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Efficacy of the Sacraments


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#1 Algernon

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Posted 02 June 2014 - 12:43 PM

I'm not trying to be controversial here. I really want to know: what actual good does it do to receive the sacraments?

 

I ask this for two reasons.

1. One would expect that if receiving the Eucharist produced holiness, Orthodox Christians would be obviously more holy than other Christians who do not believe in or receive the Eucharist. They are not.

 

2. My godson was plagued by demonic attacks before his "exorcism" and baptism. Months later, he is still being plagued by demonic attacks.

 

Thanks.

A



#2 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 June 2014 - 01:22 PM

I am responding off the cuff as it were, but two things occur to me.

 

1.  Holy Communion is not 'automatic' - it does not confer benefits without the co-operation of the person. If someone says, 'I take Holy Communion but I don't feel any benefit', such a one should see the failure in himself, not in the Eucharist. Orthodoxy has the concept of synergy, the unequal but necessary participation of God and man in the process of salvation. There is much patristic comment on this matter: see, for example, what St Macarius of Corinth and St Nicodemus say about this. How well does a person who feels little or no benefit from the Eucharist prepare himself? Does he fast, does he says the prayers, does he confess? Does he draw near the chalice with true fear of God, is his faith firm, and his love steadfast? What does he do after receiving? Does he relax and carry on as before?

 

2.  One would have to have the diagnosis of a very experienced priest or bishop to know that attacks are really demonic and he should then say what to do about them. Much is likely to depend on the disposition of the godson: he needs to be seen by one competent to deal with the matter.



#3 Algernon

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Posted 02 June 2014 - 04:18 PM

I am responding off the cuff as it were, but two things occur to me.

 

1.  Holy Communion is not 'automatic' - it does not confer benefits without the co-operation of the person. If someone says, 'I take Holy Communion but I don't feel any benefit', such a one should see the failure in himself, not in the Eucharist. Orthodoxy has the concept of synergy, the unequal but necessary participation of God and man in the process of salvation. There is much patristic comment on this matter: see, for example, what St Macarius of Corinth and St Nicodemus say about this. How well does a person who feels little or no benefit from the Eucharist prepare himself? Does he fast, does he says the prayers, does he confess? Does he draw near the chalice with true fear of God, is his faith firm, and his love steadfast? What does he do after receiving? Does he relax and carry on as before?

 

2.  One would have to have the diagnosis of a very experienced priest or bishop to know that attacks are really demonic and he should then say what to do about them. Much is likely to depend on the disposition of the godson: he needs to be seen by one competent to deal with the matter.

 

1. Does the synergy necessarily have to include the sacrament of Communion (or unction, confession, etc.) to result in holiness? It wouldn't seem so. The holiest, humblest, kindest, most devout, god-fearing person I've ever known--more so than any Orthodox Christian I've come across--was a committed Presbyterian. He didn't even believe in the sacraments. He certainly never received them.

 

2. Does the result of an "exorcism" depend on the level of expertise of the cleric performing it? Seems to me that the Holy Spirit could overcome deficiencies on the part of the priest. No? 

What do you mean by "disposition of the godson"?



#4 Phoebe K.

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Posted 02 June 2014 - 04:44 PM

hi,

 

The first thing I would say about the Eucharist comes from the sermon I herd yesterday while on a youth conference, we have to allow communion to consume us.  With food we consume it and it becomes part of us, in receiving communion however we need to be open to allow Christ to consume us.  We should take our lives and exchange them for his as we receive.  It is not just about the act of receiving itself but also about our preparation and openness to the Holy Spirit working within us.  Feelings are not an accurate judge of what happens really, it is being able to look back and see the work of grace transforming us, or others seeing this in us.  The sad thing is most of us do not receive as frequently or as well preperd as we can be, so we deprive ourselves of grace.  The metropolitan my Parish looks too has been encouraging us to receive frequently, preferably weekly with appropriate preparation (which our Priest had explained to us), and to make regular confession, from experience the more frequently you receive communion the more grace you have to confess more deeply.  

 

The Idea of the Eucharist is not exculisivly to produce holiness for one alone is holy (as we sing in the liturgy) rather it is with the rest of the mysteries to conform us to the likeness of Christ Jesus and make us part of his body.  This is an ongoing process of Transfiguration by the Holy Spirit through all the sacraments and the life of the church, however it can only happen as much as we participate in it.  I cannot and will not comment on the state of the soul of one outside the fold of the Church as we see her, however the Holy Spirit works where he wills, however we have the fullness of the revelation in the Church.  Within the Church we are all sinners struggling in the same direction, and we must help each other up when we fall in a spirit of love.

 

As a convert who knows spiritual warfare well both sides of my baptism I will second Andreas in saying he would benefit from the advice of an experienced Priest or bishop, possibly in the context of spending a week or so at a monastery.  This is to deal with the underlining Spiritual issues which are allowing these events to occur, without saying the Mysteries have been ineffective for they have not, however sometimes counsel is needed as well to facilitate healing.The Exorcism before baptism will have worked in that the demon is no longer within, the Priest himself prays as he prepers to baptize someone that the Lord will act despite his sinfulness, it is an act of God using a person to do it.

 

 What I think Andreas is refering too is rather the Person's willingness to let go of the struggle, as our Lord asked the Paralised man if he wished to be healed.  For if we are unwilling to let God work he cannot (for he will never violate our free will), it can also take time to assimilate the reality of the utter freedom we are given in baptism.  Although the Lord acted strate away it can take time for us to assimilate that, and when the post baptismal grace wains such problems can come back, we have to humble ourselves but also claim the grace of the mysteries allowing the Holy Spirit to live within us to and transform us.

 

Besides this frequent communion, weekly is a good idea and encouraged by the bishops, along with regular confession as agreed with the spiritual father (personally I found it needed to be more than once a month) which goes beyond the basic list of sins to what is happening in the hart.   This leads to an inner transformation and although the struggles do not disapere we lean to deal with them differently.

 

 On a more imedate practical note from my own fight I would sat that the most productive thing to do when the enemy comes calling is to make the sign of the cross, when possible drink a little holy water and sat the Lord's Prayer or the Jesus prayer a few times and pay him no heed, the enemy soon gets bored and ceases to trouble you in that manor, it is not easy though.  If it is really bad the Psalms are a good place to go for comfort, especially Psalm 90 and psalm 50 (Septuagint numbering).

 

I have spoken from my own journey and pray you may be able to find some help in it.

 

Phoebe



#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 June 2014 - 04:45 PM

1. Does the synergy necessarily have to include the sacrament of Communion (or unction, confession, etc.) to result in holiness?

 

For Orthodox Christians, yes. Some non-Orthodox Christians and non-Christians may seem to be kinder than some Orthodox Christians though how God deals with them is His business.

 

2. Does the result of an "exorcism" depend on the level of expertise of the cleric performing it? Seems to me that the Holy Spirit could overcome deficiencies on the part of the priest. No? 

 

I did not say it did. In referring to experience, I was mindful that not every priest is an exorcist in the sense of performing the casting out of devils as distinct from the exorcisms done during baptism. My late spiritual father, a bishop, was an exorcist and he told me how extremely difficult this task is.

 

What do you mean by "disposition of the godson"?

 

If the godson is not a child, has he embraced fully his new life in Christ? According to the Holy Fathers, some deficiency in the baptism could be the cause of the problem but it is impossible for anyone here to say. Have you discussed these things with the priest who performed the baptism?



#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 June 2014 - 04:53 PM

I would second Phoebe's practical advice. Does the godson wear his baptismal cross at all times? Use a cross often, say the prayer 'Let God arise', take holy water. If symptoms persist consider taking him to the hospital ie a monastery as Phoebe says. But talk to the priest.



#7 Algernon

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 01:27 AM

hi,

 

The first thing I would say about the Eucharist comes from the sermon I herd yesterday while on a youth conference, we have to allow communion to consume us...  

 

Thanks Phoebe, but I'm really more interested in the people who DON'T receive the Eucharist--or participate in the Mysteries at all--and yet live holy, godly lives. If, as you say, the idea of the Mysteries is to conform us into the likeness of Christ, then how can it be that non-Orthodox could be more Christ-like, more humble, more fervent in the Faith, than Orthodox Christians. One would expect that, if the Mysteries were effective, Orthodox Christians, who have not only the Mysteries, but also the "fullness of the faith, and the beautiful, heavenly worship, volumes of prayers and hymns, lives of the saints, etc, would be shining examples of godliness and Christian love, humility, patience, and self-sacrifice. They are not. If the Mysteries and Liturgy were really effective, wouldn't Orthodox Christians be immediately recognized for their holiness? Wouldn't they stand out from among members of the other thousands of Christian denominations that don't believe in the Liturgy and Mysteries? They do not. Orthodox Christians are largely indistinguishable from other non-sacramental Christians, except in their (our) apparent commitment to remaining unknown, and a non-entity in the American cultural landscape.

 

What I think Andreas is refering too is rather the Person's willingness to let go of the struggle, as our Lord asked the Paralised man if he wished to be healed.  For if we are unwilling to let God work he cannot (for he will never violate our free will), it can also take time to assimilate the reality of the utter freedom we are given in baptism.  Although the Lord acted strate away it can take time for us to assimilate that, and when the post baptismal grace wains such problems can come back, we have to humble ourselves but also claim the grace of the mysteries allowing the Holy Spirit to live within us to and transform us.

 

 

When the paralyzed man said he wanted to be healed, Christ healed him instantly. Same with the man possessed by a legion of demons, and the blind man, the other blind men, the man with the withered hand, the woman with a hemorrhage, the leper, the other leper, the ten lepers, etc...
You get the point.
 
My godson said he wanted to be healed. He denounced the devil and spit. He was "exorcised." He was was lowered three times in the water. And still he is not healed. Is he better off now than he was before his baptism? Apparently not. 
 
So really, what good did all that do?
 
 
Andreas, what sort of "deficiency in the baptism" do the Fathers refer to?

Edited by Algernon, 03 June 2014 - 01:27 AM.


#8 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 10:55 AM

I can't remember whether it was St Nikodemus or St Makarius but it was said that failure to immerse the person fully was a defect which allowed a sort of entry for demons.

 

More generally, one might wonder why life in Orthodox countries is worse than in seemingly Godless western countries. Why in Orthodox countries are there levels of corruption and evil conduct unheard of in countries such as Norway, England, Holland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand? Why does Orthodoxy in Russia, Ukraine and Greece not make the peoples there real Christians?



#9 Nemanja

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 12:31 PM

Thanks Phoebe, but I'm really more interested in the people who DON'T receive the Eucharist--or participate in the Mysteries at all--and yet live holy, godly lives. If, as you say, the idea of the Mysteries is to conform us into the likeness of Christ, then how can it be that non-Orthodox could be more Christ-like, more humble, more fervent in the Faith, than Orthodox Christians. One would expect that, if the Mysteries were effective, Orthodox Christians, who have not only the Mysteries, but also the "fullness of the faith, and the beautiful, heavenly worship, volumes of prayers and hymns, lives of the saints, etc, would be shining examples of godliness and Christian love, humility, patience, and self-sacrifice. They are not. If the Mysteries and Liturgy were really effective, wouldn't Orthodox Christians be immediately recognized for their holiness? Wouldn't they stand out from among members of the other thousands of Christian denominations that don't believe in the Liturgy and Mysteries? They do not. Orthodox Christians are largely indistinguishable from other non-sacramental Christians, except in their (our) apparent commitment to remaining unknown, and a non-entity in the American cultural landscape.

 

This is a valid question, and the answer is a heavy one, as this issue has been dealt with by experienced spiritual fathers. It can happen that a person who is outside the Church seems to be "more holy" than Orthodox Christians simply because the demons don't attack him with passions. The fact that he is outside the Church is enough to prevent his salvation, so demons don't tempt him with a great deal of passions, and by doing that, they achieve one more objective - they have good marketing towards other people, because heretics can say: "Look, this man was such and such, and look at him now! He is a shining example of faith and virtue." I have heard that people who join Jehovass witnesses and adventists often get "cured" of their passions very quickly.

I surely hope that this doesn't explain every single example of virtue among non-orthodox Christians, in fact, I remember reading what fathr Seraphim Rose wrote about the non-orthodox, and how he couldn't deny the positive changes which were happening in pious people after they fully embraced a Christian life (to the extent they could be Christians, being heterodox). But in any case, I find it obvious that demons tempt much more heavily Orthodox Christians than they do the heterodox.

As for the baptized child, it could also be that some difficult unconfessed sin/s of his parents could play an important part in this.



#10 Ilaria

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 02:37 PM

We call them Sacraments,but we call them also - Mysteries. This means that there is a mystery which
works in a 'mysterious' way; one has only to trust:  â€œDo not fear, only believe.” 


 

I have made this custom – reading John 6,26-70; I think that, only for His words, mentioned above, we have to trust and we have
to show our faith in His words – by communing, as often as possible.



#11 Phoebe K.

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 06:33 PM

What I can say having come from a life where I was a non believer then Heterodox before coming home, it is easier to be morally upright in eather of these as the expectations of the world are far less than in the Church, also there is not the inner battle with the passions.  To folow the Law of nature in the heart as one outside of the fold is not as hard as it is to live in true love and the Law of faith.  We cannot however say what will happen to those outside the Church, rather it is left to the grace of God in his wisdom.

 

Now to the more practical issue of enemy attacks post baptism.  First thing, the enemy is no longer within but the Holy Spirit through the anointing of Crismation, however the enemy will attack and do so hard, we are solderers of Christ and in a cosmic war.  If I say that there was probably a lul in the attacks of a few days to several months post baptism I will probably be describing acceptably what is seen in almost every nipholite as a grace period.  After this the real work begins, it is a shock when the first grace retreets and we have to prove ourselves steadfast in faith.  This is described by many converts and many saints when talking of the renewal of repentance.

 

The shock when grace is reduced for the first time is great, how we respond though marks our life in the spirit, hear I am speaking form personal experience.  The demons will attack but if we humble ourselves put our trust in God and make use of the misterys we can overcome them.  As I said before using the sign of the cross, the Jesus prayer and the Lord's Prayer frequently are very important, but also confession, agreeing a prayer rule with your confessor and keeping it, frequent communion and use of holy water at home all helps.  A visit and stay if possible at a monastery where you can speak to those experienced in the spiritual life can also be very beneficial in such trials.  I would also suggest venerating relics and visiting holy places such as the Holy wells we have int he UK can help too.

 

The words of St Siluan come to mind also as a very effective way of dealing with daemons (and he had much experience of this), "Keep your mind in hell and despair not."

 

Phoebe



#12 Kusanagi

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Posted 03 June 2014 - 07:35 PM

 If, as you say, the idea of the Mysteries is to conform us into the likeness of Christ, then how can it be that non-Orthodox could be more Christ-like, more humble, more fervent in the Faith, than Orthodox Christians. 

This does depend on how and against what you measure such holiness in non Orthodox people.

Here is a quote from Elder Epiphanios on this matter on why as you say non Orthodox seem more devout, holy etc than Orthodox.

 

http://www.johnsanid...doropoulos.html

 

He was asked: 

 

"Elder, it is known that peace reigns only in the soul of the people of God. However, the Evangelicals also maintain that they feel a permanent calmness in their hearts. How is it possible for this to occur, since they are in delusion?"

 

And he responded: "In the villages, my child, when the villagers wish to tie their donkey for grazing, it is not necessary to tie it by all four feet. It suffices to tie it by one. "The devil does the same thing with the Evangelicals. Since he has tied them by the foot of heresy, he does not attack them with other temptations. Thus, it is explained why they feel peace, as they maintain. However, this peace is superficial and temporal."



#13 Father David Moser

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Posted 05 June 2014 - 02:01 PM

The Mystery of the Holy Communion can be understood as "spiritual food".  It is the best food, the most perfect food, the spiritual "superfood" if you will.  However just as a person can eat all the right physical foods avoiding all the unhealthy foods and only eating that which is good but does not do anything else to maintain their health will become fat and unhealthy - so also a Christian who receives the Mysteries but doesn't do anything else to maintain his spiritual state will find that he will become spiritually unhealthy.  The Mysteries are not magic, but require our participation in the working of God's grace.

 

As to the question of the one who was baptized and yet continues to experience demonic influence and great temptations - well, what did you expect.  The demons do not easily give up on what was once theirs and they will do everything in their power to regain it.  The difference is, of course, the power of God which enables us to fight against those temptations and resist the demonic attacks.  St Anthony, despite his exalted spiritual state, was physically beat nearly to his death by demons while at prayer.  I would suggest reading the life of St Anthony.

 

At baptism the power of demons over us is broken, but that only means that they can no longer force us to do their bidding.  They can still threaten, entice, cajole and present us with opportunities to sin however, after baptism the Christian can say no.  Its still a struggle because of all the old bad habits that continue to be a part of our lives. The passions and desires are used to having certain experiences and to being fulfilled, and will clamor for their old satisfaction to be restored.  There are memories - both cognitive and bodily - of past sins that arise over and over again.  The demons are not shy about reminding us of our past indulgences.  Read also the life of St Mary of Egypt.  Although she repented, renounced her life of sin and fled to the desert she was still tormented for her entire life with the memories of her sins and the desires that that she indulged continued to be active in her.

 

There is no way around our Lord's words that the Kingdom of God is taken by violence - that is violence and force to our own sinful nature.  Our whole lives are a continual struggle and battle against sin - but with the grace of God we are strengthened and we can resist the temptations and say "no".  Its not easy - but with God's help it is possible.

 

Finally to the reference to those outside the Church who appear to be more pious and holy than some in the Church.  You look on the outside of the man but do not see his heart.  He will be judged by God (not you or I or society) on the condition and content of his heart, not only his outward appearance.  Let God judge and reward or punish as He sees fit - let the potter work his clay in his own way.  If a person outside the Church appears to be holier or more righteous than we who are inside the Church, the only thing that we can take from it is that we ourselves are great sinners and must therefore repent more fervently and work on our own spiritual condition more zealously.

 

Fr David



#14 Algernon

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Posted 05 June 2014 - 05:04 PM

It can happen that a person who is outside the Church seems to be "more holy" than Orthodox Christians simply because the demons don't attack him with passions. The fact that he is outside the Church is enough to prevent his salvation, so demons don't tempt him with a great deal of passions...

 

Gosh, it seems as though I'm doing my friends and family a favor by not trying to bring them into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

 

Finally to the reference to those outside the Church who appear to be more pious and holy than some in the Church.  You look on the outside of the man but do not see his heart.  He will be judged by God (not you or I or society) on the condition and content of his heart, not only his outward appearance.  Let God judge and reward or punish as He sees fit - let the potter work his clay in his own way.  If a person outside the Church appears to be holier or more righteous than we who are inside the Church, the only thing that we can take from it is that we ourselves are great sinners and must therefore repent more fervently and work on our own spiritual condition more zealously.

 

Fr David

 

Father, 

Christ said "by their fruit you will recognize them." What could he have meant by this?



#15 Phoebe K.

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Posted 05 June 2014 - 05:42 PM

We may be attacked more as believer but we are ashored by Grace that we are on the path to salvation, we cannot say that for those outside the fold of the church.  We were commanded by Christ himself to preach the gospel and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he never said would be easy, far from this in John 17 he asked the Father not to take out us as his disciples out of the world but rather strencthan us while we are in the world (this is a very good chapter to spend time meditating on the meaning of).  As believers we have access to the tree of life in the Chlace, this is the Cross, not easy but life in it's fullness, those outside the church do not have this.

 

The way I understand this saying of Christ "by their fruit you will know them," is that Christ was referring to the believers bring forth the fruits of repentance, love, faith and the like which are the gifts of the Spirit.  These can be seen to a lesser extent in those outside the faith but not in the full depth, this dose not mean that the Holy Spirit cannot work outside the Church, He is like the wind and will blow where he will, but for those who are not baptized he can only act form without, not from the hart as in those who are baptized.  It is for the most part a matter of relationship with the Lord and the depth that this can reach.  

 

Our primary concern though should be working out our salvation with fear and trembling, all else is the Lord's problem not ours.

 

Phoebe



#16 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 05 June 2014 - 06:54 PM

I think it is important to remember that the Orthodox Church is not a religion. It is not the best route to heaven. It is not the best of anything. It is the truth in the sense that it is the state of things as they are in the Kingdom of Heaven and in the age to come. Orthodoxy - Christ - God - Paradise - the Kingdom of God/Heaven: all the same thing. It is a state to which some will attain in whatever measure God determines, and being Orthodox in this life is no passport or priority boarding (to use the language of Ryanair) to Paradise.



#17 Kosta

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Posted 05 June 2014 - 09:17 PM

I do not know what your Godson suffers from, but in time if one has a prayer rule and proper phronema this will indeed help. Theosis requires a certain struggle and the mystical life of the church when entered in can indeed help you in those plateaus. 

 

Now Holy Communion in the practical level is that which unites us to the church and each other as a community. When you attend DL but never commune you are only a spectator. You are only looking in through the window and witnessing the Mystical Supper and are not an actual participant at the table. Now the Holy Eucharist can be a detriment if received unworthily. 

 

Now we must realize that we are not living in a society which promotes personal holiness or puts into effect the best environment to work out our salvation. Consumerism, temptations everywhere we turn, secularism, will take their toll.  Personally I dont see more holiness with those outside the church. Sure, there are people that are kind and friendly and are pleasant to be around but thats an aspect of character.

 

And yes there are 'cultures' whose values are more holy than ours (because they are indeed closer to christianity) than our secular culture which explains the discrepancy. Christians in general are MORE prone to being unholy (regardless od religious affiliation) because of the loose modern culture we live in which has replaced the previous christian one. For most people religion maybe a part of their cultural background, but it is dormant.  There is no consciousness to live it out because they believe going with the flow of their society is indeed living the christian life. 


Edited by Kosta, 05 June 2014 - 09:18 PM.


#18 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 05 June 2014 - 11:06 PM

I think Kosta hints at a truth here: the differences between the circumstances of life in our countries and in those such as Russia and Ukraine are far more to do with differences in character than religion.



#19 Nemanja

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 07:23 PM

Gosh, it seems as though I'm doing my friends and family a favor by not trying to bring them into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

 

If the only reason why one would choose to become Orthodox were to be cured from whatever illness or problem a person had, that would, IMO, be a wrong reason. A person becomes Orthodox because he answers the call of Christ: "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness". After that condition is met, the second part follows: "and all these things will be given to you as well". If a person becomes Orthodox for "all these things", which, I guess, include health, he is missing the mark. In that case, he finds neither His kingdom, nor earthly goods/health which he expects.



#20 Algernon

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Posted 12 June 2014 - 12:22 PM

 The way I understand this saying of Christ "by their fruit you will know them," is that Christ was referring to the believers bring forth the fruits of repentance, love, faith and the like which are the gifts of the Spirit.  These can be seen to a lesser extent in those outside the faith but not in the full depth...

 

You must me joking. The fruits you list are not seen to a lesser extent outside the Church, but in many cases to a much greater extent. That's the point of my original post.

 

 ...the Orthodox Church is... the state of things as they are in the Kingdom of Heaven and in the age to come. 

 

So...bickering, selfishness, apathy, ethnocentrism, complacency... this is what we have to look forward to in the Kingdom??






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