Orthodox America

{Part XVI of a continuing series on the Epistles of Saint Paul)

by Archbishop Averky

The eleventh chapter contains an expos? and remedy for certain improprieties in church gatherings, namely: 1) women not covering their heads in church, and 2) disorders at agape dinners. The essence of the first injunction lies in the fact that at common church gatherings women should attend with their heads covered, and men with their heads bared. St.

John Chrysostom explains this injunction by saying that in Corinth, "women with uncovered and bared heads both prayed and prophesied, while men grew their hair, like those who occupied themselves with philosophizing, and covered their heads when they prayed and prophesied, adhering in both cases to a pagan law." The holy Apostle, finding this inappropriate for Christians, requires that women cover their heads, as a sign of their submissive state in relation to the husband. Besides this, at that time pagan women would go into their temples with uncovered heads, having impure motives, and a bared head for a woman came to be considered a sign of her shamelessness. A profligate woman was punished for her profligacy by having her hair cut off. This is why the Apostle says, if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn (v. 6).

"At first the man," writes Bishop Theophan, [was created] according to God's image, and then, as though according to the image of man, from him was created woman, who "for this reason is the likeness of the likeness, a reflection of the man's glory." For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head (v. 10). "If," writes St. John Chrysostom, "you pay no attention to your husband, then you shame the angels." This covering of the woman is thereby a sign of her meekness, submissiveness and subjection to her husband. But in order that the husband not lord it over his wife and not ill-use his headship, the Apostle says further: Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord (vv. 1-12). "Does not nature itself teach you that if the man grows his hair long that this is for him a dishonor?" Sectarians use these words to criticize Orthodox clergy, who wear long hair. But here St. Paul is speaking not about clergy but about ordinary believers and has in mind a widespread custom according to which only women grew long hair, while men cut theirs. Sectarians forget that God Himself gave an ordinance that men giving a vow to be Nazarenes had to grow their hair (Numbers 6:5). The wearing of long hair among today's Orthodox clergy and monastics comes from this same idea of Nazarenes, i.e., the dedication of oneself to God (vv. 14-16).

From verse 17 to 34 the holy Apostle denounces the disorders which took place among the Corinthians at their agape dinners. As in the first community of Christians in Jerusalem, everything was held in common, and all the faithful came together to partake of food at a common table. This custom was preserved for a long time and was kept in all the early Christian communities. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, after partaking of the Holy Mysteries, a common meal was held for everyone; the wealthy would bring food and invite the poor who had nothing. In this way everyone ate together. These were the so-called agape dinners.

The Apostle reproaches the Corinthians first of all for the divisions which arise when they come together in church (v. 18), i.e., that they are divided into factions, either according to families, or friendship, forgetting the poor, which destroys the very purpose of holding these love feasts. In calling them to a reverent participation in these feasts, the holy Apostle speaks (vv. 22-23) about the establishment of the Mystery of the Eucharist, which was usually celebrated before the agape feasts. According to the Typicon, this passage is read during the Liturgy on Great Thursday. Of particular importance to us here are the words: Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27)-i.e., those desiring to partake of the Holy Mysteries must prepare by examining their conscience and shunning all that would hinder them from partaking worthily.

The Orthodox Church has for this reason established the practice of fasting and confession before reception of the Holy Mysteries. This is absolutely essential, For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body (v. 29).

In conclusion (vv. 33-34), the Apostle admonishes the Corinthians to wait for one another when they come together for the agape feasts, that they behave themselves and not fall upon the food greedily with no thought for others. And the rest will I set in order when I come (v. 34). This is important: everything comes from the Apostles-all the rules for the well-ordering of Church life are established by them, although not everything is laid out in the Holy Scripture.

The twelfth chapter speaks about the spiritual gifts in the Church. A distinctive feature of the life of the Church of Christ in apostolic times was the extraordinary manifestation of the grace of God in the form of spiritual gifts possessed by the faithful. Here the Apostle enumerates the following spiritual gifts: the gift of wisdom, knowledge, faith, wonderworking, prophecy, discernment of spirits, the gift of tongues and their interpretation. These gifts were to promote success in preaching the Gospel among unbelievers. But among the Corinthians many began looking at these blessed manifestations of the Holy Spirit as a source of personal glory and superiority. In trying to acquire a more striking gift, some fell even into delusion, and having no gift at all, acted like one possessed, uttering inarticulate sounds which no one could understand; sometimes they even darkened their mind and heart in shouting blasphemous ideas, pronouncing, for example, an anathema on Jesus Christ. Here was felt the influence of pagan prophetesses like Pythia and Sibyl. In an artificial and false ecstasy, foaming at the mouth, their hair loose, they would shout incomprehensible or ambiguous diatribes and made a strong impression on people, insistently soliciting answers from them. Certain contemporary sectarians, such as the Khlysti and Pentecostals, are like this. The Apostle warns the Christians against this pagan attitude towards spiritual gifts. He explains that all the spiritual gifts in the Church are the work of the One Spirit of God (vv. 3-11). For this reason, just as one who is under the influence of the Holy Spirit cannot utter blasphemies against God, so too there should be no rivalry between those who possess various spiritual gifts. Just as a person's body is composed of various members, and each of them has its particular function, and among them there can be no antagonism, so too in the Church there can be no rivalry among Christians, who comprise the one Body of Christ.

Scripture Commentary, Archbishop Averky

Orthodox America

Scripture Commentary - II Corinthians

By Archbishop Averky
Part 19 in a continuing series

(II Corinthians)

The Time and Place of Writing

From all accounts it is obvious that this epistle was written the same year as the first epistle, i.e., in 58 or 59 AD. There is likewise no doubt that it was written in Macedonia, most probably in the city of Phillipi, as is evident from the epistle itself (II Cor. 2:12-13; 7:5-7; 8:1-6; 9:2-4). The epistle was sent with Titus and another brother, whose praise is in the [preaching of the] gospel (II Cor. 818), evidently Luke.

The Epistle's Contents and Composition

The second epistle to the Corinthians contains 13 chapters, which may be grouped according to their content into the following sections:

  1. Introduction, which together with the inscription contains the usual greeting and good wishes (1:1-11);
  2. Theoretical part, in which the holy Apostle outlines the reasons he was unable to come to Corinth (1:12-2:11), then discusses the excellence of the teaching he preaches (2;12-7:1) and, finally, returning to his earlier subject, expresses how gladdened he was by Titus' return and all that he saw and encountered in Corinth (7:2-16);
  3. Practical part, devoted to discussing the collection of alms for the Jerusalem brethren (chaps. 8 and 9);
  4. Defensive part, devoted to defending his preaching activity and his apostolic office (chaps. 10-13:10);
  5. Concluding part, consisting of the last three verses, 13:11-13, containing instruction about peace and oneness of mind, greetings and his apostolic blessing.

An Exegetical Analysis

The entire epistle is permeated by a feeling of grief, brought upon the Apostle's soul by the difficult conditions of his apostolic ministry, but this grief does not oppress the Apostle: it is dispelled without trace in that strength of faith and in that awareness of the rightness of his work and the sanctity of his task, which is a constant, distinguishing characteristic of the Apostle Paul.

The epistle begins with the customary greeting from the name of the Apostle Paul himself and his disciple Timothy, and the bestowing of his apostolic blessing not only upon the Corinthians but upon all the Christians of Achaia. Having then said that the aim of all his sufferings and consolations is to bring consolation and salvation to the Corinthians, the Apostle informs them about the mortal danger which he encountered in Asia and from which the Lord saved him through the prayers of the Corinthians Church (vv. 1-11). Further, beginning with verse 12 of the first chapter and in the second chapter, the holy Apostle tells the Corinthians about the misfortunes and persecutions he endured in Asia Minor; he explains that he delayed coming personally to Corinth, desiring to see them repentant, and expresses his joy at seeing them already laboring to amend themselves. In verses 17-20 of the first chapter the Apostle responds to those slanderers who tried to accuse him of inconsistency and thereby cast a shadow over his preaching as being similarly inconsistent, confused and false. But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea.... unto the glory of God by us (vv. 18-20). The meaning here is that the Apostle's preaching is just as firm and immutable as Christ Himself is immutable.

Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts (21-22). Here he speaks about the Mystery of Chrismation, in the performance of which rite are used words taken from here: "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit". What the Apostle means here is: the proof that what I preach to you is true is the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit which you receive in being anointed. I call God for a record upon my soul...(v. 23)-an expression which serves as evidence that there are times when oaths are permissible, in certain serious cases. Witnessing to God with an oath, the holy Apostle explains to the Corinthians the real reason for his delay: it was to spare them, to give them time to correct their wrongdoings themselves, for had he come earlier he might have found it necessary to take dominion over their faith, to take matters into his own hands; he preferred to wait in order that when he did come their meeting would be joyous, without offense to either side.

The Apostle continues to speak about this in the second chapter: he did not want to come to the Corinthians "in heaviness", and for this reason gave them opportunity to deal themselves with the man who so grievously offended him and them., i.e., the one who committed incest. Since the man repented, the Apostle allowed them to forgive him, lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow, which would only work to satan's advantage (vv. 1-11).

From chapter 2:12 to 7:1, the Apostle discusses the loftiness of Christian revelation or gospel truth, and how this truth establishes itself on earth. The Apostle was prompted somewhat unexpectedly to speak about this, recalling the change in his itinerary and how, arriving in Macedonia, he met Titus there and was gladdened to hear from him about the favorable effect of his first epistle (vv. 12-13). The Apostle thanks God, Who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place (v. 14).

The primary characteristic and effect of the Gospel Revelation is that it has no need of any secondary approbation, it is sufficient unto itself: it gives itself to be felt, spreading everywhere a sweet savor: We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, although this sweet savor does not always have the same effect on people, depending on their inner disposition: for some it is vivifying, while for others it is deadly. The apostles are not to blame, for they preach the pure and unspoiled teaching of Christ (vv. 14-17).

(Translated from the Russian, published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY 1956)

Scripture Commentary by Archbishop Averky

Orthodox America

Scripture Commentary by Archbishop Averky


Part 12 of a continuing series on the Epistles of Saint Paul

In evidence of the same idea concerning the simplicity of the Gospel preaching, foreign to any deceptive elegance of outward construction and the external wisdom of pagan philosophers but strong solely in the Truth it contains, the holy Apostle in the second chapter recalls how he came to Corinth in humility, speaking plainly about the Crucified One, so that the faith of the Corinthians would in no wise be obligated to human wisdom but to God alone: my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (vv. 4-5). For those more advanced in the faith there is then revealed knowledge of true wisdom-the wisdom of God which surpasses all human understanding and is unattainable for the worldly wise. This-wisdom hidden in a mystery, which God ordained before the world unto our glory (v. 7)-is an image of the ordering of our salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, with all its elemental principles and vast consequences in all areas of creative existence (vv. 6-8). Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (v. 9). But for us, true Christians, God revealed this through the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit fathoms all things, even the deep things of God (v. 10). In preaching about that great mystery, the salvation of men, the Apostles had "the mind of Christ," and therefore their teaching can be fully understood only by "spiritual" people, that is, those established in the spiritual-moral life, those who are spiritually reborn and who have accepted the truth not only intellectually, with their minds, but with their hearts and will, i.e., to the fullest capacity of their strength and abilities. The "natural man", i.e., one not yet cleansed of his sinful attachments, who lives not according to the spirit but according to the lower attributes of the soul, receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spritually discerned (2:14).

The content of the third chapter suggests that in St. Paul's absence from Corinth, his opponents incited the Christians against him, trying to disparage his teachings. It appears that they made a point that the other evangelizers, as for example Apostle Peter and Apollos, explained the truths of Christ's teaching more eloquently, more profoundly. In responding to such criticism, St. Paul writes: I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal. (3:1-2). As evidence of their being "yet carnal," St Paul mentions the contentions, strife and divisions among them into "parties" of followers after a particular teacher-evangelizer. St. Paul then explains how properly to regard apostles, that they are but servants of God, ministers by whom ye believed (whose teaching led them to the faith), but the foundation of salvation lies in Christ Jesus, for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ (vv. 1-5, 11). I planted, says Apostle Paul, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry (i.e., the field He cultivates), ye are God's building. (vv. 6-9) The value of the labor of each such builder-preacher will be determined at the Last Judgment.

The foundation is one-Jesus Christ, but on this foundation one can build out of various materials of differing value and durablity: out of gold, silver, precious stones (pure, salubrious teaching of God's Word), or of wood, hay, straw (teaching that is mixed with ideas from human wisdom or empty rhetoric). On the day of the Last Judgment the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is (vv. 12-14). If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (v. 15), that is, as if out of a fire.

According to Blessed Augusting, St Paul is speaking here of those whom Apostle Peter calls unlearned and unstable (II Peter 3:16). This passage has been interpreted by Roman Catholic theologians to support their erroneous teaching about a cleansing fire, where sinners are cleansed by fire after they die (i.e., purgatory). The analogy the Apostle uses here, however, is that of a house fire, and this comparison can aid in the correct understanding of this passage. Bishop Theophan explains: "Fire is all around; one must run through it. What happens? One person runs through scarcely touched by the fire, others are burned in varying degrees, while some remain in the fire. This is similar to what will happen to those whose houses (actions) burn in the the trial by fire. Some will go into the flames, others will receive varying degrees of punishment, while others will find mercy. For although they are all guilty in that they did not utilize durable materials in their buildings, their guilt can be of varying degrees. One person may be guilty through no fault of his own: he labored with poor quality materials without knowing any better; or perhaps circumstances prevented him from using anything better, or there may be some other excusable reason."

Perhaps the flock itself is at fault for being rotten material. Then the pastor will escape punishment, after a strict examination of his life at God's Judgment, i.e., he will be saved as if out of a fire. Teachers and preachers must therefore be extremely careful and attentive in building the temple of Christ's Church, keeping in mind that each Christian is a temple of God, for God 's Spirit dwells in them through the Mysteries they receive: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (v. 16). This temple can be destroyed by vain human reasonings, because the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (v. 19). Ye are Christ's, that is, as soon as you believed in Christ and became members of His Church, you belonged to Christ Alone. Is it, therefore, reasonable that you should divide yourselves on account of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or some other teachers?