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[The Creation of the Chicken]

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.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Stories that trapped me

Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!


Within the life of the Church we have lots of wonderful stories. Last night I spent sometime talking about such stories with a good friend and his wife; stories like that of St. Ignatios of Antioch who is said to be the little child used as an example by our Lord after pulling him onto His lap in the Gospels and telling his disciples to become like "this little child", or that of the thief who is said to have prevented the "mugging" of the Holy Family as they made their way to Eygpt and would later ask Jesus to remember him as they died together. And there are many many others which accent and expound upon the experience of Holy Scripture. Another wonderful part of that great liturgical dance which is bound to "Life in Christ" as the Orthodox understand it.

Also there are those wonderful stories kept alive primarily by our monastic brothers and sisters that direct us in the way of deified life. This one came to me from Elder Ephraim via the collection of his letters and homilies entitled Counsels from the Holy Mountain

There once was a monk who happened to slip and sin by himself continually, yet he would always arise at once and do his prayer rule. The demon that kept throwing him into sin lost his patience seeing the courage and hopefulness of this brother. So he visibly appeared to him and said to him with vexation:

"Don't you fear God, you defiled wretch? You have just sinned, so with what face can you now stand before God? Aren't you afraid that God will burn you?"

But since this brother had a valiant soul, he said to the demon:

"This cell is a forge: you hit and get hit. As God is my witness, Who came to save the world, I will not stop fighting you, falling and getting up, beating and being beaten, until my final breath - and let's see who will win: you or Christ!"

When the demon heard this unexpected reply, he said:

"I won't fight you any more, because if I do, I'll make you win crowns."

Thenceforth, this brother was delivered from the warfare, and he sat in his cell weeping for his sins.


It is the richness of these stories and the life (or Paradosis) lived from which they are born and kept alive that so enraptured me about Orthodoxy. I could not sit on the outside and appreciate them...I felt lured into the river of that life. To me it was the difference between sneaking crumbs from the floor and hopping into one of the empty seats at the table. The emotion expressed by St. Peter (while getting his feet washed) is not all that different to my desire to enter fully into the Orthodoxy Way:

Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!"

Spring the trap, I'm happy to be caught.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 6:55 AM [+]
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Friday, December 26, 2003

Excommunication, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Franky Schaeffer....oh my!

My dear friend Imran tried to add his comment to this posting (and the long series of truncated comments that followed) but apparently Haloscan took a dump and so he emailed it to me and asked me to post it. Since it brings up issues not really specifically related to the original post I thought I'd throw it up here and add a few comments of my own.

Imran writes:

Sky [aka Seraphim]

Actually, when I was going through RCIA I was taught that there were unlimited sacraments and sacramentals. I remember our teacher saying, "Even a little flower is a sacrament." She also went on to say that she used birth control and that the duty of a Catholic is to inform their conscience, not to live by any written codes.

Although you say the Orthodox are not as condemning as other Churches, I know from history that the Orthodox have excommunicated, anathematized, and condemned as much as anybody else. All you have to do is look at the icons of pissed off guys holding their books attacking this or that heretic to see that they are not liberal in their approach to issues of faith.

Nikos Kazantzakis was excommunicated, and when I went to hear Frank Schaeffer speak he attacked Islam with a viciousness I had never seen in a Catholic or Protestant church.

If you read the documents of Vatican II you will see that the Catholic Church is far more liberal and open then the Orthodox, and not just on paper, but in the parish. I could tell you many stories that you would not believe, but I will just tell you one. One Christmas mass me and C were listening to the readings of the nativity stories. After church my wife asked the priest if he believed any of those stories. He said, "no". End of story, no explanation, he did not believe that any of those events had taken place. Most Catholic priests are educated at liberal seminaries that are spearheading the "biblical criticism" movement. They are VERY liberal, and often homosexual. Most of the Catholic priests we met would simply scratch their heads when they heard we were converts. They thought it strange at best, and dangerous at worst. I am comfortable saying that most Catholics (clergy and laity both) reject the theological and moral teachings of the Catholic Church. What makes them Catholic you might ask? It is a culture more than a religion. They have a general spirituality, yes, but not a religion (in the way most people think of religion). Of course there are exceptions and every once in a while you will meet a Catholic who believes many of the things taught by the Church. By the way, you and James take your faith WAY more seriously than any of the Orthodox I have met from Orthodox countries. They remind me more of Catholics I have known than of you guys.


My response:
Imran wrote:
the duty of a Catholic is to inform their conscience, not to live by any written codes

I really don't have much to say in regards to what the RCC teaches...its seems to me there is a great deal of dischord between what that church officially teaches and what is believed from parish to parish, pew to pew, priest to priest, and parishoner to parishoner. Remember that I "fell" into Orthodoxy attending a Jesuit College religious department headed and staffed to a large extent by Orthodox clergy. Strange.

Imran wrote:
All you have to do is look at the icons of pissed off guys holding their books attacking this or that heretic to see that they are not liberal in their approach to issues of faith.

Pissed off? Hmmmm...not something to be found lauded in any sense by Orthodox spirituality. Perhaps you might specify which icons, saints, and issues with which you are talking about? Of course, you have said correctly Imran that the Orthodox Church is not liberal when it comes to issues of faith, you'll get no disagreement from me on this one. However, the Church has NO OFFICIAL teaching about the salvation of those outside of the Church. On the contrary it is full of wonderful stories (we have many stories from which our community experiences the teachings of the Church) in which we see God OUTSIDE of the Church. In fact we have two very highly renowned saints who were absoutely NOT in the Orthodox Church!

We are not afraid of black and white issues however. For example: Jesus is the eternal word of God and is NOT created as the Arians suggested, and yet when faced with the question of whether to rebaptize Arians who returned to Orthodoxy the issue becomes very much grey. I hope you can see the differentiation here. As Seraphim has said, we believe we know where God IS, but we dare not say where he isn't. All of Orthodox spirituality and teaching which I have experienced would make such a proclamation (where God isn't) about as damned a scary thing as you can possibly say.

Imran wrote:
Nikos Kazantzakis was excommunicated, and when I went to hear Frank Schaeffer speak...

Why was Kazantzakis excommunicated? Do you know what happened in the process? In the Orthodox Church's perspective, excommunication is not a sort of "sacrament" per se as much as it is a recognition of something that has already taken place, in other words Nikos had already removed himself from the community of faith by his profession of a different faith. I do not know the details of his excommunication, but in all fairness if we wish to criticize the Church for doing so we ought to try and understand the reasonings for it. As for Franky Schaeffer...well I've told you before Imran he does not speak for the Church, he speaks for himself and it is important that we understand the difference.

you and James take your faith WAY more seriously than any of the Orthodox I have met from Orthodox countries.

How many have you met? How big of a brush do you feel comfortable painting with on this matter based upon your experiences?

I'm not sure I take my faith seriously at all. My patron would likely remind me (as he does whenever I read his epistle) that I'm generally full of fecal matter.


...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:32 AM [+]
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I've rewritten the Orthodox Liturgy

...and there's nothing you can do about it!


Of course I am only changing the parts said by the people since that is what occurred quite organically, as my pomo friends like to say. Of course there may be variations, switches and changes...yes folks, MY liturgy is highly fluid and dynamic.



Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!

A wonderful Feast to you all!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:00 AM [+]
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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Nativity is coming

The newest icon displayed above is dated from the 7th century and presently resides at Saint Katherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

Some thoughts on Nativity from a year ago.

A Touchy Feely Faith and how the Nativity connects with our religion which is so physical.

Orthodox Nativity and words of mystery which haunted me...still do.

Mary ponders and my head is left spinning.

I think these posts sum up my Christmas musings this year...it did my heart good to go back and read them...please feel free to comment here if you like.



...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 1:02 PM [+]
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The Belch heard round the Nave

Nicholas, my just turned 3 year old son, took communion with his Godfather last sunday as is our custom. As the Litrugy was coming to a close I looked over and noticed that Nicho was reaching out to me and so I went to relieve Kit of his little boy burden. Arriving back in my preferred standing spot with the boy wrapped tightly around my neck (head on my shoulder) he promptly let loose of what seemed to me to be an earth-shattering burp. I couldn't help but laugh.

I hear that in some cultures that belching after a meal is considered a complement to the Chef.

Well, in that case Nicho, Amen.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:23 AM [+]
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More thoughts on postmodernism
I still have many questions about it

Jim asked me what it was that kept me reading Brian Mclaren's letter over and over again. (see this post here)Well, to some extent I am just fascinated by post-modernism, especially the Christian version of it - though likely I should know next to nothing about its existence if not for so many of my friends and acquaintances who number themselves among the ranks.

I am obliged to point out that I in no way intend to make personal accusations against either McClaren or Colson...rather I want to understand what is going on and to do that I need to take into consideration what is being said publicly about post-modernism. Honestly with regard to Seraphim's suggestion, I simply do not have the time (or interest perhaps?) to examine the "primary sources" as it were. I want to engage people (friends) who have joined up. Perhaps if they convince me that this whole thing is more than a passing fad I shall be inclined (obliged?) to head over to the B&N as you suggest. By Mclaren's reckoning I'd better, but I think Orthodox Christianity has weathered (generally unchanged) worse storms that what is being predicted.

One thing that perplexed me about Brian's article was how he seemed to jump back and forth between "those" [post modern] people and "us". While at other points he most certainly identifies himself as one of “those� [postmodern] people and in the same vein he frequently labels Colson (condescendingly?) a "modern" which to me is also perplexing because labeling is typically seen as so passe' amongst the po-mo's. Of course I think we all know that if we use words at all we cannot fully escape labeling and so I do not fault such usage.

Further clarification: Brian references Colson's work with inmates and analogizes that work with his own outreach to postmodernists. But the analogy seems weak to me because Colson did not himself become incarcerated in order to minister to the prisoners. Get my meaning here? I'm not sure this whole thing is as much an outreach to a new cultural movement as it is an actual embracing and integrating of a cultural movement into Christianity.

It seems that these post-mod Christians have bought into postmodernism first and are now trying to adopt their religious faith to conform to it. This seems backwards to me, conforming my religious beliefs (to varied extents) and practices (generally to a much larger extent) in order to fit my (or a culture's) preferences. Of course, adapting Christianity isn't inherently problematic I don't think. But, there are lines that ought not to be crossed wouldn't you say? Where those lines are and who decides is really the crux of the matter and leads us back to that problematic question of authority.

I really don't know who to trust in regards to this idea of an ever-evolving Christianity...certainly not myself. It is a bit scary to me and in no small way has Orthodoxy been a safe haven for me to withdraw into, thereby saving me from this trepidation. Some of you may think of me as a sort of visionary cowardice...but stop for a moment and think: what if my fears are warranted?

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:02 AM [+]
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Friday, December 19, 2003

Orthodoxy is cool...



...I really liked this picture and it made me think so. It's at the Church of the Nativity.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:44 AM [+]
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The Original Ancestral Sin

I am finally reading The Ancestral Sin and though I have only gotten through the first couple dozen pages, I am none-the-less enthralled by it!

There is a certain beauty and logic in recognizing that what we might take for an unimportant theological difference of opinion (Original sin in the west vs. Ancestral sin in the East) is actually the foundations upon which completely different houses are built.

Who is the ultimate author of death?
From what are we being saved?
What is the purpose of the Incarnation?
What is the purpose of the Resurrection?

All of these (and more) hinge upon our understanding of the Fall. Far from filling my mind with intellectual ammunition to fire upon the ships of the west (still thinking in terms of Master and Commander), I am rather having my heart warmed by coming to more clearly understand the God who is "the lover of mankind."

Quite pertinent to the coming feast I should think!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:33 AM [+]
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Postmodern vs. Modern Truth

From Water's Edge I was introduced to an article by Chuck Colson (apparently he is well known?) in Christianity Today in which he rakes postmodernism over the coals...kinda. Anyway, Brian McLaren, writes an 8 page letter of response which as of this morning I have read three times.

I have often told my po-mo friends NOT to label me as a "modern", I think I prefer to call myself "pre-modern" if for no other reason than the age of my Church. But, frankly, I am not sure I understand post-modernism any better than Brian says that Chuck understands it. But there are some things that trouble me about Brian's letter that I am still formulating and may perhaps post this weekend..I dunno.

One question about "metanarratives." Don't or won't the post-moderns have their own metanarratives just like the moderns did? And really, isn't there NOTHING inherently wrong with metanarratives? Shouldn't the content and context of metanarratives be the judge of their moral quality?

My whole bus ride home yesterday was spent with me being desirous of sitting down with Seraphim (my Orthodox post-mod guru) with some bourbon and asking him: "What is truth?"



...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:55 AM [+]
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Thursday, December 18, 2003

Devotions

Felix the Anabaptist has pulled out of his bag of tricks an interesting discussion about devotions.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 1:04 PM [+]
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Riding with the Lion

I've just finished Kyriacos Markides' book by this title. I am less than impressed; it simply does not compare to Mountain of Silence and I am more than happy to tell you why.

Kyriacos, it seems to me, is a very different person in this book (or I should say was a very different person while writing this book). The whole first half of the book is focused upon the emerging interest in the West with the New Age religions (along with other more traditional eastern religions such as Hinduism.) Gurus, shamans and the like abound and Professor Markides seems quite taken by them all. I do not think I have heard the word "esoteric" used more frequently than in this book and if you look at the definition of the term, you can see how it certainly mates up well with gnosticism.

When Orthodoxy finally does make its appearance in the book, it is looked upon very critically and Markides goes to great lengths to distinguish between "esoteric" Orthodoxy (which he praises highly and sees as the future of Christianity) and "exoteric" Orthodoxy (The hierarchy, the dogmas etc). Here is an example:

...the Eastern Orthodox mystical theology and practices that have been preserved on Mount Athos can play an important role in the regeneration of Christianity, once that theology is freed from its medieval context and adapted to the needs and ways of the modern Christian West.

Ummm...maybe the needs and ways of the modern Christian West need to be freed? Maybe? Perhaps? Geez, why do we think that the term "modern" is synonymous with "right, true and good."? I'm gonna go off on a rant if I'm not careful!

Reference is often made to something called the "Primordial Tradition" which as I understand it is the REAL "truth" above the culturally religious expressions of "truth." From this pedestal (of recognizing the Primordial Tradition) Markides is able to look down upon the Orthodox Tradition and pick out all the good stuff - that stuff which at least on the surface looks just like what all the Yogis, Gurus and shaman's are doing. Ahhh...syncretism. Allusion is even made to that old "many paths up to the same mountain top" proverb.

However, there are some VERY bright moments, especially when Markides is on Mount Athos and meets up with good ole Father Maximos - the hero of Mountain of Silence. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Markides includes what I read to be a rant by Fr. Maximos (I'm sure in reality he was quite calm and collected) after Markides tries to compare the Jesus Prayer to a mantra.

What Markides fails to see (at least in this book) is that those monks, fathers, and elders on that mountain who he so loves for their "esoteric" practices are no doubt the greatest proponents of Orthodoxy in its entirty! They adamently engage in the fullness of Orthodoxy and would be scandalized by the very notion that you could pull portions of it out and use it in your own little way...they would label such as spiritually dangerous and profoundly arrogant. Hell, most of those guys up there are WAY more conservative than me and would be quick to label Roman Catholics and all protestants as heretics...recall their reaction when the Pope was to visit Greece!

Of course Markides would dismiss all of that as being the "medieval" stuff from which the "esoteric" stuff needs to be freed. Can anyone else see the arrogance of standing above Mount Athos and seperating the sheep practices and beliefs from the goats'?

Orthodoxy does not have "mystics" like in the west and it does not have any "esoteric" beliefs and practices.

Once Markides got around to writing Mountain of Silence he seems to me to be a changed man...or at the very least he tries to take and represent the Orthodox Church as she takes and represents herself, and that to me seems much more fair and honest.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:13 AM [+]
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Cliff's Gospel of Inclusion

The cynic in me cannot resist the utter beauty of these.

For former ECUSA folk, all of these are a must read.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:26 PM [+]
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Ahhh...and just another sign of what is to come

Read this little story Here.

I know many Orthodox women who choose to wear head scarves, no doubt they do so as well in France. Would my kids be able to wear their crosses to school? (apparently "small pendents...remain possible") This law is really very frightening...even if it is in France. And this blurb from Chirac was particulalry unnerving:

Secularism is one of the great successes of the Republic.

Lord have mercy.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:45 AM [+]
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The Heart of the Matter
It's really all about Heavy Petting.
(Now that ought to land some great searches!)

Who would not rather choose to have their own back rubbed or scratched than to perform such on another? Why does time move so slowly when I rub my wife's back, and yet so quickly when she does the same for me? Herein lies the heart of the matter.

The externals, as noted in the previous post (and by the way, that post has garnered a good deal of responses both here and offline and for that I am thankful), are more symptomatic than the actual root cause of the disease from which we suffer. They are manifestations of the heart which is in dire need of purification and healing. While removing the opportunity (as an example we might say that we can cleanse an alcoholic's home of all alcohol) is prudent, it is NOT a cure.

When my children get sick, they very often quickly develop a fever and if that fever remains too long or burns too fiercely we will take efforts to reduce or eliminate it. Of course, if it goes away this in no way implies that the child is cured....sadly the infection remains and the fever may spike again.

The infection - in my case - is my need to be petted. To lounge about lazily and be fed, caressed, cared for, massaged, back rubbed, hair combed, fleas picked off...ahem...to be an end unto myself. I want comfort, I want pleasure, I want relaxation. I do not wish to be bothered by responsibility, work, giving or self-sacrifice. When I get home I want to be able to sit down and play a rousing game of Rise of Nations and perhaps eat a few dozen Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Maybe I can talk my kids into rubbing my feet while my wife dutifully cooks a glorious meal (damn the fast, full meal deal ahead!). I want to do, what I want to do. This is the Ancestral Sin, no?

As I look into the sins of my life, they all clearly revolve around this need to be served and pleased. A poignant example being when I get particularly angry at my kids. Usually this happens because they are in some way interrupting my service or pleasure. And let's face it, children do exactly this to the largest degree imaginable by their very existence! Thank God for them....truly they are my salvation!

What am I learning here? What is the Church teaching me?

We cannot overly focus on damage control and ignore the real battle that is raging around and within us, which is of course the cause of the damage to begin with! Funneling all of our efforts into repair while we continue to be pounded by the enemy will afford us no gains...no victory. We must enage both...with the understanding that by winning the battle we will eliminate all need for damage control.

How do we fight this battle? Prayer, prayer, prayer...of course. But also by enveloping ourselves into the life of the Church and engaging her on her terms. Like checking into a hospital and submitting to the treatment we are to receive there. In reading just a few pages from the likes of St. John of the Ladder we see enough to recognize the strong medicine maintained by the traditions of our church.

Again, it does no good to treat symptom after symptom and never engage the real disease. In the end we need to learn that real joy is not in being served and pleased, but rather in serving and pleasing.

Time to check into the hospital.



...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:06 AM [+]
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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Sex with Demons

Bill, the self-proclaimed Unnecessary Pastor (a title which I would heartily disagree with - especially since having read his blog for quite sometime now I esteem him a great deal) laments about porn coming into his email and lists a few websites that provide support for people who struggle with sexual sin...I told him in his comment section that he could count me as being among those so struggling.

The internet has made pornography WAY to easy to find or just run accross (on purpose, accidently). I'm sure we all know this. Pornography has really scarred me...sometimes I can still see images of pictures I'd viewed decades ago. Orthodoxy has really focused and clarified much of the entanglements to be found in this particular sin...through the writings in Unseen Warfare and portions of the The Philokalia (among others) I have found a literal river of wisdom and insight that has washed over me.

One thing I've learned is to not expect an instantaneous and miraculous "cure." Expect intensive therapy (i.e. WORK) to undo what I have done, and this therapy is clearly laid out before us. A huge and important part of that path is the sacrament of Confession. NOTHING has more moved me in my Christian life than this little act - so frightfully missing in my past. The guidance and accountability obtained from a Father-Confessor is indespensible to me.

Bill's post is timely, I have just experienced this blessed sacrament last saturday and its effect on me can be called nothing short of profound. How embarrassing it is to admit that I had visited web sites I should not have, and that I had entertained thoughts and actions which the father's have related to having sex with demons! But, at the same time, how very freeing it is! Ooops, did I type this outloud?

Hmmm...hopefully I have not made this post into an "over-share"...but I just felt the need to express how wonderful confession is for me and the extent to which I see it moving me toward wholeness...IMAGE and LIKENESS.

Being reconciled to God through His Church is an amazing thing...hearing those words of absolution and then tasting Christ the following day is...pure joy.


...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 11:12 AM [+]
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Monday, December 15, 2003

Authority and Abuse

...another long rambling post...I refuse to follow anybody elses interpretation of the "blogging rules", I am my own blogging authority. Sola Bloggura is my guide.

The Sunday edition of the Seattle Times had a huge story on the front page about sport coaches taking sexual advantage of the young students playing under them, you can read the whole story here...though I couldn't stomach it. The scandal being purported here (as you know the news media is always looking for some scandal...almost like crazed conspiracy theorists) is that school districts were sweeping the issue under the rug, either by ignoring it or quietly dismissing the accused (when conclusive proof was found) and thus allowing the coach to move easily into another school district to begin again the cycle of abuse. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

So, it is NOT just a problem in the Roman Catholic Church - surely we all knew this, right? In my mind though it helped confirm my belief that the RCC hierarchy was probably not involved in some elaborate conspiracy to protect the image of the church at the expense of the sexual purity of her children - goodnight, what hardened cynic could imagine such a thing. None of what I am saying here of course justifies what happened, I'm just trying not to climb aboard the conspiracy witchhunt bagwagon. But this isn't what I wanted to express in thsi post...it's not where my mind has been dwelling after reading part of the article.

I am reading Kyriacos Markides' book Riding with the Lion, which by the way I am not yet ready to recommend, and in it he writes at length about the occasional abuse of authority perpetuated by New Age gurus and such. This combined with the fact that a friend who had been inquiring into Orthodoxy had also expressed concerns to me about abuses within the Orthodox Church has caused me to do some thinking about authority, misconduct, and abuse.

The question I have is this: Is the underlying cause of this problem found in the issue of authority? Perhaps it is the extent of the authority? We cannot deny that a particularly manipulative man who dons a stole can cause a great deal of damage, but is the solution to dump the stole wearing altogether? I mean, do we abandon this hierarchy which dates all the way back to the New Testament itself in order to possibly eliminate the chance for abuse? Well, frankly, I am not convinced that the problem is authority or even the rather high authority that we Orthodox give to our priests and bishops.

We all know that we recently had a president of our country who apparently had a propensity for sexually engaging his young female subordinates...now granted none-of-them (that we know of...now, now, let's try not to be so cynical!) were underage, but we cannot deny that this man's charisma and authority played a big role in his sexual conquests. Even his obviously very independently minded wife continues to stand by her man! Now think about it: here is a man who is the leader of the FREE world, the very icon of individuality, personal rights and freedoms...and yet he is still able to take advantage of young interns.

Do we dump the presidency? Perhaps another more free form of government would eliminate the chance of abuse?

What about our bosses at work? Our teachers at school? Our coaches?

What about our neighbors? Can you not see that that same manipulative man who might don a stole could be equally dangerous to your children if he just happens to live next door?

I really don't think authority is the problem...it might provide a vehicle for an abusive person to perpetuate his abuse...but many things do this...including, as I mentioned, mere proximity. Think about ALL the different sorts of authority we have in this world: Police, judges, teachers, coaches, any adult in regards to any child. Do we reform every social system to somehow eliminate these roles? Maybe we should let the students teach each other? Maybe police can stop people (if the people choose to stop) and the police would then be allowed to only make suggestions? Do we sacrifice everything to the god of potential abuses? We must ask: Is the cost worth the possible benefit?

I think about how children nowadays are really not being taught to respect their elders - even something as seemingly innocuous as not using titles (like Mister or Misses) - could this be a symptom of our sudden modern realization that an automated ascription of authority is dangerous? Will this haunt us? IS IT HAUNTING US ALREADY?

Consider the authority Christ handed to his Apostles. Can you imagine claiming that such authority still exists in our enlightened age of personal freedom today? Look around at the divisive condition of Christianity today and you will see what has become of democratic religion...this will lead me to another post, but what we end up being left with is the "lowest common denomination" and hence - virtually nothing.

We make ourselves the final authority in all matters...we are the only persons we can trust. Hehehe...but can we really trusts ourselves not to abuse ourselves? I wonder.

I've gone on too long here....suffice to say that unless we wish to live in utter isolation we are going to have to deal with the potential for abuse, and if we do not accept the neccesity of some authority outside of ourselves then we DO IN FACT UTTERLY ISOLATE OURSELVES!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:30 AM [+]
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Dancing in the Spirit

Immediately following the Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy yesterday, the Nave was typically filled with incense smoke. And as the priests entered through the royal doors, the sun made a bright (albeit brief) appearance sending large shafts of light through the windows on the south side of the church, thus further visually enunciating the smoke in the temple. My son was capitivated by it and pointed it out to me just before he lost his ability to control his urges.

As my eyes were lifted back toward the altar, he darted toward the center of the Nave and began twirling in the smoke, in a style reminiscient of this kid. After I managed to lasso him back to my side of the church he laughed: "I dance in the smoke!"

Well at least he kept his clothes on.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 6:40 AM [+]
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Friday, December 12, 2003

A Date with my Daughters

Do you think seeing this for the first time as an Orthodox Christian will make it any different?

hehehe...anyway, looking forward to a good time this afternoon.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:57 AM [+]
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The Breath of Adam

If you are like me, you either do not or did not know anything about someone named Spyridon. I certainly had never heard of Saint Spyridon (sometimes spelled Spiridon) when I attended my first Orthodox service at the cathedral in Seattle which bears his name...but as with many things I have since been enlightened.

Today is his feast day and no doubt the people on the island of Corfu (where his relics are kept) are having a wonderful celebration and I hope those friends and brothers of mine who call the cathedral home have an equally joyous feast...alas I am unable to attend either today or tomorrow.

You can read more about this venerable saint here.

In relation to the title of this post, in Ouspensky's Theology of the Icon he shows us a 14th century Icon of Sts. Spyridon and Blaise in which they are referred to as "Protectors of Animals." Ouspensky notes the relatively frequent portrayal of animals in iconography and also the strange relationship that often exists between deified men and animals...and furthermore the effect that holiness has on the entire created world! Now, THAT is a new twist on environmentalism, huh? Protect and preserve the environment by pursuing Theosis.

Anyway Ouspensky relates to us, in regards to the Life of St. Isaac the Syrian,
that the animals that came to him, smelled in him the odor Adam exhaled before his fall.

This being the case, it is a wonder that my dog doesn't try and eat me. If you know my dog's culinary preferences, you'll get this.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:27 AM [+]
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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Halo

Well, if you are a computer game geek (like I am a wannabe game geek), then you are probably familiar with this title. It gets its name from an imaginary planet surrounded by a large ring and in this we can see how we in the west have lost our understanding of what a Halo truly is.

First, it is not a ring around someone's head (or a planet). Second, it is not symbolic of anything. Explanation?

Halos are representations of a concrete reality, they symbolize nothing. They are REAL and show forth the uncreated light of God as has been seen many times throughout history (i.e. Moses coming down from the mountain had to wear a covering over his shinning face, Jesus nearly blinds his disciples on Mt. Tabor, and a more recent example is St. Seraphim of Sarov - which I will discuss later). Therein, the Halo represents the Transfigured life (not symbolically), but in reality. Remember, at Jesus' Transfiguration nothing really changed in Jesus - rather eyes were opened to see past illusions.

As light shinning forth from a tranfigured person, we do not mistake the Halo as a ringed crown. It would no more become oblique if the imaged saint turned their head away from us than the light eminating from the sun would apparently by altered (which it doesn't) by its rotation (which it does).

Iconographers frequenty use goldleaf when filling in the Halo (and in some cases the entire background of the icon may be done thus) and this can often have a remarkable effect. I have a few icons with real goldleaf and in certain light the gold is highly reflective and the details of the Saint are diminished somewhat. It is hard to describe, but in my mind I am reminded of Motovilov's description of what he experienced when he saw the light eminating from Saint Seraphim: "Imagine, in the very center of the sun, in the most brilliant burst of its rays, the face of the man who speaks to you."

From the OCA webpage, the account of St. Seraphim's Transfiguration....

A close admirer and follower of St. Seraphim, Motovilov, described the miraculous transfiguration of the starets’ face. This happened during the winter, on a cloudy day. Motovilov was sitting on a stump in the woods; St. Seraphim was squatting across from him and telling his pupil the meaning of a Christian life, explaining for what we Christians live on earth.

"It is necessary that the Holy Spirit enter our heart. Everything good that we do, that we do for Christ, is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but prayer most of all, which is always available to us," he said.

"Father," answered Motovilov, "how can I see the grace of the Holy Spirit? How can I know if He is with me or not?"

St. Seraphim began to give him examples from the lives of the saints and apostles, but Motovilov still did not understand. The elder then firmly took him by the shoulder and said to him, "We are both now, my dear fellow, in the Holy Spirit." It was as if Motovilov’s eyes had been opened, for he saw that the face of the elder was brighter than the sun. In his heart Motovilov felt joy and peace, in his body a warmth as if it were summer, and a fragrance began to spread around them. Motovilov was terrified by the unusual change, but especially by the fact that the face of the starets shone like the sun. But St. Seraphim said to him, "Do not fear, dear fellow. You would not even be able to see me if you yourself were not in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thank the Lord for His mercy toward us."

Thus Motovilov understood, in mind and heart, what the descent of the Holy Spirit and His transfiguration of a person meant.


So, keep an eye out for Halos.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:11 AM [+]
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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Mormon Evangelism

Well if you can't convert the living, why not convert the dead? They, at least won't shut the door in your face.

Apparently they have tried this with Jews too. Geez, why don't they go bug the evangelicals????

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 3:15 PM [+]
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Tradition and Creeds

Clifton has found a Gem.
An intrerview with Jaroslav Pelikan on the topic of Creeds.

I've not listened yet, but I mean...come on now...it's Pelikan! I can't wait.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:04 AM [+]
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God became man, so that man could become God.

Image and Likeness and the Icon

Anyone remotely familiar with ancient Patristic writings has heard the phrase which I have used to title this little post...which comes even more off the cuff than my normally off the cuff posts. I believe (someone correct me if I am wrong) that it is first clearly seen in this exact form in the writings of my family's patron, Saint Irenaios of Lyon - though I am willing to grant that St. Justin Martyr may have written it before him. Regardless, the term is widely used and thus is no doubt an integral part of the living Tradition (Paradosis) of the Church. I'd never heard of it while I was a protestant and would have likely thought it to be something of Mormon innovation.

But these words concisely and beautifully express the whole economy of salvation, albeit a little hard for us to grasp being generally outside of the overall context of Holy Tradition. I am learning more and more everyday what this phrase means. Iconography helps alot.

The iconoclasts argued that it was impossible to display both natures of Christ, and that ultimately you would be showing only his humanity. But, the Orthodox argued that the iconoclasts were being conciliarly (cool word I may have invented) forgetfull, because the Icon does not attempt to show the natures of Christ, but rather the person of Christ. In whom the divine and human natures are united in that single person without mixture of confusion (Chalcedon). Both divinity and humanity are present, because of who the person is being represented. In my mind it hearkens back to the debate over whether Mary should be called "Theotokos" or "Christotokos"...the latter does not fully proclaim the fullness of the Incarnation and thus was rejected. In other words: Is that person born of the Virgin Mary (or portrayed on the Icon) God or not?

Salvation is so dependent on the Incarnation...and NOT because God needed a spotless lamb to kill. Rather we (please notice the key difference here) needed someone to pull us out of the pit and direct our path. As that ancient phrase implies: as He is, we are to become - the Second Adam! For the first time in my life, that term makes sense to me.

It is no coincidence that some of the earliest iconography (on catacomb walls) show the Theotokos along with Christ. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that at the front of every Orthodox Church you will see two main icons centered on the Iconostasis: Christ on the right, and the Theotokos on the left of the main doors. It is no coincidence because we really believe that "God became man so that man (or woman as THIS case is) could become God." And thus it makes sense that these two images would take a certain precedence in ancient days as well as today. Surely you see the beauty of the circular connection between these two icons?

Mary, our Mother, gives flesh to Christ...and in turn He gives divinity to her. (Oh man, I know many of my protestant friends must be livid at this thought, but try and understand what we mean by this: We do not by nature become God, but rather we become partakers of the divine nature.) Image and likeness, image and likeness, image and likenss.

In the Icon we see the realization and fulfillment of our Image and Likeness. It is truly a window into the Kingdom of God. Like the Icon of Christ, in which we portray a person (wholly human and wholly divine), so the Icons of the saints portray a deified human: a fullfilled human, a whole human, a transfigured human....a saved human, a human wholly impregnated with the Spirit of God, a human as a human was intended to be.

This is salvation, and this is why we Orthodox never use the term in the past tense.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:48 AM [+]
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Monday, December 08, 2003

50 Ways to Offend a Blog Reader

…no I won’t be listing them, for you young folk out there, this was a reference to an old song. Also, I wonder if anyone got the “you had yourself a vision” title of that post a few days ago – it’s a line from a movie. Anyway, this is going to be a long post, which I worked on over the weekend. I’d be mightily thankful if you’d read it all, especially those of you who are not Orthodox and yet read my blog anyway. As usual, comments are welcomed. Here we go…

I imagine that this post would best go down with a spoon full of sugar. By my reckoning, this would be a pipe full of fine (or at least semi-fine) tobacco and a robust pint of winter ale. Of course, I leave the choice of sugar to you my good reader – in my experience my particular choices of such social niceties tend to buffer the potential for causing offense.

I began Paradosis quite a while ago, due in large part to a friend’s encouragement to do so. He and I share many differing opinions on religious issues, as is evidenced simply by the fact that he is very active in the “post-mod house church” movement (as with all religious movements, history will eventually give this one a name, for now I reckon this term is as good as any other) while I am a devoted communicant of the Eastern Orthodox Church. None-the-less, we glean much from one another and enjoy doing so as often as is practicable.

Furthermore, this blog is a touch point for many of my protestant friends and family members who are distant and are wondering: “What the hell is this Orthodox stuff that James has gotten himself into?” Now, being very familiar with this particular readership demographic (hehehe, sounds so corporate), I know that I cannot post something here that says: “I went to confession today” and then NOT offer some detailed explanation, and yes even some defense of the practice. You get what I mean? I know that some things that we Orthodox do and believe are going to illicit strong knee-jerk reactions from those of a protestant bent and so I must elaborate.

In this sense, my recent accuser is right: my blog can take a defensive tone and I do write some posts that seek to give reasons for the (Orthodox) hope that is in me (I Peter 3:15). But as I said/asked in my comment post recently: Who doesn’t do this? You see I read quite a number of post-mod Christian blogs (honestly the movement is fascinating to me…maybe someday they’ll convert me!), and very often I see posts that serve up defenses and reasons for ascribing to certain beliefs and practices that by their very nature point a condescending finger at Orthodoxy (i.e. church buildings are wasteful and unnecessary and we should be meeting in homes, there is no need or precedence for “professional” clergy, liturgy is dead, the Eucharist should be a “full meal deal”, the church needs a new major reformation, etc.) Now, when friends and family (or even strangers I suppose) espouse these sorts of things, I FEEL OBLIGED to engage these issues either here or there (wherever “there” may be). I mean, for those people who care about me and believe those aforementioned things, don’t they deserve an explanation as to why I drag my lazy butt to a church building on Sunday mornings to participate in a virtually unchanging ancient liturgy led by “professional” clergy (whatever that might mean), and to partake of small portions of bread and wine which we take to be the Body and Blood of Christ, all under the banner of a Church that has essentially never had a reformation like the western church. If you, my dear reader, do not wish to read such explanations…well you know what to do.

Still with me? I need a refill, be right back…

Ahhhh….now where was I? Oh yes.

I will offend people here…no way to avoid it, except perhaps to never post again…but frankly I really enjoy hearing my own typing too much to do that! If my words here become condescending or rude, then I am drinking sin and regurgitating death – for mercy’s sake nail my ass to the wall when I do so! But, if the concepts, ideas, practices, or theologies I bring up here are offensive to you, then quite simply you are obliged to engage me (as Abayea did – Thank you!) or ignore me. Don’t fire a shot across my bow and then rig your sails to scoot away from me while blowing raspberries at my navy’s flag! (recently saw Master and Commander, good flick.)

Now, to some extent, this is all personal “appetizer-type” stuff. The real meat of the issue is what follows.

Orthodoxy herself will offend you. She does not need my help to offend you, I can guarantee that many of you folks out there (whom I know) are or will be offended by things the Church teaches and practices. I will not cherry coat these things (exception of course being the aforementioned tobacco and ale). Aspects of Orthodoxy will hurt you, will bruise you, will irritate you, will make you laugh mockingly, and will in general rub you the wrong way. But before you run away angry or self-assured because of whatever offense you may take from the Church, stop and think whether you should be surprised as such offense?

Did not Jesus frequently offend people? YES, He did! How many people walked away from Him because “his teachings were too hard”? At the end of John 6, why didn’t Jesus call his followers back who had left him over his teaching on the Eucharist? Do you think Jesus was right in just letting the rich young ruler walk away from Him bummed out, as a lesson for us? I mean shouldn’t we have been left a record of Jesus taking these people aside and fully explaining in order to help them see? No, we are left only with the sad recording of their walking away. And did not Saint Paul remind us that our faith would be perceived as foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others?

Friends, seriously, think about this: if your religion or your church does not ever offend anybody, maybe something is wrong with it? If you seek out a faith that custom fits your tastes like a glove, will you grow? Will you be challenged? Will you remain the infallible Pope of your own spiritual life? Any church or religion worth a hill of beans is going to offend and challenge (challenge in the sense that YOU WILL WRESTLE and SWEAT), otherwise you might as well stay home and channel surf the TV or Internet. But if in doing so, you surf over to Paradosis you will read this sort of thing:

If Orthodoxy offends you, maybe you should consider that it just might be the best medicine you could ever have.

Engage me.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:45 AM [+]
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Friday, December 05, 2003

The Wonderworker

A wonderful Feastday, tomorrow, to all who know the real Santa Claus.

My son's nameday...Many Years Nicho, you little carpet monkey you!

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 2:37 PM [+]
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Google's politics

My coworker just discovered this by complete accident.

For some reason he did a Google search for "miserable failure" and got some interesting results.

Try It

Notice the very top return....nowhere on this page can be found either word.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:55 AM [+]
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Sacred time, sacred space

Thinking about Jesus' "Cleansing of the Temple."

Why did He do it? Why does He seem to ascribe so much dignity and sacredness to a physical place? This doesn't seem to jive with the Jesus the po-mo's are preaching about? I mean, Jesus likely would not have done anything had these dealings been done outside of the Temple, but His "anger" is clearly born from the fact that they were inside the Temple: His "Father's house."

Why didn't Jesus just tell his disciples: "Hey, it doesn't matter what they do there, cuz places aren't important. You see when I told the Samaritan woman about worshipping 'in spirit and truth', I was doing away with the whole notion of sacred space. Let them have the Temple and you and I will go to Joe's house down the road here and worship there after dinner."

Instead of doing this, Jesus "made a whip of cords" (read it again: "made a whip of cords") and drove them out.

Jesus left His holy Apostles with an appreciation for sacred places, sacred times, and in general sacred matter. This, the Apostles faithfully handed down to the Church. So, before we dismiss the very concept of the physically, geographically, or chronologically sacred, we'd do well to reread the Gospels - hints of these things are no doubt found in all those ununderlined areas.

Ouspensky reminded me (just this morning) of this quote from St. John of Damascus:

I do not worship matter; I worship the creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:31 AM [+]
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You had yourself a vision...

The long walk (ok, so it is 10 blocks....try it in freezing rain!) from the bus stop to my lab, often affords me the opportunity to let my imagination run a little wild. I make, nor have I ever made, any pretenses of sanity. I assume this morning's events was simply imagination.

A bus waiting patiently at a nearby stop light as I passed by, bore the typical advertising board. It was a lovely concoction of green and red christmas presents, sponsored by The Bon Marche', and it read: "Give." Of course it meant "Buy" but let us not bicker and argue about who killed who it. Anyway, imagine my suprise to see Jesus running over and beating the steaming tar out of this sign with a parking meter he'd pulled right out of the cement sidewalk (just like Neo! Wow, Jesus is so cool...even without the dark sunglasses....speaking of which, what is this thing called "sun"?)

Boy was He pissed...I heard Him shout: "It is written, "My fast shall be called a time of prayer, self-examination, repentence, abstinence, and almsgiving, 'but you have made it a 'den of perpetual indulgence."'

YEAH! Kick some American Materialistic butt Jesus!

The delightfulness of my little vision took an ugly turn when Jesus stopped and looked at me.

"How many ways have you profaned this sacred time James?"

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:14 AM [+]
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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Lab-Man

Sometimes when evil rears its ugly head, or when some notorious virus gets out of line, the lab powers that be will call for help with a shining beam bearing the Biohazard Insignia.

Lab-Man always heeds the call.


...and hopefully labman in no way negates what little esteem this blog has had.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 1:55 PM [+]
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Helping Olaf

UPDATE: I just heard from Olaf (as he was crossing the Colorado River), apparently he had opportunity to worship with some of you folks down at St. Barnabas!

Many have inquired about helping...He is still enroute to his new home in Arizona. I know he will be staying at a Monastery temporarily down there, but am not exactly sure about the address yet. Some have asked about a paypal account...yes you can direct payments to my wife at "Suzee70[at]foxinternet[dot]net" and then we will pass the funds along to Olaf. Once I get a definitive mailing address I will also get that to those of you who have emailed me and you can mail him a check directly yourself if you prefer.

All of your gracious offers for prayers and financial assistance have warmed my heart...who says the internet is a cold and impersonal place????

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:28 AM [+]
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Pilate’s Question put to my Children

BUMP
The accompanying screams and crying notifies me to the fact that the aforementioned noise was someone’s body hitting the floor…nothing unusual. Pounding feet rush into the living room to report the events to me.

“She pushed me!” cries one.

“No I didn’t!” protests the other.

Well, alas my omniscience and omnipresence have both been on the blink lately and so there is little hope for me to be able to ascertain the truth on this matter, but of course I ask none-the-less.

“What is the truth?”

In the split second before voices are raised in answer to my absurd question, I noticed that one of the girls’ eyes shot hard to their left in order to gaze upon the family icon corner…perhaps to see if we were being watched? But the potentiality of this being a lie detecting event was for me over shadowed by memory of the same question being asked of Jesus Christ by Pontius Pilate.

Truth has little to do with any sort of intellectual premise. We all know why, when Pilate asked the question, Jesus remained silent: Like my daughter, the answer was right before Pilate's eyes. Truth is a person…and a person, unlike an idea, possesses an image. We can literally see Truth. And as my daughter debated whether to tell the truth, she took a moment to look at the Truth.

Consider this, We can do MUCH more than speak the Truth, we can, and do, SHOW the Truth. Can you see the Protestant-Orthodox dichotomy here again? Ten years or so ago, if I had been asked: What is Truth? I very likely would have presented the inquisitor with a Bible…but today I might just as quickly be inclined to show them the Icon corner in my house…the same place where my daughter was seeking truth just yesterday.

She found Him.


...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:15 AM [+]
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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

What the Future Holds

You know I have always been one to turn a blind eye toward "morality" politics: gay marriages for example. You can read numerous blog posts in which I sort of shrug my shoulders at such issues...I suppose I have adopted a somewhat fatalistic attitude toward where our culture and society is headed. But in conversing with friends recently I have begun to wonder if the political future holds in store for us Christians something much more malignant.

It is not hard to see that our culture is swiftly abandoning and rejecting many moral values that historic Christianity has held dear...indeed, many branches of "christianity" is moving right along with these changing societal winds. Those of us holding to the traditions of the past are becoming more and more of a minority...all one needs to do to verify this is watch an evening of television programming. Worse yet though, is that all one also needs to do is watch what is going on in the courts and in the legislatures of our nation. Some of our moral teachings are even beginning to be vilified!

And here is my fear: How long do you suppose it will be before the state intervenes with our parenting? When the moral teachings I espouse in my home are viewed in a way that we might now view some white seperatist's household beliefs and teachings? How long before I must curb my beliefs (if only in word) in order to remian, in the eyes of the state, a "fit parent" and thus maintain my role in my children's lives?

Far fetched?

Guess again. I have heard of it happening from the mouth of one to whom it is happening. And it makes me think twice about just sitting back and watching laws being passed thinking that it will not affect me.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:26 AM [+]
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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Irritating
Well I was going to display the photo here, but it pissed me off too much to even give it space on my blog...you can see it here.

The caption to this photo reads:
AIDS observance proves ‘nun’ the worse for wear
A candlelight vigil at Seattle University commemorated World AIDS Day last night. Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence volunteer for various causes, often working the crowds in their ostentatious outfits.


Now maybe I'm just an ignoramous, but how much sense does it make to have some group standing for "perpetual indulgence" helping out at a commemoration for AIDS victims, a disease which wrecked havoc quite simply because of people's need for "perpetual indulgence"? And don't anyone dare get offended that I say this, it is a fact - whether homosexual or heterosexual this disease would have no future if people practiced more or ANY abstinence. "Safe Sex" is a sham.

Besides the fact that this group is profoundly offensive to monastics, but hey I guess people see Roman Catholics as an "up for grabs" target nowadays.

Sad.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 2:23 PM [+]
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The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Holiday Display

Every year, the pastoral staff here at the clinic where I work set up a holiday display in order to highlight some of the numerous seasonal religious traditions. Some of you will recall froma year ago that I lamented the absence of anything Orthodox and was even more vocal in lamenting the grouping of Orthodox Churches within a strange category in a religious listing provided at the display. Anyway, in bringing my complaint to the pastoral staff I started a dialogue in which I was asked to provide some info on Orthodoxy for this year's display. Included in that display will be a Nativity Icon and this little article I wrote...I pray God will use it to shed a little of His Christmas light - especially to suffering patients here who desperately need it.

Waiting for Light
The Advent Fast, the Nativity Feast, and Theophany in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is not well known here in America. Were it not for the comparatively small numbers of immigrants from places like Greece, the Middle East, Russia, and numerous other eastern European nations, we should know next to nothing about this venerable faith tradition. Presently however more and more western people are discovering and embracing Orthodoxy, thus attesting to this ancient faith’s modern viability. In doing so, many people are seeing a new “spin” on Holiday traditions here in the United States.

The holiday (“Holy day”) season for the Orthodox faithful begins not with shopping, feasting, and parties but contrastingly with a 40 day period of fasting, intensified prayer, self-examination, and giving to the poor. Many old world Orthodox nations still adhere to the older Julian calendar, which is presently 13 days behind our modern calendar (Gregorian), and thus Christmas in Russia (for example) is celebrated on January 7th. Most Orthodox Christians in North America have adopted the Gregorian calendar and so the Nativity Fast begins for them on November 15th with Christmas falling on December 25th. Advent, as these 40 days are commonly known, is infused with a profound sense of anticipation; the analogy of waiting in darkness for the coming of dawn is quite accurate and is reflective of the liturgical life of Orthodox Christians during this fast. All of life is seemingly hinged upon the appearance of the Incarnate God…and during Advent, Orthodox Christians are preparing to meet and glorify Him.

Along this 40-day journey are numerous landmarks or road signs that continually point the faithful toward the coming daylight. The most well known of which comes on December 6th: the feast day of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. Saint Nicholas who we have morphed into the character of Santa Claus, was in reality an early 4th century bishop and one of the most beloved of Orthodox Saints. One of many stories, which surround St. Nicholas, is that of three daughters who were in such dire circumstances that slavery or worse seemed to be the only viable option for saving themselves and their families from starvation. In the secrecy of night, St. Nicholas filled each of the girls’ socks, which were hung out to dry, with gold coins. Thus the family was saved. Still today on St. Nicholas’ day, Orthodox children will often leave their socks and/or shoes outside their rooms at night to be filled with treats. No doubt our well know tradition of hanging stockings out for Santa Claus is derived from this story of Saint Nicholas.

Advent ends with the liturgical proclamation that “Christ is Born! Glorify Him!” at the Nativity Vigil. Light has come! Thus begins what has virtually been forgotten in the west: the Twelve days of Christmas, which is a period of great feasting from December 25 until the Feast of Theophany (sometimes called Epiphany in the West). Orthodox Children will sometimes, instead of opening all their gifts on December 25th, open one each day during the Twelve days of Christmas. Either way, for Orthodox Christians, Christmas is never “done with” on the 26th of December!

Theophany in the Orthodox Church is a celebration of Christ’s Baptism. Water is blessed, frequently large bodies of water nearby parishes are also blessed (and some very brave souls will frequently dive into the freezing water in order to retrieve a cross tossed into the water by a priest or bishop), and the homes of parishioners are also blessed. Theophany means literally the “manifestation of God” because it is at Christ’s Baptism that Orthodox Christians believe that God’s Triune nature (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is revealed to us. If Christmas is the light of dawn, Theophany is the blazing noonday sun!

A marvelous wonder has this day come to pass:
Nature is made new, and God becomes man.
That which he was, he has remained;
And that which he was not, he has taken on himself
While suffering neither confusion nor division.

How shall I tell you of this great mystery?
He who is without flesh becomes incarnate;
The Word puts on a body; the Invisible is seen;
He whom no hand can touch is handled

And he who has no beginning now begins to be.
The Son of God becomes the Son of man:
Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.


-From Vespers on Christmas Day

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:05 AM [+]
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Monday, December 01, 2003

Image is Everything

I think I mentioned that I have been reading Leonid Ouspensky's Theology of the Icon and I have found it to be an amazingly intriguing work.

The Icon ...belongs to the very nature of Christianity, since it is not only the revelation of the Word of God, but also of the Image of God, manifested by the God-Man. The Church teaches that the image is based on the Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. This is not a break with nor even a contradiction of the Old Testament, as the Protestants understand it; but on the contrary, it clearly fulfills it, for the existence of the image in the New Testament is implied by its prohibition in the Old...the sacred image for the Church proceeds precisely from the absence of the image in the Old Testament.

I think we sometimes tend to forget how revolutionary the Incarnation is...God is no longer without form! He is revealed to our EYES through Christ! Amazing.

Quote the Old Testament prohibitions of images all you want, but the fact is they are as "dead" as those which prescribe circumcision and abstaining from pork. God Himself has offered one big gigantic "But I say unto you" in regards to images. And we celebrate it on Christmas.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 12:08 PM [+]
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Olaf

…with my friend and brother’s permission, I relate his story to you.

William sat destitute in his Arizona residence at 2am watching a program about Alaska on PBS. He knew that his life was coming apart - being addicted to alcohol – and he was desperately concerned for the lives of his sons who lay asleep beside him and were being equally affected by his disease. He had to do something…anything.

As he watched the program with all these thoughts in his head, he saw something that really struck him. He says he remembers vividly standing to his feet as an image of a small church was being shown; a “strange looking church with weird bulbs on the top and funny looking crosses all over.” He was further mesmerized as a “holy man” wearing all black and sporting a huge beard came out “swinging something with smoke coming out.” Inside the church, William relates that all he could remember was that it was filled with pictures. Something or (someone), in this moment of desperation (which I imagine few of us have ever experienced), called to William and compelled him. He had to go to Alaska…to see that funny church.

Money in his pocket was only enough for bus fare to Seattle. He went and as it turned out, this would be close enough. Wandering the streets of downtown he found himself weeping in a park when two men approached him handing our sandwiches. They talked, and William explained to them about his pilgrimage (though he could not at the time know to use such a word.) To say the least, the two men where amazed because they were laypersons at St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church and it was Holy Saturday.

It was my first Holy Week and my mind was all-awash in the splendor of Orthodoxy when I saw the strange burly man walk into our Church. I was particularly touched because he was obviously in dire straits and also had no idea what to do or what was going on during this great Paschal vigil. (Apparently he’d not had time to read Frederica’s 12 things!) But I watched in amazement as he approached the central icon and not knowing what to do, he fell to his knees and laid his hand gently upon it…weeping. I leaned over and asked my wife if she knew who it was…she shook her head, we were still fairly new ourselves.

Months later I would find myself standing next to this burly man holding candles and being received together into the Holy Orthodox Church. He had, and would continue to become a beloved member of our Parish. William was in many ways, gone as he struggled through the catechumenate and into sobriety. No doubt he readily embraced the Orthodox tradition of taking a new name, and even now has to frequently remind me to call him by his Christian name: Olaf.

I have nothing but admiration for people who fight alcoholism (or really any serious addiction). Someone once said that the greatest victory is over one's self. Nothing could be more true...and it is in many ways a never ending battle: one day at a time (as they say.)

He would eventually make it up to Alaska for a visit (he ended up calling the greater Seattle area home for a couple of years now)- though I'm not sure he ever saw the exact church he'd seen on TV - but he had found THE Church, and it made all the difference in the world. One cannot help but believe that God was behind all of this.

Olaf has now reached a milestone in the process of his healing and has decided that it is time for him to return to Arizona, to no doubt face many demons (both literally and figuratively), and to begin to help his sons out of a very bad situation which has apparently developed during the time of his neccesary absence. He needs both our spiritual and our material support, and I am going to ask those of you who read this blog to consider helping as well…which is especially appropriate in this season of Advent. If you would be interested in helping Olaf, please email me at the address in the menu above and I will give you further specific instructions on how you can do so. If you cannot help materially, please take a moment now and pray for Olaf?

I know that we will miss him greatly, he was indeed an inspiration and a model of Christian humility and love to me. God speed my friend…hurry back.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:20 AM [+]
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