Interviews with Mar Melchizedek
What is the dilemma between secular humanism and religion?
The dilemma our modern societies have created is deeply rooted in the delusion that mankind can shape its own destiny without the will of God. Hence, everything is interpreted by what is currently in vogue or of what is perceived as being “constitutional” or not, rather that what is of God and what is not.
Why having the Church?
As an Orthodox Christian I sincerely pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven". The church in her function as an institution is per se not needed when it comes to personal salvation. However, Christ did found his church on Peter (= the rock). In other words, without God's commands, as underlying principles for spiritual growth, we cannot succeed and would only go in self-centered, humanistic circles – with or without some "religious touch" as we may fancy.
Why Holy Tradition?
We believe, Holy Tradition is more than a simple repetition of what has developed and been added over the centuries. It is the sum and retainer of all Orthodox truth and expression, including Holy Scripture, both visible and invisible, both known and yet to be revealed by the Holy Spirit. Thus, we always are “open to the workings of the Holy Spirit” and not to an institutionalized body, as some may think, that may at times be entrenched in the extremes of pharisaic traditionalism.
What is Holy Communion under special pastoral circumstances?
While it is correct that the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, Christ gave His Church clear instructions as to the species to be used for the Holy Gifts. Hence the Orthodox Church never wavered using exactly what the Divine Master has commanded, i.e. real bread and real wine, not any substitutes. This is particularly due to the intrinsic meaning and symbolism of wine and leavened bead within sacred church tradition and Orthodox doctrine.
As to the practical aspect of administering Holy Communion to a person who has some sort of disability, I may remind of various pastoral accommodations in administering a sacrament, but never in substance and species, as the latter would be not Orthodox, to say the least. - For instance, an alcoholic may receive just by intinction (i.e. without the spoon) or just the Body of Christ (without even intinction). Someone allergic to wheat may simply receive only the Holy Blood, just as it is given to very young infants; and so forth. Though it has always been the practice in the Eastern Church to administer the Holy Gifts in both species, the holy Body of Christ contains also the precious Blood of Christ and vice versa. Thus, someone receiving just one species (as pastoral Oikonomia may demand) will indeed partake fully of Holy Communion.
Why Orthodox Morals?
The issues raised must be viewed on both philosophical (logical) as well as religious (theological) grounds. First, we must realize which fruit each one of these sins will produce. Christ says a rotten tree cannot produce truly good fruits. It will be cast out into the fire. Certain lifestyles and deeds therefore will produce consequences that are harmful to one's soul and body as well as to society, since every sin is unhealthy and spiritually perverted. Secondly, while such things as abortion, fornication, theft, deceit, abuse, homosexuality always existed, it does not logically warrant that we ought to legitimize them. Were a society to follow such logic, the next step would be to legitimize pedophilia and incest, for example.
What about divorce?
The Orthodox Church, however, does not necessarily condemn divorce as she is held to act compassionately and pastorally. Hence, in valid circumstances, divorces are granted and second marriages performed, except for clergy. Thus we cannot, on an ethical level equate the grave sin of an adulterous lifestyle, for instance, with that of a legitimate divorce, which in itself is not always evil. Both fall into different moral categories.
Is Christianity not judgmental?
Unfortunately, our modern-day English language does not distinguish between the two meanings of "judging" and henceforth causes confusion without sufficient knowledge of New Testament language. Foremost, it is not my position to judge (in the sense of condemning) a person. That is reserved to Christ alone. We all are sinners and each one of us struggles with his or her own set of sins, as our fallen nature is fragile. The worst we can do is trying to legitimize our sins – the best we can do is to truly repent in placing our stubborn pride under spiritual direction.
However, I may and must judge (in the sense of distinguishing between right and wrong) any lifestyle, situation, law or political decision that contradicts the Holy Gospel and the Orthodox Faith. Thus, Christ says we ought not to see the splinter in our neighbor's eye while having to deal with our very own eye's plank; but the New Testament and the Church Fathers are full of comments and even directives how to use clear judgment against that which is contrary to the Christian Gospel. For example, gambling is prohibited for Orthodox Christians by Canon Law (less by Holy Scriptures), and thus the Church condemns its participation or promotion. It is needless to say that the Church also condemns pornography on strongest terms, since it puts human sexuality on a level that is not only harmful to society, but perverts it to abominable levels. It is unfortunate and scandalous that modern Western societies have legitimized human sinfulness, but we also know that such things are obvious apocalyptic signs.
What is "Western Orthodox”?
The etymology of the word “conversion” points us to its true meaning of “converting into” rather then “converting away from”. Hence, conversion to the Orthodox faith embraces an Orthodox way of life (ορqοπραξια) which reflects one’s mind-set as well as pious religious observance. For instance, one cannot approach Orthodoxy with the canonical idea of supremacy (like in Roman Catholicism); nor can one approach the faith in legalistic Biblicism as found among some evangelical Christians.
True Orthodoxy is neither Western nor Eastern, it is catholic, i.e. universal: “I believe in one, holy, catholic (=universal) and Apostolic and Church...” - Therefore, if someone who has truly converted to Orthodoxy, he or she must foremost have a ‘change of heart’, rather than an outward, logistical or superficial change. Only within the scope of an inner conversion towards genuine Orthodox theology, the necessary outer sign of what is considered ‘Western Orthodox’ will naturally change as such is a reflection of what is to be Orthodox.
Who is the Anti-Christ?
There are many Christians, among those some Orthodox sectarians, who believe that a simple "antichrist" in form of a person will appear and that he or she is supposedly already among us. Of course, there is no proof to any of such claims. Hence some "visions" or "apparitions" are cited from time to time, which again are in the subjective eye of the beholder and their followers.
There is no teaching in the Orthodox Church asserting that the antichrist is actually a person. - Although the antichrist has been depicted in various forms of literacy and art as a person who will descend upon mankind and that only a few "true Christians" (definition according to each sect's interpretation) will withstand him (or her?) and then become the elected ones (according to Apocalypse 1).
The "antichrist" is a theological term or historic phenomena rather than a single person. During the 30-year war in central Europe, many people believed that the "antichrist" was now to come. Similar beliefs appeared at the onset of the First World War and the Russian revolution, among others.
With the word "antichrist" is connected all what is "against" or "opposite" (=anti) Christ - the summary of all "antichrist" historic adversities and their personifications experienced in this century (as in all centuries). They merely exemplify what has been personified for so long in art and literature as "The Antichrist". Not only that, also the increasing secularization of modern day society, a mass exodus from the churches and open deviation from the Gospel truth, exemplify that the antichrist is among us.
That a person "antichrist" is supposedly already been born and will do all these things mentioned, is only true insofar as it will be yet another addition to the madmen in history who destroyed so many lives and the peace in this world through their atrocities. That any new "antichrist" phenomenon would be different or unique among the others is simply a hoax.
Without being too focused on apocalyptic interpretation in the big picture of world events, we can see the signs of the devil and his last fight for humanity clearly before us: Secular humanistic illusion and materialistic greed leading to moral self-destruction of Western society – amidst fanaticism and horror regimes under pseudo-religious disguise elsewhere. The 'old fox' will not give up until Christ shall return to restore the earth and cast him out forever.
What is your advice to frustrated and disappointed church experience?
It seems like that many had a lot of good insights and solid ground for their vocation, yet they not always made the best decision regarding church affiliation. It is then time to make a prayerful change as to how one wishes to resolve a situation and to affiliate with a stable church that will strengthen one's faith.
Please always consider that any reputable jurisdiction will require one to go through procedural steps in order to be incardinated and such. There will be a time of reflection and learning, a time to discern whether to meet the criteria for clergy in that particular church or diocese; and it will become evident during the interim, whether one can be humble enough to accept authority and the terms under which conditions one can be accepted.
If you are looking for a quick fix, with just formal "paperwork" to fill out and be received à la "long-distance", you will only repeat your pattern, later come to regret it and then wander on to the next quick fix.
Take such a crisis as an opportunity to leave the past behind and start anew in Christ. If you are looking for a perfect church, I can assure you, you will never find it. History of Christianity shows that people who founded "better churches" later on only experienced their losses by people who founded "yet better churches" splitting off theirs, and so on.
What is your approach towards the opinion and faith of others?
While God always respects the convictions of each individual, no matter to which religion they choose to belong, it is our divine mandate to preach and practice the holy Orthodox faith in its fullness (as handed down to us through holy Scriptures and holy tradition), yet with a loving and open-minded approach. It is for this reason that we harp less on the Canons, but stress more the ancient way of the Holy Apostles as outlined, for example, in the Didaché. In other words, we look for authentic faith and not for unholy church politics.
I envision a church that is less concerned with universally regimented settings, but leaves room for different traditions and foremost for spiritual growth of all its members. We do not exercise control over others. We believe a bishop is foremost a spiritual leader, not an autocrat.
What is Divine Economy?
Please understand that we only can state our point of view within the parameters of Orthodox teaching and practice. For us, there is no point in arguing over what is of divine origin and sacred.
It is not for us as an Orthodox Christian to re-interpret Holy Tradition as to arbitrarily suit whatever is perceived as convenient accommodation. The only 'accommodation' permissible is Orthodox Oikonomia (Divine Economy), which is strictly guided by individual pastoral concerns within the framework of the Holy Canons.
Finally, we must realize that certain conditions cannot be changed, unless Christ himself sees fit to do so, as he has healed many from diseases and disabilities. Until such time, we must be patient in all humility and obedient to Christ's commands, i.e. continue to do what has worked for centuries.
How do we walk with God?
God is forgiving and always loving. He gives many ‘second chances’, but we must do our part in wanting to change and leave the past behind. We call this 'repentance' (μετανοια), which means “turning around”. Living in God’s kingdom (the church) and not in the secular, atheistic or merely humanistic realm, is the willingness to live by His will, not ours. To seek His divine will, to become humble, to forgive and walk each day refreshed and anew in God’s light. Thus, a person will be able to attain balance, clarity, stability and blessedness (inner contentment), thus overcoming virtually all problems while at the same time acquiring the true purpose of life. The man-made trappings of this world, both past and present, the often shallow values of a fallen world, secular and unholy aims – all will then become trivial, often not even important enough to tempt us.
What is true Orthodoxy?
It is our observation that Orthodoxy at times is too much engulfed into its own affairs and lacks missionary efforts in a world that desperately needs salvation. I compare it with a turtle that is mostly concerned with protecting its territory while slow-moving and hiding under a shell; whereas true Orthodoxy ought to be like a bird (symbol of the Holy Spirit) flying all over to bring the Good News.
What are demons?
There a different ways of definitions of what demons are. The Orthodox belief is that demons are fallen angels along with Lucifer who was cast down from Heaven before creation (cf. Genesis). That means that they continued to exist of what is called ‘the earth’. The latter is also the place where Adam and Eve were expelled to (after their fall). Hence, we humans live in the same environment as the devil (Lucifer) and his demons. Satan is also called the "prince of the world". A quick look at the history up to the present condition of this world would confirm that indeed Satan is its ruler.
What is our spiritual aim and struggle?
As Orthodox Christians, we physically live in this world (due to being descendents of Adam and Eve), but nevertheless are not part of this world. We live in the Kingdom of God, called the Church (Greek 'ecclesia' = 'called out' or 'kyriaki' = 'belonging to the Lord'). From this background it is always understandable (though regrettably) that the demons will be after us the more we commit ourselves to God's Kingdom and leave their polluted world. They will try with all their tricks to lure us back into that world, often using our weakness (due to our human, sinful nature) to attack us. This does not necessarily have to be violent, but typically happens by enticing us to relativistic and humanistic promises. In turn such produces different kinds of responses depending on how strong we are to fight back with spiritual weapons and whether we recognize the trick played on us. So, the first thing is to pinpoint who the real enemy is, then naming it and finally defeating him though various spiritual means.
It is not a struggle in the physical world, but that of the mind, foremost from which all sin and evil originate. By giving in to evil and sin, the physical world and our bodies with its various capacities become merely the slave of the mind, which dictates it then to act. Hence, by being watchful, we speak of spiritual freedom in Christ, since we have freed our mind from evil and its enslaving influences. Thus, our entire being – including the physical – becomes truly independent and free.
Why infallibility of the Church?
The question of the Church's infallibility cannot be addressed within the parameters of natural law alone, which is limited to human reasoning. Divine law, which is largely supported by faith, must be taken into consideration as well, in order to come to a balanced conclusion. By "faith", we refer to the Greek meaning "trust", i.e. trusting that both Holy Scriptures and the Holy Church are inerrant, because of their divine origin. One could cite numerous references in Holy Scripture to support that Jesus Christ founded His church upon a rock that even has the power to bind and lose here on earth already (cf. Matthew 18). The Holy Church is referred to in the New Testament as “The Kingdom of God”, founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, who empowered the holy apostles to bring the Church into the entire world, led by the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom He sent “to guide us into all truth” (John 16:13).
From a logical point of view, what is truth excludes becoming non-truth at any given time, unless is had been a priori non-truth. Since we believe that Christ proclaimed the truth and handed it down to His Apostles, it cannot – at any given time in history – become false to His Apostles, when it comes to dogmatic and moral teaching.
As far as Holy Orthodoxy is concerned, as understood by the Holy Church from the very beginning, it is rooted in two basic meanings, which are closely related. The first definition is ‘true belief’. We maintain and teach the faith of the Ecumenical Councils as accepted by the Universal Church. We reject the additions made later that have occurred in both East and West, as well as the distortions of separatists, who seek to interpret the Holy Scriptures or the Holy Canons without reference to Living Faith and Sacred Tradition of the Universal Church. - The second definition is ‘true worship’. Holy Scripture tells us that the three thousand who were added to the Church on the day of Pentecost “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Worship is the life of the Church, and her central act of worship is the Divine Liturgy as first instituted at the Last Supper by our Christ himself.
We believe in the essential unity of all Christians and the sacramental unity of all Orthodox jurisdictions that hold to the faith of Holy Orthodox Catholic tradition, i. e. Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed: “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). Because the Holy Church believes that Christ is God incarnate, His words must be regarded as the revealed will of God.
Is Orthodoxy the Mystical Church?
I certainly agree that core Orthodoxy is mystical. However, I do not make a distinction between the historical or temporal church and an eschatological church. I think that the mystical church is the true Church, as it does not know jurisdictional boundaries. However, the mystical Church can only exist within the parameters of the historic church body and its structure. Otherwise it would become like floating free spirits that splinter into thousands of sects, each proclaiming their own "truth". - What is miraculous in Orthodoxy though, is the fact that – despite jurisdictional quarrels – all branches maintain the same faith.
While it is true that all members of the Holy Church are sinful and therefore fallible as individuals, Christ has given the Church His grace of infallibility, when it comes to matters of dogma and morals. I have cited the proper references in Scripture, which can be confirmed by patristic teaching as well as logical reasoning.
Why is the Church infallible?
If the Church were not infallible, how could we ever know what truth is? How would we ever know that Holy Scriptures are indeed the Word of God, if the church hadn’t proclaimed it so? - Everything would then be relative and thus prone to human concoction. It would be no different than modern secular humanism that tries to question every aspect of existence.
Is Marriage a Sacrament?
A debate about when in history marriage became a sacrament and why there is a sacrament of marriage at all never has been a point of concern in Orthodoxy. There is no concept of sacramentalism in the Eastern church, neither is there a doctrine of the “seven sacraments” limit.
Any blessing given by the Church through a bishop or priest is always sacramental. Hence, there is no rigid formula as to what constitutes a sacrament, even though some Orthodox in the West seem to be adopting Roman theology by reducing sacramental life to the number seven.
Any marriage that had been given the blessing by the Church has always been automatically sacramental, even before the present Crowning ritual (marriage ceremony) had been developed. Thus, only a marriage blessed by the Church can be an honorable and meaningful Holy Mystery (Sacrament).
Holy Icons in the tradition of the Orthodox Church have a very deep symbolic, Christocentric ecclesiological and elevating content. They express the truth that God became man so we may become gods by grace (Theosis). For this reason, Icons are a great treasure towards the path of salvation of the faithful, while their view calms and soothes the soul. The educational value of Icons is immense: It is well known that a picture is worth a thousand words. Icons allude to the imitation of the life of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints, while theologically speaking they are showered by the light of the resurrection of Christ. Orthodox icons do not focus on the physical depiction of persons or events, but to otherworldly reality. Icons have thus become “windows to heaven”, which as such are cherished, venerable and sacred objects. Spiritual transformation, granted through the grace of God, is the purpose and the divine essence of life for all faithful.