Sunday, July 31, 2005

Seeker Friendly?

Just got off the phone with my mother, with whom I have had no small amount of difficulty regarding my conversion to the Orthodox Church (it's man-made religion; it's dead ritual; it's all about rules and regulations; etc.), and who attended (along with many other family members) the glorious baptism of my lovely daughter, Hope Elizabeth today! (Don't worry, faithful viewers; pics are coming soon! Stay tuned...)

Mom also stayed for the Divine Liturgy, during which I read the assigned epistle reading. She, being the faithful Protestant she is, had large, chain-reference Bible in hand, ready to follow along in the reading, only to be disappointed when I sang out, "The reading is from the epistle of the holy apostle Paul to the Romans..." and that was it. She was unaware that, as far as the service itself was concerned, the faithful hear the Word of God read aloud, and were free to read it at their leisure throughout the rest of the Lord's Day. Hence her call. She was troubled that nothing was provided for folks to read along with the epistle/gospel for that day, which led her to believe that we Orthodox therefore "just didn't care about the lost and didn't mind if they were confused about things." My mother: queen of jumped-to conclusions...God love her. She does mean well...

My friend Alan, at Rhoblogy, has written here about "seeker friendly" churches and why they're NOT what any Christian church gathering, regardless of one's confession, should be about. To summarize (and paraphrase the end of the post), "Church meetings are primarily for those who are already believers; the world is where we engage unbelievers." True. Dat.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we couldn't run off copies of the day's readings (my former parish in Tulsa did this) or have greeters at the door who hand you a service book if you want one and pair you up with a knowledgeable "buddy" who can answer questions during or after the liturgy (my current parish does this). But I would ask this: regarding those denominations or groups (like the one in the abovelinked post) who bend over backwards to attract converts, are the people who stay truly seekers? Moreover, how grounded in the faith are those who've stayed for a while if all efforts are about gaining new inquirers? If everything is so accessible that even an unchurched visitor immediately grasps everything that's going on, I wonder how good an opportunity the faithful members have to "go deep" in their faith. Further, if someone walks in, sees something (or, as is often the case in Orthodoxy, many things) that could lead to misinterpretation or just downright confusion, and leaves right after, for good, and asks no questions to try and understand...well...I question just how serious a "seeker" they were in the first place.

My mother has been to...I believe four divine liturgies. Definitely enough to build up a good cache of questions. Only perhaps once have I received a question about why we did the things we did. Nevertheless, opinions have now already been formed in her mind about us, and she has apparently resigned herself to the fact that we must just like to be confusing.

In the words of Bill Cosby: Riiiiiiiiight!

We're fond in the Orthodox church of saying "Come and see" when asked what we believe--referring, of course, to our beautiful services which do, when listened to and understood, proclaim what we have always believed. I would, however, issue this further call to all who visit--and those who (may God grant that they be more and more) are brought through her doors by the faithful who bear witness through their words and lives: "Come and see...then stay and ask." We who have tasted and seen will help you, God helping us. Allow yourselves to seek, and you will find.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Hot Providence"

Rich Mullins once asked, "Are we comfortable with the image of God as Father and nervous about God as Lover[?] Are we happy to have God be The Creator, but scared to think of Him as being Creative? Do we like God being an enginieer, but balk at His being an artist? Does His being a logician comfort us, but His being a poet threaten us? Do we enjoy the glow of God's light but shade ourselves from the heat of His flames?...How is it that we can accept that Moses saw a bush that burned and was not consumed, yet we doubt that God can love in a rage and never cool?"

Emailed to me by a friend of mine, this post paints a picture of God as Artist (specifically, as Cook)...with all the wild temperment and lavish expression one finds therein.

Praise be to the rabid, riotous God of Taste!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Musings of a Soteriological Nature...

Have been thinking about the following passage from 1 Corinthians 3 (starting in verse 10) as it relates (or maybe doesn't?) to our salvation on the final Day. First the passage, then my thoughts, then--if y'all please--your thoughts...

St. Paul:
"According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
So we're baptized and chrismated, commune with the Body and Blood of our Lord and confess Him throughout our lives, then die. We are justified by this--since these things will be the foundation our body uses at the Resurrection to "put on immortality" like St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15--yet as we will (most likely) not be completely sanctified (i.e., freed from the passions) and will still have some "wood, hay and straw," there will be a final purification we all go through, and it is for this reason that we pray for the departed: that God will comfort them in their purification, and that they will swiftly go through the final repentance pains necessary to truly enjoy our Lord forever.


Friday, July 22, 2005

"I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."

"I am the Light of the World. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life."

Second Post from Owen's blog in One Day

He's gonna wonder if he clicked on his own blog by mistake (and why it's not as eloquent as it was before!)...

Seriously...if y'all have the time, I thoroughly recommend that you read this post on individual holiness in (primarily conservative) Protestant environments as opposed to Roman Catholic or Orthodox environments.

Very humbling for us Orthodox, very inspiring (and not in the Hallmark, bumper sticker way; rather in the way that inspires one to action and change), and--I say this sadly but vehemently--very, very true.

A Divine Setup

You know, I used to be "one of those Protestants" (how's that for rude!) who looked for ways to introduce the Gospel message into any (repeat: ANY) conversation, whether the initial topic had anything to do with Christ, faith, or religion, or not. I did what you'd call "cold calls for Jesus," I guess, in which I approached people and initiated conversations (sometimes with total strangers) about whether or not they had accepted Christ or not and asked them if they knew where they'd go if they died right now, etc. (those of you from similar backgrounds know the drill).

Anyway, suffice it to say that the emphasis within Orthodoxy on working out one's OWN salvation has definitely stopped that trend, so much so that I can't for the life of me remember the last time I actually initiated a conversation about the whole "plan of salvation." I've given my testimony plenty of times since then (folks tend to ask what you are when you cross yourself backwards over a plate of lentils and rice in the middle of March), but last night was what you'd call a "divine setup." Two neighbors from down the street came over last night to have dinner. They, like us, have a newborn, and are quite a bit like us in terms of personality, so we had a great time, good dinner, etc.

As folks who have newborns know, it's a rare occassion for both parents of said newborn to eat at the same time, as said newborn will demand attention and/or food from at least one parent. So the men took the first shift at the dinner table, while the women cared for the infants. After we finished, we took the babies and, while the women ate, we sat down with our daughters and talked. He had seen the numerous icons up around our house, had given a polite "Amen" after we had asked the blessing, and had heard me mention that we were Orthodox. He basically asked me what that was, since he was pretty much not a member of any kind of faith. For the first time that I can remember, I did the whole sh-bang: started at the Fall of man, where we became mortal, and went through the Incarnation, where God takes on our mortal flesh and redeems our nature; spoke on the Crucfixion, where death took Life Himself, and the Resurrection, where Life beats Death. Spoke on baptism, wherein we die with and are risen with Christ, thus being forgiven of sins, and the oil wherein we receive the Holy Spirit and are restored to communion with God. Spoke on the Eucharist, whereby we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, which mingles intimately with our own, thus realizing this communion.

Did all this in about five minutes (at the absolute max) and in a way that (I would hope) the simplest plowman would get. Thankful for the opportunity, and hope the Lord blesses it, but...and here's the big difference between my days as Baptist lay evangelist and now...I carry with me no preconceptions about what happens or should happen next, no prayers that God would bring him to a decision yesterday (if anything, I'm praying that nothing I did screwed up the opportunity). If the Spirit moves on what I did, thanks be to God. If not, it's His show. Now begins the hard stuff: living my faith in such a way so that I can be living bread to them, yet without trying to "spring the J-word on 'em" in some artificial manner the next time I see them.

Glory to God in all things...


Saw this on owen's blog:

You Are a Soy Latte

At your best, you are: free spirited, down to earth, and relaxed

At your worst, you are: dogmatic and picky

You drink coffee when: you need a pick me up, and green tea isn't cutting it

Your caffeine addiction level: medium

Riiiiight. So, the description was fair-to-midland accurate...why that means I'm a soy latte I don't know, but hey, it's a good way to blow five minutes...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Surprise...But Not Really...

Well, OK! I was wrong on the nomination, and the man is definitely a conservative (good luck, congressional Republicans...), but still...I'm skeptical that we've got a true pro-lifer on our hands. John G. Roberts definitely has a pro-life personal stance. From tonight:
Abortion rights groups allege that Roberts is hostile to women’s reproductive freedom and cite a brief he co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 high court decision that legalized abortion.

“The court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion ... finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution,” the brief said.

My only lingering doubt, however, is what came directly afterwards, and I fear Bush may yet stick it to us, as it looks like Roberts nonetheless is more committed to policy as is than he is to overturning Roe:

Roberts on Roe
In his defense, Roberts told senators during his 2003 confirmation hearing that he would be guided by legal precedent. “Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There is nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent.”

So, still, we're not out of the woods yet. DEFINITELY a step in the right direction, though...we'll see...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

More of the Same...

Just you watch. Bush will appoint Gonzalez (who will get approved) as the Supreme Court Justice to replace O'Conner. And now that Rhenquist is likely leaving soon (due to health or otherwise), I'd put money on a second non-pro-life-hardliner.

As you can see from the last post, I'm not fond of Bush's foreign (or domestic, really) policy. But this--the first (perhaps only?) real chance we have to overturn Roe v. Wade--was the one area he could have made himself "worth it" to me. And he ain't gonna do it. Didn't think he would, really, but it's still infuriating to watch him do this.

How Dare He...

I know the cause of the following rant is several weeks old, but gimme a break. New Dad here. Anyways...

Karl Rove is not my favorite person. Not by a long shot. That a man who is in such a high position of influence in our country would make the following comment leads me to believe that a) either he is joking and refuses to engage in serious, partisan diologue, or b) seriously believes the following and is completely devoid of any nuance and any tact whatsoever:
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."
What complete drivel. What pure, unadulterated NONSENSE. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, not only does the ENTIRE American public fit neatly into these two boxes ("conservative" and "liberal"), but the reactions of these two groups really ARE this cut-and-dry! Isn't that GREAT?! Now we can know (oh, THANK you, Mr. Rove!) with absolute certainty that to oppose the Administration on Iraq--never mind whether or not the reasons for it were questionable--is to side with the terrorists. To want to coddle them, to understand them. In contrast (a good-guy white to the obvious, "liberal black"), the neocon saviors that exemplify this administration will swing to the other extreme, saying not only is military force desireable, but ANY military action is to go unquestioned. ANY act of war MUST be a good one, for we are to destroy all our enemies...even before we're absolutely sure who they are. Moreover, ANY method of "persuasion" is deemed permissible, even if it is (let's call it what it is) physically and/or mentally and/or emotionally abusive. So much for claiming the moral high ground...

I am for the offensive in Afghanistan. Moreover, I favor aggressive military action against the folks who do things like this in the States, Madrid and London. I do not feel as though Iraq was the right thing to do at this time (we had not yet finished with the Taliban in Afghanistan) and doing what we've done when we've done it as we've done it has only made things worse. I feel Bush is misguided (largely by the fellow quoted above) in his whole concept of the Arab world...and, amazingly, I'm NOT going to advocate appeasement here!...and has proved himself largely incapable of waging smart war against our attackers, allowing himself (and, more importantly, the greatest military force in the world) to be distracted, sidetracked into an area they DIDN'T need to go into (at least, not yet) and are the worse off for it.

Karl Rove should be ashamed of himself for his blatant disregard for anyone--and I think this is the majority of us in this country--who will not fit neatly into his "for us or against us" paradigm. The fact that he is not disgusts me, but based on what I've seen in the past four years, doesn't surprise me in the least.

Brat Camp

I highly recommend this show. Almost got sick to death of it (it was advertised during every commercial break!), but it's worth it. Kids who will not submit to authority, who will not see the value of common courtesy, of teamwork, of obedience, are subjected to rigorous and structured life for an indefinite amount of time so that they can come to grips with the fact that lying to, stealing from, disobeying, yelling at and threatening one's parents so you can get what you want is wrong, not to be condoned, and makes you a bad person. In contrast, looking out for others, being straight with them, giving of yourself, respecting others, being obedient and willing to push your own limits makes you a better person. These simple concepts, so easily grasped by many of us, are lost on many kids today (as a teacher, I know; I see it daily). Life no longer, as my wife puts it, beats these concepts into you by the mere experience of living it; extreme measures need to be taken, and this show does it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Those of you who've been with this blog since the beginning have heard about the delinquint young man who lives down the street from us. Yesterday, as I was going on a walk with my mother, my wife, and my daughter, he lay on his horn in front of his house. I should have just let it go--he told me (with the f-bomb interspersed every other word) that he was working on his horn, and that it was his car, and he didn't give a you-know-what what the rest of the neighborhood thought. Went back over later to smoothe things out. Glad I did, as he's given other neighbors trouble (apparently one of them called the police) and if we can keep things as civil as possible on our side, so much the better. "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Rom. 12:18) and all that.

What, then, of the young man and his severely inappropriate comments about me (f-bombs aplenty again), my forefathers and my immediate family (the latter had, thankfully, already gone back to the house by this time)? Is it not unjust to allow him to continue to harrass us? Should he not be held accountable for his verbal terrorism? I have to admit, it shook me up for the later part of that evening and some of this morning; all the while I was imagining all kinds of violent confrontations...the Holy Fathers are wise when they say that imagination truly is a tool the enemy often likes to use...

Then, God be praised, Midday Prayers today (got up too late to justify Morning Prayers) really turned things around...prayers like "Save, O Lord and have mercy upon those who envy and affront us and do us harm, and do not let them perish through us sinners" and "help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all our deeds and words, guide our thoughts and feelings. In unforseen events, let us not forget that all are sent by You. Teach us to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others."

Oh, the wisdom to be found through the Holy Spirit's guidance and inspiration as men of God uttered these prayers which have been used to walk the path of salvation throughout the centuries! To go back, also, to the Scripture mentioned before, a bit of context in the surrounding verses which is in much the same train of thought as the abovementioned prayers (vv 17-19):
"Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord."
Blessing those who (quite literally) curse you...or, in this case, "curse you out." Understanding that, as far as I am concerned, I am to respond to any goading with blessings. Should he try to pull anything, I have the authorities at the ready (he's got a warrant out, so they're quick to come over if something's reported). And, as I said in my initial post, if the worst should happen (God forbid +), neither he nor anyone else can do anything which the Resurrection from the dead will not restore.

Glory to God in all things.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Phase 6 of New Church Building

Phase 1
Phase 2
Phase 3
Phase 4
Phase 5

shot of side w/stone

close-up of stone on wall

entryway w/stone

piles of stones to be put on wall

light fixtures?


Out back, cross stands amidst fertile ground that once was bare!

lame attempt at artistic shot

Friday, July 08, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a smile!


Was unable to blog yesterday...may God comfort the souls of those who perished in the satanic attacks on London yesterday, as well as the souls of those who survived.

One wonders--or at least I do--what effect this will have on the resolve of the British people at large regarding the Iraq War. My guess is that those opinions already formed will become all the more cemented, and those yet undecided (can one be undecided about this today?!) will be swayed one way or the other by the horrible immediacy of this tragedy.

Many of those unconvinced will see this as a wake-up call to action against the real threat of real Islam (none of this fundamentalist labeling...)

Others will see this as an act of vengeance for a conflict which we unjustly initiated, as well as a reminder that the ones who are truly the attackers--the international terrorist group led by bin Laden--are still on the loose while we are bogged down in a single country.

Both will be right.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

An Excellent Article on the Atonement

I'd forgotten about this article, which is far and away the BEST article I know of that addresses the Orthodox view of what Christ accomplished on the Cross.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Unseen Warfare, Chapter 15 (looong)

From the book, Unseen Warfare, written by a western monastic, edited by St. Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain, revised by St. Theophan the Recluse:

"If you want to gain a speedy and easy victory over your enemies, brother, you must wage ceaseless and courageous war against all passions, especially and preeminently against self-love, or a foolish attachment to yourself, manifested in self-indulgence and self-pity. For it is the basis and source of all passions and cannot be tamed except by constant voluntary self-inclicted sufferings and by welcoming afflictions, privations, calumnies, persecutions by the world and by men of the world. Failure to see the need of this pitiless attitude to yourself has always been, is, and will be the cause of our failure to achieve spiritual victories, and of their difficulty, rarity, imperfection and insecurity.

"So this sipiritual warfare of ours must be constant and never ceasing, and should be conducted with alertness and courage in the soul; they can beasily be attainted, if you seek these gifts from God. So advance into battle without hesitation. Should you be visited by the troubling thought of the hatred and undying malice, which the enemies harbour against you, and of the innumerable hosts of the demons, think on the other hand of the infinitely greater power of God and of His love for you, as well as of the incomparably greater hosts of heavenly angels and the prayers of saints. They all fight secretly for us and with us against our enemies, as it is written: 'The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation' (Ex. xvii. 16). How many weak women and small children were incited to fight by the thought of this powerful and ever ready help! And they got the upper hand and gained victory over al the wisdom of the world, all the wiles of the devil and all the malice of hell.

"So you must never be afraid, if you are troubled by a flood of thoughts, that the enemy is too strong against you, that his attacks are never ending, that the war will last for your lifetime, and that you cannot avoid incessant downfalls of all kinds. Know that our enemies, with all their wiles, are in the hands of our divine Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ, for Whose honour and glory you are waging war. Since He Himself leads you into battle, He will certainly not suffer your enemies to use violence against you and overcome you, if you do not yourself cross over to their side with your will. He will Himself fight for you and will deliver your enemies into your hands, when He wills and as He wills, as it is written: 'The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee' (Deut xxiii. 14).

"If the Lord delays granting you full victory over your enemies and puts it off to the last day of your life, you must know that He does this for your own good; so long as you do not retreat or cease to struggle wholeheartedly. Even if you are wounded in battle, do not lay down your arms and turn to flight. Keep only one thing in your mind and intention--to fight with all courage and ardour, since it is unavoidable. No man can escape this warfare, either in life or in death. And he who does not fight to overcome his passions and his enemies will inevitably be taken prisoner, either here or yonder, and delivered to death.

"It is not without profit to bear in mind also the purpose for which God is pleased to leave us in this state of war. This purpose is the following. In the days of old, when God led Israel into the promised land, He did not order them to destroy all the peoples dwelling there, but left five tribes alien and hostile to Israel--first, to prove the chosen people and to see how firmly they believed in Him and faitfully kept His commandments, and secondly, to teach His people the art of warfare (Judges ii. 21-23; iii 1-2). In the same way, He does not destroy all our passions at once, but leaves them in us, letting them fight against us till our very death, for just the same purpose, namely, to prove our love for Him and our obedience to His will, and to train us in spiritual warfare. The blessed Theodorite speaks of this in greater detail. God, he says, does this for the following ends: (a) to prevent us falling into carelessness and negligence, and to make us watchful, diligent and attentive; (b) to remind us that the enemy is ever ready to attack us, lest we unexpectedly find ourselves surrounded by the enemy and overcome by passions; (c) so that we should always have recourse to God, asking and hoping for His help; (d) so that we should not be proud, but should think humbly of ourselves; (e) so that we should learn to hate with our whole heart the passions and enemies, who so tirelessly attack us; (f) to prove whether we keep to the end God's honour, love and faith; (g) to urge us to a more strict observance of God's commandments, so that we do not overlook the least of them; (h) to learn from experience the great value of virtue and so never to consent to abandon it and fall into sin; (i) in order that constant warfare should give us the possibility to gain greater and greater crowns; (j) that we should glorify God and shame the devil by our patience to the end; (k) that we should get accustomed to warfare during life and so not fear it in the hour of death, when we are to be subjected to the hardest of all attacks.

"Thus, since we are always surrounded by so many enemies, whose hatred of us is so bitter, we can expect no peace or respite from them, no cessation or postponement of attacks, but must be ready for an onslaught at any moment and, when it comes, must immediately engage the enemy with courage. Naturally it would have been better, if we had not originally opened the doors of our being and let enemies and passions enter our heart and soul; but since they have already found their way into us, we cannot afford to be negligent, but must arm ourselves against them to drive them out of us. They are shameless and stubborn and will not leave, unless driven out by force."

Saturday, July 02, 2005



God is merciful...may His name be praised...

Was getting ready for Great Vespers--Audra and Hope were staying home, of course--when Hope started getting fussy. It was pacifier time, and none was within reach. I knew where we had left one: out in the car, which was in the garage. I open the door to the garage and am met with flames. I had, just the night before, burnt some old bills in the BBQ grill, and had doused the ashes with water before throwing them out. Apparently some had missed my detection, as they had apparently started this (thankfully) small, trash fire. I acted quickly, yelling for Audra and Hope to get out now, there's a f---ing fire in the garage, then began to spray from the sink's sprayer into the garage. This only doused part of the flames; the rest I put out, bucket-brigade style, with pots full of water. Audra called the Fire Dept. from the neighbor's house, and they came (after the fire was out--like I said, it was small) and made sure nothing else was at risk. They told me to wait for about an hour and keep an eye on some sheet rock the fire had been up against. Said sheet rock, I assure you all, has been doused thoroughly and repeatedly by one paranoid Yours Truly. So my wife and daughter have gone out to eat with the family--she needed to get out of here, while I couldn't leave until I felt things were safe--and I'm posting this while waiting to see on the sheet rock.

It has been a CUH-RAZY couple of weeks, ladies and gentlemen. First, there's a little person in our lives, now a situation that, had one of many factors not fallen into place, may have let the fire go undetected until much later...maybe too late. What if I had actually heard Audra say the pacifier wasn't in the car? She told me later that, for once, she's GLAD I didn't hear what she'd said (sound familiar, ladies?). Also, I may not have taken the car to Vespers; I would have probably taken the truck, which is out in the driveway.

A prayer, very meaningful to me, and on the heels of which comes this post:
Almighty and merciful God, I most humbly and heartily thank Thy divine majesty for Thy longingkindness and tender mercies, that Thou hast heard my humble prayer, and graciously vouchsafed to deliver us from our trouble and misery. Grant us, I beseech Thee, Thy helping grace, that we may obediently walk in Thy holy commandments, and lead a sober, righteous and godly life, ever remembering Thy mercies, and the blessings Thou has bestowed upon us, undeserved though we be, that we may continually offer to Thee the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.