Fort Lauderdale’s Attack on the Homeless


In recent years, approximately 100 U.S cities have enacted laws targeting the homeless, and contributing to criminalizing the poor and homeless, and reducing them by law to something less than human.

Many of these cities have specifically targeted their food supply, enacting laws limiting or banning serving free food publicly. Houston, Pasadena, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and Philadelphia are among the many cities that have made news for their policies that sound good in closed door meetings, but don’t go over so well with the public.

Most recently, Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler has rankled many across the country when police arrested 90-year-old WWII veteran Arnold Abbott for serving food to the homeless outdoors. “’Drop that plate right there,’” Abbott claims an officer commanded him, as if he were wielding a weapon. Abbott has been serving the poor of Fort Lauderdale for more than two decades through his ministry, Love Thy Neighbor, and has no intention of stopping now.

Even comedian Stephen Colbert picked up the story on his late night comedy news show The Colbert Report, joking, “If George Zimmerman had fed a guy in a hoodie, he’d be in jail.”

Read the full post at Orthodox Christian Network.

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Putting Christian men in their place

During past reflections on Psalm 1 and other topics, I notice the use of masculine imagery and masculine pronouns. I am not opposed to this as such, but I often wonder if men–even Orthodox Christian men–see the preponderance of male and masculine imagery as a place of special privilege within the Kingdom of God and the Orthodox Church.


The accusation is often laid against the Church that she is an archaic boys club; that the system and hierarchy in place preclude all female involvement outside of the potluck dinner, the meditation garden, and the choir; that the feminine is looked down upon while the masculine and macho are celebrated to an extreme degree. (All one has to do is look to the iteration of Fight Church to see the extreme spectrum of this broken worldview.) Rightly so, I fear. We Christians too often use the Bible as a weapon–not against sin, but against each other. We Orthodox use the Holy Canons of our church as cannons to be used in the offensive against perceived threats. In this, I fear, we have lost not only our proper view of women but a sacred view of men.

Both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition discuss with great reverence the good creation of God in creating Man male and female. Both, we are told, were created in His image; both were created for each other; and together they become a living icon of both the Trinitarian relationship and the mystical union between Christ and His Church. Our hymnography uses masculine language to describe women and feminine adjectives to describe men, and none of this is considered wrong nor obscene nor emasculation, nor chauvinistic. Yet we are confronted time and again by men and women whose misunderstanding of their God ordained roles leads them to lash out, belittle, and degrade others based on sex and gender. Increasingly, we buy into the Uni-sex heresy which denies the difference between sexes so much as to make them interchangeable! Both of these responses do undue violence to the Body and call evil what God calls good.

We have so misunderstood and misinterpreted the roles of women in the Church that the roles of men are often miscast as the oppressor or the do-anything-you-want frat brothers of Holy Orthodoxy. Instead of casting the priesthood and holy orders in the light of special significance and limited occupancy, some men see it as their right to pass through the Doors of the iconostasis simply because they are male. Others are quick to point out that “women can’t do that” without taking into consideration that those same forbidden areas are forbidden to the majority of men in the church as well. It is time, as Jodie said, for both Men and Women to be in their proper place.

What does this discussion of Orthodox Anthropology, sexism, and sex roles mean to you, your parish, your church experience?

Page Divider for Author Bios

Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.

The Lord’s Prayer part six: debts and debtors

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:12

I went to a little Roman Catholic elementary school, at Mass every morning I heard “forgive us our tresspasses…” In our family’s Orthodox church we sang “forgive us our debts…” Very confusing for a child like me. I remember citing it as a major difference between the Roman and the Orthodox churches – along with the sign of the cross – in conversation with one of the Marion sisters in the principal’s office. I was around ten. Of course as I grew it became clear that the debts/trespass issue had nothing to do with denomination and everything to do with what translation used. Many Orthodox ask the Father to forgive their trespasses. Everytime I would hear tresspasses used I would always wonder “why the difference?” and more importantly “which is correct?” Somewhere along the line I discovered the interlinear bible. An interlinear bible has the Greek and in our case English side by side word by word. It turns out the Greek word ὀφειλήματα, often translated as trespasses, means debt or more specifically “that which is owed.”

In Scripture everything has meaning.  The Rabbis say that even the empty spaces have meaning. Word choices have meaning. Let us then assume that Jesus used the word “debts” for a reason and examine that more closely. Debts is a rather narrow word, a financial term.   It means that which is owed, money borrowed, wages to be paid, obligation. A “debtor” is under bond to do a task. There are many places in Scripture that employ financial language when referring to spiritual matters; I would like to highlight just three. The first is from Luke’s Gospel and is the counterpart to Matthew 6:12

“And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.”

Luke 11:4


Here the word “sins”, in greek ἁμαρτάνω, literally means to miss the mark and is different than debts (ὀφειλήματα.) Bearing Luke’s word choice in mind let’s meditate on the forgiveness of debts in the famed Romans 3 our second selection.

“For there is no distinction;  since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 3:22-26 (emphasis added)

The redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) language here is often connected with paying the debt of someone else; often someone who has been made a slave to the creditor.

In financial language, Jesus bought our debt (talk about toxic assets) and then forgave it. We are redeemed, but that is only our Savior’s part – the part we could never accomplish. We must work out our salvation. We must forgive others. In the “Our Father” we are predicating our forgiveness on how we forgive others. This is deeply civic. As icons of the triune Godhead we are communal and that communion is only possible in Love (cf. Cor 13:4-8). Our model for Love is Jesus Christ – The Redeemer – the one who payed the debt once and for all; the one who forgives our debts as we forgive our debtors. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is not merely a quid pro quo, akin to “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Isiah 1:19-20), Matthew 6:12 is deeply soteriological, speaking directly to the Orthodox Theology of Salvation known as Soteriology. We are to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48) 

Let’s end with one final pericope from the Gospel according to Matthew. One of the “Kingdom” parables we are all perhaps familiar with it is about a servant who owed ten thousand talents to his Lord. The servant couldn’t pay so the Lord ordered the man imprisoned and family and land be sold to pay the debt. Interestingly enough the servant “fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” He does not ask forgiveness, but an extension. “And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.” The parable doesn’t stop there. Right after he is forgiven runs into a fellow servant who owes him money.

 “and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23-35

Page Divider for Author BiosI am a reader in a small Orthodox Christian parish on the edge of the prairie. I am married and have three children. The emergency room is my day job, at night I play mostly traditional American music on the banjo, guitar, mandolin etc. I am a PK and so is my spouse. Also an avid reader and book collector.

The Ancient Faith Prayer Book

AFPrayerBookI was recently mailed a copy of the new Ancient Faith Publishing prayer book, The Ancient Faith PRAYER BOOK compiled by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou. Much has already been said about the language style that was chosen for the prayers, so I will be brief in my summary of this detail. If you are one who prefers “Thy” and “Thine,” then this book is not for thee. While a few have argued that the use of a more modern English ruins the formality of prayer, I have only to say that it is my humble belief that this misses the point to prayer. While my favorite prayer book that I have run across is the Old Ritualist prayer book from an Old Believer church in Erie, PA, this is a great copy, especially for beginners and those new to an Orthodox prayer rule, helped in my opinion by the modern language.

Now that I have addressed the most common issue with the prayer book, I will simply point out that the contents are wonderful. The prayers themselves have been truncated lightly. By this I mean that you will not find the full length morning prayers found in the Jordanville, for example. But for those who are short on time or again, who are new to the Orthodox style of prayer, this is no problem. The prayer book contains the common morning, afternoon, mealtime, and evening prayers, as well as those for pre- and post-communion, and confession.

What I really like about this prayer book is the added little prayers for random occasions. My wife is a doula, so I was very pleased to find prayers for pregnant women, for a woman undergoing a difficult labor, and for the husband and wife after the birth of their child. Also included are prayers for beginning and ending work, for those who are sick, and many other prayers for certain occasions. Some of these can be found in other prayer books, but the compilation here I find to be very pleasant.

Another nice touch is the addition of prayers of the Saints, including Aidan of Lindisfarne, the breastplate of St. Patrick, and a personal favorite right now is the prayers of St John Chrysostom for every hour of the day.

Again, if you are one to value a rigorous prayer rule or an older English language, I would shy away from this prayer book as your go to. But for travel or the need for a shortened prayer time, I recommend this book. This is also a great copy to give to those who are new to the Church, as it will be a great introduction to the beauty that can be found in the prayer life of the Orthodox.

Simply put, this is a great addition for anybody to have in their prayer corners.

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jared Hall is a convert to Orthodoxy and a struggling sinner. He is married to a wonderful, natural-minded, woman and together with their two toddler boys, they are trying to make sense of this world. For this reason he chose St Brendan as his patron. He is a blue collar libertarian and passionate about birth rights, raising backyard chickens, a good scotch, and great conversations. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

St. John the Forerunner: Ancient Saint, Modern Saint

medium_988364117When we first began attending an Orthodox Church, I noticed that there was a life-size icon of St. John the Baptist (usually called St. John the Forerunner in our church) on the iconostasis right next to the icon of Jesus. In the icon, St. John’s head is firmly on his body, but he is also holding a plate with another picture of his detached head on it. The image is terribly shocking the first time you see it. How could we put such a violent image right up there at the front of the church, right next to Jesus?

Yet icons tell us the stories of the saints they depict. For example, if a saint is holding a cross, that means the saint was a martyr. Saints who are holding scrolls are considered saints of holy wisdom who contributed to our theology and beliefs. Female saints wearing white veils were virgins, while females in colorful veils were not. One of the key parts of St. John the Forerunner’s story is that he was martyred in an unconventional and brutal way: He had his head cut off at the request of Herod’s niece. So most icons of St. John have him holding a cross in one hand to signify that he is a martyr, and holding his own head on a platter or in a chalice in the other hand to remind us of the evil way he was martyred and the sacrifice he made for his cousin, and our Savior, Jesus.

Sometimes you will find an icon of St. John that shows a baby instead of his head on the platter. That baby is Jesus, and it represents the Lamb of God. The image of Jesus reminds us that St. John’s purpose was the prepare the way for Jesus. It also is a reminder that John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came to meet her and tell her she was pregnant with Jesus. Even before he was born, John sensed his purpose and knew how special Jesus was.

St. John the Forerunner is almost always dressed in a green robe. This is often a symbol of nature or earthliness, and is seen on ascetic saints who spent much of their life in the wilderness. In his icon, his hair is often long and disheveled, and the tunic under his green robe looks wavy like animal hair. All of this is to depict his life in the desert, foregoing the typical comforts of life for bugs and camel hair.

Another interesting thing in this icon is that St. John has wings. That bothered me at first. I felt that it was inappropriate to equate a human to an angel. Angels, obviously are higher and holier than human beings! However, Orthodoxy does not necessarily subscribe to that opinion. Mary is believed to be “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,” because she was part of the Incarnation, while the angels weren’t. St. John is depicted with wings because he was a messenger of God. The word angel means “messenger,” and each time angels are mentioned in the Bible, they are used to bring humans a message from God. Since St. John was a messenger or prophet sent to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival, he is considered angel-like because he brought an important message from God to earth. In addition, many ascetic saints are called angels because of their commitment to holy lives that avoid many worldly “pleasures” such as marriage, family life, shelter, abundant food, and comfort in general. St. John the Forerunner is often called “Angel of the Desert.”

Once I saw a man at the side of the road asking for money. I could tell he was poor because his socks were filthy and his shoes were falling apart. He had a bushy beard, and his hair was unkempt. He walked with a limp, and his eyes were squinted against the hot afternoon sun. When he got close to my car, I noticed he was wearing a black shirt with a huge white angel on the front. I couldn’t help but think of St. John the Baptist. Was this homeless, weary man a messenger from God? That day I did not have any cash with me to give him, so when the light turned green, I drove on, leaving the angel-man in the dust.

That experience got me thinking about what a modern St. John would be like. Living on the streets. Sleeping in the shelter of a cardboard box. Hair matted and dirty. Ripped jeans, long-sleeved faded green thermal shirt. I can see him standing on the street corner in a big city, calling out the money-launderers and big monopolies. Or maybe he lives in the woods, foraging along with the animals and sleeping in the leaves. Maybe he waits next to a cold running creek for hikers and nature lovers. Maybe they see his bearded face and talk with him for a few minutes. Maybe they let him pour the stinging water over their hands. Maybe they see his thinness and give him a couple of granola bars. I don’t know. I suppose a 21st century St. John could just as easily be a controversial blogger calling people to repent.

Sometimes I find myself searching for a prophet, someone to show me the way. I feel like we’ve lost faith in signs and signals, visions and dreams. We’re left with very little to guide us, other than what our culture offers: social media, product marketing, and celebrity.

Sometimes, I want to be the one who shrinks away to the wilderness, away from the noise and the technology, where the path to God might be easier to find.

Image used by permission from Jim Forest.

Page Divider for Author Bios

Karissa Knox Sorrell is a writer, poet, and educator. She has been Orthodox for almost ten years and her patron saint is St. Nonna, the mother of Gregory of Nazianzus. Read more of Karissa’s work at her blog, or find her on Twitter.

Kiss, Kiss, Kiss


Kisses-p1Orthodox people kiss everything: icons, relics, hands, cheeks, it doesn’t seem to matter, and few things are safe from an Orthodox person planting a smooch on it! We kiss hands of clergy, out of reverence for hands that have held God. We kiss icons (on the hands or feet, avoid kissing the face) to give honor to that holy person. We kiss each other because we want to foster love and friendship among the people of God.

Often, clergy and laity alike will come in for a kiss when you least expect it. Careful! Don’t kiss your priest on the lips (unless you’re married to him), and be prepared for returns: Greeks will usually want to kiss you once on each cheek, and Russians will go back for a third kiss. If you’re kissing cheeks, start with the right cheeks, then go for the left (try not to bump noses!), and brace yourself for one more on the right cheek if you’re in a Slavic community! It is not uncommon for such kisses to be imaginary kisses, where you basically just touch cheeks and make a smooching sound in the air. Depends on who is doing it, and likely has something to do with how afraid they are of your face hosting germs!

In the middle of the service, there is a “passing of the peace”—the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” In recent centuries, the traditional Orthodox practice consisted of clergy around the altar kissing each other, but some parishes essentially have a brief meet-and-greet in the service. Visitors can probably get away with handshakes to those around them, but stick around long enough and people might start kissing you. In some parishes, one of several customary greeting are exchanged at this time, too.

Sidebar: In many Slavic parishes, it is customary for communicants to kiss the communion chalice after partaking of the Holy Eucharist. This is done out of great reverence for the chalice that holds the Author of Life. In most Byzantine parishes, however, they wouldn’t dream of doing this, also out of great reverence for the chalice that holds the Author of Life. It’s just one of those quirky differences in Orthodoxy!

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

An American Saint Faces the Communists


Bishop Barnabas (Varnava Nastich), was born in Gary, Indiana in 1914. In the nine years he lived there, he gained an outstanding appreciation for our love of freedom. Eventually, he moved to Serbia, from where his parents had come. In Serbia, St. Barnabas worked diligently against the Communists regime and was eventually brought to trial in spite of his position in the Orthodox Church. Here is part of the transcript of his interrogation for allegedly spying for the United States. Try to imagine yourself in the courtroom.

‘Q. What do you have to say?

A. All your accusations are inventions and false. I tell you, I am not afraid. You may kill me, but that is not important. The Serbian people are against you and all the civilized world despises you. You have already lost the war.
(The courtroom cheered the prisoner.{!!})

Q. You are reported to have said that the regime in Yugoslavia is atheistic, that violence and crime have the upper hand and there is urgent need for action to remove the tyranny. Did you speak in this manner?

A. Yes, and more than that. I have spoken what all the people are speaking, feeling and desiring.

Q. Do you believe that Americans will come to overthrow the present regime?

A. I believe that quite positively. And I know that our people will meet the Americans with cheers as a liberating army.

Q. Did you speak to the farmers that they will be better off when the Americans come?

A. In substance I did say that to them. And the same I say to you here and now.

In a long question the bishop was charged with being in contact with anti-Tito Chetniks in the hills of Praca and Rogatica.

A. Not a word will I say about those brave men in the free hills who are ready every moment to lay down their lives for their ideals and those of their people.

(The approving uproar was so great that the judges ordered the courtroom cleared.)

The prosecutor produced a letter, purportedly written by the bishop, in which it was stated that 1,300,000 Serbs had become innocent victims of the hammer & sickle.
Q. Did you write this letter, and do you think this statement is true?

A. With my own hand I wrote it. The only thing that might be incorrect in that statement is the number of victims. For, since I wrote that letter, you have killed very many more people. Therefore, I say, only the number might be incorrect.’

In the end the bishop’s legs were manacled, and, clanking his new chains, he was taken off to eleven years of labor in the prison ironworks of Zenica. St Barnabas was released in 1951, eight years early – though he always remained under government surveillance. He “died suddenly,” some say poisoned, on November 12, 1964, aged just 50.

I have always wondered what I would do if I were to be challenged as such. Like St. Polycarp, would I bless my tormentors? As my beloved St. Fevronia, would I curse them, demanding to meet my Lord? Or here, as is the case with St. Barnabas, would I stand tall, filled with the Light among the darkness, and proclaim the Truth? This is what it means to be a martyr in today’s world. If we keep current with today’s events, we see our brothers and sisters faced with this same challenge day in and day out in Ukraine, Egypt, and now in Iraq and Syria with ISIS/ISIL/IS, just to name a few. (I’ll leave the non-fatal persecutions up to the reader to piece together.) And they are answering the call many times over, while we sit here reading our books, watching our screens and playing our games. How do we show that we care? Can drawing a ‘nun’ on our house or changing our profile picture on social media sites change the course of history, or is it merely a soon-to-die fad? We are called to walk with the Lord, our God, and we must be willing to die in order to do so, like so many before us. In fact we MUST die daily.

Holy Saint Barnabas, the New Confessor, pray to God for us! And may the Lord bless all those who stand firm in their faith when it is surely death that they face.

This post originally appeared on Death To the World

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jared Hall is a convert to Orthodoxy and a struggling sinner. He is married to a wonderful, natural-minded, woman and together with their two toddler boys, they are trying to make sense of this world. For this reason he chose St Brendan as his patron. He is a blue collar libertarian and passionate about birth rights, raising backyard chickens, a good scotch, and great conversations. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Baptism and Conversion

Baptism of Rus 988-p1

Coming into the Orthodox Church can be as exciting as it is bewildering for an adult convert. At times, inquirers find it difficult to get straight answer on what reception into the Orthodox Church is like. Put simply, one is received into the Orthodox Church by:

  • Confession of the Orthodox Faith
  • Baptism
  • Chrismation (the sealing of the Holy Spirit by anointing with oil)

All must confess the Orthodox Faith. Some will also need to baptized and/or chrismated. Sometimes a baptism, or a baptism and chrismation, are “grandfathered” in. This latter practice is sometimes done, for example, with the non-Chalcedonian “Oriental Orthodox” Christians, such as the Copts and Armenians.

The exact practice depends on the jurisdiction, bishop, or parish priest. But the Church does not simply leave a minister to his own devices. There are canonical and historical considerations, personal considerations, local considerations, and considerations of the bishop’s judgment that all factor into the manner of a person’s ultimate reception into the Orthodox Church. It is important to understand the way these several streams come together in the Church today.

There are several canons that govern reception of converts. Most famously, the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical council states clergy should chrismate certain professing Christians who hold non-Orthodox beliefs, such as Arians and “Macedonians” (among others), but only after they have renounced any false beliefs they once held. Whereas, Montanists, Sabellians, and Eunomians were to be received by confession, baptism, and chrismation after a period as a catechumen. There are similar canons in other councils, and once we factor in more controversial historical discussions from Orthodox luminaries such as St. Cyprian of Carthage and Blessed St. Augustine of Hippo, we have a rich tapestry of reception for the bishops to draw from.

The trouble is, there is no canon that says, “Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants who call themselves Lutheran or Reformed or Methodist, do this; but with Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, and the so-called Churches of Christ, do that.” Complicating matters further, there is a good bit of difference between a Lutheran and a Presbyterian, often even chasms of difference between Lutherans and other Lutherans, or Anglicans and other Anglicans. The Canons are a matter of wisdom and exegesis—an exegesis and wisdom that belongs almost entirely to the bishops as successors of the Apostles.

When people from the particular groups in question described in the seventh canon of the Second Ecumenical Council were in view, it is safe to say they were received with a fairly strict application of the canon. Several hundred years later, at the Quinisext Council, the same basic canonical rules were repeated with minor expansion, and the canons of the Quinisext Council later enjoyed ecumenical standing.

Beyond that time, application of the Holy Canons varied. Many of the heretics listed in the Canons died out, and relations with the Western Church grew complicated due to linguistic, theological, and liturgical differences, and eventually the unprecedented Protestant Reformation arose in Western Europe.

By the time the Orthodox faith reached America in the late 18th century, the Slavic tradition almost universally received converts from other Christian confessions by chrismation. We know of saints in the last century who were received without rebaptism, such as St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (formerly a German Lutheran) and St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre (formerly a Byzantine-rite Roman Catholic). More recently, certain local churches have strengthened canonical applications as it relates to reception of converts (perhaps in part responding to what is perceived to be excesses of the ecumenical movement).

It is not surprising that in this modern era there is diversity of practice. Since the current cadre of converts to the Orthodox Church is not the same as it was 1600 years ago, the application of 1600-year-old canons will necessarily vary. It is the prerogative of the bishop to determine the best application of a canon, and by proxy, his priests are often left with discretion in such matters.

Despite minor variation from one bishop to another, the Orthodox Church has been quite consistent in its insistence on determining decisions based squarely on the Holy Canons.

[Editor’s note: The author of this Field Guide is not taking a position on the matter of baptizing converts, but simply trying to be faithful to the facts of historical and current practice.]

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

The Holy Canons

cropped-fieldguide-to-the-orthodox-church1Canons-p1 (2)

The Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church are the plumb line by which the bishops have historically responded to pastoral and theological difficulties in the Church. Beginning very early in Church history, Church leaders responded to pastoral challenges by drawing up guidelines for Church life. These canons were written during important councils of assembled bishops.

Many canons cover conduct of clergy or specify areas of authority for certain episcopal sees, placing constraints on Church leadership to mitigate potential for abuse or scandal. Many canons also apply to non-clerics in the Church. Canons speak on matters as varied as sexuality and marriage, sacraments, excommunication, reception of converts, how clergy are to behave in public, and even matters of personal violence.

It is helpful to think of the Canons as the “house rules.” They are the standard for daily activity, but they are not necessarily strictly applied in every instance. That should not lead us to be dismissive of them, though. Just as good parents consider how to apply their own house rules with their children, so it is the bishop’s (and by proxy, a priest’s) job to determine when and how to apply applicable canons to particular pastoral situations.

Canons are not all created equal—some local canons never reached beyond a particular region, and were eventually phased out, while other canons went on to enjoy universal acceptance in the Church. Other canons were more specifically focused on the situations and cultural concerns of their time, finding application to a lesser extent in the Church today. It is not that these canons are ignored or abrogated, it is more that the very specific contexts in which they were introduced are absent, and should some similar context emerge again in the future, those canons would be relevant again. Until then, many simply don’t apply.

The manner of applying the Canons is typically categorized as akravia or oikonomia in popular Orthodox teaching. Akravia refers to a strict, to-the-T application of a rule. Oikonomia literally refers to the management of a household (Greek: oikos = household; nomos = law; or “economy” in English). It is used commonly to describe adjusting canonical requirements for pastoral considerations, with an individual’s salvation in mind.

St. Nicodemos the Hagorite (1749-1809) explains:

One kind of judgment is called strictness (akrivia); the other kind is called economy (oikonomia) with which the economists—the Greek meaning herein is “management of the household of the Spirit” to promote the salvation of souls—at times [go] with the one, and at times with the other.

The definitions and applications of oikonomia and akravia have varied through the centuries. The current usage is consistent with the harmonizing synthesis described by St. Nikodemos, and may refer to a departure from the norm for pastoral reasons for the salvation of those involved—this departure may more lenient or even more strict. St. Nikodemos is only one voice among many, but he is at least the most prominent voice when it comes to  canonical commentaries in English.

Access to the Canons by the laity in the age of the Internet has been a mixed blessing. Some modern Orthodox people have been openly critical of the Canons, and have used certain canons to mock Orthodoxy; others, who are more rigorist have used strict application of the Canons to criticize clergy of the Church (ironically, forbidden by the very Holy Canons they are seeking to preserve and defend) for not strictly applying certain canons. As we move toward greater administrative unity in Europe and America (and more in line with canonical norms), it is important that our bishops and clergy familiarize themselves with the Holy Canons, and that laity support them in this endeavor as we all grow into the future of the ancient Orthodox Faith.

There is always a danger of misapplying the Canons in a zeal to embrace the Canons. It may be something of a cliché to call this Pharisaical, but isn’t this what the spirit of the Pharisees was? They took legitimately enacted regulations of religious life and turned them into ends in themselves.

Certainly, the Canons should not be ignored willy-nilly, but the canonical corpus itself demonstrates that canons may be altered over time for various (good) reasons that don’t have anything to do with compromise. After all, the Church was not made for the Canons, but the Canons were made for the Church.

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Please help keep LOTW self-sufficient!

We are now accepting donations to LOTW to keep our page self-sufficient. This way we can keep the domain name that is now registered to us, as well as keep our private information private. We will also be able to upgrade to a better layout and design. Essentially, this will help offset all costs accrued to us here, and help keep randomly generated ads limited in the future.

If you feel like it, please help.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

%d bloggers like this: