Dear Fred (Fr. John Responds to a “Born Again Christian who was once Greek Orthodox”)
“Glory to God in the Highest and earth, peace and goodwill among men”, this is how we begin silently in prayer the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom celebrated most days of the year. In fact Chrysostom knew the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament so well, the entire Divine Liturgy is not just words he made up from the air, but actually Scripture verses taken from all over the Bible and put together in the worship service. Fred you might of grown up and never heard an Orthodox service say “ok let’s open up our Bibles to Chapter and Verse #. You are angry about this from your letters (because Orthodox priests never emphasized the Bible), why do think this so? We never open up the Bible in the Orthodox worship because the Bible did not exist as it does today, our Orthodox Church and TRADITION preceeds the Bible. It is Orthodox Christian TRADITION which gave the world much later “the Bible” as you know it. If you reject Holy Tradition then you reject the very source of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible did not just fall out of heaven into your lap.
Orthodox Christianity is like an intricate decorative rug with many parts, which are interwoven and intertwined together, overlapping each other. If someone were to come along and rip out only one color string of that rug and say this was the only color that means anything or is real, then the rest of the rug unravels and is just a mess and confusion. This is what has happened when you “born again” Christians take out the Bible from Christianity and say “this is the only thing that is truth and real”. You are fooling yourselves that the Bible just fell out of heaven on a silver platter, you abuse the Word of God by quoting it out of context and twisting it to justify your heresies. You must spend much time reading the Scriptures over and over and know them well and believe everything that they say—however you know nothing of where the Bible came from, how it was determined which books belonged and which books did not, basically the entire Orthodox Christian TRADITION. If you Fred, believe in sola scriptura (you reject everything, all Orthodox Tradition except the Bible alone), then you have in actuality made up your own “tradition”. Because nowhere in the Bible does it say that “whatever is not written in here is false and untrue”, in fact it says the opposite. St. John 21:24 says, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” St. John telling us about Holy Tradition which the Orthodox Church has held intact, unbroken, unadulterated throughout the centuries. This is amazing considering the Orthodox Church has had to face many heresies and false teachings; Roman pagan persecution, Roman Catholics leaving us and moving further away from the Apostolic New Testament Church; the Muslim invasions, terrorism and persecutions; Communists genocide and destruction of the Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe. Still we have never deviated from the same worship, teachings and Holy Tradition for nearly 2000 years.
You Fred were baptized into the True Faith, correctly according to Scripture and Tradition in the Orthodox Church, you were Chrismated and given the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Being part of the Orthodox Church and the Body of Christ you have been given much grace, truth and spiritual gifts, but you have chosen to throw it all away because of the Protestant heresies. I must respond to some of the points that your new found “Born Again” faith believes: “but without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)”. Again the Protestants have twisted Holy Scripture and taken it out of context, what about an infant, can it have faith? Therefore according to your logic it is impossible for an infant to please God, what about someone who is mentally handicapped? Can they have real faith and understanding? Therefore they cannot please God either? See how you have made the Word of God so absolute in the “faith alone” heresy that you leave no room for good Christian works, no room for the mercy and grace of God. Your strict legalism to the misunderstood letter of Scripture you try to force God to love us only by our faith. However the Living God loves all His Creation.
The Rejection of the Need for Holy Communion and Holy Tradition of Orthodoxy
“All Christ did on the cross with his blood, washed away our sins, guilt and eternal death.” This is part of the mystery of the Sacramental Life of the Orthodox Church, which you now reject. The Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion is a unique gift that unites faith and work, and it is absolutely necessary for our spiritual health. St. Paul mentions this to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:23-28), it is a clear and explicit command of Christ himself, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” John 6:51-58. The “born again” Christians then who reject the Orthodox Eucharist according to exact words of Christ, “have no life in you.” If this is what Christ says then how can faith alone save you? Isn’t eating flesh and drinking blood of Christ a good work? Don’t twist the meaning of St. Paul when he says in Romans 3:28 “justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law”, never does St. Paul say “faith alone”.
You have done blasphemy to Scripture and have seriously misinterpreted it by saying, “For teaching the truth that we are saved by God’s undeserved love through faith ALONE in Jesus Christ”. NEVER is it quoted in Scripture you are saved by faith alone, in fact Scripture says the opposite of your heresy, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” James 2:17-21, 24. Are not these words of Holy Scripture very clear or do you just gloss over these verses and deny them to be true? Therefore according to Scripture you and the “born again” Christians by rejecting good ethical works are no better than the demons who believe and can quote the Bible over and over, yet are evil and deny God, and do not
have communion with God through the Holy Sacraments. You have cut yourselves off from the true Body of Christ and Satan has snared you into the trap of sola scriptura, born again Christianity, and interpreting the Scriptures “what it means to me” therefore making grave errors unwittingly, see 1 Peter 5:8.
The Necessity of Good Works for Salvation, and the flaws of Sola Scriptura
“You say “the Bible is completely true, historically reliable and trustworthy”, yet you deny the Orthodox Tradition which gave the world the New Testament and Bible to begin with. Do you think the Bible just fell out of heaven into the laps of the “born again” Christians? You say ‘we cannot earn anything with our good deeds’ that may be true but that does not give us the license of not doing good Christian works, they are tools to help us spiritually. The most important being almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Each of these follow the example of Christ himself. Again if good works have nothing to with salvation why it is the very basis for the Last Judgment by Christ exact words, see Matthew 25, three examples of WORKS that lead to salvation. 1) the wise Virgins who were prepared for the “bridegroom” who is Christ, the foolish virgins had faith, they said, “’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But Christ replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ If they are saved by faith alone why does Christ say, “I do not know you”? 2) Parable of the talents, he who squandered the gifts of God given to him, and did not do WORK what was his outcome?–And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ 3) Parable of the sheeps and goats, what was the criterion for entry into salvation? Good Christian works, not faith. How can you Fred who has such a great knowledge of Scripture deny the exact words of Christ? You have been deceived into a dangerous heresy Fred and if anything you were denied the correct teaching and importance of Scripture in the Orthodox Church growing up, that is the fault of the priest, however the Orthodox Church still teaches the Truth, unbroken, unaltered, unchanged almost 2000 years.
Why don’t you consider coming back home to the Truth, maybe you could make a difference by telling so many baptized Orthodox Christians how they are missing the treasures of our faith by not knowing and reading the Holy Scriptures! You say in one sentence, “that if there is no fruit of a changed life maybe that person is not really saved.” How then do you say in another place, “one is saved by faith alone.” See how you are being deceived by Satan to blindly follow Scripture without a true guide. If you want a true guide I suggest you seek out the writings of the Orthodox Fathers, Saints John Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasios, John of Damascus to name only a few. They knew Holy Scripture inside and out, better than ANY born again or Protestant of today, why? Because they knew the Bible verbatim before it EVEN EXISTED, they could not open up the Bible and quote it, instead they could quote it from their mind, any part of the Old or New Testament without a book to refer to. It is from their God-inspired gift of discernment that the Orthodox hold as legit interpreters of the Holy Scriptures. Maybe they could help lead you to the knowledge of the Truth. If you love the Scriptures you must trust the Orthodox Fathers to guide you to their meaning.
You said, ‘salvation is a free gift and we can do nothing to earn it’, but at the same time you say, ‘I am saved and will be with my Lord and Savior’ who made you Judge and Jury to say you are saved for sure? If you can do nothing to earn salvation how then do you humbly say “I am saved”? You have been confused by the “born again” heresy, I pray that the Scriptures will enlighten you to the Truth.
Everything We Do in the Orthodox Church is Based in Holy Scripture
You said, “the Orthodox Church gave the people the Bible yet they don’t follow or teach what it says,” this is terribly false because EVERYTHING we do in the Orthodox Church is based entirely in the Scriptures and the example of Christ himself. Nothing is made up; name me one thing we do in the Orthodox Church, and I could tell you where it is in the Bible or the example of Christ himself. I will give you only two examples now that has to do with infants.
Example #1: Eight days after a child is born, the Priest comes and gives it the name, and on the 40th day the child is brought to the Church and given to the priest to enter the Church, this follows Luke 2: And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses (40 days Lev. 12:2-4), they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
Example 2) Child is baptized in the waters of baptism fully immersed, Mark 1:9-12, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” To come up out of water, means you were under the water, and immediately after baptism the child is annointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The child is immersed three times in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, following the exact words and formula of Christ in Matthew 28:19.
These are only 2 of thousands of examples I could use of how EVERYTHING we do in the Orthodox Christian Church is based in Scripture, how then can you say, “they don’t follow or teach what the Bible says”. Maybe no one as ever sat down and explained to you WHY we Orthodox do all the things we do, I am willing to do that if you are willing to come home to the One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church of Christ—Orthodoxy.
Fr. John Responds to the Boston Christian Bible Study Resources (BCBSR),
What did Jesus mean by saying, “Call no Man Father”?
B.B.S.R.: Mr. Ketchum, (Sorry but Jesus taught to call no one by the title “father” in a religious sense since we have but one Father in heaven see Matt 23:9) Apparently you hadn’t done your research. I suggest you yourself spend some time and read the web site and see how you have blatantly misrepresented my position. Then again I can’t really expect much from someone who goes by the elitist titles “Father, Rev”. Orthodox Priests go by the title “Father”. But Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” Matt 23:9 Yet they go so far as to even use the capital “F” in their title. Indeed much of the elitist attitude which Jesus addressed in Matthew 23 reflects the attitude and practice of the Orthodox religious elite.
Dear Steve, many Protestant denominations misinterpret Matthew 23:9 and therefore (in contrast to Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism), called their clergy: reverend or pastor instead of “Father”. The problem lies in interpretation, but the Lord in his statement said, “call no man father” not “spiritual father” which is implied in the Orthodox Church when we call our priests Father. This is supported by Scripture itself, St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians stated, “yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel” (1 Cor.4:3). He also refers to his spiritual ancestry as “our fathers” (1 Cor. 10:1), and admonished “Fathers do not provoke your children” (Col. 3:21). Christ told the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and when Lazarus encountered Abraham in heaven he addressed him, “Father Abraham” (Luke 16:24). Christ says in the previous verse “and you do not be called teacher (Rabbi), for you have one Teacher your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:8) Again in Scripture, Christ called Nicodemus, “teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). Therefore the answer lies that Christ did not have a problem with titles, “Father or Teacher” in and of themselves. The context of this passage shows that Christ had a problem with certain Pharisees using such titles to accomplish their own ends. Many times these Pharisees were giving false teachings and using their titles to gain authenticity and building disciples around their own false opinions. This led Christ to point out some of these false teachings later on in Matthew Chapter 23:13-39, the famous “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites”. Therefore Christ is warning us to be careful when we use these titles, “father” or “teacher” that they be truly deserved to someone who is teaching what is Truth and Orthodox doctrine and are not hypocrites. In the very early Apostolic Church, the term Father was used for bishops and priests because they were the spiritual Fathers of the community. This is remained unchanged in the Orthodox Church of today. When a candidate is brought to Ordination and become a spiritual father of the community it is after they have been examined spiritually and are worthy to take on the responsibility of preaching and teaching the Gospel of Christ and administering the Holy Sacraments. This is why we say at the Ordination, Axios! (He is Worthy). St. John Chrysostom states that when Christ says in Matthew 23:9, “Do not call father, not that the disciples should not call, but that they may know whom they ought to call Father in the highest sense…For He (Christ) is the cause of all, both of the masters and of the fathers.”. Therefore the spiritual leader called “Father” is not elitist, but one of respect for being a correct and worthy teacher of the Gospel of Christ (whether they be of the office of deacon, presbyter (priest) or bishop) by virtue of their Ordination. By using a capital F in no way implies that they are God the Father but the spiritual leader of their Christian community. Fr. John Ketchum
What is the Difference Between “Graven Image” and Orthodox Icons?
B.C.B.S.R.: The “Orthodox” trivialize the word “worship” as if Jesus were saying, “There are many things which I can worship, like graven images and icons and the Virgin Mary, and also God, but the important thing is that I’m supposed to serve God only.” This appears to be the manner in which the Orthodox elite interpret the Bible so as to get around what it says so as to justify their practice of idolatry.
Dear Steve, The misunderstanding of Orthodox Iconography is not something that you just happened to stumble upon, but has been a debate over the many centuries of the Church. You are one of many mistaken persons throughout Christian History who misunderstand the Scriptures and call the 2000 year uninterrupted practice of Icon Veneration within Orthodox Christianity “idolatry”. The Iconoclastic Controversy lasted for many years until it was resolved in 787 at the 7th Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. When most Christians enter an Orthodox Church they are awestruck by its beauty but also shocked since the Bible warns against idolatry (Exodus 20:4). There is a big difference between respect/honor and worship. For example in the Oriental culture it is common to bow before another person in respect, they are not by bowing “worshipping”, but rather showing honor and/or respect. The same is with the Orthodox Christian veneration of Icons. Worship is left for God alone, yet we honor and respect the Saints and events in the life of Christ and Virgin Mary. The Choir of Saints are like the Orthodox “Hall of Fame”; when a player enters the baseball Hall of Fame it is because they have been honored and respected for the way they played baseball. When a person enters the Choir of Saints it is because the Christians have recognized that this person set themselves apart from the world and allowed themselves to follow after God’s Will. The Orthodox, therefore honor and respect the Saints as examples of Christians who have “fought the good fight” and become true followers of Christ and the Gospel. One of the first signs someone is being recognized as a Saint is that they have an Icon written with their image. Also hymnography is written for that person and their life is written down and preserved in the Great Synaxarion (Book of the Lives of the Saints). Besides the Saints who were real persons living in the world but not “of” the world, what about God who is invisible and exists everywhere and fills all things? St. John of Damascus gives the classic explanation, “when you contemplate God becoming man, then you may depict him in human form. When the invisible becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw his likeness, when He who is bodiless existing in the form of God, empties himself and takes the form of a servant in substance and in stature and is found in a body of flesh, then you may draw his image and show it to anyone willing to gaze upon it.” (from On the Divine Images) An icon of Christ reveals to us the original, the Prototype. Icons become windows for us revealing God’s glory. The fact is icons help protect us from idolatry and are not themselves idolatry. Many misunderstand the word “venerate” that we Orthodox use for icons. The word venerate means to regard with respect or admiration not worship. Ask a Protestant if they have a greater respect for the Bible than some other book like the Dictionary. If they say yes then they by definition venerate the Bible. When we venerate icons it is that we respect the person depicted more just a regular ordinary photograph or painting. Furthermore Icons are not mere artwork, but are painted with much prayer and fasting and spiritual preparation. You correctly quote Scripture (Acts 10:24-25) by showing St. Peter refused veneration, this is becausehe was still alive, no Orthodox Saint is recognized and Venerated as such until they have died (and usually several years after their death in the world). It would have been vainglorious for St. Peter to while he was alive, accept veneration from Cornelius. This shoots down your Biblical argument. However if you believe in Christ’s Victory in His Resurrection, you must believe that this victory is also meant for his Saints and especially His Apostles (see the promise of Christ Himself in Matthew 19:27-28) Fr. John Ketchum
Orthodox Understanding that the Second Coming of Christ does not include “the Rapture”
Recently a very strong theological movement has been sweeping through many Protestant and Evangelical congregations. It is called the “Rapture” and belief not that Christ will just come again, but that believing and “faithful” Christians will be taken up by God before the tribulation of the End Times and the short reign of the Anti-Christ. There is a very popular book series “Left Behind” that goes along with these themes and ideas. Orthodox Christians must be careful and warned that these theories have never been part of our Christian Tradition, not one Orthodox Father ever mentions any of the points used in the “Rapture” theories of today. The fact is that many of the points used to justify belief in the Rapture through Scripture has already been refuted by the Orthodox Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. If one is challenged by our Protestant friends to “disprove” the Rapture here are nine good explanations:
Reason #1 – The very word “Rapture” is not even scriptural. It is a transliteration of the Latin Vulgate word “rapere.” This is how the Bible translators of the Latin Vulgate Bible translated the Greek word “harpazo” which means to catch away, or to snatch. “Caught up” is the proper translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The Second Coming of Christ does not take place in stages. His second coming at the end of the tribulation period includes the resurrection of believers bodies which are united with their spirits, and the translation of the saints who are alive into their new spiritual bodies likened to Jesus Christ’s. It says “together with them” or those who are united with their resurrected bodies and those who are alive are experiencing this event together at the same time.
Reason #2 – Second Thessalonians 2:1-8 does not refer to the Holy Spirit or the Church. St. Paul speaks of the Antichrist in previous verses 1-5. In Greek grammatical terms verse 6 phrases “the thing holding back” means the power of God and “for him to be revealed” means the Antichrist is waiting to be revealed. The “restrainer” is mentioned no where else in Scripture. The power of God is “the thing holding back” and the “it” of verse 7, “until it comes out of the midst.” Paul continues to explain in verse 7 that “he is holding back now.” refers to the lawless one or the Antichrist.” The lawless one is waiting for God to allow him to be revealed. The power of God referred to here is not the Holy Spirit, but the same power of God that keeps the universe together. This does not assert that the Holy Spirit is not the power of God. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit came to earth to do three things according to our Lord Jesus: He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The Holy Spirit cannot leave the earth, discontinue His primary reason for being here, nor discontinue His part of building the Body of Christ, or His working in the unsaved during this period of history.
Reason #3 – Revelation 3:10, the letter to the Church in Philadelphia states “…I will keep you from the hour of trial that shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on earth.” Jesus Christ will keep the Body of Christ from the hour of trial that the inhabitants of the earth will go through! This is a message to those persevering Christians who keep His Word and are obedient to it! The Church will not suffer the wrath of God during the tribulation period. Jesus will keep the Church away from God’s wrath!
Reason #4 – Revelation 4:1, does not refer to the Church being “raptured,” even if there is no use of the word “church” until the end of the tribulation period. John did not write this letter in sequential order or in chronological order prophetically. John was ordered by Christ to “come up here” in order that the may receive a heavenly perspective of the things which were to take place on earth. Symbolically, the Church is mentioned many times using other words all through the book of Revelation.
Reason #5 – Israel and the Church are the People of God, One Nation, a holy priesthood unto God (see 1 Peter 2:9). The Church is not a parenthetical statement in history created because of Israel’s disobedience. The Body of Christ is made up of Jew and Gentile, one Church, one Body in Christ. The Church includes the redeemed of all the ages.
Reason #6 – The following is a correct interpretation of Daniel chapter 9. Jesus the Messiah fulfilled this prophecy. a. Seven weeks during which the temple would be rebuilt. b. Sixty-two weeks, culminating in the first advent of the Messiah. c. One week, this would constitute the earthly ministry of the Messiah. Halfway through that week the crucifixion would take place. d. The Crucifixion of the Messiah (He is cut-off) in 30 AD. e. Daniel 9:24 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. It is the sum total of Daniel’s 70 weeks.
Reason #7 – Some Christians incorrectly believe in the pre-tribulation “rapture” and that Israel (the Jewish people) have a claim to the land of Palestine. It is curious that Israel and these Christians ignore the clear teaching of Scripture of the Old Testament to the effect that the occupancy of the land of Palestine was granted to the Jews on the condition of covenantal obedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The return of the Jews to Palestine in unbelief hardly fulfills such a biblical requirement to the belief in the pre-tribulation “rapture.”
Reason #8 – These seventeen (17) Scripture passages that prove that the “righteous shall remain” always on earth, i.e., that the Church will go through a tribulation period, but be guarded by our Lord from the wrath of God until He comes again! a. Matthew 13:29-41; 47-49; 24:21-22 (compare Luke 13:19-20) 24:37-41 b. Luke 17:26-30 & 34-37 c. John 17:15 & 20 d. 2 Peter 2:5 e. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 f. Psalms 23; 37:9-11 & 34-40; 28-29; 145:20; 125:1 g. Proverbs 2:21-22; 10:30
Reason #9 – All who believe in the Rapture are called pre-millennialists, that is, they believe that Jesus will return to earth and set up a literal 1,000 year earthly kingdom followed by a final judgment where all unbelievers will be condemned. This idea of a 1,000 year earthly kingdom is known as chiliasm (from the Greek chiliasmos, a thousand years) and was already condemned as a heresy by the Orthodox Church in 381. It is based on a misinterpretation of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Revelation that speaks of the souls, “…who lived with Christ a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4). Archbishop Averky in commenting on this verse writes: “It is clear that these saints who participate in the thousand-year reign of Christ are reigning with Christ and performing judgment not on earth but in heaven. For it speaks here only concerning their souls which are not yet united with their bodies. From these words it is evident that the Saints take part in the governing of the Church of Christ on earth, and therefore it is natural and proper to appeal to them with prayers, asking their intercession before Christ with Whom they reign.”
Fr. Seraphim Rose forcefully refutes the notion of the Rapture and a literal millennial kingdom saying: “The Second Coming of Christ will be unmistakable: it will be sudden, from heaven and it will mark the end of this world. There can be no preparation for it save only the Orthodox Christian preparation of repentance, spiritual life, and watchfulness. Those who are preparing for it in any other way, or preach that Jesus is coming soon without warning others of the great deception that is to precede His Coming, are clearly the prophets of Antichrist. The false Christ who must come first and deceive the world, including all Christians who are not or do not become truly Orthodox. There is to be no future millennium. For those who can receive it, the millennium of the Apocalypse is now; the life of Grace is the Orthodox Church for the whole thousand years between the First Coming of Christ and the time of Antichrist. That Protestants should expect the millennium in the future is only their confession that they do not live in it in the present.” Here we see it is a great misunderstanding of the whole of Scripture and Tradition to believe in the “Rapture”, is a recent and new development in Protestant thought, yet many of its arguments have already been addressed and refuted by the Orthodox Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils of our Church.
In Closing, many of these new arguments seem on the surface as logical and correct however when we truly examine them we unmask the heretical nature of the Rapture movement. Finally one of the greatest dangers of good intentioned Christians truly believing in the Rapture is a false sense of security. To elaborate on this because they believe they will be “raptured” their will be no need to prepare to deal with the End Times and the Anti-Christ, and therefore when the Antichrist really comes these Christians will be unsuspecting and most probably even go along with him. As Orthodox Christians we must be vigilant and try to be prepared at all times for the possible encounter with the Anti-Christ, Christian persecution and the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Fr. John Ketchum
The Difference Between Holy Tradition and the “traditions” of mankind
Protestants: We believe that true Christian faith is based on the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura) also that Orthodoxy de-emphasizes the Bible and stresses the importance of tradition.
Orthodox Response: Never in the history of Christianity has the Bible existed alone, therefore what did exist? For three hundred years in the early Church, the Canon of the New Testament just did not exist. If true Christian faith is based on the Bible alone what kind of faith did the Apostles and first Christians have? What they did have was Holy Tradition, and coming out of Holy Tradition is that makes up Orthodox Christianity (the Bible, Holy Icons, Liturgy, Canons, Ethics, Theology etc.). There were many books floating around the early Church (we calls these Apocryphal) that claimed authorship by one of the Apostles. Many of these books contained accounts which were fictional, heretical or outside what the overwhelming majority of the Christian faithful deemed as “correct” (i.e. Canonical books). What was left was books that were virtually universally accepted as “divinely inspired” or Holy Scripture and these books were determined to rightfully belong in the books that make up the New Testament (along with the Old Testament the whole group is called the Holy Bible). The Orthodox Fathers determined several books that existed between the Old and New Testament (sometimes called Inter-testamental or Deutero-Canonical) to be Canonical books that belong in the Bible. These books are Tobit, Judith, additions to Book of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Baruch, additions to the Book of Daniel (Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon), 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, and Psalm 151. Interestingly all of these Deutero-Canonical Books that exist in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) have been rejected by the Prostestant Christians as Apocryphal, while they are accepted as Canonical by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The same Holy Spirit that inspired the writers of the accepted books of the New Testament also inspired everything else that existed in the early Church or Holy Tradition. The problem is Holy Tradition (with a capital “T”) is NOT the same as tradition (with a small “t”). When the Bible speaks against traditions it is not speaking against Holy Tradition. How could Bible speak against what it came out of to begin with? Instead where the confusion lies is in the fact what the Bible means are Jewish “traditions” (such not working on the Sabbath Day, or eating pork) and not Holy Tradition. To say that Orthodoxy de-emphasizes the Bible is just not true when you look at what are some of the other aspects of Holy Tradition. The Divine Liturgy is replete with exact words from the Bible (Old or New Testament). The Holy Icons many times depict events that are written about in the Bible. The Hymnography many times is directly quoted from the Bible (especially Book of Psalms). Therefore the Bible must be used not by itself or alone, but must be interpreted along with Holy Tradition (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15). This is a result of the fact that the Holy Spirit that lives in the Church (see John 14:25). Therefore as Orthodox Christians we cannot accept just the Bible alone but the Bible along with the rest of Holy Tradition. One could say that Sola Scriptura is in itself a tradition (small “t”) created by the Protestant Christians as a reaction to Roman Catholic abuses of interpreting Holy Tradition. Fr. John Ketchum
The Mystery of Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ
Protestants: The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper cannot literally be the Body and Blood of Jesus, they are only mere symbols.
Orthodox Response: This Protestant teaching does not reflect the actual word of God, but rather the opinions of men. This kind of teaching about the Eucharist is not scriptural. Christ is very clear in the Gospels about the institution of Holy Communion at the Last Supper. When Christ took the bread, gave thanks, He broke it and gave to his disciples saying, “This is my Body” and when we gave them the wine saying, “This is my blood”. It is funny how Protestants pride themselves on sola scriptura, (believing in the words of the Bible only), and are Bible Fundamentalists and can quote the Bible over and over and yet have trouble believing the actual and unambiguous words of Christ. And this teaching of Christ is clear without debate for he also states, “Except that you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and you drink His blood you have no like in you. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, dwells in me and I in Him.” (John 6:54 & 56). From the very beginning Christians have struggled with this concept. The early Christians were considered “cannibals” by the Roman pagans because of misunderstanding the Christian Eucharist. This of course was an erroneous assumption by the pagans, in fact they were looking for any and all excuses to persecute the early Orthodox Christians. The Bible tells us that some of the early Christians could not accept this teaching of Christ and were in fact the first Protestants (see John 6:60-66). These verses also condemn Christians who reject Christ’s teaching about His Communion being his actual Body and Blood because they “walk with Him NO MORE”. The Orthodox Church throughout its entire history since the year 33 A.D. has never debated or challenged its belief that Holy Communion was the actual Body and Blood of Christ, the holy gifts mystically changed by the Holy Spirit within the Divine Liturgy. Unfortunately on the other side Western Christians (Roman Catholics) have been overly obsessed with describing exactly “how” this mystical change occurs (their theological theory of “transubstantiation”). The Orthodox Church has never been occupied with trying to explain this mystery (or any mystery (Sacrament) of our faith), and “how” the gifts of regular bread and wine are changed into the actual body and blood of Christ. The gifts are prepared in a special way during the service of the Proskomide so that they can be offered on the Holy Altar as a spiritual sacrifice. Even though these gifts maintain their physical and material attributes of being bread and wine, it is a spiritual change that occurs that changes them into the Holy Eucharist. One good sign of this spiritual change is the fact that the Presanctified Gifts are prepared every year on Holy Thursday as the Reserve Communion for the sick and shut-ins. This Eucharist remains in the Tabernacle of the Holy Altar for an entire year and does not spoil as regular bread and wine would. The fact that Holy Communion is not just a symbol or mere remembrance of the Last Supper, has been backed up by countless writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the Patristic Fathers, and the Modern Theologians of our Orthodox Christian Church that we take Christ literally when he is speaking about the elements of Holy Communion. Fr. John Ketchum
Understanding Christ as our “Personal Savior”
Protestants: Why doesn’t the Orthodox Church teach Christ is our “personal Savior” and that receiving the sacraments of baptism and communion does not save anyone.
Orthodox Response: The Orthodox Church’s teachings always come directly from the New Testament in all things. No where in the New Testament does Christ teach he is everyone’s “Personal savior” so never in the 2000 year history of our Orthodox Church have we used such terms. However our Church teachings have always reminded us of the necessity for personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and that it is God alone who saves through his sacrifice on the Holy Cross. During the preparation for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the candidate is taken to the back of the Church and a dialogue takes place between the person being baptized (if an infant then the Godparent speaks for the infant) and is asked “do you join Christ” three times and have your “have your joined Christ” three times. This is a confession of faith, three times to negate the three times St. Peter denied Christ before the cock crowed before his crucifixion. Finally the candidate confesses “I believe in Him as King and God”. Several times during the Orthodox worship in the Divine Liturgy the priest calls the congregation to “commit ourselves and our whole lives to Christ our God.” Therefore faith in Christ is the very foundation of our salvation, and we are reminded of this fact over and over in many other divine services as well. The Holy Sacraments were instituted by Christ’s own example in the New Testament. Christ’s saving power is mediated through the sacraments according to the intention of the Church . The liturgical actions and movements that take place within the context of the service of the Sacrament does not save in themselves, but rather the Holy Spirit working through the canonically ordained priest (or bishop). Thus it is the Holy Spirit that sanctifies the waters of baptism into Holy Water to wash the stains of sin away, and transforms the prepared gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The fact is if we approach and partake of the Holy Sacraments unworthily (though no one is truly worthy), we can receive spiritual damage, not the gift of salvation (see 1 Corinthians 11:29). However, God’s grace is available in the sacraments to those who approach with a genuine and honest living faith in Christ the Savior. We must be careful to realize that we will be judged individually on the Second Coming according to our works and deeds, but we must live our Christian lives in community and not be selfish or self-centered. This is another reason why through the ages we have not used the terminology of Christ as our “personal Savior” so that we may not misunderstand these truths. We must be careful that we do not become islands unto ourselves and neglect our brothers and sisters in Christ around us or take on some kind of elitism attitude that because I am a Christian I am saved, those who are not are damned. This is making us the judge instead of leaving this up to Christ, who is the only Just Judge and he will make these decisions by looking into the secret hearts of each person. Fr. John Ketchum
What is Meant by the Royal Priesthood of all Christians
Protestants: The Bible says that all Christians are priests. Why does the Orthodox Church call its parish leaders and pastors “priests”?
Orthodox Response: If all Christians are priests, then it cannot be wrong to call Christian pastors “priests”. The Bible outlines three orders of clergy, deacons, presbyters and bishops and the Orthodox Church from the beginning has utilized each of these orders. Each order has a particular role to play in the Church. The official title of an Orthodox priest is “presbyter” in Greek which translates as “elder” in English. The English word “priest” is commonly used in American practice. The Bible (see 1 Peter 2:9) outlines the fact that each baptized Christian and believer is part of the “Royal Priesthood”, but this does not mean that every Christian can function as an ordained presbyter. The two are distinct. It is clear from the Bible that Jesus gave his Apostles special authority and special functions that were not given to the entire membership of his followers (see for example Matthew 16:9, 18:8 and John 20:22). An sign that each member is part of the Royal Priesthood of Christ is that in an emergency any Christian can baptize another person using the Trinitarian formula if a ordained presbyter or bishop is not available. However if a ordained presbyter or bishop is not available, Divine Liturgy cannot be celebrated and Holy Communion cannot be consecrated and given out, this authority lies only with the canonically ordained priest (in the place of the bishop). This goes back to Apostolic succession passed down throughout the ages in the Orthodox Church unbroken from the Apostles to today. The method of this succession was passed down through the laying on of hands (see Acts 14:23, and 1 Timothy 4:13). Today the head priest of a parish community is called the pastor or in Greek proistamenos, and administers the parish with the blessings of his local Bishop. This has been the unbroken way the Orthodox Church has been administering its Churches since the first Apostolic Communities were founded. Fr. John Ketchum
Being uncomfortable with perceived “ritualism” of the Orthodox Church
Protestants: Why is the Orthodox liturgy filled with pomp, ceremony and rituals, wasn’t the New Testament worship simple?
Orthodox Response: When a Protestant Christian visits the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem they are often uncomfortable since they being newcomers to Christianity have no designated place inside (as does the Roman Catholics, Armenians, Coptic and Ethiopians along with the Eastern Orthodox). And they are uncomfortable with Orthodox Liturgy. So they ignorantly try to say the Church is not the real tomb of Christ or place of His Crucifixion. Then they fabricate their own fake tombs and crosses such as the Garden Tomb outside of Jerusalem as alternatives to real thing. This is what they have done with Protestant worship services as well stripped down to very little “worship” and mostly just a long winded sermons and reading from the Bible. However, God is not opposed to ritual. He commanded very elaborate rites in the Old Testament. The book of Revelation points out physical acts of worship take place in the heavenly Kingdom (Rev. 5:6-14, 8:1-4 etc.) Orthodox worship reflects the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom. Although the present day Liturgy after our long history has expanded some, the basis elements have remained the same since the early Church (see Justin the Martyr’s Apology 1:6-7). The early Christians met on the first day of the week (Sunday) to hear the word of God (Gospel) and to partake of the Lord’s Supper (communion). The early New Testament Christians believe the offering of bread and wine was consecrated into the actual Body and Blood of Christ, no Protestant believes this today, so it is they who have actually strayed from the beliefs of the early New Testament Church. It is precisely the beauty and ceremony of the Orthodox Liturgy which had led so many Americans to convert to Orthodoxy, tired with meaningless lifeless worship and unending sermons.
As far as why Orthodox worship involves so much perceived “ritual”, it is not anymore than so many other things in our world. For example, a surgeon before they can operate, they must go through the “ritual” of scrubbing completely and disinfecting their hands and arms, and must dress appropriately for the operation (gloves, gowns, masks, etc.) and once they begin to operate they go through a specific set of procedures that are the same for that type of operation no matter how many times they do that particular operation. The same is of Orthodox Christian worship, which has remained the same since the beginning of the Apostolic Church (proven by historical evidence). The first Liturgies of the early Christians were nothing but “simple”, for example the Liturgy of St. James the Brother our Lord (the earliest liturgy) took 3 to 5 hours. Most Orthodox Liturgies of today are not nearly as long only 1½ to 2 hours. Fr. John Ketchum
Thinking that one is “Saved”, not part of the Scriptures or Orthodoxy
Protestants: I believe in the doctrine of assurance. I know that I am saved and going to heaven for sure.
Orthodox Response: This doctrine is purely unscriptural, yet somehow this “doctrine” ispart of Protestantism which hold tightly onto Sola Scriptura! Scripture does teach us that it is possible for a believer to fall into sin or unbelief and lose their salvation. St. Paul reminds us of the Israelites who had faith and were led by Moses through the Red Sea to safety, yet right away they forgot about God, fell away and were punished. This is a warning to Christians as well. (See 1 Corinthians 10:12). The Book of Hebrews also gives us this warning (see Hebrews 3:12-14). St. Paul did not consider himself to have achieved some kind of “eternal security” because he turned his life towards faith in Christ. However, he does feel it necessary to keep pressing (working hard) towards the goal of the Resurrection (see Phil 3:9-14). St. Paul kept himself in strict discipline so that after preaching to others about Christ and Salvation he might not himself fall away (see 1 Corinthians 9:27). True Christian salvation is not just one day we wake up and have an instance of true faith, but rather it means we must continually “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” throughout our entire lives. We must always because we are weak and sinful ask God for forgiveness and make a true repentance and trusting in the Love of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Orthodox idea of salvation is reiterated by St. Peter, “For if they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” Clearly, then, it is possible to know Christ and later fall away. We must continually struggle in our spiritual life against the temptations of sin. We must “strive to make our calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10) Christ reminds us in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” We see this example also in the Parable of Ten Virgins, five wise and five foolish, the foolish had faith, yet were unprepared to enter with the Bridegroom into Heaven (Matthew 25) Fr. John Ketchum
The Practice of Infant Baptism
Protestants: Why does the Orthodox Church practice Infant Baptism, infants cannot have faith in Christ?
Orthodox Response: We read in the Book of Acts how in the Early Church whole families were baptized into the Orthodox Faith, parents, children and even infants. This was the overwhelming typical practice as the Church began to convert whole groups of people from paganism into Christianity. As time went on more and more Christian couples were already converted and baptized and their children or grandchildren needed baptism and entry into the Church. The shift then began for the practice of baptism primarily for new infants born to Christian parents and adult baptism still reserved for non-Christians desiring to join the Church. Today most Christian traditions continue to practice infant baptism following the early and unbroken practice of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Somewhat recently in Christian history two particular groups Evangelical Protestants and Baptist deviated from the ancient practice and began to not baptize infants but wait until they reached the point of “understanding” their faith. Infants are baptized in the Orthodox Church not after a profession of faith but in anticipation of that faith. It is the godparent or sponsor for that infant that actually professes that faith on behalf of the infant who cannot speak for themselves. Who can judge that the faith of a child is not sufficient for God? Christ himself states in the Gospel that we need to have the faith of the little children if we too want to receive the Kingdom of Heaven (see Mark 10:15), so to deny this is to disagree with the direct words of our Lord. It is possible that a baptized infant can using their freewill fall away later in life, but that can also be true of someone baptized as an adult. It was the wisdom of the Holy Fathers and Holy Tradition of our Orthodox Church then to give all the spiritual blessings and weapons as soon as possible to our newborn infants so that they would have a spiritual advantage in the arena of spiritual warfare in the Fallen World. This is also why the Orthodox Church does not merely baptize an infant. First they are prepared spiritually in the back of the Church (Narthex) with a series of powerful priestly prayers and exorcisms. The godparents deny Satan, blow and spit upon him ( to humiliate him), and turn and join Christ and recite the Creed of Faith. After the child is prepared the waters of the font are blessed and changed to holy water and the child is anointed with blessed olive oil as a sign they are soldiers for Christ. After three full immersions in the Baptismal waters they are Chrismated and their hair is tonsured that they are now part of the Royal Priesthood. Later in the service they are then given their first Holy Communion as full and complete members of the Body of Christ. We do not separate these services over time (as the Latin tradition). Therefore in our love for the infants we do not deny them the fullness of the Sacramental Life of the Church. Fr. John Ketchum
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