Orthodox Contact

A St. Nicholas Melbourne Publication


Issue #38  May 2003



When You went down to death, O Life immortal, You destroyed hell by the radiancy of your Godhead; and when from the depths You raised the dead, then all the Powers of Heaven cried aloud: ‘O Giver of Life! O Christ our God! Glory be to You!’  






With much joy our Orthodox Church all over the world celebrates Pascha

shouting Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Pascha is the Feasts of Feasts, through which Christ completed the act of salvation. He liberated the ones in Hades and confirmed to humanity that salvation has come to the world. Life is renewed through the author of life Himself. For by His death He destroyed death and has given us victory together with His great mercy.

Pascha is a very important day in our ecclesiastical year. To accentuate its importance we rejoice and we remember it every Sunday. It is really and truly the Lord’s Day. Pascha is the corner stone of our belief without which our faith is in vain. We believe and we pray, as we are on our spiritual journey, that with hope we will reach this great day. This great and glorious day changed the whole aspect of life. It gave us a profound understanding of our existence. As through one person sin came to the world and therefore death, also through one-person sin is annulled, death destroyed and eternal life is given.

Resurrection occurred through the power of God without the will of man or his understanding. God has saved man from death out of love and compassion, He bestowed upon him divine grace in order to make him worthy to partake of His divine nature and therefore share in His kingdom. Christ is not in need of our effort, but we are always in need of His grace in order to accept the faith freely and to implement it in our life. In so doing we enable ourselves to win the race that is set before us.

The resurrection which we celebrate is not Christ’s resurrection only, it is the resurrection of each one of us. In this context we can say that we make our own resurrection through our faith by implementing the word of God in our lives. By His grace we secure our eternal inheritance which we were created for, which we are called to participate in by becoming the children of God through adoption.

Our work through our faith should be tangible for others to see and glorify God. Faith without works is dead; it is like a tree without fruit, like a spring without water and a lamp without oil. So our faith in the resurrection is our daily life with our brothers and sisters whom we come across, those that we know and those that we do not know, those we love and those that we haven’t received the grace to love. In conclusion our life on earth decides on our life in Heaven, it decides on our resurrection whether to eternal life or to condemnation.

Therefore we must practice the Gospel message and follow in the footsteps of the Master who is the Way the Truth and the Resurrection. In so doing we live the resurrection here and now. That is the ultimate meaning of PASCHA! Having said all the above we can say truly that the Lord is Risen He gave us eternal life and great mercy. The new tomb became the baptismal font and he who clothed himself with light vouchsafed unto us a robe of light. Therefore let us come on this auspicious day of the Resurrection; let us partake of the new fruit of the vine of divine gladness and of the Kingdom of Christ, praising Him as God unto the ages. CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!

                                                                                        From Fr Nabil


The following Article by Fr Patick Reardon  was published in AGAIN Magazine Vol 24, No 3. It is used here with permission. Fr. Reardon  is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

The Sacrament of Immortality by Patrick Henry Reardon.

            One of the earliest extant prayers of the Christian people, contained in a work from Syria and probably to be dated earlier than A.D. 100, begins with this line: "We give thanks unto Thee, Holy Father, for Thy holy Name, which Thou hast made to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge, the faith, and the immortality, which Thou hast revealed to us through Thy Servant Jesus" (Didache 10.2). Among this invocation's many interesting features, all of which surely cry out for comment, two seem especially worthy of further reflection: the Eucharist and immortality.

            First, this is the opening line of a Eucharistic prayer. It begins, Eucharistoumen Soi, "We give thanks unto Thee," and the next line of the prayer goes on to speak of the "spiritual food and drink and eternal life" that God has given us through Jesus (10.3). Both components of the prayer indicate its liturgical setting, a fact that is confirmed by the disciplinary rubric that appears just prior to the prayer: "Let nobody eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptised in the Lord's Name" (9.5).

            Second, this eucharistic setting is the context in which God is praised for revealing "immortality" (athanasia) and "eternal life" (zoe aionia). Clearly those early Christians of Syria, whose immediate historical link to the Apostles is beyond doubt, thought of Holy Communion in terms of their immortality, the God-given victory over death (thanatos). This relationship between the Holy Eucharist and Christian immortality can be summarised in three points:

(1)  Christian salvation consists in the gift of immortality.

(2)  The infusion of the divine glory is the only antidote to corruption.

(3)  This immortality in glory is given to us in the risen Christ, who comes to us in the Holy Eucharist.


I suppose I have the same fondness as many Orthodox for contrasting the theological emphases of the West with the theological emphases of the East. One of these contrasts, surely, is the greater and more direct emphasis placed on the Resurrection in Orthodox liturgical experience and eucharistic piety. Our standard liturgical practice, for example, requires that there be an icon of the Resurrection (the "Harrowing of Hades") on the apse wall immediately behind the altar, and in the offices of Vespers and Matins preparatory to the Sunday Eucharist, the great preoccupation of the hymnic texts is the mystery of the Resurrection. All of this preoccupation culminates in the Matins Gospel, which is almost always a post-Resurrection narrative.

            Why is the Resurrection vastly more important in the East than it is in the West with respect to eucharistic piety? I contend that it amounts to a difference in soteriology, or the theology of salvation. When one reads the later major works of soteriology in the West, going back most especially to St. Anselm in the eleventh century, the entire emphasis is placed on the price that Jesus paid by the shedding of His blood on the altar of the Cross (a biblical doctrine, of course, that no Orthodox would think of denying). The soteriological value of the Lord's Resurrection is seldom or never mentioned. At best the Resurrection is treated as simply an historical demonstration of the redemption accomplished on the Cross, the supreme proof that the Cross "worked." Western Christians do not normally think of themselves as "saved" by the Lord's Resurrection.

            In the East, on the other hand, we take the Resurrection a lot more seriously in soteriology, because we accept at face value the biblical assertion that Christ "was raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25, RSV). That is to say, the Resurrection is not simply a proof that the Cross "worked"; it is, rather, the working out of the Cross. We believe that we are saved by the immortality inserted into human history by the Resurrection of Christ. Indeed, salvation consists in the gift of immortality. What we are "saved from" is the dominance of death and corruption.

            This too points to a cognate difference between the East and the later West: our differing emphases on guilt and corruption. In the West, the major effect of sin is guilt, an accent that goes back especially to St. Augustine. Western theology has long been dominated by a sense of guilt. In the West, guilt is that from which Christ came to redeem us; in the East, by contrast, the emphasis is not on guilt but on corruption. Christ came to free us from mortality.

            With respect to guilt, we may say either that it is felt or that it is declared. We either feel guilty, that is to say, or someone declares us guilty. Guilt, then, is either subjective or forensic. According to the Western emphasis, by reason of sin man both has been declared guilty and feels guilty. In salvation Christ takes away his guilt.

            We must say that guilt is not the major item nor the point of emphasis in the East. Eastern piety is not preoccupied with guilt, either as a subjective experience or as a forensic judgment. In the East, the real problem about being a sinner is not our guilt, but our servitude to corruption. The proof of human sinfulness is not how people feel; it is, rather, the observable fact that, one by one, people just keep on dying. In the strictly theological sense of that very fine adjective, dying is absolutely the damnedest thing.

            Essentially, our corruption has nothing to do with how we feel. Indeed, we may feel just fine. Feeling fine, however, does not change the fact that our situation is provably hopeless. That is why, in Orthodox piety, we contend that the notion that one must "feel good about himself' is highly deceptive, because how we feel about ourselves is completely beside the point. The point is that every one of us fallen human beings is subject to inevitable corruption. Our subjective feelings on the matter are at best a distraction. A man lying asleep in the bottom of a canoe going down the Niagara River may be having one grand dream. This sensation has nothing at all to do with the stark reality that the Niagara Falls are just ahead.

            Our corruption, on the other hand, is neither subjective nor forensic, but entirely objective. From time to time, of course, we may feel mortal; this feeling of mortality, however, is neither dependable nor necessary. It is possible that a person may be able to say in very truth, "I always feel fine. I have never been sick a day in my life." The correct response to this assertion is, "Just stick around. You will," for the forces of death are already present in our mortal flesh.

            No matter how we feel, it is still an elementary fact that we are dying, and we Christians believe that death has entered human experience because of sin. If we are to be saved from our sins, therefore, it is not sufficient that we be delivered from our guilt. It is imperative that we be delivered from the power of death. Salvation consists in the gift of immortality.

            This corruption brought on by sin is what the Book of Ecclesiastes calls the "vanity of vanities." Everything is vanity, because of the dominance of death introduced into this world by our alienation from God. We have it on very good authority that "creation was subjected to vanity," and that this vanity consists in its corruption by death: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption" (Romans 8:20, 21). Because of sin, all of creation was placed in this servitude to corruption. We are talking here about the radical futility of man's existence in sin. It is not a matter over which, left to ourselves, we have even the slightest control.

            Suppose for a moment that every social program in the world today were completely efficient. Suppose there was a sudden conversion of the members of the United States Congress and the courts and the United Nations--everybody got together and resolved to do something that works. They eliminate poverty. All sicknesses are cured. Disease is a thing of the past. Hunger disappears. Everybody has enough to eat. We only have to work about 20 hours a week. The minimum wage is $100 an hour and everything is fine. We reduce sadness and frustration almost to insignificance. There is no more crime. We expand happiness so that absolutely everybody will die happy. The problem is: they would still die. We would not have begun even to touch the root of what Ecclesiastes calls "vanity."

            If we took away all the evil in the world, if we were completely successful and our happiness were unbounded, if we eliminated all sense of guilt, life would still not be one whit less futile. The study of physics itself tells us all life will end because of the law of entropy, a law we Christians know was introduced into human existence by sin.

            Eschatology, the reality of "the last things," is a quantitative science. It is not just prophecy, it is provable fact, an elementary calculation based on empirical experience. Human existence, left to itself, is utterly without hope--no matter how we happen to feel about it--because we have bodies and our bodies are made of matter, and matter dies and is corrupted.

The Glory of God

In what, then, does Christian salvation ultimately consist? Deliverance from death, or, in the words of St. Clement of Rome, "life in immortality [zoe en athanasia]" (Corinthians 35.2). The infused glory of God is the only antidote to human corruption. Any concept of salvation that does not address entropy is hardly worth entertaining even as a theory. The infused glory of God, the glory manifest in the Transfiguration of Christ and shared with the Church through the power of the Resurrection, is the source and substance of our salvation.

            St. Paul describes this glory in terms of weight (2 Corinthians 4:17), and its great symbol in the Bible is gold. Gold is incorrupt. The Hebrew root for the word "glory" is khavod, derived from the root meaning "to be heavy, to be substantial, to be ponderous." Glory is not just shiny. Glory is a matter of incorruptible substance. God's glory is that which replaces our vanity with substance.

            God's incorruptibility has been inserted into human existence and into the cosmos at only one point: the glorified flesh of Christ. That is the one place that God's substantial glory is available to the world--the transfigured flesh of the immortal and risen Christ. We are saved, because through His glorified flesh, which Tertullian called "the hinge of salvation" (On the Resurrection 8.2), the risen Jesus shares His immortality with us.

            This sharing of immortality is also the source of the sacraments (mysteria) of the Church. In the water of Baptism we make living contact with the flesh of Christ, which sanctifies that water. When, being sick, we are anointed with the holy oil, there is a living and dynamic contact with the Spirit-bearing flesh of Christ. And all of the Sacraments flow from and refer back to the chief Sacrament, which is the transformed and transforming flesh of the risen Jesus.

            Perhaps no one has surpassed St. Ambrose of Milan in the expression of this truth: ‘The eye hath not seen nor the ear heard nor has it come into the heart of man to conceive what God has prepared for those who love Him. Behold, now I see the truth. Now I recognise the splendour of the truth. And now, O Lord, my God, I venerate You with a stronger sentiment. Behold, you have loved the truth, not through a mirror, not in a riddle, but face to face, for You have revealed it to me, O Christ. I know You. I find You in Your Sacraments’ (De Apologia Prophetae David 1.12.58).

The Holy Eucharist

This insight explains why the Syrian Christians near the end of the first century so closely related the mystery of our immortality to the Holy Eucharist. What is the fruit of our sharing in the flesh of Christ in the Holy Communion? We may consult His own assertion of the matter. "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day" (John 6:54). Our access to immortality is through this sharing in the flesh and blood of the Lord. "He who eats this bread will live forever" (6:58). Indeed, if we do not eat and drink of this Mystery, we have no life in us, no hope of the resurrection in glory (6:53), because immortality, in which consists our salvation, is available solely through that channel. We believers will rise again because the transforming energies of the Holy Spirit are infused into the substance of our flesh by our sacramental assimilation of the Body and Blood of the risen Christ.

            We may consult another Syrian authority on this matter. Ignatius of Antioch, who was surely familiar with that prayer in the Didache cited earlier, and who arguably prayed it many times, spoke of this same truth in the correspondence he composed on the way to a martyr's death in the year 107. Writing to the Christians of Ephesus, he referred to "breaking the one bread, which is the drug of immortality [pharmakon athanasias] and the antidote [antidotos] that we should not die, but live forever in Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 20.2). With specific reference to his own impending death, Ignatius wrote of the Holy Eucharist in similar terms: "It is the bread of God that I desire, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, and for my drink I desire his blood, which is incorruptible love" (Romans 7.3).

            According to Orthodox theology and piety, the rhetorical question, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:35) is one that pertains to the body every bit as much as it pertains to the soul. While it is certain that the soul leaves the body at the time of death, we Orthodox see no reason for supposing that the Holy Spirit takes leave of the body. Were the Holy Spirit to depart from the body at the time of death, what could it possibly mean to say that death has been swallowed up in victory? Why should we imagine that the corpse of a Christian has become less holy, less sanctified, than it was five minutes before it died? On the contrary, we affirm, that body remains forever the temple of the Holy Spirit, and it does so because of the divine energies infused into the flesh by participation in the risen flesh of the immortal Christ.

            This emphasis on the holiness of the Christian body is an essential feature of Orthodox theology and piety. We believe and confess that the dynamisms, the energeiai, of the Holy Spirit are poured out, through the sacraments, upon the Christian's body, its corporeal substance, in a divine action that is no less physical for being spiritual. By the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit there is effected a spiritual, divinized alteration in the very "nature" (physis) of the Christian's flesh, the seed of its future resurrection and immortality. In this sense, the alteration is physical. Sanctification is not "spiritual" in the sense of non-material. It is spiritual, rather, in the sense that divine grace transforms the entire human constitution, including the very structure and organic composition of the body's living cells. Our physical anatomy is spiritually altered by the grace of the Holy Communion.

            The Orthodox believe it is in the Holy Eucharist that we are incorporated into the Body of Christ: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body, for we all partake of that one bread" (1 Corinthians 10: 16, 17). According to Orthodox teaching, the very flesh and blood of Christians are sanctified by their living, sacramental contact with the flesh and blood of the risen, perfected Christ, in whom they place their trust in life and in death. Their members are thereby suffused with the dynamism of the Lord's Resurrection. Those very members will rise from the dead by reason of the Holy Communion: "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." That is to say, the Holy Communion places within the believer's body the dynamics of its ultimate resurrection.

            The final and defining purpose of the epicletic summoning of the Holy Spirit, then, is not the consecration of bread and wine, but the consecration of human beings. The risen Christ does not assume the form of the consecrated bread and wine in order to hide in a tabernacle, but in order to be eaten and drunk, that He may abide in us and we in Him (John 6:56). According to Saint Justin Martyr in the second century, "We have been taught that the food that is eucharisticized [eucharistetheisan] by the prayer of the word that comes from Him, by which our flesh and blood are fed by metabolism [kata metabolen], is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who became flesh." Hardly can our bodies any longer be considered common bodies if it is true that "we do not receive these as common bread and common drink" (First Apology 66).

            In this, then, consists the fullness of Christian salvation, the complete transformation of our bodies and souls with the ultimate grace of immortality: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality [athanasia]. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality [athanasia], then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory' "(1 Corinthians 15:52-54).



On the Wondrous Interventions

‘On the day of Pascha in 1935 the hegumen of St. Paul’s, Archimandrite Seraphim, and all sixty fathers of the cenobion came out into the courtyard to celebrate the liturgy of the Resurrection. In a joyful mood and full of enthusiasm after the “Christ is risen!” was proclaimed, the hegumen said to one of the simple fathers, “Elder Thomas, go where the relics of the fathers are kept and tell them that Christ is risen.”

“Let is be blessed, Geronda,” he replied, and without a second thought quickly went to the crypt where the bones were kept.

“Fathers, I was sent by the hegumen to say to you “Christ is risen!” he cried out  in a loud voice.

Then something awesome happened. The bones creaked and jumped. One skull rose up a metre high and answered Father Thomas’ proclamation:

“Indeed He is risen!”

There was dead silence after that. The elder rushed back to tell all that he had seen and heard. For the fathers of the monastery that was a truly unique Pascha, and praising the risen Lord and Master of life, they chanted with joy:

Angels are praising your Resurrection in heaven, O Lord!

Make us who live on earth to praise you with cleansed hearts!

The ever memorable elder Theodosios, the monastery’s late librarian, would often tell the story of this event.’

This short story is taken from ‘An Athonite Gerontikon’ p.240-241. It was read to Fr Columba while he was in Hospital recently.

The compilation of the Sayings of the Holy Fathers of Mount Athos ‘An Athonite Gerontokon’ was published in English 1997 by Archimandrite Ioannikios (Kotsonis) of the Holy Monastery of St Gregory Palamas, Kouphalia, Thessaloniki.




The Finger of God in Father Columba’s Last Days

 Anyone who knew Fr. Columba well would remember the characteristic way in which he would lift his hand and raise his right index finger as an indication that he was about to make an important point. There was another finger he referred to quite a lot in his last days.

 The fact that so much of his medical care was provided by Christian people of strong faith was an indication to him of ‘the Finger of God’- this was evident at every level of medical care that he experienced, from Consultant to G.P. and Palliative Care Nurse. 

 The G.P. who looked after him for his last ten days with us asked if they might pray together before he left one day. The G.P. prayed and Fr.  finished off with a boisterous rendering of the Lord’s Prayer! (Fr. Columba’s comment after he left was, “I didn’t hear a word he said but the point was, ‘he did it’.)

 The Palliative Care Nurse who came to ‘assess’ Fr. Columba (quite a task) was immediately acceptable to him because she noticed that his address was Iona (an area near Bunyip in Gippsland where his farm is) and she had been to Iona in Scotland so was familiar with the history surrounding that place, the Celtic Church history that so inspired him - one had to marvel that out of all the nurses who could have tended to him, that one had, it seemed, been hand picked for the occasion!

 Then there were the people with whom he came into contact during hospitalisation; a Greek Orthodox young man in the bed opposite him at the Austin, a God given opportunity, in his mind, to encourage someone in their Orthodox faith. There were many other contacts which he felt were arranged by God. Even the Radiographer used to be one of his altar boys many years ago!

He remarked one day that. “Every day is interesting”. Many visited. He continued to attempt to reinforce the youth in the rightness of their Orthodox faith but emphasised the need for the faith to be above the culture and not the other way round. There were conversations that ‘straightened things out’, there were many acts of kindness; donations of cash to buy him ‘comforts’, which he so appreciated. The sales lady who sold me a pair of sheepskin socks, realising they were for a sick man said, very sincerely, that she would pray for Fr. Columba - when I told him that he said, “The Finger of God again”.

The fact that Fr. Columba was able to appreciate all this in the midst of the ordeal of his illness is a lesson and an example to us all.

Early in the morning of Friday 18th April we awoke to hear Fr. Columba having great difficulty with his breathing and we rushed to his side. He was having such a difficult  time that we thought  the end was near but his great physical strength somehow got him through. At this point Fr. Geoff anointed him and we read prayers and scriptures which seemed to calm him. A short time later he had his last ‘window’ of consciousness when he was able to talk with us and he said to us, “I nearly went didn’t I?”. So he was aware of what was happening. I then asked him, “Are you afraid Father?’ and he immediately responded, “Not in the slightest” with such conviction that he could have been preaching. Shortly after this he became comotosed and eventually died in the very early hours on St. Lazarus’ Saturday with five of his church ‘family’ with him (he had no relatives at all and always said the Church was his family) He opened his eyes and looked at us all. He seemed to be trying  to cross himself but was too weak so we did it for him. We told him we loved him and asked him to pray for us  and he slipped away from us into the Light.

Priests and lay-people visited, prayed and read during that last day when his life was ebbing away. We are sure that he would want us to thank people for that spiritual sustenance and prayer for his soul. The practical help and suggestions were very much appreciated by me also.

His funeral brought many together in unity and  because of the use of English, it was a wonderful demonstration to many Westerners present of the beauty of the Orthodox funeral, the rich scriptural content, and the certain belief and confident doctrine. He would have been so pleased to see the ‘Finger of God’ again at work in the midst of sadness.

Suffering remains a mystery but God’s presence and comfort in the midst of it all is a reality.                                                   

Kh. Janet


Coordinating Contact:

Issue for Aug 2003 : deadline for written contributions July 15th. Please send them to

Riasaphor Virginia. 14, Mihil Street, Preston, Vic. 3072. Tel. & Fax. 03 9484 2238.

e-mail: virginiahutchinson@bigpond.com

We thank Archimandrite Nabil for his assistance.