Russian Church Architecture (Vol 3, Ch 3)

Michael Ruse:

Come and join us this Saturday evening to learn more about Russian Church Architecture. In Chapter 3, Metropolitan Hilarion offers an overview of many churches and cities built throughout the history of Russia. Often times the building of churches and cities coincided such as The Resurrection Monastery or the New Jerusalem Monastery. Although he doesn’t offer much cultural analysis or interpretation of the churches themselves, he does roughly follow the history of Russia starting in Kiev, Novgorod, Pskov, and Moscow, the last of which became the center of Russian Orthodoxy after the Mongol Invasion. There is an East-West influence to be seen in the beautiful structures of Russian church architecture. 

Churches and Church-building in the Byzantine Tradition (Vol 3, Ch 2)

From Michael Ruse:

How did the Church go from worshipping at the Last Supper, gathering in upper rooms, meeting in homes to magnificent churches like Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople where we find a “united liturgical organism?” In this chapter we explore different regions of the world. We observe that Christians worshipped in different types of places and structures. For example, there are very early Roman subterranean catacombs, 4th c. basilicas in Georgia, an old pre-Byzantine Syrian church called Dura-Europas, rectangular and domed Roman basilicas, Russian basilicas, and Balkan basilicas that use a mix Western and Eastern styles of architecture. 

After the Arian heresy was settled in council in 381 and during the reign of Emperor Theodosius, the basilica structure flourished everywhere: Italy, Gaul, Egypt, Syria, Middle East, Asia Minor, and the Aegean islands of modern-day Greece. Whether we look at a basilica’s orientation, rooms, proportions, shape or materials, there is a connection to Scripture, Christ, and mankind. Nothing, it seems, is designed randomly for Orthodox churches. Find out why the church basilica is likened to Noah’s ship. Why else should you join us this Saturday evening? Because this chapter gives us a great start to understanding our surroundings much better when we worship, and it helps make us all more aware of the structural meaning that encompasses us during the Liturgy.

The Tabernacle and Solomon's Temple (Vol III, Ch 1)

From Michael Ruse:

The first chapter of Volume III, Orthodox Christianity begins with the tabernacle of the wilderness, “sacred places” where God appeared, and Solomon’s temple. Our temple worship comes from the ancient Hebrew forms of worship that are described in the early books of the Scriptures. There are many details about measurements, dimensions, materials, bloody sacrifices, symbols, prayers, rituals, and holy objects. From a kind of “tent-temple” the Hebrew people then made a permanent temple for worshiping God in Jerusalem. Aside from those very important developments and parallels to our own worship services, why did King David, not God himself, come up with the idea of creating a “political center” for the state of Jerusalem with its temple built with stone?  

Unless you are Roman Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim, it may be difficult to understand why one particularly defined place in the world, like Rome, Jerusalem, or Mecca, deserves more political or spiritual attention for the center of worship than other places. This chapter will help us understand the difference between a synagogue and a temple, how Christians started to break from Jewish places of worship or study, and why Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem so often during his earthly life. These are only a few questions that can be asked when discussing this rich chapter on how, “the history of the temple is inseparably linked to the history of the Hebrew people” and how Christ Jesus Himself is “One greater than the temple.” 

New Heaven and New Earth (Vol 2, Ch 32)

From Michael Ruse:

Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

Our study of Volume II on the doctrine and teaching of the Orthodox Church will come to an end this Saturday evening. 

In our study of Orthodox teaching and doctrine, we saw how we are all called to hold fast to sacred tradition and scripture as Metropolitan Hilarion explained in Chapter 1 when he quotes from the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians (15). Although the only substantial change that Orthodox Christians seem to be comfortable with is the final change, we do look forward to how, “the hierarchical structure of the universe will disappear in the future age” (576). 

Metropolitan Hilarion’s short, multilayered chapter looks at the idea of how God is “all in all,” taken from I Corinthians 15. Although God will transfigure all of creation, it is not quite the same as apokatastasis (restoration) that we read about in chapter 30. We also see that the final transformation of humankind and creation is multifaceted. 

Metropolitan Hilarion reminded us in Chapter 2 that, “In Orthodox services the Gospel appears not just as a book for reading, but as an object of liturgical worship” (23). So join us to learn how this chapter serves as a foundation for understanding Volume III on the Orthodox Church’s architecture, art, icons and music because it shows us how God is “all in all” and how we can live the Orthodox mysteries and teachings.

Posthumous Retribution (Vol 2, Ch 31)

From Michael Ruse:

Christ came to Hades and destroyed it; we can pray for the dead to help save them; the universal resurrection proclaims that the bodies and souls of all people are reunited; at the last judgment we all experience God’s love. We have covered these sobering and hopeful teachings in previous chapters.

 The word retribution may have a somewhat harsh-sounding tone to us. It literally means repayment coming from the Latin root words meaning to pay back, give back among tribes (re-tribuere, tribus=tribe). The verb tribuere alone has a range of meaning in classical times, in particular to grant something to a person or thing, and also meaning to attribute, distribute or even poetically to give as a gift, or a tribute. But retribuere simply means to give back, restore. What is Christ restoring or giving back to us? 

 Mark of Ephesus frames retribution in this way: our suffering comes from our separation from God and our inability to see him that we have assigned to ourselves. Our actions, whether big or small, add up to our final tribute in the next life so to say. 

 We will also cover another important Greek term that is found in the Acts of the Apostles, apokatasis (universal restoration). Origin took this idea of salvation to include even the fallen angels as well as all people, whatever their wish may be. The Church has not gone that far. But there is a temptation nowadays to believe in a type of universalism. How do we balance extreme optimism and pessimism? Why is it important to believe in a retribution at all? 

 Join our discussion this Saturday evening at 4:00pm and learn more about these teachings on the afterlife and God’s unfathomable mysteries of love and human freedom. 

The Last Judgment (Vol 2, Chapter 30 )

From Michael Ruse:

The last judgment can take on a frightful aspect and produce much anxiety. In reality it is a call for us to love all people in the same way Christ had first come to us without judgment, in love, forgiveness, and with many second chances given. 

Metropolitan Hilarion also touches on the topic of people who live by their conscience outside the Church in light of the Patristic tradition and Scripture. 

The last judgment is not based on “arbitrariness,” as Metropolitan Hilarion explains, but it confirms that Christ respects each person’s decision in life. 

The last judgment simply reveals the truth of our lives, and Christ reveals to all people His glory, mercy, and righteousness. It is not God’s chance for revenge.

We invite you to come and discover with us how the last judgment confirms God’s loving kindness. If His mercy is offered freely to all people, how can we likewise extend that to every person and rejoice in His glory?

The Universal Resurrection (Vol 2, ch 29)

From Michael Ruse:

The dogma of the universal resurrection is “difficult for rational comprehension,” but it requires for us a different kind of comprehension. 

Metropolitan Hilarion starts with how apostolic teaching differs from ancient philosophy. Essentially, if there is no resurrection of the dead with the same body and soul then, 1) our faith is empty of power and hope, and 2) there seems to be no major difference between Christians and Plato or Pythagoras, Kant, or Nietzsche. 

The Prophets of Israel and the Old Testament give witness to belief in the resurrection of the dead as well as in the Gospels. There is also discussion in more detail about exactly how the body returns to the soul and the soul to the body, and especially important is that all are resurrected whether for paradise or punishment. Other dogmas and teachings that connect to this topic are: baptism, eschatology, creation of the cosmos, the second coming, and the final judgment.

In practice,

…the dogma of the resurrection of the dead has a deep spiritual-moral significance. From the view of many Fathers of the Church, this dogma reveals that eschatological perspective in the light of which Christian moral law acquired meaning.

The Second Coming of Christ (Vol 2, Ch 28)

By Michael Ruse:

Revelation has a character that is outside of time. The eschatological battle has already commenced, and it continues and will continue until the end of human history.

—Metropolitan Hilarion. 

There is an element of the end times that has to do with our history that deserves awareness. But there is another understanding of eschatology that is happening outside of time that is mostly unseen and escapes our attention every day. 

The title of this chapter focuses our attention on Christ as “the protagonist” who is the gate-crusher destroying Death and Hades in the end, and it is He who brings the joy and peace of the New Jerusalem to His faithful. Rather than focusing, as our modern and sometimes ancient commentators have done, eerily on the Anti-Christ and his terrorizing aspects we should direct our gaze always to the Second Coming of Christ and His final victory. In short, Revelation is ultimately a more terrorizing event to the Anti-Christ and his followers than to Christ’s Church. 

Death as a Way to Eternity (Vol 2, Chapter 27)

Coming on January 12, 2019:

From Michael Ruse—

In the introduction to Part 6 on Eschatology, Metropolitan Hilarion delineates two major approaches to life and death. Those who deny an afterlife. For these, the quantity of life often becomes a preoccupation. Those believers in an afterlife, specifically as Christians. for these, the quality of life lead in righteousness matters more than longevity or the quantity of material or worldly success one possesses or doesn’t possess.

From that starting point, Chapter 27 explores how the Christian belief in the afterlife changes our understanding of death as a purely negative, fearful event. Other topics to be discussed include what happens to the soul after death, for either the “God-loving” or the unrepentant person, what happens to infants, children, and youth, whether baptized or unbaptized, if they die young. 

We may understand death foremost as the punishment from God for our disobedience. But is God seeking retribution? Find out what Metropolitan Hilarion says about that and how God has hidden the plan of our salvation in death. 

The Theotokos (Vol 2, Ch 26)

By Michael Ruse

If you are ever wonder why we sing “Most Holy, Most pure, Most blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary” every Sunday, come and explore this chapter with us. 

Metropolitan Hilarion briefly introduces a group of topics on the Virgin Mary. After discussing this chapter, we will try to understand how the Theotokos fits perfectly in this section on the Church. 

First, he looks at some New Testament references to Mary and her typology. Second, he discusses sources on her virginity and why we sing hymns to her with the term “ever-virgin.” Third, he touches on the use of the description Theotokos and also why we should call her Mother of God. From there he discusses her role as a free, willing, and quite central person involved in the plan of salvation (p.478). He mentions four important Marian feasts such her Nativity, Entry into the Temple, Annunciation, and Dormition. 

With a few contrasts of Marian dogmas in Roman Catholicism, he puts these Marian prayers and dogmas in the context of the Divine Liturgy and the experience of the Church at prayer; Nativity hymns being one beautiful source.

The Veneration of the Saints (Vol 2, Ch 25)

How do we become saints? Metropolitan Hilarion describes holiness as Christians becoming part of a golden chain that stretches from many generations of saints. 

What happens to saints when they die? The Orthodox teach and believe that we “fall asleep” (we are not “dead”), and this golden chain doesn’t break after “death.” They live with the “Author of life.” That is manifest in miracles, healing, conversions, and when we become part of that holy, golden chain ourselves when we venerate, are helped, and inspired by the saints to live like them. Death cannot limit The Holy Trinity in outpouring “his presence, energy, and grace” on us.  

When Metropolitan Hilarion puts “veneration” in that context, it is clear the we do not worship people or their image, but we seek the same relationship they had with The Holy Trinity. We will also learn about canonization, some particular saints of Russia, and important Greek terms such as: latreia, proskynesis, and martys. Come and join this golden chain this Saturday evening! 

The Apostolicity of the Church. Hierarchy and Clergy (Vol 2, Ch 24)

From Michael Ruse:

We arrive now at the last characteristic of the Church in our seminar – its Apostolicity. How does apostolic succession work so that we understand what the true Church is or what it is not? Metropolitan Hilarion discusses the theme of apostolic authority and how successors were chosen according to tradition. We also explore the specific responsibility of the priest as healer as well as the deacons and deaconesses. 

The bishop (episcopikos = he who watches over in Greek) plays a key role in the Church as the spiritual center and head of each Eucharistic community. This episcopal “office” isn’t like running for a political office, although there is leadership structure in the Church like in other areas of life. A bishop’s responsibility is to watch over spiritually the communities that partake of the Eucharist in the liturgy. An important image we have to help us understand our leadership is the Good Shepherd. Join us this Saturday evening to learn about the development and structure of the Church that finds its "source in the Holy Trinity" (Dionysius the Areopagite). 

The Conciliar Church (Vol 2, Ch 23)

By Michael Ruse:

St. Cyril of Alexandria says do not ask “Where is the church” but ask “Where is the Catholic Church?” What makes the Orthodox Church “Catholic” or Universal? Part of that answer is found in Church unity and sacraments. Again, the image of Christ’s Body becomes a focal point for the Church’s identity. 

We set out to explore this seminar on the Church by delving into what the creed states about its characteristics: it is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. We will discuss what it means to be conciliar and Catholic, and how bishops and the laity take part in this fullness of the Church.

The Holiness of the Church (Vol 2, Ch 22)

By Michael Ruse:

This chapter briefly deals with two questions that mainly became controversial in Western Christianity: 1) Paul’s replacement theology that identifies Christ’s Church as the true Israel, not the continuation of the Jewish nation or the practices of Judaism, and 2) the degree of sin that affects the status of members, clergy, and sacraments of the Church. 

In the Church, becoming holy is normal. Each of us can do this with the grace of God first, then with our own effort. But is it a contradiction to believe that the Church is Christ’s pure bride while also admitting that people in the same Church sin? 

John Chrysostom and Anastasius of Sinai describe God’s Church as a hospital, not a courtroom, and an assembly where sinners find medicine and healing, not a place of torture or rejection. 

The Unity of the Church (Vol 2, Ch 21)

By Michael Ruse:

The unity of the Church may be a difficult concept to grasp when we observe so much disunity, and we may be encouraged by others around us to embrace it in various degrees.

In Part 5, Metropolitan Hilarion returns to the Eastern Church Fathers’ understanding of the Trinity that sets the foundation for Church unity because the Trinity isn’t separate from any part of our life, practical or theoretical. 

Metropolitan Hilarion doesn’t shy away from the tough questions of divisions and whether people are saved outside the Church. He presents ancient Church customs on how to to deal with schismatic and heretical groups, and also highlights the signs of unity, the criteria, found in John Chrysostom, that we can all point to and say confidently together that we are in the true Church.

Salvation as Deification (V 2, Ch 20)

Chapter 20, “Salvation as Deification,” is the final chapter in the fourth section of the second volume of Metropolitan Hilarion’s series, Orthodox Christianity.  In this part, Met. Hilarion has written eight chapters on the Orthodox understanding of Christ, His actions, and what it means for us.

He opens this chapter by explaining that while “salvation” has become the preferred word for the goal of mankind, it has lost an important part of the Orthodox meaning of deification.  More than only being saved from something, we are saved for something: to recapture our complete union with Christ, which was lost in the Fall.  This is what it means to be made in the image of God.

By the time of the first Nicene Council (AD 325), the Orthodox understanding of deification was well established.  “We too become sons, not as he in nature and truth, but according to the grace of him that calleth,” was a phrase used by Athanasius.

In the ensuing centuries, the understanding of deification was expanded by Gregory to directly link Christ’s incarnation with mankind’s deification. Symeon added that deification is a process that is unending.

With this understanding of deification, Met. Hilarion closes the door on the section on Christ, which allows him to begin next a six-chapter series on The Church.

The Resurrection of Christ (Vol II, ch 19)

From Chris Speckhard:

Metropolitan Hilarion writes that the “life and witness of the first Christians were permeated by paschal joy and the knowledge of the central meaning of Christ’s resurrection for the salvation of mankind. The Orthodox Church preserves this joy and this knowledge until this day, to which the whole liturgical structure witnesses, oriented to Christ’s  resurrection…If the feast of Christ’s nativity acquired significance in Western Christianity as the main feast day of the ecclesial year, then in the East the “Feast of feasts” has always been Pascha, celebrating victory over death by Christ who was resurrected from the dead, resurrecting the whole race of man with himself.”

In our discussion of this brief but theologically rich chapter, we will examine how the resurrection lies at the crux of the Orthodox Faith and how it represents the culmination of Christ’s redemptive work, inseparably connected with His crucifixion and descent into Hades.   As Orthodox Christians, we participate in Christ’s resurrection through the Mystery of Holy Baptism, and we can experience the Paschal joy in the services of the Church. 

From Michael Ruse:

In Chapter 19, we discuss the resurrection of Christ in light of the rich theology and language of paschal texts of the Church. Melito of Sardis says: He is human in that he is buried. He is God in that he is raised up. Much of the Old Testament symbols and prophecies become fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection as Melito explains, “For there was once a type, but now the reality has appeared.” Metropolitan Hilarion covers some important texts from the Church Fathers that dwell on why Pascha is called “the feast of feasts,” a mystery, and a victory over Hades. If Christ was really raised from the dead after death, should we really be afraid of death anymore? 

The Descent Into Hades (Vol II, Ch 18)

By Michael Ruse:

“Remove, O prince, your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.” That is an early Christian writing taken from the Gospel of Nicodemos. It’s describing Chapter 18’s theme of Christ’s entering into Hades. Was everyone saved there? Are only the Old Testament righteous saved when Christ entered Hades? We often think preaching the Gospel is only for people who haven’t died yet here on earth. Metropolitan Hilarion explores this question and how Christ achieved victory over death, the devil, and, most rarely talked about, Hell itself. 

Although there isn’t a systematic idea found in the Fathers of the Church about whether not Hades was emptied after Christ’s death, there is support from Scripture, Tradition, Liturgical texts for worship, liturgical poetry, and Apostolic teachings on this rare but important subject of Christ’s descent into Hell and what happened there exactly.

The Passion and Death of the Savior. The Dogma of the Redemption (Vol 2, Ch 16)

From Michael Ruse:

If Christ was not really divine and human at the same time, then would Christ’s suffering and death on the cross still be real and redemptive for us? That’s the question that Metr. Hilarion has asked in the opening of Chapter 16. 

Previously in Chapter 15 we covered the two wills and two energies, both human and divine, which are united in Christ. Now, we will discuss the connection between His passion, death, the dogma of redemption and the united wills and energies of Christ. These technical terms describe ideas that are crucial in understanding our salvation. To whom did Christ pay the ransom for mankind, what’s the meaning of Pascha, the mystery of redemption, and poems from Melito of Sardis are just several eye-opening subtopics found in this new chapter.