An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I never cease to be amazed by the emphasis of Orthodoxy on self-discipline and over-coming the passions, which appear (note this very deliberate choice of terminology) to enslave us. Be also aware of my use of the word "passions" because in our society it has become utilized as a positive character trait, but in the writings of the Fathers it is exclusively understood as being one and the same with sinful behavior. In a sense we are to become so self-controlled so as to be passionless...I've even heard advised that when lighting a vigil lamp to keep the wick trimmed so as to create a steady, consistent, and passionless flame. This is intended to remind us of our state of being - to burn brightly but not out of control.
Orthodox ascetics remind me of Vulcans (yes I am a geek) except that instead of focusing on logic they focus on selfless love. In the same sense that humor is rebuffed by the lack of receptivity of Vulcans, so also are insults and the accompanying inclinations towards anger (among many other things) on the ascetically disciplined.
Upon the counsel of my priest I have been slowly reading Unseen Warfare and came upon an interesting section just this morning. Basically the author demonstrates methods by which we can overcome the passions and he lists three practical steps to go through when faced with an intruding passion:
1. Decide and learn to hate the passion. Identify it and forever consider it your mortal enemy.
2. Turn to Christ for help.
and here is the real kicker...
3. KILL the passion by immediately and decisively practicing the opposing virtue, in so you will utterly destroy that passion. And in time, with consistency, as you continue to sow and cultivate the virtue, the passion will whither away.
I have a very cool chart which gives a lengthy listing of various passions and their opposing virtues, but I have been unable to locate it online...if I cannot find it I will scan it and upload it.
a word of warning, what follows is graphic and not for the light of heart...
I was listening to NPR this morning and they had a story about the difficulties of cloning in which the reporter followed a couple of technicians through the process of cloning cows in a department of agriculture lab. As I work in the same general setting (though we don't do any cloning) the story fascinated me, especially when one of the technicians stepped away from the science and marveled at how he follows the cows from being an egg to actually feeding them in barn stalls. He feigned speaking to one of his cloned bovines: "The last time I saw you, you were an egg." I immediately had a flashback.
Before me on the cold metallic surface of the gross room examination counter of the National Health Lab was what appeared to be a bloody mesh-like sock - containing something. I was new in the lab and watched with interest as the my fellow tech pulled out the contents while dictating into her microphone the details of what lay before her. "Received in a formilin filled container labelled 'products of conception'..."
She pulled out what looked to me to be a fair amount of ground beef soaked liberally in dark coagulated blood - by way of her dictation I learned that it was placental tissue and I could guess why it looked like ground beef because on the requisition associated with the sample were printed the words: "elected to terminate pregnancy." The tech began to sort through the bloody mess with her instruments as if she were looking for something and as she found the first part of it I could not help but gasp.
You see at the time I expected abortions to be the means by which we get rid of a virtually microscopic lump of cells...not unlike a cyst or some other offensive growth. But what lay before me was much more than that. At first it was a tiny leg - perhaps, if stretched out, a half inch long - with a fully formed foot accesorized by toes and a functioning knee joint, but oddly lacking an owner since it was jaggedly severed at the upper thigh. Then after further sorting, an arm appeared through the mess in similar condition, sporting 5 perfectly formed fingers.
At last, another find which again drew an audible response from me. From the hamburger like muddle a pair of tweezer pulled free a tiny little spine with attached rib cage, shoulders, left arm, and groin. It was a horrific site as she carefully laid all of the pieces together. Suddenly, it occured to me as the "grossness" of the scene wore off of me: This, albeit tiny, is the dead body of what was undeniably a human being. We concured, by measurment - as best we could - that the age of the fetus (ahem...human being) was about 9 weeks. There would be no burial for this child, no service, no one to sing "Memory Eternal." Instead he was wrapped back up in his bloody sock and dropped back into his formilin filled plastic coffin - not unlike one you might be asked to piss in at a doctors office.
I was at the time a liberal christian, willing to sympathize with "pro-choice" arguments. But, as is frequently the case, lofty opinions on issues such as these are often subject to change when we "touch" them. And here I was touching (through gloved hands) the tiny arm and leg of a helpless child who appeared to have been placed in a running garbage disposal. Yes, when I was confronted with the brutal reality of such "choices" I no longer had the luxury of walking the fence.
At every Divine Liturgy we pray for the protection of the unborn, and I am very much pleased to be apart a Church which has throughout her long long history always maintained a strong stance against abortion. In the earliest of times, the Church made it a habit of saving newborns (usually girls) who were sometimes abandoned to die outside of city walls by pagans. We see this as our heritage in standing against abortions...though not without regard to the social and personal implications of unplanned pregnancy (something I have been VERY personally involved in...four times). Frederica Matthewes-Green wrote a book called "Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion" and you can read some excerts from the book on her web site. Khouria Frederica has a number of excellent essays on her site which are also worthy of a look.
O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things, Treasurer of blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls O Good One.
Without getting into the controversy surrounding the use of the gas in ending the siege at the Moscow Theatre, I was none-the-less quite impressed with some of the words Vladimir Putin had to offer his grieving nation. At one point he said: "We have not been able to save all. Forgive us." Wow...now when would we expect to hear a politician ask his people for forgiveness for anything unless there was undeniable evidence such a photos or tape recordings for some immoral act? I don't know much about Vladimir Putin, but his words really seemed exceptional to me.
I am grieved by the loss of life and I cannot help but echo the words of a mother of one of the victims who upon venerating her son's body proclaimed: "My Alyosha. We'll remember you for ever, for ever, for ever. God forgive us all."
Yes indeed...God forgive us all, for the world we have poluted with our sins.
I thought I might add this little footnote to what I wrote in the previous post.
I can recall from a long time ago, being trained as an "evangelism counselor" for a christian rock concert down in Southern California and I can also remember the young kid (probably a little younger than me at the time) who responded to the altar (stage) call. I tutored him on the basics of protestant faith including the cool affirming scripture verses which all apparently pointed to the need for this young man to pray the "sinner's prayer" with me. He did and as we finished I made the proclamation: "If you really meant what you prayed, then you are now saved!" And then I told him what he needed to do: get plugged into a "bible believing church", and start developing an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ by reading the Bible and praying.
With this in mind, it seems the standard Protestant paradigm is that we enter into a contractual agreement with Jesus Christ (praying the sinner's prayer) by which we are then "saved" and then we build a relationship with him after being saved.
Well in Orthodoxy it doesn't work this way at all...in fact we see it altogether differently. Salvation is union with Christ and so the relationship with Him is not an added benefit to the "salvation contract", rather the relationship IS salvation itself. And so the process of salvation (since salvation is a relationship) is very much like the process of developing a relationship (big suprise, huh?). But to try and label or characterize any relationship with legal terms and definitions is to negate its true worth. Don't believe me? Try it sometime with your spouse.
On the Orthodox-Questions Yahoo group the issue of salvation is being discussed. One person mentioned the generally held protestant understanding of salvation and it really reminded me of the different point of view I have now as an Orthodox Christian. He was professing that salvation is always an either/or type of thing - that you either have saving faith in Christ or you do not and that this salvation is accomplished solely through Christ's work and is complete and sealed. There is no need for anything else but saving faith in Christ and once you have that, you have the "whole show."
For us, salvation isn't quite as cut and dry...I wrote in reply:
From our perspective, salvation is a process (made possible only by
Christ's work) not an event that takes place upon the "signing" of some sort
of prayer contract...Salvation is a mystery. Now I know
you are groaning at this point, but what can I say? The Holy Trinity is
a mystery, the Incarnation is a mystery, how we are untied to Christ is a
mystery, how we become "partakers of the divine nature" is a mystery, and
ultimately how St. Paul and St. James are reconciled (Martin Luther
adamently claimed they could NOT be reconciled) is a mystery. God saves us,
the Church saves us, and we save each other. It's just not that simple to say
"Christ alone saves us and nothing else is involved."
I guess I would say (however worthless my opinion might be) that Christ,
alone, makes salvation possible...but the show ain't over simply because we
give intellectual assent to this fact. Here is where the Church, the
Sacraments, the Clergy, the Laity, our spouses, our children, the poor, the
sick...all of them play a salvific role in our lives as we "work out our
salvation with fear and trembling."
As our evening prayers end and we all seek one another's forgiveness for the day, I add an additional nugget of Cedar of Lebanon incense to the burning coal within our small hand censor. The censor had been doing its sweet smelling job throughout our time of prayer - filling our living room with a haze of mysterious olfactory beauty (which suprisingly never sets off our smoke detector, unlike our toaster) - and was now going to be used in the context of a family processional through the house.
It gets very hot and so I wrap a small cloth around the handle and lift it from our family altar. At least once a week we end our prayers in this manner and so the children know what is to follow and merrily tag along after me as I move from room to room making the sign of the cross with the sensor and asking God to bless our home. The older kids cross themselves as I invoke the Holy Trinity in the process. As we finish, we gather once again at the family Church Icon corner and replace the censor to finish burning the last of its incense. The kids each blow out a candle and then they are scurried off to bed.
As morning arrives on this particular day I wander out into the family room and the sweet perfume from the incense of the night before still lingers in the air. It calls me home and I am pulled toward the Icon corner for morning prayers. It reminds me of my first visit to an Orthodox Church in which upon returning to our house I noticed the smell of the incense had followed me there in my clothing...even at that time it reminded me of home. Later after completing my prayers I sat down to read and I hear the sound of Nicholas (our 22 month old) swishing his sock covered feet across the floors of the hallway.
As he enters the living room he stops and I can tell by his uplifted face that he is smelling the air in the room. Then he moves toward the icon corner, raises his hands, and begins to sing: "Ohhhhleeeee...Gaaaaa." He is singing the Trisagion Hymnn...the smell of Heaven had called him Home as well. I put my book down and joined him.
Jeremy over at parresia has some interesting comments on Unity. It is one of the biggest sticking points between protestants and Orthodox. For us the Church is actually an article of faith...her literal and visible unity was never an issue until the new ecclesiology of the reformation which I think continues to appeal to us from neccesity, guided by our "your okay, I'm okay" culture.
I wrote this prayer quite awhile ago and have it bookmarked at work where I often offer it to God. I am working to try and take my home-church responsibilities more seriously for the salvation of my children, my wife, and myself. I am frequently reminded the Litanies in the Divine Liturgy, which we conclude with the following:
...let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God.
I am truly fascinated by this statement because if you really think about it: how do we commit ourselves AND one another? I suspect that this is testimony to the belief in an ontological existance of community whether we perceive it or not. When we commit ourselves to Christ, we are commiting others along with us...in the same sense that I mentioned the reality of sin in the earlier post entitled Sin and Chemotherapy Holiness has an ontological reality as well! From death and darkness, Holiness is redeeming community, restoring LIFE and reigniting LIGHT. Through Christ we can actualize these things and since we are members of one another we will shed LIGHT and LIFE to others. In the lives of some saints, people could literally seeLIGHT and LIFE oozing from them.
The most popular understanding held by the Orthodox in regards to Saint James was that he was the son of St. Joseph from a previous marriage. The Gospel of John (7:2-5) relates to us that Jesus' brothers did not believe in Him and we also may note from the New Testament that St. Paul mentions a post-resurrection appearance by the Lord to Saint James (1 Cor 15:3-8), at which time he was said to have converted (My memory is foggy here, but I believe I recall reading about a testimony in the Gospel According to the Hebrews that relates this conversion story.) There are, however, some accounts which relate a pre-resurrectional conversion as well. It is reported that he was a Nazorite, which means one especially devoted to God and being so he would have remained celibate, abstained from wine and meat, and would not have cut his hair. (This is a tradition followed by the Monastics and some priests in the Orthodox Church to this day.)
Later, St. James was appointed Bishop over the Church in Jerusalem probably only a year or so after Christ's resurrection. In Acts 15 we see St. James, as Bishop, presiding over the well known Council in Jerusalem and proclaiming the path the Church ought to take in regards to Gentile converts. He is also traditionally believed to be the author of the Epistle that bears his name which is (in)famously known to proclaim : "...faith without works is dead." Martin Luther, the reformer, called St. James' writing "an epistle of straw" and on more than one occassion expressed his belief that St. James' theology and St. Paul's could not be reconciled. The Orthodox disagree and see a beautiful symmetry in what others perceive to be a dichotmy between Faith and Works. See my old post which touches on this topic here.
But this was not his only work...he is also known to be the author of a Liturgy which still bears his name and is the foundation upon which Sts. Basil and John Chrysostom would build their respective liturgies. You may read this liturgy here.
St. James was noted, even by his enemies (Jospehus the Jewish Historian mentions him), as a man of exceptional piety and holiness. No doubt for this reason, he was very successful in bringing many Jews into the Church and in so doing would lay the foundation for his own martyrdom. Led up to the roof of the Temple, St. James was told to renounce Christ and refusing to do so, was thrown to the ground below. Seeing that he was still alive, despite the fall, St. James was then stoned to death.
Troparion in tone 4 You embraced the Gospel as a Disciple of the Lord;
As a martyr you did not betray it, O Righteous One!
As God's brother you have boldness before Him;
As a faithful Bishop it is yours to intercede for us.
Beseech Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion in tone 4 The Word of God, only-begotten of the Father,
Who has come to dwell among us in these latter days,
Chose you to be the first shepherd and teacher of Jerusalem,
A faithful steward of spiritual mysteries!
Therefore we all honor you, Holy Apostle James!
Wow...and here I thought that the story was simply some obscure story in Christianity Today it is actually a MUCH more prominent newsbite than that. The story is being carried by the AP and can be found all over the place (Yahoo, CNN, etc.) I think one of the better stories is recorded at National Geographic, even though they also include Witherington's (the nameless professor that I mentioned in the previous post) anti-Mary perspective on the find. It seems like this guy is missing the significance of the find and instead is just wanting to take a swipe at what he believes is a "Catholic" doctrine. Instead, he is taking a swipe at 2000 years of Christian teaching.
A quote from the good professor:
"When James is referred to as the 'brother of our lord' in the New Testament, the word used means 'blood brother.' It would have to be qualified in context to mean something different [than what Catholics believe]."
Now really, does this guy expect us to believe that all the Roman Catholic Scholars...or worse yet all the GREEK Orthodox Scholars don't know their ummm....ahem...Greek? Sigh...
Anyway...it is a wonderful find and makes the celebrating of my nameday this wednesday even cooler!
First Century Ossuary ("bone box") of Saint James Found!
I imagine the quality of writing that is to be found in Christianity Today is solely dependent upon the author. Whereas a recent article brought to my attention is interesting in what it describes, it sadly displays a good deal of ignorance. Check the article out here. And then check out my ranting and raving about it below:
This wednesday will be the feastday of my Patron Saint James. On that day I will post a brief history of him, but this article has forced me to be a bit premature on the topic and it certainly deserves a critical look from someone who is not an evangelical protestant. The ossuary has an inscription in Aramaic which reads: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Archeologists note that the reference to a sibling is quite unusual and is thus seen as confirmation that we are dealing with THE James, brother of THE Jesus. You probably cannot read the inscription on the Icon of Saint James above, but it reads: "Saint James, the Brother of God."
Furthermore, the article goes on to attack "Catholic" doctrine...and here alas is where I am really going to need to bitch about the article. The teaching being referred to by the author is the perpetual virginity of Mary. The belief asserts that in fulfilling a prophecy in Ezekial, the Virgin Mary did NOT have sex and remained a virgin not only before the birth of Christ, but afterwards as well. First of all, this is most certainly not a doctrine belonging solely to the Roman Catholic Church...in fact NOBODY(that we have evidence of) doubted this belief until quite sometime after the Reformation. All of the Fathers who say anything about it, affirm it. And even John Calvin himself and numerous other reformers also believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. This has ALWAYS been the teaching believed by all Christians until the most recent times and this author passes it off as somesort of obscure Roman Catholic belief?
The author quotes a professor:
"The dominant Catholic tradition is that the brothers of Jesus are actually cousins because Mary didn't have any more children, or they were step brothers in that they were Joseph's sons by a previous marriage," he said. "This inscription could call into question that doctrine."
Huh? The inscription doesn't say anything that the New Testament itself does not also say, and yet we wacky non-evangelicals are somehow still able to believe our wacky teaching on the Virgin. The fact is, the ancient use of the term "brother" could have implied a number of different familial relationships - not neccesarily that of "brother" as we use the term today. Likewise, I understand that there would have been no lingual differentiating between a step-brother or a real brother either. As I said, even our Iconography proclaims James to be a "brother" and all of these things being the case, I don't think the ossuary's ancient terminology endangers our pious and equally ancient tradition - rather I think it confirms it.
Furthermore this item's survival up to today (proclaimed as genuine by even protestant scholars) further testifies to the ancient practice of honor and veneration being offered to the Holy Relics of our beloved Saints and Martyrs.
Now...one more thought...do you think it is a coincidence that this story is hitting the presses just in time for Saint James' Feastday? Certainly you don't think Christianity Today planned it this way or even knew they were doing it...do you?
Awhile back someone (for the life of me I cannot recall who) blogged that the Church was not founded or called by Jesus to worship, but rather to work. His point being, which I understand, that too often we spend too much time worshipping and not enough working. I reckon it depends on the focus of the worship...in my AG past we seemed to define a "good" worship service as being based upon the extent of the euphoria experienced...though when asked at the time I'd vehemently deny this. However, all of this said...from today's Gospel reading at Matins from Saint Luke:
And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
Indeed a worshiping community...and in the TEMPLE none-the-less! Tsk Tsk!
My daughter Kelsey is going to be celebrating her birthday soon (a few weeks early so as to avoid the Nativity Fast soon approaching) and she has decided (amazingly enough) that she has enough toys and such and so instead of gifts for her, she is asking her friends to bring gifts to be sent down to the Hogar Rafal Ayau Orphanage in Guatemala. Kelsey will be turning 6.
Go and read what Huw (Raphael) wrote HERE Good stuff Huw...thank you.
I am really enjoying Fr. Schmemann’s essay, which I understand is actually adapted from a lecture he gave in 1968! He points to two extremes (he calls them both a sort of neurosis) to be weary of for us Orthodox. The first, to which I am particularly susceptible, is to fully and wholly reject American culture and the second is just the opposite, which Fr. Schmemann calls a “pathological Americanism,” that should like to conform the faith to all manner of western thinking and perspectives. We are wise to remember that Christianity arose in a decidedly Eastern Culture and that the western world as we perceive and know it today developed since then.
And who knows it may not be the real mission of Orthodoxy in America to change the American culture which has never really been challenged by a different set of values? No doubt Orthodoxy has an understanding of man, life, world, nature, etc., radically different from those prevailing in American culture, but this difference itself is a challenge to Orthodoxy rather than a justification for withdrawal, negativism, and fear.
One thing that really struck me was Fr. Schmemann’s first item in which he sees conflict between Orthodoxy and American culture – that being change. Orthodoxy, Fr. Schmemann advises, ought to “denounce and resist” the concept of change being an ontologically and necessarily good thing. “We must openly confess that there are things which do not change, that human nature, in fact, does not change; that such realities as sin, or righteousness, or holiness do not depend on the changing pattern of culture.”
It seems to me that this is NOT only Orthodoxy’s responsibility but all of those who call themselves Christians. In many circles, our faith is being diluted and diluted in order to make it more attractive to our culture. An example would be former Episcopal Bishop Spong’s New Reformation. Numerous denominations are heading down the same path wherein a leader of their group is allowed or even encouraged to advance such theological non-sense as this.
So how do we engage a culture that seems to be barreling down the hill of pluralism and relativism? Well, I am still reading, but one thing that strikes me: Let’s just continue to BE and when they reach the bottom of the hill and realize the valley is in reality one of despair we’ll invite them to climb back up.
I am going to have to dig out my old Bible college Ethics text Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr. I seem to be thinking a lot about Christianity and Culture and I am not really sure where the Orthodox Church would come down on the issue. Many of you might have also used this text and will recall that the gist of the book was a description of five means by which we might view the relationship between the church and culture. There was “Christ against Culture”, “Christ of Culture”, “Christ above Culture”, “Christ in Paradox with Culture”, and finally “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” Many folks nowadays seem to subscribe to the paradigm of “Christ transforming culture” and if this is true then we who are Eastern Orthodox are in a precarious situation. Let me explain…
Conciliar Press publishes a small booklet entitled The Mission of Orthodoxy by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, which I have begun to thumb through recently. A bit of what Fr. Schmemann says:
Only here in the west, and for the first time in the history of Orthodoxy, do we think of the Church in terms only of a religious institution such as diocese, parish, and so on. No one in organically Orthodox countries has ever thought of the Church as being distinct from the totality of life…the Church was organically related to society, culture, education, family, etc. There was no separation, no dichotomy.
Here, then, we find the first radical difference which we have to face in America: We belong to the Orthodox Church, but we do not belong to an Orthodox culture, and unless we understand that this is not an academic proposition, but the real framework of our existence, we will not see clearly through our situation. For everything in the Orthodox Church points toward a way of life; the Church is connected to all aspects of life. Yet we are deprived of this connection because, upon leaving our churches on Sunday morning, we return to a culture which was not produced, shaped, or inspired by the Orthodox Church and which, therefore, in a way is deeply alien to Orthodoxy.
WOW!This little introduction to this booklet really floored me…he really hit the nail on the head in terms of what I have been thinking lately. I’ll be frank: oftentimes I hate our culture – I despise it and judge it as destructive and dark. I am sorely tempted to side with the “Christ against Culture” crowd and withdraw into a commune of like-minded individuals. But, there is also a small non-cynical side of me that wants and hopes to see our culture transformed…but, assuming it is possible, into what and how? I am anxious to read more of what Fr. Schmemann has to say in this work.
We ought to stand and ask ourselves, what has made this American culture? Who fathered it and then who mothered (nursed it) into maturity? As much as I did not like the tone of Frank Schaeffer’s (son of the more well known theologian with the same name) book Dancing Alone, it does not prevent me from seeing a good deal of truth in it. I would recommend it, at the risk of having it offend some people.
I met Thomas about a year or two ago through the Orthodox-Convert Group and I have watched him as he has made a journey not too terribly dissimilar from my own. In a moment I will (with his permission) allow his words to speak for himself, but I should like to offer a brief preface.
Often we, who have found ourselves already arrived at our eastern destination, speak of the need for a major paradigmic shift in our thinking in order to embrace ancient Christianity. Indeed there is a good deal of truth in this understanding. We do need to let go of some of our inherited rationalism and individualism. But, this usually doesn't happen right away and is frequently predicated upon a quite rational decision for the need to begin the journey at all. Thomas explains:
Understand that I was a lifelong protestant, virulently anti-
Roman, and had never heard much of orthodoxy. For 10 years I was an
ordained church-of-christ preacher/church planter. During that time,
if I had simply been invited to an orthodox church, every warning
bell and whistle would have gone off in my head: "idolatrous" icons,
priests (violates "priesthood of believer"), vestments (hierarchy -
yuck!), liturgy (vain repetitions), an offensive wall between me and
the Holy of Holies (Iconostasis), etc. etc. In fact, there was
*nothing* initially about orthodox worship that attracted me, and, if
confronted with all these issues at once, I would have blown a few
circuit breakers because everything would have undermined my
As a good evangelical, everything had to be brought back to the
Bible, and to my understanding of how the Bible verses all worked
together. Evangelicalism starts, lives, and ends with a
very "academic" approach to "understanding" how the pieces of
Scripture logicly fit together, without the aid of eccelesiastical
Unfortunately, this "academic" approach lacks a great deal of
intellectual honesty, and when that became apparent, my evangelical
presuppositions and foundations came crashing down. I was introduced
to the *history* of how Biblical canon came together; to the lives
and writings of the earliest saints (Igantius, Polycarp, Clement of
Rome, Ireneaus, and the Didache, to be precise); to the worship forms
used at Iona and Kells, Lindisfarne and Bangor.....people took the
time to "argue" the Bible verses I had carefully ignored ("it seemed
good to the holy spirit and to us....the power to bind and
loose...what you forgive on earth...paul's handkerchief and peter's
Now, I know Orthodoxy is not merely an alternative academic
construction, and to merely argue for orthodoxy based on writings and
Bible verses and historical facts is not a "full" rendering of
Orthodoxy - it's protestantism in robes. :-) But for me, immersed
as i was in a world that only understood intellectual approaches, it
was THE approach that sent my entire theological scaffolding crashing
to the floor. It WAS enough to "deconstruct" me of my
protestantism. Then, the real learning .... the journey TOWARDS
Orthodoxy - began...and at this point I was receptive to the other,
non-academic tools: the mystery and beauty of the faith, piety,
icons, candles, incense, acceptance of things I couldn't figure out,
and lots of "mystery."
So, in terms of my journey, it took academic arm-wrestling to
disengage my protestant presuppositions - and much of that was as a
result of ex-protestants on THIS list who KNEW where my head was
at. Then, once disengaged, I was able to start learning about God all
Thomas is still apart of his protestant congregation which is itself wrestling with some of the issues revolving around continuity with ancient Christianity. Whether they will follow the growing trend of entire congregations converting remains to be seen....but on a personal level Thomas is well on his way. I really appreciated his relating this story to us on the convert list and I could not have said it better myself, for in a very real way we are all learning about God all over again.
I can recall when I first began to delve into Patrisctics and Orthodox theology I approached a number of Orthodox e-mail Lists expressing my interest in the Eastern Faith and trying to impress folks with all the reading and studying I had been doing. But numerous folks downplayed my studying and really pushed for me to focus on learning about Orthodoxy experientially. It got so bad at one point that I practically screamed out: "Do you people want me to convert or not!" I was like the overly eager student becoming sick of "paint de fence" and "wax de car" - not, as of yet, being awakened to the real learning taking place.
In some ways the paradigmic shift - when it did finally occur - was like awakening from a dream. Reality is different than I remember...but perhaps (you may say) I am dreaming now. If that be so, please observe and heed the "do not disturb" sign.
Our Metropolitan PHILLIP issued a heartfelt statement on our government's leanings toward war with Iraq. I think it is well said and will likely fall on deaf ears. I think our Middle Eastern policies will continue along the same road and will therefore continue to alienate the people of the region from any possible feelings of goodwill towards our nation. Because we are now the "only game in town," I am honestly afraid of what policies shall yet arise in the future.
I'm not sure what the current protestant end-time fad is nowadays - but in my time we believed that the European Union would be the new Babylon...but I always thought (even then) that it'd be more likely to be America. Ahhhh end times prophecy and the book of Revelation...another BIG difference between the East and West, but that shall have to wait for another post.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.
Holy Saint Irenaios please pray for us and for the peace and stability of the world
O first enthroned of the Apostles
Teachers of the whole world
entreat the Master of all to grant peace to the world
and great mercy to our souls
Still plowing through The Brothers... and came accross another in a long list of gems therein.
A woman confesses to the Elder Zossima that she is struggling with doubts regarding her faith, she is having trouble because she cannot prove her religion to herself and she begs the elder to teach her how to convince herself. The Elder responds:
...there's no proving it, though you can be convinced of it. By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.
What really strikes me are the heavy words of the last two sentences You see I am in the business of science and much of what I do all day is run experiments trying to discern truth in the area of molecular virology. Often my experiments prove to be a profound waste of time, but how would I know this to be the case unless I tried...if only I had known of someone who had tried the same experiment before me, then I could have thus saved myself the fruitless effort.
Dostoevsky, via the honorable Elder Zossima, reminds us that such blind trial and error is not neccesary in our Christian journey. If we would so desire, we can stand upon the shoulders of up to 2000 year old giants and see the view from on high. In my last post I made mention of Confucius because much of what he taught revolved around the futility of disarding the traditions and practices of our ancestors, for in so doing he believed we isolated oursleves from the collective wisdom of humanity. It is like using bread to leave a trail in the forrest in order to find your way back home.
When I go to my priest in Confession, this is the sort of guidance I expect. His job, as a spiritual father in the OC tradition, is to know and be able to communicate the tried and certain path which has been established by the Church from the beginning and passed along through her Holy Tradition. There is a rich treasury to be tapped therein.
A news story relates that the Greek Church has rejected a bid to alter the traditional dress of Orthodox priests in Greece. I cannot resist making note of the sad humor I see in Yahoo’s decision to file this story under “Oddly Enough.” Indeed, how strange it is in our world today to hold on to your traditions and NOT change. This will no doubt ignite one of my diatribes, which you might prefer to ignore. And here it is…
I often hear the criticism against the Orthodox Church (which is inherent in the placement of this story) that She is outdated, unwilling to change or adapt, and ultimately irrelevant because of these facts. Interesting that from my humble perspective these “criticisms” are actually praises and supremely attracted me to the Church to begin with.
Along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Mountains in California there is a very well preserved ghost town called Bodie which was, like many ghost towns, a community built around mining. At its peak it reached a population of 10,000 people and had over 60 saloons and dance halls in the late 19th century. Bodie was a HAPPENING kinda place…back then. I recall a dialogue which takes place in the movie Tombstone in which the Tombstone’s sheriff is singing the praises of the bustling new city and predicting that they would someday surpass the likes of San Francisco. But alas, we understand today the humor in such naïve optimism.
Whereas San Francisco has many solid foundations for financial sustenance, Tombstone and Bodie did not. When you look at the location of Bodie, you cannot help but ask: “What the hell were these people thinking living here?!” Well, people scrambled in droves to the old ghost towns in search of gold…bright shiny metal. Like fish in a pond gathering around a bright shiny lure that is first tossed into the water. In time, the gold goes away and the town dies…the people move on in search of the newest bright shiny metal promise. Many dot-com’ers have learned their own modern ghost town lesson, but look closer for I believe there are other lessons to be learned.
I’ve heard it said that MTV (and perhaps TV/Media in general) is producing in us a greatly reduced attention span and I really don’t doubt it. It seems we are a culture that is, with decisively yet often without apparent purpose, ever changing, ever seeking, and never satisfied. The young and new are glorified while the old are discarded, whether it be ideas, traditions, rituals, or people. To us, the mandatory respect and honor granted to the elderly in other cultures is deemed laughable by us enlightened westerners…oh how much we could learn from Confucius! But even in the eastern world we are exporting our western ideals…God help them, and forgive us.
And now we tell the church that she must change in order to better communicate to our ever-changing culture. And to some extent there is truth here…but, at what point are we seeking an end without realizing the means and ultimately what the end will really be. We think that the way to convert people is to become a “culture pleasing” institution (or whatever you wish to call it) and yet I wonder if this is true. A recent survey found that the most successful “Christian” denomination in terms of convert growth is actually the Mormons! Perhaps we should model their evangelism methods…except that I’m not sure I remember how to ride a bike.
The Episcopal Church is an example of a group striving to become a culture-pleasing institution and I have watched it, from the inside, become nearly so. Good ole ECUSA retired Bishop Spong actually said that the “Church must change or die.” The changes begin innocently enough with outward praxis, but as cultural whims demand more, they end with a radical change in inward belief. (From the Orthodox perspective, the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather organically interconnected.) As the process continues in the ECUSA, they are slowly but surely marching their way right out of the Christian religion and into something altogether different….but at least its shiny and new.
Remember, the ghost towns died because of change – inspired by the desire for possessing the new, the bright, and the shiny. Alas, the new becomes old, the bright becomes dim, and the shiny becomes dull – the search goes on. Meanwhile in the old foundational cities, life goes on.
The Orthodox Church, like a great museum charged with protecting the world’s greatest works of art, sees a continuous need to redesign or redecorate the buildings, the rooms, or the procedures as dangerous. Increasing the potential to literally lose or damage works of art. Unbelievable as it may sound, it happens all the time. Even recently I read of a confirmed work of Da Vinci being found collecting dust in some obscure corner of a museum…how could this happen? How could they lose something of such profound value?
To us Orthodox, our virtually unchanging praxis protects our beliefs like a diligent security guard in a prized museum. Our praxis also communicates and manifests the faith as passed down from our fathers and we see it as remembering the ancient landmarks of our fathers (see above). While we marvel at how a potentially priceless Da Vinci can be laid aside and forgotten, we must remembering how the Resurrection is being forgotten in some “christian” denominations today.
You may call the Orthodox Church “out of date,” “irrelevant to our culture,” or “stubbornly unwilling to change.” But do not call her forgetful. She remembers…and she protects. We need her more than many of you might think.
End of diatribe…please forgive me if I gave offense.
Travel around traditionally Orthodox countries and you will find numerous caves occupied by monastic communities or hermits. This "Cave Church Movement" is as old as monasticism itself - perhaps older - but apparently has not caught on all that much with the general population. Though perhaps it is simply a lack of suitable caves? The one in the picture is from the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery in Russia.
After Liturgy on Sunday, I took the girls down to St.Spiridon Orthodox Cathedral (OCA) for their annual Bazaar, and they had a grand time - especially dancing with the Romanian Folk dancers. The food was pretty darn good too! In the Nave of the Church they had displayed dozens of very old Russian Icons (some as old as perhaps 300 years), which no doubt many of the Russian emigrants had brought with them to America - they were beautiful and for some reason reminded me of the suffering the Russian Church experienced under the communist yoke. How dare we go and "evangelize" these people with our wussy american faith that has NEVER suffered? St. Spiridon Cathedral was established in 1895, but Orthodoxy has been here in America much longer than that.
While there, I picked up a copy of Saint Athanasios' On the Incarnation as published by Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, with an introduction by none other than CS Lewis! Of Saint Athanasios, Mr. Lewis writes:
St. Athanasius stood Contra Mundum (against the world) for the Trinitarian doctrine "whole and undefiled," when it looked as if all the civilized world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius, into one of those "sensible" synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which then, as now, included among their devoteesmany highly cultivated clergymen. The glory of St. Athanasius is that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, like all others, have passed away.
Holy Saint Athanasios, please pray unto God for us...we really need it today.
Tomorrow is the feast day for the Apostle Thomas. According to Holy Tradition, Saint Thomas brought the gospel to India in 52AD and was subsequently martyred there around 72AD. There is still today an Orthodox presence in India. The Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church is apart of what is commonly referred to as Oriental Orthodox, or non-Chalcedonian - which means in essence that they rejected the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Included in the communion of the Oriental Orthodox are the Copts, Armenian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox. There is in truth a good deal of dialogue between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox and there is also a good deal of hope for reunion especially since the faith and practice of the two churches are amazingly similar. An organization devoted to reunification has a very nice website with lots of info HERE.
Anyway, the Indian Orthodox boast of a membership of 2 million (perhaps really not that impressive given India's population) and some 1500 Parishes.
Troparion of St Thomas Thou wast a disciple of Christ and one of the Twelve,
and by thy unbelief didst proclaim Christ's Resurrection.
By touch thou wast assured of His holy Passion,
O glorious Apostle Thomas.
Pray to Him to grant us peace and mercy.
I am not a doctor, but I play one via the US Mail. Working as a Tech in an infectious disease lab affords you the courtesy of receiving vast quantities of advertising mail from potential vendors, who not wishing to possibly insult someone, inevitably give me the title doctor when addressing me. I suppose some of the people working in the mailroom are none the wiser and I must admit I somewhat like the prestige I get from some of these presuppositions. Please reference the self-admonition I always "offer" at the end of my posts.
Working at a world-reknowned cancer care facility has its ups and downs...and one "down" frequently occurs in the elevator when I sometimes make contact with a patient. In one recent case a small family composed of parents, a boy of perhaps two years, and a little girl about 6 years old, joined me for the ride down. The little boy was connected to a series of tubes which left his abdomen and met up with some sort of electronic device which his sister carreid cautiously. Not being a doctor - or nurse for that matter - I really have no idea what this device was for, though I suspect the boy was undergoing chemotherapy. My job is to take his facelss samples and identify potentially dangerous pathogens therein...but when the faces from which these samples originate are seen, my job becomes much more emotionally complex and diffcult.
I could see the boy had been crying and he held in his hand a brand new - not even out of the package - matchbox car. No doubt it was given to him as a reward for dealing with the painful needle sticks he had to endure. In his parents' face I believed I could see sleeplessness, fear, sadness, and profound sympathy and love. On this short little trip down the elevator, my heart was breaking for them and it was all I could do to hold back literal tears. My thoughts: How trivial my problems are....how lucky I am that my kids are healthy...how horrible it must be to see your child suffer...I wonder if the boy will make it....and most importantly: WHY?
Then something strange happened as the door opened to the second floor and the family stepped out to leave. I felt deeply compelled to apologize to them. To tell them that it is my fault and that I was terribly grieved for what I had done to bring such harm to their beautiful son. I imagined myself on my knees, pleading for mercy as if I had struck their child down with my own hands. Truth be told? I did strike the child down...and so did you! We are all to blame for this little boy's suffering...indeed for all the world's suffering. IT IS ALL OUR FAULT!
We are not saved alone or in isolation and neither do we sin alone or in isolation. What we do affects others in ways we cannot imagine. You see this is the paradigm we lack here in America...stupid boneheads that we are, we actually think that we are free to do anything we want in the "privacy" of our own homes "as long as it doesn't affect others."
NEWSFLASH! Everything we do...I'll say again...everything we do affects others! By Adam's sin DEATH itself was brought into existance, and we perpetuate death, sickness, suffering, and pain by enveloping ourselves in more and more sin...calling them "personal lifestyle choices" or "our rights."
We have always been taught that sin is simply the breaking of a law and that the only time such sins affect others is if they were somehow directly involved. But there is much more to sin than that - sin literally alters reality. It kills that which should have once been and brings to life that which should never have been. Sin is not merely breaking a law, it is bleeding the LIFE out of the universe and replacing it with death. It extinguishes light in exchange for darkness...and we in our Matrix-like stupor begin to call the darkness "normal." In our God-designed, Trinity-modeled human community we suffer at the hands of one another whether we even know it or not! THIS, for those of you who are Orthodox, is why Forgiveness Vespers is so important...it doesn't matter whether you pissed off another parishoner or not...we all owe and require one another's forgiveness.
And so when the lust burns and when the anger builds, I will try to remember this little boy on the elevator.
I just got off the phone with a detective from the King County Sheriff's department.
I found out yesterday that a former schoolmate and coworker had died of a gunshot wound and apparently her husband is going to be charged with murder. I also knew the husband and had in fact been fishing with him a couple of times...he did always strike me as an angry and violent man - the kind of person who just gave me the creeps and always had me worried that he was going to pick a fight with someone. After getting to know him, I generally tried to avoid him. I had no idea that the "injuries" that were appearing on his wife when she came to work were being caused by him. Apparently, unbeknowst to me, after leaving our lab she had her jaw broken and confided in somone that her husband was responsible. Now she is dead, and two young boys have lost their mother and father.
May her memory be eternal and may God watch over her children.
As strange coincidence would have it, my posting on this sad topic connects with my friend John Bell's post from yesterday in which he reminds us of the intensity found in the Orthodox funeral service. The voice of the departed is heard one last time:
Looking on me as I lie here prone before you, voiceless and unbreathing, mourn for me, everyone;brethren and friends, kindred, and you who knew me well; for but yesterday with you I was talking, and suddenly there came upon me the fearful hour of death: therefore come, all you that long for me, and kiss me with the last kiss of parting. For no longer shall I walk with you, nor talk with you henceforth: for to the Judge I go, where no person is valued for his earthly station: Yea, slave and master together stand before Him, king and soldier, rich man and poor man, all accounted of equal rank: for each one, according to his own deeds shall be glorified, or shall be put to shame. Therefore I beg you all, and implore you, to offer prayer unceasingly for me to Christ our God, that I be not assigned for my sins to the place of torment; but that He assign me to the place where there is Light of Life.