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.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away... I "guest" taught a junior high sunday school class in which I offered a series intended to reveal the horrors of crucifixion. I went into vivid medical and emotional detail about how Jesus suffered for us...bringing into the classroom illustrative instruments such as huge nails and a hammer. In the end, I imagine the intent was to illicit an emotional response to the tortures Jesus endured in our place. I am rather certain that Gibson's new movie The Passion (You may view the trailer HERE) with it's brutal and graphic portrayal of the crucifixion would have been most agreeable to me had I seen it back then.
But take a look at an Orthodox Icon of the Crucifixion.
We must note that it is certainly not intended to demonstrate historical and literal accuracy, as much as it is presenting to us the unseen reality of what is happening on Golgotha - Jesus the King is willingly and in dignified manner giving himself up to the cross. Compare and contrast this iconography with the western crucifix many of us are familiar with. Does the seeming desire of us westerners to "gorifying" (note the intentional lack of the letter "L") the cross stem from a foundational emphasis on substituionary atonement theology? Must we make Christs' suffering seem comparable to an enternity in hell (which is in essence what He is supposed to be enduring for us)?
It fascinates me that Orthodox Holy Week hymnology often proclaims words like: "Glory to your Passion O Lord."
I feel strange about the gore of Gibson's film (as well as what is often portrayed in western art). Shouldn't there be some portrayal of dignity in what is happening at the cross? How do we communicate the fact that Jesus is fully embracing what is happening to Him? His silence? In Orthodox hymnology (again) we are told that the Transfiguration had this intention.
I dunno...just thinking out loud here folks. I think I might prefer a sort of iconographic film which is more interested in developing the REAL story of what is happening. The cross without Holy Saturday and the Glory of Pascha, is empty. Yet, I'm not sure that western theology neccesitates this truth - at least not in the same way.
I may actually end up NOT enjoying Mel's film...but I will reserve judgement.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:08 PM [+] +++
Nowhere to go...
Seraphim has offered some comments to my last post that were of such high caliber, that I asked permission to repost them as a whole. Seraphim is a marvel to me...I have watched him as he was, in my eyes, the the arch-inquirer, then the arch-catechumen, and then more recently the arch-newly illumined. He is on the very top of my list of persons who should have a blog and yet - oddly enough - do not. His critique below (really it is much more than a critique) is personal and positive. I agree with him that much of what the disenfranchised and dissillusioned post-mod Christians are "looking for" may be found in the ancient Church of Holy Orthodoxy. But, by the same token, there is much therein which they may NOT be looking for. Since when has our religion catered to such things? None-the-less, perhaps it is the moving of the Holy Spirit that is just now beginning to inspire people to move East (Did anyone notice on of those "alternative worship events" which focused on things eastern?)
I don't have this word for word... but Fr. Vadim at St Spiridon's (in seattle) tells the story of a group that once came to church on a kind of 'field trip'. (i'm sure many orthodox parishes experience such 'fieldtrips'). One of the members of the visiting group asked Fr. Vadim a question about the difference between orthodoxy and the christian mainstream. Fr. Vadim said... you don't understand. We ARE the mainstream.
Thinking more about this, I have to rant just a little. I was (before converting) highly involved in the evangelical "emerging post-modern church" movement that alt.worship is part of. It was actually my experience in this movement that had me re-consider protestantism itself, which eventually led to my conversion.
The movement, while promoting so many good, beautiful categories of renewal, still seems rooted in two protestant distinctives: the hermeneutic of the individual and the 'protest' of protestantism. And it all feels so awkward because the protest is (this time) not against Rome of course, but against protestantism itself.
It is a dead-end to use the core distinctions of a faith to critique that faith. There is nowhere to go... snake eating its tail.
And while many of these evangelicals have given up sola scriptura (a third key protestant distinctive), the various attempts at replacing sola scriptura with ancient-future-church alt.worship, seem wonderfully inspired by a desire for God, but so painfully self-conscious. I.E., the head of the snake declaring itself an alternative to the tail of the snake. In the end, its the same snake.
Nationwide (and even globally) the evangelicals in the growing alt.worship 'emerging' church movement see their efforts as a re-invention of "church" itself. Of course that is such an awkward and strange phrase to eastern christians... as awkward as the phrase "alternative" worship.
The protestant reduction of worship to 'worship events', however cool or relevant (ie, "worship" is what you call a set of songs after/before a sermon, or the use of ancient icons and cool technology for 'worshipful ambience', or a 'praise gathering' etc...) seems to be connected to the protestant reduction of salvation itself to the mere event of saying the 'sinners prayer'. I know I am exaggerating, as there are 30,000 protestant denomenations, and many variations on the theme.
It would seem that the variations and alternatives-to-those-variations must be continually created by Western Christians, in part because (as Fr Schmemann so powerfully shows) Christianity over time altered its understanding of the Eucharist. This alteration is key. Most protestants teach that the rite of communion is a (sacred) act of remembrance. the East, however, with its emphasis on a NOW eschatology, continues to affirm the Real Presence in the Bread and Wine. It is more than remembrance, Eucharist is a (glorious!) direct experience of and with God Himself. Lord have mercy!
And if the reality of the chief Sacrament of historical Christianity is lost, then it makes sense that you'd have to keep creating "alternatives". Elvis has left the building, so to speak!
In the East, of course, worship and salvation are inter-twined, and ARE the very living dynamic relationship with God over time... past, present, future. How can you create an alternative to that? Worship is holistically bound up in everything we do as Christians, and more importantly, it is both who we are, and who we are *becoming* (Theosis). ie, it is the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy on sunday mornings, but also the "liturgy AFTER the liturgy"... ie, the liturgy of life itself lived as a sacrament.
Not that I am in any way a scholar or eastern theologian (however you may define the term 'theologian'), it still grieves me that core Eastern Christian realities are so little understood by Western Christians. I believe the core vision of life and worship that is Eastern Christianity speaks directly to the heart of all that the 'emerging' evangelical church longs for.
I say all this in the spirit of "we can affirm where God IS, but not where He is not". And out of a deep desire for evangelicals to see the unspeakable Beauty that the Eastern Church affirms... the Beauty that will 'save the world'!
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:27 AM [+] +++
Monday, September 29, 2003
Icons, not at home
A simple Yahoo search on "alternative worship" will yield some intriguing results. One of which is was this one which includes a photographic archive of alternative worship events being done by a wide variety of groups (Episcopal, Baptist, and small home church communities.) I was actually introduced to this site by a friend, but in the yahoo search found other things that were equally interesting to me.
Quite frankly, I like much of what these folks are doing...and were I not where I am today, I would no doubt be wholly into this "scene" (if I may call it that.) Yes, yes, yes...if I had not allowed the ancients to answer my questions such as: What is Church? Where does authority lie? What ought we to believe and practice? Amongst others, you might have seen my face in those archives. That is neither here nor there.
What struck me was that in several of these events (only one that I could see at alternativeworship.org, but on other pages I saw examples as well) was the utilization of well known Orthodox icons in their events. When I saw them in the pictures they immediately stuck out to me (even when being used as a sort of backdrop)...I know these! They are like old familiar friends...but they certainly seem out of place! Now, don't get me wrong, Icons are not copywritten (that I know of!) and so of course people are welcome to use them in any way they see fit...but I wonder if they at all understand the significance of them? Do they understand the heart, soul, spirit, and theology which inspired their writing?
Perhaps you migth ask: what difference does it make if they understand or not?
I guess it doesn't...but are the icons "public domain"? Not legally, but more philosophically and religiously, these "windows into heaven" are precious to us...dare I say Holy, even? Yes, I do. Are they demeaned at all by having someone take them out of their natural environment and use them as they see fit...even if done relatively reverently? True enough, I saw no group using an actual icon (whether laminated reproductions or originals), rather they seem to prefer to have the image photographed and projected onto screens...sometimes as mere background to render, I suppose, a certain ambience to the room. Yikes, this feels ugly to this Orthodox Christian. But maybe I am just being petty.
Let me relate a true story. My wife recently met at my kids' swim lessons a woman whose family structure was very much like our own. Four kids of similar age and all being homeschooled as well. They began dialoguing quite abit and as it turns out the woman's husband teaches at the old AG Bible college I used to go to. Upon hearing that we were Eastern Orthodox, the woman happily proclaimed:
"Oh YES! We just read about them in our ancient history coursework!"
Well standing in front of this woman was my wife..."living" history. Of course, no offense was intended (I'm sure she didn't realize how what she said sounded) and none was taken, but come on now...the Orthodox are not a thing of history! It is the largest Christian body in the world, second only to the Roman Catholic Church. She has spent much of her history in bondage, but thrives yet and is unintentionally (funny enough) converting more and more western Christians to her ways. She is like a gem, long hidden from western eyes, and she is full of life despite the dust.
Her Icons are likewise something greater than objects to be studied in art history classes. They are equally alive and a highly regarded part of our worship. They are intimately linked to our faith and I caution that care ought to be taken by other christian groups who wish to use them. While I cringe a little at seeing them used as "background" decor, some other Orthodox Christian who may not understand the innocent ignorance behind such useage could take very profound offense.
Beware...these are treasured religious objects of a LIVING FAITH...and NOT some uncopywritten piece of historic religious art.
My good friend Seraphim has just informed me that the Monastery of St. John has finally updated their website (it had been down for quite sometime). It looks fantastic and has lots of good information and articles. HIGHLY HIGHLY recommended. Fr. Jonah is my hero.
Link is to the right for future reference, but for your ease click here Enjoy...and don't forget to subscribe to their excellent periodical.
Alana said, over a cup of Morning Coffee,it's too easy for me to confuse an emotional experience with a spiritual experience. The two are not the same.
This has finally forced me to put into words something I've been thinking about since last wednesday evening when we dragged all the kids to Vespers. Usually we don't, the boys' bedtime was just too close to that time frame and at that point in the evening these kids were precariously close to "meltdown mode" (parents will know what I mean.) But, bedtime has begun to change and we've decided it is important for all of us to be there.
I'm guessing I heard a grand total of 14 words. And I sang 8 of them myself. The rest of the evening was composed from my own mouth and amounted to a massive cornucopia of "Shhh...stop it...be quiet...put your shoes back on....stand up...don't hit your sister...don't run...stand still...and shhhh"
Soooooo....did I worship? You see, inbred in me is this idea that to have a "good" time of worship I must have some emotional high. I should feel something. Tears, laughter...something. Sometimes I even catch myself entering into the Nave with a mind that says: "I am REALLY going to worship this time!" Only to have my hopes dashed when something on par to my 1 year old son nearly destroying the relic of the True Cross happens. But are my hopes legitimate...or are they false hopes that are illfounded to begin with?
Surely this is why we AG'ers would send our kids away during the worship. Oddly enough, this is not the Orthodox way. Typically we haul the kids into the work (sometimes called liturgy) right along with us. Is this good? Yes, I think so in many ways - they are as much apart of our community as we adults (remember, we dunk these kids in the Baptismal waters...they ARE Christians!) and the Eucharist is fully realized when the entirety of the Church is gathered.
Anyway...sometimes there are intense and emotional experiences and sometimes there are not. But we eat God none-the-less, which is of course a profound spiritual (and physical) experience. I find that the extent to which my heart is in the right place during liturgy can be quickly and easily discerned by how I react to my kids' antics. Therein, can be true worship found.
I always interpretted "worship in spirit and truth" as being how I worshipped in my AG church (as opposed to how the dead liturgical churches worshipped). One of those verses we are so good at using as arrows directed at others, but never to ourselves. God's been "telling" me that upon entering the nave I should expect rather to look inward and fix that which manifests anger at my kids when they do things like nearly destroying the True Cross. THAT is worship. If I grown too angry with my kids, I will not approach the chalice...too dangerous.
In my experience, both personally and from what I've heard from others, folks looking to convert or considering converting to Orthodoxy are often very much starved to hear and read about other people's conversion experiences. I stumbled across THIS site this morning and thought I'd share it. Those of us converts who have published our stories online may wish to submit a link to the site's author. Potential converts may feed there if they wish. And the generally intrigued may check it out to perhaps see some of the reasons why we've faced north, turned right and ran.
I heard on NPR this morning about another dispute (this time in the greater Chicago area) between a neighborhood and a proposed MEGA Church. This time it is a Baptist Church that started with 200 some people in 1980something and now boasts over 17,000! They want to build a stadium, basically.
Now, I know, many of my house church friends find this sort of thing abhorrant, and to a certain extent I agree with them. However, I like big churches...I think Orthodox worship and ecclesiology lends itself to large gatherings - though of course not neccesarily so. I'm not talking about the flavor we often see in many evangelical Mega-Churches: huge auditoriums with posh theatre-style seating, an espresso cafe, fast food court, and athletic center. But, I digress, this is NOT the track I wanted to head down with this post...rather something that the NPR reporter said.
"MegaChurches have been around for about 30 years..."
Now maybe she was referring to the evangelical version I alluded to...but THIS is what first came to my mind when I heard her say it.
Speaking of ritual. One of mine, as the kids get tucked into bed (except for my eldest, Kelsey), is to grab a small bowl of honey roasted peanuts and just relax - maybe watch a movie, read a book, surf the net, tie up some fishing leaders...whatever. Just a time to relax and unwind as precious quietness is at last manifested in our home. Last night was no different.
I noticed a bowl on the kitchen counter and thought I'd save a dirty dish (since this one looked clean) by using it for my peanuts. Later, as I sat munching the last of my peanuts in the family room, Kelsey came in to say her goodnight. As she left, she burst out laughing and gleefully announced to Mom in the other room:
Much conversation (and a little bickering) has been happening in Alana’s kitchen nook as of late. A particular little tributary of the main conversations has got me thinking - no big suprise, is it? Some of those thoughts were expressed in comments there, but I’d like to develop them more fully here at home. (If any of you were over at Alana’s you will forgive some of the repetition I am doomed to make here.)
Someone mentioned they were not big fans of ritual, preferring instead to focus on the “bigger” things like loving your neighbor. No point in trying to argue with this…rather I simply added that the two needn’t be at odds. But, ritual is a big part of Orthodoxy and we like it, thus I feel obliged to express why.
What is ritual?
Well the dictionary offers both a religious and secular usage, which really aren’t all that different:
1. The prescribed order of a religious ceremony.
2. The prescribed form of conducting a formal secular ceremony
Are we humans naturally attracted to ritual? Well, could we imagine a president being sworn in without some elaborate and perhaps even moving ceremony? Could we remember 9/11 on its anniversary without some solemn and formal procedure? What about our funerals and our weddings? Can we fathom these hugely important events just being proclaimed on paper as having taken place or being recognized and then…well…then nothing else. You’re married now, you’re dead now, you have remembered a devastating and history altering event now, or you are the president of the United States now. How strange…and empty…unsatisfying. Would we not feel unfed? Unsatisfied. Would it not feel unreal?
Truly, rituals MEAN something to us…they move us and affect us. They seem to help us to feel the importance of some event…they validate deeply held emotions and convictions. They testify to the importance of the fuel, which inspires the ritual. I contend that we NEED ritual.
Why should our religious life be any different? If the Church is right about the claim that in the Eucharist we partake of the Divine Nature, ought it not to be a very profound and deeply significant ritual? Ritual is like art. It certainly may not have any direct observable utilitarian purpose, but so what? Can we imagine a world without art? Would it not be a world without real humanity?
We humans are creatures and creators. We actually manifest beauty through art and likewise through ritual – which is art, no? We express, teach, and even heal ourselves through ritual. Ultimately I think ritual testifies to the fact that we can, must, and do transcend utilitarianism. There is no either/or between ritual and “loving your neighbor”, only an “and.”
And, speaking of “and”, I think that if one looks closely at oneself they will find that they do indeed see the meaningfulness and importance of ritual.
In Georgia (pictured above the Patriarch Ilia II) protesters have convinced the government to postpone a pact with the Vatican which would have granted more freedoms to the RCC in Georgia. A papist ploy to convert the Orthodox masses? The old world Orthodox seem to have a deeply held suspiscion of all things roman.
So we americans shiver at the notion that a free "government signed an agreement with the Georgian Orthodox Church recognizing its special role." But before we judge them, we ought to consider whether the Orthodox claim to being the foundational consciousness of countries and cultures in the east is more valid than the evangelical claims to the heritage of the United States. I personally have no qualms in seeing the Orthodox Church have special rights in their home countries.
Why now does the seperation of Church and State have some sacred value, while for the vast majority of Church history the exact opposite was the case?
And an "orthodox" gay wedding in Russia. The priest who did the job, lost his. (Please no one lecture me about "priesthood not being a job" I know this already...but couldn't resist the wording there.)
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:04 AM [+] +++
Monday, September 22, 2003
Email problems Apparently my ISP is having problems. I am not receiving all my emails, so for the time being you might wish to use my hotmail account. If you emailed me and I never answered you...this may be why. Or perhaps I am just ignoring you! :)
For nearly two weeks now the dishwasher (brand new, purshaced when we bought the house) has failed to function and we have been forced (OH THE HUMANITY!!!!) to wash our dishes by hand. Now, if you have 6 people in your house, 4 of them 6YO and under, then you have permission to laugh...otherwise HUSH UP!
The Maytag repairman arrives this morning and takes the machine apart. Guess what he found blocking the motor's operation? Yep, a Lego. Almost as funny as when our heavily irritated olfactory senses found one in the oven.
Well, as a tidbit...something my youngest daughter, Charissa, says that has had me thinking. She loves Mom's digital camera and is frequently asking to take pictures or have pictures taken...her wording is most fascinating: "Daddy, take a picture about me."
"A picture about"...whereas we usually say "a picture of"
I think I like her wording better and intend on employing it. There is some depth in the phrase, though I've not fully dug it out yet.
The RFD Paradosis performed admirably. Despite the trouble of my van almost getting stuck in the loose gravel (a problem I am working out future solutions to), it was a great day. We lost count of how many Humpies we caught...they were so thick in the river that we were all too often snagging them (hate that). The treasured Coho could not be found through the cloud of slimy Pinks, but we shall try again. Beautiful day on the river, and the boat looks good. I'm not really very sore from the rowing either - it was a long drift, hope to find a shorter one by launching from an RV park I saw.
Anyway...I've developed a love affair with rivers since moving to Washington in 1989. It began with Whitewater Rafting and slowed down a bit into "less whitewater" fishing. There is tranquility on the river...peace...something very relaxing about hearing the water gurgle under an anchored up driftboat while you cast out into the riffle above you...
...of course the bizzare and laughable sounds of cows and donkeys - being slughtered or procreating, we weren't sure - as we passed one farm, did amount to a humorous commercial break in the tranquility.
Going to see about having my priest bless the boat. Firday night, before the trip, I sprinkled holy water on the bow and beseeched the prayers of St. Nicholas, Help of Mariners for safety. The new icon above is going to be mounted inside the boat this week.
Sometimes I scan the AM radio stations to hear what may catch my interest. Preachers almost always do. A quote, as best as I am able to remember, from what I heard this morning:
Beginning at Gethsamene, Jesus experienced the equivalent of eternal suffering in hell for each and every one of His elect. The wrath of God was being poured out upon Him...
I don't remember...did I ever believe such terrible stuff?
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:39 AM [+] +++
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Wisdom...let us attend
Caught up so in the sweeping topic of the True Cross (we remain still, by the way, in the midst of the AfterFeast of its Elevation), that I neglected to mention that yesterday was my wife's nameday. Saint Sophia and her three children (Faith, Hope, and Love) were brutally martyred under the reign of Hadrian (117-138 AD). The children, all twelve and under, watched one by one as the eldest to the youngest were tortured and killed - yet even the youngest having seen what they did to her siblings would not reject Christ. Mom was forced to watch it all.
My wife marvels at the piety these children were raised in the midst of in order to so fill them with the virtues for which the were named. The world no doubt views their actions as supremely stupid, and yet we - the Church - say they lived up to the mother's name: Sophia, wisdom. Let us attend indeed.
Many an Orthodox Church bears the name of Saint Sophia. The Greek word (Hagia) which we often translate as Saint may also be translated as Holy. Does anyone know if the great cathedral Hagia Sophia of Constantinople (oops, did I say that...I mean of course Istanbul) is named for this martyr or after the concept of Holy Wisdom - perhaps both?
The new page title icon above is 18th century Russian and is titled Holy Wisdom, anyone care to bestow some wisdom on me and explain what is being protrayed? I know it is hard to see...but it sure looks interesting.
Regardless, many Years Susan-Sophia! May God continue to grant you Holy Wisdom...and may He also grant me ears to hear it.
Frankly, many of the issues being wrestled with in the comments of my last post are beyond me. I do not at all understand the use of the term eschatological in the context we are giving it. Hey, I’m just a stupid fisherman with a puny bachelors degree in religion!
I fear my realm of discussion on this matter will be on a lower plane. Let me thus not dissuade the loftier amongst us from pursuing the heights.
When to set aside doubt and when to trust? Actually this is a much more difficult question than one may think. On the one end of the spectrum we paint a character who is a simplistic dupe willing to believe anything that someone dressed in a black robe tells them and on the other side we visualize a doubting Thomas, filled with pride and puffed up knowledge, who knows better than everyone else. None of us wish to manifest either role!
If a convert looks hard enough, they will find protestant tendencies in many things – for instance I tend to see it in the way we like to sit in personal judgment of Tradition. We all seem to want to personally decide what is “t”radition and what is “T”radition. Or just in general taking protestant hermeneutics and applying them to any tradition. (i.e. we, as individuals, are free to judge whether or not the splinter of wood is what the Church claims it to be). Sometimes you will find Orthodox converts hurling “protestant” baggage onto one another’s arguments. No offense intended to my protestant friends, just pointing this out. We (the Orthodox and Protestant) are different and do have a different mindset, but we Orthodox converts love to point out the suspected lack of an Orthodox mindset in other Orthodox. Of course, sometimes rightfully so…but other times…well you get the point. Protestant can be in the eye of the beholder. Nuff of that.
No teaching or practice of the Church is necessarily on equal footing with another. In other words, I do not think that a person is in danger of excommunication if they question the veracity of the True Cross…as compared to the target one would paint upon oneself if they denied the Holy Trinity or the Real Presence in the Eucharist. However, that being said, I think we step down MUCH further if we compare the celebration of the True Cross (as being the True Cross) to the ancient canon prohibiting our employment of a Jewish doctor, which is most certainly not a Dogma. Weight, I believe, must be thrown in the direction of the True Cross when we consider that (as far as I know) we have not marked any day on the universal ecclesiological calendar to celebrate the fact that we do not go to Jewish doctors.
The universality and centrality of the True Cross, I think, speaks to its authenticity. If one looks hard enough – into the furthest corners of Orthodoxy – you will find many strange customs and claims. I believe, really I do, that in time the Church at large will judge the authenticity of these things. In other words, if these customs and/or claims become universal in the life of the Church, then this would testify to the truth therein. (Is this NOT how we came to have our Bibles?)
I think the Elevation of the Life-giving Cross is an integral part of the consciousness of the Church. It’s “Truth” or “Veracity” is somewhat secondary – at least in terms of how it might be scientifically verified – which as Clifton well said, it ultimately cannot. Saint Thomas said that he would not believe unless he saw and touched the wounds himself…but “blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen.” Yet, Saint Thomas is no less a saint. Perhaps Saint Thomas is Patron of the Western mind? Go to the old country and tell them you doubt that that wood is from the True Cross and you are likely to get some very strange looks I imagine.
I am reminded of this: An Orthodox friend of mine has a real hard time accepting the perpetual virginity of our Lady. Another Orthodox friend of mine, upon hearing this from him, wept. Both were perplexed by the others stance. But I wonder how my first friend, who doubts the ever-virginity of Mary, must feel and think when we so often refer to her with that title in the Liturgy or in our own prayers? Does he skip that part? Does he shake his head in disbelief? What must go through his mind if he is convinced that it isn’t true?
And from my own perspective, when I enter into the nave of the Church and approach the relics of St. Paul and Saint Nicholas to venerate them…what would it be to me if I were to think: “These are not authentic, they are simply medieval forgeries and the Church has been duped into accepting them.” Would I be less inclined to press my lips against them? To embrace them? And would we be wasting our time in Liturgy to prostrate before the “True Cross” if it were actually merely shards from some 13th century shrubbery? Would I be tempted to laugh at the reverence being paid to some insignificant piece of wood? Cynicism and doubt are dangerous to me…I’ve seen it steal my soul and harden my heart. I do not want to wait for the carbon dating in order to bow down and say “My Lord and my God.”
Some may perhaps be able to transcend the perceived “fact” that it is not the True Cross and none-the-less have it be a touch point with God – a sacrament. And perhaps they are right! However, such lofty and noble religious thinking escapes me. I am a simple man, I admit it. I do not want to have a transcendental experience of fishing, or say that I enjoyed peaceful nature which accompanies a day of fishing despite the lack of fish…I want to FEEL the tight lines and the fighting fish! I want to get wet…I want it to be REAL! Maybe I am the silly dupe on the far side of that aforementioned spectrum.
You know the unbeliever (and many times the protestant) would find our explanation of the Eucharist’s Real Presence while yet still looking like bread and wine, unsatisfying. Carbon date the True Cross and find it to be 900 years old and I suppose we could argue that the consecrating authority of the Church transubstantiated the wood to become for us the True wood upon which Jesus died. But alas, we do not accept Transubstantiation as defined in the western churches…but what the heck why not. Hehehe…I digress.
No, I do not think the Church has been duped. While not a Dogma, per se and while not ever having been confirmed by an Ecumenical Council (neither has scripture by the way) it is none-the-less been incorporated into and embraced by the universal life of the Church. This should make us pause and reconsider our doubts. It would even make me pause and reconsider the veracity of scientific data that might contradict it.
I believe it is the True Cross as surely as I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. For I should not know either to be the case unless the Church told me so. At some point, it does become a part of the house of cards.
I am asked in comments to a recent post, why do I believe that we possess portions of the True Cross.
Belief is a funny thing and I have been thinking about it alot lately. First off, I have all but abandoned the scientific method as a means of discerning ULTIMATE truth. The scientific method is founded solely upon our "physical" senses and this is not the whole of who we, as human beings, are. I am a scientist (of sorts) and so everyday I am employing the scientific method...but when I approach God, it cannot be so. I cannot devise a series of tests in order to verify His presence or even His existence. Like I've said before, I do not bring a sample of the consecrated bread into the lab here and seek out the presence of human-God DNA.
So let me answer the question with questions of my own:
Assuming my readers believe all of the following, let me simply ask in regards to each, why?
That St. John, the disciple actually wrote the Gospel attributed to him.
That Jesus rose from the dead.
That the Ark of the Covenant ever really existed.
That the Jews were slaves in Eygpt.
That Moses saw and spoke to a burning bush.
That the Israelites, when bitten by poisonous snakes were healed by looking upon a statue of a snake.
Etc etc etc…
Now, if in the last portion of one of the gospels it mentioned that one of the disciples stole away with the true cross and that it was held in the possession of the Jerusalem church, would you then believe? Why?
You know many of the questions one may ask about my belief in the "true cross" could also be asked in regards to the belief we have toward the reliability of the Scriptures. All of the "scientific" arguments made by Christians on this point seem pretty lacking to me.
It comes down to authority (which, by the way, is ever present even in the scientific community.) Think about it, do you ever go to a museum and see a pottery shard with a sign in front that reads "Mesopotamia 6th century BC" and say to yourself “Oh B.S. I don't believe that!”
Not really...but why? Because we yield to the authority of the museum and the archeology which we assume was done well. We do not ask for the carbon dating data, or the field notes of the archaeologists...we generally trust.
Frankly, I trust the Church. She tells me that this little splinter of wood is from the Cross of Christ, and I submit to that authority which also tells me that that which is in this cup is the Body and Blood of Christ, or that those things, which are written in the Gospels, are a reliable account. I think that without making the Church an article of Faith, the Faith itself stands on precarious ground. St. Paul tells us why in I Timothy 3:15 (You all know that verse by now if you’ve read my blog much).
Authority. The major issue of contention which seperates Christianity. More on this later I suspect.
Does it matter if it is the True Cross? In a sense, the True Cross is a sacrament unto itself...keep in mind, we Orthodox do not limit the sacraments to the Big 7 we are all familir with. Sacraments are everywhere. And so, I would say YES, it does matter. What we did last sunday was profoundly sacramental and incarnational in nature...it was for us a physical touchpoint with God. Matter matters because the Sacraments abound!
Busy weekend again...prayers for my mother are appreciated as she is in poor health at the moment. I would be remiss if I did not make mention of young Basil's arrival on September 5th. The proud Papa, a violent monkee, shares one of his first insights provided to him by the little tike. Many years to the babe...if he and Charissa are to hit it off, we need to start praying for him right away - he'll have his hands full with my little fireball!
Also, I need to mention the arrival of the grand RFD Paradosis
Thanks to all who offered help down south in trying to finding the likes of this fine lady. Her first trials will be run this saturday - rain or shine. RFD? (Royal Fish Drifter) Many a person unfamiliar with Driftboating ask: "Where's the motor?" I simply show them my arms.
Yesterday was the feast/fast day of the Elevation of the Cross. A year ago I had this to say about it.
Is it real? Is it true? I mean, as the priest parades this little locket of a cross containing a splinter of what is purported to be the "true cross", do we really believe it? Is it really a tiny portion of the now close to 2,000 year old wood used to crucify our Savior?
Ahhh we are a cynical bunch aren't we? Doubters and nay-sayers all of us! How did we come to be so cynical? We doubt everything that seems "too good to be true." Think about that phrase for a while: how is it that we have come to embrace it as having logical merit? A God becoming flesh and defeating death for us isn't too good to be true?!?! Come on, my protestant friends and loved ones, let's let go of our cynicism. I think it is the same cynicism which causes us to "poo-poo" the saints and our glorious Lady. We hate the idea of people being too perfect. As our priest said yesterday, it is this very thing which, made martyrs of people. Persecution for righteousness sake.
Ever hear someone complain about a movie because the characters weren't "human" enough, or that the star was too good, too wholesome...rendering them "unbelievable." I think taking such an attitude makes us feel better about ourselves. The same logic and reasoning - almost a part of our so called natrure - gives birth to the schoolyard taunts and teasing that can be so devasting. Their derisions, elevates us. We can sleep well knowing that no one is better than us.
I believe in that splinter of wood. I do, I do, I do. I'll say it again: I believe that that little sliver is the actual wood upon which Jesus died. I reverence it for that very reason...just like the Jews of old reverenced the ark which also contained artifacts that testified to their religion (Artifacts, I might add, that God Himself commanded they keep as religious tokens.)
Matter matters. Out of my head, and into my hands.
I believe in that splinter of wood. I do, I do, I do. I'll say it again: I believe that that little sliver is the actual wood upon which Jesus died. I reverence it for that very reason...just like the Jews of old reverenced the ark, which also contained artifacts that testified to their religion (Artifacts, I might add, that God Himself commanded they keep as religious tokens.)
In my old days I’d demand laboratory testing of that wood before I’d put my stamp of approval on it. But having been in the scientific disciplines now for almost a decade I can say that putting my trust in the authority of God’s Church is much more reliable. I know we rattle the phrase off perpetually, but I keep coming back to it: “pillar and ground of truth.”
Apparently the grand church at the monastery of Sucevita is undergoing a good deal of restoration work; this is good to hear. Decades of communist oppression have left many such ecclesial treasures of Eastern Europe in disrepair.
The Church building itself is covered from ground to roof with elaborate imagery, including an fascinating display of numerous ancient philosophers (noticeably lacking halos, but none-the-less present.) In one we see included both Aristotle and Plato, and apparently a different section includes Sophocles, Plato, Sybille and Pythagoras (half of whom I know nothing about.) Interesting that in the second fresco, Plato has an occupied coffin on his head, anyone care to guess why? Clifton?
Can anyone translate 16th century Romania, or could it be Slavonic?
Today is technically the After Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, last Monday (the 8th) was the actual feast day. Suprisingly Skete didn't seem to have any icons of the Nativity, but I ran accross this one displayed above: "Nursing of the Christ Child." I think a stronger title would be: "Nursing God."
My wife has a little icon like this...it is amazing to ponder what is displayed therein.
Why do you suppose that Orthodoxy brought the magnitude of what is expressed in this icon to our attention, whereas, in my experience, evangelicalism tends to shrug its shoulders at it? Why does it seem so important to me now...so pressing...and yet before it hardly crossed my mind at all? Seriously, I want to know what has inspired this change? What theological underpinnings have altered to bring me nearly to tears in looking upon this little icon?
A recent post by Palmer makes reference to a book written by a friend of his entitled Water, Faith and Wood: Stories of the Early Church's Witness For Today. You can read the entire forward (written by Kevin Rains) Here. These good folks (Mark Palmer and Kevin Rains) are a part of the postmodern alternative church movement (hopefully this title sits well enough with them) in which we see house churches, intentional community, and just an overall rethinking of the typical protestant understanding of how church should look. Initially I was going to put “new” in front of the word postmodern, but this doesn’t really work. Recall that Fr. Peter Gillquist – amongst many others - was/were doing something very much like this in the 70’s (and throughout the last 500 hundred years for others) – but that’s beside the point. Being introduced to this book has really got me thinking.
Many a convert to the Orthodox Church will tell you that a reading of early Church history sealed their fate. So, what is the difference between the platform we jumped off of (which led us to the Orthodox Church), and their platform (which led them to this post-mod model of church)? I cannot say for certain, but I have an analogy in mind.
In a nutshell my analogy would be thus:
Two treasure hunters. One hunter is seeking a "lost" chest full of cut diamonds, rubies, necklaces, gold coins, rings, and other invaluable trinkets. The other hunter is panning and digging for gold, silver, and diamonds in the rough – from which they will form and mold their own jewelry. One believes the treasure exists in the present and in ready to go form, while the other believes the treasure exists but must be pulled forth from the dirt and reformed (hmmm…hehe…perhaps not the best word to use?)
Ecclesiology, I’m convinced, is the key. I should very much like to read Mr. Smith’s book. Kevin Rains’ introduction is chock full of phrases which ring familiar to us Orthodox converts, one in particular where he writes: …the gulf between the practices of Christ followers in the first few centuries and my own practices was enormous. Then to my horror, I started to actually believe that they were right and I was wrong! Sound familiar?
I’m full of questions! Will the post-mods begin affirming the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? The efficaciousness of Baptism? Will they fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? And the most burning question: What will they do with the ecclesiology of Sts. Ignatios, Irenaios, and Cyril (to name a few)?
Alas, the platforms from which we jump, I think, will color our response to the writings of the Early Church. Will we pick and chose what we deem to be "good" and "bad" therein? And if so, isn't this just a clinging to the modern protestant hermenuetic which we are trying to escape to begin with? Certainly we cannot expect to perfectly mirror the Church in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd centuries – that would be a bit naive (I mean, unless Christianity becomes illegal and persecuted as it was then – of course some of the “underground” liturgies in the Soviet Union sure looked familiar to my readings of early ecclesial history!) As with any organism, extreme environmental conditions tend to bring changes: hence when the persecutions ended and subsided for a time, meeting secretly in homes naturally died out. We see this attitude clearly in the New Testament itself: the early Church continued to go to the Temple for worship – until doing so endangered their life! I am constantly wondering out loud to my house church friends: Did the early Christians meet there for theological reasons, or utilitarian?
Yes, an organism changes (Was Darwin right? Slow progressive steps that are hardly perceivable to the human eye - sure sounds like Orthodoxy), but does the organism ever cease to exist and thus need to be re-created from historical surplus?
The platforms from which we jump is literally our understanding of the question: What is the Church? If the treasure already exists, why are you digging? And if it doesn’t, where’s my shovel?
I've been terribly busy and thus have not blogged in sometime...been trying to buy a driftboat and it has been eating up my freetime in looking for them. Anyway, a few searches that found me:
"wimpy jesus" temple A new denomination?
IS REV GENE ROBINSON A SINNER Uhhh…duh!!!!
"eastern orthodox"+magic The Prokimenon is in the third tone:
“You have to believe we are magic
Nothin' can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don't let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive
Your destiny will arrive
I'll bring all your dreams alive
Agent Smith real human bliss anticipation the matrix wow…..deeeeeeeeep
Dog eats fecal Yes, she does.
cs Lewis remained a virgin the ever virgin CS Lewis?
bathroom diseases from dirty rags A simple test for HSV is about $250.00, please contact me offline.
mass mailer+infinitely Yes, they do seem to be so don’t they?
male cow "yahoo groups" I couldn’t find this group either, dadgummit.
hadrian tortured three virgins named love hope their mother Sophia! Sophia! Sophia!
Bud lite commercials Boy this guy was no doubt disappointed.
dog,eating fecies Yes, she does.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:59 AM [+] +++
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Bowling for Answers to Columbine
I rented Michael Moore’s film and I’d say that the most concise opinion I can come up with at the moment is: Hmmmm
Really it’s all about simplicity.
Looking for an answer to the question of why there is so much gun violence in America is really the main thrust of the film. Too much violence on TV and movies? Nope, that is worldwide. Too much Marilyn Manson (more about him later)? Nope, he’s worldwide too. Too many guns? (Really I thought this would be his answer) Nope, Canada apparently has a lot of them too. The real answer that seems to be put forth by Mr. Moore is that we Americans suffer from some sort of fear paranoia. We are afraid of everyone and do not trust anyone (especially – according to Moore – minorities.) Perhaps. But whereas he is quick to dismiss other explanations as being too simplistic, the simplicity of his own explanation is ignored.
A few points of contention and some semi-rhetorical questions (you will have to have seen the film to get some of this):
If you walk up to my American front door in the middle of the day, it will be unlocked.
Did Marilyn Manson really claim that the president of the United States wielded more influence on youth than he does? Makes me wonder if he’s ever even talked to any of his fans!
I’ve seen lots of white guys get busted on COPS. I’d love to see corporate criminals get busted on TV, but agree with the COPS creator that he would not get very good ratings if they didn’t throw their lattes and cell phones at the officers and then try to run shirtless out the back window to their waiting Lexus.
We all know what became of K-Mart after they stopped selling bullets. Apparently this was a bad business strategy.
Walking in South Central L.A. in the middle of the day with a film crew really doesn’t prove much of anything now does it?
Who we gonna arrest for polluting the air? How’d you get to work today?
The little cartoon history of the US (from the creators of South Park I am guessing)? Rubbish. Slavery made the US the richest nation in the world? I don't think so...who won the civil war and why? This little diddy really displays the stupidity of making things overly simple. I've seen evangelical "God and America" crap that was as good as this.
The “debate” with Charlton Heston was absurd. A prepared (and somewhat deceptive) Michael Moore sitting down and pounding an obviously unprepared and sick (Alzheimers) Mr. Heston was bordering on the edge of cruelty. Come on, Michael, you can easily find a better debate opponent. At the end of that scene I actually felt bad for Heston and Moore’s point was totally lost on me.
Okay, enough…much more I could say. I like Michael Moore, though I do not always agree with him. But as I said, he – like everyone else – seems to be looking for a simple answer and there just isn’t one. It is a complex issue that involves many many many things – even Marilyn Manson, the abandoning of school prayer, too much easy access to guns, WAY too much violence in the entertainment industry, lack of parental supervision, the collapse of the traditional family, poverty, war, etc etc etc. But, to treat anyone of these things is to merely treat complicating symptoms of the root disease.
In the end, the REAL simple answer (which really isn’t all that simple) is sin. And that sin, I think is founded upon the self, the need to serve the self, and to put the self above the other. It is the abandonment of community for the individual and I wonder if anyone has looked to see if in the least violent countries we don’t see a greater adherence to what we might call “community values.” (what I would call, Biblical Values) Here, in the good ole USA, the individual (and their rights) reign supreme…it is, in our national conscience, the highest good. And Mr. Moore is right in insinuating that we as a culture have come to learn that if said rights are violated, then violence is a viable options (wow, lotsa v’s there!) And of course, it is up to us individuals to determine when our rights have been violated…frankly most of us are unqualified to do so and are almost always wrong.
“Jesus is the answer” say the evangelicals. Who can deny this? If everyone had a personal experience with Jesus, there would never be a Columbine, right? Well, maybe, but I bet there'd still be a Waco. I wonder if the inclusion of that term “personal” isn’t a symptom of the overall problem within our western culture. How about we encourage people to have a communal experience with Jesus?
All of this in my mind while we as a nation are preparing to kill an evangelical Christian who killed a doctor who killed unborn babies. Is there a lesson to be learned therein?
A New Year Yesterday, Spetember 1st was the beginning of the ecclesial New Year. In 1989, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople proclaimed that September 1st would be a “day for the protection of the environment.” Recognizing the holiness of all matter and indeed that salvation has cosmic jurisdiction; we need to be concerned about the environment. We wait for the restoration of all things.
Will there be fishing after said restoration? We can only hope and never forget that God is merciful and the lover of mankind.
Happy New Year and tight lines!
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:50 AM [+] +++
Fish Two out of the Ten we brought home.
For those who may ask: YES...hers was bigger than mine!
Somewhere, at the bottom of the Columbia River, sits a rather large (apparently TOO large!) gold wedding band. I watched it slip quickly and easily from my fingers as I washed salmon slime and blood from my fingers. It was a strange experience to feel it come off and then watch it twinkle in the sunlight as it fell toward the bottom.
I miss it...my finger feels naked, though I'm not sure who told it so. But, there is a sort of romanticism in thinking about the ring being there. I love rivers and I love fishing - so does my wife. Perhaps this will mean that that area will be special to us forever? That grand river now becomes a very personal symbol of our commitment?
Well...who knows. This I do know though: the freezer is full and we'll be back next year.
Salmon and a fine IPA to any and all who wish to visit.
"Honey, where'd I put those woodchips and smoker after the move?"