Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 4: The Cloud of Glory

On 1 Kings 7:50; 8:1, 3-7, 9-11 (3 Kingdoms OSB), Read at Great Vespers for the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies [1]


While Mary’s entrance into the Holy of Holies to pray and live there is itself the fulfillment, or “antitype,” of the types (symbols) in the Old Testament of God’s Presence dwelling among His people, her entrance is also itself a type, a foreshadowing, of the greater mystery—that of God taking on our human flesh, joining it forever to the divine nature of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Maybe that was a lot. The temple points to Mary, but she points to something beyond herself. OK, good.

Case in point: types can point to many things simultaneously, with no danger of contradiction or mutual exclusivity. There is no single application of typology: one image, event, or thing in the Bible need not represent one thing only, but a type can represent many things simultaneously. This is difficult for our so-called post-Enlightened minds, which desire order, neat logic, and mathematical exactitude.

Rather, in the Orthodox Christian conception, the temple in Jerusalem, for example, does not only foreshadow Mary’s conception of the Word of God, making her the walking Place of the presence of God, but it foreshadows the Word in His Incarnation as well. So, the type points to the first someone while pointing simultaneously to someone else; even the first fulfiller of the type points to the second fulfiller of the same type!

The types are many and their referents are many: the eyes of faith help us to see the Truth in the multiplicity of Scriptural symbols and the antitypes to which they refer.

To this end, let’s examine the second Old Testament reading for this feast, 1 Kings 7,8, which speaks of the bringing of the ark of the covenant into the newly-completed temple.

And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

1 Kings 8:10-11

Just as we saw in Exodus 40, the glory of the Lord descends in a cloud, making it impossible for anybody to enter or serve there. Note that—the cloud of God’s glory was impenetrable. Everyone drew back in amazement.

That God’s own presence and glory dwelt among His people in the tabernacle of testimony was itself an earth-shattering event in the history of humanity; never before had God been so close, so incredibly immanent. And even so, He still remained ultimately distant, other, transcendent, beyond the peoples’ reach in a very real way. Nobody could enter the cloud of God’s glory.

Even God’s relative immanence in the temple was itself a foreshadowing, a prelude to the greater mystery, the only truly “new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9); for, many centuries later, the Archangel Gabriel would announce to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

The cloud of God’s glory in the Old Testament points towards something even greater than the physical temple, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The cloud of God’s glory descended on Mary in a way that had not been accessible to anyone ever, and in her womb, the divine nature was joined to our human nature.

As has been noted elsewhere, the word for “dwelt” in this verse in Greek is literally “tabernacled,” no doubt intentionally bringing to mind the tabernacle in the wilderness, where God had dwelt among His People in a new, radical way. So, just as Mary would become the fulfillment of the tabernacle/temple, the place where God’s glory dwelt, so would the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, become the fulfillment of the temple.

This is a theme that runs throughout the Gospel according to St. John. In the second chapter, John breaks ranks with the other Evangelists and tells the story of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple at the beginning of His ministry, rather than at the end. Naturally, the temple officials are shocked at Jesus’ actions. He is clearly claiming to have (at the absolute least) prophetic authority.

So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

John 2:18-22

We have reflected first on Mary and then on Jesus as both being the fulfillment of that which the tabernacle/temple had pointed towards: the notion that “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48), but in people; Mary would become the Mother of God Incarnate, and so insofar as she fulfills the Old Testament type of the temple, even this fulfillment points to a greater reality, the Incarnation, where the divine and human natures were joined in one single Person.

Mary is the true temple. Jesus is the true temple.

And yet, even this mystery points to yet another mystery: that union and communion with that Person is possible for people, particularly for those who have been joined to Jesus Christ’s very own Body, the Church, the community of believers which have been called out from the world that they may be united to God in a very real way.

They have been called out of the world so that the cloud of God’s glory may descend upon them, that they may all be the Place of the presence of God, walking temples wherein God’s power dwells.

The Church also is the true temple.

And so in the next post, we will further discuss this relationship between Christ, the temple, and the community of Christians. And what we will find is that while the type of the temple has many referents, they all point towards one magnificent, mystical reality: the cloud of God’s glory descending upon the human heart, which through God’s free gift may be transformed into an altar to the Most High God.


[1] 1 Kings 8:1, 3-4, 6-7, 9-11 in all other translations

Photo credit: King Solomon Praying Before the Temple of Jerusalem by Giuseppe Bonito, c. 1750

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 3: The Holy Glory

On Exodus 40:1-5, 8-9, 14, 28-29, Read at Great Vespers for the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies [1]

Within the course of the Nativity Fast, we celebrate the feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies on November 21. As told in the second-century document The Protoevangelium of James, after Joachim and Anna had miraculously conceived a child in old age, they offered her at the age of three to God, to be brought up in the temple at Jerusalem.

The hymns for this feast center on one major theme: the true Temple of God is brought into the temple to be prepared to receive God in her womb.

Today the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God, she who alone among women is pure and blessed, is offered in the temple of the Law, that she may make her dwelling in the sanctuary.

Second sticheron at Great Vespers, Festal Menaion, p. 166.

(The hymns for this feast can be found here or at oca.org.)

The Old Testament readings likewise center on this theme, referring to three stages of the Hebrew place of worship: first, the completion of the tabernacle by Moses (Exodus 40), the completion of the temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon (1 Kings 8), and the eschatological (end-times) temple (Ezekiel 43-44).

But how, we might ask, do these readings prophetically announce Mary’s entry into the temple? And, more concretely, what does that have to do with us? Although all three Old Testament readings for today answer these questions, we will first focus on Exodus 40. Over the next two posts we will turn to 1 Kings and Ezekiel.

Exodus 40 is the climax of the book, where Moses finally sets up the tabernacle of the testimony (a portable tent-temple); the narrator says eight times that Moses did everything the Lord commanded Him to do, suggesting a superabundance of perfection.

When all was set up according to God’s directions Moses was unable to enter “because the cloud overshadowed it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (Exod. 40:29[40:35]).  The cloud and the glory were signs that God’s Presence was now abiding with Israel, literally “tabernacling.” 

The tabernacle is therefore a type of the Theotokos, in that it foreshadows and prefigures the reality that ultimately God desired to dwell in people as in a holy temple. Then, the cloud of God’s holy glory filled the tabernacle; now, His glory overshadows the young child who will be His own mother, as she enters the temple which prefigures her.

The tabernacle only pointed to the greater reality of God dwelling in His chosen servant Mary, His very Life filling her mortal body. This is the essence of what St. Stephen says in his defense in Acts 7:

Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:

‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the Lord,
Or what is the place of My rest?
Has My hand not made all these things?’

Acts 7:44-50; Isaiah 66:1-2

Instead of forever dwelling in a tabernacle or temple made by hands, God was preparing Israel for when He would dwell in a temple made without hands, the Ever-virgin Mary. And, as we will see, this points to an even greater reality: the Word of God Himself “tabernacling” among us in her womb, joining His uncreated divinity with our created humanity (John 1:14).

And, as we will also see, this has profound implications for all of us as well.

Today is the prelude of the good will of God,
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the Temple of God,
in anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her:
“Rejoice, O Fulfillment
of the Creator’s dispensation!”

Troparion (main hymn) of the feast


[1] Note that the verses given here are according to the Orthodox Study Bible’s numbering (the Septuagint). The Orthodox Study Bible (curiously) and the Festal Menaion reference the Hebrew numbering for this reading. Since we will be quoting the Orthodox Study Bible, we will first give the Septuagint numbering and then the numbering in most other translations in posts to come.


Photo credit: The Building of the Tabernacle with the Israelites Sewing the Curtains by Adriaen van Stalbemt

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 2: In the Beginning, To Begin With

Genesis 1:1-5, Read at Vesperal Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ

Charles Dickens begins his much-beloved story, “A Christmas Carol,” in this way: “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” And a little further on, he writes, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

In a way, this is how Moses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, begins the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God made heaven and earth.” We might add, following Mr. Dickens’ lead, that “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate,” or rather, the story of salvation that has been handed down to us in the Bible.

What is so significant about this first line in Genesis? And how does this relate to the birth of Jesus Christ?

To begin with, today begins the Nativity Fast, and so today we will reflect on the first day of creation, of which we hear read at Vesperal Liturgy on Christmas Eve. In these words, “In the beginning God made heaven and earth,” we actually learn what there was before the beginning, or rather, Who there was.

What is implied in this opening statement is that God was before the creation and is therefore uncreated: no-one or nothing made Him. He always was, and yet He even transcends our understanding of what it means to exist, “was-ness.”

At any rate, the Uncreated God created heaven and earth simply by speaking. So, in the beginning, there is a fundamental distinction: on the one hand, there is the Uncreated God, Who always “was” yet transcends “was-ness.” On the other hand, God creates the world out of nothing.

This distinction between uncreated and created “must be distinctly understood,” because it is through this distinction that we see what is truly so mind-boggling about Christ’s birth as a baby human being: that God, who is “ineffable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, and eternally the same,” united His divine uncreated nature with our mortal created nature in the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.

God steps in to His creation to become one of us, that we might become divine by grace.

St. Ephrem the Syrian compares the first day of creation to the day of Christ’s birth, for while the first day is “the source and beginning” of our universe, in which our Uncreated God created the world out of nothing, the first day is merely a type, a foreshadowing of when God Himself would come to redeem and heal the world by being born of a Virgin Mother and taking on the fullness of human nature.

The Old Testament is full of types and symbols which point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first day of creation, the type, foreshadows the fulfillment of what the words “In the beginning” were pointing to all along: the antitype, the reality—the birth of Christ.

Therefore, we can see Christmas as a new first day of creation, or rather, the first day of the New Creation, the beginning of the sanctification of human nature and entire cosmos, the turning of the tide against the forces of evil.

“This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” And the story that follows throughout this Nativity Fast is the story of God gradually revealing Himself to mankind over many centuries, slowly preparing the people of Israel for the coming of His Son, Our Savior.

In the Incarnation, Christ bridges the chasm between uncreated and created, making it possible for us to be brought into union with God by grace; this union of the uncreated and the created is the content and foundation of our salvation.

Therefore, our salvation is grounded in the Church’s confession of Christ as being fully God and fully Man: “For what He was, He has remained, true God: and what He was not, He has taken upon Himself, becoming man through love for mankind.”[1]

And this means that the day in which the God-Man was born as a human child is the first day of the renewal of creation, a step toward the very purpose for which all that is created was created: that God might truly fill all things with His unlimited grace, love, truth, light, power, goodness.

“This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate” in the coming weeks before Christmas.


[1] Great Vespers for the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Festal Menaion, p. 253.

Nativity Fast Scripture Reflections 1: St. Philip and the Finding of the Messiah

John 1:43-45, Read at Liturgy for the Feast of St. Philip

What was to Philip pure, unexpected joy in having found the Messiah might very likely be commonplace to today’s Orthodox Christian. “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'” (John 1:45).

Maybe modern Orthodox Christians take it for granted that “of course Jesus is the Messiah.” It might be easy for us to only casually read Philip’s ecstatic exclamation to his brother that he’s identified the Messiah of Israel given our place in the salvation history: we stand at the end of twenty centuries since this Truth was first proclaimed, we have been handed down the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, the writings of the Holy Fathers, liturgical worship and hymnographical traditions.

On top of all this, we have been given the Holy Scriptures, through which we have the ability to follow the historical trajectory of salvation history from the very beginning of the world until the fulfillment of “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Col. 1:26).

If only our joy in having found the Messiah was as great as Philip’s! Philip, who might have known the Law of Moses and writings of the prophets by heart, sought to share his joy with his brother Nathanael—but notice the place of the Old Testament in Philip’s thought: the Old Testament points to Christ, yet is not itself the experience of Christ. This is why he says to his brother, “Come and see.” His brother already knew the Hebrew Scriptures, so he had no need to point out to him which prophecies spoke of this Man Jesus.

For us to truly recognize the significance of the Incarnation of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, not only for the Jews in the first century who expected the coming of the Messiah, but for us in the twenty-first century, Orthodox Christians are called to “swim in the Lord’s Law,” as St. Seraphim of Sarov teaches—to “search the [Old Testament] Scriptures” (Acts 17:11) for Christ, guided by the interpretative tradition of the Orthodox Church.

The way we can find out where we fit in God’s plan of salvation for mankind is by learning how God prepared Israel for the coming of the Savior. The forthcoming reflections in the weeks leading us to the Nativity of Our Lord will focus on this very point—on showing where in the Old Testament we find prophecies of His Incarnation, as well as the significance that these passages have for us, today.

The purpose of these reflections is to bring us closer to the living and powerful Word of God (Heb. 4:12)—not the Book, but the God-Man. Philip sought to lead his brother to Jesus Christ through direct experience: “come and see—come and meet Him for yourself—your life will never be the same!” The Scriptures are not a substitute for the experience of God: the Bible is the record of the experience of God, and not the experience itself. The Old Testament is invaluable insofar as it points us to the ultimate meaning and significance of Christmas—that God became Man “for us men and for our salvation.”

Philip’s conversation has particular importance for us on this first evening of the Nativity Fast, for as Fr. Thomas Hopko teaches us in The Winter Pascha,

The Christmas-Epiphany season in the Orthodox Church begins with a forty-day fasting period which starts on the feast of “the holy and all-praised apostle Philip.” For this reason Christmas lent is sometimes called “the fast of Philip.” Although the coincidence of the feast of the apostle Philip and the beginning of the Christmas fast is accidental, humanly speaking, the eyes of faith may see in it a certain providence of God.

Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), p. 12.

Philip’s encounter with Nathaniel mystically reaches out to us: the holy Apostle Philip invites us to experience Jesus Christ, today, in our time. Yet this experience can only be strengthened by studying how the Old Testament points to Christ, for by doing so we will find that He has been preparing us for His coming into our lives in ways we could not have imagined.

God became Man that we too may be transformed by the experience of Christ in glory during this Nativity Fast and proclaim with Philip, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Singing True Theology 5: Adam and the New Adam

Often in the liturgical hymns of the Orthodox Church, especially in the Vespers and Matins of Saturday-Sunday, Adam is described as having been delivered from the grasp of death by Jesus’ resurrection. The kontakion for tonight’s Vespers speaks of the cosmic effects of the resurrection in this way.

Thou didst descend into hell, O my Savior,
shattering its gates as Almighty,
resurrecting the dead as Creator,
and destroying the sting of death.
Thou hast delivered Adam from the curse, O Lover of man,
and we cry to Thee: O Lord, save us!

(You can find the full text of tonight’s hymns here or at oca.org.)

What is notable in this kontakion, as is in many other hymns, is that Adam is poetically presented as the sole beneficiary of the resurrection. And that is not an accident: Adam represents all of humanity, so when the hymns speak of Adam being “delivered from the curse,” for example, this is really speaking about the whole human race.

“Christ is risen,” St. John Chrysostom triumphantly proclaims in his Paschal Sermon, “and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Adam and Jesus, the New Adam, are therefore representatives of all humanity: Adam being a representative of humanity being redeemed from sin and death, and the New Adam being the representative of resurrected humanity. Jesus “recapitulates” Adam, He takes over Adam’s identity as he should have been, becoming the first Man to experience the universal resurrection of the dead.

The idea that Jesus Christ in the Incarnation is a recapitulation of Adam is as old as Christianity itself. St. Paul draws a comparison in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 between Adam and Christ, in both cases showing the former to be a representative of death and corruption, and the latter to be a representative of new life and incorruption. Thus he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:45, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Perhaps St. Paul had in mind that the name “Adam” can also simply mean “man” in Hebrew—therefore, both men, both Adams, are representatives of the whole of humanity.[1] A modern writer calls this Scriptural and patristic motif “Hebraic ‘corporate personalities,’” whereby one person represents the entire body of humanity.[2]

This notion of ‘corporate personalities’ is also apparent in such passages as Romans 5:19, where St. Paul writes, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”[3]

One man brings death to all humanity, and the other Man brings life to all humanity.            

Many early Fathers, such as Sts. Irenaeus, Ephrem the Syrian, and Maximos the Confessor, among others, offered detailed comparisons between the Old Adam and the New Adam, thus following St. Paul’s motif of corporate personalities, wherein the second Man, Christ, recapitulates the first, Adam.[4]

What this means for us, then, is that just as Christ’s resurrection from the dead freed Adam from the power of death, so will we also be resurrected from the dead. This is God’s common gift to all people, whom we could collectively call “The Whole Adam.”

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

John 5:25-29 ESV

So the question for us is this: how will we live? All will be resurrected, all will follow Adam from out of the grave. But what remains to be seen is whether we will live in accordance with God’s will or not, whether we will value the pleasures and comforts of this life above the hope of eternal life in the Messiah Jesus.

May the Lord give us strength and patient endurance to live according to our hope in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.



[1] We may recall Pontius Pilate’s words at Christ’s trial in John 19:5: “Behold the man!” The Hebrew term’s (אָדָם) multivalency is shown in Genesis 2:20, where its first usage is “the man” (הָאָדָם) and the second is the proper noun, (אָדָם). Notably, the Septuagint renders both as Αδαμ. See also 1 Corinthians 15:47-49, where St. Paul plays on the Hebrew relationship between man (אָדָם) and ground/earth (אֲדָמָה), drawn from Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground” (וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה). St. Paul uses the same terminology in these verses that are found in the LXX of Genesis 2:20: man = ἄνθρωπος; ground = γῆς; of dust/earthy = χοϊκός, from χοῦν. Since in Hebrew, the term אָדָם can mean “man” and “Adam,” it appears that he sometimes uses both renderings simultaneously in 1 Corinthians 15, especially vv. 47-49.

[2] Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (London: T&T Clark International, 1977), pp. 82, 88.

[3] ESV.

[4] See St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, 3.21.10; 3.22.1, 3; 5.21.1-2; 5.19.1. See also Eph. 1:10. Leave a comment if you would like me to dig up references in Sts. Ephrem and Maximos.

Singing True Theology 4: Smashing the Gates of Hell

The hymns for Saturday Vespers are gloriously triumphant. At this service we are beginning to celebrate the day of Resurrection, Sunday, the Lord’s Day. After the first Pascha/Easter, Sunday forever after became the Lord’s Day, because it’s the day that He triumphed over all His enemies by rising from the dead.

So at Saturday Vespers, like a crowd of soldiers cheering for their victorious King, the Church gathers to celebrate the rising of Christ. (The Lord of the Rings nerds: I imagine a victorious Boromir shouting “For Gondor” atop the ruins of reconquered Osgiliath.) And one of the major themes throughout the Church’s hymnography and the writings of the Fathers related to Christ’s Resurrection is the smashing of the gates of hell:

Thou didst smash the gates of hell, O Lord,
and by Thy death Thou didst demolish the kingdom of death.
Thou didst deliver the race of men from corruption,
granting the world life, incorruption and great mercy.

(You can find the hymns for tonight’s Vespers here or at oca.org.)

This leads to a very reasonable question, “What exactly are the gates of hell?” I’m glad you asked! I think the answer will surprise you, as it surprised me.

In Matthew 16:13, we read that Jesus took His disciples to the region of Caesaria Philippi. This was a rough part of Judea, where the locals worshipped the Greek gods in many temples at the base of Mount Hermon and all over it. Mount Hermon was understood to be a “cosmic mountain” (an idea which I hope we can come back to), that is, a mountain that connected our world with the other levels of the spiritual plane: the gods above and below. The notion that a mountain could be a cosmic nexus of spiritual planes was common in the ancient world, and is even behind the significance of such mountains in the Bible as Sinai, Zion, and Tabor.

At the base of Mount Hermon there is a cave which the pagans believed to be a portal to the underworld, connected to the worship of Pan. This they called, “The Gates of Hades.” (Many thanks to Frs. Andrew and Stephen at The Lord of Spirits podcast for bringing this to my attention.)

Note that “Hades” is linguistically equivalent to hell and Sheol, the former being the Greek term for the realm of the dead. (“Hell” is from Old English and “Sheol” is Hebrew; what these terms mean theologically is another question, which Fr. Thomas Hopko addressed with characteristic precision.)

An artist’s rendering of the pagan site at Caesaria Philippi. The header image was taken by the author on June 1, 2010.

So when Jesus took His disciples to Caesaria Philippi, we may assume that He took them here, to the very gates of Hades, in the midst of wildly immoral pagan worship (bestiality, etc.).

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell (Gk. hades) shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:13-18

In the midst of a stronghold of demons, Jesus launches a direct assault on those evil spirits posing as gods, whom the pagans worshipped. How does He have the power to launch such an assault? Because He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” from whom the demons flee from in terror.

Although “this rock” on which Christ will build His Church is alternately interpreted as Peter’s confession of Jesus’ divinity (by the Orthodox and probably others) or Peter’s ultimate preeminence over the other apostles (by Catholics), perhaps on a very literal level, Jesus also means that here, in this very stronghold of demon worship, on this cosmic mountain, God is reclaiming the world for Himself.

Dr. Michael Heiser adeptly comments on the phrase, “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”:

We often presume that the phrase “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” describes a Church taking on the onslaught of evil. But the word “against” is not present in the Greek. Translating the phrase without it gives it a completely different connotation: “the gates of hell will not withstand it.”

It is the Church that Jesus sees as the aggressor. He was declaring war on evil and death. Jesus would build His Church atop the gates of hell—He would bury them.

From Heiser’s “I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible
The grotto of Pan, also known as the Gates of Hades. Also taken by the author.

And that’s exactly what happened on several levels: by rising from the dead, Jesus burst open the bars and gates of hell which had held people captive. This was Jesus’ victory over the spiritual realm. (The Pascha service is chock-full of references to Jesus blasting open the gates of hell and leading out the prisoners of death.)

Also, on a very literal level, archaeologists recently discovered a fourth century Byzantine church built atop a temple of Pan near this very site, a physical image of the reality of Christ’s victory over death and hell. The early Christians may have taken Jesus’ words very seriously about building a church on the site of Pan’s temple!

It was there, in the stronghold of pagan worship, that Christ promised His disciples that death and hell would be powerless against His invincible Church.

Thou didst smash the gates of hell, O Lord,
and by Thy death Thou didst demolish the kingdom of death.
Thou didst deliver the race of men from corruption,
granting the world life, incorruption and great mercy.

This turned out to be a fitting discussion to have on Halloween, the day when many Americans glorify death and hell. For an informed analysis of the spiritual implications of Halloween from an Orthodox Christian perspective, read Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s recent article “Should Christians participate in Halloween?”

Singing True Theology 3: The Blood of the Martyrs

At Vespers tonight, during the hymns at “Lord, I call upon Thee,” we sing these words to the Matryrs Marcian and Martyrius:

You showed yourselves to be followers of the holy preacher Paul,
like him in zeal and one with him in mind and heart:
you drowned the adversaries with the blood you poured out,
drying up the torrent of wicked heresies.
O Marcian and Martyrius, revealed as rivers of piety
watering the Church of Christ.

(You can find the full text of hymns for tonight’s Vespers here or at oca.org.)

Ten years after the Council of Nicaea of 325, where Jesus Christ, the Word of God, was proclaimed to be of one essence with the Father, the Arian heresy still raged on. The Arians denied the divinity of Christ as their mantra attests: “There was a time when he (the Son) was not.” At this time, Marcion was a reader in the cathedral in Constantinople in the fourth century, and Martyrius was a subdeacon.

Marcion and Martyrius refused to accept the Arian heresy, even though the followers of Arius in Constantinople tried to win them over first by flattery, then by threats of torture and death. Nothing would sway these soldiers of Christ. Before their execution, these valiant men prayed,

“Lord God, Who has invisibly created our hearts, and directed all our deeds, accept with peace the souls of Your servants, since we perish for You and are considered as sheep for the slaughter (Ps 32/33:15; 43/44:22). We rejoice that by such a death we shall depart this life for Your Name. Grant us to be partakers of life eternal with You, the Source of life.”

From oca.org

They died by beheading in the year 335 for their Lord, the same way that the Apostle Paul was killed.

Returning to the hymn composed in their honor, it is fairly common in the hymnography of martyrs to describe their deaths as victories over their enemies, whether those enemies be their human torturers or the demons who incited people to kill them.

This is not unlike St. Paul’s account of Jesus’ own crucifixion in Colossians 2:15, where Jesus turns the shame and torment of the Cross back onto the demonic hordes: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in [His crucifixion].” He took the weapon of shame and disgrace and used against His enemies. He submitted to the feeble power of death so that He could “trample death by [means of] death.”

So also those who defeat demonic temptations by triumphing in martyrdom for Christ’s sake also put their torturers to shame:

You drowned the adversaries with the blood you poured out,
drying up the torrent of wicked heresies.

Often in the hymns commemorating martyrs, the means by which the martyrs were killed is described as being turned back onto their killers. That is, like Christ, the very means by which the enemies of Christ sought to kill the saints is shown to be, spiritually speaking, their own downfall. Here, by beheading, the blood that flows from the martyrs’ bodies drowns the feeble power of their murderers, while simultaneously “drying up the torrent of wicked heresies.”

In these lines, we perhaps catch an allusion to Tertullian’s famous declaration that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In fact, after their deaths, St. John Chrysostom had Marcion’s and Matyrius’ bones moved to a church built in their honor, and their relics were known to have worked miracles.

This is how their blood shed for Christ’s sake continues to water and feed the Church.

...O Marcian and Martyrius, revealed as rivers of piety
watering the Church of Christ.

Holy Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius, pray that the Lord will give us strength to endure to the end!

Singing True Theology 2: The Two Trees

The hymns of the Orthodox Church, particularly at the Resurrectional Vespers/Vigil on Saturday evening, are chock-full of typology. Those who are familiar with the Church’s services will likely have noticed the many connections between Adam and Christ, Eve and Mary that abound in the ornate hymnography. Adam is a “type” of Christ, while Eve is a “type” of Mary.

A “type” can be understood as a symbol, an imprint, a rough sketch, which points towards something else. It’s like the difference between seeing a two-dimensional sketch of Mont-Saint-Michel in France and then visiting the actual abbey. The sketch points you toward the reality, but it is not the full picture.

We can think of “types” as clues in the Old Testament which point toward the New Testament. First, the shadow; then, the reality.

G.W.H. Lampe writes in his essay “The Reasonableness of Typology” that typology properly understood allows Christians to see “in Christ the central point which gives meaning to the entire process of God’s dealings with man… Christ as the climax of the [Biblical] story gives unity and significance to all that had preceded him.”[1]

So when we read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, the Church sees great significance pretty much any time there’s wood or a tree, for example (see the Scripture readings for the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross for a few examples), because often that wood or tree points towards the wood of the Cross in some fashion.

And perhaps nowhere else in the Old Testament do we find clues and hints of the wood of the Cross as clearly as in the Garden of Eden. There we read of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9). After Adam and Eve’s disobedience in eating from the latter, God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”—and He cast them out of the Garden, lest evil become immortal (Gen. 3:22-24).

But, as you probably know, that’s not the end of the story. The Tree of Life would one day undo the evil caused by the other tree. At Vespers tonight, the Church sings:

By the Tree Thou didst destroy the curse of the Tree, O Savior.
By Thy burial Thou didst mortify the majesty of death.
Thou hast enlightened our race by Thy Resurrection.
O Giver of life, Christ our God, glory to Thee!
(At the Aposticha)

(Here are the words for tonight’s Vespers, or at oca.org.)

And while it’s rather common in the Church Fathers to identify the Tree of Life as being a type of the Cross of Jesus, St. Ephrem the Syrian goes one step further in one of his “teaching songs”:

Very sad was the Tree of Life
that saw Adam hidden from him. 
Into the virgin earth he sank and was buried,
but he arose and shone forth from Golgotha.
(Hymns on Virginity 16.10, trans. McVey)

St. Ephrem identifies the typological connection between the Tree of Life and the Cross so strongly that he presents in poetic terms the Tree of Life sinking down into the earth, yet reappearing as the wood on which Christ would be crucified.

By the true Tree of Life, Christ destroyed the curse of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life in Genesis was but a sketch, a type, a foreshadowing of the true Tree of Life which was planted on Golgotha.

This kind of Biblical interpretation is all over Orthodox hymnography, for it reveals how the Old Testament points towards the truth, the fuller reality, the shining manifestation of the God-man Jesus Christ, whom St. Ephrem fittingly calls the “Lord of Symbols,” Who “as the climax of the [Biblical] story gives unity and significance to all that had preceded him.”

We will return to these themes in coming weeks. For now, we see in the Church hymnography the typological connections between the Old and New testaments, which often point towards Jesus Christ as the completion and fulfillment of everything that went before Him in salvation history.


[1] “The Reasonableness of Typology,” Essays on Typology (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1957), p. 27.

Singing True Theology: A New Series on Liturgical Hymns

In the Orthodox Church, what we pray is what we believe, and what we believe is what we pray. As is well-known in Christian theology, lex orandi, lex credendi: “the law of praying is the law of believing.” The way that we pray, both in our words and in our liturgical actions, manifests, makes real and active, that which we believe.

That being said, we have a treasure-trove of theology in the hymns we sing at Great Vespers, particularly. The hymns we sing at “Lord, I call upon Thee” (towards the beginning of the service) and at the Aposticha (towards the end of the service) are a generally-untapped reservoir of richness. I’ve decided to start a new series, therefore, to explore these hymns, the theological content they bear, and what we can learn from them.

Today’s Vespers* has one sticheron (a short hymn; Gk. plural stichera) which itself speaks to the theological treasures in our prayers and songs:

Today let us praise the mystical trumpets of the Spirit, the God-bearing Fathers, who stand in the midst of the Church, singing true theology, praising the changeless Trinity! They laid low the errors of Arius and upheld the Orthodox Faith. They always entreat the Lord to have mercy on our souls.

“Glory” verse on “Lord, I call upon Thee”

This sticheron speaks of the fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, whom we liturgically remember tomorrow. (Remember that at Vespers we start singing about the feasts and saints for tomorrow, because the liturgical day starts in the evening.) They are presented as standing “in the midst of the Church, singing true theology, praising the changeless Trinity.” As the Trinity does not change, so does the worship of the Church remain true and accurate.

This phrase “singing true theology” is a fitting title to this new series of reflections on liturgical hymns. By digging into the theological content of the stichera we sing at Vespers, it will be my goal to show the inter-relatedness of prayer, theology, and practice. Because they’re all really one reality: the life in Christ.

*You can find the hymns for today’s Resurrectional Vespers either at oca.org or here directly.

Image: The author singing with the St. Tikhon’s Seminary Mission Choir in January 2015 at St. John of Damascus Orthodox Church, Poway, CA.

St. Tikhon of Moscow: A Man of Podvig, Peace, and Unity

St. Tikhon of Moscow, Apostle to America, is a particularly special saint for me: I was received into the Orthodox Church on his spring feast day, April 7th; I went to the seminary that bore the name of his patron saint (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk); I prayed there for three years at the monastery he founded; and I was married on his fall feast day, October 9th. During seminary I wrote a brief biography of him for a class, which I have presented in full below.

Troparion to St. Tikhon of Moscow

Let us praise Tikhon, the patriarch of all Russia,
And enlightener of North America,
An ardent follower of the Apostolic traditions,
And good pastor of the Church of Christ,
Who was elected by divine providence,
And laid down his life for his sheep.
Let us sing to him with faith and hope,
And ask for his hierarchical intercessions:
Keep the church in Russia in tranquility,
And the church in North America in peace.
Gather her scattered children into one flock,
Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith,
Preserve our lands from civil strife,
And entreat God’s peace for all people!       

Introduction

In studying the life of St. Tikhon of Moscow, it is immediately evident that several major themes in his life are expressed in the troparion that was composed in his honor: his archpastoral role in North America and in Russia, his self-sacrifice for his people, his peaceful spirit, and his desire for church unity. While much of the biographical information extant on his life focuses on his time as Patriarch of All Russia in the midst of the horrors of the Russian Revolution, this study will focus primarily on his archpastoral ministry in North America, between the years 1898 and 1907. Therefore, this study will attempt to illustrate the ways in which these major themes of his life were manifest in his experiences while ministering in our land. While these themes are mentioned in his troparia are evident in his Patriarchal role, this study will show how this archpastor envisioned his own service as being crucified with Christ, how his peaceful and humble spirit penetrated all of his work, and how he truly desired unity in the Body of Christ.

St. Tikhon was born Vassily Ivanovich Belavin on January 19, 1865, eighteen days after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. When he was a small child, Russia sold its Alaskan colony to the United States (1867) and the United States completed the First Transcontinental Railroad (1869). During the time that young Vassily attended his local catechetical school (high school), seminary in Pskov, and the Theological Academy at St. Petersburg, the American expansion westward exploded.[1] When the American Manifest Destiny was in full steam, foreigners from Eastern and Southern Europe began to immigrate to the Eastern United States in waves upon waves. These events would have an enormous impact upon St. Tikhon’s work in North America.

When Vassily took monastic vows in 1891, he took the name Tikhon in honor of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. After being ordained a priest, he taught at the seminaries in Kholm and Kazan in the Russian Empire. Shortly thereafter, he received the rank of Archimandrite, and in October 1897 he was consecrated Bishop of Liublin, modern-day Poland; however, he immediately returned to Kholm to serve as Vicarial Bishop for a year.[2] “On September 14, 1898, Tikhon was made Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska,” and as he had so gained the love and trust of his flock in this short period of time, “on the day of his actual departure people threw themselves on the tracks to keep the train from leaving and had to be removed forcibly.”[3]

The Pastor of His Flock

“Let us praise Tikhon...
...[who] laid down his life for his sheep.”

As San Francisco was the diocesan see of the American Mission in 1898, St. Tikhon traveled there shortly after his arrival to America. In his first recorded homily in San Francisco, he exhibited one of his greatest strengths: that of being an exceptional pastor of Christ’s flock. In the homily that he delivered upon this first visit to the San Francisco Cathedral, he shows his great pastoral sensitivity in speaking to his new flock of his desire to work for their benefit—not as their superior, but as a loving pastor:

And my unworthiness, through the will of God, was called to the apostolic service here, and here now I will “say to them who were not my people, Thou art my people; I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy.”  Before, we were strangers to each other and did not know each other; but from now on, by the Lord Himself we will become closely connected in the mutual relationship of a bishop with his flock and a flock with their bishop.[4]

St. Tikhon’s great pastoral sensitivity was grounded in a profound sense of humility. In his homilies given in America, St. Tikhon showed his utter conviction that leadership in the Church, indeed, service for Christ in any capacity, requires growth in humility. Even before he died as a confessor for the Faith under the Bolsheviks, St. Tikhon was not averse to self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake. It is fitting that he was named Bishop of the American Diocese on the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross, for his ministry in America can be seen in many respects as a preparation for his difficult service as Patriarch of Russia. This conviction of the necessity to give oneself entirely for Christ’s sake and for His flock is perhaps best illustrated in several homilies that he delivered at the ordinations of priests. One of these homilies in particular, delivered in San Francisco to the newly-ordained priest Fr. Peter Popov on September 17, 1900, reveals St. Tikhon’s conviction of pastoral ministry as self-sacrifice. St. Tikhon used the proximity of the ordination to the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross as an opportunity to describe pastoral ministry in its most honest, humble terms:

Through the way of suffering and the Cross went the Most Holy Master of all pastors, Christ Himself; this is proclaimed by the Cross of the Lord displayed today.  Anyone who wants to serve Him must follow the same path… If He, while being the Son, “learned obedience through suffering” (Heb. 5:8), then even more so we cannot attain moral perfection without saving sorrows.  If He endured offenses, and abuses, and terrible sufferings, and the life-giving Cross, while being innocent, then even more so we must endure suffering, which we rightly deserve through our sin, without complaint.  In one word, each one of us must crucify himself with Christ.[5]

St. Tikhon’s pastoral strength, rooted in the suffering and humility of Christ, certainly manifested itself through what must have been a grueling travel schedule. An important component of his pastoral ministry throughout his life was extensive travel and visitation of many churches, regardless of size or importance. As this was true in his work as the rector of the Kholm Seminary from 1892 to 1897,[6] and later in his work back in Russia,[7] it was certainly true in his work in North America. Between December 1898 and February 1907, St. Tikhon traveled the span of the United States many times, and in some cases at least twice in one year; he also visited Alaska several times, and did not ignore the interior, visiting Texas, Minnesota, Alberta, and Pennsylvania on several occasions. Even during his summer retreat to St. Tikhon’s Monastery in the summer of 1906, which he co-founded, he visited every church in the area. Archishop Arseny (Chagovstov), a co-founder St. Tikhon’s monastery and seminary, recalls, “This anchoretic-monastery life of Vladika is interrupted and diversified by trips to the neighboring parishes for Archpastoral services on Sundays. None of the neighbors is forgotten. All parishes—poor and well-to-do, populous and not—had the pleasure of receiving the exalted guest.”[8] Perhaps this is a helpful reminder in our time, when many parishes are struggling due to poor attendance, an adverse economic climate, or other factors, not to ignore them. St. Tikhon clearly showed throughout his life that as “God shows no partiality,”[9] neither should we.

It is possible that the Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed in his childhood, was St. Tikhon’s solace in an otherwise hectic environment. Certainly it is plausible to conjecture that this man, who awed others by his “peace of mind” in the face of crushing trials and dangers,[10] took some time to adjust to the peripatetic life of a bishop. For a bishop that traveled as extensively as he did, perhaps the long train rides across golden plains and misty mountains offered him a sense of solace and peace.

What weakness was there in him? Was his peaceful spirit an inhibition to archpastoral ministry? Jane Swan relates that “Tikhon’s very mildness and gentleness were misleading on first acquaintance and many took it for weakness.”[11] Perhaps this “mildness and gentleness” was both a source of quiet strength and a personality trait that he had to keep in check, for fear that passivity would take over. If his quiet strength waned, and his desire for peace—perhaps even at all costs—took over, this might explain his temporary abdication of patriarchal authority in May 1922, under pressure from the nascent Living Church. But even then, his great spiritual strength and humility shone through: for toward the end of his life, he heroically said, “Let my name perish in history, only that the church might live.”[12] This statement could not be born out of passivity, but from a quiet trust in the Providence of God. If St. Tikhon did indeed struggle with passivity for the sake of peace, this possible weakness is not immediately apparent in his work in America. It is difficult to identify his weaknesses, as he lived a very positive, holy life among his flock; as Jane Swan has noted, he was very loth to speak of himself in any of his homilies, which are the most valuable primary resources available from this period of his life.[13]

A Heart for Unity

“Gather her scattered children into one flock, 
Bring to repentance those who have renounced the True Faith.”

St. Tikhon’s work in North America was marked by a number of drastic organizational changes, all aimed toward building a stronger local American Orthodox Church. These changes, though working in tandem, appear to be of two varieties: first, efforts to foster the unity of the local Church, and second, to work toward unity with other Christian confessions. “Early in his tenure in North America, Tikhon realized that the missionary diocese, as then organized, was unequal to the tasks assigned to it.”[14]

St. Tikhon’s vision for the American Mission required, firstly, a reconfiguration of episcopal oversight. St. Tikhon consecrated a new auxiliary bishop for Alaska in 1903, and in 1905 moved the diocesan see from San Francisco to New York. This was aimed at having a greater proximity to newly arriving immigrants and converts from the Unia.[15] In 1904 he consecrated St. Raphael Hawaweeny as the auxiliary bishop for the Arab Christians, whose see was in Brooklyn. As part of his vision for a unified local Church, in 1905 St. Tikhon proposed a reorganizational plan to the Russian Holy Synod in which the American Church would be divided into five Dioceses: “1. The Archdiocese of New York, which would have all the Russian parishes in the United States and Canada under its authority; 2. The Diocese of Alaska, which would include the churches of the Orthodox inhabitants of Alaska (Russians, Aleuts, Indians, Eskimos); 3. The Diocese of Brooklyn (Syrian); 4. The Diocese of Chicago (Serbian); and 5. The Greek diocese (?).”[16] St. Tikhon was certain that the strength of Orthodoxy in America would be contingent on the mutual cooperation of the various ethnicities. For this reason, he said at one time, “The closer the unity among the Orthodox of various nationalities, the stronger will the Orthodox be in this land.”[17] This vision of Orthodox unity in America has not completely died out since St. Tikhon’s time, as the existence of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North America attests, in some small way. However, the grass-roots cooperation that St. Tikhon envisioned is far from maturity. Certainly the connection between healthy missionary activity and Orthodox unity, which for St. Tikhon was a given, needs to be recalled in our time—this can only be accomplished by the renewing of the vision that guided St. Tikhon in America.

St. Tikhon also was aware of the necessity for the Mission to be self-sustaining. Better education was a foci of his episcopacy in America. In 1905 he established the first Orthodox seminary in Minneapolis, the place of St. Alexis’ miraculous reception of many Uniates back into the Faith of their fathers.[18] That year he also helped establish St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. Also, in one of his most influential actions, he guided the first All-American Sobor, held in Mayfield, Pennsylvania in February 1907, to adopt a conciliar form of self-government—in keeping with the spirit of American democracy. These efforts were meant to help the local Church become self-sustaining, and in many ways they have contributed to the unique character of American Orthodoxy.

Another major aspect of his ministry in America was his positive relations with the surrounding culture. This was manifest particularly in his relations with the Uniates who had immigrated to the United States. Earlier in his life, St. Tikhon was highly influential in the re-conversion of many Uniates in Kholm back to Orthodoxy, both as the seminary rector of that city and later as bishop.[19] Although his dreams of a multi-ethnic local Church in America did not survive the early 1920s, his missionary dreams thrived under his successors, under which many Uniates continued to return to the Orthodox Church.[20] This great desire to enlighten the Uniates is best illustrated in a homily he delivered in 1903 at the funeral of Bishop Markell Popel in St. Petersburg. In this homily, he speaks of Bishop Markell’s extraordinary missionary efforts, which resulted in some 200,000 Uniates in Eastern Europe returning to Orthodoxy under his guidance.[21]

St. Tikhon’s administration of the American Mission was not inhibited by overbearing ethno-phyletic concerns. In a letter to Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary and “the first [American] commissioner of education” in Alaska,[22] St. Tikhon explicitly states that the Orthodox Church did not seek to “Russify” the local population; on the contrary, he was supportive of the native population learning English along with Church Slavonic.[23] For American Orthodoxy to continue to thrive in the New World, St. Tikhon enlisted the talents of Isabel Hapgood, an Episcopalian, to translate and compile the groundbreaking Service Book of the Holy Orthodox Church, completed in 1906; this was the most influential English service book of the Orthodox Church, and is still used.[24] Supporting these contacts with non-Orthodox is certainly an aspect of St. Tikhon’s ministry that we can learn from. St. Tikhon showed no fear that increased contact with non-Orthodox would make his own flock susceptible to foreign influence; rather, he embraced dialogue with Christians of other backgrounds and the use of English in services.

St. Tikhon and the 21st Century

“Let us sing to him with faith and hope, 
And ask for his hierarchical intercessions: 
Keep the church in Russia in tranquility, 
And the church in North America in peace.”

            St. Tikhon’s vision for the American Mission undoubtedly did not survive in its entirety: although the Metropolia was granted autocephaly in 1970, which was one of St. Tikhon’s dreams, the united American Orthodox Church did not survive the 1920s. Whereas large numbers of Uniates converted before, during, and after his administration in our land, many Uniate churches remain in the Catholic Church. Whereas many mission parishes have been planted where Orthodoxy has never been, particularly in the southern and western United States, Orthodox Christians in North America remain separated by jurisdiction.

            If St. Tikhon were to speak to us, now, what might he say? Perhaps he might speak to us as he spoke to his flock in his last homily in the United States, in the New York Cathedral in March 1907: “Don’t lose the vision.”[25] As he spoke in 1907, so he might speak now. We cannot boast of great numbers of the faithful, and often our church appears weak and contemptible; however, our archpastor assured his flock in 1907 and assures us now that “in reality “God’s power and wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:24) are concealed in it. It is strong and rich with the authenticity of the doctrine which has been preserved unaltered, its clarity of rules, a deep sense of liturgical service, and an abundance of grace.”[26]

“Don’t lose the vision, little flock.” We do not have jurisdictional unity, and this most certainly is a hindrance to the mission that Christ gave in Matthew 28:19-20 to spread the gospel throughout the whole world. As St. Tikhon states in his last homily in North America, it is not enough merely to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. “It is necessary for us personally to promote and contribute to this triumph.”[27] And how do we promote our triumphal faith? Dying to oneself, humility, and placing the Gospel above all else in this brief life.

Perhaps St. Tikhon would be disappointed to see how our churches are often diminishing, how many have become ethnic ghettos, how they are dangerously close to losing the vision of what every Christian life should entail: one’s “personal podvig”[28] for the sake of the Kingdom of God. “The spreading of the Faith should be a matter that is personal, heartfelt, and dear to each one of us,” he reminds us.[29] “Don’t lose the vision—it’s not too late! Take up your crosses and witness the love of Christ, and our Church will indeed triumph. This is the way to true Christian unity; this is the only way to witness our precious Orthodox Faith.”


[1] George A. Gray, Portraits of American Saints, 5th ed. (Los Angeles: Department of Communications, Diocese of the West, OCA, 1994), 33.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jane Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery, 1964), 9-10.

[4] “A Sermon Preached on Ascending the Archpastoral Cathedra, San Francisco, 11/23 December, 1898,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, When He Served as Archbishop of the Russian Missionary Diocese in America: 1898 – 1907, trans. Alex Maximov and David C. Ford, 18-19.

[5] “Homily Addressed to the Newly Ordained Priest, Fr. Peter Popov, Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco September 17, 1900,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 49.

[6] Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon, 8-9.

[7] Ibid., 11, 90.

[8] “An Introductory Vignette: The Stay of His Eminence, the Most Reverend Tikhon, at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, and His Visits to the Neighboring Parishes,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, trans. Alex Maximov and Fr. Juvenaly (Repass), 15.

[9] Acts. 10:34.

[10] Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon, 50.

[11] Ibid., 24.

[12] Ibid., 83.

[13] Ibid., 10.

[14] Mark Stokoe and Leonid Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994 (Orthodox Christian Publications Center, 1995), 35.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Opinions on the Issues Proposed for Discussion at the Pomestni Council of the All-Russia Church,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 156-7. N. 160 states that the question mark was original, as St. Tikhon was not sure concerning the degree of Greek cooperation with the Russian Mission.

[17] Gray, Portraits of American Saints, 34.

[18] Stokoe and Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994, 39.

[19] Swan, A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon, 8-9.

[20] Stokoe and Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994, 39.

[21] “A Sermon preached at the funeral service of the Right Reverend Bishop Markell (Popel),” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 117-121.

[22] Michael J. Oleksa, “Orthodoxy in Alaska: The Spiritual History of the Kodiak Aleut People,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 25, no. 1 (1981) : 16.

[23] “A Response to the general agent for education in Alaska, Mr. Sheldon Jackson,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 38-39.

[24] Stokoe and Kishkovsky, Orthodox Christians in North America 1794-1994, 42.

[25] Quotes in italics are my attempt to capture the ethos with which St. Tikhon preached.

[26] “Farewell Sermon Preached on the Sunday of Orthodoxy,” Instructions and Teachings by St. Tikhon, 182.

[27] Ibid., 183.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.