Monday, June 6, 2016

What can non-Orthodox Christians do in the Church?

This week’s “Ask Father” question is a follow-up to last week’s topic about Holy Communion. Now that we understand why a non-Orthodox Christian cannot receive Holy Communion in our Church, and why we cannot receive Holy Communion in a non-Orthodox Church, this week’s question asks, “So what can a non-Orthodox Christian do in our Church?” This is a very timely and practical question since most of us have at least one family member who is not Orthodox, and ALL of us have non-Orthodox friends who visit our Church either for sacraments or Divine Liturgy. Our Orthodox way of life is an expression of our belief in Jesus Christ, so many of the daily activities we do can also be done by non-Orthodox Christians. Although our non-Orthodox friends and family members can do some of the physical things we do, we still must be careful not to allow what we do to become nothing more than empty customs.

Hello. My name is Father Athanasios Haros and I'm the Pastor here at the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina, and I'm your host for Be Transfigured Ministries. Here at Be Transfigured, as we say, we invite you to live to a new life in Christ. We feature our sermons and our Bible studies and other special events in the life of the Church. We do it to inspire you to join us living a new life in Christ. I hope you'll join us. I'll be back in a moment after this video to share some information about our ministry.

I really enjoyed this morning's question. Our “Ask Father” this morning is a continuation of a conversation that I had during the week. We were discussing lighting candles in the Narthex and the question was asked, can a non-Orthodox Christian light a candle in the Narthex? I thought, what a wonderful question. How wonderfully convenient, really, the question not just about candles, but in general, what can non-Orthodox Christians do in our Church? Because many of us have non-Orthodox members of our family, all of us have friends who are not Orthodox who might visit our Church for a wedding or a baptism or to come to Divine Liturgy to visit or to one of the other services of the Church, so I thought what a wonderful opportunity based on this one simple question about candles to discuss what non-Orthodox Christians are allowed to do in our Church.

Remember last week, we talked about communion, that we cannot receive communion in a non-Orthodox Church and non-Orthodox Christians cannot receive communion in our Church, but there has to be something they're allowed to do. We'll begin with the candles in the Narthex. If you remember our conversation last year about candles in the Narthex, when we light the candle in the Narthex, we are proclaiming our faith in the light of Christ. We are declaring Jesus Christ as the light of the world, and so as long as someone believes that Jesus Christ is the light of the world, then by all means, they should be able to light a candle in the Narthex.

The question is not just whether they believe. You see, one of the reasons these questions come up is so many of us have fallen into the habit of participating in these various physical parts of our faith and we really don't know why we do what we do. For many of us, it has become an empty tradition. We light candles simply because we've always lit candles; we don't quite sure know why, and that was, of course, that was last year's conversation, but just as a reminder, we light candles to proclaim our faith in the light of Christ.

Of course, a non-Orthodox Christian is allowed to light a candle and to make an offering to God, and to pray for people living and dead as we do when we light our candles in the Narthex. Let's remember when we do it, we need to do it with our faith and with our belief. We should be better to make sure that we understand why we're doing things, as well. As I was looking into some of the other topics of the things that we do and some of the services that we have, believe it or not, there is not a whole lot of clarity in the Church Canons about what nonmembers of the Church can and cannot do except anything associated with the Holy Communion and the Sacraments of the Church, the Church is very specific on who is and who is not able to receive the Sacraments.

From there, the discussion rests on is the practice being done, is it somehow connected to Holy Communion? I'll give you an example. It says in the Holy Canons that only members of the Church who can receive Holy Communion are allowed to bring the Prosphoron that becomes Holy Communion. Only members of the Church may make the offering of the bread and the wine that becomes Holy Communion. Nonmembers of our Church may not bring loaves of bread that are made/used for Holy Communion.

However, there are other things that we do with bread. For example, we distribute bread to the poor. We use bread for Andidoron, for the blessed bread at the end, and so the Church is not exactly clear, so long as the bread is not being used for the preparation of Holy Communion, a non-Orthodox Christian can make an offering of bread in the Church. Right? We use bread for different things, to feed the poor, things like that. Then the question is who can receive the bread at the end? We always say that non-Orthodox Christians can come forward and receive the Andidoron, the blessed bread, at the end of Divine Liturgy.

Although this is true, there is a statement in the Canons, which states that nonmembers of the Church may not receive the Andidoron if it comes from the bread that was used in the preparation for Holy Communion. Now there's an interesting distinction, and this is the pattern that I kept seeing over and over again. It's impossible for us to sit here this morning and identify each and every single thing that non-Orthodox Christians can do, so we're just going to touch on a couple of them.

Because I reserve the portion of bread that is used for the preparation of Holy Communion, I reserve that off to the side. The bread that is brought out at the end of Divine Liturgy is for anyone to participate in. Members of our Church, nonmembers of our Church. What about holy oils? We hear a lot of things these days about essential oils and the anointing and all of this reference in the Scriptures of the anointing of oil. What about the question of oil? Can a non-Orthodox Christian be anointed with oil from the Church?

Again, the Church says where is the oil coming from? If the oil is coming from Holy Unction, which is a Sacrament of the Church, which has its roots in Divine Liturgy, there's the connection again, Holy Unction is only to be received by members of the Church who are in good standing. There are other oils in the Church. For example, if you look over at the Koukoulkion, there is Kandili burning next to the Saints, the relics of the Saints, St. Athanasios and St. Basil. That oil is not Holy Unction. The oil in that Kandili is intimately connected to the intercessions of St. Basil and St. Athanasios.

When we go to the relics and we either anoint ourselves or the priest anoints us with the oil from the relics, from the saints, that anointing is the intercessions of the saint. For example, I have many oils that I have in the Altar, I have oil from St. Nektarios, I have oil from Saints Cosmas and Damien. I have oils from St. John Maximovitch of San Francisco. We have all these different kinds of oils that burn in the Kandili of the relics of those saints.

Because that is not Holy Unction, nonmembers, non-Orthodox Christians can be anointed with the oil from those Kandilia. However, this is where in my feeling, we have to be very careful. If someone comes to us and does not believe in the Veneration of the Saints, does not think that we should pray to the saints for healing and for intercession, that particular person I don't think should be anointed with the oil from the saints because the oil from the saints is directly connected to the intercession of the saints, and we don't want to have empty traditions, we want to have faithful traditions.

There becomes a little bit of gray area, but so long as a Christian believes in the Intercession of the Saints, I see no reason why a non-Orthodox Christian could not be anointed with the various other oils that the Church has from the various saints of our Church. I know many of you have oils in your home altars from Greece, from St. Nektarios, from St. Demetrius, all these different oils from the Panagia, I know that many of you have the oils in your homes, and I would just ask you that when you're using those oils, remember what they represent. It's not just olive oil; it is the intercessions, it is the prayers of those particular saints, and that should be done with knowledge and faith and with humility in those particular things.

Then the next question comes in. The other thing that we have is Holy Water. The Church celebrates the Agiasmos service every month, and of course, the Great Blessing of the Waters in January, and so sometimes the question arises, can a non-Orthodox Christian have their house blessed or their business blessed? I see absolutely no reason to forbid nonmembers of the Church from having their homes or their businesses blessed, provided that there is faith that the Holy Spirit is working in the water that is blessed by the Church.

It is not Holy Communion, it is a completely separate service of the Church, it is a blessing from God. As long as the person believes that the water is blessed by God and believes in the Trinity, I see no reason to forbid people from having their home blessed or their businesses blessed or from coming forward in those particular services and to receive the blessing of the priest. The issue, my brothers and sisters, is not whether or not someone is inside the Church or outside the Church in terms of whether they can receive God's blessings. God's blessings are for all humanity.

We, as the Church, have been given an awesome responsibility to bring God's blessings to the people. There are certain things that are intimately involved in Holy Communion. Those things are reserved for members of the Church for the reasons that Holy Communion is reserved for members of the Church. It is a deep, pious understanding of our unity as Orthodox Christians. Beyond that, the Veneration of Holy Icons, coming to Church and standing in front of the icon of the Panagia for Paraklesis or going to venerate one of the many miracle icons of the Panagia that tour our beautiful country, and to go and be anointed with the oil of those particular miracle icons is for the whole world to receive God's blessing.

My only request is that we, as members of the Church, continually educate ourselves so we have a proper understanding of our traditions so that when our friends ask us questions, we know the appropriate answer. Don't be afraid to call me or to email me or to submit another question for another sermon. This is what it means to be able to have our opportunity of dialog and education to learn that our traditions are not empty. I wrote in the Sunday bulletin today that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their empty traditions because they had forgotten the original purpose of those traditions. Our job is to remember the reason to do what we do as Orthodox Christians.

Those are just a couple of examples, lighting candles, anointing with oil, the Veneration of Icons, Holy Water. One final thing I want to bring to you, and that is that this Church, my brothers and sisters, is a place for every human being to come and encounter Jesus Christ. As such, our job as members of the Church is to always make sure our Church is available to anyone and everyone who needs God in their life. This is what it means to be a faithful Orthodox Christian, to bring the faith of God and to bring the hope of the Gospel, and to bring the blessings of God to the entire world.

Certain blessings are reserved for members within the Church. Other blessings are for all people who believe in God. Of course, it doesn't make any sense to ask if a nonbeliever is able to light a candle. A nonbeliever has no business lighting a candle because they don't believe in anything the candle stands for. I'm not even going to discuss what nonbelievers. Nonbelievers are nonbelievers, but even nonbelievers are welcome to enter into our Church so that they might also receive the revelation from the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ was sent from God for our salvation and that Jesus Christ is a member of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

If we do not welcome those nonbelievers into our Church, if we continue the idea that our Church is just for us, then we've lost hope, then we may as well not even light candle in the Narthex because the light of Christ shines in the darkness and we, as Christ said, are a light on a hill, and we are for all people to see. Christos Anesti.

Well I'm back and I hope this video was an inspiration to you. I hope it helps you live a new life in Christ. Please share our message of hope with your friends and family, and invite others to live a new life in Christ. Find more information about Be Transfigured Ministries by joining us on our website at You can also find many of our videos on the Orthodox Christian Network, our partners at As we say at Be Transfigured, until next week, God bless you, and don't forget to live a new life in Christ.

Be Transfigured is a production of the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina, and presented by the Orthodox Christian Network. Contributions and support of this ministry may be sent to Be Transfigured, 2990 South Cashua Drive, Florence, South Carolina 29501, or online at our website at

No comments: