community of Saint Martin, which celebrates the Mass of Paul VI in Latin, Bishop Aillet has been committed to the promotion of liturgical reform that is rooted in tradition for many years. As bishop of the diocese of Bayonne in France, he has been instrumental in reintroducing the Extraordinary Form in his diocese.

A work that is both easy to understand and deeply rich, The Old Mass and the New gives an overview of the history and theology of the liturgy. At the same time, Bishop Aillet beckons us to look ahead to move beyond the crisis in the liturgy to a reconciliation of these two forms of the Latin rite. An excellent introduction for those interested in the theological foundations of the liturgy.

Related Reading

The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. ( Ignatius Press (September 2000).
by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. | by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy by Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | Ignatius Insight April 28, 2005
On Saying the Tridentine Mass | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. on Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum | August 16, 2007
The Mass of Vatican II, by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.

Sunday 29 January 2012


(for source, click on this titleA Catholic View of Orthodoxy)

by Aidan Nichols OP

In this article I attempt an overview in four parts. First, I shall discuss why Catholics should not only show some ecumenical concern for Orthodoxy but also treat the Orthodox as their privileged or primary ecumenical partner.

Secondly, I shall ask why the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches occurred, focussing as it finally did on four historic 'dividing issues'.

Thirdly, I shall evaluate the present state of Catholic-Orthodox relations, with particular reference to the problem of the 'Uniate' or Eastern Catholic churches.

Fourthly and finally, having been highly sympathetic and complimentary to the Orthodox throughout, I shall end by saying what, in my judgment, is wrong with the Orthodox Church and why it needs Catholicism for (humanly speaking) its own salvation.

Part 1

First, then, why should Catholics take the Orthodox as not only an ecumenical partner but the ecumenical partner par excellence? There are three kinds of reasons: historical, theological and practical - of which in most discussion only the historical and theological are mentioned since the third sort ? what I term the 'practical' takes us into areas of potential controversy among Western Catholics themselves.

The historical reasons for giving preference to Orthodoxy over all other separated communions turn on the fact that the schism between the Roman church and the ancient Chalcedonian churches of the East is the most tragic and burdensome of the splits in historic Christendom if we take up a universal rather than merely regional, perspective.

Though segments of the Church of the Fathers were lost to the Great Church through the departure from Catholic unity of the Assyrian (Nestorian) and Oriental Orthodox (Monophysite) churches after the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) respectively, Christians representing the two principal cultures of the Mediterranean basin where the Gospel had its greatest flowering - the Greek and the Latin - lived in peace and unity with each other, despite occasional stirrings and some local difficulties right up until the end of the patristic epoch.

That epoch came to its climax with the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, in 787, the last Council Catholics and Orthodox have in common, and the Council which, in its teaching on. the icon, and notably on the icon of Christ, brought to a triumphant close the series of conciliar clarifications of the Christological faith of the Church which had opened with Nicaea I in 325.

The iconography, liturgical life, Creeds and dogmatic believing of the ancient Church come down to us in forms at once Eastern and Western; and it was this rich unity of patristic culture, expressing as it did the faith of the apostolic community, which was shattered by the schism between Catholics and Orthodox, never (so far) to be repaired.

And let me say at this point that Church history provides exceedingly few examples of historic schisms overcome, so if history is to be our teacher we have no grounds for confidence or optimism that this most catastrophic of all schisms will be undone. 'Catastrophic' because, historically, as the present pope has pointed out, taking up a metaphor suggested by a French ecclesiologist, the late Cardinal Yves Congar: each Church, West and East, henceforth could only breathe with one lung.

No Church could now lay claim to the total cultural patrimony of both Eastern and Western Chalcedonianism - that is, the christologically and therefore triadologically and soteriologically correct understanding of the Gospel. The result of the consequent rivalry and conflict was the creation of an invisible line down the middle of Europe. And what the historic onsequences of that were we know well enough from the situation of the former Yugoslavia today.

After the historical, the theological. The second reason for giving priority to ecumenical relations with the Orthodox is theological. If the main point of ecumenism, or work for the restoration of the Church's full unity, were simply to redress historic wrongs and defuse historically generated causes of conflict, then we might suppose that we should be equally - or perhaps even more - interested in addressing the CatholicProtestant divide.

After all, there have been no actual wars of religion - simply as such - between Catholics and Orthodox, unlike those between Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth century France or the seventeenth century Holy Roman Empire. But theologically there cannot be any doubt that the Catholic Church must accord greater importance to dialogue with the Orthodox than to conversations with any Protestant body.

For the Orthodox churches are churches in the apostolic succession; they are bearers of the apostolic Tradition, witnesses to apostolic faith, worship and order - even though they are also, and at the same time, unhappily sundered from the prima sedes, the first see.

Their Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers, their liturgical texts and practices, their iconographic tradition, these remain loci theologici - authoritative sources - to which the Catholic theologian can and must turn in his or her intellectual construal of Catholic Christianity. And that cannot possibly be said of the monuments of Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed or any other kind of Protestantism.

To put the same point in another way: the separated Western communities have Christian traditions - in the plural, with a small 't' - which may well be worthy of the Catholic theologian's interest and respect. But only the Orthodox are, along with the Catholic Church, bearers of Holy Tradition - in the singular, with a capital 'T', that is, of the Gospel in its plenary organic transmission through the entirety of the life - credal, doxological, ethical - of Christ's Church.

There is for Catholics, therefore, a theological imperative to restore unity with the Orthodox which is lacking in our attitude to Protestantism - though I should not be misinterpreted as saying that there is no theological basis for the impulse to Catholic-Protestant rapprochement for we have it in the prayer of our Lord himself at the Great Supper, 'that they all may be one'.

I am emphasising the greater priority we should give to relations with the Orthodox because I do not believe the optimistic statement of many professional ecumenists to the effect that all bilateral dialogues - all negotiations with individual separated communions - feed into each other in a positive and unproblematic way.

It would be nice to think that a step towards one separated group of Christians never meant a step away from another one, but such a pious claim does not become more credible with the frequency of its repeating. The issue of the ordination of women, to take but one particularly clear example, is evidently a topic where to move closer to world Protestantism is to move further from global Orthodoxy - and vice versa.

This brings me to my third reason for advocating ecumenical rapport with Orthodoxy: its practical advantages. At the present time, the Catholic Church, in many parts of the world, is undergoing one of the most serious crises in its history, a crisis resulting from a disorienting encounter with secular culture and compounded by a failure of Christian discernment on the part of many people over the last quarter century - from the highest office - holders to the ordinary faithful.

This crisis touches many aspects of Church life but notably theology and catechesis, liturgy and spirituality, Religious life and Christian ethics at large. Orthodoxy is well placed to stabilise Catholicism in most if not all of these areas.

Were we to ask in a simply empirical or phenomenological frame of mind just what the Orthodox Church is like, we could describe it as a dogmatic Church, a liturgical Church, a contemplative Church, and a monastic Church - and in all these respects it furnishes a helpful counter-balance to certain features of much western Catholicism today.

Firstly, then, Orthodoxy is a dogmatic Church. It lives from out of the fulness of the truth impressed by the Spirit on the minds of the apostles at the first Pentecost, a fulness which transformed their awareness and made possible that specifically Christian kind of thinking we call dogmatic thought.

The Holy Trinity, the God-man, the Mother of God and the saints, the Church as the mystery of the Kingdom expressed in a common life on earth, the sacraments as means to humanity's deification - our participation in the uncreated life of God himself: these are the truths among which the Orthodox live, move and have their being.

Orthodox theology in all its forms is a call to the renewal of our minds in Christ, something which finds its measure not in pure reason or secular culture but in the apostolic preaching attested to by the holy Fathers, in accord with the principal dogmata of faith as summed up in the Ecumenical Councils of the Church.[1]

Secondly, Orthodoxy is a liturgical Church. It is a Church for which the Liturgy provides a total ambience expressed in poetry, music and iconography, text and gesture, and where the touchstone of the liturgical life is not the capacity of liturgy to express contemporary concerns (legitimate though these may be in their own context), but, rather, the ability of the Liturgy to act as a vehicle of the Kingdom, our anticipated entry, even here and now, into the divine life.

Thirdly, Orthodoxy is a contemplative Church. Though certainly not ignoring the calls of missionary activity and practical charity, essential to the Gospel and the Gospel community as these are, the Orthodox lay their primary emphasis on the life of prayer as the absolutely necessary condition of all Christianity worth the name.

In the tradition of the desert fathers, and of such great theologian-mystics as the Cappadoeian fathers, St Maximus and St Gregory Palamas, encapsulated as these contributions are in that anthology of Eastern Christian spirituality the Philokalia, Orthodoxy gives testimony to the primacy of what the Saviour himself called the first and greatest commandment, to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, for it is in the light of this commandment with its appeal for a God-centred process of personal conversion and sanctification - that all our efforts to live out its companion commandment (to love our neighbour as ourself) must be guided.

And fourthly, Orthodoxy is a monastic Church, a Church with a monastic heart where the monasteries provide the spiritual fathers of the bishops, the counsellors of the laity and the example of a Christian maximalism. A Church without a flourishing monasticism, without the lived 'martyrdom' of an asceticism inspired by the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's Cross and Resurrection, could hardly be a Church according to the mind of the Christ of the Gospels, for monasticism, of all Christian life ways, is the one which most clearly and publicly leaves all things behind for the sake of the Kingdom.

Practically speaking, then, the re-entry into Catholic unity of this dogmatic, liturgical, contemplative and monastic Church could only have the effect of steadying and strengthening those aspects of Western Catholicism which today are most under threat by the corrosives of secularism and theological liberalism.

Part 2

I turn now to the actual genesis of the schism from a Catholic standpoint, along with some account - necessarily summary and unadorned - of the four historic 'dividing issues': those disputed questions which historians can show to have most worried many Easterners when looking at developments in the Latin church, and which constituted the agenda of the reunion Councils, Lyons II in 1274 and Florence in 1439.

This is of course an enormous subject which would require an account of most of Church history in the first millenium to do it justice. Here I can only give a brief indication and refer those interested in more historical detail - and certainly there is no shortage of fascinating material available, to my Rome and the Eastern Churches. A Study in Schism [2]

The development of the schism between Greek East and Latin West was owed essentially to three factors. The first of these is the increasing cultural distance, and so alienation, suspicion and eventually hostility, which counterposed, one against the other, the Byzantine and Latin halves of the Mediterranean basin, as also tracts of Europe further afield - especially Russia on the one hand, the Germanic world on the other, evangelised as these had been from, respectively, Greek and Roman mother-churches.

As a common language, a common political framework, a common social structure, and a common theological universe became, in the late patristic and early mediaeval periods, a thing of the past, Eastern and Western Christians ceased to feel themselves parts of one Commonwealth - something given especially brutal expression in the sack of Constantinople by the crusader host in 1204.

The second principal factor in the making of the schism was the rivalry between the Byzantine emperors and the Roman popes considered as officers of the Christian commonwealth responsible for its overall direction and for the adjustment of organisational problems or clashes within it. Constantine the Great not only inherited the imperial ideology of the supreme rulers of the Roman res publica, but also permitted - perhaps encouraged - the transformation of this ideology into a fullyfledged imperial theology by such figures as Eusebius of Caesarea.[3]

The Christian emperor, though pretending to no power to determine doctrine, did claim an overall right of supervision for the public, external life of the churches. But this was exactly the position which those in the West who supported the developing theology of the unique 'Petrine' ministry of the Roman bishop wished to give the pope. In the first millenium there was no generally agreed ecclesiology of the Roman primacy. There are Latins who took a minimalist view of it, Greeks who took a maximalist.

But in general of course Westerners came to favour a high theology of the Roman church and bishop, Easterners to regard such a theological doctrine with foreboding as a departure from the ethos of the Pentarchy, the idea of the necessary concord of the five patriarchs Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem - which by the eighth century at least must count as the normal Byzantine picture of what specifically episcopal leadership entailed.

The third and last factor in the turning of tensions into an actual break was the emergence of the four disputed questions which served as lenses concentrating the heat given off in these chronic or structural tensions until it became explosive.

In order of their historic emergence, these questions or topics are: the Filioque, the nature of the Roman primacy, the use of azymes or unleavened bread in the Western Mass, and the doctrine of Purgatory, and especially the symbolisation of the intermediate state as a purifying fire.

On all these points, even that of azymes which might be thought an issue singularly unprofitable or at least peripheral to Christian thought, theological ideas of great interest were brought forward on both sides, though probably only the Filioque and the primacy question would be regarded as 'dividing' issues today.

As regards the Filioque - the procession of the Holy Spirit, according to the amended Latin version of the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople, not only from the Father but from the Son as well, I believe that, could we count on a modicum of good will, we might well be able, without damage to the doctrinal integrity of our two communions, to resolve this technical issue in Trinitarian theology: technical, yet also crucial for how we see the Spirit in relation to the Son, and so their respective economies in their interaction in our lives. The matter of the Roman primacy is less easily disposed of, and I will return to it at the end of my presentation.

So much - very schematically, and inadequately, - on the historic genesis of the schism and its quartet of doctrinal conflagration points. The operation of the three factors - the mutual cultural estrangement, the conflicting expectations for the ro1es of emperor and pope, and the specifically theological issues, meant that by the 1450's the Byzantine church, in rejecting the Florentine union of 1439, had definitely broken communion with the Roman see, a situation gradually extended in a rather uneven way to the rest of the Orthodox world in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there being some examples of communicatio in sacris - for instance of the use of Latin clergy, chiefly Jesuits, to preach and hear the confessions of the Greek Orthodox faithful - even as late as the first half of the eighteenth century in some places.

Part 3

I come now to the third part of my paper which concerns the present state of Catholic-Orthodox relations. After a preparatory phase of initial contacts known as the 'dialogue of charity', the Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue was officially established in 1979, with the 'common declaration' made by the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios 1 and Pope John Paul II at the conclusion of the tatter's visit to the Phanar, the patriarchal seat in Istanbul, in November of that year.

At that juncture the situation between Orthodox and Catholics was from one point of view more hopeful than at, say, the time of the Council of Florence, but from another viewpoint it was less hopeful. It was more hopeful in that the participation of the Orthodox in the Ecumenical Movement from the 1920's onwards had accustomed them to the idea of work for Christian unity - though a strong and vociferous minority have always expressed reservations about this policy as likely to confirm what Catholics would call 'indifferentism'.

If at its origins the Ecumenical Movement was largely a pan-Protestant conception, the entry of the Orthodox into its ranks pressed that Movement, nonetheless, in a direction which made it possible for the Catholic Church to join it, nearly forty years later, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. The Orthodox had this salutary effect in that their voices - combined with those of neo-patristically minded Anglicans (a species more common then than now) - succeeded in dispelling the sense that ecumenism was basically a movement preparing a purely moral and sentimental - rather than doctrinal and sacramental - union of Christians.

Along these broad lines, then, the Orthodox churches had functioned highly constructively within the Ecumenical Movement up to the 1980's, though whether they can continue to do so in the context of the World Council of Churches in the future - given the capture of the latter by a largely secular agenda - remains to be seen.

To this glowing account of Orthodox ecumenism one important caveat must be appended. It is possible to overrate the theological component of the role of Orthodoxy in the twentieth century Ecumenical Movement by overlooking the fact that the desire of many Orthodox for greater contest with Western communions was in part a pragmatic and even political one.

With the collapse of the Russian Tsardom in 1917, that mighty protector of the Orthodox churches was no more, and Orthodox communities in hostile States like Bolshevik Russia or Kemalist Turkey, or in comparatively weak confessionally Orthodox States such as Bulgaria and Greece, needed the support of a still surviving Christian political conscience in such great Powers of the first half of this century as Britain and the United States.

This realistic caution about the motives of some Orthodox ecumenism brings me to the less hopeful features of the situation which surrounded the opening of official dialogue at the beginning of the 1980's.

In the more than five hundred years since the collapse of the Florentine Union, Orthodox and Catholics had had time to practise yet more polemics against each other, to coarsen their images of each other, and also to add (especially from the Orthodox side) new bones of doctrinal contention though in one case, the definition in 1870 of the universal jurisdiction and doctrinal infallibility of the Roman bishop, the dismay of the Orthodox was of course entirely predictable, as was pointed out by several Oriental Catholic bishops at the First Vatican Council.

We find for instance such influential Orthodox thinkers as the Greek lay theologian John Romanides attacking the Western doctrine of original sin as heretical, thus rendering the Latin Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception - Mary's original righteousness - superfluous if not nonsensical. Or again, and this would be a point that exercised those responsible for the official dialogue of the last fifteen years, some Orthodox now wished to regard the pastoral practice whereby many local churches in the Latin West delay the confirmation (or chrismation) of children till after their first Holy Communion as based on a gravely erroneous misjudgment in sacramental doctrine.

None of this, however, prevented the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church - to give it its mouthful of a title - from producing several (three, to be precise) very useful documents on the shared understanding (in the Great Church of which Orthodoxy and Catholicism are the two expressions) of the mystery of the Church herself, in her sacramental and especially eucharistic structure, seen in relation to the mystery of the triune God, the foundational reality of our faith. These statements are known by their place and date of origin: Munich 1982, Bari 1987, and Valamo (Finland) 1988.[4]

The shadow cast more recently was in 1979 only a cloud on the horizon, a cloud, as in Elijah's dealings with Ahab in the First Book of Kings, no bigger than a man's hand. And this is the threat posed to the dialogue by the re-invigoration of hitherto
communist-suppressed Uniate or Eastern Catholic churches, notably those of the Ukraine and Transylvania, in the course of the later 1980's and 1990's.

The existence of Byzantine-rite communities in union with the Holy See was already a major irritant to the Orthodox, even though some of these communities, for instance in Southern Italy and Sicily, had enjoyed an unbroken existence and were in no sense the result of prosyletism or political chicanery.

What the Orthodox quite naturally and rightly object to is Uniatism as a method of detaching Orthodox dioceses and parishes from their mother churches on a principle of divide et impera. Not all partial unions with the Byzantine Orthodox can be brought historically under this heading, for some, such as that with a portion of the Antiochene patriarchate which produced the present Melkite church, are principally the result of Eastern, not Western, initiative.

But that the pope (John Paul II) who presided over the beginnings of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue should also be a pope who played a major role in the destruction of Communism has certainly proved to be one of the ironies of Church history. The passing of Marxist-Leninist hegemony, the internal disintegration of the Soviet Union, the copycat rebellions against a Nationalist Communist nomenktatura in such countries as Rumania, made possible the re-emergence of Oriental Catholic churches once forcibly re-united with the Orthodox by Stalin's Comintern in the aftermath of World War II.

The process has been sufficient to place in jeopardy the project of Catholic-Orthodox reunion which is the one goal of ecclesiastical as distinct from merely public policy most dear to the heart of this extraordinary Slav bishop of Rome.

Thus in June 1990 at the plenary meeting of the Commission at Freising in Bavaria, the Orthodox refused to continue with the official agenda in discussing 'Conciliarity and Authority: the Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Stricture of the Church' until a document could be agreed on the Byzantine-rite Catholic churches, a document actually produced at Balamand in the Lebanon in 1993 and which has, regrettably, failed to satisfy many Orthodox whilst angering many Oriental Catholics.[5]

Part 4

This brings me to the fourth and concluding section of my 'overview' where, as mentioned at the outset, I will single out for, I hope, charitable and eirenic comment one negative aspect of Orthodoxy where, in my opinion, the Orthodox need Catholic communion just as - for quite different reasons already outlined - Catholics need (at this time in history above all) the Orthodox Church.

The animosity, indeed the barely contained fury, with which many Orthodox react to the issue of Uniatism is hardly explicable.except in terms of a widespread and not readily defensible Orthodox feeling about the relation between the nation and the Church.

There must be, after all, some factor of social psychology or corporate ideology which complicates this issue. Bear in mind that the Orthodox have felt no difficulty this century in creating forms of Western-rite Orthodoxy, for example in France under the aegis of the Rumanian patriarchate or more recently in the United States under the jurisdiction of an exarch of the patriarch of Antioch. And what are these entities if not Orthodox Uniatism - to which the Catholic Church has, however, made no objection.

Nor do such non-Chalcedonian churches as the Assyrians (in Iraq and Iran), the Jacobites (in Syria) or the Syro-Malabar Christians of South India react in this way to the notion that some of their communities may be in peace and communion with the elder Rome. A partial - and significant - exception among such non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches is the Copts of Egypt - precisely because of the notion that the Coptic patriarch is father of the whole Coptic nation. In other words, what we may call a political factor - giving the word 'political' its broadest possible meaning - has entered in.

It is the close link between Church and national consciousness, patriotic consciousness, which renders Uniatism so totally unacceptable in such countries as Greece and Rumania, and it is this phenomenon of Orthodox nationalism which I find the least attractive feature of Orthodoxy today.

An extreme example is the widespread philosophy in the Church of Serbia which goes by the name of the mediaeval royal Serbian saint Sava - hence Svetosavlje, 'Saint-Sava-sm'. The creation of the influential bishop Nikolay Velimirovich, who died in 1956, it argues that the Serbian people are, by their history of martyrdom, an elect nation, even among the Orthodox, a unique bearer of salvific suffering, an incomparably holy people, and counterposes them in particular to their Western neighbours who are merely pseudo-Christians, believers in humanity without divinity.[6]

And if the origins of such Orthodox attitudes lie in the attempts of nineteenth century nationalists to mobilise the political potential of Orthodox peasantries against both Islamic and Catholic rulers, these forces, which I would not hesitate to call profoundly unChristian, can turn even against the interests of Orthodoxy itself - as we are seeing today in the embarrassing campaign on the Holy Mountain Athos, to dislodge non-Greek monks and discourage non-Greek pilgrims, quite against the genius of the Athonite monastic republic which, historically, is a living testimony to Orthodox interethnicity, Orthodox internationalism.

To a Catholic mind, the Church of Pentecost is a Church of all nations in the sense of ecclesia ex gentibus, a Church taken from all nations, gathering them - with, to be sure, their own human and spiritual gifts- into a universal community in the image of the divine Triunity where the difference between Father, Son and Spirit only subserves their relations of communion.

The Church of Pentecost is not an ecctesia in gentibus, a Church distributed among the nations in the sense of parcelled out among them, accommodating herself completely to their structures and leaving their sense of 
autonomous identity undisturbed.

Speaking as someone brought up in a national Church, the Church of England, though I am happy to consider myself perfectly English, I also regard it as a blessing of catholicity to be freed from particularism into the more spacious life of a Church raised up to be an ensign for all nations, a Church where those of every race, colour and culture can feel at home, in the Father's house.

It is in this final perspective that one should consider the role of the Roman bishop as a 'universal primate' in the service of the global communion of the churches. One of the most loved titles of the Western Middle Ages for the Roman bishop was universalis papa, and while one would nor wish to retrieve all aspects of Latin ecclesiology in the high mediaeval period, to a Catholic Christian the universal communion of the local churches in their multiple variety does need a father in the pope, just as much as the local church itself, with its varied congregations, ministries and activities, needs a father in the person of the bishop.

It is often said that such an ecclesiology of the papal office is irredeemably Western and Latin, and incapable of translation into Oriental terms. I believe this statement to be unjustified. Just as a patriarch, as regional primate, is responsible for the due functioning of the local churches of in
his region under their episcopal heads, so a universal primate is responsible for the operation of the entire episcopal taxis or order, and so for all the churches on a world?wide scale.

Needless to say, this office is meant for the upbuilding, not the destruction, of that episcopal order, founded ultimately as the latter is on the will of the Redeemer in establishing the apostolic mission, and further refined by Tradition in the institution of patriarchal and other primacies in this or that portion of the ecclesial whole. But at the same time, if the ministry of a first bishop is truly to meet the needs of the universal Church it will sometimes have to take decisions that are hard on some local community and unpopular with it.

Were the Orthodox and Catholic Churches to become one, some reform of the structure of the Roman primacy would nonetheless be necessary, especially at the level of the curia romana. The congregation for the Oriental Churches would become a secretariat at the service of the permanent apocrisaries (envoys) of the patriarchs and other primates.

The great majority of the other dicastsries would be re-defined as organs of the Western patriarch, rather than the supreme Pontiff. And yet no universal primacy that merely rubber-stamped the decisions of local or regional churches would be worth having; it would be appearance without reality.

Thus the pope as universal primate would need to retain: first, a doctrinal organ for the coordination of Church teaching, and secondly, some kind of 'apostolic secretaryship', replacing the present ill-named 'Secretariat of State', for the harmonisation of principles of pastoral care. To these could be added, thirdly, whichever of the 'new curial' bodies dealing with those outside the household of faith might be deemed to have proved their usefulness, and finally, a continuing 'Council for the Public Affairs of the Church', for the defence of the freedom of the churches (and of human rights) vis-à-vis State power.

The utility of the fourth of these to the Orthodox is obvious. As to the rest (of which only the first two are crucial in importance) they should function only on the rarest ocasions of 'crisis-management' as instruments of papal action in the Eastern churches. Normally, they should act, rather, as channels whereby impulses from the Eastern churches - impulses dogmatic, liturgical, contemplative, monastic in tenor -could reach via the pope the wider Church and world.

For this purpose the apocrisaries of the patriarchs, along with the prefects of the Western dicasteries, would need to constitute their governing committees, under papal presidency. It should go without saying that Oriental churches would naturally enjoy full parity with the Latin church throughout the world, and not simply in their homelands - the current Catholic practice. [7]

The Orthodox must ask themselves (as of course they do!) whether such instruments of universal communion (at once limiting and liberating) may not be worth the price. Or must the pleasures of particularity come first?

This paper was delivered at a meeting of Pro Scandiae Populis, on the theme of Catholic?Orthodox relations, at Turku (Aabo), Finland, on 21st April 1995. The section outlining a possible reform of the Roman curia in this context has been added by way of response to a tacit request for clarification from Bishop Ambrosius of Joensuu of the Orthodox Church of Finland.

1 Cf. A. Nichols, O. P., Light from the East. Authors and Themes in Orthodox Theology (London 1995).

2 Edinburgh 1992.

3 J.-M. Sansterre, 'Eusebe de Césarée et la naissance de la théorie "cesaropapiste"', Byzantion 42 (1972), pp. 131-195; 532-594.

4 Conveniently gathered together in P. McPartlan (ed.), One in 2000? Towards Catholic-Orthodox Unity (Middlegreen, Slough, 1993).

5 A communique published in its English form in One in Christ XXX 1 (1994), pp. 74-82.

6 See T. Bremer, Ekklesiale Struktur and Ekklesiologie in der Serbischen Orthodoxen Kirche im 19. and 20. Jahrhundert (Wiirzburg 1992).

7 A justifiable cause of anger among Oriental Catholics today: see T. E. Bird, 'The Vatican Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches Thirty Years Later', Sophia 21, 4 (1994), pp. 23-29.

Friday 27 January 2012

SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS (a tribute to Coptic Monasticism)

C O P | N E T

   From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Abba Ammonas  was asked, 'What  is the  "narrow and hard  way?" (mt.  7.14) He  replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this,  to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. THis is also the meaningof the sentence, "Lo,  we have left  everything and followed you." (Mt. 19.27)

It was said of  him that he  had a hollow  in his chest  channelled out by the ears which fell   from his eyes  all his  life  while he  sat  at his  manual work. When Abba Poemen learned  that he was  dead, he said weeping, 'Truly you are blessed, Abba Arsenius, for  you wept for  yourself in this world!  He who does not weep for himself here below  will weep eternally  hereafter; so it is impossible  not  to  weep,   either  voluntarily or  when   compelled  through suffering.'  [i.e. the latter suffering in hell]

It was also said of him (Abba Arsenius) that on Saturday evenings, pre- paring for the glory of Sunday, he would turn his back on the sun and stretch out his hands in prayer  towards the  heavens, till once   again the sun shone on  his
face. Then he would sit down.

   + + +

It was said of Abba Ammoes that when he went  to church, he  did not allow his disciple to walk beside him but onlly at a certain distance; and if the latter came to ask him about his thoughts, he would move away from himm as soon as he
had replied, saying  to  him,  'It  is  for fear that,  after edifying words, irrelevant conversation should slip in, that I do not keep you with me.'

It was said of Abba Ammoes that he had fifty measures of wheat for his use and had put them out in  the sun, Before   they were properly   dried off, he  saw something in  that place which  seemed to him to be  harmful so he said to his
servants, 'Let us go away  from here.' But  they were grieved at this.  Seeing their dismay he said to  them, 'Is it because of  the loaves that you are sad?  Truly,  I have seen monks fleeing,  leaving  their white-washed cells and also their  parchments, and they  did  not close the doors,  but  went leaving them

Abba Abraham told of a man  of Scetis who was a  scribe and did not eat bread.  A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man whose spirit was engaged in  contemplation, wrote, omitting  some phrases and  with no punctuation. The brother, taking the book and wishing to  punctuate it, noticed that words were missing. So he  said to the old man,  'Abba, there are some phrases  missing.'The old man said to him,  'Go, and practise first that  which is written, then come back and I will write the rest.'  [Scetis=Sheheet]

   + + +

There was in the Cells an old  man called Apollo.  If someone came to find him about doing a piece of work, he would set out joyfully, saying, 'I am going to work with Christ today,  for the salvation of my  soul, for that is the reward he gives.'

Abba Doulas, the  disciple  of Abba  Bessarion said, 'One   day when  we  were walking beside the sea I was thirstty and I said to Abba Bessarion, "Father, I am very  thirsty." He said a prayer  and said to  me,  "Drink some of  the sea water." The water proved sweet when I drank  some.  I even  poured some into a leather bottle for  fear of being thirsty later  on. Seeing this, the old  man asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, "Forgive  me, it is for fear of being  thirsty   later on."  Then  the old  man  said,  "God is here,   God is everywhere." '

A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, 'My thoughts trouble me, makingme put my sins aside,  and concern myself with my  brother's faults'.  The old man told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus (the monk), 'In his cell he wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to see the old man he asked him, "Father, why are you weeping?" "I am weeping  over my sins," the old  man answered him.  Then his disciple said, "You do not have any sins, Father."  The old man replied, "Truly, my child, ifI were allowed to see my sins, three or four  men would not  be enough to weep for them. "

   + + +

This is what Abba Daniel, the Pharanite, said, 'Our  Father abba Arsenius told us of an  inhabitant of Scetis, of notable  life and of  simple faith; through his  naivete he was  deceived and said,  "The  bread which  we  receive is not
really the body of Christ, but a symbol. Two old men having learnt that he had uttered this saying, knowing that he was outstanding  in his way of life, knew that he had not spoken through malice, but through simplicity. So they came to
find him and said, "Father, we have heard a proposition  contrary to the faith on the part of someone who says that the bread which we receivve is not really the body of  Christ, but a symbol." The  old man said,  "it is I who have said
that." Then  the  old men exhorted  him  saying, "Do not  hold  this position, Father, but hold one  in conformity with that  which  the catholic  Church has given us. We  believe,  for our part, that  the  bread itself is  the  body of Christ as in  the beginning, God formed man  in his image,  taking the dust of the earth, without anyone being able to say that  it iis not  the image of God, even though it  is not seen  to be so;  thus it is  with the bread of which he said that  it is his  body; and so we believe  that it is   really the body of Christ." The  old man said to them,  "As long as  I have not been persuaded by the thing itself, I shall not be fully convinced." So they  said, "Let us pray God about this myster throughout the whole  of this week  and we believe that
God will reveal it  to us." The old man  received this saying  with joy and he prayed in these words, "Lord, you know that it is not through malice that I do not believe and so that  I may not err through  ignorance, reveal this mystery to me, Lord Jesus Christ." The old men  returned to their  cells and they also prayed God,  saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, reveal  this mystery to the  old man,that he may believe and not lose his  reward." God heard  both the prayers. At the end of  the week they  came to church on Sunday  and sat all  three on the same mat, the old man in the middle. Then their  eyes were opened and when the bread was placed on the holy table, there  appeared as it  were a little child to these three   alone. And when  the priest  put  out his  hand to
break  the bread,  behold an  angel descended from heaven with  a  sword and poured the child's blood into  the chalice. When   the priest cut   the bread into  small pieces, the  angel also cut  the child  in pieces.  When    they drew near  to receive the  sacred elements the  old man  alone  received a morsel  of bloody flesh. Seeing  this he was afraid and  cried out, "Lord,   I believe that this bread is your flesh and this chalice  your blood." Immediately the flesh which
he held in his  hand became bread, according to  the  mystery and he  took it, giving thanks to God. Then  the old men  said to him,  "God knows human nature and that man cannot eat raw flesh and that is why he has changed his body into bread and his blood into  wine, for those who receive  it in faith. "Then  they gave thanks to God for the old man, because he had allowed him not to lose the reward of his labour. So   all three returned with joy   to their own cells.'

   + + +

It was said of Abba Helladius that he spent twenty years in the Cells, without ever raising his eyes to see the roof of the church.

(Abba Epiphanius) added, 'A man who receives something from another because of his poverty or his need  has therein his  reward, and  because he is  ashamed, when he repays it he  does so in  secret. But it is the  opposite for the Lord
God; he receives in secret, but  he repays in the presence  of the angels, the archangels and the righteous.'

It was said concerning Abba  Agathon that some monks came  to find him  having heard tell  of his great discernment.  Wanting to  see  if he would  lose his temper they  said  to him  'Aren't  you that   Agathon who is   said to  be  a fornicator and   a  proud man?'  'Yes,  it  is very true,'  he  answered. They resumed,  'Arn't you  that Agothon who   is always talking  nonsense?' 'I am."  Again they said 'Aren't you Agothon the heretic?' But at that he replied 'I am not a heretic.'  So  they asked him,  'Tell us why  you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last  insult.' He replied 'The first accusations I take to myself for that is  good for my soul. But  heresy is separation from God. Now I have no with  to be separated  from God.' At  this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

(Abba Evagrius) said; 'Take away temptations and no one will be saved.'

   + + +

An Egyptian brother came to see Abba Zeno in Syria, and accused himself to the old  man about  his temptations. Filled    with admiration, Zeno   said, ' The Egyptians hide the virtues they  possess and ceaselessly accuse themselves  of faults they do not have, while the Syrians  and Greeks pretend to have virtues they do not have, and hide the faults of which they are guilty.'

In a village there was said to be  a man who  fasted to such  a degree that he was called 'the Faster'. Abba Zeno had heard of him, and he  sent for him. The other came gladly.  They prayed and  sat  down. The old man  began  to work in
silence. Since he could not succeed in talking to  him the Faster began to get bored. So he for me, Abba,  for I want to go.' The old man said to him. 'Why?' The other replied,  "Because my heart  is as if it were  on fire and I do  not know what is the  matter with it.  For truly, this when  I was in the village  and I fasted  until the evening, nothing like this
happened to me.'  The old man said, 'In  the village you fed yourself  through your ears. But go away and from now on eat at the ninth  hour and whatever you do, do it secretly.' As soon as he had begun to act on this advice, the Faster
found it difficult to wait until the ninth hour. And those  who knew him said,  'The Faster is possessed by the devil.' So he went to tell this to the old man who said to him, 'This way is according to God.'

One day Abba Moses said  to brother Zacharias,  'Tell me what  I ought to do?'  At  these words the latter threw  himself on the  ground at the old man's feet and  said, 'Are you asking me,  Father?' The old  man said to him 'Believe me, Zacharias, my son, I have  seen the Holy Spirit descending  upon you and since then I am constrained to ask you.' Then  Zacharias drew his  hood off his head
put it under his feet and  trampled on it,  saying, 'The man  who does not let himself be treated thus, cannot become a monk.'

Abba Zeno said, 'If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even  his own soul,  when he stands and stretches out his hands  towards God, he   must pray with  all his   heart for his  enemies.  Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.'

   + + +

Abba Gerontius of Petra said that many, tempted  by the pleasures of the body, commit fornication, not    in  their body   but in  their   spirit, and  while preserving their bodily virginity, commit prostitution in their soul. 'thus it is  good, my well-beloved, to do  that which is  written and  for  each one to guard his own heart with all possible casre.' (prov. 4.23)

One day Abba  Arsenius consulted an  old Egyptian monk  about his own thoughts   Someone noticed this and said to him, 'Abba Arsenius, how is  it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this  peasant about your thoughts?'  He replied, 'I have indeed been taught Latin and Greed, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.'

Abba Elias, the  minister, said, 'What  can sin do  where  there is penitence?  And of what use is love where there is pride?'

   + + +

(Abba  Isaiah) said to  those  who were  making a  good  beginning by  putting themselves under the direction of the  holy Fathers, 'As  with purple dye, the first colouring is never lost.' And, 'Just as young  shoots are easily trained back and bent, so it is with beginners who live in submission.'

(Abba Isaiah)  also said that when there  was an agape  and the  brethren were eating  in the church  and talking to  one another, the  priest of Pelusia re-primanded them in these words, 'Brethren, be quiet.  For I have seen a brother eating with you and  drinking as many cups as  you and his prayer is ascending to the presence of God like fire.'

(Abba Isaiah) also said 'When God wishes to take pity on a soul and it rebels, not bearing anything and doing its own will, he then allows  it to suffer that which it does not want, in order that it may seek him again.'

   + + +

The old men said of Abba Agothon to Abba Elias, in Egypt, 'He is a good abba.'  The  old man answered  them,  'In comparison  with his own  generation, he  is good.' They said to him, 'And what is he in comparison with the ancients?'  He gave them this  answer, 'I   have said to    you that in  comparison with  his generation he is good but as to that of the ancients,  in Scetis I have seen a man who,  like Joshua the son of  Nun could  make  the sun stand still  in the heavens.' At these words they were astounded and gave glory to God.

(Abba  Theodore) said 'If  you are friendly  with someone who  happens to fall into the  temptation  of fornication, offer  him  your hand,  if you can,  and deliver him from it. But if  he falls into heresy and  you cannot persuaded him to turn from it, separate yourself quickly  from him, in  case, if you delay, you too may be dragged down with him into the pit.

A brother came  to Abba Theodore and began  to converse with him about  things which he  had never yet put into practice. So the old man   said to him, 'You have not yet found  a ship nor  put your cargo aboard it  and before  you have sailed, you have already arrived at the city. Do the work first; then you will have the speed you are making now.'

   + + +

Abba Theodore of Pherme  said, 'The man  who remains standing when he repents, has not kept the commandment.'

A brother said to Abba Theodore, 'I wish  to fulfil the commandments.' The old man told him that Abba Theonas had said to him, 'I want to fill my spirit with God.' Taking some flour to the bakery, he had made loaves which he gave to the poor who asked  him for them;   others asked for   more, and he gave them  the baskets, then the cloak he was wearing, and he came back to  his cell with his loins girded with his cape. Afterwards he took himself to task telling himself that he had still not fulfilled the commandment of God.'

The same Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who  were assembled said  to Abba Pambo,  'Say something to the Archbishop, so that he may be edified.' The old man said to them, 'If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.'

   + + +

It was said about (abba Theodore) that, though he  was made a deacon at Scetis he refused to exercise  the office and fled to  many places from it. Each time the old men brought him back to Scetis, saying, 'Do not leave your deaconate.' Abba Theodore said to them, 'Let me pray God  that he may  tell me for certain whether I  ought to take my part  in the liturgy.' THen he  prayed God in this manner, 'If it is your will then I should stand in this place, make me certian of it.' Then appeared to him a column of  fire, reaching from earth to heaven, and a voice said to him, 'IF you can become like this pillar, go be a deacon.' On hearing this he decided never to accept the office. When  he went to church the brethren bowed before him saying, 'If you do  not wish to  be a deacon, at least hold   the chalice.' But  he refused,  saying, 'If you   do not leave me alone, I shall leave this place.' So they left him in peace.

Abba Theodore of Scetis said,  'A thought comes   to me which troubles me  and does not leave me free; but not being able to lead me to  act, it simply stops me progressing in virtue;  but a vigilant man would  cut it off  and get up to

Abba  Theodor said,  'Privation of  food  mortifies the   body  of the  monk.'Another old man said, 'Vigils mortify it still more.'

   + + +

Amma Theodora said,  'Let us strive  to enter by the narrow  gate, Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter's storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is  only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.'

The  same amma said that a  teacher ought to  be a stranger  to the desire for domination,  vain-glory,  and pride;  one should not  be able  to  fool him by flattery,  nor   blind him by  gifts,  nor  conquer him  by  the  stomach, not dominate   him by anger;   but  hold   be patient, gentle   and humble as far as possible; he must be tested  and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.

She  also said taht  neither asceticism, nor vigils nor  any kind of suffering are able to save, only true  humility can do that. There  was an anchorite who was able to  banish the demons;  and he asked  them, 'What makes you go away?'
'Is it fasting?' They replied, 'We do not eat  or drink.' 'Is it vigils?' They replied, 'We do not sleep.' 'Is it separation from the world?' 'We live in the deserts.'  'What power sends you away  then?' They said, 'Nothing can overcome us,  but only  humility.'  'Do you see  how  humility  is victorious over  the

   + + +

It was said of Abba John the  Dwarf that he  withdrew and livead in the desert at Scetis  with an old man of  Thebes. His abba, taking a   piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, 'Water it every day with a  bottle of water, until it bears fruit.' Now the  water was so far away  that he had  to leave in  the evening and return the following  morning. At the  end of three years the wood came  to life and bore fruit.  Then the  old  man took some  of  the fruit and carried it to the church saying to  the brethren, 'Take and eat  the fruit of 

It was  said  of Abba John  the  Dwarf, that  one   day he  said  to his elder brother,'I should like  to be free  of all care, like the  angels,  who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God.' So he took off hsi cloak and went away   into the desert.  After a  week  he came  back  to his brother. When he knocked on the  door, he heard  his brother say,  before he opened it 'Who are you?' He said, 'I am John, your brother.' But  he replied, 'John has become an angel, and henceforth he is  no longer among  men.' Then the other begged  him saying. 'It is I.' However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to  him, 'You are a man  and you  must   once agian work  in  order   to eat.' Then   John made a prostration before him, saying, 'Forgive me.'

One day   when  he was  sitting in  front  of the   church, the brethren  were consulting  him about their thoughts. One  of the old men who  saw it became a prey to jealousy and said to him, 'John, your vessel is  full of poison.' Abba John said  to him, 'That  is very true, abba; and  you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you were able to  see the inside, too, what would you say then?'

   + + +

Some brethren came  one  day to  test him to  see  whether  he would  let  his thoughts get dissipated and  speak of the  things of this  world. They said to him  'We give thanks  to God that  this year there has been  much rain and the palm trees  have been  able to drink,   and their shoots  have grown,  and the brethren have found manual work.' Abba  John said to them, 'So  it is when the Holy Spirit descends into  the hearts of  men; they are  renewed and  they put
forth leaves in the fear of God.'

It was said of him (Abba John the Dwarf) that one  day he was weaving rope for two baskets, but  he made it into one  without noticing, until  it had reached the wall, because his spirit was occupied in contemplation.

Abba John said, 'I  am lke a man sitting  under a  great  tree, who  sees wild beasts   and  snakes coming  against him  in   great numbers.  When  he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is  saved. It is just
the same with me;  I sit in  my cell and  I am aware  of evil  thoughts coming against  me, and when I have  no more strength  against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.'

   + + +

Abba  Poemen said of  Abba John the  Dwarf that he had prayed  God to take his passions away from him  so that he might become  free  from care. He  went and told an old man this; 'I find myself in peace, without an enemy,' he said. The old man said to him, 'Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it  is by warfare that the soul makes progress.'  So he besought  God and  when  warfare came,  he no longer prayed that it might be taken  away, but said,  'Lord, give me strength for the fight.'

Abba John said, 'We  have put the light burden  on one side,  that is  to say, self-accusation, and we have  loaded ourselves with  a  heavy one, that  is to say, self-justification.'

He also said, 'Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.' 

   + + +

Abba John gave this advice, 'Watching  means to sit in the  cell and be always mindful of God. This is what is meant by, "I was on the watch  and God came to me."  (Matt. 25:36)

One of the Fathers said of him, 'Who is this John, who by his humility has all Scetis hanging from his little finger?'

Abba John the Dwarf said, 'There was a spiritual old man  who lived a secluded life.  He  was  held  in  high estimation in   the  city and  enjoyed  a great reputation. He  was told that  a certain old  man, at the  point of death, was calling for him, to embrace him before he  fell asleep. He thought to himself, if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honour, and I shall not be at peace in  all that. So  I will go in the  evening in the darkness  and I shall escape everyone's notice. But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to give him light. Then the whole city came out to see his glory.  The more he wished to Flee from glory, the more he was glorified. In this was accomplished that which is  written: "He  who  humbles himself will  be  exalted." '  (Luke

   + + +

Abba John the Dwarf  said, 'a house  is not built by geginning  at the top and working down. You must begin  with the fundations in order  to reach the  top.  They said  to him, 'What  does this saying  mean?' He said, 'The foundation is our neighbour, whom we must win, and that is  the place to  begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.'

Abba Poemen said  that Abba John  said that  the saints are   like a group  of trees, each bearing  different  fruit, but watered from  the  same source. The practices of one saint differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit that works in all of them.

Abba John said to his brother,  'Even if we are entirely  despised in the eyes of men, let us rejoice that we are honoured in the sight of God.'

   + + +

The old man  (abba John the Dwarf)  said,  'You know that  the  first blow the devil gave  to Job was  through his possessions;  and he saw  that he  had not grieved him nor separated him from God. With  the second blow, he touched his flesh, but the  brave athlete did  not sin by  any word that  came out of  his mouth in that either. In  fact, he had within his  heart that which is of God, and he drew on that source unceasingly.'

An   old man came to abba   John's cell and   found  him asleep  with an angel standing above him, fanning him. Seeing this,  he withdrew. When jAbba John got up, he  siad to his  disciple, 'Did anyone  come in  while I was  asleep?'  he said, 'Yes, an old man.' Then Abba John knew that  this old man was his equal, and that he had seen the angel.

   + + +

(Abba Isidore) said,  'When I was  younger and remained  in my  cell I set  no limit to prayer; the night was for me as much the time of prayer as the day.'

Abba Isidore went one day to see Abba Theophilus archbishop of Alexandria and when  he returned to  Scetis the trethren asked him,  'What is going on in the city?' But he said to them, 'Truly, brothers, I did not see the face of anyone there, except that of the archbishop.' Hearing this they were very anxious and said to him, 'Has there  been a disaster  there, then, abba?'  He said 'Not at all,  but the thought  of looking at  anyone did not get the  better of me' At these   words they  were  filled with   admiration,  and strengthened in their intention of guarding kthe eyes from all distraction.

(Abba Isidore  of Pelusia) said,  'Prize virtues  and  do not be the  slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon fades.'

He also said, 'The  heights  of humility are  great  and so are the  depths of boasting;  I  advise you to attend  to  the  first and not  to  fall  into the second.'

   + + +

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as far as  I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I  purify my thoughts.  What else can   I do?' then the old  man stood up and stretched  his hands towards  heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'

(Abba James) said, 'Just as a lamp lights up a  dark room, so  the fear of God when it  penetrates the heart of a  man illuminates him,  teaching him all the virtues and commandments of God.'

He also said, 'We do not need words only, for, at the  present time, there are many words  among men, but  we need works,  for this is  what is required, not words which do not bear fruit.'

   + + +

Abba John of the Cells told us this story: 'There was in Egypt a very rich and beautiful courtesan, to whom  noble and powerful people came.  Now one day she happened to be near the church and she wanted  to go in.  The sub- deacon, who was standing at the  doors, would not allow her  to enter saying, "You are not worthy to enter the house of God,j jfor you  are impure." The Bishop heard the noise of their argument and came out. Then the courtesan said to him, "He will not let me enter the church." So the Bishop said to her,  "You are not allowed to enter it, for you are not pure."  She was filled  with compunction and said to him, "Henceforth I will not commit fornication any  more." The jbishop said to her, "If you bring your wealth here, I shall know that  you will not commit fornication any more." She brought  her wealth and  the bishop burnt it all in the  fire. Then she  went into the  church, weeping  and  saying, "If this has happened to  me  below, what  would I not   have suffered above?" So  she  was converted and became a vessel of election.'

(Abba Isidore  the priest)  said, 'If you  fast regularly,  do not be inflated with pride, but if you think  hightly of yourself  because of it, then you had better eat meat.  It is better for a man to eat meat than  to be inflated with pride and to glorify himself.'

It was said of Abba John the Persian thast when some evildoers came to him, he took   a basin and  wanted to  wash  their feet.  But  they   were filled with confusion, and began to do penance.

   + + +

From Palistine, Abba   Hilarion went to the mountain   to  abba Anthony.  Abba Anthony  said to him,  'You are welcome,   torch which awakens  the day.' Abba Hilarion said, 'Peace to you, pillar of light, giving light to the world.'

The holy Fathers were making predictions about the  last generation. They said, "What have we ourselves done?' One of  them, the great abba Ischyrion replied,  'We  ourselves have fulfilled  the commandments of  God.'  The others replied, 'And those who come after us, what will they do?' He said, 'They will struggle to achieve half our works.' They said, 'And to those who come after them, what will happen?' He said,  'THE MEN  OF THAT GENERATION  WILL NOT  ACCOMPLISH ANY WORKS AT  ALL AND  TEMPTATION  WILL COME  UPON THEM;  AND  THOSE WHO   WILL BE

Abba Copres said, 'blessed is he who bears affliction with thankfulness.'

   + + +

One day,  the inhabitants of Scetis assembled  together to discuss Melchizedek and they forgot to invite Abba Copres. Later on they called  him and asked him about this matter.  Tapping  his mouth  three times, he  said 'Alas  for  you,
Copres! For that which God commanded you do,  you have put  aside, and you are wanting  to learn something  which you have not been  required to know about.'  When they heard these words, the brothers fled to their cells.

Abba Cyrus of Alexandria was asked about the temptation of fornication, and he replied, 'If you do not think about it, you have  no hope, for  if you are not thinking about it, you are doing it. I mean, he who does not fight against the sin and resist  it in his spirit will  commit the sin  physically. It is very
true that he  who is fornicating in fact  is not worried about thinking  about it.

   + + +

Some of the monks who are  called Euchites went  to Enaton to see Abba Lucius. the Old man asked  them, 'What is your manual  work?' They said  , 'We  do not
touch manualj work but as the Apostle says,  we pray without ceasing.' The old man asked them  if they did  not eat and they replied  they did. So he said to
them  "'When you are eating, who  prays for you then?' Again  he asked them if they did  not sleep and they replied  they did. and he said  to them, 'When you are a asleep, who prays for you  then?' They could not find  any answer to give
him. He said  to them, 'Forgive me, but  you do not act as  you speak. I  will show you how, while doing my manual work, I pray  without interruption. I sit down with God, soaking my  reeds and plaiting  my ropes, and  I say "God, have mercy on me, according  to your great goodness and  according to the multitude of your mercies,  save me from my sins."  ' So he  asked them if this were not prayer and they replied it was. Then he said  to them, 'So  when I shave spend the whole  day working and praying, making  thirteen  pieces of money  more or less,  I put two pieces of  money outside the door and  I pay for my food with the rest of the mony. He who takes the two pieces of maney prays for me when I am eating and when I  am sleeping; so   , by the  grace of  God, I fulfil  the precept to pray without ceasing.'

   + + +

They said of Abba Macarius the Great  that he became, as it  is written, a god upon  earth, because, just as God  protects the world,  so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did  not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.

   + + +

The angel when giving the  rules of monasticism  to St. Pachomius said to him: "... He  laid down that   in the course   of the day   they should make twelve prayers, and  at  the lamp-lighting  time twelve, and   in  the nightly vigils twelve, and at the ninth hour  three. When the multitude goes  to eat, he laid down that a psalm should be sung before each prayer.  As Pachomius objected to the angel that the prayer were too few ..."

   + + +

The same Abba  Macarius while he  was in Egypt discovered a  man who owned  a beast of burden  engaged in plundering Macarius' goods.  So he came up to  the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying,  'We have brought  nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of  the world.' (1Tim.6.7)  'The Lord gave and
the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' (Job 1.21)

Abba Macarius was asked, 'How should one pray?' The  old man said 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it  is enough to  stretch out one's hands and say, "Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy." And if the conflict grows fiercer say, "Lord, help!" He knows very well what we  need and he shows us his mercy.'

A brother went to Abba  Matoes and said to him,  'How is it  that the monks of Scetis  did more thatn  the Scriptures  required in loving  their enemies more than themselves?' Abba Matoes said to him, 'As  for me I  have not yet managed to love those who love me as I love myself.'

   + + +

It was said  of Abba Silvanus  that at Scetis he had  a dijsciple called  Mark whose obedience was great.  He was a scribe. The  old man loved him because of his  obedience. He had  eleven other disciples  who were hurt because he loved him more than them. When  they knew this,  the elders were  sorry about it and they came one day  to him to  reproach him about  it. Taking them with him, he went to knock at each  cell, saying, 'Brother  so  and so,  come here; I  need you,' but none of them came immediately. Coming to Mark's cell, he knocked and said, 'Mark.' Hearing the  old man's voice,  he jumped up immediately  and the old man sent him off to serve and said to the elders,  'Fathers, where are the other brothers?'  Then he went  into Mark's  cell and picked   up his book and noticed  that he had  begun to write  the letter  'omega' ["w"] but when he had heard  the old man,  he had not  finished writing it.   Then  the elders said,  'Truly, abba, he whom you love, we love too and God loves him.'

   + + +

Abba Poemen said of Abba Nisterus that he was like the  serpent of brass which Moses made for the healing of the people:  he possessed all virtue and without speaking, he healed everyone.

Abba Xanthias said,  'The thief was on  the  cross and he  was  justified by a single word; and Judas who was counted in the number jof the apostles lost all his labour in one single night  and descended from  heaven to hell. Therefore,
let no-one boast of  his good works,  for all  those  who trust  in themselves fall.'

(Abba Poemen) said, 'The beginning of evil is heedlessness.'

  _|_    This article is one  of many more articles  about the  Coptic Orthodx Church, the Christian Apostolic Church of Egypt. These articles can be obtained electronically from  Copt-Net Repository,  using anonymous FTPCOP |NET  from pharos.bu.edu:CN.  Please mail inquiries to CN-request@cs.bu.edu.

source:  http://www.youtube.com/CopticMediaUK -----------------------
Bishop Angaelos and Bishop McDonald The Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Most Rev Kevin McDonald and the Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos marked the Week of Christian Unity today, with the launch of the first book compiled by the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum: 'Joint Statements between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches'. The book includes statements by Pope Benedict XVI and by the leadership of the Syrian, Coptic and Armenian Orthodox Churches. It aims to increase ecumenical cooperation and raise people's awareness on Catholic and Oriental Orthodox similarities, rather than differences. Speaking at the launch at the offices of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Bishop Angaelos, who co-chairs Forum with Archbishop McDonald, said: "We're facing serious threats of increased secularism and marginalization of religion in general and Christianity in particular. As members of first century churches we really need to both live and introduce people to the wealth, meaning and value of what it means to witness and live our Christianity today. "It's very easy to become theoretical about theology and forget that we are talking about our faith in the incarnate word, in salvation and in the presence of God. We forget to speak in communion of what we can have in common." Bishop Angaelos gave the example of the time he sent a letter of support to the Catholic Church during the adoption issue a few years ago because of the common stance. "When you're in a dialogue, it's not about compromise, its about reaching deeply into the Biblical routes in such a way that convergence can be developed," said Archbishop McDonald. "The purpose of publishing this book is precisely to engage people in this process at a local, grass-root level. "We're not talking about agreed statements from theologians that have yet to be ratified," said the Archbishop of Southwark. "We're talking about agreed statements to which the Catholic Church is already committed." "These differences will be resolved because Christ makes one promise about one flock and one shepherd and we will be unified one day," said Bishop Angaelos."We have a lot in common, which far outweighs our differences. "We have so much happening this year with the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee so there needs to be a very clear Christian voice. Also, if our faithfuls don't see us working together, it's pointless to preach about love, forgiveness and acceptance from the pulpits." The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church said he also hopes to have shared prayer gatherings in the future to get more people involved. Other members of the Forum attending were Abba Seraphim; His Grace Bishop Vahan Hovhannesian; Mgr Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham; Mgr Paul Hendriks, Auxilary Bishop of Southwark, and Father Peter Farrington (co-Secretary).

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