Patristics or Patrology – the study of Early Christian writers

Patristics or Patrology is the study of Early Christian writers, known as the Church Fathers and Mothers: the pillars and theological mainstays of Orthodox Christianity. The names derive from the Greek pater (father). The period is generally considered to run from the end of New Testament times or end of the Apostolic Age (circa 100 CE) to either 451 CE (the date of the Council of Chalcedon), or to the 8th century Second Council of Nicaea, see also First seven Ecumenical Councils. The study of the Church Fathers is central to an understanding of and appreciation for the history and content of Orthodox Christianity. It is in these holy men and women that the Church has found her voice throughout the centuries, in these lives transformed and illumined that she has found her most poignant mouthpeaces. It was these that produced the Scriptures, the formulations of the Councils, and the sacred writings that continue to form the textual tradition of the Church. Often, the writings of the Fathers can be complex, for much hearkens from an era different from our own. Context can seem distant, and the mire of words difficult sands through which one must sift. Yet the great quality of the writings of the Church Fathers is their transcendence of the human moment: their ability to speak to the very heart of man even centuries, perhaps millennia, after they were first written. It is the voice of the Holy Spirit of God that speaks through their words, and thus their message is eternal and ever applicable to the contemporary state of humanity. It is the Fathers of the Church who have produced her great textual treasures: her Scripture, her hymnody, her theological apologetics, her histories. Thus a proper understanding of any of these elements of Orthodox life can only be obtained when approached with a Patristic sense of mind. Saint Tikhon, the holy New-Confessor, Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America, began his episcopal service as bishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America from 1898-1907. His missionary zeal was nothing short of extraordinary, not only in its obvious presence in his own life and actions, and those of the clergy under his guidance and pastoral care, but also in the important place he desired it to hold in the life of the laity over whom he presided. The following sermon, delivered in 1903 on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (first Sunday of Great Lent) at the Cathedral Church in San Francisco, presents the missionary call to which all are exhorted, which itself is part-and-parcel with the gift of the Church that all Orthodox have received. It is an especially relevant text today, in a time when many Orthodox have lost sight of the great missionary commission imparted by the Triumph of Orthodoxy to all the Church’s faithful. The sermon of St Tikhon on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. This Sunday, Brethren, begins the week of Orthodoxy, or the week of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, because it is today that the Holy Orthodox Church solemnly recalls its victory over the Iconoclast heresy and other heresies and gratefully remembers all who fought for the Orthodox faith in word, writing, teaching, suffering, or godly living. Keeping the day of Orthodoxy, Orthodox people ought to remember it is their sacred duty to stand firm in their Orthodox faith and carefully to keep it. For us it is a precious treasure: in it we were born and raised; all the important events of our life are related to it, and it is ever ready to give us its help and blessing in all our needs and good undertakings, however unimportant they may seem. It supplies us with strength, good cheer and consolation, it heals, purifies and saves us. The Orthodox faith is also dear to us because it is the Faith of our Fathers. For its sake the Apostles bore pain and labored; martyrs and preachers suffered for it; champions, who were like unto the saints, shed their tears and their blood; pastors and teachers fought for it; and our ancestors stood for it, whose legacy it was that to us it should be dearer than the pupil of our eyes. And as to us, their descendants – do we preserve the Orthodox faith, do we keep to its Gospels? Of yore, the prophet Elijah, this great worker for the glory of God, complained that the Sons of Israel have abandoned the Testament of the Lord, leaning away from it towards the gods of the heathen. Yet the Lord revealed to His prophet, that amongst the Israelites there still were seven thousand people who have not knelt before Baal (3 Kings 19 LXX1). Likewise, no doubt, in our days also there are some true followers of Christ. ‘The Lord knoweth them that are His.’ (2 Tim 2.19) We do occasionally meet sons of the Church, who are obedient to Her decrees, who honor their spiritual pastors, love the Church of God and the beauty of its exterior, who are eager to attend to its Divine Service and to lead a good life, who recognize their human failings and sincerely repent of their sins. But are there many such among us? Are there not more people, ‘in whom the weeds of vanity and passion allow but little fruit to the influence of the Gospel, or even in whom it is altogether fruitless, who resist the truth of the Gospel, because of the increase of their sins, who renounce the gift of the Lord and repudiate the Grace of God’. ‘I have given birth to sons and have glorified them, yet they deny Me,’ said the Lord in the olden days concerning Israel. And today also there are many who were born, raised and glorified by the Lord in the Orthodox faith, yet who deny their faith, pay no attention to the teachings of the Church, do not keep its injunctions, do not listen to their spiritual pastors and remain cold towards the divine service and the Church of God. How speedily some of us lose the Orthodox faith in this country of many creeds and tribes! They begin their apostasy with things, which in their eyes have but little importance. They judge it is ‘old fashioned’ and ‘not accepted amongst educated people’ to observe all such customs as: praying before and after meals, or even morning and night, to wear a cross, to keep icons in their houses and to keep church holidays and fast days. They even do not stop at this, but go further: they seldom go to church and sometimes not at all, as a man has to have some rest on a Sunday (…in a saloon); they do not go to confession, they dispense with church marriage and delay baptizing their children. And in this way their ties with Orthodox faith are broken! They remember the Church on their deathbed, and some don’t even do that! To excuse their apostasy they naively say: ‘this is not the old country, this is America, and consequently it is impossible to observe all the demands of the Church.’, as if the word of Christ is of use for the old country only and not for the whole world. As if the Orthodox faith is not the foundation of the world! ‘Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel into anger.’ (Is 1.4) If you do not preserve the Orthodox faith and the commandments of God, the least you can do is not to humiliate your hearts by inventing false excuses for your sins! If you do not honor our customs, the least you can do is not to laugh at things you do not know or understand. If you do not accept the motherly care of the Holy Orthodox Church, the least you can do is to confess you act wrongly, that you are sinning against the Church and behave like children! If you do, the Orthodox Church may forgive you, like a loving mother, your coldness and slights, and will receive you back into her embrace, as if you were erring children. Holding to the Orthodox faith, as to something holy, loving it with all their hearts and prizing it above all, Orthodox people ought, moreover, to endeavor to spread it amongst people of other creeds. Christ the Savior has said that ‘neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candle stick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.’ (Mt 5.15) The light of Orthodoxy was not lit to shine only on a small number of men. The Orthodox Church is universal; it remembers the words of its Founder: ‘Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Lk 16.15), ‘go ye therefore and teach all nations’ (Mt 28.19). We ought to share our spiritual wealth, our truth, light and joy with others, who are deprived of these blessings, but often are seeking them and thirsting for them. Once ‘a vision appeared to Paul in the night, there stood a man from Macedonia and prayed him, saying, come over into Macedonia, and help us,’ (Acts 16.9) after which the apostle started for this country to preach Christ. We also hear a similar inviting voice. We live surrounded by people of alien creeds; in the sea of other religions, our Church is a small island of salvation, towards which swim some of the people, plunged in the sea of life. ‘Come, hurry, help,’ we sometimes hear from the heathen of far Alaska, and oftener from those who are our brothers in blood and once were our brothers in faith also, the Uniates. ‘Receive us into your community, give us one of your good pastors, send us a Priest that we might have the Divine Service performed for us of a holy day, help us to build a church, to start a school for our children, so that they do not lose in America their faith and nationality,’ those are the wails we often hear, especially of late. And are we to remain deaf and insensible? God save us from such a lack of sympathy. Otherwise woe unto us, ‘for we have taken away the key of knowledge, we entered not in ourselves, and them that were entering in we hindered.’ (Lk 11.52) But who is to work for the spread of the Orthodox faith, for the increase of the children of the Orthodox Church? Pastors and missionaries, you answer. You are right; but are they to be alone? St. Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body, and the life of a body is shared by all the members. So it ought to be in the life of the Church also. ‘The whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.’ (Eph 4.16) At the beginning, not only pastors alone suffered for the faith of Christ, but lay people also, men, women and even children. Heresies were fought against by lay people as well. Likewise, the spread of Christ’s faith ought to be near and precious to the heart of every Christian. In this work every member of the Church ought to take a lively and heart-felt interest. This interest may show itself in personal preaching of the Gospel of Christ. And to our great joy, we know of such examples amongst our lay brethren. In Sitka, members of the Indian brotherhood do missionary work amongst other inhabitants of their villages. And one zealous brother took a trip to a distant village (Kilisno), and helped the local Priest very much in shielding the simple and credulous children of the Orthodox Church against alien influences, by his own explanations and persuasions. Moreover, in many places of the United States, those who have left Uniatism to join Orthodoxy point out to their friends where the truth is to be found, and dispose them to enter the Orthodox Church. Needless to say, it is not everybody among us who has the opportunity or the faculty to preach the gospel personally. And in view of this I shall indicate to you, Brethren, what every man can do for the spread of Orthodoxy and what he ought to do. The Apostolic Epistles often disclose the fact, that when the Apostles went to distant places to preach, the faithful often helped them with their prayers and their offerings. Saint Paul sought this help of the Christians especially. Consequently we can express the interests we take in the cause of the Gospel in praying to the Lord, that He should take this holy cause under His protection, that He should give its servants the strength to do their work worthily, that He should help them to conquer difficulties and dangers, which are part of the work, that He should not allow them to grow depressed or weaken in their zeal; that He should open the hearts of the unbelieving for the hearing and acceptance of the Gospel of Christ, that He should impart to them the word of truth, that He should unite them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; that He should confirm, increase and pacify His Church, keeping it forever invincible, we pray for all this, but mostly with lips and but seldom with the heart. Don’t we often hear such remarks as these: ‘what is the use of these special prayers for the newly initiated? They do not exist in our time, except, perhaps, in the out of the way places of America and Asia; let them pray for such where there are any; as to our country such prayers only needlessly prolong the service which is not short by any means, as it is.’ Woe to our lack of wisdom! Woe to our carelessness and idleness! Offering earnest prayers for the successful preaching of Christ, we can also show our interest by helping it materially. It was so in the primitive Church, and the Apostles lovingly accepted material help to the cause of the preaching, seeing in it an expression of Christian love and zeal. In our days, these offerings are especially needed, because for the lack of them the work often comes to a dead stop so. For the lack of them preachers can not be sent out, or supported, churches can not be built or schools founded, the needy amongst the newly converted can not be helped. All this needs money and members of other religions always find a way of supplying it. Perhaps, you will say, that these people are richer than ourselves. This is true enough, but great means are accumulated by small, and if everybody amongst us gave what he could towards this purpose, we also could raise considerable means. Accordingly, do not be ashamed of the smallness of your offering. If you have much, offer all you can, but do offer, do not lose the chance of helping the cause of the conversion of your neighbors to Christ, because by so doing, in the words of St. James, ‘you shall save your own soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins’ (Jas 5.19-20). Orthodox people! In celebrating the day of Orthodoxy, you must devote yourselves to the Orthodox faith not in word or tongue only, but in deed and in truth. St. Tikhon of Moscow’s Last Sermon during His Years of Ministry (1898 to 1907) as the Archbishop of the American Missionary Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Given on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Great Lent) in 1907 at the New York City Cathedral where you can find help with how do I learn to sing and at learn to sing online you can sing better. English translation from the Russian by Alex Maximov, with editing by Dr. David C. Ford St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery Church S. Canaan, PA. This Sunday is called “The Sunday of Orthodoxy” or “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” since on this day the Holy Church solemnly commemorates her victory over Iconoclasm and other heresies. And this triumph of Orthodoxy took place not just a thousand years ago. No – for due to the mercy of God, the Church up to this day, now here and now there, gains victory and is triumphant over her enemies – and she has many of them. It is not a coincidence that the Church is likened to a ship, sailing amidst a ferocious, stormy sea which is ready to drown it in its waves. And the further the ship sails, the harder the waves slam against it, the fiercer they attack it! But the harder the waves hit the ship, the further they are thrown away and rejoin the abyss and disappear in it, and the ship continues its triumphant sailing as before. For “the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2.19), since the Church of Christ is built on an immovable rock, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16.18). The Church of Christ is the kingdom not of this world. It does not possess any of the attractions of the earthly world. It is persecuted and slandered. Yet it not only avoids perishing in the world, but grows and defeats the world! This happens everywhere, and here in our land as well. “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4.20). It is true that our Church here cannot boast of the quantity of its members, neither of their erudition. Just like the “preaching of Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1.23), for some it seems lowly and contemptible, and for others it seems simple and foolish, but in reality “God’s power and wisdom” (1 Cor. 1.24) are concealed in it. It is strong and rich with the authenticity of the doctrine which has been preserved unaltered, with full adherence to the guiding regulations of the Church, a deep sense of liturgical service, and a plenitude of grace. And with all of this it is gradually attracting the hearts of people, and it is growing and getting stronger more and more in this country. You brethren have witnessed and seen for yourselves the growth and strengthening of Orthodoxy here. Just a mere twelve to fifteen years ago, we, aside from faraway Alaska, barely had any churches here. There were no priests, and the Orthodox people numbered only in a few dozens and maybe a few hundreds. And even they lived dispersed, far from one another. And now? “The Orthodox are seen this day in this country.” Our temples appear not only in big cities but in obscure places as well. We have a multitude of clergy, and tens of thousands of faithful – and not only those who have been Orthodox for a while, but those who have converted from among the Uniates. Schools are opened, the brotherhoods are established. Even strangers acknowledge the success of Orthodoxy here. So how can we ourselves not celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy,” and not thank the Lord who helps His Church! But it is not enough, brethren, only to celebrate “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.” It is necessary for us personally to promote and contribute to this triumph. And for this we must reverently preserve the Orthodox Faith, standing firm in it in spite of the fact that we live in a non-Orthodox country, and not pleading as an excuse for our apostasy that “it is not the old land here but America, a free country, and therefore it is impossible to follow everything that the Church requires.” As if the word of Christ is only suitable for the old land and not for the entire world! As if the Church of Christ is not “catholic”! As if the Orthodox Faith did not “establish the universe”! Furthermore, while faithfully preserving the Orthodox Faith, everyone must also take care to spread it among the non-Orthodox. Christ the Savior said that having lit the candle, men do not put it under a bushel but on a candlestick so that it gives light to all (Matt. 5.15). The light of the Orthodox Faith has not been lit to shine only for a small circle of people. No, the Orthodox Church is catholic; she remembers the commandment of her Founder, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature and teach all nations” (Mark 16.15; Matt. 28.19). We must share our spiritual richness, truth, light, and joy with others who do not have these blessings. And this duty does not only lay upon the pastors and the missionaries but on the lay persons as well, since the Church of Christ, according to the wise comparison of the Holy Apostle Paul, is the body, and every member takes part in the life of the body. By means of all sorts of mutually binding bonds which are formed and strengthened through the action of every member according to his capacity, the great Church body receives an increase unto the edifying of itself (cf. Eph. 4.16). In the first centuries it was not only the pastors who were tortured, but lay persons as well – men, women, and even children. And it was lay people likewise who enlightened the heathen and fought heresies. And now in the same way, the spreading of the Faith should be a matter that is personal, heartfelt, and dear to each one of us. Every member of the Church must take an active part in it – some by personal podvig spreading the Good News, some by material donations and service to “the needs of the holy persons,” and some by profuse prayer to the Lord that He “keep His Church firm and multiply it” – and concerning those unaware of Christ, that He would “proclaim the word of truth to them, open to them the Gospel of Truth, and join them to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” I have told this numerous times to my flock. And today, upon my departing from this land, I once more command all of you to preserve and act upon this, and especially you brethren of this holy temple. You witnessed yourself last Sunday that “The foreknowledge of God drew you closer to the bishop’s cathedra, and that the awareness of this closeness elevates your Christian spirit and edifies the nature of your undertakings, inspiring you for everything good.” Your temple is a Cathedral. It is preeminent in the diocese. And being its parishioners, you brethren must give others an example in everything good that concerns the life of the Church, including caring for the Orthodox Faith. Furthermore, your parish is Russian, almost entirely consisting of people who came from Russia. And to this very day Russia has been famous as a holy Christian land, whose adornment is the Orthodox Faith, the piousness of her people, and her temples of God. So brethren, uphold here in a foreign land the glory of your motherland. Manifest yourselves before the non-Orthodox as the Russian Orthodox people. I can say with comfort that in these days, with your zealous attendance at our temple, you’ve made a good impression on the local residents. And you have especially gladdened my heart and expelled the sadness and grief which was felt not only by me in other places at the sight of empty temples during the feastday Church services. May the Lord strengthen you to excel in the Orthodox Faith more and more – my last prayer is about this . . . Today I depart from you. And so, farewell, fathers and brethren of this holy temple, who are close to me not only in spirit but in our joint prayers, labors, and residence! Farewell to you, the rest of my flock scattered across the wide horizon of this land! Farewell, all those of you wandering in the deserts, working in the mountains and in the depths of the earth, and those on the islands far out in the sea! Farewell to you, my Cathedral temple! You are dear and close to me. It has been during the time of my service that you were opened, you were adorned during my time as well, and you were made a cathedral during my time. Perhaps for some who have seen the large, magnificent temples in Russia, you might seem small and modest, and you do not shine with gold and silver and precious gemstones like those temples do. But for Russian Orthodox people, who suffered here for a long time without a temple, you represent a precious treasure, and they rejoice that they have you – like the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity rejoiced at the time of the construction of the second temple, even though it was not as splendid as that of Solomon. So: “Oh Lord, the God of Israel! May Thine eyes be open toward this house night and day, that Thou mayest hearken unto the prayer of Thy people when they shall pray in this place! . . . Moreover, concerning a stranger that is not of Thy people, when he shall come and pray in this house, hear Thou him from Heaven, Thy dwelling place!” (3 Kingdoms 8.26-27, 39-41). Farewell to you, this country! For some you are the motherland, the place of birth; for others you gave shelter, work, and well-being. Some received the freedom to profess the right Faith in your liberal land. God spoke in ancient times through the prophet, “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace” (Jer. 29.7; Hebrew text). And so, let us pray to the Lord that He send this country “a plenitude of the earthly fruits, fair weather, timely rain and wind, and preserve it from the cowardly, flood, fire, sword, invasion of foreigners, and civil strife.” Let God’s blessing be upon this country, this city, and this temple. And let “the blessing of the Lord, with grace and love for man,” rest upon you all, “now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”