Saturday, August 27, 2005

Active Saints

From this site, an electronic version of a Conciliar Press tract, Prayer and the Departed Saints:

Can the saints answer our prayers directly? Is it within their power to grant our requests? The prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ here on earth are only effective insofar as God answers them. It is the same with the intercessions of the saints in heaven for us. They can never answer prayers of their own accord or in their own power; they can only beseech Christ on our behalf. To imagine that prayer to the saints means that they can grant our requests apart from Christ is a totally unacceptable idea according to Orthodox theology and practice. So when we pray to the saints, the understanding is always clear that we are asking them to help us by praying to God, and not by their own power or actions apart from Him.

These tracts, coming as they do from Ben Lomond, CA, have a decidedly formerly-Protestant bent and are written to address objections many Protestants would have concerning Orthodox doctrine and/or practice. I suppose I should start out by saying that the above can be taken as absolutely true. No saint's prayers or actions should ever be taken as being done apart from the will of God Himself. If things "get done" in the spiritual realm, it is ultimately because the Lord willed it, and it was ultimately done. It is most definitely NOT an issue of someone saying, "Well, the Lord must not like me very much, worthless sinner that I am; I'll just pray to the Theotokos or St. So-and-so, in the hopes that they'll 'talk God into' granting my request." This use of the saints and the Holy Mother--wherein they are pitted against the Lord of all as a sort of "buffer against an angry God"--is both an insult to these faithful servants of the Most High God, and an affront to the ever-loving, always-forgiving nature of our Lord. In this, the tract does well in saying that the prayers of the saints are always in line with the Lord's will, and that, in terms of what is ultimately accomplished, one saint may plant through his prayers, the Holy Theotokos may water through her intercessions or actions, but it is ultimately God who gives the increase.

Why, then, the hesitating tone of this post? It is not to refute this particular passage, but perhaps to complement it. It is easier for a former Protestant to get his or her mind around the saints in heaven merely praying for us in some sort of "eternal prayer meeting"; it is quite another thing to imaging the saints themselves doing battle, delivering messages, appearing to those on earth...being actively involved in matters of men's salvation, in other words. When we pray, "Most Holy Theotokos, save us," we all know that it is not a cry for her to ascend the Cross in the flesh--only her divine Son could do and indeed did do that--but is it more than just a cry for her to "pray for us sinners"?

Indeed, the post-communion prayer to the "All-Holy Theotokos" in my prayer book says the following:

O All-holy Lady Theotokos, light of my darkened soul, my hope, my shelter, my refuge, my consolation and my joy: I thank thee that thou hast accounted me worthy, although unworthy, to be a partaker of the immaculate Body and precious Blood of thy Son. But do thou, who gavest birth to the true Light, enlighten the mental eyes of my heart; O thou who didst bear the fountain of immortality, quicken thou me who lie dead in sin. O compassion-loving Mother of the merciful God, have mercy upon me, and grant me humility and contrition of heart, and meekness in my thoughts, and deliverance from the bondage of my vain imaginings. And account me worthy, even unto my last breath, to receive without condemnation the sanctification of the immaculate Mysteries, unto the healing of both soul and body. And grant unto me tears of repentance and confession, that I may hymn thee and glorify thee all the days of my life: for blessed and glorified art thou unto all ages. Amen.
This is the sort of prayer that seems to depart from the merely static status of intercessors many former Evangelicals give to the saints; indeed, many Evangelicals would be horrified at this prayer, as it seems to attribute characteristics and deeds to the Theotokos that are (or should be) reserved for Christ our God alone. What, then, do we as Orthodox say to this?

We all know--it is evident enough in our hymns--that only one is God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided. The Theotokos is not included in this object of worship, nor is any other saint. We need not go further into this. It seems to me, however, that the prayer quoted above seems to lend itself rather nicely to the idea St. Peter put forth--that we shall be partakers of the divine nature--and that St. Paul expressed--that we shall see Him as He is and shall be like Him. Christ said we shall do the things He did; why is it so hard to see the Mother of our Lord, close to Him as she now undoubtedly is, doing things in His name and for His glory in our lives?

The Theotokos has been seen over naval ships in battle, has intervened in the lives of such prominent saints as St. Nicholas of Myra and St. Mary of Egypt, and has been depicted in countless icons which miraculously weep tears and/or produce healing myrrh. Are we to infer from this that she is to be sought out instead of Christ, that she is just as good a refuge as Christ for our souls, or that she is a safer advocate when compared to the strict, austere Judge of the Nations? I do not think so, yet this is an accusation raised by many Evangelicals, most noticeably those who have spent any time in predominantly Roman Catholic countries where the Blessed Virgin or the Saints are held up in almost god-like reverence, with (so it would seem) scarcely a reference to the Lord of these saints.

To (finally) answer the objection raised by the well-meaning Evangelical, I would say that, in asking the Theotokos and the Saints to save us, to protect us, to make us worthy of everlasting life, to shelter and protect us, to guide us to the eternal kingdom etc., we should not look at them as replacements for Christ who are somehow in opposition to Him, but rather as ambassadors for Him who always seek to do His will. If a captain in the Army sends his general to do something in his stead, the general will (if he is a good general) act in complete obedience, acting in his general’s stead due to his captain’s absence. Will the general be praised for his works? Of course; he will, when the history books are written, be seen as a good and faithful general, who had a very real role in the overthrow of the forces of the enemy. So, too, are the saints honored and revered, for they not only pray and intercede with their most holy prayers, but also have been known to personally appear and minister to the faithful on earth and/or fight against the forces of darkness here on earth, all in the name of their (and our) Lord.

But, some might say, is our Captain not Himself able to accomplish these goals? Does not the idea of “generals” doing things “in His absence” relegate Him to a secondary role? Is it not blasphemous to share this Captain’s glory with His generals? Granted, the analogy of the Captain and his generals is an imperfect one. I would submit, however, that the action of the Lord’s using His holy ones to accomplish His purposes does not in any way take away from His glory in all things; rather, it increases it, for He is ultimately seen as the driving force behind it all. The commanding officer in battle is revered not only for his own exploits, but for his ingenious maneuvering of those under him. So, too, is our Lord blessed, not only for the salvation He has “wrought…in the midst of the earth,” but for the mighty acts He continues to enact amongst those still in this life through His faithful, departed servants. Is it possible that some will revere the servant in his or her obedience more than the Master? Yes, just as it was possible to say that one was “of Paul” or “of Cephas” or “of Apollos” in the first century AD. St. Paul, however, did not stop glorifying God through his actions simply because some could not see past him to Christ. Neither, then, should we deny the very real actions—worthy of very real praise!—done by the saints and the most holy Theotokos here on earth; Christ Himself has sent them—what an honor that must be!—to do something in His name…something which they, no doubt, will execute perfectly. In their obedience, He is glorified, yet they, too, are praised for their obedience to their Lord, and thanked for their very real and God-ordained part in our salvation.

The Hardest Things

Someone on asked what the hardest part about Orthodoxy was for converts. I responded with the following:

The hardest part...hmm...

...two things, I guess.

I guess the first'd have to be dealing with the (natural?) tendency of people to see the chant, the icons, the incense, the vestments, the protocol, the rubrics, and all the other "trappings" of organized religion as ends in themselves. There was a phrase I used all the time as an Evangelical Protestant: "It's just all about Jesus." Meaning, of course, that anything that got in the way of an encounter with God was to be pushed aside so that we could focus on meeting Christ. It's easy to slip into "going through the motions" (another fav saying of mine when I was Protestant) and forget that all these things are passageways to that higher reality in which my Savior waits for me.

This, of course, was a Christ who is very different from--and much less demanding than--the Christ I see now in the Orthodox Church. The Christ from my Protestant days, yes, demanded that we change, but was still going to "get us off the hook" if we weren't totally sanctified at the end, 'cause after all, nobody's perfect. This, to me, is much more attractive than the God who is a consuming fire and will save some "only as through fire"--hardly a pleasant experience to think about, and not really something that goes over well in drive-thru America. So, this is the second thing: Christ the healer, made present through the holy icons, is focused intently on our sin and won't let stuff slide; He desires our full healing now, so that we can pass through the fire purified and clean. Gone is the benign Jesus who blesses us with His "warm fuzzies" and guaranteed heavenly bliss; now we are faced with our Brother and our Judge, and it is easy to become discouraged or even resentful against this much more businesslike, sometimes colder-seeming Christ of the Orthodox. The fact that I need to see amazing love in that face is one of the hardest things for me as an Orthodox Christian, but I do know it's absolutely there...more than that, it's there more than it is in the smiling Jesus of Evangelicalism.

This, I know, is my problem; still that old dichotomy I had drilled into me for twenty years. But it's a cross I'm learning, more and more, to carry, as it's only through the cross that we'll see the resurrection...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I Guess I Shouldn't Be Surprised...

...if and when the divorce rate, like gas prices, reaches an all-time, ludicrous high...perhaps in part due to these cards...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, for just a few bucks, you too can tell that special secret someone on the side that you're soooo grateful they're the one w/whom you're breaking a sacred covenant with God and your spouse. That's right, it's the "Secret Lover" line of greeting cards.

My initial reaction: "You've got to be kidding." Perhaps I'm just that naive and think that there might be some shred of dignity (or, on a lower common denominator, shame) left in American society that would keep this sort of thing out of reach of the common people. Apparently not...the report did mention that the current divorce rate is above 50% right now; anyone want to go for 75?

Lord. Have. Mercy!

Friday, August 19, 2005

More Pics of Hope

Playin' in the floor, and wondrin' what that flashy thing is Mama's got...

Fascinated in the floor...

Pretty red dress...she just LOVES playin' in the floor...!

BIG ol' grin!

Smilin' in the swing...

Happy li'l swinger!

Mama and kiddo windin' down for a nappy

Time for a bath!

Mama and baby after tonight's bath

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Orthodox Parochial School

Plug for St. Peter's Orthodox Classical School. If you're interested in how to start one where you live, contact 'em.

Also...interested in trying my hand at writing visitors' pamphlets--geared towards both the churched and the unchurched--about why the Church's services are the way they are, what it "symbolizes," etc. Will publish here if, when and as these come about.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Two Beautiful Women, Next to No Computers

You know what's a great feeling? Getting up early (I know, I know, stay with me here), getting a job done around the house that'd been looming over your head for a long time, then coming back in the house and, with a glance down the hall at your room, knowing that there are two beautiful ladies asleep in your bed (wife and newborn daughter -- y'all behave, now!). Awesome feeling of peace.

Must needs go back up to school, for yesterday we were struck by the computer demons: with T-2 days until school starts, no more than five teachers (out of upwards towards 100) could sign in to and thus gain any access to their computers. Thus, how many syllabi got written, approved and printed off? Right! Not a whole heapin' heckofalot. Thus, I go, after having revamped said syllabus from home and printed it off, both to get it approved by the principal as suitable for copying and mass distributing to hoards of delinqu--I mean, classes of learners, excuse me--and to finish decorating my (new and much larger!) room in time for Monday.

Am excited, however, because I get to try out TPRS for the second time this coming year; looking forward to making improvements and seeing even more of an increase in learning happening than what I saw last year!

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Georgian carved icon of the Transfiguration

Troparion - Tone 7

You were Transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God,
Revealing Your glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it.
Let Your everlasting Light shine upon us sinners!
Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to You!

Kontakion - Tone 7

On the Mountain You were Transfigured, O Christ God,
And Your disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could see it;
So that when they would behold You crucified,
They would understand that Your suffering was voluntary,
And would proclaim to the world,
That You are truly the Radiance of the Father!
Luke 9:28-36 (Matins Gospel)

28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.
30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah,
31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.
33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-not knowing what he said.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.
35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!"
36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.
(Comment: This Gospel reading was one of the main Scripture passages that led me to pick St. Peter as my patron saint; as someone who talks a lot (many times without considering whether or not the time is appropriate), I can relate to St. Peter's blurting out the thing about the tabernacles. What's funny to me is, not only does God the Father interrupt St. Peter in mid-sentence, but He also tells him to hear Jesus--in other words: "Shaddup...and listen.")

Thursday, August 04, 2005


An excellent post from the Yahoo! group orthodoxdynamis on solitude:

*Solitude:* */St. Matthew 14:1-13, especially vs. 13:/* /"When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself."/ These Gospel verses tell again the grisly story of the macabre execution of St. John the Forerunner, the devotion of St. John's disciples who buried him, and of how, afterwards, they reported to the Lord Jesus all that had happened. One part of our Lord's response to the tragic news was to go apart to a lonely place.

Throughout the four Gospels, the Evangelists record that the Lord Jesus often left the crowds that followed Him to be by Himself. In solitude He sought to be with His Father. Note: if the Lord as both Man and God, needed to withdraw from the world to have times of intimacy with the Father, how much more do we, as mere human beings, need to follow His example!

St. Antony, the founder of monasticism, exemplifies one who discovered the blessings of solitude. When he was about 18 years of age, he heard these words from the Gospel: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mt. 19:21). St. Antony understood these words to apply to him. Immediately, he began living as a poor laborer at the edge of his village. In time, he withdrew deep into the desert to live in complete solitude for twenty years. Note what happened to him.

During these years, the great desert hermit underwent painful spiritual and physical trials. His superficial self cracked, and God revealed to him the abyss of his sinfulness - all because St. Antony surrendered unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ. After surrender and the years of solitude, he emerged into contact with other people who immediately recognized in him a man whole in mind, body and soul; and they flocked to him for healing and direction.

Christ calls to every one: "Follow Me!" St. Anthony's experience reveals the meaning of "following": to take our sinful-self apart for times of solitude. Each one must deliberately cast himself into the furnace alone with God to be melted down in the Lord Jesus' transforming presence, to be recast according to His will and likeness, as He burns away our impurities.

Ah, but how can we practice solitude within the mad rush of this secular, godless society that offers no spiritual room for pursuing the disciplines of Holy Solitude? But, wait! A modern contemplative, Thomas Merton, reminds us that the Christians in St. Antony's day faced a similar situation: "Society...was a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life....These were men
who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster!"

Not all are called to monasticism. The majority of us are engaged with family and society. While more are turning to the monastic way in order to struggle for union with Christ, yet, whatever lifestyle is chosen, each one remains responsible for his salvation; and, the primary place for regaining the desire for a full, rich life in Christ remains to be found in solitude.

Hence, those in the world must develop "little deserts" for withdrawing each day into the firm, renewing, and healing presence of God. Without such times and places, the Christian will lose his soul. Two steps are obvious: 1) Our first duty is to find a Spiritual Father. We must search for one before whom we may bare our inmost thoughts. St. John of the Ladder says, " A shepherd is pre-eminently he that is able to seek out and set aright his lost, rational sheep by means of guilelessness, zeal,
and prayer." 2) We must deliberately set apart a time and a place each and every day to be with God and with Him alone. Without solitude, no renewal, no life!

/O Thou, Who in the desert gavest water to Thy People, guide us into solitude with Thee where we may come and drink so that streams of living water may flow from our inmost being./

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On Baptism

The newly illumined child of God Elizabeth is currently sleeping in her crib (much to her mother's and my relief). Pictures are directly below this, but I've been ruminating the past two days over the significance of what has just occurred, and how it hits this convert where he lives a whole lot more when it's his kid.

First of all, I realized something about myself. The tendency among artsy, theatrical, somewhat-charismatic Protestants like I was was to imagine some sort of otherworldly parallel to a service in which the participants were (always dramatically) enfused with power from on high. Images in our head--fueled oftentimes by Christian authors' descriptions of swirling mist, glowing hearts and various scenes of Jesus' direct bestowing of the Holy Spirit upon us (Frank Peretti comes to mind)--led us to truly believe that life-changing moments in the spiritual realms were always accompanying our meetings. What I noticed about my daughter's baptism was that, first, there were no images in my mind of "what was going on" in that other, unseen plane of existence. This is why, I think, we have sacraments: we couldn't handle the full disclosure of the spiritual reality were we shown it; it would, I don't doubt, consume us. Any mental depiction we attempt of it as it is, then, is a gross injustice thereto.

Our services, however, are a depiction of and a union with that reality which we can handle. Hope truly did put on Christ's death and resurrection in those waters; she truly did acquire the third Person of the Trinity Himself when the chrism was applied; she truly was united to our Lord in all His fullness when her little body was merged with His true Food and her rapidly-circulating blood was mingled with His true Drink. We focus on these rites, these human actions and these physical elements of water, oil, bread and wine, not only as signs pointing to what is truly happening at that moment, but also as the concrete means by which those things truly are accomplished in our lives...they are beautiful not only because of the asthetically pleasing aspects of the prayers and hymns, but because of the realities towards which they point and in which they share.

Secondly, in light of all of this connection to that higher, saving reality...what an amazing act of grace on God's part! That our very nature as humans, fallen and corrupt as it is, could receive the seeds of immortality merely by being immersed in water, anointed with oil and fed with bread and wine--all of which have had a contact with and transformation into the Element of our life Himself--such events which make it possible to even begin our journey into life eternal are so beyond us, yet so simple to partake of. It's like a man stumbling on water as if it were dry land; he didn't get there by himself...

Thirdly, there is the issue, as a friend of mine just commented in a post below, of having a "cradle" Orthodox Christian in my house! She will have experiences I never had and will see them through a lens I've only recently acquired; from reading the Scriptures to worshipping with her Church family and praying on her own, as well as looking at the world and all its various ideologies, she'll have it all from the git-go from an Orthodox point of view. This both excites and troubles me, as I know "cradles" who take their faith quite seriously, and also those who take it quite for granted, so there's a very real responsibility on our part to be models of holiness, so that she has as much as possible, both in church and out, after which to model her own life of faith, which begins now, at her baptism into Christ. Talk about a role to play; fear and trembling definitely going on here.

I'm reminded of a phrase I've heard many times, though I have no idea who first said it. To paraphrase: "There's no such distinction between 'cradle' Orthodox and 'convert' Orthodox, or at least there shouldn't be. All Orthodox Christians, at some point in their lives, need to be 'converts,' need to make this personal, need to own this."

May Christ our God, through the intercessions of the most holy Theotokos, His mother, and of His foster father Joseph, have mercy on us as we all embark together on this quest for union with Him, together with His Father and the All-Holy Spirit.

And, the following:

O God, our heavenly Father, who love mankind, and are most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon Your handmaiden Hope Elizabeth, for whom I humbly pray and commend to Your gracious care and protection. Be, O God, her guide and guardian in all her endeavors, lead her in the path of Your truth, and draw her nearer to You, that she may lead a godly and righteous life in Your love and fear; doing Your will in all things. Give her grace that she may be temperate, industrious, diligent, devout and charitable. Defend her against the assaults of the enemy, and grant her wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life; and direct her in the way of salvation, through the merits of Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the intercessions of His Holy Mother and Your blessed saints. Amen.

Thou Art Baptized; Thou Art Chrismated; Thou Art Illumined...

Fr. Basil with godparents Zac (Daniel) and Lindsey (Mary) during the exorcism prayers

Anointing with the oil of gladness prior to baptism

The child of God Elizabeth is baptized, in the name of the Father...and of the Son...and of the Holy Spirit

As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Allelulia!

Papi reads from the epistle of the holy Apostle Paul to the Romans (6:3-11)

Fr. Basil reads from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew (28:16-20)

Wiping off the chrism

The churching, where the child is received into church life after being illumined

A bit of a shadow due to the flash, but..."receive the Body of Christ; taste the Fountain of Immortality"

Wiping the Blood from her lips...

The newly illumined child of God Elizabeth, up close