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Question 11.

Dear Fr. Christopher,
According to a local custom, Christians who live in Macedonia walk on burning coals on the feast of St. Constantine in order to honour him. Some people claim that this custom has idolatrous roots and therefore it is not acceptable. Is it permitted by our faith or not?

Answer to Question 11.
Dear Constantine,
Greetings in Christ. I remember seeing this custom on tv a long time ago but had no idea that it was associated with the feast of St. Constantine. How burning coals have anything to do with St. Constantine is beyond my imagination, but as you said it is a local custom. It is possible that it has its roots in idolatry but one would have to go to Macedonia and there try and find out its origins. Is it permitted by our faith or not? Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit therefore, one must treat it with the honour and respect that befits a temple. If by walking on burning coals we harm our bodies then it is wrong, but I think they walk at such a speed that they don’t actually get burnt. We have mentioned before how local customs and traditions are so deep rooted that it would be futile to try and wipe them out. This doesn’t mean that the Church accepts them, but with motherly love for her children, she often keeps silent in the hope that one day they will be enlightened and see that these practices offer them no edification. We have here in Cyprus and especially Limassol, many practices that have there roots before Christ. The Kataklismos for instance is a custom only observed in Cyprus. It very probably has its roots in pre-Christian years to commemorate the flooding that we read in the Book of Genesis. It was probably celebrated around the same time of year as the Christian Pentecost and as water is also associated with the Holy Spirit, the two feasts became one. Some customs have a definite pagan background e.g. the carnival of Meatfare Sunday, which in Christian times became a festival of celebration with meat, drink, and dancing before the onset of Great Lent. Of course, this doesn’t make it acceptable, and the Church has in the past tried to attack it as pagan, but without success. Some things are best left unsaid and better to let them pass by and be forgotten rather than make a commotion that might cause more harm than good. Someone who believes in Christ and leads a spiritual life doesn’t associate himself with these customs and doesn’t need the Church to tell him that they are wrong. The Holy Spirit guides us and teaches us in what we should do and how to live. As for the rest of the people – God is love and patience and when they are ready to search for God, He will be there to pull them out of the deep pit of darkness into the light.