Tag: Eastern Orthodox

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Odessa, Ukraine, and the World | Then ’til Now | Part I

 

Today Ukraine’s population is primarily Slavic, whether Russian, Ukrainian, or Polish.  The Slavs have been here since day one, whenever that was, inhabiting this forrested plain region above the Black Sea, with Mountain ranges jutting up along the east and west side.  In times B.C. the Slavs which occupied the area today known as Ukraine, did not have a centralized state, a ruler, or a king, with a couple temporary minor exceptions in a limited area.  They were agriculturalists, people who lived from place to place in huts, and in the forrests along the rivers.  They had the ability to cultivate what would later be called the Bread Basket of Europe.

Ancient Slavic Women

Ukrainian land, which was largely covered in trees, was cultivated by burning them down and using advanced ploughing methods.  They were not only farmers but they were warriors and reported for their extraordinary height and strength.  It was said they did not wear armor, but kept a variety of weapons on hand at all times, were fast in attack and used the surprise element frequently, heading into battle straight way on foot.  Often they attacked in small numbers which increased their effectiveness in stealth approach and guerilla like tactics including speedy retreat.  At times they calculated when to attack a territory when it was at a weak point engaged in other conflicts away from home.  Though the paganistic Slavs had no king and could not read or write, henced bunched in with the generic term “Barbarians”, they were respected as warriors by the Romans and Greeks.  Their huts were spread out and dispersed across the land.  It is speculated the very fact they had no king enabled them to survive for a long period of time because there was no central location one had to conquer, or one king to kill in order to defeat them.  The Slavic culture and mother language originated along the Dnieper river.  Because of their agriculture methods, where they burned down an area, cultivated the land and moved on in a few years, they spread rapidly and broadly across Eastern Europe, south into the Balkans, and west into Central Europe.

Since ancient times the area, known as the Pontic Steppe, the Pontic being the name of the Black Sea back then, and the Steppe being the area of land north of the sea stretching north and a good deal east, was ruled by foreign forces, primarliy nomadic horse riding, arrow shooting,  groups from the East.  The Huns, Sarmatians, Bulgars, Khazars, and Mongolians being primary among these groups, and the Khazars the most civilized among these.  A couple other groups from the west had a bite of Ukrainian territory such as the Celts, in ancient Ukraine.  Thracians inhabited a small piece of today’s Ukraine on the southwest corner.  Later around the 3rd century the Ostrogoths, Goths from Sweden who moved further west, as opposed to the Visigoths who stayed east, reigned strong in the area for a time in the first few centuries “anno domini”, in the year of our Lord.  Finally at the turn of the first millenium the Vikings appeared on the scene.

Slavic Cultures 3rd-5th century

Romans and Greeks also had spheres of influence for long periods of time along the Black Sea Coast and the Crimean Peninsula, surving as economic trade posts from which they benefitted from the nearby fish, and natural resources of the Steppe, including slaves.  The Greeks had dispersed from modern day Turkey and surrounded the rim of the Black Sea with colonies, one of these being a fortress called Billhorod-Dnistrovski or, “White-Castle”, 80 kilometers from modern day Odessa.  They did not extend their borders outward from the sea in the north, but were there to serve as trade posts between Greece and the Steppe lands.

Map showing Illyria, Dacia, Celts, and Thrace

Although at times outside forces controlled the land and forced slavic tribes to pay them tribute, the Slavs were incredibly tough and hard to conquer.  Eventually, invading and surrounding cultures were either slavicized or defeated.  The resilient Slavs absorbed such groups as the Thracians, Illyrians, Celts, Sarmatians, and later the Varangian elite into their culture, and through the centuries never lost there own distinct identity or language.  They were here, in Ukraine, ever since anything was ever said or thought about the area, and they are here today.

Light Green, Scythia 7th-3rd Centuries BC | Dark Green, Scythians after invasion of the Sarmatians

If we really wanna go back as far as possible to where the settlers of Ukraine came from, we have to start at a big boat full of animals crash landing on a mountian top in Turkey, or Anatolia, around 4000 BC.  Noah’s three son’s dispersed and became the fathers of the world’s tribes.  Japeth went to the North, so if you are of Caucasian descent, chances are more than likely Japeth was your great great grandpa.  We know that Slavs were in the area very early because of reports from ancient Greeks who had colonized areas along the Black Sea shore, and Greeks wrote stuff down.  Greeks were always sure to consult their Oracles before heading out on a colonizing expedition, so we can be sure they knew what they were doing.  The Greeks liked their Greek mythology of course along with it’s various gods, including Orpheus, a lyre player who could enchant animals and rocks, plummit the depths of hell, write poems about it, and be a semi-Shamanistic  channel to the spirit world.  To the north the Slavs had a vague undefined pagan worship.  They believed in the spirit world and the after life, but not necessarily a heaven or hell.  They understandably revered nature, as all pagan worshipers, and though they were pantheistic, they came at some point to believe in one supreme god in heaven, Perun creator of lightning, perhaps from Judaistic influence or Eastern Christian influence stemming out from Crimea.  The Jews had been in Crimea as early as the Babylonian exile (587-538BC), so it turns out not all of them headed back to Jerusalem with Ezra or Nehemiah.  Many left Babylon and headed north.  While many became merchants others took to living in the mountains between the Black and Caspian Sea.  So, the Jews had a presence in southern Ukraine very early on.  Some of these would later become the traveling merchants called the Rhadanites.  Ever wonder how all those Jews wound up in Poland, Germany, and as far as Spain and Brittain?

Just north of Greece were the fierce warriors, the Thracians, who had their own form of

mythology and favored the god of the underworld, who rode a horse and ran beasts through with a spear.  Thracians and Dacians were henotheists, which meant they believe in one supreme god which they worshiped but were very open to the possible existence of other equal gods.  Their center of pagan worship was a city on the central west coast of the Black Sea, today’s Bulgaria, called Odessus.  The Thracians were inhabiting the Balkans for a very long time before the time of Christ, many centuries actually, but in time gave way to Roman power, under Alexander the Great, from the south, and Gothic and Celtic powers from the north.  What was left of their culture disintegrated into the Slavs who were also moving in from the north.  In the 6th or 7th century the Slavs decided to rename Odessus, Varna, which it is still called today as Bulgaria’s largest city.

Odessus, Now called Varna

Edessa, Mesopotamia

Edessa, Macedonia

    
Alexander the Great, when the Greeks had their goldenest years, ravaged the Balkan lands.  In 303 BC one of Alexander the Greats’ favorite generals and successor king, Seleucus I formed a military colony in the southern Balkans called Edessa.   It had a famous water fall and was known for being surrounded by abundant water resources.  Perhaps, this is why the Slavs renamed it Vodena (water), when they took it over in the 6th century and built a thriving community.  Many centuries later, this city would be burnt down by Hitler’s Nazi’s to never fully recover.  The city was named by Seleucus after an another ancient city by the same name in Mesopotamia.

This city has a curious legend about it.  A very sick Syrian King named Agbar ruled there and allegedly, according to Eusebius, wrote Jesus a letter asking him to come to Edessa and heal him.  Jesus wrote him back saying that he couldn’t make it, but would send someone after his ascension, who would heal him of his incurable disease.  The legend says Thomas went and healed him.  There are actually many different versions of the story and Eusebius himself wrote many questionable things in his time, although his account of this seems more credible than later stories which arose.  Later a legend came about that on a cloth in Edessa the face of Jesus magically appeared and that it had healing powers.  It was known as the “image not made by hands”.  This became, centuries after Christ, a foundational argument of John of Damascus, a favorite church father of Eastern Orthodoxy, for the validity of icons.

In the 2nd centruy BC the polytheistic pagan Celts had traveled from as far away as Gaul, modern day France, and also filled the Balkans plowing there way through the Thracians.  Some lived part way into Ukraine for a time.  They spread all the way down into Anatolia (Turkey), and formed the city Galatia.  Ring a bell? “Gaul”.  The city of Galatians in the Bible was largely populated by Celts, although they would be crushed by Antiochus creating an illiterate Hellenist society.  Later (64BC) when the Romans began conquering everyone and their dog, the Galatians were no exception.  They became another faithful subservient to Rome forming a unique blend of Roman-Celtic paganism.

   




Bosporus Kingdom at height 291BC

Ancient Greek Colonies

Long before the slow and painful Thracian demise, around 430BC some Thracians found a place to rule over some of the Greek colonies which united into a state along the northeastern Black Sea.     This became known as the Bosporan Kingdom which was the earliest Hellenistic culture. Hellenistic cultures being other cultures dominated by Greek influence.  Most of these Greek colonies had been experiencing a sort of Independance, however they were greatly dependant on each other economically and on their relations with the Scythians.

The Scythinas dominated the crop and cattle filled Steppe, and worked out trade agreements with the wealthy port colonies.   The Sythians were renown for their fierce brutality and liked to carry around collections of scalps from defeated men or use their skulls laced with gold as drinking bowls.  Despite this, the Apostle mentions that Christ is for them too!

“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.”  Colossians 3:11.

Around 250BC Sarmatians, Iranian-Turkic horse riders related to the Scythians, moved into Ukraine from the east pushing the Scythians down to be bunched up with the Greeks in Crimea.  A surprise due to the fact that the Scythians had formerly been impenitrable by the powerful armies of Persian King Darius (513BC).  Perhaps, after many years of relative piece and trade the Scythian forces were weakend.  The Sarmatians forced them to move in among the Greeks.   This eliminated their access to the riches of the Steppes and created serious problems among them.  The prosperous Greek cities began a decline as the Scythians gained clout in the now confined area.  The Sarmatians would rule the Steppe for about 500 years a little north of Roman intrusions cushioned by the Dacians (Thracian cousins) and Goths west of the Black Sea.  The Dacians had a high reputation of nobility, justice, honesty, and bravery.

Linguistic and Cultural Influence Prior to the Decline of Rome (4th-5th Centuries)

In 63 BC  Rome brought a swift halt to the economic pomp of the Greek colonies and the Bosporan Kingdom became their faithful subservient ally after a few bitter wars.  In this era Rome also defeated and ruled Dacia, roughly modern day Romania, where the mountains were plentiful with silver and gold they began bringing back to Rome.  It was during this time that the early Romanian language began to develop with the strong latin influence there.  It is debated who the true ancestors of the Romanians are.  Of course, this begins to introduce us to the New Testament era.  It wasn’t long before Titus destroyed Jerusalem.  Paul went through these Roman territories and visited the Balkans when he went to Illyria, or modern day Croatia, Croats being southern Slavs.  Paul appointed Andronicus as bishop to Illyria who served there with his wife Junia (see Romans 15:19 and 16:7).

A very old tradition later confirmed by Rome says, Philip the Apostle, who some early historians, confused with Philip the Evangelist, and he may be, preached in Scythia, along the northern coast of the Black Sea for 20 years, performing miracles and denouncing the worship of Mars.  It is unkown as to the fruits of his labor, but he must have won some

Map showing the Dnieper river

people to the Lord because he was later crucified upside down in Hierapolis, or Turkey, which isn’t Scythia.  We can assume he had encounters with Slavs, Sarmatians, Goths, Greeks, Jews, and Scythians.  At least we can know the Mars worshipers didn’t kill him, which can’t be said for many Christian missionaries encounters with pagans.  Philip had correspondence with the Apostle Andrew.

Andrew had made his way up through the Caucasius, modern day area of Georgia and Armenia, then around the Black Sea the long way, up through Thracia where he eventually made it to the Dnieper river.  Tradition says Andrew travelled as far north as the Volga river and the old Russian city of Novgorod preaching to the numerous and unorganized Slavic people, who lived a rugged and primitive life, described as having a tan complexion and reddish blonde hair.  According to legend, when he passed by the hill which would later be Kiev, he erected a cross and prophesied it would be a great Christian city, the Jerusalem of Russia.  Andrew is said to have placed the first bishop over Byzantium, and he became the Patron saint of Romania, Ukraine, and Russia.  He was later crucified as well, in Greece.

Map showing the Danube river

Next, the Goths who had stormed down from Sweden through the Germanic kingdoms following the Danube river, would rule the area of modern southern Ukraine, from their capital along the Dnieper river.  They took control of Dacia, the Greek colonies, the Scythians, and the friend of Rome, the Bosporus Kingdom.  In order to form good relations with Byzantium, the Ostrogoths in Crimea were converted to Trinitarian Orthodoxy.  This may be the very reason they stayed in Crimea instead of joining later Gothic conquests out west with Arian, non-Trinitarian, Ostrogoths.  Arians believed Jesus was created and did not exist before his birth and was inferior to and distinct from the Father.  These Trinitarian Ostrogoths could be found in Crimea all the way up to the 16th century.

Gothic reign in orange

From about 100-400AD the Goths along the northwest corner of the Black Sea had a Gothic Kingdom mixed with Thracians, Slavs, and Sarmatians.  The Sarmatians mixed with the Slavs in other areas as well, namely just north of there in Sarmatia, or modern Western Ukraine and Poland.  Other Slavs filled the land north of the Sarmatians towards the Baltics.  These Slavs would play a crucial role in the forming of the first Russian state.  In the middle 3rd century the Goths would push south into Roman territory.  Rome was forced to pay tribute to the Goths to stop their advance, which was humiliating to the glory of Rome who was beginning to have a number of problems.  This would not be the last time the Ostrogoths had their way with the Romans.  The Goths were having their day.  Further north however, on the Pontic Steppe, the Goths would have many bloody conflicts with other Turkic and Iranian nomads attempting to move in from the east or dropping through raiding villages.  The years 250-650 were a time of intense conflict on Ukrainian soil.

Europe in Paul’s day

In the late 3rd century the Romans would push back north into the Balkans through modern Romania, against the Goths and Dacians, but were eventually outmaneuvered by the Goths through strategic political marriages among the Dacians.  The Roman Emporer Constantine finally defeated them all the way back to the Danube, killing 100,000 Goths and driving out 300,000 Sarmatians.  After his death the land was finally lost to Roman control forever and always.  This would be the first of a succession of withdrawals for the once mighty Roman Empire.

Constantine was there in 303 when Diocletian ordered the most massive persecution of Christians in Roman history covering the span of the immense Roman territory of the day.  In 305 Diocletian became deathly ill and abdicated the throne.  In 306 Constantine became Caesar of Britain, Gaul, and Spain and Rome was divided by competing rulers of the day.  In 312, after defeating the Franks his army marched victorious through Italy bearing crosses on their shields swiftly crushing an army twice their size.   He was named Augustus of Rome.  In 313 Constantine reversed the Christian persecutions allowing them to worship the God of their choice, restoring their property and freeing exiles and prisoners.  In 325 he instigated the plans for the 1st council of Nicea where the main accomplishment was the settling of the biblical view of Jesus trinitarion relationship to the Father.  However, when he built the famous triumphal arch in Rome it was covered in pagan images with nothing Christian to speak of.  He also encouraged worship of the sun, which is quite confusing, as the Eastern Orthodox church has venerated him as being “equal to the Apostles”.

Constantinople and Nicea

Constantine did do a lot for the Christians and he managed to reunite the Roman Empire, which was on the brink of crumbling under jealous rivalries.  In 324 Constantine, unsatisfied with the location of Rome as a strategic military and trade location, began to build Constantinople on the Greek city Byzantium.  Ruling in this region would be an easy transition for him especially as he was fluent in both Greek and Latin, as were many of the elite of the day, and some clergy as well.  It would be completed in six years and become one of the most prosperous and important cities for centuries to come.  Christianity did not become an official state religion until Theodosius declared it so in 380.  From 408-450 Constantinople was fortified with mighty, almost impenetrable walls.  They would be needed.  The Goths, Slavs, Vikings, and the Ottomans were coming.

PART

Mountian Jews

II COMING SOON…



Pagan Polish Slavs

Scythians 4th Century BC

Ostrogoths

Thracian

Slav

Sarmatians vs. Slavs

Scythians

Sarmatians

Roman

Romans

Mountain Jew

Celts

Jews

Greeks

What is Eastern Orthodox Anyway?

What is Eastern Orthodox anyway?  That is actually a very good question.  Their very name means “right worship”, so it’s either true, cocky, a deception, a lie they themselves are convinced of, or perhaps almost true….but not quite.  In the west, as Evangelicals we are much more familiar with the peculiarities and nuances of the Roman Catholic church than we are the Eastern Orthodox church.  As an evangelical outsider looking in we may assume they are very similar to the Roman Catholic church.  While they do venerate Mary way too much, and wear awesomely funny hats, if you ask any Eastern Orthodox they will very soberly point out that Protestants are actually much more like the Roman Catholic church than they are.  While I think both of these churches beliefs are bogus when it gets down to the nitty gritty, I will say I agree with them on this point.  Their mode of thinking is far different than ours.  RCC and Protestants debate on the same epystemological plain.  The EOC claims to be the only true historical church of Christ and that the RC’s broke off from them and went apostate.  Mind you this is not some backwoods hillbilly clan who writes their doctrines on an ammo box with a crayon waiting to be raptured by a UFO in an open field on such and such a date.  This is a group claiming millions of followers, claiming to be the one and only legitimate church.  The question is what is the criteria for such a claim, and are they?  I mean it’s at least worth checking out.  I’d have to feel like some kind of hypocrite if I didn’t.

The first encounter I had with Eastern Orthodox was in Kodiak, Alaska.  Kodiak is the number two fishing port in Alaska after Dutch Harbor and it is not a large city but it is the home of one Mickey Dees, one Safeway, and one Walmart.  There are no bookstores there besides a small EO one, smack in the middle of downtown.  In port during the fishing season I found my way in there where I felt a little out of place trying to decipher the Christianish looking stuff, which seemed somewhat familiar but altogether different and distant to me.  I remember having a conversation with the man at the bookstore who I believe was actually a priest.  All I know was he seemed to be confirming the same Jesus I believed in so I left confused.  I knew there was something different, and I respected his devotion, but I hardly understood this branch of practice at all.  In Bible College I remember hearing about EO in Church History Class and having a conversation about it with a couple friends.  “Oh, they don’t use instruments in their worship and they have lots of icons in their churches,” we’d say something like, “well the Psalms talk about rejoicing with the stringed instrument and the second commandment warns against idolatry!”  Thinking we had solved the riddle we closed the case and continued on in our ignorance.  It is not quite that simple.  As most of us from the west are more exposed to the RCC, I think, when we learn about church history, the EO church eventually just fades into the backdrop and we tend to think of the early Christian Church mostly as the RCC.  Well, this hardly paints the story of what happened either.  Suffice it to say for now, the EO church has been here all along and it is humungous.

Then, I was having dinner in SoCal with a few friends after church and the college pastor told me a good friend of his converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.  At this time I had never seen an Eastern Orthodox church or stepped foot inside one.  This to me seemed a bit odd and all I could do was think this must be one lonely guy.  The pastor assured me he sincerely thought that this was the right way.  Well, he is not the only one, others have converted to EO, including Francis Schaeffer’s son Franky.  Frank said he converted to EO because you could go to any EO church anywhere in the world in any century and during a worship service figure out where you were in the worship service.  For him this proved it was the true historic church.  I’m sure he had other reasons because the guy is no knucklehead, but this reason he gave is not enough evidence or reason and it is only part true.  Watch the video of him here.

Not long after coming to live in Odessa, Ukraine and realizing this was where God was calling me into mission, I now had a new demographic to reach which meant I didn’t only need to learn a new culture, mentaility, and language, but I had to learn a new religion as well.  Often, EO and ethnicity are so closely nit together that one can easily assume that because they are Russian, or Greek, or Ukrainian that this makes them Orthodox.  I needed to understand why.  I needed to have real answers to tough questions about this mysterious religion.  For example, people answer the issue of having or bowing to icons by quoting the second commandment (“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them…” Ex. 20).  Well, if you hear the EO out, they will tell you that they are not worshiping the saints in the icons, they are only venerating them.  Okay let’s give them that then, bowing before, praying to, kissing, and laying prostrate before them is not worship, it’s only harmless veneration.  Half way understanding their rationalization I began to sympathize with them for being misunderstood, or so I thought, and jokingly asked my wife if we could convert.  It was a no go.  So, I took it one step further and personally asked a priest where in the Bible does it tell us to venerate saints?  He was stumped.  Perhaps next time we meet he’ll have a better answer, but I don’t think so because I’ve read the Book and don’t recall anything remotely close to that.  This is what I mean by real answers.  I don’t need superficial, express my own ignorance type of answers.  To be convincing we need the truth, the nuts and bolts truth of the matter.  It never helps to argue the straw man!  People explained to me that EO were all about experience and liked incense and icons and were very mystical.  This gave me an idea of what they were like but it didn’t tell me whether they were wrong or right.  After all, there is nothing uneqivocally unbiblical about burning incense, having lots of pictures in your church, using liturgy without instruments, or having six hour services or more.  There isn’t even anything unbiblical about being celebate and wearing pointed hats.  So, what’s the beef?

I have found that many Protestants in Ukraine take no issue with the EO.  They actually believe, although they understand most attendees are very nominal followers, that for the most part being EO is okay, and there is little difference between us and them.  This is part of what blurred my understanding of them.  I can say that for some here, the errors of the EO church are apparent.  It’s better to give them a chance until you know for sure what they believe right?  The main question, to get to the heart of the matter, is, do they have the Gospel right?

As I began to do my homework on EO I found some helpful books on the subject.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity by Daniel B. Clendenin A Protestant and former University Professor in Moscow

Through Western Eyes | Eastern Orthodoxy: A Refromed Perspective by Robert Letham a very insightful reformed theologian

Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism mostly written by EO Theologian Bradley Nassif and seminary teacher at Westminster, Michael Horton

And The Orthodox Church, written by a former EO monk and assistant bishop Timothy Ware

I also found several articles listed here at Monergism to be helpful in my search as well.

Although all of these books have helped my understanding tremendously, the one which I believe most pointedly struck to the heart of the matter was Michael Horton’s essay’s in the Three Views book.

In this book Bradley Nassif defines evangelicalism on certain specified criteria and then attempts to show where evangelicalism and EO are compatible.  Michael Horton responds with lots of grace but also cuts to the chase in showing, in so many words, first of all that his criteria for how Nassif defined an evangelical is not really a group a serious reformed Protestant would place themselves in and secondly dives headfirst into clarifying some very important differences between Protestants and EO, specifically when it comes to issues connected to the Gospel.  I was very relieved when I read Horton’s essays because I was beginning to wonder what the point was of searching for our areas of “compatibility” in order to encourage discussion which might take decades.  “Decades of discussion for what?” I thought, “to blur the lines which distinguish us?  To make one more palatable for the followers of the other?”  What good is a decade of discussion if in the end we have two different Gospels?  Who needs a false notion of compatibility?  Sure, we need discussion, but we need Gospel, not “compatibility”!  Besides, the definition Nassif painted of evangelicalism was very misperceived and went a step further in blurring the lines between certain so called “evangelical” camps which may or may not represent more suitable men for discussing such crucial matters.  By “suitable” I mean educated and pious, with firm biblical and theological foundations and thorough understandings of things like justification by faith alone, salvation by faith alone apart from works, penal substitution and the various nuances of these doctrines along with historical and patristical understandings.

From these essays it was brought to the light for me where the dividing lines are, and they are lines which are not up for negotiation.  They are lines which negate “compatibility” and call for a discussion of a more dogmatic tone, administered in sobriety, earnestness, and love.  They are issues which demand that we not pretend that they and we are okay, at the discussion table, as is.

Because of this, with my translator and friend Zhenya, I have taken the initiative to contact a couple priests in Odessa to meet with them.  I am seeking to hear from their own mouths, not just from books and articles, what it is they believe and to challenge them with some clarifying questions.  As of today, we have met with one, Sergey, and have an appointment very soon for the second priest, Alexandr.  Shortly afterwards we will meet with the first priest again.  I asked him to study the EO and reformed Protestant views of Romans 5 and we would meet again with more questions.  He has had a couple months to prepare.

In the future, I will be posting more blogs on such controversial EO topics such as icons, church history, mariology, liturgy, the filioque clause, apophaticisms, and much more.  For now, I will post the questions which have been compiled for these interviews.  After the interviews, I will post their reponses below.  These are very interesting doctrines and they are crucial hubs for the Gospel wheels to keep on turning.  These studies have been a tremendous help to me in clarifying parts of my Gospel understanding, things I may have taken for granted.  I now see the weight of the importance of carefully defining such particulars, namely those listed below.

One might say, as did I, “you don’t need to articulate the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be justified by faith alone, do you?”  No, and if there are people in the EO church who belong to God He knows and He will keep them.  The danger however is in not confronting error which can lead to people placing their faith in wrong co-mediators or to become works oriented, or the fact that a true and biblically grounded Gospel is not being presented clearly.  If this is not important, I don’t know what is.

QUESTIONS FOR MY ORTHODOX PRIEST FRIENDS:

QuestionsВопросы

1.Is it true that for the sacraments to be effective they must be administered by an Orthodox Priest in an Orthodox Church?
1.Правда ли, что для того, чтобы таинства стали эффективными, они должны быть назначенными православным священником в православной церкви? 

2.Is it true that in order to achieve salvation one must partake of the sacraments?
2.Правда ли, что, для того, чтобы достичь спасения, человек должен принимать участиеразделять таинства? 

3.So then, can a Protestant who has placed faith in Christ be saved if he never partakes of the sacraments as administered by the Eastern Orthodox Church?
3.Поэтому, может ли протестант, который поверил в Христа, быть спасенным, если он никогда не разделял таинства, которые были назначены восточной православной церковью? 

4.According to EO does salvation occur at a given moment, or is it a process, or both?
4.Согласно восточному православию, спасение происходи в какой-то момент, или это процесс, или это обе вещи? 

5.Is it true that man must work together with God in a synergeia?
5.Правда ли, что человек должен трудиться вместе с Богом в синергизме? 

6.Can you back this up Scripturally?
6.Можете вы подтвердить это в Писании? 

7.Can I lose my salvation? Where is this in the Bible? Is it true that if I can lose my salvation then that my salvation depends on me and not on God? How then is salvation a free gift?
7.Могу ли я потерять мое спасение? Где это видно в Библии? Правда, ли, что если я могу потерять свое спасение, то оно значит зависит от человека, не от Бога? Каким образом тогда спасение может считаться бесплатным даром? 

8.Is my salvation contingent upon my own performance? Is this not salvation by faith AND works?
8.Обусловлено ли мое спасение моими делами? Разве это не спасение по вере И делам? 

9.Is it possible for someone to receive salvation after death?
9.Возможно ли спасение после смерти? 

Please tell me if I have your view correct on each of these crucial doctrines of the faith:
Пожалуйста дайте мне знать, верно ли я понял эти важные доктрины веры: 

Justification by faith alone
Оправданиетольковерой

Is “justification” a western term? Didn’t Paul write it?
Является ли «оправдание» западным термином? Разве не апостол Павел писал об этом? 

How do you explain Romans 5:1, 9, 16, and 18 and Galatians 2:16
Как бы вы объяснили Римлянам 5:1, 9, 16 и 18 и Послание к Галатам 2:16

Is not 2 Corinthians 1:9 a legal term?
Разве 2 Коринфянам 1:9 не законный термин? 

Original SinПервородный грех.

Does the EO believe that the Bible teaches we are naturally drawn towards God before salvation? Where?
Верит ли православная церковь, что Библия учит, что мы природно притягиваемся к Богу до спасения? Где? 

Is it true that original sin is cleansed in humans through baptism?
Правда ли, что первородный грех очищается в человеке через крещение? 

Is man born deserving to go to hell? 
Рождается ли человек с тем, что уже заслужил пойти в Ад? 

Imputed GuiltВмененная вина.

Is it true that sin does not carry with it the guilt for breaking a rule, but rather the impetus to become something more than what we are? 
Правда ли, что грех не несет с собой вины за нарушение правила, но импульс, к тому, чтобы мы стали чем то большим чем мы есть? 

If so can you back this view up Scripturally?
Если это так, можете показать это в Писании? 

How do you explain Romans 5:16
Как бы вы объяснили Римлянам 5:16

“For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation…”
ибо суд за одно [преступление] –к осуждению;

Imputed RighteousnessВмененная праведность
Romans 3:21-22, 4:6, 5:15-18, 2 Corinthians 5:21
Римлянам 3:21-22, 4:6, 5:15-18, 2 Коринфянам 5:21

Substitutionary Atonement in the penal sense
Заместительное искупление в смысле удовлетворения Божьей справедливости.
Isaiah 53:4-6, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24, Genesis 22:13, Romans 4:25, 
Исаия 53:4-6, 2 Коринфянам 5:21, 1Петра 2:24, Бытие 22:13, Римлянам 4:25, 

Propitiation: Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2, 4:10
Умилостивление: Римлянам 3:25, 1Иоанна 2:2, 4:10

Do you understand the Protestant view of these crucial doctrines of the faith?
Понимаете ли вы взгляд протестантов на эти важные доктрины веры? 

Would you agree that if two people differ in their views of these doctrines the implications are immense and would mean that they have two different Gospels?
Согласитесь ли вы, что если два человека имеют разные взгляды на эти доктрины, то последствия этого большие, это значило бы, что эти люди имеют два разных евангелия? 

Is it possible to receive sinless perfection in this life?
Возможно ли получить безгрешное совершенство в этой жизни? 
1 John 1:9, Philippians 1:6, James 4:17, Deut. 6:5, Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37
1Иоанна 1:9, Филиппийцам 1:6, Иакова 4:17, Второзаконие 6:5

How come the EO church does not evangelize or preach the Gospel clearly?
Почему восточная православная церковь не евангелизирует и не проповедует евангелие ясно? 

According to EO, what is grace?
Что такое благодать, согласно восточной православной церкви? 

What is your opinion of the 5 solas of the reformation?
Что вы думаете о 5 Сола, (5 solas) которые были сформулированы реформацией?

A Christmas Note to Odessa & the World

This week I was upset about the fact that everywhere I go in Odessa I see Grandfather Frost decor and zero nativity sets.  I did manage to find one pretty small one of relatively poor quality.  I have since been informed that many churches do build their own.  It remains very noticeable though that communism did an overwhelmingly excellent job of removing Christ from Christmas.  Here, the New Year holiday has been exalted above Christmas.  A friend told me they even have red communist stars for the trees and this was confirmed by myself as I browsed the stores decor.  

Upon event of my being a little upset about this and having grand images of a countrywide campaign to put Christ back into Christmas, a pastor friend encouraged me to create a flyer with some space for a personal note which we could translate into Russian and leave with our neighborhhod friends inviting them to church.  Hence…

Christmas Greetings,

It’s hard to imagine the government suddenly moving our traditional Christmas holiday three months earlier to September. Christmas is literally celebrated in some fashion on every continent of the globe. For all of us, worldwide, whether we celebrate it December 25th or January 7th it means something far more significant than a winter solstice praising Saturn, the mythological god of the harvest (3rd century BC Rome). Hopefully it means something far greater than merely exchanging gifts with our loved ones. The Sovereign God must’ve known the comfort and the blessing we’d receive from hearing the Christmas story each year through the sound of carols, the beauty of the glowing lights against the snowy backdrops, and the cheer of meeting with our relatives in a warm home, safe and secure from the biting winter cold. Somehow it all seems to fit.

Historically, when we study old Jewish customs, we discover that shepherds did not usually have their sheep out at night after the “first rain”, which began in October. The Gospel of Luke 2:8 tells us, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Christ may have been born born in the fall. It can be debated whether the 4th century western church Christianized a pagan festival, which took place nine months after the day they celebrated the virgin conception or the eastern church had already been remembering the incarnation on December 6th. Whatever we believe about the past, today January 7th can be redeemed and established in our hearts as a day to exalt the living Christ child in recognition of God’s redemptive mission.

There are many distractions that come with the Holidays and it can be a depressing time for some less fortunate souls. The important thing is that we remember the love Jesus had for us all when He emptied Himself of His throne and took on flesh. This sacrifice of being born in such a humble state, to suffer as a man, was the greatest gift anyone ever gave and anyone ever received. This price was paid for the poorest beggar to the wealthiest snob.

The greatest question for all of us is not whether St. Nicolas is Santa Claus or Grandfather Frost, whether he had nine flying reindeer or three horses, little helper elves or a granddaughter, or whether he has a magic scepter or sneaks down the chimney from the roof while all the children are sleeping. The most pressing question is what the incarnation means to us. We invite you to remember with us the importance of the words from the prophet Isaiah (8th century BC) and together we can put Christ back into the center of Christmas and back into the center of our lives.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”

Isaiah 9:6-7

English Flyer

And after shortening it up a tad, translation, and some design editing we came up with a final pruduct!  Praise God!/Slava Bogoo!

A Christmas Blog from Ukraine

It’s been one year, one month and thirty days since I crossed the Atlantic for the first time and placed my feet on Ukrainian soil.  Odessa is a charming city in its own right, hugging the Black Sea, hiding thousands of trees on the streets behind its many tall rectangular concrete buildings.  The center is always full of people walking down its cobblestone streets and quaintly covered alley ways.   The architecture is a unique blend of Mediterranean, Greek, French, Italian, and more.  The true blue Odessan people have a past influenced by survival, communism, Eastern Orthodoxy, wry humor, mobsters, corruption, Russia, Jews, and rural Ukrainian roots.  When I came here, at once I had been transported into a parallel dimension to a place I hadn’t a clue existed.  Never before had I imagined this world or even saw anything like it.

My wife says I still have culture shock.  I thought I was just being overly picky.  The customer service here is a far cry from five star, people push their way through the small crowded buses and if they see you coming don’t bother to step aside, and whether you’re driving down the rode or jostling your way to the cash register at McDonald’s its survival of the quickest in this territory.  These kinds of things test my nerves sometimes and as I examine the people behaving in what I consider outright rude, inconsiderate, or extremely selfish behavior, I am stunned at how indifferent they seem.  They could care less, and they care less so little, that they could care less that they care less about you – that’s how much they care less.  If someone gets out of their seat by the window on the ‘mashrutka’ (bus), the person by the isle will stay sitting there and force the next person sitting down to squeeze and step over them.  I came to the point where I had to come to terms with the mentality here, and while trying not to allow myself to follow suit and behave as though I am entitled to my seat, or unstepped on shoes, learn to be more gracious.  The best thing for me to do is swallow my own pride and display patience and kindness without judgment.  Being as I still notice and mention some of these things I guess one could say I’m not quite over my culture shock yet.

However, I am long past the honeymoon stage of the enchantment of this foreign place.  I suppose this lands me somewhere between the initial romance phase and the acceptance stage.  Although there are many things I still have yet to get used to, it is nice to get away from the materialistic “Disneyland we call America” (Piper).  For me it is an adventure of sorts, something different, something new.  Not to say capitalism and consumerism hasn’t crept into this country, but most people here are just a lot more broke.  At the store I have a lot smaller selection of all the luxuries I had in the States, although they have plenty of interesting things.  They make this dish here with cold chicken in a pie of cold jello (“holodec”)– still in culture shock on that one.  If you try to start a business here, they’ll tax you so hard you’ll have no money left over for your business, so you either need to pay some serious bribes or know somebody who can pull some strings.  At my wedding ceremony, my wife and I were the first ones down the isle, that’s just how they do it in Ukraine.  When we moved into our new flat I thought to bring a cake to our neighbors to be friendly but I was warned by a few people that that would not go over well.  The Baptists here are very different from what you’d call a Baptist in the States and from what I’ve learned their soteriology is very similar to Eastern Orthodox, which is unlike any western soteriology.  80% of the people here are wearing black shoes and black jackets and almost everyone has the same cookie cutter clothing style.  Their “e”’s sound like “ye” and they mix consonants at the front of words like “mn…” and “vch…”, etc.  All the ladies are taking the bus and walking long distances in pretty high heels or boots.  When you eat at the café you must pay for water, or sauce, and everything is in small portions, a la carte.  The cafes are not even cafes, they are restaurants.  They don’t have Starbuck’s here and their coffee cups are half the size I’m used to.  Most people eat and serve bread dry and I’ve always had at least butter.  The water heaters are much smaller so there’s no taking your time in a nice hot shower, it is always a race against the lukewarm downpour.  The water isn’t that clean also which means a couple walks to the well to fill up some jugs every month.  They don’t even have tortilla chips!

My wife and I, if it be the Lord’s will, have committed ourselves to serving here as missionaries for life.  As I think about Christmas and the family I may have in the future, it dawns on me that things in this country, my new home, are just a little bit different.  While Christmas may be the biggest holiday for us all-Americans, here it is New Years.  They celebrate Christmas on January 7th, Santa Clause is called Grandfather Frost and he has a granddaughter even with an unpronounceable name for me at this point.  Let me just say that I’ve never in my life had the perfect Christmas.  For the record, I love Christmas.  This goes to show that none of them need be perfect to be loved.  I won’t have those same kind of Christmases I had in America.  My children will celebrate Christmas with our immediate family on the 25th and with Lera’s folks, cousins, etc. on the 7th.  The point is this.  Life for me will never be the same.

God has been planning since before creation, to spread His Word all across the earth!  This aim is strategic, purposeful, powerful, and unstoppable.  God calls us to walk away from our comforts.  He calls us to lay down our traditions, our entitlements, and our ways.  Christmas is all about Jesus.  You know that.  Jesus came in the form of a man.  This is huge.  He was born.  He didn’t have to do it, but in it He is most glorified and we are most blessed.  He let go of all the comforts of Heaven and was born in a manger so you and I could have life and celebrate Christmas wherever we are in the world, celebrating the Incarnation every day.  This mission of His to earth brought about our redemption and is only one part of God’s plan to scour the globe.  He’s calling you and I to let go of some things and have the same mind that was in Him when He emptied Himself.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  May this Christmas bring you much happiness and this year many things new!  And remember what Jesus said, if you lose your life for His sake and the Gospels, only then will you find it.