Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Read This

I was talking with Audra last night about what a priest should be. This, of course, ties into what a seminary should aspire to be (and what it should not waste its time trying to be). I was pleased, then, to read THIS POST by Fr. Jonathan Tobias, which not only states my ideas about what a priest should be able to do and what kind of man he should be, but also expands into what a seminary should do and be for the formation of said candidate to the priesthood. I am glad to say that some of the aspects of SVS are there in the post (these would be some of the most hotly contested aspects of our seminary life, but which I think should be there and are good for ego razing and routine). Others are not, sadly. While I am pretty sure that SVS is not the seminary that Fr. Jonathan says he won't "have to worry about," such a post could go a good, long ways to helping seminarians in multiple Orthodox institutions "self-correct." Hear, hear..

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Half-Way There

[Cue "Livin' on a Prayer" in the background]

Well, it seems as though the seminary experience has let up for another break. Classes came to a relatively easy end, compared both to the rigor of the past semester and the nature of last year's finals. When one is committed to family and household, one has to pick one's battles in terms of what one will study for and what one will give a miss. In the case of systematics, I suppose I was a good former Baptist and chose Sin and Atonement as the two topics (out of eight) to write on. I've written articles on the general topics before (HERE and HERE), but since this required adaptation to answer specific topics given by the prof, it simply made the going easier due to familiarity with the topics. Pick yer battles, like I said.

OCA SVS-ers who are intending to petition for ordination are usually ordained deacons during the second half of the second year; all such students in my year had a liturgics final wherein we were quizzed on vestments, parts of the liturgy, instruments in the liturgy, and liturgical movements of deacons. With the exception of an entrance at Great Vespers, my prof said I did "very well" and that he was "very impressed." Thank God. Keep us in your prayers.

Greek (at least for me) was a welcome class. My tendency towards languages (and past familiarity with Greek through a series of informal classes out of a N. Texas parish) made it an easier ordeal for me than for some folks in the class. For better or for worse, the class accomplished its stated objective: To bring us to a point to where we, with the use of a dictionary, lexicon, software, and/or Greek/English interlinear Bible, could intelligently interact with the text and figure out what is going on in a passage. That I will not be taking this class next semester is the only thing I'll miss while taking the CPE unit, which is slated to begin next month, Lord willing.

We've started talking about where we'll be placed after seminary. It's too early to start putting anything up here, but one prospect seems to be a daunting challenge, and the reality of the Church's inflicting a parish with me is starting to feel more like a real possibility. In talking with some of my fellow seminarians here, I've been struck by how intent some of them are on "landing a position" that will provide a middle-class existence of sorts. Comments like "They [the Church? Bishops?] will have to meet certain standards; I won't just go anywhere," or "Why shouldn't we be able to live a comfortable life as priests?" have, I admit, been a challenge for me; part of me wants to judge, while another part can relate to the temptation, especially with a wife and kids. Regardless, any prospects with a community where Spanish will be utilized are probably going to be lower income-wise for us, and Audra and I knew this when we came to SVS. We seem to tend to pursue and train for jobs that have a "make-you-or-break-you" aspect to them; both teaching and the priesthood have been described as an "if you and yours can survive the first five/seven/whathaveyou years, you can survive anything." Perhaps this is youthful arrogance and stubborness: "Won't happen to me." The most I can do is to remember the words of St. Paul--"He who desires the work of a 'bishop' [overseer of a parish, later 'priest'] desires a good work," then the comment by St. John Chrysostom that it is not "a terrible thing to desire the work, but only the authority and power." (On the Priesthood, III.11, SOURCE) Please, please, keep us in y'all's prayers.

What's certain for us is that we've started to see, both in the US and, I'm told through good friends of ours here who hail from there, the Church in Canada, an awakening to the reality of more, smaller missions and the men and their families who are willing to serve the small communities within them. This is why any podunk town in Texas or Oklahoma will have a Baptist or Church of Christ congregation in it; men were willing to plant themselves there--sometimes working a circuit of two or three at a time, while driving a truck or somesuch during the week--in order to serve a few dozen faithful in the division of the Word. Would that the work of Archbishop DMITRI and Bishop SERAPHIM continue, difficult as it is oftentimes to make ends meet. A little leaven...

We're here in Kentucky for a couple of weeks with the inlaws. They're both charismatic ministers dedicated to inner healing and deliverance and end-times prophecy; it's always interesting to see how, as Owen has put it, "there are Pentecostals, and then there are Pentecostals." My inlaws are the good, honorable, "earthy" Pentecostals Owen describes, through and through; I am blessed to know them and to be in their family. While we obviously differ on matters ecclesial (not a small thing), there is a reverence for and sacrificial submission to the Christ of Scripture and His Gospel of loving fellowship of God and man--as well as a charitable openness to other confessors of Christ--that leaves much room for common ground, dialogue, and mutual learning from each others' experiences. It's that openness and commitment to Scripture led them to an eschatology far removed from the pre-trib/post-trib nonsense of recent decades (my father-in-law's words) and towards a more amillenial view that embraces the same suffering the martyrs endured. Things must get dark, and we must hang on...for however long...but we wait for the Parousia, when the faithful are gathered and all are judged. And His kingdom shall have no end. And all wicked ways which pass through every human heart shall be straightened, ready or not. It is good to be here.

And finally...

This is Sarah Gregory, married to one of three Gregory Brothers, who've become something of a YouTube sensation over the past couple of years (check their schmoyoho channel to see why). They've apparently recently done a concert, and I've embedded one of the songs below. Please, frivolity of the song choice aside, please tell me how this girl doesn't have a record deal, but Ke$ha does.



I wish you all a blessed remainder of the Forefeast and celebration of our Lord's Nativity in the flesh.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Visit of the Relics of St. Vladimir

These videos of some of the music from this past weekend's vigil were posted on YouTube. The relics of St. Vladimir made their only stop in the US at our seminary; I was blessed to sing the responses with two chorales of my brother seminarians, one made of us Vladimites, and another of visiting Tikhonaires (in my opinion, we were outsung by the good folks from S. Canaan, but God was glorified regardless).





The following pictures were taken by Tatiana Hoff (Used w/permission; click to enlarge)


Hope (and Papi, in the background) waiting outside w/the seminary community for the arrival of the relics.










Frs. Chad Hatfield and John Behr receive the relics.







Procession w/relics.











Programs for the Molieben and Akathist Hymn, beautifully typeset by our resident choir director, Hierodeacon Philip.










Inside 3 Hierarchs Chapel, together w/icons of Ss. Vladimir and Philip, the latter of whom serves as a
liturgical reminder of the Nativity Fast, begun today.









The resident clergy who intoned the kontakia and ikoi of the akathist.






A censing of the relics and the icons.











"O Holy Prince Vladimir / You were like a merchant in search of fine pearls / By sending servants to Constantinople for the Orthodox Faith / You found Christ, the Priceless Pearl / He appointed you to be another Paul / Washing away in baptism your spiritual and physical blindness / We celebrate your memory / Asking you to pray for all Orthodox Christians of Russia / And for us, your spiritual children." (Troparion of St. Vladimir)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why I Am Still Orthodox

I had a conversation with a faculty member and his wife last Sunday during coffee hour. He has been in the Orthodox Church for the entirety of his life; she had grown up in the Church, but had had some encounters with charismatics and evangelicals for a particular reason in her life which I won't go into here; suffice it to say, she came back to the Church later in life, and happily so. She and I had much to talk about.

I've been asked lately by several protestant friends (mostly charismatic, but some evangelical) why it is that I am still Eastern Orthodox. These questions usually come from conversations regarding "How's seminary going," "What classes are you taking," "What plans do you have for working in churches after seminary" (which inevitably touch on the numbers game, church growth strategies, volunteerism and stewardship and ministries for this-or-that age or peer group, along with the lack of such things one sees, both for better and for worse, within the Orthodox Church), not to mention the jurisdictional chaos, present hierarchical confusion, and generations of reticence and dependence on outside sources of income (I frankly, have to tip my hat to the friends who are this well-read on such a small confession in America). In their minds, all this becomes examples of "bad fruit" that should be a signal to me that my Church is nothing more than a group concerned with rubrics, long prayers, and useless bickering over convoluted and irrelevant theological and philosophical principles.

I should (and do, in these conversations) mention the obvious here that, of course, countless groups of immigrants gave in a manner so sacrificial that it boggles my mind in order to establish many parishes that still exist today. Moreover, random cradles whom I have never met in person are some of our most faithful financial supporters while we're here at SVS, and my parish back home has many individual cradle Orthodox who are very forward-thinking in their financial stewardship and the need to bring themselves and their children up in the life of the Church. Indeed, this has resulted at times in giving that is substantial and has funded the building of impressive edifices, though perhaps said giving is not as brutally difficult in these second- and third-generation days as were the widows mites given by the founding members of the temples.

But as to the temples...a man of rather considerable influence in one Orthodox jurisdiction was asked how we can grow our churches. He responded that, when we put more money towards people--both clergy and lay--than we do buildings, then our churches will grow naturally and organically. Since coming to New York, I have talked with not a few laypeople from the area who have precious little good to say about Metropolitan Jonah; they thought they were electing a Pencil-Pusher in Chief, as it were, a sort of mitered fundraiser. Complaints tend to center on his going here and tonsuring a monk, going there and establishing a monastery..."Doesn't he know that we're broke?!" I didn't really know what to say and still don't; where I come from, we were thankful that someone who could give a direct answer to a direct question--"Will you continue to rule despotically?" to which the answer was, "No; that era is over"--and could back it up with a pastoral approach to his role. One sees in him a primate who seems to be looking to establish a spiritual atmosphere that will facilitate giving of "time, treasure, and talent," if you'll pardon the familiar alliteration, instead of bureaucracies meant to channel dough. Yes, I know, the seminarian's complementing the Met. Fine, fine. Let's just leave it with the fact that, Strategic PlansTM and the still-relatively-new nature of his job notwithstanding, he seems to have come to the role with a basic familiarity with carts, horses, and the order thereof.

And this is just one point. Some people have pointed out the stereotype of children who grow up with a cold knowledge of liturgical propriety instead of a warm, heartfelt gratitude for the Christ and the mercy He offers that pervades said liturgical practice and spiritual life and, thus, often leave the Church as soon as they have their drivers' licenses (or, should they come back to the Church later on, often have had a "pit stop" on the way, as did the woman mentioned above, in a more "free-form" group, during which time they came to give a flip about, say, God, which fueled their return to places more patristic). Or, as one friend of mine put it: "it's easier to redirect a passionate but sorta misguided heart than it is to revive a cold dead heart steeped in legalistic [little-o] orthodoxy...it's better to be BOTH 1) passionate about 2) correct doctrine." True, methinks.

Again, the caveats here that 1) this, of course, is not the universal "cradle" experience by any means, and 2) the former need not be cold, nor the latter in opposition to the former; there are many who leave said Protestant groups, both evangelical and charismatic, because of a lack of structure, continuity with the past, good order in service, lack of moral fiber amongst pastors/ministers, etc. Indeed, both must be present, but, again...cart, meet horse...

So I mention all these things--some of which, of course, get set up quite often as strawmen--because I think it's safe to say that the "New's worn off" the Church for me. It will, after all, be ten years post-chrismation for me this coming Pascha. So why, given the areas in which one could say I "traded down" in becoming Orthodox, am I still in a tiny, mostly culturally irrelevant (let's be real, here) confession of faith that can very easily lend itself to the very things Christ lambasted the Pharisees about (namely, Matt. 23 and Mk. 7.1-23), especially given the examples of people who are working, according to my Church, with a "limited light," yet who seem to follow Christ more devoutly and closely than many in a Church with "true light," as we sing every week?

A fair question. At times I think maybe my chrismation name of Peter was apropos, since there have been several times when I've found myself gazing at the cross behind the altar and thinking simultaneously that 1) this Fella has some funny ideas about fishin' for men if this is His way of instituting it, but, 2) to Whom else will I go? If there were things which became clear to me as I studied the Faith and became acquainted with the local communities I would eventually join, it was that 1) the Incarnation, with its subsequent communication of humanity with divinity--θεωσις, in other words--borne out ultimately on the Cross, was to be taught in all its glory no where else but here; 2) the divinizing work of the Cross was to be encountered in no greater way than in the waters of baptism and the food and cup of the Eucharist; and 3) the real work, then, which brought life to all the circles of influence for which I could possibly be held responsible, is the consistent, disciplined, and selfless execution of mundane things. Do the dishes for your wife. Read to your daughters. Listen to fellow seminarians gripe without judging them. Cross yourself, even when you're half-asleep and/or just threw a temper tantrum. Pray the Our Father and realize that you really are forgiven as you forgive. Forgive, then, always. Gentle words. Drive less aggressively. Eat better, pray more regularly, though not necessarily more. Think of little things to do for other people that will help them out, preferably without anyone's knowing about it. Read your Bible, pray every day, and you grow, grow, grow. And the like.

The faculty member's wife and I concluded that, for all the ways in which the Church can be said to be bested by heterodox Christians, the Church can work on those areas and, in so doing, will come ever closer to that which She is meant to be. In contrast, were I to go to a heterodox confession, I could probably find more committed individuals per capita, true, but any attempt to bring the mystery of Christ's presence in the Eucharist or altar theology to fit more with a patristic instead of a reformed and/or legalistic soteriology would thus deform said confession away from the image it seeks to portray.

Our problems are real, then, but at least we can say that bringing ourselves in line with the truth will not make us less of what we were before (well, hopefully less sinful), but rather more of what we should be. We are not dealing with an intrinsically false nature that must be fundamentally altered, but of failing to live up to the Spotless nature our Bridegroom expects of us. We have the ability, then, as my priest back home has said, to "be the change you seek in the Church." In other words, if the Church has sinned, well, then, you are the Church. You repent, in the God-given context of the mysteries you've been given, and God will heal as He will. Fill up the form our fathers have preserved by God's grace with the content worthy of it--the good news of man's recapitulation in and through the kenotic sacrifice of Christ--and that which is lacking will be rectified as we imitate Him.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Finally...

Eleven years since the postseason. 50 years without a single postseason series victory. Well. Done. Rangers.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Laura Louise

My daughter, Laura Louise, was born today at 9am sharp.

She weighs 8 lbs. and 13 oz. She is 20 inches long, and is beautiful.

Mother and baby are both doing fine, and resting.

We give glory to God for her safe delivery, and ask that St. Laura of Córdoba intercede for her. Your prayers are appreciated.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rich

Och has beaten me to the punch on this, the 13th anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins. I remember someone coming up to me before Sunday school and telling me the news of his death. I don't keep silent much--anyone who knows me, knows me as a talker--but I distinctly remember speaking very, very little in the days following his death. One of the aspects to my loquaciousness, unfortunately, is that the ideas behind them are not always fully-formed when I (attempt to) give voice to them; as such, they often come out as half-baked ramblings with a "gut feeling" behind them that tends to get fleshed out pretty well...once I've taken time to think them through and hear from voices deeper than my own.

Rich's was one of those voices. Audra has said that Rich is the reason that I became Orthodox (this only after reading Chesterton and Eckhart and toying with the idea of becoming a lay Franciscan). As Och has said, there's no doubt he was a matter of days, weeks at the most, from being formally confirmed a Roman Catholic. His voice was the first to put into concrete phrases the discord I was feeling within both Evangelicalism and charismaticism, and in a way it "gave me permission" to speak what I had been hesitant to say.

There's an irony to the way he went; of all the songs he ever wrote, he said "Elijah" was his favorite. May his memory be eternal.

And I thought of his article "Attics and Temples" (one of many he contributed to Release Magazine), when hearing Fr. Alex's homily on being shaped by the Cross this morning. All the more ironic, since the fact that September 19th as "the date" had slipped my mind this year. Thanks, Och.

(See HERE for Rich's other Release articles on Brian Williams treasure trove of a site.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Autumn"

Some September alms from the wind this morning after Divine Liturgy:



Thou comest, Autumn, heralded by the rain,
With banners, by great gales incessant fanned,
Brighter than brightest silks of Samarcand,
And stately oxen harnessed to thy wain!
Thou standest, like imperial Charlemagne,
Upon thy bridge of gold; thy royal hand
Outstretched with benedictions o'er the land,
Blessing the farms through all thy vast domain!
Thy shield is the red harvest moon, suspended
So long beneath the heaven's o'er-hanging eaves;
Thy steps are by the farmer's prayers attended;
Like flames upon an altar shine the sheaves;
And, following thee, in thy ovation splendid,
Thine almoner, the wind, scatters the golden leaves!

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tomorrow will be my last day of teaching for the summer; Monday begins a new school year. Your prayers are coveted.

Those Orthodox Christians under the (Old) Julian Calendar will celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos tomorrow; I wish all of them a blessed feastday; as we will be entertaining company from out of town who will be celebrating the feast on that day, I've been thinking (again) about the feast, and my earlier talk of a post.

Fr. John's homily on New Calendar Dormition struck me for several reasons, most of all because it asserted, as do the earliest fathers of the Church who speak of the celebration, that it is a historical event steeped in the ancient consciousness of the Church--it is, in other words, a feast which was treated as venerable and established even in the fifth centuries (the dates of the earliest festal homilies we have come from this period).

As is not surprising, St. Gregory Palamas' homily on the subject provides the reader with a succinct, thorough explanation of the Church's honoring of the Falling-Asleep of God's mother. He begins with an exposition of the Scriptures that prophetically put forth her role as the Queen Mother, the Queen of Heaven. The seat at Christ's right hand was not his to give to James or John, for at the right hand of the King stands the Queen (Ps. 45.9, LXX). This idea that the Queen and Mother would sit enthroned at the right hand of her son the king was something imminently familiar to the Ancient Near East; Bathsheba, upon entering to speak with King David, bowed before him, yet after his death, Solomon not only rose to greet his mother, but arranged for a throne to be built for her at his right hand (I Kings 1.16, 31; 2.19, and it is interesting to note that Solomon listened to the petition of his mother). Taken in and of themselves, these passages do not point to the Theotokos any more than, say, Isaiah 7.14 in its historical context, necessarily points to Christ instead of a deliverer-king against the Syrians of Isaiah's day. The point is, as St. Gregory points out, that "she is the only one who has a place in heaven with her divinely glorified body in the company of her Son."

Indeed, he asks, moving to another prophecy from the Psalms, "how can that body which not only received within it the pre-eternal, only-begotten Son of God, the ever-flowing found of grace, but was also plainly seen to bear Him, fail to be taken up from earth to heaven" when it was written "that the ark of Christ's holiness should arise with Him who rose on the third day (Ps. 132.8, LXX). Again, these prophecies were understood--and rightly so--to refer to she who had held Him who is God; they, together with other readings which liken her to the Burning Bush, Jacob's Ladder, and the Eastern Gate of Ezekiel's vision, leave one with a strong sense of how the apostles reacted to the Mother of God and how the Church has seen her since.

The most beautiful aspect of the Orthodox veneration of the Mother of God, however--and this is borne out in the story of the Dormition quite explicitly--is that the Mother of God patterns herself after her Son (as should we all) and is thus a conduit for divine grace of which we may partake. She, in other words, becomes by grace what Christ is by nature--she, through the energies of God becomes what Christ has and is via the divine essence. She becomes the bush through which we encounter the fire of God, she the tongs with which we are offered the divine coal, she the means through which we may "partake of and touch the intangible divine nature." Thus, when St. Gregory says that the Theotokos "sends briught shafts of holy light and grace down to earth, illuminating all the space around the world," or that she is "the synthesis of divine, angelic, and human loveliness, a nobler beauty to embellish both worlds," he does not mean One divine by nature and pre-eternal, coming down to be the Man from Heaven, but rather one "originating from the earth" and thus partaking of Christ's divinity through divine energies.

Why is this important? It was not simply necessary that Christ be the mediator between God and man by being both human and divine; he also needed to form an example foundation, par excellence, of renewed creation. In paradoxical form, the Mother of God "is the cause of what preceded her the protectress of what comes after her, and she procures eternity" for us through her humanity deified by his divinity. As with her, so with all of us, and we are "illumined by her, the true lamp of divine radiance."

Blessed feast.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blessed Feast

Am currently working on a reflection of yesterday's festal liturgy and a sermon of St. Gregory Palamas on said feast; to read the festal homily, click HERE.

A most joyous feast to all!

Thursday, August 05, 2010



"Now, I beseech you, strive to lift up the eyes of your understanding towards the light of the gospel message, that you may be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and having acquired the divine brightness from above, be conformed to the likeness of the glory of the Lord, whose face shone like the sun today on the mountain.

"In what way like the sun? There was a time when sunlight was not contained within the disc of the sun, for the light was made first, whereas the Creator of all formed the sun on the fourth day, kindling its light and making it the source of daylight and a luminary to shine by day. Similarly, the light of the Godhead was not always contained in Christ's body, for that light existed always without beginning, whereas the human body which the Son of God assumed from us was made later for our sake, receiving the fullness of the Godhead, and so being kindled as a deifying and divinely radiant source of illumination."

St. Gregory Palamas, From Homily 35, on the Transfiguration of the Lord (Veniamin, Christopher. St. Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. The Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, UK., 2009, pp. 275-6)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Bread and Gnarled Hands

A song I've loved for over half my short life:

"Old ain't a word that I'm fond of," he said.
"And these days I've begun to lose count."
Mumbling she rolls in her wheelchair, and says,
"I'm afraid that they've closed my account."

There's a blur that occurs in the line of their life
That decays the whole notion of sense
And they call to the past, insisting that it last,
While they're climbing down reality's fence
Singing with me

CHORUS
Take me
Take me
Write my name in the most Holy Tome
And when it's my time
To assume the sublime,
Take me to my promised home

And their hands aren't gnarled, they're in love with the earth
And they're dying to go there again
We say the essence of life is strong in our youth,
Slowly buried under wrinkles of skin
But there's God in the way that life comes to an end,
In the way that it draws to a close,
In the saying of soul to the house of the skin,
You're too weak now to really oppose
Singin'...

CHORUS

Lyrics found HERE (p. 10 in the pdf)

I remember my grandmother, with whom I lived for most of my childhood and who, during my high school years, succumbed to emphysema and congestive heart failure. She had been a heavy smoker earlier in life and, in keeping with the history of women in that branch of the family, had a stroke because of it. Therapy helped her, but in those last years her body simply would not keep up with the damage already done. She knew, the night before she died, that she was slipping away. I remember being called out of an assembly the next day. I remember picking up my aunt at the airport not an hour later. I remember reading Rev. 21.1-4 over her body as the heartbeat slowed to zero, while her chest continued to rise and fall. We always told her, "Keep breathing, Ma-Gram," when she'd complain about a breathing treatment. She showed us. I remember nothing else from that day.

There are things the body knows, things it must learn, that the mind can't grasp. In today's world this type of statement is often used to push a sort of libertine sentimentality meant to justify debauchery in the face of natural law or the like. What I refer to is chastity and sobriety. Today we begin a countdown of sorts to the day when the "Crown of continence," as the Akathist refers to her, folds into the earth peacefully and silently. It is this quietness and stillness, this learned obedience to the Word that feeds what food cannot, that the mind cannot understand yet which the body must learn.

We heard today, on the celebration of the Procession of the Cross, that some demons only go out by prayer and fasting. St. Innocent (Veniaminov) of Alaska reminds us that "the goal and intent of fasting are to humble and lighten the body, thereby rendering it more obedient to the soul, for a well-satisfied and fattened body requires peace and comfort; its disposition to laziness interferes with thinking about God. It binds and constricts the soul like a self-willed, spoiled and capricious woman who rules her husband." Primarily, however, fasting for St. Innocent means "abstinence and strict moderation in the use of food," although "while fasting bodily you must also fast spiritually. That is, you must refrain from speaking evil."1 There is a type of bodily asceticism associated with Orthodox fasting that ultimately amounts to a self-inflicted "creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough," to borrow a phrase from Sartre's work No Exit, though it is interesting that the slight gnawing at the stomach is the suffering that, when combined with prayer, leads to the exit the Mother of God found in Ephesus but which eluded Jean-Paul (and, I would say, most men today who live by bread alone which, they insist, must be bread alone if they are to justify living as they do).

Fasting as a cross is, of course, not a major suffering--especially in our context of Veggie-Meat crumbles and whole-food, organic substitutionary tendencies. What's meant in our eating fewer types of things and less of that is a slight stretch into that breaking down of the body that must and will happen, a reminder of that against which our entertainment-addled minds scream yet which our bodies will one day obey. Audra said several years ago that the total fasting from her charismatic upbringing (which did not happen often, but was a part of her parents' spiritual regimen from time to time) was actually easier than the Orthodox practice of abstinence and fasting; this constant feeding of the body just enough to keep going while still remaining hungry was something that grated on her. And rightly so.

For the bread of earth is simply Argon's chalk delusion that, when the light of Thabor rains in, will evaporate, bringing us a judgement of whether or not we've made the counterintuitive leap from bread of earth to Bread of Heaven, from clawing for oneself to open hands for others. She who held the one who condescended to be the Man from Heaven is now preparing to be held by the One who will take her, the New Eve, to be the Queen of Heaven, the sword which pierced her soul having done its work, having found nothing but a cherished, hidden, quiet, small, εὐαγγέλιον which will pick up her body which was pure and true and made more spacious than the heavens "with the Archangel's voice," breath Life into it (again), and set it--set her--free.

[1] Oleksa, Fr. Michael. Alaskan Missionary Sprituality. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2010, p. 111.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Half Gone, an Update

To say things have been quiet here on OTAS would be an understatement. We have successfully moved into a much larger apartment here on campus, in preparation for the arrival, Lord willing, of little Laura Louise in a few short months. With increased living space comes increased financial responsibilities. It is interesting to note that, in the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, "either God will provide, or He won't!" While I'm in no position to speculate as to how the finances will pan out over the next two years, it has been interesting to note how some things have just fallen into line (here, where the unexpected showing turned into a sale, and, just recently, here, for example). Prayers for God's continued provision are encouraged.

The girls have also enjoyed the move to the larger apartment, as the ability to socialize with the other little Vladimites is something they didn't get as much of in our old place. Much impressed with the imagination and creativity of the older kids; banding together in roaming tribes, they have been pirates, vikings, knights, military recon, going out and doing what normal, unplugged kids do.

I have been teaching for the Institute of Reading Development this summer and have finished one of two sessions. The institute focuses on various stages of reading from pre-readers (four and five year-olds) through adults. The program seems to open up access to the written word quite well to people who've grown up fearing books. Anything to get them to crack one open.

And speaking of cracking them open, I have begun, for the first time in my life, to really encounter Karamazov, and this due in large part to my exposure to the speed/comprehension techniques I have been teaching. Interesting to note is the degree of human interconnectedness in Dostoevsky; were I a strict humanist, I would be tempted to treat his work from a post-modern (post-theist?) perspective and cite this as the central theme of a well-meaning, albeit misguided, work of fiction. Such a perspective would be very "two-storey," to use Fr. Steven's language, as Alyosha's tearful kissing and embracing of the sky following his vision of the wedding feast can only be an embrace in love of individuals (and not simply of "mankind," a la Ivan) if it is to be genuine, and an embrace of man must also be an embrace of the God in Whose image those individual men are made if it is to be complete.

Also incredible is the characterization within the novel; as I am constantly analyzing and over-analyzing certain foibles in myself and others, the ticks and quirks that "give us away" are brought to sharp relief through the Russian's pen.

Had I received such a systematic means of teaching basic literary analysis when I was an English Education major, I probably would have given the idea of teaching the subject much more thought (as it was, the almost-total lack of any methodological training in my undergrad program left me completely ill-equipped to teach literature). As it happened, I got a job teaching Spanish and, after seeing a total lack of success in my district's plan for teaching second languages (the textbook was mind-blowingly bad and grammatically disorganized so as to preclude utility), I searched out and taught myself a methodology which led to success, at least on a basic level of language acquisition within an inner-city setting. Such an experience has prepared me for what may lie ahead post-seminary. While I am looking forward to my classes in Missiology with Fr. Chad Hatfield and auditing the class on Palamas w/Fr. John Behr (words fail me as to how comforting it is to see this saint get an entire class devoted to him here), I must say that pastoral formation is, as I've mentioned...under revision here. What I mean by that is that, as any place of learning is constantly in a state of flux with regard to faculty, SVS is, at this point, not as equipped in terms of personnel to handle pastoral training as it is to handle other areas of formation, which is lamentable, though I take comfort from conversations I have had with some faculty members regarding the need for this to change and the desire to do so. Having said that, two things emerge to my thinking:

1) To expect seminary to cover all aspects of parish life preparation is to misunderstand the scope of seminary, much as expecting an Ed undergrad to "fully prepare" a student for the classroom; either one has it in them to be a teacher, or one doesn't; educational preparation will always be secondary. While I think that the ideal for pastoral formation at SVS has yet to be met, I in no way expect that any sort of comprehensive watermark can be expected. A different sort of education seems to be what I am to learn here: At SVS, we are given far more than we can handle, and a priest I respect very much--an alum of SVS himself--has said that such is the case by design; the art of "learning what to cut" begins now, and such a skill may prove far more applicable than any classroom subject.

2) As Fr. Basil Biberdorf has said, continuing education isn't optional. I will, of course, have to figure out how to continue my learning as a priest, if indeed that is what I am called to, long after these three short years have passed. Any system is bound to have its shortcomings. I have been here before, and with God's help, can work in this situation again if need be. Lack of this kind is hardly insurmountable, it seems to me.

Speaking of pastoral formation, however, I am looking to take on a unit in clinical pastoral education (CPE) this coming Spring in place of six hours of elective credit. This is an example, I think, of how SVS is looking to give us more options regarding pastoral formation. I will be spending time (400 hours, to be exact) with patience in chaplaincy settings. With an M.Div and this unit under my belt, I would need to complete an internship (paid, in most places) in order to be a nationally-certified chaplain (prison, medical, military, fire/police, etc). Whether this would be used as a "side job" to supplement part-time parish ministry income or simply as a help to minister to parishioners (my ideal would be to train laymen for prison ministry in conjunction with OCPM, whose influence has led to this year's incoming M.Divvers fulfilling a 20-hour prison ministry requirement...a good start), such an endeavor is one I very much pray comes to fruition. Either God provides, or He doesn't, but I pray He does.

Keep us in your prayers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Franky in T-Town

George Michalopulos has weighed in at the AOI on a Franky Schaffer screed which happened as of late in my old stomping grounds of Tulsa, OK; his article has also been published in the Tulsa World.

Why anyone would ask Frank Schaffer to speak *nowadays* for the Orthodox Church is beyond me, as he has departed from Orthodox faith in numerous ways. Conversations about this article on Facebook (I posted it to my profile) have 1) been quite intelligent, thankfully, and 2) tended either to blast Schaffer for "liberal" politics or to blast George for equating Orthodoxy with neo-conservatism. Both, I think, miss the point (or, better, the two points) entirely.

Regarding politics: I am (as is often the case in these debates, I find) in agreement both with the idea that the Church has a history of social progressivism in many areas, yet a strong--and I would say monolithic--tradition of consistently standing against homosexuality and abortion (amongst other things, but since those issues tend to be the main whipping boys in Schaffers' tirades, I'll limit myself to those).

All this means is that the Church does not fit neatly into one political party, which suits me fine. However, that means that the polarization via Huff-Po that Schaffer thinks he can just come along and put forward uncontested is just absurd. Likewise, a neo-con equivalence of GOP=Orthodoxy is ridiculous, yet this is not what I see George doing in the article. He was making a point that the issues Schaffer likes to harp on are not compatible with Orthodoxy, and as soon as Orthodoxy looks to accommodate such issues in a sort of "Orthodoxy must change or die" mentality, it will cease to be what it essentially is (not because of a political-issue-as-identity, but because of an expression of a reality that is incompatible with the image of Christ crucified) and, ironically, begin to whither and die...at least, the parts that, locally, officially adopt and teach these lies.

Regarding evangelism: I am less bothered by Schaffer's tirade against Evangelical Protestants [=EvProts] than I am by his complete dishonoring of his father and mother. His tone is absolutely inexcusable and unnecessarily polemical to the point of outright untruth.

Having set that forth as the main objection, regarding evangelism--while there are differences between what "Gospel" means to EvProts and us, I don't see there really being a chance of *real* confusion of us w/EvProts *if* the distinctions of asceticism and theosis are kept at the forefront. If this is put forward--and deliberately so, merely as an example of holy, humble lives of prayer and service to the poor that the Spirit must lead and initiate--the "cold calls for Jesus" approach of many EvProts, or the used-car salesman feel of much of what passes for "evangelism" in the EvProt world will be easily seen for what they are, while genuine Orthodox invitations to come and see (which assumes that a provision of something *to* come and see is being made) will still be deliberate and sound, and not just a cop-out citing "relationship evangelism" while doing nothing.

We *are* called as Christians to let our light shine to the ends of the earth; that Franky seems to want to hunker down so as not to "offend" anyone doesn't negate this.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

America the Beautiful, and the Church Orthodox

Fr. Jonathan Tobias has a stirring, yet sobering, post that all American Orthodox Christians should read this weekend (and every weekend, as far as I'm concerned).

So read it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ukrainian Glory, Blessed Feast

This past Sunday, following a visit to Holy Protection Cathedral in NYC, I drove over to the American Bible Society, where they had a display of Ukrainian icons and other liturgical items (this will be on display through most of September), called "The Glory of Ukraine." To the right, you have a pectoral cross of one of the saintly monks (you will have to forgive the lack of provenance in the post; I was approached by a docent who told me after I had snapped photos that such was not allowed; I was thus unable to go back and take detailed photos of the descriptions of these three items). The cross is more or less a foot long, with Christ in the center, the holy apostles flanking Him on both sides, St. Theodotus above Him, and another saint beneath Him who has since been rubbed off.

The royal doors to the right are a gorgeous example of Ukrainian liturgical artistry; along with the seamless inclusion both of the Annunciation and of the four Evangelists, a grape cluster motif ties the doors in quite nicely to their main liturgical function of presenting to us the Vine of life. Also on display was a popular Ukrainian motif of the 17th-18th centuries (not pictured) where a western-style Bridegroom Christ has a vine growing out of the wound in His side which, after arching over his head, comes down His other side to an angel, who, grabbing a cluster of grapes, squeezes the juice into a chalice. A gorgeous reminder that His Blood is drink, indeed.

The final icon, from Lviv, if I remember correctly, this much more Byzantine-style icon dates to the 13th century, as opposed to the dates of Roman Catholic Ukrainian monarchs who commissioned Renaissance-style, linear-perspective, iconographically-non-functional images. One such image was the "vigilant eye" icon, wherein an infant Christ lies, peacefully asleep, on a cross, with the instruments of the crucifixion strewn about him. The light of heaven shines down from one side, showing how this small one was the one who would die, yet who, as a human infant, remained innocently unaware of it. I found myself wondering how much of Orthodox thought and practice was getting "lost in translation" by being hosted by Protestants, but everything seemed to be very well-described. There was one jab about Ukrainians often praying to St. Paraskevi for matters of the home "instead of to God," but...oh well. That a Protestant group would agree to display such things is something for which I'm grateful.

I wish all of you a blessed feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul! Click on the icon of Ss. Peter and Paul in the sidebar for a sermon by St. Augustine of Hippo (taken from oca.org) given for the feast.

Troparion - Tone 4

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Kontakion - Tone 2

O Lord, You have taken up to eternal rest
and to the enjoyment of Your blessings
the two divinely-inspired preachers, the leaders of the Apostles,
for You have accepted their labors and deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice,
for You alone know what lies in the hearts of men.

Kontakion - Tone 2

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Antiochene Insufficiency

In response to a recent post at Beggars All, I thought I'd post an apt response here; this happens to be my answer to an essay question on my Patristics final, second semester.

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The charge that "Only the Antiochene theologians present a realistic picture of the human Jesus" may seem to have some merit when taken at face value, but upon further inspection and comparison with its neighboring, Alexandrian tradition, it becomes apparent that a long-standing misunderstanding of the human nature of the on Christ is at work in such a statement. A strict Antiochene christology is based on a prosopic union; that is, that the one being, Christ, is the result of the one, divine πρóσωπον, being the result of an ουσíα and its distinguishing υπóστασις, assuming or taking to himself a full separate, human πρóσωπον, existing and self-activating apart from his divine Assumer. In this system, the former πρóσωπον is the Λóγος τοῦ θεοῦ; the latter is the man, Jesus. According to Nestorius, what this assures is that Jesus, the man who performs all human actions in Christ is 1) a singular man, absolutely free from any interference from the Λóγος that would detract from his human experience, and 3) in possession of a human nature that is in no way different from the rest of humanity. Given such a deliberate attempt to identify Jesus with the rest of humanity, one can easily see why the statement at the beginning of this essay might be made.

The problem with such a statement, however, is whether a supposedly "realistic" human picture is in turn going to be 1) a true picture, or, more importantly, 2) a salvific picture. If Christ is, in fact, merely the result of two independent being working side by side, then humankind has no way of communicating with the divine One. Indeed, the son of David is fully human, but never the man shall meet with the divine Son of God, and thus, this "realistic picture" has thus disrupted the whole divine economy with a "two-sons" christology.

"How, though, could it be otherwise?" an Antiochene sympathizer of today might ask. The Alexandrian theologian Apollinarius had clearly shown, in the Antiochene mind, the consequences of failing to confess what they saw as the full, human nature within Christ. Apollinarius had rather opted to say that the one conscious subject in Christ--o Λóγος τοῦ θεοῦ--had assumed a mindless, soulless corpse of flesh and, animating it as a mere instrument, had accomplished the bodily deeds of the salvific economy. This, the Antiochians said, was not truly consubstantial with humanity, and on this they spoke correctly. What, then, might an Alexandrian theologian posit as a sound alternative to these two, nonsensical extremes?

Enter St. Cyril of Alexandria († 444), the bishop of Alexandria who served as the chief opponent of and eventual victor over Nestorius and the Antiochene school of thought, and who reconciled the need for one subject only within Christ (unsuccessfully addressed by Apollinarius) with the need for a fully functioning and present human nature within the one Christ (unsuccessfully attempted by Nestorius et al.) In his work That Christ is One, St. Cyril explicitly states multiple times that the Word of God was made flesh (Jn. 1.14) and dwelt among us--as opposed to a mere assumption of another being. Yet the term flesh is not necessarily to be seen in the strict, Apollinarian sense of a fleshly puppet. Sy Cyril quotes the prophet Joel in the old Testament to prove that St. John was making use of synecdoche: Just as one would not say that the Holy Spirit, being "poured out on all flesh" as Joel said, was poured out on lifeless corpses but rather on complete human beings, so we should say that the "Word made flesh" is speaking of one Subject (the Word and Son of God) who has made proper to Himself all that is proper to humanity (including a human mind, will, and emotions) and has thus become, not just flesh, but man.

This distinction is crucial, for St. Cyril can no longer be accused w/teaching Apollinarianism--that the WOrd is some sort of "drivine, animating force" within a lifeless body; rather, the Word is the one Subject Who is predicated two different ways: As God, He does things in His full, uncreated divinity; as man, He does other things in the ful humanity--body and soul--which He fashioned for Himself in the womb of the Θεοτóκος.

Thus, because our human life--and, most importantly, our human act of death performed by CHrist on the cross--has been experienced to the full by the very One who is divine with His Father's glory, we who are ομοουσιοι with the Son in His humanity can thus communicate with the divine nature, as well, upon entering into the likeness of His death (through baptism) and taking into ourselves nothing less than the glorified body of God (through the Eucharist). It is here that the "tow-sons" christology of the Antiochenes falls apart most tragically. If the One who was "given the name above every name" and who will be universally confessed as "Lord, to the glory of God the Father" is not the same One who "considered not equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant" by becoming flesh and becoming "obedient to death on a cross" (Phil. 2.5-11), then a way of communion between our nature and the divine nature has not been opened, and we are not save. Since, however, the One who had glory with the Father before the worlds existed (As Christ said in John's gospel), the Son of God as indeed dwelt among us as man, and by sacramentaly entering into the reality of God's own death and resurrection, we can indeed become "partakers of the divine nature" as the Apostle Peter said (2 Peter 1.4).

The quote which begins this essay, therefore, is a misunderstanding of the way in which the one Christ has been understood and confessed historically. The man called Jesus is indeed a human consubstantial with us in every way, but this does not mean that he must therefore be separate from the Word as a distinct, second πρóσωπον, with its own, intact ουσíα and υπóστασις. To do so would be fatal to the CHristian faith, as has been shown. The only "realistic picture of the human Jesus," then, that can be put forward, is that of the divine Person, the Λóγος τοῦ θεοῦ, who has become everything that we are, so that we might have and be, by grace, everything that He has and is by nature.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Towards an Evangelical Image...?

[EDIT: The post linked to below is apparently no longer on Fr. Basil's blog]

"I don’t personally care whether our hierarchs are from this continent or not. Insisting that the bishops be from the “mother country” or from the United States and Canada are just different forms of the same over-emphasis on race. What we need are bishops and church leaders (ordained and lay) who see that what stands before us is about the Gospel and its proclamation to the people of this continent."

From Fr. Basil Biberdorf's reflection on the SVS Hellenism Symposium, HERE.

As I said in the comments, we are in the unique position of participating in a movement towards jurisdictional unity that, for once, is not only approved of by our patriarchs, but initiated by them for the express purpose of establishing an Orthodox-style episcopacy of one bishop/one city. I don’t care if we wind up with some of our hierarchs being from another continent, either; in fact, having some from other countries may help us get over some of our American exceptionalism. Having one bishop to answer to as the authority figure, however, is an important step towards presenting the Gospel which Fr. Basil mentions. This is not to say that any given bishop who governs his given region will do so evangelically or even competently (I pray they will), but it seems to me that putting such a plan in action is of great importance and the primary purpose of both the EA and Chambesy, and ultimately essential to proclaiming the Gospel in the first place, for it must be done "decently and in order," and this cannot be done to the full given our shattered ecclesiological image in this place at present.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Holy Apostles Bartholomew and Barnabas

Troparia are linked to via the icon in the sidebar.

Blogger won't let me link their lives to their names, so here it is (taken from oca.org HERE):

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Apostle Bartholomew of the Twelve

The Holy Apostle Bartholomew was born at Cana of Galilee and was one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ. After the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, it fell by lot to the holy Apostles Bartholomew and Philip (November 14) to preach the Gospel in Syria and Asia Minor. In their preaching they wandered through various cities, and then met up again. Accompanying the holy Apostle Philip was his sister, the holy virgin St Mariamnne.

Traversing the cities of Syria and Myzia, they underwent much hardship and tribulations, they were stoned and they were locked up in prison. In one of the villages they met up with the Apostle John the Theologian, and together they set off to Phrygia. In the city of Hieropolis by the power of their prayers they destroyed an enormous viper, which the pagans worshipped as a god. The holy Apostles Bartholomew and Philip with his sister confirmed their preaching with many miracles.

At Hieropolis there lived a man by the name of Stachys, who had been blind for 40 years. When he received healing, he then believed in Christ and was baptized. News of this spread throughout the city, and a multitude of the people thronged to the house where the apostles were staying. The sick and those beset by demons were released from their infirmities, and many were baptized. The city prefect gave orders to arrest the preachers and throw them in prison, and to burn down the house of Stachys. At the trial pagan priests came forth with the complaint that the strangers were turning people away from the worship of the ancestral gods.

Thinking that perhaps some sort of magic power was hidden away in the clothes of the apostles, the prefect gave orders to strip them. But St Mariamne became like a fiery torch before their eyes, and none dared touch her. They sentenced the saints to death. The Apostle Philip was crucified upside down. Suddenly there was an earthquake, and a fissure in the earth swallowed up the prefect of the city, together with the pagan priests and many of the people. Others took fright and rushed to take down the apostles from the crosses. Since the Apostle Bartholomew had not been suspended very high, they soon managed to take him down. The Apostle Philip, however, had died. After making Stachys Bishop of Hieropolis, the Apostle Bartholomew and St Mariamne left the city and moved on.

Preaching the Word of God, Mariamne arrived in Lykaonia, where she peacefully died (February 17). The Apostle Bartholomew went to India, where he translated the Gospel of Matthew into their language, and he converted many pagans to Christ. He also visited Greater Armenia (the country between the River Kura and the upper stretches of the Tigrus and Euphrates Rivers), where he worked many miracles and healed the daughter of King Polymios from the demons afflicting her. In gratitude, the king sent gifts to the apostle, who refused to accept them, saying that he sought only the salvation of the souls of mankind.

Then Polymios together with his wife, daughter, and many of those close to them accepted Baptism. And people from more than ten cities of Greater Armenia followed their example. But through the intrigues of the pagan priests, the Apostle Bartholomew was seized by the king's brother Astiagus in the city of Alban (now the city of Baku), and crucified upside down. But even from the cross he did not cease to proclaim the good news about Christ the Savior. Finally, on orders from Astiagus, they flayed the skin from the Apostle Bartholomew and cut off his head. Believers placed his relics in a leaden coffin and buried him.

In about the year 508 the holy relics of the Apostle Bartholomew were transferred to Mesopotamia, to the city of Dara. When the Persians seized the city in 574, Christians took the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew with them when they fled to the shores of the Black Sea. But since the enemy overtook them there, they were compelled to leave the coffin behind, and the pagans threw it into the sea. By the power of God the coffin miraculously arrived on the island of Lipari. In the ninth century, after the taking of the island by the Arabs, the holy relics were transferred to the Neapolitan city of Beneventum in Italy, and in the tenth century part of the relics were transferred to Rome.

The holy Apostle Bartholomew is mentioned in the Life of St Joseph the Hymnographer (April 4). Having received from a certain man part of the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew, St Joseph conveyed them to his own monastery near Constantinople, and he built a church in the name of the Apostle Bartholomew, placing in it a portion of the relics. St Joseph ardently desired to compose hymns of praise in honor of the saint, and he fervently besought God to grant him the ability to do so.

On the Feast day in memory of the Apostle Bartholomew, St Joseph saw him at the altar. He beckoned to Joseph and took the holy Gospel from the altar table and pressed it to his bosom with the words, "May the Lord bless you, and may your song delight the whole world." And from that time St Joseph began to write hymns and canons to adorn not only the Feast day of the Apostle Bartholomew, but also the Feast days of many other saints, composing about 300 canons in all. Sts John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Cyprus and certain other teachers of the Church regard the Apostle Bartholomew as being the same person as Nathanael (John 1:45-51, 21:2).

Apostle Barnabas of the Seventy

Holy Apostle Barnabas of the Seventy was born on the island of Cyprus into the family of the tribe of Levi, and he was named Joseph. He received his education at Jerusalem, being raised with his friend and fellow student Saul (the future Apostle Paul) under the renowned teacher of the Law, Gamaliel. Joseph was pious, he frequented the Temple, he strictly observed the fasts and avoided youthful distractions. During this time period our Lord Jesus Christ began His public ministry. Seeing the Lord and hearing His Divine Words, Joseph believed in Him as the Messiah. Filled with ardent love for the Savior, he followed Him. The Lord chose him to be one of His Seventy Apostles. The other Apostles called him Barnabas, which means "son of consolation." After the Ascension of the Lord to Heaven, Barnabas sold land belonging to him near Jerusalem and he brought the money to the feet of the Apostles, leaving nothing for himself (Acts 4:36-37).

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem after his conversion and sought to join the followers of Christ, everyone there was afraid of him since he had persecuted the Church only a short while before. Barnabas, however, came with him to the Apostles and reported how the Lord had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:26-28).

Saint Barnabas went to Antioch to encourage the believers, "Having come and having seen the grace of God, he rejoiced and he urged all to cleave to the Lord with sincerity of heart" (Acts 11:23). Then he went to Tarsus, and brought the Apostle Paul to Antioch, where for about a year they taught the people. It was here that the disciples first began to be called Christians (Acts 11:26). With the onset of famine, and taking along generous alms, Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem. When King Herod killed St James the son of Zebedee, and had the Apostle Peter put under guard in prison to please the Jews, Sts Barnabas and Paul and Peter were led out of the prison by an angel of the Lord.

They hid out at the house of Barnabas' aunt Maria. Later, when the persecution had quieted down, they returned to Antioch, taking with them Maria's son John, surnamed Mark. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the prophets and teachers there imposed hands upon Barnabas and Paul, and sent them off to do the work to which the Lord had called them (Acts 13:2-3). Arriving in Seleucia, they sailed off to Cyprus and in the city of Salamis they preached the Word of God in the Jewish synagogues.

On Paphos they came across a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was close with the proconsul Sergius. Wishing to hear the Word of God, the proconsul invited the saints to come to him. The sorcerer attempted to sway the proconsul from the Faith, but the Apostle Paul denounced the sorcerer, who through his words suddenly fell blind. The proconsul believed in Christ (Acts 13:6-12).

From Paphos Barnabas and Paul set sail for Pergamum of Pamphylia, and then they preached to the Jews and the Gentiles at Pisidian Antioch and throughout all that region. The Jews rioted and expelled Paul and Barnabas. The saints arrived in Iconium, but learning that the Jews wanted to stone them, they withdrew to Lystra and Derben. There the Apostle Paul healed a man, crippled in the legs from birth. The people assumed them to be the gods Zeus and Hermes and wanted to offer them sacrifice. The saints just barely persuaded them not to do this (Acts 14:8-18).

When the question arose whether those converted from the Gentiles should accept circumcision, Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem. There they were warmly received by the Apostles and elders. The preachers related "what God had wrought with them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).

After long deliberations the Apostles collectively resolved not to impose any sort of burden upon Gentile Christians except what was necessary: to refrain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:19-20). Letters were sent with Barnabas and Paul, and they again preached at Antioch, and after a certain while they decided to visit the other cities where they had visited earlier. St Barnabas wanted to take Mark along with him, but St Paul did not want to, since earlier he had left them. A quarrel arose, and they separated. Paul took Silas with him and went to Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41).

Having multiplied the number of believers, St Barnabas traveled to Rome, where he was perhaps the first to preach Christ.

St Barnabas founded the episcopal see at Mediolanum (now Milan), and upon his return to Cyprus he continued to preach about Christ the Savior. Then the enraged Jews incited the pagans against Barnabas, and they led him out beyond the city and stoned him, and then built a fire to burn the body. Later on, having come upon this spot, Mark took up the unharmed body of St Barnabas and buried it in a cave, placing upon the saint's bosom, in accord with his final wishes, the Gospel of Matthew which he had copied in his own hand.

St Barnabas died in about the year 62, at age seventy-six. In time, the burial spot was forgotten, but numerous signs took place at this spot. In the year 448, during the time of the emperor Zeno, St Barnabas appeared three times in a dream to Archbishop Anthimus of Cyprus and indicated the place where his relics were buried. Starting to dig at the indicated spot, Christians found the incorrupt body of the saint, and upon his chest was the Holy Gospel.

It was during this time that the Church of Cyprus began to be regarded as Apostolic in origin, and received the right of choosing its head. Thus St Barnabas defended Cyprus against the pretensions of the opponent of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the heretic surnamed Knapheios, who had usurped the patriarchal throne at Antioch and tried to gain dominion over the Church of Cyprus.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sheehan Quote

Father Stephen recently cited an article by Dr. Donald Sheehan on the concept of "Memory Eternal" as used in the Orthodox Church, in commemoration of his recent repose in the Lord. Most of us have probably read Father's post; I thoroughly recommend reading the article by Dr. Sheehan. I quote the article's final words here (emph. mine):

"[In an opening quotation of Zosima's biography] is the most beautiful understanding of Memory Eternal both in Eastern Orthodoxy and in Dostoevsky. It is the soul's seeking out what is precious - that is, what is unceasingly alive - even in the darkest, most afflicted of circumstances. And the crucial point, in the novels and in the Church, is that such seeking can succeed most fully and directly through what Dostoevsky calls 'a whole life's obedience' to the historical Orthodox Church and Her long traditions of fasting and prayer. For in this obedience, we avoid the terrible fate of those who (like Ivan Karamazov) seek to find themselves in themselves. Instead, like Alyosha and (in the end) Dmitri, we come to understand that we are precious not in our self-assertion but only in our self-emptying."

May the memory of our brother, the professor and subdeacon Donald Sheehan, be eternal.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Naming and Being Named as Salvation

Steve Robinson has written "one of those posts" which I imagine I will have to read over and over again. Beautiful meditation; to my knowledge, it's heretofore unprecedented in Orthodox thought, but very much in line with what we know and teach about theosis. What was it Florovsky said about "the mind of the fathers," again?

My Life (Again) in a Few Months, Lord Willing...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

We're All Limping

Darlene has raised some good questions in the comments in the Patmos post below. I posted the following there, then thought it might ought to be here, too:

Darlene --

Don't fret yourself; "If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might be an annoying convert, I more..." ;)

I struggled with the issue of baptism, too, about five years ago. I met with Archbishop Dmitri about it--you can read about my thoughts before my meeting w/him HERE (along with links to two good articles), and my thoughts after the meeting HERE--as well as an answer to someone's question last year about the history of the two approaches to baptism HERE. I know it's a lot (more!) to read, but perhaps it will help. It's not a comfortable issue for many of us enamored with finding Christ's Church, but it need not be a stumbling block.

"My limited understanding of the Orthodox faith is that all the motions we go through, from icon-kissing, to crossing ourselves, to attending Divine Liturgy, even to receiving the Eucharist, are only meaningful if we are participating in the life of Christ."

"They could just be going through the motions without an inward devotion to Christ."

Those statements are true. I would add to the thought, though, that it is ultimately useless for any person or group of people to make it their business to try and label certain behaviors as indicative of whether x or y type of person is or is not "participating in the life of Christ" or "just...going through the motions." The concept is solid, but the application of it to real people in real life is where it gets thorny. "There's a wideness in God's mercy," after all, that may cut the Greek electrician who drinks too much and goes to work late (if at all) slack that the energetic, college-educated, type-A personality former Evangelical convert to Orthodoxy (not describing anyone in particular here) may not get. So his kissing the icon may be the only time God shows Himself to him--and may make that to an ultimately greater effect in his life--whereas someone else might do it to condemnation. We're all limping. Doesn't mean we shouldn't at least "go through the motion" of "left foot...right foot..."

Holiness is absolutely the standard for Christians. How quickly or thoroughly an individual is expected to approach it in this life is unknown. I am not the electrician's Judge; I shall leave the unknown factor to Him.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Georgia and Patmos

I couldn't pass up the chance to honor someone as eccentric (to our ears) as St. Dodo of Georgia. A good opportunity to lighten up. Click the name for his vita.

Finished reading A Place of Healing for the Soul: Patmos by Peter France, a BBC religion columnist for several years who, after spending extensive time on the island of Patmos as a skeptic and secularist, eventually joined the Church of which his wife had already been a member for some years in a way I imagine would make many of the read-and-reason-your-way-in converts squirm (in spite of his reception at the hands of Archimandrite KALLISTOS (Ware)). God takes us where we are, to be sure, and thank God He does.

From the book:

"I have described the ceremonies of initiation. Although he photographs record that I emerged from the experience flushed and excited, I did not see any blinding lights during or after my total immersion. No certainties were revealed. I emerged still agnostic, but with a difference. A part of me was opened that had been shut. I heard no messages, but felt ready to receive them. If I had received grace, it had come in the form of an increase not in conviction, but in awareness, in receptivity.

"Very soon, after my second or third communion, I realized that I was beginning to experience as realities what I had taken to be colorful imagery. The divine energies present in the mystery of the Eucharist open within us a capacity to see, or to sense, spiritual realities to which we were insensible. That sentence is a myth for those without the experience; a reality for those who have it.

"I realized that during the long years I had spent studying Christianity to see whether or not I found it credible, I was missing the point. The creeds of the Church do not contain the Christian truth that Christ said would set us free. They were formalized and written down in response to challenges from outside, when the Church was forced to defend itself by using the language of philosophy to define its dogma. But that language belonged to the world of concepts against which the Church was attempting to defend itself. Most important, the Greek philosophers were building systems of thought by using terms that became part of the vocabulary of individuals whether or not they were bale to experience the realities those terms expressed.

"The full doctrine of the Church was made available only to baptized Christians. It still is. Much of it is written and so accessible to all, but the most important aspects are passed on orally and symbolically because they can only be transmitted to someone who is ready to receive them. And by their very nature they cannot be written. But taking the first step, by being baptized into the Orthodox Church, I had not experienced any new convictions but had opened myself to an evolving mystery which the Church has preserved and which exists to communicate to its members.

"And, on Patmos, I had become normal" (pp. 152-3).


Lest the reader think that this is merely a pietistic read about theology, rest assured that much of it deals with nothing other than the beauty and the slow pace associated invariably with this gorgeous island. Their hassles (most of them humorous, but only in hindsight) in finagling through the refreshingly infuriating social mores of Patmian real estate in order to secure themselves not one, but two different homes on the island (the second one being a shack with no lack of challenges endured simply for love of isolation and the need to eschew the busy ports) make this a travelogue in much the same vein as Markides' Mountain of Silence. The antics of a ξενος simply trying (unsuccessfully) to bribe a building inspector, the history behind the British scholar Dr. Edward Daniel Clarke's raid of a Patmian monastery library (allegedly with the aid of its own abbot) -- all this makes for a fascinating cultural and historical read. The aspect of the island which the book makes most immediate to the reader, however, is that of light, in what could be considered both literal and metaphorical senses...though it would seem that Patmos would have it one way--a μία φύσις φωτός--which illuminates all at once:

"Patmos is the place to read St. John's Gospel, and not just because he once walked here. His imagery is full of light, and although the special quality of light on the island seemed to me one of clarity, Felicia pointed out one morning as we looked across the sunlit valley that here the light does not seem to simply fall on objects--it infuses them and makes them radiant: as if it were giving them life; as if the life and the light were one.

"But there is a danger in reading St. John on Patmos. It is that the surroundings, the atmosphere and finally the people might come to persuade you that he speaks the truth...when you live amongst people who have not rejected the spiritual dimension in their lives, his words are sharper: they point not to fantasy but to reality. Every day there is the risk of coming across a situation that reminds you of this. I remember one of the first" (pp. 87-8).


Following a description of his fear of "church festivals...with women in the finest of their finery--an unnerving sight on Patmos, where the finery takes the form of jackets with shoulders like Al Capone's, handbags with yards of brass chain attached and black high-heeled shoes with enormous bright buckles," he and Felicia ducked into the Monastery of Diasozousa on August 14th and found what I think Arturo might have been alluding to:

"A long queue of local people was waiting to kiss the wonder-working icon...I chatted with people I knew--the electrician, the grocer, the carpenter, the plumber--I was struck by the fact that these people, practical workingmen with no very obvious religious slant to their lives, were doing something extremely odd. They were all patiently standing there in their best suits waiting to kiss a painting. What was really going on?

"I remembered something that Philip Sherrard...had written about Western society's having lost is way. Materialism had become the creed of the majority, and it was opposed not by the churches but by those who claimed a vague spiritual allegiance or inkling which they insisted had nothing to do with 'organized religion.' But Sherrard pointed out that any genuine religious tradition provided for some formal discipline as a means of spiritual realization. He wrote that people who attached themselves to these modern, rather gaseous trends of New Worldism were spiritually inferior to the simple believers who practiced a faith sincerely but with only the slightest knowledge of the metaphysical principles on which it was based.

"...these people, by the simple act of kissing the icon, were rejecting the closed system of materialism in which most people of the West are living today. Even if the act is a formal one, done because everybody does it, to revere an icon is to perform an action which proclaims that the material world is not the end--that there is a spiritual dimension to life which we may not understand and which we may ignore in our daily business of living but which on occasions such as this we can come together and publicly acknowledge. To kiss an icon, to cross oneself, to say 'Αν θέλει ο Θεός' ('God willing'), however perfunctorily or unthinkingly these actions are performed, is to strike a blow at the closed universe of the materialist.

"These dawning realizations are among the risks to which anyone exposed to the influences of Patmos is vulnerable" (pp. 88-90).


Encounters are what persuade him. Fr. Amphilochios Tsoukos, their oftentimes guide and helper, helped him see, through a bit of pretense in expressing a desire to learn English, that Peter should "see things differently, but [Amphilochios] was discerning enough to realize that this could not be achieved through argument or discussion. Faith comes through grace; and grace operates most effectively through people--but always through what they are, and not what they say" (p. 85). When Peter asked how Fr. Amphilochios would approach mission work to Peter's secularized "tribe" in the West, Father replied that he "would not say anything...I would simply live with you. And I would love you" (p. 82).

He sees the "essence of humility" in the "complete absence of regard for the self in the way" a young nun in the Evangelismos convent lived: head down, face serious, she was the epitome of focused, monastic, regimented work. But the moment she noticed Peter and his empty, un-refilled sherry glass, her face brightened and she hurried, with a radiant smile, to serve him. "Either the work mattered or the person mattered...real humility...is not thinking yourself less than the dust. It is thinking of others so completely that you do not think about yourself at all" (p. 39).

I encourage all of you to read this very short, very joyous, book.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

¡Una Tercera! ¡Mientras Más Mejor!

Audra and I went to the doctor's office yesterday and got a glimpse of our little one--the glimpse that let us know that we are expecting our third in a set. Lord willing, Laura Louise will join us in our family in early to mid-October. What you see here may be a sign of things to come; her pinky finger is up, prim and proper. An elegant girl, apparently. Your prayers are coveted -- perhaps most of all for this lone, Y-chromosome?

Lord willing, we will baptize her with the name Laura. We are quite insistent that the names we give our children be names that are immediately accessible to the surrounding culture; this presents a problem when one communes in a Church with lots of Photinis, Eudoxias, and Olgas. We were thrilled to find out about Santa Laura de Córdoba, España. As a Christian--and later in her life, a Christian monastic and abbess--under the Muslim yoke in Spain, she gave up her life as a witness for Christ in the ninth century. May she pray for us all, and especially the little one still growing, pinky up, towards the day when, by God's grace, she arrives to be with us.

Cultures: From Kitch to Curandero

The Ochlophobist has recently posted a whopper of a post (an article of some length, really) "against a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus" which speaks of "The anglo-American Evangelical ritualization, psychologicalization, and socio-religious construct known as a 'personal relationship with the Lord Jesus'" as "a mechanism designed to convince persons of divine affirmation of their own personalities, adjusted as needed to evoke the convincing." What that gets you, I think, is something akin to this. Caveat spector.

Och has also quoted Arturo's Cultural Catholic Serendipity as a bit of a piggyback: "A soccer player making the Sign of the Cross before coming on the field is far better than the social critics who think that a Puritan God showers His decent bourgeois elect with earthly blessings."

Leaving aside the fact that I have known several Latin American soccer players whose off-the-field peccadilloes would leave the great ascetics just as horrified, sign of the cross or no, as would the shallowness of many Protestants, we come here to a common critique of Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy or Catholicism: that we're trying to transform it (or that we mutate it without even knowing it) into some sort of freakish hybrid of Byzantine Rite health/wealthism, hopelessly attached to middle class, bourgeoisie trinkets and morality as superstition.

And I get where the sentiment is coming from, I think. In general, the folks here at SVS who grew up OCA or AOCANA or whatever are WAY more laid back about the faith than most of us converts. And, generally, I mean "laid back" in a good way; most of us converts, even after a decade or more of being in the Church, have times where we're still obviously trying to find and fit into our skin (insert pun about Orthowine in Evanjellyfish wineskin here).

But it seems to me a mistake to think that Evangelicals (or the converts therefrom to RCC or EO) are motivated to attempt to read from Scripture--and thereafter, keep--the commandments of Christ out of some desire for temporal rewards, be they foreign policies or constitutional amendments or LandRovers with Daddy/Mommy/kiddo ιχθυες swimming kitchily on the back hatch. Furthermore, it seems unwise to point to the rather syncretic, "Orthodoxy/Catholicism-as-culture" approach as an antidote to this.

Och quoted Abba Antony as saying "always have God before your eyes, whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it." It seems to me that both the Evangelische kitch movement and the juxtaposition of Sán Judas Tadeo candles with the smutty novelas Arturo mentioned seem to be a betrayal of "God before your eyes...according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures." Whether or not one can "quote an address" in Scripture to justify one's participation in or abstinence from activity x is immaterial; such an ability is not "knowing the Scriptures" anymore than an ability to do so is ignorance thereof, as Och points out at the end of the "personal" post. Yet enough of a consensus has come down liturgically, scripturally, patristically, and iconographically throughout all branches of Christianity to make it perfectly clear that the vast majority of pop culture--whether the whitebread version wedded to Evangelicalism or the "progressive" relativism of ECUSA or the "Mi Vida Está en Tus Manos" sticker in Gothic font on the back window of the pickup truck with Calle 13 blaring rhymes about ass-shaking out the back--is incompatible with the ascetic ideal.

So "Going to Mass once in a while" may be great if one goes with an idea that something is..."off"...and that this "thing" which is primary helps bring it in line, sure. And I get it that most of the time, you take what you get from parishioners; I'm not under any delusion of a sea change in this reality an time soon. But saying that confirming the Eucharist with some desire to obtain knowledge of--and, of course, ascetic fulfillment of--the commandments of Christ is somehow not better than just receiving the thing itself is just plain wrong. Moreover, the assertion that the only other alternative to cultural reception of "the thing" apart from "how you believe in it and how you employ it" is what those neo-trads do, namely, "going to Mass under the pretext of being the 'last good Christians on earth', or of social conservative engineering" is disingenuous. So let's not pretend that those are the only options. Neither let us pretend like anyone who engages in crass "Charismercialism," to coin a phrase, lacks even a modicum of depth, nor that those with a rosary around a TV blaring José Luis is somehow "better," or at least excusable, because of culture, nor worse because of "nominalism."

Och is right on in avoiding buttonholing every other person into making a decision for Christ, but if that's the diagnosis, what's the cure? The 55 Maxims Och referenced mentioned plenty of concrete activities and disciplines that lots of eager converts do, and do loudly; apparently, we're fine with having our reward. They also referenced things--really, they are many of the same things--that often get excused or neglected to our own ruin for love of "culture." We ought to mind these little things, yes. And we ought to mind them quietly.