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The theological reflections of an Eastern Orthodox convert and seminarian
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:: Sunday, April 24, 2005 ::

The Question of the Cross: Atonement

This week, on Holy Friday (which starts on Thursday…go figure!), we will ‘celebrate’ the crucifixion of God on a cross. So, why did Jesus have to die (on a cross)? Theories of the atonement are as prevalent as theologies today, but I have yet to find an Orthodox commentator who speaks explicitly to the Western versions of atonement (of course, this probably only shows my poor reading in this area). How does the East respond to “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”

I have heard roughly six views of the atonement. In chronological order…‘Christus Victor’ was popularized by Irenaeus, and pitted the cross against the secular powers of the day (most of which were trying to kill Christians). Later, Origen and his disciple Gregory of Nyssa held to a ‘Ransom Model’ in which Christ’s death paid a ransom for man from the devil. Here I must admit my Eastern theology is lacking; I only know the Western models from here on. In the 11th-13th centuries, Anselm of Canterbury’s ‘Satisfaction Model’ as shown in Cur Deus Homo played into the feudal system of his day by focusing on Christ’s death as a repayment of the honor man stole from God. Anselm’s disciple Peter Abelard held the historically minority position of ‘Moral Influence’ in “Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans;” by his death Jesus ‘enkindled’ in man such a love for God that man would strive to obey God. The fifth position is that of Calvin, the ‘Penal Substitution Model’ that still prevalent today, in which a holy God cannot associate with sinners because he should punish them; Jesus takes the punishment of God on the cross.

The sixth view, and perhaps the most interesting because it acts as a cultural mirror, is a modern interpretation of the book of Hebrews combined with pop-psychology. Some call it the “Sacrifice Model,” the “Hebrews Model,” or the “Relational Model,” but the idea is as follows. The relationship between God and man has been broken by the fault of man. The offending party (man) must apologize and make reparations so the relationship is restored. Man cannot make reparations, but by dying on the cross, Jesus is able to make reparations for all of mankind. By pleading Christ’s atonement (reparation), man is able to repair his relationship with God. It’s all about relationships!

So, each of these models has at least one major flaw. In Christus Victor, Jesus is fighting against a powerful devil; where did Satan get that much power over God? In the Ransom Model, the devil is paid; how did the Devil get to owning man in the first place? Satisfaction is based on a cultural honor system no longer relevant in our time. Abelard’s Moral Influence has never been popular; it is impossible for all men to be as affected by one incident as Abelard supposes. Penal Substitution divides the Trinity; how can the Son pay the Father? The modern Sacrifice Model runs into the same wall; by trying to combine Anselm and Calvin with modern psycho-babble, it ends up feeding our cultural obsession with ‘relationships’ (making it irrelevant for other times/cultures), dividing the Trinity (God is paying himself), and worse of all, it makes man more loving than God. After all, how is sinful man expected to forgive his enemy without an apology or reparations, and yet man must give these to God before God will forgive him! So…once again: why did Jesus have to die?

On a side note: this is my last post until Pascha. At least for a week, I will stop fighting my theology and start praying it. So, I will spend Holy Week trying to be holy; a good start should be turning off my computer. May you have a blessed Holy Week, and may you see the joyful light of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Pray for me, a sinner.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:46 PM on Sunday, April 24, 2005 [+] ::

:: Wednesday, April 20, 2005 ::

I’m finally back in a country where they speak my language: American. Unfortunately, I have 8 hours of jet lag, and will probably leave on a plane/bus tomorrow for Los Angeles to visit my friends. Then it’s Holy Week, and that means not much time for being on-line and posting. In a nutshell, I am making excuses for the relatively short and sparse posts that will appear in the next few weeks until…Pascha!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 10:57 AM on Wednesday, April 20, 2005 [+] ::

:: Sunday, April 10, 2005 ::
Social Question

This is not so much a post as an extended question to all of you who are much more familiar with parish life than myself. Here’s the situation: after the Liturgy at Church, there is almost always a moleben or memorial service for someone who has departed. At least in Oxford, the service rarely uses any English. I rarely know the person whom we are commemorating, and my question is: should I join in?

I am very inclined to do so. Firstly and practically, I know that if I stand around after Liturgy long enough, even if I stand all the way on the other side of the church, someone will inevitably hand me a candle. The service is, after all, held in the rather public place of the middle of the church. Secondly, while I may not personally know the people for whom I pray, I really do want to pray for them. I regularly pray for those whom I may not personally know, even if it is only presenting their names before God. If I find out about something at home by email, I will pray for that person even if I barely know them. It seems as though by doing this, I am entering into a world that transcends time, location, and even language and culture. The Church transcends all of these barriers and more, so I feel as though I have the privilege of adding my small prayer to those of the prayers of the pious people around me and joining in the heavenly music.

Then again, I can understand why someone would not want me there. After all, I really do not know the person for whom I am praying. I feel as though I may be invading a private service, or that I might offend someone by being there and joining in as if I knew the person. I mean, I always know most of the people who are there (they are usually the ‘regulars’ of the parish), but I never want to seem like I am imposing or anything by standing and joining the prayers.

So, what is the consensus? I really do want to pray, but I certainly don’t want to offend anyone or be rude. What do you all do (I am sure you have been in the same place)? What would you want me to do if it were your loved one being commemorated? Thanks in advance for the advice!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 2:15 PM on Sunday, April 10, 2005 [+] ::

:: Saturday, April 09, 2005 ::

Guess what? I just found out I got the internship for this summer that I had wanted! I had applied to three other places, and did not get into any of them. But, I will now be working as a live-in intern at Raphael House in the beautiful San Francisco California. It has all the perks I could want: I am helping people, I am working hard, I am close to home but not living there, and I get to go to church. They have a chapel there, but I will probably end up going with the rest of the community to Huw’s old haunt of Holy Trinity on Sundays. It’s going to be great. Really, what more could I ask for? I start Bright Week (less than two weeks after I fly back to the States!) and work until I go back to school. If you can’t tell from the fact that every other sentence in this post ends with an exclamation mark, I am really excited!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 2:08 PM on Saturday, April 09, 2005 [+] ::

:: Thursday, April 07, 2005 ::
Happy Feast!

Today is our parish feast day! Or more accurately…

Today is the beginning of our salvation

The mystery which was from all ages has been revealed

The Son of God becomes the Virgin’s Son

And Gabriel announces the glad tidings of grace

Let us cry also with him to the Mother of God

Hail! Thou who are full of grace, the Lord is with thee!

Bp. Basil celebrated with most of the episcopal flare (which, having two bishops in one parish, we usually skip). There was a whole flock of priests at the altar; 4 or 5 of them, as well as two in the congregation. Of course, there was fish afterward, which was exciting, and lots of fun and fellowship.

The homily was on the three ‘fiats’ in Scripture. One of them is the Virgin, when she tells Gabriel to let it be according to God’s will. The second one is by Christ in the Garden, when he prays that since the cup will not pass from him, that his suffering be done according to God’s will. The third is the Our Father, in which we pray “Thy will be done.” When the Virgin prayed this, she ended up with a sword piercing her own heart. When Christ prayed this, he ended up dying on a cross. So why do I want to pray it? Because the Virgin is now the Queen of Heaven, and Christ rose from the dead. So, “Lord, let it be unto me according to Thy will.”

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 11:45 AM on Thursday, April 07, 2005 [+] ::

:: Monday, April 04, 2005 ::
Fun With Numbers

Too many people keep asking me this stuff, so here it is…Easter and Pascha. When do they fall together? Why are they apart?

Well, instead of answering the relatively common question as to why they are apart or together ( it has to do with the equinox and the full moons), it is much more interesting to crunch a few numbers and see how often they will be together, and when they will both occur. Before I begin, however, I will say that this is all my own work, which means my dates may be off by a day or so (I always have trouble with dates!); if it is off, please tell me and I’ll try to fix it.

OK, so Western Easter occurs on the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. With the whole New Calendar system, and the movement of the equinox, this occurs on the civil date of March 21. So, if March 21 occurs on a Saturday, and there is a full moon that night, then Western Easter will be at it’s earliest: March 22. Of course, March 21 will only fall on a Saturday (approx) once in every 7 years, and that will only be a full moon (approx) once in every 28 years, so…28*7 is 196. This will occur approximately once every 196 years. If a full moon occurs on March 20th, then the next full moon would be on April 17th. Let’s say that’s a Sunday. Then Western Easter would not occur until April 24th. So…Western Easter occurs between March 22 and April 24.

Pascha is a little more complex. It also occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, but it is not always the same as Western Easter. The Orthodox church is fundamentally an ‘old calendar’ church (whether or not a specific parish uses it in practice), so then both the equinox is on March 25th (as opposed to the 21st), and the 'church calendar' March 25th is on the civil calendar as April 7th (remember that 13 day rule!). Now, stay with me for a moment. That means that if April 7th is a Saturday, and a full moon occurs that night, then Easter will be on April 8th. If a full moon occurs the day before the equinox, or April 6th, then the next full moon will not be until May 4th. But if that is a Sunday, then Pascha will be at its latest, and will be on May 11th. Pascha is between April 8 and May 11.

So…let’s put the two together now and see how often the East and West will share Pascha. There are 28 days in the cycle of the moon, and if there is no full moon between the civil dates of March 21st and April 7th, the East and the West will share Pascha (do you see why?). This means that there is a 17/28 chance that there will be a full moon, and an 11/28 chance that there won’t be a full moon. So, about 60% of the time the we will not share Pascha, and about 40% of the time we will. When this occurs, Pascha will be between April 8 and April 24.

One more brief trick. Since Lent begins 55 days before Pascha, Lent will begin between February 19 and March 22, and so the days between March 22 and April 8 are guaranteed to be in Lent no matter what. This also means that Pentecost will be between May 27 and June 29. That is to say, between May 11 and May 27 are always going to be in Pascha.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 6:59 AM on Monday, April 04, 2005 [+] ::

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