September 15, 2012


That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.

2 Timothy 1, 14


Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, Romanian Orthodoxy: whatever name it is given, it is surrounded by ignorance, myths, inventions and fantasies. Perhaps the greatest of these is the myth that Orthodoxy is different from Christianity. Let us be clear from the very beginning: Orthodoxy is Christianity. The two words mean exactly the same thing. Anything that calls itself Christianity and is not Orthodoxy is something less than Christianity. And anything that calls itself Orthodoxy and is not Christianity is something less than Orthodoxy.

You can call it Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Evangelism, Baptism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, anything you like. However, if it is not Orthodoxy, it is not Christianity, and if it is not Christianity, it is not Orthodoxy, but a reductionist, manmade adaptation of it. True, the words Orthodox and Christianity, and Orthodox and Christian, are often put together to make ‘Orthodox Christianity’ and ‘Orthodox Christian’, but only in contexts where people might not otherwise understand and be confused. The words Orthodoxy and Christianity, the words Orthodox and Christian, mean exactly the same, they are synonyms.

It is therefore curious to see how sometimes newcomers to Orthodoxy confuse Orthodoxy with something other than Real Christianity, Real Orthodoxy, so creating a false Orthodoxy and a false Christianity. The source of such confusion is in a non-spiritual approach to Christianity/Orthodoxy. This non-spiritual approach takes two different illusory forms, created by two sorts of temptations. The first temptation is that of the body, resulting from an external, physical approach. The second temptation is that of the mind, resulting from an intellectual, rationalistic approach. Since both sorts of temptation are superficial, they are not spiritual, and therefore do not lead to a Christian/Orthodox way of life.

The First Temptation

There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

I Cor 15, 44

The first temptation of some new to the Orthodox Church (because that is the only place where Christianity/Orthodoxy can be confessed) is to muddle the outward with the inward, confusing externals with internals. For example, we have sometimes seen how those new to the Church imitate what they think Orthodox ‘look like’, a fantasy which seems to be obtained from books. This can mean men growing long beards and long hair (so disobeying the words of the Apostle in 1 Cor 11, 14) and women wearing nineteenth-century clothes and putting impossibly huge headscarves over their heads. In such cases, both sexes may dress in black, displaying large crosses and, on their wrists, prayer-knots, in a manner exaggerating that of Orthodox monks and nuns (who do not wear crosses). Sometimes, both sexes may spend long hours talking about strange fasting foods and spend large sums on them. Sometimes, both sexes also wish to change ordinary Christian names to exotic Christian names.

In over thirty years of Orthodox life, I have never met any ‘ordinary’ Orthodox behaving or dressing in the above way. Since Orthodoxy is simply Christianity, it most certainly does not involve bizarre ways of dressing or hairstyle. Neither does it mean non-monastics pretending to be monastics. And certainly the aim of Orthodoxy is not to eat strange foods. The aim of fasting is not to talk about food, still less eat it, be it fasting food or non-fasting food, but to spend less time eating and talking, and more time praying. And one of the benefits of fasting is spending less money on food and giving the money saved to good causes. In everyday life, ‘normal’ Orthodox, who may have been baptised ‘Dmitri’, Theophilus, ‘Haralambos’ or ‘Vladimir’, often modify their names to ‘Jim’, Theo’, ‘Harry’ or ‘Walter’. Newcomers, on the other hand, sometimes do the opposite, trying to change names like ‘Antony’, ‘Michael’, ‘Peter’ and ‘John’ to ‘Vladimir’, ‘Auxentius’, ‘Rostislav’ and ‘Theologos’. Why? Who knows.

I plead with such newcomers to the Orthodox Church to get through this phase as swiftly as possible, if possible before they are received into the Church, and to start living like other Orthodox. They should look around. If they care to visit ordinary Orthodox churches, they will not find anyone dressed bizarrely. They will not find a single woman wearing a gigantic headscarf, they will rarely find a single man with a long beard (except for the priest, and his beard may be short and, perhaps like his hair, trimmed). They will not see a single person wearing prayer-knots around their wrists – for the simple reason that the other people in church are not monks or nuns, but married or single laypeople, who have not taken on the obediences of monastic life inside a monastery or convent. Regarding crosses, Orthodox do not wear them on the outside of their clothes, they do not even display them; small metal neck-crosses are worn inside our clothes, next to our hearts. And people rarely discuss the boring topic of food (unless, of course they own or work in restaurants, and even then they tend to change the topic swiftly – who wants to talk about work on a day off?).

A superficial, physical view of Orthodoxy is not only strange, but it can also be spiritually dangerous. A strange external appearance, not an imitation at all, fails to understand that Orthodoxy is simply Christianity, it fails to understand that Orthodoxy is simply the Christian way of life. It reduces the Faith to an external and immodest show. And in failing to understand this, it can, in certain circumstances, degenerate, becoming pretentious, both in the sense of pretending to be what it is not, but also developing into pride. This pretentiousness can lead to people referring to themselves as ‘slaves of God’ (we are not called to be ‘slaves’ of God but servants and children of God). It can lead to people signing letters with the word ‘the unworthy’, ‘the sinful’ before their names. Let monks and nuns do this. But let the rest of us refrain from this: we already know that we are all unworthy and sinful – we have no illusions about ourselves. It can lead to the backbiting and gossiping of little hothouse groups, who gather together in order to criticise others.

Such criticism and aggressiveness towards others come from insecurity. Not surprisingly, those who come into the Orthodox Church and think that Orthodoxy is about a fantasy imitation of supposed externals, which in reality do not exist in any Orthodox parish, will not last long in the Church, precisely because they are insecure. They will usually find that the Church is ‘not good enough’ for them, that they are well on their way to lapsing completely. The convert complex, the disease of the neophyte, is actually rooted in pride, the wish to be ‘better’ than everyone else. The curious thing is that when such people do fall away from the Church, they rarely blame themselves, but always ‘the Church’, which is ‘not good enough’ for them.

The best away to avoid this temptation is to start looking at other Orthodox, at people have been Orthodox for decades and generations and to accept obedience. I knew a young man who turned up in an Orthodox church with long hair and a long beard, dressed in black clothes, and asked the priest if he could become Orthodox. When the priest told him that the first thing he needed to do was to have a haircut and shave and dress normally, the young man revolted and left. His refusal to accept a small dose of humility and obedience meant that he did not become Orthodox, and in more than one sense. The spiritual disease of the neophyte imitating externals, is to be overcome as quickly as possible. After a few months of frequenting an Orthodox church, it is time to become Orthodox. It is time to leave the first course of the meal and to come to the main course, to enter the arena, for only this will lead to our ‘dessert’ – salvation. However, there is yet another sort of temptation to overcome before we can begin this main course.

The Second Temptation

Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know

I Cor 8, 1-2

For newcomers to the Church who are of a more intellectual frame of mind, there is another and perhaps still greater temptation. This is to turn Orthodoxy/Christianity into a mere set of ideas, booklore, a bookish cult. In reality, Orthodoxy/Christianity is not an idea, it is a way of life, the faith lived. Look at other Orthodox; they do not necessarily read piles of books and yet they have a faith stronger than piles of University professors. I know elderly Orthodox who have never read the Bible in their lives, and yet when they speak, they speak the Bible. How is it possible? It is simply because all their lives they have been to church, they have been bathed in a way of life impregnated with the living Scriptures. They do not read the Bible, because, much more importantly, they live it.

The intellectual mentality often degenerates into mere rationalism. What we need, they say, is a new form of Orthodoxy, a better one, a reformed version. In other words, as worldly people, they want to invent their own religion, reducing Orthodoxy/Christianity to the size of their reason. They want to reduce eternal and infinite spiritual reality to the tiny neatness of their limited created minds, rather than humbly accept a drop of the limitless greatness of the grace of God, far beyond human reason and social conditioning. This spirit of rationalism does not come from the Church; they bring it with them from the outside, like so many holiday suitcases, full of unneeded clothes.

Then, demands start. First of all, there are those who demand that the secret prayers and the Eucharistic Canon be shouted out during the Divine Liturgy. Apparently, salvation is only possible for them, if this is done, for, as they say, ‘everyone must understand’. But we have not come to church to understand what cannot be understood anyway, we have come to pray, to purify our hearts. Only when our hearts are purified will our minds begin to be enlightened and so understand. Spiritual enlightenment, true education, begins in the heart and then spreads to the mind, and not the other way round. For the mind is merely a tool, whereas without the heart we suffer both physical and spiritual death.

However, this is not acceptable to those who think that the proud and sinful human mind can understand everything. Their next demand may be that the iconostasis be removed from their local church. Naturally, they have no concept of the sacred, or of the sacrifices that previous generations made to set up the iconostasis in their church. Then, of course, the calendar must be changed, so that ‘we can be like everyone else’. Unknown are the Scriptures, which say that we are not like everyone else, that we Christians are a race apart: But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people (I Peter 2, 9).

What next? Well, of course, we must get rid of all these strange and irrational, ‘anti-feminist’ customs, that women cover their heads modestly in church (in obedience to the words of the Apostle in 1 Cor 11, 5), that women do not take communion during menstruation, that mothers do not go to church for forty days after childbirth (since both menstruation and childbirth are involuntary consequences of the Fall). Once they have eliminated all of the above ‘customs’, then, of course, why not have deaconesses and priestesses – ‘like everyone else?’ And on the subject of everyone else, we must have ‘ecumenism’ and intercommunion. In fact, why not destroy the Church completely and start all over again? What a pity the Holy Spirit has been wrong for all these 2,000 years, when only they were right. Clearly, they are God’s gift to mankind.

Such is the logic of the rationalist. Such is the obstacle to reaching the main course of the meal, to reaching what is above reason, the supra-rational. Such rationalism is the result of pride and self-flattery. Pride can be seen in the desire of the rationalist to avoid confession (one of the hallmarks of the rationalistic approach) and to take communion at every single Liturgy. However, to refuse confession, in the words of the Evangelist John the Theologian, is self-deceit, for there is no man without sin and we all need confession (I John 1, 8-10). And communion without confession will only lead to the sickness described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 11, 29. The rationalistic, anti-mystical approach to Church life is in fact the quickest exit from the Church, because it denies the essence of the Church, which is mystery. Sadly, there are those who have taken this exit.


Now the end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some, having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling.

I Timothy 1, 5-6

Several years ago I remember hearing an anecdote about an elderly Russian woman commenting on the behaviour of a zealous young convert: ‘He’s certainly Orthodox’, she said, ‘but is he Christian?’ What she meant was that he observed all the externals, in fact he observed them to the exclusion of everything else, and, as a result, he observed none of the internals. In the words of the proverb, ‘he could not see the wood for the trees’. In the words of the Apostle, he suffered from ‘zeal not according to knowledge’. Outwardly he was Orthodox, but inwardly he tended to resemble a ravening wolf. In any case, he did not live a Christian/Orthodox way of life. Zeal was without experience.

The conclusion must be that those who are new to the Church need first to follow the examples of others around them, who have never known anything other than Orthodoxy/Christianity. Hence the danger of parishes where, unfortunately, there are only newcomers to the Church. They can become unhealthy hothouses. Sadly, I have known people who have never got over their period as neophytes and all their lives remained ‘converts’, even describing themselves as such (for that is what they feel). This is because they have never passed through the first course of the meal and reached the main course, they have never been into the arena. How then will they get to the ‘dessert’?

Our summary of ‘Towards Real Orthodoxy’ is seven words: Be humble, be simple and be modest. For is this not the message of the Gospels? Why complicate Christian/Orthodox life? Be humble, be simple and be modest. That is all there is to it.

September 03, 2012

How to Keep the Church Typicon

How to Keep the Church Typicon

The Question of Uniformity in the Church Services Discussed at the Council of Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (1951)

by St. John (Maximovitch)

The divine services and rites of the Orthodox Church, having as their foundation one typicon and preserving commonality in all that is substantially important, are extremely different one from another in practice. Not only are the customs of different countries and local Churches different, but even in the bounds of a single region, sometimes even in a single city, the customs vary greatly in churches located close to each other. More than once the question has arisen regarding the introduction of a single common abbreviated typicon which would be mandatory for all churches. However, what may be only a theoretical decision may be in reality impossible to carry out and even harmful if attempted. The difference in the carrying out of the Church typicon comes about as a result of the strength of customs that have taken root. Sometimes these customs have deeply sensible meanings, but sometimes the meanings are quite nonsensical; thus, they remain because of the zeal and determination of those who carry them out. Without a doubt, we must take into consideration that which has been accepted as sanctified custom; that is, what has been accepted from antiquity as having been established and which has entered into the consciousness not only of the clergy that carry it out but of the laity as well. However, we must give considerably less weight to that which is only common practice; that is, to that which is merely a habit of those who carry it out, not having an inner meaning and not having entered into the consciousness of the laity. We must hold onto the first as long as they are of benefit to our activity, as long as they do not contradict the Church typicon. As for the latter, one may give only a common rule: the closer it is to the Church typicon, the better. Our Church typicon is not a compilation of dead rules and it is not the fruit of some abstract desk work, it was imprinted on the spiritual experience of holy ascetics who came to fully understand the depths of the human spirit and the laws of the spiritual life. The Holy Fathers themselves experienced the battle with the infirmities of soul and body, as well as the means for their healing; they came to understand very well the path of prayerful podvig and the power of prayer. The Church typicon is a guidebook for training and schooling in prayer and the more it is adhered to the more benefit is derived from it. In the case of the inability to fulfill all that is laid out in the typicon, we must fulfill all that is in our power, preserving its general structure and main content. It is necessary, on the one hand, to fulfill the principal characteristics for a given service unchanged in its composition and that which maintains its identity separate from others. On the other hand, we must try as much as we can to fill in those parts of the service, which, changing according to the day, express the meaning and reason of the commemoration of the day's event. Divine Services combine in themselves prayer, which is lifted up to God by the faithful, the receiving of God's grace in communion with Him, and the instruction of the faithful. The latter consists of teaching through reading in the divine services and hymns, catechism, and instruction in the Christian life. The divine services in their composition contain all the fullness of the dogmatic teaching of the Church and set forth the path to salvation. They present invaluable spiritual wealth. The more fully and precisely they are fulfilled, the more benefit the participants receive from them. Those who perform them carelessly and who shorten them by their laziness rob their flock, depriving them of their very daily bread, stealing from them a most valuable treasure. The shortening of the services which comes about through lack of strength must be done wisely and performed circumspectly in order not to touch that which should not be tampered with.

Specifically, at Vespers Psalm 103 must be read in its entirety; if it is sung it is allowable to sing only a few verses, but with majesty. Preferably, the verses of Psalms 140, 141, 129, and 116, which begin with the words "Lord, I have cried," will be always sung in full, all of the stichera absolutely.

On the prescribed days it is necessary to read the Old Testament readings and to perform the Litia.

Matins must be served in the morning. Serving Matins in the evening, except for when the All-Night Vigil service is held, is not allowable because, by doing this, essentially the morning service, which is very necessary for the faithful, is abolished; even a short church attendance in the morning has a beneficial effect on the soul, while sanctifying and giving direction to the whole day. The Six Psalms are not to be shortened; also it is necessary to read the Lauds psalms in their entirety. Reading should not take the place of singing except when there is absolutely no one who is able to sing, since the effect of singing is much stronger than reading and very seldom is reading able to substitute for singing. Do not dare to leave out the Theotokia after the Troparia and other hymns, for in them is given the foundation of our faith — the teaching of the incarnation of the Son of God and of the Divine Economy.

The Hours must be served exactly without omissions, as they are already so short. All three psalms of each Hour must be read, as well as the assigned Troparia and other prayers. At the end of each Hour special attention must be given to the prayer, which expresses the meaning of the sacred event commemorated at the given hour.

Liturgy must be served, if impossible daily, then at least on all Sundays and Church Feastdays, without taking into account the number of faithful that are able to attend the service. The Liturgy is the Bloodless Sacrifice for the whole world and it is the priest's duty to serve it when required. It is positively forbidden to skip any part of the Service Book (sluzhebnik). It is also necessary to fulfill the given hymns for the Liturgy. Included are Psalms 103, 145, and 33: if Psalm 103 is shortened because of its length (although it is better not to do so), then for the days in which both of them are replaced by the antiphons. Psalm 33 is replaced only during Bright Week by the singing of "Christ is Risen"; as for the rest of the year, it is to be read or sung in view of its edification and there is no justification for its omission. Those troparia. which are appointed for each given Liturgy are to be sung and in their proper order, since they are the festive part of the Liturgy. The Church typicon also refers to preserving accurately the order of the Epistle and Gospel readings. If this is adhered to, then throughout the whole year, in those churches where the services are held daily, the Gospel, as well as Epistles, will be read in its entirety. That order requires that the cyclic reading be read necessarily; its replacement by the festive readings happens only on great feastdays, but even then the cyclic reading is not omitted; it is read on the preceding day, together with the ordinary readings: on medium rank feastdays the consecutive and festive readings are read. The reading of only the festive readings, that is, with the omission of the ordinary, is called "irrationality" by the typicon because when this is done the whole meaning of the division of the readings in the specific order is transgressed and those who do this show their lack of understanding (of the meaning of the divisions).

The remaining sacraments, as in all of the order of services in the Book of Needs, also must not be shortened except for dire need, and even then only by adhering to all that is essential and the order of the service, remembering one's accountability before God for the damage done to the souls of the flock by one's negligence. Everyone, while celebrating divine service, must fulfill it more precisely and with better execution so that, bringing spiritual benefit to others, he himself in the Day of Retribution may be likened to the servant who brought forth the ten talents and hear:  Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things.

Published at Holy Trinity Monastery 1951. Translated by seminarian Akim Provatakis. Originally published in Orthodox Life, Vol. 41, No. 4 (July-Aug 1991), pp. 42-45.