Orthodox Contact

A St. Nicholas Melbourne Publication

Issue #34 June 2002

Holy Pentecost


Church: Relevant or Irrelevant?

  by Metropolitan Paul Saliba


Adam weeps.

 And the soul of man on this beautiful and blessed earth laments his fallen nature. Hunger and injustice, crime and prejudice, poverty and wars result from a world made material instead of spiritual, a world turned to itself, instead of a world transformed “in God”.

Humanity cries: God be relevant! Where are you…amidst the despair and turmoil of this world? I am groping for Paradise, but I cannot find it for the road is uncertain and dimly lit, the path is covered with thorns, and the ground has turned to dust.

And through the darkness comes the hope of a new dawn and the brilliant sunshine of a new beginning, a new life in Christ. God and Man are reunited. Christ! Light. Peace. Joy. Christ brings new life as we acquire the New Adam through Baptism and become a member of the Body of Christ – the Church.

And Youth cries: Church be relevant! For I am light and free, overflowing with fresh idealism and innocence. I am no longer in exile for God has sent His Incarnate Son to this world! But where is Christ? I cannot find Him in my Church, when it calls itself One, and yet it feels as though we are split into nearly twenty separate jurisdictions. I cannot see Christ through the hurt, when our priests mistrust and bicker with one another. Church! Please don’t be secular or parochial, a national, social, or ethnic group. Church be relevant! Where is Christ when I get my draft notice, when my college campus erupts into confusion and violence, when many of the children of India starve, and the Middle East struggles to survive, and the Palestinian children sleep under the sky because their homes were destroyed?

Youth continues to cry with restless discontent!

Church! Help me find Christ!

Church! Teach me what is right in my own language, guide me to the truth, assist me as I assume responsibility for the destiny of this world!

Church! Be my living faith!

And God says: “It is good ... that man questions and searches, for in his struggles he will come to realise my purpose. For I am searching too. I am searching out man’s soul to bring man to himself, to ask the question, “Am I Relevant?” instead of “Church: Is it Relevant or Irrelevant?” Because Man is the Church, and relevancy begins within every person, as an inward struggle to find Christ through the Holy Spirit, and then to extend back into the midst of the world’s problems. To be relevant is to take the Holy Spirit seriously. And to be a relevant Church, two or three of the faithful must “gather” together and truly enter into the joy of the Holy Spirit. The Church faithful must “come together in one place” to make present a living Christ, and then, we, the Church, must transfigure ourselves, becoming active witnesses in the world of the New Life, of which we are made partakers in the Eucharist. All else will follow. With the conversion of himself, Man will see the holiness of all creation, he will live in brotherhood in a society infused and animated by the Holy Spirit, and he will come to terms with his social environment. That’s quite a Revolution. A Christian one. It’s pretty radical; and it’s pretty relevant.

But then – our Church is relevant to any society. Indeed, the Church assumes the humanity of each generation through the creative activity of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost contains the vital message for our society. Receive ye the Holy Spirit. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord, in one place.”

The Church was One, and the Holy Spirit instructs that Church to speak in a comprehensible language. Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Pentecost tells us that language should not isolate, hide or separate us from our distinct historical mission in this country, for Australia and New Zealand has much to learn from our rich traditions and cultural heritage. To refuse to accept the challenge with which the Holy Spirit confronts us in Australia and New Zealand is to deny that very heritage and the future of the Orthodox Church for Australian and New Zealander generations to come.

I see the Holy Spirit coming alive in youth’s new definition of goals for the 21st century. I see “the Movement” going forward. I see a relevant Church in youth’s awareness and suggested commitment.

The first category in youth’s new plan of action for a relevant church is Religious. If we are to be useful in this world in any way, be it religious, educational, Sunday school teaching, humanitarian works, helping seminarians, we must begin at the beginning: Christ. If we want to give ourselves to others, we must become worth giving, we must become fully human – we must discover Christ.

I see a relevant Church in youth’s religious involvement with Church Schools, adult education, missionary work, workshops, lectures, discussion groups on college campus, choirs. I see a relevant Church in youth’s promotion of inter-Orthodox retreats and conferences, as an organic fellowship of faith and love, leading to common action through genuine knowledge of our Faith, by making available literature and magazines on Orthodoxy. I see a relevant Church in youth’s commitment to sponsor seminarians so that our young priests can understand and share the anxieties, visions, hopes and energies of the youth.

The Church is relevant when the family “gathers” together for prayer at home and when the “ecclesia” participate in the Sacraments.

Youth’s religious awareness and commitment, followed by their Humanitarian and Social concerns echo the words of the Psalmist: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me. Restore unto me the joy of thy Salvation and steady me with thy guiding Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways and the impious will be converted to thee.”

Youth’s second area for action, the Humanitarian, identifies the Church with human suffering. The Church is relevant when it is active in charitable and community work. The Church is relevant when we “gather” together, and visit and pray for the sick. St. James said, “Religion, pure, and undefiled before God…is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”

The Church is relevant when it is aware of and involved in social and political issues of society, with action based on Christian Principles.

And whenever we are “gathered” together, filled with the Holy Spirit and carrying forth such awareness and commitment in Christ, as outlined in youth’s plan for the “Orthodox Decade of Destiny in Australia” – there is a relevant Church.

We will no longer need to ask “Where is Christ?” because He will be manifest in all things.

The Church is relevant. It’s only up to us to find Christ and to bring Him to life in the Church and the world today. Who is willing?

The Lord said to Isaiah, “Whom shall I send?”

And Isaiah replied, as we must all reply, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.”

Is the Bible a book of Science?

Virtually everyone known to be a Christian at school or work has been challenged on the accuracy of the Biblical account of creation. Many of us react to the philosophical grounds of the theory of evolution by holding that the Bible offers an alternative, all sufficient, description of how the world was created.

It is interesting that few people on either side of the debate address the creation account in the second chapter of Genesis. In Genesis 1, God creates vegetation on the third day, and man on the sixth. In Genesis 2, God creates man "in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up." [1] According to this account, only after creating man does the Lord create the plants. Differences such as these can be found in several places in the Old Testament. The Holy Fathers were not ignorant of this fact. They "tended to interpret [the differences] in terms of the pedagogical purpose of the narrator who is telling a story on different levels." [2]

To Muslims, God's word had to have been written by the hand of God. They believe that the Koran descended on Mohammed in its final form. We must not hold to a similar view of the Bible. Those who wrote it were God-inspired human beings. As in our teaching on salvation, we hold that God's Grace and man's will work in synergy, and are not necessarily opposed.

We do not need to consider the contribution of the Biblical narrators as totally insignificant in order to protect God's revelation from human distortion. Far from effacing the narrator, in his homilies on the six days of creation, generally known as "The Hexaemeron", St Basil starts by praising Moses, whom he credits with writing the creation account. He tells us that Moses had "received a royal education, and [he] had for his teachers the wise men of Egypt" [3] . St John Chrysostom, in his Homilies on the Gospel of St Matthew, uses what he calls "discordance in little matters" between the four Evangelists as proof of the truth of the Gospel. "For if they had agreed in all things exactly even to time, and place, and to the very words, none of our enemies would have believed but that they had met together, and had written what they wrote by some human compact." [4] So the human contribution of the Evangelists is the very evidence of their Godly inspiration.

The miracle of the Bible is that it is "the Word of God in human idiom." [5] In his Hexaemeron, St Basil is not afraid of using the science of his day. He spends considerable time on the meaning of words, such as "day" and "evening", as used in the Scriptures. St John Cassian, in his Institutes, says that when the Bible uses the expression "God's anger", we are not to understand it literally. Such expressions are anthropomorphisms, that is, "things which are spoken metaphorically of God in Holy Scripture, with human figures." [6] This is the case when the Scriptures speak of God's hands which have fashioned us, and God's feet for which the earth is a stool.

The account of our beginnings reveals the love of God for His creation, and especially for the human race. Like the rest of Scripture, it needs to be understood in the light of faith. Taking the Bible as a book of scientific facts, which anyone can use to instruct himself concerning the beginnings of the world, is a symptom of our modern mind. It is not a reaction to modernism, as we often like to think. The modern mind is trained to evaluate facts, not to praise the Maker of all that exists. It finds it hard to read the account of our creation as a doxology, as an awe-inspiring story which communicates to us that God is the creator of all things "visible and invisible", that He loves His creation, and that He chose us from among all other beings to bear His image.

"O Lord, how manifold are Your works, in wisdom You have made them all." [7]

from Ziad and Terri Baroudi

[1]      Genesis 2:4-5
[2]      Andrew Louth, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Old Testament, vol.1, Genesis 1-11. IVP 2001, pg xlvii.
[3]      St Basil the Great, Nine Homilies of the Hexaemeron, Homily I.
     St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily I.
[5]      Fr George Florovsky, Revelation and Interpretation. From www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/revelation_interpretation.htm
[6]       St John Cassian, Book VIII – "Of the Spirit of Anger", Chapter 4.
[7]       Psalm 104:24.


St Anna’s Convent

As this is being written there are sounds of hammering penetrating through from the laundry, where a new shower unit is being installed in order to extend our accommodation and capacity to receive visitors. Johnny is busy and inventive, working to ensure that the most beneficial use is made of all spaces. He has been helping us here for four months now and we have shared together in the transformation of the site. We are now in the process of putting the final touches to the Chapel and to the Reading Room beyond it, so we are freer to focus on general maintenance of our home and outdoor bungalow, and to attend to the development of our gardens.

 Today Johnny and I had to go into the Chapel to attend to a minor repair, and as we did so he said, ‘Better say “Good Morning to Jesus,”’ with which he venerated the Icon of the Saviour. We are aware that it is not just our site that has been transformed as we have worked, but all of us who have been involved in the project. No longer do we hear around us the comment: ‘Oh, that was lucky!’ when something falls into place, rather now there is a general awareness that God is indeed providing, we need to be attentive to His lead. So, Johnny will remark: ‘Oh, Providence again!’ as we see how the work unfolds.

 There have been days when the task was tough. Johnny could see just how difficult certain sections of the work were. Then we called upon our Parish Priest to come with the Holy Water and to pray over our work. There was general perception of the ensuing merciful enabling of the Lord. We received offers of help with the manual work and watched as those who laboured were themselves helped and given chances to grow in God’s life. Johnny’s skill in care for developing youngsters has been well extended over this time.

 It has been a joy to develop some new areas for cultivation. As we do so we have been remembering St. Anna’s garden, in which she sat and watched the birds nesting.  We have had an abundance of bird life to enjoy here from the pair of blackbirds which nested in our greenhouse, to the lorikeets which so enjoyed stripping the fruit trees of residual fruit. We are indeed blessed with a haven within reach of the city to which we will be glad to welcome visitors over the coming months.

                From Riasaphor Virginia


Saints and Intercessors

 St. Paul writes: ‘To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.’ 1 Cor.1:2. All of us who are members of the Church are called to live godly and holy lives, saintly lives, here on earth from which we may hope to move to eternal life with the Lord in the heavens hereafter. This is well illustrated in the Troparion for the Dormition of St. Anna, Mother of the Theotokos, celebrated on July 25th.

 O divinely wise Anna, you carried in your womb the pure Mother of God, who gave birth to the Life. Wherefore you now have been carried up joyfully to the inheritance of heaven, to the abode of those who rejoice in glory. O blessed one, obtain forgiveness of sins for those who honour you with fervour.

In these three short sentences we have: (1)What the Saint did; (2) The eternal reward; (3) A request for intercessory prayer by the glorified one. The earthly Church (Church militant) and the heavenly Church (Church triumphant) are all part of one family, and as do all close relatives, the members expect and seek support one from another. This support is shown through our prayers: we pray for the departed that God may bless them in His life, we seek the prayers of the glorified saints, that they may assist us in our journey heavenward.  

Our Icons depict for us those who stand in the God’s presence, who are deified. As we venerate them, our prayer passes to the prototype, to the one venerated and we pray that as the Saint is in God’s presence, so we also may be enabled in our growth in His Life. We are offered ‘participation in the divine nature,’ (2 Pet.1:4). We seek the assistance of those who have reached unto that state, to facilitate our progress ‘from one degree of glory to another,’ (2Cor 3:18). We rejoice in the God who raised Jesus, who shines in our hearts, (2 Cor 4;6) and pray that in this Paschal season we may indeed grow in His light.

 ‘Shine, shine O new Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.’

St Anna is the Patron Saint of our Convent in Melbourne and the Divine Liturgy will be served at the Convent at 10am on her Feast Day July 25th.

The Icon for Holy Pentecost

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

 Pentecost is the baptism of the Church by fire. It is the culminating moment in the formation of the Church through the Presence and Gift of the Holy Spirit.

The icon shows the twelve Apostles, together forming a definite figure - a semicircle - who are a beautiful expression of the unity of the body of the church, with all the multiplicity of its members. [8]

[8] Leonid Ouspensky (with Valdimir Lossky) The Meaning of Icons SVSP 199ff.


 Kontakion for Holy Pentecost

 When the All-Highest, descending, confounded the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all men to unity; wherefore with one accord we glorify the All-holy Spirit.

In this hymn we are given note of the one true ground for that unity to which all are called: a unity in the life of God the Holy Spirit. ‘God became man so that man might become god’ - such is the nature of a human being’s true destiny; without that participation in divine life a person is not fully alive or complete. Jesus prays:

that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.’ John 17:21-23.

The ground for unity is participation in a common life, in the life of God through the Holy Spirit. It rests not at the level of my thinking or my arguing but in my experience of the ground out of which I live, the centre and root of my actions. It flows from that spring of living water which the Lord promised to those who seek eternal life in Him. John 4:14. He came amongst us to ‘bring many sons to glory.’ Heb.2:10. This shared glory flows from the Spirit’s life.

Our First Liturgy

Fr Nabil who has been the President of our Convent Committee since its inception, was to be back in Melbourne after Pascha, for a very short period of three days. Earlier in the year he visited us and together we designed the Chapel. Fr Nabil blessed us by his presence and celebrated the Divine Liturgy which took place on the 16th of May for the first time after completion. When he asked us if we had furnished the altar, the reply was not yet. However, the next day, by the grace of God, he arrived with all the necessary items in order to do the Liturgy. All items were duly blessed before being used. Fr Nabil produced a very special gift from his luggage: A beautiful free standing table Cross for our Altar table, the gift of Dr John Melki, members of whose family are commemorated thereby. Dr Melki is a faithful from St George's Cathedral, to whom we convey our sincere thanks and gratitude, along with our continuous prayers. Fr Nabil also brought gifts from Romania to place on the Altar table as well as a Romanian Blessing Cross.

Fr Dimitri, Ziad and Justin formed the choir, the liturgy proceeded joyfully and in a prayerful ambiance, with a general participation of which all were conscious and grateful.  Fr Nabil was assisted in the Altar by Sam, who was very attentive to his need .The gladsome sound of Orthodox Liturgical Worship permeated the atmosphere for the first time, especially with the various Paschal hymns which were very uplifting. It was very gratifying to welcome into the congregation faithful from our various Antiochian Parishes in Melbourne, youth and older.

Fr Nabil was able to advise us as to how to use the space we have to full capacity, we are currently building extra cupboard in order to accommodate our needs. Also we are ordering our new altar Gospel book, and we are arranging a candle stand for votive candles, which the faithful light as they enter the Church We need a censer, some Icons and few miscellaneous items .So next time when we have a visiting Priest we can proudly say: "we have all we need, Father give us your blessings ".

PS : Any donation towards the purchasing of the above articles would be very much appreciated.


How are we studying?

A phone call came in from one of our students in which the concern was expressed that we should be careful to be studying Scripture in accord with the mind of the Church, that is from a Patristic base. This is of course a matter which must of necessity be constantly before us as we sift material and assess it. In so doing we may avail ourselves of two recent works which are addressing this issue specifically.

Firstly: The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective. Vol.1 Scripture, Tradition, Hermeneutics. By Theodore Stylianopoulos Brookline MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1997. Chapters in this work consider both ‘The Church Fathers and Holy Scripture’ and ‘Modern Biblical Scholarship.’ The consensus reached is that, while many of the current tools used in exegetical method are neutral, and may be used with discretion by the Orthodox; great caution must be exercised in all interpretation of Scripture. In this latter area we need to retain the perspective that all Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by persons living within the Church community and according to its Tradition. It is only within that same ecclesial environment and with the same spiritual inspiration that it may rightly be interpreted.

Secondly: The Way of the Fathers: Exploring the Patristic Mind. By John Chryssavgis. Thessaloniki: Institute for Patristic Studies, 1998. This work is beautifully introduced by Archimandrite Vasileios of Iviron Monastery:   

‘the Fathers of the Church are not restricted by any limited human endeavour. Rather, desiring their salvation and offering their lives to God through the Church - “being wholly consecrated unto God” - they become theological centrepoints, witnesses of the Kingdom. They do not teach aspects of their intellect, but existentially reveal the repose that they found in God. They are not mere thinkers or founders of philosophical systems, but persons filled with God, manifesting the original beauty of humanity and in the world the uncreated divine energy that works everything in their heart. ... The Fathers of the Church, through their strict discipline and intense struggle, shedding their dispassion, were transferred by divine grace and transformed by divine energy to the supernatural freedom of the future age. Undergoing divinisation in experience and not just in concept, they are borne by the Holy Spirit where it wills and not where they so wish. They no longer belong to themselves, but to him who died and was risen for us all, as well as to their brothers and sisters, for whom their merciful heart constantly burns.’ ... ‘This initiates the potential of human divinisation, of increase of the small, of revelation of greatness through humility, the reconciliation of the divided and the constitution of familiarity, the divine indwelling among us, which has an ecumenical dimension and a homely warmth. So in the end, the great Fathers are not intellectual giants of human theories, but inspirational mystagogues of us all into the Kingdom of God which is at hand and remains with us to the ages.’

 As Vasileios comments: Fr John Chryssavgis: ‘successfully guides us into the world of the Fathers in all its wonder and sacredness.’ In his chapter on ‘The Making of Patristic Theology’ he has a section on ‘Scripture and Tradition.’He considers exegetical method and notes that: ‘the starting point in Patristic exegesis was always the context of faith. This presupposed that Scripture was  a living reality not a dead book. It was the living testimony of a lived history about the relationship of a living God with a living people.’ Chryssavgis provides a discussion of typological method and of the Schools of Alexandria  and Antioch. He notes the role of the Cappadocian Fathers and of the Syriac tradition, notably in Ephrem. Then he continues:   ‘In the final analysis - or, rather, beyond all analysis - the only “school” of biblical interpretation is the “rule” of prayer. At the end of his work On the  Incarnation of the Word, Athanasios of Alexandria observes:

In addition to study and real knowledge of the Scriptures, integrity of life, purity of soul, and Christlike virtue are required ... Whoever wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse and purify himself by holiness of life and imitate the saints themselves by behaviour similar to theirs. (57).

 We are challenged and encouraged to pursue our study of sacred Scripture in accordance with mind of the Church and within this living Tradition.


Coordinating Contact:

August 2002: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.