Monday, December 28, 2009

The Elder Paisios Speaks to Seminarians

"If a passionate man* tries to correct an egoist, steel hits flint and fires are ignited! If he tries to correct a sensitive person, he hurts him greatly. It would be like a wild man taking a thick wire brush to clean out a little mucus from a baby's eye."

"The goal of reading is the application, in our lives, of what we read. Not to learn it by heart, but to take it to heart. Not to practice using our tongues, but to be able to receive the tongues of fire and to live the mysteries of God. If one studies a great deal in order to acquire knowledge and to teach others, without living the things he teaches, he does no more than fll his head with hot air. At most he will manage to ascend to the moon using machines. The goal of the Christian is to rise to God without machines."

(Taken from Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit).

*Passionate man: Not so much a man with a fiery temper as a man who is under the influence of his passions (among which are gluttony, lasciviousness, slothfulness, listlessness, and so on, in addition to anger).

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Late Festal Greeings and an Update

A few days late, but nonetheless: Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Christos razhdaetsya! Slavite! Christos gennatai! Doxasate!

Life at SVS has been blissfully relaxed in the sense of being able to do some increased devotional exercises and leisure reading, but one should hardly think that life here is free from activities during the break. Services, of course, leading up to the blessed feast of our Lord's Nativity in the flesh have been a preoccupation (in a good way) over the past few weeks, with nightly vespers and little compline/Nativity kanon permeating the start of each night. A beautiful SVS tradition, and a blessed way to enter into the feast.

My mother has come up from Ft. Worth to visit for the holidays; she and Audra and the girls are currently at our apartment playing with Christmas toys; I am at the apartment of another seminary family who, having gone home for the holidays, has graciously offered us a much larger space in which we all can sleep and relax. God bless the Coxes. So good to have "Gammie" up here; the girls, of course, are so excited they could explode.

Was blessed to sing "God is with Us" during the Nativity Eve Great Compline service here. This is especially so because, in my house, I am known as something of a grinch when it comes to holiday music. I will not stand for anything after Thanksgiving, and even St. Nicholas Day is far too early (though I can understand those who see this as a launching off point), but around the 20th or 21st, the Church starts singing things such as "Let us celebrate the Nativity of our Lord in anticipation" during Vespers services, so at that point I really have no defense. Out come the stockings and Tchaikovsky. The SVS Hymns of Christmas CD, however, is one that is reserved for no earlier than Christmas morning. "God is with us" is our "cue" that Christmas has come, especially since we are, almost every year without exception, either in rural Texas or rural Kentucky with family and do not have occasion to attend Orthodox Nativity services. So the blessing to intone the triumphant words of Isaiah were quite meaningful.

Celebrations around campus have not disappointed. Those seminarian families who have hung around for some or even all of the holidays (many more than I had expected would stay) have all come together on more than one occasion already to lay out a festal spread. I have had the, erm, pleasure? (let's call it that because of the hospitible nature in which it was offered) to taste a Sam Adams Fizziwig's Ale. Fizzy is right. Much more to my liking was the Oban single malt whiskey, aged 14 years, courtesy of Fr. John Ballard, a fellow Texan, while over at another family's house. The libation tasted every bit its 14 years, leaving its delightful burn on the tip of the lips and full aftertaste in the back of the throat.

Grades, thank God, came back very satisfactory.

Church History, Liturgical Music, and Old Testament: A

Liturgical Theology, Patristics, and Liturgical Practica: A-

Integrating Seminar (P/F): P

GPA so far: 3.86. Glory to God.

It has been interesting to speak with other M.Div. candidates concerning attitudes towards course grades. The old joke gets passed around quite a lot: Q: What do you call an M.Div. student with C's and D-'s? A: A priest. Given that many are not looking to move any further in their studies beyond St. Vlad's -- I myself have vascillated on the point of persuing anything further barring necessity given my desire to go into parish life as fully as God would permit -- many have something of a ho-hum attitude regarding what their actual letter grades. Just enough to get me the degree, thanks. Throughout my time as a student I've been highly driven to do well in classes, regardless of the teacher or the "payoff" later. True, I'm a nerd. I embrace it fully. But it's served as a good reminder that no one is, in all probability, going to ask me to elaborate on Origen's teaching of the relation of the Son to the Father in everyday parish life. More important is my own becoming a man of prayer who can pray as the Church leads us to pray, shut up when he needs to (which is most of the time) and speak only when and as he should. Your prayers are coveted.

Am currently reading two quite different books which are both nonetheless enjoyable: Zorro: Una Novela por Isabela Allende and Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit by Protecting Veil press (H/T to our good Ochlophobist on the latter). The introduction to Precious Vessels can be found HERE. I cannot express how marvelous it has been to "stretch my linguistic legs" again, as it were, and read a book --no, a story -- in Spanish. Ms. Allende is at her best again, with vibrant descriptive battle scenes and an intriguing beginning to Señor De La Vega's existence and his later identification with the indígenas of Mexico. Also grateful for the devotional material in Precious Vessels; the general emphasis of the book can be summed up in a short quote which it lists in the counsels of Elder Joseph the Hesychast: "No sacrifice is more fragrant in the sight of God than purity of body, which is realized through blood and great struggles." Buy this book and read it often.

We were blessed by the goodhearted folks at St. Gregory Palamas Orthodox Church who participated in the St. Nicholas Program, a Christmas charity program done for the benefit of married-with-children seminarian families. Between their requesting and filling our Christmas requests and eager grandparents concerned for their desperately poor children and grandchildren, there was much squealing coming from our house on Christmas morning. Some even came from folks other than myself. ;) Kate, as you can see, was rather fond of her new rain boots.

Today is both a landmark and a rare occasion for me. To the side of this post I have posted an icon, the hymns, and the information from regarding today's commemoration of the King and Prophet David, my heavenly patron. The Sunday after the Nativity is his commemoration, together with the Righteous Joseph the Betrothed and James, the Brother of the Lord. On years when Christmas falls on a Friday, however, it also happens to be my birthday. That this particular alignment happened to fall on the 30th anniversary of my birth, however, seems to make it all the more significant to me. I'm so thankful to God for His many blessings to me over these three decades. May He continue to show His mercy towards me in the coming time I have left.

A blessed festal period to all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Memory Eternal

Thank you for standing up for your flock in times of need.

Thank you for living as an example of a true shepherd.

Thank for calling us to honesty and integrity as Christians.

Lord, grant rest to your servant, Job, and may his soul dwell with the blessed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Many Years, Prayers

Send a "Many Years" to my beloved wife, Audra, who celebrates her birthday tomorrow. She can be reached at her blog, Just the Right Words (also in the sidebar).

May God also grant all us NYC Wootens many years on this, one of the two commemorations of our family patron, St. Herman of Alaska, shown to the right. His was a witness of forsaking material goods for love of the Word of God by which we truly live, and living that life amongst those who did not have it, yet wanted it when they saw the warmth of God in their "Apa." God grant us that same fidelity to His Word and the grace to live generously with all we're given. You can pray the Akathist to him HERE.

Prayers, finally, for yours truly, who will be starting finals tomorrow. I'll be signing off from the blogosphere between now and then, but your sending up a prayer or seven would be mighty appreciated.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Praying, Contra Slithers, in the Dark

My first semester's classes officially ended today. Papers turned in; here in a bit I'll start the reading for final exams next week (Prayers are coveted for this last hurdle), but since time to breathe can now be appreciated for the luxury it is--at least for an evening--I thought I'd attend the little compline service SVS has during weeknights of fasting seasons (Compline, by the way, is apparently not included in blogger's dictionary. Neither, apparently, is the possessive word, "blogger's." Or, rather, it is, but only when quotes are around it. Sigh.)

I was scheduled to read little compline this past Monday, and the quiet, somber, and quite dark service impressed me, having only been to compline services at night either at Holy Archangels or in conjunction with a service such as Canon of St. Andrew. I came back tonight, as it was the final compline service before Christmas Break.

Praying in the dark is iconic. Rather, praying in the quiet dark is iconic. There's something to be said for the fact that, in most all other confessions of Christianity, when the faithful gather to pray, the lights are on and the volume is up. Or--as was the case in some "punk rock 'praise' services" I had the misfortune to attend (twice and only twice)--if they are dark, they are noisy and violent. Tonight the chanting was purposefully subdued, quieter than usual, movement was almost non-existent. The soft, throbbing candlelight illumined the faces of the saints and their Lord, who looked at us with established souls led by the Guiding Spirit.

Father Andrew Cuneo was the priest presiding over the service tonight. The man seems to walk around with compline in his soul. To watch the man come and pick up a large, lit candle and stand, petitioning, before the new Adam and the new Eve, in the dark, took me aback. When the lights are on, when the volume is up, when the projecter screens are blaring, the illusion of stability, of strength is easier to swallow. When it's dark and quiet, you fight against blindness, you fight against sleep, you fight against cold--in short, you feel your limitations much more acutely when it's dark. Yet this man prayed. The women at the Cross prayed in a moment darker than any other. It would seem that the goal of every Christian is to press on in faithful, continued prayer, especially in the dark of our hearts, when we feel all our passions slithering around and want to recoil, want to jump, want to react somehow to stave off having to feel that slither. Yet the ability to move in calm, sovereign freedom while one's bowels slither and clench in rebellion is the onus of every Christian. I would posit that this responsibility can only be fulfilled as our Lord would have it when it is still, quiet, and dark, for this external setting is the only worthy reflection of the landscape of hearts held in a place of need of warm illumination.

Rich Mullins...

"God calls us to 'be strong' and we mistake that for a call to omnipotence. We confuse strength to endure trials with an ability to walk unfrustrated through life. We convince ourselves that if we were strong we would never fail, never tire, never hurt, never need. We being to measure strength in terms of ease of progress, equate power with success, endurability with invincibility and inevitably, when our illusions of omnipotence is shattered, we condemn ourselves for being weak.

"God has called us to be lovers and we frequently think that He meant us to be saviors. So we 'love' as long as we see 'results.' We give of ourselves as long as our investments pay off, but if the ones we love do not respond, we tend to despair and blame ourselves and even resent those we pretend to love. Because we love someone, we want them to be free of addictions, of sin, of self - and that is as it should be. But it might be that our love for them and our desire for their well-being will not make them well. And, if that is the case, their lack of response no more negates the reality of love than their quickness to respond would confirm it."

When needing to read, write, clean, pray, etc after the girls have gone to sleep, the slithers come out with suggestions of leisure and comfort. Audra was talking tonight about how in awe she was of women who could work full time, hold down family life, and be involved as matushki in parish life. When she said she didn't think she was that caliber of a lady, I said that one of the things I had to remind myself of regarding our relationship is that I cannot force her to just "tough it out" and push through fatigue; I'm her husband, not her drill instructor. Yet, the thing that we all have to face is the truth that Christ is calling us, in essence, to kick our own ass to some degree. My job, truly, is to kick my own ass the hardest to make it easier on the rest of the family.

Thus, when YouTube beckons, when Bejeweled calls, when ora et labora is challenged by our contemporary slithers, when sleep claws at our eyelids, neck and shoulders while dirty dishes yet remain in the sink, when blogging threatens to slide between you and the toddler asking you to color with her for the ninth time that day -- we are engaged in crisis. Often, if denied the slither's offer of indulgence, we may physically react, either through tension and lashing out or through escape and sybaritism.

Yet we fast to push our bodies just past the edge of comfort. We stand at attention to remind ourselves to remain diligent. We pray--in the light, yes, but also in the dark--to remind ourselves that light is now, but it's also not yet, that there is still dark to deal with. Things that slither do so in the dark, and the light on the other side of that likewise dark glass don't help much, it sometimes seems. But that light is what we've got for now, and ignoring the things that go slither in the night in order to gaze, flint-faced, at the light that illumines us with love for Other and others, is the order of the Day.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Athanasius and Wrath

In response to Rho's question in the comments in the post below, when he asked, "Where's the talk of a just God who is concerned that all sin be punished with justice, b/c sin is actually evil?"


One of the main differences between Orthodox and Reformed soteriology is a different idea of punishment. It would seem as though both Orthodox and Reformed churches suffer from unintended consequences "in the pews" (or "in the nave" in our case). While Orthodox homilies can, indeed, come away sounding like our Faith is allergic to anything even resembling divine wrath, Reformed churches often come across as making the Father's offended justice that of a violent, vindictive, bloodthirsty Tyrant.

We have to be careful with how words are translating in some biblical passages. 2 Thess. 1.8-9, for example, is often translated as "In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord..." In the Greek, (you can compare HERE), we see that the words commonly translated as "vengeance"--εκδικησιν--and "punishment"--δικην--are all related, not to penal retribution or satisfaction, but simple "righteousness" or "straightening" (δικαιοσύνη). Granted, this righteousness will be imposed on the unrighteous apart from their will, and it will be permanent (αἰώνιον), but when we say “destruction,” what will that be? What is ὄλεθρον, really? Is it done with a violent, offended connotation, the way we usually refer to “punishment”? Or is it “ruin,” as in the sense of something undergoing “de-(con)struction”? Young’s Literal Translation of v. 9 would seem to agree with the latter:
who shall suffer justice -- destruction age-during -- from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength
Here we have men suffering, indeed, and eternally so, but why? Because the justice—the setting straight of what was crooked, in which what is crooked is forcibly deconstructed, or destructed—is imposed on the wicked, but not because of a god who decides he’s going to “make this hurt.” It hurts because we don’t want it, not because God wants to make us suffer.

And I would disagree strongly with your idea that sin isn’t “really… a big deal in EO thought.” I would invite you to read the two posts again, wherein I’d say it’s fairly clear that God lets not one crooked way go unstraightened, regardless of how a person wedded to his iniquity might feel about it on judgment day. Therefore, sin should hardly be seen as "barely worthy of irritation,"

As it so happens, we are studying St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation of the Word in Patristics--a reread for me, but a much needed one--and the beginning section seems to address quite well what we're discussing here, namely, the reaction of God to sin.

In Chapter 3, we see the consequences for sin. CCEL has a nice section headers above these chapters here; we see that God has made "Creation out of nothing," with "Man created above the rest, but incapable of independent perseverance. Hence the exceptional and supra-natural gift of being in God’s Image, with the promise of bliss conditionally upon his perseverance in grace."

(So, then, all of Creation's existence is grounded on nothing less than the pure will of God; if we separate ourselves from His life by our shortcoming, we begin the process of degenration--or "de(con)struction, or destruction--with the end result being less and less existence, to the point of eventual ruin, which is the concept I'm referring to as ὄλεθρον from 2 Thess 1.9).

Chapter 6: "The human race then was wasting, God’s image was being effaced, and His work ruined. Either, then, God must forego His spoken word by which man had incurred ruin; or that which had shared in the being of the Word must sink back again into destruction, in which case God’s design would be defeated. What then? was God’s goodness to suffer this? But if so, why had man been made? It could have been weakness, not goodness on God’s part."

(We thus see the first indication of something approaching God's honor being besmirched, though there is no indication here of God being "concerned" with His own reputation but rather with being faithful to His own purpose.)

Chapter 7: "On the other hand there was the consistency of God’s nature, not to be sacrificed for our profit. Were men, then, to be called upon to repent? But repentance cannot avert the execution of a law; still less can it remedy a fallen nature. We have incurred corruption and need to be restored to the Grace of God’s Image. None could renew but He Who had created. He alone could (1) recreate all, (2) suffer for all, (3) represent all to the Father."

(Indeed, God will not refrain forever from straightening the wicked (crooked) paths. The righting of all wrongs is more important, ultimately, than "happiness." The problem with Reformed views of things like this, however, is that the wrongs to be righted are not primarily ones of law, but of ontology and corruption, ending in death. We are presented to the Father as whole because for this were we created. A deathbound penitent will still die; we must not only be delivered from transgression of a law but of the mortal consequences thereof.)

Chapters 8-9: "The Word, then, visited that earth in which He was yet always present ; and saw all these evils. He takes a body of our Nature, and that of a spotless Virgin, in whose womb He makes it His own, wherein to reveal Himself, conquer death, and restore life."

The Word, since death alone could stay the plague, took a mortal body which, united with Him, should avail for all, and by partaking of His immortality stay the corruption of the Race. By being above all, He made His Flesh an offering for our souls; by being one with us all, he clothed us with immortality."

(Again, one can hardly call sin "not serious" when the Word calls such deeds evil and lead to dissolution and corruption in the grave.)

Ch 13: "Here again, was God to keep silence? to allow to false gods the worship He made us to render to Himself? A king whose subjects had revolted would, after sending letters and messages, go to them in person. How much more shall God restore in us the grace of His image. This men, themselves but copies, could not do. Hence the Word Himself must come (1) to recreate, (2) to destroy death in the Body."

(This is telling. What is God's concern? His reputation before mere created beings? On the contrary; He is concerned not with punishing us, but with restoring us. His wrath is not punitive, but corrective; He de-structs so that He can con-struct. Whether we like this or not when He imposes this upon us is another matter.)

Ch 25: "Why the Cross, of all deaths? (1) He had to bear the curse for us. (2) On it He held out His hands to unite all, Jews and Gentiles, in Himself. (3) He defeated the “Prince of the powers of the air” in His own region, clearing the way to heaven and opening for us the everlasting doors."

(This was a search and rescue, not a placating of a God who was determined to make punishment hurt because He was offended.)

In short, one can hardly say, if one pays attention to the hymns regarding God's wrath and to the explications of St. Athanasius, that God will allow for even one iota of shortfalling, of missing the mark of perfection to go without being fulfilled and brought to its plenitude of righteousness at the end of all things--and so our life is given to us through Christ in order that we might be made ready for that End and not hate the light of that day, preferring instead our own dark and crooked ways.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Our Wrathful God

I posted this as a comment at my friend Rho's blog (his post w/comments is HERE) and thought it worth posting here.

I used to overreact to the wrath talk of Calvinism by going to the opposite extreme of "God doesn't have wrath; it's just love experienced negatively" (River of Fire and all that mess). Unfortunately, I think that particular line has become something of an oversimplified approach to Orthodox soteriology--perhaps used by some a way to be different from "the West" as a way to stand out, though I know of some priests I greatly respect with whom I also differ on this point.

While Rho does well to point out where the Bible explicitly tells us that, yes, our heavenly Father does get angry with us, his children, the anger is not of the same type that continually gets trotted out by Calvinists, namely, that God is wrathful because of his offended honor or out of some desire to take vengeance on his besmirched Name. Rather, God is asking us, angrily, "What have you DONE to yourselves?! I will and must fix this, for I am good." He will fix us whether we want Him to or not, and the fixing, imposed on us by a righteous God, will be hell to those of us who don't want it, but there will be nothing we can do to stop it. The attitude of the Father, however, is one of a Father whose anger is provoked by seeing what's become of His child, not a selfish, "How could you DO this to me?! I'll teach YOU...!" type of anger.

I'd invite everyone to listen to these two talks, given by an extremely well-respected priest and former dean of my current place of studies, who I think does a masterful job of allowing the Bible to speak of the wrath it does indeed speak of, in the way of which it is meant to be spoken. They are the following:

The Wrath of God


The Wrath of God - Part 2

They show extremely well how Christ takes away the wrath spoken of in Scripture, not because He Himself "took the beating" that the vindictive, bloodthirsty "Father" needed to dish out, but because He is already fixed, and stands as the One who is fixed before the Father and can, thus, fix us so that we, too can stand before the Father.

Salvation from the wrathful righteousness of the Father, through the becoming sin for us of Him Who knew no sin. It is the gospel, Rho; you're right...but I do not think we mean what you want us to mean.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Time to Exit Eli's Road

There are many things that happen within communities that, unless one operates in certain circles or is within a certain subset of said community, one remains unaware of regarding specifics, though one may be quite aware of tension moving below the surface. My friend, Fr. Basil Biberdorf, an OCA priest who, after a recent transfer from Texas to Pennsylvania, has launched a website called The Orthodox Leader. His first post, "Time to Exit Eli's Road" is an inspiring call to accountability regarding clergy sexual misconduct. One can not say that the bruhaha within the Catholic Church has escaped one's notice, and neither can one--if one is Orthodox, or most likely even if one is not--feign surprise when instances of sexual misconduct surface in our Church. Still, it is disheartening to hear of such instances--even with no names mentioned--but it is yet encouraging to see brave members of the Body standing up to say "No More."

May God bless and preserve the brave priest Basil together with his family.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Behold, Thy (Ever-Virgin) Mother; Μαρια η του κλωπα, ιδε η ἀδελφή σου

A few days ago, I celebrated the tenth anniversary of the first divine liturgy I ever attended. The Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple happened to be on a Sunday in 1999, so this Baptist boy was "baptized by fire" with what is possibly one of the most hard-to-swallow Marian feasts of the Church year. The Mother of God, however, in the totality of her life and her role in our salvation, was not really a problem for me. Meditating on her, however, reminded me of something I recalled a couple of months ago, when the Church celebrated the memory of the Holy Evangelist and Theologian, John, also spoken of in Scripture as "The disciple that Jesus loved." In the gospel reading for the feast, we read of the women who stood at the foot of the Cross, faithful to Christ when all others, save St. John, had fled Him. Something I noticed as a side note (and what Blessed Theophylact picks up on as well) was when St. John refers to the "sister" of the Mother of God, also called Mary of Clopas. This was something I had never "heard" before, though I had indeed read the passage in the past. Tradition has it that Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Mother of God, had only her, and that at a very late age by divine intervention. How, then, could the Mother of God have a sister--the word in Greek is η ἀδελφή --and be an only child at the same time?

Furthermore, how could the Mother of God herself be said to only have one Child when the masculine form of the above word -- ὁ ἀδελφός -- is used to refer to "the Lord's brothers"? Why would Catholics and Orthodox insist so much on the Mother of God's being a virgin, even after giving birth to God in the flesh?

I'll take the issue from a couple of angles. First, I'll explain why the objections to the Mother of God's being an only child (as was her Son) don't hold water. Secondly, I'll show how to reconcile who the women at the Cross were so that the familial relationship between Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary of Clopas becomes plain. Finally, I'll stress the reasons for (as well as the importance of) the Mother of God's being ever-virgin. I owe a pretty big H/T to Fr. John Hainsworth; his little booklet Mary: Ever Virgin? from Conciliar Press compiles some of this very well. Off we go.

The argument against seeing the Mother of God as ever virgin is that the words ὁ ἀδελφός and η ἀδελφή should be taken at face value; extra-biblical traditions should not be taken as a "trump" over and above what a plain reading of Scripture will tell us, namely, that Mary had other male children who were referred to in Scripture as "the Lord's brothers." Too much, however, is made of this, for the word ὁ ἀδελφός can be used to refer to male kinsmen that are not direct, blood brothers. Indeed, the Septuagint (that is, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which the Orthodox Church uses and which provides for the vast majority of the Old Testament citations in the New Testament over and above the Hebrew text) uses ὁ ἀδελφός to refer to a brother, a kinsman, a cousin, a fellow believer, or a fellow countryman (cf. Gen. 14:14-16; 29:12; Num. 20:14; Deut. 1:16, along with many others). This is useful to know when told that the word ὁ ἀδελφός means "from the same womb," for we can see from the above verses that to say that ὁ ἀδελφός must refer to a male who shares both parents with another person is to deny the biblical use of ὁ ἀδελφός in referring to various other relationships. The "same womb" referred to may very well be that of the tribal matriarch and not that of a woman who, herself, has borne two children. The point is this: While this term does not conclusively prove that the men who were called "the Lord's brothers were not Mary's children, neither can it be pointed to conclusively that they, in fact, were such.

The same applies to the Theotokos. Putting aside the people at the Cross who are named by some gospel writers and not others, let us focus on the woman St. Matthew calls "Mary the mother of James and Joses" (27.55), St. Mark calls "Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses" (15.40-1) and St. John calls Christ's "mother's sister, Mary, wife of Clopas" (19.25). If we insist that Clopas' wife is the direct sister of the Mother of God and "the Lord's brothers" are direct progeny of the Theotokos, we run into real problems. "James and Joses," the sons of the Mary at the Cross, are mentioned in Matthew 13.55 as οι αδλελφοι σου -- His (Christ's) brothers -- yet they are obviously the sons of a woman other than the Mother of God, and therefore not his blood brothers, but more distant male relatives. Αδελπφος, then, is not "brother" as we think of it, at least not here.

What then, of η αδελφη -- "the sister" of the Mother of God? The Jewish Christian historian Hegisippus sheds some light on this, for he relates (as quoted in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History iv:22) that Clopas is ο αδελφος of Joseph, the foster father of Christ. Whether the term refers to Joseph's blood brother from the same biological parents or a closer relative, it's clear from what is generally considered a fully-reliable historical reference that Mary, wife of Clopas was not another child of Joachim and Anna, but rather an in-law of some sort to the Theotokos. Thus, through the Matthew/Mark emphasis on the Lord's family ("mother of James and Joses") and the Johannine emphasis on the Theotokos ("Behold, thy mother," and mentioning her at the Cross), we can see that it is entirely possible to claim that the Theotokos was an only child, as we can also claim with her Son.

The question will come, however, as it should: Why should we claim, much less insist, that the Theotokos and her Son were both only children? It should be stated at the outset that Mary's being an only child has nothing, really, to do with the gospel, per se, as the gospel is not about Mary but about her Son. Nevertheless, we would say that, as with other examples within the Bible where a child was granted in an otherwise impossible situation--Isaac to Abraham, Samuel to Hannah, John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Christ to the Theotokos--such a miraculous gift of God is meant to stress that the wonders of God can only be realized on this earth when men believe the word of the Lord to them and He, through His life-giving Spirit, brings them to pass. That the Mother of God would be such a wondrous birth, a sign that the one who would come from St. Anna's barren womb would be the New Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the Burning Bush, and the Gate Facing East--such an arrival would very much merit a remembrance of God's mercy and power in bringing His Word to pass.

As I said, however, the conception and birth of the Theotokos is important to Orthodox, ultimately, for a more minor reason than that of her first (and only-)born Son. While it is an unwritten tradition of an apocryphal nature that is at stake concerning the Nativity of the Theotokos (which we Orthodox yet hold to be true and a great Feast of the Church), we would say that it is of vital importance to insist that the Theotokos was ever-virgin, for teaching otherwise would amount to denying prophecies in Scripture itself which point to that very thing.

The Prophet Ezekiel wrote of a vision he received in what we now know as the 44th chapter of the book bearing his name. This passage is read during the Vespers service the night before major feasts of the Mother of God:
1And he brought me back to the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary, which looked towards the east: and it was shut.

2And the Lord said to me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it, and it shall be shut

3For the prince. The prince himself shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord: he shall enter in by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.

4And he brought me by the way of the north gate, in the sight of the house: and I saw, and behold the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord: and I fell on my face.

This passage is interpreted by many fathers as a reference to the conception of Christ apart from any man's seed ("no man shall pass through it") because of the holiness of the Prince who has been placed there to eat bread and pass out again of the house of the Lord which is full of His glory. Saint Ambrose asked:
"Who is this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-4), if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity."

The blessed Augustine also stated,

"It is written (Ezekiel 44, 2): ‘This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it. Because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it...’ What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,’ save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this - ‘The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,’ except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of Angels shall be born of her? And what means this - ‘It shall be shut for evermore,’ but that Mary is a Virgin before His birth, a Virgin in His birth, and a Virgin after His birth."

While there are other Church Fathers who speak of these prophecies and others ("At Thy right hand stood the queen," for example), the question comes up among those who, having not lived and worshipped in a tradition who interprets these prophecies in this way, question why we deem it so important to emphasize something that is not, in and of itself, a part of the gospel. Fr. Thomas Hopko is fond of stating that, while the gospel has nothing to do with Mary, Mary has everything to do with the gospel. Fr. John Behr says in his work The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death:
" Origen points out, Christ does not say, 'Woman behold another son for you in my place,' but 'behold your son,' or, as Origen paraphrases it, 'this is Jesus whom you bore.' Those who stand by the cross, and are not ashamed of it, receive as their mother the one who embodies this fertile, generative, faithfulness, and they themselves become sons of God, for they have Christ, the Son of God, living in them (p. 128).
The Church has seen in the Theotokos an icon of all Christians individually and of the Church generally. Christ's famous reply to the woman's cry of "Blessed is the womb that bore you" is telling, for it informs our view of the Mother of God: "What is more (μενουνγε, usually translated misleadingly as "rather," cf. Phil. 3.8), blessed is he who hears the word of God and keeps it." Rather than a denial of His mother, the statement redirects us to a full understanding of who she is: the one who most completely heard the word of God and, with her "Let it be," literally kept it. And as she kept it, so are we to keep it, virginally, with no giving of ourselves to another who is not God in order to attempt to bring forth life. To sum up with another quote from Fr. John:
"[In] the preaching of Jesus Christ--the proclamation of the one who died on the cross--interpreted and understood in the matrix, the womb, of scripture, the Word receives flesh from the Virgin. The Virgin in this case, Hippolytus later affirms following Revelation 12, is the Church, who will never cease 'bearing from her heart the Word...' while the male child she bears is Christ, God and man, announced by the prophets, 'whom the Church continually bears as she teaches all nations.' The Virgin Church continually gives birth to Christ by her pure teaching, the gospel proclaimed according to scripture, so that the Word is made flesh in her children. Or, as St. Maximus puts it, 'Christ eternally wills to be born mystically, becoming incarnate through those who are saved and making the soul which begets him to be a virgin mother.'"

Monday, November 23, 2009

St. Katherine

Troparion - Tone 4

By your virtues as by rays of the sun you enlightened the unbelieving philosophers,
and like the most bright moon you drove away the darkness of disbelief from those walking in the night;
you convinced the queen, and also chastised the tyrant,
God-summoned bride, blessed Catherine.
You hastened with desire to the heavenly bridal chamber of the fairest fairest Bride-groom Christ,
and you were crowned by Him with a royal crown;
standing before Him with the angels, pray for us who keep your most sacred memory.

Kontakion - Tone 2
Let all of us who love to honor the martyrs
form a great choir in praise of the most wise Catherine,
for she preached Christ and trampled the serpent,
despising the knowledge of the orators!

Many years to my little one, Katherine Ruth. Through her heavenly matron's prayers, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on her and save her.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Russian Priest Shot in Church for Speaking Out Against Islam

From the NY Times:

November 20, 2009

Russian Priest Killed in Church

MOSCOW — The Rev. Daniil Sysoyev, a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church who was known for promoting missionary work among Muslims, was shot and killed in his parish church late Thursday night, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Father Sysoyev, 35, died at a Moscow hospital of gunshot wounds to the head and chest, RIA Novosti said. The Web site of the Moscow patriarchate confirmed his death. The parish’s choir director was wounded in the shootings at the Church of St. Thomas by the unidentified assailant.

A Moscow Patriarchate official called Father Sysoyev a “talented missionary” whose work among Muslims, including Tatars, might have been the motive for the shooting.

“I don’t exclude that the murder is connected to the fact that he preached among and baptized those who belong to Muslim culture,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the news media, said in a telephone interview.

Father Sysoyev had spoken out in opposition to Islam and had warned Russian women against marrying Muslim men.

Anatoly Bagmet, an official of the prosecutor’s office, said there was reason to believe that the shooting took place “on religious grounds,” the news agency reported.

Kirill Frolov, a prominent Orthodox missionary activist, said that Father Sysoyev had said that he had been receiving threats for several years.

“Over the course of two, three years Father Daniil, who was famous for his active missionary work, periodically received e-mails stating that if he didn’t stop his theological polemics with Islam, then he will be dealt with like an infidel,” Mr. Frolov told the Interfax news agency.

Missionary work and outreach to young people and non-churchgoers has become a keystone of the Moscow Patriarchate since Patriarch Kirill I became its leader 10 months ago. The church has been organizing rock concerts and trying to reach out to people through blogs.

Officials of the Russian Orthodox Church have complained in recent years about violence directed against churches and priests.


I'm not sure what the "grass-roots" procedure is for starting veneration of new martyrs, but if this can be definitely linked to Islamic terror, I'm about ready to ask for this brave, amazing priest to offer his prayers on our behalf. Would that more Christians of all stripes be known for the kinds of things Fr. Daniil was. May his memory be eternal.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good Days

Please forgive the long absence of a blog update. An email to a dear friend made me realize how long it'd been since I'd updated. It's good to know we're being remembered. Seminary is definitely tough; had this new template a timestamp, one would see that I'm up rather late. That's pretty standard these days.

The girls are doing well. Still lots of smiles and laughter. They are in church a LOT, due to Audra's working in the mornings and my having to watch them AND be in chapel. Many, many hats to wear.

Studies are good. A's on both midterms, B+ on major paper in another class -- by and large, doing well academically. Enjoying having a "do-able" prayer life, prayer rule in conjunction with a priest here in charge of spiritual life. Ever-present battle to control thoughts, especially on days where fatigue sets in heavy. Very taken aback by the very different emphases put forth by different profs; at times the confusion can reach a bit of a fever pitch. With regards to biblical interpretation, Antioch and Alexandria, it would seem, are both alive and well at SVS. A fellow seminarian from my former stomping grounds of Tulsa, OK and mutual friend of the dear friend w/whom I was corresponding this evening (and whom I think will be an excellent pastor, if God wills and my first impression of the man holds up) had a great analogy regarding what to do when all these seemingly conflicting and, thus, quite confusing, takes on theology come at you all at once; he said a biology prof of his once told him that when things get overwhelming and confusing, "tie a knot" where you know you've got a handle on things, and "hang on" to that. That way you've always got a reference point to go back to. Right now, mine is anchored in simplicity. Pray the Psalms. Read the Gospel. Pray the Gospel. Be regular in your prayers. Do your chores. Do your reading. Touch base with Audra as much as you can (date night is Friday night -- woo hoo!). Tickle your daughters and read to them. And, yes, marry them if they ask...we've had a couple of wedding ceremonies--crowns, processions, two-foot-tall priest and all--in our obscenely small living room area already (see right). These are good days.

Things are beginning to take shape in ways we hadn't anticipated, but regardless, it's been eye-opening. This is a pressure cooker, but there's grace here. Keep us in your prayers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Beginning and the End of It

"If anything, I think that both among Catholics and Orthodox Christians (at least in the US) our liturgical life suffers[...]because we have neglected the whole rest of our Christian lives. First and foremost this neglect[...]flows not from a lack of commitment to our respective theological or liturgical traditions but a general lack of repentance. But running a close second are those in both communities who assuming, simplistically and wrongly, that commitment to tradition—essential for salvation though it is—is the same as a personal commitment to Christ. It simply isn’t."

From Fr. Gregory Jensen, who consistently, accurately, and lovingly gets to the heart of all things pastoral. Read the whole post HERE. Please.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Last night, the SVS Men's Chorale sang at the United Nations Prayer Service, a Vespers service presided over by His All Holiness, BARTHOLOMEW, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Very thankful for the opportunity.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mid-Terms Begin

Tomorrow I'll take one of two mid-terms (the other classes don't have them; papers will substitute for these tests). Old Testament is tomorrow, and Church History 101 will follow on Wednesday. Your prayers are always coveted.

Holy Prophet Joel, pray for us as we prepare and as we work. Lord, have mercy.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Here in America

To the right you can find today's festal hymns and the life of this great saint and martyr of the Church.

Following today's festal liturgy, I've been thinking about the saintly bishop's sacrifice; we need his prayers very much. He toiled to bring the gospel to a relative few in this land, serving both Russian and Syrian faithful, as well as establishing a monastery and pushing for English in the liturgy so as to reach all those around us.

There is a priest in North Dakota who worked with the Syrian archdiocese, now with that of the sons of the Russians, and in a manner reminiscent of the tireless hierarch commemorated today. and, while time will tell if the good Father endures to the end (may God grant), his current life of sacrifice and fidelity does not go unnoticed. Read more, and that excellently written, HERE.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Grateful for All Favors, Great and Small

Life here has been a challenge over the past month or so, to be sure. Audra's work situation and my study time have had to dance repeatedly as we struggle to find something resembling a balance for life as a family in this first semester. In spite of all of that, the willingness of those in the community has repeatedly impressed us; indeed, we're very thankful for it.

Also, we are thankful to those who've chosen to help us out financially rather spontaneously; that has been a great help, and we appreciate it.

Weather here has been rainy and cool; perfect conditions for "the crud," which seems to be working its way through (and out of, thankfully) the community. I went with the St. Vlad's octet (an honor to be asked to sing in said group) to Connecticut and sang the Akathist to the Mother of God for the feastday of her protection. Sacred Heart University had invited us to sing in a week-long celebration of the dedication of their new chapel. Since, however, I was asked to sing second tenor (I'm a baritone), my voice was a bit raw following the service. Couple that with the weather, and you have a very froggy voice come today's liturgy in the seminary chapel. Today, it just so happens, was my turn to read the hours and the post-communion prayers. Just my luck as well, there was only one deacon serving, so Reader David gets to read the epistle, too.

Favors, however, come without warning, be they via PayPal or ways more mysterious. I had chanted the hours about an octave lower than what I normally chant, yet when I opened my mouth to sing the first response to the epistle reading, out, unbidden, came my normal baritone voice. Just for the epistle. Post-communion prayers were similarly tough afterwards. However it happened, thanks be to God.

Orthodox Education Day was yesterday; I served as a "gatekeeper" (welcoming visitors and directing traffic), so I didn't really get the "feel" of the day with all of the worship celebrations and different cultural booths, speakers, etc. I did hear, however, that Metropolitan JONAH's talk with the teens was very well-received, with many insightful questions and comments from the youth. Thanks be to God, as this is probably the area of parish life (youth and young adult) in which I'm most interested, at least right now.

In talking on the phone with someone from my parish back home tonight, I hit on something about my time -- all, what, five weeks? -- here so far at SVS that seemed to express something I'd been feeling but not able to articulate. First the bad news: the pastoral aspect of an M.Div seems to be lacking in comparison to other aspects of the degree; this is obvious enough to someone looking at the curriculum on the SVS website. What's encouraging is that this is mentioned specifically by the administration; it's obvious that the "work in progress" mentality is in place here, and that this is a known area of need at the moment.

While it's not at the level I'd prefer (as if our 'druthers dictate anything), it seems like the approach to pastoral life at present which comes from the faculty is much like the approach to comportment of teachers in the classroom which I received during my time getting an education degree at ORU (one of several departments in that university that provided a very satisfactory academic experience, by the way). Namely, as we had "teachers of teachers" in ORU's Ed Department, we seem to have "pastors of pastors" here. The idea of formation doesn't seem to be (again, this being against my 'druthers) an academic approach of teacher-and-student but rather of father-and-son, complete with the subconscious, in-between-the-lines type of imitation that comes from living in proximity and gleaning from observation. While I may have to check out some counseling syllabi from other graduate programs to see about doing some remedial reading on pastoral counseling or what not (if the program does not change during my time here), the pastoral concern of the faculty here towards us is apparent, even given the opportunities we (and, I'm sure, they) have to complain due to financial difficulties faced by the seminary (which reflect those of the whole country at large).

Keep us in your prayers.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Seventh Prayer, Of St. Symeon the New Theologian

From lips tainted and defiled,
From a heart unclean and loathsome,
From a tongue befouled and filthy,
From a soul bestained and soiled,

O my Christ, receive my pleading
Yea, disdain me not, nor shun me,
Nor my words, nor yet my manner,
Nor my shamelessness and boldness.

But with freedom let me tell Thee,
O my Christ, what I desire;
Rather, do Thou now instruct me
What I need to do and utter.

I have sinned more than the harlot
Who, on learning of Thy lodging,
Went and purchased myrrh most precious,
And with boldness she approached Thee,
To anoint Thy feet and lave them,
O my Christ, my God and Master.

Even as Thou didst not shun her
When she came with heartfelt fervor,
Thus, O Word, do not disdain me.

Nay, but rather do Thou grant me
To embrace Thy feet and kiss them,
And with streams of tears to wash them,
As with precious myrrh most costly,
With great boldness to anoint them.

Wash me with my tears, and thereby
Cleanse me, Word of God, and lave me.

Grant remission of my failings,
And bestow on me forgiveness.

All mine evil deeds Thou knowest,
And my wounds Thou knowest also,
And my bruises Thou beholdest.

But my faith Thou knowest likewise,
And mine eagerness Thou seest,
And my groans Thou hearest also.

There doth not escape Thy notice
Even one tear, O Redeemer,
Nor a fraction of a teardrop,
O my Lord God and Creator.

Yea, Thine eyes did see my being
While as yet it was unfashioned.

In Thy Book all thoughts and actions,
Even those not yet enacted,
Are inscribed for Thee already.

See my lowliness and toil!
Lo, the greatness of my suffering!
And, O God of all, forgive me
All the sins I have committed.

So that with a cleansed and pure heart,
And a mind with fear atremble,
And a soul contrite and lowly,
I may draw nigh to partake of
Thine all-pure and spotless Myst'ries,
Whereby all who eat and drink Thee
With a heart sincere and guileless
Are both deified and quickened.

For Thou sayest, O my Master:
He that eateth of my Flesh and
That doth drink of My Blood also
Doth abide in Me most truly,
And in him am I found also.

Wholly true is this word spoken
By my Lord and God and Master;
For whoever doth partake of
These divine and hallowed graces
Which impart deification
Is alone, in truth, no longer,
But is with Thee, Christ, Thou True Light
Of the Hallowed, Triple Daystar,
Which illumineth the whole world.

Lest, then, I remain alone now
And apart from Thee, Lifegiver,
O my Breath, my Life, my Gladness,
The entire world's Salvation,
For this cause do I approach Thee
With a soul contrite and tearful.

O Thou Ransom of my failing,
I entreat Thee to receive me,
So that I may now partake of
Thy life-giving, blameless Myst'ries,
And not suffer condemnation; That as Thou didst say, Thou mightest
Dwell with me, who am thrice-wretched;
Lest that foul deceiver find me
All bereft of Thy divine grace,
And most guilefully seduce me,
And with scheming cunning lure me
From Thy words which make me Godlike.

Wherefore, I fall down before Thee,
And cry out to Thee with fervor:
As Thou didst receive and welcome
Both the prodigal and harlot
Who drew nigh to Thee, so likewise,
O Most Merciful, receive me,
The great profligate and sinner,
The most prodigal and vile one,
As I dare now to approach Thee
With a soul contrite and humbled.

Savior, well I know that no one
Hath sinned as have I against Thee,
Nor hath wrought the deeds which I have.

Yet again, I know this also:
Neither greatness of transgressions,
Nor enormity in sinning,
Can surpass my God and Savior's
Great long-suffering and mercy
And exceeding love for mankind.

For with the oil of compassion
Thou dost cleanse and render shining
All those who repent with fervor;
And Thou makest them partakers
Of Thy light in all abundance,
And true sharers of thy Godhood.

And--O marvel for the Angels
And for human understanding!--
Thou hast converse with them often
As with friends most true and trusted.

These things now do give me daring,
These things give me wings, O Christ God;
Trusting, then, in the abundance
Of Thy benefactions toward us,
With rejoicing, yet with trembling,
I partake now of the Fire.

Though but grass--O awesome wonder!--
Yet bedewed am I past telling,
Like that bush of old on Sinai
Which was unconsumed, though burning.

[Therefore], with a mind most thankful,
And a heart most thankful also,
Thankful also in the members
Of my soul and of my body,
I adore and magnify Thee,
O my God, and glorify Thee,
As One verily most blessed,
Now and ever, to all ages.

(Taken from The Service of Preparation for Holy Communion, transl. by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, Mass., 2006)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Between Two Comings

"Thou hast smitten me with yearning, O Christ, and by Thy divine love hast Thou changed me. But with Thine immaterial fire, consume my sins and count me worthy to be filled with delight in Thee, that leaping for joy, O Good One, I may magnify Thy two comings."

(A hymn before communion)

Doors open for us today. Through those doors come cups, vessels which give contour to the Blood of God, which carry the Bread of Life. On one side of that portal is an image of She whose "Yes" untied the ancient "No" of Eve, and the "Ear of Wheat which knew no husbandry" which came out of the good land of her sealed, silent soul and chaste body.

On the other we see the glory of the one God and Father, shining in a human face, coming with the eastern clouds, armed both with an imminent blessing for the refinement of His Creation and a New Law which will pierce all hearts, at last lancing the long-festering hatreds within.

(Lord, have mercy)

We who stand between these two images see them not as on a timeline but as arching up together into timelessness with us, for they are happy reflections (chronology be damned) which converge at the Crisis which lifts us up, as well, and upon which He was lifted up. It is in that split Body and spilt Blood that we know Him; the One who came is the Coming One.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eastern Errancy...from a Western Mind (A Retraction of Sorts)

The past few weeks have been momentous, to be sure; we've sold a house, driven cross-country, and begun life as a seminarian family, all in less than a month. During that time, however, I have been thinking intermittently about a post on biblical innerancy which generated quite a bit of (sometimes snarky) commentary, as well as a spinoff of sorts between two of the commentators in the form of a formal debate which I greatly look forward to reading (opening statements HERE and HERE).

This post, however, is concerning the former link to my own writing and is a retraction, to a degree, of what is written there. This retraction will, no doubt, not be to a sufficient degree for some, but will serve, hopefully, as a means of expressing my own hastiness in formulating my initial thoughts.

One of the most common ways in which people tend to highlight Scriptural difficulties is through chronological inconsistencies. My initial take was to assign said differences to the realm of theological emphasis -- for example, I would have said (and have) that John's placing of Christ's cleansing of the temple at the beginning of His ministry is more to make a theological point, while the synoptic gospels' report of the cleansing directly before the Passion was meant to reflect the more chronological view. The idea, presented by conservative Evangelicals mostly, that there were two Temple Cleansings -- one at the beginning of Christ's ministry and one at the end -- was, in my opinion, laughable, for of course there was only one. This presupposition led to my viewing the harmonization accounts as stretching reports of an event to absurd degrees.

Likewise, the chronology of Christ's being called "The Lamb of God" in John and His baptism in the synoptics are followed by very different events; my initial response was to conclude that such a discrepancy was chronologically incompatible but theologically justifiable (which is still the more important factor, in my opinion).

I was quite surprised, then, to find that men such as St. John Chrysostom and the Bl. Theophylact both insisted that our Lord did, in fact, cleanse the Jewish Temple twice, and thought such a position was in no way unreasonable. This gave me pause, for my initial question would be how the Jewish leaders would have ever stood for such an outrage twice, for, indeed, they killed Him after one instance. Yet, as one of my professors is known to point out quite frequently, our liturgy has a sort of pedagogical correction which serves as a key to our confession of Who Christ is: Christ was not "given up" on the night of His Passion; "rather [He] gave Himself up for the life of the world." No man takes His life from Him; His is the ability to pass through the midst of those who would throw Him headlong off a cliff for a claim to have come before their father Abraham. Likewise, if He had been directed by the Father to cleanse the Temple daily, it would not have been in the least bit difficult for Him. Likewise, a closer reading of the gospels cleared up the baptism chronology with a possible harmonization.

These two giants, then, confirmed what I had neglected to do: give the Scripture the benefit of the doubt and seek to find a harmonization when such was possible (as in the above cases).

I do not contend that one need to go to the degree of Tatian's Diatessaron, a second-Century work in which all four gospels were harmonized into one volume, wherein differently-worded parts of the gospels were distilled into one, dogmatic "version" of what happened. One might cement into Holy Writ (as was the case with the Diatessaron in some syriac-speaking sections of Christendom) the idea that the sign on Christ's Cross said, "This is Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews" when what we can have, at the most, is an educated guess, based on incomplete information from the authors' selective reporting. Likewise, undue harmonization of the accounts will lead to a twisting of St. John's gospel at the time of Christ's death, wherein Tatian states that
"when Jesus had taken that vinegar, he said, Everything is finished. 5 But the rest said, Let be, that we may see whether Elijah comes to save him. 6, 7 (Luke 23:46a) And Jesus said, My Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and said, My Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (John 19:30b) He said that [i.e., the quote from Luke], and bowed his head, and gave up his spirit" (emph and ed. mine)
while St. John stated that Christ simply "said, 'It is finished!' And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit." While I am not opposed to the use of the biblical texts to form plausible harmonizations (even if such harmonizations might seem at first unlikely), the forcing of one "final" phrase into the midst of a second "final" phrase is uncalled for and violence against the Scripture. While I would maintain, in the spirit of my former post, that this information is insufficent to state definitively what was the final word of Christ from the Cross (as Matthew and Mark themselves confess only to having heard "a loud cry," while John and Luke only report one statement each, and a different one at that), I would not call this a contradiction, but neither can it be said to be clear. I would still say that this needs to be admitted for one to hold to a reasonable view of the Scriptures, and an admittance of this nature does not diminish the divinity of the Scriptures; it merely highlights the limited knowledge inherent in their authors' humanity. Those hearing the Voice at Christ's baptism weren't sure what they heard; we may never know, then, if the Voice was speaking to His Son or merely about Him to others. Again, the lack of clarity is there, but immaterial to inspiration.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

«Sigue, sigue...»

From the writings of the Blessed Elder, IERONYMOS of Aegina +1966
On our need to be watchful against both the
idle and demonic thoughts which assail us

"Be heedful of your thoughts. Oppose them. They do not easily leave a person. They come over and over again, and war against him. But you, strive to chase them away. There comes an evil thought, and it tells you to do something. You counter saying, 'No, I will not do it.' The thought insists: you also insist. See to it that you have strength to chase it away. If you don't do what the thought tells you, it's not a sin. Sin is the act, not the assault of the thought."

(H/T to Fr. John Mikita of St. John of Damascus Church in Tyler, TX)

Last night, after evening prayers, my daughters and I went into their bedroom for lights out. Customary song sung and night light lit, we were ready for sleep. Hope, however, didn't want to be by herself up on the top bunk.

"Well," I said in Spanish, "do you want to sleep with the icon of St. Elizabeth or your guardian angel?"

"I want the Cross, but it's broken," she replied, referring to the ceramic cross which, indeed, had hung above them before falling off the wall recently and splitting in two. Then she added, "And I stepped on it. I just keep thinking of stepping on the Cross. The thought comes in my head. And it comes and comes and comes, all day and all night and it never goes away."

"Ohhhhh," I replied. "You know, I have thoughts like that, too, that don't leave me alone. You know what I do?"


"I pray the Jesus Prayer looooots of times. And the thought doesn't go away right away, but as long as you keep asking Jesus for help, He'll chase the thought away. Then, if it comes back, just keep going, keep going («sigue, sigue») until they leave again. They don't like Jesus."

"OK, but I'm gonna do it in English."

"Well, that's fine, mami."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

With the Feastday

Translation of hymn (Slavonic/Bulgarian):

We magnify you, O most holy Virgin /
And we honor your holy parents /
And we glorify /
Your all-glorious nativity. (Megalinarion of the Feast, Slavonic)

Remember, Lord, King David /
and all his sadness, Hallelujah /
how he swore to the LORD /
'I will not give sleep to mine eyes /
till I find a place for the Lord.' Hallelujah." (Ps. 131, Bulgarian)

Monday, September 07, 2009

“Sometimes the best way to kill a tradition is to follow the externals without truly understanding the contents. Living tradition involves that kind of change and adaptability which preserves its continuous relevance; otherwise the Church becomes a museum of pomposity and ritualism, quite acceptable in the framework of a pluralistic and basically superficial society but actually unfaithful to Orthodoxy itself. Thus, in order to be practically helpful, our historical research should seek out the meaning and purpose of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, discover its permanent theological dimension and provide for a pattern off discernment between what is truly essential and what is historically relative.” John Meyendorff, “The Liturgy: A Lead to the Mind of Byzantium” in The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church

I know, I know..."Well...he's definitely in seminary..."

Friday, September 04, 2009

St. Elizabeth

Tonight at Vespers, and then later around the dinner table, we sang the hymns of the Church commemorating Ss. Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of the Forerunner. My elder daughter, who has the name Elizabeth spoken over her as she approaches the Chalice, was excited tonight; we'll have to plan a little trip or pick her up a little something for the day (not surprisingly, this was not planned out beforehand, given the hectic days as of late).

We read from the girls' Children's Bible Reader tonight of the Visitation and the birth of John the Baptist; Hope took it very seriously that 'twas her saint that first uttered the hymn of "Rejoice!"; she went to the prayer corner determined tonight to sing with four-year old gusto the hymn of her matron. May she know the One who dwelt in the womb of Mary, as well.
"Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.'”
Blessed Feastday to all those who have St. Elizabeth as their heavenly matron.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New Year

Tonight at Vespers we welcomed the new Church year, which for us begins on Sept. 1st. May God grant us all many more blessed years in His Vineyard. I thought it fortunate that these hymns coincided with the end of the first day of classes here at St. Vlad's:

O timeless Word and Son without beginning,
united with the Holy Spirit,
Co-maker of all and Co-creator of all things visible and invisible:
bless the beginning of this year;
bring peace to Your Orthodox people,//
through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints!

Christ our God, Who in wisdom fashioned all things,
and out of nothing brought them into being,
bless the crown of the year, and preserve our city unharmed;
and make our faithful glad by Your power,
granting them victories over their adversaries,//
through the Theotokos bestowing upon the world great mercy!

O pre-eternal Word of the Father,
Who in wisdom fashioned all things,
and established the whole creation by Your all-powerful word,
bless the crown of the year with Your goodness,
and overthrow heresies, through the Theotokos,//
for You are good and the Lover of mankind!

You, O King, Who remain forever and are everlasting unto the ages,
accept the supplication of sinners asking salvation,
and grant abundance to Your earth, bestowing temperate weather, O
Lover of mankind!
Be the ally of the faithful Orthodox in battles against the ungodly
as once you were to David;
for they have come into Your tabernacles and defiled Your all-holy place,
O Savior!
Grant victories, O Christ God, by the intercession of the Theotokos,//
for You are the victory and boast of the Orthodox!

O Creator of the Universe,
You appointed times by Your own power;
bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord!
Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities://
and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting Settled

We're two weeks into life at St. Vlad's -- I say this, and "real life" hasn't even begun -- and the house is beginning to resemble less what you see to the right (wherein merely traveling from one end of the apartment to another involved sliding four boxes around so one could pass) and more of an actual living space. A couple with only one child generously offered to look into trading our smaller apartment with their larger one, but the prospect of another move, albeit a small one, was both unappealing and, really, unnecessary. We have what we need, even if we don't have all we want. As Stacy quoted from St. Antony a couple of days ago, "Let none among us have even the yearning to possess. For what benefit is there in possessing these things that we do not take with us? Why not rather own those things we are able to take with us -- such things as prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, concern for the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from anger, hospitality?" Sounds romantic, right? It's different when you ask for those things and God gives you four hundred square feet to do it in...together...knowing how to push all each other's buttons...

I swear...Westchester County's streets are the most insane thing I've ever encountered. The picture to your left is not one I took, but it's something that wouldn't surprise me if I saw it here. I want to know what the guy who drew up the streets here was drinking when he did it and, once I find out, I want a pint of it. Streets that curve around only to dead end and emerge, unannounced, three blocks later, only to become a one-way street (again with no warning) against you and under a completely different name...Google Maps probably just tried their best and said "Ah, the heck with the rest. Let 'em circle the block a couple more times." Seriously: if you are going to the Big Apple, ask someone who's been there to verify your travel instructions. A matushka here emailed me directions from the Tappen Zee Bridge to St. Vlad's on the day I arrived, and they were wonderfully clear (meaning I could ignore all the other flotsam and jetsam around me as I looked for my street sign).

Orientation was long, but informative. Much appreciated was the "glass half full" mentality regarding seminary. I don't think any punches were pulled regarding how hard, how draining, how long a process seminary was, but they weren't trying to scare any of us newbies off (though I have heard that in previous classes the glass during orientation was not only half- but mostly-empty). Metropolitan Jonah spoke for two nights, and other staff members have reminded us that this is the way of the Cross, of ridicule, of crushing one's ego for the sake of service to one's God.

Tomorrow is OT Lit. Prayers are appreciated. May it be blessed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy Namesday

This evening my dear wife opened her namesday gift before prayers: a booklet which contained the lives of Saint Adrian and his wife, Natalia (click on the image in the sidebar to read from the OCA website).

I can remember standing in St. Antony's with her on August 25, 2001 at Vespers. I had been Orthodox for a few months and she, perhaps just barely a catechumen, was listening to the entry from the Prologue of Ochrid for the evening, which was read after the service. She read of Natalia's uncompromising attitude towards her Savior, even if it meant losing her beloved husband to apostasy, as well as her steadfast support of her husband while he, confessing Christ as a Roman guard, was stripped of his station, imprisoned, and martyred. Her care for him and for the other martyrs -- from anointing their maggot-infested wounds to gathering up their precious relics -- prompted Audra to think, "I want to be that kind of wife."

While life has not dealt us circumstances as dramatic as these, she has certainly been a rock of support, a source of prayer, and an example of fidelity and work. She accepted a martyrdom of sorts when she married a man whom she knew had not only entered a Faith she found strange and difficult, but who had also seriously considered pursuing a call to ministry therein. While it is not my decision in the slightest whether or not I will, in fact, be ordained anything at all in the Church, my wife has been an image of love for our God and for man, a gentle direction against my periodic tendency towards listlessness, and an ever-willing woman of faith; if I am ordained, she will make a fantastic matushka.

May God grant my dear Audra, though the prayers of her holy matron Natalia of Nicomedia, many, many blessed years.


(H/T to s-p) -- My time at St. Antony's Orthodox Church, the Antiochian parish in Tulsa, OK, in addition to providing for several "it's a small world" moments at St. Vlad's already, made me appreciate this hilarious video all the more.

St. Titus

Today churches on the Revised Julian ("New") Calendar commemorate both Ss. Bartholomew and Titus. I commend reading St. Paul's epistle to the latter, especially on the day the recipient is remembered. It is an exhortation to all of us; this is how the churches of God should be.

Also of worthy mention are the recent posts of Fr. Jonathan Tobias over at Second Terrace. Some of the most recent are meditations on the lectionary gospel readings. Well worth your time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On The Road, Arrival, and Unpacking

Sorry about the delay in keeping folks updated. In short, I arrived at St. Vlad's on Monday and have spent the past day and half (with the help of the seminary community, who've extended me such a warm welcome and many, many helping hands) trying to make a dent in the way-too-many boxes that now need unpacking and storing...somewhere...

After leaving Arkansas, we went through Tennessee and into Kentucky. The girls, being in a minivan, went ahead of me, and right as I was about to enter my in-laws' little town, a guy pulled up beside me on the highway and did that little wave-and-point bit that is the universal signal for, "Something's wrong with your tire." Upon pulling over, I saw, with a bit of gratitude, that the tires on the truck were not flat, but rather a (smaller) tire on the trailer was. A quick call to Penske brought William, a man off-duty and not on call at the moment, but who was closest to me, and who dutifully and professionally changed the tire. God bless William.

The wait for the tire change, however, saw me in well past dark, so we didn't get to move the trailer and truck until Sunday morning. Consequently, we were too late to go up to St. Michael's in Louisville. We went to my mother-in-law's Vineyard church instead and, really, thought the sermon was quite sound. It was familiar to me, yet it took me aback, however, to walk into a darkened room, illumined only by a screen with the words from the songs, which blared loudly from speakers. It reminded me of the youth conferences and mission trips I'd been on with Teen Mania. It's also very hard to pray the Jesus Prayer in such a venue, but I was grateful, not for some "Orthodox vestige in a heterodox gathering," or some such, but for the reminder that I am, really, the sinner, as the prayer goes in Greek.

I saw a smattering of people that Sunday -- really about the same size as our parish in Ft. Worth -- and I looked at the fervency of the people who worshipped. While I don't want to go back to such a style of worship, it serves to remind me that there is a bedrock idea that somehow, youth must be introduced to a culture wherein those who worship do so out of a heartfelt desire to do so. I'm not advocating emotionalism during the Divine Liturgy, but anyone who's been present in a liturgy where the priest is focused and deliberate, and the people are determined, doggedly focused on what they are there to do -- namely, to offer themselves to God so that He would accept them, change them and the gifts into a Body, a single Loaf to be broken and given to the World -- knows that such a culture speaks the right words to those present, though some may not like what they hear. I know that many youth in the Vineyard congregation have grown up to be youth who, on their own, read their Bibles and sing to God. This is undoubtedly due to the adults in their lives who consistently live out their own, similar desire. Are there those in the congregation who have grown up to go a different way? Yes, for there is no "silver bullet" in raising children, and no amount of youth ministry, children's church, retreats or camps can force the Spirit's hand to keep one's children "in the fold." This is not to say one shouldn't have these -- they can be excellent events wherein kids can encounter God -- but simply that they are ultimately dispensable means to an end.

I'm rambling on about my thoughts in the service. Things I admired about the sermon:

The "debt of sin" was not something owed to God the Father.
The "law of sin and death" was acknowledged to have been replaced by another law (Love). Too many antinomian charismatics out there; this was a breath of fresh air.
The Kingdom of God was acknowledged not only to be "coming" (though that was the main stress of the sermon) but also "within you," now.

Definitely not things you hear normally in many Protestant sermons.

After church, I left everyone in KY and hit the road, sans trailer, for West Virginia.

Oh, my. The hills are alive. One who is used to seeing the curvature of the earth in all four directions when he goes home to meet his family is NOT prepared for the hills of Wes' Virginny. Especially when he is driving a loaded-down Penske truck. My trip took much longer than expected -- as did the portion spent in Maryland on Monday -- due to the truck's only going about 55 mph while going up a hill and my riding the brake at 60 going down (A 70 mph speed limit? In a truck like this?? In the dark??? Shoot....). Most wonderous, however, was the service known as Google Maps. For, in looking solely at my next step, I was waiting for exit 67. Nevermind that I had seen the name of the town with my hotel back at exit 62; I was getting off at 67, for I had time only to focus on one step while riding the WV roller coaster. Having exited, I saw instructions to promptly turn around and return -- on the highway -- to exit 62.

Sometimes you just gotta laugh.

The rest of the trip was, thankfully, flatter and uneventful, due to long stretches of easily mappable highway and excellent directions from seminarians regarding what to do when you get into New York State. I have already met other seminarian families who have made the same mistake we did -- namely, moving a house into an apartment. Consequently I am presently chest-deep in boxes (but, thankfully, there are now rooms in the house where such is no longer the case) and wondering where it all will go. My money's on Craigslist.

I have supped the previous two nights with generous seminarian families; one is a returning family, the other got here at the very beginning of August. Both extremely warm and helpful in my unpacking. Prayed this morning -- for the first time in several days, really! -- and set up our small table with a couple of icons on it (still haven't figured out where to hang it all). It was so good to stop and pray. Prayer, I know, is no longer a way to feel good or excited, but it does seem that a day without prayer has me feeling haggard at the end, even if the day went without incident, while a day filled with activity is usually undergirded with some sort of well-oiled Presence if begun with prayer. Doesn't take away the circumstances, mind you, but rememberance of God tends to make them bearable.

And now, back to unpacking. Thanks to all who prayed. Please continue to do so, as the girls are set to arrive sometime this afternoon. We've still a lot yet to unpack, not to mention the preparation for the upcoming school year. Emmanuel....