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The Orthodox Faith
Media available for download
Daily Icons Gallery Jan - Jun
Photo Gallery
A Dictionary of Orthodox Terminology
Frequently Asked Questions
Orthodox Spirituality
Orthodox "Myth Busters"
Tradition in the Orthodox Church
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The Ever-Virginity of the Mother of God
Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church
The Holy Trinity
House of God
Holy Icons
The Divine Liturgy
The True Nature of Fasting
From Evangelical to Orthodox
The Funeral Service
A Love Story
The Feast of Epiphany
Christmas - the Nativity of Christ
The Great & Holy Feast of Pascha
Great Lent
Holy Week
Seeing and Believing: The Thomas Incident
The Da Vinci Code
Articles by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos
Laws, Regulations and Documentation required for an Orthodox wedding
Personal Relationship with God
Noah and His Flood: History or Fantasy?
Prosphoro - Holy Bread
The New Acropolis Museum - Raising the bar on cultural morality
Feast of Holy Pentecost
Sermons given by Father Steven Scoutas
Why Are Priests Called ‘Father’ In our Church?
 
 


 
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The Da Vinci Code

Who is Jesus ?
The Da Vinci Code Movie
The DaVinci Code: Fact or Fiction?
The Da Vinci Code: Decoding the Agenda



Who is Jesus ?

by Rev. Deacon Evangelos Evangelidis


Many people are intrigued by the claims presented about Jesus Christ, Church history, and Christianity in Dan Brown’s best selling fictional thriller, The Da Vinci Code. It has been an extremely popular novel that has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and has been translated into many languages. The Da Vinci Code has also been turned into a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks.

What makes this novel so popular and so highly talked about? Well, one of the reasons is that it combines the literary elements found in thrillers, murder mysteries and romance novels to make for an exciting read. Brown manipulates his readers to identify with his smart, glamorous characters, such as Robert Langdon a Harvard symbiologist (even though there is no such discipline at Harvard) who see through the centuries of lies and fabrications by the Church, who hide the truth about Jesus’ divinity, his relationship to Mary Magdalene and the “sacred feminine.” Another reason is that the novel’s anti-Christian message in a secular and post-Christian age is popular. Dan Brown tries to debunk the fundamentals of the Christian faith, namely Christ’s divinity, His resurrection, and His message for salvation for all of humanity. To quote a line from one of the novel’s main characters, “every body loves a good conspiracy,” and it seems that people certainly do.

We must remember, however, that The Da Vinci Code as a work of fiction is not a reliable source of information regarding Jesus Christ and Church history. You may have already asked, “Where is Brown getting all of this?” Well, his primary sources come from radical feminist scholarship: The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, written in the heyday of the woman’s liberation movement, in the mid-1970’s. The other sources are from popular conspiratorial histories such as Holy Blood Holy Grail by Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, and The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine by Margaret Starbird. The use of such unreliable sources belittles Brown’s pretensions to being an intellectual and a scholar. But he has apparently fooled at least some of his readers – a reviewer for the New York Daily News trumpets that, “his research is impeccable.”

In the course of this article I will be examining some of Dan Brown’s extraordinary claims and try to compare them to the historical record so that we as Christians can separate fact from fiction and use this distinction as a means to educate ourselves in such a way that edifies and strengthens our Orthodox Christian faith.

The Divinity of Jesus: Fact vs. Fiction

Much attention has been given to Dan Brown’s outlandish claim that Jesus had an intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene and that the two had a daughter. An equally audacious claim of the novel is that the divinity of Christ was created at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD by Emperor Constantine and that prior to that time no one – not even Christ’s Apostles and followers – believed that Jesus was anything more than a mortal prophet and great man. There is plenty of evidence in the four Gospels to suggest that Jesus considered Himself to be divine and the Son of God. Here are just a few references from the Gospels themselves that clearly point towards Christ’s divinity: Jesus allowed others to call him, “the Christ” (Mat 16:15); Jesus said he could forgive sin (Mat 9:2-6); Jesus did not stop others from calling him, “the Son of God” (Mat 14:33); Jesus said that his name must be confessed for salvation (Luke 12:8); Jesus promised to rise from the dead (Mark 9:31); Jesus stated that He and God the Father are one (John 8:14 and 8:54).

There are also of plenty of textual references from early Christians from the end of the first century to the beginning of the fourth century who thought that Jesus is the Christ and the divine Son of God. Let’s look at some of them: St. Ignatius of Antioch said in 105 AD that “God himself was manifested in human form”; St. Clement of Alexandra said in 150 AD that “it is fitting to think of Jesus Christ as God”; Tertullian said in 200 AD “Christ is our God”; St. Cyprian said in 250AD that “Jesus Christ is our Lord and God”; and finally, St. Arnobius said in 305 AD that, “Christ performed all those miracles in the duty of His Divinity for our salvation.”

These aforementioned quotations demonstrate that for the first three centuries leading up to the Council of Nicea that Christ was believed to be Divine and the Son of God. J.N.D. Kelly, one of the foremost scholars on early Christian doctrines, writes that, “the all but universal Christian conviction in the centuries prior to Nicea had been that Jesus Christ was divine as well as human. The most basic confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom 10:9) had been elaborated and deepened in the apostolic age.”

Contrary to the extraordinary claim by Dan Brown, that Jesus Christ was not believed to be God until the Council of Nicea proclaimed Him as such, is not supported by the scriptural and historical record. Furthermore, there was no overt need for Nicea to expressly proclaim Christ as God since this belief was accepted by all Christians of prior centuries. What the Council of Nicea did do was to address the relationship between God the Son and God the Father. Are they equal? Are they one substance? In doing so the council addressed and condemned a popular heresy called Arianism, which insisted that Christ was a lesser God created by the Father at some point in time and did not eternally exist with Him. Contrary to the fact that Brown would have you believe that Christ was proclaimed as God by a “relatively close vote at that,” 218 out of 220 bishops at Nicea upheld the belief that the Son was equally divine with the Father and of one essence with Him. Even the book responsible for much of Brown’s research, Holy Blood, Holy Grail acknowledges this historical reality. Brown’s embellished version of the facts is contrary to the truth as shown by the historical record.

The Authenticity of the Christian Canon

Brown also claims that, “Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up and burned.” There is no evidence that the Gospels were embellished in the fourth century. Hundreds of copies of the Gospels already existed by the end of the second century that made up the scriptural canon received in the fourth century. One of the earliest references to a canon is found in the Muratorian Fragment that dates to the latter half of the second century, which mentions all the New Testament Books, including all the four Gospels by name, with the exception of Hebrews, James, and 1st and 2nd Peter. When Christians were no longer persecuted, the Church’s leaders were finally able to come together to proclaim and clarify what had been true from the beginning, prophesized in the Old Testament and fulfilled by the very same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the transcendent Creator and Redeemer of humanity, and inspired by God’s Holy Spirit that proclaims Jesus as the Christ and His New Testament as salvation and as life. The bishops of Nicea and those gathered in later synods did not impose a canon from the top downwards, but only recognized a canon that already existed, was divinity inspired, recognized and accepted by local Christian communities. Contrary to Brown’s assertion, the Church did not create the canon; it merely validated a collection of scripture that was part and parcel of the spiritual and liturgical consciousness of early Christian churches.

The Real vs. the Gnostic Jesus

Another one of Brown’s fantastic claims is that the early Christians literally stole Jesus and “shrouded his human message in an impenetrable cloak of divinity and used it to expand their power.” The novel claims that the Gnostic Jesus is far more human than the divinized Jesus of the four canonical gospels contained in the Christian Bible. It also claims that the Gnostic bibles paint a more accurate picture of Christ than the canonical ones. This is not true. All the books of the New Testament are dated prior to 80 AD, and are written by either Apostles or eyewitnesses to the Risen Christ. St. Paul who was not one of the original 12 Apostles but witnessed the risen Lord on his way to Damascus sometime around 37 AD, began writing his Epistles before the Gospels, thereby establishing a consciousness of divinely inspired revelation that became the cornerstone for spreading the Good News of the Christian Gospel.

Gnostics believed that they had secret insights, knowledge and revelations that would allow people to know the key to the universe. Salvation did not come from God who frees you from sin but through what you knew - gnosis- that is the Greek word for knowledge. This movement flourished in the second, third and fourth centuries and was regarded as a heresy by early Christians. St. Paul in his letter to Timothy warns against the “falsely called knowledge” that bore Gnosticism a century later, as do Ireneaus, Ignatius, and Tertulian, as well as many other Christian apologists who lived prior to the council of Nicea.

The Da Vinci Code, however, is right about one thing, namely that two versions of Christianity did develop side by side: Authentic and Gnostic Christianity. The first message was that of Christ himself and his Apostles, established though widely accepted texts written by the first generation of believers and eyewitnesses. The second and much later reactionary message called Gnosticism, referred to Gnostic Christianity by some scholars, and had its own set of writings that date from the late second century to the beginning of the fifth century. These texts are not “the earliest Christian records” as Brown claims they are since none of these texts were written by eyewitnesses of Christ’s earthly life, His ministry, His passion, His resurrection or by those who saw the resurrected Christ, as did St. Paul. Given these historical facts, one can definitively say that the Christian chicken did come before the Gnostic egg.

Will the true Mary Magdalene please stand up

One of the most controversial points in Brown’s novel is that Jesus Christ had intimate relations with Mary Magdalene. According to Brown, Mary Magdalene is the true inheritor and interpreter of Christ’s message, and not the Church, because she contained the blood of Christ within her, The Holy Grail, in the form of a female child. Christ tells his disciples that,“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosened in heaven”(Mat 16:18). Brown continues on to say that Mary, and not St. Peter, was the leader of the Apostles and that after Christ’s death, for fear of jealousy and retribution by the Apostles, escaped to France with her child who became the blood line for the Merovingian Kings of France.

Brown’s account of Mary Magdalene is purely fictional and contrary to the scriptural and historical record. The only information we have on Mary Magdalene in Scripture is the following: St. Luke says seven demons were cast out of her by Jesus (Lk 8:2); St. Matthew says she is a witness to Christ’s crucifixion and is present at His burial (Mat 27:32); St. Mark says she went to anoint the body of Christ (Mark 16:1); and St. John says she was the first to see Jesus in His resurrected body (Jn 20:10). These scriptural accounts of Mary Magdalene are found within the ten Resurrection Gospels that are read during the Orthros service and are part of the liturgical consciousness and worship cycle of the Orthodox Church within the context of the Divine Liturgy.

Some throughout history have erroneously surmised that since Mary Magdalene appears immediately after the account of Jesus forgiving the prostitute that the two are one and the same. But there is no scriptural support for this conclusion. The belief that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute first surfaced in the sixth century when Pope Gregory I referred to her as such in one of his sermons. However, in the Eastern Orthodox Church she was never seen as a prostitute and is praised as the “apostle to the apostles” who died in Ephesus along with St. John the Evangelist. In the Western Latin Church, her legend of traveling to France that Brown speaks about is no earlier than the 10th century and her relics were not reported until the 13th century. The cult of Mary Magdalene was established in Vezelay, France where it is believed that she lived her final days as a cave hermit. However, there is no textual support for this legend prior to the tenth century.

If we want to truly honor the feminine let’s look at the fact that a woman – the Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary — bore the Saviour of the world. She as the second Eve redeemed the sin of the first Eve — and in doing so has generations calling her Blessed — for all of eternity. Let’s look at the fact that Christ’s resurrection is announced not to men but to women; let’s look at the fact that Christ reveals his messianic identity openly and plainly only to the Samaritan woman; let’s also look at the fact that St. Paul exhorts men to love their wives as Christ loves the church; and lastly let us look at St. Paul’s scriptural reminder that there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free but all one in Jesus Christ!

The Code and the Last Supper

Lastly, much of the Brown argument centers on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, a painting the author proposes to contain a coded message that reveals the truth about Jesus and the Holy Grail. Brown points to the lack of a central chalice on the table as proof that the Grail isn’t a material vessel or chalice, but a person, who he believes is Mary Magdalene. But Leonardo’s painting specifically dramatizes the narrative in John’s Gospel where Christ says, “One of you will betray me” (Jn 13:21). There is no Institution narrative and therefore there is no reason for Leonardo to show a chalice, since John’s Gospel does not contain any description of the Eucharist. The person sitting to Jesus right, is not Mary Magdalene but St. John, portrayed as a beardless effeminate youth consistent with the artistic style of early 16th century Florence. This reflects what scripture and tradition say about John; namely, that the Evangelist was the youngest of Christ’s disciples. Jesus is right at the center of the painting with two groups of three disciples on either side. The identity of the three disciples to Christ’s right was never in doubt. They are Judas, Peter and John. Furthermore, the Church of Ponte Capriasca near Lake Lugano in Switzerland contains a copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper painted in 1548. On that fresco, the name of each apostle is displayed from left to right, so John’s identity was never in dispute.

The meaning of The Da Vinci Code for Orthodox Christianity

At its most fundamental level, The Da Vinci Code stands for the unity of all faiths founded upon the ancient worship of the Goddess and Nature. The undercurrent of this global faith that The Da Vinci Code advocates wants to lead the religions and philosophies of our world into a blurred unity that is nothing but paganism and modern day syncretism. This idea that all faiths are ultimately part of one cosmic expression is far from novel. It is a pervasive idea that has plagued humanity, especially in a post-Christian age and secular age such as ours. For example, in American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, Stephen Prothero, the book’s author and a religion professor at Boston University, states that, “Jesus won’t become a national figure unless he can move outside of Christianity.” A non-Christian Jesus you may ask? Well, such was the Jesus of the Gnostics and the Jesus of modern syncretic paganism. This is anathema not only to Orthodox Christians but also to Christians in general that take their faith seriously. This is a message that Orthodox Christianity has fought hard against through centuries of difficulties, intense persecutions, holy living, martyrdom and through the life transforming and saving message of the Gospel has tried to debunk since its inception. Orthodoxy follows a straight and unwavering line from the teaching of Christ’s earthly ministry to the writings of St. Paul and the other Apostles to the final decrees of the Ecumenical Councils that sought to preserve the unique truth of God as Creator and Redeemer of humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Both Paganism and Christianity offer good news and propose redemption. Paganism offers liberation from the Creator and the freedom to do what one must do in order to figure out how to save oneself. Christianity offers reconciliation with the Creator, who as Redeemer, comes to His creation as Saviour out of divine love. No one who truly seeks this Saviour will be turned away. While The Da Vinci Code courageously searches for the truth at any price, it erodes the fundamental characteristics of the Christian faith, God as Creator and Redeemer of humanity and the belief that the message of the Christian Gospel is the uniquely inspired word of God Himself – without which we are all lost.

Rev. Dn. Evangelidis has been serving as a Deacon at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle, New York. Prior to that he served as the Deacon to His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey and as an assistant to the Registrar of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He also worked as a teaching assistant for the departments of history and art history at Yale University.

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The Da Vinci Code Movie

by Fr. Angelo Artemas

It has been three years since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code first became a bestseller, and fascination with the novel has led to a movie produced by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks. Although the novel is sold as fiction, many readers consider it truth, and the high profile of the movie will further confuse the public. The book consists of little reliable history mixed with a lot of fiction. Several points presented as fact by the author are known to be false by historians and scholars, and need to be pointed out.

The first is the assertion that Jesus was married to Mary of Magdala (Magdalene). There is no such indication in canonical scripture or in any of the non-canonical scriptures circulating in the early church. There is no recorded wedding for Jesus of Nazareth by Temple officials or Roman officials, both of whom kept impeccable marriage records. A wedding in Jesus’ time was a prominent community event that took place over seven days, and would not escape notice by anyone who was awake.

Brown asserts that in the early church there were more than eighty gospels. At most, scholars and historians have identified twenty-eight alleged gospels; four of them being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There are significant reasons why the Christian Church only accepted the four, primarily because the others were deemed not to be authentic, reliable or legitimate. Brown puts all of them on the same level while Christianity does not.

Brown asserts that the Emperor Constantine concocted the idea that Jesus was divine, and that the councils he called invented the Divinity of Christ. It is clear that in the 1st century the Apostles taught the Divinity of Christ, and the great majority of early Christians accepted the Divinity of Christ. The Council of Nicea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381 simply clarified for non-believers that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are Divine, which many believers held from the beginning.

Brown asserts that the Apostle John in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper is actually Mary Magdalene, since he is clean-shaven and looks feminine. Da Vinci’s Last Supper is not an icon or a vehicle for conveying the faith; it is art. Da Vinci was not a preacher, apostle, teacher or saint. John does look like a woman in Da Vinci’s Last Supper, but it is Da Vinci’s art, and he was not a mainstream Christian.

Brown asserts that the Vatican was involved in a conspiracy to suppress women, as if the Vatican was the only ruling authority in the early church. Although the role of women in Christianity has diminished over the years, a full-fledged conspiracy is giving Rome way too much credit. It is clear that Mary Magdalene went from being the Apostle to the Apostles (in being the one who told the Disciples that Christ had Risen), to being declared a prostitute by the Vatican, to being declared not a prostitute by a 20th century pope. This inconsistency does not make for a conspiracy. Besides, if the early church was involved in the suppression of women, why is the Virgin Mary the highest regarded human being in Eastern and Western Christianity? Brown conveniently ignores the role of the Virgin Mary.

If there is some good that comes out of Brown’s book it is that Christians again have an opportunity to rediscover their beliefs and fortify their faith. It is good to question, strive and search for understanding. Perhaps now is also a good time for Orthodox Christians to examine why the role of women has diminished over the years, and how to best restore participation in ministry by all of the faithful.

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The DaVinci Code: Fact or Fiction?

by Rev. Deacon Evangelos Evangelidis


Many people are intrigued by the claims presented about Jesus Christ, Church history, and Christianity in Dan Brown’s best selling fictional thriller, the Da Vinci Code. It has been an extremely popular novel which has sold over 30 million copies world wide and has been translated into many languages. The Da Vinci Code has also been turned into a major motion picture staring Tom Hanks.


What makes this novel so popular and so highly talked about?  Well, one of the reasons is that it combines the literary elements found in thrillers, murder mysteries and romance novels to make for an exciting read. Brown manipulates his readers to identify with his smart, glamorous characters, such as Robert Langdon a Harvard symbiologist (even though there is no such discipline at Harvard ) who see through the centuries of lies and fabrications by the Church, who hide the “truth” about Jesus divinity, his relationship to Mary Magdalene and the “sacred feminine”. Another reason is that the novel’s anti-Christian message in a secular and post-Christian age is popular.  Dan Brown tries to debunk the fundamentals of the Christian faith, namely; Christ’s divinity, his resurrection, and his message for salvation for all of humanity. To quote a line from one of the novel’s main characters “every body loves a good conspiracy” – and it seems that people certainly do.

We must remember, however, that the Da Vinci Code as a work of fiction is not a reliable source of information regarding Jesus Christ and Church history. You may have already asked “Where is Brown getting all of this? Well, his primary sources come from radical feminist scholarship:  The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, written in the hay day of the woman’s liberation movement, in the mid 70’s. The other sources are from popular conspiratorial histories such as Holy Blood Holy Grail by Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln and The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine by Margaret Starbird. The use of such unreliable sources belittles Brown’s pretensions to being an intellectual and a scholar. But he has apparently fooled at least some of his readers – a reviewer for the New York Daily News trumpets that ‘his research is impeccable.”

In the course of this article I will be examining some of Dan Brown’s extraordinary claims and try to compare them to the historical record so that we as Christians can separate fact from fiction and use this distinction as a means to educate ourselves in such a way that edifies and strengthens our Orthodox Christian faith.

The Divinity of Jesus: Fact vs. Fiction

Much attention has been given Dan Brown’s outlandish claim that Jesus had an intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene and that the two had a daughter. An equally audacious claim of the novel is that the divinity of Christ was created at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325AD by Emperor Constantine and that prior to that time no one – not even Christ’s Apostles and followers – believed that Jesus was anything more than a “mortal prophet” and great man. There is plenty of evidence in the four Gospels to suggest that Jesus considered Himself to be divine and the Son of God. Here are just a few references from the Gospels themselves that clearly point towards Christ’s divinity: Jesus allowed others to call him the Christ (Mat 16:15); Jesus said he could forgive sin (Mat 9:2-6); Jesus did not stop others from calling him the Son of God (Mat 14:33); Jesus said that his name must be confessed for salvation (Luke 12:8); Jesus promised to rise from the dead (Mark 9:31); Jesus stated that he and the God the father are one (John 8:14 and 8:54).

There is also of plenty of textual references from early Christians from the end of the first century to the beginning of the fourth century who thought that Jesus is the Christ and the divine Son of God. Let’s look at some of them: St. Ignatius of Antioch said in 105AD that “God himself was manifested in human form.”; St. Clement of Alexandra said in 150AD that “it is fitting to think of Jesus Christ as God.”; Tertullian said in 200AD “Christ is our God.”; St. Cyprian said in 250AD that “Jesus Christ is our Lord and God.”; and finally, St. Arnobius said in 305 AD says that “Christ performed all those miracles the duty of his Divinity for our salvation”

These aforementioned quotations demonstrate that for the first three centuries leading up to the Council of Nicaea that Christ was believed to be Divine and the Son of God. J.N.D. Kelly, one of the foremost scholars on early Christian doctrines, writes that “the all but universal Christian conviction in the centuries prior to Nicaea had been that Jesus Christ was divine as well as human. The most basic confession had been “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9) had been elaborated and deepened in the apostolic age.”

Contrary to the extraordinary claim by Dan Brown that Jesus Christ was not believed to be God until the Council of Nicea proclaimed Him as such is not supported by the scriptural and historical record. Furthermore, there was no overt need for Nicaea to expressly proclaim Christ as God since this belief was accepted by all Christian’s centuries prior. What the council of Nicaea did do was address the relationship between the God the Son and God the Father. Are they equal? Are they one substance? In doing so the council addressed and condemned a popular heresy called Arianism, which insisted that Christ was a lesser God created by the Father at some point in time and did not eternally exist with Him. Contrary to the fact that Brown would have you believe that Christ was proclaimed as God by a “relatively close vote at that”, 218 out of 220 bishops at Nicaea upheld the belief that the Son was equally divine with the Father and of one essence with Him. Even the book responsible for much of Brown’s research, Holy Blood, Holy Grail acknowledges this historical reality. Brown’s embellished version of the facts is contrary to the truth as shown by the historical record.

The Authenticity of the Christian Canon

Brown also claims that “Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up and burned.” There is no evidence that the Gospels were “embellished” in the fourth century. Hundreds of copies of the Gospels already existed by the end of the second century which made up the scriptural canon received in the fourth century. One of the earliest references to a canon is found in the Muratorian Fragment that dates to the latter half of the second century, which mentions all the New Testament Books, including all the four Gospels by name, with the exception of Hebrews, James and 1 and 2 Peter. When Christians were no longer persecuted, the Church’s leaders were finally able to come together to proclaim and clarify what had been true from the beginning, prophesized in the Old Testament and fulfilled by the very same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the transcendent Creator and Redeemer of humanity, and inspired by God’s Holy Spirit that proclaims Jesus as the Christ and His New Testament as salvation and as life. The bishops of Nicaea and those gathered in later synods did not impose a canon from the top downwards, but only recognized a canon that already existed, was divinity inspired, recognized and accepted by local Christian communities. Contrary to Brown’s assertion, the Church did not create the canon; it merely validated a collection of scripture that was part and parcel of the spiritual and liturgical consciousness of early Christian churches.

The Real vs. the Gnostic Jesus

Another one of Brown’s fantastic claims is that the early Christians literally stole Jesus and “shrouded his human message in an impenetrable cloak of divinity and used it to expand their power.” The novel claims that the Gnostic Jesus is far more human than the divinized Jesus of the four canonical gospels contained in the Christian Bible. It also claims that the Gnostic bibles paint a more accurate picture of Christ that the canonical ones. This is not true. All the books of the New Testament are dated prior to 80AD, and are written by either Apostles or eyewitnesses to the Risen Christ. St. Paul who was not one of the original 12 Apostles but witnessed the risen Lord on his way to Damascus sometime around 37AD, began writing his Epistles before the Gospels, thereby establishing a consciousness of divinely inspired revelation that became the cornerstone for spreading the ‘Good News’ of the Christian Gospel.

Gnostics believed that they had secret insights, knowledge and revelations that would allow people to know the key to the universe. Salvation did not come from God who frees you from sin but through what you knew - gnosis- which is the Greek word for knowledge. This movement flourished in the second, third and fourth centuries and was regarded as a heresy by early Christians. St. Paul in his letter to Timothy warns against the “falsely called knowledge” that bore Gnosticism a century later, as do Ireneaus, Ignatius and Tertulian, as well as many other Christian apologists who lived prior to the council of Nicaea.

The Da Vinci Code, however, is right about one thing, namely that two versions of Christianity did develop side by side: Authentic and Gnostic Christianity. The first message was that of Christ himself and his Apostles, established though widely accepted texts written by the first generation of believers and eye witnesses. The second and much later reactionary message called Gnosticism, referred to Gnostic Christianity by some scholars, and had its own set of writings that date from the late second century to the beginning of the fifth century. These texts are not “the earliest Christian records” as Brown claims they are since none of these texts were written by eyewitnesses of Christ’s earthly life, His ministry, His passion, His resurrection or by those who saw the resurrected Christ, as did St. Paul. Given these historical facts, one can definitively say that the Christian chicken did come before the Gnostic egg.

Will the true Mary Magdalene please stand up

One of the most controversial points in Brown’s novel is that Jesus Christ had intimate relations with Mary Magdalene. According to Brown, Mary Magdalene is the true inheritor and interpreter of Christ’s message, and not the Church, because she contained the blood of Christ within her, The Holy Grail, in the form of a female child. Christ tells his disciples that “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosened in heaven”(Mat 16:18).  Brown continues on to say that Mary and not St. Peter was the leader of the Apostles and that after Christ’s death, for fear of jealousy and retribution by the Apostles, escaped to France with her child who became the blood line for the Merovingian Kings of France.
 
Brown’s account of Mary Magdalene is purely fictional and contrary to the scriptural and historical record. The only information we have on Mary Magdalene in Scripture is the following: St. Luke says seven demons were cast out of her by Jesus (Lk 8:2); St. Matthew says she is a witness to Christ’s crucifixion and is present at His burial (Mat 27:32); St. Mark says she went to anoint the body of Christ. (Mark 16:1); and St. John says she was the first to see Jesus in his resurrected body. (Jn 20:10). These scriptural accounts of Mary Magdalene are found within the ten Resurrection Gospels which are read during the Orthros service and are part of the liturgical consciousness and worship cycle of the Orthodox Church within the context of the Divine Liturgy.

Some throughout history have erroneously surmised that since Mary Magdalene appears immediately after the account of Jesus forgiving the prostitute that the two are one and the same. But there is no scriptural support for this conclusion. The belief that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute first surfaced in the six century when Pope Gregory I referred to her as such in one of his sermons. However, in the Eastern Orthodox Church she was never seen as a prostitute and is praised as the “apostle to the apostles” who died in Ephesus along with St. John the Evangelist. In the Western Latin Church, her legend of traveling to France that Brown speaks about is no earlier than the 10th century and her relics were not reported until the 13th century. The cult of Mary Magdalene was established in Vezelay, France where it is believed that she lived her final days as a cave hermit. However, there is no textual support for this legend prior to the tenth century, as well.

If we want to truly honor the feminine lets look at the fact that a woman – the Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary - bore the Saviour of the world. She as the second Eve redeemed the sin of the first Eve - and in doing so has generations calling her Blessed - for all of eternity; let’s look at the fact that Christ’s resurrection is announced not to men but to women; let’s look at the fact that Christ reveals his messianic identity openly and plainly only to the Samaritan woman, let’s also look at the fact that St. Paul exhorts men to love their wives as Christ loves the church; and lastly let us look at St. Paul’s scriptural reminder that there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free but all one in Jesus Christ.

The Code and the Last Supper

Lastly, much of Brown argument centers around Leonardo Da Vinci’s last supper, a painting the author considers has a coded message that reveals the truth about Jesus and the Holy Grail. Brown points to the lack of a central chalice on the table as proof that the Grail isn’t a material vessel or chalice, but a person, who he believes is Mary Magdalene. But Leonardo’s painting specifically dramatizes the narrative in John’s Gospel where Christ says “One of you will betray me” (Jn 13:21). There is no Institution narrative and therefore there is no reason for Leonardo to show a chalice since John’s gospel that does not contain any description of the Eucharist. The person sitting to Jesus right, is not Mary Magdalene but St. John, portrayed as a beardless effeminate youth consistent with the artistic style of early 16th century Florence. This reflects what scripture and tradition say about John; namely, that the Evangelist was the youngest of Christ’s disciples. Jesus is right at the center of the painting with two groups of three disciples on either side. The identity of the three disciples to Christ’s right was never in doubt. They are Judas, Peter and John. Furthermore, the church of Ponte Capriasca near Lake Lugano in Switzerland contains a copy of Leonardo’s last supper painted in 1548. On that fresco, the name of each apostle is displayed from left to right, so John’s identity was never in dispute.

The meaning of The Da Vinci Code for Orthodox Christianity

At its most fundamental level, the Da Vinci Code stands for the unity of all faiths founded upon the ancient worship of the Goddess and Nature. The undercurrent of this global faith that the Da Vinci Code advocates wants to lead the religions and philosophies of our world into a blurred unity that is nothing but paganism and modern day syncretism. This idea that all faiths are ultimately part of one cosmic expression is far from novel. It is a pervasive idea that has plagued humanity, especially in a post-Christian age and secular age such as ours. For example, in American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, Stephen Prothero the books author and a religion professor at Boston University, states that “Jesus won’t become a national figure unless he can move outside of Christianity.” A non-Christian Jesus you may ask? Well, such was the Jesus of the Gnostics and the Jesus of modern syncretic paganism. This is anathema not only to Orthodox Christians but to Christians in general that take their faith seriously. This is a message that Orthodox Christianity has fought hard against through centuries of difficulties, intense persecutions, holy living, martyrdom and through the life transforming and saving message of the Gospel has tried to debunk since its inception. Orthodoxy follows a straight and unwavering line from the teaching of Christ’s earthly ministry to the writings of St. Paul and the other Apostles to the final decrees of the ecumenical councils that sought to preserve the unique truth of God as Creator and Redeemer of humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Both Paganism and Christianity offer good news and propose redemption. Paganism offers liberation from the Creator and the freedom to do what one must do in order to figure out how to save oneself. Christianity offers reconciliation with the Creator who as Redeemer comes to His creation as Saviour out of divine love. No one who truly seeks this Saviour will be turned away. While the Da Vinci Code courageously searches for the truth at any price, it erodes the fundamental characteristics of the Christian faith, God as Creator and Redeemer of humanity and the belief that the message of the Christian Gospel is the uniquely inspired word of God Himself – without which we are all lost.
 
 The Rev. Deacon Evangelos Evangelidis has been serving as a Deacon at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle, NY since January of 2004. Prior to that he served as the Deacon to His Eminence, Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey and as assistant to the Registrar of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He also worked as a teaching assistant for the departments of history and art history at Yale University. He received a Master’s of Divinity (M. Div) from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (1999). Deacon Evangelos also holds a BA in History from the University of Chicago (1990) and a Master’s of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) from The Divinity School at Yale University (2003).

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The Da Vinci Code: Decoding the Agenda

by Rev. Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, Th.D.


Literature and film, as all art, do not merely entertain. It is in their nature to convey the principles and values of their creators and so they instruct in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Much has been written and said about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Potential viewers, as they evaluate the film for themselves, ought to be mindful of the whopping historical falsehoods on which the book is based.

The literary merits of the book cannot be disputed. It flies along with its many threads, and seems to lag only in the final chapters. Nor can one question the advocacy of ideas and convictions through the respectable literary form of historical fiction. What is confusing about the book, and Brown's public statements, is the fudging between fiction and historical fact, and therefore also the consequent moral implication of misleading people unaware of the details of history. Brown says that he wrote the novel to generate discussion about faith, religion, and history, and that is all well and good. But why the apparently deliberate ambiguity between fact and fiction? Why the flagrant twisting of the major historical facts on which the book's story line is built?

Was Jesus married, as Brown contends? No historian, ancient or modern, and no follower or enemy of Jesus has ever seriously considered such a thing until Dan Brown at the end of the second millennium. Jesus' prominence, the open nature of his life and work, and the public mission of Christianity all preclude the possibility of the Church keeping such a grand secret throughout the ages. Of course, if on the basis of historical evidence Jesus was not married, as historians support, the edifice of Brown's tale crumbles. I have yet to read or hear Brown say clearly that this cornerstone of his novel is without historical basis. Startling at it may seem, however, the question can be reversed. For mainline Judaism and Christianity marriage was and is honorable and holy. What would be so scandalous, as theologian Eugenia Constantinou recently wrote, about Jesus being married as part of all the other human attributes he shared with humanity apart from sin? Why would the Church need to conceal such a thing and perpetrate a hoax had Jesus actually been married?

Was Mary Magdalene Jesus' "beloved disciple" depicted on the right hand of Jesus in Da Vinci's famous painting of The Last Supper? No serious art historian has backed up Brown on this claim. It is known that in Da Vinci's time artists' portrayed figures according to stock forms. For example students were depicted beardless and with long hair, exactly the portrayal of John the Evangelist, the youngest and beloved disciple, found in a number of Last Suppers painted over the centuries. Besides, Da Vinci has left several preliminary sketches of his famous painting which leave no doubt that he was depicting the youthful St. John, the beloved disciple, according to the received tradition. If art historians refute the claim about the presumed woman in Da Vinci's painting, Brown's story line concerning Mary Magdalene collapses to dust.

Who was Mary Magdalene? One can either go by the evidence of the canonical Gospels written in the first century or that of the apocryphal Gospels of Philip and of Mary Magdalene written in the late second or even the third century. The picture of Jesus and his ministry in these two sets of documents is so radically different that one cannot cherry pick from both sides. An objective historian would rely on the sources and related witnesses closest to Jesus and the events involved. On that basis Mary Magdalene was one of the women healed by Jesus and apparently of such courage and wealth as to accompany and support Jesus along with the male disciples (Luke 8:2-3). She was not, as is sometimes thought, the sinful woman who anointed Jesus. Mary Magdalene is one of the most prominent women in the traditional Gospels, a leader privileged to be the first witness of the good news of Christ's resurrection, but in no way a rival to St. Peter or to anyone else. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Philip deserve no more credibility than the so-called Gospel of Judas recently in the news. For the historian the bits of information about Mary Magdalene in the apocryphal Gospels, which in part inspired Dan Brown, come, as all fairy tales, from the realm of pure fantasy.

Did the Emperor Constantine virtually proclaim the divinity of Jesus in the fourth century? Brown claims that the Church, under Constantine's heavy hand, suppressed the apocryphal documents, promoted the canonical ones favoring the divinity of Jesus, and arrived at the decision that Jesus was the Son of God for the first time First Ecumenical Council (325 AD), and by a narrow vote at that! As history, these claims are nothing but rubbish in the eyes of an honest scholar. The divinity of Christ was already a firm teaching of St. Paul who was an eye-witness of the risen Christ and one directly connected with St. Peter and other original disciples of Jesus (Galatians 1:12-18; 2:1-10; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-18; Acts 15:1-29). The collection of the New Testament books, while it occurred over a long period of time, was mostly complete by the end of the second century and was the valued documented harvest of the apostolic tradition kept within the mainstream Church. In this collection process some books, such as the Book of Revelation and the Epistle of James, were disputed. The radically different apocryphal books, however, were never even part of the debate for inclusion.

The accusation about suppression is absurd because the persecuted Church had no power to suppress anyone. The apocryphal books and the people who wrote them had as much opportunity for success in the Greco-Roman society as the canonical books and the communities that fostered them. If they failed, they did so because of lack of substance and appeal. And as far as the Council vote is concerned, it was never over Jesus' divinity, which even the Arians gladly proclaimed, but about the adequate language to articulate this long held apostolic belief. That language was found in the word homoousios ("of the very essence or being of the Father") that precluded the false Arian understanding. The final consensus among the bishops was 348 for and 2 against, hardly a close tally—and it was a vote understood only to safeguard the received faith, not to invent (!) a radically new form of it as Brown contends.

Where does all this leave us regarding Brown's book and the new film? Those who have read the book and those who may see the film would do well to go beyond its story line to the agenda Dan Brown and others in our culture bring to the table. We all have our agendas, of course. Let the agendas clash honestly in open discussion in a free society. "We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth" (2 Corinthians 13:8). Free and honest discussion can bring people closer to what is right and good for humanity because that is the nature of truth. The problem with Brown's story, if I may put it plainly, is its lack of sufficient intellectual honesty, and that misleads people. Without honesty, genuine dialog is impossible.

Fact or fiction? Neither in his book nor in his public statements does Brown seem to make up his mind. He cunningly mixes the two. He claims to be writing fiction but on the basis of facts. But what kind of facts and of what magnitude? The foundations of his story, as indicated above, have been debunked again and again by historical scholars. What then remains of Brown's imaginative work? Why does Brown not come clean and address the issue of the historical falsehoods that have been exposed? It is one thing to write fiction and advance whatever views one desires. It is quite another to promote views invoking historical events and historical figures, and then twist and falsify them to promote an agenda, because such a thing moves from fictional novel to intellectual dishonesty, from freedom of speech to moral cynicism, by confusing or misleading people. If this is all true, and it seems to be so, then one must draw the conclusion that Brown respects neither his subject matter, nor his readers.

What remains is Brown's real agenda having to do with our cultural wars. His book, a captivating web of fantasy, exploits the magnitude of Jesus and the influence that traditional Christianity still has on culture, in order to stealthily undermine both! The book bears a message sinister in the attempted cover-up of its real intent and foisted on unaware readers by appeals to half-truths and falsified historical events. When decoded, the message is a broadside against the Roman Catholic Church. It is an attack on traditional Christian beliefs and values centered on the person of Jesus Christ, human and divine. It repudiates the New Testament as a hoax in favor of the apocryphal books. It advocates unencumbered feminism, egalitarianism, and sexuality of all types. It is a message about an alternative so-called Christianity that much resembles the post-modern, new age ideology pervading today's media and Western culture. It is a philosophy of those pilgrims who submit to no authority but the self, commit to no abiding truth but their own predilection, and live by no absolute value but that of what has been called the "do-it-yourself-kit" of self-discovery.

Rev. Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos is the Archbishop Iakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology and Professor of New Testament at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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