Wednesday, July 28, 2010

About Ourselves

To all our Protestant readers out there who might otherwise find themselves in any way or manner persuaded or convinced by any of the articles hosted here on this blog.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why Contraception Is A Sin

Because God is a Trinity, not a Binity.

A Defense of the Holy Icons (Part VII - Conclusion)

Previous installment: Part VI (Dangers of Idolatry)

In the course of this essay, we have examined the presence and veneration of the Holy Icons in the light of history, Scripture, and the content of the Christian Faith. It has been shown that,

  • to the contrary of what has often been previously supposed, rather than being a later addition to a weaker, less devout Christianity, the iconographic tradition is instead an inheritance assumed by the very earliest Christians from their ancient Jewish forebears.

  • in spite of how such passages are often treated, the writings of the early Christians against the idols of the pagans must be interpreted not in a vacuum but in the light of the presence of Christian iconography within the temples within which these individuals worshiped.

  • any attempt to eliminate the Holy Icons has necessarily resulted in a de-emphasis of the Incarnation and a resulting step into docetic or semi-docetic Christology.

  • veneration of the Holy Icons is not only the historical practice of the Christian Church but, in addition, the only natural response to the presence of the icons.

  • although the danger of idolatry exists in an iconographic tradition, iconoclasts are equally if not more capable of falling into idolatry, and the Church in its regulations of the Holy Icons has been careful to avoid the errors which could lead to idolatry.

Early Christians probably began painting Images of Christ, of His Mother, and of holy people in their homes and churches largely as a spontaneous expression of their piety and love for their Lord. Honoring God and commemorating the Saints and events of Christ's life through artistic depictions probably seemed quite natural to them; it was common practice, as we have seen, in the Judaism from which Christianity emerged and to which it still held very close ties. These early Christians probably put little if any thought into the deeper implications and meanings of Christian iconography. And not much changed in these respects until over 700 years into the Christian era with the outbreak of the first-ever movement of iconoclasm within Christianity.

As a result of this movement to destroy and ban the Holy Icons, Christians were forced to take a deeper look at what they had been doing all along and to explore its implications and logical conclusions. What they found is that this practice of iconography which had been natural but largely lacking in deeper meaning thus far was in fact an essential aspect of the Christian Faith without which the primary truths of Christianity would be turned on their head. In short, what had been simply “traditional,” something that had always been done, had become a “Holy Tradition,” itself a central principle of Orthodox Christianity.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mary According to the Bible

Since the rise of Protestantism, there has been a debate on the veneration of the Virgin Mary. Orthodox Christians argue that since Mary is the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she is to be accorded proper veneration. As Orthodox Christians, we call her the Mother of God, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Queen of Heaven, the Mediatrix, the New Eve, Most Holy, and ever-virgin. It is my intention to prove that every single one of these roles is attributed to Mary in the Bible.

Mother of God

Mary’s most important role is her role as Theotokos, roughly translated “Mother of God”, but more precisely translated “God-bearer.” Is it proper to call the Virgin Mary the “Mother of God”? Yes! All Protestants acknowledge the biblical teaching of the deity of Christ, but, for the sake of completeness, let us review a key biblical passage.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9)

Within the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, the fullness of God dwells. Thus, if Mary gives birth to the body of Jesus Christ, as all Protestants admit, what comes out of her womb is also God, because God indwells the body of Christ. Thus, it is proper to refer to her as the “God-bearer” or Theotokos, and, as a corollary, “Mother of God.”

Ark of the New Covenant

In fact, St. Elizabeth says to Mary:

And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43)

The question before us is whether the “my Lord” here necessarily refers to the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Could it simply refer to the human nature? This leads directly into the discussion of Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant”. When Elizabeth asks how it is that the mother of the Lord should come to her, she is directly alluding to these words spoken by the Prophet King David

And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?" (2 Samuel 6:9)

Ancient Jews memorized the Hebrew Bible. Similarities in wording would jump out at them. It is clear: when St. Elizabeth asks how the mother of the Lord should come to her, she is directly alluding to the Prophet’s words. It is important to note that in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, YHWH would be replaced by “the Lord”

Thus, when Elizabeth calls Mary the “mother of my Lord”, in reference to David’s words, she is calling Mary the “Mother of YHWH”. Thus, it is absolutely proper to call Mary the Mother of God!

Furthermore, Elizabeth equates the Ark of the Covenant with the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the Old Ark was the dwelling place of God in the days of the Old Covenant, so the New Ark, the Virgin Mary, is the dwelling place of God the Word in our days, the days of the New Covenant. Let us look at some additional biblical passages which demonstrate her status as Ark of the New Covenant.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34)

The power of the Lord comes over the Ark of the Covenant. Similarly:

And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

The power of the Most High God overshadows the Blessed Virgin, just as it overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant.

Listen to what happens when the Ark of the Covenant is brought before David:

And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. (2 Samuel 6:14)

This linen ephod is a priestly vestment. Likewise, John the Baptist is part of the priestly line of Aaron, and just as David danced when he saw the Ark of the Covenant, so does John the Baptist:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)

The child, John the Baptist leaps in her womb at hearing the Ark of the Covenant.

After David dances before the Ark of the Covenant, the ark remains three months:

And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household. (2 Samuel 6:11)

And after John the Baptist dances at hearing Mary, she remains three months:

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (Luke 1:56)

Is it possible that all of this is a coincidence? As passage after passage is piled up, it becomes near impossible that it is. The evidence is clear that Luke is presenting Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

In addition, we hear of Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant in the Revelation of John:

Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. (Revelation 11:19)

We see the Heavenly Temple, and we see the Ark of the Covenant. Would the Ark of the Old Covenant be of any significance? No. The Old Covenant is done away with, and the glory of God has left it's ark. But the New Covenant of Grace is in effect, and its Ark is something glorious. What is this Ark? St. John tells us in the very next passage:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1)

Who is this woman?

She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12:5)

And who rules the nations with a rod of iron? God the Word, Jesus Christ.

He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. (Revelation 19:13-15)

So, the woman of Revelation 12 is the mother of Jesus Christ. Who is Christ’s mother? It is, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We see, therefore, that the Ark of the New Covenant is identified clearly as the Virgin Mary in the Apocalypse of John. Some Protestants, however, like to argue that the Woman is not Mary, but Israel, basing their exegesis here:

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me." (Genesis 37:9)

This refers to Israel. So, is Israel a referent in John’s prophecy? Yes! In biblical prophecy it is not uncommon for a prophecy to have multiple referents. Let me give you an example from the famous prophecy of Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

All Christians know that this is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. However, there is a temporary fulfillment, where an almah who is not a virgin gives birth to a child who is named Immanuel as a sign that God is with them.

and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel." (Isaiah 8:8)

There are some parts where Isaiah refers to both referents, and some parts where he refers to only one. Consider this passage:

For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (Isaiah 7:16)

Was there ever a time when the Lord Jesus Christ did not know good and evil? Never. Thus, verse sixteen refers only to the first referent, and not the messianic referent.

Likewise, in Revelation 12, there are portions where John refers to Mary, portions where he refers to Eve, portions where he refers to the Church, and portions where he refers to Israel. Mostly, however, he refers to all four. So, with that said, let us look at the further implications of Revelation 12.

Queen of Heaven

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1)

Mary here is wearing a Crown of Twelve Stars. As we saw in Joseph’s dream, the stars are a symbol of Israel. Mary is wearing the Crown of Israel. However, the New Israel is the people of the Church, the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ says:

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." (John 18:36)

The kingdom of New Israel is the kingdom of heaven. Thus, Mary is here presented as wearing the Crown of New Israel- she is the Queen of Heaven.

Another important fact is that Jesus is a king after the order of David- he is a Davidic king. Who were the queens of Davidic kings? Interestingly, it was not their wives. It was their mother. Consider this passage:

Say to the king and the queen mother: "Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head." (Jeremiah 13:18)


So, Jesus, being the Davidic King of Heaven, has His Davidic queen, His Mother, Mary. What were the functions of the Queen Mother? Intercession before the King.

So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king's mother, and she sat on his right. Then she said, "I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me." And the king said to her, "Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you." (1 Kings 2:19-20)

The Davidic queen, Bathsheba, intercedes on behalf of Adonijah at his request, before the Davidic king, her son Solomon, and Solomon listens with special attention to the request of the queen. This is exactly parallel to the situation today with Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christians ask for the intercession of our Queen, Mary. She intercedes before her son, Jesus Christ, the King, at our request and He listens with special attention.

New Eve

St. John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

He opens by discussing the beginning of the world, opening with “in the beginning”. Remember that ancient Jews knew the Hebrew Bible from memory. They would immediately think of:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

Further parallels are drawn:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4)

Thus, John is writing to parallel the opening chapters of Genesis. He counts the days:

Start with one in John’s opening.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)


The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples. (John 1:35)


The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." (John 1:43)


On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. (John 2:1)


The wedding at Cana occurs on the seventh day. On the seventh day, Mary asks Him to do something:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." (John 2:3)

Jesus does a miracle:

When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom (John 2:9)

We know from the Scripture that Jesus is the New Adam:

Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)

What does Eve do to Adam on the seventh day?

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)

On the seventh day after the opening of Genesis, Eve entices Adam to commit his first sin. On the seventh day after the opening of John, who is drawing our minds back to Genesis, Mary entices the New Adam to perform His first miracle. The conclusion is clear: Mary is the New Eve. One can consider also Mary’s obedience to Gabriel vs. Eve’s obedience to Satan:

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5)

So, Eve obeys the evil angel Satan, who entices her to bring death into the world.

And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. (Luke 1:30-31)

Who is Jesus?
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is the Life. Mary consents to the message of the good angel, Gabriel, in bringing Life into the world. Eve consents to the message of the evil angel, Satan, in bringing death into the world. It is clear what the Bible is doing. Mary is clearly the New Eve.

Most Holy

Orthodox Christians believe that by the grace of God, Mary was preserved from the stain of personal sin. We believe that she, in part because of this, is exalted above all the holy angels. What is the evidence for this? Most of it derives from Luke 1:28.

And he came to her and said, “Hail” (Luke 1:28)

The Greek used for "hail" here is "chairō", which is a title used for a superior, as seen in:

And he came up to Jesus at once and said, "Hail, (chairō) Master!" And he kissed him. (Matthew 26:49)

The Archangel Gabriel hails the Blessed Virgin Mary as a superior. What does this mean? Is a sinful one superior to an angel?

To continue:

“having been graced (charitoō), the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28)

So the Archangel Gabriel addresses Mary as a superior, and titles her "having been graced", she had received special grace from God. It is this grace which guided her and preserved her from the stain of personal sin.


Finally, Orthodox Christians believe that Mary remained a virgin all of her life. The traditional Orthodox position is that the “brothers of Jesus” were actually step-brothers from Joseph’s earlier marriage (he was a widower). Does this position find any support in Scripture? Yes! Let us first address the two indications put forward by Protestants that Mary did not remain a virgin. First:

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)

The key word put forward by Protestants is "until". The Greek is "heōs." Where else do we find this Greek word? Matthew 28:20.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until (heōs) the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

So, if "heōs" implies an eventual change in action, it means that Jesus will eventually leave us.


Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

Does it ever say that these other children are the children of Mary? No, it says that they are the "brothers of Jesus". Could this mean stepbrothers? Yes, it could, unless you want to argue that Joseph was actually Jesus' blood father.

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about [Jesus]. (Luke 2:33)

So, what does Mark 6 actually teach? Why was Jesus called the son of Mary rather than the son of Joseph? As we have seen, it was perfectly acceptable to call Jesus the son of Joseph, so it's not referring to the virginal conception. Why then? Protestant scholar Richard Bauckham answers:

" Nazareth Jesus would have been known as ‘the son of Mary’ because this distinguished him from the children of Joseph by his first wife."

So Mark 6:3, far from being evidence against the traditional doctrine, actually is evidence for it! Finally, consider the words of Jesus to the Apostle John:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" (John 19:26)

Jesus commits the care of the Virgin Mary to the Apostle John. This would have been absolutely unacceptable if she had other children. If the oldest child dies, the care of the mother falls to the next oldest child. If the oldest child is the only child, it is his responsibility to appoint someone to care for his mother in the case that he dies. We can see that Jesus acts as if He is the only child of Mary.

As we can see, there is no indication from the Bible that Mary had other children than Jesus, and there are at least two strong indicators against it. From the Bible alone, we can conclude fairly safely that she is a perpetual virgin.

Mary needs to be given her due. The Church of Christ has done that for two-thousand years. We have remained faithful to the biblical, apostolic, and patristic teaching concerning the position and status of the Virgin. Protestants, through a careless reading of the Bible and a hatred for the tradition of the Church, have degraded her. It’s time for them to reject the traditions of men and get in line with the Bible.
Friday, July 23, 2010

Thinking Out Loud: Calvinism, Regeneration, Justification, and Sanctification

I was asked a question some weeks ago by a former Assembly of God protestant friend who is now attending a Sovereign Grace Calvinistic Charismatic group. He seemed interested in Orthodoxy, but the main thing he wanted to know was "Does the Orthodox Church believe in imputed righteousness or infused Righteousness?"

As a former protestant myself I immediately knew what my friend was trying to get at. You see in some circles of protestantism, especially the Calvinistic and Reformed kind, the issue of imputed righteousness tends to be associated with the Gospel itself. And if you answer this question wrong then whatever else you have to say will go in one ear and out the other. So I simply told him to study the history of the issue and to read this book by the Anglican Alister Mcgrath:

Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification

If I am asked this question again in the future then I will intentionally change the focus to one of Regeneration, Justification, and Sanctification.


Because if the Calvinistic or Reformed protestant thinks about some of the inconsistencies of what surrounds their view, then maybe they will be less dogmatic as well as more willing to listen to what I have to say.

You see, Calvinists are trapped within a deterministic scheme. In following the Augustinian western tradition, they believe that free will was lost when Adam and Eve bit the fruit. And from that moment on they understand freedom in a more Plotinian, Manichean, and late Augustinian manor. This is why they often say "fallen people have a will…’s just only a will to choose according to their fallen natures!" In other words, they confuse person and nature.

Now what does this have to do with the topic of "Imputed Righteousness vs Infused Righteousness"?

Well in order to get to their system of "Imputation", first we must start here. You see, they really do believe in the idea of Infused Righteousness, a number of them just don't know it.

The non-Anglican Reformed depart from the idea of Baptismal Regeneration, and so when they talk about the "Regeneration that precedes faith", they are talking about something different than Augustine. When Saint Augustine talks about the grace that precedes faith he is talking about particular prevenient grace. This grace leads someone to the Regeneration found in Water Baptism.

The Reformed took what Augustin had to say about prevenient grace as the actual Regeneration itself. Also, Augustine saw Regeneration and Justification as pretty much the samething. The Reformed on the other hand make a sharp distinction between the two, just like they do with Justification and Sanctification.

You see, in order for the Reformed to believe in a doctrine of Imputed Righteousness, first they must believe in a doctrine of Infused Righteousness or Regeneration.

If a person must be Regenerated before they can even believe then they must believe in Infused Righteousness. If this is the case for the Reformed then what right do they have to call Infused Righteousness heretical?

The Calvinistic and Reformed system looks something like this:
Regeneration (grace understood as Infused Righteousness)
In the Calvinistic system a person needs a new heart and a transformed mind in order to have faith alone in Justification.

Justification (grace understood as Imputed Righteousness or a change of perception or favor that God has on the sinner)
In the Calvinistic system a person is filthy, wicked, and dirty on the inside but is covered by the Righteousness of Christ on the outside. A Calvinist is not allowed to talk about works or infused righteousness when talking about the category of Justification.

Sanctification (grace understood as Infused Righteousness)
In the Calvinistic system a person can only talk about works or the fruits of faith in the category of Sanctification.

As you can see, there is inconsistency in how they understand the word grace. This is what I will focus on the next time I am asked the question "Does the Orthodox Church believe in imputed righteousness or infused Righteousness?"

I will also talk to them about the issue of created vs uncreated grace as well.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Defense of the Holy Icons (Part VI - Dangers of Idolatry)

Previous installment: Part V (Necessity of Veneration)

Before we close this essay, it seems worthwhile to take note of the dangers of excess which can lead us to idolatry, as icons can certainly be made into idols. In part, it may have been some of the abuses and perversions related to iconography in the Middle Ages that inspired Emperor Leo III the Isaurian to launch the Byzantine iconoclast controversy in the first place. For example, there are accounts which indicate that icons may have served as godparents at baptisms on multiple occassions.53

Such abuses and perversions are, as stated, idolatrous; their possibility does not, however, preclude the display and veneration of the Holy Icons altogether, as some iconoclasts would aver. On the contrary, iconoclasts are just as capable of falling into idolatry as are iconodules (that is, those who venerate the Holy Icons). In fact, it may be somewhat easier for an iconoclast to fall into idolatry as he is much more susceptible to the danger of making a false image of God, most likely created in his own image, whereas for the iconodule an image is already present. All the iconodule must do is make certain that he doesn't turn this image into an idol.

Of all the senses, sight is perhaps the most used by and more important to human beings. Images are natural to us. Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, wrote:

I am convinced that it is God's will that we should hear and learn what He has done, especially what Christ suffered. But when I hear these things and meditate upon them, I find it impossible not to picture them in my heart. Whether I want to or not, when I hear of Christ, a human form hanging upon a cross rises up in my heart: just as I see my natural face reflected when I look into water.8

This not only makes the iconoclast's position an inconsistent one, as he places a ban on external images but knows himself incapable of stopping the natural rising up of images in his mind, but also makes it more difficult for him to avoid idolatry. In the Orthodox Christian iconographic tradition, creativity and imagination are strongly discouraged; an iconographer's goal is essentially to copy previous images and, in the few cases in which news ones are needed, to stick as closely to traditional guidelines of color, symbolism, style, etc. as possible. Insofar as he departs from these standards, his quality as an iconographer decreases. In short, iconography is the art of imitation, not innovation.54 Iconoclasts, on the other hand, having no traditional image to which to look, are forced to create their own image fresh each time, allowing for the creation of a great variety of false images and the danger of worshiping a false god; this is idolatry.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council, held in the city of Nicaea in 787, in finally giving the Church's official endorsement to iconography in opposition to the Byzantine iconoclasts, was careful with its language and its stipulations on two particularly important points. Here is the relevant portion of the Decree of the Holy Seventh Ecumenical Council:55

We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people. For by so much more frequently as they are seen in artistic representation, by so much more readily are men lifted up to the memory of their prototypes, and to a longing after them; and to these should be given due salutation and honourable reverence, not indeed that true worship of faith which pertains alone to the divine nature; but to these, as to the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross and to the Book of the Gospels and to the other holy objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honour which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented. For thus the teaching of our holy Fathers, that is the tradition of the Catholic Church, which from one end of the earth to the other hath received the Gospel, is strengthened. Thus we follow Paul, who spake in Christ, and the whole divine Apostolic company and the holy Fathers, holding fast the traditions which we have received.

Note the two portions I have placed in boldface.

First, notice the list of figures which the Council gives permission to depict, namely, Christ, the Theotokos, Angels, Saints, and “pious people.” The Council does not give permission to attempt to depict the divine essence of God (that is, the inner workings of the Trinity) nor the Father and the Holy Spirit. The only Person of the Trinity who can be depicted directly is the Son, the Word of God who became flesh, because He is the only one who has revealed an Image of Himself.

The second portion I have bolded is unequivocal; it is even more unequivocal in the original Greek. The veneration shown to the Holy Icons is not the same as the worship given to the divine nature. You may recall St. John of Damascus' words cited earlier in this essay (section IV):

I do not venerate the matter, but I venerate the Creator of matter, who became matter for me, who condescended to live in matter, and who, through matter accomplished my salvation; and I do not cease to respect the matter through which my salvation is accomplished.45

The Icon itself is not to be confused with the person or Person who is depicted on the Icon. To return to our earlier illustration (section V), this would be the equivalent of preferring a photograph of your wife to actually being with your wife! Or, worse, confusing a photograph of your wife for actually being your wife!

Next installment: Part VII (Conclusion)


8 "I have myself heard those who oppose pictures, read from my German Bible. . . . But this contains many pictures of God, of the angels, of men, and of animals, especially in the Revelation of St. John, in the books of Moses, and in the book of Joshua. We therefore kindly beg these fanaties to permit us also to paint these pictures on the wall that they may be remembered and better understood, inasmuch as they can harm as little on the walls as in books. Would to God that I could persuade those who can afford it to paint the whole Bible on their houses, inside and outside, so that all might see ; this would indeed be a Christian work. For I am convinced that it is God's will that we should hear and learn what He has done, especially what Christ suffered. But when I hear these things and meditate upon them, I find it impossible not to picture them in my heart. Whether I want to or not, when I hear of Christ, a human form hanging upon a cross rises up in my heart: just as I see my natural face reflected when I look into water. Now if it is not sinful for me to have Christ's picture in my heart, why should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?" Martin Luther, quoted in Ohl pp. 88-89.

45 St. John of Damascus, Apology Against Those Who Decry the Holy Images, Part I.

53 Avenarius, Alexander. The Byzantine Struggle over the Icon: on the Problem of Eastern European Symbolism. Bratislava: Academic Electronic, 2005. pg. 32.

54 "'Imitate; Don't Innovate': Safeguarding the Integrity of the Orthodox Faith."Orthodox Christian Information Center Home Page. Web. 30 June 2010. .

55 “The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church,” trans H. R. Percival, in NPNF2, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, (repr. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), XIV, p. 549

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why the Fathers of Nicaea Were NOT Old Calendarists

Because –if they would've been such– they would've never-ever dared to change the then-existing, traditional Church calendar, by moving the Spring Equinox to a date four days prior. In other words, the currently-so-called Old Calendar was an innovation in its time.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Romans 3:23-25, Romans 6:1-4, and Baptism

Baptist, and to some extent Presbyterian Protestants, argue that because we are saved by grace alone, that this means that baptism can be no more than a symbol: an outward representation of an inward washing. Orthodox Christians believe that Baptism IS the inward washing, that is, we believe that the Holy Spirit works through the waters of Baptism to effect regeneration.

I believe that when Paul mentions justification by grace through faith, he refers to the justification accomplished in the waters of Baptism. It is then this faith which we continue to wear throughout our lives as the badge of the New Covenant of Grace. In order to demonstrate that justification by grace through faith refers to Baptism, we must compare Paul's discussion of Christ's sacrifice in Romans 3:23-25 to Paul's discussion of Baptism in Romans 6:1-4.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a mercy seat by his blood, to be participated in by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:23-25)

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)

Focus on the grace here.

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:2)

St. Paul here makes the result of grace "death to sin". Why can't we sin so that grace may abound? Because grace is death to sin. Connect to Romans 3 where we are "justified by His grace as a gift".

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

Paul noted in verse two that we are dead to sin because of grace. And what is death to sin? Death to sin is Baptism. Therefore, the justification by grace that Paul mentions in Romans 3 takes place IN BAPTISM, because grace=death to sin and death to sin=baptism.

Connect to:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

Note the language in Romans 3, we participate in the mercy seat through faith. And Romans 6:4 says that we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus through Baptism. Thus, the participation by faith in the mercy seat mentions in Romans 3 connects to the Baptism of Romans 6. What is seen? Connect the dots: We are justified by grace through faith in Baptism.

Western Wonders

Exporting Christianity by the sword and Democracy by bombs. – Now there's an oxymoron, if there ever was one...

Elder Philotheos on the Schismatic Old Calendarists

I very frequently receive e-mails and comments on my blog posts and YouTube videos from members of the modern Donatist sects called "Old Calendarists" (they generally refer to themselves as "Genuine" or "True" Orthodox Christians), so I've decided to begin posting a few of the excellent refutations of these schismatics by some of the Orthodox holy elders in order to demonstrate the dangers of their ways of thinking. Please excuse the intermissions from the regular material here. - DPW

(source: John Sanidopoulos at MYSTAGOGY)

From: Letter 8 - September 23, 1975

...Let's also see about the Old Calendarists from the self-titled "Genuine Orthodox Christians."

The genuine Orthodox Christian is the Christian who has steadfast Faith and fervor towards God; love from all his heart and soul towards God and neighbor; humility and meekness, truth and sincerity. When our Lord Jesus Christ sent the disciples into the world He told them to preach the Gospel. He didn't tell them to preach the Old Calendar.

He told them, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved," that is, the one believing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not the one baptized in the Old Calendar. The beloved virgin and eagle of theology, St. John the Evangelist said:

"God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him” (Jn. 4:8).

He did not say the Old Calendar is God and the one abiding in the Old Calendar abides in God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ–perfect God and perfect man–said, "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls"(Mt. 11:29). He didn't say learn from Me for I am an Old Calendarist–as some Old Calendarists say that Christ was an Old Calendarist out of their excessive zeal.

O Lord, deliver us from such a foolish mindset.

He said, "Learn from Me For I am meek and humble in heart and you have to become this way in order to find rest in your souls." He didn't say become Old Calendarists.

And so, the Old Calendarists falsely boast and claim that they are ‘genuine Orthodox’.

They are genuine CACODOX because they don't have Faith in God, they have faith in the Old Calendar.

St. Paul the Apostle - the mouth of Christ - says: "Without faith it is impossible to be saved."

The Old Calendarists say, "Without the Old Calendar, it is impossible to be saved.”

The Lord orders us to love not only our loved ones but also our enemies.

The Old Calendarists and the adherents of the Old Calendarists hate and curse each other...

They should neither be called genuine Orthodox, nor Christian nor logical people because even unbelievers, the impious and the last rank of people...are shy and timid inside the Church and don't dare to quarrel. In the Church of the Annunciation in Halkidi, the bold presumptuous Bishops, Presbyters, etc, of the self-titled ‘Genuine Orthodox' raised their hands and hit their brothers. They ought to repent and be self-deposed because if they don't cease their priestly functions, the 27th Apostolic Canon deposes them [Note: The canon states: "If a Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon shall strike any of the faithful who have done wrong, with the intention of frightening them, we command that he be deposed. For our Lord has by no means taught us to do so, but, on the contrary, when He was smitten He smote not. When He was reviled He reviled not, when He suffered He threatened not"].

The Orthodox Church accepts that all the Saints were sanctified and saved through faith, love, humility, the observance of God's commandments and good works. However, the more fanatic of the O1d Calendarist zealots and super zealots unfortunately accept (the belief) that without the Old Calendar, there is NO salvation. But some of them preach and write that if any Christian has many sins and he is plunged in sins up to his neck, if he only keeps the Old Calendar, he will be saved!...

In all the Mysteries, the priests supplicate the Holy Spirit to descend and perform the Sacrament. But to the repentant one confessing, the priest says:

"The Grace of the All-Holy Spirit has loosened and forgiven you in this present age and the age to come."

The fanatical zealots and super zealots of the Old Calendarists - worshippers of the Old Calendar - believe and say that the New Calendar Sacraments are invalid and the Holy Spirit doesn't descend because the Old Calendar is absent. There is no greater deception, impiety, and insanity than this. The Great Theologian St. Gregory says: "The Holy Spirit doesn't always ordain, but He operates through all."

The Divine St. John Chrysostom says that the Sacraments are performed even by the unworthy; the Holy Spirit sanctifies and performs them not for the unworthiness of the Liturgist, but for the sanctification of the faithful and the communion which the faithful receive with God through the Mysteries.

As such, all the Holy Fathers agree with this opinion of the three greatest luminaries of the world; Ss. Basil, Gregory and Chrysostom. Only the fanatic zealots and super zealot Old Calendarists and the Abbess of the Monastery of the Ascension in Kazani don't agree. And wanting to show that they are superior and wiser than the Holy Fathers, they think and preach that the communicants of Holy Communion in the New Calendarist Churches eat bread, wine, chaff and grass...

O foolish Old Calendarists. Who bewitched you?

Who taught you to think and believe that the Old Calendar is of equal strength with the All-Holy Spirit or even higher? And who taught you to believe and think that when the New Calendarists supplicate God to send the Holy Spirit and sanctify their Sacraments the Old Calendar doesn't permit it to descend because they are New Calendarists and it is only allowed to descend for the accurate keepers of the Old Calendar–the fanatic zealots and super zealots?

When the Holy Fathers gave us the Old Calendar, they told us:

"We give you the Julian Calendar, upon the basis of which we regulate to always celebrate the Feast of Pascha in conformity, peace and harmony on the same day so that some don't celebrate earlier and others celebrate later and thus become quarrelsome, disputers and divided."

They didn't tell us that whoever keeps the Old Calendar is saved and upon this hangs all the Law and Prophets. This is the teaching of the very wicked devil.

The All-Sneaky One - just as he trampled upon Adam and Eve in Paradise - trampled upon you to self-title yourselves as ‘Genuine Orthodox’. And as heedless ones, you received his counsel and not God's counsel which He gave to His disciples and all of the Faithful:

"When you do everything, namely, when you keep My law, commandments and orders, say that you are useless servants, we have done what was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10). He didn't order us to say that we are ‘Genuine Orthodox’.

By receiving the Hater-of-Good's counsel and being self-titled "Genuine Orthodox" and by rejecting our Lord Jesus Christ's counsel, who ordered: "When you do everything to say you are useless servants” - you reject humility.

God, Who resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, the Holy Spirit, Who rests in the hearts of the meek, has left from your hearts; He took off.

Rather, you chased Him off/drove Him out, preferring the spirit of pride which taught you anger and internal agitation; but the heart of the agitated is the throne of the devil. It taught you not to have love but rather to have hate, to insult and to smite. And you wildly beat each other even inside the Holy Church. It taught you to think and preach that the Holy Spirit which the New Calendarist Archpriest and priest invoke...doesn't descend because they're not Old Calendarists.

Thus, you also think that from the Apostolic times until the year 325–when the 318 God-bearing Fathers gave us the Old Calendar–the Holy Spirit did not come down for the Christians because they didn't have the Old Calendars! Consequently [Note: according to their theory] they ate bread, drank wine in the Sacrament of Holy Communion and remained unbaptized!...

My spiritual child...from the above, it's obvious that both the New Calendarists and the Old Calendarists are found to be transgressors of the Apostolic and Patristic Traditions; more so the Old Calendarists as they scorn the most Apostoloic and Patristic Traditions and especially love for which the St. Paul the Apostle says: "If anyone doesn't love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema. O Lord come!” (1 Cor. 16:22) and, "Though I speak with tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burners but have not love, I profit nothing” (l Cor.13:1-3).

By not having love, the Old Calendarists are neither benefited nor have good. They boasted and self-titled themselves as ‘Genuine Orthodox’. But by not having love, they are genuine cacodox. The absence of love and humility...blinded their spiritual eyes and they don't see.

Closing the present paternal epistle, I pray that our All-Good God and Heavenly Father safeguards you from the numerous and manifold snares of the crafty devil. St. Anthony the Great saw these snares spread out upon all the earth. Groaning, he said: "How is it possible for someone to escape them?" And he heard a voice, "Humility." As a spiritual father, I counsel you to pray ceaselessly and beg God to give you humility and love. And when you beg Him with faith and devoutness, then He Who orders us to ask will give to you. And when God gives you humility and love, then He will dwell in you, He will shatter the devil's snares and He will save you.

Your doubts about the calendar issue are undone/solved by the teachings of the Bible, the wise and Holy Fathers of our Church as well as prudence and discretion. The New Calendar was introduced into the Church lawlessly, and it broke the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church into two - the O1d Calendarists and the New Calendarists.

The Old Calendarists fell into many great delusions in order to keep the Old Calendar, greater and worse delusions than the New Calendarists. They abolished the first and great commandment of love; introduced new dogmas; introduced the calendars in worship, and dogmatized that the Holy Spirit without the Old Calendar doesn't sanctify the Sacraments of the New Calendarists, etc.

Consequently, the delusions of the Old Calendarists are greater in number and worse than the deceptions of the New Calendarists.

With paternal love and heartfelt prayers,

Archimandrite Philotheos Zervakos
Friday, July 16, 2010

Orthodoxy and Calvinism: Can Both Be the Gospel?

All too often I have heard ecumenically oriented Christians (from many denominations and churches) claim that the gospel is neither Orthodoxy nor Calvinism, but the gospel is Jesus Christ. Of course I agree that the gospel is Jesus Christ. However, does this mean that the gospel includes both Orthodoxy and Calvinism? Can it include such things? The Bible says:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be anathema. (Galatians 1:6-8)
So, I am going to give you the teachings of Orthodoxy and Calvinism and ask you if they are even remotely similar:


God the Father eternally decreed all things that should occur. Adam sinned, and in doing so, his descendants all inherited his sin nature, as well as the penalty for Adam's sin itself. Because of this, all of Adam's descendants were totally depraved- utterly unable to do any good in the eyes of God. God sought to glorify Himself in two ways. First, He wished to condemn many children of Adam to hell, to punish them, to glorify Himself in His perfect wrath. Therefore, He predestined most of Adam's children to this state of reprobation, eternal damnation. However, God wished to use the small remainder of Adam's children to glorify Himself in His perfect mercy.

Therefore, He predestined them to eternal salvation and bliss These are known as the elect. However, these children were still stained with sin, and God was still wrathful towards all sin, so He sent God the Son to become incarnate on Earth as Jesus Christ. Jesus took on all of the wrath of God towards the elect upon Himself, and died on the Cross. God the Father raised Him from the dead to show that He had accepted Christ's sacrifice. For each of God's elect, there is a specific time where God justifies them and regenerates their totally depraved nature, and sends the Holy Spirit into them.

Men do not choose to follow the grace of God, God sovereignly regenerates them by His own will, and His will alone (monergism). At the end of time, Christ will come and condemn those whom God had chosen to be reprobate to hell, and He will glorify those whom God had chosen to be elect to heaven. Thus, God will be eternally glorified in His wrath by the majority of people in hell, and eternally glorified in His mercy by those eternally in heaven.

That is the "gospel" of Calvinism. You tell me if that is the same thing as the gospel of Orthodoxy:


God has eternally existed as Father, Son, and Spirit, and they have eternally existed perfectly loving each other. God is love. But God's love overflows, and therefore He created mankind, which He intended to come into full communion with Himself. However, Adam sinned, and turned away from the right path towards communion with God. God was grieved because man had turned away from Him, and because of the world they now lived in, could not turn back on their own power. Therefore, God the Father sent God the Son into the world. God the Son took on a human nature in addition to His divine nature. He united the divine and human natures in one person, enabling humans to partake of the divine nature once more, and return to communion with Him. Jesus Christ died on the Cross, and because He is God, death could not hold the author of life, and the bonds of death were broken.

Because of death's destruction, Christ rose up from the grave. Christ appointed certain sacraments, or mysteries, which enable union with God through Jesus Christ. He gave us Baptism, so that we may be united with Him in His death and resurrection.He gave us chrismation, so that men may truly be sealed and indwelled with God the Spirit. He gave us the Eucharist, so that we may truly partake of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ so that we are united to God incarnate and commune with Him. He gave us repentance, so that we may come forth and plead before God for forgiveness, which He has promised to grant us. God wishes all men to be saved, for He loves all. However, God cannot force anyone to come to Him, because true love only exists in free choice.

God therefore enabled free choice by sending everyone a certain amount of grace which enables them to come to God. In the end of time, Jesus Christ will return and consummate history. Since the bonds of death are broken, all men will rise up from the grave. Those who are in close communion with God will now feel the presence of God- they will feel it as joy and bliss. Those who are apart from God will feel the presence of God as well- but because of their lack of union with God, they will naturally feel it as shame and regret.

Now, let me ask: do these messages sound anything more than superficially similar? I think the answer is clear. Only one of these can be the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Defense of the Holy Icons (Part V - Necessity of Veneration)

Previous installment: Part IV (Necessity of Iconography)

Thus far we have established that the the presence and veneration of the Holy Icons in the Christian churches are early Christian traditions inherited from ancient Judaism and also that to attempt to do away with the Christian iconographic tradition poses significant issues with radical implications in Christology. We will now build on the base we have already set in place with these points and move onto the necessity of the veneration of the Holy Icons.

There are some Protestant pseudo-iconoclasts who, backing off from fullblown iconoclasm because its erroneous implications, concede to the production and presence of iconography but to for its veneration. Such a semi-iconoclasm, though, is also filled with pitfalls. As we noted above (section III) veneration is not only the standardized ritual common in the Orthodox Church today, but any feeling of awe or reverence, a feeling which the Holy Icons must naturally bring about in any pious Christian with a love for Christ, His Holy Mother, and the Saints and Angels.

This is not very difficult to illustrate. Imagine that you are away from your wife or husband, your mother or father, or your son or daughter for a long period of time. Naturally, you hang up a picture on your wall or carry a photo of this loved one in your pocket. Each time that you look at this picture, you experience love and joy. You contemplate this picture and think about the times you've had with this person, how much they mean to you, how anxious you are to return to their embrace. You might even pick that picture up and kiss it! Now, one might naturally wonder why it would be acceptable, natural, and normal for you to do all of this for a spouse, parent, or child, but not to do the same for our Lord and Savior who said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”51

To continue with the illustration, if one were to look upon a photograph of his wife whom he has been away from for some time and not feel any love or desire for her, it would be safe to wonder if he really loves his wife and wants to be with her. Similarly, if a Christian looks upon an Icon of his Savior Crucified for his salvation or of his Master depicted as the Good Shepherd and feels no awe, no reverence, even no desire to prostrate himself in worship of his Lord, would it not be safe to wonder if he really loves God and wants to be united to Him, even if he is a Christian at all?

In short, if the icons are present, and, as we have seen, they must be present if we are to have a correct Christology, it is the natural response of honest love for God that the icons must be venerated. To allow for the presence of iconography but disallow its veneration is to separate not only art from utility, a strange enough concept in the context of ancient thought whether Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian, but, more importantly and more spiritually dangerously, to divorce mind from heart, theology from practice, piety from devotion.

St. Theodore of Studium (759-826), a monk and one of the primary Orthodox opponents of the Byzantine iconoclasts, offered a concise summary of this point: “If merely mental contemplation had been sufficient, it would have been enough for him to come to us in a merely mental way.”52

Next installment: Part VI (Dangers of Idolatry)


51 Matthew 10:37
52 St. Theodore of Studium, On the Holy Icons.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Defense of the Holy Icons (Part IV - Necessity of Iconography)

Previous installment: Part III (Veneration of Icons in Early Christianity)

The Holy Icons were displayed and venerated in Christian churches throughout the world for almost 700 years before anybody raised a voice of opposition against them, a significant point of fact in itself.35 Some time between the years 726 and 730, however, the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Leo III the Isaurian ordered the removal of an Icon of Christ which had hung prominently over one of the main gates to the city of Constantinople, the imperial capitol. In a subsequent decree issued shortly after, he forbade the veneration of the Holy Icons altogether, although still allowing for the veneration of symbols such as the Cross.36

Christians throughout the Roman Empire and well beyond its borders reacted with shock and outrage at the Emperor's unprecedented move. St. Germanos I resigned his position as Patriarch of Constantinople. St. Gregory III, Pope of Rome at the time, held two synods in Rome condemning Leo and his actions. In some parts of the Empire, there were riots and even popular uprisings, often led by the monks, which group unanimously opposed Leo's attempted “reforms” of the Christian Faith. The ensuing chaos and Christian infighting continued for over an hundred years. However, as interesting as the history of the Byzantine iconoclast controversy is, it is not within our purview here to examine the events in detail; that topic has been excellently treated in very many other places.37 What matters to us are the arguments that each side used to support their position; many of these arguments are the same that today's iconoclasts continue to use.

It is not precisely known what motivated Emperor Leo to begin issuing his edicts against the Holy Icons. Some historians have posited that the Emperor may have been influenced by Islam, a strictly iconoclastic religion which was quickly rising in power and which the Emperor had encountered firsthand during his battles with the Islamic Ummayad Caliphate.38 Another likely motivating factor was the Emperor's apparent search for reasons why God's wrath had fallen upon the Empire in the form of Muslim victories and recent natural disasters; images seemed to him an obvious answer.39 The most obvious reason and the most widely cited by the iconoclasts themselves, though, was a strict and literal interpretation of the Second Commandment, which states (see Exodus 20:4-6 and Deuteronomy 5:8-10):

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.40

The strict and literal interpretation of these verses of Scripture lays at the heart of and has been the key point in all movements of Christian iconoclasm, including the the original iconoclasm of the Byzantines, that of the Protestant Reformers, and that of modern iconoclasts.

The immediate problem with such a strict and literal interpretation, however, is that Scripture itself does not interpret this as a prohibition of images in a strict and literal sense. Where the Second Commandment occurs in the book of Exodus, for instance, God says only a few chapters later (Exodus 26:1):

Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains woven of fine linen thread, and blue and purple and scarlet yarn; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them.

And in another verse previous to that, God even associates his own presence with images (Exodus 25:22):

And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

Clearly, Scripture can and does distinguish between an idol and an icon, just as the early Christians and Jews we encountered earlier did. Few, if any, Christians interpret the Sixth Commandment, which forbids murder, so strictly.41 Nearly all Christians accept that Scripture distinguishes here between murder and killing, forbidding the former while allowing for the latter in some limited circumstances; this is especially true in the light of later verses in which God directly orders the killing of certain groups and individuals.42 Why, then, if Protestants can allow for a distinction here between murder and killing in the light of later verses, do they refuse to allow for a distinction between idols and icons in the Second Commandment in the light of later verses allowing for and even ordering the production of religious images? This inconsistancy smacks of hypocrisy and is indicative of certain readers interpreting their own presuppositions into the text rather than allowing the text to speak for itself.

And the text of Scripture certainly does interpret itself on this matter. Speaking to the people and repeating much of the Second Commdment to them, the Prophet Moses explains why it is that they are forbidden to make an image of God (Deuteronomy 4:11, 15-18):

And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. ... Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth.

According to the Prophet Moses, then, the reason that the Hebrews were ordered not to make an image is because they saw no image. They were unable to make an image of God because God was as yet unseen and even unseeable, and therefore undepicted and undepictable. However, approximately 2000 years ago, a remarkable event occurred which changed all of this: the Incarnation; in the words of the Holy Apostle John (Gospel of John 1:14):

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary. And, in becoming man, he took on all the properties of mankind, becoming like us in all things.43 Amongst the properties common to humankind is to have form and to be depictable; Christ, therefore, took upon himself the ability to be depicted in an image. We are no longer in the situation of the Hebrews in the Book of Deuteronomy who had only “heard the sound of the words, but saw no form;” we have now “beheld His glory.”

The truth of the Incarnation is fatal to any attempt at Christian iconoclasm and, necessarily, iconoclasts have traditionally, and dangerously, downplayed or altogether ignored it and its implications. The father of Protestant iconoclasm, John Calvin, for instance, wrote against images as if he were totally unfamiliar with the Incarnation of the Lord:

Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God's majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations.44

St. John of Damascus (ca. 646-749), one of the most important defenders of the Holy Icons during the Byzantine controversy, noted this betrayal of the prime truth of Christianity amongst the iconoclasts of his day and rightly declared:

In times past, God, without body and form, could in no way be represented. But now, since God has appeared in flesh and lived among men, I can depict that which is visible of God. I do not venerate the matter, but I venerate the Creator of matter, who became matter for me, who condescended to live in matter, and who, through matter accomplished my salvation; and I do not cease to respect the matter through which my salvation is accomplished.45

One of the truly remarkable features of all iconoclastic movements, no matter which location or century, is their inevitable lack of emphasis on the Incarnation and resulting pseudo-Eutychian Christology, often approaching very close to outright docetism.46 A suitable example of this can be read in a short treatise forged by the 8th century Byzantine iconoclasts in the name of the 4th century Bishop and Church Father St. Epiphanius of Salamis:

I have heard it said that some people have ordered that the incomprehensible Son of God be represented: to hear and believe such a blasphemy makes one shiver.

How can anyone say that God, incomprehensible, inexpressible, ungraspable by the mind, and uncircumscribable, can be represented, him whom Moses could not look at?

Some people say that since the Word of God became perfect man born from the ever-virgin Mary, we can represent him as man.

Did the Word become flesh so that you could represent by your hand the Incomprehensible One by whom all things were made?47

The author here is apparently even aware of the Orthodox counter-argument formulated by St. John of Damascus and yet, rather than attempt to provide a decent answer to it, he simply ignores it and repeats the same thing he had said previously but with different phrasing, completely sidestepping the logical flaw in his own argument. If the Word of God “became perfect man born from the ever-virgin Mary” he took on all of the aspects of what it means to be a man, as we discussed above. Men are comprehensible, expressible, graspable by the mind, and circumscribable, therefore the Word of God, in order to be perfect man, had taken on comprehensibility, expressibility, graspability, and circumscribability. If he did not, then he did not become perfect man, which conclusion places us firmly in the camp of the docetists.

An argument to the same end which the Orthodox theologians and Church Fathers who fought against the Byzantine iconoclasts did not have at hand is the question of whether a photograph of Christ would have been permissible had the technology existed during his earthly sojourn. If not, the iconoclast must answer the question of “why?” Would it have been physically possible? If not, then Christ must not have been fully human, therefore not perfect man. Would it have been permissible by the laws of God? If not, then different rules must apply to Christ's humanity than apply to ours, making his humanity unlike our own instead of “like [us] in every way,”43 and so not real humanity at all.

Each time without exception that iconoclasm has cropped up within Christendom, its followers have found themselves dangerously close to denying or at least minimizing the most central truth claim of Christianity, the Incarnation, and, resultantly, placing themselves within or startlingly close to the realm of docetism. The Holy Icons are a necessary safeguard of the most central doctrines of Christianity and to deny them causes a subtle but monumental alteration in Christology and theology as a natural implication. In the words of one historian, Richard Chenevix Trench, himself in fact a Protestant clergyman (Anglican, to be specific), commenting on the end of the Byzantine iconoclast controversy:

Had the Iconoclasts triumphed, when their work showed itself at last in its true colours, it would have proved to be the triumph, not of faith in an invisible God, but of frivolous unbelief in an incarnate Saviour.48

The Kontakion49 for the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent), the commemoration of the restoration of the Holy Icons to the churches following the conclusion of the Byzantine iconoclast controversy, succinctly summarizes the Orthodox argument against the docetism of the iconoclasts:

No one could describe the Word of the Father;
but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described,
and restored the fallen image to its former beauty.
We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and images.

Next installment: Part V (Necessity of Veneration)


35 Until fairly recently, it has been a common supposition that St. Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. AD 310-403) and Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. AD 263-339) were, in some sense, “proto-iconoclasts.” This thesis, though, has been sufficiently addressed and dismissed by Bigham, Steven. Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm?: Deconstruction of a Myth. Rollinsford, N.H.: Orthodox Research Institute, 2008. However, even if we permit two dissenting voices, which we nonetheless do not, the honest response is that it doesn't matter. In the famous words of Aristotle (Nicomacaean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 7), “one swallow does not make a summer.” The point is that even if there were several dissenting voices in the early Church, which we have yet to discover, their trickle of difference is drowned out by the roaring river of the rest of Christendom. They are also unimportant in having had no large or lasting effect; either they were ignored entirely or, more likely, they didn't exist.

36 Treadgold, Warren T. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ., 2000.

37 For a concise but informative history, see chapter 9, “Iconoclasm,” in Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. New York: Knopf, 1997.

38 Von Grunebaum, G.E. "Byzantine Iconoclasm and the Influence of the Islamic Environment." History of Religions 2.1 (1962): pp. 1-10.

39 See the Chronicle of St. Theophanes the Confessor, in English translation: Turtledove, Harry (tr.). The Chronicle of Theophanes: an English Translation of Anni Mundi 6095-6305 (A.D. 602-813). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1982.

40 All quotations of Scripture contained in this essay are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV).

41 According to Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, “You shall not murder.” This Commandment is traditionally number as the Sixth in the Decalogue (or Ten Commandments) by Orthodox Christians, Jews, and most Protestants, while Roman Catholics and Lutherans number it as the Fifth Commandment.

42 See, for instance, 1 Samuel 15:2-3.

43 Hebrews 2:17

44 Institutes 1.11.12

45 St. John of Damascus, Apology Against Those Who Decry the Holy Images, Part I.

46 Eutyches (ca. AD 380-456), the founder of the heresy known as Monophysitism (mono [one] + physis [nature] = one nature [of Christ]). He posited that Christ's human nature had been “swallowed up like a drop of honey in the sea” of his divine nature, thereby denying the full humanity of Christ. Eutyches' flawed Christology was condemned by the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in AD 451. Docetism is a very early Christian heresy (late 1st/early 2nd century) which posited that Christ only appeared to be human but was not so in reality, being instead totally divine. Docetism was condemned by the early Christians even in the New Testament (see, for instance, 2 John 1:7).

47 For the full text of the iconoclastic treatise falsely attributed to St. Epiphanius as well as a cogent argument as to why this attribution can safely be ruled as false, see Bigham, Steven. Epiphanius of Salamis, Doctor of Iconoclasm?: Deconstruction of a Myth. Rollinsford, N.H.: Orthodox Research Institute, 2008.

48 (Trench. Mediaeval History, Chap. vii.) “The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church,” trans H. R. Percival, in NPNF2, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace, (repr. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), XIV, p. 575, cf. 547f.

49 A specific type of hymn used in the Orthodox Church to commemorate a Saint or feast.

50 "OCA - Troparion and Kontakion." The Orthodox Church in America .





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