Are some people destined for hell no matter what?

“We are not told that God desires only some men to be saved or that He himself chooses to save some to eternity and to send others to eternal condemnation. NO! God desires ALL men to be saved. If you ever wonder where you stand with God, always bring this verse to mind. God isn’t hunting you down, trying to condemn you or punish or curse you. God hunts you only to find your heart. To bring you into an awesome relationship of unending love, because God is love. Salvation in the Orthodox understanding is the saving relationship between God and each human being. This relationship itself opens up the possibility of salvation because God Himself is our salvation and our life and we have no other.”

Out of Egypt..

*The reader is reminded that there is a distinct understanding of Hell in the Orthodox Christian tradition.  This tradition is based on the original Greek and Hebrew texts rather than faulty English translations.

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to St. Timothy 2:1-7

Today we are focusing on the Pauline epistle to St. Timothy. In this passage from St. Paul’s letter we heard these words “God our Savior, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I love this verse. It reminds me that above all God is love. It is His very desire to see all men saved! It is His desire that each and every man, woman and child should know the truth about God’s love as He demonstrated it through His Son Jesus Christ. I am sorry to say that not all people believe that God…

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What modern Christians can learn from Nicaea

Out of Egypt..

Today we celebrate the first ecumenical council. This council was summoned on May 20th in the year 325 ad in the city of Nicaea by the emperor Constantine to deal with the first great controversy that had overtaken the Christian world. The council is a very important part of Christian history (though most Christians know very little about it).

One of the great lessons of the council of Nicaea is that the historical Christian Church sought to be completely united. One group of those who claimed to be Christians read the Bible in a dramatically different way than another group. This brings up an important question for us today: When two groups or even two different people read portions of the Bible in two very different ways…how do we know which group is reading the Bible correctly?

The council of Nicaea, attended by 318 bishops met to discuss and resolve…

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The greater the love

Again and Again

proskome (800x688)Yesterday was the Feast Day of the Falling Asleep of the Most Holy Theotokos. At the Divine Liturgy, as I was preparing the Gifts, words from the Proskomedia that I routinely say struck me as if hearing them for the first time. Covering the diskos, chalice and then both with the large cover the priest says, among other things: “Cover us with the shelter of Thy wings….Give peace to our lives…”. Words I say every Sunday, every Feast Day, every liturgy I serve but they caught my eye yesterday. Sometimes we can make our lives more complicated than they need to be. Our thoughts are filled with the drama of our lives. We worry, we have anxiety, we dwell on things. All the while right before our eyes is the liturgy, our prayer to God that He “give peace to our lives.”

Archimandrite Sophrony wrote about the Mother of God:…

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The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow (Guest Blog)

ImageBack in September of 2008 Father John Peck wrote a fine little essay that caused a lot of stirring to occur within Orthodox circles. Father John’s words here have deeply touched me and spoken to me. I believe he is very accurate in his words. I believe he has a deep love for the Lord, for His Church, and particular for young men who feel called to serve as priests. He is a sincere priest who speaks with a prophetic voice in this essay. I have greatly enjoyed getting to see Father John’s passion for preaching, which is a passion I share. He has a burning love and drive in his soul to which I can relate. Father Johannes Jacobse, who runs the American Orthodox Institute, said this concerning Father John’s essay,

[Five] years ago Fr. John Peck published the essay [“The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow”] and boy did he get hammered. Creativity, a characteristic you would want to see in priests, is feared because sometimes it gets too close to exposing the sheer paucity of substantive ideas and compelling engagement with the larger culture that the Church, in order to be Church, should cultivate in their leaders. The truth is we have got some very fine men serving as priests. The other truth is that those who bring the most to the table are often the first to get their hands slapped, and if that doesn’t work their livelihoods threatened and sometimes taken away.”

The words spoken here are spoken with love and sincerity, but with brutal honesty. I believe the words spoken here are spoken from a man whose heart has come to know Christ. This is the truth spoken in love from a man I have come to deeply respect and admire. For the Orthodox reading, these words are spoken with fire, but fire is refining even if it hurts:

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH OF TOMORROW

By Father John Peck

There is an interesting phenomenon occurring in Orthodox Christianity in America today, and reflected powerfully in our seminaries. Seminaries are loaded almost exclusively with converts, reverts (cradle Orthodox who left the faith, and were re-converted to it again), and the sons and grandsons of clergy.

I believe we are looking at the future of the American Orthodox Church — today.

The notion that traditionally Orthodox ethnic groups (the group of ‘our people’ we hear so much about from our primates and hierarchs) are going to populate the ranks of the clergy, and therefore, the Church in the future is, frankly, a pipe dream. Orthodoxy, despite the failings of its leadership, has actually lived up to its own press. The truth of the Orthodox faith, as presented on paper, is actually being believed – by those who have no familial or historical connection with the Orthodox. These poor deluded souls (of which I count myself) actually believe what they are reading about the Orthodox faith, and expect the Church to act like, well, the Church. They refuse to accept the Church as a club of any kind, or closed circle kaffeeklatsch. No old world embassies will be tolerated for much longer – they will go the way of the dodo. No one will have to work against them; they will simply die from atrophy and neglect. The passing away of the Orthodox Church as ethnic club is already taking place. It will come to fruition in a short 10 years, 15 years in larger parishes.

This is a well known problem. Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable. If nothing was done within five years (that’s two years ago) the decline would be irreversible. Demographics determine destiny, as they say. As you may have imagined, not only was “nothing done,” such reports were surreptitiously filed away, while the calls for a solution from clergy and laity alike only increased. Larger jurisdictions will, of course, have a little more time, but not a different result.

What we are looking at, of course, is of the highest concern to the hierarchy. They know, in their heart of hearts, that they cannot reverse this trend. Yet they fight a rearguard action, hoping against hope to forestall the historically inevitable movement toward an American Orthodox Church.

Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable.

The laity has already moved on. Americans, generally, don’t fall for very much strong arm intimidation or brow beating, don’t go for bullying by insecure leaders, and certainly don’t see the value of taking on and promoting someone else’s ethnic culture. They care about the Gospel, and the Gospel does not require Slavonic or Koine Greek, or even English for that matter. The Gospel requires context, which is why it cannot be transmitted in any language unknown to the listener.

When we look at our seminaries, we are looking at the Church of Tomorrow, the Church twenty years from now. Indeed, this is the Church we are building today.

Twenty years from now, I anticipate we will see the following:

  • Vastly diminished parishes, both in size and number. There will be a few exceptions, (and they will be exceptional!) but for the most part, most current Orthodox parishioners will age and die, and have no one to replace them. Why? Because as they have taught the context of their culture, instead teaching the context of their faith. Some parishes will simply be merged with others. Many will close outright. A few will change how they do ministry, with a new vision of parochial ecclesiology. These newer parishes will be lighthouses of genuine Orthodox piety and experience. Some parishes, I believe, will actually be formed specifically, in the old fashion, by purchasing land, building a chapel or Temple in the midst of it, and parishioners building or buying homes around it. The Church will be the center of their lives, and many will come from far and wide to experience their way of life.
  • Publicly renowned Orthodox media and apologetic ministries. These ministries are the ones providing a living and powerful apologetic for the Orthodox faith in our culture (that is, our 21st Century life in the United States), and actually providing the Gospel in its proper context – engaged in society and the public arena. These will succeed in visibility and public awareness more than all the speeches before the U.N. and odd newspaper stories about Orthodox Easter or Folk Dance Festivals could ever do. In other words, the Orthodox Christian faith will become that most dangerous of all things – relevant to the lives of Americans, and known to all Americans as a genuinely American Christian entity.
  • More (and younger) bishops. If our current slate of bishops has been mostly a disappointment, reducing their number will only tighten this closed circle, making the hierarchy less and less accessible, and more and more immune to things like, oh, the needs and concerns of their flock. The process of selection for the episcopacy will contain a far more thorough investigation, and men with active homosexual tendencies, psychological problems, insecurities, or addictions will simply not make the cut. We aren’t far from open persecution of Christians by secularists in this country, and we need bishops who know the score. With better bishops, no one will be able to ‘buy’ a priest out of a parish with a gift of cash. Conversely, parish councils will no longer be able to bully priests into staying out of their affairs, and will be required to get out of the restaurant/festival business and get into the soul saving business.
  • A very different demographic of clergy. Our priests will be composed of converts, reverts, and the sons and grandsons of venerable, long-suffering clergy. These men all know the score. They won’t tolerate nonsense like homosexual clergy (especially bishops), women’s ordination, or financial corruption. They will not tolerate the Church being regularly and unapologetically dishonored by her own clergy. Twenty years from now, these convert and revert priests will be sending life-long Orthodox men, a new cradle generation, en masse to our seminaries. They will be white, black, Asian, Polynesian, Hispanic, and everything in between. Fewer will be Russian, Greek, or any other traditionally Orthodox background.
  • Orthodox Biblical Studies. Orthodox Biblical scholarship will flourish, and will actually advance Biblical Studies, rather than tag along for the latest trends, staying a minimum safe distance back in case the latest theory tanks unexpectedly. Septuagint studies are already on the rise and Orthodox scholars will usurp the lead in this arena, establishing a powerful and lasting influence in Biblical Studies for decades to come. Orthodox higher education — specifically in Biblical Studies in the Orthodox tradition — will finally have a place at the doctoral level in the Western hemisphere, and it will become a thriving academic entity. The whole Church will feed on the gleanings of this new scholarship and Scriptural knowledge, preaching, and Biblical morality will invigorate the Church for generations.
  • A much higher moral standard from all clergy. The next twenty years will see a revival of practical ethics. Instead of trailing military or business ethics, the Church will, once again, require the highest standard of ethical and professional behavior from her clergy — and they will respond! The clergy will not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing and hold to account those who practice these vices. They will vigorously defend the honor of Christ’s priesthood, and Christ’s Church. I dare say, even the clergy will finally respect their own priesthood.
  • Vocations will explode. As a result of the elevated ethical standard publicly expected from the clergy, candidates in far greater numbers will flock to the priesthood. There will be very full classes, distance education, self-study and continuing education going on in every location. Education at a basal level will disappear, except in introductory parish classes. Clergy will powerfully articulate Orthodoxy to the faithful and to the culture around them. Personal opinion will no longer be the standard for clergy when articulating Orthodox ethics and morality. Our seminaries must become beacons for this teaching, and give up “training culture” once and for all. We will finally begin to penetrate our society, rather than go along for the ride like a tick on a dog’s back.
  • Philanthropy will flow like the floodgates of heaven. Finally, the many Orthodox Christian philanthropists who annually give millions of dollars to secular institutions will finally find their own Church completely transparent, completely accountable, and worthy of their faith-building support. Let’s face it, there is more than enough money in Orthodoxy right now to build hospitals, clinics, schools, colleges, universities, and a new Hagia Sophia right here in the United States. The reason this is not being done is because these philanthropists are intelligent men and women who do not trust the hierarchy to do the right thing with their millions. This will change in short order once it is shown that transparency doesn’t destroy the Church, but strengthens it immeasurably. Frankly, I don’t anticipate every jurisdiction to do this in the next twenty years, but those that are practicing transparency will emerge as the leaders in every arena of Church existence.

Hope

This all may seem unlikely today, but it is coming.

How do I know this? For one thing, the last holdouts of corruption, Byzantine intrigue and phyletism (a fancy theological term for ethnic preference) are clinging desperately to a vision of the Church that is, quite frankly, dying fast. Oh, they are doing everything to shore up their power and influence, and busy serving their own needs, but their vision is dying. And where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).

As frightening and disconcerting as it may seem to our leaders, they will learn that emerging from a cocoon, even a Byzantine cocoon, is not a bad thing. Orthodoxy is about to take flight on new beautiful wings. These are the birth pangs of a new era for Orthodoxy. God is giving us a time of freedom and light.

This new Orthodox Church will have a different face, will be ready for contemporary challenges, and will have begun to penetrate American society at every stage and on every level. This Church is the one that will be ready for the challenges of open persecution, fighting for the soul of every American, regardless of their genetic affiliation. This Church will be the one our grandchildren and great grandchildren will grow up in, looking back on the late 20th-early 21st century as a time of sentimental darkness from which burst forth the light of the Gospel. Let it begin.

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Under the Rug: Faith Is Not All We Need

ImageA friend shared this quote from a fellow blogger tonight:

“We say, ‘All we need is faith in Christ, everything else is secondary.’

How does this work in the real world, though? For this statement to have meaning, we must define Christ, which means having a Christology. We must define ‘faith,’ which implies a soteriology. We must define ‘secondary,’ and we also must draw the line as to at what point ‘everything else’ can be considered as something other that Christology and soteriology.

Can we even make this distinction? Dare we? What part(s) of faith (and practice!) do we dare separate from our Christology (who Christ is)? What part of Christ is ‘secondary?'” –Arctic Pilgrim

Very recently I had a conversation with a friend on Facebook where he had put up a status about Christian unity. I kindly asked him to define unity for me. I also told him he can’t define unity without a set of theological beliefs. He and his friends kept carrying this theme of “all that matters is that we believe in Christ”. However, I kindly pointed out that demons, heretics, and plenty of people believe in Christ. I wanted to expose this thinking, in a respectful way, for what it is: false!

Belief in Christ is not all we need! 

Faith in Christ is not all we need! 

This is a false belief often purposed as a false sense of ecumenism. I respect those who make those arguments; please don’t take this the wrong way. However, they are completely and utterly wrong. One can’t have faith without a set of beliefs and theological grounding! I encouraged those in that very fruitful conversation to think about this more. I asked would they fellowship with Mormons or other cults that fall outside the realm of historic Christian doctrine? They all said no they wouldn’t. This reveals that even those who preach “All we need is faith in Christ; everything else is secondary” are 1) very inconsistent and 2) Realize that we need doctrine, theology, and belief.

Our Faith is not about whether we believe in Christ or don’t. 

It is about WHAT we believe about Christ and whether we accept the traditioned Gospel handed down to us in word and letter!

And WHAT we believe about Christ is theologically-driven. There is no way around that. We can preach “All we need is faith in Christ” until we are blue in the face, but when it comes down to it we do not rely solely on faith, for faith is first and foremost born out of theology or the acceptance of theology.

The Apostles began to believe only after the Passion, after the Resurrection. They read the Scriptures in light of the Passion and saw, theologically, that Christ was who He said He was. They came to see and know by understanding theologically thus their faith was born.

Without theology there is no faith, without doctrine there is no faith. The doctrine of faith itself is soteriologically-driven. If you have faith you believe in 1) a God and 2) He has acted, and 3) you have experienced Him.

It is nice sentiment to say “All we need is faith in Christ”, but it simply does not hold any water. I find it to be a dishonest attempt at handling the issues of Christianity unity and all the schism. Instead, let us be honest and own the schism and disunity and seek to promote healthy, dialogue that  engages truly with what we all really do believe and what we don’t believe. Let us have a serious talk about it instead of glossing it over with trite, weak platitudes that sweep everything under the rug.

Christian unity cannot come about as long as we gloss over the disunity, ignore it, or seek to soften it up. It cannot happen without real talk about belief and doctrine. It also can’t happen without reconciliation. We must seek to bring it all into the Light rather than sweeping it under the rug.

Let’s lay down our brooms and get to conversation. And let’s face it: faith isn’t all we need. Pardon the pun, but no one sincerely believes that if they are honest in how they feel and think about life and faith.

Theology, it’s a part of life; it’s a part of faith.

Dear son, don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you

“Don’t let the world tell you how to be a man. They don’t know anything about the subject.”

The Matt Walsh Blog

***Update, August 1: In response to the thousands of people who, after reading this entire post, decided to harp on one single phrase (“I’m no feminist”), I wrote this. If you want to know how I can say all the things I say here, yet still reject “feminism,” click the link and I’ll explain. Otherwise, carry on. Thanks for stopping by.

Our country dangles on the precipice of starting a third World War. We are on the verge of a completely unnecessary conflict where the United States will fight along side Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This, in another day and age, might earn the crown as the Most Controversial Story of the Week. But we’re in the year 2013, and this is America, so a young pop star’s dance moves on an MTV awards show have predictably overshadowed the prospect of global chaos and bloodshed. I wrote…

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The Need for One Thing (MiniBlog #5)

ImageI believe God intervened in my life today in a small, but encouraging way:

Today at work I was not really feeling all that excited about having to take 4 more hours of calls. Around 10 till 5, I honestly thought about going home because I was just emotionally drained from a number of things and pretty much just discouraged from a lot of things going on. I told myself, “I’ll take one more call and then go home.”

I took a call and did the whole routine of moving the guy’s policy to another state and that is when he mentioned he was headed to seminary. I told him I just graduated with a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership, and that I hope to go to seminary myself. He mentioned the name of the school, and I noted he was 41 and single, so I asked if he was Catholic and preparing for priesthood, which he was.

We had a very enjoyable conversation about icons and religious matters, but then I got curious and asked him about how he discerned his call and such being that he was 41 and going to seminary sort of late. He said it was a big can of worms, but that he was actually returning to seminary. He had left after two years when he was in his late 20s. He said he was not ready back then and needed to grow up some more.

He really encouraged me. I have been in that boat. It isn’t so much I want to be a priest right now, but discerning if I will be one period. I know I too am not ready at this point of being 26. It was encouraging to see someone being content with being 41 and going back to seminary.

What was even more of a weird act of Providence was that he was working in the mental health field and wanted to go into therapy, which is what I am contemplating now as well. We both believed it was not an accident that we got to speak on the phone today. I am thoroughly convinced it was a God-send for me to interact with him.

All around I did feel encouraged by him. He shared many encouraging things with me and gave me some great advice while sharing Scriptures with me. He told me he’d pray for me and asked for my prayers. I will definitely be praying for him and his future ministry as a Catholic priest.

I am grateful for his encouraging words and small witness of light in my life when I really needed. Now, I need to learn as Martha that there is need for just one thing in my life: Jesus Christ.

Grateful for this man’s encouragement and wisdom.