Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Church's Rejection of Modernisms

Reading a Homily by St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) for the "Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy", and I was struck by a peculiar set of anathemas. If you are unfamiliar with the term, St. Ignatius explains it's severity.

The word anathema means "severance, rejection". When the Church anathematizes a teaching, it means that that teaching contains blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of salvation it should be rejected and removed, as poison is removed from food. When a person is anathematized, it means that he has irreversibly adopted a blasphemous teaching, and through them deprives himself and those near him, to whom he has imparted his line of thought, of salvation. When a person has made the commitment to abandon the blasphemous teaching and to receive the teachings upheld in the Orthodox Church, he is obligated, according to the rules of the Orthodox Church, to anathematize the false teaching that he formerly upheld, which was destroying him, alienating him from God, keeping him locked in enmity against God and in blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and communion with satan.

The meaning of anathema is the meaning of the Church's spiritual cure of an illness in the human soul, which causes eternal death. All human teachings cause eternal death if they introduce their own thinking drawn from reason falsely called, from carnal mindedness—that common heritage of fallen spirits and men, into the God-revealed teaching about God. Human philosophies introduced into the teachings of the Christian Faith are called heresies, and the adherence these teachings is called evil belief.
These are strong condemnations. The Church must always be careful, for a declaration of anathema or heresy is a total rejection of an idea as a deadly weapon. Spiritual death, for someone who truly believes in the soul and God's relationship with it's existence and future, is more serious than physical harm. A heretic wields the weapon of false ideas, like a murderer of souls. Therefore an "anathema" is not only a strong condemnation, but is a warning. A warning against accepting an idea that can and will hurt you.

As modern men, especially Westerners, we are especially wary of anyone forbidding our freedom, especially to something as seemingly innocent as an idea. However, if you accept a firm Morality and absolute Truth, that not only exists, but is knowable, (something that all true Christians must accept) then some things, even ideas, must be divisible between right and wrong. If the Church holds the fullness of Truth, then it also contains the guidance needed to protect our souls and our salvation.

On this last Sunday, we are acquainted with some, perhaps striking, anathemas. I'll highlight some of the rite's contained anathemas.

To those who deny the existence of God, and assert that the world is self-existing, and that all things in it occur by chance, and not by the providence of God, Anathema!

In other words, the acceptance of a materialistic universe that is self-creating must be rejected. God must be acknowledged in the whole of creation. 

To those who dare to say that the all-pure Virgin Mary was not virgin before giving birth, during birthgiving, and after her child-birth, Anathema!
Mary Theotokos (God-bearer) is "ever-virgin", before and after Jesus unto death. Period. Dot.

But, but! In Matthew 1:24-45, it says Mary remained a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus! RIGHT?

24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took (her for) his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Not really. This is a translation problem. The Greek reads:

24ἐγερθεὶς δὲ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου ἐποίησεν ὡς προσέταξεν αὐτῷ ἄγγελος κυρίου καὶ παρέλαβεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ: 25καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν: καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.
Eos (ἕως) in Greek does not imply any action after an event. It's use if for a declaration before the event. This "lost" meaning through translation common often throughout the Bible to the untrained mind, and shows, though of invaluable importance, the Bible is actually a difficult book to read with full meaning. The importance of Patristic and Church guidance here is highlighted, especially for those that don't speak Greek.

To those who reject the Councils of the holy fathers and their traditions, which are agreeable to divine revelation and kept piously by the Orthodox Church, Anathema!

Modernisms are dangerous to the spirituality of the faithful, as can be readily seen in the Roman Catholic "Novus Ordo Missae".  To modernize the traditions of the Church is to tread on the thin ice of untested waters. Tread carefully, you may be unintentionally destroying the faith, and never are you to reject completely the traditions of the Church.

To the followers of the occult, spiritualists, wizards, and all who do not believe in the one God, but honour the demons; or who do not humbly give their lives over to God, but strive to learn the future through sorcery, Anathema!
God isn't the only one that can cause amazing events beyond the material world. Those that believe in God, should remember that demons aren't a "superstitious" belief of the past. They are fallen angels. Don't be fooled in believing Cherubim are harmless pudgy kids. In fact, a full understanding of the Angels, can bring increased understanding in the magnificence of God.

To those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema.

If you prefer to hold a universalist ideology, that all religions are created equal, then you are of a separate faith than the Church. Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, is the only path to eternal life with God. Is this extreme? This, however, isn't a rejection of an individual. It is merely acknowledgment that you can't achieve harmony with God except through God.

Hearing today the dreadful pronouncement of spiritual cure, let us accept it with the true understanding of it; and pressing it to our souls, let us sincerely and decisively renounce those destructive teachings that the Church will strike down with anathema unto the salvation of our souls. If we have always renounced them, then through the voice of the Church let us confirm our renunciation of them. The spiritual freedom, lightness, and strength that we will unfailingly feel within ourselves is a testimony to us of the rightness of the Church's action, and the truth of the teaching it proclaims. 

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