Short Questions And Answers Of The Eastern Orthodox Faith
by: Rev. Chrysostom Selimos
At various times during my years in the ministry, the questions and answers appearing on the following pages have been posed to me, mostly at gatherings such as baptisms, wedding receptions and other such social functions. For this reason, both the questions and answers are brief, but directly to the point.
Many of these questions and answers have appeared in community bulletins through the years prompting some friends to suggest that I prepare a booklet such as the one You are holding.
It is my fervent hope that this booklet and the information contained therein, will be helpful to Sunday School teachers in preparing their classes, to other clergy as springboards for sermons, and to converts to Orthodoxy, or those considering converting to Orthodoxy as, a source of information.
My heartfelt thanks to those people who provided the questions, and to all who showed an interest in this little booklet.
Wishing you progress in the faith,
ON THE SUBJECT OF PRAYER
Q. Father, why doesn't God hear my prayer?
A. The Bible says: "He that created the ear, shall he not hear?" (Psalm 94:9) When it seems that God is not listening to your petitions, remember two things. First, God does not always answer our prayers immediately. If we pray for that which is good for the soul, God will answer our prayer in His own time. God will select the best time to fulfill our request. Therefore, we may not always get what we want when we want it, but we must learn to trust in God's wisdom and in His timing.
Remember also, that God will not answer our prayer, if we pray for something that is not good for the salvation of our soul. When we ask for things that are spiritually harmful (even though we do not always recognize the danger). God will not give them to us, anymore than a loving father would give poison to his thirsty child who asks for a drink.
Q. Is it true that it is against the law to pray in a public school in America?
A. It is very sad, but true that the Supreme Court banned Bible teaching and prayer in the public schools in the year 1964. The reasoning by the Supreme Court was, the separation of Church and State as stated in the Constitution of the United States of America.
Q. Often one hears a prayer to be called an invocation, a benediction and other various names. Could you explain the difference?
A. These various titles refer to the purpose of the prayer. For example ...
Invocation, is when we call upon God to be present and an invocation often begins with the words, "Blessed is our God now and forever and unto the ages of ages."
Benediction, is used as a closing prayer at any occasion where people gather.
Intercessory prayer, is when we pray for someone else. As an example, Jesus prayed for Simon the following intercessory prayer:
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to have you, to sift you like wheat, but I have pleaded in prayer for you that your faith should not completely fail." (Luke 22:31)
Petition is asking God for direction and help to accomplish something.
Supplication, begging with great humility and wholeheartedly for God's assistance.
Thanksgiving Prayer, praising and thanking God for goodness and mercies.
Q. Would you please give me a copy of the Greek Orthodox version of the Nicene Creed?
A. The following is the Nicene Creed:
THE SYMBOL OF FAITH
(The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed)
1. I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
2. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father by Whom all things were made;
3. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary and became man;
4. Crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried,
5. Rising on the third day according to the Scriptures;
6. And ascending into the Heavens, He is seated at the right hand of the Father;
7. And coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead, His kingdom shall have no end;
8. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets;
9. In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church;
10. I accept one baptism for the remission of sins;
11. I look for the resurrection of the dead;
12. And the life of the age to come. Amen.
ON THE SUBJECT OF CONFESSION
Q. Is there a prayer for a person who has sinned, because I am a sinner and need to pray?
A. Even though I think that you should consult your priest in person, the following is a little prayer that I found for your purpose:
A PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
O Lord our God, good and merciful, I acknowledge all my sins which I have committed every day of my life, in thought, word and deed; in body and soul alike, I am heartily sorry that I have ever offended thee, and I sincerely repent; with tears I humbly pray thee, O Lord; of thy mercy forgive me all my past transgressions and absolve me from them. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy Grace, to amend my way of life and to sin no more; that I may walk in the way of the righteous and offer praise and glory to the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Q. Where in the Gospel does one find justification and power for the clergy to forgive the sins of people?
A. The Apostles were gathered soon after the Resurrection of Jesus and suddenly the Lord appeared to them and said:
"Peace be unto you. Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (John 20:23)
Each Greek Orthodox priest is a member of the apostolic succession. That is to say, Jesus ordained the apostles. The apostles ordained others. Those others ordained still others and so on down through the generations of human history to modern times. Thus each Greek Orthodox priest traces his ordination back through an unbroken chain directly to the apostles and Jesus. This is the justification for the clergy to forgive sins, in the name of the Triune God.
Q. Can anyone force a priest to reveal sins told to him in confession?
A No. Sins cannot be repeated, It is absolutely forbidden. There is no exception to this rule.
Q. When I went to confession I told the priest that I had been visiting a fortuneteller and I read my sign of the zodiak in the newspaper. Because of this he told me not to receive communion or become a godmother for two years and to stop being involved with such things. On what does he base his decision and don't you think he was being too strict?
A. On the contrary, the priest was being very lenient. If you will read the 62nd canon of the 6th Ecumenical Council you will see that the punishment should be much longer than that which he imposed on you. We should not seek to know what may happen to us in the future. Rather we are told to depend on God's divine providence. The old Testament as well as the New Testament warn us to stay away from activities that are opposite of the Living God.
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (11 Corinthians 6, 14-18.)
Q. Recently, a visiting priest from Greece interrupted the offering of Holy Communion to the faithful, to say that all who were receiving Communion should have gone to confession first. Was he correct in saying that?
A. Yes. I know that in the United States and Canada, people do not go to confession as often as they should. As a matter of fact, only a small number go at all and most have never confessed their sins. I do not know if the Christians in Greece and elsewhere are more diligent about confession than we are here in the United States, but all Christians no matter where they may be, should make arrangements with their priest to confess their sins at a time mutually convenient for both.
Q. What can I do to make the sacrament of confession more meaningful the next time I go to confess and how can I be more prepared for it?
A. The next time you go to confession, it might help if you take the following prayer with you. Read it over and over as you await your turn to receive absolution.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
"O Lord and Master Jesus Christ, our God, who alone has power to absolve men from their sins, for thou art good and lovest all men, forgive all my transgressions in knowledge or in ignorance committed, and make me worthy uncondemned to partake in thy divine and glorious and pure and life-giving Mysteries; incurring thereby neither the punishment nor the increase of my sins, but receiving cleansing, hallowing, and a pledge of the life to come and of the kingdom; a rampart, a help and a turning aside of my adversaries, and the erasure of my many transgressions. For thou art a God of mercy, and loving kindness, and of love toward all men and to thee we ascribe glory, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
ON THE SUBJECT OF COMMUNION
Q. Is it proper for a priest to refuse Holy Communion to a person who is in a mental institution, because the patient was violent that day?
A. If the patient showed signs of violence, you should not invite the priest to give communion, but wait until the sick person becomes calm. The priest in a case like this would perform his duty based on the canons of the Church.
Q. Is Aids a transmittable disease through Holy Communion, because of the way Holy Communion is dispensed in the Orthodox Church? What do the doctors say about this subject?
A. The Medical Association of Athens, Greece, which would be most qualified to render an opinion (due to the fact that most of their patients are Orthodox Christians) has made the following comment:
"Based on our experience as to whether diseases are transmitted during Holy Communion, we respond that as of this time neither our experience nor any reports provide any proof that would convince us of transmission of illnesses by Holy Communion."
Therefore, if we believe that bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we can also believe that Christ will protect us from disease as we receive Holy Communion with fear of God, faith and love.
Q. I find it difficult to fast the strict Orthodox way. Does receiving Communion without strict fasting create an obstacle for my salvation?
A. Christ did not say that salvation would be easy. He told us to take up our Cross and follow him. Since the Lord and His disciples fasted we must fast also. The Book of Matthew further teaches that prayer must be coupled with fasting and almsgiving to be effective. Other Christians may not choose to fast, but an Orthodox Christian must observe the Canons of Orthodoxy. Communion is fire for the unprepared.
Q. Can I receive communion each time the Liturgy is celebrated?
A. Yes, but you must be properly prepared to do so.
Q. A friend of mine attended an evening service and received communion. Is it something new to receive communion in the evening?
A. The Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is most likely what you are referring to. This church service is sometimes performed on Wednesday and Friday during the lenten season, also Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. The above service seems to be becoming popular again especially with people who work during the night and prefer to attend church services in the evening, receive communion and then have breakfast before going to work.
Q. My sugar diabetes requires that I take medication soon after I awake. Communion in Church is offered almost at noon. With this in mind, how can I fast and go to communion?
A. For the faithful who have such medical problems, consult the priest at the community where you are a member and he will make a special arrangement for you if you will only explain the problem to him.
Q. When my uncle recently slipped into a coma, we called the priest to administer Holy Communion but when he arrived at the hospital and noticed that my uncle was comatose, he refused to give him communion. Thus my uncle died without having received communion. Was this proper?
A. Yes. Communion is given only to those who are conscious and aware of what is taking place and are willing to voluntarily receive the Communion. That is why it is advisable not to wait until it is too late to summon the priest.
ON THE SUBJECT OF BAPTISM
Q. At a baptism in the Orthodox Church, what qualifications must a person have to become a godparent?
A. Parents should select as godparents for their children, people who are of the same faith. The godparent must be an Orthodox Christian and a practicing Orthodox person. Parents should not attempt to please friends or relatives who may be of another faith or embrace no faith at all, by asking them to be godparents. Prior to the day of baptism, perhaps a month before, there should be a short conference between the priest who will officiate at the baptism and the godparent, to discuss matters in detail.
Q. During certain sacraments in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the participants go around the table in a circle. What is the purpose of this?
A. his is often called a spiritual dance and it is indicative of joy. In weddings we rejoice because a new Christian family is created. During Baptism, a new Christian is joined to the Church of Christ. During the ordination of a clergyman, new worker enters the ranks of the clergy to preach and teach the word of God, to perform the Holy Sacraments and to lead the congregation in prayer.
Q. During the baptism, I have seen the priest clip some of the baby's hair. Why is this done?
A. The cutting of the infant's hair is a symbolic gesture. It is the first offering that the newly illuminated Christian makes to the Church of Christ. This gesture is referred to as tonsuring.
Q. If a child is born in a remote place with little or no chance for survival and a priest is unavailable for baptism, could any other person baptize that child or must the child die without baptism?
A. In an emergency any other Orthodox Christian may lift the child in the air three times while saying these words:
"The servant of God (insert name of child) is baptized in the name of the Father, Amen; and of the Son, Amen; and of the Holy Ghost, Amen."
This constitutes an acceptable baptism in cases of emergency.
ON THE SUBJECT OF MARRIAGE
Q. I was married by a Justice of the Peace. My wife has since passed away. Now, my nephew wants me to be the best man at his wedding. I have been told that because I was not married in the Church, I cannot be a part of my nephew's wedding. Is this true?
A. No. Since your wife is no longer living, you must visit your local priest to make the necessary arrangements for confession and absolution, etc. Once this is accomplished, you would be able to serve as best man for your nephew.
Q. When I was serving in Viet Nam, I met and married a young Vietnamese woman. Our marriage is not blessed by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church I was baptized in. When the Lord calls me, I want to be in good standing with my faith so that I can receive last rights and a church burial. My wife however, finds it difficult to accept the orthodox way. So, what is left for me to do now?
A. There is no easy solution to your dilemma. However, God is omnipotent, meaning there is nothing He cannot do. Perhaps the best advice I can give you under the circumstances is to pray unceasingly for your wife's conversion to the Orthodox faith. Pray for her conversion, have faith and God will hear you. God will answer your prayer.
Q. Sometime ago, my wife passed away. She had a daughter from a previous marriage. Now my wife's daughter and I would like to marry each other. Would the Church object?
A. Yes. The Church would object. In the eyes of the Church, you are regarded as her father and your stepdaughter is regarded as your daughter.
Q. Can Orthodox Christians whose marriage took place in the Orthodox Church, and who were later divorced only by civil authorities, become Godparents at a baptism and confirmation?
A. No. However, if a divorce is granted by the Church (called an ecclesiastical divorce) in addition to the civil divorce then they may, if they meet all other qualifications, act as Godparents.
Q. There is a small Group of Eastern Orthodox students at the college I am attending, and we would like to know when does the Orthodox Church bless mixed marriages. In other words, what other religious groups may not receive the blessing of our church in a marriage ceremony?
A. It is best that I introduce you to the following information that comes from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, and it reads as follows:
Marriages Between Orthodox & Non-Orthodox Christians
It is a fact that the more things which a couple hold in common, the more likely that they will live their married lives, by the grace of God, in peace and harmony. Every assistance and encouragement should be offered to help assure that the future bride and groom will be able to share the Orthodox faith and Sacramental life of the Church. Shared faith and traditions, kat'oikon ekklesia, spare newlyweds and their future children many serious problems and strengthen the bonds between them, despite life's difficulties and temptations.
However, the Orthodox Church blesses marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians under the following conditions:
1. In the case of such a proposed marriage, the non-Orthodox partner must be a Christian who has been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, within a recognized Christian communion.
2. A marriage cannot be blessed or recognized by the Orthodox Church between an Orthodox Christian and someone not of the Christian faith. Religious groups which are not of the Christian tradition include adherents of Judaism and Islam; Buddhism, Hinduism and other Far Eastern religions or movements, the Mormons ("Latter-Day Saints"), Christian Scientists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and various cults.
3. In the case of a marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Orthodox Christian, the wedding must be celebrated by an Orthodox priest or bishop, in the Orthodox Church, according to the rites and tradition of the Orthodox Church.
4. The couple should indicate their willingness to christen their future children in the Orthodox Church and to nurture them in accordance with the Orthodox Catholic faith of the Church.
5. If a couple marries outside the orthodox Church, they should know that a married Orthodox Christian whose wedding has not been blessed in the Orthodox Church is, then, no longer in communion with the Church and, therefore, cannot receive the Sacraments of the Church (including Holy Communion), nor to become a Sponsor at an Orthodox wedding or Christening.
6. A non-Orthodox Christian who does marry an Orthodox Christian, in accordance with the rites and tradition of the Church, does not, however, thereby become a member/communicant of the Orthodox Church. Therefore, non-Orthodox Christians are not able to partake of the Sacraments or to a funeral in the Church. These sacraments belong only to those Christian communicants who are baptized or chrismated faithful of the Orthodox Church.
ON THE SUBJECT OF DEATH & BURIAL
Q. Is it permissible by the Orthodox Church for one of it's faithful to be cremated after death and does he receive a regular funeral?
A. The Greek Orthodox Church does not approve of cremation. Our tradition has been burial of the dead from the early years of Christianity to the present day. One can find Catacombs dating back to the first century A. D. The regular funeral services are not permitted in cases of cremation.
Q. My uncle left instructions in his will and testament that his body be cremated and his ashes thrown over the lake. Because of this, he was denied a church funeral. Why?
A. In the Bible we find these words, "you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19.) For this reason our Holy Orthodox Church does not acknowledge cremation for the faithful, but rather, burial in the earth.
Q. Our mother keeps telling us that when she dies, she should be cremated. We do not like the idea. Should we respect her wishes when the time comes?
A. Yes, you have to respect her wishes. However, every effort should be made by you and your priest to let her know that our church does not approve of cremation, and that she cannot receive a church funeral. This may help to change her mind. If she does decide definitely against cremation, then a regular funeral service is in order.
Q. When a person dies and the cause of death is not known, may an autopsy be performed?
A. Yes, when the cause of death is not known, the next of kin may give the physician permission to perform an autopsy.
Q. I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian and would like to know if I may donate my organs to be used by someone else after my death?
A. While there is no official cannon on the subject, the Orthodox Church would not object to such a donation when your intention is to help another human being.
Q. The word cemetery comes from the Greek word Koimeterion, a place to sleep. Could not a better name be found for a place where the dead are put to rest?
A. Jesus said once of a dead person, "Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth." Thus, a place to sleep is more acceptable and perhaps better than any other, especially since at the second coming of Christ we will all rise again.
Q. Recently, I attended a funeral and in the eulogy the priest said that at the second coming of Christ on Judgment Day, when the dead are resurrected, each body and soul will be reunited. My question is how can a body that is decomposed after death be reconstructed and united with the soul again?
A. What the priest said is true. Orthodoxy teaches that the human body which becomes decomposed after death does not disappear but returns to the elements from which it was made, it returns to dust. The process by which the body will be renewed after resurrection of the dead is not for mortals to know. God, who is all-powerful and who originally created the body, can recreate it, just as he did Lazarus.
While the body may not be in exactly the same form as we know it to be in this life, on the judgment day, the body and soul will unite for the second time. This union is necessary for judgment because the soul can not be judged for what the body has done, nor the body for what the soul has done, thus there is a need for body and soul to unite again in order to stand judgment by the Almighty.
Q. In one of my classes in a Roman Catholic College, our instructor asked me if I believe in purgatory when he learned that I was an Orthodox Christian. I told him I never heard of it, so do we?
A. The answer is no. The Orthodox Church does not believe in purgatory, but the Roman Catholic Church does.
The idea of purgatory was introduced by Isidore of Seville in the early part of the seventh century. Later this idea became a dogma for the Roman Church. They believe that some sins committed during one's lifetime can be forgiven after the soul suffers some punishment in a place called purgatory. It is believed that the duration of that punishment can be shortened if some living Catholics pray for forgiveness.
The Orthodox Church has no dogma regarding Purgatory. While the Orthodox do not support the belief in purgatory, we do pray for the forgiveness of the sins of the dead.
Q. What is the attitude of Orthodoxy toward abortion?
A. The Orthodox Church does not approve of the practice of abortion. The 91st Canon of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council prohibits the practice, and considers the parties involved murderers.