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.
If you were not able to listen to Met. JONAH's talk to the Anglican Church in North America's Assembly yesterday, you really missed an impressive event. Not that his speech was one to go down in history for it's beauty or prose...but it was without question the most straightforward, no "punches pulled", words one could imagine being delivered. It was brave, bold, and absolutely honest. Without compromise, +JONAH simply spoke the truth.
He apologized in advance noting the potential for his words to offend some people, and he emphasized his intention to speak the truth in love. He started by citing all that we share in common and then moved on to the brutal truth of "what it would take to establish communion." What indeed? Well...in essence...they would have to become Orthodox. Now, without saying that directly, he did go through a litany of doctrines/teachings that they would have to change, abandon, and or accept. He even came right out and said without hesitation: "calvinism is a condemned heresey." (A decidedly bold thing to say given that their 39 articles have a clear calvinistic bent to them) In the end, it was very clear what he was saying to them, at least to me it was.
It was wonderfully refreshing. The very BEAUTIFUL antithesis of a politician speaking. He wasn't there to win approval, he was there to bring the position of the Orthodox Church to that assembly. And he plainly did so.
But it wasn't solely a talk about doctrinal and practical differences/similarities. The Metropolitan also laid down a fairly thick layer of Orthodox spirituality throughout it all and I've no doubt that some heard these things for the first time.
The ACNA is a diverse collection of folks who cover a spectrum ranging from Anglo-Catholics to Charismatics, all seemingly united under a banner of some semblance of traditional theological and moral teachings...to some degree they exist as a reaction against the ECUSA. I speculate that they may have trouble on the front of unity as they evolve past being a reaction against the errors of the ECUSA. But given the diversity of the attendees I can imagine some of them REALLY liked Metropolitan JONAH's talk, while others were less than impressed. (This could be discerned in the sometimes less than enthusiastic applause...in almost all cases I could tell in advance who would like what was being said and who would sit politely silent.) In the end, however, all there could not help but appreciate our Metropolitan's frankness. He was not there for a photo-op or to play games.
It was truly refreshing.
Eis Polla Eti Dhespota!
Addendum: I keep looking to see if a recording of the talk will be made available and have thus far had no luck...if I find it I will post it here. HERE is another good report on the event.
At one point during the Diaconal Liturgical Practicum, Fr. Sergius Halvorsen said something that particularly stuck with me. He was lecturing about homiletics and reached a point in which he noted that as we progress in presenting the Gospel, part of that message should include the truth that Christianity is NOT simply preparing for Heaven as a destination we yearn for in the so called "after-life." But on the contrary, Heaven is now (my paraphrase). Yes, of course, there is a future Kingdom...but we also know that the "Kingdom is within you" (Luke 17:21). If we dare to call it a "reward", then we must let it be known that the Kingdom (the reward) is here and now. It is most fully actualized in the Liturgy, but we also take that with us out into our everyday lives, hopefully manifesting the beatitudes in everything we do. We nourish a deep and profound relationship with our Savior, NOW...not just later. We commune NOW, not just later. Though we see with blurred vision, we will be and are ever seeing more and more clearly as throughout eternity we process from "glory to glory." (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) But make no mistake, this procession is available to us NOW. It's glories are ours to explore NOW.
We are not simply intended to be in a perpetual state of looking toward the future and hoping. We are to TASTE the cup of salvation even now. We are to have that relationship with God now and forever. We ought to have an innate sense of timelessness and a perception of the reality of the Kingdom, even if hard to see in everyday life. It's there...we know it's there...and were we to live in the context of this reality I believe it would change so much for us...here and now.
Our transformation is ongoing...but it is not only a future event. He is the vine and we are the branches...He abides in us and we in Him. Now. *I* need to wake up to this reality and start living more in accordance with it. TODAY is the day of salvation.
THIS article is nothing short of beautiful. There are a few finer points I'd disagree with, but by and large I think Scruton hits the beautiful nail on the head.
What have we lost when far too much of our artistic impulses do not lift our eyes in aspiration towards the beautiful, but instead drop them to lust over the base, the profane, the crude, and the pursuit of lazy satisfaction with wherever we happen to be? Count me as a lover of beauty...a clumsy and inept aspirant bent on being better than I am now.
It's been awhile since I posted...perhaps some of you still check here from time to time. I'm going to post some pics a little later today.
My trip home from Uganda was mired by my catching a virus of some sort. It's not unlikely that I caused a minor pandemic by flying as this bug was just starting its massive replication effort inside my body. The 30 hour trip (door to door) was pretty miserable. Once I did get home I slept for much of the following two days - hardly venturing out of bed. I was as sick as I have been in a VERY long time.
Thankfully, on the morning of the day I was to leave to SVOTS, I was feeling much better and so I packed up and headed off to the airport once again. I will have more to say about the practicum in a little bit. I will say this much now though: it was well worth the venture. The practical and academic sides of the training were great and it was really wonderful to meet a host of other DVP students. But, most effecting me were the exhortations to personal piety and holiness and seriousness with regard to the ministry of the Diaconate. It really marked for me a turning point...whether or not I am ever ordained. I think perhaps I had been a little guilty of seeing the Deacon as essentially an article of liturgical flare...but opening my eyes to the reality of servanthood in the context of the Eucharist and then (as we all should do) taking the reality of our participation in the Eucharist with us into the world and what these means for the vocation of the Deacon. Anyway, there is much to ponder here...suffice to say...I am now more humbled (scared?) by even the potential to enter into this ministry. My preparation for it has been brought up to a new level beyond just academics...may God forgive me for allowing the obviousness of this to escape me.
It is good to be home. So much to do: around the farm, in my head and in my heart...it ought to be a busy summer.
As my time in Africa winds down and I feel a bit of a chest cold coming on (lucky me – hopefully they will let me travel) I’m taking a moment to reflect on this trip. I had a great time with my housemates who made for wonderful company. It was good fun exploring African beers (we found a new one - to us - worthy of note which is brewed in Kenya: Castle Milk Stout), cooking wonderful vegetarian meals for me even if it wasn’t a fasting day, marveling at T-Storms and hornbills, walking the streets of Nakasero after bloating ourselves at a local pub or restaurant, watching the first two seasons of “Deadwood” (sometimes while drinking a locally made Scotch clone in time with the characters and what must be their decidedly awful bourbon) on a hung bed sheet, and just sitting on the Veranda playing cards and listening to the night sounds of Kampala ( a strange mix of wildlife, loud parties, revival services, or Muslim calls to prayer) while we all intermittently chatted online with friends and families on the other side of the world.
As to work, I was here to train a new tech on both an old and a new method, and to train our stalwart tech Patrick on the new method. Plus we intended to update and revise all SOP’s. However, our brand new centrifuge had a serious electrical malfunction after its first full spin cycle and then died. Then the primary PCR instrument began to behave oddly. Not to mention two broken laptops. On that particular night my principle colleague and I were at the precipice of despair and could only laugh. But, despite the setbacks with instrument troubles, I was still able to train the new tech with our old method and get the primary lab SOP’s set up for when the time comes that the instruments work and the techs can switch to the new method. We really had an awful string of bad luck with things breaking. So, to some degree we were unable to accomplish all that we had intended, but we do now have a fully trained second technologist. And we all recognize that TIA.
On a more personal note I quite enjoyed seeing my friends that I have made over the last couple of years at the Infectious Disease Institute Lab, the Uganda Cancer Institute, the project driver, a new local driver named Hadji, and of course some of the people at the Orthodox Church whom I know less well for only having met them a few times. I enjoy spending time with them all – especially in the lab where I am more able to just be present with them and know them. I love listening to their conversations and by listening trying to get a grasp of what their everyday lives must be like. There are many cultural differences and sometimes it is hard for me to understand or relate, but I make an effort and I have some good associates at the lab who indulge my questions. I can only say that I truly do enjoy my experiences amongst them, I personally find it far more interesting and - I expect - rewarding than going on Safari
It was also nice to spend an afternoon and evening with Stacy. I arranged a tour of the lab here and then the UCI. No doubt, the African veteran that she is, the uncomfortable things to be seen there were not unknown to her, and even for myself I was more able to deal with it all. That being said, the facilities have definitely improved over the last year, so that was a welcome discovery. Still, readily treatable suffering abounds and is often untreated primarily due to lack of funds. Afterwards we went to an rendition of “Little Shop of Horrors” at the National Theatre put together by a mostly amateur mix of ex-pats and locals. Quite enjoyable. Going to church was for me a contact point with home. The Ugandan Orthodox Church is, sadly, a mess. It is riddled with unspoken corruption the likes of which make the OCA’s recent problems seem trivial in comparison. It’s is, I believe, the devil’s use of poverty against the Church in the same way he likely uses our abundance against us with varying levels of success…but while I’ll not let the excuses cover the sin, I’m also not a Donatist. It is the Church in Uganda and being present during the Litrugy was a blessing to me and I often found myself singing along…well…at least singing along with the litanies: “Mukama Saasira.”
I will however complain that my last Sunday there I kept hearing an organ being played from time to time with the choir. It was apparently being used to establish the notes, but it played its chords throughout and it drove me nuts. Hated it. I was unable to find out why it was played this time and not others. Blech!
I’ve no idea if I’ll ever come back. The experience is ALWAYS enlightening and I never fail to find myself coming home with a changed perspective. Most of us are complete and utter pansies in America and this spills over into so much of our lives, in fact I would suggest no aspect of our lives is untouched by a growing sense of entitlement for ease. We not only expect that dealings of fate ought to be kind to us, but also that even our actions ought to never have consequences. People here are rather reserved to their perceived fates and this is arguably something akin to opposite pole of the same sin. Not unlike how self-loathing and self-absorption are intimately linked.
Anyway, I am nursing my chest cold and I’d appreciate prayers for my travel. It stands to be an uncomfortable 28 hours if I don’t start feeling better. Once I’m hope I expect to get some pics uploaded as well as some other thoughts I might have with regard to what may be my last time in Africa – for whatever they may be worth. I'm anxious to be back home with my family and what is no doubt a farm "come-to-life" since my absence. I’ll be home for 2 days before I head off to St. Vlad’s for the Diaconal Liturgical Practicum….assuming I don’t have ebola.
Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” 5 So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
I know, especially as it is often hammered home by my Church and her Tradition, that I am not to judge people. But by the same token there is a time to "cleanse the Temple." No, I am not Jesus, nor am I worthy to wash the feet of the disciples who from time to time stood up against something or someone in righteous judgment. But, in this case I will daringly go out on that dangerous precipice which I too often visit in sin.
As was the case the last time I was here, Benny Hinn posters abound in Kampala right now. He is carry on some miracle concert/crusade thing this very weekend at some Ugandan "miracle center." Even as a Pentecostal evangelical I thought Hinn to be a heretic at best and an outright fraud at worse. Now, I believe even more that he is an absolute fraud...even worse. What will it cost a Ugandan Christian desperate for a miracle to attend this event? $50 US Dollars. When I heard this amount, I about fell out of my chair and no small number of ungraceful words flew forth from my mouth. The man doesn't even have the decency to offer his "miracles" for free (or even just with a free-will love offering collected.) HE'S SELLING TICKETS!!! God forgive me, but this is wholly anti-Christ. It is evil. Many of you back home in America have no idea how much $50USD is to the average Ugandan. IT IS A FORTUNE! And yet, it would seem, so many see Hinn here as a "man of God" and I have in my mind visions of the sick here collecting their life savings in the hope of some miracle this weekend. How on earth can this man, who owns his own jet and lives in luxury even by my standards, be driven down that road from Entebbe to Kamapala through abject poverty, and NOT fall on his knees with tears of repentence for coming to take money from these people under the pretense of being a "man of God" surrounded by miracles???? I cannot fathom it. Even with every ounce of grace I can muster, I cannot envision a remotely sacred rationale for this.
Can you imagine Sts. Peter or Paul throwing together "miracle crusades" like this? Charging exorbitant fees to lay their hands on people??? I am reminded of Simon Magnus (Acts 8:9-24) in reverse. It's unthinkable! "Silver and Gold we have none, but what we do have we give freely..."
What is Hinn doing for Uganda? Is he funding orphanages? Is he supporting the Uganda Cancer Insitute? Is he doing anything save jetting in, collecting his money, putting on a show, and jetting home. I'd feel a little better about the expensive shows he was putting on if I could be assured that he is exceptionally generous with that money and is actively putting it to good use here. Are there Benny Hinn Orphangaes here? Benny Hinn scholarship programs? Health Clinics? Anything? None that I know of. And so I am led to the conclusion that this man is little more than a "holy spirit" salesman who is taking advantage of the poorest of the poor while living in luxury. God help me, but I can see it no other way.
My perception of the type of person to whom the title "man of God" applies has manifestly changed, in no small part due to Orthodoxy. It is NOT the man who stands in the bright lights and charges fees for his miracles, rather it is the man who tirelessly and quietly works to help others, it is the hermit who makes war against him or herself while praying for the world. Miracle workers in Orthodoxy almost always receive their limelight after they are asleep in the Lord. We may hear of their deeds in their life, but rarely will you see them buying their own aircraft.
“So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.
The other night my Ugandan housemates and I were sitting out on the veranda sipping our beers when the other male housemate began to talk about how a Ugandan acquaintance had, in the course of their walking together, taken his hand and held it. Apparently, men holding hands is not at all uncommon here (or so I am told - I've not really noticed) and has nothing at all to do with sexuality. He noted how cool he thought this was that men are able to express their feelings with one another through touch and that it need not be misconstrued or laden with sexual overtones. I noted how we in the Orthodox Church will from time to time greet one another with euro style kisses on each others' cheeks, but for most folks even this can be uncomfortable. I, however, not thinking myself a slave to my cultural biases figured that if I was ever called upon to hold a man's hand in Uganda I should have no problem doing so.
As fate would have it, I would have the chance to prove my hip worldliness the very next day when Patrick (one of the gentlemen here I am training), who I know very well, took up my hand while we were returning from lunch. While I didn't freak out or pull immediately away, alarm bells definitely began ringing in my head and everything within me suggested that this was not right. I was completely conscious of it all - including the conversation from the night before - and yet I could not handle it. After a moment I came up with some cause for breaking our hands free from each other and said nothing about it, believing that my discomfort with it was entirely well disguised.
Culture is a funny thing. In meeting people from foreign lands in America, we generally are very tolerant of their cultural peculiarities (in fact I receive training from work on how to do so) and so really I shouldn't feel bad about getting weirded out about holding hands with another adult man. (Honestly I kept thinking about that scene from "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" when it was discovered that the two pillows were not pillows.) Fact is, where I come from if you are not my wife or one of my kids, we don't hold hands. And that's okay...but sometimes it is nice to challenge our cultural boundaries. It has a way of calling us out of one context and into another and if we are wise we may be able to see things more clearly in doing so. Don't get me wrong...I'm not a cultural relativist.
Anyway, it was definitely experience I was glad to have. None-the-less, I won't be reaching out to hold the hands of my guy friends once I get home...so fret not.