Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

What is Wrong with Gay Marriage?: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 9

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

As a case study of how a liturgical understanding of marriage may be relevant to the realities of our lives, let us take a look at the “issue of the day,” same-sex marriage. We shall not discuss why society seems eager to promote same-sex unions. Whatever their reasoning is–some notion of fairness for all (why toward gays and not polygamists or zoophiles?) or society’s financial and legal support for gay unions (are gay unions a beneficial and stabilizing institution in our society to be supported and promoted?)–the Church has her own reasons.

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Furthermore, arguments based solely on scriptural prohibitions of same-sex acts have their own limitations. Some may be satisfied by saying that same-sex marriage is sinful because the Apostle Paul identified same-sex acts as sinful. But a more inquisitive mind may ask ‘why?’ And why is the Church so selective about the Scripture? Why do we allow divorce and remarriage, for example, which is nothing less than blessed polygamy, when Christ Himself prohibited it and called it adultery (Matt. 19:8-9)? Perhaps, a second marriage is just as sinful as same-sex acts, as the Apostle Paul indicated: “Do not be deceived; neither… adulterers, nor  sexual perverts [‘men who lie with men’–ἀρσενοκοῖται]… will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The second-century apologist Athenagoras put it very plainly: “He who rids himself of his first wife, even if she be dead, is an adulterer in disguise because he transgresses the hand of God, for in the beginning God created but one man and one woman.”

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Saint Basil the Great uses the word ‘polygamy’ (πολυγαμία) to refer to remarriage after divorce(canons 4, 50). He treats all marriages after the first, initial, marriage as sinful and different from one another only in the degree of sinfulness (canon 4). While seemingly tolerating at least some second marriages after a one-year-long excommunication of the newlyweds, Saint Basil notes that third marriages are ‘uncleanness’ (ρυπάσματα–canon 50), and anything beyond that is ‘animal behavior’ (κτηνώδες) and ‘worse than adultery’ (canon 80). (more…)

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Marriage: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 8

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

In the Orthodox service, no vows are exchanged; after the initial inquiry as to whether the two people want to be married to each other (more on that later), they say absolutely nothing. They also do nothing: something is done to them–crowns are placed on their heads, they are led by the priest around the gospel stand, the common cup is given to them, even their wedding rings are placed on their fingers by other people.

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Marriage is not a sacrament because it is listed as such in the catechism, and it is not a sacrament because God blesses the couple in some general way.  We have noted earlier that sacrament brings transformation: it is not quantitative (whereby vows, blessings, certificates, etc. are added to the couple) but qualitative–the couple does not remain the same two people they were before the weddings but is transformed (“changing them by Your Holy Spirit” in the Eucharistic sense) into something they were not–a specific icon of Christ and His Church.

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Just saying this, however, does not make it so. Many–if not most!–of our Orthodox marriages do not resemble the icon of Christ and look very similar to whatever model of marriage our current society presents. (more…)

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 7

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

Many people understand confession also as a singular and sometimes rare event.  Some in the Russian Orthodox tradition only go to confession once a year.  Others may confess more often and even more or less regularly…  But let us replace the word ‘confession’ with the word ‘repentance.’  What is the difference?  Imagine a thief who proudly tells his friend about all the things he has stolen, and then goes and steals some more.  He has just confessed his sins—undoubtedly.  But has he repented?  Now imagine a Christian who goes to confession, names all his sins—he is well aware of them—and then goes and continues to live in sin without any intent to change his life.  Can this be considered a sacrament? Obviously not. While God is ready to erase the sins from this person’s life, the person does not want them erased, he wants to keep them.  He confesses them without any resolve to change his life, that is to say, without repentance. Jesus did not urge people to confess, but but to repent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). In other words, repentance, even without the rite of confession, is transformative and, thus, sacramental. Confession without repentance, on the other hand, is not sacramental insofar as it is not transformative.

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Repentance is transformational not only in the immediate sense associated with the rite of confession, but in the most profound and mystical return to the Tree of Knowledge. Adam sought divine knowledge, but his lust blinded him to the large sign at the entrance: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. Repentant man stands before the Tree, having learned both good and evil; through repentance he finally achieved the knowledge of who he truly is. He no longer treats the Gift as an object–good for food, a delight to the eyes, and advantageous to his personal success. Instead, he offers a “broken and contrite heart” to God, born out of the waters of the tears of repentance (Ps. 51:17), offers it as a priest bringing a sacrifice to the holy table; and by thus entering into the fullness of the likeness of his Creator, he participates in the fullness of communion with his God by becoming His Body. And so, it is no longer, “It is good for food” (Gen. 3:6), but, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

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The main sacrament, the sacramentum sacramentorum, is not what happens to the bread and wine of the Eucharist, awesome as that transformation is, but what happens to us when we unite so intimately with our God, when He enters into us even physically, when we carry Him in our bellies. The sacrament does not end when the church service is finished; at that time, it only begins.

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In order for there to be a good fruit of this union of man and God, in order that the two become one flesh, one Body, we must become what we eat, we must be transformed into the likeness of the self-sacrificial God. Thus, we must repeat that which we had said concerning every other sacrament and act that we have examined: communion is not when we get something, receive something, it is not an act of a consumer; rather, communion is when we give and sacrifice, when we become God’s priesthood, the “sacrificers” in the cosmic Liturgy. And it is ourselves that we are called to bring to the holy altar of God.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 6

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

Many Orthodox lay people and even some clergy believe that once a person has been baptized as an infant, he remains Orthodox for the rest of his life.  This really should be the case: “We, then, enter the font once. Our sins are washed away once, for they should never be repeated.” But often it is not the case.  Baptism is the entrance into the Church—both as the mystical Body of Christ and as a human institution established by God.  But neither one of these is a prison, and anyone is free to leave at any time.

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In this context, we should all ponder the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Antioch: “Only request on my behalf that I may not merely be called a Christian, but may really be found to be one.”

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Archimandrite Ianuarii (Ivliev) noted another aspect of baptism. According to Fr. Ianuarii, Christian baptism closely resembles the rites associated with the transfer of slaves in the Roman empire. A newly-purchased slave was stripped of his old clothing, immersed in water in a symbolic death to his old master and re-emerged as a servant of the new master. This immersion was done in the name of the new master. New clothing was given to the newly-baptized slave, and he was then sealed with a seal or a brand of his new master. From that point forward, the slave belonged to the new master, served him, represented him, and also enjoyed his protection.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 5

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

In order to reclaim liturgical consciousness, we must strive for an entire paradigm shift in our lives. We have already mentioned the fact that for most Christians, elements of Christian observances seem to be secondary to the rest of their lives outside the church. Church services, prayer rules, Scripture readings, and changing diets (often mislabeled as “fasts”) are squeezed in among the primary obligations of secular lives–work, shopping, vacations, holidays, etc. People usually complain that they do not have time for prayer, or for attending church services, or that it is too inconvenient for them to fast; but hardly anyone ever complains that they cannot find time for work, or for a vacation, or that it is too inconvenient for them to eat bacon or ice cream.

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One instrument has been used consistently to both change the disposition of the heart and to demarcate liturgical acts: prayer. We observe a daily rule or prayer, which sanctifies the day and also marks the night as sacred time. But often, we do not properly understand the role of prayer in our lives. We feel that the sacred time in our day is the time spent in prayer.  We treat prayer as some form of obligation: 15 minutes for God, the rest of the day for myself.  Indeed, we often misunderstand religious obligations and see them in the same way as we see our social obligations.

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In other words, the sacred time of the day is not the time of prayer, but the time which is marked, framed, crowned by prayer—that is to say, the whole day itself.  A good example of this could be a beautiful chalice: as sacred and beautiful as it may be, it’s what’s inside that matters.  Or a beautiful temple—it is sanctified not by gold and glitter, but by the presence of God; and without God inside, it is merely a museum of beautiful architecture and fine arts.

(more…)

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 4

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

We already touched on the central idea of sacrifice in Liturgy. To illustrate this idea, one needs to look no further than the Eucharistic service of the Church. We can remove the singing, the commemorations, and even the reading of the Gospel, and the sacrifice of Christ offered to His people will still preserve the liturgical character of what remains. But if we preserve all of the singing and the commemorations, and read the entire Gospel, and yet remove the sacrifice, then what remains is no longer Liturgy.

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God did not establish His flock in order to take care of priests and bishops. Neither did He establish His flock just so priests and bishops would have someone for whom to care.

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Christ is the Lamb of God. To say this is not to say that Christ is a cute fluffy animal that God enjoys for a pet. To say ‘the Lamb of God’ is to say ‘the animal which has been chosen to be slaughtered as a sacrifice.’

(more…)

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 3

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

One implication of creation being Liturgy–not just participating in, but being–is that it is a communion with God and with all in God. We have already touched on the interconnectedness of man and creation in God. But what about the interconnectedness of men and women? So far, we have used the word ‘man’ to denote mankind or all of humanity. But by what mechanism or concept can we speak of mankind as one ‘man’? Clearly, there many ways to address this question–mankind as a biological species, or as a global society, or as an overarching cultural phenomenon–all of which can be viewed in a Christian theological context, but none of which directly speaks to the eartho-heavenly nature of mankind. What may bring us closer to that aspect of human unity is a closer examination of community through Liturgy and Liturgy as community.

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This “altogetherness” is the very essence of the sacrament of the Divine Liturgy. Earlier in our discussion we noted that a sacrament happens when the free will of God intersects with the free will of man. The resulting product of this synergic act is transformation.  What happens in the sacrament of the Body is not a quantitative change (one person added to another and yet another form a group of people in one place) but a qualitative transformation–it is no longer a mechanically-assembled group but an organic, living Body: “..send down Your Holy Spirit upon us [first–S.S.] and upon these Gifts… changing them by Your Holy Spirit.”

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Likewise, in Christ, all of humanity is saved and restored. Christ took into Himself one and only human nature. Male and female, Jew and Gentile can all be saved in Christ because they all share in the one and only human nature. If this were not so, if each person’s nature was unique and different, then in order to save male and female, Jew and Gentile, Christ would have had to become incarnate as each one of those natures and separately and individually the natures of each person ever born on this planet, but this is not so. By sharing in one nature with all mankind, Christ healed and restored this nature within Himself, and all who share this nature have the ability to partake of its renewal, all can change their family tree and become descendants of the New Adam.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 2

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 19 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar). 

I will use the word ‘mankind’ throughout to refer to all humans, both male and female. I will also use ‘man’ and ‘he’ to mean ‘human’ and ‘he/she.’ I do not do this from a position of male chauvinism–my writings on the equality of males and females in Christ speak for themselves. I do this out of concern that linguistic acrobatics may distract from the main points of the study. My Greek professor once told a joke. Someone noticed that there was ‘man’ in the word ‘woman,’ so they decided to change it to ‘woperson.’ But then someone noticed that there was ‘son’ in ‘person,’ and so the word was changed to ‘woperchild.’ My goal here is to no longer be distracted by whether the words ‘wo-man,’ ‘fe-male,’ or ‘s-he’ are inherently offensive and how they can be changed, but instead to focus on the main points of our study.

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Saint Irenaeus of Lyon wrote: “God formed Adam, not as if He stood in need of man, but so that He might have [someone] upon whom to confer His benefits.” Surely, these “benefits” are not gold, or material possessions, or entertainment, but communion with God Himself and the participation in His divine life.

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Communion with God, so intimate that man becomes the Body of Christ, is the essence of the Eucharist. Fagerberg goes even further in claiming that Saint Ephrem describes the story of Eden as a liturgical story:

“God expelled us from the environs of the tree of life lest we be eternally disfigured. Do not think we were expelled from Paradise because God was jealous of divinity and would not share it with anthropos. The Christian narrative is not the myth of Prometheus. The expulsion was on account of man and woman’s untimely grasping at that for which they were not prepared. The sin was not that man and woman took something which God never intended them to have; the sin was that the serpent convinced them to take it prematurely.

He deceived the husbandman

so that he plucked prematurely

the fruit which gives forth its sweetness

only in due season

— a fruit that, out of season,

proves bitter to him who plucks it.”

Paradise, and all that was within it, and the creation in which it sat had the purpose of both preparing man for the reception of God’s divine Gift and offering it to him in due time. This is also a liturgical model: the Liturgy both prepares man for the reception of God’s divine Gift and offers it to him in due time. But the Gift stolen without the process of “tilling and keeping” one’s heart is truly bitter: “Then after the morsel [given to him by Jesus], Satan entered into [Judas Iscariot]” (John 13:27).

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The intersection of God’s free self-sacrificial act of love for man  and man’s equally free self-sacrificial act of love for God constitutes the Liturgical sacrament. Elsewhere, I have written about a distinction between miracles, works of man, and sacraments. When God acts alone, it is a miracle; when man acts alone, it is a work of man; when the wills and acts of God and man intersect, it is a sacrament.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 1

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar). 

It is often asserted that in the Early Church theologians did not write works merely for the sake of writing something. Rather, it is said, they responded when their faith was being challenged and wrote apologies and clarifications of Christian doctrine. I personally think that some people like to write, to think and to express their thoughts in writing. Even if the Christian faith had not been challenged by heresies and misunderstandings, I am certain that some people would still have written for their own benefit, if no one else’s, and the Church would still have the theology of Saint Clement, and the beautiful works of the Syriac mystics, and also Chrysostom’s On Virginity as well as Augustine’s Confessions. Nonetheless, writing purely for the sake of writing can lead one astray toward subjects irrelevant or even irreverent. When one is so enamoured with the sound of his own voice that he loses track of why he is speaking or writing, and the very act of speaking or writing becomes a pleasurable end in and of itself, then, perhaps, it is time to think about a career in creative fiction rather than Christian theology.

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In other words, the vision of Christian rebirth and transformation seems to be that of a completely new creation, total newness–the newness of time and space, of the meaning of life and death, even a new heaven and a new earth–all is to be new with, perhaps, some remnants of the old, such as dishes, or diapers, or an occasional physical illness to be patiently born as a cross in full realization of its temporal limitations and of the faith in the world to come which is without illness, sadness or sighing. However, what we see in reality is people who get baptized but not transformed or renewed. Their life remains the same as it was before the baptism, their worldview does not change, and neither do their values. A weekly Liturgy, or some shortened prayer rule, or a vegetarian diet during Great Lent is added to their otherwise-unchanged secular life. Their Christian transformation is quantitative rather than qualitative; their most frequent complaint is that they do not have the time for church services or prayer rules because they are trying to cram some elements or activities of a Christian life into a life already overstuffed with other activities. They are trying to live a double life and in the best-case scenario their life becomes fractured in the process: Sunday mornings are for church obligations, the rest of the week is for the obligations of the world, and the two do not intersect…

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no one can serve two masters, for he will be devoted to one and despise the other (see Matt. 6:24). And this is exactly what happens–the add-on Christian obligations and activities become a burden: church services and prayer rules interfere with leisure time, they are seen and felt as an inconvenience; fasts “ruin” birthday parties and are a nuisance on secular holidays, unless one decides to dispense with the fast on those occasions and thus resolve the overlap of secular and religious activities in favor of the secular ones. Life becomes compartmentalized: one practices Christianity when one is in church or in church settings and secularism when one is at work or with friends who are not “church people.”

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What to watch during Lent 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 August 2015

Blessed Dormition Fast to you and yours! 

Here are some videos to watch during Lent. I will keep adding new ones as I find them.

Also, check out the videos in the previous post, “What to watch during Lent 1”

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BBC Horizons: “Eat, Fast & Live Longer”

Note the discussion of the “5/2” pattern about half-way through the documentary. Isn’t this what the Orthodox Church has been teaching for two millennia–fasting two days every week? 

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