Κυριακή 27 Νοεμβρίου 2016

The African Woman & the role of Woman in Orthodox Church: she must become the light of the world

Union of Orthodox Church Mothers in Uganda (see here)

By Orthodox Archbishop of Zimbabwe Seraphim
Orthodox Church in Zimbabwe

"During the times of Persecution of the Church, women proved to be true heroes of the Christian Faith. They were the silent and secret defenders of the Church. They proclaimed loudly the true faith in God confessing their faith in Christ before emperors, Kings rulers and Judges. It was women who guarded the churches and the Sacred Relics of our Faith. Putting their own lives in danger, they moved the Holy of Holies to safety, when under threat. They taught the Christians faith to their children, ever when it was dangerous to do so. This special strength which women have is the gift from Lord our God. It is a special grace granted to them by the Holy Spirit to enable them to preserve the faith."

Two Orthodox Turkana women (from here)

"What is the role of women, today, in our Orthodox Church".

First and foremost, women must accept Christ as their own Lord and Savior. Women who acknowledges Christ, through baptism, accept the mandate of Christ’s love. She partakes in the Liturgical Life of the church. Though Holy Communion our Lord enters the soul of a woman and she becomes part of Him. She is instructed to listen to Holy Scriptures and to apply their Teachings in her daily life. She must become the light of the world, enlightening those allowed her, through good example, in the Christian way of life. She devotes her self out of love, to the service of Christ in all aspects of her personal, family and community life. Most of all, she puts on her love for Christ through her fellow man, and brings to God all those within her own family. 

Orthodox Women in the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Congo-Brazzaville (from here)

Her first priority is to fulfil God’s Divine Within her own family, her husband and her children. This then widens to the extended family: to her neighbour, to her parish community and then to the whole world. A Christian woman is today’s society, whether she works outside the home or not, is instrumental in nurturing her children. Even if she is not yet married, or has not chosen the way, a woman often serves in the society in the capacity of helping others, as a teacher, as a nurse, as doctor, as a wife, as a mother. As a wife, she cares for her husband and her children. She brings a reality of church into her home and guides her home to the church. Within her heart she understands the meaning.

Orthodox nuns in Uganta, sisters Mary, Thaboria & Theosemni (from the article The Orthodox Church in Uganda, an outgrowth of indigenous self discovery)

"The family which prays together, stays together ".
An Orthodox Christian woman through faith, finds strength to that for which the Lord has chosen her. She uses the Sacramental Life of the church to strengthen her family’s faith in the Risen Lord and to practice His Commandments. She understands the necessity for Christ to be within her life, and within the life of her family and generally in all the community, large and small. Life in Orthodox Church is not a simple matter of just attending Sunday Services: and an Orthodox woman is not just someone to prepare the coffee for those who have attended the service. Orthodoxy is not wearing a big cross, nor making the elegant gesture of the sign of the Holy Cross.

St Catherine of Alexandria (the Great-Martyr & Wonderworker)

Orthodoxy is not raising money for some purpose in life. These things may be an indicator of something; an act of love and piety, but without Christ love and teachings, they remain fruitless. During the times of Persecution of the Church, women proved to be true heroes of the Christian Faith. They were the silent and secret defenders of the Church. They proclaimed loudly the true faith in God confessing their faith in Christ before emperors, Kings rulers and Judges. It was women who guarded the churches and the Sacred Relics of our Faith. Putting their own lives in danger, they moved the Holy of Holies to safety, when under threat. They taught the Christians faith to their children, ever when it was dangerous to do so. This special strength which women have is the gift from Lord our God. It is a special grace granted to them by the Holy Spirit to enable them to preserve the faith.

 Christina Mothapo with members of her family on her 87th birthday, 1 Jan 2013
Christina Mothapo, the oldest, but also one of the most faithful members 
of the Orthodox Church in Mamelodi, South Africa. See here.

My beloved children, As Your spiritual Father I call upon you all to be strong in your Orthodox faith. Study Orthodoxy deeply, so that you know, teach and defend it all times. Fill yourselves with the knowledge of our Orthodox faith based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Learn the Traditions of Orthodoxy, so that you may keep it unsoiled and unfilled as many holy women in the past have preserved it, for those who will follow. Fill yourselves with wisdom of God and practice Christ’s teaching. Love him and show compassion towards your neighbour. You have an important role in the Church, to pass down this Orthodox Faith to the next generation and that which will follow.
The gift of faith which you hold, is different from those of others. An Orthodox woman has the gifts of cherishing and maintaining a special precious jewels; our Orthodox Faith. Her role is not simply to sweep floors or wash windows, or bake prosphora, but to keep the attitude and the idea of Orthodoxy alive in her family and within society. Even when there is an absence of interest for Orthodoxy, women hold aloft the Spirituality of Orthodoxy. Let the Lord God bless all women and continue to strengthen them in their faith and life let the Holy Theotokos protect and instruct all women to follow Her example in life. Let the Ever Virgin Mary be the protectress of our Orthodox Faith.

Maasai Maasai Women, Kenya (From here)

In recent times, there has been much discussion concerning the role and place of women within society as well as the Church. Indeed a significant amount of criticism has been leveled against Christians by certain sectors of the Feminist movement, which claim that Christianity represses rather than liberates women. In short, the same voices accuse Christianity of being an agent of oppression and enslavement rather one of liberation and honour for women. From a historical point of view however, the opposite is the case. Let us briefly consider how Christianity acts as a force of liberation, appreciation and empowerment for women. Let us look at situation and circumstances of prior to the coming of Christianity into the world and then appreciate how revolutionary has been the historical impact of Christianity on the role and status of women. Only then, when seen in its proper historical context can one appreciate and understand how important Christianity has been in elevating the status of women. 

I will choose some examples from pre-Christian history. Pre-Christian society, by and large, considered women as an inferior being. In a sense she was an adequate human. It was claimed that by their very nature women did cot possess moral courage and endurance- two of the most respected virtues of ancient society. Women were viewed as natural cowards. Indeed most branches of philosophy went a step further and made that women did not possess the faculty of logic- they were by nature irrational, unreasonable and illogical. In short they too emotional! Consequently women, with rare exceptions did not receive the advantage of education and were not received into philosophical circles. Certainly they did not have any political power. Roman society, which admired courage, considered women as lacking this virtue. Consequently a women could not bring military strength. Consequent as elsewhere in the ancient world women were regarded as inferior humans.

Saint Monica of Hippo, st Augustine's mother (icon from here)

Early Jewish society ascribed to women a deceiving and evil nature. Thus claims were made that woman were responsible for the fall of man. Consequently she was considered a natural liar and an agent of the devil. For that reason a woman was denied a right to testify in court since her word could not be trusted. Within this historical context the advent of Christianity proved to be a revolution for the cause and understanding of women as intelligent, courageous and virtuous- in effect Christianity empowered women in an unprecedented manner. Within the pages of the Gospels the female followers of Jesus are often described as courageous while the male disciples are depicted as cowardly. For instance while St. Peter denied Christ out of fear, while all other male disciples except St. John field during the crucifixion several women stood at the feet of the cross without fear. Likewise when men were locked indoors for fear of the Jews the women went out to anoint the body of Jesus.

Father Agapios and Presbytera Dorah, St. Tabitha House, in the Cibera slum

‘But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.’(St. John 19.28). On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews Jesus came and stood behind them. ..‘(St. John 20.19). Again within the pages of the Gospel, women are considered as honest. Trustworthy and reliable faithful witnesses. Indeed the first persons to receive the news of the Resurrection of Christ and commissioned to relay to men the most important message in the annuals of history-were women (St. Mark 16). And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Gaulle; there you will see him; as he told you".... (St. Mark 16.6-7). Within Gospels women are also described as intelligent and possessing acute intellectual curiosity. Thus when the Archangels announce the future birth of the Messiah, within the lucan account, she naturally engages him in conversation and seeks to understand the precise nature of this announcement.

Women from Uganda with the Patriarch of Alexandria (from here) 

However when St. Paul announces in his letter to the Galatians, that there is neither male or female but both are considered equal in Christ’s redemptive work, this represents from a historical perspective the most radical statement made on the status of women up to that point in the history of ideas. The message of Christianity claims that both men and women are empowered; saved and sanctified by Christ in an equal manner. In the final analysis Christianity claims both man and women equally receive the gifts and virtues bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Gender does not disqualify a Christian from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today women make enormous and significant contributions to human societies. Their nurturing rule role within the family as grandmothers, wives, mothers and daughters provide a stabilizing influence upon the structure of the family. Their contribution to social activities is also most important. Women are now familiar and indispensable aspect of the work force. Indeed as Christians, women provide the church irreplaceable assistance.

In Nigeria, with Metropolitan Alexandros (from here)

See also:
Male and Female Created He Them 
Orthodox Women Saints
African Women (tag in our blog)

 Photo from here


The Orthodox Church in Zimbabwe
Orthodox Zimbabwe (tag)
Orthodox Archbishopric of Zimbabwe - Facebook
Seraphim of Zimbabwe - Facebook

The Passion of Jesus Christ and the Passions of Africa
The Bible, Children, Poverty, Ebola & an Orthodox Priest with his Friends in Sierra Leone 
How “White” is the Orthodox Church?  


USA: The National Board of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black (l-r):  Fr. Paul Abernathy, Dcn. Turbo Qualls, Mother Katherine Weston, Fr. Roman Star, John Gresham, Dr. Carla Thomas, Bishop Neofitos, Fr. Justin Mathews, Fr. Jerome Sanderson, Hieromonk Alexi (from here)

Some African Women Saints

Perpetua & Felicity, March 7
Mary of Egypt, April 1
Isidora of Tabenna (the Fool For Christ), May 10
Theodora of Alexandria, September 11
Thais, October 8
Catherine of Alexandria (the Great-Martyr & Wonderworker [icon]), November 24 (& 25)
Saint Syncletika of Alexandria, the First Great Holy Mother of the Egyprian Desert (January 5)
Saint Monica (May 4)
The holy women martyrs Cyprilla, Lucia and Aroa, and all who had accepted Baptism from the holy bishop (July 4)
St. Julia of Carthage (July 16)
The saints of Thuburbo (Virginmartyrs Maxima, Domitilla & Secunda) and of Septimia (July 30)
Saint Virginmartyr Potamia of Alexandria, the Wonderworker, by the sword (4th century)

St Maria Scobtsova, an orthodox teacher & new martyr 
vs nazi (icon from here - see here

- See more at: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/11/entrance-of-theotokos-resource-page.html#sthash.kErn0BI5.dpuf
- See more at: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2014/11/entrance-of-theotokos-resource-page.html#sthash.kErn0BI5.dpuf

Τετάρτη 23 Νοεμβρίου 2016

The rich man and the beggar Lazarus (from Zimbabwe)

Icon from here

Orthodox Church of Zimbabwe

Sunday Sermon – 30th October 2016
By Archbishop Seraphim
of The Holy Greek Orthodox Archbishopric of Zimbabwe

From today’s Gospel extract we have heard the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus where Christ presents two different scenarios to us. The one is enacted on earth and the other one in heaven. In the scenario, which is enacted on earth, the rich man appears well-nourished, well-clothed, well-housed, healthy. He has a family, five brothers, friends, and servants. In the same scenario on the other hand, there appears the beggar Lazarus-hungry, naked, homeless, sick, without relations and friends alone and deserted, with the dogs as his only companions in his solitude licking his wounds and bringing relief to his pain.
In the second scenario, in the scenario of heaven, the conditions are reversed. The rich man is tormented, he burns, and he thirsts. “I am in agony in this fire, “ he tells us. This painful cry expresses the extent of his despair. Conversely, the beggar Lazarus happily relishes the life of paradise.
It is wrong to say that because the rich man enjoyed all the possessions of earth, he is deprived of them now in heaven and because the poor man was deprived of them on earth, he enjoys them now in eternity. It is wrong my beloved to say that the cause of condemnation of the one is wealth and the justification of the other is poverty. It is neither wealth that leads to hell, nor is poverty an incline which leads to paradise. What is important for anyone to reach paradise or hell is the way in which he lives his wealth or poverty. Today, Christ presents to us an ill-natured rich man and a good poor man. Besides, Abraham who is already presented by Christ as being in paradise, according to the witness of the Old Testament, was one of the wealthiest persons. Hence, if wealth were something evil, he would not be in paradise but in hell. What is important is how one uses wealth. If you use wealth to improve life on the planet on which you live, it will lead you to paradise. If however you use it to spread hatred and injustice without constructing works of love, then it leads you to hell. The rich man of today’s parable is condemned because he makes bad use of his wealth. From being an administrator of the material possessions which God entrusted to him, he becomes an embezzler, using them only for himself. 

Icon from here

Seeing the poverty stricken Lazarus outside his door hungry and wounded, not only does he not show any interest in helping him but he also causes him irritation. He could have become a contributor of joy, putting his wealth in the service of love. He did not understand that by giving he would further utilize his money. He did not realize the more one gives the more one acquires. Hence, although the wealthy man of the parable is presented to us as being wealthy in material possessions, he proves to be poor in spiritual matters. The lack of love, which he expresses in helping his neighbour, is what led him to condemnation. Therefore, what condemns the wealthy man is the way in which he manages his wealth. On the other hand, the poverty-stricken Lazarus is presented as being wealthy in virtues. What led him to paradise is not his poverty but his patience and endurance in his tribulation.
The poverty stricken Lazarus does not complain about his situation. He does not hate the rich man who treats him with contempt. He does not become a thief by breaking into someone else’s home in order to satisfy his hunger. He is not carried away by the camouflaged propaganda of the changing social system, which instead of leading to justice as it promises to do, leads man far away from God.
Conversely, Lazarus endures. He is content with the crumbs and company of dogs. He is satisfied with little and does not live with the longing to become wealthy by treading on the souls of others if the opportunity is given to him. And it is perhaps in his state of being satisfied with little that he is richer than the wealthier man because poverty is not measured by what one has but by what one desires, because the more you desire, the poorer you are even if you have a lot. Finally, however, wealth as much as poverty depending on the way in which we use them will lead us to the appropriate place accordingly: to hell or to paradise. We would be able to say by means of a parable, that poverty and wealth are two keys. Everyone holds the one and the other. You can open the door with the key as well as lock it. It depends on the way in which you use it. In today’ gospel extract, the wealthy man used his key to close the door of paradise, whereas the poor man used it to open the door.
Similarly we have the opportunity to freely decide how we are going to use our key of wealth or poverty, opening or closing the door, which leads to the life of paradise.

See also

A voice from Ghana: "If we truly wish to be called a Christian..." 
On Faith: Justice and peace at root of Orthodox churches mission to help the needy
Capitalism (tag in our blog)

East is East and West is West

“Which Pope?” — “Haven’t you heard of Universal Ordinary Jurisdiction?”

Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa Theodoros in Kenya with Bishop Neophytos (Neofitos) of Nyeri & Mount Kenya & others clerics (from here)

Khanya (Orthodox Christians in South Africa)

I quite often see articles on the web about the differences between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, usually compiled by Roman Catholics.
One of the biggest differences, however, which is rarely mentioned in such lists, is the difference in the lists of differences — in other words, there are different perceptions of what the differences are.
The Roman Catholic lists rarely mention beards, for one thing, which this humorous, but fairly historically accurate account of the split of 1054, does not omit: The Beard-Battle that Almost Split Christendom | The Local Church:
[Cardinal Humbert] excommunicated half of all Christendom—for having beards.
Sort of. See, what happened was this: On July 16, 1054, Humbert interrupted the patriarch in the middle of conducting the divine liturgy to serve him a papal bull of excommunication. The bull in question cited numerous offenses committed by the Eastern Church, including allowing priests to marry (which they didn’t do), re-baptizing Latin Christians (which they also didn’t do), and omitting a clause from the Nicene Creed (which, you’ll recall, had actually been added unilaterally by the Western Church). Oh, and the kicker:
And because they grow the hair on their head and beards, they will not receive in communion those who tonsure their hair and shave their beards following the decreed practice of the Roman Church.
That’s right. Worst of all, those Byzantine Christians grew beards—and, according to the bull, they denied Communion to men who shaved, too. (The Roman Church had banned beards in 1031, only a couple decades before Humbert excommunicated the East for not following suit.)
Go on, read the whole article. It’s funny, but it also gives you a fairly good idea of what actually happened. Take the mentions of “Byzantine” with a pinch of salt — that’s a later anachronism.
But this post is not about 1054 and all that, but rather on the differences in the lists of differences.
Here are three lists of differences:
  1. A Roman Catholic list, from Crux magazine
  2. An Orthodox list, from an Orthodox priest in the USA
  3. A list compiled by The Economist, a secular publication
Check the lists for similarities and differences, but I think you will see that the lists of differences differ as much as, if not more than, the differences themselves.
At this point the diehard ecumenist might object:
Why be so negative? Why focus on differences? Why not concentrate on the things that unite us instead.
The problem with that is that even if we did that, we might end up arguing about the things that unite us, because we tend to approach them from different points of view, as the article in The Economist makes clear. Also, the Roman Catholic Church is bigger than the Orthodox Church, so if there is any reunion scheme that ignores the differences, the Roman Catholics will simply assume that their way is the norm, and that takes us right back to 1054, because that is exactly what happened then, and there’s not much point in just going round in circles and getting back to where we started.
So look at the headings of the two lists:

The Roman Catholic List:
  • Primacy of the Bishop of Rome
  • The Filioque
  • Indissolubility of marriage
  • Purgatoriy, the Immaculate Conception and other disagreements

The Orthodox list:
  • Faith and Reason
  • The development of doctrine
  • God
  • Christ
  • The Church
  • The Holy Canons
  • The Mysteries
  • The nature of man
  • The Mother of God
  • Icons
  • Purgatory
  • Other differences

See what I mean?
The first three items on the two lists are completely different, and it is only in the 11th item on the Orthodox list that there is any overlap — on Purgatory.
The second item on the Orthodox list, The Development of Doctrine, is explained succinctly in the article in The Economist:
The West developed the idea of purgatory and of “penal substitution” (the idea that Christ’s self-sacrifice was a necessary payoff to a punitive Father-God). Neither teaching appeals to Orthodox Christians. The East, with a penchant for mixing the intellectual and the mystical, explored the idea that God was both inaccessible to human reason but accessible to the human heart.
And that gives a clue to another significant difference.
Most of the Roman Catholic lists deal with things that happened before 1054; most of the Orthodox lists concentrate on things that happened after 1054.
It is also worth noting that the list from The Crux is very diplomatic in its wording. It refers to the primacy of the Bishop- of Rome. Many other Roman Catholic lists refer to “Papal Primacy”.
At this point I shall get anecdotal, and indulge in a bit of narrative theology.

St John Lateran, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome
St John Lateran, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome

As many readers of this blog probably know, I used to be an Anglican, and back in the 1970s when some Anglicans were disturbed by some theological trends in the Anglican Church and were thinking of leaving, an Anglican priest in Umtata (Mthatha), the Revd Walter Goodall, wrote an article in a publication (I forget which)  suggesting that such disaffected Anglicans could find a home in the Roman Catholic Church under the Pope of Rome, “who is, after all, the Patriarch of the West”.
I replied to him, pointing out that we lived in Africa, not in the West, and that Africa was under the jurisdiction of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa.

His Beatitude Theodoros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, gives an award to Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow, who was visiting Egypt.
His Beatitude Theodoros, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, gives an award to Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow, who was visiting Egypt.

He responded rather sarcastically, asking “haven’t you heard of Universal Ordinary Jurisdiction?” I had to admit that I hadn’t heard of it, but also that I didn’t like the sound of it. I lived in Africa, and if I was going to leave a church that defined itself by communion with a bishop in Canterbury in England, I’d prefer to move to a jurisdiction that had been the focus of African Christianity since the first century than to an Italian one.
The question of “Papal Primacy” therefore raised for me the question of “which Pope?”, but more widely the question of ecclesiology, and especially the kind of ecclesiology implied in the phrase “universal ordinary jurisdiction”.
I’m not anti-Roman Catholic. I’m not one of those hyper-Orthodox who regard the Roman Catholics as “heretics” — I believe you have to be Orthodox before you can be a heretic; you have to be a communicant before you can be excommunicated. I think the current Roman Pope Francis has said some cool things, and that we can certainly talk to each other and maybe do some things together. But I think reunion is a long way off, and we need to take the differences seriously and not just sweep them under the carpet. And even if we do, we need to be aware that we are sweeping them under different corners of the carpet, or perhaps under different carpets altogether.
At one time our parish in Brixton, Johannesburg had a priest seconded from the Orthodox Church in America. A priest from a neighbouring parish once said to me, “You are bigamists! You have two bishops!” And the local bishop explained to him that we were not bigamists, that the American priests were here with the blessing of the Pope in Alexandria and the local bishop. But if we were suddenly to reunite with the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps we really would be bigamists, having two popes, one in Alexandria and one in Rome. And which one would have the primacy then? Perhaps we should say that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but it looks to me that there might be two bridges, and perhaps even two rivers.
We need to look at the differences before we get to that bridge.

Please, see also:

Patriarch of All Africa with Orthodox Maasai in Kenya (from here)