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Wednesday, May 9, A.D. 2012
Hebrew Catholics

Քրիստոս յարեաւ ի մեռելոց

Earlier in the year, I discovered an organization named the Association of Hebrew Catholics. Its “about” page introduction states:

The AHC seeks to help preserve the corporate identity and heritage of the People Israel within the Church. By gathering the Jews who have entered the Church, we hope to help them rekindle and live out their collective vocation, giving corporate witness to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and His Church.

A.H.C president David Moss provides an informative interview for Faith Magazine: “Are Jewish Converts still Jewish?”

The problem of Jewish identity may briefly be described as follows. When a Jew enters the Church, he enters into a community and culture that has become sociologically, for want of a better word, Gentile. The term Gentile refers to the non-Israelite peoples of the world.

Consequently, the Jewish convert is separated from his people, his culture and his heritage. Then, through assimilation to the prevailing culture, his offspring are no longer considered part of the People Israel.

Most importantly, the corporate vocation given to the People Israel can no longer be fulfilled, either in the convert or in his offspring. This is the case because, since the 3rd or 4th century, the People Israel have not had a corporate presence in the Church. Thus, in the Jews that enter the Church, the People terminate.

What do you mean, the people terminate?

The basic way that Jews preserve themselves and their heritage is through their offspring. The Jewish community recognizes the offspring as a Jew and, therefore, a member of the People Israel. Through the community, the individual is given his or her identity as a member of that community.

However, when a Jew enters the Church and marries, there is no community recognition of the offspring as members of the People Israel. Thus, the offspring, in effect, become Gentile. And even if the family attempts to preserve some aspects of their heritage, by the second or third generation, those aspects have disappeared and the offspring have completely lost any sense of their identity as Israelites.

So, even if the convert continues to describe himself in terms of his Jewish origins, the preservation of the People through his offspring comes to a halt. Thus, my statement that ‘the People terminate’.

That explains why, when I was interviewing a Rabbi about interfaith marriage, he stated that every Jew that converts or marries and does not raise their children Jewish - that is like another Holocaust. I was startled by the comment. Is this what he was referring to?

Yes. The way it’s communicated doesn’t add clarity. But, the Rabbi uses the term holocaust in the sense of how many Jews are lost. The People Israel have a God-given vocation in this world. They, therefore, also have an obligation to preserve themselves and their vocation.

Auster addresses the same issue in his post, “Made Whole.” When one of Auster’s readers, a Jewish Christian, noted that he felt alienated due to his becoming a Christian, Auster responded:

Two caveats. First, I would say that while some Jews have an intense negative reaction against Jews who have become Christians, not all do.

Second, I, as a Jew who became a Christian, want to assure Jewish readers, who may be concerned on this point, that I have no design to use this site to encourage the conversion of Jews to Christianity. In this area, I am truly a respecter of individuality and of the uniqueness of the Jewish people.

I first expressed my thoughts on this subject many years ago when a Christian friend asked a question that Christians often ask: “Why didn’t the Jews at the time of Jesus become Christians?”

I answered more or less as follows:

Under Judaism, the believers come into relationship with God by collectively following the Jewish law. Under Christianity, the believers comes into relationship with God by individually following Jesus Christ. Judaism and Christianity are two different religions, two different approaches to God. They are not interchangeable. If the Jews had become Christians, they would have ceased to exist as Jews. Since they were the recipients and legatees of the first revelation of the true God, which they naturally valued above all else, it would have been unreasonable to expect them to give that up, to give up the Jewish dispensation, to give up their very identity and existence as a people formed around that dispensation, in order to become followers of Jesus. Of course some Jews, who were called, did follow Jesus. But the majority didn’t. While I believe that the Christian revelation is higher and truer and more complete than the Jewish revelation, the Jewish revelation, as the predecessor of the Christian revelation and the very condition of its existence, should be respected.

I then wrote the following comment. Auster’s response commentary is in bold:

I do not believe that Providence drives history in an absolute sense. The world is too wicked, and there are far too many nobler and better roads untraveled. God works with us and through us, but it appears as if he refuses to play chess with men as his pawns. That said, I often wonder why something like a “Mosaic rite” never came to pass.

I empathize with your view of rabbinical Judaism. It would be a loss to see its wisdom perish. Yet, Christ did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. [LA replies: This is one of Jesus’ statements in which he is speaking his own language, not ordinary language. He may have meant that he was fulfilling the Jewish law in the true, spiritual sense, but from the ordinary point of view of the Jews, he certainly was coming to destroy it. There is no question that his teachings meant the end of the Jewish religion, for example, of the laws governing the Sabbath. So let’s drop the Kumbaya and frankly admit that there was an either-or situation here.] I wondered why you reacted so negatively when Ann Coulter had her episode with Donny Deutsch [covered here]. Perhaps, your opinion about the everlastingness of the covenant played a part. However, I do not see why there could not be a rabbinical expression of Christianity for the descendents of Jacob. It appears that such was the early Church in Palestine and among the diaspora communities throughout the empire. Had more Jews converted, then perhaps something like Mosaic law Christians would have survived. As it was, Jewish Christians were absorbed into the general mass of Christians, the vast majority of which converted from the nations.

I also do not think that Christians come to Jesus Christ as individuals. That is a rather modern, and to be frank, Protestant, manner of describing Christianity. The gospel is not a set of intellectual doctrines but rather the life in Christ, which is a life of being fellow members of one body. Christianity is essentially communal, even for the hermit in the desert. [LA replies: Good point about the communal nature of Christianity, but at the same time Jesus is constantly telling his disciples what they need to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and in the Gospel of John this is primarily through the relationship of the individual person with Jesus Christ. A community of believers may share in that relationship, but each individual must have it. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation.” Each of us is an individual self and center of consciousness. Even within a church community, each of us must experience for ourselves—and thus each of us must figure out in practical terms for ourselves—what the Way consists of.]

I certainly do not know what is correct when it comes to the relationship / extension / fulfillment of God’s covenant(s) with man. Yet, it seems reasonable to think that the Mosaic law, and the special way of life that developed among the Jews, does not preclude Christianity. It was the seed bed of the apostolic mission. I see no reason why it needed to end. I suspect that thoughts to the contrary demonstrate a spectacular success for hell’s strategic planning.

P.S. Thank you for your post on Saint Mark’s gospel. I find it odd that few people comment on the humor in the scripture. The reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ comment about having been touched is very funny. Like the boy who fell asleep and then fell out of the window during Paul’s preaching—no one seems to notice that they’re funny.

I therefore find it heartening that there is an organized effort to establish something like what I proposed to Auster in the Roman Church. Moss continues in his explanation of his association’s purpose:

Our goal is to preserve the identity and heritage of Israelites within the Catholic Church, through the establishment of a Hebrew Catholic Community juridically approved by the Holy See.

By identity, I mean their election (calling, vocation). The election is a choice of God that applies to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that is, to the People Israel of the flesh. It is collective and it is eternal.

Today, the Jew who enters the Church is unable to fulfill his vocation as a member of the People. Instead, he enters the Church and assimilates to the prevailing culture.

Isn’t this true of all cultures or is that not a fair question?

There are similarities. You can look at converts from other peoples, cultures and religions and, at times, see their own people turn against them because they feel like the convert has betrayed them.

In these cases, we are dealing with human nature. In the case of the People Israel, however, the issue is of a people created, formed, and preserved by God, a people still intimately connected to the ongoing drama of salvation history.

For example, the Catechism states that Jesus will not return until all Israel recognizes Him. Thus, it appears that there is a connection between that part of the People Israel we identify as Jews and the second coming of Jesus.

Yet, how will His people recognize Him if they are not given the opportunity to consider the Gospel? And, since the program of the Church today, with respect to the Jews, is one of dialogue, not evangelization, how will the opportunity to consider the Gospel arise?

I believe the dialogue is important and good because of the history of Catholic Jewish relations. Healing, respect, trust, honest communications, learning about the other, and shared efforts in the social arena are all necessary and important.

Yet, the dialogue has its problems. One problem arises from the efforts of some Catholics within the dialogue, as is also the case in other Catholic disciplines, to re-interpret Scripture and Tradition to the detriment of the Catholic Faith. Thus, in attempting to deal with issues that have negatively and unjustly affected the Jews, they are betraying the Catholic Faith.

What do you mean? Who is betraying the Catholic Faith?

Let me give an example outside of the dialogue which takes an extreme form: the Jesus seminar. Here, theologians vote on whether passages really reflect the words of Jesus or not. When one looks at the results of their votes, one finds that the New Testament has completely lost its character as the inspired Word of God. Others have questioned or challenged the truths of the virgin birth, the resurrection of our Lord, the miracles of the loaves, and so forth. I could go on.

Within the dialogue, you will find the aberrant notion that there are two parallel paths to salvation: one for the Jews, which is Rabbinical Judaism, and one for the Gentiles, which is Christianity. Of course, one may ask: How then do we explain that the Church was formed by Jews? that Jesus, Mary, the apostles and almost all the early believers were Jews?

Overall, however, the dialogue is necessary, important, and producing good fruit.

Returning to your original question about the goals of the AHC: I already mentioned our primary aim that is focused on preserving the People Israel within the Church. With the establishment of a Hebrew Catholic Community, the other major aim will begin to develop, that is, restoring the heritage of Israel to the life of the Church.

For 3,500 years, God has formed the People Israel. There is much in their literature, their culture, and in their spiritual and moral disciplines that will edify Catholics. God has given them certain gifts and called them, as a Servant People, to be a blessing to the nations. As a People living out their vocation within the Church, I believe they will be a blessing to the life and mission of the Church, and to their brethren outside the Church, the Jewish people.

I do not yet know what ecclesiastical format the Hebrew Catholic Community will take. There is much work that has to be done by theologians and those involved with canon law.

Scripture states that “for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” The AHC makes the case that the time is at hand to restore the People Israel, as a People, to the life of the Church.

So in Acts, where they discuss the problem of Gentiles entering the Church, the issue was do Gentiles need to become Jews before they can become Christian. What you are saying is that it is reversed? Now the question is can you be a Jew and become Christian?

Yes. Let me state the question as it has been asked of me: “Can I, a Jew, become a Christian without becoming a Gentile?”

In Acts, the Church was made up primarily of Jews. Through observance of the Torah, the People Israel had been formed by God to be a holy people, separated from the pagan world surrounding them. The Mosaic laws not only formed them, but it preserved them as a people.

In the New Covenant, where the Gentiles were being grafted onto the People Israel through baptism, the following dilemma faced the Jews: How were they to retain their identity if they now no longer had to observe all of the Mosaic laws?

For example, the laws regarding ritual purity (such as the dietary laws), had helped keep them a distinct people. But, in the new dispensation, Jews began to eat with Gentiles. It became apparent that their distinctiveness could no longer be preserved through these laws. And in those early days, while the understanding of what Jesus had taught was developing, you can read in the New Testament where some of the early Jewish followers of Jesus continued to observe the Torah. In fact, this situation continued through the next two or three centuries, while the People Israel maintained a corporate presence in the early Church.

But the reversal of the situation in Acts is not the only reversal we are witnessing. St. Paul, speaking to the Gentiles, taught that they, the Gentiles, had received mercy because of the failure of the majority of the Jews to believe in Jesus. But a time would come when the Gentiles, who had the faith, would lose it. And, from their failure, the Jews would again receive mercy. And with mercy, all Israel would be saved, bringing about the return to faith of the apostate Gentiles. I believe we have entered that phase of salvation history.

As I wrote in “The Vain Queen Consort,” ethnic chauvinism has been a stumbling block for the Jews, and Moss and such men must be vigilant not to succumb to this tendency. I find his use of “gentile” for non-Hebrew Christians somewhat problematic. The world is full of many nations, and I do not think that the Lord intends for their dissolution. John writes of the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation:

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Auster thus comments:

In the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, there are still distinct nations, and kings of nations, and these are the glories of humanity which are brought before the throne of God, and there transfigured in the light of Christ. Mankind, following the end of the world, is still providentially constituted of separate nations, which give it its character and distinctiveness, even as, for example, our earth is constituted of separate continents, islands, mountain ranges, and valleys, which give it its shape and its meaning. The physical earth is not a homogenous mass consisting of nothing but “equal” individual particles, and neither, in the biblical view, is mankind.

We need to keep such passages along with God’s covenants in mind when we ponder Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

As human sexuality is part of God’s plan, so are the nations. Yet, there is a more fundamental unity through Christ, who redeems and transfigures us into something even higher than the apex of creation. As such, Moss’ basic categorization of men into Hebrews and the nations—that is, everyone else—appears to go against two thousand years of Christian practice. If we are to dismiss heretical revisionism that has delusions of recovering the “authentic gospel” from “Pauline distortions,” we must take the tradition seriously. I am open to exploring roads not traveled, as mentioned above, and I would welcome a development of something like my imagined Mosaic rite, but the primary distinction among men for Christians is between those who have answered the invitation to come to the feast and those who have not yet answered. If certain merrymakers wear distinctive hats and eat special foods, then there is room at the banquet for such differences.

Moreover, we mortals do not know who will be kicked out of the party for having come unprepared, and we do not know who may be on the way to the festivities though they have not yet arrived. So, we ought to beware of triumphalism due to our presence at the festival.

I wish Moss and his friends the best in their endeavors. I would like to see the same development in the Orthodox Church. When I was researching places to visit in Jerusalem, I discovered Archpriest Aleksandr Abraham Winogradsky Frenkel, who serves at Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in the Old City. He shepherds a multiethnic, multilingual parish, where the services are in Hebrew on Saturdays. Here is the Trisagion in Hebrew:

A few Orthodox Christian Mission Center bulletins contain an article on Fr. Aleksandr’s work:

Spring 2005: pages 24 and 25 (pdf page 13)

Fall 2007: pages 8 and 9 (pdf page 5)

The number of Russian immigrants continues to rise in Israel, and many of the immigrants have a connection to the Russian Church. They immigrate as Jews under the Law of Return, but many are converts to the Church or have relatives in the Church. This growing community, with priests like Fr. Aleksandr, may develop into the roots of a future Hebrew Orthodox Christian culture.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, May 9, Anno Domini 2012
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Friday, January 27, A.D. 2012
The Pro-Life Cause, Orthodoxy, and Hope

Following the prolife theme of this week’s posts, I recommend that you read Matushka Frederica Mathewes-Green’s address, “The Pro-Life Cause, Orthodoxy, and Hope.” Matushka Frederica speaks of her own transformation from an abortion rights supporting feminist to a supporter of the prolife movement, and she lists some interesting selections from the fathers concerning abortion. Here are segments of her speech:

You may be surprised to learn that abortion was common in the ancient Roman Empire. The methods were more dangerous than today (I should say, more dangerous to the mother; every abortion is lethally dangerous to the child). But those methods were nevertheless used by women who wanted to conceal sexual activity, or who were forced to have abortions by their husbands and lovers.

The ancient, pagan world was a harsh one. Not only were children aborted before birth, but a newborn child was not officially received into a family until its father picked it up and held it. If the father didn’t want the child he simply refused to take it up, and the child was legally abandoned. This was called “exposing” an infant; it would be placed in some public place, and the social fiction was that someone else might pick it up and care for it. Sometimes people did take in these babies, and rear them to be sold as slaves or put on the street as prostitutes. But, often enough, no one took the child before it was found by dogs or other animals, or died of exposure and starvation.

And this was legal. It was a harsh world. Christians stood out as different, in that world. They were different in seeing every human being as worthy of dignity, whether free or slave, male or female, Jew or Gentile (as St. Paul said in Galatians 3:21). One of the big differences between Christians and pagans was that Christians did not have abortions. From the earliest years, the Church Fathers spoke against abortion. Let me read you some of their statements.

This is from the Didache, a work which was written about the same time as the Gospels: “You shall not murder a child by abortion.”

The Letter of Barnabas, written about the same time, repeats those words. “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion.” Note the connection he makes there. This is not about sexual morality, it’s about loving your neighbor, who in this case is a helpless child.

The Letter to Diognetus, probably written around 125, describes to a nonbeliever what Christians are like. He writes, “They marry, as do all others; they beget children, but they do not abort fetuses.”

The Apocalypse of Peter says that, in heaven, aborted children are cared for by an angel named Temlakos. He writes, “The children shall be given over to the caretaking angel Temlakos, and those who slew the children will be punished forever, for this is God’s will.”

Matushka Frederica continues:

Yet, even though the early Christians refused to participate in abortion, a terrible rumor circulated about them in those days. You know that, in the centuries when Christianity was illegal, some parts of our faith were kept secret and not shared outside the community of believers. For example, the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist was something only baptized Christians knew about, and it was never spoken about to nonbelievers. We still say, in the pre-communion prayer of St. John Chrysostom, “I will not speak of your mystery to your enemies.”

Yet rumors started to circulate that Christians were cannibals. There was a story going around that in Christian worship a baby was put inside a sack of flour and beaten to death, and then eaten. Well, if you thought people in your neighborhood were doing that as part of a religious ritual, you’d want to see them executed too. And you can see how the rumor is a mixed-up version of our belief that Christ came to earth as a child, and that he gives us his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. So, many of the early Christians were martyred because they were thought to be child-killers and cannibals, and some early writers protest it’s a lie, Christians do no such thing, while it’s pagans who commit abortion and expose newborns.

Minucius Felix wrote, around 200 AD, “I would like to meet the person who says …that we [Christians] are brought into the faith by means of the slaughter and blood of an infant. Do you think that it can be possible for such a tender little body to receive such fatal wounds? Is it possible for anyone to pour forth the new blood of a little child, scarcely come into existence? Nobody is capable of believing this—except the person who would do it. Yes, I see that you expose your newborn children to wild beasts and to birds, and at other times crush them to death. There are some women who drink medicines that extinguish the life of a child while it is still inside their body, and thus murder their own relative before they bring it forth.”

Tertulllian says that for Christians, “Since murder has been once and for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb. …To interfere with a birth is merely an earlier way of killing a person. It doesn’t matter whether you take away a life that has been born, or destroy one that is coming to birth.” (Apology 9:8) Elsewhere he wrote, “We hold that life begins with conception, and that the soul also begins at conception; life has its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does.” (Apology 27)

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Do you condemn the gifts of God, and fight against His laws? Childlessness is seen as a curse, but you seek it as though it were a blessing. Do you make the chamber of birth a place of slaughter? Do you teach the woman who is formed to give life to perpetuate killing instead?” (Homilies on Romans 24)

St. Basil puts medicines that cause abortion in the same category as other kinds of killing. He writes, “The man or woman is a murderer who gives a potion, if the person that takes it dies from it. So also are they who uses a medicine to procure abortion; and so are those robbers who kill on the highway.”

Matushka further shows how our Orthodox appreciation for pre-natal life has scriptural and festal sources. She quotes the story of the Visitation in the Gospel of Luke, wherein Elizabeth exclaims at Mary’s visit,  “Why do I deserve such honor, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.”

Moreover, we celebrate not only the birthdays of Mary, John, and Jesus—September 8, June 24, and December 25, respectively—but also their conceptions—December 9 (a day later than the December 8 celebration for the Latins), September 23, and March 25, respectively. Christians have always been a people of and for life . . . and life more abundant.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 27, Anno Domini 2012
Friday, August 26, A.D. 2011

“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

This past spring, I had a conversation with a fellow on the train as the Cardinal Line coursed through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He was a lapsed Episcopalian, which I considered rather redundant. We had a pleasant talk about religion wherein he mentioned doctrines that troubled him and I defended them in ways that made them less objectionable to him. I then wanted to share something about the Christian religion that I found problematic, but as I began to speak, I discovered an appropriate rejoinder. It was an odd experience. Am I an apologist in spite of myself?

I had wanted to complain about the repeated injunctions in the scriptures to believe. My skeptical side has always disliked these passages, finding them inexplicable and even embarrassing. I do not want to believe; I want to understand. Moreover, I want solid reasons to accompany that understanding. Exhortations to belief struck me as a fraud’s gimmick to sucker in folks. I never judged the evangelists as snake oil peddlers, but certain passages in the bible made me uncomfortable. Paul and Silas preach, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” John writes, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Mark writes, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” There are scores upon scores of such examples, and they are targets for skeptics who care not for blind belief. I am sympathetic to them.

As I was relaying these objections to my fellow Amtrak passenger, a simple explanation came. My interlocutor never knew that my objections were not rhetorical. This unforeseen answer reminded me an earlier objection that I had about the anthropomorphism in the scriptures’ depiction of a wrathful, vindictive God. When that thought bothered me, I happened to come across some patristic texts that addressed the problem, though I do not remember which. The basic idea was that the scriptures are written for men—for their edification and for their salvation. Hence, the inspired texts speak to men at their level. Portrayals of a wrathful, jealous God do not depict God as he is but rather address us pastorally. Most of us have had loving fathers who corrected us. Fathers employ anger, disappointment, approval, sadness, and joy in pedagogy, and we grow up with an intimate recognition of these emotional tools. Holy writ taps into our human psychology to instruct us in the ways of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it is not the end of it.

Similarly, it occurred to me that the recurring invitations in the bible to believe may also be pastoral. Rather than seedy priestcraft, the call to believe is like a physician’s request that a patient trust him. Unless the patient believes that the physician is able to help him, he will not likely follow the doctor’s advice. Trust necessarily precedes the assistance that the physician may offer. Likewise, Christ the Healer offers us medicine, but we must first accept that it is medicine rather than poison. We must have faith in the physician. This is so obvious to me now, and it is likely a commonplace thought among Christians, but I never realized it before. One must believe before one knows in almost any discipline, since one must trust his teacher before he attains knowledge. How much more necessary is trust when we are dealing not with mere knowledge but with salvation?

Posted by Joseph on Friday, August 26, Anno Domini 2011
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Friday, August 19, A.D. 2011
Mount Tabor

I wish those on the old calendar a blessed feast of the Transfiguration, as well as a happy birthday to my sister.

The gospels do not specify upon which mountain the Transfiguration occurred, though Christian tradition holds that it was Mount Tabor. Christians have made pilgrimages to the mount since antiquity, though the Mohammedans demolished all Christian edifices in the thirteenth century. Centuries later, the Ottomans allowed first the Franciscans and then the Orthodox to rebuild monasteries and temples on Mount Tabor. The site BibleWalks has pictures and information, and there is another page for the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Elijah.

Interestingly and coincidentally, my sister’s namesake has a historical connection to Mount Tabor, as recounted in the fourth chapter of the Book of Judges.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, August 19, Anno Domini 2011
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Friday, August 12, A.D. 2011
The Problem with Isaac

When I first encountered the simple medieval procedure for testing the truth of revealed religion, I was thrilled. It only works negatively, though; so, it has its limits. The basic argument is that there is divinely revealed truth that is inaccessible to human reason on its own and there is divinely revealed truth that is accessible to human reason on its own. A revelatory tradition that teaches doctrines that conflict with what human reason is able to know is not trustworthy, and a revelatory tradition that teaches doctrines that accord with what human reason is able to know has not disqualified itself. This process does not assure the truthfulness of a revelatory tradition, but it does winnow out falsehood.

Yet, there are many problems with this procedure, including the frailty of human reason as manifested in most men. It is pleasant to think that human beings can easily overcome controversy through rational dialogue, but such dialectical ascent evades the bulk of mankind. Even the wisest find answers to the truly important questions difficult or indiscernible. Hence, the schoolmen argue for authority and divine revelation as assistance to the weak human mind. However, one must choose his authorities wisely; for we know that the world is full of liars and sowers of confusion. Therein, one sees the circular problem. How does the ignorant man wisely choose an authority to follow in order to spare him from his ignorance? In the end, each individual must make that choice, though the beneficial consequence of that choice is really required to make it.

The issue is quite practical. If we wish to serve God, how do we know whom to serve when, in our ignorance, we do not know who is telling the truth about ultimate matters? In the book of Genesis, we read the striking story of Abraham’s planned sacrifice of Isaac. The account serves to demonstrate Abraham’s faith and devotion, but a skeptical reader might think that Abraham was a naive dupe who happened, fortunately, to follow the true Lord (that hypothetical reader must not be too skeptical). For God’s command should have been repugnant to Abraham. Were he to have followed the aforementioned scholastic advice, he would have asked God to leave him. The pious man replies that Abraham trusted God more than he trusted his own sense of right and wrong, but that is precisely the problem. How does one discern messages from God from those of other sources without relying on one’s own wisdom?

Perhaps, Abraham developed enough trust in the Lord, gained from the many years during which he served God before he was asked to sacrifice his son, that he would obey despite the ostensibly heinous request. One might ask what the value of trust is if it is to be continuously questioned. Nonetheless, would not Abraham have good reason to suspect that the Adversary was attempting to lead him to evil under the guise of God? However, maybe one cannot mistake evil for God once one knows God.

These sorts of questions lead me to think that we have been blessed with more spiritual faculties than simply discursive or analytic reason. As I have written before, I think that we might have something like a faculty of faith. If the peasant can commune with God as well as the philosopher, perhaps our principal organ for dealing with the divine is not our mind. Abraham’s fidelity and righteousness might have resulted from his superior employment of this faculty.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, August 12, Anno Domini 2011
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Thursday, August 11, A.D. 2011
Anti-Christian Bigotry

Yesterday, I commended the Israelis for performing Wagner in “Jews at Bayreuth.” Today, however, I have nothing but scorn for the Jerusalem Post‘s anti-Christian screed, “A Christian scholar on ‘why antisemitism, why the Holocaust?’” David Turner reviews William Nicholls’ Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate as a pretext for attacking Christianity, proving once again that hate—a profound, blistering, ignorant hate—has a home in the hearts of many religions. Unfortunately, Turner cannot really be blamed for not knowing that the “Anglican” Nicholls, who serves as his glimpse into Christianity, hates the gospel as much as Turner. How perverse is it that Nicholl’s eponym was an Anglican divine who wrote—approvingly—of the Book of Common Prayer?

Turner’s-by-Nicholl’s major point is that Christianity is anti-Semitic because of an insecurity complex. That Jews persist strikes terror in Christian hearts because their unbelief calls Jesus’ claims into question. The most frustrating aspects to interreligious dialogue are that people generally know very little about other people’s religions and that people generally do not even try to understand religions on their own terms. Such is obvious in this case for the Jew Turner and the heathen Nicholls, though one would think that a biblically literate Jew would know better. Was Abraham “insecure” when he noticed immoral paganism in his travels? Was Moses “insecure” when the pharaoh’s heart hardened? Were he and the judges “insecure” when the people continually rebelled? Were the Jews after the division of the kingdom “insecure” because many, perhaps most, of their brethren forsook the temple cult in Jerusalem? Were the prophets “insecure” because of idolatrous kings? I always thought that they preached God’s messages to errant and fallen people; I never considered that their prophesies resulted from “insecurity” about some of their listeners’ failing to heed God’s words.

The entire history of the Abrahamic tradition is about obedience and disobedience to God’s commands. From the garden on, we are shown again and again that some people follow God and others reject God. It is one of the most basic themes in the scriptures. Why, then, would Christians be especially “insecure” that some Jews rejected Christ? Indeed, this rejection of God’s dispensation has been the standard course in human history. Consider Noah’s project, or Job’s friends, or the Hebrews scores upon scores of times. There would have been no prophets if God’s revelations had not continuously been rejected. The new covenant of the gospel, like the previous covenants, was an occasion of disobedience for many men. It is surprising to me, even given ecumenical obstacles, that a rabbinical Jew would fail to notice this.

Curiously, Turner notes, “But Nicholls’ reserves his harshest criticism for Martin Luther, a father of his own reformed church.” From the outside, we might say that Luther was a father of the Anglican religion, but many Anglicans would reject this. It is not an important point, though it further shows Turner’s ignorance of Christian history. And that is a mighty ignorance, tracing, as it does, the holocaust to the gospel:

What is to be done? Even assuming that Christianity would want to repent its two thousand years of Jew-hatred resulting most recently in what is not likely to be the West’s final effort at a Final Solution to its Jewish Problem: Is reform even possible? According to Professor Nicholls the likelihood is negligible. On page 168 he writes, “Christian anti-Judaism is not a later distortion of an originally pure religion. It is embedded in the foundation documents of the faith.”

I deal with the history a bit in “Those Jews” and elsewhere, but no such reasoning can be done with a man whose bigotry refuses to see a religion as anything but a tribal enemy.

Turner also exhibits the revolting rabbinical tic of thinking that only the Jews are clean and that everyone else is an unclean savage:

What, for example, would the Matthew gospel be without its dramatic rendition of the trial of Jesus: of Pilate “washing his hands” (a typically Jewish, not Pagan, custom!); of the Jews self-condemned forever as deicides.

Does he not realize that the idea of the sacred is universally connected with the idea of purity and that other people have been civilized and have believed in spiritual and bodily hygiene for ages? Christians and rabbinical Jews alike inherited this bizarre ignorance of pagans that, thousands of years later, they blithely maintain. Educated Christians seem to move past this idiocy, but rabbinical Jews with learning stubbornly seem to hold onto it. Their attachment to their chosen status is so strong, they appear to get “insecure” by the thought that other nations might wash themselves, cultivate virtue, and excel in intellectual pursuits. But then, what can be done? Hebrew chauvinism is not a later distortion of an originally pure religion. It is embedded in the foundation documents of the faith.

Turner claims that the gospel of John has Jesus refer to the Jews as Satanic:

The John gospel repeatedly describes the Jews as satanic: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do, (John 8:44).” From there it is a short step to characterizing the Jews as antichrists. John associates the Jews with Satan many more times than all three other canonical gospels combined.

Turner forgets, I suppose, that almost every agent in the gospels is Jewish, from the Theotokos to Caiaphas. Pick any prophet’s chastisements in the Hebrew scriptures, and one would interpret them as Jew hatred using the same hermeneutics.

The golden calf prize for asininity, one kil’ayim of a metaphor, goes to this statement:

And assuming a wave of remorse, a universal need to express penance, what then would remain of Christianity if indeed it did agree to do so? According to Nicholls, “Once all the anti-Jewish elements have been removed from Christianity, what is left turns out to be Judaism (p. 431).”

Turner cannot be blamed for Nicholl’s apostate remark, but he is a fool for using someone like him as his source for Christianity. I assume that his mistake was not done in bad faith. A sane man cannot be expected to understand the insanity that Nicholl’s represents. Turner then goes on to speak of Rome’s changes toward rabbinical Jews, about which I am ignorant. I would not be surprised if Rome had muddled its theological waters, but Christians must be clear that Jesus Christ is not the Lord of the goyim only but of all mankind, first to the Jew, and then to the Greek. Yet, it is this very univeralism that horrifies the rabbinical community, and they readily associate evangelism with the genocide of the holocaust. Even Christian Jews often have this mentality. Maybe, it’s that special status “insecurity.” We wouldn’t want the dogs to get any of God’s crumbs, would we?

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, August 11, Anno Domini 2011
OrthodoxyScriptureEcumenismNon-ChalcedonianismProtestantismRabbinical JudaismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Friday, July 1, A.D. 2011
A New Family

I would like to wish every proper fortune and blessing for my brother and soon to be sister-in-law on their wedding. The expert on nuptial counsels for the past two millennia has been Saint Paul. From his letter to the Ephesians:

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

You may also profit from reading Saint John Chrysostom’s related homily on marriage.

May you have a happy life together, full of joy and good deeds!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, July 1, Anno Domini 2011
Friday, June 17, A.D. 2011
The Birth of the Church

Nearing the end of this Pentecostal week, I wanted to address the Church’s beginning. Sometimes, you notice parochial signs or bumper stickers that list the foundation of the Church in A.D. 33 (more likely A.D. 30, but who knows?). As far as I can tell, dating the foundation of the Church to Pentecost is a Western idea, though one can find it among Orthodox Christians in America. When, then, did the Church begin? It certainly did not start in Los Angeles, California sometime in the 1970’s, or in Boston or Utah in the nineteenth century. It predates the Great Schism. The Church was alive and strong with the first of the ecumenical councils at Nicea, as its nascence came before the first ecclesial council in Jerusalem about which we read in the Acts of the Apostles. Then, we have the tradition that founds the Church at Pentecost, with the tongues of fire. Yet, in the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus met the disciples before his Ascension:

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Indeed, the Lord commanded the Great Commission afterward, but before the Pentecost, and yet are we to think that there was no Church to receive the order? So, perhaps, we can trace the Church to the death and resurrection of Christ? Christians are the Paschal people, after all. However, before the Passion, Peter addressed Jesus as Lord on Mount Tabor, and, as Paul writes, “No one can know Jesus as Lord except by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.” Wasn’t the Church present when Peter, James, and John witnessed the Transfiguration?

The Church is Israel, matured and blossomed, and its saints lived long before the coming of the Messiah in time and space. The Church exists before the temple, and it exists before Aaron and the Kohanic priesthood. For the people of God had already assembled to receive the law from Moses. As the Church is Israel, maybe we should date the Church to Jacob and his children, but what about Abraham? Wasn’t the sacrifice of Isaac a great milestone in the history of God’s economy with man? Perhaps, we should go back to Noah, when universal laws were given for all nations. Yet, certain men before Noah were righteous and communed with God. Consider what such piety did for Abel. So, it seems sensible to start at the beginning, with the Church’s coming to be in time with the creation of Adam. Yet, time itself is an image of the eternal, and from all eternity the Body of Christ exists for the mind of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes,

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Think again whether Pentecost is truly the Church’s birthday. I contend that it might be better to consider Pentecost as the Church’s Bar Mitzvah.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, June 17, Anno Domini 2011
OrthodoxySaintsScriptureNon-ChalcedonianismProtestantismRabbinical JudaismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Thursday, June 2, A.D. 2011
The Watchtower on Ascension Day

Happy Feast of the Ascension!

On this holy day, I offer a delightful post from Perry Robinson on his Energetic Procession site: “The Open Door.” Robinson recounts a morning meeting with some visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses who had knocked on his door. The story is a fine example of grassroots apologetics.

Oddly enough, I owe some of my theological development to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In my early teen years, I participated in local Baptist missionary efforts wherein I had the chance to see youth pastors and other “soul winners” engage all sorts of folks on religious matters. We sometimes happened upon Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Russelites were surprisingly receptive to having a religious discussion with strangers in their living rooms. One evening, my youth pastor and I visited the home of a Jehovah’s Witness elder. The Baptist and the J.W. had a lengthy doctrinal debate, replete with scores of references to holy writ. It was evident to me that both men were extraordinarily familiar with their scriptures, but they continued to argue past each other because they interpreted the same texts so differently. It was on that rather chilly winter night that I realized how utterly indefensible sola scriptura really was. My proclivities for Protestantism waned quickly afterward.

It is funny how groups as disparate as the Jesuits, Reformed Jewish rabbis, and Jehovah’s Witnesses played important roles in my conversion to Orthodoxy. Providence uses all available tools.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 2, Anno Domini 2011
Friday, March 4, A.D. 2011
Kristor Poses Evil Problems

Kristor has responded to my “Before Choice” post:

I should like to clarify first that I do not think that Lucifer’s Fall was unconditioned, or arbitrary, or even blind. It was not wholly ignorant, for Lucifer was acquainted with goodness (in just the same way that the goodness of apples was quite familiar to Eve, before she took and ate the forbidden fruit). When he took a sinful course, he must have apprehended the good that was potential in it. Its defects must not have appeared to him as such, or he would never have taken it. Before he Fell, he was ignorant of evils, but knowledgeable about goods. This is the only way we can construe him as a rational being; and the same goes for Adam, and Eve. If we do not assume that they were ignorant of evil, then we are forced to the conclusion that their behavior in choosing it was purely arbitrary – just what you are rightly concerned to avoid.

We must remember that for creatures the middle term between absolute indeterminacy and complete predetermination is not excluded. There is such a thing as partial predetermination. So, behavior can be orderly without being wholly preordained. If it were not so, there would be no such things as creaturely decisions, or actions, or therefore sins.

As to the unintelligibility of evil, I think we are both indicating the same reality with different gestures.

The image of the boy writing badly, even with the master orthographer’s hand to guide him, is like my image of the baby thrashing on the changing table. The errant movements of the baby or the boy are not chaotic, or unconditioned, or arbitrary, or irrational, or unintended, or wickedly motivated, or even inherently evil; they are merely errant, and error may wreak either good or ill.

Now, whether we name the original factor of that error “ignorance,” as I do,  or refuse to name it, as you do,  either way we indicate a species of ultimately unintelligible evil, by using what is to gesture toward that which is not, and which cannot therefore be referred to directly (“ignorance” is in- “not” + gnarus “aware”). Whether by saying, “no-thing,” or by saying nothing, we both refer to the same unintelligible darkness. And there is no way to make sense of that darkness; no way to come up with an explanation for an innocent adversion thereto, that will enable us to understand how Lucifer could have come to a fully informed, rational conclusion ex ante that, mutatis mutandis, it was a good idea to sin. We agree that he could not have done so: you emphasize that to do so is impossible, in any case; I agree, and emphasize that he could not therefore have had the equipment to do so.

But this introduces a deeper problem. Consider first that ignorance is a defect of being, for ignorance is lack of information – is, i.e., formlessness; that same formlessness endemic to unconditioned prime matter: tohu wabohu, formless and void, as Genesis has it. And a thing is unintelligible in itself to the extent that it is deficiently formed – that, i.e., it is less than fully formed. But how could tohu wabohu ever have come to pass? Or, how could any tiny bit of formlessness have come to pass? How could there be a defect of form anywhere? If God exists, how can anything that is be less than perfectly formed, according to its nature? For, to be at all is to be informed by God; and to be informed by God at all is to be informed by him through and through.

Put another way: given God’s infinity, and the consequent utter pervasion everywhere of his uncreate Light, how can there be darkness anywhere, of any kind? The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. But, how could there ever have been any darkness in the first place, given the eternal presence everywhere of that Light?

So we see that the Problem of the Fall is just a special case of the Problem of Evil. Given the possibility that he might do evil, and given the fact that, as you say, there is no way to understand evil in itself, we can see how Lucifer might have done it without fully understanding what he was getting himself into (is it even possible, metaphysically, for a creature ever to understand fully what he is getting himself into, beforehand?). We see how it could happen, even though it doesn’t make any sense, and can’t make any sense. Fine. But if God exists, how could there be even a possibility of doing evil? If God exists, how could there be such a thing as unintelligibility or ignorance, anywhere?

God cannot prevent non-god. Being as such cannot prevent non-being. Indeed, being entails the possibility of non-being: if there is a thing, then there is an alternative to that thing, while if there is no thing at all, then there is no alternative thereto, either. If there are no numbers at all, then there is no 0. But if there is 1, then there is 0 (I know, I know: 0 is not nothing; the analogy to the numbers is metaphorical, rather than strict). Thus the question why there is something rather than nothing is nonsense; unless there were something, there could not even be nothing. But given that there is something, then necessarily there is the possibility of something else; and the alternative to being as such is non-being. Thus the mere fact of God’s existence entails the possibility of non-existence.  God cannot, then, create a world that is not subject to the risk of evil, just as he cannot create a stone that he cannot lift. NB that it is not a defect in God that he cannot actualize nonsense. Thus evil is not a defect in his coding. We do not say that a coder is guilty of writing bad code because his program does not do something that the very logic of the programming language disallows.

The risk of creaturely evil, then, is entailed by the existence of God; and this would be so, even were there no creatures. So, the option of evil was necessarily open to Lucifer ab initio; it was not an extra added feature that God threw into the mix. And since evil was metaphysically unintelligible to Lucifer prior to his sin, he could intend evil in a non-arbitrary way without having any rhyme or reason to rationalize his decision: in that decision was no pattern, no logic or order, but rather the absence thereof. That being the case, there is no explanation for what he did. All we can say of Lucifer’s sin is that he could do it, and he did do it.

The problem of the fall is indeed part the larger problem of evil, and I confess that I do not know how to approach the unapproachable, unintelligible puzzles thereof. Insofar as we can lay the groundwork for an understanding of evil, I am anxious that we do not betray a few basic principles—namely, that God is good, that evil has no being of its own, and that evil is not a necessary constitutive aspect of reality. People may think that the “unintelligible, uncaused, uncausing” approach to the problem is a dereliction of philosophical duty, but I subscribe to it, as unsatisfying as it is to our minds that naturally seek to understand, because it holds an “apeironic” space where I cannot see a rational explanation. It is a parenthesis of ignorance, and while that troubles me, I see no way to resolve it. To use the imagery of groundwork, again, I would rather have somewhat disjointed architecture due to the refusal to build upon bad and unstable land than the construction of an impressive edifice upon a rickety foundation. I judge modernity to be the latter, and to keep its consequent building from toppling over constantly requires ever new methods in rigging supports. Ultimately, collapse will occur, and each brilliant, novel support beam is merely a delay of the inevitable. In mentioning this, I am not stating that Kristor’s approach warrants the same fate; I just do not know how do you solve a problem like evil (I would much rather spend time bothering with less burdensome quandaries, like Maria Rainer).

As an aside, I think that we ought to distinguish between non-being and nothing as I argue in “Imperfection”:

A cantankerous metaphysician might claim, following old Parmenides, that the world is really a confused mixture of being and non-being. Things asserted to be are not just as they are. If you make any positive statements about anything formal or particular, you simultaneous and implicitly assert that they are not many other things. The even is not odd, and the pear is not an apple. Each being is not everything else. Hence, reality demands both being and non-being. From the Eleatic to Plato’s Sophist to today, we can see how such a statement makes sense.

Yet, I claim that non-being in the sense of negation within the matrix of reality is not the same as nothingness—evil or anti-being—which is the negation of being as such. God is the source of being and non-being, but we ought not to claim that God is the source of nothingness. That would indicate that God’s act of creation is paralleled, Hindu-style, with God’s act of destruction—and not creative destruction, by the way. Such a cosmic view makes good and evil equal forces from their transcendent source beyond good and evil, the dualism of which annihilates all of our ethical views where we privilege being over nothingness.

As with my different levels of imperfection, I risk irritating some folks due to my “Christianist” tendencies; yet I think that these two meanings of non-being and nothing are distinct. Negation has an intelligible role in affirmation. Similarly, what the Aristotelians call potentiality is an intelligible sort of non-being. Even the concept of pure non-being, as in pure potentiality or Aristotelian “prime matter,” ought not to pose a problem for us. Its unintelligibility results from its formlessness, but its particular kind of formlessness has meaning and a role in the cosmic whole. For I suppose that I am another happy parricide against the venerable Parmenides. The world is a hierarchy of being, and such an order requires the more intelligible and the less intelligible. Pure possibility, perhaps תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ from Genesis, may be a requisite for the world of becoming—the counterpart to pure being, which I take to be the energies of God. For formlessness is a necessary condition of creation—of being’s manifesting its image in time and space in a necessarily imperfect world. I distinguish such imperfection, and its unintelligibility, from evil and its unintelligibility . . . condemning myself to be a little bit more Bonaventuran and a little less Plotinean than Platonic purists would like.

Here are the previous posts for this thread:

“Orthodoxy and Evolution”

“Kristor on the Fall”

“Evil Christians”

“Unde Malum”

“Kristor Promotes Ignorance”

“Kristor Elucidates the Darkness”

“Before Choice”

Posted by Joseph on Friday, March 4, Anno Domini 2011
OrthodoxyPatristicsScriptureNon-ChalcedonianismProtestantismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
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